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Posts Tagged ‘koinonia’

I’m sure the intention of the phrase, “chosen sister” is that of a sister in the flesh who is also a believer. And yet, for me, something else resonated which makes me want to take a little mind excursion into the value of friendships.

II John 13
The children of your chosen sister send their greetings.
[NIV, 1984]

The second letter of John did not hold much new for me. I see it as a very concise review of his first letter as he writes on the importance of loving others, obedience to Christ, and protecting the Spirit from within from deceptions and deceptive people.

However, when I read the last phrase about the lady’s “chosen sister,” a deeper chord struck. I suppose it’s because I don’t have any blood sisters and like most women who don’t, wish I did. There is a bond between sisters that is unique.

On occasion, we all encounter a friend who becomes as close as a sister, or maybe even closer. Those friends were chosen: either by one another or, in the case of the Presence, chosen by God. These relationships are singular and should be cherished.

I have had a few such women friends who have marked my life and I am grateful for them. To them I give testimony this day.

Becky & Mary were girlfriends from high school with whom I walked through a complex time, both personally and culturally. It was the time of agitated civil rights, the Vietnam war, and our own search for identity. The times in which we lived branded us and even after forty years, we are still engaged (no matter how frequently or infrequently) and that link makes us genuinely care about each other as well as our children and the lives they are leading. They are chosen sisters.

In college, I met Kathy, another chosen sister with whom I have experienced great losses and gains, marriages and divorces, fertility and infertility, grief and joy. There have been months, even years, when we lost each other, but the cord was stronger than time we lost and we endured. Our big joke now is that we will age together, rocking on a porch somewhere, hopefully near the ocean or the mountains. Our children continue to be part of both of our lives.

In recent years, Janis & Kathleen have been the women who have walked beside me in faith and trials. They adopted my children, in one case, as a Godparent even, and I know their prayers cover me and my kids in a cloud of light as I do for theirs (which takes longer since they both have five children apiece, LOL). These chosen sisters entered my life through the church, our prayers and worship of the same God bind us too.

Of course, there have been other key sisters that God chose for me: women whose lives crossed mine for a season. Each of them were a blessing that cannot be cast off whether it was for ten years or ten weeks or even less. And there are women today who are in my life but we have not quite “chosen” fully. We love, we care, we connect, but we are not laid bare.

Friendships are harder to sustain in this age. We are either too busy to commit the time it takes to bridge our lives or too insecure to open our arms and expose our hearts. I am guilty.

Every friendship is a gift. And just as I need the Presence of God within, I need you, chosen sister or nearly sister or soon to be sister, on the outside. And you need me. Let us choose more freely.

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Not all of the translations include the phrase “through the Holy Spirit” when it comes to obeying the truth, but I see that as an essential piece. Otherwise, it’s a lost game. Obedience needs the grounding and grace of Spirit; so does love for that matter.

I Peter 1:22
Since by your obedience to the Truth through the [Holy] Spirit you have purified your hearts for the sincere affection of the brethren, [see that you] love one another fervently [deeply] from a pure heart.
[Amplified]

So what is the “Truth” here. Some commentaries simply say it’s the gospel: to obey the gospel? I think I can believe in the gospel, but I don’t believe that obey would be the same thing here. Alternatively, of course, there is obedience of the Christ, also called in the Truth (by Jesus himself) in John 14:6 (as in “I am the way, the truth & the light . . . ).

In the Old Testament, the truth of God is more often rendered as faithfulness. It is a form of truth, this dependability in what God says and what God will do or promises to do: whether it’s destroy, repair, or restore.

We do know the opposite of truth is falsehood. And no good thing comes from falsehood, no good thing comes from a lie, no obedience to a deception will produce good fruit. So, even if we don’t know exactly what “truth” is, evidence eventually piles up.

But let me turn to the One who helps us obey the Truth (whatever truth might be), and that is the Holy Spirit, my favorite topic of late, my hope in the midst of all challenges, my resource, my guide, my closest ally. “When the Friend I plan to send you from the Father comes—the Spirit of Truth issuing from the Father—he will confirm everything about me. You, too, from your side must give your confirming evidence, since you are in this with me from the start.” [John 15:26-27, The Message]

In the same way that asking for wisdom on regular, daily basis is effective and necessary (like manna from heaven), I’m thinking that asking the Holy Spirit for help to “obey Truth” is a reasonable and maybe insightful addition to my prayer routine.

I’ve never been too good at the obedience code anyway. There’s a little rebel in me I guess. And although that has held me in good stead on occasion, giving me a foot up when it comes to thinking outside the box or creatively, it also lands me in a little hot water, pushing back against authority, etc.

Now, as to loving deeply, this too requires Holy Spirit participation, only because deep love, coupled with a pure heart, can only have one Source. I cannot love deeply or purely on my own. And of course, deep love is honest . . . it’s rooted in Truth. They are woven together.

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Oh sure, be holy. That directive is right up there with “be skinny” or “be successful.” These states of being take a lot of work and commitment. I’m pretty sure holiness is no cakewalk either.

I Peter 1:15-16
But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy. [Leviticus 11:44]”

I understand there’s a lot of grace involved in holiness (certainly a lot more than I have ever found in exercise or dieting). And yet, there are disciplines that must be part of the equation. If we just model holiness after Christ, there are keys to follow: sacrificial living, prayer, purity, authenticity, transparency, study, relationships with God and others, and paradoxical behaviors (as I’ve mentioned many times before).

We don’t come to these things naturally. Practice.

If I could just pick any one of these processes and focus on it, I’m pretty sure I would make more progress. But, unfortunately, I bounce around from one big idea to another, one practice to another. It’s an A.D.D. kind of thing. It’s a “Jill of all trades” kind of thing. For those of you familiar with the enneagram, it’s a “seven” kind of thing.

On the refrigerator, a well meaning friend posted a magnetic plaque that reads: “From your lips right to your hips.” Would it help me to put a little reminder on my computer: “Holiness begins with mindfulness and is watered with grace.”

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Most of my understanding of the nature of God is downright murky; how much less my understanding of that opposite force/entity: the Devil? And yet, I see the consequences of evil everywhere, even prevalent. How do I still get trapped?

II Timothy 2:25-26
You never know how or when God might sober them up with a change of heart and a turning to the truth, enabling them to escape the Devil’s trap, where they are caught and held captive, forced to run his errands.
[The Message]

What is the trap of the devil anyway? I’d say it has more to do with a state of the mind than anything else. After all, it’s in the mind that I make decisions, that I initiate my actions. I choose inside the mind. So, I confess, some “traps” I choose. I choose to judge others; I choose to gossip; I choose to sin. Like any woman on a perpetual diet, I still eat the wrong foods and exercise little. I perpetuate my condition.

Now, that’s not to say that some traps don’t catch me off guard too. Like a mousetrap, that is laden with scrumptious cheese. It looks so good. It looks so harmless. I am presented with such snares in the media and while shopping: buy, buy, buy. I am offered credit cards with “cheap” interest. I am told I can afford a much bigger house than I thought. I am encouraged to upgrade everything and anything. Super size it!

And what about the gambit that slowly bewitches me if I am not watchful, like the little frog in the pot of water, getting hotter and hotter? Will I jump out in time? Not always. I become desensitized. I no longer notice the brutal lyrics, the foul language, the abusive behaviors. I am able to watch tsunami scenes and it’s like watching a Hollywood movie, all unreal. “How sad,” I say, “how tragic,” and then I blend up my smoothie or pour a glass of Pinot Noir and watch a DVD to get away from the news.

They say that people who are abducted actually begin to attach to their abductors. Their limited lives develop a pattern, a norm, and slowly, the whole idea of escape is numbed out of them. Isn’t this the most insidious trap of all?

And if I get trapped, so can anyone else. When I’m caught up in a web, it means so much when someone reaches out to me, tells me to “watch out” before I step on the trigger, helps me climb out of the pot of water, gives me clarity where I can no longer see, and draws me into truth with love.

No one likes being slapped across the head like an idiot and told to “wake up! You’re deluded.” No one likes to discover they’ve been fooled or tricked.

The people who have made a difference in my life are the ones who were consistent and patient; those who were authentic in their faith and transparent in their sharing of self.

This is my goal as a follower of the Christ today. This is the role that makes it possible to change a path, to walk beside, to love, to stay out of traps by walking the road corporately.

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Paul writes to the elders who “direct the affairs of the church” and I can’t help but wonder, what is this church? Many have written about the church over the centuries and it continues to morph. Today, some are big business while others gather in a private home. What is it for me? You?

I Timothy 5:17
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.

There is something about the corporateness of “church” that appeals to me. If I had the time, I’d look up the scripture references to gathering together, supporting one another, and building unity. But for now, I’ll just say, I know, in my heart, that “koinonia” is important.

There is a difference between Church (capital “C”), the greater Body of Christ throughout the world and the sub-unit of the Body, also called church (small “c”). In some cases, those sub-units have become silos and have built walls between their brands of corporate worship and the practices of other groups. They may even worship the same God but too many become suspicious if activities and terminology don’t resonate with their own.

Is church merely a place to worship together? Or is it just a corporate agreement that we share the same God? Is it a family? Or is it better than family? Is it accidental or intentional?

Some will glibly say the church is the people and not the building. And yet, they don’t know the person sitting next to them.

Mike and I are part of the launch of a new church in Havre de Grace called Restore Church. What will that look like? How will it be different, or will it? What does it mean to “do church?” Will we be able to know one another? Will we achieve true koinonia?

Will we get caught up in the government of church or the “affairs of the church” and lose the essence?

There is so much talk about church planting, but what are we planting? Are we putting down roots? Are we nurturing ourselves and others?

For the past twenty years, we have been at the same church, a wonderful mass of people, and yet we felt it was time to move on to experience something else. There was no anger, no complaints, not really, just a languishing feeling. My fear is that it simply comes with my age. Am I simply tired of church in its most traditional sense? What is it I want to experience now?

I have a lot of questions but few answers today. But I know this, it’s important to ask and to seek. It’s important for Spirit to lead.

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Can’t do it. I can’t be silent. I won’t. And that doesn’t make me less fond of my beloved Savior nor He of me. Nor does it mean the Bible is so full of holes that it’s unreliable or useless. In fact, I’m not even arguing with the truth of it. I’m just not going to do it.

I Corinthians 14:33b-34
As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.

There are certainly cultural and historical bases for this verse (and others) about the roles of women in the church. I understand that.

And yet, on one hand, New Testament women were free to worship and participate equally in the promises of Christ and even perform as leaders (e.g. Lydia & Priscilla) and yet, on the other hand, great limitations were placed on their authority within the church.

Some liberal-leaning Bible historians have explained away this verse by saying it refers to the disorder of the Corinthian church and that women were calling out across the room asking for explanations and the like. Good luck with that one. Maybe so.

And yet, I tend to agree with the more conservative approachs: Paul meant what he said. So be it.

But I cannot keep silent. I don’t cover my head in church and I still wear jewelry and I don’t always “submit” to my husband’s point of view. These things are also part of who I am and I come to Christ honestly.

I have been gifted to speak and even, on occasion, to write well. There have been anointings. The Holy Spirit has flowed through me and I have spoken out of that secret place. I have experienced the pleasure of my God in His creation–me. And although I love the scriptures and all that those words have given to me and revealed to me, I will not allow this verse to condemn me.

So, I’ll wait. And on that great day when we no longer “see through a glass darkly” [I Corinthians 13:12] but understand the greater meanings of our three-dimensional life on this earth, it will all make sense.

I trust God and lean on His grace and that grace is sufficient, even for this intentional rebellion.

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Can you imagine a time when everyone in a gathering was so fired up for God that they had to be admonished to “slow down,” to take turns, to be polite? Everything from music to words of knowledge to prophetic utterances were common place. What happened?

I Corinthians 14:26b, 33
When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. . . . For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.

I guess, in the “name of order,” habits developed. I’m trying to remember a saying about traditions. It’s something like, “the first time you do something, it’s a novelty, the second time you do it, it’s repetition, and the third time, it’s tradition, locked in stone.” How many families have traditions that got started accidentally? And once they’ve passed the “three times” mark, how do you stop them?

Church services are no different it seems. Repetition and tradition have ruled the roost for so long in church that it’s nearly impossible to envision a “new order.” Solomon knew, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” [Ecclesiastes 1:9]

When the Charismatics emerged in the 1970′s, they were determined to break the mold and get back to the old ways. They took the Corinthian verses about the manifestation of the gifts and church leaders encouraged their flocks to sing in the spirit, prophesy in the spirit, speak in tongues, interpret, etc. I know because I was there, singin’, dancin’, and prophesyin’. Those were exciting times. But then, things got a little out of hand. Bold people got carried away and it seemed like they had prophecies and tongues every week, every service, every opportunity. And more often than not, the utterances were relatively generic or downright anemic (not unlike newspaper astrology – fits for anyone). After awhile, even I started to cringe whenever I heard someone start in a loud voice, “My children, my children . . . ” Most of these prophetic statements were less than enlightening.

And so, after awhile, one by one, these wild services started putting on the brakes. Pastors had quiet conversations with the self-anointed prophets and tongue speakers and “in the name of order,” everyone settled down to a standard: praise songs, worship songs, a prophetic utterance or two (maybe a tongue and maybe an interpretation, but they all sounded the same), greeting one another, announcements, fund-raising (I mean, offering), more music, and then the sermon. I guess we were saving the best for last?

Eventually, the “wild” churches became equally traditional and tame as the very churches they tried to break away from.

I think this is one reason for the interest in the old forms like liturgy, praying the hours, celebrating the church calendar, weekly and daily communion, meditation, contemplation, labyrinth prayers, and so on. You want order? That’s well thought out order.

But, is it any better? There’s no better or worse to any of these traditions really.

Another trend is “house churches.” Of course, these have been popping up here and there for years, so it’s not really that new, but the popularity of home churches is gaining momentum. In some cases, it’s a push back from large churches, traditions, and the like. In other cases, they are an outgrowth of the “small group” movement where folks from bigger churches have discovered they can enter into more meaningful relationships in weekly meetings with fewer people. But I have a feeling, traditions and “order of worship” have developed in these settings as well.

So, what’s the answer? Don’t know.

I have some kind of an “ideal” in my mind. But it’s just that, a dream: church as koinonia, where people know each other, love each other, and care for each other. And flowing over koinonia, the vertical relationships with God who covers a multitude of sins and mistakes. And flowing out of koinonia is service together to help those who cannot help themselves. How big can koinonia get? I don’t know, but I doubt it’s much bigger than Jesus’s example of the twelve. Anything outside of that is just friendly fellowship.

One thing the Catholics did right was the parish concept: people worshiping together who live together. Koinonia is no different. We must be able to participate in one another’s lives.

I asked a friend the other day, “If disaster happened, where would you run?” He said, most people go home. But face it, the family unit is too small and isolated to face true disaster. And in many cases, family is dispersed as well. Can I run to my church? At this point, it’s 25 minutes away by car. My neighbors? I have lived on the same block for twelve years and although I can name six or seven families, that’s my limit. Would we turn to one another in the face of danger? Would a type of koinonia develop from need on our block? Would we approach disaster the same way without a shared faith?

Lots of questions today. Lots of dreaming.

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