Once upon a time every member of the family received a unique and very impressive invitation. Each one was invited to the family reunion. The invitation specified where the reunion would take place and emphasized the importance of the presence of every family member. The most wonderful thing about it was that full provision was given to each one to enable them to reach the reunion on time! But the most disconcerting thing about the invitation was that the time of the reunion was omitted!
The normal necessities of travel such as transportation, food and lodging were provided. But many other provisions were also given:
-every family member was given a map and compass so each could continually check on the progress of the journey;
-an experienced guide, who knew every turn and each difficulty of the journey was given as a personal companion to each one;
-to each was given equipment to provide for every possible emergency, there was first aid equipment, survival gear (for all kinds of terrain and weather conditions) and even major medical coverage should any encounter disease or injury along the way;
-But best of all, each family member received a personal cell phone for instant communication with the old family home where the reunion would take place. There was no charge as each phone came with unlimited prepaid airtime!
I should tell you that this is no fairy tale! It is absolutely true in every respect! If you are a member of this wonderful family, you have already received this invitation with its entire package of provisions. But you don’t know how soon you will arrive, or just when that great reunion will begin! Won’t it be wonderful when we arrive?! Aren’t you looking forward to the day when Father will ask you how the journey went and how you faced each situation along the way? He is going to ask you about every leg of your journey!
Commencement of the journey:
Speaking of the journey, how long have you been a member of the family? How did you become a member? With most families, you can become a member in one of three ways: (1) by birth, (2) by adoption or (3) by engagement and marriage. If you’re born into the average family you can’t be adopted or marry into it. If you’re adopted, you can’t be born or married into it. And if you’re married into the family you can’t be born or adopted into it!
But of all the families in the universe, this family is unique! It is the only one into which every member is born and adopted and espoused to be married! In fact the reunion to which we’re travelling is the wedding! So may I ask you again, when and how did you become a member of this family?
Some respond, “I never remember a time when I wasn’t a member of this family!” (Now it is true that: No member of any other family remembers their birth; few who were adopted into other families remember their adoption; and some who were espoused into other families don’t remember their espousal. Such people were never consulted in the matter!) But you should know that no person ever enters this family who is not first informed, consulted and who does not first express their consent!
Those who are not yet family members by birth are clearly informed, “Ye must be born again!” Those who are not yet family members by adoption (placed as sons in the family) are encouraged with the promise, “As many as received Him (the firstborn of the family) to them gave He the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” And those who are not yet family members by espousal are asked a question like the one put to Rebekah of old.
Rebekah had just received, from her personal guide, an invitation to be espoused to a wealthy man she’d never met. Reception of that invitation included full provision for the long journey before her. After listening to the terms of the messengers invitation, Rebekah’s brother, Laban, put the question to her in these words: “Wilt thou go with this man?” Rebekah’s journey would never have begun and her marriage to Isaac never would have taken place had she never answered that question with the words, “I will go!”
So too, no person has ever become a member of this family or started on this journey who first has not answered a similar query with a personal, conscious and affirmative response. You see, it is impossible for one to be born, adopted and espoused into this great family who is unconscious of their need, who is oblivious to the invitation, and who expresses no desire for such a relationship!
So how did you become a member of this family? How did you say, “I will go!”? What circumstances preceded this event in your life? And what changes resulted from it?
Company on the journey:
Merriment, like misery, loves company! Since people are naturally gregarious, very few people take long journeys alone, especially when going to family reunions! But whenever members of this great family travel alone, something is horribly wrong, for brothers and sisters are never far away!
Since birth brings new life, adoption brings new relationships, and espousal brings new love, members in this family invariably desire new company! One member expressed it this way:
“Things are different now, something happened to me when my heart was linked to Jesus;
Things are different now, I was changed, it must be when my heart was linked to Him:
Things I loved before have passed away, things I love far more have come to stay,
Things are different now, something happened that day when my heart was linked to Him!”
Before becoming members of this family we looked for satisfaction in a place, at the world’s fair ground. But we’ve learned that satisfaction is only found in a person, God’s fair One! Thus another family member expressed their desire for new company in these words:
“My young companions, fare you well,
I will not go with you to hell.
I mean with Jesus Christ to dwell,
I will not go, I will not go with you.”
If you’re a member of this family you have probably found new company, or else the friends with which you used to keep company don’t enjoy your company as before. But let me ask you, with what sort of company are you taking your journey to the family reunion? In what vehicle are you travelling?
Some find their company on the journey to the family reunion among family members in “the family car”: Many who become members in this family have natural family members who have a religious heritage. So the most natural thing to do is to seek to travel in company with members of one’s natural family. We all love things familiar and comfortable. Since one’s family religious traditions are the most familiar and comfortable, “the family car” seems the best place to find one’s company for the journey. Since grand parents and great grand parents have gone the same way before and family traditions have never been questioned, why should anyone seek any other company?
Others find their company on the way to the family reunion among church members on “the church bus”: To these passengers, loyalty is not so much to family as it is to a church organization or denomination. Many say they have been born, baptized, married and fully intend to die in this church! They have enjoyed the company of people on the membership roll of this church; they agree with the doctrines of this church and the practices and forms of this church are old and familiar friends.
Still others seek company for the journey to the family reunion in “the fellow ship of those of like mind”: Many of these are very interested in reading the map and taking care to follow the map as accurately as they can. What is most important to them is not family traditions, or denominational church traditions but rather travelling “in fellowship with their like-minded brethren.” Godly men charted the course before them in earlier generations. Many obeyed the truth of God at great personal cost and sacrifice. So in view of the price that was paid by men who had gone before, a premium is placed on continuing to walk “in fellowship” with such men until the journey’s end.
Finally there are those who journey toward the family reunion as members in the family. They seek their company simply in relationship with Christ and other members of His body. Quite often, among these, there doesn’t seem to be much visible cohesion. They seem to be “a motley crew”. They have come from a wide variety of functional and dysfunctional families; from various denominations, and from many different fellowships. Most have been hurt and have caused hurt in family, church, or fellowship circles before. They are much like a little band of about 400 men described in the scriptures over 3000 years ago. This little band was drawn from an assortment of tragic circumstances. In the end they gathered in a cave around a fugitive, but also a man after God’s own heart and destined to be Israel’s next king. That fugitive and his followers are described in these words:
“David therefore departed thence, and escaped to the cave
Adullam: and when his brethren and all his father’s house
heard it, they went down thither to him. And every one that
was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every
one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him;
and he became a captain over them.”
In which type of company are you travelling to the family reunion? With those who ride in the family car; those in the church bus; those aboard the fellowship of the like-minded; or those in relationship with Christ and other members of His body?
The course of the journey:
On the way to this family reunion, one’s course is inevitably affected by the company they keep. Suppose you set out for a reunion of the whole family clan (let’s say it was being held in Louisiana) but the driver of the family car and your immediate family members have their sights set on a family vacation in Alaska! What would you do? Would you get out at the next stop, say “Adios!” to your family and head for Louisiana? or ride along all the way to Alaska and try to forget the reunion in Louisiana?
This is preisely the predicament in which many believers find themselves today. They are members of the family of God and yet the company with which they have chosen to travel is their natural family. Family traditions and religious backgrounds run deep. No one wants to go against long-held traditions or divide family loyalties! So when one realizes that the driver of the family car is not following the map to the reunion of the family of God, a difficult and costly decision must be made. One must choose between pleasing their family and pleasing the Lord. Many have turned their back on pleasing the Lord in such a case because they reasoned, “If I get out of the family car, I’ll have no transportation! And it’s much too dangerous to hitchhike! I’d be all alone, and I don’t know the way on my own!” On and on the reasons are gathered which make one’s decision to stay in the family car seem the best. But in reality, every possible excuse for not obeying God is clearly answered by the complete provision for the journey which was made for each traveller when they received their invitation to the family reunion!
The Lord Jesus never promised to keep natural family ties of His disciples intact! On the contrary, He warned that divisions in families would be inevitable. So what you believe about God and His complete provision will be clearly displayed by what you do next! You will either continue to ride in the family car away from the family reunion, or you’ll get out, call home on your cell-phone, check your map and head for home!
Are you broken-hearted? Hurt? Disappointed? Lonely? Cheer up! Your personal guide has not deserted you, He’s still at your side with all the necessary survival gear for this emergency, and guess what? Just down the road you’ll find another weary traveller who just made the same choice as you did! And the two of you are just about to meet others. It will be a little foretaste of the big reunion up ahead. What you’re just about to experience is sometimes called, “heaven on earth”!
Just like the family car, the church bus is often driven off course farther and farther from the family reunion. But, “Don’t look so blue”, they tell you, “when we get to the church camp, what a time we’re going to have!” But you’re longing to see the face of the One to whom you’ve been espoused, and your heart aches to embrace all those who love Him in sincerity and truth. Yes, you’ve had great times of fellowship in the “camp meetings” in “the Tabernacle” at the Camp grounds. But you know that many of your brothers and sisters who will be at the reunion would not be welcomed at “church camp”, nor would “The Tabernacle” hold but a small fraction of them! You know that many of the doctrines and practices of your church are not stated in scripture and so they divide you from others who simply go by what The Good Book says for itself!
You ask yourself, “How long can I stay on this church bus?” “How far will I allow myself to be taken away from the reunion of the whole family?” But, you exclaim, “We’re way out in the wilderness! How would I ever get a ride back?” “How could I ever leave such dear friends and fellow-workers as there are in my church?” “I’m a leader! I can’t just leave these sheep on their own!” “I don’t think I could ever survive without the fellowship that I’ve enjoyed for years in our denomination!”
But then, you remember the invitation, and the unlimited provisions made for you and every other family member to enable you to arrive at the reunion on time. You remember that Father will be asking about every leg of your journey and the decisions you faced along the way. Yes, it is cold and rainy as you step down out of the bus with your gear. (Almost as cold as the stares that follow you. No one on the bus understands why you’re leaving.) Then you hear a quiet voice beside you as you stand in the gravel on the shoulder of the road. Your personal guide has been true to His word and has not left you alone. He’s quietly humming a tune. It’s almost inaudible but you catch a few bars and the words come flooding over your soul …
“No one understands like Jesus, He’s a friend beyond compare…”
The words are now lost in your sobs as tears flood your eyes…”Lord, Forgive me for doubting your Word and your faithfulness!”
The rain continues to drizzle down as you shoulder your pack, cross the road and start walking back in the direction from which the bus has just come. Just how long you walk, you’re not quite sure. But now a car is slowing down beside you, the window is open. Quickly your hand flies to your cheek to brush aside the tears. In the same instant, you relax – it doesn’t matter, your face is soaked with rain!
An elderly man leans toward the window in front of his wife and calls out, “It’s a miserable day for walkin’! Would ya like a ride, mate?”
Gratefully you open the rear door, toss in your pack, climb in and slam the door. “Thanks, folks!” you exclaim.
“We’re on the way to a big family reunion a long way from here,” the driver comments as he returns to the pavement, “Where are you headed?”
A little shaken at this turn of events, you pause to gather your thoughts and steady the sob which lingers in your throat…
The elderly woman is quietly singing. As if having been interrupted, her quavering voice quietly sings the last measure of a song… “No one is so near, so dear as Jesus, cast your every care on Him.”
The old man turns, wondering why you’re taking so long to respond.
As his eyes meet yours, you blurt out, “I-I was just wondering if you might be going to the same family reunion as I am!”
Then there are those who, like myself for many years, journey in company with those who recognize the dangers of the family car or the church bus. They know the importance of studying the scriptures to find guidance and direction for the journey. Many of them have seen the hazards of blindly following family or church traditions. In fact the very reason many (like myself) decided to “get on board ship” was that we believed that those in this “fellow ship” always went to scripture for their direction, and would therefore always steer a true course according to the map we had all been given. But after having been on board ship for some time, I began to compare our course with the map we were supposed to be following. I noticed that we were straying bit by bit from the course laid out on the map. When I brought this to the attention of those in charge of steering the ship, I was often reminded of the importance of doing all things “in fellowship with your brethren”. I was then shown how our course was in perfect harmony with the whole fleet of ships with which we were sailing. When I would try to point out that the map showed that our course should be “due North” but that we were actually travelling “North East”, I would often hear the reply, “Well no one is perfect, but of all the ships in the sea, our course is closest to the truth!” I would then be asked to compare our course to other ships we had passed, and it was true – some were going due East, others due West and still others were headed due South! I couldn’t see any ship in sight on a course any closer to “North” than ours.
Many others on board “the fellowship of like-minded saints” were also concerned that we were off course. But these often cautioned me, “Never leave the ship unless there’s one on a truer course which you can board!” And so, for some time, I comforted myself as I told others, “I’m not committed to this ship, you know! As soon as I see another ship which is on a truer course than this one, I’m going to board it!”
Along with others, who had considered what it would cost to “jump ship”, I came to the conclusion that I could never survive without “the fellowship of those of like mind”. And so the excuses for remaining on board a ship which was acknowledged to be off course were many! I had forgotten that my invitation to the family reunion included full provision even for such a situation as this!
My faithful guide and travelling companion continued to urge me to consult the map and to consider the vast personal provision which Father had made for my journey. He also gently reminded me that Father would be asking, at the reunion, about decisions I’d made on every leg of my journey. So, after a long struggle, I reluctantly decided to “jump ship”!
I fully expected to get soaking wet, to be lonely, and to have to swim for a long time before finding a ship which was truly following the course laid out on the map. But, to my utter amazement, I found myself not soaking wet in the water, not even all alone in a little rubber dingy but standing on the deck of a magnificent ocean liner the “H.M.V. Grace”. To my right was a swimming pool with scores of boats sailing hither and thither. To my left was a sand box with little cars and buses making their way toward respective destinations!
Lifting my eyes in wonder, I began to recognize fellow travellers whom I’d met long ago in the car, the bus and the ship on which I’d travelled! But then my faithful guide who had never left my side directed my gaze even higher yet… there, standing at the ship’s wheel, on the bridge, stood my beloved Captain! The good ship “GRACE” was in good hands and was right on course!
It was then that I heard His voice. He called me by name and kindly informed me that there were no tourists or spectators on board this ship. Each was an able-bodied seaman equipped and enabled to perform necessary tasks for the maintenance of the ship, and the well-being of the crew. But, above all, each sailor’s first priority was to demonstrate, in every task, the glory of our beloved Captain! He it was who had planned and paid for this great vessel and had called us to make this voyage with Him into eternity!
As the Captain ordered me to take my things to my cabin, and then to report for duty in the kitchen, He instructed others to report to the bridge for assignments of major importance. Some were sent on errands to the bow and others to the stern. Still others were urgently launching life boats and throwing life lines to people who were perishing in the icy waters below.
While travelling in the family car, the church bus and the fellowship of like-minded Christians, I had honestly believed that if all were following the map and obeying the compass they would all be going the same direction and doing the same things! I now began to realize that it is quite possible for two people to be on the same ship, going to the same destination, obeying the same Captain and yet be carrying out very different assignments!
There is great joy and celebration every time perishing souls are plucked from the waters below and welcomed aboard the “H.M.V. Grace”. Yet one of the saddest things to watch aboard this mighty vessel is this: The vast majority of those, who have been rescued from drowning, fail to take their place as part of the crew who take orders directly from the Captain up on the bridge! Most of those involved in the rescue operation fail to explain the ramifications of being part of the Body of Christ, members of the family! Instead, the rescued ones are shown the pool and the sand box and are taught how to “play church”!
Some of the marks of “playing church” are these:
(1)There are special places constructed exclusively for playing church.
(2)There are special times reserved exclusively for playing church.
(3)There are special rules applied exclusively while playing church in special places and at special times. (Some are written, some aren’t. The rules for playing church vary from place to place depending on who wrote the rules.)
(4)There are designated officials who “officiate” at all the games to make sure the game is played by the rules. The regulations determining who gets to officiate also vary from place to place!
The biggest problem with playing church is that special places, times, rules, officials and regulations for officiating are never mentioned in the guide book given by the Head of the church! God has never called anyone to “play church”!
Another tragedy is that many continue playing church in the sandbox or pool for the entire duration of the voyage!
But I’m convinced that the saddest thing of all is that vast numbers get disillusioned, turned off, hurt, or abused “in church”. So by the droves they are turning their backs on “the family car”, stepping off “the church bus”, and jumping or being thrown overboard from various “fellowships”! Most have no idea of the vast provisions which were given them the day they were rescued and brought aboard the H.M.V. Grace. So they spend the rest of their days alone in the desert (in the corner of the sand box) or struggling to survive in a little dingy in mid-ocean (in the pool)! What a tragedy to so restrict one’s self to a little boat or a dingy in the swimming pool or to a car or bus in a sand box when there are places of service available throughout the whole ocean liner! When they could be serving the Captain in ministry to and receiving ministry from many other members of His body, so many wilfully refuse the liberty given to all who have embarked on H.M.V. Grace!
Is it any wonder that folks like this have great difficulty trusting God? They sincerely believed that the family car, the church bus or the fellowship in which they were travelling was the church of God! So when they experience disillusionment, hurt or abuse – they want nothing more to do with “the church” or with God!
Do you know anyone who has “bailed out of church” because of disillusionment with the family car, the church bus or the fellowship with which they were travelling? Do you know anyone who is lost in a desert of despair or adrift on an ocean of bitterness as a result of a serious injury while playing church? Do you know anyone who is tired of playing church but is thirsty for a vital relationship with the Living Christ and His church?
There’s plenty of them! But, how can such folks…
– be rescued from their despair and bitterness,
– be enlightened to the vast provision available to them,
– be equipped for effective ministry as members in the body, and
– joyfully anticipate the family reunion and the opportunity to tell Father all about their journey?
Scripture speaks of three kinds of churches:
(1) the church which Christ is building (Matthew 16:18) i.e. the church which is His body (Ephesians 1:22,23). Against it the gates of hell cannot prevail. How would you define this church? What is our responsibility toward it?
(2) churches of God such as the church of God composed of all believers in your community (I Corinthians 1:1,2; 11:17; 14:23; I Timothy 3:14,15). All believers in your community are given the responsibility to be co-labourers with God in building this church (I Cor.3:9-16) and to gather together at times with one accord in one place (Acts 4:23-31; 6:1-7; 15: 4-29) to function according to His “rules of order” ( I Corinthians 14:23-40 and I Timothy 2:1-3:15) What is your responsibility toward the church of God in your community?
(3) churches in houses of believers (Acts 2:46b; Romans 16:5; I Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2) where they gather to break bread and for mutual “one anothering ministry” to and fellowship with each other and their Lord (Hebrews 10:24,25). What is your responsibility to other Christians within a few blocks or miles of your home?
There are plenty of denominations in Christendom around us. How would you define a religious denomination? Are denominations part of God’s plan for reaching the lost and equipping the saints? If so, what is your responsibility toward denominations in your community?
If not, what is your responsibility toward believers and unbelievers in those denominations? Toward those who have been disillusioned by such?
Are we, ourselves, living in the good of a right relationship with the Captain of the H.M.V. Grace? Are we receiving and obeying His assignments as members of His crew?
What assignments has He given us regarding ministering to other believers?
What assignments has He given regarding rescuing those who are not yet on board?
Has He called us to start another denomination? If so where would we find directions for such a task? What pattern has He provided for us to follow?
OR has He called us to help to build His church in our community? If so where would we find directions for this assignment? What pattern has He provided for us to follow? What pitfalls must we avoid?
Beware! If you really want to be part of the solution to the problem, your answers to these questions will become your own job description as you travel toward the family reunion!!
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