What is Church? — A Few Thoughts

Title: What is Church? — A Few Thoughts

Text: Mark 11:15-17,

Time: September 17th, 2005

This message was not something I planned to give. In fact, I was working on something entirely different this week, but because of some very powerful things that happened this week I wanted to share with you some very important things I’ve learned and that have really effected me deeply. All this week I was reflecting on what church is. What is it that we are trying to do when we come together for church, here or any other place? Every Sunday there are hundreds of churches in Jamestown and thousands of churches in the United States and millions of churches all around the world that meet. What is it that these churches are trying to accomplish? What is the point of church? Not what can church be used for, not what can happen or what is possible for churches to do, what is church supposed to do, what is church supposed to be? Because I have a feeling that if church is what it’s supposed to be, people will be drawn to it, not all people, but some people. We all know that in Europe hardly anyone ever goes into the doors of a church. I think the average attendance in church is 5%, which means 95% of all Europeans simply skip church. In the United States I think the latest statistic is that maybe 15-25% of the people attend church on Sunday, higher than Europe but declining every year. More and more people are simply skipping church, simply not bothering to go. Now is there a God? Yes. Does he have a church on earth for the benefit of his people? Yes. Then what’s the problem? Why is it that people are not finding God in the very place where God has provided for them to find his presence? I have a feeling that if the church would be what it’s supposed to be God’s children would do what they are supposed to do. Now why have church? One answer is that we should give to God the honor, recognition, and glory He is due. After all he is our Creator, we are the creation, we owe him that much to acknowledge Him. But that’s church based on duty, obligation, what we ought to do. The early Christians did church on the basis of desire, what they wanted to do, what was a delight to them, not out of duty. But today, much of church is done out of religious duty, obligation, what we ought to do rather than out of desire, what we want to do. But this week I spent a lot of time praying and reflecting on what is church and why have it and what is it that is supposed to happen in it. And God showed me powerfully some things that have changed me, and have made a big impact on me already. He didn’t just show me something; he hit me with it deep down in my soul. This last week I’ve gone through one of the most powerfully moving spiritual experiences I’ve ever had. I met with worship leader Randy Anderson on Friday and started sharing this stuff. I could hardly speak because God was interrupting things by causing me to cry all over the place! That’s a good sign, that’s a positive sign. God was moving in my heart, not just in my head; in my soul, not just my intellect. That’s how I know this stuff is real. I want to share with you what God shared with me because it has everything to do with what we are trying to do here at the church. Bear with me because I don’t know what God will do or might do with this material. I have a few passages from the Bible that I’ll teach from and then comment on.

First, pure worship takes place when I express my heart to God without any distractions. Mark 11:15-17, “On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” But you have made it a den of robbers.’” Jesus clears out all non-essentials from the place of worship, brings it to its purest form — and that’s where the power is released. The moneychangers and the animal sellers were serving a practical function; they were assisting the worshippers at the Temple. Jews would come from all over to make sacrifice and pray to God at the famous Temple in Jerusalem, but they came from different places, thus they had different currency. Also, they didn’t haul sacrificial animals with them, so they needed to purchase a sacrificial animal at the Temple. So they needed to exchange their currency into the local coinage, and then buy an animal to sacrifice at the Temple. Both things were needed. But the thing Jesus objected to was these two functions — currency exchange and animal purchases — had taken over the whole Temple scene. They were supposed to help people but they were actually hurting people meet with God. Jesus said, “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you have made it into something else – a den of thieves.” And that is the temptation for churches today, making church into something else. What is church supposed to be? It’s supposed to be a place where I can go and experience God, where I can speak to God and where God can speak to me. But does that really happen in churches very often today? No. Why? Because we find all sorts of religious and cultural barriers in church that get in the way and actually block God speaking to us and us speaking to God. We’ve got all this religious “stuff” that keeps us from experiencing God — even in a place like church — established for the very purpose of meeting with God. What kind of “stuff” gets in our way? It can be anything, usually good stuff in and of itself. To give you an example, I was talking to Randy Anderson on Friday about the song written by a famous contemporary worship leader that goes, “When the music fades and all is stripped away and I simply come, trying just to bring something that’s of worth that will bless your heart. I’ll bring you more than a song, for a song in itself is not what you have required. You search much deeper within than the way things appear, you’re looking into my heart. I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about you, it’s all about you Jesus. I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it, because it’s all about you, it’s all about you Jesus.” Now what’s he saying? He’s making the same point as Jesus in the Temple. He’s cleansing the temple of his own music ministry. He’s saying, “I’ve lost the point of worship, I’ve gotten off track with all kinds of other good things – clever and complex music, high-tech electronic instrumentation, catchy rhythms, skilled vocal arrangements, etc., I sense an emptiness, and I want to get back to basics and make the main thing the main thing in worship.” Churches all over the world have gotten off track and don’t know what’s wrong. Ever once in a while we need to ask ourselves, “What is worship and are we doing it?”

Jesus can help us keep the main thing the main thing in church worship. In John 3:19-24, a Samaritan woman speaks to Jesus: “’I can see you are a prophet. Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus declared, ‘Believe me woman a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.’” This woman wanted to know about worship but she was distracted by where to worship (on this mountain or Jerusalem) or how to worship (like the Samaritans do or the Jews do). But Jesus told her that it wasn’t about the mechanics or the methods or the locations or the styles. It goes deeper than that. Worship must be from the spirit, from the heart, from our deepest place, from us to God. What is worship? It’s me expressing my heart adoration to God. There are many things in the deepest part of all of us that we desperately need to say to God but we usually just can’t articulate it. There are disappointments and joys, there are successes and failures, and there are hurts and blessings — the whole range of issues we deal with in life that we desperately need to articulate to God. Read the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament and see a real worshipper. David is speaking from the depths of his heart to his God. That’s worship pure and simple. It didn’t matter where he was, or the exact details of his life situation or even the specific mechanics of how he worshipped. He simply expressed his heart to God, free from distractions. Now, in respect to us today, we need church because we need help in saying what we need to say to God, what our heart needs to express to God. We need help, you need help, and I need help. We go to church for help. The worship leader helps us say what we have trouble saying by ourselves. He leads us into words and phrases and expressions that say what is on our hearts to God. Now the worship leader has help also because there are songs and poetry that he turns to for help in helping us. There are Psalms, praise choruses, old-fashioned hymns, prayers and creeds, etc., that helps us express what is in our hearts towards God. We have worshipped God when we are satisfied that what was in our hearts has been expressed to God. Plus, there is something else — something that’s a blessing for us in addition to expressing our hearts of praise to God. God acknowledges us. Yes, and this is where it gets really, really good. When we express our praise, adoration and worship to God, that’s not all that happens. It isn’t just one-way. In the process, hopefully, we’ll experience the acknowledgement of God for our praises. He’ll touch our heart, He’ll nod his head, He’ll reach out to us, He’ll do something that communicates he’s heard our praise, he’s received them and he’s pleased. That’s what makes worship such a blessing! It’s not about the particular sound quality of the worship group, it’s not about the clever lyrics of the songs, it’s not about great singing or instrumentation, it’s not about a fancy worship facility — whether on this mountain or that place, in the city or in the country, this or that superficial detail. Did we express the devotion in our hearts to God and did He acknowledge it? That’s what it all comes down to. And if we can experience that here at Crosspointe church every week, nothing else matters. If we do real worship, nothing else matters. It doesn’t matter if there is plaster falling off the walls, it doesn’t matter if there’s a musty smell, it doesn’t matter if the pipes leak, if the pews aren’t padded for comfort. If we can worship, really worship God so that we’ve said what our hearts long to say devotionally to God — and He acknowledges us back in some way — that’s enough. But let’s look at another thing.

Second, not only do we express ourselves to God in worship at church, but also God expresses himself to us through His Word. Matthew 4:4, “Jesus said, ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” We live in a day and age when people are starving, literally dying of spiritual starvation due to lack of God’s Word. But wait, aren’t there more Bibles today in print than at any other time in history? Yes. Aren’t there more Christian bookstores where Bibles can be purchased, can’t they even be bought in Wal-Mart, other stores, and practically everywhere? Yes, and they come in all varieties and versions, styles, covers and formats. The student Bible, the nurse’s Bible, couples’ Bible, men’s Bible, women’s Bible, the recovery Bible — and on and on. What’s the problem? The problem is while we are being bombarded by every conceivable kind of Bible we really aren’t hearing it, we aren’t receiving it into our deepest places, it’s not getting into our spiritual stomachs for digestion. Some truth is getting there of course, but for all the Bibles out there in circulation, God’s Word, the bread from heaven that Jesus tells us we need to live on daily, just isn’t getting into our lives and feeding us. God desires to express himself to us but we are not getting the message. Why do we need church? What good is church? It is supposed to be a place where we can go to hear the voice of God for each one of us personally. We need the preacher to help us hear God’s Word speak to our soul. Of course we can all read our Bibles in the privacy of our own homes but can we hear God’s voice speaking through it? It’s so easy to be distracted. Just like in worship, we can get off track on otherwise good things, tangents. If the pastor or preacher is doing his job right he will help us focus on God’s Word so our hearts can hear it as well as our minds. It’s not enough for us to receive the Word of God just in our mind; it must get into our heart also. By teaching from the Bible the pastor draws our attention to what God is saying in the passage — but there should be a whole lot more going on as well. For example, as a pastor, while I’m teaching outwardly with words at the same time God is trying to express himself inwardly to you personally in your deepest parts. He’s trying to speak to you about things that you’ve buried deep within you — hurts, joys, blessings, sorrows, etc. He’s trying to bring healing to you, or bring out repentance for sin, or remind you of something important you’ve forgotten, or encourage you to forgive somebody or a million other things. Now that is all happening behind the scenes. You see and hear me up front talking, but God is really trying to talk to you heart-to-heart — and it may have nothing at all to do with what I’m talking to you about! People today, even church people and many Christians, are trying to live on physical or material bread alone; in other words, the material things of life. But they are starving in their souls. They need the bread from heaven, that is, the soul food that God by His Spirit gives. We need that; we need to hear from God, and not just generally but specifically, because there is no telling what God may say or when He’ll say it.

John 3:8, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” When God speaks to you it may be dramatic or it may be subtly. But it really affects you; it changes you. When God gets through, you may even surprise yourself with your reaction. You may not believe it when you first experience it. “I think God is speaking to me.” Or you may say to yourself, “I think I just heard God, I mean deep down in my heart God got through, he said something. I’ve never experienced that before.” Or “I just feel strongly that God spoke to me and I haven’t felt that in a long time until just now.” God uses the Holy Spirit to move our hearts — there is no telling what might happen when our hearts are moved. But whatever it is, it’s good. If you aren’t truly converted, you may be motivated to pray for salvation, along with repentance. That’s the real test. You know what repentance is? It’s saying, “I’m sorry for my sins generally, and I turn away from my sins specifically.” Many people who call themselves Christians haven’t really ever truly repented because they’ve never said to God they are willing to turn away from their actual sins and turn to him in faith. But when God speaks to your heart and you acknowledge it, if you aren’t saved you are willing to even repent and give up any known sins — something you’d never do without God’s prompting. If you feel God speaking to your heart you may begin to hunger for God’s Word and for prayer. Whereas before you showed little interest, or if anything did it out of duty — “Oh, I guess I ought to, I’m a Christian”. Now you want to pray. Also, now you jump at the chance to go to a Bible study, even a small group — the number of people attending doesn’t matter. The same with church. If God speaks to your heart somewhere, in some place, you want to go back. It makes no difference if plaster is chipping of the walls, or whether there’s just a small crowd there, or if the sound and lighting isn’t state-of-the-art, or whether the seats are a bit uncomfortable. That doesn’t matter. God is there, you and God, God and you, in the midst of God’s people, and you’ve heard him speak to you there, so you are going back to hear him speak again. Why go to church? Because it is there we can hear God speaking to us. You can’t get that just anywhere. Oh yes, God does speak to us everywhere if we’ll listen and receive, but usually we are too distracted by the world to even hear God. That’s why church is very important, it’s where God can get through to us; that is, if the church hasn’t majored on the minor things or permitted traditional and cultural barriers to stand between our soul and God. It’s not about how clever I am as a preacher; it’s not how dynamic I am as a speaker (we hear of dynamic speakers, but a lot of times that too can be a distraction to hearing God). If you walk away thinking how great a speaker I am, or how clever my stories were, or how funny my jokes are, or how poetic or how intelligent I am, but you haven’t heard anything from God deep down in your heart, I’ve failed you. But if you leave saying, “God is really speaking to me about that issue,” or “God is really encouraging me to do this,” then I’ve succeeded.

What is CrossPointe church all about? It’s about helping people experience God and helping them process the life change that meeting God brings about. We pray that people come to Crosspointe and are able to express their praise to God and feel his loving acknowledgment. We pray that people come to Crosspointe and are able to hear God’s voice speaking to their soul, and acknowledge it. We pray that we can provide leadership to people who have experienced and encountered God and who now want to know what to do. We pray that we can provide a spiritual path for people whose lives have been changed by an encounter with the living God and who can’t remain the same, who can’t go back to the same old status quo. What will the future hold? Nobody can say, but I feel good about the fact that if we can see at least something of what I’ve described taking place here, we won’t have to worry to much about the days ahead.

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