Pastor Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Community Lutheran Church; Message on holiness and mission; Date: 15 March 2009

For more sermons and other writings check out pastor’s homepage: http://www.geocities.com/mayeredgar

 

 

Separate For Growth

 

This morning I want to begin with the closing testimony of last Sunday’s message. This is from a healing evangelist – what he saw in the Spirit while he was praying. He heard engine noise (wrrm wrrm – as gutsy as formula one cars) and he heard wheels screeching. A car came round the corner and inside was the Lord. He slammed the brakes, jumped out of the car, threw him the keys and said: “Do you want to drive this one? This car is the new model for 2005. It is not for lease but ownership and authority. This is the new model for ministry in the churchThe evangelist had a closer look. What kind of model was it? God said: “This one is ‘Fast’. That’s the name of the model. It will get you to your destination quicker. What used to take six years is going to take six months – what used to take six months will take six days – what used to take six days will take six minutes. Do you want to drive itJust then a salesman came by who sold oldsmobiles and he tempted the evangelist to settle for an oldsmobile – settle for the old way of doing things in ministry: “Be wise. Why risk anything new? Save money. Trust the old ways

The evangelist had a choice to make. What did he want? [Side comment: This visitation came in 2004 – the very year General Motors discontinued the making of oldsmobile.] Then the Lord said: “This car drives on one highway only and one lane only – holiness. This is the only way that you can handle the car and its power. Drive on the highway of holiness. This new model is for acceleration – for buildings, harvest, land, partners, money, multitudes

This year we have a sense that God is also accelerating us – just think: this is only the month of March and as a church we have already been shouting for victory in the chapel (there was a prolonged battle cry for the “walls” of Greg Storey’s cancer to come down) – that was crazy in a bold sort of way, we preached on “incomparably great power” (Ephesians 1:19) and blessings for curses, and then for the first time ever as a church we fasted for a week, and lots more. God is accelerating us. He is about to throw us the keys to the new model of ministry and the new model is fast. Here comes our church: Wrrm wrrm. What then about the highway of holiness?

Holiness has always been the key to our relationship with God. The Bible spells out that we are to be same as God because God had said – Leviticus 11:44-45: “ … consecrate yourselves [which means: make yourself clean / set yourself apart] and be holy, because I am holy … I am the Lord your God … therefore be holy, because I am holyThe same instruction is repeated in 1 Peter 1:15: “ . just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’ … live your lives … in reverent fearWe are – 1 Corinthians 1:2: “ … called to be holy … “ Ephesians 1:4: “ . God chose us … to be holy and blameless in his sight … “ Hebrews 12:14: “ … without holiness no one will see the Lord

Are we holy? Are you holy? Holy people are without sin. Are you without sin? These questions have power to threaten us but not today. Today we will not go down that track. We are not threatened because we love God – we know the good news – and therefore we cannot wait to drive fast – with huge acceleration – on the highway of holiness.

If you don’t know the good news, let me explain briefly what God did for us. He knew that none of us was like him. None of us was pure, clean and without fault. He knew that we were the opposite of him – selfish, greedy and cruel. Therefore God decided to bestow holiness upon us as a free gift – by faith – not on the basis of us trying to be better – but by faith. He sent his only begotten Son Jesus Christ from heaven to earth to die on our behalf as the one perfect sacrifice for our sins. Jesus Christ was holy and did not have to die but he nevertheless poured out his holy blood – for us – on a cross – so that in his own body he would bear the consequences of our sin and we in turn might be forgiven on account of the holy blood that was shed for us.

Are you holy? None of us is unless we are made holy by the blood of Jesus. When you ask God also to forgive you – to make you holy with the holiness of Jesus – then you are also saved and ready to go fast. [Do you want to be saved today?] Next point: When you put your faith in Jesus, you are washed clean with his holiness but then you also receive another gift which is absolutely precious. You receive an active agent of holiness that resides within you and he helps you to live out the new quality of holiness in your life. I am talking about the Holy Spirit. What we could never do on our own, we can do now through him – the Holy Spirit in us. There is power over sin and he makes us fall in love with the perfect (holy – pure love) nature of God. God is so beautiful.

I have not given you a whole lot of Scripture references in this brief explanation but I may now simply give you one which shows the two aspects of our holiness side by side: Holiness is a gift and then we live it out. 1 Corinthians 1:2 – the Bible begins a letter to the church in Corinth with these words: “ … to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy … “ “ … to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy … “ We won’t find a better summary than here. On the one hand those that are in Christ Jesus are already sanctified which means: they are already made holy, but on the other hand they are at the same time still called to be holy. Those that are made holy are now called to be holy.

Maybe one more Bible reference on this – Colossians 1:21-23: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies … because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation – if you continue in your faith, established and firm … “ Again – on the one hand – there is the free gift. By the death of Christ – this amazing sacrifice – God has reconciled – made peace – with us to present us holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation. (Can I just take a moment to praise God for this?). Then – on the other hand – this free gift comes with an obligation to live out what has been given. “ … without blemish and free from accusation – if you continue in your faith, established and firm … “ We need to continue in our faith with holiness. And we do all this by the power of the Holy Spirit because we – Galatians 5:16: “ … live by the Spirit … “

Now what does all of this mean in practice – for us as a church? How can we maintain holiness among us and travel fast on the highway of holiness? What are we to do as a church? One answer to these questions may surprise us and contradict many of the current books on reaching out into the community.

When I grew up and also in my later years, even many church leaders said: “You have to form relationships with people outside of the church. Don’t just gather in a holy huddle somewhere. Join a sports club. Go to the pub. Be active in Rotary. Get down from your ivory tower of purely Christian stuff and get out into the real worldThe thinking was: “Reach people by socializing with them and then after a while – because you are so nice – they want to go with you to worship in a church

Do you think that this is reasonable? Should we mix and mingle and instead of going to Bible study have a boys’ night in front of the tele somewhere? Is this how we win an entire city to Christ – by infiltrating every club and school and workplace with active Christians – by spreading out across the various layers of city life and exerting Christian influence wherever we can? This sounds good – and in some circles it would gain us a positive reputation (there would be activism) – but then the Bible surprises us. God strongly disagrees with this strategy. He says – 2 Corinthians 6:14-18: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and the devil [original: Belial]? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? … ‘Therefore come out from them and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘Touch no unclean thing.‘ … “ Ephesians 5:11: “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness … ” 2 Thessalonians 3:6: “ … keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.” 2 Timothy 3:2-5: “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure … Have nothing to do with them

Why does God contradict our ideas of mission work and insist on separation rather than infiltration – separation from unbelievers rather than mixing and mingling with everyone? God knows that holiness among us needs to be protected. Why? Because even one unchallenged sin – one open sin in one person – can corrupt an entire church. In the Bible the church in Corinth experienced an extreme case. We read – 1 Corinthians 5:1: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wifeAccording to this verse even the pagan – the non-Christian community that surrounded the church – would have been horrified by this kind of conduct but in the church this one sin was not only tolerated – was not only condoned – but in the end actively supported so that the Bible says – 1 Corinthians 5:2: “And you are proud [of embracing this sin]! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this

Unchecked sin has the power to work ever increasing corruption in a person and a church community because sin separates us from God who is holy and places us into the power sphere of Satan who then exploits the sin by using it as an open door to separate us from God further and further. If we let sin go unchecked, we will go from bad to worse. 2 Corinthians 4:4 – the Bible teaches: “The god of this age [Satan] has blinded [and still keeps blinding] the minds of unbelievers [and also the disobedient], so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ [that they cannot see the how glorious the life in God’s holiness is meant to be] … “ And the church in Corinth received this warning – 1 Corinthians 5:6 [J.B. Phillips]: “Your pride in your church is . out of place. Don’t you know how a little yeast [a little sin] can permeate the whole lump? Clear out every bit of the old yeast that you may be new unleavened bread … “ Sin is like yeast – a little bit [and the first sin is often small and subtle] can permeate and work itself through the entire lump of dough – the entire church community.

Is this true? We probably have no idea how true it is because we go by what has become normal among many of us (everyone is doing it) which is not necessarily the standard of God’s holiness according to his word in the Bible. At first we may have squirmed a little but then – many of us – watch what everyone watches on television. We have allowed ourselves to be desensitized. For the sake of not missing out on the latest movies we give in and let ourselves be exposed to the swearing, the drinking, the sex and violence, the lying and greed – which is corrupting not only our behaviour but also our faith. The yeast of sin does its work also within us.

This week I received survey figures from the United States which suggest that even among born-again Christians only 46% believe in absolute moral truth – only 46% (slightly less than half) believe that there is a definite standard of right and wrong according to the unwavering word of God. Then only 40% believe that Satan is a real force (Barna Institute 2009) which may explain why many Christians are not vigilant about guarding their holiness as a defense against Satan. Ask yourself the question: “Would others be able to distinguish your holiness from the conduct of non-Christians around you or you the same as everyone else

Again – this question is not meant to threaten us. This morning we don’t want to feel bad about ourselves but understand God’s strategy for blessing us. His perfect intention is to make us the same as he is – make us as holy as he is holy – make us live out the holiness which we have received through the holy blood of Jesus – and therefore he says to us – our church: “Separate. Do not be yoked together with unbelievers

I come back to relating this strategy to mission work and our desire to travel fast on the highway of holiness. How can separating from unbelievers be a good strategy for winning them over to Jesus Christ? This doesn’t seem to make sense. Yes – maybe it is outside of our current experience but in God this makes perfect sense. [Let’s rediscover (more and more) the truth of the Bible.]

There is power in holiness. There is power in separating from anything that corrupts and pollutes and degrades the church – our hearts and minds. The first Christian church in Jerusalem made the experience that God himself guarded the holiness of their community. When a couple sold some property and then lied about how much of the money would go to the church, they were struck dead by God himself. God’s lesson was that not even a simple lie can be tolerated among his holy people. I read from Acts 5:1-11: “ … [one church leader asked the husband:] ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied … You have not lied to people but to God.’ When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened … About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened … [The same church leader asked her:] ‘Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?’ She said: ‘Yes, that is the price.’ He [original: Peter] said to her: ‘How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? … ‘ At that moment she fell down at his feet and died … Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events

God was vigilant about the holiness of his church. Two deaths for a persistent lie and therefore “great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these eventsYet, the outcome of God’s vigilance was not the kind of fear that makes people too scared to move. It was power – unreal speed on the highway of holiness.

Immediately after the death of Ananias and his wife we read in the Bible – Acts 5:12-16: “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in [the temple:] Solomon’s Colonade. No one else dared to join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed

In this account can we see the power of separation – the power of holiness? People were in fear and awe. They knew that a holy God was the Lord of the church. Therefore “no one else dared to join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their numberThe contradiction works. Separation – and here the unbelievers themselves shied away from the Christians – “no one else dared to join them” – did not slow down the growth of the church. According to the Bible “more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number

The power was holy but absolutely attractive. Just imagine that we come to operate with the same holy power in our church. Awesome! I read again a few key verses: “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders … people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed

On a practical level this means that if you are stuck in business relationships and workplace relationships and school relationships and friendships which consume most of your time but expose you to filth and corruption, then feel free – if you can – to change your environment (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:33). “Do not be yoked together with unbelieversWe do what the first Christians did who came together for holy fellowship every day of the week. We commit to a holy church community – holy small groups, accountability (with accountability questions) and holy worship.

This is radical but practical. We seek to make the church our life. This is where we belong. The Bible says that together we are the body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit, brothers and sisters in the family of God. Therefore, first and foremost – before we belong to anyone or anything else (even our birth families) – we belong to each other as the holy people of God and we make time to be with each other. We get to know each other. We commit to each other – invite each other for lunch – may even go on holidays together.

According to the Bible this will not deteriorate into an inward looking club or sect but outreach with power and an influx of new people (a constant stream) who – through us – come to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. God will add to our numbers which is the promised outcome of a holy church.

The reality is that the Toowoomba region is not looking for Christians to infiltrate the dominant consumer culture but provide a viable alternative. The world is hungry for a “seachange”. The people of this world are not looking for us to join them. They want to join us. One aspect of God’s holiness is pure – unadulterated – love and there is nothing more attractive to any one of us than pure love – unconditional acceptance and grace and care. Are not already people coming to our church because we are learning to hug each other (cf. David Challenor)? Jesus said – John 13:35: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples [holy as I am holy], if you love one anotherAnd Jesus prayed – John 17:20-23: “ … all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you … so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me; and they may be one as we are one: … May they be brough to complete unity to let the world know that ou sent me and have loved them even as you have loved meThe glory is given – the holiness of God is given – so that the same love which binds together the Father in heaven and Jesus Christ, binds us together so that the whole world will take notice and join us in our faith.

This is a good strategy and it sounds wonderful. We have permission to turn our backs on sin. We are free to separate from filth. We join the church and spend our days – that’s the goal – loving and being loved, operating in power with miracles and healings, and bearing fruit with the daily influx of new people. This is where we are going.

One last thought and again this is practical. We do nothing alone. There is a time and a place to engage the various layers of city life – there is a time and a place to make a difference in a school or a sports club – but not on our own. The corrupting power of sin is too dangerous to face on our own. Therefore the Bible models the principle that we are always sent out as a holy community. We go in twos and threes – small groups and larger groups. For instance, when the apostle Peter was sent to preach in the house of a Roman soldier, he – Acts 10:23: “ … started out with them, and some of the brothers [fellow-Christians] … went alongWhen Jesus sent out more than seventy disciples, he sent them out two by two – Luke 10:1: “ … the Lord … sent them two by two … “ This is a good principle and ties in with the strategy of being a separate holy community. There is protection and power in doing mission work together as a church.

Maybe we can put this more and more in action in our church. When you visit someone or mentor someone or pray for someone, do it together with another Christian. Take someone with you. There is power in being a holy community.

Do we want to drive fast on the highway of holiness? Do you want to accelerate as a church? Then trust the strategy of God. We do not fan out. We do not spread ourselves thin across the Toowoomba region but come together – tight-knit – as a community. We commit to each other – become closer – so that we live in an environment of holiness with the result that everyone will notice what holiness – a holy God – can do among us.

May the Bible description from before become the description of our church – Acts 5:12-16: “ … [The people of Living Grace] performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in [a hall] … No one else dared to join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least the shadow of someone from Living Grace [original: Peter’s] might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Toowoomba (they came from all over Australia and the world) [original: Jerusalem], bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed

Do we want this? Then – as a church – be separate and holy. Amen.