If you know me, you know I love the outdoors. It is a place where I meet God and have a powerful sense of the presence of God. I have had some of my most meaningful worship experiences outdoors. Sunday I preached a Christmas message about wandering under the night winter sky and wondering about Jesus and what he did. I believe God meets with people in the most unusual places. Some of them are very dark and unusual. He can do anything. But there is a truth of Scripture, a major theme that fore most of my Christian life I did not understand. Read on:
What we need most only God can do. And the Scriptures are clear that to experience what God has for us we have means—means of grace, ways that God works his gifts into our lives. We need change—and not just shallow, surface, temporary change. We need inside-out change. We need transformation. We need miraculous change that comes from God and such change is promised in the Bible for those who follow God and walk in his ways.
One of God’s appointed means to do the beautiful things he wants to do to transform you is church—the regular assembly of the saints. This is much, much more important than most Christians realize. This is the truth I really had not seen.
Church—the assembly is the place of God’s special glory-presence. It is the place where God has especially promised to manifest his presence and power. God works in a special way when the saints assemble.
A few years ago a brilliant and godly pastor and professor now gone to be with the Lord showed me this theme in the Bible. I had never understood it before. We had some conversations and exchanged correspondence and he recommended three books to me.
The major work was by Dr. Gregory Beale, a book called the The Temple and the Churches Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God. Here is the key truth of the book. God has always had a place where he especially manifests his glory-presence, a place of his dwelling (though He is omnipresent) he has always chosen to manifest his glory-presence in a place. From the garden of Genesis to the New Jerusalem in the Eternal Kingdom of God in Revelation and at all points in between. The garden, the Tabernacle, the Temple of Israel, the person of Jesus on earth, in the past were all places of God’s manifest presence-glory where willing believers would experience powerful transformation. The Day of Pentecost was a powerful example of this. God manifest his glory in the faithful assembly—the church.
Now here is the very heart of it that matters much to you and to your family. Today the church is the place of the manifest glory-presence, dwelling of God. It is among the gathered redeemed, no matter how humble and apparently simple the gathering that God has promised to make his glory-presence known.
Paul often wrote of this. In 2 Corinthians 3:18 he explained the process of transformation and the glory presence of the Spirit.
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, ESV)
We have often heard, “I am the temple of the Holy Spirit.” The emphasis is usually on the individual believer being the temple of God. The Scriptures say that but not often. Not nearly as often as they appear to, because most of the references are plural, though it is not apparent in our modern English Bibles. The Temple of God in the current age is the assembled church. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit. This language is throughout the Bible. G. K. Beale’s book describing this covers the entire Bible and it is nearly 500 plages long. Let me show you one powerful example from Ephesians. Notice the temple, glory, presence of the Spirit language in this passage:
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19–22, ESV)
This is why faithfulness to gathering to assembling and the means of grace, the preaching and teaching of the word, prayer, giving, worship, followship, conversation, communion are so indispensable to Christian flourishing. It is the plan of God. It is God plan for transformation. It is the way he displays his glory and makes his transforming power available for out needs.
This is my appeal for believers to renew their devotion to the assembly of the saints, to faithful church attendance and renewed church participation. God works his inside-out change, his miraculous transformation in the lives of those who a devoted to assemble and worship and employ the means of grace appointed for the purpose of that transformation.
When Jesus came to earth he brought a whole new expression, a beautiful, simple, fast-moving expression of his kingdom—the church of Jesus Christ. He conceived of the church. He loves the church. He died for the church. He manifests himself still in the assembled church.
That is way Hebrews 10:25 says; “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.”
God came down to be with men and women… to manifest himself among men and women and thus to transform men and women. That’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.
See Ya’ Sunday.