Monday, May 14, 2012

Sports fans around the world can usually rely on one fact: the home team wins more often than the visiting team, hence, we talk about having a “home field advantage.”  Sports Illustrated stated, “Home field advantage is no myth.  Indisputably, it exists...across all sports and at all levels, from Japanese baseball to Brazilian soccer to the NFL, the team hosting the game wins more often than not.”  Well, I have a suggestion: for the Christian, our “home field” refers to the particular local church where God has called and placed us.  Yes, I understand fully the theology that we don’t just go to church, but we are the church.  But, after nearly 40 years of pastoring what I’ve observed over and over is that IF WE DON’T GO TO CHURCH, THEN WE CAN’T BE THE CHURCH.

“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”  (Heb.10:24,25)

Jesus’s Mission Statement

In a pivotal encounter in the Gospel, Jesus said to Peter (Mt.16:18) “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  What more do you need? Jesus is telling every generation what his building project is!  It seems to me that the church has been battered a lot lately.  Andrew Sullivan wrote an article recently in Newsweek magazine, “Christianity In Crisis.”  It was your typical Holy Week “hit piece” by a supposed Christian author and political commentator.  In the article he makes the case, “Christianity has been destroyed by politics, priests, and get-rich evangelists” and that Christians should walk away from the church altogether and follow the teachings of Jesus individually.  Oh, boy, another person who has a better idea than Jesus!  Sure, it’s easy to chronicle all the problems around us, but what are you doing personally to make things better?  I’d suggest that we walk away from Mr. Sullivan, since his diagnosis betrays an abysmal lack of understanding of New Testament truth and ecclesiologyChurches are flawed, just like people, but it is God’s will that you and I be part of a local expression of the Body of Christ.  Phillip Jensen said, “The distinctively Christian gathering or assembly, that historically has come to be called ‘church’, is made up of those whom God has saved and redeemed in Christ, and who now in repentance and trust gather around him to listen to his word, so that they may persevere and grow in holiness and righteousness.”

Watch Your Manners!

Paul warned “not forsaking (neglecting) the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some.”  We’re not dealing with anything new, but it is definitely a spiritual issue.  One author recently stated that there is an epidemic of American Christians of floating, leaving, or switching churches, that carries with it the mindset of a consumer, or at least an independent spirit.  The simple truth that Paul emphasizes here is that faith in Jesus Christ will ultimately lead to functioning in a local church.  Hence, he writes, “let us draw near”...“let us hold fast”...“let us consider how to stir up one another.”   One of our pastors told me about two women in his church, both in their mid-30's.  They recently went to work at a Christian bookstore in town, exposing them to a large swatch of the religious community in their city.  One pastor was talking to them, and asking them where they went to church.  They told him that they had been going to The Door for the last 18 years.  He was very surprised to see people committed to the same church for that long period of time, especially coming from that age demographic. 

Necessary Steadfastness

I love the testimony of the Colossian church in (Col.2:5) where Paul told them, “For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ.” They displayed the discipline of staying put in God’s place for your life.  It is very doubtful that without steadfastness to God, our spouse, our church, our work, our vision, that we can enjoy the fullness of human life and God’s blessing.  There are those who would argue, “I don’t have to go to church to be saved.”  Exactly....just like you don’t need to bathe to keep on living, but, trust me, it will affect you and others!  There was a brochure entitled “Why I Never Take A Bath” where someone had listed reasons for avoiding bathtubs and showers.  It included things like:

  1. I was forced to bathe as a child.
  2. People who bathe are hypocrites; they think they’re cleaner than others.
  3. There are so many different kinds of soap, I can’t decide which is best.
  4. It’s boring.
  5. I wash only on special occasions, like Christmas and Easter.
  6. The soap makers are only after your money.
  7. The last time I bathed, someone was rude to me.
  8. I’m too dirty to get clean; I’d clog up the drain.
  9. I can watch other people bathing on television.
  10. I’ll bathe only when I find a bathroom exactly right for me.
  11. I can bathe at the golf course.
  12. The bathroom is never the right temperature, and I don’t like the sound of the plumbing.
I think you can see my point.  The Lord Jesus established His church to carry on His work until He comes again.  It’s not perfect, but it has changed the world!  This is the lost blessing of constancy.  It is what David promised when he said, Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God.  They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.” (Ps.92:13,14)

Enduring Satisfaction

OK, I’ll admit it that it touched a nerve in me!  Church leaders in England were discussing how they could stop the steady decline in their churches, and the best they could come up with was shorter services.  After all they said, church services already have to compete with shopping, lying in bed, or taking the day off.  So, the idea of giving God any meaningful time is not very appealing in today’s society.  They were Anglicans, and their conclusion to reach people was shorter services, no longer than 50 minutes in their entirety.  The Vatican took it even a step further.  They told their priests to keep their sermons under 8 minutes, because, on top of everything else, people’s attention spans are not what they used to be. 

My advice, for what it’s worth, is not for shorter services (or longer), but...better services! More Jesus-centered, more faith-filled, more Word-saturated, more praise-uplifting services!  We need to echo David’s sentiments about the house of God. (Ps.26:8) “I love your sanctuary, Lord, the place where your glorious presence dwells.” (Ps.36:8) “They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights.” Then there’s (Ps.65:4) “Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple!

Ministry Motivation & Methods

Here’s the exciting challenge before us, vs.24, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.” (NLT) Let’s give some thought and consider how we can spur one another to grow in love and good works.  This makes plenty of room for creativity, but there are two simple ways here for every Christian to be involved in meaningful ministry.  First, is the ministry of showing up!  Yes, as simple as that, if you make assembling together a priority, it becomes a real blessing to others.  Over the years I’ve learned that for people just to make it to church sometimes is a huge accomplishment.  The second opportunity is the ministry of encouragement, vs.25b, “but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  This introduces the edification factor to our coming together.  (1Cor.14:26) “How is it then, brethren?  Whenever you come together...let all things be done for edification.”  The word means “to build up” but we can simplify that we’re talking about friendliness.  I was reading an interesting study from the White House Office of Consumer Affairs (I’m sure you all have a subscription).  It found that 96% of unhappy customers never complain about rude or unfriendly treatment, but 90% of those unhappy persons will not return to that place.  Furthermore, each one of those unhappy persons will tell 9 other people about the lack of friendliness and courteousness, and 13% will tell more than 20 other people!  A later study discovered that the number one reason why individuals do not return to a particular establishment is an indifferent, unfriendly employee attitude.  Work on your attitude and the church will be blessed; because one unfriendly saint can do a whole lot of damage. 

A Churchgoer wrote a letter to the editor of the newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to church every Sunday.  “I’ve gone for 30 years now,” he wrote, “and in that time I have heard something like 3,000 sermons.  But for the life of me, I can’t remember a single one of them.  So, I think I’m wasting my time and the pastors are wasting theirs by giving sermons at all.”  This started a controversy in the “Letters to the Editor” column, which went on for weeks until someone wrote this clincher:

“I’ve been married for 30 years now.  In that time my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals.  But for the life of    men, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals.  But I do know this: they all nourished me    and gave me the strength I needed to do my work.  If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be    physically dead today.  Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead    today!”

Where’s Waldo?

Our webmaster forwarded me an email from a young man who attended our church in the 1970's.  Listen to what he said: “Pastor, you may not remember me.  My name is Walter Nichols.  It used to be Whitehead, and you always called me Waldo.  I remember the church doing outdoor concerts in the park.  Just to let you know, I am married to a wonderful woman, and have four wonderful boys.....There is not a day that goes by that I have not thought about you or the church that I used to go to.  Just thought I would say hello, and may God richly bless you. Walter (Waldo).”  That really floored me.  The grace of God through the ministry of the Gospel and the Church had made a divine deposit in his life.  It also convicted me to think back 30+ years and wonder, “Lord, I hope I was a good testimony and friendly towards Waldo!”  I think we should realize that there are a lot of “Waldos” in every city and place, and the Church is God’s vehicle to touching their lives.

When we honor God and one another by coming together faithfully on our home court, it aligns the internal gyroscopes of our soul with God.  One of the brethren who heard this message put it the best, when he told me that our “home field advantage” means that the church is home for all of us! I couldn’t say it any better!

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