The Church God Blesses- Part One
Rev. Gary A. Shockley, Pastor
March 10, 2002
I believe that God communicates with us in many different ways—but the primary way God speaks to us is through His written word—the Bible. One morning this week as I was reading from the Bible I came upon a real gem—a 21 word statement that jumped from the page and seemed to be directed right to me. Have you ever had that happen? It’s wonderful and kind of spooky at the same time, isn’t it? Here it is: “The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.” (2 Chronicles 16:9)
I believe God directed me to this single sentence message with the intent that I bring it here and help to unpack it’s meaning for our congregation. So, I want to spend time with you this week and next to ask and answer the question, “What Kind of Church Does God Bless?” I believe that right now God’s eyes are moving back and forth across the earth looking for churches that are fully committed to Him in order to strengthen them.
We can spend a lot of time considering the large number of congregations across this country that have lost any real sense of what it means to be fully committed to God. Churches that are more committed to traditionalism and rituals that have lost their meaning than they are to the fresh working and joyful presence of a living God. Churches that have learned to stifle the work of the Holy Spirit with controlling attitudes and statements like, “we never did it that way before!” Churches that have no passion for prayer and whose only motivation for reaching out to others is to increase their offerings. Far too many church buildings have become tombs and the only hope some congregations have is the scripture that says in the last days, “the dead in Christ shall rise first!” That is not what God wills for us!
Right now the eyes of God are moving back and forth across the earth looking for churches that are fully committed to Him. Because He wants to strengthen them.
So, what kind of church does God bless? This morning I want us to look at just two characteristics of a God-blessed church. Next week we’ll consider a few more.
1. First, and most important of all, a God-blessed church has a great commitment to the great commandment. One day a religious leader, the Bible calls him “an expert in the religious law”, tried to trap Jesus with a question. “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:37) To love God—with everything we are!
The most important characteristic of a God-blessed church is a passionate unquenchable love for God. The unique thing about Christianity is that it’s about relationship not religion. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines religion as, “a belief in and worship of God or gods. A specific system of belief, worship, or practices often involving a code of ethics.” If we understand Christianity to be nothing more than a set of beliefs or practices we may become “religious” people by definition but completely miss the mark of what Christianity really is. It is a personal relationship with God through belief in, commitment to, and a personal life-transforming experience of the living presence of Jesus Christ.
There are multitudes of people in the church who are very religious. They follow their lists of do’s and don’ts, they live very moral and ethical lives, they do all the right things, believe all the right things, profess al the right things but have no personal experience of or relationship with God through Jesus Christ. By definition they are very religious people—but not Christians. Christianity, by God’s definition, is not about religion but about relationship.
One of the reasons so many people are “unchurched” is because they see the failings and hypocrisy and constraints of religion. They meet “religious” people who are uptight, unhappy, and unreal. And because they are intelligent, discerning, and skeptical folks they keep their distance. And who can blame them?
I believe if and when some of these same people meet up with folks who genuinely love God, are striving to understand and grow in their relationship with Him, and are real about their own human failings they will be drawn to that and then to Him.
After a funeral I attended on Wednesday I went to lunch with the family and friends of the deceased. I didn’t know anyone so I just found an empty seat and joined in. It was obvious to everyone else that I was a stranger and eventually some brave soul turned to me and said, “so , who are you?” I explained to them that the deceased’s granddaughter attended the church I served. From that moment on the conversation at our table spun around why this person didn’t go to church, how they can be Christians without being involved in church, how they had bad experiences with church when they were younger. I could relate to everything they were telling me and so I listened and didn’t argue with a single thing they said. When there was a lull in the conversation I simply said, “in our church we’re not interested in being religious people. We’re interested in growing in our understanding of God and knowing Him in a personal way.” They all seemed immediately relieved and expressed an interest in visiting sometime.
You see, even though people have been turned off by the church and by religion in general, there is an interest-- a hunger inside to know that God exists and that we can have a personal relationship with Him.
The church God blesses is a church that understands the difference between religion and relationship and has a great commitment to the great commandment to love God, in a personal way, with heart, soul, mind and strength- with everything we are! Worship then is real and heartfelt. Relationships are genuine and transparent. Ministry and service to others flows out of thanksgiving for what God has done for us.
What is it you’re striving for in your spiritual life? To be more religious or to grow in a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ? A God-blessed church has a great commitment to the great commandment.
2. Secondly, a God-blessed church has a great commitment to the great commission. After His resurrection from the dead and before He went back to His father in heaven Jesus gathered the 11 disciples and He told them, “I have been given complete authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all that I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:18-20) Those are His marching orders for the church! And they are consistent with his response to the religious leader who was trying to trip him up Jesus said, “The first and greatest commandment is to love God with your heart, soul, and mind. And a second is equally important, “love your neighbor as yourself.” The reason we exist as a church, according to Jesus, is to reach out and help others experience God for themselves and then follow Him.
A God-blessed church never gives up trying to meet people where they are and offer them God’s love. That goes without saying, doesn’t it? Yet how many churches seal themselves up within their buildings, isolate themselves from their communities, are completely out of touch with the needs of the people around them and only extend themselves, only reach out to the unchurched, when they need something?
Fresh out of seminary I was sent to be the pastor of three churches in the mountains of North central Pennsylvania. The smallest of the churches had about eight people in worship each Sunday. When I arrived the only outreach the church had in it’s community was a woman who, once a year, loaded up her car with baked goods, went door to door throughout the community and demanded that people buy something because it was the only way the church could afford to stay open.
I am astounded at how often God places Cornerstone directly in the path of people with needs. Someone shared with me early on in our journey that God will test us to see if we are worthy of His resources and His power. A measure of Cornerstone’s worthiness, in God’s eyes, to be a growing church depends squarely on our willingness and ability to meet the needs of the people God sends us, spiritually, emotionally, financially.
The church God blesses is the church that never stops reaching out.
Last year this congregation gave in excess of 15% of our offerings to help people in need. After worship last week I got involved in a conversation about how we could get a good car in the hands of a young woman who really needed help. Before that conversation ended two families each committed a thousand dollars to make that happen. And that was AFTER they had committed themselves to the special offering for our building fund! You would be amazed how often that kind of thing happens around here. You are that kind of people—and God is blessing us for that!
I’m looking forward to celebrating the commitments we as a church made last week to our building fund. We’ll be announcing that in just a few minutes. I want to celebrate with you how much that commitment is not for ourselves. It’s not about our having a building for US. It’s not about lessoning some of the work we have to do to make all this happen each week. It’s not about finding a place so we can settle down. We all know this is about building a facility that will help facilitate our ministry out there in the community of Cranberry. We know that having land, having a building will allow us to do even more to meet the needs of the people around us! We see a Christian day care and preschool for the working families of our area. We see a counseling center, health and fitness ministries, a youth center, space for community celebrations and gatherings. We see Bible studies, small groups, discipleship ministries, parenting classes, singles ministries and support groups. We see a resource center that will strengthen family ministries. When we look to our future we see hundreds, possibly thousands of faces, that will be touched by God—because we, as a church, have a great commitment to His great commission.
A great commitment to the great commandment (love God with you heart, mind and soul) and the great commission ( to love others as we love ourselves and help to make them disciples of Jesus Christ) will grow a great God blessed church.
I believe that right now God’s eyes are moving back and forth across the earth looking for churches that are fully committed to Him in order to strengthen them. What does God see when He looks at us? And are you committed personally to helping Cornerstone continue to grow to be a God-blessed church?