GATHER (Week 6 & 7): We Gather to Celebrate!

KEY VERSES: Acts 2:37-47 (NASB)
Why do we gather? God gathers His Church for His purposes and His glory! Today we will learn that God gathers us to celebrate His work in our lives. We have been homesteading in the book of Acts 2:37-47 and there is much to learn from the early church in its beginning days. I call those early days the honeymoon phase of the Church, but no relationship stays in the honeymoon. Struggles happen that require a normalization of life. The early church soon realized that Jesus’ return may not happen in the first or second generation of believers like they presumed. Now, 2,000 years later, Jesus has still not returned. That is why we gather—to remember Who brought us together, to celebrate Jesus, and to anticipate the promised Victory that is ever before us!
We gather to celebrate God and the work God is doing actively in us and through us! We do that by sharing His story by teaching the Bible and by sharing our testimonies. When we share testimonies as we gather, we join with the Apostles and the early church in doing so. The sharing of testimonies is an ancient practice that goes all the way back to the very beginning of the Church, but it is also a means of grace by which we will overcome evil. Listen to Revelation 12:11, “And they overcame him [Satan] because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.”
We are to share our testimonies with one another. Watch Merissa’s Testimony:

There are different kinds of testimonies. Testimonies are an essential part of why we gather:
  • When we share our testimonies, we glorify God for the blood of the Lamb by which we are saved. Testimonies first and foremost proclaim the goodness and faithfulness of God!
  • Testimonies also teach about the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ through stories. Stories are powerful! We get a glimpse from one another of how the Christian life is filled with power in the everyday ways. We learn from one another how to put into practice our faith and why hanging on to our faith is so important. Sometimes, we are the only Bible people will read. What does your life teach?
  • Testimonies encourage each of us to persevere in love and good deeds. It’s hard out there and very often testimonies shine God’s light in dark places that each of us experience! We need to see that it is true that we can overcome; that faith does work, that we do have a living hope worth hanging onto. When we gather, we are building one another up in love so that we can be love to our world!
Listen to what we, our gathering at FBC, can be like by God’s grace. From Paul in Colossians 3:14-17, “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. 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. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”
Sharing stories help us live out this truth. We are not celebrating ourselves when we share our testimonies; we are celebrating the gospel of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit at work in each of us and in our church. When we gather faithfully, we have greater power within us to scatter faithfully.
Ed & Delora Hartsock to share their testimony.

We gather to scatter so while we gather let us do so in a way that help us be faithful in our everyday lives in the everyday ways. God loves you! God sees you in all of your situations! God is at work! God will use all of you… All of your story… Will you trust God will all of you and all of your story? Will we trust God with all of FBC and all of our story?
Gather Week 6:  Listen to it here
Week 7 of this series is a celebration in music and sharing.  We invited the group Heartsong to lead our time of worship and share with us.
Gather Week 7:  Listen to it here
The video series can be found by clicking HERE.


GATHER (Week 5): We Gather to Love!

Key Verses:  Acts 2:37-47 (NASB)

Why do we gather? God gathers His Church for His purposes and His glory! Today we will learn that God gathers us to obey the teachings of Jesus Christ, namely to love. Read Acts 2:37-47 (NASB).


Homecoming Bonfire

I want you to keep an image in your mind as I share with you this morning: think about the gathered in the Church as a big bonfire at Homecoming. People are invited to the bonfire to come together to relish in the tradition and to anticipate the victory that the bonfire represents. There is a past, present, and future dynamic at the bonfire. The bonfire brings people together to celebrate as a gathered community, to remember the past and what brought them together in the first place, and to anticipate the future victory. When it comes to bonfires, the bigger the better!
The same is true for when the church gathers for public worship services. There is a past, present, and future dynamic in our services. The church service brings us together to celebrate as a gathered community, to remember the past and Who brings us together in the first place, and to anticipate the future victory we have in Jesus Christ. God keeps His promises and we come to celebrate, remember, and anticipate!
There is a difference though between the Homecoming bonfire and the church service: at the homecoming you are a spectator drawn to the bonfire, but in the church service each of us is a participant gathered (like fire wood) as a fuel source for the fire. The problem is that most of us look at our church service engagement with the same level of commitment that we look at the Homecoming bonfire. If I feel up to it. If the weather allows. If there is not a better opportunity. If I am feeling up to seeing those people. If it will be worth my time.
When you have a spectator mindset, it may not seem like a big deal to not show up at church, but if each of us is a fuel source for the bonfire (a participant), the effects are cumulative when we don’t gather: Would FBC be missed if our fire went out? Who would notice and why? Would New Castle and Henry County be a better or worse place if another church wasn’t here?
This is why the author of Hebrews commanded in Hebrews 10:23-25, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

Neighborhood Time:

Thank one another for coming to church today and that it is important they be here. We are commanded to not forsake gathering as the Church because we are to “hold fast (to hold on to like a possession) the confession of our hope without wavering”—Jesus Christ, the Faithful One who promises us the abundant life! The early church in Acts knew in tangible terms that it was Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit who gathered them and in gathering they knew that it was a new community that was different from the world. It was a community gathered to remember Jesus Christ and how He had established a new people—the Church—the called-out ones who are gathered at the cost of the precious blood of Jesus Christ.
It is not surprising that the language of Hebrews says, “not forsaking the assembling together” because the Church is the assembly or the gathering of those who are called out of the world and assembled or gathered together. You are the Church and to forsake the assembly is to forsake your very identity as a member of the body of Christ. Without all the coals in the fire, we have no ability to be the very Light of the World that Jesus calls us. It not only affects us, it touches your life when you don’t gather because any coal taken out of the fire goes from being bright to being dull. That is just a reality of being out of God’s will. God’s will for your life is for you to be the best version of you—burning true and bright for the world to see His love through you!
What about when people cannot consistently be here due to medical reasons? Remember, we are to give LOVE in practical and tangible ways to build up and support the community of God’s people! This is why the prayer ministries, the practical helps ministry, the prayer shawl ministry, the meals ministry, the shut-in ministries, the visitation ministries into homes, nursing homes, and hospitals are so important. When people are unable to come and gather with us, then each of us is called to BE the Church to them. This is why we do Neighborhood time (look around and see who is missing): call or text them, send a card, bring them a meal, invite them over your place or out, be a good neighbor. Remember, Jesus said, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).
How does it feel to you when you miss gathering with us and no one reaches out or seems to care? Honestly, you have to choose how you are going to respond to that emotion: like a spectator or like a participant. Spectators sit back and watch the game critiquing the participants and discussing the decisions. Participants are in the game making decisions and seeking to be a part of bringing about the anticipated victory.

Gather to stimulate one another to love and good deeds

We are gathered “to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.” We are gathered to bring God glory and God’s glory is visibly brighter and bigger when we all prioritize the gathering! Our gathering has a positive ripple effect on the community because we leave hotter and brighter than when we came. Listen again to Acts 2:44-47: “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
What are we so supposed to be like when we gather? [sometimes we come to this place with barely a light left in us from the week, but when you are thrown back in the fire, ON FIRE!] What are we supposed to look like when we scatter? [how can you stay hot throughout the week? 7:1 Initiative – we all need 7 friends and 1 place of service as the Church. We can’t make it about us (spectator mentality) so we must get in the BIG GAME!]

Gather to encourage one another

Finally, we are gathered for the very reason of “encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Acts 2 is a picture of the birth of the Church and anyone who had read through the book of Acts or has read the letters of the New Testament knows that the honeymoon of early church fellowship did not last. Quickly, these gathered believers had to learn how to handle the reality of staying in community, where not everyone was honest about sharing their stuff and people complained when they didn’t feel they were getting enough attention from the leaders. The church community had to organize and figure all this out. 2,000 years later, we are still trying to figure it out by not only reading through Acts and the letters of the New Testament, but we now have hundreds if not thousands if not millions of opinions of how to do it ranging from studying church history or contemporary scholars, from books to blogs to social media posts. The problem is not a lack of information, it is that we have too many spectators and not enough participants!
I leave you with this one thing: LOVE! You want to know the role of a pastor, elder, deacon, overseer: LOVE! You want to know how decisions are made in a church: LOVE! You want to know who to love: LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF! You want to know to what length we are to go: LOVE LIKE JESUS LOVED US! We are to build a community of love that is built upon Jesus’s new command to love. We are to LOVE in practical and tangible ways to build up and support the community of God’s people!
In John 13:34-35, Jesus, the Son of God, with all the authority of the Heavens gave us the new command: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
It is by our love for one another that the world knows that we are His disciples. We gather to love! We scatter to love!  Is it scary to think about loving like Jesus? In practical and tangible ways? Not theoretically, but getting into other people’s lives with them? Hurting with them, loving with them, praying with them…
It should be scary because it’s real and messy when you do life with people! This command should make everyone one of us sweat! Spectators don’t sweat, but participants do… Being obedient to God’s plan for the Church made Jesus sweat…
As Jesus thought about the sacrifice of love His Father was calling Him to Jesus sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane because Jesus knew exactly how He was called to LOVE: in practical and tangible ways to build up and support the community of God’s people!
If you are just a spectator standing back from the homecoming bonfire, then there is a good chance you are not going to sweat. You might feel the heat coming off the fire, but it won’t get inside of you! But if you are a participant and are a part of God’s holy fire to the community through the Church gathering, then how can you do anything but sweat? You will sweat from the inside out like Jesus did because you’ll have blood in the game.
If the love you are being called to give in practical and tangible ways to build up and support the community of God’s people is not making you sweat a little bit, then you have to ask yourself if you are following the new commandment Jesus gave: “Love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
Let’s respond… draw near to God and He will draw near to you… Jesus is calling you into a life of full participation, that is abundant life He promises in John 10:10! No one sweats when they stand back and watch from a distance…
Gather Week 5:  Listen to it here
The video series can be found by clicking HERE.