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.
Reflections On Rearing Godly Children
By David Norfleet
This weekend my family gathered to celebrate the 16th birthday of our 2nd daughter, and while doing so I reflected on how fast time has passed. It seemed just like yesterday that our kids were crawling and needing naps, and we had all the time in the world ahead of us. But, now, in almost a blink of an eye, they are grown and no longer need mom and dad.
I think one of the most terrifying and yet rewarding experiences that we face is attempting to rear godly, spiritually minded children. It is terrifying because all of us at one point are amateurs, and armed with God’s word we attempt to navigate life and the thousands of decisions it throws at us. But, it is also satisfying and rewarding to see their faith grow as they mature and appreciate the Lord’s hand in it all along.
There is no magic formula which will guarantee spiritually minded children, and ultimately the decision to “walk in the Spirit” is one each individual must make for themselves – parents cannot make it for their children. That is not to say, however, we are without influence. So, with that I mind I would like to offer a few suggestions (I offer these not as an expert or one who is a perfect parent, but one who is still very much in the trenches and wants his children to grow into godly individuals.).
- If we want our children to be spiritually minded, we must be spiritually minded. Children are much more likely to become what their parents are than what they claim to be. Children, maybe even more so than any other people, see our real motivations, affections, attitudes, and goals. We will not model for them spiritual perfection, but they need to see sincerity in our pursuit of it.
- We must understand our true and greatest purpose as parents, and that is rearing spiritually-minded children. That is the only truly essential goal to be achieved in this life (It is not whether they gross over $100,000 per annum, have an advanced degree, or are the most accomplished socially.). That must be foremost in our parenting as God’s purpose in creating them was that they might “be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). That alone will determine their success or failure in this life, and in the life hereafter. This must be our goal! It has to be more than a plaque on the wall, but rather the shaping-force of our decisions in how to raise our children.
- After the goal is set, we must train our children toward that goal. It is important from a very young age that the goals parents have for their children are communicated. They must know that they are to be consecrated – set apart for service to God. They learn this, not simply by being told, but by seeing this purpose in their parent’s decisions and seeing how parents react to their conduct.
- As part of this training we must control the influences we allow to shape their minds. The Proverb writer stated, “as he thinks within himself, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). So as parents we must exercise great care in what we allow to shape their minds. This will both involve influences we must protect them from, but just as importantly things that are good, wholesome, and spiritual that we expose them to regularly.
- Finally, if our children are to be spiritual, prayer must be offered for the help which God alone can give. Prayer is the means by which you can obtain the help God has promised. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). It is amazing what God can accomplish in our children!
This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but simply offered in reflection of the awesome privilege it is to shape these young souls in the image of God. But, also to remind all of you parents to have fun along the way, enjoying the time you have with them!
Faith of Demons
By David Norfleet
The Bible is full of amazing accounts of people’s faith. The 11th chapter of Hebrews alone speaks of those who, motivated by their faith in God and His promises, traded wealth for poverty, exchanged the known and comfortable for the unknown and frightening, and sacrificed that which was precious for a greater relationship with God.
But I would like to think about the faith of another group in Scriptures – the demons. We think about those spiritual beings as our enemies, and rightly so (Ephesians 6:12), but we might not think of them as having belief or faith in God. But Scripture says in James 2:19 that they believe and even shudder. But, what do they believe?
Consider Matthew 8:28-34 and the parallel text Mark 5:1-13. In these accounts we find Jesus is casting out the group of demons self-identified as Legion, but what is revealed within these interactions about their faith is fascinating (Even if their tone is derisive it reveals a level of belief beyond what we would normally ascribe to these beings.).
- First, I would note how they identify Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus Son of the Most High God (Mark 5:7). By identifying Jesus as the “Son of…” they are recognizing a fact the gospels make abundantly clear, and that Jesus is God.
- But that is not the only revelation concerning their faith in their use of this title, consider that they recognize the Father as “Most High.” In Hebrew that is El Elyon or God the Highest. What that means is even the demons recognize God’s preeminence.
- Furthermore, they recognize there is punishment, they are subject to it, and Jesus has the authority to execute this judgment. Note the question they ask in Matthew 8.29, “…
Have You come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29).
- But these demons realize and believe in another aspect of God’s nature and that is that He is merciful. Note their plea in Mark 5: 10 “And he began to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country.”
Let us look yet further into the beliefs of these evil spirits. Not only did they understand who Jesus was, that there was punishment, and God was ultimately merciful, they also understood and were able to recognize that God had a means of salvation. While traversing the city of Philippi to the place of prayer, a slave-girl with a spirit divination, spoke concerning Paul and his companions, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” (Acts 16:16-18).
This set of beliefs was not merely cold and lifeless to these demons, but resulted in a response whether of their own volition or not. Note the account in Mark 3: 11-12, “Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, ‘You are the Son of God!’”
Are you astonished to the degree that the demons believed? Does it startle you to think of their body of belief? And yet, James describes their faith as incomplete, barren, and lifeless (James 2:14-26)
So, what is the point? There was something lacking in their faith. James says in James 2:22 that works (actions/obedience) completes, finishes, and brings faith to its intended goal. If we want a faith that is complete, alive, and useful it must go beyond that of demons and include our obedience to be justified before God.
Learning Life’s Obvious Lessons
By Paul Earnhart
Some years ago, Robert Fulghum wrote a best-seller entitled Everything I Ever Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten. It has become increasingly evident to me that some of life's most important lessons are exceedingly clear on the face of things. They don't have to be wrung from the depth of mystery and enigma. Yet many seem to wrestle endlessly with them. As someone has observed, the difficult people seem to work out very quickly, the obvious takes them a long time.
It ought to be obvious to the most casual observer that people are far more important than things. Why should we imagine that thinking, feeling, yearning individuals could find as great satisfaction in dead, unfeeling, unthinking, unspeaking objects as in those with whom we share the greatest and fullest association? Whoever imagined that a house makes a home: that all the material comforts in the world, even possessed forever, could fill the emptiness when those we love and who love us are gone? There is no profound philosophy in the fact that things possess no more than momentary utility while people can fill us with delight and joy. Why then do we continue to neglect people in favor of jobs, money, houses, furniture, clothes and cars?
It ought also to be apparent that the spirit of a person is more vital than their body and that what comes from within the heart is more important than the physical. We know that "the body without the spirit is dead" (James 2:26). We have had many painful demonstrations of that. And we know that outward beauty quickly loses its charm in the face of inward ugliness. As Solomon observed, "Like a gold ring in a pig's snout is a lovely woman who lacks discretion" (Proverbs 11:22). Why then are we so slow to recognize that a person's life comes out of what he feels and thinks and values, and not from physical superficialities (Proverbs 4:23)?
Finally, perhaps the most evident truth that we are slow to recognize is the fact that God is more important than everything else. If there is a God who created us for His own purposes and ends, it does not require a flash from heaven to tell us that we have no more important duty and necessity in our lives than to know Him and to serve Him (John 17:3; Acts 17:26-28). If there is such a God, we only live, breathe and move by His power, and He alone can tell us why we are here and how we ought to live the life He has given us. So that when Jesus says that the first and greatest commandment is "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart" (Mark 12:29), it ought not to come as a shock to our senses. Common sense should have told us long ago that if Jesus is God's Son, we owe Him everything. So, before we can know the mysteries of heaven we must first learn the obvious lessons of earth.