Thursday, January 1, 2015

Envisioning a more awesome church - Life around the cross

Acts 2:36-38 "Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesuswhom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

Introduction & Review
I pray these last several posts have proven insightful to the reader. We have been concerned about envisioning a more awesome church. Acts 2:43 tells us about that inaugural church gathering: "Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles." That word for awe could just as easily rendered "fear, trepedation, anticipation". God's presence saturated that early congregation to such an extent that the people felt like they had crossed a threshold into the extraordinary, unfamiliar, uncommon and sacred. Unfamiliarity spawns dependency. When we fear God, we are depending on Him and hating sin. This church was under the control and power of the Holy Spirit and the authority of Jesus Christ. The miracles of the apostles were not the cause of their awe, rather it was people getting saved and the reality of the church coming into focus. The miracles and signs confirmed the apostlic ministry, however it was God's birthing of the church by the sign of the Spirit and the masses getting saved that caused this early church to be in "awe". Thus the early church was "more awesome" than anything else.

We have considered four characteristics of envisioning a "more awesome" church that are found mainly in Acts 2:42-47 and other scriptures in the New Testament:
1). Intercession
2). Word
3). Fellowship
4). Commission

These four practices or traits are what I call a "vision target" for the church. Will that mean that these four things will be in place in equal measure? No. The church, like individual Christians, is ever striving to become in its experience what it is in its calling. (Ephesians 4:11-12) 

Now I hope the reader has grasped why I have labored over these four areas. These four traits or practices are a must for a church to be more awesome. However without the cross, these four practices will drift and quickly become isolated, shrunken or dead. Today's post aims to show the central anchoring point of envisioning the more awesome church: Life around the cross.

Why the Gospel must be heard every day
How often should we be exposed to the Gospel? Is once a month enough? Once a week? How about everyday! Yes everyday! Why? Consider Jesus' words in Luke 9:23-24 "And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. 24 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it."
The Gospel for the Christian is the source and power of sanctification, just like it is for the sinner the source and power of salvation. Unless I center my life around the cross everyday, I will never put to death the selfish propensisties that wage war against the desire to love and live for God (otherwise known as the flesh).

Notice what Jesus says again in Luke 14:27-28 "Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28 For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?" More awesome church life and more awesome Christian living requires us to daily assess the cost of following Jesus. The cross is the only place in which I can gain the proper perspective. Our problem so often in the church and in the Christian life is that we compare ourselves with other people or other churches. When we keep the cross at the center of our lives, Jesus alone is our standard. 

Consider what Paul writes about the centrality of the cross and the Gospel in Romans 12:1-2 "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice,acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." Consider these words in Galatians 6:14 "But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." When the cross is at the center of our daily lives, we won't compare ourselves with the world and crave and admire the success of the world above the need and desire to be godly. The cross shows us that we need not conform ourselves to the world's pattern nor give into its whims and desires. We need to hear the Gospel daily. 

We need to hear once more Jesus Christ virgin born, perfect active obedience in childhood, adolescence and adulthood, crucified, buried, risen and ascended. Jesus' entry into humanity by the virgin birth was necessary to provide the foundation of the Christian's new birth in saving faith. Moreover, His perfect life of active obedience was required to provide the righteous life that would be credited to my wretched life in justification. His submissive obedience in crucifixion was foundational to the removal of the penalty of the curse from me at the moment I am justified by faith in salvation. His resurrection and ascension are fundamental to the Spirit's work of empowering the Christian to live the overcoming life day to day, as well as the promise of a physical resurrection at Jesus' physical, bodily return to earth. 

We need to hear how at saving faith a sinner is newly born, crucified, buried with Christ, risen and seated in the heavenly realms in Jesus. The fact that a new convert participates in water baptism as a testimony of what took place in their life asserts that pattern of having been newly born, buried in Christ, risen and seated. When we partake of the Lord's table as a church body, we yet again are telling ourselves and those around us the Gospel story. We are asserting the need of the cross-centered life. The "death-to-self" message is embedded deeply in the Lord's supper so that "life in Christ" may express itself as something that the church has in common. Taking in the life and power of Jesus daily by the Spirit is captured in that physical partaking of the elements which portray such realities. Jesus in me and I in Him. 

Closing thoughts:
As we close out this post and this series on "envisioning a more awesome church", today we have considered the power source behind the traits of such a church - the cross. Only when the cross and the Gospel are central to our individual Christian lives and church lives can we seriously pursue intercession, the word, fellowship and the Great commission. More awesome churches proceed forward by the blood of the lamb and power of the Spirit.