Too little too late! What a haunting thought. It came to my mind this week several times. Yesterday, for example, as Sonya and I walked down the hall of one of our care facilities to celebrate the 90th birthday of one of our precious ladies, we had seen the fire truck, ambulance, and rescue unit with lights flashing outside, and we knew that something had happened to someone. I said a silent prayer as we entered the building and breathed a sigh of relief as I saw the birthday girl sitting in her wheelchair completely oblivious to any problems going on or to the coming surprise party. Then we saw it. The gurney. The serious looks of the professionals wheeling the patient towards the door. And the automatic CPR machine with the patient’s own hands strapped to its sides holding it to her chest while it kept her heart beating, and I prayed, “Lord, let it not be too little too late.”
We hear of churches across our nation closing their doors, and I wonder if it was because their pastors tried “too little too late.” In fact, right across the highway from us is a Methodist church that in a few weeks will meet for the last time. They will join with two other Methodist churches, and the three will become one church. This particular Methodist church building will be bulldozed and become…. Who knows? Another fast food restaurant? A bank? A gas station? Heaven knows Decatur needs more of these, right? The last thing we need is another church! God’s heart must be breaking because it isn’t just pastors who are doing “too little too late.” All of us must take the blame.
In Revelation 2 & 3, Jesus shared His thoughts with 7 churches in Asia minor, and regardless of your interpretive views of the book, there is a message for the 21st Century American Church that I believe is on life support. Now I will admit, there are churches in our country that are thriving because they have discovered the key, and as I shared with my church yesterday, it isn’t rocket science. God revealed the key as far back as Deuteronomy 30. Moses described it a little differently. He said that it isn’t too mysterious or so far off that someone would need to go across the sea and bring the message to them so that they would be able to understand it. It is simply this: love God, obey His commandments, and God will multiply His people. That is church growth. Sadly, most of our churches are more like the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2. We start out strong. Loving God and loving people. Serving God and serving people. We do all the right things as we tell people about Jesus. We are on fire for the Lord, but then it happens. It isn’t intentional; it just happens. Our quiet time isn’t as exciting as it once was. Worship doesn’t have the same appeal. We stop talking about Jesus to our lost friends. And we have left that first love.
That’s what it looks like on an individual basis, but churches do it, too. We get caught up in programs rather than focused on people. Evangelism turns into social ministries. Pretty soon we find ourselves taking care of internal needs to the neglect of a lost and hurting world. Now we may continue to give to missions, but we seldom talk about or do anything about the lost people surrounding our own church. Just like the church at Ephesus. And Jesus had a warning for them in Revelation 2:5. “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place–unless you repent.” Do you know what that means? This is the paraphrase I shared with my church yesterday: If you don’t get your act together, if you don’t repent and start doing kingdom business My way, if you don’t understand that this is My church – Jesus talking – and come back to loving God supremely and loving lost people enough to go out and reach them with the gospel of Jesus Christ, then I’m going to come back quickly and remove that which makes you a church – the presence and power of My Holy Spirit.
So understand that there is still hope even if you have left your first love, but only if you aren’t trying to do too little too late. And that is my prayer for all of us because the last thing we need in the city of Decatur are more fast food restaurants.