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.
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”?
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.
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.
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.
In today’s Bible reading, we see Paul doing a very foolish thing. He says that God has told him that if he returns to Jerusalem, he will face trouble. In fact, Paul says that everywhere he goes, the Holy Spirit confirms that if he goes to Jerusalem, he will face imprisonment and afflictions. (Acts 20:23) So why would he go to the very place where he would face such hardships?
Dr. Luke answers that question with Acts 20:22: “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there.”
Earlier, I said that Paul did a very foolish thing. Actually, it wasn’t foolish at all. In fact, it was the wisest thing he could have possibly done!
Where the Holy Spirit leads, you will find peace. Now, I didn’t say that where the Spirit leads, you will find prosperity. No, where the Holy Spirit leads, you will always find peace and God’s blessings. You don’t want to be where God doesn’t want you to be.
Many years ago, I lamented to a friend that I hadn’t yet been called to my first church ministry position after seminary. He wisely remarked that “No place is better than the wrong place. Trust me, I’ve been there.”
As our son prepares to go back to Australia with YWAM (Youth With A Mission) for two years, many people have asked Amy and me if we were concerned with his leaving and going literally to the other side of the world. We respond, that if God is calling him to study and minister there, the last place we want him to be is here with us. Yes, we will miss him. Yes, we will be concerned with his welfare. But we know that he is in the hands of a totally sovereign God who is always good and Who loves our son more than we do.
If you have a sovereign God (and we do), your anxiety level drops a great deal. God knows what He’s doing and is always in control of every situation.
It’s important for each of us to be open-minded and teachable. There is so much that we don’t know and can learn from other people. However, if you’re too open-minded, you may lose the ability to form coherent thoughts and convictions. It seems that was the case in Athens.
In today’s Bible reading, Dr. Luke tells us that, “all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.” That’s a problem.
It’s easy to become enamored in “all things new”. But at some point, you have to be concerned with real-world stuff. King Solomon was right when he said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) They were so open-minded that their brains leaked out!
But there is one very good thing that comes out of this: The men of Athens constructed an altar to an unknown god … just in case they overlooked someone. Paul saw the monument and pounced! He used the altar as an inroad to open discussion. It’s important to note that at no point did Paul compromise his message to match the altar. When he began to talk about Jesus’ Resurrection, he had many of them hooked!
Peter encourages his readers to already be ready to give a defense for our hope. (1 Peter 3:15) How easily could you create an object lesson to tell people the Gospel? Maybe it’s not a pagan altar. Maybe it’s a TV show or a movie. It could be just about anything. Anything that might open a door of conversation with an unbeliever. Whatever it is, remember to be true to the Gospel Message. Don’t twist the Bible to fit the conversation.
This can easily turn into a learning opportunity with another believer. Be iron for each other. (Proverbs 27:17) Listen to what they say about how you can improve your presentation. Then listen to them create an object lesson. Critique their presentation.