Monday, November 22, 2010

Why Choose YOUR Church

Deuteronomy 7:7-15 Hebrews 4:1-11 Revelation 2:1-7

The final installment in this series is upon us, and I have to say I'm glad. I'm glad we took this journey together, of course, and I hope it gave us all something to think about and even more to share with others but doing any kind of sermon series can be a little binding. A good series can serve a useful purpose to a particular end, but there must also be a sense of freedom in all we do lest we lose our sense of gratitude, and our efforts become drudgery. We all have restrictions and limitations on some level, of course, but we still like the idea that no one and nothing binds us, that we are free to do because we choose to do - not because we have to.

Which goes to the heart of our third and final question: Why THIS Church? Well, there is obviously no reference to Asbury United Methodist Church of Magnolia to be found anywhere in Scripture, so this question will be a lot harder to answer biblically because the answers are found not in a book but in your own hearts. And you and I must be able to articulate our answers because we are not in competition with anyone nor are we "against" anyone. We are for Christ. If folks want to be Baptist, they should be encouraged to go be Baptists. Or Catholics. Or Lutherans. Or Episcopalians. Or Mormons.

If that is their inclination and they can go with their whole heart toward the Lord, they should go. But they should not go because the preacher is awesome or the choir is great or the potlucks are in abundance or the "entertainment" on any level is top-shelf. It is unfortunate, however, that this is what the Protestant Church in America has been reduced to. With the exception of our Catholic and Orthodox friends whose formal worship liturgy is going to be the same each time, Protestants in general seem to have fallen into a trap in which they lament the many who are searching for the BBD (bigger, better deal) as they continue to try and offer the BBD. It is a never-ending, unsustainable cycle that is entirely dependent on one's knowledge of a community's social structure. It misses the whole point of gathering for worship in the first place. It is also dependent on how much money and energy a congregation has and is willing to expend on such efforts. It is consumerism at its very worst, and it betrays the identity and integrity of the Body of Christ.

We all want our churches to grow, and we want our churches to mean as much to others as it does to us. Church growth is evidence of spiritual fruit being put to good use, folks finding Christ for the first time or renewing their commitment to the Lord. Growth is an indicator that the community of faith is offering something others wants to be a part of. Whether such growth can be sustained over time, however, is a matter of whether or not the WHOLE CHURCH shares in the outreach efforts and common vision or leaves it to a few. It is a question of whether a common vision even exists, how that vision has come to be, and how that vision will come to fruition. It is, as in all things Church, a question of sacrificial love, love that is committed to something greater than self.

The existence and purpose of the Body of Christ within a community must not be reduced to trying to "guilt" people into participation and membership. I realize this is often perceived as coming from the pulpit, but the truth is one can only be made to feel guilty if guilt actually exists, "for godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted ..." (2 Corinthians 7:10). This is to say, the guilt one may feel is guilt that comes from Above, a spiritual stirring in the heart of one who is "incomplete". Further simplified, no preacher can make one feel guilty without one's permission.

Being an active part of the Body of Christ within a particular community of faith does not define the difference between a "good" Christian and a "bad" Christian. Rather, it marks the difference between one who is intentionally and purposefully "going on to perfection" (Hebrews 6:1) and one who is not - and doesn't care. In other words, it is the difference between being "complete" and being "incomplete"; that is, "something lacking". And make no mistake; those outside the Body of Christ are "incomplete" not because they are "bad" but because they have deliberately detached themselves from the "True Vine" as Jesus expresses in John 15; "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in Me".

To answer the question, "Why THIS Church", then, is not a matter of making this particular church "bigger" or "better" but is in how we fulfill our mission as the Body of Christ in helping others toward becoming more "perfect", more "complete". It is in the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ, and it is in the meaningful social issues that speak to people on a very real, very personal level. It is about patient endurance in all things. But before we can answer the question to the community we serve, we must first answer the question for ourselves by answering the "love letter" that comes to us from The Revelation.

I shared in a radio message recently that we demand political reform on virtually all levels, recognizing that before any meaningful reform can take place, the US Congress must first reform itself. Go back to the basics of constitutional government. The Holy Church is no different. Before the Church can hope to transform the society it seeks to serve, she must first be transformed herself. And before the Church can be transformed, you and I must first be transformed. The transformation of the Body of Christ, however, cannot AND MUST NOT be measured according to what we think the world expects or demands of us. Rather, we must be transformed by the "first love" we once knew; that moment of justification when nothing else on earth mattered, when our lives had been touched from above and we were told in no uncertain terms: I love you. And I am willing to forgive you.

What a burden that had been lifted from our very souls! What a joy we once knew that even though the world, our friends, even our own families somehow still try and "keep score" against us, the Lord above is willing to absolve us of all wrong-doing NOT by what we had done - but IN SPITE of what we had done! The Glory of the Lord is shown in a human soul made pure once again, and we fell in love with that moment and with Him. We wanted that moment to last forever, and we lament those days when that moment, that promise, that glimpse into eternity, seems so far away. So far away, and so long ago.

As told to us in The Revelation, however, it is not He who moved; it is not the Lord who blinked. The Lord reveals to the Church - the WHOLE church - that it is "[we who] have left [our] first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen ..." (Rev 2:4-5) And it is important for the Church - the WHOLE church - to note that for all the good and the faithfulness that is in abundance for which the Lord offers His compliments and praise, He still says, "Nevertheless, I have this against you ..."

He does not call us "bad"; He calls us "incomplete". There is a lot of good to celebrate and be thankful for. There is much within the Church AND this church in our little corner of the community for which the Lord is glad. You and I can see it. You and I can appreciate it and even be moved to pat ourselves on the back for our "accomplishments" even as we acknowledge that much more needs to be done. And we can work our fingers to the bone rushing to "do" for the community what WE think the community needs and we can even tell the community by our works that we "love" them. Yet in spite of all this, the Lamb calls upon us to be aware that something is missing. And it is no small thing, dear friends. It's not even the "main" thing or the "big" thing. It is THE THING! Without it, we are "incomplete". Without it, we are "detached" from the Vine.

The Lord knows it, but apparently the Church - the WHOLE church - does not. The Church has busied itself in trying to be all things to all people - and all for good causes - but the Church has broken away from the "True Vine". We have forgotten who we really are, and who we really belong to. We are not here to serve the world; we are here to serve the Lord in the world. And there is a difference.

Why this church? Believe it or not, it was you who reminded me of how much of myself was missing, how incomplete I really was. I suspect you can do the same for so many others not so as to make them feel "bad" about themselves, but to make them feel good about the Lord and what He has done for His beloved Bride, the Church, and what He intends to continue to do WITH and THROUGH His beloved and faithful Bride!

It will be His beloved Bride who will be called forth in the Last Days, just as it is written in Scripture and the Church will be made "complete" by Him alone - IF the Church - the WHOLE Church - will return to that FIRST LOVE by which we were declared "whole" and holy. It is the Church - the WHOLE Church - that will be called forth to "eat from the Tree of Life which is in the midst of the Paradise of God."


Michael Gormley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Gormley said...

The Amputated Member...

Attention all non-Catholics who "claim" to follow the teaching of Holy Scripture!

Have you ever read 1Corinthians 12:1-31 before?

Have you understood the message written therein?

1. There is but one Body of Christ (vs 12).

2. The Body of Christ is the Church which He founded, Ephesians 1:22-23

3. Therefore the Church which Jesus Christ founded IS Christ.

4. Therefore those who reject His Church, reject Him. Matthew 12:30

5. Since there is but one Christ with one Body, so there must be but one Church. Psalms 127:1, Matthew 16:18

6. The Body (Church) consists of not one member, but many (vs 14).

7. The many members of the one (Church) Body are all part of the same Body but each with his own function (vs's 15-20).

8. The Body of Christ cannot be separated from His Head.

9. Since the Body consists of members, individual members of the Body can be separated from the Head.

10. GOD has said that there must be no discord within the Body (vs 25).

11. However, there was great discord within the one Body, and it was a clear violation of verse 25.

12. It is called the Protestant Revolt .

13. Leaders and members of the Protest ant Revolt Amputated themselves from the one Body (Church) (vs 21).

14. Each member of the Body has his own function, by analogy, an eye, ear, hand, foot (vs's 15-18).

15. Can a hand live by itself, disconnected (Amputated) from the Body, or can an eye, an ear, or a foot?

16. What happens to a member which is Amputated from the Body?

17. The soul does not go with the Amputated member, and thus the member dies.