In this worship gathering, we hear a message from Revelation 13.1-10 that illustrates how the apostle John shared his vision with the early church, illuminating the Roman Empire for what it was – an ugly beast. We apply the passage to our own situation as we learn to discern what really constitutes persecution. You can watch the whole gathering below, or just the message below that.
Yesterday, I attended the funeral of a treasured colleague. Though he was a good age, it was still difficult for his family and his friends. His daughter-in-law read a letter from friends who could not be present. His son shared about him in a loving way, and another colleague, who took the service, spoke warmly as well. But if that was all there had been, it would have felt like something was missing: fellowship.
I was grateful that there was an opportunity for fellowship after the service was over. Throughout most of the last two and a half years, the fellowship component to funerals has been missing because of concerns over the pandemic.
But I’m glad it was back for this gathering, because there were people who are dear to me with whom I wanted to be able to express personal condolences and have a conversation. I know from experience that in many ways, as important as the service itself is, the opportunity to share grief in community makes a significant contribution to the healing process.
Likewise, community is strengthened when there is an opportunity to share table fellowship. Last Sunday, our congregation had its first pot luck lunch in almost 3 years, and it was wonderful. Twice as many people stayed as had actually signed up to stay, which was great – there was plenty to eat – but it was a sign that people hunger for fellowship.
Since March 2020, when the world shut down, fellowship has been hard to come by. For a while, of course, people stayed apart on the advice of officials who were still trying to figure out the unknown communicability of COVID-19. But, thanks mostly to the media, that caution became an abject fear in some people that has continued to this day.
And, as a result, they are losing out on one of the most wonderful things about being human: community.
This is especially true for followers of Jesus, because Christianity is definitely a team sport. We can’t go it alone; we need each other.
So be cautious, yes, but don’t deprive yourself of the fellowship you need to keep your faith strong. Christian, you are the church! We are the church, together!
“And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10.25, NLT).
This Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, I will be talking about the value of retreat as part of the message (something one might find surprising to pull from Revelation 12!). I thought I’d take a minute to say a bit more about its importance.
Followers of Jesus, like everybody else in this world, are bombarded by noise. Often, we think of ‘noise’ as an unpleasant sound, like fingernails on a chalkboard, or that sound that grabs our attention when an amber alert shows up on the television. But in this case, I’m referring to ‘noise’ as any sound – even a pleasant sound – that keeps us from hearing from God.
We love the sound of our preferred music. We love the sounds of the voices of people we love. We might even love the sound of the hustle and bustle of the city. And it all has its place – but it can all serve like earplugs, keeping us from hearing God’s voice.
That’s why retreat is such an important part of the Christian life.
Lots of churches go away on retreat, taking time away from the normal environment for fellowship and teaching. But not very often do those times include silence and solitude.
Those retreats end up just changing up the noise. Don’t get me wrong: it’s probably good noise! But I maintain that time apart, in quiet, is important for balancing our relationship with the Lord.
Many times, in the Bible, we see stories of people who set themselves apart from the crowd, and the noise, to be with the Lord: think of Moses, Elijah, even Jesus (who was, after all, already God!). Yet, in our high-demand, high-energy world, we don’t usually make time to be apart from the crowd. And when we do, we usually fill that time alone with sound – even good sound, like edifying music or podcasts or TV shows.
Here’s a challenge for you: block out some time in your schedule to go away somewhere, with no agenda but to be with God. Turn off your phone, and be somewhere as quiet as you can find. It needn’t be far from home; I recommend that it not be at home, simply because the environment is so familiar, and the temptation exists to do something.
If that sounds daunting, start with 5 minutes. Go into your bedroom, perhaps read a verse from Scripture that you love, and just sit with the Lord. Some will find this difficult. Others will find it exhilarating. But try it. And when you have success with 5 minutes, start ramping it up, until you are ready to go away for a weekend or a week with a goal of simply being with the Lord.
I call it “strategic withdrawal”. And you might be amazed at the difference it makes in your life.
“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave” (1 Kings 19.11-13, NLT).
Maybe you know someone who pays an individual to do their house cleaning. Almost everyone I know who has a house cleaner actually cleans house before the house cleaner arrives. I suppose one must pick up certain bits of clutter, but otherwise, I’ve never quite understood why people clean house, and then pay people to clean house for them.
Yesterday, I had the ducts cleaned in our house. (No, I didn’t succumb to one of those robocalls with someone from south Asia, representing heaven-knows-who.) It was just time to get the job done.
But, like many people with their house cleaners, I found myself preparing for the visit by cleaning house. We dusted and vacuumed in areas where we don’t always remember to dust and vacuum.
Because, I reasoned, if we’re going to have clean ducts, why would we want the cold air returns sucking in the dust and dirt and hair we had not cleaned off the floors? It would negate the whole purpose of getting the ducts cleaned.
This got me thinking: in some ways, coming to worship with God’s people is a bit like getting your spiritual ducts cleaned. And there’s value in being prepared for it.
Do you prepare for worship?
I don’t just mean by getting to church five minutes early so you can catch your breath before the gathering begins.
You can prepare for worship even the night before, by setting out your clothes (and maybe those for other members of the family, if they need help in that department), having Sunday’s dinner ready to go – things like that.
But you can also prepare your heart.
While time in silence and solitude, meditating on God’s Word, is a good practice for every day of the week, it might be especially helpful on Saturday evening as you prepare for worship with the church on Sunday. It can quicken your heart to be ready for God to speak to you. It can ready your soul to open up in praise of the Lord who made you, who redeemed you in Christ, and who sustains you every day by his grace in the Holy Spirit.
It is the dusting and cleaning you do before you get your spiritual ducts cleaned. And it can make all the difference. Give it a try tomorrow night before you go to bed!
“Worship the Lord in all his holy splendour” (Psalm 96.9a, NLT).