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John 1:35–42; John 4:28–41; 2 Kings 5:1–3 Praise the Lord, church.  On this the “Year of Invitation,” let me remind you of the challenge to be strategically inviting people to church.  This week is one of the greatest opportunities you will have because thousands of churches across America will be observing “National Back to Church” Sunday.  It’s a great day for people who have just fallen out of the habit of going to church to get reconnected, and it’s a great day for people who have never been in church to give it a try. Open your Bible to John 1 and, put a bookmark in it. We’ll get to this passage in a few minutes. While you’re turning there let me share that I heard about a guy who complained to his mother that he didn’t feel like going to church that morning.  His mom said, “What are you talking about. Get out of bed and get going. Why on earth would you stay home from church?”  The man said, “I’ll give you two reasons. First, I don’t like those people. And second, they don’t like me.”  His mother said, “Well I’ll give you two reasons you should go. First, you’re fifty-nine years old. … And second, you’re the pastor.” I want to tell you that I definitely wanted to come to church today, and not because I get a paycheck for showing up!  J I wanted to come to church today to talk to you about why you should come to church today. And I wanted to come to church today to tell you why you should be so excited about church that you should want to invite friends to come to church with you next Sunday. To make it personal, I’m going to give you these as reasons why I want to come to church. A. Reasons to Come to Church First: I want to grow.  I believe weekly worship attendance is the most important behavior a person can establish that will spark spiritual growth. Coming to church weekly exposes you to God’s Word and God’s people. It resets the clock of your priorities on what’s really important and what kind of person you want to be. It’s like an opportunity for a weekly spiritual checkup to ensure we don’t get off track and that we are moving forward in our relationship with God.  I get something out of this time together every week.  I am shaped in the way I think and I am formed in relationship with you as I commit to being here. Consistency is key to growth.  Consistent worship attendance is key to your spiritual growth and it is vital that your children learn the importance of establishing regular worship attendance patterns as they move throughout life.  Once something becomes occasional, it can become optional.  Once something becomes optional, it can easily become obsolete.   Many people I speak to say they have just gotten out of the habit of going to church, even those who were once leaders, who were once passionate about worship, the Word, and the work of God’s people on mission together. “A member of a certain church, who previously had been attending services regularly, stopped going. After a few weeks, the pastor decided to visit him. It was a chilly evening. The pastor found the man at home alone, sitting before a blazing fire. Guessing the reason for his pastor’s visit, the man welcomed him, led him to a big chair near the fireplace and waited. The pastor made himself comfortable but said nothing. In the grave silence, he contemplated the play of the flames around the burning logs.” “After some minutes, the pastor took the fire tongs, carefully picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it to one side of the hearth all alone. Then he sat back in his chair, still silent. The host watched all this in quiet fascination. As the one lone ember’s flame diminished, there was a momentary glow, and then its fire was no more. Soon it was cold and “dead as a doornail”. Not a word had been spoken since the initial greeting. Just before the pastor was ready to leave, he picked up the cold, dead ember and placed it back in the middle of the fire. Immediately it began to glow once more with the light and warmth of the burning coals around it.” “As the pastor reached the door to leave, his host said, ‘Thank you so much for your visit; and especially for the fiery sermon. I will be back in church next Sunday.'” I don’t want to regress.  I don’t want to grow cold.  I want to grow and burn consistently for Christ!  I want my children to learn from the adults in this church as they sit in Sunday School, and children’s and youth classes.  I am better this morning for having heard Michelle Justice’s testimony of faith.  I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that.  When you’re not here you miss something. We wouldn’t waste an opportunity to grow our businesses or invest in our health, and yet it is easy to neglect what isn’t seen on the outside, the development of our souls, the transformation of our minds and the molding of our character.  God does meet us one on one, but as you read the Scriptures, you will notice that God most often did His work among the community of His people. I wonder what God thinks about a “take it or leave it” attitude when it comes to coming together for corporate worship.  He has something in mind for us when we come together.  He has a plan for our time.  He has an intended purpose for each one of us when we gather.  I come to find out what that is for my life!  He is at work all week in our lives to bring about circumstances that would draw us to Him, either for praise and thanksgiving or for help and comfort.  He intends to feed our souls through this weekly encounter.  Every week across America, the spiritual table is spread and we are invited to partake and many decide not to come.  The opportunity for spiritual nourishment is meant with a “no thank you” from the multitudes. The second reason I come to church is: I want to do what God says. Throughout Scripture are commands such as, “Let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers”. And, “Serve one another in love.” “Bear one another’s burdens.” “Worship the Lord in the beauty of his holiness.” “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  (Hebrews 10:25) I come to church because there are many commands in Scripture that I can’t obey unless I’m an active member of God’s family. Third: I want to be around people who sharpen me. I want to be around people whose goals are similar to my goals, whose values are similar to my values. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another,” (Proverbs 27:17) and I want to be sharpened by people who are pointed in the same direction I am. I can’t get that at the beach, the bar, or the ballgame. So I want to come to church. You are good for me.  I pray I am good for you.  We won’t always agree on everything.  We won’t always see eye to eye.  But your contribution to this Body makes my spiritual life better and makes my physical life richer.  Your viewpoint and dialogue with you about your journey are beneficial to me. We can easily get blinders on and not see beyond our hurt, pain or frustration and being in relationship with other Christians gives us an opportunity for someone outside our immediate situation to offer input and give us perspective. When I see kids like Ashley and Ethan investing time and effort to learn a song in order to help lead us in worship, I am challenged to give my best in the Lord’s service.  When I receive a card of encouragement or comfort from our Barnabus team, I am reminded that there are people who care about what I am going through.  When I kneel at an altar of prayer and someone comes and puts an arm around me and offers to pray with me, I am reminded I am not alone in my struggle. And the beautiful thing about the Body of Christ is that it is a comforting place to be in while God is smoothing off our rough edges.  We are patient and loving and grace giving with one another.  It’s a good place to be in because it is a nurturing environment in which to grow. The most important thing I can do for my children’s development is make sure they are in church.  They are learning from watching all of you.  They are being cared for by those who are instructing them.  They are learning to serve and develop gifts and abilities in a safe environment.  Because of what goes on here, we have an ongoing platform for spiritual conversation in our home.  Our children are getting sharper spiritually and relationally by being in this place.  My kids can learn math in school, but they can only learn to love God through my family and through God’s family. I want a better outlook on life. Studies show that people who attend church regularly are more optimistic and hope-filled than non-church goers. I want that.  If you want to be physically energized, hit our zumba class on Saturday mornings, but if you want to be energized on the inside, if you want to have hope that tomorrow can be a better day, stay connected to the life of the church.  You never know when someone will say what you need to hear or offer what you are in need of. Many of you will tell me that when you entered the church doors, you were down and out and desperate and at the close of a service, you had a whole new outlook, a fresh perspective and more than enough hope to go back into your life with courage and strength.  That’s what happens when we gather together!  What good stuff! I want to be part of a cause that’s bigger than me, and I want to invest in something that will last for eternity. And that’s the church. Finally, I want to come to church because more people come to Christ in church services than anywhere else on earth. I want to be there when that happens, and I want my family and friends to be some of those who come to Christ in those church services.  Conditions are favorable for people to get saved and for God to change people’s lives as we meet together. When you invite people into a spiritual conversation or a spiritual climate such as a church service, conditions are favorable for them to meet God. Let me show you some examples of bringing or inviting people into a spiritual environment. The first is found in John 1. The second half of John 1 is the story of Jesus’ baptism. At thirty years old (the age at which a priest is able to begin making sacrifices in the Temple), Jesus leaves his home in Nazareth and journeys to the Jordan River. John 1:35 says: 35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” 37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour. 40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). As soon as Andrew met Jesus, he went to find his brother, so he could meet Jesus. I’ve given you some reasons I come to church, now let me give you some reasons you should invite people to church: B. Reasons to Invite 1. People who meet Jesus are so moved by Him that they want to introduce Him to those they care about. “Simon,” Andrew says, “we have found the Messiah.”  This is the reason Christianity is the largest movement on earth today. People who meet Jesus want to introduce Him to their friends and family. And the number one place people are introduced to Jesus is in Sunday morning church services.  Andrew loved his brother and he didn’t want his brother to miss out on meeting Jesus. This week you are going to have somewhere between two or three conversations with people you care about, some of whom may not know Jesus. Why would you want to invite them to church? Because you want to introduce them to Jesus. Flip forward in your Bible to John 4. In John 4, Jesus and the fellas are traveling south at noontime when they pass near the Samaritan city of Sychar. There’s a well three miles outside of town. When they reach it, Jesus says, “Guys, I’m going to rest here for a while. You go into town and get us some food.” While they’re in town, a woman comes to the well. Why did she come to this well? Because it’s three miles outside of town. She doesn’t feel comfortable mingling with the townspeople. Why does she come at noon? Everyone in Middle Eastern cultures fetch water in the morning and the evening, before the sun gets hot. Water is heavy. No one carries water at noon. Why is this woman here at this time? She doesn’t want to meet anyone. She’s an outcast because she’s slept with almost every man in the village. As she approaches the well, Jesus strikes up a conversation with her. In the midst of their conversation, she decides that he must be the Messiah. Look at verse 28. John 4:28-41 28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him. 31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” 33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?” 34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” 39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers. This woman didn’t want to talk to anyone in her town … until she met Jesus. Why did she invite them to meet Jesus? Because … 2. People who meet Jesus are so moved by him that they want to introduce everyone to him, including those they don’t even know. “Come and see,” she says. “Come and meet a man who may be the Messiah.” This week you are going to have somewhere between two and ten encounters with people you may not care about because they aren’t a part of your life in a significant way. They may be people who are behind counters in grocery stores or gas stations, people at the gym, or people at athletic events with your children. Striking up a conversation with them could be awkward. I want to suggest that very few encounters you have this week will be as awkward as the encounter the woman at the well had with the people of Sychar. These were people who had shamed her for sleeping around. These were people who condemned her. These were people who did not like her, and she probably didn’t like them much either. She’d come to the well at noon to avoid these people. But then she met Jesus. And knowing him touched her so deeply that it didn’t matter how awkward the conversation might be. She wanted every member of her village to meet Him.  Meeting Jesus causes us to want to move towards people we would have previously avoided! How deeply has Jesus touched you? Who could you invite to church next week?  How would you feel if someone you invite comes and receives Christ? One more story: Turn way back into the Old Testament book of 2 Kings, chapter 5. Second Kings 5 takes place during a time in Israel’s history when the northern kingdom of Israel was at war with its neighbor, Syria. Sound familiar? In that day, Syria, who, in the story we’re about to read is called, “Aram,” was much stronger than Israel. From time to time the Syrians would invade Israel and carry Israelite children into slavery. Look at 2 Kings 5:1-3.  2 Kings 5:1-3 1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. 2 Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” This young girl has been taken from her family. She now lives in a culture that is not her own, with people who are not her own. They don’t speak her language. They don’t love her. These people use her. Once she was free, now she’s a slave—with no prospect of ever being released. And she does something extraordinary. When her master is stricken with leprosy, she encourages him to go to Israel for a cure. Why? Because … 3. People who have been touched by God are so moved by Him that they want to introduce everyone to Him, including their enemies. “Go to Israel,” she says. “You’ll get cured there.”  Friends, there are all kinds of sicknesses in our world. We all know people who’ve suffered from cancer and other terrible diseases. But the worst disease of all is a universal disease called “sin,” and we’ve all got a terminal case of it. God’s Word teaches that the only cure for sin is the saving grace of Jesus Christ. The Apostle John says that we were in darkness and that Jesus came to deliver us. John 1:12–13 says, “To all who receive (Jesus), to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” Who do you know that you’d like to see born of God?  Who do you know that you’d like to NOT see become born of God? Jesus once told a story in Luke 16 about a rich man who died and was taken to hell. According to Jesus’ description, hell was such a terrible place that this rich man begged Father Abraham to send someone to cool his tongue with even one small drop of water. When Abraham informs him that it’s impossible because of the immoveable chasm between heaven and hell, the formerly rich man says, “Then I beg you, father, send somebody to tell my brothers, because nobody should come to this place of torment.” What you learn from that story is that five minutes in hell is enough to turn the most hardened of sinners into a raving evangelist. Friends, why would you want to invite people to church next Sunday, or any Sunday? Because their only chance to gain heaven and avoid hell is by coming to Christ. And their best chance of coming to Christ is in church. The truth about hell is that it is a real place with real people, people you know, who are going to spend eternity there unless somebody does something about it. Heaven is a place of wonder, but hell is a place of torment so hellacious that you wouldn’t want your worst enemy to wind up there. Isn’t that true? Friends, next weekend is one of those strategic times when we are going to invite people to come to Christ, right in church.  I want you to use the blue card in your bulletin to start writing the names of people on that you intend to invite.  Just write their names on the back.  You’ll turn that in at the conclusion of the service and the staff will have the names to pray over. When you approach the people you want to invite simply say, “Hey, next Sunday is National Back to Church Sunday all over the country. Would you come to church with me next Sunday?” Repeat this after me:  “Hey!” (Say that: “Hey!”)  Next Sunday (Next Sunday)  Is National Back to Church Sunday (Is National Back to Church Sunday) All over the country. (All over the country) Would you come with me to church next Sunday? (Would you come with me to church next Sunday?)  That’s all you need to say. Pray first and be bold. God will do the rest. Will you renew your commitment to making the attending of church a priority in your life?  Will you pledge to make it a priority to introduce people to Jesus through the ministry of this church and through your personal testimony?  Will you choose church?  
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