Gather • Devotion #2: Why Christians Gather

Most Christians make it a regular practice to attend a worship service at least once a week. I remember growing up that my family was at church every time the doors opened. On Sunday morning, we attended Sunday School at 9:45 am, followed by the morning worship service at 11:00 am. Sunday evenings, there were youth gatherings at 5:45 pm, followed by the evening worship service at 7:00 pm. Tuesday was Boys Brigade at 7:00 pm. Wednesday was Prayer Meeting at 7:00 pm. Thursday was Choir practice at 7:00 pm. My parents always made sure that we attended any service we could. 

Many people go to church because it was the way their parents raised them. I am thankful for my parents and how they raised me, but that cannot be the only reason I go to church each week. Have you ever stopped to think about why you go to church each week? In addition to what their parents taught them, some people will say it is what God expects, citing Hebrews 10:25, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some.” 

Christians gathering together is the right thing to do. However, I do not believe God wants us to do it just because it is the right thing to do. I believe God wants us to gather together for the right reasons. In Romans 10:1-3, Paul said that the Israelites were zealous toward God, but their zeal was not based on knowledge. They were trying to please God by completing a checklist on what they did for Him. The church at Laodicea did things for God, but Jesus described them as “lukewarm,” neither hot nor cold toward God. Because of their attitude, He wanted to spit them out of His mouth (Revelation 3:15-16).

So then, what are the right reasons we gather together? First of all, we gather together because we love God, and He is worthy of our worship. As we come together to worship God, we should prepare our hearts to worship Him. Our focus should be on Him, and we should come with thankful hearts for His sacrifice on our behalf, His provision for our lives, His protection over our lives, and His constant presence in our lives.

We also come together to worship God so that we can edify one another. The word edification comes from the root word edifice, meaning building or structure. We come together to build up one another and to encourage one another in the faith. Paul told us in Ephesians 4:11-13, “And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” The idea is that when Christians gather together, we build each other up and encourage each other in the faith, we become more mature in the Lord, and the church body becomes a strong witness for the Lord.

Another reason we gather together is that Christ is there with us. Jesus said in Matthew 18:20, For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Think of that; Jesus is right there in our midst when we gather together to worship Him. When we sing, He is right there, listening to our songs of praise. When we read His Word, He is right there listening to us. When we pray, He looks at our hearts and hears our words. When we truly worship Him, He is right there with us.

Wow! When we gather together in true worship, Jesus is right there in our midst. That should cause us to make sure our heart attitude is right when we gather together to worship, and that our focus is on Jesus, and Him alone. We might be able to fool people, but not God. He wants us to worship Him in truth.

We need to make sure that when we gather together each week that we have one focus – Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen (Romans 11:36)!

Gather • Devotion #1: Scrooge?

One of my favorite Christmas stories is a Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol.” The plot of the story follows an old man who is full of regret. He does not enjoy Christmas and is consumed with his own greed and self-importance. This man is Ebenezer Scrooge, and with that, we get the very term for any who do not have the Christmas spirit by referring to them as a scrooge. While watching the Disney version of this Christmas classic, I remarked to my wife how I totally understand why some become a scrooge during the holiday season. At one point in the original adaptation, Ebenezer loses the one whom he loves at Christmas. His father was abusive, his partner at the counting-house was corrupt, and all of these things had a profound effect on Scrooge. He was, at this time, all alone. 

How does this Victorian-era classic on the importance of selflessness have anything to do with gathering? Well, according to Hebrews 10:24-25, the author states, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” One can rightly assume that Scrooge was “neglected.” Scrooge was not welcomed; he was not given a “wellness check,” and no one cared about Scrooge because Scrooge did not care about anyone else. The importance of gathering is not about us. Instead, it is about God, it is about placing the Lord on His throne, and yet in those moments, we take the gathering and see what we can get out of it. In “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer was a miser who tried to swindle everything out of people to get what he wanted. Do we sometimes become a “scrooge” to God? 
As of late, I have really felt like a “scrooge” to the Lord. I cry out to Him asking for what I want: I want to grow closer to Him, I want to live by faith, and I want to be successful in my ministry. All of which are not bad things, yet my heart behind it is corrupted. I want to grow closer to Him so others can marvel at how my walk with Him is better than theirs. I want to live by faith so that I can be seen as this pillar of the community that does not struggle. I want to be successful in my ministry, so I can be a rock star preacher. All of those are me being greedy for the things of the Lord. Yet, when we gather, it is a good time for us to remember who it is that is in charge. The Apostle Paul states in his letter to the church of Rome, “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” (Romans 12:1). Our job as Christians is to live sacrificially, not to live with a consumeristic mentality. After this season of Christmas, I urge you that while we gather not to be a “Scrooge” to the Lord, but yet be those who live in the constant sacrifice to His will.

Reach • Devotion #6: Snatching

For the last couple of weeks, I have started my day by reading the Book of Jude. Normally, I read through a section and move forward, but I found a freshness in Jude that caught my attention.

It is only 25 verses, but it is rich with history, prophecy, object lessons, and practicality. Several things jumped out to me.

Paul’s opening greeting of his books regularly says, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Jude also greets with “peace” but says mercy instead of grace and adds love. “Mercy, peace, and love” (verse 2) bring a new perspective. 

In verse 3, he appeals us to “contend for the faith.” I do definitely see how this relates to our reach theme this week (or even grow), but a phrase that shows up later hit me harder.

Jude bluntly says that Jesus brought the people out of Egypt (verse 5). He references “angels who did not stay within their own position of authority” (verse 6), Sodom and Gomorrah (verse 7), “the archangel Michael contending with the devil” over the body of Moses (verse 9), Cain, Balaam and Korah (verse 11).

I loved the analogies he uses in verses 12-13: “waterless clouds swept along by winds” and “fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted.” He also references “wild waves” and “wandering stars.”

He refers to Enoch as a prophet and references the Lord coming with ten thousand of His holy ones (verse 14). I imagine this is the reference for the song, “He Could Have Called Ten Thousand Angels.”

As I have had my heart jump so many times in the Book of Jude, I then was hit with verses 22-23, “And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” The phrase “snatching them out of the fire” jumped out to me. Jude already referred to “eternal fire” (verse 7) and “utter darkness has been reserved forever” (verse 13), but the word “snatch” challenged me.

Have you ever burned yourself on the oven or stove? It is horrible. We are proactive in making sure our children do not get burned. Yet, we have loved ones headed into the fire while we sit back and watch. We need to snatch them out of the fire.

By the way, this word “snatch” is also used twice in John 10:27-29, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” As followers of Christ, we are safe, but what about those around us?

We need to fight for others. We need to snatch them out of the fire. I am challenged by the heart of Charles Spurgeon, “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.”

Who are you reaching out to so you may snatch them out of the fire?

Reach • Devotion #5: How Can We Reach the World?

So many times in our Christian walk, we feel inept to do that which we believe God has called us to do. Our past, lack of ability, knowledge, courage, or even faith often cripples us rendering us ineffective (in our opinion) for the cause of Christ. That is not a good place to be. How can we (me, a lawn jockey from nowhere) be an effective tool for God when thoughts like this are so common? It is good to look at a few people in the Bible. 

Moses did not believe he had the speaking capabilities to convey God’s message to Pharaoh to let the nation of Israel leave. God provided an answer. It says in Exodus 4:12-13, “‘Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.’ But he said, ‘Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.’” That was not good enough for Moses, and God gets frustrated with his lack of faith. So He gives Moses a helper in Exodus 4:15 in the form of his brother, Aaron. God speaks confidence into Moses by saying, “You shall speak to him [Aaron] and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do.In other words, God will equip us if He is calling us.

We can make a list of some others who were not qualified:

  • Gideon doubted God’s decision-making process and the ability to make an adequate army to defeat the Midianites.
  • Samson thought he could withstand the temptations of Delilah and still carry out God’s will.
  • David was an adulterous murderer.
  • The prophet Hosea was married to a prostitute.
  • The Samaritan woman at the well had such a past that she was ostracized from her community.
  • Peter and Andrew were uneducated fishermen.
  • Matthew was a tax collector and hated by his own people.
  • Thomas doubted that Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Paul murdered the believers in the early church.
  • Timothy was young.
  • John was old.

We need to face it; the Bible is filled with broken, inept, incapable people who, on their own, could not change a spiritual light bulb! (Definitely, put me in that category.) God does not need us to carry out His plan for humanity. However, when we submit to the super infusion of God’s will into our lives through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, He makes us capable. If we were capable on our own, we would not need God. Then who would receive the glory?

It is time to attempt to answer the question, “How do we reach the world?” In the words of a friend, “We open our mouths and trust God.” The things we identify that hold us back are the exact things that God wants to use to glorify Him. He rescued us from our past. We should be shouting it from the rooftops. Our insufficiencies in faith, knowledge, and courage are all changed as a result of Him being all-sufficient. It is only by taking the focus off of ourselves being incapable, and place unwavering faith in the fact that God is completely capable, that we become enabled to do what we are called to do!
In Matthew 28:19-20, we find what we call “The Great Commission.” It is a short synopsis of how we are to reach the world. In my mind, I can condense it down to the first word of verse 19, “go,and the last sentence of verse 20, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” He does not tell us to go do it on our own abilities, but that He will be with us to do what He has commanded us to do: Reach the world!

Reach • Devotion #4: Gandhi’s non-Testimony

Mahatma Gandhi has been quoted as having said, “Carefully watch your thoughts, for they become your words. Manage and watch your words, for they will become your actions. Consider and judge your actions, for they have become your habits. Acknowledge and watch your habits, for they shall become your values. Understand and embrace your values, for they become your destiny.” It is great advice, but I have always wondered about Gandhi’s destiny.

Heritage Baptist Church (Waxahachie, Texas) posted an article about Gandhi’s spiritual journey. It said that missionary E. Stanley Jones once met with Gandhi. Jones asked Gandhi, “Mr. Gandhi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming His follower?”

Gandhi replied, “Oh, I don’t reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

It appears that when Gandhi was practicing law in South Africa, he appreciated the teachings of Jesus and decided to attend Church. He had seriously considered becoming a Christian, but an elder of the Church refused for him to enter the building. The elder said, “There’s no room for Kaffirs [an insulting term for a black African] in this church. Get out of here, or I’ll have my assistants throw you down the steps.” Gandhi turned away, physically and spiritually. 

Gandhi, a Hindu, admired Jesus and often quoted from the Sermon on the Mount. He lived a good life and was a good example of humility. Hopefully, he was able to look past “Christians” and see Jesus for who He truly is and what He did for us.

I do not know Gandhi’s destiny, but I know no one is able to earn it. It is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 6:23) that is not based on morality. Romans 10:9 gives us what defines a Christian, “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

We, as Christians, need to be reminded that our lives might be the only Bible some people read.

Most people know John 3:16. It is interesting to grasp 1 John 3:16, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”
God loves us and expects us to love Him. One way to show Him love is to love others. As Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

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