For the past few Sundays we've been examining some of the lies of Satan. We're doing this is so that when we hear these lies we'll recognize them. Instead of being fooled we'll be able to defend ourselves using God's Word. May the Holy Spirit guide our thoughts and equip us to stand strong in the Christian faith. Amen.
Today's lie from Satan is this: "We need time away from church".
Now, maybe some of you are thinking, "Man, I am not gonna like this message, because I agree with that statement. Sometimes I NEED a break from church".
Well, if that was your thought, you're not alone. That's what I thought too when I first read this lie. But the more I looked into God's Word and thought about it, the more I began to disagree. We DON'T need time away from church.
I would offer this thesis for your consideration today: If we feel like we need a break from church, it's because we've made church into something God never intended it to be.
The part of God's Word which helps us jump into today's study comes from Luke chapter 10. This is the story of two sisters named Mary and Martha who invited Jesus to dinner one night.
Luke 10:38-42 (ESV)
38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Maybe you've been in the same situation as Jesus in this story. Maybe you've been invited to someone's house as a guest. They welcomed you at the door, took your coat and seated you in a comfortable chair. They brought you a pint of beer or a glass of wine and made sure to refill it when it was low. They served appetizers before dinner and did everything possible to make you feel welcome. They darted this way and that, getting things ready, making sure everything was perfect - just for you.
You were flattered that they'd go through the trouble. You were comfortable and relaxed. But what you wanted most of all was for them to just SIT DOWN and be with you. You didn't come for the food, or the cushy chairs. You came to be with them. A packet of Ramen noodles and a glass of water would have been enough. You came to be with them.
That's how Jesus was feeling at Mary and Martha's house. Martha was doing so many things to make the Teacher feel welcome and comfortable. And no doubt Jesus appreciated her hospitality. But what Jesus really wanted was for Martha to SIT DOWN and be with Him. Our reading says that Mary, " sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching" (verse 39). Jesus had things to say to these sisters. Spiritual truth and life to share with them.
But Martha was to distracted by things that she THOUGHT she just had to do.
We too can be distracted from what is crucial if we come to church and focus on what WE can do for God instead of what GOD has done for us.
Just like Martha, we can approach church like it's a chore. Like it's a place of work. But Jesus wants the place where we touch base with Him to be a sanctuary not a factory. Jesus wants church tob e a place of protection, peace, rest and healing. Not a place of emotional pain and struggle.
Church is a place where we reconnect with our Creator. Church is a place where we are reminded that even though we pushed God away through our sinning, He fought through our struggling shoves and made us His own through Christ's sacrifice on the cross.
The Gospel of Jesus makes church a sanctuary. A place where you GO FOR A BREAK, not a place you NEED A BREAK FROM.
We've all grown up with church associations, even if we didn't grow up in a church. The churches we've seen and the worship we've experienced has formed a picture in our minds of what church is all about. But no doubt, many of these associations are wrong. They are things we have imposed upon church, not things that God intended church to be like.
So lets try and forget our perception of what church is for a moment. Let's look back to the early Christians and see what church was about two thousand years ago. Turn to Acts 1, verse 12.
After Jesus died on the cross, and rose from the dead, He taught His disciples for forty more days. Then He blessed them and rose up into the sky until He was gone from their sight. This is what happened after that.
Acts 1:12–14 (ESV)
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
After Jesus ascended into heaven, His followers gathered together for an impromptu prayer service. They didn't run to the Temple, but just gathered together and prayed.
Their worship was spontaneous. It was not motivated by the expectations of others. It was not just going through the motions. It was not slogging through a worship setting with their brains shut off because that's what they had always done.
Their worship sprang out of what God had done for them. They had recently seen Jesus raised from the dead. Now they had seen Him lifted up into the sky where He had disappeared from their view and entered the Heavenly Father's presence once more. And so the disciples worshiped God in prayer.
Turn to Acts 2, verse 42.
After Jesus returned to heaven, the church on earth really began to grow. On one occasion, the Holy Spirit enabled the disciples to share Jesus' message with thousands of people. As a result, thousands came to trust in Jesus. This is what happened after that.
Acts 2:42–47 (ESV)
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Again, their worship was spontaneous. They worshipped together because they wanted to. They were full of joy because the Savior from sin that God had promised had now come. Their sins were paid for. Their salvation from guilt and sin was no longer some future event to long for, it was a historical event to remember! This was church to them, remembering the Savior. Celebrating His love and their salvation. Church wasn't something they needed to take a break from.
Turn to Hebrews 3, verse 12.
We're not exactly sure who wrote the letter to the Hebrews, but we do know that he wrote as the Holy Spirit directed him, and he wrote to his fellow Christians. Here is what he says.
Hebrews 3:12–14 (ESV)
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
The writer to the Hebrews tells his fellow Christians that they have come to share in Christ. That is what Christianity is about and what church is all about. Sharing in Christ. Experiencing together all that Jesus is, and all that He gives to us sinners. Things like repentance, forgiveness, peace, hope, strength and eternal life.
But the writer to the Hebrews brings out an additional reason why Christians gather together. Protection.
In addition to reveling in the Gospel, Christians gather with each other for protection against the "deceitfulness of sin".
You see, sin lies to us. Like the water that trickles into the rock and freezes in the winter, sin tries to soak up into our heart and harden there, splintering us apart from God.
This happens when Christians embrace sinful behavior and make excuses for it. This is when we need compassionate, but firm correction from our fellow Christians. Sin lies, entraps and eventually kills, but the truth of God sets us free.
Turn to Hebrews 10, verse 23. The writer to the Hebrews has more to say about church.
Hebrews 10:23–27 (ESV)
23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 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 drawing near.
26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.
The writer to the Hebrews says that church is about stirring each other up as we wait for our Savior's return. But he also reminds his fellow Christians that church is about safeguarding each other from falling away from faith.
These are just a few of the many Bible passages that speak of what church is all about. We could also talk about the Lord's Supper, and how we receive that at church. Through the body and blood of Christ miraculously given with the bread and wine, we are reassured that Christ died for us personally.
Or we could talk about how we baptize our children at church. Through the command of God we use water and the word, sparking faith in the hearts of our young ones. Or we seal the faith of our older members who know Christ as their Savior, but are coming to Holy Baptism for the first time.
These are the things we do here. Church is where we come into contact with the divine. Not only in this building, but wherever two or three are gathered together in the name of Christ - there is church, there is worship. When we read devotions with our children, or talk about a passage with our spouse at the breakfast table - there is church. These are not things we need a break from. Why would we need a break from communing with God? He is our loving Creator and Savior.
But sometimes we do feel like we need a break from church. Don't we? We feel a little churched-out. Ever felt that way? Let me tell you why you felt that way. It's not because of God. It's not because you needed a break from Him. If you've ever felt "churched-out" it's because of sinful people. Three people specifically: pastors, fellow Christians and yourself.
Let me explain.
Pastors make church into something heavy when they focus too much on sin, and not enough on the forgiveness that we have in Christ. Yes, we are sinners. Yes, we deserve hell, but in Christ we are given forgiveness and eternal life. Our debt is cancelled in Christ.
If a preacher doesn't emphasize Christ's gift of forgiveness over the Law of condemnation, then we leave church feeling like damned sinners instead of forgiven ones. That's something we might need a break from.
Other pastors make church heavy by focusing too much on the Christian life. "Yes, we're forgiven sinners", they say, "But we're not the Christians we aught to be". With a Gospel phrase or two thrown in, they preach on how our response to Christ's love is all to pathetic. Their message amount to, "Jesus saved you, so get to work you pathetic diva Christian! Your life doesn't reflect the amazing gift you were given you ungrateful sloth. How about some more commitment on your part?"
If our pastor is constantly talking about you living the Christian life, doing the right thing, being the person God intended you to be - without coming back to grace, love and forgiveness that we have in Christ, after a while you're going get weighed down in our failed attempts at being holy.
And that's not what Church is supposed to be about! The apostles didn't gather in the beginning because they had some great ideas about how to become better people. They gathered because Jesus had just risen from the dead! And then into the sky! He was the promised Savior of the world! In Him their sins were erased! That's why they gathered. The Gospel is why they gathered.
Church also becomes heavy when our fellow Christians come to church with a judgmental attitude. When they hold grudges. When they favor certain people over others. Church becomes heavy when gossip wears the mask of "concerned conversation". Church becomes something we need a break from when Christians only talk ABOUT each other, but not TO each other. Who wants to come to church for that?
That's not a Gospel attitude. That's not an attitude of forgiveness. When the Holy Spirit moves us to have an attitude of repentance over our sins, we bring our sins to Christ in prayer. And He forgives us. And He expects us to forgive the people who sin against us in the same way. Forgiveness is simply part of being a Christian. It's not optional.
A church that has an atmosphere of judgmental grudge-holding is not the church that Jesus founded by the cross of Calvary. A church were our every sinful word, or action is held onto and shoved in our face from time to time - yeah, that'd be a church we'd need a break from.
We need to be careful that we don't make church into that. We need to shower the forgiveness of Christ on our fellow Christians so that church is truly a sanctuary.
But there's one more person who makes church something we might need a break from. That's ourselves.
Here's now I make church something I need a break from. First I recognize my sins. I know them very well, and know that I should be damned because of them. I don't deserve God's love or all the blessings that He's poured into my life.
So, when I come to church, I think about my sins, and then I jump to how I can change things in the future to be a better Christian. Let me say that again, I come to church and think about my sins, and then I jump to how I can change things in the future to be a better Christian. Did you see what I skipped over? The Gospel. The forgiveness of Christ is completely missing from this thought process.
There's three parts of the Christian life. There's sin, grace and Christian living. If I just think about sin and how I can live the Christian life better, I've skipped over the Gospel in the middle. I'm not going to have any peace over my past sins without the Gospel, and I'm not going to have any power to grow as a Christian in the future without the Gospel.
If church feels heavy, like some burden that we have to bear, than we've made church into something it's not supposed to be! The core message of the Bible is sin and grace. The message of mankind's sinful failure and our redemption through the life and work of Jesus Christ. The Gospel promise runs throughout the Bible and ties it all together. Remove the Gospel message and the Bible falls apart. The same is true of church. If you leave out the Gospel, everything falls apart.
Think about it like this, if you take out the engine, the car doesn't work so well. And pushing that care from place to place becomes a burden instead of a help. The same is true when it comes to church. When you leave out the Gospel, everything gets to heavy to push around.
Christians, we gotta remember what our Master said. Jesus said,
"...the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45 NIV).When we come to church, Jesus does not intend for us to be His slaves. Instead He wishes to serve us, to teach us forgiveness through His sacrifice. Sure, this message will empower us to serve Him with our lives, but that comes later. The main thing that Jesus wanted Martha to do was to sit down and listen to His message of grace! And that's the main thing Jesus wants you to do too. Sit down and listen to what He did for you. Jesus doesn't want something from us, He wants first and foremost, to give something to us.
That's what church is all about. Jesus filling us with peace through the free gift of His forgiveness. Then we erupt with thanks and praise, but it's all about Jesus first, His grace filling us up.
When we feel like we need time away from church, that's because we've made church into something God never intended it to be. That happens when our pastors don't go back to the gospel, when our people don't live the gospel and when we ourselves come to church focused on something other than the forgiveness of sins that Christ gives. The gospel is the starting point that we have to go to. The gospel of Christ is what makes church a sanctuary, something we NEVER need a break from.
Prayer: Father in heaven, forgive us for what we've made your church into. Shower your wisdom and peace on us once more through Your Word. And help us to come to church to meet with You. To build up the fire of our faith by kneeling at the foot of Your Son's cross. May the good news of Christ be our greatest treasure always, and may its light shine on our pastors, members and ourselves. May Christ bleed into all that we say and do, to your glory Father, and our joy. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.