I was in the Spirit and I heard a voice that rang like thunder: “Come.” Then I looked, and, oh my!—a door was open into Heaven. Another voice, a voice like a trumpet, like the sound of birds after the rain, called out, "Come up and enter. I'll show you what happens next. Come with me." The barest glimpse of the sparkle in an eye – no more – and she had drawn me in.
I was caught up at once in deep worship and, oh!—the throne set in heaven with One seated on the throne, lit in gem hues of amber and flame, and a rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled His throne. Twenty-four thrones circled His, with twenty-four elders seated, white-robed, gold-crowned. Lightning flash and thunder crash pulsed from the throne. Before the throne, the dais was like a crystal sea, clear as glass.
I felt like an intruder, witnessing amazing things that, as far as I knew, no living man’s eyes had ever seen. I was drawn across the threshold into this overwhelming scene, stepping gently lest I distract someone, lest I draw attention to myself, away from the amazing One on the throne. The sparkling eye drew me on.
I tore my gaze away from that throne. Prowling around the throne were four amazing creatures, covered in eyes. Eyes to look ahead, eyes to look behind. The first creature like a lion, the second like an ox, the third with a human face, the fourth like an eagle in flight. The four creatures were winged, each with six wings. And the eyes! They were all eyes, seeing around, between, within. And they chanted night and day, never taking a breath, but never hurrying:
Holy, holy, holy is God our Master: Sovereign, Strong – The Was, The Is, The Coming.
It’s impossible to describe it: I tell you what I saw, but how do I tell of the glory there? The creatures were terrifying, overwhelming, and yet there was a gentleness about them; I knew that they would never touch one of the King’s children, and so I knew I was safe. But every time they chanted, “Holy,” there was this intense vibration in the air, this wave of significance, of power, of intimacy that swept over the room and beyond, and for all I know, it swept on into eternity.
I inched closer, drawn; each wave nearly crushing me – nearly but not quite knocking me to the ground, crushing me to jelly, and yet every wave brought with it such an overwhelming joy, a belonging. I could not turn back, even should it cost my life to go on. Finally, I knew what death I would choose if the choice were given to me: I choose this.
Every time one of the creatures gave glory and honor and thanks to the One seated on the throne, the twenty-four elders fell flat on their face before the one seated on the throne. Again and again, they threw themselves down, with wave after wave of glory that came from the creatures’ worship. The elders, too, worshiped the age-beyond-age living one. They threw their crowns at the foot of the Throne, chanting,
Worthy, O Master! Yes, our God! Take the glory! the honor! the power! You created it all; it was created because you chose it.
I wanted to fall on my face and throw my crown at His feet in worship, but I was powerfully aware that I had no crown yet! Mine was still being forged, gems were still being set; I was not of this place yet. And the anticipation in the sparkling one drew me, past the elders and their thrones, past the creatures, up onto the crystal dais itself. The thunder struck again: “Welcome, son! Welcome home!” I looked up. The sparkling eye winked at me, and stepped aside.
As the thunder echoed, reverberated, I saw beside the great throne, another throne, at the great King’s right hand. Getting up from that throne was a young man. Frankly, he was rather a homely fellow, but he carried the same gentleness and the awesomeness of the One on the big throne. He had seen me, and before I could hide, he had my hand. “Come here. Sit with me.” His voice was gentle, and I saw the scar on his wrist as he drew me; my face burned as I remembered what I had cost him, but he dismissed my shame and drew me to his own throne.
He stepped up, and sat on the throne, and then he scooched to one side, making room for me next to him. “Sit here!” His voice held a chuckle, as he drew me up next to him.
Since I had first seen him, something had been rising in me, and with this, it crashed over me: “I can’t sit there, Lord! I’m not… it’s not… I… I….!” for the truth was, I was suddenly overcome with shame. Like one who had been in a place like this earlier; my heart screamed:
“Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” I glanced again, in my shame, at the great throne. The wounded man took my chin, turned my face to his. “I’ve taken all that away. Come. Sit with me.” His gentleness melted my shame. He pulled me up next to him and I sat down. His arm was around my shoulders. “We’re so glad you’re here!” I felt the thunder rumble gently in agreement, and the sparkling eye appeared for a second and winked at me.
“Welcome home!” the voice had thundered. That's what this was! I was home! This is my home! This is where I belong!
It was late on a Sunday morning, and I was just waking up. I’d slept in, knowing that I wasn’t healthy and that I needed rest. I was thinking, “I’ll miss church if I don’t get up soon.”
For context, my Sunday morning “Church” is online and I attend by webcast. My “in real life” fellowship is another time during the week. This train of thought applies to both, really.
So I was thinking about what would happen if I miss church this morning, and that turned into an interesting train of thought. “What is my tradeoff? What am I missing if I miss church?”
The accusation crossed my mind that my online church is unnatural, not really what God has in mind for me, so I considered that for a moment. There actually is some merit in the argument that an online “fellowship,” where I am only an observer, not an actual participant, is not really what God had in mind as ideal for me. OK, let’s follow that thought for a moment?
But wait! Isn’t that what most Sunday morning gatherings are like? I’m an observer there, too. Oh, yes, I stand up when they say to, and sing the words they tell me to sing, and sit back down when they say to. But there’s no point during our time together at
Someone will say, “That’s not what Sunday mornings are for. That belongs in a home group.” [And here is where I’ll add my commercial: if you’re not part of a fellowship of believers that meets in an informal setting like a home, then they’re seriously missing out.] that kind of “sharing” is not an appropriate expectation for a Sunday morning gathering, though it would fit in the hallway or the lobby, maybe. There’s merit in that statement: Sunday mornings aren’t really designed for those kinds of things (which is rather a strong argument in favor of my online church – or for house church – but I’m going a different direction here).
So what are Sunday mornings for? What is the church gathering for, really?
Is Sunday Morning for worship? That can’t be right. My best worship is private, and I hear others tell me the same. I find that I believe that corporate worship is at its best when the worshippers have worshipped privately, and I know that I am a far better worship leader when I have worshipped privately. So while I affirm the value of corporate worship, I suspect that it is not the primary motivation, at least in God’s mind, for the gathering of the Saints.
I hear people talking about the value of getting fed at church; maybe the value of the church gathering is in the teaching. And I do value the teaching of my online church! But the Book is clear, and I’m fully committed to the concept that I must learn to feed myself first. The teaching there is good, but it is to supplement my own feasting on the Word. That can’t be the main value of church gatherings.
I’m going to be blunt here: It seems clear that the idea of “the message is the most valuable part of church gatherings” has come from those who preach. And it is from worship leaders that I most often hear that worship is the most important part of the service. (Please don’t assume that I don’t value a well-preached message from a gifted teacher, or that corporate worship isn’t glorious. If that’s what you’re hearing, you need to read this again more carefully!)
The thought crossed my mind, “What does the Bible say about the church coming together?” and as it did, a verse from Hebrews came with it:
It hit me like a freight train: God’s purpose for us coming together is to encourage each other. Specifically, it’s to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds,” which is how we are to encourage each other.
That’s the reason for coming together as a congregation: encouragement.
There is more extensive teaching on the church gathering together in 1 Corinthians 11, and it’s focused on meals together. Paul touches again on the topic in the midst of teaching about spiritual gifts in chapter 14, and in that context, he says, “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” Same thing: encouragement. Apart from these passages, there is no definitive teaching on church meetings in the New Testament, though Acts shows that the early church met daily in homes and weekly for apostolic teaching.
We could take it all together and form this model: When the saints come together, let’s gather around the dinner table, and let’s encourage one another, and let’s use what God gives us to that end.
My recommendation: learn to worship by yourself, not dependent on a leader and a band, though worship with them when you can. Learn to feed yourself, though supplement that with good, inspired teaching sometimes. But choose the congregation you gather with by this: “Is this a place where we can encourage one another?” And then go there, prepared to encourage, prepared to encourage others.