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Saturday, October 29, 2005

Matt's Messages - Forever: Hell

“Forever: Hell”
October 30, 2005
2 Thessalonians 1:1-12

Today, we begin a four part series on the subject of FOREVER.

Forever. Eternity. Forever.

The Bible says that there are only two final destinations for all people. Every person who has ever lived, is living, or ever will live, will end up in one of two places: Heaven or Hell.

And both of those final destinations are FOREVER. They are eternal. They last for eternity.

Forever.

Endless, interminable, eternal, everlasting, unending, unceasing, perpetual, abiding, incessant, unstopping, forever and ever and ever and ever. Forever.

Most people do not want to stop to think about FOREVER.

• It is hard for us to grasp.
• It is hard for us to swallow.
• It is hard for us pay attention to with our short attention-spans.

But God lives forever and has a plan for forever and has told us about FOREVER in His Holy Word.

And we would do well to listen to His Holy Word and to learn about FOREVER.

Today, I have set out on the unpleasant but important task of talking about our default destination.

Our default destination, where each of us are headed if our course does not change is a place the Bible calls: Hell.

Yes, we would like to think that our default destination is heaven. But the Bible teaches that as sinners, rebels against a “Holy, Holy, Holy” God, we are by nature children of wrath. We are by nature, by default, headed to Hell.

And that is no fun to think about.

And it is no fun to talk about, either.

I get absolutely no pleasure from talking about the subject of Hell.

C.S. Lewis said of Hell, “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than [Hell] if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture and specially, of Our Lord’s own words...” (The Problem of Pain, Pg 118)

Yes, the Lord Jesus talked about the reality of Hell more than any other person in the whole Bible. In fact, the Lord Jesus talked about Hell more than He talked about Heaven!

So, I take no pleasure in it, but if I would follow my Lord, I can do nothing less than preach on the subject of Hell.

And we all need to hear about it. We all need to be reminded of eternity. And how the choices we make now in time will affect our eternity forever.

We all need to be reminded that this life is just an entranceway into eternity. This life is just the foyer of the great house of eternity. This life is a vapor, a mist, and it will soon pass away and Forever will be here. We all need to hear about eternity.

[Scripture Reading, Prayer]

Here’s the situation. Paul and his ministry team are writing to the church at Thessalonika that is doing really well at faith in God and love for others. And Paul is telling them that they are doing good at faith in God and love for others, and he is praying that they would continue to do good and persevere in faith and love for each other to the glory of God.

What makes their faith and love so remarkable is that they are trusting and loving in the face of enduring (v.4) “persecutions and trials.” Times are tough for the Thessalonians right now.

Life is hard. They are getting kicked in the teeth.

Christianity is difficult for them. They are being persecuted and going through trials.

People are being mean to them. Most probably, they are losing their possessions, their jobs, their health, and for some of them, they are losing their very lives.

But they are continuing to trust God and to show love to each other. And so, Paul writes to encourage them to keep it up and to let them know that he is praying for them to keep up their faith and love to the glory of God.

And the main way that Paul encourages them is to remind them of Hell.

Yes, you heard that right. The main way in 2 Thessalonians chapter 1 that Paul encourages the believers to keep on trusting and keep on loving while enduring persecutions and trials is to remind the believers of the coming judgment of Hell.

Verses 6 through 10 are a reminder of the biblical teaching about the Return of Christ and the judgment to follow. Verses 6 through 10 are about Hell. Let’s look at them. Start back in verse 5.

“All this is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.”

The “all this” in verse 5 is all of the persecutions which are adding up to a judgment on the persecutors and all of the perseverance of the believers adding up to being counted and demonstrated as worthy of the Kingdom of God for which they were suffering.

When the judgment happens, justice will be done and will be seen to be done.

And the judgment will come. V.6

“God is just...” You can count on this: “God is just.” The whole point of Hell is that justice is being done.

Point #1 (of 3): HELL IS ETERNAL JUSTICE FROM GOD. V.6 again.

“God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well.” Stop there.

Hell is eternal justice from God. Sometimes it seems like people get away with murder, doesn’t it?

But actually, no one gets away with anything!

Justice is coming. Judgment is coming. It will soon be “payback time.”

The people who were handing out trouble to the Thessalonian believers were going to receive trouble back from God. V.6, “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well.”

Have you been sinned against? Have you been victimized? Many have. Christians are called to suffer. We are called to expect suffering for the Kingdom. Just for being Christians. And it isn’t fair!

But it will be set straight. Every single sin ever committed. Just stop right now and think about all the sinning going on on this planet right now...6 billion people on the planet. Six billion sinners.

Every sin is being recorded and will be paid back.

We may have to wait, but it will come. When? V.7

“This [justice] will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”
The full reality of Hell will come at the Second Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yes, right now, the Bible says that when unbelievers die, they are judged and go to Hell (often called “Hades” or “Gehenna” in the Bible).

But this passage teaches that when Jesus returns, He will bring with Him the full reality of Hell.

Verse 7 says that the Lord Jesus will be “revealed from heaven.” The Greek word is “avpokalu,yei,” the word we get “Revelation” from. It means that Jesus is hidden in Heaven right now. But one day, He will be revealed!

And not as a baby in the manger in Bethlehem, but as the Returning King of the Universe bent on bringing justice to His Kingdom!

Verse 7 says that He will come in blazing fire with His powerful angels.

The blazing fire reminds us of Mount Sinai, when God’s holiness once scorched the mountain. Now, the Lord will come in blazing fire again and scorch the whole Earth with His Holiness!

And He will bring a invincible, irresistible army with Him.

The Lord Jesus will be revealed from Heaven in blazing fire with His powerful angels. And He will bring eternal justice. V.8

“He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”

The King James says that He will take “vengeance on them that know not God.”

The Greek word for “punish” or “take vengeance” is “evkdi,khsin,” and it comes from the word that means justice or righteousness.

This is saying that the Lord Jesus will right every wrong. What He is going to do in imposing Hell on those who do not know God is eternal justice.

Hell is eternal justice from God.

It’s what we deserve.

You say, Pastor Matt, what have we done to deserve Hell?

All of us have (v.8) not known God and not obeyed the gospel of the Lord Jesus.

All of us have not known God.

Now, this does not mean that we have never heard of God or never got the idea of God into our minds. The Bible says that everyone knows something about God. Read Romans 1 sometime to see that.

This means that we have all chosen to not know God relationally.
This means that we have all forsaken what we do know of God and rejected Him.

It means that we are sinners, rebels, at the core.

John says eternal life is knowing the one true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Eternal death comes from not knowing the one true God and Jesus Christ!

All of us (by nature) have not obeyed the Good News of Jesus Christ.

That is, by default, we have not trusted in the Gospel that can save us. The Gospel is News that demands a response. Good News that demands a faith and obedience response.

And all of us (by nature) have not obeyed this Good News.

Many who have heard it have spurned it as religion, as poppycock, as a crutch, as a drug for the masses, as something for the weak, as falsehood.

But they will find that it was true. And they will receive payback for all of their sins for eternity.

Hell is eternal justice from God.

That is good news, isn’t it?

It’s hard to swallow, because we are so squeamish, and we don’t love what is good and holy enough.

But we all long for justice, don’t we? We don’t want Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden or Adolph Hitler to get away with what they did, do we?

We all long for justice, and there seems to be so little of it today.

But justice will be done and will be seen to be done in Hell.

And this justice will mean REST and RELIEF for us. Back to V.6 again.

“God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled [literally, “rest”], and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.”

When Jesus brings justice in Hell, He also brings Heavenly Rest.

Hell is Eternal Justice from God.

#2. HELL IS ETERNAL DESTRUCTION BY GOD. Look at the next phrase in V.9.

“They will be punished with everlasting destruction...”

This is where we get the word FOREVER.

“Everlasting destruction.”

Hell goes on and on and on forever.

Hell is eternal destruction by God.

These people are destroyed by God for all eternity.

That is almost too much to think about.

The Lord Jesus fills in the picture of eternity in Hell in the gospels.

He likens it to “being outside” in “outer darkness.” (Matthew 8, Matthew 22)

No warmth, no light, no friendship, no happiness, no stories, no smiles, no companionship, no togetherness. Just “outside,” forever.

Hell is not like the cartoons that show a great big party down under. The party is up above! And those in Hell are all alone. If there is company in Hell, it is unbearable company. It’s probably much more like solitary confinement.

The Lord Jesus says that Hell is a place of unquenchable fire. (Matthew 7, Matthew 13, Mark 9)

The fires of Hell are not a myth that came in with Dante’s Inferno. They are a reality. They were prepared for the Devil and His Demons (Mt 25:41), but they are receiving people like you and me who “do not know God” or “obey His Gospel.”

Have you ever put your hand on the stove? Imagine not being able to ever take it off.

Its unimaginable, but it’s real.

The Lord Jesus says Hell is a place where there is “gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8, Matthew 13, Matthew 24, Matthew 25, Luke 13.)

That means that the people in Hell are in miserable agony and hate God more because of it. Hell doesn’t get better with time. And the residents of Hell don’t get better with time. They get worse and worse forever and ever and ever, sinning eternally.

Are these things just figures of speech? They may be somewhat metaphorical, but that means that there are no words that can actually describe how horrible the reality of Hell really is!

The Lord Jesus says that Hell is characterized by undying, insatiable worms (Mark 9). The picture (drawn from the Old Testament in Isaiah 66) is that of a battlefield littered with defeated corpses being eaten by maggots that never have their fill.

He says, Hell is a place where “Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”

That’s what our Lord says. Jesus! Sometimes, we think that Jesus was soft on sin.

We think that “we are not so bad and God is not so mad.”

But the Lord Jesus talked about Hell more than anyone else in the Bible.

And He said that it was eternal destruction.

Forever.

Not just for a long time, and then it’s over.

But for the same duration as Heaven.

The Lord Jesus said (Matthew 25:46), “Then [the wicked] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Same word. Eternal life. Eternal punishment.

Forever.

Forever in Hell.

But the worst part of Hell is not the darkness, not being outside, not the worm, not the fire, not the gnashing of teeth...but the absence of God. V.9 again.

“They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power...”

#3. HELL IS ETERNAL EXCLUSION FROM GOD.

Unbelievers will be (v.9) “shut out from the presence of the Lord and the majesty of his power.”

Eternal exclusion from God.

The word for “presence” in v.9 is literally, “face.”

Unbelievers in Hell will not see and enjoy the Face of Jesus.

The absence of God is what makes Hell unbearable.

God is what makes all things good. And therefore, Hell is the absence of all things that are good.

We will see in coming weeks that God is what makes Heaven Heaven.

So exclusion from God is what makes Hell Hell.

We can’t comprehend this right now because we live in a world where God is present. Sometimes, we get foretastes of Hell, like when basic human services and civility break down in hurricanes or earthquakes or tsunamis or genocide. Sometimes, when we say, “Where is God in the world?” we are tasting what Hell will be like for those who have to live there for all eternity.

Hell is eternal exclusion from God.

And this is God’s judgment. Hell comes from God.

Hell is not Satan’s idea. He doesn’t run Hell. God runs Hell.

Hell is God’s punishment for Satan. It was originally designed to for Satan. Satan is going to be tormented day and night forever and ever in Hell in the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:10). Satan is going to get the justice due Satan.

And Satan with all the rest of the future inhabitants of Hell will be eternally excluded from the face of God.

That should make us shudder.

There are only two final destinations. Heaven or Hell.

Hell is the default destination for sinners like you and like me.

Do you know where you are going to end up?

If we believe what the Bible has presented here to be true, we should want to do anything, to pay any price to stay out of this place!

The Good News is that what needs to be done has already been accomplished for us! The price that needs to be paid has already been paid for us!

The exclusion from God that is Hell has already been experienced by God’s own eternal Son on our behalf.

Jesus Christ died on the Cross to pay for our sins.

He took our Hell-worth sins on His shoulders.

He absorbed the Hellish wrath of God that was rightfully mine.

He has made a way to Heaven so that we do not have to go to Hell.

And He invites you today to put your faith and trust in Him.

- Because of Hell, Come to Know God and Obey the Gospel of the Lord Jesus.

Even though it is your default destination, you do not have to go to Hell.

Even though we are, by nature, children of wrath, God’s grace is extended to us be saved. He is giving out the grace to obey the Gospel of His Son!

God invites you today to come to know Him and to obey the Gospel of His Son.

God invites you today to put your faith in Jesus Christ and His Crosswork for the forgiveness of your sins and for the hope of eternal life.

If you were to died today (and noone knows when they will), do you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you are going to Heaven?

Not because you are a good person. There is no one righteous. No not one.
Not because you have done good things. They are all like filthy rags.
Not because you have a good family. God is not impressed by people and pedigree.

But because of the Cross of Jesus Christ, the absorption of the wrath of God for your sins, and because you trust in Him, do you know that you are going to Heaven?

Do you know God, and do you obey the Gospel of His Son?

I invite you today to repent. That means to turn. To change direction. To turn from trusting in your own way to trusting in Jesus and His way. To turn from your sin and your selfishness. And to turn to Jesus and obey His Gospel.

His Gospel is the Good News that He has died in your place for your sin. And to obey His Gospel means to put your trust in it and begin to follow Him as Lord.

Turn and Trust. Turn and Trust. Turn from sin and trust in Christ. Change direction and commit your life to Jesus Christ today.

And then you will come to know God.

And you will not have to go to your default destination.

- Because of Hell, Come to Know God and Obey the Gospel of the Lord Jesus.

And for those of us who are already believers:

- Because of Hell, Keep on Trusting God and Loving Each Other.

Keep living as a Christian! Hold on. Hang on. That’s what Paul wanted the Thessalonians to do.

Keep on trusting God. God is just. He will work it all out. Justice will be done and will be seen to be done. Trust Him. Persevere in faith.

And keep on loving each other. It’s hard to do during hard times. But Jesus is coming back and will soon make everything right, and He has loved you enough to absorb the pain of Hell on your behalf.

On that Cross, He cried, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” – which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

Jesus experienced the wrath of God, and exclusion from God on your behalf.

Amazing Love! How can it be?

If He did that for you, you can keep loving others.

There is coming a day when (v.10), He will come to be glorified in His holy people (in us!) and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, if you believed our testimony to you.

Do you believe the testimony?

Do you believe the Gospel?

Do you know God and obey the Gospel of His Son?

You do not have to experience the eternal justice of God.
You do not have to experience eternal destruction by God.
You do not have to experience eternal exclusion from God.

You don’t have to go to Hell...forever.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Local Church

Five "Matt's Messages" on the Local Church:

1. The Newborn Church Acts 2:1-47

2. The Joyfully-Led Church Hebrews 13:17

3. The Cross-Centered Church

4. The Search & Rescue Church Matthew 18:12-35

5. The Local Church 1 Timothy 3:14-16


Also, I highly recommend these resources to go with this series:

Matt's Messages - The Local Church

“The Local Church”
October 23, 2005
1 Timothy 3:14-16

I want to begin by thanking you for putting my mug shot in the newspaper this week. I can’t begin to tell you how much it has meant to me. You’ve done it for several years now, and the last couple of years the caption under my picture has just ministered to my soul. Last year, probably unbeknownst to you, I was struggling with vision and where to lead the church. But I was trying. And you wrote, “Pastor Matt Mitchell, thank you not just for what you do or who you are, but for how & where you are leading us.” That just floored me last year.

And then this year, when I was struggling through preparing the messages for this series on the local church, you wrote this: “Pastor Matt, thank you for 7 years of making Sunday the best day of the week.” And that just blew me away when I saw that. It’s like you’ve been reading my mind and seeing exactly what I’ve wanted for you. Kind of like when I “hit it on the nail” in a sermon and one of you says, “That one was for me.” These were for me! So thank you for your kind and thoughtful appreciation. It is a joy to be your pastor.

This is the fifth and last message this Fall on the doctrine of the local church. We’ve been answering the question: “What makes it a church?” What are the essential ingredients in a healthy, biblical, God-honoring church?

The first week, we basically said that it was a God-glorifying purpose. Our purpose is to glorify God by bringing people into a love relationship with Jesus Christ through worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service.

Or as we’ve been saying recently: loving Jesus, learning of Jesus, linking to others in Jesus, luring others to Jesus, and living for Jesus. Those purposes were all present for the Newborn Church in Acts chapter 2.

The second ingredient of a healthy, biblical, God-honoring church is God-glorifying leadership and follower-ship. God desires for His church to have godly, qualified leaders who joyfully watch over the souls of God’s flock and godly followers who obey and submit to their leaders’ authority. The Joyfully-Led Church.

The third essential ingredient for a healthy Church is being Cross-Centered. The Cross-Centered Church. Gospel-oriented, evangelical, built on the Good News of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Being Cross-Centered in our proclamation of God’s Word and Cross-Centered in our celebration of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Cross-Centered Church.

Last week, we saw the fourth and last essential ingredient for a healthy, biblical, God-honoring Church, and it was Church Discipline. God desires for His church to go after those who stray. The Search & Rescue Church. Not content to let others just wander off. We are to be a Search & Rescue Church.

Now today, I want to put the cap on this series by going to 1 Timothy chapter 3 and seeing what God says the Local Church is.

What is the local church? How important is the local church? 1 Timothy chapter 3.

In verse 14, Paul says why he’s written this letter:

“Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.” (NIV)

We should be thankful that the Apostle Paul expected to be delayed at reaching Ephesus where Timothy was in charge of the church.
If he didn’t expect to be delayed, Paul wouldn’t have written the book of 1 Timothy, and it wouldn’t be in our Bibles. Sometimes, we don’t know why we have to wait for what seems like so long. But here, we know that if Paul didn’t have to wait, we wouldn’t have this book in the Bible. Thank the Lord for unplanned delays!

Thankfully, Paul did write this letter. And verses 14, 15, & 16 are the heart of the letter. They express the purpose of this letter. And it is all about “The Local Church.”

Verse 14 again. “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed [which seems likely], you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

Paul wrote this letter so that Timothy’s people would know how “to conduct themselves,” how to behave, how to relate to, how to live in the local church.

This letter is not just about being a part of the universal church, the invisible church connected around the world by faith in Christ. This letter is about the nitty-gritty of how to live in the local church. 1 Timothy is full of instructions about the purpose of the local church, godly leadership and followership in the local church, being Cross-Centered in the local church, keeping the Main Thing the main thing in the local church, and even church discipline in the local church.

In many ways, 1 Timothy is a manual on how to keep a local church healthy. When we’re done watching the “Church in Real-Time” videos in Sunday School, the adult class is going to begin a study on 1 Timothy to carry this theme of the local church a little further.

Paul knew how important the Local Church really was. See what he says the Local Church is: “I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

There are three word-pictures here.

#1. THE LOCAL CHURCH IS GOD’S HOUSEHOLD.

Paul says that the local church is God’s household.

Now, remember, Paul is not talking here about a literal church building.

There were probably no church buildings when this letter was written. The Local Church primarily met in local homes.

The church is not a building. The church is a people.

But these people (called the church) are God’s household.

A household is a place where someone lives and the family that lives within it.

It’s another way of saying that the church is a family. It’s really a family made up of families. A household of households.

Now, in our household, there is Daddy and Mommy, Robin, Andrew, Peter, Isaac, and their little friends: Violet the Purple Bear, Zippy, Blue Bear, and a little duck blanket for Isaac. That’s our household.

And we are a household that is a part of a larger household–God’s household, the church.

God has a family. He is a Father. And we are His children, brothers and sisters with one another. Ordered relationships within an ordered household. Familial bonds.

“I’m so glad I am a part of the Family of God!”

You and I are not individuals with a merely personal love relationship with Jesus Christ.

You and I are a family with a corporate love relationship with Jesus Christ. He is our elder-brother, and God is our Father!

God has a family. Do you think of yourself when you come to church as coming Home? Not to the building, but to the people.

The church is not something we go to (aka “Where do you go to church?”). It is something we are. You don’t “go to family.” “Where do you go to family?” You go to family meetings, family gatherings, family celebrations. We don’t go to church. We go to church meetings, church gatherings, church celebrations.

We are the church.

The Local Church is God’s household.

And a household is the family that lives in a house and (to some degree) the house itself. The dwelling place.

This is saying that the Local Church is God’s dwelling place!

We are where God lives!

Have you ever thought about it like that?

The Bible says that we are individually living stones that are being built up together into a place where God’s glory dwells.

The Local Church is God’s household. The King James Version says, “God’s house.”

We are God’s house. We are where God lives.

I’ve heard well meaning people tell little children not to run in the church building because it is “God’s house.” Well, maybe they shouldn’t run in the building.

But this building is not where God lives.

This church is. And the local church is a family, a household where God lives.

Look around you. Look at the people sitting in front of you. Look at the people sitting behind you. Look at the people on either side of you down the aisle.

That’s where God lives. And God especially lives among us when we gather as the church.
Yes, God lives everywhere. But He is especially present to bless among His people.

Remember, the last page of Exodus?

Where the tabernacle was complete, and Moses inspected it and everybody wondered and waited to see if God would take up residence in it?

And then the Glory of the Lord descended onto the tabernacle?!

And God came to live at among His people?

The tabernacle was a shadow of what the church would be.

The local church is the household of God!

Not the building but the people (who are the building where God lives).

And that leads to the second word picture.

#2. THE LOCAL CHURCH IS THE ASSEMBLY OF THE LIVING GOD.

V.14 again.

“Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God.”

The Greek Word translated church is ekklesia. It came from two other words that mean to be “called out.” And it was often used of a called-out assembly. A group of people–a group, mind you, this is another corporate word–called out for some purpose.

The Local Church is a group of people who are called-out, not some dead idol, but to the living God. The Living God!

God is alive. And He has gathered a people to Himself. And they exist for His glory.

The local church is the place where the action is!
It’s where the glory is. It’s where the life is. The life of the living God!

No other group, no other assembly on Earth, can make this claim!

The local church is the assembly of the living God!

Not Congress. That’s an assembly. Not the United Nations. That’s an assembly. Not the assembly at Beaver Stadium. Not an assembly at the Bryce Jordan Center.

No other group, no other assembly on Earth, can make this claim.

The local church is the assembly of the living God!

The local church is where the action is.

Now, you say, Pastor Matt, it doesn’t seem like it.

It seems like the action is in those other places most of the time.

But appearances can be deceiving.

The book of Ephesians says that God’s “intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (3:10-11)

Angels and demons stand in awe of what happens in this room on Sunday mornings!

This is where the action is. I don’t want to be anywhere else than in the Local Church.

Even in the parachurch. Parachurch ministries are wonderful things, gifts to the Body of Christ–I am very thankful for them.

But here is where the action is. This is the assembly of the living God!

It’s not always as exciting as a Christian concert.

But this is where the action is. The local church is the assembly of the living God.

And #3. THE LOCAL CHURCH IS THE PILLAR AND FOUNDATION OF THE TRUTH.

That’s what it says in verse 15.

“I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

The Local Church upholds the truth.

Now, in one sense, the truth upholds the church. Absolutely. The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord. Absolutely.

But in another sense, the church upholds the truth in the world.

The Local Church is God’s answer to falsehood, error, heresy, and lies.

It is a pillar. We are a pillar.

The temple of Artemis (who was a dead goddess!) (in Ephesus where Timothy was) had 127 Ionic pillars, each over 18 meters high, making it one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world.

But Paul was saying that the local church in Ephesus (which probably had no buildings of it’s own) towered over the temple of Artemis in its awesome value to the world. It is the church of the living God which holds aloft the truth of the living God!

And it is a foundation. The Local Church undergirds the truth in a world full of lies.

What truth?

The truth of the Gospel. Verse 16. “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”

That is the truth of the Gospel.

Paul never loses sight of the Main Thing. The main thing is to keep the Main Thing the main thing. And the main thing is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It’s the good news of His incarnation: “He appeared in a body.”
It’s the good news of His death and resurrection: “He was vindicated by the Spirit.”
It’s the good news of His exaltation to the right hand of the majesty on High, “He was seen by angels when He took His rightful place in Heaven.”
It’s the good news of His proclamation by missionaries and by you and me, “He was preached among the nations.”
It’s the good news of the establishment of His church throughout the Earth, “He was
believed on in the world.”
And it’s the good news of the eventual, uncontested reign of His Kingdom forever and ever and ever. “He was taken up in glory!”

It’s the gospel. The gospel is the main thing.

And the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing! That’s the truth that we uphold.

The Local Church upholds the truth like a pillar and a foundation. That’s how important it is!

The Local Church is God’s plan to publish the Gospel in all the world.

Bill Hybels is fond of saying that “the Local Church is the hope of the world.”

That’s how important it is.

Do you believe that?

I do. That’s what I am giving my life’s work to–building the church.

I’ve fallen in love with the Local Church again this Fall.

The Local Church is the Household of God.
The Family of God. And the place (unlike every other place) where God’s glory dwells.

The Local Church is the Assembly of the Living God.
It’s where the action is. It’s where the life is. It’s where the glory is.

The Local Church is the Pillar and Foundation of the Truth in the World.
We carry the priceless treasure of the Gospel that Paul says is undeniably great!

That’s the Local Church.

So what should we do about it?

Three points of application to close this sermon and the whole series on the local church.

#1. Become a Part of the Local Church.

As Joshua Harris would say, “Stop Dating the Church.”

Make the local church a priority in your life.

Join the membership. Go through the process and become a member. It is what your leadership here would desire for you to do. Make our job a joy and join.

Become a Part of the Local Church.

Prioritize participation in the Local Church.

For some people, church is the thing you do if you don’t get a better offer.

Camping, hunting, sporting events, a sniffle, a family gathering all take priority over the local church. “It was such a nice day!”

I’m not saying don’t go to those things and be here every time the door is opened. I’m saying, “This is the family of God. This is the assembly of the living God. This is the pillar and foundation of the truth.” It’s more important than just about anything else. Act like it!

Josh Harris says to become preoccupied with the Local Church. Be passionately committed.

Center your life on around it. Some of you here are living examples of what I mean.

Most of you can’t center your life around the church like I can. I’m a paid elder. I’m in career ministry. I am “married to the church” so to speak.

But many here have become a vital part of the local church and have lives that revolve around it and give testimony to it being the important thing that it is in their world.

Become a part of the Local Church.

It’s exciting to have 3 new couples join the membership today. They are a living testimony to the importance of the Local Church.

#2. Do Your Part in the Local Church.

Some of you may be technically members, but you don’t do very much to show it.

Some of the non-members at this church put some of our official members to shame.

And Sunday mornings are not enough! Not for you and not for us!

All of us need to do our part.

Another picture of the Local Church is that of a body–the body of Christ.

We are all body parts. And we all have a role to fill.

I’m like the stomach. I take in the Bible all week and digest it and send it’s truths out on Sunday to the rest of the body for action.

What body part are you? Are you doing your part?

Inside your bulletin is a little one sheet handout. It’s a tool that we have developed on the Leadership Board to help us to make disciples here at Lanse Free Church.

Here’s a secret for you. This is what we are trying to do to you piece by piece.

We’re trying to help you to take up your part in the Local Church by being made into a disciple in these 5 categories: Loving Jesus, Learning of Jesus, Linking to Others in Jesus, Luring Others to Jesus, and Living for Jesus.

In each box is a goal for each of us (and none of us have arrived) in Commitment, Participation, Life Skills, Following Christ in All of Life, Key Attitudes, and Prayer.

These are our goals for each part of the Body of Christ here at Lanse Free Church.

This is a one-page picture of what we think living in the local church should look like.

Worship in the Local Church, Being Instructed By the Local Church, Fellowshipping within the Local Church, Evangelizing with the Local Church, and Serving Within the Local Church.

Do your part in the Local Church.

The Nominating Committee is looking for officers for 2006. Many of you probably got what I call a “summons” today. Pray about that. Is that your part?

Maybe your part will be to help us to plant another Local Church in Philipsburg.

Do your part in the Local Church.

And #3 (and last). Never Part from the Local Church.

Love the local church. And stay committed.

The Bible says that Jesus Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.

Can we do no less?

The Local Church is the Household of God. The Family of God!
The Local Church is the Assembly of the Living God. Where the Action Is!
The Local Church is the Pillar and Foundation of the Truth to a Needy World.

Another word picture of the Local Church in the Bible is that of a Bride.

The Bride of Christ.

Jesus loves His bride and has committed Himself to her forever.

And so should we.

The days of being Lone Ranger Christians need to be over.
The days of claiming to be a Christian but not having a love for and part in the Local Church need to be over.

It’s time to commit.
It’s time to say, “Yes.”

It’s time to love the Local Church, Jesus’ Bride.

Become a Part
Do Your Part
And Never Part from the Local Church.

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."
[As I've been working through the theology of the local church, I've been listening to a series of messages from Sovereign Grace Ministries entitled: The Dearest Place on Earth. I highly recommend them. They have been food for my soul. Mark Mullery's sermon on 1 Timothy 3:14-16 was a definite source for this message, as was Mike Bullmore's sermon on 1 Peter 4 and Joshua Harris' message on Ephesians 5. I am in their debt.]

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

To Blog Or Not to Blog #9

1 Help, LORD, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men.
2 Everyone lies to his neighbor; their flattering lips speak with deception.
3 May the LORD cut off all flattering lips and every boastful tongue
4 that says, "We will triumph with our tongues; we own our lips--who is our master?"
5 "Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise," says the LORD. "I will protect them from those who malign them."
6 And the words of the LORD are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times.
7 O LORD, you will keep us safe and protect us from such people forever.
8 The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honored among men.

Psalm 12 (NIV)

A Stop Along Our Walk



Me and my kids along the way on our nightly stroll through Lanse. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Matt's Messages - The Search & Rescue Church

“The Search & Rescue Church”
October 16, 2005
Matthew 18:12-35

This is the fourth message this Fall on the doctrine of the local church. We’ve been answering the question: “What makes it a church?” What are the essential ingredients in a healthy, biblical, God-honoring church?

The first week (The Newborn Church), we basically said that it was a God-glorifying purpose. Ours is to glorify God by bringing people into a love relationship with Jesus Christ through worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service. Or as we’ve been saying recently: loving Jesus, learning of Jesus, linking to others in Jesus, luring others to Jesus, and living for Jesus. Those purposes were all present for the Newborn Church.

The second ingredient of a healthy, biblical, God-honoring church is God-glorifying leadership and followership. God desires for His church to have godly, qualified leaders that joyfully watch over the souls of God’s flock and godly followers who obey and submit to their leaders’ authority. The Joyfully-Led Church.

Last week, we saw that the third essential ingredient for a healthy, biblical, God-honoring Church is being Cross-Centered. The Cross-Centered Church. Gospel oriented, evangelical, built on the Good News of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Being Cross-Centered in our proclamation of God’s Word and Cross-Centered in our celebration of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Cross-Centered Church.

Now, this week, I want to talk about the fourth and last essential ingredient for a healthy, biblical, God-honoring Church. Next week, I’m going to preach on commitment to the local church, but this week, we are going to talk about the fourth and last essential ingredient for a healthy, biblical, God-honoring, Christ-Centered Church: Discipline.

Church Discipline.

Now, just saying those two words probably raises a lot of emotions in this crowd this morning. For some of us, the emotion is confusion: “Church Discipline? What’s that? Never heard of it!” And the sad reality of the American Church in the 21st Century is that church discipline is widely unpracticed and therefore unknown. Such has not always been the case, but sadly, it is the case today.

For some of us, the emotion is anger. “Church Discipline? Oh yeah. I’m familiar. Church discipline wrecked my life. I hate church discipline. A bunch of hypocrites trying to tell me how to live my life! Dividing the church. Ugly stuff. Fights and church wars. That’s church discipline for you.” And sadly enough, church discipline has been abused and done poorly in churches from time to time and people have gotten hurt. The Bible says to practice it carefully lest we fall into dangerous temptations. (Galatians 6:1)

And going along with that, for some of us, the emotion is fear. Church Discipline raises the specter of witch-hunts and a scarey invasion into our private lives. Maybe we have something to hide and the fear is warranted or maybe we don’t have anything to hide but the mention of Church Discipline makes us want to duck and run.

And for others of us (mostly leaders, I expect), the words “Church Discipline” make us feel tired. It can be exhausting to lead a church through the discipline process with a member, and it’s not unusual for the subject to make a church leader feel worn out.

However, church discipline is an essential ingredient for a healthy, biblically functioning, God-honoring, Christ-exalting, Cross-Centered Church.

And church discipline is God’s idea. In fact, the Lord Jesus is only recorded as using the word, “church” twice. Both times occur in the Gospel of Matthew. In chapter 16, Jesus promises to build His church (and He won’t fail!). And here in chapter 18, He instructs His disciples to practice church discipline.

Church Discipline is Jesus’ idea.

And it’s not a bad idea. It’s a good idea, motivated by love.

There is a little brochure out in the foyer from Peacemaker Ministries entitled, “Church Discipline: God’s Search and Rescue Plan.”

And that’s right. Church Discipline is like these Search & Rescue Teams that saved the day in New Orleans last month. There were an estimated 25,000-50,000 people who were rescued from New Orleans by Search & Rescue Teams in September. And a lot of them were dangerous rescues with swiftboats and helicopters.

That’s what Church Discipline is supposed to be–a Search & Rescue operation.

Jesus says as much in Matthew chapter 18, verses 12 through 14. Let’s read that.

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” (NIV)

Matthew chapter 18 is full of the Lord Jesus’ instructions on living in relationships within the messianic community. If you belong to the Messiah, you need to live a certain way with one another. It begins with a lesson on humility. Which is the path to true greatness. I’m reading a book right now by C.J. Mahaney with that title, “Humility: True Greatness” taken from this story. And then, Jesus says that we need to be careful to not lead others into sin (especially children). And then, we need to do whatever it takes to lead ourselves out of sin.

And then, he says this truth (v.12 again), “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”

God wants His church to go after those who wander off.

God wants His church to be a Search & Rescue Church.

Jesus poses the question, “What do you think?” Work this one out for yourself. It’s a parable. A lot like the one in Luke 15 about the lost sheep, but here it’s not so much unbelievers as professing believers who have wandered away from the truth.

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not...” go on a rescue mission? Of course, he will. That’s what shepherds do.

And if he finds it, there’s going to be a party! That’s the kind of heart that God has.

“In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” In the context, the “little ones” are Christ-followers who have humbled themselves like dependent children.

Your Father in heaven doesn’t want any of His followers to wander away.

So, he sends out Search & Rescue Teams.

Isn’t that loving? Isn’t that great? Doesn’t that just sound wonderful? Search & Rescue!

The only problem is that the reason these sheep are lost is because they chose to get lost in the first place. They have wandered away...in sin. And they don’t always want to be found.

That’s what makes Church Discipline: God’s Search & Rescue so difficult. The Search is prompted by sin.

And even though the Search (when done correctly) is motivated by God’s love, we don’t always want to be Rescued.

So, sometimes it’s difficult. Sometimes it’s hard. But it’s always good.

It’s good for the whole church. It keeps the church pure. My best-friend Kipp loves to say that the end result of church discipline is always a pure-church. Whether or not the sheep return to the fold, the fold is always kept pure. Holiness is maintained.

And it’s good for individuals within the church to be warned. I heard a story this week of a marriage that was saved by a member of a church watching another member go through the discipline process. This man was knocked back into his senses and saved from adultery by watching another man be disciplined by the local church.

And it’s good for our witness as a church. Church discipline says that we have standards and we actually stand for something. The community knows that this church actually holds people accountable. And even though it’s full of sinners (and I’m the chief), those sinners are searching and rescuing each other from their wanderings.

And it’s good for our protection as a church. Especially when false-teaching is included in the wanderings. Church discipline protects the body from heresy.

And it’s especially good for the person being pursued. Because they are in danger. James chapter 5 says, “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).

Church Discipline is hard sometimes. But it’s always good.

God wants His church to go after those who wander off. To be a Search & Rescue Church.

In verses 15-17, he gives 4 steps to follow. You can fill in lots of other details from other parts of the New Testament. Church Discipline is found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, James, 1 Timothy, Galatians, 1 John, and lot of other places, so you can fill in lots of other details about Church Discipline from other parts of the New Testament, but these are the four basic steps that we are supposed to follow when we see a sheep wandering from the fold. V.15

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”

Step #1. GO AND SHOW HIM HIS FAULT.

“If your brother sins against you [or if you see him sinning – Luke 17, James 5, Galatians 6], go and show him...” where he has gone wrong.

Privately.

Church discipline starts as a very private matter. “Need to know basis.” The offender and the offended. If your brother sins, go to him and try to make it right.

Now, what does the world say to do when this happens?

If your brother or sister sins against you...what?

Go see a lawyer!
Go tell your neighbor!
Go gossip about it at work!

Whatever you do, don’t go to him or her, they should come to you. After all, they’re the ones that hurt you.

But that’s not what Jesus says. Jesus says, “Go to them.” Yes, they hurt you. They sinned against you. It was a real sin. A real hurt. A real debt. A real stab.

But you are to go and try to show them where they have gone wrong.

Do you do this in your relationships? Parents? Teens? Kids? Singles? Couples?

The first question I ask when someone comes to me with a relational problem is, “Have you talked with them about it? Directly? Have you told them what they have done to you?”

It’s hard. It takes faith and obedience and godly guts. It’s what Jesus says to do.

If we consistently practiced step #1 in our church, we would have very few people ever get to step #4. If we consistently practiced step #1 in our marriages, we would have very few people ever get divorced.

I’ve heard Ken Sande [the President of Peacemaker Ministries, who does a lot of teaching on this stuff] say that since they began teaching and applying these steps, their church of about 350 people have not had one divorce. That’s in over 10 years. No divorces. They’ve had families in crisis. They’ve had couples with lots of sin, lots of wandering sheep. But they’ve consistently taught on these biblical steps (Jesus’ steps!), and they’ve not had one divorce in the last 10 years.

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”

That’s the goal. All along, that’s the goal. To win your brother over. Restoration of fellowship. Debts forgiven. Relationship restored.

“If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” He’s rescued!

However, it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes, he won’t listen. We’ve all had that happen to us, haven’t we? Step #2. V.16

“But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'”

Step #2. TAKE ONE OR TWO OTHERS ALONG.

This is only if step #1 failed to win your brother back. “But if he won’t listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”

Now, that last piece is a quote from Deuteronomy 19:15. It’s got a judicial ring. There is a case being built here against the person who has sinned that needs to be established in case this goes before the whole church.

But I don’t think that the two or three going along is just for establishing “who said what.” I think that the two or three going back to talk with the erring brother is a more serious attempt at search and rescue. It’s getting a small group involved in someone’s life and showing how seriously concerned they all are about the well-being of this brother or sister who is wandering.

It’s also to introduce more help if the conflict needs mediation, arbitration, and conciliation. Sometimes, we just can’t handle conflicts on our own. We need help! And this is another reason to be involved in a small group of believers that will hold each other accountable before God.

Take one or two others along. But do it carefully. Do it gently.

Galatians 6:1 says, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”

What does the world say at this point?

The world says, “Give it up! Forget it. He’s not worth it.”

The world says, “Get what you can. Cut your losses. Forget about that other person.”

But God says, “Search & Rescue!”

And not alone. You need a team. Take one or two others along.

Unfortunately, that also doesn’t always work the way we want it to. And now it’s time to get the church involved. Step #3. Verse 17.

“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church...”

Step #3. TELL IT TO THE CHURCH.

If the Pastor or another Elder was not part of your “Step 2 Team,” it’s time to get them involved. God says to go Search & Rescue. And the Church is supposed to be involved when it gets to this point.

Tell it to the church. Now, that doesn’t mean stand up on a Sunday morning during “testimony time” and gossip about your friend’s behavior!

It means to get church leaders involved, meet with the principal people in the situation, get counsel, get a larger group of members together to intervene, set people to praying, and make it clear to the member who is trapped in the sin that this is serious business and won’t be swept under the rug.

Tell it to the church. I will level with you: this part is no fun. Having been involved in two church leadership boards, there has been nothing more difficult in ministry for me than leading a church through this process at this step. Most of it is the role of a Pastor or Elder to do. And it’s a difficult business that no one enjoys at this point.

But it’s love! It’s love to Search and Rescue even if the person doesn’t want to be found.

We see the same thing with our children, don’t we? We don’t enjoy discipline with our children, but if we love them we will do it. Right? I know not everyone agrees with that these days, either. But that’s what the Bible says. Discipline is love.

Tell it to the church. The church needs, together, to search and rescue those who are wandering.
Notice that it didn’t start with the church. If things can be cared privately, that’s great! This is not a big sin-hunt or a publication of all of our many sins.

This is caring for someone who is not repentant in a way that is “tough love.”

Tell it to the church.

And sometimes, even that doesn’t solve it. The church has to go all the way to excommunication. Step #4. Verse 17.

“...and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

Step #4. TREAT HIM AS AN OUTSIDER.

The “you” here is singular. The church declares him or her an outsider, but each individual member needs to act that way, too.

If he refuses to listen to the church–the church has, as a whole, reached out to him and tried to bring him back, but he has refused to turn–then treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Not as an enemy, but as someone who is outside of the family of God, someone who is clearly not a believer because they are not acting like one. As someone who you cannot have fellowship. Other places in the Bible say to not eat with them. That definitely means to not eat the Lord’s Supper. If you are under discipline of any church (this one or another Bible-teaching one), you are not welcome to eat the Lord’s Supper with us. [Talk with me if that’s where you are. We need to know.]

Not eating also means to have fellowship. Food was for fellowship in ancient times. It’s not so much that you won’t eat with them as that you won’t relate to them as brother or sister in Christ. The gospel is between. Repentance is on the table. The issue of their wandering (sin, false-teaching, whatever) is between you. You cannot relate as brother and sister. You have to treat them as outsiders.

I know that brings up a host of questions. It takes wisdom and counsel to make good decisions about what is and what is not acceptable.

But the principle is clear. Step #4 to treat them as outsiders. Put them out of the church, and treat them like they are out of the church.

Here the world goes ballistic! It says, “How cruel! How unloving!” But it is really just the opposite.

You are still trying to rescue them!

The whole point is to rescue them (while maintaining the purity of the church).

Josh Harris quoted Menno Simons (founder of the Mennonites) in his book, Stop Dating the Church as saying “We do not want to expel any, but rather to receive; not to amputate, but rather to heal; not to discard, but rather to win back; not to grieve, but rather to comfort; not to condemn, but rather to save.” (From the Complete Writings of Menno Simons, pg 413, Quoted on pg.94 in SDC.)

This drastic action (Step #4) is meant to shock people back to their senses. It is “putting them outside” for their own good (and for the church’s purity).

And no one is to be exempt. Pastors are to be treated the same. Carefully, with two or three witnesses, but equally. 1 Timothy 5, “Those [elders] who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.” (20)

This is serious stuff. To be treated with prayer. V.18 says that we are doing the Lord’s business when you practice Church Discipline. V.18

‘I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven [or, better, has already been bound in heaven], and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven [or, better translation, already been loosed in heaven. This is the Lord’s business. It’s serious and needs prayer.] ‘Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.’”

This is serious and must be bathed in concerted, togetherness prayer.

Out of love, sometimes we must treat them as outsiders.

Sometimes, the Search & Rescue ends with them found but not willing to come along.

But even when that happens, God is protecting and blessing His church.

And sometimes, the Search & Rescue ends with a glorious restoration!

At any of these steps (1, 2, 3, 4), the person may repent and be restored!

And what should we do then?

Step #5! FORGIVE THEM FROM THE HEART.

Peter knew that’s where Jesus was heading with all of this. That’s why he came and asked him the question he did in verse 21.

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ [That’s a lot! The rabbis just said 3. Peter is being generous. Have you ever been sinned against 7 times and had to forgive 7 times? It’s hard to do. But (v.22)] Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. [Again and again and again.] Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. [That’s over one billion dollars in today’s money.] Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt [and even that wouldn’t have done it.]. The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master [the God-figure in this story] took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii [not a small amount of money–a hundred days’ wages is a considerable sum – say $14,000 – it’s a real debt but nothing compared to what he’s just been forgiven].

[This fool] grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' [Sound familiar?] But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger
his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

If you have truly experienced the grace of the Cross, you will be gracious yourself.

If I have truly experienced the mercy of the King, I will extend mercy myself.

If someone repents and turns and asks for forgiveness [even if the church has had to put them out and treat them as an outsider], if they turn, what do we do?

We forgive them from the heart! Because the sheep is found!

The 99 have not strayed. But the wandering one has been returned!

They have been sought and rescued!

What else could we do who have been forgiven so very much?

We forgive them from the heart!

I heard a story this week about a man who was restored to full membership in his church after having gone through all four steps. This man had been working at a pornographic store and was unwilling to stop even though the church put him out of membership.

Several months later, he returned and wanted to be forgiven and restored. And the elders met with him, and checked that his repentance was genuine. They got him counsel and discipleship. And they had a party!

The lost sheep is found! We forgive them from the heart.

What else could we do who have been forgiven so very much?

Church Discipline is God’s Search & Rescue Plan for the Church. It is God’s idea, motivated by and practiced in love, and good for the church.

Let me give you three applications as we close.

#1. Join the Church.

It’s a lot easier for everyone if there is a clear membership list. A list of people who are a part of this local church and those who are not a part (a member) of this local church. It is loving for me to tell you that because it brings you directly under the discipline of this local church–and that’s a good and loving thing. We will still practice some form of church discipline if you have not taken the step of membership and wander from the truth, but it’s a lot harder for both of us to do it well if you are have not committed to membership.

Josh Harris put this as one of the 10 things to look for in a local church in chapter 5 of Stop Dating the Church. He says, “I gain a wonderful sense of protection knowing that if I committed a scandalous sin and showed no repentance, my church wouldn’t put up with it. They would plead with me to change. They would patiently confront me with God’s Word. And eventually, if I refused to change, they would lovingly kick me out...Look for a church...that will lovingly hold you to your commitments as a Christian–a church that will love you enough to put you out of fellowship for the good of your soul” (Pgs 94 & 95). Join the Church.

#2. Join the Search.

Practice these steps.

• Go and Show Him His Fault
• Take One Or Two Others Along
• Tell It To the Church
• Treat Him As An Outsider

And if he repents at any point, Forgive Your Brother From the Heart.

Join the Search. Do what Jesus says.

And if you are the one being searched for, allow yourself to be rescued! Listen, consider what they say, meet with the person you have wronged, turn from your sin, repent, be restored. We love you!

And #3. Join the Rescue Party.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul was upset because the church had not put out a man who was having sex with his mother-in-law.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul has heard that the man had repented, and he urged the people to forgive and comfort him, to reaffirm their love for him. To accept Him back as a found sheep. And join the rescue party that the Great Shepherd enjoys whenever the one lost sheep is found.

Be the Search & Rescue Church.

Recommended Resources on Church Discipline:

Church Discipline: God’s Search and Rescue Plan by David V. Edling

The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict (3rd Edition) by Ken Sande (President of Peacemaker Ministries.)

Discipline: God’s Gift and Blessing to the Church by Ken Sande [A sermon given at Covenant Life Church that I listened to this week in my car. I’m heavily indebted to his insights throughout this message.]

Friday, October 14, 2005

To Blog!


A few nights ago, my wife, who had been bemusedly ambiguous on the question of whether blogging was a good idea for me or not, told me, "I love your blog!"


She's not only happy about the way that I've attempted to promote what I call "Hot Orthodoxy," but also how she can direct friends and family to the "glimpses into family life" to help people far away get a sense of what the Mitchells are up to in Central Pennsylvania.

I'm glad she approves. I wouldn't do this if she wasn't okay with it. We agree that we still need to be conscious of the dangers inherent in this medium, but it appears that Hot Orthodoxy is here to stay.

To Blog Or Not to Blog #8

Paul at Mars Hill: "All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas." Acts 17:21

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Matt's Messages - The Cross-Centered Church

“The Cross-Centered Church”
October 9, 2005


We are coming back to our series of messages on the doctrine of the local church. We’ve had two sermons so far in that series (though everyone tells me that Tim McGill’s message last week was a perfect fit into this series!). The first message was entitled: “The Newborn Church” and was a brief study of the birth of the church in Acts chapter 2. We saw there the five main “tools in our toolbox” for accomplishing our church’s purpose: worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service. Or, as we’ve been saying recently: loving Jesus, learning of Jesus, linking to others in Jesus, luring others to Jesus, and living for Jesus. “The Newborn Church.”

Then two weeks ago, the message was titled, “The Joyfully-Led Church.” And we looked at Hebrews 13:17. We learned about the importance of church leadership and church followership. Your job is to joyfully follow, our job is to joyfully watch over your souls. “The Joyfully-Led Church.”

Now this week, as you can see from the back of your bulletin, this message is titled, “The Cross-Centered Church.” Do you remember last year’s Summer Book Club book? The little orange book: C.J. Mahaney’s The Cross-Centered Life? I think most of you will agree that this was a very helpful little book: The Cross-Centered Life. The main question he asked was “What is your life centered upon?” And he urged us to center our lives on the gospel of Jesus Christ. To live what he called, “cross-centered lives.”

Well, I believe that God wants us to also center our church’s life on the gospel of a crucified Savior. God wants us to build our church around, not just loving, learning, linking, luring, and living for Jesus, but around the saving work of Jesus on the Cross.

God Wants Us to Build a Cross-centered Church.

As I have often said, the main thing is to keep the Main Thing the main thing. And the Main Thing is the gospel.

Let’s read 1 Corinthians chapter 15, verses 1 through 11.

“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.” (NIV)

[prayer]

Paul was writing to a local church based in Corinth. And he wrote to correct problems in the local church. And he corrects those local church problems by reminding them (v.1) of the gospel that he had preached and that they had believed.

“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.”

The word Gospel means good news. The Greek word for gospel is “evanggelion.” What does that sound like? Our middle name here! Evangelical means “gospel oriented.”

Notice the four steps there in verses 1 and 2: Reception, Foundation, Salvation, and Retention.

#1, Reception. “I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received.” The Corinthians had listened to Paul’s message and took it to heart. They had not ignored it or blown it off. They had taken it in.

Step #2, Foundation. “Which you received and on which you have taken your stand.” The Corinthians had not merely listened to the word; they had staked their lives on it. They had come to a decisive turning point and began to trust their whole lives to this gospel message.

And it had paid off. Step #3, Salvation. “By this gospel you are saved.” God uses the Good News to effect salvation in those who believe it. That’s His method. The Gospel saves sinners. That’s the best news of the good news! This a saving gospel!

And step #4, Retention, “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” The proof that their faith was genuine was that they stuck with it. Paul doesn’t have a category for believers who do not believe! “If you hold firmly to the word preached, then you are saved.”

Reception, Foundation, Salvation, Retention.

Paul calls this gospel (v.3) “of first importance.”

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures...”

Paul says that this Gospel of a crucified Christ is of first importance. It is foundational. It is essential. It is indispensable. It is of first importance.

God wants for us to build a church that sees the gospel as of first importance. Nothing else comes first. Everything else comes second to the gospel.

God wants for us to build a cross-centered church.

What is this gospel? V.3 again.

“[Jesus] Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures...[and seen by a whole bunch of witnesess../]”

The Gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ died on the Cross for our sins.
The whole New Testament is dedicated to teaching, proclaiming, and celebrating this gospel of a crucified Savior.

It’s more than that! It is a gospel of a resurrected Savior! That’s what 1 Corinthians 15 is all about. And it’s a gospel about a coming kingdom, and promised Holy Spirit, and a resurrection for all who believe and a New Heavens and New Earth. It is the good news of all of that.

But all of that comes through the death of Christ on our behalf. It all comes from the Cross. It is a gospel of a crucified Savior.

And it is of first importance.

V.3 again.

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures [...and so on.]”

The main thing is to keep the Main Thing the main thing.

God Wants Us to Build a Cross-Centered Church where the gospel is of first importance.

This morning, I want to talk about two main ways that God desires for us to keep the Cross at the center of our church.

#1. God Wants Us to Be Cross-Centered in Our Proclamation of the Word.
#2. God Wants Us to Be Cross-Centered in Our Celebration of the Ordinances.

Cross-Centered in Our Proclamation of the Word and Cross-Centered in Our Celebration of the Ordinances.

We’ll take them one at a time.

#1. God Wants Us to Build a Cross-Centered Church by Being Cross-Centered in Our Proclamation of the Word of God.

Turn with me to the second chapter of 1 Corinthians. Back a few pages to 1 Corinthians chapter 2. Pew Bible Page #1129.

In this part of the book, Paul is contrasting the wisdom of God with the wisdom (or foolishness!) of the world. And he gives a personal illustration in the first five verses. 2 Corinthians chapter 2, verses 1 through 5.

“When I came to you, brothers [when he planted the Corinthian church], I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.” (NIV)

Paul is not saying that he didn’t bring any wisdom. He’s saying that he didn’t come with the world’s kind of wisdom. Especially, with the world’s kind of oratorical skill.

In the ancient world, orators, preachers, and actors were often judged not so much on the content of their message but on their style (much like our television culture today!). And people wouldn’t hardly tune in unless they sounded impressive and eloquent. But Paul didn’t bring wise and persuasive words like they were expecting. He brought the simple, unadorned, unashamed gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and the Spirit rode the gospel and transformed their lives. A demonstration of the Spirit’s power.

That way, their faith would not rest on how great a preacher Paul was, but on how great a Savior Jesus is.

Paul says (v.2), “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Paul’s ministry of preaching was Cross-Centered. It was built around the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now, this does not mean that Paul didn’t talk with the Corinthians about anything except Jesus on the Cross. One of the Corinthians says, “Nice day isn’t it?” Paul answers, “Jesus died on the cross for our sins.” One of the Corinthians says, “Is Jesus coming back soon?” And Paul answers, “Jesus died on the cross for our sins. No.

It means that Paul never strayed far from the Cross. And it was at the center of all that he said and did.

D.A. Carson writes of this passage, “This does not mean that this was a new departure for Paul, still less that Paul was devoted to blissful ignorance of anything and everything other than the cross. No, waht he means is that all he does and teaches is tied to the cross. He cannot long talk about Christian joy, or Christian ethics, or Christian fellowship, or the Christian doctrine of God, or anything else without finally tying it to the Cross. Paul is gospel-centered; he is cross-centered.” (The Cross and Christian Ministry, pgs. 37-38)

He certainly was cross-centered. Read any of Paul’s letters and Christ and Him crucified runs all the way through it. Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1&2 Timothy, Titus, and so on.

That’s why he said in chapter 15, “this [gospel] what we preach, and this is what you believed.” (V.11)

Paul’s preaching ministry (while ranging throughout the Bible and on all kinds of points of doctrine and life was centered on and tied to the Gospel of the Crucified Savior. Paul’s preaching was cross-centered and so should ours be, as well.

Here’s the question. Are we Cross-Centered in our church’s proclamation of the Word of God?

The first person that question should be addressed to is me. Is my preaching Cross-Centered? Is everything tied to the person and work of Christ? Have I resolved [and how am I doing] to know nothing among you except Christ and Him crucified?

I have resolved that. You can tell me how I’m doing at it.

But I am not the only one in this church who is charged with proclamation.

Every one of our teachers is, as well. Every one of our Link Group leaders. Everyone who is responsible for sharing God’s word at this church is responsible to make sure that the teaching remains cross-centered. How are we doing at that?

But not just the teachers. All of us have a responsibility to proclaim God’s Word.

Dads and Moms at home.
Co-workers on the job.
Fellows students at school.
Retirees at the “Pumpkin House!”

We are all called to be cross-centered in our proclamation of the word of God.

How are you doing at this?

Now, I don’t just mean how are you doing at sharing the gospel with non-Christians. That is the first thing that comes to mind, and it is vital. How are we doing at sharing the Cross with unbelievers?

But believers need the gospel, too. Remember how we learned that in The Cross-Centered Life? You and I need the gospel just as much today as we did on the first day of our Christian lives.

The Gospel is the power of God not just to save but to sanctify. To give us hope, and joy, and peace, and love in the midst of whatever we are dealing with.

The Gospel overcomes depression and legalism and condemnation and performance based Christianity.

The Gospel is the key not only to being saved but for living the Christian life with passion and purpose.

So, the Gospel should be woven into all of our conversations. Our parenting. Our counseling, our singing, our talking with our friends.

The main thing is the keep the Main Thing the main thing in all of our talk formal and informal.

Over the last few years, I have been learning a little bit about counseling and what really helps a person to change. And the most profound thing I have learned is that the Gospel of a Crucified Savior more fully understood, more fully grasped is the most powerful change agent in a person’s life.

Why wouldn’t we share the gospel with each other? It is powerful!

God wants us to build a church that is cross-centered in our proclamation of the word of God.

Second question. How are you doing at receiving a cross-centered proclamation of the word of God?

Are you listening as the gospel is proclaimed? Are you taking it to heart? Are you applying it? Are you receiving it? Are you standing on it? Are you retaining it and staying with it? Or are you merely agreeing mentally or even checking out when Jesus and His cross are mentioned?

It’s one thing for me to resolve to know nothing among you but Christ and Him crucified. It’s another for us all to resolve to know nothing among each other but Christ and Him crucified. To believe it and live it out. That’s what a Cross-Centered Church would look like.

#2. God Wants Us to Build a Cross-Centered Church by Being Cross-Centered in Our Celebration of the Ordinances.

The ordinances are those things which the Lord Jesus ordered His church to do as they made disciples until He returned. Other churches call them the “Sacraments.”
They are Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are two marks defining marks of the local church.

The evangelical reformers in the Protestant Reformation taught that a true church could be recognized by the right preaching of the Word of God and the right administration of the sacraments (or ordinances).

The true church, a healthy church, is present when you have a combination of the right preaching of the Word of God (which we have just said is Cross-Centered) and the right administration or celebration of the ordinances.

Because the ordinances are supposed to be Cross-Centered, as well.

Did you ever notice that these two ordinances are both about Jesus’ death?

Let’s take Baptism first. Turn to Romans chapter 6. Pew Bible Page #1116. Paul is in the middle of his argument here, but it amounts to this: someone could take the doctrine of justification by faith alone and think that it would glorify God more for us to sin more. But that doesn’t take into account what a decisive thing has happened to us when we come to believe. And that decisive thing is symbolized and signified in water baptism. Chapter 6, verses 1 through 4.

“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? [When did we die?] Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

Do hear the death in this passage?

Baptism is about the Cross. It’s about being identified with Jesus and His death on our behalf. It’s about being united with Jesus metaphysically in His death. It’s about dying with Him (somehow, mysteriously) and (praise the Lord!) being raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, to live a new life.

That’s what water baptism pictures. Going into the water symbolizing burial. Coming up out of the water a new person united with Christ.

Baptism is Cross-Centered. It’s about celebrating the death of Christ on our behalf. And joining Him in it in picture form.

Are you Cross-Centered in your celebration of baptism? Have you been baptized since becoming a believer?

Romans 6 here assumes that everyone who is a believer has been baptized! He just assumes it.

Have you taken this step of obedience? If you are unwilling to obey the Lord in baptism, you are living in disobedience.

Because God wants us to build a Cross-Centered Church.

In it’s in the Great Commission. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

We are not a Cross-Centered Church if we are not a baptizing church.

We baptize those who give a credible profession of faith.

Have you been baptized? If not, it’s probably time. (It’s probably past-time.)

Baptism is Cross-Centered Ordinance celebrating Jesus’ death on our behalf and our union with Him.

The Lord’s Supper is also a Cross-Centered Ordinance. Turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 11. Pew Bible Page #1136.

Paul is dealing with another problem in that local church–they’ve been abusing the Lord’s Supper by not loving one another when they gather to eat it.

And Paul has strong words for them. Skip down to verse 23. This is the heart of his argument.

“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” (NIV)

Do you see the Cross here? It’s pretty obvious.

The Lord’s Supper is a celebration of the death of Christ. It’s actually (v.26) a proclamation of the Lord’s death.

And we are to do it, until He comes back for us.

That’s why we eat at the Lord’s Table so regularly.

We are being Cross-Centered. The Lord’s table reminds us our participation in the New Covenant. It reminds us of what He gave so that we may live.

It is very death-oriented, but it is the story of a great victory!

It is a gospel-centered Table.

And whenever we eat and drink from it, we are proclaiming our dependence and celebration and faith and hope in the Cross.

Are we Cross-Centered in Our Celebration of the Lord’s Supper?

We are not a Cross-Centered Church if we are not a Lord’s Supper Church.

How about you? Do you center your life on the gospel when you take communion?

We offered it last week. Did you focus your attention on the Savior and His Cross?

One practical way that we know we have is if we show love to others in the church.
That’s the big point that Paul is trying to make in 1 Corinthians 11. Some of the richer believers weren’t thinking about and serving the other more poor believers. They weren’t “recognizing the body of the Lord” in the church around them. They were thinking only of themselves.

But a Cross-Centered approach to the Table rejoices in the salvation of the Savior and then turns around and focuses on the needs of the Body of Christ in the gathered church.

A Cross-Centered Church is one that adopts the Cross as our model of sacrificial love, not just as our way of salvation.

How are you doing at being Cross-Centered in your celebration of the Lord’s Supper?

The main thing is to keep the Main Thing the main thing.

We must work to build a church where the Gospel is truly at the center of all that we are and do.

We must be Cross-Centered in our Proclamation of the Word of God.
In our preaching.
In our Sunday School Classes.
In our Wednesday Night Program.
In our Link Groups.

In our families.
In our church planting efforts.
In our Uth Nights.
In our Basic Training for men.
In our search for additional ministry staff.

We must be Cross-Centered in our Celebration of the Ordinances.

In Baptism.
And in the Lord’s Supper.

Proclaiming His death until He comes back for us.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Boy Out of a Box



I guess he got tired of being all packed in there. Posted by Picasa