October 20, 2019
19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds[a] to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home[b] and ate their food with glad and generous[c] hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Over these next few weeks we’re doing a short sermon series on Church Membership and thinking through what it looks like to be a thriving and flourishing member of a local church.
And this may seem like an odd and unusual topic to do a sermon series on, but I think it’ll be a helpful series for each and every one of us, whether you’ve been here at this church for a few months or a few decades or even whether you’ve been a Christian for a few months or a few decades. Each and every one of us, in our lives, has roles that we play or hats that we wear, whether it’s as a father or mother, husband or wife, sister or brother or friend, employee or employer, each and everyone of us has roles that we play and being a church member is no different and whether you’re considering becoming a church member or have been one for years now, this series will give each and every one of us a chance to think more deeply as to what it looks like to be a thriving and flourishing church member.
And in addition, it’s important that we think through what it means to be a church member since being a member of a church is radically different than being a member of just about anything else, whether it’s Costco, AAA or the YMCA. In almost every other part of life, being a member is a simple exchange of goods and services. It’s transactional. We give them our money and get a host of perks and privileges in exchange.
But yet, being a church member is radically different. Being a church member isn’t like joining the YMCA, instead it’s about entering into a committed relationship with other followers of Jesus.And so in a way, it’s much more like being adopted and invited into a family that is sacrificially committed to one another.
But yet, in some ways, I fear that church membership has sometimes been stripped down to its roots and reduced to the fact that with membership means we have the ability to vote at two congregational meetings. Which, if that’s all membership is, let’s be honest now, that’s just not very compelling. Those meetings happen twice a year.
In way that’s like telling someone who is considering moving to Dillon, “You should definitely move here. Our Labor Day Weekend is amazing.”
And you think to yourself, well that’s nice, but what about the rest of the year? Is that all this town has going for it?
And I use that analogy intentionally because I know that for many of you who have lived here for a long time you look at our Labor Day Weekend and think to yourself, “Been there, done that.”
So for the next few weeks, I want to share with you a more holistic and hopefully more compelling view of church membership, one that I think scripture points us to. And so I want to share with you four rhythms, four habits, four practices, four things that describe the life of a church member. Four things that ought to characterize our life here at FPC, not just a couple times a year, but rather day in and day out, week after week after week.
And here are the four. And they each start with the letter “G” for memory’s sake (By the way, I did not come up with this on my own. Please know that if I ever have a good idea I’m either borrowing it from someone else or most likely borrowing it from my wife).
Anyway, here are the four. Four commitments and practices that describe the life of a church member:
Gather, Grow, Give & Go.
Gather | Gather together regularly and faithfully with the church family for Sunday Worship
Grow | Grow closer in community and in our faith in Jesus Christ
Give | Give our time, talents and treasure
Go | Go and be the hands and feet of Jesus wherever you live, work, play or learn.
And we see these four practices in the passage that Mary Ellen just read, as she read from Acts 2 – it’s a summary paragraph of the early church and what their lives looked like, both individually and corporately. And here’s what they did. Day after day, they were people who lived into these four practices – Gather, Grow, Give & Go.
They Gathered – as day after day they went to the temple, that was their church, that was their place of worship, to worship God together.
They Grew together – as they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship.
They Gave to one another and to their community – as “All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
And finally, they “goed” together … actually, I think the word I’m looking for is “went” – they were God’s called and sent people, who brought Jesus’s healing wherever they live, work, play or learn - having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Gather. Grow. Give & Go. That was what they did. That’s what the early church looked like and that’s what it looks like to be a church member some 2,000 years later.
We’ll go through each of these four, one by one, over the next few weeks, and for today, we’ll start with the first, and it’s probably the most important of the four, and that is, Gather.
As church members, as the body of Christ, as the family of God, the practice that shapes and informs all the others, the practice that really distinguishes us from other community organizations is our worship. The fact that we gather together, each and every Sunday, rain or shine, hail or snow, this is what we do. We gather together for worship.
And so for this morning, I want to highlight a couple things that guide our worship together as well as a few points of individual application when it comes to worshipping together in the weeks and months to come.
The first is that everything we do here in worship, from reading to singing to praying to teaching is centered and rooted in God’s Word, it all stems from the bible, where God most clearly reveals himself, not only who he is and what he has done, but also telling us who we are and how we’re called to live.
In Colossians 3, Paul says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly … “
And in every part of the service, we’re trying to let the word of Christ, the message about Christ, dwell in us richly.
Think about the key features of a worship service. We read, we hear a sermon, sing songs, pray prayers, take communion together. Each one of those things is meant to reflect or magnify what we see in God’s word.
So we read scripture together, we hear a sermon where we think through how a word written some 2,000 years is still good news for the lives we live here in 2019.
We pray together as we take the concerns and wounds that our people face individually or as community, nation or world and pray for those prayers in light of the truths and promises we see throughout scripture.
We sing together, where through song, we sing and proclaim the truths about who God is and what he has done in and through Christ, in ways that stirs our hearts to love and follow God all the more. And choir, I just want to encourage you and thank you for a minute here – notice how Paul makes the connection between teaching and singing – he’s reminding us that those who lead us in worship are teaching us about God as we sing about God together. And this is so important, because the truth is, nobody ever leaves worship humming the sermon, but they very well might leave humming the songs. So thank you.
And then even through communion or baptism, we experience the Word of God in a different way, as we see and taste and touch and feel water and the bread and the cup.
So in all of worship, we are letting the Word of Christ dwell in us richly, we’re immersing ourselves in it, saturating ourselves in it, engaging all of our senses, and we hear, sing, pray, see, even feel the Word of God.
And this is so important, because it’s only through the bible, it’s only through God’s Word that we really can learn anything specific about God. It’s only through scripture that we can really know anything in particular about the character or work of God.
You all I want to share with you something that I’ve felt burdened to share for a while. There’s a common mantra that I’ve heard said on a somewhat regular basis here, whether that’s from people here at church as well as in talking to people in the community in general. And it’s this mantra of, “I worship God in the mountains, or out on the river, or out in his creation.” or “I feel most connected to God when I’m out in his creation.” And let me first say, I’ve said and thought those kinds of sentiments myself. And as someone who loves going hiking and being outdoors, I will champion all day long the beauty of worshipping with God out in His creation. When I’m out on the trail, or out on the mountain, it’s a chance to experience solitude, to be away from distraction, to feel just how small I am and just how big and majestic God is. But yet, but yet, when it comes to worshipping God out in his creation, I need you to know, as your pastor, that there are real limitations to the “I worship God out in creation” sentiment.
And that’s because creation itself by its design can only teach so much about God himself.
For example, when I am standing at 10,000ft overlooking God’s beautiful creation, I can be filled with awe and wonder, and say with the Psalmist says, “God, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
Or when I see an incredible sunset, it tells me that our God knows how to make beautiful things. When I see a rushing river or waterfall, it tells me that our God is incredibly powerful.
Or when I go to the zoo and see a giraffe with an insanely long neck, it tells me that our God is creative and has an interesting sense of humor that he would create such a funny looking animal.
But, all that said, creation itself can tell us almost nothing about the most important things. Think about it, an elk or a fish can’t tell us anything about forgiveness or where to find it. A sunset can’t tell us anything about the nature of grace or just how amazing it is. A snow capped mountain can’t tell us anything about obedience or how what it looks like to follow Jesus in the everyday stuff of life.
Now, please don’t hear what I’m not saying, I’m not saying that the only place you can learn anything meaningful about Jesus, or the only place you can worship God is here at 10am on the corner of Glendale and Pacific. No, no, no. That’s not what I’m saying. Rather, I simply want you to know that there’s something unique and powerful that takes place when God’s people come together for worship, centered on God’s word, whether that’s here at FPC or another church or even at home with brothers and sisters in Christ. Friends, it’s only through God’s Word that we can really grow in our love and knowledge of God, and while creation is a great environment to worship God, the truth is, it can only do so much.
And even more, when you’re out in creation or on a river or out on a mountain, we’re missing one of the most important ingredients of worship, and that is, each other!
Friends, when we worship, we’re not simply worshipping God, we’re also worshipping alongside one another. And the significance of this cannot be understated.
Paul even tells us in Colossians and Ephesians, “to address one another with spiritual hymns, songs and psalms as we worship God.” The idea being that we’re not only singing to God, but to one another.
My previous church back in the Seattle area, in their worship, they would turn the lights down low, and the music up high, and while that style of worship isn’t bad or wrong, one of the things it does is makes you lose sight (literally) of the other people worshipping alongside you.
But think of how encouraging it is and powerful to have other people worshipping alongside you …
Think about how encouraging and powerful it is for a recent widow hear a long time widow sing, “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine, oh what a foretaste of glory divine.”
Or to hear a 5 year old sing, “I love you, Lord, and I lift my voice, to worship you, oh my soul rejoice,”
Of for someone who’s just lost their job to hear other faithful Christians sing, “In Christ alone, my hope is found.”
Friends, it ought to be a great encouragement to us to worship alongside our church family, our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Don’t forget, when we come for worship, we’re not simply worshipping God, we’re also worshipping alongside one another.
Alright, now with all that said, let me give you three points of application. Three things to consider when it comes to gathering and worshipping together.
The first is, I want to encourage you read the scripture beforehand and use the Sermon Discussion Questions afterward. Friends, one of the challenges of the sermon as a teaching and learning tool, is that studies show that lectures, and a sermon is kind of like a lecture, can often be one of the least effective ways of learning something. And that our learning is best served when we find ways to interact with and engage with the material itself. And reading the scripture beforehand or using the Sermon Discussion Questions afterwards is one of the ways that we can do just that. Simple ways to engage with and interact with the content and I promise you, you will get more out of the sermons if you engage with them before and after. It’s also just another way that we can, as Paul says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in us richly.”
My second encouragement to you is to welcome new people, our guests, whenever they join us for worship, to welcome them and treat them as if they were guests in your own home. Friends, if this is your church, it might as well be your second home. And so treat all of our guests as if they just walked into your home – introduce them to others, invite them to Fellowship Hour. Folks, you already do this so well, I just want to encourage you to do so all the more.
And finally, here’s the last encouragement – and that is, if at all possible, serve. Whether as a greeter, a musician, in the choir, doing A/V, reading scripture, we’d love to have you serve. I’m always in awe of how many people it takes to make worship happen around here and I’m so grateful for all those who use their gifts and talents to help lead us in worship. I know I’ve shared this with you before, but one of our greatest challenges right now is with Sunday School Volunteers. Last week we had 20 kids, which required 4 adults helping out. And one of the obvious realities of being a Sunday School volunteer is that if you’re serving down there, then you’re by default not up here. And I don’t mean to communicate that serving as a Sunday School volunteer isn’t a worshipful experience, it absolutely is. But we also want to ensure that every single person in our church can regularly worship upstairs here in the sanctuary.
So there you go, three things to consider when it comes to our gathering and worshipping together.
And I’ll finish with this -
One of the things that it mentions in the Acts 2 passage is that in their worship together, awe came upon everyone. There was a sense of awe and wonder among the people as they worshipped together. And the truth is there’s a certain kind of awe that we’re going for when we worship here together. Let me see if I can explain with the following story -
I once heard a story about a man who on back to back weeks attended two different churches, and on the first Sunday, the first church he went to, he was just so impressed by the quality of the worship, the sermon was fantastic and the music and choir was even better. And as the man walked out of the sanctuary that morning he left thinking, “Wow, what an amazing preacher! What an incredible choir!”
But then next week he went to another church, and by any objective measurement, the preaching wasn’t as good as the previous week, and in fact the worship and music wasn’t as good either. But there was something powerful about the way the people were leading worship and worshipping next to him. And as the man walked out of the sanctuary that morning he left thinking, “Wow, what an amazing God! What an incredible Savior!”
Friends, do you see the difference between the two? I will confess to you that in my most insecure moments I’m hoping for you to tell me the former, but yet I know in my best moments, I’m hoping that you leave here saying the latter. “Wow, what an amazing God! What an incredible Savior!”
Friends, that’s what I hope you leave here thinking today, it’s what I hope you leave here thinking next Sunday, and every Sunday after that.