Living in View of Death

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2020 Bible Reading Calendar.

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. ~1 Corinthians 15:56-58

One day, you will die.

That is part of the reality of the world in which we live. Unless Jesus first returns, the day is coming where you will take your final breath on earth. How should this reality impact the way we live today?

Some might live in fear, going beyond common sense living to try to extend their life by any means necessary, not realizing it is beyond their control. Yet, for the follower of Jesus, death is nothing to fear. It is, instead, the step into our Savior’s presence.

Some might try to ignore it, focused on the moment and rarely thinking ahead. Yet, again, this is not the option for those who belong to Jesus. The Bible tells us about death and what happens following because it is supposed to be something we keep in mind.

For the follower of Jesus, we live with the reality of death before us but also the hope of the resurrection into eternal life beyond death. This reality, Paul told us, should impact our daily lives. We have victory in Jesus, so we should have a “steadfast and immovable” faith and hope in the face of death. No matter the worst the world can throw at us today, there is something more joyful and more glorious beyond that veil.

Thus, we should “always excel in the Lord’s work.” And what is the “Lord’s work”? Regardless of our vocation, we are to love and serve others and lead as many as we can to be fellow followers of Jesus. That is the Great Commandment of Matthew 22 and the Great Commission of Matthew 28.

When we devote time and resources to seeing others know Jesus and his love, then that time and those resources will never be wasted.

So, in light of death, let us live with that aim.

All Scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

 

grave 01 (unsplash 03192020)

Image credit: Photo by Wendy Scofield on Unsplash

How to “do church” when we can’t gather together

The Bible teaches us that church isn’t a building and isn’t a place, but a people. Followers of Jesus are the church. There is what we call a “universal” aspect to this–every believer from every age of history and every location on earth. We are one big family, but we won’t all be together until Jesus returns. Then there is what we call the “local” church–a particular group of believers who regularly gather in a particular location.

The command to not neglect to meet together (Hebrews 10:25) speaks of our local gatherings as we anticipate the day we will join with all our brothers and sisters in the universal gathering.

But sometimes circumstances happen, like with the current pandemic or a winter ice storm, that temporarily hinder our ability to gather. In such cases, we don’t stop being the church, because the church is us. So, what can we do to still keep some sense of our regular gathering when we can’t meet?

Here’s some ideas, in no particular order:

1) Read the Bible together as a family. If you’re married and/or you have children, then use Sunday as a special time to read God’s word together, focus, and reflect on what it says. If you keep sermon notes, you could potentially go back and reread a recent passage and discuss it as a family. If you use a Bible reading calendar, such as this one: 2020 Bible Reading Calendar, then you could read that day’s passage together, talk about it, and pray about it.

If you have young children, you might find a Bible story book useful. The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones is an excellent resource you can find on Amazon in both print and kindle additions. Also of note are the Tiny Truths Illustrated Bible and the It’s All About Jesus Bible Storybook.

2. Spend extra time in prayer. You can do this by yourself, or again as a family. This would be a great time to think about others in the church or your Sunday School / Bible Study Class and pray for them specifically by name. You can read through a Psalm, song, or hymn line-by-line, pausing to pray whatever comes to mind after each line. You can also spend time praying for the spread of the Gospel in our communities, nation, and world. This would be a great time to pray for other community churches as well as unreached people groups–Joshua Project is a great resource for that.

3. Spend time singing. We sing when we gather as a church. Chances are you also sing in the car, when you’re cleaning, or in the shower. So why not set aside some time on Sunday, again as an individual or with your family, to sing praises to God? If you have a hymnal, you can use that. Or you can put in a CD or fire up the music player on your phone and sing along. You can also find many great Christian songs, often with lyrics, on YouTube.

4. Read. You might set aside some time to read a good devotional book or other book that points your heart and mind to God.

5. Watch a livestream of a church service. Even if they don’t regularly livestream, many churches are using this time to do just that. We’re going to give it a try with info before hand on our Facebook page about it. You can find a lot of streams from a lot of good churches.

6. Contact your fellow church members. We’re hearing the phrase “social distancing” a lot in recent days. I did see a person comment that maybe “physical distancing” would be a better phrase to use. After all, though we want to keep physical interactions down for a few weeks, we still have plenty of ways to socially connect. Text some people in church. Give them a call. If they want, maybe spend some time using Facebook Messenger or another app to video chat with them or have a group chat with several people, again like your Sunday School or Bible Study.

We can’t meet for the moment, but there are still plenty of ways to connect.

silhouette of photo of person standing near tree during sunset
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com
Image source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/silhouette-of-photo-of-person-standing-near-tree-during-sunset-3804947/

Scriptures and Prayers for Uncertain Times

A reminder of God’s greatness:

Say among the nations: “The Lord reigns. The world is firmly established; it cannot be shaken. He judges the peoples fairly.” Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice; let the sea and all that fills it resound. ~ Psalm 96:10-11

Father, you are the great, awesome, and mighty God. You reign over all creation. The whole earth is yours. Nothing happens that is beyond your control. Nothing surprises you or catches you off guard. Father, we are weak. We are prone to fear. We don’t see everything as you see. Help us to remember your strength. Help us to trust in your sovereign rule. Even in the midst of trouble, make us glad so that we may rejoice at all you are and all you have done. Amen.

A reminder of God’s presence:

“The Lord is the one who will go before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or abandon you. Do not be afraid or discouraged.” ~Moses, Deuteronomy 31:8; “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” ~Jesus, Matthew 28:20

Lord, sometimes we feel alone and isolated. Sometimes we can feel as if there is no hope. Sometimes we are confused and scared. Yet, you promise that you are always with us. You promise to always be near. By your Spirit, remind us of your nearness. By your word, remind us again and again of your great promises. Help us to realize that as our souls cry out, “Abba, Father!”, you are there near to us. Always and forever. Amen.

A reminder of God’s compassion:

Lord, hear my prayer; let my cry for help come before you. Do not hide your face from me in my day of trouble. Listen closely to me; answer me quickly when I call… But you, Lord, are enthroned forever; your fame endures to all generations. You will rise up and have compassion on Zion, for it is time to show favor to her–the appointed time has come. ~Psalm 102:1-2, 12-13

Father, you are the God of compassion. Look upon us with your kindness and mercy. Hear our prayers for help in this day of trouble. Answer quickly, Lord. Hear from your throne, and for your glory, rise up and show your compassion to us. Show us your favor and bring relief. You are the God delighting in doing good; the God who gives eternal love to your children. Amen.

A reminder of God’s love and grace:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so is his faithful love toward those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. ~Psalm 103:11-12

Father, your love is greater than we can imagine. Your grace is deeper than the depths of the oceans. Because of our rebellion against you, we don’t deserve your goodness. But through Jesus you draw us near as your sons and daughters. You have looked upon us with love; you have given us grace. You have taken our sins and cast them away from us, so you hold nothing against us. Your gift to us is greater than all the goodness we could otherwise see in this life. Your love is so vast that all the evil and hardships we face will one day fade to a distant memory. Thank you for your love and grace. Amen.

A reminder of God’s protection:

The Lord will rescue me from every evil work and will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever! Amen. ~2 Timothy 4:18

Father, as much as we desire comfort and safety, we have no guarantee of that in this life. Yet, this does not make us fear, nor does this rob our joy. For, in Jesus, you promise us something greater. You will protect us into eternity. At worst, today, we might die. But then, if we die, we step into forever life, forever joy, and forever glory. You have given us a purpose in this life to know you and your love and make you and your love known. For each breath you give us, may we seek to do just that. And then, when our days are done, we rejoice that you bring us safely into your heavenly kingdom. Amen.

All Scripture quotes taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

prayer 03 (unsplash 03192020)

Image credit: Photo by Samuel Martins on Unsplash

More Than a Symbol

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2020 Bible Reading Calendar.

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, since all of us share the one bread. ~ 1 Corinthians 10:16-17

In the Baptist tradition it is sometimes popular to emphasize the symbolic nature of the Lord’s Supper. Unlike some faith traditions, we do not hold that the bread and cup in any way become the actual or even spiritual body and blood of Jesus. The bread remains bread and the wine/juice remains wine/juice.

Yet, sometimes we can take this idea too far, as if to say that the Lord’s Supper is only symbolic of what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross.

In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul made it clear that there is something deeper that happens with the Lord’s Supper. The word that is translated “sharing” in the passage above is the same word that is also used for “fellowship.” Fellowship is a sharing of life, a sense of treating one another as family, because in Christ that is what we are.

Yet, there is also a spiritual aspect to fellowship. In the same letter, Paul wrote of the fellowship we have with Jesus (1:9) and in his followup letter, Paul wrote about the fellowship we have with the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:13).

When we think that part of the Christian life is Christ in us through the Holy Spirit, we see that fellowship goes beyond “doing life together” or a sharing of what we can see, taste, hear, and touch. In our fellowship with God, as well as our fellowship with other followers of Jesus, there is a spiritual communion that takes place.

In sharing with the body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, there is a special sense of this spiritual fellowship that we experience. This is not, however, in the transformation of the bread and wine used, but in the act itself. The bread and wine are physical elements that engage our senses to what occurs spiritually. In the Supper we have a heightened moment reminding us that we belong to Jesus and that his sacrifice is the very thing that brought us into God’s family. Along with this is a heightened sense that as we participate in the Supper together as followers of Jesus, we truly are part of the same eternal family through Jesus.

This is why in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul warned against taking the Supper improperly, which, in its context, is partaking in the Supper selfishly to satisfy the cravings of our bellies without consideration for our broader family in Christ. When we ignore the sense of sharing, we miss the communal purpose of communion–we are one with Jesus and one with each other in God’s global family.

So, while yes, the bread and wine are symbols, the Supper itself is more than a symbol. It is a family meal, a communion of souls.

All Scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

communion 02 (unsplash 01302020)

Image credit: Photo by David Weber on Unsplash

 

A Statement about Church and Coronavirus

As concern about the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues, the question has come up about how should churches respond. In areas where the virus has been confirmed, some churches have cancelled service for the upcoming weeks or have gone to an online format. Some local governments have even placed restrictions on the amount of people that can gather for any event in order to help minimize the spread of the virus.

At the moment, the virus has not directly impacted our community and we are not under any such restrictions but we must we aware that can change at any moment.

Therefore, we will remain in a day-by-day, week-by-week evaluation of the situation, but for the moment we plan to continue with church services as normal. However, we do want to be sure to take precautions, not only due to the coronavirus situation but also due to other seasonal illnesses we have experienced.

We trust God. We know he is sovereign. Therefore, we avoid a sense of panic, we pray, but we also use the wisdom he has given us to take precautions and protect ourselves and those around us.

Be sure to practice good habits such as proper hand-washing and covering coughs and sneezes. We will forgo our normal greeting time during the service for at least the next few weeks. If you are sick, and especially if you have had a fever in the past 24-hours, please stay home. If you aren’t comfortable getting out in public at this time, then we also encourage you to remain home from church these next few weeks. We usually post the sermons on-line within a week after the service.

As always, if a need comes up, please contact either the pastor or one of the deacons and we will seek to assist you the best we can.

You can find out more about the COVID-19 and its symptoms at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html

Make the Most of Your Days

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2020 Bible Reading Calendar.

In fact, you have made my days just inches long, and my life span is as nothing to you. Yes, every human being stands as only a vapor. ~Psalm 39:5

Life is short.

We don’t think much about it when we’re young, when old seems so far away, when we feel invincible, like nothing can touch us. Yet, the older we grow, we begin to realize the brevity of life. Days seem to go by faster. In a blink, you were in high school and now you’re the parent of a high schooler.

The Bible calls life a vapor, especially compared to the timelessness of an eternal God. A vapor–you can think of a cold morning where you let out your breath, a brief cloud forms, and then it fades.

Life is short. We must learn, then, to make the most of our days.

One thing we must keep in mind is even though life on this present earth is short, physical death is not the end of our existence. We have a beginning, but we have no end. Life is short, as some say, but eternity is long. What we do with our today helps determine what will become of our forever.

The way we make the most of our short days is through love.

First, we must embrace the love of God offered us through Jesus. Without Jesus, we stand alone as rebels against God, condemned by his goodness, and far from his joy. Yet, when we receive God’s free offer of love in Jesus, by simple trust, we stand in him as beloved children of God, blessed by his goodness, and flooded with eternal joy. God loves us and offers his eternal love to all who will receive it.

Second, we must respond to love with love. A life found in Jesus is a life meant to love God supremely. We devote ourselves fully to him. We commit to go wherever he leads. Loving God is a grand delight in which we find true, unfading pleasure.

Third, we must love all others. A life found in Jesus is a life meant to love others deeply–our family, our friends, our neighbors, and even our enemies. In love, we happily seek their best. This means that we show them the love that God has for them by telling them of Jesus and by meeting their needs.

When we embrace such a life of love, we will find our days, in the end, not wasted.

Life is short. Love well and make the most of your days.

Scripture quotes taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

vapor 01 (unsplash 03102020)

Image credit: Photo by Zugr on Unsplash

Praying the Bible ~ 1 Corinthians 6:11

Praying through verses or passages of the Bible is a great way to help you pray according to the will and desires of God. Below is a passage of Scripture and a sample prayer. I would encourage you to pray that prayer, or, even better, read the passage and pray as God leads you.

Text: 1 Corinthians 6:11
And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (Christian Standard Bible)

Prayer
Father, how you see us matters more than anything. What you have done for us through Jesus matters more than anything. We each have our sins. Apart from Jesus, we each lived lives full of rebellion against you. Our sins may have looked different than our neighbor’s, but our sins still condemned us. On our own, we would be hopeless. But you acted. You changed things. You gave us Jesus and your Holy Spirit who washed away the stain of sin, who purified us before you, and who made us right in your sight. Though we are still far from perfect, you do not hold our sin against us. Instead, you hold us as pure and righteous, all because of your great love for us through Jesus. Thank you for this gift of grace. Amen.

Scripture verses taken from our Daily Bible Reading Calendar which you can find here.