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A.D. The Bible Continues

Part 5 - A Healthy Church

Pastor Gary Buchman
Emmitsburg Community Bible Church

(5/3) In Matthew 16, Jesus said, that He would build His Church and the gates of hell could not prevail against it. From the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. He has; in fact, built His church all over the world. In some parts of the world, the church is growing at a rapid pace. In other parts, like the U.S.A. the church is declining, and many churches are unhealthy. In less than 60 years we see that many local churches went from being vibrant to unhealthy. The Church at Corinth, and Galatia, as well as 5 of the 7 local churches that Jesus wrote to in the Revelation 2-3 were unhealthy and our Lord threatened to discipline them.

About a year ago Southern Baptist CEO of Lifeway and research author Thom Ranier wrote a small book called Autopsy of a Deceased Church. In that book he list 10 characteristics of a dead or dying church as well as suggestions to restore life. Not every dead or dying church had all ten characteristics but Ranierís research concluded that some or all of these characteristics are present.

1. Slow Erosion Ė connection with the community becomes less every year, vibrant ministries decreased every year and the people inside donít even realize they are eroding.

2. The Past is the Hero Ė "Man we used toÖ.. and it was fantastic" Two week VBSí and month long revivals, and thousands of people came. We Baptized every week. Those were the good ole days.

3. The Church Refused to Look like the Community. There are no Hispanics, No people of Color, No Caucasians, No poor people, No wealthy people, etc.

4. The Budget moved inwardly- the building, salaries, not the poor or missions, or evangelism. etc.

5. The Great Commission becomes the Great Omission (nuff said)

6. The Preference Driven Church- The church of what we prefer instead of being servants of Jesus Christ. Me, Myself, and I want to do what I want to do, rather than following the pastor and the 3 Great Commands

7. Pastoral Tenure Decreases- Pastoral stay is usually less than 3 years. Like a Professional Football or Baseball coach. If he doesnít produce results or conform to our preferences we get a new one, or he says, I canít stay here.

8. The Church Rarely Prayed Together Ė We are embarrassed, we donít have time, or we donít take the time. It isnít important to us. We want excitement, or memory lane stuff, or entertainment. We want to feel good.

9. The Church had no clear purpose Ė Why do we exist? What are we doing here? Why are you here?

10. The Church obsessed over the Facilities ĖThe Building becomes more than a place to do ministry. It becomes a sacred shrine in memory of the past. We canít take out the pews, they are sacred. We canít move or get rid of the organ it was donated. We always used those hymn books. That room is only for womenís ministry, we canít use it for VBS.

I could add a few more to this from experience.

11. The Church refuses to deal with their sins of the past and where they got off the track. - A review and repentance needs to occur.

12. The Church refuses to let their Shepherds lead. Powers struggles between Shepherds and Sheep develop. Which is why I hate Congregational business meetings.

Do any of these sound familiar? Now I have lots of books like this one called, The Irresistible Church Ė 12 traits of a church that Heaven applauds, and others called, 9 Marks, another called, The Church of Irresistible Influence, and more.

I have heard many people say, I want to be like the first century church. I often agree. But you must understand, this wasnít just a Sunday morning and then watch the ballgame church, or watch the ballgame and forget Sunday Morning church. It wasnít just a great contemporary worship service to pump you up. Acts 4 and 5 give us a picture of what made the church healthy, vibrant, and effective. Are you ready?

I. They Prayed Together. What were the Christians doing on those ten days between the ascension of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit? (Acts 1:14; 24; 2:42). They prayed together. After their arrest and night in jail, Peter and John were released and the first thing they did was gather with others and pray. Look at their prayer in Acts 4:23-31.

a. They begin by acknowledging Godís Greatness, Sovereignty, Omniscience, and purpose. He is God and we are not. This is His world and not ours. Our lives are about His purposes and not our own.

b. They prayed for boldness to speak the gospel regardless of the circumstances or consequences. They had been commissioned to deliver a message to the world. We have that same commission. But do we do it? When is the last time you told someone that there is salvation in no other name than Jesus, in no other works but Jesusí, no other way than through Jesus? Make us bold, and say like Job, "Though he slay me, yet I will trust Him."

c. They prayed to do great things for God in Jesus name. The signs and wonders were part of the Apostolic ministry to establish the Gospel as they displayed the evidence of Messiahís kingdom. But they were limited to the Apostles. Can God heal? Absolutely! Can God move mountains? Absolutely! But not through the touch of a manís hand. Otherwise we would be turning hospitals into churches. Paul says, " Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds (2 Cor. 12:12). Hebrews 2:3-4, implies that by the second generation of Christians, as the Apostles died, the sign gifts ceased. But the important thing here is that they wanted to do great things in the name of Jesus to glorify God and bring people to faith in Christ. There are so many great things that we could and should be trusting God for. But programs without prayer are powerless.

Paul told Timothy that his primary purpose as a Pastor was to lead his people in prayer (1 Tim. 2:1). Peter said, that the pastorís primary responsibility is prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). Jesus gave a parable to the effect that men should always pray and not lose heart (Luke 18:1). We will not grow, nor will we do great things for God without concerted times of community prayer. Not just grace at meals, or what the pastor does before the sermon or offering, but we the people on our knees giving our lives to accomplish Godís will. Call someone, and meet or pray together over the phone every week or over lunch once week. We need times together as a church to pray for Godís will on a regular basis. Not for healings, or money or better jobs, homes, etc. but to accomplish Godís will, obey Godís commands, and honoring Him, as we love Him, love each other, and reach the world with the Gospel. This Church was aware of what Jesus said in John 14 and they were aware of the importance of sharing the good news and obeying God. This is the incredible value and importance of meeting in small groups.

Notice that when they said, "Amen,í the place shook and they were aware of the Holy Spirit and they yielded their lives to His control and spoke boldly. Man, I want to experience that! Donít you? That is loving God!

II. They Provided for each Other (4:32-37 cp. 2:41-46). Maybe the apostles repeated Jesusí message in Matthew 6:18-34, or what He said the rich young man in Matthew 19 (sell all that you have, give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven and come follow me). They believed that God could care for them as they did Godís business like He did with the widow and Elijah in 1 Kings 18 or in the 40 years of wandering with Moses in the desert. God will take care of you. Wow, this church believed that and gave all to care for each other. The Macedonian church got it and they did the same thing when Paul told them of the famine in Israel (2 Cor. 8:1-15). This is loving one another as Jesus loved us. He held nothing back but gave His all to redeem us. One of the most painful memories I have is asking for help from a relative who loved me and could have helped me and heard him say, "No, I might need that someday."

III. They Protected the Purity of the Church (5:1-9). If you watched A.D. last week you witnessed this. What was the crime and why was the punishment so harsh? I love the answer that Peterís character gave in the show. They lied to the church, to God the Holy Spirit. They were hypocrites, but Peter said in the show, "You bet against God." You made people think you were something when you were nothing. And we made a little provision in case God doesnít come through for us. Sapphiraís character said, "Thatís just being prudent." No, thatís be faithless.

Listen God wants His people to be Holy and to trust Him completely. How often did God bring death for hypocrisy and un-holiness among His people? A lot! Gathering firewood on the Sabbath Ė death. Adultery Ėdeath. Idolatry Ė death. Remember Exodus 32. God told the sons of Levi to put on their Glocksí and Smith and Wessonsí and kill their Jewish brothers who participated in the idolatry of the golden calf. Thatís why looting a cash register at the Macysí in Jericho cost Achan and his whole family their lives. Thatís why God employs severe punishment Listen, God is Holy and He wants His people to be Holy. In Deut. 22 He repeatedly says get rid of the evil among you.

One of the things that the American Church has lost a will for is Holiness. We refuse to employ church discipline for fear of hurting feelings or scaring un-believers away. We are gutless. I wanted to do church discipline in our last Church but was told by a mediation team that we should not and could not. If we had, the end result may have been different. Would people have left, yes, but God would have been honored and people want churches with the guts to trust and obey God. Look at verses 5 and 11, Great fear came upon all. Reverence for God and respect for holiness grew as did the church.

The Church will not grow if there is un-holiness in its memberís lives. Be Holy He says, for I the Lord your God am Holy (Lev. 11:44), and Peter repeats it in 1 Peter 1. Listen to Paulís words (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1), "Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people." Therefore "Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you." "I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the Lord Almighty." Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

IV. They Exhibited Power Among the People (4:12-16). They prayed to accomplish Godís will just as Jesus said in John 14, and they provided for each other and the poor, and they focused on purity, and God gave them power among the people. Word spread throughout the city, county and state. God is doing something big, and people began to pour in with their sick and lame. As the Apostles ministered the church grew and grew. They stopped counting and started saying multitudes of people (v. 14). Some had respect but respectfully declined the Gospel for fear of discipline for sins they wished to keep.

Donít you want to be more than a Sunday Morning Christian? Donít you want to finish well, having made a difference in the world? Donít you want to hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant?" I do! But we have to pray in concerted effort, we have to provide for each other, we have to be pure and holy, and God will give us power to do things we never even imagined (Eph. 3:20). They ministered to the physically hurting people, demonstrating the grace and love of God and that gave them platform to share the truth of the gospel. Maybe we canít touch and heal the physical wounds and sickness of people, but we can help the emotional, spiritual, and even material needs of people. But we canít wait for the government to do it or for someone else. And we canít just open the doors of the church building and put up signs and hope people will come in. We have to go into all the world and show and tell them about Jesus. That is what their prayer was all about- Show and Tell. "God give us power to show and tell." "God give us the courage to use the power you have given us now."

V. But a Healthy Church will be a Persecuted Church (4:17-28). This is the bad news that we looked at last week. The world will hate you. Satan will try to destroy you and the church, because as the church grows, Satanís community loses. Here is a truism. If the world does not hate us, we are not following Jesus! We are instead, playing church. Yes there may be seasons of peace, but not long ones. Satan only left Jesus until there was a more convenient time (Luke 4:13).

Luke points out that the High Priests were Sadducees. They did not believe that God was involved with every day affairs, the existence of angels, or the resurrection and after-life. They tried to trick Jesus with a resurrection riddle in Matt. 22.

Angry that their warning had been ignored and that the doctrine of Jesus and the resurrection was filling the City of Jerusalem and State of Israel, they had them all arrested and put in the common jail. How ironic that God demonstrated that a grave could not hold His Son and a Prison could not hold His witnesses; and that He performed these miracles with an angels.

The Angel released them and without the knowledge of the guards, he told them to go back to the temple and tell people all about a life of following Jesus; maybe all the things that Jesus commanded (Matt. 28:18-20). Or, the Sermon on the Mount teachings, or John 3:16.

Notice verse 24, the chief priests saw the empty prison cell and wondered what the outcome would be. They were afraid of losing their power with the people, their position with Rome, their wealth because of this doctrine of Jesus and the Resurrection. When they heard that the Apostles were teaching in the temple, they had them re-arrested, but politely this time, for the temple guards and priests feared being stoned by the people. (Watch This)

Notice three things:

a. You disobeyed our order not to preach in Jesusí name

b. You have filled Jerusalem with this doctrine Ė Jesus is alive and gives repentance and forgiveness and eternal life.

c. You intend to bring this manís blood upon us. They were threatened. There could be an uprising and stoning of the High Priest and Sanhedrin. Do you remember Matthew 27:24-25? "When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it."25 And all the people answered and said, "His blood be on us and on our children."

Notice Peterís response. But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: "We ought to obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. 31 Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him."

a. Our first obligation is to obey God even if that means civil disobedience. (cp. Dan. 6) Never forget this. Donít use the law as an excuse to dishonor or disobey God. Reverence and obey God, respect the law and the authorities but when they contradict, you must honor and trust God.

b. And Yes, you murdered Him, in the most disgraceful way. Hanging on a tree is a sign of being cursed. You did it. (cp. John 11:45-57)

c. But exalted Him to His right hand, The one you disgraced and humiliated and cursed, God has given Him the highest honor of Heaven, to be at His right hand; to be the Prince or Author and Savior. He alone gifts people with the gifts of repentance and forgiveness of sins. Thatís what the temple and the Bible are all about.

Peter knew that the bad news of persecution is also an opportunity to tell the truth about Jesus. We reminded you last week that Peter would write his first letter to encourage persecuted and suffering Christians. Remember he said, in all your trials be ready to give and answer for what you believe, and where you hope lies, and what you believe and why. Respond like Jesus responded, entrust yourself to God. God often allows the bad news to be the door for the Good news to be shared. Never ever forget that. You may want to ask why me, why thus, why now? But God is sovereign and is strong when we are weak, and our responses show that we have something real. Never forget that. Our Hope is not in this life. It is in His life?

The High Priest and the council were enraged and wanted to kill these guys, which probably would have started a riot as they were immensely popular at this time. But the renowned Rabbi, who mentored Paul, Gamaliel, spoke up offering some prudent wisdom to take a wait and see approach, so they wouldnít be fighting a God thing. The council agreed and had them beaten, probably giving each one 39 lashes and again told them to stop preaching Jesus.

VI. They were Persistent.

What was intended to be a deterrent proved to be a catalyst of encouragement. They rejoiced knowing how Jesus had suffered for them, they thought it an honor to suffer for Him. They left more determined to share the story of Jesus the Christ.

Letís conclude. We will neither be healthy or powerful unless we make time to pray and pray together for God to do great things through us. With the Holy Spirit, Prayer and the Word of God we are capable of doing what seems to be impossible. Our praying must be in Jesusí name, for Godís will, and Godís glory. And the gates of hell wonít be able to stop us. Will you consider forming or starting a small group or coming early or staying later on Sunday to pray for Godís will and Godís power and Godís glory?

Will you focus on the Plan of God to Show and Tell people the grace of God in Jesus Christ? We live in a world without hope apart from knowing God through Jesus Christ.

Will you allow God to search your heart and remove any sin and covenant with Him to be Holy, pure as he is Holy?

Will you determine to see the bad news as the door of opportunity to share, show and tell, the Good news of Jesus?

Will you determine to serve God no matter what the circumstances and consequences might be?

Do you have the assurance of forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus? Will you give yourself to following Him today?

Letís pray about it.

Read other thoughtful writings by Pastor Gary Buchman