Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Been Hugged?

Jesus HugsWe 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.” 1 John 1:3.
Don Graham writes about a young woman named Linda who was traveling alone up the rutted and rugged highway from Alberta to the Yukon in the fall of the year. Linda didn't know you don't travel to Whitehorse alone in a rundown Honda Civic, so she set off where only four-wheel drives normally venture. The first evening she found a room in the mountains near a summit and asked for a 5 A.M. wakeup call so she could get an early start.
She awoke to early morning fog shrouding the mountaintops. She went to breakfast where two truckers invited her to join them. Since the place was so 12pt, she felt obliged. "Where are you headed?" one of the truckers asked.
"In that little Civic? No way! This pass is too dangerous in weather like this."
"Well, I'm determined to try," was Linda's gutsy response.
"Then I guess we're just going to have to hug you," the trucker suggested.
Linda drew back. "There's no way I'm going to let you touch me!"
"Not like THAT!" the truckers chuckled. "We'll put one truck in front of you and one in the rear. In that way, we'll get you through the mountains." All that foggy morning Linda followed the two red dots in front of her and had the reassurance of a big escort behind as they made their way safely through the mountains.
HugsThere are a lot of people that need to be "hugged" in that way. Caught in the fog on the dangerous passage through life, we all need others to give us a hug from time to time. Fellowship is experiencing that hug from God and from His family.
When is the last time someone “hugged” you?
When is the last time you “hugged” someone?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


FellowshipWhen’s the last time you invited someone to come home with you for dinner after a Sunday worship service? I remember my first Sunday in Lompoc, California in 1984. I was a new second lieutenant in the USAF reporting at Vandenberg AFB on Monday.  I looked in the yellow pages (yes this was before the internet!) for a place to worship, and was able to find it just a couple blocks off the main street. I first went to the bible study (Sunday School back then). Everyone there made me feel welcome and accepted. A couple of them invited me to sit with them at the worship service. After worship a family invited me to come home with them for lunch. For a young single guy this was an offer I could not refuse. It felt so good to have fellowship with new friends in a strange place.
Fellowship is a great word. It means to share something in common. "Fellowship" or koinonia means "partnership" and even more literally "sharing." Fellowship is not just a potluck dinner or a cup of coffee and sweet roll before worship. Fellowship is the giving and receiving of our lives with one another.
At our church we have an understanding of fellowship. There is a wonderful spirit of love and cooperation in our church. We serve one another. We meet each other’s needs. We pray for each other and encourage each other. We also offer an invitation for others to come and be a part of our family. Fellowship is sharing a common life together, and that common life is Jesus.
Picture with me the grizzled old apostle John. Nearly ninety years old, his eyes are weak. His hands ache from arthritis. Yet his spirit burns brighter than ever. His heart is full of the love of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit comes upon him and he sits down with pen and ink at a crude desk and begins to write a message, a letter. We know this letter in the Bible as 1 John. John’s letter is an invitation: an invitation to fellowship.
John invites us to fellowship, to share a common life. He invites us in v.3 to "have fellowship with us and truly our fellowship is with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ." Fellowship is two ways: VERTICAL fellowship with God and HORIZONTAL fellowship with His people.
John says that he wants to have fellowship with his readers because "truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said this about our fellowship, “Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us. What does this mean? It means, first, that a Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ. It means, second, that a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ.”
The only true fellowship is what we share in Jesus Christ. A. W. Tozer in THE PURSUIT OF GOD put it this way, "One hundred worshipers meeting together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become "unity-conscious" and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship." -
John recorded Jesus’ great high priestly prayer in his gospel, chapter 17. In it Jesus prays, "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (Jn.17:20-21). When we have "oneness" with the Lord, we will have "oneness" with each other.
How is your fellowship with God and with His children?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Six Ways the Bible Comforts Us in Affliction

Following JesusPsalm 119:49-56
Request from the Afflicted: Remember (Psalm 119:49-50) Remember the word to Your servant, Upon which You have caused me to hope.” When we pray, especially when we are afflicted, it is always good to pray for God to remember (or to act upon) His promises in His word. When Nehemiah prayed he said, "Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses,” (Neh. 1:8).  When Peter and John had just been released from jail and they gathered the church to pray for boldness, he began his prayer by reminding God of His promises and His power (Acts 4:24-29). And several times in the Psalms David prays that God would remember His covenant and His promises.
When we take God’s promises and pray them back to Him, we make them our own.  So our hope, our faith, and our prayer is not grounded in anything but on God’s promise. So he says, “Upon which You have caused me to hope.” Our hope is only in the Lord and His promises to us. God has a perfect memory – He will not forget His promises. God does not raise false hopes and expectations that He will not fulfill. That’s a great prayer. Remember.
This is my comfort in my affliction, For Your word has given me life,” (v. 50). Not only does he have hope, but God’s life-giving reviving word has comforted him through his affliction. It’s God, and His word alone that give true comfort, lasting comfort, grief-conquering comfort, peace-surpassing-understanding kind of comfort.
How God’s Word Brings Comfort in Affliction: (Psalm 119:51-56).
1. It Keeps Us From Being Distracted (119:51) “The proud have me in great derision, Yet I do not turn aside from Your law.” The psalmist found himself being ridiculed for his faith. When people treat you that way, and mock your trust in God it may be easy to get distracted, to focus on the mockers or on how they make you feel. Here is where God’s word brings comfort in affliction. It keeps us on track. He says, “Yet I do not turn aside from Your law.” Unrestrained opposition is met by unwavering loyalty. The next time you find yourself troubled by what others say about you, reach out and pick up your Bible. Say to yourself, “Listen my soul and hear what God has to say about this.” Begin to read God’s word and take it to heart. And God will surely give you a promise from His word that will keep you from being distracted by what others say about you.
2. It Reminds Us of The Big Picture (119:52). I remembered Your judgments of old, O LORD, And have comforted myself.”  God remembers (v. 49), but we must remember as well. He remembers His word, and so must we. Isn’t that one reason that God gives us His word in the Bible? To remind us of who He is and how He has worked down through history? God’s words and ways are unchanging. He remains the same in His dealings with men. Remembering the ways that God has worked in history gives us comfort in affliction. It’s not a coincidence that this verse is sandwiched between 2 verses describing the actions and attitudes of the arrogant and wicked. The psalmist comforts himself when he remembers God’s judgments and dealings with sin and sinners in the past. God will deal with the wicked.
3. It Sensitizes Us to Evil (119:53). Indignation has taken hold of me Because of the wicked, who forsake Your law.” Literally he says “raging heat grasps me.” He is indignant at the evil in the world. As our culture goes deeper in its abandonment of God’s Word, there should be times we feel this way–like Jesus when He cleared the temple. Rather than being desensitized (which happens the more you watch wickedness as entertainment) - we should be appalled at the bold sins not only of the pagans, but of even professing believers. The world shouldn’t mould us to its shape, we should be revolted and fearful of its sinful shaping influence of our hearts. God’s word makes us sensitive to the evil in us and around us.
4. It Keeps Us Singing Along the Journey (119:54). Your statutes have been my songs In the house of my pilgrimage.” A pilgrimage is a journey from one place to another. Earlier in the psalm he said in verse 19, “I am a stranger on the earth.” Believers are traveling through a world that is out of tune with God’s truth. Jesus said to His disciples “You are not of this world.” Affliction is not unique to Christians – what is unique to Christians is the joyful hope within us. What sets us apart is that we can say to anyone at any time the reason for the hope that is within us (v. 49). If a coworker or friend or someone asks us how we can hold up in our difficulty, our answer should be the answer of this passage (v. 50): This is my comfort in my difficulty, God’s Word gives me life.And it gives us the ability to sing and give thanks and declare our witness for Christ in any affliction and difficulty.
5. It Reminds Us of God’s Name (119:55). I remember Your name in the night, O LORD, And I keep Your law.” Even in dark times, in the night we can remember the Name of the Lord. His name communicates His being, His character, His power, and His presence. Proverbs 18:10, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; The righteous run to it and are safe.”
6. It Becomes Ours As We Obey It (119:56). This has become mine, Because I kept Your precepts.” The word “this” probably refers to the practices of this whole section (i.e., “this comfort, remembrance, your laws” etc.). What’s clear is the blessings spoken of in our passage have direct relationship with obeying, following the Word. When obedience becomes second nature, that is the assurance of our new nature!
That’s the transforming power of the Word of God that Psalm 119 celebrates. In any affliction or difficulty, even persecution or prison or the point of a gun, believers can obey God’s word and give thanks and sing.
Are you singing through your affliction?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Prayer to Witness Without Fear

Witness without fearThis week I met some of the parents whose kids are in marching band with my son at the local high school. As I was talking with one man I sensed the urging of the Holy Spirit to share with him about my relationship with Jesus Christ. At the same instance I also felt a great fear well up in the pit of my stomach. I knew God wanted me to say something, but at the same time I felt like I couldn’t do it.
Has that ever happened to you? Many Christians are afraid to tell others about their faith in Jesus. For most of us, even those who have a lot of experience at it, just the thought of witnessing or telling the good news to someone gives us at least butterflies in our gut or at most paralyzes us into keeping quiet.
How can we cultivate an unwavering faith to speak unashamedly for God and of His word?
I learned some lessons in this area from Psalm 119:41-49. This section of Psalm 119, like some of the others, is not just a song but also a prayer. This prayer makes two requests of God (vs. 41,43) and six promises to God (42, 44-48).
41  Let Your mercies come also to me, O LORD; Your salvation according to Your word.
42  So shall I have an answer for him who reproaches me, For I trust in Your word.
43  And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, For I have hoped in Your ordinances.
44  So shall I keep Your law continually, Forever and ever.
45  And I will walk at liberty, For I seek Your precepts.
46  I will speak of Your testimonies also before kings, And will not be ashamed.
47  And I will delight myself in Your commandments, Which I love.
48  My hands also I will lift up to Your commandments, Which I love, And I will meditate on Your statutes.
We need great grace to speak God’s Word with great boldness and power, so this prayer begins by praying for grace-enablement. He expresses his confidence in verse 42, “So shall I have an answer for him who reproaches me,” and his prayer for boldness in verse 43, “And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth.” 
What got the psalmist to this point of confidence and boldness? Can it also enable us to have that confidence and boldness?
One thing that will help me witness without fear is when I:
Appreciate God’s Mercy in Saving Me. (vs. 41-43).
The Psalmist’s experience in v.41 & 42 parallels our own salvation:
1. Salvation Is From the Lord’s mercy. .41, ”Let Your mercies come also to me, O LORD;”
“Mercies” in v. 41 (NKJV) is the rich Hebrew word hesed. In the ESV it is translated “steadfast love” or in other translations “unfailing love” (NIV) or “lovingkindness” (NASB) or “faithful love” (HCSB) or “loyal love” (NET). This is the Lord’s faithful, covenant love and mercy.
Our salvation is also a result of God’s mercy on us:
Eph. 2:4-5,  “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).”
Titus 3:5, “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.
2. Salvation Is By God’s Word .41, “Your salvation according to Your word.”
His experience was that God delievered him according to His word. We can depend on God to keep His word. Our salvation comes through hearing and believing God’s word:
Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
1 Peter 1:23, “having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.”
3. Salvation Is Through Faith (Trust). 42, “For I trust in Your word.”
The psalmist trusted God and His word. Another word for trust is faith. We are saved through faith.
Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”
If we understand what God has mercifully done for us in salvation through Jesus Christ it emboldens us to speak without fear of men. One reason is that we reverence or fear God all the more. Paul says, “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men;” (2 Cor. 5:11).
 Another reason is that we know the love of God all the more. A few verses later Paul says, “For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again,” (2 Cor. 5:14,15).
Because we know what a great peril God has saved us from because of His love for us, we seek to persuade men to believe in Jesus.
The more we appreciate God’s mercy in saving us, the more we will want to tell others about it.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Another Forgiveness Story

Chris CarrierGeneral Oglethorpe once said to John Wesley: “I never forgive and I never forget.” To which Wesley replied: “Then, sir, I hope that you never sin.”
In my last two posts I wrote about what Jesus said about forgiveness in Matthew 18. Peter asked Jesus, “How often should I forgive my brother, seven times?" (Verse 21). And Jesus answered, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
Then, as He often did, Jesus told a story. At the end of this parable of the unmerciful servant Jesus says, “Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?
Forgiveness is not always easy. But those of us who call ourselves disciples of Jesus, it is necessary. As C.S. Lewis said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”
Here is another forgiveness story:
It was five days before Christmas when a stranger approached ten-year-old Christopher Carrier, claiming to be a friend of his father. "I want to buy him a gift, and I need your help," said the stranger. Eager to do something good for his dad, Chris climbed aboard a motor home parked up the street.
The driver took Chris to a remote field, claiming to be lost, and asked Chris to look at a map. Suddenly Chris felt a sharp pain in his back. The stranger had stabbed him with an ice pick. The man drove the wounded boy down a dirt road, shot him in the left temple, and left him for dead in the alligator-infested Florida Everglades.
Chris lay wounded for six days until a driver found him. Chris miraculously survived his injuries, though he was blind in his left eye. Because he was unable to identify his attacker, police could not make an arrest. For a long time young Chris remained frightened, despite police protection. Finally at an invitation given after a church hayride, Chris trusted Jesus Christ as his Savior. He recalls, "I was overwhelmed with emotion; because I knew I had never really accepted and personally met the Savior." This turning point in Chris’s life came three years after the attack. At age 15 Chris shared his story for the first time. He eventually decided to pursue full-time ministry, helping others find the peace he had discovered in Christ.
Over twenty years later on September 3, 1996 a detective told Chris over the phone that a man had confessed to the crime that had cost him his left eye. The man’s name was David McAllister. Chris made plans to visit the feeble and now blind man, living in a nursing home. The strong young man Chris remembered was now a broken, humbled 77-year-old.
Chris learned from the detective some of the background of what had happened years ago. McAllister had been hired by Chris’s father to work as a nurse for an ailing uncle. Chris’s dad had caught McAllister drinking on the job and had fired him. The senseless attack on Chris had been motivated by revenge.
As Chris now talked to the old man, at first McAllister denied knowing anything about the kidnapping. As Chris revealed more about himself, the old man softened and eventually apologized. Chris said, "I told him, ’What you meant for evil, God has turned into a wonderful blessing.’" Chris told his attacker how God had allowed his wounds to become open doors to share the good news of Christ.
Chris went home and told his wife and kids about meeting the man who had tried to kill him. The entire family began almost daily visits to McAllister’s nursing home. During one Sunday afternoon visit, Chris popped the most important question he had yet asked McAllister: "Do you want to know the Lord?" McAllister said yes. Both men basked in forgiveness as McAllister gave his heart to Christ. A few days later McAllister died, peacefully, in his sleep.
Carrier says it is not a story of regret, but of redemption. "I saw the Lord give that man back his life, and so much more," Chris said. "I can’t wait to see him again someday; in heaven." (Citation: Adapted from article by Adam Myrick in the Southwestern News (Fall 2000))
You can read more of Chris' story at:The Baptist Standard.
 Do you have a forgiveness story?