THE GRACE BASED CHURCH — PRAYS WITH JOY
by Pastor Mike Fortune
September 25, 2010
- Joy for faithful friends [Philippians 1:1-6; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3]
- Joy for God’s salvation [Philippians 1:7; Psalm 69:1-5,13]
- Joy for God’s sanctification [Philippians 1:8-11; Psalm 139:23-24]
According to the monumental studies of Adventist youth entitled ValueGenesis, meaningful Bible study and worship, active community service, and a grace based church are three of the most influential factors contributing to a positive outlook about God and lasting interest of our young people in the church. Interestingly, these three factors can also be found among fifteen others most helpful in reaching the largest growing mission field of America—the unchurched. At least that’s what the Christian researcher Thom Rainer says in his book Surprising Insights to the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them. The “win/win” of keeping our kids and reaching the lost is why I think every Adventist church should be keenly interested in meaningful Bible study and worship, active community service, and building The Grace Based Church. Even if doing so causes disequilibrium and uncertainty in the lives of the people who currently worship here now.
We show video clips in church because people like me are visual learners. We read large passages of Scripture in a modern versions, such as the New Living Translation I’m using now, because I’ve discovered the New International Version I was using is written at a 9th grade reading level while many people in Lucas County can’t understand large amounts of data beyond a 4th grade reading level. I write sermons that talk about what the Bible passages mean without skipping around a bunch because unchurched people really don’t know what it means when they read the Bible, if they read the Bible, and they really do want to know. We tell stories that people are familiar with from the news or from films or from novels because the Gospel is a story. It just so happens to be the greatest story ever told. These are some of the ways we’re attempting to make Bible study and worship meaningful.
The second key factor research inside and outside the church says will help us keep our kids and reach others is active community service. I hope by now that ordinary outreach is becoming the new normal for you. That befriending international students at UT for example and inviting them to hay rides and bonfires and car shows and Valentines Banquets aren’t about the marshmallows and engines and food. They’re about the opportunities we seize to share those things with other people in non-threatening environments free of coercion. I don’t ask you to squeeze lemonade in the blazing sun because you’ve never had a lemonade. I ask you to do that because nobody ever gives away fresh squeezed lemonade in the blazing sun for free! Matthew 10:42 says, “42 And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.” So rightly understood, evangelism isn’t something we do. It is something we live. It’s who we are 24/7.
Luke 6:32-35 says it this way: “32If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! 33 And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! 34 And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. 35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid.”
That’s why our ordinary outreach opportunities are done with no strings attached. We don’t jam pamphlets or brochures into our guests pockets. We don’t sign them up for a Bible study on the spot. Because we aren’t expecting to be repaid! But as we’ve seen in the transformed lives and baptisms the last few years, the paradoxical truth about doing evangelism this way is that the Holy Spirit so messes with people’s minds that they want to be a part of a church that freely gives and receives. Whether they ever love or serve us back, we will be their friends. And if we are, Jesus told his disciples, we can be known by our love [cf. John 13:35]. Even if there was no such thing as eternal life, being a Christian like this would be worth it because there is an abundant life worth living and sharing. So that’s a little bit about the 2nd key factor for keeping our kids and reaching others—active community service. Maybe we’ll do a longer series on each of these key factors.
But the last one, the one I want to dig into a few weeks at a time this fall and maybe some in the new year, is for some reason the most confusing one. What is a grace based church? People of all ages ask me this question. As if there really is a Biblical alternative to a grace based church. As if we could be anything but such a thing! And sadly, there is. Dr. Sandra Wilson in Appendix E of her fantastic little book Hurt People Hurt People elaborates on what a “shame-full church family” looks like and how the “some-grace theology” effects the lives of the people bound by it. She compares that group with another called the “grace-full church family” that depends on a Biblical “grace-based” theology. Which is where I got her term to describe this 3rd key factor.
Certainly part of the answer to becoming a “grace-based” church is found in the first two key factors. A grace based church has meaningful Bible study and worship in addition to active community service. But I think there’s more to it than. And the book of Philippians does a fantastic job of clarifying this third factor research inside and outside our church says will help us keep our kids and reach others. So that’s what we’re going to be looking for and studying together this fall as we begin this new series: The Grace Based Church. So I encourage you to read the entire book of Philippians in your quiet time—ahead of time—so you’ll come to church already aware of what we’re talking about. And send me your insights before I share with you some of mine. Perhaps, the Holy Spirit will give us some of the same points to make!
Philippians 1:1-11 [NLT] says, “1This letter is from Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus. I am writing to all of God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus, including the elders and deacons. 2May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. 3Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. 4Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, 5for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. 6And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. 7So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. 8God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus. 9I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. 10For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. 11May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.”
Philippi was originally known as Krenides or “the place of small founatins.” The city was rebuilt in 356 BC by Philip of Macedon—the father of Alexander the Great and named Phillipi in his honor. On the northern most shores of the Aegean Sea northeast of Athens and Thessalonica, rich deposits of gold and silver were found. So the objective of founding the town was to take control of the neighboring gold mines and to establish a Roman garrison at a strategic passage and thoroughfare [for more info, see: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/greece/philippi].
A few hundred years later, In 49 or 50 AD, the city was visited by the apostle Paul during his second missionary journey. According to Acts 16:9, he was guided there by a vision of a man of Macedonia. Accompanied by Silas, Timothy, and Luke, Paul preached in Philippi baptizing a woman named Lydia according to Acts 16:14-15 Lydia, a purple dye merchant, who invited the missionaries to stay at her home. You may recall in another account recorded in Acts 16:16-40 that Paul drove out an evil spirit from a slave girl who worked as a fortune teller in Phillipi. Her owners became angry and dragged Paul and Silas into the marketplace and complained about them before the magistrates. A crowd joined in the condemnation, and the missionaries were stripped and flogged, then thrown into prison. At midnight, however, a great earthquake came and the prison doors flew open. The jailer nearly killed himself over it, but Paul talked him out of it and the jailer was converted. The next morning, the magistrates released Paul and Silas and asked them to leave the city.
Several years after that, on his way back to Jerusalem form his 3rd missionary journey, Acts Acts 20:6 says Paul returned to Phippi for Passover where he undoubtedly enjoyed the company of this little grace based group of believers that included many faithful friends. A couple more of whom we will be introduced to in chapter 2 of Philippians to go along with Lydia and the jailer. And this leads us to point number one: A grace based church prays with joy for faithful friends. Did you see verses 3-4? “ 3Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. 4Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, 5for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now.”
Paul’s friends were faithful. They were his partners in spreading the Good News about Christ. A grace based church attracts people who are faithful to the Gospel. And are faithful to partnering with people who spread the Gospel. Isn’t that what he’s saying? Or am I making that up? I like that Paul says so to the people of Philippi first. To the ordinary members. To “all of God’s people” and then he says, “and to the elders and deacons too.” As if he almost forgot that they’re important too. Because for Paul, it really was the purple merchants and women who did most of the great outreach. They’re the ones who baptized their families and dragged them to church and reminded them of the life transforming power of God. And isn’t that the way it often is today? Thank God for the faithfulness of our leaders. But thank God especially for the faithful partners in the pews. A grace based church is what you make it. Not what I preach about it.
And I’m grateful for the faithful friends I’ve made here. Next week, one of them is returning. I hope you can all be here when Pastor Nathan returns to preach next week. He’s in Ohio for a spiritual retreat some of us will be attending the following week called The Conference on Innovation. A lot has happened in his life since he left Toledo and he’s gonna give us the update on what’s he been doing and what as Associate Pastor at the Hollywood Adventist Church in Southern California he’s doing now. I’m so proud of him and grateful for what God is doing in his life.
Most of you know Pastor Rachel just moved to England to do a Masters degree at Heythrop College in London. According to her Facebook page, she arrived safely and found a place to stay right across the street from school with a bunch of nuns renting a room called “The Sisters of Adoration.” Prior to her inquiry, that room was book. There was “no room at the inn.” But minutes later when she called, there was a cancellation and she got the room. Isn’t God good?
We’ve been blessed to have Rachel share two years of her ministry and life with us and our young people. As we have been blessed with Pastor Aly and will be with Pastor Anna. And if we’re a grace based church, as Phillipians 1:3 says, we will pray with a heart full of joy for them. Even long after they’re gone. Because point number one: Grace based churches pray with joy for faithful partners in spreading the Good News about Christ. 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 says it this way: “2We always thank God for all of you and pray for you constantly. 3As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Moving on to one of my fave Scriptures in all the Bible. Philippians 1:6. “6And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” The version I memorized said, “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it in you.”
Honestly, I’ve usually paid more attention to the end of this verse than the beginning. Because so often as Christians we’re tempted to think that once we know we’re loved like crazy, that it then becomes our job or responsibility to live like crazy on our own. Not by the Spirit’s might but by our own effort and willpower. But that’s not how it works. We know this is true because Jesus said in John 15:5, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” So whatever we do, whenever we do it in the journey of our obedience to Christ, we do because Christ is really doing it in us or through us. In other words, it’s God’s job to save us and sanctify us. And He brags about doing it all the time! Our job, as I’ll keep saying till the day I day or Jesus comes again, is to abide in Christ. And if you can fall out of bed, you can abide in Christ. This is something the weakest baby Christian can do but also something the most mature life long Christian struggles to continue. If you don’t believe me, try it! But by God’s grace, it can be done. Faithful partners in ministry have been abiding and trusting Christ to change them for thousands of years. And He still does!
Wintley Phipps told this story. He’s a singer. And through the miraculous nature of how God connects people, had been invited to sing at a ball for the then governor of Arkansas—Bill Clinton. Long story short: after Clinton became president of the United States, Wintley sang for his first prayer breakfast and for other White House functions. And because he made an impression on him, after the Monica Lewinsky thing occurred, Wintley wrote President Clinton a note. And on it were the words found in a Scripture I’d like to read for you as well found in Psalm 69:1-5,13. Close your eyes just listen to these words:
“1 Save me, O God, for the flood waters are up to my neck. 2Deeper and deeper I sink into the mire; I can’t find a foothold. I am in deep water, and the floods overwhelm me. 3I am exhausted from crying for help; my throat is parched. My eyes are swollen with weeping, waiting for my God to help me. 4Those who hate me without cause outnumber the hairs on my head. Many enemies try to destroy me with lies, demanding that I give back what I didn’t steal. 5O God, you know how foolish I am; my sins cannot be hidden from you. 13 But I keep praying to you, Lord, hoping this time you will show me favor. In your unfailing love, O God, answer my prayer with your sure salvation.”
Clinton was so impressed with these words from Wintley’s note that he shared them the next morning with his closest advisors in the Oval Office and later with the nation after confessing for the first time that he was a sinner. That he wasn’t parsing the definition of is is anymore. Do you remember that? Point number two: The grace based church prays with joy for God’s salvation. It’s the first part of this verse that we too quickly forget sometimes simply because the last part is so good too. But the first part says in verse 6 that God already began the good work in us! We can pray with joy for God’s salvation. And if all we had was Philippians 1:6 or John 3:16 in the New Testament, we could pray with joy for God’s salvation. But if all we had was Psalm 69 in the Old Testament, we could pray with joy for God’s salvation as well. Aren’t you glad believers throughout time had equal access to point number two?
But without a doubt, my fave part of this verse is the end. That He who began this good work of salvation will be faithful and just to complete it in you. Which is point number three: The grace based church prays with joy for God’s sanctification. That God not only brags about saving us. But that He also brags about sanctifying us. About changing us. About making us look more like Him. Philippians 2:13 says, “13For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” Did you catch that? Apart from Christ, we can do nothing. But with Him, all things are possible. Including even the desire to want to want what God wants. Including the power to actually do what pleases God.
When I stumbled upon this verse, it was as if a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I no longer had to worry about the things of this earth growing strangely dim because I now knew that this change was God’s job not mine! I understood these things would happen, but in His time. Through the Holy Spirit’s power. My job, as it was before conversion and baptism, is to abide in Christ. To pray. Read. And share till Jesus returns.
And in context friends, that’s exactly the day this verse is referring to. Look at the end of verse 6. “6And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Until then, we will all be falling short according to Romans 3:23. But we will simultaneously be becoming more and more like Jesus. If all we had is Philippians 2:13 or 2 Corinthians 3:18 which basically says, “By beholding we become changed”, we could pray with joy for God’s sanctification. But again, the same truth is taught in the Old Testament. Psalm 139:23-24 says “23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”
When we’re honest with God about our sins, like David or Bill Clinton, when we admit our need for a Savior, God can lead us along the path to everlasting life. He saves us first in spite of ourselves. But He loves us too much to leave us that way. And in his time, he changes us. And He will continue to do so until the day Jesus returns. And He will need to do so because none of us will be sinless until then. God knows this. That’s why He died for us! The people mocking Jesus around the cross were right. “He saved others, He can’t save Himself.” But thank God He did! Because He did, we too can pray with joy for God’s faithful friends, God’s salvation, and God’s sanctification.
Let me conclude the way Paul did in Philippians 1:11. “11May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.” May God continue to build in us His grace based church. Amen.