This past week I attended what I could characterize as one of the worst church meetings ever. Earlier that day, I had a thyroid biopsy, so I was already a bit tense and in some discomfort. I had to rush around to arrive early so I could deliver snacks for the Youth Group meeting. My husband, our leader, arrived late because he was picking our granddaughter up at the airport, and drove through a severe rainstorm to get there. Well, …. these are my excuses, and I’m sure others had their own issues.
There was negativity and complaining; one person got angry and left; another cried. The leader didn’t guide the discussion well, and became frustrated (it showed). Everyone had their pet peeve, and nobody wanted to listen to anyone else. I gave up trying to take notes. I wanted to leave or cry. Nobody thought of stopping the whole mess to pray. In short, we all failed miserably to be the body of Christ.
Luckily for us, we still are the body of Christ, even if we didn’t act that way. Our identity lies in our relationship with Christ, not our good works, or lack of them. We get a do-over every time we need one. So we’ll get back together (return), we’ll forgive one another and be forgiven, we’ll pray and we’ll try again. Maybe this time we’ll get it right.
“So rend your hearts and not your garments, and return to the LORD your God. For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in loving devotion. And He relents from sending disaster.” Joel 2:13
A few days ago my husband and I listed to a recording about personal spiritual discipline, given by Pastor Lynn Downing at an Embers to a Flame conference. The sad thing I learned from this CD, is that according to a survey done by the Dobson organization, only 9% of professing Christians acknowledge that they are living their lives from a Christian worldview. The vast majority of us are more influenced by the culture than by Scripture.
The only way to turn this trend around is to practice personal spiritual disciplines. Although we in no way “earn” our salvation, it is Biblically reasonable that our growth in grace will be in direct proportion to how we use the disciplines of God’s grace which are available to us. These disciplines are a means (channel or process) through which God leads us into a deeper, richer, more intimate relationship with Him.* Here are the disciplines that Pastor Downing mentions:
- Scripture — the Supreme Court of decision making for every Christian
- Prayer — the most important subject in practical religion; we should always respond to Scripture with prayer
- Fellowship — A get together where the Lord becomes the topic of our conversation
- Church Discipline of two types: Formative (Discipling) and Corrective (sometimes we need another person to see the way we are living is detrimental to our family and the church)
- The Church — teaching, preaching and the sacraments
The big surprise and takeaway — personal spiritual discipline is not personal! When we put our emphasis on the individual’s personal relationship with Christ, we are missing the point that we relate to our Lord as part of His body. Many Christians are never told:
- Salvation is more than individual — it is meant to further the growth of the Church and to demonstrate God’s righteousness for His name’s sake
- Body (church) welfare trumps personal preference
- True personal spiritual welfare results from serving the Body (church) in obedience to the Head (Christ)
- To live exclusively is to compete against the Body (church)
This certainly ties into our theme of Spiritual Gifts. I have always felt that God calls each of us to a congregation, just as He calls the Pastor. We’re where we are because we have a gift that is needed in that time and place. Yes, there may be times and reasons to change churches, but it should never be because of personality conflicts or a seeking after the personal programs that best suit or entertain us. The big question in our church membership is: Is this a place where I can work with others to serve God?
*Note to Lutherans: Pastor Downing (a Presbyterian) categorizes all these things as means of grace; according to the Lutheran definition there are only two items in this category: God’s Word and the Sacraments. This doesn’t mean they aren’t important ways to know and experience God.