Well, as I was mentioning a few moments ago, we have been in a prolonged recognition of God’s faithfulness over 40 years of ministry together, and it has prompted me to on each of our Sunday’s over the last month or so to look at some of the foundations of our church that have put us in the place where God has blessed us so greatly. We take no credit for it; this is not a work of man, certainly not a work of mine. This is, we believe, a work of God.
There are some spiritual commitments that we have made here in this church that really were there at the very, very beginning of this church, even when I came, an eagerness to follow the Word of God. And it is that commitment to the Word of God that has given us unwavering, unaltered, unchanging commitment to a pattern of ministry that is laid out in the New Testament.
I grew up in churches. My father and grandfather being pastors, I was exposed to my own church. As a kid growing up in my dad’s church, I was exposed to many other churches, many churches in which we had mutual ministry and shared youth activities and things like that.
My college days, even while I was a student, I was speaking in various places in various churches. In seminary I was in more churches and exposed to more approaches to churches and how they did their work.
And by the time I finished my seminary days, I had pretty much seen every way you could do church, at least at that period of time, and I came to the conclusion that I just wanted to follow what the New Testament said as closely as possible, setting aside all those things that were traditional or normal or expected; let’s go back and see what the Word of God has to say.
I couldn’t imagine that the Lord would have expectations for His church and not instructions for His church. And so it was that in the months before I ever came here, I was grappling with the Word of God, endeavoring to understand, if the Lord ever allows me to become a pastor, what is it that is nonnegotiable, critical, essential; what are the mandates for the life of the church so that we can be the church of Jesus Christ and bring honor to our head and have an impact in the world?
And so, from those earliest days, when we first came together in February of 1969, our focus was always upon what does the Word of God have to say about every aspect of our life as a church?
It has been an incredible 40 years. It has gone by so rapidly. It has been, as I told you a few weeks ago, heaven on earth for me to be in this church. It has been an undeserved gift from God that is so massive I don’t even have words to describe my gratitude for this incredible privilege.
And in the process of working out these New Testament principles for the life of the church, some of which I’ve shared with you over the last few weeks by way of review, I have grown in my love for the church. You could take – you could take everything away from me in terms of things I do and am privileged to do and glad to do – you could take them all away from me, but you could never take the church away. The church is really the heart and soul of my life. It is my love; I love the church.
And it’s along that line that I want to sort of close out or fortieth celebration with a few more reasons why I love the church. Last week we started to talk about this, and I gave you a couple of reasons why I love the church.
Number one, because God loves the church; Christ loves the church. It is the only institution that the Trinity is building. “It is My church,” Jesus said, “that I will build” – Matthew 16:18.
I love the church because it is a divine work; it is being built by God. That makes it different from every other activity, every other event, every other institution on the planet. It is unique; it is transcendent; it is the one thing the Lord is building. And what a privilege to be a part of that. I love the church because the Lord is building His church; it’s His church, and I love Him, and I love what He loves.
Secondly, I love the church because it is the most precious reality on earth. I know it’s the most precious reality on earth because it is most precious to God. And that is evidenced by the price that He paid to purchase it.
In fact, I read to you from Acts 20 and verse 28 that God purchased the church with His own blood. The Son of God, the second member of the Trinity, the eternal One, the undying One becomes a Man and dies. The Holy One pays the penalty for sin on our behalf. We are redeemed not with silver and gold, not with corruptible things, but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. “He became poor” – 2 Corinthians 8:9 – “that we, through His poverty, might become rich.”
“He took upon Himself the form of a slave, was made in likeness of a man, humbled Himself all the way down to death, even the ignominious death on the cross” – Philippians 2 says – “and He did it in order that He might be highly exalted as the head of the church and be called Lord by those who know Him and love Him.”
He became sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. I love the church because it is the only spiritual organism/entity that the Lord is building, and it is uniquely His. And I love the Church because it’s most precious to Him as evidenced by the fact that the highest price was paid for it. Those were the points that we talked about last time. They had some implications. The church is so precious we have to be careful how we treat the church.
And we looked at Matthew 18, didn’t we? And the first thing that strikes you in Matthew 18 is you do not ever want to cause one person in the church to stumble into sin. As a pastor, I am constantly conscious of that, never to do anything or to say anything that would trigger a temptation in someone’s life to lead them into sin. Jesus said, “You would be better off if a millstone were hanged around your neck and you were drowned in the depths of the sea than to cause one of these who belong to Me to stumble into sin.”
And a little later, in Matthew 18, you remember, He said, “Don’t disdain them; don’t look down on them; don’t belittle them, don’t think less of them because perhaps they’re socially inferior or intellectually inferior. And the Father in heaven watches over them and dispatches His holy angels to meet their every need. And that’s how much heaven cares about even the least of them.”
Be careful how you view the church. “Receive every believer as if you were receiving Christ” – Matthew 18 says – “for when a believer comes to you, Christ comes to you who dwells in that believer.
So, I understand that the church is precious. I understand that it is the Lord’s church, that it is the bride of Christ – the precious bride of Christ. The whole story of redemption is the Father seeking a bride for His Son. Every believer makes up that composite bride, and, therefore, everyone is precious. The blood of Christ paid for the sins of everyone in the church. Therefore, how you treat them is very, very important because of the value they hold to the Lord. You never want to do anything to cause another believer to stumble, to be thought of as inferior or unimportant. You want to confront them, when they sin, because you want them to be holy. You want to forgive them, when they repent, because you have also been forgiven far more.
So, the church is precious. The church is God’s church, and I love it for those reasons. Let me give you a third reason. I love the church because the church is the steward of God’s truth. The steward of God’s truth. I think we all understand that we live in an information explosion. I wish I lived a hundred years ago, or two hundred years ago, or three hundred years ago and didn’t have to deal with so much information.
The fact is, we live in a world now where there is way too much information for anybody to absorb, and I just want to encourage you by saying there’s still only one book in which God has revealed His spiritual truth. And I’m so glad for that simplicity in the midst of the confusion.
We live in a world of lies and liars. The Devil is a liar, and those who follow the Devil are liars. They are of their father the Devil. And even religious people, Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You’re of your father the Devil, who’s a liar.” Deceit has found a home in religion. Deception has found a home even in quote-unquote Christianity. The CHURCH is to be the steward of God’s truth. This is absolutely its purpose in the world. The truth that saves, the truth that sanctifies, and the truth that gives the hope of glory.
We dispense the truth. We dispense the Word of God in a world of lies, in a world of ignorance, in a world of confusion and deception. First Timothy 3:15, Paul identifies the church this way, “The church of the living God” – comma – “the pillar and foundation of the truth.” The church of the living God is the pillar and foundation of the truth - the truth about life and death, creation and dissolution; the truth about heaven and hell; the truth about right and wrong; the truth about sin and righteousness; the truth about man; the truth about everything. The truth about salvation. The truth about forgiveness. Gospel truth. The church is the steward of God’s truth; we dispense God’s truth in the world. We dispense the Word of the living God in the world. This is so foundational, so basic, that any church that doesn’t do this is in flagrant disobedience.
I was saying to someone the other day – not a Christian person – “I can’t imagine what you think Christianity is by just watching the definitions of Christianity that are displayed before you. Who in the world could figure out what it is? Because the message of quote-unquote Christianity is not a single message; it is chaotic.
We are to be the pillar and support of the truth. And yet, if you picked up – I went through about a month of religious articles in The Los Angeles Times. I never one time, in a stack of maybe 60 articles on religion, saw anything that reflected a biblical view. And it was all some article about something going on in Christianity, from pedophile priests to ordaining lesbians and everything in between. I never saw anything that had anything to do with an accurate representation of Christianity. And, of course, Satan understands this. This is the way to create the greatest deception of all: confuse the issue at its very core.
But I love the church because I love the truth, and the church is the steward of the truth. You all know that I love the truth. I live for the truth; I exist for the truth; I study to learn the truth; I preach to tell you the truth. And I internalize it in order to live the truth. Truth is everything. There’s no virtue in a lie. There’s no virtue in deception. Those are destructive; spiritually they’re damning.
Now, I understand that that doesn’t necessarily make me popular with the world. And even lately, it doesn’t make me popular with the church, because there is a kind of church today – I’m afraid not the true church, but those who at least claim Christ - who have no interest in the truth or a very minimal one. From the very beginning here, when you walked in the door of this place, you would hear the truth. Through all these years – all the years of this church’s existence, it was a place where the truth was proclaimed. It will continue to be a place where the truth is proclaimed. That’s our stewardship; that’s our responsibility. We’re stewards of the mysteries of God, the unfolding of gospel truth in the New Testament.
We dispense divine truth. You don’t come here to hear opinions. You don’t come here to hear ideas. You don’t come here to get political information so you know how to vote. You don’t come here to hear me harangue about economics or solve the problems of the stock market. If you come in the door, you will always hear the truth – God’s truth, God’s Word. Because that we know is absolutely accurate, and Scripture has revealed it.
And the Word is alive and powerful, and it cuts and wounds and then heals and restores. “It is profitable to make a person fully mature,” Paul said. That is why we are told to preach the Word in season, out of season, constantly. And you’re either in season or out of season. Whatever that means, it means that. So, you preach the Word relentlessly at all times.
Since it is the Word that sanctifies - “Sanctify them by Thy truth; Thy Word is truth” – John 17:17, Jesus said – and since any faithful pastor desires the sanctification of his people, he has to then teach the Word, the truth. In Galatians 4:19, Paul said, “I am in labor” – and he used the word for birth pains – “I am in labor until Christ is formed in you.” “I am in labor until Christ is formed in you.”
In 2 Corinthians chapter 11, he said, “My desire is to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” I’m pursuing your Christlikeness, I’m pursuing your purity, and all of this is the sanctifying work that comes through the work of the Word. A faithful pastor will not cause his people to sin and stumble. He will not lead them into temptation. On the other hand, he will give them the truth that purifies, the truth that purges, the truth that conforms them to the very person of Christ.
It’s not a mistake when Paul writes the pastoral epistles, as they are called. Look at 1 Timothy 4 and verse 6. He directs Timothy and all others in the responsibility of the pastoral ministry to focus on something very specific. First Timothy 4:6, he says - verse 5 –“Sanctification comes by means of the Word of God and prayer.” “Sanctification comes by means of the Word of God and prayer. In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a noble servant of Christ Jesus.” A noble minister is somebody who points out the fact that sanctification comes by the Word of God in prayer. And you will be a noble servant of Christ, able to do this if, “you are constantly nourished on the words of the faith” – that is the revealed faith, divine revelation – you nourish yourself on the words of the faith – “and of the sound doctrine.” Those are two things tied together. First, the words of the faith as revealed in Scripture, and then the doctrine that comes out of those words.
So, if you want to be a noble minister, if you want to be used to be the agent of sanctification by means of the Word of God and prayer, then you must yourself be nourished on the words of Scripture and the doctrines which those words affirm. Who would want to be less than a noble servant of Christ Jesus? Who would want to be, for example, a workman, needing to be ashamed because he didn’t rightly divide the Word of Truth?
So, we understand that the responsibility before us is to so nourish our own minds and souls with the Word and the doctrine that comes out of the Word, that we are the human instrument by which the Word and the Spirit sanctify the people of God, conforming them to the image of Christ so that they can be presented to Him as a chaste and pure virgin.
I was talking to a lady that I had never met this week, and she volunteered an assessment of my ministry – which was – it was good. She said, “You know, I’ve listened to you, and I’ve read you, and I’ve watched you on CNN.” And she said, “I just want to say thank you to you, because no matter where you are, whether it’s in a message or on a radio program” – she listens to Grace to You on the internet – “or whether it’s on television, you always speak from the Scripture. You always speak from the Scripture, and I don’t see other people doing that.”
Look, I haven’t discovered some deep secret here; this is obvious. The church is the steward of God’s truth. How wonderful that when you come here you’re going to hear the truth. It’s not about style at Grace church. If you’re looking for a church with a certain style, if that’s about as deep as you go, if you’re into style and not substance, we’ll see you at Easter. Or Christmas. This isn’t about style; this is about substance. This is about believing that there’s transforming power in the truth. And we believe it very strongly. We believed it 40 years ago, and we really believe it now. We have seen it.
So, constantly nourish on the words of the faith and sound doctrine. Verse 7, “Having nothing to do with worldly fables, disciplined for the purpose of godliness.” He comes down to verse 16 and says, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your doctrine. Persevere in these things.” It’s about the truth.
In the end of this first letter to Timothy, chapter 6, verse 20, Paul says, “O Timothy, O Timothy.” And just in the “O” here’s a little bit of fear, anxiety – “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you.” What is that? The treasure of truth. That’s the trust. “Avoid the worldly empty talk, opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’ – it just leads people astray.”
In the next letter, 2 Timothy chapter 1, verse 13, “Retain the standard of sound words.” Fourteen – “Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.” And what is that treasure? It’s the truth.
And then, of course, the familiar words of chapter 4, verse 2, “Preach the Word.” It’s always about the truth. As I have told you, the New Testament, of course, ends with the book of Revelation, which is the great apocalyptic vision of the future return of Christ. And just tucked in the shadow of Revelation are three little postcard epistles – 2 John, 3 John, and Jude. And it’s interesting to note these are the last epistles written in the New Testament. These are the last epistles, placed there in this order certainly by the providence of the Holy Spirit to remind us of what matters. They’re little, short, letters. But listen to what their subject is. Second John - “The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; not only I, but also all who know the truth, for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever: grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth.”
Third John – 2 John written to a lady; 3 John written to a man – “The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. O, I pray, beloved, that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is how you are walking in truth. I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.” Of course. That’s what a pastor desires. That’s his great heart. You must know the truth, understand the truth, walk in the truth, love the truth. There’s no other way to build you up than by the truth.
Turn to Ephesians 4 for a moment. Ephesians chapter 4, verse 11, “He gave some apostles and prophets, evangelists and pastor/teachers” – these are the instructors, if you will, in the life of the church; first apostles and prophets historically, and then followed by evangelists and pastor/teachers – “for the equipping of the saints” – for the edifying of the saints – “for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”
How do you build them up? Acts 20, “The Word, which is able to build you up.” So, what is the responsibility of an apostle, prophet, evangelist, teaching pastor? To build up the people of God by means of the one thing that will do that – that is the Word of God, the truth of God. And the end of that is that “you come” – verse 13 – “to the unity of the faith.” It is a unity, beloved, built on the truth. It is a unit built on the truth, not on some superficial emotion. It is the unity of those who believe the truth. It is the unity of the faith “of those who possess the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man.” What we’re moving toward, in the life of the church, is the dissemination of the truth that produces maturity.
And we deal with this with our own children, and we say, “Well, that kind of behavior’s very immature. They need to grow up; they need to know more; they need to understand more. That’s immature.” We’re working for that on the spiritual level so that, as verse 14 says, “You are no longer children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness and deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.” You become like Christ when you know the truth, embrace the truth, and love the truth.
We sing the truth; we pray the truth; we preach the truth; we talk the truth; we write the truth; we are to be the pillar and ground of the truth.
There’s a fourth reason I love the church. I love the Lord God. That’s why I love the church, because it’s His church. I love Christ, the one who gave Himself for the church. I love the Word, the truth. These are the reasons I love the church.
But there’s one more that is so important to me. I love the church because the church is heaven on earth. The church is heaven on earth. I don’t know about you, but if there was no church, I’d have a hard time living in this world. This is an unbelievable blessing to come here – isn’t it? – on the Lord’s Day. I’m fed up with the world by Tuesday. This is as close to heaven as we’re going to get, folks, here. It is the place that is the most like heaven.
What’s heaven like? Well, heaven is all worship. Right? Worship of God, worship of Christ, the presence of holiness – that’s heaven. It’s a place where God is worshiped, Christ is exalted, holiness prevails, and worship is incessant. That’s heaven.
Church approximates that. We come here, what do we do? We worship God. We exalt Christ. We pursue holiness. And collectively, we lift up our hearts in as much of heavenly praise as we can muster. This is our heaven on earth.
Turn to John 4 for a minute. Let me just give you a little bit of a wider-angle look at this. In John 4, verse 20, Jesus having a conversation with the Samaritan woman. And I think she understood something that a lot of people don’t understand. She understood that religion is about worship. Religion is about worship. That’s essentially what you do when you embrace a deity; it becomes the object of your worship. I don’t care what kind of religion you’re talking about, you could be talking about somebody in some remote part of the world that bows down to a rock, or a stick, or a piece of wood, or worships the sun, or a mountain, or a tree, or a river, or whatever it is. But it’s worship. That is ascribing power, ascribing honor to some object. That’s worship.
I think we may have somehow lost that in this evangelical world in which we live, or you don’t hear very often people evangelizing someone by saying, “You’re to worship the true and living God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
When you become a Christian, you become a worshiper, one who submits to the glory of the one you worship, the sovereignty of the one you worship, the power of the one you worship. This woman understood that. She is a Samaritan, which means she has a convoluted view of God. Samaritans were half-breeds. The Jews who remained in the land of Israel, when the rest were taken into Babylonian captivity, intermarried with Gentiles and became the hated, despised, half-breed Samaritans.
They developed their own kind of stunted religion, believing that the only divine revelation was the Pentateuch, and it stopped there. So, they rejected the rest of the Old Testament. So, they had a very, very limited view of God. But at least she understood that if you have a God, then it’s about worship; it’s about bowing to that God, giving honor to that God.
And so, that’s how she casts the conversation. Jesus comes along. She doesn’t have a hard time identifying the fact that He knows things that no man could know, and so she surmises that He’s got connections to God, and He’s a prophet who speaks with this inside information. So, she’s going to ask Him the ultimate question, “How do I worship? Where do I worship?” She is a woman who wants to worship. And she wants to worship the right God.
So, in verse 20, she says, “‘Our father worshiped in this mountain’” – this is the historic place where the Samaritans worshiped, Mount Gerizim – “‘you people’” – Jews – “‘say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.’” She understands that to identify yourself with a certain God is to become a worshiper. I don’t think there are people – they’re seemingly – I just think there are vast amounts of people who, in evangelical Christianity, haven’t ever had that concept that when you become a Christian, you have just signed up for a life of worship. It’s really not about you; it’s not about God jumping into your life to worship you, give you all that you want. It’s about you bowing selflessly in total self-denial to worship Him. And she understood the defining reality of religion to be worship. And she said, “Where do I do it? Where do I go? How do I get the right place?”
“Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, and hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.’” Giving a little predictive prophesy here. There would be a time, in 70 A.D., when there wouldn’t be any more worship going on in Jerusalem. There would be a time when the worship that went on, as they knew it, in Mount Gerizim, would come to an end. You better get away from the idea of thinking that worship is attached to a place.
And then He goes a little deeper. “‘You worship what you do not know’” – you worship, but it’s ignorant. Because, as I told you, they only accepted the Pentateuch. So, “You worship what you don’t know.” You have an ignorant worship. “We” – the Jews – “worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews.” That is the divine revelation of the whole of the Old Testament came through the Jews. So, “We have the full knowledge.” So, “You have worship that is ignorant; we have worship that is informed.”
However, neither one was actually satisfactory. Verse 23, “‘An hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in sprit and truth.’” That’s very, very important. There were false worshipers, among the Samaritans, who worshiped without truth. There were false worshipers among the Jews who worshiped with the truth, but it was nonetheless a false understanding of it. What has to happen is to worship in spirit and truth.
Historians tell us that the Gerizim kind of worship, a Samaritan kind of worship, was pretty hysterical. They would have been the original charismatics. They were over the top, highly emotional, exuberant kind of worship. It was worship in spirit. Talk about the human spirit being released, it was free, kind of noisy worship. But it lacked truth.
On the part of the Jews, they had the truth, but not the spirit. It was cold, dead orthodoxy. The Father wants worship in spirit and truth. He wants all your emotions, all your heart, all our joy, all your gladness, all your exuberance, but He wants it all in response to an understanding of the truth. “‘Such people’” – verse 23 at the end – “‘the Father seeks to be His worshipers.’”
So, when the Father is collecting a bride for His Son, ultimately it is so that they can be worshipers of Him and His Son and the Holy Spirit. He is seeking worshipers. God is spirit. Those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. Spirit and truth.
So, where does that happen? Well, it happens first in the heart. You worship with the joy of your emotions because you understand the truth. Nobody has to manipulate your emotions. Nobody has to orchestrate your emotions. I don’t know about you, but my high points of worship personally, individually, are with a Bible in front of me and the discovery of some great, profound truth. And sometimes I just have to get up out of my chair and move, walk around in circles because I can’t stay there. My spirit throws me out of that little black chair because of the truth that ignites my heart.
And then, when we come together like this collectively, with all of our hearts ignited by the truth, our worship is enriched and enlarged exponentially as we sing in praise together.
This is where heaven comes down. Turn to Matthew 6. You remember the words of our Lord in giving instruction how to pray when the disciples asked Him how to pray. He said, in verse 9 of Matthew 6, “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be our name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’” Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Bring heaven down.
Now, we understand that there is a – there is a future time when the kingdom will come on earth, and the Lord will reign supreme. And there is a time after that, in the new heaven and the new earth, where God will reign and righteousness prevail in the eternal glory of the final heaven.
But there’s a preview of all of that even now that we pray for. When we say, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Lord bring heaven down. Bring heaven down. What are we saying? Where is that going to happen? Well, again, go back to what I said. What happens in heaven? God is worshiped. Christ is glorified. Holiness prevails, and people surround His throne and offer Him praise. Where does that happen in the world? In the church. In the church. This is where heaven comes down. This is where God is exalted, Christ is honored, holiness is pursued, and praise is offered as we surround the presence of the one who is in the midst of our praise. This is where heaven comes down.
And, folks, the implications of that are pretty profound. I have no interest in designing the gathering of the church to suit nonbelievers. Why would I do that? This is the church. This is the church. I know when a nonbeliever comes in – I know they can’t identify with the music. I know that. Some people think, occasionally, they need to inform them. I understand it; I get it. I know the world of music that they live in. I know the – largely the junk that most people listen to. I get that.
I want people to walk in here and not say, “Wow, this is familiar; I like this; I understand this.” I want them to walk in here and say, “This is alien. This is totally foreign. What is this? I’ve never heard anything like this. These people are doing something that I’ve never experienced.” Well, good. This is a little bit of heaven on earth.
And so, you would expect, if you were an unbeliever, and you drifted into heaven, probably not to hear the same thing you’d hear at a rock concert. If you come in here and you see people exalting God and Christ, and talking about the importance of obedience and righteousness and holiness, and lifting up their voices in praise – the praise that has been a sacred trust from generations and generations and generations passed down, as the music we heard sung from Handel – you understand that you’re in a foreign place.
Now, no unclean person will ever enter heaven. Revelation makes it clear no unclean person will ever enter heaven. So, this is the only heaven people will see. How important is it, then, that the church be heaven on earth and not another dose of earth on earth? There’s nothing to be gained from that.
You say, “Well, what about the people? Don’t they need to hear the gospel?”
They do, and I’ll explain that in a moment. But this is the worshiping church. The Father seeks true – what? – worshipers. This is where heaven comes down. I know it’s not the popular music the world likes. That’s exactly why we do it, because it’s lofty; it’s elevated; it’s majestic; it’s beautiful; it’s profound; it’s biblical; it’s theological like heaven – not like a local bar. Not like that. Not going to be like that.
And there’s the obvious sense, when an unbeliever comes in here, that this is very, very, very different. And we pray that the unbeliever, like the one in 1 Corinthians 14, will say, “God is in this place,” and maybe fall on his knees.
But we also know that unbelievers will come and say, “[Pftt] I can’t identify with that place. I’m certainly not into worshiping God, exalting Jesus Christ, pursuing holiness, and offering praise with these people singing these really crummy old songs.”
You hear people say today, “Oh, people don’t like hymns.”
Of course they don’t like hymns. They don’t like Christ. Of course they don’t like hymns. We understand that. But this isn’t for them; this is for us. This is our heaven until we get to the real one. The church is heaven on earth. I love the church. I love the corporate expression of that worship. It’s as close as you can get, in this life, to sitting around the throne and singing praise to our God.
Well, a final point, and an obvious one, I love the church because it’s the starting place for evangelism. It’s the starting place for evangelism. I’ll say it to you simply. We’ve always believed this from the very beginning; the church gathers to be edified and to worship, and scatters to evangelize. The church gathers to be edified and worship, and scatters to evangelize.
We want you to grow up into Christ and then, when you walk out of here, conform to the image of Christ. You give off the aura of Christ, and you make Him attractive by how you live, and you get the opportunity to speak the gospel of transformation that you’ve experienced. You’re the evangelists; I’m not. Oh, well, I am on a personal level. The responsibility of the pastor in the church is not to be the evangelist, but to train the force of evangelists.
That’s what’s so wonderful about this church, the years we – Sunday nights – after Sunday night we hear these testimonies in the water of baptism, “I met somebody at the office,” “I met somebody at school - somebody in my family,” “A friend talked to me about the Lord,” “I met so-and so,” “I met so-and-so,” “I heard the gospel through this person. I asked them how their life was different.” And that’s how it works.
And you cannot be effective in evangelism out there unless there’s an effective worship here. If this is what it should be, and the truth is being drilled into your life and your heart; and you’re in a place where God is exalted, Christ is honored, holiness is pursued and prevails; and you’re in a place where praise is lifted up regularly, all of this works because it all embeds the truth in your heart and strengthens you and builds you up so that you can have an effective testimony from an effective transformed life.
The church is supposed to go into al the world and preach the gospel to every creature. Right? That’s the Great Commission. That’s not going to happen in the church. One of the greatest tragedies is to strip the church of its edification, strip the church of its worship, strip the church of heaven on earth, and turn it in to some kind of an evangelistic center where shallow, superficial people show up, hoping the guy in the pulpit can win over the folks that are sitting out there.
That’s a sacrifice I would never make. I am called to be a shepherd of the flock. Right? I’m not a shepherd of the non-flock. So, we’re going into the world. When you walk out those doors, you become an evangelist; you become a missionary to carry the gospel.
One more. I love the church because it’s a place where you develop pastors and leaders. I used to ask this question of my dad even. Whenever my dad needed a staff member in his church, he’d go find a guy from another church and bring him over. And I asked the question, “You know, if every – if this is like musical chairs – when the music starts, everybody shifts and changes churches – where’s the new leadership coming from? Who’s developing the new leadership?”
So, I determined when I came to grace, that we were going to grow our own. They got to come from somewhere. And instead of me being a pastor and going and finding leaders from other churches and bringing them here, we become a center of training leaders that could go to other churches. And that was from the very go. The first thing we did when we got here, within the first few weeks, started a men’s leadership thing, on Saturday morning, which lasted for seven-and-a-half years and gave guys responsibility for ministry in the church. And it went from there.
Pretty soon there was a seminary here. Now we have a thousand graduates out, and 400 students there, and we have 1,200 now in our training centers around the world, and 1,300 graduates there. We’ve got thousands of men that have been trained, and it’s multiplying and multiplying exponentially. Somebody’s got to produce the leaders. Well, they come out of the church. They come out of a church that is a church.
You know, there are some churches that export people that you wish they wouldn’t, because they’re just going to make more problems. But when men have been trained in the things of the Word of God, and when they’ve been consistently with the New Testament, they’re going to have a positive impact for the church everywhere they go. What a privilege and joy it is to see these men, from this church, over the 40 years that we’ve been here gone – they’re all over the world, all over the globe. More and more training more and more, and those men are training more, generation after generation. I love the church, a place to develop leaders.
Finally, 2 Corinthians 2 - just one statement - verse 14, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph.” Thanks be go to God, who always leads us in triumph. You know, when I was in athletics, I wanted to win. That’s not unusual. What else is the game played for? People use to say, “Well, it’s not whether you win or lose; it’s how you play the game.” Nonsense. Are you kidding me? They put numbers in the paper the next day. Numbers. Actual numbers. Nobody cares how you played the game. That’s why they have referees. If you don’t play the game right, you’re out of the game. It’s about winning, no other reason. I love to win. That’s why I love the church, because He always, in the church, leads us in what? Triumph. I’ve read the end; we win. Let’s pray.
It’s been a joy, Father, to worship You this morning and to share with Your people these truths. It’s been a privilege for us. But even more than that, over all these years, to see Your hand – Your mighty hand, Your faithful hand in our midst has been such a great benediction and grace to us.
We are Grace Community Church not because we give it, but because we have received it. We know that and we thank You for it. Thank You for Your Word, confirm it to our hearts, use us for Your glory we pray, amen.
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