Saturday, April 23, 2016

She Gave Everything for Her Church, Will You?

I was moved by an article on Fox News about a couple who made a great sacrifice for their church.  The Chinese government has been increasing persecution of local churches.  This has included sending bulldozers to destroy church buildings.  A couple bravely stood in between a bulldozer and their church building.  The bulldozer pushed them into a ditch.  The husband managed to crawl out.  His wife, Ding Cuimei, was killed.  You can read the story here.  This story of courage and sacrificed led to a series of thoughts I would like to share.

Your Local Church is Very Important to God

Local churches are central to God’s plans to spread the gospel and to transform us into the image of Christ.  The New Testament teaches this in many ways:

Most of the books of the New Testament are written either to a specific local church, a group of local churches, or with instructions for someone overseeing a local church. The book of Acts tells the story of how the gospel spread and a big part of that story is how new churches were started and grew. Throughout the New Testament the role of local churches is pervasive. See for yourself (if you hold your cursor over a verse, it should pop up):

Matthew 18:17, Acts 8:1, Acts 11:22, Acts 11:26, Acts 12:5, Acts 13:1, Acts 14:23, Acts 14:27, Acts 15:3, Acts 15:4, Acts 15:22, Acts 15:30, Acts 15:41, Acts 16:5, Acts 18:22, Acts 20:17, Acts 20:28, Romans 16:4, Romans 16:5, Romans 16:16, Romans 16:23, 1 Corinthians 1:2, 1 Corinthians 4:17, 1 Corinthians 5:12, 1 Corinthians 7:17, 1 Corinthians 14:4, 1 Corinthians 14:5, 1 Corinthians 14:12, 1 Corinthians 14:26, 1 Corinthians 16:1,1 Corinthians 16:19, 2 Corinthians 1:1, 2 Corinthians 8:1, 2 Corinthians 8:18, 2 Corinthians 8:19, 2 Corinthians 8:23, 2 Corinthians 8:24, 2 Corinthians 11:28, Galatians 1:2, Colossians 4:15, Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 1 Thessalonians 2:14, 2 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:4, 1 Timothy 3:5, 1 Timothy 3:15, 1 Timothy 5:16, 1 Timothy 5:17, Philemon 1:2, James 5:14, 3 John 1:6, 3 John 1:9, Revelation 1:4, Revelation 1:11, Revelation 2:1, Revelation 2:7, Revelation 2:8, Revelation 2:11, Revelation 2:12, Revelation 2:17, Revelation 2:18, Revelation 2:29, Revelation 3:1, Revelation 3:6, Revelation 3:7, Revelation 3:13, Revelation 3:14, Revelation 3:22, Revelation 22:16

The above verses are not talking about a vague concept of church.They are talking about local churches.  Those local churches were filled with struggling, imperfect people just like my church and your church.  Those churches had problems.  Some had really serious problems, and others were doing relatively well, but none of them were perfect.  Just like our churches today.

Are the verses I listed the only evidence of how important local churches are in God’s plan?  Not even close.  The “one another” verses found throughout the New Testament are more evidence of the importance of Christians serving and worshipping together.  In the letter of 1 John, one of the main points is that true Christians have a deep love for other Christians.  We’ll see more evidence below.

Living for Your Church is as Important as Being Willing to Die for Your Church

Most of us will never be called to die for our church as Ding was in China.  But God calls all of us to do something which in some ways is just as challenging.  Once we are saved, He asks us to live our whole lives for His Church.

Last month I had the honor of leading our church and community as we celebrated the life and mourned the loss of one of our long time church members.  Ann had been an active member of our church since she moved to Severn with her husband around 1950.  She attended, and served, and worshipped, and used her gifts, and gave, and loved for over sixty years in her local church.  I usually encourage people to come to church more.  Ann was so weak her last few months, that part of me wanted to encourage her to stay home.  She could hardly keep awake or keep her head up.  But she wanted to be there so much.  I wish more people loved their church and lived for their church as much as she did.

Some Ways We can Live for Our Church

Practically speaking, how can you live for Christ by living for a local church?  Here are some ways:

1.  Attend.  Show up!  Every Sunday.  If you’re out of town, attend another church.  Make it clear to friends and family that you really love them, but for you Sunday morning is for worshipping God together with other believers.  If you have a job which requires you to work on Sunday mornings to provide an essential service, then go to a type of church meeting on a different day.  There are lots of church meetings and Bible studies all through the week, so there really is no excuse.

2.  Do more than just attend worship service on Sunday morning.  Be involved in some type of small group:  a Sunday School or Bible study or prayer group.  Many of these groups will be connected to a specific local church, but it is also fine to be involved with groups connected to a ministry where people from different local churches work together (Christian schools, ministries to the poor, Christian crisis pregnancy ministries, and more).  These should be in addition to, not in place of, weekly worship at a local church.

3.  Give.  Churches need money to serve and carry out God’s work.  Give sacrificially.

4.  Use the gifts and abilities God has given you to serve and build up your local church.  Whether it’s singing, playing a musical instrument, teaching children or adults, encouraging the downtrodden, organizing events, providing leadership, running a sound or video system, keeping up with the church bills and finances, or many other abilities, God wants you to use the gifts He has given you to serve His Church.

5.  Invite others to attend with you.  Don’t give up.

6.  Pray.  Pray for your church leaders.  Pray for other church members.

7.  Guard your church from evil.  I wish there was a magic barrier to keep evil out of churches.  I hate conflict.  But sometimes God will ask you to fight the good fight to protect your church from evil, or at least to support your leaders who God calls to watch over His Church (Acts 20:30-31).

What if My Church is Messed Up?

Don’t give up on church because it has problems.  Most of us have had a bad experience in church at some point.  I doubt that many of you have been hurt as badly by a church as me and my family were hurt at a previous church.  Here’s the thing.  When we finally felt we had to leave that church, the very next Sunday we were sitting in a pew worshipping in another church.

The churches in the New Testament also had problems.  Some of them had severe problems.  God’s solution was never for His people to give up on church.

Sometimes God may call you to stay and work to correct problems and bring healing to a broken church.  Other times you may feel led to leave.  If you leave, find another church.

Jesus also Died for the Church.

Ding Cuimei was not the first person to die for the Church.  Or the most important person.  It is true that Jesus died for you individually (Praise God for his amazing love and grace!).  It is also true that Jesus died for His Church, which He loves and cares for:

Ephesians 5:
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,
 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church--
 30 for we are members of his body.

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .

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