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Day 18 – Cultivating a Vibrant Community of Faith for Spiritual Growth and Maturation

Photo by City Church CA on Unsplash

They continued faithfully in the teaching of the emissaries, in fellowship, in breaking bread and in the prayers. Everyone was filled with awe, and many miracles and signs took place through the emissaries. All those trusting in Yeshua stayed together and had everything in common; in fact, they sold their property and possessions and distributed the proceeds to all who were in need. Continuing faithfully and with singleness of purpose to meet in the Temple courts daily, and breaking bread in their several homes, they shared their food in joy and simplicity of heart, praising God and having the respect of all the people. And day after day the Lord kept adding to them those who were being saved.
~ Acts 2:42-47 CJB ~

We ponder the life and teachings of Jesus Christ—the only sinless soul who ever lived, the spotless Lamb of God. As often as we can, we partake of the sacrament in remembrance of His sacrifice and recognize that He is the center in our lives. We love Him and we honor Him. Because of His profound and eternal love, Jesus Christ suffered and died for you and me. He broke open the gates of death, shattered the barriers that separated friends and loved ones, and brought hope to the hopeless, healing to the sick, and deliverance to the captive. To Him we dedicate our hearts, our lives, and our daily devotion. For this reason, “we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, [and] we preach of Christ, … that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.”
~ Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf – Come and Belong ~ April 2020 General Conference

We desire real human connection. A place where there is a sense of belonging. And within that community, there is a commitment to not only be part of such a community, but there is also a commitment of fellowship between individuals to grow spiritually. And this only happens when the Holy Spirit moves upon us as individuals to recognize the need within each other. This need is peace – not the peace of the world but the peace of Christ (John 14:27 and Ephesians 4:3, CJB). And one of the challenges is to get past this idea that the Church is perfect, or the Gospel is true but that the people are imperfect.

Far too often we cite this tired out cliche as a means to encourage someone to come back to Church. To encourage those who appeared to have been offended, betrayed, hurt, or discouraged in some way. And while such a platitude is correct on the surface – it is shallow and lacking any pure love of Christ. It is an excuse to dismiss the person’s sense of betrayal, their sense of having been hurt, offended, or even feeling deceived on some level. Yes, the Gospel of Christ is true, and it is perfect. Furthermore, yes, we are imperfect individuals. However, if we are striving to cultivate a community of faith where it is vibrant, growing, maturing spiritually to where we ask for forgiveness, seek out reconciliation, empathize with those who have felt hurt and disappointment – then there is no true genuine fellowship.

“You don’t have to walk this road alone. Our Heavenly Father has not left us to wander in darkness”. – Uchtdorf – April 20202

The Apostle Paul taught that we are to make every effort to preserve the unity the Spirit gives through the binding power of shalom (peace) (Ephesians 4:3, CJB).

What constitutes a vibrant and healthy faith community? A place that is welcoming. An environment that says come and belong. Here are some thoughts from Elder Uchtdorf:

Actively participating in the Church of Jesus Christ and its great variety of opportunities will help us to be better prepared for life’s changing circumstances, whatever and however serious they may be. As members of the Church, we are encouraged to immerse ourselves in the words of God through His prophets, ancient and modern. Through sincere and humble prayer to our Heavenly Father, we learn to recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit. We accept calls to serve, teach, plan, minister, and administer. These opportunities allow us to grow in spirit, mind, and character.

Come and Belong – April 2020 General Conference

And this call to come and belong blesses each one of us because: We will become stronger individuals. Lives will be improved; our attitude will be gentler and kinder. We will experience an enriching deep sense of fulfillment, contentment, and happiness. Together, we will deepen our faith and become more resilient – capable of withstanding the unexpected adversities of life (Uchtdorf, 2020).

Discipleship – Heart of a Vibrant and Healthy Fellowship and Community

There appears to be the lost art of discipleship within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and within Christian communities as well. It goes beyond mere missionary work, evangelism, conversion, confession and profession of faith. It is more than merely involvement of discussions concerning Christ, applications to life, anecdotal stories of faith and testimony shared in Sunday morning sermons and talks. Despite this, the Church of Jesus Christ is structured in a manner to provide opportunities to practice fundamentals of discipleship. This requires our commitment and responsibility to actively participate in those opportunities:

  • Learning to recognize the promptings of the Holy Spirit
  • Develop a heart for service and engage in service-related projects and opportunities
  • Develop ability to learn to reach out and minister with kindness, compassion, grace, patience, and empathy
  • Ability to recognize and take responsibility for our own thoughts and behaviors – seek reconciliation and forgiveness when brought to our attention

All of which takes ongoing effort and practice.

Embracing the Pure Love of Christ Extends to All

Another aspect of a healthy and vibrant community of faith rests upon the truth that Christ’s love, grace, and mercy (through the infinite atonement) extends to all people. Elder Uchtdorf says it this way:

Jesus the Christ, though He is “the King of kings,” the Messiah, “the Son of the living God,” does care deeply about each and every one of God’s children. He cares regardless of a person’s position—how poor or rich, how imperfect or proven someone is. During His mortal life, the Savior ministered to all: to the happy and accomplished, to the broken and lost, and to those without hope. Often, the people He served and ministered to were not individuals of prominence, beauty, or wealth. Often, the people He lifted up had little to offer in return but gratitude, a humble heart, and the desire to have faith.

He continues teaching:

If Jesus spent His mortal life ministering to “the least of these,”7 would He not love them today? Is there not a place in His Church for all of God’s children? Even for those who feel unworthy, forgotten, or alone? There is no threshold of perfection you must attain in order to qualify for God’s grace. Your prayers do not have to be loud or eloquent or grammatically correct in order to reach heaven. In truth, God does not show favoritism—the things the world values mean nothing to Him. He knows your heart, and He loves you regardless of your title, financial net worth, or number of Instagram followers.

The love of our Heavenly Father and the love of our Savior knows no bounds. We all are being called to come and belong to him. To come into fellowship with one another. To extend the very same love and joy of Christ to one another.

Discipleship is Integral to Spiritual Growth and Spiritual Maturation

Another observation Elder Uchtdorf makes is this:

We are pilgrims walking the road of mortality in a grand search for meaning and ultimate truth. Often, all we see is the path directly ahead—we cannot see where the bends in the road will lead. Our loving Heavenly Father has not given us every answer. He expects us to figure out many things for ourselves. He expects us to believe—even when it’s difficult to do so. He expects us to straighten our shoulders and develop a little resolve—a little backbone—and take another step forward. That is the way we learn and grow. Would you honestly want everything spelled out in every detail? Would you honestly want every question answered? Every destination mapped out?

He continues his observation:

I believe most of us would tire very quickly of this sort of heavenly micromanagement. We learn the important lessons of life through experience. Through learning from our mistakes. Through repenting and realizing for ourselves that “wickedness never was happiness.” Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died so that our mistakes might not condemn us and forever halt our progress. Because of Him, we can repent, and our mistakes can become stepping-stones to greater glory. You don’t have to walk this road alone. Our Heavenly Father has not left us to wander in darkness.

Our ability to grow and mature spiritually begins when we recognize and embrace our own weaknesses and imperfections. Knowing we are not merely traveling this road alone. That is the beauty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – knowing we are among others who are making their way along the path. Each one of us growing, learning from our mistakes, working our own salvation out with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13).

And where do we go to further understand the pure love of Christ as it relates to discipleship and spiritual growth? We turn our attention to the Sermon on the Mount as it is recorded in Matthew 5-7, outlines for us the progressive movement toward spiritual perfection. Not only does it outline for us the progressive movement toward spiritual perfection, the theme and structure of the Sermon on the Mount symbolizes what the Apostle Paul taught:

Don’t you know that you people are God’s temple and that God’s spirit lives in you? So if anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you yourselves are that temple.

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (cf 1 Corinthians 3:16-23), CJB

The temple symbolism begins with the steps leading up to the sanctuary:

  • Humility (Matthew 5:3)
  • Contrition (Matthew 5:4)
  • Gentleness (Matthew 5:5)
  • Spiritual Thirst and Hunger (Matthew 5:6)
  • Mercifulness (Matthew 5:7)
  • Purity (Matthew 5:8)
  • Peacemaking (Matthew 5:9)
  • Sacrificial Suffering – Enduring Persecution (Matthew 5:10)

Christ then presented the pillars of truth that support the temple. These pillars of truth are those pure doctrines of Christ:

  • Spiritual Influence Matt. 5:13-16
  • Eternal Law of God Matt. 5:17-10
  • Self-Control Matt. 5:21-22
  • Reconciliation Matt. 5:23-26
  • Inward purification Matthew 5:27-30
  • Sacred and Covenantal Marriage Matt. 5:31-32
  • Guarded Speech Matt. 5:33-37
  • Tempered, at Peace, Nonresistant Matt. 5:38-40
  • Unlimited service/Charity Matt. 5:41
  • Spirit of Generosity Matt. 5:42
  • Universal Love toward all Matt. 5:43-47
  • Divine Standard of God – Holiness Matt. 5:48
  • Generosity and Charity toward the needy/poor Matt. 6:1-4
  • Thoughtful, mindful prayer, and meditation Matt. 6:5-15
  • Meaningful Fasting Matt. 6:16-18
  • Heavenly Blessings Matt. 6:19-21
  • Vision – Purpose Matt. 6:22-23
  • Trust, Confidence, Assurance Matt. 6:25-32
  • Primacy of God’s Kingdom Matt. 6:33
  • Charitableness Matt. 7:1-5
  • Stewardship of truth and priesthood authority and power Matt. 7:6
  • Divine and Sacredness of Benevolence Matt. 7:7-11
  • Golden Rule – Expectation of Self Matt. 7:12
  • The law of our spiritual path and journey Matt. 7:13-14
  • Test of Life – Fruit bearing symbolism Matt. 7:15-20
  • Obedience and Foundation of Solid Rock Matt. 21-27

Through Christ, we have a path laid out before us. One where we are not called to walk alone when it comes to spiritual growth and maturation. Together, as the Apostle Paul teaches, we are to encourage one another and build one another up (1 Thessalonians 5:11, cf 1 Thessalonians 5:4-23, CJB),

Cultivating a Vibrant Community of Faith Begins with Humility, Honesty, and Courage

It takes a humble heart, a gentle spirit, and spirit of courage to speak honestly and truthfully into the hearts and minds of other individuals. We best be sure that we start off with being honest with ourselves first. To work on dealing with our own issues and challenges before we go to someone and attempt to correct their behavior and attitude. The other aspect of this is that if we remain silent, do not say anything because of fear, doubt, and wanting to not engage in any form of interpersonal conflict – then we are permitting individuals to fall short of God’s glory and continue in their own weaknesses and frailty.

Part of our commitment to belong also means we are committed to being corrected, rebuked, and challenged in a way that draws our attention and attitude toward forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation. It is far better for us to go to someone and say: “I took offense to something I heard, and it really bothers me” It also takes great courage to seek out others and openly discuss with them our concerns, issues, etc.

One question I have always asked, of myself for the most part and toward those who share with me their reasons for having left the faith, is this: have you gone to that individual privately and shared with them your concern and how you took offense to what they did or said? Have you approached them and discussed with them the reason you felt disappointed? And the common response appears to be: No, I have not, they need to come and apologize to me. What is left is resentment and bitterness that chokes out any faith and hope. Chokes out any kindness, compassion, and empathy.

If we are not willing to be honest with ourselves first, and then honest with another concerning our shortcomings, our weaknesses, our challenges, then we are not willing to grow and mature in our faith.

Cultivating a Vibrant Community of Faith takes Confidentiality

One of the most important aspects of fellowship and community that appears to be missing – specifically concerning discipleship, spiritual growth and maturation, and having a sense of belonging – stems from the possibility that there is a lack of confidentiality.

As a youth in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I always looked forward to the inspiring messages contained in the New Era. I also looked forward to the Mormonads that would appear in each monthly issue.

Gossip – Don’t Pass it On – New Era October 1982

One such Mormonad appeared in the October 1982 issue focused on the nature of Gossip. And the scriptures, nor the leaders ever remained silent on the nature, harmful impact, and the dangers of gossip.

The Greek word used in the New Testament is psithurismos (psith – oo-ris-mos’) and means a whispering or secret slandering. It is malicious, done in secret, and secretly attacks a person’s character – regardless of its truthfulness or deception.

Part of a vibrant and healthy community faith and fellowship requires a degree of confidentiality among one another. To hold in confidence things said, sins confessed, and personal weaknesses and vulnerabilities shared. When this confidence is breached – disappointment, resentment, bitterness, betrayal, and shame is birthed within the spirit of a person. It is a wedge for the enemy to come in and further entice individuals to separate themselves from those who engaged in such behavior.

It is also part of a healthy and vibrant community of faith and fellowship for someone to step up with boldness and call out such secret communications. To call attention to the spirit of murmuring and complaining. And if such truth is piercingly offensive to those engaged in such behavior – it is because of the conviction of the Holy Spirit calling them to repentance.

A vibrant and healthy community of faith and fellowship needs to instill a certain level of confidence. Where, how, and when such confidence may need to be breached is only concerning the protection of an individual from self-harm, or potential and dangerous threats toward another person (e.g., suicidal ideation, threats of physical harm and means to carry out such threats). However, the most part – we are dealing with individual weaknesses, doubts, crisis of faith, grief and loss, shame and guilt, issues surrounding mental health related issues, those struggling with substance use related issues, individuals struggling with pornography, temptations, sin, rebellion, parenting challenges, and the whole gauntlet of human experience.

We all need someone to lean on and that includes knowing what we share is not something that will be broadcast toward others.

A community of faith and fellowship that instills and practices confidentiality will allow a deeper and more enriching connection among those individuals. It provides a greater sense of security, stability, and process whereby faith may grow. This is, of course, unlike the general, run of the mill superficial connections experienced in some social settings.

As we continue our 40-day challenge to go forward with faith and purpose – let us focus on cultivating a community of faith where people are able to come because they have a sense of belonging. A community that is healthy and vibrant where people are able to experience spiritual growth and maturation. Able to feel comfortable in showing their vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and know that we all are in this together – learning, growing, falling short, and striving toward holiness and perfection.

Key Point

A vibrant and healthy fellowship and community is place where we all are able to come and know we belong. Where there is kindness, empathy, charity, compassion, forgiveness, willingness to be honest, discreet, share with confidence, and keeping in confidence those things we share one with another. All of us are walking our own spiritual paths and experiencing our own spiritual journey – however, it is not meant for us to do so alone. We strive to be complete, unified, and in harmony because of the pure love of Christ. We grow and enrich one another. To put aside all manner of things that are not beneficial for our spiritual progress and growth.

Meditate and Ponder

Do you feel a spirit of belonging? If not, what is the reason for that? If there is any offense, gossip, or sense of distrust – have you taken the steps to confront those individuals with the pure love of Christ and discuss with them such hurt and disappointment? Is it because of a fear of judgment that one is keeping themselves from participating in a healthy community where one is able to grow in faith and truth? Wherever you are on your journey – know that you are not alone. Know that many others are struggling as well. This is the reason we have the Gospel of Jesus Christ restored in these last days so that we are able to come together, share in our experiences, hold one another accountable and help each other grow in our faith, grow in truth, and grow into the light of Christ as we continue to strive to be more like him.