Discover What Unites Us

Philippians 2:1-2a

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete… (NIV).

Philippians is a very rich letter to a local church that had been longtime partners with the apostle Paul in his ministry. If the apostle needed help, they did all they could to provide it quickly. We might almost want to think of them as the ideal gathering of believers, except for the stern reality that ideal churches do not exist in this world. A close reading of the book reveals that they needed transformation in various areas. One of them was their unity.

Paul spoke to their need, first, in sort of in a “back door” manner. He did not bluntly tell them to be like-minded, to share the same love, to be one in spirit, of one mind, and to get rid of selfish ambition, which was the root of their disunity. Instead, he first asked them to make his joy complete. They needed to think of someone else’s joy first. Then, he presented some areas in which they needed change. We all can learn from his tactfulness. He built a better way of life through better relationships.

Christians have been too task-oriented, trying to achieve perfection in themselves and others by beating people with a code of conduct or steps to change. While repeating the cliché, “Christianity is not a religion but a relationship,” to the unsaved, we quickly forget this as we pursue perfection to have a better life.

How did Paul motivate his friends to make his joy complete? He wrote about what they possessed through their relationship with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit. He emphasized spiritual relationships.

  • He reminded them of their encouragement from being united with Christ. Observe that they knew about their union with Christ. It was the relational core of their Christian experience. We ought to wake up thinking about the truth of being united to Jesus the Messiah. This is intended to affect how we think of ourselves, how we relate to others, and how we confront the events of our lives. I have just received word of the “homegoing” of a dear sister in Christ. Praise God for the eternal encouragement that we have because of the gospel.
  • He pointed to the comfort from his love that all in Christ share. We are people that are loved by the Lord; in fact, we are his dearly loved children. Wherever we go and whatever we encounter, we live as his sons and daughters.
  • He recalled their common sharing in the Spirit. We have fellowship with the Spirit of God. He leads us in ways of godliness. He strengthens us in the inner person of the heart. He intercedes for us, because our prayers seldom make sense. He helps us endure, making God’s peace real in our souls.
  • He recollected the tenderness and compassion they had experienced. Paul wrote in part to prepare them for the suffering for Christ that was coming to them. They were in the Lord’s plan together, and they needed to be ready to help one another when the journey to glory would become harder. It makes no sense for Christians to quarrel with one another, when there is a real enemy who delights in our suffering.

Let us remind ourselves of what we share in Christ. The believer that you suppose is a problem is someone who can build you up, or rather, someone whom you ought to bless, strengthen, and comfort. It’s a matter of spiritual relationship in the Lord.

Grace and peace, David

A Double Evil

Jeremiah 2:12-13

Be appalled at this, heavens; be shocked and utterly desolated! This is the Lord’s declaration. For my people have committed a double evil: They have abandoned me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves—cracked cisterns that cannot hold water (CSB).

God’s story takes in all aspects of human experience. A novice to the truth might anticipate that it would only speak of joy and glory. Yes, it ends in the fullness of both glory and joy. However, along the way, as the Lord of glory interacts with people, he feels our sorrows, our ugliness, our ruin. The Forever Blessed One calls us to feel the disgust caused by people’s rejection of his joy and glory. The verbs are meant to shake us out of our complacency: Be appalled… be shocked… utterly desolated. Why such horror? It is because the visible people of God had committed the evil exchange, that lies at the core of fallen humanity (cf. Romans 1:18-23). What is this evil? It is the exchange of the all-glorious God for worthless idols.

The Father calls this a double evil. First, people abandon God. Abandonment of others is very much a part of this world. One day there is love, joy, peace, acceptance, and friendship. The next is the awfulness of rejection, the benefits of friendship gone. You may weep if you have been abandoned by family or friends.  Watching his people walk away is intensified because the Lord fully understands what they are walking away from—the fountain of living water. Fresh water is necessary for life, but people want the dust of death. Second, people make substitutes for God, but the substitutes are defective. Instead of the fountain, they want cisterns, and they’re cracked, unusable cisterns at that! If you have ever seen someone trade a loving family for some ruinous pleasure, you know the tearful outrage that this brings to one’s heart. God spoke through Jeremiah to call them back from this senseless, double evil.

This word is not simply for Israel 2600 years ago. It is for us. The temptation to commit this double evil surrounds us, and because of remaining sin, it can stir within us. Our Father in heaven calls us to a joyous walk in the light with him. If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7). Read his word, think on it, talk to your God, and share your life with him. Give thanks for the blessings of his grace; dare to ask for more grace.

Do not abandon God on Monday or any other day, because it is gray and rainy, because other people are making your life miserable, or because you feel lonely and dejected. Do not make substitute pleasures out of the gods or goddesses of money, power, popularity, and pleasure. Learn anew where true pleasure is found, in the fountain of living water. Refresh your heart in the Lord today.

Grace and peace, David

The Source of Love (Part One)

1 John 4:19-21

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister (NIV).

True Christianity is not involvement in religious activity or keeping a list of rules and rituals. Instead, it is a relationship with the living God. The apostle John likes to use two terms to set forth this relationship. The first is fellowship, which speaks of sharing life with God (1:3, 6-7). The other is know, meaning more than the knowledge of facts or the knowledge of skill, but the knowledge of a person (2:3-4). We know God personally.

In his first letter John is intent on declaring the transformation that occurs when a person has a real relationship with the living God. He says that three changes occur when a person knows God and has fellowship with God.

  • He or she confesses the truth about God (2:22-23; 4:6)
  • He or she obeys God’s commands (2:3-6)
  • He or she loves God and the people in God’s family (3:14; 4:7-8)

In a couple articles this week, we will consider the transforming character that comes from a real relationship with the living God.

God’s love is the source of our love. Humans do not naturally love. Rebellion against God, who is love, has twisted our nature. At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another (Titus 3:3 NIV; cf. Romans 3:12-17). Since this is true, there is no starting point in any human from which he or she can develop a relationship with God. We do not “stretch out our finger” to receive God’s life giving touch. By nature, we are opposed to the God of love.

“We must once and forever get rid of the idea that God loved us by way of response either to something that is in us or to something we have done” (Lloyd-Jones, The Love of God, p. 194. God encounters us as enemies, who are spiritually unresponsive (dead in sin). “The love of God is self-generated, self-moved, self-created; and it is the very first postulate of the Christian gospel to realize that” (Ibid).

Therefore, God must take the initiative with any person for there to be a relationship between him and any person. Here are some actions that God took that we might know his love and then love others.

  • This initiative began before the beginning of time. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time (2 Timothy 1:9 NIV). God knew what sin would do, so he planned a solution before the problem occurred.
  • The Father sent the Son to rescue us from our sins. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10 NIV).
  • The Son came to carry out the mission of salvation. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10 NIV).
  • The Spirit of God testifies to the truth about the Son of God, so that we can know God’s love for us in Christ. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth (1 John 2:20 NIV; cf. 5:6-10).

On this Valentine’s Day, think on the great story of God reaching out to you in his amazing love? Has the Triune God established a relationship with you? Respond in love to him.

Grace and peace, David

Fellowship Differently

Philemon 1:7

For I have great joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother (HCSB).

When we meet together as the Lord’s people, we assemble to worship and to fellowship. This last word is not well understood. It tells us of what we share together in Christ, and what we should share with each other. In short, fellowship is much more than the proverbial ‘coffee and donuts’ and chatting with each other about our children, jobs, houses, and sports teams. Much of this is no different from talking with others at work or with other adults at children’s sports.

Fellowship concerns sharing our lives in Christ with each other. It involves building up, encouraging, comforting, and helping one another, and very much more. True fellowship rests new life in Christ, love flowing out from Christ by the Spirit, and upon shared ideas, values, and attitudes.

To experience fellowship as followers of Christ requires good models, since most of us do not grasp abstract concepts. How to fellowship is more caught than taught. If someone has taught you how to share your life with others by example or as a mentor, thank God for that person right now. But what if you and your local church obviously fall short of true fellowship? How can you fellowship differently?

One way is to study and then seek to imitate the examples written in the Scriptures. In our text, Paul commends Philemon for being such a person. Let’s observe Philemon in these words of the apostle.

  • Philemon gave Paul great joy and encouragement from his love. Philemon’s love, which came from the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), reached out to other followers of Christ. He set his heart on Paul and others to act for their benefit. His love desired that others rejoice. He wanted them to be encouraged! You see, every gathering of God’s family ought to have the aim to produce joy and encouragement. We should enter the meeting determined to spread joy and encouragement, and we should leave, having received large baskets of the same. Notice that word “great” or “much”. Obviously, this happens when love overflows. For example, it does not come from a polite handshake but a warm embrace. We cannot act like we’ve been “emotionally neutered”, if we’re to spread much joy and encouragement. Yes, I know love is more than emotions, but it is also not less.
  • Philemon refreshed the hearts of the saints. The word translated “heart” is a strong term, used for the deep interior of a person along with their emotions. Again, it was more than a polite, “I’ll be praying for you; keep me posted,” kind of action. It is trying to improve the outlook of a person from the depths of their being. It asks itself, “How I can act to refresh this person?” Many times, we cannot change the circumstances of others. But we can seek to lift them up, to speak hope into them, so that they will endure in faith to the glory of God. To refresh someone’s heart requires us to invest time with them.
  • Philemon acted as a brother. His commitment and relationship to his brothers and sisters in Christ fueled his good works for them. We are a spiritual brotherhood, and we dare not forsake others because we feel we have too many needs of our own. Everyone in Christ has new life and the Holy Spirit and gifts from the Spirit. How can we hold ourselves away from our brothers and sisters because “I’m too tired” or “I’m too busy” or “I have so many problems”, etc.?

Let us observe Philemon, and then let us go out to imitate him. Every group we are part of, whether small or large, need refreshed hearts. Will you give yourself to refresh others?

Grace and peace, David

Walking in the Truth

img_42683 John

For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth (3 John 1:3-4 ESV).

In our group reading, we have read (or should have read!) 2 and 3 John ten times. Those who have read it will be aware that the ideas of “walk” and “truth” are important in the letters of John. Here, he takes these two important concepts and joins them together to form a lively picture of what the Christian way of life looks like. What is walking in the truth?

“Truth” is the message of Jesus the Anointed (Messiah or Christ). He was sent by God the Father to make known who God is and to provide the only way that sinful people like us can have our sins forgiven and be right with God. In Christ, God is known, and we can have koinonia (“fellowship” or sharing of life) with God. Truth is essential to John. True Christianity is not formed from our opinions and preferences but from God’s revelation of himself and the way to God in Jesus the Messiah. This is the reason that correct teaching (“doctrine”) matters. Our views must develop out from the Scriptures, instead of trying to find a text that can be stretched in bizarre ways to lend supposed support to human inventions. Therefore, we stress reading and rereading books of the Scripture. As we read and listen carefully, we will hear God’s ideas of reality, and by the Spirit, we will see those ideas and values become ours.

“To walk” means our way of life; it means the attitudes, words and actions that we have and do. In many places in the Scriptures, the Spirit teaches that these can be transformed and conformed to God’s word. Our present practice can be far different and godlier than how we used to live. We are not victims of our circumstances. In Christ, we have power to change. This requires personal choices that are consistent with what the Spirit of God has revealed in the Bible. Yes, I understand fully that you might think that sinful patterns of attitudes, words, and actions are native or natural to you. It feels that way because sin comes from inside you (Mark 7:21-23), as well as being presented to you by others. But in Christ you can make godly choices with the help of the Holy Spirit.

“To walk in the truth” is the practice of seeking to experience the way we live transformed by the truth. God’s message forms new, godly ways in us. An example of this is Paul’s statement in Galatians 2:20. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (ESV). The apostle said that the reality of his union with Christ in his crucifixion produced a radical change in the way he lived. The bigoted persecutor had become the servant of Christ and so followed him in his way of life. John rejoiced when he saw people walking in the truth. There was no gap between the message of the gospel and how they lived. Dear friends, are we walking in the truth? Do we walk in the truth so that others notice our new way of life?

Grace and peace, David

Welcome to God’s People

IMG_1111Ruth 2:8-9

As we listen to the book of Ruth, it is clear that life had not been easy for this young Moabite woman. She married into an Israelite family, who had gone to live in her native country. But before they had been in Moab ten years, great tragedy struck. Ruth’s husband, father-in-law, and brother-in-law all died. Her mother-in-law, who is filled with bitterness, decided to return to Israel, when she heard that God had come to help his people. And Ruth made the wise and godly decision to go with her. Ruth threw in her lot with God’s people, but still her life did not seem promising. For to the casual onlooker, Ruth was an outsider from one of Israel’s enemies. She lacked financial support. Her mother-in-law could not or would not help, and so Ruth went out into the fields to gather leftover stalks of grain—alone.

However, Ruth was not really alone, because God was with her. As we saw last week, the Sovereign Lord directed her into the fields of one of her relatives by marriage. His name was Boaz, a well-off, influential landowner. In the story of Ruth, a dramatic moment has arrived. Ruth and Boaz talk for the first time. What will happen?

Boaz gave a kind answer to Ruth’s request. As this scene opens, all was not sweetness and light for Ruth. On the one hand, she gathered grain so that Naomi and she could eat. But on the other hand, this was hard work, and from the coming conversation with Boaz, we can gain hints that she felt threatened, perhaps because she was a Moabite. She may well have wondered how successful her endeavor might be. Suddenly, everything changed for her good! It was in the path of faith that Ruth found blessing.

Ruth found acceptance. His kind greeting (“my daughter”) was a message of welcome. Boaz didn’t address her as an enemy or even a foreigner but as a family member. His words conveyed a sense of inclusion and reassurance. They might well have been the first kind words she heard since she arrived in Israel. It was like saying, “We’re glad you’re here; please make yourself at home.” This sense of acceptance ought to permeate every situation in every assembly of Christ’s people. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. (Romans 15:7 NIV). In addition, his words were also an invitation. He told her to stay in his fields. From his emphasis, it seems that she might have been in the process of leaving. He quieted her fears. My brothers and sisters, we must realize that we need to make others feel very accepted. We might be familiar with handshakes and perhaps hugs in the local church we have attended for a while, but the hearts of guests can be very apprehensive. Perhaps they have never felt acceptance. Now certainly, you don’t rush up and give a guest a hug! But you can ask them if they’d like a cup of coffee, show them where to hang up their coats, or offer to sit near them.

Ruth received protection. Boaz gave Ruth a place in his community of workers. He did not offer to pay her, but he allowed her to support herself off his possessions. Yes, God’s law commanded this, but he let her know that he walked according to the law of the Lord (Psalm 119:1). He reassured Ruth that no one would abuse her verbally, physically or sexually in his fields. He sought to put Ruth at ease. She would not have to work looking over to her shoulder. She was in a secure place where she could enjoy gathering food. It is a man’s responsibility to make women and girls feel safe and secure (cf. 1 Timothy 5:2).

Ruth discovered compassion. Boaz gave Ruth permission to drink from the water jars used by his workers. This was very considerate care for a woman working hard under the near eastern sun; it would also save her time in getting her own water. This act of compassion reversed the usual social customs, because in that culture foreigners usually gave water to Israelites and women to men. So then, this would strike Ruth as very special treatment. He invited Ruth to take the first steps from outside the social circle of the community of Israel to inside at least the outer part of that circle.

Where are you in your fellowship of believers? If it is a gathering of true followers of Christ, you should feel welcome and being drawn closer. It can take people with little knowledge of community time to feel accepted, but the atmosphere of acceptance should be evident. Receive invitations to draw nearer as you perceive the grace of the good news of Christ in the assembly. If you are inside, reach out to people who are new to the group. Get out of your comfort zone to bring others into it. You are the messenger of Christ’s love to newcomers and to those who still linger on the fringes of your local church.

Grace and peace, David

More Thoughts about Drawing Near to God

SAMSUNG
SAMSUNG

Hebrews 10:22

A few days ago, we learned from this passage that the living God wants his people to live in close fellowship with him. (I deliberately use the word “learn”, because one of the ways believers are referred to is as disciples or “learners”.) Nearness and boldness to God our Father is encouraged in this new covenant age. God welcomes us heartily into his presence. Coldness, a careless attitude, a lukewarm desire, and fear are all out of place. Instead, we are to have a proper approach to God: “with a sincere [true] heart”. So then, let us learn some more!

We ought to begin with an explanation of terms. The “heart” refers to the whole inner person: mind, emotions, will, etc. The “heart” is in contrast to the outer person (2 Corinthians 5:12; 1 Peter 3:4). Don’t restrict “heart” to the emotions. What is the nature of the Christian’s heart? To help understand it, let’s contrast it with a non-Christian’s heart. The unregenerate heart is a heart where sin reigns (Romans 1:21, 24; 2:5; Ephesians 4:18; Hebrews 3:12). But the regenerate heart is a heart where God’s reign has been established (Hebrews 8:10; 10:16).

To approach God with a true heart is to draw near to him with a heart and life in conformity with the truth of God having been written in one’s heart. Remember the article about the belt of truth? We have been taught the truth in Jesus, and daily we need to apply his truth to the way we live. For example, the apostle said (Galatians 2:20), “I have been crucified with Christ.” This is a great truth of Christian experience. In our standing before God, he looks at us as crucified. Since that is true, observe how Paul follows up: “and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” He knew what was true and he sought to live out that truth in practical ways. In the same way, the ground or basis of approach is your union with Christ, but the manner of your approach must be with “a sincere heart”. This sincere heart requires us to draw near to God with reliance on, joy in, and a desire to conform to our Lord and Savior.

For this reason, we know the following. Merely religious persons seem to draw near to God, but they don’t come with a sincere heart. There are those who perform duties that God has commanded, but who do them in a formal manner and with the outward person only (Isaiah 1:10ff; the Holy Spirit is very emphatic in this passage!) There are also those who worship God by formal, manmade inventions (Matthew 15:7-9; the Lord Jesus is very emphatic in this passage!) God is not indifferent about how we approach him. God desires our heart. He wants our inner person fully involved in a godly manner when we come to him (Mark 12:28-30; Ephesians 5:19).

Are you making use of your privileges? God wants you to draw near to him. I’m sure you have a heating system in your house or apartment. Did you have it on when the days were cool? You probably have a bed with a comfortable mattress. Did you sleep on it or on the floor last night? Every Christian should be concerned that all believers in their local fellowship are drawing near to God. Notice the words of the text – “let us….” This ought to be one of our real and constant concerns for one another. “Father in heaven work in my brother or sister’s heart. May you give them grace so that they draw near to you. I want them to enjoy you and to know you and peace, as they trust in you. O Lord, please fill them with confidence to draw near to you.”

Grace and peace, David

Fellowship with God

This morning we had our weekly guys’ Bible study and breakfast. It was a joyful time of sharing our lives, the scriptures, and prayer with each other. Afterwards, I went for a morning walk to get on my way to my daily goal of ten thousIMG_0482 (1)and steps. It was also time alone to share my life with our Father in heaven.

Fellowship with God… Do you ever feel that you have a hard time knowing that delight? There are occasions when God seems so real and near, and others when we’re filled with doubts and fears and plain loneliness. Have you ever felt like God has deserted you? Many times, those feelings can be diagnosed as consequences of our sins. Thankfully, we always have a way back through Jesus Christ our advocate (1 John 1:6-2:2). But that is not my topic today.

Let’s focus on first steps with fellowship with God. The word translated as fellowship in 1 John 1:3 is koinonia, which means to share, to partner, and to participate. We share life with God, the Maker and Ruler of everything. God has given us life, and this life is in his Son (1 John 5:11). Since this is true, we should consciously and deliberately share our lives with God. This means something as personal as communicating with the Father when you are on a walk. Speak to him about your ideas, aspirations, troubles, and desire to know him better. God designed us to communicate with him daily, and so we ought to open up our lives to him.

Next, fellowship involves partnership. We are God’s fellow workers. He has a plan to make more and more worshipers through the gospel of Christ. Our part is to extend the good news to other people, as we live in faith, hope, and love. At our breakfast this morning, we dreamed about what we would like to see happen and how to get there. Prayer to the Father is a crucial part of this partnership.

Another aspect of fellowship is sharing with people in need. Who are the hurting, pain-filled, lonesome, troubled people in you world today? We only have to open our eyes to see them. How can you share Christ’s joy and peace with someone of them today? It can be as simple as a kind word or an offer to have coffee or tea with them. This is part of your fellowship with God. You and I are Christ’s ambassadors to tell them of the grace and peace they may have.

Fellowship with God today!

David