Romans chapter 1 gives us an amazing word picture of what happens to a person and society away from God. This happens to every person even those who once knew God. Church prevents what could happen. Pay attention.
I want to say, "I LOVE MY CHURCH." Of course, "My" means I love my place of worship and what I watch it do in lives. My PASSION is church, this church. Before Life Gate existed, my passion was church. Even back then, I could say, "I LOVE MY CHURCH." I will always love my church. I will die loving my church.
What is a great answer when asked ANYTHING about your church? Answer: "I LOVE MY CHURCH." With that answer, you neutralize the situation and position yourself to better move into any discussion. You are saying, "I am not going to be negative and, if you are, you are talking to the wrong person. I love what my church has done for people, for my life, and for my family." How do you argue with, "I LOVE MY CHURCH"? You can't.
I had an interesting experience this week. A lady came to the building who works at a local hardware store where we purchase building materials, paint, and most everything we use to maintain our facility. This woman lives in this area and has heard about Life Gate for years. She said she wanted to see inside and decided to take time to do it. I (again) "showed off." However, I didn't show off all the "guy stuff" (i.e. projectors, sound equipment, computers, etc). I did light up the sanctuary to let her see it, but then took her through the children's ministry area. Hey! She's a mom and moms want to see a safe, clean, animated, attractive environment for their children. She kept saying, "This is so nice." "This is much larger than I thought." "I love the Noah's Ark wall." "You all have done such a great job here." She told me where she went to church, but then added, "…for now." It wasn't an, "I LOVE MY CHURCH." My point is, it was an interesting visual, again, of how people are awed by Life Gate. There is nothing around like Life Gate. You can be proud of your facility and proud of your church and proud of its ministries.
You too might want to bring folks by and "show off" your church. I would love it. It will not "bother me." Show off the sanctuary. Show off the children's ministry area. Show off the nursery. Show off the student ministry building. I am sure all would say, as the woman I spoke of previously said, "YOU ALL HAVE DONE SUCH A GREAT JOB HERE." Then you can say, "I LOVE MY CHURCH."
Last week, we saw how Christ Also Loved the Church and gave himself for her. It's through the church that the love of God and the ministry of Christ is to come to us as God intends them to come.
We saw the universal church is the hope of the world, but the local loving church is the hope of the community, the family, your hope, your children's, your grandchildren's, your friends, etc. Remove the church from your community, your family, you, your children, your grandchildren, and friends, and eventually everything will fall apart in the lives of all. Wrong becomes right. Darkness becomes light. The unacceptable becomes acceptable. "Numbness" toward sin sets in.
We all know this is true. It happened to YOU when you got away from church. It happened to YOUR spouse when he or she got away from church. It happened to YOUR children when they got away from church. It happened to YOUR friends when they got away from church. I say "got away from church," meaning got away from Jesus Christ. It's impossible to separate Jesus Christ from Church.
Ephesians 5:32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of THE WAY CHRIST AND THE CHURCH ARE ONE.
You cannot separate Christ and his church. So, when we "miss" church, we literally see a difference in our lives. The reason is we get away from Christ and negative things happen.
I talked to someone this week. She told me, and I will quote as close as I can, "We (her and her husband) were talking and we can tell the difference in our marriage, our finances, our children, everything, when we don't get to go to church." How many agree with that?
Building upon the fact that not getting to come to church and getting away from church will eventually bring devastation to any life, let's take a realistic heart-shaking, maybe heart-breaking, look at what honestly happens to a person, any person, when they get away from church.
Before we dive in, last time, I posed 3 questions that I want to work around in our series. Those questions were: (1) "Why aren't we inviting people to come learn and experience God with us at Life Gate?" (2) "Why don't people respond positively and come when invited?" (3) "Why do some people who come, connect, love it, enjoy, get saved, transformed, love God, etc, and then leave?" I gave some "fast" and "trite" answers to those questions, but gave no solutions. I am hoping that today's lesson will begin laying a foundation to bring solutions.
If I do a good job communicating today, it will help us increase our concern for lost souls meaning souls away from Jesus Christ, not only people never accepting Jesus Christ.
Romans chapter 1 gives us an amazing word picture of what happens to a person away from God. This happens to every person even those who once knew God. Please give attention. This could, one day, be you, your dearest loved one, your spouse, your child, your grandchild, or anyone for whom you care. This is extremely serious.
Romans 1:21-22 Yes, THEY KNEW GOD, but they wouldn't worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. THE RESULT WAS that their MINDS became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they BECAME UTTER FOOLS instead.
Isn't it amazing how people away from God think themselves wise? In reality, getting away from God makes a person an utter fool and, as we will see, only bad things follow. It doesn't take long to observe their doing amazingly foolish things and making amazingly foolish decisions deceived into thinking they are wise.
The verse said, "Yes, they knew God…" This isn't only speaking of a "lost sinner" heading for hell. It will be you if you get away from church and Christ. It will be your child if your child gets away from church. It's your spouse, your sibling, your friend, relative, your neighbor. IT'S ANYONE! Romans 1 is a frightening, horrible road that spirals downward resulting in dark minds (crazy, evil thoughts) and confusion resulting in life crashes one after another.
What happened to even those who knew God? Answer: Idols! Next verse…
Romans 1:23 And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, THEY WORSHIPED IDOLS made to look like MERE PEOPLE, or birds and animals and snakes.
People "worship" some of the dumbest things – people, birds, animals, snakes, etc. What are some foolish idols today that take people away from church and Christ? How about "mere people" as a forbidden relationship? How about drugs, alcohol, money (working), sporting events, hate, bitterness…? How about family? I know "family" sounds strange, but people have distanced from church because of family functions, etc. How about hobbies we want to experience instead of going to church?
Though most of those previous mentioned things are not "wrong," or "sin," the excess and IDOL they become is wrong and is sin. Anything, ANYTHING is an idol if YOU place it before Jesus Christ, God's word, and, in our context, church.
Now, some balance. Is going hunting, or enjoying a hobby, or doing family functions, a few times a year on Sunday mean something is an idol? Of course not, BUT spouse, parent, and friend, if a person is consistently absent from church, some horrible things are beginning to happen. Is taking prescription drugs wrong? Of course not! Thank God for prescription drugs, but when prescription drugs becomes an IDOL, watch out!
This is the word of God. When you begin to notice idols, you had better step in or you and them will be living in the horror of Romans 1. Next verse down this Roman 1 road.
Romans 1:24-27 SO GOD LET THEM GO AHEAD AND DO WHATEVER shameful things their hearts desired. AS A RESULT, they did vile and degrading things with each other's bodies. Instead of believing what they knew was the truth about God, they deliberately chose to believe lies. So they worshiped the things God made but not the Creator himself, who is to be praised forever. Amen. That is why GOD ABANDONED THEM TO THEIR SHAMEFUL DESIRES. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relationships with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men and, as a result, suffered within themselves the penalty they so richly deserved.
God WILL ALLOW anyone to go ahead and do whatever shameful things their hearts desire. God will allow you, me, or anyone to ruin their life if desired. Sometimes having our own free will is not a good thing.
When a person gets away from church, idols take over. Numbness to sin sets in. They make foolish decisions assuming they are wise. Minds become clouded, dark, and confused. Sexual immorality, even homosexuality, follows. It gets worse. Next verse…
Romans 1:29-32 THEIR LIVES BECAME FULL OF EVERY KIND OF WICKEDNESS, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, fighting, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They are forever inventing new ways of sinning and are disobedient to their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, and are heartless and unforgiving. They are FULLY AWARE OF GOD'S DEATH PENALTY for those who do these things, yet they go right ahead and do them anyway. And, worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.
Remember, this passage began with, "Yes, THEY KNEW GOD, but…" (Rom. 1:21). There was a time they were close to God, but… It's a horrible trip for anyone and no one is immune.
Romans 2:9-11 There will be trouble and calamity for EVERYONE who keeps on sinning - for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. But there will be GLORY AND HONOR AND PEACE from God for ALL who do good - for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.
You are either a Jew or a Gentile. No one is immune and GOD DOES NOT SHOW FAVORITISM. We have all watched this happen, maybe even experienced it, or some of it, ourselves. I can't tell you the times I've witnessed it through people who once truly loved God.
This was years ago, so don't put faces on this. A beautiful family became part of Life Gate. The children were well disciplined and very respectful. The couple seemed to love each other. I noticed some lax in their attendance and participation in activities they enjoyed and ministered. On a Sunday morning, the husband came to me and asked if he could speak to me privately. I always hate that request on Sunday mornings and now refuse to "speak privately" until after church. That day, we stepped into my study and he told me he and his family were leaving Life Gate. They didn't have another church to which they would be going. They were not mad with anyone, or upset with me. They just "felt" to leave. They might be back, or might not. (What a great way to begin a worship service for a pastor/teacher!) I prayed for him, blessed him, thank him for all he had done for Life Gate, and went to my Sunday worship experience confused and feeling rejected (you can't understand unless you are a pastor). They did leave. Within a short time, very disturbing and horrible things happened. The beautiful couple is now divorced. That beautiful family is now dissolved. One of the x-spouses went in a bad direction blazing the trail of Romans 1. No one is immune.
Here's my biggest problem with that sad situation. I learned that one spouse knew problems were brewing. Instead of getting out of church, i.e. away from Christ, would not the wise thing to do be to get more into church, i.e. Christ? Even if the other spouse refused to come, would not the wise thing be to keep the children in Christ, i.e. church and give God a chance to heal the marriage? Claiming to be wise, they BECAME UTTER FOOLS instead.
Years ago, a very faithful member of our church called me and asked if he could come and talk to me. I said certainly. He did and we went into my study where he said, and I am trying to quote as closely as possible, "I want to thank you for all you have done for me and my family. Thank you for all you have taught me. I learned more about God's word from you in the two years you have been my pastor than I learned in my entire lifetime. Tell Judy that I appreciate how she loves my children. They have done better than ever here at church. My marriage is better than ever. However, I feel 'God told me' it was time for us to leave. We're not mad at anyone and we're not church hopping. I just "feel" it's time to leave." My jaw dropped open. I wanted to say, "DO WHAT! You just said… How could your leaving church be God?" But, how do I argue with, "God told me…?" They left. They are still married, but not without serious marital issues. Their children have suffered divorce, prison, drugs, and all sorts of problems as they spiral through Romans 1.
How could that have been God speaking to that man? What did his taking his family away from church do eternally to his children? However, "So God let them go ahead and do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. There will be trouble and calamity for EVERYONE who keeps on sinning. No on is immune.
I could go on and on with true horror stories and you could too. I cannot think of one single time when anyone distanced himself or herself from church and things went well for them, their families, or their children.
When we call people who were not here on Sunday and express we missed them, they often think we just want them here to fill a seat, or give their money. (That's how the enemy works.) I wish to God that's all it was, but it's not. I know what is down the Romans 1 road.
Let's balance a little more. Do tough things happen to people who come to church every Sunday? Do tough things happen to me?! Of course they do. But, if a person loves God and tries to do God's purpose, they ALWAYS come out on top.
Romans 8:28 And we know that GOD CAUSES EVERYTHING TO WORK TOGETHER FOR THE GOOD of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
It's not that way when someone goes down the Romans 1 road. Until they turn to Jesus through his church, it gets worse and worse.
Why did I talk about this today? Two reasons: (1) When you love your church and allow Christ to work in your life through it, you will avoid Romans 1. Your family will avoid Romans 1. I LOVE MY CHURCH and I know that love prevents me from ruining my life and stands with me in my tough and unwise times.
(2) To show us what is happening today to people you love who do not have a church to love. Without a church to love, your loved ones, your parent, your child, your spouse, your friend, your niece, your nephew, your grandchild, your… will live in the hell of Romans 1 on earth. There is an eternal hell to avoid, but each of us can relate to hell on earth where people gnash their teeth in sorrow. Where the worm dieth not and where people are continually consumed by depravity. Now, today, people you love live in hell on earth because they cannot say, "I LOVE MY CHURCH." Will you, can you do anything to change their hell on earth now and eternal hell later? Can you tell them about a church they can love? Can you find some reason to invite them to church, some baptism service, some children's play, some lesson they need to hear, some candle light service, something? Get them here and trust God to do the rest.