Saturday, November 18, 2017

Sermon: Alpha's Method is the Church

Summary of a sermon preached in Darkhan's Good News Church on 12 Nov 2017.

Sermon Theme: Alpha evangelism is not just come and hear, but also come and see and  experience the Gospel of the Kingdom incarnated in the Church.

Text: Acts 2:42-47
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. (NKJV)

Introduction

NT church was characterized by four major activities: 
(1) "apostles' doctrine"- Word  
(2) "fellowship" - Love
(3) "breaking of bread" - Worship
(4) "prayers" - Ministry 

While there was no overt "evangelism" program, yet we read that "the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved" (v.47).

Jesus' only "program" for evangelism is the church as his "witnesses"; in other words, it is the faith community functioning as "witnesses" that attracted unbelievers to Christ. It is God's people, not programs, processes or products that is ultimately the NT message, medium & method for evangelism.
  • Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.“
Note the emphasis on "you", the Spirit-empowered community, as the "witnesses" to Christ. Christ must be seen, heard and experienced in the faith community, not in the processes or products.

NT church is the Gospel message, medium & method

NT evangelism is inviting pre-believers to come and see, hear and experience the Gospel incarnated in the church's communal life. 

Alpha success is not a result of its superior programs, products or processes: these are just means to the greater end--namely, show-casing the church as the kingdom community. Alpha simply facilitates unbelievers to come and see, come and hear and come experience the Word incarnated in the church through the indwelling Spirit.
  • Ephesians 3:10-11 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places,  according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord (NKJV).
In the Acts 2 church, this incarnated Word of Christ was heard through the teaching and seen in the signs and wonders performed by the apostles. The Gospel was also experienced in their shared communal life.

The NT church has no evangelistic method: they don't need one because they are the method: they expressed their self-identity as "witnesses" of Christ through their lifestyle. Evangelism is not just something they do--it begins with who they are. NT church didn’t need a program to proclaim the Gospel because they are the Gospel

Conclusion

Alpha processes and products are just means to make it easy for the church to invite prebelievers to come and see, come and hear and come and experience the presence and power of the Kingdom incarnated in the Spirit-filled church.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 Resurrection & Rapture Hope


KEY TEXT: 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

KEY THOT: Our ultimate hope in Christ is not success in this life but participation in God's kingdom when it comes in its fullness at Christ's return. Two things will happen at Christ's return: firstly, the resurrection of the dead: "And the dead in Christ will rise first". While Scripture does provide much details about how this will work, but I think those departed souls who are already with Christ in the heavenlies will return with him to earth to be clothed with new resurrection bodies. 

After that has happened, the bodies of believers who are still alive will be translated from mortality into immortality and then rise to join the descending Christ and His Bride: "Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). Death will not be the end of this earthly life, but the door into the new resurrection life with Christ.

This is our ultimate Christian hope: resurrection or rapture. But the end point of this hope is this: "so we will always be with the Lord" (v.17). If all we have is hope in this life, then it is a pitiable life: "If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied" (1 Corinthians 15:19). What God has allowed us to experience in this life (its joys, blessings and healings) are just foretaste of the eternal hope we have that lasts forever. God has allowed us to experience His blessings of renewed life in Christ on earth to bear witness to the truth of the Gospel. We should never despise nor denigrate them. Instead, they are signs pointing to the truth of the coming Kingdom that is to come: "And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs" (Mark 16:20).

As one hymn-writer puts it: "If Thy works on earth be sweet, what will Thy glory be?"

Abba-Father, what a glorious hope You have reserved for all who put their trust in Christ. And You have allowed us to experience a foretaste of the world to come in our earthly life. For that, we give You thanks. Amen.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Amos 5:18-24 Day of Lord: Law or Gospel?


KEY TEXT: Amos 5:18-20 Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?

KEY THOT: The Day of the Lord can be both good news and bad news, depending on how we have lived our lives. The Israelites were presumptuous in thinking that the coming "Day of the Lord" would be for them a day of delight and deliverance since they were still keeping the religious rites and rituals required by the Law: "Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord?" Amos told them the Day of the Lord would not be a day of deliverance but darkness: "It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?" Amos' message sounded like Bad News rather than Good News--Law instead of Gospel.

Whether the Day of the Lord (the Second Coming of Christ) is good news (gospel) or bad news (law) really depends on our heart attitude towards God: "I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies...Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (Amos 5:21, 23-24). Amos sets the issue clearly: if there is injustice and unrighteousness in our lifestyle, our religious rituals and rites would do us no good. In fact, if our hearts are unrighteous, God actually hates our religiosity. Whatever may be our theological persuasion on God's grace (justification by faith alone--with or without sanctification), we know from today's passage our participation in religious ceremonies alone will not guarantee our place in God's kingdom. God looks at our heart, not our religious acts.

We must not confuse faith with presumption: real faith will always result in real transformation and the experience of God's grace as the divine power to transform lives. Ultimately, we judge our faith by our works: as James says, if we say we have faith, then show us the works: "But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works" (James 2:18). Some theologies insist that saving faith does not need proof. But saving faith is confirmed by works--otherwise, it is presumption, not faith.

If our hearts remain hardened and our lifestyle is inconsistent with God's holiness, we need to re-examine honestly the kind of "faith" that we have--whether it is mere presumption like the Israelites of Amos' time or real saving faith. But we will know the tree by its fruits--a transformed life marked by righteousness and justice shows us that the person's faith is real. If our life remains unchanged, then it is fair to say that our faith is fake and the "good news" we believe in may turn out to be another "fake news".

For this reason, I will be revisiting the Book of Revelation in the coming year to help us all prepare for the coming Day of the Lord, so it may be a day of delight, not darkness.

Abba-Father, fill our hearts with Your justice and righteousness so that the Day of the Lord may be to us a Day of Deliverance and Delight, not Darkness and Death. Amen.