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Who Is Your Neighbor? A Local Church Initiative

By Allen White:  Small Group Guru and Church Coach

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

Who is My Neighbor?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay, Pray, Play, and Say

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

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

Leaders Go First

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

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

Jacob & Mary Alice: An Unlikely Pair

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

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

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

Takeaways

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

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

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

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

Reposted from AllenWhite.orgwith permission.

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

Taking Back the Night: Halloween for Christian Kids

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

Origins

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

How did the early Christians react to Halloween?

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

Emphasize a holy Halloween for your children

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

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

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

1 John 4:4

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

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

John 14:27

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

1 John 5:20-21

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

Hebrews 9:10

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

 

Celebrate the story of all the saints

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

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

Keep things in perspective

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

By: Jackie Zurinaga

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

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

[iii] Psalm 1 John 4:18

[iv] Hebrews 2:14

[v] Spirits that do not acknowledge Christ

[vi] Ephesians 6:10-18

How We Reflect God’s Love to Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Benefits of A Daily Devotional

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your favorite devotional?

Did You Have A Relationship With Jesus as a Child?

We asked this question to our Hearts Alive writing team.   Their answers inspired and amazed us.  We hope that their testimonies remind you of the awesome responsibility we all have as Children’s Directors and Sunday School teachers.  Thank you to David Sanford for sharing his story with us today.

Q: Did you have a relationship with Jesus as a child?

A: Unlike most other Hearts Alive writers, I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. Just the opposite. My father is still an atheist. His lectures were always the same: “There are no rules. Don’t obey anyone. Don’t even obey me.” When I fully committed my life to Jesus Christ at age 13, however, I found out my family had a rule: You can’t be a Christian. So, I was kicked out of my dad’s side of the family for 37 years. It was pretty surreal.

Then again, I was old enough to vividly remember reading the Bible cover to cover the first time. Imagine not knowing even the most famous Scripture stories. When I got to the beginning of Genesis 45, I wept at Joseph’s heartfelt love for and forgiveness of his brothers. When I got to the story of David and Goliath, I cheered. When I got to the story of David and Bathsheba, I felt so ashamed to bear his name. When I got to the end of Revelation, I put my Bible down and thought, Wow, I didn’t get all of that. So, I picked it back up and started over. Nobody had told me to read only three Bible chapters a day, so I read it cover to cover in as fast as 27 days. Except for one stretch, I’ve continued reading it avidly all of these years.

Q: How did that affect your childhood or teen years?

A: Coming to faith in Jesus Christ changed the whole trajectory of my life. I have a lot of cousins about my age. So, I know how my life would have turned out without Christ. Thankfully, the Lord has won one family member after another to Himself. I only wish we all would have done so as children.

Q: How did you get to know Jesus?

A: A friend in my neighborhood invited me to attend his Sunday school class. He stopped going after a while, but I’ve been in the church ever since. That’s the difference between hearing the truth and really listening to it. That’s why I’m so jazzed about the Hearts Alive curriculum. It brings Scripture stories to life for children. And not just as great literature, but as life-changing gospel truth. One of our core objectives is to see children fall in love with Jesus. I’m so thankful for Mrs. Rosemary Phillips, my first Sunday school teacher, who helped me do just that. Again, it literally changed the whole trajectory of my life.

Come to God Like a Little Child

 

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.

In Search of a Parenting “Guarantee”

Excerpted from Born To Wander: Recovering the Value of our Pilgrim Identity (Moody Publishers, 2018)

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.

Guarding Child-like Trust in Jesus

by David Sanford, Hearts Alive Writer

 

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.

Be a Chopstick to a Pepper

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).

What is the Christian Life Trilogy, Anyway? (part 2)

This post is the second 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. See part one here: What is the Christian Life Trilogy, Anyway? (part 1)

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!

Take the first step and preview the Trilogy today.

 

What is the Christian Life Trilogy, Anyway? (part 1)

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.

Preview the Christian Life Trilogy today!

Read Part 2 here.

 

The Servant Life Hearts Alive Palm Sunday Reflections

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

Small Group Bible Study and It’s Importance in Early Christianity and Today

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!

Acts 2:42-47

Acts 2:42-47

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.
  • Prayer!

Small Group Bible Study

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!

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

Open your home to Jesus and Small Group Bible Study

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

Matthew 28:18-20

Make disciples of all nations

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?

transformational 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

small group Bible study webinar series

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.

Learn more about small group campaigns

Quiz: Are You Cut Out To Be a Small Group Host?

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:

  1. Do you care about others?
  2. Do you have/know of a space where a group of people could meet in front of a television?
  3. Do you have access to water and snacks?
  4. 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?

If you’ve decided to host a Small Group, but aren’t sure where to go next, check out our library of Small Group Leader Webinars, or see if The Christian Life Trilogy might be the perfect study to begin with your Small Group!

Small Group Host Webinar Series

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.

Topic 1: Why are Small Groups Important? How Can I be a Great Leader?

Topic 2: Growing Your Small Group

Topic 3: 8 Goals to Increase the Effectiveness of Your Small Group

Topic 4: 5 Key Elements of a Healthy Small Group

Topic 5: Top 5 Small Group Challenges (And How to Solve Them)

Topic 6: Divide to Multiply: How to Turn One Powerful Group Into Many

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. 

How An All-Inclusive Study Benefits Your Church

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.

See how you can engage your entire church with an all-inclusive study today–preview The Crucified Life and The Cross Walk to learn how they can be the right fit for your congregation!

How To: Plan an Impactful Church-Wide Study for Fall

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
  • 2-4 weeks out recruit participants.

But even if you don’t have this much time, start NOW for the groups you want to launch at the end of September. The Spirit-Filled Life is the ideal Autumn Church-Wide Studypreview a sample today, or order your Campaign Kit to get your study off the ground!

The Power of Alignment: Preparing for an Unforgettable Lent

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.

Living Hope

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.”

Ready for more? Get your copy of The Resurrected Life today!

Small Groups and Casting Vision

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.

Ready to take the next step and align your congregation so that each member can fulfill their role within the body of Christ toward a common goal of furthering the Kingdom? Get your Christian Life Trilogy Campaign Kit today and start planning!

Bury the Hatchet

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).

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You can sample more of The Crucified Life today–click here for a free preview!

A Hope and a Future in the Christian Life

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:

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 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. 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. 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, 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.

Our Day…

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.
The Lord tests the righteous,
but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
Let him rain coals on the wicked;
fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
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.

National Reflections

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.

This blog originally appeared on July 4, 2014 on www.revcharlieholt.com.

The Power of Alignment in Your Church

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 three ways the power of alignment will influence your congregation’s participation and experience.

Coordinating and aligning the elements of the Christian Life Trilogy will impact and produce the kind of spiritual growth that will move your congregation from spectators to active participators in the Body of Christ. Imagine for a moment the impact on your church if every person lived in alignment with God’s will in the areas of serving, growing, and even giving. What if your congregation–leadership to occasional worshipper–lived in powerful community with their small group or Sunday School class? What is, as groups, people began to experience the power of God in their lives as an entire congregation? By making the most of the following three campaign components, you will see the power of God working in your church. These components build from micro to macro, from a narrow scope to the broadest.

1. Individual Participation

This is the real heart of the campaign, and it is the element that will produce the greatest spiritual growth among the members of your congregation. The goal is to get people to read a daily devotional and reflect on God’s Word and consider His will for their lives daily throughout the bampign. By participating in this campaign, each person will be challenged to grow spiritually and experience God’s plan for living a transformed life.

2. Group Participation

A powerful element of the campign is getting people to explore and experience God’s will and their Christian faith in true biblical community. We provide you with curriculum to be used in small groups or Sunday School classes for adults. Individuals bonded to a smaller community of believers within your congregation will enjoy the benefits of sharing life, spiritual growth, and accountability for that growth. These small group experiences are vital to ensuring the greatest personal spiritual growth as well as a commitment to ongoing growth as a community within your congregation.

3. Service Participation

The services that take place during The Christian Life Trilogy journey include Ash Wednesday, Holy Week, Easter, and Pentecost. These services offer opportunities for the Senior Pastor and worship planning team to further explore the lessons of the small group curriculum for your congregation.

Are you ready to see how the power of alignment can provide an opportunity to experience God moving in your church? Preview The Christian Life Trilogy or Get your Campaign Kit today and start being intentional in seeking God’s will in 2017 and beyond!

Guarding the Faith

“O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you.” – 1 Timothy 6:20-21

 

Paul’s final charge to Timothy is to “guard the deposit entrusted to you” (6:20). As a minister of the Gospel, Timothy is being sent into a battle on the front lines for the very Gospel itself. He needs strong encouragement to see the importance of the task and ministry with which he has been entrusted.

The need for Paul’s letter was occasioned for two main reasons: geography and time. First, Paul was simply not able to be in more than one place at a time. The delegation of leadership to others was an essential task for Paul if there was to be a geographically broad gospel movement. As Paul traveled on his missionary journeys moving from region to region, city to city, town to town, many new congregations were planted. New leadership had to be developed in each region, city, and town. Coordination and support of those various congregations also became mission-critical for the gospel.

The second issue was related to time. Paul was always keenly aware that his days of “fruitful ministry” were numbered. The issue of succession was critically important to Paul as he empowered Timothy to lead and then to identify and empower more leaders for the churches.

In this way, we see the first examples of succession and delegation at work in the church in the personal and pastoral relationship between Timothy and Paul. For Paul, the issue is not merely the passing of a torch humanly speaking, but for him it was critically important that the content and character of the gospel be guarded in order that it may be passed on faithfully to the next generation of leaders.

As each generation considers its own faith, it must also keep in mind the needs of the next generation of believers. We are given a sacred trust in the gospel of Jesus Christ, guarding the faith carefully so that it can be passed on.

In what ways are you delegating, passing on, and guarding the faith which has been entrusted to you?

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This post originally appeared on The Bible Challenge.

The Christian Life Trilogy author Rev. Charlie Holt with Charisma Magazine

See what The Christian Life Trilogy author Rev. Charlie Holt had to say about the series in a radio/podcast interview with Charisma Magazine!

 

Implement a Small Group Study on Christian Life – Church-Wide Impact

The biggest hurdle in implementing a church-wide study of any kind is figuring out where to begin. Rev. Charlie Holt, author of The Christian Life Trilogy, has the answers and will be sharing them over the course of this 7-part series!  See the previous posts in the series below the video.

I really hope you’ve gotten a better sense of how you want to implement The Christian Life Trilogy for your own congregation this Lent! The last video in this series is quite possibly the most impactful:

Ready to take your next steps? Order your Church-Wide Study Campaign Kit right here! It’s worth it to start planning today. To see the rest of the videos in this training series, click on the links below:

Episode 1: Focus on Things of First Importance

Episode 2: Exponential Thinking

Episode 3: Building a Team

Episode 4: Plan Your Campaign

Episode 5: How to Recruit Hosts

Episode 6: Host Training Session

Episode 7: The Value of a Church-Wide Campaign 

Implement a Small Group Study on Christian Life – Training Hosts

The biggest hurdle in implementing a church-wide study of any kind is figuring out where to begin. Rev. Charlie Holt, author of The Christian Life Trilogy, has the answers and will be sharing them over the course of this 7-part series!  See the previous posts in the series below the video.

After you find your hosts, they need some support before they step out as leaders on their leg of the campaign! This video is all about getting them ready:

We have amazing resources to pass along to your hosts, as well, from our Small Group Host Webinar Series.

A reminder: it’s definitely helpful to have The Christian Life Trilogy campaign materials in hand as you prepare. You can order a Church-Wide Study Campaign Kit right here! It’s worth it to start planning today. To see the rest of the videos in this training series, click on the links below:

Episode 1: Focus on Things of First Importance

Episode 2: Exponential Thinking

Episode 3: Building a Team

Episode 4: Plan Your Campaign

Episode 5: How to Recruit Hosts

Episode 6: Host Training Session

Episode 7: The Value of a Church-Wide Campaign 

Implement a Small Group Study on Christian Life – Plan The Campaign

The biggest hurdle in implementing a church-wide study of any kind is figuring out where to begin. Rev. Charlie Holt, author of The Christian Life Trilogy, has the answers and will be sharing them over the course of this 7-part series!  See the previous posts in the series below the video.

Once you have the leadership team God ordains, it’s time to plan out the campaign! Here’s how you and your team can begin to plan and prepare for a Lenten study series that is unforgettable:

A reminder: it’s definitely helpful to have The Christian Life Trilogy campaign materials in hand as you prepare. You can order a Church-Wide Study Campaign Kit right here! It’s worth it to start planning today. To see the rest of the videos in this training series, click on the links below:

Episode 1: Focus on Things of First Importance

Episode 2: Exponential Thinking

Episode 3: Building a Team

Episode 4: Plan Your Campaign

Episode 5: How to Recruit Hosts

Episode 6: Host Training Session

Episode 7: The Value of a Church-Wide Campaign 

Implement a Small Group Study on Christian Life – Recruit Hosts

The biggest hurdle in implementing a church-wide study of any kind is figuring out where to begin. Rev. Charlie Holt, author of The Christian Life Trilogy, has the answers and will be sharing them over the course of this 7-part series!  See the previous post in the series below the video.

Are these videos fanning a flame in you to make the most of the season of Lent? Next up, author and pastor Rev. Charlie Holt shares how to spark that same desire in others as you find hosts for your small groups:

If you’re feeling less-than-confident about this step, take a look at some of our Small Group resources! 

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