October 2009

Last year I had the opportunity to lead sessions at the Exponential Conference. I am so honored that I have been invited to help out again in 2010.

This amazing conference is the most attended church planting conference in the world.

Check out the information below then… JOIN US THERE!

  • The Exponential Conference speakers are some of the finest communicators in the country! Exponential has assembled a lineup for 2010 that is as good as any conference has ever had. Opening with Louie Giglio, closing with Francis Chan, including well-known and proven motivators like Ken Blanchard, Mark Batterson, Darrin Patrick, Matt Chandler, Dave Gibbons, Brenda Salter-McNeil, Ed Stetzer, Efrem Smith, Dino Rizzo, Shane Claiborne, Dave Ferguson, Scott Thomas, Billy Hornsby, Greg Surratt, Alan Hirsch, Neil Cole, Bob Roberts, Larry Osborne, Chris Hodge and MANY MORE! Hello….
  • There’s something about church planters gathering. The energy that comes from thousands of leaders who eat, sleep, and breath sharing the Gospel with people and creating new communities of faith, new ministries, new outreach strategies, movements, campuses, networks, on and on. This group of people are the most influential agents of change in our country. To be part of this crowd is to be part of the Kingdom of God in a powerful way.
  • The best ideas, the strongest practices, and the most forward-thinking dreams are shared at Exponential. This is not a “our way is the only way” conference. Quite often the diverse ideas and varied cultures that make up Exponential might seem to be even contradictory! But the open handed approach that has made Exponential the strong voice for church multiplication it is make it a “must attend” event.

Lots of discussion on Can Christians Celebrate Halloween? over at Without Wax

Thoughts on Marriage from Mary at Giving Up on Perfect. What keeps a couple together or drives them to divorce?

Do you trust freely? Anne Jackson writes that Trust is Not a Two-Way Street.

How to Eat an Elephant–a 7-year-old’s method to reading through the Bible. (She did! The whole thing! Have you?)

Receiving the Kingdom of God Like a Child by Jessica from The Mom Creative

Enjoy! What’s the best post you’ve read recently?

The total cost of Christian outreach worldwide is $330,000.00 for each newly baptized person. The cost per baptism in the United States tops 1.5 million dollars. From the book, World Christian Trends, AD 30 to AD 2200 by David B. Barrett, Todd M. Johnson, Christopher Guidry, and Peter Crossing.

Wouldn’t it be more efficient and effective if we simply guided our small group members to love and show that love by living like Jesus did, tell their friends and family members what Jesus has done for us and that He will do the same for them, and at the appropriate time let them know… “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”? (Romans 10:9) Then step back and let the Holy Spirit to His part.

I’m just sayin’…

What are you thinking right now?

Apparently, one of the fastest growing religious designations in the US today is “No Religion.”  [http://www.americanreligionsurvey-aris.org/]  It’s not like I really needed to see one of the latest surveys to know that, because I’ve been running into so many who claim no faith lately!  Living and working among Communist Chinese for eight years, I am not unfamiliar with the need to start with an explanation for why we believe God exists, but the difference back home is remarkable.  While most Chinese have never really wrestled with the existence of God or at least been challenged in any credible way, the average American skeptic has been exposed to just enough religion to be spiritually harmful.  He is also surrounded by enough strange, obscure, and just plain wrong representations of Christianity that he has a strong predisposition against it. 

Part of the problem is that we usually allow the skeptics to frame the debate in our outreach.  Sadly, most Christians do not understand their faith well enough to give an adequate response to the questions that are being asked either.  If we are going to be relevant to our current generation, we’re going to have to be able to enter into intelligent dialogue; that means not only giving the right answers, but being able to ask the right questions.  This videolink represents a good example of some questions to ask, but to be truly incarnational we’ll need to be having these conversations in the midst of our normal relationships.  

What are some methods that you guys are using to equip your small groups for outreach to the skeptic?  Do you encourage atheists, agnostics, and deists to come to your small group time and are members prepared to receive them when they do?  I’d love to hear about some apologetic methods that you are using effectively!

Piano_1024x768So another Catalyst event has come and gone. Every year I’m amazed at the energy behind this event. Of course given the level of excellence in all areas there’s no reason to be amazed I don’t guess. I was there to find out what sort of reception our new small group resource, Small Group Life, was going to receive. It was very positive. Those I spoke with were excited about Small Group Life‘s missional bent and streamlined experience—not to mention the price. That was all great to hear. (By the way, become a fan on Facebook and enter to win some cool stuff for your group—including a group retreat to North Carolina or New Mexico.)

The list of presenters at Catalyst 2009 was as strong as ever. I had an opportunity to hear Mitch Albom and Tony Dungy. Malcolm Gladwell was his usual intriguing self. I managed to catch most of Rob Bell’s time, too. But the most interesting thing I heard came from Shane Hipp. Shane was only on the platform for about 20 minutes. Or at least it seemed very short to me. He talked about the medium of the message, but what I thought was most profound was his description of his recent visit to a museum during which he observed a security guard posted at a rare painting. The guard wore a gun and uniform. He was equipped with several devices as well. The painting was sealed in an air-tight frame, protected from both the light and the air. It was only available to be viewed a specific times of the day by small groups of 5 or so at a time. The art was firmly secured to its metal moorings making it for the most part impossible to be removed—a virtual hortus conclusus—and the guard’s job was to protect the beauty enclosed behind the 2-inch thick glass.

And then he went outside the museum where a gardener was working in a flower bed. The garden was open and vulnerable to the elements. If it was hot, then the plants had to find a way to sustain themselves. During the cold the flowers he care for must endure. There were no boundaries to the garden so the gardener’s art availed itself even to the reckless, inconsiderate, and ill-intentioned. It could be trampled or even destroyed. The gardener can diminish risk, but he can’t totally remove risk and danger. The gardener’s job is to create an environment in which the garden can flourish. The gardener is all about exposing beauty for the world.

It occurred to Shane that were the skills required to be a guard suddenly placed in the role of gardener then the garden would surely die. He concluded with this question to the leaders on hand at Catalyst 2009: Are you a guard or a gardener?

I think we all know where Shane is headed, but for my part I’d have to say that this is another context where we must resist the urge to think in either/or propositional positions. Just like we are charged both to take care of the orphans and widows AND keep ourselves unstained by the world at once, we must also simultaneously play the roles of guard and gardener. And, yeah, it can be tricky and, yeah, the process might not ever be a tidy one. Go too light on the guard duty and you get something like what is described in Isaiah 5:5-7. Not enough gardener and you get the same: death. But does this have application to small-group leadership in the same way? Initially I thought so. But after thinking about it I wonder if small group leadership requires more of one than the other. Regardless, I thought Hipp’s Catalyst presentation was something for consideration.

Sara GrovesI’ve been listening to a pre-release of Sara Groves new CD, fireflies and songs, and have been deeply moved by one of her songs.  Sara is among my favorite singer/songwriters, right up there with Andrew Peterson and Jill Phillips, so I always eagerly await her newest work.  Her own journey and experiences have helped guide me through some of the most tumultuous days of my life.  Her lyrical content has given me hope and clarity, when I was falling prey to self-condemnation.  In short, her music has been an important part of my spiritual re-formation over the past few years and helped me see God as I never had before.

So, I was listening to this CD last week on the way home from dinner with a friend.  I had heard the track, “It’s Me”, a few times and knew I really liked the melody and the chorus but was intentionally listening to the lyrics this particular moment.  Suddenly, I got to one of the hooks near the end and tears started rolling down.  One thing I’ve learned while with the Serendipity team is – “Pay attention to what moves you!  It’s either a part of your story God wants to speak into, or a part of the Larger Story He wants to invite you into”. So I spent some time looking inside for any tender places that might need to hear Truth.

The song is a beautiful picture of a relationship and how quickly emotions can turn and catch us by surprise.  In the blink of an eye anger and hurt can replace tenderness.  It reminds that those people closest to us are also the ones able to hurt us most deeply.  So our tendency is to withdraw or, as Sara puts it, “so run for your life…”.  In the hook she cries out – “Deep down inside the girl is waking up.  She’s calling out to the boy she loves.  It’s me…oh baby, it’s me” As I heard that last phrase, “it’s me”, I was pierced through my heart.  While the context of the song may be saying something like , “Hello it’s me, I’m not the enemy…I’m your wife.”  God needed me to hear something a little different.

You see my greatest fear and one of the defining wounds of my life is being invisible…of not beingimages noticed by anyone.  As the youngest of five boys, and an unplanned baby at that, it was easy to grow up and get missed.  So those two words, “it’s me”, have been my heart’s cry for the better part of 40 years.  In such a tender way, God is using this song to invite me into my pain and asking me if I will really believe He has “seen” me from my mother’s womb….that I was never invisible to Him.  My life experiences have told me differently and many agreements I’ve made would suggest that this isn’t true. So I stand at a tipping point now, what do I believe in my heart versus what I say I believe about God.  The fact that this song moves me so deeply suggests I dare not answer this question too quickly.  The men in my small group, who know me intimately, are the ones that will help me explore these beliefs and the conclusions I’ve made throughout life.  My group will help me find God’s Truth that I haven’t been able to grasp before due to the limitations of living from my personal, smaller story.

As small group leaders, we are placed in a wonderful position to give a powerful gift to those in our group.  Pay attention to what moves YOU and share that.  Share how you take these emotions to God so that He might tell you something you need to hear desperately.  Model for them how God speaks through our emotions and how to process and test that within a group.  When group members see you do this, they will follow your lead and practice this as well, often with life changing results.  It is a rare and precious gift in our modern age to identify messages you’ve received over the years and allow a place for God to speak Truth into those messages.  When we as group leaders model this, we create a safe container for others in the group to begin doing the same thing.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” ~ John 8:32

I’m on a Delta flight from Atlanta to Nashville. Delta, like most airlines, has her own magazine. I’m proud of Delta, they’ve given attention to a great cause, breast cancer awareness month.

I couldn’t help but notice that the title for one of the articles is “Speaking Her Truth.” The  article gives attention to a celebrity, Melissa Etheridge, who has joined others in working toward a cure for breast cancer.

The title of the article is what caught my attention. As I read down a few paragraphs I found these words, “That strong self-direction has given rise to a constant description of Etheridge as “authentic.” It makes her laugh. ‘Because of what people project on me – ‘She’s so authentic, ‘She’s speaking her truth’ – all of a sudden, the greatest weapon I have is to seek it and speak it.” I’m drunk with power! Every time I speak my truth, I am looked upon as being ‘courageous’…”

Truth is one of the most important treasures to be unearthed. This article forces us to consider a very important question… Can every individual conclude his/her own truth or did God give us the truth when He gave us His words found in the Bible? For those of us who are followers of Christ this question is easily answered… God’s truth is the truth because it comes from the author of truth. Any declarations that contradict His words cannot be truth. God is perfect in all He knows, does, and is and has been gracious enough to unveil His truth to us.

Small group leader, when your group gets together, it is vital that your conversation be in search of God’s truth. Some in the group will want to focus on speaking their own truth. In most instances this is accidental, individuals simply stating what they sincerely believe to be truth because they haven’t yet found out what the truth is. Please know that there is nothing wrong with conversations like these, but be certain that someone’s personal truth doesn’t trump God’s truth or close down the discussion while the group is searching for God’s truth.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • If you allow the conversation to end with someone’s personal truth being revealed, most in the group will believe that it is God’s truth.
  • Listen closely for the following phrases. They are red flags that a personal truth is about to be revealed (keep in mind that someone’s opinion or experience may be used by God to reveal His truth), “It is my opinion that…” “I believe…” “If you ask me…” “My experience has been…” “Someone once told me…”
  • Consensus does not necessarily mean that a group has found God’s truth.
  • Finding God’s truth may create a sense of discomfort in the room. God’s truth often raises the bar very high but it is still God’s truth. Check out Matt. 16:24 – 25, Luke 14:26 – 33, Matt. 5: 19 – 48.
  • Just because someone is intelligent or has a seminary degree doesn’t mean their opinion is God’s truth.

Because we are human, not Omniscient our truth may be birthed out of our own painful story, a story not yet redeemed. Because we are human, our truth could simply be another way to rationalize our actions. Because we are human, we may long for others to embrace our truth and agree with us so that we can find support for our bad decisions and wrongdoings.

Melissa Etheridge is not wrong when she states we can become “drunk with power” when speaking our own truth. In fact, if others embrace our personal truth and begin to live their lives according to our personal belief system, the power rush will be phenomenal. Being God-like, that is telling the masses how they can live their lives and then them following the guidelines an individual has created, is not only a great power rush, it’s also an incredible responsibility.

Remember this… There’s even more power in seeking God’s truth and speaking it into one another’s lives. Small group leader, you have an exciting obligation to help your small group members know and live God’s truth. If you are willing to do this the promise He made with Joshua will be true for your group members too… whatever they are doing that is in God’s will will be successful. Read God’s truth below slowly and embrace what the possibilities are for each of your group members.

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” Joshua 1:7-8


I’ve always struggled with Job.

While I consider God’s admonition in the last chapters of the book my second-favorite Scripture passage, I am never quite sure what to do with the rest of the lengthy chapters.

If you’re not familiar with the biblical Book of Job, the short version is that Satan asks God for permission to afflict Job with many painful situations after God cites that Job is His most faithful servant on earth. So God allows it. Job’s children are all killed, all his riches taken away, and his body inflicted with boils from head to toe. Wearily, he sits on his doorstep and scrapes at his boils with broken pottery.

That’s when his three buddies come to visit. Over the course of many chapters, they try to convince him of all kinds of crazyness. Then in the end God swoops in, reprimands Job and his dumb friends, and then restores everything to Job. Of the friends, God says, “I am angry with you … you have not spoken the truth about Me, as My servant Job has” (42:7).

So here’s what I’ve always battled with: is there any merit in the words of Job’s friends throughout the Book of Job? Can we quote those passages out of context as Truth?

It seems to me that they do say some insightful things:

“See how happy the man is God corrects; so do not reject the discipline of the Almighty” (5:17).

“We were born only yesterday and know nothing. Our days on earth are but a shadow” (8:9).

“It is impossible for God to do wrong and for the Almighty to act unjustly” (34:10).

Working in the world of Bible studies, I know we HAVE done exactly this, taken the friends’ words for the wisdom they seem to be. But God Himself said the friends were fools? It’s a strange dichotomy.

I believe that everything in Scripture is there for a reason. Certainly there are many truths that can be scraped from the falsehoods in this text. It’s a life lesson not to let even your most trusted friends draw you away from what you know to be true. A perfect example of standing up for what you believe in and remaining pure in heart.

But still, I wonder. Can we quote the words of fools as good, as Truth?

What do you think?

“I believe that in the end truth will conquer” -John Wycliffe

Well, it looks like John knew what he was talking about there.  But can you imagine a guy getting his bones dug up and burned half a century after his death?  John Wycliffe committed the horrible crimes of translating the Bible into the common language of the English people and suggesting that perhaps the Church should focus less on wealth and be more like Jesus in His poverty.  Who’s to say which caused the greater offense, but I’d suspect it was the latter!

One of the things that has helped me greatly in my walk with Christ has been reading and studying the life of great men and women of the faith, the kind of people who were so committed that they were willing to die for their faith.  These are the kind of people who walked the talk and who made a difference in their time and even more in the generations to follow.  Yep, there’s a lot I can learn from a guy like Wycliffe.

One of my concerns in our much-needed push for relevance in our culture is that we may lose our connection with the past.  We may forget that we are standing on the shoulders of spiritual giants from whom we have much to learn.  Let’s make it a point to not only find contemporary examples of people who push the edge but to remind our small group members of others like Wycliffe who did the same.  In doing so, we can make these great Christian examples from the past relevant to our contemporary small groups today.  I don’t know about you, but our community could use another Wycliffe or two!

I’m on US Airways flight 1869 from Charlotte to Nashville. It’s nearly 11:00 p.m. and all is well… kinda. Seated directly behind me is a family of three… mom, dad, and mega-mouth boy. I believe the boy is about four years of age. This kid has a future… as an air raid siren. The shrillness of his voice and the decibel level with which he performs parallels that of a hyena just before a kill. The disturbing fact… Mom and dad don’t choose to do anything about it. They’ve counted to ten about a million times. They count but they never follow up with any kind of deterrent. Every person on this plane is affected by wonder boy. Only mom and dad have the authority to fix the problem.  No matter how many people’s lives are disrupted by the spoiled brat (can you tell I’m miffed?) mom and dad do nothing.

Small Group Leader, you may have someone in your group that is disruptive. They affect the lives of everyone in the group. They may be the overly-talkative person, the overly-aggressive person, the every night we meet angry at the world person, etc… Guess what? You’re the only one in the group with the authority to take the necessary steps to deal with these individuals.

If you don’t… they will continue to keep everyone else from experiencing the ride of their lives.

Not only that… they may keep everyone else from sleeping. Somebody please give that kid an Ambien so the rest of us can nap!!!

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