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Paul was much more ecumenical than I was growing up. The more I read Paul the more divisive I became, not because of what Paul wrote but because of how I read Paul. I read Paul looking for the rules, not that they aren’t there but that I found what I was looking for even when it wasn’t there. I read Paul looking for the marks the true believer and the true church. In reading Paul with that intent I missed the obvious – Paul was more inclusive than I was in terms of who are Christians and who are not. Here is what I missed – Paul was writing to people he believed were Christians and yet were in error on various matters. I read Paul’s correction as lines of fellowship that never registered with me that Paul himself never kept or observed.

I believe this comes out of a faulty way of reading the Bible. I also believe this level of divisiveness comes from a misunderstanding of fellowship. In the New Testament fellowship is about partnership and partnership is about participation. What is so odd about the way the more divisive among us view fellowship is not about partnership at all but about doctrine. It isn’t about gospeling together but about who believes what. What puts you in fellowship is what you believe on a whole slew of issues. Believe wrong on one of those and you are “out of fellowship.” There are certainly beliefs that put you outside of the Christian faith but it is not on any and every issue, again refer to Paul. More on that in a moment. But in the New Testament fellowship presumes presence. You cannot disfellowship someone you aren’t united with and participating with in the Gospel. You are not really in fellowship with someone you aren’t present with. You may be in some ontological/existential way – but not in the same way the biblical writers typically envisioned it.

God wants His people to be united and that unity doesn’t come from a checklist of 100 doctrines that fit the predetermined pattern. That unity comes from the Spirit. If there is some sort of existential use of fellowship that goes beyond the local congregation and believers you actually know it is the unity that the Spirit brings to the universal people of God. The Spirit’s checklist is not the same checklist that I see people using today on who is “in fellowship” and who is not. I know that because I believe the Spirit inspired Paul to write what he wrote and so Paul and the Spirit are in agreement on this – that we don’t draw lines of fellowship around things that the Bible itself, through the inspiration of the Spirit who brings unity, didn’t draw Himself.

What lines does the Spirit draw in the Word the Spirit inspired? When lines of fellowship are drawn in the New Testament they are usually drawn around morality issues rather than doctrinal issues. When they are drawn around doctrinal issues they are drawn around the very basic core essentials of the Christian faith (like Jesus is Lord) and not a litany of tradition and prooftexts. This is interesting because I have known people who lived horrible lives but were dedicated Christians because they followed the pattern of the New Testament teaching. The lines are drawn in all the wrong places because they aren’t drawn where the Bible itself draws them. People get more concerned over someone being wrong on instrumental music than they do that someone is a glutton or having an affair. It is as if the moral issue can be forgiven but the doctrinal cannot and so the lines are drawn.

The path forward is to only draw the same lines we see drawn in scripture and yes, there are lines in scripture. This is, of course, only important if you want to be biblical!

There is a really poignant visualization in the Bible that I’ve learned in Divinity School after four decades plus of being churched. A picture of a thousand sentiments in one single, finger-snap shot. It is the image of the Imago Dei, of which the literal definition is “image of God.” If we are to hold high regard for the Genesis account, we read in 1:27 that “God created man in his own image.” Just fathom the gravity of those words. Humanity is not a prototype of God, but rather made in the image of the Creator. This isn’t cookie-cutter business. God is not the
cutter and whereby we are the dough where God’s edges cut through. That would imply a replica, or copy, which would be beyond incredible in itself. No, God ensures we would know we are actually, physically, metaphysically, emotionally, and spiritually made in God’s own image. This is a seven-word description to stop us in our tracks.

Because if we are feeling the essence of the Imago Dei, we have a giant reason not to doubt our worth. Because if we are reeling inside of the Imago Dei, we have an ordained gift to show up as our full, authentic selves. Because if we truly believe what is written, we will roll in the Imago Dei imagery like a happy, panting dog in the summer mud. And if we adhere to the language as writ, we will treat everyone as if they too are made in the image of God. We will not, not, judge another human by their skin tone, background, religious preferences, culture, or country of birth. Let us bring the birthplace of Creation, the Word of God, the womb of Genesis into our own hearts so that we may indeed treat one another as equals.

By Audrey, 10th grade, and Halie, 9th Grade,

4th and College Church of Christ, Cordell, OK

 

“What is a good person?”  I get asked this question all the time. When asked, a few people come to mind. Patty Doran, or as she’s known by myself and the rest of the 4th and College Youth, Gigi, is one of those people. She was one of our small group leaders that would spend time with us every Wednesday, and every year she came with us to Winterfest, a huge youth rally in Arlington. Gigi is the very definition of a “good person”. She’s someone who shows love, peace, joy, kindness, patience, goodness, and, most importantly, faithfulness to our God, despite the situation. She’s a person who is not judgmental and holds no grudges against others, but she walks in forgiveness and understanding of anyone she meets. She’s a woman who is so strong, she can bring happiness and prosperity to any person she comes across. Gigi has shown me that there is something living inside of me, and that I’m on this earth for a purpose.

Gigi had to leave us, because she had to move in with her daughter because of her health. If I’ve learned anything from this woman it’s this, “Forget the mistakes of the past, and press on to the achievements of the future.” I will end with this. She’s a woman who is faithful to her faith, and she’s not scared of the future. “We are constantly seeking for answers, we are constantly chasing after the things that cause us pain, when we realize that He has already written our fate, and that within the outcome of every situation a blessing will gradually come to light.”

Farewell, Gigi, we love you!

In times past the transcendent God above made moves to show his immanence or closeness in the world and to the world. We see this in the creation of the universe (Gen 1:2) and especially in the breathing of the breath of life into Adam’s lifeless body in Gen 2:7 (both expressed as ruach – spirit). We see this at Sinai (Exo 19). We see this in the incarnation (enfleshment) of Jesus where God doesn’t just come close to humanity, rather, He becomes part of humanity (John 1:14). But the place where the transcendent God becomes immanent is most deeply personal and powerful to us today is through the indwelling presence of the Spirit in the lives of believers.

To think that the Holy, exalted God of the heavens would come down and become flesh in the incarnation of Jesus, the Christ, is a difficult thing to begin to comprehend. Just as difficult is the very Spirit of the transcendent God coming and making His home not just with us (as in Immanuel – “God with us”) but in us (and no I don’t know the Hebrew for that!).

When you become a Christian you become a jar of clay with a treasure inside (2 Cor 4:7). Your very existence changes. Your body still faces decay but the deposit for a better, resurrection, future has already been made and placed in you and sealed on you. As Paul would say in Christ you are a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). What makes us new creation is similar to what made the old creation – the Spirit of God hovering over the waters. The Spirit of God stirs in us and makes His home in us. I think this is why Jesus said in the Gospel of John that he would depart but send the Spirit and that we would do greater things than Jesus did – because the Spirit is in us empowering us and advocating to the Father on our behalf (Jhn 14:12).

If you are in Christ you are separating yourself from the realm of the flesh and intertwining yourself in the realm of the Spirit. This means everything changes. Your desires change. Your life changes. Your relationships change. Your outlook changes. Even the fruit your life produces changes from what is in line with and consistent with the flesh to what is consistent with the Holy Spirit. What you once counted as most important is now counted as loss and what you once had no regard for now becomes the core of your being.

Praise God for His indescribable gift…the gift of the Holy Spirit! If the church will invest more study, thought, prayer and reliance on the Spirit we will become a more graceful body of believers as well as a group more effective than we have ever been before. It all goes back to recognizing the work that God is doing not just around us, as we often point out, but even inside of us!

Pepperdine Bible lectures, now known as Harbor, concluded this past weekend and the audio is now up in itunes. The theme was on “The Spirit Filled People of God” and the classes were excellent. I would like to highlight the keynotes in particular: Rick Atchley, Don McLaughlin and Josh Ross. Their lectures were life-changing and have already impacted my daily routine. There were other keynotes that I am sure were equally good but I wasn’t able to attend them or listen to them yet. Check those out too! I would also recommend Don McLaughlin’s classes as well as Scot McKnight’s. Houston Heflin taught a very practical class “Pray Like You Breathe” on Breath Prayer (that is also the title of his very helpful book that came out last year). I hesitate to mention my own class but I believe the material I covered on Social Media has the potential to transform a lot of our more difficult online conversations. I talked about the psycho-somatic, spiritual and emotional factors that combine with the social media platform itself to make conversation difficult and then talked about how this creates the perfect resistance to make online conversation a spiritual discipline and how to go about it as such (currently audio #98).

Here is the link. I hope you enjoy this virtual, free library of resources on the Holy Spirit.