Monday, April 06, 2020
   
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Spiritual Health Habits: Faithful Attendance—an important call to commitment

Spurring On and Meeting with Other Believers

I want to tell you a story about the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers. In one of his last games, Vince Lombardi's team had suffered a humiliating defeat. Standing before his team, Lombardi didn't need to say much, because these men were all great men and professionals. They recognized they weren't playing up to their potential, and that their lack of practice in certain areas had caused their defeat. They hadn't stayed with the game plan and, as a result, they lost.

Lombardi loved his team, and was a dynamic leader, so in a quiet but assertive style, he reached down and picked up a football. He then smiled at the team and shared five words: "Men, this is a football." The men understood quickly what he was doing: attempting to get them back to the basics. One of his men, picking up the spirit of what the coach was trying to do, yelled out, "Coach, you're going too fast!"

 

With that as a lead-in, I want to say that Hillcrest Chapel is doing very well now. But because I love you, and because you are all capable of doing much better, I want to remind you today that we are not living up to our potential; we are losing some games we should be winning. We know better, because this is one of the finest churches I know, but for some reason we are not practicing like we should, nor are we following all of the game plan.

So today, I would like to follow Lombardi's example and go back to the basics. I would like to say to you: "This is a church. This is how a church should operate." Turn with me to Hebrew 10:19ff.

19] Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20] by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21] and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22] let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23] Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24] And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25] Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Besides service, why do Christians gather for worship? What is the commitment/mandate regarding the local church? In order to understand this, we must look at the context of Hebrews 10.

Many centuries ago when Christians began meeting together, persecution was standard operating procedure. Martyrdom was as common to them as traffic jams are to us—an everyday occurrence. As a result, fear gripped congregations, with some believers defecting and others sort of drifting, to play it safe. A letter, therefore, began to circulate among the converted Jews, addressed to those who were enduring the blast of persecution. We know the letter today as Hebrews.

In Hebrews 10:19-25, we have a beautiful picture of the way we enter into intimacy and worship with God. As we read this section of Scripture, it is helpful to understand that the author has in mind the analogy of the Jewish tabernacle. He uses it as an illustration of the way we are to enter into a vital relationship to and praise of God. It is helpful to have a general picture of how the tabernacle—and later the temple—was set up to understand what the author is saying in these verses, and to know that one of the main points for writing this letter to a Jewish audience was to show how the entire tabernacle was fulfilled in Christ. Jesus fulfilled all the regulations of the tabernacle once and for all, so there is no more need for a tabernacle or temple.

Now don't get bogged down in this illustration. Consider the tabernacle and the temple as a picture book making a complicated picture clear. With that in mind, we can see in Hebrews 10 that the provision creates a privilege that is ensured by our proper preparation. In other words, these are the three steps of entrance into the Holy of Holies, or the inner circle of intimacy and fellowship with God and others.

 

The Provision

How is it that we can even hope to draw near to God and fully experience His presence and love? The answer is simple: He made provision for us in two ways.
  1. Jesus removed the barriers. In the temple and tabernacle, there was a barrier to entering into the holy of holies—it was the veil. This huge curtain separated man from personal communion and contact with God. Only the high priest could enter into the most holy place, and that was once a year.

    How could this barrier be removed? The curtain is removed through the body of Jesus. When Christ died on the cross, it was no coincidence that this curtain was ripped from top to bottom to reveal the interior of the Holy of Holies—Matt. 27:51; Eph. 2:14,15.

    It is essential we understand why there was a veil in the first place. We were separated from God, not only because of the veil but because of our sin. The veil was a protection, as well as a separation from the holiness and presence of God. We were under the sentence of death according to the Scripture, because "the wages of sin is death..."—Rom. 6:23a. We had no way except through the blood of animals to receive forgiveness from sin, because the Bible had said that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin—Heb. 9:22.

    Now, however, something has happened to change that hopeless situation. Christ took our sin upon Himself, became the blood sacrifice that was needed, and died in our place. He paid the price for the sins of all mankind, and the account is settled, if we accept His provision. We have a new and living way opened up for us by the body and blood of Jesus.

     

  2. Jesus became the great high priest over the house of God., providing the way of entrance as well as the means to stay in the presence of God. We now can come into the Holy of Holies and there find that Jesus continually makes a way for us to have peace with God. Heb. 4:14—"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess."

    He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, because he was tempted in every way—just as we are now. He is, therefore, One who understands and gives us help in the time of need. What a blessing! The implications are so profound to us.

    Furthermore, we are now called to approach Him. Hebrews 4:16 says, "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." He is prepared not only to understand our problems and needs, but to live His life over again in our circumstances, right where we are.

     

    This is the greatest truth of the Christian faith. Christianity is not some feeble effort on our part to live a shabby imitation of Jesus Christ. Christianity is Jesus Christ living His life again through us right where we are, in our circumstances. We have a completely available and thoroughly able priest in control over the house of God, whose house we are."
    Ray Stedman, What More Can God Say? p. 167.

     

If we are children of God, His provision has given us many privileges as we accept what He has done for us. But before we get to the privileges, notice with me the preparation we all need to make, to assure our privileges will be fully realized.

 

The Preparation

v. 22—"... let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water."

In order to understand this reference, we again have to look back at the temple and see it as a picture book, a shadow of what God is now making clear to us as believers. In the Old Testament, the priests prepared themselves in a similar way for the offering of sacrifices (Ex. 19:22, 28:41; Lev. 8:12, 20:7, 21:8). The focus of their preparation was, however, on the exterior—their clothing and the preparation of the actual sacrifice. This was an object lesson as to how we should be involved in the same process of preparation. We, too, must ready ourselves to offer the sacrifice of praise (Heb.13:15) so it will be acceptable to God (I Pet. 2:5).

In the New Testament, the emphasis in the preparation process is on the heart, so that is where we will start.

 

  • Heart preparation. We never get away from the heart. Notice we are to: "Draw near to God... having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience..."—v. 22. We can only come to Jesus Christ and draw near to God when we are cleansed—I John 1:9. When we have confessed our sin to God, we can have complete freedom from any nagging guilt. What a relief to be cleansed from a guilty conscience! We are to draw near to God with a sincere heart. The word "sincere" is important to understand; it means "that which has truth for its base." A sincere heart is uncovered and open to God, and is to others all it appears to be: genuine, real, not mere show, but truthful. Sincerity is so important to us as believers, because of our tendency to revert to the way we used to be: filled with hypocrisy (the opposite of sincerity).

    At one time each of us had a heart filled with hypocrisy. Neither we nor others always knew or understood the inside of our lives, because the heart can be so deceptive. In the past, we couldn't cure this deceptive quality & condition. (Jeremiah 17:9—The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?) At times, the outside of our lives may have looked good— Matt. 23:25-28. We may have looked like a "clean cup and plate," like something freshly painted. We may have looked beautiful, or even appeared to be righteous. The inside, however, was rotten, at times full of greed; self-indulgence; dead men's bones; hypocrisy and wickedness; and everything unclean.

    When we became believers, we began a process of sanctification. We are not made immediately perfect, however, so we need to constantly monitor the condition of our hearts, so we don't return to our former hypocrisy. Though we are new creations in Christ, we still should be aware of the need to continually cleanse our hearts of sin. In fact, even as Christians—New Testament priests—we must recognize our potential to live contrary to who we really are.

    For instance, the unclean heart of the New Testament priest is described in 1 Pet. 2:1. "Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind." Note the priesthood described in 1 Pet. 2:5,9 is preceded by the preparation of 1 Pet. 2:1.

    I Peter 2:2,5,9—

    Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation... 5] you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ... 9] But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

    According to verse one, then, we are to rid ourselves of the following:

    • All malice, "badness in quality." The wicked act of the mind; vice, generally in all its forms—Col. 3:8.
    • All deceit—means "a bait for fish," cunning way of deceiving or catching. Trickery.
    • All hypocrises—means "a reply or answer from one who plays a part." Therefore, pretense.
    • All envy—means "jealousy of another's success." Envy of the excellence of others.
    • All slander of every kind—means "backbiting, speaking against." Implies hostility.

    In concert with our heart preparation, we also need

  • Attitude preparation

     

    1. Confidence. Turning back to Hebrews 10, we see we must enter the most holy place, with confidence—v. 19. "Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus..."

      This confidence again is not from what we have done, but because of the blood of Jesus—Heb. 10:19; because we have a great high priest—v. 21. Oh, I pray for our understanding of who we are. That will give us great confidence as we pray.

    2. Faith. "...let us draw near to God...in full assurance of faith..."—v. 22. That means our dependence is no longer upon the weak ability we may have as natural men and women—our talents, gifts, training or education. Our dependence is upon a source of supply that never runs dry—the flowing power of God's Spirit. We are prepared to meet any circumstance, in the quiet assurance of our faith that He who is in us is able to do everything that needs to be done.

    So the preparation we make includes our attitudes, but these inward attitudes must finally be matched with another:

     

  • Body preparation

    Notice we are to "draw near to God... having our bodies washed with pure water..."—v. 22. It should be obvious this phrase does not refer to water baptism. If it did, then any baptism that did not occur in absolutely pure water would be considered illegitimate. There would be no more lake and bay baptisms for us here at Hillcrest Chapel. Nor would our sanctuary baptisms be pure enough!

    What does that phrase mean, then? It more likely refers to a dedication of the body to the Lord, and is similar to the calling found in Rom. 12:1-2: "Therefore I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God which is your spiritual worship."

 


Evaluation

With the preparation of our bodies, our attitudes, and our hearts, we have the wonderful privilege of being able to enter into the innermost circle of relationship with our God. He has provided the way—the choice is ours.

Here are three checks to see if you are ready.

 

Body Check

  • Has your body been offered to God as a living sacrifice?
  • Is He in control of it?
  • Are you aware it is the temple of the Holy Spirit?
  • Have you freed your body from any sin or action that would release it from contamination?

Romans 12:1 urges you in view of God's mercy, to—"offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God which is your spiritual worship."

 

Attitude Check

  • How is your attitude?
  • Would you say you have great confidence now to enter into the inner circle of intimacy with God?
  • Is your faith fully assured so you can draw near to God?

Heart and Conscience Check

If that doesn't describe our life, it may be we have a guilty conscience that needs cleansing; or a heart that is filled with hypocrisy. The Lord wants us to come to Him without masks, uncovered, open and honest; i.e., in total sincerity of heart. If you're not there, understand God has made every provision through His sacrifice on the cross, to enable you to draw near to Him. We are to repent of all malice, all deceit, all hypocrisies, all envy, all slander of every kind. If you ask Him, the Holy Spirit will bring to your minds the things you need to repent of. My strongest encouragement is, let's go for it! If we accept God's provision and our hearts are prepared, God will open the door to many privileges.

 

The Privileges

I love this passage, Hebrews 10:19-25, because many of our choicest privileges are mentioned here. Let's read it again.
22] let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23] Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24] And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25] Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Do you see all the "let us" here? I call this a let us patch, because the privileges/commands are easily noticed by those two words: let us! How many "heads of let us" are there? There are five. We should understand that being a Christian believer is being part of a family, group, army, body, adventure, and friendship. The emphasis in this passage is on "us" and "we." We are in this together. If we don't have plenty of let us in our life we have an improper diet; we are starving from fellowship even if we don't know it!

One of the best ways to discern our spiritual health is by listening to our own conversations. If there are plenty of "me," "my," "I"'s in our speech when we are talking about the faith, we don't have enough let us in our spiritual diet. If we don't talk about the church as "us" and "we" and "our," then we have missed the greatest privilege and provision we have as believers.

 

The first privilege is intimacy/ friendship with God.

...let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water—v. 22. What a privilege for us to draw near to God.

Notice this is a group drawing near..."let us draw near to God..." In contrast to the caution and fear which gripped the ancient high priest as he entered the holy place, or the people at the bottom of Mt. Sinai, the door is now wide open for every saint to come into the throne room of the most high God together with other believers.

What does it mean to draw near?

We are to continually walk in His presence together through our worship, our service, our work and social times. In other words, we draw near to God when we live in recognition of His presence; when we are with other believers as well as in preparation for corporate times. It means we also take the initiative to spend quality personal and group time with Him.

 

Our second privilege is to hold fast to the hope we possess.

v. 23—"... let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. We have a hope that is unalterable, a hope filled with confidence, because we know we will live with Christ for eternity. We know the promises will be realized, because God is faithful.

Notice again, we are told to hold unswervingly to the hope we profess... as a group/church experience. A whole lot of people are not drawing near, because they are all alone in the way they are living out their faith. Too many believers are not holding unswervingly to the hope, because they are trying to hold on by themselves. Holding on to faith is a group experience. Just like a tug of war needs a good team to win, so we need a good church/small group to help us keep holding on! (We need let us!)

 

We are also privileged to consider how we may spur one another... v. 24.

Here we see the clearest explanation of what our let us patch is all about! The verse seems to focus in on the same point the writer has been trying to make. Ultimately, we are to think about ways to stir each other up, resulting in a deeper love for one another and greater involvement in doing good things for one another. "Spur" here means "irritation/exasperation, provoke"—used in a good sense.

The supportive love of Christians for each other is a powerful factor in maintaining spiritual vigor and the impact of the local church. It needs to be awakened in both ourselves and others, not by finger-shaking and lecturing, but by encouraging words and good example. Two commands are made to help bring this about:

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing—v. 25.

Regular corporate worship is not an option for a Christian; it is a necessity, a command. If we don't establish a positive habit of attendance, we will establish a habit of nonattendance. It takes about 30 repetitions to establish a good or a bad habit. Therefore, if we aren't establishing a positive habit, we are already establishing a habit of non-attendance or convenience attendance, coming only when it is convenient, and does not conflict with any other activity.

Let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

When these words were written, the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem was just around the comer. The empire seethed with unrest and premonitions of disaster. But these frightening prospects were viewed not as signs of God's inability to control His world, as many interpret similar events today. Rather, they were indications that God was working out His predicted purposes, just as Jesus, the prophets, and the apostles had foretold. No one could know the hour when "the Day" would begin, but its coming was certain and was imminent to them.

34] "...and all the more as you see the Day (of Christ's return) approaching." Read portions of Matt. 24-25 and see if that day is any closer. Does the news and our society lead you to believe the day is drawing near? The weather—some of the severest in history? Wars and rumors of war? Knowledge increasing? People who scoff and say, "Well, every generation of Christians has thought that" are ignoring the signs that are showing up today.

The Lord Himself instructed His disciples: "When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near"—Luke 21:28. It is apparent, as we look back over the centuries, that God has wanted each generation to feel it is living in the very last days of civilization. This sense of imminence is God's device to keep believers expectant and full of hope in the midst of the world's darkness.

Evil will become more subtle in our day, and the difference between truth and error will be more difficult to detect. The voices of our age will pour out lies, and society's false concepts will be widely viewed as truth. Within 10, years it will be very obvious who the believers are and who they aren't. I can promise you, 20 to 40% of the American church today will be out of the church by then, and that percentage will be true of Hillcrest Chapel, too!

What will help us? We, too, need to gather together to encourage each other and renew our hope in the truth of God's Word, so we won't believe the lies of our own sin and culture. Heb. 3:13 says, "But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness." That's the potential if we don't have encouragement: hardening by sin's lies! If we are not in the let us patch, fully engaged in giving and receiving the encouragement we need, we will be hardened by sin!

If you, or those you know, are gathering together less often these days, it's probably a good indication that they/you are getting caught up in the philosophies and attitudes of the day. It's not unusual today to see American believers justify spending less time in the church gathered and to minimize its importance. The reasons almost sound biblical, but they can also deceive!

Here are some reasons I've heard from pastors in Whatcom County and from the people of Hillcrest.

  • We need to spend more time with our family, and because Sunday is our only family day, surely God doesn't expect us to jeopardize our family by spending that time in church.
  • We have found our family communicates much better if we can get away for the weekend, e.g., go skiing, boating, etc.
  • We have a lot of family and friends come into town, etc.
  • We just go to our small group; that's enough church for us.
  • We don't get much out of the large group gatherings.
  • We watch Christian television to get our inspiration.
  • Our kids don't want to go to church; we never want to force them to attend. They decide if and when they want to go.
By the way, some of these are used regularly for our small group attendance and they are killing the groups!

More flaky reasons are, sadly, also given with a straight face:

  • The sun is shining.
  • It is a holiday.
  • It's the Academy Awards.
  • It's a playoff game.
  • I need a week away from people.
  • I don't feel like getting the kids ready today.
  • I don't feel like going today!

Some of the less flaky excuses could be legitimate to a certain extent, but they can conflict with the commands of Hebrews 10, too. Here are some questions I would ask:

  • Who says everything has to happen at the same time as a church service?
  • When did the family become the only important priority in a person's life? (It's a priority, but is it the only one?)
  • Where in the Bible does it say that going to church gatherings and being a part of Christian community is meant only for what we can get out of it?
  • How about the other commands of Scripture concerning the church?
  • Where does serving others come into our priorities?
    1. How about financial giving?
    2. How about worship? Isn't that expected, commanded, and needed by every believer?
    3. How about being equipped for ministry?
    4. When will that happen if there is no consistent attendance or commitment?
    5. How about prayer for the community and broadening of our perspective on a world that needs Jesus?
    6. How well are you training your children in excuse making? You will hear these same excuses from your teenagers (if not already), and they will have learned them from you!
    7. Do you leave hygiene habits to the whim of your children? You certainly don't want to embitter them about brushing their teeth or doing their homework. They may hate it!

Let me be as straight as I can. On the basis of the Scriptures we have looked at in this study, we would have to conclude the following statement...

 

People who just attend church when they want are focused on their own world, and have lost touch with what a Christian community is all about and does together. They don't understand or are choosing to ignore the commandments regarding being in a Body of believers. They have little or no appreciation for other gifts in the Body, nor do they think they have anything to give to others. They don't understand how much their family, their children and themselves need other Christian/churchgoing friends.
If this sounds like legalism, please understand I am saying this because I love you. I sense God is lovingly calling us all to a greater commitment, because He loves us and has something very special in mind for our church community. Let me stop here and talk about the families of Hillcrest:

It was never God's intention for families to raise their children by themselves. We're not good enough, nor competent enough! We need the whole Body; the family of God will be our greatest asset in raising our children. For example, peer group teachers; youth workers; and the influence and modeling that your Christian friends will bring to your children is more significant in a child's life than most parents understand. Do you know what often happens in families who don't value the church, or their kids' involvement in it, by taking the time and initiative to make sure they participate in youth group or regular Sunday attendance? What happens to the children in the long run? The kids don't value the church or the Christian lifestyle, either, because they mimic their parents.

Bringing your kids to church doesn't make them Christians, but giving them models of flaky attendance will discourage their faith!

We can't survive without encouragement. That includes all those in our families, friendship circles, and acquaintances. There is much more to being in a church than sitting and listening to a sermon, although we hope it is better than force feeding! A major objective is that we give attention to encouraging and spurring one another on in the Christian life.

Did you notice that we are not told specifically what to do? We are simply exhorted, let us consider how we may spur one another...and let us encourage one another... The details are left up to each new generation of people facing new and different challenges. For ideas on specific responses, I've prepared an outline suggesting ways to encourage.

Introduction:

The pastors and elders of a church are responsible to discern if any idea, philosophy, attitude, sin has infiltrated the Body, and then to warn or correct so it doesn't work through the Body like yeast through the dough.

Faithful attendance is a subject that needs to be heard, because so many Hillcresters are believing the lie and getting caught up in flaky church attendance patterns. This is no small number. I estimate that 30 to 40% of the people of this church need to evaluate their habit of attendance: whether they are entering into worship and if they are carrying their responsibility to spur others on toward love and good deeds. We would have to add one more service next Sunday if everyone in this church took this message seriously!

Below is a form you are free to print out, sign, and keep in your Bible. It will help you reaffirm your spiritual health habit of church attendance, spurring others on, encouragement and worship.


An Affirmation of My Spiritual Health Habit of Church Attendance and Spurring Others On Toward Love and Good Deeds—Hebrews 10:19-25

After hearing the teaching of Hebrews 10:19-25, I have determined that I need to be a four-Sunday-a-month attender of Hillcrest Chapel.
  • While recognizing I still need time for vacation and a few out-of-town special family/friend trips four weekends a year, I have decided I will make a commitment to being fully present at Hillcrest at least four times a month for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
  • I recognize this commitment is necessary because unless I establish a habit of regular attendance, I will follow a habit of non- or flaky attendance, and thus I will be unnecessarily vulnerable to the enemy's schemes—v. 22; Heb. 3:13.
  • I recognize also that this commitment carries with it an acknowledgment that Jesus has made the way for me to enter into worship with my church by removing all barriers by means of His own blood—Heb. 10:19-21.
  • I recognize, however, that I need to come to our church services fully prepared, so that I might worship freely and without guilt—Heb. 10:22.
  • I also fully understand I need others in my church to help me and encourage me to worship and hold on to my hope—vv. 22-25. (I need plenty of let us.)
  • Further, I understand my responsibility to my church (and it to me) is to consider/think about how we may be used by God to spur others on toward love and good deeds by ever-increasing encouragement—v. 25.
  • I make this commitment because I love God and my church!
Signed,