Attender or Member
As we begin this morning, I feel compelled to share with you how deeply I am troubled over the events of the last few days in Charlottesville, Virginia. We were created in the image of a marvelous God who’s love is both colorblind and creatively colorful. To say that someone’s worth is tied to the color of their skin, their nationally, their economic state, or their gender is not only unloving, it is ungodly. This is not the first time this toxic behavior has shown itself in our country or community. Unfortunately, we know all too well about those who use the name of Jesus to do hateful and disgusting things.
On May 14th, 1961 our hometown became deeply rooted in the fight for civil rights. While many of us struggle with how we are to treat or deal with our town’s horrific history, the events of that fateful day thrust Anniston into the national and global spotlight. Downtown on the corner of 9th and Noble there is a memorial to the Trailways bus that was firebombed while a group of freedom riders made their way from Washington DC towards New Orleans.
It was a pivotal moment for our country and especially for those of us in the south, as these men and women took a non violent stand against evil and hatred. But what intrigues me the most about this part of our history, is that fact that there were men and women who were willing to actually get on one of those two busses. I am sure that there were several people in the meeting that discussed the plan, there were probably hundreds of people who thought it was a great idea and something that needed to be done, but very few were willing to actually get on the bus in Washington DC.
While many people thought that we needed to do something to be involved in the fight for basic human and civil rights, only 7 people were committed enough to the cause to actually get on the bus. They left their meetings and understood that they were the someone that must do something. They understood that this battle would cost them something, but they also believed that the rewards would be far greater than their sacrifices. They were willing to dedicate and even give their lives to an idea and a great work. This morning we stand here on the precipice of history, and the events in Charlottesville prove that the struggle is not over.
God continues to call His children into a great work that requires sacrifice and dedication. And in far too many buildings in our country there will be plenty of people who gather this morning and sing How Great Thou Art, they talk about the call of God to Go into all the world and bring the message of love, compassion, and acceptance to their communities, there will be hundreds of people who actually believe that this is a great idea and agree that something needs to be done. But the question we will all face when we turn out the lights and get in our cars, is who is actually willing to get on the bus? Before we get started this morning let’s take a moment to stop and pray.
In the text that Rylan read fro us this morning from Ephesians 3, Paul is continuing to urge us to be deeply committed to the work of the kingdom. To Paul church was not a take it or leave it option. He did not believe that you could just attend a church, make a few friends, and claim to have your membership at a particular place. Paul understood that the church was God’s chosen instrument for communicating God’s offer of freedom. Paul was reminding them, and us, that being a member of the church that is actively sacrificing for the Kingdom, is not just a good idea it is God’s will for your life. It’s what you were created to do. If the church is really what Paul says it is, “the means that the grace and wisdom of God is to be made known to the world” then God wants you to be the one to deliver that message.
I understand there are a couple of different ways that we can use the term church. In the bible the word Church can mean the universal eternal kingdom of God. That is how Jesus uses it in Matthew 16:18 when Jesus tells Peter “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” But it also refers to a local congregation. In Revelation 2-3 John writes to the Church at Ephesus, and the Church at Sardis, and the Church at Thyatira. These are individual congregations.
When Paul says that God wants you to be an active part of His church, I believe he’s talking about both churches. God wants you to be a part of the universal extended congregation and the local body. Now most folks are OK with being a part of the Church in the universal sense. That’s really kind of cool to think that you have something in common with people all over the world. That there are people in Africa, Australia, Asia, and Amsterdam that worship the same God that I do.
But when it comes to getting involved in the local affiliate, the branch office, it’s just not as impressive. That’s why this morning I wanted us to take some time and look at why you must do more than merely attend a local branch. God established the church so that you could be a fully involved member of the local community as well.
It’s in the local congregation that we find the discovery and growth of purpose.
The local congregation is where you discover and perfect your reason for being here. You might remember what I told our students last week, You are here because God desired to create you, and you were created exactly the way that God planed you to be. You exist because God has something significant in store for you. David was aware of this when he wrote in Psalm 139:13 You made my whole being; you formed me in my mother’s body. Our loving and compassionate God did the very same thing for you. He specifically and intentionally put you together in your mother’s womb and gave you what He gave you because He has a plan, a calling for you. And only you can fulfill that calling.
In Acts 9 God comes to Ananias and says “There is a man named Saul and I want you to tell him that he is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles.” And God still says the same thing about you. You are God’s chosen instrument, every person you meet has a unique, specific, and eternally momentous purpose that they must accomplish for God including you!
So many people are trying to discover their purpose. I discovered mine when we were living in New Orleans. We were members of the De Gaulle Drive Congregation and after I was baptized my dad began to take me to the men’s breakfasts, and the Men’s meetings. My parents encouraged me to do anything I could in the church, from leading a prayer, to serving communion and presiding over the table, to lead singing when I could.
In one of those meetings the Elders informed us that we were going to be getting a Youth Minister, someone to spend time with us kids. He would teach our Bible Classes, and we would have devotionals, Retreats, and Summer Camp. We would go on Canoe Trips and picnics in the park. My parents told us that we would attend everything they planned to do. I’ll admit I was reluctantly at first, I had practice, and homework, and 1,000 other things I wanted to do, but my parents believed that being a part of the body was our first priority. So they sent me off to be with the group, and encouraged me to do whatever I could to help. Eric asked for someone to lead a prayer and I prayed. He asked someone to lead a song and I lead. He asked someone to volunteer and I volunteered.
Then one day he called me into his office. He sat back in his chair and said, “Thank you for all of your help. Have you ever considered going into ministry?” Honestly, I had never thought about it before, but there at the age of 12 I knew what my purpose in life was. What God had called me to be.
That happened because our congregation invested their time and resources in me. They allowed me to try and they always affirmed my gift. If you are not a part of the community you will not discover your purpose. You might figure out what you are good at but there is no way that you will be able to discover what you were born for.
You may harness your talents to make a good living but you won’t perfect your purpose to make an eternal difference. The only place where you can discover, prepare, and perfect your God given purpose in life is in the company of a group of Christians who are committed to one another as a family. That’s why you must be a part of the local congregation.
You will never find that in your place of business, on the athletic field, the coffee shop, the beauty shop, the hunting club, the school yard, or anywhere else. We have tried to counterfeit that experience for generations, but the only place that you can find your real purpose in life is in the community of believers. In community we find out what we do well, and find areas where we need to grow while supporting us during that growth.
The Bible puts it this way: As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17. There is a Chinese proverb that says “Behind every able man there are always other able men.” That’s why it is important for you to be involved in the body, to be fully involved with people who will bring out the best in you.
We can do far more together than we can apart. Jesus didn’t call the one, He called the 12. He didn’t send them out one by one; He sent them out two by two. The church in Antioch didn’t send Paul to one mission point and Barnabas to another, They sent them out together so that together they could accomplish more for the kingdom. God did not create you or the kingdom for us to live in isolation. We were created to live, grow, and thrive in community.
Even God worked in community, remember Genesis 1 where God says “Let us make man in our image,” If God works in community what makes you think that you can fulfill His purpose for your life single handedly? That’s why you cannot simply attend, you must be committed.
Next, we need to be a part of the church for the protection found in the Body.
Paul writes in Philippians 1:27-28: Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing strong with one purpose, that you work together as one person for the faith of the Good News, and that you are not afraid of those who are against you.
Stand strong with one purpose,… so that you will not be afraid. Our world will do everything it can to poison your passion and dilute your devotion. Paul says if you try to handle it by yourself, you are going to lose. Remember how your kindergarten teacher had you pick a buddy, they knew there is safety in numbers.
Let me share with you two quick reasons why there is safety in the church. First, you are under the oversight and care of Godly Shepherds. If you are out there without a church then you cannot have the wisdom of people who have traveled this road before you at your disposal when times get tough. Acts 20:28 Paul tells the Elders to “Keep watch over their flocks.” There is something powerful about having people with experience to help guide you on your journey.
When I was a little boy we would go visit my Dad’s parent’s home in Holly Springs, Mississippi. As soon as we got to the house we would start bugging my dad to take us fishing down in the pond. On one trip, I was trying to be older, to be bigger that I actually was. I rushed to get ahead of the group so that I could push the boat out into the water. About the time that I put my hands on the boat, my dad yelled for me to stop and to back up. I bristled up, muttering how I was big enough to push the boat. My dad put the gear in the boat and my brother and I crawled in, with me still muttering about how dad wouldn’t let me do anything. But this time was different, instead of the boat slipping into the pond, my dad dropped it and that was the first time we saw the snake. It had to be at least 800 feet long and it grew longer every time it would strike at my dad. He never flinched, he just put his foot on the head of the snake and killed it. At that moment I realized that if my dad hadn’t been there not only would I have not seen the snake I wouldn’t have known what to do once I found it.
I wasn’t watching but my dad was, and that’s what Godly shepherds do, they spend time with the sheep and watch out for the sheep. Not because something can happen to us in here, but because they know that something will happen to us out there. We can only find protection when we are active members in the body. That’s why I am thankful for the folks who tune in to watch every week online, but if you are not a part of a local community, you are missing the protection found in the Body.
Secondly, the church provides the protection of plurality through the network of families. Trying to live a Christian life without being deeply involved in the church is like crossing a high wire without a net.
The story is told of a monastery in Portugal, perched high on a 3,000 foot cliff and accessible only by a terrifying ride in a swaying basket. The basket is pulled with a single rope by several strong men, perspiring under the strain of the fully loaded basket. One American tourist who visited the site got nervous halfway up the cliff when he noticed that the rope was old and frayed. Hoping to relive his fear he asked the monk riding up in the basket with him, "How often do you change the rope?" The monk replied, "Whenever it breaks!"
Not what you want to hear half way up a cliff. But let me tell you, one of these days your rope is going to break. Something bad is going to happen, you are going to fail, you are going to be in the midst of a struggle. If you are a part of a loving church then you have a group of people who will catch you when the rope breaks. If you are not an active part of the church then you just fall.
Going it alone might seem noble and heroic. But it is not Biblical and it is not wise. God did not design you to live in isolation, He designed you for community.
So today I am talking to two groups here at Greenbrier. One is involved and serving, I want to remind you to not “grow weary in doing well.” Keep serving, keep loving, keep working in the kingdom. You may be tired, church I understand tired. But don’t quit.
But I also want to say something to those of you who have attended here for years, but showing up 2 or 3 Sunday’s a month is the full extent of your involvement. I want to remind you of how much you need to be an active part of this body. I want to encourage you to take a step in the direction of greater involvement. As long as there is breath in your lungs God has a calling for your life. You never outgrow it, and you never live past it. It’s time for you to make a commitment that will actually matter.
I want too invite everyone here and watching by way of video into a deeper relationship with the body of believers here at Greenbrier, or at your own local body. You need to be a part of a body so you can find your place of protection and your real purpose in life. God has created you to do wonderful things. This morning we are asking you to step up and find the fulfillment that comes from living a life well.