Gather • Devotion #6: Decisions

“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” Romans 15:1

On any given day, it is estimated that the average adult makes approximately 35,000 remotely conscious decisions. Researchers at Cornell University estimate that we make 226.7 decisions each day on food alone.

The decisions we make in a given day vary on a scale of importance and impact. Choosing to set (or not set) your alarm, what we choose to eat, which route you take to work, and many more decisions impact us and carry varying levels of “consequences.” 

If you are anything like me, most of these decisions (quite possibly all) are run through a filter of, “How does this impact me?” It is helpful to peel back another layer; I would also venture to say that I (we) will favor whichever side of decisions that favors us more, or “costs” us less (and I am not just talking strictly about money). I am not here to say that this thought process is inherently evil, but I would say that it is human nature. 

If you think of yourself as a “nice, good or thoughtful” person, I would hope that a handful of your approximately 35,000 daily decisions are done for the good of others. I mean, Jesus did list “loving your neighbor as yourself” as the second greatest commandment. Loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind makes for a great start (ok, the best start), but there is more that we are called to do.

Jesus got right to the point when He challenged the disciples (and us) with these words recorded by Luke and Matthew, also known as “The Great Commission.” “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’” (Luke 9:23).

These words challenge our very human nature, the sometimes subconscious and sometimes conscious tendencies or instinct to put ourselves first. We are called to deny ourselves daily, tending to the neighbors at our right and our left. He continues in the next verse, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

This goes against the very framework of our flawed selfish nature. You mean I have to give up my life in order to save my soul? That is a little more than just a monetary cost! 

In closing, I would like to leave you with the idea that decisions are not made as a result of a process of the mind, but rather of the heart. When it comes to the decisions that we make each day, who is it that we are choosing to serve? Then if and when we do choose to serve our neighbors, what are our intentions? These might be tough questions to reflect on or to answer. Jesus is calling us to first love Him with everything we have, and secondly to love our neighbor as we would ourselves. In reality, these are the first two decisions that we face each and every day. 

Gather • Devotion #5: Break the Silence

Have you ever felt alone? It is like you are on an island, but not a tropical island. There is no sun and it is rainy, cold, and dark. You feel goosebumps crawling up your arms and the wet dense sand between your toes. The cold moist wind is blowing right up the sleeves of your shirt. There is a heavy weight right in the middle of your chest, not physically of course, but metaphorically because you have something in your life of which you are ashamed. It is something you feel that you can never crawl out from under and something that nobody could ever relate to. 

What I just described is sin. It is more than just a physical act against God. It is a lot more emotionally torturous than most people think because when you are in the midst of sin you cannot see clearly. You cannot think clearly, and you feel alone. This is exactly what the devil wants you to feel. His goal is to make you feel completely separated from God, your friends and family, and even yourself. Once you are separated, you feel helpless and you do not know what to do and you do not know what to say. You fear being judged and outcast from everyone you care about. 

What if I told you that there was a way out? What if there was a lifeboat coming to shore to save you and bring you home? What if there was a way to break the silence and bring joy back into your life? The key is that all you have to do is tell someone what you are going through. It sounds really easy when you read it. Believe me. I know for some of you when you read that you swallowed and gulped the biggest fear you have ever felt. It is terrifying to be completely vulnerable in front of a peer and let them know of all your shortcomings. It is important to know what we were called to as believers.

Galatians 6:1-2 says, “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.”

If you read that as I did, you would notice one big line right in the middle of those verses, “should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” For those of you that are going through something in your life, we want to be there for you and walk with you through whatever it is. We want to restore you. Can you imagine what that feels like? Try to remember the feeling you had before this sin weighed heavily in your life. Remember what it was like to be free? It is like taking a giant weight off your chest and finally being able to take the biggest breath you have desired for so long. We want to be gentle in the way we handle any situation as a believer, as to make sure we do not look down on you and make you feel any less than you are. At the end of the day, we will all struggle with something in our lives. Nobody is perfect and we all have shortcomings. God has called us as believers to do good to everyone, especially those who believe in Jesus!

Galatians 6:10 adds, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

So, let someone in your life. The one thing we cannot do as believers is guess. We will never know the full extent of what you are going through unless you tell someone. We cannot help unless you shut down the silence and open up to the feelings of joy. Once you break the silence, you will be on your first step to joy and freedom and you will not be alone. You will have a community of people closest to you walking with you. This is what God wants for your life. He will always be for you and never against you. He wants the best for you every moment of every day. All it takes is breaking the silence. You can do it. You are not alone. God has empowered people in your life to restore you with gentleness and love. 

Gather • Devotion #4: Commitment

You often hear the phrase, “The church is not a building, the church is a group of people.” While this is true, it does not begin to cover the scope or the depth of commitment that it takes to be a part of the church and to work together as the body of Christ. Ultimately, the church is a family with a common goal. As with any family, sometimes it can be difficult to work together and support one another. Families know each other and they know better than anyone what their brothers and sisters daily struggles are. Families see behind the scenes and are brutally aware of each other’s faults. As a church family, sometimes we can get so focused on reaching the world that we forget other vitally important aspects of our spiritual walk with Christ, such as our brothers and sisters in Christ. 

In 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15, it says, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” One thing that stands out to me immediately is the use of the word “brothers” at the beginning of the passage. The use of that word indicates that the following passage, and the call that Paul gives, is directed at us, fellow believers and members of the family of Christ. As a family, it can be hard to support one another sometimes, and Paul knew this so he wrote us a guide to use to aid us in the difficult process of supporting our brothers and sisters. The passage goes on to tell us that it is our job to do several things.

First, we are to warn those who are idle or those who are not following through with their responsibilities. As the body of Christ, we all have expectations placed on us, such as the expectation to use the spiritual gifts that God has given us to serve, or the responsibility to tithe. When we ignore or forget about our duties, it can be easy to become complacent and miss the bigger picture and forget who is at the center of it all. It is our duty as the church to empower each other and help one another to remember our purpose so we do not become idle.

Second, we are to encourage the fainthearted. The Greek word for fainthearted means to “speak alongside” or offer support and comfort. Paul is directing us to offer support and aid those who need a gentle push to do new things, whether that be beginning to volunteer in a new ministry or evangelize to those around them. 

Third, we need to help the weak. What this means is that we need to support those who are fragile in their faith. Often times, those who are fragile in their faith are more susceptible to temptations and sin and it is our job as a family to form a close relationship with those who need aid and prove instruction and encouragement towards glorifying God and away from sinfulness.

Fourth, we are expected to be patient with everyone. As anyone with an annoying sibling can attest, it is difficult to be patient, especially with those we are closest to. Paul encourages us to be slow to anger and ready to forgive our Christian family as often as needed.

Lastly, we are told not to pursue retribution when we are wronged by one another. There is nothing as painful as being hurt by family and it can be easy to respond in an emotional fashion but Paul tells us that it is important to be slow to anger and quick to forgive.

Gather •Devotion #3: Without Expectation

If you have attended a church for any period of time, you have most likely seen the greeting or welcome time. It is either that time when you feel really awkward (if you are like me) or it is that amazing time of the gathering where you finally get to talk to the people near you. It is when they ask you to stand up, turn around, and greet the people near you. At the church where my parents attend, the greeting time goes on for almost five minutes. People are walking up and down the aisles, checking in one another, telling jokes, and it is a beautiful symphony of semi-organized chaos. Even though I felt a bit awkward when I was part of their greeting times, it was so encouraging when someone I had not seen in a while came up to me and asked how I was doing and let me know how good it was to see me. It was such a small gesture, but it went a long way.

Now, the goal of this devotional is not to advocate for longer greeting times here at The River, but to show the difference that even the small gesture can make. I want to take you to Acts 20:35. Luke is writing, following the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul. He is recording the words of Paul, “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Paul is looking back to the words of Jesus. This passage has been used at times to encourage Christians to give financially to the work of the Lord, but that is not my goal here. 

Paul was a tentmaker. He made and sold tents as he went about his missionary journeys so as to not be a burden to any of the churches where he was ministering. Rather than requiring churches to pay him a certain amount to come, he would work and provide for himself so he could go as he pleased and minister to the places that might not have been able to “afford” him. In this, he had the freedom to go wherever the Spirit called him. This principle of giving rather than receiving can be seen throughout Scripture. Yet, how does this apply to gathering and 1V1? As I shared in the opening, the greeting time at my parents’ church was a blessing to me so many times. It is not because the people there were looking for me to come to them, but because they came to me and gave their encouragement and love. They understood the blessedness of giving without expectation. Today, give to someone else, your “one,” by reaching out and encouraging them without an expectation of them reaching out to you. God can take such a small gesture and do more with it than you could even imagine! 

Gather • Devotion #2: A Life of Worship

The hallmark of a religious person has always been going to church on Sundays. Some denominations would say, “Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, Wednesday nights, and every time the doors are open.” Over the years, I have asked many women if they have a personal relationship with Christ and the response I have often gotten is something like, “Yes, I have always believed in God. We went to church every Sunday when I was a kid.” At the risk of being ridiculed and showing my age, one of my favorite shows has always been “The Waltons.” It was one of the few shows we could watch and not be concerned about language or content. This Baptist family regularly attended church. However, one of the sub-themes of the show was that everyone went but the dad, John Walton. The family was always dressed to go in their Sunday best, while John sat at the family table with his coffee and paper. Olivia, the mom, would always ask him to come and Grandma (his mom) would say: “It wouldn’t hurt you to get some religion.” As a young believer, I came to the conclusion that John must not know Christ or he would have the desire to gather with the saints and worship his God. Yes, attending church has and always will be the mark of a believer.

What would happen if we could not go to church? Do not worry, there will always be churches to attend. Or would there? On March 13, 2020, President Trump declared a national emergency that would begin a national quarantine due to COVID 19. We were unable to attend church for the better part of three months. Prior to that, I spent most of my time talking with ladies about accepting Christ as their Savior and then gathering with the saints. Yet, now what? How will we worship? How will we encourage one another and receive the encouragement we need to live for Christ?

God used the quarantine (Romans 8:28) to grow me and the ladies I serve with by teaching us several truths. The first is found in 1 Corinthians 3:16, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” Paul was teaching the people of Corinth that they are God’s church, not a building. As long as there are believers, there will be God’s church.

The second truth that we learned is found in James 1:27, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Through our inability to gather on Sundays, God taught us that true religion is caring for people. Orphans and widows were the neediest of their culture. During the quarantine, the need was overwhelming. We learned to gather, worship, and encourage in new ways. To encourage the lonely, we often met in front yards to visit. We worked tirelessly to navigate technology so we could gather over Zoom, pray together, and study God’s Word. Ladies went grocery shopping for those with compromised health, visited with people shut in at retirement communities through windows, and prayed in the parking lot of hospitals when we were unable to go in to see people. Though the church was closed, we gathered, we encouraged, and according to scripture, we worshipped. 

The third truth we learned during the quarantine is Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put in your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” As we gave, God filled us with the peace, joy, and strength we needed to handle our own struggle and meet our own needs.

I want to reference John Walton again. In one of the episodes, John Boy asks his dad why he does not go to church. I cannot quote the dad but he tells his son that he thinks God is more concerned about how we live and treat others. Now, I do not know if John Walton knew Jesus and I do believe attending church is an important part of our lives as Christians, but it sounds to me like Mr. Walton knew something about James 1:27. Believer, true worship is caring for others.

Romans 12:1 adds, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” 

May we live a life of worship.

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