Acts 2

What is a “Good Church”? (Part 4 – Spirit-Led Evangelism)

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This is the last sermon of our mini-series-within-a-series where we’re answering the question “What is a Good Church?”. This series is inside of the “Burning Questions” series which came about after I asked you all to submit some questions that you’ve had that I could answer. I hope that this series has been helpful to you, because it’s been enjoyable for me to write and deliver.

We’ve already talked about the danger of Christian Consumerism where we decide what a “good church” is by human standards and moved into discussion what God defines as a “good church” from the Bible. A lot of this discussion has come from Acts 2:42-47 which is the story of the birth of the first church. In that passage we read about the four important things that God expects from His church, that being: Discipleship, Fellowship, Worship and Evangelism. We’ve already covered the first three, and we’re coming into the last one today.

The Four Categories Everywhere

I hope, as you’ve been your Bible at home, that you’ve noticed these four categories blossomed out beyond Acts into the rest of the scriptures, because you see them everywhere. These four areas are very important for us to be able to identify the wins and losses of the people in the Bible. When we read of something going right, or something going wrong – and I hope I’m not overgeneralizing here – that I’m pretty sure it will be in one of those areas.

When there is a breakdown in one of those areas, it invariable leads to the loss of relationship with God, loss of blessing, and destruction of the people. And it’s not just in the New Testament church, this has been true throughout the history of God’s people.

Right from the beginning, even Adam and Eve had all four categories. They heard the voice of God telling them what to do and not do – that’s discipleship: “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, have dominion over it… eat the food from the plans, but don’t eat of that one tree.” To me, that’s discipleship.

There was Fellowship in the Garden too as God looked and saw that “it was not good for man to be alone” and created a mate suitable for him.

There was, no doubt, Worship in the Garden, as we see God walking and talking with His people. Evangelism is a little more difficult to find, since there are only two people, but we can certainly imagine these two talking with one another about God, caring for each other, tending to the Garden and the animals… and subduing the earth in His Name.

And then it goes sideways, right? Where’s the breakdown? Genesis 3 at the Fall of Man. There is a Discipleship breakdown as the serpent starts to challenge Eve’s knowledge of God’s word and says “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?”

We see a breakdown in Fellowship and Evangelism (the sharing of God’s word) as Adam standing right there as Eve is about to fall – and says NOTHING, refusing to protect Eve and keep her accountable to God’s word. No warning of the coming wrath, no reminder of the good news of God’s presence. Nothing. Adam stood next to her totally silent. And then later we see a total breakdown as everyone blames everyone else for it all going wrong.

We see a breakdown in Worship as Eve chooses to place herself over God, wants to be as wise as God, and does the thing God forbid her to do. Then worship further breaks down as the man and woman now feel shame and try to flee from God, hiding in the bushes, not wanting to talk to God anymore.

That pattern, I believe, can be found throughout scripture. These four words are the model for our relationship with God personally – as in one-on-one with Him – corporately as a church, and, I would argue, the proper design for all human interaction. If we can get these four areas right – Biblical Discipleship, Loving Fellowship, Inspired Worship and Spirit-Led Evangelism, then we’re doing pretty good, and I believe God will be pleased.

The Great Commission

As I said, today we’re talking about the final of the four: Spirit-Led Evangelism. Please open up to Matthew 28:18-20, a section of scripture usually called “The Great Commission”. Here we see Jesus passing on the torch to his disciples before He ascends to Heaven to start the next phase of His ministry.

Some context here first:

Jesus has already been crucified and has risen from the dead. He has been seen by hundreds of people and the Roman Guards that were guarding His tomb have already been paid off to say that Jesus body was stolen as they slept.

Jesus has already met with some disciples on the Road to Emmaus and explained the meaning of His life and death to them, according to the scriptures. He has already appeared to the disciples, who were locked away in a room, bewildered at the death of their rabbi and friend, and terrified of the Jewish authorities. And He has looked into the eyes and spoken to Thomas who said, “Unless I see the imprint of the nails in His hands and press my finger into the mark of the nails and my hand into His side, I refuse to believe.” (John 20:25) Moments later that same man would see Jesus and call Him, “My Lord and My God!”.

Jesus has already held the first men’s breakfast, cooking for his disciples, and restoring Peter to the rest of the disciples, forgiving Him his betrayal, and telling Him to “Feed his sheep”. (John 21:1-24)

All of this was happening over a few weeks. Near the end of those weeks, Jesus told his remaining eleven disciples (minus Judas who killed himself instead of seeking God’s forgiveness) to go to a mountaintop in Galilee where He would meet them later. It is very likely that there were more than just the eleven with Jesus that day, and that perhaps even as many as 500 people were there, which is why it says “some doubted.” . (1 Cor 15:6)

Let’s read it together:

“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”

The Four Categories in The Great Commission

Notice again, that we see all four of our categories in this passage. Jesus says to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to observe His commandments. That’s obviously discipleship.

We also see worship in there as it says that they “worshipped him”, but also implicitly as Jesus reminds them that “All authority in heaving and on earth” is HIS. Those words are meant to bring comfort, but also to remind them that He’s not just their friend, He’s their LORD.

We certainly see Fellowship there as Jesus has asked them all to come to that mountain together (He doesn’t meet with them one-on-one). He tells them to go make disciples of all nations, at least implying that this is mean to be done together, and with multiple people-groups in mind. And He reminds them “I am with you always.” They will also have fellowship with Jesus.

And, of course, we see evangelism as they are told to “go”, and “make”, and “baptize”, and “teach”, disciples throughout the world. All four are in there, all four are necessary, and all four are expected. And without the first three – Biblical Discipleship, Loving Fellowship, Inspired Worship – we have no hope of having Spirit-Led Evangelism that causes us to share God’s love with others and for the Lord to add to our number those who are being saved.

Three Makes Four

Let me explain what I mean by turning back to our key-text in Acts 2:42-47. Let’s read it again and I want you to notice something important on the way through – look how the evangelism, outreach, faith-sharing, happens.

“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 favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

What you don’t see in this description is any sort of evangelistic endeavours. There is no missionary sending, no tent-meetings, no four spiritual laws, no wordless book, no formal evangelistic endeavours.

Does that mean that no one did missionary work? Of course not! Paul was the primary missionary to the Gentiles and Peter was the primary missionary to the Jews. And all of the disciples took their turns going out into the world, spreading the message of Jesus Christ to new places that had never heard of Him. All Christians and Christian churches must participate in local and global missions.

But my message today isn’t about the world’s need for more missionaries – which it has. It’s not about personal evangelism – which is important. Our question today is “What is a Good Church?”

This is where my descriptor of Spirit-Led Evangelism comes from. When we obey the commands of Jesus Christ in the areas of Discipleship, Fellowship and Worship, then Evangelism will occur. When we are listening to the Holy Spirit because we are filling our lives with His Word, His People and His Presence, then the natural outflow will be that we will grow His Kingdom. If we are being disciple by our church and are able to have an answer for the hope that is within us, are in loving fellowship with the people in our church; caring for one another’s needs and holding each other accountable to the word of God, and are inspired to Worship God every day, all day, in all things, in Spirit and in Truth  — then how can we not “have favour” with people, and see “the Lord add daily those who are being saved.”

Being a “good church”, when it comes to Evangelism, doesn’t mean we have fun events and make excuses for people to come through our doors. What it means is that when we get the other three areas right –the message of the Gospel, our love for the lost, the words that come from the Holy Spirit, the changing of hearts, the miraculous timing – starts to happen. That’s where revival comes from.

How Does Revival Happen?

We can’t make revival happen in our community or in our church. I can’t preach us into a spiritual revival. Revival comes when the people in the church revaluate their spiritual conditions and start to get serious about Biblical Discipleship, Loving Fellowship, and Inspired Worship.

As long as we are avoiding discipleship by neglecting to read our bibles, avoiding prayer, not participating in the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, avoiding personal and corporate study, and making church attendance optional depending on how we feel, we will never see revival in our own hearts, or in our church or community.

As long as we are avoiding fellowship by ignoring people in our midst, not forgiving people in our church, allowing bitterness to fester in our hearts, refusing to meet each other’s needs – or even find out one another’s needs, and leaving care and visitation ministry to only a few people, gossiping behind people’s backs, accusing people of false things, and sowing division among the brothers in the church, we will never see revival. For as long as our hearts, our family’s hearts, our church’s hearts are full of anything other than love for God, His people, widows, orphans and strangers, we cannot see revival.

As long as we are avoiding Worship by refusing to sing, refusing to pray, refusing to kneel before God, refusing to acknowledge God as King, refusing to obey Him by giving of our time and talents, refusing to give sacrificially, refusing to call Him Lord, refusing to put down the sins that have entangled us, we will not see revival. As long as we are making our own paths, and telling God to get lost until Sunday, treating Him as a Santa Clause in the sky who only exists to bring you comfort and ease, we cannot see revival in this church.

Psalm 50

I was very convicted by Psalm 50 this week as I examined my own heart.

The whole first part of the Psalm reminds us that God doesn’t need our worship. He desires it, but He doesn’t need it. He is almighty and perfect without requiring any help from us. In verse 12 He says,

“If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.”

And then in verse 14 God turns to His people and says what He desires:

“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”

He doesn’t want our religious obedience. He says earlier, “I have no need…” of anything we can bring. What He wants from us is to acknowledge our dependence on Him by thanking Him in worship, living by our commitment to Him, and calling out to Him in prayer.

Now read in verse 16:

“But to the wicked God says: ‘What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips?”

That hit me hard this week. What right do I have to read His Bible, recite His word, or tell anyone of the promises of Salvation? What right do I have to ask for revival? What right do I have to stand up here and tell you anything?

I have no right, because I am wicked and fall utterly short in all these areas. You’ll see the four again here Discipleship, Worship, Fellowship and Evangelism. All are there, and I fall desperately short, which very well could be a big reason we aren’t seeing revival here in this community. I invite you to examine yourself using this scripture. Have you been wicked? Do you expect to have God’s blessing? What right do you have?

He says,

“For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you.”

How many times has God said the same thing to you over and over and over? How many times have you heard the Spirit of God convicting you of that sin, or prompting you to do something – but you cast His words behind you like they mean nothing.

Do you appreciate God’s discipline and thank Him for making you more like His Son, or do you hate His discipline and get angry when hard times come because you think you are owed an easy life? How often have you cast God’s word behind you, walked away, didn’t read it, left His Word sitting on the shelf for days and days and days, never giving it a second thought?

What RIGHT do we have to come before Him if, when we do, we dismiss whatever He has to say?

Next He says,

“If you see a thief, you are pleased with him, and you keep company with adulterers.”

Do you admire those who steal, sneak and bend the rules, even in little ways? What have you stolen? Are you living completely within the boundaries of Canadian Law and God’s moral law? Have you used the words “everyone else is doing it” to justify yourself as a thief?

Keeping company with adulterers doesn’t require actually committing adultery – or being married for that matter. How is your thought life? Do you keep company with adulterers as you dwell on your own lustful thoughts? What do your browser history look like? What about your texts? Any posters on the walls, pictures on your phone, or on your hard drive of people you’re not married to? Do you get a sexual thrill from the books you read, or the movies and tv shows you watch? Any emotional connections to people you’re not married to? All of these things are examples of keeping company with adulterers.

What RIGHT do we have to come before Him if we continuously crush our own spirits, ignore our consciences and eat the garbage this world offers and call it good?

Next he says,

“You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son.”

What is your relationship like with others? Your own family? Your brothers and sisters in Christ? I know there are people sitting here today who have given their mouth free rein for evil this week, have framed deceit and lied about others, and spoke slander against their brother. And I know that there are those who have listened to that gossip and slander and ate it up like sugar-cubes.

What right do you have to ask God to fill this church with people, to use you as an agent of the Gospel, when you turn around and stab people in the back, show hatred for your own family and people within your own church? Why would He do that?

Look what God says next in verse 21:

“These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you. Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!”

Maybe for you there hasn’t been a sign from God telling you to repent and get right with Him. There has been no thunder and lighting, no writing on the wall, no curses of sickness and death that has forced you to re-evaluate your life, so you’re go along thinking that this is all ok. We haven’t been struck down, the church closed, and the building wiped out, so we think that it’s all ok. God’s just like us! He doesn’t care about these sins. God doesn’t care about what we say, what we do! We ought not think that God is like us.

If you have not repented of your sins, today is the day. Time is short. For us as a body of believers, I believe that if we are to have a time of revival here in this church, then we need to listen to the charges of God against the individuals in this church – starting with me and including every individual here. Let us not forget who God is and His hatred of sin.

We have been warned.

Hope in Repentance

But, thank God, the Psalm doesn’t end there. It ends like this:

“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!”

This is a call to repentance. This is a call to get our priorities straight. This has very little to do with growing our church in numbers, and everything to do with deepening our church spiritually. If we want to see revival in our hearts, our homes, our church and our community, then we must repent of our sins, and fall on the sacrifice that has been given for us? And who is that? Jesus Christ.

We are the sinners, but Jesus is the sacrifice! I’ve been saying, “What gives you the right?” to come before God? Nothing. Nothing except the name Jesus Christ.

  • Jesus says He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, No one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6)
  • 1 John 2:2 says that Jesus “is the propitiation for our sins” which means He’s the one who took God’s wrath.”
  • 1 Timothy 2:5-6 says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…”

The only thing that gives us the right to come before God is if we are willing to place all of our sin on Jesus shoulders and accept that He died for them on our behalf. Then, and only then, do we have the right to come before Him.

That’s what John 1:12 says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…” When we receive forgiveness in His Name, and believe in Him, then we become children of God. The Bible tells us that in Christ we are adopted as sons and daughters, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ (Romans 8). That’s what gives us the right to come before Him.

Yes, we are wicked and sinful, but we have been given the opportunity to walk away from the Spirit of this World and Sin and live by the Spirit of God instead. This doesn’t just happen once and then we’re done – we must do this every day. We must continuously fall down before God in thanksgiving for our salvation, killing the sin within us, and living as His people.

Conclusion

Allow me to conclude with this: It is my deep desire to see this church grow – but not merely in number. I want us to be a good church by God’s standards. I want us to grow deeply as we make Biblical Disciples, have Loving Fellowship and Inspired Worship, and then see God add to our numbers as we Evangelize our community and this world.

But this isn’t a job for only me. Every single person who is listening to me right now has a responsibility to listen to the Spirit of God within them and repent of their sin. Let’s not be like all the other nominal, weak, powerless, fruitless, cowardly, sick, worldly, churches that surround us. Let us turn and follow God, and let us live together as a good, Godly, Christ honouring church. That starts with you and me – in our homes, by ourselves, on our knees before God – praying, repenting, reading and meditating on His word. That’s where we start.

What is a “Good Church”? (Part 3 – Inspired Worship)

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We’re currently in the middle of a mini-series-within-a-series called “What is a Good Church?” – which is inside the “Burning Questions Series”. Now you know what happens when I give myself a few bumper-weeks in my sermon planning – we get series-within-series. I hope that isn’t confusing, because my intention is neither to confuse you nor bore you, but to teach you what the Bible says and point you to Jesus – and it would be a great crime for me to make that either boring or confusing for you.

Two weeks ago I did an extended introduction to the topic of “What is a Good Church?” where we discussed “Christian consumerism”, and we followed that up last week by talking about two mistakes that Christian Consumers make. The first being “using human standards to judge whether God’s church is good or not” and the second mistake being “crafting God’s church into our image.”

In the midst of all that I’ve been talking about four was that God, according to the Bible, defines a “good church”. A “good church” according to God’s Word is one with Biblical Discipleship, Loving Fellowship, Inspired Worship and Spirit-Led Evangelism. You’ll recall that I added those adjectives last week in hopes of helping the conversation, knowing they aren’t perfectly chosen and are open to interpretation.

Last week we talked about the first two, Biblical Discipleship and Loving Fellowship, and so this week I want to discuss the next one, Inspired Worship.

For those who are new this morning, I apologize. You’re sort of jumping in in the middle of a multi-part sermon. I made the case over the last couple weeks, and now I’m just going to jump into the next part. If you did miss the last couple sermons, you can go to my website and read and listen to them to catch up.

Please open up to our key-text in Acts 2:42-47 and let’s read it one more time so we can have it fresh in our minds. Remember, this is the description of the first, Christian church that developed after Peter’s first sermon on the day of Pentecost. God convicted thousands of people of their sin, the repented, got saved, and came under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and His Apostles.

“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 favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Awe Upon Every Soul

Let’s talk first about God’s Biblical qualification that a “good church” is a “Worshipping” church. You’ll notice in this first church that “awe came upon every soul”, that they “attended the temple together”, and that they “praised God”. These are the marks of a worshipping church.

Look at that phrase used in verse 43: their “souls” were full of “awe”. That word “awe” is an interesting one. It’s the word PHOBOS, from where we get the term “Phobia”. It mostly translated as the word fear, but it also means terror, and panic! It’s the term for respect and reverence.

It is the word used in Luke 5:26 to describe after people heard Jesus claim to be God, forgive a lame man’s sin, and then command him to stand up and walk. “And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen extraordinary things today.’”  This describes more than surprise, more than interest, more than being impressed – it’s the feeling we get in the presence of something that truly shakes us to the core.

The other night I gave a talk to a group of kids about sharing their faith. As an illustration I used a bunch of things that people are afraid of – their phobias – spiders, heights, snakes, loud noises, needles, etc. We all know what happens when we bump up against one of our phobias. We tense up, we lose control of our bodies, our heart races, our fight-or-flight response is activated, adrenaline floods into our blood stream, we say and do things that we wouldn’t have done a moment ago. I once jumped out of a moving vehicle because a scary bug landed in the back seat. There have been multiple times when I have used my children as shields from bees. I’m not proud of it, but I was scared.

That’s the word we’re talking about here when we say that “awe came upon every soul.” This is where we talk about “Fearing the Lord”. Psalm 33:8, “Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!”

After Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on the cross, taking the fullness of the wrath of the Father against Him, making the final payment for all who would believe in Him, it says,

“And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’” (Matthew 27:51-54)

 This is the heart of worship that the church is to have. Certainly speak of God’s love, faithfulness, miracles, closeness, intimacy and the peace that is made between us and God through Jesus Christ. It is good that we give thanks to Him for all of these things – but the mark of a “good church” isn’t merely thanksgiving for all the gifts God has given us, but a sense of awe, fear, reverence, and deep respect for God, His Son, His Spirit and His Word.

For those who are saved, and have the Holy Spirit within is, the presence of God in our world, church, lives, and hearts, fills us we AWE and we are “inspired” – literally inspired by the Spirit of God and inspired by all of the Truth we know about Him (John 4:24) – to bring Him worship.

A Jealous God and a Consuming Fire

To emphasize this point about having awe in our hearts, I want to read a passage from Hebrews. Remember, the author is here writing to a group of people who wanted to turn away from following Jesus because it was causing them suffering and would soon force them to choose between life or death. They wanted to go back to the Jewish way, or the Roman way, and he reminds them that turning away from God is a terribly foolish thing to do.

He starts by speaking about the terrifying events of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai – how Moses shuddered with fear, the thunder and clouds, and punishment of death that came to anyone who even set foot on the mountain, and says,

“See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:25-29)

It’s almost like the author of Hebrews is saying, “This isn’t a game. You don’t get to pick and choose who you worship or how you worship. The worship that is due to God because of who He is and what He’s done, is not optional. You ought not to be thinking of going to lesser gods or empty religion. You ought to be grateful because you have been given a greater gift than the Romans or even the Jews at Sinai. Your response to this God should be worship, reverence and awe. Why? Not because God is love – he doesn’t go there – because “our God is a consuming fire!”

Some of you may have Joshua 24:15 at home written on something. It records the words of Joshua to Israel telling them to choose between the idols of the nations around them or the One, True God. It says,

“Choose this day whom you will serve… as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Part of me wishes that this wasn’t written on so many cute things, because they are not cute words. Joshua didn’t give this option lightly. We must continue to read the next verses. Turn to Joshua 24 where the bible records this conversation between Israel and Joshua. Look how many times Joshua warns them to take their pledge seriously:

“Then the people answered, ‘Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.’

But Joshua said to the people, ‘You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.’ And the people said to Joshua, ‘No, but we will serve the LORD.’ Then Joshua said to the people, ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him.’ And they said, ‘We are witnesses.’ He said, ‘Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD, the God of Israel.’ And the people said to Joshua, ‘The LORD our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.’

So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.’ So Joshua sent the people away, every man to his inheritance.” (Joshua 24:15-28)

In the Bible, God reminds His people that He is a “jealous God” who doesn’t share worship with ANYONE. In the 10 Commandments, the Moral Law of God that stands for all people for all time, God says,

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image…You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:4-6)

Yes, God is where we put our hope, and where we find our strength. He is full of love, compassion and mercy – but we must not forget another side of His character: He is to be feared because he has wrath against sin. He does not take idolatry lightly and jealously pursues His people as a husband pursues his wife. In Hebrews 10:26-27 he said that those who would forsake their faith, or would continue to sin after being told about Jesus, should live in “fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”

Our church must remember this aspect of God – that He desires our full, uncompromised worship.

Fear and Repentance

Go back now to Acts 2:43 where “awe came upon every soul”.

Where did that awe come from? Back up a few verses to verse 36 and read the crescendo of Peter’s sermon,

“’Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’ And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’” (Acts 2:36-41)

          Their awe and fear of God was a result of coming face to face with their sin. Jesus, the Son of God, died because of their sin. They were the cause of the death of the God’s only begotten Son. And Jesus, the one who died, was “both Lord and Christ”. He was their king and their saviour, and they killed him.

Their response was not to shed a single tear and walk up the aisle while “Just as I Am” played softly in the background. They were terrified. The Holy Spirit entered their hearts and they saw why Jesus died – it was their fault. They saw their sin and rebellion against God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, and they were utterly afraid of what God would do. “Brothers… what shall we do?” was an acknowledgement of this. “Oh no! We are in serious trouble. We are doomed! God is right to be angry with us. We deserve Hell. We scorned His Son! Whatever can be done to save us?!”

Then, after telling them the bad news, Peter tells them what they must do: He demands that they “Repent”. That word means change your mind, change your priorities, change your ways, change your heart, change your allegiance, and come to the Son. Perhaps Psalm 2:10-12 jumped into their minds:

“Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”

Repent! Change your allegiance. How do you show your change of allegiance? By being “being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ”. Make it public. Make it known to all. And do it soon.

It is by your repentance and confession that you are saved. Later, Paul would write in Romans 10:9-10, “…if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Not just in your heart, but with your mouth. Show it to all that you’ve repented from your sin and come under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Why? Once you have repented and confessed your sin, you will receive “the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” This is the amazing grace of God! He hates sin, but offers forgiveness. He brings wrath, but also mercy upon those who would repent. He is a consuming fire for all his adversaries, but He put His Son through Hell and then offered Him as payment for our sins.

Then it gets better. We don’t just get forgiveness, but also the gift of the Holy Spirit, the very presence of God in our hearts, reminding us of all He has said and leading us every step of this life! We have access to the very voice of God every day. We are adopted into God’s family. And as Romans 8:17 says,

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

Who He Is and What He’s Done

 

“If you will not worship God seven days a week, you do not worship Him one day a week. There is no such thing know in in heaven as Sunday worship unless it is accompanied by Monday worhsp and Tuesday worship and so on.” (AW Tozer)

Part of the reason for my emphasis this morning is that we sometimes don’t take God seriously enough, which is why we don’t worship Him enough.

As I said, God loves you and has given you every reason to worship Him. He is God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, the One who formed you in your mother’s womb and gives you every breath you take. He is the most powerful force in existence, able to manifest universes with a word, sustaining all of existence by His power. He is worthy of our reverence and fear. As Jesus said, “…do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) God’s very nature, what He is, should draw us into awe-inspired worship. We should worship God for who He is.

And we should worship Him for what He’s done. He is also the friend of sinners, the one who traded His Son’s life for yours so you could be with Him. He is Love incarnate. He is the source of joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentles, and faithfulness. It is only in a relationship with Him that we have an abundant life.

He is always worthy of worship because of who He is and what He’s done.

A Good Church Worships

And so we come back to our question about “a good church”. What is a Good Church? One which has Inspired Worship. Not inspiring worship! This isn’t about whether the music, the song or the people inspire us – it’s about whether or not the church is inspired to worship because they have a holy reverence and thanksgiving for who God is and what He’s done.

This is the question I ask of myself and of this church. Is my life, and the lives of the Christians in this church lived, every day, as an act of worship? Is there a palpable fear, respect and spirit of thankfulness when we meet together? Do we speak often of who God is and what He’s done, or do we think we have something better to talk about?

Another important question: Are there any idols in our church? Is there anything that stands above the Word of God as our guiding light? Is there anything we hold as more important than giving worship to God?

Another question: Is there anything in this church that is keeping people from worshipping God? Are there disagreements, unforgiveness, slander, or sin among us that prevents us from being able to worship God?

A “good church” worships God, and that starts with every believer in the church committing themselves to a lifestyle of worship. The words of Romans 12:1 must convict us today:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.”

Let’s go back to that Tozer quote: “If you will not worship God seven days a week, you do not worship Him one day a week”. Showing up and singing a few songs and trying to stay awake for a sermon is not worship. Worship is a lifestyle, every day. Remember, God is a jealous God. He doesn’t want to share you or your worship with anyone else. We must take worshipping God as seriously as we take the right reading of His Word because He takes His worship very seriously.

A good church knows this, and encourages everyone in the church to worship every day, because God is worthy. So let is speak, and sing, and read, and serve, and pray, and honour God in the way that people have, and should, be praising Him for all time, and into Eternity.

“Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.” (Psalm 145:3)

“For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.” (Psalm 96:4)

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11)

Let us be a worshipping church.

 

What is “A Good Church”? (Burning Questions Series)

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Burning Questions 5 - A Good Church

A while back, before it was interrupted by Thanksgiving, Children’s and Friendship Sunday, we were going through a “Burning Questions” series that was based on questions submitted by people here in the congregation. We’ve already covered a bunch of questions and I want to get back into it and finish it off over the past weeks. We’ve talked things like: what kind of superhero suit God would wear, how to be in the world but not of it, and ways to deal with discouragement and depression.

We’re continuing today with another question that has been popping up, and one that I believe is an important one to cover, “If you were looking for a church to attend, what kind of things would you look for – and how does our church look to visitors who are seeking?” I appreciate that question, but I’m going to rejig it a bit to simply be: “What makes a good church?” because I think that answers both sides of that. If I were looking for a church, I’d want a “good church”, and I certainly want the church I’m currently serving to be a “good church” – so the question is: “What is a Good Church?”

A “Good Church”

That’s what people want, right? Christians search for a “good church” until they find one and then stay there until they move – or their “good church” becomes a “bad church”. Small churches believe that in order to become large churches they simply need to become a “good church”, and then people will flock through the doors. But what is a “good church”?

  • Outreach minded people define a “good church” as one that is sharing the gospel with people in practical and obvious ways.
  • Service minded people define a “good church” as one that has lots of ministries to help people.
  • Discipleship minded people say that being a “good church” is all about the sermons.
  • For musically minded people, a “good church”, is the one that has meaningful, excellent music.
  • Some people think that a “good church” is a big church, others think the only “good churches” are small ones.
  • For new believers, a “good church” is one that makes it easy to understand what is going on and helps them to grow step-by-step in their faith.
  • For a hurting person, a “good church” is one where they feel loved.
  • For a family oriented person, a “good church” is one that is full of children.
  • For a single, college student, a “good church” is one that has people their age and speaks meaningfully to their heads and hearts.
  • Traditionally minded people want liturgy, robes, incense and art.
  • Modern people want a sound system, a projector and stage lighting.
  • To an intellectual a “good church” has messages that challenges their minds and drives them to further study.
  • To a practically minded person, a “good church” has messages that challenges their lifestyle and drives them to action.
  • To someone who has been through divorce or abuse, a “good church” is one where nothing bad ever happens, no one gets offended, and people are nice all the time.
  • To a man looking for a strong mentor and a challenge, “a good church” is one with no nonsense, tough talk, some yelling, and a willingness to offend people.
  • Some people would define a “good church” by looking at its ministry list. A good church has counselling, small groups, children’s programs, multi-ethnic ministries, is politically active, has a dynamic preacher, plays the right kind of music, supports local and global missions, develops leaders and missionaries, etc. ect. For them, a “good church” has lots of diverse ministries – usually ones that fit their lifestyle and interests.

And the list goes on and on and on. Is it any wonder that churches and church leaders have such a hard time trying to design ministries and Sunday services that are meaningful, helpful, and attractive to such a diverse group of people? It’s a tall order. Actually, that’s an impossible order. We can’t please everyone all the time – especially a church our size. But, is our job to create a church that pleases as many people as possible? Is that how we are to define a “good church”; by how many people like it? No way.

A Bible From the Sky

So, lets go back to our question: “What is a good church?”. I want to look at Acts 2:42-47 today, but before we read it, I want you to do something: clear your mind of all your preconceptions about church. Pretend you’ve never been to a church service. You are like many Canadians today, and have never even set foot inside a church building, and have no idea what goes on in there.

And then, one day, an airplane flies over your head, hits some turbulence, and a bible falls out of the luggage compartment and lands right in front of you. The pages explode away from the cover as it hits the sidewalk and they are blowing all over the place. You reach out your hand and grab one of the pages and start to read it. You look down and find that you have the whole of Acts chapter 2.

You start to read Peter’s first recorded sermon, preached at Pentecost, and have been introduced to the person of Jesus Christ. He’s presented as the Crucified Lord, the Chosen Messiah, come to make possible the forgiveness of sins. You read that after the sermon was given, a multitude of people feel terrible convicted, repent of their sins, give their lives over to following this Jesus, are baptized in His name, and start to meet together regularly.

As you continue to read Acts 2, you read about the change that starts happening to these people. You figure out that these were the same people that crucified Jesus in the first place and were his enemies. They were once people destined to be destroyed, but are now “saved” because of Jesus. This good news changes their hearts so radically that they decided to meet together all the time to celebrate what Jesus has done for them. This is AMAZING and you start running around, gathering as many pages as you can, and start to sort them together until you have a good portion of the New Testament. You read it, believe it, and give your life to Jesus. You are now one of the people who are “saved”!

Later that week your boss comes and tells you that you are about to be transferred to another city. He’s sending you to Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, Ontario. You’re going to be working there for a while, and they’ve already set you up a home just outside the city in a nice, little place called Beckwith.

You pack all your things and move into your new home, and as you drive around your new neighbourhood, you see an adorable, little building with a white cross on top and a sign that says, “Beckwith Baptist Church.” Your heart starts to race as you pull your make-shift Bible out of your pocket and start to flip through the pages. It dawns on you that this is a building dedicated to housing a group of Christians – just like you read about.

Your excitement is almost palpable. You bang on the door, but no one is there. You race out to the sign to see that you have to wait until Sunday at 10am until service starts. You can’t wait! You finally get to see all that you have been reading about come to life. You get to meet a whole group of people that know Jesus, love Jesus, teach about Jesus, pray to Jesus, sing about Jesus, and who have the very Holy Spirit of God living in them. You get to meet a group unlike any you have ever met in the world – a group of people that call themselves brothers and sisters in Christ.

And as you stand out in the parking lot, you open up to your favourite passage. The first that landed at your feet, the very first chapter that you ever read in Acts 2. You read aloud 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 favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

You can’t wait to meet these people! You can’t wait to come to this church. You can’t wait to be a part of this body of believers and be “added to their number”!

This text is one of the primary verses in scripture that drives me to do what I do and say what I say. I love these verses, not because it is a prescription of what we are supposed to be doing – but because it is a description of what happens when we get it right. This is a description of a “Good church” . This is what it looks like when we stop trying to please people, be clever with our ministries, and find some kind of secret code that causes more people to come through the door. This is what it looks like when a church allows God to take over and lets the Holy Spirit reign in their hearts.

These verses are not prescriptive – they’re not telling us what to do. They are descriptive – they are telling us what happens when God gets a hold of a group of people that love Him. People get this confused. They think if we can do the things described in these verses, then God will bless the church. No, it’s the opposite. If we allow God to work in our hearts, then this is what will happen to us.

Bill Hybels’ “Reveal”

When we get this backwards and believing that a “good church” is about the ministries it does instead of the God it worships, we fall into a “consumer” model of Christianity. We become people pleasers who try to design our church to primarily “meet people’s needs”, “make people happy”, “feed people”, “attract people”, etc. Whenever you hear the term, “feed”/”fed”, it’s consumer-minded. It means, “I’ve come to your church and you’re not giving me what I want.” It’s just like going to a restaurant and saying, “I don’t like what’s on the menu, so I’m not happy, and I’m going to find a new restaurant”. That’s consumer minded Christianity, and that kind of church and Christian doesn’t please God.

Let me give you an example. Willowcreek Church in Chicago, Illinois, headed by Pastor Bill Hybles, is one of the largest churches in North America, with over 23,000 people attending weekly. They were the uncontested champion of the “seeker-sensitive”, “consumer-driven” church movement. They’ve generated a huge amount of ministry ideas, content, songs, and are modeled all over the world.

In 2007, they released some internal survey results (in a book called “Reveal”) where they made an amazing confession that rocked the Christian world. Let me quote from an article that describes what they learned:

“Having spent thirty years creating and promoting a multi-million dollar organization driven by programs and measuring participation, and convincing other church leaders to do the same, you can see why Hybels called this research “the wake-up call” of his adult life.  Hybels confesses:

‘We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.’

In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage.”

In other, other words,  the consumer model – where a “good church” is defined by how many programs we have, how great our music is, how winsome the pastor is, the attendance, the vision casting, the constitution, the ethnicities, the small groups, or anything else that is defined by human standards – doesn’t work! It doesn’t please God or fulfil our mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Only One Opinion Matters

All of those things that I described are going to change. The programs of today’s church are far different from those a hundred or a thousand years ago. The preaching styles will change. The music has changed and will change again. The attendance of church will fluctuate from time to time and place to place. The constitution and bylaws do not define a church. Nor can the ethnicities within it. Culture will change. Technology will change. All of these things are going to change due to geography and time. None of these things cannot define what a “good church” is.

Therefore, a “good church”, cannot and must not be something that is decided by any individual or group of people. If the church is as important as we think it is – as important as God declares it is in scripture, then there must be a more universal list of attributes that describes a “good church” in standards that apply to all people, for all time, everywhere.

As a pastor, that question bothered me for a long time. I read a lot books and articles about how to grow a church and make a church “effective for the culture”, and they all sounded good – but they were almost contradictory in their advice and conclusions.

Some said the church needed to do more activities, others said we needed to gather together more. Some said the church needed more prayers services, others said it needed to be out in the community. Some said the church needed short sermons with video clips, others said the sermons needed to be deeply theological. Some said small groups were the answer, others said to give up the church building altogether and just meet in people’s houses, while others said the best thing to do is start a building program and open up more services. It was frustrating and confusing, and made it really hard to know what to do.

Four Universal Characteristics

Then I changed the question instead of asking myself “What do I think is a ‘good church’?” or “What do the experts think is a ‘good church’?” or “What does today’s culture think is a ‘good church’?, I asked, “What does God think is a ‘good church’?” That change, while it may seem obvious now, was somewhat revolutionary for me – and perhaps it is to you too. Instead of asking, “What is a good church for me, or my family, or my culture, or my country?” let’s ask, “What is a Good Church by God’s standards?”

And so, to find out what God’s standards are, I went to God’s word and came up with four universal characteristics that make up a good, godly, Christ honouring, effective church. And you’ll notice that they are all found in our passage in Acts 2. These four universal characteristics are:

  • A good church is a “disciple-making church”.
  • A good church is a “fellowshipping church”.
  • A good church is a “worshipping church”.
  • A good church is an “outreaching church”.

I’m going to take next week to go through these four in detail, but I want you to just notice quickly what I’m seeing. Remember, this isn’t just a recipe of ministries for a “good church”, but instead is what God says a good church looks like. They aren’t a list of ministries, but more a list of attitudes and priorities.

One of them isn’t more important than the other – all four must be present in the church for it to be a “good church” by God’s standards. A “good church” can’t focus on having good worship, but not good at outreach and fellowship. Likewise, a “good church” can’t be a disciplemaking church, but not care about worshipping God or fellowshipping together. All four must be held as the most important areas of our church life. Look again at Acts 2:42-47 and you’ll see them all there.

This Christian Church, maybe called the first in existence, was devoted to “the apostles teaching, the breaking of bread, and the prayers” – that’s areas of discipleship. That’s committing to biblical sermons, practicing the ordinances of the church, and the development of a private the spiritual life.

They were also devoted to “the fellowship, having all things in common, attending the temple together, breaking bread in homes, distributing to the needy among them” – that’s fellowship. They showed love and care for one another in practical ways.

See how “awe came upon every soul, they attended the temple, and praised God” – that’s worship. They saw, heard, felt and experienced the presence of Jesus Christ in their lives and gave awe-inspired worship to Him as a result.

And, they saw “many wonders and signs, distributed proceeds to all who had need, had favor with all the people, and the Lord added to their number.” That’s outreach. That’s evangelism. That’s caring for people outside the church, building the reputation of being godly community members, and seeing people turn to Jesus and be saved.

Conclusion

I want to talk about that more next week, but that’s what I want you to chew on this week. How have you been defining a “good church”? Has it been by how you feel about it? By how many people attend? By what ministries it has? By how “fed” you feel afterward? Let me encourage you to repent of those attitudes and ask yourself if you want a church patterned after your preferences, or God’s.

And for all of us here, when we think of Beckwith Baptist Church, and what we want it to be, are we seeking to craft it into our own image – with our type of music, our favourite style of preaching, ministries that cater to us – or are we seeking to be the kind of church that God favours. A church that practices discipleship, fellowship, worship and outreach – no matter what that looks like.

I would ask you to think about that for the next week, and then we’ll come back (Lord willing) and dig more deeply into these four areas.