Hey, Sunday morning I was reminded of something I had been teaching for many years, and for those of you who lay in bed or sit around watching TV instead of going to church, or joining a “home group,” or “Life Group,” or whatever name you want to put on it, pay a huge price. In fact, it goes beyond that. You are deluding yourself in thinking that you are still a member of “The Church.” Does that sound too harsh? Well, I’m sorry if that upsets your shopping cart, but it is the truth.
If you do not absolutely relish the company of our Lord’s Church now, desire to be with Him and His people, then you will never be comfortable in heaven — because that is where you will spend all eternity: In the company of the Holy One who made us — and the family He has called us to live with.
I realize that you might not want to spend time with your brothers and sister, now, but do you believe that somehow, mysteriously, you will not have that problem after you die? Do you really believe that you will find salvation from your isolation and independence, once you visit the grave? That it will finally come with death (and then naturally heaven!)? Well, as a man of God said centuries ago, “There is no sanctification in the grave!” (check out Hebrews 9:27).
Do you really believe that heaven is going to change all that? Why are you putting all of your hope in some future redemption when Scriptures clearly tell us, “Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation!” (II Corinthians 6:2) Do you really think that even though you distance yourself from other believers, now, that once you get to heaven everything will be all set? Aren’t you forgetting that Satan allowed pride, selfishness, and deceit to rule his life, even though he had lived in heaven since the day he was first made! Heaven can’t take away all of your sin and isolation, only Jesus can do that!
I love what Elton Trueblood, the author of, “The Company of the Committed,” wrote:
“It is hard to exaggerate the degree to which the modern Church seems irrelevant to modern man. The Church is looked upon as something to be neither seriously fought for nor seriously defended. A church building is welcomed, partly because it provides such a nice place for a family wedding; and, after all, most families expect weddings, sooner or later. A church is also a good place to send the children on Sunday morning — they might learn something helpful, and certainly the experience of being sent will do them no harm. The point is that such conceptions are wholly consistent with the idea that the Church has only marginal relevance. We do not expect, for the most part, to find the gospel centered in a burning conviction which will make men and women change occupations, go to the end of the earth, alter the practices of governments, redirect culture, and remake civilization.”
Trueblood wrote those words back in 1961. But his arguments still seem to ring true. I believe we need to create a task force of committed men and women who truly care for God, for His Church, and for other people! I hold that a “valiant band for Christ” (as Dr. Trueblood calls it) could revitalize the Church and transform society, as well. This is what happened in the early days of the church:
“They devoted themselves to the Apostles‟ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and the Apostles did many wonders and miraculous sign. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone, as he had need. 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, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47)
I know you had probably read those verse many times before, but did you notice the body life? That is something all of us need to capture. It doesn’t call for communes or any special circumstances. The only requirement is a commitment to experience all that the Lord has for us.
I belong to a group that understands this. We have discovered the joy and excitement of living within the family that our Father created. We are attempting to live out a lifestyle that was patterned by that early church. Go ahead and think about those early believers: 3,120 brand new believers living out such a radical life together! They devoted themselves. (Catch the intensity of that). Hey! There were no different than you. They were real people. They still had jobs to hold down, still had to clean their homes, wipe the babies’ noses, pay the bills and do everything that normal people have to do. However, they wanted to be together, so they got together. They began living by a new set of priorities.
They devoted themselves to each other. They loved being together for the joy of being together. They probably figured there was no sense drawing their stimuli from non-Christians who have nothing to contribute, when they could be absorbing more and more of the life of Christ from within their Christian friends.
I am not talking about a deliberate cut-off from the world to be exclusive. Their fellowship was the strong base from which they reached out to others. The result was that the Lord “added to their numbers daily those who were being saved.” Obviously, there is far more power for evangelism in this close-knit community than we find today. Although we say it is to win them for Christ, we have diluted our spirits by too much exposure to the world.
I go into this far deeper in a study I wrote many years ago, entitled, “Dust and Stars,” but this morning I am trying to get you to understand that we can no longer ignore that we are expected to place ourselves deeply within a living, functioning local body and begin to give and take at deep levels. No, not just going to our Sunday Meeetin’ places. But beyond that. We must place ourselves deeply into the life of other believers. We must draw our strength from them. Allow them to mold our lives — as we mold their lives!
If it is more important to us to run off every weekend to vacation, or stay home on Sundays to catch a church by television (or I Love Lucy, reruns), we pay a terrible price! If we go church hopping or even show up but never interact with anyone, and think you have done it, then we are fooling ourselves, and are again, going to pay a terrible price.
Yes, I realize you need time away from it all, but if it becomes your habit, your fellow believers will move into each other, close the gap. They will learn to get along without you. It’s like during heavy snow storms and and Government offices declare, “’Non-Essential‘ personnel do not need to come in.” I always feel sorry for them. How would it feel to considered, “Non-Essential? Sure, they get a day or two off. But to be referred to as “Non-Essential,” can’t make you too good about yourself. Besides, why do tax payers have to pay your wages if you are “Non-Essential?”
Friends, I can assure you from my personal experience, there is no substitute for constant, faithful exposure to your local family of God. We need to develop the habit of faithful “church-attendance,” because it is a righteous habit, and by going, we spur each other toward good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25). But it goes beyond our Sunday morning church services.
Too many believers are merely “back-seat” Christians. They are willing to watch a performance that the professionals put on (and are ready to criticize, or to applaud), but they are not willing to consider any genuine participation.
The fundamental weakness of the contemporary Church is that too many members refuse to become deeply and intimately involved with each other. Millions claim to have some “connection” with the Church. They declare that they “attend” church. But they really don’t have any connection or involvement. Their connection is superficial. We probably wonder why they bother? Wouldn’t it be more fun at the beach?
But that is not the way it was with the early church. No, no. As I showed you, they were closely “knit” together. They were involved with each other on an intimate level.
Listen to some words that Charles Swindoll wrote in the book, “Dropping Your Guard – Value Of Open Relationships“:
“Churches need to be less like national shrines and more like local bars . . . less like untouchable cathedrals and more like well-used hospitals, places to bleed in rather than monuments to look at . . . places where you can take your mask off and let your hair down . . . places where you can have your wounds dressed.
“It’s like my Marine-buddy, recently turned Christian, said, as he lamented the absence of a place of refuge:
“„. . . the only thing I miss is that old fellowship all the guys in our outfit used to have down at the slop shoot . . . we‟d sit around, laugh, tell stories, drink a few beers, and really let our hair down. It was great!
“’But now I ain’t got nobody to tell my troubles to, to admit my faults to. I can’t find anybody in church who will put their arms around me and tell me I’m still okay. Man it’s kinda lonely in there!‟”
Stop and think. Where does a guy go when the bottom drops out? Who do Christians turn to when stuff that is embarrassing or a little scandalous happens? Who cares enough to listen when we cry? Who affirms us when we feel rotten? Who will close their mouths and open their hearts? Moreover, even when we deserve a swift kick in the pants, who will embrace us with understanding and give us time to heal without quoting verses? Without giving us a cassette tape of some sermon to listen to? Without telling a bunch of other Christians so they can ‘pray more intelligently'”?
Charles Swindoll goes on:
“We need more shelters for storm victims. It’s okay if they look like churches on the outside, as long as folks do not act ‘churchy’ on the inside. Most hurting people I meet are fed up with ‘churchy’ Christians. What we need is that special something many people find in a local bar. Put on your shock boots and see if you agree with the following comparison between the bar and the church.
“The neighborhood bar is possibly the best counterfeit there is to the fellowship Christ wants to give his church. It’s an imitation, dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality, but it is a permissive, accepting and inclusive fellowship. It is unshockable. It is democratic. You can tell people secrets and they usually don’t tell others or even want to. The bar flourishes not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know someone else, and be known by someone else, to love and be loved, and so many seek a counterfeit at the price of a few beers.
“With all my heart I believe that Christ wants His Church to be a fellowship where people can come in and say, ‘I’m sunk!’ ‘I’m beat!’ ‘I’ve had it!’
“What if your wife is an alcoholic? Or your son recently told you he is a practicing homosexual?
“Let’s say your husband just walked out . . . or what if he is sexually abusing your two daughters? Or you?
“Who can you turn to if you were just fired? . . . Or you just got out of jail? . . . Or your 15-year-old daughter told you last night that she is pregnant? . . . Or you beat your kids and you’re scared—and ashamed? . . . Or you can’t cope with your drug habit any longer? . . . Or you need professional help because you are near a breakdown?
“Do you know what you need? You need a shelter. A place of refuge. A few folks who can help you, listen to you, introduce you, once again, to . . . ‘The Father of Mercies, the God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction’ (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Christianity may be ‘like a mighty army,’ but we often handle our troops in a weird way. We are the only outfit I have ever heard of who shoots their wounded. That is what my Marine buddy was afraid of. He had had enough of being shot. Frankly, so have I.”
As Jesus said, all men will know that we are His disciples by the steadfastness of our commitment to each other; by the way we serve each other so selflessly; by our intimacy with all purity; by our sacrifices for each other, our words of encouragement and affirmations. By these all men will know! It won‟t be by our impressive church buildings or by our charming personalities. Not by our up-to date techniques or our command of the scriptures!
No! The greatest sin of Christians today is the sin of withholding love. When people in the world see authentic, biblical love within God‟s family, they will believe.
Dr. Francis Schaeffer makes this powerful comment:
“In the midst of the world, in the midst of our present dying culture, Jesus gives a right to the world. Upon His authority he gives the world the right to judge whether you and I are born-again Christians on the basis of our observable love toward all Christians.
“That is pretty frightening. Jesus turns to the world and says, ‘I’ve got something to say to you. On the basis of my authority, I give you a right: You may judge whether or not an individual is a Christian on the basis of the love he shows to all Christians . . .’
“In other words, if people come up to us and cast in our teeth the judgment that we are not Christians because we have not shown love toward other Christians, we must understand that they are only exercising a prerogative which Jesus gave them.
“And we must not get angry. If people say, „You don’t love other Christians,’ we must go home, get down on our knees, and ask God whether or not they are right to have said what they said.
“We must be very careful at this point, however. We may be true Christians, really born-again Christians, and yet fail in our love toward other Christians. As a matter of fact, to be completely realistic, it is stronger than this.
“There will be times (and let us say it with tears), there will be times when we fail in our love toward each other as Christians. In a fallen world, where there is no such thing as perfection until Jesus comes, we know this will be the case. And, of course, when we fail, we must ask God’s forgiveness. But Jesus is not saying that failure to love all Christians proves that we are not Christians.
“Let each of us see this individually for ourselves. If I fail in my love toward Christians, it does not prove I am not a Christian. What Jesus is saying, however, is that if I do not have the love I should have toward all other Christians, the world has the right to make judgment that I am not a Christian.”
True Christianity is more than a verbal explanation of life. It is a way of life. A twenty-four-hour a day, demanding, challenging, courageous way of life. I like what Steve Camp has to say about the demands of our Christian lives:
“There‟s safety in complacency but God is calling us out of our comfort zones into a life of complete surrender to the cross. To live dangerously is not to live recklessly but righteously and it is because of God‟s radical grace for us that we can risk living a life of radical obedience for Him.”
Unfortunately, many people these days are accepting Christianity as an explanation of life. They are not willing to accept it as a way of life. Many supposed “Evangelical Christians” live lives that are no different from those of the world. We make too much of their intellectual assent. Christ is not calling us to accept His explanation, but to practice a way of life. That is radical. That is tougher.
You cannot live an isolated life. You must mesh your life as closely as possible with other believers. No snobbery. No privileges. All together, sharing the same ideas (the Apostles doctrine), the same friends (fellowship), the same practices (breaking of bread), and the same religious habits (public prayers).
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