Got Money?

We’ve talked about giving money to the church, but is there anything else we should be doing with our money?  I found several ways in the Bible that we should be using our money.

The first way is not necessarily the most important thing I learned during my study of money in the Bible, but it is the most surprising thing I found.  Jesus told us to use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves.  Yup, we are encouraged to buy our friends.  People have a hard time believing Jesus said that, but look at it for yourself in Luke 16:9.  I think he is trying to tell us that relationships are important, and buying someone a lunch may be the start of a friendship that could have eternal consequences in a good way.

It is not surprising to hear that we should provide for our relatives, especially our own household in 1 Timothy 5:8.  However, it is bit shocking that the verse tells us that we have denied the faith and are worse than a non-believer if we don’t.  Worse than a non-believer!  Don’t ignore the financial needs of your relatives.

1 John 3:16-18 questions if the love of God can be in someone who has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them.  The verse in Timothy was talking about our relatives, but notice that these verses are referring to our brothers and sisters in Christ, our church family.

Deuteronomy 15:7-11 goes a step further by telling the Israelites that they should give generously to fellow Israelites who are poor.  This opened the giving beyond the church family to any poor people in their community.  In verse 9 it warns them that if they show ill will toward the needy and give them nothing, they will be found guilty of sin.  It’s not just a good thing to give to the poor, it is a sin if you don’t.

Along those same lines, Proverbs 21:13 states that whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.  Ouch.

Acts 4:32-35 is not a commandment for us to follow, but it is an interesting way that believers took care of each other.  No one claimed that any of their possessions were their own and they shared everything they had so there were no needy people among them.  They went so far as to sell their land or houses and give the money from the sales to the apostles so they could distribute it to anyone in need.  It mentioned that God’s grace was powerfully at work in them all.  Would you be willing to sell your house for a brother or sister in need?

I hope the verses we covered today were enlightening or a good reminder if you had heard them before.  I think Proverbs 3:9-10 sums up pretty well what we should be doing with our money.  It says to honor the Lord with your wealth.  I would feel pretty good about honoring the Lord, but wait, there’s more.  It says your barns will be filled to overflowing and your vats will brim over with new wine if you honor God with your wealth.  And I think it is safe to say that some really nice blessings would be headed your way even if you don’t have a barn or a vat.

Got money?  Honor the Lord with it.

-Rick McClain

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 57-58 and 2 Timothy 4

To Tithe or Not to Tithe

Our discussion this week about money would not be complete without talking about tithing.  Many believe that we should be giving ten percent of our earnings to the church, which is called tithing.  I must admit that I was very surprised when I researched the topic of money to find that it was not mentioned in the New Testament that we should tithe.  Does that mean we are not required to tithe anymore?

Let’s start with some Old Testament history.  Tithing was a practice back then (Malachi 3:8-12), but if you think you should be following the guidance from the Old Testament, you need to read about all the ways to give money to the church.  I won’t go into great detail, but there were some pretty elaborate rules about giving.  Check out Deuteronomy 14:22-29, Numbers 18:21-32, Numbers 18:8-11, and especially Leviticus 27:1-21.  For example, in Leviticus, if anyone dedicates their house to the Lord, a priest will judge its quality and set a value on it.  If the homeowner wants the house back, they can redeem it by adding a fifth to its value.  You could also dedicate people to the Lord by giving an equivalent value.  A male between the ages of twenty and sixty was valued at fifty shekels of silver, while a female between one month and five years was valued at three shekels of silver.  Of course, we are not under the Old Testament law anymore, so these rules are not in place anymore, including tithing.

Again, the talk of tithing is absent in the New Testament so what should we do about giving money to the church?  I don’t believe there is an exact calculation to follow so I am going to give you my opinion about what should happen.  First, we do not need to follow Old Testament rules anymore, but I think we can learn about God and how he operates by looking at the rules in the Old Testament.  Giving ten percent was a popular theme in the Old Testament.  I think that is probably a good starting point for our giving today.  If God liked using that percentage back then, I think it is likely He still thinks that is a good percentage today.  However, don’t forget that there were other rules for giving that didn’t simply follow the ten percent rule, so it is probably a bit naïve to think that is exactly what we need to do today.

Yesterday we learned that all our money is God’s money, not our own.  I think we need to consider that when deciding on how much to give to the church.  Furthermore, some of God’s money should probably be given to areas outside of the church.  For instance, your neighbor’s house burns down.  God may let you know that it is a great idea to send some money their way to help them get back on their feet.  Should that come out of the ten percent?  That is a trick question.  We should not be concerned about a particular percentage when 100% of the money we have is God’s.  We need to figure out the best way to use that money by listening to God and trying to understand His desires for that money.  I think He may want some to give twenty percent, fifty percent, or maybe even more to the church.  Perhaps, someone is in a tough situation right now and five percent is the right amount.

I do think church is important, and I do think it is important to give money to the church to further God’s work.  I would not want to be selfish in that regard and spend too much on myself and neglect the church.  If you want to know what is important to yourself in life, just look at what you spend your money on and what you do with your time.  If you don’t spend very much money and time on church, then church is not important to you.  If church is important to you, you do not have to tithe to it, but I encourage you to make God’s day by giving an appropriate amount to His work.

-Rick McClain

While this week we are discussing a Christian perspective on money…you can still keep up with your Bible reading plan. Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 53-54 and 2 Timothy 2

Set Apart – Together

Earlier this week we read about the importance of being set apart from the world as a follower of Christ. To be called out. Sometimes at work, I get “called out” of a meeting to talk to someone. Sometimes I help patients of mine by intentionally setting him/her apart from other distractions to complete a task. Since I work at a hospital, I frequently go to the waiting room to call out a name, asking that person to stand up and separate from the others to come with me.  Depending on your contexts in life, being called out or set apart might bring that visual of being alone or isolated from others. Maybe sometimes that might sound nice?  For sure at other times, that can sound scary and undesirable.

While we are asked to be set apart from the world in the spiritual sense, we are not created to live, love, worship, and serve in isolation. In fact, 2020 shed some light into the devastations that can be caused by being set apart….alone. That isn’t what Jesus was talking about. The Greek word most frequently translated as church in our Bible is “ekklesia” which means the idea of an assembly of called out people.  The church is called to be set apart from the world. Since our English language often associates the word “church” with building and not the group of people, it is easy to overlook the meaning of the importance of our calling sometimes. In the New Testament we see a group of people called out from the world…..TO GOD. A group asked to be set apart together.

Ephesians 3:16-21: 

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

He calls us out to love one another. To be mindful of other’s needs and meet them. To edify one another. To be unified. To bring glory to God and Jesus in what we do as an ekklesia. To come together in prayer. To find strength and function as one member of a greater body. 

As we navigate another season of viruses and news stories laden with fear and confusion, let us not do it alone. And let us also not find our church families looking and sounding just like the world. Instead, let us actively seek to be set apart from the world following Jesus in our own individual lives, to find the planks in our own eye, so we can best build up the ekklesia  as we await the return of His son.

We are the church.

“For where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them.”  Matthew 18:20

-Jennifer Hall

This week the devotions are on other passages reminding us of the importance of of being connected to God, Christ and the church, but if you are using the SeekGrowLove Bible reading plan keep enjoying the daily passages. They can be read or listened to here at BibleGateway Job 13-14 and 2 Corinthians 8

“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear”

Daily reading: 1 Timothy 1-6

In the movie Elf, Buddy the Elf is taught the Code of the Elves, which the elves all recite and know by heart. Number three on the list is about spreading Christmas cheer, and by the end of the movie, Buddy has spread that message to lots of people.

In the book of 1 Timothy, Paul explicitly tells us his purpose when he says, I am writing you these instructions so that…you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church.”

So, in essence, Paul’s giving us the Code of the Church. And what are some of the things in that code?

  1. Remember you’re a big fat sinner (ie: Grace)

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (1:15)

Before we say a word to anyone else, our perspective on ourself needs to be right.

Unfortunately, there seem to be an awful lot of believers out there who don’t seem to see themselves as Paul did. They might rephrase this verse to say, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—praise the Lord I’m not like them” or if we’re really honest, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—thankfully I’m not as bad as the worst of them.”

And although I don’t really believe most Christians would actually rephrase Paul’s writing in those ways, our attitudes do it for us. Brennan Manning, one of my favorite authors said, “Jesus came not only for those who skip morning mediations, but also for real sinners–thieves, adulterers and terrorists, for those caught up in squalid choices and failed dreams.”

The lyrics to the song, “Come to the Table” are a lovely picture of recognizing that we are all sinners redeemed, and that our unworthiness does not exempt us from a seat at the table of mercy.

Must sin be called out? Of course. With a heaping side of grace.

Grace first. Grace always.

More on that later in the code.

2. Pray for your leaders

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  (2:1-2)

Pray for them (ARROW) THAT…

The code dictates that we’re praying for leaders that will enable us to live out a Biblical faith.

Here’s a resource that can help you do that if you’d like.

3. Take church leadership seriously.

If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church? (3:5)

Chapter three is almost entirely devoted to this piece of the church code, laying out indicators of what believers should look for in church leaders. This much real estate in Paul’s letter should tell us that it’s something that he found important, and should therefore garner our attention as well.

4. Train yourself to be godly…because it doesn’t come naturally

..train yourself to be godly.  (4:7)

Training involves work, often times painful work.

As we alluded to in step one of the code, identifying sin is a part of responsibility of the believer. Both in our own life and for one another.

Paul writes in other places of ‘walking in the Spirit’ vs. ‘walking in the flesh’. Walking in the flesh could be described as doing what comes naturally to us, and that is frequently (almost always) not the same as what God would call us to.

This is why we need to train ourselves in it. Despite all the Chuck Norris jokes to the contrary…Chuck Norris wasn’t born all ‘Chuck Norris-y’. He has trained and worked hard physically to attain the physical strength and skills he has.

While we do want to train hard and push ourselves and one another to greatness, the underlying foundation must always be love. It must always be grace. (See #1 of the Code)

5. The church takes care of its own

Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers,older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters (5:1-2)

Much of chapter 5 centers on the care of widows in the church, something we may deem a waste of Paul’s time. However, it shows a real care and elevation of women. A woman whose husband had died could become desolate very rapidly, and this was to ensure that this not happen to believers.

Although the specific issue of widowhood may not be as relevant to us today, the idea that God expects believers to provide for their family has not changed. Also unchanged is the notion of the church family stepping in for believers without blood-family to support them.

Good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever. (5:25)

Our church code of conduct may not be quite as catchy as the one Buddy the Elf learned in the North Pole, but ours has a far more lasting impact…and no tights required!

-Susan Landry

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Timothy

Tomorrow we will read Titus 1-3.

In God’s Presence

Exodus 25-27

Exodus 25 8 NIV

                Places of worship come in all different shapes and sizes.  I have worshipped God in huge cathedrals with impressive pipe organs and altars overlaid with gold and stained glass windows.  I have also worshipped God in open-air tabernacles with sawdust floors.  I have worshipped God in a deer stand, at the beach, on a mountaintop and on a table undergoing radiation.  I have worshipped God in loud and energetic services with guitars, drums, and electronic keyboards and I have worshipped him in places with no sound at all except the flickering flame of a single candle.

                I believe God loves to be worshipped in lots of ways and in lots of places.  Even in the Biblical stories God was worshipped on simple stone altars, in burning bushes, on mountain tops and down in valleys.

                Israel was at a critical time in their formation and it was important for them to have a steady reminder of God’s presence.  God made his presence visible to them as they journeyed with both a pillar of cloud in the day and a pillar of fire at night.  As they continued their journey across the wilderness, God chose to make his visible presence known to them in a portable house of worship.  This place would provide structure in the midst of their community wherever they stopped to make camp.  The tent of meeting or tabernacle would be an ongoing visible sign that God’s glory was in their midst.  And God taught them how to be a holy nation. He used various symbols and rituals of sacrifice and worship as a way to drill home to them his holiness and the consequences of sin.

                How God chose to do this is quite interesting.  He could have simply built a temple Himself in the heavens and dropped it down fully formed on earth.  However, God chose instead to invite His people to become active participants in creating this place of worship.

                First, God began with their willing desire to give.  “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze;  blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair;  ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather acacia wood;  olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breast piece” (Exodus 25:2-7).   This was not a mandatory tithe that was required; this was an offering to be willingly given and received.

                Where did the people get all of these valuable commodities?  If you will recall, as they were leaving Egypt they were given many valuable items by the Egyptian peoples – one might say this was payment to help compensate for years of slavery.  They had these items in their possession already.  Those who were willing could give them to help create the tent of meeting and the prescribed worship items inside of the temple, which included the Ark of the Covenant, the table, the lampstand as well as the material for the tabernacle itself, and the altar, courtyard and the oil to keep the lamps burning.  All of the materials were freely donated.  The people of God used their own skill to build the items from these donated materials – carpenters, weavers, stonemasons, goldsmiths and others each made their own contributions to the creation of this place of worship.  In this way, everyone in the community that wished to participate had buy in to the tabernacle.  It truly was a communal place of worship.

                Once the nation finished their journey through the wilderness and took possession of the Promised Land, they would eventually transition from a portable tent of meeting to a permanent temple under the leadership of King Solomon.  However, this tent of meeting served them well for 40 years in the wilderness and many more during the times of the judges, and king’s Saul and David.

                For Christians, we do not worship God in a tabernacle or physical temple and we do not bring sacrifices of sheep or goats or bulls for an offering to God.  For us, the Church itself is the temple of God.  I am not talking about the building where the Church gathers to worship, I am talking about the actual people who gather to worship, and we are the Church.  Jesus said whenever 2-3 gather in his name that he is there in their midst.  There is no one single right way or place to worship God.  It is wherever God’s people come together.  Christian Worship does not have to follow follow a strict pattern.  Worship is where we gather to read the word of God, pray, worship, encourage each other and exhort one another to good works, break bread and proclaim the resurrection of Jesus.  Blood sacrifices are not necessary because Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and he entered into the holy of holies once and for all and gave his own body as the final sacrifice for all of our sins.

                One thing remains unchanged from the time of Israel in the wilderness tent of meeting and the Church today.  God still welcomes us to bring our offerings from the heart as a way to say thank you.  We can still bring tangible offerings, and we can still offer our gifts and talents as ways of showing God our deep gratitude for all of his blessings to us.  It is not all that important how we worship or where we worship, but it is very important that we worship and we bring our offerings freely to worship God.

Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+25-27&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Exodus 28-29 on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

The Eternal Gospel

Revelation 14

Revelation 14 6 NIV

As we approach chapter fourteen together, John sees four, possibly five, more visions, all depicting the fates of those who are allegiant to the Lamb (Jesus) and those who aren’t. In our world today, people want you to just let people believe what they believe and not challenge their worldview. However, if we trust what Revelation is telling us, it would not be loving for us to allow people to continue living in sin and falsehood. We need to speak up into the lives of our loved ones, because according to chapter fourteen, their fates will not be good if they don’t join the Lamb’s army (the Church). Ultimately, the letter of Revelation is meant to call people to repent and follow the Lamb before time runs out, and we need to do the same.

 

John sees the same 144,000 from chapter 7 that have the “mark” of God on their foreheads, standing on top of Mount Zion, looking ready for a battle. These are those who have been purchased by the blood of the Lamb; in other words, these are Christians. We learn that their fate is sealed, and their future looks bright! However, John moves forward to describe what awaits everybody else…

 

An angel is seen, calling people to “fear God and give Him glory”, or repent of their ways (14:7). Another angel warns that “Babylon the great” has fallen, which will be described later on in chapters 17-19. This Babylon, in my interpretation, is a vivid description of Rome once again, as those are the only two nations to ever destroy the Jerusalem Temple. However, those that are within Babylon the great, or those that have worshiped the beast, they will drink the “wine of the wrath of God”, going through torment in fire and brimstone, just like Sodom and Gomorrah (see Genesis 19). These people will eventually be burned up with this fire, but it will be an extremely painful experience.

 

John then uses the illustration of a grape harvest, in which grapes are thrown into a winepress and squeezed out, causing blood to flow everywhere. It is a graphic image, but a powerful one nonetheless. Those who refuse to worship God and the Lamb will face His wrath, being destroyed completely when Jesus returns. Why would anyone choose to go through this? Unfortunately, many choose to do so.

 

This message should motivate us to speak up to our friends and family about what Jesus has done. He has saved us from this coming wrath, and now offers that same salvation to anyone who would come follow after him. Of course we love our friends and family and don’t want them to go through the terrifying judgment to come. So speak up! Live out your faith today! Share the good news with whomever you come across! Jesus is coming, and we don’t have much time left.

 

Talon Paul

Keep Running

FREE THEME

Hebrews 12 1 (2).png

 At our house, fall Saturdays (and several summer Saturdays, too) are all about cross country.  My son is a senior and has been running cross country since 6th grade. And this momma has grown to love watching the boys compete.  I wonder how much more our Heavenly Father loves to watch, encourage and cheer on His children who are giving it their all out on the course. 

Perhaps the writer of Hebrews was a runner himself, or had been to the games to cheer on his runner.  He wrote, “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1). There are indeed so many parallels between the sweaty, tiring, exhilarating, physical sport of cross country racing and the spiritual race we are all in – for even when we are hunkered down, unmoving – the race is going on around us.  

First off – it is most important to know that the race isn’t just what is done on Saturday morning on the course.  It is all week long, all season long, all the training – effort – preparation – dedication – time – perseverance – discipline.  Likewise, if your spiritual race consists solely of an hour or two at church on Sunday morning, it will not be a very impressive race.  God desires more. The daily workouts – Bible reading. The high protein snack after a work-out – digging deeper into Scripture study. Hydrating daily throughout the week – prayer.  Avoiding the ice cream, pizza and pop – staying away from negative and harmful influences, entertainment and activities.  There are disciplines to follow to be a great runner – just as there are disciplines for being a follower of Jesus.  

Paul also got some good mileage from the racing metaphor.  He wrote to Timothy, “Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.” (2 Timothy 2:5)  On the cross country course it goes without saying that you actually have to run the assigned, mapped out race and follow the rules in order to compete.  Yet, in our spiritual race so many times we try to create our own course or our own rules.  

One thing I didn’t know about cross country 6 years ago was how much it is a team sport.  Sure, every runner wants to compete their best, finishing the race in a shorter time than before.  However, a team won’t win if they have just one or two top finishers. Their team score is compiled by what place their first 5 racers take – and the lowest score wins the meet.  So, it is in the best interest of every member on the team to run the best race they can – while at the same time helping and encouraging and motivating their pack of runners to finish well.  Similarly – the spiritual race is not an individual event. We are called to carry each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25), look out for the interests of others (Philippians 2:4), build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11), gently restore one caught in sin (Galatians 6:1), and of course, love (lots and lots of verses, including John 13:34).  How can you help a fellow runner better prepare for a strong race this week?

It’s God’s course – run it well according to His rules.  

Jesus makes an awesome coach – he’s run the race and knows what you need to succeed on the course of life.  Keep your eyes on him.  

Be disciplined – daily.  Your race requires dedication

Help your fellow runners.

 

Keep Running with Perseverance,

Marcia Railton

 

 

 

 

4 Benefits for Christians in This Age

 

Out in the world today, we see a lot of bold claims made by companies. They promise you weight loss, happiness, wealth, status, and anything else that you can think up. What is their purpose in making these bold claims? They want your money. Many of the times the claims are flat out lies and at best they deliver only a fraction of what was promised. What about Christianity? Does the Bible make big claims like companies do?

Personally, I think the Bible makes a lot of claims about those who put their faith in God. But the logical follow up question to that statement is  – are they true? So in this blog post I want to set out to show you four claims the Bible makes about the benefits a Christian receives in this age. The fact that we are talking about this age is important. Obviously a Christian has a major benefit in the age to come with eternal life and the kingdom. However, I want to focus on this life and how being a Christian makes our lives better, now. The four benefits to being a Christian are peace, purpose, perspective, and people.

Peace is a commodity of which the world is in short order. It seems that mental illness is all over the news with illnesses like depression and anxiety sweeping over our nation. Christianity promises to those who put their faith in God that they can find peace. Look at Philippians 4:6-7, “6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Paul, talking to the people of Philippi, is saying that if we hand over our anxiety to God through prayer and thanksgiving in return we will receive peace that surpasses all comprehension. I love how Paul makes the point to say that this peace will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. I think Christianity has the best solution for finding peace in this life.

1 Peter 2 9

Purpose is an elusive things that some people spend their whole lives searching out. I truly think that people thrive the most when they are living a life after the purpose for which God created them. If you are looking for purpose look at 1 Peter 2:9-10 which says, “9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” First look at verse 10 where it says, “you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God”. In other words, once you had no identity and no purpose but now you are the people of God and you have a purpose. The purpose statement is at the end of verse 9, “so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light”. I think when we are giving the good news to people, and that is our driving purpose, we find fulfillment with our lives. What could be better than helping someone change their life forever?

Perspective can be a tricky thing to find, especially perspective that is trustworthy and true. Let’s talk about the world’s perspective on one of the most difficult things we deal with in life, death. To the world, death is crushing, scary, oppressive, breaking, and most of all final. The world has no hope when it comes to death but the Bible offers a better perspective on death. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 says, “13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.” If you are a Christian, you are offered a perspective on death that doesn’t include fear but instead centers on hope. Don’t get me wrong, death is still a painful and difficult event but it isn’t crushing for Christians. To me, 1 Thessalonians 4 is a clarifying and liberating passage. Because of the Bible I am freed from the fear of death. Christianity offers us a better perspective on death and a whole multitude of other things.

People, who doesn’t want a people to call their own? Community is an essential part of human flourishing and Christians absolutely crush the competition when it comes to community. Look at what Jesus says in Mark 10:29-30, “29 Jesus said, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, 30 but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.’” In this present age we will receive 100 times the family that we currently have. This doesn’t mean that all of a sudden our family multiples by 100. What it means is that those who are Christians become our family. You are probably familiar with the term family of God. It is short hand for the community of believers that form one large family all around the world. When I walk into church I know that those people have my back, they love me, they support me, and they are my family.

Maybe now you are asking how can I be sure that these claims actually hold up under pressure? Are these claims made by the Bible like the false claims made by big companies? If you are curious about the validity of the Bible, just ask a long time Christian that you know. They will tell you about the peace they have felt in their lives when there should not have been peace. They will tell you about the purpose they have found. They will tell you about how the Bible has shifted their perspectives for the better. They will tell you about the community that they have in the family of God.

If you are looking for peace, purpose, perspective, or a people I think you should give Christianity a serious look. Maybe you have been on the fence about dedicating your life to Christ or maybe you have fallen away and aren’t where you want to be with God. Either way there is a better life out there, it just takes commitment. You need to commit to following God wherever He leads and you need to put your trust in Jesus. If you are thinking about dedicating or rededicating your life to Christ find a pastor or Christian you trust and talk to them about how following God can change your life for the better.

-Josiah Cain

Compassion & Faith vs. Reality & Doubt

Mark 8

Mark 8 35

Have you ever thought about how imperfect the disciples, that Jesus himself chose to follow him, were? They have already seen Jesus feed the 5,000 (back in chapter 6). Here there are about 4,000 hungry folks and compassionate Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “We can’t let them leave here hungry, can we?” Immediately the disciples say, “We can’t feed all these people.” And the excuses come out… “There are too many.” “We are out in the middle of nowhere.” “We only have 7 loaves.” The reality of the situation has them seriously doubting that they can do anything.

Now let’s think about ourselves in the church. Are we full of compassion and faith or do we also look at the reality in front of us and let doubt convince us that we are unable to do what seems too hard for us? I know the excuses I can find myself making. “Someone else can do a better job.” “I have a lot on my plate already. I can’t take on anything else.” “I can’t do this. I have no experience with it.” Excuses can even come with negative attitudes… “Why doesn’t someone else do it?”  “I’m not good enough.” “I’m not smart enough.” Or even, “I just don’t want to.” Where did the compassion and faith go?

Jesus makes a good point later on in Mark 8:34-35. He says, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

So it turns out that it wasn’t about the disciples and what they thought they were capable of. Just like it’s not about me and what I want my life to be like or even what I think it is already. Let’s not overanalyze things, but let compassion and faith move us.

(There is a short book by Thom Rainer called I am a Church Member. I recommend it. It changed my attitude on things about church that I was a little grumpy about.)

-Melissa New

Departure

2 Timothy 4 8

Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”  Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” – John 13:36-37

“It’s time to go!” says a voice calling from the driver’s seat indicating you might be left behind if you don’t leave now.  A friend or a family member receives your last look, a last hug, a last “see you later”, and maybe a tear or two.  It never gets any easier to say goodbye to people we love, yet such is the nature of life.  To move in the direction of God, often means to experience seasons of friends and family being at varying distances. I would imagine it was difficult for Jesus to say goodbye to his friends like Lazarus, his mother, Mary, and the eleven remaining apostles whom He spent a great deal of time with on this earth. But He was called to be somewhere else, to mediate between us and God (1 Tim 2:5) and to prepare us for a time when He can be with us all who love Him and keep His will.

In Revelation 19, we are given a picture of the marriage supper of the Lamb.  This is an event where the church will be reunited to celebrate with Christ – altogether, simultaneously, fulfilling the promise in Hebrews that no one would be left out but “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” – Hebrews 11:40 – Not only will we be reunited with our loved ones from our present, but also those who departed from us along the way, that fell asleep in Christ (1 Thes 4:14). We have been told this, so we don’t give up.   We fight the good fight .  We have the endurance to be different.

“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:” 2 Timothy 4: 7,8

“If you keep My commandments, you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and remain in His love. I have told you these things so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”  John 15:11

But for most of us, and potentially all of us reading this blog, today is not our last day of breath, but a day we leave behind someone we love, either through proximity or heaven forbid, through physical death.  So how can we make sure we don’t forget about this promise to be reunited with the ones we love?

1. Seek His word in your life. First, this means reading your Bible.  It is not an instrument to be used solely on Sundays and Wednesdays and at church camp.  We are told that the word of God in the scripture is alive and actively ready to convict and confirm on thoughts, motives, and actions (Hebrews 4:2).  You are called to live out every day for Christ, so this means the Word of God must be present.  Reading and subscribing to this blog is a great start, but so is a Bible reading plan, or verse of the day bookmarks.  Also, spending time in prayer is a way to monitor your spiritual life and receive direction and confirmation from God.  As we seek to become more spiritually mature, we begin to thank God for a lot more, recognizing the blessings in our life that change the way we pray for the things we desire.  We can pray for God’s will, or in His will, as we wait because we recognize that we are already truly blessed.  This is a discipline, an exercise program.  If you have been a spiritual couch potato, don’t expect to run a Bible marathon or become a prayer warrior overnight.  Even introducing the smallest of these disciplines will begin to make a dramatic difference into your spiritual health.

2. Find a ministry. Do the ministry.  When we become idle, when we don’t have anything to do, that is when sin gets a jump on us (Proverbs 16:27-29).  We consume junk on screens, we find people to talk about, and we become open to other forms of ungodly entertainment.  The devil can be just as busy binge-watching Netflix (that should step on some toes) or scrolling through social media (and the ones I missed the first time) as it is in those who are actively seeking out ways to do evil in this world.  This quote by Edmund Burke addressed to another statesman rings true in the Christian life too, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  It is time to find and actively participate in a ministry.  To move from the milk to the meat.  To not simply believe but to act.  Don’t know where to start?  Look at the list provided by Jesus in Matthew 25 as he separates the sheep and the goats.  Ministry is truly a win-win. When you are busy fulfilling the Word of God, there is simply less time to get caught up in the stuff that doesn’t matter.

3. Be a part of the church. We are not called to do the above mentioned things solely in isolation.  When we put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, we become part of a greater entity: the church.  It is not simply a building, in fact, it has nothing to do with the structure you meet in at all.  The church is full of people who are trying to do the same as you: live better for Christ.  There is a small caveat.  Like you, they are not perfect yet.  However, everyone in the church has their own unique gifting, function, and strengths.  You don’t have to do this alone.  So what if they don’t have the style of music you want at the church.  So what if there isn’t a large group of people your age in the church.  So what if your friends and family live far away from your church.  Inside your community of believers you still have a function, can be held and hold people accountable, and find ways to strengthen and edify one another for the purpose in which you’re called. It is also important to understand the church is connected beyond the group you meet with on Sundays.  Your friends at camp, your bestie from college, a group of people at a break table or lunch table can talk about and worship God together.  Find a way to connect with other believers, and you will be further shored up against evil.

4. Let the grace of God do the rest. Often times when we come back from a fulfilling spiritual experience, we are immediately presented with our greatest challenges.  The trajectory up of spiritual life will not be a perfect, upward-moving diagonal line.  Inevitably, we will always find a spiritual low after a spiritual high. Don’t let the waves of doubt and defeat toss you and capsize the great life, truth, and hope you have.  You will mess up.  You will know the good you should do and not do it sometimes (Rom 7:15-20).  You may go several days without reading your Bible, become stagnant in your ministry,  or remove yourself from the church because you feel guilty you have committed an unforgivable sin.  Don’t give up. Let God take control and understand that He gives grace to all generously.  This is a free gift, so don’t waste your time “feeling bad” or “not worthy.”  Take heart. Get back up. Seek God. Renew your commitment to His commandments because each day is a new day.  Do everything not to depart from God, and He too, will do everything it takes to ensure you will never have to depart from Him or the ones you love that have fulfilled the same call, together united at the marriage supper of the Lamb.

-Aaron Winner
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