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Incomplete Apart

As we enter this second week apart from one another, one of the most godly feelings you can nurture is that of being incomplete apart from each other.

Is our Savior incomplete? By all means, no! Is our salvation incomplete? Thank God the answer is again “no.” But are the people of God incomplete when they are not able to gather together? The answer is most certainly “yes.”

My wife, Naomi, and I had an unusually long period getting ready for marriage. In whole, we spent four and a half years together before getting married. During this extended period, we spent approximately two years apart from each other, mainly related to our educational paths. During that time, we never once thought, “Oh, being apart is just as good as being together.” Nor did we ever think, “The internet is a perfect substitute for an in-person relationship.” 

No, we found the time apart to be deeply challenging and one of the most consistent lessons we learned was that it is not natural to be apart so much. The distance left us incomplete apart from each other.

The same should be true of the church. One of the pillars of the early church was a devotion to fellowship (Acts 2:42). The church is intrinsically defined as being those who come together, those who assemble (see 1 Cor. 11:17ff). The Apostle Paul longed to see (not just write) the churches that he wrote to (Rom 1:11, 1 Thes 3:6, 2 Tim 1:4). To be apart from each other affects the very foundation of the church.

This lack plays out in the most practical ways. This Sunday, we livestreamed the service with a skeleton crew of saints. First, let me say that the technology we have today is an incredible blessing as are the Saints at Sermon Audio, who are working harder than we can imagine. But a tiny crew in a big sanctuary is an eerie experience. Hugs were gone, handshakes gone. The play and laughter of the children were gone. Congregational “amens” were gone. The roar of voices joined in praise… gone.

We sat far from each other. There were no bands of brothers and sisters, huddling in their respective groups after service in fellowship and prayer. No fellowship over lunch. No greetings over coffee. 

The Word went forth in power. Our God remains good and sovereign. The Gospel still saves. And yet what a hole there was without the congregation! What a lack. What a longing for the way the Lord’s Day used to feel.

Both the Bible and everyday experience preach the same message: The church is incomplete apart from one another.

The scattered church should long to be assembled once more. During this time of absence, rejoice in the means that keep us as close as possible. Faithfully use what means you have to stay near your brothers and sisters. But even as we rejoice in our provision, don’t mistake any of it for a substitute. 

Long for the day when we are back together. Plead with God that it would be soon. May the people of God emerge from this trial with a passionate love for the church of Jesus Christ.

Marriage and Spiritual Warfare, Part 7

“And the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God,” Eph. 6:17b

You have heard it said that when in danger it is either “fight or flight.” Sometimes getting away from danger is the best option for our safety (Prov. 27:12). But in marriage, flight it is not an option. When our marriages are in danger there is only one option: fight! There are times when it seems that fighting for our marriage is a must, or else it will just wither and die. Sometimes a spouse may wander, spiritually or morally. It is time to fight. Sometimes my own heart may be cold. It is time to fight. On occasion, it may simply feel like things are falling apart, with no discernable cause. It is time to fight. One spouse may sin grievously against the other. It is time to fight. In marriage, when Satan rages, when the darts are flying, when it seems that the health of a marriage is giving way to disease, the foundation is crumbling, sin has infiltrated, it is time to fight. Yes, we must use all the defensive armor provided for us and use it conscientiously. But we must also take the fight to the enemy. When a marriage is in danger, retreat is not an option.

How do I fight for my marriage? I am not called to fight my spouse. I am called to fight my sin. I am called to fight the devil. I am called to fight for that which is worth fighting for. Fighting in marriage should be avoided at all costs. Fighting for marriage should be fully engaged at all costs.

Paul says we are to “take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” The kind of sword mentioned here is a machaira, which was a short, double-edged sword or dagger, used in close quarter fighting. Of course, all warfare that included swords was close quarter, but the use of this sword was for very close combat. The sword is both defensive and offensive. Paul identifies the sword of the Spirit as “the Word of God.” This is the same way it is used in Heb. 4:12. The OT background is Isa. 11:4 and Isa. 49:2. This sword is the Warrior-King’s words of salvation and judgment. This sword, in Eph. 6:17b, belongs to the Spirit, it is His effective powerful weapon. The Spirit enables the Christian to wield the Word of God like a sword in battle.

Another interesting observation is that the sword of the Spirit is the “word (rhema) of God.” In this context, it may refer to the Word as it is spoken. Martyn Lloyd-Jones notes, “He means our ability to select and to use the appropriate word or passage as any given point.” This Word is hidden in our heart (Psa. 119:11; 1 John 2:14). This Word is at work in us (1 Thess. 2:13). This is the Word I need to use when I am fighting for my marriage.

How do I use the sword of the Spirit to fight for my marriage? I need to use it to build up my spouse and myself. We are called to build each other up (1 Thess. 5:11). Satan is trying to tear us down. We need to be building each other up. Using the sword of the Spirit in our marriage means that we read the Word together, talk about what we read, talk about what we hear preached. This is preventative, and wholly necessary. Satan wants to destroy my faith, my spouse’s faith. The fight of faith is a real fight, and we need to be strong in the Word together!

I must use the sword of the Spirit in my own fight against sin and temptation. I need to be fighting against the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13). I need to fight against the passing pleasures of sins (Heb. 11:26).  I need to use the Word of God specifically in my own fight. The best thing I can do for my marriage is fight my own sins with the promises and threats of God’s Word.

John Piper notes, “Sin is what you do when your heart is not satisfied with God.  No one sins out of duty. We sin because it holds out some promise of happiness.  That promise enslaves us until we believe that God is more to be desired than life itself (Psa. 63:3). Which means that the power of sin’s promise is broken by the power of God’s. All that God promises to be for us in Jesus stands over against what sin promises to be for us without Him” (Piper, Future Grace, 9-10).

I must use the sword of the Spirit in my spouse’s life, when he/she is discouraged, depressed, bitter, angry, wayward, confused. I must pray the Word for my spouse. I must try to minister the Word to my spouse. It is not always easy, and they may not always want to hear it, but it is the primary weapon we have to fight for our marriages. If we go for help or counsel, we need to make sure it is biblical help. A counselor who is not a skilled swordsman is only of limited value. I need the sword to penetrate my heart, wound and heal. My spouse needs that.

When I am trying to minister the Word to my spouse two final points need to be made. First, if we are using the Bible like a 9-1-1 call (in the case of emergency only) then it will be unnatural and forced. If the Word of God is a regular part of our marriage, there will be something natural to sharing the Word in times of danger. The second point is to learn the specific texts, promises and threats, that are relevant to any given situation. When those texts are used, in love and by the power of the Spirit, they have the capacity for great usefulness. If a spouse feels burdened, know what texts to use. If a spouse feels discouraged or fearful, know the texts to use. If a spouse is being sinful, know what texts to use. Pray those texts. Read those texts. Share those texts, in a context of love and humility. This is how we use the sword of the Spirit to fight for our marriages.

COVID-19 Lord’s Day Service Plan UPDATE

This is a profoundly sad day. The Elders have said all along that if there was a mandate for us to suspend services that we would. We made a plan to minimize our numbers and keep appropriate distances. “The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps” (Prov. 16:9). That plan was made to do our best to maintain some function of church life, while making an effort to minimize contact.

Today, Governor Sisolak, ramped up restrictions:

Although the Governor does not directly address churches, it seems, at least from the State’s perspective, that we would be an essential business.

Before I address the new plan, let me make two observations. I do in fact see an inherent danger in allowing the State to determine whether the Church is essential or non-essential. It is my firm conviction that although currently the motives are good in desiring to protect the public, the trajectory of such directives may well prove problematic for churches in the future.

The second observation is that initially this was to be a 15 day “slow the spread” shut down. Please notice that this new directive extends to April 16, with the possibility of a renewal. I realize that the extended time is deemed to be necessary considering the number of new cases in Nevada has increased over the last two days. This too may set dangerous precedence. Those who think the state is benevolent towards the Church need to realize that freedoms given up for the sake of security are sometimes, indeed oftentimes, permanently relinquished.

With those qualifications, the plan for dividing the congregation into three sections with three service times is cancelled. We will have one service at 10:30 AM, which will be live streamed. We will live stream the music and the sermon. We are asking first that only those necessary for the function of the “service” be present. If you have a family member that is part of that, feel free to be present, but we are asking everyone else to stay home.

Kids notes and song sheets have been sent out already.

The sermon will be “The Prescription for Dealing with COVID-19 Stress” from John 16:33.

Please see the article I wrote and sent out earlier this week, “The Dangers for the Church in the Present Crisis,” for our perspective on live streaming

The Elders will evaluate the situation weekly. We covet your prayers.

The Elders will be seeking ways for ministry to take place. We will update you on Wednesday Bible Study, Charlie’s Friday Bible Study, and prayer groups of less than ten.

Please remember also that the bills continue for the church, so please either mail in your tithes and offerings or do so on-line https://www.gracenevada.com/life-together/giving/.

Pray that our Almighty God and Father will bring this virus to an end. Pray that He would sustain His people with a mighty hand.