First Timothy 3:15 is our text, and follow with me as I read. "But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, and received up into glory." Let us pray.
Father, we thank you for the church which is the pillar in the ground of truth. Would you bless this church and bless Bible-preaching churches across this land? Help us to be the pillar in the ground of truth, and help us to see how essential it is, I pray in Jesus' name. Amen. You may be seated.
Well, all of us have heard the word "essential" more in the past seven or eight months than in the normal seven or eight-month time periods. We've heard about essential workers in particular. We've heard about essential activities. And the word "essential" according to Webster's Dictionary simply means "absolutely necessary." And so we've been reminded that certain things are absolutely necessary, and some things maybe not so necessary.
And over the past months, despite sometimes inconsistent messaging and mixed messages from health experts, most of us have tried to be sensitive to the health needs of those around us. Even this morning here at church we're sensitive to the fact that COVID is real and we want to be conscious of our neighbors; and we wear masks and we do these different things. But we have also endeavored to be sensitive to the Holy God who created us and the Savior who saved us, and that's why we're here today, because we believe that health and safety is essential, but we believe that honoring God is essential, that it is absolutely necessary.
And all of us have seen, as this word "essential" has increased, that at times it has been a burden to see malls opened at 50 percent and churches at 10 percent, and restaurants at a percentage and churches at a less percentage, and bars open and churches at a less percentage, and marijuana shops open and churches not supposedly to be open at all. And as we've seen all of that, again we've tried to say as a church, "Look, we want to be sensitive to the health issues in our country, but we must not stop being sensitive to our God because worship in America is essential.
And, folks, I don't know where all of this goes, but I know this: if we do not have the discipline to maintain the priority and the essentiality of church and gathering and worshiping and singing and honoring God, then when COVID is over Satan may have his way, as he has weakened the local New Testament church. And whether you're at home with an underlying condition or whether you're in this auditorium and able to be here today, all of us need to recognize the priority of the church, the salt and light, the pillar and the ground of the church.
And let me remind you by way of introduction – and some of you may have downloaded the notes online, and perhaps not – but let me remind you that Jesus Christ is the owner of this church. The Bible says in Acts 20:28, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers," – speaking to the Ephesian pastors. And then in Acts 20:28 it says, listen carefully – "to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood." Now that's a significant verse. It is significant because it tells us that Jesus is God, the Bible says, "to feed the church of God which he" – God – "hath purchased with his own blood" – Jesus Christ – "of the God-man," – purchased the church with his own blood.
Do you understand the church is not the building in which we sit, the church is the people here gathered in this building as the bride of Christ, the blood of Jesus Christ has been shed for our sin, and we are a purchased possession. This church does not belong to a denomination, nor to a board, nor to the congregation itself; we belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, you see. The church belongs to the Lord.
And may I say, secondly, that Jesus is the corner stone of the church, Ephesians 2:20, "Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone." And then let me remind you of this as we go through this unusual season, that Jesus will protect and build his church. The Bible says in Matthew 16:18, "And I say also unto thee, 'Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.'" How many of you are thankful for that this morning? Jesus said, "I own the church, I'm the corner stone of the church. I will build my church; and the gates of hell will not prevail against it."
Now the word "church" is mentioned in the New Testament 117 times, and 113 of those times it speaks of a local, called out assembly of believers. And that is what we are today; we are a called out, called out from the world – the world's philosophies, the world's attitudes. God says, "I don't want your number one loyalty to be toward the institutions of the world, but toward me. You are a called out people."
And the word "church" itself originated from the Greek word kurio, which means "belonging to the Lord." Let's say that together: "Belonging to the Lord." So the church belongs to the Lord, and he has promised that he will protect his church. Perhaps that is why our founders in the Constitution, in the very First Amendment of the Constitution, wrote these words: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
That is the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, that Congress will make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. And in case you're wondering where I'm going with this: yes, I believe that even in COVID we have every right under the Constitution to worship the Lord Jesus Christ. And for those of you that maybe are new to all of this, there are several hundred copies of the Constitution out at Guest Services, and I encourage you, pick up a free copy today and read this Constitution and understand the privilege that we have as Americans. And some of you fought in wars and served our country so that we get to do what we're doing right now, to worship the Lord Jesus Christ. And as I said a moment ago, do it safely, do it cautiously, but do it, because Jesus Christ has commanded us to worship him.
Our founders understood the essentiality of the church. John Adams wrote, and I quote, "It is the duty of the clergy to accommodate their discourses to the times, to preach against such sins as are most prevalent, and recommend such virtues as our most wanted." You see, the founders said, "We need these pastors preaching against prevalent sins. We need these pastors lifting up godly virtues, because America will only be great so long as America is good."
And yet we see a suppression of the message today. We see that there are some that don't want pastors to preach against prevalent sins. They don't want pastors to speak out about things like voting, or things like the family, or things like life. And there are some that would be very happy if COVID-related reasoning would keep churches shut. And for my sake, I would say that if there's a church that doesn't believe in the infallibility of Scripture, they do not believe in life, they do not believe in the cross, they do not believe in the teaching of the Word of God, let them stay shut. But we need every church that believes the Bible to preach the Word of God in this hour.
And so I would share with you this morning three reasons why the church is essential, three reasons that no matter where this journey takes us, folks, that from our hearts knit together through the Scripture, that we would understand biblically the essentiality of the local New Testament church. It is essential in the first place for our faith, for the faith that we have in our God. The faith which was once delivered unto the saints is a precious thing. We are commanded to know it, we are commanded to contend for it; it's a precious treasure.
The faith has been under attack since the very early centuries, through the dark ages, through the Reformation to this very moment. There are Christians around the world in prison and being persecuted because they believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Through the burning of men like William Tyndale in 1536 simply for printing the English Bible, until other hundreds whom we may also name, who were burned at the stake, who were imprisoned because they believed the Bible. I want you to understand that it is the blood of men like this that causes us in this hour to say, "We must not faulter. They stood, and we must stand for the Lord Jesus Christ."
Now when I think about our faith I think, first of all, about the ministry of the church, and I draw your attention to our text this morning, 1 Timothy 3:15, which says, "But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the pillar and the ground, the church of the living God, the pillar and the ground of the truth."
Now when we see this word "pillar and ground of the truth" we understand, first of all, that the church is a spiritual household. It says, "that thou mayest know how to behave thyself in the house of God." First Peter 2:5 says, to the believers, "You are lively stones, you are built up a spiritual house." So the picture is that each of us as Christians, like a part of this spiritual house, placed together we build a spiritual house.
This church is a spiritual house, it is a spiritual body. And Ephesians chapter 2 says that we are fellow citizens with the saints, that we are all a part of the household of God. Look, it doesn't matter where you've come from, it doesn't matter if you come from a broken home, a single-family home, if you come from a different culture or background, if you've been in prison or if you're a police officer, if you're an engineer or a pilot, it doesn't matter if you're on unemployment or if you just got a brand new job; what matters mostly is, "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior? Are you saved? And do you identify with Christ?"
And we come here together to identify, first and foremost, as believers making up a spiritual house, Ephesians 2:21, "The building is fitly framed together, and we grow unto an holy temple in the Lord." The church is a spiritual house. It is a spiritual household, but it is also the spiritual foundation of the nation. The church provides a spiritual foundation.
Notice the Bible says there in verse 15, "that thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and the ground of the truth." Now the word "ground" means a settlement for a super structure. The church must hold fast to the truth in order that we might build upon the truth that God has given to us. Titus 1:9, "Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers." God says, "I want you to hold onto the truths that you have been taught. I want you to recognize the ministry of the church is to be the household of God. It is to be the foundation of truth. It is to be a spiritual pillar."
Did you see that word in verse 15? "The pillar and the ground of truth." What does the pillar do? Well, the church as the pillar is to uphold the truth. We are to lift up the truth about the family. We are to lift up the truth about sin and salvation. We are to lift up the truth about heaven and hell. We are to lift up the truth about the Trinity. We are to lift up the truth about God's working in the lives of men.
Philippians 2:15 says it this way, "That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither labored in vain." Did you hear that phrase "holding forth the word of life"? Lets say that together: "Holding forth the word of life." The church as the pillar of the truth is to hold forth the word of life.
Do you understand that without churches preaching Christ people will not hear the gospel, they will not be saved. We must hold forth the truth. That's what the Missions Conference was all about: send the light, send the light, the blessed gospel light. And so we must hold forth the truth.
The purpose of the church then is to elevate and to display and to preach the truth of God. Our ministry must honor the Lord and honor his truth. Regarding the truth, the church represents it. We uphold it, we preach it, and we must manifest it to the world. So God said if the truth will go from generation to generation, then the church better do its job, the church better hold it up, because throughout time, whenever it's been relegated to another entity, then there's been a slowing in the process.
God did not give the world counsel of churches the responsibility to hold up the truth. He did not give even parachurch organizations the responsibility to hold up the truth. He has given it to local churches like this one to be the pillar and the ground of truth in our community, so that men and women may know Christ. And so this is the ministry of the church, to be the pillar and the ground of the truth, as a spiritual household coming together and lifting up Christ in Lancaster. That's our ministry.
But I want you to also consider today our message. As we think together this morning about the matter of the faith we see that God has given us a ministry to propagate the faith; but specifically, what do we mean when we say, "The faith"? What are we talking about when we say, "The ministry of the church is to propagate the faith"?
Well, come back to our text, if you would. Look at verse 16, it says this: "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh." Now just think of this for a moment: something that is a mystery is something that once was not revealed, but now is being revealed; something that was not as clearly known, but now is made manifest; that is that God has been manifest in the flesh, that he was justified in the Spirit. He was seen of angels. He was preached unto Gentiles. He was believed on in the world and received up into glory.
So the church is not built on anything other than a right view of Jesus Christ. If you do not have a right view of Jesus Christ, it doesn't matter what else you're doing, it doesn't matter if you don't have it right on who Jesus Christ is. And many people can say they're spiritual. I've heard that said in this election cycle: "We're spiritual. We believe in God. We go to a church."
Let me tell you something, the devil believes in God. There's a difference between being spiritual and being saved, and what we say is the difference is, "What have you done with Jesus Christ?" You see, the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 1:23, "But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God." He is where the power lies. He is where the truth lies. Spurgeon said, "The preaching of Christ is the whip that flogs the devil. The preaching of Christ is the thunderbolt, the sound that makes all hell tremble." And what America needs today and what this world needs is the preaching of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And so we have that message here in verse 16, and I want you to think of it. It says, "God was manifest in the flesh." That is that God was made known, exposed, or shown. John 1:1 says it this way: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Verse 14: "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, as of the only begotten of the Father)." Colossians 2:9, "that in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." So our faith is comprised of this fact, that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, the deity of Christ.
Secondly, it says, "He was justified in the Spirit." Now the word "justified" does not imply that he was justified from sin; for there is no sin in Jesus Christ. "He was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin." The word "justified" here means that he was declared to be the Righteous One.
He was justified, and it says, "He was justified in the Spirit." This word "Spirit" speaks of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. And we are mindful of the baptism of Jesus Christ here. Second Peter 1:17, "For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.'"
He was manifest in the flesh. He was justified of the Spirit. The Bible says he was seen of angels. Hebrews 1:6, "And again, when he bringeth in the first begotten into the world, he saith, 'Let all the angels of God worship him.'" Oh, don't you know that every angel throughout the universe was witnessing the coming of Christ that first Christmas morning. The Bible says they sang and shouted and gave praise to God: "Glory to God in the highest," the angels said when he came to this world. Don't you know they were peering over from heaven's ledge and they saw Jesus when he died on the cross, and when his blood was shedding for our sin? Don't you know the angels saw that? Do you understand that they were witnesses of the work of Christ? He was seen of the angels.
But then the Bible says here also that, "He was preached unto the Gentiles." Now the Gentiles speak of all nations in contrast to the Jewish people. Romans 1:14, Paul said, "I am a debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians, both to the wise, and to the unwise. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel; for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek."
How many of you are thankful this morning that this gospel message I'm preaching to you today is available for everyone, everyone: red, yellow, black, brown, white, Jew, Gentile. It doesn't matter. Jesus is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
And so he says, "It's been preached unto the Gentiles," – but notice the next phrase in verse 16; it says – "believed on in the world." Thank God that many believed, and they were added to the church. And I believe that so long as the gospel is being preached, then people are being saved and they're being added to the church. And this is why church is essential, because lost men and women need Christ. The god of this world is blinding their eyes; but they must see the truth of Christ and be saved.
And so, then the Bible says, sixthly, that Jesus was received up into glory. Now this is our message, that Jesus Christ after he was crucified rose up again to be with his Father. Acts 1:10, "And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men in white apparel, which said, 'Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye there gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come again in like manner as you have seen him go up into heaven.'"
And ladies and gentlemen, may I remind you of that this morning, that we serve a soon-coming Savior. "This same Jesus who ascended up into heaven is coming again in like manner." That is to say literally and physically he is going to return, and he will draw us home to be with himself. And this is the message of the church. And so the ministry of the church is to be a spiritual house that is lifting up a message. And the message of the church essentially is that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died and rose again for our sin. What a message we have to proclaim this morning.
But I want you to see not only the ministry of the church, the message of the church, but let me briefly bring to your attention the methods of the church, the methods of the church. And there are many, but I want to focus on two fundamentally this morning. First, the first method is very basic. It is that we are called to assemble. Churches assemble.
Now turn in your Bibles, please, to Hebrews 10:24. And as you're doing that I realize we have some dear members of our church that have various medical conditions, and they're watching at lbclive.tv, and literally that's the best they can do in the form of assembling, and I'm thankful they are. But just as we are able, all of us need to understand what the Bible says; and these are basic things. But we need to come back to them during this season.
Hebrews 10:24, "And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together." Let's say that, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together."
Now, folks, for the foreseeable future, this is our plan, to safely assemble. You could get an email from the church, "Hey, we're going to meet on the parking lot tomorrow. We're going to meet under a tent the next week. We're going to have five services." I don't know how it always is scheduled, I just know this: until Jesus comes, if we are obedient to the Bible, we will figure out a way to assemble and worship the Lord Jesus Christ, because he has commanded us, "not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching."
We live in a day of less and less with respect to worshiping God, and we see churches canceling this and canceling that. Let me just encourage you, friend, that when the doors are open we should do our best to be in God's house to learn, to grow, to worship the Lord Jesus Christ. And I pray for those with underlying conditions, I'm sensitive to their plight; but I'm going to do my best to raise up a godly biblical standard that calls us to obey the Lord in the matter of assembling.
Look, those of us who belong to Jesus Christ, we come together on the Lord's Day. They've done it since the resurrection morning. It's our joy to do this. It's not burdensome. It's not duty. It is delight. We come with thanksgiving. We do it with love. We do it with a heart filled with joy. We come because Jesus has forgiven our sins. He has placed us into a state of no condemnation. He has paid our sins on the cross.
The church is his most precious possession. It is his redeemed bride. And we gather as his redeemed bride on Sunday morning to say, "Jesus, thank you. Jesus, we worship you. Jesus, we honor you. We assemble together because you have commanded us, yes. But it's not the command, it is the desire of our heart that brings us. It is the love of Christ that constrains us to worship." And I don't expect unsaved people to get that. But when you've been saved, then going to church is truly a blessing to your heart.
The Old Testament fifth century Ezra read the law in the book of Nehemiah. The Bible says, "Then the priest explained the reading in the Aramaic, and as the Bible was being preached and explained, people's hearts were gripped, and they were so grateful to God for restoring the temple and building up the wall, and allowing them a place of worship." throughout the centuries men and women have gladly worshiped God. In Glasgow, Scotland through the 1600s and 1700s, there was a Bible that was read. And this Bible, this particular Bible here was read throughout the 1700s. And I want you to just contemplate this for a moment: it was read for one hour before the pastor preached.
The people, many of them did not read. The pastors would read, people would sit there with wrapped attention. This is before HBO (hell's box office). This is before Showtime. This is before overtime. This is before bowling leagues and card leagues, and this is before the Internet. This is before all of that. People didn't have all the distractions, and they came to worship, and they wanted to know what God had to say; and if it meant listening for one hour to a man reading the Bible, "Bring it on," they said, "we want to know what God says." They assembled together.
Attendance in churches across the board in America has been declining even before COVID. We see on charts throughout the studies from the early '90s until this day, in some cases down 10 percent in America. When we look at it by age group we see that there is only 27 percent of the 18 to 29-year-olds now attending church. The older age groups have a little bit of a larger number of people. We're seeing some alarming trends concerning just basic things like worshiping God. We're seeing that materialism. We're seeing that secularism. We're seeing that humanism. We're seeing many of the philosophies that are prevalent in public education systems, and many times in homes that are not emphasizing the Word. We're seeing that there's a breakdown concerning just this simple matter of church being essential.
During COVID-19 one-in-three practicing Christians has stopped attending church. So go back to some of the earlier charts where it was going down 10 percent in the last 15 years, and now then since March one-in-three previously practicing Christians has ceased coming to church. It's a huge burden on the hearts of every pastor I know, including the one you're looking at right now. And, yes, trying to discern, "They're having some real difficulties medically. Let's send some meals. Let's send some prayers. Let's care for them." But then, "Where's so-and-so? And where's such-and-such?" because it seems that during this time there are some that are not only here, but we also find that 53 percent of those that are not here are streaming, but 47 percent are not even getting the livestream. That tells us that in our church there are hundreds of people that are not being fed spiritually, hundreds of people that are not taking up the weights and getting some spiritual exercise. And when you don't take time to exercise in the Word, guess what happens: your spiritual muscles atrophy. You have trouble moving. You have trouble going forward because you're not getting fed. Hey, everybody needs to be fed from the Word of God.
R. Kent Hughes said, "On the most elementary level you do not have to go to church to be a Christian. You do not have to go home to be married either. But in both cases, if you do not, you will have a very poor relationship." Now this isn't my first rodeo, and I've had a lot of people say things to me like, "Well, I can worship God in Yosemite, and I can worship God however I want." You know, I understand you have a philosophy; but I have a Bible, which is an infallible authority; and the Bible declares that Christianity is not designed that we live as an island, but it is designed that we live as a body, that we live as a spiritual house, that we come together and encourage one another in the Lord."
I heard about a man that didn't want to get out of bed and go to church. And his wife said, "Well, give me one good reason why you shouldn't go," and he said, "Well, the people there don't like me." And then he said, "You give me a good reason why I should go," and his wife said to him, "Well first, because the Bible tells us not to forsake the assembling; and secondly, because you're the pastor."
How many of you know the devil gets on all of our shoulders, right? He doesn't want us here this morning. He doesn't want us mentioning the gospel or talking about the message or the methods of the church. George Washington said, "The liberty and joy by the people of these states of worshiping Almighty God agreeably to their conscience is not only among the choices of their blessings, but also of their rights, their rights."
You want to talk about one of the basic American rights? We're experiencing it right now. It is a God-ordained right, and it was acknowledged by the founders: the right to gather and worship. And so one of our basic methods is that we assemble. And then, obviously, once we're together, we worship. Psalm 95:1, "O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise unto the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms. For the Lord is a great God, and a great King among the gods."
First Corinthians 16, "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do we. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, such God hath prospered him." You see, God has given to the church that upon the first day of the week we celebrate the resurrected Christ; and we celebrate the resurrected Christ with our singing; and we celebrate the resurrected Christ with our preaching, and with our giving, and through the fellowship that he has given to us. And I'm saying to you this morning that church is essential for the faith; and if we do not assemble, and if we do not do our best in these strange times to honor God's Word, then the muscles of the church will atrophy, the testimony of the church will lessen, and God will not have his work accomplished in the way that he has designed it to be accomplished. And so we as his church must honor him and worship him in every situation and season. It is for the faith that I say the church is essential.
Let me hasten to say, secondly, it is essential for the family, it is essential for the family. When I use the word "family" this morning I do not imply a specific structure. It may be a traditional family, a blended family, single-parent family – lots of kinds of families. Wherever you are on your journey, this church is here to strengthen your family and your relationship. It is a place, first of all, to learn from the Word of God.
The Bible says in Ephesians 4:11, "Jesus gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." God says, "Listen, I want you to assemble, and them I'm going to give you a pastor, I'm going to give you evangelist, I'm going to give you teachers so that they can help you to mature, so that they can teach you from the Word of God, so that they can edify you."
And I'm saying today: all of us need the edification of the Word of God. We need the reproving, the rebuking, the exhorting. We need the challenging of God's Word. Corporate worship in public should continue what has been done privately all week. In other words, if you at home are studying the Word of God, which is a good thing, and you're praying, then we enter together to just continue the spirit of what is happening in our own personal lives. And so the church is a place for the family to learn. It is a place for the family to grow.
I think of 2 Timothy 1:5. Would you turn there for just a moment, 2 Timothy 1:5 – just a few pages over. And here we read about this family of Timothy. And Paul says of Timothy, "When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that it is in thee also."
I can picture in my mind as the apostle Paul went to Lystra. And there, of course, he was stoned for preaching the gospel. But there was a little crowd of people that gathered round about him there, and the Bible tells us that amongst them was this family, a mother whose husband likely was not saved. Her mother was a believer – Eunice and Lois – and they had with them this young man Timothy. And Timothy's first picture of church might have been the preacher in a pool of blood with rocks all over him because he had been stoned for preaching the gospel. Still having seen that he surrendered his life to the ministry because the preaching of that embryonic church, the preaching of that early apostle edified a family, encouraged a family.
That is our desire that every message would encourage your family and strengthening your family, and that through this season and through the challenges of this season that our faithfulness – mine as a pastor, yours as a people – might encourage one another to keep going on for the Lord Jesus Christ. You see, the church is essential for our families. Over the last 30 years or so Hollywood has attempted to redefine the family. Americans are being desensitized to the ungodly behavior, the cultural elite call acceptable. Somewhere there needs to be a distinct message for your family that is not moving with the times, but that is grounded in the Word of God. And so the church is a place to learn, it's a place to grow.
Let me say this, thirdly, it's a place to find help. This has been one of my greatest burdens during COVID: people whose lives are full of so much pressure, so much tragedy being organized in the streets, so much hurt being felt in the neighborhoods, so many people that are struggling with drugs and alcohol, and the very place where they could find help is being told not to meet. The Bible says in Galatians 6:10, "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them that are of the household of faith." Galatians 5:13, "For, brethren, we have been called unto liberty; only use not your liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another."
God has commanded his church to serve and to care and to be ready to give an answer to those that would have questions about the faith, and how the faith of Christ is relevant to their particular need. And yet during this season, the state of Oregon with all of its rioting and murders and burning of our flag, the state of Oregon has seen a 70 percent increase in opioid overdose deaths in April and May of 2020 compared to the same time last year. In a state with people who not only have legalized marijuana, in a state with people who not only are given some of them to anarchy and all of these different things, with the confusion, with the bedlam, young people are turning to drugs, and maybe with their emotions and their anger, and they're dying left and right of opioid overdoses. And what they need is an open, Christ-honoring church in the middle of their downtown, preaching Christ. But churches are closed while riots are happening.
In Maine, which saw 258 overdose deaths from January to June, a 27 percent increase of opioid overdoses. Even our extremely liberal attorney general here in California Xavier Becerra told FOX 40 in Sacramento just last week, "In many of our counties there are more deaths from overdoses than there are from COVID." And somebody just needs to wake up and say, "Hey, maybe we need to start letting those churches run the busses for those children again. Maybe we need to help set up some protocols."
I don't agree with corporate Disney on hardly anything. But when they made a statement last week that said they felt they had the intellectual ability to open their park with safety procedures, and imploring and begging to do that, I would tend to agree that with safety measures there are some things that can be done, especially on the ministry side, to help people who are struggling with their addictions, to help people who are struggling with their marriage, to help people who are struggling with all kinds of depression. The church has the answer. Jesus is the answer, and we must keep giving that answer in our community.
The church is essential for the faith of Jesus Christ. The church is essential for families that are hurting and that need Jesus Christ. And I want to say this as I close: the church is essential for the future of this country. The church is essential for the future of this country.
Listen to me very carefully: the church will continue with or without America, but America will not continue without the church. Even now, dozens of our pastor friends are calling millions of Christians today and tomorrow to pray for America, people that love God and love this country, upholding and uplifting this country in prayer. Just as Antonin Scalia said a few years ago before his death, "If Christians will live according to the Bible in America, they are destined to be viewed as fools." Isn't that something?
If you intend to believe the Bible concerning creation, concerning salvation, concerning the faith, we may be viewed by the cultural elite as fools. But I want you to understand that irrespective of how we are viewed, the future of this nation depends on our adherence to the faith. And so for the future I consider these truths today. I call to your attention that there is future in the truth of God, that the Word of God will bring life.
Turn in your Bible, if you would, to Philippians 2:16. Philippians 2:16, a wonderful passage. And in this passage we read these words: "Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither labored in vain." Paul says to the church at Philippi, "I want you to hold forth" – say this with me – "the word of life," – one more time – "the word of life."
Now the Bible says, "The wages of sin is" – what? – "death, but the gift of God is eternal life." God says, "I want you to hold forth the word of life." Folks, there is death in the land. And by the way, it doesn't matter who's elected, it doesn't matter what the disease is, what the season is, there will be death in the land because, "The wages of sin is death. But the gift of God is eternal life." And we are commanded to hold up the word of life.
Ronald Reagan said, "Within the covers of the Bible are the answers for all of the problems men face." And I think there are plenty of problems in America today, and we'd better get back to church to get the answers. The word of life will give us the answers. There's future in his truth.
May I say this, secondly, there's a future for his people. There's a future for God's people if we'll understand that church is essential. If you visit the Ronald Reagan Library sometime – and everyone should go there once, maybe twice – there's a particular spot after you traverse past a portion of the Berlin Wall and some of the other artifacts where they have encased the Bible upon which Ronald Reagan put his hand when he was sworn in as President. It is his mother's Bible, and it is opened to 2 Chronicles 7:14. When he was sworn into office he wanted to put his hand on the verse that I'm about to read to you. "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin," – and listen to this – "and will heal their land."
There is no future for America, for God's people even, unless we return back to God. We have a future in heaven, but there is no future from the standpoint of freedom to worship and of freedom to do the will of God if we ourselves do not humble ourselves. Reagan said, "If we ever forget that we are one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under." There is future in the truth. There is future for God's people if we will humble ourselves, if we will seek God and pray.
And then, may I say, there's future for the nation. There is a future for the nation if we will turn back to the Lord. The Bible says in Psalm 33:12, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord." Let's say that together: "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord." It doesn't say, "whose god is all of the gods." It doesn't say, "whose god is pluralism or atheism." "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord." O that we would come back to that understanding in our hearts.
I cannot say that I know the hearts of every elected official. I know that on one occasion as I stood behind this very pulpit, as I opened the Bible to John 14 at the funeral of Steven Owens, that Kamala Harris sat right over here. When I opened the Bible, she stood and she walked out. I don't know if she had a busy schedule, I just know what I've experienced.
I've seen others who have at least shown respect. I cannot say that others on the other side are saved, I don't know their heart. But what I am saying to you, it is time for people in this country to show respect to the Word of God. And the Bible is very clear: "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord." It's not enough to say we're spiritual. It's not enough to say we believe in a God who's God is the Lord. We need to come back to honoring him. There is future for a nation that honors the Lord.
French writer Alexis de Tocqueville, after visiting America in 1831, said, "I sought for the greatness of the United States in her commodious harbors, her ample rivers, her fertile fields and boundless forests; but it was not there. I sought for it in her rich mines, her vast world commerce, her public school system, and in her institutions of higher teaching; and it was not there. I looked for it in her democratic congress and her matchless Constitution, and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good; and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."
Church is essential for the future of America. America is great because America is good, and the only thing that is good about us is that we have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, and that we walk according to the Word of God. And when we stop paying attention to the Word of God, when we turn our back on the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is to the detriment of this great land that we love.
Throughout history the church has been tried and tested. And yet I would say to you this morning that in the midst of a fearful world, we need a fearless church. You don't need a pastor getting on the bulletin boards and trying to find a church of 160 in Tennessee where the laws are easier. Come on now. I don't need to find a Hamlet of 80 people in a community that has 90 Baptist churches that generally agree with what I'm saying. I'm telling you that in the midst of a fearful world we need a fearless church. From the pulpit to the pews we need men and women of God who will witness, and who will love, and who will care, and who will stand, and who will believe that Jesus Christ said, "Upon this rock I will build my church."
And I suspect that it won't be easier going forward. I've said that for some years. But didn't you hear what Jesus said: "In the world you're going to have some tribulation. But be of good cheer," Jesus said, "because I have" – what? – "I have overcome this world. How many of you are thankful for that? Oh, this world is not my home, I'm just a passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. I'm telling you, we have a home that we can look forward to in heaven.
And I look back over history and I see during the Roman Empire Christianity was not legal in the Roman Empire for about 300 years; and during that time there were ten specific seasons of persecution where Christians were torn asunder, where they were tied to wild animals and thrown in the middle of coliseums where they were burned at the stake; and yet even during that time, that tiny number of Christians grew to the point that some 25 percent of all those people in the Mediterranean region had placed their faith in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even during the tough time, those apostles stood. Even during the tough times, they were willing to preach the gospel.
And Christians were willing to go through turbulent times and lose their jobs and all of the rest; but they were faithful. I think of the dark ages, a difficult time, when the apostate Roman Catholic Church repressed the Word of God, when they attacked Anabaptists and Protestants and many times took their lives, and yet God used that period of time to raise up men like Peter Waldo, and John Wycliffe, and John Huss, and William Tyndale, and even men such as Martin Luther who simply said, "The just will live by faith." And when they could have coward and when they could have quit and when they could have run and hidden and found some little easier place, they were willing to be the church that God had called them to be. And ladies and gentlemen, it is time for the church to be the church in California.
I think of China. Mao Zedong forced 10,000 missionaries to leave the country. Communism, Marxism does not believe the church to be essential. Ten thousand missionaries forced, many of them Baptist missionaries, to leave the country. The cultural revolution of the '60s destroyed most every church in China; but they kept praying, they kept meeting, they kept communicating.
I remember preaching in China many years ago, and the people coming into the little room, they had backpacks – they don't carry their Bibles publicly. They don't come in together, they don't want a crowd of people to be seen. They would come and they would sit very fearfully. They would look for the cameras to see if anyone was watching them. Most of them had relatives that had been taken away; they had suddenly disappeared, they didn't know where.
Finally they would take their Bible out of the bottom of their backpack. I preached for an hour, they said, "Please, preach more." I preached for another hour, they said, "Now can we ask questions?" I answered questions from the Bible for two hours. Though the 10,000 missionaries were expelled, though thousands of churches were closed, the best estimates we have today are that there are some 400 million Christians in China meeting in their homes, meeting in alleys, meeting in the fields, meeting in places that are hiding places. But they are following after the Word of God and in love with Jesus Christ, and the church of Christ is still being built today. And I, for one, am glad that I am a part of it.
The church is essential. It's essential for the faith, for our children, for our grandchildren to have the opportunity to know it. It's essential for families, families that right now during COVID are hurting and struggling, families that need help and counseling. And, frankly, the church is essential for the future of this nation. We have so many wishy-washy churches today, so many churches that are ceasing to be the church, because when you cease to preach the truth of God's Word, you may have a building, but you're not a church. And, oh, how this country needs churches that will thunder the truths of the gospel without apologizing and in the face of difficulty.
And I said this eight months ago, and I say it again: this will be a testing time for every church, and for ours, too. Do we believe in the Lord and in the gospel? Do we believe a little verse like, "Forsake not the assembling," is really applicable to us now? Do we have a heart to honor God to the best of our ability? I pray that we will. And I pray that when COVID is over, that our faith will be strong in the Lord, that our spiritual muscles will be exercised, and that we as the church of Lancaster Baptist Church will still be going forward preaching and telling others the good news of Jesus Christ, because we believe that his church is essential.
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