There’s One In Every Group

Have you seen the Southwest Airlines commercial about the solidarity in a group when one member, Fenwick, faces pending attack and probable death?

 

As men in the group stand up for him with the bold statements of “I am Fenwick,” I want to stand up and cheer: “Yes! Stand up for each other! Band together!” And then, another man in the group ruins it all.

There’s one in every group.

I’m a “group” person. I coordinate small groups at church, and I encourage people to build healthy friendships. I know the value of finding people who will stand up with you (and also be honest with you when it’s time to sit down or move on).

But groups are messy. Relationships are messy. Over and over again, I see people shy away from groups because they don’t want the mess. They usually state other reasons; often they claim to be too busy. But when I have a conversation and listen to past experiences and concerns, whether they can admit it in words or not, they are apprehensive. They don’t want to be annoyed, inconvenienced, or vulnerable.

Life is messy enough. Why open ourselves up to people who are immature and messy?

We’re immature and messy, too. By someone’s standards. We might not see it, but each of us can be annoying. But we’re also worth the risk. We’re in need of others, whether we want to be in need or not. Connections help us grow. They also challenge us. In fact, being challenged through our connections is often what spurs us to grow. That means it’s sometimes the connections with people who seem very different from us that impact our lives the most.

We might claim to be Fenwick when we feel a strong connection with others, but we also speak out in bad timing, stay silent in bad timing, and become “that one” among others. Be patient, gracious, and available.

Community Encouragement

4578cd815ff7c7285250863a1e23cae9.jpgTherefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

How does encouraging others help them?

How does encouraging others help you?

What have you been building through this season of life, or rather, what has God been building?

We often think of encouragement as a personal thing. We send an encouraging note or someone says just the right words when we need to hear them. We think of encouragement as a moment or action, but it’s so much more.

Encouragement can become a habit, a characteristic, not just personally but in a relationship or across a community. Encouragement isn’t an individual task or accomplishment. It is intended to be given and received. Encouragement is shared. It builds community, and it can characterize a community. It’s how we build one another up. With each encouragement, we place one brick on top of another and build a bridge across which we can reach each other and take journeys into new adventures.

Encouragement reaches out to others, whether we are giving or receiving. It opens our hands and hearts. And it’s not always a pat on the back that makes us feel good. Encouragement is also challenging. It’s a dose of courage that speaks the truth in love. It can never be ill-intended or dishonest but it is also never overly sweet and sappy. It is authentic. It is equipping. It is inspiring, and it always spurs change and growth.

Pay attention today and share encouragement as often as you can. Sometimes encouragement happens with a moment, and sometimes it’s an investment over time. Either way, you can be characterized by it. Discern what you are supposed to say and do to whom and when. God will guide you. Refuse to take matters into your own hands, but don’t drag your feet and declare God isn’t encouraging you to encourage others. He always does!

“We” Had a Tragedy

community 2I read or heard it multiple times after the news of the tragedy that struck a family and change their lives forever. But they didn’t stand alone. I didn’t hear people talk about what happened to “them,” but that “we” had a tragedy, encompassing the entire community. Sure, not everyone was personally changed, and most certainly no one was affected the way the family was (and is), but the response reminded me of the burden community bears for one another. When we live united, as one, we feel the pain of others. We experience hurt alongside them. It isn’t the same as theirs, but we still feel it. Our hearts break, grieve, and hurt.

The same can be said about the celebrations and successes. We enjoy them together with fervor.

We savor and we endure forever. That’s what sharing life entails. The good and the bad, the heights and depths, the elating and crushing news. Our lives change together. It’s not always pleasant, but sometimes it is. And sometimes we experience some of the sweetest moments of closeness because of the struggles.

Live well together, no matter where you are, what you’re going through, and who is beside you.

Passive and Active Care

Carry-On-Daily-Devotional-and-Meditation-on-Galatians-6-2You can care about someone or something without caring for him or her.

One is passive; the other is active.

That’s not to say that you have to make a grand gesture to show that you care for someone. There are many ways to care, from large to small. Sometimes the smallest things can seem enormous when someone is in need of care. Simply getting a note or text that someone is thinking of you when you struggle reveals a level of care, because that person displays care for you even when you are not standing in front of him or her. You are remembered.

Saying we care, that we’re willing to help, or that we’re praying is easy. It’s the follow-through that goes beyond words that takes time and effort. That’s not to say that if we don’t take action at a specific time or in a specific way, we don’t care. We can’t do all things for all people. But we can do some things for some people. We can trust that God weaves our lives together and we work together to care well, even when we can’t see all the care that’s happening around us. We can trust that God cares even when we feel separated from others, ignored, and overlooked.

Be active in your caring–both giving and receiving. Invite God to guide. Instead of responding to someone the way you would want to receive care, consider how that person would want or need to receive care and, more importantly, how God is guiding you. Be generous. Care abundantly.

Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

Repentance

Repentance.

It’s a word we either don’t like to hear, don’t understand, or simply ignore. Repentance requires acknowledge of something being amiss, and we don’t necessarily like to admit we’re wrong. It seems to indicates weakness, and weakness is…well, a weakness!

But it’s not.

When we repent, we admit where we are, not to get stuck, settle into a place of defeat, or give up. We repent, because we’re willing to move beyond where we are. We acknowledgement where we are isn’t where we should be. It doesn’t mean everything in our lives is bad. In fact, as we grow in faith and let God consume our lives more completely, we realize he challenges us to repent of even the slightest details of our attitudes and intentions, pruning the tiny weeds before they grow into trees.

There are no limits on repentance. It includes the big and tiny, the ongoing and momentary, the obvious and well-disguised.

We often respond in faith forgetting the importance of repentance. We ask for blessings, we praise God, we expect God’s promises…but we haven’t done a heart-check first. We need to ask ourselves if there’s anything between us and God as we approach him, and since we work toward developing an ongoing connection with him, we need to be adamant about consistently asking him to identify anything that’s creating any amount of distance between us. That also means we have to be willing to listen as he reveals the distance. We need to be willing to respond.

A lack of repentance impacts personal faith, and it also impacts community. Each person is responsible for his/her own repentance. Each person is also able to ask for repentance for the community. It must be done with a pure heart. We don’t ask for repentance because “that person” did something wrong. We ask for repentance because we did something wrong whether we personally offended or not. Going to God in repentance for our community assumes our association among that community. (See Nehemiah’s prayer in Nehemiah 1:1.)

Repentance isn’t a pit of guilt. It makes a way out of the pit of guilt. Get familiar with repentance. It’s a grace-filled gift from God.

God, be merciful to me because you are loving.
Because you are always ready to be merciful, wipe out all my wrongs.
Wash away all my guilt and make me clean again.

I know about my wrongs, and I can’t forget my sin.
You are the only one I have sinned against; I have done what you say is wrong.
You are right when you speak and fair when you judge.
I was brought into this world in sin. In sin my mother gave birth to me.

You want me to be completely truthful, so teach me wisdom.
Take away my sin, and I will be clean. Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Make me hear sounds of joy and gladness;let the bones you crushed be happy again.
Turn your face from my sins and wipe out all my guilt.

Create in me a pure heart, God, and make my spirit right again.
Do not send me away from you or take your Holy Spirit away from me.
Give me back the joy of your salvation. Keep me strong by giving me a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:1-12)

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Belief Isn’t Private

We think our beliefs are our own. After all, they seem private. No matter how secure we feel with them or how aggressively we wrestle with them, they feel like ours. No one takes the exact same path, so no one can quite believe what we believe. And if we own our beliefs, they are ours, and we can do with them what we want. They are no one else’s business, right?

Yet we do life with others. Community is intricately tied to our beliefs. We do not have to agree on everything with the people around us to live in community with them, but we cannot isolate our relationship with God from others. The Bible is riddled with covenant community, oneness with others. All in the context of God’s truth, we encourage each other, love one another, live at peace with one another, admonish each other, accept each other, and bear each other’s burdens.

Life together is messy, but it’s essential, not in every area except faith but throughout our journeys of faith. And that requires humility with each other and with God.

messy-kitchen

Community Building Community

I sat in a local coffee shop for several hours while on vacation. It was buzzing with activity and conversations, yet was a relaxing place to sit in a comfortable chair, with a delicious Mexican hot chocolate and a good book, especially on a crisp, drizzly day.

I was distracted several times by the people and conversations around me. A significant building project was at the forefront of many people’s minds. How could they help some of their neighbors? How would some businesses be impacted? How could they work with community leaders, and in some cases, oppose them, in order to voice important points and concerns?

In one corner, a young woman met with a local service organization to help them learn about social media and marketing. At another table, someone advised a friend regarding a technology purchase. Someone introduced a friend to a passerby, connecting two people with a common interest.

To be honest, the buzz of activity and conversations was a bit distracting at times. I assumed I would be surrounded by other vacationers, but this was the local coffee shop, filled with…locals, obviously. I didn’t get as much reading done as I had planned, but I got something better: a reminder of the rich complexities and importance of community.

I sat among a community of people focused on community. I wasn’t a part of their community, but nonetheless, I learned from it. I soaked in it long enough to appreciation my own community a bit more.

Are you engaged in your community? How authentically? What does your involvement reveal about your appreciation of the give-and-take of community involvement?