Fellowship is More than What We Assume

‌One of our members recently encountered a bout of illness and was hospitalized. It has been a difficult time.‌ As she was visited, she underscored several times how much the prayers and meals, visits, etc. have meant to them. She said:‌

“Sometimes you think that God has given you more than you can handle – but then he brings people to help you to handle it.”‌

Fellowship is important for the health of any church. The Greek word is κοινωνία, which also means participation or sharing. It is not just showing up and being in the same room as others, nor is it synonymous with potlucks or exchanging small talk. It is deeper than these things; a unique characteristic of the church. Acts 2:42 states:

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

‌Fellowship is another stop on the Christian’s pathway to spiritual growth. It may be the one that is most overlooked or taken for granted. Maybe fellowship is more than what we assume. First of all…

‌Fellowship was a necessary element of life in the early church, as it is today.

‌κοινωνία implies much more than just being in the same room with others. It means close association. In the first century, as it was unpopular to be a Christian, this fellowship was the one opportunity to live in solidarity with others.

‌In the first century, there was much opposition to the early followers of Christ. Not only did you have the Jewish religious establishment that were hostile to Christians, but you also had the Roman government, who encouraged its citizens to worship the Roman pantheon, as well as consider Caesar (king) a god.‌

But early Christians could not do this. Their loyalty was to Jesus. And they were encouraged by others who were sharing in their suffering.‌

In 1989 as I was a student at Missouri Southern University, the college ministry was called κοινωνία, letting us know that our relationships were vital to the thriving of our faith in that secular environment.‌

Fellowship is critical for today’s church. This is why small group settings are so important, for it gives you an opportunity to share life with others and give and receive help.

‌Fellowship was a badge of partnership and support among the early Christians, a family.

Galatians 2:9 reads: ‌

“…and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.”

‌The actions of Peter, James and John were monumental because Paul was a former persecutor of the church. But now he knew the Lord and the early Apostles forgive his former behavior and accepted him.

Fellowship also implies connection. In Philippians, it denotes partnership in a cause, as Paul was writing to the Church of Philippi and is greatly blessed by the efforts of Christians there.

Paul writes from prison in the opening comments of his letter to the church in Philippi: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership (fellowship) in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

‌And finally, fellowship is that which brings with it life which flows from God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and extends to every believer across all times and places.

‌”…that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”

1 John 1:3-4, ESV

We participate in fellowship because it mirrors the relationship of the godhead. The Athanasian Creed, dating back to fourth century states in part:

‌“And in this Trinity, no one is before or after, greater or less than the other; but all three persons are in themselves, coeternal and coequal; and so we must worship the Trinity in unity and the one God in three persons. Whoever wants to be saved should think thus about the Trinity.” (The Athanasian Creed | Reformed Church in America (rca.org)

‌We tend to downplay the importance of doctrine and ethics, but they are both important to Christian witness.‌

Furthermore, fellowship is the church’s answer to a depressed and lonely world. One of the greatest needs in our society today is the need for fellowship, as reports of the pandemic of loneliness plagues our land. Ben Sasse points out:

“…there is a growing consensus that the number one health crises in America right now is not cancer, not obesity, and not heart disease- it’s loneliness. Loneliness is surely part of the reason Americans consume almost all of the world’s hydrocodone (99%) and most of its oxycodone (81%).’” (Michael Horton, Recovering Our Sanity, p. 131-132)

‌Fellowship is not optional.

‌We tend to think that fellowship is optional. But fellowship is what makes faith a cooperate exercise, a characteristic of church life that is synergistic. It is what John Ortberg states:

‌“Fellowship has become a churchy word that suggests basements and red punch and awkward conversation. But it is really a word for the flow of rivers of living water between one person and another, and we cannot live without it.” (Jodie Berndt, Praying the Scriptures for your Adult Children.)

‌Fellowship is what is hinted at when a person joins Central Schwenkfelder Church. They are asked the following:‌

“Will you be ever mindful of the welfare of your fellow members? Do you promise to walk with us in faithfulness and Christian love? And do you promise that, so far as you are able, to attend the services of this church, observe its sacraments, share in its work, and support its benevolences and missions, and endeavor to make it a fruitful body of Christians?”

‌In other words, we’re asking: “Would you participate in our fellowship?”

‌And the congregation responds with these words:

‌“We then, as members of this church, gladly welcome you to be a part with us in the hopes, the labors, and the joys of (our congregation). We promise to walk with you in Christian love and sympathy, and to promote, as far as in us lies, your growth in the Christian faith and life.”

‌In other words, we are extending a formal welcome and inclusion into our fellowship. Sometimes it is labeled “life on life.”

‌I see three things that are critical to fellowship. They are the following:

‌Critical to fellowship is openness.

‌If you are a person that struggles with interaction with others, fellowship will be hard for you. We are all different. Some have social anxiety. Others just don’t want to be bothered. But we must be careful. We cannot use others only when it is convenient for us. We must be open to others and willing to minister as the Lord leads.

Another critical element of fellowship is intentionality.

‌Good fellowship does not just drop out of the sky, but it must be intentional. It was inspiring to hear testimony about the late Mary Jane Kriebel. Both Holly and Carl Sensenig, as well as Bill and Portia Potts credit the intentional efforts of Mary Jane and Everett Kriebel as reason that they joined Central Schwenkfelder Church. Bill Potts wrote:

‌“When we moved to this area in 1988, Mary Jane and Everett, as well as Steven and Jennifer, were among the first to welcome us to the church and help us become acquainted and feel comfortable in our new community. It was largely because of Mary Jane and Everett that we joined Central. They were our Shepherds when we joined the church. No one could have done a better job! Many of our fondest memories are of celebrations and parties including good food and laughter with the Kriebel family. Dinners at their house were legendary! To say that Mary Jane will be missed is an understatement.”

Finally, a third critical part of fellowship is unity.

Psalm 133

Behold, how good and pleasant it is

‌when brothers dwell in unity!

‌It is like the precious oil on the head,

‌running down on the beard,

‌on the beard of Aaron,

‌running down on the collar of his robes!

‌It is like the dew of Hermon,

‌which falls on the mountains of Zion!

‌For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,

‌life forevermore.

‌Why the reference to oil? Because it contains nuances of healing, the presence of the Holy Spirit and the blessing of God. In fact, we are told that where there is unity, God commands His blessing.

‌Unity does not necessarily mean that individuality is done away with. But it does imply that we are are the same page and working for the same goal.

‌Sometimes though, fellowship can and must be broken. Take for instance the situation of the man in 1 Corinthians that was living an immoral relationship. There, Paul instructs the church to break fellowship with the man.

1 Corinthians 5:1-2 reads: ‌

“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.”

‌And he further states in verses four and five: “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”

‌In other words, his fellowship is cut off, it will show him that his life of “anything goes,” is not acceptable. It is actually a safeguard against hypocrisy and a bad witness. And so this so-called brother, was to be dealt with, so that he might recognize his mistakes and turn and be reconciled to God.

‌You may be saying to yourself: “Aren’t we all sinners?” Yes, but some sin is more public than others. And the church cannot be guilty of endorsing sinful behavior. In fact the church has done too much of this and that is why we are losing our credibility in the public eye.

‌Charles Colson, the founder of Prison Fellowship, wrote these words:

‌“Fellowship is more than unconditional love that wraps its arms around someone who is hurting. It is also tough love that holds one fast to the truth and the pursuit of righteousness.” (Charles Colson, The Body, 130).

‌And finally, fellowship is training ground for ministry.

‌So critical was fellowship to the early church, that they implored the Christians in

Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us: ‌

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 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.”

‌It is critical to your growth as a Christian to make time for others in the faith; to encourage and be encouraged; to be corrected and to serve alongside of. If the Hebrew Christians were to neglect coming together, there would be no stirring up each other for love and good works; there would be no encouragement and no pushing ahead as we anticipate the coming of Christ.

‌What I see today is that people often use Facebook and other social media outlets to function as their platform of fellowship. But the computer screen was never meant to take the place of a living, breathing individual.

‌A friend of mine led me to this piece this week by Michael Carl:

‌“As church attendance numbers fade across the nation and online services become very convenient it’s important to remember why church attendance for you and your family matters so much.

‌You can’t serve from your sofa. You can’t have community of faith on your sofa. You can’t experience the power of a room full of believers worshipping together on your sofa.

‌Christians aren’t consumers. We are contributors. We don’t watch. We engage. We give. We sacrifice. We encourage. We pray by laying hands on the hurting. We do life together. The church needs you and you need the church.”

‌If it’s gonna be, it’s up to me!

‌Someone once wrote:‌ “This is my church. It is composed of people just like me. It will be friendly if I am. It will do a great work if I work. It will make generous gifts to many causes if I am generous. It will bring others into its fellowship if I bring them. Its seats will be filled if I fill them. It will be a church of loyalty and love, of faith and service. If I who make it what it is, am filled with these, Therefore, with God’s help, I dedicate myself to the task of being all these things I want my church to be.” May God help us as we minister in and among His church.

Abram’s Response to the God of Promise

The sinking of the Titanic was one of the worst maritime disasters in history. The British luxury liner on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City, struck an iceberg about 95 miles south of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland just before midnight on April 14, 1912.

Of the more than 2220 persons aboard, about 1513 died, including the American millionaires John Jacob Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim, and Isidor Straus.

The ship had been proclaimed unsinkable because of its 16 watertight compartments. Nevertheless, the iceberg sufficiently damaged the Titanic to make it sink in less than three hours. Subsequent investigations found that the ship had made a number of mistakes:

  • The ship had been steaming too fast in dangerous waters;
  • Lifeboat space had been provided for only about half of the passengers and crew;
  • The Californian, close to the scene, had not come to the rescue because its radio operator was off duty and asleep;

When passengers were boarding the Titanic at South Hampton, England, a nervous woman asked a deckhand, Is this ship really unsinkable? He replied, Yes, Lady. God Himself could not sink this ship.”

As you know, the story turns out differently. The deckhand placed his faith in the wrong object.

Faith is a term used several ways, often in a religious sense. When we talk about people being of a certain faith, we refer to what church they attend, or what religion they are a part of.

Sometimes “faith” is used to describe confidence. Sometimes people say: “You need to have faith in yourself.” It is evident from the sailor’s statement that too much faith was placed in a man’s ingenuity.

But faith is an action word. To believe God is different than to believe in God. Genesis chapter 15 is one of those key passages in all of Scripture. It was used by the Apostle Paul as he explained the gospel in both his letters to the Galatian churches and to the church in Rome. It is the response of God’s promise. Let us first learn that…


We must first ask, Who was Abraham? He was a human being just like you and me. Abram’s hometown would have been within the borders of modern-day Iraq, then called Ur of the Chaldeans. He had a family, consisting of parents, aunts and uncles, cousins. He had a wife, whose name was Sarai. And God appeared to him and promised to make his name great and form him into a great nation. Now, fast forward a few years. Had God forgotten?

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”

Genesis 15:1-3

God’s promise to Abram in Genesis 15 is an elaboration of the previous one made by God to Abram in Genesis 12:3: “, …in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Since then, we see that Abram was faced with a dilemma. Lot was taken into captivity as the result of two warring factions. Abram’s going to war against the Canaanite kings with his 318 men was an act of faith. He rescued the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah and freed his nephew Lot from captivity. He could not have done this without God. But he had the courage of Moses, Phineas, David, and others who knew that when wrong happens, good men cannot stay idle.

Winston Churchill was a man of great courage. He gave his famous speech in June of 1940:

“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender… .” (Winston Churchill Speech – We Shall Fight on The Beaches (presentationmagazine.com))

Abram knew that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. And so he set out, with God’s help and his company of over 300 trained men, to rescue Lot and his family.

And afterwards, when the Lord gave him victory, he worshipped and gave an offering to Melchizedek, King of Salem and priest of the most high God.

Moreover, we are told in Genesis 14:22: that when the king of Sodom wanted to give Abram a reward for his service, Abram refused to take something from an evil king. So he withheld his desire for wealth and told the king of Sodom that he could keep his gifts.

I am reminded of a story that happened many years ago where Vegas entertainer Wayne Newton wanted to make an donation to the College of the Ozarks, a Christian school. The leaders of the school decided against it, because Mr. Newton was known to have a vulgar show in Branson. Wayne Newton was rebuffed, because the college did not want accept money from someone making a living off of being foul-mouthed.

And so the Lord appeared to Abram in Genesis 15 and reminded him that his reward would be great and that the Lord was his shield.

But Abram reminded God that he and Sarai were still childless. Had God forgotten His promise? We read in Genesis 15:4-5:

“And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: ‘This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.’ And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’”

This appearance of the Lord most likely took place several years after the Genesis 12 account. You almost hear the desperation in Abram’s voice. He is not getting any younger. And the one who stood in line to receive everything was Eleazar of Damascus who may have been a slave to Abram. And the one who would be given Abram’s possessions after Abram died. But God is never late nor is He early. He is always right on time.

How many times are we impatient with ourselves, with others, or especially with God? Faith requires waiting on the Lord.

Isaiah 40:31: “…but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

The promise God made was not easy to believe. Woman today cease having children, for the most part, by the time they are 40. It’s not that Abraham and Sarah did not want to have children; they just could not. But God would not let that be the end of the story. In fact, it was God, at each interval, who was revealing Himself to Abraham and bringing him along.


​Genesis 15:6: “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”

This is a monumental statement. It shows how Abraham responded to God’s word; and how God responded to Abraham’s word. Abraham believed in the Lord. What does that mean, to believe? Dr. Jack Scott, Old Testament scholar helps us by stating that the Hebrew term a-man denotes, firmness and certainty. Biblical faith is “…an assurance, a certainty, in contrast with the modern concepts of faith as something possible, hopefully true, but not certain (TWOT, 51).” In other words, Abraham confirmed that God would keep His promise for an heir. Now this was no small thing, as we have said. Abraham and Sarah were old, by this time; Abram may have been close to 80 and Sarai was into her 70’s.

The King James version states that the Lord “…counted it to him as righteousness.” This really contradicts the popular idea of how to be righteous before God. We base it on works. Abraham was justified in the eyes of God because of faith. But Abraham did no work, and yet was considered righteous by God.

And so we see Abram’s response in Genesis 15:6: “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”

We must understand that faith is a work of God. It is the process by which the Holy Spirit draws you. Your heart is opened to the good news. And you receive Christ and follow Him. Jesus stated in John 6:28-29: “Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ 29 Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’”

This verse has been the basis for the apostle Paul to teach the New Testament doctrine of justification by faith in Jesus Christ is the foundation of our relationship with God. We can never earn God‘s favor. We can never be good enough to achieve His love.

The only way that we can be in right relationship with God is through faith in the atoning work of Christ. Abraham believed God. He took his promise as fact. He believed and it was settled. And if we want to be in right relationship with God, we must also believe God and His provision. We cannot believe in our own devices. We cannot outsmart God. We cannot go about life our own way. We must conform ourselves to God’s way; to God’s provision; to God’s means.

This also lends understanding of God‘s law. The law of God was never meant to be a means to salvation. It functions as a mirror, to show us our sin, and to show us God‘s perfect righteousness. It shows us how perfect the Lord Jesus is who was tempted in every way that we are, yet without sin. It shows us that we need Christ in order to be in right relationship with God. As Galatians says, “the law is our tutor to lead us to Christ. “

Again, it is not a question of works, for you could never do enough to please God. At the moment of birth, your predisposition to sin incriminated you to the extent that pleasing God was impossible through good deeds.

Hebrews 11:6: “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

Moreover, this trust would lead Abraham to obey God when the child was requested as an offering later. As God made His promises, Abraham responded in faith, in trust, in certainty.

Maybe you have asked the question: “How can I please God?” If you want to please God, don’t just turn over a new leaf. Don’t just become a nicer person. Don’t simply start attending church. Don’t merely drop bad habits. Rather, trust Christ. Jesus is the one who enables you to become nicer, participate in worship, and drop bad habits. Remember what Paul said in his letter to the Galatians.

Galatians 3:5-9: “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”

So if you want to please God, trust Him! Start today by giving Him your life! Walk with Him! Stop counting on your own good deeds. God has never obligated Himself to those who are do-gooders. Rather, He’s about the business of changing lives. He changed Moses from being a murderer to the humblest man on the face of the earth. He altered Peter from being a brash hot head into a humble apostle and shepherd of God’s people. He changed Paul from being a persecutor of Christians, to teaching them. He goes down in history as the model of a missionary. Lastly, God transformed Abraham from a hardened pagan to one who is known for his faith in God. The Lord and His grace is about making us kind, and most of all, holy, through our Lord Jesus Christ.

And as we expect, God did keep His vows. We read in Genesis 21 that Isaac was born. Yes, God keeps His promises.

How reliable is God?

When twentieth century evangelist and author G. Campbell Morgan was a young man he visited two elderly ladies each week to read the Bible to them. When he read Matthew 28:20, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” He said, “Isn’t that a wonderful promise?” One of the ladies quickly replied, “Young man, that is not a promise. It is a fact!”

All of God’s promises are fact. That is how reliable God is! It would be against His character to break His promises.

Today, consider God’s promise, as found in the life of the patriarchs and traced through sections of the Old Testament, and ultimately fulfilled in our Lord Jesus Christ. In it we discover some wonderful things about God and the faith that He instilled in the man we know as Abraham.

God calls Abram in the midst of judgment.

It should not be lost in our reading that God’s call upon Abram occurs right after the incident of the Tower of Babel. Here is where man reaches the height of his arrogance and tries to accomplish God. This is found in

Genesis 11:4 “Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.’”

Their use of technology (for their time), their quest to be mighty and their determination to live without God, marginalized the One who made them and created them for fellowship with Him. And so the Lord confused their language and caused them to scatter over the whole earth. It is where we get the term “babal,” which is based on the Hebrew term which means “to confuse.” As a result of their rebellion, God judges man and scatters them. The inability to communicate and socialize is a huge curse upon the land.

But it is out of this situation that God seeks to reverse the situation caused at the Garden of Eden and the banishment of our first parents. In the aftermath of judgment, God calls Abram to leave his comfortable and familiar surroundings and go to a land that has yet to be revealed. Talk about an adventure! The promise is found in verses one through three:

Genesis 12:1–3 says: “Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Genesis is the book of beginnings. It gives the account of how God made the heavens and the earth. It gives the significance of man, made in God’s image and the unique people of Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and finally Joseph.

God promises to bless Abram, make His name great and make (out of his posterity) a great nation. God, reaches down and essentially rescues Abram in the midst of judgment. And so Abram obeyed God and started his trek. He responds in faith.

And that is what the calling of God is- to trust Him. We are told in

Hebrews 11:6: “And without faith it is impossible to please him… .” The calling of God upon your life is first and foremost, to trust Him.

Abram’s call came with adversity and responsibility.

Genesis 12:4 states: “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.”

Noteworthy are the following points:

First off, Abraham was the son of Terah. Terah dies. Losing a parent is a significant adversity.

Second, Sarai became Abram’s wife, but she was barren (11:30). In that time and culture, one’s success, even one’s survival, was dependent upon having children.

Thirdly, Abram and his extended family traveled from Ur of the Chaldeans into the land of Canaan. This trek was anywhere from 400 to 1500 miles in length. A person could average 30-40 miles per day. This was a commitment that placed demands physically upon everyone involved. And they were to go into a land where they knew no one. That was dangerous! It would require faith!

This would occur when Abram was 75 years old. Abram could have said: “It’s time to call it a wrap. My life is in its twilight years. I’m too tired for this!” But he did not.

What’s more is that the promise to be formed into a great nation would undoubtedly require children, but Sarai was in her sixties and barren. How could a great nation come from one who cannot have children!? Nevertheless, God said:

“I will make you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great.” so that you will be a blessing.”

Our own Dr. Drake Williams, in his book Making Sense of the Bible, points out that God’s promise to Abram is three-fold: land, seed and blessing. Drake states:

“At the time that God called him, Abraham has neither land nor children. It seems impossible from a human perspective that Abraham would ever have a child- he was seventy-five years old and his wife was in her late sixties. Nevertheless, God promises Abraham that he will, indeed, have land, children, and a blessing.” (Williams, Making Sense of the Bible, 32).

In 12:7: “The Lord appeared to Abram.” God’s appearing is often associated with the giving of promises.

What is also noteworthy is that the land to which they are going is filled with the Canaanites. This a broad term, including many different types of people. They were wicked in the eyes of the Lord, performing all types of sexual sin and human sacrifice in their worship practices, even sacrificing their children to appease their false gods. And God would judge them for their sin.

God called Abram to live exclusively for Him in a very challenging spiritual environment. Abram’s calling was nothing small. The Lord drew Abram out of that which was warm and comfortable, to go into a section of the world and live for Him.

The result of Abram’s call was worship.

Genesis 12:7 tells us: “So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. 8 From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. 9 And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.”

Abram built an altar at Shechem, by the oak of Moreh, between Bethel and Ai. This was a practice repeated by each of the patriarchs, as we see their devotion to God develop throughout the pages of Genesis.

In future chapters, God will prove Himself faithful by showing Abram the land he and his posterity would possess (Genesis 13:14). He would rescue Lot from an awful situation that would cost him his own wife (Genesis 14). God would remind Abram of his promise with a sign of this covenant (circumcision) and impart to him righteousness in Genesis 15:6: “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”

Abram’s call is significant because he did not know God before all of this. He was a pagan, raised in a home where their was no recognition of God. You and I would never have come to faith in God unless He revealed Himself to us.

This challenges us because you and I are married to the familiar, the comfortable and that which is habit. God has to break through all of that to get our attention.

Abram’s calling also reminds us that life is not about us. It is about being a blessing to others: serving God and serving others. We are blessed to be a blessing.

You might ask: “So what? What difference does this make?” First, observe that God’s call to Abram was to trust him. We are reminded that every time God calls a person, it requires faith. Hebrews tells us: “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” Many times, Jesus is recorded as saying: “Your faith has made you well.” Faith is “The assurance of things hoped for; the conviction of things not seen.” Faith requires action: and that action is trust in God no matter what.

Secondly, we see that faith requires us to do thinks that are uncomfortable at times. The Lord does not save us to live a plush life. Rather, it is uncomfortable to “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow,” Jesus.

Thirdly, Abram’s response is worship. He built an altar to the Lord. Do we have an altar to the Lord in our lives? Are we visiting the altar of the Lord to worship Him weekly? Daily? Remember that Jesus said: “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” John 15:5.

And so Abram needed a redirection of His comfort: not in things or places, but in God Himself. It was the Puritan George Gifford who said: “This is a singular comfort, that all things come to pass not according to wicked men’s counsels, but according to what God determines.” Great peace comes from knowing that God rules over all circumstances. Therefore, we can trust Him.

A Few Thoughts on Losing

Spending a few days in Ocean City, New Jersey with family. Enjoying the ocean breeze and a beautiful view, surrounded by my three precious kids and a loving wife.

I’ve been reading Tim Kelly’s book, The Legend of Red Klotz. Klotz was the player-coach of the Washington Generals, a team that played the Harlem Globetrotters in most of their shows. The Generals lost over 14,000 games. They only won once, when Klotz hit a game winning jumper.

Klotz stated: “ What is losing? Losing is a part of life. You can’t lose if you are striving to do your best. They keep score of the game to determine which team scores the most points. They call the team with the most points the winner and the team with fewer points the loser. But if you tried your best and didn’t score the most points, you still won. Only one team wins the NBA championship. Only one team wins the Super Bowl. You mean to tell me every other team is not successful, just because they didn’t win the championship? It just doesn’t work that way. What matters is getting up. If you lose a game you can get up and try again the next time. That’s a win right there. You learn that lesson and you learn a lot about life. If you can regroup after a loss and keep going, you’re going to be okay.”

Klotz’s statement reminds me of the Christian life. So often the world measures success by money, power, etc. But following Christ involves learning how to deal with disappointment, unrealized expectations, and many other things. And through such experiences, character is built.

The Apostle Paul wrote: in 2 Corinthians 4:7-11: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

So maybe “losing” in the world’s eyes is not really losing it all. It’s just learning, knowing that God is at work, as we follow Jesus Christ.

The Potter and the Clay

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel.  And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.  Then the word of the LORD came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” Jeremiah 18:1-6 (ESV)

This is an interesting passage. The prophet is instructed by God to go down to the potter’s house and make a few observations. There, he sees the artisan working, molding a piece of clay into a vessel.

At first, the clay is “marred” (NKJV). But the potter does not discard the clay, but in fact molds it into something else.

Jeremiah is told that the House of Israel is the clay and that God is the potter. In other words, the Lord establishes nations and brings them to an end. And, from an individual perspective, the Lord is sovereign over your life. And the best decision that you can make is to offer it back up to Him for His use.

God in Christ has called you to follow, love and serve Him. The Apostle John wrote: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” 1 John 5:3 (ESV) This is the best decision you could ever make.

Ms. Adelaide Pollard was perplexed at a point in her life, wanting to travel to Africa and become a missionary. She attended a prayer meeting one evening in 1902 and a woman there prayed something to the effect: “Have your way with my life, O Lord.” So impressed with that prayer was Ms. Pollard that she penned what came to be known as a famous hymn in Christian worship, based on Jeremiah 18: “Have Thine own way, Lord; have Thine own way. Thou art the Potter; I am the clay. Mold me and make me, after Thy will. While I am waiting, yielded and still.”

May you renew your commitment to the Lord and follow His lead in all things.

God’s Word is Sweet to Your Soul

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.” Jeremiah 15:16 ESV

These words found in the book of Jeremiah remind us how the prophet perceived God’s message for himself and for the people under his care. Jeremiah was a spokesperson for God at a difficult time in Judah’s history. Having been called into service during King Josiah’s reforms (circa. 626 B.C.), he saw the fruit of the efforts to hearken the people back to covenant faithfulness. Jeremiah observed the hearts of the congregation return to the Lord. And things were well for a season.

But it was not long until the people once again started playing the harlot and following after other gods. The wickedness reached a climax under the evil King Manasseh. It wasn’t long before the Jews were “tasting” another message and their ears had become dull to God’s word.

Ezekiel encountered the same experience- ministering in a difficult time, yet knowing of the sweetness of God’s word. Notice the imagery of consumption is used to illustrate Ezekiel’s receiving God’s message. Ezekiel 3:1-3 “And he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.’ So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat.  And he said to me, ‘Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.’ Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.”

As Christians, we are living in an unprecedented time. More and more people in America have no religious affiliation. Church attendance has been dipping for the last number of years. The effects of the Coronavirus have only sped things up in that direction. Could it be that God is sifting His church and separating the sheep from the goats? Is He calling you to a more genuine faith in the Lord Jesus, while seeing the church lose some of its popularity? Will you remain faithful?

Be encouraged to seek the Lord at this time. Reorient yourself to the more precious things, like Bible study, prayer and devotional reading. You will not be disappointed, as God said in Jeremiah 29:13: “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” It is time to “take up and read,” while seeking the shepherd and guardian of your soul, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Some Thoughts on “Doubting Thomas”

It was Will Rogers, the early 20th century Native American and cowboy humorist who was quoted in the Saturday Evening Post of November 6, 1926, on the Communist Leon Trotsky. “I bet you if I had met him and had a chat with him, I would have found him a very interesting and human fellow, for I never yet met a man that I didn’t like.” 

Will was a special guy. Sounds like he looked for the good in others. I’m not so sure I could do that. One person that gets written off is the man we know as Thomas. He is affectionately known as “Doubting Thomas.” Maybe that’s a bad rap.

Not much is given in the Scriptures about Thomas.  But keeping an open eye to the handful of texts that are given, he is introduced to us as one of the 12 in Mark 3:18. He is known as Thomas, called Didymus, which means “twin.” Today, I wanted to share with you an observation or two.

We only read of Thomas’ personality in John’s gospel.  Thomas comes across as an honest fellow and maybe a little slow to catch on.  In John 11, he gives us the impression of being a bit pessimistic.  When Jesus announces that He is determined to go back to Jerusalem, having just been there and encountering the Pharisees, Thomas responds in verse 16: “Let us go that we may die with Him.”  Little did Thomas know that he was about to witness the greatest miracle that Jesus ever did, when Christ would raise Lazarus from the dead. 

Sometimes our pessimism can get in the way of seeing God do something spectacular.  Being a Christian ought to be exciting, for we serve a God who never sleeps or slumbers (Psalm 121).  Jesus also said that His Father was always working and that He was working also (John 5:17).  There is never a lost opportunity with God.  But Thomas was not necessarily in the mood for another road trip, especially one that would probably end badly.

When we are stressed or subject to our sinful tendencies, we too can be pessimistic.  We rarely know how to turn a bad day into a better day.  We can dwell on the negative and see the glass as half empty. 

But in those times, we must remember that we serve an awesome God who has given His children by faith, joy and peace.  To know that your sins have been forgiven and that you are a new person because of Jesus and His work in you is a marvelous thing. 

Thankfully, the story turns for Thomas. He would later witness the risen Christ and respond: “My Lord and My God.” His life was truly changed after experiencing Jesus coming back from the dead.

Tradition tells us that he went on to do mission work in India, where he died for his faith in 72 A.D. He is sometimes known as “The Apostle to India.” His life is a reminder that God changes lives of individuals that trust Him. He can change your life, as you seek Him.

The Need for Spiritual Discipline

Today, I would like to talk about the need for spiritual discipline.  What is that, you might ask?  It could roughly be understood as soul care; the things Christians are to be active in, in order to promote their own spiritual health.  3 John 2 says: “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.” So spiritual disciplines are those things that promote soul wellness; just like diet and exercise encourage physical health, the spiritual disciplines develop spiritual health. 

Dr. Don Whitney, professor at Southern Seminary defines them this way:

“The spiritual disciplines are those practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth among believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are habits of devotion, habits of experiential Christianity that have been practiced by God’s people since biblical times.”[1]


There are many great examples of discipline in the Bible.  For instance, Jesus made it his custom to rise early and pray long. Mark 1:35: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” 

Or the prophet Daniel, who while in Babylon, prayed three times per day, facing Jerusalem, even though it was illegal to do so.  Daniel 6:10 states:

“When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.” Daniel prayed three times per day facing Jerusalem and made it a habit.

It took discipline for the Israelites to march around Jericho, whereas there were probably those who said, “Hey, let’s just start dismantling the bricks!  Wouldn’t that make more sense?”  But they obeyed Joshua, who obeyed the Lord (Joshua 6:15).

As fallen human beings, we are prone to laziness and bad habits.  We welcome a lack of structure.  At the most critical time in Jesus’ life, during the all night prayer session in Gethsemane, the disciples did not cut it. 

“And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”[1]

The flesh is weak, Friends!  While on vacation, I throw out a lot of my structure.  I stay up late (10 p.m.).  I sleep in.  I eat what I want.  So I’m one of those that gains about 8 lbs. every vacation and it takes me a month to lose it or not at all.  The problem is when we take a vacation from our faith, it is detrimental. 

It took discipline to obey God when the Lord asked Moses to speak to the rock. Instead, he struck it and was prohibited from entering the promised land in Numbers 20:7-11.

It also occurs to me that every sin is committed out of a lack of self-restraint; a process of saying to God: “I know better.”  Spiritual discipline starts with coming before God and saying: “I need you!  Feed my starving soul, Lord.” 

It occurs to me in this time of isolation and curtailed freedoms, that the Lord is reminding us that He is our source for strength (Psalm 46:1) and rest (Matthew 11:28). May you seek the Lord in a new and consistent way. Start today.

[1] Matthew 26:40-41 (ESV)

[1] https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-are-spiritual-disciplines.

True Rest

Maybe you’ve been very tired; even exhausted. The present situation has taken a toll on you, not just physically, but possibly you’ve been emotionally drained. This new way of life has brought enormous stress to our lives.

We all are in need of rest. Jesus offers a type of rest that is unlike any that that world knows of. For that rest, we read in Matthew 11:28:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30, ESV

This passage happens to be one of my favorites. It is an invitation like no other. It is an invitation to rest.

The context is about revelation. Jesus states that the Father alone reveals the Son to whomever He wills. And those who are willing to receive such revelation are given “rest for their souls.” This type of rest is of a spiritual nature. Maybe it is like what is spoken of in Psalm 23:

“He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

Psalm 23:2-3, ESV

So the type of rest that Jesus offers is of a whole different order. It is the peace of mind that knows God is in control; that He is sovereign and that He is working things out around you, even when circumstances would indicate otherwise.

In order to experience this rest, there are actions things that must arise from a genuine encounter with God. First, there is faith. This is a whole-hearted trust in the Lord. It is giving Him your life. It means that you know longer live for yourself, but you live for Jesus Christ.

The second action is repentance. This means a change of heart and mind. Included in repentance is a deep conviction that you are remorse for the ways in which you have offended God. And the definition of sin, according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism is “…any transgression against the moral law of God.” God invites you to come to Him, confess and turn from your sins and receive His forgiveness.

God makes a similar invitation in the book of Isaiah:

“Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

Isaiah 55:6-7, ESV

Jesus said: “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” The yoke was a piece of wood laid upon the shoulders of a team of oxen. It kept the animals moving in the same direction and forced them to pull at the same pace. Unlike the other “yokes,” of His day, Jesus said that His “…yoke is easy… .” The Apostle John agreed in his first epistle:

“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”

1 John 5:3, ESV

In the present crisis, it is easy to get overwhelmed. But now is a tremendous opportunity to slow down and consider your spiritual health and the need to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. I hope that you will make that decision today. All other decisions are earthly in nature. But this particular decision is eternal. There’s no better time than today to trust Jesus Christ.

Practicing 1 Corinthians 13 in These Tense Times

You have probably heard of the love chapter. It is found in 1 Corinthians 13. Often used as the “go to” wedding passage, these words from the Apostle Paul have many other applications to the person who goes deeper into God’s word.

I personally think that there is no better time than the present to remind ourselves of these great lessons found in the love chapter. In the first three verses, Paul counts several actions that might give a person reason to boast. He states: “

 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3, ESV

A person can be blessed with all kinds of gifts, abilities and generosity. But if love is not the motivation for one’s deeds, then all the good things that one does amounts to nothing.

In the next paragraph, Paul defines love with a number of descriptives. And it is these that helping us know that love is an action word. Love is found in behavior. Paul states: “

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8, ESV

It strikes me that during these difficult times, when we find ourselves out of our normal routines, staying home and spending more time with our families, it could be that you and I need to be reminded that love must be practiced intentionally. It does not come naturally to us. We are prone to selfishness and self service. But love presses us to consider others more important than ourselves. So consider the following applications while you’re “hunkering down,” at home.

  • When you are stressed, it is so easy to lose patience with those around you. This happens especially with those that you can take for granted, like a spouse, a child or a parent. Remember that “Love is patient; love is kind.”
  • Secondly, try not become easily offended, but practice forgiveness. I have found that when I’m stressed, I can say things that I deeply regret. Remember that love: “…does not insist on its own way.”
  • Thirdly, don’t be hesitant to take a break by going for a walk or sitting outside. Develop a rhythm between solitude and group time. It is important to keep things fresh. This will encourage consideration and service to others. Remember that love: “…endures all things.”
  • Lastly, try concentrating on the good qualities that one has, rather than what they do to irritate you. Love: “…hopes all things.”

No family is perfect. Different personalities add to a group’s dynamic. During these days of self-quarantine and sheltering in place, be the person that chooses love over inconvenience and frustration. May God bless you in these endeavors.

 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:34-35 (ESV)