9-18-16 BACK TO CHURCH SUNDAY
BACK TO CHURCH SUNDAY
September 18, 2016
It is so easy to hit the snooze button on Sunday morning when the alarm sounds at seven o'clock, roll over and go back to sleep. Maybe you had every intention of going to church, even had your clothes laid out, but your sleepy side wins and you satisfy your conscience with the thought, "Next Sunday."
Then again, why do we even go to church?
You go to school to get an education so you can make a living. You go to work to make money so you can pay the bills. You go to the gym for exercise and better health. You go to the mall to shop for clothes and the grocery store to buy food. You go to the lake to fish, the ball game to cheer, and golf course for fun.
But church? Why go there? Why get up early on one of your few days off? Why go through the hassle of getting yourself and the kids ready? Why go to the trouble of finding a parking space near the front and pew space near the back?
Why go to church?
If you've ever found yourself wondering about that little question, you're not alone. Surveys tell us that as many as 79% of Americans identify themselves as Christians, yet only 20% of Americans attend church regularly. I guess some people look at going to church as a bother - an unnecessary burden to be avoided whenever possible - a perfectly good hour wasted in order to keep a wife or a preacher or a parent off their backs. Others see it as sort of like punching a spiritual clock or earning brownie points with their Maker.
But to someone who understands church and what it's really all about, going to church can be the most spiritually fulfilling, inspiring thing you do all week.
The Book of Acts tells the story of how the church got started. Fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead, he sent the Holy Spirit to empower his disciples. They went out and began preaching about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus - the Good News. Millions of people listened, thousands believed. In our Epistle reading (Acts 2:41-47 NLT) you heard what life was like in the early church:
If we could pause and look intently at these verses, I think we'd finally begin to realize the real purpose of the church and why we meet together every week. Looking at the example of this very first group of Christians reveals five reasons why the church exists and why you should be a part of it.
The first thing that church brings into our lives is membership.
In other words, the church gives us a place to belong. The passage we read in Acts is absolutely flooded with fellowship. The Bible says, "All the believers devoted themselves... to fellowship, and to sharing in meals...and all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had." Jesus gave these new believers a sense of community, belonging and togetherness at a level that you cannot find anywhere else in the world.
All of us need a place to belong. All of us need to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. All of us need to experience family and fellowship. Vance Packard calls America "a nation of strangers", and studies show that 4 out of 10 people experience feeling of intense loneliness. Our American culture produces people who more closely identify with characters on a weekly TV series than with their next-door neighbors. Everywhere you look, there are signs that people are hungering for fellowship, community, and a sense of family. Beer commercials don't sell beer; they sell fellowship. Advertisers don't portray someone drinking alone; it's always in the context of enjoying each other's company. People long to be connected.
There are many analogies for a Christian disconnected from a church: a football player without a team; a soldier without a platoon; a tuba player without an orchestra; a sheep without a flock. But the most understandable and biblical pictures is that of a child without a family. That family is the church. God does not want his children growing up in isolation from each other, so he created a spiritual family on earth for us. A Christian without a church family is an orphan.
Secondly, church gives us an opportunity to magnify the God who made us.
Going back to Acts 2, the Bible says, "They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity, all the while praising God." (vs. 46-47 NLT).
In case no one has ever told you this, it's not all about you. It's about Jesus. Church gives us an opportunity to worship God the Father and his Son Jesus, though the power of the Holy Spirit. Worship is far more than what goes on in a brick building for one hour on Sunday mornings; worship is a way of life. But the truth is that most of us don't worship God on our own.
Life is busy and hectic, and we're so easily distracted. All of life should be worship, but usually it's not. Church gives us one hour a week of focused worship and attention on Jesus Christ. I've always like how David described worship. He said, "Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!" (Psalm 34:3 ESV).
What does it means to magnify something? One of the reasons I so wanted my Nikon camera was the 83X zoom lens it has. The first ad I saw for it showed a photo it took of the moon. And that camera really does magnify the moon! In other words, it made the moon look bigger and clearer to me as I gazed in awe at its radiance, its cavernous craters and majestic mountains. The same thing happens when we magnify, or worship, God. He becomes bigger in our hearts and lives as we stand in awe of his indescribable beauty, his inexpressible splendor and incomprehensible wonder.
If you let yourself be truly immersed in worship, you will feel God's presence in this place, and it will stay with you.
Third, church helps lead us to spiritual maturity.
Jumping back to Acts 2 again, the Bible says, "All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to prayer" (vs. 42 NLT). In other words, they were committed to learning more about Jesus, who was the focus of the apostles' teaching, and growing to become more like him.
We don't study the Bible so that we can sound smart in Sunday school; we study the Bible so that, through it, the Holy Spirit can change us and make us more like Christ. The Bible says, "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up" (1 Corinthians 8:1). God wants to develop in you the kind of character described in the beatitudes of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, the fruit of the Spirit and Paul's great love chapter.
The Holy Spirit uses a variety of methods to lead us into Christ-likeness. He often uses the circumstances of life - trials and tragedies - to shape our character. He uses worship - as Emerson once noted, "It behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming." He also uses other people - fellowshipping with people who are more spiritually mature than we are helps us to grow. He definitely uses prayer - the more time you spend talking with God, the more you start to sound like him yourself. But I still believe the tool he uses more than any other is God's Word. In fact, the Bible calls the Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit. As Rick Warren puts it, "The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to make you more like the Son of God".
When you come to church - into the fellowship of other spiritually growing people - and hear the Word of God being preached, it teaches you what it really means to be like Jesus, it challenges you to follow in his steps, and hopefully it inspires you and equips you to be able to do it. Church helps us grow to spiritual maturity.
Fourth, going to church prepares you for ministry.
Look at what else the church was doing in Acts 2: "A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders ... They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need" (vs. 43-45 NLT).
While the apostles were out healing the sick, blind and crippled, other Christians were helping the poor and looking out for one another. This points us to another great reason the church exists and you should be a part of it - ministry.
You were put on earth to make a contribution. You weren't created just to consume resources - to eat, drink, and take up space. God designed you to make a difference with your life. While many best-selling books offer advice on how to get the most out of life, that's not why God made you. You were created to add to life on earth. God wants you to give something back.
The Bible says, "God has made us what we are. In Christ Jesus, God made us to do good works, which God planned in advance for us to live our lives doing" (Ephesians 2:10 NCV). These "good works" are your ministry. God has a ministry for you and the best place to discover and start fulfilling your ministry is in his church.
We all have special gifts, abilities, experiences and interests that God has given us for ministry. If you love to cook, you can make meals for shut-ins. If you've got a heart for kids, you were probably made for children's ministry. Who better to help a recovering alcoholic than someone who fought that demon and found freedom? If you've been through the tragedy of divorce, God can use you to comfort others who are experiencing that same heartbreak. The possibilities are limitless. Unfortunately, so are the excuses.
So if you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, but you're not involved in any service or ministry, what excuses are you using? Abraham was old, Jacob was insecure, Leah was unattractive, Gideon was poor, David had an affair and all kinds of family trouble, Elijah was suicidal, Jeremiah was depressed, Naomi was a widow, the Samaritan woman had five failed marriages, Thomas had doubts, and Timothy was timid. Yet, God used each of them in his service. He'll use you, too, if you let him.
Finally, being a part of the church helps you to understand and carry out your life's mission.
Returning to Acts 2 one last time, the Bible says, "And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47 NLT). The church's mission is the same as Christ's mission - to seek and save the lost. When you get saved, Jesus adds you to his church and, therefore, his mission becomes your mission.
In church, we all have the same mission: to share the Good News of Jesus and his saving grace with a bent and broken world. You might fulfill your mission by sharing your testimony - the story of how you came to Jesus and what he's done in your life. You might carry out your mission by telling people the Good News - explaining the sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ and what that means to the world. Or maybe you will accomplish your mission by simply inviting people to church and letting them hear the Good News there.
The church in Jerusalem grew from 120 to 3000 in just one day. By Acts 4, that number had risen to 5000 and, by Acts 6 there were too many to count - all because they knew they had a mission and they set out to get it done.
Is anyone going to be in heaven because of you? Will anyone in heaven be able to say to you, "I want to thank you. I'm here because you cared enough to share the Good News with me". Imagine the joy of greeting people in heaven whom you helped get there. The eternal salvation of a single soul is more important than anything else you will ever achieve in life.
I hope that I've given you enough reasons to get up and go to church nest Sunday! The truth is church isn't just something you attend; it's something you are. When you understand what it means to not just go to church, but be the church, you discover your life's true purpose - you were made to be a member of his family, to magnify his glory, to mature in his image, to be a minister of his mercy, and a missionary of his grace.
Maybe you've been out of church for a while and you want to get back into it. Maybe you've been coming to church your whole life and you've missed what it's really all about. Or maybe you've never been born again into God's eternal family. God is reaching out to you today. He loves you wants you to be a vital part of His church. I hope and pray I'll see you again next Sunday, but even more importantly I hope and pray I'll see you in heaven one day! Amen.
(portions of this sermon were written by Scott Bayles, pastor of First Christian Church, Rosiclare, IL)
Photo is of Pastor Karen Fabian, Pianist/Church Secretary Randy Lowery, and Liturgist Linda Baldwin: