Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Warmth Of His Gentle Nature, Says We Return To Authentic Nurture!

Do you desire to become truly successful and fruitful spiritually? To be frank, it will never happen independent of you being in heart-to-heart fellowship with Christ (where you are obedient to Him) and with His body. Does your church have small Bible study groups that are Word-centered? Are you saved and in one ..somewhere? Have you had trouble finding a place of more intimate fellowship where you fit in? Is your church growing, loving, non-compromising, exciting, and making an impact on your community (perhaps they need small study/prayer type of groups)? Perhaps they need a spiritual pastor who knows the Lord personally (on a first name basis) and also leads God's people in this direction of true fellowship. I'm not trying to be offensive or disrespectful at all, just frank for your good and the good of the Kingdom. No Christian needs to stay in a flock with dead leadership ..who refuse to submit to the Word after they clearly hear the Gospel.

By "fellowship" I do not mean merely showing up at a religious looking building or home with say crosses and ugly glittery banners hanging on the wall.. so that you can enjoy doughnuts, coffee, small talk ..about sports or christian TV programing.. or even friendships and then engage in religious church talk so that you can make your way around the denomination better. Too many people, even real Christians today, often have wrong ideas about what fellowship is all about. Non-Christian religious people and irreligious people outside of Christ cannot enjoy true fellowship--it's impossible. Fellowship is about getting to know God better first-hand. It's also about sharing truth (from the Bible), practical aid, God's love, insight, ears, life-experiences all for the purpose of buiding up Christians until they reach maturity and effectiveness in ministry (ministry to God, to saved people and to lost people who are willing to recieve it). 

Those in the early church enjoyed compassionate fellowship with each other often--they were likeminded due to prayer and faith. They were in one accord and simply good friends with each other (and of course with the Lord first) even if they as mortals didn't have anything in common outside of knowing Jesus. They were more "family" with each other than their own biological lost family members. Today, like never before it seems, we have young people watching several different TV show and movies where the friends (actors) are the family in the shows and where the coffee shop, the bar, the bookstore etc is the clan's new family room where they all can enjoy the warmth of understanding, love, honesty, empathetic-tender-caring, an elixer of comfort (we Christians have the Comforter-the Spirit for that), listening and close comaraderie. In our hightech world people seem to be more and more disconnected and craving fellowship, but they are having a hard time finding it as they look everywhere except in decent churches (and their are lame churches that unfortunately do not foster fellowship as God wants them to).

I find the pure passion of Christ in a more intimate non-religious fellowship setting, where the Word of God is honored, openly adored and thoroughly studied with an aim to properly apply it in our everyday lives …most attractive! Maybe that is what you have been looking for year after year. People are really hungry for Christ and what He offers by way of gentle nuture, Friendship and fellowship. That's the kind of place where believers grow strong for sure! Are you a true believer? I would never say you are not, but God knows. 

How about you? Do you crave small group fellowship with real friends? 

After being raised in a cold dead church for 18 years (I don't need to say the name of the congregation here, but), I remember being drawn into an exciting, vital relationship with Jesus Christ. And where was that? It was in a warm-hearted, very much ALIVE Newport Beach home Bible study group that was all about practicing what was being taught. After that I got plugged in at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa! Huge kicking church with a smaller intimate church feel. 

Small group Bible studies somehow make any large church that might seem impersonal to many ..seem not in any way too large but very personable. Yes, without being involved in such a close community of genuine love, I (or anyone) could soon feel like a lost face in an uncaring crowd. 

Did you know that you indeed are God's special beloved? Did you know that He wants to guide you into close-knit fellowship with His Church (please don't envision stain glass and a steeple, I'm talking about His Church not religious people or stuff. We are His church—us—and the church meetings I'm talking about don't have to meet in a sanctuary building per se)? I know one church fellowship that met on the beach at a lifeguard tower for years and grew.

Fellowship is so important! You are too! But why would Jesus Christ love you, me, and His Church so much? Why would He die to save us sinners and pour his love in and through us? 

Could it be that when you and I are washed by Christ's blood.. when we are walking and abiding in Him (along with His other servant-hearted believers), we become so saturated in Jesus that when the Father looks at us, He only sees His own precious Son.. and then He envelopes us in His agape love for Jesus' sake! Yes, the Bible clearly teaches that God loves you as much as He loves His own Son! He loves us enough to change while we fellowship.

As you and I grow and mature in this love relationship with God, we will grow to love the other believers a whole lot. We will want to be interdependent with them, looking upwards rather than inwards. As we abide tight with Christ through meaningful fervent prayer and regular meditation upon His Word, daily getting to know the Lord on a deeper level (not merely by head-knowledge-acquisition) but as we practically live out what we say we believe within the context of warm community, Christ keeps filling us over and over with Himself. 

Do you have such a love for fellowship with growing believers? Christian, isn't this what you've been craving? The Bible says, "God is love" (1 Jn. 4:16, nkjv). It says, "Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is born of God and knows God" (1 Jn. 4:7). 

As you and I are filled up with the Spirit of God, we will be filled with His love too, not only for God Himself, but also for those lost and saved sinners around us. This includes loving our spouses, our kids, our strange and not so strange relatives.. our pastors, our fellow students and coworkers etc. God wants to even love those incompatible abrasive people through us, that we keep struggling to get along with. He does this supernaturally as we depend upon Him. He has even promised to pour out "his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." How wonderful is that? 

I feel all churches still need to grow larger and smaller simultaneously.. by love and truth! I mean that the positive nurturing that comes from facilitating Spirit-led small uplifting fellowship groups is irreplaceable for any growing church that wants to be real. Yes definitely, if they want to keep growing healthy, and especially if we Christians desire to reach the next generation for Christ. For it's the healthy sheep that reproduce. Sick ones don't (ask any rancher). We each reproduce what we are spiritually. And strong koinonia fellowship ministry is an outgrowth from honest fellowship, first upwards and then outwards! 

We can't take people where we ourselves haven't first been. 

God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. —Romans 5:5, niv 

Biblical soul-winning first springs from our intimate relationship with Christ as we spend time alone with Him and then from fellowship with His on-fire body. If you merely hang out with lost people or lukewarm Christians (and there is a place for some time spent with both), you won't grow strong.

For me personally, it was the joyful simple worship of God in a small group.. it was the practical verse by verse Bible teaching through the entire Book ..where the Old and New Testaments and the specific context for each passage was helping me to interpret the text that we were looking at.. it was the Christ-centered practical service as we constantly helped each other.. it was the transparency—the brutal honesty, confession, purity, ardor.. it was the prayers and humble candor ..that all showed me Christianity was for real! 

Great small group fellowship still makes me want to know Jesus well and boldly make Him well known! 

Hey, the Apostle Paul was really into fellowship! He was out to give sacrificially to help others find and grow in Christ. He was all for small groups where the truth was zeroed in upon. He said, "..I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Act. 20:20-21). 

He and the early church taught and evangelized in the temple (the larger setting) and from house to house (the smaller settings)! We Christians need to return to this pattern again, if we want to see God do what He did back then. Close up face to face edification with thirsty love-starved people does make a difference! 

I remember how my old pastor, Chuck Smith, taught through the entire Bible putting a hook in every Message. He's done this at least eight times now. He continues to do this and has followed Paul's principal diligently. From his own experience he exclaimed, "In the sixties and early seventies, the most successful and rewarding part of my ministry was my Monday-evening classes for young people. I'd sit and talk with them from the Word of God, and kids started getting excited about Jesus and about serving the Lord. We'd have an amateur-hour kind of concert in which the kids shared their music. Out of it came the talent we eventually showcased through Maranatha! Music. The ministry grew, and other agendas pushed at my time. I got so busy I eventually dropped the Monday-night studies, letting others handle them. I was essentially out of that ministry. A couple of years ago, however, I looked around and realized many of the "kids" I had nurtured in the first wave had teen-age kids of their own. I'd been so busy developing their parents that I had neglected the young people. So I decided to become involved again with the Monday-night studies. I patterned the evenings as I had in the sixties, and the ministry has caught on once more. We have from fifteen to eighteen hundred kids on Monday evenings. It's exciting; a whole new generation is getting turned on. A while back, a couple of high school boys came up to me and said, 'We're interested in going into the ministry. Can you talk with us about it?' 'I'd love to,' I said, and I set up an appointment..." 

At the end of the day, not many pastors or ministers today can honestly say that they are innocent of the blood of all men ..that they have not failed to deliver all the counsels of God to feed God's flock.

Paul finished his course with joy and yet, he could truthfully say that. Paul had a nurturing fatherly heart and near the end he confidently said, "I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God" (Act 20:25-27). 

Wanna get real strong? Sow aggressively to the Spirit (not to the flesh or to the world) in fellowship. Do this more often (in Bible-based fellowship led by blazing people of integrity and holy character). 

Some times we've got to return to doing the early-church-basics if we want to reach younger or older people. Paul got that tenderness of heart from Jesus who was gentle. Christ was Spirit-sensitive (not girly-sensitive) and made Paul that way, totally excited about the things of the Father. Christ made Paul a soul-winning nurturer—a disciple-maker, who loved Christ most, and then fellowship with committed believers. He can make you like that too!

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