The Importance of Evangelism: Part 3

Then Jesus said, ‘Therefor go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’  (Matthew 28:19-20)

We’ve been looking at fellowship, discipleship and evangelism, elements and principles that a professing Christian needs to understand if the Kingdom of God is to be extended here on earth as it is in heaven.

These three things are not something that have been made up in order to see church growth.  No, these are all things that can be found in Scripture, The Word of God to us, and Jesus’ own words are no exception, as we see in our Gospel reading.

In John chapter 14 through to, and including 17 we read Jesus’ final discourse to His Disciples before He is arrested.   In the verses we had from Chapter 17 Jesus begins to pray for His disciples and in essence He is saying that they have come to believe four specific things about Him (7-8). The prominence of these four things, here in this prayer, and the way they are mentioned elsewhere in John’s Gospel points to their importance. They were vitally important for the founding of the church and for its growth and security against error. Getting these beliefs about Jesus right is important for us too, and so important for how we tell people about Jesus. The four things were:

1. Jesus’ ministry was only possible by the power of the Father (v7): Jesus transformed people.  He took them from living by an earthly perspective to one with a supernatural heavenly one.  As professing Christians, we have all experienced a supernatural moment with God.  Jesus commands us to share the Gospel and when we do, not if we do, it is important for our message not only to be true but for our message and method to demonstrate that Jesus can radically and powerfully transform lives. In your own life do you have confidence that Jesus still ministers powerfully to you and through you?

2. Jesus spoke the Father’s Words (Vs 8a): Read John 5:19-20 and what do you see…” the Son can do nothing by Himself”.   Jesus is clearly declaring the secret to how He lives.  This is the most radical statement to be found in the whole of Scripture as it indicates that any effort made to use God’s power for our own benefit will leave us feeling hollow and empty; it will never achieve anything.  Even if you become really successful in your field and have not found this secret your life will be unsatisfactory, insipid and of no use to God.  “The Son can do nothing by Himself”.

Yes, Jesus could have done things apart from His Father, just as we can and do, but He chose not to because He never chose to exercise that power for His own benefit.  Never!  God willingly and lavishly gives His power to those who will not use it for their own benefit.

If Jesus hadn’t lived out this secret, totally and utterly dependent on another – His Father God – then He would have violated His integrity, it would have cheapened His whole life, and been a total contradiction to what He said and did.  So by saying …” the Son can do nothing by Himself” Jesus is saying, no admitting, He could do things apart from His Father, but He did not, and He never did. All Jesus did was totally and utterly in line with the holy and supernatural character of God.  Today God’s holy and supernatural character is revealed to us through The Word, and through the life, death and resurrection of His Son.

This is why we should have confidence in our core being that the words of Jesus are of the utmost importance for us and for others. So in sharing the Gospel we must have confidence that Jesus’ words can speak powerfully to people and transform them because that is what they have done to you.

3. That Jesus came from the Father’s presence, i.e. that Jesus is truly God, (Vs 8b): This reminds us of Christ’s humility.  He was prepared to jump from the truly amazing glory of heaven to the depth of the slimy pit and into the mud and mire for me and for you.  He rolled His sleeves up, got, and still gets His hands dirty in order to sort out my life and your life.  And when He left His glory He knew He had to take the pain and sorrow of all my sin, and your sin, upon Himself because only the one true God is able to pay the price for sin.  In taking my sin, your sin, upon Himself He unites His divinity with our flesh in such a way that we are now able to know and share His Spirit because it is through this sharing we become children of God.  And as children of God we are given eternal life, the most wonderful of all gifts; eternal life through the knowledge of forgiveness for all confessed sin.

4. He was sent by the Father (Vs 8c): While Jesus gave himself for us, we mustn’t forget that the initiative in our salvation begins with the Father. This helps us to remember that the Father loves us just as much as He loves His Son, that He is not angry with us or somehow less loving than Jesus; God and Jesus are one and the same!  Knowing this in the depth of our being reassures us that all things work together for our good and salvation. So we can share the Gospel because of our own personal experience and knowledge of the love of God for ourselves, a love that impresses on us that the Father Himself has an enormous love for the lost too.

So know these four things about Jesus

  1. His ministry was only possible by the power of the Father (Vs 7)
  2. He only spoke the Father’s Words (Vs 8a)
  3. That Jesus is truly God because He came from theFather’s presence (Vs 8b)
  4. He was sent by the Father (Vs 8c)

These secrets of Jesus’ life, which He willingly shares with all, are to be pressed down into our own soul and spirit, until they run over, because from there they will become for us a well spring of life that leads us on to evangelise to those who live in darkness.

Time to think

Read John 17:6-12.  With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand give yourself time to think about the following as you dig into God’s word…. 

  1. Think on the times (v7) when you have felt Jesus ministering to you.  Now write down how these experiences made you feel.  What did you experience? Comfort, peace, healing, forgiveness, joy, love, God’s powerful presence?
  2. In your life today do you have confidence that Jesus still ministers powerfully to you and through you?
  3. Jesus’ words spoke powerfully to His listeners.  Write down the times when Jesus’ words spoke powerfully to you.  How did they make you feel?
  4. Real life is only available through Jesus Christ living in and through you.  How well do you know Jesus’ words? (v8)

Digging deeper into God’s word

Jesus only ever did what He saw His Heavenly Father doing.  In a time of quiet invite your heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, to show you what He wants you to do for Him for the next few days.  If you sense God inviting you to do something, test it against Scripture (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  All that we do must be in line with the plumb line of God’s character and truths.

Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

Prayer response

Lord of the Harvest, we see that Your harvest field is ripe and ready all over this nation and the world! We long to see Your kingdom come on this earth, so may we allow you to strengthen us to obey Your commission to go into all the world. May we as individuals, as families and as Your Church allow you to show us how you want us to serve You, to respond to Your command in whatever way You call us, so we answer Your call to go.  Show us how to pray effectively for the protection, boldness, clarity, health, and fruitfulness in your mission and ministry here in our communities. May we actively seek to align ourselves with Your heart so that our hearts would be obedient to the desires of Your heart, and the whole earth come to a saving knowledge of the truth–the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose powerful name we pray.

Amen


Worry List

Reading: Matthew 6:25-34

How easy it is to worry about things.  We can be anywhere, sitting in our car, at home, doing the shopping, the gardening, talking with friends on the phone or over the fence, lying in bed as you try to get to sleep.  Worrying is one of those things that can be done anywhere, anytime and by anyone.  No training is required, we’re all experts!

I love having bird feeding stations in the garden as I enjoy watching how they dart about getting the seed that is in the feeders and on the bird table.  I also get blackbirds and thrushes looking for worms and there have been many occasions when I have seen them catch a worm, and quickly it is gone.

All of this reminds me vividly of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-26,

‘… do not worry about your life… Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

At this particular moment in time it is very easy to worry about our current situation and Covid-19.  I am very aware that many have been extremely cautious, not going out, having as much as possible hand delivered, not handling items delivered for 48 or even 72 hours, and sanitising everything that comes into their homes.

I am aware of many who are worried about their health, and that of their relatives, because they are more vulnerable, either because of their age, or because of underlying health issues.  Now with the new strain of coronavirus many are worried about younger people as they seem more vulnerable than before. And we can go on adding to our worries.

Through these words from Matthew 6 Jesus is warning us of the ill effects of worrying.  We’re reminded of God’s promise that He will provide us with all our basic needs.

You see, worrying damages our health; worrying can end up consuming all our thoughts; it can disrupt our productivity, and impair our relationship with God.  Worrying can negatively affect the way we treat others causing us to snap at them and rebuff them.  Worrying can lead us to reduce our trust in the Lord.  You see, worry immobilises, whereas concern moves us to action!

There are many strategies out there for coping with our worries.  This is one that I have come across.  Perhaps we could use it….

START A WORRY LIST.

Write down what you’re worried about. The bills. Your job. Your children or grandchildren. Your health. The future.

THEN TURN YOUR WORRY INTO A PRAYER LIST.

Ask the Lord to show you how He wants you to let Him work in those situations you’re concerned about. Remember Jesus only ever did what He saw his Heavenly Father do in Heaven (John 5:19).  As you do this you allow Jesus to live through you, not just in you.  Jesus depended totally on His Father whilst He was here on earth.  As our model that is what we are to do also, and this will lead us to pray specifically for our needs and deepen our dependence and trust on Him.

NEXT TURN YOUR PRAYER LIST INTO AN ACTION LIST.

If you receive insight from the Lord on something you can do for your cares, do it. Through the graciousness of our Lord He can enable us to turn our worries into prayer and action.  The result of this is that our paralysing anxiety can be replaced by concern for the responsibilities of life as worries immobilise, whereas concern moves us to action!

Why not start right now?

As you start can I encourage you to mediate or reflect on these verses…?

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  (Romans 8:28)

The words ‘We know’ here means that as Christians we already know that we have had this experience. God is already working in our lives. Undoubtedly we have in the past suffered pain and disappointment. At the worst of these times God was working for our benefit. After all He is our Father, who loves us, and so He promises to continue to look after the people who love him. 

For in the day of trouble

  he will keep me safe in his dwelling;

he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent

 and set me high upon a rock. (Psalm 27:5)

As Christians, God not only lives with us but He also lives in us. We are the house of God.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me

    all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

    for ever.  (Psalm 23:6)

As believers in Jesus we can say with confidence, “I will always live (dwell) in the house of the LORD.” The house of the LORD is in heaven.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  (Psalm 139:7-10)

Because God is omnipresent he is always with us, we cannot hide from Him, so He always knows our worries.  Give them to Him.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  (Colossians 3:1-3 NIV)

Christ came so that everyone could have a full life (John 10:10), and this full life comes when we concentrate on Christ, whereas concentrating on the world leads to worry.

The words from Psalm 40 are amazing.  They offer such hope!  They help us to put aside any worries we have.

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.

A Chinese Christian told this parable:

A man fell into a dark, dirty pit, and he tried to climb out but he couldn’t.  Confucius came along.  He saw the man in the pit and said ‘Poor fellow.  If he had listened to me, he would never have fallen in.’  And he left.  Buddha came along and he saw the man in the pit and said, ‘Poor fellow.  If he can climb up here, I’ll help him.’  And he too left.  Then Christ came along and said ‘Poor fellow!’ And he jumped into the pit and helped him out!

Isn’t that amazing? Our God is the only God prepared to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty to sort us out!  No other God does this. 

In Psalm 55:22 we are encouraged to cast all our cares on the Lord because he will sustain us; he will rescue us from the “pit”.  As He does this He will give us a new song to sing, a song to sing because we’ve experienced God’s deliverance from trouble through His Son. 

Know and live out this truth: God will never let the righteous be shaken. 

As we start this new year may we cast our cares on the Lord, for God is calling us to trust Him to meet all our needs, for when we trust in Him alone He will dispel all our worries and replace them with concerns that move us to actions that are in line with His Kingdom actions and thus reveal to us His divine righteousness living in us.

Christmas Day Message, 2020

Who was the Angel Gabriel? Few creatures are as misunderstood as angels. But I love the role they play in bringing about God’s plans and purposes.  The Bible tells us that these heavenly messengers are supernatural beings, – not human beings who have “earned” wings in the next life by being good in this one. The Bible also tells us that when people encounter an angel, they tend not to say “Aww, how cute” like we do when we see the artist Raphael’s chubby baby cherubs. On the contrary, angel seers are filled with awe. ,They fall to the ground, and if they could, they would reach for the nearest defibrillator!

The Angels were certainly busy for a while as they played their part in ushering in God’s purposes.  Gabriel is one of only two angels whose names are mentioned in Scripture (the other is Michael). Whatever epic assignments Gabriel had previously undertaken for the Lord, this one surely topped them all. He was sent “to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary” (Luke 1:26–27).

Only heaven knows how long Gabriel hovered unseen above the girl before he made his presence known.

Mary was so . . . young! She didn’t seem old enough to have a child, much less this child. Nevertheless, Gabriel spoke and delivered his message:

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus” (Luke 1:31).

Gabriel answered a few of Mary’s questions, then added, “For no word from God will ever fail” (Luke 1:37).

Mary seem to willingly accept this mission, however impossible it might appear to be.

A few weeks later Gabriel visited Mary’s shocked fiancé Joseph to explain the reason for this situation and this particular name: “because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21)

Perhaps, when thinking about this later, Joseph wondered if he’d really heard correctly.  Had an angel really spoken to him?  Things can look so different in the cold light of day.

But how do you picture angels?  Do you think about what they thought as they winged themselves back to heaven after playing their part in God’s plans and purposes to save humanity?

I wonder if Gabriel puzzled over the meaning of his visitations. As he winged himself back to heaven, did he ponder a thousand inscrutable questions:

Really, the Eternal One entering into time?

The Almighty becoming a helpless, tiny baby in the womb of an unmarried girl?

Deity in nappies?

The One who built the universe from scratch becoming the adopted son of a common carpenter?

Why not break into history in a more spectacular way?

Perhaps you can see Gabriel shaking, or even scratching, his big golden angel head.

Maybe it didn’t work that way. Maybe God’s heavenly servants aren’t given to such musings. But we earthly servants should be.

are we musing over the events of Christ’s birth today? Or are we caught up too much with Covid 19?

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus may we allow God to leave us staggered with speechless wonder by the story of God coming amongst us.

Amen.

Midnight Message, Christmas Eve, 2020

Readings: Isaiah 52:7-10; John 1:1-14

What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. (John 1:3)

“Trinity”, by Andrei Rublev

The famous Russian artist Andrei Rublev, completed his best-known icon in about 1442.  It is titled quite simply Trinity. Take a moment to look at the image. In a striking combination of colour and light, three messengers from God are seated round a table, and our eyes are drawn to the gentle, loving circle of the figures, with their restful expressions which seem neither masculine nor feminine, and the unity of the three heads, faces and postures.

The right-hand figure, is considered to be the Holy Spirit, as there is a mountain behind his head thus reminding us of the transfiguration (Matt 17) of Jesus, when Moses and the great prophet Elijah appeared in a cloud with Jesus in front of three of Jesus’ disciples.

The middle figure is considered to be Jesus, as it is dressed in a red and gold tunic and there is a tree behind, suggesting the cross.

The slightest of the three figures, the Father, has an air of mystery with a translucent robe, and a house with many rooms above his head.  A reference to the passage in John’s Gospel when Jesus is comforting His disciples before his arrest and tells them that He will go ahead a prepare a place for them because in His Father’s house there are many rooms (John 14).

The cup of sacrifice and life is on the table, and if you look carefully, there in the open space created at the front of the table is a rectangle symbolising the world… (Remember the world was not known to be round in the fifteenth century).

With the three looking the way they do it is as if they are inviting the whole world to receive and join in with the gift of life and love that these three messengers possess. Here, the gift of God is made visible. 

So this icon is a human attempt to express something of who God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit is. It is a gift to us from the Artist!

 

These beautiful opening verses to the Gospel of John set forth the entire intention of John’s Gospel: which is to proclaim and testify that Christ is the Son of God.  So who is this Christ? John tells us that Jesus is the eternal Word, (the Logos of God), because He reveals God and the hidden things of God, and in himself declares the beauty of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, in other words the triune God. The Word, who existed with God and creates and holds all things, is the Christ.

These words, like the description of the Icon I described a few minute ago, are John’s, attempt to show us that Jesus is essential to obtaining true life. Life as God created it to be, for it is Jesus who reveals both the Holy Spirit and God to us. And Jesus’ desire is to communicate this truth to all people. 

When we accept and understand that it is He, Jesus, who brings us into a new relationship with God we are brought into a living and dynamic relationship that reveals God’s reconciling, healing and glorifying life, light and, above all, love. 

But Christ who came to the Jews first can, if we wish, come to us now, tonight, as the true gift of God. In this gift, He brings blessing, grace and the truth of truths, and, as with all gifts, we are invited to accept, and then receive the gift which has been revealed to us from the heart of God the Father, the Son of God.  And then Christ, the expression of God, will be known in our hearts, just like a beautiful icon, a colourful sunset, an exquisite flower, a sparklingly adorned Christmas tree, a child’s delighted face on Christmas morning easily fills us with inexpressible delight, warmth and peace,

So the gift of God which is revealed to us and celebrated by us at Christmas is to lead us into a fuller experience and understanding of God’s presence in our lives.  And when we willingly receive into our lives the light and power of the life that God offers through Jesus Christ we receive the gift of being ‘children of God’.  And we do this by recognising the one who lived amongst us 2000 years ago to be the Son of God, foretold by the prophets of old. 

Why did He come?  He came to save us from our sin by helping us to recognise what sin is.  Through His death on the cross Jesus offers us an escape from sin, for sin leads to eternal death and separation from God.  This offer is God’s awesome gift of repentance.  As we recognise this we will then know that Jesus makes and remakes us day after day for the whole of our life in order to know God in new ways, by knowing the depth, height and width of His love for us.  You see, out of His love for us God wants us through Jesus to allow Him to live His life in our personal world.

With the increase of knowledge with each new generation, with the increase of our experience via the media of global suffering, with the pressures of materialism, competition, and visible success motivating so much of what we do, let us spend time this Christmastide reflecting on the beautiful gift which God has given us in His Son.

Let me encourage you to take time to remind yourselves, and your loved ones, of this child, the greatest gift of all time, to enjoy the presence of this gift around your table, to feel uplifted by the gift in creation when you take a walk (whatever the weather), to consider the gift in your conversations, and to dwell on the gift in your prayers tonight and every night.

As you allow the truest gift, the Word of God, namely Jesus Christ, to be part of your Christmas celebrations, may you allow Him to be part of your daily life as you continue your journey through life.

If you choose to do this, know that your life will be held in His grace, truth and love. For all of life is gift.

In the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The Importance of Evangelism: Part 2

Then Jesus said, ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’  (Matthew 28:19-20)

As I said last week, evangelism is a challenge; many people, and so many churches, struggle with this.  For some, evangelism is an important objective, “we’ve got to get out there and evangelise”, but the methods of pursuing can appear vague or ineffective.  For others, the term itself is uncomfortable.  Fear grips them!  The very word can bring to mind doctrinal rigidity or the use of manipulative ways of leading people to faith.  So what to do?

Focussing on the characteristics of biblical evangelism can help de-mystify evangelism and strengthen our evangelistic efforts.  Four key practices; proclamation, community, service, and witness, are rooted in scripture and have proven effective in the history of the church. Employing these four practices as we share the gospel moves us, as well as the listener, closer to God.  So let’s have a look at each of these practices in turn.

1. Proclamation

After the second world war ended, it is said that there were some Japanese soldiers deep in the jungle who carried on fighting because they hadn’t heard the proclamation that the war was over!

How often have you heard, or even said of non-believers, “They need to hear the gospel”? In Romans 10:14, Paul writes, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

The key is the ending where Paul says, “And how can they hear without someone preaching to them”.  Here, preaching (Greek kerygma) can also be translated as proclamation.

I like the use of the phrase “proclaiming to them” as it implies that you are not talking about preaching as a professional occupation.  I think Paul is talking about someone willing to share the good news verbally.  If we think of proclamation as something only done by professionals, it lets the majority of us off the hook.  But I believe Paul is arguing the opposite — that all of us are called to proclaim the good news so that someone might hear it, and have the opportunity to be saved.

Too often individuals believe that because they pay the minister/pastor to proclaim they do not have to do it.  The truth is this; as we grow more comfortable in our congregations we tend to share less.  And as a result, fewer and fewer of us are proclaiming the good news. We need to reclaim the understanding that all believers are responsible for the practice of proclamation.

2. Community

The best model of Christian community is found in the Trinity and the way in which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit make room for each others’ gifts.  The three-in-one God models for us what is possible when we are willing to share our gifts with the community and make room for the gifts of others.  It is a community constructed on love, trust, and accountability.

Throughout the history of the church, community has been a key factor in successfully engaging new people. Look at Acts 2:42:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  43Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.  44All the believers were together and had everything in common.  45They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,  47praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

More recently in the Wesleyan revival people found community with one another in societies, classes, and bands that were essential to their personal transformation.  My own experience of belonging to a CYFA group (Christian Youth Fellowship Association) laid a firm foundation for my faith in Jesus Christ.  We still mimic this approach through encouraging people to be part of a small group.  But the results are often mixed because we copy the form of Wesley’s small groups while ignoring the rationale for connecting people.  This is why we’re developing the RedBRick Connections, groupings of people who are committed to working at connecting to other people in an authentic Gospel and Jesus-centred way that engenders God’s love, trust, and accountability.  Our evangelism efforts today need to focus on connecting people in an authentic Gospel and Jesus-centred community and not just copying a certain model of community.

3. Service

In Ephesians 3:7 Paul uses a form of Greek word for service (diakonia) when he talks about being a servant of the gospel.  The idea of being in service to something or someone is challenging in our culture because of the history of slavery.  But the language of servanthood is prominent in Paul’s letters, particularly being a servant to Jesus.  Paul understood his role as carrying on the work that Jesus started, and we are called to do the same.  To be in service to Jesus means engaging in holistic ministry that addresses your entire being, body, soul and spirit.  Notice how Jesus provided for those in need while sharing the transformative power of the gospel.  If, on the one hand, we simply respond to physical needs, we are merely providing a social service.  On the other hand, if we are simply sharing the gospel, then we are not addressing the concrete challenges people experience.  Holistic ministry in Christ’s service is always both. The idea of serving is never to be disconnected from an expectation of an ever-deepening spiritual transformation.

The struggle we have today is we have disconnected service from an expectation of transformation through Christ.  In an effort not to offend we do things for people and hope they figure out our Christian motivation.  I am not suggesting clubbing people over the head with the gospel, but a holistic understanding of service must include sharing the transformative power of Christ, that He takes us, sinners, and through forgiveness leads us into new life with Him.  Too many of us ignore the importance of letting others see that without the act of repentance of sin we are denying Jesus’ transformative power to take what is broken and make it whole again.  That is what I believe happens every time we receive the bread at communion… by taking something broken, the bread (aka Jesus’ body) we are being made whole, made complete, being born again!  This is how God’s love intersects with us in a transformative way.

4. Witness

This word has its root in the word martyr.  The truth is, when we hear the word martyr, we immediately think of someone dying.  Martyrs of Christ literally give their lives for the gospel.  But we are not just required to die to witness to Christ.  When Jesus was eating with His disciples before He ascended back to heaven after His resurrection we find this command in Acts 1:8, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem … to the ends of the earth.” This form of the word martyr (martureo) is not about death.  A martyr or witness is someone who gives their whole being to something.  It is more than proclamation because one’s entire life becomes a sign pointing to God.  In Acts 1:8, Jesus is asking the disciples to devote their entire being to telling His story.  What Jesus does not want is a half-baked effort.  The disciples are to dedicate themselves to the work of witnessing.

For many of us, witnessing has become a technique rather than an expression of our divine supernatural spiritual identity.  Perhaps we just see it as a means of getting people to our church.  Many times when we witness, people are not hearing about God’s transforming love that opens their eyes to see the need for repentance.  They hear “come to my church.”  The Wesleyan movement was successful because witnessing was a part of their DNA and not a technique.  We need to reclaim this dimension of witness.  RedBRick Connections is a way we can release our evangelistic DNA which is already in each of us.  How do I know it is in each of us – well, we are often very quick to witness to the things we enjoy doing, particularly our hobbies.  As this is the case how much more should we be prepared to engage in evangelism for God’s sake and His created world.

These four practices should work together in an integrated, synergistic way. But too often, we make them into separate things, lessening the overall impact of our evangelism. A holistic, biblical approach to evangelism employs all four practices in ways that inform and enhance one another so that we share the gospel and all move closer to God and to neighbour.

Time to think

Read Romans 10:1-15.  With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand consider the following questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

  1. Paul is sharing the gospel in these verses. Please write down the quote that he uses to clinch his powerful gospel presentation (Romans 10:11).
  2. Paul also uses Old Testament scripture to defend his missionary zeal (Romans 10:14-15). Complete the logical steps Paul develops in these two verses.

How can they call upon the Lord if they haven’t _______? (Romans 10:14)

How can they believe unless they have _______? (Romans 10:14)

How can they hear unless someone ________ to them? (Romans 10:14)

How can they preach unless someone _______ ? (Romans 10:15)

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

First, please read and reflect on this quotation from Chuck Swindoll, an award-winning author and senior pastor of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, TX.

Because God gave you your makeup and superintended every moment of your past, including all the hardships, pains, and struggles, He wants to use your words in a unique manner. No one else can speak through your vocal cords, and, equally important, no one else has your story.” 

In last week’s Time to Think (The Importance of Evangelism: Part 1) I encouraged you to write down your story of how you established a living relationship with God through Jesus. Perhaps you can share it with someone.  To start with, why not share it with another Christian as a way of honing your story?

Prayer Response

Lord of the Harvest, we see that Your harvest field is ripe and ready all over this nation and the world! We long to see Your kingdom come on this earth, so may we allow you to strengthen us to obey Your commission to go into all the world. May we as individuals, as families and as Your Church allow you to show us how you want us to serve You, to respond to Your command in whatever way You call us, so we answer Your call to go.  Show us how to pray effectively for the protection, boldness, clarity, health, and fruitfulness in your mission and ministry here in our communities. May we actively seek to align ourselves with Your heart so that our hearts would be obedient to the desires of Your heart, and the whole earth come to a saving knowledge of the truth – the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose powerful name we pray.  Amen.


The Importance of Evangelism: Part 1

Then Jesus said, ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matthew 28:19-20)

What is a biblical approach for evangelism?

Advent gives us a wonderful opportunity to evangelise.  What a story we can tell in the run up to the Christmas story itself!  We have Old Testament prophets foretelling that the Messiah will come to save us from sin and thus reveal the power and nature of God’s love for us, His creation.

Then there’s John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, who came to prepare the way with a call of repentance for “the Kingdom of heaven is near”.  Then there’s the story of how Mary became pregnant, her visit to Elizabeth, her cousin, the mother of John the Baptist.  John’s own conception and birth was a miracle too.  In this rich and vibrant story, full of intrigue, wonder and mystery we see God at work in miraculous and wonderful ways.  Plenty to get our teeth stuck into for evangelism!  A new era was about to break.  How do you greet a new era; with joy, or with fear and trepidation?  This new era is about God sending His Son Jesus to save the lost.

Numerous theories abound on the best way to evangelise the lost.  The best way is to go to the source; Jesus Christ Himself.  Jesus laid out the best method of biblical evangelism as He evangelised those He met while on earth.

When Jesus evangelised the lost, He began by challenging people with the statement “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17).  Repentance of sin is the very first step in biblical evangelism.  Those who would come to Christ must first understand that repentance from sin is required.  This means explaining three realities:

  1. the inherently sinful nature of mankind
  2. the holiness of God
  3. the existence of heaven and hell

The only means to escape the punishment of sin is faith in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  While many Christians begin their evangelistic efforts with God’s love, that is really the second half the story.  The message of God’s love is lost on unbelievers unless they first come to grips with sin, judgement, and punishment.

There is no doubt that God is a loving God.  But He is also a holy and righteous God who hates sin.  Therefore, our sin separates us from Him.  Because He is holy, God is “a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day” (Psalm 7:11).  A crucial element of true biblical evangelism is the understanding of the holiness of God.  Isaiah caught a glimpse of God’s holiness in his vision of angelic beings around God’s throne praising God’s holiness (Isaiah 6:3).  When we understand just how holy God is, we can begin to understand His hatred of sin and His holy wrath against sinners.

Evangelism is helping the unsaved person to accept the fact that they stand in the direct line of fire of the wrath of a holy and just God.  Hebrews 10:31 warns, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  There is nothing anyone can do to appease God’s wrath, nothing of value they can offer to God to mitigate their sin.  No amount of good works or good deeds can bridge the gap that separates a holy God from a sinner.  Every good work that humanity thinks can be done is as “filthy rags” in God’s sight (Isaiah 64:6).  No amount of good living will make us acceptable in God’s eyes because the standard is holiness which no one can achieve, and without holiness no one will see God (Hebrews 12:14).

This is why the acceptance of the realities of personal sin and the holiness of God is so important.  Without that the readiness for the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is lacking.  What no one can do is to save themselves, yet the Good News is this: by His death on the cross, Jesus exchanged His righteous, holy nature for our sinful one, making us completely new creations with a new nature that replaces the old sin nature (2 Corinthians 5:17–21).  The truth is this: Christ accomplished on the cross something we can never accomplish by ourselves!

And this is where God’s love comes into play.  Because of His great love and mercy – not because we deserve or earn it – God provided the only acceptable sacrifice for our sin (Ephesians 2:8–9).  Only those whose natures have been changed can escape the wrath of God and experience His love and grace.  If we believe these things, we will live eternally with Him in the joy of heaven.  If we do not, our eternal destiny is hell.

This is the truth, from the Bible.  If we are to truly evangelise people according to the Bible, we have to tell them the whole truth, even if some react badly to it.  This is telling the truth in love, and I spoke about speaking the truth in love last week (see Discipleship 2).  And some people will react badly!  But others will be relieved and grateful.  As Paul said, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Corinthians 2:15–16).  Evangelism involves living out the command to be “living sacrifices” through agape love, a self-sacrificial love that works for the benefit of another over the benefit of self.

Evangelism is a challenge, but we have an amazing story to tell of Jesus, how He was born, and that God sent Him so we can be saved!  We are to share how He has changed our own lives, how confession and repentance of sin sets us free to live and love more fully for God, and how this shapes our attitudes about God, His world and our role in it.  By the power of the Holy Spirit we can share the truth, and thus show the love of God by calling others to repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near.

Time to think

Read Ephesians 2:1-10 and John 1:6-8 & 19-28.  With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand consider the following questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

  1. Why did John the Baptist and Jesus both call people to repent of their sin?  What does “the kingdom of heaven is near” mean?
  2. People invest time and energy into developing their career, their bodies and relationships, but often neglect the spiritual dimension of their lives.   How do you actively pursue spiritual growth?
  3. How did you establish a personal relationship with God?  Perhaps you could write this down using the following outline: Before–What characterised your life before you trusted Christ. During–How you came to trust Christ. After–How you are different now.

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

  1. What is your concept of God? Do you view Him positively or negatively?
  2. Do you find that faith and spiritual values play a role in your work, day, marriage, perspective on life?  What is the difference between religion and relationship?

Prayer Response

Lord of the Harvest, we see that Your harvest field is ripe and ready all over this nation and the world! We long to see Your kingdom come on this earth, so may we allow you to strengthen us to obey Your commission to go into all the world. May we as individuals, as families and as Your Church allow you to show us how you want us to serve You, to respond to Your command in whatever way You call us, so we answer Your call to go.  Show us how to pray effectively for the protection, boldness, clarity, health, and fruitfulness in your mission and ministry here in our communities. May we actively seek to align ourselves with Your heart so that our hearts would be obedient to the desires of Your heart, and the whole earth come to a saving knowledge of the truth–the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose powerful name we pray.  Amen.


The Importance of Discipleship: Part 2

6th December 2020

Then Jesus said, ‘Therefor go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ Matthew 28:19-20

How can we grow Spiritually?

At the close of life, the question will not be “How much have you got?” but “How much have you given?”

Not “How much have you won?” but “How much have you done?”

Not “How much have you saved?” but “How much have you sacrificed?”

It will be “How much have you loved and served,” not “How much were you honoured?”

Discipleship very much involves how we are growing spiritually, and Scripture offers valuable insights into this.  First it is Christ’s power in the believer that gives us the ability to grow spiritually (2 Peter 1:3; Ephesians 3:20).  Relying on Jesus’ supernatural power and following His teachings is the only way we can develop greater maturity.

Peter provides a peek at the process:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (2 Peter 1:5-8).

We studied these spiritual gifts last December, and the teaching can be found in this series.

Involvement in a local church and the exercise of our spiritual gifts are invaluable to our discipleship.

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:11-16).

But what does it mean to speak the truth in love?  In this context it is about speaking the truths of the Gospel, of Jesus, in a loving, caring and compassionate way.  To do this we are to train ourselves in foundational gospel truths.  Truths such as Jesus being God incarnate, that His death and resurrection was a sacrifice that we could never make as an atonement for our sin, a sacrifice that abolishes the power of death to separate us from God.  This is the truth that Jesus is our Salvation, through which we are saved from the penalty of sin, power of sin and sin’s presence.  Deliverance from sin’s penalty is immediately secured by Christ’s death.  The resultant life of Christ in us saves us from living under the power of sin while the hope of His coming, His second Advent, assures us of eternal salvation.

Our motivation to do all this is love.  And the “love” referred to in this verse is agape love, a self-sacrificial love that works for the benefit of the loved one.  We speak truth in order to build up.  All our words should be beneficial to the hearers of those words.  We should speak truth in love.(Ephesians 4:29).

To evaluate our personal spiritual growth, and so our discipleship, we can measure our improvement in the “fruit of the Spirit.”  The Spirit desires to produce these qualities in you: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).  Are we increasing in this fruit?  Are you growing in love, in joy, in patience, towards those around you?  If so, you are growing spiritually.

We should be aware that growth often comes through trials.  Just as physical strength is built through exertion and straining against resistance, spiritual strength is developed in the hard times of life.  My own experiences of life, the death of our son John, the loss of jobs through redundancy, a daughter who attempted suicide, going through a debilitating prolonged illness, certainly bear out the saying “No pain, no gain”!  James gives encouragement: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4). Did you notice the phrase “trials of many kinds”?

Because growth comes through trials, scripture also teaches we are not to grow weary in the process.  Much spiritual development is the result of persistence.  “And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.” (2 Thessalonians 3:13 & Galatians 6:9).

When people have said to me that they can’t go on, or that they don’t want to do something because they don’t feel able or well enough equipped, I have often replied they need to let Percy Perseverance help them!  Pushing on is so important if we are going to succeed, grow, reap the harvest, and fulfil the plans God has for us as individuals, but MOST importantly as His disciples corporately.

Out of His mercy and grace God wills us on like the parent on the side-lines at school sports day, to grow to be more like Jesus.  We also have a wonderful promise that the Lord Himself will oversee our growth and bring us to maturity.  “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6 & 2 Corinthians 13:11).

Fellowship and Discipleship under the tutorship of Jesus leads us to experience the freedom He has for us.  This is why they are so important, and it is so important that we know what these words mean biblically.

So, what is Freedom in Christ all about?

Freedom is a basic human desire, so we should expect to read about it in the Bible.  While the Bible speaks often of freedom, its focus is most frequently related to the spiritual freedom a person can experience in Christ.

First, freedom in Christ is seen in contrast to the bondage of sin, because sin enslaves people for spiritual death and eternity apart from God.  Knowing Christ provides freedom from the control of sin and promises eternal life with Him (Romans 6:20-23).

Second a person who has experienced true freedom in Christ is called to live as His servant. (Romans 1:1).  This seems like a paradox to the non-believer, yet the freedom found in Christ gives the believer a desire to live for Christ as a servant.  This attitude reflects the attitude displayed by Jesus Himself during His time on earth (John 13:1-20; Philippians 2:5-11).

Third, those who find freedom in Christ also become His children, for we are now children and heirs of the inheritance of eternal life with Christ for eternity. (John 1:12 & Galatians).

In short, we experience true freedom in Christ by knowing Him, walking in His ways, and engaging with the changes He makes in and through our lives as we focus on service to Him and to others.  This freedom transcends the human freedoms desired in this world, providing peace in this life and freedom with Christ forevermore.

Living with such an understanding of these truths enables us to answer with confidence the questions we may well be asked at the close of life, when we stand before God on judgement day. 

Are you ready to answer those questions?  Don’t put off until tomorrow what can be done today!  Accept your need for discipleship and grow in the freedom that Christ has for you.

So…

How much are you giving?

How much are you doing?

How much are you sacrificing?

How much have you loved and served?

Time to think

Read Ephesians 4:11-16 and Mark 1:1-8.  With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand consider the following questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

  1. How much of yourself are you giving to the Lord?
  2. How much are you doing for the Lord?
  3. How much are you sacrificing for the Lord?

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

  1. How much are you loving and serving the Lord?
  2. How have the trials you have experienced in life impacted your discipleship?  Did the draw you closer to God?

Prayer Response

Lord, you have called us to love and serve you;

And with your help we will.

Give us the wisdom to know what we should do,

The courage to keep on loving and giving,

And the faith that will see us through.

For the sake of your Son,

Jesus Christ our Lord,

Who died that we might truly live. Amen.


The Importance of Discipleship: Part 1

Christian discipleship – What is it?

Give yourself to God

A young man was eager to grow in His Christian life.  He got a piece of paper and made a list of all the things he would do for God.  He wrote down the things he would give up, the places he would go to minister and the areas of ministry he would enter.  He was excited.  He took that list to the church and put it on the altar.  He thought he would feel joy, but instead he felt empty.   So he went home and started adding to his list. He wrote down more things he would do and wouldn’t do.  He took the longer list and put it on the altar, but still he felt empty.

He went to a wise old pastor, told him the situation and asked for help.  The pastor said, “Take a blank sheet of paper.  Sign your name at the bottom, and put that on the altar.”  The young man did as he was told, and then peace came to his heart.

Being a Christian is about willingly submitting the whole of yourself to God.  I love producing lists, it helps me focus on what I need to do, but having a list of things that I am going to do in order to become a better disciple is not, I think, a healthy thing to do.  You’re putting pressure on yourself.  I like the sentiment of the illustration – God is looking for a blank sheet!  He wants me to invest the whole of my life with His.

The Greek word translated “disciple” means “follower.”  A disciple is a person who invests their life and time learning from someone and then spreading that person’s teachings to others.

In the New Testament, the last words of Jesus encompass the essential aspects of discipleship.  In what is known as the Great Commission, (Matthew 28: 18-20) we read:

Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’

The main command in this Great Commission is to make disciples.  Three specific parts are given.  First, a disciple is a person willing to go and make disciples of others.  The early followers of Jesus boldly taught the message of the risen Jesus, often facing intense persecution in the process.  Yet within a century, churches had emerged across the entire Mediterranean area.

Second, disciples challenge those they encounter to be baptised.  Baptism represents acceptance of Christ and a commitment to follow His teachings.  While baptism is not what saves a person, it is the public confession of allegiance to Christ and willingness to enter into Christian discipleship.

Third, a disciple teaches others the way of Jesus.  While only some believers are gifted in teaching, all believers are called to share what they know about Jesus with others, and we do this according to the faith God has proportioned to us (Romans 12).  When disciples do this an amazing thing happens, well, actually many amazing things happen, and this is just one of them: the person sharing grows in their knowledge of Christ.

An important early example of this way of making disciples is found in the summary of the first church in Acts 2:42-47.  Rather than a solely academic process, discipleship involved a holistic approach that included relationship building, financial giving, prayer, learning, worship, and every area of the individual’s life.  We read:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Also important is the impact this first church had on its community.  Because of its focus on Christian discipleship, we are told new people were saved on a daily basis.  I think that this shows us that healthy Christian discipleship is an excellent form of outreach.  But we have to understand that Christian discipleship is much more than a program or series of steps.  Rather, it is a continual process of growth.  But not just any growth, – Spiritual Growth.  To experience the fullness of spiritual growth a person has to commit their entire life to Jesus, leaning on His teachings as we put them into practice in our daily life.  This will involve dedicating oneself to learning His ways while also doing, sharing, and teaching this way of life to others.

How important is spiritual growth in Christian life?

So what is Spiritual growth?  It is the process of becoming more mature in one’s relationship with Jesus Christ.  Paul and the author of the letter to the Hebrews both talk about the need to move from milk to solid food.  From a spiritual perspective have you moved on to solid food, or are you stuck on milk?

Someone who is growing spiritually will become more and more like Christ.  The spiritually mature person will be able to “distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14).  Spiritual growth begins the moment a person comes to faith in Christ and should continue until a person enters Christ’s presence in heaven for all eternity.

The Bible makes it very clear that Spiritual growth is expected of the believer.  The author of Hebrews reprimands his readers for “no longer try[ing] to understand” (Hebrews 5:11) and “being still an infant” (v13).  The criticism leads to exhortation: “Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1).  The apostle Peter says, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).  Paul asks that God will give His Spirit of wisdom and revelation to the readers of his letter to the Ephesians “so that you may know Him better” (Eph. 1:17-18).

To me this is so exciting: God wants us to learn about Him, and His Son.  God wants us to have His wisdom, to know His mind through the Spirit of revelation so that we will grow in understanding of who He is!  How awesome is that?  As we learn, we go deeper in our relationship with them, and guided by the Spirit we “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”.  This is all about relationship with God – that is a word we could use to describe discipleship, as well as fellowship.

Have you written a list, whether physically or mentally, to God pledging how you are going to do this and that for Him, the things you are going to give up for Him, the places you are going to go for Him?  Did that work for you?  Are you able to say with real confidence that you have achieved all you have pledged to do? 

God wants you to come before Him as a blank piece of paper and allow Him to lead you in His ways, so you do the things He asks of you, speak the words He is asking you to say, sacrifice yourself for His service and glory, and go to the places He is calling you to go.  This is a sure way of growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  

Are you, as a disciple of Jesus, investing your whole life in His so you are continually learning new things about God your heavenly Father, and so spreading this teaching to others?

Respond to His call to invest your life with His.

Time to think

Read 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 and Matthew 28:16-20. 

With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand consider the following questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s Word

  1. What does Christian discipleship mean to you?  Having read the text above and the scripture references has your view changed, if so how?
  2. How can you grow in Christian discipleship?
  3. Looking back over your life are you able to see how you have matured as a Christian?

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

  1. Who benefits from growing in discipleship, you or God?  If it is you how?  If it is God how?
  2. How do you invest the whole of your life with God?

Prayer Response

Lord, you have called us to love and serve you;

And with your help we will.

Give us the wisdom to know what we should do,

The courage to keep on loving and giving,

And the faith that will see us through.

For the sake of your Son,

Jesus Christ our Lord,

Who died that we might truly live.

Amen.


The importance of fellowship (Part 2)

Grace made frequent trips to her local post office.  One day there was a long queue for the counter service.  Grace only needed stamps, so a helpful observer asked, “Why don’t you use the stamp machine?  You can get all the stamps you need and you won’t have to stand in line.”  Grace said, “I know, but the machine can’t ask me about my arthritis.”  People need human contact.

In Acts 2:42 we read that one of the four things the early church devoted itself to was “fellowship.”  Fellowship was a very important part of their reason for meeting together.  It was a priority, and was one of the objectives of gathering together.

Today however, some view fellowship as the occasion where we have casual, shallow conversations over coffee and biscuits.  This is not bad in itself, and can contribute to fellowship, but it falls far short of fellowship according to biblical standards.

Others who may have become fed up with church seek fellowship through viewing a worship service on television, or the internet, but this too misses the picture.  Going down this road creates an emptiness.  Interpersonal relationships are so desperately needed to keep our faith glowing and growing.  The truth is this:  if you drop off your associations with other Christians and disassociate yourself from them in worship and service, you’ll run out of spiritual fervour and dedication in a short time.  There is no substitute for going to church and worshipping with others.

Why do we read that the first disciples of Jesus shared all things in common?  Well, it was because of a common relationship that they all had together in Christ and with Christ, (1 Cor. 1:9; 1 John 1:3).

So, fellowship comes out of a living relationship with God through Jesus Christ which Christians have in common with other believers.  This tells us that fellowship is first and foremost a relationship, rather than an activity.  The principle is that any activity that follows, should come out of this relationship with God.  He is to be the one that motivates all our activity.

It is important to understand that the early church was not merely devoting itself to activities, but to a relationship.  It was this relationship that produced an active sharing in other ways.  It is so important that we grasp this.   Fellowship means we belong to each other in a relationship because we share together the common life and enabling grace of Jesus Christ.  Biblical fellowship, then, incorporates this idea of an active partnership in the promotion of the gospel and the building up of believers.

Now, fellowship has both vertical and horizontal elements. 

Vertical relates to the way we commune with and experience fellowship with the Lord through the Word, prayer, the filling of the Holy Spirit, and the abiding life.  The analogy of the vine in John 15 is a good illustration of what is required to maintain a right relationship, and thus right fellowship, with our Heavenly Father.

Our priority is our 24/7 relationship with Jesus Christ, which must be maintained at all costs.  This is the foundation and source of all our other relationships and our capacity for fellowship with God, and with others.

The passage in John 15 stresses that we need:

  1. The Right Stock – Verse 1 – “I am the true vine”
  2. The Right Vinedresser – Verse 1 – “My Father is the gardener”
  3. The Right Cultivation – Verses 2, 6 – “He prunes”
  4. The Right Connection – Verses 4 – “Remain in me and I will remain in you.” 
  5. The Right Fruitage – Verses 5, 8 talk about how we are to “bear much fruit”

If we are not remaining (some translations use the word abiding) in Christ we will not live in the fellowship that God has intended us to live in.

The word ‘remain’, which occurs ten times in the passage, means the maintenance of an unbroken connection and thus speaks of the necessity of a constant active relationship between the believer and his Lord.  The resultant life will be productive and so fruitful.

Remaining in fellowship involves renouncing all confidence in our own merit, wisdom, and strength. It means we look entirely to Christ as the source of our merit, wisdom, and strength.

To remain in Christ is, on the one hand, to have no known sin unjudged and unconfessed, no interest into which He is not brought, no life which He cannot share.  On the other hand, the remaining one takes all burdens to Him, and draws all wisdom, life, and strength from Him.  Fellowship is about allowing nothing in your life to separate you from Him.

Fellowship with other believers is horizontal. This includes:

  • Assembling together as a whole body (Acts. 2:42; Heb. 10:25)
  • assembling in smaller groups (2 Tim. 2:2)
  • meeting together one-on-one (1 Thess. 5:11)
  • sharing and communicating Gospel truths together and building up one another (Rom. 1:11-12; 2 Tim. 2:2; 1 Thess 5:11; Philem. 6)
  • sharing together in worship, i.e., the Lord’s supper (1 Cor. 10:16), along with the singing of hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16)
  • praying with others – listening to God for His direction and purpose for your life, and seeing how the enemy wishes to oppose God’s good and perfect plans and purposes He has for you, and rebuking them in the name of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 14:16-17)
  • the ministry of the Word (Acts 20:20; 2 Tim. 2:2; 1 Pet. 4:10-11)
  • sharing together as partners in the needs, burdens, concerns, joys, and blessings for the purpose of encouragement, comfort, challenge or exhortation, praise, prayer and physical help according to needs (compare Phil. 1:5 with 1:19; and 2:4 with 1:27; also 4:3; Rom. 12:15; and 1 Thess. 5:11,14,15; Heb. 10:33)

To do this means we must develop the loving art of communication. We need to be willing to share our own burdens and aspirations and be available to hear what others are saying so we may minister to needs according to the directives of God’s Word. The ultimate goal of RedBRick Connections is to build up and enrich others in the things of Christ that we may all together experience the sufficiency of His life and tune our lives into His.  We need others for that. As the early church was first devoted to the apostles’ teaching, they were also devoted to caring for one another and to sharing with one another what they were learning and what Christ was meaning to them (Acts. 2:42; Heb. 3:12-14).

As we’ve seen, fellowship is first a relationship, a relationship that deals with an objective fact: as a Christian I am related to God as His child, born into His family by the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ.  So, as a believer in Christ, I am related to Christ and to all others who have been joined into union with Him; together we are members of His body through the baptising work of the Holy Spirit.  Fellowship means we share this relationship, an objective fact regardless of our spiritual condition (compare 1 Cor. 1:2 with 3:1-3).

A family went to the cinema. On the way in, the son stopped to buy some popcorn.  By the time he got into the theatre, the lights were dim and he couldn’t find his family.  He paced up and down the aisles in near darkness, peering down each row.  Finally, in desperation, he stopped and asked out loud, “Does anyone here recognise me?”

As Grace queued for stamps she was looking for fellowship.  Some of us take Christian fellowship for granted, but we should see it as a great privilege to be able to share together in the things of God.  Just queuing for stamps is not enough.  Just attending church is not enough.  Being connected with other Christians in a relationship because we have Christ in common is so important.  As we do this we all need to see ourselves as servants of Christ with a responsibility to reach out in true Christian fellowship to our brothers and sisters and, to the needy and vulnerable, especially, to those who we consider to be different to us.  We don’t want anyone to come here and ask, “Does anyone here recognise me?”  Certainly, God doesn’t want to hear anyone say “Does anyone here recognise me?”  or for Him to say that to us!

Time to think

Read Ephesians 1:15-23 and John 15:1-17.  With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand consider the following questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

  1. How can we do a better job of including and incorporating new people in our fellowship?
  2. How has the consumer mentality affected the church?  Should the church see itself as being in the business of “meeting needs?”
  3. How does the concept that every Christian is a minister affect the fellowship of a local body?
  4. How can you develop heartfelt affection for a brother or sister you just can’t stand being around?

You might like to re-visit the first teaching on Fellowship from the 15th November.

Prayer Response

Loving Lord, thank You for all my brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus our Lord, and thank You that You have made us one in Him and are building us into a spiritual temple of living stones, each with our own peculiar function, in the heavenly kingdom of God. Instil in each of our hearts an increasing thirst after holiness and righteousness, and give us an ever-deepening love for each other and for You.

Keep us I pray, from petty arguments and careless words and may we minister to one another in true Christian fellowship and godly love, in a body-ministry that exults You, where the gifts and talents of each member are used and valued in the edification of the others, to the praise of Your holy name.

Be glorified I pray, in each and every member of Your body, and use us all to be a witness of the love of Jesus to those who are lost. And Father, I pray that You would unite us in godly love and Christian fellowship, as we watch for the any day return of the Lord Jesus, in whose name I pray, Amen.

The importance of fellowship (Part 1)

Before I kick off with fellowship, I just want to say a few words about the importance of church attendance.

First, is church attendance important?

Let’s start with scripture, what does scripture say about being a follower of Jesus Christ?

Well, in 1 Corinthians 12, (please do read this in your Bible) Paul compares Christ-followers to a body—the body of Christ.  Every Christian is a part of this body (vs. 27), every part needs the others (vs. 21), and every part should be concerned for the others (vs. 25-26).  In addition, no part of the body, no member of the church, can claim to be a self-sufficient unit (vs. 15-16).  Since the local church is the method God has chosen for us to join together and live like a cohesive body, church attendance is very important.  I know we can’t do this at the moment, but when we can we must get back into the habit of gathering together corporately, and we will one day soon be able to do this.

All Christians make up the universal church, but God uses smaller local churches in very specific, important ways.  The local church is where we learn about God (Acts 2:42).  It is also how we build each other up through encouragement (Hebrews 3:13), exhortation (Hebrews 10:24), service (Galatians 5:13), honour (Romans 12:10), and compassion (Ephesians 4:32).

Gathering as church is so important.  The groupings we are looking to establish is a way of being church, of gathering in one way or another as Christ’s Church here.

So what is Christian fellowship, and why is it so important?

Our reading from Acts 2 clearly teaches us that the early Christians emphasised the importance of fellowship.  Acts 2:42 says, They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

So in the early church, day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people, (Acts 2:46-47).  But why is Christian fellowship important?

The New Testament word for fellowship is koinonia.  This expresses the idea of being together for mutual benefit.  Hebrews 10:24-25 shares this idea, saying, And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

This clearly teaches that fellowship stirs us up to love; to do good works; to meet together; to encourage others.

There are a number of reasons that fellowship with other Christians is so important.  The verses from Acts 2 gives us two basic reasons that fellowship with other believers is so important:

  1. It helps express love to one another
  2. It encourages good works

A third important reason for Christian fellowship is its impact on unbelievers.  Jesus told His disciples, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Jesus clearly tells us that the love we as Christians have for one another will influence others towards faith in Jesus Christ.  Does your life have that level of impact?

Still another important reason for Christian fellowship is the ability to pray together.  Early believers were committed to prayer, both individually and in groups.  In James 5:14-16, elders were called together to pray for the sick as well as for those who had sinned.  This required being together.

Christian fellowship is also important for church decision-making.  In both Acts 6 (the choosing of seven Spirit-filled people, including Stephen), and Acts 15 (the council of Jerusalem & circumcision or not?), the early church gathered together to make important decisions about the future direction of the church.  These required community, prayer, and close discussion.

Christian fellowship is required for baptism.  A new Christian cannot baptise himself or herself because that is not a public profession of faith.  Christians gather together to celebrate a person’s baptism and serve as witnesses of the person’s commitment to a new life in Jesus Christ.

Christian fellowship is required for communion in the Lord’s Supper.  The Lord’s Supper doesn’t quite work the same for an online church, though at the moment it is all we can do, and we have to make the most of less than ideal circumstances.  I hope that those who were able to join us from the end of August through to the end of October will have realised again that time together with other believers makes all the difference, as we remember all that Christ has done for us through the pain and suffering He endured as He hung on the cross when His blood was shed and His body broken.

Sadly, though many believers today do not recognise the importance of fellowship or local church involvement.  The truth is this; Christian fellowship is essential to spiritual growth.  Many aspects of our spiritual lives depend on being together with other believers to encourage, teach, serve, and share life together.

Earlier I used the word Koinonia.  This is the New Testament word for fellowship, but let’s look a bit deeper at this word.

Koinonia is the Greek word for fellowship.  It refers to community, one’s place in a group, and the representation of fellowship such as a joint gift.  It appears over 17 times in the NT in one form or another.

The way this word is used is that it characterises the church.  John says that the purpose of the Gospel is to lead people to have koinonia (fellowship) with others and with God (1 John 1:3, 6-7).  Several verses also exhort us to have koinonia with the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14; Philippians 2:1).

Koinonia refers to more than the warm feeling of relationship.  In Romans 15:26, which lists churches that have made a contribution to the poor in Jerusalem, “contribution” is the word koinonia.  And 1 Corinthians 10:16 says that communion is koinonia.

The natural result of koinonia is that there is no fellowship without action.  Hence we believe that RBR Connections will result in deeper practical pastoral support and greater spiritual support.  Having koinonia with God and other believers helps us find our place in both the Body of Christ and the work of Christ.

To sum up…

Fellowship in the context of the local church will increase your love for and commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Bride, the new community, the redeemed people of God, the church. 

Fellowship enables us to see that the local church is a community with real names, with real faces, with real joys and with real sorrows, and that through this life together, we become a visible manifestation of the Gospel we are all called proclaim.

Fellowship originates in and by the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14).  This results in a relationship with God, the Trinity (1 Jn. 1:3-6) and with one another.  It really means living and sharing life together.

Based on article from Got Questions Ministries @ www.compellingtruth.org & used with permission

Time to think

Read Acts 2:42-end and John 13:31-35.  With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand consider the following questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s Word

Questions

  1. What should our attitude be towards fellowship?  (Acts 2:42)
  2. How often should we encourage one another? Why? (Hebrews 3:13)
  3. Read 1 Thessalonians 5:14 and write down the four actions we are to take towards other believers.  Ask God to empower you by His Spirit to live these out in a deeper way.
  4. What attitude should we have towards each other? (Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13)
  5. How long should we let a problem go on with a brother or sister before we deal with it? (Ephesians 4:26-27, Matthew 5:23-24)
  6. What should be our attitude in communicating with others? (James 1:19-20)
  7. How should we treat others? (Philippians 2:3-4, 1 Peter 4:9)
  8. What kind of person will listen to counsel? (Proverbs 11:14, Proverbs 12:15)
  9. What are the benefits of listening to rebuke? (Proverbs 15:31-32)
  10. What should we do with our gifts, talents, or abilities?  (1 Peter 4:10)
  11. How does the Bible define Christian fellowship? 

Prayer Response

Loving Lord, thank You for all my brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus our Lord, and thank You that You have made us one in Him and are building us into a spiritual temple of living stones, each with our own peculiar function, in the heavenly kingdom of God.  Instil in each of our hearts an increasing thirst after holiness and righteousness, and give us an ever-deepening love for each other and for You.

Keep us I pray, from petty arguments and careless words and may we minister to one another in true Christian fellowship and godly love, in a body-ministry that exults You, where the gifts and talents of each member are used and valued in the edification of the others, to the praise of Your holy name.

Be glorified I pray, in each and every member of Your body, and use us all to be a witness of the love of Jesus to those who are lost.  And Father, I pray that You would unite us in godly love and Christian fellowship, as we watch for the return of the Lord Jesus, in whose name I pray, Amen.