Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Grace Driven Church Part 4 - Caring in the Nature of Christ - Matthew 25:31-40

I began a series of posts a few weeks ago entitled A Grace Driven Church. In these 5 posts, I’m sharing with you messages around an acronym of the word Grace. In the first post, we began with the letter G and talked about Growing in the Love of Christ. How that true disciples will have a deepening relationship with Christ that leads to a definite reformation of conduct… We then took the letter R and looked at Reaching in the Name of Christ. How we as Christians need to take a serious view of evangelism and get busy trying to win people to Christ. Last week, with the letter A I talked about Affirming in the Body of Christ and discussed the importance of having proper fellowship with other Christians.

Over the next couple of posts, we’ll finish this series by looking at…

Caring in the Nature of Christ and
Exalting in the Glory of Christ

Today, as we continue our discussion of being a grace driven church, we are going focus on the area of ministry. In the verses I read for you, we find Jesus…the Master Teacher…telling His disciples one of the very important things that will matter when we stand before Him…and that is whether or not we ministered to the needs of others. Have we done everything we can to help those who need helping. Those who are hungry and poor and sick and…most importantly…those who are not saved.

The area if ministry is, of course, not the most important thing that will matter when we stand before the Lord though. The most important thing is to make sure that you’re His child. To make sure when He asks, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” that you have the right answer. And that answer is because you’ve accepted His free offer of salvation and had your sins washed away by the blood of Jesus.

As Christians, there are certain things that should mark our lives and our churches. What all of these Grace Driven Church sermons are telling us is that it’s important that Christians be known for their discipleship, their evangelism, their fellowship, their ministry and…as we’ll see next week…their worship.

Here in Matthew 25, Jesus is saying that we should be known for the way we react to those in need around us and that we will be held accountable for our ministry efforts when we stand before Him. With that in mind this morning, I have a couple of statements I want to share with you to help remind and encourage you in the area of ministry. Here’s the first one…

WHEN GRACE DRIVEN PEOPLE GET…THEY GIVE

Being grace driven means that we realize how much God has done for us. We begin to understand the staggering cost of our salvation. When this happens, we respond with a desire to give back to Him in any way we can. In other words, when we GET…we respond by GIVING. We understand what Paul meant when he wrote this in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

Here’s what happens. If we allow it, God’s grace will change us. It will make us become gracious, giving people. E. Stanley Jones described it this way. He said, “Grace binds you with far stronger cords than the cords of duty or obligation can bind you. Grace is free, but when once you take it, you are bound forever to the Giver and bound to catch the spirit of the Giver. Like produces like. Grace makes you gracious, the Giver makes you give.”

When we begin to understand how much God has given to us, we are then motivated to give back. We start to see ministry as an opportunity to do just that. In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace?, Philip Yancey lists several Christians who became amazingly gracious givers. Let me share a couple of those with you…

Millard Fuller, a millionaire entrepreneur from Alabama was a rich but miserable man. Then he visited Americus, Georgia where he met Clarence Jordan and became involved in his Koinonia Community. They led him to Christ and Fuller responded by giving away his personal fortune and founding Habitat for Humanity, an organization based on the simple premise that every human being deserves a decent place to live. They have built thousands of homes for the needy all over the world. Fuller once said, “The reason I do what I do and so many of our volunteers do what they do, is because we are being obedient to Jesus.”

Then there is Bill Magee, a plastic surgeon who was shocked to find that in Third World countries many children go through life with cleft palates that never get treated. Magee and his wife organized a program called OPERATION SMILE and through this ministry, doctors and support personnel travel to places all over the world to repair these facial deformities. So far Magee and his group have responded to their own experience of the grace of God by operating on over 30,000 children.

Folks…I could go on and on listing Christians who’ve responded to what they’ve received from God by giving to meet the needs of others. Unfortunately, the reality is that Christians don’t always respond to the grace of God in this way. Some seem to forget the cost of God’s gracious gift of salvation. When this happens, they don’t minister to those in need. Instead they become inwardly focused and spend all their time and talents on entertaining themselves.

It’s a sad testament when churches receive but don’t give. All their energies are focused on maintaining the church and none on ministering to the world around them. Groups of Christians like these are not grace driven. They’ve ignored Jesus’ command in Matthew 10:8 when He said, “Freely you have received, now freely give.”

We have to make sure this doesn’t happen to us here at Grace Baptist. I’m glad that we are a giving church. We give to other ministries and missionaries to help spread the Gospel to the lost world around us and we need to keep that going. But it’s not only important for us to minister corporately as a body, we need to do all we can to minister individually to those God has place in our lives. We must always remember the words of Jesus from our passage in Matthew 25, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the lease of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

So, when grace driven people get…they give. Here’s the second statement I want to share with you today to help remind and encourage you in the area of ministry…

WHEN GRACE DRIVEN PEOPLE GO…THEY GROW

Did you know it’s not only those in need who benefit when they are ministered to? The one who is doing the ministering benefits as well. The very act of helping others helps us to mature in our relationship with the Lord. Ministry pushes us to grow spiritually. It forces us to rely on God’s strength because we find that our strength isn’t enough to get the job done. We learn that with God’s power working in us, we can do amazing, God-sized things. Actively serving and ministering to others helps us to become less selfish and more loving and giving people.

Christians who work to meet the needs of others will grow and become better people. One writer put it this way, “In a paradox of faith, the one who shares love comes away enriched, not impoverished.” And I believe he is absolutely correct. One of the main benefits of giving is its effect on the giver. Those who go DO grow.

What we have a tendency to do is focus on the objects of our ministry. The people won to Christ…the poor who are clothed, the hungry who are fed…but the people who are ministering benefit as well. After all these years now that I’ve spent in ministry, I can tell you this… I believe my ministry has helped me and my relationship with the Lord as much, if not more, than the people I’ve been privileged to minister to.

Listen folks…this shouldn’t be a surprising by-product of ministry. Listen to a couple of the promises we find in Scripture that talk about our giving…

Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Acts 20:35, “The Lord Jesus himself said: It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

When grace driven people go…they grow. But did you know the opposite is true? For those who don’t go…they won’t grow. When a Christian withers and dies spiritually, it happens from the inside out. This spiritual death is the result of an inward, selfish focus rather than an outward concern for others. I’ve shared this definition of joy with you before but let me remind you again of how to maintain the joy of your Christian life. Put Jesus first, Others second and Yourself last.

So, let me ask you this today. Are you ministering to others? Are you doing all you can to help those around you? And listen…I understand that we can’t meet every need and help every person; but we can meet some needs and help some people. Are we doing our part?

Today, we’ve looked at to statements to help remind and encourage us in the area of ministry. When grace driven people get…they respond by giving. When grace driven people go…the result is they grow.

Listen folks…we need to understand that our ministry…individually and corporately…is a direct reflection of our love for Jesus. I don’t know about you, but I want to be able to stand before Him one day and hear Him compliment and not criticize my ministry. The reality is that’s not going to happen by accident. It’s going to take a lifelong commitment of service and dedication to what He’s called me to do.

So, my challenge to you today is that you commit yourself to ministry. Ask yourself, “What am I doing to minister to the needs I see all around me? Am I caring in the nature of Christ?”

Monday, May 8, 2017

A Grace Driven Church Part 3 - Affirming in the Body of Christ - Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-33

I began a series of posts a couple of weeks ago entitled A Grace Driven Church. In these 5 posts, I’m sharing with you messages around an acronym of the word Grace. In the first post, we began with the letter G and talked about Growing in the Love of Christ. How that true disciples will have a deepening relationship with Christ that leads to a definite reformation of conduct… Last week, we took the letter R and looked at Reaching in the Name of Christ. How we as Christians need to take a serious view of evangelism and get busy trying to win people to Christ. Over the next 3 posts, we’ll be looking at…

Affirming in the Body of Christ
Caring in the Nature of Christ and
Exalting in the Glory of Christ

Today, as we continue our discussion of being a grace driven church, we are going focus on the area of fellowship. We need to understand how powerful fellowship between a group of Christians can be. Have you ever heard anyone say, “I don’t have to go to church to be Christian?” While technically true, without Christian fellowship, a person with that attitude will literally be like a flower on a plant without water and wither away.

Fellowship is an extremely important part of our church. It is the true test proving whether or not we’ve actually experienced God’s grace. Jesus told us to embrace a type of fellowship that reflects His grace filled love for each of us.

John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 15:12, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

You know I think the heart of fellowship in our church is probably the front hallway. This is where we interact with each other before and after services. It just buzzes with fellowship. Doesn’t it? You can sense our church affirming itself almost when you walk through the door. These verses from Acts 2 and 4 tell us that this first group of Christians put a high value on fellowship. Verse 42 of chapter 2 says, “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to fellowship…”

Today, I want us to try and discover the secret to their fellowship. Doing this will help us keep our relationships strong and grace filled. What was is about this early church family that made their fellowship so strong? Notice first with me that churches with great fellowship are…

PLACES OF GROWTH

Acts 2:42 tells us, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching…and to prayer.” As Christians, our lives should be marked by the fact that we have a desire to know more of God and His Word and that we are people of prayer.

Within any church…any group of Christians, there are people with different levels of spiritual maturity. Some have just been saved…they are infants in the faith. Others are spiritual adolescents and others have been working at spiritual growth for decades and, as a result, are very mature spiritually. Listen folks… Church fellowship is not just enjoying each other’s company. It is taking our God-given responsibility seriously to encourage each other to mature spiritually.

Listen to what Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:11-16, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

Folks…we need to understand that the church is a place of growth…not in numbers of people but growth in a relationship with Christ. We need to be concerned about the spiritual growth of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to be doing our part to encourage those around us to commit themselves to a deeper relationship with the Lord.

Listen folks…fellowship is a by-product of spiritual growth. If Christians devote themselves to growing spiritually, they will have healthy fellowship. 1 John 1:7 says, “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.”

Not only do we see that churches with great fellowship are places of growth, they are also…

PLACES OF GLADNESS

If the church is really the family of God, it should be a place of laughter…a place of joy…a place where people like to go and want to be. In grace driven churches, people love each another. They value and cherish their time together and can’t wait for Sunday to get here. I hope that describes you. We all should be like David who said this in Psalm 122:1, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, Let us go to the house of the Lord.”

Churches with healthy fellowship emphasize the positive not the negative. They focus on what God can do, not what we can’t do…they focus on what’s best in people, not what’s worst…they build each other up, not tear each other down. They have a positive attitude of joy and gladness.

It’s important that we understand that this joy and gladness is rooted in unity. Acts 4:32 says, “All the believers were one in heart and mind.” Christian unity is so important that it was one of the last things Jesus prayed for before he went to the cross. Listen to His prayer from John 17:20-23, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Christian unity doesn’t mean that we have to agree on everything. Listen folks…we are all different. We have different backgrounds, abilities and education so we are never going to be the same. Christian unity comes from our knowledge that even though we are different, we have one thing…the most important thing…in common and that is our relationship with Christ…our mutual acceptance of and dependence on the grace of God.

Now hopefully, we don’t have any of this kind of behavior going on in our church, but did you know that the main thing that will rob a church of its unity is gossip and slander? This is one of satan’s greatest weapons and he uses it to destroy churches. Words spoken behind the back of another Christian will hurt and divide the body of Christ and make it into a place that is not glad.

Folks listen…I’ve told you over the years now that at some point, I’m probably going to say or do something that you don’t like…something that upsets or offends you. I can honestly tell you that this won’t be intentional but it’s probably going to happen. When it does happen, my hope and prayer is that you don’t go out Sunday afternoon and have preacher for lunch. My hope and prayer is that you will come and talk to me about it and let’s resolve it like the brothers and sisters in Christ we claim to be. The reality is if you and I love the Lord like we’re supposed to and love each other like we’re supposed to, there shouldn’t be anything we can’t work out.

To make sure our church is a place of gladness, we need to do everything we can to preserve our Christian unity. So, we’ve seen that churches with great fellowship are places of growth and places of gladness. Notice with me lastly today that churches with great fellowship are also…

PLACES OF GRACE

Acts 4:33 says, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was…powerfully at work in them all…” In other words, grace improved their fellowship.

Chuck Swindoll tells the story of a former marine buddy recently converted to Christianity. His friend said the only thing he missed about his former way of life was the neighborhood bar. He described it as a place where he could go and find friends who would accept him just as he was, listening to his problems in a non-judgmental way.

Keith Miller talks about this in his book The Edge of Adventure. He said this, “The neighborhood bar is possibly the best counterfeit there is to the fellowship Christ wants to give His church. It is an imitation, dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality, but it is a permissive, accepting, and inclusive fellowship. It is unshockable. You can tell people secrets and they usually don’t tell others or even want to.”

Listen…bars flourish not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known, to love and be loved and so many seek a counterfeit for the price of a few beers. Now, I am not suggesting that we serve alcohol and set up HAPPY HOUR on Sunday mornings. But I do want us to realize that all people thirst for grace and if there’s one place on this planet where a person should find acceptance and love…if there’s one place where people can come to have their thirst for grace quenched it should be here in church.

1 Peter 4:10 says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

Listen folks…we are God’s servants charged with dispensing God’s grace. As Christians, we’ve experienced the greatest thing ever when we received God’s saving grace and it’s our job to share it with the world around us.

Just think for a moment about the words of one of the most famous hymns in our hymn book…

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

Three things enabled the early church to have healthy fellowship. Their growth…their gladness rooted in unity…and their grace. These same three things will help any church…including ours…to have healthy grace-driven fellowship.

Do we want to be a grace driven church? We must never take our fellowship for granted. We must guard it and nurture it.