Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Witness to God's Power and Glory

A small group had shown up for the church service. It could have been because it was the last week of school for elementary kids. First few days of vacation and all. Could have been the heat. 108 degrees on Friday. 104 degrees on Saturday. But we're used to the hot summers in the North Valley of California. Regardless of the reason, a small showing didn't reduce the joy of worship.

"And He comes in Power and we call on His name.

Show your power, O Lord our God.
Show us your power, O Lord our God, our Lord."

I looked around the room.  Some people were standing up and walking around, laying their hands on the shoulders of others and praying for them.  The practice was started eighteen years ago by our head pastor and the elders.  Pastor Doug had stood before the congregation and encouraged people to draw closer together in prayer and support during the worship.  He then stepped down from the podium, walked over and took his wife's hand, and together they went to a couple in the congregation and began to pray for them.  Since then, others have carried out the same practice.

When I consider our congregation, it's funny how different we are within the body of Christ.  Some people are introverts, some are extroverts.  Some talk a lot while others will simply nod and smile during conversations.  There are the active, physical fitness types and the calm, quiet readers.  All of us are sinners forgiven by God and gathered together to serve and love Him.  The differences cause me to think back on those group of misfits of Jesus. You know...the disciples. Talk about diversity! Four fishermen (and fishermen were looked down upon in that day), a money-loving tax collector, an embezzler, doubting Thomas, and a couple of anti-government rebels. Yet, this group of misfits were the ones that Jesus chose to lead His church after He had left them. And he prepared them for that departure. Jesus warned them of his death, predicted their abandonment, and even singled Peter out as the one who would deny him. In spite of this, Jesus prayed for them.

"Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers."

And Peter did deny Jesus. The rooster crowed, Peter realized what he had done, and he ran off weeping.

But did you notice what happened afterwards? Jesus was crucified and died. Someone paid for his grave and Jesus was buried behind a rock. Three days later, Mary went to anoint his body with oil and found him gone. When she went to tell the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead, she found Peter with the disciples. They had all gathered together. No one was pointing their finger at another. No "I told you so." They had all deserted Jesus. Those distrustful, greedy, doubting and rebellious disciples were all gathered together. And Peter was with them. He could have just run to the hills and become a hermit. Separated himself from the others and lived a life apart from the rest. But instead, he banded together with his brothers. And Peter was with them when Jesus rescued him. Jesus reached down and touched him and gave Peter the strength and salvation he desperately needed.

We're a lot like those disciples. We can be distrustful, greedy, doubting and somewhat rebellious. It wouldn't take much for some people to break off from the others and run to the hills because of sin. But if that happened....what would come next? It would give Satan a chance to sift those people like wheat. They could become paranoid, guilt-ridden, and suspicious of all who came near. And sin would rule over them.

Contrast that with the one who is found within the church...the body of Christ. That person finds grace in their time of need, fellowship in the Spirit, love from their brothers and sisters in Christ, and the power of God poured out abundantly. As I pointed out in "One Year Later", the church is where we get to witness the glory of God. We learn how to serve one another in love. And we experience joy!

I was listening to Focus on the Family a few years back, and someone related a story regarding the importance of fellowship.  A youth group leader noticed that one of the boys, John, wasn't showing up at the meetings anymore.  Tom, the leader, decided to pay a visit to John's house.  After the mother invited him in, Tom found John sitting in front of the fireplace.  Greetings were exchanged and they sat watching the fire together.  "Hey, John," Tom said, "do you see that ember that's in front on the rocks there?"  He pointed to one lonely piece of wood burning on the rocks.  John nodded, and Tom continued, "See how it's getting dimmer and dimmer?  It's getting colder as it's away from the rest of the wood.  That's what happens when we separate ourselves from the rest of the body of Christ.  The light we're meant to shine for Christ grows dimmer and dimmer."  John looked at Tom and smiled.  "I get it, Pastor.  Yeah...I'll start coming to youth group again."

When I'm with my brothers and sisters in Christ within the sanctuary, something happens.  I witness God's power and mercy.  Not just in the praise that we lift up to God, but in the love and strength that He shows through the community.  And I feel humble in that presence. It has everything to do with God revealing His love towards His children. He wants to lift us up and for us to know the fellowship of His Spirit.  We're left with a sense of awe over how great and good God really is.  I'm sure this must have been what Peter experienced after the risen Christ revealed Himself to the disciples.

If you're lost or guilt-ridden or even if you feel apart from everyone else, Jesus has provided a place for you to run to. One of the purposes of the church is to grow as a body of believers into Jesus who is the Head. We weren't meant to walk in Him alone; we need each other. Remember that Jesus Himself has prayed for you.  He wants you to know His power and love.  That one of the purposes of the church.  I encourage you to find a Christian church to attend where you'll be able to experience God's love and power with others.

"O God, You are my God;
Early will I seek You;
My soul thirsts for You;
My flesh longs for You;
In a dry and thirsty land
Where there is no water.
So I have looked for You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.

Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips shall praise You.
Thus I will bless You wile I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.
My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
And my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips."

Psalm 63:1-5

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