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Sunday, 14 February 2016

“We are committed to fellowship.” Romans 12:1-21

Building the right foundation part 22

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary:
If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
New International Version - UK (NIVUK)
*******
As we continue our series of “Building the Right Foundation” we will once again refer to our church covenant which every church member agrees to abide by when joining the church. It is therefore important for us to regularly consider it's content and to re-confirm the promises made. Today our focus will be:




Church covenant point 4
We commit ourselves to fellowship by seeking to maintain a spirit of love and unity among our brothers and sisters, by encouraging each other in our spiritual lives, and by carrying out a ministry of caring.
We will therefore consider what a committed fellowship looks like and how we maintain true fellowship. The covenant statement begins with the Commitment made and continues to speak of the Spirit in which the commitment is made which then naturally results in mutual encouragement.
In my experience church can often be one of the most discouraging places on the face of the earth. But as we read the New Testament we discover that this should never be the case. In fact church should be a mini version of heaven here on earth. Church of course is not the building. I can understand those who make comment in visitors books in places of worship saying that they have found in the building an atmosphere of peace. I personally may not get that feeling in that place but certainly do when on top of a beautiful mountain in the silence of nature where peace is tangible enough to feel. That is not the point of what we are considering today, even though feelings are important they are never a true indication of reality. We can often feel at perfect peace when all is wrong.
The church is the gathering of Christians whose set purpose is to glorify Jesus and to worship God by His Spirit. And so the purpose of our gathering this morning is to worship God together and by this to encourage and build each other up in the faith. This then begs the question;
why there so much negativity in the church today?”
This is where our covenant is so helpful. In the Lord's letter to the church in Ephesus found at the beginning of Revelation; Jesus criticised the church because thy had lost their first love. Even though they were commendable in many ways they had moved from their original foundation they looked good from the outside but in reality they had gone hopelessly wrong. They are a reminder to us that we need to keep our focus right.
Our foundation is clearly spelled out our covenant, therefore when there is discouragement and criticism it is evident that our foundation has slipped. Over the years our church has experienced many blessings for which we praise God but there have also been many discouragements. We pray that God will help us once again to build on the right foundation. In this today's subject is absolutely key to the ongoing work of the gospel here in Callington.
Let us therefore first consider:
Our commitment:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Our commitment to each other must be founded upon our commitment to God. The Apostle Paul in our reading is speaking to the church, giving them instructions as to what true worship should be like. As a group of gathered Christians there Paul gives us a few ground rules that make us into the church. The first of which is:
God's mercy: Paul reminds the church that for everything we are totally dependent upon the mercy of God. By this stage in his letter Paul has already taken the opportunity to spell out in great detail what God's mercy looks like. In chapter 3 he says this:
Righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
The important word here is justified; an easy way of remembering what justified means is that in God's sight it is:
JUST AS IF I HAD NEVER SINNED.
This has been made possible for us by God's grace when we became a Christian. By the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus upon the cross our sin was dealt with, we are forgiven and are innocent of all sin as far as god is concerned. He no longer sees sin in us because it was transferred to Jesus when He died on the cross. We are justified, innocent and free.
In view of this Paul says tells us in the passage read that there will be a knock on effect. Before we go on to explore what that means we must take this opportunity to challenge our own hearts in order to check that we are truly justified. Do you know with absolute confidence that God truly sees you as if you had never sinned. This will only be true of any one of us if we believe on Him who was crucified and turn from our own sinful ways and trust in Christ alone for the forgiveness of our sin. If you are not too sure; why not have a chat with me afterwards, I will not be able to do something spooky over you and make you a Christian but I would love to show you more of how it can be possible for you.
Many of the discouragements in the church come from people who believe that they are saved but are not and have not experienced God's grace and mercy and as such they are confused as to what church really is all about. It is equally true that many problems come from Christians who have forgotten the mercy that God has given them when they were converted. Either way we must remind ourselves constantly of God's mercy and then act in accordance with that wonderful gift.
Our commitment made due to God's mercy is the foundation of how we function as the church.
The spirit of our commitment:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Paul says that because of God's mercy extended to us then we must act in accordance with that gift. This is evidenced by our offering to Him the right sacrifice. See what Paul says; it must be a living sacrifice. Jesus is the only one that died a sacrificial death. Paul is talking about us being living sacrifices. We have all heard of those who believe that they must live a life of total deprivation in order to please God. Paul is not advocating living in caves, up trees, on desert islands. Neither is he saying that we live in communes or in poverty in order to please God. He is saying that we are to live whatever life God has benefitted us with in holiness which is then pleasing to God. This requires a sacrifice in the form of crucifying self wants, self demands and desires. For the Christian it is now all about Him who will supply our every need it is no longer about me and my rights. This is a completely new characteristic but it is the foundation of the church. The church is evidenced by it's sacrificial spirit towards God and also towards one another. It is a spiritual gift that God has given to the church. It is what our covenant is saying:
We commit ourselves to fellowship by seeking to maintain a spirit of love and unity among our brothers and sisters, by encouraging each other in our spiritual lives, and by carrying out a ministry of caring.
Can you see how this fits in with what Paul is saying? We are now interlinked through Christ to each other. When I worked in my laboratory I had a wonderful nuclear magnetic resonance machine to play with to my hearts content. That machine was absolutely useless if it was not focussed. For a right result the magnetic field which did the work had to be focussed onto the sample. This required me to spend hours or even at times days tuning it by twiddling 10 little knobs which were interdependent upon each other. There was first the number one knob which had to be right to start off with and then the other 9 had to be interdependently tuned to that one. The closer to perfect that the machine became the more effective and sensitive each little adjustment was. It was a laborious job but it was vital! That is something like the church, our main focus is Jesus, if we make sure that He is number one in all that we do the more that we adjust our lives as individuals and corporately then the more like Him we become. Paul says that the church must work together to be one holy body.
I hated it when I was disturbed whilst tuning my nmr because it was difficult to come back to it. I had one colleague who thought it funny to come along and turn one of the knobs. He was a perfect picture of the devil who loves to come into the church and turn one of God's people in another direction the result being disunity! We need to keep the focus, we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and that then spurs our thoughts to each other. We are the family of God and we do not want to be dysfunctional. A dysfunctional family is usually known by it squabbles and internal wranglings.
I know many good families that I have observed and have wanted to be a part of their family unit. That is how the church should be, people should be looking at us and saying look at how they love each other. We want to join them.
How do we accomplish this?
Paul tells us that we should put worldly or sinful ways aside and be Godly in all that we do towards God and also to each other!
How do we put this in place?
Mutual encouragement:
That is what our covenant says that we are committed to. This is what scripture says:
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary:
If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Let us simply highlight the different ways in which we encourage and care for one another:
  • Do not think of yourself more highly than you do others. Look at yourself with honesty in the light of the truth of scripture. The reality is that we are all sinners saved by grace and are only as much worth to God as is every other person. Modern thinking is “I am the greatest” biblical thinking is you are the greatest.
  • We all belong together as one unit. Paul likens the church to the body. The body has one specific function which is achieved through the efforts of many different contributions. This is a wonderful picture of how the church must operate, using all of it's functions whatever they are for the purpose of glorifying God. No one function whether it be prophesying or preaching, teaching or praying, serving or being served, administrating or organising, and the many many more functions are vital for our church. These gifts must be used by those equipped with them to use them and then the church will be functioning properly, it is an all body or all people ministry. Where do you fit in? When it goes wrong it becomes like our bodies when they malfunction. I can speak of a broken bone that cripples the man, a broken carer in the church cripples the church. A silent preacher or teacher makes the church vulnerable. A lazy worker leaves the church unkempt. What is your job here? Are you functioning as you have been gifted? Are you in the right job? When a cell in the body gets too big for itself, it becomes a cancer that tries to take over and eventually kill the body. If you are trying to do something that is not your gifting, just like the cancer you will destroy the church along with yourself.
  • Encourage one another!
  • Love sincerely.
  • Hang on for dear life to goodness and despise evil. This is so much needed by each one of us here.
  • Be devoted to one another: Devoted = loyal; faithful; true; true blue; staunch, constant, committed, dedicated, devout, fond, loving, admiring, affectionate, caring, attentive, warm, ardent!!!! In fact it sounds just like Jesus and how He is to us! Be like Jesus in our devotion to each other.
  • Honour one another.
  • Be zealous in serving the Lord.
  • Be joyful, not doleful.
  • Patient in all things.
  • Prayerful.
  • Generous.
  • Hospitable.
  • A blessing even to those who do not like you.
  • Rejoicing with those who rejoice, mourning with those who mourn.
  • Harmonious.
  • Fair minded and not proud.
  • Not conceited.
  • Doing the right thing.
  • As far as possible living at peace with all.
If we can accomplish this as the church here then we will be a truly blessed people and then others will be blessed through us. That is a promise because the more we seek to follow our covenant then the more Christ-like we become. The more Christ-like we are then the more effective is our church witness.



Saturday, 6 February 2016

“We are committed to worship.” Heb.10:19-25


Building the right foundation part 21

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.


New International Version - UK (NIVUK)
*******
As we continue in our series of “Building the Right Foundation” we continue to consider the church covenant. Every church member agrees to the covenant when joining the church. It is therefore important for us to regularly consider it's content and to re-confirm our promises. Today we will focus upon:
Church covenant point 3
We commit ourselves to worship by reverent and regular attendance at services of praise, prayer and preaching, by sharing in the celebrations of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and by cheerfully giving our tithes and offerings.
The writer of Hebrews in our passage speaks of the confidence that we Christians have to enter into the most Holy Place. We will therefore consider what he means by saying that. We will secondly consider what reverent worship is and finally the importance of regular attendance.
The confidence we have:
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
Firstly we need to address what is the Most Holy Place. Hebrew's is a letter written to a Jewish church and as such each person hearing these words would immediately think of the central place in the temple. The temple and also formerly the tabernacle was the place where God had focussed His presence in Israel. He met in the Temple with the nation's representative or High Priest in a very special part known as the holy of holies or the most holy place. Only the High Priest could enter and then it was only once a year after he had been cleansed from the effect of sin through the blood of an innocent victim. That place where God chose to meet with His people was a pointer to the place where God lives eternally. It was a glimpse of heaven on earth. It was also a a wonderful example which shows that it is possible for sinful man to meet with God who is perfectly holy. The way of meeting was directed by God and was only made possible by the sacrifice of an innocent victim. All of this was a pointer to what the Lord Jesus Christ did when He died upon the cross.
Instead of a high priest who needed sin to be forgiven by sacrifice, Jesus had to become sin in order to be sacrificed. He is now the Great High Priest who has opened a way into heaven for all who are cleansed from sin by His sacrificial blood.
You see:
There is a natural barrier between man and God. It is our sin that separates us from His presence but by faith in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice and through repentance we are forgiven and can then enter into the Holy Place where we can freely worship our God. When Jesus died on the cross the curtain which separated the Temple courts from the Holy of Holies was torn from top to bottom. It was only God that could tear it from the top to the bottom, by doing so He demonstrated that He had now opened up a new way into His presence. Jesus His Son had just made the once for all sacrifice which made it possible for any to enter into God's presence. By His death a way into the holy place was achieved for all who will trust in Him.
It is by repentance and faith that personal salvation is accomplished. Repentance is simply turning away from self and sin and turning to God for help and forgiveness and then in faith following Him.
Is this your personal experience?
If it is then:
let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”
How should we worship?
Our covenant tells us that we must worship reverently. But what does it mean to worship reverently?
One thing that is absolutely clear throughout the whole of the Old Testament is that we cannot worship just as we want to. Cain who was the firstborn of Adam and Eve discovered this to his cost. In his attempt to please God he brought an offering of the fruits of his own labours which was totally unacceptable to God. His younger brother Abel's offering of a sacrificed animal was however accepted. As a consequence of this Cain in a jealous rage murdered his brother. Also King David learned the same lesson when he transported the Ark of the Covenant on an ox cart in order to take it into Jerusalem. This procedure ultimately cost the life of a man called Uzzah. By the death of a man who simply touched the Ark in order to steady it David discovered that God is angry with anyone even His anointed king if they do things as they think is right. God had recorded in His law that the Ark must be carried by the priests only and should never be transported on a cart. When David did it the right way then blessing came to the nation.
It is exactly the same today we must only worship God in the way that He proscribes. Both Cain and David on those occasions were guilty of pragmatic worship. They had what they thought was a good idea and offered the fruits of their mind as an act of worship and God rejected it. We must worship God as he prescribes. Jesus said that there was coming a time when His people would worship in Spirit and truth. That is exactly what the writer to the Hebrews is saying in our passage and it is also exactly what we have covenanted to do.
Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart or as our covenant puts it let us worship reverently. God is only interested in the sacrifice of praise that come from a sincere heart. It is so easy for us to look pious here in the worship service. Do you know God does not accept anything that you offer whatever your words say if the your heart is insincere. At this moment you know exactly what your heart is like, some might say that you alone know but they are wrong.
Man may look on the outward appearance but God is scrutinising your heart NOW!
Let us now draw near to God with a sincere heart!
PRAY for a moment!
The writer also talks about a full assurance of faith. That means to be fully persuaded that you really are saved. This comes as the direct result of true repentance. Ephesians tells us that faith is a gift of God.
Do you have full assurance of faith, if not ask God.
We are a new creation the Apostle Paul said, we are no longer under condemnation. Our sins are forgiven as far as the East is from the West. God remembers them no more. Our hearts have been sprinkled and our consciences are washed as was alluded to by Old Testament temple ritual. But this is reality!
We are saved!
All of which means that we should:
hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
We should regularly worship together:
Our covenant says:
We commit ourselves to worship by reverent and regular attendance at services of praise, prayer and preaching, by sharing in the celebrations of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and by cheerfully giving our tithes and offerings.”
This is what we ought to adhere to. We ought to be regularly attending the services and share in the celebrations and ordinances of the church.
Baptism is a command of scripture. Have you been baptised. I know that there are differing modes and ways and theologies surrounding baptism but the scripture says that upon repentance baptism ought to be applied. It is not essential to salvation but it is important enough to be a command of God. Personally I am happy to accept those who differ from my understanding that believers should be baptised upon the confession of their faith. Some believe that in faith their parents baptised them as infants and now they have since becoming a Christian have confirmed that which was done for them in the faith of their parents.
The point made in our covenant is that as committed Christians we ought to share in the celebration of baptism. That is we should be there to support all who are baptised. If you have not been baptised then please talk to me and we would love to explore the possibility.
We are coming to a celebration of the Lord's Supper in a few moments. The Lord's Supper is a celebration of the life, death, resurrection and the future return of the Lord Jesus Christ. As such Christians must celebrate it together regularly. In fact it is so important that it is entrenched within the constitution (legal rules) of the church. The constitution actually says that if it is missed for 6 consecutive months without reasonable excuse then the offender has in effect broken covenant with the church. They cannot logically any longer be a member.
That is the outworking of what the writer of our passage is saying. He tells us not to give up meeting together for at least two reasons. Firstly because of who we are and what God has done in saving us; we ought to be together to worship and praise Him. Secondly we ought to be together for the mutual encouragement and blessing of each other.
Christians; God has done everything necessary to accomplish our salvation. Jesus did not stay in heaven because the work was going to be tough, He for the joy set before Him (which is us as part of His church) endured the cross and did not despise the shame that He encountered by it. He knew the future benefits that it would bring. By His death He was accomplishing the populating of heaven with His own people who are His adopted family. We are amongst that number and as such we will all one day be together enjoying each others company and all enjoyng God together.
Our church service is like a mini heaven where together we are of one heart, one mind and one purpose which is to enjoy God together.

Why miss out on such blessing?