Please join us for a special livestream women’s conference on Contentment In Christ. We will sit together under the teaching of God’s inerrant, authoritative, and life-giving Word and learn how contentment is attainable for Christian believers, though it must be cultivated. More information and registration HERE.
This devotional will be the final installment in this more-than-year-long series, and we thought Chris Spencer’s charge to the congregation from the 4/25/21 evening service would be a fitting way to end it. So as we move forward together as a church, let us be joyful in hope, patient in tribulation, and constant in prayer!
The charge I have for all of us tonight is from Romans 12. Starting at verse 9:
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Romans 12:9-13
This text is fitting for the occasion because directly preceding it, Paul describes the giving of gifts of grace to the body: one body with many members, having different functions and roles, receiving varying measures of grace for their callings. In 1 Corinthians 12 and 13, Paul does the same sequence, going from spiritual gifts and the diverse members of the body directly to how to love one another. “And I will show you a still more excellent way,” he says of the ways of love. It is not difficult to understand why he thinks we need to hear 13 rapid exhortations after telling us about varying gifts and functions in the body – this is a scenario ripe for trouble in our natural inclinations. Self-sufficiency, self-rule, self-love are deeply embedded in these bodies of death. How can we possibly accomplish this charge?
The answer to that question is found in verse 1 of chapter 12:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Paul’s appeal to us is that we can only do this by the mercies of God. You hear it with the therefore. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God.” The preceding chapters of Romans are summed up with that one phrase, “by the mercies of God.” He starts with 11 chapters of rich gospel explanation:
- For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God [3:23]
- For the wages of sin is death [6:23]
- But [Christ] was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification [4:25]
- He brings us to faith and pours out his Holy Spirit on us [5:5]
- Not only is there now no condemnation, we are more than conquerors [8:1, 8:37]
- God is now for us, and no one can be against us. He graciously gives us all things [8:31-32]
- His providence is such that all things work together for our good [8:28]
- His love is such that nothing can separate us from it [8:38-39]
Only by these mercies of God in Christ Jesus can we present ourselves as living sacrifices, each submitting our work fully to our king, interdependent with his church, entrusting him with the outcome.
It’s not a perfect picture, but one image that may be helpful is that of a benevolent king leading his army in the restoration of his rightful kingdom. We were, each one of us, traitors to this king, but in mercy that cost him everything, he not only granted us pardon but gave us royal standing in his kingdom. As evidence of our gratitude and desire to serve him, we present ourselves for duty, willing to give all we have for the sake of his kingdom. He gives all manner of gifts and equipment to us for the accomplishing of his work. There are infantry and cavalry, cooks and nurses, scouts and captains and generals. Some are out on the front lines, others are rarely seen. All are following him. This does not mean that there aren’t conflicts. As he goes ahead of us, there can be arguments about which way to go, or what to prioritize as we follow him. But because all trust him and his sure victory and all remember the mercy they were shown, we are able to genuinely love and honor each other.
In closing, I want to focus on three specific ways we can press on together by the mercies of God:
- Rejoice in hope – what is visible and what is temporal is a very, very small fraction of our ultimate reality. We have such a great hope and such a sure hope that we can rejoice in it even right now. This joy honors our Lord and is encouragingly contagious.
- Be patient in tribulation – because of that assured hope, we can be patient. We know the end. It may not feel like it, but it is only a short matter of time. For the joy set before him Christ endured the cross. Let us endure patiently together
- Be constant in prayer – Matthew Henry says that prayer is a friend to hope and patience. God knows our frame and exactly what we need; exactly what our church needs. He is for us – his power, his wisdom, his love all working for his glory and our good. Ask him!
And finally, as Paul reminds us just before chapter 12, all of this – the source, the means, the destination, the purpose, are His:
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
by Brad Beals
And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.” Rev 12:10
Our picture of Satan probably doesn’t include horns and a pitchfork, but how we think of him as active in the world and in our lives today may still need tweaking. Yes, Satan is a deceiver (Rev 12:9), a schemer (Eph 6:11), a rebel (Is 14:13), and a fraud (1 Cor 11:14). He is also a liar, thief, destroyer, and murderer (Jn 8:44, 10:10). But his primary effort against God’s people involves a more subtle kind of work: accusation. Satan is the accuser of the church.
That is, he was the accuser until Christ threw him down. Before the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, Satan had good reasons to accuse us: 1) We were guilty of sin, and 2) God cannot let sin go unpunished. But Christ’s atoning work on the cross and his victory over death have satisfied completely the demands of God’s law. Jesus utterly destroyed Satan’s basis for accusation. If you are in Christ, this is absolutely true for you right here, right now, in time and space, today and forevermore. Satan simply has no grounds for accusing you.
And yet, for many of us this truth feels anything but settled. If our sins (past, present, and future) have been removed, why do we seem to struggle so often with guilt and heavy consciences? If Satan is defeated, why does it seem that he is still such an effective accuser?
Part of the answer is that we’re willing to listen. Satan can no longer accuse us before God because Christ is there at the throne defending us, and that defense strategy is foolproof. Satan can’t defeat it. Instead, he whispers to us, reminding us of past sins, enticing us to rehearse them in detail, accusing us all over again of guilt before God. Our adversary knows that if he can shake us to the point where we doubt our assurance, then he’ll have moved us off the solid ground of truth (where Paul’s soldier in Ephesians 6 stands firm) and onto his own ground where he can employ his other roles, those of schemer, deceiver, liar, and murderer.
The other part of the answer is that we may not know how to leave those past sins in the past. Satan can remind us of them precisely because our brains don’t forget them. Paul remembered his own sins and even wrote about them. In Galatians 1 he says, “I persecuted the church violently and tried to destroy it.” To Timothy Paul calls himself the foremost of sinners, and to the Corinthians he says, “I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (v15:9)”
Paul is fine with mentioning his sins because he understands the gospel that he preaches. It is because of this gospel that he is also fine with saying things like “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” And before the Sanhedrin he says, “I have conducted myself before God in all good conscience to this day.” Paul knows his sins, and yet his conscience is clear. He sees no contradiction in these things because he knows the work of Christ.
In three of the four gospels we read of the strong man. “No one plunders the strong man’s house,” Jesus says, “until he first binds the strong man.” As Jesus was about to ascend to the right hand of the Father and reign until all of his enemies are put under his feet, he gave the church her marching orders: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”
Satan, the strong man and our would-be accuser, was thrown down and tied up 2000 years ago, and the church has been plundering his house ever since. Each of us is a part of that plunder. We have been won and claimed by Jesus, and he has purchased for us (at an inestimable price to himself) a clear conscience before God and man.
Grace Greater than Our Sin
Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin!
~ Julia H. Johnston (1849-1919)
The past few months our international Bible study has been working through the book of 1 John. I was particularly challenged as we reflected upon these verses chapter 2:
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
John warns us that what we most love and desire will influence our present and shape our future. Are your desires set on the things you find in this world or on the greatest thing that stands behind and outside it? John is using the term world (gr: kosmos), not in reference to people or to the creation itself, but in terms of a system that is under the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19). Under his reign we are captive to the impulses of our flesh, the allure of our eyes, and the promise of power and fame within his realm. It’s a reminder for us that there is a real demonic presence in the systems of this world. People are not as free as they think.
So what’s the solution to our problem of desire? Is it a form of Buddhist doctrine, the need to empty ourselves of any and all desire, to detach ourselves from the things of this earth? Not for John. He offers a better solution. The solution is not to empty ourselves of desire, but rather to heighten it to a better one, one that finds its source and aim in something beyond this world. This world is passing away along with its desires (verse 17). But. There’s the link. There’s something greater to set our passions upon. It’s doing the will of God (a word which is sometimes translated as desire). God’s will (his desire) isn’t an abstract reference to something that is beyond our reach. John tells us that the will of God is something we can do. When we set our passions and desires upon God, our present is transformed and our future becomes glorious.
How can God’s desire become our desire? Another way to ask this question, how can we overcome this world and align ourselves with a better one? John tells us: “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world” (1 John 5:4). Being born of God through faith joins us to Christ, who conquered sin, Satan, and death, and makes us conquerors and overcomers of this world.
The wonder of the gospel is a realigning of desire. When our desire aligns with God’s desire, we have overcome the world and are on the path of eternity. Augustine said of 1 John 2:17, “Hold fast to Christ. For you he became temporal, so that you might partake of eternity” (quoted in the ESV Study Bible). Which would you rather partake of: a temporal world that is passing away or an eternity with the God of light and love? To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, why waste our time with mud pies in the slum when we can have a wonderful holiday at the sea?
Here’s the warning and rebuke for us: “The world is passing away along with its desires.” But here’s the good news: “Whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
The 19th Annual URC Golf League season begins on Monday, May 3rd. We play on Mondays through mid August. We are looking for full-time & part-time players and subs as well. Golfers of all skill levels play in the league.
Men and women are both welcome, and this is a great way to connect with other URCers and invite other friends and neighbors. The cost for a full-time player is approximately $225 for the entire season. Please contact Dean Decker if you are interested in playing or have questions at Text/Call 517-775-4642 or [email protected]. We also stay connected on our facebook page.
The Lord has been kind to our church during a unique and trying year. We are thankful as we look back, and as we continue to move forward as a congregation. The Session recently approved the plan below for increased openness in the coming months. Our original six guiding principles continue to shape our thinking. We have sought to faithfully and prayerfully lead with these in mind: glorify the Lord and honor His word, love our neighbors, uphold the importance of gathered corporate worship, honor the governing authorities, respect the consciences of brothers and sisters, and walk humbly recognizing we don’t know what we don’t know. The plan outlined below may need to be adjusted, and in such a scenario we will communicate the reasons.
Leaders for Growth Groups and URC ministries will be working with staff and elders if they anticipate disruption to their ministry from the changes above.
Thank you for your patience, perseverance, and prayerfulness as we continue to move forward together glorifying Christ and growing in grace. We are blessed with a great church and an even greater Savior.
With much love,
The Session of University Reformed Church
by Peeter Lukas
We’re all familiar with the ethereal beauty of 1 Corinthians 13. In verses 1-3 Paul speaks of the absolute necessity of love. If it’s absent then I am a mere clanging cymbal or resounding gong, I’m nothing, and I gain nothing. In verses 4-7 the apostle uses 15 verbs to describe the characteristics of love, and in verses 8 and 13 he says that “Love never fails” and “the greatest of these is love.” But I want to focus on two specific aspects of love that we find in this chapter. Verse 13:4a reads, “Love is patient and kind…” That’s from the ESV; the KJV may be an even more revealing translation: “Charity suffereth long, and is kind…”
Love defines life for the Christian. John 13:34,35 reads, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” But 1 Cor.13:4 serves as a reality check to this command. There are evil and injury in a fallen world, and so there are weaknesses and sins amongst God‘s people. And yet we’re called to suffereth long and to be kind.
“Love suffereth long.” Here is the passive quality of love. It considers that we are unloveable. Matt.5:46 – “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” And it considers our suffering. Romans 8:23 – “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
“Love is kind.” Here is the active goodness of love. It listens and engages with others even at personal cost. It extends Gospel goodness, even in the face of being rebuffed. Could there be a more active exercise of love than imitating Christ’s love for us? John 15:12 – “…love one another as I have loved you.”
Love suffereth long and is kind…. Can any Christian read these words and say, “I got this!”? Of course not. We have all failed and will continue to fail. Paul assumes this in Eph. 4:2 when he says, “…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” Bearing with one another requires love.
Love to God and others is exhaustive in its scope, and perfection is its expectation. Are we therefore hopeless? No, because the love that we see in 1Cor 13 is for those in Christ. We are the objects of God’s perfect love. 2 Peter 3:9 – “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” His righteous judgment has been averted in the death of His Son.
And Longsuffering describes His attitude and disposition towards us now. Rich in mercy, God pours out blessings upon His people day in and day out. Paul had only to look upon his life to say, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) And to say, “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:16,17)
There is no shortage of “What the post COVID church will look like” internet articles these days. But we have the answer. Love to God and love to neighbor — the two tables of the law, in that order — must forever and a day be the foundation of how the Church moves forward. The love of God suffereth long and is kind, and therefore, so must the love of God’s people.
All URC men are invited to a 5-week small group book study this Spring. Groups of 5-8 men will be put together to accommodate various preferences for gathering (virtual, outdoors, and indoors). We will study portions of the book Duties of Christian Fellowship: A Manual for Church Members, a modernized version of a manual that John Owen wrote for members of his church almost 400 years ago. The groups will start meeting the week of 4/29 and end the last week of May. Please register at this link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/T96GW2V
Men’s Breakfast: Join us for a URC Men’s Breakfast, Rescheduled for Saturday, May 1st from 8:00-9:30 am in the Fellowship Hall. Meet with your URC brothers with a breakfast from Chick-Fil-A. Because we are bringing in the food from outside, we are asking that you register so we have a head count. Registration available soon.
URC “Macker” – 3v3 Basketball Tournament: Immediately following the Men’s Breakfast on Saturday, April 24, will be a 3v3 basketball tournament in the church parking lot. Find all the information HERE.
by Tim Herwaldt
|Where does the Bible rank on your list of reading priorities? Most of us probably read from many sources every day. Some of us still read printed newspapers. Many read magazines, books, internet articles. There are things to read about innumerable topics: Fishing, politics, history, cooking, woodworking, sports, theology, and on and on. Whatever your preferences for reading material, I’d like to suggest that almost every one of us would do well to replace some of what we usually read with a little more time reading the Bible.|
There are many Biblical reasons we could draw from to support this notion, but I’d like to use one of the shortest verses in the Bible as my inspiration for urging that we consider this. John 17 records for us the prayer that Jesus prayed on the night that he was betrayed. Among the things he prays for is that the Father would continue to keep his followers, even as he, Jesus, prepares to finish his ministry on earth and return to his Father in heaven. He prays in ways that should be a great encouragement to us.
In verse 9 he says that he is not praying for everyone but very particularly for those who belong to him: “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.”
In verse 11 he prays that the Father would keep them, and prays that they’d be unified: “…keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.”
In verse 15 he prays that the Father would keep them from the evil one: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.”
Especially encouraging is verse 20 where he prays for us, those who would believe in later generations, long after that of the original 12 disciples: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
So where does the idea that we should be reading the Bible more faithfully come from? Tucked into the heart of this prayer is verse 17 which says, “ Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
We understand that sanctification is the process of growing in holiness and that this is the Lord’s desire for all of his people. The fact that this is his desire for us is spelled out very clearly in 1 Thessalonians 4:3a where Paul instructs these believers this way: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” So, God’s will for us is that we grow in holiness, and by pairing this notion with the one presented in John 17:17, we can see that reading and growing in our understanding of God’s word is an integral part of this process. If we see this as a scriptural mandate for us, then it should motivate us to make Bible reading a regular and important part of our lives. A once a week “fill up” on Sundays is not sufficient. We need to be reading in a way that increases both the breadth and the depth of our knowledge of the word of God.
It’s good for us to bear in mind that each of us will find certain parts of scripture easier to read or more attractive to us than other parts. Paul’s word to Timothy is a good reminder that all of scripture is important for us as followers of Jesus Christ. In 2 Timothy 3:15-17 he assures his younger brother in the faith like this: “ and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God[b] may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
The “sacred writings” that Paul references here are the scriptures we know as the Old Testament today, and they, like the New Testament are breathed out by God and profitable for us.
If reading scripture regularly and meaningfully has proven to be difficult for you to maintain, I’d like to suggest that you pray that God would give you a heart that reflects the heart of the author of Psalm 119. In verses 97-104 he proclaims his love for the word of God and describes some of its benefits for him…
“Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
98 Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
for it is ever with me.
99 I have more understanding than all my teachers,
for your testimonies are my meditation.
100 I understand more than the aged,
for I keep your precepts.
101 I hold back my feet from every evil way,
in order to keep your word.
102 I do not turn aside from your rules,
for you have taught me.
103 How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
104 Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way.“
Pray faithfully and regularly that the Lord would increase in your heart a love for his word that would encourage you to grow in being regularly immersed in his word. You can confidently pray a prayer like this because you are asking him to help you love his priorities for you. And as you pray this kind of prayer, pick up your Bible and read!