Leave the Blessings of Babylon to Build the Church

“[Nehemiah] would rather die than dishonor God’s name through disobedience!”

“We can all ‘leave Babylon’ in our hearts by refusing to be satisfied with a ‘salvation’ which consists only of personal blessings and deliverance from our enemies but requires no real sacrifice to us personally.”

“Those in Babylon are looking to see what they can get for themselves from God; Jerusalem is built by people who see how much they can give of themselves, on behalf of the church, to God.”

The salvation described in the Old Testament book of Esther is amazing:

God’s people experienced sovereign deliverance from their enemies’ evil plans; their enemies were defeated in dramatic fashion; they grew in wealth, fame, and influence. Sounds great, huh? We can read this story and gather tremendous hope at the power of God displayed on behalf of His people. It can make us wonder: is this an Old Testament picture of the Gospel?

Before answering that question, here’s one important fact to note: God was not willing to place Himself in the story of Esther. His name is never mentioned once in the entire book! In fact, Esther is the only book of the Bible where the name of God never appears even once. So with that information, what should we conclude? Is this the gospel? Are we willing to hope for all of the wonderful benefits that the Jews experienced in the book of Esther, if all that it costs us is God’s willingness to associate Himself with us? If all it costs us is knowingly experiencing the presence of God in our midst?

I hope not.  

God was not willing to associate Himself with the story of Esther and Mordecai because they compromised in order to advance and protect their own lives. At the core of the story is a great sin: Esther married a heathen king. This was in direct disobedience to God’s command not to intermarry (Deut 7:3, Joshua 23:12). Intermarriage is the sin for which Solomon’s kingdom fell, and it is the sin for which Ezra so desperately mourned (1 Kings 11:1-4, 9-11, Ezra 9:1-3). And yet we find Israelites taking the command lightly once again when compromise appears to be a way to get ahead in the world. 

This hopefully begs the question: Who was God with during this time period? The answer is that He was with Nehemiah and Ezra, and He was proud to associate with them. The difference with Nehemiah and Ezra is that they left the ease and comfort of Babylon as exiles to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple; and they did so at great cost to themselves and hazard to their very lives.

But even amidst such danger, having left the comforts of Babylon to rebuild the temple, they would not sin to protect themselves. Esther was willing to sin to get ahead; they would not sin even to save their lives. Just as one example, Nehemiah recounts a time when he was asked to disobey in order to save his life: “When I entered the house of Shemaiah…he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you, and they are coming to kill you at night.” But I said, “Should a man like me flee? And could one such as I go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in.”” (Nehemiah 6:10-11) Nehemiah knew that it was forbidden him, not being a priest, to enter that part of the temple (Numbers 18:7), and his refusal to go with Shemaiah demonstrated how much more seriously he treated sin than even the threat of death. He would rather die than dishonor God’s name through disobedience! 

There is a wonderful lesson to be learned from contrasting the story of Esther with Nehemiah and Ezra’s lives, for those of us who want to live out the fullness of the gospel under the New Covenant. In the New Testament we are also called to leave Babylon just as Nehemiah and Ezra were:

“I heard another voice from heaven, saying, “Come out of her (Babylon), my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues;”
Revelation 18:4 NASB

I love the way Isaiah prophesied this movement:
“Put Babylon and all it represents far behind you–it is unclean to you. Get out of there and purify yourselves, you who carry home the sacred objects of the LORD.”
Isaiah 52:11 NLT

When we who are in the New Covenant are commanded to come out of Babylon, spiritually speaking, we are called to prepare as the bride of Christ, to build the Church, which is the Temple in the new Jerusalem:

“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them…’”
Revelation 21:2 NASB

To be clear, in the New Covenant, “Babylon” is not a physical location so much as it is a system of belief. The call to “come out of Babylon” is not a call to move, or to change vocations, or anything like that. Rather, we can all “leave Babylon” in our hearts by refusing to be satisfied with a “salvation” which consists only of personal blessings and deliverance from our enemies but requires no real sacrifice to us personally; as we grow to see God’s ultimate desire is that we might pour out our lives to build the Body of Christ, and as we humble ourselves in obedience to that calling, we are on our way to the New Jerusalem. It is not a question of profession, but rather a question of our personal burden. The difference is simple: those in Babylon are looking to see what they can get for themselves from God; Jerusalem is built by people who see how much they can give of themselves, on behalf of the church, to God.

Just like Nehemiah and Ezra left lives of safety and comfort in Babylon, and gave their lives to build the temple in Jerusalem, we too are called out beyond contentment with the deliverance and blessings of wealth and fame that may be ours in Babylon. And just like Nehemiah refused to disobey God even to save his own life – far different from how Esther and Mordecai acted back in Babylon – we can choose to build the temple and hate sin even more than we hate the threat of death. 

I’m not speaking of salvation – I am speaking of the fullness of the life and calling for us in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ! Those who stay in Babylon may be “saved” just as the Jews who stayed behind with Esther in Babylon were; but so long as we’re only satisfied with our own comfort and influence and fame, we are pursuing a salvation that in the end God will not associate His name with. But if we will seek to build the church, even in whatever small area or responsibility He gives to us, He will be with us. 

It is important to note that in both Nehemiah (7:6-62) and Ezra (2:1-67, 8:1-14), detailed records are kept of the Jewish exiles that left captivity in Babylon and returned to Jerusalem; no such records are kept of those who remained behind in Babylon, in the book of Esther or otherwise. This should bring us immense comfort to know that, God will surely take note of us as we venture out beyond the safety of Babylon to build the church today. And even if He doesn’t, God’s presence made known and realized among us as we build the church is better than any other blessing we might receive in our “safe” lives in Babylon.

Leave Babylon, and build the Church!

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**By Jeremy Utley © Copyright – Jeremy Utley. No changes whatsoever are to be made to the content of the article without written permission from the author at NCCF Church

God Does Not Want Our Offerings, But Our Body as a Living Sacrifice

“May we first learn to sit at His feet and listen, and nurture a pure and simple devotion unto Him… may He lead us in all our ways, never leaning on our own understand, but in all our ways acknowledging Him, so He can direct our paths…

In Hebrews 10:5, we read that “God doesn’t want our offerings.” I quote this verse to people who have suffered under preachers who have kept on telling them that God wants their offerings. What does it say here that God desires from us? – Our bodies. Under the old covenant, the emphasis was, “Pay your tithes to the Levites.” In the New Testament the emphasis is, “Give your bodies to God” (Rom.12:1). A church that is constantly asking its people to pay their tithes is an old-covenant church. A new-covenant church will emphasise presenting our bodies -our eyes, our hands, our tongues, etc.,- as a living sacrifice to God. It is not material offerings that God desires from us today, but our bodies.

Giving our bodies to God is the new-covenant equivalent of the old-covenant tithe – just like Christ dying on the cross is the equivalent of the old-covenant lamb sacrificed on the Passover day. Does this mean that we don’t have to give any money now for the work of God on earth? You may certainly give, but God wants only what you give cheerfully (2 Cor.9:7). In any case, He wants your body first of all. Those who give Him their bodies usually give Him everything else as well. But everything must be given cheerfully and joyfully.

When Jesus came into the world, He did not come to give tithes and material offerings to His Father (Hebrews 10:5). He came to give His body as a sacrifice. And He is the Mediator of the new covenant and taught us that what God wants from us, primarily, is our body.

Many give offerings of money and service to God. You may boast that you have distributed hundreds of tracts, or served as a missionary in some difficult area for many years, or prayed for a number of hours, or fasted for many days. These are all good offerings. But those offerings don’t have any value to God, if you still lust sexually with your eyes and still get angry. Then you haven’t given Him what He wants first of all – your body. Then God will say to you, “Forget about giving Me your sacrifices and your offerings. Give Me your eyes and your tongue first of all. I want your body.” Don’t substitute material offerings for your body. People who value the material offerings they have given to God are back in the old covenant. In the new covenant what God wants is your body. The book of Hebrews is one of the most important books in the Bible. If you want to live in the new covenant, study Hebrews.

Jesus never had a body when He was in heaven. When He came into this world the Father gave Him a body. What was He to do with that body? Was He to show His love for His Father by going to some difficult place like Africa as a missionary? Or was He to pray for 4 hours every day and fast twice a week? None of these. He says, “I have come (to earth), to do Your will O God – and not to make sacrifices” (Hebrews 10:7). This is what Jesus used His body for- and this is what we have to use our bodies for, as well. When we present our bodies to God, it is to do His will thereafter with every part of them- with our eyes, hands, tongues, passions, desires, etc., our only passion in life thereafter will be to do the will of God every day.

 

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**Copyright – Zac Poonen. No changes whatsoever are to be made to the content of the article without written permission from the author: cfcindia.com / photo by Cottonbro at pixels

Disciple-Making and Building the Body of Christ

Some believers consider God’s Word as having almost only one command – to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature (Mark. 16:15). This command must certainly be obeyed by the total body of Christ worldwide – particularly by those who are given by Christ as evangelists to the body (Eph. 4:11). But the work will still be unfinished, if this command of Christ is not balanced by His other command to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19).

We thank God for all those who, at much personal cost, have gone out into all the world and preached the gospel to those who have never heard the name of Jesus. But it is a sad fact of twentieth century evangelism that the threefold command of Matthew 28:19,20– to make disciples, to immerse them in water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and to teach them obedience to all of Jesus’ commands – is almost totally ignored. When multitudes of believers are emphasising evangelism without making disciples, it becomes our task to restore the lost emphasis – to make disciples – and to complete the unfinished task.

Many think only of the unfinished task of various areas of the world yet to be reached with the gospel. God gives that burden to those who have that evangelistic calling. But to others God gives the equally important task – the more difficult task – of making these converts into disciples.

This can be illustrated by a carpentry shop engaged in making tables where multitudes of carpenters are busy making just the four legs and very few are employed in making the table tops to complete the tables. The result is that the shop is piled high with unfinished tables and the carpenters are still busy producing more half-finished jobs. We can be sure that Jesus, in the carpentry shop at Nazareth, always finished a table before moving on to the next one. He always believed in finishing a task begun (even as He cried, “It is finished”, on the cross) and He is the same today. We are co-workers with Him and must also believe in a finished job. All converts must be made into disciples.

In the Old Testament, it was impossible for God’s people, the Jews, to become one body. That became possible only after Jesus ascended up to heaven and poured out the Holy Spirit to indwell man. Now, two can become one. In the Old Testament, Israel was a congregation. The nation grew in size, but it was still a congregation. In the New Testament, however, the church is to be a body, not a congregation.

If two do not become one, then all that you have there is a congregation. The important thing in Christ’s body is not size but unity. And by this standard it becomes difficult to find a ‘church’ that is not a congregation. Everywhere one finds congregations that are increasing in size – but not in unity. Strife and jealousy and competition are found even at the leadership level.

God desires to have an expression of Christ’s body in different places all over the world. Babylonian Christianity cannot accomplish this. But God’s work still goes on through a remnant who realise that the mark of Jesus’ disciples is fervent love for one another and not largeness of number.

In the body of Christ, each person is valued, even if he is not gifted. He is valued because he is a member of the body. In fact, it says that God gives greater honour to the member who lacks gift so that there may be unity in the body (1 Cor. 12:24,25). In the church, we have to follow God’s example and honour even those who have no gift at all, if they are God fearing and humble. In Babylon, the gifted preacher, the gifted singer and the converted astronaut are honoured. But in the church (God’s tent), we honour those who fear the Lord (see Psa. 15:1,4).

Jesus said that we were to teach all Christians to obey all that He had taught (Matt. 28:20). God requires obedience more than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22). It is a heathen concept that God requires us to go through various forms of physical suffering in order to prove our love for Him. This is very prevalent in the heathen culture in India and has unfortunately pervaded Christianity in our country as well. Spirituality is therefore seen as giving up one’s job and going out to some difficult place, undergoing various hardships, etc. All this may involve much sacrifice, but it can never be a substitute for obedience to God’s Word.

Our love for Jesus is not proved by sacrifice but by obedience to His commandments – as Jesus Himself said in John. 14:15 to obey everything that Jesus has taught us in Matthew 5-7 is a far greater proof of our love for Him than even giving Him 50% of our salary or giving up our job and becoming a missionary.

Holiness is the characteristic of the true church (Jerusalem). So growth in Jerusalem is measured by growth in holiness – which includes love for one another. Jesus said that the way to life was narrow and that few would find it. Those who proclaim the narrow gate as narrow as Jesus made it will find that very few join their church (Matt. 7:13,14). If, on the other hand, we make the gate broader than Jesus made it, we shall increase in numbers easily. This is where much of today’s Christendom has gone astray. Jesus spoke about the narrow gate and the narrow way in the context of the ‘sermon on the mount’ (Matt. ch. 5-7). The content of those chapters is therefore what constitutes the narrow gate and the narrow way.

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**By Zac Poonen Copyright – Zac Poonen. No changes whatsoever are to be made to the content of the article without written permission from the author: cfcindia.com / Picture by Ylanite Koppens at Pixels

How to Start a House Group Fellowship

The really good news is that, to start a house church, you can lay down the burdens of planning how to cope with buildings, programs, and outreach strategies. You don’t have to be an impressive leader (though you probably will have some leadership gifts). To start a house church, you simply need to open your home to friends and neighbours and take things one step at a time.

Pray First!

The first step to starting a house church is to pray. House-church ministry must be birthed in prayer. Though it is a simple step, without prayer and God’s leading, we invite trouble. Starting a house church cannot be just a good idea; it must be a God idea. If you feel that you are called to start a house church, gather a few like-minded people together and begin to pray so that you can receive a strategy from God. Many house churches have false starts that are directly linked to a lack of prayer.

Taking time to pray gives God the opportunity to work in our hearts and purify our motives. When house churches start up because of a reaction to something we don’t like about the established church, the house church’s identity is built from rebellion and discord. Healthy house churches, on the contrary, must begin with God’s leading and a desire to reach those who don’t know Jesus. What a person sows, the Bible teaches us, he also reaps. Therefore, if you begin a house church because of an offense toward an existing church or leader, you will sow the seeds of fault-finding and pride in the church you are creating.

Along with prayer, it is also important to look to the local Christian community’s leaders for spiritual guidance and advice as you launch a new church. From day one of the Lancaster Micro-Church Network, we have cultivated relationships with established believers in our local community and beyond to answer questions and explain to them the concept of micro-church. A wise Bible teacher once said, “Lone rangers get shot out of the saddle.” We agree. Healthy house-church movements are not exclusive groups who refuse to be accountable. Vibrant micro-church networks are spiritually connected to leadership in the Body of Christ.

Know Whom You Are Called to Reach

Every micro-church should know whom they are called to reach. Here’s a great suggestion from Tony and Felicity Dale, who together started a successful network of house churches in Texas:

Draw together people from your circle of influence. We had a number of business associates who were not Christian, but whom we had come to know pretty well over a period of months or years. We asked a dozen of them to join us in a study of business principles while enjoying pizza in our home, using the book of proverbs as our textbook.
There were no rules to our discussion; everybody’s opinion was valid and there was no such thing as a wrong answer. Gradually we introduced prayer and worship and over the course of a year, every one of them became a Christian. They formed the nucleus of our original house church.

When the first micro-church in the Lancaster Micro-Church Network started in our (Larry’s) home a few years ago, we asked God for pre-Christians or new believers to join us—we also asked for labourers to help in the endeavour. However, we ran into some immediate problems. First of all, lots of believers wanted to come and check it out. Some of these Christians were looking for the latest Christian fad. They liked the idea that the micro-church met on a Wednesday, not a Sunday, and that it met in a living room, not a sanctuary.

But we were not starting something new for the sake of starting something new! Since we had a mandate from the Lord to reach new believers, we asked inquiring Christians not to come to our meetings. Having too many older Christians in the group would make the pre-Christians feel uncomfortable.

Jim Petersen, in his book Church Without Walls, clearly describes what can happen if a “migratory flock from neighbouring churches” invades a new church simply because they are curious:

I have a friend who was a part of a team that set out to start a church. The congregation was divided into house churches, each of which was assigned an elder who helped shepherd the members of that house church. Centralised activities were kept at a minimum for the sake of keeping people free to minister to their families and unbelieving friends.

The weekly meetings were dynamic. I will never forget the first one I visited. People of all sorts were there, from men in business suits to ponytails. Many were new believers. The Bible teaching was down to earth, aimed at people’s needs. I loved it.

So did most everyone else who visited. The word got around and soon the migratory flock from neighbouring churches came pouring in. Their needs consumed the energies of the leaders of this young church. Their wants gradually set the agenda. The inertia of the traditions of these migrants engulfed this very creative effort and shaped it accordingly.

So what’s the problem, we ask? The problem is that the vision that original team had for taking the church into society through the efforts of every believer was frustrated.

My wife and I knew that the vision the Lord had given to us to reach a new generation had to be safeguarded in the early days of our new micro-church network, and the young leaders of our network wisely set clear perimeters. They asked God to bring pre-Christians, new believers, and labourers—and the Lord honoured their request.

The Size of the House Church Matters

Quite soon, my wife and I had a second problem in our home-based micro-church. The pre-Christians attending invited their friends, and within 6 months of starting, we had 50 people in our living room on a given night. It was way too large!

It is wise to keep the number of people to between 6 and 12. From my experience, groups less than 6 strong tend to dwindle and be lacklustre because of the decreased number of relationships and interactions possible. However, groups over 12 tend to lose intimacy and every-member participation. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that rapid church planting movements today reproduce small house churches numbering between 10 and 30 people.

Frequency of Meeting

House churches should meet at least once a week to maintain a sense of connectedness. Again, though, we must emphasise the importance of flexibility. Some micro-churches meet at the same location every week, while others move the meeting place by rotating turns in members’ houses. Some groups meet more frequently, others less often. Some house churches meet during the week, others on weekends.

It is crucial that meeting together is an expression of the members’ desire to build community together—not just a religious duty to add more meetings to their already busy lives. If gathering together is done around food and for the purpose of fellow-shipping, it is more natural. Choose times that are convenient for everyone involved and then make an effort to connect with the other members (even just by phone or e-mail) outside of official meeting times. Building a spiritual family takes more than an hour or two one night a week!

Meeting Components

One thing is certain about house-church meetings: they should not be a smaller scale duplicate of a typical Sunday morning meeting. A house-church gathering should not look like an “escaped meeting captured by a living-room,” as one young man described house churches that do little more than replicate and repeat the traditional church service format: worship, teaching, prayer.

Instead, we have learned that there are often four basic components to a micro-church gathering: eating, meeting, small groups, and “the meeting after the meeting.

Although eating (usually a meal) is one of the elements of a house-church gathering, sometimes there may not be food. One week the house church may help someone trim their shrubs and have a time of prayer afterwards, and the next week they may come together for a whole smorgasbord of worship, prayer, teaching, and fellowship. Every week should be fresh and informal as people meet to discuss the life of Jesus and life with Jesus.

—Larry Kreider and Floyd McClung; excerpted from their recent book Starting a House Church (Regal Publishers, 2007). Used with permission.

Picture by Fauxes at pexels / By Small Groups 

Churches in The Balkans with English Translation

As a Christian, maintaining fellowship with the Body of Christ is a must, as iron sharpens iron. The Lord in His kindness, mercy and wisdom provided technology for us to keep in touch via the internet and telephone during these testing times. When things ease up, it’s always lovely to meet up with other believers; even if it’s just for a cup of coffee, in order to sharpen each other spiritually.

It’s always good to pray for God’s guidance, wisdom and discernment of where He wants you to fellowship. A good start is a God fearing, Bible based church with people wanting to live the crucified life, not just hear about it. That said if one cannot be found, connecting up with a fellow Christian is a start, as the Bible states, where two are three are gathered in my name there I am amidst of them. You might find useful my post on house churches / fellowship.

In the meantime check out the Forums page in regards to reaching out to expats already settled in the community and who are a wealth of information.

Here are some links to Church services with English translation in the Balkans, whilst you familiarise yourself with the language. This information is correct at the time of print. Please check directly with the church to see if this service is still available or altered due to covid 19 restrictions:

The Balkans

World Evangelicals Alliance

World Methodist Council

Albania

IPA Tirana Internal Church

Bulgaria

 International Baptist Church Sofia, Bulgaria

Croatia

New Life, Independent Baptist Church

Novi Zivot Pentecostal Church, Zagreb

Baptist Church Zagreb, Radićeva ul. 30, 10000, Zagreb, Croatia

Emanuel Church, Varazdin

Association of Baptists Churches in Croatia

Various

Greece

Athens International Christian Fellowship

Montenegro

Evangelical Church Salvation

Romania

International Church of Bucharest

Slovenia

International Church of Ljubljana

Serbia

Božija Reč in Novi Sad

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**By Lori McPherson / Photo by Janez Podnar from Pexels