During this pandemic, every church has had to figure out how to do “church” in a whole new way. Many pastors overnight, learned how to get online to lead worship services and keep in touch with their members. We’ve had to reach out to those without the internet in more of an old-fashioned way through the mailbox and with phone calls. Thankfully, many of those folks have some favorite pastors they watch on TV each week. It has all certainly been a challenge, however, churches are doing it.
I can’t help but think… God could have made me a pastor at any time in the history of His Church. He could have placed you in His Church at any time as well. But God put us here. These are the times you and I have been given.
1 Chronicles 12 lists the mighty men and warriors from each of the 12 tribes who came to fight with and help King David win the war against King Saul. All of these people were ready for change. They had suffered greatly under Saul’s leadership because of his disobedience to God. In verse 32, it says, “From the tribe of Iss-a-char, there were 200 leaders of the tribe with their relatives. All these men understood the signs of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take.”
Maybe this verse simply means that these men thought that David was a better choice than Saul. Or perhaps it means that these men had a deep understanding of what was going on in their culture, and knew they had to do their part. Either way, I think this verse shows us that we can do one of two things: 1) Ignore the times around us and watch them pass us by, or 2) we can understand the times in which God has placed us and respond to them boldly as the Church. Just as the men from Iss-a-char put their trust in David’s success, I am putting my trust in the local church for my time in history. Perhaps more than any other time God’s Church is so relevant right now. We are desperately needed and there is much work to do.
One of the reasons I have such great hope for the Church is that Jesus established it and promised that it would prevail no matter the times or circumstances it faces.
When Peter declared, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” Jesus responded by saying, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” (Matthew 16:16–18).
First, Jesus is the foundation of everything the Church does. He is the Cornerstone, the platform we are built on.
In this passage, Jesus is establishing the Christian Church. The Greek word He uses for church is ekklesia (ekk-les-i-a), which means a local assembly or gathering. It’s interesting that the word church in the Bible never refers to a building. It is always a gathering of people. So the building we meet in is not the church. You and I are the church. We are the local gathering in the name of Jesus.
And because we claim, as Peter did, that, “Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” we know that we too are a part of Jesus’ Church. We too are built on His foundation. On this rock I will build my church, because it’s strong. Peter was strong enough (certainly with the help of the Holy Spirit) to continue building the church. Spread the word, teach people Jesus’ ways, to make disciples.
A Tremendous Trust
What tremendous power and responsibility Jesus gave the Church! In verse 19, Jesus goes on, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Anything you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. Anything you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven.”
We know that only God can forgive sins and only God can save people. So Jesus isn’t describing the power to go down a line of people and say, “You’re saved. You’re saved. You’re not. Nope. Yep. Definitely no.” So what does it mean that we as the local church have the power to fasten and loosen things on earth and in heaven?
I’m not much of a car girl, but let me describe it this way. Let’s say that the Gospel is a loaded 2020 Mustang Shelby GT350. It has within it all the power it needs to do the work it’s going to do. You can’t make this car go faster or perform better by opening up the door and pushing along the street with one foot. No, it has all the power that is needed. Now imagine Jesus comes up to you and says, “Here are the keys, My child. Where are you going to take it?”
That illustrates what I think this passage is saying. The power to bring freedom and to break chains is found in the Gospel. Just like the car has all the power it needs, the Gospel doesn’t need us. But Jesus, because he values a relationship with you so much and wants you to be a part of His work so deeply, says to us, “Here’s the Gospel. Here are the keys. Where are you going to take it?” The church has the authority to bring the full power and truth of heaven with it to a hurting and sinful world…or we can park it in the garage.
As long as the Lord allows me to have influence in this church – the part of the ekklesia that I’m in – the gathering that I’m in – we will not pull the Gospel out of the garage just to give it a buff and shine, listen to the engine purr, and take it back inside so it doesn’t get dirty.
As far as I have influence, we’re going to take those keys, come screaming out of the driveway, put the pedal down, and see what this Gospel of Jesus Christ has under the hood. We’re going to see what the freeing power of Jesus can really do in our community and in our world.
It might get a little dirty. It might get a chip in the windshield. It might get a ding in the side, but this car is meant to be driven (sorry car buffs). We have been given the keys to the kingdom, so we are going to take it forward by His power, under the protection of His grace, and through the leading of His Spirit so that what is loosened here on earth by His power may be loosened in heaven for all of eternity. And the gates of hell will not stand against us! AMEN!
I have heard a lot of people say they don’t go to church because they don’t like organized religion. And to some degree, I get it. I understand why. Throughout history, we have forgotten our mission and purpose. We thought church was about structure and a hierarchy when actually it was about the people we are called to reach.
But the best thing about organized religion is that it organizes. When we organize, we can get some things done. God has called us to gather together to find ways to live, to share, and to spread the truth and power of the Gospel. I can tell you that not every mission idea in this church is mine. Many times it’s someone else’s or we enhance each other’s ideas to make them something great. We have a common mission and call. We can’t complete it without each other.
In Romans 12:4–6, Paul said, “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.”
You can get some things done all by yourself, but it’s like a thumb without a hand or other fingers. In the end, a thumb by itself isn’t good for much at all. But in conjunction with fingers, there is no end to the things your thumb can grasp, open, move, pull, or shape! It’s the same way with the body of Christ. Our different gifts working in conjunction with one another open up ministry and Gospel opportunities that we could never imagine on our own! You can’t be all you were created to be without others.
The fact is, we are called to change and shape our world together with the power of the Gospel. It’s the power that God gives us when we come together. That’s why God tells us in Hebrews 10:25, not to give up “meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.”
You are probably asking, “how in the world can we do that when we aren’t allowed to gather right now?” Well, when you view online the full Sunday messages at YSUMC for instance, you are joining at least 150 people in worship. Whoever you watch each week, when you worship, technically you are joining 2 billion Christians across the world! I say that’s a gathering! Just think about the Holy Spirit, how big God is. He can reach every corner of this world and I believe, through the Holy Spirit, God is pulling us together as one body.
Now saying that, please do NOT miss understand me. Please do NOT ever think online worship takes the place of in person worship and gathering. It certainly is nowhere near the same! Cause boy do I miss having you all together in worship. I miss the hugs. I miss hearing the songs sung by the Church as a whole. I miss all the encouragement and the love that I get from seeing my sisters and brothers in Christ when we are all together! I miss the witnesses of what God is doing in each one’s lives. I miss the power behind our prayers when we all join together. I miss the lessons that I can learn from other’s experiences. In other words, church is SO MUCH more than hearing God’s word. And you know what I miss most of all, I miss the power that is behind our praising and honoring our God together.
But for now that is what we have. I still see power in it. And I see God doing some amazing outreach with it.
Look, one day this pandemic is going to be gone. We are going to get back into work and school rhythms. We’re going to get back into our extra activities. And I’m not asking you to add another thing to your already busy life. What I am suggesting is that we all make the work of the kingdom of God a priority in our lives since it’s the only work that really matters. And one essential expression of that work is for us to worship together in person!
So one challenge I’m going to give you now, is that when this pandemic is all done, go to church. Find a church family. Whether here at YSUMC, or another church, go to church.
We Need the Church
Our need to gather together goes beyond what we can do or get done. It actually affects who we are and what we become. We find in the Bible that the followers of Jesus are meant to be connected to the local church, and they are also meant to be fueled and equipped by the local church.
In Colossians 3:16, Paul said, “Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.”
Jesus spoke about church as if He was expecting you would be there.
We are called to go deeper in our relationship with Jesus, to experience greater freedom in His Spirit, and to undergo a more complete transformation into His likeness. If you want to grow to the next level in the way you follow Jesus, you have to get beyond your own voice and your own interpretation of God’s Word.
I’m not saying that’s the easiest thing to do, but when has going beyond average ever been easy? This gathering is important. It’s important for our personal growth, our unity, and our purpose. No wonder why the Bible so clearly tells us we should not forsake it.
Another reason we shouldn’t avoid going church is that through a church family, we find real help and support for the hard times. Is there anyone else other than me who has discovered that life is tough? The truth is that all of us are going to go through hard times at some point, in some way. When the tough times come for you, I want your church family to be there for you. When the tough times come for me, I want you to be there for me. What a beautiful thing it is when we gather together and extend the grace and care of God to each other!
Another way church helps us is that we need the reminder of God’s word, regularly…not once or twice a month. No matter how well you think you know it, we need reminders. Just think about it, there is just way too much to remember on a daily basis. And I’d bet to say that when you listen to my sermons, I seldom tell you something you don’t already know to some level. I may say something in a way that brings light to what you already knew or give you a new perspective. But overall, we need to hear God’s word over and over and over again for it to stay fresh in our minds.
It reminds me of a couple that was having problems remembering things.
During a checkup, the doctor tells them that they’re physically okay, but they might want to start writing things down to help them remember. Later that night, while watching TV, the man gets up from his chair.
“Want anything while I’m in the kitchen?” he asks.
“Will you get me a bowl of ice cream?”
“Don’t you think you should write it down so you can remember it?” she asks.
“No, I can remember a simple bowl of ice cream.”
“Well, I’d like some strawberries on top, too. Maybe you should write it down.”
He says, “I can remember that. You want a bowl of ice cream with strawberries.”
“I’d also like whipped cream. I’m certain you’ll forget that. Write it down,” she says.
Irritated, he says, “I don’t need to write it down. I can remember it! Ice cream with strawberries and whipped cream, for goodness’ sake!”
After about twenty minutes, the man returns from the kitchen and hands his wife a plate of bacon and eggs. She stares at the plate for a moment and asks, “Where’s my toast?”
Like the couple, one of our biggest problems is that we need constant reminders of the truth. There’s so much in this world distracting us. There is so much in this world questioning and contradicting the truth. When we gather, we are reminded of the truth of God’s Word, the truth of who God is, and the truth of who we are in Jesus.
I’m not concerned with the number of people sitting in church on Sundays, so much as I’m concerned that if we forsake meeting together, the truth will quietly slip from the forefront of our minds, and we’ll gradually buy into and live according to the lies of this world. It amazes me how fast I can forget or question God’s goodness, power, love, and involvement in my life. But gathering here with you every week keeps my life on track with what I believe in my heart.
Call to Worship
There’s an even more important reason for us to gather together every week. And it’s not about you, and it’s not about me. It’s about our Creator and Savior. Every week, we gather, we pray, we read His Word, and we sing songs of worship to Him. We gather to worship God because He is worthy of our praise. 1 Chronicles 16:29 says, “Give to the Lord the glory he deserves! Bring your offering and come into his presence. Worship the Lord in all his holy splendor.”
We need to worship God. To worship is to declare who God is and what place He has in our lives. Worship actually transforms us because when we worship, our hearts and minds line up with God’s.
C. S. Lewis said, “In the process of being worshipped…God communicates His presence to men.” As we worship together, we draw near to God. Just look in the Bible, any human who comes close to God leaves forever changed.
Jesus told us in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” We gather together to draw near to God. This gathering is an essential part of our personal relationship with Him. So look, whether you are worshiping right now with your husband or wife, children or even by yourself, Jesus is there with you.
Even if worship did absolutely nothing for us, we still should gather to worship God for no other reason than for what He has already done, simply because He deserves it. A.W. Tozer said, “Sometimes I go to God and say, ‘God, if Thou dost never answer another prayer while I live on this earth, I will still worship Thee as long as I live and in the ages to come for what Thou hast done already.’ God’s already put me so far in debt that if I were to live one million millenniums I couldn’t pay Him for what He’s done for me.”
God isn’t suffering from low self-esteem where He needs our worship. He is not lacking our praise. He simply deserves it. Our time together provides a wonderful opportunity for us to express our thanks to our Savior!
There is nothing like the church when it’s working right. And that’s why there’s nothing more disappointing than a gathering of believers who have decided to park the Gospel in the garage to keep it clean and safe and pure? What an amazing honor, trust, and privilege God has given us by handing us the keys!!! Do you see how highly He thinks of you as part of His Church?
It’s our job to do our very best to make sure the church is working right. But it only works right when we understand that the local church isn’t a building. It certainly isn’t a pastor. It’s not a denomination. It’s not staff, deacons, or elders. It is a gathering – an assembly of followers of Jesus Christ who are united by love for Him. A church that’s working right is a church where every individual in the gathering takes his or her place in the church with a determination to take the keys of the kingdom and charge forward with the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the glory of His name and for the freedom of His people.
For the sake of the worshiping God, for the sake of your own growth, for the sake of those we are called to reach, I challenge you to be the church with me every week for the remainder of this series. Let’s gather together every week online, in Spirit, so we can be the church that He has called us to be. And when this pandemic is all over, I challenge you to go to an in-person gathering…go to church. You are always welcomed here at YSUMC, but wherever you go just find a church family where you can belong.
Would you pray with me in closing? Father, thank You for Your Church. It seems at times that she has a black eye, but she’s still Your bride. I pray that You would help us become the church You had in mind when You thought it up. Help us to grow together and take our place in this gathering. In Jesus’ name, amen.