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Seek Koinonia

Life Lesson #8: Seek deep and long lasting communion with other Christian believers

I pray that your partnership (koinonia) with 
us in the faith may be effective 
in deepening your understanding of 
every good thing we share for the 
sake of Christ.
Philemon 1:6

When I began my Christian journey, I didn’t have any Christian friends.  My parents were not Christians either.  My husband had grown up in the faith but wasn’t really connected at the time.  My only real guides were my in-laws, who I saw infrequently because they lived in another state.  I relied heavily on the once a week lessons taught by the pastor.  If it didn’t make sense to me, I just figured I was not smart enough or even faithful enough to understand.  I wasn’t encouraged to attend a church Bible study until much later in my journey while at another church.

Every day they continued to meet 
together in the temple courts. They 
broke bread in their homes and ate 
together with glad and sincere 
hearts, praising God and enjoying 
the favor of all the people. And 
the Lord added to their number daily 
those who were being saved.  
Acts 2:46-47

My BSGs just finished the Bible study book, Everyday Theology.  In the week study titled “Church” we were asked to read the verse above and then talk about what makes a “good” church.  What we all included was a type of fellowship that goes beyond just being friends.  In various places of the Bible the Greek word “koinonia” is used.  That’s the kind of partnership or communion we saw as being important as a Christian.

koinōnía (a feminine noun) – properly, what is shared in common as the basis of fellowship (partnership, community), the share which one has in anything, participation

Strong’s Concordance

If you search the word, “koinonia,” it’s interesting to see that it’s attributed to Christian fellowship.  Meaning we are again set apart with a special communion and partnership with each other.  We are to take responsibility for spurring each other on in our sanctification journey.  We show each other love and truth.

In his letter to Philemon, Paul starts out reminding Philemon of the importance of koinonia and how he has seen it at work in the Colossian church – the church which met regularly in Philemon’s home.  Why does he remind Philemon?  Because Paul is about to ask him for a favor – one that will reveal the true state of Philemon’s heart.  He asks for the forgiveness and accepting back of a man who stole from him.

And let us consider how we may 
spur one another on toward love 
and good deeds, 
Hebrews 10:24

How many of us have surrounded ourselves with fellow believers who will help us in our pruning journey?  Not just a nice, “hello” at church or even an occasional dinner date with some church friends.  But a true, deep partnership with people we know have the same measuring stick as their guide.  With people we know that won’t give up on us and we won’t give up on them?

As I look back at the beginnings of my faith journey, I see the times I really could’ve used a few Christian friends.  Instead, my circle helped me, even encouraged me, to live a life which God would not be pleased.  And when I was truly in need I was frequently abandoned.

Do not be misled: “Bad company 
corrupts good character.” 
1 Corinthians 15:33

I had a friend in college that I saw almost every day because we had a lot of the same classes.  We studied together and ate together.  One day I came upon her at a grassy area on campus with some other students.  She was smoking a cigarette.  I had never seen her smoke before!  I asked her about it and she said, “Oh ya, when I’m around my friends from Spain I smoke all the time!”  We have to admit that our friends (and family) have some influence over us.  So, in the choosing, as Christians, we are advised by Jesus and the apostles to choose wisely.

That’s not to say we aren’t to have non-believers in our lives.  Those are the folks God has put in front of us to bring to Him!  But we should actively seek out koinonia with other believers.  They are the ones with whom we should feel safe when we need to confess our sins.  They are the ones who can help us to show grace and forgiveness.  They are the ones who will show us compassion.  We know this because they are on the same faith journey as us.

For where two or three gather 
in my name, there I am with them. 
Matthew 18:20

So often we make our friends by chance – through our kids or spouses or through a hobby or activity.  When was the last time you sat down and evaluated your friendship circle?  When was the last time you actively worked to build a different circle?  

Your love has given me great joy 
and encouragement, because you, brother, 
have refreshed the hearts of the 
Lord’s people.  
Philemon 1:7

Fellowship, koinonia, with other believers helps bring us closer to the love, joy, and grace that God wants for us.  I’m thankful that I have built a small group of friends that hold my feet to the fire and will also wash my feet when I am in need – and I am willing to do the same for them.   I started building this circle by first joining a Bible study and then offering to lead one. I found myself then helping create Bible study curriculum and joining other church committees. Each time, I gathered up more Christian friends. Until finally, I asked a couple ladies at my gym, whom I had heard talking about church, if they’d like to do a Bible study with me. And so my BSGs (Bible Study Girls) were formed. Each God-directed step has taken me closer to koinonia, not only with fellow believers but, with the Holy Spirit.

If you don’t have fellow Christian friends, today is the day to pray that God will send you in the right direction.  And when He opens the door, step through it.

Bible, bible study, Christian, Christian Church, christian encouragement, christian men, Christian women, Faith, Jesus Follower, Uncategorized

The Big Picture

Lesson #2: Commit to the big picture of Christ through the details of His love

So when I come, I will call 
attention to what he (Diotrephes) 
is doing, spreading malicious 
nonsense about us.
3 John 10

My current Bible study, Everyday Theology, has been a great strengthening and clarification of my Christian beliefs.  Starting with what scripture is intended for and delving into the trinity and our role as believers in this big world, the lessons have given my BSGs (Bible study girls) a number of  “ah ha” moments.  We currently are on the section about “church.”  What it is, who is the head of it and what our responsibilities as part of the body entail.  The first question asked was for us to define what we call “church.”  

When I hear media-types chastise the “church” or “Christians” for not condemning some action or stance it makes me wonder what church spokesperson they think will step up to a microphone.  Of course, for Catholics that would be the Pope or a regional bishop.  But in the non-Catholic world we are so dispersed, with varying types of faith, traditions, even morals and values.

In John’s letter to the church elder, Gaius, he juxtaposes the elder’s immense love for his brothers and sisters in Christ with another church leader, Diotrephes.  These brothers and sisters are strangers to Gaius but he welcomes them readily into his home.  These travelers are doing the good work of Jesus – spreading the salvation message.  And then there’s Diotrephes.  John describes this leader as one “who loves to be first.”  He doesn’t welcome strangers but even worse, he refused to welcome John.

Imagine that, a church elder who wouldn’t welcome Jesus’ apostle!  You’d have to think about the reasoning behind this.  This elder even kicks out other believers who welcome new people.  And why? Because, as what Warren Wiersbe calls a “church dictator,” he lost his focus on Jesus’ Big Picture of love and instead became focused on the details of man-made doctrine.

“All true Christians can agree on the fundamental doctrines of the faith and, in love, give latitude for disagreement on other matters.”

Warren Wiersbe

I’ve read there are about 34,000 different Christian denominations in the world.  The Wikipedia page on Christian denominations (Catholic and non) is an almost endless list.  Sub groups within sub groups.  People who have followed a pastor’s or priest’s particular issue with “the way things are done” and split off from their home church.  And as active members of church we have all seen the after effects of a change in leadership – numbers dwindle and people divide.  Some churches survive and even thrive while others fade away.

But avoid foolish controversies 
and genealogies and arguments and 
quarrels about the Law, because 
these are unprofitable and useless.
Titus 3:9

The Greek word zelos means something very fervent as with Spirit-fueled zeal to serve the Lord. Zelos is used both negatively (“jealousy”) and positively (“zeal”) in the Bible.  

For where you have envy and 
selfish ambition (zelos), there 
you find disorder and every 
evil practice.
James 3:16

Because when we put our ideas about “the way thing should be done” above the big picture of Jesus and His commandment to love one another as He loved us, we will fail every time.  And what is showing that love? To live in obedience to His will.  

As I’ve worked through studying the Bible, I keep coming back to my knowledge of how churches work and how they don’t.  I’m mystified by the lack actual Biblical based decision making.  And how so many people forget the message of 1 Corinthians 13 — the people in our church or faith family are all gifted by God but the use of those gifts must be in love.

If I speak in the tongues of men 
or of angels, but do not have love, 
I am only a resounding gong or a 
clanging cymbal.
1 Cor 13:1 

I once sat on a church marketing committee that included a wide variety of talented people — many of whom had been members of the church for eons. The pastor welcomed us and gave us our charge. I asked a few questions seeking clarification. Within seconds of him leaving, so we could move on with more planning, an older woman who sat across from me immediately pointed a finger at me and said, “Who do you think you are? And what makes you think you know anything about what needs to be done?” Fortunately I was comfortable enough about my background (I have worked in public relations and marketing) that I almost laughed. You see, because I wasn’t part of her “known” circle I was a nobody to “her church.”

We are so often led by the flesh – what sounds good, what feels good.  That’s how someone like Diotrephes was allowed to be a dictator at his church.  He said enough of the right things to convince enough people to support him.  Had they backed up in their thinking and measured his actions against Jesus, the Truth would’ve been revealed.

Notice this Life Lesson isn’t just about the Big Picture.  It says, “through the details of His love.”  As Christians we must be students of the Word.  If not, we are easily led by apostates and dictators and anyone else in our church who appears to be in charge.  Jesus didn’t come to erase the Law.  He reminds us of the simplicity of the Mosaic Law, without all the human-made rules and regulations placed on it.  He constantly chastised the Pharisees for behavior that we find today throughout our Christian churches.

Woe to you experts in the law, 
because you have taken away the 
key to knowledge. You yourselves 
have not entered, and you have 
hindered those who were entering.
Luke 52:1

Remember that question in my study about theology?  What is the church?  It’s you and it’s me.  It’s not just a pastor or priest or committee of leaders or even the clique of volunteers.  We need to take ownership of our membership in the church body.  When we see one of our body leading people astray we are to remind them of Jesus’ Big Picture.  And we are to be knowledgeable enough about His Word to help set the church body back on track.  A dictator or false teacher is only successful with willing followers!

Read the verse again in 3 John 10: “So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us.”

Notice John will confront Diotrephes face to face.  He feels the responsibility of keeping the ship on the right course.  He steps in out of love of the Truth.  He doesn’t say, “I’m coming to fire him” or “I’m getting everyone together to run him out of town.”  John also doesn’t tell Gaius to just go start his own church.  It’s an intervention of sorts.  That sounds a lot like Jesus.

Imagine a Christian world where the more than 3 billion of us were one body.  Where our focus was on obeying Jesus’ teachings and His Big Picture of Love.  Imagine the impact we would have on this broken world.  Imagine if we could just get our own heart and our own local church soundly on that Big Picture path.  

bible study, Christian, Christian Church, christian encouragement, Faith, Jesus Follower, Uncategorized

The True Story of God With Us

Therefore the Lord himself 
will give you a sign: 
The virgin will conceive 
and give birth to a son, 
and will call him Immanuel.
Isaiah 7:14

At the time that Isaiah spoke this prophecy the nation of Judah was under a large threat from Assyria.  Alliances were being pressured and formed.  King Ahaz of Judah refused to align himself with the northern tribes because he had secretly made a pact with the Assyrians.  He didn’t grab hold of God’s past deliverances and trust God to save him and his people.  

Isaiah made his prophesy about the coming savior to the entire House of David as a warning to trust God and no one else.  God is with us (“Immanuel”) in so far as we are willing to trust and believe Him.

God is with me.  I hold on tightly to the knowledge that His Holy Spirit dwells in my heart, mind and soul.  It’s a promise completely fulfilled with Jesus.  And yet, I still occasionally fall into the trap of looking for a savior outside that promise.  A chance to make more money, a politician who scatters promises like birdseed, a new diet to get me “back on track” or a vaccine that will make the world “normal” again.

Promise made and promises broken

My BSGs just finished a section in our study of Everyday Theology.  It focused on scripture – its validity, relevance, purpose and origins.  We discussed how our modern times reflect Biblical times in so many ways.  Warring political factions, the lack of faith, and how the promises of God still stand true for today.  

Our world needs to grab on to the truths of scripture.  The Bible isn’t just some book some random guys put together.  It is what the study author calls, “God-breathed.”  There is no other book on the planet that has as much historical evidence to support what it says.  I asked the group why did the author choose to start a book about theology with the topic of scripture rather than say, God?  

One member responded quite rightly, “Because the Bible gives us the character of God so we can better understand who He is.”  

I gave the visual of using an encyclopedia book – yes, the actual book.  In the ole timey days we would hear about something and turn to the encyclopedia to learn more about it.  We knew what was written in that book was true.  No doubts.  After reading all about say, Marie Curie, we could be assured we knew just about everything we needed to know.

That’s how we should view the Bible – the true and relevant encyclopedia about God.  And know that it’s all true.  So, when Isaiah prophesizes the birth of Jesus hundreds of years prior to his birth, we can see it as confirmation of the whole story being true.

All Scripture is God-breathed 
and is useful for teaching, 
rebuking, correcting and training 
in righteousness, so that the 
servant of God may be thoroughly 
equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17

And knowing it is true – that Jesus came to be our savior and the Holy Spirit would dwell in us for all time – should cause us to look toward Him and hold on to Him as our only savior.

bible study, Christian, Christian Church, christian encouragement, Faith, Jesus Follower, Uncategorized

The Best For You

This is what the Lord says—
    your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
“I am the Lord your God,
    who teaches you what is best for you,
    who directs you in the way you should go.
18 If only you had paid attention to my commands,
    your peace would have been like a river,
    your well-being like the waves of the sea.

Isaiah 48:17-18

We’ve all probably heard it from our parents at one time or another.  And if you are a parent you are most likely guilty of saying the same – “I just want the best for you.”  As your child (or you as a child) rolls their eyes.  As humans we seem to have the propensity to want to cut our own path through the jungle and trip over our own mistakes.  We grab random vines thinking it’ll help us swing through our problems or create fabulous opportunities.

It’s one thing to see our parents as fallible human beings that may not truly know what’s best for us but when we apply that same logic to God, we’re in for an Indiana Jones style bumpy and dangerous ride.

And we know that in all things 
God works for the good of those 
who love him, who have been 
called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

God has thoughts beyond our thoughts.  He knows the past and the future and he has big plans for each of us.  And when we lose sight and let go of God, we take a lot of unneeded weed- choked paths.  So much of this behavior seems to come down to a lack of trust that God really does teach us what is best for us – or we think maybe He just doesn’t understand what is best for us.

God sees tomorrow – all of your tomorrows – and he is able to prepare you for whatever is to come.

Charles Stanley, 30 Life Principals, #9 Trusting God means looking beyond what we can see to what God sees.

All trusting relationships are built on time spent together, learning each other’s character, experiencing trials and joys and seeing how each person either stands up or lets you down.  Have you assumed that God is going to let you down?  Have you decided that God already has let you down?  And yet, scripture reminds us of the promise that God is always teaching us what is best for us.  Maybe what you were hoping for was not what you needed.  Or maybe God needed you to experience that disappointment so you are tested for a future greater than you can imagine.

When we accept that:

  1. God is God and we are not (PS 46:10)
  2. God’s thoughts and ways are greater than ours (Is 55:9)
  3. And God wants the best for us (Is 48:17; Matt 10:29-31)

We can have a perspective change during our times that might seem hopeless and instead know that God is working for our good.  We just might not know exactly what that “good” is.

My BSGs are starting a new study called, “Everyday Theology.”  Now it might sound silly for a group of devout Christians to read a book that reviews the basics of our faith: scripture, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, salvation, etc.  But each time we open our Bibles and truly approach reading it from a learning point of view we find out something new.  The Bible is a living source of God’s Word which wants to guide us throughout our lives.

I used to be one of those Christians that had a very dusty Bible.  When I did open it, I would close my eyes and then randomly pick a page.  I figured that’s how it worked – God would point me to nothing short of a miracle of words.  But would you ever take the phone book (if any exist these days), open it up and phone a stranger expecting to trust them with whatever advice you were seeking?  It might be great advice but the likelihood that you would take it would be slim.

His Word holds great lessons for us to try and keep us moving in the right direction.  We should pore over it like a treasure map.  It’s a bit complicated because it has so much to accomplish.  But once we start using the map and trusting that it is right, we find ourselves better able to navigate the twists and turns of life.  And isn’t that a great way to start out a new year?

I want to encourage you today to read Psalm 119. It is a perfect example of how God provides order in the midst of chaos. It is the longest chapter in the Bible, composed of 22 stanzas with each stanza containing 8 verses. Each verse starts with the same Hebrew letter — pretty cool. Almost every verse contains one of the following words: instruction, decree, precept, statute, command, judgment, promise, and word. Here is an excerpt:

I have more insight than all my teachers
for I meditate on your statutes.
I have more understanding than the 
elders, for I obey your precepts.
I have kept my feet from every evil path
so that I might obey your word.
I have not departed from your laws,
for you yourself have taught me.
Psalm 119:99-102

Join me starting January 11 for my next series! Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to help create a vision of you! The words we speak and think and pray have a great impact on our life. We will embark on a journey of praying changes into our lives. New Year’s resolutions have nothing on what God can accomplish when we ask for miracles to transform us!