The Church: Designed To Change Us!

The Local Church Community Sanctifies Us

Jesus never intended that we would “lone wolf” the Christian life as an individual! Rather, it was His plan to use the local church “community” to sanctify and change us! Read Paul’s letter to the Church of Ephesus; especially, chapter 4. It was clearly NOT his intent that we view “the Church” as some “universal body” out there somewhere! He spoke to the body of faith that made up the local Church of Ephesus.

The Body Ministers To The Body

In v.16 he tells this church that it’s the “WHOLE BODY” that ministers to the “WHOLE BODY” & spiritual growth happens in the corporate life of the church when all the individual members are working together properly— “In LOVE, building each other up!” Clearly, the “each other” referred to the believers in the Church of Ephesus; not, some “universal church” on the other side of planet earth—we can pray for believers on the other side of the planet; but, it’s simply impossible to build up believers with whom we have no contact!

Jesus Uses Other People To Change Us

Jesus intends to use all the different people, with their diverse personalities & traits, to change us! He uses the difficult people, the annoying people, the “special grace” people, and, the sinful people to smooth out our rough—and, sometimes sinful—edges! “From Him the whole (“local church”) body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the (“local church”) body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part (of the “local church”)” v.16.  It is by our unique, diverse, spiritual experiences, with God, that together—as a “local church”—we have the opportunity to provide rich counsel & support to each other! For the one struggling with alcohol addiction, there are believers, in the body, who’ve been delivered from it! For the one struggling with sexual sin, there are believers, in the body, who are winning that battle with the Spirit’s help! So, there’s someone who will stand with you & encourage you in the fight! For those who admit they are a gossip; or, a liar; or, have anger issues; or, a cursing tongue; or, they’re bitter—someone in the local church body has been there; or, they’re fighting the same battle; and, together there’s mutual support!

There’s An App For That

Jesus designed the Church to be that community, or family, that meets one another’s needs! Someone, in the local church family, has either overcome the sin your struggling with; and, can offer support; or, someone is fighting the same battle & together you can keep each other accountable & see God do a sanctification work in your lives!  In summary, here’s what Paul is telling the local Church of Ephesus: God makes us stronger “collectively” than we will ever be “individually.” It’s the lone ranger sheep, not engaged in the community life of the Church, that the wolf goes after! He’s easy prey! Now, perhaps your wondering where you can find this kind of church! I’m afraid they are few; and, far between! Pray! Ask God’s Spirit to direct you! Search out this kind of church; and, BE that kind of church member! God Bless!

 

 

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I Am Not The Church! We Are!

-Jesus Sanctifies Us Through His Church!

Jesus uses His Church as a significant means to produce His intended changes in our lives.  Now, for many professed believers, in America, that is dissident because the Western Church has been such a huge disappointment & embarrassment. The problem has never been with Jesus’ Church; but,  with the human operation of His Church! We’ve “institutionalized” it when Jesus created it to be “communal.”

-What The Church Should Look Like

The Apostle Paul sets up what the Church should look like in his letter to the Church of Ephesus—I think we forget that this is written to a specific, local Church! He writes to “…the faithful saints in Christ Jesus at Ephesus…”; and, 9 times in 6 short chapters he refers to them as the “Church”—“ekklesia” is the original Greek word; and, it literally means a “called out assembly.” God calls out His Church of Jesus-Followers from the people of the world; and, the point of their being “called out” is to “assemble” in “community”; or, “communally” like a family; and, to meet each other’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

-The Church Does Life Together

Just take the time to read through ch. 4 of Ephesians; and, don’t read it through the glasses of your “American Church culture.” The “you’s” are NOT to be read as individual “you’s”—it’s “YOU”, the CHURCH, the community of believers doing life together! “I urge YOU (the Church of Ephesus),” Paul says, “to walk worthy of the calling YOU (the Church of Ephesus) have received…” It’s a corporate calling—YOU, the Church of Ephesus, have this calling TOGETHER! Paul says they ought to be so entrenched in their calling, TOGETHER, that the fruit of the Spirit is evident in the way they do ministry as a BODY—v.2 “with…humility…gentleness…patience & love…”; v.3 there should be unity in their community that’s Holy Spirit driven “…with a peace that binds US.”

-The Local Church Is One Body

Read it in context—the “US” is the Church of Ephesus! And, the Church of Ephesus is ONE BODY (v.4); and, Paul doesn’t break the body down to it’s “individual” parts until we get to v.7, “…now grace was given to each one of us…” And, this “grace” came to each individual—in the Church of Ephesus—in the form of a GIFT (v.8) from Jesus, our Messiah & Savior, to build up their local Church in Ephesus!

-Jesus’ Goal For His Church

In ch.4, v.13, of Paul’s letter to the Church of Ephesus he writes, “…that we (the Church of Ephesus) reach unity in the faith and the knowledge of Jesus growing in maturity…” Because of our “American Church Culture” we read into that our “individual” walk with Christ; but, that’s NOT the context of Paul’s words! Their individual spiritual maturity was not to be a “solo” act! Paul is saying that the goal was a spiritually mature “Church community”—a Church no longer resembling a bunch of immature little brats (v.14); but, mature believers speaking the truth to each other in love (v.15).  In the next verse, Paul tells them it’s the “whole body” (the Church of Ephesus) that ministers to their “whole body.” So, here’s the application—Jesus intends to use our local churches to sanctify us as individuals! We grow spiritually in the BODY!

 

Quit Trying So Hard!

-Is Change Even Possible?

Have your “New Year Resolutions” already hit the skids! Perhaps you’re at a place in your life where you think it’s impossible to change! What you’ve confirmed is the weakness of your flesh. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Church of Colosse, points out that human “regulations”—like “New Year Resolutions”—are powerless to change our fallen flesh:  “If you died with the Messiah to the elemental forces of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations:  ‘Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch?’ All these regulations…are commands and doctrines of men.  Although these have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value in curbing self-indulgence” Colossians 2:20-23.  That’s a sample of the world’s system for “behavior modification.” In our flesh, we wanna prove we can discipline ourselves to a “better behavior.” That gives us bragging rights to judge all the other wicked sinners by—but; that’s “legalism.”

-Legalism Is Simply Self-Effort

Legalism is our attempt to reach holiness through our own self-effort; or, “regulations” as Paul calls them here! Let me be clear—Paul is NOT referring to God’s law! You’re not a legalist for keeping His law! Sexual promiscuity, lying, stealing & murder are ALWAYS sin! It’s all the other stuff they ADD to God’s law that makes them a legalist!  I used to be a legalist—I wouldn’t play cards; or, go to the movie theatre! I wouldn’t think of going to church unless I was wearing a suit! I would never consider being part of a church where there were drums & guitars; or, anything other than a King James version of the Bible used in the pulpit! You may find that bizarre; but, be careful! Legalism is rather chameleon in nature—your “list” might be different; but, you’re “extra biblical” rules to perform by & force on others is just as legalistic!

-To Be “In Christ”

If you’re “in Christ” you’ve “…died to the elemental forces of this world,” Paul says, “Why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?” Jesus Christ is the great liberator! He set us FREE from “performance-driven faith”! If you’re “in Christ” remove the masks! Stop pretending you’re a super saint! Quit trying so hard to make yourself acceptable to the Father! He’s already accepted you “in Christ.”

-Declared Righteous!

If your faith is in Christ’s work on the cross, you’ve been “declared righteous.” That is your forever standing before God! There is NOTHING you can do that will ever make you more acceptable to God; and, there is NOTHING you’ve done that makes you less acceptable to Him! Jesus bore ALL YOUR SIN—past, present & future; and, His righteousness was placed in your account when you trusted His work by faith! Then, God’s Holy Spirit moved in; and, told your spirit that He’s ready to go to work in you! But, it will be HIS WORK! He doesn’t need you to get in the way & put on that “HOLIER than thou mask” by keeping a bunch of man-made, human-inspired rules! It’s in your “weakness” that He is strong! God rejects all human effort!

 

God’s High Regard For His Name

-He’s The God Of The Impossible!

There’s a great story, in 2 Chronicles 14, about a “good” king named Asa. That’s significant because Israel & Judah had a lot of “bad” kings.—“…Asa did what was good and right in the sight of the LORD his God…” v.2 says.  But, as God often does, in the lives of His saints, He uses “trouble” to grow our faith. In v.8, we read that “…Asa had an army of 300,000 from Judah bearing large shields and spears, and 280,000 from Benjamin…”; and, then “trouble” shows up— “…Zerah the Cushite came against them with an army of one million men and 300 chariots…” Do the math! Judah was in a mis-match, a humanly impossible situation! And, what was King Asa’s response? “Asa cried out to the LORD his God, and said, “LORD, it is nothing for You to help, whether with many or with those who have no power; help us, O LORD our God, for we rest on You, and in Your name we go against this multitude. O LORD, You are our God; do not let man prevail against You!” v.11.

-Why Don’t We Pray First?

Why do we tend to make prayer our last resort? Isn’t it our predisposition to try & work things out in our own wisdom 1st? We have a penchant for gritting our teeth; and, trying to work things out in our own strength! Only after we’ve exhausted all human resources do we finally pray about it! Why? Are we afraid we’re bothering Him? Waking Him up? Scripture says, “…He never sleeps, He never slumbers…” I want to challenge you to go back to v.11 and reread Asa’s prayer—this is a model prayer for getting God’s attention!

-Circumstances? Or, God’s Glory?

While his prayer was about his “circumstances,” it wasn’t really about his “circumstances”! It was a prayer about GOD! It was a prayer expressing concern for God’s GLORY! “This battle isn’t about me God,” to paraphrase Asa’s prayer, “It’s about YOU! There’s no one besides YOU! YOU help those without strength! We depend on YOU! Your NAME is at stake here! Don’t let a mere mortal hinder YOU!” God DOES NOT help those you help themselves! That’s a human LIE! He helps those who are weak & depend upon HIM! Asa understood that God’s ultimate goal in all He does is to magnify HIS GLORY!

-God’s Glory: Our Greatest Concern!

How do you define God’s “Glory”? It’s kind of like His “BEAUTY”—God’s “BEAUTY” is in His perfection; in His character; in His moral excellence! “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone” James 1:13. God’s highest goal is to preserve & display His infinite, awesome greatness & worth. That’s His GLORY! There is NOTHING of higher value! If God should have greater affection for anything He created, He would be unjust—He’d be an idolater!  So, here’s the principle—King Asa prayed right because his greatest concern was for God’s GLORY; not, for victory in this battle!  Our prayers should always be a request for God to bring GLORY to Himself through His answer! His GLORY, through the answer, is more important than our need!

 

 

Does God Get Disappointed With Us?

Can We Hurt God?

I know of a Youth Pastor who handed his students a 3-inch nail & told them to keep it in their pocket. Whenever they had a lustful thought, sassed their parents, or mistreated a classmate, they needed to reach in their pocket & poke that nail into their finger ‘til it hurt. “Draw a little blood,” he told them, “that way you’ll remember the pain those actions are causing God. You’ll know how disappointed He is with you right now!”

Ever Feel Like You Can’t Make God Happy?

Maybe that’s the picture of God that someone painted for you when you were growing up! Maybe you live every day thinking that you’re nothing but a big disappointment to God! Maybe you’ve messed up so badly & so many times that you think you could never make God happy with you! Well, here’s a statement that’ll rock your world— “If Jesus is your Savior, God will never be disappointed with you!

Is It Even Possible To Disappoint God?

Disappointment is comprised of 2 elements: surprise & frustration! People disappoint us when we’re surprised by something unexpected that they did; and, we’re frustrated by it! If Jesus is your Savior, God will never be disappointed with you because He is “omniscient”; or, “all-knowing.” Because He’s omniscient, He’s never surprised or frustrated! He’ll never say, “Wow! I never saw that coming!” The psalmist said, “Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I stand up; You understand my thoughts from far away…You are aware of all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, You know all about it, Lord” Psalm 139:1-6  God knows everything about us! So, we never surprise Him! Not once is the word translated “disappoint” ever used, in the Bible, in reference to God! An All-Knowing God can never have His hopes or expectations fail!

God’s Theology Of Forgiveness

Ultimately, He’s never disappointed with us because all our sin has already been paid for by Jesus on the cross! It’s been replaced with the “righteousness of Christ”! So, grab hold of God’s forgiveness! God’s forgiveness, through Christ is total! What God offers, through Jesus’ substitutionary work on the cross, is a radical, sweeping removal of every sin you’ve already committed & every sin you will ever commit the rest of your life! Review Colossians 2:13-14 and Psalm 103:12—He’s “removed our sins from us as far as the east is from the west”! So thorough is God’s forgiveness that we were forgiven before we ever sinned—our names were written in God’s book before the “foundation of the world” Revelation 13:8. He no longer holds our sin against us—“…God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them…” 2 Cor. 5:19. So, does God get disappointed with us? No! How could He when He no longer holds our sins & our missteps against us? He’s canceled our debt of sin!

 

 

Is Church Missions Biblical?

Does It Fit With Jesus’ Plan?

What does the Bible say about “missions”; and, how does it fit with Jesus’ plan for His Church? Let me say, at the start, that I don’t find the term “missions” to be very helpful! In fact, I don’t find it anywhere in Scripture & neither will you!

Confusion Over Missions

Unfortunately, it seems, in my 40 years of ministry involvement, that the term “missions” has created a kind of dichotomy in our thinking when it comes to sharing the Gospel—there’s “our church” evangelism effort at home here in America; and, then there’s “missions” or our evangelism effort outside our borders. But, let’s revisit Jesus’ Great Commission to the Church in Matthew 28:19,20.

One Verbal Imperative

Go, and make disciples of all nations,” Jesus said, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.” Now, there is only one verbal imperative; or, one single action word; and, it’s NOT the word “GO” as I’ve often heard preached! It’s “make disciples”; or, literally “disciple.” Just “disciple”— “…disciple all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father…” Jesus’ plan was & always has been all-world encompassing! It’s not an either-or-proposition; that we have either a strong evangelism effort here at home; or, we have a reputation for being missions minded! Both are the unacceptable extremes of Jesus’ plan for His Church; rather, it’s “BOTH-AND”!

Jesus Died For The World

Jesus’ death on the cross was for the world! God loves the world! Someday, in the eternal state, there will be those from “…every tribe & every nation gathered ‘round the throne of God…” in worship & praise to the Lamb of God. I much prefer the term “making disciples” to “missions.” It’s Biblical! It’s what Jesus called it! So, do you want to be a “world changer”? If you really want to impact the world…be a disciple maker for God. Ultimately, it’s not a “missions program” we need; but, Holy Spirit power to disciple His Church!

The Power We Need

What is the single most important factor in our disciple making efforts? Some might say “love for God” or “love for others”; but, I would argue that that is our motivation to disciple! The most important factor is probably Holy Spirit “power”— “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Everywhere in the world—when there is “much” Holy Spirit power there’s effective disciple making happening! Where there is “little” Holy Spirit power there is very little disciple making going on. Holy Spirit power is essential to being an effective disciple maker! More important than knowledge! More important than choosing the right words! Holy Spirit power is critical to how effective we are at sharing the Gospel!

What If Persecution Comes To America?

We Don’t Think It’ll Happen Here!

We sit in our offices & our homes watching the stories of persecuted Christians play out, from afar, on our monitors & our TV’s! Christian persecution happens in other nations; but, not ours! We may not say it out loud; but, the unprecedented freedoms that Christians enjoy in this country have led us to some unrealistic—even UNBIBLICAL—expectations. I’ve seen it in the political rhetoric!

An Entitlement Mentality

Many American believers have a sort of entitlement mentality; like, persecution just can’t happen here! Now let me be clear—I do not have a death wish! I pray that the persecution of Christians will not spill over our borders & into our land! I pray for God to send revival to His Church; that, the Church will fall deeply in love with God again & out of love with the created things of this world; that, God will open the gates of heaven to the spiritual refugees all around us & awaken them to faith in Christ; and, that God will do all that without a loss of freedom & without persecution here. But….what if that’s not God’s way for us?

What About His Sovereign Plan?

What if it’s part of His Sovereign plan to bring judgment to our sinful nation; and, as He often did with Israel in the Old Testament, use nations even more sinful than our own to bring about His judgment? The Apostle Peter talks about this: “For it brings favor if, mindful of God’s will, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if you sin and are punished, and you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favor with God. For you were called to this, because Christ also suffered for you…” 1 Peter 2:19-23.

Looking More Like Jesus

In summary, God uses persecution to make us look more like Jesus! That’s what Peter says here! Many Christians feel justified to be angry & lash out at those who persecute or harm them! We desperately need the Holy Spirit’s help to understand how we’re supposed to respond to suffering, persecution & mistreatment in a way that makes us look more like Jesus; and, we need His grace to live it out!

When Death Is Gain!

When Paul wrote the Church of Philippi, “For me, living is Christ and dying is gain”; He was saying that he loved Jesus so much that to lose everything in this life in order to be with Him was “gain.” Jesus was worth more than anything he might have or experience in this life. Death was a “GAIN” to him! If it should be God’s will to bring persecution to America, I pray God’s grace to ask my tormentor’s this question: “In Jesus I have my sins forgiven; He has restored my relationship with God my Father; I have an eternal home in heaven that’s being prepared for me right now; what can you offer me that’s better than that?”