Tag Archives: faith

Why Go to Church?

This is a very good question, especially when more and more people are choosing not to attend church. The statistics regarding church attendance are unfortunate. According to a Gallup poll, 32% of Pennsylvanians attend church services weekly. 20% attend monthly. 47% seldom or never. Could it be that we are transitioning from a time when most people attended a weekly worship service, to now that most people do not? Our culture is growing more post Christian.

But such trends should not affect you or me. In fact, such statistics are indicating that the church must become more intentional in its ministry. People attend worship services because they want to, versus that it is the acceptable thing to do.

For Christians, we see the invaluable worth of setting aside time to worship the King of the universe. Worship is our corporate time to commune with God. In return, it is the church gathering for worship, that we receive the most benefit in our spiritual walk with the Lord. The Reformer John Calvin said:

“The whole world is a theatre for the display of the divine goodness, wisdom, justice, and power, but the Church is the orchestra, as it were—the most conspicuous part of it; and the nearer the approaches are that God makes to us, …the more attentively are we called to consider them.”

When you think about it, the worship service is the opportunity where each of us has something to give. Yes, hopefully we get something out of it, but the worship service is something to which you contribute. The choirs give their ability to make music. The Preacher gives his sermon. Your prayers and your offerings are given to God. And hopefully to this, you give your undivided attention. And when we do, God blesses us. Hopefully, you walk out of here encouraged, inspired, helped, blessed, taught, challenged, corrected and loved.

To see the value in attending the worship service, we turn to a well-known passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews.

The letter to the Hebrews was written to Christians that were dispersed abroad and suffering persecution for their faith. The theme of the letter to the Hebrews is the supremacy of the sacrifice of Christ.

In many ways, Hebrews stands alone from other portions of Scripture. Hebrews tells us that compared to the Old Testament administration, Jesus functions both as our superior priest and sacrifice. Better than all of the sacrifices established in the days of Moses that provided only temporary atonement for sin, Jesus Christ was the eternal sacrifice. He was the only sinless person that walked the earth. He was a sacrifice without blemish. In our passage, we are told that the only way we can approach God’s throne with confidence is through the blood of Jesus Christ.

No one could enter the holy place except the high priest once per year. When he did so, it was a dangerous thing to do. Because of Christ’s service and sacrifice, we can draw near to God with full assurance. We can relate to God in a new and fresh way. We can have the assurance that our sins have been forgiven and we’ve been released from our debt. Based on what Jesus has done for us, there is a series of imperatives, indicated by the phrase, “Let us….” “Let us draw near, hold fast and stir one another up.” We are first told to…

• draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith….” Jesus is the one who washes us and makes us clean. He provides a clean conscience, although we have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. This separates Christianity from the rest of the world’s faiths. Because of the work of another, I can become a new man. My transgressions can be wiped clean and I can become a child of God, whereas before I was His enemy.

• Next, we are told to “…hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” These Christians were about to lose their faith under the pressure of persecution and the inconveniences of the day. The ultimate question they were wrestling with was: “Wouldn’t it be much easier if we were just to revert to our old Jewish way of life, rather than trusting in and living for Jesus Christ? The answer of course, was a resounding no!

• Finally, we are to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” We need each other. Part of obeying the last instruction is avoiding the keeping of ourselves from meeting with other Christians.

Gerald Hawthorne points out: “These things are of the essence of Christianity. Since their maintenance is dependent upon the mutual interaction of the Christian society, it is absolutely essential that one assemble himself with other Christians if he is to be assured of continued spiritual development. Any type of go-it-alone Christianity is unthinkable… .”

Among the gathering of the saints, there is acceptance. There was support. There was also transparency. And, there was responsibility. Rick Warren, in his well-known book, The Purpose Driven Life, stated: “Being a Christian is more than just believing- it’s belonging. Without a church, you don’t have a spiritual home.” And this really addresses one of the basic needs we have as Christians.

The Church of Jesus Christ should function much like a family. Today, we see our family’s growth as we welcome four new members into Central Schwenkfelder Church. This is a great event and one for which we should thank God.

Receiving new members is a sign of life for the local church. The book of Acts tells us that among the early church, “…the Lord was adding to their number daily, those who were being saved.” We praise God for what He is doing in our midst. But there are other signs of life in the local church in addition to numerical growth.

If our mission is to love God, serve others and grow disciples, then it would make since that this is done, to a large part on Sunday morning when we meet together as a church body.

This is not the only venue or time where this is done, nor can it be the only venue or time where this is done. But it is done, on a Sunday morning.

As our choir sang:
Here are symbols to remind us of our lifelong need of grace;
Here are table, font and pulpit; here the cross has central place.
Here in honesty of preaching, here in silence as in speech,
Here in newness and renewal, God the Spirit comes to each.

Lord of all, of church and kingdom in an age of change and doubt,
Keep us faithful to the gospel, help us work Your purpose out.
Here in this day’s dedication, all we have to give, receive;
We, who cannot live without You, we adore You, we believe.

By attending the worship service, you can respond to and receive from God; you learn about Him and your life is changed because of it. You can encourage others regarding God and His love. It is a time that you can redirect your thoughts from a world not friendly to your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a time that you can pray for others and benefit from prayer.

By not attending the worship service, you miss out on the teaching; miss out on the fellowship; miss out on the opportunity to serve, bless and encourage, Evidently, the believers had experienced a fair amount of suffering and persecution as a result of their faith. It would be easy to keep oneself from the Christian gathering. Verse 32 states:

“But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.”

Today, lots of other things get in the way of our church attendance. Consider the following:

• Sometimes, we get our priorities off. Thom Rainer, the head of Lifeway Christian Resources, says that the number one reason for the decline in church attendance today is that folks do not attend as frequently as they once did. Instead of attending four weeks per month, they attend 2-3. When a quarter of your attendance does not show up one week, that makes a 100 attendee church feel like a 75 attendee church.

• Work. Some people are employed on a Sunday morning or work the graveyard shift on Saturday night into Sunday morning. For some, this cannot be helped. For others, it might simply be an opportunity to communicate to your employer that Sunday morning is important to you and that you ask to have it off.

• Sporting events. Some have made the response that they can worship God in the deer stand, the duck blind, or the golf course. But people do not. Today, more and more kids’ sports leagues are holding their games and/or practices on a Sunday morning. These are competing for the soul of your young person. Would you be different? Would you value the time in worship more than a sports league?

• Family get-togethers; When we changed the worship times a few years ago, I had a couple approach me and say that they did not attend anymore because that was the time that they went out for breakfast with their family. Instead of picking a different time for breakfast, they gave up the church. How sad.

• Our need for rest/sleep; “Sunday is the only day I have to sleep in.” Maybe try going to bed earlier. Or attending the 11:15 Informal worship service.

• Our insecurities, “No one likes me there. I don’t know anyone.” Maybe try getting to know others. If you avail yourself, others will respond. Try introducing yourself. Stick around after the benediction.

• Our dress: As long as most of your body is covered, it really doesn’t matter the type of clothes you wear to worship. As long as it is tasteful, that’s really all that matters.

• Our preferences: There will always be something that doesn’t suit you or the person next to you. Not everyone can be pleased with all aspects of the worship service.

• Our impressions: The church is too conservative; the church is unfriendly; that church is not mission-minded enough. Etc. The church is not designed to suit your preferences. Maybe God is doing something? I would definitely say, “stick around.”

The bottom line is that all of these can stand in the way of your spiritual growth. Satan loves to use these to keep you away. You become vulnerable to your tendency to be uncommitted, Satan’s lies, televangelists who teach heresy (many do) and the lie that says you don’t need the church.

Author Mark DeVries states: “Real community means real responsibility for each other. It means a commitment to be there for each other even when the schedule is tight and when motivation is low.” We do this because Jesus is coming again. And we must be ready. And this is the place to become ready.

A Church goer wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to church every Sunday. The letter reads as follows:

“I’ve gone to church for 30 years now. 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 their time.”

This started a real controversy in the Letters to the Editor column – much to the delight of the editor. It went on for weeks until someone wrote the following 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 me, 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!”

“A Series of Gifts: Assurance”

The following message is taken from Luke 1:26-38, the passage which tells of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary, telling her of God’s special plan for the birth of Christ.  It was preached on December 16 and 23, 2012.

 

What is assurance?  Webster’s uses such words as security, a being certain in the mind, confidence of mind or manner; easy freedom from self-doubt or uncertainty.  Today, people place their assurance in many places.  Some put their assurance in government, whoever holds office.  Some put their assurance in their education or career, their ability to make money. Others put their assurance in relationships- whether it is in a child or a spouse or a friend.  When these relationships dissolve, they feel lost and alone.  This past week, the parents of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut, sent their children off to the Sandy Hook Elementary School, school fully expecting to see them at the end of the day.  Tragically, they could not be assured of this.

But do any of these destinations for our assurance please God?  At a strategic time in their history, Israel sought an unhealthy alliance with the Egyptians.  Isaiah 31:1 states: “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the LORD.”  Before then; and since then, God has been showing man that He must realize his own self abasement and that He is desperately in need of God for his life to have meaning and purpose. God has created each of us with a void that can only be filled by Him.

This could have been the thoughts of the young Virgin Mary, before she was visited by the angel Gabriel to announce her role in bearing the Christ child. This morning, let us consider this event and see that yet another gift that Jesus came to give was and is assurance.  We first learn that…

ASSURANCE COMES ONLY FROM GOD.

Note Luke 1:26: “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee, called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, ‘Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.’  “But she was greatly troubled at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be.”  After the angel Gabriel approaches Mary, she was scared to death.  Fear is a real part of life.  Mary was afraid when she encountered the angel.  But notice that the angel dispels her fear by informing her that she is being picked for a very special role in the plans of God.  Verse 30: ‘And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.

This brings up the interesting roles of angels.  An angel tops some of your Christmas trees in your homes.  What place do they have in the Christmas story?  Last week, we saw how the angels appeared to the shepherds, announcing the birth of Christ.  “Do not fear, for behold I bring you good news of great joy that shall be for all the people….”  Here we see the role of Gabriel, one of God’s special angels.  Let us be reminded of the role of angels.  They are given the task of announcing, providing protection, and service. As Hebrews 1:14 teaches, they are ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation.

Here, the angel would tell Mary that she was a special individual in the plans of God.  She is not our co-redemptrixt, as some churches teach.  Nor is she to be the recipient of our prayers.  We pray to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; not another human being.  But Mary is the mother of the Lord Jesus and a willing servant to the things of God.  She was a woman of incredible faith.  Her statement in verse 38 is a statement we should all adopt for our lives: “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”

Just as Mary needed God’s assurance, we do too.  Through a colleague of mine, he received this quote from someone in the ministry: “When bad things like this happen, people ask, “why doesn’t God do something?”  Well, He did.  He sent Jesus.  It is our job to let them know.” Not only do we find that assurance comes from God, next, we discover that…

REAL ASSURANCE IS FOUND ONLY IN JESUS.

What will happen is listed in verse 30.  This explains who Jesus is.  First of all, “He will be great.”  Secondly, “He will be called the Son of the Most high.”  Then there are two statements that attribute the office of the Messiah to Jesus.  “The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; He will reign over the house of Jacob forever.  His kingdom will have no end.”  There is tremendous Jewish significance in this statement.  I mentioned last week that in the first century, there was a sense of anticipation for Jews surrounding the coming of the Messiah.  He was seen as a rescuer, a political figure that would come and crush God’s enemies, particularly the Romans.  But Jesus is a different type of Savior.  He saves from the guilt and power of sin.

This citation is a reference from the book of Daniel, 7:13.  It says: “I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. 14 “And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.”  Many times, Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of Man.  That was because He fulfilled this reference in the book of Daniel as God’s unique Son.

Christians live with the knowledge that God is upon His throne.  He reigns perfectly.  He will right every wrong and bring justice to the earth one day.  Although I experience heinous crimes, disease, disappointment and stress in this life, God has so ordered my existence that my comfort is not the main objective, but that I may be formed to be more like Christ, so that I can live and reign with Him when He returns.  Paul wrote in Romans 7:24: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God– through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

There are those things to be afraid of; but our fear should be diminished by the assurance that we have in Christ.  Listen to the following testimony by Subal Dang from India.  He writes of Bhubaneswar, a city in central India, where 1.9 million people live.  “Bhubaneswar is mostly Hindu.  Nearly 95% of the surrounding Orissa State is Hindu.  This perspective dominates the government, and it can make it difficult to be a Christian at times.  The radical Hindu groups are the most dangerous.  In 2008 there was some very significant violence directed toward Christians in my area. Some Christians were killed, churches were burned, and many lost their homes and property.

This continues in Orissa where Christians still live in a state of insecurity and danger.  Sometimes government food supplies that should be distributed among the poor are not delivered to the Christians.  In some villages Christian children are not allowed access to government schools.  The former archbishop of the Catholic Church in the Orissa region, Raphael Cheenath has said: “There is no violence, but there is no peace.  About 16,000 families have no homes and Christians are not allowed to return to 20 villages unless they convert to Hinduism.  In many villages in Kandhamal, Christians live with mistreatment and humiliation every day. They are not allowed to take water from the village well, collect firewood, or buy food from shops.  The authorities do nothing to prevent such abuse, even if we have made complaints. Their silence is disturbing.”

Christmas remains one of the most exciting times for Christians even with threats in nearby regions.  It is a time to send cards or give gifts to friends and family.  On Christmas Day, almost all families will go to church services in the morning.  Afterwards there will be a time of feasting for the entire church.  In the evening on December 25, Christians will gather at the church and dance, sing, act our plays, or perform comic routines.  We will also act out Bible stories such as Jesus’ birth.

Christmas is also a time for more intense spiritual discipline in for Christian in my part of the world.  Some people like to fast during this time.  They may fast for 2-3 days around Christmas.  Others will devote themselves to special prayer times.  Some will pray for the gospel message to reach the world or for peace.  Others pray for the gospel ministry in India, especially since other religious groups are more open to the Christian message.

Fear and joy were a part of the very first Christmas.  The angel told (Mary) not to fear because she had found favor with God.  This Christmas, I hope that you, too, will seek favor with God.  If you are feeling fear, being in the center of God’s will is the best place to be.[2]

This morning, we have found that assurance is comes from God and found only in Jesus.  This means that assurance is possible, regardless of our contexts or the experiences we face.  God has created us in such a way that real assurance can only be found in knowing Him.  Augustine of Hippo, the 4th century church father, said: “…because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.”[3]