Category: Fellowship (page 1 of 16)

Fellowship of the Spirit: Part Two

Near the end of the fourth Gospel, the resurrected Jesus says to his gathered followers, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” I am sending you to do the things I’ve done in the ways I’ve done them. I’m commissioning you to heal the sick and proclaim the Kingdom of God. I’m charging you to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile, to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

And, with that, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

We do not have the abilities on our own to do what Jesus did in the ways he did them. Church is the Body of Christ — the real, tangible, concrete, physical, flesh-and-blood  presence of Jesus in the world. That’s the call. That’s the charge. That’s the point of the Church, our mission.

But how? We can’t.

He knows. He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

The Holy Spirit transforms our inabilities. God’s Spirit teaches us things we could never come up with on our own. The Bible says we can’t even make the Christian confession — Jesus is Lord! — except by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit transforms our inabilities and provides the gifts and the powers to do things we could never do by ourselves.

“Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.” ~Mark 13:11

No one naturally loves his enemies. No one naturally turns the other cheek. Nobody naturally lays down his rights or would rather be wronged than to fight for what is hers. Jesus says those are exactly the kinds of things that separate Christians from just good people. Those are the things that are required if we are to be his Church. And the Holy Spirit infuses us with the abilities and the power to do it. The Spirit forms in us the character traits we need to live like our Lord. He gives us strength so we can follow the way of the weakness. He gives us power so we can take care of the helpless. He gives us peace so we can endure the hostility.

If being a Christian is just about being a good citizen and giving to charities and not cussing too much — you don’t need the Holy Spirit for that. This is about following Jesus. You can’t be a follower of Jesus without the fellowship of the Spirit who transforms our inabilities and provides us the power to live like people without the Holy Spirit don’t. Can’t.

And it takes time. This kind of transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process. Sometimes it feels like it’s happening and other times it doesn’t feel like anything’s happening. It’s hard to measure. It’s difficult to track. God doesn’t send us quarterly reports. But we  know his Spirit is working on us. Changing us. Transforming us. We know that we all reflect the Lord’s glory and are being transformed into his likeness in ever-increasing glory which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Loving your neighbor is different from just being a good guy. The peace that passes all understanding is not the same as the peace of having your mortgage paid off. Turning the other cheek is not even in the same universe as self defense or protecting what’s yours. Doing justice is more than forwarding a Facebook petition. Showing mercy is more than sponsoring a co-worker in a 5K.

The fellowship of the Spirit is where our abilities are transformed together and how the Kingdom of God is made real in a broken and dying world.

Peace,

Allan

Fellowship of the Spirit: First Part

“I will ask the Father, and he will give y’all another Counselor to be with y’all forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But y’all will know him, for he lives with y’all and will be in y’all. I will not leave y’all as orphans; I will come to y’all. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but y’all will see me. Because I live, y’all also will live. On that day y’all will realize that I am in my Father, and y’all are in me, and I am in y’all.” ~John 14:16-20

Jesus is Emmanuel. God with us. God near us. That’s Jesus. Our Father takes that one dramatic step further with his Holy Spirit. God in us. God inside us.

The pronouns used by Jesus are plural, not singular. This is communal. It’s corporate. The Holy Spirit binds us together in a shared fellowship. Together.

Thirty years ago, a sociologist named Robert Bellah wrote an influential book called Habits of the Heart. He documented what he described as an American phenomenon: ontological individualism. It’s this belief, he says, is unique to us in the United States: an individual is his or her own source of meaning. Nobody can tell me what to do. Nobody can teach me anything I can’t learn on my own. I don’t need anybody. I don’t depend on anybody. The whole thing is about me. That’s a very American mindset. Bellah says most Americans barely have the vocabulary, much less the desire, to express commitment or passion for anything other than themselves.

The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is not for individuals. It transcends our identities and surpasses our abilities as individuals. It’s a group thing. It’s the fellowship of the Spirit.

Jesus says, “I will not leave y’all as orphans.” That’s family language. By the Holy Spirit, he says, “I will come to y’all.” Family. Community.

“We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” ~ 1 Corinthians 12:13

When we talk about the work of the Spirit, we usually focus on the Spirit’s relation to the individual Christian. We talk about how the Spirit is active in a person’s life or how a woman or man uses particular Holy Spirit gifts. According to Jesus, though, our emphasis should be on the Spirit’s corporate work. We should pay more attention to the indwelling and empowering of the Spirit in and through the Church.

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in y’all, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to y’all’s mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in y’all.” ~Romans 8:11

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in y’all?” ~ 1 Corinthians 3:16

The Church is a community where no one reaches his full spiritual potential and no one fulfills her true spiritual calling apart from the group. Each member of the fellowship contributes something special to the group so that all together the Holy Spirit does so much more for the Kingdom than any of us could do by ourselves. The Church attains to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ together.

“To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good…” ~1 Corinthians 12:7

Some religions teach that meditating or praying in solitude is the highest form of spirituality. But that is not Christianity. The fellowship of the Spirit is not about private Christian growth or individual spiritual formation. What the Spirit gives us is intended for serving the common good, the whole fellowship together.

The Spirit is the one who brings us together. And when we’re together, bound to one another by the Spirit of God, the Church is bigger than we think. It transcends our individual abilities. It’s better than we can see, it’s wider and deeper, it’s richer and longer-lasting and farther-reaching. It’s more than our physical senses can begin to detect. It’s holy.

The Holy Spirit is our guarantee, our down payment of what’s coming. The fellowship of the Spirit is a taste of everything that’s going to be revealed. The Holy Spirit promises us together that, yes, God will act. Yes, God will speak. God will save. God will fulfill. Our God will live with us and in us forever and ever. Hallelujah! Amen.

Peace,

Allan

Seeing the Risen Christ

There’s a lot to see at the empty tomb. There’s a lot to see and experience there. The soldiers saw the angel and experienced great fear. The women saw the stone rolled away and experienced great confusion. Peter and the apostles saw the burial cloths and came away with a lot of questions. There’s a lot to see at the empty tomb. But nobody saw Jesus there.

Jesus isn’t there.

I want to see Jesus. I want to experience Jesus. I want to touch Jesus and know Jesus and be in his presence and hear his voice.

You know where that happens? At the table. The disciples do not see or experience Jesus in his resurrection fullness and glory until later that Easter Sunday when they are sharing a meal together. Jesus revealed himself during the meal. He appeared to his followers and spoke to them at the table. That’s where we see our risen Lord.

When we are around the table together with the risen Messiah as our host we experience forgiveness and belonging, unity and sharing, acceptance and fellowship. We see Jesus in the changed lives of the people with us around the table. We Jesus in that there are no walls, no barriers between us and God and us and each other; nothing separates us at the table. We Jesus when we remember that we have forgiven those around the table with us and have been forgiven multiple times by those same people. We see Jesus in the joy reflected in the faces around the table. We experience Christ in relationship with others.

Our salvation from God is not a system. It’s not a theory. And it’s certainly not a five-step plan.

It’s a sacrifice and a meal.

Peace be with you,

Allan

Surely Not I

I love the Gospel of Mark because Mark shoots straight with us about the disciples of Jesus. He doesn’t try to cover anything up, he doesn’t try to make the followers of Jesus into something they’re not. Mark tells us straight up: The apostles are shallow, selfish, hard-headed, and, at times, very weak in faith. I don’t know about you, but that gives a guy like me great hope.

When you read Mark from start to finish, you’re never really sure about these guys. They’re constantly teetering between belief and un-belief. Jesus is always on them: You don’t see; you don’t understand; you don’t have any faith; what’s wrong with you?

Will the disciples remain faithful? I don’t know, man, they’re all over the map.

The tension in the Gospel reaches a boiling point at the Last Supper. They all sit down to eat for one of the traditional Passover meals and the very first words out of Jesus’ mouth are: “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me — one who is eating with me.”

That’s the first thing he says! They haven’t even started on their salads yet!

“One of you will betray me — one who is eating with me.”

They’re all eating together around this common table. It’s like a Corino’s where everybody’s dipping bread into a common dish of oil and herbs. Eating together like this is a sign of solidarity and unity. This is about loyalty and fellowship.

So the disciples are shocked. And one-by-one they say to Jesus, “Surely not I?” Eating and drinking with our Lord and with one another, they look Jesus in the eye and say, “Surely not I?”

The focus is not on Judas here. Judas is not even mentioned. This is not about Judas. This is about all the disciples. This is about us. “Surely not I?”

Every time we come to the table, that should be our questions. We come to the table to receive the benefits of Christ’s death, to experience and share in his forgiveness and his acceptance and our righteous relationship with God in Christ. At the table, eating and drinking with our Lord and with one another, we are expressing our loyalty, our fellowship with Jesus and his followers. At the table, we re-commit to Christ’s way of life.

The question for today and for the rest of the week is: Will we remain faithful? Will we betray Jesus?

Now, we are not perfect. Nobody is but our Lord Jesus. No matter our best intentions, we will occasionally fail. And Jesus knows this. He tells them, “You will all fall away.” But with that word of judgment comes a word of grace. “After I have risen, I will go ahead of you.”

We humbly seek the power to live more faithfully for Christ. We need more strength and resolve to demonstrate Christ-likeness in everything we do and say and think. We recommit this week. We renew our vows to the Lord.

Peace,

Allan

The Communion of Saints

“We believe in the holy, universal Church, the communion of saints.” ~Apostles’ Creed

communitypeople

The Scriptures make it very clear that if we are one with Christ we are also one with each other. Communion. Fellowship. Sharing. God through Christ restores us into a righteous relationship with him and then, out of that, into a deep and rich life together with one another.

“In Christ, we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” ~Romans 12:5

God brings us together in his Church and he puts us with people who bug us. He puts us in close proximity to people who irritate us. He puts us with sinful people who bother us and, at the same time, my sinfulness is bothering all those people. But it’s through these close relationships with people who are different from us that we’ll be sanctified. We’ll be made holy.

There are at least 59 times the New Testament uses the phrase “one another” or “each other” in describing how we’re supposed to live. In the Church. Plural. Us.

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Live in harmony with one another. Accept one another as Christ accepted you. Instruct one another. When you come together to eat, wait for each other. Have equal concern for each other. Serve one another in love. Greet one another with a holy kiss (3x). Carry each other’s burdens. Be patient, bearing with one another in love. Be kind and compassionate to one another. Forgive each other. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. In humility, consider others better than yourselves. Bear with each other. Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Teach one another. Admonish one another. Make you love increase and overflow for each other. Love each other (13x). Encourage each other (2x). Build each other up. Encourage one another (2x). Spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Confess your sins to each other. Pray for each other. Love one another deeply, from the heart. Live in harmony with one another. Offer hospitality to one another….

There are several more, but you get the idea. You can’t work all of that out just by showing up at the church building for an hour and a half on Sunday mornings. If your experience with God’s Church is nothing more than listening to a sermon and getting a crumb and a sip and see-you-next-Sunday, that is not the fullness of what God wants for you in Christ.

We need each other. We need that deep communion.

You need me. Whether you want to admit it or not, you need me. You need me to remind you of how much you are loved by our God. You need me to challenge you and stretch you. And I need you. I desperately need you to encourage me. I need you to keep me straight.

To be saved is not just to go to heaven when I die. Being saved means being in a new relationship with God and with fellow Christians in the community of God’s people right here and now. How can I know that the love and forgiveness of God in Christ are real if I don’t experience them in communion with God’s people? How can I be a Christian if I don’t participate in the life and work of the community gathered by God and empowered by his Spirit to share his love with others?

Whoever tries to do without Church tries to do without Christ. Whoever is too good or too “spiritual” for the Church — with all its faults and weaknesses — is too good or too “spiritual” for Jesus himself and the Father who sent him and the Holy Spirit who continues his salvation work.

The Church in all of its eternal glory, in all of its beauty and truth and power, is right in front of us. It’s right here, all around us. But we miss it. We miss it because we’re only looking at the surface and the immediate. We look at the Church like people started it and people are running it. We look at the Church and we evaluate it as if it were my church or even our church. We make judgments based on the narrowest and most self-centered of criteria.

You know, this is God’s Church. He started it and he’s running it. And he puts us all together just like he planned. God did this. He has arranged us, every one of us, just as he wanted us to be.

And these people… some I like more than others. Some of them I wouldn’t choose to be on a 5th grade kickball team. But if I invest my life together with these people, then by the grace of God he will transform us more and more into what we really are: the holy, universal Church, the communion of saints.

Peace,

Allan

Holy Spirit Community

Spirit-ArtThe proclamation of the inaugurated Kingdom of God is expressed through Holy Spirit community. Following the Resurrection of Jesus, God’s Spirit creates a brand new community of all people, all nations, all languages, all brought to perfect unity under the Lordship of the Messiah. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter quotes the prophet Joel:

“I will pour out my Spirit on all people… Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved… Repent and be baptized, every one of you… The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.” ~Acts 2:17-39

The Holy Spirit breaks down barriers between people, he destroys the walls between all people and brings us together in Christ.

“Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace… [he] has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility… his purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” ~Ephesians 2:13-18

HolySpiritThe Berlin wall was erected by the Soviets to separate East and West Berlin. In Bethlehem today, there’s a 27-foot wall that divides the Palestinians from the Israelis. We know all about dividing walls. Not all of them are physical. There are social and racial barriers. There are gender and economic walls. We’re divided by language and ethnicity and education and politics. But the blood of Jesus brings all of us together and the Spirit of God holds us together so that our unity in diversity becomes an unmistakable testimony to the true Prince of Peace!

We have to practice this tearing down of walls, we have to be committed to demolishing the things that separate us. We must do the very, very, very hard work of reconciliation because it is such a vital component to the Christian witness.

Peter slipped up in Antioch. He was under some social pressures there and he stopped eating with Gentiles. He wouldn’t associate with them in public. And Paul called him on it. He told Peter he wasn’t acting “in line with the truth of the Gospel.”

“You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” ~Galatians 3:26-28

If these barriers have been set aside by Christ — the walls between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, men and women — if these distinctions have been abolished at the cross, then what other barrier can be justified? If God does not show favoritism, if all people are created by God in the holy image of God, if God’s great purpose and goal is unity in his Son, if we are to love even our enemies, if Jesus took the hostility into himself to destroy it forever, on what grounds can we justify keeping in place any barriers?!?

Peace,

Allan

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