You Are God’s Gift – Part Two

We know for certain that we are not made right with God by our good works. We are saved only by grace through faith. And while we’re not saved by good works (Ephesians 2:8-9), we are saved for good works (Ephesians 2:10). 

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

Jesus instructs us to let our light shine so that others may see our good deeds and glorify God our Father.

Matthew 5:16 NLT “In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”

Not only is God calling us to serve in His Church, He’s also calling us to serve as His Church. Don’t miss this important distinction. Yes, we have the honour of serving other believers inside the church, strengthening them to do the work and will of God. But our most important ministry doesn’t happen inside God’s Church. It happens as we are the Church, shining His light into a dark world desperate for His goodness. Our flame never diminishes when we light the fire of God’s love in someone else’s life; it only shines brighter. And when we decide that we want to be who God made us to be and to give our gifts away, He gives us even more opportunities to shine – and to be blessed by serving – in return.

No one intends to be a greedy, selfish person; we all justify our sinful decisions at some point. But the choices we make about serving others help us to take the focus off ourselves and to see the needs of those around us. You get to decide right now what your story will be, both the one you tell and the ones told about you. You can eat the fast food of selfish choices that tastes good in the moment, or you can eat the eternal soul food of serving others and grow closer to God.

For most people, the meaningful stories we have to tell involve doing things that matter. How often do you sit around with friends and brag about that time when you cheated to get ahead? Or that moment when you cut corners to get something you wanted? Those aren’t exactly things you’re likely to put in your highlight reel or your life story, are they? Chances are good that when you’re accepting some aware for job performance, you won’t be thanking all the coworkers you stepped on to get promoted.

No, the stories you love reminiscing about are the ones when you helped others, made a difference, lifted someone up. The times when you were a blessing to someone, when you were focused on others, when you served. The decision to serve may not feel natural at times, but when serving becomes our default ambition, we grow closer to God and experience more of who He made us to be.

The moments when you choose to serve others, to put their needs first, determine the kind of stories you tell tomorrow. And allows you to be God’s gift in someone else’s life. This is what we were created for. This is what brings great joy to the Father’s heart. This is how we and others give Him the glory that only He deserves. 

You Are God’s Gift – Part One

We are the Church. We don’t go to Church, we are the church. And since we are the church, God wants to use us to serve Him. And, we serve Him by serving others. We are His gift to the world which does not yet know Him. As we serve they see His love, His mercy, His forgiveness and will be drawn to Him.

And, He has given to us gifts that He wants us to use as we touch lives through serving. He wants us to use our gifts to strengthen the Body of Christ, the Church. And, of course, to reach out to others and fulfill the mandate of the Church to “make disciples of all nations.” 

God’s Word offers several different lists of spiritual gifts that God gives to people. One of my favourites is in Romans 12 – the motivational gifts that the Father gives to every human being. These are the gifts that determine who you are and what motivates you.

Paul tells the Roman Christians, “In His grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well (Romans 12:6 NLT). When you think about it, surely there are certain things that just naturally come easy to you. You’re wired to do things that other people can’t do, and they often admire that you can do those things.

Paul listed seven different gifts: “So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.” (Romans 12:6-8 NLT my emphasis)

You likely have at least one if not two of these gifts. One of the ways to discover and remember which gifts are yours … Imagine you’re at a table in a restaurant with your close friends, about to share a delicious dessert. You see one of your friends is about to stick their fork into their piece of cherry pie. As the fork descends towards the dessert, you notice that the plate is dangerously close to the edge of the table. Before you have time to warn them, they push their fork into the pie and it plops into their lap. What you do next might be a clue to your gift or gifts.….

      • Do you jump up and offer to help? Do you grab a napkin and rush to do whatever you can to clean up the mess? If so, you probably have the spiritual gift of serving.
      • Do you look at the poor victim and offer wise advice? “You know, there’s really a better way to eat pie. First, you should always keep it half an arm’s length from the edge of the table.” If you’re inclined to lead a Bible study on the subject, you might say, “You know, this incident reminds me of when Jesus gathered His disciples at a table. In fact, I discovered that the Greek word for table is…” If you find yourself offering instructions, you likely have the gift of teaching.
      • If you slap your leg, laugh out loud, and exclaim that you’ve done far dumber things, because you want to make your friend feel better about what happened, you probably have the gift of encouragement.
      • If you offer to buy your friend another piece of pie and then offer dessert to everyone else at the table, you can be pretty sure you have the gift of giving. (Or a sweet tooth and a giver’s heart).
      • If you start organizing a crew, getting everyone else to follow your detailed instructions to clean things up, you have the gift of leadership.
      • And if you look on and say, “Wow, I can’t believe you didn’t notice how close your plate was to the edge of the table. You should have seen that coming,” chances are that you have the gift of prophecy.

No matter what your gift, God has given it to you not just to make your life better but to serve Him and others in the Church and in your neighbourhood. If you are just going to church and not serving, I can promise you that God wants to do more in you and through you. 

God wants you to serve in His Church. His Church is a body. And every member, every part is important. So if you are a part of a local church but you’re not serving, then something God wants accomplished isn’t getting done. Because God wants to use everyone – and that includes you – to serve in His Church. Because we don’t go to church; we are the church.

God uses His Church to feed and nourish His people. God wants you to contribute, not just consume. Your spiritual food is to do the will of God and to finish the work of the One who sent you.

What are some ways you’re serving others in your community? In your church? Where – or whom – do you sense God calling you to serve next? 

On a notepad or in a journal, describe a couple of places or ways you believe God wants you to serve others and His Church?

What’s The Question?

A note from a pastor I recently read…

Something just happened that made me stop and think. I was sitting in my office, typing away, when Package Delivery Guy dropped off a package. (I know his name but I’m guarding his anonymity). I like this guy a lot. I see him often, and he’s really cool, but he just said something that makes my skin crawl.

Package Delivery Guy told me, “I finally found me a good church.” (This is after several years of church hopping and shopping.) “All the other ones didn’t meet my needs, but this one does.”

Why would I shutter at that statement? Think about it. I’ve heard it hundreds of times: I’m looking for a church that meets me needs.

Can you admit for a moment how incredibly unbiblical that statement is? When did we, as Christ followers, start to think that the Church exists for us? When did we forget that we are the church? And that we’re here for the world?

Here’s our problem … Christians have become spiritual consumers – observers, not participants

Here’s the solution … Stop observing and get in the game. Reach out. Use your gifts. Give recklessly. Serve passionately. Make a difference!

Love those whom others reject, even those who aren’t like us – especially those who aren’t like us. Love not only nonbelievers, but also “second-class Christians.” Jesus did; so should we.

The Church is not here for us. We are the Church, and we are here for the world. When I ask church people to serve somewhere, I often receive a polite, “I’ll pray about it, Pastor.” (Which generally means, “Oh, crap. I don’t want to do that, but I’ll say something spiritual that may buy me time to plan my excuse.”)

I love the story about the guy who waited patiently in line to greet his pastor one Sunday after the sermon. “Pastor,” this eager, sincere Christ followers said, “I have only one thing to tell you. My answer is yes. Now, what’s the question?”

The pastor looked at him, confused, and smiling awkwardly, fell back upon the pastor’s safety net: “God bless you.” The pastor politely brushed the man off and turned to greet the next parishioner.

The next week, the same guy waited in line and repeated the same words. “Pastor, my answer is yes. Now, what’s the question?”

The pastor pondered this enigma. Wanting to get to the bottom of it, he invited the young man to lunch. Over a midweek meal, the young man once again blurted out the intriguing mantra: “Pastor, my answer is yes. Now, what’s the question?”

Finally overcome with curiosity, the pastor asked, “Can you please tell me what you mean by that?”

The young man smiled and, with passion, began, “Pastor, I was hooked on everything bad, about to lose my family, sliding down a slippery slope toward certain destruction. Then Jesus intervened.” Tears welled up in his eyes. “Because of what Jesus did for me, my answer to you in yes. You are my pastor, and I’ll do whatever you need.

“If you want me to rock babies, I’ll rock babies. If you want me to usher, I’ll usher. If you want me to mow the churchyard, I’ll be there at 6:00 a.m. every Saturday. My answer to you will always be yes. Now, what’s the question.?”

When it comes to your church (assuming you have one), what’s your answer? Is it, I’ll pray about it, while you look for an escape? Or is it …

Yes?

The Right Thing To Do!

Many of us grew up with a ‘negative’ faith: Don’t do this or that; don’t say this or that; don’t visit that place or think that thought. In other words, we don’t want to create sin or fall into sin. But if our focus is on consistently not doing something, at the end of our life all we have done is … nothing. We may have been faithful but have we really been fruitful? We’ll have been like dead people walking with nothing to show for our time on the earth.

A corpse doesn’t ”sin.” But does a corpse display the glory of God? Is a corpse fruitful – accomplishing the basic commands of the Lord to His followers and thus to the Church? Of course not. Jesus defined fruitfulness as being a necessary part of faithfulness. And, fruitfulness comes out of intentional obedience to the things the Lord has commanded.

Luke 13:6-8 “Then Jesus told them this parable: “There was a man who planted a fig tree in his orchard. But when he came to gather fruit from his tree he found none, for it was barren and had no fruit. So he said to his gardener, ‘For the last three years I’ve come to gather figs from my tree but it remains fruitless. What a waste! Go ahead and cut it down!’

“But the gardener said, ‘Sir, we should leave it one more year. Let me fertilize and cultivate it, then let’s see if it will produce fruit.’”

We have made Jesus Lord of our lives. This means we are to obey everything He has commanded us to do (Matthew 28:20). If life is about obeying and, as a result, accomplishing a very particular task, the “obedience” and the “right thing to do” (James 4:17) must mean accomplishing that one particular task – seeking first the Kingdom, bearing fruit in His Name, and in the words of Titus 3:14, being devoted “to doing what is good.”

Is I send an employee to a gas station to fill the gas tank of a company car and they return to the office saying, “I had a great conversation with Skip. I washed the windshield. I picked up some litter in the parking lot. And I even brought back donuts for the entire office” but he didn’t fill the gas tank, has he really been obedient? He may have done some good and noble things, but those other things got in the way of the first thing.

Worse, if he added, “And you should be proud of me because I didn’t steal from anyone, run over anyone, gossip about anyone, or lie to anyone.”

Fine, but did you fill the gas tank?” That’s why you were sent out. 

We are a people with a mission. A people on a mission. And, that mission is not simply to avoid the wrong things. That mission is to seek first the Kingdom and do all that the King has commanded us to do. His generic commands to the Church, His people. And, His specific commands to each unique believer. Anything or anyone that keeps us from fulfilling the mission is a danger to our being fruitful and thus obeying the Lord. 

We should not focus on our own safety, comfort, or security. The purpose of life is not to protect our joy, our peace, our reputation, or even our sanity even though these are all good things. The Christian life is primarily about protecting our mission, avoiding things and people who distract us and cause our focus to be on other things. Jesus has commanded that we live life that are fruitful for His cause.

We are enlisted in a great cause and called to do great things for Jesus. We don’t have time to be distracted by clever or even wounded people who soak up all our energy and efforts in any other cause. There are many worthy things we can embrace and accomplish but are they seriously a part of the cause, the Kingdom? We must keep our eyes on the Kingdom, seeking it first and foremost. Many times we pour ourselves out on people and things that keep us from this one cause and primary focus. Pouring ourselves out on ‘other things’ is spiritually like trying to wash rain. It’s a waste of time that keeps us from more fruitful endeavours. 

We are saved to be fruitful as we seek first the Kingdom. We are saved to bear fruit, good fruit. Our story from Luke 13 ends with this verse … “If it doesn’t bear fruit by next year, we’ll cut it down.’” (Luke 13:9). 

That is a comment worth thinking deeply about.

Your Kingdom work does matter. You need to know this, feel this, live this, to be rightfully protected from people and things that try to distract you and take your focus off of the Kingdom. You may not be widely recognized as God’s worker, but just as wars are won through the secret sacrifices of unknown soldiers, so God’s Kingdom is built on the backs of quiet and faithful servants. What you do for the Kingdom matters. 

It is time to do the right thing – not just any thing or even everything. The right thing!

Heroes and Villains

Guest Blogger – Bill Lewis, Apostle
In life we like to reduce things to a simple dime store novel filled with villains and heroes. We want the cowboy western with white hats and black hats. We like a predictable ending as in a Hallmark movie. We want the hero to win, ride off into the sunset, or kiss the girl and live happily ever after.  Life is not quite that simple. I wish it were, but it is not.

A speaker I was listening to recently said that change is a part of progress. Every entity has to change to stay current. Every business has to refresh itself, change the menu, re-decorate, do something to attract attention and customer loyalty.

In the kingdom of God, the kingdom is eternal. It moves and changes in forms, but the core message remains the same. Churches come and go. If you look at the pages of the New Testament and list the churches mentioned, you would be hard pressed to find them today. They vanished centuries ago. Yet, the kingdom of God is flourishing throughout the earth. God moves constantly to reach lost humanity. Humans change their cultures and habits; yet their core issues remain the same. How to address the changing cultures is the kingdom’s ability to adapt and keep the message addressing the age old issues of humans.

People, however, do not like change. They want to find something familiar and stick with it till they die. When I started out, planting a church in a rural, bedroom community, I had only two people who were over 50. The church was made up of young families and singles. This couple was just retired, 65, mail carrier and school teacher. However, they were into the current move of God. Change did not bother them; they were ready to be on the cutting edge of what God was doing. Maybe they were visionaries as well. They supported us all the way.

We live at a crossroads in some ways. God is raising up all kinds of new churches, some small and some rapidly growing larger ones. We live at a time when denominationalism is dying and many independent, or networked churches are flourishing. However, the kingdom of God is strong and growing.

Going back to my novel analogy, the churches that are closing, ceasing to exist, are not attended by unbelievers, but good people who have struggled with change. These churches have held on to the move of God they enjoyed when younger. There is usually a commonality in all these situations, the young people are missing. Somehow there was a disconnect between the older members and their ability to attract and retain younger people. Just as when we planted a church, it was all young people except for the one couple. Today, it is all older people except for a handful of young in most situations.

We may ask, “What is it?” Style, music, decor, language? Is it as simple as young draw young and old draw old?

I strongly believe there is an issue that is common and it is not the above. I strongly believe that the issue is the lack of inclusion and opportunity for younger people to engage, participate, and move into leadership positions. I have been to churches, and attend one now, that is trans-generational. There is a large group of young people and many interspersed into leadership and there is a good number of people of all ages worshipping and serving. Churches can serve and prosper with all ages being represented.

As churches age, they usually keep raising the bar for anyone to come into leadership. More rules, longer wait periods, limited opportunities are common in churches that are just surviving. One international leader I know, puts young people and new converts into roles of service as fast as she can. Her church is packed with young people. I also have known churches that have hard fast rules that no one can do anything until they sit for months or years. There are reasons everyone has for the various approaches, but the first engages and draws young people.

I know a church I worked with that was filled with young families and some great potential leaders. I was excited for that church. I came back a few years later and they were all gone. I asked what happened and found that all opportunities had been shut off to them. They are now leaders in other churches. What a missed opportunity!

Paul, the apostle, constantly encouraged his team to find young people and entrust them with the gospel. It was preparing the next generation.

In this book of life the villain is really complacency fueled by fear and lack of adaptation. Its symptoms include no change, keep the status quo, remember the good old days, and make little or no room for the next generation.

A good read along these lines is Kevin Gerald’s book, Naked and Unafraid which just came out.

The hero in all this is Jesus. He is able to reach every generation and keeps his kingdom growing. While some camps of his are shut down or absorbed into other camps, his kingdom adapts and keeps the message and the hope alive to every generation and culture.

Eight Differences Between a Believer and a Follower

1> A believer believes in Jesus. A follower honours His commands

“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.” (James 2:19 NIV)

2> A believer reads the Bible when things get tough. A follower reads the Bible to engage in a deeper understanding of Jesus Himself.

“Look to the LORD and His strength; seek His face always.” (Psalm 105:4 NIV)

3> A believer prays when things get tough. A follower gives thanks no matter the circumstance.

“Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20 NIV)

4> A believer twists the Bible to fit his or her lifestyle. A follower works to make his or her lifestyle resemble the teachings of the Bible.

“Some of His comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16)

5> A believer gives when it is easy. A follower gives out of the abundance of his or her heart.

“They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, our in everything – all she had to live on.” (Matthew 12:22 NIV)

6> A believer conforms under the pressure or culture. A follower holds fast against temptation.

“Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” (Ephesians 6:13 ESV)

7> A believer will share his or her faith when it’s comfortable. A follower will share his or her faith regardless of the scenario.

“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15 ESV)

8> A believer knows about Jesus. A follower knows Jesus as his or her Lord and Saviour.

“Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9 ESV)

Which are you? A believer or a follower?.

To Set On Fire

After Jesus rose from the dead He appeared to a number of disciples individually and then to the disciples as they were fishing. He had told them recently (Luke 24:49) that they were to go and wait in Jerusalem until they received the promised baptism in the Holy Spirit. But instead of doing as He had asked seven of them went out fishing. 

One wonders if the reason they did not catch any fish was because they were not suppose to be fishing – but waiting in Jerusalem. So, after a whole night of fishing and catching nothing, Jesus tells them to cast their nets on the starboard side and they catch so many fish that they have an issue bringing the net into the boat. It is then that John realizes that it is the Lord who has spoken to them from the shore. He tells Peter. Peter jumps in and swims to shore. Interesting to note: Peter began to follow Jesus because of a great catch of fish (Luke 5:2-10). So Jesus now repeats that miracle inviting Peter to begin to follow Him again. 

A time of cooking a meal begins. Jesus has already begun to broil fish and He has some bread. But He asks them to add to the fish from their catch. They do so and settle in for a meal around the campfire. After they had eaten their breakfast together Jesus says to Simon (John 21:15) “Simon, son of John, do you burn with love for me more than these?”

When Jesus announced that He would be crucified and die, Peter had said that he would never leave Jesus nor deny he was a disciple even if it cost him (Peter) his life. He then said that even if no one else followed, he would. Jesus told him he would actually deny Him three times before the morning sunrise. And, that is what happened. Now, Jesus asks him, in front of the other disciples, if he loved Him more than the other disciples (referencing Peter’s comment “even if they – the other disciples – do not follow…”)

Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love Me?” Because Peter had denied knowing Jesus or being His disciple three times that eventful night. The Aramaic word for “love” is hooba and it is taken from a root word that means “to set on fire.” So, Jesus is asking Peter, “Do you burn with love for Me?”

The message for us today: Our love for Jesus must be passionate and kindle a holy fire within our hearts.

Peter denied Jesus three times and so Jesus asks Peter three times if he had a burning passion for Him. Only the third time does Peter actually give an affirmative answer… “You know that I burn with love for you!” (John 21:17) 

The story goes on and at the end of John 21 Jesus prophesies over Peter telling him how he would, in his old age, die for the faith and glorify God. Again, building on Peter’s initial denial of Jesus, the Lord now completes the circle and ends with – “You were right however Peter, you will lay down your life for me.” 

I love the way the Scriptures simply fall together in such an amazing way. 

So, do we, His disciples, truly “burn with love” for Jesus? Loving Him with our whole being? Is He first in our lives? Does He have our whole heart? 

As we quickly come to the close of the first month in the new year 2020 it would be a good time to get honest and real and see if we truly “burn with love.” If we do, then we need to add more fuel to that flame. If we don’t, then we need to blow on the embers and “fan into flames” the love that was once there. 

Don’t enter the next month without taking some time to see what or who you burn with passion for.

The Church As It Will Be – Wow!

When we look at when the Church was first introduced to the world we see the following…

Acts 2:42-47 “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

If the world is looking for a solid description of the Church, here it is. But instead of just listening to the description, let’s imagine what it was really like there in those first days. Let’s imagine that you are on assignment as a beat writer for the Jerusalem Times with the task of observing and reporting about this new community of people who are beginning to create significant buzz around the city. 

Three thousand people have come to faith in one day, (Acts 2:41) and more are being added daily (Acts 2:47). People are meeting every single day – not just one day a week – in the temple and in their homes. They are selling their stuff and sharing the profits.

These people are shaking things up and rocking the status quo.

Now imagine you have a friend who is a part of this new community. You ask him to meet you in the local cafe just to get the scoop. After catching up on small talk and niceties, you get right at it.

“What in the world has happened to you?”

“Well, I am hanging out with a new group of friends.”

“Where?”

“Anywhere really. It is not really a place but a group of people.”

“What is not a place?”

“The Church. Isn’t that what you are asking me about?”

“Church? What’s church? I have never heard of that before.”

“Well, it’s a community of people who, by God’s kindness, have seen Jesus and gather together to love one another and follow in His steps.”

“Jesus? Isn’t that the guy whom everyone loved but the religious establishment hated? And isn’t He dead? Look, I got sent over here to interview you because word on the street is that something very different – very alive – is happening with you people. And again, what is a church?”

At this point, your friend’s explanation will not include any mention of a denomination, since those do not even exist yet.

“Well, I guess you could say it’s called the First Church of …Ever!” 

It is also doubtful he will offer up a specific address or location. After all, everyone knows where the southern steps of the temple are and beyond that, the Church is meeting all over the community. “Walk down any street in Jerusalem, take a left, and then turn…well, anywhere.”

And though Peter did stand up and do the talking on the Day of Pentecost, your friend will not mention a specific individual as the leader. There is a broad leadership in the movement led by eleven men, original followers of this said-to-be-dead Jesus guy. That’s a whole mess of chiefs, except that they are all letting the personality fall on one Chief – Christ Himself. 

Their church then would not be described using the same adjectives as most people who attend churches today. You ask your friend to describe what is going on, and based on what we know was happening from the passage we just read, we can imagine he would say something like this:

“We are alive.” Makes sense – their whole way of living had changed.

“There are awe-inspiring things happening in our midst.” Since signs and wonders were being done through the apostles, that seems like a fair description.

“We are attractive.” God was drawing many new people to their community – and they were actually coming.

“We are aligned.” They were stedfast under leadership and in service, gathered with one mind in the temple and in homes.

“We are acts-oriented.” It’s hard to accuse them of being lazy or passive.

“Okay, that’s pretty impressive,” you say, feeling confident that you have more than enough to submit your article by the deadline. But before you can express your gratitude for his help, he interrupts and keeps going – and in rapid-fire succession this time.

“And we are biblical, blessed, bonded, caring, Christ-exalting, committed, compassionate, connected, consistent, and creative, dedicated, devoted, discerning, disciplined, driven, effective, encouraging, energized, evangelistic, exciting, engaging, faithful, focused, friendly, fun, fired up, generous, godly, growing…

“Uh, I think that’s plenty. And, besides, I’m kind of running out of papyrus sheets, so…”

But he doesn’t catch your drift or miss a beat.

“We are humble, hungry, hospitable, intentional. Inspiring, intimate, intense, joyful, like-minded, loving, magnetic, miraculous, motivated, neighbourly, obedient, ordained, others-minded, passionate, powerful, praising, prayerful, proactive, productive, progressive, pure, purposeful, redeeming, radical, real, relational minded, relevant, respected, sacrificial, safe, scary, selfless, Scripture-loving, servant-hearted, single-minded, sold out, Spirit-filled, sincere, submissive, tenacious, teachable, transformed, trustworthy, thankful, unified, unselfish, unspoiled, unwavering, wholehearted, and wise. We are a people full of wonder who worship God – you should come and join us!”

By this point the coffee is long gone – and you know you’ve obliterated your editor’s word count. But be honest: If the Church were really all these things – as Scripture says it is – you would definitely be checking it out, wouldn’t you?

How could you not?”

So what happened? Something has gone terribly wrong; that’s what happened. The description of the first church is suppose to be the description of all churches today because the Leader of the first church is suppose to be the Leader of them all. 

The problem isn’t that God has stopped being in the business of changing the world by changing lives. The problem is that we have gotten into the business of doing His business our way, not being “people of His way” (Acts 9:2).

If church, as you think of it today, was truly a reflection of the adjectives we just used to describe it in Acts 2:42-47, my bet is that you would feel differently about it. A lot differently. You wouldn’t be alone.

You might be thinking, That is the exact kind of community of people I have been looking for. That is the purposeful life I really want to live, but I didn’t know it actually existed. What you are describing is what I have been searching for my whole life. In relationships. Clubs. Teams. Work. You name it. So don’t mess with me – just tell me: Where does something like this exist? Even though I am not sure I can believe, just out of curiosity, I’m going to come and check it out.

That is exactly what God had in mind – that in this lost, dark, broken world where there are only shadows of hope, a light would enter in. That people would begin to live in real relationships with a real God. That they would be that alive, awe-inspiring, authentic … a worshipful kingdom-of-God-on-earth community.

The Church is supposed to provide others a picture of God’s kingdom – a glimpse of heaven on earth. It is not a place you are suppose to go; it is a people who are suppose to be … and you can still experience what God intends for His Church to be. 

When you see life change, grace, compassion, mercy, sharing, provision, warmth, and hope – with a diligence to preserve the unity of the Spirit in a bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3) – aren’t these at least small descriptions of heaven? Yes, they are. And instead of growing dimmer over the years, the Church is supposed to be growing brighter day by day as we yield more and more to the Spirit’s grace, power, and direction. Less of us: more of Him.

From the very beginning, this is what God intended church to be. God wants you to experience a community that is alive, awe-inspiring, attractive, aligned … well, you can go back and reread the rest. God created you for this. Your heart longs for it – even if you have only seen a glimpse of it from a distance. But, once you experience this true Church you will want to do more than attend at a church building – you will want to find others who are committed to joining you in being the Church that Jesus has always wanted to build. 

Do any exist? Is that possible? Yes, they do, and yes, it is!

The Church Jesus Is Building – Part Fifty-eight (end)

Continued from yesterday…

The purity and authenticity of their cultivated spirit influence everything in their path. Their beliefs, identity, behaviour, and relationships blend to project a persona that pricks the spirit in everyone around them. Analysts might say that the job of a revolutionary is to reform the culture, but that confuses purpose and product. These extreme God-lovers reform the culture simply by being true representations of whom God made them to be. They do not create and enforce a carefully plotted and meticulously deployed agenda to reform. They simply live a holy and obedient life that a society suffering from the stronghold of sin cannot ignore. The transformation that follows in their wake is not so much their doing as it is an inevitable result of God’s creatures waking up to the difference between living in the freedom of Christ or in the shackles of Satan.

In past spiritual awakenings, dynamic preachers went into society to bring people into a local church for further development. This era of spiritual growth is different. It features millions of individuals quietly using the weapons of faith and the gifts of the Holy Spirit that God has given them to be scions of transformation within the framework of their typical space and connections. The starting point is internal, not external: their message is their own transformation by Christ, made real by their words and deeds. Rather than draw people out of the world, and into a relationship with an institution, revolutionaries demonstrate what it means to bring the presence of God to wherever they are. This a broad-based grassroots awakening that has no single leader and no headquarters. The declaration of purpose is more than two thousand years old: the Bible.

In the great awakenings of the past, the pattern was always the same: draw people into the local church for teaching and other experiences. In this new movement of the Spirit, the approach is the opposite: it entails drawing people away from reliance upon a local church into a deeper connection with and reliance upon God. In other words, past awakenings and revivals were outside-inside phenomena, in which the dynamic and evangelistically gifted  Spurgeons, Finneys, Wesleys, and Whitefields of the Church brought non-christian people inside the local church to be ministered to. This edition is predominantly an outside-outside experience, where believers see the world as their church grounds and every human being they encounter as a soul to love into the permanent presence and experience of God. Many of these revolutionaries are active members of a local church, but their primary ministry effect is not within the congregational framework but in the raw world. 

So, what we believe drives what we do. What we believe matters to God – which is why so much of the Bible painstakingly explains God and His Kingdom to us. The revolution fosters a stunningly diverse array of activities that work together to produce spiritual and behavioural transformation which then changes their community and eventually the world. 

The Church Jesus Is Building – Part Fifty-seven

This is a great time to be alive – especially for those who love Jesus Christ. The opportunities to minister are unparalleled: the million of searching hearts and agonized souls, combined with the abundance of resources Christians have at their disposal, make this a very special era for the Church. Throw in the rapid and profound cultural changes occurring, as well as the struggles local churches are undergoing, and we have an environment in which the birth of a spiritual revolution is inevitable. The confluence of those elements demands a dramatic response, and the emerging revolution represents such a historic thrust.

There can be no turning back at this point, no return to the old ways and the comfortable forms. Although we cannot accurately predict what the Church will look like twenty years hence, we can be confident that it will be more different from than similar to the Church at the start of the twenty-first century. The revolution is an extensive grassroots response to the undeniable and insatiable human longing for a genuine relationship with God our Father. The transformations it introduces are sometimes difficult to accept and oftentimes inefficient in their development, but the outgrowth is a stronger and more irresistible Church.

As you seek to comprehend the emerging revolution an describe it to others, keep in mind its central facets. It is comprised of a demographically diverse group of people who are determined to let nothing stand in the way of an authentic and genuine experience with God. They are involved in a variety of activities and connections designed to satisfy a spiritual focus. They are God-lovers and joyfully obedient servants. They are willing to do whatever it takes to draw closer to God, to bond with Him, and to bring Him glory and pleasure. If that can be accomplished through existing structures and processes, they accept that; if not, they will blaze new trails to facilitate such a Spirit-driven life.

En route to this intimacy with God, they are integrating the seven spiritual passions of a true revolutionary Christian into their lives. Their daily expressions of worship refine their sense of beauty, the creativity, and the majesty of God. Their joy at knowing Him naturally provides the impetus to communicate to others the Goos News about Jesus’ sacrifice and offer of salvation. Their infatuation with the Kingdom fuels their consistent effort to know more about God’s ways. They respond to His love by seeking ways to invest the resources they control of influence for Kingdom outcomes. Their friendships hinge on spiritual growth. They pursue opportunities to use their abilities to affect the quality of life in the world. And they recognize that their most important relationships is within their family and that Christ must be the centrepiece of their experiences together. These passions enable revolutionaries to remain centered on God in a world of distractions and seductions. Their attention to these passions allows them to be the Church.

At what stage, or under what conditions, is the revolution successful? Revolutionaries recognize that spiritual success is more about surrender than results. They know that God examines the fruit of someone’s livfe, but the real fruit of the Kingdom is flat-out, no-excuses obedience to God. Such submission produces a perpetual string of behaviours and outcomes that may be imperceptible to a frenetic and hardhearted world, but represent major victories within the Kingdom. Why? Because life is war, and every time a soldier willingly engages in sacrificial battle for the King, His honour is advanced. Revolutionaries’ complete and total surrender to Him and His cause is the essence of eternal victory. 

It is this holistic devotion to being Christlike that triggers the transformational legacy of the revolution. First, revolutionaries are changed so profoundly that they see life through na completely different lens. Then, armed with that new perspective and the courage to respond, these individuals set about transforming then world by being relics of Jesus in every space their inhabit. 

The last in the series tomorrow…