| In Oakland, California, in a park called Fairyland, |
dwells this beautiful little church, where the main thing is still the main thing.
These pictures were taken in 2002, and it had been almost that long since we felt this good in church.
I won't even tell you (because I can't remember them all) how many first time visits to new churches we've made over the last eight years. That all those visits were necessary is tremendously sad to me and if it could have been otherwise, we would have found that far preferable. Lest you think we must be chronically dissatisfied, critical, fickle and flighty, let me add that before these eight years of moving from church to church, we were at the same church for over thirteen years, and tried like crazy not to have to leave that one.
I am also not going to tell you all the reasons for leaving the churches we've left after attending for periods of months and sometimes for years. Even after the passage of time, I still believe each departure was necessary. Each one was different, and each one was painful. In each place we had formed relationships, and only a few of them have survived the leaving (how thankful we are for those few that have!) That isn't how it should be if we are truly the family of God, but that has been our experience.
It was purely out of obedience that we got dressed on Sunday morning, gathered our Bibles both tangible and electronic, and made a point to find the address on Google maps, put the car in gear and go. None of us wanted to go through this process again, and it would, in some ways, be so much easier to just carry on our Christian lives, loving God and loving people outside the walls of a particular church. After all, I have all my favorite worship music in my computer, in my car, in my iPod, and I have access to sermons from some of the best preachers and teachers from around the world at my fingertips . . . yes, it would be easier to do church that way.
Better? God says no.
"And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near." Hebrews 10:25 NLT
So we obeyed, and we tucked one more thing into the car with us as we drove off to put our faith in action . . . HOPE. We all hoped that somehow this would be the place, the place different from all the rest, not a perfect place (we know there's no such thing when people are involved), but a healthy place, a loving place, a place to call home and to settle down into Kingdom life and love and work.
It was scary to hope again--we've been disappointed so many times. It was tempting to have no hope at all, just a resigned assumption that the healthy church we've been looking for doesn't exist and that we shouldn't look for more than the least bad church closest to home. Somehow that didn't sound like what we should look for from the abundant-life-giving God we know, so we did give hope a place, way in the back of the car, and said it could go with us as long as it didn't make us feel stupid or embarrassed when the morning was done. There's nothing like a little misplaced hope to leave you feeling foolish in the extreme--no, none of that please!
The good news is, we were all pleasantly surprised! It was a VERY good morning to be at church, especially this one. We worshiped with joy and enthusiasm, we were fed from the Word, and we enjoyed fellowship with warm and friendly people. We don't want to get overly excited or to get ahead of ourselves or place impossible expectations, but this church made a wonderful first impression, enough so that we want to go back and give it a chance as a possible place to call our church home. We will take our time with this, but the hope that went home with us was not the timid, uncertain, apologetic type that was barely allowed to make the trip in the first place. It actually sat up straight and looked out the window at the beautiful Sunday in October.
We did too.
Has it ever been difficult for you to obey the instruction in Hebrews 10:25?
What part do you think hope plays in obedience?
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