Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Jesus Church

I am thankful for the ministry of the church where I was saved.  I came across the history of that church while looking through my files one day.  The date was 1815 on Long Island, a fish-shaped strip of land, jutting-out 110 miles from the southeastern tip of New York State into the Atlantic Ocean.  Halfway out on that island stood the little town of Lake Grove; hardly a town, just a few family homesteads. 
The American Revolution was just 32 years before, and the Civil War was still 45 years in the future.  James Madison was the president with only 9.6 million Americans.  There were only 23 states.
The first entry in the ledger for the church of my spiritual birth,
March 27th A.D. 1815 West Middle Island.  A number of the inhabitants met and took into consideration the state of Religion and thought proper to form into a church.
The ancient, crumbling paper read that they considered the state of religion and THOUGHT PROPER to form into a church. 
They thought "proper!"  Over 130 years before I was born, a church was waiting to minister Christ to me.  I am so grateful they were “thinking proper,” which means making wise decisions
In our text for today we find the disciples standing in the shadow of the temple in Jerusalem.  Jesus had shared His plans and power with them for reaching the world with God’s good news of salvation.  They had waited for God’s “go-ahead” to begin.  It came at the time of Pentecost in the form of the Holy Spirit descending upon them in power, and urging them to go out and spread the news. 
Peter, the big fisherman was their spokesman, and he stood in front of a very large crowd of his fellow countrymen.  He told them that we are all sinners before God, and guilty; therefore we all need to be saved.  Our text records their response:
Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”  Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins, turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ to show that you have received forgiveness for your sins.  Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This promise is to you, and to your children, and even to the Gentiles—all who have been called by the Lord our God.”  Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”  Acts 2:37-40 (NLT)
Save yourselves from this crooked generation.  There is ‘proper thinking’ if ever it was proclaimed!  To be saved from corruptness is all about Jesus, all about being forgiven and welcomed into God’s “Forever Family”.
I read something years ago which was attributed to George Ingles.  He said that there are really “…three conversions in a man:  First to Christ; Second to the church; and Third back to the world.”  If a man comes to Christ, he ought then set his sights on the Church, the bride of Jesus, and then on the world, bringing the Christ-less to the Lord. 
Three conversions – yet, there is something that comes before conversion.  The people standing and listening to Peter’s sermon understood that.  They understood it enough to ask the question…what should we do?  They understood that they were sinners before God. 
That “understanding” is what we commonly call conviction.  If there is going to be a true conversion in a person’s life (or true conversions), then conviction comes first (like a doorway) to each of the conversions.
Let’s look at those doorways of conviction that lead to true conversion.
Doorway #1 Conviction for Christ
Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.  Acts 2:41 (NLT)
Peter’s sermon was Jesus-centered.  The convicting power of that sermon was not Peter’s clever words.  The messenger is never the message.  Peter was no public speaker; whenever he opened his mouth it was usually only to exchange one foot for the other.  The convicting power of that retelling of the Gospel story was the Holy Spirit working on the hearers to produce conviction.  Jesus told the disciples it would be this way:
And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment.  The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me.   John 16:8-9  (NLT)
Conviction – a holy conscience – is a powerful thing.  It can change everything.  Conviction is never an easy thing.  Sometimes preachers can make coming to Christ a too-easy pathway.  However, if you take the conviction out of the conversion process, there will not be a true conversion to Christ.
And just how can you tell the difference between a false or genuine conversion?  The difference is in the changed life; it is when priorities change that you know the conversion was genuine. 
Paul the Apostle had an experience on the road to Damascus; Paul met Jesus, and he was convicted and changed.  His heart was pierced with guilt because Paul had been putting Christians in jail, and even seeing to their executions.  Paul came under great conviction and it led to a genuine conversion, because Paul did an immediate and lasting turnaround. 
Where once he persecuted the church and her Lord, now Paul gave his life to preach Jesus and love His bride, the church. 
Does that describe how you came to Christ?  Was there a conviction deep-within that your sin had offended holy God?  Was there a sense that things would never be right until your entire life and priorities were changed – put in Jesus’ hands?  That’s true conviction for Christ; it leads to a conversion to Christ.  That will lead to another conviction. 
Doorway #2 Conviction for the Church
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.  A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.  And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had.  They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.      Acts 2:42-45  (NLT)
In true conversion to Christ, conviction for the Church is what naturally follows.  You read about Paul’s love, his conviction for the church in Scripture. 
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….you have a special place in my heart….God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.   Philippians 1:3 - 8 (NLT)
How does it come about that Paul, a man who hated and tried to exterminate the church, became one who loved the church like that?  The answer is that he was linked to them by love.  People who love the Lord and belong to the Lord love what and whom the Lord loves.  I’ve heard it said before that everyone who belongs to the Lord belongs to everyone who belongs to the Lord.  Love will make you like that!
Do you recall the story of Ruth?  Ruth was from Moab.  As a Moabites, Ruth was part of a race that was not highly cherished in the eyes of the Jews.  Yet she married Naomi’s son, a Jew.  And when he died Ruth gave her entire life to watching after and caring for her mother-in-law, Naomi.  As a Christian you cannot come into the family without being truly linked in love to the family.
Do you belong to the church Jesus loves?  Are you linked in love to the church?  Here are a couple of questions – a kind of self-test we can all do to discover the answer to that question, am I a part of the Lord’s church:
·        Do I care what happens to this church, enough…?
·        Do I care about the ministries of this church, enough…?
·        Do I care enough about this church to tithe, labor, and sacrifice and defend her?
If I can answer “yes” to those few simple questions, there is a good chance that my conviction for Christ led to a genuine conversion, and my conviction for the Church brought about a conversion to the Church. 
There is a third conversion, back into the world…
Doorway #3 Conviction for the Christ-less
They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people.  And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.    Acts 2:46 - 47 (NLT)
Did you notice that there is a transition in this story?  They continued meeting in the temple area.  That’s like our church meetings.  But it also spread to the homes where fellowship and sharing became the norm.  But, understand this clearly – it did not stay within their “holy huddle”.  Doctor Luke tells us (v.47) that they began to enjoy the goodwill of all the people
There are two important words there.  The meaning of the word “goodwill” is, the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; including gratitude.[1]  The word is actually charis or grace.  And the word “people” indicates those different from their own folks.  This means they didn’t keep Jesus to themselves!  They went to outsiders and treated them like insiders!
If you consider this, that group of folks had such a conviction to reach the Christ-less that they paid attention to them and began to have an influence upon them.  Those people without Christ were glad to have the Christians around.  Unbelievers looked at their Christian neighbors and saw their Christian Master! 
Beloved, that is what it is like for people who have a genuine conversion to Christ and His church.  When you are truly saved by grace,
·        You’ll be a blessing to those who are without Christ 
·        You’ll be kind, generous and a really good neighbor. 
·        You’ll take a lot of “shots” and overlook a lot of obnoxious behavior just so someday you will have the opportunity to share Jesus with someone who needs to know.
     Am I right about this?  And if so, how did I know that will be the case?
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you:  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:43-44
When Jesus told his disciples to go into all the world and preach the good news, He knew that the journey around the world begins at our neighbor’s doorstep.

How about us….today?

·           Have you been convicted once…to Christ?  If so, you “thought proper”.
·           Have you been convicted a second time…to His Church?  If so, you “thought proper” a second time.
·           Are you a three-time convicted winner…to the Christ-less?
Have you “thought proper” about these?  Have you allowed the conviction, that internal voice telling what you ought to do, to lead to conversion? 
If not, why not?  And, if not, will you now?

[1] Strong, James, Strongs Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries (Parsons Technology, Quickverse Ed.)

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