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’s Plan For World Evangelism

-We’re Insulated From The Real World!

There’s something about living in America that insulates us from the real world. When we see pictures of some of the horrors that choke the rest of the world, they seem so far away that they’re almost surreal! Well, Church, we need to awaken from our slumber; and, we need to see the world through the lens of Scripture. We need to face some realities—at best, 1/3rd of the world knows Christ if you count everyone who claims to be a Christian! Even if we give them the benefit of the doubt, that still means that 4.5 billion people are, by their own admission, non-followers of Christ. They remain eternally separated from the God of creation at this moment!

-We’ve Failed The Rest Of The World!

What is God’s will for these? “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” 2 Peter 3:9.  It’s not God’s will that any of these would perish? So, why are many of them dying without ever hearing the Gospel? It’s because we—Christ’s Church—have failed them! And, we are without excuse! It is God who empowers us to be His witnesses to the whole world! We can’t ratchet up enough strength to follow through on the Great Commission. Jesus told His disciples, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you…” Acts 1:8. His Spirit has come; and, He indwells each of us! God commands us to embrace the lostness of the whole world—”…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

-Jesus Didn’t Just Die For “US”; Or, The “U.S.”!

We need to face a humbling truth that Jesus didn’t just die for US! We may not say it; but, we live like we think God is an American! But, John 3:16 doesn’t say that “God loves ME so much He sent Jesus to die for ME.” The message of Biblical Christianity is that God loves me so that I might make HIM known among ALL the NATIONS! It’s about the LOSTNESS of the whole world before God; and, reconciliation by the work of Christ! The total depravity of the world requires our faithful witness to the Gospel’s work on behalf of sinners!

-The Gospel Is Intended For All Ethnic Groups!

He says, “…YOU will be MY witnesses…” We are witnesses of the Gospel work He has done in us! In Christ’s commission— “Go and make disciples of all NATIONS…”—that word, “nations”, is “ethnos” in the original Greek. It’s the word we get “ethnic” from in English. So, it’s “ethnic” groups or “people groups.” And, in Matthew 24:14, Jesus says, “…this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the NATIONS, and then the end will come.” Same word! So, it seems that God intends for all people groups to hear the Gospel before the end comes! Let’s be faithful to our calling

 

When Good Things Become Bad Things!

-Is There Passion For God & Man?

I appreciate believers that are “free thinkers”; who, think outside the box; who, challenge the way things have always been done! Not with a spirit of rebellion; but, brothers & sisters, in Christ, that are just passionate for God; and, passionate for the souls of men! And, they’re always questioning whether there’s a better way to do God’s work more successfully—men & women given to prayer; who, are begging God for wisdom to do His work His way! Followers, of Jesus, that are not trapped by the traditions of men; even, traditions of the church that can be elevated to a place of idolatry & prominence above the Word of God, if not viewed carefully!

-It’s Time To Look In The Mirror, Church!

It’s time to look at ourselves through the mirror of God’s Word, Church! It’s time to ask ourselves the tough questions; to, investigate whether we’ve gotten off course; if, we’ve settled for something less than the best of God’s plans for us! Because all the good things we do can become bad things when our motive isn’t pure and holy!  The Apostle Paul called out the Church of Corinth for using their gifts, for ministry, only when they could be seen prominently!  The praise of men can be intoxicating! Jesus noted that many religious leaders, of His day, prayed when they could be heard in public; and, fasted only to be seen of men; and, gave money if honored for it! We all have to guard against false motives when doing our ministry! Are there certain things that are “beneath us” because no one would see us?

-The Church’s Sole Purpose For Existence!

The Apostle John, in 1 John 3:16-18, says that our ministry is properly focused when it’s motivated by a love for Christ; and, a love for others! Jesus’ ministry was others-focused—“love” for the Father; and, “love” for a humanity crushed by sin! Good things also become bad things, for the Church, when they are given priority over Jesus’ mandate to “…make disciples…” That is our sole purpose for existence! That has to be the grid through which we make all our decisions, Church! If that’s not how we do ministry, the “tyranny of good things” will rule instead! We can do a lot of “good things” disobediently!

-Are We Living Like A Pharisee?

It’s always been man’s way, since “the Fall”, to form our own rules; and, ask God to bless them! Like the Pharisees, in Jesus’ day, we wanna play god! We’ve organized our churches as if God exists to meet our needs & cater to our comforts! Our discussions often revolve around what we want rather than what He wills! It’s time to repent; and, come home to the Father, Church! It’s time to admit how prone we are to exalt our work over God’s will; and, our dreams over God’s desires; and, our plans over God’s priorities! God’s blessing only comes to His Church when we live to make Him known among the nations!

 

Do You Believe It Can Happen Again?

-The Church Of Acts Made Disciples

The book of Acts is an exciting book to read if you’re a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. Filled with the Holy Spirit, the early Church was bold & intentional to obey Jesus’ Great Commission to “make disciples”; and, the results were inspiring— “…that day there were added about three thousand souls” (ch. 2:41);  and,  then we read that “…the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (ch. 2:47).  A couple chapters later we read, “Many who heard the message believed…and the number of the men came to be about five thousand” (ch. 4:4). The next chapter uses the term “multitudes” to describe those added to the church, “…all the more believers…multitudes of men and women were added to their number” (ch. 5:14).

-The Math Of Disciple-Making

From that point, the text says the number of disciples was “multiplied”; and, “…the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region” (ch. 13:49).That’s the math of disciple making—God first “added” to the church; then, “multitudes” were added; and, finally, the number of disciples “multiplied.” Once the Spirit begins to “multiply” the number of disciples, you have an incredible movement of God!

-Just A Nice Story?

What’s in your heart as you reflect on those events? Is it simply “historical” to you—another great BIBLE STORY that doesn’t hold much meaning for today? Or, do you believe that God still works like that when His people are genuinely broken enough to repent of their disobedience to His Commission; and, begin to intentionally love people & disciple them into the kingdom? Do you believe it can happen again? I spent yesterday morning at a Gospel Coalition meeting in Omaha; and, found it incredibly refreshing talking with a number of “20 somethings” passionately taking the Gospel to the city of Omaha. The number of new believers, coming to Jesus, is happening so quickly that they hardly have enough workers to disciple them! By faith they simply believe what Jesus said: “The fields are white, ready to harvest…pray the Lord of the Harvest, that He will send forth laborers!” God, bless us with laborers who just believe Jesus & act!

-Yes! It Can Happen Again!

Steve Smith, who wrote “A Discipleship Re-Revolution”, said this: “A discipleship revolution ignited a firestorm of loving evangelistic zeal and fervent obedience that took the kingdom into the remotest corners of the known world in a period of years & decades, not centuries…This process of winning new believers and training them to witness to others who believed & witnessed to others cascaded out in ripples that touched the farthest reaches of the empire.” Hey Church—let us repent! Let us come back to “ground zero”! We are called to “make disciples”! That’s the way we change America and the world!

 

 

Worship God Or Save Souls?

-What’s The Church’s Highest Purpose?

What is the highest purpose of the Church? Let me break it down for you— “Soteriology” is “the study of the doctrine of salvation in Jesus Christ”; and, “Doxology” is “the study of the doctrine of worship and praise.” The debate is over which is the highest purpose of the Church:  The salvation of souls; or, the worship, praise, and glory of God?

-Answering That Question With Another Question

Let me answer that question with another question—the question that Jesus was asked by one of the Pharisees, “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?” And, Jesus responded:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command.  The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” Matthew 22:36-39. NOTHING is to be placed above our love, loyalty & worship of God! NOTHING! For those, of you, fearful that I’m kicking evangelism and disciple-making to the curb, your fear is unfounded! Here’s why—we cannot worship God with all our heart, soul, and mind without actively discipling the lost because that is the Commission Jesus has given the Church; and, “If you love me,” He said, “You will keep my commandments.”

-Clarifying The Argument

So, the argument is not whether we disciple the lost or not! We have no option—if we love & worship God we will evangelize and disciple the lost! The debate is over “priorities”—if we give higher preference to winning the lost than we do to love, loyalty, and the worship of God, we’re guilty of IDOLATRY! We’ve become “man-centered” rather than “God-centered.” If God placed the salvation of souls above the worship of God, He would be guilty of IDOLATRY! When the worship of God is revived in the hearts of His people, God sends a “revival”—God sends revival when we worship Him with humble, repentant hearts; and, when we stand in awe of HIS beauty & great worth! John, the baptizer, had it right:  “He (Jesus) must increase & I must decrease.” The word “vive” means “to be alive”; so, “revive” means “to make alive again.”  Like the doctor who “revives” a clinically dead patient, God “revives” the believer who has flat-lined spiritually!

-The Holy Spirit Does The Resuscitating

Has your walk with the Lord become dormant or stagnant? Have you been lazy about your faith? Has it trickled down to your attitude toward the lost? When was the last time you gave testimony of your faith; or, been in a disciple-making relationship with someone? Pray for personal revival—when God “revives” you, you’ll be engaged, once again, in worshipping Him; and, loving the lost that Jesus came to save! God is so good to start over with us! Let Him make your heart sensitive and broken once again! Let Him remove the leanness that has overrun your soul! Let Him make you painfully aware of your sin!