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Thursday, January 29, 2009

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Hey - wanna be notified when a new deep, amazing thought is shared? Look to the right and click where it says "follow this blog" and sign up. They tell me you won't get a bazillion spam messages - just a notification that says David has put something up on his blog site. Come on, make me feel like someone cares - follow my blog.

Why You NEED To Connect

One of the essential pieces of being a disciple of Jesus is to connect in authentic relationship with others. When we are at our greatest level of strength, we have connected on three levels.

The first level of connection we experience is in fellowship with others. This is where we worship together, learn together, gather together. A lot of people call this "going to church."

The second level of connection is family. Family is more intimate than fellowship. It is where we make the commitment to regularly spend time with a few people so that we know others and we become known. At our church we call this a small group.

The third level of connection is friendship. This is a one-on-one relationship where you give someone permission to speak truth into your life. It is built upon a high level of trust and the expectation of honesty and grace. This is the fulfillment of James' command to "confess your sins to one another and pray for each other that you may be healed." (James 5:16)

Most people who call themselves Christians stop at level 1 connection. It is a good place to start but a terrible place to stop. We experience God most deeply and grow most profoundly in the context of relationship. The level of relationship we experience in the fellowship context is minimal. It is in the family and friendship context that we really grow in relationship with God and others.

Here's the deal: if you are going to connect with family and friends it takes the willingness to make the tough choices to put those relationships as a priority. The true measure of what we value is shown in what we do, not in what we say. Real relationships require us to say "No" to the good things so we can say "Yes" to the best things.

I got an e-mail from a friend recently that spoke of her small group experience. She communicates why we NEED to connect.

"Dear Small Group friends,

Whenever I have thought or prayed about small groups it has always been in the context of the question: Why Small Groups? Some conclusions are a community of believers, spiritual/personal growth and missional outreach. I have read about and contemplated this subject a lot over the recent years both in ministry in Southern Calif and as it pertains to CSCC. I have been wanting to consider what are the things God wants me to bring to the proverbial small group table. What I did not expect to experience was the outpouring of grace, love and support that I have received from all of you.

My heart overflows with gratitude and love for each of you...

...And most of all- I know of your prayers. I appreciate your prayers. I ask for your prayers. And having people who are interested in praying for me is indeed an awesome thing.

In so many ways... you have all made a lasting impact on me. God has used you- my small group brothers and sisters- so very powerfully. All the reading, seminars, contemplation, etc... couldn't enlighten me better than you all have... Small group is one of God's most significant ways to show us His grace.

Thank you for doing life with me... even when life is messy. You are in my prayers. You are in my heart.

God bless you."
You can't get that on Sunday morning.


Saturday, January 3, 2009

Free To Be A Slave

A friend of mine was arrested. It was a good thing.

It was not the first time he had been arrested but when he got out of prison this time, there seemed to be a genuine change in his life. When he was baptized in the American River in his jeans and t-shirt, the look on his face was one of joy, relief, transformation. And then he began to live that way as well. He worked hard for people, using his multiple talents and sheer determination to accomplish jobs in half of the time others would take. He started going to Bible Study with the guys on Monday mornings, he met with another group of guys to talk about how he was doing and what he was doing to continue to move forward. He served others, he honestly and courageously shared with others his path to destruction and his story of redemption. He began to trust others. Others trusted him. It was a joy to observe.

But then the cracks began to show. Some missed meetings happened. The joy and happiness that had been there wasn’t as evident anymore. Some of the friends he hung out with were some of the “old friends” from an old way of life. Bitterness got a foothold with feelings of under-appreciation that festered in his soul but never made their way to his lips so he could forgive and seek forgiveness. With old friends came some old habits…

I don’t know what finally tipped the scale for my friend because he lived in the balance for a while. But one day, he packed up his tools, stole his employer’s car and continued on to victimize those who had helped him the most. Then he disappeared.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus*. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1-2
Without a doubt, I believe my friend is a saved person. I believe he has faith in Jesus Christ and that he knows what freedom in Jesus Christ is and feels like. One day, I believe I will see him in heaven.

In my Bible there is a footnote on Romans 8:1. What that means is there are some early manuscripts that have a few more words added onto that verse. What scholars surmise is these words were an editorial comment of clarification. The additional words say this “*…who walk not according to the flesh (but according to the Spirit).”

My friend is a condemned man by the State of California. He had not served all his time for his past transgressions and some of his new ones will be easily proven. He will go to prison, perhaps for a long time.

My friend’s story raises all kinds of theological questions, particularly in light of Romans 8:1-2. Is there now no condemnation for him?

Freedom is a really popular word. For most, an understanding of freedom means they can do whatever they want when they want to do it. It is a silly thought because it doesn’t take a whole lot of thought to recognize that definition of freedom isn’t true for anyone. But still, many people live by that belief.

Jesus will set a person free, it is what his grace is all about. But it isn’t a freedom to do anything, anytime, anywhere, to anybody. In the Bible Paul ridiculed the idea that we should sin a whole lot so we can get a whole lot of grace.

Jesus’ freedom sets us free to be “slaves of righteousness” (read Romans 6). We are set free so we can enter slavery. Now here’s the kicker: God cares more about my internal slavery than my external freedom. The safest place for me to be is in accountable, caring, loving slave relationships so I can remain free. Slave relationships like marriage, friendship, church membership, small group bible study, disciplined daily times alone with God praying and reading the Bible. I place myself under authority – I choose to be a slave – so I can be free. Sometimes I don’t like it because, truth be told, I want to do what I want, when I want, where I want, whenever I want. But thankfully a slave doesn’t have that option, so as long as I live the life of a slave, I remain free.

My friend’s supposed external freedom has been taken away by the State of California. My prayer is he will find his freedom again in prison. My prayer is he will once again become a slave to righteousness and no longer live as a slave to sin.

Also, I am sobered by the reminder that I daily have the freedom to choose to live a life of slavery so I can remain free. And that my friend and I are not so different from one another that God would not remove my freedom so I could find my freedom in Him.