What an amazing evening. You could almost feel the energy in the air. There was amazing food. Amazing people. More than that, it was it was an amazing call.
Our call is not to do, rather, it is to be.
When we gather, it is to see ourselves for who we are, the Church. The hands and feet of Jesus. (1 Corinthians 12:12-31) Eating a meal together reminds us that God provides. Here in America, it is possible to waste. We have been given so much we forget that God does in fact provide. His providence is so abundant we take it for granted.
Getting together to have dinner, then sitting down to enjoy that meal, we are reminded that God is the one that assembles us, and then distributes us to the world. For the the world’s benefit, not ours. As He provides for us, he provides us to the world.
A family of families. Our call to be the church crosses affinity and it crosses bloodlines. It is deeper than that. It is an eternal belonging. A place of unconditional love. At the same time, it isn’t safe. It is messy. Belonging to a family has its hardships and difficulties. It is uncomfortable at times.
Being a part of Abel House begs you to follow the Great I AM, loving those around you. And that my friends, is living a sacrificial life. (Romans 12:1-2)
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. ↩
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.
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.
I am intentionally altering my approach in this article by providing links to Scripture passages in one of the online Bible reference tools. This causes you to participate in the study of Truth, and allows you the opportunity to consider a variety of translations. My selected default is the Amplified Bible. You can vary this by utilizing the drop-down menu in the “Search” section.
The Church needs advancement from drive-thru-window, grab-and-go followers anticipating every nugget prepared by someone else, to those who develop and hone their own culinary skills; who get in the kitchen where the morsels are waiting to be marinated and seasoned. I would be doing a disservice to His Body and enabling mediocre Christianity if all I did was create an appetite for my cuisine. My goal is not to teach you, but to lead you to the Teacher by engaging you in the practice of following Him. So, I am inviting you to put on your apron and join me in the preparation of the meal.
When you hear that word, what does it incite in you? What mental images scurry to the forefront of your mind? In what situation(s) would your assessment compel you to raise and wave that “I give up,” white flag? Think about it for a moment; do not race past the opportunity to consider what it means to you.
Consider what God’s prophet, Isaiah, says about surrender. What are the results of surrender that are highlighted in these verses? I found five. What do you see?
I will share what I found, but do not be limited by my findings.
Peace with God.
Acceptance of the blessing.
Revival of your soul.
An everlasting covenant with God.
God’s sure mercy.
How do those consequences compare to the white-flag scenarios you envisioned?
Let’s turn to the prophet Jeremiah. We discover in this passage the specific type of surrender that is acclaimed by God; it is both heartfelt and timely. Heartfelt surrender will always be timely in its response to God. It is the difference between feeling remorse and making restitution because you have been caught doing something wrong vs. experiencing that conscientious remorse that causes you to repent when that wrong has not been exposed. Or better yet, being obedient from the outset.
A perfect illustration of this is in Deuteronomy. Out of fear, the Israelites refused to adhere to the command of the Lord to go into the land He had given them. They are admonished with consequences. They immediately recant and determine that they will obey the next day in hopes of avoiding the consequences. But their “tomorrow” obedience was too late; the obedience had been for “that” day. They are warned that this “next day” disobedience would heap upon them a new serving of consequences; and it offered up defeat at their attempted takeover. The Lord had to do other things with them for forty years to compensate for their disobedience to get them back to the place of being able to go into the land. Their surrender was not heartfelt or timely.
Beware believing obedience became obsolete with the accomplishment of the Law and fulfillment of the old covenant through Jesus.
Consider these new covenant passages. It doesn’t get much clearer than Luke 14:33, does it? There are a few points we can highlight in the other passages. Acts tells us that we “learn” to believe from the power of the presence of the Lord, and in believing we turn (repent) and surrender. In Paul’s address to believers in Rome, we see it is precisely through faith-filled surrender, exhibited through obedience, that we grant God the opportunity to prove His faithfulness. This in turn cultivates and builds our faith. Continual surrender builds faith perpetually.Faith has always been the God-pleaser; it is what captivates Him. Read these Scripture passages and notice that emphasis.
Do you need to update your thoughts about surrender? What has changed?
What Is The Motive?
What is your motive for surrendering? What drives your posture before God? The thoughts and intentions of the heart are what God considers in all that we do. Our actions will be judged in light of the motives that spurred them. Don’t believe me? Read what Revelation says. So, why surrender? Fear is always a powerful motivator. Is it fear of punishment that causes your knees to buckle and bow? Reward is another inducement. Does the promise of His good gifts incentivize your obedience? Both of those are definitely behavioral drivers. God knows what persuades us, and He will utilize those mechanisms to engage us based on the level He finds us—for our benefit and because of His love.
But what is the highest motivator? What is the primary thing that can compel us beyond fear, reward, or even reason? It also happens to be the purest. Love. When driven to surrender out of sheer love for God’s character, change in our very nature occurs. It is the love of His nature, and desire to relate with that nature, that draws us to purely-motivated obedience. This obedience remains focused on Him; not to avoid punishment or gain reward, which are both self-focused. Filtering His instructions through His character, we grasp His thoughts and ways as we commune with Him in this daily seek-obey-learn dance. Our nature takes on His nature in increasing measures as our gaze remains on His holiness and love toward us.
Takers vs. Partakers
There is a subtle, but powerful, difference between taking and partaking. To take something means you accept what someone has offered. We especially delight in taking what is beneficial to us. If something not offered is taken, that is actually transgressing, as in theft or rape.Partaking, however, is to be involved in the activity; to receive a share of, or to have some of the qualities or attributes of something. Thus, God’s holy measure of judgment is that we receive, in like manner, what we are also willing to give; forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Notice the word and principle of “partaking” in these Scripture passages. How does that fit with your current understanding of what it means to be a believer? Do you comprehend that believing is intended to include active obedience?
But what is the point of this obedience? Let’s be honest, we do not like adhering to someone else’s protocol for living. That goes against our perspectives on freedom. Well, obedience is faith on display, but it is more than that. It is the mechanism by which we take on the image and likeness of Christ. I have shared before how the Lord frequently utilizes an acronym to teach me. After six years of living this daily seek-obey-learn “YES” life, He recently gave me the following as an expression of Y-E-S: “Yeshua Exchanges Substance”. It is about the exchange of our human nature for His nature. We do not just take salvation. We partake of His life through surrender to Him as Lord. We are obedient to Him as He was obedient to the Father.
Listen to this song:
What do the lyrics stir in you?
The Balancing Act
Obedience to God requires equal parts vulnerability and discipline. That sounds like an oil-water mixture, so how does it work?
What does the idea of being vulnerable invoke in you? Discomfort? Terror? Either of those, or anything in between would be reasonable. Vulnerability means loss of control, and that is risky. Surrender and control are in opposition. A free-fall into Truth is the safest place to fall, but it still feels like a free-fall.
What does this loss of control look like?
Complete, honest, bare nakedness before God. No deception or guile. Pure and raw transparency.
Seeking guidance by the Holy Spirit. Prompt following when instructions are revealed, confirmed and understood (even when they do not seem logical to our reasoning).
Relinquishing expectations of any outcome to your obedience. (More on this below.)
Where does discipline enter the equation (Disciples are disciplined ones)? Because of individual psychoemotional filters that have been constructed by our experiences and worldly upbringing, it is critical that we subject everything we sense we are receiving from the Holy Spirit to the litmus test of Truth. We must become disciplined in the study of God’s Word. Without this discipline, it is easy to be misled by our own pet preferences and imaginations. If it does not align with Scripture, it cannot be the Holy Spirit. As we grow in the balance of these disciplines, we perceive the voice of the Lord with increased clarity.
What to Expect
Reward. Because God is a rewarder. What does “reward” look like to you? Does it conjure thoughts of honor, recognition, wealth, fame, power? What would be an adequate reward for your obedience? What is the template you use, the world’s or God’s? It is imperative to have the right interpretation of what God considers meaningful in terms of reward. With the wrong expectation, we misunderstand the outcome(s) of our obedience. With the proper filter, we see our experiences in the correct light.
So, what do we risk opening ourselves up to by being obedient? The bottom-line answer is hurt and pain. But why is that the experience? We may be misunderstood, mocked, betrayed. People will doubt if we really hear the Lord or if we have heard accurately. We may lose relationships and/or reputation. The reality is, unless we are willing to lose relationships and/or reputation, we won’t surrender.
But the most common source of pain is the free will of others. This is why we cannot expect any specific result from our obedience, especially in terms of relationships. We can be perfectly obedient, and assume that obedience will mean a certain relational outcome—marriage, restoration, reconciliation, greater intimacy. However, God honors free will and we may get a heavy dose of what that really means through our own experience. The end result is not a measure of whether or not we have heard the Lord. We can perceive and cooperate with God, and the other person may not.
Does any of that sound like Jesus’ life? You see, these experiences are the incubator in which our intimacy with Him grows. Without them, we cannot understand His experience or His responses.
You will learn to hang in the balance of fear and not retreat or attack. You will learn to sit in pain and not judge the pain, God, yourself, the circumstance, or any other individuals in the circumstance. In all things you will wait in stillness until understanding comes. He reveals what is of Him (His ways, thoughts); what is of you (your pet preferences, patterns, psychoemotional filters that need to be realigned); and sometimes what is in others (their free will choices, their pet preferences, patterns, psychoemotional filters). However, figuring others out is not the focus. We commune with Him, learn about ourselves, and conform to His likeness.
So, back to reward as a motivator—He is our exceeding great reward. What greater reward is there than to become like Christ. God considers that the highest reward and His ultimate goal. Yeshua-Exchanges-Substance.
Abel House is a distributed church. Our name has its roots in Abel’s offering to the LORD. The LORD took pleasure in it. (Gen 4:3-5) Our desire is to live a life that is a worthy sacrifice to God as Romans 12:1-2 tells us; that He might hold us in regard.
When not playing games together, we typically get together on Wednesday nights from 6:30pm to 9pm. While we do rotate houses we meet in, we will mostly meet at Rob’s House. You can find us here:
Dinner is at 7pm. Study time starts around 8pm. Bring your Bible. If you don’t have one, that is okay. We will get you one. We are reading through the all of the Prophets, seeing Jesus in them. (Luke 24:13-35, Acts 10:43)
Tweet me to let me know you are coming. Would love to see you.
Already, lasagna and enchiladas are slated to be served.
While you are here, have a look around. Sue and Trish have posted some excellentarticleshere. Lindsay has some things she is also working on for it as well. As time progresses it will be a great place for reflection and information.
I remember 2011. With crystal clarity that comes from a rearview-mirror perspective, the Lord spoke in distinct ways to prepare me for the life He had prepared for me. I didn’t know what it would look like, but He was laying the groundwork through three key encounters.
The first was during a conversation I was having with a friend. As I was sharing the recent post-classroom lab experience the Lord had organized for my practice, I heard Him speaking in my other ear, “In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God. I sent My Word in the flesh, so that now I can turn your flesh into the Word.”
The second was a dream I had the first night of a three-day conference at a large, multi-campus church. In the dream, I am pulling into the church parking lot, but much of it is being resurfaced and potholes are being repaired. I heard the Lord sigh and then ask, “When will My people get out of the parking lot?”
The third was just a simple expression of His desire for me; “I want to be able to turn you on a dime.”
The beginning of 2012 marked the transition for me from doing church to being Church. We get a 24/7/365 life of following the Master, becoming His goodness on display by His Spirit. We get to move from fans to followers, believers to disciples, consumers to feeders, becoming the Word in our flesh as we walk with Him and one another. WooHoo!
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?
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.
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.