UIOF: Week Thirteen-Praying for Relationship

UIOF: Week Thirteen-Praying for Relationship

praying for relationship

H ow did Jesus “do evangelism”? Most Christians who consider evangelization think of it as “doing something” to someone else. It’s not something most people look forward to, but in reality, we are being evangelists every time we step outside our doors and into the everyday world.

Perhaps you’re not called to go to the foreign mission field (I was), but that doesn’t mean you don’t do the work of a missionary. Your mission field is your family, your friends, your neighbors, and your coworkers. We are all surrounded by the lost who are going into eternity completely unprepared.

Are you content to leave them there?

Rebecca Manley Pippert wrote in her book Out of the Saltshaker Into the World that “Christians and non-Christians have one thing in common: They hate evangelism.”

That’s really sad because evangelism is simply loving people enough to tell them who Jesus is. It doesn’t require you to beat someone over the head with a Bible or to push sinners away from your presence. Evangelism is meant for sinners.

Think about it. Who were you when someone introduced you to Christ? You were a sinner. But that person cared enough to share the Gospel and introduce you to the Son who died because you were a sinner.

Mark 2:14-15 says: “ As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.”

Jesus didn’t come to get more people into the Kingdom, His own personal club where the insiders were welcome but the rest were left out. He came to save people from the consequences of who they were. Or are, since He’s still doing it today.

When we look at the passage above in Mark, we see that Jesus loved everyone equally. He loved the sinners despite their sins and He ate with them in their homes. Religious Jews didn’t set foot inside the home of a sinner, lest they become defiled. But that’s not what Jesus did. He went where the people were hurting and loved them there.

What kind of Christianity do you show the lost in your own life? Do they see compassion for them? Or do they avoid you because your attitude says you are “holier than they”?

John 4:37-38 says: “Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

When you meet someone new or talk to someone you’ve known for a long time, do you want to know their spiritual condition? If not, why not?

In the movies Schindler’s List, Schindler realizes at the end that he is wearing a ring that had he sold it could have provided money to save even one more. Of course, the movie doesn’t accurately portray Oskar Schindler and

I doubt that the scene depicting this is real. Nevertheless, the point is well made that we all have something that could save someone else.

That something is the love of God. When you share it, people get saved.

So have you prayed about it?

Have you asked God to show you people through His eyes? Have you asked that the love that Jesus shared be evident in your life? Spend some time this week asking God to lead you into deeper relationships with the lost so that you can share the most precious thing you have with them.

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Upward, Inward, Outward, Forward: Week Twelve — The Caring Paradigm

Upward, Inward, Outward, Forward: Week Twelve — The Caring Paradigm

The Caring Paradigm

The thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians is known as “the love chapter.” It described what love is—and what it is not—in detail. If you wanted to reduce it to a simple paradigm, it would say something like “love cares more for others than itself.”  Paul recognized that without love, no matter how great his revelations were, he would be useless to himself and to others. Then he went out and lived that paradigm.

What do you struggle with from that list? I know for me, it’s “love is not easily provoked.” The words “easily provoked” come from terms that mean ‘to irritate, provoke, arouse to anger, despise, scorn, make angry, exasperate and burn with anger.” Yet today it seems that everything we think, do, or say has those precise effects on others. Just having an opinion is enough to spark violence from an “offended” party.

When I was in high school, there was a classmate that I loved running into, even though we were more acquaintances than friends. And that was because she always made me feel like I truly mattered. Her demeanor, her words, her kind actions made me want to be more like her.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 defines love: Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

In the story of the Good Samaritan, the religious Jews–who should have been setting a good example–had more important things to do than stop and help a hapless stranger.

Yet the God of the universe didn’t have anything more important to do than die for our sins. And you know what? He would have done it if you had been the only person left in the world! Do you know why? Not because He has love for us, but because He is love.

He set the example. Are we following it?

“But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7-8).”

Jesus always put others’ needs before His own. And by setting us an example, He intended that we would love each other with a love so intense that outsiders would want to know about this great love that insiders had for each other.

So where do we get this kind of love? It can’t be manufactured. You can’t buy it. For this incredible kind of love, you have to go to the Source of love. Find time this week to invest in prayer. Ask God to make you an example of His great love so that others will be drawn to what you have.

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Upward, Inward, Outward, Forward: Week 11: Give It All Away

Upward, Inward, Outward, Forward: Week 11: Give It All Away

Give It All Away!

Have you heard that old adage about love? If you love something, let it go. If it returns to you, it is yours forever. If it doesn’t return to you, it was never really yours in the first place.

This week we’re going to look at what it means to “give it all away” in your small group.

Our small groups should be modeled after Jesus’ discipleship pattern. First He called them. And they came. They surrounded this person and had a thirst for the water He would give them.

Small group leaders are like that. They put out the call and those the Lord chooses for this time and place come. They are hungry and thirsty for the Word of life. They want to belong and to grow. That’s what small groups are for.

1 Corinthians 9:19 and 22 tells us: “For though I am free from all people, I have made myself a slave to everyone, so that I may win more [for Christ]….I have become all things to all people, so that I may by all means [in any and every way] save some [by leading them to faith in Jesus Christ].”

Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “I assure you and most solemnly say to you, this poor widow put in [proportionally] more than all the contributors to the treasury. For they all contributed from their surplus, but she, from her poverty, put in all she had, all she had to live on (Mark 12:43-44 AMP).”

After Jesus made these few His disciples, He demonstrated how to minister as they followed Him around, learning by watching the Master. He taught them by showing them truth.

People in small groups learn how to lead by watching their small group leader, too. When she shows them love, they learn to love each other. When she shows them how to share, they learn to let go of their inhibitions.

Just as Jesus became an object lesson for His disciples to learn from, so will small group leaders provide tangible lessons for her group members.

Jesus explained to His disciples what He was doing, preparing them to be ready to do the same things. Then, He allowed these men who had become close friends to minister alongside Him, refining them as they began to minister under His watchful eyes.

Later on, He sent them out two by two, still supervising their ministry yet letting them move out and away from His immediate presence.

Finally, Jesus gave them the responsibility for ministering to and changing the entire world.

“Then He left the crowds and went into the house And His disciples came to Him and said, ‘Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field’ (Matthew 13:36 NIV).”

As the disciples learned, they began to put into practice what He told them. However, they always could check back with Him to be sure they understood.

Small group leaders do this, too. They allow their group members more freedom to minister on their own, always willing to be a resource for them.

When the time was right, Jesus sent the twelve out into the world with the power to minister as He had done. It was time to change the world, but first Jesus had to let His disciples go.

At some point, small groups need to grow up into leaders to go out and minister. They will have the power of Christ to go with them, and the Holy Spirit will bring to their remembrance everything He has spoken to them.

It’s time to give it all away.

“Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority and power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness (Matthew 10:1 AMP).”

“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen (Matthew 28:18-20).”

You’ve worked hard to develop community in your small group. So how do you maintain that community? Against all worldly wisdom, you do what Jesus did: give it all away. The members of your small group have been equipped, and it is just about time to send them out. And in the power of the Holy Spirit, you know what they will do?

 

They will change the world.

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Upward, Inward, Outward, Forward: Week 4 Leadership

Upward, Inward, Outward, Forward: Week 4 Leadership

Sharing Leadership

If you knew you couldn’t fail, what is one thing you would try to do for God?

We often think of ourselves as immature or unspiritual in relation to other people. Perhaps you see your small group leader as someone who has it all together and to whom God speaks more than to others. If you see her that way, you are totally wrong. The difference probably has more to do with gifting than anything else. But that doesn’t mean God has not called you to lead, too!

 

Leadership is something God wants everyone to do. But in order to be a leader, you must first be a servant. The Holy Spirit gives gifts to each of us for the common good of all. “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good,” says 1 Corinthians 11:7.

 

Mark 9:35 reads: “Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

To each of us. No one is left out. And each of us is called to humility, grace, and encouragement. Although it may be differently manifest in the several members of your small group, God has orchestrated your group to meet the needs of the individuals in it.

When Paul was addressing the church at Corinth, he reminded them of their humble beginnings. They were uneducated, lacking influence or wealth. Yet he recognized in them the potential to change the world.

“And there are [distinctive] ways of working [to accomplish things], but it is the same God who produces all things in all believers [inspiring, energizing, and empowering them] (1 Corinthians 12:6 AMP).”

What is the difference between a spiritual gift and a natural talent?

God often augments a natural talent with a spiritual gift, but sometimes a spiritual gift pulls the recipient into an area outside her comfort zone. And that’s okay.

A spiritual gift is given for the edification and good of the body of Christ. It is meant to bring God glory.

A natural talent is a temporal bent that is generally used for the glory of the individual.

When the Holy Spirit gives gifts, He sometimes calls the believer to lay down that natural talent so that she can bring glory to God by stepping into the supernatural to benefit the church.

Spiritual gifts do not reveal the maturity of a believer.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t give gifts only to mature believers. He chooses according to His own criteria, and maturity is rarely among them. In fact, spiritual gifts have the effect of maturing sincere believers.

Mature Christians are ones who seek to encourage and give opportunity to others to serve God and His body so that the whole body is made healthy.

“But we have this precious treasure [the good news about salvation] in [unworthy] earthen vessels [of human frailty], so that the grandeur and surpassing greatness of the power will be [shown to be] from God [His sufficiency] and not from ourselves (2 Corinthians 4:7 AMP).”

How can you use your spiritual gifts in your small group to encourage others to step out in faith?

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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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