What is the Church to Do? Gather! part 4

8 Apr

Christians get together.

Over and over and over and over again.

Week after week we meet as a church. Why?

We are looking at Hebrews 10 and we’ve seen that one reason has to do with God. A second reason for our gathering together is found in verse 23, and it has to do with you.  

The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

We have this amazing future salvation in store for us, that’s part of our basic confession, but right now, there are a lot of things that can tempt us to lose sight of that hope or give up on that hope. 

I picture it a little like being in the middle of the ocean hanging on to a plank of wood, waiting for the plane to come rescue us, and we know it’s coming, but sometimes we get tired, treading water out there, and we want to give up and give in, and a big part of the purpose of this book of Hebrews is to encourage us to persevere. 

But this persevering isn’t only an individual thing, to keep hanging on to our hope, God’s given us help, and one of the primary helps we have is each other. 

This is something the writer says more clearly back in Hebrews 3, verses 12 and 13. 

He writes, “Take care brothers lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.”

Which is a warning.  Take care.  Watch out.  There is a danger you face. 

What is that danger you face?  

It is that you develop an evil, unbelieving heart and what will that heart do, it will cause you to fall away from the living God. 

How do we take care then?  How do we watch out?  

He tells us. 

“But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today…’ 

Deep, biblical, relationships, that’s how you watch out that you don’t develop an evil, unbelieving heart. 

How serious is this though?

What happens if you don’t develop these kinds of relationships?

The end of verse 13, 

“But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

What happens if you are not exhorting one another day after day is that sin lies to you and it lies to you so much that your heart which once might have been soft towards the truth slowly grows harder and harder until you can characterize it as evil and it leads you to fall away from the living God, in other words, you stop holding fast to your confession of hope. 

There are some people who think of themselves as really strong spiritually, but if you don’t have regular relationships with other believers, where you are gathering together to remind each other of the truth, then it doesn’t matter how strong you are right now, it’s not going to be too long until you are fairly weak.

I could be the strongest guy in the universe physically, but if I don’t eat for two weeks, you know I am not going to be that strong any longer, and the same is true spiritually, we gather, because you need these gathers if you are going to hold fast to your confession of hope. 

A third reason we gather is each other.   

When the New Testament talks about why we get together, the primary reason it gives is to help each other grow spiritually.  

We might think the primary reason is to worship, and of course it is to worship, but we can worship God anywhere, obviously and we need to, one of the specific reasons this gathering is so important is because it is a unique opportunity to grow spiritually as believers. 

Here we see it put like this, 

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…”

And how do we do that?

He tells us one, “we can’t stop meeting together, and we need to keep encouraging one another.”

So in other words, one of the primary ways we obey this command to stir up one another to love and good works, is through this weekly gathering that we have. 

This is how Paul when he talks about spiritual gifts and the way they operate in the church, this is how he saw the purpose of our gatherings. 

He says in 1 Corinthians 14:12, “So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in the building up the church.”

Then later when he talks about what’s going on there in the corporate worship, he offers a summary principle.  1 Corinthians 14:26, “Let all things be done for building up.”

This is why we do what we do when we gather.  It’s for helping each other love God, obey God, and do what’s right. 

In fact, this is interesting and I think we sometimes miss it, but this is a big part of why we sing.   

You say, why do I sing in church?  To praise God.  Yeah of course. 

To encourage myself. 

O.k.

But Paul tells us also, it is to help each other grow. 

Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

“Singing is for teaching.  Praise is for instruction.  Adoration is for admonition.”

I think we have all met people whose basic approach to life is that of a taker.  Every relationship, their default mode, is to take and they don’t really think outside of that, about how they can serve the other person.   And there are people who approach these gatherings that we have as a church like that.  This getting together is about them.  If they feel like it they come.  A good time on Sunday is when they had a good time on Sunday.  That was good worship service because it made me feel good.  They, what they want, their perspective, it is the lens through which they view everything, they are takers.  But that’s not the right way for us to approach this gathering, this is about helping each other, love more, obey better.  You come here as a believer for each other. 

That’s why I preach and why you should listen, you should be listening so you can learn better how to love God and other people throughout the week.  That’s part of why you give so I can study all week long, so I can help you be better at loving God and others. 

That’s why the guys lead the singing, they are thinking how can we encourage the people who come to hold on to their hope, to see the glory of God, how can we lift them up. 

That’s why some of us clap our hands when we sing, we are thinking, how can I help this other person focus on God better and feel more comfortable to express their love for God. 

That’s why many of you get here early, so you can talk to others and get to know them.  That’s why some of you have developed the cd ministry and done bulletins, you are thinking how can I help my brothers and sisters in Christ.  That’s why some of you try to talk to people who are new here for the first time, that’s why you invite people to your gospel communities, that’s why you stay around for a little while after church because you want to see how you can be an encouragement. 

I don’t want you to think of these gatherings on Sunday as a show that you come to watch, because a show doesn’t care about you, if you are there or not, it doesn’t matter, someone is going to fill the seat.  Instead, think of these gatherings as a meeting of the family, and so you don’t usually go to family gatherings in order to be entertained or to get your needs met, you go because you love the people, and you want to be of help to them.  

Specifically, the writer says you need to consider how to spur one another on. 

That’s part of why don’t give up on gathering with your church family.  

What he’s saying is you need to have a group of believers, whom you are specifically thinking deeply about helping.  That you are so committed to, that you are willing to put yourself out so they can move forward in Christ, and obviously obeying this command is not going to end with our gatherings on Sundays, but it needs to start here.  

It must. 

What is the Church to Do? Gather! Part 3

26 Mar

We are to get together as a church on a regular basis.

But what for?

After reminding us why we gather in chapter 10, verses 19 through 21, the writer of Hebrews, draws out three implications for our life together as a church in verses 22 through 25.  And I think those three implications give us a good grid for what’s supposed to be happening when we gather as a church. 

The first purpose we get together has to do with God.    

He writes in verse 22, “Let us draw near.”

To whom?  

To God. 

If we have the right to free access to God and that right has been purchased for us at such a high price, the blood of His Son, then we ought to use it. 

That’s the point. 

Can you imagine if God had said to Adam after he was kicked out of the garden of Eden, that he had the right once again to go back into the garden, where he would enjoy that special access to God, what would Adam have done, of course he would have gone back in?

And can you imagine and Israelite, walking around the tabernacle and being told, he could enter into the holy of holies in order to enjoy God’s special presence, what he would have done?  He would have been frightened I think, but what a privilege. 

And the writer of Hebrews is saying in a sense, that is what God has done for us through Christ, he’s made it possible for us all to enter the special presence of God, through the work of Jesus and of course, with this kind of privilege open to us, we should use it. 

We gather together for God-centered reasons. We gather together to commune with God, to approach Him, to worship and pray.

We need this more than we need anything else in our lives, we need to be with God, to draw near, and how we do that, exactly?  

A big part of how we do that is through community.  That’s why these commands are tied together here.  It’s not just drawing near in your prayer closet, though you need to do that, but here it’s us drawing near. 

Now, that I hope should be pretty obvious. 

But, what I like as I look at verse 22, is how the writer gives us some specific instructions on the way we should approach God as we gather. 

Let us draw near with a true heart. 

Let us draw near in full assurance of faith. 

With our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  

In other words, when we gather to approach God, our worship should be sincere.  

Draw near with a true heart tells us that we are not gathering together to manipulate or fool God into giving us what we want through our religious activity.  

This is a drawing near that should start with a sincere desire for God and a willingness to obey Him.

I would hope that would mark our weekly get togethers, that we are coming to God with people who are done with playing games. 

Second, our worship should be confident.  

Draw near with full assurance of the faith tells us that we are not gathering together because we are frightened about God’s attitude towards us.  

This is a drawing near that is motivated by a confidence and certainty that God is for us because of what we know is true from the gospel. 

And third, our worship should be based on a genuine, existing relationship with God.  

He says, draw near with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water, and honestly that is a little bit of a complicated phrase, what does it mean, but at the very least, notice it is past tense which means it is something that is done and it is imagery, we are talking about people who are forgiven – their hearts have been sprinkled clean and who have been identified as Christians – their bodies have been washed with pure water – which may mean the same thing as hearts sprinkled basically, it could be synonymous, or it could mean they have identified themselves with the body of Christ through baptism. 

Obviously, we love if people who aren’t Christians come and join us on Sundays, that is great, they have a chance to hear the gospel, but this gathering, is primarily for Christians.

Our goal isn’t to get a lot of non-Christians to like what we do on Sundays, instead, the first reason we come together as believers is to worship God and to be changed by God so that we can go out from here to share the gospel with the lost and make disciples.  

What is the Church to Do? Part 2

15 Mar

The church gathers.

We get together week after week.

That seems obvious.

But, why?  

Why is gathering as a church so important? It’s a command. We see that in Hebrews 10:19-25. But, it’s not just a command. There are reasons.  

In fact, if you look at Hebrews 10:19-25 you will notice the writer is making an argument.    

We know that because he begins with the word therefore. 

Do this because.  

And he summarizes the because in verses 19 and 21 when he says, “Therefore brothers, since we have” in verse 19 and then again in verse 21, “and since we have…” When he uses that word since, it is kind of like he’s quickly drawing our attention to the main points he wants to have in our minds as we think about the exhortations we are going to read about our lives as a church. 

And those two main points are, verse 19, one, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is through his flesh. And two, verse 21, since, we have a great priest over the house of God.

Let us, let us, let us.  

So you can sort of see the flow of the passage.  It’s two realities, two sinces, and three implications. It’s kind of like here are your privileges as a church and then here are your responsibilities, and what I wanted you to see and this is what I am emphasizing, is that he doesn’t simply tell us our responsibilities, what to do as a church when we gather, he gives us reasons, he helps us understand the significance of our gathering together, he makes an argument. 

And that’s important because there are lots of people throughout the world that gather together for lots of different reasons. But when you think about this gathering, the gathering together of the church, there’s a unique kind of reason for it, and it’s important you understand that unique kind of reason because it’s not really all that exciting if you just go to church and attend, but you don’t really understand the gospel reasons behind going.  What we are hoping for when we talk about gathering is not just people who come weekly and don’t really know why they are getting together. 

Now if you want to know why a lot of people go to church and why they make a priority out of gathering, it is because they think going to church and what they do at church, somehow that activity can make them right with God or get God to like them or keep them right with God. But that’s not the reasons we gather.

The reasons we gather have to do with what God has already done for us and is doing for us through Jesus. 

The first reason the writer of Hebrews gives us in verse 19 is because we have the right to come into God’s presence. 

He says, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh.

Which might sound funny to you because of the word holy place and this talk of a curtain, being Jesus’ flesh.  But really what he’s doing when he uses those ideas is trying to help us appreciate what a big privilege we have as a church by connecting the story of our lives to the great story God’s been writing in the universe. 

There were these people in the Old Testament, you know them, the Israelites, and God had a unique relationship with them, they were His people, and they had a unique privilege in that God dwelt with them in a special way, in this place that was called the tabernacle and later the temple.  This was like God’s house. And in that tabernacle there was a special part, called the holy place and then even beyond that and behind a curtain, there was a place they called the holy of holies, which was like God’s inner sanctuary. 

And of course there were all kinds of rules about how to go into the holy place and approach God’s special presence, and then even who could go into the holy place, it wasn’t just anybody, it was a select group of people, and they had to make all kinds of preparations to do it and then into the holy of holies, only the high priest could go, and he had to take blood, he couldn’t just enter, he had to offer a sacrifice for his sin so that he wouldn’t be consumed when he came close to God. 

And what the writer of Hebrews is saying here is as he turns from this story in the Old Testament to look at the church is that we as believers, we all have the confidence, and many would actually translate that word authorization, because they don’t think it so much refers to our attitude as it does to something objective, real, and what he’s telling us is, we all have the right to enter the holy places, we all have the right to enter the inner heavenly sanctuary of God. 

And that’s really the first thing for me that makes this gathering of people so significant; it is that the church is a gathering of people who all have the right to stand in the presence of a holy God.  I mean, imagine that! There are all kinds of people all over the world who are gathering together, and they are even groups of people who are gathering together to worship, and they are doing all these things, but it’s of no use, because they are children of wrath, they are enemies of God, they are still in their sins, how is that exciting, but when you are with a group of believers, you are with the people of God, you are with what you might call a set apart or holy priesthood, you are with a group of people, who have absolutely free access to the majestic and holy Creator of the Universe. 

And that makes what is going on when those people get together pretty significant, because God looks on it with favor, and we know He does because it’s not based on their efforts, but this authorization or right to come into His presence, is based on the work of Christ, the writer of Hebrews says we have this authorization by the blood of Jesus, and then he explains it further, by the new and living way that he opened up for us through the curtain, that is through his flesh.  

When we gather on Sundays, this is not a group of desperate people trying to manipulate God into liking them, this is people who have the right to be before God because of what God’s done for them through Jesus. 

And we might add to that, what God’s doing for them through Jesus, because the writer of Hebrews does. 

A second way that the writer of Hebrews demonstrates the significance of our privileges as a church is in verse 21, where he says, “since we have a great priest over the house of God” and in saying that, it’s like he’s drawing our attention from each other and this free access we have to the one who is in charge of us and what’s going on, the head of the church, and that’s Jesus and what he’s saying is that Jesus, this one we come to worship, is not dead, he’s very much alive and he is at work, as priest over his house, which is the church.  

And honestly if you want to know better what that means, you might just study the book of Hebrews, because there is so much of the book of Hebrews that is written to explain that but for now, what I want you to understand is that as we talk about gathering together as a church, we are not starting with, hey to be a good person and to get God to like you, then you need to do this and go to church every week, instead we are starting with, man look at what you have as believers, you have the right to enter into God’s presence, and you have this glorious Savior who is alive and who is at work, ministering, serving on your behalf, and that reality, those truths aren’t just there to look at, they have implications, they should change you.

I know and you know that there are people who might look at these gatherings we have, look at this group of people who get together on Sunday afternoons in this little hall, and ask what is so big about that? 

What is so big about that is what these people get to do. They have access to God.  And what is so big about that is the One they worship, the One is who in charge of them, it’s the great High priest, Jesus Christ, God’s Son.   

That’s the reason for our gathering.

It is the gospel.  

And you know these truths should change the way we gather as well. 

If we are just coming here without knowing these reasons, we are going to tear each other apart in the long run.  But, look, if we are gathering together confident in Christ, knowing that He’s the purpose, He’s the one who saves us, believing those truths enables us to have the real fellowship and community we long for and so desperately need.

What is the Church to Do? Part 1

26 Feb

It would be strange to be asked to be part of a group and not have anyone tell you exactly why or what was expected of you once you joined.  

It certainly wouldn’t be fair, for example, if you were hired for a certain job with specific responsibilities and yet your employer never told you what those responsibilities were.  Can you imagine if they gave you a hard time for not doing what you were supposed to be doing, when they never told you what that was?  

Or take a sport that you have never played before.  You show up at a practice for the first time and no one talks with you about how to play. You are just supposed to figure it out on your own. No, that’s not going to be effective. That’s actually part of what coaches are there for.  It obviously helps to have someone show you what the expectations are and how you can fulfill them. 

Church isn’t all that different.  It is great to know that church is important and we are supposed to be a part, but a part of what, what are we supposed to do, besides show up? 

What I want to try to do is to show you the basic expectations of every member of a local church. And I am beginning with what is probably the most basic and fundamental, and that is to gather together with other believers at church week after week on Sundays.  

One of my big passions as a pastor has always been to say that the church is not a meeting.  I get tired of people saying, I am going to church.  We are the church.  But, the thing is, while the church is not a meeting, you don’t have a church if you don’t have regular meetings.   Churches meet.  They gather together on a weekly basis. 

And so when we say the church gathers, that’s one of our basic responsibilities as church members, we are talking about what we are doing today and every Sunday, and especially why it is so important you make a priority out of being a part.  

When we first began church planting here at Living Hope, one of the funny things I noticed, was that we would meet people who would come to the church maybe one time, and we would meet them later, months later, and they would say hello pastor and that was nice, but I would hear them talk to others and say, that they were part of our church, part of Living Hope, even though they only came maybe once or twice every few months or something like that. 

And honestly what I wanted to say to them, was no you are not.  You might be a Christian and part of the church, but you are not part of our church, if you don’t make a priority out of attending our church gatherings on a weekly basis.  

I have been pretty passionate about this since I was young, and I remember in university and throughout life really, meeting with many Christians who aren’t very serious about church attendance. 

They kind of have a wishy-washy attitude towards it, so it’s kind of like if I am feeling well and everything is going great then I will attend on Sunday and if I am not feeling well or I have a hard week, then I won’t attend. 

And so for some people, the list of reasons not to attend church on Sunday can get pretty long.  If they have homework, if they didn’t get a great sleep, if they are hungry, if they have the sniffles, basically they will attend church if it is convenient, but if there is the smallest little inconvenience, then they are just aren’t going to think about making a priority out of gathering together with other believers. 

And really, I want to see you with a very different attitude.  And I am not talking about a legalistic attitude.  I am not talking about this attitude where you go around waving your finger at everybody else, or where you feel like it’s just attending church that magically makes you right with God or anything like that, but I am talking about a committed attitude, where not going to church is not a normal option for you, it’s not like, are we going to gather with other believers today, as if it were a question, no, I want it to be you gather with other believers as a statement, in fact maybe a picture would be, to think of it like eating, I don’t usually wake up and say, am I going to eat today, it’s not a question, unless there’s something so serious going on, and that’s the attitude towards gathering together with the church I want you to have here at Living Hope.  It’s a statement, not a question.   

And to help you understand why I am making such a big deal out of gathering like this, I want us to look together at Hebrews 10:19-25 and we are going to think about our gathering together from a couple of different angles. 

First, let me just point our need to gather.  Before we go much further, I want to show you why it is I say, we need to gather. 

There are two reasons we need to gather in this passage, the first is an implication of the gospel, if you just look down at the text, I think you will notice when you begin to read it were all the plurals.  

Now plural words as opposed to singular words, means we or us as opposed to you and I.  

Verse 19, 

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence…”

Verse 21, 

“And since we have a great priest…”

And then verse 22, 23 and 24 all begin with the phrase, “Let us…”

So often when we read the Bible we read it in terms of I, but so much of the Bible, like here in Hebrews talks in terms of we and that’s because of course what God’s doing in this great salvation plan is more than just saving you as an individual, He’s intending to rescue a people for Himself. 

The Bible assumes we, it assumes if you are a Christian you are part of an us, because that is a big part of what God is doing in salvation, creating a new community. 

Someone once said when we talk about salvation we shouldn’t only talk about justification, we should also talk about familification.  Because just as you are justified when you are saved, you are also familified, made part of God’s family and just as you need to apply the truth that you are justified to your everyday life, you need to apply the truth that you have been familified to the way you live your life as well.    

Unfortunately, you know, you will meet people who say they are Christians but have no regular, intimate, accountable, relationships with other Christians outside of themselves and their family. 

They say I am saved but they are not gathering together with a church on a regular basis and what’s sad is they don’t think it matters, because they think I can be fine, just me and God, or me and God and my family, I don’t need the church, and if you talk to them they might even tell you, I can be just as obedient to God by myself with my family as I can be in a church, and you know I think the writers of the Bible might say to them, really, is that true, you can be just as obedient to God by being disobedient to what He says, because when you read the Bible and passages like this one in Hebrews, you will find it is always talking about the Christian life in terms of an intimate community with other believers in a local church, in terms of us, and not just I. 

As someone has explained,  

“The gospel has a purpose– and that purpose is bigger than just saving you by yourself – it has the the purpose of calling out a people for God’s own possession. This is the whole point of the good news – God forming a people for His glory and the good of the world.”

If you try to think about the gospel without this forming of a gospel community, you are missing that goal.  It would be a little like going to adopt a child and rejoicing when the adoption papers are signed, but forgetting to bring the child home and make him part of your family.  I mean it’s good the papers are signed, but there is a point bigger than the signing of the papers, and that’s making him part of your family.  

When we look at the gospel, the implications of the gospel, means we have to think in terms of us, that’s one reason we need to gather.

The second way we see our need to gather in this passage is a lot more direct.  It is a command.  

Hebrews 10:24 and 25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching.”

The word for meet together is related to the term synagogue, because that’s where the Jewish people in Jesus’ day met on a regular basis to talk about God’s Word and here, when the writer uses this term, he’s simply talking about an assembly of believers like we are having today.   There certainly can be more to what he’s saying than that, but definitely not less.  At the very least, he is commanding us not to neglect meeting together like this. 

Now, it’s important to understand that back in the day when the writer was giving this exhortation, people generally lived with a whole bunch of other people in their homes, they had these big households, and so when they talk about not meeting together, you can’t picture just one person on his own week after week, but this is a person staying back with this big family, and the writer is saying that is not enough, you need to be meeting with the people of God. 

They would have plenty of excuses and probably better ones than ours, this was a time of great persecution and more persecution was coming, and so there were people who didn’t want to gather together with the church, because it seemed physically dangerous to them and yet, the writer says, not meeting together is not an option. 

When we look at what God was doing in our salvation, the assumptions the Bible makes about Christians and community and this command to gather even in the face of persecution, it’s obvious, that this meeting, is to be a priority in our lives as believers, we need to gather. 

A Mack Family Winter Update

6 Feb

If you would like to read a little update about what’s happening the past couple of months in our family and how you can pray for us, click here!

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31 Jan

10 steps toward humility

14 Jan