Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Church Arise Series - Week 4 - “Arise to Mission”

 As we approach our 40th anniversary, we’ve been talking about name change and specifically to Arise. This past Sunday we had a discussion and a vote and the results of the vote are…we’re tabling it until the next Annual Meeting in January of 2024.

But, as we’ve talked about, whether we change the name or not, we are still called to arise to the calling of God on our lives.

See God’s people are called to arise again and again throughout the Scriptures. So, we’ve been looking at a few of these different calls, and how they work together. 

In our first week, we talked about how the Church needs to arise to focus. For too long the Church as a whole, whether it be Alliance, or Baptist, Presbyterian, or Lutheran, or pentecostal, we have focused on the wrong things. We have split and divided on things like music, atmosphere, or when will end times events happen. Instead of coming together on what really matters, the core of the Gospel. God created us to be with him. Our sins have separated us from God. Sins can’t be removed by our good deeds. Paying the price for our sins, Jesus died and rose again. Everyone who puts their trust in Jesus has everlasting life. Life everlasting begins now and last forever. God has called us to unite on what matters and not on secondary issues.

Then in our second week we talked about how God has called us to arise to repentance. To enter into a relationship with Jesus; to have him be our Savior; to gain salvation and be saved, we must repent of our sins. That means we have to recognize that we have sinned against God and turn towards him and away from it. There can be no salvation without repentance. That’s why some of the first words out of Jesus’ mouth in the Gospel of Mark is, “…repent, and believe the Gospel (1:14).” But it doesn’t stop at the door of salvation. Repentance doesn’t end with the sinner’s prayer. It just moves purpose. For the believer, repentance is to correct breaks in our relationship with God. When we sin after gaining salvation, repentance is recognizing that God is still good, and these things don’t align with his goodness and we want him to throw them out of our lives. And so repentance is good for us, and it’s an example for the world that we know we still mess up and that’s why we continually pursue God, because he is bringing us further away from sin’s influence in our lives and into his holiness.

And that’s what we talked about last week, arise to holiness. God is perfect and that perfection is called holiness. He is perfect love, perfect patience, perfect justice, perfect mercy, perfect knowledge, perfect grace. And he created humanity to be perfect as he is perfect. But we have sinned. We have been unloving, and not patient. We have committed injustices, and have not given out mercy. We use knowledge to make ourselves look better or belittle others and we don’t give out grace to those who we don’t think deserve it. But God has called us to his holiness, and so when we turn to Jesus as our Savior, through the power of the Holy Spirit, God makes us holy. When we recognize that sin has no power over us, trusting Jesus, the work of the Holy Spirit, and diving into God’s Word, we move further away from it, becoming more like God in his character of holiness. 

So it’s living a life of repentance, moving towards ever greater holiness, that we move to the last call to arise, Church we need to arise to mission.

Today is Resurrection Sunday.  It’s the day that we recognize Jesus’ rising from the dead roughly 1,990 years ago. The reason why this is so important, is because the whole of the Christian faith rests on this day (see 1 Corinthians 15).

See every other religion in the world doesn’t have to rely on historical events. Buddhists and Hindus have their teachings that don’t need to be pinpointed to a specific time in history. Even Islam, though it makes historical claims, doesn’t have a historical point that they say if you can prove this wrong, then our whole faith falls apart. But the Christian’s holy Scriptures tells us this. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:13-19, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

This one historical moment carries with it the whole of the Christian faith. And so many have sought to debunk it. Many have given reasons and arguments for why it couldn’t happen. The Roman guards were asleep, the woman had the wrong tomb, or maybe it was the disciples who stole the body, which could have look something like this:

But each of these arguments fall short, and when you do the whole breath of research, you either come away with the ‘ view like Atheist New Testament Scholar Bart Erhman who says, something happened, he just doesn’t know what. Or you come to the view that ex-atheist J. Warner Wallace takes, that it has some of the best evidence of any cold case he’s ever investigated.

The resurrection of Jesus, his coming back to life, is the foundation to the Christian faith and has show to endure for 1,990 years. And because of that moment in history, Jesus has called his followers, his disciples, his people, to spread the message of the Gospel. This commission comes in Matthew 28, starting in verse 16, where we read…

“16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”

I love the way this passage begins, Jesus calls his disciples to a mountain. In the Old Testament, mountains were where people met with God. It was a place of mystery and several mountains were considered holy places because people met God on them. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus consistently goes on mountains to teach, inferring that he was God meeting with his people. 

But when the disciples show up, it says “they worshiped him, but some doubted.” No matter where we are in our relationship with Jesus, whether just starting out or we’ve been around for decades, if we have our doubts, Jesus still calls us to the mountain to meet with him. 

And it’s in response to that doubt that Jesus says this, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Jesus is in complete control, his resurrection proved it. If the resurrection didn’t happen, if the disciples fooled the world and played the best April fools joke ever, then nothing Jesus said matters. But because the resurrection happened, because it’s a historical point that has a ton of cold case evidence, Jesus is in control and everything he says matters.

So the next words out of Jesus’ mouth matter, “Go therefore…” This is action. Jesus is saying, based on who he is, his life, his death, his resurrection, his disciples are to go out in his authority to achieve his purposes. And what are those purposes? To make disciples of all nations, to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe all the commands Jesus gave. 

We are to be disciples of Jesus, not merely believers. We are to be followers, putting his words into practice in our lives. If we’ve have said a prayer accepting Jesus as our Savior, but we’re not putting his words into daily practice, then we are not disciples. We may believe Jesus is real, that he died and was resurrected, but we’re not his followers. If we’re not putting his commands into practice, which means we have to read what those commands are, we’re not disciples if we don’t, at the best, we’re fans of Jesus, but Jesus isn’t wanting us to be his fan, he wants us to be his followers.

I’m a fan of the LA Dodgers, have been since I was a kid, but I don’t follow them. I don’t know their starting line up this year, and I haven’t for several years. The difference between a fan and a follower, is commitment; Jesus is calling his disciples to a life commitment to him. To know all his stats so well that we know which play he’d make without needing to ask him. And unless we’re seeking to know him as he wants us to, we’re just playing. We’re not doing the mission he has called us to do. Because that mission is to make disciples.

It’s to live out the Gospel message in our own lives through repentance and seeking God’s holiness, and it’s to share the Gospel message with whoever God brings into our lives.

Jesus’ final words gives us a glimpse into why, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus is going to walk with his disciples through the work of the Holy Spirit until the day he returns. From the best days to the worst days. From moments where we’re happy beyond compare, to where we are in the most devastated circumstances. Jesus wants to walk with his disciples. 

This is why Paul wrote this in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

God wants to work out good in our lives, but we must show that we love him by doing what he says, and seek his purposes in our lives. When that happens, God’s goodness, through both the best and worst times with show itself. And we will know that we are his disciples who have arisen to his call to the mission of the Gospel.

This week I want to challenge you, first if you have never put your trust in Jesus as your Savior, this is the day. There’s a verse that states that today is God’s favor, today is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2). What that means is that we don’t have the guaranteed of tomorrow, we only have this moment right now, so why put it off. If you are here today, God is calling you to salvation. He’s calling you to repent of sin, to turn to him, and walk the rest of your life with him; growing in his holiness that he created you to share in. And it can be a simple prayer of, “God your right, I have sinned and am lost without you. I trust that Jesus was crucified for my sin, but rose again to bring me eternal life. I accept his sacrifice for me and I want to follow you the rest of my life.” Seek God while he is close.

For the disciple of Jesus, my challenge for you is this. In your bulletin is a piece of paper. Ask God to bring to your mind a person he would have you share the Gospel with this year. Fold the paper in half, and rip it into, then write their name down on the top and bottom half of the paper. You take the top half, and on the way out, there’s a bulletin board with a map of the world. Tack it on to that board. I’ll be praying for your person, as you are reaching out to them. And it will give others an opportunity to pray for your person too.

Let us be a people who are following our call to arise to Jesus’ mission, that we may reach people for the sake of the Gospel, and let us do this on the foundation of our Savior’s resurrection. Amen.

Good Friday - “God's Plan”

  A few weeks ago a man showed me a story from the magazine True West. In it, there was this story entitled “The Red Man Rules”. The story was about a chief that was asked by his tribe if the coming winter would be cold. The chief didn’t know, so he told the tribe, “Yes, the winter is going to be cold, and the village should begin collecting wood in preparation.” 

Later on the chief wanted to see what the forecast was going to be, so he contacted the National Weather Service and asked them if the winter was projected to be a cold one. The weatherman responded, “The winter is going to be a cold one indeed.”

So, being a good leader, the chief told his tribe to gather more wood. A week or so later, the chief called the weatherman again to see if there were any updates. The weatherman said, “Yes, it’s going to be very cold this winter.” Returning to the tribe, the chief told his people to gather even more wood, down to the smallest scrap. 

A few weeks goes by and the chief again contacts the weather service and asks, if the winter is still projected to be cold. The weatherman responded with, “Absolutely! We checked with the best sources, the local tribe is collecting wood like crazy!”

When we don’t know what’s going to happen we can run around in chaos. The crucification of Jesus seems like a story about a chief in chaos.

One of Jesus’ closest friends betrays him over false accusations. 

Jesus is brought before a late night court, where those false accusations fly and lies are spouted by false witnesses. There he is slapped, and spit on. 

Jesus is then dragged to the Roman Governor Pilate, where he is questioned, and found not guilty. He’s then sent to King Herod, questioned, found not guilty again, and sent back to Pilate. There Jesus is eventually flogged, receiving a beating that killed half the men that went through it.

Then Jesus is brought before the crowd, bloody and beaten. Pilate then gives the choice to the crowd. They can set Barabbas, a known criminal in Jerusalem, free, or Jesus, who has already been found not guilty by two authorities. The crowd chooses the guilty Barabbas over the innocent Jesus. 

Jesus is then given over to the soldiers. They given him a crown of thorns, they beat him with a mock scepter, and clothe him in a mock robe. They then force him to carry the cross  on which he would die on, to the spot outside the city walls, where criminals and insurrectionists were killed.

There he he was laid on the cross, with nails piercing his hands and feet to secure him to the wooden killing device. From afar his disciples looked on. Closer his mother watched.   Below him soldiers gambled for his only earthy possessions. With those soldiers were the ones that executed the plot to arrest him. And next to Jesus, on their own crosses, two thieves cursed him. 

On the cross, for hours, Jesus was mocked, and laughed at. And then the sixth hour came and we read this in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 27, starting in verse 45, “45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ 47 And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, ‘This man is calling Elijah.’ 48 And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.’ 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.”

To the world the chaos that this man brought with his teachings of repentance, of his kingdom coming, and of his own deity, was finally at an end. But here’s the thing, it wasn’t chaos. From even before the moment he was betrayed, Jesus was in control. Seven times throughout the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus spoke to his disciples of the need for him to go to the cross. This was his plan.

The people who heard his final words thought he was crying out in agony at the horrific torture he had endured. But really what he was doing was speaking to his disciples and to the world, pointing them back to his words, that this was his plan all along. Through his cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus was pointing his disciples to the Psalms and in particular to the 22nd Psalm where we read…

“1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. 3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. 4 In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. 5 To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. 6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; 8  ‘He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’ 9 Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother's breasts. 10 On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother's womb you have been my God. 11 Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help. 12 Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me; 13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. 14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; 15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. 16 For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet—

17 I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me; 18 they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. 19 But you, O Lord, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid! 20 Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog! 21 Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen! 22 I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: 23 You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! 24 For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him. 25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear him. 26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord! May your hearts live forever! 27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. 28 For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations. 29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. 30 Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; 31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.”

The chaos of the cross to the world, is the plan of God to bring people out of death and into his life. To bring people away from sin and into God’s righteousness. To take us who are orphans and make us sons and daughters of the King. 

But all that the disciples saw, all that the religious leaders, all that the soldiers, governors, and kings saw, was the last chaotic moments of just another man. But with Jesus’ words of, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He was pointing everyone to his plan. A plan spoken about for thousands of years as it led up to this very moment. And a plan that is working itself out at this very time.

The last verse of Psalm 22 is, “Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; 31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.”

We who are believers in Jesus, are a part of the not yet born that had the message proclaim to them. We are those who received the message of his crucifixion. We are now commissioned to share this message with the world. And that message is this. God created us to be with him. This was a perfect relationship between Creator and creature. But the creature sinned by turning it’s back towards its Creator, wanting it’s own way, to be it’s own god, this ushered in true chaos. Because of that, each of us follows in the footsteps of sin. Every time we do something outside of God’s created order, we participate in the chaos of sin, and once we walk that path, there’s no getting back on our own. But God doesn’t leave us there, he comes to us. He descends to his creation, wraps himself in it’s flesh, lives, breathes, eats, sleeps, like his creation. Then, since one man brought sin into the world and led us on the path of chaos, it only takes one man to sacrifice for all to open the path back to God. 

This is what the cross is. This is what the crucifixion is. It’s the path to God reopened. It’s using the things of chaos to bring about the plan of God. Where the world sees a chaotic moment, God sees a perfect sacrifice. This is why the resurrection happens. Because God the Father accepts God the Son’s perfect sacrifice. And because it’s accepted, anyone who puts their trust into Jesus as their Savior, is brought back to God and will spend eternity with him.

God is not some fictional chief trying to figure out the weather. No, he has a purposeful plan to bring his creation back to himself.

And if you’ve called on Jesus to be your Savior, you are now commissioned to share Jesus’ plan with the world. Are you ready? There are friends and neighbors that need to hear the message of God’s work in chaos, because right now our world is diving head long into a spiral of chaos. But Jesus is still at work, he has a plan in the midst of chaos. And the plan is his return. But until that day, we who are believers are called to share the message of the Gospel.

And if you’re here today, and have not accepted the Gospel message of good news that God came down for you, to bring your out of death and into his life, through the forgiveness of sin, God has brought you here to accept his plan. Don’t let tomorrow come with out accepting Jesus as your Savior. Because all it takes is repentance and acceptance. We must repent, that’s recognizing we have sinned and now will turn away from it and turn to God for forgiveness. And we must accept, accept that we can’t be good enough to fix sin, but Jesus was good enough. And where we should die for our sin, Jesus died in our place. So we accept his sacrifice on our behalf. It’s then we follow him; we read his word, the Bible, and we put his word into practice. Allowing Jesus to bring us ever closer into relationship and into the person he created us to be. And if you repent and accept Jesus as Savior today, I want you to talk with one of these pastors about it. So that you can get plugged into a church and start growing with other people on the same path of eternal life.

But to you who are already believers, I want to challenge you, from whatever local congregation you’re a part of to invite one neighbor to your church’s easter service. There are roughly 500 attending Christians in this town, that’s 500 people to invite, that’s 1,000 people on Resurrection Sunday hearing the Good news of the Risen Savior. Each of the participating pastors were given an invitation card specific to their congregation. Go to your pastor, pick one up, and invite one person.

God’s plan is to use his people to share his work, so let us be his proclaimers, because our God is in control. Amen. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Church Arise Series - Week 3 - “Arise to Holiness”

 As our congregation looks towards the future, with our 40th anniversary less than a year away, we’re looking to see what God has in store for us. One aspect of looking forward to the next 40 years, is contemplating a name change, to better reflect the work of this particular ministry. 

The name that has come out in front of the rest is, Arise Church. The reason for this is, because throughout the Scriptures, the call of God’s people to arise to God’s work, begins in Genesis and makes it’s way all the way to the book of Revelation. And so what we’ve been looking at for the last two weeks, is this call to arise.

Because whether our ministry here changes it’s name to Arise Church or not, the call on us to arise to God’s work will still be upon us. 

So in our first week we looked at the Church’s call to arise to focus. Meaning, that the Church can easily loose sight on what really matters, the Gospel. Too often we are tearing each other down because of doctrines that, though important, are not the core to what we believe. We can differ on those secondary things, but it’s the core of the Gospel that we need to focus on, so we can bring as much unity to the Church as possible and do the work we have been commissioned to do. If the congregation decides to make a name change or not, is that more important than the Gospel we are called to share? So whether a name change happens or not, nothing changes in our focus on the Gospel.

In our second week we looked at the Church’s call to arise to repentance. Repentance is the first step into salvation. Without repentance, which is a recognition and turning away from sin, salvation has not occurred. And we can’t expect the world to repent if the people of God are not modeling what repentance is. In our relationship with God, the Church must show the world, that we are a humble people, who will recognize and repent of the sins we engage in. If we change our ministry name or not, the call of repenting of the things we falter on as believers is still on our lives.

And it’s repentance that leads us naturally into our third week, where we look to our call of arising to holiness.

I’ve said it once, and I’ll keep saying it, of all his attributes that God speaks about himself, holiness is by far the one he speaks most directly about. 

In Leviticus 20:26, as God is making Israel his people and bringing them into covenant relationship with him, he tells them, “You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.”

Peter in his first letter to the Church echoes this statement when he writes in 1 Peter 1:15-16, “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

The word holy is the Hebrew word, qadosh (kaw-doshe’) and means to to be consecrated, or dedicated for work that is godly. When God uses it of himself, it is to describe an eternal attribute. God is holy, it’s who he is. He is righteous, and good. He is merciful and gracious. He is love, and selflessness. He is peace, and kindness. When he says that we are to be holy, that means we are to take on those things that he is. We too are to live in righteousness. We are to be good. We are to be merciful and gracious, loving and selfless, peaceful and kind. 

We’re to be moved by the Holy Spirit away from the things of this world that are ungodly and unrighteous, and move towards the things of God.

Listen to Paul’s plea in Romans 6, where we read, “1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

As God’s people, the Church must be slaves to righteousness. Every morning our prayer should be, “God make me holier today than I was yesterday.” And when we go to sleep, our prayers should be, “I praise you God for bringing more into your holiness, and I look forward to your work tomorrow.”

Our thoughts must be on growing personally in our walk with Jesus. We must desire the Holy Spirit’s work to bring us ever closer and in line to Paul’s words just two chapters later in Romans 8:29, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

The holiness that God is bringing us into a reflection of Jesus. When we say things like, WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?), we are asking to be holy as he is holy. And though we may falter and succumb to sinful thoughts and desires, when coupled with a repentant heart, holiness grows in our lives. This is the inner life, the deeper life, the victorious life, the growing life of the believer. This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. 

So when Jesus said to those first disciples on the Galilean shore, “Follow me…(Matthew 4:19),” he was calling them out of their unrighteous lives that were leading to death, and into his life of holiness that leads to life.

And I think out of the three points of arising that the Church is called to, it’s holy living that is the crux of why the other two are skewed. 

Think about this, when the world hears of the Abilene Christian University Professor who was just arrested on charges of sexually abusing his adoptive children, what do they think? God has called his people out of sexual misconduct on every level, yet there it is. The world looks at the Church and says, hypocrites.

Or what about when five people from Apex School of Theology plead guilty to financial aid fraud and because of that the school had to be sold off, what does the work see? God has called his people out of misconduct with stewardship, yet there it is. Then the world looks at the Church and calls it a fraud. 

But these are the things that get reported, and we could easily look at them and say, “Well, I’m against that too…that’s not all Christians.” But when we ourselves engage in tearing others down through arguments that deal with secondary issues, or when we don’t live out repentant lives, we add into the bigger narrative that the Church is a joke, and really not the people of God.

If we are to give a witness to the world, the people of God need to seek the holiness of God. The Church is to be washed of all impurities by the cleansing of God’s word. And do you know where it starts? Not with the preacher on TV with the million dollar house, nor with the youth pastor charged with sexual assault, it starts with me, it starts with you. It starts with each of us on an individual level. It starts with body parts of Christ’s Church. And when we realize that the core of the Gospel is what matters and repentance must be a part of our walk with Jesus, then the sanctification that God desires for us happens more easy in the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Paul says this about what Jesus is doing with this Church in Ephesians 5 starting in verses 25, as he speaks to husbands and wives, “25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

God’s desire of us, both on an individual and a corporate level, is to be washed clean of all unrighteousness through his transformative word, and to be presented to himself as a holy bride, who is unblemished by the wickedness that is in the world.

But here’s the thing, are we ready for that work of God in our lives? Holiness means a movement away from what I want, to what God wants. It’s a move away from being selfish, to being selfless. It’s a move away from harboring anger, to forgiveness without boundaries. It’s praying for those that hurt you, and asking for blessings upon those that would curse you. It’s desiring to be more like Jesus than the world, but what does that get you here?

Jesus spoke this in John 15:18-20, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”

Moving into holiness moves us away from what the world wants, and that means you have to desire the accolades of God, more that the accolades of those around you. That means you’ll have to stand on the word of God, which tells us that God created only two sexes, two gender roles (Genesis 1:26-27). And those two sexes are to come together in heterosexual marriage (Genesis 2:24). Anything outside those boundaries is ungodly, and therefore unholy. And that could get you in trouble, with friends who live in unrighteousness, with a society that desires unholiness, and government who seeks to normalize the sexualization of children. 

It’s being called a bigot, a fill-in-the-blank phobe, a hypocrite, a prude, a square. It might even mean that you rights are taken away, or maybe your life. And what does a Church living in holiness’ response? It’s our Savior’s, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).”

To live in holiness, to have the cleaning of the Holy Spirit be active in our lives, means that we are not our own, we are slaves to the righteousness of God, and the world will be both angry with us and challenged by us. This world needs the Church to be what it was called to be and has not done a good job of. To arise to the holiness that was bought by it’s Savior on the cross. The world doesn’t need another larger than life preacher, or a flashy movie, or worship service. No, the world needs individual believers daily seeking the holiness of God, being transformed by their Savior, calling others to that same Holy Savior.

Today I want to challenge you to seek holiness. Around the room there are bowls of water, I want to challenge you to go over to the bowl, dip your hands in the water, and say a simple prayer like this, “Lord make me holy as you are holy, that the world may know the Holy Savior. Amen.”

Let us be the people of God, his Church, who arises to the call of holiness on our lives. Amen.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Church Arise Series - Week 2 - “Arise to Repentance”

  Last week we talked about how our church is on this decision making process of deciding if we are going to change the name of the ministry to better reflect the calling that God has put on us. 

The name we’re mulling over is Arise Church, which carries with it the purpose of God’s call to arise to his work. Next Sunday we will be having a special meeting of the church, where the membership will vote and make a decision. Whichever way the church decides to go in name, matters much less than making sure that we continue to follow the call of God. So last week we began to talk about God’s call for his Church to arise. 

Last we we talked about how the Church is to arise to focus. We are to focus on the core of the Gospel. God created us to be with him, our sins separate us from God, sins cannot be removed with good deeds, paying the price for sin Jesus died and rose again, everyone who puts their trust in Jesus can have eternal life, eternal life starts now and last forever. This core to the Gospel should be the focus of the Church, with secondary doctrines and issues being given grace. We can disagree on music, on clothes, on preaching style, on architecture, on how the end times come about, or our role in the salvation process. I have opinions and interretprations on all of those, but they are second to Gospel work and if we call on Jesus as Lord and Savior, and hold to the core of the Gospel, then we are brothers and sisters and we need to move forward in the work we are called to.

This brings us to our second week in our series, where we’ll be looking at the second place the Church needs to arise. We need to arise to repentance. 

Let’s take it back to the beginning of our Christian walks. Back before we accepted Jesus as our Savior. The message of Jesus is summed up in Mark 1:14 where we read, “14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’”

The Gospel message begins with repentance. Repentance is the acknowledgment of sin and the turning from it. Without this acknowledgment there is no salvation. In Paul’s words in Romans 10:9-10, we can see this underlying understanding of repentance. We read, “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved." To confess Jesus is Lord and believe he was raised from the dead, pre-supposes an understanding of why Jesus is Lord and why he was raised from the dead. 

If you confess Jesus is Lord, you’re acknowledging that he is God. Believing he was raised from the dead is acknowledging that God came earth to be a stand in sacrifice for humanity’s sin, so that that sin could be dealt with without the shedding of his creation’s blood. The resurrection is the realization that what Jesus said was true and that his sacrifice for us was acceptable as payment to God the Father. 

We see this played out in the life of of the woman caught in adultery. In her encounter with Jesus in John 8 we see her brought before Jesus to be killed through stoning. Jesus responds with challenging those there that they could throw the first stone if they had no sin. All eventually left. But being sinless himself, Jesus could have picked up the first stone and began the process. Yet he had compassion and after everyone left, we get this brief conversation between Jesus and the woman, “10 Jesus stood up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ 11 She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more (v.10-11).’

Moving away from sin is a part of the acceptance of Jesus as Savior. If there is no repentance, then salvation does not happen. 

But repentance doesn’t stop at the door of entering into salvation. Repentance should be a part of the believer’s life. You might have heard people quote this passage from 2 Chronicles 7:14, “14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Let’s walk through that real quick, “If my people” in the context these are the people of Israel. But if this is a prescription for all of God’s people, then it would be for anyone who is in covenant relationship with God. So “if you confess  with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,” you have entered into covenant relationship with God and are now a part of the people of God. So then this would apply to you.

What must the people of God do, they must, humble themselves, pray ( which is seeking the face of God), and turn from their wicked ways. What is repentance but, humbling ourselves to the reality of sin, praying for forgiveness by seeking God’s way and not our own, and turning away from sin’s wickedness? Repentance is a part of God’s people. And what follows repentance? Forgiveness. 

But maybe this verse is taken out of context, maybe it’s descriptive of what was for the people if Israel and it’s not prescriptive for the Church today. Let’s fast forward to the first letter of John, chapter 1, starting in verse 5.

“1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

“2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says ‘I know him' but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”

Verses 1-10 can be looked at as addressing those who have not accepted Jesus yet. It’s about who God is light. It’s about what sin is, darkness. And in God there is no darkness or sin. To have fellowship with God there needs to be an acknowledgment of sin, because if we deny that we have sinned, then we cannot have fellowship with God. It would be the same as calling God a liar, and if we can believe God’s word, then we cannot be with him. 

But then John’s address of little children, and the use of fellowship, makes it clear that this isn’t just about those who have not yet accepted Jesus as Savior. It’s not just about people who have yet to repent. It’s about God’s children, his people, his Church. John’s encouragement that if we sin, even now as believers, our Advocate is Jesus. And just as he saved us that first day we repented of our sin, he continues his role as Advocate in every proceeding sin. Because his work on the cross didn’t just cover our past sins, it covers our current sins, and our future sins. 

When we then repent as believers, it’s not to receive salvation, that already happened. No, it’s to build our relationship with God. It’s David crying out in Psalm 51:12, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” David was apart of the people of God, but because of his sin, the joy of the Lord wasn’t in him. He wanted that restoration of relationship, which comes through acknowledgment of sin and a turning away from it.

God uses the idea of marriage to describe Jesus’ relationship with his Church  in Ephesians 5. The day we accept Jesus as Savior is like the wedding day, it’s a moment in time  when we move from being single, to being a recognized couple. It would be strange then to never say you’re sorry for something you did to your spouse. That’s a break down of communication, and it leads to unhappy marriages. 

Why are so many Christians struggling in their relationship with God? It’s because they don’t have the joy of their salvation. Sin is still too prevalent in their lives. And without the acknowledgment and turning away from that sin, too many Christians fall back into sin’s grip, and too many don’t experience God in his fullness. Repentance is as much a part of the Christian’s walk with God as reading the Bible, praying, meeting in worship with God’s Church, and doing Gospel work. 

And it’s all done through the cross at Calvary. So in the discussion of should we change our name here at the Alliance Church, this is the new logo that we’re looking at. It continues the blue that we have had for several years, the sunrise in the back represents the rising to our calling. The two saguaros both represent the desert we’re in, but also coupled with the central cross, point us to the three crosses of calvary. The place at which our salvation was bought. 

The Church is called to arise to repentance, both on a individual level in our personal relationships with God, and on a corporate level. Every week there seems to be another pastor who has embezzled money. Another pastor who has sexually groomed and assaulted a youth. Another professed Christian caught in adultery, or in a shady business deal. The world is quick to notice that Christians are just as likely to gossip, and judge as anyone else. The world sees us quick to call out sin, but in such a venomous way when we do that the truth is not coupled with love (Ephesians 4:15).

In his book, Blue Like Jazz, author Donald Miller relates a story of his time in college. He was a part of a small Christian group at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. The story begins with an annual party that goes on at the college called Ren Fayre, where Millar states, “…everybody gets pretty drunk and high, and some people get naked.” As Millar and his friend Tony were talking about what they could do to “come out as Christians,” Millar made a joke that they could do a confessional booth, because a lot of the students would be sinning.

Tony took the idea and ran with it, embarrassing Millar along the way in front of the other Christians in their friend group. But Tony change it from a booth where the sinning college students would come and confess, to a place where the Christians would confess to the college students. Millar records Tony saying, “Here’s the catch. We are not actually going to accept confessions. We are going to confess to them. We are going to confess that, as followers of Jesus, we have not been very loving; we have been bitter, and for that we are sorry.”

The first “customer”, as Tony called him, was a guy by the name of Jake. After Millar confessed his unlovingness, they had this conversation, “It’s really cool what you guys are doing…A lot of people need to hear this.” “Have we hurt a lot of people?” You haven’t hurt me. I just think it isn’t very unpopular to be a Christian, you know. Especially at a place like this. I don’t think too many people have been hurt. Most people just have a strong reaction to what they see on television. All these well-dressed preachers supporting the Republicans.” “That’s not the whole picture. That’s just television. I have friends who are giving their lives to feed the poor and defend the defenseless. They are doing it for Christ.” “You really believe in Jesus, don’t you?” “Yes, I think I do. Most often I do. I have my doubts at times, but mostly I believe in Him. It’s like there is a something in me that causes me to believe, and I can’t explain it.” “You said earlier that there is a central message of Christ. I don’t really want to become a Christian, you know, but what is that message? (pgs 116-127)”

Through this act of repentance in front of a non-believer, Millar was able to share the Gospel with him. Repentance is such a powerful work of God in our lives, that it not only brings us closer to him, but opens up the work of God in the lives of others as well. 

I once heard a speaker share how he was attending a church and had invited a non-believing friend to a service. As they sat in the service the pastor got up and publicly confessed a heated altercation he had with a board member. Because the altercation was public, the pastor felt the need to ask forgiveness publicly from this board member. The two reconciled on the platform that Sunday morning. The person telling the story says he sunk in his seat. His thought was, my friend doesn’t need to hear the problems of the Church, they need to hear how victorious we are. But on the way home the friend broke down crying, saying that if the pastor could ask for forgiveness like that, then they wanted to as well. Because of the repentance of God’s people, a non-believer came to Christ.

Church, we are called to arise to repentance. We are called to turn away from our sin. We must do this before we can call the world to Christ. We must set the example, if we want to call others to it. This is why Jesus states in Matthew 7:5, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.” Jesus isn’t saying we can’t call out sin, what he is saying is that we need to start with our own, before we can move on to another’s. 

So my challenge today is this. We have two cross laid out in this room. There are hammers with those cross and nails with those hammers. There are also papers and pencils. Take a moment go before God and if there is a sin that needs to be confessed I want to challenge you to write it down, walk to one of those crosses and nail that sin to the cross. Repent of it, that we as the Church would arise to repentance. That we would look to ourselves first, that we may be ready to share the Gospel, the hope of the forgiveness of sins with the world. Amen.