Sunday – November 12, 2017 Series Week Nine: “The Heart of a New Testament Church”

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SERIES: “The Church- Can We Have It Our Way?”
Week Nine: “The Heart of a New Testament Church”

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Ezekiel 36:26-28
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

It is true that we cannot “have it our way” when it comes to church, but rather we must function in ways that are consistent with sound doctrine, and which are obedient to the principles and commands of Scripture, illustrated by apostolic practice. We have been given certain terms like elders and deacons, and we have seen how the early church functioned. But let us not err by concluding that being a New Testament church is primarily a matter of terms and forms. The essence of a New Testament church is more a matter of the heart.

The New Testament church is made up of those whose sins have been covered and atoned for by the shed blood of Jesus, and who now have hearts of flesh, rather than hearts of stone. The New Testament church is one in which the Spirit of God dwells, empowering Christians to play their unique role in the body of Christ so that our Lord now ministers to the world through His body, the church. We can use all the right terms and have all the right forms and traditions, but fail to be a New Testament church because we lack hearts that are filled with faith, hope, and love – not to mention many other attitudes that should characterize the Christian (like humility, servanthood, joy, and thanksgiving). This is why a church may not have all the right terminology or just the right forms, but may nevertheless manifest the life of Jesus.

A New Testament church manifests Christ to the world. Through the presence and power of Christ, the church ministers to itself and then to the world. Thus, the church is not just about principles and procedures, but about people, people who have come to faith in Jesus Christ, who have been joined to the church, and who are divinely indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit. A New Testament church has New Testament life and power. It not only carries on the work of Christ, it manifests His character. The heart of a New Testament Christian (and a New Testament church) is the work of God’s Spirit, the outworking of the New Covenant inaugurated by the shed blood of our Lord Jesus on the cross of Calvary. It all begins with Jesus, just as it ends with Him. I pray that you have trusted in Him, and thus have become a part of His church.

Sunday – September 20, 2015 Revelation 3:7-13 “Philadelphia: Church of the Open Door”

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Revelation 3:8
‘I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name.”

The apostles were instructed to wait until the Spirit came upon them, empowering them to carry out the Great Commission. When the Spirit came upon them at Pentecost (Acts 2), the result was Peter’s powerful sermon which God used to save many. In the Spirit’s power, the apostles performed miracles, which provided yet more opportunities to proclaim the gospel (Acts 3). But as the apostles continued to heal and to preach in the name of Jesus, the Sadducees and other Jewish religious leaders became increasingly concerned, so that they began to persecute the apostles (Acts 4 & 5).

The gospel was advancing in a way that partially fulfilled the Great Commission, but this was far less than what our Lord had commanded. For one thing, the gospel was spread only as far as “all Judea and Samaria.” For another, the apostles had not yet come to terms with the fact that the gospel was the good news of salvation for Jews and Gentiles, without distinction. Up to this point in time, it was assumed that in order to be a Christian, one must either be Jewish, either by birth or by becoming a Jewish proselyte. The failure of the apostles to aggressively fulfill the Great Commission seems to have been fueled, to some degree, by their belief that the gospel should not go to the Gentiles.

There were certain excuses for the apostles’ inaction which could have been used. For example, because they believed the Gentiles should not be evangelized as Gentiles because they were considered unclean. In the Book of Acts, God has already dealt with Peter on this matter and now through Peter, God will open the door to worldwide evangelism. Peter was the one to whom the “keys to the kingdom” were given by our Lord (Matthew 16:19). God opened the door to those who would hear his message. It wasn’t Peter who persuaded Cornelius and friends to believe; God did. Peter was an instrument in the hands of the Redeemer, but the Lord Jesus, who has the Key of David, opened the doors that had previously been shut.

We live at a time when people are obsessed with methods. They wish to know the methods of those who are successful. This is not altogether a bad thing but we should take note that the Ethiopian eunuch, Saul, and Cornelius were not saved because of some slick evangelistic approach. They were saved because God prepared their hearts and drew them to Himself by faith. More important than having the right method is preserving and proclaiming the right message. We are not to modify the message of the gospel to make it more palatable. Our task is to proclaim the gospel that God has given us in His Word. If salvation is “of the Lord” – and it surely is – then let us spend more time in His Word and in prayer, asking God to prepare the hearts of lost people and open the door to their hearts with the message of the gospel we take to them.

Sunday – August 30, 2015 Revelation 2:12-17 “Pergamum: Sin City” Part 2

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Revelation 2:16-17
‘Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth. ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’

It has been said, “Any idiot can be complicated; but it takes genius to be simple.” Indeed, the most effective oral and written communicators are those who take profound truths and make them simple. This has bearing on every area of our lives. When we communicate with others either individually or corporately, we must be clear and simple. The well-known acronym K.I.S.S. (“Keep It Simple Stupid”) applies here.

Although the Lord is the deepest thinker, after all “His ways are not our ways.” He always strives to bring His great truth down to common folks like you and me. However, many who have taught from the Book of the Revelation have produced a most unfortunate history of application in the church.  Unfortunately, this trend continues today. By appealing to “hidden manna” and “white stones” all kinds of false doctrines are being perpetuated and widely accepted. Therefore, we must be on the alert against this passage and others like it being abused. Our goal must be to understand why our Lord Jesus has written to this letter to these churches and how it applies to our lives.

The wonderful mysteries God has prepared for those who love Him are not knowable only by a select group of Christians. Any and every believer can understand and appreciate them because the indwelling Holy Spirit can enlighten us. However, without the light of God’s Spirit, we’ll be in the dark. This is why our Lord instructs each of these churches to listen to what the Spirit has to say to each of these seven churches. The Holy Spirit searches the very depths of the heart and mind of God. He can do this because He is God – the third member of the Trinity.

There will be many things about life and faith we will not understand on this side of heaven. They are mysteries – but mystery is not a bad thing. It ultimately comes down to whom do you believe? Do you believe God and what He has promised to those who overcome or do you believe what the world says about what will make your life pleasant and meaningful. The walk of faith is one that trusts what God has promised even though we cannot know what the results will be because the One who has promised it is faithful to what He has promised and is all powerful to accomplish what He has promised.

Sunday June 7, 2015 “The Man Who Cried for God to Come Down” Isaiah 63

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Isaiah 63:17
“Why, O Lord, do You cause us to stray from Your ways and harden our heart from fearing You? Return for the sake of Your servants, the tribes of Your heritage.”

Through God’s Spirit, the prophet Isaiah saw a desperate future time in Israel’s history. Because Isaiah predicted conditions that would take place about 100 years after he wrote (after the Babylonians conquered Judah), liberal critics have said that Isaiah couldn’t have written this. But I believe that God revealed the future to the prophet and led him to pray this prayer as a gracious way of teaching us how to lay hold of Him and His power in times of great spiritual need.

Isaiah pictures God as shut up in heaven, removed from His people who are suffering because of their sin. In an emotional outburst, the prophet calls upon God to rend the heavens and come down in great power, even as He did at Sinai, to restore His people and to make His name known among the nations. His point is that complacency with the existing low spiritual condition among God’s people is the enemy of revival. Remember the lukewarm church at Laodicea? They were content: “We’re rich and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing.” But God’s evaluation was that they were “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

I know of two ways to keep from lapsing into lukewarmness and thinking that it is normal. First, steep yourself in the Bible so much that when you hear of the worldliness of the modern church, you are appalled. God’s Word must shape our worldview.Second, read church history and read some of the great men of God from the past. You will learn how God has worked in history, and you will read men who were not tainted by our modern worldview. But the fact that they wrote in a different time and culture will often jar you to see how far we have drifted. That is the start of revival praying – when some of God’s people begin to feel the lack of His working in our day.

Never before has the church had so many methods available to us, but at the same time, so little experience of the power of God. Christians need to know the living God in a deeper way. Also, we need to entreat God to pour out His Spirit through a revived church, so that His power in salvation would turn millions in repentance and faith to Him.

Sunday – March 22, 2015 Jude 17 to 19

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Jude 16-18
“These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage. But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.”

If Jude were written in article format and submitted to the leading evangelical magazines of our day, there’s not a chance that it would be accepted for publication. The rejection notices would say, “Too harsh and judgmental!” and “Too negative!” and “Too critical of others’ ministries!” “Where is the grace?” “Rewrite in a kinder, gentler tone!” Because tolerance has become the chief virtue of our culture and because the culture always creeps into the church, the church today is decidedly against anything that smacks of judgment or criticism of those who claim to be evangelicals. I often hear the mantra, “They will know that we are Christians by our love, not by our doctrinal correctness.” The implication is that love and correct doctrine are somehow opposed to one another.

Also, our evangelical culture has followed our morally lax worldly culture by mistaking God’s grace to mean that we get a daily allotment of free passes for sin. We wrongly think that grace means that God is like an indulgent parent who isn’t bothered by our sin. Just this week Presbyterian Church (USA) will now define marriage as a “unique commitment between two people,” rather than a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman. Where has the biblical teaching that salvation results in a life of obedience to God (Titus 2:11-14); or a lifestyle of sin is evidence that we are not truly saved (1 John 3:4-10) gone?

In contrast to our culture’s emphasis on being nice to everyone who calls himself a Christian no matter what he teaches, the Holy Spirit saw fit to put Jude in Scripture. In case we missed it, He virtually repeats it in the letter of 2 Peter. Both passages give us this extended portrait of false teachers so that we will study it carefully, like a Most Wanted Poster, so that we will be able to spot these guys when they show up and avoid them and their teaching.

So, is Jude too harsh and judgmental of these false teachers? Should he join us more enlightened 21st century evangelicals in joining hands with them and singing, “We are One in the Spirit”? Or, did the Holy Spirit inspire Jude to give us this sad portrait to study so that we will be able to spot such false teachers and avoid following their sins? Why has Jude expended so much condemnation on the false teachers? Because he is primarily a pastor. He is concerned to feed his Master’s sheep and he is furious to find them being poisoned by lust masquerading as religion.” Study this portrait carefully!

Sunday – December 14, 2014 1st John 5 verses 6 to 13 “Is Christianity Merely Psychological?”

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1 John 5:6-8
“This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.”

Skeptics frequently allege that Christian conversion is merely a psychological phenomenon that can be explained in purely naturalistic terms. In their minds, conversion to Christ is a purely subjective experience. They will agree it is nice if it works for you, but you shouldn’t try to impose it on everyone else or say that those who do not believe as you do are wrong. If you say that Jesus Christ changed your life, the skeptic will reply, “That’s great for you, but it doesn’t prove that Christianity is true for everyone else. Buddhism changed Richard Gere’s life. Scientology changed Tom Cruise’s life. Cabalistic Judaism seems to have changed Madonna’s life. So if changed lives are the criteria of truth, there is plenty of evidence that Christianity is not the only religious truth out there.”

How do you counter such arguments? There is value in subjective, inner assurance of the truth of the gospel for believers. But we need a more sure foundation for our faith than our subjective experience alone provides. Throughout 1 John, the apostle has been addressing the matter of authentic Christianity. False teachers had caused confusion in the church and had left, taking a number of people with them. They claimed to have secret knowledge about Jesus Christ, but their teaching contradicted the apostolic witness to Christ. John repeatedly shows that authentic Christians believe the truth about Jesus Christ, they obey God’s commandments, and they love one another.

John wasn’t relaying some inner, subjective vision or philosophy. He was telling about his objective experience with Jesus Christ. You can’t get much more objective than seeing, hearing, and touching! Jesus Christ is God’s witness to us through the apostles who spent three years with Him. In our text, John comes back to this objective witness with which he opened this letter. He wants us to have a sure foundation for our faith. Authentic Christian faith rests on God’s testimony to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

If you don’t know whether or not you have eternal life, nothing is more important than to make sure. Go back and read again God’s testimony of His Son in the gospels. See the witness of the Spirit throughout the life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. God’s testimony about Jesus is the foundation of our faith. Christianity is not just a psychological experience. It rests on this solid witness.

Sunday – November 16, 2014 1st John 4 verses 12 to 16 “The Assurance of Abiding”

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1 John 4:12-14
“No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.”

Almost every Christian at some time has struggled with assurance of salvation. Perhaps you heard some godless university professor rail against the Christian faith, or you heard about a book or movie, and it caused you to doubt the truth of Christianity. Then the enemy hit you with the thought, “How could you be a genuine Christian and have these thoughts?” Or, it may have been during a time of severe trial, where God did not seem to be answering your prayers. The difficulties in your life multiplied without relief. You cried out to God, but He seemed to be on vacation. You just couldn’t make sense out of what was happening to you. Then, you began to doubt both the Christian faith and whether you were really a Christian at all.

The enemy has many such ways to shake our assurance of salvation. In the case of John’s first readers, false teachers were spreading heresy among the churches. They had left to form new churches, and many had followed them. When your friends join a new group with new teachings, it can cause you to question whether what you believe is really true. So the apostle John writes to his little children to give them assurance that they were truly abiding in Christ.

We’ve seen throughout 1 John, the issue is not perfection, but rather, direction. The important questions are, “What do you do when your faith wavers? Do you come before the Lord in confession, asking Him to strengthen your faith? What do you do when selfishness dominates your life, rather than God’s love? Do you grieve over your hardness of heart and ask God to fill you with His Spirit and to produce the fruit of His Spirit in you? Fruit is not an instant product. It takes time and cultivation. Faith and love take time to grow.

John wants you to know that if these qualities are growing in you, you can be assured that God abides in you and you in Him. If you do not see faith and love growing in your life, then do as Isaiah (55:6-7) directs: “Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.”

 

Sunday – November 9, 2014 1st John 4 verses 7 to 11 “Why Love is Required”

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1 John 4:7-9
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

You may identify with the early believers. John has already emphasized the importance of love in 2:7-11 and hit it again in 3:11-18. We may be prone to say, “Okay, brother, we’ve got that one down now. Let’s move on to something else.” But John not only repeats the imperative to love one another but also he hits it longer and harder than at any other point in the book. He wants to make sure that we understand that love is not an optional virtue for the believer. It is to be the distinguishing mark of the church in the world. John goes so far as to say that if you do not love others, you do not know God! So we all need to examine our own lives by this supreme standard.

While love is the inevitable result of being born of God, it is not the automatic result. John tells us, “Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” The implication is the life of God imparted to us in the new birth manifests itself in love for others. If we are children of the One whose very nature is love, then we will be like our Father. But at the same time, John writes, “Beloved, if God so loves us, we also ought to love one another.” Love is not automatic nor effortless! We always have room for growth in love.

Love is not opposed to truth. John has just spent six verses warning us (4:1), “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” He did not say: “Let’s just set aside those points of doctrine where we disagree and come together where we do agree, loving those who differ on these matters.” Because these men denied essential truth about Jesus Christ, John calls them false prophets, whose teaching is the spirit of antichrist. Love does not mean that we set aside the truth for the sake of unity.

We must exercise wise discernment here. Some doctrinal differences are not essential to the gospel, and we need to love brothers who differ with us on these matters. Some of these doctrines are important for how we live the Christian life, and so we may vigorously debate them among ourselves. But we must always remember that we are debating as brothers in Christ. If we divide from one another over every minor point of doctrine, we fall into the errors of “fighting fundamentalism.” At the heart of that sort of cantankerous behavior is a spirit of pride, where I assert that everyone must agree with me on every minor issue. At the same time, some issues fall into a gray zone, where salvation may not be at stake, but to embrace a particular view will have momentous consequences. We should not accuse those who differ with us of not being saved, unless they also deny the essentials of the gospel.

Sunday – November 2, 2014 1st John 4 verses 1 to 6 “Discerning the Spirits”

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1 John 4:1-3
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.”

P. T. Barnum made a fortune on the theory that “a sucker is born every minute,” and he has many disciples today. The Internet has only widened the door of opportunity for those that prey on the unsuspecting. I have read that the second most lucrative industry in Nigeria is scamming foolish Americans out of their money by promising to give them millions of dollars in exchange for their personal banking information.

Perhaps even more widespread than financial scams are spiritual scams. False cults and religions lure millions into their traps, promising them fulfillment, happiness, and more. Mormonism is growing rapidly worldwide. Jehovah’s Witnesses aggressively promote their heresies in just about every country of the world. Islam is growing all over Europe, and it is also rapidly expanding in America.

Even among those claiming to be evangelicals, who say that they believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, false teaching abounds. The “New Perspective on Paul,” which has captured many evangelical scholars and pastors, undermines justification by faith alone. The Emergent Church movement embraces much of the postmodern philosophy that there is no absolute truth. Many churches teach the Holy Spirit is at work in the world’s other major religions and that Christians should be open to learning from and being enriched by the Spirit’s work in world religions. In addition to these blatant errors, the “seeker church” movement has subtly redefined the gospel, so that the issue is no longer that we are sinners who need reconciliation to a holy God. Rather, we are religious consumers with needs that God is willing and ready to meet, if we will just give Him a try.

John tells his beloved flock, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” Paul said a similar thing. After saying that we should “not despise prophetic utterances,” he added, “but examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:20-21). True faith is not a blind leap into the dark. It examines its object carefully before putting trust in it. John Stott observes both Paul and John assumed, as the Reformers insisted, that “even the humblest Christian possessed ‘the right of private judgment.” We need spiritual discernment because Satan and his forces are alive and well, promoting error at every opportunity.