23 November 2011

Simple gathering of believers

Stephanie Bennett
I have a treat for you today - a guest post from Stephanie Bennett.

She describes how she experienced family with fellow students during her college days and how Jesus was right among them. It was an experience to be cherished and something special and unusual, then and today.

I think she really has captured the essence of what it means to follow Jesus.

Celebrating Christ’s life in the Simple Gathering of Believers - Stephanie Bennett

Growing up in the midst of a nurturing, caring family where everyone is committed to each other simply because they have the same blood running through their veins is a wonderful way to learn the essentials of surviving and flourishing later in life. While many other factors contribute to ultimate happiness, it is relatively safe to assume that children growing up in the environment I just described have a greater chance at success and happiness than those who grow up in abusive or dysfunctional homes. It is the same for our spiritual lives, is it not?

I love the Body of Christ, perhaps because my first years as a new believer were spent in an organic group of Christians of all different stripes and sensibilities; each of us pursuing God to different degrees of intensity; some having grown up in Christian homes, others, straight out of the occult or atheism. For all our diversity we had several very significant things in common. Our most important commonality was that each of us had already reckoned with our own ability to produce a perfect self and upon realizing that this was impossible, we subsequently surrendered our efforts and our hearts to Jesus Christ, acknowledging Him as Lord and Savior.

Another commonality was that a day did not go by without actively seeking God, asking the Holy Spirit to give us light and guidance. We read scriptures together and discussed the Bible, going to the Lord in prayer if there was any discrepancy about a verse or fogginess in our understanding. And believe me -- there was fog. We were young adults, extremely passionate and full of zeal as we attempted to live lives in accord with God’s plan. We knew nothing, but that did not seem to matter; our youth and weakness did not work against us. Instead, it was in the acute awareness that we had nothing – no plan, no pastor, and no strategy for growth – that we learned that Christ was enough. He was enough to bring about transformation in our lives, enough to bring us joy, enough, period. We quickly learned the necessity of clinging to one another in love, giving up offenses quickly, and drawing from the richness of Christ in each other.

We also learned that being in Christ was not a monkish life. While times of personal solitude and quiet prayer were regular features in our lives, we were not called to lives of isolated existence; rather, we were called together to share life and express His life together, in one accord. What did that mean? For four years we lived it, figuring it out as we walked together, sharing His love and the lives to which He called us.

Another bit of interest during this four-year span of lavish life in the Spirit is that the group of about 30 believers was not a previously established club or organization. We came together as college students during our first semester and watched in amazement how the Lord grew us up together in Him. I often wonder if the reason so many hurting, disgruntled, and disheartened Christians got that way is because their experience in the church was so different from mine. If so, did the disappointment they experienced just become too much to handle? Did those who once knew Christ and once walked in the joy of the Lord leave Him because they grew up in a dysfunctional “church family”—one that tried to build and grow itself instead of simply learning to relate to God and each other in love?

There are probably many answers to these questions, but it seems to me that not one of them is sufficient to keep us from pursuing fellowship with God and each other. The church is a family – the more focused on Christ, the Head, the more the church will be a caring, nurturing family that can help us experience God’s love and Presence in practical, purposeful ways. But like any other family, no matter how committed to each other or how strong, the family of God is not perfect. The church is made up of imperfect people seeking God together – spurring each other on – walking daily in a life that is not insular, autonomous, or walled off from the world. It is a life that advances from faith to faith and from glory to glory. It is a life that is full of meaning and purpose, a life worth seeking. It is true life. Life ever-lasting and full of grace.

About the Author - Stephanie Bennett, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University, West Palm Beach, Florida, where she enjoys teaching and researching topics concerning mediated communication, interpersonal and relationship development, and the church and culture. (See also Stephanie's web space) An internationally published writer, she has long written for the popular press and has recently authored her first book, Communicating Love: Staying Close in a 24-7 Media-Saturated Society (also for Kindle),  Stephanie invites dialogue at steffasong@aol.com. She and her husband, Earl, make their home in sunny, south Florida, USA.

Note added by Chris J: There's a great deal of veracity and life in what Steph has written here. I can identify a series of important and lasting truths illustrated from personal experience. How many can you identify as you read? Please leave some comments on anything that particularly strikes you.

6 comments:

  1. Here is what hit a nerve for me: the church is a family? if only....

    My history in the Lord testifies to the personal connections that are established when pure hearts serve & love God side by side in a church that begins with love but ends in works.

    Churches have come and gone...but those connections to people are alive three decades later.

    My perspective on body-life...
    LOVE REMAINS & TRUTH PREVAILS

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  2. Great article, Steph! I've always tried to embrace and not judge others on their personal walk with the Lord...in spite of the religious boxes they might be unknowingly trapped in...

    Love your comment Debi of the "love connectedness" and your body life perscription (perspective).

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  3. Yes Indeed Christ is enough. Excellent blog!

    http://notesfromthebridge.wordpress.com

    Christopher "Captain" Kirk

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  4. Thank you, all, for the comments. I'm not surprised it hits a nerve. So many of us have experienced anything but the sense of family when it comes to church. Yet, having experienced the beauty of simple and organic body life, both at college and then later house-to-house, I suggest that it is not only possible, but very much the Lord's desire for His children. Ultimately, it is the love and relationships that remain, just as Debi wrote, . . . . but the wonder and the glory of Father's plan and purposes is that we CAN experience these things here and now in the very midst of the Body of Christ. It just depends on whether or not we are willing to break out of our preconceived notions of the church. When we become comfortable with the fact that 'now we see in a mirror dimly,' we are much more apt to continue to learn and grow in our understanding and experience of the church (In my opinion).

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  5. I think the article is amazing. It combines simplicity with deep truth and reality, and that's what most of us hunger for.

    I've experienced times of such rich fellowship too. It's precious, it's fragile (easily crushed if we try to manage it), and it cannot be manufactured but must be granted from above.

    These are properties it inherits from the Holy Spirit; he too is precious, easily crushed, and will not dance to our music but is granted from above.

    He's the one who brings such sweet togetherness into existence, drawing us all into his presence and holding us there to simply be.

    If only we could all dwell there forever. Hmm, come to think of it - we will! HalleluYah!

    Thank you so much, Steph, for writing this piece and allowing me to publish it here. I hope it will make us all hungry for more of Christ in our lives together.

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  6. My heart resonates with all that you have written here, especially in the sentence: "These are properties it inherits from the Holy Spirit; he too is precious, easily crushed, and will not dance to our music but is granted from above." We mustn't be afraid to admit that we don't have all the answers, either as individuals or as a particular local body walking out the purposes of God together. That fear is the main thing that keeps us from the one thing that will get us through -- LOVE! The music in our heads can lead us far far "off the dance floor." ;-) Keeping close to the Lord and each other creates an environment in which the "new song" of the Spirit may be heard at greater volume. Here, it then may become the Song that orchestrates our steps each day. Thank you Chris!

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