Church – Different!!!
Church – Different!!!
Sermon Notes – Ps. Jim White
Sunday, 14th October 2018
Did anyone happen to see Insight on SBS last week? If you don’t watch SBS I totally understand. But I must admit, Insight certainly does give you a unique insight into the world in which we live.
Last weeks program was about dating for the over sixties.
For the sake of keeping my message family friendly, I won’t go into some of the more graphic details. All I need to say is that I was sitting there with my jaw on the floor.
All I could sense as I tried to filter it through the Holy Spirit, is how lost, how broken, how unfulfilled, how sad every one of those people were who shared.
I know I’m probably very naïve and obviously out of touch with how many people in the world live their lives – but once I was able to look past the blatant carnality of it all – I just felt like crying for every one of them – including the older man looking for “love” with much younger men. Or the woman in her 70,s who worked for the Anglican Church and then the Methodist Church… But has now found her true self as she does sensual dancing in front of men…
Now you know why my jaw was on the floor!
I had this picture of their lives being like little boats, floating aimlessly and recklessly, occasionally bumping into each other, but usually not for long, on an endless ocean of hopelessness.
Just one little waiver here – I am all for older people trying to rebuild their lives and finding love – with the Holy Spirit leading all the way! This Insight program however had not the slightest hint of God anywhere in the picture.
We can tend to think that in 2018 things are much more liberal and ungodly, and that society is just heading down a slippery slope of self idolatry and paganism like it’s never seen before. That would be a fair enough assumption!
But in reality, this is just the way our generation is experiencing what has been with us since the fall.
You might be wondering where I am heading with all these pearls of observation and wisdom!
Well, I want to ask you a question. Why isn’t the church impacting and influencing our world for good and for God in the way that it did when it first began 2,000 years ago?
Why are the voices of the anti-Christ minority finding traction when the church is just skidding in one spot… and in fact, in many ways, slipping backwards into obscurity?? – where many people of course would like to see it go!!
Before we look at that, let’s declare a few truths here:
Things are going to change! This is not a message of hopelessness and doom and gloom for the church. The church will arise and become a beacon of hope and joy and salvation… it will become the beautiful spotless Bride without wrinkle or any such thing that the bible declares…
God will do what only He is able to do – just as He did in the the time of the early church, when thousands were added to the church every day.
We will see miracles of healing, exponential growth in the church, salvation of souls like never before. There will be an outpouring of the Holy Spirit just as there was on the day of Pentecost!
I just needed to clarify our position there!
Last week I included Acts 2 and Pentecost in my message on joy!
There was incredible joy on that day – in fact, so much joy that people thought all the disciples were filled with new wine! Well, they were filled with new wine – the new wine of the Holy Spirit.
Later on in Acts it says they were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.
It’s so easy to simply focus our attention on God’s divine outpouring of His supernatural power that day, and the days, months and years that followed as the disciples continued to see miracles before their very eyes. It is what God has done that is of course the most awesome thing ever!
But this morning I want to bring our focus away for a moment from what God did – and take some time to look at what the disciples themselves were doing.
What kind of environment were they creating? In what ways were they positioning themselves and making room for God’s glory to fill Jerusalem, and later, to extend to the utter most parts of the earth?
I want to pick out the last few verses of Acts 2 that are clearly related to how the disciples behaved… because here are a few keys to how we could be better positioning ourselves to see a transformation or even a revolution in our own society.
Acts 2:40-47, “And with many other words he (Peter) testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
What happened here is that the early Christians established a culture within their group that was very different to the rest of their society. And there are a number of historical writings from around 100-300 AD – that is – around the time the church was being formed and growing dramatically – that speak about this Jesus counter-culture phenomena. I’ll talk more about that in a minute.
We’ve all heard about the persecution of Christians in those early days. We’ve heard how Jesus’ original disciples met some terrible deaths. So why would anyone want to join with this new Jesus movement?
It’s because there was something about the way these people lived their lives, about the joy they carried even in the face of persecution; there was a love that was shared amongst them that was so real and so powerful – and compared to what other religions and what society in general was offering at the time – there was no denying that this new movement was real and genuine and gave meaning to life!
The very reason that people were drawn to Christianity was because it was different!
And I want to emphasise this point that if the church – the community of Jesus lovers – is not different, and doesn’t stand out as a significant alternative to the society it is part of – then what’s it all about – and what’s the point?
Let’s not ever be ashamed of, or baulk at being different! If we’re not different then we are irrelevant. The more the church tries to become just like the society it is part of – the closer it is to its own demise! In attempting to become more and more the same as the community it is part of – it actually becomes less relevant as a source of light and hope and truth!
But the difference is not rocket science. It’s not complicated.
The bible clearly tells us that building up to Pentecost, and continuing after, the disciples we’re together in one accord. In other words, they were of one mind and one passion. The Greek word actually means to rush along with passion.
I’ve read a commentary that paints a picture of an orchestra… with all the different instruments together, playing their different parts, but just like you see when an orchestra is playing, there’s a lot of passion involved… there’s a lot of harmonising… and all the different parts are under the direction of the conductor. Our conductor is the Holy Spirit. It’s a unified expression and moving forward of beautiful and yet very different instruments. That’s us!
And passion is the key. But not just passion. The same fires of Pentecost remained aflame long after that moment in the Upper Room … and their passion was probably better described as “burning conviction.”
The early disciples were so passionate they were willing to sell up and share everything they had – even their own houses. They were willing to pack up and go to all parts of the known world.
I’m not at all suggesting that would be the most effective thing for us to be doing – but the expression of our passion and sacrifice in the 21st century could certainly go up a few notches.
How is our love for Jesus, our love for one another, and our love for others being expressed in our actual behaviour?
The early church had a unique culture that included genuine sacrificial love.
John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
It’s love that is expressed and outworked in a way that puts others first – where every person’s needs are met – and it becomes a powerful testimony to the transformative love of Christ. Even the way we love one another inside the church is a testimony to others of the fact that we are disciples of Jesus.
I’ll tell you something else the new church did. Once they had the revelation of the sanctity of life, they refused to continue with the common practice of abortion and the accepted custom of simply leaving unwanted babies out in the elements to die. They began to value every life as a gift from God.
They chose to live a life of sexual purity, with marriage between one man and one woman being the only relationship for sexual expression.
This was in a society and culture, particularly with Roman influence, where having multiple sexual partners was common, homosexual affairs were accepted, and encounters with temple prostitutes was a part of life.
But the Christians stood apart from all of that, and offered a lifestyle that was very different.
One of the early Christian writers of the time said that Christians shared their meals but not their partners.
All of this was revolutionary. Maybe it’s time for another revolution!
But of course, anything revolutionary attracts fierce opposition from the ruling authority and also from the current culture.
I came across a really interesting paragraph from a Roman Emperor early in the fourth century. It says how much he regretted the advance of Christianity because it was drawing people away from the Roman gods.
He said of this “Atheism” – because that’s what it was for Rome… Christianity was atheism… He said: “Atheism has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.”
Christians were persecuted for their goodness and kindness. And many many Roman citizens and others began to sit up and take notice – which scared the Roman Empire to death.
In the end, Christians were declared to have no right to exist under the Roman empire. Every Christian knew that sooner or later he or she might have to testify to their faith which of course would cost them their life.
Another writer from AD130 says, “They love all men and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and yet condemned. They are put to death and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich. They are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all. They are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour they are glorified. They are evil spoken of and yet are justified. They are reviled and they bless. They are insulted, and repay the insult with honour. They do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened to life.”
This is not the Word of God – these are words of observation by writers of the time. But you can see that they describe the very teachings of Jesus.
In it all, there was a rejoicing, because they knew their names were written in the Lambs Book of Life. They knew that their lives were eternal.
And that joy and “burning conviction” of truth and life was what attracted thousands upon thousands to the faith.
And it’s what is causing the Christian faith to multiply in unprecedented numbers throughout the world even today – particularly in countries where persecution is rife, and where the ruling authorities are doing their best to suppress it.
Christianity is different from every other religion. And we need to maintain our difference. We need to celebrate our difference.
Here’s another thing that makes Christians different.
Many in the world and many who even practice other religions, are relatively happy to say – if your faith and religion are right for you, then go for it. You can have your truth and we can have our truth.
And to some extent, with all the different god’s of the time, society in the first, second and third centuries pretty much held the same perspective. But not Christians.
They upheld the teaching of Jesus who said of Himself: John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
And Paul addressed the Romans directly saying they: Romans 1:25 “…exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…”
In verse 18 he says: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,”
People without Christ don’t want to hear about absolute truth. It’s too confronting. It’s much easier and much less convicting to believe that there are many pathways to God – or simply that there is no God at all.
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that we are now in a post-truth world. We are so enlightened now that we’ve moved beyond truth. These days, what you can obviously see with your own two eyes right in front of you is not necessarily the truth.
When you go beyond truth, every evil thing is likely to spring forth.
At Uni I did a study on Viktor Frankl and his time spent in the concentration camps during the holocaust. Miraculously, he survived… after having lost every member of his family, including his wife and children.
In his writing, he basically said – and this is a paraphrase in my own words… that the gas chambers and death camps weren’t the result of one man’s evil scheming or deranged mind… they were the result of a worldview that was formulated and spread throughout society by teachings and philosophies that life is meaningless – that there is no real truth or value in life.
In other words, when truth becomes blurred, anything is possible.
So the challenge for us as the church of Jesus Christ, is how do we influence our world in a way that proclaims that life is actually precious and valuable and that we have a Creator, a Heavenly Father, who loves us so much that He gave His only Son to die on the cross of Calvary for every single one of us.
How do we work with the Holy Spirit – make room for the Holy Spirit – to create a counter culture to the world we live in – that becomes so attractive that thousands upon thousands would be drawn to know and live in the truth?
The reality is that there are: Joel 3:14, “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.”
Many people are living in the world that they know and experience – and yet, just like those over 60’s on the Insight program – it’s as plain as day that they are unfulfilled, unhappy, without true purpose, and ultimately without hope.
It’s not about judging them. It’s about making room for them to know Jesus. It’s about celebrating our difference from the culture we live in.
And it’s not a hard thing…
We are simply meant to come together to worship in the temple – as the church together; to meet together in our homes, in coffee shops, breaking bread together, sharing meals, experiencing true fellowship – deep relationship… praying for one another… allowing the Word of God to wash over us and to renew our minds, to stand in awe of what God is doing in our midst, having a healthy fear of the Lord.
We all have so much that we could be sharing with others. And in it all, it’s having a glad, joyful and sincere heart.
I don’t think we appreciate the sense of life that we carry – resurrection life. We have hope when so many are hopeless.
We have a deep joy that we need to stir up and cultivate and express.
Have we become too complacent about Jesus? Where is our passion – our brining conviction? There’s so much more passion expressed at football matches.
Why don’t we start by loving others sacrificially. Giving them our precious time. Costing us a few dollars. Going the extra mile.
I truly believe that as we cultivate the same kind of culture, values and behaviour that were evident in the lives of the early believers, then we will also experience the supernatural outpouring of God’s Spirit – where God will do what only He can do.
It’s not a nice dream… it’s going to happen. And it’s up to us to love, live, pray, give, fellowship, sacrifice, live in the truth that is the only truth. Dare to be different and celebrate our difference. Provide a place and a culture that not only gets other people’s attention – but gets God’s attention as well.
This is the church! Praise God it is different!