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Sep 09, 2018

The Heart of a Beautiful Church

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Anatomy of A Beautiful Church

Keywords: beauty, church, heart, process, repentance, deep love

Summary:

We all innately comprehend and are attracted to beauty. So what is it that makes for a beautiful church? What must we as the Bride of Christ be focused on to be able to actually become that beautiful Bride? This message examines the most important part of that process--the heart of a church (and thus the hearts of its people).

Detail:

The Heart of a Beautiful Church

Anatomy of a Beautiful Church Series

September 9, 2018

Fellowship discussion question: 

  • How would you define “beauty”? (No Googling definitions!)
  • If someone said, “You have a beautiful heart!” to what might they be referring?

INTRO:  When was the last time you had a vision test?  So I want to give you a vision test today.  But it’s not going to be like any vision test you may have taken at the optometrist’s office. I’m going to put up various pictures and I want you to tell me what YOU think when you see it: “beautiful” or “not-so-much.”  Don’t over-think them.  React!  “Beautiful…not-so-much.”  Ready? 

[PowerPoints]

We could spend a lot of time just talking about what beauty is and why one person’s notion of beauty may be different from another person’s.  But that’s not my focus today. 

For the next 4-5 weeks, we’re going to be looking at this theme of “Beautiful Church.” 

  • What makes a group of redeemed sinners beautiful?
  • What does God say makes His church beautiful?
  • What may cause lost people all around us say, “That church…those people…are beautiful,” not in an outward, physical sense but in a spiritual, inner-life and relational sense?

Today we’re going to start with the HEART of a beautiful church.  To do that, I want us to look at a few passages of Scripture where God is telling us what kind of heart is beautiful.

            Just as different people’s notion of beauty may be differ and be shaped by their experiences or just who they are, so God’s notion of beauty may differ from many people’s notion of beauty.  The deeper a person is immersed in evil, the more evil may appear attractive and “beautiful” to them. 

  • A psychopath may find torture “beautiful” and attractive.
  • A drug addict may find their drug hits and highs “beautiful”.
  • An egomaniac may find absolute power and abusive power “beautiful.”

But most people who grow up in a world that is not too terribly marred or destroyed by evil will intuitively be attracted to the beauty of kindness, the beauty of hope, the beauty of love, of compassion, of peace, of all the fruit of the Spirit (which are???).

            And the more we grow in Christ and our love of God, the more things like holiness and purity and gentleness will illicit an automatic “I like that!  It’s beautiful!” response, be it in nature or God or in the nature of human behavior. 

When it comes to a “beautiful church,” let me clarify what we’re NOT talking about.

  • The building we too often call “church”. The Greek term for “church” is ekklesia.  It’s a compound word, ek which is a preposition meaning “out” or “from”.  It denotes the origin of something.  The second part of the word comes from the verb kaleo meaning “to call” or “to invite.”  Thus the word we call “church” in English means a “called-out assembly or group of people.”  Instead of saying, “I’m going to church today,” it would probably be better for us to say, “I’m going to gather with the church today,” or “I’m going to BE the church today at Mosaic Center.”  If this building burns down tomorrow, we will still be the “called out” people of God in the heart of our city known as Mosaic Fellowship!
  • Our physical features—how handsome or homely we are, how beautiful or blah our physical appearance is. We’re not even talking about our clothing or hair styles.  This is NOT the kind of “beauty” that God or the souls of sinners like us are really looking for, is it?  In fact, I must confess that when I go to a church that is full of the hip, well-dressed, well-styled, mostly beautiful or handsome people, I get distracted.  I start wondering if my clothing looks frumpy…or my haircut is contemporary enough. Our physical features can more often distract from the beauty of Christ than add to it.  But more about that later.   

What we ARE talking about when we say a “beautiful church” is two things:

1.) A church or gathering of God’s people whom Jesus looks at and says, “That’s my beautiful Bride!  She is really becoming more beautiful every day.  She’s in love with me and enjoying all I want to be to her.  She’s beautiful!”

2.)  A church/gathering of God’s people whom most people living around us look at and think or say,

  • “They are doing some really beautiful things in and for our community!
  • They have a beautiful shared life together.
  • They are the kind of people I need to be around and want to be with because I’m better every time I hang out with them.
  • They have beautiful hearts!”

Of those two categories, really the only one we need to focus on is #1.  WHY is that?  [If we get beauty right before God, the other will follow.  If we don’t get that beauty right, the rest won’t work or matter.]

So let’s look at what God considers beautiful when it comes to His people and what we need to do in order to keep cultivating that God-glorifying beauty.

First, when it comes to heart-beauty, we need to really embrace the reality that God “knows” each of our hearts completely. 

Q:  WHY does that matter so much? 

All our actions flow from our heart:  our words, our attitudes, our values, what we believe is true, our sins, our good deedsALL flows from the heart.  [Jesus:  Mt. 5:28—lust; 6:21—what we treasure; 12:34—speech; 13:15—calloused hearts >>deaf to the Word of God vs. Luke 8:15—noble & good hearts >> receive the Word; Mt. 19:8—hardened hearts >> divorce]

God looks on the heart, not just the actions.  He relates to us based on our heart-condition, not our physical state.  Repeatedly this truth is echoed over and over in the Scriptures.

  • Luke 16:15—To the Pharisees “who loved money” and “were sneering at Jesus” after he told the people they couldn’t serve both God and money, Jesus said this: “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts.”  He knew when money was more their god than the God Yahweh whom they so publicly and loudly claimed to follow.  So God clearly sees the motives and priorities of our hearts.
  • Acts 1:24—When the 11 Apostles (minus Judas Iscariot) were seeking a replacement for Judas, they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry….”
  • Acts 15:8—In Peter’s speech to the Jerusalem Council, he says, “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them [Gentiles] by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as He did us.”
  • Romans 8:27—Paul writes in this Mt. Everest of a chapter in the N.T. that God “searches our hearts.” You ever been searched by the police?  The FBI?  The airport security?  What’s the purpose of a search?  To find what is there!  God is in the business of finding what is in our hearts, knowing whether it is good or evil in there. 
  • Psalm 19:2 even reminds us that our own assessment of our own hearts is often wrong. But not God’s!  “But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults.”  God is in the business of even forgiving the things we don’t see or think need forgiving in our lives.  (Which should tell us a lot about the importance of exercising that kind of forgiveness towards each other too!)
  • 1 Corinthians 4:5 tells us, “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

From thoughts to motives, musings to mental meanderings, God knows everything that goes on in our hearts. 

Were He any other kind of God than He is, that would be a terrible reality.  God could “out” any one of us about our thoughts at any moment.  But He doesn’t.  Instead he invites us to be honest, transparent, safe and open with Him at all times. 

APP:  This means that whenever I come to God, be it coming together as the church to worship like we are today or sitting quietly with God in my morning or evening devotional time, I need to invite God to forgive, heal and transform the evil I know resides and springs up unbidden in our hearts every day. AND I need Him to reveal what He knows about my heart that I may not see or not really want to see (my hidden faults).

This “knowledge” that God knows our hearts intimately can and should lead us to some experiential changes.  It should change what I experience of God and what I experience with you my spiritual family.    

APP:  Confession of sins has always been a BIG part of a beautiful heart before God. 

EX:  David, “a man after God’s own heart, (Ac. 13:22).  It wasn’t that he was sinless.  In fact, he sinned terribly—adultery, murder, numbering the people.  It was that he repented and submitted to God’s good yet painful discipline.  

Historically in the church, confession has been a much bigger part of worship than it is in most Evangelical churches today.  People who confess their sins honestly, regularly and transparently will find that their church has a beautiful aroma of humility and an air of authenticity.  Maybe this is why James told us to “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16).

Q:  What does a church feel like that actually does that?  Doesn’t it feel safe?  Doesn’t it feel authentic?  RealGenuine?  And don’t we find that beautiful

Imagine:  You had been abused as a child or young person.  Imagine some of us have been abusers of others.  What kind of healing would take place if a humble, forgiven, guilty abuser stood up in the assembly of God’s people…when the Holy Spirit was convicting him to confess that sin…and asked forgiveness specifically from all who had ever been abused among us? 

Your abuser may not even be around anymore.  They may have died.  But can you imagine the healing that might happen if an abuser were to confess that sin and ask for forgiving, restorative prayer from anyone who had been the victim of abuse? 

Not only would it be extremely powerful healing for the repentant abuser to hear forgiveness and prayers for healing from his shame; imagine what it would do to bring healing in a victim of abuse to actually grant forgiveness and love that person through prayer? 

APP:  What might our worship or fellowship look like if we made confession of sin a normal part of our experience together?  What forms might that take?

  • Time of silent soul-inventory and repentant prayers?
  • Foot-washing ceremony?
  • Written prayers of repentance?
  • Corporate prayers of repentance we read?

Just this last week I was reading in 2 Chronicles 6 & 7 about the dedication of Solomon’s Temple.  It is fascinating to see how much of the possible situations Solomon talks to God about had to do with when God’s people would use that Temple for repenting of their sins, both personal and national.  That probably has something to say to us about the importance of repentance in the temple of the church today. 

            Let me finish this point by reminding us of Matthew 5:8.  Jesus is giving the Sermon on the Mount, specifically the Beatitudes.  He addresses the importance of our hearts in relationship to God when He says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”  Clearly, God wants moral, relational and spiritual purity in our hearts, His bride.  Recognizing what isn’t pure in our hearts is a first step in the right direction.  But what are the positive steps we might take to develop purity of heart before God?  [Group responses.]

  • What we feed our souls/hearts: holy entertainment, God’s word, good reading.
  • Who we commune with: God the Holy Spirit, other saints living godly lives.
  • The level of transparency we develop with some trusted saints as we admit our failings and seek wholeness through deep fellowship.

Imagine how God might meet us and put His beauty on us if we engaged in repentance every week?  So let’s pray this prayer today:

Heavenly Father, we come to confession as a community of believers, admitting that we do not always live as the body of Christ. We isolate ourselves from one another, we gossip, we criticize, we speak words of pain, and we harbor grudges. Forgive us for the many ways we fail in our relationships with others and with You. As we seek to be a covenant community, we ask that You help us to pursue deep relationships with one another, to restore what is broken, to give grace even when it might not be deserved. Help us to forgive just as You forgave us. And help us to love each other as You have loved us. In Jesus Name we pray, Amen.

[Found at http://www.mdpc.org/resources/prayers-of-confession/ on 9.8.18.]

That leads us to another positive characteristic of a beautiful church.  For this one, turn to Acts 2.  At the end of that chapter, Luke tells us that the early church in Jerusalem was so beautiful to unbelievers in Jerusalem that “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” 

            So what was the church doing daily that had such a powerful attraction to spiritually hungry people?  Vs. 46 tells us, “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.” Just what were they doing in the Temple?  Vs. 42 clarifies that—“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”  Their shared worship life was daily.  It was meaningful.  It was powerful.  In fact vs. 43 goes on to say, “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.”

            But what were their hearts like?  Vs. 46 again—“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  They broke break in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God….”

            When people see God’s people really enjoying their God like these new believers did, they will see a beautifully attractive church. 

When they see God binding and blending us together, diverse as we are, in a unity that they never see in their families or this culture, then they will see a beautiful church. 

When they see us working out our differences, reaching out to people different from us, forgiving each other when we fail and carrying each other’s burdens when we’re ready to give up, then they will see a beautiful church. 

I long for weekend services to be all about letting God clean us up and mold us together into a beautiful Bride for His Son, Jesus.  That kind of experience must include both interaction with God himself and interaction with each other that is meaningful and soul-satisfying. 

APP:  We’re going to be making some changes to what we do on Sundays that we hope will help facilitate that.  Let me tell you about some of the ideas we are working with right now that will unfold over the next few weeks.

  • For meaningful fellowship: round TABLES and a few rows of seating…weekly conversation/preparation questions that touch on the upcoming Bible time…prayer sheets on each table (answers, praises and request)… FOOD & drinks…more time between services for fellowship.
  • For meaningful interaction with God: fresh songs and possibly no songs some mornings…more and varied prayer in services…varied types and segments (breaking up the service) of Bible study, interaction and application of texts and truths…making every part of our time together a conscious opportunity to connect with God (whether offering, meeting people, meditating in quiet, sharing something with a neighbor, looking at a passage, watching a video, etc.).

In short, we want to engage in what makes Mosaic beautiful…to God and to each other. 

QUESTIONS?  SUGGESTIONS?

So to summarize, the heart of a beautiful church is one that is deeply infused with the heart of our beautiful God.  If God is THE most beautiful being in existence, then growing our heart to be more like Christ will certainly grow our beauty as His Bride. 

Returning to Acts, 4:32 goes on to say that the Jerusalem church was “one in heart and mind.”  What does it mean to be “one in heart and mind?”  UNITY of purpose, of passion, of heart for God and heart for people.  Whose “heart and mind”? 

Not mine!  Not yours!  Not anybody’s but Jesus Christ himself.  Only as we unite around what He desires and thinks about, what He prays for, what He is working diligently for will we find this kind of beauty of unity.

            The more that Jesus Christ is our very life—the way we look at others, the way we speak to each other, the desires and passions that drive our lives—the more of God’s beauty will be seen at Mosaic. 

This goes back to what Andrew talked with us about several weeks ago:  the purpose we come together is to “stimulate each other to love and good works” and to “encourage one another” more and more every passing day (Heb. 10:24, 25).

[Refer to sheet of things that people told us help them be encouraged and encourage others.]

Let’s wrap this up by looking at just a couple more qualities of heart that will make the heart of Mosaic truly beautiful.  We’ve seen humility that comes by repentance and confession and generous forgiveness as making a church beautiful.  We’ve seen unity & harmony between us that make the heart of the church beautiful. 

Now go to 1st Peter 1:22.  Having reminded his readers that their lives and salvation had been bought “with the precious blood of Christ,” Peter calls God’s people to “Love one another deeply, from the heart.”  “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.” 

            Purity of heart is truly no small thing.  It not only comes by turning from evil and sin in our hearts; it comes from “obeying the truth” as Peter says here.  We cannot have purity of heart without obedience of life to Jesus.  And Jesus has called His family to “love each other…deeply, from the heart.”

            Let’s think about the difference for a moment between “deep love” and “shallow love.”  They may not necessarily be opposites.  But they certainly would be significantly different in degrees.

  • Where shallow love might be patient with someone once or twice, what would deep love do?
  • Where shallow love would allow someone to offend us two or three times, what would deep love do?
  • Where shallow love might be attracted to helping someone in need a few times, what will deep love do in the face of repeated need?

How many of us can say that we have been “loved deeply” in this life?  [Hands]

What was it that someone did that enabled you to have that experience of being deeply loved? 

[Responses.]

Once you’ve experienced “deep love” from another human being, it’s somewhat easier to love others deeply.  It’s also easier to believe that God is truly love.  This is why God created His Bride, the church, to be the most genuinely loving body of people in the world.  We’re not talking the kind of selfish love of cults that draws people into their orbit so they can use them sexually or financially or even relationally for their own whims and desires.  We’re talking about love that sacrifices oneself so that someone else’s life is enriched and bettered. 

ILL:  The story of St. Patrick.  

The historical Patrick was a spoiled and rebellious young Roman citizen living a life of luxury in 5th-century Britain when he was suddenly kidnapped from his family’s estate as a teenager and sold into slavery across the sea in Ireland. For six years he endured brutal conditions as he watched over his master’s sheep on a lonely mountain in a strange land.

He went to Ireland an atheist, but there heard what he believed was the voice of God. One day he escaped and risked his life to make a perilous journey across Ireland, finding passage back to Britain on a ship of reluctant pirates.

His family welcomed back their long-lost son and assumed he would take up his life of privilege, but Patrick heard another call of God, this time to return to Ireland to bring the Gospel of Christ and a new way of life to a people who had once enslaved him.

He constantly faced opposition, threats of violence, kidnapping, and even criticism from jealous church officials, while his Irish followers faced abuse, murder, and enslavement themselves by mercenary raiders. But through all the difficulties Patrick maintained his faith and persevered in his Irish mission.

His efforts effectively transformed an entire nation.  I read about it not long ago in a book entitled The Celtic Way of Evangelism.  Patrick went from village to village with a small community of converts who would set up house just outside any given village. They would work and interact with the villagers as the church in action.  The loving and kind way of life of these Christ-followers stood in stark contrast to the often brutal life of the Celtic Irish.  People were drawn to St. Patrick’s community of believers.  And they usually joined his community first and then believed in Christ later.  Belonging preceded believing. 

This is, I think, what the first century Jews in Jerusalem experienced about the 1st century church of Jesus there.  It was the beautiful life of Christ being lived out together that attracted so many to the church. 

Certainly part of the serious problem the American church faces today is that our life of love for each other in Christ has been reduced, for all practical purpose and for the vast majority of church-goers, to a few minutes together in a place that provides little if any real “deep love” for them or anyone else. 

The life of Christ shared in the church is something we were meant to experience together on a frequent basis, not just once a week…or 2 times a month  (which has become the new standard for a “practicing Christian” these days!)  It’s hard to love each other “deeply, from the heart” when we see each other so infrequently.  Love is mostly a verb in the N.T.  And as such it should be mostly an action in our churches today. 

Summary:

  1. A beautiful church experiences humility through confession.
  2. A beautiful church loves deeply through meaningful fellowship & worship.

APP:  So let’s conclude with a little probing.  If I told you that you couldn’t leave this place until you had “loved someone deeply, from the heart” TODAY, what would you do???  How would you actually fulfill God’s command to do that “from the heart.”