LIFE group guide: come together because …

 

NOTE: Following is the discussion guide we’ll use in our LIFE groups at MoSt Church tomorrow (Jan. 19). This guide will enable your follow-up of my sermon that morning. This sermon is the third in a series entitled Gatherings. This series will run through the month of January.

To find previous group discussion guides, look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous issues.

Revelation

These Scriptures form some of the foundation of this morning’s sermon.

• By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13.35 RSV)

• They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2.42 NIV)

• … whatever you do, you should do it all for God’s glory. (1 Corinthians 10.31 CEB)

• … every time you eat this bread and drink from this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11.26 TEV)

• Let all things be done in a way that will build up the community. (1 Corinthians 14.26b NJB)

• … whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3.17 NRSV)

• … meet together … we must encourage one another … (Hebrews 10.25 KNT)

• … suppose someone comes into your meeting … (James 2.2 NLT)

• … you are God’s “chosen generation”, his “royal priesthood”, his “holy nation”, his “peculiar people”—all the old titles of God’s people now belong to you. It is for you now to demonstrate the goodness of him who has called you out of darkness into his amazing light. (1 Peter 2.9 Phillips)

Relation

Use one of the following icebreaker questions to prime the pump, to help the conversation begin. Choose one to discuss.

1. When you’ve got something to do, what successfully motivates you to actually do it?

2. “I get together on Sunday with others who claim faith in Christ because __________.”

Research

These exercises/questions are meant to help us grapple with the Scripture(s) related to this morning’s sermon.

1. Note how “church” and “kingdom” are linked (Matt. 16.18-19; Heb. 12.23,28; Rev. 1.4,6,9).

2. What does it mean to “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3.17)?

Reflection

These questions assist our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us in our encounter with God’s word.

1. If I’m a part of Christ’s church, then what’s my life with others to say about Christ?

2. Which of the texts above strikes you most as to the benefit of Christians assembling?

3. Imagine every member showing up with this mentality: “I’m here to build others up!”

4. What can a disciple do to best prepare themselves to assemble with other believers?

Response

These ideas/suggestions are for your use beyond the group meeting; to aid in living out today’s message in the coming days.

1. Spend time in prayer for seven straight days regarding your “church expectations” (i.e. – your attitude and predispositions toward Christian gatherings).

2. Show up four consecutive Sundays expecting to receive nothing and to give your all.

LIFE group guide: come together anyway

 

NOTE: Following is the discussion guide we’ll use in our LIFE groups at MoSt Church tomorrow (Jan. 12). This guide will enable your follow-up of my sermon that morning. This sermon is the second in a series entitled Gatherings. This series will run through the month of January.

To find previous group discussion guides, look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous issues.

Reason

Stated in a single sentence, this is the purpose of this sermon series, or this particular sermon in a series.

To explore and emphasize the importance of our gathering together as a church.

Revelation

These Scriptures form some of the foundation of this morning’s sermon.

• I have a serious concern to bring up with you … I’ll put it as urgently as I can: You must get along with each other. You must learn to be considerate of one another, cultivating a life in common. I bring this up because some … brought a most disturbing report to my attention—that you’re fighting among yourselves! I’ll tell you exactly what I was told: You’re all picking sides, going around saying, “I’m on Paul’s side,” or “I’m for Apollos,” or “Peter is my man,” or “I’m in the Messiah group.” (1 Corinthians 1.10-12)

• Brothers and sisters, I couldn’t talk to you like spiritual people but like unspiritual people, like babies in Christ. I gave you milk to drink instead of solid food, because you weren’t up to it yet. Now you are still not up to it because you are still unspiritual. When jealousy and fighting exist between you, aren’t you unspiritual and living by human standards? (1 Corinthians 3.1-3)

• … I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. (1 Corinthians 11.17-19)

Relation

Use one of the following icebreaker questions to prime the pump, to help the conversation begin. Choose one to discuss.

1. What are the main excuses you hear folks offer for not “going to church?”

2. Name something you deeply love and appreciate about our church family.

Research

These exercises/questions are meant to help us grapple with the Scripture(s) related to this morning’s sermon.

1. Scan 1 Corinthians. Make a list of the most obvious sins in the Corinthian church.

2. Scan 1 Cor. Make a list of the apostle Paul’s “prescriptions” for the Corinthians’ “sin sickness.”

Reflection

These questions assist our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us in our encounter with God’s word.

1. Every sin we commit, private and public, always affects the whole church.” Discuss.

2. If it were not for the good I’ve experienced in the life of the church I would be __________.

3. A friend says “I quit church due to all the hypocrisy.” A constructive response?

4. What does truly “healthy talk” about sin in each other’s lives sound like?

Response

These ideas/suggestions are for your use beyond the group meeting; to aid in living out today’s message in the coming days.

1. Work at developing a mind and way that is always aware of, and sensitive to, the unchurched.

2. Deliberately encourage two people this week: one who has “quit church” and one who has not.

putting skin on the sermon: come together

The earliest Christians couldn’t imagine not getting together often and consistently.

“… they spent much time together …” (Acts 2.46)

But, it wasn’t all that long before some Christians had other ideas, requiring a need to say something about it.

“Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing.” (Hebrews 10.25)

And yet …

I have a confession to make: I’ve always been nonplussed by sermons on “church attendance.” When I first began to hear them (as one yet to believe) they struck me as, at best, misguided. How’s that? The people who most needed to hear such a sermon were the ones who weren’t there to hear it. Thus, such messages came across to me as something akin to “preaching to the choir” and as a bit self-righteous (and judging by most of the conversations I often overheard among “the faithful” following such a sermon, I’d say that was about right).

And after I came to be a Christian, such sermons became even all the more difficult for me to swallow. They sounded, well, silly. I mean even as a baby Christian I knew that at the same time God was forgiving me of my sins he was adding me to his family (Acts 2.38,47). God added me to his family?! Hello! A real relationship with God includes a real relationship with his family. And so, to get up and basically beg disciples of Christ to “attend church” made about as much sense to me as telling water to be wet or saying to a rock, “Be solid.” Senseless, at best.

To make matters worse, with rare exception such messages magnified the church at the Lord’s expense. I even recall one such sermon that made not one mention of the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. Incredible. By preaching so, church gatherings were (unwittingly) held up as the “end” of our faith, rather than for what they actually are, a part of the “means” of our walk with God. Consequently, such sermons only threw gasoline (by the bucketful!) on the wildfire of deception already raging among many Christians (i.e. – how often you show up at church is what determines if you’re truly a faithful Christian or not; something like counting coup). It’s all too easy to get into the groove of just “doing church” and “going to church” and doing so without any real engagement with God. Mark it down: it’s very easy to do church without God. Such thinking mustn’t be encouraged, but discouraged.

My years of experience in preaching hasn’t softened my mind on “preaching on attendance” either. I’ve yet to know of a single person who made any lasting change in their habits of gathering with other Christians on the basis of a sermon about it. Across the years, I have seen some folks change their habits in gathering for the better, but it’s always – always! – been sermons about other matters – and usually not sermons at all, but other forms of communication and stimulation – that God used to work that improvement. After all, fading away from Christian gatherings isn’t the problem, but merely a symptom of other, and greater, problems. Ask folks who regularly gather with believers as to why they come and see if “I heard a sermon about it” even gets mentioned. I’ve asked hundreds across the years in three states and I’ve yet to hear even an oblique reference to a lesson or sermon on “attendance.” Think on this. You can take it to the bank.

And so, let me encourage you to think about my current sermon series (Gatherings) as not so much about merely “showing up at church,” but actually about what our understanding and vision of being present together is about. Make no mistake about it – showing up is crucial. I strongly discourage anything less! But, why we show up, and with what sort of mind and expectations we have about gathering together to begin with, is even closer to the center of things important. Or to put it another way, it is our attitude toward God and others (conscious or unconscious) that determines our actions in regard to our deliberately placing ourselves in the presence of other Christians. After all, the church is Christ’s bride and a person who is a true friend of the groom won’t have to be begged to do right by his bride. Get that picture.

So … yesterday’s sermon, in two words … is this: come together. Show up mentally and physically. As often as you can. As long as you physically can. Just remember God doesn’t need your presence; he’ll do just fine with or without you. Show up with the understanding that you need to gather with others (Christianity is community), other believers need you with them (we are saved to serve, not to be served), and ultimately, it’s one of the best things we can do for the whole world (the church must be the church). Capture this attitude: “time together” is precious. And never let go of that attitude; don’t stop meeting together with other believers.

God willing, we’ll consider more of these matters in sermons during the remaining Sundays of this month. And next Sunday, we’ll take a hard look at some of the tough things we will encounter when we “show up at church.” I solicit your prayers … and your presence … for the good of us all and to the praise of our matchless, magnificent God. Amen.

the church Jesus goes to

 

I know where Jesus goes to church. Without a doubt. He goes to the church that lives deliberately, boldly, and consistently …

pursuing peace and reconciliation. Though it lives in a world saturated with anger, disrespect, snarkiness, and insult, with a will it refuses to go there. It’s done with living by rage, choosing righteousness instead. It’s not defined by its own insecurities and its ability to utter barbed wit in retort to those who mock it, but by its humble confidence in its Christ and its dependence on the provision of God’s Spirit in every situation, no matter how dark or difficult. Imagine: a church made distinctive to all by not being abrasive and hard to live with.

unruled by its wants. Though surrounded on every side by people chasing after every kind of lust and sanctifying all sorts of unfaithfulness in every relationship, it isn’t seduced to do the same. It doesn’t seek its own will, but whatever God’s will is for it. Instead of searching for meaning in whatever it perceives as sexy (not just sex itself, by whatever is “sexy”), it finds its meaning in its Lord and Savior, for he is enough, and more. Picture this: a church known to the world for its contentment and reliability.

by its words of honesty. Though the culture in which is resides is given over to dishonesty and deception, it quietly walks its talk. It practices what it preaches, not merely what’s “practical” in the moment. Its ways aren’t determined by always choosing what works out for its own best interest, but by going after the truth that true love can truly rejoice in always. Capture this vision: a church perceived as genuine and true by all who care to truly engage it.

extending mercy generously. Though its world is largely driven by retaliation and payback, fueled by fear and the never ending yearning for hard justice, it walks by faith on higher ground. It thrives on the Spirit of compassion, not the spirit of competition. Its life map is not of doing whatever would instill fear in others of it, but to do whatever would help install faith in others in the God it follows. Draw it in your head like this: a church characterized by selfless giving and costly care.

loving the unlovable. Though seemingly all of society continually calls it to elicit indifference, ill will, hate, or anything and everything else that dehumanizes, it chooses to love with the love of the divine instead. By so doing, it traffics in forgiveness, not fierceness or fighting. This is because it seeks its definition not in its enemies, but in him who allowed his enemies to spike him to a tree. Place this before your eyes: a church that will mount the cross with its Lord, and die with him. Daily.

After all, what else could a person honestly conclude after reading what Jesus candidly said in Matthew 5.21-26,27-32,33-37,38-42,43-48?

And so, I have to ask: what might a church become if it understood and made these matters its chief means of worshiping and following Jesus Christ? In a week? A month? A few years? Over the course of a lifetime? Or after several generations?

Would it not become more and more like the One it worshiped? And wouldn’t that be what both the Lord, and they, wanted most of all?

Let’s find out. Let’s go to church with Jesus!

7 things you can do to bless your church family

 

Officially place membership. That is, put down roots in a particular congregation and let the leadership know you want to be considered a part of the flock there. Your decisiveness in doing so will not only help you in your development of a sense of belonging and responsibility, but will aid that congregation’s leaders as they seek to lead the flock there well and to shepherd your life with purpose.

Know that where you park makes a difference to others. Don’t park close to the building unless you must. Deliberately park in the back half of the parking lot, leaving the half closest to the building available for guests, the handicapped, and others. Are your knees and hips still good? Good, park a little further and leave the closer spots for those whose joints aren’t nearly so good as yours. It doesn’t just make good sense to do so, it’s a part of considering others before yourself, right (Rom. 12)?

What’s true for parking also holds true for seating. Unless you have a special need, deliberately sit further in on the pew or the row, deliberately leaving the aisle seats available for guests and those who truly need such. Sit a little closer to the front, too, deliberately leaving seating at the rear available for latecomers, etc. That simple, physical act will help impress on your mind that as Christ served/serves you, you’re to be a servant of others in every way. Your obvious display of attention and interest will also strongly encourage all who lead the gatherings, too. This is a win-win-win for all.

Take five. Meaning take the first five minutes following the conclusion of a gathering to either greet newcomers, to encourage those who are there that day, but who are rarely there on other occasions, or to be present with those you’ve just learned of having a deep need in their life. Pray tell, what could possibly be more important during those five minutes?

Keep folks in the loop as to where you are. How many times have you has a conversation like the following? “Where’s Joe & Suzanne?” ” I don’t know.” “Me neither.” “Been a couple of weeks, hasn’t it?” “Seems like it.” “I hope everything’s good.” “Me too.” “Maybe we’ll see them next week.” “Maybe so.” Or maybe not. Better, when you let folks know where you’re at, you not only do right by your own need for accountability and prayer, you do right by those who care for you by removing a concern and replacing it with knowledge, love, and care. Not many folks deliberately try to slip through the cracks into inactivity or invisibility and though you might think such could never be you, it could. So be pro-active in building up your defenses against becoming so. Instead of just being there when you can or waiting on others to seek you out when you’re not, make the first move yourself. Keep church leaders posted as to your whereabouts.

Remember that money matters. So either double-up ahead of time before you go out-of-town or make up your contribution when you come back home from that business trip, vacation, or wherever life takes you. Do it without fail for while you were gone, the bills continued on. No, it’s not all about money, but it is about being a responsible, dependable steward of, and support to, all ministry done in the name of Christ.

Spend regular time interceding with God. Everyone in your church family needs your prayers, not just those who are on the sick list this week. Every ministry in the congregation can benefit from your praise to, and intercession with, the Father, not just the one that’s in the spotlight at the moment. Every action your church helps support elsewhere – be it a mission point, a benevolent work or whatever – should be included in your conversations with Christ, not just the ones that are clearly experiencing a harvest time at this time. As you make yourself aware of the good efforts and actions of others, you’ll find yourself more motivated and stimulated, as well as sharpened and made wiser, as to your own. And a better you makes for a healthier body of Christ overall.

as we approach a congregational meeting …

 

In just a few minutes, our church will engage in a congregational meeting. The topic on the table is the current state and future of our eldership. The preceding week, I have looked forward to this evening’s meeting and simultaneously, had this past week’s memory verse continually come to mind. That verse is:

“Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord!” (Romans 12:11 CEB)

This memory verse and the meeting this evening have converged in my mind and so, gave rise to the following four thoughts. As members and leaders dialogue this evening, might I suggest to myself and to all …

1. “Don’t hesitate.” Which means time must always be a point of true consideration. Let us make the most of this God-given moment to the glory of God and the benefit of Christ’s body. May we respect the use of the body’s time together.

2. “Be enthusiastic.” Together we serve the Great God. He has given to us amazing grace upon grace. He has stooped and sacrificed to include each of us in his family and purpose. He it is who daily enables us to reflect his holiness. These are things truly worth getting excited about.

3. “Be on fire in the Spirit.” Let us make certain any “fire” within us, or coming from us, comes from, and respects, God’s Spirit. Scripture is not silent as to what our God thinks of “unauthorized fire.”

4. “Serve the Lord.” Let us all remember our place. None of us are masters; all of us are servants. Our way is not to please ourselves, but to please our Lord. To please him is our top priority and is to be our truly good pleasure.

Amen. And amen.

“Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord!” (Romans 12:11 CEB)

use your ambition

  • … use your ambition to try to work toward being the best at downplaying the church.
  • … use your ambition to try to work toward being the best at criticizing the church.
  • … use your ambition to try to work toward being the best at selling short the church.
  • … use your ambition to try to work toward being the best at stereotyping the church.
  • … use your ambition to try to work toward being the best at holding up the church.
  • … use your ambition to try to work toward being the best at antiquating the church.
  • … use your ambition to try to work toward being the best at confusing the church.
  • … use your ambition to try to work toward embarrassing the church.
  • … use your ambition to try to work toward being the best at dominating the church.
  • … use your ambition to try to work toward pleasing everyone in church.
  • … use your ambition to try to work toward being the best at disheartening the church.
  • … use your ambition to try to work toward being the best at burdening the church.
  • … use your ambition to try to work toward being the best at dividing the church.
  • … use your ambition to try to work toward being the best at freaking out the church.
  • … use your ambition to try to work toward being the best at paralyzing the church.
  • … use your ambition to try to work toward dumbing down the church.
  • … use your ambition to try to work toward remaining ignorant about the church.
  • … use your ambition to try to work toward being the best at spoiling the church.
  • … use your ambition to try to work toward being the best at prostituting the church.
  • … use your ambition to try to work toward being the best at emasculating the church.
  • … use your ambition to try to work toward being the best at using the church.
  • … use your ambition to try to work toward being the best at ignoring the church.
  • … use your ambition to try to work toward being the best at forsaking the church.
  • … use your ambition to try to work toward being the best at tearing down the church.

… use your ambition to try to work toward being the best at building up the church.” (1 Cor. 14:12b CEB)

Our Father in heaven, bring in your kingdom and deliver us from evil. Amen.