A Renaissance Church Is Committed
Last week we started talking about the Church that God designed and created. I said last week, that we were called to be a Renaissance Church and used the Acts church to unpackage what that looks like. This week I was having a conversation with a member of our family here at Park Central and they said something that struck me. Actually it was much better than anything I had said in the sermon last week. They said, If we are supposed to look like the church back in Acts, I think we might be a little bit confused.
Maybe they are right; maybe when it comes to the church some people are very confused. There is a lot of confusing messages out there when it comes to the church. When some people think of church they just think of duty. They just think of this thing that they need to go to on a regular basis. The church is simply something you show up for. Maybe at one point they were fired up about the church and God was really doing something in their life. It was electric and it was exciting but as time goes on the church just sort of becomes more of “I should do that” instead of a “I want to do that.” “I ought to be part of that” instead of “I'm excited to be a part of that”. Pretty soon the church just becomes another duty.
For other people the church is about guilt. It's about this game they are playing with God. They feel like as long as they are doing enough good deeds they are all good, but when they begin to slip then they have to go to church and work that out a little bit. Then they can move on with their life.
For some people their view of the church is simply a place of pain because of an experience with other churches and they've been hurt. Maybe other people talked about them behind their back or they were a part of a church that got involved in a scandal of some kind. The pain is real and tangible for them. That's sort of where they are at when it comes to the word church.
For some people when they hear the word church they just think, scam. They think we are an organization dedicated to taking money or to wielding power or to being involved politically in some way. Scam is the word that comes to their mind.
There are a lot of confusing messages out there about the church, but those messages are not what we were created and called to be. I really believe that we were called to be a renaissance church that when it is operating properly is the greatest place on earth. A renaissance church is not just a place but actually a community of people living out their faith in a vibrant and dynamic way.
If you have your Bibles open them up to Ephesians 2:19. In the book of Ephesians Paul is under house arrest, awaiting a trial in Rome. He's writing this letter to a group of believers in the city of Ephesus telling them about this amazing community called the church. He's writing to give them hope and to remind them about how special the community is that they get to experience. In chapter 2 he writes about how in the church there are no longer just Jews and non-Jewish people. Now because of what Jesus has done we are all one in Christ. People from different races, from different backgrounds, different ages, and different socioeconomic groups all come together in the church. The church is a place for great unity and great diversity.
Then he gets to verse 19, look at what he says, "You are citizens along with all of God's holy people. You are members of God's family. Together we are his house built on the foundation of the apostle and the prophets and the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself"
I love the words that Paul uses here. He says you are citizens, God's holy people. You are members of God's family and together we are His house. You and I are the house. It's not just bricks and mortar. We're the house. We're built on the foundation of the prophets and the apostles. We're built on the foundation of God's word. The cornerstone is Jesus. That is the church. When the church is operating properly, it's one of the most wonderful communities that you'll ever experience on earth. The church is God's idea. It's his vision. It's his plan.
We need to understand that God wants you to get plugged into a community of faith.
We have lots of ways to get folks plugged into this community of faith. We have Sunday morning services, small groups, Wednesday Bible Study, and divorce, grief, food, youth, and the Bridge ministries. But before you can plug in, first you have to realize that you belong.
As I look at those words in Ephesians 2, member, house, family; it's a huge message that you belong as part of the church. God doesn't care what you've done. He doesn't care what your background is. He doesn't care how bad you may think you are. He doesn't care what you've experienced in the church. You belong as part of the church community, not because of how great you are or how good you are but because of who God is and because He has claimed you as a part of His family. That’s what Paul writes: You are members of God's family.
Now, when it comes to the church, there are two different types of church talked about in the Bible. The first is a universal church. When the Bible talks about the universal church it means everyone whether they are meeting in a hut on the other side of the world, in an underground church in China, in a home or in a church building. That's the universal Church.
Then there is the other way that the Bible uses the word church, a specific group of people: The church at Lydia's house; the church that met in the city of Corinth; the church in the city of Ephesus, or the church that calls itself Park Central. You just go down the list. The overwhelming majority of times that the Bible uses the word church, it's talking about a local group of believers.
So, how do you become a member of a church? You commit. When you place your faith and your trust in Jesus Christ you become a member of the universal church. But the way you become a member of a local church is to commit and to take that step of commitment in your life and say, ''I'm choosing to be part of this local group of believers." I am convinced that you cannot be an authentic biblical Christian without being part of some local group of believers.
Did you know there are over 30 commands in the New Testament that you cannot fulfill unless you are in some connection with the community of believers. It doesn't have to be this church. I would love for it to be this church for you and I know for most of you it is. If you are searching or seeking a church it doesn't have to be this church, but you need to find a Bible based church that will allow you to you be involved in the life of that church. A place where you can be challenged and encouraged and grow. You need to realize that you belong.
I like this quote from Rick Warren: "A Christian who doesn't really take that step of being part of the church or a Christian who says, 'I just want to be a Christian but I don't want to be connected to any church.' is like someone who says, 'I want to play NFL football but I don't want to be part of the team. I want to be in the army but I don't want to serve in the platoon. I want to play an instrument but I don't want to be part of the band. The two go together." Everyone can be part of the church.
When Paul talks about the church in Ephesus he doesn't say the church is like a family. He says the church is a family. You are members of the family and what we are doing in this community is so important, that we need you to be a part of that work.
The church is the place where you work it out in the context of other people. It's the place where you find encouragement, love and hope. You belong in the church, and I don't just mean the universal church. I mean you belong as a member of the the local church, to a committed group of people.
Which brings me to my second point, which is this: Raise your commitment.
It’s not enough to be a part of a community of faith, you have got to raise your level of commitment. I know a lot of Christians that are not committed to the church. At best they are just dating God, they have never made a full commitment. They are Christians, they believe in Christ, and they are part of the universal church but they have never made a commitment to a local group of believers. They've never made the commitment to serve here, to love and be loved here. They just keep dating the church.
Here is the problem, God never talks about the church as a date. Do you know what the church is called in the Bible? The Bride of Christ. God loves the church so much that He calls the church His bride. That's an image of commitment and loyalty. I can remember my wedding, I remember standing in that building in Montgomery, Alabama when they pulled open the doors at the back of the auditorium and there was Trista with her dad. I was so excited and I was filled with this amazing love in my heart. That's the image God uses when He talks about the church community.
Over the years I have heard folks say, I wish I just had God's heart for the poor. Or I wish I had God's heart for the hurting. But I think it’s past time that we started having God's heart for the local church. God’s heart for the church is so passionate. His love is so pure. His love is so overwhelming. It's channeled and directed specifically to that group of people He calls His own. I don't know how you can love Jesus and not love what Jesus loves. How do you love God and not love what God loves?
I believe that God gave us the whole aspect of marriage and romance and relationships as a picture of His love for the church. Look at Ephesians 5:31-32, Scripture says, "That's why a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife. The two will become one." That is a deep mystery. But I 'm talking about Christ and the church.
God has created us in such a way that our relationships and marriages point to something greater. It's pointing to God's love for the church. I have had people ask me if I believe that they can be a Christian and not attend church? I love this answer I heard once, You can be a Christian and never go to church. You can be married and never go home. But in both places and in both situations if you don't, you're going to have a poor relationship. I think that is so true. The church is a critical part of what God wants to experience in our lives.
When you miss it, you cheat yourself, you cheat the church community and you cheat the world of the difference that can be made when the church comes together. What's the difference between being a Christian and between being a member of a church? It comes down to one word: commitment.
The way you became a Christian is you committed your life to Christ. Your baptism said, Jesus, I'm going to make you the leader and the forgiver of my life. I'm going to follow you.
The way we will become a renaissance church is if every member commits. You say, I'm going to be committed to this local body of believers. Some of you have been around here for many years. Many years ago you made this place the place where you committed your life and your faith. You said, This is my church. That's why it was important for Trista and I to place our membership when we came here to work. I’m not just the preacher dude, I'm part of the church community. It's my church.
But what happened after you made that commitment? Sometimes we get busy. We run in a thousand different directions that we get distracted. Sometimes you just need to re-up your commitment and say, I'm committing again. I'm going to raise my commitment level. I want to be part of the church because God loves it so much. Maybe that's where you are. Maybe you've been a believer for many years. You've been coming here for many years. Maybe it's time for you to ramp up your commitment level.
I believe that it's time for all of us to raise our commitment. I want you to bring your kids and make sure they are involved in this community of faith. I understand that Baseball, Football, Band, Dance, Soccer, and all of those extra curricular activities are important. But let’s be honest, how many of those things are going to have the lasting impact that a real relationship with God will have. Even if my boys get to play Soccer in High School, College, or the Pro’s, only their relationship with God will last for all eternity.
I want you to get involved in our care groups. Things might be going well for you now, but we live in a broken world with broken people. Who will you lean on when the bottom drops out? Who will you help when their world turns upside down. How are you going to love one another, encourage one another, greet one another, forgive one another, support one another if you are not involved in the lives or each other? You need to be connected to other people who share your hope.
If you are retired I want you to see the blessing of the time that you now have to get deeply involved in the life of the church. You have the time to minister to folks in this church and community through your love, experience, and maturity. Now is the time in your life where you can do the most good.
I want you to raise your commitment when it comes to the people that God loves so much. I want you to embrace the mission. We have a God given mission that says "Go unto all the world and make disciples." We are called by God to connect the unconnected to Christ. We are called to grow to full devotion to him. We're all part of it. When we do our part, when we plug in, when we let God move in our lives we can impact this world in a remarkable way.
It’s time that we raise our commitment level. We need to draw a line in the dirt and say, I'm on God’s team. I want to see a renaissance. We are in it together. Together we're going to make a huge difference for the glory of God.
Questions to Consider
Paul says in Ephesians 2:19 that we are citizens, God's holy people, and members of God's family. Which of those descriptions is the most appealing to you? Why?
The idea of the church being a family can be exciting, comforting, or scary depending on the family you grew up in. What part do the individual member play in assuring that this family is a loving compassionate family?
What does that look like on a personal level?
Why is it so difficult to be committed to the life of the local church?
What are some things that take your attention away from the life of the local church? (It’s important to notice that the things that clamor for our attention are not necessarily bad things, they are just not better things)
Building the community of the local church seems to be a constant battle in the New Testament. What appeal did Paul the Apostle make to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 1:10 and in what particular ways did he want them to do this? (I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.)