Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Closer Than a Sister, by Christina Fox

I seem to be on a major non-fiction kick these days. I've been doing quite a bit of thinking and processing lately as to what God might be asking of me in life. And honestly I hesitate even to confess this because it inevitably results in someone, (who thinks they know me), coming up to me while gleefully clapping their hands and taking the opportunity to tell me how they are "so happy" that God is changing me in some manner which they are a.) assuming and b.) feeling that I ought to change. Truly, I am always delighted to talk about the way that God is at work in my life and the life of my family but I do quickly become disgruntled in the conversation when a person hearing my story assumes that now I'll become the person they've always hoped I would be so as to suit them better. And I don't believe that's how God works. I think He delights in progress and delights when we delight in the process. Furthermore, I also think He delights in the fact that He has made such a splendid variety of people to live in fellowship with one another and to worship Him in unity. He doesn't expect us to all be the same. We expect it of each other but He has no intention of us looking anything alike. The beauty is in the differences and, really, that's what I'm taking note of more and more frequently.

Enter: Closer Than a Sister.

One of the great challenges of life is in fellowshipping with other believers. Can I get an 'amen'?! There are a wide variety of reasons for this, of course, and we could speculate as to what causes the greatest barrier to real relationships. The simple answer is that sin is the culprit but how that sin manifests itself varies by person and by congregations. I can know in my head that I'm designed to know and love my fellow Christian sisters but living out that love feels like a complete impossibility more often than not. The older I get and the more disagreements I "suffer" my way through, the more I find myself valuing true fellowship. But true fellowship isn't what I thought it had to be either. In fact, it's pretty much the total opposite of what I hoped it was. True fellowship isn't always being "like-minded" with those I worship alongside but it is being challenged by the differences and learning to extend both love and grace despite of that. Together we make up the Body of Christ. Alone we are arguably not a part of the Body at all. I don't know about you but when my time comes to meet the Lord face-to-face, I want to hear "well done" and I do strongly believe that that means being a part of The Body, or, The Bride of Christ. If He cares much about His bride than we probably should also. All difficulties aside, we really ought to strive to work and live together instead of apart.

The question is how to get along. Fun question, indeed.

My bloggy friend Melissa listed Closer Than a Sister as one of her upcoming reads for 2018 and seeing as how I've also been rethinking what it means to be a part of the church (local) and the Body (universal) I thought this title worth a read. And it is! In Closer Than a Sister, Christina Fox takes a pretty close look at what scriptures have to say about what the church local is called to be to one another. She touches on all topics such as rejoicing with one another, grieving with one another, exhorting, growing, learning, sharing and helping. She also talks a great deal about the challenges we face within our local community of believers. I might have found that section the most poignant for myself, personally.

Fox takes a truly Biblical approach to the topic and is constantly taking the reader to scriptures in order to understand what our calling is in Christ towards our sisters within the church. This is a role which modern believers seem to approach rather casually and even callously. Again, the reasons for this are many and she lists a big obvious such as the role of social media (i.e., Facebook, Instagram, etc.) in our modern lives. Fox goes back to the basics (Genesis!) in discussing how we were made for community with one another. One of my favorite verses which she focuses on right from the get-go is 1 Peter 2:9-10 which I will type up for you here:

"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy."

Fox asks her readers to focus on the words in this verse which declare us having standing before the Lord not as individuals, (although that does exist too, obviously), but as a people designed to live and work together. Note the words race, priesthood, people. We've been called out to be together. We're designed for community. Not that that is always a fun thing, mind you, but it is the thing to be, like it or no.

So if we're called to live together then how do we do that when this sister over here works outside the home, and that one is sarcastic to beat the band, and that one is a perfectionists, and that one is controlling, and that one can't stand conflict of any sort, etc., etc.? There are lots of reasons why we shouldn't get along. But God. Incredibly, He makes us TO get along. It really doesn't make any sense sometimes, does it? Hey, I agree, it's bizarre! But we're called to it. And if God calls and bids you 'come and die' then you better get your last Will and Testament written and done with because He has a reason to call you out and use you in ways which you probably cannot even begin to fathom. He's good for that.

I'm here to say I struggle with this myself. I needed to read this book because I need my own understanding of how God uses people to stretch, challenge, and strengthen His church. In the past few weeks I've been challenged to lay aside prideful thoughts and feelings which operate more as a barrier to fellowship than a boon. It's hard! There are some people that I just flat out don't like and some people out there in this world who flat out don't like me! (It's true, if you can believe it!) Again, this is not an excuse so much as it is a challenge. If God called us to be united in Him, then we'd better work hard to figure out how to be united. How that looks will also vary from friendship to friendship and church to church. But the hard work must still be done.

What I've been learning is that the very people who I thought I didn't "mix well" with are the very people from whom I have already received some of the greatest blessings. I've been discovering that God has been "setting me up" to fail at my own expectations so that He can broaden my horizons and give me a new set of expectations. Godly ones. Lately everything I thought I knew to be true has proved false and everything I've doubted has proved a huge blessing. What I thought Christian fellowship needed to be has been turned on its head. I would argue it's being turned into a position where my relationships are facing THE Head of the Church (which is Christ) and that's what should have been happening all along. Is it pleasant? Not always, no. Does it feel nice in the end? Ohhhh my word! The freedom and the peace which comes when you deign to listen to God's plan instead of  your own are immeasurable.

I want to be honest about my own struggles because I think that honesty is more healing than not. Will some people misinterpret my words and my expressions? Yes, undoubtedly. And that'll have to be their problem which I won't be at liberty to fix. But I do trust what Fox also affirms: that after the struggles on earth we will find ourselves truly One with the Lord in Heaven. One day we will be united in spirit and in truth. Even if we do not experience this in our lifetime, the time is coming. That will be a glorious thing.

Would I recommend Closer Than A Sister? I think it's a good challenging read for pretty much every woman I know. Regular readers know that I don't normally go the devotional book route but at the conclusion of each chapter Fox includes 3-4 questions for the reader to consider. This probably goes down in history as my first book where I'd say the questions are thoughtful and poignant and worth spending a little extra time considering. All in all, I think this book is top notch and I'd happily recommend it.

1 comment:

Shonya said...

1) Hurray! Carrie is blogging about books again!
2) Oh no, a quick skim says she is going to be hard on my book budget.
3) Wow! This one looks like a must-read. I agree, relationships are ever so challenging! I get so impatient with people. Sigh. "There are some people that I just flat out don't like." I chuckled in agreement, then groaned at myself. Third paragraph from the bottom? Pure gold. Growing pains are always worth it in the end. Thanks for an excellent review!

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