How to receive a hug from Jesus

 

I used to think it was odd that Jesus desired an intimate relationship with me (John 17:11). The idea was odd because Jesus is in heaven, and well, I’m not…at least not yet.

There’s space between us. There’s distance. There’s some kind of barrier which appears to keep his affections at arm’s length from me.

It appeared that Jesus was unable to share with me even the simplest form of affection—for example, a hug.

And yet this was the very type of affection that I longed for the longer I walked with Jesus. I longed for the sense of security that results from a physical embrace. I longed for something more than just spiritual intimacy. I longed to traverse the barrier between heaven and earth.

Maybe you have longed for such things as well. Maybe it wasn’t a hug from Jesus. But maybe you longed for a sense of physical security. Or maybe you longed for a real experience of Jesus’ physical presence. And maybe you too have felt frustrated by the barrier between heaven and earth that seems to keep Jesus “up there” and you “down here”.

What are we to do?

Has Jesus left us longing for an experience we simply cannot have this side of heaven?

Is it possible to get a hug from Jesus?

I have come to see that actually, it is.

There is a reason that in the New Testament there is no such thing as a lone-wolf Christian. What I mean is, the early church could not have conceived of a person “trusting Jesus as Lord and Savior” but not being a part (and really what we would call today a “member”) of a local church.

Part of the reason for this was practical and part was theological. Practically speaking, when people became Christians, calling Jesus Lord, they were performing an act of treason by no longer calling Caesar “Lord.” They were walking away from their current culture and kingdom and becoming citizens of a new kingdom—the kingdom of God. This led to individual Christians being misunderstood and ostracized by family, friends, and their community. Thus they had a real need for a new family, new friends, and a new community. Membership in a local Christian community (a local church) met this need.

But there was another reason no Christian would have just had a “personal (and by personal I mean individual) relationship” with Jesus.  And that was because the early church understood that although Jesus ascended into heaven, he still (in some sense) left a body here on earth. His body was called the Church. And it was in, among, and through this Church that Jesus would make himself  known on earth.

Early Christians were even told that Jesus had given every member of his body special divine gifts in order that they might display and communicate his presence on earth (1 Corinthians 12). And Christians were also told that each of them had been commissioned as Jesus’ ambassadors on earth (2 Corinthians 5:20). The result was that early Christians, the members of Christ’s body, actually believed that they were given the authority and privilege to do things for themselves and others on behalf of Jesus. They believed that they were real mediators of Jesus’ physical presence on earth.

And this was and still is a big deal.

Because it means Jesus provided a way, until he returns, for us and others to receive acts of physical affection from himself.   True, the affection is mediated through another person. But if the person is part of the body of Christ then the affection is from Christ (whether either person knows it or not). This is why the Apostle Paul wrote “Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss” (1 Thessalonians 5:26). The kiss was from Jesus.

So the next time you or I want a hug from Jesus, all we have to do is go where the body of Christ is. We simply need to open ourselves to the kindness of the members of his body, the Church.

Sure we might not be open to all people in his body in the same way. But this is why we have small groups, and different age and stage ministries. These groups exist so that every member of Christ’s body can experience the love of Christ and begin to know Christ in a way that transcends the barriers of heaven and earth.

For now, and until Christ returns, the mediation of his physical presence by his body, the Church, will always be imperfect and incomplete. But knowing that all who represent Christ are imperfect and incomplete should not lead us to give up on our longings for Christ’s presence.  Rather such knowledge should prompt us to prayerfully seek out those representatives of Christ who are, well… actually representing Christ. If we do this, we will find the deep, intimate, real relationship with Jesus we have been longing for all along (hugs included).

 

Should I let my teen go to another church?

 

When I was in high school (I still like to think that wasn’t that long ago) everyone I knew who went to church, only went to one church—their church.

But now, twenty years later (holy cow) things have changed. Students attend different churches all the time.church

Is this a bad thing?

I don’t think so.

Here’s why…

First, there are a lot fewer church-going Christian students than before. So students are now looking for their “tribe” where ever they can find it.

Second, different churches have different strengths (and weaknesses). The big churches “down the street” are great at attracting students through big events, high entertainment youth nights, and giveaways. They’re able to reach a lot of students who would be scared (yes scared) to step foot into a traditional looking church. Their ability to reach the unchurched is a great thing!

On the other hand churches like Fellowship, because of our size, have different strengths. We are able to easily connect with people. The first time someone comes to us, we know their name. We’re also able to focus more deeply on discipleship. More than once a student has told me that he likes coming to Fellowship because he can ask hard questions. Others have told me they like the fact that the groups are small, and not overwhelming.

Here’s the thing. One kind of church is not better than the other. As long as we’re all doing our best to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and make disciples, we’re all on the same team. And there is no need to worry about competition.

Today students like being able to grow in their faith through both big and small churches. They like experiencing God through Gospel-driven entertainment, relational settings, and making deep connections with adults and friends.

All this is fine as long as one thing doesn’t change.

That is your student has a church home. By church home I mean, that they are committed to a family of believers on Sunday morning. Obviously I’m biased toward having them commit toward the family of believers at Fellowship.

But here’s why this matters. Church is like a family. And your student needs to be committed to a family and have a family that is committed to them.

Why?

Research shows, the teens who flourish in their faith after high school are the teens who had multigenerational relationships in their home church. That is the teens felt comfortable around and loved by the whole church family and not just their peers. They felt connected to the parents and the grandparents of the church as well. Teens only experience these kinds of relationships when they and their families commit to making one church their home church.

So don’t feel guilty if your teen wants to go with their friends to another church. It’s not a competition. Every church exists for a reason—to display the glory of God in the manner God has called them to. Let them enjoy seeing how God is working in another church. But on the other hand encourage (maybe even require) your teens to be committed to a home church—a place where they feel a part of the family. A place where they will be known and loved by multiple generations and given the opportunity to flourish in their faith.

Missions Trip Update

A big THANK YOU to each of you who prayed for our team this last week. We had a great week up in “the Soo“.

Our trip started out a  little rocky. Forty minuets from home our church van broke down.  But thankfully after a few calls, and the arrival of help and a new vehicle, we were back on our way (in case you’re wondering the van is now fixed and back at Fellowship). This was really the only hiccup in our week.

The rest of our mission went surprisingly well.  At our home base in “the Soo” we met our fellow workers,  a church group from upstate New York. They were great. And our teams bonded easily.

During the week our groups combined and broke up into four ministry teams. These teams served together at the church where we stayed and out in the community.

My prayer, among other things, was that as a team we would make Christ known. I really feel like that prayer was answered.

Here are just a few ways Christ was made known this last week:

  • At Kid’s Club we made Christ known to about 40 students through sharing the story of God’s love via skits, story time, crafts, and a memory verse. We also built relationships with them through games, hanging out time, and by just listening to their stories.
  • On the Farm we made Christ known through our team’s work ethic. That crew cheerfully cared for and cleaned up after the animals, and  put up 1,000 feet of fence to make a new goat pen. The owner of the farm commented that she was amazed at their ability to do whatever was needed, work with no supervision, and accomplish exactly what she needed done that week.
  • At the Fairgrounds Christ was made known through the positive attitudes of those who cleaned, painted, and repaired a community building. It was a lot of grunt work, but the team never complained.  And those in the community noticed. Even though the work wasn’t glamorous (or likely even fun) the team served without complaining. And the community leaders expressed over and over again how grateful they were for the help.
  • At the Assisted Living Facility Christ was made known through time spent with the elderly. Most of it was just listening to their stories and joining them in playing leisurely games. But the team also took part in a car wash to help raise funds for the facility. Again their presence was greatly appreciated.

Overall every team member both on our team and from the NY church represented Jesus Christ well. Not only in the community but with each other and with themselves. Honestly, it was one of the greatest ministry groups I have ever had the privilege to be a part of.

And I know that it was not a coincidence.

It happened because God called amazing people to his mission. It happened because God called our amazing church to support us. And it happened because God called you to support us in prayer.

And because of all that, we were able to join with the mission of Jesus Christ already happening in “the Soo”, and, along with others, make Christ known.

Of course this is just an overview of the week. If you want to hear more details (and you definitely should) then please take some time to connect with a student or adult from our team. I’m sure they’d be happy to share with you how God used them and others to make Christ known.

Thanks again for all your support!

 

Jesus’ Response To Our Post-Chrisitan Culture

Today there is a widening gap between the Christian worldview and the surrounding culture. This tends to make a lot of Christians nervous. We don’t like that things are no longer the way they used to be. But even in our “post-Christian” culture Jesus still has a way for his followers to not only influence the culture, but to redeem it, and bring people to faith who live in it.

What is Jesus’ plan?

His plan is to engage the “post-Christian” culture in the same way he and his followers engaged the “pre-Christian” culture.

Robert Lewis in his book, The Church of Irresistible Influence: Bridge-Building Stories to Help Reach Your Community,
details this plan well. He writes:

The New Testament church shared many cultural similarity with our own. It too lived in a world filled with skeptics. For a number of reasons, the lifeless gods and goddesses of Greeks and Romans became less and less a prevailing force in the lives of the ancients. As economic prosperity flourished, the souls of every day men and women increasingly descended into a meaningless poverty.

Enter the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, the living proof of God. Enter Christians who embraced the Word and, like their Lord, lived it out in word and deed–proof positive to a once proud and now decaying culture that there was, in fact, a better, nobler life. Proclamation was more a matter of essence–in life and death–than it was an enunciation of words. Believers stood firm, often with great sacrifice, in good works anchored by the exhortations that now flow from the pages of the New Testament:

Let Everyone See Your Good Deeds

In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

Love Your Enemies, Do Good to Them

Do unto other what you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even  sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.  But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High , because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. (Luke 6:31-35)

It Is More Blessed to Give

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

Overcome Evil with Good

On the contrary: “If you enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head”. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.(Romans 12:20-21)

Do Good to All People

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people. (Galatians 6:9-10)

 Created to Do Good Works

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

Do Not Grow Weary of Doing Good

But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good. (2 Thessalonians 3:13)

Be Rich in Good Deed

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

 

The method should be clear. They way Jesus and his followers engaged their cultural was by doing good–lots of good.

What was the result of the early church’s relentless focus on doing good for all those around them?

Robert Lewis tells us:

With lives intertwined with proclamation and incarnation, those first believers effectively penetrated the empty hedonism of the ancient world. And no matter how reactive the pagan world–first with skepticism, then with isolation, and finally with the sword of brutal persecution–these bridges of proof, anchored in good works, convinced more and more to walk over into eternal life. It is estimated the early church grew at an astounding 40 percent growth rate per decade.

Quoting historian Michale Green, Robert Lewis then points out:

The link between holy living and effective evangelism could hardly be made more effectively. In particular, Christians stood out for their chastity, their hatred of cruelty, their civil obedience, good citizenship…Such lives made a great impact.

 

Robert Lewis wants readers to understand that we are not the first Christians to live in a culture that does not share our beliefs.  This may be a change that at times is hard to accept. But we have no need to worry. Followers of Jesus can still impact the culture and even call people out of it. The way this will happen in our “post-Christian” world is the same way it happen in the “pre-Christian” world–by DOING GOOD to all those we encounter, and serving the the cities we live in.

This has, and is, and always will always be, Jesus’ response to the culture.

 

 

 

 

 

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Excerpts from The Church of Irresistible Influence: Bridge-Building Stories to Help Reach Your Community
pp. 41-45

 

What’s Different About Church Friends?

Is there something different about church friends? According to Thom and Joani Schultz, church friends affect people differently than non church friends. In their book Why Nobody Wants To Go To Church Anymore…, they cite research which shows church friends can actually make people happier. As they put it, “the more church friends a person has, the happier he or she is.”

The research comes from an article published in the American Sociological Review. The authors of the article are Harvard public policy professor Robert D. Putnam and University of Wisconsin sociology professor Chaeyoon Lim. Commenting on the research, Putnam concluded, ‘Church friends are super-charged friends, but we have no idea why…We have some hypotheses, but we don’t know for sure’

Putnam and Chaeyoon discovered that the significant factor in a person’s happiness is not religious practices or even religious services. Instead it is in the connection to others in the religious community. They write, “People who frequently attend religious services are more satisfied with their lives not because they have more friends overall…but because they have more friends in their congregations…In short, sitting alone in the pew does not enhance one’s life satisfaction [rather] only when one forms social networks in a congregation does religious service attendance lead to a higher level of life satisfaction.”

Why are church friends “super-charged friends”?

If the church friends are followers of Jesus, then the answer is pretty clear. The Bible refers to followers of Jesus Christ as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:26-28). It is God’s way of telling believers that they are the physical manifestation of Christ’s presence on earth until he returns. This is a big responsibility. But it comes with some tremendous perks. Specifically, when we connect people to followers of Jesus, we are in a way connecting people to Jesus himself.

It is for this reason that Thom and Joani encourage Christians to become “match-makers”. They write, “It’s not our job to make people Christians. Our role is simply to connect people to Jesus. We set up the date. God lights the fire. And the Holy Spirit takes it from there…”

It is great to know that Christians have the potential to be “super-charged friends”. But that ability is useless, unless you and I are willing to become “match-makers”.

What would it take for us to become “match-makers”?

It would take Christians who truly believed that the best thing we could do for those who don’t know Jesus, is to bring them into networks of people who do know Jesus. It would take some serious prayer. It would take some intentional and thoughtful effort. And it would take some stepping out and trusting Jesus. But isn’t it worth it?

Jesus has given his followers the ability to bring happiness to others for a reason. I believe it is because Jesus knows that when people experience happiness in community with his followers, they will soon experience happiness in community him.

 

Who can you bring happiness to this week?

Who can you be praying for this week?

What gathering can you invite them to?

 

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All quotes taken from Thom and Joani Schultz’s  Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore: And How 4 Acts of Love Will Make Your Church Irresistible pp 206-207

Four Reasons To Join A Church

This Sunday I have the privilege of kicking off the next round of church membership classes. If you attend Fellowship and are interested in these classes, you can find out more information by clicking here.

But maybe, for others of you, you’re not sure if you want to be a member of a church.  You may even wonder why anyone would become a member of a church.  And you can’t help but ask, “What’s so bad about just attending a church?”

Well in preparation for this Sunday allow me to give you four good reasons you should prayerfully consider becoming a member of your church.

You should become a church member…

1.  To Join a Community

All of us are in need of community. Every one of us needs love, encouragement, forgiveness, accountability, grace, and a whole host of other things which can only be found through relationships with people. In the New Testament the word for “community” is the Greek word koinonia. It literally means “participation”. In 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 Paul used the word koinonia when writing about the sacrament of Communion.  His point is every time we participate in the Lord’s Supper we commune (or have community) with Christ. Now the same word koinonia is also translated “fellowship” in Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Believers were meant to live in koinonia, that is participate in community with believers in the same way we choose to participate in communion with Christ. You can’t have one without the other. Jesus even calls the church his body making it even more clear that to participate in the church is to participate in him, or to have community with him. Becoming a church member is saying, “I recognize my need for koinonia-fellowship, and I want to live in community with with Christ and his body.”

2. To Show Up to Build Up

What is the essence of participating in community? It is choosing to show up in order to build up.  As Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” There comes a point when believers no longer show up to worship services, discipleship groups, and service opportunities to be served but to serve. Becoming a member of a church is saying, “I want to  to spur others on toward love and good deeds and I am choosing this community of believers to encourage.”  To take this step is to identify with Jesus in a new and deeper way. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:44-45).

3.  To Evangelize Your City

But becoming a church member is not just about encouraging those inside the church. The local church can be the best way to evangelize a community. Mark Dever points out, “When we act together, we can better spread the gospel at home and abroad. We can do this by our words, as we share the good news with others, and as we help others to do so. A local church is, by nature, a missionary organization.”* If you have a love for your community–a heart for the lost at home or abroad–then becoming a member of your church is one of best things you can do to reach people for Christ.

4. To Join Jesus in His Mission

And this led me to the fourth and most important reason: becoming a member of a church is becoming serious about joining Jesus and his mission.  I love the video below. Bill  Hybels shows why committing to a local church is absolutely necessary for every believer…

If you believe the “church is the hope of the world” because “it stewards the message of Christ,” then commit to a community of believers so that you can, together with other believers, more effectively bring the hope of Christ to someone else.

 

 

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* Mark Dever Nine Marks of a Healthy Church pp.164-165

The Greatest of Fridays

No Friday Fun post this week. Instead just a reminder of what happened on the Greatest of Fridays.

Surely he took up our pain  and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him (Isaiah 53:4-5)

 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. (Romans 3:25)

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole. (Galatians 3:13)

Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God’ (1 Peter 1:18)

“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter (2:24)

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10)

What Should The Church Expect From You?

Two weeks ago I wrote a post entitled,  Three Things You Should Expect From Your Church Elders. It looked at the responsibilities of every church elder toward their members. If you’re considering church membership or already are a member of Fellowship you should take a moment to read it.

This week I want to move from the responsibilities of the church elder to the responsibilities of the church member. Specifically, what should the church expect from each member?

By church I don’t mean a building. The Greek word for Church in the New Testament is Ekklesia, which means an “assembly of people.”  In this case it the assembly of God’s people. Every time Christians assemble together, they are a church.

So, the question is, when we gather in our local assemblies, what should we expect from one another? Or to put it another way, as a member of a local assembly, what should my assembly expect from me?

God’s Word is clear, there are certain duties each member of a church should strive to carry out. When each member is faithful to carry out such duties, the church flourishes and is a beautiful community.  But, when church members fail to carry out such duties, the church dwindles and the community is down right ugly.

What are these duties which can make or break a church?

First, there are  the “one another” commands.

Then, there are a few other duties.

Now, I would encourage you to read over the above list a few times. And please click on each of the links,  and read all the Bible verses (they took me forever to link, so please use them :).

Then think for a moment, what would a church (an assembly of God’s people) be like if each member actually pursued all these duties?

Of course all us are imperfect, and all of us need the help of Jesus to carry these things out. But hopefully you can start to see just how beautiful a church could be if its members sought after these things.

If you knew that your church had members like this, wouldn’t you want to bring your friends? Wouldn’t you talk about your church to people at the office, or at school? Wouldn’t you want everyone you know to come to your church? Of course you would.  Because a church with members like this would be a church you would LOVE!

You can see now why such a church would flourish.

Jesus knows the potential beauty of every local church. And Jesus knows the potential every local church has to flourish.  And what He wants us to know is that such beauty and flourishing doesn’t happen with flashy programs or a lot of money. It doesn’t happen with celebrity preachers or even media savvy.  It doesn’t happen with the latest business techniques, or “church growth model.”  It simply happens when each member of the church strives to live out the responsibilities they have been called to.

I would love to see every local church grow and radiate with beauty because its members were living out their calling. Imagine if our city were filled with such churches. Imagine if our state or country were filled with such churches! What a difference there would be.

Maybe it’s a silly fantasy to think about. But maybe it isn’t. Maybe it just starts with you and me committing to live out our calling as members of a church.

Would you help us become such a church?

 

 

 

 

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List of church member responsibilities taken from Mark Dever’s  Nine Marks of a Healthy Church