There Are No Lone Rangers Here

No Lone Rangers Here

When we are “born again,” by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are born into an extended family of believers, what we call the Church.  Throughout the New Testament, we find various expressions and illustrations that give us a picture of what exactly that is.  In the letters of Paul, “the Bride of Christ” and the “Body of Christ” are used to illustrate the unity we are to experience, a unity that celebrates our differences in gifts, talents, etc.  The message is clear, however, we stand together, in community…in koinonia.

Koinonia is fellowship

The most common translation of the Greek word, koinonia, is fellowship.  In Acts 2, for example, Luke says:

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Luke 2:42 (NASB)

In their cultural context, the early believers were wholly devoted to one another, meeting together regularly to share meals, pray together and hear the apostles teaching, continually.  This was not your church potluck kind of fellowship.  There was an intimacy that is particularly telling in the word, continually.  This was their habit.  This was their lifestyle.  They depended on one another.  They cared for one another.  They shared resources and space.  This was true fellowship.

Koinonia is contribution

As the message of the gospel spread throughout the known world, needs arose…some of them were enormous.  In Romans 15, we read:

For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.  Romans 15:26 (NASB)

This is an example of koinonia as contribution.  In this case, the contribution was monetary, to meet the needs of Christians in Jerusalem who were experiencing a time of drought and famine.  As word spread, brothers and sisters responded.  This can be seen as a model, even today, as Christians who have the means help suffering sisters and brothers around the world with their physical needs.  At home, we are called to do the same.  Genuine community means that we respond to our brothers and sisters who are in need.  We offer assistance.  We offer shelter.  We give freely and with joy, because it is our privilege to contribute.  It is an expression of our love for God and for one another.

Koinonia is participation

In Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, we see stated what is only illustrated elsewhere.  Koinonia is a call to participation.  Paul says:

3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5 in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.  Philippians 1:3-5 (NASB)

Each of us, individually and in community are participants in the gospel.  As we use the gifts and graces of God within our community, we realize the purpose for which God created the church: the proclamation of the gospel.  As we give; as we teach; as we preach; as we serve; as we ____________, the grace of God is realized, not just for the church, but for the unchurched.  In so doing, we fulfill that for which God has redeemed us.  Jesus instructs us to let our lights so shine before men, that they may see our good works and glorify our father in heaven.  I believe that light illumines the path for believer and unbeliever, alike.  In Ephesians, Paul declares that we are “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, that He prepared beforehand” (Eph. 2:10).  As we walk and work, in fellowship, we are participating in the gospel.  What a privilege!

Koinonia is sharing

We all learned to share early in life.  If you have children, you make every effort to teach them to share their toys graciously…and fail miserably most of the time, right.

Well, we’ve more than covered the privilege of sharing our material wealth with others above.  Here, we’re talking about sharing the load, as it were.  All too often, the church places the burden of ministry on the shoulders of the “professionals.”  You know, that’s what we pay the pastors to do, isn’t it?  Nothing can be farther from the truth.  Biblically, the pastor/teacher’s role is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12-16).

We are all called to share in the work.  We are all gifted to share in the work.  It is not a burden.  It is a privilege.  Again, as we walk and share in the gospel, we declare our love for God and one another.

 

No…there are no Lone Rangers here.  We seek to walk in fellowship, in koinonia, in community, with all the rights, responsibilities and privileges that brings.

What “part” of koinonia do you most enjoy?  What challenges you the most?  I’d love for you to participate and share in the comments, below.

 

Fuel for the Journey

A friend recently asked me, “What would be your ideal vacation?” I leaned back and thought for a minute, remembering my wife and I spending 6 wonderful days in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, celebrating 20 years of wedded bliss. I thought of the week-long road-trip we took with our oldest son, celebrating his home-school graduation. Then, this popped out of my mouth, “One that would never end.” We both laughed. My friend’s question got me thinking. Whether it be a long road-trip, a cross-country journey on the train or the bus, or a trip “across the pond” by plane, there is a common need…fuel. Even a stay-cation, made popular because of the rising price of said fuel, needs, well, fuel.
The same is true for our spiritual journey. Getting from our personal starting point to God’s desired destination must be fueled by something. I’d like to make a few observations and practical suggestions about how that happens.

First, this journey is fueled by grace.  I know this may seem obvious to many but it gets lost in the shuffle, at times.  Any discussion about spiritual growth must begin with an important caveat that this all begins and ends with God.  God initiates this relationship and it is He that is faithful to bring to completion what he has started in us.  Scripture demonstrates this.  In the midst of a discussion by Paul about his ministry and that of Apollos, is found in 1 Corinthians 3.  He says there, “I planted.  Apollos watered, but God caused it to grow”  (3:6 NET).  In general, Paul is hoping we understand that he and Apollos were being used by God to facilitate the growth of the church and, therefore, the believers in Corinth.  Specifically, I think we find a principle here that there are things we can and MUST do to facilitate our growth.  That being said, it is “growth in grace,” because we can plant and water, but God causes the growth.

Second, this journey is fueled by spiritual disciplines.  Yeah…I know, that is a combination of two words that can be seen as merely boring watchwords of religious practice.  BUT, they are so much more.  Keith Drury divides these into three basic categories: disciplines of abstinence, disciplines of action and disciplines of association.  Fasting (giving up meals to pray), solitude (getting alone to hear from God), and simplicity (purchasing only the necessary or living sacrificially) are examples of abstinence.  Scripture (reading the Word of God, hearing God’s voice, and applying it), Prayer (bringing your private praise and petition to God), and Penance (doing restitution for wrongs by making them right are examples of action.  Community (connecting with others in a smaller group of sharing, caring and learning), Testimony (hearing or giving a witness to God’s work in the soul of an individual), Eucharist (participating in the Lord’s Supper as a means of grace).  It’s important to notice that some disciplines are private or individual disciplines.  Others are corporate.  The private, individualistic journey of faith is almost foreign to the Bible.  This walk is meant to take place in community.  We are bound together, in unity, through faith and practice.

Third, this journey is fueled by accountability.  Every Paul needs a Barnabas.  Every Timothy needs a Paul.  There are a number of people, over the years, who have proposed some form of what I’m talking about here.  It’s about a growing mentoring relationship.  It’s about accountability and encouragement that only happens on purpose.  There are numerous facets to this relationship that cannot be described here.  In our recent SoulShift study, David Drury writes, “You need to hear someone else and be heard by someone else – someone who can really know what you mean, someone to whom you can relate, someone who can even call you out from time to time, someone who might be able to tell when you’re exaggerating or leaving key parts out of the story, someone who has been tempted in ways you’ve been tempted…you need a key convo (conversation) in order to shift yourself forward spiritually” (David Drury and Steve DeNeff, SoulShift: The Measure of a Life Transformed, pg. 155).

A few years ago, my wife called me, “James…I don’t know what’s wrong with the car.  I barely made it over a couple of hills and now, it just shut down.  I was just able to coast it off the highway.  Come help.”  I found her, and my son, sitting in the vehicle a few minutes later.  I got into the driver seat, turned the key…the fuel gauge was below EMPTY.  Yep…she’d run out of fuel.  You may find yourself running on fumes, today, spiritually, barely making it over the hills you are climbing.  You may even be, like my wife, distracted and hurrying through life…BAM, you are out of fuel.  The good news is: you don’t have to remain so.  God has provided all things necessary for life and godliness.  Lean into Him.  Begin to develop a spiritual discipline or two.  Find someone to link arms and walk this journey, together.  Find a community of faith.  It doesn’t have to be the best, the brightest, the latest or the coolest.  Get plugged in, connected, engaged…and grow, bearing fruit and glorify your Father.

Amen.

Truly Thankful…

…giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name
of our Lord Jesus Christ, – Ephesians 5:20

Two men were walking through a field one day when they spotted
an enraged bull. Instantly they darted toward the nearest fence.
The storming bull followed in hot pursuit, and it was soon apparent
they wouldn’t make it. Terrified, the one shouted to the other, “Put
up a prayer, John. We’re in for it!”
John answered, “I can’t. I’ve never made a public prayer in my life.”
“But you must!” implored his companion. “The bull is catching up to
us.”
“All right,” panted John, “I’ll say the only prayer I know, the one my
father used to repeat at the table: ‘O Lord, for what we are about to
receive, make us truly thankful.'”.

In the depth of despair and the negative circumstances of life, it is
difficult to imagine “giving thanks always for all things.” I have yet
to hear someone say, “Thank you, God, for cancer.” It is easy to
look at those extremes when we read this verse without reading it
in context and determine this is an impossible expectation.

I have good news. Paul is talking about corporate worship, here,
not a hospital room. In context, we’re together singing, making
music, exhorting one another with “psalms, hymns and spiritual
songs.” In context, we are to be thankful for all the people and the
way God is using them in our lives.

We are to give thanks in every circumstance, without a doubt. I
don’t necessarily think that means we are to thank God for cancer,
do you?

Give Thanks!

Standing Firm When We Face Suffering

1 Peter 5:5 In the same way, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. 5:6 And God will exalt you in due time, if you humble yourselves under his mighty hand 5:7 by casting all your cares on him because he cares for you. 5:8 Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour. 5:9 Resist him, strong in your faith, because you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are enduring the same kinds of suffering. 5:10 And, after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 5:11 To him belongs the power forever. Amen. (NET)

Quite often, suffering is relative.

What do I mean by that?  Well, there was a time, early in my life, when a dear saint stood among our congregation and requested prayer for his ingrown toenail.   At the time, my group of friends and I (remember, we were young and immature) spent the balance of the worship and preaching laughing and passing notes about this request.  Of course, as I grew in wisdom and actually experienced the pain of an ingrown toenail, I understood why this gentleman stood and requested prayer.  OUCH!

The people to whom Peter was writing were experiencing enormous suffering.  The reason for their suffering was opposition to their faith in Jesus.  Most people in our culture cannot even begin to understand what it means to suffer for their faith, particularly to the point of loss of home, family, freedom or life.  Those were the very things these folks were facing.

Nevertheless, we all experience some level of suffering.  How do we handle it?  How do we live our faith in the midst of trials?  How do we face the day, overcome our fear and stand in Truth?

1. With Humility

When it comes to suffering, we are to first and foremost humble ourselves toward one another.  We are called to share in our sufferings, our griefs and our pains.  This requires humility, expressed through patience and understanding…often knowing when to keep silent and when it is appropriate to speak, in all things motivated by our love for one another.

We are also to be humble before God.  We trust Him to lift our burden, in due time.  We cast our cares upon Him, knowing that He cares for us and that He is truly working all things for our good and His glory.  There is a dynamic here that is enormously important, in light of what is to follow.

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2. With Caution & Calm

Without doubt, the calamities of life have the potential to cause us to react on impulse rather than act with wisdom and purpose.  There is grave danger to us that Peter identifies without apology.  Our enemy seeks to devour us.  We cannot allow ourselves to fall into this trap.  We must resist the temptation to abandon godly wisdom, choosing, instead, to stand strong in our faith in the power of the Holy Spirit.

3. With Community

Isolation is a major weapon in the arsenal of our enemy.  He wants us to feel isolated, abandoned and alone.  Peter addresses this false belief, head on, in our text.  We cannot allow this lie of the enemy to take root in our heart and mind.  When we stand, we do not stand alone.  Not only are we assured of the abiding presence of God, we are surrounded by our brothers and sisters.  This is also a clear call for us to bear one another’s’ burdens.

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4. With Grace

Lest we forget, we are on a journey of grace.  We are justified and redeemed by grace.  We grow in that same grace.  As we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, we grow in the grace that is found in the midst of suffering.  There’s a hymn that says, “He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater…”  This lyric reflects the promised restoration, confirmation, strengthening and establishment by the limitless power of God.

God is faithful.  Suffering will come.  Those are two truths that are well established.  Without question, how we deal with the reality suffering will depend on our genuine belief in God’s faithfulness.

Stand firm.

PJames