E-pistle January 9

Staying Connected
We're still getting Christmas cards and it's our fault.  We didn't send ours until late in the season and so some of those who did not yet have our new address have been kind enough to include us in a late mailing. 
I love Christmas cards.  Actually, it's not the cards, it's the letters.  Some are personal. Most, like ours, are photocopies of an annual update sent far and wide. 
Yesterday we received two Christmas letters of the photocopy variety and one very personal note.  The personal note was from one of Becky's best friends during our eight years in Oregon and it is a precious gift.
One of the photocopy letters was from a man who Becky has known nearly all her life and I have known since my college years.  Bob was Becky's third and fourth Sunday School teacher at the First Presbyterian Church in Santa Cruz, California, and when I came to Santa Cruz to attend the University of California, I got to know Bob as one of the wisest Christian men I have ever known.  He taught me how to backpack in the high wilderness of the Sierra Nevada and how to find God both through the wonder of creation and in pages of the Bible.  Bob must be 95 now and he doesn't backpack anymore.  I see Bob and his wife Vera every year or two.  Vera writes the Christmas letters now, but I was glad to hear that Bob is doing okay.
The other photocopy letter we received always comes in January.  They call it their Epiphany letter.  Jeff and Rene and their kids were neighbors during the years Becky and I and our kids lived in the family apartments at Union Seminary in Richmond.  Jeff was working on his PhD and his since gone on to teach at the Missouri Synod Lutheran seminary in St. Louis.  We haven't seen Jeff and Rene since we both left Richmond in 1993.  But it is always good to hear from them.  They take God seriously and their four children, now independent adults, like ours, also are learning to take God seriously in their lives.  The Epiphany letter from Jeff and Rene is always a great encouragement to me. 
So why is it that we want to stay connected even with people we rarely see, who maybe we'll never see again?  It's because God created us that way.  From the very beginning God knew it would not be good for us to be alone.  The Word reminds us that even in a world of incredible material wealth, there's nothing better than being together with others.  And when God calls us into relationship with himself through the gift of the Beloved Son, we are at the same moment called into a new relationship with all those who trust him.  We are bound tightly and inseparably together just as the parts of the human body are bound tightly and inseparably together.
And how do you build the kind of relationships that last from year to year and across long distance?  Where do you find relationships that encourage and teach and that become a precious gift from God? 
In the Church. 
Come to faithACTS! week by week – I wonder how many life-sustaining relationships God has built at steel folding chairs set at Formica-topped tables in church basements.  Go to a men's retreat (there may be a very few spaces left; see John Chase) or a women's retreat.  Share a cup of coffee or a casual conversation before or after worship.  Work shoulder to shoulder on a mission project.