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The Gathering

Last week, I wrote about having unity in the body for prayer. This week, I was reminded that we are to be in unity as a community. I have heard it said that as Christians we don’t have to gather together to worship. We can do it as individuals: anytime, anyplace. True. But there is something about being together that makes a difference. We are told in Scripture that angels are gathered together before the throne in worship. Revelation 5:11 says there are many angels – thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand. They are gathered around the throne singing “worthy of the Lamb.” It reminds me of a Beth Moore conference at the end of the gathering when Travis Cottrell sings a song based on that verse. It’s powerful. There are several songs he sings that is that powerful. It’s worth the price of admission!

Have you ever been to one of Beth’s conferences or another big gathering of believers (besides church gatherings on Sundays)? I have been to several Beth Moore conferences and simulcast. I have been to a Billy Graham conference back in the day. When we stand up and sing certain songs together, I will get cold chills running down my arms. It’s powerful to hear all the voices together singing in unity. I love going to those conferences. I get encouraged by the Word spoken and sometimes I get a word directly spoken about a prayer request. It’s great when that happens.

However, gathering together isn’t really about the Word being spoken – although it’s good to gather to hear God’s Word; but the real power is gathering together to worship our Lord. There’s nothing more glorious because it replicates what will take place when we all gather in heaven. We will join with the angels in their praise of our Lord and King. This down here is just a dress rehearsal. We’re trying to get it right down here. But up there, everything will be right! There will be no one singing off-key or off the beat. It will be perfect!

So I get that we can do it on our own and we should. But as the writer of Hebrews says we shouldn’t neglect gathering together (Hebrews 10:25). The writer says especially in this day and time at the nearness of Jesus’ return. It’s important to encourage one another. It’s important to live as a community, helping each other through these tough times – especially as persecution breaks against us. And it will eventually. Actually, it has already started in some regards.

When I was growing up, it was the norm to gather together on Sundays. Not so much now. It is very rare for all the neighbors in the neighborhood meeting at the intersections in a rush to get to a gathering. Matter of fact, when I walk around the neighborhood on Sunday mornings, it’s downright peaceful. There is no traffic at all. No one is out walking either.

Contrast that with a Saturday afternoon college football game where the home team is playing. There is a rush to get to the game. Thousands upon thousands gather to watch men clash on the turf. There are lots of cheers going on and lots of singing of the fight song. Encouragement to the team members are shouted from the stands. The fans have no place on the field. There is nothing significant about the event. Sure some team will be victorious at the end of the game. Fans will leave and go about their own business. Their lives were not changed by the outcome of the event. Sure, someone will be a little down because their team lost. But they still go about their business.

The gathering of the church is much different. It should be as enthusiastic as the football game. However, we’re not fans. We are on the field playing! We all have a part to play, and it’s not being on the sidelines cheering. We should be encouraging our teammates just as zealously as those who gather for the football game. The gathering changes us. It inspires us. The glory of the Lord is revealed through us, and helps us shine brighter in our neighborhoods. We are to go out and be the light we are meant to be when this dark world knocks on our door. Gathering together is good for our benefit and for others.

The gathering though is more than a cheering session. It’s about community. It’s about sharing our lives with one another. The people who gathered together in the first century shared everything. No one was in need. The people were persecuted for their faith and were cast out of society with nothing. The ones who still had resources shared with those who have nothing because of their faith. That’s the picture of the true church.

In these last days, we need to come back to that picture of unity; of community. Scripture tells us we are to be known for our love for one another. That’s what gathering is all about. We can worship on our own, but we can’t love one another well without gathering together. Do not forsake it. Our neighbors are counting on us whether they realize it or not. We have the hope that will change their lives. Let’s be the church we’re called to be, and do good to all as we’re called to do.

Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Philippians 1:27; 2:1-2 (NLT)

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Building Community

A couple of weeks ago, Andy Stanley blew up the “twitter sphere” with some comments he made in one of his messages. I heard the message that Sunday and knew there might be some offense taken from his message. The next Sunday, he apologized profusely for his “offensive” comments. He listened to his message and understood why the internet blew up – he heard what he said and how it came across. He said he heard his voice speaking the words, but the words were wrong; not conveying the message he wanted to deliver.

I won’t go into the message, but it had to do with the smallness of some churches. Growing up in small churches, I understood what he was saying because it was a “been there, done that” kind of recollection for me. I got the message in the context that he was trying to convey. And I knew his heart of the matter and he doesn’t speak unkindly about small churches. Small churches and large churches each have their problems in reaching the people – young and old – with the message of the Gospel.

Last Sunday, I sat in a small church in my hometown and thought about Andy’s message. But what I thought about was the context of the community in that small church. At the end of the gathering time, the preacher opened the front of the church to those who wanted to come pray or to come forward with a decision. There were many who gathered at the altar to pray. What struck me was the fact that it wasn’t individuals coming to pray, but couples or friends gathering to pray together. They were praying for one another. It showed me that we are not meant to walk this path alone. We are supposed to be in community with one another – helping each other walk this walk.

The church where I belong is a large church. If it wasn’t for the small group that I attend, I wouldn’t feel a part of this large church. I would just be a face in the crowd. I joined this church about four years ago and have developed friendships with those in my small group. But at times, I still feel disconnected even in the small group. I can put as much effort into the relationships as I desire. It takes intention- whether in a large church or a small church. We have to make the effort to connect. Relationships are the key to become a community.

Yesterday afternoon, I spent some time talking with my neighbor that lives across the street. She is a sister in Christ, and we have been praying for another neighbor as this neighbor goes through a very difficult time. She updated me on some good news, and we rejoiced together in one of our prayers being answered. As I walked away from the conversation, I realized this is what community in Christ is all about. We have an obligation to reach out to those around us. My neighbor has formed a relationship with the mutual neighbor and is able to speak about Jesus to this neighbor. I don’t have the relationship that she has and haven’t had the opportunity to encourage the mutual neighbor. Until the door of opportunity opens, I will continue to pray for the fruitfulness of the connection already formed.

I am excited to be a part of a greater plan. We all have to make the effort to form relationships we can foster and encourage one another as we walk along this journey. We are to be in prayer over one another and offer those who have difficulties the Good News of hope and salvation. God is at work in the community. We all have the opportunities to be a part of what God is doing around us.

The church isn’t about a building but a people. We are the people of God who gather together in a building or house to support one another. It’s not about a denomination. We are one body with one Head – Jesus Christ. The gathering size doesn’t matter – whether large or small. Community matters and reaching out to others is our mission. Prayer is the fuel for the power source of the Holy Spirit to deliver the Good News to all who are ready to hear. When we work together, we can do mighty things for the Kingdom.

Make every effort to keep the oneness of the Spirit in the bond of peace [each individual working together to make the whole successful]. There is one body [of believers] and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when called [to salvation]— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all who is [sovereign] over all and [working] through all and [living] in all. Ephesians 4:3-6 (AMP)

The Church Body

I have listened for the last couple of years to the teaching offered by Mark Driscoll. I have learned from his teaching through the books of the Bible. I am saddened by the fact that not all is well with his ministry. I understand that he made some mistakes. I understand it because I have made my share. The difference being that I am not in the public eye like Pastor Mark. I hear that others have really hurled insults and injury to an already tense situation. I feel for his family – both his loved ones as well as the church body that he once shepherded. He spoke at a conference recently about the situation that his family is now in. They have moved several times because of the hatred shown them. I don’t know if these who are coming against him and his family are from the church family or just outsiders looking in. Nevertheless, we are a broken bunch of people –inside and outside the church. Unfortunately, hurt people hurt people.

We expect more from church people, don’t we? We expect them to behavior in a godly manner. We expect them to rise above the fray and love those who fall from grace. But sometimes the ones we should love and support are the ones that hurt us, and we lash out at them. I have witnessed this from friends in the church body. I have seen friends walk away from each other because of words spoken or actions that went against what was expected. Sometimes it was over words that were spoken out of love, but was not received in the right way. Right motives, wrong approach. It’s difficult to know when to say something and when to stay silent. It’s only through the guidance of the Holy Spirit to know when to speak the truth to those who are in the wrong. And hopefully the ones who receive the word, will take it for what it is – accountability of living godly lives. We all have degrees of brokenness. And only Jesus can do the mending of our brokenness.

I don’t think I am any different from any other person in the church body. We all have brokenness that has to be healed. Every leader, everyone in the seats listening, every person serving in a ministry; we all need to be healed by the great Physician. We all have different areas of brokenness. We all have been scarred. But it is a deliberate act to submit to the Healer. We have to be willing to grow up under His care. We can do no good if we continue to hurt people because of our lack of healing and wholeness. The Body of Christ should be the place where we should feel safe to confess our brokenness. We should be able to love those who are not perfect. (And nobody is perfect!) We are all a work in progress. Going to church is not the thing to do on a Sunday morning, just so we can check a box. It’s a place where we come together to support one another. It’s the place where we are to love one another and show the ones outside the church that we are a different people.

Going to church is more than listening to a message but not being changed by it. It’s taking a word from God to the heart for a change of heart. Church is where we grow in our understanding in the Word. It’s learning about who Jesus is and who we are in Jesus. We have to develop our relationship with Jesus so that He can minister to us in those hurt places. We need to be intentional about our relationship with Him. We have to spend time with Him. Jesus is the answer to the hurting church. As a church body, it’s time for healing to begin. The world needs to see a change in the Body of Christ. We can no longer afford to be complacent with our brokenness. Jesus is counting on us to move His church forward. We have to be surrendered to God’s loving touch to heal the hurts and make us whole. It’s time to move forward church! Let the healing begin with me. Revive me, Lord for your glory!

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

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