TEACH THEM TO GATHER
Welcome back to the Commands of Christ blog series where we are examining together the nine foundational commands given by Jesus and which are essential for new disciples to understand and obey. If you missed the first eight posts in this series you can find them by clicking Repent and Believe, Be Baptized, Pray, Make Disciples, Love, Worship, Observe the Lord’s Supper, and Give.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” (Matthew 28:18-20).
In this post, we will look at the ninth of nine foundational commands that Christ gave for disciples to obey. This command is to gather and is found in Hebrews 10:24-25.
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 drawing near.
If there is one thing about the church that is being questioned as a result of COVID and the lockdowns which have been imposed, it is the command to gather. After all, many believers have turned to various forms of technology to encourage one another during this unusual season. We can pray for one another over the phone. We can host virtual Bible studies on Zoom. Pastors can email filmed teaching sessions to their members.
And we are grateful that we can minister to one another in these ways while scattered. I’m not writing to contribute to the conversation about whether churches should livestream “services” or send out pre-recorded material or such things during this strange time. I simply want to remind us that a church is never less than a gathering. Even though many congregations cannot now meet, assembling is of the essence of a church.
Gathering isn’t merely a nice thing to do; it’s part of what a church is.
There is a popular Christian social media catch-phrase that says, "You don't go to church, you are the church." While I understand the truth of this statement, this is an unhealthy view, pitting "being the church" and "going to church" against each other. If we truly are "the Church," then we will surely get together with other believers regularly. We cannot "be" the church if we don't go to the assembly. Not fully anyway.
The "Church" never implies a single, individual, lone-ranger Christian just going about his Christian duties, and never gathering together to worship with other believers. The "Church" by its very nature means multiple believers, who believe that, "where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them" (Matthew 18:20).
The Biblical pattern for church is this:
●Every Christian should gather together to hear the Scriptures and worship Jesus together with other believers weekly (see Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Acts 2:42; Colossians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Romans 16:5; Acts 20:20; James 2:2; Psalm 84:4; Psalm 37:17; Psalm 92:13)
●It is also good to meet for smaller groups of Christian community in each other's homes regularly (see Acts 2:46)
●It's good to have leaders overseeing the work and needs of each local church - this is the Biblical pattern - not all of us are called to church leadership, and so we should submit to, and serve whoever God has called to lead at the place we find ourselves (see Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5; Hebrews 13:7, 17; 1 Timothy 5:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; Philippians 1:1b; Ephesians 4:11-12; 1 Corinthians 12:28; 1 Peter 5:1-2; Acts 20:17;)
●If there are believers who are unable for physical reasons to attend a church weekly, they should find a church or believers who will gather together with them regularly for worship in their own home. (see James 5:14; James 1:27)
So, here are ten powerful and biblical reasons why you should attend worship weekly, and why church attendance can change your life:
Don't let excuses stand in the way of what you know God is calling you to do. God will strengthen you, and empower you to do what He has called you to do. I am praying for you -- if you have encountered past wounds from leaders or from church members -- that God will bring healing and grace to you, as you seek to follow Him, and love His Church.
If you are looking for a church that preaches the gospel, leave a comment and we will try to help you find a good one.
HOPE FOR THIS CHRISTMAS
It’s a familiar scene, not likely to be repeated this year. So we pull out the home videos of past Christmas concerts. A child dressed as an angel stands with arms outstretched as the narrator reads, “Fear not…” Then the entire children’s choir stands as the narrator continues, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying…” On cue, our precious little ones sing, “Glo-o-o-o-o-oria, in Excelsis Deo!” We delight for those few remembered moments in our children’s Christmas joy. But it isn’t long before we leave that digital video world and return to the disappointments, challenges, and threats that surround us in this political quagmire and COVID reality that is Christmas 2020. And we are left asking the question, “How can any reasonable adult be merry this Christmas?
To answer this question, we need to remember the troubling conditions that were present when the angels sang. Luke tells us that, “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus” (Luke 2:1). These words reveal that the angels’ joy was not rooted in childlike naivety. Satanic forces had empowered governments which then oppressed the people. Moral corruption ran wild within Israel. The faithful were ostracized, mocked, and threatened by violence and persecution at every turn. Sound familiar? The world Christ was born into was in many ways very much like our own.
And the angels were not a sweet children’s choir. They were “a multitude of the heavenly host” (Luke 2:13). In the Bible, “Lord of hosts” most often refers to God as the One who leads the armies of heaven, angels who battle Satan and the demonic forces. So, when the angel announced, “I bring you good news of great joy...For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11), these angels sang, in much the same way as ancient human armies sang as they entered the battle. This was a vast heavenly army, eager to fight against every power that threatens God’s plan and His people.
To understand the “great joy” of this first Christmas, we must recognize what was so amazing about Jesus’ birth.
First, the words “good news” or “gospel” usually makes us think of how Jesus brings salvation to individuals who believe in Him. “Good news” includes that but passages like 2 Samuel 18:31 show us that this phrase is actually the announcement of victory in battle. Second, the term “Saviour” makes us think again of how Jesus saves individuals from sin. Again, ‘Saviour” includes that, but passages like Zephaniah 3:17 teach that a “saviour” is a warrior, one who delivers His people from harm and grants deliverance and victory.
In response to the certainty of victory for “Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11), the angelic army sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” (Luke 2:14). And this praise should fill every heart, even the hearts of “reasonable” adults. Evil threatens on every side, literally, but we know the good news that victory is sure. Christ our victorious warrior has been born.
Jesus is our hope and this is the hope that we have for Christmas and everyday.
What does this hope mean in your life? Let us know in the comments, we would love to hear from you.
RESPONDING THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT
Have you ever had one of those days that seems like it’s getting worse as each hour passes by?
Maybe you wake up in the morning and you step on the dog’s tail, you head to the bathroom only to find out that you are all out of toothpaste. Then, as you leave the house and get into your car you realize that you were supposed to fill up with gas the day before but you forgot. The extra stop now means you will be late for a very important meeting. When you get to the office and start to print out some documents, the printer stops working because the ink has run out and there are no extra cartridges at hand. What a series of events so far and the day has just started.
I would like to point out two words that we started out this blog with today: "seems like."
When anything “seems like” something, it doesn’t mean that it actually is. How we react or respond to the series of events in our lives is very important not only for our sanity, but more importantly for our spiritual growth.
Most of us have heard about the life of Job and everything that he experienced. The Bible says that Job was a blameless and upright man who feared God and shunned evil (Job 1:1). Things were going very well for him and he ends up losing it all. Talk about not only having an off day but season. Even his wife couldn’t understand how he wouldn’t curse God through all of these events (Job 2:9). His response was, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” Job responded well. I imagine it was certainly not easy, but Job chose to respond and not react.
More and more, I am realizing that especially when we are in difficult situations, responding is the more effective way. When we react to things, we are often filled and fueled with and by our emotions. When we take the time to respond, we can ask God to help us respond in the best way. I encourage you to try it. In the days that seem off, but also in more challenging situations similar to what Job went through.
Some people may ask why bad or challenging things happen and while that is a valid question, we may not get the answer. Having faith and exercising faith is about trusting God especially when we do not understand. It allows us to build that trust and surrender every area of our lives to God.
So if we may not always get the answer, what does God’s Word say about life situations? There are different verses, but today let’s look at what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians:
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
While this may not answer some questions for us, it does give us some great perspective on how to respond to situations. To rejoice always, to pray continually, and to give thanks in all circumstances because this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.
To be able to live this out, we need to approach it appropriately and effectively which cannot be accomplished in our own strength. To be able to respond well, we need the Holy Spirit of God to help us. He is our comforter and our guide, who enables us to be more like Jesus.
I truly believe that when we read God’s Word and do our best to live it out, great things happen. God’s Word is living and powerful (Hebrews 4:12) and does not return void or empty (Isaiah 55:11).
What are you spreading during this season? If you haven’t read our past blog about this very topic, you can read it here.
You see, even with all of the trauma that Job endured He kept the faith and the Bible says that God blessed him even more than he was before everything was lost (Job 42:12-17).
What season are you in? Does it seem like it will never end or get better? Whatever situation we are finding ourselves in, let us remember the words that Paul spoke to encourage the Thessalonian church. Those words are for us too.
Be encouraged. God is with you. He will never leave or forsake you. Just lay down everything at His altar and receive His peace and His love with certainty. If there is anything we can believe with you for together in prayer, please contact us and we would be happy to pray.
May God continue to uplift us, as we seek to be more like Jesus each day.
THE HABIT OF PERSEVERANCE
In this week’s blog post, we are considering the habit or discipline of perseverance. In past posts, we have considered Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, serving, stewardship as it relates to both time and finances, fasting, silence/solitude, journaling, and learning.
If you have not seen these posts yet, go ahead and click on the links to catch yourself up.
And remember that the primary motivation for these spiritual habits or disciplines is taken from Paul’s instruction to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:7, where he says, exercise or discipline yourself toward godliness. This applies to us just the same today and he makes it clear that, if we wish to be godly, it will take work, discipline, and exercise. Just as an athlete, musician, or artist must exercise disciplined practice to become more proficient at their chosen field, so a disciple must exercise disciplined practice in these activities as means’ of grace to become more proficient at being godly. That is to say, as we become more disciplined in the practice of these habits, more of God’s grace is available to us which will change us.
So what about perseverance?
There are a great many things that require perseverance in our Christ-following life. And Scripture contains many references to perseverance, remaining steadfast, and not giving up or giving in. This encouragement can be applied to a great many areas of our life but we need to consider perseverance in the matter of the habits of grace or spiritual disciplines.
There are three elements that have been mentioned briefly to this point in reference to other disciplines, but we are going to look more closely at them here. They are the role of the Holy Spirit, the role of fellowship, and the role of struggle in Christ-following.
The Role of the Holy Spirit
We need to constantly remind ourselves that despite the most diligent of attention to disciplining ourselves for the purpose of godliness, we cannot make ourselves more like Jesus.
That is what the Holy Spirit does, working through these habits or disciplines to bring us closer to Jesus and making us more like Him. Any emphasis on the disciplines of habits carries the risk of overlooking this important fact.
In The Discipline of Grace; God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness, by Jerry Bridges, he says:
A major temptation in the self-discipline approach to holiness, however, is to rely on a regiment of spiritual disciplines instead of on the Holy Spirit. I believe in spiritual disciplines. I seek to practice them...But those disciplines are not the source of our spiritual strength. The Lord Jesus Christ is, and it is the ministry of the Holy Spirit to apply His strength to our lives. (135)
Wherever the Holy Spirit lives, His holy presence creates a hunger for holiness. His primary task is to magnify Christ (John 16:14-15), and it is He who gives the Christ-follower a desire to be like Christ. We have no such desire in our natural state. But in the Christ-follower, the Spirit of God begins to carry out the will of God to make the child of God like the Son of God (Romans 8:29). And He who began this good work in the life of the Christ-follower will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians1:6).
So it is the Holy Spirit’s job to produce within us both the desire and the power for the habits of grace. And the reality that He does this in every believer is evident from 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (NASB). Therefore, even if your natural temperament or personality does not incline you toward orderly and disciplined habits, the supernatural presence of the Holy Spirit equips you with enough of a supernatural spirit of discipline for you to obey the command to discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.
Self-control, according to Galatians 5:23, is a direct product, or fruit, of the Spirit’s control in the Christ-follower’s life. And when the Christ-follower expresses the Spirit-produced self-control by practicing the habits of grace, the result is progress in godliness.
Two things are clear: (1) the Holy Spirit will always be faithful to help each of God’s children to persevere in those things that will make us like Christ, and (2) we must not harden our hearts, but instead respond to His promptings if we would be godly.
The Role of Fellowship
That Christ-follower who only measures Christlikeness in terms of growth in his or her fellowship with God takes an incomplete measurement. Spiritual maturity must also include growth in fellowship with the people of God. John the apostle connected these two fellowships in 1 John 1:3: “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” New Testament fellowship is with both the triune God and with His people. Just as the human maturity of Jesus included growth in favour with both God and man (Luke 2:52), so will the spiritual maturity of those who seek to be like Jesus.
One of the obvious reasons why we cannot take the habits of grace into isolation is that many of the habits - public worship, united prayer, participation in the Lord’s Supper, serving others, and more - simply cannot be practised without other Christ-followers. Also, one of God’s purposes for fellowship is to complement the personal habits of grace and to stimulate our growth in godliness through them. Consider this; as studying the Bible alone is one God-given habit of grace for growing in grace, so is studying the Bible with others. The habits of grace definitely have some nonpublic applications but they were never meant to be practised apart from fellowship in the community of faith.
Hebrews 3:13 also warns us, “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.” When we withdraw from the spiritual protection God provides for us within the fellowship, we are more easily deceived by sin. Without the tempering influence of Christ-followers with different gifts, insights, and experiences, those who withdraw from the exhortations or other Christ-followers miss out on the grace that God intends for them to receive only through the local church life.
An old Puritan recommended that we associate with sanctified persons. They may, by their counsel, prayers and holy example, be a means to make you holy.
The Role of Struggle
Living the life of a Christ-follower is not easy. Even though trust and rest are core values of the Christian life, so are discipline and struggle. There are lots of forces that fight against the spiritual progress of those still on this side of heaven. Now, the way of Christ is not always an inner struggle or every moment a battle, but neither is it without lifelong opposition. That’s just the reality.
And the struggle is natural, given the warfare that is going on for your very soul. We see in the verse that anchors this blog series that practising the habits of grace will be accompanied by struggle. Referring to the godliness mentioned in 1 Timothy 4:7-8, Paul wrote in verse 10, “For to this end we toil and strive.” The words toil and strive tell us that becoming like Christ involves something different than ‘let go and let God’, as some have taught. The word translated toil means to work until you grow weary. We get our English word agonize from the term translated here as strive. It literally means to struggle. Growth in godliness does not come by the work of the Holy Spirit alone, nor by our work alone, but by our responding to the grace the Holy Spirit initiates and sustains.
This is the clear teaching of the New Testament. It warns us of the world, flesh, and the devil and how they constantly wage war against us. The Bible says that because of this triplet of opposition we will experience a struggle to overcome sin as long as we live in this body.
While we live in the world, it will put its unending pressure on us. Jesus reminded us that the world hated Him and it will hate us if we discipline ourselves to follow Him (John 15:18-19). John also exhorted us, “Do not love the world” (1 John 2:15). Then he goes on to warn about the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life as part of the world. There is no experience that can provide a lasting from all these worldly temptations except the experience of leaving this world.
The flesh also pressures us against godliness. The reality of Galatians 5:17 is that “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” Sometimes it is no problem at all to obey God. There are moments when one of your greatest joys is to get into the Word of God and occasionally you might experience times of prayer that you wish would never end. But many times it is a struggle to engage in any of the habits of grace at all.
So the Spirit will prompt you toward Christlikeness and the practice of the habits of grace and your flesh will rise up in defiance because these are opposed to each other. But even though disciplining yourself is often difficult and involves struggle, self-discipline is not self-punishment. It is instead an attempt to do what, prompted by the Spirit, you actually want to do. Rather than thinking of this as self-punishment, it is more scriptural to see it as one way of “sowing to the Spirit” as Galatians 6:8 encourages.
In addition to the world and the flesh, you also have a personal enemy committed to your failure in the habits of grace - the devil. The apostle Peter reminded us. “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). If it were possible to permanently avoid all spiritual struggle, Peter would have told us instead of exhorting us to be alert. Paul would have told us instead of telling us to put on the armour of God. It’s because we are in a battle, a conflict, a struggle that they tell us to watch out and put on the armour. There is no vacation from the struggle. Until we see our Saviour face to face. Then we shall be like Him (1 John 3:2).
The Holy Spirit, true fellowship, and the recognition of the ongoing struggle in the Christian life will help you persevere in the practice of the habits of grace. And apart from such perseverance, the habits of grace are incomplete and ineffective. 2 Peter 1:6 makes a hard connection between self-control (discipline) and godliness, and that connection is perseverance. Without perseverance between the two, the relationship between the self-controlled practice of the habits of grace and godliness is like a battery full of power but poorly connected to a lightbulb. The light flickers inconsistently and without the full benefit of the power in the battery. But with a persevering connection between the two, the light shines brightly. In the same way, the light of the life of Christ will shine more steadily through you the more you persevere in the practice of the habits of grace. Such perseverance will make us the salt and light that we should be (Matthew 5:13-16).
Have you thought about the importance of the Holy Spirit, the fellowship, and your struggle as essential to your growth in godliness? Which of these has been most helpful to you? Which has been neglected? How will you go about utilizing all three in the future?