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Becoming a Christ-centered Church

Matt Carter    /    Aug 24, 2014


Matt Carter teaches on being a Christ-centered church using Psalm 23:3

Series: Far More


Related Sermons:

Sermon Transcript

As we’ve been preparing for this series we came across a video we made for our ten-year anniversary. We realized that it captures the heart of what this church and new series is all about. So I want to show it to you guys.

Far More: What God Has Done from The Austin Stone on Vimeo.

At the very beginning of our church we prayed a prayer. We prayed God would do something so significant in our time that when we look back, we can’t credit some man, or pastor, or worship leader, or attribute it to anything other than the movement of God Himself.

The crazy thing is that God answered that prayer.

This series is all about saying, “God, you have been faithful to answer the prayer of a desperate church planter in the last twelve years. So would you be faithful to answer it again in the years to come?”

Beware Of Apathy

One of the things we looked at last week is how Satan doesn’t like it when God begins to answer prayer and move powerfully in an individual or a group of people. He likes to try to stop powerful movements.

Biblically, Jesus talked about how there are two primary ways Satan tries to attack someone, or a group of people, that God is moving through.

The first is through persecution. If God is moving powerfully, Satan will bring persecution into your life and try to get you to the place where you say, “I didn’t sign up for this, I’m out.” But there’s an even sneakier way He tries to attack you if that first one doesn’t work. If attacking you through persecution doesn’t work, he’ll try to take you out in your apathy and complacency in your walk with Jesus. Jesus talks about this in Luke 8.

And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches and the pleasures of life, and they prove unfruitful. Luke 8:14

Satan doesn’t have to bring on a full on attack into our lives in order to render us ineffective for the Kingdom of God. Rather, all he has to do is get your eye’s attention and your heart’s affection away from Jesus and onto to the cares of this world. That will bring about a spiritual ineffectiveness in your life.

We saw a powerful illustration of this in the story of King David. He committed adultery with Bathsheba and it ruined his life. I want to reread to you the verses in 2 Samuel where it talks about what was happening right before he commits adultery. Pay attention to what David’s doing right before one of the greatest sins of his life.

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. 2 It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king's house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. 2 Samuel 11:1-2 (ESV)

Satan didn’t take David out when he was a little kid on the battlefield with Goliath, or when he was older and King Saul was trying to kill him over and over again. Satan took him out while lying on the couch, late one afternoon, bored out of his mind, when he should have been on the battlefield, but was resting on the past victories God had brought into his life instead.

Make no mistake, if Satan cannot render you ineffective with a full frontal attack, he will try to render you ineffective through apathy and complacency.

Keep Your Eyes On Jesus

I want to spend the rest of our time today talking about the one thing, more than any other thing, that we must never allow the enemy to take our eye’s attention and our heart’s affection away from. It’s seems so obvious and simple, but I’m seeing that for a lot of people and churches, it’s not.

If we want to see God continue to do exceedingly abundantly, more than we can ask or think of, we can never allow, by His grace, the cares of this world, or the deceitfulness of riches, or the pleasures of this life to draw us away from Jesus as our first love.

Back in the day when we started this church we got together and wrote a mission statement. It was our mission statement then and still is today:

“We are a New Testament church existing for the supremacy of the name and purpose of Jesus Christ.”

We founded the church on the principles of Acts 2. I don’t know if you knew that’s what we’re here for. We’re a New Testament church that exists for the supremacy of the name and purpose of Jesus Christ. Isn’t that the purpose of every church? I would say yes, for many churches it is. But unfortunately, for many it’s not. Although they would never admit it, in reality, you could make a pretty good case that many churches’ unsaid mission statement looks more like this:

“We’re a modern American church that exists for the supremacy of the name and purpose of our church (or senior pastor).”

I’m seeing that for so many churches, somewhere along the way, worshipping, loving, pursuing, serving and obeying Jesus gets lost in the pursuit of all this other stuff.

We are not perfect in this by any stretch of the imagination. We’re human and sinners like everybody else. But I hope you caught it in the video that from the very beginning we have been fighting tooth and nail to make Jesus the center, the aim, the goal, the star, and the point of everything we do as a church.

Being God-Centered

In the early days of the church there were a couple of things that really influenced us towards being a Christ-Centered church.

First was a sermon I heard back in the 90’s by John Piper. It was about the God-centered nature of God. When I grew up in church, I was taught that God loved me and died on a cross for me. My pastor would say things like, “If you were the only person in the world and you sinned, God still would have come and died on a cross for your sins.” All of that is absolutely true. God absolutely loves and adores you. God did die on a cross for your sin. If you were the only person God created and you sinned, Jesus still would have come and died on a cross for you. But the problem with that is that it’s only half of the biblical story. By only telling me half of the story, I was subtly taught that I am the center of this whole redemption story. When those phrases were used in isolation, it taught me that Christianity, the cross, and God are primarily about me.

What John Piper showed me biblically in his sermon was that God is not man-centered. God is God-centered.

For God to be man-centered or centered on anything other than Himself would make Him an idolater. He is the greatest being that has ever lived. Over and over again in the Bible you’ll see that God does all these amazing things for us, but at the end of it He’ll say, “For My name sake.” Go do a word study on the phrase, “For My namesake,” or “For His namesake.” All through out scripture God will do something for us and it’ll look like we’re the center and the purpose of it, but at the end He’ll say He did it all for His own namesake.

But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that people said of them, ‘These are the people of the Lord, and yet they had to go out of his land.’ 21 But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came. 22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. Ezekiel 36:20-22 (NASB)

When you hear God say they’ve messed up and profaned His holy name and is about to act, what would you expect Him to do? You’d expect Him to go Old Testament style on them, right? Hell fire and brimstone, and pillars of fire! But watch what God says He’s going to do for His sake and holy name.

I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:24-26 (NASB)

He’s talking about our salvation. He’s going to make us clean from all our filthiness and idols. He’s going to gather us from all the nations and bring us to Himself. Not only that, but He’s going to put His spirit in us and give us a new heart. Why did God say He’s going to do all that? It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name (Ezekiel 36:22).

King David says it too. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness…(Psalm 23:3a, ESV). If you stopped right there, you could say you were the center of that. But watch how he ends it. …for His name sake (Psalm 23:3b).

Even John says it. I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven…(1 John 2:12a, ESV). Again, if you stop it right there is sounds very man-centered. Hey church, I want you to know God has forgiven your sins. But then he says…for His namesake (1 John 2:12b).

Jesus Himself talks about the God-centered nature of God. I’m doing a commentary on the Book of John for my dissertation. I recently noticed something I had never seen before. In John 13, Jesus was in the upper room with the disciples, having the Lord’s Supper. He was going to die on the cross the next day. I noticed that Jesus’ language when Judas was in the room was very different than His language once he left. Jesus called out Judas and he left. At that point, Jesus had all the true disciples with Him. He began to talk about the cross. It wasn’t, “Hey guys, get ready I’m about to die on a cross to forgive you of your sins.” Watch what he says.

So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. 31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. John 13:30-32 (ESV)

The first thing out of Jesus’ mouth as He prepared the disciples for the cross was telling them to get ready because God was about to be glorified.

These are only four examples out of hundreds. But are you seeing it? The cross was not primarily about you or me. The cross was primarily about glorifying God! When you hear that for the first time, it sounds weird. But I want you to know that God being God-centered is the single most loving thing He could ever do for us.

God’s Greatest Gift Is Himself

God is the greatest, the most loving, and the most holy being in the universe. Therefore, the most loving thing God could ever do is not point all of this to us, but point all of this to Him.

We get this instinctively. It’s like giving your kids gifts at Christmas. When you give your child a gift, the primary reason for giving them is not just for them to have that gift. The primary reason is so that they could know and experience the love of the father who gave it to them. That’s why you do it. The reason you give your children a gift is so they can know, feel, and experience your tangible love for them. Our heavenly Father is the same.

He didn’t give us the gift of salvation just so you can have salvation, even though it’s an awesome gift. He gave us the gift of salvation so that we can know and experience the Father who gave it to us.

The greatest gift God gives us is Himself.

Jesus Comes First

We have tried with all of our hearts to build this church in such a way that we’re not the center of it, but that Jesus is.

One personal way I’ve done this is through a prayer I pray every single time I’m preparing a sermon. When I sit down at my desk to prepare a message, it’s the first thing I pray. When I’m walking up these stairs to preach I pray the same thing. I’ve done it my entire ministry. I pray, “Lord Jesus, would your name be exalted above my name. Lord, would your name be exalted above the name of this church.”

I do this because my greatest desire for you is to not walk out of these doors talking about how great the music was or about how great the preaching was. I want you to walk out of here talking about how great Jesus is.

I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but we never advertise who’s leading worship or preaching. There’s a specific reason for that. We want Jesus to be the person you came to church for. That was hard back in the day. Arguably the most famous worship leader ever, Chris Tomlin, started this church with us. As a young church planter when nobody was coming to this church, it was so tempting to get his ugly mug up on a billboard somewhere in downtown Austin or get on the radio and announce he’ll be here leading worship. But we didn’t want to build this church on that. People used to get mad at us. They would call us all the time, 20-30 calls a week, asking if Christ Tomlin was going to be there that week. It would break my heart, because I knew they were deciding if they were going to come to church based on whether or not he, an individual guy, was going to be there or not.

Back when I used to answer the phones. One time, I had just been fed up with it. Have y’all ever had a time when you just sin? This was one of my times. This guy called and said, “Hey man, I was just wondering if Christ Tomlin was leading worship in church this week?” I said, “You know what? He’s not leading worship this week. He’s not going to be here. But I’ll tell you who IS going to be here. Jesus. So you ought to come to church and meet him!” Then I hung up. I had to apologize to the Lord for that.

We do all of this because we want people to come to church for Jesus. He’s way better than me, or Chris Tomlin, or Aaron Ivey, or any pastor you like.

Here’s another thing. Have you ever noticed we have like ten preachers here? That’s also very intentional. We want you to be a people who don’t follow a messenger, but rather the message. Messengers come and go, they die, they sin, and they fail. But the message never fails. The message is Jesus.

We want you to be a people where it doesn’t matter who the guy up on the stage is, we want you following Jesus.

If we ever get to the place where Jesus stops being the goal, the star, the center, God will not move in power in our church anymore.

It Must Be About Jesus

Jesus says this will happen to a church that walks away from Him.

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands… Revelation 2:1 (NASB)

The seven golden lampstands represent the seven churches in the New Testament times. Jesus said He’s the one who walks among the churches. Jesus was speaking specifically to the church of Ephesus and discussed things they were doing well.

‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; 3 and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. Revelation 2:2-3 (NASB)

Jesus said two things about the Ephesus church. First, they were standing for sound doctrine. They weren’t putting up with false teachers and all the drivel being spouted out there. He loved that about their church. Second, they had perseverance and had endured for His namesake. The word perseverance and enduring carries the idea of a woman back in the day carrying a water pot on her head. There was this weight she was carrying but yet she still would move forward. Jesus said that’s what He saw in their church. They had this weight they were carrying, but still moved forward for His namesake. It sounds like the kind of church I want to be a part of and pastor. But then Jesus dropped a bomb on them.

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Revelation 2:4 (NASB)

Somewhere along the way, in their ministry and pursuit of sound doctrine and the mission of God, they fell out of love with Jesus. The next verse is haunting.

Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place. Revelation 2:5 (NASB)

Jesus said it’s awesome to do all this stuff, but unless you make Him your first love, He’ll remove your lampstand from its place. That means that He’ll no longer be the one walking among your church. This is the single greatest danger we face as a church.

God has done far more than I could have asked for or thought of, but if somewhere along the way Jesus quits being the center and our first love, I promise you, the Lord will remove His lampstand from this church. All we’ll have to talk about is how this used to be a church God used to move in.

We will never be a Christ-centered church until we are full of Christ-centered people. We’ll never be a church that has Jesus as their first love until its people have Jesus as their first love.

There’s nothing in the world Satan wants more than for you to walk away from Jesus as your first love. I could ask you if you love Jesus and you would say absolutely. But for so many of us, somewhere along the way the cares of this world, whether a relationship, or children, or a job, or money, or some hobby, or exercise, or your body, or food, or sex, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the pleasures of this life have slowly choked your mind’s attention and your heart’s affection away from Jesus. The call of Jesus and the warning of Revelation 2 is that you need to come back to Him as your first love.

Give Him Your Heart

Halim shared something with me last week about the story of David and his adultery with Bathsheba I had never thought about before. In Psalm 51 we actually get to see David’s prayer of repentance after his adultery. What’s fascinating is that when he prays and repents he never specifically asks God to forgive him of the sin of adultery. He never said, “God would you forgive me for my lust, for committing adultery.” Watch what David asks for.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. Psalm 51:10-12 (NASB)

David prayed this because first and foremost he didn’t have an adultery problem. He had a heart problem. First and foremost, he didn’t have a lust problem he had a worship problem. So when he’s praying for forgiveness, he’s not asking for Him to stop lusting after women. Rather, he’s saying He needs God’s presence in his life. He wanted Him to restore the joy he once had in his salvation and he wanted a new heart, because that’s what he needed more than anything else.

Some of you are stuck in sin today. The way out is not praying that you’d stop the sin. The solution is praying God would give you a new heart. All the rest of that other stuff will then come.

Unashamedly through out the course of this series, we’re going to ask all of you to take a step in your involvement in the mission of God, through the thing God created to accomplish that mission, the church. We’re also going to ask you to take one step in your investment in your prayers, your finances, your time, your gifts, and give more of your heart, your ownership, and your passion. But there is something God wants before your involvement and investment and hat is your heart.

So wherever you are, take that step. Give Him your heart.