May 25, 2012 by
The first session of the Very Last NEXT Conference was filled with reminders that we do not worship alone. We join the men, women, and children from every age who have been redeemed by Jesus Christ's all-sufficient blood. We gather as they did, to exalt our great God.
Led by Bob Kauflin and the Na Band, we lifted our voices to proclaim God’s greatness, faithfulness, and worthiness in song.
How Great Is Your Faithfulness (by Matt Redman)
Greater Than We Can Imagine (from The Gathering)
Our Song from Age to Age (from From Age to Age)
Behold Our God (from Risen)
Name Above All Names (From Risen)
In Christ Alone (by Keith & Kristyn Getty)
C.J. Mahaney welcomed the attendees: “It is my privilege to welcome you to Next and to communicate to you our deep gratefulness that you would come. We are humbled that you are here. We are grateful that you made this a priority.”
We welcomed internationals, first-time attendees, those who attended NEXT in all four locations (Orlando, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Louisville), those who attended every single NEXT/New Attitude conference, and pastors - “These are the men we respect the most. These are the men we encourage you to esteem most highly. Those who are your pastors. We who lead this conference reap because of what they’ve sowed.”
“There’s one neat element that won’t be a part of this conference will be creativity. I’m not particularly creative and I’m old. But the most important elements remain:
- Preaching – in and through preaching, God Himself addresses us. There is nothing more important that is happening here than the preaching.
- Worship – we will address God by singing theologically informed, Gospel-centered songs.
- Fellowship – we will address and seek to edify each other with the Gospel.
The theme of this conference has been carefully and intentionally chosen because:
- The church is central in Scripture
- This is where it all began. Loooong ago in a galaxy far, far away. The year was 1977. After our conversion a few of us were captured by a vision of the local church that emerged from reading Acts and Hebrews. And from that year on our lives were never the same. We want to transfer that passion for the church to you so that you will take it with you into a future that I won’t see. It’s not about transferring a passion for Sovereign Grace Churches. It’s never been about that. It’s about transferring a passion for the Church."
Nathan Sasser recommended everyone get Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation by Herman Bavinck.
“This book is meaty. Write down the title and author and at sometime in your life when you feel like you’re getting tired of milk in your diet and want some meat, you’ll know where to go. This is the filet mignon of the theological menu. The title of this book is Reformed Dogmatics. …You can’t get much more unappealing than that. I vote we rename it The Symphony of the Saving Acts of God in Jesus Christ. This is your encyclopedia of the saving acts of God in Christ.”
MESSAGE | Jeff Purswell: “The Church and the Purpose of God”
“Google Earth takes what is familiar and transforms your perspective on it. I don’t just live in a house on a street. I occupy a particular place on a planet. I pray that tonight we will have a theological Google Earth moment; a perspective broadening exercise on the church.”
What is God’s perspective on your church? Where does He locate it in terms of His plans and purposes?
God’s eternal purpose is to dwell among a people He has made His own.
“In our world we are wired to focus on the superficial and temporal, but your church is more glorious, more precious, and more important than you think.”
Five images in the storyline of the Bible that each unveil a new dimension of God’s purpose for His people:
Image #1: A Garden
“The Bible in its structure tells the progressive story of God’s initiatives toward and interactions with His creation (in general) and His people (in particular).”
Safety – think of a lush, enclosed park.
Provision – God gave them plentiful food.
Relational Harmony – a one-flesh relationship of the most intimate kind.
Divine Companionship – this is the most important aspect. This is a sanctuary, a sacred place.
This is not just a garden. It’s a garden temple. The place where God and man meet.
“What does it tell us? Here in the foundational stage of redemptive history, we see a picture for God’s very purpose for mankind: unhindered, unshielded fellowship with God in a perfect, unspoiled environment. God present with His people. That’s the purpose of Creation. This is not a children’s story. This is what we were made for. You were not made for fame or popularity; you were made for God!”
“The Bible is not man’s search for God. The Bible is about God’s pursuit of man.”
Then, the harmony of Eden is shattered by the fall of man. When you get to Genesis 3 in your Bible reading, don’t yawn. You should be weeping. This was the purpose of Creation devastated.
But God reveals Himself to a moon-worshipping Mesopotamian named Abram. He promises a people will come from him. This people is forged into a nation to represent the people that God dwells with.
Image #2: A Dwelling
“And let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst.”
In addition to God’s law, Israel is promised God’s presence. This people will be marked not by a flag or national anthem but by God’s presence.
Israel builds a temple for God where He takes up residence in their very midst. It’s incredible. Never before did God live with His people.
“God is in their midst, but it is certainly not Eden. Access to God’s presence is not open to everyone. A holy God cannot dwell among a sinful people. There can be no temple without some provision for sin. So, God grants them the sacrificial system and animals are sacrificed over and over again because God’s people sin against Him over and over again. The people were familiar with the squealing of animal after animal as they were killed because of their sins. This repetition of sacrifice branded into the Israelites that even though they were God’s people they were in need of a mediator. They knew that for us to be with God, death has to take place. The shadow of Eden hangs over these dwellings. In the temple, God is near, but He is also transcendent.”
The story moves on. Soon after the glorious dedication of the temple by Solomon, seeds are sown for the nation’s destruction by Israel’s sin. And the very place of God’s dwelling is destroyed. The people of God are then vomited out of the land that was to be the dwelling place of God among man. They are exiled and taken into dirty pagan lands.
But it’s not over. Through the prophets God kindles sparks of hope:
“I will forgive you”
“Though your sins be like scarlet they shall be white as snow”
“Behold I am going to send my messenger. He will prepare the way before me and the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come into His temple.”
Image #3: A Person
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” John 1:14
The word “dwelt” literally means “tabernacled”. He set up a tent among us. God was once again dwelling with man.
At Jesus’ death, the rending of His flesh and spilling of His blood, the veil of the temple was torn in two and the access into God’s presence that was once shielded is now open, through the flesh and blood of this sacrifice.
Never before has God dwelt with His people more authentically, powerfully, or personally than in Jesus Christ.
Image #4: A People
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” 1 Corinthians 3:13-16
The Holy Spirit came, united us with Christ, and became the divine sanctuary where God’s presence dwells. God no longer dwells in a sanctuary built by His people, He dwells in His people.
“I will make my dwelling among them. I will be their God and they shall be my people.” 2 corinthians 6
“Corporately, the Christian community is the new divine sanctuary, the place where the living God most fully expresses His presence.” – Murray J. Harris
The church is that created entity which is nearest and dearest to God’s heart.
Being God’s people means something. Being God’s people demands separation from all that is unholy.
Holiness in the church is the standard because it is here that God’s holiness dwells. Your church, the very dwelling place of God on earth, with all our sin, weakness, and mistakes, is where God dwells.
Our existence as the people of God is pointing to something coming.
Image #5: A City
Here is the climax of everything that preceded it.
“And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” Revelation 21:22-23 ESV
“There’s a surprise at the end of the book. In the wake of the destruction of Israel, their hope was in a new temple. Salvation keeps unfolding and we get to the end of the Bible and what do we find? No temple. Why? Because the Lord God the Almighty is the temple. His immediate presence fills the city. The measure of the city is a cube. There’s only one other cube in the Bible—the Holy of Holies. The entire city will be the dwelling place of God. And there are no walls in the city because all people will have access to the immediacy and intensity of God like never before, an ever-increasing, ever-intensifying experience of God. And there is no altar in the city because the Lamb who was slain is at the center being worshipped.”
Mankind returns to paradise: face to face fellowship with God.
“Here is the astonishing truth: For the church of God, redeemed by Jesus Christ, this is a reality now. Through the cross God has demolished the impenetrable barrier between Him and ourselves. Through the Holy Spirit God has come and taken residence with us now. Here is your church: the place on earth where the living God most fully makes known His presence.
If you treasure God you will treasure the church, for that is where God uniquely dwells.
If you hunger for God, you will hunger for the church for that is where He makes Himself known.
If you love God, you will love the church for she is made of the ones for whom Christ died.
If you long for heaven, you’ll long for the church because that’s where we get a taste, in part, of what we will experience in fullness forever.”
My prayer for us is that this truth will invade every area of our lives.
Come Praise and Glorify (from The Gathering)
C.J. closed the night with a word to unbelievers:
“This conference exists not only to edify Christians, but to evangelize as well. And it would be unwise for me to assume, given the size of this conference, that there are not a number here tonight who are still enemies of God. Oh, we pray that this conference will date the conversions of many.”