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The below blog post from The Village Church was too good and convicting not to repost:

We’ve all done it. We shuffle down a row of chairs and, just before we arrive at a person, we stop one chair short. We leave an empty seat between us and the other person, secretly hoping an usher won’t ask us to “scoot in.” What does that empty seat say? Why are we compelled to leave that “safe seat” between us and others?

I get it. Trust me; I am the king of the buffer zone. The introvert in me sees that empty chair as an invisible wall that separates me from the other person. If I sit in it, we might touch, we might speak, they might be annoying, and I might appear to be socially inept.

But, if the Recovering Redemption series has been prodding me in one specific direction, it has been to pull back the veil that covers the motives and intentions of my heart. So, let’s look at something that is so concrete and practical it almost appears mundane. What does that empty seat say?

It says we want convenience.

When we leave that empty seat, we are preserving a ring of comfort for our convenience. If we sit next to someone, our space will be invaded. We feel really comfortable in our personal bubble. It smells like we want it to smell, it is the right temperature, and it always has the right amount of wiggle room.

Paul seems to think that “if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy…” his joy will be complete in seeing the believers share the “same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind”  (Phil. 2:1-2). If we are unwilling to literally draw “near” to one another in corporate worship, I seriously doubt the depth of our willingness to draw “near” to one another in love, participation in the spirit, affection and sympathy.

That seat is an opportunity for you to draw near to one another. Let that nearness remind you that as part of the same body of believers, you are to be of the “same mind, same love, in full accord and of one mind.” Convenience is a weak substitute for communal worship. Participate in the Spirit together.

It says we want autonomy.

Ever since Adam and Eve in the Garden, mankind has pursued autonomy from God, which has led us to pursue autonomy from one another.Their perfect unity shattered by sin, Adam and Eve begin to seek separation from God and each other—in the way they cover their bodies, in the way they hide from God, in the way they shift blame.

If you sit next to that person, you might lose your ability to maintain separation. Conversation, touch and community might emerge as two “images of God” sit shoulder to shoulder in a row of seats in a worn-out building.

Do we view the person next to us as an opportunity to be surprised by God’s grace? As C.S. Lewis reminds us, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

Why not take an opportunity this Sunday to lay down your desire for autonomy and meet an immortal?

It says we want worship on our terms.

Far too often, we approach corporate worship with the hope that it will meet all our needs. You want to hear that one song you love, you want the preacher to be particularly funny without sacrificing insight, and youwant to interact with people who will match your moods and delight your eyes. We want worship on our terms. But this approach is flawed.

You need to know that the seat you sit on this Sunday is not a right. You have brothers and sisters in Christ who gather in mud huts, sit in basements and listen for knocks and police shouts as they worship the Lord Jesus. Gathering together for corporate worship is costly for them, yet they know the comfort of the Spirit. They have found that Christ is no less worthy of worship when shoulders rub, babies cry, and the room is hot with the breath of a packed crowd.

When you pursue worship on your own terms, you make yourself the object of worship. Let the person next to you and behind you and in front of you remind you that individual preferences have no place in the corporate gathering of the saints.

The desire to have convenience, autonomy and worship on our own terms keeps the empty seat firmly in place, week after week. Set aside these lesser things for the joy of drawing near. Fill the empty seat. Allow the proximity of your fellow worshipers to remind you each week that we are one body made of many connected parts, for whom personal relationship with God manifests as corporate relationship with others. Brothers and sisters, scoot in.

‘“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’ He said ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”’ Luke 10:36-37

In Luke 10, the expert in the law, in his self-righteousness, wanted to know who his neighbor was so that he could check off the box of “loving his neighbor as himself”. Through the Parable of the Good Samaritan however Jesus teaches that it is not as simple as that. Each person is our neighbor and it is our calling as Christians to love everyone as Christ loved us.

On Saturday, November 2, Restoration Church members took time to pass out empty bags of food in Northwest DC to collect food for families in Southeast that they may never see. Washington D.C. is a city of marble and cardboard and each one of its citizens is a neighbor that Jesus has commanded us to love. On Tuesday we dropped off 80 bags of groceries, diapers, and cleaning supplies to be donated to the families and individuals that come to A Wider Circle. The average income of a family at A Wider Circle is 12,000 for a family of four and this includes all forms of public assistance as well as income. Many kids depend on school lunches as their mean source of food and will not eat over enough over the weekend when school is out.

The food donated by Restoration Church will be going to two different places. It will help to provide Thanksgiving baskets for the dozens upon dozens of family who are dependent upon A Wider Circle for a Thanksgiving meal. It will also be loaded onto one of our box trucks for our monthly trip to Southeast Washington D.C. to pass out to Emmanuel Baptist Church, Hope Village, and other surrounding communities. As someone who works with the families when they come in to A Wider Circle, I (Megan T.) wanted to thank you all for the ways that you are caring for your neighbor through your prayers, time, and donations. Yesterday I handed a formerly homeless veteran a bag containing Kleenex, paper towels, toilet paper, rice, beans, peaches, pasta, and green beans and it was priceless the way that his face lit up.

Yesterday’s sermon from 1 Peter 1:23-2:3 challenged us to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” But what about the unloveable…do we have to love them too? Yes; here are 10 reasons we must do so:

  1. God loves them.
  2. We show the power of the gospel by loving all people.
  3. We live in Christian obedience when we show love toward all.
  4. Some unlovable church members need Jesus.
  5. Some unlovable church members are undiscipled believers acting like undiscipled people.
  6. Love motivates our praying for unlovable church members.
  7. Loving unlovable church members is an act of faith.
  8. Unlovable people are often loners, and loners need help winning spiritual battles.
  9. Only genuine love allows us to carry out church discipline when needed.
  10. We are all sometimes unlovable.

I (Joey) recently read a blog about what we learn from missing church for several weeks in a row. While the whole article is well worth the read, here are is a short summary:

“I missed church for five weeks in a row recently because of circumstances surrounding the birth of my second child. We have a healthy baby girl now, and all is well. And I wish I didn’t have to miss so much church. However, God used that season of being away to remind me how valuable it is to gather with the body of Christ weekly. Consider the following:

-Preaching complements personal Bible study in the life of a believer.
-In a local church, members demonstrate a special type of kindness to one another.
-Singing corporately with other believers nurtures the Christian’s soul.
-Giving is an act of worship, not merely a discipline.

If poor health, an unavoidable work schedule, or other providential hindrances have kept you away from church for a season, this isn’t intended to make you feel false guilt. When God makes it impossible for His children to attend corporate worship, He provides for the health of their souls in other ways. But if you have simply strayed from church, think about all you’re missing. As the writer of Hebrews says, do not forsake “our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encourage[e] one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25 NASB). Hopefully you won’t have to be away as long as I was to realize the joys God has for you among His gathered saints.”

Disappointment–What is Necessary–God’s Patience
by John Newton
August 17, 1767

It is indeed natural to us to wish and to plan, and it is merciful in the Lord to disappoint our plans, and to cross our wishes. For we cannot be safe, much less happy, but in proportion as we are weaned from our own wills, and made simply desirous of being directed by His guidance. This truth (when we are enlightened by His Word) is sufficiently familiar to the judgment; but we seldom learn to reduce it to practice, without being trained awhile in the school of disappointment.

The schemes we form look so plausible and convenient, that when they are broken, we are ready to say, “What a pity!” We try again, and with no better success; we are grieved, and perhaps angry, and plan out another, and so on; at length, in a course of time, experience and observation begin to convince us, that we are not more able than we are worthy to choose aright for ourselves. Then the Lord’s invitation to cast our cares upon Him, and His promise to take care of us, appear valuable; and when we have done planning, His plan in our favour gradually opens, and he does more and better for us than we either ask or think.

I can hardly recollect a single plan of mine, of which I have not since seen reason to be satisfied, that had it taken place in season and circumstance just as I proposed, it would, humanly speaking, have proved my ruin; or at least it would have deprived me of the greater good the Lord had designed for me. We judge of things by their present appearances, but the Lord sees them in their consequences, if we could do so likewise we should be perfectly of His mind; but as we cannot, it is an unspeakable mercy that He will manage for us, whether we are pleased with His management or not; and it is spoken of as one of his heaviest judgments, when He gives any person or people up to the way of their own hearts, and to walk after their own counsels.

As we study 1 Peter it is clear Christians always have and always will face persecution. Context certainly determines what form the persecution takes, but “all who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted.”

From Joe Carter at the TheGospelCoalition, here are 9 things you should know about Christian persecution:

1. Christian churches around the world have set apart the month of November to remember and pray for the persecuted church, through the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP).

2. According to the U.S. Department of State, Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Christ.

3. With the exception of four official state-controlled churches in Pyongyang, Christians in North Korea face the risk of detention in the prison camps, severe torture and, in some cases, execution for practicing their religious beliefs. North Koreans suspected of having contact with South Korean or other foreign missionaries in China, and those caught in possession of a Bible, have been known to be executed.

4. In Syria, Christians are increasingly becoming the target of violent attacks. Catholic and Orthodox groups in Syria say the anti-government rebels have committed “awful acts” against Christians, including beheadings, rapes and murders of pregnant women. A special ‘Vulnerability Assessment of Syria’s Christians‘ conducted by the World Watch unit of Open Doors International from June 2013 warned that Syrian Christians are the victims of “disproportionate violence and abuse.” They warned further that Christian women in Syria are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse.

5. In August 2013, Egypt faced what has been called the the worst anti-Christian violence in seven centuries: 38 churches were destroyed, 23 vandalized; 58 homes were burned and looted and 85 shops, 16 pharmacies and 3 hotels were demolished; 6 Christians were killed in the violence and 7 were kidnapped.

6. The bloodiest attack on Christians in Pakistan’s history occurred in September 2013. Two suicide bombers exploded shrapnel laden vests outside All Saints’ Church in the old city of Peshawar. Choir members and children attending Sunday school were among 81 people killed. The attack left 120 people wounded, with 10 of them in critical condition.

7. During an attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi in September, Islamic terrorists asked people for the name of Muhammad’s mother or to recite a verse from the Quran in order to identify non-Muslims. One of the terrorists announced, “We have come to kill you Christians and Kenyans because you have been killing our women and children in Somalia. Any Muslims can go.”

8. Four Christians in Iran will get 80 lashes each this month for drinking wine during a communion service. Ahmed Shaheed, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, said that it is common practice for Christians to be punished for violating theocratic laws. In the UN report Shaheed wrote: ‘At least 20 Christians were in custody in July 2013. In addition, violations of the rights of Christians, particularly those belonging to evangelical Protestant groups, many of whom are converts, who proselytize to and serve Iranian Christians of Muslim background, continue to be reported.’

9. An average of 100 Christians around the world are killed each month for their faith. (Note: There are several sources that claim the numbers are as high as 100,000+ a year. In the absence of solid evidence for those numbers, though, I chose to go with the more empirically verifiable estimate.)

Almighty God, we praise you for you are great. There is none like you, O Lord; you are great, and your name is great in might. (Jeremiah 10:6, ESV) We are reminded of your greatness all through your Word. Heavenly Father, you revealed your greatness before there could be witnesses when you called into being out of nothing all that is. Jesus Christ, you walked on this earth as man, but you also were God, and so displayed your greatness by healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, even raising the dead. Holy Spirit, you reveal your greatness even today as you give spiritual sight and spiritual life to men and women around this world who are helpless apart from you. God in three persons we praise you for your astounding, far-reaching greatness that sets you apart from us and demands our worship.

We confess though that despite your greatness, we too often worship small things. Refusing to lift our eyes to heaven, we see greatness in the comforts of this life. We chase whole-heartedly after success without stopping to question what we’ll truly have if we apprehend it. We wallow in leisure as if these lives are unending, pushing away the reality that someday, soon, our lives, like a vapor, will be gone. We confess that we pervert the responsibilities you give us, working so hard that we forget you are our master, lavishing so much love on our children that there is none left for our heavenly father, serving our spouse so fully we neglect our duties as a part of the church, the bride of Christ. Called to mind, the carelessness with which we live is unbearable. And so, we cry out for your forgiveness.

And we thank you that you hear our cry. You have promised to “be merciful toward [our] iniquities, and . . . remember [our] sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:12, ESV) We thank you Lord that we are recipients of your great mercy and of your great love. We thank you that your care for us extends to and is perfectly sufficient for our daily needs in this life.

And because you instruct us to, we dare to come before you asking for more. We ask boldly, knowing that in Christ you have made us to be and receive us as your children. But we also ask humbly, understanding that your ways are beyond our finding out. Our confidence is in you.

We pray for those with authority over us because we understand them to have been given authority from you for our good. We pray specifically for those in the legislative branch. We pray that members of the House and of the Senate would enact laws that would further the interests of justice because you are perfectly just. We pray that their work would protect the vulnerable in this land from being taken advantage of because they are made in your image. We pray that you would grant them wisdom in their work for the benefit of all you have placed under them.

We pray also, Lord, for students who are preparing to enter or return to colleges and universities around this country. We pray that many will encounter your truth for the first time through the diligent witness of believing classmates. We pray that your gospel would spread to new places in the world as you bring young men and women from countries with no gospel witness to study here. Help us, through the American Friends program, and others to faithfully plant gospel seeds and we pray that you will grow them to fruition for your own sake.

We pray this evening for our brothers and sisters in Malaysia. Lord, give them grace to persist in their faith in the face of opposition and intimidation. We pray that you would provide the courage and the resources for them to take your gospel to the dozens of people groups in that country that lack any witness to your truth. By your Spirit, help them to live lives of such godliness and holiness that their profession of faith in you is judged credible, attractive, even desirable by many who oppose them. Bring many to yourself through them, we pray.

Finally, we pray for ourselves. As we prepare to give to you, we pray that it would be done with joyful hearts. We pray that you would make our meager gifts to be greatly multiplied in your economy. Then quiet our fears and our concerns. As we turn to your Word may it command our full attention. Help us to listen when you speak, we pray. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

From Restoration Church member Alex B.

Jesús Cristo. Jezi Kris la. Jésus-Christ. Jesus Christus. Jesus Christ. No matter the language, the country, the people, He remains the same.

Draw near, O nations, to hear, and give attention, O peoples! Let the earth hear, and all that fills it; the world, and all that comes from it. Isaiah 34:1

About a month ago, I went to the Dominican Republic and Haiti with Restoration Church on my first mission trip of hopefully many. Leading up to our day of departure, I worried about having everything I needed, wondered if I would freeze when called upon to pray or share the Gospel, whether I would be miserable leaving my comfort zone or if I would let down my team. I doubted.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.“ Matthew 16: 24-25

Lisa Chan, wife of Pastor Francis Chan, spoke on this verse and explained we do not follow God’s will by our own power, but rather by relinquishing our lives to His power and simply following what He has called us to do. He will provide the strength and means to accomplish His will because our God is a sovereign almighty God. I never have to worry because He is always in control.

When I began working to let go and submit everything to God’s will, that’s when He gave me the boldness and peace to proclaim the Gospel joyfully and fearlessly. God worked for His glory; and not just that the Haitian people would see the beauty of His grace, but that I could see that His work knew no bounds…

Or language barriers. Throughout the week, I saw the Gospel shared in Haitian Creole, Spanish, English, French and German. The Holy Spirit works through every language and heart, by the triune God’s power, not by man’s. God’s Word is a global message, meant for all people of the earth. God’s people are not how man sees them by color, ethnicity or language. God’s people are all those who bear the image of the one true God and proclaim His Son, Jesus Christ, as Savior.

But that’s not to forget the significance of the local church.

“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.“ Hebrews 10:24-25

On the last day, the team evangelized in a Dominican town, Esperanza, with a local pastor.  We talked with people about the saving grace of Christ in the middle of their daily work. While most people believed in the existence of God, not all knew their need for Christ.  After talking with one woman about Christ, we were able to direct her to the local pastor and his church where she could continue to go with questions or in need of encouragement after the team left.

Compare this to the time of evangelism in Phaeton, Haiti, where there is not a healthy local church to direct people to.  The time there was spent encouraging people who had previously come to faith with Noah in the months before. The only time these people received encouragement and instruction in the Lord was when Noah, with or without a team, visited. Without a local church, the people were not consistently pushed forward to growth in the Lord and were left without a pastor’s instruction.

Sending a team to Haiti for a week won’t have the greatest, life changing impact on the people we meet.  It will introduce people to the Gospel and encourage the people, the local pastors and the long term missionaries in the Lord.  But it will also reveal the unrestricted nature of God’s glory and power to the visiting team.  God knows no limits and works all things according to His sovereign will.

“Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; His understanding is beyond measure.” Psalm 147:5

© 2015 Restoration Church
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