As 2011 has started, I found myself in a unique place. Here I stand, 28 years old, married to an amazing friend and husband, raising up 2 beautiful boys together. I’m starting my 6th year in ministry, in a world where many college graduates don’t even start in the field of their major. God has truly blessed our family in so many ways – we can’t doubt His presence in our lives.
When the year of 2010 came to a close, I was sitting a few feet away from my husband, who was rocking our oldest (soon to be 3 year old) back to sleep. I saved up my vacation time and our family was able to take a 2 week, all out van trip from Florida to Pennsylvania, to Kentucky and then back home…all to visit with family. Before leaving my husband (and others) set the tone for the trip…the rules for me were as follows:
1. Cell phone should be turned off (okay, I failed this one, but I did ignore a lot of calls…which I have since returned by the way!)
2. Stay off the computer (I did this well…I was only on twice…not too bad, right?)
3. Play with my kids (yep…this one was GREAT!)
4. Spend time with Steve, my husband (My favorite time was traveling in the van, with our 2 kids napping in the back and just talking…it kept us awake and I LOVE talking with him!)
5. No potty stops for me (Managed this one too…we stopped for Josh most of the time!)
For 14 days I spent with my family, completely focused on my husband, my kids…and maybe a few minor issues (such as finding a kids nativity scene for our family next year). For the first few days of the trip I found myself both mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. I left my bluetooth headset at home and I felt lost. Around midweek I started thinking, “Why is it so hard for me to simply stop and rest?” Why is it hard for us, those who crave moving a million miles a minute, finding excuses to be busy…sometimes there are even those people (not me by the way…sorry) that would rather be at work than home with their kids? How is this healthy?
For the entire 14 days I spent with my family, driving, eating, through the pillow fights, pictures, gift giving, gift getting and the holiday festivities…I felt like God was saying, “Bethany, what do you want from your life?” I started asking questions such as am I happy? Am I where God wants me to be in life? If I died today, would anyone notice…would anyone care? I’d been running a million miles a minute trying to do things FOR God, I forgot about what it is like doing life WITH God. We can always keep busy putting out fires, helping people in need, developing amazing programs, building a social and ministry network…the list can go on…but doing life WITH God allows me to grow in my relationship with Him allowing others to partner with me in my walk and join in fellowship together. Basically in a nutshell…God doesn’t call us to run alone in life.
I’ve been reading through 1 John chapter 1 this week…I’m moving slower and gaining my goal of 2011 to be patient and SLOW DOWN…that includes my Bible reading moving slower, absorbing more meaningful time with Him without too much info. I made it as far as verse 4 and stopped. Here is what took my breath away…
3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our<sup class="footnote" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em;" value="[a]”>[a] joy complete.
The footnote there after “our” states that some manuscripts read “your.” Part of me wonders if John originally wrote “your” and the early church, joining with him in fellowship changed it to “our.” BUT…thats just my imagination at work. First, John is writing to the early church here, scattered throughout the land and Jesus has walked the face of the earth, resurrected from the dead and ascended to Heaven. The apostles started the early church and soon churches started around the land. Imagine what it was like for John, not only to write about Jesus…but about a relationship that literally transformed his life. A relationship that defined who he was, his purpose, his being…this relationship he knew HAD changed the face of all humanity…and he, John had the awesome opportunity to touch, talk, speak to and form a humanly relationship with God in the flesh. Deep thought, divine reality. With all of this setting in, John starts this letter by saying, “Look, I’ve seen, felt, spoke to and literally worked with the Son of God! This is it folks! My life has been changed! My life has been forever locked into a relationship (which he calls FELLOWSHIP here) with others that believe in Him and God and His Son! Then he adds…by the way, we want you in our club too! (I’m picturing the part of Finding Nemo…you know, the tribal ceremony?!).
Do you get it? You, I, the neighbor down the street, the guy that brings you coffee, the woman who calls the church asking for money, the ATT guy that shows up on the doorstep like every third day want
ing to sell something…EVERYONE regardless of past or present circumstances is invited into a fellowship…a life changing relationship with God and God in the flesh (Jesus Christ)…AND with the other believers who have formed this relationship. You see, fellowship is a way of life…its the SLOWING DOWN of our busy trying to do life by ourselves attitude and realizing the type of life God and John here is inviting us into. It’s a life of devotion to God, learning from the life of Jesus and living it out through fellowship with believers AND by connecting with the community.
What does living a true life of fellowship look like? Bring in Acts…the life of the early church. Check out Acts 2:42-47…AND the headline in the Bible here reads (NIV version)
The Fellowship of the Believers
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Can you imagine being a part of a FELLOWSHIP like this? I love the last line…”And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” As a teenager would respond, “DUH!” If you, an outside onlooker saw the joy mentioned here (and also that John mentions) from believers that have seen both firsthand…but many also witnessed through the love and passion of the followers present – if an onlooker noticed that these people cared genuinely about these others as they were family, if an onlooker realized these people viewed their life as temporary and readily giving of their money, clothes, food, tithes and time to those in need…why would you NOT want to be a part of that? I want to be a part of that!
So…this week I’m diving head first into discovering what genuine fellowship is really all about. I dare say that many churches, at least in America, do not practice this Biblical fellowship expressed here. Partly because we do church different…we do give, but many have no clue where their giving goes or how it is spent. We come in and expect fellowship to be instantaneous…as a worship experience. We expect God to just show up, instead of looking for Him. We don’t truly meet together for prayer…we just say, “I’ll pray for you”…gee, thanks! Come on…where is the real passion? The excitement? The concern for those around us?
My Challenges For 2011:
1. Slow Down (Personally with my family and forming deeper relationship with friends, emotionally focusing on the things I can change and move away from the areas I have no control or where God has not gifted me…may mean handing some ministry roles off to other gifted people AND spiritually taking more time to devour smaller portions of scripture and spending the entire day talking with God.)
2. Look Around (There are people all around me that are hurting, lost, confused, wounded and some just need to know that there is another human being that cares. I don’t want to wake-up in the morning and realize the people God has entrusted me to lead walk away from our church…our fellowship because somewhere across the line I communicated that I don’t care…or that they are not my area of ministry. Fellowship knows no bounds. Fellowship understands the body of Christ and when one part suffers, the entire body is weak. I promise to make the hard phone calls, to visit more in the hospitals, write the note, visit the homes and somehow (I’m still not sure how)…I pray God allows me to enter the schools around our community. Life isn’t fun to do alone…I want to make God look good!)
3. Be Joy (I realize life is hard, but by forming relationships and stretching out to those around me I can always find joy in what God has done through His Son on the cross. Never will my life get to the point where I can’t see Calvary and the price that was paid for all humanity that day. Never can I repay that cost…and just the mere reality that God wants to form a relationship with me…just that thought gives me JOY. Excitement! Enthusiasm! Does it not do that to you? If not…why? It might be a road you want to investigate more.)
I really have no idea where 2011 will take me and our family. Yet, truly, we are having the time of our lives. I will not neglect my family for over excessive ministry. I will not be so comfortable in ministry that I fail to see the reality of what is around me. I will press toward the goal, together in fellowship, slowing down, looking around and being joy to such a world that needs hope. < br />
Who is with me?