Why bother with church?

Pastoral Messages | January 1, 2015

Belonging to a church is an increasingly unfashionable idea. Just look at the larger culture. Check out the statistics on churchgoing habits. Observe what much of America does on a Sunday morning.

With the possible exception of government, few institutions receive more criticism than the church. It has been an easy target from the beginning.

With its ambitious mission and its many failures, a dismissive attitude is easy to come by. Viewed as irrelevant, out of touch, and full of wishful thinkers, many critics think of church as a useless enterprise. To them, it’s an antique way of life, an inefficient use of time.

Who in their right mind would gather to gaze at a cross and declare things that cannot be proved?

Well, here is a partial list, in no particular order, of why many of us elect to bother with church.

1. We choose to be a part of something that is larger than our own little lives, protected opinions, and self-important ways. We join a family that is bigger than the one we were born into. For me, it’s about following a light that is brighter than my own candle.

Stay away from church and you’re apt to make God into your own image – an attractive Lord who loves exactly the same things you love. Insert yourself into Christian community, directly into the company of people who don’t think exactly as you think, and God is apt to start molding you into God’s image.

2. Church is that community of significance where you get to come as you are and, by the power of God’s word and the impact of other people, be loved into the person you get to become. No qualifications are required.

Practically everything else we encounter has requirements: Voting. Job applications. Medicare. Even public schools have requirements (e.g. vaccinations). Church, in its best expression at least, is a no-qualifications home where unconditional love reigns supreme.

3. It is impossible to have Christ apart from the church. This isn’t my word but the apostle Paul’s word. As wonderful as it would be to have Christ apart from the hypocrisies and distractions of other people who believe, Christ is embedded in the church. Sounds foolish, but we are his body.

Plenty of people opt out, preferring to worship nature instead. Yet the most gorgeous sunset does not pass an offering plate to help feed the hungry, clothe the poor, or meet the needs of cholera-stricken refugees. The grandeur of the Grand Canyon offers no clue that Jesus suffered on a cross as an act of love.

No Ponderosa Pine tree will tell you to “love your neighbor as yourself.” I’ve never met a mountain stream that will declare the forgiveness of your sins.

4. Church means stopping your week long enough to give thanks to the one who gave you your week. Read Luke 17:11-19. The ratio in that story is sobering. Only one in ten people find God worth the gratitude for the good life they enjoy.

The tenth leper who bows down at the feet of Jesus IS the church.

5. Worship in a congregation is radical stuff. No self-improvement technique can ever compare. Worship is one moment in a week where we cannot customize or program the world to our preferences.

Singing together, praying collectively for the sake of others, and subjecting oneself to hearing God’s word (which is very different from choosing what one wants to read) are disciplines that make a life. They free us from ad-hoc spirituality that requires us to make up faith every day.

6. In a nation steeped in rugged individualism, joining a community of Christians is about believing more in God and in each other than in oneself. It’s about marching to a beat more beautiful than one’s own drum.

Joys and sorrows get shared in a Christ-centered community. Once you’ve experienced this shared life, you know its magnificence and the strength it provides.

7. Church is for those who know their need for God. It is a hospital for sinners – one sinner unashamed of his or her need for God, standing alongside all kinds of other people in the same condition.

That’s enough for today. More on our moral imagination growing through life in Christian community another day.

Peter Marty, senior pastor

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Daniel 12:1-3

The Time of the End

1“Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued.2“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.3“Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

Psalm 16

1Preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in You.

2I said to the LORD, “You are my Lord;

I have no good besides You.”

3As for the saints who are in the earth,

They are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.

4The sorrows of those who have bartered for another god will be multiplied;

I shall not pour out their drink offerings of blood,

Nor will I take their names upon my lips.

5The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup;

You support my lot.

6The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;

Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.

7I will bless the LORD who has counseled me;

Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night.

8I have set the LORD continually before me;

Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

9Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices;

My flesh also will dwell securely.

10For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol;

Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.

11You will make known to me the path of life;

In Your presence is fullness of joy;

In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.

Hebrews 10:11-25

11Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins;12but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD,13waiting from that time onward UNTIL HISENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET.14For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.15And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying,

16“THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THEM

AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD:

I WILL PUT MY LAWS UPON THEIR HEART,

AND ON THEIR MIND I WILL WRITE THEM,”

He then says,

17“AND THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDS

I WILL REMEMBER NO MORE.”

18Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.

A New and Living Way

19Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus,20by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,21and since we have a great priest over the house of God,22let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;24and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,25not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Christ or Judgment

Mark 13:1-8

Things to Come

1As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples *said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!”2And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.”

3As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning Him privately,4“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?”5And Jesus began to say to them, “See to it that no one misleads you.6“Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and will mislead many.7“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be frightened; those things must take place; but that is not yet the end.8“For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

Daniel 7:9-14

9“I kept looking

Until thrones were set up,

And the Ancient of Days took His seat;

His vesture was like white snow

And the hair of His head like pure wool.

His throne was ablaze with flames,

Its wheels were a burning fire.

10“A river of fire was flowing

And coming out from before Him;

Thousands upon thousands were attending Him,

And myriads upon myriads were standing before Him;

The court sat,

And the books were opened.

11“Then I kept looking because of the sound of the boastful words which the horn was speaking; I kept looking until the beast was slain, and its body was destroyed and given to the burning fire.12“As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but an extension of life was granted to them for an appointed period of time.

The Son of Man Presented

13“I kept looking in the night visions,

And behold, with the clouds of heaven

One like a Son of Man was coming,

And He came up to the Ancient of Days

And was presented before Him.

14“And to Him was given dominion,

Glory and a kingdom,

That all the peoples, nations and men of every language

Might serve Him.

His dominion is an everlasting dominion

Which will not pass away;

And His kingdom is one

Which will not be destroyed.

The Vision Interpreted

Psalm 93

1The LORD reigns, He is clothed with majesty;

The LORD has clothed and girded Himself with strength;

Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved.

2Your throne is established from of old;

You are from everlasting.

3The floods have lifted up, O LORD,

The floods have lifted up their voice,

The floods lift up their pounding waves.

4More than the sounds of many waters,

Than the mighty breakers of the sea,

The LORD on high is mighty.

5Your testimonies are fully confirmed;

Holiness befits Your house,

O LORD, forevermore.

Revelation 1:-4-8

John 18:33-37

33Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”34Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?”35Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?”36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”37Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”