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
His name was Frederick Justus and his story is one of resistance and stubbornness. Over the years he refused to listen to the appeals of his own son and daughter-in-law as together they tried repeatedly to speak to him of Christ. Perhaps his heritage had something to do with it. He had come to America from Germany when just 18 years old. Germans, rightly or wrongly, have a reputation for being stubborn and unyielding. Perhaps he didn't think his own son could teach him anything. Perhaps it was unbelief. Whatever the reason, he was unyielding to the message of salvation.
And time marched on.....
Frederick Justus became a grandfather. First a granddaughter arrived in 1943, then a grandson in ‘50. Three years later another grandson and finally another granddaughter. Four in all. Despite Frederick’s gruff exterior, he loved his grandchildren. You could tell by the twinkle in his eyes. Whenever they came to visit they brought bedlam and left messes, but he didn't seem to mind too much. During those visits, the story of Jesus was mentioned, but still Frederick resisted.
And time marched on.....
With age comes maladies. Aches and pains at first, then more serious conditions. When Frederick Justus was 88 years old he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. More likely it was just old age. In the last few years he could hardly walk. His body was bent. He carried a cane. He sat more than he stood. Then, one day, he was hospitalized - Saint Joseph's Hospital in Chicago. His son and daughter-in-law visited, and despite the many times their message had fallen on deaf ears, they again spoke softly of the Son of God and of the hope of glory. This time something was different. This time Frederick listened. This time he heard. In barely a whisper, he at last said, "I want to be baptized into Christ."
The hospital was Catholic, so the son prepared for battle. Baptism as immersion doesn’t sit too well with Catholics. Additionally, the old man was very sick, but the son was adamant and stubborn. No surprise there, for he was German too. The son had as much stubbornness as his father - maybe more. Nothing was going to prevent the very thing he had prayed about for so many years. The doctor said “No,” so the son went to the charge nurse who thought the idea of a baptism wonderful. She said, “We don’t listen to doctors.” The nurse located a large metal bathtub with harness system that could be used to lower Frederick into the water.
On that day, the stubborn, self-willed, infirm Frederick Justus finally let go, and gave himself to Christ. He was baptized by his own son for the forgiveness of his sins, and the blood of Christ removed all infirmities of the spirit. He was born again into the kingdom of God.
A few days later, the hospital, unable to provide any further treatments for Frederick suggested he be admitted to a nursing home, but the son and his wife wouldn’t have it. An ambulance brought Frederick to his son's house. Three days after his arrival, at breakfast time, Frederick Justus coughed once and died. A Christian for a mere 3 days - a heavenly reward for eternity....
Frederick Justus Hennecke - my grandfather. I will see him again.
-Matthew Justus Hennecke
By Damien Tucker
The holidays. A time where we exchange memories, gifts, and food in celebration of the season. As many people are reminded, we have family out there – some of whom we want to see, some of whom we do not. For those that we do, we smile and embrace as we welcome them into our homes. However, for the ones we don’t, there is always an air of disappointment. It’s not only with the “In-Laws”, but also with family with whom we have fought verbally and have disagreed with. Yes, it is in every family and, yes, some of our conflicts with them have been drawn out for years. Despite having our differences, be they over minor issues or major, we are still family. All such things should be set aside during this time, as the purpose of this time is not to be reminded of why we may not agree or see eye to eye. Rather, it is for us to come together and embrace what it means to be family.
As we are told in 1 Peter 2:1, things like malice and contempt are to be put aside when we are dealing with anyone in our life. In regards to our spiritual family, we are further called to reconcile our differences with one another before we gather together. “Leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matt. 5:24) This scripture is not only calling us to make peace with our brethren, but to prioritize it over even worship to God. You cannot worship Him excellently if these things beseech your mind and cloud your thoughts. This means we must bear with one another, in accordance with Colossians 3:13, and forgive each other of our transgressions against one another.
It is also wrong for us as Christians, as well as being out of holy character, to hold grudges against our blood brethren. We are called to be like God, always willing to forgive. From this, you can say, as Christians, we are called to be different from the world. Unlike others, who hold on to their anger and scorn, we are commanded by God to let go of such feelings, no matter what the circumstances are or how it has affected you, because God has done the exact same for us.
Therefore, this holiday season, I implore you to emulate Christ and put aside the personal differences you may have among your spiritual and physical families. Eat, exchange gifts, and be merry, for all we have has been given to us by the Lord.
Forgive and Be Forgiven
By Mike Cox
When someone has said or done something to hurt you, are you quick to forgive? Does forgiveness ever occur or is revenge the preference? “Someone did wrong to me and I want to see them suffer.” A synonym for someone “wronging” us is the word trespass. Maybe someone is in debt to us but there is no end in sight for the debt to be paid. Matthew 18:21-35 describes two servants. One servant begs their master for forgiveness of his debt and the master has compassion on him and forgives the debt. However, this servant turns around and doesn’t have compassion on his servant. When the master of the first servant heard what had been done, he was angered and delivered his servant to the torturers (v. 34).
There are things that link all humans together - make us similar. The one thing that links everyone is the fact that they have sinned against God (Romans 3:23). While the debtors mentioned had a financial debt, all humans have a figurative debt to God for the sins they’ve committed. This is when everyone needs the compassion of God to wipe our debts clean. When we are baptized, our debt is wiped clean - our sins are forgiven. If someone has done wrong towards us we are to forgive them; we are to show mercy. If we don’t, how can we expect to be forgiven our debt? Verse 35 says, “So, My Heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you from his heart does not forgive his brother his trespasses”. Matthew 18:21-22 tells us that we should forgive someone up to “seventy times seven”. The point of this isn’t a quantified number of times to forgive someone, but to constantly forgive.
Everyone needs to forgive and everyone has need to be forgiven. Jesus died on the cross to wipe our sins away. Even so, after we come to the Lord we are to ask forgiveness of our sins. If we ask and strive to do God’s will, we will be forgiven. Nonetheless if we refuse to forgive someone, the Lord knows.