Tag Archives: church

Is the Spirit of God at Work in Your Church? part 2

23 Feb

What does it look like when the Spirit of God is at work in your church?

To answer that question, we’re first going to look at the comparison Paul makes in Ephesians 5:18.

This comparison is basically the setup for the rest of the verse and so if you’re going to understand the rest of the passage, it helps to begin with this comparison. When Paul says “and do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” he’s making a comparison. It’s actually probably better to say he’s making a contrast and it’s a contrast that at first seems a little strange for us.

I understand that we’re not supposed to get drunk with wine and I understand that we’re supposed to be filled with the Spirit but why does Paul mention these two things back-to-back? Why does he say “and do not get drunk with wine” and then in his mind he thinks that is an appropriate contrast to being filled with the Spirit?

The reason Paul mentions these two commands back-to-back as a “put off” and a “put on” is because he’s really describing two radically different kinds of lifestyles. He’s talking about two radically different ways of living. The first way of living, “do not get drunk with wine,” is a foolish lifestyle. If you look down at the text you’ll see how Paul commanded us in verse 15, he says, “Look carefully then how you walk. Not as unwise but as wise.” And then in verse 17 he says, “Therefore do not be foolish.” This way of living that he describes at the beginning of verse 18 is just an expression of how a foolish person lives.

It’s how a person who doesn’t understand the gospel and how it connects to his life lives. He’s consumed with the desire for earthly pleasure. The days are evil, the world is wicked and so how does he respond to the fact that the world is wicked? He is consumed with a desire for pleasure. That’s getting drunk with wine at it’s core. That’s what you’re doing when you get drunk with wine, you’re cramming your face with pleasure. Getting drunk with wine is an expression of a foolish kind of lifestyle where a person’s appetite for earthly pleasure is out of control. It’s where a person’s appetite for earthly pleasure is the thing that controls him. That’s why Paul, the next thing he says, he says “don’t get drunk with wine for that is debauchery.” Do you know what “debauchery” means? It means “wildness.” Paul says, “That’s living like an animal.”

Being controlled by a desire for earthly pleasure is living this life in a foolish way like an animal.They are thirsty, these people, and the thing they look to to satisfy their thirst is earthly pleasure which is why this is such a good place for us to start as a church. When we think about: is the Spirit of God working in this church? here’s the question we need to begin with: where as a church are we looking to for ultimate satisfaction? We’re talking about control.

Is the Spirit of God filling this church? Well, what is it that is really in control of what we do and what we think and the way we live our lives out? Is it the same thing as the world? A desire for pleasure, earthly pleasure? Is our appetite for earthly pleasure what controls us? Is that the center of our lives? Are we controlled by a lust for more? We need to ask that because there’s a lot of religious activity that is trying to use God the same way a drunk uses alcohol. A drunk looks to alcohol and stuffs his face with alcohol because of his passion for pleasure now and that’s the way many people are in terms of their relationship with God. The reason they’re excited about church, the reason they come to church, why they do what they do at church is all about pleasure now. How can I use God to get what I want now?

What happens when we’re controlled by earthly pleasures and not the Spirit, it produces chaos in our lives and in our relationships. Paul says it’s debauchery. It leads to wildness.

It’s kind of like, I think, if you can imagine you enter a room, there’s a lot of people, this is the foolish lifestyle, this is the way many people are living in their life, it’s the opposite of being controlled by the Spirit, but there are many people, and it’s sort of like if you enter a room and you can imagine in this room there are all kinds of instruments, there is a drum, there is a guitar, there is a piano, there is a keyboard, there is a trumpet. And these people enter the room and with the foolish person, the foolish people, it’s like they go into the room and they’re taking these instruments which could make beautiful music but they’re going wild just playing these instruments as loudly as they can with no clue how the instruments are supposed to work and that’s what’s happening in our world. God has filled this world with all sorts of instruments that give him glory and are intended to bring us pleasure but the world doesn’t know how to use them in a way that honors God and so what we hear is chaos, chaos. Loud crazy chaos.

And one of the ways we can tell something is happening in our church is that we are in the process of stopping misusing the instruments God’s placed in this world and as a result that loud crazy chaotic noise is being turned down a bit in our lives and in our relationships. Meaning, more specifically, that the church that is filled with the Spirit has turned and is turning from being controlled by desire for earthly pleasures like alcohol. They’re not foolishly trying to find ultimate satisfaction in things that are not satisfying and instead they’re being driven by a thirst for something that does satisfy, something that does last, something that is more significant than earthly pleasure and that is the gospel, God and the person and work of Jesus Christ.

So, if we want to know if we are filled with the Spirit, the first place to look is at this comparison.

What is controlling you? What is it that controls you?

The days are evil, where do you turn to for satisfaction? Are you stuffing your face with more and more earthly pleasure now, is that what controls you? Well, that’s the opposite of a life that is controlled by the Holy Spirit.

On Gathering part 3

25 Nov

Why is it important to gather as a church week after week?

We are looking at Hebrews 10:19-25 to answer that question.  

As you look at verses 22 through 25 you see that after laying the groundwork in verses 19-21, (this is who you are, and this is who Jesus is), the writer of Hebrews draws out three main implications for our life together as a church.

I think those three implications give us a good grid for what’s supposed to be happening when we gather as a church.

The first purpose we get together has to do with God.   Obviously.

Verse 22, “Let us draw near.”

To whom? 

To God.

If we have the right to free access to God and that right has been purchased for us at such a high price, the blood of His Son, then we ought to use it.

That’s the point.

Can you imagine if God had said to Adam after he was kicked out of the garden of Eden, that he had the right once again to go back into the garden, where he would enjoy that special access to God, what would Adam have done, of course he would have gone back in? And can you imagine an Israelite, walking around the tabernacle and being told, he could enter into the holy of holies in order to enjoy God’s special presence, what he would have done?  He would have been frightened I think, but what a privilege.

And the writer of Hebrews is saying in a sense, that is what God has done for us through Christ, he’s made it possible for us all to enter the special presence of God, through the work of Jesus and of course, with this kind of privilege open to us, we should use it.

We gather together for God-centered reasons. We gather together to commune with God, to approach Him, to worship and pray.

We need this more than we need anything else in our lives, we need to be with God, to draw near, and how we do that, exactly? 

A big part of how we do that is through community.  That’s why these commands are tied together here.  It’s not just drawing near in your prayer closet, though you need to do that, but here it’s us drawing near.

Now, that I hope should be pretty obvious.  But, what I like as I look at verse 22, is how the writer gives us some specific instructions on the way we should approach God as we gather.

Let us draw near with a true heart.  Let us draw near in full assurance of faith.  With our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 

In other words, when we gather to approach God, our worship should be sincere. 

Draw near with a true heart tells us that we are not gathering together to manipulate or fool God into giving us what we want through our religious activity. 

This is a drawing near that should start with a sincere desire for God and a willingness to obey Him.

I would hope that would mark our weekly get togethers, that we are coming to God with people who are done with playing games.

Second, our worship should be confident. 

Draw near with full assurance of the faith tells us that we are not gathering together because we are frightened about God’s attitude towards us.  This is a drawing near that is motivated by a confidence and certainty that God is for us because of what we know is true from the gospel.

And third, our worship should be based on a genuine, existing relationship with God

He says, draw near with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water, and honestly that is a little bit of a complicated phrase, what does it mean, but at the very least, notice it is past tense which means it is something that is done and it is imagery, we are talking about people who are forgiven – their hearts have been sprinkled clean and who have been identified as Christians – their bodies have been washed with pure water – which may mean the same thing as hearts sprinkled basically, it could be synonymous, or it could mean they have identified themselves with the body of Christ through baptism.

Obviously, we love if people who aren’t Christians come and join us on Sundays, that is great, they have a chance to hear the gospel, but this gathering, is primarily for Christians; the goal isn’t to get a lot of non-Christians to like what we do on Sundays, we come together as believers to worship God and to be changed by God and we go out from here to share the gospel with the lost and make disciples. 

A second purpose of our gathering together is found in verse 23, and it has to do with you. 

The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

We as believers, we have this amazing future salvation in store for us, that’s part of our basic confession, but right now, there are a lot of things that can tempt us to lose sight of that hope or give up on that hope.  I picture it a little like being in the middle of the ocean hanging on to a plank of wood, waiting for the plane to come rescue us, and we know it’s coming, but sometimes we get tired, treading water out there, and we want to give up and give in, and a big part of the purpose of this book of Hebrews is to encourage us to persevere.

But this persevering isn’t only an individual thing, to keep hanging on to our hope, God’s given us help, and one of the primary helps we have is each other.

This is something the writer says more clearly back in Hebrews 3, verses 12 and 13.

He writes, “Take care brothers lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.”

Which is a warning.  Take care.  Watch out.  There is a danger you face.

What is that danger you face? 

It is that you develop an evil, unbelieving heart and what will that heart do, it will cause you to fall away from the living God.

How do we take care then?  How do we watch out? 

He tells us.

“But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today…’

Deep, biblical, relationships, that’s how you watch out that you don’t develop an evil, unbelieving heart.

How serious is this though? What happens if you don’t develop these kinds of relationships?

The end of verse 13,  “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

What happens if you are not exhorting one another day after day is that sin lies to you and it lies to you so much that your heart which once might have been soft towards the truth slowly grows harder and harder until you can characterize it as evil and it leads you to fall away from the living God, in other words, you stop holding fast to your confession of hope.

There are some people who think of themselves as really strong spiritually, but if you don’t have regular relationships with other believers, where you are gathering together to remind each other of the truth, then it doesn’t matter how strong you are right now, it’s not going to be too long until you are fairly weak.

I could be the strongest guy in the universe physically, but if I don’t eat for two weeks, you know I am not going to be that strong any longer, and the same is true spiritually, we gather, because you need these gathers if you are going to hold fast to your confession of hope.

A third reason we gather is each other.  

When the New Testament talks about why we get together, the primary reason it gives is to help each other grow spiritually. We might think the primary reason is to worship, and of course it is to worship, but we can worship God anywhere, obviously and we need to, one of the specific reasons this gathering is so important is because it is a unique opportunity to grow spiritually as believers.

Here we see it put like this, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…”

And how do we do that?  He tells us one, “we can’t stop meeting together, and we need to keep encouraging one another.”

In other words, one of the primary ways we obey this command to stir up one another to love and good works, is through this weekly gathering that we have. This is how Paul when he talks about spiritual gifts and the way they operate in the church, this is how he saw the purpose of our gatherings.

He says in 1 Corinthians 14:12, “So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in the building up the church.”

Then later when he talks about what’s going on there in the corporate worship, he offers a summary principle.  1 Corinthians 14:26, “Let all things be done for building up.”

This is why we do what we do when we gather.  It’s for helping each other love God, obey God, and do what’s right.

In fact, this is interesting and I think we sometimes miss it, but this is a big part of why we sing.  

You say, why do I sing in church?  To praise God.  Yeah of course. To encourage myself.

O.k.

But Paul tells us also, it is to help each other grow.

Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

As someone has said, “Singing is for teaching.  Praise is for instruction.  Adoration is for admonition.”

I think we have all met people whose basic approach to life is that of a taker.  Every relationship, their default mode, is to take and they don’t really think outside of that, about how they can serve the other person.   And there are people who approach these gatherings that we have as a church like that.  This getting together is about them.  If they feel like it they come.  A good time on Sunday is when they had a good time on Sunday.  That was good worship service because it made me feel good.  They, what they want, their perspective, it is the lens through which they view everything, they are takers.  But that’s not the right way for us to approach this gathering, this is about helping each other, love more, obey better.  You come here as a believer for each other.

That’s why I preach and why you should listen, you should be listening so you can learn better how to love God and other people throughout the week.  That’s part of why you give so I can study all week long, so I can help you be better at loving God and others. That’s why the guys lead the singing, they are thinking how can we encourage the people who come to hold on to their hope, to see the glory of God, how can we lift them up. That’s why some of us clap our hands when we sing, we are thinking, how can I help this other person focus on God better and feel more comfortable to express their love for God. That’s why many of you get here early, so you can talk to others and get to know them.  That’s why some of you have developed the cd ministry and done bulletins, you are thinking how can I help my brothers and sisters in Christ.  That’s why some of you try to talk to people who are new here for the first time, that’s why you invite people to your gospel communities, that’s why you stay around for a little while after church because you want to see how you can be an encouragement.

I don’t want you to think of these gatherings on Sunday as a show that you come to watch, because a show doesn’t care about you, if you are there or not, it doesn’t matter, someone is going to fill the seat.  Instead, think of these gatherings as a meeting of the family, and so you don’t usually go to family gatherings in order to be entertained or to get your needs met, you go because you love the people, and you want to be of help to them. 

Specifically, the writer says you need to consider how to spur one another on.

That’s part of why don’t give up on gathering with your church family. 

What he’s saying is you need to have a group of believers, whom you are specifically thinking deeply about helping.  That you are so committed to, that you are willing to put yourself out so they can move forward in Christ, and obviously obeying this command is not going to end with our gatherings on Sundays, but it needs to start here. 

It must. 

On Gathering part 2

19 Nov

Why is it important to get together with your local church week after week after week?

We are looking at Hebrews 10:19-25 to try to understand a biblical answer to this question. 

We began by looking at what it says about our need for gathering together.  Today I want us to think about what it teaches about the reasons for our gathering.     

In other words, we are going to take a step back here for a minute and think about the motivations for getting together like this. I know that some of us don’t always like to think about why we do what we do, but we need to, because motivations matter, and what we are after is not just getting together for the sake of getting together or doing what we are supposed to, there are reasons.

If you look at the text, you will notice that the writer is making an argument. 

We know that because he begins with the word therefore.

Therefore, these are the implications of what I have just said for the way in which you live.

That’s an argument, that means there’s a reason behind these commands, this is in other word, in light of what I have just said, that’s why this is significant.

And honestly, you know, as we come to this text, I think that word therefore can be a little intimidating because we are in Hebrews 10 and we might wonder how in the world can we gain the argument of the whole book of Hebrews quickly enough to be able to understand what we need to in order to follow the argument and appreciate the implications that we find in these verses before us.

But the good news is as we keep reading these verses we see that the writer of Hebrews helps us by summarizing what we need to know in verses 19 through 21.  

You can see how he does that when says, “Therefore brothers, since we have” in verse 19 and then again in verse 21, “and since we have…” and when he uses that word since, it is kind of like he’s quickly drawing our attention to the main points he wants to have in our minds as we think about the exhortations we are going to read about our lives as a church.

And those two main points are, verse 19, one, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is through his flesh.

And two, verse 21, since, we have a great priest over the house of God.

Let us, let us, let us. 

So you can sort of see the flow of the passage.  It’s two realities, two sinces, and three implications. It’s kind of like here are your privileges as a church and then here are your responsibilities, and what I wanted you to see and this is what I am emphasizing, is that he doesn’t simply tell us our responsibilities, what to do as a church when we gather, he gives us reasons, he helps us understand the significance of our gathering together, he makes an argument.

And that’s important because there are lots of people throughout the world that gather together for lots of different reasons, but when you think about this gathering, the gathering together of the church, there’s a unique kind of reason for it, and it’s important you understand that unique kind of reason because it’s not really all that exciting if you just go to church and attend, but you don’t really understand the gospel reasons behind going.  What we are hoping for when we talk about gathering is not just people who come weekly and don’t really know why they are getting together.

Now if you want to know why a lot of people go to church and why they make a priority out of gathering, it is because they think going to church and what they do at church, somehow that activity can make them right with God or get God to like them or keep them right with God.

But that’s not the reasons we gather. The reasons we gather have to do with what God has already done for us and is doing for us through Jesus.

The first reason the writer of Hebrews gives us in verse 19 is because we have the right to come into God’s presence.

He says, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh.

Which might sound funny to you because of the word holy place and this talk of a curtain, being Jesus’ flesh.  But really what he’s doing when he uses those ideas is trying to help us appreciate what a big privilege we have as a church by connecting the story of our lives to the great story God’s been writing in the universe.

There were these people in the Old Testament, you know them, the Israelites, and God had a unique relationship with them, they were His people, and they had a unique privilege in that God dwelt with them in a special way, in this place that was called the tabernacle and later the temple.  This was like God’s house.  And in that tabernacle there was a special part, called the holy place and then even beyond that and behind a curtain, there was a place they called the holy of holies, which was like God’s inner sanctuary and of course there were all kinds of rules about how to go into the holy place and approach God’s special presence, and then even who could go into the holy place, it wasn’t just anybody, it was a select group of people, and they had to make all kinds of preparations to do it and then into the holy of holies, only the high priest could go, and he had to take blood, he couldn’t just enter, he had to offer a sacrifice for his sin so that he wouldn’t be consumed when he came close to God.

What the writer of Hebrews is saying here is as he turns from this story in the Old Testament to look at the church is that we as believers, we all have the confidence, and many would actually translate that word authorization, because they don’t think it so much refers to our attitude as it does to something objective, real, and what he’s telling us is, we all have the right to enter the holy places, we all have the right to enter the inner heavenly sanctuary of God.  

That’s really the first thing for me that makes this gathering of people so significant; it is that the church is a gathering of people who all have the right to stand in the presence of a holy God.  I mean, imagine that.  There are all kinds of people all over the world who are gathering together, and they are even groups of people who are gathering together to worship, and they are doing all these things, but it’s of no use, because they are children of wrath, they are enemies of God, they are still in their sins, how is that exciting, but when you are with a group of believers, you are with the people of God, you are with what you might call a set apart or holy priesthood, you are with a group of people, who have absolutely free access to the majestic and holy Creator of the Universe.

And that makes what is going on when those people get together pretty significant, because God looks on it with favor, and we know He does because it’s not based on their efforts, but this authorization or right to come into His presence, is based on the work of Christ, the writer of Hebrews says we have this authorization by the blood of Jesus, and then he explains it further, by the new and living way that he opened up for us through the curtain, that is through his flesh. 

When we gather on Sundays, this is not a group of desperate people trying to manipulate God into liking them, this is people who have the right to be before God because of what God’s done for them through Jesus.

And we might add to that, what God’s doing for them through Jesus, because the writer of Hebrews does.

A second way that the writer of Hebrews demonstrates the significance of our privileges as a church is in verse 21, where he says, “since we have a great priest over the house of God” and in saying that, it’s like he’s drawing our attention from each other and this free access we have to the one who is in charge of us and what’s going on, the head of the church, and that’s Jesus and what he’s saying is that Jesus, this one we come to worship, is not dead, he’s very much alive and he is at work, as priest over his house, which is the church. 

And honestly if you want to know better what that means, you might just study the book of Hebrews, because there is so much of the book of Hebrews that is written to explain that but for now, what I want you to understand is that as we talk about gathering together as a church, we are not starting with, hey to be a good person and to get God to like you, then you need to do this and go to church every week, instead we are starting with, man look at what you have as believers, you have the right to enter into God’s presence, and you have this glorious Savior who is alive and who is at work, ministering, serving on your behalf, and that reality, those truths aren’t just there to look at, they have implications, they should change you.

I know and you know that there are people who might look at the church gathering together, and ask what is so big about that?

What is so big about that is what these people get to do. They have access to God.  And what is so big about that is the One they worship, the One is who in charge of them, it’s the great High priest, Jesus Christ, God’s Son.   

That’s the reason for our gathering, it is the gospel.   And you know maybe I can add to that, these truths are so important to get right, because they should change the way we gather as well.  If we are just coming here without knowing these reasons, we are going to tear each other apart in the long run.  But, look, we are coming here confident in Christ, knowing that He’s the purpose, He’s the one who saves us, and that, believing those truths enables us to have real fellowship and community.   

A little bit different

7 Aug

Christian leadership is a bit different than secular leadership.

What business leadership seminar would ever describe leadership as the path towards crucifixion? But Jesus says if we are not willing to pick up our cross, we are not even able to follow Him.