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What we are trying to do here

We are starting off the semester with a few weeks on the topic of stewardship. Last week, Paul spoke about stewarding money (with a very nice title “The Worth of Wealth”.) This week I’d like to talk about stewarding our spiritual disciplines, with a focus on our various gatherings. I’d like to talk about “The Weight of Worship.” So Paul and I are looking at Brad for next week and wondering what his W’s are going to be. :)

What I want to get at is why we are here. What are we trying to do? Why do this, rather than something else you’d prefer to do on your own?  Because of the pattern of the scripture. Turn to Acts 2 with me. 

At the very day the church was founded, Peter preached the first church sermon, the Gospel pronouncement that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah. Those who were listening were “cut to the heart”, and asked “what must we do to be saved?” Peter told them to “repent and be baptized”, which immediately resulted in the pattern we find in verse 42:

Acts 2:42–47 (ESV)

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

This is where it all begins. From the very beginning the church gathered do devote themselves to the apostles teaching (which we have in the scriptures), the fellowship (meaning they were devoted to one another in the church), the breaking of bread, and the prayers.  

All this as a response to, and for the further spread of, the Gospel message.

I have taught in the past here, and I teach our music ministry that what we are trying to do, the purpose of the gathered worship of the church, is to remember the gospel, instruct one another in the way of life that flows from the gospel, freshly send one another out on gospel-mission in everyday life.

What is the Gospel?

The Gospel message, is captured beautifully in the songs we sang this morning, specifically these two, both of which capture the heart of one who   the Gospel message and the appropriate response to it:

Only Your Blood Is Enough (Verses 1&2 and Chorus)

I am ashamed conceived in sin I’ve always been.
Born in a World Where Adam’s fall corrupts us
Rooted is the seed of death in life’s first breath
The law demands a perfect heart but I’m defiled in every part

All this guilt disturbs my peace I find no release.
Who will save me from my crime I’m helpless
Behold I fall before your face in need of grace
So speak to me in a gentle voice for in your mercies I rejoice

Only Your blood is enough to cover my sin.

Now Why This Fear (verses 2 & 3)

Complete atonement You have made
And by Your death have fully paid
The debt Your people owed

No wrath remains for us to face
We're sheltered by Your saving grace
And sprinkled with Your blood

Be still my soul and know this peace
The merits of your great High Priest
Have bought your liberty

Rely then on His precious blood
Don't fear your banishment from God
Since Jesus sets you free
Jesus, all my trust is in your blood.

The specific songs we choose, in the order we choose them, the whole service, all together, conveys a critical message to us, every single Sunday. Which is why it is so important that you are present, and on time, and not doing other things in the building.

Why so much emphasis on The Gospel?

Romans 1:16 (ESV)

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

“But I’m already saved, so now what?”  Well, you aren’t. Not yet. You are in process, and for those who are in the process, the end result is so sure, that the scripture speaks of salvation as a sealed deal, already done thing, but it is a future reality, not merely a present one. The Gospel is the POWER OF GOD for salvation AND for sanctification, or spiritual growth.

2 Corinthians 3:15–4:2 (ESV)

15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 

4 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

We grow, spiritually, by beholding God’s Glory, not by trying to grow spiritually. All the spiritual disciplines, which you should be doing: prayer, worship, fasting, reading, memorizing, and meditating on God’s word, evangelism, service, all these are for the purpose of seeing God’s Glory, if you are not aiming at seeing God more clearly in these things, you will not grow spiritually, no matter how hard you work these things. 

Do not think of bible reading and prayer and evangelism and service in the church as spiritual push-ups that will cause you to grow. That is not how it works. 

When we come together to worship: as we behold God’s Glory through The Gospel message in the scripture sung, preached, explained; and through our fellow members of the church, in everyday lives of obedience and service to Christ’s command to love one another, we are transformed from one degree of glory to another, that is, we become more like Christ.

That is why we say we are here to remind each other of the Gospel.

The words in our songs do this, the words of the Bible that we hear read does this, our sermons are supposed to do this, our presence here does this:

As we share life together, and know the hard times and the good times each of us are facing, and yet remaining faithful. “I see that he has gone through a dark valley, and yet he came out the other side, I don’t need to fear the valley I’m facing.”

That is why the first song we sang today might be my favorite of the whole bunch.

All our sickness, all our sorrow, Jesus carried up the hill.
He has walked this path before us, he is walking with us still.
Turning tragedy to triumph, turning agony to praise
there is blessing in the battle, so take heart, and stand amazed!

Rejoice!
When you cry to Him he hears your voice!
He will wipe away your tears!
Rejoice!
In the midst of suffering, He will help you sing.

Those of us who have followed in Jesus footsteps in the midst of suffering are proving to the rest of us that God’s promises are true. That is why we we need you here. Each and every one of you.

Our role in the relationship

So your part in this is to come on time, prepared & expectant, to receive grace from God’s Holy Spirit through His word, and through His body, the church.

Ephesians 5:15–21 (ESV)

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Hebrews 3:12–13 (ESV)

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

Hebrews 10:23–25 (ESV)

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 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.

1 Corinthians 14:26 (ESV)

26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.

What would it look like if we did that?

What if, instead of worry about whether or not we preferred the music, lighting, decor, style, etc, we simply trusted God with these things, and threw ourselves in to what the church was doing?

What if, instead of worrying about what you are getting out of it, you worried about what others are getting out of it, and how you could contribute to that?

Recently I have counseled a few younger men, who were struggling in their faith, to show up on Sunday morning, at least 10 minutes early. To stand when the singing started, and to sing loudly along with all the songs. To take notes during the sermon. To fold their hands, bow their heads and close their eyes during prayers and listen hard and pray along.  Even if they didn’t feel like it. And even when no one else was doing it. 

One of them remarked to me a few weeks later “man it seems like Sunday morning has really gotten a lot better!”  Funny how that worked.

Jesus said: “If you seek after your own life and you will lose it, but whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” This applies to Sunday morning.

What if we all came, recognized the mutual awkwardness and cultural silliness, and threw ourselves in, sang loud, raised our hands or clapped along during the music, even with, or maybe especially with the songs we didn’t really feel like singing?

What if we all came and acknowledged that this projector is about to die. That this sound system is broken and in need of replacement? That the inside of this auditorium looks like a middle aged woman’s living room from the mid-nineties? And just went with it?

What if we made it a habit to engage with the sermon, eagerly taking notes to apply 1 Thessalonians 5, testing everything, rejecting evil and making notes to ask the pastor about things we don’t think lined up with scripture, and hold fast to what is good, making notes and praying to God for strength to repent and obey the Holy Spirit’s truth in the scripture.

What if we all came, and were completely honest about how our weeks were going, and acknowledged our need for grace, and that, this week, Jesus’ blood really is the only thing that can save us? What if we allowed ourselves to sit with our head in our hands, falling on our face in need of grace and allowing the message of the Gospel to wash over us, and just rest in it.

What if we were all here, on time, prepared & expectant, to receive grace from God’s Holy Spirit through His word, and through His body, the church.

How would Sunday morning feel? I think it would start to feel like the vital conduit of life-giving nourishment of grace that we know we need.DISCUSSION QUESTIONS