March 6, 2011

5 Marks of a Revived Church: Truth

Here is the first message of our Series 5 Marks of a Revived Church: Truth. Check out this new church in Huber Heights, Ohio: Crossroads Vineyard Church or on Facebook.

We are starting a new message series that will last the next couple of weeks. We actually started it at our last service by looking at the 5 Marks of a Revived Church as described in Acts 2.
“Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:41-47

Those 5 Marks are:
  1. Truth
  2. Worship
  3. Community
  4. Growth
  5. Mission

So we are going to look at each Mark, discuss what it means, and we are also going to use them as springboards for discussing it means for the vision of Crossroads Vineyard here in Huber Heights.

When talking about vision for a church plant I feel a little like this Calvin and Hobbes Cartoon...

There is so much room for the spectacular ride of our lives...or we could end up with crushing, hopeless defeat...but I certainly don’t want to take the sissy weasel’s too boring.

But here is the secret...God is the one calling us forward. A couple of months ago I started asking myself, “What vision of church would be so compelling, so exciting, that I would give sacrificially of my time, my energy, my money, and my abilities to see it accomplished?” and the second question “How could I describe that in such a way that others got that excited with me?” I made that my prayer to God because I know that no matter what I dream isn’t near what God wants to accomplish here. And He has been speaking to me about some pretty big things.

So each week we are going to look at a part of that vision through the lens of these 5 marks starting today with the Mark: Truth.

I grew up rather begrudgingly in the Church. Sunday School class after church service after revival meeting...I was at them all. I have always been skeptical, questioning everything. I don’t believe things simply because you say so. So I asked a lot of questions...especially when the answers didn’t seem to be sufficient.

I discovered that many of the teachers and preachers were uncomfortable being asked the hard questions. They had answers, but they seemed more rehearsed that reflected upon.

In fact, I used to mock what I called the “Sunday School Answers.” You know you ask a question and every one of them is answered with either “Jesus” or “The Bible.”

I also discovered that if you probed too much, asked the “wrong” question, or made them feel too uncomfortable then your faith was doubted. Because true followers of Jesus “trust and obey”. Because “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it!”

I wasn’t trying to create problems (most of the time); I just wanted the truth. Although as a rebellious teenager forced to be in church, I learned that questions could create some uncomfortable moments, and I used that to my advantage...but that’s another story altogether.

College and seminary were very different. My professors faced the tough questions head on, and the answers looked nothing like what I had told. It was a struggle for me to reconcile the difference between my professors and my preachers. Why weren’t the people in my local church willing to share this stuff? What was it about the questions that scared many of them? Did they even know this stuff?

All I wanted was the Truth, and in the Revived Church truth is important.

When we start searching for truth we often have to wade through a large amount of half-truths and full-lies in order to find it.

But if we search intently...
We find truth in some unexpected places.

We find that truth is always honest; sometimes brutally so.

We find that truth is not easy, simply, or black and white...especially in this world.

And, yet, we have to keep looking. There is something within us that keeps pushing us toward finding the truth. And the Church should be the front runner in seeking for and speaking the truth.

We have to be willing to ask and wrestle with the tough questions, and not reject others for asking those questions. We have to proclaim the truth even when it hurts. We have to acknowledge truth wherever it is found. And, we have to acknowledge that truth is not always clear and simple.

For the Revived Church we have three ways to seek and find truth. First...
Seeking Truth means we are committed to seeking Jesus.

Seeking Jesus has not always been my first priority. I sought after escape from hell and getting into heaven...I sought after the next ministry job...I sought after recognition for my “spiritualness” or my abilities in ministry...I have sought after many things. But I am learning more and more that real truth is only found when we abandon all else to seek Jesus.

One verse that really hit this home for me was Hebrews 1:3. “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

Jesus is the “exact representation” of God. Everything I want to know...what God thinks...what God God would act if I were in His presence...are found in Jesus.

This could be seen as just another Sunday School Answer...but following is more difficult than it was portrayed to me. His teachings are deeper and more hard-hitting than ever taught to me. He isn’t an easy answer. And he never was...when you get home look at Luke 9:57-62 where Jesus challenges potential disciples with the one thing that stands in the way of their following him. Not easy.

Even Jesus’ disciples struggled to understand this.

In John 14, Jesus is revealing his death and resurrection to the disciples, and is trying to help them grasp the connection between He and the Father. Thomas says, “We don’t know where you are going. Can you give us some directions?”

And, in verse 6, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

The answer is both simple and difficult: just follow me.

In order for us to find Truth, we have to start with the person of Jesus. We have to dedicate our lives to listening, following, and learning from Him. It isn’t a one-time action; it is a lifelong daily endeavor filled with constant discovery and growth.

The more I seek after the Truth as found in Jesus, the more I discover the lies and half-truths that I have come to accept as truth. I have to rearrange priorities. I have had to rearrange the very direction of my life. Truth requires nothing less.

As the Church, knowing and following Jesus must be our first priority.

The second way a Revived Church seeks and find truth is...
We are committed to Scripture.

For centuries, people had no access to Scripture. They gathered in community to listen to Scripture being read. They listened intently and memorized it because they were never sure when they would hear it again.

Today, 340 million people still do not have the Bible in their language. But we have unprecedented access to Scripture. 9 out of 10 Americans own a Bible. We probably own multiple Bibles. We have it on our phones, our computers, and on mp3. It is everywhere.

And yet...35% of born-again Christians do not read the Bible at all. Among those who say they read the Bible, 2 in 5 read it once a week, and the vast majority only read it during the time they attend church each weekend or in one to two verse increments.

The Center for Bible Engagement found that those who read the Bible 4x a week or more were more likely to exhibit a godly lifestyle. But this can be misleading. I don’t think they read the Bible 4x a week in order to live godly lives. I think they read the Bible 4x because they have a passion to know God.

Someone could read this and say I don’t read the Bible 4x a week, and feel guilty for the wrong thing: not reading their Bible more often. We can’t guilt ourselves into reading God’s word and magically living a godly life. We have seen what guilt driven religion does to people.

It isn’t about reading the Bible 4x a week. We shouldn’t have to be told to read the Bible 4x a week. Why? Because people who are passionately in love with Jesus want to read the letter He left us.

When Lori and I started dating we only saw each other 2-3 times a week at church. The rest of the time we talked on the phone, went on occasional dates, and wrote letters back and forth (there wasn’t email or texting!). I didn’t have to be guilted into reading those letters. I didn’t read them begrudgingly. I couldn’t wait to read them. I read them several times. I still have them in a box at my house. Every one of them!

And that is my prayer for myself in regards to God’s Word because I don’t always have that passion for Him...that is my prayer for us to fall so in love with Jesus we can’t wait to read His Word. Don’t let me replace reading God’s word with that good book by that one author I love. Don’t let me replace it with a sentence or two read in passing. Don’t let me replace it with that worship CD with that great song on it.

I mean listen to this:
2 Peter 1:20-21, “ must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” This means God is actually speaking to us through the Words of Scripture.

Hebrews 4:12-13, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” This demonstrates the power of God’s Word to see into the reality of who we are, and what God wants to do in our lives.

Paul tells Timothy about all the trials that follow the person committed to following Jesus and then says in 2 Timothy 3:14-17, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

As the Church, Scripture must be the basis for all our teaching and ministry.

The third way a Revived Church seeks and find truth is...
We are committed to Right Doctrine

Theology is a tricky thing to talk about. After I was asked to preach at one church, the person said, “You don’t preach about theology and stuff do you?” Unfortunately he had learned the wrong thing about theology. Everyone who had ever spoken about theology to him had been boring, dry, and used big words he couldn’t understand.

That’s what I did to Lori after only a few short weeks of theology classes in college. I would come home, excited about the new theological concept I had learned, and her eyes would glaze over as I spoke excitedly about the ecclesiastical ramifications of a right orthodoxy in relationship to atonement and eschatology. I still, for the life of me, can’t understand why she didn’t find that discussion intriguing!

But something changed that...

One evening my professors and his wife came over for dinner. We talked about my being a youth pastor, about God, about being a Christian. Later in the discussion Lori said, “I just don’t understand theology. I can’t talk about it or anything.”

My professor said the most profound and encouraging thing anyone has said to my wife. He said, “Lori, we have been talking theology all night. You have talked about what you believe about God, the church, and being a Christian. Everyone talks about theology. They just don’t use the big words that we use in academia.”

That statement helped me realize that everyone is interested in theology. People everywhere are talking about their beliefs about God, life, salvation, and the Church. I was just using the wrong words.

But this is where things get hairy too. We all have a theology, but some theologies are better than others...Because we must start at the right place with theology. We must start our search for Truth with Jesus and with Scripture.

The issue really isn’t are we going to talk about theology...the issue is are we going to work toward a proper theology. Not that we will have the completely “right” theology, but we must seek to be biblical.

Paul understood the danger of bad theology. In 1 and 2 Timothy, Paul gives guidance to the young pastor Timothy. He warns, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:1-2).

In order to combat this Paul encourages Timothy to do several things:

  1. Point out the false doctrines.
  2. Have nothing to do with godless myths and wives’ tales.
  3. Train to be godly.
  4. Command and teach.
  5. Set an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.
  6. Devote himself to public reading of Scripture, to preaching, and to teaching.
  7. Don’t neglect his spiritual gift.
  8. And then in verse 16 he says, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

All of Paul’s instructions are based around that last statement, “Watch your life and doctrine closely.”

The early church developed Creeds to guide them. There were some beliefs they could state clearly and absolutely...and some they could not. So they developed the Creeds...which acts like the boundary lines of a football field. They define the basic beliefs of being Christian, and as long as you play on that field, within those lines, the other beliefs are secondary.

As the Church, we must be seek to develop good theology.


You know, the Church that is seeking real Truth must keep these three in tension. Because if you get them out of whack bad things happen. Those who follow Jesus without a proper understanding of Scripture...make him over in their own image. Without proper doctrine...they lose their way. Those who emphasize right Biblical understanding or theology without holding on to Jesus become mean or overly impressed with their own knowledge.

Imagine what it would mean for us as the Church in Huber Heights if we took Truth seriously? If we sought after Jesus, read and studied God’s Word, and lived out of right doctrine...we could change Huber Heights and the world!

So our first priority is to seek God and live Christlike lives by following Jesus!

Scripture will be the foundation in our weekend gatherings, and our messages will be faithful to Scripture.

Within the next year we will establish Bible studies and classes to help us understand the Bible and theology better without becoming mean, unloving, or inward focused!

We will become a training and sending church raising up church planters and missionaries to extend God’s Kingdom both near and far.

Within two years all leaders will have read through the Bible...and within every three years we will continue to read through the Bible.

I want to plan an event where we will read God’s word out loud continuously all the way through. We will have people sign up to read, we will invite people to sit and listen, and we will read it out loud.

We will regularly resource people to spend time in God’s Word on a daily basis, and challenge them to read the Bible all the way through.

God blesses the reading of His Word. As you and I spend time in God’s Word we are transformed. We are changed. We are able to see God’s heart for this world, and it challenges us to take part.

I have a deeply theological reminder about the importance of God’s Word.

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