Category  |  Christian Beliefs

Fellowship with Jesus

I’ll never forget the time I had the privilege of sitting next to Billy Graham at a dinner. I was honored but also somewhat nervous about what would be appropriate to say. I thought it would be an interesting conversation starter to ask what he loved most about his years of ministry. Then I awkwardly started to suggest possible answers. Was it knowing presidents, kings, and queens? Or preaching the gospel to millions of people around the world?

Before I had finished offering suggestions, Rev. Graham stopped me. Without hesitation he said, “It has been my fellowship with Jesus. To sense His presence, to glean His wisdom, to have Him guide and direct me—that has been my greatest joy.” I was instantly convicted and challenged. Convicted because I’m not sure that his answer would have been my answer, and challenged because I wanted it to be.

That’s what Paul had in mind when he counted his greatest achievements to be of no worth compared to the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8). Think of how rich life would be if Jesus and our fellowship with Him was our highest pursuit.  

Blessing in the Mess

I got myself into this mess, so I’d better get myself out, I sometimes find myself thinking.  Although I believe in a God of grace, I’m still prone to act as if His help is available only when I deserve it.

God’s first encounter with Jacob is a beautiful illustration of how untrue this is.

Jacob had spent a lifetime trying to alter his destiny. He’d been born second at a time when firstborn sons typically received their father’s blessing—believed to guarantee future prosperity.

So Jacob decided to do whatever it would take to get his father’s blessing anyway. Eventually, he succeeded—through deceit—obtaining the blessing intended for his brother (Genesis 27:19–29).

But the price was a divided family, as Jacob fled from his furious brother (vv. 41–43). As night descended (28:11), Jacob must have felt as far from a life of blessing as ever.

But it was there, leaving behind a trail of deception, that Jacob met God. God showed him he didn’t need desperate schemes to be blessed; he already was. His destiny—a purpose far greater than material prosperity (v. 14)—was held securely by the One who would never leave him (v. 15).

It was a lesson Jacob would spend his whole life learning.

And so will we. No matter how many regrets we carry or how distant God seems, He is still there—gently guiding us out of our mess into His blessing.

Our Safe Place

My very first job was at a fast-food restaurant. One Saturday evening, a guy kept hanging around, asking when I got out of work. It made me feel uneasy. As the hour grew later, he ordered fries, then a drink, so the manager wouldn’t kick him out. Though I didn’t live far, I was scared to walk home alone through a couple of dark parking lots and a stretch through a sandy field. Finally, at midnight, I went in the office to make a phone call.

And the person who answered—my dad—without a second thought got out of a warm bed and five minutes later was there to take me home.

The kind of certainty I had that my dad would come to help me that night reminds me of the assurance we read about in Psalm 91. Our Father in heaven is always with us, protecting and caring for us when we are confused or afraid or in need. He declares: “When they call on me, I will answer” (Psalm 91:15 nlt). He is not just a place we can run to for safety. He is our shelter (v. 1). He is the Rock we can cling to for refuge (v. 2).

In times of fear, danger, or uncertainty, we can trust God’s promise that when we call on Him, He will hear and be with us in our trouble (vv. 14–15). God is our safe place.

As Advertised

During a vacation, my husband and I signed up for a leisurely tour down Georgia’s Chattahoochee River. Dressed in sandals, a sundress, and a wide brimmed hat, I groaned when we discovered—contrary to the advertisement—that the trip included light rapids. Thankfully, we rode with a couple experienced in whitewater rafting. They taught my husband the basics of paddling and promised to navigate us safely to our destination. Grateful for my life jacket, I screamed and gripped the plastic handle on the raft until we reached the muddy bank downriver. I stepped onto the shore and dumped water from my purse as my husband helped me wring out the hem of my soaked dress. We enjoyed a good laugh, even though the trip had not turned out as advertised.

Unlike the tour brochure, which clearly left out a key detail about the trip, Jesus explicitly warned His disciples that rough waters were ahead. He told them that they’d be persecuted and martyred and that He would die and be resurrected. He also guaranteed His trustworthiness, affirming that He would guide them toward undeniable triumph and everlasting hope (John 16:16–33).

Although it would be nice if life were easier when we follow Jesus, He made it clear that His disciples would have troubles. But He promised to be with us. Trials won’t define, limit, or destroy God’s plan for us, because Jesus’s resurrection has already propelled us to eternal victory.

“Lovable!”

That exclamation came from my daughter as she got ready one morning. I didn’t know what she meant. Then she tapped her shirt, a hand-me-down from a cousin. Across the front was that word: “Lovable.” I gave her a big hug, and she smiled with pure joy. “You are lovable!” I echoed. Her smile grew even bigger, if that was possible, as she skipped away, repeating the word over and over again.

I’m hardly a perfect father. But that moment was perfect. In that spontaneous, beautiful interaction, I glimpsed in my girl’s radiant face what receiving unconditional love looked like: It was a portrait of delight. She knew the word on her shirt corresponded completely with how her daddy felt about her.

How many of us know in our hearts that we are loved by a Father whose affection for us is limitless? Sometimes we struggle with this truth. The Israelites did. They wondered if their trials meant God no longer loved them. But in Jeremiah 31:3, the prophet reminds them of what God said in the past: “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” We too long for such unconditional love. Yet the wounds, disappointments, and mistakes we experience can make us feel anything but lovable. But God opens His arms—the arms of a perfect Father—and invites us to experience and rest in His love.

Called by Name

Advertisers have concluded that the most attention-grabbing word that viewers react to is their own name. Thus a television channel in the UK has introduced personalized advertisements with their online streaming services.

We might enjoy hearing our name on television, but it doesn’t mean much without the intimacy that comes when someone who loves us says our name.

Mary Magdalene’s attention was arrested when, at the tomb where Jesus’s body had been laid after He was crucified on the cross, He spoke her name (John 20:16). With that single word, she turned in recognition to the Teacher whom she loved and followed, I imagine with a rush of disbelief and joy. The familiarity with which He spoke her name confirmed for her beyond a doubt that the One who’d known her perfectly was alive and not dead.

Although Mary shared a unique and special moment with Jesus, we too are personally loved by God. Jesus told Mary that He would ascend to His Father (v. 17), but He had also told His disciples that He would not leave them alone (John 14:15–18). God would send the Holy Spirit to live and dwell in His children (see Acts 2:1–13).

God’s story doesn’t change. Whether then or now, He knows those whom He loves (see John 10:14–15). He calls us by name

Advice from My Father

After being laid off from an editorial job, I prayed, asking for God to help me find a new one. But when weeks went by and nothing came of my attempts at networking and filling out applications, I began to pout. “Don’t You know how important it is that I have a job?” I asked God, my arms folded in protest at my seemingly unanswered prayer.

When I talked to my father, who had often reminded me about believing God’s promises, about my job situation, he said, “I want you to get to the point where you trust what God says.”

My father’s advice reminds me of Proverbs 3, which includes wise advice from a parent to a beloved child. This familiar passage was especially applicable to my situation: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5–6). To “make . . . paths straight” means God will guide us toward His goals for our growth. His ultimate goal is that I become more like Him.

This does not mean that the paths He chooses will be easy. But I can choose to trust that His direction and timing are ultimately for my good.

Are you waiting on God for an answer? Choose to draw near to Him and trust that He will guide you.

And in Truth

Years ago, I attended a wedding where two people from different countries got married. Such a blending of cultures can be beautiful, but this ceremony included Christian traditions mixed with rituals from a faith that worshiped many gods.

Zephaniah the prophet pointedly condemned the mixing of other religions with faith in the one true God (sometimes called syncretism). Judah had become a people who bowed in worship to the true God but who also relied on the god Molek (Zephaniah 1:5). Zephaniah described their adoption of pagan culture (v. 8) and warned that as a result God would drive the people of Judah from their homeland.

Yet God never stopped loving His people. His judgment was to show them their need to turn to Him. So Zephaniah encouraged Judah to “Seek righteousness, seek humility” (2:3). Then the Lord gave them tender words promising future restoration: “At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home” (3:20).

It’s easy to condemn examples of obvious syncretism like the wedding I attended. But in reality, all of us easily blend God’s truth with the assumptions of our culture. We need the Holy Spirit’s guidance to test our beliefs against the truth of God’s Word and then to stand for that truth confidently and lovingly. Our Father warmly embraces anyone who worships Him in both Spirit and truth (see John 4:23–24). 

A Blind Man’s Plea

Some years ago a traveling companion noticed I was straining to see objects at a distance. What he did next was simple but life changing. He took off his glasses and said, “Try these.” When I put his glasses on, surprisingly my blurred vision cleared up. Eventually I went to an optometrist who prescribed glasses to correct my vision problem.

Today’s reading in Luke 18 features a man with no vision at all; and living in total darkness had forced him to beg for a living. Word about Jesus, the popular teacher and miracle worker, had reached the blind beggar’s ears; so when Jesus’s travel route took Him by where the blind man was sitting, hope was ignited in his heart. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (v. 38) he called. Though without sight physically, the man possessed spiritual insight into Jesus’s true identity and faith in Him to meet his need. Compelled by this faith, “He shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (v. 39). The result? His blindness was banished, and he went from begging for his living to blessing God because he could see (v. 43).

In moments or seasons of darkness, where do you turn? Upon what or to whom do you call? Eyeglass prescriptions help improve vision, but it’s the merciful touch of Jesus, God’s Son, that brings people from spiritual darkness to light.

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