Sunday, November 15, 2015

Caution: Don't Waste Your Church

For quite some time, in the United States, the church of Jesus Christ could assume that people understood, or at least had a basic understanding, of the principals and morals and standards found in the scriptures.  Children would pray the Lord’s Prayer before school.  Court rooms and government buildings proudly displayed the Ten Commandments. 

But today things look much different.  Within the past thirty years the face of our nation has changed and church congregations that once stood proudly in the middle of community of life are now on the outskirts. 

John piper wrote the book entitled don’t waste your life.  In it he warned the reader that to become comfortable, and chase anything as your soul source of delight, over Christ Jesus, is to waste your life.  In response to his book I am entitling this post “Don’t Waste Your Church”.

The way we waste our church is to live as if the church is still the middle of social life in America.  There is a battle for peoples’ heart soul mind.  There is an ongoing battle for joy.  The church of Jesus Christ should be the first ones on the front line of that battle for joy, because we have the most wonderful, and the only satisfying answer to the insatiable desire for Joy created in the heart of every person.  

“So,” you ask me, “what do you mean when you say don’t waste the Church?  What can I/we do?”  Thank you for asking that question.  In the passage we read today is a sobering challenge to any congregation and frankly to any who claim to have faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. 

The text before us can be both a wonderful encouragement and a stark warning for us.  Jesus tells us a story that teaches profound truths about the kingdom of heaven. Let us examine this passage by looking at some key words, and ask the question, “How does this apply to your congregation?”
The first word I want to look at is the word virgin.  This is an important word for us.  What is important to note about these virgins is that they claimed to wait for the groom.  The fact that they were all virgins meant they were still “untarnished by the world,” you might say.  But here it is important to note they did not all see the groom

You essentially have two different congregations of virgins.  There were the foolish virgins who could not be bothered to fill their lamps, and there were the wise virgins who were determined to be ready.   The five who were faithful were brought into the wedding feast to enjoy the bountiful spread and celebration of their marriage. 

In this parable the virgins are waiting for their bridegroom.  This parable falls right into the middle of Jesus’ key note sermon on his second coming in the book of Matthew.  His disciples ask him when the end times will come, and Jesus leads them through the details of his second coming.  The bridegroom is clearly Jesus and is a beautiful reminder that he is coming for his Church, his bride, who faithfully waits for him.  The bridegroom comes and collects his bride the congregation who was faithful to wait with lamps lit, and ample oil to wait. 

The next two key words in this passage is Lamp and oil.  You see, each virgin had a lamp, and each virgin had oil.  But the wise virgins looked at their task of waiting, and saw that they need to be prepared for as long as possible.  So they topped off their lamps off and they got a larger container to hold more oil so they would be always prepared. 

Light is an important to the four gospels.  In Matthew 5:14-16 Jesus says to his disciples,
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
 This passage, in the Sermon on the Mount, is a command for us to, in total dependence on God, live transformed lives as forgiven children of God.  By doing so the world will see our light and be transformed also.  We are to remember this passage as we read about the virgins preparing the light of their lamps.  They in faithful obedience had enough oil to wait for the bridegroom Jesus Christ. 

Here is where the passage gets scary.  At midnight Jesus comes for his brides.  And what happens?  The congregation of women dressed in white with lamps lit went into the wedding feast.  But, the congregation of women dressed in white holding no light stood at the closed door weeping because they were not invited to the wedding.  They looked like brides but on that evening the proved they were not brides because they did not keep their lamp lit. 

You can look like a Christian. You can your entire life you can go to church, Sunday school, prayer meeting, and yet never be transformed by the message of grace and transformation found at the cross of Jesus Christ.  When this happens you will look like the perfect virgin dressed in white pounding on the door saying the words of Matthew 7:21-23,
“Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then [Jesus] will … declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
This is a story of profound warning.  We live in a time (we may always be in that time) of profound darkness.  And we need the light of Joy!  To change the metaphor we are in a battle for Joy.  Eternity is at stake in this battle.  People’s eternal lives are in the balance.  We, as the Church of Jesus Christ, his congregation, are called to enter into the darkness of this battle with the light of joy. We are called to illuminate the countryside with his message!

Here is my charge to the church of North America.  My charge to you today is let your light shine bright.  Be like the wise virgin brides who entered into the wedding celebration.  My charge to you is this, do not be like the foolish virgins.  They were too comfortable to be bothered to get sufficient oil.  On the day it mattered they were left in the dark. 

You must understand it is easy, it is comfortable, to think of the building as the church.  As long as you meet in a building you must be a church because we call that building a church.  God is not in the business of real-estate.  Every inch of the universe belongs to him! God is in the business of transforming the hearts of people.  Too many congregations fall into the trap of thinking they are a building and they become comfortable and complacent and their light grows dim.  And standing outside is a world who is in pain in desperate need of hope and joy. 

This is how you waste your church.  Be comfortable in a well warmed building hiding yourself away from a world that is in desperate need of light.  You will waste your church because when God passes over your community he will not stop, because he will see no light, just a building. On that day you will cry out together, “Lord Lord did we not prophesy in your name?”  And he will say, “depart from me I do not know you.”  Do not waste your church there is a desperate need for light in your community. 

Here is my next charge to you: Be like the wise virgins.  Seek God in the walk of humble transformation.  Be restored to His Joy, and restore others to his Joy.  In all times and seasons look for opportunity to shine the joy filled light of Jesus Christ to your community, which needs him desperately. 

 “Well pastor how do I do this?  This seems like a fairly abstract task.”  Thank you for asking this question.  Because the task is not abstract.  It is tangible.  And Jesus gave us many tools to fight the battle for joy and win. 

First and most importantly is calibrate your understanding of the Church. The word used in the Greek that we translate Church in our bibles never carried the idea of building.  The word in the Greek has the idea of those who are called out together.  It is the idea of a congregation called together by a singular purpose.  The singular purpose of the Church is to glorify God by finding our joy in him. 

Even the word Church comes from a Greek word meaning belonging to the Lord.  Only recently does the word mean building.  The sooner we see who we are as a church as a congregation gathering for the Glory of God the sooner we gain a foothold in the battle for Joy. 

The five wise Virgins were a congregation who together saw the glory of the coming Bridegroom.  What joy it is for us gather together as the Church of God, the Congregation of Christ? 

You must calibrate your understanding you cannot go to church, the concept is foreign to the bible.  You gather as the church. 

The second thing you can do to keep your lamp lit is strive to follow the great commandment.  The greatest commandment is to love. When Jesus was questioned by the Pharisees about the greatest commandment he said this,
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Do you see the flow here?  It is love God then love your neighbor.  The more you love God the deeper your love and compassion for your neighbor will become.  You cannot live in a community claim to love God and sit by idly and let legions of people enter eternity with no light of joy.  It is unloving to not tell people about Jesus both in word and deed.  You demonstrate you have no love for God and his commandments to you, and the person who will spend eternity in tormented darkness.  So love!  There is no greater joy then to know and love the Creator God of the Universe and to share that love and joy with others.

The third thing you can do to keep your lamp lit is strive to fulfill the great commission.  In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus says,
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Do you see where it begins?  Go!  The command is to go! Do not stay comfortable.  Go and as you go tell people about Jesus.  Baptize them teach them love them.  This starts in your congregation and will grow to every corner of the globe.  You will see joy grow if you give yourself to be the Church who lovingly proclaims and lives the Grace of Jesus Christ.

Let your light shine bright.  Do not allow your light to burn out. Do this and you will not waste your church. 

No comments:

Post a Comment