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Church

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The gospel is never bound.

When Paul was “quarantined” by prison, his ministry didn’t stop. He simply shifted his strategy, methods, and tools.

We’re doing the same thing right now at church: shifting our strategy, methods, and tools. We can’t use one of our tools (our building) right now. But Social Media, Zoom Meetings, and phone calls are still working just fine.

And like Paul, our message will never change.

Don’t lose heart. This temporary pause — this “momentary affliction” (2 Corinthians 4:17–18) — will end. We will meet together “in-person” again. In the meantime, we will continue being the church.

  • Pray for each other.
  • Pray for our church.
  • Pray for our country and its leaders. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
  • Call and text each other. Encourage each other. Pray with each other.
  • Invite your family and friends to join us for our online Bible studies.
  • Invite your family and friends to join us for our online Sunday Morning Messages.
  • Listen to and sing along with worship music.
  • Keep up with your Daily Bible Reading and Devotional readings.
  • Keep up with your monthly Scripture Memory.
  • Remember to be thankful.
  • Continue your financial support for our church. You can send your giving checks to the church or if you’re out, just drop an envelope in our locked mailbox.
Pure and undefiled religion

I’m glad the Navigators (the organization that designed our Daily Bible Reading Plan) placed the readings from James to follow Galatians. Some — even Reformer Martin Luther — don’t like James. But this is a good way to show the balance between faith and good deeds.

In today’s Bible reading, James concludes the first chapter talking about pure, wholesome religion. Many consider themselves to be “religious”. Others consider themselves to be “spiritual, but not religious”. Others simply say they aren’t religious, they just love the Lord.

In James’ day, some would claim to be very religious. They were devout. They were very dedicated in their faith. Some described pure and undefiled religion as social justice: taking care of the disenfranchised, the destitute, the marginalized. Others claimed to be religious and defined pure and undefiled religion as separation from the world. We see the same extremes in our day.

So which is it? Should religion aim for social justice? Or should religion aim for separation from all things “worldly”?

Application

James says that pure and undefiled religion is both social justice and godliness. The two are not mutually exclusive. Rather they are mutually inclusive.

Look around and you’ll see some churches emphasizing liberal causes. Others emphasize conservative causes, separation, and holiness.

Why can’t we just take the Bible as it reads? Why do we tend to read only the parts that agree with our personal and political agenda? The political and religious divide in our nation is very wide. If we want to see healing, we will have to read the whole Bible, in its context and try to apply it to our context. We have to let the Bible speak for itself without imposing our agenda on it and reading it accordingly. But why can’t we do that? It’s because we are all fallen creatures who have inherited a propensity, a proclivity, a bent toward ourselves and away from God. Our default setting is disobedience and rebellion from God. Until we cross over to the other side of eternity, we will continue dealing with the struggle between doing what we want and doing what God wants. We are involved in spiritual warfare.

Both extremes are wrong when taken alone. Instead, we should aim at glorifying God by reaching out in social justice AND live a holy, God-pleasing life.

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wheat field

My dad grew up on a farm in eastern North Carolina. Each year my grandfather and his sons would prepare the fields for harvest by planting whatever they felt they needed to grow that year. They had to be careful not to grow the same thing in the same field year after year; instead, they rotated their crops.

One year they would plant corn. Another year, they would plant cotton. But you know what? Each year at harvest time, they would reap what they had sown that year. Never in my Granddaddy’s career as a farmer was he surprised when harvest time came. Never. If he planted corn, he reaped corn. If he planted cotton, he reaped cotton. Never once did he go out to harvest corn and find a field of cotton instead. Never.

In today’s Bible reading, Paul reminds his readers about the spiritual principle of sowing and reaping. He says,

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Galatians 6:7-10

Application

Now, when I refer to the Biblical principle of sowing and reaping, I’m not talking about the very popular belief of transactional religion where God is obligated to do something for you if you do something for Him. You’ll never find that in the Bible!

So what do you want to harvest spiritually? Looking back in five years, ten years, twenty years, where do you want to be in your walk with God? I can promise you that if you watch Christian TV and listen to Christian Radio without wisely screening what your eyes see and what your ears hear, you won’t get there. Unless you don’t want to see any growth in your walk with God. And that in itself is very telling.

If you want a close walk with God, you’ll have to do a lot of sowing of what you want to reap. Do you want to have a deep understanding of the things of God? Then you’ll need to sow a lot of time in God’s Word and prayer. You’ll need to share your faith. A lot. You’ll need to get involved in your church. You’ll need to give financially to support the work of God through your local church. You’ll have to go all-in with Spiritual Disciplines. And you’ll have to give up some things.

Whatever you want to reap in the future, you’ll need to sow. Now. And as a friend of mine once said, “This isn’t rocket surgery.”

God is not mocked. You will reap what you sow.
So sow wisely. And sow generously.

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Tomorrow, I’ll be preaching from my home. In an effort to protect our church members and guests from exposure to Covid-19, we won’t meet at our church building until Emergency Management officials feel that it is safe to meet in groups of more than ten.

To be honest, I’ve been amazed at the responses I’ve seen on Facebook regarding the canceling of church services. Some have said, “We’re going to meet like we always do. God will protect us.” Others have said, “The government can’t shut us down!”

My response is the same as when we talked at church last Wednesday. Given the average age and health conditions of our church members, it would be irresponsible to insist on “services as normal”. Protecting everyone from possible exposure to a deadly global pandemic is the “new normal”. Yes, I think that the panic-mongers in the mainstream media are hard at work. And they are succeeding. I mean, just look at the TP shortages. What could be more illogical in the face of a global pandemic of an upper respiratory virus than hoarding TP?! The two are utterly unrelated.

Ok, I’ll step down off my soapbox now.

If you’re available, please join me at 11:00 am CDT for my Sunday Morning sermon. Because we don’t have a license to stream copyrighted music, we’re following the law. Who knows how long this will last. God does. And He is stretching the church to do things differently.

Click this logo to join me on Facebook Live on Sunday Mornings at 11:00 AM CDT

In addition to reviewing the once-for-all sacrifice Jesus gave for our atonement, today’s Bible reading includes one of the most compelling arguments for being regularly involved in a local church.

As a pastor, I often hear excuses from people who have no interest in going to church. One of the most popular arguments is that they can attend church online. True, you can watch any number of Bible teachers and preachers online and on TV. Some are better than others.

Honestly, you can get a lot of good Bible teaching online and on TV. But instruction and music aren’t the only reasons we go to church in the first place.

Application

Let’s go back to why we meet as churches to begin with. The writer of the book of Hebrews tells us in today’s Bible reading that we shouldn’t neglect meeting together. Why? So that we can “stir up each other to love and good works” and encourage each other. (Hebrews 10:24-25) We all need to be encouraged. We all need to be stirred up to love and good works. All of us.

I don’t care how good the preacher or Bible teacher is. You can’t be stirred up to love and good works and you can’t be encouraged with an online church experience, compared with an in-person church experience.

Besides, when you watch church on TV, you may not be watching a live-stream of a real worship service. Christian TV and radio ministries often heavily edit the content of their programs to meet time constraints. Instead of “watching church”, you may be watching a pre-packaged, edited production. I admit, before posting the audio of my sermons online, I run it through software to remove long pauses and then I remove coughs, sneezes, etc. But otherwise, I very rarely make any other kinds of edits.

Do I believe someone will be denied heaven because they don’t go to church? Of course not! There are times and seasons when it’s nearly impossible to get out of bed on Sunday Morning, much less to get dressed and make it to church. And there are times when you or people around you aren’t well and need to stay home.

But one thing you don’t need to do is to try to make excuses. If you are well — and sometimes when you aren’t well! — you need to be in church on a regular basis. You simply won’t be equipped for the work of your own personal ministry without it. Also, if you aren’t there, your fellow church members won’t benefit from the spiritual gifts that God has given to you to use in your church. So for your benefit and for the benefit of your church, you need to be there regularly.

As I type this, state and county Emergency Management Officials are doing something they’ve never done before. They are canceling all meetings and activities where there will be lots of people in attendance and in close proximity. This includes area churches and school districts. As a consequence of their unprecedented decisions, church leaders are having to make difficult decisions in light of the Covad-19 global pandemic. I live in Tarrant County (Fort Worth) Texas. Both Tarrant and Dallas Counties currently have “community spread” cases of Covad-19. In other words, people who have not traveled out of the country and who have not had contact with people who have traveled are testing positive for the virus. I pastor in the next county (Parker County) to the West of Tarrant County. As of right now, no one has canceled mass gatherings in our county. But I’m sure we will have to make decisions in the coming days as the virus continues to spread. Pray for us. Pray for people in our community. Pray for God to stop the spread of the virus. This is no time to panic. And this is no time to be calloused to those in our communities with fragile medical conditions.

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1 2 3 21

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