Reflections on how I learn to live life with faith.
Day 15 – Formed for God’s Family; Day 16 – What Matters Most; Day 17 – A Place to Belong; Day 18 – Experiencing Life Together; Day 19 – Cultivating Community
“When we place our faith in Christ, God becomes our Father, we become his children, other believers become our brothers and sisters, and the church becomes our spiritual family. The family of God includes all believers in the past, the present, and the future.”
How often do you feel that you belong to a spiritual family? A church? Can you identify yourself in a particular church group or spiritual family? When my family was still living in the Philippines, the church that we will always go to is the Immaculate Conception Parish Church (now known as the Immaculate Conception Cathedral) in Cubao. My parents got married there and me and my siblings were all baptized into the Catholic faith in that church. When we moved to Australia, we’ve attended several churches, from Don Bosco parish in Narre Warren, Iglesia ni Cristo in Dandenong, Dandenong Baptist Church, and now, St. Agatha at Cranbourne. For me and my family, regardless of which church we attend to, as long as it acknowledges and praises the same God, we are still getting our weekly spiritual feeding. But to me then, it felt like an obligation and I did not see the purpose of going to church and being holy on Sundays and living the same life on a Monday. I felt like I was just fooling myself and wasting my time because I even find myself sleeping through the priest’s sermon.
It was not until I attended the Tuesday Bible study gatherings of Generation for Christ (GFC) that I started to feel welcomed and belonged into a spiritual family. My spiritual re-birth and maturity in Christ developed because of the fellowship that was embodied in GFC. To be honest, I have always been asked by a friend of mine to attend their Bible study a year ago. I did not feel the need to attend then because I thought that it would be very boring as my parents and our relatives used to have that Bible study and it was very boring. Then, about three of my friends started communicating with me and sharing Bible devotions through long text messages, and though it was such a pain to read broken messages and link them together, I didn’t mind reading them. They contacted me at a time when I was starting to develop my relationship with Christ, after that great darkness that I have encountered in my life last year.
February 2012, those same friends invited me to attend their Bible study gatherings again. They were about to start again for 2012 but their first gathering was held at a date when I had already made a commitment to meet up with someone. I cancelled on them but promised them that I will come the following week. That week came and I was already having second thoughts if I should go or not because it was at night and I do not even know a lot of people there. I went against my fear and saw it for myself.
GFC’s Bible study gathering is divided into three parts: Worship, Word & Food Fellowship. During worship, everyone gathers together to praise and worship God and Jesus Christ through prayers, testimonies, devotions, scripture encouragement, giving, videos and songs. Then the group divides into three cell groups to discuss about the Bible Scripture for the night and every group has two leaders and about 8-9 members each. During the word, everyone is free to share questions, doubts, learning, and reflections. The last bit is Food Fellowship where everyone gathers again to eat and mingle.
The first time I went was February 28, 2012. I did not know what to expect, I initially went because I was invited and because I made a promise to my friends that I will attend. During worship service, I have no idea what songs they were singing and I was confused whether I should close my eyes like what they were doing or raise my hands or clap or sing or just stand there. During the time of the Word, I did not know which group I should go to, and when I chose I group, I didn’t even know that I was the only female in that group. Food Fellowship was another set-back for me then because I wanted to come home but I was also catching up with other people and I thought perhaps it was rude that I went home early without getting to know these people in the group.
I had all these fears and worries during my first time. But it was a life-changing experience for me because ever since that day that I went to Bible study, I never missed any Tuesday gathering (except for when I went to America for 2 weeks). I felt welcomed by everyone. I can share my fears or sorrows or joy to them because they were helping me towards my spiritual maturity. They understood my pain, my confusion and my hunger for God, for direction, for love, for Jesus. Everyone was humble enough to welcome me, comfort me, and feel that I belong to them.
My growth in Christ was not solely because the people in GFC fed my spiritual hunger. It worked both ways for me. I had to be willing to absorb information and filter them. My friend told me that to be able to allow Christ to work in me, I have to empty my cup. Empty my cup of hatred, of past hurts, of anger, of bitterness, of pain, of knowledge. Simply, empty my cup. It was difficult to comprehend it at first, but I did that anyway. Every Tuesdays, I come to Bible study excited of what I am about to learn for that night and to allow learning; I had to empty my cup. If I had that “I’ve learned that before” or “I know that already!” or “I’ve read that before” or “I’m too busy for that” or “I already attend church on Sundays!” – If I had that mind-set, I would be setting myself into a trap of being prideful and arrogant. In short, I would never learn and grow. People who learn and grow are those who are willing to compensate for others, accept positive and negative criticisms, and allow themselves to be taught. No one is ever to smart to know everything, we always have a space in our life to grow and learn, even adults have to constantly update their qualifications. That was my secret on how I built my spiritual muscle, I emptied my cup. I humbled myself to the teachings of my leaders, read the Bible, reflected on God’s Word and shared my learning.
What I love about GFC apart from it being very welcoming and non-discriminatory, it has become a place for me to share my learning. It is a breath of fresh air because you do not have the opportunity to share your learning during Sunday church service. You just sit there and passively listen and absorb to the Word, and most of the time the priest would not even have the time to explain every single verse for you. Having that opportunity to attend the Bible study allowed me to share my learning and reflection and they are willing to guide me to the right path and answers that are written in the Bible. Now, I understand everything that is said during church services, and I do not just understand, I appreciate, I believe, and now, I serve!
“Worship helps you focus on God; fellowship helps you face life’s problems; discipleship helps fortify your faith; ministry helps find your talents; evangelism helps fulfil your mission. There is nothing else on earth like the church!”
I did not only attend GFC because I want to be saved for myself, but I also shared GFC to everyone. I shared it to my friends and I shared it to my brothers. When I first started, February, they had a group of 3 with 6 leaders. Now, GFC has a group of 6 (nearing 8) with 12 leaders. I am now a leader, and I am encountering many difficult circumstances as a leader. But now, I have learned not to forget the basics, to empty my cup. I encounter different people from different walks of life and different levels of understanding of the Word. Some come because they were forced, some come because they want to learn, some come because they want to mingle, some come but feels that they do not need the Word, and some come and never comes back anymore. If I empty my cup, my understanding and my love for them will grow. Because they are new and they need all the love they can find and the reason they come to GFC is because they also want to belong. They are also looking for answers. They feel that they are finally a part of a spiritual family that regardless of what they were in the past, they have a spiritual family that welcomes them.
“In Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” – Romans 12:5
“His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ.” – Ephesians 1:5
“The entire law is summed up in a single command: Love your neighbour as yourself.” – Galatians 5:14
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” – Acts 2:42 – 47