If my honeymoon here at Central is supposed to last one year — I’m not assuming anything here; it may last another two or three years or, without my knowledge, it may have ended months ago — then I’ve got only about six more weeks of this wonderful bliss. So, please indulge me with your love and grace and allow me to encourage you in a way that, I hope, provokes some honest self assessment and reflection.
It ain’t over when the sermon is over.
In fact, I would argue — get ready, I’m about to! — that the best and most important part of our Sunday morning assemblies occurs after the sermon is finished. Church is not over when the sermon is over; it’s just getting started. If you’re heading for the doors and out into the parking lot the moment I close my Bible, you’re missing out on the best stuff that happens during our assemblies. If the last thing you see or hear, experience or participate in, during our weekly gatherings in that worship center is my voice, here’s what you’re missing.
1) Self-Reflection – the song that we sing together right after the sermon is chosen in order to promote some healthy and much needed self-assessment. The song is connected to the just-presented Word in a way that should lead to personal and congregational reflection. It’s hard enough in this noisy world with our hectic pace and our short attention spans to find time to reflect on God’s Word and our response to it. Whether you hit the parking lot one minute after the sermon’s done or 30-minutes later, the honest truth is that, by that time, you’ve already forgotten every bit of it. You’re on to the next thing. What sermon? What Word of God? We believe that the Word preached has a life-transforming power. We believe that God’s Spirit uses that Word to change us, to shape us, to form us more into the image of Christ. Those moments immediately following the proclamation of that Word are much better spent thinking and reflecting, meditating and contemplating application, than in gathering up purses and papers and rushing up the aisles. What’s the hurry?
2) Baptisms – yes, it still happens occasionally. Somebody will be so moved by the proclaimed Word of God, he will walk down to the front of the worship center right after the sermon and be baptized on the spot. A previously unsaved child of God will declare her allegiance to her Creator, submit fully to the Lordship of our Christ, participate in the death and burial and resurrection of Jesus, and be delivered from her sins into eternal life in glory. Why would you want to miss that? It’s the thing we teach and preach, it’s the thing we uphold as vital to salvation, it’s the very thing we’ve fought to defend. It’s baptism! It’s the chance to witness up close and personal our Almighty God snatching an eternal soul from the clutches of Satan and redirecting him or her to heaven. It’s the opportunity to physically watch God keep his centuries-old promises. It’s a holy occasion to participate in God’s salvation, to witness a birth, to be present when a child of God is reclaimed and restored to righteousness. Why in the world would you miss that in order to get to Arby’s or to the lake fifteen minutes earlier? To me, it’s like a football player who has given his life to football saying “no, thank you” to starting at quarterback in the Super Bowl in order to go home and watch a hair-clip infomercial on a 13-inch black-and-white TV. It’s that crazy.
3) Bearing Burdens – two or three times a month, it seems, somebody in our church family or somebody from the Amarillo community is taking that time right after the sermon to ask our church for their prayers. A brother in Christ comes down to the front to confess sin and ask forgiveness; a sister comes to reveal her broken heart over a family matter; or, as was the case this past Sunday, three ladies from the downtown women’s abuse center come forward and beg us to pray for God’s mercy and strength. To me, this is our fully-involved God saying to us, “You want to be more like Christ? You want to become more like my Son? Here, minister to these hurting people.” Encouraging the downtrodden, giving strength to the weak, forgiving the sinner, loving the unlovable — these are all very Christ-like things to do. Jesus lives to intercede for us; interceding on behalf of others makes us more like him. Bearing the burdens of others is about as Christ-like as it gets. It’s incomprehensible that while your brother is mustering up all the courage in his body and soul and mind to walk down that aisle to throw himself upon the mercy of God and his church, you’re skipping up the opposite direction to get to the ballgame or to your enchiladas and rice. With only a little prompting, forty or fifty people got out of their seats to embrace those three women Sunday, to put their arms around them and pray with them as they bared their hearts to God and to us. I praise God for that physical, tangible, see-able outpouring of his grace. It was the best thing, the most powerful thing, that’s happened in our worship center in months. I pray you didn’t miss it because you were in a hurry to mow your lawn.
4) Exhortation – at the end of every assembly, one of our shepherds stands up to bless us. One of our elders, one of our spiritual fathers (to use a New Testament term), reads to us from the Holy Word of God. He challenges us to live in the coming week for Christ. He blesses us. And he prays for us. I don’t understand why anybody would walk out on that. You know it’s coming. We do it every week. One of the men this church family has ordained as the most Christ-like among us, one of the men we’ve said we will follow because he is so obviously following our Lord, one of the men we believe God has placed among us to shepherd us is going to get up and bless us! He’s going to read Holy Scripture to us! He’s going to pray! It’s incredibly important. It’s huge. I can’t understand why anybody would walk out on that blessing.
It ain’t over when the sermon is over. Usually it’s just getting started, the best part of our Christian assemblies together is still to come. God still has plenty of work to do — on you, on me, on our church. I lovingly encourage you to stick around.