The fifth release in the Small Group Life series, Kingdom: Seek First the Kingdom, hits the stores on March 1. This is a timely resource that addresses a hot-button and extremely important issue not only for today’s church but also believers across the evangelical spectrum.

And it’s because of the significance of this message that I’ve been using this in the group I lead. We’ve been using this “episode” of Small Group Life since December and it has been a great experience. Without sacrificing any sort of theological weight, the study guides have been wonderful for driving good conversation, credible debate, and fresh insights. I’m also not afraid of the little tension that comes with good, provocative questions that make group members have to dig a little deeper.

The six topics that our editors and writers have chosen to create this experience run from the earliest whispers of Israel’s desire to have an earthly king—a Replacement God—all the way to the definitive conclusion—Paradise … Finally! Between the north and south poles of this study we examined the King’s character, what Jesus said about the kingdom, what it means to be a subject of God’s kingdom, and how we can catch glimpses of the kingdom now even though the fullest manifestation is yet to come.

What I have enjoyed most about Seek First the Kingdom is the flexibility. Even though a leader is required to spend much time in preparation, I have taken time to cater the experience to our group. For instance, I took the opportunity during our exploration of “The King’s Subjects” to bring Romans 7 and how the remnant of sin—sin’s stain—taints even the regenerated heart of a believer. The SGL format also allowed our group to draw from John 2:24ff (through 3:8) in order to take on the role that control plays within the heart of a King’s subject. Ultimately, it was the climate-controlled life of the Pharisee that was holding Nicodemus back. He was devout, yes, and certainly devoted, but unwilling to accept God’s invitation to travel “paths unknown.” This discussion was a great point of departure into the nearness of the kingdom of heaven (Luke 17).

Since the production staff did such a great job laying the foundation for this study, it still only took me a couple of hours to customize the discussion and incorporate a couple of new ideas and unique insights. We haven’t had to use the children’s Bible study ideas that come free with each Small Group Life release, but I’m sure there are plenty of groups that could make good use of these. And the free video downloads have worked well as an emailed link for us.

If you’re looking for a cool, easy-to-lead yet theologically robust and biblically sound small-group experience to get you from the spring to the summer, I highly recommend Kingdom: Seek First the Kingdom for your group this spring. Twelve small-group studies for $5.95 is a good deal.

 

John 4

Countercultural Jesus

 

Teaching through the Gospel of John, I have been dealing lately with some of those beautiful pictures of personal encounters with Jesus. A couple of weeks ago it was Nicodemus and this week the woman at the well. One of the things that I’ve been reminded of again is just how countercultural Jesus really was…and is. Nicodemus might have been considered Jesus’ safe zone. The people we would expect Jesus to reach. After all, at 12 years of age he was already teaching guys like this!

But now he goes way outside what was considered culturally safe in this encounter with the woman at the well.  Jesus started something big with these encounters; he broadened our vision and gave us a model to follow in Kingdom work. And while at times in the Church’s history we have become myopic once again, I’m glad to see that in this generation we are becoming more like Jesus than at any time in recent memory. Here are just a few of the ways that Jesus crossed barriers and broadened our ministry outlook in these encounters:

RACE: Jew, Samaritan, Red, Yellow, Black, White… all are precious in Jesus’ sight.

GENDER: A common Jewish prayer at the time was, “I thank you that I was not born a Gentile, a slave or woman.” Jesus elevated the status of women to a degree that has been unmatched.  Just look at the other major world religions and how they treat women.

MORAL REPUTATION: Nicodemus was relatively morally upright, but the woman at the well was considered immoral. Jesus reaches out to those who think they are good enough to not need Him as well as to those who think they could never be good enough for Him.

SOCIAL STATUS: Nicodemus was socially prominent, but this woman is an outcast. Jesus reaches out to people across the spectrum of socioeconomic status. We all have equal status with Him.

RECEPTIVITY: Nicodemus sought Jesus out to discuss spiritual issues, but the woman at the well is initially indifferent, even cynical. Jesus reaches out to those who are more in tune to spiritual things as well as the “hard knots” who are just struggling with the physical aspects of life.

John 4 provides for us a ministry model established by the Lord Jesus Himself. As we build relationships and “do life together,” I hope we’ll dare to cross our own cultural barriers just as Jesus did… and does.

This year’s Youth Evangelism Conference in Tennessee was a real blessing for all involved, leaders and kids alike.  Besides the head pounding from lack of sleep and more bass than I’m used to in a weekend, the thing I’m most excited about is this next generation’s desire and potential to greatly impact the Kingdom. Throughout the weekend, teens were challenged to live the REAL life, to find freedom in Christ and then to live it…to be the same people on Monday at school as they were over this weekend.

This assembly has been going on for as many years as I can remember in our state and I must say I’ve seen plenty of individual success stories as well as some letdowns in students’ lives when they returned to “the real world.”  This year there was definitely an extra measure of hope.  Testimonies of kids who were living missionally went a long way in helping these young adults see that there’s a big difference between a youth group and a youth ministry.  I pray that we would have the latter.

As I think about how the church can come alongside our youth this next year, there are at least three things that we can do to improve our AIM in leading our teens on the journey to be REAL:

1. Accountability- Match teens up with adults who have similar interests and can encourage them to set tangible goals in their Christian development. They need someone who has faced the same challenges in life to walk this journey with them.

2. Involvement- Find ways to involve youth in real ministry that matches their gifts, talents, and abilities. This is a generation of doers!

3. Modeling- Teens need to see adults who are genuine, not ones playing church games.  As they see us passionately pursuing Christ, they’ll be encouraged to run the race too.

What are some other ways that we can helps these kids along the way in their journey to be REAL?

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As I continue my transition to Stateside living, I’ve been looking for more ways to incorporate some of the principles and practices that were effective for Kingdom expansion overseas. One of the growing trends in church-planting circles is called “Business as Missions” or BAM.

Here’s a link to a good article about BAM that you can read: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/november/24.24.html.

Question: What principles that BAMers use do you think can be utilized by our Small Groups to transform our communities for Christ here in the U.S.?

I’d love to hear your ideas!

Early in our pioneering days as cross-cultural workers in Central Asia, we were led to a passage of Scripture that transformed our outlook on how we would reach out to our new community. In Luke 10, the Bible says:

After this, the Lord appointed 70 others, and He sent them ahead of Him in pairs to every town and place where He Himself was about to go. He told them: “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest. Now go; I’m sending you out like lambs among wolves. Don’t carry a money-bag, traveling bag, or sandals; don’t greet anyone along the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ If a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. (verses 1-6)

From that passage, we began to implement the MOP strategy or “Man of Peace” (I guess we could have called it SOP, but that means something else in the southeastern part of the States ☺). Though guys tended to be the key influencers in this culture, it became clear soon enough that God had prepared the hearts of many women who turned out to be “Women of Peace” so we decided to go with the gender-neutral “POP” plan for “Person of Peace.” Not only did it sound better, but it was a better indicator of what God was doing. Once we began spending more concentrated time with these POPs, Kingdom things really started to happen!

Now we find ourselves back in our home culture, in a new city and neighborhood. Not surprisingly, the Word challenges us just as much in this context as it did overseas to look for those in whose hearts the Father has already begun a work, those we call POPs. We all have limited time, and a limited ability to develop relationships. While we certainly want to cast the net broadly, it’s important to remember that the Holy Spirit is at work in drawing people to God and placing us in just the right places at just the right times for a God event to take place. I’ll be praying that each of our small groups is able to come up with a POP plan in the coming weeks, watching for those who are already ripe for spiritual conversation!

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