Stop Going to Church – sermon on Psalm 92:12-15

August 26, 2018
Video available here.

One day, Pastor Craig* ran into a guy named Matt at the grocery store. Matt was buying groceries with his wife and their two sons, and when they saw pastor Craig, they were really excited. “Pastor Craig, we go to your church!” Pastor Craig said, “I’m glad you go to our church!” “Yeah, we go to your church! We go to your church!” They kept saying it again, and again, and again.

But then Matt pulled pastor Craig aside, and he said, “would you mind praying for me?” Usually when somebody asks me that, they have one prayer request. Matt had a whole laundry list.

He said, “would you pray for my marriage? We’re kind of struggling, and while you’re at it, would you pray for my oldest son? I’m afraid he’s smoking something he shouldn’t be smoking. And I’m feeling financial pressure right now, and I don’t like my job, and honestly my job’s on the line, and I don’t even really like my life. Would you pray for me?”

Pastor Craig said, “look, before we pray, let me just ask you a few questions. Okay, you go to church. Which service do you go to? Matt said, “Well, you know, the one on Sunday. …” Pastor Craig’s church has four services every weekend: One on Saturday, three on Sunday.

“OK, right, tell me your kids’ Sunday School teacher’s name.”
Matt said, “um, I don’t really know.”

So Pastor Craig said, “Well are you in a small group?” He says, “Well, no.”
Pastor Craig said, “Do you help out in any of the church’s ministries?” “No.”
Then Pastor Craig asked: “When was the last time you went to church?”
And Matt said, “well, probably Easter.”

So Pastor Craig prayed for him, and then Pastor Craig told Matt something that he probably wasn’t expecting to hear. He said, “Matt, maybe you need to stop going to church.” Pastor Craig wanted Matt to see something that I think we sometimes need help remembering, too:

God’s highest calling for you as a follower of Christ was never to go to some building called “church.” God’s highest calling is for you to be conformed to the image of Christ; not to go to church, but to be planted in the house of the Lord, to be the church, a light shining into a dark world.

God’s highest calling is never to go to a church. God calls us to be planted in the house of God, rooted in Christ and flourishing as part of the church.

The righteous flourish like the palm tree,
    and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the Lord;
    they flourish in the courts of our God.
In old age they still produce fruit;
    they are always green and full of sap,
showing that the Lord is upright;
    he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him. – Psalm 92:12-15

“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, “they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon.” Let’s look at that word, “flourishing.”

What does flourishing mean? It means thriving, it means growing, it means prospering. A tree that flourishes is doing better than “OK.” Its leaves are deep green and lush. Its roots are healthy and its bark is sound. It’s a healthy tree.

So when we talk about the righteous flourishing, we are talking about spiritual health. Spiritual flourishing means growing more and more into Christ-likeness, being a blessing, developing spiritual maturity, being rooted deeply in God’s love.
The psalmist compares this kind of flourishing to a cedar or a palm tree.

Cedar wood is known for its durability, its pleasing appearance, and its fragrant smell. When Solomon built his temple, he made the columns, the posts, the beams, and the roof out of cedar, because his building was designed to last for centuries. Cedar is durable. Outdoor furniture is often made out of cedar because it can withstand weather and time.

And it has a pleasing smell. A cedar chest is not only an attractive piece of furniture;
it smells good. Cedar repels moths – that’s why people line their closets with cedar paneling. It smells better than mothballs!

And then there’s the palm tree. A palm branch was symbolic of triumph and victory. And victory meant peace, so the palm branch also symbolized the hope for peace after war. A palm branch was awarded to the victor in athletic contests in Greece, and the practice was later brought to Rome.

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, people waved palm branches at him. They were celebrating the triumphal entry of Christ, the victor who would bring peace. The cedar and the palm, two trees that symbolized flourishing. Both of them are evergreen trees, too, always flourishing, always growing, always bearing fruit.

“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon.” And those who are “planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God.”

Scripture doesn’t say those who are just going to church will flourish. Those who are planted in the house of the Lord will flourish in the courts of God. “They will still bear fruit in old age, “they will stay fresh and green.”

That’s encouraging for some of us who might be feeling that “old age” part, isn’t it? God isn’t done with you yet! There is still fruit for you to bear! You are still full of sap! And it’s that fresh ‘sappiness’ that shows the world, “the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.”

Those who are planted in the house of the Lord are flourishing. They’re blessed, prospering, connected, emotionally engaged. They’re making a difference, they’re fulfilled, their very lives proclaim God’s goodness.

But for some of you, flourishing isn’t the first word that comes to mind when you think about your spiritual life. Instead of saying “I’m spiritually flourishing,” you might say, “well, to be honest, I’m spiritually dry.”

Instead of saying … I’m thriving emotionally,
some would say … I am emotionally withering.

Instead of saying … I’m connected relationally,
some would say … I’m relationally barren.

Instead of saying … I’m prospering financially with breathing room to be a blessing, some would say …financially I’m hurting, and I have to be careful about every penny.

Instead of saying … I’m fulfilled spiritually, I’m making a difference, I am full of joy, some would say … I’m still searching, reaching, longing for, hoping for that thing, that something, that buzz, that relationship, that job, that whatever it is that I don’t have that would fulfill what I’m missing on the inside.

I go to church, but I’m not flourishing.

But those who are planted are those who flourish. If you think back a few weeks to the beginning of our Exponential! series, you might remember that your life is a seed.

A seed has tremendous potential. A seed has the potential to grow, to thrive, to multiply, to produce fruit, to be a blessing to others. But a seed that’s not planted only has the potential to lie dormant, unproductive, unfruitful, and dissatisfied. Your life is a seed. A seed can only grow if it’s planted.

Remember the parable of the sower, who sowed seed on all kinds of ground? Jesus used the soil in that story as a metaphor for the potential each of us has to be planted and bear spiritual fruit. Some people have the potential to grow, but they never make it. Some start to grow, but then they fade away. Some start to thrive spiritually, but the worries and concerns, the bills and the struggles of life choke out any spiritual growth.

But, Jesus said, a seed that falls on good soil multiplies 30 times, 60 times, 100 times – exponentially. That one seed becomes a massive blessing because it was planted in good soil. Who flourishes? Those who are planted in the house of the Lord. A seed can only grow if it’s planted. And where you are planted matters, if you want to flourish.

But going to church isn’t the same as being planted. There’s a real difference, and you can even hear that difference in the way we talk about church.

For example, you wake up on a Sunday morning and you might say, “Hey, are we going to go to church today? I’m thinking we’re kind of busy, there’s a lot going on, there’s a game, we’re kind of tired, …. maybe we could go to that restaurant we kind of like for brunch… What do you think? Do you want to go to church today?”

Listen, when you’re planted, you’ll never say, “are we gonna go to church?” Because church isn’t a destination. The church is who you are. Attending worship is never really a question, because we are the church.

You probably never ask your family, “Hey, you think we ought to eat today? I don’t know. I’m thinking about it.” … And you probably never ask, “Do you wanna breath oxygen? Are you in the mood for oxygen today?” No. We don’t do that. Breathing and eating are never really a question.

Going to church is never really a question, because we are the church. But what does that word ‘church’ even mean? The Greek word we translate as church is ekklesia. An ekklesia was any gathering or assembly. Over time, it came to mean the gathering or assembly of Christians who came together to worship and encourage one another in their faith.

But the word ekklesia is also a compound word, formed by putting two different words together. In Greek, ‘ek’ means out, and ‘klesia’ comes from the word kaleo, which means called. Ekklesia literally means ’the called out ones.’

In other words, we gather together to worship God, to hear God’s Word together, and to use our gifts together. Strengthened by this gathering, we are the church that is called out into the world.

The church does not exist for us. As Christ’s church, we exist for the world. There’s a massive difference between going to a building, and being plugged into a calling, a movement, a mission. We’re planted in the house of God.

That means investing ourselves in the work God is already doing. It means developing relationships with other Christians, praying for them, and letting them pray for you. It means recognizing that God has given you gifts, and instead of just going to church, using those gifts in the church.

When that happens, church isn’t a destination, an event to attend, it’s an identity you embrace. You can say with full confidence, “I am a part of the family of God. I am planted in the house of the Lord.”

And here’s what happens when you’re planted:

Your roots grow deep. Jeremiah 17:8 says, “They are like trees that are planted along the riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by heat, or worried by longs months of drought.”

Maybe right now, you are feeling some heat in your life; you are experiencing some trials. Or maybe you would say, I’m in a drought right now. I feel completely dried out and withered. But when the roots grow deep, they’re not bothered by heat; they are not bothered by drought. When you are planted, your roots reach deep into the source that is greater than any problem on the surface.

Think about redwood trees. They can grow to be 30 stories high. Their root system can go out 100 feet, and up to 150 feet down. Their roots intertwine with the roots of other redwood trees, and they form an underground support system that sustains the growth above the ground.

This is why we need each other in the body of Christ. Sometime this week you will face opposition. You will face a trial, you’ll have a struggle, you’ll have a set back, you will interact with a crazy person. You will face some sort of opposition, and if you face it alone, you are more vulnerable.

I don’t think the Devil minds at all if you just go to church. The only one who wants you to think you shouldn’t be planted is your spiritual enemy, who wants you to be isolated because when you’re isolated, you are vulnerable.

We need the family of God. I need you, you need me. We are stronger, and blessed, and encouraged because our roots support each other. We need one another. When you are isolated, you are vulnerable to the enemy. But when you are planted firmly in the house of the Lord, you are part of a great forest that supports you.

Here’s the second thing about being planted: you produce fruit.

Listen again to Jeremiah 17:8 – They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.

In Galatians 5, the apostle Paul talks about the fruits of the spirit. This is spiritual fruit that comes from God, not anything we produce on our own. This is the fruit of love, and joy, and peace, and patience, and kindness, and goodness, and gentleness, and faithfulness, and self-control. When you’re planted, all these good things grow in you.

And then you recognize these fruits are not just for you, that your love blesses other people, and your joy is contagious, and your peace is attractive, and your faithfulness builds relationships, and suddenly you realize “I am planted, and I am making a difference. I’m getting some roots here.
Church isn’t just a place I go, this is who I am.”

I am needed here. God needs me to do what He created me to do, and I am known, and I am loved. I’m planted in the house of God. Then you recognize, I’m not just saved from my sins, I’m saved for the glory of God, to make a difference in this world.

So how do we get from where you are to where God wants you to be? The most effective way to be the church, to get your roots planted deeply, and to make a difference in the world, is to become actively involved in a small group. John Wesley used this method of ministry to encourage spiritual maturity, and small groups are still the best way to grow in Christ. This is where you can be real, be challenged, be supported, be prayed for, and offer support, challenge, and prayer for others.

Some churches call them Life Groups or Connect Groups. We’re going to start out with Discovery Groups – a way to discover your next level of discipleship. Starting on Wednesday, you will be able to sign up on the website to be part of a Discovery group. Next Sunday, there will be information in your bulletin, with a form you can use to register for a Discovery group. I encourage you to grab onto this opportunity.

We want to help you find your place to connect. We want you to feel welcome. We want this to be your spiritual home. We want you to flourish. We want you to know that you’re making a difference, and if this isn’t the right place for you, then we want to help you find another great church, where you can flourish.

It’s time. If you’re a follower of Christ, it’s time. Do you really think you can find a way, through all the spiritual opposition, to fight off the temptation of the Devil by just going to church once a month or so?

Maybe you can say “yes, I am a follower of Christ, I know that. I am a Christian, but I am not planted. My roots aren’t deep. I’m not really connected the way I could be.” Maybe you are thinking, “well I’m not really sure if I am planted.” Let me help you with this. If you’re not sure, you’re not.

It’s time to be planted, and if it’s not in this church, let me help you find a different one, because this church is not for everybody. Find a church where you can be planted. And flourish.

Maybe you really need Sunday school. We don’t have Sunday school. I can recommend a church with Sunday school. Maybe you like longer services, or more free flowing worship, or whatever – I’ll recommend a church that offers those things. Maybe you like one where the preacher doesn’t sing so loud, or the sermon is much more boring. I can help you find that. If you can’t plug in here, please get planted at one of these other places, because God has so much in mind for you than just going to church.

He wants you to flourish. When someone asks you how your walk with the Lord is going, God wants you to be able to say, “I’m flourishing. I’m thriving. Life’s not perfect, but my roots are deep, my faith is strong, my brothers and sisters are praying for me, I am needed, and I am loved. I’m a part of something. I don’t go to a building, I am the church, I am God’s ambassador in this world. I gather with others, and then I go out strengthened, because I am planted in the house of the Lord.”

*Portions of this sermon are adapted from Craig Groeschel’s message, Stop Going To Church, used with permission and available through the Life.Church Open Network of free resources. 

One thought on “Stop Going to Church – sermon on Psalm 92:12-15

  1. Jerry

    Thanks Jo Anne. I really like the contrast you’ve laid out between just going to church and being planted and truly flourishing and the accompanying challenge. This is a very pertinent personal challenge for me at this point in my life.

    Reply

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