Growing In Godliness Blog
A Season of Healing
By Wyatt Taylor
This Sunday, as the elders have announced, we will end most pandemic protocols and assemble for worship as a full congregation for the first time in 15 months.
I'm grateful that the elders took the precautions they did and that the congregation has weathered this time as well as it has. I very much appreciate the elders' judgment and the good work done by so many to facilitate our church life in a time of pandemic.
But while tools like live-streaming were blessings, and separate services were necessary for a time, I don't believe anyone has dared claim these arrangements are superior to, or even on par with, the traditional gathering of the church in the same place at the same time.
After all, God does not call us to join a virtual church, but a local church.
The last 15 months have been a trying time for the church. The pandemic lockdowns and precautions forced upon us a separation and an isolation that disrupted the common rhythms of church life, and this took a heavy toll on our relationships and bonds. As a society, and as a church, we labored to overcome the separation. We had “drive-by” parties and “quaran-teams” and “bubbles” and countless Zoom gatherings. But it was not the same. To say that our congregation has endured the pandemic relatively well is not to say that there has been no negative impact. And though the physical distance that has separated us for these 15 months may be gone on Sunday, the emotional and spiritual distance will not automatically disappear along with it.
Our isolation has taken its toll on our bonds of fellowship. Amid the pandemic, we had to navigate a slate of cultural controversies using social media tools that drive our outrage and division. We've seen pitched debates over the pandemic and pandemic precautions, racism and policing, and a heated presidential campaign. In times past we may have had these debates in-person around a table, a setting that more readily lends itself to resolving conflict. But in this time of isolation, we too often relied on online interactions that fed misunderstanding, hasty judgments, suspicion, cynicism, and distrust. I know I did, and I suspect I’m not the only one who feels some alienation has developed between myself and other brethren.
Now, I believe it is critical that Christians discuss these topics and that it will not do for us to throw up our hands at the first sign of disagreement, accepting an equivalence between both sides in the name of peace rather than doing the hard work of engaging, discerning, and making a judgment about truth. But I would suggest we ought to be doing this together, with our bond in Christ at the front of our minds.
In every relationship, people disagree and get frustrated with one another. Especially in marriages. My wife and I aren't the type to have vocal arguments. Instead, when we get angry with one another, we tend to do something maybe even worse - we withdraw. We say nothing and retreat into a kind of Cold War. In a marriage book we studied some years ago, this kind of phenomenon was likened to building a wall between the spouses. We build a wall between us, brick by brick, with every little disagreement or disappointment that goes unaddressed. Until, over time, we can no longer even see one another. Understanding this tendency has helped us to counteract it. And we do so by confronting our feelings and sharing them in a healthy way. We strive to keep the lines of communication open, to not let a single brick be laid between us.
Brethren, we don't have to look far among the brotherhood to see the walls that have been built in the last year. It is time to bring them down.
- Behind them we may just find folks suffering in isolation, in need of burden bearers and fellow soldiers to lift them up.
- We may find folks who have gotten a little too comfortable in isolation, in need of a reminder of the joys of brotherhood.
- We’ll surely find difficult conversations and the need for forgiveness.
We may feel safe behind the walls we've built, justified in having built them, not sure we're ready to re-engage and deal with the messiness of community. It won't be easy to bring the walls down, and we might be fooled by the lack of open conflict into thinking we have nothing to worry about. But we must not mistake the quiet for genuine peace.
We all long for peace, and God has called us to be at peace as a church. Yet this never happens by accident, peace is made by peacemakers who employ the meekness of wisdom.
- James 3:13-18: "Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace."
We must carefully examine our attitudes toward one another, put away the bitterness that may have built up, and soften our hearts toward our brethren, esteeming them above ourselves.
- Ephesians 4:31-32: "Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you."
- Philippians 2:1-4: "Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others."
- Colossians 3:12-14: “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.”
As I’ve reflected on the last 15 months and the meaning of our coming back together, I believe the lesson is simple: we need one another. As sojourners and exiles in a world that does not believe, God's people must walk together.
I want to spend these coming months re-building bonds that may have weakened through neglect and separation, breaking down walls and healing wounds I may have caused, practicing hospitality to get to know brethren at a deeper level, and taking opportunities to be of service and encouragement to my brethren. I want to widen my circle. I realized during the pandemic that there were far too many brethren whom I know of, but hardly know well. I want to correct this, and I ask everyone to take up this challenge.
May this be a time of breaking down walls. May these next months be a season of healing, of repairing the bonds of fellowship that have frayed, of drawing one another out of isolation and into a community of grace where we will "stir one another up to love and good works". May the spirit of grace and forgiveness be mighty among us and overcome the cynicism and anger that may have prevailed. May the disagreements of the last 15 months recede into the past and unity in our love for God and desire to serve Him be elevated.
As we once again assemble in full, let us not forget the loss we felt in separation. And let us celebrate the beauty and joy of our coming together, which is but a foretaste of the joy we will one day share when gathered in heaven around the throne of God.
By Matt Hennecke
As was often the case, when I was a child, my Saturday plans conflicted with my father’s plans for me. I wanted to play all day and he wanted me and my brother to earn our keep by doing household chores before we went to play.
This Saturday was no different. It was the middle of summer and my Dad didn’t like the way the lawn looked. There were way too many dandelions, so he called my brother and me to his side and issued a command: “I want you to weed dandelions this morning. Each of you are to fill a shopping bag with 100 dandelions.” Then he added: “Work until you’re finished and then come and let me count your dandelions.”
Dandelion weeding was not an unfamiliar chore for me or my brother. We had seen both my Mom and my Dad weed dandelions before. On occasion we had even been pressed into limited, weeding service. Proper weeding involved a long metal skewer-like object which one would jab down into and under the roots of the dandelion and then a downward motion to eject the plant upward from the soil, roots and all. That was the theory, but dandelions are ornery critters and their roots run deep, so it took some work to effectively extricate an entire dandelion.
Now little boys who’d rather be playing than working often develop a certain, devious creativity. My little mind was spinning, and the thought occurred to me that by simply pulling off the heads of the dandelions I could quickly achieve my 100-dandelion goal. But the thought quickly faded because I knew what quality, dandelion-weeding looked like. I’d seen enough examples of what a well “weeded” dandelion looked like – it was the entire plant, roots, leaves, and flower. Anything less would be unacceptable, and Dad was going to pass judgment on my work. There seemed to be no wiggle room to speed up the process. Play-time seemed a long way off.
Seeing no easy way out I got quickly to the task. I worked steadily in the heat of the morning sun, counting as I went: 10, 17, 38, 52…. wipe the sweat from my brow, 68, 77…. the end in sight….84, 96, 100! Finished! The morning was largely spent, but the rest of the day lay before me.
I took my bag of dandelions to my Dad for inspection. He carefully examined my work and counted the dandelions. “Good job,” he finally said, and my heart leapt at the thought of bike riding and time with friends. As I carried my bag of dandelions to the garbage for disposal my brother made his appearance. “Hey,” he said, as he sidled over to my side, “why don’t we dump your dandelions into my bag?”
Now you might think I would have rejected his proposal outright. After all, I’d worked in the hot sun weeding 100 dandelions, but I must admit I was awe-struck by the brilliance of his plan. Little brothers are enthralled with big brothers. My father’s command had been that we each fill a bag with 100 dandelions. If I gave my brother my dandelions, he could fill his bag with my 100 dandelions and technically satisfy my Dad’s command. So, we did just that. My brother filled his bag with my dandelions and took them to my Dad where they easily passed inspection. My Dad never learned of our ploy.
What is interesting, is that though we were little boys and had no clue how to define hermeneutics, we knew in our little brains what it meant: Dad had issued a command, he had showed us numerous times what an example of good dandelion pulling looked like, and he had even inferred we each fill our own bag with dandelions from our own labor. Funny thing is, we knew it was a necessary inference as evidenced by our consciously not telling Dad just how we had accomplished the task. If we’d owned up to our little deceit, there is no doubt Dad would have shown us just how necessary the inference was – probably by adding another 100 dandelions to our project!
These days the method of determining how to study the Word so as to understand God’s will – what is called hermeneutics – is largely discounted, even ridiculed. Some see it as a conservative church concoction. It's not. Command, example, and inference are at the very heart of all communication. It’s how all dads and moms communicate their will. Even little boys get it.
So, whether picking dandelions to satisfy one’s dad, or living faithfully to satisfy one’s Father, we must study the Word to obey His commands, follow His approved examples, and acknowledge His inferences so one day we may go live in His dandelion-free House for eternity.
Reflections on the New Star Wars Movies and a Disturbing Cultural Message
By Mark McCrary
I’ve been thinking about the new Star Wars movies. No, this isn’t a review, a geeky complaint or admonition to watch them. It is a consideration of what they are saying about us as a culture. There’s a spiritual point, so please stick with me for a few minutes.
I remember walking out of the second new movie (“The Last Jedi”) wondering, “Okay… so, who’s the bad guy here?” The one I thought was the bad guy, Snoke, had been killed in the middle of the movie. I didn’t think it was Kylo Ren because while he was sometimes bad, he kinda acted like he wanted to be good sometimes. So, who’s the bad guy?
Why’s it so important to have a bad guy? Because the original Star Wars movies were a morality play. They were good versus evil. In the first Star Wars movie, within the first 5 minutes we were introduced to Darth Vader. He was dark, imposing, barking orders with his deep bass, slightly mechanized voice, lifting people up in the air choking them with the power of the Force… and that was the just the beginning of the movie. Hands down, there were no questions as to who the bad guy was in this movie (and the subsequent original movies). But, there was no one like that in the new movies.
I think—on reflection—that the possible reason why could be of significance to Christians. You see, the original and new movies were made in two very different times in our nation’s culture. In the 70’s (with all its problems), there was still an acceptance of some absolutes; in good and evil; black and white. However, today, absolutes are by and large rejected. Views about right and wrong are more “nuanced.” Rather than black and white, things are more gray and uncertain.
It is true that there is a lot of gray in life. But absolutes, black and white, right and wrong… these are things that can’t be ignored. If they are, it is to our peril. This isn’t just reality; it is biblical.
God is good (Exodus 34:6; 1 Chronicles 16:34; Psalm 145:9). Not just sometimes, but always. He is perfect, and all his guidances are right (Psalm 19:7-11). Jesus is the absolute perfect physical reflection of this perfect God (John 1:1,14; Hebrews 1:3), and He is the only way to Him (John 14:6).
The Devil is evil (Matthew 13:19)—not misunderstood; not confused. He is a liar and a murderer (John 8:44), and to follow Him leads to certain, eternal punishment (Matthew 25:41-46).
There is light and darkness (1 John 1:5-10), and you and I have to choose which one we will walk in. If we choose the light, we will go to heaven. If we choose darkness, we will be lost in hell forever.
Now, I acknowledge I may be making too much out of this. But, importantly, as our culture drifts more into a rejection of absolutes it will be reflected more and more in our entertainment. Followers of God must not have our heads in the sand about this. While I am not suggesting we must abstain from entertainment because of these messages (though some may choose to), I am saying in no uncertain terms that we must be aware of them; and more importantly, aware of the biblical message and its truthfulness. We must stand by that message. Otherwise, we will be spiritually confused and liable to fall for any deception that comes our way (Ephesians 4:14).
By Susanna Cornett
I grew up attending a small congregation in Kentucky that often did not have a dedicated preacher. We relied on preachers in the area, and our meetings were usually with preachers from the Athens area of north Alabama. My mom & I joked that we were in the Athens Conference – that our speakers, doctrine, and traditions tracked with what was usual in north Alabama.
It was a joke, but also served a useful purpose: to remind us not to affiliate with a set of traditions devised by men, but rather to keep Scripture paramount.
Traditions are useful tools to create order and familiarity, to serve as shorthand in understanding a situation. They are not wrong in themselves; Paul tells the Thessalonians to hold the traditions (2 Thess. 2:15). But those are the traditions of the Scripture, of God’s word. We must be careful that we don’t allow the traditions of worship and service that have evolved for order and preference to become in our minds equal with the will of God. Paul speaks out against this explicitly in 1 Corinthians 12:15.
Any reasoning, honest, seeking person who obtains a Bible without access to other Christians and their traditions has all he needs to serve and obey God fully. He will develop his own traditions that work in his situation. If he is in a Muslim country, Sunday will be another work day. He may gather with fellow Christians for a short service in the late evening, rather than having two services during the day. If he moves to the United States, would he be wrong to continue in his own tradition rather than adjust to the common traditions here?
We are commanded to teach the world, but much of the world does not look or sound or live as many of those in our churches do. Would all the people you come into contact with on a daily basis feel comfortable coming to worship with you? If not, why?
We don’t have to change our traditions, dress differently, or compromise our faith in any way to be open to living in harmony with those who think and live differently, as long as together we are worshipping our Lord in the ways He commands. We do have to discern between the comfort of our traditions and the truth of Scripture that makes room for any traditions not in conflict with its teachings.