Thursday, June 25, 2020

Find, Fellowship, Forgive and Fortify One Another

Part 2 of an Interview with Amberly Neese,
Author of The Belonging Project

Miss part 1? Read it here!

In The Belonging Project, speaker and comedian Amberly Neese combines Bible study with delightful humor to create a refreshing and engaging experience that will encourage and equip women to pursue deeper relationships and true belonging by loving and serving one another. She describes The Belonging Project as an exploration of the New Testament as it pertains to biblical community. “God has designed us to live in mutually beneficial relationships and has given us the blueprints to do so in his Word. The study is designed to encourage, empower, and equip participants to thrive in the community to which God has called them,” she shares.

Neese provides biblical and practical help for cultivating meaningful relationships that glorify God through an examination of the many “one another” scriptures throughout the New Testament. She groups more than fifty of them into themes in order to lead readers on an exploration of how to:
  1. Find One Another
  2. Fellowship with One Another
  3. Forgive One Another
  4. Fortify One Another

Having women in our lives to help us grow in our capacity to love, serve, and forgive is always important, regardless of what is going on in our lives and our world around us. However, now, more than ever, we’ve become keenly aware of the need to pursue and build an authentic tribe. She shares more about that in the interview below.

Q: We’ve been in the midst of social distancing for what seems like forever now. How has this period of time made meaningful relationships all the more important?

Social distancing has made us painfully aware of the pangs of loneliness and disconnection. Zoom parties and drive-by encouragement are wonderful, but they are no substitution for sitting knee-to-knee with a friend, sharing our hearts. In addition, for some, having a house full of family in quarantine can be fun (and loud), but it may not be a conducive place to be truly seen and heard.

The time away from others has helped us see the need for others in our life. Biblical community is more important than ever as we rebuild from the quarantine. One of my closest friends lost a child during this season and the inability to hug her family, have a service for her sweet daughter, mourn collectively, and support her clan in this tragedy have been salt in her wounds for sure.

The Belonging Project highlights some ways to love and serve others from the comfort of one’s living room as well as the sweet discomfort of sitting with a friend in her pain. Social distancing may put a damper on connection, but there are ways to encourage others without breaking quarantine. I am a hugger—more like a tackler—so this time has been hard for me, but it has allowed me the opportunity to explore new ways to comfort, encourage, and connect with others.

Q: Sometimes social media is the only way we keep up with our friends. How can social media be both a help and hindrance to our friendships?

Social media can serve as a wonderful way to stay in touch, but it can also serve as a source of discouragement. It is easy to get caught up in the “compare snare”—the heartache of being left out and/or comparing oneself to the feed of others. It is easy to believe that someone else’s feed, their social media gallery, is an accurate picture of their lives. I rarely see dirty dishes, marital discourse, unemployment, bad hair days, or depression on Facebook or Instagram. We only share good stuff and only after it has gone through a filter to remove our wrinkles and uneven skin tone.

We should avoid comparing our real life to the “reel” life of others because it begins to give us a false sense of reality, and we can suffer from envy, disappointment, and dissatisfaction—mindsets that erode a biblical community.

Recently, I found out on social media that many of my cronies (an old school word for friends) had started a Bible study. Without me. To try and keep the numbers reasonable, they had made a list, and I wasn’t on it. It crushed me. The ironic thing was I had already started writing the Belonging Project, my attempt to encourage women to seek community with others in Jesus’ name, and I was not invited. It took me a little while to recover, but my husband and I have also since started a Bible study with an amazing group of folks who were hungry for community as well.

Q: What can we learn from the life of Jesus about living in community? How was this so different from the political, social and religious culture of the day?

Jesus was counter-cultural as he set an example of including others that others cast aside. He loved those who were hurting, broken, and vulnerable. He chose to invite twelve others to do life alongside him and paved the way for us to do likewise.

Throughout his time on earth, Jesus said things that seemed revolutionary (and downright crazy) to his contemporaries. He broke through cultural, political, and social barriers during his thirty years of life and three years of public ministry. His followers (including the apostle Paul, who penned many of the letters in the New Testament) followed suit. Their behaviors, practices, and words often flew in the face of the culture and helped shape history.

God has designed us for community. In fact, Jesus was so passionate about community that He not only chose disciples—twelve guys of varying backgrounds, personalities, and gifts, to walk with him in his journey. He also instructed them to do likewise with others. He invited a myriad of others, including many women, to partner with him in ministry along his path. Through his teachings and the teachings of His followers, we have a blueprint for the community that he has designed for us. This blueprint can be found in the phrases in the New Testament that include the words one another, such as love one another, encourage one another, serve one another, forgive one another, and many more. Some of these concepts were certainly counter-cultural in the time of Jesus and are today as well. Jesus spoke these words in times of political, social, and religious tumult and they are so applicable in our current context as well.

Q: What are some tips on finding your tribe? As we search, what are some things we also need to find within ourselves?

Despite what we see in movies and magazines, where personal strength and winning are celebrated, we are created for community. We are meant to encourage one another, walk ahead of and behind one another, and create connections with one another. Yet even as part of a church, we often fall prey to societal patterns of comparison and competition and miss out on true community.

To find one’s tribe, we should first pray about it and ask God specifically for people alongside whom we can grow, serve others, and be willing to step outside of our comfort zone.

We need to make sure, however, that we also are willing to be vulnerable, humble, and a safe place for people. Biblical community is not for sissies. We are a broken people, and even when made holy by the blood of Jesus, we sometimes make broken choices. We speak unkindly, we act unfairly, we give grace unequally. Community with other believers can be challenging and can take a lot of faith, but it is a gift and it is worth the hard work of extending and embracing forgiveness.

Q: The last week in the study focuses on fortifying one another. What does that look like in a practical, daily way?

It can take all shapes and forms, but first, one should commit to spending time to find a body in which you can grow in your knowledge of God’s word, stretch your faith muscles, and be built up by other believers.

If we are going to find our tribe and learn to thrive, we need to be committed to encourage others. Not the “Oh my, what a cute dress!” encouragement (although that is always fun, not the wearing a dress part, but the compliment part), but the encouragement of others in their walk with Jesus. Ask yourself: How can I encourage someone in his or her spiritual walk today?

We live in a discouraging world. The political climate, the tragedies all over the nation, the starvation of children all over the world, the disregard of the value of human life, the threat of war, the rise in stress and anxiety—it is overwhelming. How do we keep our perspective? By focusing on Jesus and encouraging one another daily. Do one small thing today to encourage another believer. One could also consider encouraging someone you know who has left the church with a text, call, email, or letter.

Finally, one can easily develop a habit of gratitude through daily practice—perhaps by writing down all the things one is thankful for each day. Find a friend with which to share that list. It becomes a blessing to both parties!


Q: How is The Belonging Project designed to be used? What are the components of each week’s study?

The great thing about this study is its versatility. It can be done with a few friends or with hundreds of ladies. The format is designed to be easy and enjoyable—five days of lessons each week for four weeks.

There is a daily lesson, memory verses, calls to action, and questions to grapple with for each week’s teaching. The lessons are designed to be completed in about 20 minutes. Each day starts with a “One Another” verse, which sets the tone for the day, includes a scripture focus and questions for reflection, and ends with a Call to Action.

Since each of the days in the study covers another “one another” from the New Testament, if those doing the study have extra time, they can also read through the entirety of the chapter from which the verse comes to get a more full picture of the context in which it was written.

Then once a week, you’ll gather with your group to watch a video, discuss what you’re learning, and pray together. The session outlines, which provide options for both a 60-minute and a 90-minute session, include discussion questions, activities, prayer prompts, and notes for the video segment (available separately). You’ll find the outline for each session at the end of the personal lessons for that week.

For more information, visit her website www.amberlyneese.com. She is also active on Facebook (@Amberly Neese – Comedian/Speaker), Twitter (@amberlyneese), and Instagram (@amberlyneese).



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