I’m Bound for That City

“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2 ESV).

My morning reading from the One Year Bible turned into a day long meditation on God’s heavenly city, The New Jerusalem. We’re only two days from finishing our annual practice of reading through the Bible in a year. The OYB offers a daily reading from the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs. The New Testament reading today was from Revelation 21, which describes John’s vision of God’s holy city, the home of the Bride of Christ, which is the Church. I’ve read this passage many times before. I’ve even written a devotion on it before. But today was different. I was really drawn to John’s vision of this great heavenly city where all the saints of God will one day dwell.

Of course, as usual, my meditation led to a remembrance of an old hymn. In this case it was “I’m Bound for that City” written and composed in 1954 by Albert E. Brumley and the Brumley brothers: Bill, Tom, Bob and Jack. I heard the song many times sung by the Willow Branch Quartet, of which my mother Wilda Dillon Combs was the lead singer. I don’t have a recording of the quartet doing it, but I’m happy to have a recording of my mother singing it solo on her 1975 album, “Wilda & Mom.” I’ve included the recording on this blog below, along with a montage of photos of my mother, her family, her childhood home and church. I’ve also included the lyrics below. May it bless your soul as it has mine today!

I’m Bound for That City
 
There’s a city of light
Where cometh no night
And the sun never sets in the sky
In the Bible we’re told
That the streets are pure gold
And a cool gentle river runs by
 
I’m bound for that city
God’s holy white city
Oh yes I am
I’ll never turn back to this world anymore
No matter how rough may be the way
No matter how oft I stop to pray
I’m bound for that city
On that ever green shore
 
Little children will play
And our hearts will be gay
As we stroll through the city of gold
No more dying up there
No more sorrows to bear
For nobody will be feeble or old
 
I’m bound for that city
God’s holy white city
Oh yes I am
I’ll never turn back to this world anymore
No matter how rough may be the way
No matter how oft I stop to pray
I’m bound for that city
On that ever green shore

RISE UP UPDATE: Putting together a winning team!

(L to R) Chad Porterfield, Stephen Combs, Jonathan Minter, Jim Sherrer, and Gary Combs

I’m excited to report that we’re making great progress on Phase 2 of our Rise Up initiative! Both our giving and our preparations for building are right on target as planned. Praise the Lord for His faithfulness!

Just yesterday morning we met with our architect and contractor to work out the scope of Phase 2. Agreeing on the scope of a project has to do with making sure that the size of the proposed work and the monies available are in agreement. This is especially true when you are doing “pay as you go” on a big project.

It was our first meeting where we had both our architect, Jim Sherrer, and our contractor, Chad Porterfield at the same table. We’ve learned from previous projects that it’s important to get the whole team together early on, even before building plans are drawn. This creates better team synergy, improves communication, and almost always results in cost savings and better results.

We’ve been meeting with Jim Sherrer for several months now, getting to know one another. It’s our first time working with Jim, but he comes highly recommended by our church facility consultant, Brad Oaster. We have found him to be very attentive to our unique culture and needs. Jim is both an architect and the president of Design Development Architects out of Raleigh, NC.

Once again, we are working with Chad Porterfield as our contractor. Chad’s company built our new children’s wing, completed in 2018. He is the president and founder of CHADCO Builders, out of Burlington, NC. Chad also helped us come up with rough estimates last year for Phase 2, so we could forecast the size of our Rise Up initiative.

Both Jim and Chad come to us with a lot of experience with churches and both were recommended to us by Brad Oaster. Having them with us at the same table yesterday was both affirming and exciting.

Affirming because we saw how having both of them listening to us and advising us gave proof to the wisdom found in Proverbs, which says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (Prov. 15:22).

Exciting because our vision of making room for more people to come as they are and be forever changed by the love of Jesus is beginning to move from a dream to a reality!

Uganda Mission Report 2019

Our church sent myself and my wife, Robin Combs, Pastor Jonathan Combs, and Chantia Stewart along with friends, Steve Woodard and Fernando Paz on a two-week mission trip to Kisoro, Uganda to partner with our sister church, Kisoro Hill Baptist Church and Pastor George Mbonye. This is the fifth mission trip our church has sent to work with Pastor Mbonye. This report is offered with thanks to the Lord and to all those who partnered with the team in prayer and financial support.

Pioneers or settlers?

Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts; let them proclaim your power.” — Psalms 145:4 (NLT)

We are always only one generation away from a failure to pass on the faith. I’m thankful that over 2,000 years ago the Lord Jesus passed it on to His disciples, who passed it on to the next generation, who passed it on to the next, and so on until the present day. Every generation has to take on a “pioneering” spirit and be willing to make sacrifices and take risks to give the next generation the gospel. Yet, the sacrifices of former generations of believers have given us such a safe and comfortable environment in America to hear and believe, that we are in danger of living according to a kind of “settler” mindset.

What do I mean by a “pioneering” or “settler mindset?” Remember the history of the pioneers who set off across the plains of America to explore and establish homes and towns to live out West? They risked everything to go into the unknown. They just went out by faith. Sure, they took some arrows, but they also experienced the joy and adventure of seeing their faith become reality. On the other hand, settlers waited for the way to be more established before joining the move Westward. They didn’t pay the cost that the pioneers did to live in a new and wonderful place. As a result, they didn’t always appreciate what they had and didn’t understand that keeping and growing it would require more sacrifice.

Our church is filled with both mindsets. When we first started out in my living room in 1992, our church was a “pioneers only” kind of place. Everything we did was by faith. We started with nothing, but we trusted God. Little by little and year by year, the Lord grew our church family. We were a portable church for 19 years, renting schools and other locations for our meetings. Settlers would sometimes visit, but rarely stay with us.

But in 2011, the Lord provided a more permanent place, so we moved into the old Regal Cinema and converted it into our church home. Our attendance doubled overnight. For the first time in our church history, we started attracting and keeping settlers. We’re glad to have them. Yet, how do we keep our pioneering mindset? How do we stay on mission to reach our city with the Good News? How can we see God stir the hearts of our church family to never stop pioneering?

J.D. Greer, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh, NC, recently wrote his church about this very topic. He called the pioneer mindset, “first-generation” and the settler mindset, “second generation.” Here’s his list of differences between the two from his blog article entitled, It’s Time to Regain First-generation Faith.

“Here’s the difference in first generation and second generation:

  • First generation does “whatever it takes.” Second generation does “only what I’m asked to do.”
  • First generation assumes personal responsibility. Second generation assumes someone else will do it.
  • First generation expects personal sacrifice. Second generation expects personal comfort.
  • First generation sees problems and seeks solutions. Second generation sees problems and complains.
  • First generation sees possibilities and dreams about what could be. Second generation sees barriers and reasons to quit.
  • First generation hears the voice of God firsthand and owns the vision. Second generation inherits the vision secondhand and questions every decision.
  • First generation steps out with bold, reckless trust in God. Second generation sits satisfied in the stability of the institution.
  • First generation fears holding anything back from God. Second generation fears commitment.
  • First generation feels privileged to be a part of the movement. Second generation feels entitled to the benefits of the institution.”

Based on Pastor Greer’s list, which mindset best describes you? If you answered, “Second generation. I’m more of a settler.” Are you willing to let God change your mindset to a “first generation,” pioneering kind of thinking?

Jesus calls every generation to rise up and answer the call to make disciples. Let’s not be like the generation that followed the one that took the Promised Land:

“After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel.” — Judges 2:10 (NLT)

Let’s rise up and commit to always being a pioneering church on mission for Jesus!

Rising Up in 2019

Can you believe that 2019 is already here? With a new year comes an opportunity to ask ourselves the question, “How am I doing? … How am I doing in my heart for God? How am I doing in my heart for others? And how am I doing in my heart for our world?”

Watch this video message on how you can not only answer these questions, but how you can rise up to a greater commitment in 2019!
Rising Up in 2019

RISING UP IN 2019Can you believe that 2019 is already here? With a new year comes an opportunity to ask ourselves the question, "How am I doing? … How am I doing in my heart for God? How am I doing in my heart for others? And how am I doing in my heart for our world?"Watch this video message on how you can not only answer these questions, but how you can rise up to a greater commitment in 2019!https://www.garycombs.org/blog/2019/01/rising-up-in-2019.html?preview_id=7294&preview_nonce=f2c9b4727c&preview=true

Posted by Gary Combs on Friday, January 4, 2019

4 personal growth areas for 2019

“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” — Luke 2:52

For many years I have made it a habit to spend the last week of the year in prayer, meditation and Scripture study. I call it my annual study break. It’s also a time to evaluate how I am living my life. I want to be intentional about how I live. It’s so easy to let the urgent and the maintenance stuff of life fill up my days. I want to know that I have focused on the important.

I have developed a tool for setting annual goals and for self-evaluation that I call my “Luke 2:52 Goals.” Reading a description of how Jesus grew in Luke 2:52 motivatied me to want to grow in those same areas.

Notice that Jesus grew in four areas. He grew in wisdom, stature, in favor with God and in favor with men. Under each of these four categories I list several items where I believe God wants me to focus or where I want to grow for personal reasons. I try not to list too many things. I keep the total list small enough so that it fits on a single page. I usually post it in my office and home study, so that I can see it every day. This year, I’m posting it for you to see, so I guess I’ll really have to try and do it now!

Here are some of my personal goals for 2019:

1. Mentally (wisdom): Read 3 books a month, one for sermon prep, one for leadership and one for pleasure. Get back to blogging regularly, at least twice a month. Play guitar at least 30 minutes every day. Plan for more margin by taking a weekly sabbath, regular vacation time and retreat time to recharge mentally.

2. Physically (stature): Aim at maintaining a regular sleeping/rising habit of 11 PM/7AM. Lose 20 pounds by following a lo-carb diet. Workout for one hour three days a week (M, W, F). Start each morning walking with Robin. Stay proactive about seeing a doc for physical problems. Get a flu shot.

3. Spiritually (favor with God): Read the One Year Bible and make daily comments to fb/twitter. Have a daily quiet time. Set aside every Wednesday for study of God’s Word and sermon preparation. Plan and keep quarterly and annual retreats with God. Pray with Robin every evening.

4. Socially (favor with men): Friday night is date night with Robin. Schedule annual family vacation with all our kids and grandkids. Schedule annual grandparent trip with “potty-trained” kids. Disciple three men in Life On Life this year. Reach out to local pastors to pray for our city together. Meet with like-minded pastors for peer-learning and encouragement.

I know that it is God’s job to cause me to grow more like Jesus. The gospel means that we don’t have to work to earn God’s favor. So, I’m depending on the Lord for these goals. He is the One who will accomplish them in me. But I think it’s important to cooperate. I want to yield to the Spirit’s work.

I want to grow more like Jesus. Don’t you?

4 Devotions of Life Changing Small Groups

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42 ESV).

We’re not a church with small groups. We’re a church of small groups. Our church started in my living room with seven people. So, we’ve considered small groups to be one of the keys to fulfilling our calling to make disciples from day one.

As our church has grown in attendance, we have continually launched more small groups, or “community groups,” as we call them. Over 75% of our weekend services attenders are involved in one of our community groups. We recognize the importance of growing big and small at the same time, so as our weekend attendance grows, we launch more groups. And we strive to keep our church calendar uncluttered to make it easier for members to follow the the weekly rhythm of meeting together in the “temple courts and from house to house” (Acts 2:46, 5:42).

But the real secret to our life-changing small groups are the four devotions of the first century church found in Acts 2:42. The Scripture says that they were devoted to 1) the apostle’s teaching, 2) the fellowship, 3) the breaking of bread and 4) the prayers. So, we decided to base our community group ministry on these same four commitments.

1. A Shared Faith (“The apostle’s teaching”). All of our groups study the sermon from that previous weekend. We plan our sermons a year in advance to make sure that we offer a balanced diet of expositional studies through books of the Bible, topical sermon series that address current needs, such as biblical parenting, marriage, and financial stewardship, and other sermon series that our teaching team prayerfully prepares to meet the unique needs or our flock. Our desire is that the community groups would help move the weekly sermon from head to heart, as members discuss and apply the Scripture to their lives. Our teaching team writes weekly community group discussion guides to help facilitate the shepherding of these groups. Having the whole church essentially studying the same Scripture every week is also a powerful unifier, which leads to the second commitment…

2. A Shared Family (“the fellowship”). The commitment to meet together weekly in one another’s homes creates a more family-like environment. The shared hospitality of sitting knee to knee with a beverage and Bible in hand makes for a more relational experience. The Greek word for fellowship is koinonia. This word could also be translated communion or participation. And that’s the key to this second commitment, we want people to actively participate in discussion and application of the Word of God to their lives. We’ve learned that people are better discipled in circles, than in rows. These groups help facilitate life on life discipleship.

3. A Shared Food (“the breaking of bread”). Sharing a meal together and regularly remembering the Lord’s Supper together is the third commitment. We train our community group shepherds to plan a weekly meeting that lasts around two hours. The first hour is to be devoted to fellowship and food, and the second hour to Bible study and prayer. There’s just something about eating together that breaks down barriers and enhances the sense of family.

4. A Shared Focus (“the prayers”). Praying together is the fourth commitment. We encourage our groups to keep this in balance with the other three commitments. We want our groups praying real and transparent prayers together. This takes time and trust. We’ve found that breaking up into men’s and women’s groups for prayer time often enhances the trust factor. Men and women are different. And they often have different prayer and communication habits. The key here is to be creative. Sometimes they might pray all together, sometimes in pairs or triplets, and sometimes according to gender.

When we first launch a new community group, we have them study Acts 2:42 together for the first four weeks before joining the rest of the church in studying the sermon. We’ve written a new group launch guide for this. We also encourage the group to appoint champions for each of the four commitments during the launch. The group shepherd will champion the apostle’s teaching, but will also name an apprentice. Then, they are to ask for volunteers to champion the other three commitments. So, each group has a fellowship champion, who keeps members informed of meeting times/places, birthdays and anniversaries; a food champion, who organizes the weekly meals; and a prayer champion, who records the prayer requests and keeps the group informed concerning the group’s prayer list.

By basing our small group ministry on the four commitments of the first century church, we have seen wonderful and miraculous life change in the members of our church. It is not always easy to stay committed to these four devotions. There is always a temptation to add or subtract or to emphasize one over the other. Sometimes it is like herding cats trying to convince people of the efficacy of this approach. But it has been our experience that when we steadfastly commit ourselves to these four devotions and keep them in balance, life change happens!

 

 

This is an edited version of my article from  August 25, 2016.

Taking off the training wheels

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6 KJV).

When we first moved to North Carolina our children were ages five, two, and one. None of them could ride a bike without training wheels. The youngest was still mastering the art of walking.

Stephen, our oldest, hadn’t been able to practice riding at our previous home in Virginia. Our old driveway was too steep and it ended on a two-lane highway. Not a good place to learn how to ride a bike. But our new home in Wilson, NC had a long, level concrete driveway, perfect for bicycle practice. Plus, it had a fenced-in backyard with a gate closing off the driveway from the main road.

Stephen and his two-year old little brother, Jonathan, spent every day riding between the closed gate and the garage in the backyard. Stephen rode his little blue bike with training wheels and Jonathan followed on his “big wheel.” Little by little I raised the training wheels on Stephen’s bike, so that they only touched the ground when he leaned too far. Within a couple of months, Stephen was riding his bike without training wheels.

We also bought Jonathan a little red bike with training wheels that year. He was so focused on keeping up with his big brother that I started raising his training wheels too. Robin worried about this. She said, “I think he’s too little, Gary.”

But I’d been watching him and he really seemed to have the balance, so I took his training wheels off too. “He can do it.” I replied. “Just watch.”

And he did. Our little two-year old was soon chasing his big brother around the driveway without training wheels too. He was like a bicycle prodigy or something!

Before long I started leading my little bicycle tribe out onto the road in our subdivision. I had installed a child seat on the back of my old 10-speed, so baby Erin could join the fun. Before we headed out I always had a huddle with the team to plan our journey.

“Stephen, you lead the way, but don’t go too fast. Make sure your brother is keeping up. And remember to stop at the stop sign.” I instructed.

“OK, Daddy.” He replied.

“What?” I asked, with a perturbed look.

“Yes, my father.” He replied, a look of intensity in his eyes as he accepted the responsibility of leading (When I gave out formal mission plans, the boys had to respond with “My father.” It was part of the training).

“Jonathan, you follow your brother. Remember, to stay right behind him and don’t weave around and stuff. And most of all, don’t forget to use your brakes to stop.” I told my younger son, while looking in his eyes (Jonathan had a bad habit of stopping by dragging his feet on the ground rather than using the coaster brake.).

“Yes, my father.” He said with his little scratchy voice and a nod of his head. He was already bumping Stephen with his bike tire, rearing to get on the road.

“Are you ready, Erin?” I asked, leaning around to look at her there on the back of my bike.

She just nodded and smiled. She hadn’t worked out the talking thing yet.

We headed out onto the road with Stephen in the lead, Jonathan in the middle, and myself and Erin bringing up the rear. This put me in a position to keep an eye on the pack and shout instructions along the way.

“Turn left after stopping, Stephen.” I shouted.

“Yes Sir.” He said while gesturing a left turn with his arm (Yes, they had to use turn signals).

Little by little, we traveled farther and farther from home as the children grew. Time flew. It didn’t seem that long before I was handing each of them car keys and then seeing them graduate and marry. Every step we just kept raising the training wheels a little higher.

As I prepare to close out our parenting series this Sunday, I’m reminded of how much parenting and bike riding have in common. At first, they both involved use of my authority more than my influence. I had to teach them to obey my instructions. But along the way I also kept raising their training wheels, so that they had more and more authority of their own. I moved from a position of absolute authority, to the voice of influence.

The art of parenting is recognizing this transition from authority to influence. We exercise our authority while they are young, but as they grow we must exchange authority for influence. We must begin trusting them with more authority along the way, as we teach them “the way they should go.”

That’s the key. First, teach them to obey, then teach them to know “the way.” When we do this, our authority will gradually decrease, but it will be replaced by a growing influence that will last the rest of our days together.

We want our children to ultimately be followers of God’s way. As parents, we have a holy stewardship. God gives our children to us and we raise them up and give them back to Him.

 

Adapted from my previous blog entry on June 4, 2010.

4 imperatives for raising up children in the Lord

‘Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.’ — Ephesians 6:1-4 (ESV)

What is your parenting approach? Where did you learn how to be a mom or dad? Was it from your parents? From friends, or a book? Or are you just winging it? What is your parenting style?

In Chip Ingram’s book, Effective Parenting in a Defective World, he relates the research of sociologist Reuben Hill who conducted a study of thousands of families and how their parenting style affected their children. He put his research results on a grid that measured discipline and relational affection and discovered four parenting styles:

The Permissive Parent. Represents parents who are high in love but low in discipline. The study revealed that permissive parents tend to produce children with very low self-esteem and feelings of inferiority. The kids feel loved, but they are never sure of their limits. Their parents are generally fearful, afraid of messing up and damaging their children’s psyche, so they never set firm boundaries. 

The Neglectful Parent. This kind of parent doesn’t express much love and also doesn’t discipline. Their children tend to grow up with no lasting relationship with Mom or Dad. The parents’ neglect may not necessarily be intentional. They may simply be in the midst of their own traumas and chaos, like an addiction or an abusive situation. They don’t purposely desire to neglect their kids, but they don’t know how to deal with their own issues adequately and don’t have the tools to be healthy parents.

The Authoritarian Parent. This kind of parent doesn’t express love and affection well, but is high on discipline. They raise children who are provoked to rebellion. The bar is always high and the “musts” are always abundant, so there’s a strong sense of safety. But this kind of parent isn’t content just to win the war; they have to win every battle too. Communication between parent and child takes the form of arguing and fighting, especially when the child is old enough to fight back. Authoritarian parents squeeze their kids until the kids can’t wait to leave home, and as soon as they do, they rebel.

The Authoritative Parent. Those who land in the upper right quadrant provide the best combination of love and discipline. This kind of parent is authoritative, not an overbearing authoritarian, but a compassionate yet firm authority. They have clear boundaries but are also very loving. Ingram calls them “fellowshipping” parents; everyone knows who the boss is, but there’s also a connection between parents and child, a consideration that respects and honors who the child is while not compromising his or her disciplinary needs. The result is a child high in self-esteem and equipped with good coping skills.

It just so happens that the “authoritative” parenting style that sociologists found to be most effective, is very similar to the one the Bible teaches. God’s Word teaches the importance of balancing discipline and affection in child-rearing.

In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul taught believers how to raise up their children in the Lord. As Christians, we can follow God’s Word in the training of our children and raise them up to maturity according to God’s intent.  When we look closely at Ephesians 6:1-4, the text gives four imperatives for raising up our children in the Lord.

4 Imperatives for Raising Up Children in the Lord:

1. Give them the right standard to obey. In Ephesians 6:1 we read, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”  The word “obey” is the first imperative verb. In the Greek, it literally means “to come under hearing.” Of course, this implies that parents are giving their children something to follow or obey. Parents must teach their children to obey. This means being their father, being their mother, rather than trying to be their buddy or friend. If parents fulfill their God-given role as father and mother when their children are young, then they will be friends when they are grown.

And what standard should parents give their children to obey? Regardless of the worldly view that all things are relative, there is a right and a wrong. The standard for right and wrong is revealed in the Bible. Give them a biblical standard to obey. Help them to see that you are authorized by God to raise them up to maturity. Give them the Bible as your standard, but don’t use it only for correction. Show them how to hear from God themselves through His Word for their encouragement.

2. Show them the way of honor. In Ephesians 6:2-3, Paul quoted the Decalogue’s fourth commandment, “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” The second imperative in Paul’s instruction is found here in the word “honor.” Parents must teach their children to honor them. This involves two steps: 1) Teach them to recognize the God-given authority of parents, and 2) Teach them to give the honor due their parents. This commandment includes a promise. So, children who learn to honor their parents will grow up to live under God’s blessing and care. Those who don’t honor their parents, grow up outside of God’s blessing.

Children are not born honoring their parents. It must be taught. It also must be caught. In other words, parents must model it in how they treat their children in an honorable way themselves.

3. Encourage them with sensitivity and consistency. In Ephesians 6:4, Paul commanded, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger…” The verb translated “do not provoke” is the third imperative in this passage. It means that parents should avoid driving their children to anger, discouragement, and frustration in their parenting. This means that there is to be a balance to a parent’s authority. This balance comes from knowing a child’s nature and being consistent in discipline.

What provokes children to anger? There are several ways parents might sin against their children in their parenting style, such as too much fault-finding, or by not spending enough time together to know the child, or by negative labeling of the child (i.e. Calling them “lazy, stupid, etc.”). Other ways that might “provoke” them is comparing them to other children, being inconsistent in discipline or being hypocritical (i.e. “Do as I say, not as I do”).

Parents are to be sensitive to their child’s personality and to be consistent in their rules and discipline. Their job is not just good behavior. It’s to bring them up in the Lord. Parents should aim past the behavior. They must aim at the heart.

4. Train them with appropriate discipline and instruction. The last part of Ephesians 6:4 says, “but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” This verse contains the fourth and final imperative, which is translated, “bring them up.”  In the Greek original, the imperative verb means to nourish or train up to maturity. Parents should have the goal in mind to represent God’s authority to them until their child reaches the age where the role of authority shifts to God alone.

Parents are to bring up children according to two godly methods: 1) “discipline,” which implies physical training and correction, and 2) “instruction,” which implies verbal training and warning. In other words, parents are to use a two-pronged approach of both physical and verbal correction and instruction in bringing their children up in the Lord.

Parenting is a stewardship and a gift from the Lord. Let us determine, with God’s help, to raise up our children according to the four imperatives found in God’s Word.

You can’t do the “one anothers” without one another!

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” — John 13:34-35

“About 20 years ago, a church member was considered active in the church if he or she attended three times a week. Today, a church member is considered active in the church if he or she attends three times a month.” —Thom S. Rainer

“Do not reduce church to listening to a podcast. It’s so much more than that. It’s community. It’s worshiping with others, praying for others, hurting with others, serving others, being involved in the lives of others.” — Craig Groeschel

There’s a downward trend in church attendance among Christian believers these days. Many point to the busyness of work schedules, children’s sports activities and other competing interests to explain the decline. Still others explain that it’s just easier to stay home and watch a sermon video podcast and put together your own favorite worship song playlist.

Many are asking, “Why do we even need to come to church worship services when we can just stay home, lay in bed and watch the sermon on our TV screens between our socked feet?”

They have a point. If church attendance is just about a passive hearing and watching of sermons and songs, why not stay at home and do it?

But what if coming together is about something more? What if it’s about something a lot more?

Remember Christ’s “new command?” He told his disciples that he had a new command for them, that they love one another just as he had loved them. But what was so “new” about this command? After all, the book of Leviticus already had the “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18) command.

What was new about Christ’s new command? At least two things:

1. New focus. The original command called for love of neighbor, but the new command calls for us to love “one another.” That’s a new focus for loving because as believers, we’re invited into a new community, a new family, with Christ as its Head. We’re to have a special kind of love for other believers because we’re members of God’s family. Jesus said that “all people will know that you are my disciples” by this love for one another.

2. New quality. The former quality of love in the original command was to love your neighbor “as yourself.” But the new quality is to love one another as “Christ has loved us.” The command from Leviticus was based on obedience to God, “I am the Lord.” Now, the new command is based on Christ’s sacrificial love for us. We’re to love one another with Christ’s kind of love.

A survey of the New Testament shows that this new command from Jesus inspired a whole plethora of “one another” commands to help explain its implications. One Bible commentator counted 56 “one another” commands in the New Testament. What does it look like to love one another as Christ has loved us? Consider these other “one another” commands:

  • “Live in harmony with one another . . .” (Rom. 12:16).
  • “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you . . .” (Rom. 15:7).
  • “… comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace . . .” (2 Cor. 13:11).
  • “. . . through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13).
  • “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).
  • “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up . . .” (1 Thess. 5:11).
  • “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another . . .” (James 5:16).
  • “. . . love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22).
  • “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9).

When we look at all the “one anothers” in the Bible, we have to admit that they can’t be done at home alone. Perhaps thats why the author of Hebrews wrote this “one another” command, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25).

The Bible makes it clear that you can’t do the “one anothers” without coming together with one another.

See you this Sunday?