We stayed in Max Meadows, Virginia last night, at the home of Tony Mattan. We met Tony on the trip to Texas and stayed with him a few nights then. We were excited to see him again.
Tony bought us all pizza from Papa John’s and we ate and played games until bedtime.
Tony and I made arrangements to go for a bike ride the next morning. I hadn’t ridden long and hard for about two weeks, and the last couple of weeks to Texas were largely flat. Now I was facing the prospect of my body being less acclimated to riding and lots of hill work to persevere through.
The ride was very hard. During some of the trip I was thinking about how stupid biking is, how I had no idea how I made it to Texas and how I would determine with great certainty to never bike again.
I tend to get a little dramatic.
Tony is a strong biker, so he had to take it a little easy on me. I suppose I should not be upset with the result. I averaged 14.6 mph for the 48 mile trip that included a total of about 3000 feet of ascent.
But I had very little energy, due in large part to haven eaten a stupidly small breakfast that morning.
Heather made a delicious lunch, I ate it, then we headed up to Harrisonburg, VA to the home of our next host.
I chose Harrisonburg because it was a reasonable distance away, plus I wanted to catch a church service at Horizon Christian Fellowship. The pastor there, Ronny Breen, was one of a very few from churches we reached out to that offered hospitality for us on our way through. We had arrangements to be at his home on the way down, but we contacted us last minute to say he wouldn’t be around, but had made arrangements to put us up in a Hampton Inn in Harrisonburg.
Very, very generous.
With the intention to ending up in Harrisonburg, I searched the Warm Showers website for a host. I contacted one family, and the man of the home responded in good time, inviting us to stay with him.
I noticed that one of the reviews he received from a past guest was that they enjoyed some Christian fellowship during his stay. I was excited at the prospect that we might be staying with some fellow followers of Jesus.
We arrived in the afternoon and were greeted warmly. Edwin is from South Africa and his wife is from Russia, so we had more opportunity to broaden our cultural awareness.
After a wonderful supper they prepared for us, which we ate outside on their back porch without the interference of even one mosquito nor black fly (I love you, Virginia), we relaxed and shared stories of what God has done and is doing in our lives and how we met our spouses.
It was very interesting to listen to Edwin’s wife speak of the contrast between Russian and American cultures. For example, she said it is uncommon in Russia to look other strangers in the eye, smile or greet them. However, she said friendships are deep and sacrificial.
Her immediate observations of the States were of a very friendly society, where people express affection for you on a superficial level, but largely are not willing to invest deeply in relationship.
I totally understood what she was saying.
We also talked a lot about the differences in Christian expression in both cultures. She is from an Orthodox tradition. Whether from the denomination, culture, or some mix, Christianity is not expressed with such confident bravado of salvation assurance as we are used to in America. I didn’t get the impression that people didn’t understand salvation as the gift and work of God, but it seemed to manifest itself with more humility.
This seems right to me. I understand that, from the Scriptures, we should not diminish the power of God to save, but I am too often exposed to a culture that, simply because a prayer was said at one point in a person’s life coupled with a few religious habits of church-going and or semi-regular Bible reading, etc., loses humility and appreciation by treating the grace of God as a cheap thing.
Too often, the teaching of the method of our acceptance of Jesus’s sacrifice and the evidences of its work in our lives seems extra-Biblical, and the danger (in my opinion) is that we adopt a “union work mentality”, whereby those that assume they are His simply out of confidence and public profession alone, say in their hearts, “I’m under contract. You can’t fire me.” and go on to lead lives that are virtually unaffected by God’s great grace.
Another thing that began before we left for this trip and has continued as we’ve spoken to people across the country, is this consistent displeasure many people have with how the Church operates. I feel like this goes way beyond professing Christians having a problem with fellow congregants in a church setting. I sense that people do not feel that they are receiving a fair representation of Christ within the methods currently employed by traditional church ministries.
I have said for years that I have grown at a unparalleled pace spiritually not by sitting under sermons, but by being in close relationship with others who know Him, whether one-on-one or in small groups. I understand now that this is discipleship. I don’t think it needs to occur at the exclusion of church services, but is an effective and Biblical method of growing grounded disciples.
I have been thinking a lot lately about how my life is set up. There is a quiet mandate from the culture to do life a certain way, but God has purposes for my life that American culture might not be set up in such a way to get allow for the greatest efficiency. It’s imperative for me to figure out who I am, why I’m here, then to set my life up in the smartest way to assist with what God wishes to do with it.
I wonder what might happen if churches did the same. What if they were to strip everything back to the basics? What is the point of our ministry? Is it to grow disciples?
If so, then are we set up in the smartest, most effective way to do that? Are we, or do we mostly just continue doing a variation of what we’ve always done, careful to not rock the boat or offend the traditional sensibilities of those sitting in the pews?
I don’t mean to sound contrary for the sake of being provocative, but the questions need to be asked. Successful businesses regularly check their processes against their mission statements and modify where necessary.
Ultimately, though, I am encouraged to sense an undercurrent of those who wish to follow Christ, but seem lost and alienated by how American culture has chosen to express the Christian faith.
I would encourage you, if you are a believer, to be willing to take risks. If you are protecting your reputation, your emotions or anything else in keeping yourself removed from the messiness of human relationship, please sincerely pray that God will give you the strength and direction to pour your life into someone else’s, not looking for what you can get from it, but how you can minister to another sinner through it.
You will suffer hurts and disappointment, but through it, you will greater understand the heart of God.
I know many people who need Christian friends who care about them. And when I say Christian friends, I’m not talking about people you know from church who you get together with and NEVER talk about Christ with nor encourage in the Scriptures. I’m not referring to those you befriend who never pray with you, but instead discuss movies, music and sports with constantly.
I’m talking about people who recognize their need for God because of their otherwise hopeless, sinful condition and love you enough to want to see you live an abundant life in Christ by building you up by basing your relationship on Truth and not folly.
Such friends are greater than gold.