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All in *.


So, trendy church people are suddenly "all in" in the fulfillment of mission. It's the relatively new signature for personal commitment, that is, putting everything on the line for the sake of the mission. Of course, people in the gambling world, and those schooled in the military sciences already know the term. Being "all in" in either world expresses the concept of holding nothing in reserve, an all or nothing proposition. Every day I thank God for individuals who protect us by living "all in" in their service to our country, law enforcement agencies, and so many other first responder professions. Thank you God!

Maybe it's just me, but the idea of "all in" as a Christian is an open declaration that it's not the norm for Christian living today. Somewhere in the rhetoric of church the ideal of self-denial (see Luke 9:23) slipped past our wordsmiths, requiring this clarification to what commitment really means. Give me a break? If being Christ's disciple is anything other than "all in" we may have missed everything he taught about following him. What is sad, even more, is that "all in" is often asterisked or footnoted, meaning that we've adjusted the concept to mean something else, usually downward.

And, that's toxic in small group life, the pledge to attend, serve, pray, and fulfill all of the "one another" commitments of life today only when convenient. It's the rhetoric of faith in the new world and it's poison in relational engagement. Sadly, it's become the new normal, however, our tendency to share intimate prayer requests but forget to pray, to raise a hand of affirmation when selecting a mission opportunity but be entangled in life when the mission is scheduled, to pledge support for a community function then be diverted by some last minute interruption. This "all in *" thing is often the death of effective small group mission because good intentions are the road to you know where.

There's a side note here. You know it's true. Many people are looking for a silver bullet to ease the gnarling monster of out of control lives. At first glance small groups are so appealing and attractive, a spiritual serum to remedy the stresses and pressures of fast-paced living in a secular world. The blessings of spiritual depth, genuine relationships, and the encouragement of fellow travelers overshadow the personal investments often involved. As a result, over-commitment happens, in small group, church, and other benevolent involvements. The warnings of counting the cost and being realistic can easily slip to the margins of these commitments. Our intentions are usually "all in". Later we add the asterisk to relieve the weight of over-commitment. The group life we anticipated is torpedoed by the unseen and overlooked dangers of reality and hastily drawn, idealistic priorities, often shifting in the wind.

Scripture portrays the Christian life as an "all in " experience without the asterisk or footnotes. Self-denial is the starting place of this entire discipleship enterprise (see Luke 9:23). Even more, the fullness of this life is promised to those who are "doers of the word and not hearers only" (James 1:22), what James describes as a truly self- deceptive approach to living. In a community setting, whether a small group or a congregation, the relational interactions are governed by the same dynamics that make the human body work. When parts are missing, the group doesn't function in the same way (see 1 Corinthians 12). Therefore, our commitments must be firm and certain, not ill-advised or thoughtless, or emotional. No asterisks. No footnotes.

Over the years Hebrews 10: 24- 25 has always been a favorite proof-text for preaching about church attendance. The anonymous author wrote---

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to

meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as

you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10: 24-25, ESV

What a profound spiritual thought regarding our relational commitments in communities of faith. It is a reminder of the reciprocal motion of group process, that is, of stirring one another to love and good works. These words prod me to attend like I said I would so that meeting together would be a means of group encouragement. This encouragement would reach beyond the immediate group situation to the other commitment areas that define our spiritual growth.

This "all in *" deal just isn't biblical. If there are asterisks and footnotes, I've missed something Jesus taught about denying myself, taking up my cross daily, and following him. What is more, being faithful prevents the toxins of good intentions from infecting the community experience that should bless every participant.

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