Our Fellowship, Our Joy

This post is by Rich Powell, pastor of Grace Bible Church in Winston Salem, NC. You can find out more about him here or hear his expositions of Scripture at gbcnc.org. Reprinted with the gracious permission of the author.

 

Because of his encounter with the incarnate Son of God, John was compelled to broadcast this wonderful One to us and all who would hear.

That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.

And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.

The apostle makes the point that joy and fellowship are inextricably linked. God is the source of joy. The God/man is the means of appropriating that joy through our relationship to Him and then with His people.

As believers, each of us has been baptized into the body of Christ.  The body is vital connection and interdependence with coordinated work upon command from the head (Christ). While there is a common mission for the church there is also a common divine objective for each member of the body- the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ- our joy!

COACHING-1Being conformed to Christ’s image is not something that is done alone. The mind of Christ and the law of Christ require investment with regard to others. Each of us plays an integral role in the spiritual growth (the joy of becoming like Christ) of the other. Our lasting joy in the Lord is proportionate to our maturity in the Lord and love of/fellowship with His people.

This is why the apostle Paul told the Corinthian believers that they were fellow workers for your joy. Fellowship is what the apostle John did- the blessing he received from God he shared with those around him. What has been entrusted to you (God’s blessings) is for the express purpose of contributing to the joy of others.

Evangelism- No Time to Talk

“Are you a member of a good church?”

In the Bible Belt, this is a common beginning to a conversation with unexpected strangers knocking at your door. Granted, that doesn’t happen so often. A few months ago, two kind ladies from a local Baptist church came by while doing some door-to-door ‘visiting’. I answered ‘yes’ to their first question, and then I described our church’s location. I offered that I served as a deacon, hoping to indicate that I wasn’t the backslidden Southern Baptist they apparently thought I was- gauging from their strained smiles.

Given the tenor of the conversation thus far, the next question was unexpected:

“Sir, if you died today do you know if you would go to be with Jesus in heaven?”

Let’s get right to it, shall we? I hesitated: “Yes… would you like to come inside to talk about that?”

They both said that they were just “passing through” the neighborhood and that they couldn’t stay long. They couldn’t stay. They had the time to ask me about my eternal destiny, but not to hear what I had to say about it?

The lady gave one more attempt at nailing a hard answer from me. She asked if I was sure that there was a “point in time” when I “asked Jesus to be my Lord and Savior.” I reiterated that I would love to talk with them about that, but since they were in a hurry… The speaker’s companion realized how impertinent they must have seemed because she volunteered that they would love to hear my story.

I invited them inside to meet my wife and children, but I didn’t keep them long. I hoped that they would see that their questions were deeply personal and that they would therefore require personal answers. Again, they were very kind, but I was concerned with the outworking of their sincerely held beliefs. It was as though they thought life’s big questions don’t require contemplation or elaboration. Just answer the question. Bada boom, bada bing- read our tract, pray our prayer, provide the password (a ‘testimony’) so we can move on to the neighbors.

After they left, I wanted to help my kids think through the interview they had seen. I was obviously displeased with what I saw as a flippant representation of evangelism. Besides failing to even ask my name, there was the pervasive sense of mistrust- it didn’t seem possible to them that I was a Christian until I agreed to their- frankly, unbiblical terminology.

roman_road_02However, if I wasn’t careful, I could leave the impression that it is inappropriate to talk to strangers about God. Even now, after months of hesitation, this post feels more bitter than it ought to be. I do believe that talking to everyone about God is one of our highest callings, and I wish more evangelicals were as willing as these women to do so. I wanted my children to appreciate the zeal of these women, while acknowledging with grace that their zeal lacked biblical moorings. I wanted them to learn to go to people where they are, asking hard questions, while also being willing to listen to hard questions in return.

We should aim again and again to do this consistently with the spirit and doctrine of the Apostles. No trick questions, no heuristically chopping the Romans Road into a Few Random Bits of Paving Stones from the Romans Road.

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. ~ Paul, 2 Cor.4:2

 

Thoughts on Faith

This post is by Rich Powell, pastor of Grace Bible Church in Winston Salem, NC. You can find out more about him here or hear his expositions of Scripture at gbcnc.org. Reprinted with the gracious permission of the author. 

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. Rom. 2:28-29

Circumcision, for the Jews (the “people of God”), was a ceremonial symbol of identification and distinction. But each one, personally and individually, had to place his faith in God. That is why the “real” Jew, according to the apostle, was not one who just carried the outward symbol but possessed a real inward distinction of surrendered trust in the Creator/Redeemer.

Now that Jesus Christ has fulfilled the righteous requirement of the Law for all, we who are in Christ are the people of God by faith, meaning: in my heart and mind- at the level of thought and desire- I am set apart and devoted to Jesus Christ. That symbol of identification and distinction is “circumcision of the heart.”

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The apostle is driving home the difference between real fruit that grows naturally from within the tree, as opposed to aesthetic fruit that is superficially pinned to a dead branch. Externals, symbols, and group identifications do not put us in right standing with God and certainly do not fulfill His purposes.

Reconciliation to God through faith is not by identifying with a group or keeping a ritual, but by a personal surrender to Jesus Christ and singular trust in His sacrifice to redeem me to Himself.

God sees your heart. What is He finding?

The Mistress and Governess of Human Emotion- Martin Luther on Music

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I’ve been listening to a series of lectures on the history and development of music in Western Civilization and Martin Luther surprisingly came up. In keeping with the changing commitments in his time, Luther seemed almost Socratic in his attitude about the powerful influence of music on our lives. Socrates, recognizing the extreme power of music, thought the poets should be banned from the state. Luther agrees about its power, but argues that music can be a resource for soul-enhancing change:

Greetings in Christ! I would certainly like to praise music with all my heart as the excellent gift of God which it is and to commend it to everyone. But I am so overwhelmed by the diversity and magnitude of its virtue and benefits that I can find neither the beginning nor end or method for my discourse… We can mention only one point (which experience confirms), namely, that next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. She is a mistress and governess of those human emotions- to pass over the animals- which as masters govern men or more often overwhelm them. No greater commendation than this can be found- at least not by us. For whether you wish to comfort the sad, to terrify the happy, to encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate, or to appease those full of hate- and who could number all these masters of the human heart, namely the emotions, inclinations, and affections that impel men to evil or good? – what more effective means than music could you find? The Holy Ghost himself honours her as an instrument for his proper work when in his Holy Scriptures he asserts that through her his gifts were instilled in the prophets, namely, the inclination to all virtues, as can be seen in Elisha [II Kings 3.15]. On the other hand, she serves to cast out Satan, the instigator of all sins, as is shown in Saul, the king of Israel [I Sam 16.23]. Thus it was not without reason that the fathers and prophets wanted nothing else to be associated as closely with the Word of God as music. Therefore, we have so many hymns and Psalms where message and music join to move the listener’s soul, while in other living beings and [sounding] bodies music remains a language without words.

Gesa Elsbeth Thiessen, ed., Theological Aesthetics: A Reader (Grand Rapids: MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005), 145.

Many of us regularly listen to music with an almost religious fervor. I wonder how this music affects our emotions, and how we are using music as a tool to challenge and to elevate our minds? Another question comes to mind- if all music is a form of meditation- how much do you think singing should be incorporated into the rhythms of our lives- both communal and solitary?