Out of all the disciplines we have talked about these might be the broadest to tie together. We are talking today about four corporate disciplines that should be practiced by the body of Christ known as the church. These disciplines should be viewed from a macro perspective rather than a micro one. When you talk about disciplines like prayer, fasting or meditation they have a very personal feel. To understand these disciplines you must pull back and take a broad view of the corporate church functioning as a disciplined body.
Today we are focusing on: Confession, Worship, Guidance, and Celebration.
While not directly addressing these disciplines, Paul’s writing to Titus, a young pastor, reminds us of the corporate nature of the church. In these verses we hear the clear call to move together toward holiness and devotion to God. While we all should be doing this personally (micro) we also should be making strides as a church (macro) in becoming a people “totally committed to doing good deeds.”
For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. 12 And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, 13 while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. 14 He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.
15 You must teach these things and encourage the believers to do them. You have the authority to correct them when necessary, so don’t let anyone disregard what you say.”
The very nature of God demands that we be redemptive as a church. Being able to hear and accept the confessions of those who are turning to God is a tremendous responsibility. I am not talking about Catholic confession but a much broader sense that allows mature Christfollowers to hear and respond redemptively to those who share their stories and life.
What happens in the body of Christ when a person thought to be walking with Christ falls into some sin that is threatening to destroy their lives? Too often they will drift away feeling as though there is no hope for forgiveness. Too many times people are embarrassed to admit within the body of Christ that they are struggling with something too hard for them to handle, yet in the biblical concept of community we are told to respond like our natural bodies respond to pain. The hand comes to the rescue of another part of the body that is hurting etc.
There is an amazing story following the resurrection of Jesus:
“That Sunday evening[b] the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” John 20:19-23
We have the ability to extend forgiveness (through Christ) to those who come seeking! Do you know that this is what we should be practicing in our intimate gatherings of this local expression of Christ’s body? Those who gather in our small groups and bible studies should feel free to share their burdens and no that they won’t be judged.
Talk about growing up in a church that practiced testimonies and how that led to occasionally a public confession.
Richard Foster experienced the power of confession in the first church he pastored. He devised a plan to make sure there was nothing in his past life hindering the power of the Holy Spirit. He divided his life into three time periods on a piece of paper: Childhood, adolescence and adulthood. He came before God in prayer and meditation asking that God would reveal anything that needed forgiveness and healing or both. He waited in absolute silence for about ten minutes and anything that began to surface he wrote down. He did this for three days taking time each day on the three time periods of his life. He then went to a brother in Christ that he had informed of his intentions. Slowly and sometimes painfully he read his sheet adding only enough comment to make the sin clear. When he was done he started to put the paper away but his friend and brother in Christ wisely stopped him, took the paper, tore it into tiny pieces and through it away. “As I watched he tore the paper into hundreds of tiny pieces and dropped them into the basket. That powerful nonverbal expression of forgiveness was followed by simple absolution. My sins I knew were as far away as the east is from the west.” (Foster)
St. Alphonsus Luguori: “For a good confession three things are necessary: an examination of conscience, sorrow, and a determination to avoid sin.” Let me just say that most people today have built up an incredible tolerance for sin in their lives.
If you and I ever had even a small sense of how much God hates sin we would be moved to holier living. In Jeremiah 44:4 God pleads with His people: “Oh do not do this abominable thing I hate.” The purpose of practicing and accepting confession is to move us into a deeper sense of the sinfulness of sin.
Yesterday the speaker for the men’s breakfast talked about his willingness to fight at the drop of a hat. He was a teamster and enforced the rules with a ball bat. When he came to Christ and became a Christfollower he still had three instances where he decked someone until God finally in deep sorrow (godly sorrow) he cried out to God for transformation. That was nearly fifty years ago and now he heads up all the pastoral care at a church of 3000 plus people. He is one of the most compassionate, loving and caring man I know.
“But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. 24 For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” John 4:23-24
William Temple wrote these words: “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feel the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.”
We are called to worship God as the object of our love and affection. Do you know that you will rarely experience God in church if you don’t experience Him in your everyday life?
There is a phrase I want to get into your heads and hearts today:
Practicing the presence of God
The Catholic writer known as Brother Lawrence knew the reality of God’s presence. He knew that because he experienced the presence of God in his kitchen that he would meet God in the Mass as well. “I cannot imagine how religious persons (Christfollowers) can live satisfied without the practice of the presence of God.”
Do you know what a difference it would make in our so called worship services if we as a church intentionally practiced the presence of God? What would it look like if before you ever got in your car to come here you had already had a tremendous week of God’s presence? When we started singing songs like we sang today you would hardly be able to contain yourself. If on the other hand you never give God much thought until you drive into the parking lot it’s just going to be some cool music a good band and sermon.
God longs for us to live worship. He longs to be in our lives every moment of every day. The church scattered outside of the walls is the church at its best but only if we live and cultivate the presence of God in our lives.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
"17And whatsoever ye (you) do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” Colossians 3:16-17 KJV
Praise brings us into worship.
For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. 16 And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.” Hebrews 13:14-16 NLT
Let us be about the practice as the church corporate of worshipping with our lives
God never struggled to lead whole groups of people at once. When the church will humble themselves and pray and seek God’s face corporately He will respond. Numerous times in the Old Testament we read the phrase, “and God healed the people.” This is usually in the context of Israel repenting after straying from God. They would return as a people and wait before God with contrite hearts and He would forgive and guide them in His way and will.
The local church community is called to give guidance and promote discipleship. This is the commission Christ left for the church when He departed the earth.
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,[b] baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
For every possible predicament of man, there is a corresponding grace of God.
In other words:
For every particular human need there is a particular supernatural resource.
For every definite problem there is a definite answer.
For every hurt there is a cure.
For every weakness there is a strength.
For every confusion there is guidance.
SOURCE: John C. Maxwell, The Winning Attitude, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
The church is supposed to be a body of guidance and light for those searching for The Way.
How are we practicing that as a church? How do we point men and women in the right direction and give guidance?
List the ways:
Men’s and women’s bible studies
Mom’s group on Wednesday evening.
New men’s group meeting on Thursday evenings here at Williams Street.
Barb Bruner leads a group of ladies that meet on Saturday’s
We encourage people to be in community with others because it is in these community groups that you will receive guidance and support. It is your community group that is going to come to your aid in your hour of need. They are going to be the ones that surround you with prayer and guidance as you journey through this life.
Of all the people in the world, Christians and Christfollowers should be the most joyful. Joy is the abiding result of following Christ. NOTHING can take our joy in Christ away from us.
Jesus birth was announced with great joy and we are instructed over and over to rejoice evermore!
Celebration is central to all the spiritual disciplines. Without a joyful spirit all of these disciplines become dull and actually bring death rather than life. They become a drudgery and a burden to be worn for everyone else to see.
Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit. A sense of celebration is the engine that drives who we are and what we do!
There is only one thing that will drive our joy in Christ and that is obedience to His word. If you know that you are living and walking in all the light that God has shown on your pathway of life you will have a sense of rest and assurance that will overwhelm you with joy.
There are people who will go from church to church looking for a sense of joy but it is not about the music, or a worship style or getting in the right community group. Joy is found in obedience. When the power that is in Jesus Christ reaches into our work and play and redeems them there will be joy where once there was moping and mourning.
A NATIONAL PRAYER OF REPENTANCE
Joe Wright is the pastor of Central Christian Church in Wichita, KS. On January 23, 1996, He was asked to be the guest chaplain for the Kansas State House in Topeka. He prayed a prayer of repentance that was written by Bob Russell, pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. According to an article in the Kansas City Star from January 24, 1996, his prayer stirred controversy, and one member of the legislative body walked out. Others criticized the prayer. The controversy didn’t end there. Later that year in the Colorado House, Republican representative Mark Paschall angered lawmakers by using Joe Wright’s prayer as the invocation. Some members there also walked out in protest. Paul Harvey got a hold of the prayer and read it on his program. He got more requests for copies of it than any other thing he had ever done. Here’s what he prayed: "Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask Your forgiveness and to seek Your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, "Woe to those who call evil good," but that’s exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and inverted our values. We confess that: We have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it pluralism. We have worshipped other gods and called it multi-culturalism. We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle. We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery. We have neglected the needy and called it self-preservation. We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare. We have killed our unborn and called it a choice. We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable. We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem. We have abused power and called it political savvy. We have coveted our neighbor’s possessions and called it ambition. We have polluted the airwaves with profanity and called it freedom of expression. We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment. Search us, O God, and know our hearts today; try us and see if there be some wicked way in us; cleanse us from every sin and set us free. Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent here by the people of Kansas, and who have been ordained by You, to govern this great state. Grant them Your wisdom to rule and may their decisions direct us to the center of Your will... Amen
Before we enter into a time of declaring our faith as a church today let me remind you of what you have been called to these last three weeks:
“Greet each other with Christian love. Peace be with all of you who are in Christ"
I Peter 5:14