May 09, 2009
The topic of fellowship has become a theme of mine in the last few months. I'll probably do a teaching series on this subject because I feel that many Christians need a release in this area. For many of us, fellowship was the chain that bound us to an institution for a lifetime. To break that chain was to "break fellowship" itself. Because of people's good hearts, they remain tethered to a corpse and slowly become sick, even unto death.
This was actually a form of torture in the Bible times. They would chain someone to a dead person. Everywhere they went, they had to drag that corpse with them. Eventually, the toxins from the dead body would make the living person very ill. I can only imagine how horrible that must have been.
It would seem that the way to solve being chained to a dead person would be simple. Just break the chain, and you're free. If the chain becomes sacred, however, the person will continue to live with death for a limitless amount of time. Fellowship, by today's Christian standards, IS that "sacred chain" that shackles people till death.
I believe that fellowship is the "Jackalope" of Christian society. A Jackalope is a mythological animal that people claim is real. It's just crazy-looking enough to be fake and at the same time, it's not so crazy that it couldn't exist. It's a cross between an antelope and a jack rabbit. In many parts of the country, people seriously believe in Jackalopes. Some folks claim to have seen them with their own eyes. They are the Big Foot of the southwest.
From the earliest days of our Christian walk, we are told how important fellowship is. WHAT it is, is an entirely different subject. I believe it' s nearly impossible to know exactly what fellowship is, when you live inside organized Christianity. I can recall few times when I was in the Church world where I was able to put my finger on a solid definition of fellowship. Some days we would go to church and sit quietly while the preacher talked for an hour and then we would go home. They called THAT fellowship. Other days we would do a small group Bible study and everyone would get a chance to talk. That was called fellowship too. If I skipped church one Sunday and went to dinner with a few friends; that wasn't fellowship. It became more and more confusing, the longer I stayed in that world.
It would seem that fellowship could be simply defined as two people talking over a cup of coffee, but according to most Pastors, that's not good enough. My question has always been: When is fellowship actually happening? What does it look like? Has anyone really ever seen it? Is there a point in time that anyone can really say; "here it is" or "there it is?" This is why I call it a Jackalope. It's become a mythological character that we hear about more than we actually see.
When I left the Institutional setting, I was seriously confused about fellowship. I wasn't sure what it was. I wasn't sure why I supposedly needed it so much. I wasn't even sure if I had it and didn't know it. I also didn't know how much was enough. No one ever told me exactly how much fellowship I needed. There was this unwritten call for us to get more and more, but we were never given any indication as to how much was sufficient. Like Bible reading, no matter how much you do it, there's that dark cloud over your head telling you that you could have and should have read more.
I began looking through my life and asking myself if I had fellowship anywhere. As I look back on that experience, I am amazed at how willing I was to excuse things as not being fellowship, when today, I see them as being the very essence of it. I have found that being a Free Believer has increased opportunity for fellowship rather than decreased it. Things I would never have given the title; "fellowship," have now taken a front row seat in my life. Other things that I was trained to believe were the heart of fellowship have mysteriously fallen by the wayside.
I used to think that three Christians meeting for coffee at Starbucks wasn't fellowship unless our topic of conversation was Jesus. This led me to believe that I had to steer all conversations to the Jesus subject in order to have fellowship. Today, however, I don't think that way at all. Whether Jesus is talked about or not isn't the issue. It's about the essence of Jesus (love) being lived out and shared with others. His name may not even be mentioned once, but His heart rules the group.
There was a time that I wouldn't have considered internet relationships to be authentic. I would have laughed at them and discounted them completely. As far as I was concerned, you had to be face to face with someone in order to connect. Today, I don't believe a word of that. I have found that internet relationships are many times stronger than face-to-face relationships. Some of my closest friends are people I've met in forums and chat rooms but have never laid eyes on.
Giving myself permission to call these relationships "fellowship," has been one of the most important decisions I've made in the last three years. I think we've been trained to disregard all forms of fellowship that fall short of sitting in church with our hands folded, listening to a preacher. Reclaiming those connections and calling them fellowship are absolutely essential to a person living in the wild. I've found that most of us would be surprised at how much fellowship we actually do have. Believe it or not, we don't always need an open Bible with people sitting in a circle, in order to achieve fellowship.
Amazingly, I've found that listening to a radio show or television show where the opinions resonate with what lives in my heart, is also a powerful form of fellowship that I would have dismissed only five years ago. Just being understood is so liberating and fulfilling that it causes a connection that is needed to spring up in my heart. I've discovered that even reading a book where the author articulates the feelings and emotions whirling in my heart can be fellowship as well. I may never meet that author personally, but he touched me as deeply as a lifelong friend could. Without meeting me, he knows my heart, and just being known is the very essence of fellowship.
I think many Free Believers are lonely because they aren't recognizing the fellowship they have. They don't see it as fellowship. They've refused to give themselves permission to call it that, so according to their institutional definition of fellowship; they are without. I believe that if we would just make the adjustment in our thinking and allow the title of fellowship to stand over things that cause our hearts to open in agreement, we would find that we aren't as starving for fellowship as we claim.
Washing our minds of the mentality that fellowship must be in the form of church or a Bible study is the first and most important step for a Free Believer. Institutional Christianity has actually stunted fellowship. It has limited it and made it nearly impossible to obtain. What is worse, is that many institutional settings have dished out the exact opposite of fellowship and then taught it's people this it WAS fellowship they were eating. Once that lie gets locked in peoples minds, they go throughout life calling something that's not fellowship, fellowship. It's time to redefine the word "fellowship" and give credit where credit is due. Stop saying you don't have it, because chances are, you do, and you're not acknowledging it as fellowship.
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