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We all have significant moments in our lives. Moments that change the trajectory of our lives. One of those moments was when Amy and I decided to commit to a local church - to move from spectating to participating. Church became more than just attending a service, but a place of worshiping, working, encouraging and doing life together.
St. Cyprian, a 3rd century bishop, said, “No one can have God as Father who does not have the church as Mother.” John Calvin, the swiss reformer later echoed that thought.
‘If God is our father, the church is our mother.’ John Calvin.
It may seem like a strange idea, but really what they were getting at is that unnecessary and undesirable to be a Christian by yourself, as it is to be a new born baby by yourself. You need the church in order to grow!
We all have different views of church. Some think of dark buildings, rules and hypocrisy. Others feel hurts and offenses from long ago. Some see church as a place to go to on Sunday for a spiritual bath. I see church as home. A place of help, and healing, of love and laughter, friends and family, where people are learning, growing to pray, coming struggling with things, discovering purpose, finding hope. A place where people are set free and stay free. I see it as the greatest thing on earth.
Over the past few weeks, we have spent time looking at how Jesus came to announce inaugurate the Kingdom of heaven - bringing God's space and man's space together for good. He came as the anticipated Son of Man, the Lord's Servant, the Davidic King. He arrived on the scene against the backdrop of a Roman Empire lead by Augustus Caesar that promised peace by military might. Seemingly insignificant in terms of geography and followers, Christ was really the sunrise while Rome was a mere candle... And how often in life are we, like moths, drawn to the candles - a story for another time.
He left his disciples with the famous charge in Matthew 28:18-20
18 Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
What followed was the birth of the church, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The fact that Jesus has died and been raised means The Kingdom of Heaven has been inaugurated, and that sinners are invited into the Kingdom and qualified to share in the inheritance of the Kingdom because of the finished work on the cross (substitution, forgiveness, righteousness), and hence there is good news to share with the world!
How does this apply to us?
1. WE ARE IN A WARZONE. NO CHOICE.
We are in this drama of a clash of kingdoms. W see it in Jesus’ life, with Paul's life. Although Jesus has brought the kingdom, it is not recognized everywhere yet. We are in the now and the not yet. The Kingdom has come but is not complete. Evil was defeated, but is not yet removed. This explains why we still see and experience so much hurt and brokenness.
While Jesus has already won the victory, we are still in a battle, and there will be a day ahead when evil is fully removed.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens. Ephesians 6:12
In the church is where we learn to live, to fight, to mature, to get battle ready!
2. THE CHURCH IS GOD'S CHOICE
There is not much Bible that God does without people. It's not that God is dependent on people, but rather that he loves to partner with people to carry out his good plan! And so it is with the church. God has chosen the church, full of imperfect people, to be the very vehicle to carry forth the good news, and to display His wisdom to those cosmic authorities and powers!
This is so that God’s multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavens. Ephesians 3:10
There is a great REDEMPTIVE POWER in the Church, and also the reality that members and leaders will at times fall short.
The church is the single multi-ethnic family promised by the creator God to Abraham. It was brought into being through Israel’s Messiah, Jesus, energized by God’s Spirit, and it was called to bring the transformative news of God’s rescuing justice to the whole creation. NT Wright
It's important to recognize that the church is not the Kingdom, but it is part of the Kingdom. It is were the life of the kingdom is worked out primarily in the church. Did you ever think about that? The church is where God’s kingdom is made visible in this age.
It's important too, to recognize that the full coming of Kingdom is not dependent on the church, because that would make God dependent on people. Despite our best efforts, we are not going to be able to bring about, the kingdom promised in the Bible. This will only come about when the true King comes back to make it happen! Else God is depending on us.
So, should we just sit around and wait? For Jesus to return? Of course not! And here is why:
The kingdom of God is the redemptive rule, reign of God over those who are saved by Jesus. When the kingdom of God comes into a person's life, they will become more and more like the King - Jesus. As we become more like him, from overflow, empowered by the spirit, we begin to do what Jesus did - to move toward the hurting and broken, to preach the good news, to desire to see the kingdom come.
You can see this in one of two ways: "works" or "becoming like Jesus." Paul is clear that it is God's gift of grace that makes (empowers / changes / transforms) him to works. So, the more we lean into grace, from overflow, the more we serve. The more "Kingdomness" we get inside of us, the more we work to see the Kingdom advance, while at the same time the coming of the Kingdom in it's fullness doesn't depend on us.
I was made a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of his power. Ephesians 3:7
3. BEING PART OF THIS IS YOUR CHOICE
Being part of the Kingdom of God depends entirely on one’s response to the King. Jesus was clear that only people who accepted Him and his message would be included in his kingdom. Paul pointed out that the wicked / unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9). In this case he means those who continually and repeated reject the gospel.
Faith and repentance and are like the two sides of one coin - you can't separate them. One can't really choose to make Jesus savior (faith) and not Lord (repentance)
Faith is when one trusts in the Jesus alone for salvation from sin and the coming judgment.
Repentance is when one changes direction, thinks differently, turns away from his sin.
And it's helpful to see that there is a difference between sin and sins. Think of sin as the rebellious heart toward God's rule and reign. While sins are the list of things done wrong. When one makes a decision to repent - turn away from rebellion and accept the rule and reign of the King, then, one will no longer live at peace with the list of sins.
Over time ones life changes, sometimes slowly, sometimes sporadically, but change it does change.
So, you may be thinking "what now” ?
Well, if Jesus is not both your saviour and Lord, then make a decision to believe in Jesus, repent of your sin, respond in obedience and allow his Kingdom to fill your life.
If Jesus is your Lord and Saviour, then remember that gospel calls you first of all to rest in his finished work on the cross - there is no striving needed! Yet at the same time allow the gospel to move you into a greater love for God’s people, the church. What's in your heart when it comes to the church?
Perhaps there are some past hurts that you need to let go of? You may need some time, but know that Jesus see you, cares about you, and knows what you been through, and he is powerful enough to bring about healing. Remember, the church is his choice! Don't let offense keep you on the sidelines.
Perhaps you have been on the sidelines for enough time. Now it's time to take your next step. To think about committing to your local church, even joining the Dream Team. Serving is not just about serving tea, coffee and food nor about setting chairs out. It's being together in this. Encouraging each other, talking, growing as we worship God, partner in spreading the good news of the Kingdom in our city, and learn to do battle in the spiritual.