Church Within the Church

Acts 2:46-47(NKJV) 46So 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, 47praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added £to the church daily those who were being saved.

We have been sharing with you the vision God gave me for Living Word Christian Center when we started our church in 1987. The written vision for a church is the blueprint used to build what God desires. If you are reading this and you are not part of our church, I hope that this will help you understand the concept of a local vision. If your church does not have a written statement such as this, go to your leaders and ask them what they see as the vision for the church. Then get behind it and run with it.

The last area of our vision is something that became very important to me early in my ministry life. I saw that people in larger churches often went unknown by the leadership. Their needs would go unmet and they would often simply disappear. I believe God wants each person in a local church to be known and loved. The church is a family. I know all my children and they know me. I believe a church without this element is a “gathering of people” and nothing more. I did not want our church to be that way.

On the other hand, a church is called to touch the area where it is located. It is difficult to do that if there are only a few people. The church needs to have enough resources and people to impact the community. How can a church accomplish that and remain a family? I found the answer in today’s scripture. They met from house to house and in the temple.

I looked back to the small youth group where everything I am doing today began. The intimacy of that group is part of what led me to receive Jesus in the first place. However, a church that only meets in a home is simply not large enough to have much effect on the community. The answer was to do what they did in Acts. Have small groups that meet in homes and then bring them all together into a church. This enables us to reach a larger area and grow while maintaining the family feel and relationships. This concept became an important part of the vision for our local church.

REGIONAL CHURCH LOCAL MINISTRY

The final area I would like to address is the fact that God has always shown me “church” in a regional instead of community setting. I am not a proponent of the “mega-church” model for local church. Some believe that is the best way to build a powerful church and that is fine, but I do not believe a church in the thousands is the best way to fulfill the great commission.

With that said, we must realize that it takes a certain number of people working together to have a major impact on a local area. The larger the population base we have to draw from, the easier it is to gather that number of people together in one “team”. I am convinced that there is a way to accomplish this, remaining a true local church where the individual is not “lost in the shuffle.

We must understand that it is not just large numbers we desire, but it is impact that we need in these last days. The community hardly notices a church that grows to one or two hundred people, but just imagines one of a five hundred or more. A church of that size changes the spiritual atmosphere of an area.

There is an obvious second benefit to a large church, and that is the resources available for preaching the Gospel. On the surface, the most obvious things would be finances and people. Certainly, this is a factor. The larger the group of people, the more financial resources are available to accomplish what God calls us to do. The less obvious and more important factor is the amount of spiritual resources made available. That many people in agreement through prayer and faith about anything will see their goals accomplished!

Of course, the major problem with such a work is the tendency to lose the sense of family by causing the individual to become “just a number”. I want to assure you that if I had to choose between a large church and a place where the individual is known, loved and important I will choose the latter. I do not believe that such a choice is necessary. The answer to this question is to have church within the church.

LWCC has established home cell groups, called New Life Groups, in every area from which people come. These groups are responsible for praying for their area as well as providing personal care to the members of the church from their community. They are also a prime place for evangelism as people may be much more likely to come to a home for some fellowship than to come to a church. There is someone responsible and in touch with leadership for every 15 to 20 people.

An important focus of the New Life Groups is what we call “net fishing teams.” Through the leading of the Spirit of God, they target unsaved and un-churched people with prayer, fasting and relationship evangelism loving them into the body of Christ. Once people are born again, the process of “discovery” and “preparation” will begin right in the local cell. In this way, we will not only see the harvest come in but we will not lose it as so many have been in the past.

We also anticipate local activities and meetings as the spirit leads. I can see LWCC sponsoring outreach meetings in each city and town. Since they will have the support of the whole church, we will not have the pressure of having to obtain enough money to pay for these meetings. We will be able to preach the Gospel in every area for which we must give account

This approach provides each of us with the ability to participate in something that is larger than our small group without losing the joy of being part of a church family or giving up on ministry to the community in which we live. I believe that as we follow the Lord closely, we will have the best of both worlds.

The last phase of developing a regional church will be the planting of “daughter churches” in some of the areas that are farther from the main campus. These daughter churches will be a part of the Living Word family. We will continue to work together in relationship to accomplish the elements of the local vision set forth here. We will maintain an accountability structure for the pastors and leaders of these churches. We will gather them together for conferences and continual training. We will periodically gather the members of all the churches we plant in one place so we may encourage one another in the plan God has called us to carry out together.

Life Long Vision

This is a great vision and it will take much prayer and dedication to accomplish, but I believe that it is all attainable if we will be faithful in small things. It must be the Lord who builds the house and, as we have already stated, He is in no hurry. We will use this vision statement to help keep us on track and flowing towards the goal. We must not allow anything to put pressure on us to try to make the vision happen. God will do it one day and one person at a time. When Jesus comes it is not important that he find us having completed this course, but that we be where we should be at the time He comes. As long as we are following His lead and allowing growth to come naturally, we will do just that!

That applies to each one of your and each of your churches as well. Working together you can take your city for the Lord. May God’s blessing be upon you.

Make Disciples of all Nations

Matthew 28:18-20(NKJV) 18And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

Without a directive vision, a local church will not accomplish what God has called them to do. The bible exhorts us to “write the vision and make it plain” so that the people called to be part of it can “run with it.” (Hab. 2:2) All local visions flow from the great commission. Jesus tells us to preach the gospel and make disciples of all nations. In Acts 1, we are told that “the uttermost parts of the earth” must begin with our own Jerusalem. We must make disciples in our own city or area of responsibility before we can make disciples of “all nations.”

In 1987, the Lord took my family and me out of the church we had established in Rome, NY and brought us to the southern part of our state near the city of Binghamton. Binghamton is not a large place, but the village God directed us to was even smaller. Greene is a village of less than 2000 people. How could we build a church that would fulfill the great commission in such a small place? In the 25 years since then we have seen God establish a quality church, provide us with 64 beautiful acres and we are nearly done with an expansion of our facility that provides us nearly 50% more sanctuary space and more than doubles our office capacity. All of this has been done without borrowing.

We are still a small congregation with much yet to accomplish, however we have been able to impact some twenty nations for the Lord. Our main responsibility remains a circle centered in Greene, NY and extends for some 50 miles. We have accomplished what we have because God gave us a vision to guide us. We will accomplish our goals for the future by following that same vision. Today I want to share how God has instructed us to “make disciples” of this part of our nation.

Before I do that let me share one thought with you. Discipleship is not something that professional ministry accomplishes in the lives of the “laity.” Discipleship is the responsibility of every believer. We all know something we can share. If you are part of a local church, look around you. Is there someone in your church that may be a little younger in the Lord than you are? Do not look to the pastor or church leaders to help them. Do not wait for a professional to reach out to them. You reach out to them and share with them the things the Lord has instructed you.

I believe we have allowed ourselves to become far too dependent on plans and programs. We expect organizations and bureaucracy to meet the needs of people that we should be touching ourselves. There is a place for those trained in certain types of ministry to bring specialized help to those in need. This includes those in need of physical, emotional or spiritual healing as well as those in need of training in the things of God. However, each one of us is called to share our lives with someone else. We all must pass on what we have if we are going to make disciples.

As you read the following description of how we at Living Word go about making disciples, remember that you have a role to play in their development. Some of the things I describe are certainly done by those trained for the job. However, as you read it, I want you to look around and ask yourself, “How can I apply these principles for those around me? How can I grow in discipleship myself so I may help others as well?”


LWCC AS A DISCIPLESHIP CENTER

The second part of our vision is the desire to produce strong believers in every area of Bible revelation. The idea of discipleship is people sharing their lives with people in order to help them grow in the Lord. The goal is that they truly function in the reality of Christianity. The Lord has called Living Word Christian Center to accomplish this in your life.

One of the main offices that I function in is the office of teacher. As a teacher, there is nothing I cherish more than the transmission of the life in the Word of God to an individual. LWCC will always remain committed to providing you with the best teaching available to help you live as a successful person and a light for Jesus in your community. We believe in all kinds of ministry to meet the needs of people, such as counseling and the laying on of hands, but the only way for you to walk in Christian maturity is to build the Bible into your life. Jesus was the Word made flesh. Our goal is that the Word will become flesh in your lives as well, and this will be the primary motivation in every aspect of our church ministry.

This teaching and training will be in three major areas:

THE UNCOMPROMISED WORD OF GOD Our first line of teaching will be the basic and fundamental truths of the Bible. These truths are the most important things any person can learn because they are the foundation upon which we build our whole life. These things include faith, righteousness, redemption, holiness and love. We will teach them in an uncompromising manner that says the Word is absolutely true and the final authority in your life. If you are grounded in these areas, you will be a successful Christian.

HOW TO TRAINING The second line of teaching will be training on how to walk in various areas of life. These teachings will be of a more practical nature and will include instruction in marriage and child rearing, healing, witnessing and financial planning.

PERSONAL ENCOURAGEMENT AND INSTRUCTION At some time in each of our lives we need a personal word of encouragement or council in order to help us understand why we do not seem able to “do the Word”. LWCC will endeavor to provide hands on attention whenever needed. This will be in the form of personalized teaching on how to apply the word in the area of need. Secondarily it will be ministry to whatever area of the person, spirit, soul or body that is hindering him from being successful in receiving the freedom promised in the Word.

Without a Vision the People Perish

Proverbs 29:18(KJV) 18Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

What is a local church? For many denominational Christians it is a place to practice the religion of their forefathers. In other words, it is a place for Methodists to go to be Methodists, Catholics to go to be Catholics, Baptists to be Baptists and even Pentecostals to be Pentecostals. However, that is not what Jesus died to establish. Jesus founded the universal church for one purpose. It exists to extend the Kingdom of God in the earth. The local church exists for the same purpose, to extend the Kingdom of God within a city or region. Any other purpose falls short of God’s call upon the church.

When I was a young Christian, we learned that God wanted to reveal his purpose for our lives. This was an exciting thing and we latched onto a term that summed up this idea. That term was vision. We were all seeking a vision from God for who and what we were. There is nothing wrong with that. God wants to reveal his purpose for your life. The problem arose when we began to take possession of the “vision.” We soon found out that when there are many “visions” trying to occupy the same space, we end up with di-vision instead of agreement. God has a plan for your life, but no one can accomplish that plan in a vacuum. It takes relationship and coordination to fulfill the vision God has for your life.

A local church should be a place where the vision God has for the individual is joined with other individual visions so that together we may work together to extend the Kingdom of God to our area and ultimately to the world. In order to accomplish that, God calls a group of people together and molds the individual visions into a force that can impact the community in which they live. We call that the Local Church Vision.

I believe that a local church is a living thing. God brings local churches to birth so that they can fulfill a part in extending the Kingdom to that local area. No local church has the whole “vision” for any region. There are too many people and too many different kinds of people for one church to think they can be the church for the city or region where they exist. There will be many churches in a region, each one with a vision that represents the part God intends for them to play in extending the Kingdom of God in that place. There may be more than one church called to do the same thing depending on the size of the area. There may be churches that focus on different kinds of people or different parts of the city. Each church that God has established has a part to play if we are going to win the city for Jesus.

God creates each person with a plan for their life. I believe God creates each church with a plan or vision for their life. That vision may change somewhat over time. As the church grows and matures it will more fully reflect the purpose God has for it, but I believe the basic vision remains. As a church lives on it is important to look back occasionally and remember what God’s purpose for the church was and how we are doing in fulfilling it. If we forget the vision entirely, we will fail to be what God needs us to be. Many churches that have existed for a long time have forgotten the purpose God created them to fill. When that happens, the church is just a religious organization that exists to sustain itself and not extend the Kingdom of God. Lord help us never to be in that place!

I am going to take some time this week to share with you the vision God gave to Living Word Christian Center in 1987. Although you may be a part of a church with a slightly different vision, I believe that seeing how this concept works for us can help you relate in your local church and to you local vision. If you are a pastor of leader of a local church, I hope this will help you go before the Lord and hear from him why your church exists and what its part in the plan for extending the Kingdom of God in your area might be. Remember, we are not alone in our area. God has established many local expressions of the body of Christ to fulfill many aspects of the job at hand. We are not in competition. The vision is not really yours. It is God’s vision for the world. What he reveals to any church is their part in the plan, but the vision remains the Lords.

Before we begin with the specifics of our vision, let me point out some things about today’s scripture. The New King James says that when there is no vision “the people go unrestrained.” The original King James Version says the people perish if they have no vision. I believe both versions taken together give us a clear picture of what God is telling us.

Where there is no vision, no direction given from God, the people go unrestrained. They will do whatever they find to do, but there is no direction or coordination. There is no ability for the myriad gifts God gives to work together in order to accomplish a goal. When that happens, they “perish” as a people. They have no impact. They may meet in one place, but they are not an effective force for the Kingdom.

If you are part of a local church, find out what the vision of the church is. Ask the leadership about it. Then ask the Lord how your personal vision fits with the church vision. Remember, the church vision does not have to fit with your vision. If God calls you to a church, your vision must fit with the whole. If there are modifications to be made, the individual must make them. This only makes sense, as the church vision could not change to accommodate every individual within it.

I have played on many sports teams. Each player has strengths and weaknesses. Each player has things they like to do and things they may not like so much. However, if the team is going to be successful, each player must be willing to adjust to meet the needs of the team. In baseball, for instance, not everyone can be a pitcher. However, if you are a pitcher you may have to willing to work as a relief pitcher instead of a starter. A reliever does not get as much acclaim as the starter. He may not make as much money as the starter. He may have been a starting pitcher his whole life, but if that team needs a reliever to win; he must be willing to take that role.

God, through the church leadership, will not ask you to do something you cannot do, however he may ask you to work within your abilities in a role that may be uncomfortable or that you may not desire. He may even ask you to do something you think is outside your abilities, but remember, he created you so he knows what is ahead for you and the thing you are asked to do may be preparing you for the next step. The important thing is that the whole team accomplishes the call God has on it. If we do that, we will find our place and be fulfilled.

If you are part of a church that has no vision except to sustain itself, maybe you should ask yourself if that is where you belong. If you are a born again, spirit filled believer, you need to be in a place that will help you grow in your relationship with the Lord and where you can ultimately fulfill the call God has on your life. No church is perfect and you may find that the church you are a part of is struggling to walk in the vision God has given. That is not a reason to leave. That is a reason to get more involved and help bring about the local church vision. However, if there is no vision at all, the people, you included, will perish as a force for God in the earth.

Tomorrow I will begin to share our specific vision. Today, ask yourself, “Am I part of a vision from God? What is it God wants me to do within that vision? How can I fulfill my calling by helping my church fulfill its calling?” These are important questions and each believer needs to answer them. We live in an important time in the history of the church and of the earth itself. God needs each one of us to fill our role on his team, both local and universal, so the will of God can be done in our day.

Great Joy was in the City

Acts 8:5-8(NKJV) 5Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. 6And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. 7For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. 8And there was great joy in that city.

(Last week was our youth camp here at LWCC. The young people had a great time and the Lord really met them in a wonderful way. Pastor Matt Holcomb of The Door Fellowship in Williamsport, Pa. was here ministering to the youth and we had him stay over for the Sunday morning service. He spoke about “Taking our City” and here are some of my thoughts from his message.)

Our emphasis this week has been taking our cities for the Gospel. We have seen that God gave Israel a specific location as their inheritance. There were spiritual implications to their possession of the Promised Land, however, it was a physical place. They had to take the city of Jericho in order to fulfill their spiritual destiny. Jericho represented the enemies that were hindering Israel from taking their possession. We must overcome the opposing forces that keep the people of our city from receiving salvation in Jesus Christ.

We have found that there is a biblical precedent for possessing our area for the Gospel. God gave Adam dominion over the earth. It was the will of God that Adam, God’s earthly representative, rule the earth. When man fell in the Garden of Eden this plan was derailed. Satan became the ruler of this world in Adam’s place. It took the ministry of Jesus to break the satanic hold and return to man the ability to have the dominion God gave him.

In the New Testament, we see that Jesus gave his church the same dominion that God gave to Adam. He said in Matthew 28 that we were to go into the whole world and preach the Gospel. His commission was to make disciples of all nations. We are not called to take our cities politically, although we should participate in the public arena. Our commission is to take our cities spiritually by preaching the Gospel to them, winning the lost and rising up to become the dominant spiritual authority in our area.

Let us close this week with some insights from the book of Acts. In today’s scripture, we see that Phillip went to Samaria and preached the Gospel to the city. I want to remind us that the city, from God’s point of view, is not just the place. It is the people in the place. Phillip did not preach to buildings and streets. Phillip preached to people. However, the bible says that the “city” rejoiced. Whether you live in a major city or in a rural area, whatever region you and your church influence is your city. The way to bring joy to your city is the preaching of the Gospel to the people in the city.

If we look at the natural, we would say that this is not true. It often seems that our cities are against the Gospel. We may try to witness and we encounter anything but joy. We may be rejected or ridiculed. It was no different in Phillip’s day. The disciples were considered outlaws. The government had executed their leader. The religious establishment saw them as a threat and anyone associated with them was excommunicated from the Jewish community. Yet it says that Phillip’s ministry produced great results and great joy in the city.

If we will begin to look at our cities as the inheritance given to the churches God established within them, we will begin to see joy in the city as well. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. (Romans 1:16) God has given us a commission to preach the Gospel and when we do, salvation will be released. Some will reject that salvation, but others will receive it. With the preaching will come a release of God’s power and when that power begins to flow, the city will rejoice whether the demonic powers over the city want it to or not. Let us look at the experience of Phillip.

The period these verses describe is prior to Paul’s salvation. He was stirring everyone against the Gospel. He was arresting people for speaking in the name of Jesus. Due to this persecution, many left Jerusalem and began preaching the Gospel to other cities in Judah. Phillip was one of them and he found himself in Samaria. What did he do that produced joy in this city?

We see two basic things that Phillip did. He spoke to them. It is certain that what he spoke was no message except the Gospel message Jesus sent him to preach. He spoke without shame and he spoke publicly. I am sure that, in the beginning some listened out of politeness and others out of curiosity. I am also sure that there were many who ridiculed him and turned away. However, he spoke.

God may ask us to go out on the streets and pass out tracts or ask people about their relationship to the Lord. However, I believe it is even more important that we be willing to speak to the people we are in contact with already. We need to speak to the people we work with. We need to speak to the people we shop with or go to school with. We need to be willing to speak to our city every day. However, Phillip did not just speak to the city.

We see in these verses that the people listened to him because great power was released to heal the sick and free people from demonic bondage. We must begin by speaking for it is the Gospel that is the power of God for salvation; however, we must also believe that the power of God will be there to confirm what we say. There was great joy in Samaria because Phillip not only spoke to the city but he brought healing and deliverance to the city as well.

I have been a minister of the Gospel 34 and ½ years in a fulltime capacity. For eight years before that, I was ministering in music on a part time basis. I know that it is easier to talk about the power of God manifesting than to see it manifest. I know that many of us have been praying for an increase in the outpouring of God’s power for many years. It can be discouraging when we do not see the power of God the way we know it should be seen. The Devil has used this to discourage us and to cause us to back away from preaching the Gospel altogether. However, we must choose to believe that the word of God is true.

Mark 16:15-18(NKJV) 15And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 17And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18they£ will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

This is the commission to the church. These are the words of Jesus. Later in the chapter, it says that when they went to their cities signs and wonders confirmed the word that they preached. This was the experience of Phillip in Samaria. We must believe it will be our experience in our city as well.

We cannot make God move. We can believe he will move. The bible says he will and that needs to be our only gage of what will or will not happen. We can preach. We cannot heal. We can speak to evil spirits. It is the power of God that must drive them out of people. We can make ourselves available to the Holy Spirit but it is the Holy Spirit who will do the work. We need to believe God for our city. We need to be ready to preach the Gospel to the city and we need to expect God to confirm what we say with signs following.

There was great joy in the city because a simple man named Phillip chose to go there and become available to the Holy Spirit. There can and will be great joy in your city as you do what Phillip did. You cannot do God’s part. However if we do our part we must believe that God will do his. Let us take our cities for the Gospel.

In the Beginning

Genesis 1:26(NKJV) 26Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over £all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

(Last week was our youth camp here at LWCC. The young people had a great time and the Lord really met them in a wonderful way. Pastor Matt Holcomb of The Door Fellowship in Williamsport, Pa. was here ministering to the youth and we had him stay over for the Sunday morning service. He spoke about “Taking our City” and here are some of my thoughts from his message.)

This week we are looking at the will of God concerning the “city” in which we live. We usually use the term city to describe a geographical location of a certain size. However, many of us do not live in an area classified as a city. I live in a very small town. We live near a small city, but our church draws from an area that includes three small cities as well as a number of towns and villages. For our discussion, I define “city” as the geographic area where a church has been given responsibility of preaching the Gospel. The “city” we are called to take for Jesus is the people in that area.

On Monday, we looked at Joshua and Jericho. The people of Israel were to take that whole land of Canaan and occupy it as their inheritance from God. However, Jericho was the gateway to the Promised Land and they had to take that city before they could do anything else. God gave a special plan for Jericho and Joshua applied that plan and took the city. I want to remind you that the plan for Jericho was not the plan for any other city in Canaan. God has a plan for your city. God has given that plan to the leadership of the local churches he has established there. You and I need to find our part in one of those churches and actively apply the plan of God to our city.

Let me mention one more bit of review. If we are going to take our city for God, we must do it by faith. The plan for Jericho concluded with the people of God lifting a mighty shout before the walls of Jericho. It was not the shout itself that brought down the walls of Jericho. It was the faith behind the shout that brought down the walls of Jericho. Getting the plan for our city is one thing. Acting on that plan is important, but just acting alone will not cause the walls surrounding the lives in our city to fall. It is acting in faith on that plan that will produce.

Today I want to spend a few moments on the foundation of God’s will for our “city.” I believe God has given us our cities as an inheritance. There are many people in our city that do not know that Lord. I believe God has given us the authority to preach the Gospel to them and see them saved. The church of Jesus Christ can and should become the dominant spiritual influence in our region. This authority begins in the Garden of Eden.

There are three places we see the perfect will of God. We see it manifested in an undefiled way in heaven, in the life and ministry of Jesus, and in the Garden of Eden before the fall of man. Today’s scripture tells us one aspect of the perfect will of God. Man was to have dominion over the earth. Under God, man was to be the dominant force in the earth. That is the perfect will of God.

When man committed the sin of high treason and subordinated himself to the devil, that perfect will of God was corrupted. Man turned his authority over to the devil. The devil became the God of this world. (2 Cor 4:4) Whereas it was the will of the Father God that man exercise this dominion under God’s authority and direction, Satan used man’s God given dominion against him. Satan became man’s taskmaster and the ruler of the physical earth. Corruption and death began to take control instead of the life that God intended for the earth.

God’s authority to Adam extended over the whole earth. I believe it was God’s desire that the spiritual conditions in the Garden of Eden eventually extend to the entire world. Had Adam and Eve not fallen, their children could have walked in the same fellowship with God their parents did. They could have extended the Godly dominion that was conveyed upon man in Genesis 1:26 to every corner of the earth. Because of the fall of man and Satan’s acquisition of that dominion just the opposite occurred.

God has given the same dominion over the whole earth the Church that he gave to Adam.

Matthew 28:18-20(NKJV) 18And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

We are to preach the gospel to the whole world. How does that relate to our city? Let us look at the outworking of Adam and Eve’s dominion.

Genesis 2:15(NKJV) 15Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.

Man’s dominion extended to the whole world, but he could not be in the whole world. He was in the Garden. He was in a local place called Eden and it was in Eden where God called him to walk in that dominion. The church has been given a commission to preach the gospel to every nation. However, you do not live in every nation. You live in a “city.” The Lord has called you to preach to, or have dominion over, a city.

We see that in the Garden of Eden it was the will of God for Adam and Eve to be the dominant spiritual influence over their “city.” They were to “tend” and “keep” the Garden. The word translated “tend” here means to work or till the garden. However, it also carries the idea of keeping the garden bound or enslaving it. Man was called to keep the garden under his will. Of course, that implied that man’s will was subject to God’s will.

The word translated “keep” here means to protect. Man was to protect the Garden from the influence of God’s enemy. Both words imply the need to work. Adam and Eve were to work to enforce the will of God in the Garden and they were to work to protect the environment God had created for their family. That is what we are called to do in our city as well.

What is our responsibility to the city in which we live? We are to work to bring forth God’s will in the city. Paul tells timothy what that will is.

1 Timothy 2:1-4(NKJV) 1Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. 3For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Second, we must rise up in faith against the enemies Paul reveals to us in Ephesians 6:12 and drive them out of our city. We must protect our city from the devil and his influence so that we may see the will of God accomplished in our city. If each of does this, we will see the world transformed by the Kingdom of God and hasten the return of the true King of Kings, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

Take the City

Joshua 6:1-2(NKJV) 1Now Jericho was securely shut up because of the children of Israel; none went out, and none came in. 2And the Lord said to Joshua: “See! I have given Jericho into your hand, its king, and the mighty men of valor.
Joshua 6:16(NKJV) 16And the seventh time it happened, when the priests blew the trumpets, that Joshua said to the people: “Shout, for the Lord has given you the city!

(This week was our youth camp here at LWCC. The young people had a great time and the Lord really met them in a wonderful way. Pastor Matt Holcomb of The Door Fellowship in Williamsport, Pa. was here ministering to the youth and we had him stay over for the Sunday morning service. He spoke about “Taking our City” and here are some of my thoughts from his message.)

Our theme for this year is to possess our land of promises, drive out the enemies that keep us from our possession, and occupy that land until Jesus comes again. Pastor Matt did not know that was our church theme, although part of it was the theme to our camp. The message the Lord gave him for Sunday morning went right along with what we are studying.

The thing that started me thinking about possessing, driving our and occupying in the first place was Israel’s journey from Egypt to Canaan. We spent all of 2011 studying their journey and relating it to our journey in life. When I got to the end of the year, the Lord said, “You need to finish the Journey.” When I looked at Deuteronomy, I found that the Lord told Israel to possess the Land he was giving them. God said we also needed to possess the land of promises that he had given to us.

Pastor Matt went right back to Joshua and the Land that God had given Israel to possess. In Joshua 6, we see Israel confronted with the stronghold city of Jericho. Look at what the Lord says about this city. He tells Joshua, “Look, I have already given you the city.”

What is a city? For the most part, we think of cities as political entities. We may think of them geographically. I believe God thinks of a city in terms of the people who live there. Our “city” may be a small town or a region. Our city is the area where people live for which God has given us responsibility. We live in a village of 1800 people. However, we draw from about a 50-mile radius. That is our city.

In the case of Jericho, the people of God were going in to take the physical land promised to them. They were to make a physical war against a physical enemy. Jericho was the physical gateway to the will of God for Israel and they had to destroy it physically to enter their promise.

We do not wrestle a physical enemy. Our battle is not against flesh and blood.

Ephesians 6:12(NKJV) 12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

That does not mean we do not have a battle. That does not mean that we should not fight for our city. We are not called to destroy the physical city in which we live. We are called to bring life to that city. We are called to extend the influence of Jesus in that city. This does not change the principle set forth in the sixth chapter of Joshua. God has given us our city. It is our responsibility to possess it for the Kingdom of God, drive out the enemies that keep us from that possession and then occupy our city until Jesus comes.

God gave Joshua a plan for taking Jericho. This was not a plan for taking all the cities in Canaan. It was specific to Jericho. The Israelites never marched around another city for six days. They never saw the physical walls of another city fall when the shouted. The plan and strategy was for that city alone.

God has given us the “city” in which we live. He can and will give us a plan to take our city for the Lord. What works in one city may not work in another city. How did Joshua get the plan to take Jericho? He had an encounter with the Lord. God gave him the plan that would result in absolute victory in Jericho. How will we take our city? We must receive the plan from God that he knows will be the key to victory in our city.

Once we have the plan of God, I believe it is important that we remember two things. First, we must remember that our enemy is not flesh and blood. We read about a number of classifications of our enemies in Ephesians 6. Paul lists principalities, powers, the rulers of the darkness of this age and spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. I am not going to take the time to get into defining these classifications, but we need to understand that the enemy has control of our “city” at a number of levels. It is these wicked spirits that we must conquer to take our city for the Lord.

The second thing we must remember is that a city is not the physical area only, but the people who live there. Having said that, the people do live in a physical area and it is that area that God has given to us. He has given us the city so we might win the people. The people are the important thing, but the people live in a place.

I have had the privilege to travel to many different countries to minister the Gospel. It is an exciting thing to go to a different place and preach or teach people who are very different from you. However, as I have traveled it has become increasingly evident that every place is just a place. God does not love the people of Africa more than the people of Greene, NY. When I go to another country, my message to them is that they have to take the city in which they live. I cannot take that city for them. I do not live there. The people who live in my city have the responsibility to take that city.

In the sixteenth verse of Joshua 6, God gives us another important key. Joshua says to the people, “Shout for God has given us the city.” They had fulfilled the direction God gave them for taking Jericho. Nothing had happened yet. The walls were as high as ever. The people within the city were just as powerful as when they started. There was no physical evidence that the plan of God for taking Jericho had worked at all. However, Joshua told them to shout.

One of the most important things we need to do in order to take our city for God is to believe. When God gives us the plan for the city, we need to believe it will be effective. We do not believe because we see something. We do not believe because we feel something. We believe because God said it. We believe because God almighty gave us a promise and God is good for his word.

There came a time in the plan for Jericho when the people had to act. There comes a time in the plan for our city where people have to act as well. However, we must act in faith. Joshua said shout. Shouting alone does nothing. Shouting in faith brought down the walls of Jericho. Acting on the plan God gives for your city will do nothing. Acting in faith that the plan God gave to take our city will work will bring down walls. It will bind the enemy forces and release great power to win the lost.

You are responsible for a “city.” I believe that it is important for you to be part of a local church in that city because it is through the local church that God gives the plans to take a city. Once you are part of a local church team, pray that God will reveal the plan for your city. Flow with the leaders through whom God will communicate that plan. When the time comes, shout for God has surely given you your city.

Faith is a Product of Relationship

Romans 4:20-21(NKJV) 20He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, 21and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.

In yesterday’s post, we found that the difference between the promises of God and everything else in the Word of God is that a promise is personal. I also believe the Lord wants us to concentrate on this idea of the promises. I believe it is important right now that we begin to read the promises as coming from the Father to each one of us. The bible contains promises that cover every area of life. As we find them, we find the heart of God for our future.

Yesterday’s scripture was Hebrews 10:23 where Paul tells us “he is faithful” who made these promises to us. That is the most important thing we must focus upon. It is not the words themselves that are important. It is not how they are put together. Although there are bible truths to be learned about confessing the Word of God, how you confess the promise is not what is most important to understand. It is not the promise but the one who gives that promise that makes them dependable and powerful.

In the early days of what became the “Word of Faith movement”, we heard many teachings that focused on the practical side of faith in God. I know that my life was transformed by the idea that I could apply the Word of God to my circumstances and see things changed. We found that there were principles that, if applied to our faith walk, always produced a result. We learned those principles and we learned how to work them.

We had many teachings that involved “steps.” There were teachings like “five steps to the highest faith” or “seven steps to a deeper prayer life.” These step teaching appealed to our sense of order. They gave us something we could do that would help us walk in the power of these wonderful principles. However, there was a problem with this kind of thinking. We boiled things like faith down to a series of steps. Faith, like many of the principles of God, is much more alive than that. Faith is not a matter of steps; it is a matter of relationship.

It is not wrong to have steps to follow. These are principles and they work a certain way. However, when we forget the relationship aspect of anything concerning God and his dealings with man, that thing will become law. We found ourselves in a culture of “faith law.” If someone did not follow the steps, there was often condemnation directed toward them. They just did not have faith. They did not know the Word as we did. Their confession was all wrong. Both faith and the movement that grew up around some very important teachings got a bad name and were, in many circles, rejected.

If we want to understand faith, we must understand that faith is a product of relationship. You cannot have faith in the word of any individual if you do not know that individual well enough to trust them. If a stranger comes to you and promises to do something for you, you will discount his word because you do not know that person. You have no frame of reference for whether or not they will keep their word. You have little faith in their promise because you have little relationship with them.

If someone that you know and trust makes a promise to you, that is a totally different thing. If you know them, you know if they keep their word. If they do, you begin to make plans based on their promise to you. If you trust them, you know that they will do all in their power to follow through with their promise to you.

It is no different with God. You cannot have faith in someone you do not trust, even if he happens to be the God of the universe. You cannot trust someone you do not know. You may mentally agree with the principle that God will do what he says he will do however, that is not real faith. Real faith is knowing that someone will do what they said they would for you.

Once you know that is true, you can apply steps and principles to the promise. You can fulfill the conditions of the promise knowing that “the one who promised is faithful.” If you do not believe that, all the steps in the world will produce nothing. If you believe in the faithfulness of the one who promised, you might get some steps wrong but the relationship between you and he will make up the difference.

Two stories in the bible illustrate this very well. The first is the story behind today’s scripture. I believe Romans chapter 4 is a textbook of faith. From this chapter we can learn the steps Abraham took in order to obtain the fulfillment of the promise of God for his life. However today’s verse tells us what was behind all the steps. Abraham believed that what God had promised, God would do.

Abraham was not a young man when God made this promise to him. He was seventy-five years old when God made covenant with him. He was one hundred years old by the time it was fulfilled. He had a long history with God. God had blessed him, given him victory in battle and protected him when he made some serious mistakes. God had instructed him to leave his homeland when he was a young man and for all the years between then and the giving of this promise, God had been faithful to do what God said he would do.

Because of his relationship with God, Abraham believed God. It was this faith that God accounted for righteousness. He followed the steps of faith because of his relationship. I do not think he had a list of things to do in order to get God to move. I believe he did those things naturally as a product of his trust in the promise giver. We can study his steps and learn from them. However, we must never think the steps themselves are the relationship. Many people confuse the two.

We find the second story in Luke 7:6-10. It is the story of the Roman centurion who had, what Jesus called, great faith. He sent word to Jesus that his servant was ill. Jesus was on his way to the centurion’s house when the centurion sent him a second message. He told Jesus there was no need to come to his house. He said he was not even worthy to come to Jesus. This was a reflection of the Jewish attitude toward Gentiles at the time.

He makes a statement that is very revealing. He says, “I know that you are a man under authority and when you give an order it will be carried out. All you have to do is say the Word and my servant will be healed.” The centurion did not need Jesus to come to him. He did not need to know what words Jesus said to produce this healing. It was enough that it was Jesus who said them. Jesus marveled at this man’s great faith.

Most of the time we focus on the fact that the centurion believed the word of Jesus alone as the reason his faith was so great. That is not the full truth. The centurion trusted Jesus words for a reason. He did not know Jesus personally, but he knew him by his reputation. He knew him by the testimony of others. He knew enough that he trusted in the character and integrity of Jesus. He knew him well enough to know that Jesus was a man under authority and therefore in authority. He did not just trust the words of Jesus. He trusted Jesus.

As Christians, we can know God on a level that no other people have been able to know him since the Garden of Eden. He lives in us. He has redeemed us, made us new creatures and, in the words of Jesus, he and the Father have made their abode in us. However, we often try to have faith without really cultivating that relationship. When we do, our faith is weak. We may see some things happen but it is not until our faith rests not only in the Word of God, but also in the God of the Word and our relationship with him that we will do great things for God.

If you want to have great faith in the promises of God, spend time with the God of the promises. Think about all the times God has been faithful in your life. Resist the urge to complain about what has not yet happened. That hinders relationship. Instead, thank him personally for his goodness. You will see God do great things.