We're glad you joined us for ToGather. No matter where you are, please know that God's people from all around the world are joining you in worship. (Find out more about ToGather.)
Opening with Praise in Word and Song:
We join our hearts with each other as we let our praises rise to the throne of grace, mercy, love, and power. Let's begin today by joining our voices with the Promise Keeper's chorus and sing, "Let It Rise":
Let's practice the truth we just sang. Please say these words from the apostle Paul aloud and offer them as praise just as he invites the Ephesians to join in praising God:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).
Focusing on the Scriptures:
Our Verse of the Day for ToGather this week is Ephesians 6:22:
I am sending [Tychicus with a report on everything so] that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you.
This verse seems a bit obscure and possibly even unhelpful at first glance. However, once we realize that Paul is in prison and sending back one of his dearest companions to bless others during this challenging time in his life, we recognize the critical truth of today's focus: We must not seek our own good, but the good of others so that they can be saved and encouraged (1 Corinthians 10:33-11:1).
Let's join the Newsboys in singing "Love One Another" as we call each other to put into practice our hallmark characteristic of people who follow Jesus (John 13:34-35):
Phil's message picks up this theme of living to bless others and centers on our need to practice "One-Anothering, Together":
We must remember that loving one another, being more concerned about others than ourselves, and being kind, compassionate, and forgiving with one another are commands. More importantly, these are characteristics of Jesus. Our desire to be like him should motivate us to display these characteristics, also.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (Philippians 2:3-4).
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God's example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 4:31-5:2).
As hard as it sounds to be more concerned about others than ourselves and live these other characteristics, we have been given the Holy Spirit to help us (John 16:13).
Sharing The Supper:
To prepare our hearts for Communion while continuing to focus on our theme of loving each other, let's sing "The Greatest Commands" with the Littleton Church:
Our Communion reflection comes from Phil as he recalls a trip to Thailand nearly three decades ago.
After 27 hours of flights, I woke up fighting my way through the fog of being twelve time zones away from home, followed by a busy day in a totally foreign land. The alarm had jangled my nerves awake while my brain remained five or six times zones behind.
I threw on some clothes and then met my friend, Robert, for breakfast at an outdoor stall in an alley. He chose the menu: chicken, hot peppers, along with fried rice with eggs. The spice and heat of the breakfast awakened my senses. The two cold Orange Crush drinks helped put out the fire from the peppers. My brain was awake, and I was ready to greet the Lord's Day!
We crammed into a very crowded room full of people from around the world. Bangkok was its usual, steamy, hot, and polluted self. Air conditioners were no match for the sticky heat and the crammed-together bodies.
What happened for the next hour and a half was a reminder of our uncommon grace purchased by Jesus. For the first time in my life, I experienced what John meant when he talked about Jesus dying for the sins of "the whole world" (1 John 2:1-2).
As we participated in Communion that morning, the diversity of people from a vast array of cultures, languages, and shades of skin color touched me deeply. Yes, we represented at least twelve nations, and each of those nations had a variety of people from different backgrounds, races, and skin tones. After The Supper, we celebrated with each group! We were one family as we sat at the Lord's Table.
We sang a song we knew in common as each group sang in its language. Tears welled up, filled my eyes, and spilled down my cheeks. My voice froze and crackled to a jerky stop. This tiny glimpse of the day when all of God's children gather to share in the wedding supper of the Lamb overwhelmed me (Revelation 19:6-9).
When our hearts look beyond our walls, nations, skin tones, and languages, we can hear our Savior welcome all of us as his family. And, his words and his sacrifice call us once again to reach "all the world" (Matthew 28:18-20).
This experience in Bangkok recalibrated The Lord's Supper for me forever. The Holy Spirit uses this decades-old memory to remind me of "the whole world" Jesus came to save and include in his family — a family that will be joined together in glory, one day.
Dear Father, you are the one from whom every family on earth derives its name and finds life. May we — may I — remember with this bread that the sacrifice of your Son, whom we remember now, is not something for us to hoard, but something precious we must share until "the whole world" joins us at your table of grace. In Jesus' precious name, we pray. Amen.
Prayer for the Cup:
Almighty God, thank you for taking on our human flesh in Jesus. Thank you for having a shade of color in your skin, just as we do. Thank you for sharing the same blood that connects us as one people, one family, and one human race. Forgive us when we selfishly focus on the grace we've received while so many people still need to receive this gift. Forgive us when we focus on the shades of our skin color rather than on allowing no borders to separate humanity from your grace. In forgiveness, O God, inflame our passion for seeing people as you do. Stir our hearts to bring them into your forever family of faith, hope, and love. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.
As we conclude the Lord's Supper, let's be mindful of our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan and other places where persecution is a growing reality, and martyrdom is possible — and in some areas, even likely. Let's remember those in Europe flooded from their homes and those in the Western U.S. losing everything to wildfires. We also remember those in Haiti and the ministries seeking to cast out the darkness of evil spirits that keep Haiti in their grasp and seem to be a magnet to bring natural disasters and destruction. And, we must not forget our families and our churches who have lost beloved ones to COVID-19.
We pray for God to intervene in our world to redeem people from these disasters that are so heavy on our hearts, and we sing "To the Least of These" with the Zoe Group as our mutual call to serve the lost and broken in our world:
Closing with Praise:
One of the scenes in Revelation speaks of the praise offered to God at the ultimate completion of the wedding of Jesus, the Lamb of God (John 1:29), and his bride, the redeemed — us:
Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:"Hallelujah!(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God's holy people.)
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear."
As we close our ToGather worship, let's "Raise A Hallelujah" with Bethel Music in triumphal anticipation of our future victory and reunion with all God's people.