The Other Side of Fellowship: Devotional for April 13, 2022

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When we in church world think of fellowship, we think of getting together over either food or ice cream or non-alcoholic beverages (at least in my church world lane) and enjoying one another’s company. Yet, if fellowship stays at this level, then the church bears little difference to the world–we’re just getting together because we have shared interests in a number of avenues.

In 1 John 1:3-4, we see a deeper level of fellowship:

… that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 

The tie that binds all believers is Jesus Christ. The apostles saw and heard Christ up close and so they passed along what they learned to them so they would be one not only with them but with Christ Himself. So with us, our fellowship is not geared simply toward news, sports, weather, and hobbies. We come together in that koinonia fellowship to encourage and edify one another in Christ.

And this does not mean mere affirmation, but also accountability. At our Church Council last night, I read this passage from Galatians 6:1-3:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

Those of us as believers who see fellow believers straying should stay in their lives to help them come back. They may be gone from church for multiple weeks. You may hear something in their conversation. Whatever it may be, God gives His people a spiritual antenna to help one another in a spirit of gentleness to keep from straying.

See, your note, your phone call, your meeting over coffee–that could be the connection needed to keep your brother or sister from making a catastrophic decision that will mark their life for life.

This is the other side of fellowship. It’s not meddling (at least it shouldn’t be). It is helping them stay on the path that God has for them according to His Word.

Our King is Working Out His Plan: Devotional for April 12, 2022

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In Luke 19:41-44, we read:

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

About 600 years before this even, the prophet Jeremiah wept over the city of Jerusalem when a nation named Babylon came in and carried the citizens off into exile away from the Holy Land, and destroyed the city—including the Temple!  If you wonder about how broken Jeremiah was, reading the book of Lamentations in the OT. 

Here, Jesus was weeping over Jerusalem, not simply over the past, but over the present and the future.  Wiersbe rightly noted that “no matter where Jesus looked, he found some cause for weeping.”  Looking back¸ He saw a nation for whom was the “time of visitation” of the Messiah suffered from wasted opportunities.  Looking within, he saw a nation filled with hearts blinded with spiritual ignorance.  Looking around, he saw much religious activity, but little accomplished for any eternal significance. 

But then he looked ahead.  His words about the upcoming days “when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you” set an ominous tone to his triumphal entry.  A scant 40 years later, the Romans would lay siege to Jerusalem for 143 days (almost five months), kill 600,000 Jews, take thousands more captive, then destroy the Temple and the city—and like Jeremiah who saw this happen 600 years prior, he wept with a loud lamentation. 

We look at the church of Jesus Christ and remember from 1 Peter 4:17 that judgment begins with the house of God.  How is Jesus looking at His church now?  If he were to show us in looking back, would there be a time filled with wasted opportunities to connect with Jesus and connect Him to others around us?  Are the buildings that house the church also filled with those who are spiritually blind and ignorance to the grace of God?  Would he look around and see a lot of religious activity that may bring some sort of security and comfort to those inside the buildings, but are really accomplishing little spiritual activity?   And what is He seeing ahead? 

Just as God used the idolatrous pagan Babylonians and Romans as an instrument of His judgment, He may well use secular governments and kingdoms as judgment toward those who “have a form of religion but deny its power.”  The very people who were praising the Savior would be the ones who would turn around and shout “Crucify Him” at the behest of the Roman guards.  When things seemed to go according to their plan, they praised.  But what would happen when things turned?

Even the subsequent arrest, kangaroo court trial, and His crucifixion were not ultimately at the hands of the Romans and Jewish leaders at that time.  The King was working out His plan! 

Lord Over our Spirit and our Stuff: Devotional for April 8, 2022

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Today’s Bible reading from the Five Day Bible Reading Plan: Judges 4-6; Luke 21

Two things I’d like to share with you from Martyn Lloyd-Jones. “Surely praise and thanksgiving are ever to be the greatest characteristics of the Christian life.” Are they a characteristic of ours? He goes on: “Praise distinguishes the Christian particularly in his prayer and in his worship. . . . The highest point of all worship and prayer is adoration and praise and thanksgiving.” He is right–not because he’s Martyn-Lloyd Jones, but because he reflects what the Scriptures say. Thanksgiving to what God has done produces a thanksliving that is a conduit of God’s grace and provision to others.

Years ago, Northwestern University had a life-saving team that assisted passengers on Lake Michigan boats. On September 8, 1860, the Lady Elgin floundered near the campus and a ministerial student named Edward Spencer personally rescued seventeen people. The exposure from that episode so permanently damaged his health and he was unable to continue preparation for the ministry. Some years later when he died, it was noted that not one of the seventeen people he had saved ever came back to thank him.

Dear Christian, Christ has saved you. Do you ever thank Him? Do you ever praise Him for it? If these characteristics aren’t there, you either need to repent of that action, or repent as a sinner and surrender to Christ alone! Does that thanksgiving pour over into thanks-living? Are you a conduit of His grace, or merely a hoarder? Do you see what God has given you, provided for you? Will you give a portion back? In Luke 21, Jesus condemned those who gave much, but out of their surplus, so others would look well upon them. The widow gave only two mites (about 1/5 of a penny), but that was all she had. Christ sacrificed Himself for us, so we sacrifice as well of what He’s given us: time, talents, gifts, resources, everything.

Christ is not just Lord over your Spirit but over your stuff. As He gave, we give, multiplying thanks and praise and glory to Jesus.

There is No Good Apart from Christ: Devotional for April 7, 2022

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“You are my Lord, I have no good apart from you” (Psalm 16:2). Those who are in Christ say a hearty “Amen” to this. James 1:17 gives credit where credit is due: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

Now wait a minute, Pastor Matt. I have lots of good away from the things of God. I have some wonderful children, a great job, money in the bank, mountains to the West. These are good things—and I couldn’t give two hoots about your God.

My response is, “You may believe that good can come apart from God, but there is no good apart from Him. It’s just that we who are followers of Christ recognize the origin of the good.” Do you take this for granted, even as a follower of Jesus?

We approach Holy Week. Palm Sunday reminds us of Hosanna, the God who saves. Good Friday reminds us of the payment of that salvation. Easter Sunday reminds us of the victory that secured our salvation. And Christ is the centerpiece of it all. He must be the centerpiece of our lives as well.

And that’s good!

The Death of Christ Makes Death Precious: Devotional for April 6, 2022

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Today’s Bible reading from the Five Day Bible Reading Plan: Joshua 22-24; Psalm 116; Luke 19

Recently, I had someone from our church say something that stayed with me: “You know, Pastor Matt, I’m getting tired of death.” This member had dealt with numerous deaths in her family and church in very quick succession. I remember feeling that way in 2009–soon after my wife was diagnosed with lupus, then there were six funerals in three and a half week, one of those funerals was the death of my father-in-law and friend.

Given all this, why would God inspire the writer of Psalm 116 to pen, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (116:15)? How could death be precious? Simply put, God through Christ has defeated death. Death no longer has its sting, swallowed up in the victory Christ procured on the behalf of His saints.

I have sat beside a number of saints who knew their time on earth was coming to a close. All wondered what the transition would be like from life to death to life. What brings peace is the knowledge of what the ultimate result would be. The death of those who are His is precious to us but also to Him–His people will never taste ultimate death.

Christ’s resurrection renders death in His followers powerless–and precious.

May this resurrection hope bring comfort to you and lead you to tell others about the comfort this brings.

On What Basis Can We Get Right with God? Devotional for April 5, 2022

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Who shall dwell in Zion? If there are none good, then we have no hope, right? We have to realize that
we are not the determiners of who will dwell in the tent that is on his holy hill. Only the triune God sets
the criteria for how one enters into heaven. The criteria comes out of His character. Then, when we look at verses 2-5, we look at how our conduct (what we think, what we say, what we do) comes from our
character that comes from the justifying word of Christ who removes our guilt and sends the Spirit to
sanctify us.

John Calvin rightly notes:

“As nothing is more common in the world than falsely to assume the name of God, or to pretend
to be his people, and as a great part of men allow themselves to do this without any
apprehension of the danger it involves.”

J.D. Greear in his book Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to Know For Sure You Are Saved, told a story of how he was playing pick up ball with someone who cursed, boasted of how many girls he slept with— for beginners. When they were playing, Greear began to tell him his story of how he came to Christ.

The fellow grabbed the ball then said, “Dude, are you trying to witness to me?” He assured him that he had made a decision at thirteen at a youth camp, was active in church, did True Love Waits, memorized verses, missions trips—even led others to Jesus. But after about two years, he discovered sex then discovered he didn’t like a god who would tell him whom he could have sex with. So he put God on hold—and “after a while I became a happy atheist. But I grew up Southern Baptist—they teach once saved, always saved, right?” After Greear thought about it, he rightly said, “Salvation is not a prayer you pray in a one-time ceremony and then move on from; salvation is a posture of repentance and faith that you begin in a moment and maintain for the rest of your life.”

We become right with God when Christ is the center–not simply a decision at the beginning for insurance. Christ is the key! Do you treasure Him about all things?

Entitled–or Grateful? Devotional for April 4, 2022

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Today’s Bible reading from the Five Day Bible Reading Plan: Joshua 14-17; Luke 17

If God does something good for you, do you feel grateful for it or entitled to it? “Well, I’m a child of God–so God is obligated to do these good things for me. After all, isn’t that His attribute–that he’s good?”

When Jesus was going between a stretch of land between Samaria and Galilee, at one point ten lepers met him asking for mercy. Lepers were never the recipient of mercy physically nor socially. That did not stop them from asking. As Jesus instructed them to go show themselves to the priests, they were healed in transit (read Luke 17:11-19).

It is of noted that Luke (the author of this gospel) brings out the fact that only one returned. “Now he was a Samaritan.” The Jews shunned the Samaritans for their Assyrian blood that intermingled with Jewish blood, so the racial tension along with the ceremonial tension that they were unclean left an indelible mark. Yet, Jesus healed him along with the other nine who were not only Jews but also ungrateful. Did they feel entitled? Were they so lost in their wellness that they lost their kindness to the one who made them well?

Jesus told him, “Your faith has made you well.” What? Wasn’t he already well physically? Turns out there’s more than one way to be well, and this in an eternal sense. Jesus was setting the table for everyone to understand that He came to bring His saving news (and Himself) to all nations. If we have received His saving work, are we grateful–or do we believed we’ve already been good enough for Christ to save us, but He just needed to polish us up?

Today, if you are a follower of Jesus, thank Him for the work He did. If you are not, thank Him that He made a way for you to receive. Extend that gratitude by receiving His saving work that He accomplished for you at the bloody cross and the empty tomb.