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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Transforming Church

Church: Where God does More than We can Imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

2nd Sunday of Lent, 2nd Sunday of Church-wide emphasis

Indeed, in the present climate of mistrust of institutions, many people who yearn for a more meaningful and fulfilling life would regard the church as an unlikely place to go for guidance.
Hugh Mackay (Australian psychologist, social researcher)

My mind is my own church.
Thomas Paine (18th century author, intellectual)

I don't have to go to church. The church is within me and the experience is my own. It's my life experience.
Mariel Hemingway

Anyone who is to find Christ must first find the church. How could anyone know where Christ is and what faith is in him unless he knew where his believers are?
Martin Luther

What do we say about church? What do we think? What do we believe?

Church is a place, an address, 201 Culbreth Road. Church is an institution, and mostly when people in the world reference the Church, they mean the Catholic Church. But, that’s not the case for people deeply embedded in the American Evangelical Church culture.

In that world, life revolves around the church, and the church is the building where a particular congregation carries on its life as a body of people who worship Jesus. “I just dropped kids off at the church.” “Honey, could you swing by the church and turn in our reservation forms for Wednesday night supper?” “Hey, are you going to Pancake breakfast up at the church.”

What do we mean when we say the church? More importantly, what does the Bible say about the church? The Bible says a lot, but this morning we will focus in on one letter, Ephesians. The message there shows just what is possible when a church is not an institution or a location or a building, but rather a gathering of people who are united in their belief and brotherhood in Jesus Christ. When Jesus is who binds us together and we together live in His name, God does among us more than we can ask or imagine.

We read in Ephesians, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … he destined us for adoption as his children” (1:3, 5).

8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast.10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (2:8-10).

“The gifts [Christ] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” (4:11-13).

In Ephesians, we see God in action. He destined us. We are created in Christ Jesus. Christ gave spiritual gifts. God has put all things under Christ (1:22). God is in all places at once – here as we worship, walking through painful recovery in Haiti, standing with the hurting in Japan.

Furthermore, this very present, omnipresent God is especially interested in people who gather in Jesus’ name. It says in Ephesians 1:23 that the church is the body of Christ and the fullness of Christ even as he fills all people. When we talk about church and specifically about church as it is described in Ephesians, we see God at work. What does Church assume about the world? Church assumes God is at work in the world, working with people and within people. God is at work here, among us, His church.

The church assumes God is at work among Christ followers. What does the church assume about the way the world should be? From Ephesians 2:

13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.17So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.

The church assumes people should be united. In first century Christianity, the most significant division Jew-Gentile. The earliest Christians were Jewish and they wondered could someone truly worship God if they were uncircumcised and were Gentile? The answer in Ephesians is yes, they can. Because of Jesus, that divide over circumcision was bridged.

Jesus bridges schisms between people today too. The most painful split in our country’s history has been between black and white, people of African descent and people of European descent. We are involved in two projects that are attempting to, in the power of Jesus Christ, overcome that historic split just as the first century church overcame the Jewish-Gentile split.

One project is local – Restoration Carrboro-Chapel Hill. The basic mission is to do home repair for lower income people, primarily widows, in the Historic North side neighborhood located behind Mama Dipps Restaurant on Rosemary Street. We are intentional about reaching out to historically black churches and historically white churches. Both traditions are represented on the steering committee. Both have sent volunteers who have given a lot time to the project. Both have contributed money. You can participate in this effort that does good works in Jesus’ name and intentionally joins believers across denomination and racial lines. Pray that God would bring in more and more churches, including Asian and Hispanic churches. And pray that God would expand our financial base and volunteer base. We did one project in 2010 and hope to do 2 or 3 in 2011. Ultimately we’d like to do 5-6 projects a year. Give. You can give directly to this work; just put your contribution in an envelope and write Restoration Carrboro-Chapel Hill on it. And volunteer. We need painters, handy men, and willing labor. See me or call the church office during the week to express your interest.

A second project that involves expressing the love of Jesus across racial lines is international. Over 50 kids at the care point in Kombolcha, Ethiopia are sponsored by HillSong families. Sponsorship involves giving $37 a month, writing letters to the sponsor child, and praying for him. You can sign up to sponsor a child today. See my wife. And you can volunteer to go to Kombolcha in Ethiopia for about 10 days in Spring of 2012. The trip will be a blessing to the 300 kids cared for in Kombolcha. And it will make a tremendous impact as our people return changed having seen more of Jesus by seeing more of the world. I hope at least 12 HillSong people go on this trip.

What does the church assume about the way the world should be? We should be united in Christ. In Ephesians, the issue was uniting Jews and Gentiles. Today, the concept of unity in Jesus is the same; one of the issues is uniting us across racial lines – African, Caucasian, Asian, and all others.

What does the church make possible? It makes this unity among varied people possible. What else? What does the church that is founded on Jesus and stands on Jesus and relies on Jesus and calls others to turn from sin and come to Jesus – what does this church make possible?

Ephesians 3:10 says, “Through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Astounding! What God does among us here informs cosmic beings, angels and heavenly councils about God. What do you or I have to teach an angel? Ephesians 3:10 is very specific. Through the church, the wisdom of God is made known in the heavenly places. How can that be?

We turn to Ephesians 6:12. The early church was assailed by people, Judaizers, who wanted to impose religious legalism. The church was also persecuted by pagans who rejected monotheism and demanded worship of the emperor. The church cannot worship the emperor. We worship God as God is revealed in Jesus Christ. We cannot be legalistic. We are a community of grace. When Paul looked on these attacks on the church, he saw something spiritual going on. “For our struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places.”

Participating in projects like the ones I listed, we fight against racism and hunger and in doing that, we, the church reveal the wisdom of God in the heavenly places. God has chosen the church as his way of battling evil and bringing love to men and women. The church, where Jesus is Lord and the Spirit speaks, makes it possible for people to know the things of God.

What does the church make impossible?

14We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

17Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds.

22You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (

The church makes it impossible to remain spiritually stagnant. We must no longer be children, tossed and to fro. We must grow up in everyway into him who is our head, Jesus. There are two choices; we are either growing in Christ, or sin is growing in us.

I know there people who spend their entire lives in individual churches, and you meet them in their 70’s, and they don’t seem to have the love of Christ in them at all. They seem mean and bitter, or worldly, no different than one who has never set foot in a church. And they’ve come to worship, Sunday School classes and other church activities all their lives. This type of life appears spiritually stagnant. In actuality, I would call that life a dying life, a life in which sin and darkness have overpowered faith. Just getting into a local church and remaining there, never growing, for 70 or so years is impossible. If that church is truly following after Jesus, the participants there have to either mature in Christ, or shrink away and refuse to clothe themselves with the new self as it says in Ephesians 4:24. In spiritual life in the church, there is no straight line. One is drawing closer and closer to Jesus. Or sin, subtly, insidiously grows in that person’s heart and actions.

Church assumes God is at work.

Church assumes we should be united in Christ.

Church makes it possible to know the mysteries of God because Ephesians 3 states explicitly that God has chosen to reveal truth to the world and even to the cosmos through the church on earth.

Church makes is impossible to remain as we are.

What new culture is created by the church? The transformational community. In the transformational community, we come and meet God. In the transformation community, we die to self, we give away our time, we give away our money, we befriend others we would avoid outside that community, we put others first, we love those we previously did not care about, we love our enemies, and we see dying as gain because we know in death we enter the resurrection.

I pray today you will prayerfully consider what part you would play in the transformational community – the community where we are “created according to the likeness of God” (4:24).

Some are in the community for a long time and never grow in faith, which means they are dying in sin even as they appear as a Christian.

Others are dying to self, and being filled with Christ. These are not the same as they were a few years ago, or even 6 months. They are changed, transformed, new creations.

There are numerous ways that transformed Christ-followers in the church live and numerous things they do. I have mentioned two – a local project, Restoration Carrboro-Chapel, and an international one, child sponsorship and a mission trip to spend time with orphans in Kombolcha, Ethiopia. I hope everyone here will inquire about these two projects. If God is calling you in another direction, listen when he calls, and move.

Don’t resist the call of the God or life-changing invasion of His Spirit into your spirit. Be a part of something that is beyond what we could ask or imagine. Be a part of the church, the transformational community where human beings meet God.


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