Who needs to go to a baseball stadium filled with fanatics who sit on hard bleachers for two or three hours and eat cold hot dogs to watch a game they can't see without binoculars? Why put up with that when you can sit comfortably at home in your reclining Lazy-Boy, munch potato chip and enjoy a bird's eye view on your TV?
Every true baseball fan knows the answer to that question. "Ya gotta be there to understand what's it's all about," they declare. Watching it on TV or hearing it on the radio or reading about it in the newspaper is never quite as good as actually being there. Being there adds something to the game that no color TV or Lazy-Boy recliner can match.
For example, there's the spirit of the game: the electric excitement in the air, the thunder of the crowd over a homerun. There's the fellowship of the game: sports fans feel they are part of something bigger than their little world. They rise to their feet yelling instructions to the players and umpires and go home saying, "We won," or "We lost." It's a spirit and fellowship that is hard to capture when you are sitting alone in front of a TV screen.
Why go to a ball park when you can watch it on TV? Indeed, every sports fan thinks the answer is so self-evident that the question is dumb. But let me ask another dumb question: why go to church when you can worship God in other places? It is true that you can sing hymns as well in the shower as in the choir loft maybe better! And you can read the Bible in bed as well as in a pew. And you can probably hear better sermons and anthems on TV than in your own church. Since going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than swimming in the ocean makes you a fish, why bother?
The answer is, "Ya gotta be there to understand." There is a spirit and fellowship you can't get in any other way. Worship at its best, like baseball at its best, is a group event a feeling of love and respect for God that you share with other people. Worshiping God by yourself is like eating steak and lobster by yourself: you miss the joy of sharing something good with someone else. Good food tastes better when is eaten with family and friends. Good jokes are funnier when others join in the laughter. And Christian faith is better when it is a part of Christian fellowship.
That's what the writer of Hebrews was trying to get across to some Christians in the first century A.D. when their church attendance became irregular: "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching" (Hebrews 10:25). This short verse suggests three parts to Christian fellowship. First
The classic King James version call this "assembling ourselves together." Irregular church attendance is old problem. That makes me sad and gives me hope. It makes me sad to know that there were some who could sit at the feet of the apostles, but who preferred to sit at home. But it gives me hope because we can learn from the mistakes of the early church how to deal with the same situation today.
We should find it easier than they. They suffered religious persecution while we enjoy religious freedom. To many of us, however, religious freedom means our choice of churches to stay away from.
Our excuses are manifold. Our reasons are as unreasonable as this explanation of why fire trucks are red. Fire trucks have four wheels and eight men. Four and eight are twelve and there are twelve inches in a foot. A foot is a ruler. Queen Elizabeth is a ruler and her ships sail the seven seas. Seas have fish and fish have fins and the Finns fought the Russians who are red. Since fire trucks are always "rushin'"...therefore, fire trucks are red!
Excuses always betray your value system. They tell what you consider to be more important than going to church. Let me say something that will probably surprise you: You should not go to church if you have something better to do! I remember reading the headline of a magazine article which declared, "Don't ever read a good book." The point of the article was that you should never waste time reading a good book when there's a better one you could read. Since you don't have time to do good things, you should do only the best.
Are you really putting first things first? Do you give God the first day of the week, the first hour of the day, the first tithe of your income? Are you seeking first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33)? If you do, youíll find the rest of your life goes better. If you donít, you will sacrifice the best on the altar of the good.
No one can break away from the church without feeling the fracture in his or her soul. When Adam and Eve sinned they failed to meet God at the appointed hour. God was there, but Adam and Eve were absent (Genesis 3:9). "Where are you?" God asked. And God continues to ask that same question of about 40% of church members every Sunday. We sons and daughters of those first parents do the same thing they did. The further from God we get, the less interest we have in meeting him. Like motors, we start "sputtering" before we miss and start "missing" before we quit.
One of the hardest questions I'm asked is "How many members belong to your church?" I honestly don't know. The only thing I'm sure about is that the reported number isn't right. There are people on the rolls of our church who don't belong to our church. What's the difference? Well take Mrs. Imma Deadwood, for instance. Imma's name is our our church rolls, but her time doesn't belong to our church. Her affection doesn't belong to our church. Her energy doesn't belong to our church. Her money doesn't belong to our church. She never refers to the church as "my church" and the pastor as "my pastor." It's always "those people" and "that preacher." Since her visits to the church are so infrequent, she has no feeling of belonging to the church family. The church is not a spiritual home to her. To be perfectly honest, there isn't one ounce of Imma that truly belongs to our church.
Church membership without church attendance whenever possible is a disgrace. If your son died saving your neighbor from a fire, how would you feel if the neighbor skipped the funeral to watch TV? Don't you see that God's Son died to save you. Of course it isn't his funeral we celebrate, but his resurrection. How much more should you be present in gratitude?
When Astronauts Gus Grissom and Ed Young returned from their Gemini flight, President Lyndon Johnson telephoned them to congratulate them and invite them to the White House. Then in his characteristically Texas way, he added, "If you can make it." You and I know Grissom and Young made it! But suppose they had not made it? Suppose they were tired after a hard week in space and planned to sleep late and mow the lawn? So they sent their regrets to the president's invitation. Or perhaps without regrets they just didn't show up. The table was set for them, but their place was inexplicably vacant. Of course, it is unthinkable that anyone would spurn an invitation from the President. Yet every Sunday thoughtless Christian spurn an invitation from the King of kings to sit at his table on the Lord's Day.
The Lord's day is a firm foundation on which to build a six-story week. You'll find that all the rest of life fits better when you acquire the habit of regular church attendance. Just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it (Ephesians 5:25), so Christians love the church and give themselves for it.
After we come together, what do we do? Hebrews 10:25 suggests "exhorting one another." We need each other. Separation kills. Take a glowing coal from the fire and lay it aside from the rest of the coals, and it will grow cold. Take a budding branch from a tree and lay it aside, and it will dry up and die. Take a child of God from the family of God where he or she is sustained by the fellowship of the church, and he or she will grow spiritually dead. A coal can be tossed back into the fire and a branch can be grafted back into the tree, but only the dying Christian can put himself or herself back into the life-giving fellowship of God's church.
The word for "exhorting" is paraclete, one of the names of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comforts, encourages and exhorts people through people. The Spirit of Christ can meet you in many ways, but especially where two or three are gathered in his name. You go to church so that the Holy Spirit can meet your needs through the strengths of others--and meet their needs through your strengths. That's how we "stir one another up to love and good works" (Hebrews 10:24).
"Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more, as you see the day approaching." It is not good preparation for your first Sunday in heaven to have misspent your last Sunday on earth.
If you want to be there when the roll is called up yonder, shouldn't you be present when the roll is called down here? Paul warns, "Be not deceived, God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. He who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life" (Galatians 6:7-8). In other words, what you've got coming later is what you've got going now. What you weave in time you will wear in eternity.
It's strange, but true Some people hope their faith is strong enough to get them to heaven when it isn't strong enough to get them to church. Some people hope to spend eternity praising and serving God with the saints and angels in glory, but won't spend two hours a week doing the same thing on earth. Believe it or not!
Grow in your fellowship. Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together, but encourage one another. And so much the more as you see the day approaching.