Thursday, November 29, 2012

That's Not Fair!

Even though we know that life is not fair, there is something within us that is convinced that certain things ought to be just.  The one who follows Christ is to be committed to justice for others.  Micah 6:8 tells us, “He has told you, O man, what is good;  And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” 

However, despite our efforts, we live in a fallen world.  Sometimes we have a hand in making something unfair for someone else.  Sometimes we are the ones who are handed the “unfair” card.  When we think of the sweet psalmist of Israel, David, we can see he walked into an “unfair” situation with a significant person in his life.
David was in a tough spot from the beginning in his relationship with King Saul. 

Transition in governments are more typically problematic than not.  It was hard for Saul to accept that a young king from an unexpected source was anointed King from Israel’s revered and respected prophet, Samuel.  And although David was anointed, he was not at liberty to exercise his authority until the current king was removed from power.  As a “man after God’s own heart”, David knew this transition of power was “God’s deal” to accomplish – not his.  Author Thomas Rodgers related, “Being anointed king and becoming king were two different things.”  Although David had the right to the throne an ungodly man sat in power and would do so for the next fifteen years!  There was intense rivalry between the two, “but David patiently waited for God to work out His program so that he could sit on the throne with honor”.   Saul tried hunting down David and attempted to kill him.  David dealt with these overwhelming circumstances by trusting in God, acting in bold faith and being incredibly patient.  David had a very mature understanding of God’s heart in the area of authority.  Even though the man that occupied the office of king was an ungodly man, David would neither demean nor trivialize the office in any way.  What typified David’s nature in his relationship with Saul was patience and outrageous (from a human stand point) trust in the sovereignty of God.  David’s conscience was tender and it was important to him to do the right thing.
Saul’s attitude toward David was characterized by jealousy and insecurity.  Conversely, David’s attitude toward Saul was characterized by a gracious, forgiving spirit and a magnetic sense of security that was anchored in his relationship with God. 

Although life was not fair for the fifteen years for David from the time he was anointed King until he was officially honored as king, David’s character was honed and refined by the “unfair” process.  As in the case with much adversity, the time in which he had to bear under the weight of injustice proved to be a time that sweetened his spirit and forged him into that man that was “after God’s own heart.” 
Are you in a situation that is just not fair?   Take courage.  God is still working.  God is sovereign and makes possible that the oven or your adversity will form in you a gentleness and sweetness that makes people want to be around you, because you are becoming “Christlike.” 

“For He knows the way I take; When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”  Job 23:10

Monday, November 26, 2012

Chill with the Father

There is a time for everything, a season for every activity under heaven. 

A time to be born and a time to die.

A time to plant and a time to harvest.

A time to kill and a time to heal.

A time to tear down and a time to rebuild.

A time to cry and a time to laugh.

A time to grieve and a time to dance.

A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.

A time to embrace and a time to turn away.

A time to search and a time to lose.

A time to keep and a time to throw away.

A time to tear and a time to mend.

A time to be quiet and a time to speak up.

A time to love and a time to hate.

A time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 

Those of us who grew up in the 60’s-70’s rock and roll era readily remember these words from Ecclesiastes that drifted over the radio waves.  It has taken me a lot of seasons to really comprehend how important it is to understand that God has a  timing for everything and His principle of a time for quiet and rest is absolutely essential for our well being.  But we certainly don’t learn this from our culture!  We become so stressed out with all the things we think we need to do that we gravitate toward time management courses and sophisticated organizational systems to keep us on track.  That way we can squeeze out a little more useable time to fill up with things that stress us out even more, or so it seems.  Along with the rest of the country I became interested in the TV series The Apprentice, and became fascinated with how these would be apprentices maneuvered and competed as to how they could work smarter, to win the victory, with the prize being a high paying stressful job.  It seems so glamorous, so dripping with status laden success.  But as we know, even all that does not buy happiness or spiritual wholeness.    

Jesus, our ultimate example, took time to drink in the peace that comes from communing with God through prayer and quiet time.  If Jesus had time to ‘chill with the Father’ how silly can we be by thinking we can bypass that important element of life and still maintain a healthy outlook?  If God rested after making the world, how can we possibly think we can burn the candle at both ends without toasting our fingers?   

Schedules, finances and responsibilities often make it difficult to take a time of rest, but we that Sabbath..  It’s priority.  We need to refuel, drink in, and best of all take some sweet time and ‘chill with the Father.’    

God knew we would need times of quiet and rest.  So He not only implored us through His Word to ‘be still and know I am God’, but He showed by example (when Jesus lived on earth) and by constant visual demonstration (the seasons, the changes in weather, the light of day and the dark of night) that a part of a balanced whole and healthy life is one that includes seasons of rest.   So, as you plan your in your daytimer or mark your New Year’s calendar, may you pencil in  (actually no, write it in ink) some times for quiet pauses and spiritual refreshment.

Sleep Mode

The office where I work acquired a color printer.  It’s capabilities are wonderful -  clear crisp printing with excellent color.  Although the results are great, the printer has a feature that about drives me around the bend on some mornings.  My best thoughts almost always come early in the morning.  However, several mornings I would find that after I finished a project, I couldn’t print.  At last, we found the problem.  The printer has an automatic feature that kicks in when left on for an extended period of time.  It ‘goes to sleep.’  It’s an energy saving mode.  The only problem is it won’t wake itself up.  To “fix” the printer and get it out of it’s sleep mode, one has to turn the power off and then turn the power back on.

Sometimes this printer reminds me of my spiritual life.  When I’m not called on “to be on the front lines of ministry” it’s easy to “go to sleep.”   At times we may not feel that our role is particularly important or we may not see a connection between the service we perform and souls being won to Christ.  If we are one of those ‘behind the scenes’ people in the body of Christ, no one may notice how our spiritual lives are going.  The ‘sleep mode’ can be a dangerous place.  It’s at those times we are susceptible to complacency, mediocrity, negative thinking or perhaps even depression. 

In Ephesians 6:10-18 we are told to ‘put on the whole armor of God’.  We are reminded that our battle is in the spiritual realm, not with flesh and blood and we are implored to pray  AT ALL TIMES.   The apostle Paul goes on to say that we are to be ALERT.  The New Living Translation says to be “persistent in your prayers for all Christians everywhere”.  The apostle Paul asks the Ephesians to pray for him personally to be bold. 

Those powerful words tell us plainly not to exist in the ‘sleep mode.’  No one else may notice, but the Lord Jesus knows the condition of our hearts, and if we are not alert, we will not be ready for spiritual battle.  And guess what?  Someone else knows when we are spiritually asleep.  I Peter 5:8 says, “Be of sober spirit, BE ON THE ALERT.  Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 

Responsible Leadership

“…So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.”…Now when Moses saw that the people were out of control – for Aaron had let them get out of control to be a derision among their enemies – then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me!” And all the sons of Levi gathered together to him… Then Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves.  But now, if  You will, forgive their sin – and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You has written!”…Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just  as a man speaks to his friend”  Exodus 32:14;25,26,31,32;   33:11a 

Moses, human though he was – showed great responsibility in leadership.  He pleaded the case of his people to the LORD, being so persuasive that the LORD changed His mind.  Minister Matthew Henry (1662-1714) penned in his commentary, “The power of prayer; God suffers himself to be prevailed with by the humble believing importunity of intercessors.  The compassion of God toward sinners, and how he is ready to forgive.”    

Moses begged God not to act out of His anger that He felt .  Yet, when God gave Moses the request of his heart, Moses turned around and got angry himself with the people, moving swiftly to see that justice was carried out.  He did on his own, in part, what he begged God not to do. 

Then acknowledging the people’s sin before the LORD, Moses adds that if the LORD is going to blot people out of His book – to blot out himself as well.  Moses, in a sense took on the responsibility for the sin of the people even through he was not a participant in the blatantly rebellious acts they performed.   Moses identified with the people he led, being willing to take punishment along with them.  Perhaps Moses understood, given different circumstances, he could have succumbed as well.  If we understand  the nature of temptation and the truth of our humanness, we know that none of us are immune to falling.   There but by the grace of God, go I.”   Maybe Moses could identify with the people because of the humbleness of his spirit.  Even though what they did was awful, and justice needed to be carried out, Moses was able to appeal to the mercy of God’s character because he understood he also needed God’s mercy for himself. 

Moses was a peacemaker and reconciler between God and the Israelites.  Moses was a friend of God and a leader of the people. 

In leadership, sometimes people will disappoint us.  We may grieve when they sin, and part of our grief is in realizing that we could be in that other person’s shoes.  As a leader our job is to pray to the LORD on behalf of the people we lead, and then be responsible to do the right thing in the eyes of the LORD.  We may have to lovingly discipline people.  We may have to turn away (Romans 16:17) those who cause division.  But for those whom we are called to lead – we identify with them and bring their needs before the LORD.  We shepherd, we nurture, we admonish, we love.  We exhort people to stay true to the LORD. We lead responsibly.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Leading and Facilitating ...A Great Way to Learn

So you have stepped out if faith and said, "o.k., I'll lead."  Or rather, "no!  I'm not leading,...I'm FACILITATING!"  O.k., o.k., fine, you are facilitating

Now you are in for an adventure!  There is something highly motivational about having a bunch of eager leaders right at your heals to make one want to learn!  Keeping one step ahead can catapult us in the areas of learning Bible knowledge, how to learn leadership skills and draw us to that all important position of being on our knees! 

Living in the information age has made resources more available than ever.  On this blog notice the long list of links to access great Bible teacher resources.  Our church library of a few thousand volumes lovingly cataloged by sweet saints like Eva Fry, Estelle Trammell, Linda Clark and others.  The staff would LOVE to point you to more Bible resources!  Make a list of questions and pepper them with questions!

Great books and DVD's give us access to the brightest, gifted and insightful communicators on the planet! Take full advantage of the wealth of knowledge at your fingertips.

Schedule some time with a Life Group leader who has years of experience.  Take a pencil and paper, some questions and listen well!  Ask for prayer in the areas where you struggle.  You will make a friend and possibly even a mentor.    

A leader is a learner!  All right, all right, and a facilitator need be a learner as well! 

Promoting Your Group

You may have started with a larger group, but between people moving geographically, varied work schedules, and the new sports season for some of the children -  your group has decreased to a number that feels more like a "couple of couples getting together" rather than a "group."  What to do?

While one can always let the Life Group Director know the state of the group, it is important as a growing leader to also seek to expand your group.  After all, who knows the complexion and personality of your group better than you?  Who could best discern a good fit (humanly speaking)?  That would be you!

So here are some tips to get started on inviting others to join your group!
  • When you meet people at the worship service, simply invite by asking something like, "are you in a Life Group?  We meet on _________ nights, and we'd sure love to have you join us!"
  • Intentionally build relationships.  Do lunch or a latte with someone with whom you seem to connect.  Take the initiative!
  • Follow up on prayer requests.  Do you know someone on your prayer list who could use some encouragement?  Often the troubles of life tend to isolate us from the needed support of our church family.  Ask that person how they are doing and see if they need any specific help you can provide - like an extra meal or a little handyman work around the home. 
  • Pray through the church directory.  In this age and time people move a lot.  Life changes quickly, and far too soon we get disconnected from those who used to sit next to us in church.  Pray for that person or family on your heart and follow up that prayer with a call or note of encouragement. 
  • When your group starts a new study that you think is exciting, call the church Life Group Director and ask her to highlight it in the church bulletin and list online in the Life Group Finder for a couple of weeks.
  • When your group is studying a Bible passage or new book that has impacted your spiritual lives, be sure to tell others.  Let the Life Group Director know of good study materials you have found.
  • Be involved in mercy (Micah 6:8) projects, and let the church know how you are ministering in the church and/or community.     

Qualifications of a Life Group Leader/Facilitator

Here are some important points when it comes to qualifications for our Life Group Leaders and/or Faciliators:

Have a personal, growing relationship with Jesus Christ (for at least two years)

Recognize the Bible as the authority for their lives

Have Community Group experience (preferably)

Are members of the church

Have the time, emotional capacity, and moral discernment to lead a group

The expectations -

Lead the group by facilitating the group meeting, monitoring its health and duration, and

promoting participation among group members

Commit to engage in leadership development opportunities provided by the church

Identify and develop a qualified apprentice and embrace apprentice leader development as a

measure of success

With thanks to North Point Church for expressing these points well.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I Don't Know All the Answers!

So you have taken that step of faith and said yes when that church leader asked you to become a Life Group leader!  You read the material, previewed the teaching video and you are ready to open your home and heart to others so that you might have this Life Group experience together!  Awesome!   And, you are terrified!!  Terrified, because you just know they are going to ask you questions that you can't answer.  Terrified because they will figure out that you are not a great Bible Scholar and you are apprehensive about those awkward moments when you invite someone new over.  Guess what?  You are in a great place!

All those thoughts and feelings of inadequacy not only indicates a sense of humility but a recognition of a needed dependence on God.  And that is key! 

II Corinthians 3:4-6a tells us, "We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ.  It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own.  Our qualification comes from God.  He has enabled us to be ministers of His new covenant."  (NLT)

God is pleased when we step out in faith and obey Him.  Perhaps you experienced a prompting in your spirit to start a Life Group.  Maybe you saw the need and seeing no one else willing to step up, you looked around and said, "I'll do it."  Good for you!

Everything of spiritual significance that we step into needs to begin with prayer.  How often the Israelites got in hot water because they often went charging into battle without consulting the Lord.  We need to seek His will and His enabling through prayer.  So first base for being a Life Group Leader is to step it up in the area of prayer.  Pray for God's leading.  Pray for those God would have come to this group. 

Next, be a student of the word, but also be a fellow traveler on the journey of life.  People don't need an expert, but they do need someone who is real, who is growing in their walk of faith, and who is willing to say at times, "I don't know the answer to that, but I will study on it this week and we can talk about it next week.  There are great Bible study resources available and a church staff that would love to hear your Bible questions and direct your in searching for your answers.

Third, just be your self.  God has amazing ways of bringing together people in groups and finding that although they may be diverse, we have a common faith which causes us to be called brothers and sisters in Christ.  That indicates an amazing bond that is available to us as believers.

A great journey is ahead.  Pray, be a student of the Word, be humble, teachable, and yourself.  People want to such follow leaders!  God bless you on your new endeavor as a Life Group Leader!!    

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Daytimer Disease

We really struggle with the concept of a Sabbath in our culture. We are a busy busy people! A 1998 Reuters report claimed that the average worker gets interrupted 169 times each day! When others ask us "how are you?" instead of "fine," we’re tempted to say "I’m busy !"
Thankfully, our source of ultimate wisdom and understanding – God’s Word - never changes. And the Bible is very clear about taking a day of rest. God Himself rested on the seventh day, and the Old Testament concept of a Sabbath wasn’t only for people. God gave guidelines for the land to rest, and crops to be rotated. God’s entire creation takes a necessary pause – day and night, summer and winter, a time to work and a time to rest. God’s Word is always right. It is a Biblical principle to work hard, and it is also a Biblical principle to take a time of rest – a Sabbath.

How often do we feel pulled in opposite directions? While responding to the needs of a child or spouse do we feel guilty about letting someone down at work? And while working do we feel guilty about not doing something at church? And while serving at church do we feel guilty about missing a significant event with one of our children? We feel pulled apart! But God’s Word is still true. We need to rest. Look at Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. There is a time for everything, and the Bible is consistent in regards to a sabbath rest.

Authors Graves and Addington in their book, The Fourth Frontier write: "Rest requires faith. It takes faith not to work on the Sabbath – faith not to worry about getting left behind, about getting everything done, about pressure from peers who don’t observe a biblical rest." Observing a Sabbath rest is not about a list of do’s and don’ts, but about trusting God to give us His wisdom and leading concerning our activities. It is not being legalistic about our schedules but allowing God to gracefully guide us day by day. He knows what we need, and created us to have a time of "refueling", of "drinking in", of restoration. Observing a Sabbath is about "ceasing from our doing" – actually, it’s about "being" instead of "doing." For God loves us simply because we belong to Him; not because of what we do. Even Jesus, with the constant demands on Him, often took times of rest to be with the Father and pray. And when He said "It is finished", it was.

Thanks to Stephen Graves and Thomas Addington for their insightful book, The Fourth Frontier

Psalm 90:12 Colossians 3:17 Ecclesiastes 7:18 Psalm 116:7 Matthew 11:28 Mark 6:31