Quick meals.

“…to the church that meets in your home.” Paul penned those words when writing to Philemon in his letter to encourage the freedom of Onesimus. Philemon is a heartfelt letter to a personal friend for a shared personal friend. It’s about trust and love and acceptance. It’s a short letter from Paul to Philemon and the church that met in his home.

Meeting in a home is not a new thing for the church. It isn’t a trend or even a thing that only happens during pandemics. It isn’t merely what non-conformists or eccentric divisive spirits practice. Churches meeting in homes, sharing a meal, sharing the Lord’s supper, sharing scripture, and spiritual intimacy has been normal for two thousand years. What makes today different is that just our individual families are meeting together and trying to figure this out without much guidance from professionals…until all the prerecorded services hit facebook last week. But there are those who practice this out of necessity, out of a call to do so, out of desperately wanting more out of spiritual relationships.

For now, most of our friends are across town. Our loved ones somewhere else. We are all going at this alone and digitally tuning into other believers around the globe. But good things are happening in this precious time. Good conversations between parents and kids and believers from all over are happening. Questions are being asked. Answers are being pursued.  Prayers are being uttered and heard by those who’ve never spoke nor heard them. Your faith is either being discovered, growing, or revealing that it needs to grow. Good things are happening for believers, likewise good things are happening for the church. Perhaps God is allowing a sabbath where we are called to remember Him. He didn’t cause the virus. Perhaps he is allowing the break. Perhaps he wants us to ask what the point of all this church stuff truly is.

Church was always more than Sunday. Church was never supposed to be a quick meal. The Lord’s Supper was not created to be fast food. It’s now. It’s time. It’s neighbors checking on neighbors. It’s buying groceries for others. It’s making phone calls and sending cards. It’s family learning about one another. It’s brainstorming together how to DO good. It’s the ache in your heart to see and hug the people you love and to look into their eyes again…to be known, absolved, and loved for who you are. It’s waking up and becoming aware that family is seated around the table laughing and sharing and there are no time constraints or quotas to be met.  The church consists of relationships built upon the love of Christ that are so unique and so real and so accepting that you want to include others. I hope you have that. I hope you see that you need that and the world needs that. I hope you feel the call to add more plates when you set your table. 

As you miss your people, as you dive into potentially awkward prayer with your family, as you begin to notice that sweet things happen in tiny moments in tiny groups who know each other inside and out, remember to take that with you when you go back into your congregations. And don’t let this lesson be wasted. Don’t let this call to love better be forgotten. Expect better conversations, pursue closer relationships, live out your faith through the week rather than consuming a fast food Sunday. Make life together more than a quick meal. Make church more than a quick meal.

 

 

Down the Rabbit Hole: What we are missing.

SEVEN

It’s been a week since we were supposed to go back to school following spring break. The outbreak of Covid-19 has shut down the world.  The enormity of this global catastrophe is mind-blowing. We are all on the same team now fighting this virus. Most of us are sitting at home and communicating via Facebook, text, Zoom, and facetime. I am thankful for those mediums. They help life to feel semi-normal and go on in some sort of way. Life changes so swiftly. There truly is very little we have control over besides ourselves and even that is debatable at times.

Many of my friends will attempt worship at home this weekend since most churches have closed their doors to stop the needless spread of illness. It is weird thing to go from pew sitter to preacher, teacher, and prayer leader all at once, I suppose, especially if you are not accustomed to it. I imagine if your personality is one that enjoys playing to a crowd it is intensely awkward. I believe this time trapped at home may change a lot of us church people. I hope it will. Dave and I chose this season of searching and worshiping at home. The world is now being forced into it whether they want to or not. Will it change us?  Will missing a corporate church service make a difference to us at all? Will we worship without the help of the “professionals”? Can we be Christians without a building, without a praise band, without a preacher?

One of my earliest memories is learning the hand-folding rhyme “Here is the church. Here’s the steeple. Open it up, and here’s all the people”.  I remember distinctly my mother saying, but remember, Caryn, the church is the people. It stuck with me. The church IS the people. It’s like having your first child. When it is your first baby you buy every supply out there. You think you need it all from diaper jeanies to bottle warmers to four different bouncy seats and the best diapers on the market. By the third child, you bring them home and let them sleep in a laundry basket if it is nearby because you’ve learned you just don’t need all that stuff. The same is true with the church.

I believe we all have gifts to share (1 Corinthians 12). We are each needed to function as a healthy body of believers. You matter in the church even if you never step foot on a stage in front of people. I have always found it peculiar that we train our kids to do “big” things in our churches, the up-front things. We train them to lead prayers, to preach, to lead songs or sing on praise bands. We often praise those up-in-front talents and gifts. And yet, in scripture, time and again, we see Jesus direct us toward an unseen servitude and sacrifice sans the applause. In times like these, when the applause is missing, what then? We see the church return to a simpler time and discover that we don’t need much at all to keep true faith going. We are forced to ask ourselves, is it true belief if it must be accompanied by lighting, a fog machine, an emotional song, and crowds of people to exist?

I miss having a church family. I am praying for a family of believers that I can love, trust, and serve, and be loved, trusted, and served in return. I don’t really care whether that is down the street or on the other side of the globe. I don’t really care what name is on the sign out front so long as scripture connects them to decision-making, unity is the goal, and serving their fellow man outside the walls of the building is the number one priority. I believe I need a family of believers in my life, and I believe you need that too. I no longer believe that it must look like what it has over the last one hundred years. It can reside within a garage, a pub, a living room, or a seventeenth century stone chapel. The church is where the people are living out the mission and that seldom happens in a building.

I do not believe you need a building, though it has its benefits IF used for the greater community.  I do not believe you need a program for every age group, in fact that has divided us more than educated us and has completely neglected the tradition of the older teaching the young (see Titus). I do not believe you need to look like everyone else within popular Christianity and if that is your goal, you are doing it wrong.  Make a goal of looking like Jesus not other Christians. But know this, I do not believe that Jesus attracts most people. I think he offends most people. I don’t believe exponential church growth models are founded upon the principle that we must tell the masses to repent and turn to God (words straight from the Savior -Mark 1:15). The gospel usually offends. I also don’t believe churches can exist without sinners being in attendance; sinners of all kinds, you, me, prostitutes, homosexuals, porn addicts, gamblers, divorcees, democrats, republicans, Patriot fans, Texans, etc. All are welcome even the people you don’t like nor approve (Mark 2:15). I also believe that our influence over this country and the world will not change until we as the global body of Christ can learn to disagree and still worship alongside each other. Trust me when I tell you, the only people who care about your worship preferences and doctrines are you, and you waste time focusing your energy upon it. Unbelievers just see our arrogance and our arguing. These debates are not interpreted as love. This has no place in the universal Church of God, the Way, the Church of Christ, whatever name is on your placard, the community knows you by your service to them and your reputation to play well with others.

What are we missing? We are missing exactly what is happening right now: the simplicity of Jesus in our homes, the generosity of neighbors sitting with neighbors and sharing a beer or tea from six feet away laughing and living life together, good people checking in on each other and buying groceries for the shut-ins. We are missing Jesus lived out on the streets rather than hidden inside our self-congratulated buildings. Here is a moment in time where we can all be completely real without the pretense and facades of a Sunday only faith. Take that back to our churches and change the game and change the conversations. What is your church doing for the community? Are they a comfort or merely a concert?

I have made my peace with institutional religion. I can defend it better than most because I’ve both relied upon it for my income and witnessed what organization can do for the world when used for good. I have also experienced the sharp pang of the sword the institutional church wields. Change is coming to the institution. It is coming faster than many know, and this virus may make the move even more swift. We must change from pews to tables, from being fed to feeding one another, from battling one another to living our God ordained calling to change the world. I am excited to see the change. I can’t wait.

Across the table from that guy.

beautiful christmas table setting
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

Today I thought about heaven again. Most of the time when I dream of heaven I dream of a perfectly temperate place full of perfect flora and fauna perfumed with lilac and the occasional whiff of apple pie. I’ve never imagined inheriting a mansion. A cozy cottage happily situated in a wood is more my speed.

But today as I dreamed of the peace place promised to me, I imagined a banquet table loaded with delights like the world has never seen.  Those seated at the table surprised me, and I questioned my thought as one often questions how much grace God can offer sinners who don’t sin exactly like you do. I laughed at my own imagination.  Seated around the feast were the warring politicians of today all smiling and peaceful passing potatoes and the like. Right, Lord. Like those two would be at the same place enjoying each other’s company, here, in heaven. Right. Surely they are stopping that guy at the gate.

As I looked around the table I noted how each guest was a scoundrel while on earth; not one pure heart was represented among the lot.

Then I realized that I was sitting right there with them sharing turkey with the villains.

As I focused in on another face, it was someone who had deeply wounded me in the past. I’ve struggled to forgive this person. Forgiveness is work for some of us. Grudges are easy. But there he was, my adversary, enjoying the ambrosial banquet.

My adversary in heaven was stripped of his failures. His mistakes were no longer visible to my eyes. He was there, as was I, in perfect form whittled down to whom the Savior intended us to be, all love, all joy. And I loved him. And I knew God loved him. And I was humbled.

Back here on earth we have our separate corners. We have our own parties, our own people, our colors, our flags, our precious opinions and hills we die upon. But in the great beyond, there are no corners. There is one shared table, one shared Savior. Will we sit down with those who we’ve hated? Will we share dinner rolls with our murderers? I believe that is more our choice today than theirs.

In heaven, a perfectly normal scene could be an abortionist seated with the man who blew up the clinic.

In heaven, a Nazi sits comfortably with a Jew.

In heaven, your party is nothing. Your Savior is everything.

In heaven, the abusers and the abused share in the same divine helping of grace and a heaping dollop of mercy.

In heaven, forgiveness melts what tore us apart. Oh, how I wish we could share in that banquet now, where all is peace and joy and love. And I suppose if we cannot come to terms to eating with the villains and the saints, then we have another choice altogether.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. Matthew 6:14

Head verses Heart

All day I’ve been mulling over the contrast between the head and the heart in disputable matters of the church and life in general. It seems the popular and more comfortable choice today is to say that love surpasses all and that the heart should be our sole motivation citing 1 Corinthians 13. Yet, Jeremiah 17:9 says the heart is deceitful above all things. So love must be the solution, but not necessarily the emotional fuzzy squishy comfortable love.

Love stops a toddler from running into a busy street. Love grabs a child’s hand before they touch an iron. Love grounds a teenager from the Xbox. Love in its nature sets boundaries. One could say love employs justice. This tells me that love also uses the head in decision-making.

But a head without a heart would never take a moment to consider the plight of a stranger. A head without the heart would probably rely on past experience or simply the functionality in decision-making. A head may lack hope if the heart is not engaged.

Perhaps, this is why Jesus calls us to love God with everything we’ve got: our heart, our soul, our strength, and our mind. Not making one more important than the other, but expecting each to work together to love completely.

Stories worth reading

I visited a tiny, one room library that was more than one hundred years old today. And while one hundred years isn’t really old compared to libraries in other parts of the world, it struck me while I breathed in musty air and admired the artistry that often embellishes antique books, how many ideas and stories are housed in that tiny place now silenced waiting for the yellowed pages to be carefully turned again. I recognized a few authors, but most I didn’t. I opened several, read a few lines, and tried to connect my limited memory of American History with the copyright dates.

A century is more than enough time for a country to radically change. Within a century families see great, great grandchildren born and with them ideas, theories, doctrines all aptly developed and soon considered old fashioned after what seems just a few moments.

My grandparents were born more than a hundred years ago, and I wish I could sit and understand them more now as I witness how quickly our life pages yellow with age.

Truly, the ideas, dreams, and stories found within mankind don’t really change at all. Sure technology advances and architecture ebbs and flows like fashion, but love is the same, justice is still required, family is still paramount to the health of a community, and the value of a person to those who love them is still immeasurable.

Our lives are merely a vapor, and it is our duty to live them well. Not for our own selfish pleasures, but lived so that when all that remains of us is a yellowed memory on a shelf, the pages of our life still speak in truths understood to the readers hundreds of years later. Did we love? Did we speak for justice? Did we live a story worth reading?