In a previous post, I brought up the idea that many people may miss more church than they realize. The attempt was not to condemn, but rather provoke us to look as see if we are regularly prioritizing things above gathering with our local church body.
To be clear, I’m not saying it’s always wrong to miss church. For many of us, there are a few select times when missing the corporate gathering of the body is unavoidable.
But I am saying we should put thought and intentionality into prioritizing the church gathering. We plan for things that are important to us, and gathering with our local church should be no different. After all, Scripture commands us to “not neglect meeting together” (Hb. 10:24-25).
Why would God command us to gather with our local church family? Because as we heard in a sermon recently: Regular absence from the gathering of the saints has ramifications for your soul.
We gather with God’s people to remember and rehearse the gospel. God is a gathering God, and he gathers his people by His Spirit through His Word that we might savor the supremacy of Jesus together. God saves not just persons but a gospel people and our corporate worship reminds us of this reality.
But it’s more than that. Regular absence from the gathering of the saints has ramifications for the souls around you.
We go to church not just to be served, but to serve. We gather with our brothers and sisters not just to show our face and ask a shallow, “Hello…how are you?” but to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” When you don’t gather with the body you miss an opportunity to build others up. So it’s not just you who misses out, but so do others.
Here are a few specific things you miss when you’re absent from a Sunday gathering:
- The chance to show gospel hospitality to visitors and guests.
- The chance to encourage a fellow brother or sister with a timely word or passage of Scripture.
- The chance to pray with a fellow member about specific hardship.
- The chance to sing God’s praises with your covenant members.
- The chance to collectively pray alongside your fellow saints.
- The chance to actively listen and submit to God’s preached word.
- The chance to serve in children’s ministry and tell the gospel to children.
- The chance to meet a visitor another member has met and wants to introduce to you because of some commonality.
- The chance to share the gospel with an unbeliever who’s asking questions after the service.
- The chance to follow up with that visitor you met a few weeks ago.
- The chance to go to lunch after service and talk about how you were encouraged or challenged or convicted or comforted by the gathering.
- The chance to picture and participate in a foretaste of heaven – a redeemed people gathered together encouraging one another and worshipping Jesus.
When, by God’s grace, we see each church gathering with this level of real spiritual significance, we don’t see ourselves merely as part of an organization called ‘Restoration Church’, but as servants of God’s people, eager to meet the needs of others even if it means sacrificing our own.
When, by God’s grace, we see church this way we see ourselves as a blood-bought family that regularly gathers around the feast of God’s Word so that we might worship God together as we communicate and celebrate the hope of the gospel.
And who would want to miss that?
How often do you miss church? Perhaps more than you think.
The occasional miss “here” and a few vacations “there”, on top of the unfortunate sickness “here” and out of town holiday travel “there” adds up quicker than you think. A miss “here” and a miss “there” equate to you making it to church 2-3 times per month. Basically, it’s “hit or miss” every week depending on what else is going on.
But is that they way it should be? Should it be that Christians only gather when nothing else is on their calendar? Should it be that followers of Christ consistently place attending church below travel plans? Should you consider yourself a “faithful church goer” if you only attend upwards of 75% of the time?
Grace Gathers Out of “Get To” Not “Got To”
Now at this point we have to be careful. We could mistakenly reduce life in Christ to a church checklist for Christ. We could easily guilt people into going to church or making them feel guilty when they miss.
We don’t want to do that. Guilt is not a good motivator.
But neither it is it okay say, “Don’t worry about it; you’re saved by grace so just get to church when you can.” That’s a false understanding of grace. That’s a false understanding of the nature and purpose of the church.
Grace does not just excuse our sin; it equips us to build up the saints. The gospel does not just save us; it shifts the priorities in our lives. A true understanding of graces shifts our mindset from “I’ve got to go to church” to “I get to go to church.” A true understanding of the gospel reminds us the church is not simply a place we go, but it’s a people with whom we gather.
Sin breaks and scatters. The gospel of grace builds and gathers. With this understanding we don’t have to go to church, but get to go to church and demonstrate the glorious reconciling reality of the gospel. That’s a better motivation to join your brothers and sisters in corporately worshipping the Creator and Redeemer.
And with that grace-filled motivation, who would want to regularly miss gathering with the church body?
In a previous post we looked at how before we can turn a conversation toward Christ, we ourselves need to be warmed by Christ. So let’s assume your heart’s affections are stirred by Christ and you desire to joyfully share the gospel with others that they too might find the fullness of joy in Christ. How do you do that?
During the Conversation
- Commit to the Awkward:
- The Gospel is deep and intimate while also being offensive and supernatural. The deck is stacked against you…there is no “easy” way to turn the conversation into the things of God without it being, at some level, uncomfortable
- Once you get to the point of expecting the awkwardness instead of hoping for its absence, the easier it will be to walk into those conversations
- Fear of Man is sinful: Repent, Pray, take courage and make disciples
- Courage: does not mean the absence of tension, courage is doing what is right in the face of tension
- When you read the diaries of soldiers every one of them are fearful of what they face when they step on the battlefield…but they exude courage when, in light of that, they still move towards the enemy
- Ask Don’t (always) tell:
- You can more naturally lead people into conversations about spiritual things when you are talking about their favorite thing (themselves)
- You actually control the conversation more when you are directing the conversation through questions than being asked questions
- BUT: Do not ask questions simply to control the conversation…remember, invest in people with real lives/names/faces
- Like digging a hole, try and consider questions that can carefully move from the surface and slowly work below the surface:
- That may take 5 minutes…that may take 5 years
- Sample Questions:
- What do you think it means to be a Christian?
- How do you think someone becomes a Christian?
- What is your spiritual back ground?
- How would you describe what you believe spiritually? How did you get to that position?
- Who do you think Jesus was/is? Would you mind if I shared with you what I believe to be true about Jesus?
- Are you a reader? What are you currently reading?
- What happens to people when they die? What makes you think you will go to heaven?
- If you could ask God any question, what would it be?
- Why do you think people do what they do? What are your basic assumptions about people? How did you form those beliefs?
- If you could know God personally, would you be interested?
- What do you find either the most attractive or unattractive about Christ? Christianity?
- Have you ever had someone walk you through what Christians believe? Would you be interested in doing that?
- What is it about Christianity that makes you think it doesn’t have any relevance to our world today?
Have you ever been in in a conversation with a friend, family member or stranger and started to hear that little voice, “You should tell them about Jesus…” In the moment, you know you should, but you just don’t know how to. Well the answer to “How do I turn the conversation toward Jesus and the gospel?” may not be what you think. In some ways its probably easier than you imagine; and in other ways a whole lot hard.
So how do you turn the conversation? Let’s break it up into two sections: (1) Before the Conversation, (2) During the Conversation.
Before the conversation:
- Posture: Person not a Project: These people have families, loved ones, scars, delights, and a lot of questions. You’ve got to work hard to listen to people and not simply think about what your going to say next. Look at people in the face, really try and understand them.
- This will keep you away from the superficial turns with superficial wins/losses
- “Speaking of the beach…you know where else its hot”
- “You like reading books? That’s great, why don’t you come to my book study next study morning?”
- This will keep you away from the superficial turns with superficial wins/losses
- This is why Im not going to focus on techniques:
- Techniques focus more on a system than they do a person
- Focus is on people
- Daily/Momentarily Cultivate Christ: If you are not regularly treasuring Christ through the word/prayer/service then it will be difficult to have genuine turns in the conversation
- At same time…you cant wait till you get right with God
- Is/was it difficult to tell your friends about your husband/wife when you first started dating them?
- Ignatius: Apart from Christ, let nothing dazzle you
- Conversation about Christ has to be Comfortable: If its awkward for you to talk about the greatness of Christ with your Christian friend right after church, then it is going to be near impossible to talk about Him to the person that cares very little about Him.
- Talk about Sermon
- Speak up in Community Groups
- “Regular” conversations with fellow believers (husband/wife)
- “Cultural Christians might talk about religion or church in generic terms, but you will rarely hear them use the name of Jesus or speak of His death on the cross or His resurrection. If you raise the subject, you might find that they are uncomfortable and don’t care to talk about the very thing that thrills the heart of those who possess authentic faith.” Wilberforce
- Don’t Remove the Stumbling Block:
- “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (18)…(22-24) For the Jews demand signs and Greeks wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
- We do not want to give people air conditioned rides to hell
- The more palatable you attempt to appeal to the tongue that has no taste for the Gospel, the more you change the recipe that satisfies the longing of the soul
- “How much more would a few good and fervent men effect in the ministry than a multitude of lukewarm ones!” Horatius Bonar
- The Gospel is offensive…if you attempt to remove its offensiveness, you remove the Gospel itself
- Understand what “successful” evangelism is:
- Successful Evangelism is the faithful proclamation of the Gospel
- Means you have to know the Gospel (60 seconds)
- Successful Evangelism is the faithful proclamation of the Gospel
- Jesus wasn’t Unsuccessful when the Rich Young Ruler walked away from him
- Jesus isnt after the numbers of disciples…He’s after your faithfulness
- Salvation belongs to God, not to you
- The end of evangelism is the glory of God, not the glory of your ability to evangelize…let that end drive your evangelism…
- Evangelize like an Arminian and sleep like a Calvinist
- Preemptively Pray:
- Pray before, during, and after
- Ask that the Lord would be pleased to move in the hearts of those you will meet with that day
- ORB: Pray for opportunities, recognition of those opportunities, & boldness in them
- If you are not praying for these things we are left to wonder if you really care to see disciples be made
- “The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” Matt. 26.41
In the next post, we’ll look at some ways to think about turning a conversation during the conversation.
A.W. Pink sums up the comparison between Mt. Sinai and the Sermon on the Mount:
“Christ preached this sermon, which was an exposition of the Law, upon a mountain, because upon a mountain the Law was given…but observe the difference: when the Law was given (in the OT) the Lord came down upon the Mountain, now the Lord ‘went up’ into one; then He spoke in thunder and lightning, now in a still small voice; then the people were ordered to keep their distance, now they are invited to draw near- a blessed change!”
What we have here in the Sermon on the Mount is a Word from above…a Word from God. Moses met with God, received the Old Covenant, and delivered it to the Israelites in advance of their entering the Promise Land. In Matthew 5, Jesus, who is God, has invited us near in order to deliver the New Covenant in advance of our entering into the consummated Kingdom of Heaven.
Does the Bible command our joy? The answer…a resounding, “Yes.” Here are a few verses:
- Psalm 32:11 – “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart” Those are commands to rejoice.
- Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” That’s a command to delight in God.
- Luke 6:23 – “Rejoice in that day [that is the day of persecution], and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.” We are commanded to rejoice, to leap for joy even in hard times.
- Philippians 4:4 – “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” That’s a present, active imperative. You can’t write a command with more force than that.
Throughout the Bible we are commanded to rejoice, to delight in the Lord. This joy is not based on circumstances or possessions or health or wealth. No matter what situation we are in, in the good times and the bad, we are expected to find a joy that outweighs our circumstances.
So it’s not just that we should pursue pleasure, but we must. Anything less is disobedience; anything less than pursuing pleasure in God is sin. Indifference to the pursuit of joy in God is indifference to God himself, and that is sin.
Here’s the biblical conclusion:
Pursuing pleasure in God is not just commendable, but commanded.
In yesterday’s sermon, we heard a brief example of how the Psalms show us it’s right and good to pursue great pleasure in God. Below are additional verses from the Psalter that further highlight this point. May these verses spur you on toward great delight in the supremacy of Christ.
- You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound (Ps. 4:7)
- Let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy (5:11)
- I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High (9:2)
- I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation (13:5)
- You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (16:11)
- May we shout for joy over your salvation, and in the name of our God set up our banners (20:5)
- I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction (31:7)
- Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart (32:11)
- Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous (33:1)
- My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad (34:2)
- Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord, exulting in his salvation (35:9)
- Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart (37:4)
- May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you (34:16)
- I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy (43:4)
- Restore to me the joy of your salvation (51:12)
- Let the righteous one rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him! Let all the upright in heart exult! (64:10)
- Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise (66:1-2)
- Let the nations be glad and sing for joy (67:4)
- The righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy (68:3)
- May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you (70:4)
- My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed (71:23)
- Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob (81:1)
- How lovely is your dwelling place,
- O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God (84:1)
- Blessed are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O Lord, in the light of your face, who exult in your name all the day and in your righteousness are exalted (89:15-16)
- Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days (90:14)
- For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy (92:4)
- Serve the Lord with gladness (100:2)
- May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord (104:34)
- Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice (105:3)
- For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things (107:9)
- Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments (112:1)
- This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it (118:24)
- The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad (126:3)
From John Piper’s The Dangerous Duty of Delight:
I am often asked what a Christian should do if the cheerfulness of obedience is not there. It’s a good question. My answer is not to simply get on with your duty because feelings don’t matter. They do! My answer has three steps.
First, confess the sin of joylessness. (“My heart is faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I,” Psalm 61:2.) Acknowledge the coldness of your heart. Don’t say that it doesn’t matter how you feel.
Second, pray earnestly that God would restore the joy of obedience. (“I don’t like to do your will, o my God; your law is within my heart,” Psalm 40:8.)
Third, go ahead and do the outward dimension of your duty and I hope that the doing we rekindle the delight.
This is very different from saying: “Do your duty because feelings don’t count.” These steps assume that there is such a thing as hypocrisy. They are based on the belief that our goal is the reunion of pleasure and duty and a justification of their separation is a justification of sin. Yes, it becomes increasingly evident that the experience of joy in God is beyond what the simple heart can do. It goes against our nature. We are enslaved to pleasure in other things. We can’t just decide to be glad about something we find boring or an interesting or offensive – like God. The making of [our joy in God] is a miracle of sovereign grace.
CS Lewis also gives a helpful perspective of the role of duty when there’s no delight:
A perfect man would never act from a sense of duty; he’d always want the right thing more than the wrong one. Duty is only a substitute for love (of God and of other people) like a crutch which is a substitute for a leg. Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it is idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (our own loves, tastes, habits etc.) can do the journey on their own.
May God in his grace give us the delight to joyfully obey all that he commands. But in those times when joy may be less or missing all together, may he give us the grace to use the crutch that we might walk back to health.