In January of 2013 I turned over a new leaf. I endeavored to eat right and to exercise. I enrolled at the YMCA and by mid-year I made it on the list of top 25 attenders. In 2013, I ran, biked, attempted an elliptical, lifted weights, performed countless sit-ups and pull-ups; I only ate pizza, French fries, and deep-fried wings a handful of times; and I felt great. That was 2013. Early in 2014 my drive waned. My workouts became less frequent, McDonald’s French fries never tasted better, and wings, well…. The old leaf was back. Fewer trips to the gym became no trips to the gym.
This week, I looked myself in the eye and told myself, “It is back to the gym for you, buddy.” On Monday, I donned my exercise clothes and laced up my tennis shoes. I drove myself to the gym, and there in the parking lot I experienced something I had not anticipated: an overwhelming sense of embarrassment, a sense of failure. Not just personal failure, but that I had failed the guy at the counter, the treadmill runners, the elliptical riders, and the silver sneaker crew that block the Nautilus machines. I anticipated their scowls, their sneers, and their snide comments. As those thoughts engulfed my mind, I contemplated not going in. I couldn’t. They would laugh me out of the place. Then I had a new thought: “Is this what people who miss a few weekly gatherings feel? Is this the same internal conversation that occurs in our parking lot?” If you have ever been there or ever find yourself there, then let me offer three truths that I have gleaned from Romans 8.
Truth 1: We won’t condemn those who have been sleeping in, visiting relatives, going to the lake, or doing anything else but coming to the gathering.
Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
This truth reminds the believer that because of their union with Christ, He has absorbed all the punishment for their sin, and He credits His perfect life to them. It isn’t earned or deserved. It is GRACE. That’s the good news! And when people really believe this good news of no condemnation for them, it shapes them into a no-condemnation-giving kind of people. I know you have met the judgmental, condemning, scowling, so-called Christian, but that is a person who has yet to really understand grace and forgiveness found in the cross of Christ. What I discovered as I walked into the YMCA on Monday was nothing like I had imagined. Nobody said a word, scowled, or sneered. And here’s why: they could really care less. Yes, they were totally apathetic. I was thinking too much of myself. Now, I hope that is not your experience as you come back, but you can be deluded by your own self-saturated thoughts. The truth is that there will be a bunch of people genuinely glad that you are here with them, looking to Jesus, worshipping Jesus, and being transformed by Jesus. We are not apathetic to your return, but genuinely glad to see you as walk through the doors.
Truth 2: The gathering isn’t everything to your Christian walk, but it is significant in equipping you to be a true follower of Jesus.
Romans 8:5b: “Those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”
Those in Christ, those who have His Spirit, are to live according to the Spirit and to set their minds on the things of the Spirit. Where else can you go to help you to set your mind on the things of the Spirit than the weekly gathering? This is the primary effect of the gathering. It focuses you; reminds you of who you are In Christ, all that He has for you, and all that He is doing in you; and inspires you. The weekly gathering refocuses you on Him, and that is what you need most, day in and day out: Jesus!
Truth 3: The thing that gets you to habitually miss the Gathering is not your friend.
Romans 8:12a: “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh….”
I want to tread lightly when I tell you that you don’t owe anything to your flesh! You don’t owe your flesh a day off from doing anything responsible, an extra few hours of sleep, a huge gluttonous meal at the breakfast bar, or anything else. Your flesh, that old, fallen, sin-soaked part of you, is not your friend. It continues to whisper in your ear and make demands on you, but it does not have your best in mind. Your flesh wants to hold you captive and subject you time and time again to the bonds of slavery found in sin, but Jesus has set you free!
Hear me out here: we serve the God of the Sabbath. The one who has created, commanded, and promised REST. Sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is to take a day off or spend the day with the family relaxing and enjoying God’s creation. But, the barometer of whether this is fleshly or spiritual is found in what is your habit. Is your habit in a given month attending or skipping the gathering? The Spirit will always lead you to what is best for you, not what is easiest; oh, the flesh loves what is easy. Kill the flesh or it will kill you (Romans 8:13).
We at The Point Community Church, like Paul, have renounced acting in disgraceful, underhanded ways to manipulate people to act in a way that puffs us up and makes us feel successful. We have renounced legalistic demands on people that have no value in stopping the flesh. I am not saying that it is ALWAYS sinful or fleshly to miss a Sunday-morning gathering. What I am saying is that you need it and that we want you here. We welcome you here. We desire that you come alongside us, worship Jesus, and thank Him for all that He is and all that He does. Hope to see you Sunday!