GOD'S CHURCH - WHERE IT IS FOUND
Dear friends in Christ,
When I graduated from Seminary, most of you know I was called to begin a new church in Lawrenceville. Our first meeting place was a day care center. It was part of a chain called KinderCare. They are still around. At one time they were all built the same way. They had a red roof with a red steeple with a school bell usually in the steeple. Many still do but I am not sure that they all do. There seemed to be a lot more of them at one time than there are now. For about three years that was our congregation’s home on Langley drive in Lawrenceville.
After our first daughter was born, Kristina, she knew church as the KinderCare. We could go by the Crystal Cathedral or St. Peter’s in Rome or St. Phillips in downtown and she would never even give it a second glance, but every KinderCare with its red roof and red steeple she would exclaim, “Look, there is a church!”
We are continuing our study of the doctrine of the Church in our sermon series. God’s church really has nothing to do with red steeples and stain-glass. Today we study we will study the question: “Where is the Church Found?” 1) Where the Word is believed and 2) Where the Word is preached.
The apostle Paul was both a Jew and Roman citizen at the same time. He was raised in Judaism. We know the story of his fanaticism as a Hebrew when he opposed Christianity to such a degree that he thought he was doing God a favor by putting Christians to death. We also know the rest of the story. By God’s grace he was saved from his fanaticism. Not only did the Lord turn him away from his sin but he came to know him whom he tried to destroy as his Savior. By God’s grace all must experience a 180 degree turn from darkness to light, from going down the highway to hell to the path of heaven and enter the narrow gate – faith in the shed blood of Jesus.
After his conversion he lamented for his Jewish people who continued to do what Paul was saved from - rebelling against Jesus. Someone I have known for a long time almost had to have a foot amputated because of a disease, but doctors found that mysteriously was healed. The doctors said it was a mystery. We know it was miraculously. He would say God healed him but used a health drink to help. Frankly, he is pretty much a fanatic about espousing that health drink and the Lord. I don’t think I can blame him. Much of Romans 9-11 is a plea to his Jewish family and friends to quit rejecting Jesus like he did for way too long.
We hear a lot of people say (I do too), “Been there, done that.” Originally Paul’s mistake, and continued by his Jewish brothers and sisters was to think that the way to heaven was to keep the do’s and don’ts of life, the Commandments and all the other commandments.
I just read something where the rules and regulations of ObamaCare contain 1,000 pages. I also read that there are have been an additional 46,000 pages of other laws added to the laws we also had all added in the last six years. And I thought War and Peace was long! All those pages are not for a good read; they are there to keep. Who can do that?
Getting back to the apostle Paul, he used to think that he could keep the laws found in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy plus all the additions added by Jews over the centuries until a few miles out of Damascus when Jesus gave him an education. God gave Paul the education to realize what Paul needed to know. He needed to know the One he was persecuting was the Savior. To know him and believe in him was the difference between hopelessness and hope, between heaven and hell. Jesus was the difference between being a member of God’s family and a follower of Satan.
This is the Word that Paul preached as fanatically as he had once opposed Jesus. He writes, “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, “that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim.” What’s the faith he proclaims? He writes further, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”
There are only two approaches to being saved for eternity – by deeds or by faith, by merit or by grace, by doing or by receiving. I pray that every person here is able to say without even giving it another thought – it is through faith by grace. It is not by doing but by receiving. On what do we base that? Jesus lived, Jesus suffered, Jesus died. Jesus rose on the third day to forgive all – Jew and Gentile alike. other words, Jesus did it all.
If we think we can contribute we have to contribute or even can contribute, we will only be led to doubt and uncertainty. I like to cook. I am not sure y’all know about my award winning brats and chili? For the newer members here, Dave McMiller and I entered a brat cooking contest once. I took second place and he was next to last.
I like to make breakfast. In fact, I have a favorite granddaughter who always asks me to make her scrambled eggs for breakfast every time we are with them. In her eyes my scrambled eggs are not even second place. So what do you do when a grandchild says, Hey Papa! Can I help? Hey Papa, can I crack the eggs? Papa rolls eyes and says, “Only if you tell me where the paper towels are!”
When it comes to salvation, when we want to offer God our help or think we can help God or that God needs help, all we do is ruin the certainty. He does perfectly without us.
Paul says in verse ten, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” It is with your heart that you believe. He is not speaking about that incredible muscle in the middle of chest that pumps blood to all parts of the body. The ancients used to think that the heart did house all your will and inner emotions. In the Bible the heart refers to your very core, your inner self, your mind, your emotions and will. The Bible tells us clearly that the heart, our core, is defective, the very reason we need Christ in the first place. It is defective the moment we are conceived and born. It shows. The natural will of any of us is to be selfish and self serving. Emotions can explode do all kinds of harm and lead people to say and do all kinds of things that will hurt our relationships.
But God’s message, the message of Christ, the very message Paul preached, the message of God’s unselfishness and rescue of humankind is the message that penetrates a hard heart and brings faith in the forgiveness of sins and has the power to change people. The message of Christ moves people to be like him and think like he does and try to love like he does. The people on whom this message has its effect are called the church. Invistible to the eye but known to God. Known only to God. But know well God knows who we are. We are God’s church! We are the people of God where the Word of God is believed and all the promises contained.
Make no mistake about it that there are unmistakable evidences of faith. We call them the fruits of faith. Faith in Jesus does leave evidence. James wrote, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” Paul says the same here. “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart. He says, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”
Faith in Jesus not only sees the personal need to take hold of and believe the promises of God for yourself and be saved, it also sees that others need it also. So does that mean we are to give up our jobs and drain our bank accounts to book flights to the jungles of the Amazon or somehow plan and plot so we can go to North Korea or the far regions of China to share Jesus?
One thing we can do is to thank God that he has provided people who have indeed done that. We thank the Lord for missionaries like the apostle Paul whose God given courage and zeal and persistence is nothing less than one of a kind. There was David Livingstone of Stanley and Livingstone who was a medical missionary, born in Scotland, but spent most of his life in Africa as an explorer and doctor and missionary. God used that lover for him to spread the Gospel. Never one to stay in one place he was driven to map the whole continent in preparation for the many missionaries who would come after him.
Livingstone is considered one of the greatest missionary heroes. God has used his life to open doors for the Gospel.
Missionary A. Judson was became the first North American Protestant missionary in Burma now known as Myanmar. Like many early missionaries, he was involved in translation work and church planting. When he moved to Burma it took 12 years to see the first 18 converts. By the time he died 100 churches were established with over 8,000 members.
Is that what Paul is talking about? Not everyone has that kind of calling and personal gifts that are necessary to go to the jungles of the Amazon? Or the secret society of North Korea or the outer regions of China? But you do start in your own homes. You start with your children and continue with your grandchildren. Maybe it also includes a enrollment in a God 101 class to better understand what the Bible says so you are better equipped to give an answer when someone asks you for the reason for the hope that you have.
God’s people, his church, make that a priority. Paul asks a series of questions that are set up a domino effect. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
God not only gives a general directive that everyone should see the importance of being his tool to share the message of the risen Christ, he sets up the public ministry for people to go for us. Someone thought of the city of Atlanta way back in the late 60’s. Someone thought of you back in the early 80’s. The city of Atlanta was growing and needed more churches – even a confessional Lutheran like Messiah is intended to be – a place to herald the message of Jesus.
You know what I am afraid of? Churches are going the way of mega-stores. Stores, you know who I am talking about, are trying to become your family’s one stop center. They are driving Mom and Pop stores out of business. You can buy groceries and tires and plants for your gardens. You can buy cameras and clothes and a screwdriver and get your eyes checked under one roof.
Churches are becoming like that too. Sure you can worship, but you can exercise, you can eat at their food court and recreate at their mini Disney worlds and arcades. You can get childcare and seminars on how to invest money. I know of a church that wanted to have their own bar and grill so that they could keep and eye on people so they wouldn’t drink and drive. You can get music lessons and eat breakfast in their coffee houses and breakfast bars.
With so many people who are now growing up without Jesus, I wonder if they even know that at the church is where you get Jesus. I don’t know what God has in mind for Messiah and what happens and what kind of growth or size we get or direction that needs to be taken, but let this church always be a place where the word of God is first and the need to tell others. That is God’s design for his church.