The Pastor's Pen

Let's Make Sundays Great Again

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On 7th January 2024, New Life Church will be meeting on Sunday afternoons at 4.30pm, in Abu Dhabi at The Evangelical Church Centre in Upper Chapel 1 on the first floor.

This time change is 1,5 hours later than when we met in 2023. For some this change may be an inconvenience, for others this may be a blessing. I have written this article to help convince you that this change will be a blessing and as the apostle James reminds us, to count it all joy.

     1. Gathering is essential for the life of the church.

The Bible is clear that gathering is essential for the life of the church. In Matthew 18:17-20, in the context of Jesus speaking about the church, he makes his beloved promise: “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Paul admonishes Christians to celebrate the Lord’s Supper when they have come together (1 Cor. 11:33). The author of Hebrews tells us to not neglect meeting together (Heb.10:25). 

A local church is an assembly. If a church never meets, it is no church at all.

We easily take this truth for granted. The time of the worship meeting is often the first piece of information a church provides on its marquee or website. “Join us this Sunday at 4:30pm! All are welcome!”

Meeting, however, isn’t just something churches do. A meeting is, in part, what a church is. God has saved us as individuals to be a corporate assembly. The word in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for “assembly,” ekklesia, is the same word the New Testament writers use to refer to the local church. It’s simply the term for a gathering. But when applied to the church, it carries the rich Old Testament connotations of standing together as God’s chosen people.

We need to remind ourselves that the Bible’s command to gather is not burdensome (see Heb. 10:25; 1 John 5:3). It’s for our good, our faith, our love, and our joy.

      2. Gathering on a Sunday commemorates Jesus Resurrection.

With the new local laws taking effect this new year, there are many churches who are no longer able to meet on Sundays. With the TEC only able to accommodate so many churches on a Sunday, there are bound to be congregations who would have to adjust their day of worship.

We need to remind ourselves of the blessing of being able to gather on a Sunday. The biblical position to keep a specific day rather than just the principle of one in seven is a much more effective witness to the unbelieving world. The early church met on the Lord’s Day to commemorate Jesus’ resurrection. All four gospels emphasize Jesus’ resurrection on the first day of the week. Both the historical and biblical record reveal the Lord’s Day was the chosen gathering day for distinctly Christian worship because it was the day Jesus rose from the dead.

Every Sunday the church gathers and remembers and celebrates the resurrection of Jesus. When we, the church body, gather together on the Lord’s Day, we await Jesus’ return to consummate the promised kingdom of righteousness, justice, and peace. Even though we don’t’ get to meet on Sunday mornings, but rather at 4.30pm, we can remind ourselves of the blessing of meeting on a Sunday.

    3. Gathering on a Sunday reminds us of what God has done.

I love how Nancy Guthrie says in her book ‘Even Better than Eden’; “Sabbath keeping would set God’s people apart as being so well taken care of by their God that they could take a day of rest. It would set them apart as a people who had something to look forward to: unending, all-encompassing rest in the presence of the one true God.” (p.99)

Originally, the Sabbath was a day of rest, and that purpose was retained in the Mosaic Law (Exodus 16:23–2931:14–1635:2–3Deuteronomy 5:12–15Nehemiah 13:15–22Jeremiah 17:21–27).

The Israelites who had come from Slavery in Egypt had probably worked 7days a week for their slave master. The Sabbath rest rule from God and for God (Holy to the Lord) must have been seen as a gracious gift to the newly freed Israelites.  Their children, servants and even livestock would get to enjoy this gift of rest.

The Sabbath command also served as a Sign of the Covenant (Exodus 31:12-17). This seventh day is a sign of their covenant with God. A continual reminder for themselves and the nations of what God has done for them.

Guthrie goes on to say, “God has given us the gift of a day- one day different from all the other days in our week-to push away from the table of the world that fills us up with its amusements and technology and weighs us down with its expectations and commitments. This gift invites us, instead, to pull up a chair at the table where God himself wants to fill us up with himself and to take on himself all things that are weighing on us.” (p.94)

Let’s remind ourselves of what God has set before us. Let’s remind ourselves that coming to church on a Sunday afternoon is gift and not a restriction. Let’s remind ourselves that Sundays are something we look forward to as we get to enjoy the all-encompassing rest in the presence of the one true God.

      4. Gathering on a Sunday is for our good, our faith, our love, and our joy.

The writer of Hebrews wrote to the early church, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” (Heb. 4:9-11)

The writer of Hebrews looks back to Genesis when God rested after completing His work. He then restates the promise that has been at the heart of observing the Sabbath throughout the centuries: the reality of a greater rest to which this day is just a pointer, a reminder, an opportunity for reorientation.

Let’s make Sundays great again. I think for many of us living in Abu Dhabi, we have fallen into the trap of thinking that Sunday is a day of leisure, and that going to church can often be an inconvenience that just gets in the way.  The Lord’s day isn’t given to us as a sports day. It isn’t given to us so we can finish our studies. It isn’t merely a family day. It’s God’s day. It’s a day for works of necessity and works of mercy and works of piety that flow out of our desire to set apart the day for him.

So, the question remains, how then can we make Sundays great again? How do we reorient our Sundays so we can honour the Lord of the Sabbath?

Let me offer a few suggestions:

Read a Christian book on your own or with a friend. With extra time given to us during the mornings and afternoons, we could read a book on our own or with a family member(s) or with a friend and then discuss the book together.

Spend time in pray. Wouldn’t God’s day be a great day to set time aside to talk to God, around the lunch table? Invite someone for breakfast or lunch and spend time praying for them at lunch time. You could even make time to come early to church on the first Sunday of the month to pray with your faith family during our corporate prayer meeting.

Meet someone for coffee and spend intentional time discipling someone in the church. Wouldn’t God’s day be a great day meditating on truths from scripture and helping someone apply them to their own lives? You could even join your faith family after the main service for the family bible hour to learn more of God’s word.

Wouldn’t Gods day be great if we used it to visit someone in need or lonely in our church that we have been too busy to serve on the other six days of the week? Wouldn’t Gods day be great if we used it to serve, in the Care Team, Music Team, Communications Team, Children’s Ministry or other ministries at NLC. Come to church early, stay a little later…now that we have a time slot for 3 hours we can! The Lord’s day is not just 90 minutes!

Let’s remind ourselves that God has given us a gift in the Sabbath. We need to be thankful that we have a place to meet even though it is on a Sunday afternoon. We do not know what the future holds for all of the churches in the UAE. Maybe we have taken the Lord’s day for granted. We may have even forgotten this lesson we should have learned during Covid. Maybe we have pushed the pause button and have been in limbo waiting for our venue to change. I think it’s time to make Sundays great again. Let’s remind ourselves that Sunday is not our day, but the Lord’s and it’s for our good, our faith, our love, and our joy.

Counting it all joy with you, in the pursuit of the greater Sabbath rest.

Your pastor, Gareth

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