The True Meaning of Community

“Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters.Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude.“ –  1 Peter 3:8.

In what the news called “The Miracle at Quecreek,” nine miners in 2003 were trapped for three days 240 feet underground in a water-filled mine shaft. They decided early on that they were going to live or die as a group. The 55 degree water threatened to kill them slowly by hypothermia, so when one person would get cold, the other eight would huddle around the person and warm that person, and when another person got cold, the favor was returned. The miners said that when one person would get down, the rest pulled together and picked up that person. It was a team effort and according to the miners, the only way it could have been. 

Those miners faced incredibly hostile conditions together—and they all came out alive together. What a picture of the body of Christ and what a picture of small groups.

When we look at the early church we get a picture of small communities of people who followed Jesus together. The Book of Acts, especially Acts 2:42-47, gives us a snapshot of the early church and community through meeting in homes. These early church believers did life together through teaching, fellowship, communion, prayer, miracles, and radical generosity. They spent time together eating, learning, celebrating, and supporting each other. Throughout the Bible, community is described as a place where people loved, forgave, served, bore burdens, encouraged, exhorted, and prayed. There are approximately 59 one another verses in the Bible.

God never intended for us to live the Christian life alone. How can we apply these “one another” references unless we are in intentional, close relationships with each other? God calls us to love, not in an abstract or superficial way, but in a deep, face to face, life-on-life, transformative way. And the best place to do that is in a small group.

Let me leave you with this thought. It is easy sometimes to look at small groups merely as a program.  But it is so much more than that. It is a way of doing life with others. It is nearly impossible to experience biblical community apart from spiritually significant, intentional relationships with other believers.

“And as ridiculous as it may sound, sometimes all any of us needs in life is for someone to hold our hand and walk next to us.” –  James Frey

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you view small groups as a luxury or a necessity? Why?
  2. What do you see as the most significant value of small groups?
  3. How much margin do you have in your life for this kind of shared life? What needs to go so you can create more margin?
  4. Consider joining a small group if you are not already participating in one.

The Small Matter Of Community

“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:24-25.

The word community is a familiar one in churches across America and the world. Most people understand what the word means, but are not as comfortable with it’s dynamics. What would you say community is? Is it small groups? Is it first Wednesday? Is it getting together with other church friends? Whatever the case, community likely involves church people getting together for one reason or another. And a small group is a good place to start for the following reasons: 

It is a place to discover God’s truth. A small group will help you learn and understand the Bible. A weekly sermon is helpful, but in a small group, you can share and process the truth together. You can ask questions, test your ideas, and hear insights from others. It is a place to build authentic relationships. In a small group, you’re more than just a face in the crowd. You are cared for and celebrated like a part of the family. You share joys and sorrows with others who face the same life situations as you. Relationships are not always easy, and neither are small groups. But the deep, lasting friendships and benefits are worth it.

As was discussed on Sunday, small groups will help you endure the stresses of life. Small groups provide great support in times of crisis, change and stress, when it really helps to know that people care. As you lean on your small group, you receive encouragement, stability, and security to see you through the rough times that nobody should ever go through alone.

Small groups are a great place to experience life change. I have seen people grow spiritually in small groups at a faster than normal rate. As you grow deeper in your relationship with God, you begin to change from the inside out. The group helps you shape new habits and overcome old ones, based on the Bible. They provide the support and encouragement to put God’s truth into practice in everyday life.

And finally small groups are a good place to develop your gifts. All of us have God-given talents and abilities that can benefit others. A small group is a great environment to discover and practice yours, because everyone gets to participate. You can discover where you could best serve not only in a small group, but in church as well.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What about small groups appeals to you the most?  What appeals the least?
  2. Do you believe community can make a big difference in your life? Why or why not?
  3. Is there something that is keeping you from joining a small group? What can we do to motivate you to give small groups a try or another try if you had a bad experience?
  4. Pray and ask God whether He wants you in a small group.

The Key To Success

Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season.Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.” – Psalms 1:1-3.

The story is told of a new bank president who met with his predecessor and said, “I would like to know what have been the keys to your success.” The older gentleman looked at him and replied, “Young man, I can sum it up in two words: good decisions.” To that the young man responded, “I thank you immensely for that advice, sir, but how does one come to know which are the good decisions?” “One word, young man,” replied the sage. “Experience.” “That’s all well and good,” said the younger man, “but how does one get experience?” “Two words,” said the elder, “bad decisions.”

If any one of us would look back and review/examine our history, I believe we would probably do things differently. Looking back at past choices, the decisions seem so easy and the right decision so obvious because we know how it will all play out since it’s passed. We also wonder how our much our life would be different, and how more successful we would been if we had made different decisions.

A study asked a broad group of people this question: At the end of your life, how will you know you’ve succeeded? The answers were: “It’s important how my kids turned out…Did I live a personally rich and fulfilling life?…Did I positively change lives?… Did I build meaningful and deep relationships?…Did I really love my spouse? and Did I make a difference?”

Effective small groups can assist you in making better decisions as well as helping you in each of the measures of success listed above. Small groups are designed to help us be more like Jesus and that means giving our life to helping others. We want people to experience His grace and love and peace. Small groups can help us give priority to relationships and to stay with the people God puts us with, even and maybe especially when staying is hard, and when staying hurts. People in small groups can feel your pain, and yet see the best in people, and making a habit of telling people how valuable they are. It all comes from investing in others and sharing our time and our lives. 

I think we can make a fairly strong correlation between success in our walk with God and doing life with others in community. Success from God’s perspective is progressive. It is not static and it does not deal just with the results. Success deals with the process … the journey. And the best way to embark and then make progress on that journey is with others helping you along.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your definition of success?
  2. Do you believe that small groups can assist you on your journey with God. If so, how so?
  3. Do you have enough margin in your life for this kind of shared life? What needs to go so you can create more margin?
  4. What is the value of investing in relationships with others in a group? 

Some Final Thoughts On Raising Home Run Kids.

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” – 3 John 1:4.

This week we concluded the Raising Home Run Kids teaching series. My prayer is that you gained some new insights on how to use God’s principles to raise home run kids, and for life in general.  Here are the things I would tell each child as a result of this series. 

Remember that you are unique and what’s more you have eternal value and significance. The fact is, God does not make junk. He has a plan and a future for each child. (Jeremiah 29:11)  Each of you have an amazing contribution to make to the lives of others. God created each of you for the purpose of serving Him in the lives of others. People you have never met may be counting on having your influence in their life some day. 

You have incredible and unique skills and abilities to develop and use for God’s glory. Try not to compare yourself to others. Let God help you become who He designed you to be. “Do not neglect the spiritual gift you received…” (1 Timothy 4:14)  Living a home run life, a life that is fulfilling and happy, depends on having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Walking with Him, knowing Him, and learning of Him on a daily basis is where life is really a home run.   

Your life is more about your future than your past. Yes, you have made mistakes and you will make more mistakes throughout your life. There will be times of confusion and frustration. Your journey will be littered with traps and pitfalls, but God’s Word is the ultimate guide. When you know God and know His principles, you are safeguarding your steps. “Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.” (Joshua 1:8) 

Don’t be impatient and run the bases out of order. In other words, don’t rush what God is doing in your life right now. Be willing to follow God’s principles; first connect with Him, find community and then uncover and use the competencies God has given you. “Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.” (Hebrews 10:36)   

Finally, I encourage you to never stop learning and growing. Constantly work on building your relationship with our Heavenly Father. “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” (Galatians 6:9) 

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the one thing that will stick with you concerning the Raising Home Run Kids series?
  2. Having heard the series, how has your view of the home run life changed? How has your view of raising kids changed?
  3. What can we do this week to help our kids move to the next base?

The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree…Or Does It?

“Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.” – Psalms 139:14.

Sunday’s message was not a sermon about children, but it was a message to parents and to children. It applies to parents and grandparents, not just to the parents who just have children living at home, but also to the parents whose children have grown up and left the home. Usually when we talk about parenting we are talking to parents with young children. But sometimes the children who are out in the world by themselves, actually need their parents the most. The fact is, God created the unique design in each child, whatever ages they may be. 

I think we intuitively know that. Because usually when you have more than one child, you have two very different people on your hands. God has given each of our children specific gifts, abilities and capacities for specific purposes and He can equip parents to discover and support those powerful personality traits if they know where to look and how to respond. So many kids raised in Christian homes launch into their adult lives without any sense of knowing who they are called to be or what their mission on earth is. What if parents, teachers or mentors could help them discover the the unique gifts God has given them?

One child can be very outgoing and the other can be very quiet. One can be a gifted writer while another can actually understand calculus. One child will be happy to stand up and speak in public, and another would rather be in time out for the rest of their life than stand up in front of other people. You learn very quickly that there aren’t that many hard and fast rules because children are individuals and children are different. And each child has to be treated as an individual. And we must remember that when God created your unique child, He didn’t create a mini-me that automatically follows in your footsteps. And if they desire to take a different path, we shouldn’t force them to be something they are not because that is what we want for them.

We need to be original since we are raising originals by thinking outside a cookie-cutter approach. But that means they may not be just like us. Parents who try to live vicariously through their children, in sports or in life, are not raising each child according to their unique needs and personality. This begins when we understand our kids unique strengths and the challenges associated with them and discover their God-given gifts and how to use them for His glory. Because when kids uncover and develop their individual skills, abilities and gifts, awesome things can and do happen.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In your mind, what makes each child unique?  What makes each parent unique?
  2. Is it wrong to follow in your parent’s footsteps?
  3. We need to be original since we are raising originals. Agree or disagree and why?
  4. What can we do this week to help our kids uncover and use their skills and abilities?

Skill Identification

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2.

One of the greatest responsibilities of a parent is helping our children to spiritually grow and reach for a home run life. Helping them to discover and apply their spiritual gifts is often key to this long sometimes painful process. No matter how bumpy the road, it’s the parent’s duty to help our kids discover what is unique about each of them. It is up to the parents to ask questions like these. “What makes my child vital to the kingdom of God? What spiritual gifts lay dormant inside them that will bring glory to God? How do I activate these gifts?” 

When we look at our kids, we can see unique personality traits, passions, and spiritual gifts that God has placed within them. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul points out that God has purposefully made each of us unique.  He never intended for us to all be the same. Rather, His mission is fulfilled through very differently gifted people working together to accomplish the same purpose. The challenge is to use our unique abilities and talents to further His kingdom rather than fulfill society’s norms.

From the beginning of the Church until the present, Christians of every denomination have wrestled with a most fundamental problem: how to relate to the world and its culture. How do believers act in and interact with the society which surrounds them, and of which they are a part? Culture wants Christians to be more like everybody else. 

For example, society will equate abilities and talents with making money. What we often forget is that our kids can use their gifts to make a huge impact on the world for God even if he or she never makes a penny from those gifts. To me abilities and skills development and use is not necessarily about how our kids make a living.  But that is how society will look at it. Do your abilities and skills translate into a higher net worth.

Secondly, society will equate abilities and skills with being ambitious, competitive and getting ahead. We need to separate gifts and abilities from competition. While there is nothing inherently wrong with competition, there is a potential problem if they do not do well at something and thus think their gifts are not worthy to be used for God. As a pastor, I have heard people say that they can’t work in some area of ministry because they are not “talented enough”. Even though I reassure them they have plenty of talent to complete the task at hand, they differ because they never made money with their talent, they never won a prize or they know someone even more talented than they are.

Sometimes “better than average” talent is what God needs for something. He doesn’t always need Michelangelo, it may be that he just needs you or me or one of our kids. We should help our kids to not compare the level of their talents or abilities with others. All of our abilities, skills and gifts belong to God. They will be amazed with the ways God can use them over the years.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are some things you’re skilled or talented at doing? How did you discover that you were skilled or talented at those things? What are some of your skills or abilities that you never thought might be valuable for our church, but could be?
  2. Regardless of their own assessments of their talents, kids have the opportunity to put their abilities to work for God now, instead of waiting until they are older. Agree or disagree?
  3. How can we encourage our kids to examine their skills, talents, and abilities and consider how God could use them for a bigger purpose? 

A Craftsman And Competency

“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Look, I have specifically chosen Bezalel son of Uri, grandson of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have filled him with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts. He is a master craftsman, expert in working with gold, silver, and bronze. He is skilled in engraving and mounting gemstones and in carving wood. He is a master at every craft! “ –  Exodus 31:1-5.

Before Sunday, have you ever heard of Bezalel? He is mentioned in Exodus 31. We don’t know much about him other than he was one of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness with Moses. About the time of the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai, God instructed Moses to build a tabernacle. This is where Bezalel enters the picture. God “filled him with the Spirit of God, giving him skill and know-how and expertise in every kind of craft to create designs and work in gold, silver, and bronze; to cut and set gemstones; to carve wood—he’s an all-around craftsman.” (MSG))

We don’t know if Bezalel had some skills in that area and God gave him an extra something – talent, skill,  and inspiration. But we do know that God gave him those skills. And further know that this extra giftedness allowed him to complete tasks that were important to God.   

Our children, regardless of how we may feel some days, have one or more talents, or gifts. It may not be a talent treasured by society.  But our kids have one or more things he or she was born with the ability to do better than the average person. I think this passage is an example of where God can sometimes give us a little extra something to enable us to do things He wants done in His Kingdom. Remember your child’s gifts are from God and are because God has a plan for your child.

I would love to talk with Bezalel. I would love to see what he thought of the gifts that God gave him. And secondly, how it felt to use his gifts from God in such special ways. I wonder how he continued to use his gifts after the Tabernacle was completed. And finally, I wonder what he would tell our kids today about developing their gifts so they too  can use those gifts to serve our Lord and Savior. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What comes to your mind when someone says, “spiritual gifts?” Why do some Christians fear this? Do you? If so, why?
  2. Are you passionate and excited about discovering and using your gifts?
  3. Do you believe spiritual gifts can be scary for our children and may cause them to hide in the fear of coming under conviction of God or moving outside of their comfort zone? If so, how can we change that?
  4. What can we do this week to teach our children that spiritual gifts are both a blessing and a responsibility?

3rd Base – Competency

Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

In Sunday’s message, I talked about third base, our competency. It is about our career and our work. You probably didn’t hear anything you didn’t expect. We should set goals. By all means, work hard. And, please, never give up. But if you only set goals, work hard, and never give up in terms of career and success, then you will ultimately be a failure because that is not what competency is all about.

Here is what I mean. People who put their careers and work above all else in life tend to give up more than they gain by success. They elevate their projects higher than their family. They are stressed, and have no margin. Their kids grow up while they are working their way up the corporate ladder. And they usually find that all they have achieved is temporary.

Jeremiah 29:11 is a powerful and well-known verse: “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”  But look at what he adds in verses 10, and 12-14. “This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. … In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.”

There is a time when the Lord will give the exiles a great hope and a great future. When is it? The Lord says in verses 12-13. “…I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes.” So how do the captives exiled to Babylon acquire a great future and a hope? It is not by buying a large home, expensive cars or a six-figure salary. It is not by working more hours than anyone else. None of those things is bad, but they should be secondary to seeking the Kingdom of God and its righteousness. Then “all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

Success is discovering what God wants me to do and then doing it. Follow Jesus first, because your identity is in Him. If you do that first and above all else, there is no other secret to success, for in Him you have all that you will ever need. Our goal as parents is to teach our children that they cannot find their identity and their purpose in life in the size of their house or a corner office with their name on it.  We need to teach them that when you seek Jesus first, you have everything you need.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some ways the American view of success has filtered into your everyday life? How can you fight this?
  2. Is it wrong to seek to be successful in our jobs? How do motives fit in?
  3. God’s blessing is not necessarily related to favorable circumstances. Agree or disagree?
  4. How can we sort out whether our motives to succeed are selfish or for God’s glory? Read the story of the rich man in Luke 16:19-31: What evidence from the story tells us that the rich man fouled up the greatest priority in life? If this rich man could do his life all over again, do you think he would change anything? What and why?
  5. What can we do this week to give our children the courage to trust Him in everything?

The Golden Rule

“For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Galatians 5:14.

How many times growing up did you hear adults tell you, “do as I say and not as I do?”  This never made sense to me and it makes less sense when you read the Bible. In fact, the Bible teaches the exact opposite. 

Almost everyone knows the “golden rule.” “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.  (Matthew 7:12)  Look at the same verse from The Message (MSG): “Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them.”

The golden rule is a call to immediate and positive action for the purpose of helping others. We “grab the initiative” to “do.” If we want to see more of the golden rule expressed in our daily lives and in the world, then we need to think about how you want to be treated, then treat other people that way in order for your reward to be similar treatment. The golden rule says to treat others the way you want to be treated regardless of how they treat you. This might seem like a tall order to our kids and it is. It is a tall order for all of us.

But remember that Jesus told us to love — to treat others with kindness, mercy, forgiveness, compassion, gentleness, and respect. In order to truly live a home run life and raise home run kids we need to love God and love others. That’s what God expects us to do. The golden rule helps us live for others and for God. It un-selfs us, strengthens our values, and empowers us to live the life God wants us to live.

It is not that difficult a concept. Since we want to be loved, we should love others. We want to feel accepted, we accept others for who they are without any conditions or judgments. We want to be encouraged, supported, and complimented, we go out of our way to make others feel that they are supported, that they feel encouraged, and compliment them when we can. We want to feel respected, appreciated and valued. Since that is what we want, shouldn’t we genuinely respect other’s points of views, ideas, and individualities; we listen to them without judgment.

And finally, we want to be forgiven for the mistakes we make. Since we want to be forgiven, we forgive others for their mistakes — big or little. That doesn’t mean we condone what they’ve done; but we refuse to feel resentful. Instead, we move forward as we would want the other person to move forward.

Living a life based on the golden rule is not always easy, but it’s worth it. Living by the golden rule starts with the question, “God, how would You have me love today … in this situation … with this individual?” Living by the golden rule is not about what we get. It’s about what we give. And it blesses both the receiver and the giver.

Discussion Questions

  1. How would you explain the golden rule to people?
  2. Are the golden rule and the great commandment similar? How can we be commanded to love? How is love more than a feeling? 
  3. How do we know if we are fulfilling the golden rule?

Have Compassion

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,” – Colossians 3:12.

How do you know if you have a good relationship with someone? Your initial reaction may be to evaluate based on the presence or absence of conflict. But a lack of disagreement is not the true measure of a relationship. What about love, respect, and compassion to name a few. What do you think of when you hear the word compassion? And how does compassion fit into your life?

There is a story in Mark 5:1-20 that illustrates compassion. Jesus encounters a man “possessed by an evil spirit …This man lived in the burial caves and could no longer be restrained, even with a chain. Whenever he was put into chains and shackles—as he often was—he snapped the chains from his wrists and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Day and night he wandered among the burial caves and in the hills, howling and cutting himself with sharp stones. (Vs.2-5) 

After some exchange with the spirits, Jesus purged the man of the spirits. The man was rightly thankful. He wanted to accompany Jesus. Mark 5:19 says, “But Jesus said, “No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been.”  Note the words, how merciful He has been. It reflects an action that issues from a compassionate and tender heart. It is just another example of our Savior’s love and compassion for the unfortunate and for the disenfranchised.

To live the home run life requires compassion. Compassion starts with empathy, or putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15). To be compassionate toward others, we need to allow time for the Holy Spirit to override our tendency to judge. Lastly, we need to recognize the barriers to showing compassion to others. It’s impossible to be annoyed and compassionate at the same time. Frustration, suspicion, irritation, bitterness, dislike and anger are all signs that we may be looking at others without compassion. We can pray to the Father to “get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.” (Ephesians 4:31)

Our goal is to “be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32)  That is how we develop compassion and cultivate a spirit of compassion in our children.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what situations is it easy to be compassionate? When is it difficult? Why?
  2. Do you judge others by higher or lower standards than you use to judge yourself?
  3. Is it important to maintain wisdom while being compassionate? Why or why not?
  4. What are some practical ways that we show compassion to our children and others this week?