Sunday, November 1, 2009
Be the Church - Week 1 Assembly Required
Why do you go to church?
Why do people stop going to church?
On a scale of 1 - 10 how important is church attendance?
What is the primary reason for us to gather together as a church?
In May of 2009 Parade Magazine [link] conducted a survey of over 1000 people asking questions about their religious beliefs.
Of the 1000 respondents 45% stated that they were religious. Out of that group - 30% responded that they attend service once or more a week - 20% stated they attend once a month or a few times a year and 50% responded as rarely or never attending at all.
In Matthew 16 Jesus stated that He would build His church upon the foundation of Himself and in Acts 1:15 we see the early church led by Peter, about 120, praying to Jesus, singing to Jesus, gathered together to hear the word of God preached. In Acts 2:41 we see 3000 people added to the church, added to the kingdom of Jesus.
Over the next six weeks we will look at what it means to "Be the Church."
What should our thinking look like?
What should our prayer life look like?
What should our giving look like?
What should our focus be and what should our mission be as the church?
Today however, our focus will be on answering the question: "How important is it that the church assemble today?"
Let's begin with looking at some common reasons as to why people don't regularly attend church.
1. Don't like organized religion - this is funny as I don't like disorganized religion.
2. Takes too much time or isn't convenient for me. Both of these are self-centered and are what Eugene Peterson refers to as the new trinity of my holy feelings, my holy needs, and my holy wants.
3. Not commanded and no longer serves a purpose. People who believe this say things like....I can worship God anywhere, I can read and learn about God on my own, I can serve God and give anywhere, and you can and you should. The problem with these statements is that they assume the primary purpose of church attendance is to worship God, that church is a place to give money, or that church is the vehicle for learning and service.
4. Pride - I don't need church, I don't need other people, I am fine.
5. Still others would say:
-God does not exist, if He does exist He is impersonal, distant, and cold
-The gospel is foolish - A virgin with a baby? God become a man? Really?
-Church is a waste of time
Is assembly of the church important? Critical? Even commanded?
What's the answer? Where does the truth lie?
There are two promises found in this passage (Hebrews 10:19-21) 1. God has made a way through the blood of Jesus and 2. God has given us a great high priest in Jesus.
God does exist. God is very personal and He knows all and sees all including all the things we have done against Him in thought, word, deed, and inaction.
Because God is holy, righteous, and just all sins, all injustices, all crimes must be paid for or punished in order to make things right.
Romans 6:23 states that the payment for such crimes against God is death. Someone or something must die. Hebrews 9:22 states that under the law without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.
"Under the law" meaning the Old Testament where God established His laws, His order, the detailed instructions for sacrifices for sin.
Leviticus 16 outlines the steps necessary for the day of atonement, the one day where a sacrifice was made for the people for the sins they had committed the previous year. The day of atonement was the one day the high priest would enter into the temple and enter through the curtain into the Most Holy Place to be before God. Before doing so the high priest had to cleanse himself through bathing, had to put on the special, holy garments, and had to offer a blood sacrifice for himself. Once purified the high priest would enter into the Most Holy Place through the curtain and stand before the mercy seat, before the Ark of the Covenant, and before God to make a blood sacrifice for the people's sins. So serious was this task that the priest would tie a rope around his waist so that if he did anything wrong in the presence of God ans was struck dead his body could be pulled out.
There is only one problem with this though...Hebrews 10:3-4 states that our sacrifices are imperfect, that they never take away our sins, and in fact act as a reminder over and over and over again of our sins and of our need for a savior.
Hebrews 10:19-21 says that Jesus is our one time, perfect sacrifice for all of our sins, Hebrews 10:12. Jesus lived without sin, a perfect life and died in our place for our sins so that we could be forever reconciled to God. Upon completion Jesus took His seat of prominence at the right hand of the Father and He sits resting upon His finished work until the appointed time of His return. By the blood of Jesus we can confidently go before God and by His body the curtain that once separated man and God has been ripped in two (Matthew 27:51). What once was a sixty foot, foot thick boundary between us and God has been forever removed by the new and living way, the flesh of Jesus. Jesus is also our great high priest.
Based on these two promises - 1. God has made a way through the blood of Jesus. and 2. God has given us a great high priest in Jesus. We have three commands to follow:
1. Hebrews 10:22 Draw near to God.
Some will say....God does not exist and if He does He is distant, cold, impersonal.
James 4:8 says "draw near to God and He will draw near to you."
The writer of Hebrews says we draw near to God with:
- a "sincere heart - this means undivided allegiance to Jesus.
-with "full assurance of faith" - full trust in Jesus in all areas of our lives including our
marriages, our children, jobs, money, time, possessions
-with "hearts sprinkled"- free from the guilt of past sins
-with "bodies washed"- not externally like the priest but internally cleansed by the blood of
Jesus....not just a showing on the outside but through regeneration of the Holy Spirit.
2. Hebrews 10:23 Hold Fast
Some will say....the gospel if foolish.
1 Corinthians 1:18 says that "the message of the cross is foolish to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." Don't give up, don't give in, hold fast, preserve, keep your faith.
So what about our question? How important is it that the church assemble today? Is it critical? Is it commanded?
3. Hebrews 10:24-25 commands that we stir one another up and continue to meet together.
If your answer to the question of "What is the primary purpose of church attendance?" was to worship God, to serve God, to learn about God or to give to God you would be wrong. We do worship and serve God in church and we do learn about and give to God in church but the primary reason we gather is found in Hebrews 10:24-25 and that is to stir one another up.
Hebrews 10:24 says we are to stir one another, to challenge each other, to get in each other's grill that when we assemble we are to think about ways to spur one another on in our faith.
When was the last time someone lovingly called you to the carpet for your faith? When was the last time a brother or sister challenged you, stirred you up about your walk with Jesus?
"This is too legalistic" or "this is none of my business" you might be thinking...really? We are to be accountable to one another and we are commanded to do this.
Hebrews 10:24 says "let us consider" let us think about, come up with ways to push each other over the finish line. Think in terms of a campfire that is dying down. You can still see the hot embers inside but the fire isn't putting off much heat or much light. All it takes is a little fuel and a few pokes and WHOOSH! You have a roaring fire!
Hebrews 10:25 says don't neglect or abandon meeting together. Use this time to encourage or to give courage to one another as each day that passes is one day closer to the return of the King.
Do you see evidences that the end is near? Evidences pointing to Christ's return? Then don't neglect meeting as this should drive you closer together.
Assembling together as the church is commanded, Hebrews 10:25, by scripture and it is critical to our spiritual health.
Would God have you increase your frequency of meeting with other Christians? Is so...how? Worship, Bible Fellowship, Small Groups?
Is there someone God would have you stir up? How? Note? Phone call? Visit? Email?
Will you do it?