By Jim Brackett
I was watching my son warm up his arm and enjoying the Spring weather that was so late in coming that year. The previous February and March proved just how tough a New England winter can be. “His name is Whit,” said Barb. “What?” I replied, distracted. “No, not what… Whit. The new kid.” My son Tommy was throwing the ball with him. Yup, a new family in town. This was always big news for a small town like Medfield. My wife stared at me for a minute, then went off to talk to the other parents. Good. I wanted to be alone.
I was in a dark period of my life. As a firefighter/paramedic, I was in my 16th year of service, and I was starting to burn out. The last five years had been especially hard. The suicide of a police officer, the murder of a two-month old infant, the death of a toddler who had run into the street, the endless opioid overdoses… then the suicide of Jimmy D, one of my fellow firefighters. I had no interest in life or in engaging with others. Fast-forward to 2020, and looking back, I cannot believe what a dangerous place I was in. But let me give a little background…
I became a Christian back in February of 1988. I was eighteen years old, grew up in a strict Catholic household and received most of my education at Catholic schools. When I left for college, I was like a dog off a leash, running and living wild. But in the midst of it, God was in firm control. I met a girl, started dating her, and found out she was a Christian. Great! I’m Catholic – it’s the same thing, right? Over the months we dated, I saw something she had that I wanted also. She led me to Jesus and I never looked back.
Now, our dating relationship ran its course, and we went our separate ways. During our dating days, my girlfriend and I attended a Pentecostal church. It was quite an experience, me being used to the traditional Catholic Mass. There was loud worship music, people speaking in tongues, acts of healing, prophecies… It terrified me, and after we broke up, I stayed away from Church. Oh I still believed in Jesus, I read my Bible often, had daily devotion time, and read the works of CS Lewis and other Christian authors regularly. I could do this. Sundays became a day to sleep in, or pick up overtime at work. I’ll be honest, I did not want to return to Church… not the heavy religiosity of Catholicism nor the intense style of worship of the Pentecostals. Church was stiff, formal, and boring… I went on with life. I did Christianity on my own.
Looking back, I shake my head at my poor decision making. First of all, my view of church was all wrong. I saw it as an institution which was controlling, repressive, greedy, and hypocritical. Yes, these religious institutions do exist, but that’s not what a local Christian Church is to be. As I’ve learned over the last three years in attending Storyheights, the local church professes the risen Jesus, provides Biblical instruction, and actively engages with the surrounding community to reach the lost. The local church also nurtures the faith of the believer and helps them to discover God’s purpose for their lives. There is also something to be said for just being around other believers. Jesus told us that where two or three gather in His name, that He is there with them (Matthew 18:20). This means when believers gather, whether in the Sunday service, in small groups, or just to hang out, Jesus is with them. This is still something that I’m trying to wrap my head around.
So what’s wrong with ‘going it alone’? As I came to realize, going it alone is dangerous. We are choosing to separate ourselves from Christian community and whether you know it or not, we distance ourselves from Jesus as well. Yes, by accepting Jesus you are still saved, but if you go it alone, you will be subject to the influences of the world and the attacks of the enemy. Back in World War II, the allies conducted daylight bombing raids over Nazi controlled Europe. The B-17 bombers would fly in a formation called the ‘combat box’. This was designed so that the bomber crews could mutually protect each other from the German interceptors that would try to shoot them down. When one of the bombers fell out of the box, it was quickly overwhelmed by the enemy and shot down. Going it alone in your faith is like this. You will eventually be overcome by the concerns of the world and the attacks of the enemy, thus preventing your faith from producing fruit. Being an active member of the local church will not insulate you from the world or the enemy, but your perspective will be different. Your faith will grow and be fruitful despite the influences of the world and despite the attacks of the enemy. And lastly, you will have the friendship and support of fellow believers. You cannot do this alone!
I started this blog with me at the ballfield watching my son warm up… honestly, I will always remember this day. I was starting to reap the “rewards” of going it alone in my faith. Depression and darkness were taking hold and I was starting to spiral. Alone. I just wanted to be alone. But God was not going to have that. In fact, what I didn’t realize was God was coming after me. “C’mon Whit!!” the big guy next to me yelled to the new kid. I nearly jumped out of my skin! How did this dude get next to me without me knowing? He turned to me, with his hand out, and introduced himself, “Hey man, my name’s Tyler.” Yup, and there it is…