“I don’t have a church!” I lament almost daily. To some extent, this is true. For one thing, I can’t always get transportation to a church. For another, a movement whose doctrine and practices I can only describe as cultic has been sweeping through most of the churches in my area and leading even the pastors astray. Its teachings are so far removed from historical Christianity that I can’t bring myself to attend any church even slightly affiliated with this new sect. But that’s not what I’m here to write about…
The fact is, I have no church. While other Christians across the world wake up with joy in their hearts every Sunday because they know that they will soon be uniting with other believers, I wake up every Sunday wishing it were a day more sanctified, longing for it not to feel like any other day, but knowing in my heart that it does. I don’t dress up; I don’t sing joyful hymns and praise choruses, blending my voice with tens or hundreds or thousands of others; I don’t stay standing for the first part of worship, but then kneel before Him or remain seated during the second part so that His love can just wash over me; I don’t tithe because I don’t have a church to tithe to; I don’t join with others in opening our Bibles to this passage or that one; I don’t experience the collective sounds of those pages turning or of bread being broken in Communion; I don’t stand and pray with others at the close of the service; I don’t go up for prayer afterword when the pastor asks for those who need healing of heart, body, or relationships to come to the front of the church; I don’t approach the pastor afterword and tell him that God gave him a powerful sermon; and I don’t linger in the fellowship hall for coffee and doughnuts. I used to–oh, yes!–I used to. But things have changed. Now, I don’t have a church.
Then, last night, the Lord helped me remember:
My dear sister in Christ, whom I shall simply refer to as Seamstress, has been hard at work for the last two weeks–making velvet bags for anointing oil and other precious things. The Lord gave her this ministry, and she has been blessing others with it for some time. Each time she begins a project, she prays over it and asks God to bless the work of her hands. If she knows the people for whom she’s making each velvet item, she prays for their specific needs–in my case, for healing in various areas. She remembers worship choruses from the 1980s. She knows how to write such beautiful words of encouragement that she brings some of us to tears. She is a servant of God and of others, and the way she worships Him is unique and precious in its own right.
Then, there’s Sincere Sister. Not biologically, of course, but her heart is close enough! She is the least conforming, least socially-conscious person I know–and it’s beautiful! Case in point: On Commencement Day several years ago, she and I found ourselves standing together. We hadn’t seen each other in over two years, but some of her first words to me didn’t involve how classes had gone for us, or what we planned to do with the rest of our lives. Instead, she said, “Hi, this is–[insert name here, for she doesn’t call herself Sincere Sister!]. Are you still in the Lord?” She picked up on what would matter most, and she chose to discuss that first. As our friendship has deepened, I find that she has made some of the same specific commitments to God that I have. She, too, finds immeasurable comfort in the Word–particularly a very special passage in I Corinthians. Unlike me, she does have a church and frequently asks her congregation to pray for the needs of my family. So, in a way, I get to share the blessings of her Sunday worship.
And how can I forget Little Sister? I’m not sure whether she would appreciate me calling her that, but in a way, I don’t think she would mind. She’s a bit younger than I am, but has been a very special friend since 2010. She’s a song-writer and a poet, and she loves to write about the Lord. Just stream-of-consciousness–anything and everything, so long as it glorifies God. She is a graceful young gazelle, or a frolicking lamb, running about hither and thither, eager to explore as much of the truth of Scripture as she possibly can–and just as enthusiastic about applying it.
Mr. and Mrs. Maple are just that–trees planted by living waters, filled with a profound sense of God’s grace. Their daughter, Prayer Warrior, says little but communicates much as she prays for everyone she encounters, asking the Lord to fill each one with His most precious peace. When she does, the presence of the lord fills the room. I have prayed with her only once, but it is an experience I will never forget.
What can I possibly say to describe the strength of Pianist? Seldom in my life have I experienced such solidarity of character and faith. Several years ago, Pianist lost her ninety-five-year-old mother. Her reaction was one of understandable grief, but also of joy that her mother was “Safe in the Arms of Jesus”. A few years after that, she experienced a health difficulty that turned out to be minor but that likely would have caused me panic had I been any closer to it. Pianist’s response: To continue “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”. Shortly after that, Pianist and her husband lost a dear friend of theirs. What did Pianist do? Did she get angry, or wonder if the Lord had forsaken them, or stop reading her Bible? No. Her plea from that point forward was, “Nearer, My God, to Thee”. And she played these things! One of Pianist’s chief delights is to sit down on that wooden bench, touch those old keys, and sing hymn after hymn unto the Lord. Sometimes, she even invites me to join her in that proverbial prayer closet. Some of my most joyous memories over the years have involved the two of us attending hymn-sings held in various churches. See a post entitled, “There Is Sunshine in My Soul Today”.
Spirit-Filled Nurse has known my family since I was an infant. She it was who offered to keep praying throughout a difficult surgery I underwent. Now, she telephones regularly–usually with something from the Lord that one of us desperately needed to hear. Sometimes, she shares a psalm in whole new light, or sings with such radiant beauty that it just about brings us to our knees. And always, always, her message is the same: “Trust Him. You know what the Bible says–by His stripes we are healed. Rem ember it! And keep focusing on Him…” I love it!
Seminarian Sister… What can I possibly say about her? For one thing, she has a delightful, exhaustive knowledge of Scripture and is always studying more. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had read the entire Matthew Henry commentary, with many more besides. And when she feels that the Lord wants to use her to bless others, in whatever way, she listens. From 2006-2007, I underwent such spiritual trials that I actually began to question my salvation. One day, Seminarian Sister felt that the Lord was shoiing her that she should talk to me about all of this. That was some of the most straightforward, spiritual chastisement I ever received–and some of the very most blessed. Two days later, I was free from all the anguish that had so afflicted me during the previous six months.
Holy-Hands is just that–constantly in prayer, lifting holy hands to the Lord, always sustained by Him, and sanctified through and through. Her daughter, Passionate-Joy, is drawing closer to God each day, but is often ill. Holy-Hands is grieved by her daughter’s condition, but never once stops praying or relying fully on God. If we all had a good, hearty dose of her faith, then every bird would have his own mustard-seed shrub to nest in! She has imparted so many lessons on prayer that I cannot begin to express them. Oh, Holy-Hands, precious sister in Christ, “Oh, how He loves me and you!”
Sunday School Teacher is just that. However, she was also my teacher at one time–many, many years ago in seventh and eighth grades. Now, she and I had a secret at that time. Aware that I was going through some difficult times, she contrived to bind the book of Acts and some other Scriptures in such a way that they resembled a wall calendar. She then proceeded to hang them on the classroom wall. They were in Braille–who besides me would know what they were? So, she kept her public-school standing, and I kept some of God’s Word hidden in my heart. Today, she is so much more. She is a friend and a mentor, someone for whom I have the privilege of praying, and someone who is a beautiful prayer partner in the Lord.
Maranatha Missionary was another teacher years ago. The epitome of a gentle grandmother, she has a soft voice and a gentle, lilting South African accent. Throughout my year in her company, she imparted math and English lessons, studied to get her Braille certification, and taught me the rudiments of ballet and knitting on the side. She was soft, lovely elegance personified, back then. Now, she is so very much more–for I see that all her efforts came from a desire to show me the love of Jesus. We continue to keep in contact. Why “Maranatha Missionary”? Because her work, humble though it was, was mission work for the Master, and because she often signs her correspondence with the word “Maranatha”–“Lord, come!”.
Man of God… What can I say? I realize that so many today could be considered men of God, but this particular man fits that description most vividly for me. His voice is nearly identical to that of Don Moen, a Spirit-filled worship leader. He receives visions from God, has the gift of prophesy, prays for healing, has the most magnificent way of praying, sings as the Holy Spirit leads him, writes about Jesus and then humbly discards his writing when it is no longer needed, speaks boldly of every aspect of the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit, evangelizes the lost, and pastors a church. His most recent deed of love: He and a group of other worshipers penned a lengthy discourse describing the attributes and names of our Lord Jesus. They missed a few, as there are over three hundred to be found in Scripture–but they came close! Man of God read this to me as we sat in my grandfather’s living room. The whole room was so filled with the presence of the Lord that I was instantly set at peace concerning many things that had hitherto troubled me.
Man of God has been married for over thirty years to Quick-to-Listen. She reflects her name beautifully, always rejoicing in the things the Lord has given to others and so willing to learn God’s ways. For the record, Quick-to-Listen has a Bible worn and torn in so many places that I’m afraid to touch it, lest she suddenly find Romans ch. 5 floating and fluttering to the floor. It’s been taped, it’s probably been glued–but constant reading and rereading of beloved passages, underlining and highlighting, taking that Bible everywhere she goes, traveling miles across the United States with that copy of Scripture, and treating it as the daily Bread it is have taken their toll on this copy of the Word. I’d buy her a new one, but then where would all that highlighting, all those carefully-written study notes, be?
Man of God is closely affiliated with a man I shall simply call Pastor. True, his church is now his family, for he retired several years ago. However, he is and always will be a pastor at heart. He does not have a worn, torn, with-time-adorned Bible. He has twenty or more Bibles, some in the original Greek and Hebrew. He has every conceivable version but prefers the KJV and, ironically, the Message paraphrase. He does not write “notes” in his Bibles, for “notes” are mere ideas. No, he writes sermons–portions of sermons, ideas for sermons, sermon topics God has given him, sometimes the sermons themselves! He was ordained in a cessationist denomination, but received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and came to believe in the continuation of the active charismatic gifts over fifty years ago. “Be Still, My Soul”, Pastor, “Be Still, My Soul”. Hopefully, you still remember what that meant those many years ago.
His wife, Patience, is just that–merciful, as her Father is merciful. She is quiet and gentle, and knows how to bless others–particularly those who are struggling. I recently had the honor of staying with Pastor and Patience. Now, Patience knows that I want–no, I feel I need–for my time in worship to be kept as private as possible. She is also aware that I’m a bit idiosyncratic and prefer solitude in general–closed doors, possessions where I can reach them at all times, all the things that typically go with having once lost a lot and feeling the need to grasp what one has. She surely knows that it would be better for all parties–myself included–if I relinquished these quirks to the Lord, worshiped Him in boldness, and surrendered the need to be in control of my personal space and my belongings. But what did Patience do about it? She prepared a haven of a guest room, complete with the most precious quilt in the house, a Bible on the nightstand, a cross on a bureau, and a heat pack to soothe aching muscles. She knows I’m a flawed vessel, weak at times and not perfect in Him–but she seems to believe that correcting me is not her calling. She’ll let God do that.
Pastor and Patience have an Irish missionary friend, Stand Fast. Yes, that’s a Pilgrim’s Progress reference, and so not very creative on my part, but I feel it’s justified here. Stand Fast first evangelized his own Ireland, then came to the United States to establish several Good News Clubs in public elementary schools. Yes, this is Constitutional–but it would take too much time to get into all of that. For a time, Stand Fast did mission work in Kenya. The last I heard, he was back in Ireland. Along the way, Stand Fast met and befriended our family. He taught me several songs I had never heard before, recounted in vivid detail the way in which a parishioner received the Holy Spirit, offered Bible commentary on everything from the fall of man to the feeding of the five thousand, and allowed the Lord to use him to fill my heart with prayer and praise. We don’t keep in contact as much as we used to, but, Stand Fast, if you’re reading this, know that you are a wonderful brother in Christ.
Then, there’s Woman of Wisdom. She has no idea how precious she is in the eyes of the Lord. I met her in a writing forum and instantly knew that she was special, but wasn’t sure what to do about it. Send her a personal E-mail and say, “The Lord laid you on my heart; do you know that He loves you”? In hindsight, I probably should have done just that… Anyway, Woman of Wisdom would tell me she really isn’t as Biblically literate as she would like to be. She would say that she doesn’t know the sorts of things she wants to know. But there is a joy in her, and an undeniable love for the Word of God, and a devotion to trusting Him, that surpasses any flaws she may see in herself. Although she is physically not well at this time, she is standing strong, continuing to learn about prayer and fixing her eyes on Jesus. I once had the privilege of sharing a song with her–“My Eyes Are Fixed on You” by Bob Fitts. Woman of Wisdom, thank you for that opportunity; you say it blessed you, but I was the one who came away with joy in my heart.
And how could I fail to write of Songwriter? Actually, she’s more than that–a prayer warrior, a pastor’s daughter, a volunteer–but I know her for the song she sent one evening. Sleep had forsaken me, and I was simply lying awake, mulling over the myriad things I needed to do the next morning. Then, I discovered that she had sent a song about the Lord’s amazing, wonderful, glorious nature–how He answers prayer and sends healing, peace, joy, and too many blessings to name. It was too beautiful–too beautiful not to rest after that, and far too beautiful to explain or even grasp, save to thank God for it.
One of these days, I will write of Good Samaritan, who would be the first to say that she doesn’t believe most of the things I do but who has surprised me by delivering pitch-perfect theology in moments when I least expected it. I’ll also write about Eloquence, Ready-Writer, Hope-of-Heaven, and Seeking-Christian–all people I met in an online writing community. While I’m at it, I’ll write about Servant-Hearted Waitress, Worshiping Driver, Devout Student, Doctor Under the Great Physician, and Sufficient-Grace. And then there are the people who are so precious to me that they can’t be given allegorical names, only Biblical ones–Martha, Jedediah, Naomi, and Hannah. But for now, the Lord has filled my heart until I now know:
I do have a church. We worship in many different ways, at diverse times, and without the added benefit of coffee and doughnuts after the “services”. But we do have worship, and prayer, and even sermons to some extent–teachings by the Holy Spirit, and in His Word, that we share with each other and that flow directly into our hearts. This is the Body of Christ. This, not a building or a set of pews or nondenominational-church-style folding chairs, is my church. Denomination: Christian. And that is what counts.