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

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