Yesterday we focused completely on the congregation of believers who meet here. It was a focus that goes vertical and horizontal. The diagram below (though not complete/or very good) gives an idea of what was discussed and taught.
In class, we watched two short videos and discussed our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. The series is about taking the focus off ourselves and focusing on our spiritual siblings. For example, instead of walking in each week thinking about what makes us comfortable (my seat, preferences, likes, etc.), we seek out ways to love and minister to others. It really isn’t about where you sit, but your focus. Our exercise Sunday morning wasn’t about looking for a new place to sit every week. It’s fine to sit in your normal place. But what if you meet a visitor in the parking lot, and instead of a few passing pleasantries, you have them sit with you? Or you walk in and see someone sitting by themselves and you join them. Or instead of focusing on getting to your place, you see something in the face of your brother or sister in Christ you haven’t noticed before – pain, fatigue, worry. It really isn’t about a seat, but getting out of our comfort zone and praying about something we might not have thought about before.
Here was my experience. I prayed about where I would sit. I looked for my wife and discovered she was in the middle of a pew near the back. Not a good place for the preacher. I saw Helen Rathel on the back row and went to sit with her. She didn’t look stressed or in need, but I just felt this was the place. During Communion she turns to me and says, “I love you.” It wasn’t prompted, nor would it have happened if I had sat in my regular seat. I’m not so sure my presence was a blessing to Helen at all, but when this occurred, during Communion, it was like a breath of fresh air. Horizontal! I can only imagine the other stories that could be told, and should be as a witness to others.
The sermon was a subject WAY to deep for this preacher to do it justice. We serve an amazing, wonderful God of grace. When we begin to grasp the concept of God dwelling in us, even a little bit, it humbles us. How do I wrap my head around a Creator who loved me, and all humanity, even after the Fall in the Garden of Eden? A God who could create, destroy and recreate a human race not tainted with sin. But instead of recreation the Creator chose to restore. It was a much harder road to travel, filled with disappointment, pain and even the death of His Unique Son. So many opportunities to destroy (just read your “Old Testament”) but the Father continued to pursue us with a love we cannot fully understand. Jesus brings us into the presence and glory of God by sacrificing Himself for our sin. All who are thirsty are called to drink of His living waters! We are His sanctuary! My heart is softened and stretched vertically in praise!
Now let’s backtrack to another experience I had before most of you got dressed for worship. I made contact with the elders and one of our ladies to pray for me that morning. My back was really bad, and I needed some of my siblings, in Christ, making petition for me. I was reaching out horizontally so they could join me vertically to the Great Healer. See how that works?
But here is the thing that brings it all together – the Spirit of God. The same Holy Spirit that swept across the Valley of Dry Bones and breathed life back into God’s people and new life into the nations of the world. That Spirit, in all of God’s glory, indwells us. When someone turns to me during Communion and says they love me, the Spirit gives it meaning. When I focus on the love, grace or hesed of God, the Spirit gives me a heart of worship. When I walk in to our assemblies, praying, asking God to help me to (truly) see His children, I expect something to happen. The flip side: if I walk in each week focused on self, the big game, all the things I need to get done after “church”, or punching my “good deed” card, I will have a Spiritless worship. I will leave disappointed they didn’t sing more songs I like, or we didn’t get out “on time”, or the preacher dropped a dud of a lesson. The Spirit filled life is empowering. I know God’s Spirit goes with me beyond Sunday worship. I know the Holy Spirit continues to point me horizontally to a world that is hurting and needing Jesus. I know God’s Spirit continues to point me vertically to a Father and an Older Brother who just wants to spend time with me and join me in my grief over my sins and failures. God’s Spirit inspired Word still speaks and we respond to its love and instruction. A community of God. It is ok, in fact encouraged, to speak to each other in words of the Spirit. To have meaningful conversations about God’s goodness; to share your hurts; to pray together; basically your walk with the Divine. Horizontal and vertical.