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Genuine Fellowship

“Thus, I therefore hope to send him at once after I determine what will happen to me and I trust in the Lord that I too will come shortly.”

(Philippians 2:23-24)

What we don’t know for sure is whether or not Paul ever made it back to Philippi. Some scholars argue that he was released from his chains and given freedom to travel again and later arrested and executed (some even argue that Paul made it to Spain during this time). Others argue that this is later in Paul’s life and that he would remain in chains until the day that he was put to death. We simply do not know for sure.

What we do know is of Paul’s longing for fellowship with these believers. And how important that fellowship is. God has not created us to stand alone as Christians; he has created us to stand and be in fellowship with other like-minded believers. And how often we rob ourselves of those blessings.

Yet, Christian fellowship is not just a matter of mutual encouragement and instruction in God’s word; Christian fellowship is meant, in a small sense, to turn back the effects of the Fall. The Fall brought separation and social strata and isolation. Yet in the church there is no black or white, no rich or poor, no weak or powerful; we are brothers and sisters in Christ. In the church one need not struggle with sin alone, but one has other brothers and sisters who will walk alongside you during times of trial. And, when Truth must be upheld and battled for in the culture and community, one does so not as a single person against the world, but as part of a larger body that will battle alongside of you for what is true and right.

With this in mind, several trends in church life have come to grieve me a great deal. The first is a lack of transparency and genuineness amongst the larger body. The second is the trend of people to “church hop,” bouncing from church to church because one person’s preaching is more interesting (or less offensive!) or because one is frustrated with a decision made by the church leadership. And the third is the tendency of people to “pick and choose” what parts of scripture they wish to submit to. People often say, “yea and amen” to a given text, but often do not apply it to their lives and get mad at the church leadership for holding them accountable to the scriptures and to church membership vows. When these things happen, fellowship and what fellowship is meant to point to is undermined.

Like Paul, may we long to nurture a sense of anticipation of the fellowship we have with one another in the body of Christ. May we look to Sunday mornings with anticipation, for here the whole body gathers to worship our great and glorious King, Jesus. And may we yearn for this fellowship to be sincere, striving to live it out in our own practice.

The Laughter of the Saints

“And Sarah said, ‘Laughter, God brings to me; all the ones who hear will laugh with me.’”

(Genesis 21:6)

 

The emphasis that is placed here is on the laughter. Usually, this word refers to the way we might mock someone by laughing and jeering at him, but in this context a very different sentiment is being conveyed. Here is the joy of a lifetime of reproach being lifted. The desire of Sarah’s heart, to bear her husband a child, has been denied to her through her normal childbearing years, yet he has remained faithful to her. Now, in her old age, a gift has been given to this woman. The shame and reproach that came with being barren has been removed and her only response is to laugh with joy at the thing that God has done.

What a beautiful picture of the response of this woman. Sometimes, when one has walked so long in the darkness of rejection and then suddenly one is thrust out of that despair and into joy, there is nothing to do but to laugh — one cannot contain the joy one is experiencing. Here, this woman who has tried to bring that child for Abraham in a variety of different ways, even to the extent of giving Hagar to her husband as a surrogate wife, is given the desires of her heart; what a beautiful and a human response as we see her laughing and anticipating the laughter of others who will join in celebrating with her.

Yet is this also not what Jesus does for every believer? He removes the reproach of sin and judgment from us as we stand before God. He gives us life where death was our only state of being. We are brought by him into the household of the Almighty God of the Universe and presented as clean and as a child of that God and King; beloved, what can we do but laugh in joy? What can we do but celebrate? The laughter of the saints is a holy thing and it is a thing that brings healing because it stems from a heart that has been redeemed. When God’s people gather together to fellowship, joyful laughter seems to be one of the most basic characteristics of those gatherings; I can only imagine what the joyful laughter will be like when we are all joined together before the throne of our Lord and our joy made fully and irrevocably complete. I pray that you are ready to join with me there on that day.

Wonderful night! Wonderful night!

Dreamed of by prophets and sages!

Manhood redeemed for all ages,

Welcomes thy hallowing might,

Wonderful, Wonderful night!

Wonderful night! Wonderful night!

Sweet be thy rest to the weary,

Making the dull heart and dreary

Laugh in a dream of delight;

Wonderful, Wonderful night!

-John Meyer

Seeking Your Good

“On behalf of the house of Yahweh, our God,

I will seek out good for you.”

(Psalm 122:9)

Do you intentionally seek out the good of those in your Christian fellowship?  This does not mean that you do them a favor now and again when they ask, but do you intentionally go out of your way to bless those around you even apart of their asking.  Such is what the psalmist is stating.  The Hebrew word that he uses in the second clause is the word vq;b” (baqash), which means to diligently search something out—to hunt it down or to demand of yourself that you find what you are looking for.

One of the things I love to do is to rummage through stacks of old books looking for those rare treasures that often get buried and forgotten.  I have been known to haunt the shelves of used book stores, happily spending hours looking for books.  It is granted that different people find their interest in different things, but I think that most people like hunting for treasure in one sense of the word or another.  Some enjoy bargain hunting at yard-sales, some online.  Some enjoy combing the beaches with a metal detector and some love reading a good mystery novel, searching the pages diligently for clues.  The recent popularity of pirate movies and stories in American culture is once again a testimony that we enjoy hunting things out.

Yet apply this to the life of the church.  What would it look like in a congregation if the members were as diligent in seeking ways to bless each other as they were in seeking bargains for themselves.  What if, instead of being students of the value of worldly goods, we became students of one another, doing so with the intention of bringing good into another’s life.  Understand, too, that the motivation for doing good is not so that others will do good to you, but simply to bless another individual and by doing so, honor God.  How different our churches might be.

Beloved, on behalf of the house of God—our God—let us diligently seek to do good to one another and to those who visit with us.  Indeed, how different our fellowships would look if our members were going out of their way to bless each other—even to the point of demanding of themselves, I will make sure that I bless this person or that person today.