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.
Divisiveness & Social Media
By Brent Lykins
We live in an era where social media plays a large role in our communication with each other. It’s very easy for us to type away, letting our fingers put our thoughts out in the open for the whole world to see.
Unfortunately, when we are behind keyboards and not face to face with someone, it becomes slightly easier to let opinions and dialogue flow that may not have flowed otherwise. We all have opinions, right? We have opinions about current news headlines, politics, the status of the country, and we even have opinions about how others should think, act, or speak.
Satan loves this.
Satan loves this because it’s just one more way that he can slide a toe in between the door and the doorpost. Once a toe is in, it becomes easier to get a foot in…then a leg…and then eventually Satan is standing in the middle of us, making himself a full divider between brethren because of a social media post.
In an election year, there are literally thousands of posts across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and whichever news outlet that you may frequent online. Everyone is eager to get their point across. Everyone is eager to “one-up” the other and then “drop the microphone.” It’s so easy for us, brothers and sisters, to be tempted to “one-up” someone else or feel the satisfaction of dropping the mic in front of everyone who may be reading at the time.
Satan loves that.
In a year full of racial disturbances, protests, riots, shunning the police, and wearing masks, everyone is eager to speak their opinions and viewpoints. And once again, everyone is eager to “one-up” the other and then “drop the microphone”. Once again brothers and sisters, it’s easy for us to be tempted to partake in those actions.
Satan loves that.
Let me remind everyone reading that even though we are the body of Christ, each of us have our own will and each of us have our own thoughts. Your thoughts may not represent the majority. Your opinion may not represent the majority. We may not all agree. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, but let me also remind everyone that sometimes we get caught up in some very sensitive subjects that may also tie into our pride, our upbringing, or even our underlying beliefs. It should be understood that once you publicly make a hit on someone else’s pride or underlying belief that it probably will not be accepted with open arms. In fact, you may hurt someone’s feelings or possibly provoke someone to lose their temper. Just as we all don’t share the same opinions, we also don’t share the same personalities. One may let a criticism roll right on by. Another may hold that criticism deep in their heart and it may cloud their future view of the one who wrote it.
May I be rogue and suggest that it may be better for Christians to keep their personal opinions about the hot topics of the times to themselves?
I have already seen brothers and sisters “defriend” and “unfollow” each other over differences of opinion. I have seen public arguments between brethren that will be saved forever and are able to be viewed by people who look to us to be examples.
A few on-topic passages to leave you with:
Romans 12:18 – “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
Galatians 5:14-15 – “ For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”
Proverbs 17:14 – “Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam, so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.”
The World Needs Lights
By Mark McCrary
Viruses. Racism. Injustice. Riots. Financial upheaval.
It is tempting to think that things have never been worse, yet our field of vision over the course of time is very narrow. The reality is human existence has always been filled with all of the above, along with earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, famines, awful diseases, conquests, pillagings, dominations, food and water shortages, mosquitoes, snakes, lions and tigers, and bears… and the lists go on and on.
Reasons to be upset, scared, anxious, concerned, frustrated and the like are nothing new. They have been the constant companions of the human experience and while we travel this earth, they always will.
Despite these realities, the Bible holds several enticing possibilities before us: we can have hope (Psalm 42:11; 62:5-6; Romans 15:13; 1 Timothy 4:10), joy (Psalm 16:11; John 15:10-12; Galatians 5:22-23 ) and peace with others (Psalm 34:13-15; Isaiah 32:16-17; Luke 2:13-14; Romans 12:17-18; 1 Corinthians 13:11)—even in this life. It does not give us these things by taking us out of the world, but by giving us tools to use while in this world. What are these tools?
There are numerous passages we could look to, but let’s spend a few minutes contemplating Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life…” (Philippians 2:14-16).
Under inspiration, Paul gives us some simple, doable actions we can put into place in our lives. First, he tells us not to complain. All of us complain from time to time. Sometimes, those complaints move from “time to time” to all the time. Spend some time this week paying attention to your speech; look over your social media posts. Be honest. How much do you see yourself complaining? It may be more than you think. We can post all the Bible verses we like on Facebook or Instagram, but when we complain—especially when people know we are a Christian—we aren’t showing the world that we are any different than anyone else. So, check your complaining. Complaints stem from too close a proximity to the world. Paul’s attitude (and Christ’s for that matter) was radical because he focused on different things: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” ( 2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
When you make the decision to stop being negative, you must follow that up with an equal decision to being positive— shine as a light. Point people from the chaos of the world to the love and peace of God. You aren’t being self-righteous when you decide to model this; people need to see that it really is possible to have the peace that “surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) in the “midst of a crooked and twisted generation.” People need to hear that injustices are real, that life stinks sometimes, but when one sets their mind on God in obedience, it really can change one’s life and outlook. We need to be living proof of this.
Finally, all of this is made possible because you “hold fast to God’s word.” Every day we are all tempted to cast aside the Biblical teachings to some degree or another. Don’t. Always remember that real freedom comes from following God and His word (Romans 6:15-19). The more we submit to God’s wisdom rather than our own, the more peace we will have. Hold on desperately to God and His word.
God needs a hitter this week in this game we call life. Let’s step up to the plate.
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).
Who Can Be Against Us?
By Mark McCrary
It seems that a lot of Christians are down and out right now, discouraged by recent events in our country. Let’s find a few words of encouragement from God’s word—Romans 8:31-39…
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Christian, have hope! Trust in God in difficult days!