Who Needs the Church?

Who Needs the Church?

Scripture: Acts 27:30-31
Do you have to go to church to be a Christian?

Tips For Resisting Temptation (PB) by Doug Batchelor

Tips For Resisting Temptation (PB) by Doug Batchelor
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I couldn't understand just buying any kind of drugs just to do for myself because it just made sense to invest it in something else and then I can make all the money back and have weed that I could smoke for free. I was having a lot of fun - at least at first. I was making more money than anybody that I knew. I've got, you know, pounds and pounds of weed in the closet and I've got all this money. I've got a beautiful fully furnished apartment, a chandelier hanging in my living room.

I've got a luxury car all leather interior. I've got the hottest girlfriend. I have every single thing that this world tells me that I need. And that's when I realized how empty I really was. Eventually smoking weed didn't do it anymore.

I started going to doing a lot of acid - lsd, ecstasy. Of course other hard drugs came into the picture. I found out that you can't run away from yourself and no matter where you go, there you are. It was very difficult to reconcile a faith in God and then this lifestyle that I was choosing to lead. And at this point I had made the choice to leave that lifestyle but I couldn't reverse it.

Even though I wanted to stop or at least slow down, I had no power. I said, 'God, do whatever it is you've got to do to change me.' I get arrested for a dui - I'd been to jail many times before but I used to think that the reason that I went to jail was because God was sick of me - that God hated me. There I am in jail and I'm starting to see the fact that God loves me - to know the emptiness of this world - to know that this life really stinks but there's hope. And the hope that I found can only be seen or known in Christ Jesus. My name is justin montero and I've reclaimed my faith.

Amen. You know, friends, we can tell from some of the testimonies we've already heard during this program there's a lot of people out there that have begun a relationship with the Lord but then something happened. Maybe somebody hurt them or they got distracted with the busyness of life. Or maybe they grew up in the church and they were just curious about what's out there in the world and they wanted to go find out for themselves what they're missing but they didn't realize that it was a whirlpool that was going to catch them and hold them. And we're doing this program especially to encourage everybody to know - those of you who have a history and a background with Jesus, you can come back - you can get a new beginning.

But you have to make a decision not to jump ship - to stay with the boat. In spite of the problems, in spite of the storms, in spite of the other sailors, you have to stay on the boat. Jesus will not force you. You can make a decision - if you're out there where the sharks are - to swim back to the boat. In 1961, November 17th, Michael rockefeller, the youngest son of nelson rockefeller former governor of New York and vice president, heir of the very wealthy rockefeller oil fortune, he was a little bit of the black sheep of the family and he was doing anthropology work out in the jungles - went to new guinea - and on that day they were out in the ocean in a dugout canoe - 40-foot long dugout canoe, double pontoons - he and two guides, along with another anthropologist, rene' wassing, and some waves came and swamped their engine.

Well, they were about three miles from shore and the two guides told the young anthropologists, 'stay with the boat, we will get help, we will come back.' And so they swam off. But in the hours that ensued, as the boat was drifting further and further from shore, Michael said to rene', 'I think we better get back, we don't know if they're going to make it. We don't know how long it's going to be, they'll maybe never find us out here in the ocean.' And rene' said, 'they said 'stay with the boat and they'll find us.' And he said, 'no, I think I can make it to land. This is your choice. I'm going to choose to swim on my own.

' And he took two empty gas cans and tied them between him and jumped in the water - he did it for buoyancy - and swam off. And he's never been seen again. It created an international media frenzy and The Father flew to new guinea and there was a massive search but they never found his body. They never found Michael because he didn't stay with the boat. The next day rene' was picked up.

You know, there's a story in the Bible that tells us there is a time to trust the Lord and hang tight in the boat, even though there may be storms. If you have a Bible you'll find this in the book of acts. The book of acts tells about the exciting way that God has led his church. And I should mention at this point that, as much as I enjoy this beautiful set and that quaint little church that we have there, the church is not a building, the church is people - it's a gathering of people - and at the end of the story of acts, the book takes quite a bit of time to talk about a storm at sea. There is a boatload of sailors that are on the way to rome for judgment - they're actually prisoners on their way to rome to be judged by caesar.

The apostle Paul is on the boat and after - they lose everything - they throw everything overboard - they don't know where they are. They're lost. They've lost their tackling and they threw their food overboard. But Paul prayed and he interceded for everybody on the boat and the angel said, 'I've heard your prayer.' Well, just as they were nearing land some of the sailors thought, 'you know, we can do better on our own. We're going to sneak off in the little lifeboat - the little dinghy - by ourselves.

' You can read in acts 27, verse - "and as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and they let down the skiff into the sea under pretense" - pretending that they were putting out anchors from the bow - Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, "unless these men stay in the ship you cannot be saved." Wow. Why? Perhaps God's sending a message to his people as we near shore - especially during the storms of the last days - how crucial it is for us to stick together. Because unless we stick together, we're all in danger. And we need to encourage each other. I'm not only interested in my salvation, I need to be interested in your salvation and I hope you're interested in mine.

You know when you pray the Lord's prayer it never says 'give me. Deliver me. Feed me.' It's 'lead us. Deliver us. Feed us.

' Because we should be corporately interested. But we're living in the age of individualism and everybody's kind of off doing their own thing. You know, I wanted to encourage you during this series, that we need to stick with the ship. I read some statistics - the barna research group put this out - that nearly three out of every five young Christians - approximately 59% - disconnect from the church after age 15, some permanently. Some, praise the Lord, come back.

Approximately 150,000 people leave the Christian church, in North America, every week. Now, fortunately, there are many coming in also, but at large, the back door of the church is larger now than the front door. Now, that's not true in all parts of the world, but we've got a problem, especially in North America and other parts of the world - some of western europe - just to give you an example, the southern baptists in 2008 they did some research - a membership of over 16 million, but they found only 38% actually attended church - but they're on the books. In 2009 the evangelical lutheran church did a similar study and out of 4.5 million only 28% went to church. I think the catholic statistics are about the same and the - not the barna group - the gallop poll did a study and they came up with the first study and it said, 'oh, it looks like about % of people who claim to be church members are going to church.

Well, they said, 'we need to do a better study.' So they had pollsters go to those churches in the community and measure what they actually saw from the ones that said they really were going to church - they found that a lot of Christians lied - it was closer to 28%. But that would make sense - they're the ones that aren't going too. So there really is a serious problem. Now, please bear with me - I'm very passionate about this, but there's a Scripture that I have, Hebrews chapter 10, verse 24, and this is sort of a verse I'd like to use to catapult the series. Hebrews 10, verses 24 and 25 - "and let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works" - stir each other up - "not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together" - that's what the church is, we assemble together - "as the manner of some is" - some are doing this - "but exhorting one another and so much the more as you see the day approaching.

" - What day is approaching friends? The day of the Lord - Jesus coming. And all the more as we see the day of the Lord is coming we need to encourage and exhort and stir each other to come together. There is redemptive value in our coming together. You know, one reason we need the church so much is because of love. Great commandments - love the Lord, love your neighbor - we go to church because we learn more about loving God by learning how to love each other.

And John tells us if we cannot love our brothers who we do see, how can we say that we love the Lord who we don't see? And we always thought that we went to church because it was supposed to be some form of resort for the saints - in many respects it's a hospital for the sinners, isn't it? People in the church sometimes aren't always lovable, but that's how you learn love. You don't learn to love when you're surrounded always with lovable people. You especially learn to love - when you pray for patience what do you think God is going to give you? He'll send you delay because that's how you grow. If you pray for muscles what is God going to give you? He's going to give you weight to carry - I didn't mean it the way it first came out - but, you know, you have to lift weights. And if you say, 'Lord, give me love for my neighbor.

' - He's going to put you next to an ornery neighbor. And that's - isn't that how we learn love? And so some people, they excuse themselves from the church and they think that 'I'm going to stay home and I'm going to be especially holy' - it actually has the opposite effect. We desperately need each other. We need to learn to love each other and stick together as a church. There's something about when we get together.

Jesus said, 'for where two or three are gathered together in my name' - Matthew 18:20 - 'I am there.' And the church is the assembly - it is the gathering of the people of God. So, one of our primary objectives is to encourage people to reclaim their faith. And I'll tell you - I realize in one sense, some of those who are here, I'm talking to the choir and we're so thankful that you came to the live audience - but statistically, some of you here are on the edge of the back door. Maybe you've come because you're looking for encouragement. You've pondered taking off into the world or wandering off and there are some who are watching, I know, that for whatever reason - you've been invited to a person's home or you may be watching a recorded version, you're watching the live broadcast - and the Holy Spirit is going to speak to you.

And you know God is calling you - Jesus is calling you back into his body. This is a very important subject friends because I think we're under the delusion that you can be a healthy Christian and not participate in church. And I believe, from what I read in the Bible - that your being an active Christian and attending church - now I'm not talking about those who might have some medical problem or because of age or maybe you're in some remote mission field and there is no church - I've been in those situations before where I was either too sick or I physically couldn't go - once I had to preach and I couldn't go - I mean, I was sick. And I have been in parts of the world where there just was no church and so you gather in a small group - or sometimes you're by yourself - but for those who can go and they don't - the church is the body of Christ - if we are not in Christ and in his body, that's very serious when he comes back. We need to be in the boat.

So what is the church? When we say the word church it's actually a scottish word that comes from the word 'kirk' and you maybe have heard some songs about that - the wee kirk in the heather - and that's really not the word. In Greek it's ecclesia and it means the gathering, the calling out, the congregation, the assembly. It is a community of faith. It's not a building, it's a place where God's people gather to learn his will and to know how to serve him better. So here's the big question: can you be a Christian and not be participating in church? Now again, I'm not talking about those who can't because of a medical problem or isolation, but can you really be a healthy Christian and not want to be part of God's people? Well, sure - if you can be a honeybee and not be part of a hive.

You usually don't make a lot of honey that way. If you can be a soldier without an army - you know, just kind of rambo - you run around doing your own thing. If you can be a salesman with no customers. If you can be a football player without a team - you throw the ball then you run ahead and you catch it and do all your own blocking and tackling. If you can be a politician who is a hermit, well then sure, you can be a Christian that doesn't participate in church.

But I know you realize I'm saying this tongue-in-cheek - the Bible tells us, and this is very important - acts chapter 2, verse 47 "the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." Now, I don't know about you friends, but I want to be saved. Jesus came into the world to save us from our sins. And who is being saved? The ones who are added to the church. So how important is it to Jesus that we are part of the church? You know, as you read the new testament, any idea that you could be saved outside of the church is a foreign concept to the Bible. The whole new testament is written with the idea in mind that people are saved into the church - they are brought into Christ and into the church at the same time.

Now, I'm saying this for those who are out there that say, 'yeah, I'm a Christian, I just don't go to church.' I remember picking up a hitch-hiker one time and began to share my faith with him and he said, 'oh yeah, I'm a Christian. I'm just not a practicing Christian.' And then he commenced to show me the crosses that he wore. And I stopped - I actually stopped and ate a meal with him because I wanted to talk to him a little further and said, 'so explain to me what it means to be a Christian.' 'Oh, you know, Jesus saves you from your sin.' And I said, 'now explain what a non-practicing Christian is.' We're either following Christ or we're not. Now, you don't say, 'I'm not going to church until I'm following Christ' or 'I'm afraid if I go to church I'll be under conviction.' Well that's good. Come anyway.

Because, conviction is something the Holy Spirit gives you. It helps you to facilitate change. Come to church. You've heard it said before, the Bible will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from the Bible. Some people that go to church but they're under conviction so they say, 'I don't want to go anymore and be convicted.

' And so they stay away. It's healthy to go and be convicted. You know, if you've got some dirt on your face, don't hide from mirrors. It's not going to solve your problem. And sometimes when we go to church we become aware of the changes we need - that's healthy! You go anyway.

You want the truth don't you? We want to be changed. We want to know. Very important. Acts chapter 4, verse 12, the Bible says, "nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved." The only way for us to be saved is through Christ and the church is the body of Christ - that's why it's so important, so crucial, that we are in Christ. 1 Timothy 3:15.

Here the apostle says, 'I write to you that you might know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and the ground of truth." The church is a place where we gather and we open the word and we learn the truth from God's perspective and one of the most dangerous things in our culture today - it's a very powerful thing - it can be powerful for good and it can be dangerous - is the media. Of course, I'm using media right now. But we are getting more messages today than any other time in history. Some of you may have even been texting already since I started the message. You might have been receiving texts - little phones buzzing here and there and blogging people about the meeting already.

And this meeting is already on youtube probably from someone who's got their little video camera going and you're sending it to somebody. We've got information streaming - just pouring - there is a river of information that is flowing in and out of our minds constantly. If we are not coming to church and hearing the truth from the Word of God on a regular basis, then what messages are going to dominate who you are and what you become? We're all being influenced by what's going on in the culture around us but we need to be influenced by the Word of God. We need to carve out that faithful time to come together in the church and to hear His Word. Can you say amen? Can you believe that? I thought you were with me, I just wanted to double check.

For someone to say, 'well, I want to be a Christian but I don't really want to go to church.' - That's like saying, 'you know, I want to be a fish but I don't want to live in the water. Now, there are a few rare exceptions, you might find a mudskipper that leaves the water for a little while, but not too many fish survive out of the water for very long. And not too many Christians thrive and survive out of the church. It's hard to survive and thrive in Christ when you stay away from the body of Christ. So it's crucial to our spiritual health.

In John chapter 13, verse 35 Jesus said, "by this shall all men know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another." And that's why it's so important that we come together. Now, I believe that the devil heard Jesus say that. I think the devil heard Jesus say, 'all men will know that you're my disciples by the way you love each other.' And he thought, well if the world hears and learns about Jesus by their corporate love for each other then it must also stand to reason that if I can scatter them and fragment the church, it will advertise against Christ. And so, if we do our best advertising by showing our unity - 'behold how they love one another' - then it will also be true that the heathen mock and laugh at Christians when they say, 'look at how fragmented they are.' Is there any religion in the world that has more splinters and denominations than Christianity? But, actually that's a testimony that shows that the devil is more threatened by Christianity than anything else, because he is seeking to hide the diamond by camouflaging it with a bunch of broken glass. There is a truth out there and he's trying to hide it by all these fragments and all these divisions.

the Lord wants us to pull together - not just pull together for the sake of being together - we need to pull together based on truth. And we're going to be getting some questions in during this series that talk about you know, 'how do we pick a church?' Matter of fact, I'm going to say something right now. When we thought about how much we have to cover and how little time we have to cover it during this series, one of the common questions we get regarding going back to church - people struggle with different particular doctrinal issues. Now, normally, when amazing facts does an evangelistic meeting, we will take 27 or 28 presentations to cover a variety of doctrines. We don't have time during this weekend to do that.

Resolving a lot of these doctrinal doubts a person might have that separated them from the church, the best thing you can do is get involved in a good Bible study. Do you mind if I make a suggestion right now? Some of you who have been out there and the Holy Spirit is talking to you and you've got questions and doubts, well you need to study these things out. I'd like to encourage you to go to a website that's called 'Bibleuniverse' - 'Bibleuniverse.com' - and there are free Bible studies at that website - there's two or three of them in many different languages. They're in spanish and english and farsi and french and a number of languages - 'Bibleuniverse.com' - get involved in a Bible study. That will help answer a lot of your doubts and it deals with the main foundational teachings of the Bible.

But we're especially now talking to those of you who maybe have been discouraged by other things. Someone hurt your feelings or like some of the questions we heard you say, 'i'd like to go but I got so busy with life' or 'church is boring and I have so much to do and I'm so tired. I've got so much stress.' And we want to talk about those things as well. But we need to stay together. The devil is afraid of how powerful we are when we are together.

You know, just in having a good foundation for this series, I think I need to address what are some of the main reasons people stop going to church? I want to ask a question just to prove a point. Those in the studio, I'm going to ask a question - you might get ready for an audience reaction here. Don't react too much, that could be distracting. I'm just going to ask you to raise your hand. Please, everyone participate.

How many of you can think of someone right now that you know - friend or family - coworker - that used to go to church but doesn't go anymore? Let me see your hands. So is what we're talking about relevant? Once a person is baptized and they come to Christ, sometimes we've got this mentality that 'we caught 'em. We branded 'em. Now, well, if they dry on the beach, that's their problem. Let's go get another one and let's brand them.

You know, we're supposed to fish for men. We caught those and now let's go get some fresh fish - they're old fish. We don't want the old fish, we want the fresh fish.' You know, Jesus even loves dried fish, if you salt it, right? I think the Lord values those who once were his that, for whatever reason, denied him. He wants them to come back. Did Peter deny the Lord? You know, the first thing Jesus said, when he rose from the dead, to mary? He said, go tell the disciples and Peter.

..' He wanted Peter to know, 'I want you back. Even after you denied me with swearing and cursing three times, I want you back.' And the Lord wants you back friends. So we ought to be praying for these people. I hope you're praying as I'm sharing. So why do people leave? Some of the reasons - peer pressure, especially with young people.

All of their friends are doing so many exciting things, they're learning, they're getting out on their own, and they want to see what's going on and they kind of drift off with their friends. Or it might be the people you work with. You're a Christian but you're in a non-Christian working environment and that can be tough - and all of the activities and the entertainment and things your non-Christian friends do kind of pull you - because you want to be with your friends but they're pulling you in non-Christian directions. Peer pressure is one of the things. Some are simply distracted with the busyness of life.

There's so much going on that they just don't know how to fit it all in. Let's face it, especially in North America and the first world countries, we have very fast-paced lives. There's the higher level of stress than there ever has been. Another reason is conflict with another member. We're going to be talking in our presentation tomorrow morning about surviving friendly fire and that's a very common one that we hear.

Matter of fact, it's 12% - they stop going to church because of conflict with another member or a group of people. Some people say, 'oh, the church is run by a clique and I didn't want to be part of that clique.' Have you heard that one before? Or they felt they failed to live up to the standards and they felt guilty and uncomfortable when they came. They said, 'you know, I'm just not living right, I don't want to be a hypocrite.' So they think by coming and not living everything that the church stands for they're a hypocrite and that's - I've told you that we need to come anyway. A lot of hypocrites get converted in church! And so that's the best place for you to be. Doctrinal doubts.

I mentioned if you have some of those doubts I encourage you to go to 'Bibleuniverse' and do that study. That's very simple. Family/home responsibilities prevent attendance. You know, we've just got so many things going. Maybe you're in a divided home and your spouse, husband or wife, is not a believer and you're a believer and they're wanting to do other things on the weekend and it's pulling you away.

Or relatives - you're the only one in the family and you live with your in-laws and there's just so much pressure from the family it pulls you away. Some church members they leave because they say, 'I'm being judged. I felt like I was being judged.' Some get discouraged because they go through some form of church discipline and they think that means they need to stop attending. Others move and it's too far away so they say, 'well, I'll just go to church on tv or at home or on the internet.' More and more people are getting their church experience through media now. It's really hard for me to comprehend the apostles getting their church experience on their iphones.

But - nothing against those of you that have iphones. They felt like the church had become irrelevant in their lives. 'It's not helping me develop spiritually.' % Said that. 'I just am not getting anything out of it. It doesn't seem to speak to my specific needs.

' Some stop believing in organized religion. And for those who stop believing in organized religion, you know there's only one thing left and that would be disorganized religion. But that's - you'd be surprised - 14% said they stopped because of - they just don't believe in organized religion. And then a lot of people - 10% - they stop attending because they experienced a divorce and it can become very awkward if your ex is still going to the same small church in a small town and you're worried about what everyone's thinking or some of those scenarios. Now, I talked about some of the reasons people leave - this may seem backward to you - now I'm going to tell you why should you join a church? There's a method to my madness here.

Why would you join a church? Let me tell you what the main reasons are that people join a church. And, by the way, some of this material is in that book we're offering to those of you who are willing to go back to church - 'how to survive and thrive in church' - and this is not an official survey, this is just my own personal survey that I did so I just want to make that clear. 'It's the church I grew up in. It's the church of my parents.' Why'd you pick your church? 'Because this is where my parents go.' 'It's close to our home.' It's convenient. 'The people are friendly and loving.

' Now, we'd all want to go to a church like that. 'They have a beautiful music program.' Why do you go to that church? 'Oh, the music. Oh the rafters ring when they play the organ.' 'The preacher is handsome or charismatic.' Obviously that's why you're all here. Hey, don't laugh so hard. A number of people say they pick a church because they have a good children's program.

Others - and these are good things - they pick a church - it seems a little shallow, but you'd be surprised - why do you go to that church? 'It's a beautiful building. It's a new building. It's a great facility.' That's right. Some people pick a church because they say, 'this is where the influential people go.' You know, I heard that - we're not too far here from Washington, d.c., That as the different presidents come and go, depending on what their religious affiliation is, some of the presidents might go to the episcopal church, or the methodist church in town and people will all call the pastor or one of the church custodians during the week and say, 'is the president coming this week?' Because they want to go when the president goes - or where the influential people go. And I heard about one custodian, someone called during the week - and he got these calls all the time - 'do you anticipate the president's going to be there this week?' And he'd say, 'well, I don't know but I think God's going to be here and that should generate a pretty good attendance.

' 'I go to the church I go to because that's where the influential people go.' 'The services are exciting.' 'You know, life is boring and I just want to go and feel something.' And so they go because they're kinesthetic people and they want to feel something. It is exciting. Other people go because they say, 'they need me there.' And that's important. People want to go where they feel like they're needed, where they're wanted. Now, every one of these things I just mentioned, none of them are wrong in themselves.

Nothing wrong to go to the church where your parents go. Nothing wrong if it's close to your home - that's good. How many of you would like a - to have your best church close to your house? The people are friendly and loving - would you like to have a church like that? The music is beautiful. The preacher is handsome and charismatic. Good children's program.

Nice building. Intelligent influential people go there. Nothing wrong with that. Services are interesting and exciting. They need my services.

All of those things are good things, but you know, I didn't mention in all of those things, which are the top reasons people pick a church, I did not mention the one right reason to go to a church. All those things are good and those are the main reasons people pick their church, but they're not the right reason to go to a church. The right reason to go to a church is because the foundational teachings of that church are the teachings of Jesus and it's the truth and it's his body and I'm going there to worship him according to the Scriptures. It might be a hamburger stand that's been renovated. The singing might be awful.

The people might be cranky. You might have to go 50 miles to get there. They might all be poor. But if the foundational teachings of that church are the teachings of Jesus, then that's his body and that's where he wants you. Now, the reason I said things the way I did is you can better understand why there is this terrible problem where people are hemorrhaging from the churches.

One of the big reasons people are leaving is because they joined for the wrong reasons. If we understand why it is that we're going, we understand why it is we're staying. It's because Christ commands us to. That it's the truth. It's his ship.

It's his ark of salvation and he wants us to be in Christ. One of the important reasons that we need to go to church - the Lord wants us to be one. One body. Colossians 3:15 - "and let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you are called in one body;" - how many bodies? He wants us to be united. By the way, just a little trivia.

I'm reading Bible to save time for me turning pages because television is sort of an unforgiving medium where people get bored and they just channel surf and if someone surfs onto this program while I'm flipping around for 10 seconds, we might lose them. So I get all my Scriptures printed out in advance. You're wondering how I'm finding Colossians in the first page of my Bible - and my poor Bible inside is kind of mutilated with all the tape from the double-sided tape that's in here. So I just thought I ought to explain that. But he wants us to be in one body.

John 17 - listen to the prayer of Jesus. the Lord says, "and the glory" - he's talking to The Father - God The Son is talking to God the father - "and the glory which you gave me I have given them that they may be one" - now listen to how he wants us to be one. Jesus is praying that "they may be one just as we are one that they may be one." Wow. How one is The Father and The Son? You think about that. Jesus said to Philip, 'if you've seen me, you've seen The Father.

' Talk about being perfectly one - the only way we can have that perfect oneness is to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. If you've got the Spirit of God and I've got the Spirit of God, that's the only way we can be one the way Jesus wants us to be one. Isn't that right? But is that his will? Jesus, did he pray for that? That we would have that kind of oneness? Isn't that kind of impossible? It is without a miracle. Were the disciples ever one like that? You know, the Bible tells us that when the day of pentecost - acts chapter 2, verse 1 - "when the day of pentecost was fully come they were all of one accord." They put aside all their differences. Did the disciples - did the early church of Jesus - was there a little bit of strife and division among them? But before the Holy Spirit was poured out, they finally got to where they were one.

They were in one accord and they were in one place. So does it matter that we come together physically as far as we are able into one place? Is there something that happens when we collect and we gather together? Does God seem to meet with several people more than maybe he would with one? Does the Lord answer the prayers of many more than the prayers of one? I've thought a lot about this - I think it's true - 'the fervent effectual prayer of a righteous man' - one person - 'avails much.' But if that prayer of one righteous person avails much, what if you get a whole bunch of righteous people praying together? The day of pentecost you had the apostles and another 108 or so and or 102 - no 108 - my math is bad - but he poured out the Holy Spirit and they were all filled. They were one. But before that they weren't one. They were clawing and striving and clamoring for the highest position in this new kingdom.

They all wanted their different cabinet posts. James and John were upset with Peter and andrew and they were upset with - thomas was so negative all the time - and Philip, he always had these doctrinal questions and everybody had these - and Judas, they thought, was the best suited. Shows you how their judgment was. And yet, when they put away their differences and they prayed together and they got into one place, and God says, 'if my people that are called - my people that are called by my name will humble themselves' - plural - 'and pray and seek my face.' If we will come together and pray and humble ourselves and seek his face and turn from our wicked ways - then he says he will hear in heaven. I believe that's when he's going to do something wonderful and that's why we're doing these meetings because we think the time has come.

We're on the very cusp of eternity friends. I think we're on the very threshold of some - we've already seen it, haven't we? We see the apocalyptic images that have come from the tsunami they had in indonesia and the earthquake and tsunami and japan and haiti and other things that are going on, not to mention the economic challenges that they have around the world. And you just think about the explosion of technology. 'Many running to and fro and knowledge increasing.' And this is the exact scenario that Jesus paints at the end of time. Well, I think it's time that God's people get together and that those who are out there wandering, we need to pull together as a church family because I think we're running out of time.

He wants us to be one. There's power in that. Jesus said when we come together in one place. He tells us we're supposed to be one body. Now, that's one of the illustrations I really enjoy -that we are all members of Christ's body and we all serve different functions.

In your Bible, if you read in Romans 12 - there's so many places I could go to but just Romans 12, verses 4 to 6 he says, "for as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ" - that means that we're all going to be different - "and individual members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to that which is given to us, let us use them;" I heard there's a company - it's called transmedics in woburn, Massachusetts. You know, the shelf life of a human heart when they take a living human heart out of a donor's body - and the time they used to have to get that heart to the transplant recipient used to be six hours. But now, through just some fascinating technology and probably some extra equipment and maybe chemicals, they've developed a way to keep a human heart viable - where they can transplant it from the donor to the recipient - for 24 hours. Now we're impressed that a heart could survive 24 hours outside of the body.

How long can a Christian survive outside of the body? It's obvious, I think, to most of us, that in order for any part of your body to stay alive, it's got to be connected. Every part of your body is made up of cells that are all alive that are all fed and nourished by the blood. And we, as the body of Christ, are all fed and nourished by the blood of Christ. And we've all got different parts of the body and we need each other. And some of us are the eyes of the church and some are the mouth and the ears and the nose and we all expect it to be together.

For instance, if I were to say to you - matter of fact, let's try this - turn for a moment and look at the person next to you. Find someone - I know, it may be a friend, it might be a visitor - turn around and look just for a second. Do you see a nose? I hope I'm not putting anyone on the spot. If you're here and you don't have a nose I don't want to be - you know some people - one man got frostbite on everest and he had to get an artificial nose - all right, so when you saw their nose, did that shock you? If I said, 'look at the person next to you - a nose!' But if I were to say, 'look on the floor - a nose!' Would you find that troubling if you saw a nose in the aisle? Why? Because it doesn't belong off by itself. Can you be a Christian and be separated from the body? How can you do your function? We all need each other and every part of the body needs the other part of the body.

I grew up in the era where scientists thought that people had a lot of spare parts and they took my tonsils. You know, I always had a sore throat and they never did make a connection between me starting my day with hostess twinkies for breakfast and always having a sore throat and they just said, 'bad tonsils, they're vestigial remnants - you don't really need them, take 'em out!' My brother had a stomach ache - 'must be a bad appendix - don't need it - spare parts! Take 'em out!' You know, they had this idea everything was spare parts. Well, we know more now that those things all have a purpose, don't they? Some of you maybe felt like the appendix or the tonsils of the church and you think, 'there's no purpose for me.' Or maybe you thought someone else was the appendix - that's more likely, right? We all are needed by Christ. And you know, the Lord puts some people in the church just so we can learn love and patience, but they're needed and we're all part of his body and we need to stay together or we don't stay alive. I heard a story one time - parable - that one morning a man woke up and he reached for the counter by the bed and he went to grab his glasses and to put them on and the nose shouted at the eyes.

And the nose said, 'enough of this! Day after day you plop those glasses down on top of me and they slide up and down, they're irritating, I feel the pressure, they leave little red dots on either side - no more glasses!' So the man heard that and he put the glasses back down. He got up and on his way to the restroom he ran into the door and banged his nose. Everybody suffers if we are not together. We all need to be together as part of the body of Christ. You know, I just renewed my membership at a health club.

You know, there's usually a big glut of new people that are joining health clubs the first of the year. Pastor Ross and I play racquetball once or twice a week and we've been doing it for years now so we're members all year long. But we like to watch the rush right after thanksgiving and Christmas - I wonder why that is - and after the holiday feasts - everybody says, 'oh, I better sign up for a health club.' And I think maybe they think that signing up for a health club is the same thing as exercise. But we thought it was something like the 2nd of January, we couldn't find a parking place. And we said, 'give it a couple of weeks.

But you know, I noticed - I went in and the racquet courts were busy and I had to wander around and look at all the equipment, which I normally don't do, I just go right in and play racquetball. One reason I don't is because of the constant music in there is sometimes hard for me - at least in the racquetball court it's a little quieter - but I went and looked at all of the different exercise equipments and it's very sophisticated now - they've got machines - very expensive machines - that are designed to exercise one little muscle you've got somewhere in your back that big - I don't even know how to pronounce it. And it's just you've got to do this one thing and it exercises that one muscle. Then you go to this next station and it's got this other thing and it exercises the other side. And they got all these different machines and they've got the highlighted muscles that they'll exercise and - which tells us that all the different parts of the body - they grow at different times, they get their exercise at different times - you need to be patient where people are in the body in their phase of growth.

Sometimes you wonder why people are so slow. 'How come you're not sophisticated like me - you haven't grown.' Or 'you're not as strong as I am.' And we go to church and we pray like that pharisee, 'Lord, I thank thee that I'm not like other men.' And we start to talk about the publican on the back row. And, you know, Jesus said it was the publican that went home justified even though he did have serious sins. So be patient with people that are still growing in their faith. We're all different parts of the body.

Some are babes - and you know what Jesus said about those who offend the little children in Christ? He takes that seriously. He said it might be better that a millstone were placed about their neck and they were cast into the midst of the sea. So we've got to love each other. We've got to be patient with each other. We're all part of one body, amen? I have an uncle, my father's brother harry, uncle harry.

He lost one of his eyes in a horseback riding accident, the horse rolled, and he got a glass eye. And he used to tease his granddaughters and they'd be in there playing in the room and he was responsible for them that day, but he needed to go out in the yard and do something, he'd pop out his eye and set it on the counter and say, 'I'm watching you.' Wouldn't it be spooky to have a grandfather like that? Or if you say that you've got this new sports car and I say, 'well let me see your new sports car.' And you say, 'well, I've got one little problem - the engine is in los angeles, the transmission is in miami, and the body is in denver.' You don't have a car if it's all scattered around the country. You might have all the different parts, but until you bring them together what you've got is a bunch of junkyards, right? We really begin to function when we work together and coordinate our different gifts. And so, I think I've said enough about that. We need to work together as a body.

How long do we survive if we're separated? You know, one of my dreams - I don't know if it will ever happen, but one of my dreams - they take all kinds of people into space now - if you've got enough money you can be a tourist. I don't have enough to - somebody paid $20 million so they could go up with the soviets and go to the u.s. Space station. You remember that? I thought, 'oh, I wish I could go to space.' That'd be so much fun. God willing, someday I will.

And, while you're all exploring the new earth, I'm going to just take off and go where no man's been before. I just want to go soaring through space as fast as the speed of thought. And, you know, I remember when they did the first space walk. It was a very nervous time when one of the astronauts actually went out of the ship. He was tethered at first, with an umbilical cord the whole time.

And they were just so afraid that it was going to break and he's floating out there and he's by himself. Can you imagine how eerie that must be? To be floating out in the vacuum of space knowing that you've got just a quarter inch of some kind of vinyl rubber material that's separating you from eternity - if it rips - you'd be real careful not to do anything radical, right? And then they developed something where they could actually leave the ship with this little remote control thing that had little retro rockets that you could fly around outside with no connection with the spaceship. Do you think any of those astronauts said, 'hey, I think I'm going to surprise everyone and take off a little bit and see what they think. I'm going to go hide.' They didn't want to get too far away from the mother ship, did they? Because your life is at risk if you do that. It's also true for those that say, 'I'm a Christian, but you know, I'm going to go find out what's going on out there in the world.

' And we presume on God's grace. Do you realize that we're all on the devil's enchanted ground when we get very far from the ship and it's only the grace of God that preserves us. But it's a serious thing. If you're out there wandering around and you're presuming that God's going to continue to save and preserve and protect you. God is good.

God is patient. But it's a dangerous world out there friends. We should not gamble with the gift of everlasting life and say, 'I wonder how I can do out there without God for a little while. You know, I think I can make it on my own.' We need to stay with the ship, friends, what do you say? You know, the church is a family and families need each other. You have a new baby.

It needs to be placed in a family. If you've got a little lamb, the church is like a fold. We're going to talk about missing sheep another night, but if you've got a baby lamb and it's not placed in a fold, but it's just put out in the woods by itself, it's vulnerable to the wolves. God designed that when people are born in Christ and they're baptized, they're placed in a family. And so it's really concerning when someone's new in Christ and then nobody notices when they're missing week after week.

We've got to look out for each other - especially those of you who are part of larger congregations. It's really hard for a shepherd to count a thousand sheep every week. Or five hundred sheep. We have over a thousand members in Sacramento and it's one of the things that breaks my heart is when people are missing week after week and we didn't spot it. And you know what they say? % - 36%, I'm sorry - 36% of people who stopped going to church say, 'nobody even called me.

They didn't notice I was gone.' How do you think that made them feel? I think it breaks the Lord's heart. We have a privilege and we've got a responsibility to care for each other. We are our brother's keeper. You know the first thing that cain said after he murdered his own brother? God said, 'where is your brother?' He said, 'am I my brother's shepherd? That's his problem. Take care of himself.

' How did the Lord feel about that? We need to care about each other and we need to try to bring some of these wandering sheep back again. We're a family. Our family, about once a year, we have a great camp meeting in northern California. The biggest trees in the world - the redwoods. And we go up there and I tell you, that will inspire you with awe when you go camp out among the redwoods.

And we like, every year, to take some time to just go walk through what they call founder's grove and look at these incredibly majestic trees. But many people are surprised to learn that the biggest trees in the world that are there on the coast - they don't have very deep roots. They're not like oak trees that have a great big old long taproot. I get acorns that squirrels plant in my yard and I go to pull them up - the little oak tree is that big - and I go to pull it up and the root's that long. You know what I'm talking about? These redwoods don't send out a deep taproot.

The way they manage to survive is they go wide. Their roots go far and they have to intertwine their roots in a web with the roots of other trees around them. The way they're able to survive those pacific storms that come through is because they've intertwined their roots. Friends, there's a storm coming and the way that we're going to be able to survive this storm is we've got to stick together. We need to press together.

Press together. Press together. It's that time and some of you, who maybe have been out there and you've been wandering for whatever reason and you're drifting. Perhaps this is the call that you've been wondering about where Jesus is saying, 'now it's time to come back. Now it's time to come - you're not coming to a building - you're coming to a body.

It's not a body of people - Jesus said it's his body. The church today is the hands and the feet of Jesus in the world and he wants us to be part of that. Years ago I heard about an old pastor that went to visit one of his members. He happened to be a farmer, a busy man, who had stopped coming to church. And he went to see him one evening and he talked to the father of the house by himself and they sat before a fireplace that was there.

And the pastor said, 'brother, you know, we've been missing you at church and it's so important that you come.' And he said, 'I'm still a Christian pastor, I don't need to go to church.' He says, 'the Lord knows my heart. the Lord knows I pray. I believe in him. We've got a relationship. And I can make it on my own.

' And the pastor wasn't sure exactly what to say and without asking the man's permission he leaned over and took the poker by the fireplace, the fire was going right there on the hearth. He pulled aside the screen and the pastor took one of the prominent pieces of wood that was burning there on the fire and he kind of flicked it off by itself in the ashes and he sat back down. And the man he was visiting, he looked at that and the fire on the log there, it burned for a few moments and slowly the fire on that separated log began to flicker out, but the coals glowed for a little while. But then as it sat there, gradually the coals began to grow dim. And all this time, the pastor sat there with the man and they just looked at the fire.

You know, fire is kind of hypnotic, especially on a cold night. And he got the message just by looking at that. He said, 'I understand pastor.' He said, 'I'm going to come back to church.' We do not burn by ourselves. We do not glow by ourselves. We cannot put off that heat and that warmth by ourselves.

We need each other and not only do we need each other, we need the Lord. The only way we're going to make it through these last days is if Jesus takes our hand. The Bible story is a story of journeying on a ship. It begins with - Noah and the ark. They had to be in the ark.

And that boat made it through the storm because they stayed in the ark together. Friends, the only way we're going to make it through this storm in these last days is if we stick together - 'except these abide in the ship you cannot be saved.' We've got to stay together and we must be in Christ.

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