I want to introduce our teacher this morning, our friend, our brother, Jahangir. Most of you know him, but there is some who may not. There may be some who have not heard the short version of his story. Jahangir and his family, that is his wife and two small children, have come from far away Uzbekistan. This summer when it was very hot, it was 35 degrees, we Lithuanians are walking, grumbling at the heat, I said to Jahangir, “how is the weather like for you?” “Ah, he said, it’s normal, back home the watermelons ripen very well in this temperature, it’s just right, the weather is always like
In truth, Uzbekistan is not a place that is friendly to Christians, it is a Muslim nation. It is not a secret that many Christians face very real persecution in Uzbekistan. In fact, you can expect that one day as you meet in your home to pray, read the Bible, attend some kind of Christian gathering, you can expect threats. Many families are forced to leave their homeland, that is what happened to Jahangir. He was a pastor of a church in Uzbekistan and received information that his family’s safety was in jeopardy and they were forced as refugees to simply pack their bags and leave their home. We can all think of what that would mean if someone said that to us, that because you are a Christian there will be problems for your family, your children, your career, and you have to leave because you are forced to flee.
I want to say that people who face such realities, personally they inspire me. When I hear the stories of the families and the realities in Uzbekistan and the price they have to pay, simply to believe in Jesus- because for us it is common to meet together in freedom, but there, they do not have that freedom, they pay a very high price. A big sense of the fear of God fills me when I hear their stories and I honor and treasure such people whose faith directs them, whose faith shapes them and they follow after Christ. We do not hide our faith but we obey the Lord and our faith leads us into all Truth.
So today I would like to invite Jahangir to come on the stage and share with us that which you have prepared, please Jahangir.
Greetings to you dear Church. My friend shared about our family, our life and I know that to be a Christian is not easy anywhere. To stay faithful to Christ is often harder in countries where there is much freedom and democracy. What is important is that God knows how each of us believes, how each of us walks and may the Lord help us all walk in his steps.
I was very inspired by Rasa’s prayer. She asked the Lord that God would guide us. She asked the Lord that she would walk in God’s steps. To walk in God’s steps requires us to know what are God’s steps. And today we are going to talk about the Church. How the Lord sees [builds] the Church. And we will see what the Lord longs for from the Church.
The word “church” in the Greek is “ekklesia”. Who knows where in the gospels it is written about the Church? In two places the Lord talks about the Church in the gospels. The apostle Peter and Paul write more about the Church, but Jesus only talks about the Church in two places and these are found in the gospel of Matthew.
And the first time when Jesus spoke about the Church, the disciples did not understand the Church as we understand it today, because each one has their own understanding of the Church. For someone, the Church may be a building, for another it may be candles, for another bells, maybe for another it is worship, and for another it is simply a gathering of people. Each one has their own understanding, but the question is, what is Jesus’ understanding of His Church?
To understand this, let us look at the gospel of Matthew chapter 16. I just mentioned that Jesus used the word church only twice. The first is in Matthew chapter 16 verse 18. And the other place is the opposite, Matthew chapter 18, verse 17, it is easy to remember. Let us read,
And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it.
The first time you read this, it is hard to understand what it means. That is why for us to understand what Jesus means we need to read a few verses prior.
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Some understand that when Jesus said, “I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it,” some think this is the Papal institution. Some people think Jesus gave this kind of supremacy to man. In reality, Jesus had something different in mind.
We know that Peter as an apostle had great authority, he preached on the day of Pentecost, he had a very strong personality, but in spite of all this it does not give him the authority to be the Founder of the Church. The Church is not held together by Peter because the church is held together by something else. The Church is held together by belief.
When Jesus talked about the Church, he talked about the faith that Peter had. That is why verse 18 can be translated, “I tell you that you are Peter,” in some translations that name Peter has the meaning of a small stone. And the next word, rock, has the idea of a large Rock.
In another place where Jesus says, Peter what you have said, the faith that you have, is like a small stone in a large rock. It is sort of like he was the first Christian to know Jesus. He was the first Christian that God revealed this revelation to. Because when Simon Peter said in verse 16, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “”Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” This understanding that you received, that Jesus is the Christ, is not to your credit. God revealed this to you. It is a revelation that God gave you. That is why you understand that I am the Christ.
That is why the Church that exists in the world, she is held together by this same belief. She is held together by the belief that Jesus is the Christ, the revelation that Jesus is the Savior. The word Christ means Savior or Messiah. So the first aspect of belief is the revelation of the identity of Jesus. The second aspect is the revelation of His Deity.
Many people have the understanding that Jesus is the Christ, but few of us have the knowledge that Jesus is God. You can go out on the streets and every sixth person in the world will claim to be a Christian. But not every one of those people can say that, Jesus is my God, I obey Him. Christianity is not just salvation, but obedience to God. Obedience to Jesus Christ as God, obedience to Jesus Christ as Lord, as Leader. Obedient to Him in your life. Therefore, Peter understood this and Jesus said on this understanding [revelation], on this belief [faith], I build my Church.
Peter had organized his group in Acts chapter 1. At those times in Jerusalem to organize a party you needed to have 120 persons. When you read in Acts 1:15, it says, “the company of persons was in all about 120,” it was not by accident that Luke wrote the number of people who were gathered. It has a meaning because Peter wanted to create his own group. When I read the book of Acts I understand that the apostles did not understand everything that Jesus had said. Peter thought that he would organize these 120 people, this party of persons, and that this would be the Church. But Jesus was not speaking of this,
Jesus had something very different in mind, a holy group of people. A group of miraculous character. People coming together from all different nationalities, all sorts of people, men, women, children, all different personalities, values, all meeting in one place. It would be a miracle that people even from different classes of society would meet, rich and poor alike. It would be a supernatural group.
Jesus said there would be a group of people that would be gathered based on one revelation. And Jesus said, “I will build my Church”. He said, “I will build my Church”. Peter, you do not need to create your group. What man creates does not last long. Can you imagine for a moment that you belong to a group that at one time consisted of only 12 people? When Jesus spoke those words, Peter could not have possibly believed that from 12 individuals it would grow so much that every sixth person in the world would be a Christian.
Brothers and sisters, here is a promise. Here is a word. Jesus says, I will build my Church. It is my work. And it is my Church.
And what is the meaning of, it is my Church? The Church belongs to Jesus. Whenever something belongs to God, for instance, in the tabernacle there were certain holy objects that belonged only to God. They were his property. And that is why they were called holy.
That is why God says, they will belong to me, they are God’s people. They will be holy. In the Old Testament, God called the nation of Israel, his own nation. He lived in the midst of that nation. He defended that nation. And he accomplished his plans through that nation.
Jesus says, this nation that I will gather and will call the Church, they will be mine. I will be in the midst of them. This is a promise. Do you believe that Jesus is here among us today? Amen. Because he promised to always be here with us.
Not only did he promise to be present here among us, but he lives within us. Whoever felt the Holy Spirit today, knows that Jesus lives within. He/she knows that within him/her lives God. This is God’s temple. In this holy place, this Church, God lives.
In the same way, when Jesus spoke about stones, I remember another place, it is Matthew chapter 3, verse 9, you know this verse very well so I will simply read it.
And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.
John the Baptist addressing the Jews says, do not think so highly of yourselves that your father is Abraham, because I tell you from out of these stones God can create for himself another nation. From these stones he can create Abraham’s children.
In the Epistles we read that we are Abraham’s children. What does it mean to be the children of Abraham? God promised Abraham blessing. This blessing now belongs to us. No matter who belongs to the church, grandma’s or grandpa’s, they are the blessed people. To them belongs the blessing. They are the heirs of the blessing promised to Abraham. And God said, those who bless you will themselves be blessed. This is the supernatural Church that we are talking about.
Furthermore, Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it.” I will gather a group of people, and the gates of hell will not overcome them. Here is a question, pay attention. What position does the Church stand in? Is the Church in an offensive position, or defensive? Do the gates belong to the Church or to hell? What do you think? It is written, the gates of hell.
Sometimes we think. let us close the gates of the church so that sinners will not come in here. But Jesus sees things completely. He says, in effect, the Church will be on the attack. The Church will advance. In retreat will be hell. On the defensive side will be hell.
She is the Church. Because Jesus is with Her. Jesus who is the Conqueror and King.
And what is hell? Hell is the place where death reigns. Hell is the place where sin is. Hell is the place where there is no hope. Hell is the place where there is no Christ. Hell is the place where Satan reigns. Hell is the place where Satan tortures people.
Do we see all the places around us where Satan is reigning? How many people are being tortured by Satan? How many people around us who are walking in sin?
Jesus is saying, I will gather my people. My people are strong and brave, and they will go into Satan’s territory and Satan cannot overcome them. The gates of hell cannot overcome them.
These people who I will be with, they will destroy those dominions.
Therefore, the Church is not only a gathering of the saints, it is the Army of Christ. And it goes into the places where Satan reigns. And it breaks the strongholds. It destroys sin. It frees the captives. It sets sinners free from their sins. See what kind of authority the Lord has given to us. In addition, verse 19.
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
The Lord has given the Church authority. Today, the Church can bring every person to heaven. Each one of us has the power, each one of us has the ability to bring a person to heaven. The Lord has given this to us.
When a person has authority, they also have a responsibility. Authority always involves responsibility. Verse 19 has very great significance for me. God says, my dear Church, I will do nothing without You. If your friends and family around you are dying, they are dying not because I do not want them to be saved, but because you do not want to go there.
Salvation is God’s work. But God does not save without the Church. God has given us this kind of responsibility. He will not save without us. God always works through his Church. It is a great responsibility.
Today we understood that God is here among us. We receive Baptism, we receive faith in Christ, we become a new people, we belong now to the Lord. And not only do we now belong to Him, but he now leads us. He has given us authority. It remains our choice, whether we go or not.
Today are gathered such people, and in their hearts burns Love. For them it is not just anything that people are dying around them.
Let us not be people who run away from the perishing of others. Let us not allow Satan to do his work. Let us be the people who bring freedom to the captives. Let us not be shy or scared. Because in fact, Satan is the one trembling. Satan is terrified of us. Because Christ lives within us.
What happens in Lithuania is not just any other matter to me. What happens to my neighbors is not just any other matter. What happens to our nation is not just any other matter. I will not just sit with my hands folded when others are dying, when Satan is torturing others. The Church is not supposed to sit.
Today I am speaking to everyone here, to awaken you to this desire, and to this responsibility. So that we would not be indifferent to what is happening around us. May the Lord help you, may the Lord fan into flame this fire in you. That we would be not only visitors to church, but students and soldiers of Christ.
At this moment I would like to invite one such soldier of Christ, who is not afraid to go to the places where Satan is reigning, and by the will of Jesus and the power of Jesus he destroys the strongholds- Jesus destroys them, he just goes. I want to invite our brother. He will testify and witness to how God is working.
Good afternoon Christ’s Church. I’m truly blessed by that construction of God’s Church, that courageous appearance, it truly blesses the heart and encourages the heart to go and do, to put aside fear, to humble ourselves before Him who started the work, our Lord Jesus Christ.
I would like to share with you the passage that has spoken into my life now for many years. It is a passage that has the power to raise my feeble flesh that is very often afraid and does not want to do things. But these words I hear echoing nearly everyday in my heart. These words bring immense power and desire to do something, to win something, to see Christ’s victory, his glory.
And I know it will require those that do something, those that go, who stumble, who fail, but nevertheless, they go and do. Perhaps there will be many scars inflicted along the way, but I tell you, this battle is worth it, it is worth the trying to do it.
And here it is written:
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?
And our primary Preacher is Jesus Christ, He who speaks. Today Jahangir began speaking about the Church. and indeed the word church is “ekklesia” which reveals to us the mystery, (the meaning of the word is) people who have been called out, people who have heard the Voice, people who have heard the Voice that others do not hear. They have heard that quiet Voice that touches their hearts, which belongs only to them, and they rise and come, and they come so that they can always get closer and hear that Voice always louder. That Voice of Love that comes from heaven and touches our heart, speaks directly to our heart, and which sounds with such immense love that it transforms people.
And I was asked to simply share some testimonies which have to do with looking at one’s life, and to share them offering them to the glory of Christ.
One time in my life while I was serving in a rehabilitation centre, a person came into my life and said, “My mother-in-law is dying, she is sick with cancer.” And they said, “You talk about God’s kingdom, you talk about how God loves and heals. My wife and I want to ask you to come visit and talk to her.” This was the first invitation I received to visit a cancer hospital and I remember walking in, the large – you feel in yourself that everyone there is breathing death. Everyone is waiting for death.
That feeling is very strange. It forces you to really think, but it also forces you to really seek God’s grace. Grace for what to say. And I prayed and asked God that he would speak to me. Going in to the emergency room I saw a dying woman who must have weighed only 30 or 40 kilograms. she was a collection of bones, sunken eyes, the person is laying there without any hope. She was suffering from pain, barely speaking, laying in bed, and all cancer patients are waiting for the end.
But I know that in my heart was placed something more than that condemned word death. In my heart was placed the word Life. In my heart was placed Jesus Christ’s words, that even the one who dies, he will live, and he will live forever. And that is His victory and it belongs to Him. But from where to start? Where to start and what to say to that person?
And I asked everyone to leave the room and I simply sat beside her. And seeing her eyes, I understood that we were thinking of the same thing. And I started to speak simply telling her what had happened in my life. I told her about how in my life I had a huge guilt because of what I had done with my life. In my life was fear and shame because of how I lived my life. And I told her about how I heard about Jesus Christ who came to this earth, who taught his disciples to live differently, who taught healing, who taught principles that free a person, but it does not end there. He carried out something else.
He took a step toward death. A death for us. The innocent for the guilty.
And I knew what the woman had, she confessed that she had the same feelings and thoughts, the same fears, the same shame, and she said I have no idea what to do with it all and I am afraid to die.
And I told her in just simple words, Jesus Christ forgives you. Forgives you because of his love toward you.
There was silence. And those words began to penetrate her heart. I know that thoughts tried to explain what was happening, but those words penetrated much deeper, penetrated even to the heart. And they penetrated one time in my life.
And I felt that the atmosphere in the room began to change, I saw her eyes, she begun to cry. I saw that her cheeks began to be flushed red. Cheeks that were already blue, yellow, green, I do not know how to explain the colour. And her eyes began to come to life.
And she began to repeat those same words, Jesus forgives me. Jesus forgives me. And she was crying. I cried too. Because to see those victories without tears is impossible. To see someone with joy, deep inner joy that brings tears, it’s impossible to hear when you see that faith has been born. A faith that is born that saves from death.
And you know, she asked for me to leave. She stood and went to the shower. It was her last steps on this earth. And a little of that she knew already, everyone knew. But she .. She .. to life.
The next day she died. She died but I thank God because I was sent to bring that good news. I was sent to preach God’s forgiveness, to preach his love. And that word brings life.
Another occasion. Eighteen year-old girl. We, with our family would speak about Jesus, she would come visit us, she would listen to hymns. The strongest working hymn that she would listen to was about: heaven is calling me.
She said, I feel very strange. I hear how my heart opens up to that hymn. I feel how those words pierce my heart. They knock on the door of my heart and I want to open. She would cry listening to that hymn.
After a while we learned that she was sick with cancer. And the battle began. A half-year battle. It is very painful to see a young person wither. It is painful to see a young person forced to be bedridden by illness. And I have no doubt that many young people in this land do not even stop to think of what awaits them. But that young lady was blessed, blessed with God’s voice, that voice that does not come from somewhere, but it forces one to take thought. She died after half a year.
She died. In her family there was judgments, fault-findings, they no longer wanted to hear about Jesus. Why did he not heal her, why did he not do anything. These are likely the questions that we encounter when we bring the good news. These questions are very painful, to those who pose them and those who receive them. But you know there is something deeper, that there is something inexplicable in Jesus’ love, his plans, and his plans in salvation.
And I knelt and began to pray asking, God, did you save that soul, was it enough what happened. And one day I had a phone call after that prayer, her mother called. She was crying, crying very bitterly saying, I found a note in her wallet. In the note it was written, I dream to find a boy, get married, have a family, have children, with my children to go outside, simply to run with them to play. There was no mention about work or about money, there was no mention about goals, or about things that may lure us in this world and cause us to lose our mind and our soul. But such simple things.
And further on there was this writing: But I know that my dreams will lie down with me in my coffin, and will be buried together with the coffins closure. I imagine reading those words as a mother. But I needed something more important. And the last words were these. Jesus, I know I am a sinner, and I ask you to save me. I think it was a ticket. I think those words opened heaven. I think the Father in heaven admired that heart that acknowledged that she needed saving, that acknowledged, Jesus as her Saviour.
One more story. When I used to preach on the streets, I would travel to Vilnius station, there would be gathered there prostitutes. And I would very often travel there and talk to them, and I would often hear things that would repulse me, many things that would make it seem that the people didn’t want to receive the gospel. Many things that would seem to quench that which I was carrying in my heart.
And every time coming to the same women, I spoke telling them Jesus loves them. Change your lives. Find repentance in Jesus. Go to the house of Christ, go to church. Let people pray for you. And this was sounded in that place, maybe not that loud, but it sounded.
And one time, one of the prostitutes came to me and said- she sent me off, she said, get lost, I don’t want to listen to you. You are leading me to the place where there is one thing, light. She understood I was leading her toward the light, She said, do you want me to one day awaken, look in the mirror, and remember all the things those men did with me. You think I can carry that? You think even one person on this earth can love me? You should say it out loud.
I said, I know who loves you. The one who loves you is Jesus. Without any conditions, he accepts you, just the way you are. And there is one other thing, I also love you. I love you. There is enough love in my heart to help you carry everything that you have experienced. I want to help you.
And she disappeared. She disappeared from that station, from that gossip. She had a whole in her back, it was large, rotting, she was suffering with AIDS, her feet were rotting, she had no teeth. And many years passed, many years, and I was driving with my friend who does the same work, who seeks to help people on the streets, learning as he goes, not everything works out all the time.
And we had arrived at an office, and we went inside, and a woman turned to me, a pregnant woman, without teeth, but in her eyes there was already a smile. She saw me, she hugged me. She thanked me. She said, I’m trying to believe what you told me. She said, I got baptized. I don’t know how it will work out. She showed me her tummy.
I believe that it will require a lot of grace but I know that he has it, Jesus, who raises people to life in his love. Only love.
And I know what we will preach. I know that the church will talk about this. I know that the church is full of love.
When I was young, I fell in love. About the woman whom I fell in love with, I told everyone about her. I distanced myself from all my friends. I didn’t need anything. I would fall asleep seeing her in my mind and I would awake seeing her. I would call her and talk with her for six hours. All this happened. All of this is familiar to me.
Today, truly this is what is expected from the church. Real love. And to fall in love with Christ can only happen in one way. Today I asked God, what are you calling us to? God answered me: to delight in me. To delight in me and you.
My wish for every one of you is this, to get to know him. Get to know Jesus, you will not be able to not admire him.
I want to invite every one of you in a prayer. A prayer for our hearts. That there would be found there a place for others. Simply for others. If you are not against it, let us stand for prayer.
My dear father, I thank you that you came to this earth and you loved us, that you left us with news about your love. Through your love for each one of us, every situation, every sin, even to one who is dead, you have what to say to them. Even there you overcome. You come to our hearts and you begin to change our life. I pray Lord that our hearts would be filled with love, your love.
I want to truly know how you love, I want to see how you see. To see people, to see the land, to see my work, my family, my children, with the love that is from you. I want there to truly be room in our hearts for all people, who may be today drowning somewhere.
That in our hearts would be courage, words, compassion, room in our home or car, room on the telephone. That our hands would be anointed with the power to help without conditions. in every case. To help someone. To tell someone a good word. That can one day change their life.
I pray that this church will be one that brings forth fruit. I pray Lord that you would give us courage, to speak. And anoint our words by your Spirit. That people would be saved from their perdition. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.