Conviction in coffee.

I’ve realized two things about myself this morning. I am a coffee snob, and a bona-fide southern baptist. These two are almost always mutually exclusive – if you don’t believe me, just grab a cup of coffee next time you’re at church. Blah. Alas, I digress. Back to the point.

For a little while now, my dissatisfaction with mediocre home-brewed coffee has compelled me to experiment with new methods. I’ve even consulted with friends who have more experience in the area in order to improve my coffee making techniques. As a result, I’m making some pretty good coffee at home now. The secret? A French Press. Well, not a proper French Press – it’s more like a ghetto American Press at this point, but the process is much the same. You give the coffee grounds a chance to steep in the water for a while, fully extracting the flavor. The result is a cup of coffee that actually tastes like the source of its goodness, and not just bitter, tainted water. This is totally different from your standard drip coffee maker, where the hot water just passes through the grounds and continues on its path to the carafe. And so, a coffee snob was born. 

This got me thinking about my personal Bible study time lately. I’ve fallen into a rut of just sort of “passing through” the Word, not really giving myself time to “steep” in it. This revelation was really quite convicting – what if I’m like that water that just passes through the grounds, not really soaking up the essence of God’s Word? Is the result the same for me as it is for that water? Do I actually, in any way, resemble the Source of my life? Or am I watered-down, religious, and bitter?

This is the point where I realized I’m truly a southern baptist – we can turn nearly any personal account or story into a spiritual lesson. Nonetheless, the conviction was genuine, and the remedy is simple. I can’t be content with simply reading the Bible. I need to give myself time to soak it up – time to meditate in it. The result? Some much better coffee.

Advertisements
Published in: on December 9, 2008 at 8:46 am  Comments (2)  

My guest post on Spence’s blog

Originally featured on our small groups’ pastor Spence Shelton’s blog: http://spenceshelton.wordpress.com/

When Spence asked me to write about my experiences as the leader of a new SummitLIFE group, I was excited. Eventually, at least – I was actually nervous at first, but now I see it as a good way for me to review where we are as a group, pray about our future with a better sense of direction, and praise God for what he’s done in and through us so far. I hope this encourages you to do the same.

My wife and I started our SummitLIFE group at GroupLink a few months ago. Our group was formed based solely on geographical location, so at the end of the evening, I was sitting in a circle with my wife and a bunch of girls I had never met before. I say girls because there were no guys in our group at the end of GroupLink, except for me. Most of these people had never been in a small group before, were new to the Summit, and didn’t know the other people sitting across from them any more than I did. The early struggles were obvious ones – how do you get a group of strangers to open up and have meaningful discussion about the Bible when they don’t even know each other’s names? As the most willing talker in the group, how do I keep from dominating the discussion? How to I balance that challenge with the awkward silence that’s almost guaranteed to be there? How can I get some more dudes to this thing?

While it is going to take some time for people to get comfortable in a small group, there were a few things that helped us along that might help you. We built a “social” time into our meetings; the first 15 minutes are for people to get in, get settled, grab a cookie, and make some small talk. I think that lasted about 5 minutes the first week. Now I have to cut it short every week. In addition to that social time, we’ve also spent some time just hanging out and having fun. I think it’s built a sense of trust and friendship into our group that really helps us get past the awkwardness. By the way, we ended up getting some guys, too.

Another huge bonus was the “Why Small Groups?” material that all new SummitLIFE groups go through. It was easy to study, it takes a little load off of the new leader in figuring out what to study, and it gives the whole group a unified vision for why you’re all there. Having that vision helps them participate in a meaningful way. It has given us something to look back on and see how we’re doing as a group. But it also challenges your group to be more than just something you do on Tuesday nights.

One of the things I’m still praying will happen is for more people to play an active role in our small group. We’ve filled a couple of those roles, but I’d really like to see some other people lead discussion or prayer time, or maybe even rotate hosting, or take the lead in coordinating our outreach. In fact, just writing this has reminded me to renew the invitation to get involved to our group members. Also, make sure they know that it’s not about lightening the load on the leader – it’s about their own spiritual maturity. We don’t need them to serve; they need to serve.

One of the most rewarding things about this new group is watching God at work in these people and the people they know. We’ve seen coworkers cared for in a time of crisis, we’ve seen a neighborhood get new clotheslines, and we’ve seen people who were too nervous to talk or pray in front of others help us all dig into God’s word, and believe God on our behalf in prayer. I know I had nothing to do with that growth and change in people; I was just an instrument. But it doesn’t make it any less awesome to see God at work. All praise, honor, and glory to him!

Published in: on September 15, 2008 at 11:42 am  Leave a Comment  

Before the Throne

(by Shane and Shane)

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong, a perfect plea:
A great High Priest, whose name is Love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.

My name is graven on his hands,
My name is written on his heart;
I know that while in heaven he stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart;
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair,
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look, and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.

Because a sinless Savior died,
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God, the Just, is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me,
To look on Him and pardon me.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Praise the One,
Risen Son of God! 

Behold him there, the risen Lamb
My perfect, spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I AM,
The King of glory and of grace!

One in Himself, I cannot die
My soul is purchased by His blood
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ, my Savior and my God,
With Christ, my Savior and my God!

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Praise the One,
Risen Son of God!

Published in: on September 3, 2008 at 10:35 am  Leave a Comment  

The Best Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)

OK, so we all know this parable – the parable of the Good Samaritan. I’ll admit that when I was charged to lead my small group through a discussion on this passage, I wasn’t very excited. I mean, we can all see the moral of the story coming a mile away, right?

Wrong.

First of all, tsk tsk for moralizing the Bible. The Bible isn’t a collection of stories that teach you to be a good person. The Bible is about a God who loved a lost and dying world, and the Savior who died so that we wouldn’t have to. Whenever we read God’s word, we should be looking for what He’s revealing about Himself. How does this story point to Christ? What does this say about God’s love for us? Then, motivated by that love, you can apply what you see in the passage to your own life, and make the changes that the scripture challenges you to make. Not compelled by guilt, but propelled by Grace.

When I read this passage, I realized something pretty staggering. Instead of trying to figure out how to be the Samaritan, I realized that I was that man who fell into the hands of robbers. I was the man laying in the road, half-dead, incapable of helping myself and in desperate need of a savior. The things I trusted in this world had passed me by on the other side of the road, embarrassed to even look at me. 

But God had compassion when he looked at me. He picked me up when I couldn’t stand. He bandaged my wounds, carried me, and set me on solid ground. And this is where the gospel becomes so clear in this parable:

“And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” – Luke 10:35 [ESV]

If you miss this, you miss the whole passage: this is Christ, saying to the Father “Whatever he owes, put it on my account. I’ll pay for it.” We owed our lives to God for our sins, but Christ has paid for them in full. Christ took our sins, and in return, God now sees us through Christ’s finished work on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 8). Jesus Christ is the Best Samaritan.

It’s in the light of this mercy — in response to this love — that we’re able to be more like the Samaritan. Christ commands us to do just that (v:37). Remember the order of operations here – the Samaritan had compassion for the man, and then he stopped to help him. Remember that we’re capable of loving others because God has shown us love (1 John 4:19). So if you’ve experienced the mercy of God, it’s natural to feel mercy for others. Remember how in your most desperate situation, Christ was your only hope. Now, go and share that hope with somebody who has none. 

The Summit Church (along with other churches in the area) is gearing up for a Week of Hope (July 8-15), during which we’re taking time out of our lives to bring hope to those without it. We’re doing it because Jesus did it for us. I would encourage you to be a part of this. The church is actually giving $100 to every SummitLIFE group for the purpose of doing their own project for the Week of Hope, so there’s really no excuse. More information at summitchurch.cc and hopefordurham.com

Published in: on June 5, 2008 at 8:28 am  Leave a Comment  

Love and The Body – 1 Corinthians 12 and 13

Something hit me while I was preparing for small group a while back. It’s actually something I feel like God has been showing me for a long time, through various channels – but something about it became more clear and obvious to me just now. I had to write about it.

A while back, I remember pastor J.D. commenting on how 1 Corinthians 13 – yes, the infamous passage so often quoted at weddings – is often misunderstood. It was never meant to be a lovey-dovey greeting card stuck in the midst of other unrelated teachings. Its scope is so much bigger than just husband and wife – it’s about the entire body of Christ. It’s about the Church.

As you read through 1 Corinthians 12 (remember, context!) you see Paul explaining the idea of spiritual gifts and the Church as a body. In short, Paul says that though there are a variety of spiritual gifts, but only one source. That source is the Holy Spirit, who is in fact one with Jesus Christ and God the Father. Though some of these gifts seem more honorable or praiseworthy to us, God honors those “unpresentable parts” all the more, as they are indispensable. Why such a variety of gifts? Why some so much more desirable to us than others? Verse 24 says it was to create a unity in the body, not division. It’s not a bad thing to desire those “higher gifts” (v31), but there is something much more important… more on that in a second. But as members of one body, we rise and fall together. Together, we experience times of sorrow and times of joy.

For our small group, this is an encouragement. Even though I’m the one who leads the group, every member of our group has gifts that they can and should use in order to make our group successful in loving God, loving each other, and loving our world. Paul shows us in chapter 13 that this kind of love is so much more important that whatever gift we may have. I encourage you, if you haven’t already done so, read chapters 12 and 13 together now.

In chapter 13, Paul stresses the importance of love. He says that even if you’re the most gifted teacher, or the most faithful and self-sacrificing servant, that if you don’t have love, you have nothing at all. Remember, this is immediately following his not-so-subtle segue at the end of chapter 12. The love he describes in the following verses then should be taken as a high and lofty calling for the Church as a whole – not just husband and wife. I’m not saying that I shouldn’t strive to love my wife according to 1 Corinthians 13. On the contrary, my relationship with my wife should model this love to those around us – it should encourage our small group to love each other in this way. If our small group loves in this way, it will encourage our Church to do it.

But how is this possible? How can we love each other like this? It’s obviously not natural for me to treat everybody with this kind of love, and quite frankly I’m not convinced a lot of people have earned it. But this kind of love doesn’t come from us – it comes from God. In our deep, honest relationship with Christ, we learn that he first loved us in this way. He proved that love for us at the cross, bearing our sin and enduring our suffering. Because of that love, and because of the Spirit dwelling within us, we can in turn love in this way. And a Church that loves like this will win a city the world for God!

I think it is only now that I’ve realized the (probably intentional) sequential nature of our Church’s mission statement: Love God, Love Each Other, Love the World. First and foremost, we love God. In loving God, we are enabled to love each other. In loving each other – in acting as the body of Christ, working together – we can love the world.

Is the Bible awesome or what?

Published in: on April 22, 2008 at 9:34 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , ,

update coming…

I know it’s been a while, but I haven’t forgotten to blog. I’ve just forgotten to make time to blog :]

I’ve got a post on 1 Corinthians 12 and 13, community, and small groups coming up. It should be good.

Published in: on April 17, 2008 at 12:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

Small Group Dilemmas

Since our SummitLife group kicks off tomorrow, I thought I ought to go ahead and write a post about the last topic from the training: Small Group Dilemmas. 

Small Group Dilemmas

I think the word “Dilemma” was chosen because it was taught in the same session as Dynamics, and we Baptists love alliteration. What I think we’re really looking at are situations than can arise which are common to small groups and might be problematic if not handled well. There are a few important things to keep in mind with all of these.

  1. Use the scripture. Remember 2 Timothy 3:16-17. There is always a word from God for every situation, whether it’s specifically about the problem you’re facing or generally about a heart condition. God’s word speaks truth, and it’s very, very useful. 
  2. Prayer works. Small groups are a critical point for people to see not only a belief in the fact that prayer does work, but that prayers are answered. See Colossians 4:2, 1st Thessalonians 5:17, and Psalm 65:2. And Phillipians 4:6-7. And 2 Chronicles 7:14-15. And… you get the idea. 
  3. Speak with grace. When problems come up, chose your words carefully. Be careful to encourage, and be humble and compassionate. See 1 John 1:5-10. 

Keep in mind with all of this that most people don’t know what kind of dilemma they might be causing. They probably didn’t come in with the intention of causing trouble.

Common Scenarios

These are a few of the most common situations a small group would face. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it covers some pretty regular occurrences and how you might deal with them.

  • The Story Teller always has a personal experience that relates to everything that comes up. Not that these stories are always bad, but if it gets out of hand, try roping the discussion by asking how it relates to what you’re studying. It might be helpful to give an outline in the beginning of the study time, to set up some structure to the time. If it becomes a repeated problem, you might have to pull the person aside sometime outside of the discussion time and talk to them (remembering to speak with grace). This person might be a potential facilitator of discussion time.
  • The Discussion Dominator tends to try to control the discussion and monopolize group interactions. First of all, don’t play this role as the leader. Allow everybody in your group the chance to contribute. If you have a person in your group that does this a lot, research shows that you can sit beside that person and they’ll do it less. It’s got something to do with eye contact. Also, you can try talking to them outside of the study time about giving others the opportunity to speak up. If your group has been together for a while, you might try calling on people to respond to a particular question – but be careful not to put people on the spot. 
  • The Dead Silence just happens sometimes. Maybe it’s a tough question, or a difficult passage to interpret, but once in a while you’ll hear the crickets chirp. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad leader. Don’t freak out – give people time to think and respond. Try asking broad questions that are a little easier to answer to jump-start the discussion.
  • The emotional breakdown is one that scares me a little. I’ve just not been around a situation like this often, but when you’re digging into the word of God or having a heavy discussion, it can get emotional. If somebody in your group has a breakdown moment, the important thing is to be sensitive. Hear them out. Pray for them, even right then. It could be that the Spirit is at work in them, so be encouraging. If you’ve got a situation where this comes up often, reach out to elders and counselors in the church. We have people called area leaders at The Summit who are here for situations like this. 

And most importantly, in all things, pray, both as a group and for your group.

 

Well, that’s it! That’s the end of the SummitLife Leader Training material. It’s been a lot of help for me in preparing for leading a small group, and I’m looking forward to putting it into practice. Stay tuned to this blog for something a little different in the near future.  

Published in: on April 7, 2008 at 8:51 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Small Group Dynamics

 
After writing out my thoughts on Small Group Dynamics, I thought it was more than enough for one post. I’ll save Dilemmas for the next post.
 
What are Dynamics?
Dynamics are the way people in the group interact. I’ll be using the “Group Dynamics” chapter from Leading Life Changing Small Groups by Bill Donahue to get a lot of this information – I would encourage you to read it for what I leave out.
 
Group Roles
At different stages in your small group’s life, people will play different roles (whether they mean to or not). Some are helpful roles, such as:
  • the Initiator who sparks discussion
  • the Elaborator who looks for more than just the facts
  • the Reviewer who clarifies by summarizing
  • the Encourager who builds-up members of the group
Some can be destructive, such as:
  • the Aggressor who criticizes others
  • the Rabbit-chaser who gets lost on tangents
  • the Quibbler who argues over every detail
  • the Dominator who tries to control the group interactions 
I would recommend reading “Group Dynamics” (mentioned above) for detailed descriptions of these and other roles. As a leader, what’s important is to recognize and be sensitive to the roles your group members play, and not to label group members. Remember, these roles are likely to change over time. 
 
Learning Styles
We don’t all learn the same way – in other words, there are different techniques that help us grasp an idea or concept better than others. The techniques that work for one person may not do much for another. A good leader should be aware of these techniques and try to use varying methods in order to be more effective. These are three common learning styles that cover a wide range of people: 
  1. Visual Learners: People who tend to learn best by seeing. Handouts, story boards, and props are good tools for this type of learner.
  2. Auditory Learners: People who learn by hearing. Discussions are helpful. Encourage verbal response and input. Non-distracting background music can be helpful as well.
  3. Kinesthetic Learners: People who learn by doing. Your group’s commitment to service projects and ministries helps these people learn by seeing truth in action more so than seeing or hearing. 
Personalities
People come with personalities. In other words, God wired them in such a way that they tend to respond and react to situations differently from others. The point of understanding the personalities is not to label group members, but to be aware and understanding of those tendencies. These questions can help with that – ask yourself each one  while thinking about the members in your group.
  1. Do they tend to be  more introverted or extroverted? Does extensive interaction with people tend to energize them (extrovert) or drain them (introvert)?
  2. Do they experience life with their senses or more intuitively? Do they make insightful judgments about the way life is and how it functions, or do they tend to seek experiences where they can taste, touch, feel, smell, and hear what is happening around them?
  3. Do they initially process information and decisions with their head or with their heart? Some people are more logical and cognitive (head), while others are feelers who tend to respond more emotionally (heart).
  4. Do they approach life in a structured or unstructured fashion? Are they more likely to plan out each day of a family vacation before they leave the house, or are they more likely to rent a car and decide along the way?
The author also suggests asking these questions to your group as a great exercise to have some fun and grow respect for the way God wired each member of the group.
 
Spiritual Gifts
Each member of the group has a special, God-given gift. Your small group can help them grow and cultivate that gift as they mature in Christ by casting a vision for mutual ministry, helping members identify their gifts, discussing giftedness with each other, and serving in areas of giftedness. Discuss and consider and discuss ministry opportunities within the group that will utilize people’s gifts.
 
The Holy Spirit
Just as the Holy Spirit gifts the members of your group so that it functions as a body, he also guides and teaches them through the Word and through experiences and through serving one another. A leader needs to be sensitive to how the Spirit is moving in the members of the group.  
  • Be in prayer that the Spirit would open hearts and minds and convict people of their sins in group meetings. 
  • Be sensitive to a group consensus – the Spirit could be leading the group in a new direction 
  • Be sensitive to the Spirit leading you to discuss a particular issue. Tell the group about it – not to force them to play along, but  to let them know God is leading you that way. Then decide as a group in prayer and through the Word.
  • Allow time for the Spirit to work. If the group can’t come to an agreement, sometimes the best answer is to give the Sprit time to move in people’s hearts. Encourage members to pray through it, and allow God to work within them over time.
  • Always obey the Bible on its commands. But where the Scripture is silent, seek the direction of God through his Spirit in prayer.
History
In addition to Bill Donahue’s material, Spence Shelton (our SummitLife pastor) says that it’s important to recognize your group members’ individual histories. People come with not only a personality, but a past. People’s past experiences will influence the way they interact with your group. The group leader needs to be sensitive to this as the member integrates into the group. 
 
Be sure to add any questions or comments you might have by clicking Comments below.
Published in: on March 26, 2008 at 9:35 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Uncle Josh

Yes, that’s right — I’m an uncle! Can’t believe it myself. My sister and her husband Kevin welcomed a brand new baby girl into the world on Thursday, March 20th, 2008. Her name is Karisa, and she’s the cutest little ninja-faced baby I’ve ever seen. Proof? You got it. This was taken last Friday.

Karisa Paige M.

Stay tuned for the final installment in the small groups series on Dynamics and Dilemmas in Small Groups (due later today). 

Published in: on March 26, 2008 at 6:46 am  Leave a Comment  

Being a Missional Small Group

 
monday night, we wrapped up our summitlife leader training with a double-header on being a missional small group and dynamics and dilemmas in small groups. today i’ll talk about being a missional small group.
 
What does “Missional” mean?
To be missional is to act according to a mission, or a mission statement. In our case, the church has defined a very simple, succinct mission statement: “Love God, Love Each Other, Love the World.” We’ve already covered two ways a SummitLife group loves God in the first two posts on studying the Bible and Prayer. But, in being a missional small group, we also want to love each other (that is, those in our group and our church) and the world (everybody else). 
 
Loving Each Other.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
 
From this verse, we can take two very clear statements about loving one another:
  1. It’s a command! Christ clearly calls us here to love each other the way He has loved us.
  2. Our love is our testimony. The watching world should know us as followers of Christ primarily by our love for each other. See also Galations 5:13. 
The small group should be a place where the love of Christ is on display. You’re in the best position to “be there” in times of need for the people in your group, because week in and week out, you’re in their lives. But this extends beyond the bounds of the small group. Your group needs to be involved with the church and its ministries. Challenge those in your group to be committed to a service ministry, and hold each other accountable for it. 
 
The love of Christ is meant for more than just those people who are already in church, which leads to part three of our mission statement:
 
Love the World.
This is about showing the love of Christ to those who don’t already know it. In Acts 16, we find basically three types of people in the world represented:
  1. Lydia (aka, the God-fearer). She was a worshipper of God. Though she hadn’t heard the gospel of Christ, she knew God, and what she knew of God, she obeyed. She represents people who have a Christian background and are familiar with church, but haven’t ever made a personal commitment to follow Christ.
  2. Slave girl (aka, the disadvantaged). What appears to be a demon-possessed mockingbird that stalked Paul for several days actually represents more than that. Note that she was a slave to her masters, who sought nothing higher than financial gain. She represents those poor, homeless, or incarcerated (and otherwise disadvantaged) people in our city who need the love of Christ in a very tangible way.
  3. The Jailer (aka, the skeptic). The jailer here represents the watching world – those who don’t believe or follow God. They need to see us display the love of Christ for our testimony to be effective. Can you see that the love of Christ displayed here by Paul changes his heart? Notice that this was before they preached the Word to him.
All three of these people were witnessed to in different ways. Lydia came to Christ in what was basically a Bible study. The Slave girl was saved by the power of the Spirit (and even though it’s not recorded that she came to saving faith, in the New Testament, exorcisms are almost always accompanied by conversions). The Jailer was shown an act of love in a time of desperation. We have to be flexible with how we carry the gospel to the world, because people have different needs. 
 
Our Mission Field.
In Acts 1:8, we are called by Christ to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Well, we don’t live in Jerusalem… but we can apply the same model.
  • Jerusalem – The Triangle (RDU area). This is our back yard – our city. In our SummitLife groups, we can reach people here through our church services, our evangelism, and our Hope For Durham projects and partner ministries. 
  • Judea and Samaria – Our Country (USA). We are partnered with church plants all over the country. SummitLife groups need to adopt a Church planter with whom you can be in constant communication and prayer for the things that are going on where they are. Small groups can also partner with these churches by sending people to go and spend time with those church plants to help meet their needs and encourage them.
  • The end of the earth – International Missions. Again, the Summit is partnered with international church plants all over the place. The application is much like that for our North America church plants – Pray, Send, and Go. 
Why SummitLife groups?
Simply put, SummitLife groups are the absolute core of our church – it’s where relationships are formed, and discipleship happens in relationships. These groups are the feet of the church – the means by which mission statements and ideals and beliefs become actions.
Published in: on March 20, 2008 at 1:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,