1 FAITHFUL ATTENDANCE by Raymond T. Exum Crystal Lake Church of Christ, Crystal Lake, Illinois Oct. 27, 1996 This morning I would appreciate it if you would look with me at the book of Colossians in the New Testament, chapter 3, where the apostle Paul has some very important statements to make on our dedication to the church. Several months ago, I read a biography of Will Rogers. He was really before my time and maybe some here remember him, but he must have been a great entertainer and a great comedian. There was a statement that he liked to make at the beginning of his comedy routines. Many times he would say "all I know is what I read in the paper" and then he would refer to some kind of funny article that he got from the newspaper. He didn't have to make his jokes up; they came straight out of the paper. I am reminded of that when I think of an article on a spiritual subject that appeared in last Sunday's Northwest Herald, way down at the bottom of a page over in the middle of a section. It is entitled "Lucky Church." I thought it was quite interesting what the newspaper reported. This is what the article says. "In Caroltown, Virginia, parishioners go to church, put money in the collection basket. It's almost expected. But at the Sweet Haven Holy Church of God you can get some money back. After each service Bishop Nathaniel Johnson passes out green play money. If you find a bill with the Bishop's initials on the back, you win between $10-$100. Up to four people win each Sunday, but there's a catch. Parishioners must be at church for the entire service, which often lasts more than two hours. Bishop Johnson said we're just giving enough to put some bread in the cupboard and some gas in the car. He said attendance has doubled to about 100 people since he started the program about three years ago." I bet that might be an article that Will Rogers might have used back in his comedy routine. It certainly shows that there are some places where people attend church for the wrong reason. Really, church attendance ought to be faithful in our lives because we put God first. Throughout the Bible we have many statements where we are told to put God first. In the 10 Commandments, the first of the ten reads this way: "You shall have no other gods before me." In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you." You may recall in Matthew 22 there was a scribe that came to Jesus and the scribe said, "I want you to tell me what the greatest commandment is." And Jesus said it is this: "You shall love the Lord your
2 God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment." In the Old Testament and in the New Testament we are told therefore that God must be first in our hearts whether we're talking about church attendance or any other spiritual subject. Here in Colossians chapter 3 the apostle Paul makes another statement along these same lines. We know that the church at Colossae had gone through a number of doctrinal problems. They had the gnostics there. They had the anti-nomians, those who didn't believe in the law. They had a number of other philosophies there that sounded very philosophical and educational and high-brow, and yet they were false and the church still had survived in spite of all these doctrines they had to fight. So in Chapter 3 the apostle Paul is trying to encourage them to keep on remaining strong and being faithful. Please notice what Paul said in Colossians chapter 3 verses 1-4. "If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory." I would like to discuss this morning the subject of faithful attendance, but let us base these thoughts on these four verses here. Notice first what Paul had to say here in verse 1. Paul said "if we had been raised up." I would say that reference here is to baptism. We are raised out of the waters of baptism as it is described in Romans 6. We are raised up. If we have been baptized according to verse 1, then we ought to put our thoughts on things above, heavenly things. In verse 2, we must set our minds on things above. Notice, this is not a suggestion. This was not just a nice word of advice. Verse 2 is a command. "Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth." Notice verse 3. We are supposed to have died to this life. That is to the lust of this life, to the pull of this life. Out of these four verses, this might be the most difficult one to carry out. The truth is that there are two worlds out there and we cannot have it both ways. We have to choose between one world or the other. On the one hand there is the materialistic world, and it looks so entrancing and looks so exciting. It's so pretty. It has so much appeal to it. And yet someday it is all going to pass away. If we live long enough we will begin to see it decay in our lifetimes, and when the Lord returns we will see that that world will be burned up with fire. It will cease to exist. On the other hand there is the other world where God lives. God's world will never decay. It will never burn up. It will not pass away. So here are the two world that have been set before us. And the apostle Paul is saying you've got to make a choice. Paul says if you have been raised up with Christ in baptism, then it ought to be the heavenly world that we are pursuing. That should be our goal and not just to please the materialistic world. It is in verse 4, then, that Paul said that when the Lord returns we want to be with Him in glory. That is, if we have placed the heavenly world first in our
3 hearts, then the Lord will take us to that place, but we've got to make sure we place that world over the material world around us. That includes putting Christ before everything else in this life, including even our families. In fact the Lord said that there will be some occasions where we have to put Him ahead of our father or mother or son or daughter or brother or sister. I can think about a person who attended here for quite awhile. That person ultimately chose not to be baptized because it would upset that person's parents. That's what Paul is saying here. You have to make a decision; which world is it going to be. Is it going to be the world of our parents or our children or our brothers and sisters or husbands and wives, or will it be the heavenly world that the Bible speaks of? I can think of some members here this morning who indeed have given up the love of their parents because they have placed Christ first in their hearts. There are other things that we have to give up. In fact Jesus said that if we are not willing to take up our cross and follow Him then we are not worthy of Jesus Christ. I think today that with many people it's really a problem of being too busy in the materialistic world, just being caught up with all of these activities. You may recall back in Matthew 24 that Jesus spoke of the second coming. This is in the second half of chapter 24, not the first half. In the second half, after verse 36, Jesus said that His coming would be like it was in the days of Noah. Jesus said that back in the days of the flood they were eating and drinking and marrying and giving in marriage until the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and took them all away. Well, why didn't they know? Weren't they involved in persecuting Noah? No, I don't think they had time to persecute Noah. They were caught up in all of these other activities which were not necessarily wrong in themselves. They were marrying. They were giving in marriage. They were eating. They were having family reunions. They were doing all of these other things and they did not notice for 120 years that there was a man over there preaching the gospel, urging them to repent and to get ready for the flood. They didn't know until the flood came and swept them all away. As we look at McHenry County, and Kane County, and Lake County and some of the other surrounding counties, I think you will agree with me that many of our friends are like that. They're caught up in that materialistic world. It's not that they're the most rotten people that ever lived. It is that they are so busy in all of these other things that they overlook the gospel of Christ. And when the end comes they will be shocked to find out that they're not going to be saved. The apostle Paul therefore was urging the Christians at Colossae to consider these two choices and to make a choice. Paul said we ought to set our mind on the heavenly things, not earthly things; set our mind on what is above; die to this world because Jesus Christ is our Life. If we think about those four verses then may I take us just a little further to the subject of church attendance. Why should we be faithful in our attendance? As I was preparing this lesson I thought, "I wonder if there is something in the Guinness Book of World Records on church attendance." So, I pulled out the copy that I have of the Guinness Book of
4 World Records and I could not believe it. There is a category on page 425 for church attendance. The record in the world as far as the Guinness company knows -- you may not believe this -- but it is held by a man in Illinois. He lives in Columbia, Illinois. I never heard of Columbia, Illinois, so I looked it up and it's down about 20 miles south of East St. Louis. But out of all the countries of the world and all of the states in the United States, the current record for church attendance is held by Ronald E. Daab, who is a member of the St. Paul United Church of Christ in Columbia, Illinois. He has attended worship for 3,200 consecutive Sundays. That is an unbroken period of church attendance of over 61 years, the current world record in church attendance. It's over 61 years never missing a single Sunday. Somebody might say, well how did he do it? I want to tell you how he did it. I've never met the man, never run into Mr.Daab, and yet I know what his secret is concerning church attendance. How is it that he has been able to attend every Sunday for over 61 years without a break? I'll tell you what the secret is. The secret is this. It is because he wants to be there. Did you know that 99% of the things that we do in this life we do because we want to?. There are very, very few things that we are actually forced to do. Most of the activities that we are involved in in this life involve a choice that we have. We can choose to do them; we can choose not to do them. Here is a man who has chosen for over 61 years to be present at that particular denominational church every Sunday. I think there is a message there. The message is, we can control our destinies. We can decide the course of our lives. If people are unfaithful in attendance, it is because there is a problem of the heart, a problem of the heart that needs to be corrected. Why should we be faithful in attendance? I want to give you three reasons to think about. The first reason we ought to be faithful to be here is because we want to worship God. That's the number one reason. There should be a joy in our hearts that we have been assembled together and worshiping God, knowing that God loves us, that He is watching over us. We reciprocate. We respond to His love by coming and assembling here and praising Him and worshiping Him. That should be the number one reason that we assemble together on the first day of the week. About a month ago we had a lady who was visiting with us at this congregation from Arkansas. As she was leaving, she asked if she could have a copy of our church bulletin. I said we were just going to print it that evening. In other words, I was telling her the one I give you is going to be out of date. There won't be much in it that will be of interest to you and she said it doesn't matter how old it is. She said "I need a copy of your church bulletin to show the preacher back home that I went to church this morning." I was thinking, "This is terrible! You mean you came to get your ticket punched." I mean that's basically what she was saying, you know. That she needed proof that she was here so the preacher down there wouldn't get mad at her and get upset and so forth. I was thinking, "That is not the right reason for going to church." That's not the reason, just to prove to the preacher or to the elders that you were faithful. That is absolutely the wrong reason for being here, but nevertheless, I gave her an old bulletin and I guess she showed it to
5 the guy when she got back down there. But our first reason for faithful attendance ought to be to praise God, to worship God. The second reason ought to be because of the joy that we have at being with our brothers and sisters in Christ. On the first Sunday of this year I missed because of illness and it was no fun being sick, but the worst thing about it was not getting to be with my brothers and sisters in Christ on the first day of the week. I missed the hand shakes. There are some people here who have large hands who almost crush mine. I still missed their handshakes. There are other people that have very small, tiny hands, and their hands get swallowed up in mine. I missed those handshakes. I missed the children. I missed the laughter. I missed the noise before worship begins here. It is a beautiful noise, because it shows that everybody is happy to see everybody else again. I missed the hugs. I missed the "howdies." I missed the "good mornings." I missed the "how are things going with you today." I missed the people. I missed the church. I really missed the church. How do people live without the church? Thank God for the church. Thank God for the Lord's supper that brings us together around His table on the first day of every week. Thank God for the singing that not only praises God but unites our hearts together as we assemble Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night. I missed the prayers that are given on our behalf at every service that we have here. The love that we ought to enjoy coming to church is because it's an opportunity to worship God, but it's also an opportunity to enjoy the fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. There's another reason we ought to be faithful in attendance and this is to set a good example for our children. Not just our own children, but for other young people in the congregation. Beloved, these are rough times for Christian young people. The world has gotten a lot more corrupt than it was when we were growing up. The world thinks nothing at all of scheduling school events on Sunday. They schedule school events Sunday morning at 10:00 in the morning these days. Sunday means nothing anymore. Sunday basically today in our society has just become a second Saturday. It's just become another part of weekend of recreation and school activities and things such as that. Beloved, our young people need to see that attendance is important to us, that we are putting the Lord's church first, that we believe in faithful attendance Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night. If we fail in this area then what can we expect of our children. Somebody might say, "Do you really mean that you should put the church before school activities?" Beloved, look at this passage once again. In verse 1 Paul said we are to seek those things which are above; verse 2, we are to set our minds on things above; verse 3, we are to be dead to this world; verse 4, when the Lord returns, He will reward us. That is a beautiful argument there. Verse 1 goes on to verse 2, verse 2 is the basis of verse 3, verse 3 is the basis of verse 4. It all holds together. What Paul is saying there is that we have to make a choice. I don't see any exceptions in these four verses, do you? I don't see any loopholes that we can use to try to get out of being faithful in our attendance. Somebody might say, "Yeah, but our teenagers will not be able to get any part time jobs unless they agree to
6 work on Sundays. Well that may be true, that may not be true. I remember several years ago when our son went to apply at a grocery store here in Crystal Lake. The first thing they asked him was, "Are you willing to work on any of the seven days of the week?" He said "I will not work Sunday morning, Sunday night, or Wednesday night." You know, they would not even give him an application. They wouldn't even hand him the piece of paper to apply for the job on. They would not allow him even to apply to work at that store because he was not willing to work Sunday morning, Sunday night or Wednesday night. Somebody might say, "Well that was, I guess, a tragedy in his life." No. Several days later he got a much better job than he ever would have had at that grocery store, a much better job that did allow him off Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, and Wednesday nights. I think sometimes parents need to take a stronger stand with their teenagers. There are some parents who are afraid of upsetting their children, some parents who are afraid of saying, "You're going to be at church, you won't be at that school event or you wont be at that part time job." It ought to be the other way around. Instead of parents being afraid of upsetting their children, children ought to be afraid of upsetting their parents. Maybe we need to take the attitude that Joshua had. Joshua said, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." In other words, you put your feet under my table, eat my food, then we are going to serve the Lord. Somebody might say, "Well yeah, but you can't make a living that way. You can't make any money that way, there's no spending money." Beloved, we've got to ask ourselves a question. Do we believe Colossians 3:1-4 or not? That's what it comes down to. If we don't believe it, then let's stop being hypocrites and calling ourselves Christians. The word Christian means "a follower of Christ." Here is an inspired apostle of Jesus Christ speaking on His behalf and the apostle Paul said "set your mind on things above and not on things here on the earth." We have to decide if are we going to believe that or are we not going to believe that? There's a plaque that I've seen in some houses, and we don't have one in our house. I wish we did, but I've seen it in other houses. It's a plaque that hangs on the wall. It says this: "Christ is the head of this house, the unseen guest at every meal, the silent listener to every conversation." Isn't that good? I want to read that again. "Christ is the head of this house, the unseen guest at every meal, the silent listener to every conversation." Faithful attendance therefore finally comes down to whether or not we want to put Christ first in our lives. Are we going to do that? I've said in the past that there's something that I just hate. It is my pet peeve in life. I'm going to say it again. I hate call waiting. There is nothing worse than to hear that little sound and be put on hold. And who's on the other line? Well, the person doesn't know. It could be some boiler room salesman who's trying to unload some cedar for the driveway. Who knows? When I get put on hold, what that says to me is that other person is more important than me and here I am sitting there on hold and the other person is carrying on a conversation with the one that I need to talk to. So I really get upset. Of course, I'm not going to get upset on the phone when you come
7 back and take me off the hold. I'm going to be my normal, sweet self and use kind words, but inside I'm going to be raging,?cause I hate it when I get put on hold. And yet don't people do that with the Lord Jesus? Isn't that really what we're talking about here? People are saying, "Oh, wait just a minute Lord. The world is calling and you just gotta hold on a minute, so just stay right there. I'm going to put you on hold. I'll get back to you shortly. In the meantime, I'm going to be pleasing the world." Aren't people really saying, "Lord, could I call you back in a few hours? I mean as soon as I finish pleasing the world then I'll get back to you and we'll continue this conversation." Aren't we really putting the Lord on hold when we put the world before the church and faithful attendance? When I was in high school, I was in the marching band and the instructor that we had loved the marches of John Philip Sousa. I remember there was one particular piece by John Philip Sousa that we played quite frequently and I didn't understand the title of it at first. It was entitled "Semper Fidelis." It took a while to understand the meaning of it. I found it was the official theme song of the United States Marine Corp. I found out what it meant in Latin. Semper fidelis: always faithful. That should be our motto as Christians today. As we sometimes sing: "I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back. No turning back. Though none go with me, I still will follow. Though none go with me, I still will follow. Though none go with me, I still will follow. No turning back. No turning back. My cross I'll carry till I see Jesus. My cross I'll carry till I see Jesus. My cross I'll carry till I see Jesus. No turning back. No turning back." When it comes to our commitment to Christ, what Paul is saying here, is that it has to be total. There can be no loopholes. There can be no exceptions. The world, the materialistic world, will ultimately defeat us, Paul is saying here. After all, beloved, if the Lord tarries and does not return for a few more years, the day will come when all of us will have passed out of this life. If we have the opportunity to think about things in the last few moments before we leave this life, what are we going to think about? Are we going to say, "Well, I sure wish I'd spent more time at that fast food restaurant?" Are we going to say, "I sure wish I had spent more time in school activities instead of going to church?" Or are we going to call upon the preacher or the elders to come and read TV GUIDE with us as we are about to depart from this life? Beloved, the only thing that will matter at that time is whether or not we were committed to Jesus Christ in this life. It will matter if we were able to say, "Lord my mind has been on reaching heaven and being with You someday." It will matter if we were able to say, "Lord, I didn't make the school team but I was faithful to your church", and "Lord, maybe I didn't get that good paying job, but I was faithful to your kingdom" and "Lord, I even had to forgo the love of some of my dear relatives, but I was willing to do so because my mind was set on reaching heaven." May those be our thoughts if we are in that situation some day and ready to depart from this life.
8 The apostle Paul there was encouraging the church at Colossae not to give up, not to give in, but to put the kingdom of Jesus Christ above everything else in this life. Beloved, may we encourage one another this morning. Maybe there could be some silent recommitments as we sing the invitation song; maybe some public recommitments when we ask the church to pray for us and to make us stronger, that we will not give in to some of these things, but remain faithful regardless of what the cost may be, regardless of what the consequences may be in this life. If you would like prayers on your behalf, or if someone is ready to obey the gospel, we urge you to think seriously about these four verses. If you're not ready to completely commit your life to that goal of reaching heaven, then you are not ready to be baptized. I've got to be frank with you. You're not ready. But if you are at the point where this would be a commitment for as long as you live to the kingdom of Jesus Christ, if you understand baptism and what it involves, the forgiveness of sins and so forth, then we ask you to make that decision. Let's all please stand and sing at this time and please come to the front.