The Crucified Life Quick Launch: A Crash Course to a Holy Lent

The Crucified Life

The Crucified Life is a seven week study focusing on the Seven Last Words of Jesus. The study is intended to begin a process that leads to surrender to the Lord, leading to a closer relationship with the Lord. The Crucified Life is meant to bring forward and answer questions of the importance of Lent. As you navigate through The Crucified Life, you will gain more insight into why we go through the practice of Lent and how Lent brings us closer to the Lord, by celebrating His death and resurrection. Find out what it means to walk in The Crucified Life this Lenten Season, and watch the below video to learn how to lead your congregation through this study together.

In this post we are sharing a summary of the webinar video below on quick launching a church-wide small group Bible study. The Rev. Charlie Holt, along with The Rev. Allen White and Theresa Summerlin, walked through everything you need to know about launching a church-wide campaign, specifically with using The Crucified Life materials for Lent. In the webinar the team talked with people who are starting a small group, answering questions that arise from experience and planning.  If you have questions about starting your small group and preparing your congregation for a transformational Lent, start by checking out the video!

 

CLICK HERE to watch video.

 

The role of the Senior Pastor in The Crucified Life is to align the congregation to the Holy Season. If your Senior Pastor is not on board with the alignment, reach out to Fr. Holt here and he will gladly speak with you and your pastor on the increased congregational engagement and other benefits of church-wide study.

Applying The Crucified Life as a Church-Wide Study

The Sunday before Ash Wednesday, also known as Forgiveness Sunday, is when to launch The Crucified Life. This is the first time your small groups meet for this study. On this Sunday, as a church-wide study, the sermon should focus on forgiveness. Then, the following Sunday would be Salvation Sunday, focusing on the Thief on the Cross passage, and the sermon will be on the theme of salvation. Each theme from the Daily Devotional books could be a theme for a sermon. Reinforcing a theme from the video teaching could be another source of inspiration. Or even preaching on a topic that you feel was missing from the teaching, to broaden the discussion and truly connect with each week’s study.

Make Good Friday the culmination of The Crucified Life study—end with a powerful transition into the resurrection and The Resurrected Life.

Good Friday Sin Box:

Make a box with a slot in the top out of cardboard. Setup a large cross and beneath it place the Sin Box. Have the congregation write down the things that were stirred up through the course of The Crucified Life and put them in the Sin Box. In this way we give our sins to Jesus and lay them at the Foot of the Cross. Then burn the box as the new fire for the Easter Vigil Service.

Recruiting the Hosts

We all have a small group! If your congregation is uncomfortable hosting and inviting people they don’t really know into their home, then have them start with family and friends. Getting to know the Lord with family and friends will create deeper more meaningful bonds with each other. Another great way of supporting groups is rotating hosting locations, whether in different host homes or going to a coffee shop. This will help remove some burden from a single person, and create opportunities for more hosts to discover themselves.

For the next two Sundays, work hard on recruiting hosts, then the two Sundays before Ash Wednesday should have a focus on recruiting participants. Help connect hosts and participants that are missing that connection or don’t know as many people in the congregation. One fun and different way to make new groups, from The Rev. Allen White, would be to challenge the people of previous small groups to give up their group for Lent to form new groups. As he says, it’s not a typical thing to give up, but it is a great way to create new connections in your congregation.

The church staff and leadership might often want to be in a group together, but have them break out and create groups as mentorships. Using church staff to get groups started is another great way to find hosts to get small groups off the ground, and from there groups can grow.

Host Sign-Up Form

Have ushers hand out this sign-up form and pick them up during offering. This direct ask is a fast and successful way to collect interested hosts!

Goals are Great!

The key is having a goal! If you don’t make a goal, you won’t hit one. Set a goal for the number of hosts and the number of participants. Even if you don’t hit the goal, you might get close and you will have something to aim for in the future.

The Crucified Life small group study can be a powerful tool for making Lent meaningful in your congregation, and this is the outline of how you can get it done. For more help launching your small group study, check out our blogs on Small Group Bible Study and It’s Importance in Early Christianity and TodayAligning Your Church and Planning for Small Group Study, and Let’s Do Lent: Transforming Lives with Small Group Ministry.

 

Who Is Your Neighbor? A Local Church Initiative

By Allen White:  Small Group Guru and Church Coach

Love God and love your neighbors. In the Great Commandment, Jesus boiled 613 commands down to these two. He went on to say, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:34-40, NIV). In other words, if Jesus’ followers do anything, they should focus on these two things. The Neighboring Life focuses on the second commandment in order to follow the first one.

Who is My Neighbor?

The act of taking time to learn a neighbor’s name demonstrates obedience to Jesus’ command. Once a believer knows their neighbor’s name, then they can pray for their neighbor. Pray for their lives, their families, their jobs, and even an opportunity to get to know them better.

Neighboring is also serving next door neighbors. By offering a helping hand, often the next step is offering a listening ear. “We love our neighbors because we are Christians, not because we are trying to make them Christians,” says Rick Rusaw and Brian Mavis, co-authors of The Neighboring Church. “We need to stop hijacking the endgame with other things. It happens so subtly. We love our neighbors so they will go to church. We love our neighbors so they will join our small group…Those motives turn people to be loved into projects to be directed…People will know when they are a project.”

The Neighboring Life is the creation of Rick Rusaw, Brian Mavis, and the team at LifeBridge Christian Church, Longmont, CO. Built on the foundation of The Externally-Focused Church, co-authored by Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson (Group Publishing 2004), LifeBridge along with many other churches, has sought to transition ministry from missional, community-wide, Service Day approaches to a more granular form of ministry. Rather than donning matching t-shirts, serving for one day, and making local headlines, The Neighboring Life is a daily, personal experience with one’s neighbors. More importantly, it adds the relationship component to serving.

“The bridge between being missional and incarnational is relationship,” according to Scott Campbell, The Ascent Church, Colorado Springs, CO. “You can be missional without being relational. You can’t be incarnational without relationship: ‘love neighbors as you love yourself.’”

“For years [LifeBridge Church] had been getting into the stream of our community to serve. A city employee asked if we would take care of a woman’s yard for her. I said I would look at the situation and get back to her,” said Brian Mavis. “As I was driving up, I spotted the house from blocks away. They weren’t exaggerating. The grass was almost as tall as I was. I knocked on the door and a woman in her young thirties answered. Standing next to her was a little girl. I learned that this woman had recently survived stage-four cancer, and she was taking care of the nine-year-old girl, who was in foster care. This woman was tearful and embarrassed about her yard, but she said her health prevented her from trying to take care of it.

“My heart broke for her, and I was happy that our church was going to help her. I gathered a dozen people and they brought their own equipment. A few hours later we had the yard looking almost as good as new. We came back the next week to put down some mulch. We prayed for the homeowner, and we felt great about what we had done. I was proud of our people, and I was glad the city knew they could call us and count on us to take care of it.

“Over the next year, I called the woman a couple of times to see how she was doing. After the second call, while I was silently congratulating myself, the Holy Spirit said, ‘This is nothing to be proud of. This should never have even happened.’ I immediately knew the full meaning of this gentle rebuke by God. The woman’s grass should never have grown more than six inches tall.”

What should have been done differently? “First,” said Mavis, “I wouldn’t just ask a dozen people from our church. Instead, I would look to see who lived near her. We have several families within a couple blocks of her house. I would’ve called them and asked them to help me help their neighbor. Then I thought I would go one better. I would ask them to help me, but I would also ask them to knock on their neighbors’ doors, no matter if they were Christian or not, and invite them to join in helping this woman…If the church had done a better job of helping our people learn to love their neighbors, then I never would’ve received a phone call from the city in the first place…For years our church was serving the community, but were we loving our neighbors?”

A dilapidated house or an unkempt yard are easily recognizable signs of a family in crisis. But, not all needs are revealed from the curb. Needs are revealed as neighbors are known. Since neighboring is not a program and neighbors aren’t projects, the focus on neighboring is more of a spiritual discipline than a ministry initiative. Neighboring is moving life from the backyard to the front yard. It’s taking time for a neighbor when they are outside. The heart of neighboring is putting others ahead of oneself.

Neighboring requires no special talent. Anyone can be a neighbor. Neighboring does require a shift in thinking for pastoral leadership. Emphasis is given on scattering equal to the emphasis on gathering. This is not to discount the value of gathering, but to balance receiving and giving.

Stay, Pray, Play, and Say

Neighboring almost seems to harken back to years gone by when neighbors knew everyone and helped each other. It was the norm. Today, the norm is cellphones, garage door openers, and quiet streets in neighborhoods. Neighboring requires intentional effort.

The practices of neighboring are simple, yet significant. They can be summoned up in four words: Stay, Pray, Play, and Say. Stay means being available to get to know one’s neighbors. It’s stopping to talk to a neighbor instead of hitting the garage door button. Maybe it means sitting on the front porch instead of the back porch. Pray means praying for neighbors. Praying for both neighbors who are known and those who are unknown. Praying for opportunities to connect and serve. Play is offering hospitality to neighbors from dinner invitations to backyard barbecues to small scale events. The fourth word is say. When the opportunity arises, Christian neighbors are prepared to share Christ with their fellow neighbors. This isn’t the completion of the “project.” This is the start of a new journey.

Leaders Go First

As with any focus, leaders go first. Pastors and church staff can prepare to lead neighboring in their churches by starting to neighbor themselves. Resources such as The Neighboring Church by Rick Rusaw and Brian Mavis, and Becoming a Neighboring Church, a six session study by the LifeBridge team with its companion video are a couple of ways to get ideas on leading a community-wide movement in neighboring. Other resources include The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon, Neighborhood Initiative and the Love of God by Lynn Cory, and Neighborhood Mapping by Dr. John Fuder among others.

Once pastors and staff have some experience with neighboring, the entire church can be engaged with The Neighboring Life study and companion video used as a church-wide campaign, group study, or individual study. These resources are available at TheNeighboringLife.com.

Jacob & Mary Alice: An Unlikely Pair

Ever since his wife’s death, 80-year-old Jacob called his neighbor, Mary Alice, regularly. Somehow Mary Alice had broken the ice with this self-proclaimed “crotchety old Jewish man who doesn’t make friends easily.” The two were quite a pair in the neighborhood: a mom of two teenagers chatting the ear off the grumpy old man.

When Jacob’s number came up on caller ID, she answered it, but on this evening, when she picked up the phone Jacob wasn’t talking but she could hear difficulty in his breathing. Rushing over to his house, she found Jacob at the bottom of the stairs and quickly called 911. The paramedic in the ambulance, the emergency room receptionist, the technicians drawing blood, and the doctor all asked her, “Are you his daughter?”

“No, I am just his neighbor” she answered every time, as she kept Jacob calm and answered their questions about his past medical history. As Mary Alice left the emergency room after Jacob was fully stabilized, the doctor asked her with a smile, “Will you be MY neighbor?”

Takeaways

Neighboring requires no special talent. There are no scripts or methods to follow. The heart of neighboring is taking an interest in one’s neighbors. Pastors can start their own neighboring movements by encouraging their members to take a few minutes to talk to their neighbors when they see them outside. This might be an introduction to a new neighbor or a bit of an apology for living next door for so long and having never met. This shouldn’t be embarrassing. It should be a start.

As churches embrace neighboring, any step toward a neighbor: a conversation, a meal, a prayer, or an act of service should be celebrated. What pastors tell stories about will cast vision to their congregations.

If pastors are ready to get serious about neighboring, then some tough questions must be answered – How can you be the best church for your community rather than just the best church in your community? What if you got better at the two things Jesus said mattered the most – loving God and loving your neighbor? How can the church put equal energy into scattering into the community as they do gathering for weekend worship services?

If your members move out of their neighborhoods, would they be missed?

Reposted from AllenWhite.orgwith permission.

Allen White has devoted the last 25+ years to helping people find Christ, make meaningful connections, grow in their faith, and find fulfillment in ministry. He has successfully launched hundreds of groups as an Associate Pastor.  Additionally, he  works with Brett Eastman and Lifetogether, coaching hundreds of churches of all sizes and denominations over the last 10 years. He has a B.A. in Biblical Studies and Missions and a M.Div.in Christian Education. He and his family live in Greenville, SC.

Preview of Hearts Alive Sunday School Curriculum Winter C: Advent & Beyond

By Lindsey Goetz, Curriculum Specialist, Writer, and Children’s Director at First Presbyterian Church of Aurora, IL

The Hearts Alive Year C–Winter curriculum takes us from the beginning of December all the way to the beginning of March. During that time we will celebrate the season of Advent, the season of Christmas, Epiphany, and the Baptism and Transfiguration of Jesus.

The curriculum follows the lectionary readings from Year C, with many of the lessons being based on the Gospel of Luke.  Children will have the opportunity to experience the anticipation of Christmas with beautiful lessons that repeatedly illustrate the theme of waiting for Christ’s coming in interesting and fun ways. Additionally, they will walk with Jesus as he performs his first miracle at a wedding, as he preaches words of hope and encouragement and hard words of warning.  The season wraps up by reminding children of the call Jesus issues to them to live as his disciples, loving our enemies, and turning to the cross.

As always, the same passages and Big Ideas are studied across all three age levels, providing an excellent opportunity for churches to encourage and equip families to follow up with their children throughout the week at home.  Each lesson combines solid, Christ-centered teaching with creative and interesting discussion topics, games, activities, and crafts. This season also includes many colorful illustrations to ignite children’s imaginations and opportunities for children to consider and experience some more contemplative moments in well considered, age-appropriate responses to the text.

As I have looked through each age level of the Year C Winter curriculum, I am so excited to take this journey with the children in our church.  I was reminded of all the reasons we chose Hearts Alive– in addition to things I have already named, you will find more of the solid, Gospel-centered orientation, the creative, hands-on activities, and the child-friendly, colorful illustrations that we, have come to expect and treasure about this curriculum.

If you are a Children’s Minister or Sunday school teacher who uses Hearts Alive, we would love to invite you to join our Facebook group where you can get access to weekly audio recordings of Bible Backgrounds to share with your Sunday School Teachers, video tutorials on selected crafts, and a community of people who will benefit from the wisdom you have to share about how Hearts Alive works in your context.  Email lindsey@biblestudymedia.com to be added to the group.  

Life Change at the Member Level Begins with Me (& You)

By Mark Howell,  Small Group Expert

The optimal environment for life change is a small group.

We’ve all heard that line for years. Most of us have said that line so frequently that it is now an automatic response when we hear a counter opinion.  And yet…is it really true? And if it is true, is it a given? Or does something have to happen to cause the life change? If it is true, what are the conditions that make it true?

These are your questions too, right? If you’re the small group expert at your place, aren’t these questions at least bubbling up from time to time when it’s really quiet in your office? I know this has been a steady inner dialogue for me over the last years.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that the optimal delivery system for life change is a small group. You can read a little more right here about what I think. I just have gotten to the point where I’m very pragmatic about the steps that lead to life change. See…I’ve found that it’s not automatic. There are some ingredients that must be present to produce life change. You know it too. Here’s one of the most important ingredients:

Whatever you want to happen at the member level, must be part of the experience of the leader. Another way that I say it is that “whatever you want to happen at the member level you have to do to and for the leader of the group.”

Here’s what I mean. If you want the members of your groups to feel cared for, then the leader of the group will have to know how to care for them and actually do that. After all, a person can only give away what they already have. Does that make sense?

Here’s another. If you want your members to experience loving accountability, then the leader of the group will have to know how to do that and actually do it. How will that happen? The leader will have to be experiencing that in their own life.

Are you tracking? It’s a no-brainer, right? Makes sense, doesn’t it? Whatever you want to happen at the member level, you have to do to and for the leader of the group. The leader can only give away what they have.

And what follows naturally is this question: How will the leaders of your groups experience what you want them to be able to give away? My contention?  Somehow you will have to do to and for your leaders whatever you want them to provide to the members of your groups. End of story.

How will that happen? Because of the limitations imposed by span of care realities, in most cases you will not be able to personally provide that to all of your group leaders. After all, “everyone needs to be cared for by someone, no one can care for more than about 10.”

The obvious answer to this dilemma is some kind of coaching or mentoring solution. In that obvious answer is a whole series of posts. But here’s the point for starters. Whatever you want to happen at the member level must begin in you. Ultimately, it begins with you. If you’re running on fumes, if you’re only what you need to be on the very surface of your life, that’s what you’ll have to give away. And that my friends is at the core of the life change question.

Reprinted with permission by MarkHowellLive.com

Mark is the Pastor of  Communities at Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas, Nevada.  He’s also the founder of SmallGroupResources.net, offering consulting and coaching services that help churches across North America launch, build and sustain healthy small group ministries.

Taking Back the Night: Halloween for Christian Kids

Halloween has gone from being a relatively minor children’s holiday of the late 20th century to now, a major commercial event for adults as well as children.  While most Americans view it as a day of family fun and dressing up, some pagan groups use it to celebrate idolatry and even devil worship.  Since the origins of Halloween are rooted in Celtic or Druid pagan practices, it leaves many Christian parents asking the question, should we celebrate Halloween?

Origins

For the ancient Celts, the calendar year ended in fall with the close of the harvest. The festival of Samhain marked the beginning of winter and was associated with death.  It was during this time that adherents believed that heaven and earth were very close and the souls of the dead along with other bad spirits came back to earth.[i]  Families welcomed the presence of their ancestors but attempted to ward off evil spirits by dressing in costumes and offering sacrifices to their gods with huge bonfires.[ii]

How did the early Christians react to Halloween?

The Church has never shied away from dealing with the influence of paganism.  When the Celtic lands finally embraced the Gospel in the 9th century, the church in her wisdom turned Samhain into a feast to celebrate those who had lived and died in the hope of Christ.  By placing the feast of All Saints the day after Halloween, celebrations changed from an emphasis on fear of death and evil to a celebration of the holy (Hallow) men and women who worked to spread the Gospel and sometimes give their lives for it.  Samhain didn’t lose the fun aspects of bonfires and dressing up (as saints) but shifted the meaning to giving God glory.

Emphasize a holy Halloween for your children

Tell children the history of Halloween and what it’s supposed to be about.  Highlight how the pagans lived in fear and were reaching out to empty gods until they came to know the one true God who would be the ultimate sacrifice, the hope and perfect love that cast out all fear[iii].   Jesus conquered death so we need not fear it[iv].

Some great memory verses for Sunday school lessons on Halloween include:

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them[v], because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 

1 John 4:4

Overcome them” are spirits that do not acknowledge Christ.  God’s spirit rests upon us and is much greater than the evil one.  We only need to dress up in the armor of God to defeat him.[vi]

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 14:27

And we are in the one who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ.  He is the true God and eternal life. Children, be on your guard against idols.

1 John 5:20-21

 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Hebrews 9:10

Appeasing empty idols like the Celts. did not bring them salvation or open the doors heaven, only Jesus could do that by his sacrifice on the cross.

 

Celebrate the story of all the saints

Consider using the Sunday closest to Halloween or All Saints as a true Christian celebration.  Ask the children to dress up as heroes and heroines from the Bible or saints and talk about their stories.  Many denominations remember Martin Luther and the religious freedoms won during the Reformation on All Saints Day.   While we have a tendency to talk about St. Patrick in March, he was the one who first brought the light of Christ to the Celtic peoples of Ireland.  If you’ve never read his book Confessions, his aching words of humility and love for Jesus are inspiring.  St. Boniface brought the Gospel to the Druids in Germany as well as many others.

Talk about what it means to live a holy life and how we becomes saints. It is also a great opportunity to ask the children who are the saints in their lives today and how do those individuals show the love of Christ to them and others.

Keep things in perspective

Some Christian families prefer alternative activities to Halloween or avoid the occasion all together.  If you do choose to dress up and trick or treat, don’t make too big of a deal for it.  By setting the tone, that this secular holiday is fun but not worth too much time or money we keep its lesser importance in perspective.  The most important celebrations in our homes should always emphasize that we belong the Lord and that’s where we invest our time.

By: Jackie Zurinaga

[i] https://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween

[ii] https://www.newgrange.com/samhain.htm

[iii] Psalm 1 John 4:18

[iv] Hebrews 2:14

[v] Spirits that do not acknowledge Christ

[vi] Ephesians 6:10-18

Preparing for Christmas by Focusing on the Holy Spirit

The three persons of the Trinity have always existed together.  The Old Testament revealed God the Father to mankind and the New Testament revealed Jesus to the world. After Jesus returned to heaven, Jesus and the Father fully revealed the Holy Spirit to the followers of Jesus. They sent the Holy Spirit to finish what they had started. As we wait for Jesus’ return, the job of the Holy Spirit is to prepare a glorious, global Bride for Jesus, who will rule and reign with Him, sharing for eternity the inheritance Jesus received from the Father.

The Holy Spirit had been prompting dozens of men to write about the coming of the Messiah for 1200 years. Now the time has come!  Finally, the offspring of Eve would crush the head of the serpent as the Spirit had Moses write in Genesis. The virgin would conceive and birth a son called Emmanuel as the Spirit had Isaiah write. The Son would be born to us called Eternal Father, Mighty God, Wonderful Counselor!  Now, the mighty One was to be born in Bethlehem as the Spirit had Micah write.

Since God is One God in three Persons, all three members of the Godhead do everything together, but they assign one Member of the Trinity for certain purposes and times of history. God is the Initiator, Jesus the Liberator and the Spirit is the Facilitator.

The Holy Spirit is God, He is Lord and He lives inside every true follower of Jesus. But He is so humble, so meek that He always points us to Jesus and the Father. He is a complete Person, just as Jesus and the Father are but His personality is to only to do what the Father commands and what the Son provides by His grace won on Calvary. The better we know the Holy Spirit, the more we fellowship with Him, the more we will do the will of God and glorify Jesus.

Today, let’s investigate the role of the Holy Spirit in creating the wonderful event we call Christmas, the Birth of Jesus, the Incarnation of God into human flesh. The Holy Spirit played a key role in the events of leading up the Christ’s birth.

 Birth of John the Baptist Foretold  

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. 8 Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 12 Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.

Note that the Holy Spirit was filling the body of John even in the womb. Let no one ever say that an unborn baby is not a full-person deserving all the protections of any person. God saw fetus John as a person who needed to be filled with His Presence.

16 And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. 17 It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

John had a high calling. No one else had it. He was to prepare Israel for the three year public ministry of Jesus. The Holy Spirit was sent into the womb of Elizabeth by the Father and Jesus to make sure John was spiritually ready to fulfill His calling.  Jesus’ Birth Foretold: Luke 1:26

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 3

0 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 3

3 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. 

Now John 3:16 says God the Father sent Jesus to save us, but it is the Holy Spirit Who makes Mary pregnant with Jesus—not the Father. Just in in creation of the world that Gen. 1:1 records:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters…

God the Father commanded a world to be born and the Holy Spirit was hovering over the water world of earth like a hen over an egg that needs to hatch— seemingly to birth the lands of the world and the creatures of the world.  Here in Luke’s Gospel, God the Father commands that Jesus be born of Mary and the Holy Spirit empowers the birth by “overshadowing” Mary and making her pregnant with the DNA of the Father.

The Holy Spirit & John’s Family: Mary Visits Elizabeth

 39 Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy (filled with Spirit?).

Look how the Holy Spirit used Elizabeth to encourage this teenage girl carrying a child that most people would think was conceived out of wedlock. She was probably dreading what her family and neighbors would say as they noticed her belly getting bigger with child. So, the Holy Spirit lifts her spirits by this amazing prophetic word from Elizabeth. No wonder Mary stayed there three months while Elizabeth finished her pregnancy. Three months with this Spirit-filled woman and her Spirit-filled unborn baby strengthened Mary as she returned to her town of Nazareth. At 3-4 months of pregnancy, she would be showing. Now the gossip would really start. But Mary was ready now to face it after the ministry of the Spirit through Elizabeth. After John is born, his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:67) and prophesied, saying:

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways… (Luke 1:76)

That is only part of one of most beautiful Messianic prophecies in the Bible—from the mouth of someone whom God struck dumb due to his sin of unbelief nine months earlier. This story about Zacharias reminds us that the Holy Spirit refines and corrects us, and ultimately uses us in spite of our failures and weaknesses. We must never grow weary of God’s discipline—because in the end, we will emerge with a message from Him.

And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the desert until the day of his public appearance to Israel. (Luke: 1:80)

Why Were John & His Parent Filled with the Holy Spirit?

Can you imagine the bittersweet joy of old parents raising an active child? By filling them with Himself, the Holy Spirit comforted and strengthened John and his parents for the unusual and difficult life ahead for all of them. The Spirit also began to disciple John even in the womb for the gigantic role he was to play in revealing the Messiah Jesus to the world. God wanted every Jew to be ready to receive Jesus the Messiah so He commissioned John to get them ready by his prophetic preaching. The Holy Spirit did that for baby Jesus. What ramifications does this have for us as parents and the work of the Spirit in the lives of our children?

Conclusion & Applications

At Christmas each year, all Christians celebrate the time when God the Holy Spirit and an illiterate teenage girl formed a partnership that produced the Savior of the world, Jesus the Messiah.  That partnership has not only allowed us to become children of God but it has become a model for all of us now who follow Jesus. The Holy Spirit made Mary pregnant with Jesus. The Holy Spirit wants to make us “pregnant” with the life, character and power of Jesus in our daily lives to others can know Jesus, too.  So what is the Holy Spirit wanting to partner with you in this Christmas season and beyond?

By: Pastor Bob Fox, Abundant Life Fellowship 

Learn about the power of the Holy Spirit in spiritual preparation for Christmas with: The Spirit-Filled Life small group Bible study.  Discover how the Facilitator is Emmanuel–God With Us and has already empowered you to bear Christ into the world.

 

How We Reflect God’s Love to Children

In his excellent book, The Mystery of Children, Mike Mason reminds us that “Jesus wants us to become like children because our spirits lived closest to the surface during our childhood. In childhood our hearts are the most transparent, most vulnerable, most malleable.”

He goes on to say: “Growing up usually means covering up our spirit more and more with flesh. God wants us to become the person we really are inside, the person we were born to be. Becoming childlike involves peeling away the masks to get back to the real, rosy-cheeked, bright-eyed face beneath.”

When we’re born, God makes us totally dependent on parents or caregivers for the first five years of our lives. Our parents become like gods to us. In a perfect world, this would be a good thing.

Now, let us paint a scene that happens when a child reaches five years of age. The child goes up to his mom and dad and asks, “Mommy and Daddy, what is God like?” (Even if this question never gets voiced aloud, the child’s spirit will ask it and draw its own conclusions.)

The parents might look at their child and say, “You know, God is a lot like us—he is loving and kind and patient. He is proud of you and is always there when you need him. You are a treasure to him and he loves you no matter what. He likes to spend time with you and he sings a special song over you at night that is just for you. And out of his love, he disciplines you to help you grow.”

Imagine the wide-eyed child who hears these words from his mom and dad. Wow! This is great news, almost too good to be true. With parents like these, can you see how easy the transition would be to how that child sees Father God?

It is a daunting responsibility to know that we mirror God to a child. This means we will need to depend on God a lot (and that is what He wants).

The biggest influence on how a person sees God often is not their knowledge of the Scriptures. Often it is the representation—or misrepresentation—of God which that person saw mirrored by their parents.

We can’t begin to count the number of people who have told us, “I know in my head that God loves me, but I don’t feel it in my heart.” This is the great disconnect that the Father wants to deal with in each one of us.

One pastor, after counseling with us for a week, vulnerably shared in his Sunday message that even though he knew God loved him, for the first time he experienced a profound revelation of  “Jesus loves me, this I know” deep within his heart. Wow! To say he was transformed by this experience doesn’t do it justice.

This is the Father’s really, r-e-a-l-l-y good news in action.

Jerry and Denise Basel are the founders of The Father’s Heart Intensive Christian Counseling Ministry, www.fathersheart.com, and authors of the acclaimed book, The Missing Commandment: Loving Yourself (Expanded Edition), www.jerryanddenisebasel.com.

 

The Benefits of A Daily Devotional

We’ve all fallen into bed at night, so exhausted from the day’s activities that we dose off mid-prayer.  Mornings too can be a flurry of activities as we prepare our children for school, catch the morning traffic report and weather, and mentally rehearse  for the work day ahead.   Not surprisingly, a rich spiritual life comes by taming the uncooperative and easily distracted flesh.  We must make an act of the will to embrace the self-discipline of prayer.   The structure of a daily devotional has helped me to focus and dedicate a set amount of time to scripture reading and prayer. The following are three benefits that have enriched my life since I began this practice.

Thinking Deeply:  The best devotionals ask questions and have opportunities for journaling.  They ask me to examine my behaviors in light of the scripture passage.  Sometimes I realize that I have neglected people or areas of my life that need my attention.  Hebrews 4:12, reminds me that being immersed in God’s word is not for sissies.  His word holds up a mirror to our sinfulness.  Not in a hell fire and brimstone rulesy sort of way, but in a “I want to love you deeply and be beautiful for you” way.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

God’s word is alive because it keeps teaching me and reminding me of his promises.  No matter how much I study the Bible, he never ceases to amaze me with some new insight into his wisdom and truth. Two thousand years having passed doesn’t negate the relevance of his plan for my 21st century life. That alone, is worth waking up to discover.

A Closer Walk:  The beautiful old hymn about a closer walk with thee, sums up what a life of faith should be.  I daily look to the Lord for strength, as well as guidance.  To begin my devotional, I take a moment to examine my day and all the people or situations I encountered.  I ask myself, did I love, did I forgive, did I support, and when necessary, did I let go?  I ask God for forgiveness when I didn’t and vow to make things right as much as I can.  In the same way at the end of my devotional, as I prepare for the morning I think about what are my priorities?  Does my ‘to do’ list reflect those priorities?  I have yet to have one single day where I behaved with perfection.  As a matter of fact, I’m still figuring out what perfection is, however, if I boast of my weakness, I trust in Paul’s words that God’s power will be made perfect in it. (2 Cor. 12:19).

Quiet: We are bombarded by input day in and day out: 24/7 news, radio, Facebook, text messages, Instagram, work, customers, emails, idle chatter, and noise.  When do we turn it off?  Once you begin taking time for devotionals and incorporating quiet meditation, you will crave this daily oasis of silence.  Sometime I just sit in God’s presence without saying a word.  Kind of like “Son-bathing,” I just soak in his presence.  Occasionally, he talks to me, sometimes I just feel his peace and know that everything is going to be okay.

The more time we spend with the Lord, the more we become like him.  When we know God’s peace, our own being can radiate God’s presence into a chaotic, broken world.

What’s your favorite devotional?

Connecting The Invitation & The Response

By Allen White, Small Group Guru and Church Coach

What if the difference between success and failure lies in the few steps between the sanctuary and the lobby? That’s what I witnessed about a year ago. The much beloved responsefounding pastor of a multi-site, megachurch invited his congregation to open their homes and invite their friends to join them for a six week study the church had produced. The curriculum was awesome. The pastor did the teaching. The topic was relevant. It was a sure thing, but don’t be so sure.

At the close of the service, the pastor made an impassioned appeal for his members to take the next step and start their own group. But, it wasn’t just one next step, it was 20-30 next steps out to the lobby. That evening a crowd of 1,000 adults netted 18 groups. All of our hearts sank.

The pastor had said the right words. He was presenting the right offering at the right time. The church was familiar with small groups. Why the poor result?

Over the years, I’ve seen great messaging become ineffective simply by the distance between the invitation and the response. The best curriculum, the strongest leadership or even the most carefully crafted appeal can all unravel in a matter of minutes if the wrong step is given in recruiting group leaders. A few simple nuances can net a profound effect.

At that church, we made a quick change. Rather than prospective group hosts responding by signing up in the church lobby after the service, the new next step involved no steps at all. The response was simply to take out a card and sign up right there in the service. The cards were collected at the end of the service. The result went from 18 groups to 248 groups in less than 24 hours. The final result over the next three weeks was 1,100 new groups across all of their campuses.

I am convinced most people only think about church when they are sitting in church. Any effort to send people to the lobby or God forbid send them home to sign up on a website simply does not work. By the time well intended church members hit the threshold on Sunday morning, their stomachs have raced to lunch and their minds have raced to evacuating the premises as soon as possible. The moment has gone.

The closer you connect the invitation to the response, the better the response. If the invitation is made in a service, then collect the response in a service. If the same invitation is made by a video email at midweek, then collect the response in the email. By simply providing a link in the email, a willing member can click the link and sign up to start a group right on the spot.

In a perfect world, church members would go home, login to the church’s website, and sign up electronically. No fuss. No sign up cards. No data entry. Simple. That world does not exist. To send someone from the service to the lobby or to their computer to sign up is equal to making no invitation at all. The reverse is also true. To send an email midweek asking for a response the following Sunday is just wasted megabits.

Think like the people who sit in your rows.

  • What’s available to them in their row?
  • Is there a response card or do you create a card?
  • Do they have a pen?
  • Who will collect the cards? Are they placed in the offering, collected at the end of the service, or handed to an usher on the way out?
  • Maybe pen and paper doesn’t cut it. What else do they have? What about their cellphones? Can they send a text to a designated number (not yours!)?
  • When you send an email invitaiton, can they fill out a survey or a web form?

Missed opportunities occur when you can’t adequately collect the response. These thoughts may seem elementary. They may seem unnecessary. You may feel you are getting a good enough result from how your collecting responses now. Or are you?

Reposted from AllenWhite.org with permission.

Allen White has devoted the last 25+ years to helping people find Christ, make meaningful connections, grow in their faith, and find fulfillment in ministry. He has successfully launched hundreds of groups as an Associate Pastor.  Additionally, he  works with Brett Eastman and Lifetogether, coaching hundreds of churches of all sizes and denominations over the last 10 years. He has a B.A. in Biblical Studies and Missions and a M.Div.in Christian Education. He and his family live in Greenville, SC.

10 Assumptions That Shape My Small Group Ministry

By Mark Howell,  Pastor & Small Group Expert

We’ve talked many times about assumptions. If you’ve been along for much of this adventure, you’ve probably read more than your share of articles on assumptions. If the idea of assumptions is unfamiliar to you, I’ve linked to a few of my favorites below.

I’m thinking about my assumptions about small group ministry today because of a question a reader asked me recently. Their question was so obviously the wrong question that it caused to me to wonder why in the world they are doing what they’re doing.

You can ask the wrong question, you know. Albert Einstein famously said,

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.

Identifying the right question is a critical skill. And that caused me to reflect on my assumptions.

Here is a list of my assumptions (about small group ministry):

1. There is no problem-free solution.

Early on I looked for problem-free strategies. Eventually I realized there are no problem-free strategies. Every strategy, system and model comes with a unique set of problems. Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  See also, The Pursuit of Problem-Free.

2. Unconnected people are one tough thing away from not being at our church.

Every delay at connecting them puts many of them in jeopardy. Putting off the connecting opportunity in order to line up some timing issue increases the likelihood that for certain unconnected people the window will close. See also,What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting People?

3. The optimal environment for life-change is a small group.

know this. And you know this. That’s why we believe small groups must be prioritized. Circles, not rows are where life-change happens. See also,Essential Ingredients for Life-Change.

4. Joining a group in a stranger’s living room is the second scariest move (preceded only by coming to church for the first time).

This makes a safe and familiar on-campus first step out of the auditorium a key to connecting people. See also, How to Calm an Unconnected Person’s Second Greatest Fear.

5. The people with the most connections inside the church have the fewest connections outside the church.

Conversely, the people with the least connections inside the church have the most connections outside the church. This is an understanding that makesHOST a great idea. See also, Exponential Outreach.

6. Every group of ten has a relative shepherd(and most adults can quickly identify the person they’d be willing to follow).

In a Malcolm Gladwell sense, everyone can see very quickly who the leader should be. See also, How to Connect People No One Else is Connecting.

7. The leader of a group only needs to be a step or two ahead of group members.

Even Jesus didn’t look for Jesus Jr.  See also, Top 5 Signs Your Church Really Wants to Be a Church OF Groups.

8. I need to make it as easy as possible to begin “leading” and nearly automatic that the new “leader” step onto the leadership development conveyor belt.

I’ve longed believed the first part of this assumption. The second part is a more recent add-on that is a critical understanding. See also, Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Development Pathway.

9. Whatever we want the members of a group to experience, the leader has to experience first.

This makes coaching or mentoring an essential ingredient for any small group strategy. Coaching is only initially about teaching technique. It is primarily about doing TO and FOR the leaders whatever you want the leaders to do TO and FOR their members. See also, The End in Mind for an Effective Coaching Structure.

10. Prioritizing the launch of new groups connects the largest number of unconnected people.

Prioritizing the needs of existing groups connects the fewest unconnected people. See also, Are You Prioritizing the Launch of New Groups?

What question was so obviously the wrong question?

The essence of the question was, “Have you written anything on how to best connect people with (existing) leaders? One of my greatest issues right now is connecting people on a Sunday with (existing) leaders.”
What makes that the wrong question? Easy. Emphasizing connecting unconnected people with existing leaders (who already have groups), leads to connecting the fewest unconnected people. Prioritizing the launch of new groups (via a small group connection,  GroupLink, etc.) leads to the connecting the largest number of unconnected people.

Reprinted with permission by MarkHowellLive.com

Mark is the Pastor of  Communities at Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas, Nevada.  He’s also the founder of SmallGroupResources.net, offering consulting and coaching services that help churches across North America launch, build and sustain healthy small group ministries.