Of all the Scriptures, some of the most profound talk about coming to God like a little child. No matter how old we get, the Father still refers to us as children. He adopts us as His own, and even if we surrender our lives to God at seventy years of age, we still come as a child. After all, in our culture we adopt children—not adults—and that’s how it is with God.
Jesus was very clear on His position regarding children and the kingdom of God. Mark 10:13–16 tells us: “The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: ‘Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.’ Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them.”
You can almost see Jesus hold the little ones in His arms, place His hand on the head of each child, and bless each one. Notice they have done nothing to earn His love.
During His earthly ministry, Jesus said He did only what His Father was doing (John 5:19). Furthermore, Jesus said that when we see Him, we see the Father (John 14:9). So when Jesus says come to God like a little child, that’s exactly what we want to do! There is no virtue in being childish, but we should never outgrow our childlikeness.
As His child, God first wants us to be vulnerable, in a position of recognizing our need for His care and protection.
Second, God wants us as His children to trust Him—to trust that He made us, knows us, loves us, is with us, and enjoys us.
Third, God wants us to remember no child is fully developed —let alone perfect. As children of God, we are always in a process of growth, which our Father understands and accepts.
Fourth, God made us to be dependent on Him, with needs such as love, affection, acceptance, and a sense of belonging. God highly esteems dependence as a characteristic of our ongoing condition and position with Him. We never outgrow our need to lean on Him, to be weak so that He can be strong on our behalf.
Fifth, children are valuable, unique, and special to God Himself. He planned for us from the beginning and knit us together in our mother’s womb. There has never been and will never be another person like you or like me.
This last point speaks to the fact God has a specific purpose in mind for you and me. By inviting others to become children of God, we certainly fulfill that purpose and bring much glory to His name.
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.
By Hearts Alive! contributing writer Michelle Van Loon
Our world at times is coarse, confusing, terrifying, and dangerous. (It is also beautiful.) Most of us feel powerless when we read the headlines or watch the news. Too often, our lives and communities are affected by decisions made somewhere else by people we’ve never met. There are wars and rumors of wars, natural disasters, and the simmering uncertainty of when a radicalized, bomb-wearing individual might decide to detonate themselves in the middle of a sporting event.
I recognize the yearning to escape from it all. The desire to protect our children amplifies those concerns. I’ve felt the longing to shield my kids and to hide my family from the big, bad world. Our responsibility as parents is to do all we can to protect our kids from harm as we seek to disciple them in the way of Jesus. Love for them and for the One who gave them to us compels us to do both.
Not long ago, I ran into Annie. We had both home schooled our kids during the 1990’s, sharing enrichment classes, field trips, and curriculum tips as we journeyed together. At our recent reunion, we traded notes about what our adult children were doing. She observed that few of the kids we knew back in the day were coloring in the lines their parents had drawn for them when they were young. A fair percentage of them had chosen to pursue a different lifestyle or partner than their parents planned for them. Some were no longer walking with Christ. With great sadness, Annie told me she’d assumed homeschooling would give her a button she could push in her children’s lives to ensure they’d always stay on the straight and narrow. As they’d become adults and begun making their own decisions, she was shocked to discover there was no button.
Jesus chastised the Pharisees for building their lives around the idea of a button—a formula that would guarantee a happy outcome. There is nothing new under the sun. Whether it’s a strict lifestyle designed to keep the world at bay or innocuous- sounding messages or books that promise “Seven Steps to a Happy Marriage” or “How You Can Have a Winning Family,” the notion of a formula is a lure for most of us. Our formulas reflect a sense that a God-honoring life will require extra effort.
But these “outside in” remedies fall short of God’s purpose for us. There are no shortcuts, or sure-fire guarantees. He desires us to be holy, and that process can only happen from the inside out—in each one of us as individuals, and among all of us who are walking the narrow road with Jesus day by day.
Born to Wander will be available on July 3. You can order here.
Before he dies, Moses speaks to the people of God gathered in the wilderness. It’s been 40 years since they rebelled against God, and most of the generation that disobeyed has given up the ghost.
And yet, when Moses speaks to God’s people, he recounts the stories of their rebellion and wandering in the wilderness as though they actually had been there. Perhaps one of the places we see this most clearly is in Deuteronomy 5:3-4:
“The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Not with our fathers did the LORD make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. The LORD spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst of the fire…”
In Reformed traditions, when we baptize infants, we are marking them as a part of the people of God before they have the ability to make that choice for themselves. Indeed, we baptize them because we believe that they don’t make that choice for themselves; God is the one who has moved towards them in grace. I love that the baptismal liturgy we use at our church rehearses the whole gospel, prefaced with the words, “For you, little child.”
Other traditions have a similar aim in mind when they dedicate babies—they are saying to a family and to a child, “We are here for you, praying for you as you grow, and your story is bigger than you are.”
Let’s explore four principles for parents, children’s ministers, and those who worship in communities of faith with children as we seek to help children grow up into this identity as part of God’s people, as participants in what Michael Goheen calls “The True Story of the Whole World.”
We teach the Bible as one big story.
How can a child see herself as a part of God’s story if she doesn’t know it? As those who love, serve, and parent children, we must faithfully work to build Bible literacy in the children we shepherd. This includes teaching specific stories from the Bible, certainly, but it also includes connecting each of those stories to the bigger story. Children’s Ministers and Sunday School teachers do well to find curriculum that is gospel-centered, that helps teachers and parents point to Jesus in every story and strive for God-centered biblical application, rather than distilling each passage to a few moralistic talking points.
We regard them as a part of God’s people now
It seems straightforward, but we help children grow up understanding themselves as a part of God’s people when we treat them like a part of God’s people. When we make space for them to serve, and give, and participate alongside the rest of God’s people in the work of the people, we help children understand that they belong to the people of God now. In our church, each time we take the eucharist, the children are welcomed forward with the rest of the congregation to receive a blessing. No matter how shy my daughters seem at that moment, the wonder in their eyes gives away the profound impact the simple act of having a cross traced on their forehead and words of blessing spoken over them. It is an act and experience that they carry with them into their playtime throughout the week. Such a welcome opens a child’s eyes to the possibility that she could even see herself in the greatest story of all time.
We preach the gospel to one another in our households.
Once, I was in a group of church leaders when someone pointed out that I continually brought up the gospel. This was profoundly encouraging to me as someone who misunderstood the gospel for many years, to have come to a place where it so resonated in my heart that it came out my mouth frequently enough that someone else commented on it. This should be what our households are like—gospel-saturated places where every member of the household daily lives in and drinks in the Gospel. As adults, we must pray and train our eyes by regular study of the Word of God to see the gospel played out around us. As we do this, we must grow daily in our ability to recognize the movements of the grand narrative of the gospel (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration) in our day-to-day lives and point them out to our children and the young people around us. When we do this, we help the young people among us to see God’s story in real-time; we give them the wonderful gift of understanding that the greatest story of all the world is still being told. And it involves them.
We invest in intergenerational relationships.
One of the key factors that determines whether or not a child will remain faithful to the Lord as they grow into adulthood is the presence of quality relationships with adults other than their parents who know and love the Lord. We help children see themselves as a part of God’s big story as they get to know people at different points in their faith journey who can testify to the work of God in the world and in their lives. These kind of relationships take intentional work, but the payout is worth the work. In her book Children Matter, Scottie May writes that the simple but intentional act of looking into a child’s eyes and saying, “I’m glad you’re here today.” is a great investment in the sorts of relationships that will form a child’s identity as one of God’s people.
Any parent, aunt, uncle, friend, teacher, or grandparent who has had a child approach them with an armload of books can testify that children naturally love story. As those who love and serve children, then, let’s make it our aim to lovingly and graciously teach children the Word of God, by which they may come to know him and to see themselves as a part of his wonderfully big story.
I had the privilege of interviewing a fairly large group of third to sixth graders at my church. Each child sat on a “hot seat” and answered five questions. The first four answers were easy: name, grade, number of siblings, and how many years they’ve gone to church.
The final answer was a little tougher: talk about when it’s hard for you to trust God. I was amazed at their responses. First, they had a much shorter list of reasons than adults usually do. Second, several of the children honestly and sincerely told me, “It’s always been easy for me to trust God.” You should have seen the smiles on their faces.
What could possibly ruin such wonderful, child-like trust in God?
Sadly, it’s very possible for a child to grow up in a faith community, learn lots of Bible stories, sing lots of songs, memorize plenty of Scripture verses, say all the right things, look good—very good—and yet lose his or her faith.
Sometimes, it’s the individual’s own choice.
Sometimes, however, it’s because of the sinful, terrible choices of adults the child should have been able to trust.
Scripture couldn’t be clearer that anyone who repeatedly or severely harms a boy or girl or young adult by sinning against them—physically, psychologically, socially, sexually, or spiritually—is in grave danger of God’s judgment. Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 18, verses 5 and 6.
Anyone who welcomes a little child like this one in my name welcomes me. What if someone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin? If they do, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and be drowned at the bottom of the sea. (NIRV)
Believe me, ancient Jewish men feared drowning above all else. Even experienced fishermen like Peter and Andrew, James and John, were scared to death of drowning. Sure, some like Peter could swim, but that wasn’t a given. There certainly was no Michael ben Phelps back then. Even if there were, imagine a judge ordering a crew of Roman sailors to take you 10 miles out into the Mediterranean Sea, tie a 100-pound milestone around your neck, and send you to the bottom of Davy Jones’ locker.
Peter and his fellow disciples shuddered at the thought. It should make us shudder too. Why? Because Jesus warns each and every one of us that such a fate would be much better than causing a child to lose his or her faith in Jesus Christ.
The point Jesus is making is crystal clear: Don’t let your attitudes, your words, and/or your actions soil or steal the God-given faith of a child.
But perhaps Jesus’ warning should also cause us to think of other smaller ways we can cause children to begin to lose faith—by our critical attitudes, hypocrisy, self-centered living—anything that doesn’t truly reflect Christ-like, child-like kingdom living.
I’m not talking about being perfect. Instead, I’m saying that a child’s faith grows, not diminishes, when an adult apologizes to the child for, say, losing his or her temper.
When it comes to sharing the love of Jesus, let’s always make sure it includes children. And then let’s do all we can to guard their trust in Jesus.
The Faith of a Child
Some claim a small child’s belief in God doesn’t really count. But that’s not the case. The apostle Paul could say to Timothy, “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15 NIV).
True, children can’t understand everything they’re taught. So? There is nothing wrong about a child’s inadequate concept of God or of the Christian faith. After all, 1 Corinthians 13:11 (NIV) says: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.” The Bible doesn’t criticize a child’s way of thinking. The One who made us knows us.
“…May God give you ears to hear His loving voice, his loving voice speaking all around you, all around you, and deep inside.”
Every night, a lump forms in my throat and I blink back tears as I finish singing “The Song of Blessing” to my three daughters. It strikes me anew every night that I’m praying that the God of the universe would open the ears of my children to his voice, that they would hear him. As a parent and as a children’s minister I feel very keenly my responsibility to help children learn that God is speaking–by his world, by his Word, by his Spirit– and that they can hear him. “The Lord does not look at the things people look at,” the Lord said to Samuel when he went looking for a King; “people look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” And I wonder if a vague memory floated through Samuel’s mind–of a young boy, lying on the temple floor, who heard the voice of God at a time when the word of the Lord was rare. Scripture says that this was before Samuel knew the Lord, and it was Eli who helped Samuel recognize the voice of God. Hebrews 1 tells us that God has spoken, once and for all, by his Son. How are we, as those who love, serve, and worship with children, helping them to listen for God’s voice?
We Let Them Hear God’s Voice in Scripture:
We refuse merely to entertain children when they come to worship with the gathered people of God. Whether we remove them from the worship service or not, our primary aim is not to entertain them or even to teach them character traits or moral values; our goal is to declare God’s word to them. He has promised that his word will not return without accomplishing its purpose. Are we equipping children and giving them the opportunity to hear and to study God’s Word?
We Minister to the Whole Child.
Effective children’s ministry applies the truth of the gospel to situations that matter to children now. By treating children as people who belong in God’s family now, who are being joined to Christ now, and who have the ability to hear God now, we honor the image of God in them, help them to see how the gospel applies to all of life, and train them to listen for God’s voice every moment of every day.
We Show Them Jesus.
I’ve already mentioned the Hebrews passage that reminds us that God has spoken to us by his Son–and what a beautiful, true Word he is! The author of Hebrews goes on to say that Jesus is the exact imprint of God’s nature. So if we really want to hear God, we listen to Jesus–his words, his silences, who he listened to, and who he loved. The best thing we can do for the children we minister to is to be an arrow that points daily, hourly to the ultimate authority on who God is and what he does– his beautiful Son.
We Create Space for Them.
Children’s ministry programming must offer space for children to hear from God as he speaks to them by his word. We should be wary of always dictating the form a response should take, of minimizing concerns children raise, and of hurrying children along from one activity to the next. Instead, we should create space for children to hear God’s voice in his word and help them to become comfortable resting in that place through prayer, singing, or creating something that helps them give attention to what they have heard. We must provide ways in which they can be reminded of what they have heard throughout the week. (The Live it All Week sheets from Hearts Alive equip parents excellently to create this space in their homes.)
If we hope to raise and to serve children who are aware of God’s voice and listening to it, we must be people who do those things as well. And maybe that’s why I feel the lump form in my throat each night as my heart aches for my children to know the loving voice of God, to be people whose lives say “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” Maybe it’s because as I pray this prayer for my children, I’m also praying it for myself.
Lindsey Goetz is a mom to three fierce and lovely daughters, and she and her husband David serve as Directors of Family Discipleship at First Presbyterian Church of Aurora IL, where they are enjoying Hearts Alive with their Sunday School classes. Lindsey and David also host The New City Families Podcast, creating space for conversations about family discipleship, to the glory of God for the good of our city. Lindsey currently loves cold brew coffee, neighborhood walks, and reading to her daughters.
Hearts Alive Writer, Michelle Van Loon is our guest blogger this week. She explains to us the connection between Pentecost, the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the Jewish feast of Shavuot.
On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5)
There was context for his words. They were smack-dab in the middle of counting the Omer, numbering in prayer each day between the pilgrim feasts of Passover and Shavuot. Those feasts were two of the three times each year the Chosen People needed to present themselves as one in Jerusalem at the Temple. (The third was the fall feast of Sukkot.) Jesus’ words to them reflected the fact that they were going to be in Jerusalem for the Shavuot. I’ll be covering Shavuot in more detail next month, as it will begin this year at sunset on June 11th.
However, the Western Church will be celebrating the event that happened on the first Shavuot after Jesus’ resurrection this Sunday, May 15th. The Eastern (Orthodox) Church will be marking Pentecost this year on June 19th.
The Jewish festal cycle and the Christian calendar each offer holidays that are meant to serve as an on-ramp into the intersection of time and eternity. These moments and dayspoint us beyond our own everyday agendas and connect us with our place in a bigger, more beautiful story. I’ve been blogging a 5-minute intro to each major holiday and season in both the Hebrew and Christian calendars. Today, I’m offering an overview of the feast day of Pentecost. This celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church ends the Easter seasonand inaugurates the long calendar period of Ordinary Time. (I’ll be covering Ordinary Time in a subsequent post.)
Before his arrest, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would be sent to his followers. Fifty days after Jesus was crucified, God immersed them in the resurrection life of Jesus, filling them as he’d once filled the Holy of Holies in the Temple and supernaturally empowering them to proclaim his glorious grace.
Pentecost is drawn from the Greek word pentekostos, which means fifty. It references the fifty day period between Passover and Shavuot.
Pentecost had a place on the yearly Christian calendar from the second century. Pasche, the observance of the resurrection, was the name for the entire fifty-day period between Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday. By end of third century, Pentecost was the name given to the final feast day of the fifty days. Over time, a liturgy and an eight-day vigil leading up to Pentecost formed around the day. These holy days were second only to Easter in importance for early believers.
Because the date of Pentecost is calculated based on the date of Easter via the lunar cycle, the earliest date in the Western church for Pentecost is May 10th, and the latest date is June 13th. In these churches, Pentecost Sunday became an alternate day for baptisms for those who could not be baptized on Easter.
Pentecost is directly tied to the date in which Easter is celebrated each year. It’s considered a “moveable feast” as it is not anchored to the Julian/Gregorian calendar. Because the date of Pentecost is calculated based on the date of Easter via the lunar cycle, the earliest date in the Western church for Pentecost is May 10th, and the latest date is June 13th. In these churches, Pentecost Sunday became an alternate day for baptisms for those who could not be baptized on Easter.
Pentecost had a place on the yearly Christian calendar from the second century. Pasche, the observance of the resurrection, was the first name for the entire fifty-day period between Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday. By end of third century, Pentecost was the name given to the final feast day of the fifty days.
Paul uses the language of Shavuot, the Jewish festival with a focus on offering of the first fruits of the new wheat crop, to speak about the resurrection of Jesus to his friends at Corinth:
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:19-26)
Liturgical churches use the tried-and-true order of service for Pentecost Sunday. (Here’s a link to a selection of liturgical prayers for the day.) Low-church (churches that don’t use a formal liturgy for corporate worship) Charismatics and Pentecostals seek to live in Pentecost’s reality every day, thus, they don’t tend to mark the day. Those from other low-church traditions interested in celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the big C Church may find some inspiration for service planning here.
And for all of us, Audrey Assad’s achingly lovely prayer, Spirit Of The Living God
By: Sara Buffington, Hearts Alive Sunday School Curriculum Writer
This spring has brought a new hobby to our household: vegetable gardening. My seven-year-old, who prior to this was only interested in toys involving batteries, has fallen in love with growing our own food. We are only beginners, and we are learning as we go.
Last week an “accident” befell our tiny chili pepper plant. We had had a thunderstorm, and the rain and the wind had toppled the plant. “Mommy help!” my son cried. “Our plant has fallen over!” Anxiety turned to relief as we straightened the plant and applied more soil around the base. A few days (and another rainy and windy day) later, the plant toppled again. When it happened a third time, I knew we needed another solution.
Feeling like a genius, I ran to the kitchen to dig out an old chopstick and a twist tie from the junk drawer. We “staked” the plant by shoving the chopstick in the soil next to the delicate stem. We entwined chopstick and plant together with the plastic twist tie. Now the chili pepper stays erect during howling wind and rain.
Jesus was fond of the agricultural metaphor: scattering seeds, the grain of wheat, and staying connected to the vine. Like plants, we grow, we take root, we live, and we die. As I staked that little pepper plant with my son, I thought about how he had things in common with it: they are both young, they both have shallow roots, and they both need someone or something to help hold them up.
When we, as teachers or parents, care for a child and teach them about God’s love, we can be the chopstick that holds them up as they grow. As believers, should we not support one another? In time, their faith will strengthen, and their roots will deepen. May our prayers for them echo Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians: “Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong” (Eph 3:17 NLT).
Jill Turner helps Hearts Alive Sunday school teachers understand the background for each week’s lesson. Many of our users have commented on the value of this component and how it leads to more meaningful discussions with students.
Why do children love Jesus so much? In the Gospels, it’s clear that they loved Jesus because He first loved them. Jesus wasn’t posing for future artists when He invited children to gather around Him. Actually, He didn’t have to do any coaxing. Children loved Him. So did their parents, who were eager for Jesus to bless their children.
Like a beloved uncle or grandfather, Jesus would put His hands on their heads and pray for them. I can imagine parents reminding their children, “Do you remember when Jesus prayed for you?” What a treasured memory.
It’s sometimes said that adults who love children at heart are really kids themselves. That is, they’ve retained the best qualities of their childhood.
While some grown-ups love to be around kids, some apparently don’t. There’s no question which when we look at Jesus.
Jesus loved to be with children. During His three and a half years of ministry as an adult, we see Jesus giving an amazing amount of priority to ministry to children. Jesus talks with children, something only parents and grandparents usually did in that culture. Jesus commends the faith of little children who, in that culture, were sometimes considered incapable and unable to truly embrace religious faith until they were almost teenagers.
Not only that, but we see Jesus blessing children. We see Him feeding them. We even see Jesus using a little boy’s sack lunch to feed the multitudes and send 12 hefty baskets full of leftovers to help feed others.
Beyond that, we see Jesus healing boys and girls who are demon-possessed and curing others who are sick and dying. He even resurrects a 12-year-old girl who had just died and an older boy who had died a few hours earlier.
In his preaching and teaching, Jesus said that children are a strategic, essential part of his kingdom in heaven and on earth. In so many words, Jesus told his disciples, “Listen, my kingdom belongs to kids.” Not only that, but Jesus goes on to say, “Unless you become like a little kid, you can’t even get into My kingdom.”
What is Jesus talking about? Well, what are kids good at doing? They’re good at receiving. When you’re a small child, your mom and dad give you some food. What do you do? You receive it. Your grandparents send you a birthday satchel with five shekels in it. What do you do? You receive it. God gives you a sunny day to go outside and play. What do you do? You receive it.
The same thing applies when it comes to God’s kingdom. Can you work really hard to get a part of God’s kingdom? No. Can you be good enough, for long enough, to get a part of God’s kingdom? Again, no. Can you pay lots of money to get a part of God’s kingdom? No. That’s what grown-ups would try to do. Jesus says, That’s not the way to get into My kingdom. My kingdom isn’t like that at all. To get into My kingdom you have to get down lower—humble yourself—and trust Me.
What do you have to do to get a part of God’s kingdom? That’s right. You have to receive something. Or, specifically, Someone.
In all we do with children, let’s be sure to cultivate their love for Jesus.
The first series of the trilogy, The Crucified Life, begins the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and calls the corporate body back to the central purpose of Lent, to pick up our cross and follow Jesus as His disciples. The teaching and reflections invite us into the daily process of dying to self in order that we might fellowship in His sufferings of Good Friday and thereby attain the joy of Easter–unity with the Christ in His glorious resurrection.
But our new life doesn’t end there. In many churches, Easter Day is a glorious celebration of worship; yet mysteriously the church goes right back to the normal routine just as things are about to get exciting! Easter is meant to be more than one day–it is meant to be an entire season of hope and renewal. That’s why the second book in the series, The Resurrected Life, explores how everything changes in the light of Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus says, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
The activating and energizing power behind both the Crucified and Resurrected Life is the Holy Spirit of God. The Spirit-Filled Life, the third in The Christian Life Trilogy, explores the activity of the Holy Spirit calling us to Christ, gifting us for service, and pouring out the love of God in our hearts that we might carry that love to the world. Discover what it means to “walk in the Spirit” on a daily basis.
Our hope and prayer for you and your congregation is that these materials would be used by God to bring the life of Christ to your church in an exciting new way. As you gather in small groups and in corporate worship, may the dynamism of the living God stir your hearts with His truth, fill you with hope, and equip you with power. We invite you on this unique walk through the Christian journey, from Crucified to Resurrected to Spirit-Filled Life!
This post is the first in a two-part series on the basic tenets of The Christian Life Trilogy for those who wonder about, or want to share information about the Trilogy with their friends, neighbors, or church leaders.
The ebb and flow of the Christian life is a rhythm of God’s people moving back and forth from small group gatherings of fellowship, prayer, and study to larger group gatherings of corporate worship and celebration. All of the great missionary expansions of the Gospel involved just such movement–from small groups of Christians meeting together for mutual support, learning, and prayer to the larger corporate gatherings of praise and exhortation. Consider the example of the early church, recorded in Acts 2:42-47:
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
Notice the spiritual and numberical growth the early church experienced as a result of their mutual support and devotion. When Christians share their lives together with one another, the Lord Jesus manifests His presence among them–God is glorified.
In many ways, the small group meeting and the large gatherings on Sunday are interdependent, mutually beneficial to one another. The small group held in isolation from larger corporate worship can become isolated, unholy in its pursuits, and misguided by personalities and the whims of a few. In the same way, the large group gathering gains its passion and dynamism from the energy, accountability, and love fueled by small groups.
Bring the two together in a congregation and the Lord will add day by day those who are being saved–new life, new creation!
The Christian Life Trilogy seeks to foster the small group life of a congregation, but always with the aim and end of gathering the whole family back together in larger corporate worship and celebration. In this way, the series hopes to encourage a return to the things of first importance in the church–communal life and the heart of the message of the Church: Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. Therefore, we undertake this journey, following His command together to “remember His death, proclaim His resurrection, and await His coming in glory.”
The structure of the series reflects the pattern and heart of the Christian life. Every year, we calendar our lives around Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost, recognizing that Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension form the heart of Christian belief and reveal the heartbeat of God for the people of God.
There’s a bumper sticker that some of you may have seen, it says: Salt Life. I imagine this to mean a life dedicated to spending as much time as possible at the beach: swimming, tanning, jet skiing, surfing, fishing, basically celebrating sun and sand. This coming week’s Palm Sunday lesson in our Hearts Alive curriculum for kids is about The Servant Life, and if you are reading this blog as a Sunday school teacher, congratulations! You are already immersed in Servant Life. As a servant, you know that there can be days that it is a thankless job. You sacrifice a leisurely morning in bed to the rush of preparing for class and sometimes dealing with the behavioral issues of other people’s children. There are those rewarding moments when you see the difference that knowing Christ can make in a child’s life, but most of the time, you will not witness the fruit of your labors. You won’t see the comfort that God brings to a child when he faces a small social challenge or even a full blown crisis in the future. Yet let me assure you, that seed is taking root. God’s Word never returns empty and will accomplish what HE desires (Isaiah 55:11 NIV).
The opposite of the Servant Life is the King Life, and He who is the worthiest, King of all Kings, spurned this life while He lived on earth. It is the life that many in the secular culture sing about… Greed, power, pleasure, cutting down others, being successful, demanding respect and adulation. It is a me-focused life. This week’s Heart’s Alive lesson is a great opportunity to ask ourselves and our students to reflect upon which lifestyle we have chosen for ourselves. Are we little “kings” always demanding to go first, to speak the most, never to wait, and always have our way? Or do we follow the example of our Lord who washed others feet and died a horrible death on the cross to pay a debt that He certainly didn’t owe, but gave out of love. The King Life seems more fun than the Servant Life, but this is a temporary delusion. Lasting fulfillment and happiness is always found in serving others.
“The greatest among you will be your servant.” Matthew 22:11, NIV
“My Father will honor the one who serves me.” John 12:26, NIV
“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” Acts 20:35, NIV
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!
Watch the video below:
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 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.
In the webinar, The Rev. Allen White and The Rev. Charlie Holt explain what it looks like to have a church-wide campaign and address the keys to a successful church-wide campaign. And of course, we hope you take interest in our small group curriculum, The Christian Life Trilogy, which is designed to align the heart of the Gospel with the heart of the church year.
What is the Key?
Aligning the Hearts of the Church, Christian Faith and Our Church Year
Why Is Alignment Important?
The importance of alignment is taking what you learn on a Sunday into the week. Most people will forget the message of the pastor in the first 24 or 48 hours. Often by Tuesday, the lessons of the Scripture will be lost. By tying the small group Bible study into the Sunday worship, we are once again exposing ourselves to the topics that will enrich our lives, as well as giving us the opportunity to discuss with others and identify practical applications of these lessons. This builds the momentum of the transformation.
What Are the Benefits of Alignment?
Your church becomes unified when everybody is learning and expanding on the same topics, at the same time. The greatest benefit of alignment is growth. This is best done in small groups, so each person has the chance to speak up, ask questions, and truly engage with the Scripture. This growth springs from the interaction and deeper discussion. Small groups create an opportunity for more people to participate. Gathering together as a small group of friends adds to the ability to grow as disciples, in and out of the Church.
Fr. Holt took the opportunity to grow his congregation one Lenten Season. Rather than having a speaker host a teaching during the week, his church studied The Crucified Life. On a typical night with a host speaker (a great one at that), the Wednesday night attendance would reach a maximum of 100 participants. However, when they did a small group campaign studying The Crucified Life, they had 40 groups meeting around the city, with 400 participants! That is even more than Sunday attendance! Small groups get more people involved and more people to become disciples of the Lord.
Small groups can meet any time, this is much more practical to increase participation. You can meet anywhere, Fr. White even had a small group that met on a commuter train. Finding a time for a small group to meet that fits the schedule of 10 or so people is much easier than a church-hosted mid-week teaching that must fit the schedule of the whole congregation.
Setting God-Sized Goals
What Goals to Set?
The first time starting a church-wide campaign, you want to see about 50% of your people connected in groups. These are your early adopters, the people that could end up becoming part of your leadership team in future small group campaigns. The next campaign season should build another 25%, and then it will grow from there.
Those who begin a small group campaign together will continue to grow together through this experience and build in discipleship. These people who study together become friends, involving each other in social activities and outings, as well as service ministry. “It’s easier for people to cross the threshold of a home than it is to cross the threshold of a church,” says Fr. Holt. A small group is a great way for new people to become more spiritual. It is less overwhelming to first join a small group before attending a church worship. Gathering with friends is a perfect way to introduce new people to a relationship with God through this friendship.
Preparing and Planning: Key Considerations
How much time does it take to plan a church-wide campaign? Six to 10 weeks ahead of time is a great place to start. Bible Study Media recommends following these three phases:
Recruit leadership team – one month to build your team
Recruit small group hosts – one month to recruit hosts
Recruit participants to be in the groups – one month to gain members
This can be condensed into a shorter timeline, but this order is what we’ve found to be the most successful in the implementation of The Christian Life Trilogy. The key is to build your leadership team and a group of hosts, then give people enough time to arrange their schedule to become participating members of a small group.
Building Our Community
Who Makes a Small Group Campaign Champion?
Find one person to be a coordinator, maintaining administrative duties; this is the Campaign Champion. This person keeps everything going, working with the pastor and beyond. The Campaign Champion should be organized, detail oriented, interested in people, and have a fire for the vision of the campaign. They should push the timeline toward success!
The Leadership Team’s Role
Prayer Team Coordinator
Spiritual Gifts of Your Small Group Leaders
Building a leadership team is very important to the success of your church-wide campaign, no matter the size of your church. When you have a group of leaders that is already excited and sees the vision, getting the ball rolling on the campaign will be much easier. And hopefully, the people on the leadership team will host a group, which means from the start you have 3 or 4 small groups ready to be established.
One thing about small groups that is so wonderful is you really get to see people use their gifts. These are the spiritual gifts that God has given them. The gifts of a great small group host are warmth, leadership, ability to delegate, and charisma, but they don’t have to lead the discussion every week. If you have the strength to gather a group, you have the strength to keep that group alive. The best small group host is not one who teaches, but one who offers hospitality.
Remember to always set God-sized goals for discipleship. The best way to create a small group campaign is to start with the leadership, the people that will help carry the vision to reality. When finding hosts, keep in mind that the perfect host is one who enjoys bringing people together to grow as a group. The greatest gift of all is watching as your small groups grow with transformation. Learn more about starting a church-wide small group campaign with The Christian Life Trilogy!
At Bible Study Media, our mission is to faithfully spread the message of the Bible. We are happy to answer any questions you might have about Christian formation and Bible study curricula; please reach out to us here. We will continue to produce information on starting your own Bible study groups, so stay tuned!
We recently held the first webinar of this season’s series, “The Keys to a Successful Small Group Campaign.” In the first webinar, “What is a Christian Life Trilogy Campaign & What Does Small Group Bible Study Look Like?” author of the Christian Life Trilogy, The Rev. Charlie Holt discussed the importance of aligning a whole church with small group Bible study and how to plan for a small group campaign. To check out the video of the webinar, click here!
What do we mean by alignment?
A church-wide study, bringing into union all the different ministries and life of the church. The Crucified Life, The Resurrected Life and The Spirit-Filled Life are written to correlate with the Lenten Season, which is before Easter Day, then Easter Season, and then after Pentecost Day, which is 50 days after Easter.
Why is alignment important?
If we do this study in alignment with the regular pattern of the Christian year, it makes tremendous sense to the people who are going through the study. Allowing for deeper exploration and discussion of themes touched on in large group gatherings. Also, by following the Christian year, there is an opportunity for the whole congregation to work through the heart of the Gospel together at the heart of the Church year.
3 Steps to Building Our Community
Obtaining 100% congregational involvement and building small groups require planning. Now is the time to begin planning for a Lenten campaign and study! Think about this in three ways:
2. Recruit Small Group Hosts and Facilitators – H. O. S. T.
Use this acronym when deciding the right hosts and facilitators to recruit for your small groups:
Heart for other people
Open your home
Serve something simple
Tell a few friends!
3. Invite Small Group Members
Have the hosts encourage and invite friends from the different parts of their life to join the small group discipleship. Remember that everyone already has small groups in their lives, people with whom they would like to spend more time and become greater disciples of the Lord.
Your Launch Timeline
Follow this timeline to plan your campaign. This is the optimum timeline to organize and plan for a launch date on Forgiveness Sunday, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday.
Leadership Team: November – December
Build your leadership team, and have meetings with this team. Make sure your leadership team is your “A-Team.” If you are working toward 100% congregational involvement, put your best people on this projects. The leadership team should be very involved and invested in the life of the church, and a voice of the church.
Senior Pastor/Leadership Onboarding
Prayer team coordinator
Small Group team coordinator
Communications team coordinator
Set God-sized Goals and Plan
Small Group Hosts: December – January
One thing you can do is use Christmas Eve to recruit hosts and members. Promote your small groups while you promote your Christmas Eve service. This is the perfect time to give people a next step in growing their relationship with God. This will help grow your church’s membership involvement throughout the year.
Sneak Peek for Existing Hosts
Small Group Members: January – February
Having a connection event to help small group hosts to recruit their small group participants. This gives your whole church an opportunity to participate without leaving anyone out.
Build Anticipation Christmas Eve!
Forgiveness Sunday, February 11, 2018
Creating Your Goal and Making it Exponential!
As a leadership team, setting goals are important to get 100% involvement. When you are considering how many small group hosts you need, be sure to consider the number of groups you will need. Start by considering how many people come to church on a Sunday. If you have 100 people on average for weekend attendance, divide that by 10 people in each small group, and you would need to have 10 small groups with 10 group hosts. Even for small churches it is very accessible when you look at it this way.
Experienced in small group ministry and instructing how to create successful small group ministries, Rick Warren says, “You can structure for control or for growth but you can’t do both.” One reason people don’t like to use small group campaigns is because they fear the loss of control. They want to manage the environment by keeping things at the church location and having one teacher. Doing small groups you lose this ability to control by inviting lots of people to get involved. You don’t know where those small groups are going to be, but the more people that get involved, the more growth you will see. Making small groups worth the loss of control.
Pastor or Priest Engagement
If you are going to have a church-wide campaign, it is critically important to receive the support of the senior pastor, priest, or rector of the church. If you need help with getting your pastor interested in small group Bible study, Rev. Holt is happy to help. Please feel free to reach out to him, and he will work with you and your pastor to discuss engagement. Contact Rev. Holt Here.
What is your pastor interested in?
Having a hard time getting your pastor onboard for your envisioned campaign? Sometimes there are barriers. When you are casting vision to your pastor, think about the things they are interested in.
Increased connection (Pastoral/Fellowship need)
Increased spiritual growth (Discipleship need)
Increased attendance (Worship need)
Increased serving (Ministry need)
Increased giving (Stewardship need)
All are results of SMALL GROUPS!
How Do I Reach My God-Sized Goal?
Plan a Launch: Crucified Life in Lent 2018
Recruit Your Campaign Team – NOW
Set Your Goal – with your leadership team
Recruit your Small Group Hosts – Dec/Jan
Connect Your Congregation into Groups – Jan/Feb
Coach Your Hosts for Success – Ongoing
If you would like to join in our next webinar of the series, to pose your questions and receive feedback, register here:
We recently held the first webinar of this season’s series, “The Keys to a Successful Small Group Campaign.” The first webinar is titled, “What is a Christian Life Trilogy Campaign & What Does Small Group Bible Study Look Like?” In the webinar, The Rev. Charlie Holt, author of the Christian Life Trilogy, discussed the importance of small group Bible study and how The Christian Life Trilogy will aid in transformation, growth and friendship. To check out the video of the webinar, click here!
1 Corinthians 15:1-4
The things of first importance are the foundation of The Christian Life Trilogy, following the Heart of the Gospel. Paul tells us that the most important news is the death of Jesus Christ and His rising to new life. The pattern of the Christian life is one of dying to self with Jesus, in order that we might be raised by him and filled with the Holy Spirit. The Christian Life Trilogy is a transformational process focusing on the things of most importance.
Our call to discipleship is to walk the way of the Cross, which means dying to self. This is the place it must begin, as dark as it might seem. You cannot be reborn until you have taken up the cross and died to self with Jesus.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” We resist change, because it involves losing something, but change also brings growth and new beginning. “You can choose courage or you can choose comfort,”Dr. Brené Brown says.“You cannot have both.” The Christian life is not going to be a comfortable life, it will involve change and aspects of ourselves that will be lost. But we will work to become the new thing that God would have us to become.
7 Words from the Cross
The seven last words of Jesus are the process that leads us to surrendering our lives to Jesus. Through the seven weeks of The Crucified Life you will better understand this process. Beginning with forgiveness, we will study through salvation, the relationships we all have, the distress of temptations of our flesh nature, with abandonment we think about external problems, challenges and suffering in life. Ultimately, we move to a place where we are working toward surrendering our lives to God, leading to the finish line of triumph.
Forgiveness Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.
Salvation Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.
Relationship Woman, behold your son. Behold your mother.
Distress I thirst.
Abandonment My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Reunion Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.
The other side of transformation is the Lord making all things new. The Risen Lord can make all things new once we have surrendered our lives to God, as he did for us. To surrender, we must overcome our worldly doubts and fears. We must let go and allow God to lead us in this new life.
Making All Things New
What becomes new with the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead? He wants to give us a new life, a new temple, a new body, a new covenant, a new creation, a new day. We experience these themes as we work through the scripture study each week. Gaining understanding of what becomes new and how this newness applies to our lives as we follow Jesus in The Resurrected Life.
Ultimately, the plan of God is that we might be filled with the fullness of God through the Holy Spirit. So, what does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? This begins with the baptism through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, after which we are adopted as children of God. The Holy Spirit works in our lives and our hearts to transform us internally, like a butterfly from a caterpillar. Manifesting the fruit of God through love, joy, peace, patience and kindness. The Holy Spirit equips us with the gifts we use in the service of God’s kingdom. The Spirit of God empowers us to do amazing things, with more power than we have on our own. And through this learning and growth we become God’s anointed Christian people.
We have had over 200 congregations in 8 different countries go through these studies. One thing we hear the most is that The Spirit-Filled Life is their favorite study, of course it is! This is the study in which we are fully engaging in the Christian Life and closest to the fullness of God. But you cannot get to The Spirit-Filled Life unless you walk the way of the cross and experience that ever important death of self.
Baptized The Outpouring of the Spirit
Adopted The Calling of the Spirit
Transformed The Fruit of the Spirit
Equipped The Gift of the Spirit
Empowered The Work of the Spirit
Anointed The Mission of the Spirit
If you want to be part of the upcoming webinars of this series, please register here:
Now that you have learned more about the themes of The Christian Life Trilogy, try a free sample to get a taste of the transformation. If you haven’t already, check out our recent post about small group study in early Christianity and the benefits of developing small groups: here. Next, we will go over the importance of church-wide study and how to plan your small group campaign. If you have more questions about The Christian Life Trilogy, please get in touch.
Last week began the first webinar of this season’s series, “The Keys to a Successful Small Group Campaign.” Author of the Christian Life Trilogy, The Rev. Charlie Holt discussed “What is a Christian Life Trilogy Campaign & What Does Small Group Bible Study Look Like?” In the webinar Rev. Holt talked about the importance of small group Bible study throughout scripture and early Christianity, and how it helps us further our transformation. To check out the video of the webinar, click here!
These were the practices of the early Christians, the people who had just devoted their lives to Jesus. As a new church they were committed to:
Spending time together, devoting themselves the apostles’ teaching in the study of the scriptures.
Fellowship, gathering together.
Breaking bread together, meeting in each other’s homes to share in communion.
A main observance in the early church was to congregate in the temple courts and then gather in small groups, in homes to continue in the fellowship of the Lord. Early Christians used these small group gatherings to praise God and enjoy each other’s presence. A critical component since the beginning of the founding of the church. And as they did that, “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved!”
We all have a small group!
Friends, Family, Fellowship, Fun, and Firm!
Who are people you would love to spend a little more time with, in your home, reflecting on the Christian Faith and Christian Life and do life together with. Maybe you could list out the people you would like to bring together. We all have people we would like to know better, and spend more time with. Gathering to study scripture is a great way to deepen relationships with each other and God. You might be surprised how much a small group can build into a great bond.
Story of Mary and Martha
Martha opened her home to Jesus, in the same way we would open our homes to a small group Bible study. Martha was frustrated with her sister, Mary, because she wasn’t helping her to prepare. However, Mary was focusing the thing we should all focus on in small group study, listening to and learning from the Lord. We can get wrapped up in the details and preparations, becoming distracted from our discipleship. We think we must entertain the people we wish to gather with, this can be discouraging and cause us to refuse to open our homes. You need not “entertain,” for everyone who has joined you wants to learn more from the scriptures, grow through discussion, and spend time together. If you get too distracted, it will take away from the growth you and your group can achieve together. Remember to keep things simple, prepare lightly, and focus on the fellowship and study. When Rev. Holt and his wife host small group studies, they will often present water and maybe a simple tray of cheese and crackers. This is all you need to prepare your home for a wonderful study among people who share the same love for Christ.
The Great Commision
Jesus tells us to make disciples of all nations, which is part of the reason it is so important to have small group study. This is the way Jesus built his following, he gathered a group of 12 people, spent time with them, did life with them, and over time they were able to learn and grow through him. He invites us to use the same model. And as we do this, He promises to be with us, always.
Why We Need Small Groups
Creating small groups, outside of large group gatherings, helps to build discipleship and greater connection with the Body of Christ. Small groups lead to intimate discussion and deeper fellowship, as we get to know one another. As a church gets bigger, you must get small. Meeting in homes is a great way to do that!
What is the Benefit of Small Group Bible Study?
Small groups lead to transformation. Building intimate friendships, learning about faith, becoming a people of prayer and study, and connecting to God.
Increased participation and connection with one another.
Increase in spiritual growth. Friendships grow as we begin to speak love and truths to one another.
Increase attendance. You start to look forward to worshipping in a large group, even more, with the friends you’ve made in a small group.
Increase in serving. Small groups create an outlet for ministry, planning and serving the community together.
Increase in giving. Teaches us how to be unselfish people, leading to a more generous life modeled through transformation with the help of your small group friendships.
If you want to be involved in the next webinar of the series, register here:
We will be following this blog with two new updates related to the webinar. Next we will cover “The Things of First Importance,” this will go into further detail about the themes of The Christian Life Trilogy and the transformation brought on by the in-depth study. Followed by “Aligning Your Church and Planning for Small Group Study,” where we will help you understand the importance of aligning the study of your church and how to organize your small group campaign in time for the Lenten Season. If you have more questions about the benefits and purpose of small group Bible study, please reach out to us.
We at Bible Study Media want you to experience the glory of the Holy Spirit. Reverend Charlie Holt created the The Spirit-Filled Life to invite others to come under the Kingdom of God by first being baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. During this six-week study, you will explore how God’s will for you is to baptize, adopt, transform, equip, empower, and anoint you by, with, in, and through the Holy Spirit.
Read the first day’s study of The Spirit-Filled Life and remember: When God calls us to wait and simply trust without knowing what’s next, prayer is always a good choice. So devote yourself to prayer; pray for patience and wait upon to Lord.
Excerpt from Day 1 Devotional Setting the Stage
READ ACTS 1:12-26
Have you received your gift yet?
That may sound like copy from an infomercial, but I’m actually talking about something very real and very important—the gift Jesus Christ promised His followers. You will remember that after Jesus rose from the grave, He astonished His disciples by appearing to them over a period of forty days in various places. Then, on the fortieth day, He assembled His disciples atop the Mount of Olives and instructed them to go to Jerusalem and wait. What were they were supposed to wait for? The outpouring of the Holy Spirit!
As Jesus explained to them, “…John baptized with water but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5).
But before we talk about the Spirit’s momentous arrival on the Day of Pentecost, I want to set the stage for you.
The first time we read about baptism in the New Testament is actually when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist (“John, the Baptizer”) before He began His earthly ministry. At this moment, when Jesus was talking with His disciples on the Mount of Olives, He was assuring them that they, too, would be baptized, only with the Holy Spirit.
The disciples responded to Jesus’ words with a question, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).
At first, this question seems rather “off-topic,” no? In one sense, it definitely was. But in another, it was perfectly natural. Jesus had just proven Himself the Son of God by rising from the dead. The disciples were excited. Jesus was back, alive! But no sooner was He back than He was talking about going away again. They were not so excited about this. And they were confused.
If Jesus really was planning to leave again, they wanted to know one important thing first: Did He plan to reunite the kingdom of Israel before He went? Would He restore their nation to the center of world power and domination as they’d been hoping? Jesus answered this way:
“It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:7-8
Imagine the bewilderment of the disciples! Jesus refused to tell them anything about restoring the kingdom to Israel. Instead, He uttered some mysterious words about being baptized by the Spirit. Then He promptly disappeared into the clouds. “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9).
To add to the confusion, two men dressed in white appeared beside the disciples and asked, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
Wow. That’s a lot to take in. So, what did the disciples do?
They returned to Jerusalem. Makes sense. They went back to their base, and to where Jesus had directed them to go. What did they do when they got there? “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 1:14).
So far, so good. The disciples obeyed Jesus by going back to Jerusalem and devoting themselves to prayer. When God calls us to wait and simply trust without knowing what’s next, prayer is always a good choice.
But then, all that waiting and praying started to get old. Sound familiar? Peter—the disciple known for his impetuous spirit—wanted to do something, not just sit around and pray. What did Peter suggest?
Well, you will remember that the disciples were now down to eleven after the suicide of Judas. Don’t we need twelve? thought Peter. So he convinced the others that they needed to replace Judas and fill the empty spot.
They found some good men, cast some lots, and came up with Matthias as the “replacement” disciple. Now, here’s a question: When did Jesus ask the disciples to replace Judas?
I think the reason this story of Matthias is included in Scripture is to caution us about taking things into our own hands when the Lord’s timing seems a bit slow for us. We rush ahead instead of waiting on God’s guidance and provision. You see, there actually was a replacement disciple—but it wasn’t Matthias.
Interestingly, we never hear of Matthias again in the Scriptures. Who do we read about instead, throughout the entire book of Acts? Who became the famous apostle who wrote much of the rest of the New Testament? The Apostle Paul. Isn’t that interesting? The disciples used a game of luck, casting lots to choose Matthias, when God had somebody waiting in the wings, soon to be called through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes we jump into a decision when the answer is soon to be presented to us. I’ve done that many times. Have you? We try to solve our own problems when the Lord has a solution, and if we just wait a little bit longer, we will discover it!
One of the top comments Church Leaders hear when encouraging church members to be small group leaders is: “Are you sure I’m who you want? I don’t think I’d be good at this at all.” The answer lies within the results of this simple quiz you can take (or send to your parishioners) to help potential Small Group Leaders discern if they’d be successful in the role.
So… are you cut out to be a Small Group host? Take this quiz to find out:
Do you care about others?
Do you have/know of a space where a group of people could meet in front of a television?
Do you have access to water and snacks?
Can you turn on a DVD player and press ‘play’?
If you answered “yes” to these questions… then you meet the four HOST qualifications:
H – Heart for others O – Open your home S – Serve basic refreshments T – Turn on your DVD player
Many potential hosts are concerned about the things that Martha would’ve been concerned about in Luke 1o:
“My home isn’t tidy enough!” “I’ll need to make a big meal for everyone!” “I won’t have enough help!”
Jesus answers all of those fears: “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details!There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42, NLT).
As a Small Group Host, your ultimate job is the same as the one the Lord designed for both Mary and Martha: humbly provide a place for all (yourself included) to sit at the feet of Jesus in a spirit of worship and learning.
If you’re still not sure, consider this: Jesus entered the world in a barn. He sat upon a donkey as He entered Jerusalem. He always valued relational communion with God and community over pomp and grandeur. Why should your Small Group be any different?
Knowing all this, here’s your Pop Quiz Bonus Question: Is He calling you?
Whether you’ve been a Small Group Leader for years or are still considering whether or not hosting a Small Group is right for you, our Webinar Series on hosting small groups will have something that will make you look at the role in a new way. Below, find links to summaries and videos of all the webinars we conducted last year in order to help hosts and leaders make the most of their groups.
What’s next? Looking for a study to keep your group members engaged? The Christian Life Trilogy has 20 weeks of consecutive studies and Small Group material to help members connect with each other and grow deeper in relationship with the Lord.
It happens in every church—different ministries send members in different directions over time. While the youth may have one focus during Sunday school and another on Wednesday evenings, the adults could be deep in a sermon series as well as their own small group studies throughout the week. On the surface, we accept that this is “just the way it is” …but what if the routine was disrupted? An all-inclusive church-wide study might be just how God plans to bring your congregation closer together—here’s how:
1. It helps the congregation focus.
“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 12:12
As members of the Body of Christ, we’re all pulled in different directions, as our God-given gifts lead us. It’s wonderful, but just as we each need to allow our physical bodies to come to complete peace and healing from time to time, the Body of Christ needs to do the same. An all-inclusive church-wide study provides just such an opportunity—each spiritual gift can have a place in the planning and execution of the study, but each member of a church ought to participate, as well, providing a spiritually reviving experience for the entire church family.
2. It brings the entire church into a discussion of faith.
Cross-generational spiritual conversation is often lost in today’s culture. The advent of technology has been a blessing (providing the ability to reading the Bible from an app and then sharing the Word with thousands of people across social media channels), but it’s also led to a tendency to draw inward instead of connecting with those (physically) around us. This phenomenon isn’t isolated to younger generations, either—we all feel the pull of the smartphone glow from time to time—but an all-inclusive church-wide study helps to provide the foundation for intergenerational reconnection. The opportunity for children and adults to study the same topics (at levels that match their maturity) is one that fosters discussion, bonding, and spiritual growth among the entire Body of Christ.
3. It concentrates energy and time around key learnings.
While there is a time for multiple studies to take place within a church, a continuous segmentation can lead to a church body that is not fully connected or focused. Multiple competing efforts can diffuse enthusiasm (instead of inspiring it). An all-inclusive church-wide study provides an opportunity for the entire congregation to be on the same page and can lead to more overall support, participation, and excitement for the study.
There’s something about the blistering heat of mid-summer that makes me think about planning for autumn. Stay with me, here: I step outside into what I can only describe as “sunburn as I walk to the car” weather and yearn for the crispness of fall, which makes me think about my church’s vision for the back-to-school season.
This reminds me that now is the ideal time to plan an impactful church-wide study to bring your congregation renewal and growth for the fall. I’ve seen the effect a powerful study can have on a church during the transitional time between summer breaks and the winter holidays—here’s how you can use this time to prepare for a successful Autumn Church-Wide Study:
1. Have a vision. How do you want to implement the study? Do you have small groups that need to be rallied after a summer off? Do you want to begin a small group ministry with this study as the catalyst? (If so, check out our Small Group Ministry Resources.) Do you want to invite the communities surrounding the church to join in the study? Having answers to those questions will help you create your big-picture vision for the next few months.
2. Build a team. Once you have your vision, consider the church members who will be the best leaders to make the vision bear fruit. These may not always be your “go-to” leaders. If you want different results than those of previous church ventures, a different team may be what you need. Be judicious and prayerful in your choices.
3. Set the goals and objectives with your team. Once you have the team God designates for you, share your vision with them together. Begin to brainstorm on the goals that, when met, will result in the vision being fulfilled. Make a step-by-step plan to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
4. Develop a leadership structure to mobilize the entire congregation. Each member of your team should create their own team to mobilize and involve your church members. These tend to be the most necessary teams to create a strong, successful church-wide fall study: Prayer team, Communication Team, Small Group Coaching Team, Administration Team, and a Worship Planning Team.
5. Give yourself time to mobilize the congregation. There’s a reason why you want to begin NOW, instead of in a few weeks. It takes time to build the right team, plan your strategy, and mobilize the congregation. An ideal timeline looks something like this:
8-10 weeks out build the leadership team
6-8 weeks out recruit your small group hosts and leaders
This blog series explores the impact and long-term growth your church can experience through an intentionally aligned, church-wide small group study. Today’s post focuses on the impact of aligning every part of a church’s Lenten programming to engage a congregation in every way. This is the first post from the series: The Power of Alignment in Your Church.
The goal of alignment is simple: engage a flock of growing parishioners to do more than just attend services, instead energizing the church through their deepening spiritual passion and unity. By aligning your congregation with Individual, Group, and Service participation, you encourage different levels of connection that lead your church closer to the throne of Grace.
But what, exactly, does that alignment look like? Here’s a sample of a Day in the Life of an aligned church:
Daily Devotion: If each member is reading The Crucified Life as a personal daily devotional, they’re already engaging on a personal level with the idea of picking up their Cross and following Christ. Here’s an example: Day 8 of The Crucified Life
Small Groups: Each weekly meeting of a Small Group will act as a hub for discussion and engagement regarding the daily devotions. As the small groups are meeting, God will be doing amazing work in the lives of the members of your congregation; that work must find expression and manifest corporately in word and sacrament, in spirit and truth. Ultimately, this campaign is about transitioning people–getting them connected to God through connection with each other. This transition is accomplished through the use of small groups following the model of Acts 2:46-47:
“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Youth Engagement: This plan is one that engages every member of your congregation, including young people. With The Cross Walk, the youth of your church can connect with their family members and friends as they, too, learn to walk in the way of the Cross with lessons that mirror the adult ministry. Take a look at the second week’s lessons to see the similarities across the board with the other content: Week 2 of The Cross Walk.
Weekend Services: The worship services during the campaign are powerful times that can harmonize the many elements of the campign and underscore the curriculum in a memorable manner. Through the use of several tools designed specifically for The Crucified Life campaign, your services will become the time when the power of alignment is on full display, synthesizing the entire campaign for your congregation.
In addition to discipleship and personal life transformation, launching a small group movement can build an increased sense of community among your congregation. Starting a small group movement can jump-start the sense of connection between church members. As a result, you can more effectively reach your community through the now deeper-connected members of your church. We recommend the following progression for accomplishing just that:
1. First, connect your church members to small groups. Launching new groups and connecting your church members to these small groups is a high priority. One way to get more new groups to begin meeting is through a campaign–aligning a church-wide curriculum with the weekly sermons and encouraging participation in the study. The alignment provides incentive for the congregation to study the Senior Pastor’s message more fully in their small groups and Sunday School classes. It provides an opportunity for the Senior Pastor to ask for people to host a new small group or lead a Sunday School class so that everyone can get connected. New group hosts and leaders can attract unconnected people they already know to be a part of their group–their family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and others they meet on occasion.
2. Second, connect church attendees to small groups. Here, church attendees who are unconnected to others in the church can get connected. New group hosts and Sunday School leaders are recruited from the church membership to form new groups that will include people who respond to the “ask” during the weekly sermon–the “ask” for who would like to be part of a Small Group. Members of existing small groups can launch their own group for the Christian Life Trilogy.
3. Finally, connect your small groups to the community. New groups and current groups are encouraged to reach out to people outside the church in their neighborhoods, workplaces, etc. that they may or may not know well. New small group hosts are encouraged to hold a social event with a few family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, or other to pray about who they can ask to join their group, making lists, writing postcards, or calling with a personal invitation to join the group.
Ready to take the next step and lead your small group movement to the foot of the cross? Join thousands of others in picking up your cross and following Jesus into a Resurrected and Spirit-Filled life with the Christian Life Trilogy. Order your Campaign Kit today or click the link below to read an excerpt!
It is the prayer of everyone at Bible Study Media that relationships are reconciled and hearts return to the foot of the Cross in the post-election season. In the coming days and weeks, we will be sharing thoughts and devotions that we pray will facilitate that goal. Today’s devotion on hope and the purpose of moments of refining is from week two of The Resurrected Life.
In exploring our new life in Christ, we have looked at the future reality of our glorious Resurrection, one whose wonder we cannot even begin to fathom. We do not know exactly what we shall be, but we know that God is faithful to bring it to pass, and we look forward to that day.
Next we looked at the fact that our new life in Jesus isn’t just futuristic. Just as it did for Lazarus, our Resurrected Life begins now.
So, let’s put these two aspect together in what the Apostle Peter calls “a living hope.”
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5 (NRSV)
Peter described both the future and the present reality of the Resurrection in our lives. Presently, we have been given a “new birth” into a “living hope.” When we are born again in Jesus Christ, a new life begins immediately. It manifests itself in what Peter calls the “genuineness of faith” (I Peter 1:7). This means that, though we do not right now see Jesus in the flesh, we love Him and trust Him, and are filled with joy because of His future promise of an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.
So the present new birth and the future inheritance join hands to create in us a “living hope“–a hope that is alive every day and motivates us to seek Him, to love Him, and to live for His kingdom because we are sure of our glorious future. Of course, because we live in a fallen world, the present reality of the Resurrected Life will not be one free of suffering or trials; rather it will manifest itself in the midst of trials. Sufferings and trials form a crucible of refining and testing.
One of the ways to improve gold is to put it through a burning process in which impurities and dross are burned off, leaving only precious metal. Peter compare the trials that we go through in this life to the refining process of precious metal–the metal of our faith. That which is not of eternity will be burned out of our lives. What will be left is genuine faith, shown by its steadfastness and by the love and joy that come by virtue of it.
The apostles considered all of their trials as occasions to rejoice because they knew that such trials would make them more ready to step into their inheritance of Resurrection with the Lord. The trials were occasions to show forth their devotion and love for Jesus and to strengthen their resolve to follow Him no matter what hardships they encountered.
The apostle James says:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
Between the time that we are born again into the Resurrected Life and the day of the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises at the end of the age, we are in a period of testing and refining. The trials, sufferings, and tribulations of this present age work as catalysts to stimulate new growth and to help form the Resurrected Life in us. Jesus also calls this process pruning. In gardening, whenever a healthy plant is pruned, it produces new growth and more fruit.
You may be going through a pruning process in your life right now, feeling the pain of the old being cut off so that new growth and fruit can form. these times can be excruciatingly difficult and extremely painful. Yet the promise of God, as Peter wrote, is that you “are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
If you are in Christ and connected to His Resurrected Life, you will be protected through this season of testing and pruning. Fear not! Instead, persevere in trust, faith, and love, looking forward to the glory that awaits you–your “living hope.”
God is at work around our country through the small group movement, sending a wave of spiritual renewal to the local church. He is using Small Group Ministry to grow His people and equip them to do the work of the kingdom both within the church and in the world around us.
The key to all of this is vision casting. Almost every church wants to grow in numbers and reach out to its community. Vision casting is explaining the dream of Jesus Christ, that every sheep would have a shepherd, meaning that every believer would be connected to another so that the Body of Christ can fulfill its purpose.
Vision casting is also giving your church body easy tools by which they can accomplish this. A Small Group Ministry campaign can do all of this at once. Additionally, such a campaign has some amazing fringe benefits, like growth in church attendance and giving, as well as building an effective network through which the Senior Pastor and staff can communicated to their church body.
These fringe benefits help reluctant pastors, staff, and leadership see the value and purpose of being a church of small groups, not a church with small groups.
It is the prayer of everyone at Bible Study Media that relationships are reconciled and hearts return to the foot of the Cross in the post-election season. In the coming days and weeks, we will be sharing thoughts and devotions that we pray will facilitate that goal. Today’s devotion on reconciliation is an excerpt from week three of The Cruficied Life.
We’ve all heard of the famous Hatfields and McCoys, the iconic feuding families of West Virginia and Kentucky. Consider that almost every war on this planet ultimately goes back to identity found in family of origin. For example, the clash between the Muslim Arabs and the Jewish people goes back to their ancestors, Ishmael and Isaac. The fighting in Ireland between Roman Catholics and Protestants stems more directly from tribal and family feuds than anything pertaining to the Christian faith.
When humans go to war, it is often because they find their identities in their natural families or human ancestry. Family divides people into factions and parties. The worst factions of any on earth are factions in and among families.
Blood is thicker than anything else, and bad blood is more dangerous than anything else. It is what often separates Caucasians from African-Americans, Greeks from Turks, Jews from non-Jews, and fuels countless other divisions around the world.
God is calling believers to be one family under one head, to share one Lord, one baptism, one Spirit. To fulfill that call, we must die, in a sense, to our families of origin and to our “tribes,” so that we can be raised up into the restored family of Christ Jesus our Lord.
Now, those are strong words. Here is an interesting phrase we sometimes use: “Bury the hatchet.” The origin of the phrase is uniquely American; it is derived from the Native Americans. When a tribe would come to a point of declaring peace with another tribe, they would literally dig a hole and bury their weapons of war in the ground, thus burying the bloody hatchet for the cause of peace.
Listen to how Paul describes a similar feat accomplished on the cross:
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.Ephesians 2:13-16
Now, Paul was originally speaking of Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles). God’s plan is not that there should be separate Jewish and Gentile tribes divided by ethnicities and patrimonies, but that there should be one new man from the two, in Jesus Christ, where the dividing wall of hostility is abolished in His flesh. The two sides bury the bloody hatchet at the foot of the cross–creating peace between them.
And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.Ephesians 2:17-18
When Jesus said to John and to Mary, “Woman, behold your son…behold your mother,” Jesus began an incredible peace process between all families, tribes, and nations by starting this new family of God. In Jesus, people are united by common faith and spiritual adoption rather than by blood. John writes of this new family: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).
It is the prayer of everyone at Bible Study Media that relationships are reconciled and hearts return to the foot of the Cross in the post-election season. In the coming days and weeks, we will be sharing thoughts and devotions that we pray will facilitate that goal. Today’s post is written by the author of the Christian Life Trilogy, Rev. Charlie Holt.
Several weeks ago, our church read an excerpt from Jeremiah’s letter from God to the exiled Israelites in Babylon. It struck me as I was hearing Jeremiah’s words read out loud that they were just as prescient for our day as they were then.
A People Deaf to Warnings
In 597 BC, the Babylonian armies invaded Israel and the Judah and eventually conquered the capital city of the Jewish people in 586 BC. The Fall of Jerusalem to Babylon is one of the great tragedies of the Bible. For, the walls and buildings of the city of Jerusalem was literally disassembled and the Temple built by King Solomon was destroyed to its foundations. Many people were deported into exile, including the entire royal court.
All of the destruction and deportation was anticipated and foretold through the writings and preaching of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah was not a particularly popular person in his day with the ruling class. Truth tellers are often difficult to hear.
False prophets rose up. Prior to the exile, they preached a message of denial. After the exile, they preached a “quick fix” approach, promising the exile would be a short few years, and that God would restore things back to the “good ole’ days” quickly. The truth was more severe.
The problems with the nation were deep and they went all the way to the top. Corruption existed at the highest levels—with the king’s themselves, Ahab and Zedekiah. These men would ultimately be judged by God unto death for their spiritual adultery with foreign powers and gods, for their rebellion against God’s commands and for their lies.
Hope, But Not False Hope
One of the most cherished parts of Jeremiah’s writings are his promises of hope to the people of God in the midst of their exile. As severe and devastating the Babylonian exile was, it was not the end of the story. All hope was not lost. However, such hope should not be falsely understood; restoration would not come quickly. There would be no quick fix. The exiled Jews in Babylon needed to take a long, multigenerational view. It would take 70 long years to turn things around and for Israel to be ready to return to Jerusalem. Here is a portion of God’s letter to the exiles. It said:
4 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 8 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream,9 for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.
10 “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
The letter encourages the people that they need to take a long view. It is critically important that they live and even thrive in the midst of the exile. In other words, it was incumbent upon them to thrive even though the culture around them was foreign to them—not their home. They should even seek the welfare of the city in which they live so that they can thrive for the long term with the city’s good favor.
Restoration would come eventually. God promised to give them “a hope and a future”, to prosper them with good plans. But, it would take a good long while to see such blessing. By adopting a long view mindset, the Israelites would stay strong for the long haul and stay faithful to God for generations.
The writers of the New Testament considered the secular Roman Empire in which they lived a type of Babylon. The church is the exiled people of God. Peter called the church in the world, “scattered exiles” (1 Peter 1:1). This world is not our home. Even though we are citizens of the United States from an earthly perspective, our true and lasting citizenship is in heaven in a city whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10). We are destined for the New Jerusalem and the heavenly city prepared for the new earth after the consummation of all things. In the meantime, what are the faithful people of God to do?
Some false voices suggest that the problems are not that severe. That one day soon, we can get things turned around. Beloved, if the election of 2016 has taught us anything, I hope that we have learned that there is not a messianic presidential figure in the offing who will lead the United States of America back to the promised land that it once was.
The faithful need to be disillusioned with the pundits and the politicians who preach a message of false hope and quick fix. The problems that this nation has are deep and intractable. The truth is that it will take generations for this nation to be restored. They will not be solved in the short run with government solutions. On the contrary, national restoration of the United States will come from many generations of faithful consistent witness to the Christian life, as well as discipleship by the church.
If the Foundations Be Destroyed…
In Psalm 11, David asks: “If the foundations be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?” There are times when it seems as if the very ground underneath our feet is coming out from under us. This political season may have shaken our confidence in the very institutions which we rely on for stability. However, David knows that if your trust is not in earthly foundations but in the Lord’s sovereign rule, all is secure.
The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man. 5 The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. 6 Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. 7 For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.
God remains firmly in control of all events happening in the United States of America. He is sovereign over all. So what will the righteous do?
Go on Being Righteous.
No matter how bleak the circumstances are in this land of exile, our hopeful confidence is ultimately not in the government of the United States of America or its elected leaders. As beautiful and wonderful as our nation is, God has truly shed his grace on thee, our hope and help is in the promised restoration that will only come by the sovereign hand of God and in his sovereign timing.
In the meantime, we take the long view. We go on being righteous, in season or out of season. We proclaim the good news. We plant and build churches, we do good deeds that build up the kingdom of God. We build houses and raise families. We study the scriptures together in community, and we seek the things of first importance, Jesus Christ and him crucified and raised.
The Lord is in his Holy Temple and he calls us to live and thrive in the midst of exile. We should always seek the welfare of the nation and cities in which we live as that will be for our welfare and blessing. By getting involved in the affairs of our community and being the salt and light of Jesus Christ, we manifest the kingdom of God on earth as in heaven. Elections do matter, and we are called to engage in the affairs of our communities and nation so that the place where we live will be strong and good.
But for God’s sake take the long view, do not be discouraged or lose hope by the affairs of this world. We will remain in exile a good long while. As the Lord promised the people of God of old, his words continue to ring true:
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
It is the prayer of everyone at Bible Study Media that relationships are reconciled and hearts return to the foot of the Cross in the post-election season. In the coming days and weeks, we will be sharing thoughts and devotions that we pray will facilitate that goal. Today’s post was originally written by the author of the Christian Life Trilogy, Rev. Charlie Holt, on July 4, 2014.
As I consider the state of both the Church and the United States of America, I see that there will be no quick fixes or short term solutions to address the besetting challenges. It will take a group of dedicated people who will understand the opportunities for God’s vision and persistently pursue a more faithful, hopeful and free future.
The first step is to pray about what that desired future might look like. Does the Lord desire the reformation and renewal of the Church and the nation? Perhaps….let us pray so.
So many have surrendered the church and nation as a lost cause. Read the book 1776 by David McCullough and you will learn that General Washington and the Continental Army spent most of that year on their heels in retreat. In Christmas of 1776, hope was growing cold. In that moment, Thomas Paine spoke to the heart of the courageous and the freedom loving:
“THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Thomas Payne, The American Crisis, December 23, 1776”
God’s ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts. Many in Jesus’ time thought that they had rightly diagnosed the problems of their day, and in doing so their solutions were not God’s solution. God’s way is one of costly sacrifice–Jesus Christ and him crucified.
Our battle is not fought against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6), and so the weapons for the battle will be deeply spiritual in nature requiring spiritual aid. Jesus re-framed the battle lines away from the human vs. human fights of his day to reveal the true battle as between Satan and the spiritual forces of evil vs. himself and the Holy Spirit of God. Matt 12:28 Jesus says, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”
The critical next step becomes making sure that we are on the side of Jesus Christ in addressing the Goliath challenges that face us in our day. When we join the Lord in his battle, then we tap into the power promised in Acts 1 to be poured out on the Church at Pentecost (see Acts 2).
What do we need to be doing now to move forward toward God’s desired future? Taking inventory of my life…I have 29 more years until I hit mandatory retirement as a priest. If the Lord wills, I am willing to faithfully labor for Him in whatever ministry context he places me–to do whatever needs to be done for the long term future of His kingdom. Some have more time, some have less time. No one of us truly knows the number of our days. The key for all of us is that we make the most of our days now, for the sake of not only the salvation of our souls, but for the sake of our children and grandchildren.
May those of us who serve Jesus through the ministry of the Church and on behalf of the vision of freedom, work together intentionally for the long haul–“a long obedience in the same direction” (Eugene Peterson). The range of our missionary field is multi-generational and not “my-generational”. Our understanding should discern both the nature of the root challenge and the mighty strength of God for those who believe. As Jesus promised in Acts 1, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the Earth.” Jesus will use us to the praise his name.