Growing In Godliness Blog
A Shattered FoundationSaturday, March 25, 2023
A Shattered Foundation
By Kim Davis
Men I once considered wise and good,
Women I once watched as examples,
Christians who I held close to my heart,
It’s strange how people change and tear us apart.
A church once united, steadfast, and full of love;
One, surely God smiled upon from above.
Now I feel I can say with a great deal of ease,
That Satan is the one who is ever so pleased.
These words are an excerpt from a poem called “A Shattered Foundation,” written in September of 1988. I was nineteen years old when these words were penned as I was attempting to process the division that occurred earlier that year at the church where I worshipped with my family.
I frequently revisit memories of that church as I have continually tried to diagnose where things went so wrong. Based on the memories of my nineteen-year-old mind, the church was active and vibrant. Individuals were experiencing spiritual growth. The church was full of loving people across all age groups totaling about two hundred souls.
Talented and truthful preachers and teachers were present, the bible classes were full, the teenagers were active at services and outside of the building, and many families gathered regularly in one another’s homes to build and develop deeper relationships.
This was my tribe, my family. When I was in the building among the brothers and sisters, it was just like being at home, totally comfortable and unguarded. When the division hit, it forever changed me and every member there. Some rebounded and others regressed. Personally, I was devastated, shocked, lost, and spiritually and mentally paralyzed for a period of about fifteen years. My foundation was shattered and my world turned upside down at a formative time in my life.
Outside of my experience, the impact of division was far-reaching for all ages. New converts quickly became like the seed on thorny ground. Young teenagers lost their friends as families scattered. Mature, middle-aged couples who seemingly had a solid faith fell into denominational doctrines. Sons and daughters witnessed men slinging accusations toward their parents, and their perceptions of “Christian” ways were forever tarnished to the point where they no longer wanted to be affiliated with such a group.
Families were uprooted as they traveled around the area looking for another congregation where they could recover, re-engage and re-establish a support system rooted in Christ’s teachings. The recovery period for such a traumatic event can be lengthy especially when the relationships are ten, twenty or thirty plus years deep. It’s difficult to basically start over. It takes years to build new relationships and develop the same level of trust, especially after feeling betrayed by other Christians.
You may be wondering why I’m sharing this with you. The positive attributes of the church described above may sound familiar in many aspects. There is some paranoia present in me that wants to fire off an alert for my brothers and sisters to continue to safeguard and preserve the unity in their church family by remembering three simple things.
First, unfortunately church division is not a unique scenario. There may be new brothers and sisters sitting in the pews among you who have shattered foundations. They should be welcomed with open hearts and an offering of grace and comfort as they find their place within their new church family. Perhaps it’s also helpful for them to know there are others among them with a similar experience who understand the anguish in the decisions that led to the necessity of finding a new place to worship.
Secondly, it’s important to remember that even when a local church is flourishing, we can never forget that Satan is always lurking among us, looking for ways to destroy churches. It only takes one disagreement handled improperly to start a division that will have a lasting impact.
Lastly, adults need to understand the downstream impacts that division can have on the entire congregation. It can change the trajectory on someone’s life. While we are all accountable for our own choices and actions, we are also influencing our fellow brothers and sisters in ways we do not always realize.
I’ll close with some thoughts from Romans 12:9-18 “Let love be genuine…love one another with brotherly affection...outdo one another in showing honor...rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality…bless those who persecute you…live in harmony with one another...repay no one evil for evil...give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all…live peaceably with all.”
Nothing of God DiesFriday, March 03, 2023
Nothing of God Dies
By Victor A. Osorio
Change in life is inevitable. We know that. We understand the importance of flexibility and resilience. However, change is often challenging…and the church is not immune.
The Israelites were struggling with change as we begin reading in the book of Joshua. Moses had just died. The people were in shock. Leadership was paralyzed. Followership was stunned. Then God speaks. In Joshua 1:2, God tells Joshua, “Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them…”
It seems subtle. But do you wonder why God told Joshua “Moses My servant is dead”? After all, in Deuteronomy 34:8, we read, “So the sons of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses came to an end.” So, the Israelites, including Joshua, were well aware Moses was dead. This makes one wonder – did God tell Joshua this fact plainly for Joshua to begin to accept reality and move on?
It was at this point we see Joshua begin the transformation into the mighty man we quote in Joshua 24:15, and revere for leading God’s people in battle. But he didn’t seem to be completely that way at first. Four times in the first chapter of Joshua he is commanded or encouraged to “be strong and courageous” – three times by the Lord (Joshua 1:6, 7, and 9) and once by the people (Joshua 1:18).
We, too, in the local outpost of the Lord’s army, can become disoriented when a leader moves on. The history of God’s people is, unfortunately, riddled with stories of churches who struggled when an elder, preacher, or beloved member passes on, becomes incapacitated, or moves away. The story of Joshua tells us that ought not to be so. The Lord’s church is greater than any one person.
A.W. Tozer wrote, “When a man of God dies, nothing of God dies.” How true is that!? While Moses passed on, God was still sovereign. When the people were mourning, God’s care was still omnipresent. When Joshua’s vision of what to do next was disoriented by death, God’s omniscience was unclouded. When the people went into battle with an unproven commander, God was still omnipotent. When God’s people are in a period of change – God is unchanging. And we are His church.
Kerry Keenan is a great man of God. I remember vividly as a new convert back in 1997 when a beloved leader of the congregation passed on. Kerry, with His godly heart and strong leadership, while not the full-time preacher at the time, got up and challenged us young men to “fill the gap.” After recapping all the fallen leader had done and how he would be missed, he didn’t end there. Rather, Kerry focused on all the work of God that needed to be filled – by someone. I was reminded of this recently when I read that at Winston Churchill’s funeral, by his request, one bugler played “Taps” as another simultaneously played “Reveille.” Churchill wanted the people of Britain to know his death was by no means England’s last note, but a call for others to stand up for action.
No doubt, our church will face seasons of change. Those seasons may include losing people we love, look up to, and who will leave large gaps in the work. God’s message to us then will be the same, “Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go!” In those times, true leaders will have to emerge and fill the gap, even if the gap is so large it takes two, or even three, to fill. We will have to have the wisdom to know when to insist the bugler change the tune, or courage to take the instrument from his hand. Most importantly, we will have to remind each other of Tozer’s words – nothing of the great God we serve is dead.
A Season of HealingThursday, 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.
Weeding DandelionsFriday, May 15, 2020
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 MessageMonday, April 27, 2020
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).