Resurrecting the Church
2 Chronicles 7:14
The District’s Cooperative Parish Coordinators meet the first Monday of each month with the DS, Melissa Shortridge. This past Monday 4 of us met with Melissa – she was rather disappointed that only 4 of the coordinators attended. The fellowship and spiritual sharing is what makes this business meeting worthwhile. The DS asked what we preached on Easter and each of us shared. Then Melissa purposed a question: HOW DO WE RESURRECT THE CHURCH? The discussion was thought-provoking. Couple questions that emerged from this discussion:
- If there is resurrection that means there has to be a death; right? Is the Church in America dead or is it dying?
- Is the church dead or does she just need to be resuscitated?
- 3500 to 4000 churches close every year – that is an average of 75 churches a week that close. At that rate will there be any churches left at the end of the 21st century?
- Every major denomination in the USA has seen decline in attendance
- This should be alarming to the believers who invest their lives in the local body of Christ.
- It should be excruciating to the ministers who give themselves tirelessly to the church’s advancement.
- If nothing else this should be humiliating.
- If death is necessary to resurrect something then what needs to die?
Instead of asking “How do we resurrect the Church?” Maybe the better question is “how do we resuscitate / revive the Church?” A couple of the synonyms for the word resurrect are: resuscitate and revive. I believe that the Church in America needs to be resuscitated – brought back to life – God needs to do CPR on the Church.
But I also think that the church does need to die to some areas that have become a norm. Listen to the Word of the Lord:
- John 12:23-26 (NIV) 23 Jesus replied, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
- John 12:23-26The Message (MSG) 22-23 Philip went and told Andrew. Andrew and Philip together told Jesus. Jesus answered, “Time’s up. The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.24-25 “Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.26 “If any of you wants to serve me, then follow me. Then you’ll be where I am, ready to serve at a moment’s notice. The Father will honor and reward anyone who serves me.
- Renewing the Church is like remodeling your house: it takes longer than you hoped, costs more than you planned, and makes a bigger mess than you ever thought possible. (Paul Smith in Christianity Today, Vol. 37, no. 12.)
I. Here is what I believe needs to die for the Church to be alive and fruitful?
A. CHEAP GRACE: We need to put an end to cheap grace. We have watered down grace making it cost nothing for us. It is through grace that we are saved but we stop there without any accountability for the gift of grace. It is like we have this belief that we don’t have to do anything – God will give His grace, which is true He does give His grace freely. But He expect a big return on His investment.
1. Ask little and we get little, expect little and we will get little; ask for a lot and we will get a lot, expect a lot we will get a lot.
2. Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV) 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
2. Grace given requires good works – grace is a free gift – a gift has to be received then applied to our lives – we are to do good works which God has for us.
a. Simple illustration – when I graduated from college my brother asked what I wanted for graduation and I said some basic tools. His comment was if I give you tools then you have to know how to work with them. The gift was free but the gift required labor.
b. He also said I’ve seen you work with tools before pick another gift. I don’t have the time to fix what you been working on.
2. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. Check out what Jesus is saying here:
a. Words like serve; follow, servant all require work and effort on our part.
3. Matthew 16:24 (NIV) Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
4. Grace requires following after Christ.
B. MAINTENACNE ATTITUDE – Secondly, we need to get rid of a maintenance attitude; an attitude of just keeping the church doors open. The Lord never intended His, Bride, the Church to just maintain. He intended the Church to be disciple makers. Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV) 18Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
1. The Scripture only uses the word “maintain” in references to maintaining righteousness and holiness in the life of the believer. It is never used for just getting by – it is used for preserving the standards of holy living and preserving the work of the early Church.
2. In acts we find that the Church in Thessalonica was causing trouble. Acts 17:6 (NIV) … before the city officials, shouting: "These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, the Church in America certainly hasn’t caused the culture any trouble lately that I know of.
3. We just don’t want to rock the boat – but that is not what we need to be about. Let’s get to doing what we are called to do - The mission statement of the United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs.
C. PUT TO DEATH OUR FEARS: There are 2 fears we need to put to death: the fear of repercussion and the fear of commitment.
1. Fear of repercussion: we fear that if we change things there will be a fall out. You want to talk about someone that changed things look at Jesus and His disciples. Look at what He did with the Law – He made people look at Law from a new light – He wanted to change their attitude and their hearts – so He redefined the Law to look at their attitudes and in their hearts; He called sin a sin but forgave sinners.
a. We don’t want to upset the way things have been done for ever. But that is exactly what Christ did and the early church did.
2. Fear of Commitment: We fear commitment because others will think we have lost our minds if we are committed to Christ and the Church. Commitment is not a common practice any longer. Look at the divorce rate or how about our commitment to the Church. We promise to be faithful to the Church – are we? Of course I’m preaching to the wrong people you are here fulfilling part of the commitment.
II. We need a revival – I’m not talking about a week long service where we bring a preacher in – I’m talking about us being resuscitated / renewed / revived. The 2 Chronicles 7:14 passage is a passage that has been used often during revival services but it is first a message to us and then to the Church. 2 Chronicles 7:14-16 gives us 5 keys to resuscitating the Church and ourselves:
2 Chronicles 7:14-16 (NIV) 14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. 16 I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.
A. “If”– before we look at the 5 keys we need to look at the word if. “If” is a conditional word meaning that we have to do something before something happens. There is a stipulation to being revived as a believer and as a church.
B. My People – when we the Church look at “my people,” who is this talking about? It is not talking about America. Americans are not His people. America is far from being a Christian nation. What are we called? Christians. When this was written it was talking about God’s chosen people – the Jews. But today Christians are His chosen people.
1. There is a lot to a name – what are you known by? Here is what people say to me:
a. “You’re Mary Beth Cook’s husband”
b. “You’re Miriam’s dad” the other day in Walmart I got - “there’s Mimi’s dad” that is one of Miriam’s best friend’s mother who calls me that. Because that is what their little boy calls Miriam.
c. Or I am Jay, Dad – Miriam use to call me Daddy, Grandpa
d. Or I’m the pastor of Faith Church.
2. Most important though is I am a child of God, a Christian, a servant of God, then all the rest applies to me. If you claim to be a Christian / a disciple of Christ then this verse applies to you.
3. Here is what we need to do:
C. Humble Ourselves – humble doesn’t mean that we walk around with our eyes looking at the floor. Or beating ourselves up all the time; we don’t need to be like Eeyore – who says things like “woe is me” or “I’d look on the bright side if I could find it.” That is not being humble that is being Eeyore. Humble means modest, unassuming; it means that we recognize that we aren’t God and that we need to rely on Him.
1. Being humble means that we recognize and admit that we have sinned and that apart from God’s love we can’t be forgiven.
2. Humbleness enables us to ask for forgiveness.
D. Being Humble Enables Us To Go To God In Prayer. Prayer is simply a dialogue between God and us. It is a matter of us recognizing that we can’t do anything apart from God. Any wholesome relationship takes communication. That is what prayer is.
1. Dialogue means that we need to listen as well as talking – take time to listen to God.
2. Leonard Ravenhill said this in his book “Why Revival Tarries” “No man is greater than his prayer life…Poverty–stricken as the church is today in many things, she is most stricken here, in the place of PRAYER. We have many organizers, but few agonizers; many players and payers, few PRAYERS. The ministry of preaching is open to few, the ministry of PRAYER- the highest ministry of all human offices is open to all."
3. Susanna Wesley, who was the mother of John and Charles Wesley back in the 1700 s had 19 children spent an hour every day in prayer. Where does a mother of 19 go to pray? Nowhere! What she would do is take her apron and flip it up over her head and spend an hour in prayer. Her children knew not to disturb her in that time because mother was in her apron praying.
E. Seeking God’s Face: What does that mean to seek God’s Face? I believe that means that we desire to know Him intimately. It is a deep abiding relationship. If we are seeking His face we are searching for what He desires for us.
1. If you were to shut your eyes and think about what God looks like what do you see? I see Jesus. Then I hear things like “love your enemies; do good to those who persecute you.” You know those that mistreat you – you are to love.
a. Or the words – go make disciples of all nations…
2. I see Jesus laughing with children around Him.
3. I see Him on the cross, I see Him in the upper room on Easter Sunday, I see Him fixing a meal on the beach before He ascends into heaven.
F. Turn From Your Wicked Ways: Maybe we thinks this doesn’t apply to us but I suggest you re-think that notion. You may not want to call your false starts, your poor attitudes, your ugly comments about another person, etc. wickedness but it is. If we want the Church to experience resurrection or resuscitation – we need to admit our wickedness, ask for forgiveness and turn from the sin. It is called repentance.
1. The Israelites repented so many times – when things got bad they went humbly turning back to God but normally it didn’t last long and they went backed to living in sin. Then when things got bad again they would humbly pray, seek God’s way and repent. But it was an ongoing cycle over and over again.
2. If you read before verse 7:14 you see that God is getting tired of Hs people not staying committed.
Addressing the 'Garbage Dump' in Our Heart
Imagine you're out for a hike on a beautiful spring day and you come to a creek. But there's something wrong with this picture. You notice that someone has dumped trash into the stream—an ugly sight. Judging by some of the empty soda cans, the trash has been there awhile. And there is an ugly film on top of the water. You can't just leave the scene as you found it, because it would bother your conscience. So you stoop down and begin gathering the trash.
It actually takes several hours before you can begin to see a difference; it's amazing how much junk is there. You sit back, rest for a moment, and realize you'll have to keep returning each day until the site is truly clean. But when you come back the next day, it's as if your work has been undone.
In fact there's more trash than before. Somehow the garbage bred overnight. You think about the unlikelihood of someone coming to this very spot to dump their garbage in the few hours while you were away, and you realize that something smells fishy—so to speak. So you begin to follow the creek upstream.
Sure enough, you come to a garbage dump that has been there for years. It's emptying into the passing creek. Your cleaning job only opened up a gap for more stuff to settle. You could go and clean every day …. If you want your creek to be clean, that means going directly to the source and dealing with what's there. That is what we need to do in our lives as well as in life of the Church and give it over to God.
THE CHANGE YOU OWE TO JESUS
John Wesley was a popular evangelist in early America and often rode from one church to another to preach. On one such journey, stopped by a highwayman who shouted, "Halt, your money or your life."
Wesley got down from his horse, emptied his pockets to reveal only a handful of coins. He even invited the robber to search his saddlebags - which only carried his books. In disgust, the thief was turning away when John Wesley cried "Stop, I have something more to give you."
Puzzled, the robber turned back. Wesley then leaned towards him and said "My friend, you may live to regret this sort of life in which you are engaged. If you ever do, I beseech you to remember this: ’The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s son, cleanses us from all sin.’"
The robber hurried silently away, but Wesley got back on his horse & rode on his way praying in his heart that the word might be fixed in the robber’s conscience.
Years later, at the close of a Sunday evening service, a stranger stepped forward and earnestly begged to speak with John Wesley. Wesley recognized him as the robber who had stolen from him so long before, but now he was a well to do tradesman and better still, a child of God. Raising Wesley’s hand to his lips he affectionately kissed it and said in deep emotion, "To you, dear sir, I owe it all."
Wesley replied softly, "Nay, nay, my friend, not to me, but to the precious blood of Christ which cleanses us from all sin."
A TV camera crew was on assignment in Southern Florida filming the widespread destruction of Hurricane Andrew. In one scene, amid the devastation and debris stood one house on its foundation. The owner was cleaning up the yard when the reporter approached.
“Sir, why is your house the only one standing?” asked the reporter. “How did you manage to escape the severe damage of the hurricane?”
“I built the house myself,” the man replied. “I also built it according to Florida State building code. When the code called for 2x6 trusses, I used 2x6 trusses. I was told that a house built according to code could withstand a hurricane. I did, and it did.”
God does prefer one way of living over another. And that which He prefers is based on a bedrock commitment to His word and His ways. And the Church is the evidence of that foundation. It will last forever.
Please click here for slides to accompany the sermon.