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In a time when our faith is constantly questioned, we can feel alone. We can wonder why we believe what we believe. We can wonder if we even should.

The early Hebrew Christians faced the same battle and worse, including persecution from by the Romans and rejections by Jews. They were still working out their belief and in need of some serious encouragement. The writer of the Book of Hebrews came to their rescue. For nine and a half chapters, the author lays out the theology for them, reminds them why Christ is better than the law, and tells them the importance of faith.

Then in the middle of Chapter 10 is this little nugget: vv. 23-25 (MSG) “Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps His word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do, but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.”

Growing up, I always heard these verses as the command to be at church every time the doors were open. Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, vespers, revival meetings … And while that’s all well and good, I really think these verses mean much more than that.

Sure, we can be at church when we’re supposed to be. We can punch in — sing the songs, give the offering, hear the sermon, benediction, amen — punch out. Head home and turn on the football game. We may come away encouraged or convicted, or both, and that is fine. But I don’t think that is the complete experience. If that’s all we do, I would say we have missed the point of congregation. We might as well stay home and watch a service on tv or the internet. We are missing the best thing about church: the love.

In John 13:34-35, Jesus said, “So I am giving you a new commandment: love each other. Your love for each other will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” I don’t think we can share or experience this kind of world-changing love if we arrive at our seat just as the music begins, then dash out after the last amen. Love is relationship. And relationship needs time and attention.

If you think that socializing outside of church is frivolous, you’re not alone. Many of us have been taught that any activity must include a Bible study in order to be worthwhile. I no longer think that is true. After all, if we do as Paul told the Corinthians and “do all to the glory of God” (including eating and drinking!), then everything we do is worthwhile.

Rick Warren takes this idea further. In his book The Purpose Driven Life, he says that Father God created us for five equally important purposes: worship, outreach, discipleship, ministry, and fellowship. In Chapter 17, he declares:

You are called to belong, not just believe.

Even in the perfect, sinless environment of Eden, God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We are created for community, fashioned for fellowship and formed for a family, and none of us can fulfill God’s purposes by ourselves.

The Bible knows nothing of solitary saints or spiritual hermits isolated from other believers and deprived of fellowship. The Bible says we are put together, joined together, built together, members together, heirs together, fitted together, and held together …

Fellowship reminds us that we are not alone. I Peter 5:8-9 tells us, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” A lion doesn’t charge into a herd of gazelles. It stalks them from the edges, looking for the weak one, the sick one, the loner — the easy one to pick off. So it is with the Enemy. But he does one more in that he purposely makes us think we are alone. He tells us to keep to ourselves, that needing others is a sign of weakness, that we can do just fine without others.

Being the head of Fellowship in a purpose-driven church, I was able to see how the five purpose areas played off of and blended into each other.

Fellowship can spark worship and ministry. A church retreat is a great place of ministry, often because people have the opportunity to hang out and even play together before settling in to some deep worship time. I may (barely) survive a high ropes course with a woman I just met, only to wind up praying with her later and sharing an encouraging word. And she is more willing to receive that word from me because we have built some trust.

Fellowship can spark outreach and discipleship. I know several people who today would not come to church with me, but will gladly come to my home for a meal and nice conversation. I can show them the love of Jesus without opening a Bible or attempting to preach to them.

Fellowship can allow us to be real in a way that we may not be even in the welcoming and shame-free environment of this community group. I may be more candid with you while shopping. You men might let your guard down while fishing. No pressure. Just fun. And relationship grows. So that when a trying time comes or help is needed, we have someone we trust that we can go to for prayer or wise counsel or encouragement.

It’s important for us to love each other. We are the family we have chosen, and this family is eternal. Might as well get to know one another and love each other well. That kind of love can change the world.

Waiting

I’m waiting
For things to slow down
For a chance to catch up
Time to breathe.
I miss You,
And I keep missing You.
I can spend a whole day
In Your presence
Feel Your presence
Feel Your peace wash over me
Your joy pour into me
Your love refresh me . . .
Then
Back to the daily routine
With all its strain
Pressure
And mind-numbing rush.

Where do I find the time
To lounge with the Lord
Sit at His feet
Or even read one verse?
Mornings slip away.
Lunch is busy, too.
Evenings are family time.
Then sleep takes over.
In the night
You catch me when I’m still.
You whisper to me
Words of blessing,
Visions of hope.
You invite me
To lounge with You
Sit at Your feet
Read some verses whenever I can.

You’re waiting
For me to slow down
So we can catch up
And I can breathe in
The sweet fragrance of You.

Big Faith

That Christmas when you were six
Was the last time you visited Santa.
We waited,
Humming stale carols to musak
In a line that seemed miles long
Until your turn finally came.
You were hoisted up into that velvet lap
So you could whisper wishes
To a bearded stranger you believed
Could make them all come true.
You asked for the world,
Or at least, the world of a child.
“All the toys.”
Not specific toys.
All of them.
I made a motherly mistake
And assumed you were greedy in your wish
And in your response on Christmas morning
When you asked with genuine surprise
“Is this all?”
You had thought it a reasonable request.

That New Year’s when you were twelve
Was the first time I began to see
The man of faith you already are.
We waited,
Singing new choruses with the band
In a service that seemed hours long.
At last our turn came.
We sat on folding chairs
While you spoke your need
To faithful friends you trusted
Would pray for your healing.
“In time for his birthday,” I qualified.
“Now,” you corrected.
To me, it would mean the world.
To you, it seemed a reasonable request.
And you were right.
Healing was yours that night.

Anyone who meets you
Soon learns what I have come to understand –
That any outrageous request
Is perfectly reasonable
When you have big faith.

Breakfast Fail

I have two dachshunds. Well, a dachshund and a half. Laverne and Shirley are half-sisters. Shirley is a lovely black-and-tan who looks just like her mama. Laverne is a feisty mix — Shirley’s dachshund daddy also got together with the family dog, a yorkie poodle. Shirley is my follower. Laverne is by far the leader, every bit bossy.

Like most dogs, my girls love to eat. They never forget meal time, and they do their best to make sure I don’t forget. Laverne is especially good at this, quite able to convey the urgency of her food request with pitter patter and well-timed snorts.

This morning, I made bacon and eggs for breakfast and planned to pour a small amount of the grease over their kibble. While the smell of frying bacon filled the room, I reached for the tiny bowls, much to the excitement of the girls. I poured kibble into each bowl, then set the bowls on the counter and walked away to finish breakfast.

Shirley stood still, disappointment showing on her face for a few seconds before she walked back to her bed in the corner to pout. Laverne, however, marched behind me into the kitchen and snorted to get my attention. She glared at me accusingly. “Mom, you forgot to feed me!” Clearly, I had failed her. She was convinced that I had made a mistake. Worse, perhaps I was purposely withholding breakfast from her. She began to panic. As I moved around the kitchen, she circled around me, nearly tripping me in her effort to get what she wanted. All the while, she was hindering me from actually giving her what she wanted.

I do that to God sometimes. When things are not going the way I think they should, in the direction I would have chosen, toward the goal I want to achieve, I can work myself into a frenzy in an effort to force the desired outcome. I fail to trust Father God. I forget to ask what He may be doing with me, through me, for me. And much as I hate to think it, I am sure that sometimes I just get in the way of the blessings He is trying to give me.

James 1:7 reminds me that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights.” But in the middle of a trying time, I forget the sublime truth of this.

Life happens, and it’s not always easy. For me, the biggest challenges have come in the form of major life changes: leaving a job or starting a new career, finding a new church, moving to a new city (moving an unhappy teenager to a new city!), working through a back injury. Then there are the smaller challenges: a clogged toilet, a flat tire, the flu, a difficult coworker, a tight budget. None of it seems to be getting me what I want. And if I forget to trust the Father, I eventually panic. In my mind, the world is coming to an end! Over a flat tire. Really?

I don’t have time to explain the lovely outcome of each tough time. But trust me, each story ends well. Not necessarily a happily-ever-after ending, but I am better for having experienced each. It is all part of the Father’s plan to give me what I need.

For Laverne, the ending is kibble covered in bacon grease delivered by my loving hand. As I reach down to place the bowls on the floor for the girls to enjoy, I say, “See? I told you I would take care of you.” I’m not sure they’re listening, but I sense their contentment as they scarf down their breakfast.

clean girls

The Promise

We knew well the promise,
The promise we had clung to
Because it was our hope
In slavery
In wandering
In battle
In captivity
In every ceremony.
But we had nearly forgotten the promise,
Had drifted away from the truth.
Then the prophet Isaiah
Called us back
And declared again the promise of salvation
That would come in the Messiah.
“And the Spirit of the Lord
Will rest on him.”
So encouraged,
We continued our expectant waiting.

Years later
Another man declares the same promise
Keeping the hope of salvation alive
In our hearts.
As a long line of believers is baptized,
From among them
One stands out.
When he rises from the water,
He stops.
The sky opens
And the Sprit comes down
To settle on Him.
“This is my beloved Son
With whom I am well pleased.”
Our wait is over.
Salvation is here!

The Gift

In that humble place
Mysterious men from the East
Lay down their gifts
At his feet:
Gold for the King
Frankincense for the anointed One
Myrrh for Him who would die for humanity.
I don’t think anyone in that room
Fully understood
The meaning of those gifts
Or all they foreshadowed.
How could they?
But they didn’t have to comprehend
In order to give.
Just believe.

In this humble heart
I try to comprehend the mystery
Of this gift of grace.
I am a child of the King.
I am anointed to serve.
I will live forever.
I struggle to embrace
The full meaning of this
Indescribable gift.
But I don’t have to understand
In order to receive.
Just believe.

Coming Home (VI)

Soon.
A precious word
Full of the promise of coming satisfaction.
Wonderful, new things
Sweet reunion
A fresh start.
But first
There is much to do.
Many farewells
Hugs and kisses
Selling and cleaning and packing
That could all go on forever.
Meanwhile,
On the other side of those mountains
Nestled in the valley,
You wait
And cling to that word
Soon.
I promise you
Soon you will hear me say
I am home.

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