Sunday mornings we greet each other in church. Some faces look dazed but most are smiley and bright. Yet we don’t quite know the stories behind those faces. Do they reflect the joy of the Lord? Or are they facades behind which are hidden family tensions, marital woes, depressive and dark thoughts, fear of the unknown and worries of things outside one’s control? A cliché ‘How are you?’ is often greeted with the all familiar pleasantry ‘good’ but only the individual himself (and God of course) knows the hypocrisy therein!
In our discipleship groups (small groups), a sister has been absent for some time yet no one is saying anything about her absence except that she is busy and would like to take a break. Those who know the details choose not to share because they want to protect her privacy and those who don’t know what’s happening may have attempted to ask but since the information is not forthcoming, they trust that those who know would know what ought to be done for that sister. Slowly, the ‘out of sight out of mind’ mentality takes over.
A gentleman has been attending worship service regularly but he chooses to leave after the Offertory since he has already heard the sermon and paid his dues. He doesn’t want to stay to the end of the service. To do so means he will have to shake hands with those seated near him during the Announcement; there is of course no running away from the friendly pastor who is awaiting him at the sanctuary door. He finds speaking with people after service very energy zapping. He prefers to be the illusive brother who floats in and out of church, preferably without being noticed.
Is that what church is about? It sounds more like a social club to me; people going there for their own benefit and according to their own comfort level. For the community of God’s people, we must do far better, far far better. In this series of perspective that I’m writing on ‘Building Community Within’ to reinforce the church’s Focus for this year, I want to continue to paint a vision of what I would like to see happening in True Way Presbyterian Church – English Congregation. I have touched on being a warm and welcoming community (17 July) as well as a community where members serve and build each other up (7 August). Today, I want to highlight the need for authenticity and accountability. No man is an island. There are no lone rangers in the kingdom of God. The author of Hebrews exhorts us: ‘19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God,… 24 let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near’ (Hebrews 10). From this passage, we can see that our vertical relationship with God (direct access into the holy of holies because of the blood of Jesus) and our horizontal relationship with our brethren (stirring one another up to love and good works when we meet together) cannot be dichotomised. The commandments to love God and to love our neighbours as ourselves are so intimately intertwined that they are considered as one, which was why Jesus mentioned them in the same breathe in response to the question ‘Which is the greatest commandment?’.
Are we really able to spur one another on to love and good works if there is no authenticity and accountability – everyone is pretentious in his outward appearance, and we don’t hold each other accountable for how we live out our Christian life? I am not expecting you to be an open book to everyone in church. There is no need to. But however introverted you are, you will need a group of people to journey with you and you cannot give the excuse that you are a very private person, so private that you would rather keep everything to yourself. If you have this kind of mind set, I would like to inform you that this is erroneous and unbiblical thinking. Although it may not be possible for us to be an open book to everyone in church, can we not at least be authentic before a small group of people? I therefore want to take this opportunity to invite all of you to join a discipleship group (DG). The leadership has constantly made this appeal to all worshippers for some years now and we will continue to do so because we believe that DG is a suitable platform for members within a small group to spur one another on to love and good works as they strive to be authentic and accountable to each other.
I strongly urge you, regardless what your past experiences of DG were, to join a small group and to take the step of faith to be transparent before your DG members. If there is a joy, share it and don’t be afraid that people will be jealous of you. If there is a crisis, shout out loud and let the members of your DG know so that besides prayers, they can also render you practical. Don’t be afraid of imposing on others. Don’t be afraid that people will judge you. The apostle Paul exhorts us to ‘9 Let love be genuine…15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep’ (Romans 12). How can we rejoice and weep with others when we don’t even know what they are rejoicing over or weeping about in the first place? If you have lost your job, share it with your DG so that they not only weep with you, they can also help you look for potential job opening. If you are struggling with your teenage child because he is stubbornly disobedient, share it with your DG and be relieved to know that other parents have similar issues with their teenagers and you are not grappling with these struggles alone. If you are trying to start a family but meet with no success, again share your desire without feeling embarrassed so that your DG members can journey with you. To foster a safe space for authenticity to thrive, every DG member must observe the rules of confidentiality and non-judgmentalism.
Just as Jesus came to reconcile the world to God, we who have been reconciled have been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5.18). First and foremost, this means that we are to share the Gospel and appeal to the lost to be reconciled to God through Jesus. The ministry of reconciliation can also be extended to fellow believers. If you know that a brother has sinned against another or if the former has hurt the latter, do you pretend that nothing has happened between the two of them? Do you hesitate to help mend the relationship because you don’t want to be dragged into the messiness of the conflict? Or would you step forward as peacemakers so that you can bring about reconciliation between the two brethren? If you see your sister living in sin, do you see it as your responsibility to speak the truth in love to her so that you can be instrumental in restoring her relationship with God, in reconciling her to God?A
The apostle James exhorts us to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another (James 5.16). This will surely require us to be authentic with each other so that we can be accountable to each other. With such accountability, we can avoid a multitude of sins. If you struggle with addictions of some kind, for example, internet pornography, share this struggle with a fellow Christian and ask him to hold you accountable. Give him permission to ask you point blank ‘Have you been looking at porn sites lately?’. If we are willing to subject ourselves to such scrutiny, we don’t need to be ashamed when we have to stand before the Judge to account for how we have conducted our lives. Perhaps if we are willing to allow God’s people to hold us accountable to the way we live our lives now, we will have little problem accounting for our lives before the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Rev Lee Kien Seng
September 11, 2016