The Elders were recently asked to write about three pivotal moments in their Christian formation and many have generously offered to share them in the newsletter. Look for a different story each month. If you would like to share about God at work in your life, contact Mary Grimm.
By Mark Paulson
“Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.”
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Life Together”
It has always seemed to me that life is simply a series of relationships, often concurrent, sometimes not. When I think about how God has shaped my life, how my faith has been formed, I always come back to the people God has placed in my life, who have walked beside me in both good and bad times, pouring His wisdom, kindness and love into my very being.
When I first came to faith in college, I was invited to live in Christian community at UVA with 12 other believers who made up the Alpha Omega house. As you can imagine, living with 12 other college aged guys under one roof provided some unique challenges! But living at the AO house gave me my first opportunity to “practice” my newfound faith daily. Together we studied, we ate, we prayed, we played, we worshipped. We learned to tolerate each other’s messes and annoying habits, we argued, and we (eventually) forgave one another. It was a great laboratory for me during which I began to understand what it meant to live out life as a Christian.
After college, I moved to Charlotte where the Lord placed me into a wonderful Christian community surrounded by people who continued to shape my Christian understanding. From one of my roommates I learned the value of Scripture. He had grown up as a missionary kid, and he so treasured Scripture that he memorized the entire book of Psalms! Others challenged me to think through what I believed, and why I believed. I distinctly remember a bike ride with a friend during which he stated that he thought that God was more interested in who I was than in what I did (I was struggling with career choices at the time). And, through a group study I began to see how the various parts of the Bible fit together.
While in Charlotte, one person in that Christian community had a particularly strong and positive impact in my life – this is where I met and married Anne! Certainly, through marriage God has given me a glimpse of His unconditional love - a love that persists through and is greater than all of my faults and weaknesses. In marriage, God has taught us many things, but none more important than how to give and receive forgiveness.
When I moved to Durham my faith continued to be shaped by the people God placed into my life. From the ministerial staff at Blacknall I have learned, among many things, what it means to walk humbly with our Lord. I have been challenged and encouraged by members of the various small groups I have been involved with over the past 30+ years. I have been shaped by others as I walk with them in Duke Forest, around East Campus or on the Tobacco Trail. There, we talk about the books we have read, or about how to approach the challenges in our lives.
As a Deacon and then an Elder at Blacknall I have been greatly shaped by those with whom I have served. As we pray for the church, discuss various books and think through difficult issues I have been humbled and grateful for the wisdom and grace that God has given my fellow deacons and elders.
Often, God has used others to show me His presence during the very hard times. When Anne and I experienced a heartbreaking miscarriage, my Blacknall elder at the time tracked me down at the hospital in the wee hours of the night and gave me a shoulder to cry on. It was as if God Himself showed up to comfort me in an act of compassion that I will never forget.
To be clear, I don’t believe that as Christians we should live sheltered lives within the cocoon of Christian community – rather we are called to be salt and light to the world. But God has used those around me to teach me how to be salt and light. As the potter shapes the clay, God has used other believers to gently shape and form me into who He wants me to be.
We were made for relationship – we weren’t created to go through life on our own. And God has graciously provided us a wonderful community of faith at Blacknall! I’m not suggesting you should strive to know as many people as possible, but I am saying you should invest in those you do know (and allow them to invest in you). I would encourage you to intentionally seek out others in our Christian community – not just saying hello on Sunday morning, but really working to know others deeply and to be known deeply by others. My prayer is that you too might experience the transformational power of the Holy Spirit shaping you as we walk through life together.