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Learning to Experience Authentic Community, Part 1

From the series Momentum

It’s been said that in order to find a good friend you need to be one first. There is a lot of truth in that saying. Chip shares, from scripture, how to build deep, meaningful, authentic relationships that stand the test of time.

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Message Transcript

Unfortunately, in the place where God designed for authentic community to occur, people have an amazing experience. They walk into a room, they sing some songs, they sit down, they listen, they get up, they walk out alone. And we call it “church.”

If you’ll open the notes, I’d like to dig in with you and learn from a couple Old Testament characters who model for us what authentic community really looks like and, better yet, how to experience it.

Let me give you just a quick, little background. Jonathan and David are a great story. 1 Samuel 18 opens up and it’s the story of David’s life and David is a little shepherd boy and there is a big battle and everyone is afraid of the big, bad Goliath and he’s a giant. And the nation of Israel is paralyzed.

And in this window of moment, a story that many have heard, this little shepherd boy takes some stones, slays the giant, becomes the national hero. After becoming a national hero, he actually is quite the musician as well. Saul, who is the present king actually asks, “Well, who is your dad?” He tells him, “My dad’s name is Jesse,” and basically Saul says, “I want you to stay in the palace with me.”

In other words, this is a neat young man, God’s hand is upon his life, “I want you to stick around with me.”

Now, in chapter 18, Saul has a son named Jonathan and we are going to, it’s very cryptic. In fact, we are going to go through these two men’s relationship very quickly, but the principles out of it are absolutely amazing.

And so in chapter 18, verses 1 and 2, we are going to learn about the relationship between Jonathan and David. And what you’re going to see is that in this relationship, there are going to be seven essentials of biblical community.

If you, in your heart, want to get connected; if you want to learn to have deep friendships; if you want to go beyond the superficial, I’m telling you, you can look at Jonathan’s life and David’s life and their connection and what happens, and you’ll learn the seven essentials, some very practical ways, to really be loved from the heart and to love other people from the heart.

The first essential is to be aware. God orchestrates circumstances and chemistry. And you say, “Well, where do you get that?” Well, follow along, chapter 18.

“After David had finished talking with Saul, he met Jonathan, the king’s son. There was an immediate bond,” or literally the text says, God knit their souls together, “a love between them and they became best friends. From that day on Saul kept David with him at the palace and wouldn’t let him return home.”

So he says, “You know, God’s got His hand on your life, boy, I want you to stick around.”

And then something happened between Jonathan and David. And I think this happens now and then and I would say, be aware because what we have is, literally, a shepherd was not a high-class job and he was the youngest boy of all the sons. So David is on the low, low rung of the social economy of the day and Jonathan is a prince and he is going to become the next king, or so everyone thinks.

Sometimes you miss the greatest people God puts in your life because you have an unconscious filter about the kind of people that you will really connect with. And the kind of social status they need to have, or the color of skin that they need to have, or the amount of education that they need to have, or a lot of unconscious things, how pretty or how they dress or where they have been.

And I think this is very interesting that you need to be aware that God might bring the very best friend you’ll ever have from a different socioeconomic, ethnic, age, background that will blow your mind.

But you have to be aware. You have to be open. You have to be able to say, “You know something? God doesn’t see as man sees. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord weighs the heart.”

And He may have someone in your relational network right now, and it’s not that you’re a willful, prejudiced, “I never want to be that person’s friend,” you’re like me, all of us are what the psychologists call, we have been socialized and we have this unconscious box. And in our unconscious box, some people get in and other people don’t and we are most accustomed to love people and connect with people like us. David was very, very different than Jonathan in terms of social status.

The second thing we find is, be intentional. We rarely drift into authentic community. Be intentional. Look at verse 3. It says, “And Jonathan made a special vow to be David’s friend,” by the way, we are seeing him moving downward in his social mobility. He takes the initiative. He’s the prince. He’s got the money, he’s got the power, he’s got the position, he gets to call the shots in the palace, other than his dad. And he makes a special vow. That means he makes a vow before God but what he’s doing now, he’s making a vow and he is verbalizing, “David, I want to be your friend.”

“And he sealed the pact by giving him his robe, his tunic, his sword, his bow, and his belt.” Now, I wish we had about three hours. That phrase right there would make for a great sermon. If we could spend the time and talk about, what would it mean for a prince to take his robe, his tunic, his bow, his sword? All the elements that reflect his power, the net-net is he is saying, “I’m laying aside my power, my prestige, and my position and I want you to know that I am committing to you, I want us to be on even terms and, David, I want to be your friend,” and he actually verbalizes it.

Friendships – you just don’t drift into friendships. Making deep friendships, authentic community, has to be a priority. You need to have what I call, Intentional pursuit and intentional commitment. Those are the two things that he does.

Jonathan pursues David. He sees something in his heart, he sees something in his life, he sees something about David that says, “I want to get to know him better.” It’s not just that he’s a hero and he killed the giant. There was something about David’s faith, there was something about David’s walk with God. I think Jonathan, it says, “God knit their hearts together.”

It wasn’t something that they produced or made happen. God orchestrates circumstances, God orchestrates chemistry, but we have to be intentional. You get around people, and you can’t just sort of say, “Well, I’m glad we’re in this group.”

As good as it is to have a small group and lots of needs, the fact of the matter is, mentoring and deeper relationships need to occur.

There’s only so much you’re going to do in a group of eight or ten. And, really, there are maybe one or two people in the group that your heart starts to get connected to and you need to say to them, “Hey, why don’t we grab coffee this week?” Or, “I heard that you run. Tell you what, I like to run. Could we go for a run?”

In other words, it takes intentional pursuit or it stays fairly shallow. It takes intentional commitment. Now, what I hope you’re hearing is, that means, probably, you’re going to take some time away from something else in order to do it.

And so from Jonathan and David we learn you have to be aware, you have to be intentional. And then you have to be honest. And what I mean by this is share the last ten percent.

If we had a little more time, you could see that David, go ahead and look at verse 5, “Whatever Saul asked David to do, he did it successfully.” So Saul makes him the commander of his army. And then notice, “The appointment was applauded by all the fighting men and the officers.”

So he is becoming famous. He goes out to battles and basically his popularity is getting higher and higher than the king. The king becomes increasingly jealous and so he comes up with multiple ways that he thinks he’s going to get rid of him. And so he even offers, “You can marry my daughter,” but the real game plan is to send him out into harm’s way to get him killed.

Well, David keeps disappointing him because he keeps winning and winning and winning. And finally, it comes out that he wants to assassinate him. And so we pick up the story in chapter 19.

“Now Saul urges his servants and his son Jonathan to assassinate David. But Jonathan, because of his close friendship with David, told him what his father was planning. ‘Tomorrow morning,’ he warned him, ‘you must find a hiding place out in the fields. I’ll ask my father to go out there with me, and I’ll talk to him about you. And then I will tell you everything that I can find out.’

“And the next morning Jonathan spoke with his father about David, saying many good things about him. ‘Please don’t sin against David,’ Jonathan pleaded. ‘He has never done anything to harm you. He has always helped you in any way he could. Father, have you forgotten about the time that he risked his life to kill the Philistine giant and how the Lord brought a great victory to Israel as a result? You were certainly happy about it then. Why should you murder an innocent man like David? There is no reason for it all!’ And then Saul listened to him.”

And what we find out is Saul listens for a little while and his jealousy and his fear – Saul is a great study of insecurity. By the way, desperately insecure people have very difficult times with deep and great relationships because they compare all the time and they are threatened.

But this is interesting. Great friendships, and it goes multiple directions here, you have to be honest. And what we tend to do is we are honest with about the first ninety percent. Now, if my dad was the king and I had a really good friend that he was going to kill, I think I would go with something like, “You know, David, it may be a good time for a vacation. You know, really. You ought to get out of town. Here’s my private donkey, here’s a few bucks, there’s a resort. Why don’t you get out of here right now?”

It took a lot of courage to get one hundred percent honest with his father. Or he could have said, “Oh, Dad, you’ve got to be kidding. That’s not real…” He went all, “What about this, Dad? What about this? Don’t you remember this?” Jonathan told the last ten percent and confronted his father with his sin. And Jonathan had the courage to tell David one hundred percent of the truth.

And that door needs to swing both ways. And what our temptation is we tend to tell people about ninety percent and then when it gets uncomfortable, when it gets right to the point where we could really get rejected, we bail out. And, “I don’t want to say that.” And, by the way, it’s usually the big, white elephant in the room. All their friends see the same thing.

When you find someone who tells you some really, really hard truth that hurts your feelings and your initial reaction is you want to reject them and get angry and mad, I want you to know you have probably just met one of your very best friends.

Because if it’s an issue in your life, almost everybody else sees it, but very, very few people care enough and love you enough to tell you.

I remember the very first time this happened to me, I got so angry. This fellow, I was in a discipleship program and I was there all the summer and we were having a little evaluation at the end and my workaholic tendencies had played out. I had memorized all the verses, I did all the stuff they asked me to do.

I just thought that if they were going to rank people in this little summer program, I’m maybe a nine or a ten. You know, being as humble as I was, I thought probably just a nine. But down deep in my heart, I was pretty sure I was a ten. Seriously.

And this guy named John, he said, “Hey, let’s go out for a coffee. I’d like to tell you some observations I have about our time together here this summer.” And, it was literally, well, you know, “I’ve kind of been waiting for this moment, you know? Bring it on.” So…

And so he says, “Maybe this would help.” And so he wrote down on this card, “Galatians 1:10, Luke 16:15, and John 5,” and if I remember right, maybe, “30.” And he goes, I’d really like you to read these over. I said, “Well, I will.” He said, “No, why don’t you just go ahead and read them before we talk.” And only the Navigators can do stuff like that.

So, okay, I read them. “For that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.” Next verse, “How can you please God when you are seeking the favor of men?” Okay. “I would not be a bondservant of Christ if I was still trying to please men.”

“Chip, I have watched you. I think you’re a people pleaser and you’re very arrogant and I don’t think God will ever use your life until you address that issue.” And I wanted to get up and jack the guy right in the jaw.

It was probably one of the greatest gifts God ever gave me because when the truth was known, I was a real people pleaser and very arrogant and I bet lots of people had seen it before but John was the first person to look me in the eye, tell me the last ten percent, and give me some biblical criteria to change.

You want great friends? Tell them the last ten percent. Oh, it could cost my friendship! Well, yeah, it could. Or it could make it.

Fourth, we see is: Be available. When crisis comes, friends arrive. We find that the story continues and Saul and David are going through a number of different things. And then by verse 20, Saul is really out. He’s got the SWAT team after David and so in chapter 20, verse 1 it says, “David now fled from Naioth in Ramah and found Jonathan.” So he is fleeing. This tells you a lot about the relationship. He finds Jonathan. And basically he says, “They are trying to kill me.”

“‘What have I done?’ he exclaimed. ‘What is my crime? How have I offended your father so that he is determined to kill me?’ ‘That’s not true!’ Jonathan protested. ‘I’m sure he’s not planning any such thing, for he always tells me everything he is going to do, even the little things. I know he wouldn’t hide something like this from me. It just isn’t so!’ Then David took an oath before Jonathan and said, ‘Your father knows perfectly well about our friendship, so he has said to himself, “I won’t tell Jonathan – why should I hurt him?” But I swear to you that I am only a step away from death! I swear it by the Lord and by your own soul!’”

And now listen to Jonathan’s response, “Tell me what I can do.” David is saying, “Hey, man, you don’t get it. He’s after me. He’s trying to kill me. I was dodging spears the other day and I ran for my life. He is after me!” And his son is going, “No, I’ve talked to Dad! There’s no way he is going to do this!”

What happens in your friendships when two different stories come out? What happens in your friendships when you’re thinking, “Whoa, whoa, wait a second. This is really, this doesn’t make sense!” What do you do and where do you go?

Jonathan is available. Jonathan listens, Jonathan basically says, “What do you want me to do?” Basically, David is going to say, “I need you to get on the same page with me and you need to find out whether this is really true of what your father is trying to do,” and he is available.

There is a great Proverb. Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Crisis often reveals who your true friends are. When crisis comes, there is cost. When crisis comes, there is sacrifice. And when crisis comes, the people that show up and ask this question, “What can I do?”

I remember, it was a really intense time in my life with schedule and travel and my dad was very, very sick. And he didn’t have much time to live. And I had a friend who, because of his business, owned a plane that he flew to different places.

And I’ll ever forget, he said, “When your dad gets near the end, you call me. I don’t care where you’re at, I’ll come pick you up and I’ll take you. You need to see your dad. You’ve had a long up and down journey with him. You need to see him before he dies.”

And I’ll never forget getting one of those calls that says, “If you want to see your dad before he dies, you need to get here as soon as possible. He’s not going to last more than another twenty-four or forty-eight hours.”

And I remember sitting down and this is really interesting. I remember sitting down thinking about what Gary said and then thoughts like, I don’t want to put him out. I mean, like, how much gas would it cost and, I mean, I know he, but. I know he, but.

And I just thought, You know? He said he wanted to do it. I just can’t imagine anybody doing that for me. And I just realized, You know something? I guess I just need to humble myself and receive, and I called him on my cell. I was working out downstairs. I said, “Gary, I just got a call.” It took me ten minutes to work it through. And he said, “Get over to the little airport. It’ll be thirty minutes. I’ll have you there in Durham in a couple of hours.”

And I got in his plane thirty minutes later and we flew in the middle of the night, he and his son, and he dropped me off in front and he said, “I’ll come back and get you.” He said, “We’ll take care of the hotel,” he had rented a car, took care of everything, and I had a window of opportunity, that I will share a little bit later, with my dad, because someone… And, boy, you talk about a friend, he was available. Are you available? See, we have convenient friends and we have real friends. Real friends are available.

Next is loyalty. Don’t shrink back when things heat up. Well, the story continues and David replies to him. David is thinking, Ahhhh, this is getting scary!

He says, “Tomorrow we celebrate,” I’m in verse 5 of chapter 20, “the new moon festival. I have always eaten with your father on this occasion, but tomorrow I’m going to hide in the field and I’ll stay there until the evening of the third day. If your father asks where I am, tell him I have asked permission to go home to Bethlehem for an annual family sacrifice. If he says, ‘Fine!’ then you will know all is well. But if he is angry and loses his temper, then you will know he is planning to kill me.”

Listen to this, “Show me this kindness as my sworn friend – for we made a covenant together before the Lord – or kill me yourself if I have sinned against your father. But please don’t betray me to him!” Listen to Jonathan, “‘Never!’ Jonathan exclaimed. ‘You know that if I had the slightest notion my father was planning to kill you, I would tell you.’”

Well, they figure out a plan to figure out whether it’s going to happen or not and if you skip down to verse 16, it says, “So Jonathan made a covenant with David saying, ‘May the Lord destroy all your enemies!’” Think of what he is saying. Who is one of his enemies? Boy, you know, that old blood is thicker than water isn’t true. “‘May the Lord destroy all your enemies!’ And Jonathan made David reaffirm his vow of friendship again, for Jonathan loved David as much as he loved himself.”

The reason we don’t have really great friends is the price of loyalty is very, very high. You don’t betray your friend. And most all of us will get in a situation, and I have had a handful in my life, where life heats up, I mean, it really heats up and being around you during that time when it heats up, a lot of the dirt and the yick-yick that comes with your life heating up, people don’t really want to get around you because it kind of comes off on them.

Your reputation may be being attacked and hanging out with you right now… It’s not true, but you just find a lot of people start not returning your calls. I can’t figure out why! Because some things are being said about you that aren’t true.

You might be in a horrendous relational situation. You know what? It might even be you really blew it and you sinned big time and people are judging you and just telling you, “You know what? Man, you blew it, I’ll tell you what, God is going to do this and you broke your marriage vow or you stole money from that company or…”

You know what? Real friends never, ever tell you that the sin is okay. But what they tell you is, “Man, I have to tell you, you really did screw up, but I’m here for you. How are we going to get through this? What’s the game plan going to be? You have to get right with God, you have to make it right with these people, you can make it through this. I’ll be here for you.”

That is a friend. That’s authentic community. And everyone goes through hard times. But the temptation is when things really heat up and get really difficult, the temptation is for people to back away. And I am going to play it safe.

I have, uh a very good friend with a flat top that is super goofy. And he can listen to this. But I  don’t know that I have ever had a friend as loyal in the most difficult times I have ever had in my life, he has called, flown to my house, done whatever it’s taken.

And then I had a season where I was flying all around the world and I was worn out and some of the places were just downright scary and dangerous. And I remember looking over my shoulder and I thought, Let’s see, it’s been five years and I’ve been flying all over the world. Huh.

AC, at his own expense, was on every trip and flew with me just to be there in all but one, and he was on the ramp to go with me and his mother fell who was ninety-something, broke her hip, in the hospital, and he apologetically said, “I won’t be able to go to India with you.” I’ll tell you what, that’s loyalty. Are you that kind of friend? Do you want to become that kind of friend?

I’ll tell you what, those kind of people have lots of people that want to be their friend. David and Jonathan tell us, “If you’re aware, intentional, honest, available, loyal,” and then here, you have to be vulnerable. Refuse to let fear or pride limit your relationship.

We are still in chapter 20. Skip over all the way down. It gets bad. And Saul is not a nice guy. And Jonathan and David realize that he is going to have to run for his life. And they figure out that Saul is really going to try and kill him. And so we pick up the story in verse 41 where they had this little situation where David is hiding in the brush behind a big rock and Jonathan shoots this arrow and the boy runs and they’ve got this code worked out.

So the boy says, “I can’t find it.” And he says, “Oh, it’s farther, keep running.” They get the kid out of the way and that is code for, “It’s not good. Dad is trying to kill you. Let’s talk.” And so he comes out from behind the rock and we get the picture.

“As soon as the boy was gone, David came out from where he had been hiding near the stone pile. Then David,” notice this, “he bowed to Jonathan with his face to the ground. Both of them were in tears as they embraced each other and said goodbye, especially David. At last Jonathan said to David, ‘Go in peace, for we have made a pact in the Lord’s name. We have entrusted each other and each other’s children into the Lord’s hands forever.’ Then David left, and Jonathan returned to the city.” They cried, they embraced, they verbalized how much they cared, and they allowed their emotions to be expressed. Now, you girls do this a little bit better than us guys.

The chairman of our board at Living on the Edge is a pastor and he is kind of like my pastor. And he never hangs up the phone and it’s not with a trite word, in fact, I was uncomfortable early but after I really got to know him, “Chip?” “Yeah.” “I love you. Man to man. Chip, I love you. I’m for you. You need anything, give me a call.” That’s how he ends our phone conversations. He verbally expresses his love for me.

From my background with my dad, that still doesn’t feel, there’s part of it that feels really good and there’s part of it that feels weird. Okay? The few people that I have cried with, shared with. Vulnerability is the price tag and the risk. See, vulnerability is basically just taking off a layer – appropriately, wisely, with safe people, at the right time, and in the right way – not with everyone, not all the time. But it’s the key to deep, authentic community.

And, finally, we learn to be spiritual. Skip all the way over if you will. David is running for his life and he spends about a decade dodging spears and hiding in caves and living on this promise, “God said I was going to be the king! God said I was going to be the king! I don’t feel like a king, I don’t feel like a king.” And it’s like, “Man, this is crazy!”

And so during one of his down times, we pick it up in chapter 23, verse 15. “One day near Horesh, David received the news that Saul was on the way to Ziph to search for him and to kill him. Jonathan went to find David and encouraged him to stay strong in his faith to God.” He went out to find him.

‘Don’t be afraid,’ Jonathan reassured him, ‘my father will never find you! You are going to be the king of Israel, and I will be next to you, as my father is well aware.’” Talk about loyalty. “Humanly, it’s my job to be the king next, but God has made it clear you’re the man and I am behind you.”

“So the two of them renewed their covenant of friendship before the Lord. And then Jonathan returned home, while David stayed at Horesh.”

Don’t be afraid to be spiritual. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man or one woman sharpens another.” Sometimes we get in these relationships and we are going through stuff and we are in Bible study, we can talk about God.

You know what? You need to have times where you have a friend and someone is talking and you say, “Let’s pray right now.” “What do you mean? Around these people?” “Yeah, just come on. Right now. Let’s just pray.”

Or you need to say to someone, when you know what’s going on, “By the way, this verse came to my mind,” I have had someone recently just text me a verse, “By the way, I’m thinking about you,” be spiritual! Your number one goal in your friendship is to help this person become an R12 Christian, every day, in every way.

Basically, it’s: Help them trust God. Help them obey His Word. Help them do the right thing. Help them realize He’s in control. Help them realize He is going to come through. That’s the goal of your friendship! And, by the way, when that’s the goal of your friendship, all these other things come together.

Seven essentials they model of having great, deep, authentic community. Now, you’ll notice, David and Jonathan, let’s do a little analysis here. It was, their covenant with God was the basis for their devotion to one another. Here’s the real key: It’s their covenant with God. If you have some time and want to get the full story and read this later, it’s chapter 18 through about chapter 23 of 1 Samuel. It’s a great read.

But as you read it, over and over and over, covenant. The pact, the vow. It’s their vertical relationship with God that was the basis of the level of devotion because that’s what the trust was built on. They made a vow to God.

They said, “We are going to do our relationship according to God’s Word. We’re going to do it God’s way. We are going to be loyal, we are going to be honest, we are going to be true, we are going to be vulnerable, we are going to be committed.”

You don’t have the power to do that in a relationship apart from Christ in you. In fact, Jesus models this in John 15:9 through 13, the very last, very last time He is with His disciples on the earth, He says, notice, He starts with His relationship with the Father. “As the Father has loved Me, so I have loved you. Now remain,” or, “abide in My love.”

And then He tells them, Well, how do you do that? “If you obey My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have obeyed My Father’s commands and remain in His love. I have told you this,” notice why, so that My joy, “may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you,” – do you get it?

You can’t love one another apart from experiencing it with your heavenly Father. Our covenant with God will determine the level of our devotion with people. Your walk with God will determine your depth with people. It’s just the way it is.

People in shallow relationship with God have shallow relationships with people! Why? They don’t have the capacity to trust, to give, to be vulnerable. You can be vulnerable if you’re secure in Christ. You can be honest and face rejection and tell the last ten percent if you know God’s got you covered. If you don’t, you have to manipulate, politick, and play games.

He finally says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” The litmus test is commitment and sacrifice for one another.

So how does it work? Jonathan and David’s relationship reveal that authentic community occurs when the real you meets real needs for the right reason in the right way. The real you, “let love be without hypocrisy,” – right? meets real needs, “be devoted to one another,” – what? in the right way, it’s serving the Lord, “not lacking,” – right? “fervent in spirit, not lacking in diligence, serving the Lord,” and doing it in the right way, not in your strength, but His.

Finally, authentic community is the core of Christianity.  I originally had in the notes, “A core,” and then I read John 17 and this is the last prayer of Jesus. And in the last prayer of Jesus, He is praying to the Father and here’s what I want you to see. He begins to pray about His – before He took on flesh, before the incarnation – He begins to pray and talk about the unity and the community and the fellowship of the Triune God, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and specifically His relationship with the Father. It’s community.

God doesn’t need us to experience and give love. He is one essence, but He is three persons. And so He says - what? He prays that, “All of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You, may they also be one in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.”

Now, from our very human perspective, we can talk about authentic community and deep relationships because loneliness is solved and we will walk with God better and we will be happier and it fills our emotional tank and life is just a lot more fun to do it with people and where you’re connected and where you’re loved and all that is wonderful for us, but it’s not the most important reason.

The most important reason is the gospel’s credibility and legitimacy, according to Jesus, is based on how well we love one another and the world has every right to say, “I don’t believe that Jesus is God, that He came to forgive sins,” if His followers don’t love each other the way He loved them.

Jesus never came to start a religious institution, to have buildings built all over the globe. There is nothing wrong with those things but He said, and it’s been true of every age in every generation, “Forget whether they have buildings or no buildings, whether they use stained glass or electric guitars, whether they did it in robes or whether they hid in caves.”

When people radically, sacrificially love, and have loved, one another with vulnerability and honesty and loyalty and commitment, as unto the Lord, literally, giving their lives for one another, the world steps back and says, “The gospel is true.” That’s how I came to Christ.

I was the most skeptical, I had a bad church experience, I had never been exposed to the Bible. I was in a place that after about a week I saw people love each other that I admired and I came to this great apologetic conclusion, I don’t know what they have, but I want what they have.

I wasn’t arguing with the content, I would do that later. But what I realized was the power was the reality of their love for one another. So let me give you some quick, very practical steps as though we haven’t gone over a few already, in terms of going to the next level in authentic community.

How can you experience authentic community? One, get connected in a spiritually positive relational atmosphere. And I put the two ways, Be aware; be intentional.

Number two, go deeper with one or two people in your group. And the way you do that is be honest, be available, be loyal. But take someone to coffee or go afterwards or go earlier, catch dinner, and just someone that you feel like you have some chemistry with. And, by the way, you’ll get closest to them, go and ask a lot of questions. And then let them ask you questions.

Third, share and pray about a significant struggle or fear in your life with a safe person. This is the vulnerability and to be spiritual. Just find one person that, you know, test it, but you think is going to be safe and just say, “You know what? Thanks for taking forty-five minutes for coffee. Here’s the struggle I’m having. And I’d just like to get your thoughts.” And I will tell you, God will begin to work in very powerful ways.

I want to close with a story that actually Theresa reminded me of that has tremendous impact and I alluded to. It says, “The voice on the other end of the phone was serious and solemn: “If you want to see your father before he dies, you need to get here as quickly as possible.” Those are the words that I heard as my father, eighty-five, was close to death.

“I found myself on a plane within the next two hours and then in a rental car with two close friends pulling up to Raleigh-Durham Hospital in North Carolina. I learned that my father had been unconscious for some time, and because of the pain medication, he was delirious much of the day.

“After comforting my stepmother, I entered the room, sat next to his bed, knowing this would be the last time I would get to see him this side of heaven. My dad was a good man, but deeply wounded. Although he had been a Christian since his mid-fifties, he had a difficult time communicating his feelings or ever verbalizing his love.

“I knew he cared for me deeply and that he was proud of me, but I longed to hear that from his lips. Every boy, no matter what age, yearns for the approval of their father and I wanted to have that deep, meaningful conversation from the heart with him before he died.

“It was about eight p.m. and my dad’s wife, Evelyn, (he had remarried after my mom died), was heading home after a long day at the hospital. She gave me a kiss on the cheek and a hug as she walked out, and her eyes were sad as she knew these were my dad’s last days.

“Then something strange happened. I had heard and read about it in books and doctors tell me it’s not highly unusual, but my dad awakened and was completely lucid. For the next hour and a half, he was all there and we had “the talk” that we had both desired for so many years. Dad asked about my wife and about each of my kids and their kids. He asked me how I was feeling about the big transitions in my life and what I was concerned about and what made me happy the most.

“We relived a lot of years and some of our best times together. From Little League ball games to some of the most difficult and painful events of our past – we shared hearts, man-to-man. In those last hours, my father clearly and powerfully communicated the things that were most important to him. He held nothing back. He knew he was going to die. He was ready to die, and he wanted to communicate what mattered most.”

Don’t wait until you are ready to die to begin to share what matters most with a handful of people. Don’t let busyness, don’t let job demand, don’t let fear of rejection, don’t let past hurts, don’t let anything keep you from allowing the real you to meet real needs for the right reason in the right way. You will never regret it.