As most of you know I’m a “P.K.” — a P.reacher’s K.id.
Any other P.K.’s here today?
I’m sure you’ll agree that one thing we P.K’s have in common is that as kids we were constantly going to church. I mean, a P.K. spends more time at church functions than anything else.
To give you an idea as to HOW much here’s a rough schedule of MY church attendance as a kid. Like everyone else, we went to church Sunday mornings—but as the oldest child Dad needed my help setting up so he took me to BOTH services—which means I was in church at 8AM and didn’t get home until nearly 1PM.
But that’s not all.
We had youth choir practice Sunday afternoons at 4:30—and then discipleship training at 5:30 and then an entire additional worship service at 7PM. Sometimes there were church fellowships after the Sunday night service.
But that’s not all.
We went to church on Wednesday nights for prayer meeting and something called Royal Ambassadors—sort of a Baptist version of Boy Scouts. We were called “R.A.’s” for short.
When I got older I joined the Adult choir and it rehearsed after R.A.’s.
But that’s not all.
We spent a lot of holidays like the Fourth of July at church. We even welcomed the new year together as a church with what we called a “Watch Night Service.” We would gather in the church building for a pancake supper. Then there would be group games and a worship service right as the ball fell. There was Thursday night visitation and two-week revivals, and Vacation Bible School. I mean, I could go on and on because when I was a kid we were ALWAYS going to church. I’m reminded of something Will Rogers said, “We spend all this tax money building roads and the Baptists wear them out going to church meetings.”
Well, I loved my church family so I didn’t mind all this church attendance—until I got about six years old and realized the Sunday night service was keeping me from watching The Wonderful World of Disney on TV. I HATED that I missed that show every week—so I wrote Walt Disney himself a letter explaining my situation asking if he could put the show on another night. One of his secretaries wrote back on cool Mickey Mouse stationery and basically said, “I’m glad you like our show—but we can’t change the broadcast time. P.S. If you wait about 30 years they will invent VCRs and you can record it to watch later.”
All kidding aside, I remember asking my dad shortly after I got the letter from Disney —“Why DO we have to go to church so much?” I bring all this up because our neighbors may ask you the same sort of thing—questions like: “Why don’t you sleep in on Sunday’s like everybody else?” “Why can’t your kid play soccer games or go on swim meets on Sunday mornings?” “Why do you go to church?”
To help prepare ourselves to answer this question let’s look at the Bible’s description of the first church goers. I want to read Acts 2:38-47 where Luke tells us about the church in Jerusalem—and as I read you’ll see that going to church all the time isn’t something we invented. The first Christians gathered EVERY DAY! If you are able, please stand in respect for God’s Word as it is read. We’re picking up at the tail end of Peter’s Pentecost sermon where he says,
38 – “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
39 – The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
40 – With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”
41 – Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
42 – They [this first church] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
43 – Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.
44 – All the believers were together and had everything in common.
45 – They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
46 – Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,
47 – praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Okay—with the experience of these first Christians in mind, as well as our own busy church life here at Redland, how would we answer this question?
Why do we go to church? I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but if my neighbor asked I might say something like, “Sit down—let me tell you why my church is so important to me.”
(1) First, I go there to MAKE FRIENDS.
Tell them that the church is not a building—it’s people. It’s not a place we go—it’s people we go to be with—and the people that make up a church tend to be our closest, dearest—BEST friends.
Your neighbor will probably listen to you at this point because making friends is something everyone is interested in. I mean all of us NEED friends. As God put it in the beginning of His book, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We long for friends—close friends—good friends. And this longing is backed up by scientific studies.
According to an article in SLATE MAGAZINE,
- Studies of elderly people in social isolation concluded that those people WITHOUT adequate social interaction were twice as likely to die early.
- The increased mortality risk from loneliness is comparable to that of smoking and twice as dangerous as obesity.
- Social isolation impairs immune function and boosts inflammation, which can lead to arthritis, type II diabetes, and heart disease.
These and other studies show that all people have what you might call a “minimum daily requirement” of FRIENDSHIP. God did not design us to live relationally-disconnected lives. NO—as someone once put it, “God wired us with a desire to know and be known, to love and be loved, to serve and be served.”
Well, as I said the BEST place to get this need met—the best place to find the BEST friends is at church and there are several reasons this is true but I’ll mention only two.
a. First, in the church we are LOVED and ACCEPTED UNCONDITIONALLY.
This is a big deal because in most secular people groups ACCEPTANCE is based on what you do or don’t do. But in a church family acceptance is not based on what we do—or what we have.
No, it is founded on who we are—priceless beings for whom Jesus Christ died. A healthy church is a place where you can find Romans 15:7 lived out because it’s a place where people, “Accept one another, just as Christ accepted you.” And—how did our Lord do that? How did Jesus accept us? He did so UNCONDITIONALLY. He opened His arms to us and LOVED us even while we were UNLOVELY—and church family members who truly make Christ Lord do the same for each other.
This is wonderful because we all have this inner longing to be accepted as we are—loved in spite of our character flaws, shortcomings, insecurities, and immaturity. We need to know that someone accepts us because they WANT to, not because they HAVE to. We REQUIRE unconditional love. Understand—I’m not saying we need to ignore each other’s sinful actions, but we need to love sinners before we can help restore them and move them along to spiritual growth. David Smith defines friendship in this way, “A friend is one who knows you as you are, understands where you’ve been, accepts who you’ve become and STILL gently invites you to grow [in Christlikeness].” The fact is we all need people who won’t STOP loving us—when we START doing bad things.
The Bible teaches us that Jesus was scandalously generous in distributing this caliber of love. Wherever He went people sensed the unconditional love of God. And when Christians obey Jesus’ command it is the same in the church. This is because maturing believers realize that, as Patrick Morely says, “The height of our love for GOD will never exceed the depth of our love for ONE ANOTHER.”
Gary Ingrid tells the story of some parents on the East Coast who got a telephone call from their son during the Korean war. He said he was on his way home and was in San Francisco. They were thrilled, because they had not heard from him in many months. He said, Mom, “I just wanted you to know that I’m bringing a buddy home with me. He got hurt pretty bad, and he only has one eye, one arm, and one leg. I’d sure like to let him live with us.” “Sure, son,” his mother replied. “He sounds like a brave man. We can find a room for him for a while.” Her son said, “Mom, you don’t understand. I want him to come to live with us.” “Well okay,” she finally said. “We could try it for six months or so.” But her son said, “No mom, I want him to stay with us. He needs us. He’s only got one eye, one arm, and one leg. He’s really in bad shape.”
By now his mother had lost her patience. She said, “Son, you’re being unrealistic about this. You’re emotional because you have been in a war. That boy will be a drag on you and a constant problem for all of us. Be reasonable.” When she said this the phone clicked dead and the next day, the parents got a telegram telling them their son had committed suicide—apparently shortly after he hung up the phone. When his body arrived, his parents looked down with unspeakable sorrow on the corpse of their son…who had one eye, one arm and one leg. He was the one who had been horribly wounded and disfigured in battle and he yearned to know that he was unconditionally loved in spite of it.
Listen, all people are wounded by sin—broken and scarred—and what they need is to be accepted and loved. They need people who won’t give up on them.
b. Here’s another reason you find the best friends at church. Church is a place where people share burdens.
You see one way we show our unconditional LOVE is when we HELP each other unconditionally by putting our love into action. Look at Acts 4:34-35, “There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them—brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” In a church family we find people like these Christians in Jerusalem—believers who obey Galatians 6:2 where it says, “…bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
The truth is we were not meant to deal with the inevitable problems of life ALONE. This is one reason God gave us a spiritual family. He gave us Christian brothers and sisters to whom we can bring our struggles, knowing they will stop what they are doing to help us when we need it.
When we were in Puerto Rico basking in the sunshine—you guys got 11 inches of snow. As I was enjoying wearing shorts and flip flops I worried about Sue. I wondered, how would my wife dig herself out of all that snow? When I called to talk to her about it, Sue told me that Stephen and Sunhee Ahn and their kids came to help. I’m sure they had their own driveway to dig out of—but they made Sue’s snow burden their own!
At Jack Powell’s funeral I shared a note from Verk Eubanks. Verk said that one day he decided to paint his house. But he had only gotten started when he slipped and fell off the ladder breaking his wrist. The next morning he heard something outside and looked out the window to see Jack Powell painting his house. Jack finished the job—he made Verk’s painting burdens—his own. I could go on and on—but let’s have a show of hands. How many of you have had a Christian brother or sister help bear your burdens in some way?
Now—why is this so? Why do you tend to find people at church who will sacrifice to meet your needs? It’s because each of us here have had our burdens lightened by the same Savior. Our sins have been washed away by the same blood. We all have the same Lord Who has laid down His life for us—and this inspires us to do the same for each other. Since we have all experienced God’s grace, it makes it possible for us to experience true koinonia—true friendship—and, as I have said in the past, when we do it results in two special kinds of SHARING. First, we share some THING with someone—something tangible—like Jack sharing the painting job with Verk. We help each other with concrete needs like the Christians in the early church did when they, “sold their possessions and gave to anyone as they had need.” But second, we also share something WITH someone. When fellow Christians go through tough times, we hurt WITH them. We rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Philip Yancey writes,
“The church is a place where we can bring our pain, for it was founded by One Whose body was broken for us, in order to give us life.” Do you remember Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11:28? He said, “Come to Me all who are weary and over-burdened and I will give you rest.”
Well a church is a place where people find this kind of rest because they share their life’s burdens with other Christians who love them in this Christlike manner. I mean, it’s not just a cliché. A church family really is a place where burdens are divided and joys multiplied. For these and other reasons we go to church to make friends.
But you can tell your questioning neighbor a second reason you go to church. You can say,
(2) I go there to MAKE PROGRESS.
In other words, it’s a place you and I go to grow and mature. One of the things we need to grow—to make progress toward maturity—is other people to cheer us on. And a healthy church is that kind of place.
I’m reminded of a PEANUTS strip where Linus has just written a comic strip of his own, and he wanted his big sister Lucy’s opinion. In the first frame, he tentatively hands Lucy his comic strip and says, “Lucy, would you read this and tell me if you think it is funny?” In the next frame, you see Lucy patting her foot, and a big grin comes across her face. She obviously loves the strip. She looks at Linus and says, “Linus, who wrote this?” Linus with his chest heaved out and a great big grin says, “I did!” In the next frame, you see Lucy wadding it up, throwing it to the side and saying, “Well, then, I don’t think it’s very funny.” In the final frame, Linus picks up his now-wrinkled comic strip, throws his blanket over his shoulder, looks at Lucy and says, “Big sisters are the crab grass in the lawn of life.” We chuckle—but we all know the pain of being on the receiving end of the Lucy’s of the world. We know how bad DISCOURAGEMENT feels. We’re very familiar with it. I mean, this world is full of “crab grass people.”
So, to counter this—we need a regular dose of the antidote for discouragement. We need a place—where we can find people who will ENCOURAGE us and the best place to find that is in a church. This is because in a healthy church there are people who know the importance of obeying the command of Hebrews 10:24 where it says, “Let us think of one another and how we can ENCOURAGE one another to love and do good deeds.”
In Greek the word for encouragement here is “paraklesis.” It is used more than a hundred times in the New Testament, so it is an important word for us to understand. It literally means, “called alongside to help.” That’s what growing believers do for each other. They come along side and help—with encouraging words and actions.
In a church we find people who are FOR us—people who believe in our God-given potential.
You could say that Christians are “bleacher people” because they cheer each other on in life.
But if we are to reach our God-given potential—if we are to make progress—we need MORE than ENCOURAGEMENT. We also need ADMONISHMENT at times. There are times when we need a brother or sister to LOVINGLY CORRECT US when we sin and stray from our God-given potential. Sometimes people think doing the “loving thing” means doing what the person I love would want me to do. This is of course, not love. No—being FOR someone is a deeper quality of friendship than just wanting to spare them pain. If I am really FOR a person, then I am willing to risk saying painful things, if pain is the only way to bring growth. True love is ready to warn, reprove, confront or admonish when it is needed. This is the kind of friends you find in a healthy church family—friends who keep you on the cutting edge of personal growth, by encouraging your progress—AND by being willing to speak the truth to you in love even when it means a confrontation. As Romans 15:14 says, if we have real Christian character and experience we are, “…capable of keeping one another on the right road.”
The truth is we need a community that loves like this. You know, scientists have studied factories and found that when workers are aware they’re being watched, the quality and quantity of their output goes up. In a healthy church family we know we have friends who love us enough to watch like this—and to correct us when we need correcting. So—to summarize—we go to church because it’s the best place to make friends—and the kinds of friends that help us make progress in life. But there’s a third reason. You can tell your neighbor,
(3) I go there to MAKE a DIFFERENCE.
The church has always been a group of people who work together to make this world a better place. As we see in today’s text, the believers who made up the first church sold their property in order to care for the needy. And down through the centuries, churches have done that kind of thing—made a real difference by helping hurting people in tangible ways. Christian churches founded the first hospitals; they sent groups into prisons to minister to inmates. They started the first orphanages. Today healthy churches are on the front lines of crisis—providing food and shelter and clothing for people impacted by earthquakes and forest fires and floods and storms.
A healthy church is a group of people who work together to make a difference in this falling world. The church has stood up against injustice—fighting for the sanctity of all human life—from womb to tomb. They have also stood with people facing oppression because of the color of their skin.
The movie 42 tells the story of the famous Jackie Robinson. In one scene Branch Rickey is looking to put Robinson, on the Dodgers roster and he says to one of his assistants, “I’m a Methodist, he’s a Methodist and God’s a Methodist, let’s go get him.” But later on in the film when Robinson is playing for the Dodgers, the Philadelphia Phillies decide to boycott a game because of Robinson. So, Branch Rickey calls Herb, the owner of the Philadelphia Phillies, and he says: “Herb, do you think God likes baseball?” “Well, you’re going to meet Him someday and when He asks you why you forfeited that game to the Dodgers—the fact that you didn’t want to play because Jackie Robinson was black will be viewed as a very inadequate response.” Branch Rickey was one person, but in that context he was the voice of the church arguing for justice in the face of oppression. That’s what the church has done and will do until the return of Christ. Together we seek to help the hurting, house the homeless, feed the poor and bind up the wounds of those who have been oppressed.
But—your neighbor probably knows the church isn’t the only group out there doing that kind of thing—so why go to church to do that? Here’s why. The church doesn’t just focus on the problems of this world—the church helps people prepare for the next world. The church is the only group making a difference that will last into all eternity. We not only help people with their physical needs—we help them with their spiritual needs. The church is the only institution in our society dealing with the ultimate issues of life, death, eternity, judgment, forgiveness.
It’s important to deal with world hunger, and to fight the injustice of racism and slavery. It’s important to care for people with Ebola and AIDS. But if you ONLY deal with that—if you don’t deal with what comes AFTER life ends, what’s the point?
Years ago I read a great little fantasy novel called, Watership Down. Has anyone else read it?
It’s about a group of wild rabbits. They learn that their warren is going to be destroyed by a bulldozer, and a subdivision is going to be built where they live. And one of the rabbits is kind of a “Moses” because he leads a group of his friends to find a new home—a place called Watership Down—their Promised Land. In their journey to find their new home they have lots of adventures.
One involves a day they meet a group of rabbits like they’ve never seen before. These rabbits are bigger and fatter. They have longer hair. They look very happy. They never seem to forage for food. They never work. So, our little rabbits move in with them and begin to discuss life. They say, “What do you eat? You don’t forage.” They say, “We eat pellets. When we come out of our hole we find a little ceramic dish, and in that dish are pellets. You just eat the pellets and chew your cud. It’s a marvelous life. You grow fatter, and your hair grows longer.” So, the group of rabbits on the pilgrimage settle in with these other rabbits for a while. They eat pellets and they grow heavier, and they decide this is a marvelous place to live. One day the Moses rabbit notices that the biggest, fattest, longest-haired rabbit is gone. And he says, “Where has old Fuzzy gone?” The other rabbits say, “We don’t know. Every once in a while, one of us disappears, but we don’t ask questions about it. They just are gone.” Moses doesn’t like that answer so he goes out and finds a place where there’s a twig bent over to the ground. Hanging from the twig is a wire with kind of a little lasso on it. He studies it for a while and eventually kicks some grass into it. As soon as he kicks grass into it, it sets off the snare. He realizes it’s a trap and that this is where old Fuzzy has gone. Fuzzy is now the main part of some farmer’s stew. So, he goes to the other rabbits and says, “Don’t you understand what happens when a rabbit disappears?” And they say, “We know—but we don’t like to think about it. We just eat our pellets.”
Well you and I live in a society that embraces that kind of thinking. We know death is coming.
We buy our new homes and cars—we go on cruises and enjoy the tasty “pellets” of this world—but we don’t want to talk about the fact that one day our lives will end. I go to church because it deals with this enemy that faces us all. The church reminds us that eternity is out there. Only the church—commissioned by Gods’ only Son—is focused on helping people prepare for eternity.
Only the church makes an ETERNAL difference.
I think this would be a perfect time to invite your neighbor to come to your church—to see for himself or herself. I would tell MY neighbors—Redland is not perfect. No church is. But I can tell you from experience that this is a great place to find GREAT friends! And I know I speak for every Redland family member when I say we would love to welcome you. As we get ready to sing our hymn of invitation—consider becoming a part of our church family. If you don’t have a church home—we’d love to be yours. And—if you are not a Christian then hear this. John’s gospel says, Jesus is the “Friend of sinners!” And that “Greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends.” That is just what Jesus Christ has done for you. Won’t you respond by committing your life to Him as Lord and Savior this morning? Any decision you have to make public, we invite you to do so now as we stand and sing.