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The Perfect Place to Reveal Your Dysfunctional Self

The Perfect Place to Reveal Your Dysfunctional Self

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We have no choice but to be dysfunctional. We’re all broken in different ways, as disordedness is part of what it means to be born in Adam. Even on our best days, imperfections appear like a stain under white paint. Our collective fallenness is why the local church is so fabulous—a collection of broken people in a community of Christ-like disciple-makers seeking to draw closer to God and each other. The church is the place where you can be “just as I am.” Though I’m not making a case for sinning your brains out or unleashing unbridled behavior, I’m a realist: we sin, and when we do, we’re in a safe place to find the help we need. It’s the perfect place to reveal our dysfunctional selves.

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Time to Shine

Rather than trotting out our carefully edited representatives for public consumption, we can show people who we are while giving them hope in the masterpiece that God is producing. The local church is where all these future masterpieces gather, which is why our shared commonality with dysfunction does not discourage us. Only people without the gospel should have no hope. The born-again crowd lives in an ever-maturing, ordered reality, with Christ as their head and His righteousness as our possession. We’re not boasting as the world might boast, nor do we look down on others who have yet to taste the water that satisfies our souls. We mourn for them while doing all we can to reach them with the gospel. Meanwhile, we rejoice in the amazing grace that opened our eyes and changed our lives.

As you rejoice in the hope and help that only the gospel can bring, will you consider this list of words, some of the things we share in common? These are the negative things that come with our Adamic natures, the things we have yet to rid from our lives completely. However, because of the hope of Christ in us, this list also represents some of the things we should be discussing with our closest friends because there is wonder-working power in us, compelling us to be open and honest about the inhibitors that keep us from growing into a fuller man- or womanhood. Though these terms are negative, they do not overcome or overwhelm the psyche of those who believe.

Failure, disunity, hypocrisy, lust, fear, guilt, arrogance, dysfunction, gossip, disagreement, laziness, unforgiving, friction, jealousy, prejudice, anger, worry, arguments, shame, and competition.

Though the discussions with your church friends include more than these things, they must—at least—consist of these Adamic imperfections that have yet come under the obedience of Christ. What’s in view here is not what we struggle with but that we must share our temptations, shortcomings, imperfections, hangups, and quirks with our closest network of friends. Perhaps you’re asking, “Why should we be open with an appropriate number of friends with the determination and wisdom to entertain such things that will spur me on to love and good works?” If you are not sharing your innermost self with an appropriate friend, why not? What hinders you from making your local church a genuine sanctification hospital?

My Three Friends

Biff, the Angry Guy: Biff has been a small group member for over two years. From an outsider’s perspective, he seems to have it together. Of course, that is his goal. He wants to maintain the perception of a stellar reputation. His small group does not know that he is an angry man. His wife and kids know it, and it has leaked out among a few friends. For the most part, his group does not know the real Biff. Biff is stuck on himself. He craves people’s approval, so he controls his reputation tightly. He believes he must be on top of things and have it all together. Biff is an inch-deep, mile-wide Christian, but if there is not surgical intrusion from friends who are courageous, competent, and compassionate, Biff will continue with the deception, even if it causes generational dysfunction, as it most assuredly will.

Bert, the Addicted Guy: Bert is a secret addict. He got hooked at seventeen. He’s thirty-one now. He’s been in a small group for a little over a year. He and Biff are friends, and they spend many weekends together because of their wives. Marge and Mable hit it off. Bert senses that Biff is not what he claims, but Bert thinks, “Shoot, who am I to judge? I’ve got this secret addiction.” Bert plans to become clean for six months to a year before he tells Marge. He thinks that if he can kick the habit, he can talk about his addiction as though it was something in his past rather than a current struggle. He wants to maintain his reputation, project humility before the group by confessing (a past conflict), and gain some accountability in case his temptation comes knocking again. His plan is similar to Biff’s. In a word, he wants to control the situation. Rather than partnering with the foolishness and weakness of the gospel, Biff and Bert plan to correct their problems through self-reliant means (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).

Brice, the Humble Guy: Then Brice enters the group. He is a young Christian who has not learned the—deceptive—ropes yet: Biff and Bert have not contaminated him yet. Hypocrisy and the art of deception are not for the novice. Brice is still wet behind the ears. He believes in the Bible and talks as though it is the best thing since sliced bread. He’s a newbie to small group life. Biff and Bert have measured transparency. They drip out certain things about themselves during small group to show humility. They give the perception they are in the group, but they are not. Brice is amazed at their honesty and openness. From his perspective, it radically differs from the nonsense in his office, e.g., gossip around the water cooler, power ties, power lunches, and the survival of the fittest race to the top mindset. The saying goes, “It’s easy to impress the fifth graders.” Brice, the small group fifth-grader, is impressed and grateful for his new group.

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Suppressed Transparency

Behold, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out (Numbers 32:23).

You can imagine what a surprise it was to Brice the night Biff’s wife, Mable, blurted out, “I can’t take it anymore. I’m leaving Biff. He’s intolerable.” From that point, she shared his many unexposed secrets through tears. She talked about the threats, his condemning ways, and even the physical abuse of her and the children. It was not a pretty picture. Sadly, it did not have to come out the way it did. All of us struggle with suppressed transparency. Like Adam before us, our native tendency is to grab fig leaves and cover up the shame in our lives (Genesis 3:7). Hiding sin is a mild form of insanity. Go back and reread the above list of negative Adamic traits. It is our list; it represents only part of who we are. Why do we want to pretend those things do not belong to us? Why do we want to suppress our transparency?

Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33).

Truthfully, there are more things to add to the list, as mind-boggling as that may appear. Depravity does not have boundaries, and complete insulation from sin’s encroachments is impossible. People have implemented harsh aesthetic and isolating practices into their lives, only to realize that you cannot separate from the world because the world is in our hearts. Christians’ collective fallenness is why a reliable company of friends is essential. Biff and Bert are not good companions, and they may corrupt Brice if things do not change. Think about how insane it is to participate in a small group that talks about sanctification but refuses to let the group in on their dirty little secrets. All Christian groups are the same; it’s a struggle to open up about the more in-depth struggles of our lives. But what are our options? If you participate in a small group, here are three common hindrances to keep you from a productive small group life experience.

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Everyone Is Afraid

Rarely will someone be like Brice; most people yield to the temptation to hide their shame. When Lucia and I began the complicated process of looking for a church, we did not put finding a transparent, intentional, sanctified, small group on our list of non-negotiables. The reason is simple: we have never belonged to a local church that aggressively pursued each other this way. We have been in groups discussing this kind of vibrant life together, but there is a difference between talking about intentional sanctification and practically practicing it. If you want what I am describing, stop complaining about it—if you are—and develop it by your self-disclosing example, with all wisdom and discretion. When we landed in our new local church, we were not disappointed. The small group life was not that great, so we prayed for some like-minded people to cross our paths—individuals who embrace a transparent pursuit of mutual sanctification for the glory of God.

Devaluing the Community

Don’t settle for anything less than a group of friends who want to do intentional sanctification together. Did you know you can be dissatisfied with superficiality and still be humble? You don’t have to be mad about it, but you can be righteously dissatisfied. If you’re afraid of opening up, ask God to give you the favor to where your desire for this kind of community trumps your fear of being exposed. Biff and Bert’s relationships with God and family are deteriorating daily. They live in unexposed sin while participating in a small group designed to fight against what they are hiding. It’s like becoming sicker in the hospital; it is not supposed to be that way. Biff and Bert do not understand or want to understand the value of community life. Fortunately, Biff’s wife has enough grit to spill the beans. Though it would be better for Biff to humble himself, his wife mercifully is willing to do what he is afraid to do for himself. Any loving spouse would call the doctor if her spouse were sick. If you try to grow your sanctification outside of the body of Christ, you need to adjust your view of the body of Christ. Growth outside the body is not possible.

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Succumbing to Temptation

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation, he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Some of you reading this have hidden sins in your lives. It’s hidden from your spouse, and it’s hidden from your friends. You do not want to be exposed, and we all know why because we’re just like you. Would you please pray right now? Ask God to give you an enabling favor to talk to your small group leader or close friend immediately so that you can confess what is going on in your life. All your struggles are not unique to you. We all struggle in similar ways. The good news is that nothing you struggle with is outside God’s transforming grace. If your temptation is to suppress transparency, will you change that pattern in your life today? Trust God. Die to self. Be honest for His glory, your well-being, and the effectiveness of your church.

Call to Action

  1. Describe the relationships in your local church. Are they aggressive about being intentionally intrusive in each others’ lives?
  2. If they are a vibrant community, how did that happen? If the church is not, why do you believe they are not?
  3. What is your role in helping your church mature in its sanctification? What will you do to be part of the solution in your church?
  4. What one point stuck out to you in this chapter? What specific and practical thing will you do in response?
  5. Will you share this chapter with a friend and discuss how you can make a difference in your church?

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