Dying All By Oneself

Two recent news stories would have disturbed most readers. Both involved elderly people dying, only to be left dead for years with no one even noticing. Although we had two of these stories within a week, one suspects it may happen much more often than that.

The first story involved an elderly woman in Sydney. This is how a news item covers the tragic tale: “It’s shameful that an elderly woman had been dead for eight years before anyone realised, Police Minister Mike Gallacher says. Police discovered Natalie Wood’s skeletal remains on the floor of an upstairs bedroom of a house in Surry Hills, in inner-Sydney, on Tuesday afternoon. She would have been 87 in August.

“At a press conference in Sydney today, Mr Gallacher called on Sydney to reinvigorate its neighbourhood watch programs. ‘The death eight years ago now of an elderly lady … really does highlight the need for this state and indeed our community to work closer at building relationships with our community,’ Mr Gallacher said. ‘To hear today that an elderly lady can pass away, be dead for eight years and for Centrelink to still be sending cheques to her bank account and for those cheques not to be cashed – surely that must set off the alarm bells within government’.”

The second story involves a man in Perth: “The skeletal remains of a 75-year-old man lay in a central Perth state housing unit for up to two years despite neighbours urging housing department officials next door to check on him. The man’s remains were found on Thursday slumped against the bed in his Wellington Street unit by a Department of Housing worker.

“The discovery has prompted state opposition housing spokesman Mark McGowan to demand the government conduct a full audit to ensure no other people are lying dead, dying or suffering in state-provided homes.”

In both cases plenty of obvious questions come to mind: Didn’t these people have any loved ones, friends, family members, neighbours or relatives who took the slightest interest in them? Did no one care about these two? How can people live such isolated and remote lives, that no one notices if they have been dead or missing for years?

It is not my intent to explore the various social and political issues involved here. Instead I wish to draw some spiritual parallels with these two sad stories. What lessons might the believer draw from these two incidents? How can we apply this to the Christian life?

The truth is, there are far too many Christians living a spiritual life not dissimilar to that of these two elderly folks. That is, they are going it alone, thinking they can somehow be a real follower of Christ without any Christian fellowship. They believe they can faithfully serve Christ while being lone wolf Christians.

But the entire biblical record makes it clear that we are created to live in fellowship and community. We were never meant to be solitary creatures. While a select few might feel called to remove themselves from all society to be alone with God, such as some of the Christian hermits of old, the normal Christian life is one of interaction with others.

We are designed to be a social people, in relationship with one another. The heart of this need for Christian community of course is the very nature of God. The triune God has always enjoyed fellowship amongst the three members of the Godhead.

Being created in God’s image means sharing in that relational aspect. We are to be in loving relationship with each other and with God. The New Testament everywhere presupposes this communal nature of the body of believers. Indeed, the imagery of the body of Christ is a good explanation of this.

In 1 Corinthians 12 for example Paul speaks about how we are all many members of one body. He writes about how the various parts of the body need each other and depend upon each other. That is how God designed the church to operate: a group of individual believers in close community and relationship with one another.

This is not the place to enter into a detailed discussion of the biblical understanding of the church, but it should be clear that the fellowship or communion of the saints is a vital part of the Christian life. This is made quite clear in passages such as Hebrews 10:24-35:  “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Unfortunately some believers think they can get all their needs met by listening to radio sermons or watching an Internet church service. Not only can they not get all they need in this way, but they are thinking selfishly. We go to church first of all to worship God collectively, but we also go to give. We have so much to offer one another.

We do not enjoy Christian fellowship just to get, but to give. That is what body life is all about. If we think we can just get by without our brothers and sisters we are simply kidding ourselves. Indeed, we will wither up and die spiritually just as these two elderly folks did physically.

Of course no church is perfect – how can it be? It is comprised of imperfect people. So we may need to look around a bit to find the fellowship which is right for us and allows us to exercise our gifts as well as receive from others. But our full potential can never be realised by living in isolation from other believers.

Indeed, the gifts of the Spirit are given to us for the good of others. Paul clearly teaches this, as in 1 Cor. 14:26: “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.”

We desperately need Christian fellowship because we need each other. At the best of times we can slip and fall. We need the support of others, and we need to be accountable to others. Every believer should be in a small, preferably same-sex, accountability group.

Such a group, meeting perhaps bi-weekly, should be a place where we can be honest and open with each other, confessing our faults, praying for each other, and encouraging one another. This is vital if we are to grow in our Christian walk.

In fact, it is really impossible to grow without close fellowship with a committed body of believers. God made us this way. He designed us so that we would become more like Christ in the context of community and relationships. That is his will for us, so we had better agree with him, and soon.

If you are avoiding Christian fellowship or refusing to join a group of believers somewhere, you need to reconsider.  Spiritual development comes in large measure through our relationships with other believers. If you have had a bad experience with a church or a home group, then deal with God about this.

Seek forgiveness and offer forgiveness and move on. Don’t use past bad experiences as an excuse to avoid doing what you know you should be doing. We have too many believers falling into serious sin, falling away, and/or going off on a dead-end, such as into the cults.

All this can greatly be avoided if we stay in close, regular committed fellowship with other believers. We need each other. We really do. And others need us. So lest you want to end up like one of these two poor souls, make sure you do not neglect the need for regular fellowship and consistent church attendance of some sort.

www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/womans-bones-found-in-flat-eight-years-on/story-e6freuy9-1226088581186

news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-national/mans-skeletal-remains-found-in-perth-unit-20110709-1h7ko.html

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8 Replies to “Dying All By Oneself”

  1. I find the conclusion you have drawn from the stories of these poor souls to those who choose not to fellowship significant but interesting. Like these unfortunate old people probably have not chosen their isolation, so there are people in the christian walk who are isolated not because of choice but because others find them too demanding, too hard to live with, too hard to support etc.

    Especially in an age where government has taken over welfare, the common response to expressed need is “Well, apply for every programme out there, you will get into one eventuality.” Yet the last thing people with needs want is to be a case in programme, they want to know they are a valued member of a functioning body, be it only a little toe that helps to give the whole body balance.

    This is concerning physical need primarily, but it can cross over into spiritual need as well. While your admonition of those who choose to isolate themselves is correct and important, I believe that there is a place for congregations to make a greater effort to seek to actively include those who might be easily overlooked. The internet can be a good tool to overcome some aspects of isolation, but it can never take the place of a shared meal, a hug, involvement in a joint project or traveling together. People who experience barriers to communication have however no less need of it and often therefore more frustration because it is not met, for meeting it requires more effort than with those who have all their faculties.

    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  2. The more we see centralised government usurp the social obligations of our communities and churches the more this is going to happen unfortunately.

    Damien Spillane

  3. Thanks Bill

    In my humble opinion, the church is not a place of refuge, rather it’s a place of judgement – clicky groups – the have and the have nots. I was on an expedition for nearly 8 years before I found a church to call home. My heart goes out to all the lonely people but that’s not enough. Again in my opinion we the church are to become a practical people a people who visit the poor and lonely and sick.

    Daniel Kempton

  4. I agree with you 100% but I also feel there is another side to this coin. There are those who are isolated not by choice but by circumstances. The elderly, those with a chronic illness and other may not be well enough to get to church. In this case those who are physically healthy need to take fellowship to those who cannot come themselves.

    Kylie Anderson

  5. Thanks Ursula and Kylie

    Yes you are quite right that when Christians are in isolation for various reasons beyond their choosing, then the churches need to reach out to them and help them in practical ways.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  6. I thank you for these observations today. I do know of a couple of people who for varying reasons have chosen to isolate themselves from the fellowship of the Church, and although I do keep in contact by telephone and/or visiting, I feel inadequate to meet their spiritual needs. This can be a real problem in a Christian community, especially when the fellowship really doesn’t seem to care all that much.

    Joan Davidson

  7. Yes, how else can we grow more Christlike in learning long suffering, patience, gentleness, kindness etc except in fellowship with others? We can’t learn these skills in isolation. Running from a fellowship when someone gets up our nose or irritates us is avoiding a God ordained chance to grow in maturity. Once we accept Christ, we are heaven bound by grace alone, but God wants to train us in how to best live in this heavenly eternity, and and to fit and equip us to partake of the heavenly life. How else will we be made fit for heaven if we run from all the learning and practising opportunities?

    Kerry Letheby

  8. Greetings Bill,

    I shared your blog on Facebook and got several responses. I had one in particular that meant a lot to me so I was asked to explain accountability. Here is my response below.
    ______________________________________________
    Hi Jackie,

    I wanted to get back to you on the concept of “accountability”. The point is, as a person we do not always make the right decisions in life. Accountability can be through various means. One way is through the Church and meeting with say, in my case, other men where we can discuss life issues and challenges. Or we can be mentoring others through the journey to come to know Christ. Or we can meet as couples and so many more possibilities.

    As a good example, my wife Bonnie and I are married four years this year. When we first started living together which was back in 2003, I was not much of a believer. In practice at least. She was at one point but had fallen away too. We were both divorced. We both felt very lost. I was born and raised Catholic and she was “self motivated” as a kid as a practicing Baptist. We both felt very lost and seemed to be not going anywhere. We both agreed that we needed a Church to start going to. It is a feeling of needing to “get right with God” if you understand what I mean. Since I was twice divorced, the Catholic faith was not for me anymore. I would have had to pay the Catholic Church Lawyers to try and get an Annulment to my two previous marriages just to be able to declare both those marriages null and void so to speak. Just so I could, according to Catholic law, receive Communion in a Catholic Church.

    My wife and I talked and she wanted to stay with her faith. We were living in Harford County Maryland then. So I did a search for Baptist Churches online. And what came up started me on my conversion and new walk of faith completely. I found this very kid friendly Church that was holding yearly “Mud Wars” where the kids and adults would play in the mud. Like a mud bowl game… It was awesome. Since I went to School to be a Landscaper, and was for many years, it was a natural fit. So we started attending. I can say my faith was changed quickly after a few visits there. The people were not like any other Church I had attended. I have been in Catholic Churches over a quarter of the way around the World and never felt as welcomed as I did in this church. Not trying to recruit you…okay? I am just laying the ground work and sharing my testimony.

    We started going regularly and this older couple came up to me one Sunday after Church and asked me how I was doing and what led us the that Church. I proceeded to tell him our story. Then he asked if we would like to do Bible Study with his wife and himself. I said sure. I was really interested in learning what was in that book. I never realized what we had just done for ourselves when I said yes!

    These people are more like a Mom and Dad to both my wife and I today than our own parents. My Dad died in 1999 and my Mom is still alive. But these people took us under their wing. There were in their late 60’s then. This was in 2006. We started Bible study and found out these folks were exactly in the same situation just 30 years before. Both divorced with children from both marriages. Trying to blend a family and get married and starting over from the divorces with nothing. They really knew where we were coming from. The could predict for us problems we would face in trying to blend the family’s and kids and so much more.

    This was an awesome time for us. These people helped Bonnie and I through so much ever since. Tom and I would share troubles we were experiencing and he would always help me through it. And Bonnie would do the same with his wife Jenna. One thing that was awesome is that Both Tom and Jenna are Bible Scholars and know the Bible very well. They mentored us and also coached us Biblically. They would follow up with us when we were going through tough times. They would makes us stay the course when we wandered away too. Their encouragement through the good times and especially the bad, was very much a blessing to Bonnie and I.

    Believe me, we laughed, we cried, we discussed, we argued and we cursed each other. We always worked through these times together. It was a very awesome experience. This was the proof positive to me of what accountability does for a person. It really changed me from a hard drinking heavy partying heavy smoking wild man for many years. Tom was an Alcoholic of the worst type. It almost killed him by destroying his health. He could relate to so much of what I had been and was going through. I was not very faithful in my last marriage. After we fell away(marriage fell apart), I went astray.

    Tom and Jenna brought me to accepting Christ as my savior in their living room. It completely changed me.

    With the accountability issue it was amazing how quick one is to make the wrong decision in life verses having a friend or accountability partner who questions your motives and your actions for your benefit. It is awesome. As believers we are to share our experiences so we are able to help others.

    The fellowship we shared with Tom and Jenna and the intense 5 years of Bible study Bonnie and I did with them really gave me a new outlook and attitude on life. I am so much more at peace too. My cousin who I had not talked to in about six year said the same thing the other day. He said, “Eddy, you sound so at peace any more”. He said, “I remember how rough it was for you in your previous marriage”. He asked ” what happened”? And he got about the same story you now have here. When I left my second wife I lost everything. And That was after owning two houses for 18 years that were mine personally. I lost so much. It was some very tough times over the last 8 years. I lost my marriage, I lost my Job due to the Economy. It was a six figure a year job. Gone for ever now. I now work for about a third of my previous wages.
    The timing of my divorce and the crash of the economy were really bad. When I left I thought for sure I would never leave my job… I should have been fine… It has been a really tough ride.

    I don’t know if you saw one of my previous posts recently on Face Book that was…
    “God will not protect you from what he will perfect you through”.

    I will tell you… I must be near damn perfect now! hahahahaha

    Just kidding.

    But I hope this gives you some insight as to why I posted that article. There are so many opportunities out there to be a “Good and Faithful Servant and we just miss them. What will it take for me to accomplish this???

    I care where I am going very much when I pass on. And I am a firm believer. As for any particular faith? I am not saying one is better than the other. I have known so many previous Catholics who have fallen away. Especially from our generation. I truly believe that churches hold a very valuable and trusted place in society today. I feel we as a nation have fallen away from Church (GOD) very much. I feel this has led to such a moral decline across the board in our society.

    One verse in the Bible that means so much to me is is the one that states that wherever two or more believers gather…so am I. This means so much to me. If you and another believer are together praying or studying the Bible it is essentially the same as going to Church.

    (This is from Biblegateway.org )
    How many people does it take to have a church? Just two, according to this verse. When a believer interacts with another, the spirit of God is present in that fellowship.

    Here is the verse:

    Matthew 18:20 (KJV)
    For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

    So Church does not always mean gathering in a steeple’d building. I hope this helps you understand my stance.

    Thanks for asking Jackie! Please feel free to ask me to explain more if you like. I appreciate your friendship on Facebook too.

    God Bless,

    Ed Cox

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