Wednesday, October 3, 2007
- Prov 29:18a (KJV)
This past week in group, we talked about our vision for our group in the coming year. Specifically, I asked these 2 questions:
1. It's 1 year from now and this group has been everything you ever dreamed it could be. What does it look like?
2. How did we get there?
The answers were truly fascinating. Not in their differences, but their similarities. We do not want different things, we want the same things.
As I sorted through the lists, by far the biggest thing that stuck out was CONNECTing with each other. In some instances, this meant sharing more deeply during our group meetings. But in most of the replies it meant CONNECTing with each other outside the confines of Sunday afternoons.
The thing that was really significant was that this was the #1 answer on BOTH lists. What does that ideal group look like? CONNECTing. How did we get there? CONNECTing. It's a bit redundant, isn't it? It's a bit redundant isn't it?
Well, no...not really. Why should we expect anything else? When the Leadership @ Threads picked the name Community Groups, they knew what they were doing. Community is something we long for, something that stirs a desire within each one of us. It's also how Jesus taught us to live. Of course it's both effect and cause for that ideal group.
What else was on our minds? I could tell you in my own words, but Luke put it so much better:
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
- Acts 2:42 (NLT)
Check out those key points:
2. Fellowship (Community)
3. Sharing in Meals
I love how in this single sentence Luke says SO much. This is what the early Church was all about. And it's still what drives us today.
Now let me show you one more thing about this passage. Check out that 4th word. Devoted. They DEVOTED themselves to these things. What does that mean?
Allow me the liberty to paraphrase this verse with our group in mind, at the stage we're at right now:
All the group members thought that Bible-based teaching, sharing life together, and prayer were really good ideas.
Ouch. That stings a bit, doesn't it? But we have to be honest about this - it's where we're at right now. If we look at ourselves honestly, we can't say that we're DEVOTED to these things. But we do have that vision. We can see it. We know we want it.
So what will it take to get from here to there? How do we go from "we thought they were really good ideas" to "we were devoted"? There's only one way...
We have to make sharing life together a priority.
It's so easy to say, but so hard to do. Because it's not something that will happen by default. It's something we have to commit to, something we need to intentionally carve time out of our busy schedules for, something we need to purposefully pursue and hold ourselves accountable to. Which leads me to the big question:
What are you going to give up in order to make room for the others in the group?
It has to be something. We can't do it with our schedules and priorities the way they are now. Something has to change. Something has to give. True community - the kind of CONNECTion we so desperately want and need - will not happen by accident. We have to MAKE it happen.
What are YOU going to change to make that happen?
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
1. Safety - What’s said in group stays in group
2. Reproduction - Doing everything in our power to start a new group
3. Care & Support - Providing care for every member, especially in times of crisis
1. Priority - Group meeting attendance, starting/ending on time
2. Accountability - Holding each other accountable for commitments & life change
3. Respect - Childcare
Group Meeting Balance
Almost everything was rated "about right" with the exception of Music/Worship, which averaged between "about right" and "somewhat more".
Group Meeting Priority
Highest: Prayer & Sharing, Spiritual Discussion
Lowest: Task Planning, Icebreaker
The full results of the evaluation are available on our website.
This past Sunday, I got together with our apprentices to reflect on our group evaluation. We came up with the following action steps that we're going to try our best to implement going forward:
1. Do our best to launch a new group as soon as possible!
We're simply too big right now to be an effective Community Group. This step alone will significantly reduce most of our weaknesses.
2. Be more intentional with accountability and loving confrontation
When we see each other going down the wrong path, we need to say something. Responsibility here starts with the group guide and apprentices, and we need to model it more effectively.
3. Start all meetings on time
Respecting each other in this way will require commitment from each member, and a good example set by the guide and apprentices.
4. Improve attendance
Do more relationship-building and follow-up with members who miss. Try our best to make our group time something that nobody wants to miss out on.
5. Better solution for childcare
It's no secret that this has been a problem for a while. In order to preserve group unity and show respect to each other, we need to make sure our children aren't a distraction during group time.
6. Guard the place that Worship/Music has on our meeting agenda.
For some of us, Worship in a small setting is a very important part of connecting with God and each other.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
I encourage you to review the list and see how you can apply any of the ideas to help you with your struggles. The participants are there as a resource and support to help you apply these in your life.
Participants: Bethany, Maggie
What qualities do you think it takes to have these strengths?
+ Outgoing personality
+ Think about others and their needs (i.e. sending a card, phone call, and listening)
...by praying for our growth
Suggestion: Gradually add others needs and growth goals to regular prayer time.
...by warmly welcoming those who visit
Suggestion: Make a point / goal to meet one person at church you haven’t met.
...by regularly sharing life in a small group
Suggestion: Make group time a priority, natural openness and social ability.
...by accepting responsibility to care for others in Threads
Suggestion: Make a goal to address one persons needs each week (prayer / contact) or sign up for a ministry position within Threads
Participants: Zach, Brandon, John, Andy, Aubrey, Kristen, Colin
What qualities do you think it takes to have these strengths?
...by inviting the unchurched to attend
...by using my gifts & talents in a ministry role
...by being equipped to serve by my leaders
...by giving regularly with my finances
+ Listening and acting
+ Knowing your limits and knowing what God is asking you to do within those limits
+ Be prepared and comfortable with possible rejection
+ Placing yourself in areas / situations where opportunities arise to invite / talk to the "unchurched"
+ Building relationships with "unchurched" people
+ Stepping out of comfort zones
Participants: Pat, Lisa, Donna, Mark, Michelle
What qualities do you think it takes to have these strengths?
...by going public in the act of Baptism
+ Praying / Listening to what God wants you to do and putting that above the fear of what others may think.
+ Realizing it is a symbol of commitment that you are a Christ follower and that you are honoring your baptism as an infant
...by personally taking time to pray and read the Bible
+ Making a consistent time to read the Bible
+ Inquiring different stories of the Bible you have heard and not getting overwhelmed with reading it from start to finish.
+ Finding peace with reading the Bible, start with Psalms.
+ Be aware of your time (i.e reading the Bible instead of watching TV)
+ Reading the Bible to your kids and having quiet time for God
+ Getting more out of the Bible
+ Relate with Bible stories in conversation (don’t force it)
+ The more you know, the more confident you are about your spiritual journey, and sharing it with others.
+ Feel prepared when topics come up about books you read in the Bible in and out of church.
...by gathering regularly for worship with my Church
+ Make a commitment
+ Look forward to how you can connect with others / witness.
This week's entry was written by the members of our Community Group and compiled by Mark Campbell.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Strike 1 - He was a puny little runt.
Strike 2 - He was a puppet of the Roman government.
Strike 3 - He abused his position to steal from fellow Jews.
Needless to say, he didn't have too many friends. But Jesus didn't care about any of that. He looked him straight in the eye and said, "Dude, let's go hang out together."
This simple act had a HUGE effect on Zac. Check out his response:
"But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount."" - Luke 19:8 (TNIV)
Let that sink in a bit. He's gonna give half his money to the poor, and repay those he cheated with 300% interest. What would this mean to his lifestyle? It's not like he's got all this cash lying around in big burlap sacks with dollar signs on them. He's going to have to make a radical shift in his buying habits. No more lunches at Qdoba. Time to sell the 2nd car. He's gonna need every spare cent to go towards making good on his promise.
Because these aren't just words to him, it's a commitment to a changed life. Jesus' response confirms that:
"Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."" - Luke 19:9-10 (TNIV)
Zaccheus was this 3rd rate citizen. The guy everyone hated. The kid who always got his lunch money stolen. But just this simple act by Jesus completely changed his life.
So this is what I want you to think about: Who are the Zaccheuses in your life? Who are those people you go out of your way to avoid? Maybe it's someone who's not like you - someone with a different skin color, or age, or level of income or education. Maybe it's someone who did something wrong to you in the past, or someone who you did something wrong to. Maybe it's someone you see every day, but your conversation has never gotten deeper than the weather and the Tigers.
I want to challenge you this week to connect with a Zaccheus. Find one person and make a connection. Strike up a conversation. Invite them to a party. Bake them a cake. Pray for them.
If we each make a concerted effort in reaching out to our Zaccheuses, what kind of effect could that have? Could there be someone just waiting for that connection that may have the same kind of life-altering experience that Jesus' invitation had on Zaccheus? Could God really work through us in that way today?
Or how about this: If we each reach out and connect with someone we normally wouldn't, what kind of impact will this have on us?
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Let me drive that a little closer to home. Think of 3 married couples that you know: family, friends, other group members. The statistics say that 1 of those couples will get divorced.
Scary, isn't it?
Here's something even more alarming. Do you know what the rate is for divorced couples who reconcile their differences and get re-married? The statistics are hard to pin down, but one source I found puts it at under 10%. Less than 1 out of 10 divorces. And even that number seems quite high to me in my experience. It's incredibly rare.
This past weekend, I had the privilege of being at one of those rare occasions.
We met Jim a couple years ago @ Threads. He and his wife had just separated and he was trying to fit into a new lifespace. He definitely had a feeling of being lost, but he had this smile and joy that was infectious...like he knew something you didn't know.
We were close with Jim for a while, then he found his way into another Community Group and we just kept touch every now and then. A couple weeks ago he comes up to us after the Worship Gathering with a huge smile on his face, and hands us a card. We open it up and see it's a wedding invitation. He must have noticed the looks of both joy and confusion on our face when we read the names.
"Do you know who that is?" he asked us, "It's my ex-wife."
The wedding was an incredible experience. On the surface, it was nothing special. Just a simple ceremony, a small church, screaming kids - you know, the normal. But everyone there knew they were part of something special. Something rare. Something bigger than us. Something that just doesn't happen in our society.
There was so much emotion in that room. So much hope. Every time Michelle told someone about it afterwards she said, "You always hear about people crying at weddings, but I've never actually seen it happen so much. And I've never really been moved to do so before." Neither have I.
This was one of those God things that you hear about all the time, but you still don't really expect to see. The risen Christ is not just a uniter, He is a healer. We read stories about Him all the time where He heals someone, or turns water to wine, or raises someone from the dead. And we say we believe that, but when it comes to now, today, in our lives, we don't expect that to happen.
Sometimes we just need real-life reminders. We need to see that the risen Christ really does heal lives. We need to see it in our friends, and in ourselves.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
I sincerely love and admire my Dad. I attribute a great deal of what is good about the man I am today to what I learned from him. But the man is not without his faults. For instance...
My Dad is a Pack Rat
You know what I'm talking about...he stores stuff everywhere. The dining room table, kitchen table and kitchen counter are so overflowing with papers that you have to clear a path every time you want to eat. Both my brother's and my old bedrooms are chock full of boxes and random loose items. The TV/computer room is so full that there's barely a path to the easy chair. The 2-car garage is a 0-car garage. And the barn...we won't even go there.
I, on the other hand, have an aversion to great piles of stuff. I'm not a clean person by any means, but there is a "breaking point" to how much stuff piling up that I can handle. When I make the time to go through and get rid of things, to make my life simpler and cleaner, I get this amazing feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.
As I walked through my Dad's house, this sickening feeling hit me:
One day my father is going to die...
...and I'm going to have to clean all this up.
Visions of bulldozers shoving stuff out the second-story windows danced through my mind.
That night, we attended a Worship concert by a man named Paul Wilbur (www.wilburministries.com). Paul is a Messianic Jew who has a heart for reaching the nations with the word of Yeshua (Jesus). He told us the story of his recent trip to Zambia, Africa.
Zambia is one of the poorest countries in the world. Most of the people have, quite literally, nothing. No shelter, no food...and certainly no big piles of stuff. On top of that, they have one of the highest rates of HIV/Aids in the world.
The average life expectancy is 40.
Let that fact float around in your head for a little while.
As Paul told this story and led us through an incredible time of worship, I couldn't help but think of the contrasts. We live in the richest country in the world. We say we have money problems, but are living on literal piles of stuff that represents more money than many people in the world will ever see. We have so much stuff that we don't even have the time to manage it all. We keep meaning to get rid of things, to fix things, to store things in different places, but can never quite find the time. There's a word for that:
We are slaves to our stuff.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says this:
"You say, 'I am allowed to do anything' - but not everything is good for you. And even though 'I am allowed to do anything,' I must not become a slave to anything." (I Cor 6:12, NLT)
The contrast I draw above should appeal to your sense of justice, but it shouldn't make you feel guilty. There's nothing wrong with owning stuff. The problem is when we allow our stuff to own us.
So what's that look like in your life? In what ways does your stuff own you? What could you do to simplify, to cut back?
This week we're going to be talking about ways we can serve our Community. Lisa has a great idea she's going to share about how we can take all that stuff we all have piling up and give it to real people with real needs. I encourage you to pray about how you can contribute to this. It's not just about helping others, it's also about helping ourselves.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Come and listen to my story 'bout a man named Ray...
Ray is a student at WMU. I met him a few weeks ago in the Threads parking lot.
He hit my car.
He was pulling out a bit carelessly and dinged our front driver-side wheel well with his bumper. He was very apologetic, not at all wishing to get out of his responsibility. We exchanged numbers and parted ways. The next day I took the car into the body shop for an estimate.
Now if you take a look at my car, you will see a dent where Ray hit it, but it's the type of thing that if you don't know it's there, you may not even notice. It's insignificant. But it costs $850 to get it fixed.
I talked to Ray and told him the bad news. He called me back the next day, wanting to pay cash instead of going through insurance. I don't have any problem cutting the insurance companies out of the loop, but paying $850 cash for something this insignificant? This made me stop and think.
Michelle & I thought and prayed over the situation the next few days. $850 is a lot of money. There are a lot of people that could use that money for a lot more important things than fixing some cosmetic damage to an 8 year old car. People that have significant needs. Christ Followers in China who need Bibles. Children dying in Africa. People on the North Side of Kalamazoo who have to choose between heat and food in the winter.
We talked to Ray last night. We told him that we believed in the concept of stewardship, that we need to take care of everything God gives us. But that concept also extends to others. It would be foolish and hypocritical for us to think that fixing that damage wasn't worth $850 of our money, but it was worth $850 of his money.
So we forgave him.
We told him he didn't owe us anything.
We didn't stop there, though. We explained why we were doing it. How we feel there are so many better uses for that money, so many people who need it more. We told him he didn't owe us anything, but it would be great if he would want to take some of that money he was planning to give us and use it to help someone that needs it a lot more.
His eyes lit up and he just beamed. The idea of not having to pay us the $850 was just starting to sink in and this idea really resonated with him. He said he'd been wanting to give money to the Gospel Mission for a while, but couldn't figure out how - this is how.
So we spend some time talking over different charitable options: the Gospel Mission, Bibles Unbound, Worldvision, the North Side building project. He left filled with gratitude and hope, telling us he'd pray over the decision and get back with us in a couple days.
We live in such a bubble of prosperity that it's sometimes hard for us to see the options we have for giving that are right under our noses. Our budget is tight, our credit cards maxed out, and the mortgage is due next week. Where is there possibly room for giving?
I want to encourage you to move towards a simple life. What can you do to get by on less? How can you take that next step towards being the others-centered Christ Follower God wants you to be? Where can you find the resources to give?
Maybe you have some old movies, tools, jewelry or musical equipment that you don't need any more - sell them! Maybe you don't really need the Platinum package for your cell phone or cable TV, or you don't need to eat out or go to movies quite as often - cut back!
Or maybe someone will hit your car in the Threads parking lot next week.
The possibilities are endless. We have the resources, we just need to truly embrace what it means to use them to follow Christ. What is your next step?