Pure Church. Powerful Church. Growing Church–sermon text version

patterns1I like patterns.  Maybe it’s that some of us never outgrow Sesame Street or mind-puzzlers, but I always liked those assignments in school where we had to figure out what comes next in the sequence by figuring out the pattern.

Well, in the book of Acts that we’ve been studying, we can now see a pattern emerging.  It goes like this: A Pure Church.  A Powerful Church.  A Growing Church.  A Persecuted Church.

Now we’re seeing it again in today’s passage.  But it began last week with purity.  As the cycle continues, the growing Church will become increasingly persecuted.  It follows:

Purity + Power + Growth = Persecution.

Each time the pure, powerful, and growing Church encounters the wider culture of governing socialites, intellectuals, and religious hoity-toities, the persecution will get kicked up a notch.  The Church’s increasing power is a threat to all other powers.

We’re mid-pattern this week since last week we saw purity matters to God and He rooted out Ananias’ and Sapphira’s deception before it could take hold in the Church and become an invasive cancer.  Great fear of the holiness of God filled the Church, just like fear of the Lord filled Jericho and was felt by Rahab in our OT reading (Joshua 2:8-3:5) this morning.

God wants a pure Church.  But He also one that is a complete Church, one that is increasingly holy, powerful, and growing…and visible to the watching world.

A pure Church in hiding… is an enclave.  A light under a bowl, soon to run out of oxygen and be snuffed out.

  • To be fair, in some areas of the world where persecution is the worst, the Church hides from some (to avoid being beheaded for example) while reaching out carefully to others.  Oxygen comes in, but cautiously.  It’s an underground Church that has power beneath the surface.  It’s a pure Church, but not in total hiding.  It’s just underground, but the root is good and very much alive and growing.
  • But in other areas, a Church in hiding becomes an exclusive club.  New club members aren’t allowed in unless they pass the litmus test of intellect, music preference, or doctrinal views on abortion, gay marriage and ordination, etc..  These churches slowly die out for lack of purity, light, oxygen, and power.

A pure Church displaying God’s power is a light on a stand for all to see.  This is what God wants:

A Pure Church.  A Powerful Church.  A Growing Church.  This is what changes lives as God does what only God can do….which is to save people.  The ultimate healing. It’s a picture of Revival that we’re praying for.

Some of you may recall my saying in conversation going way back to my first days here that God wants

Purity before numbers.”

Today’s passage in last week’s context is actually the root of that thought. 

It is not beyond God to grow this—or any—church! It’s not beyond Him to do it in a dying community.  Even in an neighborhood or town where people’s souls might be the sickest in all kinds of cultural ills, it’s a harvest waiting to happen!  That’s what God sees!

candle1But God always starts from a place of purity and grows us from there.  God will not revive any church that doesn’t start with pure worship, for that is the source of the Church’s power. Pure Church Powerful Church, the power flowing from God being glorified!  A light in darkness!

We hear a lot of reasons why people go to church.  Why they make decisions to show up on a Sunday morning.  Why they will show up in inclement weather or in the face of persecution.  Why they will show up even if there’s a good game on TV.

Why do people bother to come to church?  Well,

  • Some people view church as a town hall.  The church being a place of gathering, to gain encouragement from others who are also believers.  To know we’re not alone in our Christian walk.
  • Some people view church primarily as a place of prayer where gathering together in prayer causes God to hear us differently than when you or I pray alone in our separate homes.  God hears us better because of our unity, praying with one voice as many people.
  • Some people view church as a university—a place of higher learning.  Feeding on the Word of God.  To learn what the Word says and have it explained so that each of us may grow in our knowledge of the Lord Jesus.
  • Some people view church as a gas station—a place of equipping.  To be spiritually filled, replacing what spiritual resources we’ve expended during the week in our Christian lives.
  • Some people view church as a place of healing…like a hospital.  There is recovery for the sick and the injured, the emotionally weary, the depressed, those whose flesh is weak and whose spirit is exhausted.
  • Some people view church as a place of safety.  There is protection and a time away—a vacation of sorts—escaping the stresses of life.  A place to forget about our problems for a little while.

While all of these have some truth in them, together they paint a picture of a powerful church because of the big distinction in a Pure Church Powerful Church:

  • After all, what sets apart the church gathering from a city council meeting?
  • What distinguishes a church of prayer from a mosque of prayer?
  • What’s the difference between the church and a religious studies program at a university?
  • Why would one need to come to church to be filled if they could be filled elsewhere, like the self-help section of the bookstore, or the personal Bible study at the coffee shop?
  • Why come to church for emotional or physical ministry when there are therapists of every shape and size, VA hospitals, even Christian ones, and insurance covers the cost?

What is the big distinction of the Pure Church Powerful Church? 

Worship of the One True God.

It’s not happening at the city council meeting, the local mosque or New Age temple, it’s not happening in a religious studies course.  It’s not happening in the self-help section or even in the fullest sense while studying your Bible alone in the coffee shop. It’s not happening in the counselor’s office or even the pastor’s office.

Why?  Because the focus in all of those instances is on me, on you.  And on what you or I are getting out of it.  The focus is not on Him, the One True God.

Worship of the Almighty God in the Pure Church is what makes the Church a powerful one.

With that in mind, let’s look at Acts 5:12-16 and see this in action:  A Pure Church.  A Powerful Church.  A Growing Church.

God has just finished purifying the Church by rooting out deceivers like Ananias and Sapphira, great fear seizes the people and now

Acts 5:12 The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people.

That’s power.  A Pure Church is a Powerful Church.  Now this doesn’t mean we’re suddenly going to be a place for faith healings, but salvation is the ultimate healing and if we’re preaching the Gospel, salvation will be happening.  Eternal healing is happening.  There’s power in the Pure Church–verse 12 continues…

And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade.

solomons colonnadeThey gathered, but it wasn’t a social club.  They met together in a public place to worship the One and Only True God at great personal risk.  Their light of Christ was on a lamp stand, not hidden under a bowl.  That’s why next week the persecution follows in our pattern.

It’s often said that the Church has grown the most during times of persecution.

How many “causes” still exist for which people will willingly die for that cause?

Over the past few days, we’ve seen a terrorist attack at Charlie Hedbo in Paris.  The publication, which ridicules religion (period), was targeted by Islamic militants because of Charlie’s cartoons of their prophet Mohammed.  The editor who lost his life at the hands of the gunmen was previously quoted as saying, “I’d rather die standing than live my life on my knees.”  Ironically, this same quote was from Emiliano Zapata, a charismatic revolutionary in the Mexican Revolution.  It has been said about Zapata, “in the long run, he has done more for his ideals in death than he did in life.”  It is said that he died a martyr and his beliefs lived on in the hearts of Mexicans.  He revolted.  How could he be a martyr?  A casualty, yes. But a martyr?  Hold that thought.

Centered in Paris, the world’s backlash against the terrorists shows that there is courage in numbers as people gather in public…raising pens in solidarity and holding signs that say “Je Suis Charlie” (translated, “I am Charlie”).

I find myself rather struck by the notion that people will gather courageously in solidarity with a newspaper’s right to ridicule religion and it reverberates around the globe, making headlines…and yet far more than 12 Christians are dying every day simply for being Christian and it barely merits notice in most media outlets.  While Charlie was going on, no one blinked at the story last week of Boko Haram killing thousands, obliterating whole towns in Nigeria, and reported as “too many to count.” 

Christians aren’t dying for the right to ridicule, for freedom of speech, or for freedom of religion.  Christians aren’t dying for public attention or world accolades as charismatic revolutionaries.  Christians aren’t putting up a military defense.  Or even dying for something like New Hampshire’s motto “Live Free or Die!” as General John Stark said in 1809 “Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils.”  Christians aren’t dying as Patrick Henry’s rallying cry :

 “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains or slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take but as for me; give me liberty or give me death!”

It’s not about freedom—per se—to the Christians who are dying for their faith.  It’s about who they worship freely.   At Solomon’s Colonnade on the east side of the Temple complex, the believers gathered to worship Jesus at great personal peril then and Christians face persecution for the same faith in Christ now.  The Nazarenes in Iraq are still dying for Christ even if it’s not making headlines!  They are the true martyrs.

And yet, Christian martyrdom preaches in a quiet way. 

A profound, yet subtle way.  Person to person.  Face to face.  Not as crowds united, lifting the Cross of Christ high in a show of solidarity.  One by one.  Individual by individual.  People trusting God with their lives so much that they’re willing to die for their faith.  John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends,” as Jesus once said.

OK, so what’s the difference between an Islamic “martyr” who kills 12 people and then dies in an exchange of gunfire with police…and what we see here in Acts?

These believers gathered in Acts 5 are committing no acts of violence or anarchy.  They didn’t draw first.  They’re simply gathering as Christians and doing so at the risk of their own lives, never once threatening someone else’s.  The terrorists in Paris are killers, not martyrs.  They are casualties of a war they are waging against others.

jesus cross black and whiteSo these believers met in Solomon’s Colonnade, right there outside the Temple in Jerusalem.


Where Jesus was sentenced and crucified only a few short weeks ago. This is why those who watched from a distance had this reaction:

13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.

* * *

Onlookers were witnessing faith in Christ.  Yet, fear of man overshadowed it for the moment.  They saw the pattern.  Purity.  Power.  Growth…uh-oh: Persecution.  Respect for the Church and the believers was clearly apparent.  The light shines best in the darkest place.  Light penetrates darkness, not the other way around.  A powerful church witnesses.

14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.

Though Persecution comes next, we still see a Growing Church. A Pure Church is a Powerful Church and becomes a Growing Church.  One that shines in dark places and stands firm in public witness!

15 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.

The altar call, if you will, maybe didn’t happen with crowds rushing forward to be baptized in Solomon’s Colonnade, but despite the risk, the Church grew.  In a few weeks, we’ll see our first view of the Apostle Paul…back when he better known as Saul, archenemy and persecutor of the Church.  The Pure Church, the Powerful Church, the Growing Church penetrates the darkness of the darkest hearts and even in the midst of persecution, it can change people.  Saul the persecutor extraordinaire of Christians becomes changed to Paul the powerful Christian evangelist.  Live free in Christ or die trying would be his motto.

Sometimes this change of heart happens as an overnight, lightning bolt Eureka moment, but often it is as the quiet accumulation of many points of light until onlookers have light enough to see.

16 Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.

People see a Pure Church worshiping God alone! 
A Powerful Church standing firm. 
And a Growing Church and people know this is where healing occurs. 

So what’s our take home lesson from all of this?

  1. Pure Church!  First, we need to constantly assess our purity as a church.  Is there anything in our church closet, in the drawer, on the computer, under the table, on the wall, in our history, or in our pews that is keeping us from being pure?  If so, we need to deal with that because it’s keeping us from growing.  Jesus said,  Mark 9:43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. 44  45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 46  47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell,
  2. Powerful Church!  Second, since the power flows from God we need to see the Church as being primarily about Him.  Let’s ask ourselves why we come to church and each of us ask, “Do I come to church primarily to worship Christ?”  Yes, the church fills many other needs and heals in many ways, but keeping in mind that we worship Him, we will embrace the changes necessary to bring others to worship Christ in purity and in power.  John 4: 21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”  It doesn’t say attenders, observers, club members, or even family members.  The dominant word in this is worship.  That’s what believers were doing in Solomon’s Colonnade and what we need to do here.
  3. Growing Church!  Third, we want to be a growing church.  If we are church that worships Christ in purity and in power, crowds will gather.  But it won’t happen without two things:  (1) asking God to grow us.  We need to pray for revival and then act upon it. And (2) our risking something like the believers were doing in Solomon’s Colonnade. Is there anything that keeps you from inviting people to come?  Maybe you not know any people who are not already church goers and you need to come out of your shell or from under your bowl to meet some.  Maybe you need to get a case of courage and ask one person to come.  Is there anything that you find embarrassing about Plymouth that keeps you from inviting your friends out of fear they will judge you?  Share that at GROW Plymouth and let’s change that.  From God’s perspective, the harvest is always plentiful.  The workers are always too few for what God is willing to do with people sold out for Him.  So let’s pray and ask for more people to join us.  Bold people!  Luke 10:1 “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” So where is the Lord about to go in Racine?  Where is He sending you?  What risks are we willing to take?
  4. And for those of you seeing the pattern, you know what comes next.  Persecution.  Are you willing to be challenged as a believer, to be embarrassed, ridiculed, or even benched by your family and friends for asking them to come some Sunday?  This is how the Kingdom grows.

So let’s be A Pure Church.  A Powerful Church.  A Growing Church.  That is the picture of Revival in Racine that we’re praying for.

Categories Chapel Worship/News | Tags: | Posted on January 13, 2015

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