Communion

Everything

Every week we have communion at my father’s old table. It is a potluck style meal where we get together to remember what Jesus has done for us. Last night we had a more traditional expression of that sacrament in response to a friend’s good news regarding a tumor that was benign. When we were being served, we laughed and we were jovial, delighting in what Jesus has done.

Communion

Purpose over Ritual

Here are words for the ritual:

The Lord himself ordained this holy sacrament. He commanded His disciples to partake of the bread and wine, emblems of His broken body and shed blood. This is His table. The feast is for His disciples. Let all those who have with true repentance forsaken their sins, and have believed in Christ unto salvation, draw near and take these emblems, and, by faith, partake of the life of Jesus Christ, to your soul’s comfort and joy. Let us remember that it is the memorial of the death and passion of our Lord; also a token of His coming again. Let us not forget that we are one, at one table with the Lord.

Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, who out of Your tender mercy gave Your only Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption: hear us, we most humbly beseech You. Grant that, as we receive these Your creatures of bread and wine according to the holy institution of Your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, in remembrance of His passion and death, we may be made
partakers of the benefits of His atoning sacrifice. We are reminded that in the same night that our Lord was betrayed, He took bread and, when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” Likewise, after supper, He took the cup, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” May we come before You in true humility and faith as we partake of this holy sacrament. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.1

We didn’t recite these words last night. We could have, and it would have been lovely. We could have read Isaiah 53:4-5. But here is the thing: We observed this sacrament in the way we did as a response to what Jesus did in the lives of the Filippelli family. When they received confirmation that a tumor was benign, the response came quick and purposeful. “We get to celebrate at Abel House!” was an actual reaction to the news. Then came a text message:

So, as a response to what God has done in their life, we celebrated it with what Jesus did on the cross. It was at this point that the ritual was transcended into an act of worship. Life is worship and our response is sacred, because of what He has done, not because of how we do it.


  1. Text taken from the Church of the Nazarene Manual, my old faith tradition. 

Barbecue and Baptism

Everything

One of the most sacred elements of any church is baptism, with Jesus Himself being baptized. (Matthew 3:13-17)


On All Saint’s Day, 2015, the members of Abel House got together with friends and family to have a barbecue and to celebrate the baptism of the Farella family.

Sue and David
Mike Grilling!
Ethan and Allison

A Photographer

Mike Farella is a professional photographer. A few years ago when Northland held a weekend baptism celebration, I recommended Mike, for a couple of reasons. I knew he was a great photographer. Also, I was being a bit selfish about it. My daughters were there to get baptized and I wanted great photos of the occasion.

However, when Mike took the photos for Northland’s baptism, he wasn’t a Christian. I remember asking him about the experience shortly after it, and his response was noteworthy:

“There were people that were visibly different coming out of the water. You could tell there was a supernatural change.”

A few months ago Mike and I were talking — he had a been through a couple of significant life moments — and it was apparent God was working in his life in ways that Mike was just beginning to see. It didn’t take long for Mike to begin asking me about baptism. God had grabbed his heart, seized it, and began to work in him. New life was in order.

The Baptism

When Mike was discussing his baptism with his family, it was his daughter, Allison, that said matter-of-factly:

“We should do this a family.”

Mike and Julia where dubious. After asking Allison all kinds of questions, it was clear. Mike, Julia and Allison would be baptized as a family.


Gabe and I entered the waters to baptize Mike.

Mike being baptized.
Mike being baptized.

In turn, Mike — being newly baptized, full of the Holy Spirit, being called into the Priesthood of All Believers (1 Peter 2:9) — and I, baptize Julia.

Mike and I baptizing Julia
Mike and I baptizing Julia
Mike and I baptizing Julia

It is at this point, that the distributed church is best realized. Full of God’s authority and power, Mike, has every right, calling and permission, to baptize his daughter.

While holding Allison, Mike and Julia ask her if she loves Jesus and wants to tell the world about the Good News of what He has done. An emphatic “Yes!” was the response.

Mike and Julia baptizing Allison
Mike and Julia baptizing Allison

And with that, we thanked Jesus for what He has done. We gave glory to God in Heaven for the works He does in the Farella family and in our lives.

Giving Thanks to God for what He has done.

Divine Appointment

Who took these pictures? Well, it was my two daughters, Reina and Jaden, who Mike photographed years ago for their baptism.

Sometimes it seems like God knows what He is doing.

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

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.

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.

Serving Others

Everything

“Serving others,” is a phrase that, depending on your background, can bring a variety of things to mind; some of which, you don’t enjoy. I am going to urge you to put aside what you think regarding what it is like to serve others for a bit before deciding that you know what I am going to ask of you.

Your past church experiences might have defined “serving others” for you as something like, “let’s pack some meals, wash some cars, paint a house.” Acts of service like that are indeed needed and powerful, however, they are common because it is easy to quantify those actions. Those actions are tangible ways of “serving others.” 100 families fed. 25 cars washed, 300 sq ft of walls painted. The largest issue I have with them is that they require little thought in emotional or spiritual matters. They are all physical affairs, in a physical force. Someone else has done the thinking and the praying for you.

I would like to have us go back to a place where serving others is first, an intellectual and spiritual endeavor, second, a physical act of service.

Here is the difference: An atheist can pack meals, wash cars and paint walls. And many do. What do you have that is different? Christ in you, the Hope of Glory. (Col 1:27)

We are called by God to love Him and to love others. But what does that look like? In the past it has been about moving to a place and time, in a group, doing a thing. I believe that God is calling us to a higher place when we “serve others.”

Think about these words:

Spiritual transformation is the process by which Christ is formed in us …for the glory of God, for the abundance of our own lives, and for the sake of others.
Ruth Haley Barton

As part of Abel House, our calling is to be formed by Christ for the benefit of others. The temptation, as we develop our relations with each other, is to ignore those around us. To overlook people that aren’t like us. To walk past those that need our help. Not intentionally, mind you. It will happen because of our sinful nature. That nature is going to want us to serve ourselves as we build our relationships with each other. We aren’t called to serve ourselves, but to serve others.

iam-badge

And when do we do help, it is our job to serve them. To pray with them and for them. To inquire, to listen and to care; I mean really care. To cry with them. Laugh with them and to grieve with them. (Romans 12)

Serving others does in fact, look like packing meals, washing cars and painting walls. It is also so much more than that.

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!

34 Souls

Everything

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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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.

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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 intensely 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 choose 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!) was 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 the 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.


  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. 

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?