I always dreamed of growing up to be a kindergarten teacher, marrying an incredible man, and having children. You know the dream — it’s the one with the white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and a dog — it’s happily-ever-after. Today I am more than grown up (in other words, I won’t be admitting my age here). I haven’t found that incredible man or the 2.5 kids. But I do have a dog and a white picket fence, so I guess that’s something. Lots of times I have wondered why God took my life in this direction. I’ve screamed at Him, cried to Him, and even stopped speaking to Him because He didn’t give me what He promised He would. After all, He did say He would give me the desires of my heart, right?

Today I know the true answer to that question, and I remember clearly the day I found it. It was one of those feeling-alone-and-sorry-for-myself days and I was talking to some of my close friends about it. Through a lot of tears I remember saying, “I don’t understand why things haven’t worked out for me to get married and have a family. The Bible says God will give me the desires of my heart.” With a heart of compassion, one of my friends looked at me and spoke as gently as he could. “I don’t think that’s really what that means,” he said. Turns out my friend was right.

Somehow I got the idea that “He will give you your heart’s desires” (Psalm 37:4), meant God would give me anything I wanted. I missed the point. And missing this point ultimately affected my relationship with the Lord because I came to feel He wasn’t trustworthy. I thought He made a promise to me that He didn’t keep.

But that wasn’t the case at all. My desires were exactly that—my desires. The desires I had held all my life, the ones that had become a part of who I was. Surely God would want those same things for me.. … but what if He didn’t?

Letting go of what I’ve always wanted out of life seemed huge and risky to me, and I fought it with all I had. But freedom came with the understanding that God was stripping me of everything I’ve known and taking me to new, unknown places. He was preparing me for His desires for my life. The ones that are bigger, better, grander than anything I can ask or imagine. So now I ask myself, What more could any heart desire than that? I honestly can’t think of a thing.

So, what are the things that confuse you? I pray you, as small group leaders and members, consider your small-group community a place where you can work through misconceptions and misunderstandings and speak truth into one another’s lives. For me personally, it made all the difference.

Until next time,

Deciding what to write for The Gypsy Road each month is proving to be one of the hardest parts of my job. Never mind that I work with words for a living and have for 20 years or that I, personally, am never at a loss for words.

But as I stare at a blank computer screen, I can feel my blood pressure rising. I suddenly remember there are pencils to be sharpened or files to be organized—absolutely anything to distract me from this task at hand.

So, in my struggle to figure out what to share this month, I decided to ask a few of my friends to pray for me. One friend in particular gave me the jump-start I needed. She simply asked me, “What’s on your heart?” Hmm.

Time … that’s what is on my heart. Not the “what time is it?” kind, but the “where does the time go?” kind. Maybe because I’m really into the song “Blink” by Revive. Or maybe I’m into the song because the message pricks my heart. Either way, the question of what I’m doing with my life is permeating my soul right now.

Six months of 2010 have come and gone. This year was going to be different. And I guess it has been in some ways. It’s been crazier, busier, more out of control. How does that happen? There are movies I meant to see, places I meant to go, and friends I meant to visit. Now that’s a familiar feeling.

I really want to get to the end of this year and be able to identify what I did with my time that was meaningful, relational, and transformational. I want everything I do to be about celebrating the incredible blessings God has placed in my life—my community of friends, coworkers, and family who are closest to my heart.

Maybe this is a good discussion for your small group—especially during the summer months that tend to be a bit more relaxed and a little less schedule-driven. What have you not taken time for but really wish you had? Consider these suggestions to get you started:

•  Get together over dinner just to catch up on life.
•  Rent some of those flicks you missed in the theater and invite your small group over for a movie night.
•  Bake goodies and deliver them to group members you’ve lost touch with.
•  Plan a chore-free, errand-free Saturday and spend that time focusing on the needs of others.

I pray you and your small group will be able to make time for the things that are closest to your heart. That’s where you can find me.

Until next time,

Have you seen the new commercial for the iPhone? The commercial was made to showcase the new feature, Shazam, that allows users to find the name of the artist and/or song that’s been escaping them. So now, for those of you who have the iPhone, you no longer have to wait until you get to a computer, or find a friend that can help, or get lucky enough to hear the song introduced on the radio. If you have the iPhone, Shazam can release you from such anxiety. The commercial ends, proudly, by boasting of the iPhone, “… Solving life’s dilemmas one app at a time.”

I’m not bashing the iPhone. Far from it. I wish I had one. But I saw this commercial a couple of times before it hit me that, although certainly tongue and cheek, the guys at Apple have captured a piece of Americana-psyche. (And admittedly, what bothers me most is that it’s true. How many times have I become totally distracted while trying to remember the name of a movie, or an actor, or a song.) They have also identified one of THE problems that plague us. That plague you as a small-group leader, pastor, or other leader. That is, we are not a serious people.

I guess it’s true that we’ve always been disposed to absent-minded pursuits. It would seem naive to think that we’ve only recently become distraction-obsessive. What apps like Shazam have done is open the flood gates to the trivial and mundane. So now it’s almost constantly—and if iPhone has any say in it, completely—available. So now, disciplines like evangelism, meditation, Scripture memory, relationship, and prayer can be put on permanent hold by the un-disciplined. Dilemmas like the lost, the brokenhearted, the addicted, and the poor are put on a list, with equal footing, that includes “Who sings this?” and “Wasn’t that the guy in Dawson Creek?” and “What else has Daniel Craig been in?”

Jesus said that He has come to give us not only life, but life in abundance. I think the iPhone may make that same claim, don’t you think. It reminds me of a funny moment in a Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. novel—“So who right, professor?” Of course we know. We don’t even have to ask that question. But for so many, these subtle messages are so potent. For these “life’s dilemmas” has become the stuff of trivial substance that invites passivity and abdication. The small-group space absolutely must be a place for the serious. In no way does that mean that it should be void of mirth and moments of levity. But it must be communicated that the stakes of life are indeed very high. The ammo is live. The bullets are real. Knowing who sings “Unwritten” doesn’t help in these matters of weight.

If you’re a church planter, you know how difficult training small group leaders can be. Getting everyone together is nearly impossible, not to mention how busy your schedule is. If you need to help your leaders know how to plan a meeting in a matter of minutes, there is a way.

This weekend I had the opportunity to attend small group leader training. That’s right. Even though I train small group leaders myself I still attend the training others are doing. I learn an immense amount of information and add new tools to my own small group leader tool box every time I do.

 This weekend I learned from one of the best, Russ Robinson. I had seen Russ from a distance as I had attended Willow Creek Association small group conferences for years but had never had a chance to get up close and personal with him. I am indebted to First Baptist Church, Weston Florida and the Florida Baptist Convention for making that possible. Friday night before Saturday’s training event a cluster of people the size of a small group gathered around a table for dinner. For over two hours Russ answered questions. The questions ranged from handling awkward small group meeting moments to how to, with wisdom and sensitivity to the church a pastor leads, move your church toward change. Having been a small group leader, a small group pastor, an elder, a senior pastor, and presently a layman (Russ is a successful attorney) giving his life to his local church, Willow Creek Community Church, he has perspectives and understandings few will ever acquire. Not only is he one of the most diverse church leaders in the training world today, Russ is also an author having co-authored three small group books, Building a Church of Small Groups: Place Where No One Stands Alone,  Walking the Small Group Tightrope: Meeting the Challenges Every Group Faces, and The Seven Deadly Sins of Small Group Ministry: A Troubleshooting Guide for Church Leaders. All three of these outstanding books were co-authored with Bill Donahue. Russ loves small groups (Watch the video and hear him tell why he loves them so much.)!

 Russ has one of the most concise and effective ways to plan a meeting of anyone I’ve seen. He suggests that, when planning your meeting, you focus on goals over content. In order to do so, when preparing for the meeting, simply answer four questions, each related to a different aspect of the human experience, Head, Heart, Hands, Homework.  After answering these four questions determine what you will do to accomplish what has been determined.

During the training event, Russ gave us time to answer these questions. We chose a passage of scripture and were asked to prepare for a small group meeting. In three minutes almost everyone in the room had created a small group meeting that would be transforming. That’s right, in three minutes you could create the best meeting you’ve ever had by answering four simple questions. What are these four amazing questions? Here you go…

 Head: What do I want my group to know?  

Heart: What do I want my group to feel?

Hands: What do I want my group to do?

Homework: What do I want my group to plan?

 Give it a try and let me know how it goes for you!

P.S. If you’re a church planter and want to find out how to do small groups effectively and also hear from some of the most highly renowned church planters and small groups leaders in the country, come join us at Exponential, April 20 – 23, 2009 in Orlando, Florida.

Looking for a vibrant small-group meeting? Here are 4 distinctives of a successful small-group on the road to redemptive community.

1. Questions and opportunities for group members to tell their stories before getting into Bible study. Many groups utilize “ice-breaker” type questions.

2. Interactive and more discovery-oriented Bible study. The discovery approach to Bible study is one of the expectations of small groups today.

3. Some level or variety of experiences. This can range from creating events as part of the meeting, utilizing the five senses, to engaging a video or movie clip with applicable follow-up questions and conversation.

4. If media is used, the group should focus on a screen for no more than 15 minutes. The longer a group turns away to watch a TV or monitor, the more good group dynamic is lost.

With all due respect to The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Seabiscuit was actually the best movie of 2003. And, given that Return of the King represented only a third of the TLOTR trilogy, Seabiscuit was also the best small-group movie of that year. (Our criteria in making this determination is top-secret, proprietary, very complicated, and is apparently different from every other system we’ve found.)

Accordingly, Seabiscuit starring Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, and Chris Cooper, makes for great small-group discussion. Keeping in mind that it is rated PG-13, we suggest making the next meeting a Movie Night! Tradition suggests a dinner comprised of spiced mustard-glazed ham, green beans with lemon, corn pudding, and derby pie—very common items on the first Saturday in May in a certain Bluegrass State.

Take a moment to discuss these questions with the group before the movie:

How do you define the term “redemptive community”? How is “redemptive community” different from a normal community?

Describe a time when you believe God worked through someone else to redeem an event, a particular mess, or something else in your life.

What do you think Isaiah 61:1-2 implies we all need?

Here are a few questions for discussion after Seabiscuit with relevant Scripture included.

How do the characters’ similarities in this movie mirror what we oftentimes see today in the lives of the people around us?

Wounds can be handled in many ways. Read Jeremiah 6:14 and talk about what this verse says about the way we sometimes handle the wounds of others. What do you think is being criticized in this verse?

Read Proverbs 20:5. How do you think asking clarifying questions and seeking to be discerning in one another’s lives apply to healing? How is it demonstrated in Seabiscuit?

Read 1 Peter 4:8. From the movie, can you remember scenes where empathy (deep love) played a critical role in each of these character’s redemptive journey? How do you think these scenes help us understand 1 Peter 4:8?

When we are moved by a story it is because it is either borrowing from the larger story of life, from our own story, or both. Which is it for you? What part of this movie made you stop and think? Why do you think this is the case?