Last year we shared a series of messages called re-Imagining Church. There are so many different opinions and ideas about what the church is supposed to be. What did Jesus really have in mind when he said, “I will build my church?” As we looked into the story of the first church as recorded in the Book of Acts we came up with a definition of the church as “... a community of Christ-followers, empowered by the Spirit to participate in God’s mission in the world.” The form that the church takes will be different in different cultures and contexts but these ingredients are the essential ones. Jesus gave us a lot of freedom in regards to the shape, the structure and the form of his church. After all, it takes all sorts of different churches to reach the different types of people in our world ... Applying this to our own lives personally, we can ask ourselves four key questions: (1) am I a part of the church community, (2) am I following Christ as one of his disciples, (3) am I being empowered daily by the Holy Spirit, and (4) am I participating in God’s mission in the world? I trust that you can answer ‘yes’ to each one of those important questions. If not, take a step today towards making that a reality in your life.
Luke tells us what church life was like back in the first century (see Acts 2:41-47). No doubt, the church was an exciting community to be a part of in those days ... and it should be the same today too. As we reflect on this, we see that there are three key experiences that are an important part of a growing relationship with Jesus: (1) Celebrating the love of God and his work in our lives as we gather together for worship, (2) Connecting with other people in order to grow spiritually and build meaningful relationships, and (3) Contributing to God’s work on the earth by using our talents, time and resources.
So the church started in Jerusalem with a bang and God was at work doing some amazing things. From this point forward the church continued to grow beyond Jerusalem to other parts of that region and eventually to other places in the Roman Empire including Antioch, Ephesus, and Rome. Despite its rapid expansion, the early church was not without its problems – including persecution from without and issues such as conflict, division, heresy, false teachers, and sin within. Over the next number of decades, many believers who had started following Christ with great enthusiasm started to pull back and even fall away when times got tough.Three Important Reminders
The author of the book of Hebrews wrote to followers of Christ in the first century who were experiencing a crisis of faith because of the difficult times they were facing. His message was all about the superiority of Jesus Christ and what he has done for us through the New Covenant. After unpacking this message in-depth, he gave them three very important reminders (see Hebrews 10:19-25).
- Let us draw near to God!
Do you ever feel a sense of guilt or shame for things you’ve done or said that you know are wrong? Do you ever experience a cloud of condemnation hanging over your heart and mind, making you feel unworthy and unacceptable before God? Do you ever find your heart wandering away from God and yearning for other things, yet in pursuing them, they never quite satisfy? Because of Jesus and what he has done through shedding his own blood, we can receive forgiveness and complete cleansing from all guilt and shame (vs.19-22). We can go right into God’s presence – at any time and in any place – with boldness and confidence. We don’t need to be ashamed or burdened by guilt and condemnation. What amazing grace is available us every moment of every day. Pursue God. Hunger and thirst for him once again. Run towards him!
- Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess!
Do you ever have doubts? Does your faith ever waver? Do you ever wonder whether God is real? Has life left you disappointed or discouraged? Have you ever lost a sense of hope? God is faithful and can be trusted to keep his promises (vs.23). He is the source and foundation of our hope. We can bring our doubts and our disappointments to him. He is sovereign and in control of everything, even the difficult and painful experiences we go through. Yes, our hope will come under attack and it can easily slip away in the face of obstacles and challenges. However, we can choose to hold on tight and to not allow our hope in God to waver. We can bring him our doubts and our fears. He keeps his word and he fulfils his promises in his way and his time.
- Let us think of ways to motivate each other and let us not neglect meeting together.
Do you ever lack motivation for spiritual things? Do you ever feel like giving church meetings a miss and just staying home? Do you ever find the world’s values creeping in on you and your desire to pray and read your Bible fading a bit? God works through both our personal relationship with him and our community with other believers. Both are important. As followers of Christ, we need each other. The Christian faith is something we do together. That is why gathering together regularly is important so that we can encourage each other (vs.24-25). Let’s talk a bit more about this ...
It is interesting to observe how creatures gravitate towards a habitat where those of ‘like kind’ gather. In the same way, followers of Christ want to be with other followers of Christ. Even Jesus made weekly attendance at the local synagogue, with other people of faith, part of his own priorities (Lk 4:16). When the church began in Jerusalem we see the believers gathering regularly for teaching, for fellowship, for praise and worship, to participate in the Lord’s Supper, for prayer, to serve one another, and to affirm their God-given purpose as a faith-community. They did this with great joy and with a sense of personal motivation (Acts 2:42-47).
Gathering together with other believers on a regular basis is important. Both large gatherings and small gatherings are important, as they each provide a unique environment for God to work. That’s why we encourage every person who is a part of CityLife Church to attend one weekend Celebration meeting and one small group meeting. Church Celebration meetings are gatherings where we come together for prayer, singing praise, the Lord’s Supper, teaching, giving to God’s work, ministry and fellowship, as well as to invite our friends along. Life Group meetings are small gatherings which are conducive for more intimate relationship building, as well as sharing, discussion, ministry and outreach.
Of course, just turning up to a meeting is one thing but how we come is even more important. If we want to see gatherings where God is at work then we need to come with a sense of expectation and faith, and a willingness to respond and to participate in what is happening. Church attendance is something that we are to engage in with all our heart and soul … and like most things in life we tend to get out of it what we put into it. Two people can attend the same meeting and receive totally different things. Often this is based on their own approach or attitude to the meeting (Luke 18:10-14). Church gatherings are not sporting events, but compare the impact of real radical fans on the atmosphere of a game to the atmosphere that is created by how we approach a church gathering. Let’s believe together that this year there will be an even greater sense of God at work as we gather week by week ... with a sense of faith and expectancy ... to celebrate God and to grow together!Sample Discussion Questions
- Discuss what ‘church’ means to you. What churches have you been a part of and what experiences have you had? What have been some of the highs and what have been some of the lows?
- What do you think is the difference between guilt and condemnation? How can guilt be our friend?
- Why is hope so important? What can cause us to lose hold of our hope?
- What contribution have other followers of Christ made to your life? Where do you think you would be today without the input of other Christians? Share an example of someone who really motivated or encouraged you in your walk with God.
- What are some of the ‘opposing forces’ that distract or pull people away from celebrating with others?
- What are some of the benefits of regular church attendance and also regular Life Group attendance?