In Our Midst

Midst Jesus

Sunday 01/05/20

Series: Do we Really Believe?

Message – In Our Midst

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Walking in our Midst

Turn to Revelation chapter 1.

In Revelation we see Jesus mentioning the 7 churches – all of which belong to Him, and over which He is the Lord and THE Chief-Shepherd.

What we are addressing today are questions surrounding what it means that Jesus is walking in our midst.

Rev. 1:9-20, “(9) I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation, kingdom, and perseverance in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of God’s word and the testimony about Jesus.  (10) I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet (11) saying, “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.” (12)  I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me. When I turned I saw seven gold lampstands,  (13) and among the lampstands was One like the Son of Man, dressed in a long robe, and with a gold sash wrapped around His chest.  (14) His head and hair were white like wool–white as snow, His eyes like a fiery flame, (15) His feet like fine bronze fired in a furnace, and His voice like the sound of cascading waters.  (16) In His right hand He had seven stars; from His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was shining like the sun at midday. (17) When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. He laid His right hand on me, and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last, (18)  and the Living One. I was dead, but look–I am alive forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades. (19)  Therefore write what you have seen, what is, and what will take place after this. (20) The secret of the seven stars you saw in My right hand, and of the seven gold lampstands, is this: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”

What does it mean that Jesus is walking in the midst of His church?

Well one thing it means is that What we think and do is done in His immediate presence. We walk before Him and we are not alone…. Not just comforting words, but sobering as well. What we do, we do before His scrutinizing gaze. 

What is He doing in our midst?

The answer is whatever He wants – He is the Lord of the Church.

What is the church?

It is an assembly of saints – those who have responded to the call of God to come out of the world and be born again by His will in Faith concerning what He has accomplished in Christ Jesus.

A church is a local gathering of Christians. 

Remember Christians are those who are of the party of Jesus. 

What does it mean to be of one’s party? 

They back Him, stand with Him, support His rule and His reign over them and others and they conduct their lives in accordance with His will – THAT is the church.

Seven? Why 7 churches?

Well, seven is said to represent God’s finished work – so completion maybe? I do not know but it is almost certainly symbolic.

That there were certainly more churches in the 1st century is clear and that there were certainly better known churches is also evident. 

That all these churches are located in Asia, may be significant but one thing seems obvious – they represent something more than themselves alone. 

These are 7 different types of churches by extension represent 7 different types of Christians since, like we just concluded, – the church is an assembly of believers. 

It may also be that they represent 7 different worldly environments to which churches are subject. 

Many believe that progressively each church represented a coming church age, until the last, and and final age…if so, then we are most certainly in the end, because never has the church been so convinced of its wealth and self-sufficiency and never has it actually been more “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind & naked”.

We need to soberly consider Who it is that walks among us.

One thing is certainly means is that He is considering us – our walk and our talk.

Do we believe the truth and do we live what we believe?

Let’s turn the page and read the proof of this conclusion in Rev. 2:1-7,  

“(1) To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:

OR In the message to the church in Ephesus write: 

“The One Who holds the seven stars in His right hand and Who walks among the seven gold lampstands says: 

(2) “I know your works

Notice the first thing He mentions after defining Who He is – as the One Who holds the stars and walks in the midst of His churches is NOT “I know you are believing and learning about the truth”. This could have been said of Ephesus – their doctrine was solid. 

He didn’t say “your service to Me is tireless and commendable”… As we will see as we keep reading, He could have said this too. 

He didn’t say “your services are among the best in the world I never miss a Sunday” or “Some of you travel from a city away to attend services and I applaud you for that”…NO! He didn’t open with any of those things. He said that He has been observing what they DO – how they live! Both the good AND the bad!

And like a good, kind and gentle Lord, business owner and parent He brings up the good before the bad. He says, 

“your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil. You have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and you have found them to be liars. (3)  You also possess endurance and have tolerated many things because of My name, and have not grown weary. (4)  But I have this against you:”

Jesus has been observing, and His observations are NOT passive – He is the LORD of the church. He has something to say!

Also notice, that for all the good things that were going on there – the good did not cancel the bad.

Jesus did not die for a partial reign. He did not die for “good enough” – He died for ALL of you!

Paul told us that we were bought with a price, therefore all that you do in the flesh needs to glorify Him.

He said, 

“you have abandoned the love you had at first.” 

The Phillips translation says, “But I hold this against you, that you do not love as you did at first.”

Wuest says, “But I have against you. Your love, that earliest love, you abandoned.”

The Wymouth translation says, “Yet I have this against you–that you no longer love Me as you did at first.”

Whether this was expressed directly towards God or by a failure to walk in love with the brethren matters not – for one cannot be done without the other!

This love is agape – a self sacrificial love that spends itself on another. 

You might say, “But I just thought he commended them for spending themselves.” He did! But notice, all of their attention was on peripheral things of the kingdom and not on the love of its king. Not being able to tolerate evil is not the same as loving and fearing God. 

I imagine the use of this word was to shock them. One would have expected Him to say phileo. And He did say that to some, because that is also part of loving God with all your heart. But He points out that service can be done for service sake and not out of devotional love. 

“(5)  Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place–unless you repent.” 

Guys this is serious!

You know I wanted to entitle this message,

“Do we really believe what Jesus says? Do we really take Him seriously?”

But that would have been a long title…but really – do we?

We read His words but then go on as if He had said NOTHING! As if somehow magically His words do not apply to us! And yet today I look at us, a church which has changed SO much over the years and I have to ask myself – has He already done this?

Has He removed us and we didn’t even notice?

If so, is it redeemable?

I believe as long as we are His children NOTHING is beyond hope, but we must FIRST take His words seriously and always, always ALWAYS assume they are speaking directly to us! His words apply to us!

“(6)  Yet you do have this: you hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”

The Niclotians were a group who taught that fleshly passions had nothing to do with salvation and godliness. One can sin with impunity and a light heart since none of these things touch us in Christ.

“(7)  “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.” 

These last words, which follow all of the messages to the churches, is a clear proof that what Jesus once spoke He is still speaking and that through the real messenger – the Holy Spirit of God!

“I will give the victor the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.”

Take that to mean what you like, but it sounds like a promise of unbridled intimacy with God.

I’m tired of fighting. I am tired of preparing. I am tired of delivering week after week after week and if I can be frankly honest – to a group of people that half the time I am not convinced by your actions or enthusiasm that you even want to be here – or are any the better for it.

This past week has been both trying and convicting and purifying and restorative and challenging and open and honest and ….real!

I am hungry for real!

I’m tired of “church”. 

I’m tired of feeling like I’m pulling the few remaining people we have here to places in the Spirit that quite frankly they don’t really want to go.

I want fellowship. I want communion. I want the gifts to manifest themselves in and through us all. 

I want worship to be a penetrating and scripture reading to be awe inspiring. 

I want God to be more than He has been in my view and I want my view increased to take all of Him in. I want to want Him more again!

I asked a moments ago if perhaps Jesus has already spoken this over us years ago and has since removed us and we didn’t even notice. This morning I wanted to review my notes and I stopped myself realizing I was about to do the same thing as Ephesus. Serve God without first connecting with Him myself. So I put aside my notes and said Father feed me. I heard Him suggest Psalm 80. Now He does this a lot with me… Speaking to Me through the psalms. But I cannot remember Him ever pointing me to this psalm. 

Let’s read it. 

Psalms 80

” 1  For the choir director: according to “The Lilies.” A testimony of Asaph. A psalm. Listen, Shepherd of Israel, who guides Joseph like a flock; You who sit enthroned on the cherubim, rise up 2  at the head of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh. Rally Your power and come to save us. 3  Restore us, God; look on us with favor, and we will be saved. 4  LORD God of Hosts, how long will You be angry with Your people’s prayers? 5  You fed them the bread of tears and gave them a full measure of tears to drink. 6  You set us at strife with our neighbors; our enemies make fun of us. 7  Restore us, God of Hosts; look on us with favor, and we will be saved. 8  You uprooted a vine from Egypt; You drove out the nations and planted it. 9  You cleared a place for it; it took root and filled the land. 10  The mountains were covered by its shade, and the mighty cedars with its branches.  11  It sent out sprouts toward the Sea and shoots toward the River. 12  Why have You broken down its walls so that all who pass by pick its fruit? 13  The boar from the forest gnaws at it, and creatures of the field feed on it. 14  Return, God of Hosts. Look down from heaven and see; take care of this vine, 15  the root Your right hand has planted, the shoot that You made strong for Yourself. 16  It was cut down and burned up; they perish at the rebuke of Your countenance. 17  Let Your hand be with the man at Your right hand, with the son of man You have made strong for Yourself. 18  Then we will not turn away from You; revive us, and we will call on Your name. 19  Restore us, LORD God of Hosts; look on us with favor, and we will be saved.”

In those last two verses, do you know what revive and restore mean? 

Revive means to make safe, to bring back to life, to keep alive and to cause to flourish. 

Restore means to save, to help, to deliver, to defend. The underlying idea of this verb is bringing to a place of safety or broad pasture as opposed to a narrow strait, symbolic of distress and danger. The word conveys the notion of deliverance from certain death, rescue from one’s enemies, victory in time of war – it is the protective duty of a shepherd. 

As I said, these past two weeks have been trying.

I started off seeking God, and went on another bike ride to exercise my body in order to clear my head. I listened to some music I hadn’t listened to in a while. As you know I don’t listen to music much. One reason is because much of it stinks! It is so selfish and self-focused that it is nauseating.

Another reason I believe is because true worship is incompatible with a sleepy faith…and I’d begun to realize that such described me.

As I listened to this album I was stirred and God used it to begin to peel away some dead skin – that is, to buff out a callous. You’ve heard me say recently, that I’ve seen how I have some ugly things in my heart that I didn’t think were still there. They’ve been stirred up and brought to the surface due to the pressure cooker we are living in here. But those things only served to reveal what was hiding just under the surface all along…and the responses it has sometimes stirred in me would never have come out of Jesus and they are 100% incompatible with His Lordship in my life. 

I’m a little weary and in my weariness, intimacy with God was sounding more like another relationship to juggle than a retreat and respite for the soul and I told God as much – almost feeling noble in my honesty. His response was devastating. I had forgotten Who I was dealing with… WHO I was speaking with. 

The crushing conviction I woke up with the next day was overwhelming. 

As I as repenting and seeking God, He gave me words, music and a brother…Francis Chan

I’d never really listened to him before…never really gave him a chance but I ran into him on YouTube – you know in the suggestion list on the right. I was listening to a song I hadn’t heard since I was a teenager called “I don’t want to be a casual christian” by Degarmo and Key. Then I saw a 5min. video entitled, “Is There Such A Thing As A Casual Christian?” by Francis Chan. It was stirring and spoke to me in my own language and used many of my own words. 

This caused me to look up why Francis left his mega church (which I have no idea how I knew that – I just Googled it). It brought up an article which I read and I found that what God has been doing in me, as a Pastor of a little home church – he had been doing as well in Francis Chan, pastor of a mega church.

You know he left his mega church for many reasons but one of the main reasons was He didn’t feel it was an environment which facilitated living the words of Jesus seriously. He now, is helping to start home churches feeling they are far better suited to the purpose of living Christ in us. In fact so much so that if one of their home churches grows to 20 people they split and form a new home church. He believes 10-20 is nearly the perfect size. 

You know, I am convinced that a church is a reflection of its leaders. Many of you came here originally because it spoke to you on some level. 

Let me ask you a question I want you to reflect on throughout this next week. 

When you first came here what were you looking for? I mean Really?

As I’ve looked back over the years and the church we once were, I believe it attracted a certain “type” of believer…but I also believe that “type of believer” is one that is incompatible with the church we have become.

Those who came here at the first were tired of traditional church – but not tired of man made religion (and I mean religion in the popular meaning not the biblical one). 

We offered freedom with boundaries. 

We told you what you COULD do rather than focus on what you cannot do. 

We gave you formulas for making life work, principles by which God could be boiled down and comprehended…and dare I say, controlled. 

And above all we offered you control over your life and a leadership who always heard God and was never wrong. 

You did not have to seek God… you were taught to search the scriptures. 

If you had something you could not find addressed in the bible then your leaders would hear God FOR you.

Are you getting the picture? It was a comforting church that facilitated lazy living. It did not require one to engage with God hardly at all. 

If that is what attracted you, then is it any wonder at the response to a church that now tells you – God is sovereign and cannot be placed in a box. If you want to get on with your spiritual and physical life you will need to seek and hear from God directly because there are no formulas.

That you cannot find life in the Word of God alone – you will only be invited to come to Him…but YOU MUST COME. 

That…

  • Faith is not produced by worrying the scriptures.
  • That the oppression of the devil is not something you can “bind him” from.
  • That oppression and persecution are the hallmarks of following Christ.
  • That mountains are not moved by quoting the right scriptures – but by hearing God directly, pondering what you hear and then once faith has swollen in your heart you will find yourself speaking in the authority of the Kingdom.

We have done a 180° from who we once were!

We used to offer solutions for problems and excuses for failures now all we are offering is Jesus. 

What you have to ask is, “Is that enough?”

Don’t get me wrong – I have become weakened too.

I was listening to Francis Chan talk about ministry overseas and how easy it was to go from hut to hut with the good news of the Gospel. I was just telling Teri the other day that I do not know why I don’t find myself talking to everyone I see about Jesus. Is it because I have become dull or is it because no one wants to hear.

I am suspicious that it is both. No one wants to hear and that has lulled me to sleep myself.

I don’t know if it is the grace gift God has given me or what – but I know when people are hungry, and when I am around that I cannot help but proclaim the truth. I am stirred inwardly, with zeal that is like fire in my bones – hunger does that to me. 

Do you know how long its been since I’ve felt that in here?

This is a time of evaluation.

I will continue to teach regardless – because it is what I do. 

  • Birds fly
  • fish swim
  • preachers and preachers teach and preach. 

My question is to whom?

We have to ask ourselves, “Am I truly aware and do I take it seriously that Jesus is walking in our midst?”

Do I take His words seriously?

Next week, unless the Lord directs otherwise, we will be listening, at least in part, to a message from Francis Chan on “Is God pleased?” because this year I believe it a time of defining. Will we go on with God or will we be removed?

Do I really believe His words? Do I live like I believe they are true?

We are going to listen to a video clip, one of several I’ve amassed and I want you to give it your full attention.

Bow your heads!

God Bless!

I hope this message will bless you richly…not because I taught it, but because it reveals Christ. He alone is our blessing and if in any way – whether big or small, 100% accurate or even just partially so – I have revealed our great God and Savior to you in a relationally knowable way, then this was time well spent on both our parts.

We at Living Grace Fellowship encourage you to place your trust in Jesus Christ, deliberately choosing Him and bowing the knee to Him as your Master and Lord, so as to come to realize Him as your Savior.

You have a special place in God’s family & kingdom. The fact that you exist… that you are His creation, says you were in His heart, you are His delight!

If you do not know Him, please reach out to us. Give us a call at the number located on every page of this website or use our ‘Contact Us‘ page. We would be deeply honored, if you gave us the privilege of introducing you to the Lord. Neither money nor attendance at our church will EVER be mentioned.

If you HAVE been spiritually fed by this ministry and WANT to give, we truly appreciate that and you may do so here, but please understand that all the outreaches of this ministry are FREE for you and anyone to enjoy at no cost.

Blessings!

Hi my name is Mark and though I am opposed to titles, I am currently the only Pastor (shepherd/elder) serving our assembly right now.

I have been Pastoring in one capacity or another for nearly 30 years now, though never quite like I am today.

Early in 2009 the Lord revealed to me that the way we had structured our assembly (church) was not scriptural in that it was out of sync with what Paul modeled for us in the New Testament. In truth, I (like many pastors I am sure) never even gave this fundamental issue of church structure the first thought. I had always assumed that church structure was largely the same everywhere and had been so from the beginning. While I knew Paul had some very stringent things to say about the local assembly of believers, the point of our gatherings together and who may or may not lead, I never even considered studying these issues but assumed we were all pretty much doing it right...safety in numbers right?! Boy, I couldn't have been more wrong!

So needless to say, my discovery that we had been doing it wrong for nearly two decades was a bit of a shock to me! Now, this "revelation" that did not come about all at once but over the course of a few weeks. We were a traditional single pastor led congregation. It was a top-bottom model of ministry which is in part biblical, but not in the form of a monarchy.

The needed change did not come into focus until following 9 very intense months of study and discussions with those who were leaders in our church at the time.

We now understand and believe that the Bible teaches co-leadership with equal authority in each local assembly. Having multiple shepherds with God's heart and equal authority protects both Shepherds and sheep. Equal accountability keep authority and doctrine in check. Multiple shepherds also provides teaching with various styles and giftings with leadership skills which are both different and complementary.

For a while we had two co-pastors (elders) (myself and one other man) who led the church with equal authority, but different giftings. We both taught in our own ways and styles, and our leadership skills were quite different, but complimentary. We were in complete submission to each other and worked side-by-side in the labor of shepherding the flock.

Our other Pastor has since moved on to other ministry which has left us with just myself. While we currently only have one Pastor/Elder, it is our desire that God, in His faithfulness and timing, may bring us more as we grow in maturity and even in numbers.

As to my home, I have been married since 1995 to my wonderful wife Terissa Woodson who is my closest friend and most trusted ally.

As far as my education goes, I grew up in a Christian home, but questioned everything I was ever taught.

I graduated from Bible college in 1990 and continued to question everything I was ever taught (I do not mention my college in order to avoid being labeled).

Perhaps my greatest preparation for ministry has been life and ministry itself. To quote an author I have come to enjoy namely Fredrick Buechner in his writing entitled, Now and Then, "If God speaks to us at all other than through such official channels as the Bible and the church, then I think that He speaks to us largely through what happens to us...if we keep our hearts open as well as our ears, if we listen with patience and hope, if we remember at all deeply and honestly, then I think we come to recognize beyond all doubt, that, however faintly we may hear Him, He is indeed speaking to us, and that, however little we may understand of it, His word to each of us is both recoverable and precious beyond telling." ~ Fredrick Buechner

Well that is about all there is of interest to tell you about me.

I hope our ministry here is a blessing to you and your family. I also hope that it is only a supplement to a local church where you are committed to other believers in a community of grace.

~God Bless!