Monday, September 8, 2014

The Church is the reconciled people of God

The Chicago “L” is one of those really interesting environments which to someone who loves people watching, like me is just extremely fascinating and sometimes quite entertaining.  It's one of those environments where you see people who are totally different from one another kind of forced together. You might for example see a lawyer in their 3 piece suit sat next to a homeless guy who is just riding the train back and forth end to end. Or you might see an elderly grandmother next to someone with all kinds of piercings, blue dyed hair and tear drop tattoos around the eyes.
The 'L' is a place where people you would never put together find themselves in one another’s world if only between stations. Of course it is also a place where most people try to ignore the others around them as much as they possibly can.  But from time to time even people from what appear to be two different worlds come together around a common interest, a conversation about the Bears, a sweatshirt that leads to the discovery that they both graduated from the same school or something else that leads to a fast friendship that lasts for the next 5 minutes.

Most of the time, most of us spend our lives around those who look like us, sound like us and enjoy the same sorts of things that we do.  Different is, well different!  Different takes work.  And often, whether intentionally or unintentionally, different usually divides us.

But the Church of Jesus Christ is utterly unique. The Church of Jesus Christ is made up of people from every tribe and tongue and nation, The Church of Jesus Christ is the body of people who have a new identity in Jesus, who have a real and dynamic relationship with God and who are at peace with one another.
At least, that is who we are called to be, that is how, by the work Spirit of God within us, we are increasingly called to live. In a greater way than any other group of people on the face of the earth the Church of Jesus Christ is to be diverse, beautiful and united.
You see, Jesus loves the Church and He has reconciled us to God and to one another.

In Ephesians 2:11-22 The Apostle Paul talks about this reconciliation to God and to one another that we have through Jesus Christ.  He explains that before knowing Christ we were alienated from God and from one another (v11-12).  But then he goes on to explain that in Christ we have now been reconciled to God and to one another (v13-22).
  • By the blood of Jesus we have peace with God.
  • By the blood of Jesus the dividing wall of hostility between people is broken down.
  • By the blood of Jesus we as believers are joined together in this incredible thing called the Church.  We have equal access to God, and together in unity through the Spirit we get to show His glory to a watching world.
We have been reconciled to God and to one another, and we have been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5.) that through us an unbelieving world which is without hope might see the power of Christ. What is more, we have been given a new identity, once we were strangers and aliens – now we are citizens and members of the household of God. So, who we are in Christ now is the defining identity of our life. Everything else must take a back seat to it.
Yes there are cultural distinctions, yes there are different languages, yes there are diverse preferences and experiences and backgrounds. These all testify to the creativity of God. But, our culture, our language, our preference, our experience, our background is not what gives definition to our life. In Christ we are a new creation. In Him we have a new identity a new citizenship. We are not Americans or Hondurans, We are not English or Mexican, We are not Polish or Guatemalan, and we are not black or white.  Through faith in Christ we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.

We are now brothers and sisters in Christ, joined by one Spirit, therefore we must show mutual care for one another and rejoice with one another, grieve with one another and live in unity with one another. We must show love, respect, fellowship and partnership with one another. That means intentional engagement with other believers even and perhaps especially those who look or sound different than us.  We must engage one another as believers, especially those who we consider different than ourselves, with humility, not comparison or superiority and with repentance over the attitudes and actions that we have allowed to divide us.

A world that is alienated from God and alienated from one another desperately need to see that through Christ there is hope, through Christ there is peace, and in Him there is reconciliation. The Church is utterly glorious, the Church is utterly unique: It is the Church that gets to display the power of Jesus Christ to a world that desperately needs to know Him.
Jesus loves His Church, He has reconciled us to God and to one another – let us put this ministry of reconciliation on display for all to see!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Authority Comes With A Set of Keys

Keys are pretty big deal. Do you remember when your mom or your dad first gave you your own house key, or the keys to the car? That was quite a moment wasn’t it?

If you think about it there’s a lot wrapped up in the idea of giving keys to something. There’s a responsibility that comes with a set of keys, because you are given them for a purpose right and you need to use them and look after them well. There’s also a sense of authority that goes along with a set of keys. I have the delegated authority to operate this car. I have been given the authority to open up the doors to this building so that people can come and go, and I have the authority to lock the door and say sorry you can’t come in. What’s more the giving of keys also carries with it a designation of honor. When somebody in a community has performed a special civic duty they might be awarded with the key to the city. But even with a set of keys to our house, when we give somebody one of those we’re saying, you belong with us, you can identify with us, what is ours is yours.

In Matthew 16:13-19 Jesus gives a set of keys Peter, the keys of the Kingdom. Jesus has just made a statement about Peter being a rock and now he is given this special honor.  But this honor also in a sense goes to the rest of the apostles (Peter was the representative spokesperson for the group - see also Eph. 2:20) and ultimately this honor, this function, this authority still today belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ! We hold the keys to the Kingdom of God.

In many respects the picture of St. Peter at the Pearly gates letting people in or turning them away is a misunderstanding of this passage – but there are some things even within that kind of comical picture that are correct and Biblical. Peter isn’t spending all eternity at the gates of heaven. But during his life and that of the other apostles he did what the Church is now entrust with and that is that he exorcised the authority of binding and loosing kingdom things.

The Kingdom of God is the rule and reign of God over all things, it is in a sense the realm of His rule. The Church lives under the Kingdom rule of God but the Church is not itself the Kingdom. We look forward to the fullness of the Kingdom rule of God when Christ returns.

But this Kingdom authority that Jesus gives here to the Church to bind and to loose is the authority that comes to declare and confirm salvation through Jesus Christ.  The Church has been entrusted with the message of gospel. We declare it to a lost world and in declaring it we open up the doors of the Kingdom for all who would believe to receive salvation and come in. When we proclaim the gospel and it is rejected our preaching, our message is also the very thing that locks people out of the Kingdom.
When you or I proclaim the gospel we become the means through which people are invited to salvation. Even though we have been given the keys, we do not tell people who can come and who cannot, but we as the Church do, assuming that we are living and teaching in accordance with God’s revealed Word – we do confirm or deny Kingdom access by holding out the rule, the standard the plumb-line of salvation.

I have at different times had to have difficult conversations where I have had to tell people who reject Jesus point blank and yet say they know God – "you say you know God but you do not, you are not saved, you have no hope of eternity in heaven."  Some might ask – how can you say that to someone, what gives you the right, who gave you the authority to say something like that – the answer – Jesus! He has given the authority.

 The Church has the authority to say – if you reject the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead you cannot be saved. The Church has the authority to say, that if you do not trust in Jesus Christ and what He accomplished through His death and resurrection and that alone for the forgiveness of your sins you cannot be saved. The Church has the authority to announce that there is no other name, no other religion, no other philosophy, no other way but Jesus to be saved.

The Church does not determine who can be saved, but it does have the authority when rightly exercising the responsibility of using its keys to confirm and to deny, to loose and to bind.

We have honor, the authority, and the responsibility in Kingdom matters, and when we as the Church we exercise that honor and authority and responsibility the eternal purposes of heaven are accomplished and confirmed here on earth.

And if Jesus has given this honor, this authority, this responsibility then we have to use the keys.  We have to proclaim the gospel.  We have to do it clearly.  We have to make sure we are not going beyond Scripture, laying a burden on people that God never intended.  We have to do it compassionately, but we also have to do it uncompromisingly. Because the keys belong to the Church, there’s nobody else who will do this.  Jesus loves His Church and He has entrusted to it alone Kingdom authority!

Monday, August 25, 2014

There's Nothing Else Like The Church!

I'm sure it hasn't escaped your notice, but the Church gets a really bad rap in the minds of most people today.  Tragically it’s true that there have been some people who have terribly marred her reputation by their unscrupulous and at times perverse and abusive actions.   And yes it is true that because of unthinking words, silly disagreements and selfish attitudes, there are times when local churches can be places of hurt and pain and strife.
 As a result a lot of people, even people who name the name of Christ have this kind of take it or leave it attitude toward the Church, some see it as a necessary evil of Christianity, others as something that they know they ought to be engaged with at least when there’s nothing much else going on, still others have withdrawn themselves completely and believe that they can do just fine without any local church connection.   Many even professing believers have at best a casual relationship with the Church.  But the Church is a glorious thing!  
There is nothing else in the world like the Church.  And it is vital that we understand that we cannot not love the Church without setting ourselves in opposition to Christ!   Let me say that again, if our relationship with the Church is something less than one of committed and passionate love then we are actually living in opposition to Christ.   Because Christ loves the Church.  He doesn’t love it like some poor sick puppy that He feels kind of sorry for.  He is passionate about it and He is committed to it.The Church is Jesus’ “plan A” for the world, and He has no “plan B.” Jesus loves the Church and you should too!

In Matthew 16:13-19, we learn that the Church is Jesus' idea and He is the one who is building it!
When Jesus states, I will build my Church – we need to understand this is the first time this thing called the Church is even referred to.
 The word used which is Eklesia was a word used in other settings to refer to an assembly of people, but it could be an assembly of any sort.   But Jesus here is quite literally claiming the word as His own and re-tasking it for His purposes.  This is His declaration of this incredible new thing that He is going to do.  We need to understand The Church is Jesus’ idea and He is its builder!
Most literally the word Church or Eklesia means, called out ones!  And that is what we are.  In Christ we are called out from sin to freedom, we are called out from darkness to light, we are called out from death to life.  The Church is the called out people of God.  
Because the Church is Jesus’ idea and because He is the one who builds it there are 2 essential truths that we absolutely have to grasp.
1.      The Church is utterly glorious, good and without compare.
2.      The building of the Church will go on unhindered until the very moment that Jesus declares it complete!  Nothing and no one can thwart His work.  Not even the gates of hell can stand in opposition to it.  Jesus is building His Church!  There are times when it seems like the power of darkness is prevailing.  There are times when it seems like opposition against the things of God is growing – but know this, the Church is Jesus’ idea, He is building it, and nothing will stand against His purposes!
No other people, no government, no other organization on the face of the earth can claim this same thing.

And since He is building the Church there is no other group, organization or government on the face of the earth that is as important, precious and significant as the Church! None!

The American Cancer Society may be doing some good work – but they do not compare to the Church. The Children’s Hunger Fund, The Literacy and Education organizations out there, Habitat for Humanity and countless others may all be doing good things – but only the Church is being built by Jesus Christ for His purposes!
Some people probably figure, "well, you're a Pastor, you would say that!"  But, to be honest as a pastor, I could make a longer list of excuses than most as to why I shouldn’t love the church, why I shouldn’t be committed to it.  If you think you see stains and blemishes, believe me I probably see more – but none of them are valid.  Because while Jesus is using messed up and broken, but redeemed people to build His Church – what He is building is infinitely glorious.  And since He loves it, since it is His idea, and since He is the one who leads, builds and accomplishes His purposes through the Church – as one who has been purchased by Him, saved by Him, forgiven by Him and called into service by Him – those of us who profess Christ have no choice but to love and to commit ourselves to what He loves and has committed Himself to.