“And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that Therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” Ephesians 6:19,20
One of the great American ships that dominated the high seas in the heyday of transatlantic travel was the SS United States, better known as the “Big U." The Big U was a passenger liner that was not only built for comfort, but for speed, setting and retaining the fastest transatlantic crossing for an ocean liner at 3 days, 10hrs and 40min. She was the last of her kind in the grand age of ocean travel as the celebrated days of crossing the Atlantic by liner would come to a close. The convenience and speed of air travel would quickly usher in the end of that era.
Today the ‘’Big U” has long been out of service and is only a shadow of what it used to be. As She sits idly tied to her moors in the city of Philadelphia, time and the elements have had their way, bathing her steel with rust and corrosion.
In comparison, as you look at the current state of that grand ship, it somewhat resembles that of a once vibrant and active Christian or Church, one that was on the move, bold, committed, serving; setting records with the Lord if you will.
But now it seems we have entered into a new era as well.
Door to door evangelism and Soul-Winning efforts have been replaced with live stream services and casual Christianity. That ‘grand ship’ now finds itself moored to the docks of silence and stillness; weather beaten by the cares of life and the rudiments of the world. So many of us in the Lord seem to be aimlessly adrift in the seas of distractions, doubt and discouragement.
Yet, Praise the Lord, in both cases there is cause for hope.
As for the “Big U”, it’s encouraging to know that a conservatory group has dedicated itself to one day seeing their beloved ship restored and returned to service on the high seas; to once again fulfill her role as the world’s “flagship” in ocean travel. They envision a day when her powerful engines would again stir the waters beneath her decks and those decks would be filled with happy passengers. Nevertheless, with this vision comes the reality that it takes willing resources, unyielding determination and great sacrifice to see it come to pass.
And for the idle Christian, the still Church, you are not without hope nor without an Advocate. No matter what era or state we find ourselves in, or however far we may have drifted from the Lord and His Great Commission, we can know, with all certainty, that Jesus is still in the business of ‘restoration’. We can know again the joy of serving Christ in sharing the good news of the word of God with a lost and dying world. And Just as that great ship has it’s hope in those that love her, so do we have the sure mercies of God, with rest and hope in the one that Loves us to the uttermost, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Be assured dear Christian, your Savior is far more willing, far more determined and far more capable in the work of restoration than any human or earthly effort could ever be. Jesus promises that He will “never leave nor foresake thee”. He also says, “Behold I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me”. The seasons may change; the times may change, yet the Lord declares, “I change not”! “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to day, and forever”
What a comfort to know God’s promises!
So along with those that would love to see that great ship cast off her lines and set sail again, let us pray as God’s people, that His servants, His Church and all those that labor and have labored for the cause of Christ, would likewise cast off their lines from the bounds of idleness and complacency to once again serve the Lord to the fullest, realizing again their call and purpose in the Lord; to be the “flagship” of the Gospel as the Ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Spencer Close, Bus Director, Sharon Baptist Church
As we continue to look at what the Word of God has to say about the local church, I would like us to consider Acts chapter 20 and verse 28. In this particular chapter, Paul is speaking to a specific group of people (the Ephesian elders). Paul is on his way to Jerusalem and though he does not know exactly what will take place when he arrives there, he does understand that the Holy Spirit has been warning him that he will be bound and arrested (Acts 20:23; Acts 21:11).
The Scriptures really give us a strong indication that Paul may have thought this was the end of His time here upon this earth (Acts 21:13; II Timothy 4:6). It is for this reason that this particular verse is so weighty. Oftentimes people in their last days communicate the most important subjects. Our Lord Jesus Christ for instance, before He ascended back to the Father, gave to the disciples the ‘Great Commission’ in its five facets.
Notwithstanding, Paul was very diligent not only to see people saved and local churches planted, he consistently cared for these fledgling New Testament churches as well as the individuals in these local assemblies. We read in the book of Acts and the epistles that Paul visited and wrote to these assemblies and individuals and wherever possible physically visited and met with them face to face. Paul understood the importance and need for the care of the flock. Against that background we can now proceed to look at this verse in greater detail. The Bible says:
“Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.” (Acts 20:28-31)
Paul in this verse makes 3 statements of specific duties for these under-shepherds along with two statements of fact that we would do well to understand.
The first specific duty for the pastor is to attend to his own spiritual wellbeing. Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, makes clear with strong language that they are to “Take heed…” to their own spiritual welfare. Certainly, we understand that a pastor must have a vibrate fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
But notice secondly, the pastor is to attend to the spiritual wellbeing of all the flock. Who is the flock? The flock are the saved members of a local church. In this case, it was those that were in Ephesus and the areas surrounding Ephesus (Acts 20:17). This presents a problem indeed for those who will not assemble to the church house. How is a pastor to gauge and attend to the spiritual wellbeing of individuals who are not presently active with the local church? Does live stream meet this need? (Can individuals ‘bear one another’s burdens’ who are not engaged in corporate prayer? Can individuals participate in the evangelistic activities of the local church if they are not there? Can individuals interact with their local brothers and sisters in Christ if they are not there? Can individuals vote or participate in the mission's program or any number of business matters of the local church if they are not there?) Someone may be able to do some of these things by phone, by visiting others and by their own individual efforts. The likelihood of this taking place outside of the local assembly is improbable and most likely doomed to fail because it is attempted individually.
Notice that Paul presents the first of two fact statements coupled with this injunction. He states, “…over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers…” Ponder the weight of that responsibility. Our Almighty God has specifically and providentially chosen these men for this task and therefore will hold them accountable.
Let us continue and see the third specific duty for the pastor. The verse goes on to state that the pastor is to “…feed the church of God…” This denotes the duty of the pastor to attend to the spiritual nourishment of all the flock. We understand from the Word of God, that “…Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) We also understand that Jesus Christ Himself is the Bread of life. (John 6:48 – We must never think that all we need our Savior for is the moment of Salvation… ‘the day I got saved’... but He is and always will be the Bread of life.) Because of this, the corporate worship of our God and Savior Jesus Christ has a vital role in the life of a Christian. Think about how the service of the local church is structured. We sing together about our wonderful God, praising Him for who He is and what He has said. We pray together to our wonderful God, speaking to Him enjoined together as one body of believers. We give of our tithes and offerings as an act of submission to our wonderful God and Savior corporately. We listen together to His Holy Word as we desire to here from and be instructed by Him. We humbly come to an altar in a physical and spiritual act of submission sacrificing ourselves which is our reasonable service (Romans 12:1,2). All of this is led by the pastor because of the injunction to “…feed the church of God…” These are not just things we do to check off a box of attendance, but are a purposeful and integral part of the Christian’s life.
I would like to close by mentioning the second fact statement that should move us greatly. It is simply this: this local church called Sharon Baptist Church in the town of Hampton, VA has been purchased by our Lord Jesus Christ with His blood. This was mentioned by Paul because of the importance in the caretaking of this local body. The all-encompassing motivation in our lives is the love of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. We are of great value because of the price that He paid. The local assembling of believers for the corporate worship of Him is vital and important because He has made it important by the price that He paid for us. Praise the Lord for His graciousness to us!
- Pastor James, Associate Pastor, Sharon Baptist Church
Many times, when we consider church attendance one main verse comes to mine (Hebrews 10:25 "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching."). That familiar verse has been spoken about often and because of this we may think this is the only verse in the Bible that speaks about our gathering together as a local body of believers: church.
We have come to a period of time in history where many are forsaking the house of God, and because of this they are missing out on God’s best for their lives. (And yes, when I say forsaking, I am speaking about those who choose not to personally individually physically gather with other believers at a specific time for a specific purpose. The definition for a local church necessarily calls for us to be gathered together, not in a virtual sense, but in a physical sense. The building is not necessary, but God’s people being together is necessary.)
Over the next few weeks I would like to discuss some verses from the Word of God that speak to this all-important subject. It is my desire, that you would see how God places emphasis on His people coming together to worship Him and be equipped for His work.
I would like us to first consider the following verse out of the book of Psalms.
Psalm 84:4 states, “Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee. Selah.”
The inscription to this Psalm (Psalm 84) reads, “To the chief Musician upon Gittih, A Psalm for the sons of Korah.” Although the meaning of the word 'Gittih' is up for debate, we immediately understand that the sons of Korah were Levites. Their sacred responsibility was to minister in God’s house. In this case, this was a hymn written for them (the sons of Korah). The Levites had the great privilege of ministering not only in the Tabernacle, but the Temple as well. This was the place where God designated for His people, the nation of Israel, to meet with Him.
In verse 2 of this same Psalm, the psalmist expresses His yearning to be in the courts of the LORD. He cries out, (v2)“My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.”
It is surely a sad state that we have come to when His people do not long to be gathered together and come to His house. The writer of this psalm well understood what a privilege it was in his day to be involved in the worship of God.
However, let us turn our attention back to the aforementioned verse. I want you to key in on the first word in verse 4. The Bible says, “Blessed are they dwell in thy house…” From this we discover, that there is a peculiar and special blessing attached with being in God’s house. Many will exclaim, “I am blessed,” when asked how they are doing. But I want you to notice that those who do not come to the house of God cannot claim this blessing. What is the blessing? Well notice the rest of the verse, the Bible states, “…they will be still praising thee. Selah.” (The word 'Selah' means 'to meditate', or 'stop and consider'. In this we understand that the psalmist is wanting to provide emphasis on this section.)
How many Christians today run on empty when it comes to praising God? They find themselves in a place where they have lost the joy of their Salvation. They discover that they have lost the joy of the Christian life. Why? Because they have forsaken God’s house.
Let me encourage you today, to attend to your spiritual needs with great emphasis and come dwell in His house.
- Pastor James, Associate Pastor, Sharon Baptist Church
As we look back at the written Word of God, we are privileged to understand how blessed we are today. In the book of I Peter, the apostle wrote to those early Christians who forged on in perilous times (what a great example they have given us). They lived in a world that was hostile toward the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
Their longing was to be once again physically in the presence of their King in whom they had placed their trust. All of this sounds familiar, does it not? Much like us today they felt as though the Lord Jesus Christ would come soon. They were in great affliction and needed great comfort.
Here in I Peter chapter 1, Peter was moved by the Holy Ghost to pen these very words that give such a great reference to the birth, life, death, burial and resurrection of Christ.
Notice what Peter says,
v10 Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:
v11 Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.
v12 Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.
Our early predecessors, the prophets, had been blessed by God to prophesy concerning “…the grace that should come…” (v10)
They searched out the coming of the Messiah (v10,11) and also “…testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ…” (v11) as well as His resurrection. Yet even with all of that revelation they did not have the blessing of seeing His birth, His life, His death, His burial and His resurrection take place on this earth. Nor did they have the blessing of looking backward to see how Christ came, He lived, He died, was buried and is alive forevermore. Further we see they were not partakers in the same manner, as New Testament Christians “…of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven…”(v12)
What a blessed Christmas you and I get to enjoy with the full knowledge of what has already taken place in that birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! What a blessed Christmas to know the indwelling presence of the Holy Ghost! Never take for granted what God has blessed us with as you celebrate Christmas this year!
- Pastor James, Associate Pastor, Sharon Baptist Church
Matthew 28: 18-20 "And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen."
- The Components of the Mission
Mark 16:15 "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." - The Command of the Mission
Luke 24: 48-49 "And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high." – The Capability to complete the Mission
John 20:21 "Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you." – The Commission of the Mission
Acts 1:8 "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." – The Carrying out of the Mission
In each of the above verses God’s Word outlines for us what has been labeled by some as the Great Commission. In each of the Gospel accounts given to us, including the book of Acts, the mission is laid out. Each of these verses present the mission but vary in the details given. The first verse listed is Matthew 28:18-20 and speaks to the components of the mission.
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
The components spoken of here suggest a multifaceted mission. Jesus speaking to the Apostles first presents His authority in giving the mission. “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” Because of the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ he states that we are to “Go.” This dictates to you and I an action on our behalf. What are we to go and do? First, we are to “teach all nations.” The message we are to teach is none other than the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The context for this Gospel message is the individual and their need for salvation that can only be found through Jesus Christ. Next the Bible declares those who accept this Gospel message and our saved by God’s grace are to be baptized. As this verse declares, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost:” The proper order according to this verse is salvation followed by believer’s baptism. The semi-colon here suggests a connection to the third part of this continuing mission which is “Teaching them to observe whatsoever things I commanded you:” This third part of the commission includes discipleship and church membership. Teaching is done through the local New Testament church. The equipping work is accomplished for this continuing mission in part by those who are spiritually gifted to teach and preach God’s Word according to Ephesians chapter 4. These are the components of the mission. Secondly, we have Mark chapter 16, the command of the mission.
Mark 16:15 “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”
This command is universal in audience as indicated by the personal pronoun “ye” which is plural. Not only is this command universal for every Christian but it is also universal in scope. The Gospel message is to be proclaimed by all Christians to all of the world. Thus, the Lord includes “preach the gospel to every creature.” There are no exclusive rights to the Gospel message. It is a message that applies to all men, regardless of nationality or ethnic background. It applies to all geography, wherever man lives the message is to be brought to him. We are to bring this message by going and delivering the message. Thus, it is said in Romans chapter 10 and verse 14 “…how shall they hear without a preacher?” As we move on down the list of verses we come to Luke chapter 24 were the Lord gives us the capability to complete the mission.
Luke 24: 48-49 “And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high."
In Matthew 19: 16-29 the Lord encounters a rich young ruler who exclaims, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” Sadly, this young man in mistaken that heaven can be obtained through works. At the end of this narrative Jesus gives the assessment, “Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” This statement shocks the disciples as they perhaps reexamine this young man’s status in life in their minds. Here was a man that was successful in the world. Here was a man that was successful in religious matters, but yet the Lord had uttered these words, “how hardly…” Jesus’ disciples exclaim the impossibility of salvation: “When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?” To which Jesus replies,“With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” What a wonderful truth; the possible impossibility! Left to our own devices salvation is impossible, but through faith in Jesus Christ by God’s grace men can be saved. The same statement could be made for you and I concerning the monumental task of world evangelism, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” The possibility of completing this task does not lie in what man can do, but rather what God can do. And so, in Luke 24, our Lord and Savior gives us the indication that power to complete the mission will be sent from the Father, which is the Holy Ghost. As we continue examining these verses in the book of John we are given the commission of the mission.
John 20:21 "Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you."
Our mission of world evangelism is not a mission to be completed alone, but rather is a co- mission. As the Father has sent the Son so the Son sends us. This mission is not ours but rather we become co-laborers with God. We are ambassadors for Jesus Christ and as stated in 1 Corinthians 3:9, “For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building.” Our mission is not our mission at all but rather His mission that we by His grace get to take part in. “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33) Lastly, in the book of Acts we are shown the pattern for the carrying out the mission. As it was demonstrated from the very beginning:
Acts 1:8 "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth."
According to Acts 2 the power of the Holy Spirit was given. Moving forward from Acts 2, the carrying out of the mission has been underway. It started in Jerusalem and moved into Judaea. From there the Gospel was carried to Samaria and through Paul’s labor went to the uttermost. But in every generation, there is a Jerusalem to be reached, a Judaea to reached, a Samaria that needs the Gospel. The Gospel is to continue on to the edge of the map, the uttermost. This is the carrying out of the mission. It starts from the local New Testament church and moves out to all nations; step by step and piece by piece. In totality the: who, what, when, where, why, and how is answered by these verses concerning the Great Commission.
- Pastor James, Associate Pastor, Sharon Baptist Church
Why Meet in Person?
Over the past few months, most churches have stopped meeting in person. A global pandemic, government regulations, and a desire to serve each other and society have kept us from gathering. Instead, we’ve held “services” online, met “virtually,” and used technology to connect.
Many churches are now resuming our meetings, or will soon. But these new services feel strange. Our sensitivities are heightened, our differences are on display, and we have to endure restrictions and protocols that are awkward, inconvenient, and frustrating. Then, no matter how safe we make it, some of our church family still can’t come.
With all this in mind, some believers may feel tempted not to come at all. If our restored gatherings are so different and restricted, our online options so available and convenient, and our physical presence a genuine vulnerability, why should we even meet in person?
This is a valid question. But before we make our decisions, we need to reflect on the importance of our gatherings so that our desire to meet grows instead of atrophying.
So unless you’re someone who needs to stay home for health reasons, here are ten reasons to come back to church.
1. We’re Embodied Creatures
God made Adam from earth’s soil, Eve from Adam’s side, and humanity from their union (Gen. 1:26–27; 2:18–25; 3:20). We’re embodied souls, male and female, in his image. We’re not ethereal beings made to float in virtual space. We’re not just pixels and screennames, headshots on Zoom and Facetime. We’re human beings. We’re designed to see and hear and taste and touch and feel our way through the physical world God’s made. In recent months, we’ve seen the power of our online world. But we’ve also felt its limitations. No loving couple gladly accepts a “long-distance relationship” as ideal. Neither should a loving church family.
2. The Church Is One Body
The Bible consistently teaches that the church is Christ’s body on earth (Eph. 1:22–23). Each believer is a different body part, but we’re intricately knitted together (Eph. 4:15–16). We’re not independent but interdependent. Our spiritual gifts are like eyes and ears and hands and feet that each play their part in the body’s growth and mission. Yes, even at a distance, we’re still Christ’s body. But like any healthy body, we shouldn’t want to stay dislocated.
3. The Spirit Is Drawing Us
Not only are believers one body; we also have one Spirit (Eph. 4:4). The Holy Spirit—the third person of the Trinity—inhabits God’s church, and he’s always drawing us toward unity. God’s Spirit can’t be divided, so when believers are separated involuntarily, we feel the tension—like a rubber band stretched too far. The Spirit within us yearns for us to be together, like that same rubber band pulling us back in.
4. We’re A Spiritual Family
In the church, God is our adoptive Father, so we’re all spiritual siblings—God’s “household” (1 Tim. 3:15). With our different ages and genders, Paul even calls us fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters (1 Tim. 5:1–2). But families aren’t meant to be separated. Healthy families live together, laugh together, cry together, and help each other. Parents with grown children love when the adult kids get together—and those parents are only fully satisfied when everyone’s present. We must be faithful during this season to reach out to those who can’t safely join us. But all who are able should seek to gather for our life-giving family reunions.
5. Preaching Is A Sacred Moment
Our generation is used to John Piper sermons and Beth Moore videos and Ravi Zacharias clips. Phones and screens and apps are now our default medium. In just three months, we’ve even grown used to watching our own pastors and leaders teach God’s word through WiFi and glass. In this digital environment, we must remember that preaching is fundamentally a live, sacred moment (Acts 20:20, 27). Yes, it can be streamed and recorded and posted, benefiting both virtual attendees and future hearers. But for a local family of believers, God’s word is best communicated live as the Spirit empowers an appointed preacher and trusted shepherd to articulate God’s word personally in a moment pregnant with purpose and possibility. In these moments, pastors shepherd their own sheep, and sheep hear the voice of their shepherds. In these moments, we’re struck not only by the content of the message but also the gravity of the moment. When we hear God’s word taught in a congregation, we resonate not only with our risen Lord and his royal word, but with each other. A feast enjoyed together is better than food eaten alone.
We’re human beings. We’re designed to see and hear and taste and touch and feel our way through the physical world God’s made.
6. There’s Nothing Like Singing Together
There’s no experience on earth like congregational singing (Ps. 95:1–2). Singing together glorifies God by re-enthroning him in the hearts of his people. Singing together brands our minds with truth and warms our hearts with grace. Singing together symbolizes our unity as we harmonize over the gospel. Singing together expresses our emotions to God (and we have lots of emotions right now). But we don’t just sing to glorify God; we also sing to encourage each other (Col. 3:16). And we can’t sing to each other through a screen. Yes, we’re vulnerable:
Congregational singing could get an American Christian infected, just like it could get a Chinese Christian arrested. But like the underground church has always done, God’s people will figure out how to praise him together, as faithfully and safely as possible. We’ll wear masks, or clean the air, or meet outside, or recite psalms, or even whisper. But ultimately, God will hear the rising praises of the Christian church, and it will be good if we’re there to express them together.
7. We Need Baptisms And Communion
Whether your church has practiced these ordinances “virtually” or not, every believer needs to see and taste these gracious symbols so that we can sense the gospel story once again. Baptism and communion remind us that God communicates to us in sensory ways. In these two ordinances, we taste and touch and see and hear the gospel, whether the splash of water in a baptismal tank [pictures the …] new believer dies and rises with Christ, or the broken bread and crushed grapes that feed us with the remembrance of his sacrifice (Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 11:26). The way we practice these things may look different for a season, but our hearts will need them more than we know.
8. You Have A Job To Do
If you’re a believer, you have a job to do when the church gathers. The work of ministry isn’t mainly for pastors and leaders. It’s for every Christian. Every believer has spiritual gifts meant to be used, and every church body desperately needs every body part to be active (Rom. 12:4–8; Eph 4:15–16; 1 Pet. 4:10–11). When we stay home, we can still listen and give and call and text virtually. But there are many ways we simply can’t serve or encourage or build up Christ’s body unless we’re physically present.
9. Our Worship Is A Witness
Each week our friends and neighbors and coworkers walk through the same broken world we do, but without our hope and our map. Each week they suffer challenges and tragedies that make them wonder where grace and truth can be found. Yes, there are ways we can minister to them online, and we should rejoice that God’s now reaching new people with new methods. But the unbelieving world also needs to see the gospel’s transforming power embodied in a local family of Christians who love God and serve each other in the most gracious and gritty ways.
10. Greetings Change Lives
It may seem strange to end with the act of greeting—a simple activity that’s become so restricted and complicated. But all over the New Testament, the writers not only greet the churches but ask Christians to greet each other. These greetings aren’t just an afterthought tacked onto the end of their letters. These greetings symbolize the reconciling power of the gospel and foster our family dynamic. The way we greet each other—and the fact that we greet each other—is central to the church’s life and witness. Happy greetings remind us of the gospel unity we enjoy in Christ. Awkward greetings declare that the healthy church shows no partiality. Avoided greetings remind us to resolve our conflicts and reconcile our hearts. Every greeting reflects God’s love, reunites Christ’s body, enables hospitality, cultivates selflessness, opens doors for ministry, and bears witness to the God who’s welcomed us through Christ. Even if these greetings are masked, touchless, and distanced, they’re still life-shaping micro-events in every church. Just recently, our church held an outdoor worship service in our parking lot after not meeting for ten weeks. What were the happiest, most explosive moments? Our greetings. We need to see each other.
You may not be able to return right away. You might need to exercise caution for yourself or those you love. You might need to keep watching from a distance for a while. But when the time is right, God’s people can and must gather again, and I hope you’ll join in. After all, our gatherings are ultimately a taste of heaven. The Bible’s vision of heaven doesn’t look like a quarantine, a livestream, or a Zoom call. It’s a “face to face” encounter with the risen Christ and a worshipful reunion of both saints and angels (Heb. 12:22–23; Rev. 22:4). In the life to come, we won’t be siloed and segregated in mansions of glory, but living and working and loving and serving together in a new world where righteousness dwells (2 Pet .3:13). So, once we know it’s safe, wise, and no disservice to our communities, let’s gather together again—in person—until all things are new.
One thing that is so wonderful about God’s word is the fact that, regardless of whatever the era, generation, culture or government system, the Word of God is never out of date, never out of touch and never ‘at a loss’ for an answer. The truths contained in scripture are timeless and eternal, and will always be found relevant, appropriate and valid in any age. For the Word of God tells us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning”. James 1:17
For our Saturday Morning Bus Ministry/Sunday School prayer time, we will look at how the acts of an Old Testament king speak to our situation today. The King’s name was Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, whose legacy was pretty much wrapped up in the label that God would later give him; “Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin”. The Lord makes this reference to him fourteen times. So, safe to say he was a pretty bad King.
In the book of 1Kings, after a series of events that followed the death of King Solomon, the kingdom would become split, and Jeroboam, who was a servant of Solomon would be proclaimed King of Israel in the north, taking with him ten of the 12 tribes of Israel, and Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, would become King of Judah in the south, reigning over the remaining tribes of Judah and Benjamin from the capital city of Jerusalem.
All that led up to this division can be found in the books of 1Kings 12, and 2Chronicles 10, so to limit the length of our devotion I’ll not go into much of the details except to say this …Sin was the root cause of it…as always. But rather the focus will be on what would be the ultimate goal of that division.
1. The ‘new normal’
Jeroboam, as the king of Israel, new that his success as king would depend heavily upon this; that the ten tribes under his control maintain their identity as God’s people. But Jeroboam would re-establish that relationship on new terms..his and not God’s. He knew that he had to do something to keep them from going to Jerusalem to worship…as they should have. This he couldn’t allow, knowing it would cost him the kingdom; “And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David: If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah” 1Kings 12-26,27
Understanding that their desire to worship would draw them back to Jerusalem and back to the truth, he had to give them some kind of an ‘alternative’. So, what does he do? He does what is the unthinkable and turns the people to idols. He sets up two images of golden calves, one in Dan and the other in Bethel. He then appoints Priests at his leisure, not from the tribe of Levi, as God had ordained in Num 1:47-53, but from among the common people. He continues the imitation game by establishing Temples (high places) as new centers of worship. All of this because he knew that if they went “up” to Jerusalem to worship, that the truth would win, they would return to the house of David (King Rehoboam) and ultimately return to serve God as God would have it. It seems that King Jeroboam may have been the first to coin the popular phrase, “new normal” And sadly we don’t have to look too far to see the same thing happening in our world today, especially in this hour.
2. Idols are never idle
Jeroboam’s idols represented much more than a just a corrupted alternative to worship, they stood, by design, as spiritual roadblocks to the children of Israel; intending to keep God’s people from true worship and the truth of God’s Word. We can see the same “imitation game” being played out today, not only to keep the lost in darkness, but to keep God’s people from dwelling and abiding in the truth. Would the Devil move to capitalize somehow on our current state of separation from the norms of congregational worship? I think yes, and his own declaration in Isaiah 14 would sustain the accusation; “For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north”. To imitate God is the Devil’s nature and this is a game that He understands very well. Satan has made the imitation game to be his primary precept and practice ever since the day of his creation; “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High”, Isa 14:4. But Praise the Lord, verse 15 comes after 14, “Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit”.
That’s right, he is defeated!
3. Our God has a desire
There are great lessons we can learn from this passage and the acts of Jeroboam, but the greater of them is this: That the truth of God will always prevail. In 1kings 13:1 God sends a prophet to rebuke Jeroboam and remind him that his imitation game was known of God and that a King out of the house of David would later burn the bones of his prophets upon his altar. This “man of God”, sent by God, came to declare the truth of God, by the Word of God, “And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the LORD unto Bethel”. And there he “cried against the altar in the word of the LORD”.
Although this prophet would later err, his willingness to rebuke the evil of his day is what I would like to be our focus. Isn’t this what we need today, the man of God to declare the truth of God’s word and the boldness to do it. We know well that our God is an omniscient God, that our God is omnipresent and omnipotent, and we know that He needs nothing. God certainly has a desire and design though for the “Man of God”.
Does the Lord have a design and desire for His children?” Yes, He does…He desires that the Preacher would preach the Gospel of His Son Jesus Christ. He desires His people to raise up holy hands in prayer, rather than to corruptible idols. He desires for a Sunday School Teacher to share and teach Jesus Christ crucified, buried and risen again. He desires for Bus Captains to go out into the highways and hedges and bring them in that they may come to know the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Yes, He desires much for you and I!
He desires a nursery worker to whisper hymns in the ears of those little ones, He desires today, more than ever, that men and women will take the time to love and teach Teens and Juniors. Beloved, have our young people ever needed God more than right now? Suicide, drug use, anxiety, godlessness, hopelessness; only look around…has it ever been this dire? God desires that His people would step up to accomplish these wonderful works.
4. The High Places of Jeroboam
The Covid Virus pandemic has taken the lives of so many, and with it has come a pandemic of fear and unrest. But it also brought out a lot of good from the citizens of this great country; health care workers, first responders and retail workers have really put it on the line for all of us. But the actions of some has not been to heal and lift us up, but to tear down and promote chaos. However, we know who and what it is that we wrestle against, Eph 6:12.
5. What will it take?
Ultimately we understand this, that the focus of the evil of this world is trained on Jesus Christ and Him alone, for the world hated Him long before it hated us; “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you”, John 15:18.
What did it take to set Jeroboam back on his heels? It was God’s man crying against those works with the “Word of the Lord”. The Word of God, that is the weapon of warfare, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword…” Heb 4:12a.
And what will it take for us to set the evil of this day back on its heels? The same thing; Men and Women of God, crying against it with the “Word of the Lord”, for we do not depend on the arm of flesh but on God, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds”, 2Corith 10:4
The sum of the matter is this: That God is in control and none of this has taken Him by surprise. Even in the days of Jeroboam and the division of the kingdom, God never once had his hand off the wheel. He raised up a voice then, and He will do it again today. And when the devil lifts up his hand and points his finger at those who declare the truth of God’s word, the Lord will cause it to dry up, just as he did with Jeroboam’s in 1Kings 13:4.
“Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me” Isaiah 6:8
Is He asking you to be that voice?
- Spencer Close, Bus Ministry Director, Sharon Baptist Church
“Christ is all I need, Christ is all I need, All, all I need. Christ is all I need, Christ is all I need, All, all I need. He was crucified, For me He died, On Calvary. That He loved me so, This is why I know, Christ is all I need.” (Hymn - Author Unknown)
This great hymn is found in most hymnals but bears the authorship of unknown. Perhaps this is best because any Christian can put their name as owning these words.
In Colossians chapter 2 Paul is writing to Christians in Colossae and also Laodicea. Paul emphasizes what is most needful for the Christian life and that is Jesus Christ Himself.
The Bible tells us concerning the Laodiceans that they had become lukewarm (Revelation 3:14-22). How did this happen? They were lukewarm because they had turned away from the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. In doing so, they became dulled to their spiritual poverty.
Consider the following statements:
There is no such thing as a Christian without Jesus Christ.
There is no salvation without Jesus Christ.
There is no real victory without Jesus Christ.
There is no resurrection unto life without Jesus Christ.
There is no reconciliation without Jesus Christ.
There is no peace without Jesus Christ.
These few words, though magnificent in their subject, are but a small drop in the bucket; wholly insufficient to describe our wonderful Lord and Saviour and our life with Him.
If I could say it more pointedly and plainly, our lives are meaningless and empty without Jesus Christ. Further, our ministering to others will come to nothing if He is not the beginning, middle, and end of all that we are and do.
He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the Beginning and the End. He is the Author and Finisher of our faith; but we forget He is also the Sustainer of our being.
From Colossians chapter 2 we may note a few items concerning our fellowship with the Lord.
We see first of all:
The Great Conflict
Paul had a great conflict. He states, (v1) "For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them that are at Laodicea…” The word translated as 'conflict' in this statement means agony. Paul is expressing the great 'agony' that he had for those young believers in both Colossae and Laodicea. His 'agony' was for these Christians not to forsake what should be primary in their Christian life; fellowship with Him (Jesus Christ). Many Christians have come to a place of emptiness because they have allowed their personal fellowship with the Lord to become nonexistent.
Paul goes on to say that he desires that they would be comforted (v2). Today, we recognize that we live in troublesome times. We can say for certainty that these are the last days. Paul describes these days in II Timothy 3:1 as ‘perilous times.' Peter describes this time period as the ‘last days’ (II Peter 3:3) and Jude describes it as the ‘last times’ in Jude 18. If this is so, how are we to be comforted in these days?
The answer is, we are comforted in the riches of Christ Jesus. Paul describes this for us in verse 2. He states, we are to be knit together in love. ( v2 “….being knit together in love…”) This being knit together in love has everything to do with Jesus Christ. (See Colossians 2:19) The word love used by Paul here is godly love; an agape love. That kind of love is only possible through a vibrant relationship and fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
He continues his thought stating that not only are we to be knit together in love but “…unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding…” We are to have a firm persuasion or conviction as to the truth (God's Word). Does this mean that there are Christians that waver in their faith? Yes there are! Any Christian that gets away from Jesus Christ will not have the comfort and full assurance of understanding. When people do not have a firm handle on their life 'in Christ' they will be lacking comfort and this assurance of understanding. When doubt begins to creep into the heart, it indicates a lack of fellowship with the Lord.
Paul finishes this verse by stating that those enjoying the riches of Jesus Christ come “…to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ;…” This mystery concerns the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. And it is indeed a mystery! Paul does not say we have plunged to the depths of this mystery, but we acknowledge the Triune God. John Philips said this about this phrase, “The mystery of God is Christ. He is the one who incarnates the fulness of the Godhead. There’s enough mystery in that one thought alone to keep our minds and hearts occupied for all eternity." And to that I say – Amen….Our fellowship with Jesus Christ should be thrilling to us!
Not only do we see the great conflict but we are given:
The Great Command
In verse 6, we find these words, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him:” In other words, the conversation of our lives (how we live day to day) has everything to do with Him. We are to walk “in Him...” In verse 7 Paul describes both an abiding and an abounding as we walk "in Him..." Notice this phrase, we are to be “Rooted and built up in him," and “stablished in the faith.” This phrase speaks to the beginning of the Christian life and all that pertains to it afterward. We are born again having received the seed of the Word of God, that message of Salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord. That Word then sprung forth from the soil of our hearts and we are to be built up “in Him.” Paul moves forward from this subject of abiding to the subject of abounding. He states, “…as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving." A great many people have invested their knowledge of Jesus Christ in you. There has been much in the way of training, preparation, and teaching that has gone into your Christian life. So much so, that all of us could say, 'as I have been taught…' These in Colossae had been taught, and with that impartation of great spiritual knowledge there was a stewardship. They were not only to abound in the teachings of Jesus Christ but they were to do so with thanksgiving. One of the biggest ways for us to continue in our vibrant fellowship with the Lord is by praying with thanksgiving. Oftentimes we are so quick to supplicate, but let us first remember to be thankful. Sometimes it would do us good to just thank God for all that He is and all that He has done in our lives.
We see not only the great conflict, and the great command, but next we see:
The Great Caution
If there was a warning label we could affix to every Christian, it would begin with the words BEWARE (v8). What are we to beware of? Paul states in verse 8, beware of Philosophy and Vain Deceit. Philosophy and vain deceit come into the Christian life when we begin to place anything above our personal fellowship with the Lord. Any number of idols could be mentioned. (ie. Service to the Lord, Church Attendance, Numbers on Sunday, Souls-saved, Verse Memorization etc...) These byproducts of walking "in Christ" are not bad things, but can quickly become idols. Once these idols are set up, philosophies and vain deceit will become appealing. We will often be tempted to utilize the “latest philosophy” which is often carnal in design to achieve the byproducts of the abundant Christian life. These philosophies and deceiving ideas can quickly be identified by trying them against the Word of God. We find that these philosophies and traditions of the World are after the ‘rudiments of men.” In other words, they are flesh born and not after Jesus Christ.
To combat this common infirmity of the flesh, Pauls speaks finally of:
The Great Completion
Notice his statement in verse 10, “And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:” What a tremendous statement! Oh, how that should comfort our weary souls! There is nothing more that we need, He is our all in all. Paul pens for you and I in this verse that we are lacking nothing in Jesus Christ. What we need is a vibrant fellowship with Him! Let it be our firm desire and conviction to cherish our fellowship with the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, after all Christ is all we need!
Pastor James, Associate Pastor, Sharon Baptist Church
As the world continues its descent into chaos over a global health crisis, it provides a unique
opportunity to check on our spiritual health. With houses of worship shut down, Satan would love to use this opportunity to separate believers, sow fear and discord among His children, and stop every opportunity to witness. Unfortunately for him, we have many tools available to continue our witness.
I have seen countless missionaries and many churches, including Sharon Baptist Church, using social media to spread the good news of the gospel. I am asked a lot by my coworkers what God's plan through all of this is. I can honestly say to them that whatever is going on in life or in the world, God's plan has never changed. Everything is centered around an opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior! That is it. It is what our eternal destination depends on. It is the most important decision we will ever make.
This time in our history is a perfect example of how GOD can show us how easily life can change on a moment's notice. Those that have their trust in bank accounts, houses, cars, and other riches now see how fragile life can be. Within a matter of approximately a few weeks, our way of life has changed drastically. I can tell my coworkers I am shocked as much as they are, but the bible gives us assurance.
Isaiah 40:31 tells us, “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
The bible tells me I have no reason to be afraid. No one wants to contract this virus. With all that being said, you and I need to use common sense during this crisis. Wash our hands regularly, protect our brothers and sisters in Christ, and everyone else we come into contact with. I have the blessed assurance that if I do get sick, I can trust GOD to heal me, or call me home to be with Him, but “not making it” is not the end for me. The bible tells me it is just the beginning.
All believers have had that “moment” when GOD showed us that HE was there. I can look back to my own testimony. I was serving in the military in Iceland in the mid 90's, close to the North Pole. Certainly, I thought, GOD isn't here. Shortly after I had that thought, GOD began to work on my heart, and my wife's heart at the same time. We both desperately had a burning desire to hear His word. I knew that the base chapel would not provide what we desired, so we both started to pray about it.
Suddenly, I was getting my haircut, and the barber started talking about an Easter Cantata at church. I asked about the details, and he told me about an American missionary that started First Baptist Church Njardvik. Brother Johnny Wright had been serving there approximately 2 years. Once under the preaching of God's word, I found my assurance of Salvation and found myself getting baptized the following week. GOD WAS there! The next thing I knew, I was going door knocking in a foreign nation. What a wonderful time in my life! Jesus took every sinful addiction I had as a young sailor, and used me where I thought was impossible only a few weeks after my prayer to Him. To this day, my wife and I are partial to any missionary family we come into contact with. We thank GOD someone answered His calling, regardless of the circumstances in their lives to carry out the LORD's work. We want every missionary that Sharon Baptist Church supports to know that your name is lifted up in prayer every week.
In closing, this is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to point to Jesus Christ as the answer. Just as in Noah's day, the world was busy. Now, we are at a standstill. For all of the fear that is loose in our nation and the world, let us turn people to our wonderful Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. If one person within our personal circle comes into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, this crisis will be worth it. I urge all of us to take this opportunity that the LORD has given us.
- Dave Kruger, Sunday School Teacher, Sharon Baptist Church
How could it not be? With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across the nation and most states currently under a shelter-in-place order, maintaining our cherished Easter traditions has become all but impossible. Extended families will not gather together this year. Parents will not inflict bow ties on their sons and fancy Easter dresses on their daughters: most churches will observe Easter Sunday in an online-only format this year, so there’s really no need to get all dressed up. I’m sure there will be a marked decline in large-scale Easter egg hunts too (social distancing, you know).
But then again, the first Easter was a little different too. Dead men do not rise. Our common human experience and intuition are quite decisive on this point. Once a body is laid to rest, that is it. No more gatherings. No more conversations. Not in this life anyway. At least that was the case, until that first glorious Easter Sunday morning when a dead man did rise. And in so doing, He defeated death and Hell forever. Those malign enemies are now but fangless, clawless specters to all who know the Lord. They can scare us. They can trouble us. But they cannot ultimately hurt us, because Christ the Lord is risen from the grave.
The coronavirus is like that too. It can trouble us. It can hurt us. It can tank the stock market and inflict loneliness, anxiety, and uncertainty. It can even take our loved ones from us. But that is the worst it can do, because Christ the Lord is risen from the grave. The coronavirus can never separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:31–39). It can never remove our unshakable hope for a far greater country in the life hereafter, where every tear will be wiped away and where sickness, sorrow, sin, and death will be obliterated forever as Jesus makes all things new (Revalation 21:4–5). It cannot even change the fact that God has already blessed us with every spiritual blessing, promised us an unfading inheritance, and positionally seated us in the heavens with Christ (Ephesians 1:3–14; 2:1–6). The coronavirus looks very scary to us right now, but in the grand scheme of things its influence is quite limited. One day God will effortlessly sweep it away along with every other sickness, pain, trial, and atrocity of this life, and He will replace it with all that is good and pure and joyful. And the greatest news imaginable is that you and I will be there to see it, because Christ the Lord is risen from the grave.
Easter is going to be a little different this year. But that’s okay, because Easter isn’t really about the traditions. It’s not about the family gatherings or Easter egg hunts or special services. It is about the fact that Christ the Lord is risen from the grave, and on the basis of His death and resurrection, He promises eternal life to all who trust in Him. So, whatever happens over the next few months, you can trust Him. Even if everything in this life comes crumbling down around you, you can cling to Jesus, the wonder-working Savior, who triumphed over death and redeems all that is broken and undone.
He is risen! He is risen indeed.
Pastor David Carroll, Senior Pastor, Sharon Baptist Church
P.S. Sharon Baptist Church family, don’t forget to email your pictures of your family Easter gatherings to email@example.com.
Sharon Baptist church is an independent, fundamental Baptist church located in Hampton, VA.
Showing People the Way to God
- Personal Evangelism
$3 plus Shipping