Upward, Inward, Outward, Forward— Week Nine: Sacrificial Commitment

Upward, Inward, Outward, Forward— Week Nine: Sacrificial Commitment

Sacrificial Commitment

You are settled in a small group and have developed intimacy, loving accountability, and group identity. That’s a good thing. That’s what a small group is all about. But God doesn’t want it to remain “just you four and no more.”

In Israel, there are two bodies of water that make a great illustration of this principle. The first is the Salt Sea, also known as the Dead Sea. The Jordan River, which feeds into it, is the other one.

You’ve probably heard the comparison before, haven’t you? But you probably haven’t heard it all.

I prefer to call it the Salt Sea because it is an apt illustration for small groups, which should be life-giving, not dead ends. You’ve probably heard that there is no outlet for the water, so nothing lives there. Here are some things you probably didn’t know:

“They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven (Psalm 107:3).”

The Salt Sea actually does have some life. Microbial life. Extremely small and basic. That’s like a small group that never grows.

Although it is called a sea, it is actually a lake. In scripture, the sea represents death, chaos, evil, and destruction. But the Salt Sea is not even connected to the sea. Our small group isn’t part of all that bad stuff.

The weather tends to be pleasant nearly all the time. People love to sunbathe there just about year round. It’s comfortable and even relatively safe from UV rays that can burn your skin. Small groups can make members feel safe, too, and they should.

The Salt Sea is a haven for healing. With a higher atmospheric pressure, low allergen count, and higher oxygen content 1,400 feet below sea level, it is a literal breath of fresh air.

 

He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah,[a] where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live (Ezekiel 47:8-9).”

So we’ve seen that small groups contain life and are places of healing. What about the Jordan River?

The Jordan River is a river of life. It represents the life of believers, flowing out of the Temple of God and making everything alive with its waters (the Word of God). The Bible makes reference to the Jordan River more than 200 times. When used in spiritual songs, it represents freedom and was a constant theme in Negro Spirituals.  What makes it different than the Salt Sea is that it flows, a neverending stream that is constantly refreshing and giving life wherever it goes.

The River Jordan represents the living Word of God, flowing throughout the promised land and reviving those who partake of its waters. The Salt Sea represents small groups who contain the water of the Jordan but give it no place to revive those outside the small group.

That’s why it’s vitally important to open your small group and share your spiritual blessings with new members. In the small group setting, new leaders are trained to carry the Jordan’s waters to new places where more and more people can experience the life-giving experience of being part of the body of our Lord.

Yes, sometimes you might be uncomfortable. It might cost you a little bit. But, oh! The joy of sharing the true life of believers with others!

 

Are you ready to share the life of your small group so others may have that life-giving blessing too?

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Are You The Real Thing?

Are You The Real Thing?

The Authentic Life

We covered communication with God in the first six weeks of this Bible study. Now we’ve moved on to learning to live an authentic life with a small group of other believers. But what does it mean to be authentic? Merrian Webster defines it this way:

  1. worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on facts
  2. conforming to an original, so as to reproduce essential features
  3. made or done the same way as an original
  4. not false or imitation; real, actual
  5. true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character

I especially like definition three. We are made in the image of God, so we ought to conform to His image in all its essential features as our humanity allows. Obviously, we are not omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing), or omnipresent (everywhere at once). But we can be truthful, faithful, loving, charitable, compassionate, and strong in His might.

Authenticity in small groups is what will draw us together—and sometimes drive us apart. Each person is a unique expression of God. Where our beliefs, opinions, and personalities clash, we must learn to be humble and respectful. This is best accomplished in a small group setting.

Our memory verse today says:

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16 NIV).”

When we are authentic, we want to make things right with those with whom we have relationships. That includes both friends and family members. If you have (intentionally or unintentionally) offended someone, go to that person, get eye to eye, and repent for your offense. True humility will deepen your relationship, and that’s what small groups are all about.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, that he came not with eloquent speech in an attempt to impress them with his own wisdom, but with the simplicity of the message of the Gospel.

Within our small groups are diverse gifts like pieces of a puzzle, as the Holy Spirit sees fit to give them. No one gift is better than any other, just as no part of your body is not needed. As part of Christ’s body, we are called to authentically be that part. I’d rather have an  

I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power (1 Corinthians 2:3-4 NIV).”

authentic heart than pretend to have one. Pretense cannot come through the storms that small groups will inevitably face. Encouraging each other to weather such storms builds character into our group that will empower us to help each other and those others that God brings across our path.

Giving to each other without authenticity is like giving counterfeit money. It may look real, but it has no power to purchase anything. Authentic love, then, shared with your small group, is indeed powerful. It taps into God’s resources and meets needs with solutions that are real.

This week, anytime you think, say or do something that is not who you truly are, take note of it. Ask God to change that aspect of your character that clings to false images of yourself. Instead, ask Him to let you see yourself through His perfect, revealing light.

 

Then share who you really are with your small group members.

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Jesus Was A Small Group Leader

Jesus Was A Small Group Leader

Jesus Was A Small Group Leader
Now that we’ve taken six weeks to look at our most important communication—between us and God—we next want to look at our membership in a small group.

Not there yet?

By the time we’ve finished the next six weeks, I hope I will have convinced you that the life of the church exists within small communities.

If we use Jesus as an example (and why not? He’s the best example of everything right and good!), we can see that our faith walk is made to be shared with others.

Jesus chose 12.

These were common, ordinary men, probably on the young side, who were looking for a  Messiah and determined to follow Him wherever that might lead. They weren’t content to simply go to synagogue on the Sabbath and celebrate the feasts. They wanted all God had for them, and although they may have thought they made the choice to follow this itinerant rabbi, in truth He chose them. 

Yes. Even Judas who would later betray Him.

Because Jesus knew that He needed to leave us an example of how we will best accomplish His plans for us. In groups of close friends.

“These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him (Matthew 10:2-4 NIV).”
[bctt tweet=”Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. — Margaret Mead” username=”suzi59344978″]
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them (Matthew 18:20 ESV).”

This “Jesus life” is something that cannot be accomplished alone. To do so leaves half of His purpose completely out. What was His purpose? To reconcile people to God and people to people. He said the two greatest commandments were “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37).”

No room for Lone Rangers.  This is a group activity.

“And it came about that for an entire year they met with the church, and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch (Acts 11:23-26).”

The early church comprised Jewish believers in Yeshua as their long-awaited Messiah. Little by little, Gentiles heard the Gospel and believed. Together they formed small groups that met regularly to fellowship, worship, and study the scriptures.

But they still went to the Temple to join with their fellow Jews in worshipping God with their age-old traditions.

Hooked into the life of the Temple, they never thought of themselves as anything but Jewish. They weren’t trying to start a new religion. They simply wanted God’s chosen people to see and recognize the time of their visitation, turn to Jesus, and be saved.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9 KJV).”
Yet another reason for becoming a part of a small group is for encouragement. When we are fighting the enemy of our souls who wants nothing more than to destroy our walk and kill our faith, it can be very difficult. In fact, you most certainly will have more success together than alone.

James admonishes us to confess our sins to each other. Chris Morton calls it “articulating

what is wrong.” When you bring sin into the light, you can clearly see how evil it is, and those praying with you can rejoice over your cleansing. God gave us each other. We find a safe place to “let it all hang out” in a small group of like-minded believers.

Yet another reason is for sharing. While our culture today screams at us: “Get more stuff! Get more stuff!”, we need to recognize that God is our provider. We need to realize that it is not we, ourselves, who gain wealth, but God who enables us to acquire and enjoy things. When we share, it is because we know that all good things come from God’s warehouse, and there will always be enough to meet our needs. We need not grasp onto what God has given us. He will always give us more as we open our hands in generousity to others.

Sharing also involves making ourselves vulnerable in other ways, too. Sharing the depths of our souls promotes trust. We can also share our daily lives, not just at church, but “breaking bread from house to house” as the disciples did. Just remember that small groups do not replace corporate gathering, but enrich it.

“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 (Acts 2:46 NIV).”
As we step into this next study of godly communication and authentic life, let’s make the commitment to include each other in our loving circle of friends.

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Backhanded “Compliments” — How to Handle Them Biblically

Backhanded “Compliments” — How to Handle Them Biblically

What do you do?

When someone insults you, but disguises it as a compliment, how do you respond? Those kinds of comments are what are known as backhanded compliments, and it’s not usually intentional (but often it is). Some people are just socially awkward. They don’t mean to sound snarky; they simply don’t know how to deliver a compliment. Chances are, they don’t know how to receive one, either. Yet at other times, the spiteful comment is entirely intentional. That person may act innocent, but their rudeness still hurts. So from a Biblical perspective, what should you do?

Photo courtesy of Daniel Fazio on Unsplash

“You are really smart for such a pretty woman.”
“You got the job?! Congratulations! I’m so surprised!”
“You look beautiful today.”
“I wish I was as cool with clutter as you are.”

 

You could write your own list of these kinds of commendations, couldn’t you? We’ve all heard them; in fact, we’ve all said them.
And they sting.

So, again—how do you respond to backhanded compliments Biblically?

Here are five Biblical responses. Which will you use?

“Love is not easily offended (1 Corinthians 15:3).”

1. Assume the best.

Give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she meant no harm. Or maybe she did. Not responding in kind doesn’t mean you’re being weak. Thank her for the “compliment” and let it go.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone (Colossians 4:6).”

2. Be gracious.

If you answer with gracious speech—even if she meant it as an insult—you will model Jesus for her. She will see that love does not act unbecomingly or use harsh or hurtful words. Remember that Jesus told us to answer evil with good.

“in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love (2 Corinthians 6:6).”

3. Apply kindness.

You have not walked in her shoes today. You don’t know whether or not she is acting out of hurt that someone else did to her. Gentleness is appealing and also contagious. Your kindness may just turn her day around.

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ (Ephesians 4:15).”

4. Speak the truth in love.

Especially when you don’t think any harm was meant, say, “Thank you for the compliment, but saying that today I look beautiful implies you don’t think I usually am. Is that what you meant to say?” Keep your tone non-combative, and gently let her know that she may not realize that what she said was hurtful.

“Luke 6:28 says: Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who insult you.”

5. Pray.

Whether the back-handed compliment was an attempt to insult you or not, the person who talks that way needs prayer. Sometimes she is hurting herself, sometimes she’s clueless, and sometimes she just didn’t think before she spoke. Since you don’t really know why, it’s best not to rush to judgement. Praying for those who offend us is the right thing to do, and then pray for yourself if you received offense. Remember, love is not easily offended!

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