The Church Gathered

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Acts 2:42-47

The church has gathered in homes from the very beginning. The persecuted church still does this today. No worship band. No big building. No stage. Just a small family of people, gathering in a home around the word of God and the Spirit of Christ. There’s something special that happens when the Church gathers this way.

Because of the social distancing protocols in place, most churches around the world had to gather in homes rather than in buildings last Sunday. In our home, we gathered as a family of five. My wife and I let our three kids each pick one worship song for us. We all sang along to whatever favorite worship song each child picked. Then we listened to a pre-recorded sermon. I worked together with a member of my speaking team to create a podcast for our local church that was a combination of dialogue, teaching, and story-telling.

There were a few things that happened that I wasn’t expecting.

First, I began to sense the power of the Spirit so present in our living room that I began to tear up as we worshiped. Jesus reminded me that He’ll gladly show up for a family of five just as He will for a family of 500. Jesus promised, “Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20).

Secondly, I loved worshiping as a family. With my daughter sitting in my lap and all of us singing together, it was a special moment. So often when we gather in a larger group on Sundays, we come as individuals. But it is impossible to stay stuck in that kind of individualism in a living room with your own kids. We didn’t worship as individuals; we worshiped as a family unit.

Finally, physical distance from my local body of believers actually created greater connection to the global Body of Christ. As my little family gathered in my living room, as we sang and listened to a sermon, I imagined thousands upon thousands of families doing that same thing all over the world. I was suddenly connected in my spirit to all of those worshiping families. Every nation, tribe, people and language were gathered in living rooms and under trees to worship The One who is worthy. We’re not just members of our local church; we’re members of the global Church. Our brothers and sisters in Christ aren’t just the ones standing next to us on a normal Sunday, but they are also the ones half a world away, gathered in a living room around a Bible.

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

Revelation 7:9-10

The Holy Spirit doesn’t need us to be physically near each other in order to connect us in the spirit. Last Sunday I felt more connected to the global Body of Christ than ever before. Maybe this is what the apostle Paul was experiencing when he wrote to the churches in Colossi and Corinth:

For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit…

Colossians 2:5

…even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit…So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present…

1 Corinthians 5:3-4

So as we gather in living rooms instead of worship centers and sanctuaries, let’s keep our hearts and eyes open to what God may be doing in our midst. Could it be that through this crisis the Lord is teaching us deep truths about His Church that are long overdue? Could it be that revival is on the other side of all of this?

Healing Brings Praise

Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.

Matthew 15:29-31

Physical healing naturally brings praise to God. Notice that even though Jesus likely healed hundreds of people that day, and some with extremely severe illnesses, the crowd instinctively knew to praise God for the healings. They knew a man could not heal unless God was working through him.

People today get so worried that if someone has gifts of healings (one of the gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12:9) that all the credit will go to the person instead of God. But this is just not true. I have seen it time and again, that when someone experiences healing, the most natural thing in the world is to give glory and praise to God alone. We exaggerate our fear that a person will take the credit for the healing and it keeps us from engaging in more healing prayer in the church.

Through Jesus, the crowds “saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing.” This is what people should be seeing in the Church, the Body of Christ on the earth. We are His hands and feet in the world. We are His ambassadors. “…In this world we are like Jesus“(1 John 4:17). We are called to pick up the mission and ministry of Jesus and continue it today. As more and more people in the Church pray for healing and see people get healed, more and more praise goes to the Father for His goodness and faithfulness.

This is who we are called to be as the Church, ushering in the Kingdom of God on earth. We need more people pursuing the supernatural gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12, including gifts of healings (in the Greek both the word “gifts” and “healings” are plural). It needs to become commonplace for people to walk into church sick and walk out healed. Just as a nutrition plan has become a new addition to many people’s treatment plan for their illness, we need a new normal where people add regular healing prayer to their treatment plan.

How are you going to pursue more healing prayer in your life with Christ?

If you’re looking for a place to start, this book can help: Power to Heal by Randy Clark

Tradition and Command

Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?

Matthew 15:1-3

The Pharisees were upset with the disciples for breaking tradition, but Jesus was upset with the Pharisees for breaking the command of God for the sake of their traditions. How often does the church break God’s command in order to follow our traditions?

Tradition itself isn’t bad. Tradition can help us keep a pattern of discipleship over time. It can help us to remember things we would otherwise forget. It can help us to hold fast to truth in the midst of changing culture. But if we’re not careful, it can also be used as an obedient-looking cover for our disobedience.

Do our church services have to look the way they do right now? Which part is us following God’s command and which is just us following tradition? Are there different ways to follow God’s command that don’t look like what we’re used to?

It is human nature to get comfortable and resist change. Change itself is uncomfortable. And with so much around us changing so quickly, more change just feels like chaos sometimes. But if we don’t stay open to change in the church, we can fall prey to one of the oldest tactics of the enemy. We can get fooled into thinking that holding to our tradition is the same as holding to God’s command. And over time, we can begin to use our tradition as a means to resist God’s commands.

Father, forgive us! Give us eyes to see and ears to hear where we’ve traded in obedience for tradition. Help us to have the willingness and humility to embrace change even when it’s uncomfortable! Thank you, Lord.

Draw Near

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:19-25

The writer of Hebrews lays out the proper response to the good news of the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Most Holy Place was the inner most room of the Temple. The priests would sacrifice animals on the bronze altar in the courtyard. Then they would wash with water in the wash basin. After that they would enter the Holy Place where the lamps on the lamp stands needed to be trimmed, the bread of Presence had to be replaced, and the altar of incense had to be kept burning. This was their daily work as priests.

But once a year the high priest, and only the high priest, would go into the Most Holy Place where the ark of the covenant rested between two cherubim. He had to do an elaborate set of cleansing rituals before he went past the inner curtain and entered the Most Holy Place because the very Presence of God was there. If he entered in an unworthy or unholy way, he would drop dead in God’s Presence.

But when Jesus give up His body and spirit on the cross, that inner curtain separating God and humanity was torn from top to bottom. Jesus became the once and for all sacrifice that allows us to approach God confidently with a cleansed conscience. Faith in Jesus is what allows us to receive the cleansing that comes from the blood of Christ and the water that flowed from His side. Because of Him, we can approach God with confidence.

So our proper response to this great news is that we draw near to God. We live with an awareness of the reality that God is already near to us. The Kingdom of God is “at hand.” It’s within reach. We only have to draw near to God with our hearts and minds to experience His Presence.

And we respond to this great news by holding unswervingly to the hope that we profess. Our hope is this: that we’ve been saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus and not by our own works. Our hope is that even though we make mistakes, God calls us a new creation and sees us as clothed in Christ, unblemished and washed clean. Our hope is that Christ now dwells in us through His Spirit, and that we will eternally dwell with Him when this life is over.

Our response to this great news is to spur one another on toward love and good deeds as we continue to meet together as the church. We respond to this great grace by meeting together as the Body of Christ, the church, and encouraging each other to continue in the faith. We lay down our pride and admit that we can’t live this life of faith in isolation. We admit our need for one another. We admit that we not only need Christ in me but we need Christ in you to help strengthen me on this journey of faith.

All of these things–the drawing near to God, the living in hope, the love and good deeds, the encouraging each other, the meeting together as the church–are the proper response to the good news of the gospel. This is what gratitude for our rescue looks like.