Loving the Lost (With the Gospel)

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

Let’s not miss our mission.

 

Avoiding Division (Part 2) – 1 Corinthians 1:13-17

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Division in churches is nothing new… but where does it stem from, and how do we avoid it?

There’s so much to be learned from the Corinthian church, which was struggling greatly, but thankfully wasn’t at the point where trenches had been dug!

Learn from what the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to say to the church on it’s road to internal war!

Direction-Setting for a Church

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Setting the Course for the Church

Destination? Direction? Decision!

On March 24th 1989, a super tanker holding 41,000 cubic metres of crude oil ran aground in Alaska. There was no storm and the visibility was good. The rock that it struck was a very well-known navigational hazard and here was even a special radar reflector on the rock. In short: the ship just wasn’t supposed to be there!

Instead of navigating the usual shipping lanes, it had gone off course to avoid some small icebergs that were in the area. The captain was asleep below, sleeping off some overindulgence. The third mate was on the bridge but failed to realize what was happening. There was a collision warning system installed but it had not worked for over a year.

The result? The second largest oil spill in history – with the oil still killing wildlife in those parts to this day!

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The Exxon Valdez, spilling oil into the Prince William Sound in Alaska in 1989

A ship without a clear direction and a good navigation system can easily end up on the rocks. Thankfully God has given every local church a very clear direction in the Bible, and the Bible tells us how to steer clear of the rocks!

Why so many shipwrecked churches?

Why then are there so many shipwrecked churches in our generation? Some, no doubt, are the product of unique circumstances… the perfect storm in church life… and all we can do is look on with horror and sympathy. Others however are testimony to the reality that the church leaders somehow failed terribly in their duties to navigate well charted waters. Why would those making critical decisions, choose to steer their ships towards recognised dangers?

The tragedy is, that sometime ago now, many church leaders decided that God had not managed to make himself very clear with reference to the course which a church should take! How you choose to ‘do’ church is now put into the category marked “grey areas” in many people’s minds, and the idea of defining a biblical framework for church has been written off by many as placing too many constraints on our freedom!

The end product of such thinking is that many a pastor wants to steer his local church along a path that seems best to him. He thinks he can handle his ship well enough on his own! The disaster that so often unfolds as the church spills its precious cargo is a clear warning to this generation that we can’t do without direction from God!

What a relief when you realize that you can know exactly what we are supposed to be doing at every point. To say that is not the same as saying God tells us every detail. There’s no verse that says, “You shall have a bible study every Wednesday night at 7:30pm.”

compassBut we do have some very clear principles that can guide every decision we make. Like a compass bearing for the crew, God’s Word gives us the direction – our job is simply to steer the ship along that path. We dare not deviate to the left or the right!

In the nautical world, a time-tested way of finding direction has often been to look at the stars. Even sea-lions pop their heads out of the water as they swim along at night to check on the position of the stars, taking them safely to their chosen destination. Polynesian mariners do the same thing, checking the position of the stars on the horizon so that they can navigate successfully.

Their key to succes? They’ve done their research! As well as knowing exactly where they want to go, they also know which stars they have to head towards at any time of the night to safely get them there. You can well imagine that like sea-lions, they keep checking on the position of those stars as they sail along. After all, their survival depends on it!

Two Stars to Steer By

Borrowing this analogy as a point of reference, God has given us two stars to steer by. One of them is His chosen purpose for the church – if we get his purpose for our existence clearly in our sights, we won’t go too far wrong! The other star is God’s chosen character for the church. If we only see the purpose but miss the right character, we could still end up on the rocks, but with both of these to set our course by, barring mutiny or the perfect storm… we should end up where we’re meant to be, and avoid the rocks!

We’ll be unpacking what these “stars to steer by” entail over the course of the series, and in keeping with the nautical theme, we’ll have a few things to say about the attitude of the crew members on this ship as well 🙂

Sodom as a mission field

Lot flees from SodomHave you ever heard a sermon about Lot pitching his tent towards Sodom? Maybe, like me, you’ve heard people read quite a lot into that story. “Before long he was living in Sodom,” they say, “and look what happened to him and his family…”

A few questions have always niggled me about this approach. “Bad company corrupts good character” (1Cor 15:53) obviously still applies, but a logical application from this kind of message would also be to avoid living in immoral cities, since it might rub off on you, not to speak of the influence on your children. The problem with all this? It’s just not at all the instruction given to New Testament believers.

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(you need to know where you are)

Instead of telling them to escape to the hills, when Paul writes to the Corinthians, virtually the first thing he does is tell them about the amazing place that they are in, and call on them to live out their location!

Amazing place??? Corinth? Hang on – let me explain… Sure enough Corinth was a hell-hole. What can be seen on the screen today was out on the streets in Corinth. To make the link with Lot, they lived in a kind of 1st Century Sodom… but Paul wasn’t going to spend his time talking to them about that location!

What mattered to Paul was not so much where they lived, but the position that God had put them in, in Christ. They had been sanctified in Christ Jesus!

NowSanctified” – is a passive verb in the Greek, in the perfect tense. A literal translation could read, “having been sanctified” which raises a question or two if you think about it!

Corinthians? Sanctified?

You don’t have to read far in 1 Corinthians to realise that these Christians had not been made thoroughly holy… so what does this mean that they had been sanctifiedActually, this word is speaking more about their position than their practical level of holiness.

Just as in the Old Testament, pots and pans could be set aside to be used only for the Lord… so believers when they are saved, are set aside, moved into a new collection of people, a new category – holy to the Lord – dedicated to his own purpose and use. More than that, Christians have also been cleansed from their sin once-and-for-all, made holy in the Lord’s eyes by Christ’s sacrifice: “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all,” (Heb 10:10).

Don’t get out – work out instead

Now all that remained was for them also realise that they were called to live out their position in Christ… they had been called to be saints.

The good news is, that if you are in Christ, you might be living in Sodom, but in God’s eyes, you have been set apart to be holy for Him. You are now in Christ Jesus – washed clean by His blood, and made part of His body. That also means that God now has a special purpose for you. His purpose is that, as part of a church, you are called to live a holy life… and as you do so, to shine light into that terribly dark place.

It’s a scary thought to go back in time and think about what would have happened if Christians had fled Corinth, and Rome once they were converted. In those early days, as soon as the church was established, Paul seemed to rely on the saints in these bustling, immoral, worldly centres of the world to evangelise their area. He didn’t tell them all to flee the city, but to flee the sin in their own lives, and live in a way that would shine the light of the gospel throughout the regions they had such an influence on.

Life in Sodom can be scary for saints… but don’t run, you’re needed.