Monday, October 19, 2009

Daily Digest #346

I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; you have been very pleasant to me. —2 Samuel 1:26

Allow me to share 4 articles from Purpose Driven Life online about our relationship with others. Let us pray for our family, our friends, our neighbors, our colleagues, as well as our enemies. May we strengthen the bonds of friendship, cherish the good memories and learn from bad experiences. May we find ourselves meaningful relationships that help us grow in our life's journey, and lead us closer to God. May we honor each other, and together be ambassadors of Christ. These we ask through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

“But if we live in the light, as God is in the light, we can share fellowship with each other. Then the blood of Jesus, God’s Son, cleanses us from every sin. If we say we have no sin, we are fooling ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:7-8 NCV).

In Christian fellowship people should experience authenticity.

Authentic fellowship is not superficial, surface-level chit-chat. It’s genuine, heart-to-heart, sometimes gut-level sharing.

It happens when people get honest about who they are and what is happening in their lives. They share their hurts, reveal their feelings, confess their failures, disclose their doubts, admit their fears, acknowledge their weaknesses, and ask for help and prayer.

Authenticity is the exact opposite of what you find in many churches. Instead of an atmosphere of honesty and humility, there is pretending, role-playing, politicking, superficial politeness, and shallow conversation. People wear masks, keep their guard up, and act as if everything is rosy in their lives. These attitudes are the death of real friendship.

It’s only as we become open about our lives that we experience authentic fellowship. The Bible says, “If we live in the light, as God is in the light, we can share fellowship with each other…If we say we have no sin, we are fooling ourselves” (1 John 1:7-8 NCV).

The world thinks intimacy occurs in the dark, but God says it happens in the light. We tend to use darkness to hide our hurts, faults, fears, failures, and flaws. But in the light, we bring them all out into the open and admit who we really are.

Of course, being authentic requires both courage and humility. It means facing our fear of exposure, rejection, and being hurt again.

Why would anyone take such a risk?

Because it’s the only way to grow spiritually and be emotionally healthy. The Bible says, “Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed” (James 5:16 MSG).

“How wonderful it is, how pleasant, for God’s people to live together in harmony!” (Psalm 133:1 TEV)

God intends for us to experience life together. The Bible calls this shared experience “fellowship.”

Today, however, the word has lost most of its biblical meaning. Fellowship now usually refers to casual conversation, socializing, food, and fun.

The question, “Where do you fellowship?” means “Where do you attend church?” “Stay after for fellowship” usually means “Wait for refreshments.”

Real fellowship is so much more than just showing up at services. It is experiencing life together. It includes unselfish loving, honest sharing, practical serving, sacrificial giving, sympathetic comforting, and all the other “one another” commands found in the New Testament.

When it comes to fellowship, size matters: smaller is better. You can worship with a crowd, but you can’t fellowship with one.

Once a group becomes larger than about ten people, someone stops participating— usually the quietest person—and a few people will dominate the group.

Jesus ministered in the context of a small group of disciples. He could have chosen more, but he knew twelve is about the maximum size you can have in a small group if everyone is to participate.

The body of Christ, like your own body, is really a collection of many small cells. The life of the body of Christ, like your body, is contained in the cells.

For this reason, every Christian needs to be involved in a small group within their church, whether is it a home fellowship group, a Sunday school class, or a Bible study. This is where real community takes place, not in the big gatherings.

God has made an incredible promise about small groups of believers: “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20 NASB).

“I mean that I want us to help each other with the faith we have. Your faith will help me, and my faith will help you” (Romans 1:12 NCV).

In authentic Christian fellowship people should experience a mutual dependency. This mutuality is the art of giving and receiving; it’s depending on each other.

The Bible says, “The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part” (1 Corinthians 12:25 MSG).

Mutuality is the heart of fellowship: building reciprocal relationships, sharing responsibilities, and helping each other. Paul said, “I want us to help each other with the faith we have. Your faith will help me, and my faith will help you” (Romans 1:12 NCV).

All of us are more consistent in our faith when others walk with us and encourage us. The Bible commands mutual accountability, mutual encouragement, mutual serving, and mutual honoring.

Over fifty times in the New Testament we’re commanded to do different tasks for “one another” and “each other.” The Bible says, “Make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 14:19 NIV).

You are not responsible for everyone in the body of Christ, but you are responsible to them. God expects you do whatever you can to help them.

“When people sin, you should forgive and comfort them, so they won’t give up in despair” (2 Corinthians 2:7 CEV).

In real fellowship people experience mercy. Fellowship is a place of grace, where mistakes aren’t rubbed in but rubbed out. Fellowship happens when mercy wins over justice.

We all need mercy, because we all stumble and fall and require help getting back on track. We need to offer mercy to each other and be willing to receive it from each other.

You can’t have fellowship without forgiveness because bitterness and resentment always destroy fellowship. Sometimes we hurt each other intentionally and sometimes unintentionally, but either way, it takes massive amounts of mercy and grace to create and maintain fellowship.

The Bible says, “You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others” (Colossians 3:13 NLT).

The mercy God shows to us is the motivation for us to show mercy to others. Whenever you’re hurt by someone, you have a choice to make: Will I use my energy and emotions for retaliation or for resolution?

You can’t do both.

Many people are reluctant to show mercy because they don’t understand the difference between trust and forgiveness. Forgiveness is letting go of the past. Trust has to do with future behavior.

Forgiveness must be immediate, whether or not a person asks for it. Trust must be rebuilt over time.

Trust requires a track record. If someone hurts you repeatedly, you are commanded by God to forgive them instantly, but you are not expected to trust them immediately, and you are not expected to continue allowing them to hurt you. They must prove they have changed over time. The best place to restore trust is within the supportive context of a small group that offers both encouragement and accountability.

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