It is delightfully humorous to us that our humble Bible Studies should be read and used by so many of God's chosen on the Internet. We had nothing like this in view when we wrote them. Rather, we just found ourselves with these big juicy steaks we decided to cook up for our friends out of the bounty of the Word of the Lord.
With "tongue in cheek"--switching metaphors from meat to fish--and completely out of context, the verse comes to mind where Jesus yells to Simon and Nathanael in the boat:John 21:6 (NIV) He said, "Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some." When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.In the early 90's the internet was much different than it is now, and we went into this Internet ministry with full battle armor, expecting a firefight. And this has certainly happened, but what we did not expect were the hugs.
The first person who asked for "fellowship" on the 'net, I thought was a loon. "The 'net is a mission field, not a fellowship," I thought to myself. Turned out it was a deaf pastor, and we have been much encouraged by him and dozens of others. If you had told us this could happen ten years ago, we would have never believed it.
At first, we saw the surprisingly sweet fellowship among believers on the Internet as miracles just for us--sort of like a table being spread in front of us in the presence of our enemies. But now we are beginning to wonder why we Christians do so well on the 'net? Is it because the place is so dark?
I am inclined to think that there is something more fundamental. On the 'net, it is nearly IMPOSSIBLE to regard each other "after the flesh". In "real life" fellowship, here is Joe with b.o., and Suzy Rich, and Oscar Overweight, and Polly Popular. We had thought we have made great progress in this area, but our experience on the 'net shows us there is much more. We find a life and fellowship on the Internet that is embarrassing to admit. Who would have thought? Who would have believed it? Why can't we do this well in person? Perhaps this is good training for the real thing... in which we have failed so much and so often. Here is a praise, here is a question, here is a correction--and we must deal with it thus, and the Spirit is able to pierce through beyond mere characters floating on a screen.
As to the nature of fellowship, there is the carnal--where we are "just men" with the predictable fruit of that, and then there is the life of Christ with its predictable fruit.
The only true fellowship to be had--through any means--is with the "church within the church", the living, dynamic, miraculous dance of faith choreographed by God himself. This "body" transcends our best efforts to pin it down. John 3:8 says ALL those who are born again will be of this "wind". Our job is to discern it, plug into it, and submit to it. But we must look with spiritual eyes, not carnal.
And such fellowship can be had even in a limited medium like the 'net by the power of the Holy Spirit.
If and when we actually discover (or rather are grafted in) the REAL body of Christ, often the temptation is to mistake it for revival or something "new" rather than seeing it as stretching back to Jesus' John 17 prayer.
There is this 2000-year-old John 17 "fellowship" that has been going on since Jesus prayed his "Lord's prayer". If you happen to be so graced as to be "swept into" it, it is beyond the ability of anyone to ask or think or dream... or even describe! It IS and HAS BEEN the SURE answer to Jesus' John 17 prayer. To suggest otherwise is to say that the Father did not answer Jesus' prayer. So it is not "new", we just find in actuality what we knew in doctrine ought to be so.
Phil 2:1-2 (NIV) If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.This is the on-going miracle of the life of Christ. For real, here and now. To REALLY get caught up into it is grace upon grace. To merely talk about it, study it, even hope for it is another thing entirely.
Fleshly assessments, descriptions, and questions do not map well onto this. Thus, we should not accept as ordinate: carnal "fellowship", Spiritless "church", gung-ho "works" of the flesh, and the death of hope for better.
And who that has ever tasted of that goodness, of the miracle of real fellowship, of divine love and the fruit of the Spirit--could ever for a moment accept the charade of what passes more formally as "church". Better to fall in the dust and weep at how far we have fallen from the glory of God, than accuse God of being responsible for such.
But there are a few whom God has ruined for such fleshly machinations and carnal imitations of the walk of the Spirit. Most--let us be honest here--have little hunger or thirst for God, being satisfied with the status quo. Many are satisfied with the paltry blips of spirituality that splash us in the odd moment.
But God has worked poverty in the spirits of a few, and so they are blessed. A few are panting in desperation for God.
And just when you think you are alone, God will send you such a one as to stir the coals of your heart for the things above. One in whom there is no guile. One who comes "in the name of the Lord".
2 Cor 13:5 (NAS) Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is IN YOU--unless indeed you fail the test?With all these observations, we look forward to the future with an abandon that is fixed on the hope of glory of being included more fully in Christ--and with him in us--in the days to come.
We stand with the common determination to have God, or else. Are you with us in this?
This is the basis of our fellowship, on the 'net or anywhere. All else is a religious exercise of futility.
How can one instill or inspire such a longing for God? Only the Holy Spirit can do this to self-satisfied man.
"O God, save us in the Highest Way! Restore to us the joy of our salvation and the delight of the dance of the easy yoke. Let us enter in to the rest offered us, and cease from our own work. For without you, O Lord, we are without hope. Thank you for foiling our plans and revealing our depravity and need. As we live in the light of your exposure, grant us the true, real fellowship you promised. Give us the love for each other that is not based in human effort, but by your very feelings being imparted to us. Heal us, our God, for we call upon your name."