Posts Tagged ‘fellowship’

holy_spiritFellowship has become a worn out word in Christian circles. Mostly, I am reminded of the 3 F’s: food, fun & fellowship. This was, for many years, the promise of the church. Fellowship meant talking and sharing and hanging out together. Then, in the eighties and nineties, believers started using “fellowship” as part of their new church names: Word of Life Fellowship, Bible Fellowship, Grace Fellowship, and Christ Fellowship, just to name a few. In more recent years, the word “Community” has replaced “Fellowship.” But the intent is the same, but now it’s Casseroles, Crusades, and Community at Christ Community Church, Grace Community Church, Bible Community Church, and so on. And why? To communicate how friendly we are, accessible, and inviting.

But the real fellowship, the one that counts, is the one we have within and with the Holy Spirit through Christ Jesus. You want authentic fellowship with others, then you’d better have fellowship with God in Christ.

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. [I John 1:3-4, NIV]

This relationship is deeper and more intimate than the 3 F’s. It’s familiarity through undivided attention and conversation. It’s intentional. It’s persistent. It’s a priority.

Some people realize it’s prayer. But you can call it fellowship if you like. You can also call it meditation, or centering, or contemplation. As long as it’s the Holy Spirit that’s been invited into the core of yourself.

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Most of my understanding of the nature of God is downright murky; how much less my understanding of that opposite force/entity: the Devil? And yet, I see the consequences of evil everywhere, even prevalent. How do I still get trapped?

II Timothy 2:25-26
You never know how or when God might sober them up with a change of heart and a turning to the truth, enabling them to escape the Devil’s trap, where they are caught and held captive, forced to run his errands.
[The Message]

What is the trap of the devil anyway? I’d say it has more to do with a state of the mind than anything else. After all, it’s in the mind that I make decisions, that I initiate my actions. I choose inside the mind. So, I confess, some “traps” I choose. I choose to judge others; I choose to gossip; I choose to sin. Like any woman on a perpetual diet, I still eat the wrong foods and exercise little. I perpetuate my condition.

Now, that’s not to say that some traps don’t catch me off guard too. Like a mousetrap, that is laden with scrumptious cheese. It looks so good. It looks so harmless. I am presented with such snares in the media and while shopping: buy, buy, buy. I am offered credit cards with “cheap” interest. I am told I can afford a much bigger house than I thought. I am encouraged to upgrade everything and anything. Super size it!

And what about the gambit that slowly bewitches me if I am not watchful, like the little frog in the pot of water, getting hotter and hotter? Will I jump out in time? Not always. I become desensitized. I no longer notice the brutal lyrics, the foul language, the abusive behaviors. I am able to watch tsunami scenes and it’s like watching a Hollywood movie, all unreal. “How sad,” I say, “how tragic,” and then I blend up my smoothie or pour a glass of Pinot Noir and watch a DVD to get away from the news.

They say that people who are abducted actually begin to attach to their abductors. Their limited lives develop a pattern, a norm, and slowly, the whole idea of escape is numbed out of them. Isn’t this the most insidious trap of all?

And if I get trapped, so can anyone else. When I’m caught up in a web, it means so much when someone reaches out to me, tells me to “watch out” before I step on the trigger, helps me climb out of the pot of water, gives me clarity where I can no longer see, and draws me into truth with love.

No one likes being slapped across the head like an idiot and told to “wake up! You’re deluded.” No one likes to discover they’ve been fooled or tricked.

The people who have made a difference in my life are the ones who were consistent and patient; those who were authentic in their faith and transparent in their sharing of self.

This is my goal as a follower of the Christ today. This is the role that makes it possible to change a path, to walk beside, to love, to stay out of traps by walking the road corporately.

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Back in the day, freedom in Christ for a gentile meant “no circumcision required.” That was huge. But what about today? Unlike the first century, most of us are gentile believers. Are we demanding that new believers conform to a standard of our own devising?

Galatians 2:4
This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.

Jesus had made it pretty plain during his three year ministry that his primary focus was the Jews. Those who followed him initially understood that the long-awaited Messiah was turning their laws, their norms, and their world upside down. He was transforming their structures.

But the gentiles who accepted Christ were different. They weren’t really transforming what they believed before, they were walking away from it. Following Christ was making something new.

I have a friend who has been a Christian all of her life. Every time the doors were open, she would say, her family would be at church. They were committed, active, and devoted to Jesus and the work of the church. Most, if not all, of her friends were in the church. She understood evangelism as primarily the work of bringing others to faith in Christ and therefore into the body life a church. They had committees, choirs, youth groups, singles groups, fellowship suppers, and holiday traditions. The church folks were loving and friendly. Come into our life, follow us as we follow Christ.

There is nothing particularly wrong with this picture until someone doesn’t quite fit into the mold. Or when someone asks, “is this all there is?”

Was Jesus different on the days he went to the Temple from the days he spent with prostitutes and tax collectors? Did he say, don’t forget to go to Temple on Saturday so you can start following all the laws and rules?

When Paul taught the Galatians, the Corinthians, and all the others throughout Asia, the message was simple: Christ crucified for the sake of all sin and resurrected in power of the Holy Spirit. We are all covered by his act of sacrifice if we accept the Truth of who He is. We are free to be new, to be in relationship with God, to follow a new way, to witness to others about the power of this transformation.

The key to growth as a Christian is fellowship. There’s no doubt about that. But, is the institutional church still that venue? Is passing the peace or saying hello to one another during the obligatory greeting time fellowship? It’s pretty easy to attend a mega-church and greet ten to twenty people, but really, unless I make a leap and start attending a smaller venue, I could be home watching a tele-preacher.

There is nothing more wonderful than to share in the worship and faith of God with people you know. Isn’t that why we have celebrations at home and invite our families and friends? It’s more fun, it’s more meaningful.

Am I getting off the subject of freedom in Christ? Not really. In Paul’s day, the freedom included the breaking of the long-held tradition of circumcision. Perhaps the new freedom in today’s world is to transform what it means to participate in the Body of Christ.

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The Hogwarts Sorting Hat was used to determine which “house” a new student would have allegiance to during his/her years in school. I have seen Christians do much the same thing by taking tests and classes and workshops to “determine” their “gifts.” Not Hogwarts but hogwash!

I Corinthians 12:29-31a
Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts.

I can call this search process hogwash because I’ve done it. I’ve done it more times than I’d like to confess. And like the MBTI, the results come out pretty much the same every time. Why do I keep putting on this sorting hat? Obviously, I’m hoping there is a paper test that will anoint me as an apostle or faith healer (those have drama) instead of an administrator! For heaven’s sake, all that energy on the giftings and I’ve been missing the whole point: “. . . earnestly desire and zealously cultivate the greatest and best gifts and graces . . .” [vs 31a, Amplified].

Roles in a church or in any organization appear as the need arises. The question is not how each person is anointed for all time, but are we willing to step up when we are needed? Are some people better at some things than others? Of course. But, I don’t believe we are limited to that one role, ever! The problem I’ve seen is that we limit ourselves to what we “think” that role will look like. God is creative.

Right now, too many in the church are operating purely out of tradition and habit. Church is a building. Church has a “pastor” who speaks from 15-40 minutes from the front of the church. There are songs that are sung – the number or time is set. It goes on and on.

What is the best gift and what are the greater graces that we are called to cultivate? Is the church of today partnering with us in this journey. Or, are we all sitting under the sorting hat first? Are we sorted into roles and denominations? Are we sorted into leaders and followers? Are we sorted into pre-millennial and post-millennial? Are we sorted by country and color? Are we sorted by political party? And worse still. . . are we acting like the sorting hat itself? Are we sorting others?

I’m taking off my sorting hat today. I will not sort people around me. Nor will I be sorted.

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Some people move from one church to another. Other people stay in the same church all of their lives. Sometimes people leave in a huff because the piano is moved from one side of the sanctuary to another. Sometimes, it’s just time for change. But aren’t we still in the same Body?

I Corinthians 12:14-15
For the body does not consist of one limb or organ but of many. If the foot should say, Because I am not the hand, I do not belong to the body, would it be therefore not [a part] of the body?

I have experienced splits in churches where one half of the congregation follows one leader and the other half follows another leader. I have seen denominational leaders “invite” the parishioners to leave a church because of worship practices and disagreements. I have seen ministers brought down, music directors and youth leaders cast out for mistakes. I have seen gossiping, backbiting, and lies told in the name of “being right.”

And yet, aren’t we all needed in the Body of Christ? Isn’t a good portion of this type of in-fighting happen when the “eyes” of the Body are trying to get the feet to act like them?

Once a person enters the Body of Christ through an expression of faith and testimony, then that person is part of the Body . . . period. Our job is not to “mold” the body parts to become like us. Our job is to work together and to celebrate individual giftings, to find “place” for each person.

This all goes back to the recognition of the “sacred other.” If we look for the heart, then all are the same.

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It’s hard to “stay with the ship” when everything seems lost. Like lemmings who follow each other over the cliff, we tend to abandon tough situations if we see other people cut and run. Sometimes, it takes great courage just to stick it out.

Acts 27:31
Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.”

My son is on a swim team in high school and one of the best swimmers was arrested today. Of course, the situation for the boy is grave, but already the team has been rocked as well. What are they saying to each other: We’ll never win another swim meet. What’s the point of staying on the team? It will be embarrassing now. And so on. The kids feel “exposed” since their best swimmer is out of the game. They want a rewind, but life doesn’t work that way.

Oftentimes the loss of a key player in any organization will make the whole group feel unstable and insecure. New leaders must emerge. New strategies must be developed. New challenges must be faced. The loss of one person sets up an environment for “change” which most people resist, at best, or just downright hate.

This same situation can happen in a church. A beloved pastor may depart or a key family, that has been in the church for years, will leave and people start looking around wondering if they should leave too. It’s not always a change in people or personnel that starts the exodus, sometimes it’s a change of venue (a new or refurbished building/sanctuary) or a change in the ubiquitous “order of worship” or different music or different carpeting. Any “change” can be like a glass of cold water thrown on a fainting person. It feels unpleasant.

I have struggled with staying in the same church year after year. Certainly, our church has seen lots of changes already, some good and some not so good. Many of my dear friends have left, there’s a new building which I dislike immensely, there’s a different worship team and style, the sermons are still bible-based but not terribly challenging anymore or speaking to where I am, and there are so many new people I don’t even recognize 4/5 of the congregation. Why am I still here?

And yet, there is a sense that God is not finished yet. Where there have been changes, there will be more changes. Where there has been loss, there will be gains. Where there has been disappointment, there will be encouragement. That’s the message in my heart. Stay… just a little while longer.

And like the men on Paul’s ship who wanted to jump into the lifeboat, he warned them and said it was important that “everyone” remain with the ship so that all could be saved. Then they ate together and were strengthened for the time ahead. The next day, the ship was destroyed, and yet all 276 were saved… prisoners, sailors, and soldiers. Who would imagine that staying with the ship included the ship’s destruction? But, that which was most important was saved: the people.

A church is not the building, it’s the people. In fact, all organizations are really just the people. Staying with the ship requires a simple commitment to one another, a type of trust, a type of support, a love.

When Jesus left the disciples, they must have been devastated. Some teachers give the impression that the survivors were all huddled in the “upper room” being all holy and everything. Personally, I think they were scared to death and at a loss for what to do next. Some of the disciples baled and scattered for sure. How could they go on? What did it all mean? What would tomorrow hold? But enough of them stayed. And in the end, it turned out to be part of a plan, it was the way it had to be in that moment.

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…if he [Saul] found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.

Saul started out as a great persecutor of the followers of Jesus. He considered them a threat to the traditions and laws of Israel. They were undermining the faith. How were they doing this? How would he recognize these disciples?

Back then, what did a Christian follower look like? How did a Christian follower behave? How would Saul have identified those followers in his time?

The question is no different today. Am I on the Way? For years, it’s been a pop question: “Is there enough evidence to convict you as a Christian?” I think there’s even a song that asks the question. Funny, after 2000 years, we’re still asking who’s on the way.

Certainly, it would not have been an Ichthus symbol on a bumper or Christian music blaring from a car radio or a creche in the front yard. It would not have been a well-worn bible or marching on Washington for some worthy cause or wearing a cross or crucifix.

By the time Saul was on his rampage, the believers had gone underground. They were meeting together in secret. This was one of the foremost clues: they met together often. They chose to be together because of what they had in common. They broke bread together and everyone shared in what was available. None went hungry.

What else did they do when they met together? They shared stories about Jesus. They sang. They worshiped. They waited. They prayed. They encouraged one another. It was a simple life.

Were people healed? Were there miracles? We don’t really know. But the implication is that those on the way, that is living as Jesus lived, were doing the same things He did.

In the end, Saul probably found out about followers because of a snitch. He was told where they would be meeting together. They would be collected and arrested as a group, not so much as individuals.

To be on the way is to be together with others on the same path. I have struggled with this concept my entire Christian life. Going to “church” on Sunday morning isn’t the same thing. That has become a “passive” experience. There is no sense of journey at all. It’s the small group, the cell, that can operate with true mutuality. It’s the place where we can be authentic, transparent, and united on the way. It’s where we can struggle together over the questions of faith, trust, and disappointment.

If I am not in fellowship with a group on the Way, then, no, there is very little evidence that I am a follower of Christ. An isolated follower will elude detection for a long, long time. And so I have done.

God forgive me.

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