God Sends Leaders with Commands
As a consequence of the COVID-19 virus, we are adapting to concerns about pandemic. In many places the holding of worship events has been suspended. And now might be one of the best times to revisit God's plan for church. "All who believe are to be gathered into one church" (Acts of the Apostles, p. 28).
Open your Bible to the book of Acts. We begin in chapter one.
In the second verse we come to our first fact about God's church: Jesus gives commandments to His church through "the apostles He has chosen." The word apostle means "one who is sent." God sends leaders to His people. That is, God provides for His church leaders whom He calls and sends.
Through the church God works in many ways, but also in terms of commandments and obedience. Sometimes members may come to view church as something of a leisure affair. But doing God's work should be primary for us. The work of soulwinning and spiritual growth is not optional. And so our Lord gives to His church not suggestions but commands.
But your local church is not an autocracy. You elect officers and representatives who run the churches and the conference. Most decisions are made by the church board or other committees. All these leaders need to be surrendered to God's Holy Spirit, and He will lead them to think and act wisely to run His church. God has sent leaders to your congregation in all those appointed to service. Strangely, these leaders are often disregarded and sometimes have few helpers. Let us redouble our efforts to support our local congregations and particularly, to work through the leaders God has provided in our local churches. May none of us ourselves be AWOL, Away Without Leave, from God's work for this hour.
Church is an Assembly
In the fourth verse, and numerous others, we see that the church assembles, gathers together, meets together, prays together, eats together, and often witnesses together (Acts 1:4; 6, 11, 13-15; 2:1, 42, 46; 4:31). But this has to be true because of the very nature of the church. Have you ever stopped to look at the word in Greek?
TAY EK-KLESIA, literally, "the out-called." The church are those persons who are called out. They are called out from rebellion, into light. They are persons who have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. They are people who choose to receive God's gift of repentance and to become part of His body, His church. He is the head, we are the body.
The body is made up of many cells, many organs, many limbs. The church is made up of many members. In other words, we could also quite accurately say that we have been called together. The parts assemble to make the whole.
Church is always a gathering. So today, we are not gathered. We are individually separated each of us in our places, many perhaps are watching this video recording, some of us at the very same exact time, others, before this viewing or after it.
Watching a video is not church. But happily, if you have the privilege of watching this with one or more other members at your side, we know that "where two or three are gathered together, there I am in the midst."
If you are watching in a group, then you are experiencing church. In an age of hyper individualism, God wants us connected to each other in church capacity.
Power for a Global Mission
The mission God has for His people extends outward. As spoken of by Jesus, "You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to all the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Muskegon and Fremont are in the "to all the ends of the earth" category."
We should never forget that in all we do, in all even of present truth, it is never disconnected from Jesus. The great second advent message, the third angel's message, the gospel, whichever designation we give this message, it must never leave our minds that first and always, we are witnesses to Jesus. This is not a message only for Jews or Americans or westerners; but for every kindred and nation and tongue and people to the ends of the earth.
Do we remember that every soul is a soul to save or lose? That every person has a case pending before the bar of God? More than that, every person has paid legal representation waiting to assist them and paid medical help waiting to assist them in Jesus, the great Physican and Jesus the Defender and Redeemer?
God cannot be satisfied until every person has been given the best opportunity to taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8). We must not become self-obsessed, or lower our vision only to the local. But neither must we forget the local. We are the heralds of the gospel of Jesus. We are His witnesses. The world is waiting for us. Will we come to their doorstep and tell them about the Savior?
All Members are Disciples
Sometimes we lose sight of what we are. We are members of the church, but most of the time the Bible doesn't just call us members; it calls us follower-learners. That is what a disciple is--one who is continually following and learning from Jesus.
Look at the first verse in the main Bible book about the church--the book of Acts. It points to the importance of the teachings of Jesus to His people. In 1:15 Peter stands up in the midst of the disciples. In 2:41 those who follow Jesus receive His word, and in 42 they continue steadfastly in the apostle's teaching. In 6:1 the number of the disciples is increasing. In 9:1 Saul is breathing threats against the disciples of the Lord. And that theme of the work of and persecution of disciples continues, with disciples mentioned numerous times in the book of Acts alone.
Why is it that we stop growing spiritually sometimes right about the time we are baptized? Do we view baptism as some kind of a graduation or achievement? Baptism is only the door into the crib.
After our soul is won we must go on to win others. And then it is not a natural life, but a supernatural. For
"It is not the capabilities you now possess or ever will that will give you success. It is that which the Lord can do for you" (Christ's Object Lessions 146).
"Talk and act as if your faith was invincible" (Ibid., 147).
"Our mission to the world is not to serve or please ourselves; we are to glorify God by co-operating with Him to save sinners. We are to ask blessings from God that we may communicate to others. The capacity for receiving is preserved only by imparting. We cannot continue to receive heavenly treasure without communicating to those around us" (Ibid. 143).
Of course, "communicating" here is not in the sense of telling, but in the sense of imparting or transmitting.
We are said to be disciples because we are learning what Jesus wants in us, and learning from Him how to win hearts to Him. "He who wins souls is wise" (Proverbs 11:30).
We underestimate the power and importance of teaching. There is an experience fad; people want to emphasize experience but not teaching. But one key reason the church is created is to teach. Listen for our chapters:
Acts 1:1 the writer of Acts is interested in all that Jesus began to do and teach.
Acts 4:18 and 5:25 and 28 the pharisees were especially offended and concerned because of what the members of the church were teaching.
And in 5:42 in spite of the threats of the authorities, "They did not cease teaching Jesus as the Christ."
May we be equally faithful. If we are faithful to speak it and live it, the Holy Spirit will be faithful to bathe it in power when we speak it and live it.
God Makes Openings for Proclamation
We have all read Acts chapter two. Who were gathered together in one accord? The believers. Apostles, men, women, disciples all. And then God made an opening. Then God poured out His Holy Spirit. God made a big, inescapable noise, and those present in the city came together to where they heard that noise. Where did they hear that noise? The epicenter was the room in which the disciples had gathered and united and prayed and waited in one accord for the promise of the Holy Spirit.
Then, when they ran together to that place, and while they were still amazed at the miracle of hearing about God each of them in their own distinct language, Peter stood up to preach, and to call them to repent, and turn themselves fully over to Jesus.
God made the opening.
It is still that way. At different moments of our lives, God lets the door of eternity crack open and the whole world is changed. There is a new opening. There is a September 11, or a Chernobyl, or a Great Depression, or a Snowden revelation, or a pandemic. These might all be legitimate crises, or, there may be contrived pieces pushed along by men because certain outcomes support certain agendas. God doesn't necessarily support the mainstream narrative surrounding an event, but He lets events take their course. The agendas of evil men manifest themselves in the outcome of an epochal crisis. Everything has its bearing on the great controversy story.
In the moment you have a sense something historic is happening, but you are never completely certain where things will land. It is only a bit later that you may see how your world was changed. And you ask yourself later, what opportunities was God opening for His people?
He doesn't make evil to introduce suffering; He permits evil so that we will remember that He is in ultimate control, not us. He is God and not us. He took the nails in His hands for us; our suffering is not even remotely on the same scale. On those occasions when every plane has been grounded and international travel has completely shut down, and you're not completely sure where you next can of beans will come from--it is in those occasions that men feel more delicate, more dependent, less sure of themselves. Then, a window is cracked open and hearts are more susceptible to God's influence. But soon the moment passes and we hurtle onward into the revision of life. The bars go up again. Men's hearts are hard to reach, again.
What opportunities have been permitted us in these last few days? How long will they last?
Isn't it interesting how, in epochal crisis after crisis, in almost every case, the result of the crisis is more, not less, control exerted over our lives by the state? Each new level-one crisis conditions us to be more receptive to acquiescing to the demands of governments. Think about the current situation. If it were widely thought that passing a national Sunday law would solve this crisis, what do you think would be happening right now? Boom, we'd have exactly such a law. The ink on it would already be drying. These openings, then, are also training opportunities to prepare us to be ready to be faithful to Jesus in the final test.
God's Spirit Works Conviction
But there are other lessons for us in Acts. God's Spirit works conviction in human hearts. In Acts two, when the apostles seize the opening, there is powerful preaching, and then comes conviction. Acts 2:37:
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, What shall we do?'
But we have added insight into this episode of conviction and conversion. Acts of the Apostles, pages 43-44:
Priests and rulers trembled. Conviction and anguish seized the people. . . The power that accompanied the words of the speaker convinced them that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. . . .Peter urged home upon the convicted people the fact that they had rejected Christ because they had been deceived by priests and rulers. . . . Under the influence of this heavenly illumination the Scriptures that Christ had explained to the disciples stood out before them with the luster of perfect truth. The veil that had prevented them from seeing to the end of that which had been abolished, was now removed, and they comprehended with perfect clearness the object of Christ's mission and the nature of His kingdom. They could speak with power of the Saviour; and as they unfolded to their hearers the plan of salvation, many were convicted and convinced. The traditions and superstitions inculcated by the priests were swept away from their minds, and the teachings of the Saviour were accepted (p. 44).
How was it that hearers were led to such strong conviction? First, God made the opening. Second, His servants walked through the opening; they acted out their faith by sharing it with others. When they shared it, they shared it accurately, correctly, and the Holy Spirit added power to their presentation. There was a removal of wrong thinking. Blockading ideas were swept out of the way, and hearers responded by surrendering all to Jesus. This did not end 2000 years ago. This should be happening today. But "How shall they hear without a preacher?" Romans 10:14. But we are all to be the preachers of Jesus.
The Church is Alive and Growing
Which brings us to our last point. The church is alive and growing. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many are not meeting in our houses of worship today. But closed buildings do not mean the Holy Spirit is closed. On the contrary! People are more open today than they were yesterday. Many who had been immersed in 9 to 5 work and scratching paycheck to paycheck, are out of work, sitting at home, and have more time to think about spiritual things. God will send them our way, too. Think about that. Be ready for that.
We are called out for a purpose. To live and give the third angel's message in any hour and in every hour. We need to adapt and deliver it even when everything around us is closed.
For Muskegon and Fremont MI SDA churches via Internet 2020-03-21