My first experience with the men’s ministry here at RCC was in the high school room on Friday mornings. Brent Van Elswyk would give a short message of encouragement and then we would break up into small groups. Let's be honest…most of us have suffered through life at times because we felt like we didn't have anyone we could talk to about our struggles. Attending churches with “perfect” people giving Sunday school answers, working at jobs where most people don't invest in each other, we pretend things are okay and grind through. In short, most of us usually struggle at authentic community. I hated the small groups. They scared me to death. Then there was the men’s retreat at Big Bear, searching for community – all by myself. That was me many years ago and to some extent still even today I’m still a hot mess, but I love small groups now.
I remember perusing the church community early on in my walk. I recall hearing some amazing testimonies of God’s work in people’s lives. Those intimate stories of brokenness and the power of an Almighty God and His saving power and truths. I longed for a place where I could come as I am and share my heart with people that understood, not people that would judge me or call me weak. You see being a cop was my identity, who I was and I couldn’t be broken or weak. Or so I thought. I realized pretty quickly that those guys that I couldn’t trust, so I thought, would be a big part in the work God was going to do in my life.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25
True community that can be trusted may be a new concept for many of the people to whom we minister. It was for me once. It may feel weird, awkward, even foreign to us at first but we need a community who will pursue our hearts and desire to have a relationship with us. We should seek to hold each other up not only in being real about our struggles and victories, but encouraging each other in our roles as fathers/husbands/wives/friends, as we lead our households. This kind of relationship (that many of us have discovered here) feels a lot like what the church should be, but is also a small glimpse of our Father's love for us. Our Heavenly Father who pursues our hearts like no other!
“O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord.” Psalm 139:1-4.
“Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ ‘I don't know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother's keeper?’" Genesis 4:9
“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’” Genesis 3:8-9
In reading Scripture recently, two things struck me. In both instances, we know God is already aware of what He’s questioning. Why does He ask? While I know there is plenty of commentary on this, what it speaks to me is that God was seeking their hearts even in their misery and mess. He wasn't expecting them to hide, or fix, and get "right" before approaching Him again. He wasn't expecting them to live in shame forever…or at all. How often have you felt alone because you've been in sin…so far away from God and not sure how to get back? How amazing it is to know that He is there, even in our mess!
"When I choose to run from Him, into the darkness, He is with me in that moment…and He's not angry. And His facial expression is fixed on mine, and He's loving me. And He wasn't demanding that I stop (sin). He was demanding that I invite Him into that moment, to help me understand how I got into that moment…and what's beneath that moment. And to help me search for what I'm really searching for. Man, I just…melted. You know, it's one thing to read "I'm loved." It's one thing to read "I'll be with you." But for Him to be with me in my addiction…for Him to be with me in prison, and in sickness, and in relapse…over and over and over again. That's what changes me." -Tony Anderson, "The Heart Of Man"
Family, I don't know all of your past and your struggles, but I do know that within this community are tons of guys and gals waiting to stand shoulder to shoulder with you and uphold you and say "I’ve been there, too!" Most importantly, God has never nor will he ever abandon you, even in your darkest moments. I pray today we all embrace that picture of ourselves in the light of how God sees us. Zero shame…looking into our faces and wanting to be a part of each moment of our lives.