This morning we want to continue looking at the purpose of the church. Why does the church exist? And more specifically, why does the local…
Last week we began a conversation about the purpose of the church. With COVID-19 forcing us to make so many changes to how we do church and ministry over these last months, I think it’s important for us to remind ourselves why it is that the church exists.
We live in a rapidly changing world and it’s important that we be able to change and adapt how we do ministry to make sure that what we do is useful and effective – but at the same time, it’s even more important that we never lose sight of why we do that ministry in the first place.
In other words, our methods can change, but our mission must remain the same.
The purpose of the church never changes. The purpose of the church in Paul’s time is the same purpose of the church in our time. Of course, the activities of the those churches probably look very different – but their end goals are always exactly the same.
And so that’s what I want to look at for the next few weeks: What are the end goals of the church? Why do we exist? What is our purpose?
Because only when we understand our purpose can we effectively determine what activities will help us accomplish that purpose!
And so we started two weeks ago, first of all, by defining the church. Sometimes there is confusion even about that! What exactly is the church?
Well, we looked at three ways the Bible describes the church. First of all, it describes the church as a family – the family of God. The Bible teaches that from the moment we accept Christ as our Saviour, every believer is then adopted into God’s family. We read in Ephesians 1 that God loved us and chose to adopt us even before time began – and this gave him great pleasure! I always find it incredible to think that it filled God with joy to adopt me into his family. But that’s what the Bible says. We are adopted into His family and we are all now brothers and sisters in Christ.
So that’s one way that the Bible describes the church – as a family.
The second way that the Bible describes the church is as the body of Christ. Just like the human body has many different parts that all work together as one body – so it is with the body of Christ. We are all completely different from one another – we have different backgrounds, different ways of seeing the world, we have different interests and passions – different skills and abilities. And God has put us all together – united in Christ Jesus – to function together as one body. We are all necessary parts of God’s church.
So that’s the second way the Bible describes the church – as the body of Christ.
And then the third way the Bible describes the church is as an ekklesia. The New Testament was originally written in Greek – and in the Greek language, the word ‘ekklesia’ simply means “an assembly or gathering of people”. You could use that word to describe an angry mob or the crowd at a rock concert or any kind of gathering. But it’s that word “ekklesia” that gets translated in the Bible as ‘church’. So anytime you’re reading in the New Testament and you see the word ‘church’ – the original greek word that was written there is “ekklesia” – an assembly or gathering of people.
And of course, when he Bible talks about God’s ekklesia, it has a specific kind of gathering in mind – a gathering of God’s family – an assembly of the Body of Christ.
We read in Matthew 16:18 when Jesus said:
“On this rock I will build my church.”
Christ is building his ekklesia. He is assembling his family. He is putting together the body of Christ.
And so that’s kinda the idea that we’ve latched onto for this series.
Ekklesia – the assembly of God’s family. The church is not a building. It’s is not a charitable organization. Church not an event that we attend each Sunday morning. The church is the gathering of God’s family – it is the assembly of the body of Christ. And Christ is building His church – he’s adding more and more people to the family – adding more and more parts to the body.
But the big question still remains: Why? What is the purpose of this assembly? Why is God building His church? If God has put us together as one united body of Christ – what exactly does He want this body to do?
Well, today we’re going start looking at our final unlikely hero in the book of Judges. Now of course, we haven’t gone through each and every judge nor have we haven’t examined all the details in every story that we have looked at. But I think we’ve drawn out several important lessons from these stories and we’re going to try to do that one more time today. The character that we want to look at today is probably the most famous of all the judges. Today we’re going to start looking at the life of Samson.
Now the Bible gives us more information about Samson than any of the other judges we’ve looked at. Just to give you a comparison, a couple of Judges that we didn’t look at in this study – Tola and Jair – both have only two verse each about their lives – but Samson has four entire chapters.
So there must be something important for us to learn from the life of Samson. Which is almost surprising considering what a wreck his life was. Most of us remember Samson for his great strength – how he killed a lion with this bare hands – or how He tore the city gates right off their hinges – or how he killed a 1000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey. These are the acts that made Samson famous – but what do we know about his character? What kind of a person was He? What was his relationship with God like? What was his relationship with others like? You see, these are the kind of issues that determine whether someone is truly a hero or just some big strong guy…
So that’s where I want to focus our attention this morning – not so much on his super strength and his fantastic exploits, but rather on his character. Because, we can’t all become burly, muscular weight-lifting champions – but we can all become men & women of heroic character.
Samson’s story begins in Judges chapter 13 and it begins much like all the other stories of the judges… it says…
Again the Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord handed them over to the Philistines, who oppressed them for forty years. Judges 13:1
If you’ve been with us for the past few weeks, this is no surprise. Pretty much every story has begun with “Again the Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight – so the Lord handed them over to…. so and so.” And in this case, it was the Philistines. But this is where this story begins to develop differently. Normally, we’d jump right into meeting the hero. But this time we start by meeting the hero’s parents. Look at verse 2.
Well, here we are two weeks into the new year. That means that 27% of all the New Years Resolutions have now been broken! I don’t know if any of you have made any new year resolutions this year (If I remember right – I don’t know that any of us did last year when I asked.) But if you did, I sure hope you’re able to stick with it longer than two weeks.
This week I was reading an article about the business model of gyms and fitness centres. And the article said that these businesses bank on people to sign up for gym memberships in January and then never show up. That’s a key part of their business model. The article said that…
If gyms operate at more than 5% of their membership at any given time, no one can use the gym. They want them to sign up, but they know that after the 15th of January, they won’t see 95% of them again.
That’s pretty incredible! But not too surprising, because I think a lot of us can relate.
I think all of us recognize the value of staying healthy and fit. Now certainly there can be those factors out of our control that prevent that, but generally speaking, all of would like to see ourselves healthy and fit and physically able to do all the things that we’d like to do.
And so most people would agree that it would be good for them to exercise more. Going to the gym would be beneficial. It would be a good habit to get into to. But yet, despite the knowledge in our head of how valuable physical activity and fitness is, very few people actually make it a priority to exercise or go to the gym or do all those things that are required if we want to stay healthy and fit.
Many of us have really good intentions – and we may go through short bursts of time of making the effort – but in the long run, very few people actually stick with it and make it a part of their lifestyle.
And I think we have a similar experience when it comes to the spiritual disciplines.
Over the past several weeks we have been looking at the spiritual disciplines (or the healthy habits) that Christians have been practicing over the centuries in order to cultivate a deep, meaningful relationship with God. We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on the Bible (because that really is the foundation for everything we believe – we have to know and understand and apply this book to our lives), but today I want to look at another healthy habit – and that is prayer.
And prayer, I think, is very much like exercise. Everyone knows that it’s important, and everyone agrees that they really should do it more often, but yet, very few people make it a priority so that it becomes a central part of their life.
And so I spent some time this week trying to figure out why that is. Because every Christian I know agrees that prayer is important. They have the head knowledge that prayer should be central to every Christian’s life! But yet, almost every Christian will tell you, “I really don’t pray like I should. Maybe I pray some, but I really should pray more.”
Now of course, there are some exceptions. There are some people out there that just have amazing prayer lives – and usually, you know exactly who those folks are. They just seem to be so in-tune with God. Even in the midst of great struggles and trials, these folks aren’t shaken at all. It’s like they have this unwavering trust in God. And these folks tend to be so wise and patient and loving and kind. It’s like they’ve been mentored by God Himself! That’s the result of a lifetime and a lifestyle of prayer.
So why aren’t there more of those folks? Why isn’t every Christian like that? What is it about prayer that makes it so difficult to adopt as a lifetime habit? We know how important prayer is, and yet we struggle to make it a central part of our lives! Why is that?
I don’t know exactly what everyone here believes, but I think I know most of you well enough that I can make a few blanket statements about what most of us believe.
- Most, if not all, of us here believe that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
- Most of us here believe the stories of Abraham, Moses, David & Goliath, and Daniel and all those other old testament characters.
- Most of us here believe that God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.
- Most of us here believe that the little baby Jesus, born in a manger some 2000 years ago, was the Son of God who grew up and lived a sinless life, and was eventually put to death on a cross, but He rose again three days later.
- And most of us here believe that one day Jesus is coming back to judge sin and put an end to death and will usher in those who believe in Him into everlasting, amazing life together with Him.
And for most of us, these beliefs have radically changed our lives. These beliefs have changed how we see our world. They have changed how understand our purpose in existing. They’ve changed how we raise our children. They’ve changed how we work, how we interact with our neighbours, how we manage our money, even how we spend our free time. I mean, these beliefs have changed everything!
And for some of us, holding these beliefs have come with a cost. Some of us have lost friends because of what we believe. Some of us have been openly mocked because of what we believe. Some of us, because of what we believe, have had to make choices that set us back in our careers or cost us financially. And while I don’t think it has happened yet in our group (although we certainly see it in other parts of the world), the day may come when our beliefs may cost us our freedom, our families, or even our lives.
So holding these beliefs come with huge ramifications. These beliefs will change the course of your life forever.
And the issue that I want you to wrestle with today is that all of these beliefs come from one primary source – this book right here – the Bible. As Christians, everything we believe about our world, about God, about Jesus, about our purpose in life, about how to live life, about eternity – all of that is rooted and based on the words we find in this book.
We are risking our friendships, our finances, our family’s future – perhaps one day even our freedom or our very lives based on the words in this book!
How important is it then, that, #1, we know without a doubt that the words in this book are trustworthy, true, and reliable? and #2. that we fully know and accurately understand what this book is saying?
The stakes are so high! We are staking both our present lives and our eternal future on the words in this book.
So I don’t know about you, but I sure want to know with certainty that the words in this book are indeed true. And if I can establish that, if they are true, then I want to know and understand and apply to my life everything it says!
And so to that end, I want to spend the next couple of weeks looking at the issue of the Bible. What is it? How did we get it? Can we trust it? And if we can, then how do we make sense of it all? How do we understand it and live out what it says? How does it make a difference in our lives?
These are super important questions that we need to have answers for, and so I’m pretty excited to go through all this stuff with you over these next couple weeks.
And of course, this is all part of our “Healthy Habits” that we’ve been talking about. Reading and studying and understanding and memorizing and applying the Bible to our lives is one of the cornerstone practices of all healthy, growing Christians. Of all the spiritual disciplines that we’re going to be talking about in this series, if you want to start with just one – this is the one I want you to start with! The Bible lays the foundation for everything else that we do and believe.
This is the introductory sermon to a series on becoming a “Whole Church”. This sermon was born out the concepts in Mel Lawrenz book – “Whole Church: Leading from Fragmentation to Engagement“.
As I mentioned in the introduction this morning, over the next four months we are going to looking at how we can become a whole church. We want to take full advantage of the opportunities that God is sending to us to expand His kingdom, but we can’t do that as a broken church or a fragmented church. We have to do this as a whole church.
Now there are two aspects to this idea of a whole church. The first aspect that I want us to look at is the idea of unity. Moving beyond our differences and focusing on what we have in common. This is exactly what we read in our passage earlier. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13
12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. 13 Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.
Yes, there are many different parts, but we make up one body. Does everyone still have your puzzle piece? Can you take it out and hold it up for me to see for a minute? (Earlier, I had invited everyone in the congregation to come to the front to take a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that I had put together earlier…)
One of the biggest issues that I’ve wrestled with as a pastor over through the past two years is this issue right here. God has a lot of different puzzle pieces. And I don’t always know how they fit together, but I know that somehow they do. Just like the verse says…