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.
Showing Brotherly Affection
By Tom Rose
It has always been that way. You dress up in your best to go to church. Even if you have personal problems, are depressed or simply undone with life, you go to church and look normal, say everything is okay, and try to hide the pain that won’t go away. Church is not the place to bare your soul and share your messy problems, because people will talk and people will judge – all the while saying they feel “so sorry” and “would do anything to help you.” Why is it that we think of church as a place to go after we have cleaned up our act, not before? “Church!” said the prostitute, “Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.”
But the scriptures show a different picture. Think of Esau after Jacob tricked him out of his birthright and the anger he expressed as recorded in Gen 27:41 “So Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father blessed him, and Esau said in his heart, ‘The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then I will kill my brother Jacob.’” Yet, with the passage of time and a few chapters later we read, “But Esau ran to meet him (Jacob), and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept” (Gen 33:4). Almost the same scene of emotional healing is portrayed by Christ in His famous parable of a father greeting his prodigal son. “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” Lk 15:20. If you noticed, both passages contain an embrace or a hug – the most beautiful form of communication that allows the other person to know beyond a doubt that they matter.
Perhaps the apostle Paul knew better than anyone who has ever lived what it meant to be forgiven by God and reconciled to Him. Knocked flat on the ground on the way to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9), he never recovered from the impact of God’s undeserved grace extended to him. Indeed, Paul knew what could happen if we believe we have earned God’s love. In dark times, if perhaps we badly fail God, or if for no good reason we simply fall short on keeping The Faith, we could fear that God might stop loving us when He discovered the real truth about us. However, Paul took pains to explain how God has made peace with human beings (see Titus 3:1-8) by giving up His own Son, rather than to give up on humanity – helping mankind know beyond any doubt that God loves people because of who God is, not because of who we are!
Just as God has challenged us to know the unsearchable riches of Christ (see Eph. 3:16-21), He also asks us to show that same devotion for our brethren. “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love” (Rom. 12:10). Two examples of Paul’s deep interpersonal relations with his brethren are found in Acts. Read Acts 20:36-38 and notice the verbal and non-verbal emotional interactions as Paul and the Ephesian elders part from each other for the final time. A second illustration is found in Acts 28:13-15 near the end of Paul’s perilous journey to Rome. When Paul reaches Puteoli, Italy, brethren invite Paul and his companions to stay seven days. However, other Christians in Rome get word of Paul’s arrival (a person whom they had heard about, but had never met), so they walk forty-three miles to the Market of Appius to greet him. Others, possibly getting a later start, meet Paul ten miles closer to Rome at the Three Inns. Deeply moved by their visible demonstration of love, Paul “thanked God and took courage.” In these greetings (and many others) were found open displays of affection probably including hugs and kisses.
Let’s suppose your car has a problem and is not working properly. Would you take it to a dealer’s showroom or a service department? Perhaps that is a question we need to ask about our meeting houses – do they resemble more a “showroom” or a “service department?” And why is that? One writer offers this observation:
“Many years ago I was driven to the conclusion that the two major causes of most emotional problems among Christians are these: the failure to understand, receive, and live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness; and the failure to give out that unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace to other people. …Although we believe in God’s Word, the good news of the Gospel has not penetrated to the level of our emotions.”1
I believe the following statements, when pondered soberly, may help us look at the big picture – as God sees you and me along with all humanity. “Jesus gave up worship for a womb, majesty for a manger, splendor for a stable, and heaven for a hamlet. He went from being wrapped in glory to being wrapped in swaddling cloth. He left breathtaking for breath taking and the infinite became the infant. It was incredible to know that the baby Mary delivered had actually come to deliver her and everyone else. He was born so we could be born again. He lived on earth so we could live in heaven.”2
Sometimes we need to hear more than reassuring words of comfort. Sometimes we need a hug – a hug where someone wraps their arms around you so tight and assures that everything will be alright. That is in fact what Susan and Anna Warner did. Born into privilege on Long Island, NY, their mother died when they were young and their father lost his fortune in the Panic of 1837. Reduced family circumstances forced them to leave their New York City mansion for an old Revolutionary War-era farmhouse, both women began writing novels. In addition, they began holding Bible studies for the cadets at the US Military Academy. On Sunday after-noon, the West Point students rowed over to the island where the sisters had prepared lemonade and ginger cookies for their guests. At the close of their time together, the frail women would offer a tender hug to each of these physically conditioned young men – knowing someday they might lose their life in battle. After Susan died, in 1885, the Sunday classes became Anna’s “one thought in life.” She continued teaching until her death in 1915 and that year’s graduates included Dwight D. Eisenhower – one of her pupils. The sisters are buried in the cemetery at West Point, the only civilian women who earned this signal honor as Bible teachers to generations of cadets and their former home has become a museum on the grounds of the Academy.
Life is precious; may we hold it dear to us. For it is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away (James 4:14). Thus, while we have today, may we endeavor, as God’s elect, to put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness and longsuffering toward our fellowman (Col. 3:12).
1David Seamands, “Perfectionism: Fraught with Fruits of Destruction,” in
Christianity Today, April 10, 1981, pp.24-25.
2Aaron Erhardt, Grace, Louisville, KY: Erhardt Publications, 2015, pp. 46-