Tag Archives: fellowship

Contentment & Joy in “The 2 or 3”

seeds

“Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.”
– Proverbs 17:1

Today, in commenting on another person’s blog, I ended up navigating back here, and reading some of my old posts. One in particular, “Let’s Start a Grassroots Revolution of Love!” got me thinking (again) about Jesus’ intriguing statement “…where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” Like the many revolutionary statements that Jesus and his early disciples made about love, this is one that, because it is so counter-cultural to our world, we often dismiss.  Even if our minds agree, our hearts say, “yes, but…”  Something in us continually is drawn back to “bigger is better.”  We don’t just want to build a super tall tower, we want to build one that “reaches to heaven.” In business, we are often not content running a mom-and-pop shop, but must expand it to a chain, despite the fact that we slowly lose contact with those we serve until we become an impersonal institution with no personality or soul.  Walk into Starbucks and then walk into the local coffee shop owned and operated by Joe who you know, sit in both and soak up the atmosphere.  It won’t take long and you will feel the vast difference, despite whatever the original founders of Starbucks may have intended.

The same happens in church life. We enjoy life in a small gathering of believers, but (often) automatically assume that more will be better.  There is a huge industry here in the U.S. of “church consultants” that is built around “church growth,” with the assumption that bigger… and bigger… and bigger… and YET BIGGER… is better. How tragic!

“But growth shows life,” you might say, “and growing means a church is healthy.”  True, growth is a sign of health, but unbridled growth is not.  In an ecosystem, unbridled growth of a species makes it an “invasive species” which destroys the ecosystem as a whole.  In the body, unbridled growth of cells is cancer, which likewise destroys the body as a whole.

Contrast this with the above-quoted words of Jesus – “two or three” – so counter-intuitive to all we are taught and all we instinctively believe!  There is a caveat though: the 2 or 3 can not be just “gathered,” but must be gathered “in my name.”  I believe this phrase “in my name” has much greater depth of meaning than just that we profess or say the words that our gathering is “in His name.”  Let me give an example.  Suppose I were to die.  Then suppose after my death, that my loved ones were to do something (anything) “in Margaret’s name.” The assumption would be that whatever they would be doing would be some cause near and dear my heart, and that they would be making every attempt not only to do what I would have done had I lived, but also to do it in the manner I would have done it.  If I loved to laugh, and had a wry sense of humor (which I do), than an event in my name that was humorless would not fit the bill, and those who knew me best might even be angry that it was done “in my name.”  The same is true if some cause were done “in my name.”  If, for instance, someone decided to “kick kittens” in my name, or even worse “kick calico kittens,” in the world of those who know me best it would be an utter sham!  Those who know me the very best would say, “They don’t know her at all!  This is not in her name, despite what they say!”  They would refuse to participate.

Even if it was something, my friends were not generally opposed to, like eating a McDonald’s hamburger, even if it were something they would normally participate in, if it were done “in Margaret’s name,” those who know me, knowing I really hate McDonald’s hamburgers, would say “This is a horrible way to remember Margaret.  This is NOTHING like anything she would want to do.  Let’s do something else.”

On the other hand, if my friends sat in my studio, made clay pots, played music and those who couldn’t play listened or sang, surrounded by frolicking calico kittens, and cracking wry, sarcastic jokes, and laughing until tears came out of their eyes, eating grilled salmon, roast lamb, hummus and lentil salad, and drinking a glass of a full-bodied red wine, or a cup of dark roast fresh ground coffee, or a glass of clear cool water from the well, and did this all while enjoying memories and talking about things that matter in life, than at the end, those who know me the very best would KNOW that this was truly a gathering “in Margaret’s name” – no questions asked.

In the same way, two or three gathered in the name of Jesus is not just words.  It must be in a context of knowing Him, and caring for those things He most cares about. And what does He care most about?  Well, when a man or woman is about to die, the thing they speak of typically reveals what they most care about. As I have written, elsewhere, as Jesus prepared himself to face an excruciatingly painful and torturous death, He got down to what mattered most:

“Love each other.”

But here is the sad and tragic part: we so often settle for far less than love in the Body of Christ.  We settle for “general affinity” or “cordiality.”  So often we can be “bigger” but in that largeness can feel utterly alone.

“Better a dry crust where there is love.”

Today, my husband and I often meet in groups of 2, 3, 4 or 5 “in His name.” Our meetings may not be “a meeting” – we may eat, we may laugh, we may tell stories about friends or memories, we may think of something we learned, or an insight we had.  Somehow, I think that is something that Jesus looks on, as he sits in our midst, and the one who enjoyed a meal with sinners says “Yes, this is truly in my name.

Today I remembered a time when we first began meeting in this way, and though I knew it was good, though I often reminded myself that He said “2 or 3” was enough, I still felt, at times, not quite legitimate, not quite like we were really the church.  Today, as I looked back on those days, I realize I have changed.  I find myself quite content being gathered together, just 2 or 3, in His name.

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Let’s Start a Grassroots Revolution of Love!

Beautiful does not always mean the big and the “spectacular.” Beauty is also found in the small and “insignificant” places that others might walk by and never notice.

Recently I was reading this blog post entitled “a letter from an exhausted/exasperated young person who has a complicated love/hate relationship with the church” by a blogger named Ron.  As I was reading, I started thinking about the many people I’ve talked to and  blogged with who have experienced similar frustrations to Ron.  What hit me as I was reading is the the theme I hear again and again, which is people looking for authentic, genuine community.  Ron speaking of his own generation put it this way:

…there are a couple things young people simply won’t tolerate. They will not put up with what they deem to be a lack of community and/or authenticity, and they will not abide anything that appears to simply be going through the motions or the semblance of just being part of some spiritual/religious club. They aren’t interested in towing the party line that has no bearing on their social and cultural experiences.  And–most terrifying to previous generations–they aren’t threatened by threats of “It has to be this way or nothing at all.”

Why?

Because this is a generation of self-starters and micro-entrepreneurship. They have no problem whatsoever starting up their own things. And they have been. And they are. And they will continue to do so.

[Note: I encourage reading the entire blog here.]
 This particular passage got me to thinking about a theme I’ve been ruminating on  for some years, the whole idea of grassroots movements.  The term grassroots is a fascinating metaphor if one thinks about it.  It is a picture of something working and spreading beneath the surface and below notice.  We don’t need anyone’s permission to love one another, and we don’t have to have an established “institution” to create a place of community.  Actually to be the Church, it appears we only need two or three to gather in His name, so there is no reason not to start a counter culture movement of love and community.  In fact, it seems to me that a grassroots movement is already underway of people who have gotten worn out by dead religion, and want to really experience the kind of life that Jesus, Paul, James, Peter and others talked about.
So, let’s just do it!  Let’s just decide that we are going to live this way even if we can only find one or two other people who want to live in authentic community with us (“two or three… in My name”).  Not saying it will be easy, because learning to love isn’t as easy as we like to think (even our closest friends and loved ones do stupid things that make them hard to love at times, and, dare I say it… so do we).  But that being said, and drawing on the same illustration as Ron did in his blog, we can decide to be Joshuas and Calebs, who saw the same giants that the other 10 spies saw, and yet were able to believe that they could enter the Promised Land.  We too have a Promised Land: a land described in John 15, 1 Cor 13, 1 John 2, Hebrews 10:22-25, John 17, and many other places.

 

“We are surely able to take possession of it!”

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Love Practically: the Dynamics of Heart Opening

Authors note: another unpublished post from the past.  This one was drafted November 24, 2009, but never published.  As I read it over, I couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t published it.  Only made minor modifications.

About a week ago, I had this experience.  I was having an interaction with someone, and in the middle of the interaction I heard the Spirit of God speaking quietly into my own spirit “Will you open your heart to this person?”  The interesting thing was I wasn’t aware of my heart being closed.  The person was someone I liked, enjoyed spending time with and considered a dear friend.  I would have expected such a question if faced with someone whose need overwhelmed me, but though like all of humankind this person had needs,  I didn’t feel overwhelmed by their need or like they were asking something of me that I wasn’t willing to give.  So, the case was not one that I would have expected a challenge to open my heart.

Yet as I heard this question whispering gently in my heart, I knew my heart was not fully open.  So, I made a conscious effort to open my heart.  Two amazing things ensued.  Not immediately, but sometime later, the person opened their heart more fully to me.  No “deep dark secrets”, but sharing important stuff — questions, thoughts, hopes, longings.  And the second thing was later that evening at home alone, I found myself drawn into the presence of God, and experienced His heart opening up and pouring out to me, and I was suddenly amazed to realize my heart was more open to God.

The experience gave me a deeper revelation of what I already knew, which is if I open my heart to my brother and my sister, I open my heart to the Lord.  An open heart is an open heart and a closed heart is a closed heart.  I can’t decide to open my heart to God, and not open it to my fellow man, and I can’t decide to close my heart to one without closing my heart to the other either (1 John 4:7-8, 1 John 3:17).

But the experience held another lesson as well.  I’ve thought about it and prayed about it in the days that have passed since.  God was asking me to open my heart to much much more than simply human need.  I think before now I’ve always linked opening my heart to other people to opening my heart to their need, and yes, that is a part, but if I only open my heart to the need of the person in front of me I have still not opened my heart to the person themselves.  The Lord is asking of me so much more: to open my heart to the fullness of the mystery of that person.  It is written that we are created in the image of God.  This God is an infinite, eternal God.  In the image of this God we are created! Wow, what an amazing thought!  Each person is intricately and amazingly made, and yet so often when we open our hearts only to our own image of that person, only to our expectations of them, only to our thoughts of what they can do for us, even if it’s only making us feel better about ourselves for helping them.  But what would it mean to open our hearts fully to the person themselves, to the things that make them fully human — for instance their creativity, their free will.  To open my heart to someone with a free will, either God or man, means to open my heart to a mystery.

Loneliness

Lately I’ve been reflecting on the root causes of loneliness, and have realized that, for me at least, loneliness is caused by feeling myself to be alone in my thoughts.  The thoughts may be ideas, hopes, dreams, plans, aspirations, or revelations.   When I realize that those around me are either unable or unwilling to enter my inner world long enough to understand these thoughts, it is then that loneliness often ensues.

What is the opposite of experiencing loneliness?  Perhaps it is to experience fellowship, for it is in those moments that another has truly seen and understood even a small part of my inner world that I feel the opposite of lonely.   The more authentic fellowship I experience from even a few, the less those who don’t understand matter, the more I am able to love those who even willfully misunderstand.  It was Jesus’ perfect fellowship with the Father that empowered Him with grace to love and forgive both disciple and pharisee, prostitute and priest.