Setting a Course from Iniquity to Unity is Hard: But God’s Everlasting Mercies and Well-Applied Ministries Have Made a Way!
Welcome race runners (Acts 20:24; 1 Corinthians 9:26; Hebrews 12:4; 2 Timothy 4:7)!
This is the third in a series of feasts cooked-up to remind us of what our FELLOWSHIP, COMMUNITY is in reality, and how it can work in the best way… practically.
A Law of the Farm in the Heart-Land: Isolated Begets Isolating
I grew up in an environment where I was prone to isolate myself in a whole host of ways. A good deal of my isolationist habits were formed very early in life by having to protect my own heart: I was regularly exposed to shame, criticism, and the worst of all enemies of community: anonymity.
This is one very interesting reason why I sit nearly in the middle of the Meyers-Briggs continuum between Introvert and Extrovert: I am extremely comfortable (too much so for my own good) as an Introvert, and yet I am also most alive and contributive as an Extrovert.
Until quite late in life I not only had a great deal of peace being alone, I yearned for it more than anything. Earlier in life when I was very comfortable (and quite accomplished actually) at being “the life and clown of the party” (Tears of a Clown, Smokey Robinson), I was as funny and entertaining… as I was horribly, nightmarishingly… alone, angry, and paralyzed with a kind of existential angst that I first saw in myself, and now recognize today in the hearts of so many people.
You see, after much self-scrutiny and counseling about the matter of my own heart story, I discovered that early in my life God protected me from imploding and ending my life by helping me be adept at isolating myself from a “perfect storm of harm” (shame, criticism, anonymity).
But—please hear this—when I brought “the common grace of God’s protection” (hidden from the harm) into my life as an adult—as one blessed with God’s provision of special grace (being born again), as one who was saved by the community of the Trinity to be fruitful in the Community of the Saints for the redemption of community of this dying world… I had to dig up and expose the deeply-rooted habits of an isolat-ED and isolat-ING heart condition.
A behavior early in life that served me well became a behavior later in life that sabotaged all hope of community for me. What Paul said so well is what I was encouraged by God and a loving community to get after big time: “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). “Forgetting“ meaning, a) go back to the past, b) see it for what it was, c) praise God for the good things He bestowed, d) make a realistic, detailed, yet not condemning (Romans 8:1) accounting of the bad things that occurred, e) intentionally place it all at the foot of the cross as covered by the atoning, redeeming blood sacrifice of Jesus, and f) come back to the present as one more fully sanctified, committed, joy-filled, Christ-like… to press on for Him in all we do!
Please consider this: my story of a young person having been isolat-ED and thereby developing self-fulfilling habits of the heart of isolat-ING (and self-destructive) behavior is heart-breakingly common in our day.
I had to aim to be very intentional to cover all aspects of my Christian discipleship, growth, “journey towards holiness”—E.g., Bible study, prayer, stewardship, service, and worship—IN COMMUNITY!
Iniquity Covered by Community… Most Desires Being in Community
God’s manifold mercies provide for the impartation of community by the electing will of God, the atoning sacrifice of His Son, and His Spirit’s regenerating the dead heart darkened by our utter and varied iniquities against God.
It’s worth repeating for affect and for us to do a reality check on our own heart condition and stewardship of our discipleship: The continuity of fellowship, of community should be unmistakably clear. “What does your faith walk look like in your…
…Bible study IN COMMUNITY?”
…prayer IN COMMUNITY?”
…stewardship (investing time, talent, treasure) IN COMMUNITY?”
…service IN COMMUNITY?”
…worship IN COMMUNITY?”
It’s taken a great deal of time to expose and expunge the isolationist habits of my heart! And I’m far, far from completing the work done in me by The Spirit, the above disciplines, my own cooperation, while involved in various communities. I’m delighted to say that I’ve been successful in some areas. But I’m not satisfied that I’m not yet sanctified in other areas.
I remain undaunted in the most critical truisms… A handful being, Grace abounds (Ephesians 2:8); All of life is repentance (Martin Luther); There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8); and I’ve been “Saved to Serve” (Ephesians 2:10) is the best motto going on!
By Nature: “No Man is an Island…” (John Donne) “…He’s a Peninsula!” (The Doors)
“The context for a gospel-centered life is never merely individual. The gospel creates a new community, a unique community. ‘One of the immediate changes that the gospel makes is grammatical: we instead of I; our instead of my; us instead of me.’ (Eugene Peterson) This kind of new community is not an optional thing, an extra or accessory for the Christian; instead it is part of the overall purpose of God’s kingdom.
What is the biblical vision, what does true community look like? We are to be:
- an accepting community that reflects the grace we’ve been given from Christ,
- a holy community that urges one another to live God pleasing lives.
- a truth-telling community that is free to repent, and free to allow others to repent, because of the gospel.
- an encouraging community that builds one another up.
- a sacrificially generous community that spends its life and wealth on the needs of others.
- a suffering community that loves and forgives others even when it harms us.” (Redeemer Presbyterian Church, NYC, Fellowship Group Manual)
Have an awesome week running the good race, Brothers and Sisters! I’ll be praying for you as you’re working up an appetite, and meeting back at The Training Table as we chow down on the subject of ministries devoted to Fellowship/Community Groups—and how to get some traction with being a Truth and Love Seeker… in word and deed.