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Sermons

HEBREWS 10:25 “Do not neglect assembling together, as some are in the habit, but encouraging one another, and all the more, as you see the Day drawing near.”

"ON BEING A CHURCH MEMBER"

Three pastors got together for coffee one day and found that all of their churches had bat infestation problems!
"I don’t know what to do," said one, "I’m so mad that I took a shotgun and fired at them. It made holes in the ceiling, but did nothing to bats." "I tried trapping them alive," said the second. "Then I drove 50 miles before releasing them, but they beat me back to the church!"
"I haven't had any more problems," said the third, but yet he looked sad saying it. The other preachers asked what he did so he said, "Well, I simply baptized and confirmed them," he replied. "I haven't seen them since!"  
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Now, the joke is funny, but truthfully, there is a reality there that makes a Pastor cry. I mean, look at the potential that lies before American churches. Go to any rural town; travel to any American city; and there is almost a Church on every corner. Yet where have the members gone? Statistics say that each year between 4000-7000 Churches are now closing their doors in this country! Thom Rainer, a Southern Baptist researcher, estimated that number possibly reached 10,000 in 2013!

‘Why is this’, we ask? Certainly some can be explained by a changing landscape. Many of these Churches closing are rural, and from the 1950’s to today, there are less farmers and many people have left the rural areas to go to the suburbs and cities.

But part of the problem is also that Christians aren’t being honest. Or at the very least, they are nearsighted in their estimation of how they see their own involvement in Church. According to the Hartford Institute of Religion Research, more than 40 percent of Americans “say” they go to church weekly. But as it turns out, the numbers say that less than 20 percent of Americans Church members are actually in church one day a week. In other words, more than 80 percent of people who are members of the American Church are finding ‘other ways’ to spend their time on weekends.

And there’s more. Between the years 2010 and 2012, more than half of all churches in America added not one new member. (Praise be to God for our Lexi and Paul we’re taking into membership this morning. We break that statistic here!) But isn’t that shocking – half of American Churches are not assimilating new member. Even more, what does this say about people not coming to faith in Jesus and going to Heaven? Is there not a difference in Heaven’s ‘membership’ as well?

Want to know something else shocking? They say that each year, nearly 3 million more previous churchgoers enter the ranks of what we call the “religiously unaffiliated.” These are “batmen/batwomen” who were brought to Church, were baptized and in some way confirmed, and then like bats, flew away. They might say “I was raised Catholic”, or, ”Sure, I am Lutheran (in name only)” , but now they have no solid connection or membership in a real Congregation. 3 MILLION EACH YEAR! That’s more than the population of Chicago leaving every year and are now no longer are physically connected to Christ’s Body.
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It begs the question, ‘why’. What is the reason for this ‘exodus’ from Churches today? Well, this alone is another whole topic. Some people have good, tangable reasons. Maybe they live in a remote place with no Church around, or there’s something to be said about people truly having been hurt or abused by hipocrits in the Church and the thought of going back is just too painful. But surely this can’t explain the entire 80%. Why is it that most of those millions are gone from the pews? For this answer I am convinced that it boils down to simply ‘excuses’, ‘laziness’, and ‘neglect for our own soul’. ‘Apathy’ has become the cancer that is killing the souls of American Christians! And yet Christ’s words still ring out, “What good is it if a man gains the whole world, and yet forfeits his soul?”…God took on human flesh and of all things that Almighty God speaks to us are cries of concern for our soul! And yet more than 80% who claim to be His, are not listening. Apathy has become the victor. More fun is found in watching a game, living in our sins, or simply just sleeping in late than there is in people hearing Christ’s word and experiencing God!

So this morning, it’s just plain sad – because most that need to hear this message are not here…casualties of 3 million or so excuses I suppose. So it will be up to us to hear for them, and up to us to go to the highways and the biways and compel others to wake up and come in! Just as Noah preached to his neighbors ‘Save yourselves; get in the boat; you’ll perish if you don’t!’, so we must tell that same message, pleading to come through door of Christ’s Church before God closes the door through death and there’s no second chance to enter in! Since today we have taken Paul & Lexi into our fellowship, I want to talk to you about what God has said about being a member of His Body; a member of His Church.

Have no doubt about it; God has given us the command to come together as a body. Just as cells, organs, and members form one united body, or many stalks in a field of wheat are put together to make a loaf of bread, there must be an assembly, a coming together. Anything less is a ‘deformity’; a ‘malformation’; a ‘recipe’ that is incomplete or a half-baked idea! Hear what God says;

HEBREWS 10:25 “Do not neglect assembling together, as some are in the habit, but encouraging one another, and all the more, as you see the Day drawing near.”

This “assembling together” is simply the 3rd commandment, right? Listen to the seriousness and weight that this whole commandment carries: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy (this means special/sacred to you!). Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is a sabbath unto Jehovah thy God: in it thou shalt NOT do any work, NOT YOU, NOR YOUR SON, NOR YOUR DAUGHTER, NOR YOUR MAN-SERVANT NOR YOUR MAID SERVANT (employees), NOR YOUR CATTLE (your equipment), NOR THE STRANGER WITHIN YOUR GATES (not even somebody visiting you!)” (Exodus 20:8-10). …This was Christ’s habit as well, “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and he entered, as his custom was, INTO THE SYNAGOGUE ON THE SABBATH, and stood up to read (Luke 4:16).

Assembling together to hear God’s Word and to serve/encourage God’s people has never been optional, it’s actually God’s command. In the New Testament, the ceremonial law of keeping a specific Jewish (Sabbath) day was fulfilled by Christ, so we are no longer held to uphold specific days on the Jewish calendar. But the spiritual requirement to worship abides forever! The early Christians worshipped together constantly, yet SUNDAY, the day of Christ’s resurrection, became the chief day to worship together. “And upon the first day of the week, (that’s Sunday) when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul discoursed with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and prolonged his speech until midnight (Acts 20:7). (NOTE: they met till midnight, it was the WHOLE day, yet today, 80% of who consider themselves the Church, do not give yet 1 hour weekly of themselves to God). And there is this, “Now concerning[a] the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.” (I Corinthians 16:1-2).

THIS WAS THE PRACTICE OF THE FIRST PEOPLE WHO WERE WITH JESUS AND SAW WHAT HE DID…THIS WAS THE PRACTICE OF THE 12 DISCIPLES AND THE CHURCH WHO THEN WENT OUT AND CONQUERED THE NATIONS WITH THE GOSPEL. So if less than 20% of Church members have any semblance to this devotion today, how can we expect the Church to be triumphant/victorious/fruitful/grow?

1. We need to come together for the sake of our FAITH! “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17)

- “They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer’ (Acts 2;42)

- Christ said, “I tell you that you are Peter and upon this Rock (words of the Gospel) I will build my Church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” Matt. 16;18

People will tell me as I’m sure they’ve told you, “I don’t need to go to Church to be saved” or how many also say “I go outdoors and find God in nature”. Do you make God out to be a fool? Do you think He’s merely wasted His time and yours by giving His Church the Tabernacle/Temple or even now, this building in which we meet? Were the words of the Holy Prophets wasted breath and ink? What about the Bible for which the blood of many has been spilled so that you now hold God’s Word in you hands – that is, if you really even pick up your Bible? When the Lord says of taking Communion, “THIS DO in remembrance of Me”, was ‘do this’ optional? Which fish, which rock, which deer in nature will speak to you about your sin, gluttony, vices and prick your conscience of sin to keep you on the straight and narrow and preach to you the need of a Savior? Has the wind or the leaves ever told the outdoor lover, “Jesus Christ has lived for you…God sent His Son to die for your sins…His cross alone is your bridge to Heaven and the Father”?

2. God does something for us when we meet together. The Bible says “Christ himself gave some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to EQUIP His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the Faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” –( Ephesians 4:11-13). Here, God gives to us GIFTS: those who teach us and equip us. We are given the gift of forgiveness, strengthened and trained in godliness!

3. And it’s here in the assembly that we have opportunities for works of service that have dividends that pay off in eternal reward! No other organization that you belong to can make that boast! This time of year, all the Animal Rescue commercials come on, Sara McLahlan singing ‘In the arms of the angels…’ while pictures of abused and starving puppies and kittens flash before your eyes and you’re asked to give money to organizations to help……This time of year, you see men/women in front of the stores ringing their handbells and hoping you’ll put your change into their red buckets. Both types of organization will give you a chance to serve and both are helpful, but what is done among this Body has no comparison!

To be a member and serve in this place is the holiest calling of all! You and I as members of the Christian Church, become part of the BODY OF CHRIST. More than animals, He gives us the work to save SOULS! We not only feed the needs of this life, but offer a life that is ETERNAL! More than a homeless shelter, we offer a MANSION! To broken people, we offer healing that is truly holistic – body, spirit, soul, relationship between one another, and reunification between God in man in the sufferings and glory of Jesus Christ.
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So I ask you if you are here as part of Christ’s Body, which part, or which ‘member’, are you? Have you stopped and really examined that in any detail? I really want you to think!

- Some here are FEET that go (these are the movers/shakers/doers/extroverts to go out and meet people where they are and bring them to the Word);

- Some are the LEGS which support the body. Some of you are the stable ones in life; you have great strength God has given to you and support the Body; maybe you hold it up strongly with your finances; or you are able to be the Rock of Gibraltar for others and this is how you serve

- Some are ARMS which reach out/extend to others, and you are the members that bring the comfort of Christ. God equips you with warmth and with presence…that wrap around those in pain and Christ gives His comfort through you

- Others here are the EYES that see; have the foresight to both obstacles and opportunity; you see the needs in the future and alert the Body. You help plan the budget; see our need; eye potential problems and help the Body avoid them

- Others are EARS that listen to hear the worries/fears/concerns of God’s people. And sometimes that’s all that a person really needs, isn’t it – someone to simply listen?

- Or maybe you’re just a BIG MOUTH! Always something to say; maybe not always saying the right thing…but you speak in the body what others need to hear. The mouth in the Body of Christ always also has the Word of God his lips!

The point is to be a member of Christ’s Body…it’s more than just having your name on a list in the file of a Church Office…..It’s more than just having gone through a baptism or completed Confirmation course…IT IS BEING A LIVING, ACTIVE, PARTICIPATORY MEMBER OF THE BODY OF JESUS CHRIST. United and working together in harmony with God’s Word, we are strong and complete and many hands make the load light. Every member of the Body is important and needed.

I wanna tell you a secret: as an artist, I have always had a desire to paint a portrait of Jesus Christ. I think most artists who are Christian think about this and have this goal. How would you paint Him if you tried: on the cross? Standing in front of the tomb arisen and glorious? Coming back from Heaven for the glorious Day of Judgement?
Do you wanna know how I would paint Him? I’d paint Him as an amputee. Standing there on crutches…leg chopped off….an arm missing….gone is his other hand. Shocking? Yes. But wouldn’t it, like good art does, make you stop and think? Would not this be a realistic view of what the Body of Christ looks like here in the once great United States of America.

So closing, here is where the rubber meets the road: What does Christ’s Body look like here, at Grace Lutheran? I want you to realize how vital each one of you is. If you were missing even one small toe or didn’t have one of your fingers, would it not affect you? Sure, the body can function, but what part of your body could you lose and it not affect you?? Secondly I want to ask you this, and after Worship today I’m gonna ask you to give an answer: 1) What body part are you? (foot, hand, ear, etc.) 2) As that part of Christ’s Body, how are you important here? If we cannot answer those 2 questions, we might be paralyzed or ineffective parts, don’t you think? So I’m asking us to really consider this today. As Christ’s Body here in Lincoln Illinois there is a calling on our lives! You matter! Every single one of us is needed! Being a member isn’t just having your name on a list tucked away in a file of a Church Office. It’s about being a usuable, functional member, connected and useful to Jesus Christ as He walks, talks, and reaches out to people in this world. “Do not neglect the assembly, as some are in the habit, but encouraging one another, and all the more, as you see the Day drawing near.’

Rev. Daniel McQuality
Grace Lutheran Church (ELS), Lincoln, IL
1/7/2018