What would you say about a church that lost its love for the lost?
Many churches today would claim to be all about loving people. If you were to ask what it means to express that love, you might be surprised how little you would hear about telling the good news to lost people!
If we’re going to show Biblical love for this world, we need to have a crystal clear understanding of two key truths:
1. People are lost.
Jesus said it plainly, that he came to seek and to save the lost. Put another way, he said he came to call sinners to repentance. The reality the Bible so clearly teaches is that every sinner is lost–cut off from fellowship with God by sin, and heading for a lost eternity–the punishment prepared for everyone who lives as a rebel against their Creator. That’s lost!
It’s a little bit tragic then, when churches try to ‘love’ people by simply being nice to them, or by trying to meet their physical needs. If Christians actually understand God’s message of salvation from sin through Christ, it’s spectacularly unloving to merely meet people’s physical needs, and not warn them of their danger and tell them the gospel.
No one is saved by joining our group!
If people could be saved by liking Christians and wanting to be part of the church, then it would make sense for churches to concentrate on being as likeable as possible. But they can’t. To be saved, people need to realise they’re lost-rebels, and repent, believing in the gospel message. No one is saved by joining our group!
2. Lost people need the good news.
The greatest need for the people of the world today, is the same as the greatest need for the people of the world in Christ’s day. Poverty has always existed, but Jesus didn’t tell the church to go fix poverty. Sickness has always cursed the world, but Christ did not commission the church to “Go into all the world and build hospitals in every nation.”
Let’s be clear. The greatest need the world faces is its lost-ness, and the one, unchangeable commission given to the church (Part three of our threefold purpose for the church in this series) is to preach the gospel.
Don’t get me wrong, when hearts are changed by the gospel, hospitals will be built. There is nothing wrong with wanting to build a hospital to bless people–in fact, it’s all good–it’s just not the purpose of the church. True, it may flow from the work of the church, but the mission of the church has always been to deal with the greatest need, and that’s the gospel. All the social change we could wish for is intrinsically linked to the transformation of individual selfish human hearts.
making poverty history is not the goal of the church, but when selfishness and laziness are history, poverty gives way to industry and generosity
Viewed this way, making poverty history is not the goal of the church, but when selfishness and laziness are history, poverty gives way to industry and generosity. Individuals transformed by the gospel will always want to relieve poverty and sickness – which is all good, but when churches allow social projects to displace the preaching of the gospel as their primary focus, the greatest need of mankind is left unmet.
Thankfully one Day, poverty will indeed be history, but in the meantime the mission of the church is to rescue lost souls from an eternity of misery.
“New Thought” prosperity preacher – forerunner of Joel Osteen & Co.
Ps 23 (The Prosperity Version)
The Lord is my banker; my credit is good.
He maketh me to lie down in the consciousness of omnipresent abundance;
He giveth me the key to his strongbox.
He restoreth my faith in his riches;
He guideth me in the paths of prosperity for His name’s sake.
Yea though I walk in the very shadow of debt,
I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me;
Thy silver and Thy gold, they secure me.
Thou preparest a way for me in the presence of the collector;
The fillest my wallet with plenty; my measure runneth over.
Surely goodness and plenty will follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall do business in the name of the Lord forever.
OK – so you can hardly believe it… but yes, that was published in a book about prosperity by Charles Fillmore who died in 1948.
Shocking? Yes. Blasphemy? Yes. Ahead of his time? Definitely!
Like the absent minded arsonists in this video, most people seem to forget that their movements are being constantly recorded and will one day be used as evidence against them.
How terrible it will be to be in the dock and have the video of your own inbuilt CCTV replayed. There will be no excuses possible, and no question about the verdict, just the crushing realisation that you’ve done what you knew was so terribly wrong, and now you’ve been caught, exposed and are about to be punished.
Thankfully God offers us all the most remarkable terms for all who’ll accept them:
– Repent of your sin, confessing it and turning from it now, before you’re brought to His court. – Beg Him for his forgiveness, and he takes the punishment on Himself, placing it upon his Son who died in the place of sinners!
Now that’s quite an offer, considering what we all have recorded!
Have you ever wondered about the role of your work ethic and your conscience in enabling effective prayer?
Definitely you’ve experienced this: that awful moment when you realise that you need God’s help, but haven’t been doing what you should.
Like the beggars we are, we go back to the throne of grace at such times, cringing perhaps that we need to cry for another demonstration of God’s unparalleled mercy… but conscious all along that we also probably need his discipline if we’re ever going to turn from our repeated failures to do what is right.
Thankfully God is unimaginably patient and knows we’re just dust, and if you don’t yet know the delights of Psalm 103 for cringing beggars, let me encourage you to go there now!
But God does discipline, and that can include unanswered prayer. No doubt you’ve seen a striking difference in this respect in some Christians lives. There are those individuals that stand out from the crowd, people who seem to be striving in everything they do to behave in that noble, honourable, excellent way that leaves them with a clean conscience, and God seems to especially attend to their prayers.
By contrast perhaps, when you want to pray, you immediately call to mind all the time you waste, your lack of prayer and study, failure to visit the sick, remember those in prison… and the list goes on.
Can you really expect God to answer your prayers?
“Well yes,” you say, and you call to mind the many times God has helped you after your cries for mercy just before you step out again to serve him, in faith and dependence on his grace. Yet in the back of your mind you know that there is a connection between our godliness and the effectiveness of our prayers, after all “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much,” is there in James 5.
Another passage that deserves more attention is Hebrews 13:18-19 where there’s a clear connection between expecting prayer to be effective, and the conscience of the one asking for prayer!
“Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honourably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.” (Heb 13:18-19 ESV)
Pray for us, says the writer to the Hebrews, because we are sure that we have a clean conscience… since/in that we’re desiring to behave honourably in all things. What he then goes on to show is the most amazing confidence in the effectiveness of their prayers, fully expecting an earlier visit to them than could otherwise be hoped for!
What if we emphasised God’s amazing grace to beggars like us to the point that we ignore the reality that God disciplines those he loves, and that his discipline can include unanswered prayer? What if there was something we needed to doin order to be able to know answered prayer?
Would that make our answered prayers something received by works and nullify God’s grace? Not at all! In just the same way when we initially repent of our sin, it is only by grace that we’re saved, through faith in Christ’s sacrifice, and God himself has to grant the repentance to us… yet there is a clear connection between our repentance and our salvation! When we delay our repentance, God delays our conversion! If we refuse to repent, we will not be saved.
So can we conclude that as long as we refuse to deal with the items on our conscience, God may just refuse to answer our prayers?
If so – there’s a clear connection between our work ethic, our conscience, and effective prayer.
Experienced division within a church? Painful as it is, it’s not inevitable, and it can be cured or avoided if we’d only get hold of the teaching the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to give to the Corinthian church.
They were well on the road to division… but we can be thankful for them – since Paul’s correction of their problem becomes a great lesson for us!
We kicked off this series by warning that if you don’t fix your eyes on two key truths when you’re setting the direction for a church, you might just be heading for shipwreck! The first of these two ‘stars to steer by’ is the subject of our post today:
God’s Chosen Purpose for the Local Church
At the heart of this series is the question, “Why does the church exist?” To put it another way, “Why did God create the institution of the church?” As a local church pastor, I have to ask, “Why does GraceLife London exist?”
The answer we get from a careful look at what the Bible has to say leaves us with a threefold purpose: (1) to glorify God, (2) to build each other up as believers and (3) to love the lost with the gospel. We’ll be taking a look at these one at a time… so here goes with number one:
1. To Glorify God – WORSHIP
If you ask the question “Why?” enough times about almost anything, ultimately you will get to the same answer, “In order to glorify God!” That’s why we exist! That’s what God said about Israel “whom (God said) I created for my glory” (Isa 43:7).
Paul says the same thing to the Colossians (Col 1:16) when he says that all things were created by Jesus and for Jesus! That’s also one of the reasons the creatures in heaven fall down and worship God saying “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Rev 4:11).
Clearly then, the church exists for the specific purpose of glorifying God. That’s why God chose and predestined children for himself – in order to bring about “the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph 1:6). But if this is the big idea, then it’s something of a tragedy when ‘doing church’ get’s dominated by other things!
How would church be different if…
What would church be like, if we keep central the idea that we’ve been saved in order that his glorious grace might be praised. An idea like that can certainly change what we understand we’re supposed to be doing with our time together as a body! When the church gathers together, one of our main aims must obviously be to worship God together and praise his glorious grace now!
But then that begs a crucial question – just what is real worship?
Everyone is part of the worship team
Worship is an attitude of heart. Our friend John MacArthur has given a good simple definition: “Worship is honor and adoration directed to God.” That can and should be done anywhere. That’s what Jesus told to the woman at the well: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21-24
Worship in church needs to be heartfelt worship or it misses the mark
The take-home point from this is clear: worship can be anywhere because worship is an attitude of heart, but for our purposes it’s also clear that anything we call “worship” when we get together as a church needs to be exactly this kind of heart worship – done in spirit and in truth – otherwise we should give it another name!
Radically, the Bible teaches us to do everything we do to the glory of God – even mundane things like eating and drinking: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) It doesn’t take a theological degree to work out then that everything we do when we get together as a church should be worship – not just the musical parts! The great the question is – how can we do that? How can we direct everything we do so that it is an act of worship to God – so it’s all done for His glory?
How to do it all for God’s glory
The answer is easier than you might think, but doing it might be harder than you think. Ultimately we’re only going to be doing everything as an act of worship – all to the glory of God – when it is all about God and not about us! That would mean that whether we’re alone, or when we meet together, we’ll do everything we do to try to please Him! That’s what Paul told the Ephesians: “and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord,” (Eph 5:10). He said the same thing about his own attitude in 2 Cor 5:9 when he said “we make it our aim to please him.”
So what does it look like to be doing everything to please God and not to please yourself?Let’s look first at what that would look like in our music. I’m going to say that we need to be churches that practice sacrificial singing!
Start with Sacrificial Singing
Singing has always been a central part of worship. How about this from the Psalms: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!” (Ps 100:1-2).
Although no musical instruments get a mention in the New Testament, it is clear from many places in the Old Testament that a great variety of musical instruments were used in worship that was pleasing to God. Worship has always been (and still should be) a time of amazing gladness with singing and music celebrating our wonderful God and Saviour! (By the way, it’s obviously not the case that musical instruments in themselves are somehow ‘worldly’ or that God is automatically displeased by worship accompanied by instruments. More on that in another post!)
So why sacrificial worship? How can you have a happy sacrifice? One very instructive passage in thinking about worship is Hebrews 13:15-16 “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” How muchof our time is supposed to be spent offering up to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name? The answer is quite profound in that word continually… and a few songs on Sunday just don’t do that word justice!
(We’ll take a look at the whole issue of music in worship in much more detail in a future post… it’s rich and controversial enough to need a thorough treatment on its own!)
For now, let’s concentrate on the other aspects of worship during the time we meet together as a church. Clearly there should be much that is said and done during a meeting of the church that becomes just such a ‘sacrifice of praise.’
Sit back, relax, and worship??
By contrast to a self centred, consumer approach to worship, when David was given an unusual opportunity to do something to worship God, his attitude as a man after God’s own heart is quite instructive. He simply would not sacrifice offerings to the LORD that cost him nothing (2 Sam 24:24). He wanted his sacrifice to cost him something, and if you add to this reality the fact that we are supposed to present even our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1-2), what you end up with as a picture of Sunday worship is quite the opposite of the consumer approach! The very fact that we are supposed to present to God a “sacrifice” of praise leaves no doubt that we are supposed to be wholehearted and sacrificial in our approach to every aspect of worship.
Does worship feel like an effort? Good!
If these principles were applied to our worship in song, what would it look and feel like? The answer is that it would look and feel like an effort on our part – not that we are being entertained, but that we are participating sacrificially in the worship of God! We need to come to take part – not to just to observe and be served. More than that even – a relaxed, happy-go-lucky, casual approach to worship doesn’t make sense in the light of this truth!
If we take a moment to apply that same principle to our praying, reading, timekeeping, serving, giving, listening and so on, and we’ve got the idea! Worship is not about us… but we should definitely be involved with all our might!
Up next… it’s not about numbers, but building up individual believers 🙂