Friday, June 12, 2015

What's wrong with my church?? (a sermon from 1 Corinthians 14)

14:1-3 “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.”

Everyone's a critic of the church these days. Everywhere you turn it seems en vogue to put the church down. Even “Christian” TV leads us to believe that there is something lacking in our churches.

Are they right??? Have all the critics hit on something – OR are we simply battling a PERCEPTION problem?

In an article written by Robert Smith, entitled ‘What’s Wrong with this Worship Service?’ we find a possible answer.  He wrote:

“A few years ago, on a business trip, I visited a church near my hotel. Arriving a bit early, I was greeted warmly by the pastor.
Unfortunately, the service was DIFFERENT than what I was used to. The music was not to my taste, the order of service was unfamiliar. “Why would people have a service like THIS?” I wondered. “It really doesn’t help me worship AT ALL.”

I really felt drawn to the pastor though, which made me even more interested in ‘helping him’ with his services. As I met him at the door, he gave me my chance…
“Bob! It was GREAT having you in worship today!” he said. “I hope you liked being with US as much as we liked HAVING you.”
“Your sermon was excellent, pastor,” I replied. (My voice dropped a bit as I said,) “But I HAVE to say, I feel a little different about the REST of the service.”
“Oh?!?! What did you think...” At LAST! This was my opening to share what I had been thinking through the service. BUT as he finished, I realized he added, “What did you think… the LORD didn’t like?” My heart jumped into my throat. He wanted to know what I thought the LORD didn’t like?!?! I was totally unprepared for THAT question.
I cleared my throat and mumbled, “Well, I don’t suppose there was anything the LORD didn’t like. I was talking about ME! But I guess it really isn’t about me, is it???” 
I offered my hand. He smiled, looking into my eyes as if he could read my mind, he said, “Yes, there WAS something in there the Lord didn’t like.” I smiled back, relieved. “And what was THAT?” I asked, expecting him to agree with some of my observations. But he said, “It will come to you.” And with THAT he turned back to those waiting to shake his hand. 
I spent the whole day thinking through every detail I could remember. But I couldn’t find a SINGLE THING the Lord would’ve been upset about. The PEOPLE seemed sincere. The CRYING BABY wouldn’t have bothered the Lord – He LOVES children. Not EVEN the music… I didn’t like it, but the Lord… well… He MAY have. Anyway, I doubt the pastor meant the music, because he probably PICKED IT OUT!

I went to the evening service… not because I expected to hear better, but to ask the pastor again what he meant. I told him how bad it was bothering me and asked him to tell me. With a twinkle in his eye he said, “The Lord will show it to you – just pray about it.” 
I DID pray about it – that night and several times the next day. All at once it hit me. The only thing God didn’t like in that service was... 
MY ATTITUDE - My critical spirit, thinking worship should please ME instead of HIM.
Back in my room, I bowed in shame before the Lord, thanking Him for the pastor’s insight and patience. Most importantly, I promised Him that I would quit being so nit-picky, that I would NOT make church about ME – and that whenever I had the opportunity to worship with others, I would celebrate from my heart instead of being so critical.  
Coincidentally, or maybe NOT, a new love developed in my heart for God’s church.”

Everyone's a critic. Everyone has an opinion about how church should be done – and most often – they are wrong.

The Corinthians had their opinions too. As you read chapter 14 it becomes clear that their worship did not honor the Lord. Though they were faithful to gather - they were missing the point. Church had become a place to be seen. A place of entertainment. Of selfishness and show.

Which begs the question – why do WE come to church? Is it so that we can check-off church attendance from our spiritual ‘to-do’ list? Is it so that we can “get God on our side” because we have some big decision to make or need Him to meet some financial need? Do we come to be entertained or to be made to feel good about ourselves?

Why DO we come to church?  There are several reasons I go to church:

First, I go to church because it is a matter of Obedience! God tells me in His Word that I am to attend church faithfully – and IF I DON’T, I am living in disobedience to Him. Don’t believe for one moment that person who says, “I love the Lord,” or “I believe in Jesus” but refuses to go to church. No sir. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments!” And in Hebrews 10:25, one of those commandments is clear – GO TO CHURCH!

Most of the time, I go to church because I really WANT to. It has nothing to do with obedience – but more out of my desire to meet with the Lord and the Lord’s people. But there ARE TIMES, and I’m just being honest, when I don’t really feel like it – I’m tired. Maybe I’ve been so busy my mind isn’t right. Maybe I have had a tense moment with my family that day. Maybe there is something I would RATHER be doing!

BUT I STILL GO because the Lord told me to. He didn’t say, “When you don’t have anything else going on… or when you FEEL like it…” did He?

Not only is it a matter of obedience, secondly, I go to church because I love the family of God and I need their fellowship as a Christian! I don’t go simply for the preacher – although I really enjoy his preaching :) - I don’t go for the music. No, I go because I love you and regard you as my family. Experience has taught me that I cannot thrive in the Christian life by going it alone. I need the encouragement, support, correction and accountability found in the family of God! I need to receive ministry from you and you need to receive ministry from me. We can pool our resources together and do great things for the Lord that I can’t do on my own!

Third, I attend church because I need Corporate Worship… 6 days a week I can worship the Lord alone - and I should. But on Sunday I have the privilege of meeting with my brothers and sisters and with ONE VOICE we can praise the Lord Who has saved us and made us members of His family. I come here to Worship.

I also come for discipleship – part of following the Lord, an important part, is gathering with other believers to study the Word of God. I need that! YOU need that! We need accountability – we need mentoring. We are surrounded by error on every side. We need a place devoted to teaching the truth.

But not only do I go to church because it is commanded, because I desire to worship and fellowship and grow as a disciple… I want to be a part of the local church because God has chosen to use and bless the church as His organization for getting the Gospel out and reaching the lost. I realize that the church has come under attack. I know we have problems and difficulties to overcome. But I would remind you that the Church is STILL the Bride of Christ – and that Jesus loved it and gave Himself FOR it and He has determined to work through it to accomplish His purposes. I want to be involved in the things God loves and blesses. THAT’S why I go to church!

But the Corinthians didn’t HAVE that attitude. People were secondary to political agendas. Worship took a back seat to showmanship. Love of others was supplanted by love for SELF. So, after showing them in chapter 13 that LOVE is the BASIS, the foundation of ALL that we do in ministry, he shows them how putting that teaching into practice would help them overcome a problem they were having in their church. THAT problem, is addressed in verse 1. There was a controversy about spiritual gifts… namely, speaking in tongues.

Two things need to be pointed out – first, the command to “Pursue love,” means to make the pursuit of love, your highest goal. No matter WHAT we may do – love must drive it. THEN he says, “desire spiritual gifts.” The word “desire” means ‘to have zeal about’ spiritual gifts.

But that zeal is misplaced IF we are only pursuing gifts for the spotlight.

God wants us to be zealous about serving others. To be passionate about ministry. Our labor is worthless without love. Without love, little problems faced in ministry that could easily be overcome, become SO LARGE that they hurt our ability to fellowship, worship, and grow. Without love in our ministry, pettiness and criticism become commonplace – our reputation in the community suffers - the Spirit of God is quenched and grieved! Nearly every problem we face in church is a love problem.

Think about the problems that cripple most churches. From money to some argument about someone hurting our feelings… from modesty issues to music… “So-in-so said such-in-such about me.” “The pastor DIDN’T do THIS or THAT.” “I can’t believe the decision they made!!!”

What IS that??? A love problem. This is what I know – if it is a moral issue, a doctrinal issue, a failure issue, a money issue, whatever it is – if we have love, we can overcome it. But without love, even LITTLE things get blown out of proportion and become a reason to part ways.

The Corinthians had become so interested in the spotlight being on them, that spiritual needs were going unmet. Lost people would come to their church and not understand a thing going on AND would leave their services still LOST. Because of their SHOWMANSHIP, people weren’t getting saved. Spiritual needs in the family of God were being neglected - Man had become the FOCUS of worship – and people were missing out on the purpose of church.

I’m glad I feel things when I worship – but understand something – worship is not about me OR my emotions. It’s not about entertainment or making ME happy. It’s about the Lord - and glorifying Him.

What should I hope to receive when I go to church? Paul answers that at the end of verse 3, “upbuilding - encouragement - and consolation.” As a Christian, I should receive those three things when I attend church.

“Upbuilding” means that when you go to church, you should feel that your spiritual batteries have been recharged for the week. That you are receiving instruction that will help you in your walk with the Lord… nourishment that will enable growth… strength that will help you resist temptation and discouragement. When you go to church, you are being equipped to handle the trials of life.

THEN you should receive, “encouragement.” In other words, you will be encouraged to live right when you go to church. When I hear a message or a lesson from the Bible, there will be times it makes me feel good! BUT, there will ALSO be times when it rebukes me and brings me under conviction. If a preacher doesn’t occasionally step on my toes, then he isn’t doing his job – because the BIBLE isn’t just a cup of cool water to parched lips, sometimes it is a hammer and chisel in the hand of God - cutting away all those areas of my life that are wrong and do not conform to His plan for me. I need to be encouraged to live DIFFERENTLY.

And third, when a Christian comes to church, he ought to receive “consolation.” I’m glad to know that I have a place to come when I am hurting. Maybe it is the grief of death. Maybe disappointment or depression. Church reminds me that I am NOT alone. I belong to a family that envelops me with comfort when I am hurting. I can share my struggles, and you will offer compassion - not judgment. I can share my burdens and know that you will be praying for me.

I can go to my mail box and right when I need it most, will be a card of encouragement from a Christian friend that blesses my heart. A text from my church family when I am down... a casserole when I am sick. And should death invade my family, I know you will be there… why??? Because church is a place to receive comfort.

Will there be times when we miss the boat??? Absolutely. I know there have been times when I was so caught up in my own things and that I wasn’t thoughtful of others. We ALL fail at times. But it ought to be the norm for us to comfort one another through life’s heartaches.

We should never forget WHY we are here, folks. Our church exists to Exalt Christ, to Encourage Christians, and to Evangelize the Community. It’s not about everything going to suit me. It’s not about how I can take my shots at folks who fail me. Or so I can showcase all my talents and impress you or boost my ego saying “Look at what I did!”

I come to have an encounter with God and God’s people, and, in the end, it changes my life.

So let me ask you, do you need ‘life change?’ Maybe you have never accepted Christ as your Savior and Lord. Maybe you have been searching for meaning and purpose and you have not been able to find it out in this world. You’ve come to the right place, my friend – today, you can give your heart to Christ and He will meet your greatest need.

Or maybe you have been a Christian for YEARS, but your attitude hasn’t been right. You’ve been critical, demanding, and selfish. God is speaking to your heart… and you realize you have been focused on the wrong things, and now you need God to change your attitude. Will you bring your needs to Him right now?