Through the Unashamed series we have been exploring ways to interact with people unashamedly about our faith in Jesus Christ, with strategies and ways to ‘push back’ on the arguments that can be presented to us. But even in the heat of the moment if you forget these things, there is one thing you can say better than anyone else, and that is your story of how came to be a believer in Jesus Christ and how He changed your life. Paul the apostle shared his testimony often with others, and it was a powerful demonstration of the living Saviour. In this session Grant explores how sharing his own testimony made a huge impact in someones else’s life, and gives us practical handles for how we can do the same!
The Lord is more pleased when we do what is right and just than when we offer him sacrifices. Proverbs 21v3
I am deeply provoked and sobered that I could miss the really important things in following Jesus. In addition I could spend too long and too much effort on the things that matter a whole lot less.
Jesus really was unflattering about those who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. What these folk taught or said might be true, but it needed to be demonstrated not just declared. Failing to do this may make us guilty of “crushing people with unbearable religious demands and never lifting a finger to ease the burden” (Matthew 23v4).
I see more than ever that a relentless pursuit against performance and pretence will be good for me and for others I share life with. God is not fooled. He knows what we do for show and what we do for Him. He knows whether we operate in the Kingdom or out of it. I want to help people discover, follow and serve the Jesus of Matthew 23. He said it as it was, saw it as it is and changes us despite ourselves.
Therefore, I am learning in a new way the high value Jesus places on justice, mercy and faith. These are matters of the heart (Matthew 23v23). That is wisdom!
To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice. Proverbs 21v3
At the men’s prayer breakfast this morning somebody asked me why the church was called The Hill. This was an excellent question, and it reminded me this week of a similar question when I was asked why Matthew’s House was to be called as such. The interesting thing about the Matthew’s House question was that it afforded me the opportunity to share our vision, purpose and gospel through the story of Matthew’s party at his house. I learnt something valuable this week – questions about names provide me with an opportunity to answer with a story that features the good news of Jesus.
We have just had a really encouraging afternoon together with Simon and Helen Moores from Spring Terrace Church. They have been involved in the Swansea Street Pastors for a number of years and we were able to chat with them about that work. For the recording of the conversation click here.
They have provided me with a link for a video about the work in Swansea which is well worth a watch.
I was so encouraged this week to hear how one of the Connection groups met to pray for North Korea, particularly our brothers and sisters living there.
Using brilliant creativity they were able to simulate something of what it might be like for disciples of Jesus living under the North Korean communist regime – a country where the church is forced to scatter.
The gift of creativity provides many benefits. If one of these is that it stirs us to prayer and good works, then I say more!
For a while now I have wanted to take the opportunity to outline some reasons why we do not always meet together as a church on a Sunday. We call these occasions The Hill Scattered.
Here is the third and final memorable piece of poor advice I have received in relation to starting new churches:
If you choose not to meet on the occasional Sunday, your church will not spend any more time with those who don’t know Jesus and your people will just see it as a week off.
My first response to that is that is it not my church, but His church. They are not my people but His people. I have sweated for the church, but I have never bled for it. I have led the church but I am not the Head of it. I am part of the body of the church, but it is not my body – the church belongs to Jesus.
My second response is that the church does not only exist in a specific time and in a specific place. We are the church everywhere, not just somewhere. We do not cease to be the church because we don’t gather together in a room between 4pm and 6pm on a Sunday. We are the church 24/7, 365 days a year. We don’t have a minute off from following Jesus, never mind a week.
When Jesus challenged the religious people about their traditions he warned them that by their unquestioning allegiance to certain habits they were at risk of nullifying the very Word of God that caused these traditions to be created.
The Bible makes it clear that the first believers met regularly and did not stop meeting together. But it does not explicitly state that every church met every week at the same time and in the same place. Common sense may dictate that this is useful, but it is not essential and in some respects it may even be harmful.
Harmful!! Let me explain… I am always amazed how many people see a coming together of the body of Christ as a meeting which you simply attend, perform certain habits or traditions and then go away again. It is not that. It was never intended to be that!
The coming together of the church, whether public or private, is first and foremost a family gathering. It is a time where we encourage, stir up, pray, teach and worship together. The reason it can become harmful is that people may take the gathering for granted (the church will be together when I need it and who cares when I don’t). Gathering together is something we should cherish, value, look forward to and miss when it does not happen.
Over the years I have noticed that by occasionally pausing the weekly gathering of the church and not meeting it actually increases our desire, our need, our purpose and our pleasure of being together. It brings freshness and also honours those who serve week in and week out (who rarely ‘miss’ a Sunday any other way). It allows people to plan times away or to visit family and generally brings a freedom in coming together, rather than an expectation or compulsion. So maybe for many it does feel like a ‘week off’ which is exactly why rest is needed, because coming together should not feel like something you need time-off from!!
We do not expect the time between 4pm and 6pm to always be occupied in the company of those who do not know Jesus Christ. But what it does mean is that we are reminded every time our weekly habit is disrupted that Jesus Christ came to save those who are lost and are more and more unlikely to walk into a church meeting to find their way.
Finally if you still need another reason to occasionally pause from meeting as a church may I suggest this. Every time we don’t meet, go somewhere public (you could do this on a Sunday morning just as much as a Sunday afternoon). Observe how many thousands and thousands of people are not in a church meeting – let’s assume that they can’t all be Christians ‘skipping’ a church gathering – and therefore are more than likely people who do not know Jesus Christ. Let that reality motivate you to mission and to making friends with those outside of the church as much as those within it.
I was in a conversation with someone the other day and we discussed the concept of keeping the church focused on its purpose to reach people with the good news of Jesus Christ. In the course of that conversation I was able to explain the reasons behind our decision to not meet every Sunday… We call this expression of life in the church as The Hill scattered.
We believe that we are the church wherever we are. Whilst meeting together is extremely important to us, it is not the only expression of the church. History has taught us that a real risk for any church is that it gradually ceases to exist at all for those outside, and simply becomes a weekly meeting for those within.
As a church we we are keen for that not to happen to us. Therefore, we want to be proactive in keeping our eyes on the purpose to which we have been called. We believe that anything which helps keep that focus is a good idea, because it will help keep us close to the heart of God.
One practical step is occasionally choosing not to meet on a Sunday. We have found significant benefit in occasionally ‘pausing’ The Hill Together in order to remind us that we exist for those who do not know Jesus. This time allows us further opportunity to spend or plan time with others outside of God’s family. This expression consistently reminds us that we are called to be the church wherever we are.
Naturally, to be part of a church that chooses to live like this, means that we have to be aware of what the plans are as to when we do and don’t meet – and good at communicating that. This is why we work hard to keep the diary as up to date as possible.
Today we moved our regular Sunday meeting together back an hour. Next week we shall be doing the same. The reason for this is the Six Nations Rugby, and more specifically the Wales fixture list. This raises the question as to whether it is good or wise to move a meeting for a match? Now I am sure opinion is divided on this issue, but at the end of the day opinion has minimal value next to conviction. Here is our conviction:
God wants us to meet (Hebrews 10:25). He is perhaps a little less bothered when we meet, and more bothered as to why and how we meet. Secondly, God loves recreation as much as the rest of life – and rugby belongs to Him as much as anything else (Psalm 24:1). Eric Liddell in the film Chariots of Fire said “God has called me for a purpose, to go to China, but he has also made me fast – and when I run I feel His pleasure”. Thirdly, we believe that the church exists equally for the benefit of its members and non-members. We want as many people as possible to know Christ, and as his representatives we want to be where the people are and to be with them the way Jesus would. Finally we live in a culture and country where rugby is celebrated and enjoyed – and we don’t want to put man-made obstacles or stumbling blocks before them. So for very practical reasons we just did the sensible thing.
The one thing I noticed in this process is the concern and surprise that we may have to such a decision. Concern that this decision is potentially some form of idolatry or will be seen as such. Again, for me it is a matter of conviction – and concern is not the same as conviction. But often the concern is linked to what others will think. This is something that never bothered Jesus, and he was often maligned for being a “friend of sinners”. However, Christians also expressed surprise. Surprise that we could do this, would do this and why we would do it. But in The Hill we are determined to build a church which is always made for mission over meetings.