Unity in the church

"Sorry I'm late.  I was fasting," the young, dark boy says as he rushes into the Read and Feed center.  I am taken aback by this excuse for tardiness from such a young Ethiopian boy.

He drops what he's carrying and joins the other boys and girls in a row, greeting the American visitors.

"Today is an Orthodox holiday," explains the center worker.  "Everyone has been fasting until 3pm."  I try to relate the story in my mind to anything familiar and come back empty.  American Christian children don't fast, at least not in the Bible belt of Texas they don't.

I feel uneasiness in my stomach.  Uneasiness from unfamiliarity.  I am a foreigner.  "For-in-j," as the Ethiopians call us.

Why is this uneasiness over a young boy's religious practices different from the uneasiness of unfamiliarity of a roll of injera bread?

Why is it deeply startling and not interesting and enjoyable to discover?

There is one thing in my life that I can hold true, my anchor of my faith, my forerunner Jesus.  I've grown in Him since turning my life over to Him at 12 years old.  He's grown familiar to me.  I recognize my Shepherd's voice.

When I am faced with other denominations of Christianity.  I feel uncomfortable.  They do and say and worship and think about my Jesus a little differently than I do.

And the truth is, I hate this feeling.  Because it doesn't feel like unity, and I long for unity.

I read Psalms 133.  Sometimes we even sing it in worship, and it feels like the promise of such a beautiful peace among his believers.  It brings out my hippy-dippy side.  I get the warm fuzzies.  I want to make a t-shirt and become one of those "free hugs" crazies.

"Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!  It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!  It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion!  For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore." Psalm 133 ESV

Yet I can't hold onto this feeling.  I didn't have to go to Ethiopia to experience this uneasiness.  I've felt it around friends, even my best friends.   A whole range of things can bring it on.  I've even felt it in my own church.

Last week I was teaching the high school girls Sunday school, and I told them that their dead grandmothers were not watching them and watching out for them every second of everyday.  I told them that Heaven is made aware of when victories for Christ were made (Luke 15:7), but that dead grandmothers were not omnipresent.  And when something happens in their life and they are protected from something, it is the Lord who had protected them, not their dead grandmother (Psalm 121:7.)

I got some evil stares.  They were not stares that weren't good, pleasant, or unifying.

Why I am blogging about unity in the first place?

I'm helping plan a IF:Local, a IF:Amarillo gathering in my town.  The IF organization was started in Austin, TX to gather, equip, and unleash the next generation of women to live out their purpose.  The reasoning behind the name IF is, if God is real, then more than anything, we want to live like it.  This gathering that is happening for the second time this year, is a inner-denominational gathering.  The founder Jennie Allen is very passionate about bringing unity to the body of Christ.

So being knee deep in the planning of bringing hundreds of women in my city together, women from all kinds of denominational backgrounds, I'm looking at my own heart.  I'm searching out where I've brought disunity, and I'm repenting of it.

My suspicion is that we all have feelings of uneasiness when the thing we value most, our faith, looks different for another one of His sheep.

But what if we all set down those uneasy feelings and picked up unity.  What if we poured it over our heads until it ran past the thoughts in our brains and past the feelings under our shirt collars?

What if we glorified God together the way that Romans asks us to do?

"Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God." Romans 15:7 ESV
What if we examined this verse, as not just a pattern for our local church (I do the bulletins, he sings, she teaches,) but a pattern for all believers - the whole church (I teach in Amarillo, TX, he fasts in Addis Abba, Ethiopia.)

"For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.  For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another."  Romans 12:3-5 ESV

I'm hopeful that unity is growing stronger among Christ believers, and I look forward to the day when it will be perfected in Heaven (Rev. 7:9-17)

What about you?  Do you have things that make you uneasy?  Are you willing to set down those feelings and pick up unity?