There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability;
there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community. - M. Scott Peck

Monday, November 22, 2010

It's Personal

When does your small group really become personal? When does it become more than a Wednesday night get together with a group of guys? When is it more than just a “church thing?”
Our group meeting was good last Wednesday night. We continued with Eldredge’s “Walking With God” which has really grabbed the group. How do you guard your heart? What does that even mean? What longings or desires really drive you? As usual, our answers were varied: desire for peace; desire for validation; desire for freedom from financial fear. In the midst of this, we grappled with what are you willing to tell your spouse about your desires. What should you tell your spouse about your desires? What’s best left unsaid? And of course, we had to close with a conversation about tithing. Definitely a topic for further discussion in our group.
Pretty typical group and all good. But when does it get personal? I’m on the 15th tee at Mount Pleasant Saturday afternoon (game going south after a good front nine – also pretty typical for me) and I check the phone for messages. One of the guys in our group wants to know if I’m free for coffee. I know from our group meetings that there’s a lot going on in this guy’s life and most of it, at the moment, isn’t great. Plans for the afternoon get revised. After a relaxing round of golf on a very pleasant November morning, I'm sitting in a Panera’s diving into the depths of gut wrenching tears, fears, doubts, guilt, anger and an overwhelming sense of loss.
I’m sad and have prayed all the way from the golf course for my friend. I can't think of anything to offer that can touch the emotional pit I know he’s in. I sit and actually listen for what God wants me to hear for my brother (it’s an Eldredge thing I’m slowly coming to believe in) who is in too much pain to hear much of anything for himself. God is asking me to tell him to trust God more. To turn his most deep seated fear, the one thing he dreads most in his life at the moment, over to God. To cross a very difficult line into deeper intimacy with God. But isn't that the standard, somewhat trite, "church" answer to all of our problems? Can I really tell him that in the midst of all his pain? Is that really what he needs to hear right now? But I need to trust God, too. And that’s what I tell him.
That’s when small group becomes personal for me. When one of your brothers trusts you enough in the depths of his pain to call you on a Saturday, ask for help, and know that, if at all possible, your brother will sit with you for two hours, listen, and risk saying things that you may not want to hear. I hope your small group is personal. If it’s not, the hard work to make it personal is absolutely worth it. And I know 10 other guys who will tell you the same thing.
It’s not about Wednesday night and it’s not about Sunday morning. It’s about when Church gets personal for two brothers and their God.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Heavy Night

Our group was not very uplifting this week. There were seven of us which is a bit small for our group. It clearly pointed out to me the power of presence and strength in numbers. We are better when most of us are in the room (even a couple of guys missing makes a difference) and there’s no substitute for sharing, praying, and just being with a group of guys struggling to make life work.
As we went around the room to just catch up on our week, the weight descended on the room like a heavy, dark mist. Five of us talked about feeling burdened, heavy hearted, weighed down. Three of us are really burdened - facing significantly reduced income and the very real possibility of losing jobs. One of the guys facing income or job loss is over 70 and another has five kids at home. I sat and felt the weight that I was feeling (certainly nothing like these guys) deepen. What do you say? How can you help? What can you do? The impulse to end the meeting and just go home was very real.
We were about to plow forward with a DVD when one of the guys said he wasn’t up for it and just wanted to talk. And we did. We talked about the message series and getting our priorities straight; about how we are all really blessed; about the anxiety of losing our job and the impact of that on our families; the difficulty of praying when everything around you is screaming out for attention and immediate solutions; how hard it is to trust God when life seems to be spinning out of control; and more.
The amazing thing for me was that no solutions were offered for anyone’s problems. No quick fixes were provided for financial problems. No facile platitudes were sprinkled around about how it will all turn out OK. No shallow encouragement to just simply pray more and trust God more. But this is a guy’s group, right? Isn’t that what we do – fix problems, offer solutions, just keep on moving forward?
In the end, we sang a couple of songs, prayed around the circle and headed home. I still felt weighed down. I know the other guys did. Not much had changed in our worlds when we left – there was a lot staring these guys in the face when they got home.
But as always, God was present. Jesus didn’t reduce any of the burdens. If anything, I felt more heart heavy when I left than when I showed up. But there was a definite sense that we weren’t on the journey alone; that we didn’t have to carry the burdens by ourselves. It seemed clear that Jesus doesn’t show up necessarily to fix our stuff, but often just to walk with us and help us bear the weight of our stuff. And what I appreciate most about the guys I meet with every week is that no one in the group is trying to fix my stuff either. It’s just a group of guys seeking a better relationship with Jesus and willing to help bear each others burdens on the journey. A heavy night made a little bit easier by a band of brothers and a loving God.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Awesome Stuff

Ellen and I are doing a Pray 10 and I’m drawn to the question of why I haven’t blogged recently. Amazing stuff has been going on in my small group.
Eleven guys juggled life’s demands and spent all or part of a weekend together on retreat. Great food (and lots and lots of it), good wine, great weather, some fishing, some golf and more than our share of tears and brokenness. We shared our stories for 7 hours (a couple of our newer guys hadn’t heard all our stories) and I was drained, exhilarated, saddened, uplifted, exposed, challenged, and humbled at the end. What an amazing group of guys and how awesome is God’s presence when we are together.
We were using John Eldredge’s Walking With God DVD for the retreat. Two questions, among several, stuck with me. Do you believe God speaks to you directly? Not just in scripture, not just on Sunday, not just generally, but directly, to you, every day in your ordinary circumstance. And do you hear God speak to you? Not in formulaic prayers, in the exercise of weekly ritual, or in “thou shalt” or “thou shall not”, but in a way that directs and determines how you live your every day life. I’m still coming to grips with both those questions, but the questions clearly hit home in our group.
In our meeting the following week, we continued with the Eldredge DVD, and it challenged us to pray for one of our group members and listen for God speaking. I was very skeptical, almost put off by this exercise. Then I was asked to share something I struggled with and allow the group to listen to God and pray for me. What an amazing, powerful experience. And I heard God speak to my brokenness. Not a voice, not a blinding light, definitely hard to explain, but real.
Now I know what you’re thinking and I’m right there with you. That’s pretty crazy thinking. It’s a bit over the top. How much wine was I drinking? But if you listen to Eldredge, you might have to admit the possibility. If God created the universe, if God is in control of it all, if everything amazing comes from God, why couldn’t God choose to speak to me or anyone else directly and personally? And why wouldn’t God want to be that personal? Maybe the problem is that God is speaking to me and I’m just not listening or placing myself in a position to hear God’s voice.
And so why haven’t I been blogging? Eldredge has taught me to believe in the spiritual battle that exists with a very real, very personal Satan. Again, not an image, or a theory, or a concept, but a real, tenacious Evil Being that wants to bring me down and separate me from God. Jesus believed in the existence of this Evil Being. Jesus fought this Evil Being and his constant attacks. If Jesus knew Satan was real and active in His life, it’s not much of a reach to believe Satan is active in my life.
And so why haven’t I been blogging? Is it because Satan is actively working against any good that might come from my blogging? Have I bought into the lie that blogging about my group is a waste of time? Or that I don’t have anything of value to say? Are my efforts to develop a deeper, more personal communication with God coming under attack? Were our efforts at the retreat moving all of us closer to a loving relationship with Jesus and Satan hopes we forget about it and move on with our daily lives?
I believe that any time we try to reveal God’s glory in our life we will be assaulted. I believe that Satan wants nothing more than to quiet the voices of those struggling to deepen their relationship with Jesus. I believe listening to God means fighting all the distractions that Satan puts in our way every day.
I am blessed and strengthened by my band of brothers. God is truly at work in a special way when we are together. I pray that all of Nativity small groups experience this blessing and resist the temptation to be quiet about the awesome things God is doing in their lives.