Open your Bibles or find in your electronic device Hebrews, Chapter 10. First of all, I’d like to take a journey back in time. It is 1300 BC and God has miraculously brought the Israelites out of Egypt, delivered them from slavery, gotten rid of Pharaoh’s army that had come to destroy them in the Red Sea, and now the Lord has guided them to the foot of Mt. Sinai in the wilderness. The Sinai Wilderness is what we call it today. Moses has called all the people. I want to stop for a minute so we understand the size of multitude that we are talking about. It is not just a football stadium full. Numbers 1:46 tells us that there were 603,550 men who could go to war. They only counted men who were over 20 years old, and they didn’t count women. So there was at least 1.5 million, maybe close to 2 million, Israelites. They had been slaves for 400 years, and if you remember the Egyptians said, “They multiply like crazy.” So, this large multitude of people. And when you think about that many people you can understand why the Canaanites and others, when they saw this mass of people coming, it made them nervous. So Moses stands up and gives direction to almost 2 million people. Now obviously there was no sound system. How did people hear him? There must have been some kind of relay system. They must have had a ring of people that would hear and then they would turn around and relay the words of Moses. I just want you to get a feel for this. Moses stands up and he says, “God has said He is going to come and visit us in 3 days. He is going to come to this mountain, and He’s going to come visit us. You go home to your tents. You clean everything. You wash everything. You wash your clothes. You wash your tents. You wash everything. You prepare yourself. On the third day you come at the sound of the trumpet and you present yourself to God in your nicest clothes that you have, washed, and ready to go.” On the third day they come. God comes down in power. There is smoke. There is fire. There is thunder. There is an earthquake. I mean the whole ground is shaking. It is a phenomenal sight. As God talks to Moses it sounds like thunder, it sounds like trumpets, I mean the whole ground is shaking, and the people have been told by Moses, “Be careful how close you get to the mountain.” Well, they were curious and as all this was happening the people started getting closer and God said to Moses, “You get those people to move back or I’m going to smote them.” What an awesome experience. If I could go in a time machine, this is one of the places I’d go to. I mean I’d like to experience that. That must have been something. Wow. As awesome as that experience was, Christian brother or sister, do you understand that your privilege of coming here together and worshiping together as we did and sensing God’s presence in your innermost being, not one of those Israelites could do that. They couldn’t know God. So as awesome as that was, what we just experienced and are continuing to experience this morning in a lot of ways is greater and more awesome. What a privilege we have today to come to worship God together, sense His presence, His love, His mercy, His forgiveness, His guidance, His healing, His deliverance and leave here with hope. Many people come here to the weekend services, and not only here but all over San Diego, and the world has just beaten them down. The negativity about their future has just beaten them down. The enemy has beaten them down. And they come into church, they sense God’s presence, they hear a message, God speaks to them, and they leave with a hope for the future.
Today I’m going to continue a series that I’m doing: “Twelve Scriptures that Will Set on Fire the Course of Your Life”… or “…That Will Shape Your Life” or “…That Will Put Your Life in a Place to be Blessed by God.” We don’t know what we’re going to call it, but the reason why I’m doing this is exactly that. I believe that if you follow these Scriptures and try to base your life on them, you are going to experience life differently. Today we are going to talk about the importance of coming to church. The importance of regular church attendance.
Hebrews 10:23-25 says this:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds (I hope you understand that that is hopefully what is happening today), not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
Most of you in here today at some point made a decision to become a Christian. You made a decision to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. You committed yourself to Jesus, and each and every day all of us make decisions during that day that affect what our commitment to Jesus is going to look like. Now as Paul wrote these words, apparently there was a significant number of Christians that he was addressing that had begun a bad habit of missing church or missing the weekly meetings, and Paul is encouraging these Christians. He is telling them, “If you want to stand firm in your faith and if you want to grow in your faith, you shouldn’t be missing the Sunday services. You should not be missing the public meetings.”
Regular church attendance and fellowship is important for steadfast faith.
That is what I’m going to be talking about this morning. Regular church attendance is important for steadfast faith. Now I’m going to go back to the mountain, 1300 BC. Every time God speaks to Moses there is thunder, there is lightning, there is smoke, and the whole mountain is shaking, and God gives Moses the 10 Commandments. You’ve heard of this. Not the 10 Suggestions. It is the 10 Commandments, and what is the 4th commandment? “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8) And that is exactly what each of you are doing this morning. In the Old Testament, obedience to the 4th commandment was first and foremost an act of faith and trust in God because in the Old Testament, observing the Sabbath also meant that you didn’t do any work. If you go into any third-world country, every single day they are fighting for food. Every single day they are fighting to provide for their families. So they had to trust that if they rested on that Sabbath day that God would provide for them. They would be better off economically if they rested on the Sabbath.
Now an interesting thing is again and again in the Old Testament one of the judgments that God had against His people, the Israelites, was they weren’t keeping the Sabbath, their disregard for the Sabbath. Now I’m just going to give you one Scripture, and you can write this Scripture down and then from that Scripture you can cross reference it and you can take half an hour researching it. It is a recurring theme in the Old Testament. One of the reasons why God brought judgment is they disregarded the Sabbath.
Ezekiel 20:21 says this:
But the children rebelled against Me; they did not walk in My statutes, nor were they careful to observe My ordinances, by which, if a man observes them, he will live; they profaned My sabbaths. (There it is) So I resolved to pour out My wrath on them, to accomplish My anger against them in the wilderness.
But you can take that one Scripture again and again and again when God talks about His judgment, one of the things He says is, “This judgment is coming because they have profaned my Sabbath.” Because how they treated the Sabbath was an indication of their submission to God. Now, unfortunately, by the time Jesus comes into the world, the Sabbath day had digressed into nothing more than a day of drudgery. A day of rules and regulations like how far you could walk. As a matter of fact, the Jewish leaders had come up with 1500 Sabbath laws, and you can go look at it yourselves. I spent some time one time researching this, and some of the laws were kind of humorous. This is just to show you how ridiculous it got: If a sand flea was biting you, you had to watch it bite you. You couldn’t kill it because if you killed it you were hunting and hunting is work. That is why Jesus said, “You guys strain out a gnat and swallow a camel. You guys are so far off.” Think about how many times Jesus did things on the Sabbath just to tick off the Jewish rulers. He did it to say, “Hey, there is something more important! A man’s health, healing, salvation is more important than your laws.” The Jews had forgotten what the Sabbath day was all about. This is the 4th commandment…
‘Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt (here it is), and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day.
The Sabbath day was a reminder. God said, “One day in 7 you are supposed to concentrate on remembering My covenant with you that I delivered you from bondage. I chose you to be My people. Not only did I choose you to be My people, but I chose you to be My people to reveal Myself to the rest of the world.” And that is what happened. The Sabbath day was a time to stop, refocus, and remember their covenant with God.
Another thing I want to just mention here because I’m pulling things out because I’m getting us somewhere. It is pretty obvious to see that Jesus on the Sabbath was always in the synagogue. Jesus obeyed the 4th commandment.
And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom (let’s just stop there. The word “custom” in the Greek right there means “a long established habit.” So Jesus came to His home town where He had been brought up and as was his long established habit), He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read.
Now as we go from the Old Testament to the New Testament, there are some obvious changes. The most obvious is that Christians, God’s people, began to celebrate on Sunday rather than Saturday, and it is an obvious reason because Jesus rose on the first day of the week, on Sunday. Sunday was a celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection and His triumph on Easter morning. The fact that Jesus’ death had conquered death and the devil was a celebration. From earliest times Christians met together to worship God on Sunday.
On the first day of the week (which is Sunday), when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.
Don’t you ever complain about how long my message is. This guy preached all day long.
On the first day of every week (on Sunday) each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come.
In other words, he was saying as you meet together on Sunday, take an offering, so people were giving their tithes and offerings. Ignatius was the Bishop of Antioch from about 95 AD to about 103 AD, and he was martyred. A lot of these guys died horrible deaths. But Ignatius said this around 100 AD: “We no longer observe the Sabbath day but fashion ourselves after the Lord’s day.” He was born in 35 AD. In other words, he was born almost just a year or 2 after Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead. So from the earliest times, Christians have been meeting on Sunday.
At the same time, if you are fair and balanced, which we are, and we look in the Word (Colossians 2), Paul specifically says that it doesn’t matter what day you meet together. We could decide, you know, we’re going to meet on Wednesday instead of Sunday. As long as we did it on a regular basis every 7 days, we would be remembering the Sabbath to keep it holy. It doesn’t matter what day we meet together; it is the principle. It is the principle of taking 1 day in 7 and committing ourselves to celebrating our life in Jesus.
I also briefly want to talk about working on Sunday. I’ve looked at this, and I can’t find anything in the New Testament specifically that forbids you from working on Sunday. Obviously, some of us have to work on Sunday. Well, I’m working. Law enforcement officers, firemen, San Diego Gas & Electric repairmen. This last week later in the morning it was starting to get hot and all of a sudden the power went out. A lady had crashed into a pole and so the power went out. So I instantly got on the phone and called SDG&E. I probably called 10 minutes, at the most, after the power went off, and I gave my address and then this computer lady said, “You are call #285.” I thought, “Oh, 285 people had called in 10 minutes asking, ‘Where is my power?’ The coffee maker doesn’t work. Come on now.” I’m just trying to make the point, some people are going to work on Sunday. That is one of the reasons why we have a Saturday night service. You don’t have to miss going to church. There are some churches in our area that have church on Friday.
But I do believe this, based on Scripture, that if you and I as Christians regularly let recreation, sporting events, house projects, honey-do stuff keep us from going to church, we are transgressing the 4th commandment. You are putting something ahead of obeying the 4th commandment. You and I, all of us, need a weekly reminder of who we are. We need a weekly reminder of God’s sovereignty. We need a weekly reminder of how important it is to obey God’s Word and be reminded of God’s faithfulness when we obey His Word. Because I tell you, this whole world is going to try to tell you that that is not right. The enemy is going to try to convince you that obeying God’s Word is foolish.
Look, I truly believe that if you and I don’t make attending church a habit as Jesus did, a long established habit, and don’t make it a priority, we are going to forget who we are in Jesus. This world will suck the truth of Jesus right out of you. I’ll say that again. I like what my brother said, “We need to come to church and have people lay hands on us once in a while and be filled with the Holy Spirit because we leak.” I believe if you don’t make coming to church a priority, you are going to be more easily overcome by life’s problems. You will be tempted to solve life’s problems on your own strength. You will make bad decisions. And my friends, if you don’t come to church on a regular basis, I think that you are not going to be as proactive to try to put yourself in a position to be blessed by God, which is the theme of this whole 12-message series. Christian, put yourself in a position to be blessed by God. It is up to you.
Years ago in the coal mines all across the United States, once a week they would bring the mules up from the mines. Believe me there was no PETA, and they weren’t bringing them up because they wanted to be nice to the mules. Mules are stubborn. It was a pain getting them up. But once a week they would bring them up into the sunlight and let them run around in the pastures because if they didn’t do that the mules would go blind. I believe the same can happen to us. If you and I don’t make attending church a priority to meet with God, be challenged with His Word, learning about God’s sovereignty and faithfulness, we risk the possibility of becoming spiritually dull. If you become spiritually dull, the next step is you become lukewarm, rationalizing all kinds of situations, rationalizing your responses. The reason is our heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick.
When you come here on Sunday morning, the first thing you see is that cross. You know what that cross says? I’m guilty. I’m a sinner. I need Jesus. This world is going to tell you, “You don’t need Jesus. You’re just fine yourself. The answers to all your problems are within you.” One of the biggest lies in our culture is that everybody is basically good. No they’re not. Jesus wouldn’t have had to die. When you come here on Sunday, you can’t help but be confronted with that, and it’s a good thing! Because then you’re going to make decisions based on God’s Word and not how you feel and that is going to be good for you. That is going to put your life in a position to be blessed by God.
Regular attendance is also an act of worship. It is an acknowledgement that Jesus is your Lord and Savior. It is an acknowledgement that He is God and you’re not. The New Testament repeatedly gives us an indication of how important church attendance is. Think of the Apostle Paul. Every time he would go into an area, people would get saved, and what did he do next? He organized a church. Most of Paul’s letters were written to the church. The first part of the book of Revelation is written to the church. Jesus established the church. This is His idea.
So let me ask you a question. Can you and I be a Christian without going to church? Well, I’m not going to answer yes or no, I think it’s probably obvious, but I want to answer that question with another question: Why would a Christian not want to attend a church? Why would a Christian not want to be part of what God is doing in his/her community? Why would a Christian not want to be around other Christians? Why would a Christian not want to be part of something bigger than themselves that is releasing God’s power into the community? 1 John 3:14 tells us that one of the signs that you are a Christian is you love the brethren. Did not Jesus say they will know My disciples because they love one another? (John 13:35). If you love somebody, you want to be with them. Now I know some Christians have been hurt by churches. That doesn’t surprise me; there are human beings in the church. The Bible says that we are deceitful above all else, desperately sick, we are selfish; it shouldn’t surprise you. But some people have really been hurt. If that is you this morning, I’m not trying to make light of the hurt, but it is time to get over it, dude. And I mean that in love. Get some counseling. I mean, if you used to really be active in church and you got hurt, get back into it, dude, before your life slips away. It is truly tragic to me when people don’t want to belong to a church, when they don’t want to be active in the church, when they don’t want to regularly come to church. I love the church, and it’s not just because people are telling me how wonderful I am. I hope you understand that for every person who tells me, “Oh, you’re wonderful Dave.” There are a gaggle of people who are saying something different. The moment I gave my life to Jesus, I wanted to belong to a church. I wanted to belong to something bigger than myself. I wanted to do something for Jesus. So much love has flowed to me, especially in those early years. I think back on it now, and what a nimrod I was, so immature and selfish, but those older Christians I thank God for them.
When we meet together here, God will regularly speak to you. He heals people. He delivers people. He challenges people. He guides people. And when you don’t come, you miss out on it. There is another scriptural principle that makes me excited and it is simply this: There is spiritual power in numbers. Deuteronomy 32:30 says that one can slay a thousand and two can slay ten thousand. Psalms 68:35 says there is power in the sanctuary. Jesus said, “Where 2 or 3 are gathered together, there I am in the midst.” There is something about us coming together that releases power. When you get a lot of people together worshiping God and declaring that He is our Lord and Savior, it is like carpet-bombing the forces of evil in our community. I love that Scripture in Revelation where John is seeing an angel and all the praise and worship of God’s people is raising up, and the angel takes a censer and he throws it down. Lightning goes and the power of God.
When you come to church and you’ve got that decal on your car and your neighbors see, “Oh, Foothills Church, they’re going to church.” It is a witness. It really is. They are cutting their lawn and you are going to church. Do you understand that the Holy Spirit can use that? As they see you packing your kids in the car and they even see you arguing, the kids are giving you all kinds of problems, but you’re still getting them in and you’re still going to church. Do you understand that is a witness? They understand, “Hey, they really want to go to church.” When we come together and worship God, there is an agreement with the preached Word, we pray for one another, we give of our finances. Never let the devil try to tell you that if you don’t come to church that nobody cares and it’s no big deal. Oh, yes it is! If every chair was filled and we had people on the floor, do you understand there would be a greater spiritual dynamic in here? Never believe the lie from the enemy that you aren’t needed here. Your very presence helps release power in the heavenlies and defeat the enemy.
Now church attendance has fallen off in the United States. It is a very interesting phenomenon. I’ve talked to a number of pastors now of churches over 2000 or 3000 members. This isn’t scientific, but in 2012 we all noticed something. In about 2012 our attendance kind of dipped, and the amazing thing was the offerings didn’t go down. Now how is that possible? We’ve come to the conclusion, and now we know this is true: People’s attendance started to wane. Instead of going every week they started going every other week, but they still believed in tithing, so they still tithed. Church attendance, at least in Southern California, and that is why I’m giving this message this morning, has begun to wane. People still love Jesus, it is just other things are getting in the way. Never ever believe that your presence here isn’t important. As church attendance has fallen off, so have conversions and baptisms. I guarantee you, when there is a church revival of attendance where people are coming, there are more conversions and there are more baptisms.
I’m going to end with one of my favorite stories. I don’t think I’ve told it for a while. There was a pastor in a farming community in the Midwest, and he noticed that the Shaw family hadn’t been coming to church. They lived on a farm outside of town. The pastor decided he was going to go visit Mr. Shaw. Of course he didn’t call Mr. Shaw because he had learned like most pastors… we don’t tell you when we are coming. We just show up because we don’t want to give you a chance to say, “Oh, I’m busy.” It is a cold winter day and there is snow on the ground, but the pastor gets in his car and drives to the farm. He knocks on the door, and Mr. Shaw answers. “Oh hi, Pastor.” You can imagine what he’s thinking, “What are you here for? Have I done something wrong?” The pastor says to Mr. Shaw, “I would just like to talk to you for a few minutes. Is there somewhere we can go and speak in private?” “Sure, let’s go into the family room.” There is a big roaring fire and they pulled their chairs up to the fire. There was a bunch of small talk, and then the pastor said, “You know, brother, there is a reason why I came. The reason is I’ve been missing you and your family on Sundays, and I just wondered if there was something going on or if I could help you with something.” Mr. Shaw said, “No, we’re just really busy here on the farm with so many things. Besides Pastor, you don’t have to go to church to worship God. You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” He thought he had the pastor. The pastor was silent, then he stood up, got fire tongs, and pulled out of the fire a nice big ember and set it right on the stone hearth and sat down. They watched that hot ember get colder and colder and colder until it was completely dead and there was no fire in it. Mr. Shaw got a smile on his face, looked at the pastor, and said, “Pastor, the Shaws will be in church on Sunday.”
There is a spiritual dynamic that happens to you. I have come into this church discouraged and beat down, but after worshiping with you, my brothers and sisters, listening to a word, having maybe somebody pray for me, just dropping all my cares on Jesus, so many times I’ve left here with hope. Something changed. And if I wouldn’t have come to church that would not have happened. I would have just slid further into depression and despair. We all need this. That is why it is one of the 10 Commandments, right?
This should not be a great revelation to anybody. It is coming here week after week. It is through the cumulative effect of hearing the message and hearing God speak to us that we grow spiritually. So Paul says, “Do not forsake the assembling together as is the habit of some.” The reason? Guys, there are spiritual consequences. If you regularly come, the consequences are you are going to grow in your walk. If you don’t come, you’re going to miss out. And if your non-attendance continues, you’re going to start to grow spiritually dull.