Day 9: Fellowship
404! FELLOWSHIP NOT FOUND
In a culture that boasts on individualism and often mocks genuine fellowship, authentic community is rarely found. Technology serves its purpose, but that purpose is certainly not bringing us closer together. On the contrary, it seems to be slowly moving us farther apart. Our world is more connected than ever before, yet it has never felt more disconnected.
- 44% of mail sent directly to an individual is never opened 
- 57% of purchasing decisions are made without the consumer ever talking to a person 
- It is estimated that by 2020, 85% of all consumer-supplier based relationships will not involve interaction between two people 
- 92% of teens report that they are communicating online daily  yet according to a 2010 survey, 1 in 5 teens have thought about suicide, 1 in 6 teens have made plans for suicide, 1 in 12 teens have attempted suicide in the last year, 8 of 10 teens who commit suicide tried to ask for help in some way 
The world is changing, people are growing less interested in interacting with other people face-to-face and more interested in keeping relationships virtual. There is no vulnerability, no commitment and no pressure. For some, it could simply be laziness; not wanting to put forth the effort to deal with the complications of deeper relationships. This desire to be separated by a digital wall inevitably drives us apart. When things go wrong, we seldom have true friends to which we can turn. What this means for those struggling with sexual sin is further isolation and struggle. We are called to deny the conformity and patterns of this world and strive towards transformation - whatever that means. In an attempt to define transformation through biblical community, we'll start here: following Christ has always been and always will be counter-cultural.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. -Romans 12:2 (NIV)
THE POWER OF FELLOWSHIP
One of the first immediate results of establishing genuine relationships is encouragement. This is often as simple as being there for someone when they make a mistake. A good friend doesn't pass judgement, condescend, or insult you. A good friend picks you up and makes sure you're back on the right path. They do not approve or condone your sin (Romans 1:32), but draw their sword with you on the field of battle. The problem for many of us is we're not fully known. If you think you're fully known, ask yourself this - is there anyone in my life who knows my darkest secrets, particularly where I frequently sin? I once heard a pastor say, to be 99% known is to be unknown. Unless we are fully known, we'll never be asked the right questions (such as "did you fall into sexual sin today? Well... did you? Don't lie to me, you need to confess, friend.") We'll also miss out on encouragement when we need it most.
Encouragement can be likened to the acronym T.I.D.E.
Truth - all encouragement comes from the greatest truth to ever grace mankind...Jesus Christ. He died for our sins and through him, we are redeemed and made whole again. And if we don't have relationships where we are being completely truthful, we cannot be encouraged with the cross of Christ (which wipes away all sin).
Identifies - encouragement points out the ways that God is working in someone's life. You may stumble in one area, yet God has continued to bless you and train you in so many other aspects of life. We often cannot see our own progress, particularly right after a fall. Others that know us deeply, however, can point to how far we've come and remind us of God's love for us despite the stumble.
Delivers - encouragement delivers discouraged people from the trap of self-pity. When you stumble, you often feel guilt and shame, yes? Do you feel discouraged? I do as well when I fall short, which is why we need those in our lives who know us so well that when we appear discouraged, they will ask hard questions and build us up.
Endures - true encouragement continues long past one phone call or one conversation. It continues on for the length of that relationship. Good friends are rare indeed, so I understand the frustration one feels by not having a relationship like this. Keep looking and don't lose hope. Refuse to settle for superficial friendships. Take the first step with a friend in asking for prayer and see what God will do.
When I struggled with sexual sin in my teenage years I remember my life being void of encouragement, mostly by choice. Things always happened in the same pattern; I’d be free for a time and start to feel good about myself, then I’d stumble and I’d beat myself up so bad over it that I vowed to throw in the towel and give up entirely. To make matters worse I felt completely alone, with nobody to build me up. The pattern of shame and sin seems endless, does it not?
In time, God blessed me with some of the most honorable, encouraging and bold men one could ask for. To this day, we look out for one another, asking the tough questions and building one another up with the word of God. Had I missed the opportunity for genuine fellowship, I'd still be at war with my old self without any encouragement (to be clear, the war rages on to this day). Sin is deceitful… it clouds our judgement and pulls us tighter in its vice. As we delve deeper, it convinces us that we are not in need of help, that we're alone and better off suffering alone. Encouragement gives other followers of Christ an opportunity to pull you out of this pattern of deceit. You can't escape quicksand on your own. You need a friend to pull you out from where it's safe. Stop being a lone ranger. This isn't the movies - in real life, people who walk alone walk in darkness.
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. -Ecclesiastes 4:12 (NIV)
SEEK THEM OUT
If you cannot name a group of men or women to encourage you regularly, I recommend you join a church. If you’re part of a church, join a small group. If you’re part of a small group then I’d encourage you to pull the leader aside and talk about your desire for more encouragement in your struggle. What’s better, you may even be held accountable and mentored by that person.
Remember, this struggle is not uncommon. Such temptations are common to man (see 1 Corinthians 10:13), you can and will be free if you walk according to the teachings of scripture laid out in this course. It takes a battle tested, fierce heart to fight in this war. What’s more, it takes putting our full trust in the person of Jesus Christ - the one who won on our behalf. Paul, in the midst of some dark days of his life, wrote this (I'd recommend reading all of chapter 4 to get the full context of his struggles against the world):
Find those who will build you up. The first time that God ever mentioned something wasn't good revolved around man being alone (Genesis 2:18). What was true in the beginning of time is true for us today.
WHAT IF I STILL HAVE NOBODY?
I've been there friend, - in that place where you feel completely alone. In some ways, I still feel that way. To be 100% known is hard work, and it's easy to fall into complacancy. Maybe this doesn't apply to you, but if it does we want to encourage you that God's desire is for you to have fellowship. Not the kind that is doctored up in movies, but real, genuine fellowship that lasts a lifetime and challenges us to grow as men and women united in Christ. Here are some practical ways to find this fellowship:
- Again, Join a Small Group
Don't let this day end without at least doing a little bit of research. Find a group of people that meet regularly (once a week at least) and commit to being a part of that group. If you're involved in any way with a church, they'll likely have these resources advertised on their website. If not, try emailing the pastor... today if possible. Get aggressive about getting involved and getting help. That's what the body of Christ is there for.
- Cut Out Bad Relationships
Just as the right people encourage us, the wrong people can discourage us. As Christians we often overlook how those around us can affect our walk with Christ. This is not to say you should stay away from non-believers - it is a part of our mission to reach a lost world. It is to say however that if you identify with and commune regularly with people who are not encouraging the things of God and a righteous lifestyle, you will inevitably conform to that way of thinking.
- Open Up
It's not enough to simply join a group and hope for the best. Many times in my past I was involved in groups where the conversations never made it past how the weather was. I've even been a part of Bible studies where after six months the people in that group still knew very little about me and I about them. Don't fall into this pattern, be honest and open up with other believers. You'd be surprised how quickly others will begin to follow suit.
Day 9 Application
Have you experienced the type of fellowship described in this lesson? Why or why not?
What would it take for you to find a group of peers to walk through life with you?
Have you spent time with God today (prayer, reading the word, worship, etc.)? Have you been in contact with your accountability partner such that you were asked tough questions about purity?
Since the last lesson, how have you been with maintaining your sexual purity?