Growing In Godliness Blog

Growing In Godliness Blog

Looking at 2020 with 20/20

A Season of Healing

Thursday, June 10, 2021

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.

Evangelism

Thursday, April 22, 2021

How do Christians interact with those who do not know Christ?  That question has occupied the minds of God’s people throughout the ages.  God in providing an answer to that question has filled the Bible with numerous word-pictures to help us understand our role in spreading the gospel.

One of the pictures that can be drawn from is that we are meant to be ambassadors for Christ.  The apostle Paul used those very words in II Corinthians 5:20. In that verse he says “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”  But an important question is who is the “we” in the text?  I suppose it could be the apostles, or it could be a “royal-we” where the apostle is making reference to himself, but it seems in the context to extend to any who act on behalf of Christ and carry His message. That is exactly what an ambassador is - one who is sent as a representative of a sovereign power to a foreign land who then reflects that ruler’s official platform.  What is the message of the king we represent? Paul tells us in II Corinthians 5:19 it is reconciliation!  So, how are we to act in this foreign land that is this world?  We are to represent the king and carry His desire for the world to reunited with their Creator – we are meant to be ambassadors.

There are a host of other illustrations we could examine (priests, fishers of men, light, salt), but I want to look an image that can be found in Ephesians 3:2, “if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you”. (NASB) When we think of a steward, we think of one of who is given charge of something that belongs to another. That is exactly how Paul saw himself, the grace that belonged to God was entrusted to him to give to others.

In the NKJV translation another English word used in lieu of stewardship and that is the word dispensation. That is one who is engaged in the action of dispensing God’s grace.  It might put you in mind of a dispenser – a container that feeds out that which it contains.  I think that is a wonderful image to consider as we think about evangelism or how to interact with the world. To truly be a dispenser two things must be true:

  1. You must be filled with that which you are to dispense.  In the context of Ephesians 3 we are to be full of the grace of God, and if we have Christ, we have the grace of God. John wrote in 1:16 “For His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.” Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:6-8 “to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight”.
  2. It is that very grace we are to dispense.  Paul wrote concerning himself this very idea in Ephesians 3.8-9, “ To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and make all know what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things”.

How to interact with the world? Allowing God’s grace to fill us and then flow us to others! As Paul wrote, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.”

David Norfleet

Heaven

Friday, April 16, 2021

In the 21st chapter of Revelation, John tries to convey to us, in the best way that he can, how wonderful Heaven will be.   Even through inspiration, there are only so many ways of describing such a magnificent sight for human mind and thought:   a wall built with jasper-- a rare jewel, clear as crystal and radiant (verse 11); the city was pure gold, like clear glass (verse 18); foundations of the wall adorned with every kind of jewel, including sapphire, agate, emerald, onyx, carnelian, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, amethyst, pearls (verses 19-21).  How beautiful it will be! 

This past Friday evening, our group Bible study discussed how Heaven is described in the Scriptures.  In addition to the visual descriptions that John gives us regarding the city and its walls, we focused on verses such as these:

Revelation 21:23 – And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light and its lamp is the Lamb.

Revelation 21:25 – And its gates will never be shut by day – and there will be no night there. 

From these verses, we considered the following:  when it’s dark outside, we are used to turning on lights to see where we are going.  Also, a great deal of crime is committed at night because there is no light to expose the evil.  Gates are shut to keep out things that can cause harm.   In Heaven, the gates are open which suggests that there is nothing around that is evil.   It’s always day there because God is the light. 

We also focused some time on Revelation 21:4 – He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

We can get so zoomed in on *this life*.   We see times of political unrest.  We see times of civil unrest.  We see hatred.  We see death.  We see loved ones with cancer.  We see COVID.   We see family members who are not children of God.  It gets us down. 

Thinking of heaven lifts our spirits.  When I think of the verses above, I would be perfectly happy with a one room apartment in Heaven instead of a mansion.  I would be very content if the walls of Heaven were concrete instead of jasper.  I would be ok if the gate was shut.   All that matters to me is that God is there, I will be with Him for eternity, and anything in this life that has caused me grief or tears will be forgotten.

When I was 9-10 years old, the preacher of my home congregation shared a story from the pulpit and I’d like to finish by sharing that same story with you:

A sick man turned to his doctor, as he was preparing to leave the examination room and said, “Doctor, I am afraid to die.  Tell me what lies on the other side.”  Very quietly, the doctor said, “I don’t know.”  “You don’t know?  You, a Christian man, do not know what is on the other side?”  The doctor was holding the handle of the door, on the other side of which came a scratching and whining, and as he opened the door, a dog sprang into the room and leaped on him with an eager show of gladness.  Turning to the patient, the doctor said, “Did you notice my dog?  He’s never been in this room before.  He didn’t know what was inside.  He knew nothing except that his master was here, and when the door opened, he sprang in without fear.  I know little of what is on the other side of death, but I do know one thing:  I know my Master is there and that is enough.”

In the 21st chapter of Revelation, John tries to convey to us, in the best way that he can, how wonderful Heaven will be.   Even through inspiration, there are only so many ways of describing such a magnificent sight for human mind and thought:   a wall built with jasper-- a rare jewel, clear as crystal and radiant (verse 11); the city was pure gold, like clear glass (verse 18); foundations of the wall adorned with every kind of jewel, including sapphire, agate, emerald, onyx, carnelian, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, amethyst, pearls (verses 19-21).  How beautiful it will be! 

This past Friday evening, our group Bible study discussed how Heaven is described in the Scriptures.  In addition to the visual descriptions that John gives us regarding the city and its walls, we focused on verses such as these:

Revelation 21:23 – And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light and its lamp is the Lamb.

Revelation 21:25 – And its gates will never be shut by day – and there will be no night there. 

From these verses, we considered the following:  when it’s dark outside, we are used to turning on lights to see where we are going.  Also, a great deal of crime is committed at night because there is no light to expose the evil.  Gates are shut to keep out things that can cause harm.   In Heaven, the gates are open which suggests that there is nothing around that is evil.   It’s always day there because God is the light. 

We also focused some time on Revelation 21:4 – He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

We can get so zoomed in on *this life*.   We see times of political unrest.  We see times of civil unrest.  We see hatred.  We see death.  We see loved ones with cancer.  We see COVID.   We see family members who are not children of God.  It gets us down. 

Thinking of heaven lifts our spirits.  When I think of the verses above, I would be perfectly happy with a one room apartment in Heaven instead of a mansion.  I would be very content if the walls of Heaven were concrete instead of jasper.  I would be ok if the gate was shut.   All that matters to me is that God is there, I will be with Him for eternity, and anything in this life that has caused me grief or tears will be forgotten.

When I was 9-10 years old, the preacher of my home congregation shared a story from the pulpit and I’d like to finish by sharing that same story with you:

A sick man turned to his doctor, as he was preparing to leave the examination room and said, “Doctor, I am afraid to die.  Tell me what lies on the other side.”  Very quietly, the doctor said, “I don’t know.”  “You don’t know?  You, a Christian man, do not know what is on the other side?”  The doctor was holding the handle of the door, on the other side of which came a scratching and whining, and as he opened the door, a dog sprang into the room and leaped on him with an eager show of gladness.  Turning to the patient, the doctor said, “Did you notice my dog?  He’s never been in this room before.  He didn’t know what was inside.  He knew nothing except that his master was here, and when the door opened, he sprang in without fear.  I know little of what is on the other side of death, but I do know one thing:  I know my Master is there and that is enough.”

 
 

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