I’m an up-front kind of girl—of the church that is. Every Sunday my husband, boys and I walk right up to about the second row of the sanctuary and make ourselves at home. Immersed in worship I push the distraction of others behind me and enter into communion with our Lord. We sit so close that one time another church member joked “You keep moving up and you’re going to have to preach the sermon!” I’m comfortable in the front, maybe a little too comfortable.
Worship from the Back Row
Awhile back my husband was asked to serve as a “safety officer” during worship. Every so often, our family would have to move to the back of the church, and I mean the last row so that he could safely observe the congregation in full view. I was not so eager about that part of the commitment. Did you catch the beginning paragraph where I listed all the reasons I love the front row? Did you notice a recurring theme? Me, right? What I wanted, what I felt I needed during worship. Oh, the distractions we would face! My self-absorbed spirit was crushed as I thought of all the visual annoyances I would have to push aside in order to worship. In God’s magnificent providence, he gently turned my sin-filled spirit from one of begrudging a change in scenery, to a beautiful picture of his bride, the church.
As I slid in next to my husband in the last row of the sanctuary my eyes wandered to the people around me. So. Many. People. I had an immense sense of trepidation as to what the next hour of worship would hold. If I could find it this easy to wander my eyes, would my heart and spirit follow? Could I even worship with all this spiritual noise before me? Self-absorbed and truly wanting for God’s grace, I made each minute more about myself. I could not have been more devoid of the welcoming and loving presence of my Savior I was supposed to be worshipping. But instead of chastising me, or worse, leaving me to wallow in self-pity, the Lord graciously painted a portrait of how he sees his sheep in the Son-drenched pasture of worship.
The Bride Worships
I saw a woman struggling with debilitating pain throughout her body break down in tears during the opening call to worship. Another woman from our Bible Study small group noticed and scurried over to put her arm around her, comforting her with a tissue and her own empathetic tears…
It may surprise those who know me to learn that showing hospitality by welcoming others into my home has not always been a joy. When I was a young bride, my heart did not always join in with the ‘welcoming’ aspect of hospitality as I raced through preparations in a panic. Fellowship may have been at the top of my motives for having company for dinner, but running close behind that goal were insecurity, perfectionism, and the desire to impress. I gave so much effort to planning, cooking, and presenting the perfect menu—with babies and toddlers in tow—that by the time our company arrived I was too wrung-out to enjoy our guests. There are whole evenings and conversations that I cannot remember, other than the stress leading up to them.
So why have company at all? Why jump through the hoops if I’m only going to end with a messy kitchen, a mild headache, and no appreciable memory of the evening?
Because the Bible tells me to.
A Fellowship of Love
Well, not exactly. What the Bible tells me has nothing to do with anxiety and the charade driven by insecurity, perfectionism, and the desire to impress others. What the Bible tells me is to welcome others joyfully. Why? Because I have been welcomed into the blessed fellowship of God himself through his Son Jesus Christ…
One warm summer day, many years ago, when our youngest son Tim was a teenager, we were holding our annual “Down Syndrome Extravaganza” at our house. Most people would call it a picnic. However, “extravaganza” always seemed like a better descriptor to our family as the gathering of so many families, with so many children with Down syndrome and all of their siblings simply offered the opportunity for unexpected events to arise.
We had some years that we hired neighborhood teenagers to ensure we didn’t lose any “runners” in the chaos. One year, Tim had a good friend with Down’s who was very interested in movies and proceeded to empty all 50-75 DVDs from their respective boxes, scattering them randomly all over the floor while seeking the perfect fit for his viewing interests. On another occasion, we even had a rabid racoon appear on our front porch while friends were arriving with their families and food in tow. As we’ve said many times, “It is never a dull moment here!”
My favorite DSE event, however, was the year that Tim was giving tours of his room to guests as they arrived. He’d redecorated his room with Elvis Presley paraphernalia, and was eager to share his collection. Visitors were only allowed in one at a time. He even asked me to serve as his “bouncer.” I had fun standing at the door watching as Tim talked with each visitor. As one of our friends lingered in the room making conversation, Tim finally looked at him and declared, “I’m sorry Mr. Nolt, but your tour is over. Don’t make me call security.” My “bouncer role” quickly reverted to “Mom mode” and Tim and I had a quick little chat about what it means to show hospitality to our guests. Tim was definitely giving folks mixed messages.
The truth is, we all give (and receive) mixed messages to (and from) others fairly frequently…
For the last twelve years, Thursday has been one of my favorite days of the week. Why, you ask? It is Women’s Bible study day. It is a day of blessed belonging. I surround myself with gospel friends who remind me who God is and what He is calling me to be from His Word. On the best days, I leave more vitally hinged to Christ, His Word, and His people. This past year I had to say goodbye to my gospel friends. As we cried and celebrated, we reflected on gospel content that only could have been learned in the context of community. C.S. Lewis said in The Four Loves, “what draws people to be friends is that they see the same truth, and they share it.” The Word of God and our walk together over all these years profoundly shaped me.
Maybe you had heard the buzz about Hinged. It is the name of our 2020 National Conferences (you heard it here first). It is also the name of the Women’s Bible Study on the book of Ephesians to be released January 2020. (Everyone who registers for the Hinged Conference receives a complimentary copy.) What’s in a name? A hinge is a utilitarian piece of hardware that connects two things for a useful purpose. It is hidden in the gap of a door or cabinet. When a door hinge is operational, we rarely notice, but other hinges in life are far more vital. Being vitally connected to Christ and His Church, well, that is life!
I often say that I do things the most inefficient, but prayerfully, the most effective way I know how. So instead of having a single author write this study, I invited eight women to collaborate in writing this study together. This group of women from our National Women’s Ministry Team is a unified yet very diverse group of women. They live in different parts of the country. They are of different ages and races. They have unique faith stories. The churches they attend range in size from under 100 to several thousand. It is a love for Christ and His Church that unites them. The book also contains 12 unique stories from women just like you who are seeking to apply the truth of God’s Word right where they live. And when you add up these 20 women you see a picture of the Bride…and she is radiant!…