Read at beginning of message:
Romans 5:1-11 (NIV)
1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Anybody who has ever written a drivers test will remember those questions involving various road signs that a driver needs to be aware of. Road signs play an important role in ensuring the safety of our roads ? or they are supposed to anyway! There are all kinds of signs that you can find in our world. There are signs that provide directions, there are signs that advertise, there are signs that warn away, there are signs that invite in. They all share a similar function ? to inform.
Now obviously, the examples I?ve been sharing are about physical signs. Signs that are real objects made of different materials with a message on them. But there are other invisible signs present in our world too. You know, the signs that may not be posted but inform nevertheless ? a window with bars in it could mean a jail, or a very insecure owner of the building, or a high crime rate ? an animal with foam coming out of its mouth is a good notice of stay away. A human with foam coming out of its mouth?well that could mean different things to different people ? but the majority of us would be a little nervous there too wouldn?t we? People walking out of a restaurant rubbing their bellies and a content look on their faces is a good sign ? whereas people walking out of a restaurant doubled over and groaning is a bad sign? yet, it?s funny isn?t it that if you?re a fan of roller-coasters someone walking off the roller-coaster in the same way would be a good sign! How about this ones ? walking into a group of people who are having a conversation and no one makes eye contact or directs any questions to you, a sign that just screams ? “you?re not wanted”. Or on the other hand walking into a room of people and having two or three individuals come over and say, “Hi”, or, “How are you doing?” is a sign that says ? “welcome”.
So I got to thinking, what kind of signs do we have up our church?
All churches have signs. Most of these are not literal signs, but rather unwritten messages that are communicated loud and clear ? especially to people who don?t go to church.
We?ve spent the past three weeks looking at some rather foundational, doctrinal and theological things. The oneness of Trinity, what it means to be made in the Image of God, how the very first ever Christian Church lived out authentic biblical community.
Today I want to build off of those deeper concepts by getting a picture of biblical community today. Because if church is truly where no one stands alone, it would be the greatest place on earth, it would be like a “city on a hill”, it would be a place to call home! To get there, we need to take a look at our signs.
TRANSITION: I wonder what signs most non-church goers see when they look at a church?
The first sign many people see says this:
SIGN #1: When You?re Ready, We?re Here
A lot of churches believe they are really open, inviting and friendly. They say, “Our doors are always open. People are welcome to come on in. But the message is still heard as, “When you?re ready, we?re here.”
What is implied is this:
When you get cleaned up, dressed up, and ready to conform? When you?ve learned how we do stuff here, when you understand the terms we use when we talk, when you appreciate our history, when you embrace our traditions? ? when you?re ready, we?re here.
The sign isn?t as nice a sign as we think.
That was the attitude of the Pharisees ? added extra rules, through their teachings made it difficult for people to enter heaven.
Matthew 23:1-4 (NIV)
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
When you?re ready, we?re here!
The Bible says that at the very moment when Jesus died on the cross, the great curtain in the temple that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place was torn from top to bottom. God places no barriers between Him and us. Absolutely anyone can have access to Him through a relationship with His Son Jesus. But unfortunately, fair or not, to those who stay home on Sunday, churches have the reputation of reconstructing that curtain.
Instead, a church where no one stands alone displays a sign that says?
COME AS YOU ARE
Matthew 11:28 (NIV)
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Isaiah 55:1 (NIV)
1 “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
Neither of those invitations say anything about getting cleaned up, dressed up, or learned up. They just say come to me. Come as you are! I have what you?re looking for! If we do anything as a church, we should echo God?s invitation of acceptance.
Gladys Hunt once wrote: “Acceptance means you are valuable just as you are. It allows you to be the real you. You are not forced into someone else?s idea of who you are. It means your ideas are taken seriously since they reflect you. You can talk about how you feel inside, why you feel that way, and someone really cares.
Acceptance means you can try out your ideas without being shot down. You can even express heretical thoughts and discuss them with intelligent questioning. You feel safe. No one will pronounce judgment on you even though they don?t agree with you. It doesn?t mean you?ll never be corrected or shown to be wrong. It simply means it?s safe to be you and no one will destroy you out of prejudice.” (Gladys M. Hunt, quoted in Eternity magazine, October, 1969 ? as found in Swindoll?s Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, p. 3)
We?re never going to be a church that brings people out of isolation and into community until we agree together that people will find acceptance when they come as they are.
I don?t know about you but I have occasionally had conversations with different people about what we should be wearing to church. I remember in the church that I grew up in that there were some people who were really offended if a male came to church dressed in something other than dress pants, suit and tie. In one evening service I happened to be wearing some casual slacks and a sweater and boy did I ever hear it from this one lady. She said something to me that kind of stuck in my mind. Something that I?ve heard at other times in my life. She said, “Young man, you need to show respect when you come into the presence of the King.” I guess to her I wasn?t showing respect because of what I was wearing. It stuck in my mind because I got thinking. If I show respect to God by wearing a shirt and tie and dress pants to church then would I be showing disrespect to him when I kneel by my bed at night in my pajamas? I know that ladies heart was in the right place but what kind of sign was she posting in front of me?
A church that says “come as you are” doesn?t get hung up on the issue of clothes.
There are stories of people who, when they go to church for the first time, park the car and wait to see what people are wearing before they go inside. Then they?ll say, “Oh, someone dressed like me. It?s OK.”
It is sad to think that some might miss out on eternity because they didn?t know what to wear to church. But maybe it is because most churches still display a sign that says, “When you?re ready we?re here.” Friends? HPC, isn?t going to be one of those churches.
So three rules of thumb on clothes: 1) Wear what you want; 2) Let modesty prevail, and: 3) Above all don?t look at someone else and think they should dress like you. (Check out 1 Timothy 2:9 if you want more details).
If you worship God most authentically in more casual clothes, wear more casual clothes. If you worship God most authentically a little more dressed up, then wear that. A diversity of clothing styles will help hang a sign that says, “Here at Hanover Pentecostal Church, we?re just a group of people in love with Jesus. And you?re welcome here too. So come as you are.”
Non-church goers in America typically aren?t the most traditional people in the world. If someone is genuinely seeking Jesus, and we in the church add extra hoops to jump through ? such as the “right” kind of clothes, the right this or the right that ? they?re gone. Jesus didn?t have any hoops to jump through for those who came seeking Him ? he just said Come to me. Come to me, and I?ll show you truth.
I love this quote by Isaac Errett, the founder of the Christian Standard magazine. He wrote in 1872,
“To persuade men to trust and love and obey a Divine Savior, is the one great end for which we labor in preaching the gospel; assured that if men are right about Christ, Christ will bring them right about everything else. We demand no other faith, in order to baptism and church membership, than the faith of the heart in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God; nor have we any term or bond or fellowship but faith in this Divine Redeemer and obedience to Him.” (Isaac Errett, Our Position)
Did you catch what he said, “If men are right about Christ, Christ will bring them right about everything else.”
We don?t make the changes in people?s hearts. God does. It?s his church, not ours. So remember, everyone is welcome here. And with great joy we display this sign, “Come as you are!”
TRANSITION: A second sign many non-church goers see when they look at church says this:
SIGN #2 ? You?ve Made Too Many Mistakes for Us
A lot of people think this.
“How could I ever expect to fit in with all those people? They?re not like me. They?d never understand me. Maybe they?d judge me. I guess I?m just not the church type. ”
Philip Yancey tells a story in one of his books about a person on the streets reaping the results of a series of bad choices. The person felt miserable, hopeless and alone. An acquaintance suggests she try going to a church. To which this person responded, “Church! Why would I go there? They?d only make me feel worse.”
To many the sign is clear to read, “You?ve made too many mistakes for us.” So why bother with church, they think. I?ll take my chances out here, thank you very much.
It?s said that one of the main barriers to church growth in North America is Christians. Christians who give off the impression that sinners aren?t really all that welcome at church. Sinners never seemed to feel awkward around Jesus. But they consistently do around people who claim to follow him. Why is that? Maybe it?s because we never really displayed the right sign.
A church where no one stands alone, that is a city on a hill, a place to call home displays a sign that says?
Romans 5:20 (NIV)
20 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,
In the Living Bible it reads?
The more we see of our sinfulness, the more we see God?s abounding grace forgiving us. (Romans 5:20, LB)
Philip Yancey calls grace the great last word. Grace is when you get what you don?t deserve. Like eternal life instead of punishment. Like a second chance instead of judgment. Like riches instead of a debt you could never pay. That?s grace.
And the church is one of the only places you?ll find it.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound! ? That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I?m found, was blind but now I see.
We sing it, but not everyone out there knows we believe it. They think they?ve made too many mistakes for us. Well the truth is we?ve all make mistakes. Church is a place filled with people who have messed up.
So we proudly display this sign also. “Grace happens.” Second chances are normal around here. You haven?t made too many mistakes for us.
TRANSITION: One more sign non-church goers see when they look at the church says this:
SIGN #3 ? Our Roof Isn?t Strong Enough
You know how some people think they?ve stayed away so long, they say if they showed up the roof would cave in? This is the sign they see. They say, “I swore I?d never go. If I did now the shock would be too great. I read that sign you have up ? you say so yourself ? “Our roof isn?t strong enough for you.”
In his book, The Kingdom of God is a Party, Tony Campolo tells a story about some people who very likely might have read this sign?
Campolo was attending a Christian conference in Honolulu. Since there was a six-hour time differential between Hawaii and his hometown in Pennsylvania, on his first night there Campolo experienced some confusion in his sleep pattern. He woke up about 3 o?clock in the morning and couldn?t get back to sleep. So he got up, got dressed, and left the hotel where he was staying, searching for a place to get something to eat. Eventually he found a tiny coffee shop that was open. Here is his description of what happened there:
“The guy behind the counter came over and asked me what I wanted. I told him I wanted a cup of coffee and a donut. As I sat there munching my donut and sipping my coffee at 3:30 in the morning, the door suddenly opened, swung wide, and to my discomfort in marched 8 or 9 provocatively dressed and rather boisterous prostitutes. It was a small place and they sat on either side of me. Their talk was garrulous, loud, and crude. I felt completely out of place.
I was just about to make my getaway when I heard the woman next to me say, ?You know, tomorrow is my birthday. I?m going to be 39.? Her friend responded in a rather nasty tone, ?So what do you want from me? A birthday party? What do you want? You want me to get a cake, and sing happy birthday to you??
?Come on,? the woman sitting next to me said, ?why do you have to be so mean? I?m just telling you that it?s my birthday. Why do you have to put me down? I don?t want anything from you. I mean, why should I have a birthday party? I?ve never had a birthday party in my whole life. Why should I have one now??
Campolo says, “When I heard that, I made a decision. I sat and waited until the women left, and then I called over to the guy behind the counter and asked him, ?Do they come in here every night??
He answered, ?Yeah.? ?The one who was sitting right next to me, does she come in every night?? ?Yeah,? he said, ?that?s Agnes. Yeah, she comes in every night. Why do you want to know?? ?Because,? I replied, ?I heard her say that tomorrow is her birthday. What do you say we do something special for her? What do you think about throwing a birthday party for her right here in the coffee shop??
A cute kind of smile crept over that man?s chubby cheeks. ?That?s a great idea,? he said. ?I like it. That?s great. Agnes is one of those people who is really nice and kind. I don?t think anybody has ever done anything nice and kind for her.? ?Well, look,? I told him, ?if it?s okay with you, I?ll be back here tomorrow morning at 2:30. I?ll decorate the place. I?ll even get a birthday cake for her,? ?No way!? he replied. ?The birthday cake, that?s my thing. I?ll bake the birthday cake myself.?
“At two thirty the next morning,” Campolo says, “I was back at that coffee shop. I picked up some crepe paper and other decorations at the store, and made a sign of big pieces of cardboard that said ?Happy Birthday, Agnes!? I decorated that diner from one end to the other. I had it really looking great. The word must have gotten out on the street, because by 3:15 that morning every prostitute in Honolulu was in that place. There was wall-to-wall prostitutes ? and me.
At 3:30 on the dot, the door of the diner swung open and in came Agnes and her friend. I had everybody ready? When they came in we all jumped up and screamed, ?Happy Birthday, Agnes!” Then we sang to her. And you know, I?ve never seen a person so flabbergasted, so stunned, so shaken. Her mouth fell open, her knees started to buckle, her friend had to offer her arm to steady her, and I noticed she had started to cry. When the birthday cake with all the candles was carried out, that?s when she lost it. She started sobbing. Harry, the guy behind the counter, gruffly mumbled, ?Blow out the candles, Agnes, blow out the candles.? Then he handed her a knife and said, ?Cut the cake, Agnes, cut the cake.?
Agnes looked down at that cake, and without taking her eyes off it, she slowly and softly said, ?Look, Harry, is it okay with you if I, I mean, if I don?t, what I want to ask, is it okay if I keep the cake for a little while? Is it okay if we don?t eat it right away?? Harry shrugged and answered, ?Well, sure, Agnes, that?s fine. You want to keep the cake, keep the cake. Take it home if you want to.? ?Oh, could I?? she asked. Looking at me, she said, ?I just live down the street a couple of doors. I want to take the cake home, okay? I?ll be right back, honest.? She got off her stool, she picked up that cake, and she carried it out of the diner like it was the Holy Grail. She walked slowly toward the door, and we all just stood there, speechless. When the door closed behind her, there was stunned silence in the place.
Not knowing what else to do, I broke the silence by saying, ?What do you say we pray together?? Looking back on it now, it seems more than a little strange that a sociologist from eastern Pennsylvania would be leading a prayer meeting with a bunch of prostitutes in a diner in Honolulu at 3:30 in the morning. But I prayed. I prayed for Agnes. I prayed for her salvation. I prayed that her life would be changed, and that God would be good to her.
And when I finished, Harry leaned over, and with a trace of hostility in his voice, he said, ?Hey, you never told me you were a preacher! What kind of preacher are you anyway? What church do you belong to?? In one of those moments when just the right words come, I answered him quietly, ?I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.? Harry thought for a minute, and then almost sneered as he answered, ?No you don?t! There is no church like that. In fact,? he concluded, ?if there was, I?d join it.?
There?s no church like that. If there was, I?d join it.
If we really become a church where no one stands alone ? that is a city on a hill ? that is a place to call home, you?ll be surprised who shows up!
Most churches display the sign, “Our roof isn?t strong enough.”
But a church where no one stands alone has a visible sign that says?
YOU MATTER TO GOD
No matter who you are ? where you have been ? what you?ve done. The roof won?t cave in if you show up. How do we know this?
John 3:16-17 from The Message
This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn?t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.
So we proudly display a sign that says, “You matter to God.” He?s crazy about you!
What will we look like when we?re really the church God wants us to be? What will be the word on the street?
My guess is that it will be something like this?
Becky Pippert, is a Christian author from Naperville.
While doing campus ministry she met a student named Bill on a college campus in Portland, Oregon. Bill was brilliant, and always looked like he was pondering something deep. He had messy hair, and the entire time she knew him, she never saw him wear a pair of shoes. Rain, sleet or snow, Bill was always barefoot. While he was attending college, he had become a Christian.
At this time, a well-dressed, middle-class church across the street from the campus wanted to develop more of a ministry to the students. They weren?t sure how to go about it, but they tried to make them feel welcome. One day Bill decided to worship there. He walked into this church wearing his blue jeans, T-shirt and of course no shoes.
People looked a bit uncomfortable, but no one said anything. So Bill began walking down the aisle looking for a seat. The church was quite crowded that Sunday, so as he got down to the front pew and realized there were no seats, he just squatted on the carpet ? perfectly acceptable behavior at a college fellowship, but perhaps unnerving for a buttoned down church congregation. The tension in the air became so thick one could slice it.
Suddenly an elderly man began walking down the aisle toward the boy. Was he going to scold Bill? Becky?s friends who saw him approaching said they thought, You can?t blame him. He?d never guess Bill is a Christian. And his world is too distant from Bill?s to understand. You can?t blame him for what he?s going to do.
As the man kept walking slowly down the aisle, the church became utterly silent. All eyes were focused on him. You couldn?t hear anyone breathe.
When the man reached Bill, with some difficulty he lowered himself and sat down next to him on the carpet. He and Bill worshipped together on the floor that Sunday. There wasn?t a dry eye in the room. (From Out of the Saltshaker, p. 260)
A church with the right signs is pretty much like that. Come as you are ? because grace happens ? and you matter to God.
Are we a church full of people who would do what that elderly gentleman did? Are you that kind of person? Remember, all churches have signs. Only a few say what these do.