So often we find ourselves placed into categories with hurtful labels such as "loser," "nerd" or seemingly flattering labels - "cool" or "sophisticated." The circles into which we are welcomed depend in large part on how we look and act. Parents stress and struggle over getting their child into the "right" kindergarten, so he can go to the "right" grammar/high school and ultimately wind up entering the "best" college - just so long as we/our children are considered to be a part of the "in crowd," part of the most exclusive circle. Thirty (or forty, or fifty) years from now, will all of that really matter? Please come with me on a visit to God's circles, where the stakes are eternal.
These circles are contacted from the outside in, our first experience being that of the Called:
(Matt. 22:14 and John 14:6) From these scriptures we learn that many are called and no one of the called comes to the Father but by the name of Jesus. When we are called, we begin to make our first tentative steps toward an association with a church, and to begin to become acquainted with the Word of God. When our faith is new, we need to keep it fed and built up. How do we do that? "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." Find a church with strong praise, worship and teaching ministries and attend faithfully. It is when we are just beginning that faith walk, that Satan finds ways to use us for targets. He loves to shoot down baby Christians with offenses, with trials and just everyday overworked, busy lives. It's so easy to say "Oh, I won't go to church today - I'm just too tired!" Let God speak to your inner being, and let His love lead you to the next level.
Our second experience is that of being Connected: Now that we have found our strong Word and Faith teaching church, we must move from just being associated with it (sitting in the pew) to being a part of it. We don't build just our faith - we also build relationships by loving other people, learning about them, their needs and dreams (and they about ours). It is through being connected that we learn to commune with those of like mind and allow "iron to sharpen iron" (Prov. 27:17). However, even in church membership we still have to go deeper to get to God's inner circle. We need to make lasting bonds, and determine we will "set our faces" to stay in the presence of God and His family, which brings us to the third level.
Committed: We have come to that point where we are mature enough in the faith that we are determined not to be moved by what we see or hear. Faith is our moving force, and we join with other members in God's family to form groups for the purpose of service to others. Eccl. 4:12 tells us that a threefold cord is not quickly broken - being in association/agreement with like-minded people strengthens our purpose and suppresses our selfishness. We encourage each other and learn to say "None of me Lord - all the glory is Yours!"
Being called, connected and committed brings us to the level of being Covered: We have fought the devil and won, in the strength and authority of Jesus. We have fought our own fears and selfishness and been victorious. God has enabled us to build on that Rock. Matt. 7:25 teaches us that, surely, the trials will come, but we need not fear them. We are covered in the blood of the Lamb, living in the fortress of God Almighty under His protection and provision. In ancient times, soldiers protected themselves by covering themselves with their shields to protect against their enemies' rain of arrows. We have our own shields of faith (and the whole armor of God) as a part of our covering.
And, when we are living in the center of His love, we have His Covenant at the very heart of these circles. That solemn agreement is His promise that He will never desert us, He will never leave us desolate, He will always provide us a Helper, a guide and a counselor. We can live in safety, peace, and plenty. He has made a way for the captive to go free, for the brokenhearted to be healed, for the blind to see and the deaf to hear. As a blood-bought child of God, that is the circle we want to live in!