Yesterday I began re-posting (alright, re-writing and then re-posting) a treatise if you will, that I wrote back in the early-to-mid 80’s. In yesterday’s message, I was dealing with our need to connect with our Heavenly Father, not through some superficial religious experience, but on an intimate level, and it ended with me saying that it is not enough for me to teach you about it, but for you to experience the life He is offering you. I also encouraged you to begin to fall in love with your Father.
Well, with that came a message I believe provides a perfect expression our Father’s heart:
I know you have a thirst, and I invite you to come and drink from me. I am the one who wants to comfort you. I bought you, and I will complete the work I began in you. I still delight in you and claim you as my own; I rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride. Although you have lost sight of me, I will never fail you or forsake you.
I know your manifold transgressions and pain; I know all of the mighty sins and frustrations you hold on to, yet my grace is sufficient for you. I have cast all your sins and hurts behind my back; I have trampled them under my feet, and thrown them into the depths of the ocean! I have washed away all your sins and pain; I have swept them away like the morning mist, scattered them like the clouds. Oh, return to me, for I have paid the price to set you free.
You are troubled and worried about many things; trust me with all your heart. I know how to rescue my people from their trials. My Spirit helps you in your distress. Let me strengthen you with my glorious power. I have never withheld anything from you—I did not spare my Son but gave him up for your sake. If I have done this for you, can you not believe that I will provide for you everything that you need? March on, my dear one, with courage! Never give up. I will help you. I will uphold you.
When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.
I will never tire or sleep. I will stand beside you. I wish to hide you in the shelter of my presence. When you are troubled, I will go ahead of you, directing your steps and delighting in every detail of your life. When you stumble, you will not fall, for I promise to hold you by the hand. I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
I will make you fruitful in a land of suffering, trading beauty for ashes, joy for mourning, praise for despair. I live with the low spirited and spirit crushed. I will put new spirit in you and get you on your feet again. Weeping may go on all night, but joy will come with the morning. If I am for you, who can ever be against you?
Look to me, and I will throw my arms around you, lavish attention on you, and guard you as the apple of my eye. I know you feel I have neglected you, but I rejoice over you with singing and great joy every time I hear your name. You cannot count all of my thoughts of you; they outnumber the grains of sand!
Nothing can ever separate you from my love. Death can‟t, and life can‟t. The angels can‟t, and the demons can‟t. You loneliness can‟t, and your confused thoughts can‟t. Your fears for today, your worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell that have sought to destroy you can not keep my love away.
You have sometimes said, “The Lord has deserted me; the Lord has forsaken me.” But can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for a child she has borne? Even if that were possible, I would not forget you! I paid for you with the precious lifeblood of Christ, my sinless, spotless Lamb. No one will snatch you away from me. I have written your name on my hand. I will call you my friend. Why, the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don‟t be afraid; you are valuable to me.
Give me your burdens; I will take care of you. I know how weak you are, that you are made of dust. Give all your worries and cares to me, because I care about what happens to you.
Remember, I am at hand. Come to me when you are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. I delight in you, and I can be trusted to keep my promises. Come and drink the water of life.
Your loving Father,
Take that to the bank and treasure it always. Let the Words soak in and draw you even deeper. My friend, to paraphrase A.W. Tozer, unless you find God in personal experience, you are no better off for having heard the truth. The Bible isn’t an end in itself; it is simply a means to bring you to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God that you can enter into Him; that you can delight in His Presence; may taste and know the inner sweetness of God Himself in the core and center of your heart.
As Tozer went on to say,
“We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit. `No man can come to me,’ said our Lord, `except the Father which hath sent me draw him,’ and it is by this very prevenient drawing that God takes from us every vestige of credit for the act of coming. The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the outworking of that impulse is our following hard after Him; and all the time we are pursuing Him we are already in His hand: `Thy right hand upholdeth me.’ In this divine `upholding’ and human `following’ there is no contradiction. All is of God, for as von Hugel teaches, God is always previous.”
The joyous reality is that once The Church is focused on worshiping our Father; we are drawn to His Church and the world outside the walls of The Church. This study is my call for us to allow God‟s family to dominate our lives. Even a casual observation gives me the impression this particular area has been too often misunderstood and neglected.
I have seen in the lives of many Christians a sense of incompleteness, a dissatisfaction with what they had expected, compared with what they were experiencing. An emptiness; maybe a hungering would describe it better — a hunger for a real and meaningful Christianity. Maybe that they are simply tired of the “same ol’, same ol’.”
This hunger seems to be intensified by our natural awkwardness in relating with other people. Maybe it is our shyness, inhibitions, or just plain clumsiness in handling each other.
Before I was married I had these wild and wonderful dreams of what marriage would be like. I readily admit that most of my visions of marriage were jaded by the television shows of my youth. My favorite shows included Ozzie and Harriet; Father Knows Best; The Donna Reed Show; and Leave It to Beaver. Those families seemed to live out an honest and simple life. I envisioned marriage as being romps in the park and Sunday picnics; snowball fights in the winter; tumbling in the leaves during cool autumn days; lots of kissing and hugging.
I saw ourselves forever desperately in love as we played house in our quaint little apartment. It was completely furnished, and I would strive in every way to meet my wife’s needs, and my wife would always look totally happy, sexy, and cherished. I would be both strong and tender as I arrive home from work as fresh as when I left. I would always remember birthdays and anniversaries. Not to mention the exact time we kissed for the first time or held hands. (Although I can tell you the place!)
My wife, on the other hand, would be waiting at the door when I arrived so she could simply fall into my arms. Over her shoulder, I would survey a shining, polished house, and smell the aroma of dinner ready to be enjoyed — unless, of course, she playfully steered me into the bedroom first.
Ah, yes. Somehow, the bills always stayed paid. Trash never accumulated. Nobody ever vomited, burped, had bad breath, or passed gas. When we smiled, we never had food caught between our teeth. (Although, one time when Patrice and I were enjoying a bowl of chocolate pudding, I said something that made her burst out laughing — with a mouth full of pudding — that landed all over my face. (And yes, she laughed hysterically). Laundry never piled up; diapers never got dirty, and children were perfect angels at all times. In fact, they came already trained and disciplined!
Imagine my surprise when I discovered how different things were! I mean we branded each other with our wedding rings and too soon got caught in a loblolly of the unforeseen. We were amazed to find how different the two of us were! Yes, we were still very much in love — but how could my wife be so different from what I envisioned, beyond all reasonable expectations? (Although, I am sure I was just as she imagined).
“The first week I was married,” I heard one wife declare, “I thought, What did I do this for? It was better at Mom‟s!‟
At the beginning of our marriage, I worked the midnight to 8:30 a.m. shift, while she worked a 9-to-5 shift. Because I was working in retail, and we were married one week before Christmas, I had to beg to get off for our wedding night! We didn’t even have a honeymoon until four months after our wedding! (and yes, they gave me the day off for the wedding, but I had to return to work the next night).
The point I am trying to make is that all of us have wild and crazy expectations of marriage, some that come sizzling straight off the pages of novels!
Of course, I have been facetious here. Married life for my wife and I has been rich, as rich as I have known all of life to be. Maybe even richer in its complexity. As you can imagine, while raising twins plus two, we have experienced many struggles and hardships over the past years. Nevertheless, through it all we have sought harmony.
I have noticed though, in the Body of Christ we tend to experience the same things. We love to talk about and dream about relationships, but the reality is ours often seem to be self-serving, phony, disappointing, or at least just plain unappealing. As Karl Heim wrote:
The Church is like a ship on whose deck festivities are still kept up and glorious music is heard, while deep below the water-line a leak has been sprung and masses of water are pouring in, so that the vessel is settling hourly lower though the pumps are manned day and night.
Not a cheerful thought is it?. You see, all around you are Christians who are waiting for your input, lonely for your love, hungry for what you know about Jesus that they don’t know. They need what you have to offer; and conversely, you need what they have to offer.
I realize that some Christians do not want to be connected to other members of the body of Christ. Oh sure, they say they want to commune with Jesus, but they deliberately isolate themselves from other believers. They want nothing to do with the body. Their only desire is to fellowship with the head.
There is the problem! A body is not comprised of a single member. Can you picture a head with only an arm growing out of it? Christ’s body cannot be made up of a head alone, with no limbs or organs. His body consists of many members. We simply cannot be one with Christ without being with his body as well.
We don’t need just a head, we need the whole body! We are knit together not only by our need for Jesus, but by our need for each other. Paul put it this way:
“No matter how significant you are, the most important part is what you are a part of. An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn’t be a body, but a monster. What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own.” (I Corinthians 12:20-22)
I realize this is just one man’s opinion, but I believe that one of the biggest problems in many of our churches is that so many people want to be somebody and not enough people who could not care less if they were even noticed. Their only desire is to be true to the Lord and fulfill His will (and not their own).
I have always said that my only desire, if I fall asleep before the Lord’s return, is that they can quote Acts 13:36: Nickolas “served the purposes of God in his generation, then fell asleep.” If I can fulfill the Lord’s plan for my life — nothing more, nothing less — I will be enough.
Everybody wants to preach and teach, but nobody wants to sit and serve. That’s what Paul was trying to get people to understand. When he wrote that the eye is no more important than the ear — they simply serve a different purpose.
The hand is no more valuable than an eyelash. Both serve very important functions, but people can survive without either, right? Where is true humility, humility that says: “The Lord is the vine, and I am the branch. Without Him, I can do nothing! If He sees fit to use me, I will obey with great joy and enthusiasm. If not, I’ll obey with great joy and enthusiasm.”
I believe it was Broadman who said:
“There is no hierarchy in the gifts of God. The ministry of the church does not rest on status but on service. No gift that serves others is little. God uses both stars and candles to light his world.”
The issue with our Father is not who the stars are and who the candles are. His only concerned was His light coming forth. We are the one hung up on the stars, and we forget that a star only shines at night — one designated time — but a candle can shine at any time and anywhere! Chew on that one for awhile . . .
What about members who are bruised and hurting? Paul emphasizes, “There is an absolute necessity for the parts of the body that are considered the more weak.” (I Corinthians 12:22). The apostle then adds, “and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty” (I Corinthians 12:23). He is talking about those in Christ‟s body who are unseen, hidden, unknown, anonymous. In God’s eyes, these members have a great honor. And they are necessary for the whole body to work.
This passage is very important for all of us. Paul is saying, “It doesn’t matter how poor your self-image may be. You may think that you are not measuring up as a Christian. But the Lord himself says, ‘I need you. You are not just an important member of his body, you are vital and necessary for it to function.‟”
The point is for you to expose yourself to the right people, at the right time, in the right places. That is what this whole study is about. I want to help you find those people and to show you how to put your lives together when you do.
I saw a list, once, of ways the New Testament tells us to relate with each other as Christians. When you eliminate the repetitions, did you know they boil down to only 13? Look:
- Suffering together. I Corinthians 12:26
- Rejoicing together. Romans 12:15
- Carrying each other‟s burdens. Galatians 6:2
- Restoring each other. Galatians 6:1
- Praying for one another. Romans 15:30
- Teaching and admonishing one another. Colossians 3:16
- Refreshing one another. Romans15:32
- Encouraging one another. Romans1:12
- Forgiving each other. Ephesians 4:32
- Confessing to one another. James 5:16
- Being truthful with one another. Ephesians4:32
- Spurring one another toward good deeds. Hebrews 10:24
- Giving to one another. Philippians 4:14-15
The question at the bottom of that page said: “Have I placed myself so deeply within a living, functioning local body that I myself am functioning in all these ways, and so living as a well-rounded, healthy, contributing member of the Body of Christ?”
Friends, we are expected to place ourselves deeply within a living, functioning local body and begin to give and take at deep levels.
Now don’t let that phrase go by you too quickly. You must place yourself deeply. If you are going to run off every weekend to vacation, or stay home some Sundays to catch church by television, go church hopping or even show up, but never interact with anyone, and think you have done it, you are going to pay a terrible price. Yes, I realize you need some time away from it all, but if it becomes your habit, your fellow believers will move into each other, close the gap, and learn to get along without you. Friends, I can assure you from my own personal experience, there is no substitute for constant, faithful exposure to your local family of God.
That is your part. However, it is a two-way street. Your church has to be living and functioning, too! How can you tell if you are in the right church? It doesn’t have to be large, and it will certainly never be perfect! Nevertheless, it must be alive and functioning. As Sam Shoemaker once said, “You can‟t put a live chick under a dead hen.”
I don‟t care how large or small your church is, if it is going to be the right place for you, it has to be a place where you can minister life and exercise your various gifts. It also has to be a place where they can minister to you. It has to work both ways! Don’t wear yourself out trying to hang on because they need you (need you for what? To keep the pew warm?). If you cannot find enough life in the Spirit to pour back into you, get out of there! Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in My Name . . .” not just gathered, He would be in the midst.
On the other hand, don‟t be too proud, too shy, or too busy to receive the life when it is there! Realize though, many church people have the true Gospel of Christ in their hearts; they are full of potential; but closed-up. They don’t know how to love each other. They must learn how to act out their love as well.
Look at the Apostle Paul. He could have easily had been a loner. But whether it was easy or not, he made sure he made his way deeply into the lives of many other believers. Did you ever notice that in his letter to the Roman Church, he greeted specific people by name, at the risk of omitting many others. He names twenty-seven men and eight women.
He mentions Phoebe, a businesswoman traveling to Rome who carried his letter for him. (As Donald Barnhouse wrote, “The Reformation was in that luggage!”).
He mentions Aquilla and Priscilla, a married couple in business together, who often traveled with Paul.
He mentions Erastus, city treasurer of Corinth. In 1929, a pavement was uncovered which was inscribed to say, “Erastus laid this pavement at his own expense.” Evidently, Erastus was a Christian big shot.
He mentions Tertius, his scribe. In other words, Paul mentions big people, little people, women, men, and all kinds and probably all shapes and sizes. He got deeply into their lives. He knew them and they knew him. In I Thessalonians he talks about how he worked right by their side, and cared for them as a father cares for his children or a mother tends to her babies.
We must love the Church! The grandparents, the children, those in their middle ages, the young people, the mystics, the pragmatics, the theologians, the simplest, the immature, and the deep, the visionaries and the plodders, the faithful committee workers who make it happen and the laggards who have to be cajoled! Everybody! We must love the Church! Whether they want you to or not. Whether they take hold of you with both arms or hold you off at arm‟s length. We must love the Church!
When you do, you will find how the multi-faceted, richly diverse Body of Christ will stretch and challenge you in a thousand ways more than one person ever could. This my friends what his study is all about!
I can‟t explain the miracle of the Church, but I do know that we need all the relationships God will give us. Each believer represents a different facet of Jesus Christ. As we are baptized into a life of fellowship in the Spirit, we are plunged into Christ Himself. Doctrinally, we are baptized into Christ at the moment of our conversion. Experientially, you might say, we are baptized into Christ as we are daily immersed in our fellow believers.
Paul said this about it:
“From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” —Ephesians 4:16
We need to lay down our weapons. We need to take a vow as seriously as our marriage vows that we will love the church for better and for worse, until death do we part. Did you notice that verse said it would not work unless each part does its job? We need to find the tools so we can forge meaningful and loving relationships in the Body of Christ. My hope is that this study will help.
My goal in these series of posts is to motivate you to seek this type of lifestyle. This is the life we are called to live. What may interest you is that each post began its life as an individual teaching, given over a four-year period in 1981 through 1984. Afterward, I noticed how they seemed to follow a similar, yet unintentional, train of thought. After a time, it seemed right to put them together in one study.
How can I explain why I‟m covering this . . . hmm, here’s an idea: Think of your city bus for a moment. Every bus has a sign on the front telling you where it is going. “Downtown,” “East Main.” It lets you where it‟ is heading, the destination. So to illustrate your church‟s focus, why not put a sign out front that said “Koinonia practiced here.” That is the Greek word translated fellowship, communion, common. It could even be translated communication.
I don’t profess to have all the secrets uncovered yet. Many teachers have much better understanding of these truths than I do, and say it is a much more profound way! For many of you this will not be new, it may only serve as an urge to, as in my life, re-connect with a body of believers. I can recommend many other teachers such as Ray and Anne Ortlund, Ray Stedman, Juan Carlos-Ortiz, Charles Swindoll, Derek Prince, and others, who have inspired these studies. As A.W. Tozer has said, “although the fire within me seems small at times, I hope there may be some that can light their own candle from its flame.” II Timothy 1:6 instructs us to fan the flame of the inner fire, and that is what I am attempting to do. Join me as we wander through these various thoughts and see what we can learn. Sit back and enjoy!
With these Morning Messages, I take you on guided tours to, as Bunyan described, the Celestial City. At times we linger at corners familiar and unseen. And explore the depths of our faith along the way.
The trail is long, but there’s no hurry. Though we do need to stock up on supplies for the way, and that’s where I need your help. If you enjoy these messages, please consider becoming a contributing member of this tour group. It will be very much appreciated.