Remember the “Scare Quotes”

Remember the “Scare Quotes”

Word in Season

Recently we were able to gather in person on a Sunday morning after 2 months of having livestream “church.” It was glorious. I am full of gratitude to God for the members that worked tirelessly to make technology work in short order so we could live-stream Sunday mornings. That being said, are we prepared with an answer for why live-stream “church” isn’t church? Will we remember the scare quotes?

The answer lies in another question. What was it like for us to be together again that glorious Sunday morning? I spoke to many who attended that first service and our responses were all the same. We found ourselves with tears of joy as we raised our voices together, received the Word together, and took communion together. We wept.

What happens together on Sunday mornings cannot happen in our living rooms, alone, with a good internet connection. Brothers and Sisters, the Lord is teaching us something very precious about his church during this time.

We were created to worship Jesus, together.

In his book, Habits of Grace, David Mathis rightly identifies that our great destiny is corporate worship (p.155). In the new heavens and the new earth we will join angels and other believers from every tribe, tongue, and nation to worship the Lamb (Rev. 7:9-10). Today, as we eagerly await that day, we do just that when we come together Sunday mornings with our local church.

When joined together, we fulfill our purpose to live for the praise of God’s glory (Eph. 1:12) as we lift our voices in unison to praise Christ. Together, we leave ourselves for a while and set our voices and hearts on the one who alone is worthy of our praise. We need to hear each other’s voices in this battle of faith because our own heart or the heart of our brother sitting next to us has become weak and oh, so weary.

When joined together, we receive the preaching of the word as the body of Christ. He is equipping us, one body but many members, to do his work (1 Cor 12:12). We need to be one in order to be many. Amputated body parts need to be reconnected to the body not only for survival, but also to perform their intended function. A properly working body must be together.

When joined together, we receive communion and remember the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus. We proclaim together that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). We humble ourselves, as sinners, in need of a savior. When we do this together, our idol making hearts experience a much needed reminder of the gospel.

Burden -bearing, rejoicing, encouraging, maturing, equipping, serving, teaching, evangelizing, admonishing, praising, remembering. God designed us to do these things together. Solitary fellowship is an oxymoron. Church is a wonderful means of God’s grace and this grace is poured out in a unique way when we gather together. This is why we wept.

Let’s thank God for the technology he provided to live-stream “church”, but let’s also remember the scare quotes and, as we are able, let us join together again.

What if I’m Hopeless?

What if I’m Hopeless?

Word in Season

What if I’m hopeless? What if you’re hopeless? What if a dear friend, or your child is hopeless? Recently, for many days in a row,I woke up without hope and went to bed without hope. One of those nights I lay in bed half talking to myself and half talking to the Lord and trying to put my finger on this desperation. Hope- I am without hope. What does the Bible say about hope, what does the Bible say about hope, what does the Bible say about hope? Hope. Hope. Hope. You were once without hope. You were once without hope. You were once without hope.

There it was; the living and active Word was starting to come alive- if I could just concentrate enough on this thought to see where the Lord was taking me. Ephesians 2, that was it! Paul is reminding the gentile believers in Ephesus of a time past, a time when they were without God and thus without hope. Separated from the holy and living God without a way to get to him. The Bible’s definition of true hopelessness (Ephesians 2:11-13). 

Past tense. The Ephesians were once without hope because they were once without God. So what is present tense? Verse 13 makes it clear. “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” From hopeless to hope- filled. From far off to brought near. 

We who have our faith in Christ and the work of his sacrifice are also in this same state. Once hopeless, now hope filled. Once far off, now brought near. Now what? What if I’m still hopeless? The scriptures have fallen flat. This verse isn’t quite living and active. Keep going. This is a battle that is not easily won. If you are doing battle, you are on the right path. 

How about starting with the obvious, but some of the hardest, words for our prideful hearts to mutter. “Jesus help me. Help me believe this. Forgive me for not believing this. Help me to see this, breath this, live this. Jesus, will you help me?” 

Now we push deeper. What does it mean at this moment in my life that I have been brought near to God? If this is the foundation for my hope, I need to lean into this. God has brought me near to him. Who is this God to whom I’ve been brought near and why is that hopeful? 

This is the God that brings things to life by his words. He is powerful and I need someone powerful when I feel so powerless.

This is the God whose ear is mine. He is present and I need to not feel so alone. 

This is the God who is patiently waiting for me to speak to Him about my fears, sorrows, and hopelessness. He is compassionate and I need His mercy.

This is the God who gives me His Spirit. His power in me is greater than my weak flesh.

This is the God who has brought me into his honorable household. He has made me his and I belong to him. 

This is the God who knows what I suffer in this fallen world. He is sympathetic and can relate to my struggles. 

It starts to matter a bit more that we have been brought near to God when we add this depth. I’m starting to feel the hope building; how about you? 

Now what? We pray these things, we speak to this near God, and rehearse them over and over again. We thank Him for Christ. We call a trusted friend and share how hopeless we’ve been feeling and tell them about the scripture we are trying to cling to. We ask that trusted friend to pray and walk with us. Maybe we take another path and dive deeper into what it means that God has given us His Spirit and brought us into his household. And we keep doing these things over and over again. 

There’s no formula. There’s no quick fix. But there is hope to be found in Him. I’m sure of it.

We Are Needy

We Are Needy

Word in Season

I woke up needy today. Desperately needy. I imagine most of you did too. In a world that shouts “You are Enough” the recent pandemic squashes that mantra before our feet touch the floor in the morning. Being needy is seen as a weakness in our culture today. When you are weak you are not enough, you are desperate, dependent, and unable. Who wants to update their Facebook status with those words? We should be able to do this, whatever “this” is right now in your particular situation. We must look within ourselves, find more strength, pull it together. I’m exhausted, aren’t you?

I have some good news for you. God is Lord over all. It’s his perspective that matters and his word turns everything upside down on this particular topic. 

Look at Proverbs 30:1, “The man declares, I am weary, O God, I am weary, O God, and worn out.” Sound familiar? Where does this weary man find his strength? Himself? No, in the refuge that the Holy One provides (Proverbs 30: 2-5). 

David exalts God and publicly praises him because God stands at the right hand of the needy one (Psalm 109:31). God is at the ready and supports those who are desperately needy for Him. Not the one who has it all together. 

The Prophet Isaiah proclaims the type of person who God will favor and it is the one who is humble with a spirit of neediness before Him (Isaiah 66:2). 

Jesus says the supremely happy and honored person is the man who knows his great need for Him (Matthew 5:3). 

The circumstances may not always be ideal, but it is a blessed thing to be so acutely aware of our great need for Christ. Great glory for the name of Christ comes shining through needy people. 

  • God weakened Paul so that Christ’s perfect power could shine for all to see (2 Corinthians 12:19). 
  • The LORD brought the Israelites into the wilderness to help them see and repent of idols in their hearts so they would turn and worship the one true God (Deuteronomy 8:2-3). 
  • God took Christ to his weakest point on the cross, humble, shamed, mocked and through this neediness, all who believe in the name of Jesus can be saved. God works in mighty ways during times of great neediness. 

Playing off of Pastor Mike’s recent article, don’t waste this neediness. Instead of trying to look to yourself, humbly come to Christ and admit your great need for him. Rejoice in this desperation because it draws you closer to Christ. Be open to seeing where God is revealing idols in your heart during this time. The Lord is working to conform you to the image of His son through your neediness (2 Corinthians 3:18), what a gift! Come and find rest at the feet of the one who says His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9), whose mercies never end (Lamentations 3:22), and who sent his son to die in your place so you could draw near to him. 

Join me and let’s be desperate for Christ together.

The Church Needs the Church

The Church Needs the Church

Announcements Word in Season

The church needs the church. Not just on Sunday to help with Sunday school, potluck, greeting newcomers, nursery care, or worship. The church needs the church for everyday life. And if you haven’t noticed, life can be hard in our fallen world. We groan with all creation at the fallen-ness of this world and the effects it has on our lives (Romans 8:23). 

Conflict in relationships, health struggles, financial unknowns, child rearing, disabilities, marriage challenges, injustices at our workplace, death, addiction, and the list goes on. Christians and non-Christians alike are needy people. The difference is where we go to address those needs. As Christians we turn to God, our loving Father, and cry out to him with our needs. And then we turn to the body of Christ, in our local church, or at least we should. God is gracious to provide the body, our family of brothers and sisters, to help each other as we walk through life. 

Ed Welch explains this well (Side by Side, p.11):

We were meant to walk side by side, an interdependent body of weak people. God is pleased to grow and change us through the help of people who have been re-created in Christ and empowered by the Spirit. That is how life in the church works.

Christ has commanded us to love one another (John 13:34). He is speaking about the family of Christ loving each other. This love must be visible to the world as our love and care for each other in the body becomes a witness to others of our love for Christ (John 13:35). We all have a responsibility within the body to do this. This is what it means to be a disciple and to disciple others. 

It is critically important that we do this well for one another not only because Christ commanded it, but also because the world cannot offer the help the body can offer to each other. Our hearts and minds have been transformed by the gospel. The gospel and God’s Word radically shapes how we think, feel, and deal with all of those hardships listed above. 

But how? We need wisdom on how to love each other well. I highly encourage you to join the 13-week class on Discipleship/Counseling, on Sunday Mornings, 9-10 a.m. (during Sunday School hour) beginning January 12, 2020. You can sign up here

I need you and you need me. The church needs the church. 

Thankful for Providence

Thankful for Providence

Word in Season

November is upon us and in some sense this month brings our hearts and minds to a greater awareness of what we are thankful for. There is an endless list of things to be thankful for, to our Lord. In particular, this November I find myself pondering that God is a God of purpose. I am striving to believe and take hold of the truth that God is purposeful and to live out my faith and life in a way that reflects this truth.

Sovereignty and Purpose

God is sovereign. God has supreme power over all things (Psalm 135:6).
God is purposeful. God uses this power with purpose (Proverbs 16:33).

God is in control. Praise God! And, God is in control with purpose. Praise God! “Providence” is the theological term for God working with purpose. The Holman Bible Dictionary defines providence as “God’s benevolent and wise superintendence of His creation” (Holman Bible Dictionary, 1312). God is managing and arranging or “superintending” all of his creation. He works with meaning and intention to bring about His will, His glory, and His kingdom. God is purposeful. Without providence, God remains all powerful, but that power is exercised without any order, aim, or objective. Power without meaning. Powerful yet chaotic. God’s providence is, indeed, something to be thankful for.

Providence in the Bible

Joseph: Jealous brothers sold him into slavery and told their father he was dead (Genesis 37). Joseph ends up being falsely accused and thrown in prison. Through God’s providence, Joseph winds up in a prison cell with the cupbearer and the baker to the King of Egypt (Genesis 40:1-4). God gives Joseph the ability to interpret dreams and eventually this gifting from the Lord leads to his release from prison and he becomes Pharaoh’s right hand man. Because of this position, Joseph ends up saving his own brothers, who sold him into slavery, from certain starvation. Joseph sees the beauty of God’s providence in his life as he speaks to his brothers (Genesis 45:5, 7-8). His brothers meant this all for evil, and God, through it all, was working towards his ultimate purpose.

Moses: The baby boy who was supposed to drown in the Nile through Pharaoh’s own orders ends up being saved by Pharaoh’s daughter and brought up in Pharaoh’s household only later to lead the Hebrew people out of Pharaoh’s captivity. God’s providence. See Exodus 20:2.

Paul: The prison sentence that was meant to silence the gospel ends up spreading it inside the prison. Amazingly, it served to advance the gospel outside of the prison walls by emboldening other followers of Christ (Philippians 1:12-14). God’s purpose prevailed.

Jesus: The seemingly tragic death of the son of God, in God’s most magnificent act of providence, provided salvation for all who believe: a plan, or purpose, which God had before the foundations of the earth (Ephesians 3:11).

Our Response

We walk by faith. We remain confident that God is working out his purposes (his will), especially when we can’t see it or fathom it. We befriend faithfulness, walking in the fear of God.

We remain hopeful. Knowing God is working with purpose helps us fight despair and hopelessness. How can we be hopeless when we serve a God whose will is never thwarted or overturned? Our hope doesn’t rely on our changing circumstances or the exact answer to prayer we want, but in an unchanging God who is working out his purposes through our lives.

We respond with trust. If God’s purpose “causes all things to work together for our good,” then God can be trusted as we walk through prosperity and hardship (Romans 8:28). We can rest, not fret, as we trust God. We actively trust instead of giving in to anger or bitterness.

We rejoice. We thank God that he is a God who works with purpose. We thank him for the ways he is working that we can’t yet see. We thank him by remembering all the places we see his providence played out in the Bible and in our lives. We are happy in God and who he is.

I am keenly aware that these responses aren’t easy for us. Most of the time our prayers sound something like this: God I am struggling to believe you are working with purpose. I can’t see it and I can’t feel it. I am on the verge of despair. But, I know your word is true and I can trust you. Please help me to believe that you are working out your will in my life. Help me to walk by faith and hope in you.

Those prayers I believe are honoring to God as we strive to allow God’s character to shape us for his glory. I pray that we remain thankful always, not just this November, that God is a God of purpose.

The Gospel Changes Everything

The Gospel Changes Everything

Word in Season

The gospel changes everything. Jesus and the good news of his life, death, and resurrection change everything. One perfect life, one perfect sacrifice, one perfect substitute, one king seated eternally at the right hand of God changes everything. Hostility between sinners and a holy God turns into peace (Ephesians 2:14). Dead people are set free from sin and become slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:18). By grace alone through faith alone, to the glory of God alone changes everything. 

Nowhere in the Bible is this more clear than the life of Paul. From Christain killer to quite possibly the greatest missionary who’s ever lived. What a gift we have in God’s word as we can watch the Lord do this miraculous work in Paul’s life. What does, “everything” actually look like? 

Radical Lack of Self-centeredness: Paul is willing to lay down his freedom in Christ if it will help others know Christ and accept the gospel (1 Cor 9:19). He gladly forsakes his rights, preferences, and comforts if they put obstacles in the way of the gospel (1 Cor 8:13). He views himself as a servant to all for one purpose: “that I might win more of them” (1 Cor 9:19). He spends time understanding the people he is trying to reach with the gospel, becoming as much like them as he can, even when that is an uncomfortable inconvenience to him personally. He overlooks being misrepresented by jealous brothers aiming to take advantage of their opportunity to shine as Paul sits in a dark prison cell. Why? Because of the joy he has over Christ being preached (Philippians 1:16-18). His name means nothing, but Christ’s name, now that means everything to Paul. When Christ is exalted, Paul rejoices, no matter the cost to his reputation. 

Unusual Motivations for Living: How does Paul view life? “To live is Christ” he says in Philippians 1:21. If he is released from prison he will rejoice because this means he can continue to work for the sake of Christ. That is what he clings to in this world. Fruitful labor! And this “fruitful labor” (Philippians 1:22) means that other believers will progress and mature in their faith. What joy this is for Paul. He is willing to deny himself the gain of death for the spiritual wellbeing of others (Philippians 1:25). He says one of his main motivations in evangelizing is so that he can share with believers in the blessings of Christ! Paul labors so he can enjoy the gospel with other believers (1 Cor 9:23). Paul sees that Christ is worth more than everything so he gladly suffers the loss of all things so he can know and be known in Christ (Philippians 3:8-11). This is what is top of mind for Paul. This is what he lives for and aspires to. 

Focused Fellowship: Paul’s closest relationships were with other Christians and these relationships centered around their work together to spread the gospel. Paul thanks God for the Philippians because of their partnership with him in defending and spreading the gospel (Philippians 1:3-7). Their relationship has been strengthened and deepened by witnessing God’s grace played out in each others’ lives (Philippians 1:7) and a shared mission to bring much glory to Jesus. He has deep affection for other believers (Philippians 1:8) and this love means he will warn them when they have strayed (Galatians 1:6-9, 1 Cor 3:1-4) and pray unceasingly for them to grow in deep spiritual matters (Ephesians 1:15-22). We see him intentionally, and most likely at a great cost to his personal time, discipling a younger brother, Timothy; training him up in the way he should go (See all of 2 Timothy). 

Everyday Influence: In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul addresses a myriad of topics: arrogance, sexual immorality, lawsuits, singleness, married unions, work, diet, relationships within the church, relationships outside the church, and more. He sees all of these things as being under the influence of the gospel. In fact, we see that, for Paul, there is nothing in a Christians life that remains outside the influence of the gospel. He has died and now it is Christ who lives in him (Galatians 2:20). 

High Expectations: It is easy to brush Paul off as an uber special dose of Christian. An unattainable sort of Christian. However, it becomes harder to do that when we read his instructions to other believers that go along with his examples. Imitate me (1 Corinthians 4:16), follow my example (Philippians 4:9), learn from me (1 Corinthians 4:6). “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1. Paul’s life is one to be followed because he is imitating the only one worthy of being followed, Jesus! 

Have we taken the gospel that changes everything and made it into a gospel that changes very little?

And now we come to the heart of the matter. If we are honest, as we look around our churches, is the way the gospel affected Paul the exception? Have we taken the gospel that changes everything and made it into a gospel that changes very little? We take just enough gospel to feel good but not too much that it inconveniences the comfortable lives we love. We want the gospel and the path that is wide and easy. That gospel doesn’t exist in the Bible. That gospel minimizes Christ and exalts oneself. On the contrary, the gospel we see at work in Paul’s life, exalts Christ alone. 

This knowledge of God, his Son, and the work of the Holy Spirit hasn’t yet reached and worked in our hearts and lives the way God intended. Where do we go from here? We repent and turn to the only one who can change us. We pray Paul’s prayers in Ephesians 1 and 3 (Ephesians 1:15-22, Ephesians 3:14-21), pleading with our Father that we understand more so we can be wholly transformed.  We strive together side by side for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1:27). We throw off contentment and continue to press forward with our eyes fixed on Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14). We remember we have no confidence in ourselves to do this work but that our confidence remains solely in Christ (Philippians 3:3). We continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) until the gospel truly does change everything about us, to the praise and glory of God. Amen!

 

He is Our Refuge

He is Our Refuge

Word in Season

Adversity is coming your way. A day, a year, a long season. It will look different for each of us, but it is coming. This isn’t supposed to invoke fear, it is just a matter of fact for all followers of Christ.

The way is hard that leads to life, Jesus says (Matthew 7:14). Paul warns the Ephesians to prepare for battle (Ephesians 6:10-20). Peter even goes so far as to say that believers shouldn’t be surprised at the trials they are facing as though something strange is happening (1 Peter 4:12). Open the Bible and it is everywhere, from Abraham to the Prophets, John the Baptist to the Apostles. Of course, our Savior, Jesus, suffered greatly in his life. In following him we should expect to share in his sufferings.

Adversity is coming your way. You need a refuge.

Years ago, on a family vacation to the Rocky Mountains, my brother and I decided to try out rock
climbing. We hired a guide, geared up, and started to climb the face of an actual mountain. There were
no pre-determined places to grab with our hands or solid foot placements. No ledges that provided a
nice rest for our burning forearms. A place that looked friendly to grab could crumble under our weight.
A nice spot to place our foot for leverage may not be as sturdy as we thought. It was a vastly unknown
landscape with little to no direction to guide us. We were without a refuge.

Thankfully, God has not left us in this state when he brings the day of adversity our way. He, himself, is
our perfect and all-sufficient refuge during the storms of life.

The prophet Nahum has a message to deliver to the people of Nineveh. It is full of God’s justice, wrath,
power, and ability to do whatever he wills to make wrongs right. God is against the people of Nineveh
(Nahum 2:13), but in the midst of this sobering message, Nahum brings hope. If you read too fast, you
may miss it. It is hope for us as well.

The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.” Nahum 1:7.

The LORD is good. Period. The Bible leaves no room to question God’s goodness. He is good. We need a refuge who is good, all the time. Turn to him and trust in his goodness. He never changes. He is always
good.

The LORD is a stronghold. In the day of trouble, where will you wait out the fight? The enemy is
encamped outside your door; will your place of refuge hold? God, himself, is the impenetrable fortress
that can withstand any attack.

The LORD knows. He sees all who come to him for refuge. He knows you are turning to him for help. He sees, he knows. He is there, with you.

The Psalms are full of wisdom about God. Psalm 37 gives us much more to consider about God, our
refuge.

He loves justice (Psalm 37:28). What could be better than a refuge who loves justice? He will make all
things right. He loves doing that.

He helps those who take refuge in him (Psalm 37:40). He doesn’t just see, he helps. He is our deliverer from all evil.

He upholds. (Psalm 37:24) A refuge that protects, but also takes you by the hand so your stumble
doesn’t turn into a fall. A gentle guide when your steps seem shaky.

He foils even the best plots. (Psalm 37:12-13). Nothing surprises him. Plot after plot, attack after attack, and he laughs. He is a refuge who is never caught off guard and always has the upper hand, the final say. He brings the day of adversity (Ecclesiastes 7:14). It is all in his hands, his control.

Ultimately, there is a day of adversity no one can escape. Death. God provides refuge for this day as
well. We know our sin condemns us, our mouths are shut before the holy one. We stand guilty. Christ’s
perfect life, death, and resurrection has secured our redemption. We have a refuge in the forgiveness
that comes through his sacrifice. His life for ours. All who believe in the name of Jesus shall be saved
(John 11:26). Jesus is our peace. He has broken down the hostility between us and God (Ephesians 2:14). He is our continual refuge as he sits at the right hand of God, advocating on our behalf (1 John 2:1).
Praise God!

Where are you turning? If it isn’t to God, it isn’t a refuge that will carry you through life and death.
Adversity is coming your way. May the LORD be your refuge.

Four Reasons to Study Exodus this Summer

Four Reasons to Study Exodus this Summer

Word in Season

Our church is taking the summer to go through the book of Exodus. I can hardly contain my excitement as I type! Exodus is one book of that Bible that I can’t recommend enough for Christians to study. Why? Of course, it is God’s very own words. What could be more important to study? But what is so particularly important about Exodus and why should believers make time to study this book? Four reasons come right to mind.

You open this book and you meet God.

God makes himself known. I have yet to study another book of the Bible where so many of God’s attributes are on full display as they are in Exodus. You open this book and you meet God. Who God says he is. In fact, he even introduces himself to Moses with his name! Knowledge of God is life changing, faith-strengthening, and worship inducing. Paul often prayed for believers to increase in their knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9-10). Have you ever wondered God’s ultimate purpose in revealing himself, why God saves people, how God wants to interact with his people, or even how God works amid evil? Study Exodus.

God makes his sovereignty known. This is one of those attributes I mentioned above. You may have read that God is sovereign in Romans or Ephesians, but seeing it in action throughout the pages of Exodus adds much depth to help our understanding of God’s sovereignty and why this attribute, that belongs only to him, is such a glorious truth in the life of a believer. Are you living in a world full of injustice, evil, disappointments, suffering, persecution, and wondering how God fits into that? Be encouraged in God’s sovereignty. Study Exodus.

In Exodus, we see shadows of the gospel that point us to the reality found in Christ.

God makes his plan for salvation known. Exodus is a book about redemption that points us to the ultimate redemption that comes thru Christ. Throughout Exodus, God is progressively revealing how sinful man can be made right before a holy God. What other question is there in this world that we should strive to understand? In Exodus, we see shadows of the gospel that point us to the reality found in Christ. Does water save man or blood? Will salvation come from man or God? Can man make up for his own sin enough to be in the presence of God? Saved by grace or by works? Strengthen your knowledge of the gospel. Study Exodus.

You cannot understand Christ the way the New Testament authors describe Christ and intended the original readers to understand Christ without studying Exodus.

God makes his Son known. Jesus is everywhere in Exodus. Even the Old Testament is all about him. He even said so in Luke 24:27. You cannot understand Christ the way the New Testament authors describe Christ and intended the original readers to understand Christ without studying Exodus. When John talks about Jesus being the Lamb of God (John 1:29), what does he mean? Jesus tells a group of Jews he is the “I AM” (John 8:58) and they try to kill him, why? What about Jesus as the High Priest, the mediator, the tabernacle, the bread of life, or the fulfillment of the law? Try to make sense of the book of Hebrews without Exodus, it is nearly impossible. Come to know Jesus, our savior, in all his fullness and glory. Study Exodus.

For these reasons and so many more, I pray you will study Exodus this summer with a friend, with your family, and with your church.

Saying Goodbye to the Periphery

Saying Goodbye to the Periphery

Word in Season

Believers in the New Testament had fellowship together. It is an odd word, isn’t it? Fellowship. What does it mean and why is that detail about believers included in God’s Word?

Real fellowship is a deep love for our brothers and sisters in Christ; a visible love that will attract other people to Jesus.

Biblical fellowship is rooted in Jesus. Through him, believers become united together in Christ as fellow citizens and heirs (Eph 2:19, 3:6), and partner together for the gospel (Phil 1:5). In Acts, fellowship looked like doing life together – a life primarily focused on the advancement of the gospel (Acts 2:42, 4:32).

Real fellowship is a deep love for our brothers and sisters in Christ; a visible love that will attract other people to Jesus. I was shocked, rebuked, and then convicted when I realized John uses “one another” in his gospel and in 1 John to refer to fellow believers. Our Lord Jesus commands this love for fellow believers at least 3 times in the gospel of John (John 13:34-35, 15:12, 15:17).

John emphasizes this commandment of Jesus 4 times in 1 John (1 John 3:23, 4:7, 4:11, 4:12). He even says that one evidence of our salvation is our love for our brothers (1 John 3:14). Let the weight of that sink in a bit.

The road is hard, suffering is promised, the world (maybe even dear friends and family) will hate us and yet we must persevere until the end (Hebrews 3:14)

Why do we need fellowship? God, in his great wisdom and because he alone is our provider, knew we would need to be loved like this. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but someday and possibly sooner than we think. The road is hard, suffering is promised, the world (maybe even dear friends and family) will hate us and yet we must persevere until the end (Hebrews 3:14). How? By God’s grace, he has given you an eternal family to exhort you every day; to serve you in your darkest hour, and to strive side by side together for the faith of the gospel (Phil 1:27). A family that you also have a responsibility to exhort every day so that none of us might be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:12-13).

A family to lift your hands up together with on Sunday mornings and praise God in the best and worst of times. A family to bear unspeakable burdens with you. The world cannot love you like this. Those of you who have experienced some of these things from your church are nodding your head right now. I can hear your “Amen” and I join you! You can tell of God’s mercy that he has extended to you through the body of Christ. You can recall that time when you had no words to pray and your brothers and sisters endlessly interceded on your behalf. You remember the Sunday you wondered if you could ever continue another day in this fight for the faith and you walked in that door only to be refreshed and renewed. This bond between believers surpasses all others and satisfies our deep need for community. This is how God designed it and like everything else he designed, it is good (Genesis 1:4).

We experience this deep, relational community in the greater body of Christ with our brothers and sisters around the world but more intimately this fellowship is intended to be lived out within our local church.

Periphery isn’t real fellowship and if we stay there we miss out on an important and necessary means of God’s grace in our lives.

If God’s design is ultimately what we should desire and strive for, why are so many of us content to stay on the periphery of our church?

We attend church but we rarely get involved in anything outside of Sunday morning. We make small talk, but we never share our life or become aware of the needs of others. In fact, we don’t really want to be involved in church because our schedules are too full already. Church falls off the priority list when it competes with sports, vacations, hobbies, exercise, work, sleep, etc.

To my great shame, this was how I interacted with the local church for many years. My thoughts about my life, my wants, and my over-packed schedule ruled my interaction with church. Idolatry. Putting other gods in place of the one God, for whom we all exist and in place of our one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom we exist (1 Cor 8:6).

Periphery isn’t real fellowship and if we stay there we miss out on an important and necessary means of God’s grace in our lives.

So, what do we do? This post can’t change hearts. Only God can do that work through his Spirit and oh how I pray he will! Father, open our eyes to see and experience this glorious truth!

Father, help us to look at our schedules and re-prioritize (or remove) to make room to love “one another” and engage in true biblical fellowship with our local church.

Father, help us make time for fellowship outside of just Sunday morning.

Father, help us prioritize building relationships and discipleship within the church.

Father, help us to leave room in our schedules, so when a need arises within the church we have the time and the energy to fill it.

And Father, help us carefully weigh the costs with missing a Sunday at church vs whatever is causing us to be absent

Father, help us say goodbye to the periphery.

How to Study the Bible, Part 1

How to Study the Bible, Part 1

Word in Season

Have you resolved to study the Bible in 2019? If not, maybe this post will help. If you are ready to start studying the Bible, then you may be wondering, “What now?”

This new series of posts is intended to help with that question. Although the Bible is unique because it is the inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16), we study it as we would any other literary text. The Bible, simply put, is a book. It is The Book. We want to know what it says, what it means, and then how to respond. Another way to say this is that we want to observe, interpret, and then apply the text.

  1. Observe – What does it say?
  2. Interpret – What does it mean?
  3. Apply – How do I respond?

We begin with observation because we need to know what it says if we want to correctly determine what it means. Furthermore, we don’t want to respond to how we feel at that moment about the text, we want to respond to the true meaning of the text. Observation is not hard, but it does take time. Observations are things in a passage that cannot be disputed. In other words, things that are simply true about the text.

But how? First, take time to pray. God loves that you are seeking Him out in His Word. He wants to be known. Ask Him for wisdom and to help you understand and handle His word rightly (2 Tim 2:15). Next, get out your Bible, paper, pen and start to read, read, and read the text again. Here are some things to look for:

  • Who is it talking about, who is the author talking to, who are the key people?
  • What are the keywords, repeated phrases, repetitive thoughts/patterns?
  • Identify and make note of lists and/or any contrasts or comparisons
  • Take a close look at grammar, especially connecting words (therefore, thus, for, but, so that, hence, if/then), also note subjects and verbs, questions and answers, and quotes
  • Note imperatives (direct commands), these show us the outcome(s) the author desires

Let’s use Hebrews 3:12-14 as an example. Here are 10 observations from this text:

  1. V.10: The author is talking to “brothers”, so these are believers. The author includes himself with the believers when he uses “we” two times in v.14
  2. V.12: The author wants the believers to watch out for unbelief within themselves and each other
  3. This unbelief is a repetitive thought and key concern of the author. It is brought up again in v.13 as a sin that is deceitful and could “harden” the believers
  4. V.13: An unbelieving heart can lead these believers to fall away from God
  5. V.12 & 14: The result of unbelief/sin is serious because of the effect it would have on their relationship with the “Living God” or their “sharing in Christ”
  6. V.13: “But” is a key transition word shows a contrast or another option. Instead of an unbelieving heart, exhort “one another”
  7. V.13: The frequency of when to exhort seems stressed as he says, “every day” and “as long as” it is called “today”
  8. V.13: Exhortation serves a purpose to help against being hardened by sin – I see this in the transition word “that”
  9.  V.14: “For” shows me there is a reason the author wants the believers to watch out for sin and to take care to exhort one other. (See next observation)
  10.  V.14: I’ll want to carefully observe the “if / then” statement – If believers hold their original confidence firm to the end, then the believers have come to share in Christ

If you are like me, my mind is already going to interpretation. I have lots of “why” questions that I may write down for later and then go back to my observation. It is a good practice to reference the verse for each observation as it keeps us accountable to the text.

Now, it is your turn. See if you can make 10 additional observations from this passage. Our next post will talk about what to do with these observations as we move onto interpretation. I encourage you to follow along and practice with us as we move through this series of blog posts. Let me be clear, this does take practice. Don’t get discouraged if you are finding it hard. Laboring to understand the word of God is the best labor you will ever do.

Click here to read How to Study the Bible, Part 2.