Pastor Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Community Lutheran Church; Message on the church; Date: 22 Feb 09

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Today about sixty people become members of our church – Living Grace. They take the conscious step of committing and belonging to a group of other Christians in a church. Why? If you are also a church member here or somewhere else, why have you made this rather old-fashioned decision of joining a church? The modern trend – even among Christians – seems to be that Jesus is welcome but not the church – not worship attendance with strings attached to the people around you and the leadership. We like to be free (independent – God and me and no one else) and – let’s be honest – a word like “church membership” does – at first – sound unattractive because it smacks of formality – the church being an institution – which many a time comes with all the trappings of institutional control and inflexibility.

Why would you join a church? Before we think of answers to this question, let me say that – at its deepest level – this question does not make any sense. It’s like asking my daughters: “Why would you join the Mayer family? (Why would you take this step and have him as your dad?)” They did not make that choice but were born into our family – just as any Christian – at the point of becoming a Christian – is born into the church as the family of God. According to the Bible there is no Christian life in isolation. A Christian is never found on his own but – by the design of God – is always living and operating in community.

The Bible uses strong images to make this clear. Together we are said to be “the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19, 1 Timothy 3:15), “citizens of heaven” (Philippians 3:20), “living stones in one spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5), “a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9), “children of God” (Galatians 3:26) and the most common Bible way of addressing another Christian is as “brother” and “sister”. For instance – 1 Thessalonians 5:25-28: “Brothers [and sisters], pray for us. Greet all the brothers [and sisters] with a holy kiss … ” This is precious. Look around you. We are brothers and sisters – given to each other – by faith born into the one family of God.

Therefore – as a Christian – you cannot join the church (you already belong) but – in formalizing local church membership – you affirm – you recognize – where God has placed you in his family. Today – to our delight – about sixty people declare that God has placed and planted them in our midst – the Living Grace congregation.

And – can I say to you – there is nothing better than belonging to a church. Yes – there is bad press around (sinful people will always be flawed) – but – let God raise our vision – the church also holds untold treasures. Hear some incredible verses from the Bible – Ephesians 1:18-23: “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way

Here at Living Grace we have been on a journey of wrestling with these verses – not only to understand their surface meaning – but grasp the deep reality of God in them. There is a reason why the opening line reads: “I pray . that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened … ” “I pray . that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened … ” The first Christians likewise struggled with getting the truth about the church. They needed prayer. We need prayer. Eyes need to be opened. The truth is simply too fantastic – I repeat from the reading: “ … the eyes of your heart may be enlightened … that you may know … how great is the hope … the magnificence and splendour of the inheritance promised to Christians … his incomprable great power for us who believe . power . like the working of his mighty strength [in raising Jesus from the dead] … far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title … God placed all things under the feet of Jesus Christ and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way

Look at us. Surely – we are not that awesome: “ … incomparable great power for us who believe … Jesus Christ … the church … his body, the fullness of him … ” Look at us. We may hear the words but not at all comprehend their meaning. How can this be the church that we seem to know? But the other Sunday we stepped out in faith and used this power against the cancer of one of our members – Greg Storey. We are on this journey of having the eyes of our heart opened.

Even last Sunday two more people came to faith in the afternoon and they prayed from the heart giving their lives to God – trusting in Jesus Christ. On the same day another church member was fully released in the gift of tongues. On Wednesday still another person came to faith and then I happened to pray for a young woman. The Spirit of God was strong on her and made her slump in the chair. When I ran out of English words, I prayed in tongues. She asked: “What are you doing? This has been happening to meI then explained to her about the gift of speaking in tongues and that she didn’t have to worry about speaking the words. They were from God. I continued praying for her and again prayed over her in tongues. After a while she said: “I can understand your gibberishWow. This was only the second time a person made this claim. I asked: “What have I been sayingAnd she proceeded to recount a most amazing sermon on God loving her. God assured her of how much he loved her and placed her where she was and wanted to see her happy and have her trust in him. The message was quite a few sentences long and I was amazed. Then, she also said: “The evil has left mePart of the prayers were for deliverance and commanding any demonic presences to leave (there was some evidence of demons) and she felt that they had left. There was freedom.

On the same night we also prayed for another young man who had attempted suicide in the carpark behind the community centre. We prayed for healing and other matters. Almost as an afterthought I also commanded any demons to leave him in Jesus’ name. About a dozen of us prayed like this in agreement and faith. After the prayer session another Living Grace church member came up to me and said: “When we were doing this, I suddenly felt every hair on my body stand on end and the sensation of a vile presence being there. It came up to me and I felt it saying: ‘I know that you know that I am there.” And then ‘whoosh’ it disappeared. What is going on with meGod gave her a prophetic gift of discerning the presence of demons and knowing when they were expelled. Next time she is going to share the knowledge right when we are praying for people – for encouragement and faith building.

We are on a journey – an exciting journey. What we do as a church, we do with power (as the Bible reading said – I repeat the words: “ … incomparably great power for us who believe … ”) – if only the eyes of our heart open. [Jesus said – Matthew 10:7-8: “ … preach … heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons … “ Jesus commissioned us – Matthew 28:18-20: “ … All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore … make disciples of all nations … I am with you always … “]

If only the eyes of our heart open. Are they opening? Can you see? There is so much more yet to be seen. One healing evangelist had been traveling in dozens of countries for ten years with the result that about one million people came to faith and he burned out. From one day to the next he unraveled and God processed him – in public. He would be behind the microphone and get ready to preach in front of thousands when God dropped another painful but forgotten childhood memory into his mind – for healing but at the same time this made preaching impossible. For months he was out of the public eye – resting – praying – healing – not helped by the gossip of Christians who looked at the collapse of his multi-million dollar ministry and surmised: “He must have fallen into sin – adultery – addiction. God is punishing himNo – God restored him and one day this healing evangelist saw another angel come and minister to him. The vision of angels used to be a more regular experience for him but – now – this was the first vision of an angel in a long time. He tried to figure out the name of this angel – his role and assignment. He scrutinized his garment and everything (whether he had anything in his hands) until God revealed to him that this was the strongest angel in heaven. His name was love.

With God – incomparably great power and love go together. The strongest angel in heaven is love. Love releases power – in the church – and we – the church – are struggling – as before (when the talk was about incomparably great power) – to take hold of the truth. It is too wonderful for our minds. Therefore, in the same Bible book we find another prayer which builds on the one which we have already heard. I read from Ephesians 3:16-21 – another prayer for more understanding: “I pray that out of his glorious riches God [original: he] may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints [together with all other Christians], to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpassed knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God … “

Here at Living Grace we are on a journey of apprehending all of God – his incomparably great power – including what these verses say. We are hungry for this. Christians everywhere announce rather quickly: “Jesus loves you. Jesus loves me. This I know for the Bible tells me soBut – many a time – we have no idea what the words mean. His love for us goes so much deeper than any fast and easy statement about love would suggest. In fact – according to these Bible verses – the love of Jesus is so wide and long and high and deep that this love cannot be fully known with the mind. The reality of this love surpasses knowledge which means that we can only pray for revelation by the power of the Holy Spirit. We can only pray that the eyes of the heart begin to see and grasp what the rational mind cannot.

A pastor shared an experience from his prayer life. He reflected how in the days before Jesus the worship of God’s people would be built around the ark of the covenant which – according to the Bible – was fashioned after a pattern in heaven. Without going into details there were three distinct parts which signified three distinct levels of closeness to God. There was the Outer Court and then the Holy Place and then the Holy of Holies. This pastor explained how this pattern from heaven still applied to Christians today. We approach the manifest presence of God in stages. First we are in the Outer Courts where we praise him, repent for our sins, have him wash us clean, receive forgiveness. God applies the blood of Jesus to our sins. In this stage we are busy and feel the distractions of our sinful nature. The pews are hard. The guitar is out of tune. We get hungry. We get stuck in praying one sentence over and over again. Praying in the Outer Courts is not easy and takes some discipline. But then – all of a sudden – we are in the Holy Place and the prayer becomes rich. The presence of God makes praise flow from our hearts, intercession, repentance, … We love on Jesus. Then, the pastor said that (in his opinion) only a few Christians have ever gone on to the next stage and been to the Holy of Holies in their prayer life. They stop prayer too soon before they are taken to this level of intimacy with God.

One day he was surprised when was in the Holy of Holies for the first ime. In awe he quietly mouthed with his lips: “AlleluiahImmediately, the presence of God lifted off him. This frightened him and he asked: “Why? Don’t you want me to praise youThe response from God was: “Here – at this place of intimacy with me – not even your words are allowedThe pastor writes in explanation: “God’s presence is experienced in the deep places of the heart. [The Bible says in Psalm 47:7:] ‘Deep calleth unto deep … ‘ … God’s presence produces silence … Psalm 46:10: ‘Be still and know that I am God … ‘ … “

I think that what this pastor is sharing is what the prayer from before is about: “ … I pray that you … may have power … to grasp … the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge … “ In the Holy of Holies deep calleth unto deep. God – by his Spirit – imparts in us a kind of knowing – of him and his love and his power – that surpasses the knowledge which can be packaged into human words by the human mind. The Bible says in another verse – 1 Corinthians 2:9-10: “ … [what] no mind has conceived … God has revealed . to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of GodTherefore, in silence deep calleth unto deep. Spirit communicates with spirit.

Are we getting excited about belonging to the church? We may not yet able to understand everything but can we appreciate the wonders of the church? There is this exciting journey of penetrating the fullness of Christ – the incomparably great power for us who believe and the incomparably great love for us who believe. And the two – power and love – go together – come together – work together. Jesus demonstrated this on the cross when his body was broken for us in love – love – which released enough power to conquer sin, death and the devil. If you are in the church, you are on this exciting journey of penetrating this mystery – the love of Jesus – the power of Jesus – the enormity of his sacrifice – the power of his blood which was spilled for love … There is no end in what the cross reveals about God and has achieved for us.

Yet, I want to become more practical now. God makes the church this amazing enterprise but what are some more practical insights in the way we live together? One of our biggest needs and therefore the most pressing reason to be together as a church is connected with the two Bible prayers which we have read – Ephesians 1:18-23: “I pray . that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened … that you may know … incomparably great power for us who believe … “ Ephesians 3:16-21: “ … I pray that you … may have power … to grasp … and to know … that you may be filled … “ Our biggest need is to preserve faith among us. When my faith is weak, I need someone else around me that is going to be bold trusting the promises of God.

For instance, last Saturday we did another Holy Spirit seminar at Ipswich and during the day – before I went up for another talk – I needed to go over to David (Challenor) for prayer because I had a small crisis of faith, thinking: “What if God is not confirming his word? What if nothing is going to happen for anyone? I don’t feel anointed. What am I doingBut David prayed for me and I was leaning on his faith and his prayer renewed my faith and he loved me with the love of God and the talk went well.

We need the church to guard our faith – have the eyes of our heart enlightened – and not dimmed by the world. For this reason the Bible declares – Ephesians 4:11-13: “It was [Jesus Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to equip God’s people … so that the body of Christ may be built up … in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God … attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ

Jesus Christ gave leaders to the church (apostles, evangelists, pastors, grown-up Christians) to equip the church by imparting faith and knowledge of the Son of God (and his promises) so that with growing maturity (enlightened hearts) the fullness of Christ would be attained. We need each other for faith.

Then, these verses pick up again on the same image of the church which appeared in a previous reading from the same Bible book – Ephesians 1:18-23 (the earlier reading): “ … the church, . is his body, the fullness of him … ” Ephesians 4:11-13 (now): “ … God’s people … the body of Christ … attaining … the fullness of ChristThe church is the body of Christ. Again – reminding ourselves of the previous Bible images for the church: “the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19, 1 Timothy 3:15), “citizens of heaven” (Philippians 3:20), “living stones in one spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5), “a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9), “children of God” (Galatians 3:26) – this means that you do not join a church but as soon as you become a Christian you belong to the church – the people of God – who together are the body of Christ – the fullness of him.

Now – how does the body function? How do we function at Living Grace? The Bible says – Romans 12:4-8: “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not have all the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us … prophesying … serving … teaching … encouraging … contributing to needs … leadership … showing mercy … “ 1 Corinthians 12:27-31: “Now you are the body of Christ … And in the church God has appointed … prophets … teachers … workers of miracles … those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration . those speaking with different kinds of tongues … eagerly desire … gifts.” 1 Corinthians 12:7-11: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit … “

This is how it works. We are the body of Christ because Christ has poured out his Spirit upon us. We are his body because he is present among us through his Spirit in – as we have said before – fullness, incomparably great power and love that surpasses knowledge. The key is the Spirit who then manifests in each one of us – and keeps manifesting in each one of us – with different gifts and different gift combinations according to our position in the body – such as: inspired teaching, administration, showing mercy, encouraging, serving, prophesying, and so on.

Thus, every one of us is needed. Every single person is important and valued because the body cannot function without certain body parts missing. You may sit in church today and feel that you are still immature – maybe a new Christian – and you may think that not much good is going on in your life. You may sit in church today and have the feeling that you are always taking from others but have nothing to give yourselves. This is not true. If you are a Christian, you belong to the body and if you belong to the body, this means that God has also given you the Holy Spirit and makes you serve somewhere in his power.

Stolle is a new Christian (two weeks) but on Wednesday he was already joining the others in laying hands on a desperate young man and he was needed at that time because he is part of the body and can step out in faith trusting that the Spirit also works through him. Find your niche. We are not the same but the Bible says that you also are of vital importance to this church. You matter. No one is dead weight or unimportant.

Another word about leadership. The body is doing the work. We all work together accomplishing what Jesus wants from his body. Everyone is active which means that in the church the focus of leadership is not so much on taking over the work but equipping and releasing others into their giftings. I read again what we have heard before  – Ephesians 4:11-13: “It was [Jesus Christ] who gave … some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to equip God’s people for works of service … ”

This means – and this is getting very practical. Be realistic in what you expect from your pastor or our evangelist or anyone else. The church always seems to be in danger of becoming a club where a group of Christian friends become comfortable with each other and then hire a pastor who is employed to look after them – meeting their needs in personal visitation and counsel. In this church we must function differently.

I won’t talk about myself but our evangelist – David Challenor. He is a man of God and (just imagine that you hit a rough spot somewhere) when God makes him drop into your life, he comes with the love of God – hugs and food and clothing and housing and the word of salvation. When he is on an assignment from God, he will be rather close to you – visiting you and phoning you and caring for you intensely (mowing the lawn, fixing a bill) – but it will only be for a season. His job is to equip you – not make you dependent on him. He is an evangelist and he needs to move on bringing the next people into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. You are in the body now – the church – and the body will take care of you and you will serve as a part of the body.

It would be nice to remain close to every one in Living Grace but we are a church in mission and the sacrifice of moving out of the comfort zone of friends and opening up to new people is one that all of our leaders have to make. Even our small groups cannot become clubs but are in mission. Yet, at the same time the love among us is real and the bond of love – which is forged in seasons of closeness – remains precious. [Maybe it is a little like when you have relatives that are living in another city. You remain close to them but not always in close contact. However, what I as the pastor want to ensure is that I am always available for prayer. Every Sunday – at the end of the service and after the service – anyone can come to me and ask for prayer. I won’t go home before everyone has received prayer. The same goes for the Friday night prayer watch and the Wednesday Jubilee outreach.]

Another point and this is another practical point. The body grows. Any living organism is growing and changing all of the time. If it no longer grows or if it no longer changes, it’s dead – which means that you need to remain connected so that you keep growing with the body. Years ago I visited a man who told me that the church was like the TV show “Days of our Life”. It didn’t matter whether you failed to watch the show for a few years, switch it on at any time and you know what’s going on. Nothing has changed. Living Grace is different. Be here every Sunday for worship. Not only does God want to bless you but you need to share the growing experiences of this congregation. Otherwise you are missing key-markers of our development – key Sundays. We will keep growing and changing. (If you only come every three Sundays, you’ll miss it.) The body is alive.

More could be said about the church as the body of Christ (for instance, the members of the body must remain in unity with each other for the body to function and not die and the body is not served by different body parts becoming jealous of each other) but I am coming to a close. What can be better than belonging to the church? Ephesians 1:18-23 – one last time: “I pray . that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened … that you may know the hope … the … inheritance … incomparably great power for us who believe … the church, … [is the] body [of Jesus Christ], the fullness of him … ” About sixty people become members of our church – Living Grace – today and the invitation goes out to everyone: Be with us on this journey of having the eyes of our heart enlightened. Jesus is here and his incomparably great power is here and his love that surpasses knowledge is here. We are his body and he can do anything. Amen.