I Need Joy

www.bible.com/1713/psa.94.19.csb

Its not that its a bad day today. In fact, its been a pretty good day. I was able to go to work today. I cam home. Did not run into anyone with the virus, as far as I know. I was able to talk to people today, and I hoped that listening to their troubles gave then some relief. But coming home is staying in and not going anywhere. This weekend was planned tkt be my daughter’s eighth grade trip to DC. Next week was going to belt wife and I’s 25th wedding anniversary trip, but now we need to cancer that too. She doesn’t want to be away from home so far with all the stuff happening. I don’t blame her.

It seems everyday we wake up to new rules. Everyday new businesses are being told to close for fear of drawing crowds, all except the stores that draw the largest crowds, like grocery stores. Nevermind logic. Each day we are given new insights into how thus virus works, how deadly it is, and what I need to do to stop it. I feel more informed about this one subject than anything else I’ve ever seen in the news.

But on top of all this, churches are voluntarily closed. One place that people can go when times are tough is the church. But now you have to have Internet or a phone to get that kind of ministry. I know it’s not permanent, but its one thing that will help all of us get through the next few weeks. I need the church. I need the social gathering. If where two or three or gathered, Christ is there, there is a sense I feel kind of cut off.

I’m sure I’m not the first to sense it. And maybe I just need to get over it for the duration of this crisis. Others have been cut off from church. I am not the first. Others have survived. I will too. But I am down and need joy. And I know my Lord can bring me joy.

Heavenly Father, this is not a good time. In fact, this is a difficult time. I feel Your church has been slighted. And I am angry. But I know these happen or not at Your word. If we need some time away from pretty buildings and slide presentations, loud music and smoke machines to help us hear your voice again, help me hear it. Help me hear that voice that calls to me day and night, so that I might enter the joy of the Lord. In Your Son’s holy Name, Amen.

Not Easily Broken

www.bible.com/1713/ecc.4.12.csb

Who is your other cord? With whom are you not easily broken? Do you have backup? Or do you try to go on your own?

I find that nothing binds people together faster than shared adversity. Total strangers stuck in an elevator can become close friends. But once the adversity is over, well, there’s no guarantees. We are social creatures and we naturally congregate. But if we isolate ourselves, we cut off that natural instinct.

The Scripture reinforces the truth of our nature, but explains why God made us like this. He knows in this world we will have trouble. That trouble may break us if we attempt life solo. I’ve talked with people who have tried life alone. But inevitably they come into situations when someone else is needed. If you’ve never married and have no children, all your family is gone and you are alone, to whom do you turn?

Even in this, God has created a social community where you can have family without marriage and children without procreation. Parents without adoption. It’s called Church. You can find this amazing extended family in the relationships you develop within the community of faith. The strength of your family will depend on how much time and energy you invest. Don’t have anyone you can call in adversity? Join a church. At least the pastor will help. Relationships will grow over time. God will help you form connections with strangers, because we are all facing this world together. We are all strangers here.

Father God. I am alone in this world. I don’t know who to turn to or to whom to run. Please show me those strangers who can become friends. show me and bind to those cords that I will need when adversity comes. And Lord God, be that strongest cord of all. In Jesus Name, Amen!

To Love is Our Command

www.bible.com/1713/jhn.15.12.csb

Jesus our Lord orders us not to love Him, but one another. This is akin to a parent putting siblings in a get-along shirt, where each sibling get an armhole in a great big daddy shirt. This may be the hardest command He has ever given us.Today Christians exist in 1000 different denominations. Christians of different stripes have fought wars over doctrine with each other. Some Christians have rounded up other Christians just for printing Bibles. Even today some Christians are jealous because their church is smaller than their neighbor, or self-righteous because their church is smaller. Even when we have no reason to be petty with one another, we still find ways to dislike one another.

I think the kind of love Jesus is speaking of here is more than the toleration you have for family on Thanksgiving. It goes deeper than that. I think it may even be more like the love a parent has for a child who is addict, but who never gives up hope of their getting clean. Love is a hard taskmaster. It asks us to do things we don’t want to do, like get along.

The Methodist right now are going through these labor pains. They are looking to separate themselves one from another over the issue of homosexuality. Some want homosexuals to be their pastors. Others do not. As such, they are willing separate their common bond in Christ over the issue. For those who campaign that love must prevail, let me remind you that this is a truth that comes from Scripture. If you would honor the same God who commands us to love, you would also need to respect what else He has to say. You cannot take one piece out for your benefit and ignore the rest.

They should absolutely not separate. But as Paul once pointed, perhaps it is necessary to point out those who are Christ’s and those who are not. Christ also said, “if you love me, keep my commandments.” Jesus is very specific what constitutes the marriage relationship (Matthew 19). He tells us what relationship has the blessing and binding of God, and it not the homosexual one. This anyone who teaches and practices that homosexual relationships are okay by God is teaching blasphemy.

The basis for love in any relationship is and ought always to be truth. Without truth you do not have honesty. Without honesty there is no integrity and no stability in a relationship. As Christians, we need to be honest with one another, and stop hiding from one another. There is no such thing as “fine” in our world. No one is “fine” because we are all struggling. If you are in honest relationships with other Christians, you have found a rare jewel. Fight for it if you have to.

Heavenly Father, we have so totally messed up obeying this command that we don’t even know where to begin to obey it. We are scattered across a thousand denominations that can’t talk to each other. Father we have hurt each other, deeply. We have done the opposite of this command so many times. We repent Lord of the mess we have made. Show us Lord the path we would take to love our brother and our sister. We pray this in the name of Jesus, Amen.

Love and Sacrifice

www.bible.com/1713/1jn.3.16.csb

In the many definitions of love, you rarely hear sacrifice. It is usually compassion for another, embracing and feeling close. But sacrifice is as natural as breathing when it comes to love. In the famous story, The Gift of the Magi, the young couple each sacrifices what is most precious to them to give good gifts to each other. It is a precious story in that it is a fitting parable for love. Love gives with little thought for itself. It is the new mother who gets up in the wee hours to care for a crying child. It is the father who sacrifices time with his family and those precious first moments so that he can provide for their needs in work. While love takes on many forms, one which we easily recognize is sacrifice.

So it is with our Christian family. Today is a test of your love. Will you sacrifice your time, energy, even comfort to express your love for the brethren by going to church this morning? Jesus came and died for you. That was a tremendous and powerful sacrifice. Men and women died for your right to worship freely in this nation. No one is stopping you from going to a church of your choosing. It may involve some sacrifice, but many have been given for you. You can give this much.

Love is expressed through sacrifice. Our Lord showed us this. We can do this for each other. God bless you today.

Power in Harmony

https://www.bible.com/72/rom.15.5.hcsb

Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement allow you to live in harmony with one another, according to the command of Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with a united mind and voice.
(Rom 15:5-6)

Last Saturday, my daughter was taking part in a band combined with all the regional bands from their middle schools. I didn’t expect what I heard. Over the course of one day, my daughter has managed to learn how to play three new songs, songs she didn’t even know to start, and then learn how to play them with complete strangers. By the time of the concert, they had managed to learn how to play together and bring off a most impressive concert, despite their youth and inexperience. I credit this in part to the instructors who worked with them, but also the power of harmony, when everyone is working together to a common goal. In this case, everyone was working on the same music, if not the same page.

I think we Christians could take a page out of this book. We are all trying to save the world according to our own silos. Each of us think we have the right way and correct understanding of how the Bible works and how Jesus saves. The fact that there are hundreds if not thousands of churches (and yes, each have their own thing), would seem to give lie to that fact. Either only one of us is completely right, some of us are partially right or we’re all completely wrong.

Truthfully, I think we have much more in common than we think, and we probably ought to cooperate more than we do. If we all claim to be Christians, then surely there must be some real Christians among us. I believe each one must be firmly convinced in his own mind what he believes. But I also believe we tend to nitpick over non-essentials, like whether or not we use musical instruments in worship.

I believe the essentials are these: Jesus Christ is the Living Son of God, born of a virgin, crucified on a cross, risen from the dead and alive in Heaven at God’s right hand, but just as near to us. If this isn’t at the core of your faith, you are not a Christian. The resurrection alone as Paul said is the most important fact of our faith, and must be upheld.

The second is like the first: The Bible as written in its original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) is the final authority of God on this earth. It was written by the Holy Spirit through the hands of about 40 men (and maybe women) to its minimum extent of 66 books, the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New. All of the Church recognizes these books. It is true in all that it attests to and affirms. It is our final authority of faith, and cannot be interpreted to the opposite of what it clearly says. It was written to be understood, and written so that even common men (and women) could understand it. Anyone who denies the written Word of God or its authority is not a Christian because they deny the surest source of authority they have.

Beyond these two, we can talk about others, but I believe you need these two to start having a conversation. God bless you today!

 

Fearless Love

www.bible.com/1713/1jn.4.18.csb

So what do we know today? I feel like I’ve written about this recently, but I couldn’t find it. Perfect love, mature love, is fearless. Because when Daddy is with you, you aren’t afraid of risk.

So what do we have to fear? You might have heard recently about Kanye West. I too was cautiously optimistic that this conversion might actually be authentic. Here is someone from the celebrity scene that is now taking about Jesus in a good way. He is openly evangelizing. He is doing the work of the church. And the church, well, is being the church.

What I mean is, many churches are downplaying this conversion because he didn’t come from us. If this were a pastor from an unknown church who suddenly popped up on the national scene, the church would be far more accepting. But he’s not. He is like a Paul, someone who openly despised conservative values and was a popular rap artist singing what rap artists rap about until one day God got a hold of him.

I think the church needs to take this as a warning. This is what we need to fear. God picked Kanye because we weren’t getting the message out. Let that sink in. We’ve kept the gospel bottled up in church buildings and Christian lifestyle, so that if you are not like us, you cannot be us. It is a condition the church ought to be familiar with, as we have repeated the same cycle throughout history, until God calls a Paul, or a Martin Luther, or a Tyndale, or a Billy Sunday, or a Tim Tebow. Over and again, God has had to call someone outside the box because the gospel couldn’t get out of the box.

So if God is calling Kanye West to evangelize the lost, it’s because the church wasn’t reaching who He wanted to reach. For Paul, it was outreach to the Gentiles. For Martin Luther, it was outreach to the non-Latins. And so on, and so forth. If the church will not go, then God will call someone else to go. Be afraid Church that you have not lost your relevance.

Something to ponder on this Monday.

With One Another

www.bible.com/1713/rom.15.5.csb

Have you tried living as a Christian all on your own? Actually, I’ve heard many try this, saying that they can worship God anywhere. Some prefer especially during deer season, to take their New Testament up into the deer stand with them. There they have solitude and quiet in their peaceful worship of God. Sounds great, doesn’t it? I don’t know why more people don’t do that?

Others prefer to stay home, watching church on TV. For some, I’ll agree this is a necessity, as they are physically unable to go anymore. Many are unable to leave home for health reasons. But many of these same people will find a way to the doctor’s office, the Walmart and whatever else. I have waited in the doctor’s office longer than I’ve been in church.

But what’s so wrong about people wanting to experience God on their own terms or in the comfort of their home? I would hope that people are seeking God in their own home. But that isn’t Christianity. It’s a part of their work as Christians, their personal work in seeking His face and in prayer. That is a private work, but it not the whole.

The main work of Christianity is body life. We exist as part of a body of Christians. None of us exists to himself. Going to the deer stand on Sunday morning or sitting in your living room watching TV church does not qualify as going to church. Why is going to church so important? Because that is where the body is. You encourage others and are encouraged in return. You support others and are supported in return. The primary intent of attending church is being the church to one another. It is finding our connections in flesh and blood people who believe and serve the same God. We need social interaction and support. (And we need to be mindful of that for our elderly population).

We not only need it, but we are commanded to it, even by the verse quoted above. It isn’t just our own voice lifted up in praise to the King of Heaven that He wants to wants to hear. He wants a concert of voices. He wants to hear our song combined into one multi-layered sound. If it is not good for “man to be alone” it is certainly not good for a Christian to worship alone, to be alone, to be faithful alone.

I know this will hit some of you in the wrong place, because you’ve tried it. You’ve tried to be that encouraging voice in the church. You’ve tried to be a peacemaker, and you’ve received the sharp stick of Christian discouragement. You’ve tried going to church, and you’ve only received pain. That is not a church God wants you to attend. Find another one. As Hebrews 10:25 says, “don’t give up meeting together.” Don’t give up. Part of your Christian walk and faith is the harmony and synchronicity you find with other believers. You can’t do that on your own. Going to a church is not a suggestion. Staying home and watching it online or on TV is not a solution. You need interaction with real people. You need others to fellowship with, to study with, to share ideas with and struggles with. Is it a sin not to go to church? Is disobedience to a clear and direct command from God a sin? Then yes, and heaping sin upon yourself in wilful refusal with not help your walk or your prayer life. GO TO CHURCH!

God bless you today.