Your role in the local church, part 3

24 May

We sometimes use the busyness of life as an excuse for not serving Jesus in the local church.

And, over the previous posts we have been looking at why that is such a serious mistake. One of the biggest reason being as a believer God has gifted you to serve the church. This spiritual gifting is easy to take for granted and so we are working our way through Ephesians 4 and looking at how Paul highlights this privilege.

He begins by reminding us of exactly who gave us this gift. Then he points out how He gave us this gift.

And we can at least get this.

From what is honestly a little bit more of a confusing section in these verses.

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:8,

“Therefore it says.”

Which means Paul’s quoting Scripture, here the Old Testament, and he likes to do that, the writers of the New Testament clearly saw the Old Testament as having authority, and here’s he specifically, quoting a psalm.

Psalm 68.

It says.

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives and he gave gifts to men.”

So.

In other words, Paul’s saying this giving of spiritual gifts to the church was prophesied about in the Old Testament.

Now we sometimes think of prophecies only as prophets standing up and speaking about something that will happen in the future, but that’s not the only kind of prophecy we find in the Old Testament, sometimes God takes real historical events, and he uses those events to prefigure something that is going to come later.

And that’s what is happening here.

Because, in Psalm 68 David is talking about how God’s defeated his enemies, and it’s hard to know which enemies and when some people think it refers all the way back to the Exodus, and others that he’s talking about the time when God helped him defeated the Jebusites. .

But really, whichever, he’s at least giving us a picture.

How after a king won a battle, he would come into the city, with a long line of people following behind, sometimes people he had captured, sometimes even perhaps, prisoners of war, whom he had rescued, and as the city was celebrating all around him, he would ascend to the highest hill, with all these people who had come with him, and with all the spoils of war, he had taken as well.

And at that moment.

A good king might receive gifts, as people came to bring him honor, and yet, even as he received those gift, a good king would be generous, and would distribute those gifts among his people.

And Paul’s saying.

That’s a good picture of what happened with Jesus.

Because he went to war.

And he won.

Through his death and resurrection, he achieved a great victory, over his enemies, and after that victory, he ascended from earth into heaven.

Leading a host of captives.

Paul says.

And I don’t know.

I am not sure.

But maybe this is describing the way Jesus triumphed over demonic forces, or the opposite, it could be a picturesque way of describing, Jesus presenting the people He had freed, to His father.

But again.

Either way.

The point is.

That part of the whole goal, and this is something, even Jesus Himself said, as to why He had to leave, and ascend, was so that He could send the Spirit.

To gift the church.

Which of course, we know He did.

And that’s Paul’s point, as we think our spiritual gifts, he wants us to picture this great king, in his moment of great triumph, thinking about and actually sharing his victory with his people.

In other words.

Jesus kept working for us, even after He was exalted.

And you know in case we are confused, Paul goes on to explain.

That’s verses 9 and 10.

And his explanation is actually a little bit confusing as well, but I will try to give you what I think is the idea.

He says in verse 9.

“In saying, He ascended, what does it mean, but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth.”

So.

It’s like Paul’s clarifying.

Ok.

You know.

I quoted that verse.

But I don’t you want to miss the point, the significance.

Obviously, the reason we have these spiritual gifts is because Jesus ascended into heaven and gave them to us, but you have to slow down and think about that, because if it says he ascended to give us these gifts, it also has to mean that he descended first.

He came down.

Paul says.

Into the lower regions.

And that’s a little bit tricky, because there are lots of different ideas of what Paul means, but I think he’s simply saying, he descended into the lower regions, namely, the earth.

Like, by lower regions, I mean, literally the earth.

I know some people think it’s talking about Jesus descending into hell. But, really I don’t think there’s much reason for thinking that.

Because the earth, obviously, is much, much lower than where he’s sitting and ruling right now and I think the point, is to get us thinking about what Jesus went through, to give us these spiritual gifts, we now enjoy.

It’s maybe like he’s saying if you want to know why you should be using your gifts within the church, you have to think about the cost; because, it’s Jesus who has given you this gift, and in order to give you this gift, He had to make himself nothing, and take on the form of a servant Himself.

In other words, He had to come down.

Like, I think we can imagine, if someone gave us a gift, that cost him his life, that we’d have to be pretty hard-hearted to take that gift for granted, and yet, that’s not even a small comparison, of what it cost Jesus, that we might have the Spiri, and so if you are thinking, it’s no big deal, if I just sort of live life off myself and do my thing, you better think again.

Because.

Jesus came down.

And you know, in case that’s not grabbing hold of you, the way it should, Paul goes on and reminds us of who this Jesus is in verse 10.

“He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.”

I mean, in case you write Jesus off.

Where, you look at him dying on the cross and think, I guess, it’s not so serious, if I don’t take seriously, His plans, Paul says, this one who descended in order to give you these gifts, is also the very one who ascended.

In other words.

He’s the one whom God the Father’s exalted to the position of highest authority anywhere in the universe.

Like Paul says it back in Ephesians 1.

Verse 20.

“He raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

And I guess I am just saying.

I think we have to keep these things in mind.

As we think about relationship to the local church.

It’s not like we are just here.

Doing our thing.

Jesus.

Has given us a gift.

And He’s given us this gift at great cost to himself.

And we have got to take that seriously, because when we talk about Jesus, we are talking about the King of the Universe.

Amazing Grace

20 May

It is sad how easy it is to become used to the grace of God.

We sing amazing grace, but are we really amazed by it?

If we are not as amazed by it as we want, which unfortunately, is the way I am all too often, it helps, I think, to force yourself to look again.

Think about how much this gift cost.

When you think about the value of the gift God gave you it will help you see that His kindness is amazing.

He gave you His only begotten Son.

What greater gift could He have possibly given?

And then think about the benefits you have received as a result of the gift God gave you. I think, you’ll be stunned.

There’s what you are not going to receive as a result.

You have been delivered from unending wrath.

And, then of course there is what you get in its place.

You have received unending glory instead. Angels are going to be amazed by you.

If you meditate on your own unworthiness for the gift He gave you, you’ll begin to become overwhelmed.

Instead of deserving this gift, you actually deserved the opposite.

The greatest of gifts to the ones who least deserved it. That is the way God has worked.

And then when you consider the way in which He made it possible for you to enjoy this gift, you are going to want to shout for joy.

He sent His Son to become man and die and be executed on your behalf.

There is a sense in which His grace is really scary, isn’t it? I mean, imagine someone giving you a gift that you know he purchased at the cost of the person he loved most.

And of course, what makes all this grace and kindness that you are experiencing even more remarkable, is the fact that it is so free. God did not have to give us anything. He could have rejected us the way he damned the angels who sinned.

But He didn’t.

Let’s pray that we never, ever, get used to that! God’s grace really is amazing.

Ministry, with heart!

17 May

You must have a real desire for the good of the people if you are to have much influence over them.

Why, even dogs and cats love the people who love them, and human beings are much the same as these . . . People very soon get to know when a cold man gets into the pulpit, one of those who seem to have been carved out of a block of marble. There have been one or two of our brethren of that kind, and they have never succeeded anywhere. When I have asked the cause of their failure, in each case the reply has been, “He is a good man, a very good man; he preaches well, very well, but still we do not get on with him.” I have asked, “Why do you not like him?” The reply has been, “Nobody ever did like him.” “Is he quarrelsome?” “Oh! dear no, I wish he would make a row.” I try to fish out what the drawback is, for I am very anxious to know, and at last someone says, “Well, sir, I do not think he has any heart; at least, he does not preach and act as if he had any.”

It is very sad when the failure of any ministry is caused by want of heart.

You ought to have a great big heart, like the harbour at Portsmouth or Plymouth, so that all the people in your congregation could come and cast anchor in it, and feel that they were under the lee of a great rock. Do you not notice that men succeed in the ministry, and win souls for Christ, just in proportion as they are men with large hearts . . . if you are to win men to Jesus; you must be Great-hearts if you are to lead many pilgrims to the Celestial City.

I have seen some very lean men who said that they were perfectly holy, and I could almost believe that they could not sin, for they were like old bits of leather, there did not appear to be anything in them that was capable of sinning. I met one of these “perfect” brethren once, and he was just like a piece of sea-weed, there was no humanity in him. I like to see a trace of humanity somewhere or other about a man, and people in general like it, too; they get on better with a man who has some human nature in him.

Human nature, in some aspects, is an awful thing; but when the Lord Jesus Christ took it, and joined His own divine nature to it, He made a grand thing of it, and human nature is a noble thing when it is united to the Lord Jesus Christ. Those men who keep themselves to themselves, like hermits, and live a supposed sanctified life of self-absorption, are not likely to have any influence in the world, or to do good to their fellow-creatures. You must love the people, and mix with them, if you are to be of service to them. There are some ministers who . . . do not accomplish so much good as those who are more human, those who go and sit down with the people, and make themselves as much as possible at home with them.

You know, brethren, that it is possible for you to appear to be just a wee bit too good, so that people will feel that you are altogether transcendental beings, and fitter to preach to angels, and cherubim, and seraphim, than to the fallen sons of Adam.

Just be men among men; keeping yourselves clear of all their faults and vices, but mingling with them in perfect love and sympathy, and feeling that you would do anything in your power to bring them to Christ, so that you might even say with the apostle Paul, “Though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”

Charles Spurgeon, The Soul Winner

Your role in the local church, part 2

16 May

Before we talk about what you are supposed to do for Christ in serving His church, it’s important we just stop and think about what Jesus has done in serving you.

Our motivation to serve others increases as we consider the way Jesus has served us.

Because.

It’s not only that He’s died for you.

In Ephesians 4, Paul’s saying that He’s gone further.

And given each one of us a gift.

I mean, every single one of us has a gift to use, and it’s a gift that Jesus himself has specifically measured out.

There’s not a single person who is a Christian that Jesus has left out. We each have something from Jesus that He gave to us that others in the church need.

Which, to me.

Is really remarkable to think about.

Because obviously none of us on our own could do anything for God, which means basically if God left us on our own, our entire lives would be one big waste, because it is only what is done for God, that really matters.

So.

If God just left us to ourselves, we would be spending our whole lives using all of our time and all of our energy to accomplish pretty much nothing that matters.

Which of course, is part of what makes what Paul is saying, Jesus has done, so amazing, because in saving us, He not only, forgave us of all our sin, He also equipped us with very specific abilities that we didn’t have before.

Through which we can now serve the church and do things that can make an eternal impact, which is part of why I think, Paul describes this, as grace.

It’s not just like, “Hey. Serve the church. Do stuff. Come on. Work harder.”

Because the reality is, Jesus doesn’t need you.

And He definitely doesn’t need me.

To build the church.

He can get church done without us.

It’s not like.

Jesus was up in heaven saying oh man I am in trouble here, how can I help this person over here change. Please help me.

If he wanted to help that person by himself, he could that.

Obviously.

He could just go ahead and give that person absolutely everything needs.

To live out the Christian life.

Without you.

But He didn’t.

That’s the thing.

Instead, He’s stooped down, and He’s measured out gifts and spread out all the grace we need to live out this Christian life amongst all of us, which I think is so kind, because it means, while I may not be important in the world, and I may not have a family that is very significant, and I might feel like, my life you know is at a dead end, if I am a Christian, the fact is, I have purpose, Jesus has given me the Holy Spirit, and He’s given a supernatural gift, He’s literally entrusted this gift to me, and this gift is truly needed in the church.

I have a role to play.

That’s grace.

We all do.

As believers, we all have “supernatural abilities that are energized by the Holy Spirit to enable us to make a spiritual impact in the body of Christ for the good of others.”

1 Corinthians 12:7.

 “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.“

And I guess.

One of the things I love about this too.

Is that it is something he gives uniquely to each individual. We each have a gift, and there’s a sense in which each of the gifts we’ve been given, our unique.

It’s not like at Christmas.

You know.

And there’s someone who wants to maybe serve the poor or something, and so he decides he’s going to give all these gifts to these boys and girls. And yet he doesn’t want to waste a lot of time, because he has a lot of gifts to give, so he just makes a list, you know, boys get a toy car, and girls get a doll, and he doesn’t even think about it very much. So he just sends his secretary down to the store, and she grabs all the same toy cars, and all the same dolls, and then just plops down into the box, so that he can take them somewhere where there’s a lot of needy people and hand them out.

You can imagine the crowd.

Around him.

Oh you are boy.

Here you go.

You are a girl.

All right.

Enjoy.

And that’s not I am saying how it works with Jesus and the church. It’s not like Jesus sees this poor and needy church.

And he’s like.

They need preaching.

And so.

Ok.

He goes and he digs into his closet and he brings out this same exact gift of preaching, and he gives it to all these different people, to help the church.

No, here in Ephesians, the picture is of Jesus, measuring these gifts out.

The way a former pastor of mine has put it, it’s like.

As we look at the Bible, there are these categories of gifts, service, teaching, giving, whatever, and it’s like they are colors on a pallet, that’s something an artist uses to paint, you know with all the different colors of paint, and it’s like Jesus dips His brush and paints you with a mix of the colors available on the pallet.

To make this beautiful painting of the church.

Or another illustration, you might use, is that of a fingerprint.

“Every one of us has a different fingerprint. And just as God has marked us out and identified us uniquely by our fingerprints. He’s done the same with our spiritual giftedness.”

Which means.

We can’t just sort of hide away and think, oh, you know, it doesn’t matter if I’m serving or involved, because I don’t have anything to give, and feel like we are being so humble, oh I am not important, yeah we know that, you are not important, but Jesus is, and if you are Christian, Jesus says he has given you a gift, and it’s a unique gift.

He’s actually measured it out.

And not to use it.

It’s like.

Putting him down.

It’s like I don’t think you knew what you were doing in saving and gifting me. I don’t think you have the ability to do what you say you can.

Which is definitely disobedience.

Because, you are not able to do what you are able to do in the church, because you are somehow such an amazing person, you are able to do what you can do in the church, because the King of the church, came to you, and He said, here, I want to give you this, so that you can use it for others.

Which I think is a pretty powerful first motivation, for stepping up, and getting involved in the life of the local church.

Think about who gifted you to serve.

Your role in the local church, part 1

11 May

The way the Bible describes how relationships within the local church are supposed to work is beautiful.

Listen to Paul.

In Ephesians 4:1.

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

Now, that is, obviously, huge.

Especially if you know what Paul’s been saying about way you’ve been called.

Being a Christian is not just something that just happened because you believed a set of facts. According to Ephesians 1 through 3, it’s something God’s been working on, since the beginning of the world. Paul says He chose us before the foundation of the world and then you know, he just goes on and on about all the privileges we now have in Christ, and all that God is doing through the church, even in the heavenly places, where the angels exist, and I am saying, as you read about all that’s behind our calling, it makes what Paul says here, something huge.

Because, the church is supposed to walk or live in a manner, a way, that is actually worthy of the calling, to which we have been called, that matches up to it.

 In other words.

Our life together as a local church is supposed to match up, or remind people a little, of what God’s done for us in Christ.

And he describes what that kind of lifestyle looks like exactly in verses 2 and following when he says,

“…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Which, I am saying, sounds beautiful.

Humility.

Gentleness.

Patience.

Bearing with one another in love.

United.

Who doesn’t want that?

It would be absolutely beautiful to be part of a local church enjoying relationships like that.

But is it actually possible?

That’s the question.

And you need to ask it.

Because, while you find a lot of people who might agree with that, and even say they want those kinds of relationships, you don’t find a lot of people who actually have them.

Even in local churches.

Which is why after describing what he wants from us, in terms of our relationships, in the local church.

Paul does two things.

First he tells us why these kinds of relationships are so important, in verses 4 through 6.

He says,

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

In other words.

As Paul looks at the nature of the Christian faith, there’s this word that keeps shouting back at him, and that’s one, one body, one spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God, and with all this one that’s involved in what we believe, it only makes sense, if we are going to put the beauty of what God’s done in the gospel on display in the way live as a local church that we have to actually live as one body.

It’s got to affect our relationships which is, of course, I’m saying, given how selfish we are, and all the challenges we face, the hard part, and, that’s why Paul doesn’t only tell us the reason, we are supposed to pursue these deep and united relationships as members of a local church.

He also talks us how.

In verses 7 through 16.

It’s like Paul, having said all these great things about what God’s doing in the church, and about what the church is supposed to be, is slowing down here in these verses, to start talking with us, very practically, about how we actually become the church, God’s designed us to be.

And his answer.

 I want you to see.

Has a lot to do, with you.

Personally.

Not just you by yourself, obviously.

With your own skills and talents. In your own strength.

Like, oh man, it’s up to me.

But with God’s plan for you in saving you.

And with the way He’s designed the local church to work.

You.

If you are a believer.

Are important.

To the work of the local church.

To the local church, really being something beautiful, becoming what its meant to be.

This text is Paul saying that the way God planned for the local church to get to the point where it is actually fulfilling its calling, in other words, the way God planned for the local church to actually become the church in practice that it is already because of what Jesus’ done, is by each person who is part of the church, fulfilling their God-given role.

Using their gifts.

The way Paul puts it.

Verse 7.

“But grace.

And by grace.

He’s not talking about saving grace but instead about spiritual gifts.

Which are basically.

A combination of abilities you have in you through the Spirit’s enabling.

To help you help other believers grow.

So.

Basically.

In God’s great design.

Paul’s saying.

Because He wants the church to be what He designed to be.

After saving you by grace and joining you to the church He shows you more grace, by giving you a special ability that you are supposed to use to share an aspect of His grace with others.

Verse 7.

Again.

“But grace was given to each one of us.”

In all this talk about being one.

Paul doesn’t want us to forget that this one body, the church is made up of individual parts, and each one of those parts matters, because God’s given different gifts to each one that they must use for the good of others.

Maybe.

You can think of it like this.

To get the picture.

One way the Bible describes the church, is being like a body.

And God never intended, that one person would be the whole body.

We are all just parts of the body.

And there’s not one part of the body that is able to do the whole work of the body by itself.

It’s always been God’s plan, that we each serve as different parts of the body, fulfilling our role, in making the body work, the way it should ,that’s why grace was given to each one of us, and obviously, if that’s God’s plan, we are never going to be the church God wants us to be, unless we each feel a responsibility to use the particular grace God’s given us.

To serve others.

That’s.

Basically the take away.

From this whole blog post.

In previous posts I was trying to show you what we as a church could be if we really understood church membership, and now, I am talking to those of you who are already members of local churches, who have already made those commitments, in your heart, and to the church, and I am saying, that each one of you, needs to know, needs to feel, needs to understand, that you are important in God’s plan for your church to become the kind of church the Bible talks about.

You can’t be a spectator.

Just a watcher.

God’s given you grace.

A gift.

That we need.

He wants every one of you who is a Christian to be actively engaged, to feel a responsibility, to be actively involved in this whole process of ministering His grace to others.

In the local church.

And over the next several posts I want to try to help you feel that responsibility by looking at this text, in Ephesians 4:7 through 16, and showing you a number of different reasons why.

A church is not a building, but a church can use one!

10 May

A good friend recently asked me why we wanted a facility for the church.

I thought that was a legitimate question. In fact, I thought it was a great question.

A church is not a building and a building definitely doesn’t make a church.

We believe God has blessed us already in some pretty amazing ways without a building. It’s a lot of work and effort to try to raise funds for a building. There are many other good things to be giving towards. And yet, still, in spite of all that, as we look at our current situation, there are some specific ways we believe that a building can help us better pursue our mission of making disciples and training leaders and planting churches throughout Africa, which makes it worth the effort.

Here are some ways a facility could help further the ministries of Living Hope Church and 1Hope4Africa:

On Sundays:

We could hold our worship services at a time that is more helpful:

We currently are only able to meet from 1:30-3:30pm. It would be a help to our people to hold our services in the mornings, when everyone is more awake and alert. This would be helpful for parents of young children in particular, as young children often take naps during the time of day that we currently meet.

We would have space for our church to continue growing:

There are some Sundays when the hall we use is very full, with close to no extra chairs available. This facility would give us space to grow.

We would have a venue for communion services and all-church meals into the future:

We have loved having communion services and all-church meals in homes of church members! But, as our church continues to grow, we will soon run out of space in members’ homes for these services…

 We would have much improved facilities for children’s ministries:

Our crèche and children’s church currently meet in tents! We could have classrooms for crèche and children’s church, and we could have a nice outdoor play area for the children to use too.

 We would have an indoor foyer area (and a nice outside area) for people to interact and fellowship:

With the venue we currently use, the only space we have for people to interact is outside, and that becomes very difficult if it is raining, windy, or cold (or even if its very hot, since there isn’t much shade). An indoor foyer area would help facilitate interaction and fellowship even when the weather is unpleasant. Further, we could set up benches, and tables and chairs (and umbrellas) outside to create a nice outdoor area for people to take their time talking with each other. Facilitating this sort of interaction can make a big difference in helping visitors feel welcome, and encouraging close-knit community and deeper relationships within our church family.

 We could have a Welcome Centre for visitors:

An area of the foyer could be set-up for welcoming visitors – greeting them, providing them with information about our church, and giving them a welcome gift.

 We would have indoor space for an expanded Resource Centre:

Our Resource Centre is currently in a tent that we set up outside. A facility would allow us to have an indoor Resource Centre where we could make more books, sermon CDs, music CDs, and other resources available than we are currently able to.

 It would be easier to run church classes and equipping/ training times, and we could maybe also have a Sunday evening service:

A church facility of our own would give us a venue and an opportunity for a Sunday School hour and/ or a Sunday evening service. These times could be used for Baptism classes, Membership classes, and Following Jesus: an Introduction to Discipleship classes. Further, we could begin to add other classes and/ or teach lessons on vital topics like how to study your Bible, or how to evangelize, or how to help others in their walk with God, etc. We could use these times for prayer meetings, for missions reports, and for church family meetings. Another benefit of these additional classes/ services is that they would also allow us to give men we are developing as leaders more opportunity to grow in their teaching and preaching.

 We would have a venue for baptism services:

Currently, we have to hold our baptism services at other venues. If we had our own facility, it would allow us to hold baptism services at our own church.

Other times of the week:

 A venue for Counselling:

We would have a venue for our leaders to meet with people who would like pastoral or diaconal counselling. This would be especially helpful for counselling conversations that should be private.

 A venue for Living Hope Church offices and 1Hope4Africa offices:

We currently do not have church or 1Hope4Africa offices. It would be a huge help to Living Hope and 1Hope4Africa leadership to have offices where they can study and do other work, where they can print, make photocopies, etc, and where they can have regular meetings with each other, helping them to better work together as a ministry team.

 A venue for African Bible Training Centre (ABTC) classes:

The dream for the African Bible Training Centre is to provide classes in the city to help people from our church and other churches better understand the Bible. We currently meet in Pretoria East, well outside of the area we were originally hoping to provide this training for. This facility would allow us to host ABTC classes in the city again.

 We could have an expanded church library, including an area for people to study:

The church property could host a library full of quality books, including commentaries and other Bible Study resources. We could provide a comfortable, quiet area for people to read and study. This could help people in our church prepare for teaching Bible studies, or in writing papers for ABTC, and it would be a help to Project Timothy participants (men being mentored for pastoral ministry) with homework assignments they have for seminary, etc.

 We would also have a venue for:

  • Worship team practices
  • Various Leadership and Service Team meetings
  • Our church’s Teen Discipleship Ministry
  • A variety of Seminars and Conferences
  • Various Bible Studies and Small Groups
  • Special All-Church events like our Church Christmas Celebration
  • And Weddings and Funerals for members of our church

A few other notes on the value of our own, “permanent” church facility:

Having a church property allows us to have a presence in the community:

Even people just walking or driving by will see that we exist and take note. People are more likely to visit with us if they know we exist and they know where they can find us! Some may even come looking for counsel from a pastor…

 Having a church property makes it much easier to invite people to our various ministries:

We could create invitation cards and flyers with the church address and a map on them, and use these cards and flyers in everyday outreach. It would be easier to invite people to Sunday services, to church seminars, to ABTC, to meet with a pastor for counselling, for teen ministry, etc, because all these things would happen at the same place.

 Having a church property helps with stability and ministry focus for our church:

We know of a solid, biblical church in Pretoria that had to dissolve because the property they rented in town became unavailable unexpectedly and they were not able to find another option. Having our own property would offer us stability into the future. Further, if we have a property, it frees our leadership up to focus more of their time and effort on ministry itself rather than questions like, “if we run this class or hold this event, where would it be held?”

Having a church property allows us to dream and consider other ministry ideas.

For example: 

  • A crèche: If we opened and ran an affordable, quality crèche, it could be a blessing to many people in our church. It could also help us serve and get to know people in the surrounding community and provide us with opportunities to share the gospel with them.
  • Project Timothy housing: We could maybe include a small flat for a Project Timothy participant (someone being mentored for pastoral ministry) on the church property. This would help us have more Project Timothy participants at a time in the future, allowing us to mentor more men for pastoral ministry by reducing the cost.
  • Expanding the African Bible Training Centre (ABTC): A property like this would allow us to possibly expand ABTC to offer a variety of classes on biblical and ministry-related subjects in the future.
  • A Book Store: We could consider expanding our Resource Centre and having it open during the week, to provide biblically faithful books and other resources to the public.
  • 1Hope Publishing: Lord willing, we hope to produce and publish more biblical resources like “The Best Story Ever” in the future, and to do so in several African languages.

While we don’t want to be distracted by a desire for a church facility and will trust God and keep on pursuing our mission as a church with or without a facility, we would be happy if you are interested in helping us purchase a church facility. Our people are beginning to give sacrificially towards a property, but we could use some help.

First, would you please join us in prayer?

And if you are able and would like to make a contribution towards this facility, here are the details:

South African Giving Details:

Absa Bank, Lynnwood Ridge

Account Number: 4074622688

Branch Code: 632005

Reference: Facility

USA Giving Details:

For tax deductible online donations, click here.

Select “Living Hope Church Facility” from the drop down menu.

What it means to be a church member, part three

9 May

After laying out the four main commitments believers made to the church in Acts 2:42 Luke begins to give us an idea of how those commitments played out in the everyday life of these early Christians.

First, he makes it clear, this was not just like a ritual for them.

Verse 43.

“And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.”

The word awe means fear.

But it’s a holy fear.

This I think is what motivated them to study God’s Word and to get together with other believers and to spend time in each other’s homes and to pray.

These believers were in awe of God.

As they listened to the apostle’s teach, and they saw what the apostles were doing, they recognized they were part of something much bigger than themselves.

Now, I am not going to get into it here, but I don’t think these wonders and signs are something we still experience as part of our regular life as a church. These were being done by the apostles as a way of proving to everyone they really were speaking for God. I mean, they were standing up there, saying this crucified man was the Messiah and that He had risen from the dead, and everyone was like, what, prove it, and they were like, ok, watch what God does through us. But even though, maybe at this point in the history of how God’s going about saving the world, we’re not doing the exact same miracles the apostles did, we should be praying, that God does create us in us the same kind of reverent fear, they were experiencing in the early church.

Just because we’re not seeing miracles doesn’t mean there aren’t still a million different reasons for us to be astonished everyday by the greatness of God’s.

God’s literally loaded this world with things that should amaze us, and He’s loaded His Word, with truths that should stop us in our tracks, and the reason we don’t experience the awe we should, isn’t because we are not seeing miracles, but instead because our eyes are just closed sometimes to who God is and what God is actually doing.

That’s part of what you’ve got to be praying about for us as a local church, when you become a member of the church, a good church isn’t just another organization doing this or that, and running this program or that program, you know, doing stuff, a good church is made up of people who are motivated by a deep fear of God.

 Second, these believers shared one another’s burdens.

I think we can read that the early believers were devoted to fellowship and breaking of bread and prayer and it just kind of flies past us, and we don’t catch the full weight of just how committed they were to one another, so Luke shows us.

In verse 44 through 46.

“And all who believed were together.”

That means as we’ve been saying when they became believers, they didn’t just go out and live their own lives.

They wanted to be where other Christians were.

I remember hearing a great preacher named Charles Spurgeon describing how he felt when he first became a Christian. Apparently, he wanted to join the church in the place where he lived and yet when he called upon the pastor, something kept getting in their way

He says,

“Each time there was some obstacle in the way of an interview and, as I could not see him at all, I wrote and told him that I would go down to the Church Meeting and propose myself as a member. He looked upon me as a strange character, but I meant what I said, for I felt that I could not be happy without fellowship with the people of God.”

Which is a great line, I think.

I could not be happy without fellowship with the people of God.

He goes on,

“I needed to be wherever they were and if anybody ridiculed them, I wished to be ridiculed with them. And if people had an ugly name for them, I wanted to be called by that ugly name, for I felt that unless I suffered with Christ in His humiliation, I could not expect to reign with Him in His Glory.”

Which is I am saying, how it was with these believers in the early church.

They were together, and Luke goes on in verse 44, and says,

“They had all things in common.”

Which basically means they weren’t so concerned about their stuff and their rights as they were about each other’s good.

If you turn over to chapter 4, verse 32, you see Luke explains.

“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.”

It’s not that when they became Christians, stuff stopped belonging to them.

As you can see, Luke acknowledges that people still had things that belonged to them.

The difference was their attitude toward their possessions.

As someone has said, where the thief says, what is yours is mine, so I will take it and the selfish person says, what is mine is mine so I’ll keep it, these early believers, said what is mine is God’s, and so I’ll share it.

And they really did.

They were radically generous.

Verse 45.

“And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

Which of course is awesome, and it shows us just how committed to one another. Probably what had happened was that many of the people who had become Christians, were actually not from Jerusalem, they had come to Jerusalem for the Passover season, and weren’t actually planning on staying, when their lives got turned upside down, and so when they became part of the church, they were actually in some financial trouble, and the believers didn’t just look at that and say that’s too bad, their attitude towards their possessions was changed, and they wanted to share, which is how all of us, whether we have a lot or don’t, should want to live as members of the church.

Our basic attitude towards our stuff, should be, how can I use what God’s given me, for His glory and for other people’s good, especially, the other members of the church?

And I want to challenge you, because sometimes we read about stories like this, and we immediately think they apply to someone else, because maybe we don’t have much, to share with those in need, but that’s not the point, the point is not how much you have, the point is your heart, and most of us whether we are rich or poor, before we are Christians, we are going through life, trying to figure out how to take care of ourselves, and we’ll reach out and help people, only if it makes sense for us, and Luke’s showing us, in the early church, that changed when people became Christians.

In fact, one of my favorite illustrations, of the kind of sacrificial generosity you saw in the early church, comes not from the book of Acts, but over in the book of 2 Corinthians. Apparently there had been a famine in Jerusalem, and many of the believers were affected, and so Paul was trying to take up an offering in some of the churches that had a little more, and in chapter 8, he tells the Corinthians, about one church in particular, that was really poor, and yet, God had been at work in their lives, and he writes, “in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints.”

Which I am saying, is how Christians think, when we are thinking straight, we are looking for opportunities, even when we are suffering, to share and care for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

This is what membership in the early church looked like.

They were committed to God’s Word, to each other, to prayer, because they were just in awe of what God was doing through Christ, and so they devoted themselves to each other’s good, to the point where they were willing to make big sacrifices to help.

They met together regularly to worship and then they would go from there to meet once again their homes to enjoy one another and to worship some more.

I guess that’s the third description of what life was like for the early church.

Verse 46.

“And day by day, attending the temple together.”

This was obviously something unique at that stage in the church’s development, because these people had been Jews, and they were there in Jerusalem, and so the most obvious place for them all to meet, because they saw Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament, was actually the temple there in Jerusalem, which was a big enough place for them all to gather, and probably pray together, and then also hear the apostle’s teach, which they weren’t able to do for very long, as the leaders of Jerusalem kept getting more upset with what they were hearing, but I think we are seeing in the early church, just this excitement about God’s Word, about being together, and about taking the gospel out.

I think that’s probably why they wanted to meet in the temple.

It’s a place where if they got together, people would start asking questions and they wanted, desperately to serve as witnesses to what God’s accomplished through Jesus Christ.

And I think, this is all what it means to be part of the church.

We come together, to go out, and spread the gospel, wherever we can.

We just love God, and we love each other, and so we meet in large groups to worship and we look for opportunities to witness, and when, we are done doing that, we find ways to get together in smaller groups, where we can really express care and concern for one another.

As Luke says at the end of verse 46,

“…breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.”’

Which is a fourth characteristic of what it looked like to be part of the early church.

They feared God. They loved each other. They got together. And they did good.

Which is I think, what Luke’s meaning, by “had favor with all the people.”

Because, it’s a little hard to tell, but you have to ask when you read that, who had favor with whom?

The word for with could be translated with or it could be translate towards. So it could be that Luke’s saying the people of Jerusalem had a good attitude towards the church, or it could actually be, with the way this is written, that Luke’s saying, the church showed favor, or did gracious acts, towards the people of Jerusalem.

Which I think is probably what Luke intends.

We’re not just here for ourselves, as we become members of the church, we are joining together to learn from God’s Word, to worship God, to love one another, to spread the gospel, and to care for hurting people, by eagerly and zealously doing good.

That’s what we mean by church membership, and that’s even what we mean we talk about church, and it’s really important to me, that when we use these words in the church, these are the kinds of ideas that come into your mind.

Because obviously, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of places that call themselves churches, and yet there’s hardly anything about the way they are doing church, that looks like the way it was happening here in the book of Acts.

And while obviously we can blame the leaders for that, and probably should, the people who are going to those churches should take some of the blame as well. Because you don’t have a great, effective local church without believers who are committed to at least trying to devote themselves to the kinds of things Luke talks about here. And so I want to ask you, if you look at your church, are you committed to working hard at learning God’s Word, to caring for other believers, to spending time in people’s home, to prayers.

And I am just excited, because I think if we take those commitments seriously, because we take God seriously, we are going to be living our lives in a radically different way, sacrificing for one another, loving one another, and doing good to the people who live all around us, with joy, and we are going to be used by God, to make a serious impact.

The way the early church did.

The end of verse 47.

“And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

God help us not play church, but be the church, for your glory, our good, and the sake of the lost!

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