Category Archives: family of faith

Serving in sending

Just as each of us has one body with many members…so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a person’s gift is…serving, let them serve;…if it is encouraging, let them encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let them give generously….Love must be sincere. …Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…Share with God’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality….

(Rom 12.4-8,9&12)

Dear friend, I am praying that all is well with you and that your body is as healthy as I know your soul is. Some of the brothers recently returned and made me very happy by telling me about your faithfulness and that you are living in the truth. I could have no greater joy than to hear that my children live in the truth.

Dear friend, you are doing a good work for God when you take care of the travelling teachers who are passing through, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church here of your friendship and your loving deeds. You do well to send them on their way in a manner that pleases God. For they are travelling for the Lord and accept nothing from those who are not Christians. So we ourselves should support them so that we may become partners with them for the truth.

(3 Jn 2-8)

I believe it is easy to underestimate the power of small things, of seemingly trivial or insignificant words and actions, but that when we harness them in the cause of the gospel, God is glorified and his kingdom enriched and advanced…what am I thinking of here? It is the ministry of hospitality, of sharing what we have in order to encourage and bless other members of the body of Christ.

If we are able to offer a place to sit, some food and drink, and the precious gift of a listening ear and a loving heart then we can serve one another in hospitality…it is one of the most basic and practical ways of loving and building one another up, of sending one another out in a ‘manner which pleases God’ as John said when he commended Gaius for his generosity. Whether or not we are able to contribute financially to the work of gospel ministry, of overseas mission or local outreach, we can all offer our presence, our homes, as an encouragement to God’s servants so that they go on their way strengthened and refreshed in spirit.

Such actions testify very practically to the unity of the church of Christ, as we welcome strangers and discover in them new brothers and sisters with whom we will spend eternity adoring our Lord and God. Our hospitality is a witness to our common life, and shows our non-believing neighbours and communities what it means for there to be no distinctions in God’s family. A willingness to share may prove the beginning of a lifelong friendship, or it may be that we never meet again this side of glory, but either way we have obeyed our Lord by offering what we have in the service of his people and kingdom.

Gaius offered hospitality and expected no return other than the approval of his Lord; but he was surely blessed and encouraged himself by the gentle commendation which John gives him, and also filled with gladness to know that his own faithful service has brought such joy to the old apostle! Do we not rejoice when those whom we revere in the service of Christ, those whose example inspires us, take time to commend and encourage us in our own obedience by saying how much they see in us of holy and Christlike living?

The devil loves to see Christians paralysed by self-doubt and condemnation, so John’s words were a strong weapon to release Gaius from doubts, and to inspire his ongoing service and obedience. We too can exercise this ministry for one another, taking the time for a message, a phone call, or a face-to-face conversation when we share how much a friend’s life and example speaks of Christ, showing his love and the transforming power of the Spirit.

As we partner with one another for the truth of Christ’s redeeming work, for the good news of hope and forgiveness, let us not neglect the ministry of encouragement – by our words and hospitality – so that the body might be strengthened in unity and God be glorified among his people.

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Doing it together…

Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.

(1Cor 1.7-9)

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others..

(Phil 1.1-4)

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 

(1 Jn.13-7)

If you have had the privilege of being in a church family for some time, you will be familiar with the phrase “a time of fellowship” – it is often used to describe that time after a worship service when members gather to drink tea or coffee, standing and sitting about chatting and dropping biscuit crumbs on the heads of small children weaving their way through the room!

Our bible verses today suggest there is rather more to it than ‘tepid tea and soft biscuits’ as I recently heard one preacher say….and the definition which he went on to give fits so well with my own experience – and more importantly with the way the bible uses the word – that I wanted to explore it in this blog. Fellowship simply means “doing life together”, choosing to live out in practice the reality which is our unity in Christ, and our unity with Christ.

It is our union with Christ which is the foundation of our freedom and power to live as followers of Jesus – we can do life together with God the Father, Son and Spirit because we have been redeemed, transformed and forgiven; we have God’s life within us and our thoughts, desires and actions increasingly reflect his character and will. As God’s beloved children, we are able to draw upon all that he is and has done and will do, in order to live the lives he has laid out for us. On our own, we are incapable of anything good, but in Christ, all God asks of us is within our reach and we do it WITH him, in fellowship.

As those who are now walking in the light, not hiding from God or striving to be independent of him, but entering into his will for the world, we and our fellow believers are increasingly walking on the same road, in the same direction – towards the full realisation of the kingdom of Christ. We share a common life – we all have received God’s new heart for our old one, and all depend upon his daily forgiveness and cleansing; we all know that our power and vision come from Christ and that our own wisdom and motives cannot be relied upon to guide us securely.

It is our calling to work together towards the return of Christ in glory, witnessing to all as we have occasion, and building up the believers among whom God has placed us by bearing one another’s burdens, and practically ministering to the needs which each one has. This is “doing life together” – looking to Christ as our goal and also our enabler, recognising in each other the likeness of God and the obligation to love as he has loved us.

Let us, with the apostle John, seek to build one another up in the glorious truths of the gospel – of our salvation, and who we now are as God’s beloved children – so that together we rejoice in the vision of glory, and the complete assurance we can have. And as we do so, let us not be ashamed to “do life together” – since God has called us to walk in this intimate way with him, we should not be afraid to welcome others into our lives, to accept as well as give love and companionship in our labours for the kingdom. May our fellowship with one another make our joy complete and bring glory to God who has made it possible!

 

As One….

God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits….Your body has many parts..but..you are still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ…We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything….Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain – his Spirit – where we all come to drink.

(1 Cor 12.4-13, Message)

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit..one Lord, one faith , one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all…It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets….to prepare God’s 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 fulness of Christ…speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together…grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

(Eph 4.1-6,11-13,15&16)

As believers in Jesus Christ, we are called to live out of the gospel grace which we have received – to show to others the same forgiving, persevering, patient love and profound acceptance which we find in our Saviour. There is no place here for holding ourselves aloof simply because of another person’s background, because of different traditions, or because of their particular characteristics and flaws which we may find irritating and hard to live with.

The bible clearly teaches that when we are adopted into God’s family as his children, we become part of that marvellous unity which is the body of Christ – the universal and eternal bride of Christ – so that whether we recognise it or not, we belong together. In the same way that a body cannot function as a series of individual organs, so we who are believers cannot fulfill our purposes as individuals, we must grow and learn and live together. I need the gifts – and weaknesses – of others; and they need mine.

If I try to remain independent of my fellow believers, I am rejecting the very ones through whom God desires to bless me, and to whom I have been called as a blessing. I must be willing to serve, but also to be served, to be vulnerable, to be incapable of doing everything. How many of us find it easy to ask for and accept help? Our pride and stubborn independence go so deep, and make it easy for the devil to undermine our fellowship as we hold ourselves apart. But when I confess my need, I create the opportunity for the Spirit to build unity as others do for me, and for the whole body, that which I cannot do. Perhaps this is one of the ways in which the Lord graciously provides for our weaknesses, showing his glory and power as the Spirit-prompted love flows from one member to another, bringing help, nourishment and healing – even as our own bodies continually work in a marvellous and complex unity.

Our life-blood as the Body of Christ is this love which we have received and which we – continually refreshed by the Holy Spirit – give to one another. Each of us is called to be ourselves, to use all that we are, for the building up of the Body, and none of us is disabled for that work. As one, we depend upon Christ, and increasingly as one, we live with one purpose and one source of strength. Whether my task in any given time is to give, or to receive, I am called to do both trusting that God is glorified through my service, and to be content with the part I play.

Grace – it’s God’s gift to share, not ours to keep…

Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin…”

(Ex 34.5-7)

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.

(Rom 5.1&2)

Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak…All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God

(2Cor 5.13&15)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

(Col 3.12-14)

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord…….But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ..

(2 Pet 1.2 & 5.18)

What is this ‘grace’ of which the New Testament of our bibles is so full? Was it invented by the church retrospectively to explain what was going on, or is it part of the great narrative of time?

Grace is understood – in the context of God’s revelation of himself – to be the free and unmerited favour which He (as supreme and superior to us in every way) chooses to show us, mere creatures, and in rebellion against Him. That favour is compounded of many things, well beyond the scope of a brief piece of writing, but the word itself is basically shorthand for God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

Grace is represented in God’s choosing of Abram, and the making of a covenant with him – one in which all the promises were on God’s side, and which God kept in spite of Abram’s failings and sin. Grace is seen in God’s powerful deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt – and especially in his bearing with them all through their sulking, rebellious and uncooperative wanderings in the wilderness. Grace is seen in their establishment in a land which was rich and plentiful. Grace is seen in God’s faithfulness to David, in spite of David’s adultery and murder of Bathsheba’s husband. Grace is seen in God reaching out to the people of Nineveh in their sin, with the offer of salvation. Grace is seen in God’s ministry to his people even in their exile in Babylon, where the prophets spoke of God’s presence among them and promise to restore them to their land.

Grace does not arrive with Jesus…but, John tells us that Jesus – as God’s perfect representation in the flesh – showed us more clearly than anything had done beforehand just what grace looks like.

Grace is to love people when they despise you; grace is to bear with people when they misunderstand and misjudge you; grace is to go to the cross, bearing all the appalling weight of a world of sin and grief, so that those who have rejected you might be saved from the consequences of their own sin. This is what God’s grace – in the person of Jesus – did. He did not wait for us to recognise his worth; did not wait until he was popular and liked; did not require that salvation be earned by lavish good works, acts of extreme piety or self-sacrifice. He died, while we were still utterly estranged from and hostile to him, so that we might live never to be estranged again from God.

If I, as a follower of Jesus, and one who calls him Lord, am not willing to show grace to others as it has been shown to me – not willing to allow the riches of God’s forgiveness and love to be offered – then I am not worthy to be called a christian. This free gift – encompassing all of God’s riches – was lavishly poured on me, and continues to be my daily portion. How dare I then choose to whom I will show it? I am no more worthy to receive God’s riches than anyone else – and no less worthy.

Lord God, forgive me when I judge that someone is not worthy of grace, when I choose to condemn instead of being compassionate; to hold a grudge instead of forgiving; to withhold love and kindness instead of reaching out. Your grace outraged the religious leaders of your day, because it was freely offered to the wheeler-dealer Zaccheus, to the disgraced woman who anointed your feet with her tears, to the lepers and the maimed, the socially marginalised. And it was offered to those who thought themselves above you, above needing forgiveness.

You invited everyone to come and receive grace, may I follow your example, and by my words and actions make it clear that all are welcome..

One body, many gifts

Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength….Fear the Lord your God, serve him only…

(Deut 6.4&13)

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.

(Lev 19.18)

A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

(Jn 13.34&35)

For  just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve, if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

(Rom 12.4-8)

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them there are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

(1 Cor 12.4-7)

The church of Christ, the body of Christ, the family of faith….all different ways of expressing the community to which we belong as redeemed children of God – no longer living for our own ends, disconnected from one another, or unhealthily dependent on one another, but connected and deriving our essential life and purpose from one person – Jesus.

Our calling is to love God, and in doing so, to love one another – seeing in each other a glorious and infinitely precious child of God, saved as we all are by the blood of Christ. We are brought together in order to thrive – the individual parts of any living body do not last long in isolation, but dwindle and die – and together to demonstrate God’s radical, transforming kingdom in the midst of a world broken by sin and deeply shadowed by evil.

As in our human bodies, the whole can only thrive when the system works together, each part fulfilling its function, and united in a common goal. When we – as obedient and sincere followers of Jesus – seek to exercise the gifts we are given, then this must always be at the front of our thinking…what can I do to bless and build up this body of Christ? If my goal becomes my own satisfaction, or self-aggrandisement, status and fame, then I am not loving and not submitting to the directing of the Spirit. It may be that I have humble gifts..well and good! It is for God’s pleasure that I offer them, and for the good of others. It is not for me to envy the gifts of others, but to rejoice that God has provided for the needs of his church by distributing gifts across all his people.

Equally, it is not for me to expect that my service – whatever it may be – will look like other people’s service, nor that it will always take the same form. Our Lord looks for a loving, obedient and humble heart, an attitude of availability and surrender; then in different seasons of life and various contexts, our gifts will be exercised in different ways. Some may be called from an early age to teach, in public…well and good! Others may enter such service after years of exercising a private ministry of encouragement, finding that it has been preparing them for this next task. Some will readily and gladly accept the care of children, finding a life long satisfaction in that crucial task of nurture – while others can be part of that ministry for a time, and then find they are moving on.

How hard we find it at times not to compare ourselves with our brothers and sisters in the Lord, to imagine that unless we serve and exercise our strengths and gifts in certain ways, then we are disobeying his command. Let us strive to dismiss that internal voice, those insidious whisperings which come from the devil and aim to destroy our fellowship and derail our faith.

Am I truly desirous of obeying the Lord, humbly submitting my time and talents and money to his service, and open to remaining in a quiet, sometimes a hard place of obedience? Then surely he will be pleased to show me what the next task might be, and as I tackle it in his name, to grant me peace in doing his will. God grant that we might hold nothing back, but indeed love him with heart, soul, mind and strength, loving our neighbours as ourselves for his glory and the building up of his kingdom.

A prickly character….?

Now we ask you brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you , brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.

(1 Thessalonians 5.12-15)

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

(Romans 12.18)

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of  no advantage to you.

(Hebrew 13.17)

One of the most amazing signs of God’s love and grace is the continued existence of his church in the world. Think about it for a moment..Within a few short years of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the gospel had spread across the known world – all very good and encouraging – BUT the infant church was riddled with divisions, hostility and false teaching. The letters to the young churches in the New Testament address a depressingly familiar set of problems, and Paul, Peter and John must have wondered what on earth the future could possibly hold for the church as a whole!

Although I have referred to the problems as ‘depressingly familiar’, there is also a sense in which we can be profoundly encouraged..Why? because in spite of the chronic weakness and persistent failures of believers from the very beginning, the church still exists! God has preserved the witness of his people, has extended the reach of the gospel and continues to transform lives around the world through the power of the redeeming work of Jesus on the cross.

I have been struck afresh recently by just how very hard it must be for our leaders to maintain their energy, hope and vision for the work to which God has called them. Consider the gulf between the ideal church, as described in the extracts above, and the gruesome reality.

Instead of being respected, leaders are taken for granted, put upon and made to suffer unrealistic expectations. Instead of being a people on fire for the gospel, with hearts full of love and practical ways of reaching out, we are largely lukewarm, nominally committed, preoccupied with other parts of life, and indifferent to the call to pray and dig into the word that we might grow and share our faith. Instead of regarding ourselves as fellow labourers, we sit back and criticise when our favourite hymns are not sung, or a visit is not made, or someone sits in our seat. Instead of seeking to live lovingly and peaceably, we indulge our grudges and become touchy, prickly, hard to work with and dangerous to cross.

We are not a beautiful sight, we sheep of the great shepherd. We are lazy, ignorant, easily distracted and selfish. These are not pleasant words, but if we consider our own lives and look around us, we can see their truth. If all the people who – on paper – are members of our churches were living as the apostles describe, and living with a passion to see God glorified in their lives and communities, what a difference there would be. How our pastors and teachers would rejoice when they came to meet with their flocks, seeing the eagerness to learn, to praise, to seek God’s will and power at work in this world. How their labours would be lightened as they humbly wrestled with the word, preparing to share it with the people that we might all learn and grow.

Yes, of course, this side of heaven the church will always be full of sinners who have been saved, and who are being transformed – but is that an excuse for not trying to engage more enthusiastically with God as he seeks to change us? Does the love of God in Christ not call forth a stronger response in us than dutiful attendance, and occasional participation?

I don’t want to be a burden on my pastor, a drain on his enthusiasm, a quenching of his God-given vision for the work. I want to be one of those who encourages him, whose attitude and presence gives him hope that God is working and can make a difference, one in whom he can trust and find sympathy and love.

May God find me eager to submit to his transforming work in my life, so that I might be good for his church, good for my leaders, good for my community, and above all, might bring glory to him!

Cheering me on?

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbour for his good, to build him up…. everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

(Romans 15.1,2&4)

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

(Philippians 2.1-3)

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

(2 Thessalonians 2.16&17)

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul writes about how each part of the church – each individual member – has a valuable contribution to make to the life of the whole. One of the gifts mentioned is that of encouragement, and while I recognise that some people are particularly gifted in that way, we can all probably learn to practice it better!

What do we mean by “encourage”? I think there are two aspects to it: firstly, that it should help people to see themselves as God’s redeemed and beloved children; and second that it should help them to find strength and courage for the next steps along their journey as believers.

When we celebrate people for who they are, the unique combination of qualities and experiences which make up their characters, and all the varied elements of their life story, we remind them that God values them. They are those for whom Christ died, those who are being refined to a perfection of beauty which will leave us all speechless, those whom he delights to call his own. We can use our words to show them their own worth in God’s sight, affirming the struggles they are going through, and the triumphs they have achieved.. In our family, even very small occasions are an excuse for celebration cakes, and an affirmation that the details of our lives matter. When I take the time to notice someone, to find out about them and share something of their story, they are encouraged – God has sent someone to say “I care about you”.

If I feel that who I am matters, that the details are all known by my Father in heaven, every sorrow and joy seen and cherished by him, then I have reason to be confident that my future will also matter. When I remember that Christ died for me, that I am united forever with him, then I am free to stop worrying about propping up my own self-worth or achieving “self-fulfillment”. My Saviour has everything that matters safely in his keeping; my reputation is his affair, not mine and I am free to put others first, to seek their good, loving them as God loves me.

It is this kind of encouragement to which we are called as believers, drawing on the biblical pattern, where so often God’s people were called to remember his care for them, provision for their needs and long-suffering with their sins. This remembrance was the basis for a call to new commitment on their part, to obedience and faithful reliance on God to provide for them and achieve his purposes through them.

So how shall we encourage one another this week?

Think back over conversations you have had; if there is anything which was concerning a friend, or a trial they were facing, go and ask how it worked out. Celebrate the good things which happen, mourn together over the disappointments, and point one another back to the cross and the faithfulness of God, so that courage is found to persevere.

If someone has done something to help you, to make you laugh or to ease a difficult situation – tell them, in a card or text, let them know that they made a difference, and were God’s means of helping you at that time.

If someone has offended you, ask God for grace to forgive them – as you have been forgiven so much more by him – and then go and find something you can do to celebrate that person.

We can encourage one another anonymously, but it is lovely to know who has taken the time to be God’s love in person for us. In this way we build one another up, we grow in Christ-like love, in unity, and God is glorified among us.

Let’s make some cakes!