Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Standard

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?      Micah 6:8 (NLT)
Our text tells us three things --

We are to do justly

This is a matter of doing right by your neighbor in every legal and moral way.  There is to be no cheating in business or personal life.  We are to be people of integrity.

We are to love mercy

This is going beyond what is legally required, and looking out after the needs of those less fortunate.  Mercy is a place inside you that treats others as we would like to be treated.

We are to walk humbly with our God

This takes us deeper yet.  Justice makes the playing field level on a legal basis.  Mercy extends a helping hand from the stronger to the weaker.  Walking humbly with God means realizing that He is the strongest, and we must not ignore Him.  We must give ourselves fully to what He wants.  Walking humbly means recognizing that we are the servants, He is the Master.  We do His will, not what pleases us.
Please think clearly with me about that this morning.  I have two statements to make about our commitment level, and walking humbly with God, our Master:

Statement #1 –                                
For Christians, Commitment is Required

The Bible tells us that we serve a faithful God.
Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.      Hebrews 10:23 (NLT)
The verse unmistakably tells us that we are to be committed to serving God, because God is faithful to us.  In Scripture the word faithful (ness) appears 109 times.  When God says it that many times, it must mean that He places a great deal of importance on it.
Many of us would have no problem up to this point.  The question is not whether we should be faithful, but what is faithfulness?  How do you define it?  What does it look like when someone is a faithful believer/church member?  Paul described some faithful members of the church at Corinth:
You know that Stephanas and his household were the first of the harvest of believers in Greece, and they are spending their lives in service to God’s people.   1 Corinthians 16:15 (NLT)
When we hear the word addiction, immediately our minds race to illegal use of drugs.  However, this word really means to set in order.  It means that these people in the church had put their priorities in order, putting their whole-hearted effort into ministry.  God requires that we do that – and these people had taken God at His word.
I want to say very clearly what I believe to be the dividing line between having your priorities in order, as opposed to not being faithful.  It will be a simpler task to describe the practices that are unfaithful in nature.  Here are eight of the best excuses for not coming to church I have been given since becoming a pastor:
1.     I was too sick to come 
There are times when it makes sense to stay home.  It is not wise to spread disease if you're contagious.  On the other hand, first century believers faced a very real threat to life in order to serve Christ. 
The question, regarding staying out of church for sickness, is Would I stay home from work, the ball game, hunting or fishing – something I like doing – if I felt like this?  Or am I merely doing what's convenient?
2.     I had company to cook for
Somehow it always comes down to food, doesn't it?  My advice about this is – don't!  Don't rob your house guests of the opportunity to come to worship with you.  After all, you joined the finest church around.  And if they won't come?  Don't YOU provide your unbelieving house guests with a poor witness of the little value you place on worshipping your Lord.
3.     I had stuff to do (clean the house, do laundry, write a term paper, fix the car, 24th family reunion this year)
4.     Sunday is my only day off 
There are times when the occasional ox gets in a ditch -- when time and responsibilities don't overwhelm.  The problem is in thinking that everything we have to do falls in that slot.  Many times it is not because we don't have enough time – it is because we are over committed.  We cram our schedules so full there is no time left for worship.  God gave us these words to govern this problem,
                                                              i.      “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God.  Exodus 20:8 – 10a (NLT)
More than not, it is our choice to do stuff rather than come to worship.  A Sunday morning golfer was late meeting his buddies on the first tee.  He apologized, saying, Fellas, my wife made me agree to toss a coin about going to church today...heads for church, tails for golf.  You know, I had to toss that coin forty-three times before it came up tails.
President Eisenhower was in the White House for 8 years.  During that time he missed worship only 6 times; and each time he called his Pastor in advance to let him know he would be out of town.  If you are busier than the President of the United States, you are too busy!  If you have things to do, you can find one hour to come to God's house.  That's all Jesus asked for in the Garden of Gethsemane. 
5.     I don't have the right clothes, offering, etc.. 
I have always encouraged people to come, whether they had the proper clothes, or an offering to give.  We should put on our best out of respect, and put in our best out of response.  But, like the widow's mite, (and probably her wardrobe), it is never what you have, but what you keep for yourself that makes the difference. 
Don't worry about what you have to wear (Jesus hung naked on a cross for you) -- just wash what you have, wash yourself too, and come on to church.  Besides, think of how much fun you'll have, picking out the hypocrites who judge what you're wearing, driving or giving.
6.     I was tired, just lazy 
This excuse always floors me.  I'm certain that there is something to be said for honesty here -- not giving some off the wall excuse.  But how can you make comment about commitment, when the bed is more attractive than the throne?
7.     I am angry at (the preacher, deacon, etc) 
This one is entirely a possibility after this sermon.  I know that from time to time there are things that cause friction between people.  If you stay out of Sunday School because you don't like the teacher, or you stay out of worship because the Preacher forgot to shake your hand, or get discouraged because a church leader slighted you – you are being a worse hypocrite than the person you're angry with.  The Bible tells us to reconcile our differences, not stay at home and pout about 'em.
“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar.  Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.     Matthew 5:23 - 24 (NLT)
8.     I work 24/7 
I have had members in every church I’ve served say they work 7 days a week.  My answer has always been was what it is to any Christian who habitually works and never worships – That's sin!  Preacher, is it wrong to work on Sunday?  That's not what I said.  Everyone must earn a living, and sometimes that means working on Sunday.  However, any job that takes a Christian out of church every week is the wrong job for any Christian to have.  In 1610 there was a law in Virginia that had the death penalty for anyone who willingly missed church 3 Sundays in a row.[1]  We've come a long way, baby!
9.     I watched "church" on TV 
Former church members have told me they’ve given up on the local church, but they watch TV personalities every week for their church.  I wonder if that TV guy would come to visit them in the hospital when they get sick – or if he's come to visit them – or if the show guy will know who they are when it comes time to preach a funeral? 
I always wonder what impact this TV church was making on the community – what hungry mouths it had fed. 
I wonder if there is the warmth of Christian fellowship between the pews of this TV guy's church.  Do the people ever greet each other?  Do they ask about your family, or invited you to go get a Dairy Queen together? 
Folks, heaven is inaccessible via the internet, or the TV set.  Heaven is kinda like a personal thing! 
People who do the TV church thing rarely darken the doors.  Usually you don’t see them until maybe there is trouble and they call on the church.  Or a child wants to get married.  Or they need comfort in bereavement, or the hospital.  Or the TV church member’s survivors want a funeral preached.
Well, that's it -- eight of the best excuses I've ever heard for not coming to church.  Incidentally, I've heard them here too – I've heard them in every place I've ministered.  Not only that, I've probably used every one of them myself. 
The whole problem with excuses is that they are merely attempts to keep from facing that which we already know is behavior contrary to what we profess.  The distinction here is important also – Unbelievers need not make excuses, they are, according to Romans 1, already without excuse.  Christians, however, profess to be followers of Christ; we make excuses because we know better.
Jesus invited his followers to take up a cross.  And so, commitment is not a Lazy-Boy recliner.  In fact, the more difficult the circumstances got surrounding Jesus, the smaller His crowd became.  Jesus had 500 after the resurrection victory, but when He was hanging naked, pinned spread-eagle on crossbeams at the town garbage heap, only John and a couple of women stood by Him.  Commitment is not easy -- but it is required.

Statement #2
For Christians, Commitment is Rewarded

For the believer there is a reality that living in consistent commitment to the Lord Jesus means reward, both on earth, and in heaven.  What kind of reward?


A committed believer has the reward of being strengthened in the Lord. The reward of church attendance, (commitment here on earth), is the strengthening of the family and person.  There is something about fellowship, the interaction and touch of other believers, with hearts united in worship.  There is something about knowing you have a church family that knows and understands you.  There is something about working together in the cause of Christ – it all works together to build you up.    The requirement brings the reward:
And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.     Hebrews 10:25 (NLT)
Beloved, if we are in a day when we see the signs of the coming of Christ, shouldn’t we be encouraging and exhorting each other to be faithful to our commitment?  Should we not be present in worship?


The believer's reward in heaven is the welcoming face of Jesus.  Remember what He will say,
“The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities…’       Matthew 25:23a (NLT)

The Bottom Line

It seems as if some believers do all they can to find excuses for being gone from worship.  One church member sent his Pastor this letter,
Dear Pastor:
You often stress attendance at worship as being very important for a Christian, but I think a person has a right to miss now and then.  I think every person ought to be excused for the following reasons and the number of times indicated:
      Christmas (Sunday before or after)          New Year (Party lasted too long)
      Easter (Get away for holidays)                 July 4 (National holiday)
      Labor Day (Need to get away)                  Memorial Day (Visit hometown)
      School Closing (Kids need break)              School Opens (One last fling)
      Family Reunions (Mine & wife's)             Sleep late (Saturday night activities)
      Deaths in Family                                       Anniversary (Second honeymoon)
      Sickness (One per family member)          Business Trips (A must)
      Bad Weather (Ice, snow, rain, clouds)     Vacation (Three weeks)   
      Unexpected Company (Can't walk out)    Ball games                                           
      Time changes (Spring ahead; fall back) Special on TV (Super Bowl, etc.)
Pastor, that leaves only two Sundays per year.  So, you can count on us to be in church on the fourth Sunday in February and the third Sunday in August unless providentially hindered.    Sincerely,   A Faithful Member
That seems rather an idiotic look at a serious problem.  But, permit one more from a wise Pastor,
A pastor was once asked to define "Faithful Attendance at Worship," and this was his reply:    All that I ask is that we apply the same standards of faithfulness to our church activities that we would in other areas of our life.  That doesn't seem too much to ask.  The church, after all, is concerned about faithfulness.   Consider these examples: 
·         If your car started one out of three times, would you consider it faithful?
·         If the paper boy skipped Monday and Thursdays, would they be missed?
·         If you didn't show up at work two or three times a month, would your boss call you faithful?
·         If your refrigerator quit a day now and then, would you excuse it and say, "Oh, well, it works most of the time."
·         If your water heater greets you with cold water one or two mornings a week while you were in the shower, would it be faithful?
·         If you miss a couple of mortgage payments in a year's time, would your mortgage holder say, "Oh, well, ten out of twelve isn't bad"?
·         If you miss worship and attend meetings only often enough to show you're interested but not often enough to get involved, are you faithful?[2]
Beloved, The Standard is ever before us -- serve Him.  That's it.  Take up the cross, it has a built in compass to find the smile on Jesus' face!

[1]The Houston Post, 11/20/91, p2
[2]James S. Hewett, llustrations Unlimited (Wheaton,Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988),87

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