Saturday, March 10, 2012

Cross Training: Fellowship

Here's another post examining No Greater Love Ministries' Cross Training discipleship series. Today's topic is Fellowship

This illustration helps us understand Cross Training. The vertical part of the cross represents how we relate to God, the horizontal crossbeam how we relate to others. Relationships include many different aspects. Cross Training focuses on these four elements because they are essential for establishing Christian discipleship.

At the bottom of the cross, the foundation of our relationship with God is Study. Familiarity with God's Holy Word is the primary way Christians grow to maturity. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says,
"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (NIV) Simply put, if you don't want to be a weak, ineffective Christian, you need to study the Bible. 
I covered this topic more thoroughly here.

On top of the cross, we reach out to God through Prayer. This is our line of communication with God. When we pray, we're in contact with the very Creator of the Universe, expressing praise and adoration, confessing our sins, thanking Him for his lovingkindness and provision, and asking Him to supply our needs. Then we listen for His response, and obey His direction. Prayer and Study together build that vertical relationship between the believer and God. I discussed this in much greater depth here.

The horizontal crossbeam represents our relationship with people. On one side is Fellowship, on the other is Witness. Fellowship is one of the ways we relate to other believers; witness is our outreach to unbelievers. Obviously, there are other ways to relate to people. But these two topics are basic for Christians to understand and practice.

NGL founder Fred Bishop always says Fellowship is "a whole lot of fellows in the same ship". It seems as if churches generally define fellowship as eating together. There is something about breaking bread with your church friends that does help build relationships. It really is a wonderful thing, but it's also pretty easy to keep things superficial.

One purpose God has for fellowship is that believers would learn to love and trust one another. Part of trusting others is allowing our genuine feelings and personality to be expressed. There seems to be a set of unwritten rules for how Christians should behave, and most of us don't measure up. Thank God, our salvation is not based on righteous living - if it was, no one would be saved. 
But we care about what others think, and want to appear to be "good Christians". So we often pretend that everything is good, that we have no problems, that we are "fine" - even when our world may be crumbling around us.

Some people spend their entire life wearing the "good Christian" mask. We're so afraid that people will reject us if our lives don't measure up to some unattainable ideal. We think we're all alone in our trouble and difficulties. This is a lie of the devil, who wants us to avoid transparent relationships. He knows if we drop the mask and share freely about our struggles and failures, tragedies and triumphs, chances are good we'll find victory and be set free from the bondage he's trying to keep us in.

That's the real purpose of Fellowship. It's an opportunity to trust others enough to dispense with pretense and honestly share. Naturally, one cannot share everything with just anyone. Trust is earned over time. Communication is certainly a key - we have to get past the fear and open up to others if we want to be healed. James 5:16 says, "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." (NIV)

Some relationships will necessarily remain superficial.  Even if you are willing to be more open, others may not be. And some people truly can't be trusted. Confidentiality is another key to safe transparency. If I'm not certain intimate details of my life will be held in close confidence, I'm very unlikely to share freely. Fortunately it's not required or even expected that we will be totally open with everyone. What is important is developing a few genuine friends with whom you can be open and honest. This is true Christian fellowship.

I spent a lot of years cultivating a "good Christian" image. I wore the mask proudly and played the game well. But deep down, in the part of me I tried to keep concealed, I was afraid and insecure. 
I especially feared rejection. I thought if people knew who I really was, my failings and my weakness, they would no longer accept me. I was frequently paralyzed by fear of man. 

In decades of following Him, God has patiently worked with me, helping me understand the importance of pleasing Him rather than men. I've finally learned to drop the mask, at least with a few trusted friends. Even with them, there are times I hold back - but I'm working on it. Accountability helps me live a more God-pleasing life. My brothers hold me accountable at our weekly meetings. They know my weaknesses and love me anyway. Sometimes I fail by not doing what I should, not following through.This is definitely an area where accountability helps - the guys check up on me and help me keep on task.

Learning to be vulnerable in a small group of trusted friends has actually helped me be more genuine in all my relationships. I have discovered that everyone has weaknesses, we all fail. I've stopped worrying what people think (well, most of the time.) Honest sharing has generally caused others to open up rather than rejecting me as I had feared. Fellowship is one way God helps us mature, learning to trust Him and our Christian brethren with our lives.

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