Who are you?

A Church in Formation

If you consider yourself a Christian, then you have been set apart for something greater. I, in no way mean greater prosperity. I mean something holy.

You are a saint not because you do holy things, rather, the things you do are holy because God has prepared them for you. (Ephesians 2:10)

At Abel House Church, we are trying to recognize those things that God has set apart for us to do. We believe in encouraging one another to do things that He has for and to be the people he has designed us to be.

This isn’t about method.

Consider the following quote:

WE are constantly on a stretch, if not on a strain, to devise new methods, new plans, new organizations to advance the Church and secure enlargement and efficiency for the gospel. This trend of the day has a tendency to lose sight of the man or sink the man in the plan or organization. God’s plan is to make much of the man, far more of him than of anything else. Men are God’s method. The Church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men. Edward M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer (Selected Works on Prayer; Accordance electronic ed. Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 1999), n.p.

This is about our identity in Jesus.

For those of us that are saved, we are a new creature. We have been born again. (2 Cor 5:17, John 3:7) What exactly does that mean?

Our faith isn’t something that we adopt, or wear, or even accept. It is a transforming event that is ushered into our life. It changes us into something new that can’t be changed.

Spring Revival

A Church in Formation

This post originally appeared on Sue Livingston’s website Mulling Time. It is republished here with permission.

I knew it when, in early April, I spotted a rug hanging on a line. Now, that is an eye-catching sight nowadays! I do not know how many years it had been since I had seen a patterned, room-sized rug stretched along a line for beating. Such a sight in Winter Springs, Florida, is even more arresting than it would be in a rural area. Clotheslines and clothes hanging on them to dry are not allowed in my upscale neighborhood. For that reason, the rug was stretched atop a zip-line cable strung between two trees with the pulley hanging down on one end. The pines would have supported a thrilling death slide ride, but the rug hung level in the April breeze. Perfect! That breeze carried the smell of first-mowing grass, of early spring petunias and vines, and sunshine, along with the memory of an ancient rite—spring cleaning—and a mulling time.

While my children and grandchildren probably think I can recall the beginnings of the rite of spring housecleaning—raking out and replacing the straw that caught all the winter’s filth above dirt floors—I cannot. But I do remember helping my grandmother spread quilts on her Alabama lawn in spring’s sunshine and gardenia-scented breezes to rid them of their musty odor of fireplace and dust and cold. While I mostly watched, she and one of the lady tenants on the farm also scoured fireplaces and hearths, closets, kitchen cabinets, and outdoor sheds; washed, starched, and ironed curtains, doilies, linen tablecloths and napkins, and the lace curtains that hung on the French doors between the dining and living rooms; swept the walls, ceilings, baseboards, and floors; dusted and polished every plank of wood in the house; shined windows until they squeaked; and mended everything that needed a run through her foot-pedaled Singer sewing machine. When the re-freshening storm had ended, every item in her home had a designated place, and it sparkled as it occupied that place. It’s amazing that we all survived the spring cleaning rituals she imposed!

Granny was almost as deliberate and demanding as the squirrel I watched prepare her nest for the new season and her growing family all day one early spring. The eastern gray tree squirrel wife, almost certainly anxious to be ready for birthing and baby-squirrel rearing, had made the all-too-human kind of mistake of marrying a gray squirrel husband that did not share her determination to have a perfect home place. As I watched, she frantically gathered leaves and twigs from below our hardwood trees into small piles and then looked around for the masculine help she needed to transport the materials up the twenty-five-plus feet of pine tree to the shaggy nest she wanted remodeled from the year before.

She did find husband squirrel—over and over again. She would locate him shuffling in the fallen leaves near the lake, run toward him, and pull out every nagging stop: barks, chirps, buzzes, and high-pitched cat-like calls. I was accustomed to squirrel chatter, but this had wife tone, and he recognized it. Her distress was not expressed in intruder-warning or out-of-food barks such as I had heard when hawks flew over or the feeder was empty; her distress was expressed at duration and decibel levels deliberately set to become his distress. Thirty seconds after she began her chatter, he was climbing that pine with sticks in his mouth.

Then the problem became that on his next trip down the tree, he forgot the mission she had assigned him or remembered his personal mission down by the lake, and he disappeared again. His forgetfulness was seen and raised several fold by her determination. From early morning to late evening, the gray squirrel couple danced their spring cleaning dance. Once, he even hid around the deck corner, deep in shadows, only to be found and berated. By evening, the nest was ready for occupancy, or at least up to the squirrel wife’s domestic standards, and she moved in to raise her first litter of the year.

Granny’s purposefulness and the gray squirrel’s matching single-mindedness to inventory, clear out, spring clean, refurbish their homes are duplicated throughout all nature because they are necessary for all God’s creation to thrive. Of even greater importance than taking care of our abodes, though, is taking care of our spiritual lives.

Some religions and cultures actually set aside specific holidays, rituals, or holy days for the purpose of inner spiritual reflection, inventory, and renewal. The Holiest Day of the Jewish year is Yom Kippur. As part of observing Yom Kippur that day and in the days leading up to it, Jews take spiritual and relational inventory for sinful or unbecoming behavior. They seek to make amends for their behavior, and then they seek forgiveness from those they have injured and from God. (At least that is what I understand as a Christian, and I apologize if I have mangled this explanation.) I love the idea of that ritual not because it values works but because it serves to remind participants of the value of relationships among believers and God.

Many other cultures have like customs, such as the Chinese New Year Festival, which combines thorough cleaning practices with relationship care, but besides our resolution-making-and-breaking New Year celebration, we American Christians do not have a season or even a day designated for considering, pitching the bad, cleaning the good, and refurbishing our relationships with others and with God, our inner lives. I call for one!

With the arrival of spring, we all would benefit from a look at our customs of worship and a survey of our relationships with those among whom we worship such as my Bible study pastor recently triggered. Following that personal inventory, we should make the changes identified as enhancements to our spiritual experiences and reflective of the foundations of our belief. He has suggested that our group move from a formal, church-building-centered, Wednesday-night Bible study that we have long enjoyed to a home-centered, family-like Bible study that will encourage the application of what we learn in the Word to our personal relationships with other believers and, we hope, attract to our group those who desire the love of Christ and His followers. Saying that he “cannot explain the importance of the journey we are embarking on” and that “a change is a-coming,” he has sought our input as a family of students. Yes! His idea is a step toward answering my call.

Whether or not his particular idea will work remains to be discovered. If it does, we have much to anticipate of fellowship and study leading to spiritual growth. If it does not, we have the spring-cleaning model. What I sense now is the excitement of revival. Any homemaker will agree (including Granny and gray squirrel wife, I am sure) that the work of rethinking, re-evaluating, remaking is ongoing. Stay tuned for reports as spring becomes summer and on and on.

Change Is A-Coming

A Church in Formation

When the leader of our Northland Church Letters of Paul Bible Study recently proposed changing our traditional Bible study class to a home church Bible study class, the atmosphere in the meeting room grew charged. The lights seemed suddenly brighter, the soft hum of the electronics suddenly louder, the air suddenly cooler. Most of us sat with all senses sharpened to everything around us as if an alarm had been sounded—because an alarm had been sounded. Robert had introduced the possibility of change.

Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus, all the way back five hundred years before Christ, espoused the idea that change is central to the universe. Since his time, philosophers and writers in every century have reiterated that idea. We all experience change daily and recognize it. Why, then, does it alarm us so?

Those of us here at Northland should be especially able to embrace change or at least sigh with resignation when it is announced because shaking things up is Northland tradition! We should be accustomed to doing things new ways. We should be confident that the changes will be Bible-centered. We should know that we will have a considered voice and, if desired, a role to play. And we are and do. So what is with this home-church alternative that disturbs us? And how do we move to embrace it?

A home church, as I understand it, involves its members in Bible-centered activities, such as study and prayer, and in relationship building within what becomes a close Christian family. We already had the Bible study and prayer; what we were lacking is the closeness of family-type relationships with each other.

Why would moving toward such a family-type relationship disturb us? After thinking about what I felt in my alarm and what I heard others voice in their alarm, I think it may be our fears of sharing our personal lives and homes (if we move occasionally to other homes), of losing our anonymity, of transparency, or of inadequacy in spiritual maturity or in Bible knowledge, or of all those fears! We have been comfortable, relaxed, intimate only in the Bible study part of the class. Now, we will have more intimacy regarding personal as well as spiritual lives, even eating together—one of the most basic of all relationship experiences.

In my alarm at Robert’s announcement, I immediately thought, “But I don’t cook!” Another member said, “Our house is too small!” Someone else was concerned that there would be a chair problem, a parking problem, a décor problem. Then, I thought of those concerns that were not my own: “We would be a family! No problem! We don’t have to go to everyone’s house; we don’t mind sitting on lawn chairs, we can park and meet and ride together, we are there for each other, not to judge a house or décor!” And then I realized that if those other concerns are not insurmountable, my not cooking may not be insurmountable either. I may be able to conquer the problem by depending on Publix or Panera or any number of grab-and-go gourmet shops!

And for those worried about their lack of Bible knowledge or their inadequacy in spiritual maturity, isn’t that why we sought out a class? Aren’t we there to learn? Isn’t to “take our ordinary life . . . and place [it] before God” with other maturing Christians how we grow in spiritual maturity?

Aren’t changes that contribute to knowledge and maturity to be sought, celebrated, appreciated? If we must accept that change is inevitable, that it “is a-coming,” shouldn’t we most desire being with family—people committed to Christ and to us and to care of others—when it comes?

Being in a Family of Families

A Church in Formation

I mull ideas because I am often confused. I need to spend time with them before I move either toward or away from them. When invited by Pastor Joel Hunter and Bible study leader Robert Johnson to join a family of families, my first question was Why? Why would I want to join more family? To discover the why, I had to mull other questions and what I know of families.

What is a family? The word family is from an old noun from the 1400s or so with its origin in Latin: Familia meant “servants in a household,” probably not the way anyone thinks of family today. That original meaning, though, fits well with the way it is used at Northland as we think of ourselves as servants to each other and to the Lord.

The Latin use of familia rarely had to do with the idea of parents and their children. The expansion of the word to include a head-of-household and everyone in the household, sometimes even temporary lodgers, too, came about a century later. Again, I can see the application to our church body with God as the Head and His Word as the governing document.

Not until another century had passed, however, did the word family come to mean parents and their children even if they did not dwell in a household together. Once that milestone was reached, the idea of family expanded again to include all the descendants of one progenitor, thus aunts, uncles, cousins, and any blood relation became part of a family. That idea may not quite fit with our idea of God as Creator Father rather than progenitor or biological father. But, as explained by Dr. Dan Lacich in The Provocative God: Radical Things God Has Said and Done, being made in God’s image means:

We are the most tangible expression of God that most people will ever see.

Making us (to my thinking) what others will see and think of God, just as we reflect our blood parents and family to the world.

Thus, by the mid-1600s, family had taken much of the meaning it has today. When I work on genealogy, I am astonished by the size of my biological family. I have found and confirmed almost 8,000 DNA/blood-related family members, and I have hardly begun to discover All My Parents (the name for my genealogical research). Why, then, do I need more family? As a child of God, how much vaster can my family become?

The Why would I want to join more family? question becomes even more relevant when I look at what I know of families. While waiting in line outside 4Rivers recently, Don and I were passed by a couple who looked to be in their prosperous 60s. They were meeting someone ahead in the line. They went to the inside queue only to return seconds later, clearly disappointed, to join us in the long line after discovering that the people they were meeting had already ordered and were near to cashing out.

We soon learned that the couple were grandparents visiting here for a grandson’s high school graduation. They had attended the ceremony at UCF and then wended their way through the usual noon Central Florida traffic all the way to 4Rivers in Winter Park, apparently falling a bit behind their family who knew the way well. I felt my brow furrow.

When I asked what the grandson plans to do next year, Grandmother replied that he will attend a small college up north. When I, an interested retired educator, inquired further at his going so far to such a small school, she said his brother was already there, and “I am the mother-in-law and have no say.” She did not need to say anything more for me to know immediately that the grandson is the son of her son. I, too, am the mother of sons. Enough said for Don and me to realize the family dynamics. More brow furrowing.

At least fifteen minutes later, the couple joined their son’s family who had almost finished eating the graduation celebration meal without them. I saw them all leave shortly, grandparents with carry-out bags in hand. Then, as now, I mulled the situation and asked, Why did the family not be sure to lead the grandparents out of the UCF chaos to the restaurant or even ride with them? Why did the family not wait to get in line until the grandparents were there?

Why did the grandparents bother to come to Central Florida to join that family at all?

The only logical answer to that last question is Family Love. I know how I feel about the rascals (what I call our three Winter-Springs-based grandchildren) even as I have experienced moments when they were (shocking to hear, I am sure) rude or unfeeling or unthinking. I know how I feel about their parents and our other children who also have been, at times, ill-mannered, impolite, discourteous, even dishonorable. Yes, I admit that also in our much-loved extended family, we have had disputes, dissension, discord, perhaps, to tell the truth, most often when something was going on that involved great expectations for agreement, accord, harmony, peace, something like a graduation ceremony. But I know how I feel about them all.

Why do I continue to want life only as it exists with my family when I experience that discord? Why do I continue to count on them when they have failed me in some way? Why do they continue to be with me after ill-mannered times? Why do they continue to count on me when I have failed them in some way? The answer is that family smooth those rough times with a balm of love and care.

Burt's Wax

Then, the explanation for love’s balm lies in our being made in the image of God. As Pastor Joel has pointed out from the Scriptures, God’s attributes include love and forgiveness. We count on Him to grant us grace, love, forgiveness when we have failed Him. In our families, whether biological or servant, as Christians we who were made in His image must follow the ways of the Father. To be like God means rejoicing in joining with others of God’s family in love, fellowship, support, encouragement, help, validation, and reminders of grace, forgiveness, and salvation through Jesus Christ. That’s why I want to accept the invitation to be in the Abel House family.

A New Revolution

A Church in Formation

I graduated from a Southern California high school in 1964. During the following seven years, until the summer of 1971, various cultural revolutions shook our society to its roots. A political revolution reigned on many college campuses protesting the Vietnam War and the draft, a sexual revolution made a disastrous imprint on relationships, a psychedelic drug revolution caused many to lose their grip on reality, and the civil rights revolution exploded with urban riots. Also, the countercultural flower power of the hippie lifestyle served as a driving force for this whole period.

My own multifarious experiences while being caught up in these revolutionary activities left me exhausted, morally bankrupt, and searching for answers. I thank God that there was another revolution, one that, for me, eventually led to a totally changed life.

When the June 21, 1971, issue of Time Magazine hit the U.S. newsstands, the nation’s readers learned about this different kind of revolution.1 The cover of the magazine featured a hippiefied portrait in glowing colors of Jesus Christ. This startling illustration highlighted the issue’s lead story: “The Jesus Revolution” — a revolution that began in San Francisco and Los Angeles and was then influencing lives across the country.

jesus_time

In this cover story, Time reporters wrote of Jesus People on Hollywood Boulevard “witnessing for Christ with breathless exhortations”; of Christian coffeehouses opening in many cities; of strip joints being converted into Christian nightclubs; and of communal Christian houses popping up around the country. The magazine displayed color photos of mass baptisms along the California coast, hippies in hands-raised Pentecostal bliss, and a circle of praying athletes in the middle of a high school football field.

These same reporters seemed taken aback as they wrote about the movement’s young people having a “total belief in an awesome, supernatural Jesus Christ, not just a marvelous man who lived 2000 years ago but a living God who is both Savior and Judge…their lives revolving around the necessity for an intense personal relationship with that same Jesus….”

At that same time, I found what was, for me, living proof that “Jesus Christ, is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) when I stumbled into a meeting of Pentecostal believers at the Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California. There, in the winter of 1973, I whispered to Jesus to take control of my life. Later that year, I visited friends in Central Florida who begged me to escape California and come to start a new life with them in friendly, calmer (and hotter!) Central Florida.

At their urging, I moved from California to Orlando in 1974 and found a city seemingly vibrant with Christian activity. I felt the city experiencing its own Jesus Revolution as the downtown area was home to several Christian coffeehouses and two family-owned Christian bookstores, Logue’s Bible Bookstore and Long’s Christian Books, places vying for the opportunity to sell Bibles, tracts (remember the Four Spiritual Laws?), and the latest popular Christian books (remember The Late, Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsay?), while simply welcoming believers to hang out.

The Orlando area had always been home to active churches and their institutionalized ministries supplemented by popular parachurch organizations such as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the Navigators, Youth for Christ, Teen Challenge, and Campus Crusade for Christ. These organizations added conferences, workshops, publications, concerts, evangelistic tools, and programs (remember Campus Crusade for Christ’s “I Found It!” campaign?) that kept the area stirring with Christ-centered activities.

In that atmosphere before I arrived in Orlando, four or five couples had felt they were not being spiritually fed by their large, institutionalized churches. Starving for genuine fellowship and a type of expository Bible teaching that had been introduced to them by Campus Crusade for Christ, these couples had accepted an invitation from Howard Powell, a local professional photographer, to attend a Sunday night Bible study in his red barn in Chuluota’s ranch country east of Orlando.

There, in the midst of a pasture of gentle Brahman bulls, the people in this study expressed a mutual longing to know Jesus Christ more personally and a desire to be filled with, walk in, and live by the power of the Holy Spirit each day. This group also shared a concern for the needs of others, especially in bringing the lost to a saving faith in Jesus.

The group began to consider starting a non-denominational, Bible-teaching church that would be open to anyone willing to attend. As this was during the Jesus People era of long hair and informal dress (What? No shoes in church?), it was the group’s desire to begin a church that would feel welcoming and comfortable for all, a church like none other in the Orlando area.

When it came time to chose a name, a member suggested “Circle” because of the church’s all-encompassing New Testament emphasis and the habit of often meeting informally, grouped in circles in barns, converted garages, and members’ homes. In those early years, while Circle Community Church was forming in Orlando, several members of the originating group became interested in starting a similar non-denominational church closer to where they lived in Seminole County north of Orlando. This group appropriately named itself “Northland” and bought the old rat-infested Skate City roller rink on Dog Track Road in Longwood in 1972 as a permanent meeting place.

Back in Orlando, I became an enthusiastic member of Circle Community Church where, being unconditionally loved and accepted by the body of believers, I began to grow in Christ and learn about the riches of His eternal salvation. Circle’s main emphasis was teaching believers how to walk by faith in the Holy Spirit day-by-day and minute-by-minute. The women of Circle were particularly aggressive in taking this teaching to other women’s groups in churches throughout Central Florida.

Detailed histories of Circle Community Church and Northland2, A Church Distributed, are available on their respective websites. Here I would like to recall some experiences of meeting in homes back in those early days, which I call the Orlando Jesus Revolution of the early 1970s.

Early Home Church Experiences

  1. Getting started with food. Food was important as an early icebreaker, especially for people new to the group. People with food hung out in kitchens, dining rooms, living rooms, and outside patios getting to know each other. If some didn’t want to talk, they could just sit, eat, and listen.

  2. Cleaning up, setting up (and tearing down). Everyone eventually learned how everyone else’s house worked and how to take a kind of ownership of the place. By participating, I learned to follow the lead of more mature believers in actively looking for jobs to do and then doing them—and then getting the teenagers and younger kids involved, of course!

  3. Guitars and copied song lyrics. A guitar always leaned in the corner of the living room, and usually someone there knew how to strum it on some level. A stack of worn-out stapled copies of hymns and popular choruses (Gaither music!) were a necessity. It was there that I learned to “sing” by moving my mouth in sync with the guy sitting next to me who could really sing.

  4. Extra Bibles of various translations. Back then, having different translations was new. Discovering Tyndale’s The Living Bible was enlightening as were the Amplified Bible and the JB Phillips New Testament. Used Bibles and books were available on loan or give-away to visitors and new believers.

  5. Personal testimonies and transparency. I loved hearing personal testimonies of God’s working in others’ lives for salvation, answers to prayer, and dealing with personal struggles. That was where a sensitive, mature leader was necessary to set time limits and gently guide those who were sharing sometimes personal subject matter.

  6. Special guests. We were frequently blessed by guests from various ministries and missionary organizations who shared with us God’s working in the community and around the world. We “adopted” a Campus Crusade for Christ staffer from Finland, Kahlevi Lehtinen. He and his family blessed us time and time again with testimonies and biblical insights.

  7. Helping others. Getting a handle on the special needs of the community at large and the local body of Christ was an important part of ministry. Then we had opportunities to participate together in being a part of God’s outreach to others.

  8. Something not done: communion. We never administered communion, the Lord’s Supper, in our home settings, maybe because the leadership viewed that as an official function of the church involving a more institutionalized setting. I would love, however, to do this more often in the informal setting of a house church.

These are some of the experiences I had in house churches over 40 years ago. Now, in 2015, we attenders of Wednesday night Bible study at Northland are challenged to be part of another revolution inspired by our leader Robert Johnson and his wonderful, eclectic family. We will be forming ourselves—or we will be allowing God to form us—into a new house church, an extension of Northland: Abel House.

Our experiences will likely be different, but I’m excited. I feel that God is bringing us back to the roots of the early church, back to barns, raggedy sheets of praise music, and heartfelt testimonies. Folks, I’m more than ready for another revolution, and I think Jesus is, too.


  1. Information about the June 21, 1973, edition of Time magazine (quotes from pages 52-54) originated in the book God’s Forever Family: The Jesus People Movement in America by Larry Eskridge (Oxford University Press 2013). 
  2. See http://www.circlechurch.org/about-circle/our-history/ and http://www.northlandchurch.net/articles/history/ sites for further historical background on Circle Community Church and Northland, A Church Distributed. 

Abel House Launched!

A Church in Formation

Abel House is launched! After waiting four weeks (during which we mentioned every time we ran into each other somewhere else that we missed Bible study), on Wednesday evening, May 27, we finally gathered together again as the church at Robert and Lindsay’s home.

Those who had worshiped at house churches in the past must have felt a sense of déjà vu, of real homecoming. Those of us who had not met at house churches in the past still realized the feeling of homecoming because of memories of our own family gatherings.

When I or any one of my six siblings walked into our parents’ home, we did not slow down before we were around the corner, through the dining room, and into the kitchen where Mother was, hands busy with preparation for feeding us stilled long enough to hug us. Guess our path when we entered Abel House—straight through the dining room and into the kitchen!

Several stood there, chatting, hands busy, catching up with Bible study family not seen for a month and completing preparations for the homecoming meal, for our communion time. Others congregated in the dining room and in the family room to cement the community, the sense of a family of families.

After a short program of shared Scripture reading and prayer, we had a feast! Near the end of the evening, a question arose whether or not we would continue to have the communion meal each week. The response in favor of continuing it was near unanimous. And no wonder considering all the delicious food shared!

For this first time together, of the activities Don wrote about last week in “A New Revolution,” we focused on eating and fellowship for about half the time and Scripture and purpose of the study the other half. The fellowship part was easy in the home atmosphere. We met new people and learned more about those with whom we have studied for years more effortlessly than we could have in our former more formal setting. To say we drew closer is to understate the matter!

During the second half of the evening, we focused on Luke 24:13-36. As we began our preparation for studying the prophets, we had Jesus’s own words supporting the importance of the prophesies “concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (NASB).

Our closing prayer time refocused us on our personal dependence on a relationship with Christ and with each other. I can hardly wait to reconvene next week at the same time, in the same place, with the same people and others to worship God and to study the prophets. We are launched!

Changing Through Prayer

A Church in Formation

I know no place I would rather be on a rainy Wednesday evening than at Abel House. I find friends there, definitely snug, gathered around Robert’s father’s table with the rain’s sound lost beneath chatter, its fresh smell overcome by the aromas of peaches and cinnamon, pasta and fried chicken, pea soup and beans in vinegary broth, and chocolate. As the chatter gives way to prayer, I relax into communion with God and the others through thanksgiving and a shared meal.

Although we have always prayed at Bible study and Abel House gatherings, Robert has recently combined our prayer life and another facet of our Abel House mission—our life of service to each other. Formerly, when prayer requests were solicited, we seemed reticent to make them, perhaps because we were already praying privately for those we judged to be in need of prayer or perhaps because we thought the prayer for unspoken requests adequately covered all situations. Only rarely did we request prayers of gratitude for God’s splendid gifts. And though it was valuable time spent gaining knowledge of each other, we did spend more of the prayer time explaining the background of the requests than we did in actual prayer to answer them.

Then, one recent Wednesday evening, Robert distributed to each of us an index card, a bold, felt-tipped marker, and instructions to write a prayer request for ourselves personally and individually. Having made assignments to students to start writing what they were thinking hundreds if not thousands of times only to see them spend several minutes just doodling or finding other ways to avoid beginning, I was surprised to see almost all those in the room start immediately to write a thanksgiving, perhaps for what God had already done in their lives, or a supplication, perhaps for God’s intervention, continued love, grace, or help.

We wrote and then sat there with poised markers for the next instructions: Write a prayer request for someone else close to you—not for the sister-in-law of someone at work who has cancer (though that is a prayer that should be prayed) but for someone whose well-being or joy is important to you. Again, markers penned heartfelt pleas—just as they do when the prison ministers distribute prayer cards for requests at the various correctional facilities in Central Florida. We do all need prayer for ourselves and for those we love, no matter where we are at the time of petition. The cards we covered with requests, some signed and others not, were placed into a 4Rivers paper bag, shaken to stir, and then presented for retrieval.

Two weeks later, we again accepted our index cards and, this time, filled out one prayer request—for ourselves individually only. I guess the request could again be for someone else because the answer to that request would also be for us, but from what I saw, most of us made an immediate-to-mind decision, perhaps because our prayers during the last fortnight had created a change in us as Christians.

No, I do not know that my prayers transformed the life of the gentleman for whom I had prayed all that time, over and over again. I do not know that his wife has had the benefit he requested I petition for her. I, therefore, continue to keep him and her in my frequent prayers.

What I do know is that before the Abel House prayer initiative, I had rarely, if ever, prayed the same specific prayer many times a day for two full weeks in my whole life. Perhaps thinking that God gets it once I have voiced it, I had usually voiced a prayer once. I had mostly prayed for guidance with a problem, the nature of which could and did change not just weekly but, sometimes, hourly. I may have had a putting-out-fires kind of prayer life or a scatter-shot one in which I sent either a quick entreaty or thanksgiving and moved on.

Yes, I did also frequently thank God for whatever was before me—the beauty of the sunset, the joy on a little red-haired sweetie’s face, the bounty of whatever graced my life at the time—but I did not thank God several times a day for one particular moment, person, object that had passed and was no longer straightway before me, for the continuing joy the memory brought me.

For my prayer-request-card friend, I did that. I thanked God for him, for his wife, and for their having found each other. I thanked God for his request and the knowledge and love it evidenced for God and God’s grace. I thanked God for his relationship with his wife and his desire to make himself more worthy of it and her. And I petitioned as requested on his behalf—the pointed, clear, focused petitions he had so boldly declared to be his desire. Repeatedly.

And in the doing of that, in the praying, I changed in my relationships with God and with that Abel House prayer-request friend and with my husband and with myself.

My relationship with God changed because I became more aware of His presence in my life and of His work in the lives of those around me. I became more willing to join with Him in the work I had prayed for Him to do for my prayer-request friend.

My relationship with my prayer-request friend changed because I came to recognize his anguish, his fear, his trust in God, his love for his wife, his gentleness. I came to appreciate him more as a Christian and a husband to his wife. I became concerned for his well-being and more willing to serve him and with him in our Abel House community.

My relationship with my husband changed (though he may not have realized it) when I looked for God’s response in the gentleman’s life but found it in mine! I became aware that He had answered the man’s prayer in my own life by bringing new awareness to me of what is happening in my marriage, by making me ask if it were possible that my husband has those thoughts for me, by revealing answers to my marriage relationship questions, and by revealing possible “husband ideas” of marriage and how insecure a seemingly assured husband can be. I became more willing to serve with him in the couple role we play together.

My relationship with myself changed because my focus changed. I began to look more at the overall picture than at brief moments, single objects, one-time events. I became more patient and more grateful for the whole inclusive of all the details. I, too, recalled my own prayer request—not knowing who had drawn it—and searched my writings for evidence of God’s grace.

But God is not finished with changing me by Robert’s prayer initiatives. This week, I drew again the prayer request of a gentleman who seeks to overcome anguish visible only to him. I am adding my prayers for him to my prayers for the other gentleman. Clearly, I have not learned all the Lord has to teach me about serving Him through my help to and with others with whom He has surrounded me.

Prayer is uniting me with my Abel House family. It is providing me an opportunity to serve them and God. It is revealing them to me. It is changing my life as a Christian. It is uncovering my personal life to me. And it is leading me to be more thankful for what can seem to be negatives, such as the admission that we need help, such as the rain that accompanies us as we move inside to renew our relationships with God and each other in prayer and in Abel House.

Repair

A Church in Formation

A quick story of love and repair.

Broken and in Need of Repair

Our family van is more than 10 years old. That isn’t so bad; I used to drive a 40 year old car. The age isn’t what was bad. Our van had no AC. In Florida, that feels like a death sentence. We pushed through, though it was rough, we thought we would get some respite in the coming winter months. Then the windows stopped working and would not go down. It was bad. Real bad. It was a sauna on wheels.

I finally broke down and mentioned it at Abel House. It was hard for me to mention, you know, “manly” pride and all, getting in the way. I asked for prayer; now the brakes were going bad and the van made a monstrous noise when coming to a stop. I couldn’t afford to get them fixed professionally. I had planned on ordering the parts online, like I did with the radiator, watch some Youtube videos, and replace the brakes myself.

“I know a guy, that owes me some favors.”

That is what someone said Wednesday night as we were crammed in our living room like sardines. They said, “Let’s take it too him, and I am pretty sure we can get those brakes fixed.” “I can’t,” I said. Pride showing itself again. They persisted; I conceded.

While my car was in the shop, that same person let me borrow their second car. AC. Life was never so good. A couple of days passed, and the van was still getting looked at. “Some emergency repairs came up,” and, “I told him to take a look at the AC to see what it would take to get it fixed. Maybe it is something small.” I had already looked at it; it wasn’t small. I was pretty sure that it was the AC clutch, probably more. Not an inexpensive repair.

The Pickup

A few more days passed. Time to pick up the van. Lindsay had her sister take her down to the shop and pick it up. She called me, “THEY FIXED THE AC!” Pure elated excitement. Unbelievable. We didn’t need to pay a thing. Here is the deal, I know that repair was way beyond the aforementioned favors. Truth is, our church rallied around and covered the cost of the repair. This big fat piece of humble pie has never tasted so great.

The Question

The best part of the experience (aside from being able to stop on a dime, and not dying of heat exhaustion) came from telling my daughter that members of our distributed church gifted this repair. She responded with a question.

“Why would they do that?”

I answered immediately, “They love us.

I have been thinking about it all day. Romans 12:9-10 MSG. I know the people that did this. They are profound believers, who “practice playing second fiddle,” not doing it for the recognition, but for the Glory of God.

God’s People

Earlier in the same week, there was a story of someone terrified they might have bone cancer. I cried for them, and while I do tend to cry easy these days, I sobbed for them. Ugly cried. I know what fear is like, and know what it can be like to be crippled in fear. My car troubles can’t even be compared to something like that.

What does this have to do with my van? That person also shared, they don’t have bone cancer. Praise God! If they did happen to have cancer, I know that Abel House would be a place where their burdens would be shared, with people that love them.

Fill It Up!

A Church in Formation

I am frequently reminded that times do change. Refueling the car presents an opportunity for one such reminder. Back in the 1960s when a few other Abel House members and I were learning to drive, the service station experience was quite different from service station experiences today.

Now, most of us notice first a Low Fuel warning indicator on the car’s display. If we ignore it, we hear a warning chime or other digital sound, repeated frequently. By the third or fourth repeat, we are more than ready to find a service station to fuel the car and silence the noise.

At the service station pump, we have jobs to do: Find the charge card, get out of the car and set up the financial transaction using the card, remove the cap from the fuel intake and insert the pump nozzle, dispense the fuel into the car and return the nozzle to the pump, replace the fuel cap and return to the car. Or we might take a few minutes to grab the squeegee and clean the windshield. That’s it.

But refueling was quite different in the olden days. For one thing, in the South Carolina Low Country, we did not call them “service stations”; we called them “filling stations.” Filling stations filled more than gas tanks. And the attendant at the station did the filling.

With no warning lights or chimes, some of us learned to be conscientious about watching the gasoline gauge, but others knew the car was low on fuel when the engine first coughed. Whichever fuel-check method we used, if the weather were cold when we finally drove up to the pump, we rolled the driver’s-side window down to watch the station attendant walk out to the car. If it were warm, we sat in the un-air-conditioned heat and waited with left elbow hanging out that window as he (always a “he”) came.

In Texaco, Esso, and Gulf advertisements of the time, he walked out of the station office dressed in neat slacks, usually khakis; a buttoned-up, long-sleeved, sharply pressed shirt; a tie—even sometimes a bowtie; brown dress shoes; and a crisp, brimmed cap, sometimes with the station’s symbol pinned above the brim.

In real life, the attendant, yanking a dirty rag from the hip pocket of greasy work pants or bibbed overalls and wiping his hands off as he walked out of the service bay, tossed his cigarette to the side and either ambled or hurried, depending on the job he was leaving, toward the car window. If he knew the driver or any family member, pleasantries were exchanged. But most often, he simply tilted his head and took the order: “Fill it up with ethyl.” “Ethyl” was also known as “high test” and both were names for leaded gasoline.

But he did not just refuel the car. He set the pump lever to fill automatically, and then, grease rag in one hand, he popped the hood with the other and leaned under to reach in and come up with the oil stick. He squinted closely at it, wiped it clean with the rag, jiggled it back into the oil reservoir, pulled it out again, squinted more closely at it, and then, saying “It’s a quart low,” walked to the driver’s side window to show the stick to the driver who, knowing what was coming, was thinking, “Oh, no. Not again.” After he had replaced the oil-level stick and jammed the aluminum-colored spout into the oil can and turned it up to gurgle into the oil filler tube, the attendant checked the transmission fluid level for an “automatic” automobile, and, finally, the radiator.

The radiator-check ritual varied as little from visit to visit as did the oil-check ritual. Placing the grease rag over the radiator cap, he carefully twisted the cap off, avoiding any steam released when it opened. He peered into the radiator, walked over to the red, slender water hose next to the gas pump, grabbed it at the greasy spot near the nozzle to haul it over to the radiator, and then filled the radiator to the top.

Next, the attendant performed the tires ritual. Contrary to what may be assumed, he did not kick the tires. Rather, he took a greasy gauge out of a pocket and used it to measure tire pressure in each tire. Low pressure in any tire meant another trip to the service island, this time for the other red slender hose, the one that dispensed air into the leaking tire.

By then, the gasoline pump had probably stopped, so he removed the nozzle and replaced it and the fuel cap, but his job was not over. He then stuffed the grease rag back into his back pants pocket and, using paper towels, washed and polished the windshield. Quickly adding up the tab in his head (with gas at about 30¢ a gallon and water and air free), he stated the price, collected the cash, and made the change—sometimes from a belt coin changer that dispensed pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters when he thumbed down the little plungers on top and sometimes from his pants pocket.

As we drove away, that attendant knew the car from his inspection and from all the other inspections he had made of it in the past. To just filling the car with gasoline, he had added labor and time that resulted in a sense of relief and grace for the driver and passengers.

Remembering the old days and the old ways of a service station visit made me think of the Abel House meeting on September 02. As usual, we gathered in late afternoon light at Robert and Lindsay’s house, carrying our covered dishes and looking forward to an evening of friendly conversation, good food, Bible study, and prayer. And, sure enough, the evening started out as usual with grace around the table and a delicious meal.

But as we gathered in our group, each in his or her accustomed place, the program changed a bit from the customary. That’s one thing I like about Abel House and other regular events at Northland: When events call for us to deviate from the programmed path, we deviate.

Robert started with our Abel House prayer board displayed on the television. He led our way through each of the prayer categories: Prayers Offered for Us, by Us; Prayers Offered for Others, by Us; Prayers for the Long Haul; Praises Offered to God; and Prayers Answered. Then, he led us through the “cards” in each category presented: prayer requests for ourselves, prayer requests for others, prayers partly answered or answered, and praise to God.

As we reviewed the cards, we heard the story behind each. Oftentimes, the person who had posted the card was there in the room and able to explain the situation or report changes, including answers received. The topics we covered leaned toward the problems we face because so often when we think of prayer, we think of what we want God to fix in our lives; we think of God as the attendant there to refill us. In that vein, we became aware of those dying and people around them who need comfort, of illnesses and other health considerations both physical and mental, of concerns with family dynamics faced by all of us who know the pleasures and woes of being in a family. But we also discovered that a possible cancer diagnosis was thankfully not, that a family member seems to have found the right doctor and a path to better mental health, that a housing crisis is slowly being solved, and that help had been offered to relieve a transportation emergency.

Rather than expecting only God to hear them, we listened to the stories behind the cards, and we offered our own personal experiences in affirmation, understanding, joy, grief, or support.

We reached for, cupped, and held in our hands and hearts the concern, pain, joy, or situation. The process was slow, personal, warm, helpful, kind, sympathetic, and loving. We were there as a family, sharing ourselves, our problems, our failures, our hopes, our successes, our humanity that admitted needing others to walk with us.

We followed the inventory of prayer concerns with the addition of new concerns and prayer. We had made each other aware, and then we placed everything once again in God’s hands because we can do nothing without Him before turning to our Bible study in Jeremiah.

We all left that evening having seen the warning signs, kicked the tires, checked conditions, and come out knowing ourselves and our Abel House family better than we did when we arrived. Through the checkup of our relationships with people and with God, we had found the world to be a safer place and one far less aggravating—just as did the driver who pulled into the service station of old. We had been refilled and refreshed by the Holy Spirit and the attendant Christian servants who had surrounded us in love and prayer.

Lost in the desert, where the promise began.

A Church in Formation

WANDERLUST

A desert is a barren area of land where little precipitation occurs and consequently living conditions are hostile for life. The lack of vegetation exposes the unprotected surface of the ground to the processes of denudation. About one third of the land surface of the world is arid or semi-arid, otherwise known as desert.

A little over eight years ago our family had just moved to a new town and I was placed on bed rest while awaiting the arrival of our youngest son. While this may seem a pleasant break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life to most, I can assure you it was not this way for me. I was at 16 weeks gestation and had 24 to go with strict orders to doing nothing.

It was then that I first felt it. The pulling devastation of the desert. The dryness of heart and soul. Now some could argue that pregnancy hormones were at play, however, this was not my first pregnancy, and I was certain that this feeling was very new.

I spent far too much time making lists of things that made me happy or sad, and journaling every thought that came to mind. For some time my process of searching out the root of my arid condition drug on. It was in a moment of frustration that I picked up my Bible seeking an oasis from the abrasiveness of pain.


Psalm 42 is what I read.

As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God;
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
These things I remember and I pour out my soul within me.
For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God,
With the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him
For the help of His presence.
O my God, my soul is in despair within me;
Therefore I remember You from the land of the Jordan
And the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls;
All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me.
The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime;
And His song will be with me in the night,
A prayer to the God of my life.
I will say to God my rock, “Why have You forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”
As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me,
While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.


I had found the remedy to my torment… it had been months since I had been to a church service. I began to ask my husband each week to go to church. At this point in our life we lived 45 minutes away from Northland, and my husband was disenchanted with the institution of church. Still, we dredged our growing family every Monday evening to worship, and yet it was not enough to quench my thirst. Sure, it was a step in the right direction; the pushing back of the darkness within, and yet I looked to the skies and the rain to my soul did not come.

I ponderously noticed that going to the Monday night service was just as lonely as sitting at home. For me, a struggling introvert, it became far too easy to be lost in the abyss of seats and the backs of heads of fellow Christians who had no idea that I was suffering. It became clear that being in Christian community was something more, and an essential element to my spiritual health. It was at this point that we first conceived to navigate a home church. After so long, the early days of home church were experienced as awkward at best. Still, we gathered our closest 5 friends and their significant others and set out on our journey. At last, I had begun to push back the complete isolation I was lost in. My wandering had been given direction and I could now clearly see the fire I was to follow through my desert to the promise land.

SOJOURN

The Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.

Exodus 13:21-22 NASB


The first steps of a journey are a glorious feeling of shaking off “the chains of old” and moving towards the boundless future. Something happens by around the two thousandth step though, you notice your feet are aching and your nose is full of dirt, and you are hungry and tired of walking.

All of a sudden, one mile into the journey, you consider going back. You begin to remember all of the good things about the place you just left. With time and a little distance, the chains which once brought you anguish begin to visit your memory as would a safe and familiar friend.

Living in an authentic Christian community is not like they show you in those campy Christian films that highlight all of the wonderful things that instantly happen to those who traverse the path of righteousness.

Living in an authentic Christian community is a lot like living with people who are broken and whose lives are in disarray, and who are in need of a little saving from themselves quite often. This can be rough for someone whose heart is on the mend. For someone who believes that they are “taking hold of their faith” and “doing the work” this can be devastating.

Every time someone was not able to make it to our house church gathering my heart was silently clenched by fear that I was not doing it right, or that they were not doing it right. I prayed fervently for all of us, and begged God not to send me back into the arms of despair.

Years passed, and while I grew in the Word and in faith, my joy turned into my burden. I then sought to fill my life with success as measured by the leaders of faith. Those who stood on stage, those who had been a part of the church organization since before I was born. Those who were most often quoted, those who were “famous” in Christian circles. I tried to get more connected, to be more intentional, to push the boundaries of my faith into movement. “You just need more!” I told myself.

These too, proved to be empty endeavors. More time around Christians did not grant me depth of relationships. More church did not grant me less lonliness, guilt, and fear. More “doing” was doing the opposite. So I sat down and cried.

Tears do an amazing thing sometimes. They remind us that we are mortal, that we are fragile, that we are in every essence of the word human. Somewhere in my tears I muttered a prayer that I give up. That if God wanted something done He can just go ahead and do it, because I was tired of working out my salvation for Him and getting kicked around.

And then the burden lifted. I did not notice its absence at first. Perhaps I mistook it for apathy, or some snubbing attitude towards God “You do that! That’s your job God!” I would say in my mind… and He DID! What happened next could not have been taught through instruction or learned vicariously, it can only be understood through personal experience.

MOUNT ZION

When you spend your days taunting and goading the God of all creation, and when He finally turns around and answers, you shut up and listen. It was time for truth, from the one who is truth. It was time for a life lesson from the one who is life.

My friends often joke about what they call “my red line to God” like in the classic movies where there is a red telephone to call the man in charge. While I am most jovial at this illustration of my prayer life, the development of said prayer life was quite humbling in contrast. Let’s just say that Job quickly became one of my favorite books in the Bible.

When I would see an issue that needed addressing I would smartly lay it in God’s lap and challenge Him to do something about it. God would, as any loving father, show up and put me back in my rightful place with His power every time. As I realized what was happening, I began to be more careful about what I prayed. I began to only pray for forgiveness and that God’s will would be done.

Gently God began to speak to me in my prayer time. That is, after I was done telling Him how to do His job. As soft as a lovers caress was the life giving voice of the one who created me without blemish or fault. As renewing as the night is to the scorching of the day was the forgiveness and understanding that I received. God was neither surprised nor bitter about me trying to control my faith or my life or even Him. He knows the struggles of my heart, and offers His grace and presence in spite of my brokenness.

As my ears were tuned to the Holy Spirit, I was convicted of the actions that were leading me away from God. The sundry list of things I “shal not do” grew, but the burden became lighter then ever. My joy returned to me, and for the first time in a long time I was worshiping God with every action in my day.

Meanwhile, in the world of circumstances, things were falling apart. I see now that there were false idols in my life that were being shattered, as my faith and joy was being restored by the presence and voice of God.

THE LAND OF MILK AND HONEY

After the death of our first home church, the prospect of beginning another one was kind of like spying the giants in the promise land. It appeared as though we had huge things to conquer just to set foot in that fanciful place.

This time around there was one thing that we were going to be intentional about; we would be sure to acknowledge that we are God’s Church.

How simple a requirement, and yet how lovely a concept. To keep the focus on God. To lean into God in a way that we are not “doing” church but we are “being” church. Out of that would come everything else. Out of our relationship with Jesus would come all that we are and do. Jesus would be the example, the defining characteristic, the cornerstone, the living water, the center to each of us and to us collectively.

Thus Abel house was born. “Abel” was chosen because Abel’s offering was pleasing to the Lord, and because he was the “keeper of flocks” not the “tiller of ground.” Genesis 4:2 NASB

So here our next chapter is being written. We are a broken people, who need saving from ourselves. We are a people who face giants together, in prayer. Giants like sickness, loss, hardships, and discouragement. We also share praises, encouragement, fellowship, laughter, and successes.

It takes courage to be a part of a house church. You will be known by name. Others will dare to share in your pains and your joys. It will be difficult to hide, or to remain anonymous, to zone out, or to suffer alone.

The blessings that come from being a part of a house church are, however, without measure. Not one of us is greater than the other, yet together we are greater than one. We have seen God moving, answering our prayers, strengthening our knowledge of who He is, bringing life to relationships that were strained, growing our faith, and enriching our worship. We are not the church gathered in one place. We are so much more then transports of the Church. We are members of one family, of one body, coming together for one purpose, to “be” exactly as God prescribed.

“I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people.”
Leviticus 26:12 NASB