The Vanity Of Running Programs

What God Has Been Doing In Me Lately

Over the past year or so I have had an increasing desire to see the Holy Spirit at work in a new and powerful way. I have been asking God to start with me. Little did I know that telling God that I want to know and experience him as much as I possibly can that it would mean…pain. Why did I fail to recognize this? Your guess is as good as mine. The pain came from confession and repentance of sin in my own life. I think back to Isaiah right before God sends him out on mission. First things first. Isaiah must see God in all of his holiness and glory and simultaneously be undone by his own sin. Then Isaiah is ready to do ministry. As I have been reflecting on spiritual renewal it seems the pattern over and over again in Scripture is that repentance is the starting point for God to be at work in a new way.

The beautiful thing about confession and repentance is that there is a renewed sense of intimacy and joy in Christ. The worship songs you hear are sweeter. You begin crying when you hear stories of how God is at work. There is a energy and determination that grows within you to see the sleepy awakened and the lost saved. There is no better place to be then just one step closer to Christ.

The Vanity Of Running Programs

As I have been praying for the Spirit to be at work in a new way in my life, family, church, and the community all around me I have become aware of the futility of simply running programs in the church. First you must understand that as a church we have talked about our mission (the Great Commission), we have brought in a consultant to help us work on our Vision (Deeply Rooted In Six Counties). We just wrapped up working with another consultant to help us develop a leadership pipeline. I definitely believe we need to plan and strategize, but it is not enough. Not nearly enough.

I am preaching through the Psalms of Ascent and this coming Sunday I am preaching on Psalm 127. Here is are the first two verses:

1 Unless the LORD builds the house,

those who build it labor in vain.

Unless the LORD watches over the city,

the watchman stays awake in vain.

2 It is in vain that you rise up early

and go late to rest,

eating the bread of anxious toil;

for he gives to his beloved asleep.

Perhaps another way of putting is that unless the LORD (YAHWEH) builds the house you are just wasting your time. Three times in this passage Solomon tells us that doing things in our own power and strength is nothing more than spinning our ministry wheels. Lots of smoke but no fire.

Maybe we are all asking the wrong questions. We ask things like, how did it go on Sunday? Who was there? How many were there? I’m thinking the better question is, how was the Spirit of God at work? What took place that only can be explained by the Holy Spirit being present and active?

These questions, kinda like repentance, lead to pain. Perhaps some of you in ministry know what I mean. It’s much easier to count numbers than it is to honestly evaluate if the Holy Spirit is really at work or not.

What Would Spiritual Renewal Look Like?

The elders and I are reading a wonderful book by Ray Ortlund Jr called “When God Comes To Church: A Biblical Model For Revival Today.” You can get the book for free HERE. It is excellent. It is biblical. It is dangerous. Why do I say dangerous? Because it is wrecking me for the status quo and giving me a stronger desire to see God at work in our church and community. Ortlund describes renewal like this:

When God rends the heavens and comes down on his people, a divine power achieves what human effort at its best fails to do. God’s people thirst for the ministry of the Word and receive it with tender meltings of the soul. The grip of the enslaving sin is broken. Reconciliation between believers is sought and granted. Spiritual beings, rather than material things, capture people’s hearts. A defensive, timid church is transformed into a confident army. Believers joyfully suffer for their lord. They treasure usefulness to God over career advancement. Communion with God is avidly enjoyed. Churches and Christian organizations reform their policies and procedures. People who had always been indifferent to the gospel now inquire anxiously. And this type of spiritual movement draws in not just the isolated straggler here and there but large numbers of people. A wave of divine grace washed over the church and spills out on the world. This is what happens when God comes down. And that is how we can pray for the church today.

My response to this? Holy Spirit come.

All Of This Leads To Prayer

I do have a longing to see spiritual renewal happen. But I am more convinced then ever that the only way it will happen is when God’s people pray. Fervent prayer. Church wide prayer. Persistent prayer. A kind of praying that heats up our heart first and then spreads to others. I must make prayer more of a priority in my life and it must become more of a priority in the life of my church.

Finding Joy As We Are Waiting And Praying For Renewal

There is a spiritual danger in all of this talk about spiritual renewal in our lives and in the church. How do we respond when we pray and we don’t see it happening? I have learned the hard way that if I am not careful all of this longing for God to work can lead to frustration and disappointment. “Why isn’t it working?” “God, what is wrong with everyone?”

For me the key is to keep watching and finding joy in the small evidences of God’s grace. I must find my joy in Christ, not necessarily whether or not my prayers for revival happen on my time table. I must patiently, persistently continue to pray for God to work in a new way and still love God and others as I live in the in-between.

Jeff Vanderstelt Speaking on “Going Deeper in the Gospel”

Jeff VandersteltOur vision as a church is “Deeply Rooted in Six Counties.” We want to be a church that is growing deeper in our relationship with God, with people in the church, and those in the six counties all around us. With that said, we have asked Pastor and author, Jeff Vanderstelt, to do some teaching about how we can grow more deeply in the glorious truths of the gospel. Jeff is the Teaching Pastor at Doxa Church in Bellevue, Washington. He is asked on a regular basis to write and speak about the gospel and how it applies to everyday life. Recently, Jeff wrote the excellent book, Gospel Fluency. On Sunday, May 17th, 6:00 PM, from the safety and comfort of your own home, you can join us for this unique opportunity.

The teaching can be found at: http://www.newlifeefree.org

Church, we must seize this pandemic moment!

I just participated in an online meeting where JD Greear and Andy Crouch were talking about “Ministry During and After a Crisis.” The meeting led me to this thought, it would be a catastrophe for Christians to fail to embrace the truth that God is at work during this pandemic. I say that because I am concerned that we are tempted to coast through this pandemic by binging on TV, wine, and food. More than coasting or even worse, numbing or escaping from the realities of life, certainly God desires to transform his people and prepare them for a new season of ministry.

As we think about the book of Acts (and church history in general) we find that God uses persecution to light a fire in his church and for the spread of the gospel. Is it possible that God wants to use Covid-19 to do a new work in our lives, churches, country, and world? I will be bold enough to say that the answer is yes! With that said, I would like to give us 8 things that we should be doing now and that that will empower us to come out of this pandemic ready to make a positive difference in this world.

  1. Spend time in God’s Word. Here at New Life Church I am excited to say that we are going to begin a church-wide campaign that encourages people to be reading and studying God’s Word. We can’t expect to grow spiritually, or to be ready to see how God wants to be at work in us, if we are not digging into God’s Word. Are you immersing your heart and mind in the Word?
  2. Spend time in prayer.  Are you using this time to ask God light a fire in your life? Are you asking God to use this time to create a spiritual hunger in the lives of people in your everyday life? This Sunday, May 3rd, we are working with a number of other local churches to have a community time of prayer online. Pray, pray and pray some more. We simply can not expect to see the Spirit work if we are not faithful in prayer.
  3. Ask and answer the question, what work does God want to do in your life? Are there some strongholds or idols in your life that God wants to surgically remove? Are there any life long habits that have caused you more pain than anything else? Addictions, anger, bitterness, apathy, legalism,  materialism, lust? God has given you this unique time in order to shape you into the image of his Son, Jesus Christ.
  4. Don’t give into fear and anger. During this pandemic we have acted as if people are the enemy. I don’t know if this behavior is really new, perhaps it is just heightened during the past few weeks. We have been acting like the enemy is people who disagree with our opinions regarding Covid-19. The bible can not be more clear that people ARE THE MISSION, not the enemy! Even now during the pandemic, let’s use words that heal. Consider the possibility that your “well-researched” conspiracy theory is really just nonsense. Speak and live in such a way that draws people closer to Jesus. Don’t burn relational bridges during this pandemic.
  5. Be praying specifically for “Who’s Your One?” Here at New Life Church we have asked people to identify one person in their everyday life that needs to know Jesus personally. So let me ask you, who’s your one? Keep praying. Reach out to them via cell phone or Zoom. We don’t need to go off mission because of the trials we are going through.
  6. Maybe the best thing you can do is truly unplug, get away from distractions, and find rest in Christ. There have been times when I have thought, why in the world (pastors might be the worst at this) are we trying so hard to keep ourselves busy? Maybe it’s God who is working overtime to get us to slow down so that we will focus more on him. A.W. Tozer writes this, “Unquestionably, part of our failure today is religious activity that is not preceded by aloneness, by inactivity. I mean getting alone with God and waiting in silence and quietness until we are charged with God’s Spirit.”
  7. Leave behind the idea of a being a lone ranger Christian. This pandemic has revealed to us that we need to be in relationship with other people. Community in the church is the green house for discipleship to flourish. Let’s stop with the idea that it’s “just me and Jesus.” When things get loosened up, when it is OK to gather together again, get involved in a Life Group or whatever your church calls it.
  8. Be determined to come out of this pandemic and leave behind consumer Christianity. If this pandemic is over and you are still sitting at home on Sunday morning looking for the best worship experience then you need to know that you have moved away from following Jesus and into a lifestyle of consumerism. Make a commitment NOW that when the pandemic is over to be more involved than ever in your local church.

Perhaps this can become a theme song for us…

Most Important Dating Advice

I recently went on a walk with my daughter Audra. We talked about dating and what to look for in the person she dates or marries. She amazes me with her maturity at such a young age. That conversation led me to write this brief post.

Ready for the dating advice? Ready or not, here is is…

Date and marry someone who passionately loves Jesus AND the church.

That’s it. Here is why that simple advice is so important; nothing else will make a bigger impact on your marriage, family, and your spiritual growth. Maybe you are a little uncertain about the person you are interested in. Maybe they say the right things, but something seems/feels a little off.

Here are some warning signs to watch out for when it comes to the person you are interested in:

  • They have a hard time articulating the gospel and describing how they came to know Jesus personally. The reason might be that they have confused religion with being in love with Christ.
  • They say some of the right things about Christianity and the church but their life does not really line up with their words.
  • They only go to church when you put pressure on them.
  • They don’t have Christian friends.
  • They don’t have a hunger to know God through the Word and prayer.
  • Their presence in your life does not inspire and motivate you to seek after God with all of your heart.
  • You don’t ask mature, Christian friends (and parents) what they REALLY think about the relationship. Inwardly you fear what they might say.

Parents Must Lead The Way

Moms and dads, I know you have a lot on your hands. Life is crazy busy and at times it feels almost overwhelming to keep all the different plates spinning. I know this is true because I have three kids at home with one graduating from high school this year. So without question I understand all the hard work that you do on a day to day basis.

With that said, I want to encourage you to think about something that I believe will have a revolutionary impact on you and your family. Here it is, moving into deeper relationships in your local church. Of course I could remind you of all the places that God’s Word talks about the importance of developing meaningful relationships in the church (Proverbs 27:17, Romans 12:5, Acts 2:42-47, 1 Corinthians 1:10, 1 Corinthians 12:25-27, Galatians 6:2, Hebrews 10:24-25). An understanding of God’s Word clearly reveals that one of God’s primary instruments for growing us spiritually is through relationships within the church.

But this is a post specifically for parents. So, I want to lovingly, graciously, encourage you to lead your children when it comes to helping them see the value of getting involved in the life of the church. I recently had a conversation with a man here at New Life Church. His kids are out of the house and have families of their own now. But he was thinking back to all the relationships that his kids had in the church while growing up. He was speaking fondly of older men and women who took the time to get to know his children. He spoke of how his children benefited spiritually from others who invested in them. There is so much for our children to gain, even if they don’t see it now, from rubbing shoulders with people of all ages who know and love Christ.

Can I challenge you just a bit? One of the things I hear is that “we want to give our kids the choice of whether or not they go to children’s ministry, youth group, church, etc.” I want to push back on this way of thinking. What if your 6 year old tells you that they have decided that their only source of nourishment is going to be Skittles and Mountain Dew? What if your 8 year old tells you that they have decided to stop brushing their teeth? What if your 13 year old tells you that they have decided that they no longer desire to go to school? Would you simply tell them that they need to follow their heart and make their own decisions? I certainly hope not. Here is my point. There are many instances in life where we need to lovingly guide our children because they don’t always (massive understatement) make the wisest decisions. Helping our kids make wise and godly decisions is a huge part of what it means to be a spiritual leader in the home.

Again, I know life is hard. I know life is busy. It’s hard to keep it all together. But let me wrap up this post by helping you to see what a life long blessing it will be for you and your children to make it a priority to be an active part of the church family. Involvement in the church is not just something you have to do. God has designed the church to strengthen, encourage and build you and your family up in Jesus Christ. Do we always agree with everything that happens in the church? No. Are we, and our kids, going to have to build relationships with other sinners (like us)? Yes. You won’t find the perfect church because the perfect church does not exist. Moms and dads, let’s lead the way when it comes to showing our kids the importance of deep, messy relationships in the local church.

What Christians Need To Know

One of the most destructive things to both Christians, and to churches, is the belief that the church exists to help Christians grow spiritually. I imagine that you are going to want to go back and read that first sentence a couple more times to make sure you got it right. Then, you are going to want to respond with a strong rebuttal to what seems like really poor logic. Or maybe you simply respond with a question like, “Isn’t it obviously a good thing to expect a church to help us grow in our faith?”

Let me explain. Yes, it is good for Christians to come to church and hope that their church helps them grow spiritually. Here is the problem. Far too often that is where things stop for many people. Too many Christians fail to understand that to be a disciple of Jesus Christ means that we are actively helping others to grow in their faith too.

DISCIPLES OF JESUS MAKE DISCIPLES OF JESUS

Jesus said this in Matthew 4:19, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus, in very plain language, is telling his disciples (which includes you and me) that it has always been his design that his disciples are not only thinking about their own spiritual growth. Jesus was helping his disciples to grow spiritually with THE EXPRESS PURPOSE that they would help others to grow spiritually. One of the primary objectives of a disciple of Jesus Christ is to make other disciples of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:16-20).

So here is a really critical question that we all need to ask and answer, “What are some ways that we can actively work to help others inside the church, and outside the church, grow in their faith?” HERE is a link that does a great job helping us answer that question. I would love to hear your thoughts, ideas and questions!

Seven Signs You Might Be A Legalist

I am currently preaching through the book of Romans and came to this passage…

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. -Romans 2:1-5 (ESV)

Paul is communicating a number of important truths in this passage. But one takeaway (as seen in verse 4) is that Christians who have genuinely experienced the glorious truths of the gospel should not be harsh, judgmental, or unkind to others. Put it like this. If we really knew how gracious, patient, and kind God has been to us we would repent of our sin and stop being so harsh toward others.

When we fail to understand the gospel we run the risk of becoming highly legalistic in how we relate to the world and to other people.

HERE ARE SEVEN SIGNS  YOU MIGHT BE A LEGALIST

  1. You lack humility. “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” (Luke 18:11–12).
  2. You turn gray issues into black and white issues. Music, books, movies, modes of schooling, are not just something you have a personal opinion about. You impose your personal convictions on others. It’s really hard for you to believe that others can honestly love the Lord and disagree with you about what is wrong or right.
  3. You have a strong desire to make sure that other people know you are right.
  4. You lack grace, compassion and patience with others. 
  5. You think if it is “secular” it is wrong. Oddly enough, this idea that secular is bad can not be sustained if we think about it for very long. Is the news you listen to Christian? Do you shop at Christian stores? Do you only read books and articles that are written by Christians? Abraham Kuyper put it like this, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
  6. You have a really hard time dealing with the fact that Jesus was called “a friend of sinners.” Something about that does not sit well with you. You inwardly wonder how Jesus avoided becoming contaminated by the world. Jesus was called a friend of sinners because he was filled with grace, compassion and mercy.
  7. You have a critical spirit but think it is a discerning spirit.

THREE SUGGESTIONS FOR THE POSSIBLE LEGALIST

Take this issue to the Lord in prayer. Ask God to reveal to you if you are failing to show the same grace and patience that he has poured out upon you.

Another idea. Take a few people out (at different times) for coffee and ask them their honest opinion. I don’t mean the people who think just like you. Ask them if they can sense a spirit of legalism in your life. Give them permission to speak their mind.

If you come to the conclusion that you are a legalist ask God to forgive you and to soften your heart so that you love others the same way that he loves you.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. -Matthew 23:23

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. -John 1:17

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. -Romans 14:1

You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. -Galatians 4:10-11

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—  “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”  (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?  These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. -Colossians 2:20-23

 

 

10 Indicators You Are Dealing With A Divisive Person (and what to do about it)

What The Bible Has To Say About Division And The Importance Of Unity

Scripture has a lot to say about the importance of pursuing unity with other brothers and sisters. The following verses are just the tip of the iceberg.

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” -Proverbs 18:2

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” -Matthew 5:9

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” -Romans 12:18

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”  -1 Corinthians 1:10

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” -Ephesians 4:1-3

“Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” -Philippians 2:2

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” -Colossians 3:14

Ten Indicators You Are Dealing With A Divisive Person

What does a divisive person look like? You may think that this is a rather easy question to answer, but it’s not.

  1. The divisive person is usually some who knows a lot about the bible and they probably have been a Christian for many years. So you would think that they know better, but they don’t. They know a lot about the bible but there seems to be a disconnect between their knowledge and the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self, control).
  2. The divisive person has a hard time maintaining friendships (even within their own family) because they usually find something they disagree with and refuse to associate with others when this happens.
  3. The divisive person seems to be more motivated by being right than being loving.
  4. The divisive person sabotages their own spiritual growth because they tend to stiff arm deep, messy, meaningful community where discipleship flourishes.
  5. The divisive person is highly dogmatic.
  6. The divisive person likes to build coalitions with others who agree with their point of view.
  7. The divisive person frequently finds themselves in quarrels but they believe the issue is with other people.
  8. The divisive person most likely has created an echo chamber where they only hear from people (teachers, authors, articles, social media, friends) that reinforces their own narrow views. The don’t listen, or they filter out, anything that would force them to think outside of the box.
  9. The divisive person ends distracting the church from the mission of making disciples because time and energy is used up in endless squabbles.
  10. The divisive person keeps people from experiencing the joy of unity and fellowship with others in the church.

What The Divisive Person Needs To Know

The first thing the divisive person needs to know is related to all the verses that are listed above, the Bible highly values unity in the the church. Jesus showed us how important unity is when he said this in John 17:20-21,“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” When we are unified as brothers and sisters we reflect the unity of the Trinity to a watching world.

The second thing a divisive person needs to know is that it is a sign of being spiritually mature to disagree with someone theologically and still being able to experience unity. Do you think Jesus’ disciples agreed about everything? Do you think the Christians at Rome, Corinth, or Philippi agreed about everything? The obvious answer to these questions is no.

“In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, charity.”

At this point we should probably mention the difference between essential and non-essential beliefs. For example, I am willing to fight for the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the grave. This is an essential belief to our Christian faith. I am not willing to fight about pre/mid/post tribulation. I have my opinion, but I believe this is a non-essential issue. We can agree to disagree and still experience unity.

The other thing I would want to communicate to the divisive person is that each church has a Statement of Faith, or at least they should. The Statement of Faith does a pretty good job of explaining to all who will pay attention what is important to that particular church.

In my own personal experience a divisive person, all too often, fails to make the distinction between essential and non-essential beliefs. Or they are up in arms over issues that have very little to do with the church’s Statement of Faith. What ends up happening is that every disagreement feels like a hill that they are willing to die on. I think we should stop and consider these wise words from Francis Schaeffer:

“It is in the midst of a difference that we have our golden opportunity. When everything is going well and we are all standing around in a nice little circle, there is not much to be seen by the world. But when we come to the place where there is a real difference, and we exhibit uncompromised principles but at the same time observable love, then there is something that the world can see, something they can use to judge that these really are Christians, and that Jesus has indeed been sent by the Father.”

So, Where Do We Go From Here?

If you are reading this and you have a nagging suspicion that you are a divisive person then you need to know that it is OK to disagree with other brothers and sisters regarding non-essential beliefs. It truly is possible to disagree and still experience unity. As I already stated, the apostles disagreed and experienced fellowship and unity. The early churches disagreed (a lot!) and still worshipped and did life together.

If you are reading this and you are involved with a divisive person I would encourage you to love them, and if the opportunity presents itself, explain to them the difference between essential and non-essentials beliefs. Or, talk to them about the church’s Statement of Faith. Help them to understand that the Statement of Faith contains the teachings that the church believes they need to be in agreement about and that it is OK (and healthy) to allow for disagreement regarding issues outside of the Statement of Faith.

If you tend to be a people-pleaser like me it is extremely difficult because you want everyone to be happy and to get along. I have learned through many years of ministry that there is only so much you can do when it comes to dealing with a divisive person. The strange irony is that we can end up making ourselves miserable if we think we can make everyone else happy.

Would love to hear your thoughts and ideas for dealing with divisive people.

I Feel Disconnected From Meaningful Relationships In The Church

One of the things I deeply desire is to see people build meaningful relationships within the church where I pastor. Hopefully by now we all realize that church is much more than a Sunday morning event. Church consists of people who are deeply committed to Christ and to one another. So what are some practical steps you can take to build deep relationships in the church?

You Must Recognize Your Need For Relationships

In 1 Thessalonians 2:8 we read this from the apostle Paul, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”

Paul knew that being a part of the church involved sharing his life with others. It does not matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert. The bottom-line is that we all need brothers and sisters in the church to love, challenge, and encourage us.

You Will Need To Re-prioritize Your Busy Life

“Busyness is like sin: kill it, or it will be killing you.” -Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem

Busyness is one of the main barriers when it comes to building deep relationships in the church. What we can’t do is keep the status quo, running at full speed with no margin, and then expect to add in meaningful relationships. Most likely you are going to have to stop doing something you are currently doing so that you have time to build relationships.

Why not stop right now and ask the question, what do I need to stop doing so that I can get to know people in my church on a deeper level?

You Should Join A Life Group

Maybe your church calls it something else (Small Groups, Missional Communities, Gospel Communities, Cell Groups, Home Groups, etc.). Life Groups are geared to help people develop relationships with the express purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. You might argue by saying that you can build relationships without joining a Life Group. My question for you is this, how is that working for you? I believe it is helpful to make the commitment to being a part of a group on a regular basis.

You Must Be Willing To Deal With The Discomfort Of Getting To Know People That Are Different Than You

Maybe you’ve had a bad experience(s) when it comes to building relationships in the church. Perhaps you joined a Life Group before and it did not go the way you hoped. When you think about Jesus’ Life Group (his disciples) you are quickly reminded of how incredibly dysfunctional they were. Think about how many times Peter said something that offended Thomas (or one of the other disciples). Think about the Sons of Zebedee asking to be the greatest and granted the privilege of sitting at the right hand of Jesus in heaven. Talk about hurting the feelings of others. It was their love for God and for each other that kept them together even in the middle of disagreements and relational challenges.

You Should Invite People Over For Meals

Here is something I have noticed over my many years of leading Life Groups. It’s possible for the Life Group to begin to feel like just another weekly meeting. You get together to study, pray and eat some food and then live life on your own for the rest of the week. To keep your Life Group from feeling like a meeting I would suggest you begin having people over for meals, or meet them for breakfast or lunch. These little steps will go along way when it comes to helping us develop meaningful relationships in the church.

5 Mistakes We Make When Going Through Difficult Times

What if instead of trying to quickly getting through the trial that may be experiencing we stopped and considered that God is trying to do something in our lives? What if instead of running or escaping the pain we stopped and listened to what God was trying to communicate to us?

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” -C.S. Lewis

Recently God has been challenging me through his Word to consider how he is trying to speak to me, grow me, and reveal his love to me through the trials of life. So can I share with you a few of my thoughts regarding the role of trials in our lives?

  1. We forget that God wants to use our trials to transform us into the image of Jesus Christ. I would NOT choose suffering or trials as the instrument whereby I become more like Christ. Instead, I would choose reading the Bible while drinking coffee. I try to shield myself from pain in every conceivable way. Usually it is to my spiritual detriment. Yet if I am going to be honest with what I read in Scripture I must conclude that God uses my pain for redemptive purposes.  For they (earthly fathers) disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he (heavenly Father) disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. -Hebrews 12:10
  2. We think our joy and happiness depends on our circumstances getting better. Are we merely waiting for the hard times to pass before we think we can experience joy again? The story of the apostle Paul teaches us that our contentment and joy does not need to be rooted in how well life is turning out for us. “I rejoiced greatly that you have revived your concern for me and that you were concerned, but you had no opportunity. Not that I speak of being in need. For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be abased and I know how to abound in any and every circumstance. I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” -Philippians 4:10-13
  3. We miss out on how we can be a blessing to others because we become focused in like a laser on our circumstances. Don’t get me wrong. There is a time to grieve. There is a time to slow down and allow God to minister to us. But if we always wait for life to go the way that we want before we love and serve others we will find that life has passed us by and we have missed far too many ministry opportunities. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” -2 Corinthians 1:3–5
  4. We lose sight of the truth that trials are one of the ways that God is revealing his love and affection for us. This is the one point that probably stands out to me most at this time in my life. I am tempted to give into discouragement when I am dealing with my spiritual and emotional battles. They seem to be never-ending. But the writer of Hebrews tells us something shocking, God is revealing his love for us when he causes us to walk through a difficult season. He is pruning us. He is molding us. Instead of the trial being a sign of God’s indifference or harshness it is an indication that he loves us enough to seek our growth and transformation. “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” -Hebrews 12:5-6
  5. We isolate ourselves from others in the church. Too often, I believe, we end up making life harder because we disengage and distance ourselves from others when we are struggling. Trust me, I get why people do this! It feels so right to draw back and seek a safe place to lick our wounds. The problem is that God has perfectly designed the body of Jesus Christ (the church) to walk with us and help carry our burdens. As Christians we were never meant to try to get through life on our own. Whether we recognize it or not we desperately need the relationships that are found in the church.  “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” -1 Corinthians 12:21