Day 18: Experiencing Life Together – 40 Days of Purpose-Driven Life

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Purpose #2: You Were Formed for God’s Family

Point to Ponder: I need others in my life.

Verse to Remember: “Share each other’s troubles and problems, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” — Galatians 6:2 (NLT)

Question to Consider: What one step can I take today to connect with another believer at a more genuine, heart-to-heart level?

[Read More] thoughts on Day 18 of Rick Warren‘s Purpose-Driven Life* especially about forgiveness and small groups.

To dwell above with saints we love, that will be a glory! 🙂
To dwell below with saints we know — that’s another story! 😦
For me, that old phrase captures the fundamental tension of living in small groups, which is the focus of today’s devotional. I suppose I’ve been part of some kind of small group almost continually from my UCF days to the present, apart from periodic transitions. Thus, its safe to say I agree with Rick’s emphasis on the need to be part of a small group, to develop “real fellowship” where we experience:
* authenticity
* mutuality
* sympathy
* mercy

It is an interesting list, especially because many of these virtues can feel in tension, at least in isolation. For example, it is easy to “act” kind if we don’t have to be authentic about it. But, in the long-term crucible of a small group (or a marriage, for that matter) our love needs to either become real or grow cold; you can’t fake it forever. Not that most people deliberately set out to ‘fake it’; but, often we desire others to _think_ we are ‘good’ in order to hide our shame — rather than taking that shame to the cross, to let Jesus make us good.

It is not like all fellowship has to be “deep” — Rick’s tiering of sharing -> studying -> serving -> suffering seems pretty reasonable. However, I agree with Rick that “You can’t have [real] fellowship without forgiveness.” In fact, I strongly suspect unforgiveness is not just the enemy of mercy, but often the root of our lack of sympathy, mutuality, and authenticity — and even hinders our sharing, studying, and serving. Not to mention totally obliterating our willingness to suffer for others.

At the same time, I think he is spot on he says: “Many people are reluctant to show mercy because they don’t understand the difference between trust and forgiveness.” I’m not sure how to make iBlog create a table, so I’ll try to capture his characterization of the two in parallel lists.

Forgiveness

* letting go of the past
* immediate, whether or not a person asks for it
* if hurt repeatedly, God still commands us to forgive instantly

Trust

* expectations for future behavior
* rebuilt over time, requires a track record
* if hurt repeatedly, you are not expected to trust them immediately, and you are not expected to continue allowing them to hurt you

Well, a bit awkward, but you get the point. This is a subtle and sometimes controversial distinction, but I have seen it recognized in several different Christian traditions, as well in some secular psychology; though, intriguingly, I’ve yet to find a non-Christian religion (other than perhaps Judaism) that has any serious understanding of forgiveness.

Moreover, I have absolutely discovered its truth in my own life. In fact, that is one reason why I relish the challenge of committed community, because it is the best way to find out what I’m truly made of — and to help that become Christ.

Prayer: God, you know that at one level I deeply desire genuine fellowship, yet at other levels I’m much more content with superficial “social-ship.” Help to understand the hurts, wrongs and fears I have not forgiven and entrusted to you, that I may be freed to be authentic, sympathetic and mutual with all the believers within my sphere of influence, that we may jointly model your mercy towards the world. I ask this in Jesus name, Amen.

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