Loving God

28 Apr

If the greatest command is to love God, as believers, we ought to spend some time thinking about what it means to love God and whether or not we are growing in our love for God.

Here are 10 simple questions we might ask ourselves as we seek to evaluate our own love for God:

  1. Do I like to think about God?
  2. Do I want other people to think rightly about God?
  3. Do I want others to see how great He is?
  4. Do I want what He wants to matter most to me?
  5. Do I long for people to do what God asks?
  6. Do I want to make myself pleasing to Him?
  7. Do I desire to know Him better?
  8. Do I want to speak with Him?
  9. Do I want to listen when He speaks with me?
  10. Do I long for more and more manifestations of His love?

 

An Opportunity to Partner

26 Apr

I am thankful for those of you who check in on this blog.

I thought I might share a quick note one of our team members has recently written to let you know of an opportunity we are excited about as Living Hope Church.

If you would join us in prayer, that would be very much appreciated. And if you are in a position to contribute towards this opportunity and would like to do so, that would also be a blessing to us and we would be very thankful.

Living Hope Church is a little over 6 years old.

We have met in a home, in a flat, in a tent, and for over 4 years now, in a Lutheran Seminary building. This facility brings several challenges: the rent is high, the facility has no foyer or classrooms for crèche and children’s church (we currently use tents outside), and it is only available to us on a Sunday afternoon (during prime nap time!) for 2 hours, shortening our time together on Sundays and tying our hands regarding a number of ministries we would love to run if we had a facility for more than just this 2 hour time slot. We have looked high and low for another facility, but with no success.

We have now found a property for sale which would be a great fit for our ministry needs! (Here are some pictures). It’s large enough to cover our current ministry needs and provide some real possibilities into the future (2,380 square metres!). Further, it has a flat roof and we are told we could even build a second floor. The outside structure is sturdy and in great condition. The inside is mostly dry wall and would be very easily renovated as needed. The property is only 2 blocks away from the Baby Home that our church is closely connected with (Muphamuzi Baby Home, run by 1Hope4Africa).

If we are able to purchase this property, it would be used for the following:

  • Living Hope Church Worship Services
  • Varied Living Hope Church ministries (Sunday School classes, counselling, small groups, ministry team meetings, church events, seminars and conferences, etc)
  • A Library and Resource Centre
  • Living Hope Church offices (we currently do not have church offices)
  • African Bible Training Centre classes (currently meeting at Lynnwood Baptist Church, far outside our target area)
  • 1Hope4Africa offices (we currently do not have 1Hope4Africa offices)
  • We have other ideas too!

We need to get back to the Estate Agent soon about this property. Someone else has already made an offer of 3.25 million Rand on the property. That is a lot of money! But we were expecting no less than 4 million Rand for a church property in our area, so we believe this is reasonable. We have enough for a good down payment (around R600,000), and our own church family has been making pledges towards a church facility and are beginning to give sacrificially.

Ideally though, we would love to put down as much in cash for this property as possible, and thereby avoid all the interest that we would have to pay on a bigger loan.

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.

Thank you very much. As we always say, the church is much more than a building. But, we’re finding out, it really helps to have a building and we’d be so grateful for any help you could give us towards accomplishing that!

Church Membership, part 1

25 Apr

 

I want us to talk about church membership.

What do we mean by church membership.

I didn’t grow up in a place where people spoke all kinds of different languages. Where I grew up, most people basically only spoke English. And I guess, some people would say, they didn’t even speak very good English.

Instead, they spoke American.

And one of the things I have learned since coming to a country where there are so many different languages being spoken all the time, like South Africa, is that even when you do find someone with whom you can speak the same language, there still is a great deal of opportunity for confusion.

If you don’t speak the same language, it’s hard to communicate.

Obviously.

But even if you do speak the same language, it’s still a challenge, because while you may be using the same words, you don’t always mean the same thing by the words you are using.

Like.

And this is silly, but in America ‘just now; means literally right now, at this moment, and when we first moved here, I had the hardest time understanding why someone was taking so long when they told me they were going to do something just now.

Communicating well involves more than just using the same words.

It is not that simple.

You have to mean the same things when you use those words, and that’s part of why, honestly, we are taking some time, and going through this whole long series on the church and on church membership.

When we say church and when we say church member we want to mean the same thing.

By it.

And so over the past number of posts we’ve been going back to the Scriptures, and laying down some basic fundamental kinds of propositions.

At the start.

Like the church is about God.

We said.

That’s where we started.

That’s why we exist.

And the church is here specifically, to promote and protect the truth. And the church’s primary responsibility is on a week in week out basis to teach you the gospel and to help you see the beauty of Jesus.

And so, when we say church, that’s basically, what we want you to think about.

We want you to think about a group of people who are seeking to be God-centered, truth driven, and gospel focused.

But what do we mean by membership?

That’s kind of the next question.

Isn’t it?

What do we mean by church?

And.

What do we mean by church membership?

Because, if you remember.

This whole series is supposed to be basically a reminder of the importance of church membership and so, I am going to be talking a lot about being a member of the church, you are going to hear me say that over and over, and so, it’s important to me, as we talk about being a member of the church, that you understand what we even mean by that.

Like,

Why is this an issue?

 Why is church membership important?

 Why is church membership something we are even talking about?

 And then, what does it actually mean to be a church member?

Because, this certainly isn’t something I want to assume that we are all thinking the same way about, I want us all to be thinking the way Scripture does, and so, I thought today, while there might be a number of passages we might go to in order to answer those kinds of questions, I thought, one of the best places we could go is just back to what was happening when the church first got started.

Because, that’s the context.

For Acts chapter 2.

Actually.

This is the beginning of the church.

And we are going to be looking at verses 37 through 47, mostly probably, verses 42-47, but still, you know I think, you are probably, pretty familiar, with what is leading up to this.

As Acts begins.

Jesus has risen from the dead.

Not too long before.

And he’s met with them apostles.

And he’s given them this mission.

Promising them the Holy Spirit, and calling on them to be his witnesses, literally all over the world. And so after he ascended to heaven, they all went back to Jerusalem, and about 120 of Jesus’ followers got together, and they started praying. And trying to get ready, to do what Jesus had called them to do, when the Holy Spirit came upon with them with power.

And he did, in Acts 2.

On the day of Pentecost.

It says, there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and tongues of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they were enabled to speak in all these different languages, and this caused the people who were around them, obviously, to start asking questions, and so when they did, Peter stood up, and preached.

And after he preached, this amazing message about Jesus, and the way in which he fulfilled all the promises of the Old Testament, there were these people there that day, who started asking them questions.

Like, what do we do?

Now?

They were convicted, verse 37 says, they were, ‘cut to the heart’ and so they said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’

Which is pretty good question, I think.

It’s one you want to ask an apostle.

After he preaches.

For sure.

And it’s important even for us, because, here are these people who want to follow Jesus. The gospel’s been preached, they’ve understood it, and they’ve been convicted it, and they want to know, now, what does God want from us, and I think, you need to see the way Peter answers.

Because, obviously, that’s why Luke records this here.

He’s not just writing history.

He’s writing history in order to teach. And I think one of the main things he wants to teach us has to do with the way the apostles thought about the Christian life.

What does someone who wants to become a Christian do?

Peter makes it clear.

Verse 38.

First, he repents.

“Repent.”

Peter says.

In other words, it’s not enough to simply hear the good news, you have to personally respond to it. And the word, Peter uses, to describe that response is repent, which of course, includes, or you could say assumes, faith and trust in Jesus.

The person who trusts in Jesus, actually does something, he turns from his sin.

And in the early church, when a person turned from his sin, like that, everyone knew it, because he went on and made a very public display of his new commitment to following Jesus, by getting immersed in water, or as Peter puts it here, by being baptized.

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.

Which I know maybe sounds a little confusing because it almost sounds like being baptized is the way you are forgiven, but we know from other clearer passages of Scripture, that’s not what Peter means, you are not saved by being baptized, but in Peter’s mind, he just couldn’t really conceive of someone who truly had believed in Jesus and who repented of his sins, not getting baptized.

It all went together.

Usually very quickly.

That’s just the way it worked in the early church.

If you heard the gospel and you wanted to be saved, you responded by putting your trust in Christ and turning from your sins, and then you let everyone know that by publicly identifying with Jesus through baptism, and Luke goes on to show us, also somehow publicly identifying with God’s people by becoming members of the church.

This is verses 40 and 41.

“And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’ So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”

In other words.

As Peter’s looking at these people who are being convicted of their sins, he’s saying if you want to know what you need to do, you need to separate yourselves from this generation of people who have rejected Jesus, by repenting, by being baptized, and by becoming part of a whole new community.

The church.

This is what you do, if you want to follow Jesus.

And many did.

As Luke explains in verse 41,

“So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”

Added.

To what?

The original 120 back there in Acts chapter 1.

The local congregation of believers there in Jerusalem.

And I am saying, this is just the basic pattern the Bible presents .

When it talks about the everyday Christian life.

And it’s the answer to the first question about why are we even talking about church membership?

We are talking about church membership, as one writer explains, because, “Luke” and I think, really, every other writer of the New Testament as well, just “could not have imagined someone following Jesus apart from a commitment to doing so with other believers in the church.”

Saying, I love Jesus by myself.

Without going on to clearly being added to a congregation of other believers, wouldn’t have made sense to the writers of the New Testament.

It would be a little like a brick, you know a brick you use when you are building a house, a brick saying, you know I don’t want to connect with other bricks.

I am fine here lying on the ground by myself.

No, that’s not what bricks are actually for.

Bricks are for putting with other bricks and actually building something, which is how actually God describes what is happening in the church.

In 1 Peter 2, verse 4 and 5.

“As you come to him, a living stone, rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

The word spiritual house means a temple. The glory of God inhabits the church. As we come to Jesus the living stone, we become living stones, and God’s glory comes down and inhabits us. And obviously here, Peter’s talking collectively, he’s talking about us as a group.

It’s not just you by yourself are being made into a temple.

You are being picked up by God and connected to other living stones to become this temple, and obviously just like a brick, that’s being used in a building, that brick has bricks above it and bricks below it, that are dependent on it, that’s just the nature of being a brick or a living stone or a Christian.

I mean, another illustration the Bible gives for what happens when you become a Christian, has to do with a body.

Can you imagine someone looking at say, a hand, and saying that hand could be as good a hand if it were separated from the rest of the body as it could be, when it is joined to it.

That doesn’t even make sense.

You see a hand by itself and you know something is funny. Something has gone wrong. This isn’t the way it is supposed to be. And the same is true with us as Christians.

When we are saved, God makes us part of a body and we see in the early church, that reality had practical implications, back to Acts 2, those who received Peter’s word, and repented of their sins, and were baptized, were added to the congregation of believers, that existed there in Jerusalem.

In other words, they became church members.

That’s why we are talking about this.

We believe that individuals who have repented of their sins and are baptized should identify themselves with a local group of believers in such a way that people know.

“We know how many make up this church.

And these people are being added now, to our number, they are now recognized as one of us.”

This is just the basic biblical pattern for how the Christian life is supposed to be lived out.

If you are going to live for Jesus, you are going to need to live for Jesus, as part of a local church.

That’s why we think membership is important.

What the Church Needs Most, part 2

21 Apr

What we need most as a church is not a nice building.

It is not a great youth program.

It is not more financial resources.

It is to grow in our knowledge of God.

That is why we find Paul praying in Ephesians 1:17ff that God gives the church a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of their hearts enlightened, that they may know.

If this is what we need, we must know how to get it and, I think we get some hints in this text as well.

First of all Paul prays for this for the church, so it’s a gift of God, this knowledge.

Which is important not just to overlook.

I think, we need to be praying for this as a church, probably more than we pray for anything else, revive us O Lord. Don’t just let us drift along with the knowledge we have had in the past, take us deeper, take us further, help us to enjoy you more and more.

Because obviously if this is what we need, we can’t really expect it, if we aren’t going to God for it.

But there’s something else Paul does here, that I think, we can learn from, and that is he takes us to Christ, he takes us to what Christ’s done in the gospel, and he takes us what Christ has done in the church.

Paul’s said,

“I want you to know the greatness of God’s power towards us who believe, according to the working of his great might.”

Now verse 20.

“That he worked in Christ when 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 while, that’s really all very deep, I want you to at least see at the beginning, what Paul’s doing, his approach. He believes these people need to know how much power is at work in their lives as a church.

And so he prays, yes.

But he also talks, and as he talks, he takes them to what God’s done through Christ, in order to impress on their hearts, the kind of power, that’s at work in their lives.

And then after this really awesome discussion about the ascension and exaltation of Christ and his present relationship with the church, Paul goes on in chapter 2, to talk about the new birth.

Again, as an illustration, of the kind of power at work in the church.

Verse 4.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses and sins, made us alive together with Christ.”

After which, in verse 11 and following of chapter 2, he looks more carefully at the nature of the church itself, talking about how God brought Jews and Gentiles together and made them one, again, as a way of helping us appreciate, the kind of resources we have in salvation.

And I mean, in just a few short verses, Christology, he talks about Christ, soteriology, he talks about salvation, and ecclesiology, he talks about doctrine, that’s a lot of theological discussion, that’s a lot of doctrine, and one of the reasons there’s all this doctrine, is because, of what Paul believes we need most.

And maybe this is finally getting at the whole point.

Because, I am hoping as you go to church, you’ll notice, that whatever church you are part of talks a lot about Jesus.

And a lot about salvation.

And a lot about the implications of our salvation.

And, not in a basic way, I hope obviously, there’s so much to Christ and the gospel for us to explore, but essentially biblical churches need to be very gospel-focused churches, and one of the reasons for that, is because that’s one of the main ways we grow.

This is what we need.

Not just by saying I am forgiven, I am forgiven over and over again, and sticking to all the basics but by going deep and seeing how beautiful Jesus is and how good God is and having our hearts so gripped by that, that we start applying those realities to the nitty gritty issues of our every day lives.

As we come and hear the gospel and we are reminded that God is for us and why He is for us and why we can be absolutely sure that He’s seeking our good, we are learning the truths we need, as we go out and face all kinds of circumstances that are difficult and confusing and, we have to take what we are learning from the gospel and actually put into practice, trusting Him and believing that He’s good, even when it’s difficult, and it’s through that process, that we are brought closer and closer to Him.

In fact, way back at the beginning, as we began talking about the church we are part of, Living Hope, we made a list of what we called Basic Principles, and these were the first two Basic Principles, we wrote.

First, we said Jesus must have first place in everything.

Quote.

“When it comes to a biblical ministry, Jesus Christ is not one of the important issues.

Jesus Christ is the issue.”

And you know, no matter how long we go on as a church, we are never going to be able to get past Him.

 That’s the thing.

 The whole goal of our life as a church is to pursue Christ.  

Which means, if you are not interested in looking at Him and knowing more about Him and loving Him, then there’s no way you can be interested in what we are seeking to do as a church.

And part of why we’ve always thought this is so important as a church is because of, the second basic principle we laid out.

We said second.

Way back at the beginning of Living Hope.

God uses the Gospel to save us and change us.

And, that’s always been such a basic principle for us.

This is what I am trying to get across.

We believe the gospel is the power of God for salvation.

From the penalty of sin.

Obviously.

Through the message of the gospel, God saves us from the penalty of sin.

But, listen, we also believe God uses the gospel message to rescue us from the power of sin and transform us into the image of His Son.

As one man writes,

“The gospel is not the first “step” in a  “stairway” of truths, rather, it is more like the “hub” in a “wheel” of truth.

The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A to Z of Christianity.

The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make all progress in the kingdom.

This means that the gospel is the way we grow (Gal. 3:1-3) and are renewed (Col. 1:6).

It is the solution to each problem, the key to each closed door, the power through every barrier (Rom. 1:16-17).

It is very common for believers to think: “The gospel is for non-Christians.  One needs it to be saved.  But once saved, you go way beyond that.”

But, as we are seeing in Ephesians 1, this is a mistake.

It’s truths we kind of know that we need to know more deeply, if we’re going to grow.

I mean, even though Paul’s sure, these people are Christians, what does he think they need, he thinks they need a deeper relationship with God, and how are they going to get that, it’s through enjoying more and more of what God’s done for them in Christ, and how are they going to get that, it’s supernatural, it’s a gift, so we need to pray, but God uses means, and one of the means towards enjoying the gospel more is continually reflecting on who Christ is and what God’s done through Christ.

Which is a big part of why we do what we do as a church.

There’s a lot going on in this world.

Every week, you’ve got all kinds of things, going on in your life.

And if you ever wonder with all these issues in this world and in your life, why do these people talk so much about the gospel and Christ and who Christ is and what Christ has done and who we are in Christ and what that means?

It’s because we are convinced there’s nothing we need more than seeing the glory of Christ in the gospel, we are convinced that our fundamental problem comes from not appreciating what God’s done through Him, how much God’s given us in Him.

We are convinced we become better husbands and wives and fathers and mothers and people, as we understand the gospel better, and apply the truths we’ve come to understand, to our everyday lives.

Which is why, we are hoping if you come to our church on Sundays you’ll be confronted from every which way with the gospel and the beauty of Jesus.

I mean, actually, you are going to see this, hopefully more and more, even down to the way we are ordering our worship services now, we are trying to design our worship services, so that even before we get to the preaching, you’ve heard the gospel and been confronted with the glory of Christ.

We’re just desperate you don’t miss this.

I guess, if we thought the thing you needed most was financial resources, we would always be talking about money. And, if the thing we thought the thing you needed most was honor and glory, we would always be trying to build up your confidence. And if we thought the thing you needed most was a comfortable life, we would always be giving you tips and strategies on how to get ahead.

But, we think the thing you need, whether you are a Christian or a non-Christian, is the gospel.

You need to know God.

You need to understand and believe and appreciate who Christ is and what Christ has done for you more and more, and because of that, as a church, we believe the most important thing we can do week after week after week after week after week after week is to humbly go back to God’s Word, crying out to God as we do, that He would help us see Jesus and be amazed by Him, so that our hearts are absolutely filled up, with love for Him.

A Grand Point of Distinction

19 Apr

“It is one of the grand points of distinction between true religion and false…that the one is essentially liberal, carries us outside of ourselves towards others; whereas the other centers all the regards of mind and the heart upon oneself, in other words is intensely selfish, and, with the exception of some cases, which admit of explanation, makes the unhappy man more and more selfish the longer he lives.” John Gordon Lorimer

What the Church Needs Most, part 1

18 Apr

What is it that the church needs most?

I wonder if you have ever thought about that?

What does a local church need to be the kind of local church God wants it to be?

If you look at the way the apostle Paul answers this question in Ephesians 1, verses 15-23, I think you’ll see his answer is very different than what we might expect.

Because, we do have something we need.

There’s very clearly something Paul requests.

This is petitionary prayer.

Here.

In verses 3 through 14, Paul’s been worshiping God for the privilege He’s given the church. And now in verses 15-23, he’s going to that same God in prayer, because he sees there is very clearly something the church needs, if it’s going to be able to accomplish its mission. And I think looking at what Paul asks for tells us what we need as a church, and also, where we can find it, which of course, influences, why we go about things the way we do.

So first, what do we need, according to the apostle Paul?

And it kind of sounds weird actually, what do we need, because in verses 3 through 14, Paul’s told us we already have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

Past tense.

So how do people who have every spiritual blessing, have needs, and yet, you know obviously, according to this text, they do, because Paul is convinced these people are Christians and yet he’s still going to God in prayer for them.

He writes,

“For this reason”

For the apostle Paul, really everything that mattered in life, had to do with God’s great plan to glorify Himself by saving sinners through what Jesus did.

We have all kinds of things that matter most to us.

That get us excited.

That cause our hearts to sing.

But Paul shows us what should really matter for us as Christians, and that’s what God’s done through Jesus, in rescuing sinners, and we know that’s what matters most to Paul because he’s sitting in prison as he writes this letter, and yet he’s worshiping.

You remember verse 3?

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And as he writes the Ephesians and he’s reflecting on what God has done to save sinners, all that God has done for believers in His great salvation plan, it’s for that reason, he says, as he looks at the Ephesians, that he is so thankful.

“For this reason…”

Beginning of verse 15.

“I do not cease to give thanks for you.”

Verse 16.

In other words, I can’t stop thanking God for what He’s doing in your life, because what really matters to me is what God has done in saving lost sinners, and as I look at you as a church, I am convinced, He’s done that in your life.

You’ve been saved.

“For this reason…”

Verse 15 again.

“Because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and your love towards all the saints.”

“I do not cease to give thanks for you.”

Which tells us not only what Paul thinks is important, but also gives us an idea of what gave Paul assurance people really were Christians as well. It’s not just that they said they were Christians or that other people said they were Christians. It’s because as he said here, he had heard of two specific evidences of God’s work in their lives, and the first was of course, the fact that they had put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and the second that they loved other believes.

It’s not just that they were nice people or good people.

It’s not even just that they believed in God, the test for the apostle Paul, had to do with a man’s relationship with Jesus and his relationship with Jesus’ body.

The church.

For the apostle Paul, there was absolutely nothing more exciting and nothing more important than a man’s relationship with God, and so when he saw these evidences that these people really were in a right relationship with that God, it caused him first to give thanks for them, and then second it led him to pray for them.

“I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that…”

Becoming a Christian is not the end for the apostle Paul, it’s the beginning. It’s almost like the way it is with having a child, when the child is born, that’s not the end, that’s the beginning, and so as Paul hears about people who have become Christians, it fills his heart with joy of course, but he knows there’s so much for them to experience and enjoy, and so he goes to God, in prayer.

And he asks God to give them a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.

Which is so significant and I want us to enjoy each word.

First, he goes to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, which reminds us of course, that we are a Trinitarian people, we approach God not just as a generic God, but we believe God exists in three persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, that’s part of what makes us Christian, and as Paul approaches this God in prayer, he approaches Him as Father, who he describes here as the Father of glory, the glorious Father, or the Father of beauty.

And he asks God to give these people the Spirit.

Or a spirit.

It’s hard to know whether he’s talking about the Holy Spirit or our spirit, but either way he’s talking about a supernatural gift that impacts us in our inner man.

He wants us to have a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him.

Who?

God.

The God of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Father of Glory.

Paul wants us to know Him.

That is what he thinks we need most.

We are such doers as people, you know.

And so we think about the church and establishing a great church, and what do we think about what we need, we think we need resources, we think we need important people, we think need a great location, we think we need this and that, and while all of those things might be fine and helpful, they are not what we need most as a church.

When Paul goes to God in prayer asking for these Ephesian believers, the thing he wants most for them is that they would be supernaturally enabled, to really grow in their knowledge of God.

He wants them to have a spirit of wisdom.

That means the ability to really process and enjoy who God is and what God’s doing through Christ.

And a spirit of revelation in the knowledge of Him.

So not just any revelation, like revelation in the knowledge of where I am going to live next year, but revelation in the knowledge of God, and that just means simply that God will open up our eyes more and more to understand what He’s actually saying in His Word.

I know this sometimes doesn’t look like much to people on the outside, studying the Bible, and hearing God’s Word preached, and they can come in, even though they are very intelligent and great at their businesses, and highly respected by everyone else, but because they aren’t saved, all this talk is like almost nonsense to them, it holds no interest to them, whereas to believers, there’s nothing more precious, there’s nothing more important, and that’s because knowing God isn’t simply an academic exercise, it requires God to do a supernatural work in your heart, and of course, he’s done that already, when you became a believer in the first place, but that’s just a start really, Paul is praying that He would continue that work, and increase your ability to understand and appreciate Him.

He wants us as Christians to go as deep as we can in our relationship with God.

 That’s basically what the word knowledge is pointing us towards.

 Because, it’s not just an academic knowledge, he’s talking about. He’s not saying, I am praying that these people will know a lot of information about God and be able to say all the right things about God. He wants us to actually know God the way we know a person, and to know Him as fully as we can.

To use Jonathan Edwards’ illustration, which is one of my favorites, he’s not just talking about a knowledge like someone who has never tasted honey but has read a book about it might have. If you have never tasted honey but have read a lot of facts about it, you might be able to describe it to others, and you might to be able to describe it very well, but that’s a very different kind of knowledge than someone who has actually tasted honey, he knows honey in a completely different way, and that’s the kind of knowledge of God, Paul says we need as a church.

As Martyn Lloyd Jones has put it, “He is concerned that we should have an immediate knowledge of God, a real fellowship with God…He is concerned that we should have an encounter with God. He means a knowledge of God which is personal and intimate…The knowledge Paul has in mind is not mere theory, mere notion; not something abstract or academic; it is personal, immediate, a real meeting. He is praying about the true knowledge of God. It is almost impossible to put this truth into words, but it means that God should be real to us, and that we should be conscious of Him and conscious of His presence.”

The way Paul describes it next, is in verse 18,

“…having the eyes of your hearts enlightened…”

Which maybe sounds funny to us, hearts with eyes, you know, but with the word heart, Paul’s talking about our inner man, the part of you and me, that makes us, us, who we really are. It’s not just how we feel, that’s maybe how we would use the word heart, to describe our emotions, but it’s not just how we feel, it’s how we think, what we want, and all of that, wrapped up in, and Paul’s saying, in order to have this knowledge of God that he’s describing, that deep down inner man, the eyes of our heart, needed to be enlightened so that we could see.

It’s like, before we were saved, we were kind of like blind people.

And obviously, the problem with blind people is not that they don’t have eyes.

Their problem is that their eyes don’t work, you might say there’s like a veil over their eyes, and that veil needs to be taken away, for them to see, and spiritually of course, the point is, that was us before God saved us.

While God was all around us, shouting out at us, through His world and His word and especially through His Son, look at me, I am beautiful, I am glorious, I am everything you need and more, we were like deaf men at a musical, we were like blind men looking at a sunset, I just can’t hear it, I just see it, what’s everyone going on about.

And of course, what Paul’s saying here, is that one of the reasons I am praying God might enable you to know more and more of Him, is because when I look back at your salvation, I see that one of the fundamental things God was doing in saving you, in first place, was enabling you to actually know and enjoy Him.

This was part of the goal.

And so, just like how with a blind man who maybe goes for an operation on his eyes, the purpose of that operation, obviously, is so that he will use his eyes, Paul, as he’s describing our salvation, is using that same image, and he’s saying being saved is like a miraculous operation, only on the eyes of your heart, it’s like having the eyes of your heart enlightened, which means, of course, that we should use those eyes to look more and more at the beauty of God and the wonder of what He’s done for us through Christ.

That’s the whole point.

That’s what those spiritual eyes are for.

To see.

And I am saying this, because you will sometimes meet people who are like, why do you talk about God so much, and why do you talk about the gospel so much, that’s for the beginning of the Christian life, I know this, I have got this, I don’t have to look at that anymore, and that just doesn’t make sense, seeing how Paul describes salvation here, that’s like a blind man, being enabled to see, asking why he should keep his eyes open, why he should look at stuff?

It’s because that’s the purpose of having eyes in the first place.

We were saved to see.

We were saved to see God’s beauty more and more.

That’s what we are about as a church.

It’s not just that we were enabled to once to see and then it’s done.

We were enabled to see for a reason, so that we could keep on seeing more and more of God and what’s He’s done for us through Jesus Christ.

And, the thing is, we need this.

More than anything else.

We have this constant need throughout the whole of our Christian lives for the Spirit of God to work in our innermost person to enable us to really see.

First of all God.

But second of all, what He’s done for us.

Because, as you look at this text, you can see that Paul goes on to get specific.

It’s like he’s given us an idea of our broad overarching need, that we may know God, and then he gets more specific, in the second half of verse 18, “that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power towards us who believe.”

And there are at least two, maybe three specific things Paul thinks we need to especially know as a church, and if we want to add one more to that, we can turn over to Ephesians 3, verse 14, where we find Paul praying for the church once again.

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory, he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

So, here’s this church, who is part of this great incredible mission, of God, and Paul knows, this great incredible eternal mission, might overwhelm them, and so, he says, you know what you need, you need to know God, specifically you need to know, His great plan for you, His great power which is at work in you, and His great love for you.

And if you were going to ask me, I think, that’s what we need most.

As well.

As a local church.

It’s that simple.

Because, we look out there and we’ve got all these great things we want to do.

We want to put God’s beauty on display for everyone to see.

We want to be like a shining light in our community, in South Africa, in the world.

As John Piper has put it, we want to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things.

Basically, we want to make the angels say, wow, God is wise.

We want God to use us to enable these spiritually dead people, whose minds are totally against God, who find nothing interesting in God, we want God to use us, to wake them up, as a means, through which the Spirit works, to give them spiritual life.

We want to protect the truth.

If we think of the gospel like a treasure, the truth as the single most valuable thing in all of Sunnyside, God’s placed us in Sunnyside, with this treasure, and He’s given us this charge to protect it, and to help other people benefit from it, and yet, here we are with this incredible treasure, and we know, there are all these thieves and robbers who are totally devoted to stealing it, there are hundreds of these robbers around us, and we want to protect this treasure from them, while taking it out there to others, and we are not NAVY Seals, you know God didn’t choose spiritual NAVY Seals to protect this treasure, He chose us, and obviously, I mean, all of this seems so impossible for us, and so we might ask, how in the world can God expect us to be able to do this.

And Paul’s like, you know what you need, you know what you need, you don’t need more resources, you don’t need God to give you something you don’t have, that’s what you think, but that’s not what you need, what you need is for God to enable you to enjoy more and more who He is and what He’s already done for you through Jesus Christ.

That basically, is our greatest need as a church.

We know the gospel, but we need to know it better and more deeply.

We need to appreciate more and more God’s great plan for us.

In Paul’s words,

“the hope to which He has called you.”

If we as believers could just grasp how good our forever is going to be, that one fact, would change everything about us.

I sometimes think the problem with many Christians is that they don’t really believe in heaven.

When God saved us, or in Paul’s language here called us, He didn’t simply call us to live and then die, and that was it, His purpose was much bigger than that, it stretched on into forever.

In fact, if you look down at verses 6 and 7 of chapter 2, Paul says, that God, “raised us up with Christ and seated us with him, in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.”

And that’s an incredible purpose.

If you were somehow sitting with God looking at these believers he saved and you looked at God and said why did you save them like this, one of the ways he might respond is by saying, I saved them so that I could show them just how kind I am, forever.

That’s the new heavens and the new earth.

That’s our hope.

That’s what God has in store for us.

For all eternity, He’s going to be finding new ways of surprising us with good things.

And if we are going to fulfill our mission as a church, in this world, right now, we need to be gripped by that.

Eternity can’t just be a word for us.

I think of this God, and this is an eternal God, this is a God who stretches back before forever even got started, who has no beginning and who has no end, this is a weighty being, and I am just a floating piece of dust in the air, next to Him, not even that, and He’s got this mind that is vast, He knows all things that have ever happened or will happened, He’s got the resources to do whatever He wants, in all the universe, there is not one single thing He can’t do, He’s not even limited by His imagination, He can come up with a trillion things to do, that I didn’t even know were possibilities to do, and what does He want to do, He wants to come up with new ways to delight us as a church, forever.

That’s huge.

I mean, being part of the church is something so significant, because of what God has in store for us.

And we get an idea of just how much this great plan means to God, in the next phrase in verse 18.

Paul says he wants us to know,

“what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.”

And of course because we’ve just been talking about hope, we are tempted to read that, as what are the riches of our glorious inheritance, but that’s not what it actually says. It says, what is the riches of his inheritance.

He’s talking about God’s inheritance.

And he’s describing God’s inheritance as us, the church, believers, the one’s he has set apart.

It feels funny to describe God as having an inheritance, since the whole world belongs to Him, but the Bible talks this way, from the beginning about God’s people, this language goes all the way back to the Old Testament.

And I think, Paul’s here, primarily pointing us forward to our heavenly state, of course, he’s reminding us of God’s good intentions for us as a church.

We are going to be absolutely glorious.

The words he used back in verses 3 and 4 to describe God’s plan were holy and blameless.

“Even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.”

Beautiful, in other words.

We look at the church now and it seems anything but, and of course, it is easy to grow discouraged, which is why Paul wants God to help us look forward to what He is going to do in His church, and the way He’s going to beautify us.

The whole universe is going to be amazed at what He’s done.

I sometimes think it’d be nice to know where people end up. You know? Even humanly speaking, there have been lots of great and powerful men, who started out something small. And you can imagine if you knew, where they’d end up, when they were small, that would impact the way you worked with them. You might get discouraged, but you would think, this is where this person is headed, and it’s that way with the church, if we become sort of pessimistic, and tired, and we are like, what can God do with these people, we absolutely know what God can do with these people, and we need to know it better, we need to appreciate God’s great plan, the hope to which He has called us, and His glorious inheritance in the saints.

And we need to know His power.

That’s the second part of Paul’s prayer request.

Verse 19.

“And what is the immeasurable greatness of his power towards us who believe, according to the working of his great might.”

And you can see he’s just piling on words.

Immeasurable.

Greatness.

Of His power.

The working.

Of His great might.

Which is Paul’s way I think of trying to get us just to step back and say, wow. I don’t think the words themselves mean anything all that different. It’s more like someone who’s seen something amazing, and it’s so amazing, that as he describes it, he just keeps repeating himself, because he really wants you to feel it.

We really, really, really, really, need to know, deep down in our hearts, that there is absolutely nothing in the whole universe that can stop God from doing anything He wants and that’s best for us, as a church.

It’s not, and as we look down at the text, this is important to note, that Paul’s praying we might know the hope of our calling and the riches of God’s inheritance in the saints, and that we might have more of God’s great power.

It’s that Paul is praying we might know the immeasurable greatness of God’s power that is already at work in and through us.

One of the things that holds us up most as a church is not a lack of spiritual resources. Instead, what holds us up, is that we just don’t realize how many spiritual resources God has in fact already given us in Christ.

I mean, this really concerns me.

Because if you look at the way a lot of people are going about church, it’s like they think, as Christians, we somehow need something more.

We need more of Jesus.

We need more of the Holy Spirit.

We need more power.

Which of course puts false teachers in these positions where they can easily gain control over you.

I mean, if you are sitting there and you are feeling inadequate.

If that’s how you view yourself fundamentally as a Christian, not having enough, I can get you to do almost anything.

“You are saved, oh that’s fine, that’s a start, but you also need to give me so much, if you are going to really experience God’s power.”

“Ok.

I want God’s power.”

“Oh, you are a Christian, that’s good, but you also need to do this ritual or that ritual, if you are going to overcome Satan’s attacks.”

“All right.

I definitely want to avoid Satan’s attacks.”

And you know, once you get started heading down that direction, it’s not long before you have something, that’s not even close to the kind of Christianity, we are reading about in God’s Word.

Which of course is part of why, Paul so desperately wants us to appreciate the sufficiency of the resources we’ve already been given in Christ.

If we don’t have this deepening personal relationship with God, if we aren’t more and more sure about our hope of eternal life, if we don’t appreciate just how big a future God has in store for the church, and the power that’s at work right now in the church, there’s no way, we are really going to be able to stay on track with the mission God’s given us as a church.

That’s what we so desperately need, and of course, that’s why we do what we do as a church.

Church Matters, part two

14 Apr

As a local church we can be involved in lots of things.

Even at our church which is just at the beginning, we still have all kinds of activities that are constantly taking place.

People that meet on Mondays at the park.

Classes.

Ladies groups.

The Baby Home.

Trips to Malawi.

And there a million more activities we can get involved in the years ahead, but with all these different things we are doing and can be doing, it’s good sometimes to come back and ask ourselves what must we be doing?

What’s our fundamental purpose?

And I think we get just such a key insight into the church’s most vital mission in the last phrase at the end of 1 Timothy 3 verse 15.

It comes so quickly we might miss it.

Paul says he is writing so we can understand how we are to live in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, and here it is, a pillar and buttress of the truth.

And both those terms mean something pretty similar.

I think.

A pillar is something that holds up a building, and a buttress, is an unusual word, so there’s some discussion as to what it means, but most likely it’s just talking about a foundation.

 In Ephesus, which is actually the city where the church Timothy’s pastoring was located, there was this huge temple to this idol named Diana, and one of the things that made this temple stand out were these huge pillars, supporting the roof. And I think I’ve read there were something like 127 of these pillars, and the pillars were made of solid marble, and they were decorated with jewels and with gold.

Which is how unbelievers gathered together to worship, because obviously there was no goddess named Diana, that was a lie, and so they had to focus on externals, and build these huge buildings to make their religion look attractive, because they didn’t have any reality.

But we do.

As believers, the church is obviously, different.

Because our God is alive.

This whole thing we are doing, is actually something real.

It’s true.

God’s revealed Himself.

We have this message about God and how to have a relationship with God and what God’s doing in the world through Jesus that is not made up.

It actually comes from the mouth of God.

And so what kind of pillars does the living God actually use to make the truth look attractive.

What does He use to protect and promote it?

Paul says He uses His people, His family, the church.

Which is is in essence the mission of the church.

That’s a big part of why we are here.

The church exists to be like a pillar, holding up the truth of the gospel, putting the truth on display, making the truth look beautiful. And I don’t know but I guess I am so passionate we understand this, because there are just so many different things we as a church could be doing and that we as a church could be about.

I mean, it’s amazing if you think about.

The opportunity we have.

Here we’ve got this group of people who are committed to each other and who are gathering together on a regular basis, and we are all coming together to do something, and that’s great, because this world is filled with so many problems and issues and opportunities for us to really get involved, and so I am sure, if we wanted to get creative, there are like a million different things we could be doing together as a group, but we are not just a random group of people, we are the church, we belong to God, and so we have to be very careful that we don’t ever lose sight of the most basic and fundamental mission God’s given us, which has to do with the truth.

We’ve basically been brought into existence to hold up the truth of God as revealed in the Word of God.

That’s why we are here.

We don’t make up the truth. We just support it. God’s the one who revealed the truth and gave it to us, but it doesn’t belong to us.

The way the authors of Scripture describe it, it’s as if the message came down from above. And as a result, we have no authority to change it, to modify it, all we can do is protect it.

As someone’s explained, “It is a sacred treasure given to us for the glory of God, the good of men, and we must hold it as our most precious treasure.”

Which means, we have a very clear vision as to the meaning of our existence.

We uphold the truth of God’s Word. We uphold the truth about what God is doing through His Son.

That’s what we’re all about.

That’s central to everything we are trying to do.

As one of my former pastors has put it,

“When we sing songs, we sing songs that articulate the truth we believe.  When we teach classes, we teach the truth.  You come on Sundays and I preach to you and you hear the Word of God again. We have Bible Studies and classes going through different parts of the Word of God. We get together in Gospel Communities and discuss Scripture and how to apply it. We meet individually and we encourage one another with what we are learning about the gospel and about God, and why is there such an emphasis on the Scriptures like this, all this training and instruction?

It’s “because we are here to uphold the truth.”

And while ultimately we hope as a church to be involved in all sorts of different things, at the end of the day, everything we are involved in, at some level has to come back to this, ”the upholding, the instructing, the meditating, the learning, the proclaiming of the truth.

Because, that’s what Paul says we are to be all about.

Which is part of why honestly it’s sometimes hard to get as excited about some of the evangelism and movement we’ve seen towards Christianity in Africa, over the years.

Maybe to take a moment.

Because, there’s a lot of action here in Africa.

And there’s a lot of talk about Jesus and Christian and religion here in Africa. And there are a lot of people who would say they are Christians, and who are going to places called churches, but the question is, how many of these same people are serious about the truth How many of these churches are characterized by a passion for the study of God’s Word?

And this is not a minor issue, we are not just trying to be picky, because ultimately, the church is supposed to be the place where the truth is. Without the truth, we might be nice people, and we might be very active people, and we might be very religious people, but we won’t be the church, and we’ve totally missed one of our main reasons for even existing as a church.

If you start reading through Paul’s letters, you’ll see how absolutely urgent he was about all this.

Even here in 1 Timothy.

He says in 1 Timothy 1:3 that the reason he left Timothy in Ephesus was to “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine.” Later on in chapter 4, he warns Timothy, verse 8. “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths.” Verse 13. “Until I come devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have…Practice these things, immerse yourself in them. Keep a close watch on yourself and the teaching.” In chapter 6. Verse 2. He says,“Teach and urge these things. If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.” He concludes the whole letter. In verse 20. “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.”

In 2 Timothy 2, he continues, “Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words which does no good but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness.”

I mean, I think you are getting the picture.

Chapter 4, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom, preach the Word, be ready in season and out of season, reprove, rebuke and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

It’s clear for Paul, there’s nothing more valuable in the universe than divine truth and as the church there’s nothing more important we can do than uphold it, protect it, promote it, and seek to live our lives together in a way that makes people see how attractive and powerful it really is. And I know practically, for those of you who are church members, or want to be church members, obviously, we are not all going to be teachers, we all have different roles to play but if we are going to be the pillar and buttress of the truth, we’ve all got to play our role and make a priority out of serving God by serving the truth.

We’re in trouble if the only ones in the church excited about the truth are the pastors and the teachers, we are missing it. And so it’s important no matter what gift God’s given you to see yourself as a vital part of this mission God’s given all of us, and maybe, very specifically, we need to all start by making it one of our main goals in life to really know the truth.

It’s hard as a church to support the truth, if you don’t know it.

And where is the truth found, it’s found in the Scriptures and so, looking at this mission of the church, maybe the place you have to begin is by making sure you are making a practice out of reading the Scriptures.

And then thinking about those Scriptures you have read.

And what you don’t understand, finding ways to understand, by talking about it with others, and reading books about the Scriptures.

This is why we have the resource center.

And Gospel community groups.

And discipleship relationships.

It’s all about helping you learn the truth so that you can be part of protecting the truth from error. If we as individual Christians can really know our Bibles and really understand the truth, we have a million opportunities every week as a church to be of help to people.

One of the things I love about our particular church is that we have so many different backgrounds and so many different cultures and languages, and so there are so many people that you are way more equipped to be able to speak to than I am, and imagine if you knew the truth so well, that you could speak to them, and you could identify some of the errors they might be believing, and actually proclaim the gospel to them.

You get to be part of that.

That’s our mission as a church.

And coming back to 1 Timothy 3, we find Paul emphasizing the importance of this mission of promoting and protecting the truth in two ways.

The first is verse 16.

Where he says,

“Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness.”

Which is like a word of worship.

It’s not Paul saying oh man this is confusing. It’s Paul saying oh wow what a privilege we have as a church to promote the truth, because of the actual content of the truth that God’s given us to protect.

Great indeed we all as Christians confess is the mystery and the way Paul’s using that word there is different than how we would, he’s using it, as revelation. Great indeed is the revelation of godliness. And he quotes what a lot of people think was an early Christian hymn or even statement of faith, and it’s not all there is to what God’s revealed of course, but Paul seems to like to use these different summary statements to help us appreciate different facets of what God has revealed to us.

And I am not going to go very deep into all that Paul says here, but just looking at it briefly, you can see it’s what God has shown us about what He’s doing through His Son Jesus Christ.

He was manifested in the flesh.

That’s the incarnation, which is central to the whole Christian faith, we know who Jesus is, and if we don’t, we are not a church.

And He was vindicated by the Spirit. The Spirit of God in other words proved that He was who He claimed to be. Through miracles.

Obviously.

But ultimately, through the resurrection. Because while it looked like he’d been defeated, after He made all those claims about the kingdom of God, and what He was coming to do, on the cross, it looked like He’d lost, and yet, through His resurrection, Paul says, He was declared to be the Son of God in power.

Romans 1.

He was seen by angels. They were witnesses to His resurrection. And they worship Him even now after His ascension to the Father.

He was proclaimed among the nations. This gospel was taken out. At such a great cost.

If you want to think about the value of this message, we’ve been given, think about the men who died that we might have it.

And the response. The way this truth has changed and transformed people. The world would not be what it is today, if you could somehow take out the gospel.

I think it’s so easy for us to take for granted what we have as Christians, as the church in the truth, we have this message about God, this message that is the power of God unto salvation.

We’re not just going around sharing some ideas about how to have a nice life.

We actually have the truth about eternal realities. The incarnation of Christ, the defeat of sin and death, the transformation of sinners, the glorification of Jesus. We know stuff we couldn’t possibly know apart from God’s breaking into this world and speaking and telling us how things are.

I mean, we know who Jesus really was.

We know he wasn’t only this Jewish carpenter who lived and died, we actually have insights into what Jesus was, what He did, and even what He’s doing right now. For us as a church.

And Paul points out at the end, how He was taken into glory.

God’s given us a glimpse into the great reversal that took place, after Jesus rose again, and ascended into heaven, how He was seated at the right hand of God, and is now interceding and working on our behalf.

I know, there’s all kinds of things we wish God had told us, but if you slow down and think about the value of all that He has revealed to us, it’s actually pretty overwhelming.

He doesn’t have to tell us anything.

And yet He’s given a glimpse into His most important secrets, and He’s asked us as a church the privilege of protecting and proclaiming it.

And it’s absolutely vital we do, because it’s constantly coming under attack.

That’s where Paul goes in 1 Timothy 4. “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons…”

It’s like God’s given us this precious treasure to protect, and then warned us, very specifically, that there are going to be people who attempt to steal it.

And the question facing us as a church, is you know, are we going to be serious about guarding this great treasure God’s given us. I mean, this is always the greatest issue the church faces, the truth and authority of God’s Word is always coming under attack, and we see it all around us, and while we can sometimes become discouraged about all the lies we see people believing and telling, we also have to realize that is part of why we are here.

We’re not here to make a name for ourselves, and we are not here to be comfortable, and we are not here to have a nice building or whatever, we are here to exalt Christ by proclaiming and protecting and enjoying and standing for the truth.

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