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Living as God's Community

We Are Called To Belong

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | January 30, 2011

Selected highlights from this sermon

The church needs you, and you need the church. God called us to become part of a community. By connecting with other believers, we can worship together in a special way, we can pray for each other, and help each other through dark times.

If you try to get through a storm on your own, you can get blown over. But with the help of your brothers and sisters in Christ, you can withstand the storm.

A church body isn’t connected because of a common interest, the people are connected by a common life—a life in Christ.

In the book of Revelation we find that Jesus is walking among the candlesticks, and the candlesticks are the churches. And as he goes up and down the aisles of these churches he observes their worship, and most of all he observes their hearts, and then he dictates seven letters to the churches whom he has observed. And there he points out their weaknesses and their strengths.

Today I want you to visualize that Jesus is going down the aisles of Moody Church, and it’s not just that he’s going down the aisles, but he’s also going down the rows because what he’s interested in is your heart. Did you sing the songs that we sang today with a heart that is full of praise and God-directed, or perhaps we are like the people in the New Testament who sing the right songs and say the right words but our hearts are far from him? He was watching this morning as he always does.

What is the church? That’s a question that we want to answer today in a very brief kind of way to understand exactly where we are. Today we find that there are people who say, “Well, you know I’m into spirituality but I don’t go to church,” or “I’m not committed to a church.” Now sometimes you hear that because people have been hurt and they remember that hurt. If I remember correctly, Nancy Reagan said that her father went to Sunday School one time and quoted some verses better than the pastor’s son, and yet the pastor’s son got the Bible because, after all, he was the pastor’s son. And this boy grew up and never attended church again an adult because he couldn’t forget the hurt. I want to plead with you today that if a church has hurt you, would you please lay it down because the Church needs you and you need the Church? Do not allow a bad experience to keep you from what God wants to do in your life, connected to other saints.

Now sometimes we find that there are people who come to Moody Church who say that they are just here to heal from various experiences in churches, and that is fine. Take time to heal, but after a time of healing, I am going to challenge you today to engage and to become a part of everything that God is doing.

But there’s another kind of attitude with this “I’m into spirituality Jesus and me, we’ve got this thing going just between us, and we don’t commit ourselves to a church.” The problem is that that kind of a response brings about weakness and brokenness of the wrong kind. It is not productive, and you cannot be a good Christian and say that and mean it.

One day a father said to his little girl early Sunday morning, “It’s Sunday morning. We’re going to pack a lunch and we’re going to go and have a picnic and then we are going to the lake.” But his little daughter loved church and she said, “Daddy, I want to go to church,” and he said, “Well we can worship God just as well out on the lake as we can in church, can’t we?” And she said, “Yeah, but we won’t, will we?” And may I add, we don’t, do we? We self-deceive ourselves, thinking that a non-commitment to a church is somehow a higher view of spirituality.

What is Moody Church? Years ago we adopted a fifteen-word promise statement that we are still keeping, but also, now we have a mission statement with fifteen words if you begin with the word the. The Moody Church is a community called by God to live passionately for Jesus Christ. Now that’s not hard to remember, is it? It’s fifteen words. In fact, isn’t it printed out there in your bulletin where you have sermon notes available to you? The Moody Church is a community called by God. We’ve talked about calling and we will again today but it’s a community called by God to live passionately for Jesus Christ. Could I ask you to repeat it with me? All right. Are you all ready? We don’t do this often enough in church where you can actually talk. You can go home today and say to your friends, “We were at Moody Church today and during the service we were allowed to talk.” Well, how many words did you say? “Fifteen.” All right? Are you ready? The Moody Church is a community called by God to live passionately for Jesus Christ. That’s who we are. We are a community.

A friend of mine by the name of Tom Nelson, who is a pastor, wrote this little helpful book called Ecclesia, which is the Greek word for Church. He gives four different ways in which some people perceive the Church. The first way the Church is perceived is as a filling station. You know, I fill my car with gas every week, and every week I come to church to get a little inspiration, to enjoy the music and then a week later I need a little boost and so I am there again, and I fill my tank, and then I wait until next week. The church as a filling station!

The church as a movie theater! You come and you want to know what’s happening because you want to know whether or not it’s worthwhile attending church, just like I invited a man to church one time and he said, “Well, what are you speaking on?” In other words, if it’s exciting, if the sermon topic seems to be one that I might be interested in, then I might actually attend. And so what you have is you go home then and you play the role of Roger Ebert, and you are church critic, and you find lots that you like and you find lots that you don’t like.

It’s an old story but I love to tell it. It’s about the Baptist, and if you are a Baptist here today I hope you have a sense of humor. I used to be a Baptist pastor so I have a right to tell this story.

A Baptist was washed up on an island and he was there for twenty years all alone. When he was found the person said, “Show me around the island,” and the guy said, “I’m glad to.” The person noticed that there were three huts, and he said, “Now what’s this hut?” The man said, “That’s where I live.” The person said, “And what’s that hut?” He said, “That’s the hut where I go to church.” And the person said, “Well, what’s the third hut?” And the guy said, “That’s where I used to go to church.” (laughter)

So what you are is a movie critic. Okay? You know, “I liked it. The sermon wasn’t that interesting. I grade the choir and give it an A. The sermon was may be a B. As far as the baptism goes, I was too late. I got in late and missed it so I can’t grade that.” And so it’s church as a movie theater.

Or there are those who say, “You know it’s church as drug store. I need therapy. I’m going through a bad marriage. I have difficult relationships. I am in trouble and I need just the right prescription and I hope that the pastor says exactly what I need to hear for my need, and if not, I’m not sure that I’ll be back next week.” And so it’s church as drugstore!

And number four there is also the church as retailer. It’s Target! It’s Wal-Mart! “Where can I go to get a pretty good bargain at a low price?” That’s what you really want. I read a cute story about a boy whose mother said, “Where did you get that chocolate bar?” He said, “I bought it with the dollar you gave me.” She said, “I gave you that dollar because that was for church.” He said, “I know, Mom, but the pastor met me at the door and he let me in free.” (laughter) So what you have now is church as retailer. “Where can I go? I want a family ministry I want something like this but I’m not necessarily committed to what’s happening.”

Now I need to tell you that not all these things are inherently wrong. We probably have all attended church for one reason or another that fits into these categories and I might say also that if these are the reasons that you attend church it is still better that you attend than you not attend, but folks, you are missing it. We are not just a filling station, or a movie theater. We’re not just a place where you can get a good deal. We are a body. We are a community called by God, and today I want to lift your vision to something higher, to something better than simply coming, without you understanding what participation in the body is all about.

Our text is First Peter 2:9. I asked you to memorize this verse as well. I will not ask for a show of hands today, but I might next week. That’s the anchor text for this brief series that I’m doing, and you’ll notice that he says here that you are a chosen race. Let’s take these phrases one at a time.

“You are a chosen race,” a reference, of course, to Israel, but now we are the Church, and we are the chosen race, I might way. We’re chosen for special privileges. Imagine that we are to show forth the Excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light, which is my topic next time. Remember Moody Church is a community called by God to live passionately for Jesus Christ, and next week it is on how to live passionately for Jesus Christ. But chosen! And not only chosen by God but owned by God. “People for his own possession,” it says here. Can you imagine that we, in all of our frailty, belong to God? Doesn’t that give us value and give us hope?

You know if something belongs to somebody it can be a very special thing, for example, you know a dress that was worn by say Lady Diana Spencer who was Princess Diana as she was called. You know you don’t buy that one off the rack. That’s for sure. You can buy another one like it I suppose.

Somewhere in the back of my memory I file things that are not very important to me but somewhere I think that I read that Michael Jackson’s glove sold for a lot of money. Now I don’t know exactly what it looked like but I’ve seen it from a distance, and I know that when I was on the farm we used to have gloves that I think looked a lot better than Michael Jackson’s glove. And I’ll tell you we’d have sold it to anybody for half that price. What in the world made that so expensive? It belonged to Michael Jackson.

My friend, today (in the balcony, here on the lower floor, watching by means of our streaming ministry or the radio) remember this. If you are a believer, you are owned by God. You are God’s own possession. You are indeed a chosen race. Why do you think that God in the Old Testament had such things as festivals where they’d all go to Jerusalem together? What God was saying was solidarity because hear it clearly today, and I may say it a number of times before the message is over. If you are called to Jesus Christ you are called to community. There’s no such thing as that lone Christian out there who is doing his own thing between he and Jesus. You are called to community. We are a chosen race.

Notice we are a royal priesthood. Now for that Peter actually expounds on that. Your Bibles are open to First Peter 2:4 where he says, “As you come to him a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” We come to the living stone that is Jesus. He is the cornerstone. The next verses say that he is the cornerstone and you know that in those days the cornerstone was actually quarried at a right angle so it determined the size of the building and the strength of the building. Jesus is the cornerstone for sure, and some people stumbled over him, Peter says, and other people are honored to receive him, it says in verse 7. I hope that you have accepted that honor, but here’s the point. What God says is, “I’m building a tabernacle. I’m building a temple (Let’s put it that way) with all these different stones,” and Peter here is using a very bold metaphor about living stones. Now we know that actual stones do not live, but he’s speaking metaphorically.

Do you know what God does? I’ll tell you exactly what God does. God goes into the quarry of sin, and he finds you there, like some of the testimonies we even heard today in the baptism. He goes into the quarry of sin. He finds you there. He chisels you out and he brings you into community to be connected with other believers in this temple that he is building, and he takes some stones that are older and he puts them next to stones that are younger and the stones have different colors and they have come from different parts of the world, and God puts them together in a temple so that they can worship in a very special way. That’s what God does.

And then you find some Christians who say, “Oh, you know we are spiritual but we would never go to church or be loyal to a church. Oh no!” Do you know what that’s like? It’s like walking along the street and you see a lone stone on the side, and somebody says, “Oh show me your building.” “Well, here it is.” “It’s just a stone ” You were saved to fit into a building, and if God has led you here to the Moody Church, it is the Moody Church building that you are to fit into because you are not a lone stone along the highway somewhere.

We come together as community, and the text says that we are a royal priesthood. I wish I had time to tell you about the revolutionary idea of Martin Luther when he concluded from Scripture accurately that everybody was a priest, but let me just tell you a little bit of what happened. It just totally destroyed the structure of the Medieval Church where you had the priest who had certain responsibilities and he had the ability to dispense sacraments that would lead you either to heaven or to hell, and he had special opportunity of praying. No, we are all priests. You are a priest before God. It is not that we have a priest. We are priests

Sometimes you know, whether it’s a picnic or a luncheon or whatever, the person in charge will look around and find me. That often happens, and he says, “Pastor Lutzer, will you lead in prayer?” Well, I am glad to lead in prayer because I love the opportunity of talking to Jesus, but actually my prayers are not any better than anybody else’s. If we all as sinners are coming in the name of Jesus I have no special clout with God. The only person who has clout with God is Jesus Christ, and if you pray in his name, you too will be heard by him. (applause)

Priests have access to God and priests also offer sacrifices to God. You say, “Well what’s that in New Testament terms?” I’m so glad that you asked, by the way. See, I try to follow your mind and ask the questions that you are asking when you are sitting there because the New Testament lists a number of them. In Romans 12 it says, “I ask you to present your bodies a living sacrifice to God.” Hebrews 13 speaks about the sacrifice of praise. That’s why in our services you will always find praise because God loves it when we praise his name and he has every right to love it when we praise his name because he is worthy of all the praise that we could possibly give him.

And so you have the sacrifice of praise, and you have the sacrifice of good deeds. You also have the sacrifice of money. Imagine coming into God’s presence and you offer him nothing. You just simply say, “Well, you know you are there. I am here to receive.” Nothing! And so there’s the sacrifice of our gifts, and you’ll notice there in the last part of verse 5 that we are built up as a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Everything that we do is tainted. We do a good deed and we want to tell somebody about it so that we can feel good about what we’ve done. So what happens is this. We bring our worship we bring our praise, our good deeds, our bodies, and all that we have and we give it to God, and Jesus makes it acceptable to the Father, and the Father is pleased. And how do we do it? We do it in community. Oh yes, we commit to the Lord singly, but it’s in community that we have a spiritual priesthood.

Also let me say that we are a holy nation, it says. I won’t say much about being a holy nation except this. You look at the Old Testament. Where was the tabernacle and then how was it constructed? The tabernacle was there when they were in the desert and all of the tents of the people were around it. What was God saying? God was saying, “There’s no lone person out there. You belong to community, and my presence is going to be among you.” That phrase occurs in the Old Testament. “My presence is going to be among my people.” Do you remember when Moses was praying to God and said, “God, if your presence doesn’t go with us I don’t want to go because how then are we going to be distinguished from all the other people on the earth? It is your presence that distinguishes us.”

Now let’s translate that to the New Testament because in the New Testament we now know that all believers are indwelt by the Spirit. Believers think therefore that “Yeah, see that’s why I don’t need church. I have the Holy Spirit and I can do my own thing.” Yes, if you are a believer you have the Holy Spirit, bless God, but within the Church the presence of God is to be manifested in ways that you can never participate in it individually.

In First Corinthians the Apostle Paul is speaking about this and he makes this statement in chapter 14. He said, “When somebody (an unbeliever) comes into your midst and he hears the Word preached ‘Surely God is in this place.’”

How should you pray for Moody Church? There are many different prayers but one prayer I hope that you pray often is, “Surely God is in this place,” so that people who come, who observe us, and also those who participate, may know that we are together in the presence of God and something happens when we are together that can never happen when we are simply separate.

So what he says is, “We are a royal priesthood. We are a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession to proclaim the Excellencies of God.”

Peter used a bold metaphor and I would like to use a metaphor of my own. Mine is not as inspired as his because his is inspired scripture, but I believe that it accurately reflects scriptural truth. I’d like to use the metaphor of the Redwood Forest in California. Many years ago I was there at the Redwood Forest and Rebecca wasn’t with me. I wished that she were because I know how she would have enjoyed these tall trees that seemed to go into the sky as straight as an arrow. They were something to behold.

So with that metaphor in mind let me be very clear about what I intend to say. First of all, a rootless Christian is a fruitless Christian. Have you got that? You know that what happened is this. When you are there in the redwoods, what you find is that there are some trees that were blown over, and the reason that the trees were blown over is because their roots were not very deep. They didn’t connect properly and that will become clear in just a moment, and so what happened is when the storm came they blew over. And if you are not connected relationally with other Christians, and perhaps only superficially connected, you’ll blow over when the storm comes. A rootless Christian is really a fruitless Christian. Write it down.

You know, people are concerned about homelessness, and well they might be. You know the Bible tells us that we should help those who are poor, over and over again. We should be concerned about homelessness and yet there are Christians who are concerned about homelessness and they are not concerned about spiritual homelessness, so they do not commit to a church. They are not loyal to the ministry of a church. They don’t say to themselves, “I’m going to be there whether the sermon is great or whether it’s mediocre, or whether or not the music is exactly my taste. I am committed to this body, to this church. I have put my roots down here,” because we are community called by God.

So first of all, a rootless Christian is a fruitless one. The reason I am a little confused here is I had something I was going to read to you and I know I put it in my Bible, but God willed that it either not be in here or that it not be found ’ll tell you the story.

You know that there are such things as Special Olympics. They are a marvelous idea, by the way, and this happened in I believe it was Spokane. These Special Olympics are for special needs children, and nine children were in the 100 yard dash, and as they were running along one of them stumbled, and when he stumbled all of the others stopped and turned around. A little girl with Downs Syndrome kissed the boy who was down and said, “This will make it better,” and all eight of them helped the other one up and all nine of them walked over the finish line together. And the stadium broke out in applause for several minutes. Why? It was because for a brief moment that large crowd grasped something. It was that there is more to life than simply an individual win. At the end of the day what we need to do is to recognize that God has given us people and connections, and a rootless Christian is actually a fruitless Christian.

So what I’d like to do also now is to give you another statement. Number two, we must develop roots by connecting with other trees. Now we’re back to the redwoods. Here’s what I was told. The redwoods actually do not have a root system that is as deep as other trees, but what redwoods do is they connect with one another, so this tree’s root system is connected to this tree’s root system, which is connected to that root system. If you could see underground it would be something like looking at a huge tangled spider web, but the advantage is this. Over here there is a tree that is very close to water. Over here there is a tree growing on a hill that really doesn’t have much water, and because of the connectivity of the roots, what happens is the water goes through this whole complicated connected root system and it helps the other trees.

My friends, there are times in life when you and I need the help of others, when we can hardly believe for ourselves. When we are going through times of difficulty and times when we are in darkness and we do not see light, there are other people who can pray with us and believe with us because we recognize very clearly that it is important to see that we develop roots by connecting to others. We are called to community. If you are called to Jesus, you are called to community.

Finally, you can connect with other trees by choosing to do so. What do we here at the Moody Church, when you stop to think of it, really have to offer you? If you are interested simply in a sermon you can get that on the computer nowadays. If you are interested in good music you can buy CDs. What we have to offer you is a transforming experience of spiritual growth that happens because you are connected. You are called to community because something happens in community that can’t happen individually, you see, because the thing that unites us is not a common interest. You know, you can belong to some kind of a gun club because you are interested in guns. I hope that if you are interested in guns you are normal in other ways, but there are people who belong to those gun clubs. Or maybe it’s a photography club. I mean it’s a common interest. My dear friend, we are not united because of a common interest. We are connected because of a common life.

I told you the story years ago about a man in Canada who was invited by a doctor over to his home, and the doctor was on call, and the doctor left and said, “Whatever is in the refrigerator you can have,” so the man opened the refrigerator and there in a plastic bag was a human hand. The man said that after he saw that he wasn’t hungry anymore. Why? What’s wrong with a human hand? I’m looking at both of mine right now. Human hands are beautiful but not when they are disconnected from the body, and we believe very strongly that there are many of you who are not connected. What you need to do is to connect. I think for example of the TMC, the Moody Church Communities, and I think of the women’s ministry. Our women leaders are looking for other women. We use the word mentor, but actually that word scares some people. The women’s ministry is looking for women to befriend those who are going through times of difficulty and maybe not even difficulty they just want to talk to somebody who is a mature woman, and you can’t do that on the computer. You can’t do that unless you relate because we are called to community and God has given us the opportunity of being together.

I don’t know how to say this more clearly but I am a little bit concerned about the fact that several thousand people can attend a morning worship service and yet the church basically in terms of volunteers and commitment may be a church of four or five hundred. So you have a church of five hundred that masquerades as a church of several thousand. I’m inviting you today to join community.

Now you say, “Well, I’m an introvert and I don’t want to be with other people,” because you’ve got all those issues. You be with other people and don’t worry about the issues. You don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to. Eventually you will as you begin to build trust and hope and connection.

You know, I have to end by asking this question. How do you become a part of the royal priesthood, the holy nation? Well, actually in Israel’s time you got into it by being born into it, and the way in which we become a part of this spiritual temple that God is building (the wonderful connections of being this priesthood and chosen race) is also by being born, but we are born again.

Now your Bibles are open. You’ll notice it says in verse 23 of chapter 1, “Since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” That’s how you become a part of this community , in its DNA it’s got all the programming for the color of hair, the color of the eyes, the gender, and the height. It’s all there. All that needs to happen is for the baby to get food and to grow.

Let me tell you something. When you receive Christ as your savior and you are born again, programmed right into you are the characteristics of Jesus: the fruit of the spirit ’s your DNA. Do you know why we exist? We exist as a family, as a community to help you to understand what growing is all about. The Bible says to grow up into the maturity of Christ, and that’s who we are as a church. The Moody Church is a community called by God to live passionately for Jesus Christ. So I say to those of you who are on the sidelines, join us. Become a part of us. Connect. Take advantage of the communities. Find out who we are, and who lives here, and who knows what God will do when we become like the early Church whose genius was connection?

Let’s bow together in prayer.

Our Father, we ask that you will help us as leadership, and for all who hear, we pray today, Father, that as you give ability to each, help each person to know that we need them and they need us. And for those, Father, who have never been born again, who look at church distantly, perhaps with arms folded suspiciously and critically, would you bring them into the family today by your Holy Spirit and help them become a part of something that is so great that it is number one on your agenda? Do that for us, Father, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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