Sunday, August 17, 2014

I Believe in the Church

Matthew 16.13-20

This is the first time the word church was used in the Bible. 

It is interesting and noteworthy that Jesus spoke very little of church government. That would be the apostles work after the church began to form and Paul would lay out for us detailed structure in his letters he sent to the churches and pastors, all under the direction of the Holy Spirit. He was not concerned so much about the organization of the church in this statement.

Jesus did not speak of denominations although He knew there would come about.

He didn't speak of the various doctrinal distinctives which denominations would be formed around.

Nothing Jesus said had anything to so with buildings. The church for the first two hundred or so years met in homes. The place where the church is growing the most rapidly in the world still does!

He didn't even discuss how the church would be financed at this moment.

What was He talking about?

Jesus' main focus after He died and rose again was the need of the Baptism of the Spirit in His disciples and how that would energize them and enable and empower them to be His witnesses. It is in  bringing souls into the Kingdom of God that the church is built. 1 Peter 2:4-5 "As you come to Him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to Him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." The building of the church is the adding of living stones to the Body of Christ, the true Temple of God. All these other things we mentioned must cooperate with that.

The main thing He said in regard to the church was this statement we just read. He didn't go into details. He just said it would be done. He said He would do it. He said that the strongest opposition of hell would not be able to stop this building of His church. 

China and Cuba are examples of that today. I am old enough to remember the missionaries from China who had to come back to the US after Mao's Revolution and the rise of what we used to call Red China. There were about a million believers in China when all the missionaries were expelled. No round eyed people could stay. Some were accused of being spies and imprisoned before the finally got out as city after city fell to the Communists. Failure was the word. Sadness also described the feelings of the church during the 50's, 60's and 70's. Then President Nixon reached out to China. He opened up relations with them. In the 80's as tourists began to go back we found not only did the church survive under persecution it actually grew astronomically. I am an eyewitness that the church there is stronger than ever there and that Jesus' Promise is true!

It is amazing how God used Medical Missions in China (and many other places). Hudson Taylor, Billy Graham's father-in-law, Nelson Bell, and Sandy Mucci's father, Dr. Howard Hamlin, were all medical doctors. Dr. Hamlin was set to go when the doors closed due to the the takeover of the Communists. He went to Africa instead and was used in a great way by the LORD there. Jesus built His Church there by these men in the 19th and 20 centuries. Today He is doing through Dr. Kent Brantly.
This week he said,  "I am growing stronger every day, and I thank God for His mercy as I have wrestled with this terrible disease," Brantly wrote in a letter from his hospital room. "One thing I have learned is that following God often leads to unexpected places. My wife Amber and I, along with our two children, did not move to Liberia for the specific purpose of fighting Ebola. We went to Liberia because we believe God called us to serve Him at ELWA  (Eternal Love Winning Africa) Hospital."

So these words of Jesus were not just to handle the opposition although that is included. They were words of encouragement and truth which would come to the disciples again and again.

These words of Jesus to Peter and to His disciples and us are words of comfort, assurance and permanence.

1. It is a Comfort.

I know we get criticized and some of it is warranted by those who have abused the name of God and the church. But most of it is just ignorant. Charlatans are in the minority. Most folks are servants with a heart for God. The influence of the church in the world is beyond our imagination. There are visible influences and much more invisible ones. Salt and Light.
Billy Graham's response  at the Press Conference in the Coliseum. 

*If you were to put a syringe into the world today and pull from it the influence of Christian missions, the world would implode of its own moral weight. There's hardly a senior leader in all of Africa who wasn't taught to read by a missionary. I believe in the church."- Jay Kesler

*Last year millions of kids around the world were treated to with Christmas gifts because of millions of Christians who put together shoeboxes and sent them to Samaritan's Purse. They got things like soap, tooth brushes, tooth paste, pencils. There was great joy throughout the earth all because of the church.

*The generosity of the church is overwhelming. It understands how to store up treasures in heaven. People in the church give to people they will never meet on this earth... I remember the little Dominican lady calling out to that bus full of pastors in January of 2000 in La Romana, "Thank you for sending us missionaries who told us about Jesus Christ." But we were representing you, the church.

Every day hundreds of thousands of children  are fed by the church and have been for years.
I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember Your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all Your works and consider all Your mighty deeds. Psalm  77.11-12

The concern for the lost, those outside the ark of safety, drives the church to its knees and out into the marketplace to tell the Good News.

I believe in the church because I need the church. Anyone who thinks Christian faith and life is so simple and easy that it can be a do-it-yourself at home job is either incredibly naive or insufferably conceited or both.

As we fight the good fight of the faith (I Timothy 6.12), we are comforted by the words of Jesus about His Church. 
The good fight- battling against the devil, not with other believers
-non essentials

We are in a  good fight. It is not to push our agenda but to follow His. It is battle for souls, our own and those of others. It is battle for truth and eternity. It is fight against the evil one. The gates of hell will not prevail against it!

I will build My Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
2.It is a Blessed Assurance.

There have been times in my lifetime when I thought, "How are we going to make it?" I have fallen back on this promise of Jesus. It is unconditional. It is a strong statement. It is encompassing. It is true in China, Cuba, Russia and the turbulence in the Middle East today. It is true in South America and Africa. I am assured that Jesus is building His Church  even when I don't understand what is going on. Even in Europe there is a wave of the Holy Spirit. True that Islam is creating havoc but the church is on the march.

I believe in the church.
It provides a moral compass. God's Word is clear on all the issues that the culture in trying to muddle. 

It provides a loving community and if that is not happening that church needs to repent. It has lost its first love!
Ephesus: Revelation 2:4-5 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 

I am always encouraged when I see the loving one another. Deeds speak louder than words. Loving deeds done in Jesus' Name are a wonderful thing.
1-They glorify God. Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven. 
2-They help people emotionally, physically and spiritually.
3-They answer the critics and skeptics without a word.
4-They are eternal. They help build the church.

I believe in the church because...
3.It is Permanent. 

Governments have come and gone. There has been empires which have risen and fallen. The Church of Jesus continues.

I believe in the church because it is the only institution that deals with eternity.
Our work can seem disparaging at times. That is often because we are bombarded by temporal earthly pursuits. Values held by unbelievers are not eternal ones. Unfortunately so many believers in our country are looking for heaven on earth that they forget this is not heaven and that there is one to come.

Not only is the church the only institution that deals with eternity, it is the only institution on earth that is eternal.  Marriage even isn't. It is "until death parts us."

The service clubs and social organizations, as good as they are now, are not in the same league as the church. All of the things people can pour their time into are below, far below time given for the church.

Ephesians 3.10 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, 11 according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord,

Ephesians 3:20-21 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. 
2 Thessalonians 2:1 Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters...

It is interesting to see the different groups which make up the church: the liturgical, the independents and the middle of the road ones like ours. Every nation on earth has the church in it. The gospel continues to got out to the whole world.

One day we will be gathered together in one place- that place Jesus is preparing for us.

I believe in the church because it gives dignity to mankind
C. S. Lewis helps us deal with this issue. He gives us a kind of fraction. He says, "Think of a man 100 years old. You draw a line and then you put below the line the combined dynasties of China 5,000 years. Man lives to be 100 years, society 5,000. Society must be 50 times more important than a man; therefore, men are expendable. You can use them up for society's purposes." This is basically the argument that must be used by every politician, every great mover of people. C. S. Lewis says, "Suppose it doesn't work this way. Suppose man doesn't live to be 100, but suppose he's eternal." It's a little hard to write eternity in a number. We'll have to take something more limited for our limited minds. We'll take a billion. A man lives a billion years; the combined dynasties of China 5,000 years. What do we conclude? Man is infinitely more important than society.

Finally the church has produced lasting, selfless contributions to humanity. Hospitals, orphanages, schools have been built in third world countries in the past. Clean water and crops are in places there was none because of the church.

The church is alive and well. 
It will withstand the gates of hell.
It is Christ's new creation
It will stand forever.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Opening Our Eyes

II Kings 6.8-17

What a difference there is between what is seen and what is unseen.

This passage of scripture illustrates the walk of two believers. The one who is confident of the "unseen" and the one who is unaware of it. Our walk of faith has three levels to it:

1-What God has done.
Creation Genesis 1.1
Redemption John 3.16

2-What God is going to do.
Come again and bring us to heaven. I Thessalonians 4.13-18
It is the third area where we often struggle-

3-What God is doing now.
How I need to trust Him to obey Him.
How I need to "see" the unseen.
Resting in His promises. Psalm 145.13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and Your dominion endures through all generations. The LORD is faithful to all His promisesand loving toward all He has made.

Generally we are good with what God has done. What He is going to do is off in the future. But what He is doing now causes anxiety if we are not operating with faith.

1. Elisha's servant was blinded by looking at what was seen by human eyes.

He saw the army of the Arameans.
Surrounding the city
Horses and Chariots
He saw the opposition well. He saw the enemy clearly.

O my lord what are we going to do?
We aren't going to do anything.
We are looking to our own resources when we ought to be looking to the LORD and His glorious riches. We don't have to trying to get rich for money to be our god. We can have that happen when we are serving Jesus.

Often we are trying figure out some scheme when God has placed the answer in our lap and our hands.
The Bible- His promises!
Oh the scheming we do! Oh the plans we come up with!

Oh what peace we often forfeit!
Oh what needless pain we bear!
All because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer.

When we look on the surface of things we fail to see the spiritual dimension. This servant of Elisha is a classic example of what a believer who is doing that concludes. 

False conclusions lead to anxiety and stress, they make a person fret when they should be acting. Elisha was full of faith.
He was standing but ready to move.
His servant was frozen in his tracks.
That is one of the differences of a life of faith and a life by sight.
2 Corinthians 5:7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 

2. Elisha's prayer wasn't for help for them. v.17

Imagine getting to such a confidence in God and His Word where you are resting in His promises and you can pray like this?

"O LORD, open his eyes so that he might see."
Elisha saw what was there.
We are often unaware of God's Presence.
Genesis 28:16-17 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the House of God; this is the gate of heaven.” 

Notice Elisha did not try to convince this man of the spiritual reality. He could not have. This had to come from the LORD to this servant's heart and mind.
I cannot convince you what I am seeing this morning. I only pray that your eyes might be opened. I cannot talk you into seeing the unseen, you must have your eyes opened.

When Hudson Taylor launched the China Inland Mission 24 people saw what he saw- the Chinese people dying without a Savior. We have been desensitized today.
There is a belief that everyone is going to heaven no matter how they live.
There are many who believe that what we are doing this morning- meeting together- is optional.

It is interesting Elisha didn't pray for help as we already said. He saw the chariots and horses of fire surrounding him. He was able to intercede for others.

3. Opened Eyes to Spiritual Things Behold Wonderful Things

The hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha!
The Arameans may have had the city surrounded but the LORD had Elisha (and his servant) surrounded.

The king of Aram may have sent down horses from his cavalry but the LORD sent down horses from heaven. Chariots of Fire were around Elisha.

We have them outnumbered! -v.16

How differently things look when your eyes are opened.
Looking at the physical, we are surrounded, we haven't got a chance.
 Looking at the spiritual, they are surrounded, they haven't got a chance.

Help us LORD to see the spiritual realities!
Paul said, "We look at the things which are not seen: they are the eternal things" (II Corinthians 4:18).

 The men of the Old Testament in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews talks about great men of faith. And in referring to the deeds and the exploits of these great men of faith, it said, "And they endured as seeing the invisible" (Hebrews 11:27). What was the secret of their endurance? What was the secret of their power? What was the secret of their ability to go through all of the things that they had to go through and all of the things that they endured? Because they could see beyond just the obvious physical things. They could see the realm of the Spirit. They endured as seeing the invisible.
Men who have spiritual insight actually see so much more. And that is why their lives are so stable and so secure, even though the world around them may be shaking. Yet because they can see spiritually, they are not shaken.

In these last days we need to see with the eyes of faith. We need see the invisible. The LORD has work, much work, good work for us to do.

God help us!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Seeking Spiritual Power

II Kings 2.9-15

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied. "You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours–otherwise not.” As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart.He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him and struck the water with it. “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.” 

Double portion = mouth
mouth (of man)
mouth (as organ of speech)
mouth, opening, orifice (of a well, river, etc)
extremity, end

Let me speak even more powerfully
Let the opening in heaven for God's power be twice as large as it was when His Spirit is poured out on me.

Elisha was seeking the right thing, the higher blessing. He was not looking for any earthly benefits or advantages. He didn't ask for a servant like he had been. He sought the power of God now that he would be his spokesman to Israel.

He realized his deep spiritual need as the one who would take over the ministry of Elijah that day. God had called him to a greater place than he had ever been. He knew he was in need of God's power.
Anne Graham Lotz:
If all you ever attempt is that which you know you can do or have the resources for, how will you ever discover what He can do?

Elisha recognized his spiritual need. He was taking on an overwhelming task.
Jesus said, Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." 
I always thought that meant they were going to heaven. But then I connected this other verse:
Matthew 16:18-19 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 

Humble yourself, recognize your need for God's power and He will give you the keys of the kingdom for accomplishing His work on earth. You will be in the middle of His will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

This is what is needed today in the church; the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, that second work of God in the believer's life. We need a double portion of His Spirit.

1. To do the work of God

Elisha understood he was moving into the forefront now. He  be on the front line. he was moving into a different position of servanthood.

2 Kings 3:11 But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no prophet of the LORD here, through whom we may inquire of the LORD?”An officer of the king of Israel answered, “Elisha son of Shaphat is here. He used to pour water on the hands of Elijah.” 

No longer would he be serving Elijah. He was now going to be the voice of the LORD to Israel. He needed strength, power an enabling.

The main work of the prophet was to speak forth the Word of God. It wasn't only futuristic, although all scripture by its very nature has that element.

2 Peter 1:20-21 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 

The Word of God came through the power of the Holy Spirit moving upon men.
The work of God is done through this dynamic.
Take the rebuilding of the temple under Zerrubabel.
Zechariah 4:8-9 Then the word of the Lord came to me: “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you."

Zechariah 4:6 So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty. 

The building of this physical structure was done by human hands but they needed the Word of the LORD to do the work. So do we! And that Word was that the work would be done by His Spirit in them and among them.

*It empowers us.
*It enables us.
*It encourages us.

Look at Elisha's words:
2 Kings 3:13-14 Elisha said to the king of Israel, “Why do you want to involve me? Go to the prophets of your father and the prophets of your mother.”“No,” the king of Israel answered, “because it was the Lord who called us three kings together to deliver us into the hands of Moab.” Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, if I did not have respect for the presence of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I would not pay any attention to you. 

He was moving from being an attendant of Elijah to filling the role of Elijah.
Elisha was about to take on great spiritual responsibility. He had been with Elijah and was content in that role.

When Hudson Taylor turned over the leadership of the China Inland Mission to
his successor, D.E. Hoste said, "Now I have no one, No one but God."                 

We need the power of the Holy Spirit
2. To do the will of God.

The will of God will never take you where His grace cannot keep you but His will can be overwhelming. Often He gives us more than we can handle. We cry out to Him for help.

God's will was for Israel to have a voice from heaven, a man who would speak the Word of God to the people. He used miracles to drive His point home. Elisha heard and saw. He knew he was going to need to possess similar abilities. He knew the LORD gave Elijah this ability. He asked Elijah for this double portion of his spirit. 

Elisha lived for the will and honor of God. The power of God enabled him to do so.

The awareness of the lack of spiritual power is humbling.

To carry out his call he would need the help of God. Fulfilling God's will is often a challenge. He empowers us with His Spirit.

3. To fulfill God's calling upon my life.

Luke 24:49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.

Acts 1:4-5, 8 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 

The message of truth is stronger than military might. armies cannot stop the church. Reformations and Revolutions have been started by a document.

The first verse of the Bible creates earthquakes among academia. It always has. Man, through his accomplishments, exalted himself high. But In the beginning, God... Go to the last verse of the Bible and there is God. He is above the heavens.

What is our greatest need today? Is it finances? Is it strategies? Is it a plan or program?

Our greatest need today in the church is to be filled with His Spirit and grounded in God's Word. With that in place, anything can happen!

If you had a request that a prophet would grant, what would it be?
Elisha's answer was the best, "Give me a double portion of your spirit."