A Failure to Commit

Lately I’ve been thinking about commitment. It started with a discussion in my bible study group. As we talked about church discipline, we realized how seldom it happens these days. Rather than accept discipline (which admittedly is not pleasant at the time), people simply change congregations. It’s easier to move on to a community that doesn’t know about the sin or doesn’t care about it.

At the same time, I’ve been reading a book by John Ortberg which I’ll review in a later post. It’s about relationships, and in one of the chapters, he deals with commitment, especially commitment to our marriage and to friends. Many people don’t want to get married any longer. Younger people tell me, “Why bother? It won’t make my partner any more willing to stay with me.” High divorce rates have eroded our trust in this important covenant. Many people don’t have deep or lasting friendships, either. Friendship is measured by the number of followers we can attract on our social media accounts. It doesn’t involve face-to-face interaction, and those who dare to disagree with us can easily be “ghosted.”

Finally, I spent some time talking with a lady at church on Sunday. She bemoaned the fact that the community service ministry she was part of seemed to be dying out. The volunteers are all older and soon won’t be able to do the work. People just don’t care to get involved. They have no connection to their neighbors, or the community at large.

God doesn’t want us to live an uncommitted life. In the book of Genesis, He says:

“It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” Genesis 2:18

Marriage is meant to be deep and enduring. Over time, we become “one flesh.” Friendships are also important. In interacting with others, we grow in wisdom and understanding. “Just as iron sharpens iron, friends sharpen the minds of each other.” Proverbs 27:17. The congregation is described as a body, the body of Christ. When we walk away, we damage not only ourselves, but also Jesus and His mission on earth.

Commitment is not easy. It involves enduring through seasons of dryness. It means continuing to love people when we don’t agree. It requires us be vulnerable and admit our failures. However, in the long term the rewards are great.

“Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.” Proverbs 3:3

For more posts about marriage and friendship see:

The Marriage Challenge – A Book Review

Spiritual Friendship — What is it?

Friendship Promises – Book Review

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Creating Community

“The person who’s in love with their vision of community will destroy community.  But the person who loves the people around them will create community everywhere they go.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

For more Dietrich Bonhoeffer quotes see these posts:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the Community of Saints

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the Church

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Brotherly Love (Philia)

 

Groups: the life-giving power of community by John Ortberg, Laurie Pederson & Judson Poling –Book Review

This is one of a series of bible studies published by Zondervan and entitled “Pursuing Spiritual Transformation.”  In my opinion, it is an excellent choice for small groups.  It includes an overview of the series along with what you will need to have and do in preparation for each lesson.  The core values of spiritual formation are also listed.

This particular study guide has seven lessons based on the topic of community.  They are:

  • This Is A  Friendship
  • Love Pays Attention
  • Knowing And Being Known
  • When Community Breaks Down
  • Forgiveness
  • Building A Passionately Inclusive Church
  • Being “For” One Another

Each lesson includes questions that lead the participant to examine his or her own life experiences in light of the Scripture.  There are also spiritual exercises for each section, encouraging each person to put what they’ve studied into practice.  It can be challenging — but that’s a good thing!  As Paul writes in the book of Philippians we should:

“…press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:14

There are also leaders’ notes for each session at the back of the book.

Finally included are suggestions and formats for planning retreats:  either individually or with the group.

I worked through the material on my own and enjoyed it so much that I plan to suggest in to my own small group for our next session.

Others in the same series are:

  • Fully Devoted:  Living Each Day in Jesus’ Name
  • Grace:  An Invitation to a Way of Life
  • Growth: Training vs. Trying
  • Gifts: The Joy of Serving God
  •  Giving: Unlocking the Heart of Good Stewardship

VERDICT:  5 Stars!  If you have a small group I recommend you take a look at this material

For more on small groups, see these posts:

Small Groups Made Easy – A Book Review

Fanning the Flame #19 — Small Groups of Saints

Small Groups of Saints #2 — Joan’s Experience

 

 

The Cross — A Symbol of Community

I just started reading a book about small groups and building community, and I came across this description of the cross as a symbol of community.  I thought it was worth sharing.

“The very shape of the cross suggests the two main transactions that were effected through it.  The upright post stands for the restoration of our community with God.  God reached down from the holiness of his transcendence above, into the abyss of our human need in order to reconcile us to himself….The arms of Jesus were stretched on that horizontal beam, and his servant hands nailed to it.  His extended arms reach out from the crossbar to all who want reconciliation with God in order that we may also be reconciled to one another, forming one body in his embrace of love.  Perfect community is to be found at the intersection of the two segments of the cross, where those who are reconciled with God are reconciled together–where we love God with all we have and we love our neighbor as ourselves.”

From Groups:  the life-giving power of community by John Ortberg, Laurie Pederson & Judson Poling

 

Marriage: A School for Forgiveness

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“In a word, live together in the forgiveness of your sins, for without it no human fellowship, least of all a marriage, can survive. Don’t insist on your rights, don’t blame each other, don’t judge or condemn each other, don’t find fault with each other, but accept each other as you are, and forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts…”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

Here’s a similar quote from Martin Luther:

It is impossible to keep peace between man and woman in family life if they do not condone and overlook each other’s faults but watch everything to the smallest point. For who does not at times offend? Thus many things must be overlooked; very many things must be ignored that a peaceable relation may exist.

There is no closer, and for many people, no longer lasting relationship than marriage, and in these quotes two famous Lutheran theologians are telling us that no marriage can continue to exist without forgiveness.  For those of us who are married, it should be a school for forgiveness, a good place to practice what we need to do every day out in the world.  The same ability to forgive, to overlook faults, to accept and not judge or condemn are neccessary to sustain any relationship between two sinful human beings,  Think about it — without forgiveness we can’t stay connected with anyone!

God created us to live with others.  He said, “it is not good that the man should be alone.”(Gen. 2:18).  Is it surprising, then, that the Bible also tells us:

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

Forgiveness allows us to keep loving.  It allows us to have friends and family, to live in community, to be part of the body of Christ.  It’s a gift from God.