What I am about to share with you is right out of scripture.  In fact, I’m going to read the words of Jesus.  And as I read what Jesus said, I want you to ask yourself, ‘What is Jesus saying to me?’  Let’s read this story.

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 Then Jesus told them this parable:

4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. NIV Luke 15:1-7

Jesus explained the priority of heaven.  It’s to find and redeem people far from God.  That’s why Jesus left heaven to come to earth.  It was His mission to find and redeem people.  After Jesus spent time with His disciples, He leaves earth and gives His mission to His disciples.

Last week, Sam explained what happened next.  God sends the Holy Spirit to anoint the disciples of Jesus, and the first church was born.  From that point on, the entire New Testament is story after story of God starting churches and moving through churches to reach people far from God.  It’s the mission of the church.  That mission is the same for us today, it hasn’t changed.  In fact, let me read for you how God views church.

God raised him [Jesus] from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence. MSG Ephesians 1:21-23

God views church as His body.  That means through the church, God wants to offer hope, healing, and forgiveness to our community.  As a Christian, that means the church is the most important place on earth.  As a Christian, that means what God is up to, redeeming people, is the most relevant thing you could ever be a part of.  And I would add, the world we live in that we think is relevant, isn’t relevant at all.  All the things that happen in our culture are just a distraction to what God is up to through the church.

For us to join God in what He is up to, we make choices.  We love God.  Love people.  Grow, that means be like Peter who jumps out of the boat to follow Jesus.  Serve.  And have the goal to give back 10%.  I want to quickly share four things about the church.

First.  The Bible tells us church IS God’s body.

That means the church is where God wants to speak to people and spiritually redeem people.  A place of hope, healing, and forgiveness.  For us, that means our choices directly impact how strong our local church is.

Think about it.  Imagine two churches with 100 people.  In church one, every person walks in a relationship with God, loves others, grows, serves, and gives.

In church two, every person just stumbles into church on Sunday with no real relationship with God.  They struggle to love others.  They don’t grow, they don’t serve, and they think giving is unnecessary.  Which church would you want to attend?  Which church will be better and showing hope, healing, and forgiveness to the community?

Second.  If Church IS God’s body, that means how I respond to church is how I respond to what God is up to in my local community.

Think about it.  Surveys show that in the past years, church attendance across America is down 28%, some as high as 50%.  What are people telling God?  They don’t see church the way God views church.  People are checking out.  People don’t see their value.  They don’t see church as the solution to the problems we have in this world.

Third.  In our North American culture, we are seeing churches struggle more and more and I don’t think it’s spiritual warfare.

And oftentimes, people want to talk about spiritual warfare as the cause of the challenges in church.  We believe in spiritual warfare.  We have talked a lot about it.  And we have hosted discipleships on it.  The truth is, I don’t think our enemy has to attack the local church in North America.  As long as people don’t pursue God, and don’t make choices to join Him in what He is doing, we will defeat ourselves from the inside out.

Fourth.  When God created the church, He did something remarkable, risky, and even reckless.

He made it 100% dependent on your involvement.  If you think about it, if no one showed up, there would be no church.  That means you are extremely valuable.

Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain- his Spirit -where we all come to drink… I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less… But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance.  For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of… What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own… You are Christ’s body – that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything. MSG 1 Corinthians 12

Think about it.  If everyone in church made the choices you make, what would your church look like?  God designed church to be 100% dependent on people and the choices they make.  Do you see the connection?  Who you are and how you live is directly connected with what God is up to in the local church.

Here is the problem.  People don’t make the connection.  They don’t make the connection that their choices directly impact what God is up to.  Why?  They don’t believe they matter.  They believe the success of a church is up to God moving or the paid leaders being superstars or the volunteers being better.  Because of this, they check out from church.  They may be around church now and then, but they are comfortable checking out and don’t fully engage.  As a result, the church gets weaker and weaker.  And our community wonders, ‘Where is God?’

Have you ever thought about that?  Where is God in your community?  Why doesn’t God do something?  Truth is, He did.  It’s called the church.  And if God’s strategy is to move through His body, the church, how could He if every local church is getting weaker and weaker?  Outside of an Old Testament or Acts 2 move of God, God seems absent today.

In reality, God is as strong in our churches as we make choices to join Him in what He is doing.

Aren’t you tempted to believe that you don’t matter?  If you believe you don’t matter, it’s devastating to the community.  Here is why.  If you don’t think you matter, you might wake up and think, ‘Why bother being a part of church, I need a ‘me day’ anyway’?’  If you don’t think you matter, you won’t view church as your spiritual family or the most important place on earth, so why bother even going?  If you don’t think you matter, you won’t pursue the Holy Spirit, that’s for other people to do.  Unfortunately, living like this, believing you don’t matter, destroys you and it destroys the local church.

I want you to continue to process this with five questions.

Question 1: Aren’t you tempted to believe that how close you are to God doesn’t matter?

If you have been a Christian for years, and you don’t believe how close you are to God matters before you walk into Church, you don’t understand scripture, the Holy Spirit, your value, or basically what God is up to.  How close you are to God directly impacts your church.  If we don’t make that connection, we can come into the church community distracted, tired, and we lazily bang out a service.

This kind of Christianity is hard on us.  It takes a real refreshing relationship with God and turns it into a dry religious duty.  God gives us a real relationship that is supposed to be filled with passion but we turn what God asks into a dry religious duty.  This is what God says about us living like that.

I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice – oceans of it. I want fairness – rivers of it.  That’s what I want. That’s all I want. MSG Amos 5:21-24

God wants a real relationship with Him.  He can’t stand fake.  Going through the motions.  Dry religious duty.

Remember what Sam said last week?  The secret ingredient in the first church was the Holy Spirit.  When Sam taught out of Acts, he said the early church thrived because they had a passion to go after the Holy Spirit.  And because they went after the Holy Spirit, they had everything we want today.  Community, fellowship, joy, mission, generosity.  Sam then looked at the modern church of today and asked, ‘What do people in church get excited about today?’  He exposed the reality that many times, the modern church goes after anything but the Holy Spirit.  We try to create community, fellowship, joy, mission, and generosity on our own strength.

Sam pointed out that when we aren’t passionate about going after the Holy Spirit, things fade.  I want to quote him from last week.  “People start focusing on other things, they think of their needs, and over time their passion fades, their unity and generosity disappears and the next thing you know the church is not a Spirit-Led passionate place rallying around Jesus but instead the Church is diving into a lot of things that people think they need.  Ironically what people are looking for can only be satisfied in God.  All our needs and desires are met as we walk through life with God, allowing the Spirit to lead, but instead we get distracted, we get side-tracked and our passion fades.”

Listen.  You matter.  How close you are to God matters.  The choice you make to get close to God directly impacts you and your church.

Question 2:  Aren’t you tempted to believe that you are a mature Christian because you have been attending church for a long time and you know how church should be run?

Or you may believe it’s based on what you know, who you know, or what you have accomplished?  It’s not.  Spiritual maturity is measured in how well you are able to love others.  And if we don’t make that connection, we can come to Church and stay focused on ourselves and our needs.  And in that prideful condition, we remain stubborn, people around us will disappoint us, and we never experience God loving others through us.  As a result, we can be people who attend church but are actually working against what God is trying to do in church.  That’s why Paul wrote this.

Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. MSG Philippians 2:4

You matter.  When you take the focus off of you and focus on others, it matters.  The choice you make to focus to love others directly impacts you and your church.

Question 3: Aren’t you tempted to believe that the best way to live is to stay comfortable?

Aren’t we scared to follow God because we don’t know what God might ask of us?  We said that our greatest tragedy isn’t our sin, it’s the life we never live.  But isn’t it a challenge to fully surrender our lives to God and follow Him?  Isn’t it easier to attend church now and then while at the same time never fully surrendering to God?  Isn’t it easier to attend church while at the same time go back to the old ways of living?  And when we do that, we will always stay in a self-made prison.  The tragedy is the prison door is wide open and we could leave anytime we wanted to.

Fear.  Insecurity.  Addictions.  Mental Health.  Constant negativity.  Jealousy.  Anxiety.  The belief, ‘I have no friends’ or ‘No one likes me.’  Those subjects and more, do they control us, or do we intentionally find spiritual healing?  It’s okay to not be okay but it’s also okay to get help.

14 God says in the Scriptures, “Awake, O sleeper, and rise up from the dead; and Christ shall give you light.” 15-16 So be careful how you act; these are difficult days. Don’t be fools; be wise: make the most of every opportunity you have for doing good. 17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but try to find out and do whatever the Lord wants you to. TLB Ephesians 5:14-17

You matter.  When you fully surrender your life to God and follow Him, it matters.  The choice you make to surrender your life directly impacts you and your church.

Question 4: Are you tempted to believe that whether you serve or don’t serve it doesn’t matter?

We know Jesus said, ‘To be great you must serve.’  But in reality, do we live a life that serves?  Isn’t that someone else’s problem?  And when we don’t serve others in life, don’t you find that life lacks meaning?  Don’t you struggle to have empathy for others?  Do you think to yourself, if people served me more, I would be able to serve them?

Only in serving do you discover things like meaning, empathy, and humility.  Those qualities are only discovered through serving.  And serving always starts at home with your spouse and family.

3 Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived. 4-5 Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. MSG Galatians 6:3-5

You matter.  When you serve, it matters.  The choice you make to serve directly impacts you and your church.

Question 5: Aren’t you tempted to believe whether you give or don’t give, it doesn’t matter?

Maybe you believe the local church will just continue on like a big faceless corporation like Google, Microsoft, or General Electric?  It’s not true.  There aren’t endless silos of cash – I’ve checked.

This one issue of giving has always been difficult for people because it moves spiritual things from fuzzy to clear.  And to make it worse, we want more money and giving money back to God means we would have less money.  And to make it worse, we wonder, what do I get out of it anyway?

Jesus told us this.

A person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God. NLT Luke 12:21

Jesus didn’t say money or making money is wrong.  In fact, you should save for retirement.  Jesus said, if you live a life that pursues money while at the same time you don’t have a real relationship with God, you are a fool.  Why?  Because you won’t live forever.  At the end of your life, you will meet God face to face and you will wish you had a real relationship with God.

Jesus taught,

19-21 “Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or – worse! – stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.

22-23 “Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a musty cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!

24 “You can’t worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can’t worship God and Money both. MSG Matthew 6:19-24

Giving matters.  Generosity changes your heart.  It changes how you live life.  When you have the goal to give 10% back to God, it matters.  The choice you make to give directly impacts you and your church.

Listen, over your life, you will fall in love with one of them.  Either God or money.  And as I say that, you are thinking, ‘He’s being dramatic, I can do both.’  No, you can’t.  I personally tried it and failed.  And God said you can’t.

Here is the problem.  People in North America don’t make the connections we are talking about.  They don’t make the connection that their choices directly impact what God is up to.  They struggle to see the connection that as they accept their part in the Church, God builds His church.  The problem is, they don’t believe that they matter.  And because they don’t believe they matter; they can check out.  They may be around church now and then, but they are comfortable checking out and don’t fully engage.  As the church gets weaker and weaker.  Our community wonders, ‘Where is God?’

Let’s close with this.  What is the point of Church?  We are God’s only strategy to redeem our community.  What is required of us?  We must see our value and make the choice to fully engage.  And if we aren’t pursuing God, none of this will make sense to us.  In fact, the things God asks of us that are supposed to bring passion to us, we will twist them into a dry lifeless religious duty.

For example.

Loving God will be a fuzzy weird thing we can’t figure out.  We will never make the connection that when we pursue God, things change.  We become comfortable saying, ‘I struggle with that.’  That’s Christian code for, I made a decision and it’s to not go after God.

The subject of loving others will be something we hope our spouses hear.

Growing and living a life that jumps out of the boat like Peter sounds motivational, but we will settle for a life of ruts and routines because we are scared of where God wants to lead us.

We will view serving as a good thing but it’s really someone else’s problem, for us it’s an interruption.

We will never see giving the way God does and we will struggle with control and seeing God move when we give.  We will always believe I can do both, love God and love money.

If we aren’t going after God, none of these choices will make sense.  What God askes of us to bring us passion will become a dry lifeless religious duty.

Please hear me.  We are God’s only strategy to redeem our community.  We must see our value and make the choice to fully engage.

Last question.  If everyone in Church made the decisions you make, what would your Church look like?