Monday, June 27, 2011

Why Church? - Part 1

This week we began a new series called, "Why Church?" It seems that there is always a movement, and one that seems to be increasingly aggressive in recent years, to marginalize church attendance. Books get written by Christians to convince other Christians that there is no longer a need for the local church -- that it is no longer relevant.

While I firmly believe that the method and structure to how we "do" church continually changes to remain relevant, church itself is always relevant. The purpose behind the church is always an important part of what God does.

I realize the Bible does not give us an outline for what our church service is supposed to look like... do 2 fast songs, a slow song, pray, receive an offering, teach, do announcements and dismiss. It does, however make it clear that the church is the Bride of Christ. So, it will always be relevant. There is indeed personal salvation, but God's Word speaks to the church. Paul's letters (the epistles) were written to and for churches -- not individuals. Even Timothy and Titus were pastors and Paul wrote to them to encourage them in running their churches.

Some people think they can read the Bible and pray, listen to worship music in their car or watch Christian television (which are all good things, of course) and THAT is church for them. After all, we live in a day and age of busy schedules and micromanaged time (except when we spend hours in front of the TV or Facebook). There's simply not time for church anymore. So the people working 16 hours a day in the fields who went to church every time the doors were opened, weren't busy and went to church because they had nothing else to do (read with sarcasm)? Did God not foresee that people would be busy one day when He told His people to be plugged into church?

Psalm 92:13 tells us that those who are planted in the house of the Lord will flourish. So many people are doing a lot of good things but not getting the expected results because they are not planted in the house of the Lord. They attend once in a while (when there is time). Maybe they hop from church to church following the latest "move" of God. Maybe they think they are not being fed and move to another church -- continually uprooting.

When we were building the Mesa campus, the land was a citrus grove. The city required us to keep a couple rows of citrus trees on the perimeter of the property. We had to remove some of the trees during construction. When we finished the building we had some mature trees planted to replace the ones that had to be removed. A few years later we found that the trees on the back of the property that had never been moved were producing abundant fruit. The transplants were not producing any fruit. It took another couple years before they began producing. A tree expert told us that this was completely normal. An uprooted and re-planted tree will take 3-5 years to begin producing fruit again (if it even survives).

So many people are hopping from church to church because they think it is not producing fruit in their lives. The real problem is that they are not getting PLANTED in the house of the Lord. They keep uprooting and moving again -- all the while blaming the churches for their lack of fruit.

Matthew 16:18 says that the gates of hell cannot prevail against the CHURCH -- not YOU, but the church. Being connected to God's church gives us the safety in numbers. Being a lone wolf makes you the easy prey for the enemy.

I gave this example at the close of my message yesterday...

Based on 300 million people living in the U.S. and the fact that polls say 80% call themselves Christian (but we'll go with 2/3 for easier math)...

300,000,000 Americans
200,000,000 Christians
50,000,000 Christian Households
$50,000 Average Household Income in U.S.
10% Tithe = $5000 per year, per household
$5000 X 50,000,000 = $250,000,000,000 per year

So... if all Christians were tithing to a local church, the church would have about $250 billion every year to impact and influence the world with -- without receiving any "special offerings" or fundraising programs. The church could be doing what the church is called to do -- like feeding the hungry and clothing the poor instead of needing the government to do it (very poorly and inefficiently at that). So, God knew what He was doing when He wanted us all in church and tithing :)

Next Sunday, when we reflect upon Independence Day and the American Revolution we will examine the place of the church in the fiber of this nation and how it is the strong church that will restore the parts of the fiber that are wearing a bit thin these days. As the church has allowed itself to become marginalized it has also lost its ability to influence the direction of this nation.

See you next week!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Greatest Story Ever Told - Part 7

Well, today was the final part of The Greatest Story Ever Told. I decided it was time to move on before this series turned into the LONGEST story ever told.

We looked at the last of the seven signs, or miracles, that are described in the Gospel of John. The seventh sign is the raising of Lazarus from the dead on John Chapter 11. The story begins with word coming to Jesus that "the one he loved" had become very ill. We get the impression that Lazarus was more than just an acquaintance or relative of someone close to Jesus. Keep in mind that he is referred to as the one Jesus loved; it will be important later.

Jesus then says in verse 4 that this has happened to bring glory to God. Just as we discussed last week when Jesus used similar wording in regard to the blind man -- it is important not to read into this phrase words that are not there. Jesus does not say that God made Lazarus ill (and eventually dead) for some purpose. The enemy is the one who brings sickness and disease. However, God knows the beginning from the end and will take whatever the enemy means for harm and make it into something good for those who will believe.

Then Jesus also say that this will not end in death. But we know that Lazarus does, in fact, die. Jesus promised that death was not going to be the end.

Let's put this situation and Jesus' words in the context of "the story" we have been discussing. The story is about restoration of what was lost in the Garden. It comes to completion in Revelation 21 and 22, but the process truly begins at the resurrection of Christ.

To put it into the proper context we need to spend a little bit of time in Genesis 3. Just because the story does not begin there, doesn't mean that what happens there is not important. We do not focus on sin, but we must understand it if we are going to defeat it.

Satan tempts Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit. He is only able to do so because Eve did not understand the Word from God concerning it. This is how the enemy likes to attack believers. If we do not understand the Word, he will twist it and use it against us.

God is not legalistic. He is always looking at the hearts of men. He is not standing by waiting to curse you or withhold His blessing when we do not obey the letter of the law. However, this is how the enemy likes to work. He is like a slimy lawyer (not all lawyers are slimy -- in fact a member who happens to be a lawyer pointed out to me this morning that there are also slimy pastors, touche). He is looking for a technicality to give him permission to operate in your life. Since we will never FULLY understand all of the Word it seems we are at a disadvantage. However, we have Christ Jesus who has already paid the price for all of our sin. When the accuser speaks and accuses us before the Father, Jesus immediately inserts, "Objection! That statement is irrelevant and therefore inadmissible. I already paid for that sin."

Eve succumbed to the enemy's temptation. Of course, Adam was not innocent. He was right there and, as the head of the household, should have stopped Eve from eating. Instead he eats as well. Then he blames God for giving him that woman. When this happens, a spiritual death took place. Man had been made to be a spirit that lived in the body. When Adam and Eve chose to "know" evil (intimately know -- like a husband knows his wife) they chose to be ruled by the flesh. So, the result of the sin entering the world brought about death.

But, remember, Jesus says that this (the story) will not end in death. For Jesus paid the price to overcome death, hell and the grave. He overcame the sin that caused the death.

Remember that Jesus began that process in J0hn 11 by acknowledging that the "one he loved" was ill. We are the ones that God loves -- the ones He so loved that He gave His only Son for (John 3:16).

Why did Jesus wait until Lazarus had been dead for four days to raise him? There are a lot of interesting theories. One of the things that I believe plays a role is the four day themselves. There are places in the Word that imply a day can represent 1000 years. There were 4000 years between Adam's spiritual death and the resurrection of Jesus that brought the spiritual rebirth.

Of course, Jesus does raise Lazarus from the dead. Just like every other miracle He does, it required someone to have faith. He needed Martha to believe that Jesus could raise him. At that point Jesus spoke and Lazarus was back among the living.

Now, all along I have been saying that these seven signs in the first 11 chapters of John illustrate what was to spiritually take place in the second half of the book of John. You will also remember that we have been saying that this entire series has been about pointing out the purpose of God' actions being restoration of the shalom that existed in the Garden of Eden at creation.

So, if we go over to John 20:15 we see a really remarkable thing that jumps out at us with the choice of one single word. I've read this scripture so many times and had never noticed this before. Mary Magdelene goes to the tomb on the resurrection morning to look for Jesus. She sees a person and asks them what happened to Jesus' body. She does not realize it is Jesus. But what is amazing is the act that it says she did not know it was Him because she mistook him for a gardener... a GARDENER!

Adam was the first gardener. He was to tend and keep the perfect garden God had created. We know, of course, that he failed. Jesus comes as the second Adam. He takes back the garden and immediately after resurrecting in victory is mistaken for a gardener! He begins the process of restoring the Garden. He becomes fruitful and multiplies (though all of us, His bride) and begins building the CITY that we read of at the end of the story in Revelation 21 and 22. How cool is that!

Join us next week as we celebrate Dad! It will be so much fun. It'll be a day designed for men with free beef jerky, cool cars, fun music and my desert racing video. You won't want miss it. Then I will be starting a new series on the 26th. See you at church. I LOVE MY CHURCH!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Greatest Story Ever Told - Part 6

This week we looked at the 6th of the "signs" accounted by the Apostle John. This is the account of the healing of a blind man in John Chapter 9.

The story began with Jesus seeing a man who had been blind since birth. His disciples ask Him if it was the man or his parents who had sinned. You see, it was commonly believed that, if a person had this sort of defect, that he or she must have sinned -- or his or her parents were in such terrible sin that they passed the curse down to their child. Some of the Pharisees even taught that it was possible for a baby to sin in utero, causing a birth defect. Certainly there is generational sin that gets passed on, but Jesus points out that this is not the case with this man.

Sure, all sickness, disease and general lack of "shalom" is due to some type of sin. Some of the problems we deal with are certainly because of our own sin. However, some things happen simply because we live in a sinful and messed up world. We become affected by the physical environment that our flesh lives in.

Understand that, while living under the Law, sin was defined and magnified. So, everything was thought to be related to sin. In this series, we have been talking about how religiousness looks at life in this type of context -- a Genesis 3 beginning context. Instead, we should look at life in a Genesis 1 begnning context. Life is more about restoring the shalom peace that was in the Garden and will exist again according to Revelation 21 and 22 than it is about controlling sin. We earnestly desire to control sin; we work at it with all our might, but it is not the real issue.

Jesus tells the disciples that neither the man nor his parents' sin caused the blindness. Instead, He says that it "happened" for the glory of God. Now, be careful not add a few words that are not there. Jesus did not say that God made the man born blind to bring Himself glory at this later time. He said it happened. God knows every move of the enemy and will take what he meant for harm and make it into something good.

This is also one of the few times where we see a miracle done where the person did not approach Jesus and ask to be healed. Jesus saw a need and acted. However, the completion of the miracle still required the man's decision to accept and obey the Word. He was not healed until he went and did what Jesus told him to do. God's power works through man's obedience.

After the man is healed, the Pharisees summon him to explain what had happened. You see, they were all upset because Jesus healed on the Sabbath. Some argued that, in order to heal, He must be of God. Still others argued that working on the Sabbath proved He must be a sinner.

They even questioned whether the miracle even took place. They called the man's parents in to verify that the man healed was their son and that he had indeed been blind since birth. They verified this and refused to offer any more information -- for declaring a belief that Jesus was the Christ was cause for excommunication.

They call the formerly blind man back in for another round of questioning. At the end of this set of questions, the "sinner" (defined by them because of his blindness), schooled the Pharisees. He pointed out their hypocrisy and stated his belief in Jesus as being from God. He is promptly excommunicated.

The next conversation he has is with Jesus who heard about the situation. Jesus gives him the opportunity to accept Him as the Christ and the man does.

This story illustrated the blindness that Jesus came to remove. In fact, throughout the book of Isaiah -- particularly in chapter 61, healing of blindness is a Messianic sign. Jesus Himself quotes it in Luke 4:18. The healing of physical blindness is actually a picture of the spiritual blindness that Jesus came to destroy. The Pharisees were spiritually blind. They were so concerned with sin and the Law that they refused to see the truth of the Messiah in front of them.

Oh, and they did not call Jesus to answer for this apparent infraction of the Law. Though He answered this question back in John 7:21. He pointed out to them that they were hypocritical in their questioning. They wanted to know why He would heal on the Sabbath. He pointed out that they perform circumcision on the Sabbath because the Law states that the circumcision is to occur on the 8th day -- which will sometimes fall on a Sabbath. However, Jesus (according to Isaiah 61 and Luke 4) is called to preach good news to the poor, set captives free and to bring recovery of sight to the blind. By healing on the Sabbath He was doing the same as them circumcising on the Sabbath.

Next week we will look at the 7th sign -- the raising of Lazarus from the dead -- and will wrap up this series. We will have a special message on Father's Day and will begin a new series on June 26th. See you at church! I Love my Church!