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We have been talking about what a church is and what a church should be, there is one other thing that I want to address before we leave this topic. It is something that I think we miss a lot. Maybe it is because we tend to think of a church as a building or as what happens among a group of people at that building but a church is really more about the people than the place.
The problem is that when we are at a church building we tend to think about the church and about God and the things that concern God and the church but when we go home or go to work or go to town we tend to think about the things at home, or at work, or about the world.
This last part of a church may be the hardest to explain or the hardest to nail down, it may be the easiest to overlook or forget. It is not more important than the other things but since we tend to overlook it or forget it more easily it may be the one we have to concentrate on more to make sure it is not forgotten.
So what is this thing, like I said it is hard to nail down and explain. It is elusive, you know when it is missing but you don’t necessarily know what is missing. You know when you are in a church that has it even if you don’t recognize what it is.
If this part of a church is missing nothing quite works the way it should and, things don’t seem to go as well as they should, you might have all of the parts but they just don’t fit together the way they should and it shows.
Obviously the most important parts of what a church is and does are loving God and loving your neighbor. I believe that most of the people in most of the churches in the world love God, or at least they are trying to. I think we all know that we should love each other and most of us do love. Sometimes we love better than we do at other times and some people we find easier to love than others but I think most churches do love.
There are some churches though where it is easier to feel the love and to feel loved. Most churches worship but some just feel more worshipful. The think we are talking about today is in some ways a result more than thing you can just start doing. It is what happens when you do the right thing over and over and create a habit, or even an atmosphere where doing right becomes more natural, easier than doing wrong. It is the sense of community and the way people think.
In a way it is the collective thoughts and feelings of the church body. It is the dream that we all share and the goals that we all work toward together. It is what brings the church together and keeps it together.
“Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. “O Israel, you should listen and be careful to do it, that it may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. “You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. “Then it shall come about when the Lord your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied, then watch yourself, that you do not forget the Lord who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name. “You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you, for the Lord your God in the midst of you is a jealous God; otherwise the anger of the Lord your God will be kindled against you, and He will wipe you off the face of the earth. “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah. “You should diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and His testimonies and His statutes which He has commanded you. “You shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may be well with you and that you may go in and possess the good land which the Lord swore to give your fathers,
God commanded the Israelites to create a certain set of habits and behaviors. They were to create and atmosphere in their homes, while they worked, when they got up in the morning and when they went to bed and everywhere in between. The word of God was not supposed to be something they memorized, or followed, or even something they revered......It was to be something they lived.
The commandments of God were to be something that permeated every aspect of their lives and something that came as natural to them as breathing. No part o their day and no part of their life was to be isolated from God, they were supposed to live in such a way that they were always aware that God was there, that God was close.
They wouldn’t have to tell you they worshiped God, anyone who spent time with them would know. They would never seem fake or sem to be posing because every part of their lives were the same. They wore clothing that proclaimed who they were like we might wear a shirt with a christian saying on it. They had reminders all around them like we might put up posters or have ornaments that proclaimed God. God was a natural part of their conversations, it was never forced and they didn’t have to arrange things so that they could talk about God, he was so much a part of their lives that he would just come up naturally. Or at least that was how it was supposed to be.
If we became a church that was not afraid to be who we really are, because who we really are is someone who is really trying to love God and love our neighbor. We know that we don’t always get it right, and we know that the people around us don’t either, so we count on grace and we give grace and everyone expects it, because that’s what is real and what is true.
We need to create an atmosphere of being the church. We need to be so real and so genuine that even our mistakes are part what makes us the church. When we sing we need to worship in spirit and it truth, in other words we really mean it and we really let our love for God show. If we miss a note we still love God and we still worship and its OK, in fact it is beautiful and so our worship will be beautiful, mistakes and all.
When we study the word of God we need to really let it in, show up desiring to be changed and to be transformed from what we are today to what Jesus has always been. If we forget every other goal and just try to get all that God wants to give us and grow all we can from what God does give us. If our preaching and teaching is focused only on knowing God and becoming more like him we can study the simplest ideas and grow or the most complicated theological concepts and get so lost we don’t know up from down and still allow God to change us because it is is his word and his love and his grace and we are just happy to be in his presence.
To be a great church we don’t have to have spectacular music, the best voices who are always right on key and musicians who play perfectly every time, we just need to have people who love God and let it show through their worship. We might get off key from time to time and we might even sing the wrong words at the wrong time but if we love God and we let our love and respect for hims ring out we will have true and authentic worship and we can enjoy the times when we sing great together and laugh at the times when we mess it all up with equal joy and appreciation.
When we study God’s word, gathering for Sunday School or morning worship, bible study or even friends gathering in our own homes we will find things that we just can’t understand, we will be confused, we will find times when we disagree, but if we truly come to the bible to hear from God and to be changed in our deepest being to be more like him we will be a church of the word and God will bless us and use us and grow us day after day after day.
“You shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may be well with you and that you may go in and possess the good land which the Lord swore to give your fathers, by driving out all your enemies from before you, as the Lord has spoken. “When your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What do the testimonies and the statutes and the judgments mean which the Lord our God commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord brought us from Egypt with a mighty hand. ‘Moreover, the Lord showed great and distressing signs and wonders before our eyes against Egypt, Pharaoh and all his household; He brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land which He had sworn to our fathers.’ “So the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God for our good always and for our survival, as it is today. “It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the Lord our God, just as He commanded us.
If we become the best and most sincere Christians we can be the people around us will notice the difference, even our very children will ask us why, what is all this about. Living our lives together and making God part of everything we do, keeping him in all of our thoughts will create a culture, and atmosphere that forces others to ask what is different, what is it about this person, this church, this song, this study, this verse that rings so true? Why is it that this verse I have heard all my life suddenly has so much meaning, why is it that this song that I have sung a thousand times fills me with such joy right now, why is this time different?
It is different because when we truly worship with nothing on our minds but honoring God others can see the love of God in our hearts and on our minds, when we study the word of God with the sole purpose of hearing from God and being transformed into more than we have ever been before others can see the love of God shine through us and through our words and thoughts. When we focus completely on God others are almost forces to focus on him too. It makes it easier for all of us to worship, easier for all of us to be transformed, we all benefit and we all win.
But what if no one noticed, what if it didn’t work like that and no one came to our church, no one joined, no one responded at all. What if all that happened was that we few, we happy few experienced genuine worship and felt the presence of God every time we gathered together. What if all that happened was that our lives were transformed to be closer to God than we ever imagined possible, would that be so bad. I believe it would. If I joined a group of people who, whenever they gathered together I felt the presence of God and whenever I was with them I felt closer to God and I grew closer to God and was better in every way because I was a part of them, If I knew a group like that I would want everyone I cared about to come and join, wouldn’t you?