It’s Good To Gather

It’s Good To Gather 

Opening Illustration: The Pew News
Many of you are aware that our church produces a newsletter that comes out every 2 weeks.  In this newsletter you can find a host of information concerning the events of our church.  Occasionally, churches make mistakes about how they phrase this information and it is quite humorous.  I am going to read you a few of these mistakes.  Thankfully, our church has not made any of these errors but these are actual events and this is how they were actually described in their church bulletins.  Enjoy.

-Tonight's sermon: 'What is hell?' Come early and listen to our choir practice.

-This afternoon, there will be a meeting in the south and north ends of the church. Children will be baptized at both ends.

-This being Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs. Richards to come forward and lay an egg at the altar.

-The ladies of the church have cast off clothing of every kind and they may be seen in the church basement on Friday afternoon.

-The rosebud on the altar this morning is to announce the birth of Roderick James Hillman, the sin of Revd. and Mrs. Hillman.

-For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs.

You just have to love church don’t you.  I have loved the church since I was a young child.  I love church people.  I love the ministries of the church and I have been influenced to follow Christ by some dynamic and sincere pastors.  I don’t know where I would be if it were not for the church.  The church is a real priority to God as well.  Remember, Jesus established the church.  

Matthew 16:18 ESV
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

It was the desire of Christ to see the church grow.

John 12:32 ESV
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

It was Paul’s mission that the church affect the depraved culture of this world.

Romans 12:2 ESV
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Paul goes on to say that Jesus laid His life down in an act of sacrificial love for the church.  

Ephesians 5:25 NIV
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…

So, Jesus established the church.  He wanted to see the church grow numerically.  Jesus’ desire for the church to affect culture and save the lost is a foundational truth central to our faith.  Paul maintains that Jesus laid His life down for the church.  Think about it.  If you willingly said “I will die for this” or “I will die for that”, whatever this or that is must be a high priority.  

The last words of Christ in the Bible included the church.  

Matthew 28:16-20 ESV
18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Mark 16:15-16 ESV
And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Luke 24:46-49 ESV
46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

John 20:21-22 ESV
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

and just when you thought Jesus was done…Luke jumps back into the church building business with Jesus in Acts 1:8

Acts 1:8 ESV
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Are you seeing the point?  JESUS PUT A HUGE PRIORITY IN ESTABLISHING AND GROWING THE CHURCH!!!!! The church is important.  The church is integral to Christian growth.  The church is influential in society.  Where would we be without the church?

Yet, if you look around the landscape of Christianity in America, churches are shriveling up.  They are dying.  People are choosing to do just about anything instead of going to church.  Why?  Well there are a lot of excuses for sure.  We all have our preferences and when those preferences are not stroked, we do something else.  People get mad at the pastor.  It’s pretty outside.  There is a big game on Saturday. You name it I have heard an excuse a hundred times over.  

Gathering At Church Is Critical!

Friends, I believe that gathering at church is critical.  The author of Hebrews certainly felt meeting together as a body of Christ was important.  Listen to his words.  

Hebrews 10:19-25 ESV
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 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.

Acts 2 is one of the greatest chapter in the Bible to see the power and work of the Holy Spirit.  Acts 1 includes the call to preach the word of the Gospel to the nations.  We see Jesus’ accent and the disciples head to Jerusalem.  Acts 2 we find the disciples in the upper room praying.  The Holy Spirit, which was promised by Jesus shows up and shows out.  Tongues of fire rest on the disciples.  The Holy Spirit empowers the disciples to preach and teach in the public forums.  Especially Peter.  Peter, with the district gift of tongues, shares the Gospel with the gathering nations in Jerusalem.  Hundreds of thousands had gathered for Pentecost.  Following Peter’s message, 3000 repent and are baptized.  Thus, the church is born.  

Luke next describes the communal life of the first Jewish converts in Jerusalem: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, were in fellowship with each other, ate together, and prayed (2:42). Let’s examine briefly each of these characteristics.

The disciples devoted themselves to the “apostles’ teaching.” The apostles had no particular credentials as teachers in terms of being recognized religious authorities. None of the apostles had any formal religious training. They had been fishermen, tax collectors and ordinary citizens. Yet, it was clear to the believers that the apostles had come in the power and authority of Jesus. They had the experience of being with Jesus and being taught by him directly. For these reasons, the new converts were careful to listen to and put into practice the apostles’ teachings.

The believers devoted themselves to “fellowship.” The use of the definite article in Greek, “the fellowship,” implies that the account has reference to some type of specific gathering. While Jesus must have been the focus of these meetings, the Jerusalem disciples no doubt maintained something of the flavor of their Jewish roots.

The believers in Jerusalem were devoted to prayer (2:42). Once again, the definite article and the plural (“the prayers”) suggest that Luke is referring to specific prayers or times of prayer. The apostles attended Jewish prayer services in the temple (3:1) and the converts met in the temple (2:46). It wouldn’t be surprising if their prayers followed Jewish models, although the content would be different because such prayers would often concern Jesus and be offered in his name. Prayer is a regular feature of Luke’s narrative. 

Let’s read it together. 

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.

We Should Be Glad To Gather!

It is easy to discuss what one misses when they refuse to be a part of the body of Christ.  Let’s turn this thing positive and look at why the church is important.  Why should we gather together?  What are the benefits?  Let’s use the acrostic G.A.T.H.E.R. 

Gifts (Deploy Spiritual Gifts) vs. 43
Acts 2:43 ESV
43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.

Illustration: Why A Launching Pad?
I have always heard that the church serves as a launching pad for believers to deploy or launch their spiritual gifts.  Got me thinking?  Why do we need a launching pad anyway?

Can that missile or space shuttle just take off from the ground? The answer is no.  I read this on N.A.S.A. the other day.  This is why the launching pad is necessary for a successful launch. 

A launch pad is an above-ground platform from which a rocket-powered missile or space vehicle is vertically launched. A spaceport (or launch complex) is a facility which includes, and provides required support for, one or more launch pads. A launch pad generally contains a fixed or mobile service structure which provides one or more access platforms to inspect and maintain the vehicle, and an umbilical structure which provides the vehicle with propellants, cryogenic fluids, electrical power, communications, and telemetry prior to launch. The service structure also provides access to the crew cabin for vehicles carrying humans. The pad may contain a flame deflection structure to prevent the intense heat of the rocket exhaust from damaging the vehicle or pad structures, and a sound suppression system spraying large quantities of water may be employed. 

Did you hear that? A launching pad provides necessary support for anything going into space.  Without the launching pad, there is no power, no fuel, and no fluids.  Without the pad, the astronauts have no access to the shuttle.  Without the pad, there is no inspection.  You see the church is a launching pad for Christians to deploy their spiritual gifts.  Every Christian has a spiritual gift.  Most believers possess more than one spiritual gift.  The church provides necessary support for those gifts to be powered, fueled and energized.  The church also provides critical support by aiding believers inspection or accountability.  Just like a launching pad provides critical lift for the missile, rocket, or shuttle, the church helps the believer receive the lift or encouragement to see those spiritual gifts used.  The church is foundational to aiding a believer use their spiritual gifts.  

So, why do we gather at church? We gather here because this is the the place that helps us discover our gifts, sharpens those gifts and deploy those spiritual gifts for the glory of the Kingdom of God.  

I Corinthians 12:4-6 ESV
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 

Adore (Worship) vs. 47
Acts 2:47 ESV
47 praising God and having favor with all the people. 

Ok, I know what you are thinking. “Church is the place where I sing songs about God.” Yes, this is true.  One form of worship is making music with varied instruments and singing songs about God, to God and for God.  There are different styles of worship. Some people like hymns.  Some people like choruses.  Some people are like me and like varying styles of music.  I enjoy listening to the Bible being preached and taught.  That is a form of worship too. Worship is also giving.  Worshipping God includes making sacrifices to Him.  As a pastor, I encourage our church to worship God by giving their time, their gifts or talents, and their treasures.  Making a financial contribution to the ministries of our church is most certainly and act of worship.  

When we worship God at church we learn to be generous.  We learn to share life with one another.  I believe that an act of worshipping God is praying for and with one another.  Worshipping God means that we lay our burdens down at the foot of the cross.  It also means that we help carry one another’s burdens.  Worship is service.  At church an act of worship means that we serve God, serve one another and serve the community.  Worship is so much more than music.  However, if we don’t gather at church, we miss out on all the various forms and styles of worship.  

illustration: Jesus Shows Up In Worship
When I college student, I came home and attended church with my family.  My family were members at FBC Montgomery for several years.  FBC is a downtown church.  Very affluent.  Very wealthy.  Very put together if you know what I mean.  Very white. Occasionally someone who might break that mold would stumble into the church.  It was not uncommon see a homeless man sitting on the same pew with a millionaire lawyer.  It was not uncommon for someone to stumble in off the streets high on drugs or drunk on the drink.  The church is close to shelters so there were lots of down and out folks who came.  They were always welcomed and were always treated well.  On one occasion a man who was clearly mentally ill came to service.  Before the service he was ranting and raving about who knows what.  I noticed during the service that he would shout and beat himself in the head.  He was really out of it.  Right in the middle of the sermon, this fella shot up out of the pew and ran down the aisle screaming that the USS Enterprise of Star Trek fame was coming to get him and that he needed batteries for his radio so that he could signal them.  

A hush went over the congregation.  How embarrassing.  Get this guy out of here.  He is interrupting the service.  

Jay Wolf, who is still the pastor at FBC, paused his sermon.  He walked off the stage and put his arm around this man.  He spoke softly to him, smiled at him and told him that he loved him.  He invited the church to pray for this man.  Men and women from all over the room came forward and placed their hands on the man and Jay prayed for him.  Out loud.  The once agitated man started crying.  He fell to his knees.  Jay got on his knees with him and draped his arm around him.  With a little help from some doctors, the man was very tenderly escorted out and the church helped this individual get some help.  You can go to FBC today and you can see him there.  No, he is not ok, but he is welcome.  

Friends, that’s worship.  That’s what it means when Jesus shows up.  I was probably 18 years old when that happened and it is still something that I remember today.  

Paul understood that worship is a vital component to life in the Body of Christ.  

I Corinthians 14:26 NIV
What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.

Theology (Discipleship) vs. 42
Acts 2:42 ESV
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching

Illustration: Pontius The Pilot
Elizabeth asked her Sunday School class to sketch a picture of their favorite Bible stories. She was puzzled by Bert's picture, which showed four people sitting in a plane, so she asked him which bible story it was meant to represent.'  The flight to Egypt,' said Bert. 'I see ... and that must be Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus, 'Elizabeth said, 'But who's the fourth person?' Oh, that's Pontius - the Pilot.'

Obviously, theology matters. Good theology matters more.  Theology and discipleship is something that we take seriously here at ESBC.  Just look around, nearly everything we do has a discipleship angle to it.  Jesus told us as believers to make disciples.  How do we do that?  We make disciples here at church.  As ministers and pastors, we do everything we can to teach, preach, educate and illuminate Scriptures.  It is our hope that as members of this church that you will hear these teachings and replicate them in the lives of others.  

Church is a place where we read the Scriptures.

Church is a place where we reveal the truths behind the Scriptures.

Church is a place where we render the Scriptures in actions and deeds.  

When you come to church you can rest knowing that these pastors and teachers have studied and prepared.  No, we are not experts but we are educated.  No you will not agree with everything that is taught and preached but it is our goal to be challenged and to challenge others to grow in Christ.  Our mission is to G.R.O.W.

G – Go to God in Prayer Daily
R – Read God’s Word Daily
O – Obey God, moment by moment
W – Witness for Christ by your life and words

Colossians 3:16
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Harbor (A Safe Haven) vs. 45
Acts 2:45 ESV
45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 

We all know what a harbor is?  A harbor is a place where boats dock to get out of open water.  A harbor offers protection from storms.  The church may be a launching pad, but it is also a harbor.  

Let’s play a game. 
If you were in a hospital and received a visit from a pastor or member from the church will you please stand up.  Remain standing please. 

If you have either prepared or received a meal during a challenging time from someone in the church will you please stand up.  Remain standing.

If you have received an encouraging note or birthday card from a pastor or church member would you please stand up. Remain standing.

If you have received a thoughtful phone call from a church member or pastor and that call came during a difficult time would you please stand up and remain standing. 

If you have lost someone dear to you and the church, either a pastor or church member, ministered to you or your family in any way, please stand up. Remain standing.  

If your some of your closest, dearest friends in the world are also members of this church, would you please stand up and remain standing.

If you have received encouraging counseling from either a pastor or church member, would you please stand up and remain standing.

If you participate in a ministry of our church and feel blessed by doing so, would you please stand up and remain standing. 

Guys, I could go on and on.  Friends, if you see someone seated, we have work to do.  This place needs to be a safe haven for everyone.  This place needs to be a place of refuge and peace.  

Psalm 27:4-5 NIV
4 One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.

5 For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock.

Encouragement (Fellowship) vs. 46
Acts 2:46 ESV
46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts…

So, we learn that the early church was actually a Baptist church.  How do I know this to be true?  Well, not 2 seconds after Peter preached, they all started eating in their homes.  That’s a group I can get behind.  They were breaking bread and receiving food.  Awesome.  We know what that means.  It means that this was a bunch that fellowshipped together.  They enjoyed being around one another.  Their was peace and unity among the believers.  They were encouraged.  Now, this point and the last point go together for sure.  

I love this church because outside of God and my wife, it is the greatest source for encouragement.  Church is a social place where connections happen.  Friendships and fellowship.  

I Thessalonians 5:11 ESV
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

Reach (Evangelism) vs. 47
Acts 2:47 ESV
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.

So the church was together.  They had one thing in common.  Jesus.  They loved one another and that love of God spread throughout the community and they increased.  Pretty amazing.  Notice that their first mission was next door and look where we are today.  The church is a global operation.  Yet, there is a growing movement in the church to GATHA instead of GATHER.  We want our gifts, we want to worship, theology, harbor, and encouragement.  Lots of us leave off the Reach.  Friends you can’t have a church if you are not reaching people.  At church we have created programs to reach people.  But church also encourages people to reach other practically.  The church encourages us to reach people at work, on the field and at the tailgates.  Who are you reaching?  

John 12:32 ESV
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.

Let’s Gather Together!


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