"For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate." Luke 15:24
If you hang around church very much, you will hear church people bemoaning the fact that "our church is not on fire", or "God just isn't moving at our church".
This morning, I want to examine those claims and offer some insights from the text we are studying this month - Luke 15.
First, let's get some clarification on terms. What does it look like when a church is on fire? What is the fire and how do you get it and how do you know when you have it?
When I hear people say that and I ask them what it is they are looking for, I rarely get an answer. If you are longing for something that you can't define, you are postioning yourself for perpetual disappointment.
What is evidence that a church is on fire? What is evidence that God is moving? Jesus gives us some clues here in the verses I have highlighted. A church that is alive and on fire is a church that celebrates life change. A church where God is moving is a place where lost people are being found. A dynamic church is a church that celebrates what God celebrates rather than trying to get God excited about what they are doing.
Jesus gives us some insights in these parables He tells and in the people He is telling them to.
Jesus is addressing these remarks to the religious leaders of the day. The heart of His remarks are in Chapter 14 and the application of them are found here in Chapter 15.
What had these leaders done to make their church and their religion such a dead, difficult and dispiriting place? Did they sing hymns instead of choruses? Was their worship leader lousy? Were the sermons flat?
I don't think so.
They had made the church a cold place. When a man suffering with a painful disease showed up and Jesus healed him. (14:1-6) Instead of rejoicing and celebrating they rebuked Jesus and condemned Him for violating their Sabbath rules.
A church becomes cold when conformity becomes more inportant than compassion and rules become more important than relationships. Condemnation becomes the prevailing attitude when that spirit prevails.
A church becomes cold when class-consciousness becomes more important than caring for the needy. This church gave preference to people of power, position and prestige. They were using their fellowship to build their resume' and reputation instead of the Kingdom of God. When this attitude prevails the church becomes closed to the very people who need it the most. (14:7-14)
A church becomes cold when comfort becomes more important than carrying a cross or counting the cost of following Jesus. (14:25-33) Jesus didn't come to serve the Church, Christians are called to take up His cross - discipline, surrender, sacrifice, suffering, death to selfishness - and pursue God's purpose. He cautions them that it is better not to start this journey if you haven't considered what it will cost you to complete it.
A church becomes cold when it celebrates and seeks the wrong things. Jesus told the three parables in Luke 15 to confront their spiritual pride and misguided priorities. They were expecting God to celebrate the fact that they kept unclean people (publicans and sinners) out of their fellowship. And they felt entitled to God's blessing because they were His faithful sons who served Him and played by the rules, even though they were filled with spiritual pride and resentment toward others. They had become a "feed me and bless me" club that was angry at God because He didn't see how good and deserving they were.
Jesus shows them and us how to have God's blessing on our lives and on our church - SEEK WHAT HE SEEKS AND CELEBRATE WHAT HE CELEBRATES - lost people being found!
Do you want your church to catch fire? Do you want to see God move in your midst? Care about lost people enough to shake off your conformity, your class-consciousness, and your comfort. Pick up cross, count the cost, and do what God blesses.
Are you willing to lay down you life and pick up His cross today?