Daniel & His Faith Community

-A Place For Spiritual Transformation!

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

I have personally witnessed great spiritual transformation in the lives of believers when they changed ONE thing—they began living in the community of faith! They got involved with other believers! They joined a Small Group; and, they began to share their lives & do life together! When King Nebuchadnezzar, of Babylon, demanded that his wisemen & counselors reveal the meaning of his dream—and, what he actually dreamed—Daniel responded, to the crisis, by taking it to his faith community! “Then Daniel went to his house and told his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah about the matter” (Daniel 2:17).

-We Weren’t Created For Isolation!

Don’t try and wing life on your own! God didn’t create us for isolation—He created us in His image…He of the triune community! He created us for community with Himself; and, for community with each other! “Without guidance, people fall, but with many counselors there is deliverance” (Prov. 11:14) Daniel did more than just hang out with his friends—he prayed with them! He urged “…them to ask the God of heaven for mercy concerning this mystery, so Daniel and his friends would not be killed with the rest of Babylon’s wise men” (Daniel 2:18).

-The Community That Prays Together!

Earlier, in the passage (v.10), the King’s counselors and advisors had told him that he was demanding something, from them, that “…no man on earth could do.” And, they were right! But, Daniel knew that a man fully connected to God, through prayer, could move God to do what “…no man on earth could do” & God responded! He answered their prayers & did the impossible. He gave Daniel the dream & the interpretation: “The mystery was then revealed to Daniel in a vision at night” (2:19).

-Praise: The Appropriate Response!

And, Daniel responded with praise (2:19-23); or, the only appropriate response when we’ve experienced a movement of God! He praised God’s name; or, His character & reputation! He praised God for His wisdom & power; and, for His Sovereignty over the times, the seasons & the nations! He praised God for the gift of wisdom & understanding that He shares with men! He praised God for revealing “hidden things” like dreams; and, for the grace He had personally extended him!

-How God Uses “Impossible” Situations!

Daniel’s story shows us that God uses the “impossible” situations, in life, to expose counterfeits—the Babylonian religion was the idolatrous worship of demons! God is beginning to kick out the props holding up the King’s “faith” in his counterfeit idols. God also uses the “impossible” situations, in life, to introduce Himself— “Here I am, King! I’m the one you’re really looking for!” Daniel answered the King: “No wise man, medium, diviner-priest, or astrologer is able to make known to the King the mystery…but, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” (2:27) God also uses the “impossible” situations, in life, to sanctify & grow His disciples! With every obedient step, that Daniel took, he was growing more confident in God! Life is rarely just about YOU—it’s intertwined in the lives of others!

 

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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!

 

 

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!

 

God Is Great! God Is Good!

-God Is Also Very Personal!

I still remember our prayer, before meals, growing up—“God is great! God is good! Let us thank Him for our food! Amen!” Nothing wrong with those words! They acknowledge God! But, they’re repetitious words that just aren’t very “personal.” And, God is personal! The Psalmist wrote these words:  “One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard:  that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving. Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done” Psalm 62:11-12.

-God Reveals Himself Through Scripture!

God uses the Scriptures to reveal Himself to us; and, Jesus—God’s “Word” incarnate—revealed, to us, what God looked like in the flesh. He loves us! He’s actively involved in our justification, our sanctification; and, ultimately, our glorification! We are “His workmanship”—He continues to image us into the likeness of His Son. So, what is the biggest hindrance to His work in us? We are! We get in the way of our own spiritual growth.

-Get Out Of The Way & Let God!

But, God is great; and, God is good! He is strong enough to change us when we quit being controlling! The Psalmist said He is “strong”—in fact, He is “omnipotent”; or, ALL POWERFUL! You can’t manipulate Him! So, why do you try? Why would you want to? He is a benevolent God! All of His intentions, toward us, are kind & good! He is also strong enough to change us when we quit fearing man! One major reason, for our sinful behavior, is our craving for man’s approval! We fear the rejection of some person; but, “The fear of man lays a snare. Whoever trusts in the LORD, however, is safe” Prov 29:25.  When you live for the approval & acceptance of others you succumb to a form of “idolatry.” You’ve placed created beings on the throne of your life instead of your Creator! God is great; and, God is good! And, He loves us enough to change us when we quit looking for love in all the wrong places! It’s the goodness of God, Scripture says, that leads us to repentance. He calls us to find, in Him, the only thing that truly satisfies! Whatever the stuff of this world offers you, God offers you more! He isn’t just better than that stuff; He’s the BEST!

-Quit Trying To Prove Yourself!

That’s the heart of the Gospel message—because God is love, He will change us when we quit trying to prove we can do it ourselves! Salvation is not about what we do for God; rather, it’s about what God has already done for us! Like the Father, in the story of the Prodigal Son, God always welcomes us! He will rescue us from ourselves when we confess we’ve messed it all up! If you’ve had the tendency, like I have, to think God’s going to rub your nose in your sin for a little while before He forgives you, you’re mistaken! That’s not God! The Psalmist said: “…you, O LORD, are LOVING…” He comes running when we confess to Him! He embraces us & changes us when we stop trying to prove, to Him, our worthiness!

 

Gripped By God’s Greatness

-Satan Always Offers A Counterfeit

When Adam & Eve chose to listen to the wisdom of a talking snake shortly after taking their 1st  breath—air, compliments of their Creator God, by the way—the result was more than just a severed relationship with God. It was more than getting kicked out of paradise. What the serpent offered them, in exchange for their soul, was individual sovereignty;—or, “god likeness”—without the Power of God! The Power of God, necessary to carry out individual sovereignty, was NOT the serpent’s to give! So, they chose to accept Satan’s counterfeit offer “to be LIKE god”; but, without the “Power of God” all they could make was a decision to disobey.

-Our False Sense Of Individual Sovereignty

So, that decision to “be like god” was hard-wired into every individual through Adam & Eve’s original sin.  We’re all born into the world “acting” like we believe we’re “God”; and, growing up with this false sense of “individual sovereignty” without the “Power Of God” to back it up! The result is what some people call a “god complex”—it’s in our DNA. We’re self-deluded from birth! We’re arrogant! We think we’re infallible! We seek to control our environment from the moment we’re aware of it! It doesn’t help that we have parents; or, other people in our lives, who say silly things to us like: “You can do anything you put your mind to!” Really?

-You Can Do Anything You Put Your Mind To! Really?

So, I started putting my mind to it—I was going to be 6’ tall and play basketball in the NBA! I was going to be valedictorian in my class! I was going to become independently wealthy! Guess what! I’ve never been any of those things! It’s not until God lets us “crash & burn” a few times that we begin to realize we’ve been duped; and, with the Holy Spirit’s help, the Gospel begins to make sense to us! Hey! We’re NOT in control! We’re out of control! We’re broken; and, we need a Savior because we can’t save ourselves! Jesus became that Savior through His work on the cross! And, He saves us from ourselves—from our “god complex”! Then the Holy Spirit moves in & begins to “reprogram” us; so, we start to look more like Jesus! Let us be gripped, Church, by the greatness of our God!

-Above And Beyond

In Ephesians 3:20, the Apostle Paul encouraged the Church of Ephesus with these words: “Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us.” God can do more than we could ever ask or think because His Spirit indwells us! It’s not about US! It’s about the BIG GOD who indwells us! That’s where the power is! If our ministry is not about Him & His glory our efforts are futile! “Self-Reliance” is such a subtle sin! It constantly slips into our ministry efforts! Let us humble ourselves before Him—“He must increase; and, I must decrease!”  Dear God…bring Revival!

Growing Up Spiritually In Community

While The World Obsesses Over The “Self”

We’ve often pointed out that the world generally obsesses over the “self”;  while, God—in the Scriptures—directs us to be “God-focused” and “others-focused”! Unfortunately, this “self-centeredness” has trickled down into our churches; so, that, even our spiritual growth is seen as something accomplished as an “individual.” The community of faith is recognized as “supplemental”, not “essential”, to our spiritual growth. We believe the Scriptures debunk that individualistic mindset.

Build Up The Body

God uses our local church—our faith community—to grow us “at a deeper & more intimate level than can be accomplished alone.” Paul often reminded the local churches (as he did the Church of Ephesus in ch.4:11-16) that they were to function as a “body” functions; not as a group of self-centered, self-absorbed individuals! The “work of the ministry” was to “build up the BODY”, he said. The spiritual growth God intends to accomplish, in us individually, happens in the context of the local church body—it’s NOT that we don’t grow as “individuals”; we do! But that growth comes in our interaction with other believers!

Isolation Welcomes Spiritual Defeat

When we live an isolated life on the outside of the church we live as though we are autonomous! Only God, however, is truly autonomous! He answers to no one! We, however, will ultimately give account to God for our lives; and, He has devised the Church body to keep us accountable! It’s His plan that by holding ourselves accountable to other believers we will be stretched & matured so that we might hear a “Well done good & faithful servant” when we stand before Him! We are called to “Bear one another’s burdens”; and, those burdens come in different shapes and sizes. Sometimes we are burdened by sin. At other times, our burden is physical or emotional; and, God intends to use our brothers & sisters, in Christ, to mature us!

Why Are We Here?

Since making disciples is the main reason why a church exists, everything in the corporate body of the local church needs to be aligned in a way that funnels people toward these discipleship environments, the most notable of which is the relational small group”—from the chapter titled “Rethinking Our Practices” p.171 in Jim Putnam’s excellent book, DiscipleShift.