Friday, November 29, 2013

If there is a God .................................... Parables 047

“If there is a God, why doesn’t He do something about the mess that the world is in? What kind of a God would allow these horrible things?”

For the serious truth-seeker, these are formidable obstacles to faith in a loving, merciful God.

But, how does one decide what God is like . . .  by looking at the circumstances of life?

If we do that, then God would be a good God in the eyes of those experiencing comfort and an evil God to those who are poor. He would be fickle to those who experience constant change, and remote to those who suffer from the sinful actions of others.

Some look for God inside, by self-examination. It has been said that even though God created man in the image of God, man creates God in the image of man. It is possible to consider God in human terms, seeing our attitudes and values as His, and perhaps not liking what we see.

These methods of determining the character of God are as ancient as the pagan idolatries. The character of their gods was based on the weather, on the success of the hunt, on the appearance and behavior of the animals and bird around them, or on their own human limitations.

Romans 1 says that God has made His attributes clearly evident to people, but “even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but became futile in their speculations . . .  professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man, and birds . . .  animals . . .  crawling creatures.” 

The chapter goes on to graphically describe the degeneration of man as a result of the decision to make up a god instead of acknowledging who He really is, and being thankful to Him.

God is not the one who is apathetic about the mess that the world is in. We are. God created responsible, volitional human beings - who have, for the most part, chosen to deny what they know of Him, and go their own way. In doing so, a “mess” has resulted. Most refuse to take responsibility for their part of the mess, and then blame God (and each other) for not doing anything to change the situation.

Is it really fair to accuse God, or even wonder if He cares, when it is our individual and corporate rebellion against His laws that have caused our pain? (Tragically, the results of individual acts of sin are not always felt the most deeply by the one who does them. A man can offend the law of God by beating his wife and she suffers. Yet God says all are sinners, even the wife, though her guilt may not directly hurt her husband.)

When God created us, He gave us a free will. Because we choose to rebel against Him, we hurt ourselves and one another. But God loved the world so much that He has offered forgiveness for our rebellion, and healing for the hurts. He showed His deep concern by sending His Son as a living sacrifice for us.

Personal repentance and faith in Jesus Christ may not wipe out the crimes, immorality, and sin of others, but those who receive His perfect life are themselves changed, and given the resources needed to clean up their part of the mess.

Christ told His disciples “You are the light of the world . . .  you are the salt of the earth.” Light and salt are to counter darkness and corruption.

At best, that one person can “let their light shine,” offering the love of God and the life-changing message of the gospel to all who will hear.

At worst, we who know Him can sit back, fold our arms, and let our world continue to think that God doesn’t care.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Pity Parties .................................... Parables 046

“I’m quitting.”

I say that several times while having a pity-party. Sometimes I think that I want to escape the endless routine of dishes, laundry, and mending. Life is just too much. Or the phone rings too often, or not often enough, or the responsibilities add up, or people don’t treat me right, or whatever the issue - the blame goes out and discouragement comes in.

In the middle of one of these pity-parties, I decided to tackle the topic of discouragement.

The first thought, just from looking at the word, is that a person who is “discouraged” must be the opposite of someone who “has courage.” A verse I’d memorized about courage came to mind, “The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” (Proverbs 28:1)

Hmm. That is interesting. People who have something on their conscience, who are guilty about something, can feel afraid, even when there is nothing to be afraid of. But what does that verse have to do with me?

My mind returned to discouragement . . .  my lack of courage. Where does it come from? When I feel like fleeing or running away, is there something to run from? Are there newer, bigger problems, or just the same old ones? I had to admit that this time the problems were the same as always, or at least similar.

Then I asked myself, are there more difficulties than usual? Again, I had to admit not. But the same problems didn’t bother me yesterday.

That verse from Proverbs was bugging me. But discouragement isn’t fear, I argued. So I looked up discouragement in the dictionary. It said, “to weaken the courage or lessen the confidence . . . ” Sounded like fear to me.

It is amazing the excuses that I came up with before I decided to quit making excuses. I needed to examine myself and see if there was some guilt that made me feel like running away from home. Had I allowed something in my life that God called wicked? Sure enough, it was easy to recall, as soon as I was willing to remember . . . I had responded sinfully to someone, and needed to put that right. My desire to flee was rooted in me, not in my problems.

It is never fun apologizing to God or to people, but God always forgives when we genuinely confess, and people are usually gracious enough to say something like “I never even noticed, but I forgive you anyway.” Both responded faithfully.

The feelings of wanting to quit left immediately. It hurt to hit them at their roots, but the discomfort of admitting I was wrong was worth the results that followed.

Being discouraged, feeling sorry for myself, and wanting to quit are not my idea of fun. In fact, I enjoy my work, even enjoy tackling the variety of problems that come my way.

Being bold as a lion is exciting too. It makes pity-parties lose all their charm.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Why wait until all else fails? ...................... Parables 045

Somewhere this holiday season some dads (and moms) have been driven to frustration with these words: “Some Assembly Required.” Bicycles, models, toys, whatever comes in parts, can test our patience, especially while junior stands at our elbow waiting for the finished product. Parts seem to be missing, or they won’t fit as they should, or they refuse to match the other pieces. At some point in this procedure, someone usually utters this advice, “When all else fails, follow the directions.”

Most of us have this inner determination to “do it myself,” without outside help, and without so much as a glance at the directions. It seems to be part of our humanness to wait until “all else fails” before we check to even see if there are instructions for our particular dilemma.

I recall a fishing trip, chartered in Alaska. The goal was halibut, the procedure totally unfamiliar. We were told to let out our line until we felt the one pound weight hit the bottom. Then we were to lift it 6 inches so the hook and bait did not rest on the ocean floor.

Not out of any particular wisdom, I did exactly what I was told.

The others on board were fishing “veterans.” They had better ideas. They did not follow those simple directions.
In less than two hours, the other five fishermen had one halibut between them, and an assortment of crab and other bottom feeding sea life. However, I had lost count of my catch.

God used that fishing experience to illustrate the importance of following directions. Life is full of challenges, from putting together parts, to greater riddles . . .  and many times God gives clear instructions, or at least I know where to look for them. However, I tend to do it myself . . .  until “all fails” and I am forced to check the directions.

Joshua, a leader of the Israelites in the Old Testament, was challenged to “follow the directions” too. He was commanded by God to conquer a formidable enemy. Joshua was terrified at the task, so God told him to “be of good courage.” Then He gave this advice: “Do not let This Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

In other words, “Don’t wait until you fail, read the directions, think about them, and follow them diligently, right from the beginning, then you will succeed.” 

The boat captain knew about halibut fishing. I didn’t. It seemed sensible to listen to what he said.

The manufacturer of bikes and models and toys that come in pieces should know about their product. It seems sensible to follow their directions.

The “Manufacturer’s Manual,” the Word of God, has instruction for us, not so much to conquer nations but because all of us recognize that the greatest project of all, putting our lives together so that the parts fit and the whole thing operates as the Manufacturer intended, requires some assembly, some directions to follow. 

Why wait until all else fails?

(image source)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Next Year? ................................. Parables 044

New Year’s Resolutions anyone? One dictionary defines a resolution as a “termination of an abnormal condition.”... ceasing to BE something that is not normal. Most resolutions are decisions to stop DOING unwanted behavior, and begin DOING new behavior. It would be interesting to take a look at resolutions from the point of view of BEING (or character), rather than DOING.

The human race, when first created, was perfect. Adam and Eve were innocent of sin, lived in harmony with each other and with their Creator. Their work was rewarding. They were content. And This was the norm, the way that they were supposed to be. 

After Adam and Eve rebelled against God, they were no longer innocent but guilty. They were put out of the presence of God, and their normal, happy life became difficult, marked by sin, and diametrically opposite to the paradise they had been expelled from.

Since then, we have become so accustomed to our abnormal behavior that we tend to think of it as normal, except around New Years, when something stirs us to “turn over a new leaf,” “begin fresh,” or simply “do it right next year.”

However, the behaviors that we resolve to change are simply byproducts of our character, our BEING. Since New Year’s Resolutions generally take a swipe only at what we DO, our good intentions inevitably fail because we merely treat symptoms. And even if we wanted to, we cannot change what we ARE. We cannot terminate our abnormal condition. The Bible questions our ability to change ourselves with, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?” (Jeremiah 13:23) 

But there is good news. God’s Word says much about the power of God to “make a new thing.” His creation gives examples, from the rising of a volcanic mountain off the flat ocean floor, to the metamorphosis of a butterfly from a fuzzy caterpillar. As for us humans, the Bible speaks of “putting off the old nature and putting on the new” and “walking in newness of life.” 

It is possible to have new life. The source of this new life is Jesus Christ. In fact, He was so full of life that the grave could not hold Him. 

1 John 5 says that anyone who has the Son (Jesus) has life, but those who do not have Christ, do not have life.
2 Corinthians 5:17 puts it this way, “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” 

That means that a person who has received Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord of their life is made new, changed . . .  given the capacity to live as they were intended to live, set free from guilt, restored to a right relationship with God, and changed. Actually, they have become normal. 

This year, instead of making a list of resolutions of things to DO, a resolution that will perhaps run dry by January 30, try the definition of resolution that calls for an end to the abnormal condition of guilt and sin. Begin the new year with a new life, everlasting life, through a relationship with the only One who has that kind of life.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Who is this honored guest? ....................... Parables 043

Christmas is the only birthday party in which most of the guests do not know the person in whose honor the party is given.

In fact, there is as much argument about who Jesus Christ is today as there was after He arrived in Bethlehem, nearly two thousand years ago. 

Some thought He was a prophet or perhaps a political redeemer. Others denounced Him as a liar and a blasphemer. Still others thought He was a madman. He Himself claimed to be God. They couldn’t all be right.
The Jews were looking for a promised Messiah who they thought would free them from Roman oppression and establish a Jewish kingdom. So when they saw that Jesus had power to heal diseases and feed multitudes, they welcomed Him. However, His message became clear . . .  He came to deliver from their sin, not from the Romans. He called for a change in lifestyle and they changed their acceptance of Him instead. The very ones who wanted to make Him a King, soon were demanding, “Crucify Him, crucify Him.” 

The religious leaders considered Him a liar and a blasphemer. He was upsetting their religious system and their authority over the people by claiming to be equal with God, calling Him His Father. These leaders led the demand that He be put to death. Their control over the people depended on getting rid of Jesus.

Some thought He was a crazy man, out of His mind because He wasn’t motivated by fame or personal gain. His own half brothers reasoned that He was crazy because He did not put His own interests first. Not only that, He said that anyone who “saved his own life would lose it, but those who lost their life for my sake would save it.” Clearly unpopular teaching.

Another group responded immediately to His call to follow Him. They were the twelve who later were called the disciples. One of them turned out to be a traitor, and the others ran from Him for a time, but they later returned and affirmed their belief that He was who He claimed to be.

Who is This Christ, This baby boy born in a manger?

Was He a deliverer? Yes, but not of a political sort. He came to set men and women free from the condemnation of sin and deliver them from the death penalty that sin carries.

Was He a liar and a blasphemer? Do liars live as this man lived? No man ever called Himself God and backed it up with the evidence that Jesus did. His “blasphemy” consisted of saying that He was God. If He was God, He was not a blasphemer.

Was He a lunatic? Men who are insane cannot, and do not forgive and heal sinful people, filling their hearts with peace.

Was He God in human flesh? A handful of men thought so. They were so convinced that they “lost their lives” for His sake. Since then, countless others have done the same. The birth of the baby didn’t convince them, nor did His life. If that had been so, they would not have fled from the cross. The evidence that proved the identity of Jesus was the empty tomb - the resurrection. The disciples may have been, for the most part, simple fishermen but they knew, beyond doubt, that lunatics, liars, and mere political messiahs do not rise from the dead.

There are no other options.

Friday, November 15, 2013

ADVENT ......................................... Parables 042

Christmas gets an enormous amount of put-downs. It is “too commercial,” “a big nuisance,” “the loneliest time of year,” and a host of other assorted negatives. Sometimes those sad truths can bury the uniqueness of Christmas, and we forget how special this celebration really is.

Christmas is the advent of the Son of God. Advent means “coming or arrival” and could be used to describe the birth of any child. But “advent” describes the birth of Jesus Christ.

What was so unusual about the arrival of this Child that His birth is called the Advent? He was born of a woman. That is very ordinary. He was born in a stable. That isn’t exactly normal, but many babies have been born in stables, perhaps even during that same crowded night in Bethlehem.

Yet His birth was different. It, and the location of it, had been foretold hundreds of years before. That made it unusual. People were uniquely guided there by angels and by a star. That is not normal. Also, angels brought messages to Mary and Joseph concerning this baby’s name, His identity, and His purpose for coming. Parents do not usually experience that.

Additionally, all other babies are conceived, without personal self-determination about their existence. But the Son of God did not begin His life in Bethlehem. He always existed. Child of the eternal Father, He is an eternal Son, with no beginning, and no end. That makes His advent most extraordinary.

He came from another realm, another domain. He came from beyond what we could know, or see, or touch. It was His desire to leave eternity, and enter time. He arrived in that stable, through the womb of that woman, because He choose to do so, not because someone else wanted to have a baby. And the Bible tells us that He did it because of His great, eternal love for us. 

Commercialism, and the sorrows experienced at Christmas are symptoms of the fact that most people have forgotten (or have never realized), that Christmas is a reminder of a marvelous, never-to-be-repeated event.

Because of His Advent, we need not be bound to the negatives of our existence, its sorrows and limitations. In His love, Jesus Christ punched a hole into where we are - not only so He could get in, but so we can get out, so we can enjoy the benefits of His eternal love. To do that, we need to experience a different kind of advent, a very personal “birth experience,” where the Son of God is reborn into our hearts.

For those who know the second advent, the first one has a significance that cannot be overshadowed by the negatives of the season. His coming is marvelous, but the fact that He is still here, in me, is blessing beyond comprehension.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The secret of contentment ................................ Parables 041

Two girls hurried across a downtown street on one of our cooler November mornings. One of them wore light shoes, a light weight V-neck sweater, and cotton slacks. No hat. No gloves. Her 3/4 length winter coat was wide open as she faced the biting northwest wind.

As they passed, she remarked to her friend, “I’m just freezing. I’m going to have to get a new coat.”

Maybe she thought that heavy boots, and thick gloves and mitts are unattractive. That I understand. What I don’t understand is being cold, having a coat to wrap up in, yet not bothering to do so.

Is it laziness? Ignorance? I don’t think so. It is more related to habit, and to a way of life. Many of us have become so accustomed to buying something new to fill the slightest need, that it is abnormal to consider that we may already have all that we need.

It is called affluence, the good times, with high wages, plentiful jobs, and an ample supply of “discretionary income,” money to spend after the necessities have been taken care of.

No wonder that the economic slump has upset lifestyles. People are faced with situations that they have never before faced. Adjustment is not easy. Many don’t know how to make last year’s coat, or car, or suit, do for this year. They don’t know how to take the seams in, or let the hems down. They don’t have 1001 ways to cook hamburger, or 500 variations on macaroni and cheese. Pride battles with practicality, and charge cards are at war with common sense. The wounded are everywhere.

Paul, a great man of God, said this, “I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:11,12)

He learned a secret. What a secret that is, in days of rising costs and having to cut back. If Paul had been so minded, he could have sold his secret. In fact, today, an ad in TV Guide would make him a millionaire.

But Paul wasn’t interested. His secret was not for sale. Money cannot buy it, just as money cannot buy the contentment that he described. His secret was a gift to him, and he shared it freely with anyone who wanted it . . .  His “secret” was, “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”

He wasn’t talking about the physical strength needed to do up a coat. Instead, he meant the special kind of inner strength that enables a person to wisely use the resources at hand, to live “a little leaner,” and to be content in any lifestyle. The inner presence of Christ in Paul’s life kept his heart at peace.

The young lady can be thankful that she is still in a position to consider a new coat. Some of her neighbors are not so fortunate. However, both could have a wealth that has nothing to do with purchasing power. Instead, it is the wealth of Paul’s secret.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

He must increase ...................................... Parables 040

Last week our 15-year-old son placed both hands on my shoulders, and asked, “Mom, are you shrinking?”

After the laughter died, out came the tape measure to reveal the truth. I had not shrunk, but in four weeks, he had grown another inch.

Later on, I thought about my age, and “compressing” seems to be a better word than shrinking. Shorter, I’m not sure, but thicker, yes. But what I really want to do is decrease.

One of the first books of the Bible that I read and reread was John’s Gospel, the 4th book of the New Testament. One very short verse in chapter 3 startles, then challenges. It is a statement made by the other John, the baptizer. Some were questioning him in regard to his followers. Those whom he had once baptized were now following Jesus. It was as if they were asking, “What are you going to do about that?”

The ordinary leader of men would be somewhat threatened by that, as their personal popularity faded and someone else took center-stage in the lives of those under their influence. Not so with this man.

First he said that no one could have anything unless God gave it to him anyway, then he pointed to Christ as the “bridegroom,” while he was merely the friend of the groom. After all, the “bride” belongs to the bridegroom. Then John made this statement, “He must increase, but I decrease.”

John wasn’t talking about height or size. He was talking about importance, and about priorities. He was willing to yield his position of prominence to Jesus because that was his purpose. God had sent him to prepare a way, to make it smooth, so that when the Savior came, people would be ready to receive Him. He wasn’t to collect a following for himself, but for Christ.

Humanly speaking, I wouldn’t have whatever it takes to collect a following, but I have the capacity to put myself first, to seize the position of prominence in my own priority list. In any situation where I have to decide between the will of God and my “I’d rathers,” I have the freedom to choose what I think is the most important.

Many times those words come to mind, “He must increase but I decrease.” As thoughts of who Jesus is, and what He has done come to mind, it seems such an obvious choice. No one deserves more to increase, to be held first, to have the prominence. No one is more worthy of all honor, glory, and worship. He is Lord of all, and even though not every knee has bowed to Him, my knee must, because I know too much. I know too much about myself to consider usurping Him, and I know too much about Him.

I don’t mind being a “shrinking mom,” watching my son grow. What I desire even more is to be decreasing, letting God’s Son grow and be seen in me.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Plan? or let it happen? ................................... Parables 039

Do “persistent planners” frustrate you? How about the people who just “take each day as it comes”?

Two extreme personality types they certainly are, and put two of them on the same committee, or in the same marriage, and there will most likely be some major wars. The planner wants control and order, the easy-going person is more apt to trust that order will come without control, and that extensive planning is folly.

One thing that I have noticed about myself is that I tend to try and order or plan the things that I should be trusting God to take care of, and I am free and easy about the things that He has given me the responsibility to plan. Such perversity no doubt frustrates God, sometimes upsets those around me, and certainly steals a great deal of peace of mind that otherwise could be mine. Often the problem is a question of responsibility. Who does what?

Responsibility is a broad topic. Some would give God the weather, the seasons, and anything else that they cannot change, while they busily try to control everything else.

Then there are those people who believe that God is responsible for almost all things, leaving them with very little to do. For example, “God will find me a job,” they say, and refuse to write a resume, answer an ad, or go from place to place making inquiries.

In between those extremes are a few who try to keep a balance. I recall one time being so frustrated with my lack of trust in God, and my inability to be responsible that I sat down and wrote out a two-column list with “God does . . . ” at the top of one column, and “I do . . . ” at the top of the other. After the list had several items on it, I wrote at the bottom, “ . . . and don’t you forget it!” But making a list didn’t change my temperament.

Some soul-searching in the Word of God has helped me to see that my error comes from two sinful attitudes. One is pride. The other is laziness.

Pride tends to make a person want to be in charge, to play God as it were, not only over their own life, but in the lives of others. Pride keeps me from trusting Him to do what only He can do. Pride will manipulate, calculate, and determine. Pride pushes me to push His limits, and doubt His control. Pride will urge me to run when he tells me to wait.

On the other hand, laziness has no intention of playing God. Instead, it sits me back, props up my feet, and coaxes me into thinking that somehow, God will miraculously do those things that He tells me to do, therefore I don’t have to do anything.

There is a place for waiting, even relaxing with feet up and hands folded. Faith sometimes requires that. And there is a place for hard work, consistent effort, and much planning. Faith will also require that. But God says there is no place in my life for pride, or laziness.

The problem is how to tell the difference between pride and zeal, between laziness and humble trust. The solution is having a sensitive spirit, learning how to listen to God, and reading His Word, comparing what he says to the task at hand. He is willing to reveal impure motives, and to replace pride with His humility, laziness with His zeal.

Concerning our planning, He says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

And when we sit back, He can move us . . .  “the LORD stirred up the spirit of . . .  the governor... the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work . . .” (Haggai 1:14) 

As we make an effort to learn and to obey, God is able to keep the balance. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Help with our schedules ................................. Parables 038

Years ago, a farmer hired a young man who had some disabilities. He was capable, however, of driving a tractor and was given the task of cultivating a field. The job was a full day’s work, so the farmer’s wife made him some lunch and put it in a lunch bucket. The farmer instructed the young man to set the bucket in a certain spot in the field, and when he reached that spot, he would know that it was time to eat his lunch. He also cautioned the hired hand to be careful not to “run over the bucket.”

Later, the young man came in, tears streaming down his face, to confess, “I tried so hard NOT to run over that bucket that I did.”

I relate to that. Some days are so full, and many tasks are difficult to prioritize. The essentials need my full concentration, but the less important issues often crowd my mind, and I find it difficult to do what I want to do, and difficult to avoid making the mistakes that usually accompany lack of concentration.

As a Christian, I know that God is able to enlarge our capacities and enhance our skills. This one of concentration is no exception. But before I share what could sound like a pat answer, I realize from first-hand experience, that learning how to concentrate on the right things, without neglecting other important “interruptions,” does not come easy. The human mind is generally like water, taking the course of least resistance, and mine seems to be more human than most. Concentration on the task of the moment, yet being alert to whatever else may need attention, is for me a difficult challenge, one that has required the power of the Lord.

Putting myself in the position of the farm hand, I would have found it easier had the farmer told me, “You just keep working, and when it is time to eat lunch, I will come out and tell you.” That describes one of the characteristics of faith; reliance upon someone else, and faith is the answer to hectic schedules, and the inability to concentrate.

Because faith is not a magical ingredient that works all by itself, the object of faith, or the “something” that is “believed in” becomes vital to success. The young man, had he relied on the farmer to tell him when to stop for lunch, would be placing his faith in the farmer. His success would then depend upon the reliability of the farmer. When I am faced with a busy schedule, and the confusion of too much to do, I also need to rely on someone reliable, someone who can and will give me the wisdom to know when to “wait a minute, you need to stop that, and start this.”

The Christ who gives eternal life also promised abundant life, life that is full, rich, and not disorganized and confused. He wants to help us so that we do not “run over the lunch bucket” or become disoriented by too much to think about. He says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest unto your souls . . . ” (Matthew 11) and “Don’t be anxious about anything . . . ” He desires that inner tranquility for His people. He also offers the means by which it can be ours, by coming to live in our hearts, and from that inner dwelling place, He can keep His promise . . .  “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” (Psalm 32:8) “For This God is our God for ever and ever: He will be our guide even unto death.” (Psalm 48:14)

The promises of the Lord are for those who will be guided. He says “I am the LORD thy God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea.” (Isaiah 48:17,18)

When life becomes horribly complex, how much is gained by stopping to receive His guidance, and by trusting Him to bring order out of chaos. The peace of mind that He gives is beyond comprehension, yet enables fuller concentration, and the ability to keep calm, even in the busiest of days.

Friday, November 1, 2013

It's more than two fellows in a ship ............... Parables 037

Over the past few weeks, Christians from several congregations have been watching a film series together, and discussing its content and how to apply it to our lives. In doing so, we have enjoyed “fellowship.”

This week, I shared at length with someone concerning some spiritual matters and difficulties, and received encouragement and advice. I was refreshed and ready for constructive problem solving. That also is “fellowship.”

Each morning I go for a walk, using that time to talk to God about the things that are on my heart. God responds to my concerns. That too, is “fellowship.”

This term “fellowship” is not strictly exclusive to the use of the Christian community. An ordinary dictionary defines a fellowship as “a group of people with common interests or ideals.” Many groups have that, as do Christians. However, the Biblical usage of the word goes much farther, and in the fullness of its Biblical meaning, there is no other assembly that enjoys such fellowship.

The Greek word used in the New Testament is “koinonia,” literally meaning “communion, sharing in common, or partnership.” A theological dictionary says: “Fellowship is joint participation in a person or a project with mutuality of spirit.” That definition comes alive to the believer, because the “person” is the Living God, the “project” is His eternal plan and its outworking, and the “mutuality of spirit” is the oneness produced by the relationship each one of us has with Christ, through the Spirit of God.

Furthermore, “joint participation” is the like the legal usage “joint owner,” where each partner owns all. Thus, each one of us is a 100% participant of Jesus Christ. Each one of us is a 100% participant in the work of God. And each one of us is a 100% participant in His Spirit. It is more than being merely interested in Christ. It is more than holding to the ideals that God gives. It is actually being a joint partner with Almighty God, in His person, and His work.

Jesus prayed in John 17: “I do not pray for these alone (the disciples), but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me . . .”

Jesus prayed that we would have that oneness, experience that oneness, and live it out, for one purpose, that the world would believe in Him. He didn’t tell us to be united in our interests or ideals or anything else that might cause us to agree, but to find our unity in Him and in His purposes.

Fellowship is a precious treasure. Like many treasures, it is not always easy to lay hold of, or to guard once we have it. Yet it is of immeasurable worth, not only to us, but to a world that may not be able to believe the reality of our Jesus without seeing the oneness that shines in the beauty of this jewel.