What’s So Special About the Church?

Over my life there have been “special” things that have meant a lot to me. There have been special toys like my Teddy Ruxpin. [My mom swears I took that bear everywhere.] I’ve had special friends and mentors in my life like Shane Harchfield that have played a huge influential role that has helped shape me into the man I am today. I’ve had special moments in my life like the day I came to know Christ, the days I proposed and married my sweet wife, and the days all my children came into the world (although I was half asleep when Ellie came into the world). For many of these special things they continue to hold a special place in my heart.

As I was reflecting on the message this past Sunday—A Picture of a Revolutionary Church—I couldn’t help but think about the uniqueness of the church and how she is one of those special things in life. But what’s so special about the church one may ask? I can think of at least seven things that make the church special and unique.

  1. The Church is the bride of Christ.

The New Testament likens the church, followers of Jesus, to a bride (see Rev 19:7). Jesus is the bridegroom and we, the church, are His bride. Now, I’m no expert on marriage—having been married for only twelve years—but if you don’t view or treat your spouse as special there’s a serious problem. Likewise, the church should be viewed as something special because she is the bride of Christ. I’ve heard many say that they love Jesus, but don’t necessarily care for the church. The problem with this is that if you love Jesus, you will love what he loves—and the truth is He loves His bride.

  1. The Church is the people of God and the body of Christ.

Where the church is present, God is present. In the Old Testament, God chose to take up residence in the tabernacle and later the temple where He would be present among His people. In the New Testament, particularly the Gospels, Jesus was God incarnate who “tabernacled” with and among His people. When one saw Jesus, they saw God. Prior to His resurrection and then ascension, Jesus promised to send His disciples His Spirit to indwell them. When the Spirit fell on the day of Pentecost, filling the followers of Jesus, the church became the dwelling place of God. No longer was a temple needed to house the presence of God; now because of the finished work of Christ His people became the spiritual house whereby God’s presence dwells.

The church, therefore, is special because she literally is the locale where the presence of Jesus is manifested. When one sees the church—whether gathered or scattered—they are gazing upon the presence of Christ.

  1. The Church is the vehicle that advances God’s mission in the world.

God, throughout Scripture, has aimed to create a people for Himself who would advance His mission of making Him known throughout the created order by reflecting His glory in all spheres of their life. However, Adam and Eve failed in the mission when they succumbed to the serpent’s deceptive temptation. In addition, Israel failed to be the God’s glorious light to the nations as they continued to chase after false gods. But it is through the church, because of the finished work of Christ and the Spirit’s indwelling, that the mission of God advances throughout the world in every nation.

The church is special because she is God’s chosen vehicle by which He moves through the world inviting people (through verbally sharing the gospel) to repent of their sin and idolatry and to surrender to and confess Christ as their Lord, God, King, and Savior—thereby becoming part of His people, the church.

To be part of the church is to participate in God’s mission of making Him known.

  1. The Church is the window by which people look to see the kingdom of God.

I love shopping! I know it’s weird for a man to like shopping, but I can’t help it. When it comes to shopping, I’m more of a window shopper. I like peering through the window to see if there’s something good to be had—especially a good deal! The nice big windows are the lenses by which I see whether or not something good is to be had.

Just as department stores use big windows and displays to catch the attention of those passing by, God uses the church as large windows for people to catch a glimpse of the kingdom of God.

Being the windows that give people a glimpse of God’s kingdom makes the church special. As the church (both individually and corporately) lives under the rule and reign of God in all areas of life—personal, emotional, marital, familial, relational, vocational, financial, and cultural—she reflects what life in the kingdom of God looks like.

  1. The Church is a loving, supportive, caring, and encouraging family.

As Americans, we are some of the most individualized and isolated people on planet earth. Yet, at the same time, we are some of the most lonely and depressed people who long for true community and connection. If you don’t think we long for community and connection, look no further than Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. People want community and connection. But the truth is, it’s hard to find the type of connection and community we were made for.

The church is so special for she is the community, connection, and family we are longing for, and not only that, but she’s the community, connection, and family we were made for.

Biblically speaking, the church is suppose to be the most loving, forgiving, supportive, caring, gracious, kind, and encouraging family and community in the world. When you find this kind of family, you have truly found something special.

  1. The Church is a selfless, sacrificial organism that enhances life.

My grandma is one of the most selfless and sacrificial people in the world. She is constantly putting others before herself. When she goes to the store it’s not to look for her, but for others. My grandma pours her life into the cups of others. The church is special because, like my grandma, instead of sucking life out of a community, city, or the world, the church breathes life into them. Instead of seeking or receiving glory, the church seeks to give it. Just as Jesus gave His life for the glory of God and for the good of the dying world, the church (in a similar manner) is to do likewise. As the church lives a selfless and sacrificial life she pours her life into others thereby enhancing life and bringing flourishing to the cities and communities where she resides.

  1. The Church is a transformative agent.

I’m grateful for laundry detergent. Why, you ask? The simply answer is laundry detergent is the transformative agent that cleans my clothes and allows me to wear my clothes again without the fear of having a fowl smell exude from my body.

In a similar manner, the presence of the church in the world is a transformative agent that gives off the sweet aroma of Christ in a fowl and putrid world.

In addition, the church acts like salt and light providing taste, preservation, and exposure to a tasteless, decaying, and dark world. Therefore the church is special because as she is empowered by the Spirit, God works through her to bring transformation to people, families, communities, and cities around the world.

In conclusion, the church is special because she is special to God. The church holds a near and dear place in the heart of God. Therefore, the church is special to me, and holds a near and dear place in my heart. In all honesty, I can’t help but love the church and be devoted to her—regardless of her imperfections. My prayer is that every believer would see the uniqueness and the specialness of the church, and how God is using her to glorify Himself, advance His mission to every nation, reflect His kingdom, work for the good of the world, and conform His people into the image of Jesus.

A Platform for the Gospel

Have you ever thought about how a platform, or stage, commands attention? In every environment I can think of where a stage or platform is present, all the seats point towards the platform. Rather it is a raised or sunken platform, the seats are designed in a way for people to see what is transpiring on the stage. I have been to baseball games, basketball games, football games, school plays, professional theatre, movies, conferences, and church worship gatherings. At every single one of those events when someone mounted the stage or the platform, all the attention became fixated on them. The stage or platform became the tool for the team, the person, or the director to share their mission, their purpose, for being there.

When it comes to gospel message the same is true. God builds a stage, a platform, for his people to share him with the world. In fact, the promise of the Spirit and his coming was to empower Jesus’ disciples for witness. This past Sunday I preached on Acts 2:14-41 where Peter delivers the first sermon of the church in which 3000 people respond in repentance and follow Jesus in baptism. But how was that message prompted? It was prompted by the Spirit building a platform. After the Spirit fell on the disciples they began to speak in tongues. These tongues involved them speaking in their native language, yet their native language fell in the native language of the hearers present. This commotion led people in the crowd to be “amazed and perplexed,” asking the disciples, “What does this mean?” Others in the crowd believed them to be drunk, as if they went to the local Jewish tavern at 8a.m that morning.

Peter using this Spirit built platform stands up, lifts up his voice, and addresses the crowd bringing clarity to what has just taken place. What’s interesting about this Spirit built platform is that it continues to happen throughout the book of Acts. In the following chapters, Acts 3 and 4, the Spirit builds another platform to share the gospel through the healing of the lame beggar. Acts 5 we read, “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. . . . And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them.” Acts 6, Stephen is given a platform after doing great wonders and signs among people and after a dispute arose between him and another group about what was taking place (6:8-9).

In Acts 8, we find Philip preaching Jesus in Samaria. There in Samaria, Philip proclaimed Christ while the crowds “paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did” (Acts 8:6). Philip also mounts a Spirit built platform when he encounters an Ethiopian eunuch frustratingly reading, and not comprehending, Isaiah. Philip explains Isaiah to this eunuch in light of Jesus and the eunuch responds in faith and follows in baptism. After Philip, we encounter the church antagonist turned church apostle, Paul. After Paul ‘s conversion Luke shares that he “immediately proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues…” (Acts 9:20). The synagogue was an Spirit built-in platform that gave immediate opportunity to preach Jesus. Paul throughout his ministry would use this already constructed Spirit-built platform.

I could go on and on throughout the book of Acts pointing to the Spirit built platforms that gave opportunity for the apostles and followers of Jesus to share Jesus with others. Truth is, there is no difference today. As the Spirit built platforms for the believers to share over 2000 years ago, he too, today, builds platforms for believers to share. It is important to note that not only does the Spirit build the platforms; he empowers believers to share on the platforms.

I was reading yesterday in the book, To Transform a City, a quote that Albert Einstein made in Time magazine in the December 23, 1940 issue, which exemplifies this notion of the sharing of the gospel having a Spirit-built platform. Einstein states, “Being a lover of freedom, when the revolution came in Germany, I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but no, the universities were immediately silenced. I looked to the great editors of the newspaper, whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom; but they, like the universities, were silenced in a few short weeks. . . . Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing the truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration for it because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual and moral freedom. I am forced to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly.”

This is a great example of the Spirit of God working in and through the church to build platforms to share the gospel. But this is neither the only example, nor way, that the Spirit builds platforms. Spirit-built platforms can be built through the way Jesus changes our behaviors, our actions, our attitudes, and our patterns of life to the point where others take notice and want to know why we do certain things. Platforms can be built in how we serve others in need; how we give generously and sacrificially; or how we stand against injustices. Platforms can be seen in the situations and circumstances of people around us where they may be looking for meaning, for purpose, for relief, for love, for community, for forgiveness, for a fresh start, for parenting advice, for marital advice, or for hope. Spirit-built platforms can come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Here’s my challenge to us, the church: will we be in-tuned to and aware of the Spirit’s work in and through us, as well as around us in building platforms for us to share Jesus with others. I know, sharing Jesus with others can be, and is for many (including myself), a little nerve rattling. However, know that the Spirit is preparing us and building the platform, which becomes a natural opportunity for us to share who Jesus is and what he has done and is doing in our life. In addition, just as the platform is not our responsibility to build, neither is getting one to believe and respond positively to what we are sharing. That too, is the Spirit’s responsibility.

Just think, we have only two responsibilities. First, we must be aware of the Spirit’s work in our life and how he is working in and around us to build platforms for us to share the gospel. And two, we have the responsibility to use the natural platformthat the Spirit providesto share Jesus with others. In other words, we have the responsibility to use the tool the Spirit provides to share with others the mission and purpose of Godto save a people for himself. Has the Spirit built you a platform? Is he building you a platform? Will you use the platform?

Toys, Batteries, and a Child’s Delight

There are many cries a parent hears from a child, “I’m hungry,” “I don’t want that,” “He hit me,” “I don’t want to watch that,” “Where are we going?” “I don’t want to go there,” or “I need some batteries.” Let me highlight the child’s cry for batteries. We don’t necessarily have to remember our childhood to remember the disappointment from grabbing something we wanted to use, only to find it didn’t work because it didn’t have power. Obviously to our children, the emotional low is magnified when their specific toy or gadget doesn’t work.

Just this past weekend, Caleb grabbed a remote control car that we had bought for his birthday last year, only to find that it needed some “juice.” However, at some point over the last year he had lost the battery pack that charged the battery. Of course, I was internally flustered (knowing that these things happen) because I knew this was an expensive car bought from a specialized store in Downtown Disney. Therefore, running to the Walmart was not an option. Needless to say, Joannie was able to call a place, where, graciously, the person said they would mail us another battery pack. And I know that when we get the battery pack, charge the car, and Caleb gets it and starts playing with it, there will be a satisfactory delight. Why? There is much delight in seeing what we have purchased for our own pleasure working properly towards its created purpose.

Not that people are God’s toys, but we are his prized creation, created for his own glory, pleasure, and purpose. For us to effectively work (and not be discarded), he needed to save us—thus sending us Jesus to die in our place. In addition, in order for us to effectively work towards our created design reflecting God’s glory, we needed to be filled with power, a different kind of power than we already possessed. Truth is, man was endowed with power (dominion) at the very beginning. God gave man power (dominion) to rule and oversee his created order. However, man took that power, corrupted it, by choosing to disobey God’s rule. Since then, man has corrupted the innate power they possess to work towards their own personal purpose.

Now going back to this understanding of man working effectively towards their created and intended purpose of glorifying and pleasing God, we must understand that we need a new power, a redeemed power. This is where the Holy Spirit comes in. Not only does the Holy Spirit convict the world of sin (John 16:8), drawing people into a saving relationship with God; the Holy Spirit empowers God’s people for Kingdom living and mission. In other words, he empowers us to work towards our created purpose. He is the new battery to empower us to effectively work right, thus pleasing the Father. Jesus tells his disciples prior to his ascension, that for them to bear witness to him they needed power (Acts 1:8). To get this power, they needed to go and wait for the Holy Spirit to “come upon” them.

The Holy Spirit is the power, the means, by which God’s people effectively bear witness to Jesus and his redeemed kingdom. However, if not careful, there can be a tendency (especially in North America) to use other man-made power sources. It is no secret; we live in a Disney, special effects, digital, technological, consumeristic, and entertainment-crazed culture. Thus, for many (churches) there is a monolithic focus on the weekend worship experience, so much so, churches spends large sums of money to create a comfortable, convenient, special effect, and culturally relevant worship experience. Please do not misunderstand what I am trying to communicate. I am not antagonistic of any of these. In fact, in churches that I have led, we have incorporated many of these elements. However, my point is that there is a tendency to come and rely on these elements for effective witness. Yet, this is not the impetus of Jesus’ intention for the empowering witness of the Holy Spirit in the life of his disciples. His effective witness surrounded proclamation and demonstration. This included power to be bold and clear in verbalizing the gospel of King Jesus; in addition, it included power to live in both holiness and deed (love of neighbor), demonstrating the future restored kingdom of Jesus.

The apostle Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor 2:1-5). In other words, Paul attests, that rather than using the cultural vehicle of oratory and public speaking to engage people and seek transformation, he choose to rely on the Spirit and the power of God.

Therefore, these cultural and contextual elements must not (in practice) become the battery pack that believers plug themselves into in order to be effective witnesses. While these elements are supplemental, they are not necessary. However, the Spirit of God is a necessity in our corporate worship gatherings for conviction and transformation. Furthermore, he is essential in our everyday life—in every sphere of our lives—in order for us to work effectively towards our created purpose, in which God our Father is pleased. If the Spirit of God is essential for us to work effectively as we live towards our created purpose, in which God finds delight, how do we live by the empowering of the Spirit?

1)   Surrender Control. This is another way of believing the Good News of Jesus. Jesus came to save us from ourselves, our sin. The Gospel calls us to repentance, an about-face from our old nature, our old life, and an embracing of God’s new nature, his new life. Thus, if we want to be filled with the Spirit, empowered to live towards God’s created purpose, we must surrender daily—relinquishing our control and yielding to the Spirit’s control. See Luke 9:23; Ephesians 5:18-21.

2)   Be Faithful. Surrendering control leads to faithfulness. As the Spirit controls us, we are faithful to Jesus—embodying his kingdom—thus effectively bearing witness. A lack of faithfulness leads to the Holy Spirit being grieved See Eph 4:30.

3)   Live in Community. I don’t mean go out and by a large compound where everyone can live together. Rather, I mean that we should do life with other believers, covenanting and communing together over meals, bible studies, service, prayer, and corporate worship. We must understand that God saves us personally, but not in isolation. When God saves us and transforms us, he ushers us into covenant fellowship with his people. Therefore, if we desire to see the Spirit empower us for effective witness, we must be connected to the church—the vehicle by which God has chosen to work, as well as the vehicle that is empowered by the Spirit to effectively work.

4)   Pray fervently. As the disciples were in the upper room waiting on the Spirit to call, they were fervently praying. Paul exhorts the Ephesians, in the context of putting on the whole armor of God, to “[pray] at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. Prayer is the means by which we tap into the unbelievable power of God, for prayer is our communication device that connects us to the Spirit. As John Piper militaristically notes, prayer is our “spiritual walkie-talkie” that is directly connected to our commander. As we communicate to our commander, we ask for wisdom, direction, discernment and power to effectively bear witness in every area of our life.

While we may not be toys that need new batteries, we are “[God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Thus in order to faithfully live out these good works in which we were created to do, we must be empowered by the Spirit of God. When we are, are Father has great delight!