God’s Plan to Bring the Hope of Christ to the Earth Has Always Been the Church: Redeemed With a Purpose // Ephesians 1 – Acts 19:1-10

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First Baptist Church – Chickasha, OK – June 2015

All to often, when we speak of the salvation & the redemption of our souls through Christ’s blood on the cross, the conversation remains centered on us. Even when we discuss discipleship, the focus can be far too inward, striving towards our growth through the Holy Spirit individually and not giving time to the purpose for which God has called and redeemed us.

God has not only called us individually to a purpose, but He has also called us at the body of Christ, the Church, to a purpose: to bring the hope of Christ to the earth.

The Church is not just a gathering of believers to be like-minded – it is so much more. We gather to bring glory to God through our praise but also though the mission of being Jesus to the world.

Paul emphasizes this in his Letter to the Ephesians. Chapter 1 reminds the Ephesians that Christ has redeemed them but also that God has always had the plan to use His Church to share Jesus with the world.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory – Eph. 1:11-14 (ESV)

We get hung up on words like “predestined” and think Paul is only talking about doctrines of salvation. I’m not going into a theological debate here, but a main point that we miss is that Paul is emphasizing the purpose of the Church that God has always known, even from before the world was made.

The purpose that God gives us as the Church is incredible, and even Paul understood that we can miss the brilliance of it at times. In Ephesians 1:16-23, he prays that the church would have their eyes open to see the fullness of what God wanted to do in them and through them!

16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. – Eph. 1:16-23 (ESV)

As a ministry leader, I have to ask myself, “Do we realize that mission? Are we leading people to realize the purpose that they have been called to, as well as the purpose of our church?”

Acts 19:1-10 tells the story of the beginnings of the church at Ephesus. Paul left the large crowds behind to spend daily time with 12 men for two years. During the time, the church in Ephesus began and their ministry helped the Gospel go out into all of Asia! That’s incredible!

And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7 There were about twelve men in all.

8 And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9 But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.

Paul’s introductory section to the letter sent later to that same church reminds them of what God has called them to do, and he continues to focus on the church being a unified body to change the world through the Gospel.

For us today, that purpose and mission is ours as well! For a Christ-follower, being a part of a church is not just important – it’s essential. Jesus, the New Testament Authors, and God’s divine plan from before creation was always for the people of God to live as the body of Christ.

Churches are not perfect, neither are the people who are in them, but God’s plan is perfect. He has chosen us to be a part of changing the world! Isn’t that incredible? May we, as Paul prayed, have eyes and hearts that see the hope that God has called us to and the glory of what He is doing through and is us.

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What Makes a Church “Attractive?”

What really makes a church attractive? Stained Glass6

In our western culture, much of how churches reach out to prospective members is through marketing. Some churches even begin with a budget that devotes half of its assets to marketing!  Many of today’s worship services are driven by thousands up to millions of dollars in audio & visual production costs.

Buildings are also an “attractive” emphasis for some churches. Style and function are the focus on building programs that also require incredible amounts of money. Often churches seem to take on a “if you build it, they will come” approach to being attractive.

There are many other factors that can go into the conversation: worship style, preaching style, clothing style, service times, ministry programs, Sunday School or small groups, and so on and so on.

The truth is, many people in our culture are drawn to these things – what they find to be attractive. Our church culture has become consumer-driven, and the church members have morphed into consumers. As ministers we see people come and go, many times based on the factors discussed above. People want to go to a church that has the things they like and where they can feel comfortable.

Are we getting it right? What really makes a church attractive? 

Looking back at the first churches in the New Testament, what did they have? There were no multi-million dollar budgets, no buildings, no lights, no sound, and no marketing budget. They couldn’t advertise – they would get arrested! Still, they saw transformation, growth, missions, community change, and movements of the Holy Spirit that would shock the world today.

Acts 2:42-47: 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

For the early church, they were “attractive” because of the transformational community of the believers. People saw the change that Christ can make in a life, and they saw the true love of God between the believers. That’s what makes a church attractive – real change & real love.

Not only did the early church demonstrate this, but the New Testament writers continually wrote about it and instructed the believers to practice it. Here are just a few of many examples:

  • Acts 11:19-26: The church at Antioch demonstrated their transformation in such a way that those outside the church gave them the title “Christian,” identifying them with Christ
  • Galatians 6:10: Do good to all, especially the household of faith
  • Ephesians 4:26-32: Build up the community of faith, not tear it down
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:11: Encourage and build up one another
  • 1 Peter 4:7-11: Our love for one another glorifies God
  • James 2:14-17: How we take care of each other’s needs in our church demonstrates God’s love to others

Why is the transformation of the Holy Spirit and the love of God so attractive? Because everyone is created in the image of God, and deep inside of all of us we long to be a part of the way things God intended them to be. That is what changes people. Impressive marketing, grandiose worship production, and beautiful buildings do not transform lives.

I’m not saying that buildings, sound systems, lights, even advertising is a bad thing. Using these things to glorify God is smart and effective. They are great tools in leading people to follow Christ and be like Him. We must always remember, however, that what really makes a church attractive has not changed in 2000 years, nor will it ever be different.

For the Sake of the Gospel // 1 Corinthians 9:18-27

Have you ever been so enamoured or obsessed by something that you have done some very drastic things to attain it? One time there was a guitar I really wanted, and I just started selling anything I could part with trying to get the money for it.

What about movies, songs, or something like that you have seen that just totally captivated you. Have you ever tried to get people to watch it with you or listen to it so they could share your joy?

When something means the world to us, we change our lives to make that a priority. For the Apostle Paul, that was the Gospel and people hearing it. A few weeks ago our pastor Michael Butler preached about “missional living.” What that means is living in such a way that your whole life is a mission to reach people for Christ.

Paul lived this way, and I wanted to just talk about what motivated Paul in verses 22-23. He said, “To the weak I became weak, that might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the Gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”

“For the sake of the Gospel” is an interesting phrase. For Paul to write this means that the Gospel must have some worth – the Gospel is worth sharing.

But the Gospel (which literally means “good news”) is not just worth sharing; it is worth changing your whole life for it. When Paul says he became all things to all people, he is not saying that he compromised the truth of the message or his faith, but he did whatever he could to bring the good news of Christ to different culture and consciences.

To us today, this may mean some of our preferences, judgments, and man-made traditions may get in the way of who we need to bring the good news too. Paul would forfeit the rights he had in the freedom of Christ if it meant his life could earn him the right to be heard. This came from his love for Christ and for people.

The message of the Gospel is that Christ has come to set us free from our sin and make us into His image. The Gospel tells us that Jesus gives us life! It is not just about going to Heaven one day and not going to hell – the Gospel changes our lives right now!

That is a message worth sharing and doing whatever must be done to share it. Today if you are reading this, I challenge you to finish this sentence, “For the sake of ___________.”

What are you running after? What are you dedicating your life to? Is it the Gospel, or something worth much less? I promise you, nothing compares to the priceless good news.

Paul ends this thought with a picture of a runner, racing towards a goal. The runner must have discipline and focus, because living a life centered on Christ and the Gospel can be difficult and takes work. But in the end, crossing that line and finishing strong is so worth it. Jesus, He is worth it!

1 Cor. 9:24-27, “24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

Matthew 13:44-45, “44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

God’s Word > our word // Acts 8:26-40

Have you ever stood on the shore of a beach and let the water rush around your feet? What is that feeling like? Can you notice the shifting of your weight at the ground beneath your toes slowing gives way?

I shared with our Sunday School leaders last week some things that have been on my heart lately, and one thing we discussed was the importance of God’s Word being the foundation of ministry.

However, the Bible is not merely for pastors and Sunday School teachers, but it is the ONLY powerful, reliable foundation that any Christ-follower can rely on for growth and truth.

In so many of our churches and ministries today, what foundation is being used to build disciples? So many times we focus on attendance, numbers, aesthetics, events, or even just trying to keep people in the doors. But disciples aren’t made that way. A real follower of Christ doesn’t follow because the music is just right or the preaching is shallow. Real followers feel the breath of God from the Scriptures.

We see an example of this in Acts 8:26-40. Philip, one of Christ’s disciples, is following the Holy Spirit’s guidance and comes across a man reading from a scroll of Isaiah. When Philip asks the man if he knows what he is reading, the Ethiopian replies, “How can I, unless someone explains it to me?” Check out how Philip responded (vs.35):

“Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.”

After this, the Ethiopian was so moved he gave his life to Christ and wanted to be baptized immediately! What’s even crazier about this story is that they are in the middle of the desert, and as soon as this happened they were near water. Water? Desert? What??? (that’s my Gus (Dule Hill) impression from Psych)

No matter what our role in the church is, ministry must have a focus on God’s Word and training people in it. Whether it’s having study groups, discipleship, going deeper in your sermons or talks, or challenging your Sunday School class to read together outside of church – we have to put our faith and trust in the Bible over our own words.

Don’t focus on the clever little sayings that sound good, making all your points fit alliteration, or always making people happy. Don’t try to “convince” someone to the Gospel. Let the Gospel speak for itself.

There are many smooth speakers out there who have very large crowds come to hear them, but how much does that really impact someone’s life both here and in eternity? The best preachers aren’t remembered by what they said but what Scripture passages their sermon was about.

Even though it may seem like I’m just talking about church and ministry, this also applies to the individual Christian’s walk and relationship with Christ. It is vital to being a disciple.

It’s summertime right now, and church camps are in full swing. So many people have a great experience with the Lord, but very few have a lasting relationship that comes out of it. The biggest difference from camp and life away from it is the absence of the breath of God. To maintain discipleship and commitment, God’s Word must be breathed into our lives consistently.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

How close do you have to be to feel someone’s breath? Very, very close. Sometimes, uncomfortably close. When we draw near to God through His Word, we feel His breath – we draw close to Him. Draw near and let the Holy Spirit breathe life into you!

Jesus in Matthew 7:24-27 24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”