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We all have an opinion on small group life. Some of us lean towards “small groups are amazing.” Some of lean towards “small groups are just plain difficult. And awkward.” Rarely is someone neutral when it comes to intentionally building spiritually-formative relationships with others.

I’ve been a part of life-giving small groups that I long to gather with week in and week out. Ones where I leave with more of Jesus than when I came. I’ve also been a part of groups that seem to suck the life right out of me. Ones where I give, but get nothing in return. (I think that has to do most prominently with small group dominators, but that’s another post for another day)

iStockPhoto, user: Noriko Cooper

iStockPhoto, user: Noriko Cooper

Healthy small groups teach us more than they often set out to teach. We are molded and changed in so many ways, because God uses others in mighty ways to make us more like Jesus. In fact, you can’t be like Jesus without others. It’s impossible. You can’t serve others, love others, be generous with one another, or accomplish any of the “one another” commands in Scripture by yourself.

9 unintended benefits of small group life

1. Not everybody thinks like you do, and that’s ok. (Tweet that)

Sometimes, our pride needs a swift body check. We need to run after a fly ball in center field and crash into the wall. We think we’re the only ones with a corner on the “right” answers, and we need subtle, and not-so-subtle, reminders that there are other ways to think.

2. Not everybody thinks like you do, and you can still love them them. 

Loving those who can, and will, love us back is barely love. Loving those who think and act differently than we do is more challenging, and takes more faith. It’s more risky and more difficult. Just because someone thinks differently doesn’t mean you can’t go out of your way to love them. Hanging around people that think like you do is more dangerous than living life with different people that stretch you.

3. Jesus followers can have fun. (Tweet that)

Maybe this post was written just so you’d read this benefit. If you’re a Jesus follower, please don’t check your humor and love of laughter, fun, and general frivolity at the door. After all, a cheerful heart is good medicine. (Proverbs 17:22)

4. People desperately need you.

You have gifts. You have a story. You have experiences. You have a living, breathing, active relationship with Jesus. And other people need you. God has created us to work interdependently, and though you may not have been valued for your contribution to the Church in the past, small group highlights the value you bring to the table. (1 Corinthians 4:12-31)

5. You desperately need people.

You may have gifts, but you don’t have them all. It becomes quickly and readily apparent in group life that others are wired and strengthened differently than you. Which is beautiful! No longer do you have to be all things to all people. You can be the you God created you to be, and lean in on others as they’re being who God created them to be.

6. Prayer works

Don’t believe me? Try it. Try asking for prayer. Try praying for someone else. God uses the prayers of the righteous to accomplish His work. (James 5:16)

7. The bible is living and active.

As you’re discussing the Scriptures week in and week out, you’ll find God speaking right into your story, as if the Bible were written just for you, where you’re at in life. He’ll speak through others in your group, using the Scriptures as the Truth you need to think, and live, differently. (Hebrews 4:12)

8. Confession brings healing. (Tweet that)

The more comfortable you grow with your group, the more you’ll be willing to be open and honest with your faults. As you confess, you’ll find healing. (James 5:16)

9. Dirty hands clean your heart. (Tweet that)

The more you love people, the dirtier your hands get. The more deeply you love others, the more likely it is you’ll get burned. Serving people well necessitates getting messy. Because people are messy. And the more you love, serve, and give generously of yourself, the more you begin to look like Jesus.

Are you in a group? Any other unintended benefits you’ve found?

 

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oly_g_armstrong11_576

image credit: ESPN

 

Lance Armstrong will announce to the world tonight that he used performance enhancing drugs as part of his run to dominate the cycling world. You may or may not think that cheating at cycling is a big deal. I get it. National exposure for cheating at a niche sport is pretty weird, right? Probably not enough to get national exposure and receive the kind of press that it’s received.Until you consider that Lance is a hero outside of the racing world. See, Lance contracted testicular cancer at age 25. Left untreated, it spread throughout his body, and he had a massive, very public, battle with cancer. Knowing not whether he would live or die, he launched the LiveStrong Foundation, and began advocating and fighting for the life of people stricken with cancer. LiveStrong has done tremendous work in the area of cancer research.

But Lance has learned what many of us have learned. As he covered up his cheating by lying about his steroid use, he had to lie even more. Sin compounded sin compounded sin. The more people he deceived, the more people he had to deceive as he spiraled downward.

Sin loves to hide itself behind layers of more sin.

Lance lied publicly and privately. As people questioned his actions, he went after them, publicly and privately. In the public courts and the courts of public opinion, Lance trampled on people as they called his integrity into question. Threatening phone calls, law suits, and nasty emails were sent to try to “disprove” Lance’s guilt.

The Reaction To Confrontation

Which is no shock to us, right? When you’re called out for something you’ve done, you tend to not react so positively, right?

Sin has a way of masking itself. With masks on top of masks. The deeper you go, the deeper you have to go. The more people you deceive, the more you have to continue to deceive.

In Scripture, King David knew this, too. (see 2 Samuel 11) He saw a beautiful girl, and he wanted her. So he summoned Bathsheba to his quarters, and slept with her. He sent her home, only to soon find out she was pregnant. So to cover up his sin, he decided to pull her husband, Uriah, home from the war. He got Uriah drunk, and urged him to go home and sleep with his wife, hoping to cover up his sin by leading everyone to believe Uriah had gotten Bathsheba pregnant. Sin covering sin.

Uriah didn’t take the bait.

So David had Uriah sent to the front lines of the war so he would be killed. David had Uriah killed to cover his sin.

Adultery, murder, lying and deceit.

You know what broke the cycle? Nathan, the prophet, confronted David on his sin.

David was absolutely broken. He confessed his sin and received forgiveness. He was completely open with God about his rebellion and need for grace. He admitted he’d messed up in a big way. And you know what the crazy thing was? God heard David, answered him, and restored to him joy!

Finding Hope

Maybe you’re on that spiral right now. You’ve messed up, and very few people know. You’ve got your public persona…and your private persona. And you don’t like that. I know you don’t. It’s not making you happy, and you’re scared to death of the consequences that your exposure could bring.

To stop the spiral, you’ve got to take off the mask. Live life freely in transparency, confession, and ample portions of grace. Quit pretending, quit hiding, and quit living life in fear. Quit acting like everything’s ok, because it’s not. God longs to restore joy to you, and free you from the chains that you’ve shackled yourself with.

Sin loves to hide itself behind layers of more sin. And that cycle won’t stop by itself. In fact, If you want to break that cycle, take a cue from David. Then bask in grace, and be quick to give it away.

If you want to have true joy and true freedom, it’s time to be honest.

Was David’s life easier once he confessed? Nope. In fact, he still had a long, hard road ahead. But it was a brighter, more hopful, more full road than the dark path he was sprinting down.

The road to healing isn’t easy. But your moment of exposure and fleeting shame will lead to a lifetime of restoration and love from our Savior.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.

Then I will teach your ways to rebels,

and they will return to you.

Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves;

then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness.

Unseal my lips, O Lord,

that my mouth may praise you. – Psalm 51:12-15

 

 

 

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Check out these lyrics from “Let the Music Get Down in Your Soul” by Mark Broussard:

When your life gets too complicated
Gotta let the music
Get Down in your soul
Forget all your frustrations
And let the music music
Get down in your soul
Get on up, My brother,
And let the music, get down in your soul
Get on up, up yeah my sister
And let the music get down in your soul

Everyday ain’t gonna be sunny, No
Gotta let the music
Get down in your soul
Life ain’t filled with milk and honey, No
Gotta let the music music
Get down in your soul

Things ain’t as bad as they may seem
But you can’t find reality living in a dream
The strength you need, you had it all the time
You’ll find the answers in the back of your mind

Forget all you frustrations
come on
And let the music music
Get down in your soul

______________________________________________________

Is that the answer to life’s troubles?  Simply “let the music get down in your soul”?  Does that really help in the long run?  Maybe escaping into a song, simply forgetting your frustrations, realizing that you have always had the strength you need is what some people use, but Scripture offers a different hope.

Read these lyrics by a guy named David from Psalm 32:

Blessed is he
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.

Blessed is the man
whose sin the LORD does not count against him
and in whose spirit is no deceit.

When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.

For day and night
your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.
Selah

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the LORD “—
and you forgave
the guilt of my sin.
Selah

Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you
while you may be found;
surely when the mighty waters rise,
they will not reach him.

You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.
Selah

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you and watch over you.

Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
or they will not come to you.

Many are the woes of the wicked,
but the LORD’s unfailing love
surrounds the man who trusts in him.

Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous;
sing, all you who are upright in heart!

_____________________________________________________

There seems to be a connection here between forgiveness and overcoming depression.  When David refused to confess his sin to God, he felt as though his bones were wasting away and his strength was dried up.  Sounds like he was feeling pretty rotten…we might even call that a sort of depression.  He then acknowledged his sin and didn’t hide it from the Lord, and found forgiveness.  What a gift!  What a weight of guilt is lifted off when we are forgiven!  “Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity!”

I’m not meaning to minimize the pain of depression, or discount it as a serious problem, or even say that all depression is directly linked with sin.  I’m just offering this as one answer to “feeling down.”  If you find that life is too complicated, instead of working to “get the music down in your soul,” how about confessing your sin to God and asking Him to cleanse you and restore your joy?  Maybe the dark clouds of depression will lift.  However, even if they do not, you can rest assured that “steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.”  He will sustain you and give you reason to “shout for joy!”

What do you need to confess to the Lord today?

 

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