Annie Lewis Marion

Those of us who have been in the institution church for any length of time become used to being guided, guarded, and directed by that institution. Duty to God is "boiled down" to attending the public meetings and going through the prescribed rituals. Personal involvement in our religion is limited to singing, giving, and standing or sitting when told. Listening to the lecture is optional - judging by the snores. A very strong member is one who always participates in the "Work Day" at the building, usually some construction or repair of the facilities, or a landscaping project. After having performed the required acts we go down to our house feeling justified.

When my husband and I left the institution, the first thing we thought was "what do we do now?" For years we had been lulled into a sense of security because we were faithfully attending the public meetings and the eldership had always decided for us how and when to "worship" and what "extra" work needed to be done. Now, suddenly we were alone and a little unsure of how to break the institutional habit, it is a little frightening to realize we are responsib1e for ourselves.

We were very fortunate to meet another couple several months later who were in the process of leaving the institution, tie had been a "preacher" for 35 years. Because of their convictions they felt they must make a break from the institution. The first thing they asked us was "what do we do now?"

In the course of time we came in contact with others who had decided to leave their denomination, of whatever brand. We found that each of them also asked "what do we do now?"

Is it not a shame that we had become so organized and "church"-centered that we had forgotten (or never knew) what we had been called for in Christ? We all had worked only through the organization for so long that we did not know the joy that comes through spontaneous service to one another.

These articles are designed to help find avenues of service, to help find our talents and use them in service to God and one another. This is not meant to be the definitive check list or "job description" but rather a spring board to help recognize needs in our own special sphere of influence.

Personal Responsibility

God holds us personally responsible for what we can do, not to earn our salvation through works "lest any should boast", but rather that God will be glorified when people see His Light in our lives. Philippians 1:11 says: ...being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God." Service to others for the glory of God takes on a much deeper significance when we compare it to the empty ritual we had been performing.

Our meeting with other believers is supposed to be for encouraging one another, but encouraging one another to do what? Somewhere we seemed to have gotten the idea that we meet together to encourage each other to meet together.* How many of us were really encouraged to follow Christ's example of service to others because we saw someone sitting in the church building on Sunday morning or evening? I believe we should meet with other believers whenever possible, but meeting together is not our primary purpose. Our primary purpose is to serve others. This can be done individually or as a group.

We Are Called To Be Servants

Service to others begins with a proper attitude toward God. Without a loving, selfless attitude our service becomes empty duty done resentfully. By thinking of the sacrifice of Christ for each of us, we can nurture a loving attitude toward others appropriate to His people. He gave up being equal with God (Phil. 2.6) to become sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). Remembering His sacrifice makes service to others a joy and a blessing to those we serve, as well as ourselves, if we have a loving attitude. Proverbs 27:19 says, "as in water face reveals face, so a man's heart reveals the man." We cannot pretend to have a loving attitude of service. The only way to overcome apathy and a bad attitude is to replace it with a genuine loving attitude. This will take time and effort on our part. Maybe we are not Christ-likein our service to others because we have spent so little time actually looking at Christ.

Pure Religion

Aren't you tired of the "be ye warmed and filled" attitude of so many who say they are religious?

James 1:27 says "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans (or fatherless, KJV) and widows in their trouble..."

How much time and money do we personally spend doing anything to relieve the loneliness, burden of care, or financial hardship of widows, orphans, fatherless, etc.? Many people who have left institutional religion and have stopped paying the "temple tax" now wonder what to do with their "tithes". May I make some suggestions?

There are children without families, not necessarily pretty little babies (although there are those as well), but older children who have never known the comfort and security of a family. Is there no room in your heart and home for God's "unwanted" children?

There are foster care programs for children who need a safe and loving environment for a short time while their parents overcome problems. Your "shining light" may be the only bright spot in the child's otherwise bleak life. Who knows what kind of influence you could have on a child to turn him to God for eternity?

There are those who would take an orphan into their home if they had the financial resources (adoption and care of a child is expensive). Could not our "tithes" be used to help those whose hearts are willing but whose financial situation does not allow this good work?

There are girls that have made mistakes and are now in a crisis pregnancy. Many of them need a safe home and financial assistance. We have a rhetoric of being against abortion, but how many of us actually do something to help these girls get through the difficult time of pregnancy and the grief that will follow when she gives the child up for adoption? These brave girls want their babies to live and have a happy home which they cannot provide. Can we not help them with this decision by providing assistance to them? This will take tremendous personal investment.

What of the widows? How often do we take care of their physical, financial and emotional needs? Do we have no time to comfort them during the long and lonely hours?

Have we no compassion on the elderly in nursing centers who go for months without companionship or necessary comfort? Is there no nursing center or retirement home near you that needs volunteers to help provide the little "extras" each one of us takes for granted, but they must do without unless you help?

Is this principle only limited to orphans and widows? Does it not also apply to the young man or woman who has no positive Christ-like role model? There are programs that desperately call for volunteers to help keep kids off the streets, out of trouble, and off drugs. Do you have some time to become personally involved in making this world a better place for just one child? This is something a single man or woman could do. There are such agencies in your community; look them up in your Yellow Pages. This will take personal commitment on your part.

Do Good To All

Where did we get the idea that God only wants us to take care of people that belong to Him? Galatians 6:10 says, "Therefore, as we have opportunity let us do good to ALL, especially to those who are of the household of faith." Why do we always seem to read that to mean "exclusively to the household of faith?" How better to help a person who has never experienced the grace of God to see Christ, than through selfless service to them?

I hope this will encourage you to be creative in finding avenues of service you can render. Think of the disabled, the illiterate, the unemployed, the homeless, the runaway, the test, the helpless, the lonely, the poor, the unwanted, the needy. Your special talents may be the one thing that blesses these people and helps them to see God. Only you know what need.5 to be done in your sphere of influence.

What Do I Do Now?

You can find people who need someone to serve them. It will require time, money, sacrifice, and commitment on your part. When you became a disciple didn't you pledge yourself to become Christ-like? Christ said that He came to serve, not to be served. In whatever circumstances you find yourself, at whatever age or income bracket you occupy, there is something you can do on an individual level to ease the burden of one person. Christ died for us so that we could live to serve.

For too long our religion has been focused in on our own personal needs and the needs of the institution. We need to open our eyes and see the deplorable state our world is in. We need to throw off our selfishness and apathy. Have we forgotten that we are called to love one another; and do for one another what we would have others do for us? If you still need motivation read Luke 10:25-37. Go and do likewise.

In part two, I will address what we can do as a group.