Today was the last day of Worship God UK 2015. Like most Christian conferences, it was difficult to leave — we want the spiritual “high” to be prolonged as much as possible. It is similar to what the Apostle Peter felt when he saw the transfiguration of Christ — he wanted to make three tents to house Moses, Elijah and the transfigured Jesus, because he didn’t want them to leave! (Mk 9:5) In the same vein, we can’t bear to go because we’ve savoured something so sweet; but if we do not go out, we will never fulfil God’s purpose for us to serve the church and the world.
Which is why the themes of today’s sessions were so timely and on point. The first main session was on “Gathering to Edify” led by Nathan Smith, and the second was on “Gathering to be Commission” led by Rick Gamache.
Gathering to Edify
Nathan’s main point was simple and clear: “The finished work of Christ in the Gospel calls us together as the church to live a life of faith, of endurance, and of mutual edification for the glory of God.”
From Hebrews 10:19-25, he noted 3 exhortations, with 2 motivations behind them. The 2 motivations:
- We have confidence to enter into the holy places by the blood of Jesus; we have a way to God by the flesh of Jesus (through the curtain).
- We have a great high priest — a mediator — who grants us permission to draw near to God.
We have this remarkable access to God by the sacrifice of the sacrificer, our great High Priest whose name is Love. In light of this:
- We are called to faith: “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (v22)
- We are called to endure: “let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” (v23)
- We are called to edify: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 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.” (v24-25)
Our local churches should be communities of faith, endurance, and in particular, mutual edification. Nathan poignantly pointed out: “you can find better preaching than the pastor of your local church on the internet; you can find better music than the worship team of your local church on iTunes; but you cannot find the mutual encouragement that you need on your own.” Are we consumers or contributors in our local churches?
Cultivating a fruitful life in God’s Word
In between the two main sessions, I attended a smaller group seminar with the above title, led by Tim Chester.
Tim exhorted and encouraged us to see the Word of God as more precious than gold and sweeter than honey (Ps 19:10). I found three things particularly helpful.
First, I was so struck by Tim’s candour. To paraphrase Tim: “Don’t you think the Bible is a weird book? If you or I were writing a book, we certainly wouldn’t structure it this way! Why are there all these histories and genealogies? And then we gradually make our way through the Bible and all of a sudden we get to Proverbs — what are we to make of Proverbs?!” Tim really identified with how I often feel about reading the Bible — it is hard work, and it’s often difficult to see how a particular passage is relevant to my life. Which is why the next two points were so helpful.
The Spirit at work in the hearts of the Bible writers is the same Spirit at work in the hearts of Bible readers, ensuring that the words we read are the Words of God. So when we open the Bible to read even the most obscure of passages, we can trust that God is speaking to us through His Spirit. Think about that — God’s Spirit was at work in the writer who wrote the words thousands of years ago; and these words still endure today.
Thirdly, reading the Bible is not about information acquisition, but about communion with God. Tim introduced a very helpful analogy with marriage (or any intimate human relationship). In a marriage, not all our communication is going to be “fireworks” or “candle lit dinners”. A lot of it is going to be ordinary, even mundane. But it is about spending quality time and listening to the other person which deepens the relationship.
So it is with communion with God as we read his word. The Bible isn’t primarily a doctrinal book — it’s a covenantal book. “Just like the voice of a father to his frightened daughter who wakes up in the middle of the night, so the voice of our Father in the Scriptures is the reassurance of His presence with us.”
The marriage analogy was particularly helpful when thinking about the practicalities of day to day quiet times. When we’re talking with our spouses, we don’t consciously ask ourselves, “Am I communing with her/him right now?” Likewise, don’t fret about whether or not you’re “communing with God” during your quiet times. Just pray, read, and trust.
This second illustration was even better. Say you’re away from home from Thursday to Saturday and you promise to call your wife every night. So you call her on Thursday, but on Friday you’re completely swamped and aren’t able to call her. On Saturday you manage to call her. After talking to her for a while, would you ever say to her, “Hey give me a moment, I’m going to hang up and call you back, so I can call you twice today to make up for yesterday.” No! In the same way, we shouldn’t be enslaved to our plans for bible reading — it’s not about ensuring we read X amount every day, and catching up on the days we’ve missed; it’s about communion with God.
Gathering to Commission
The final session of the conference was a clear exposition of the letter to the church of Philadelphia in Rev 3:7-13. Like the church in Philadelphia, we have received a similar commission to proclaim the gospel of Jesus — an “open door” to do ministry (cf Acts 14:27; 1 Cor 16:9; Col 4:3).
But also like that church, we need a distinct reminder of who Jesus is and what He has promised us, if we are to withstand persecution and trials.
Our local churches are outposts of the kingdom of light interspersed throughout the domain of darkness. And even though we seem so small, and the odds so overwhelming, Jesus says:
Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.
We may be weak, but we have a great God. He promises to vindicate us (v9), protect us (v10), and to hold us fast and secure in Him (v12).
And what a wonderful note to end the conference on. We are fallen and weak individuals, but we serve an awesome God who chooses to display his manifold wisdom through our feebleness (cf Eph 3:10). We are powerless, but He is powerful. And He will one day put all things under the feet of Jesus.
Isn’t that something worthy of our worship?
Isn’t that something worth singing about?