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Reflections: Strength in community

Studying Proverbs with the First5 community has been a great experience, including stories of fellow users seeing these timeless truths play out in their lives. Scholars generally agree the book’s pithy “if, then” statements and comparisons of “the righteous” vs. “the wicked” are not exactly promises but rather general principles illustrating God’s best plans for humanity. A study of King Solomon, who likely authored much of Proverbs, shows he had plenty of slip-ups, but over his lifetime, he learned God’s principles were true.

 

This week, I studied Proverbs 18:1: “He who isolates himself pursues selfish desires; he rebels against all sound judgment.”

 

We are surrounded by more information and entertainment choices than ever before, and yet there is an alarming mental health crisis, with increased suicide rates in several age groups and an alarming number of military veterans. Could it be technology has pushed us not into meaningful relationship with fellow humans, but into dangerous isolation? Not to be confused with intentional private time in prayer and meditation, isolation can lead to making unwise decisions based on a confusing amount of online info; not enjoying time with other people, and eventually facing devastating loneliness.

 

I explored this topic while researching my article, “AI and the Church” for a denominational publication. Dr. James Bradford, senior pastor at Central Assembly in nearby Springfield, shared concerns that people who got out of the habit of in-person church during COVID-19 restrictions were at spiritual risk due to isolation from Christian community. One can type a question about the Bible or spirituality into ChatGPT and get an answer, but who knows how the program decided what information to pull from. Compare that to personal fellowship at a Bible-believing church, where a Spirit-filled pastor spends time in prayer and study about sermon content and other Christians provide encouragement and accountability.

 

Proverbs 18:17 refers to cross-examining information, something the Apostle Paul commended the Berean church in the New Testament for doing. Discussion with others can lead to greater insight. Most of Paul’s writing centers around community—encouraging each other, prayer for each other, and yes, working out the occasional issue rather than letting it fester (compare that to the vitriol that often occurs online).

 

Verse 24 mentions a “friend who sticks closer than a brother.” That kind of friend is rarely found via AI or social media, but chances of meaningful connection are pretty good at in-person church, volunteer work and community events. Several veteran friends here in the Branson area attest to the camaraderie of shared military experience, something veterans tend to miss if they don’t find ways to continue it.

 

If you’ve gotten out of the habit of in-person church, find one and get involved! There are many good ones to choose from. Find a place to volunteer. If you’re a veteran, join one of the local groups. If physical disabilities are an issue, there are online groups like First5 with ways to interact; also, check into transportation through area senior services or nonprofits.

 

Sometimes we can’t prevent isolation, such as when courageous Christians are imprisoned for their faith. In such circumstances, God is still with those who seek Him, but while we have the privilege to gather, let’s gather!

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