Thursday, September 14, 2017

Edification - The Growth-Focused Service of the Church

We're all involved in a building project. Anyone who is a believer in Jesus Christ is also a disciple.  That's a loaded term that has the basic meaning of being a learner or a follower.  Our pursuit is Christ-likeness and our teacher is Christ Himself.

God uses a LOT of tools to help us grow as Christians.  Historically, the church has used the phrase "means of grace".  One of the major means of grace that God has chosen to use for thousands of years is the Church.

The Church is not a building, but a people.  The Greek word for church is "ekklesia", which could be translated "a called out assembly".  God has called out people, through salvation, and put us together into various churches in order to display His glory through the spread of the gospel and the growth of disciples. Simply put, we need each other and God has designed that we help each other.

Ephesians 4 tells us precisely God's plan for our spiritual growth as disciples of Christ:

Ephesians 4:11-13 - And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head-- Christ-- 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

This passage tells us a few things.  Firstly, the entire building project is the plan of God and also under His direction.  We do things His way because it is His project, not ours.  Secondly, Jesus has placed gifted men (in the case of the modern church, evangelists and pastor-teachers) in order to equip the saints (that's all of us) to do the work of the ministry.  Pastors are not the paid professionals who do all the work.  They are equippers.  Thirdly, we all do the work of the ministry - serving one another, teaching one another, loving one another.  It's our responsibility.  Fourthly, we all grow up together through the power of Christ and become more like our Savior.

This whole plan shows why the church is vital to your Christian growth.  You can't do ANY of this stuff by yourself.  Oh, you can read the Bible and get some knowledge about God and the gospel, but you can't live it out on your own.  You were meant to be part of a growing body of believers who love and serve God by loving and serving others.

While our church is small and doesn't currently have all the age-segregated programs some other churches might have, there are plenty of opportunities for both learning God's Word and applying God's Word in the context of the relationships you will build here.  The challenge is to not sit on the sidelines, but jump in and get involved.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Evangelism - The Soul-Seeking Mission of the Church

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

Elwood Blues (yes, I am going to quote one of the Blues Brothers) once claimed that he and his brother Jake were "on a mission from God".  Of course, their mission was to get a fictitious band back together to complete a movie plot.  Our mission, however, is direct from the Captain of our salvation and Lord of the universe.  And it involves something far more important than the comedic elements of a Saturday Night Live spin-off.  It involves the eternal destiny of everyone with whom we come in contact.

You see, for reasons known only to God, He has given us a major responsibility and privilege in being a part of the growth of His kingdom.  I call it a responsibility because Matthew 28 (and the other parallels of this passage) is a command.  He doesn't make this an option.  A former pastor of mine, who I greatly respect, many times would remind us that "the Great Commission is not an option to be considered; it is a command to be obeyed".  We aren't allowed to opt out of making disciples.  We simply must obey our Lord's command.

I call it a privilege because I can't believe that we get to be involved in God's saving work!  This is not a drudging requirement.  It is something to rejoice in.  God uses US to keep people out of hell!  He allows US to be a small part in his glorious work of salvation!  He calls US to evangelize the lost.

Evangelize the lost.  What does that mean?  There are two parts of this to understand.  First, what does it mean to evangelize?  And second, who are the lost?  So, technically speaking, "evangelism" comes from the Greek word "euangelizo", which means to proclaim good news.  The good news that we proclaim consists of the historical facts of the gospel - the sinfulness of every human being in the eyes of God, the sinless life of Jesus (the eternal Son of God), the sacrificial death of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus.  Along with the historical facts, we also need to proclaim a call to respond to those facts.  Biblically speaking, we are to call people to repentance (to turn from their sin) and faith (to turn to God by trusting in Jesus alone).  If we fail to give either the historical facts or the plea to respond, we have failed to evangelize.  We have failed to share the gospel.

The second question involves to whom we are to share the gospel.  Who are the lost people we are to reach?  The simple answer to this question is EVERYONE!!!  The person who lives in Iran and knows only Islam is lost and so we are to send missionaries (and go as missionaries) to reach them with the gospel, sometimes at great peril to our own lives.  The person who lives next door to us and knows Jesus as only a curse word is lost and so we are to build relationships with them in order to share the gospel with them.  Our family members, our coworkers, friends and anyone else we come in contact with are lost and in need of the gospel.  Our evangelistic responsibility knows no ethnic barriers, no culture barriers, no social class barriers, no gender barriers, no barriers at all.  We are to share the gospel with everyone.

And, as we do, God saves some.  This is the joy of our work.  God uses us to reach people and we get to see them come to know the Lord.  We get to see the Lord convict them of sin.  We get to see the Lord change them from hating Him to loving Him.  We get to see them experience forgiveness of sin.  We get to see God cause them to grow in their faith.  We get to see them go out and share the gospel with others.

This is the only reason we are still breathing.  God has left us here to share the gospel with the lost.  Let us never shy away from this awesome privilege.  Let's get to work!