‘Community’ Review: Your Bible Study Ain’t Right Yet

Community groups (small groups) are not easy to execute successfully. Most churches tackle them incorrectly, like they are just another program or a once-a-week Bible study without much depth. Brad House has written Community, an amazing book outlining how not to do small groups and much more on how to do them in a way that keeps Christ the center of everything. Best of all, the book is barely 200 pages long, meaning you can easily finish it in a week or so and still take away great and godly wisdom on how community groups function in light of the Gospel.

How do you stay in the Gospel when practically talking about groups of people? Moreover, how do you even define a broad term like “community?” Luckily, House simplifies this by anchoring the definition of community primarily in 1 Peter 2:9-10. He revisits that passage as he underscores different issues within a community all throughout the book.

The author points readers into a new direction for small groups unlike most people have experienced before, a direction that requires organization, discipline, and authentic repentance. He spends good length outlining what both leaders and simple laymen need to repent of in a community; how else will people grow if they don’t repent of the sin directly in the way first? I feel that many Christian, practical books call for new methods in various fields but fail to talk about repenting of specific and relevant sins there.

In dealing with depending on the Lord to defeat sin that clouds true community, House also beats the drum on mission and how integral it is for Christians in small groups to passionately grasp it in their lives and neighborhoods. This is one of the heartbeats of the Gospel that can’t be missed (of course none can be missed). He also comprehensively covers what sorts of events and projects community groups can undertake in their neighborhoods, what a true small group leader looks like, and how churches should rally their groups together in an organized way without making them just another church event. Instead, the venue Christians should use to live out the Gospel each week should be their small groups.

The honesty in this book is powerful. House calls on leaders to take time to research the needs of the areas where small groups meet and readily admits that differing groups will reach out to places differently based on demographic factors. Also, he’s not afraid to name the sins that disqualify leaders and community groups from being effective for Christ. He provides statistics to reveal just how much the church has failed with community in recent years, and he displays many graphs and charts to visually lay out what he is saying. While the material is not complex at all, lazy leaders and readers should probably stay away from this one.

Another evident feature of the book is resources. At many points while reading leaders will wonder how in the world they will be able to integrate everything House is saying into their own communities, but he literally acknowledges that hurdle and generously gives a plethora of tips and valuable methods along the way (not to mention there is plenty of extra content at the back of the book to assist leaders further). Towards the end of the book he tells the story of community at Mars Hill and takes the time to talk about the lessons they’ve used for leaders and community groups over the years. It is humbling to see just how much House has poured what the Mars Hill team has learned and tried with community into this book. In short, there is plenty of inspiration here to help any leader brainstorm and seek the Holy Spirit in nurturing true community where they’re at.

The one thing I will say is that Community is pointed at a specific audience. I believe the best audience for this one is higher-up pastors, elders, and small group leaders (I say this being a community group leader of three years and a first-year CG coach). But even if the standard layperson purchases this, the impressive blending of practicality, theology, and motivation will not be easily missed. To be honest, this is one of my favorite books I was able to read in 2011. Thank you so much for this, Brad House. I have walked away from this book with so much insight that I’ve already been able to pass down to my leaders. It’s already making an impact.

Community: Taking Your Small Group off Life Support

 

 

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Generous Justice

If there’s one thing we Americans do not do well, it’s handling money. We lose it. We spend it. We don’t like giving it away. Those of us who actually do handle money well tend to have the wrong attitude about it (pride much?), putting us back at square one. We typically forget that our money is not really ours at all. It’s God’s. We also tend to neglect what we are supposed to be doing with God’s money. Not only that, but we are supposed to be dealing with all of our resources, including time and possessions, in the same manner. This is where Generous Justice comes into play. Did you know that how you handle your money and things tells about how you understand the Gospel? Oh, how this book packs a punch. The kind that sends Mike Tyson into Build-A-Bear.

At first glance the cover may come off as being about penal substitution or something, but this book entails something much simpler yet deeper. God’s “justice” is more than just punishing the bad guys. Tim Keller takes a theological dive into Deuteronomy and unveils that true justice (called mishpat in Hebrew) is also about doing the right thing for the people as is due, like serving widows, feeding the poor, and providing for the needy. Keller uses Scripture to show that God expected Israel to leave no one behind in terms of material need, and that same provisional love extends to Christians today.

Using a combination of Scripture and anecdotes, the author paves the way on how to do social justice God’s way, not the political way or any other. The whole premise of the book is founded on Christ’s love for us. Keller asserts that a Christian should be able to look at a homeless person and feel love that causes them to provide for the person’s needs, because on a spiritual level we are all poor like the homeless man. We had no hope, and God showed us His grace, thus providing us with what we need (God’s justice). After experiencing God’s grace as such, we treat people in need with that loving justice as well (hence the subtitle, “How God’s Grace Makes Us Just”). In other words, if you aren’t generous with your time and money, that means you may not really understand the Gospel. Big words.

My favorite parts of this book were the practical ones. Tim Keller talks bluntly about the difference between numbered donations and actually getting your hands dirty in your community. In the last third of the book the author wades through many practical issues: what generosity looks like as a Christian individual, how the church works out this concept of being generous, and how the church can play a role in fighting corrupt local policies.

All in all, Generous Justice tackles a subject many Christians shy away from in an easy-to-read manner. This book really resonated with me as I feel that being generous (namely with money) has always been a bit of a struggle for me. I definitely recommend this to everyone, but if you have a hard time giving at any level you especially need to get your hands on this thing. You’ll how the heart of God goes out to those who society has long left behind.

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just

God’s Timing is Bad

Awesome picture thanks to c3ph3ld

From my experience, it seems like God often has bad timing.

Whenever I’m standing in line at Chik-Fil-A anxiously asking God about what I should order, He usually doesn’t answer me right away.

The days I have specific plans for how I’m going to utilize my time, that’s exactly when God has someone call me with a need or convicts me to go talk to someone.

On a side note, I can’t really blame Him. He is…. God.

In any case, I think David would probably agree with me on the off-ness of God’s timing. You may recall the story in the later chapters of 1 Samuel: King Saul was bent on killing him, and David ran away for his life from Saul all around the countryside, spending plenty of time in hiding. Saul was on his heels frequently, and there was little rest for the future king of Israel.

It wasn’t until eight years later that God finally sent the Philistines nearby as a distraction that effectively pulled Saul off David’s tail (see 1 Samuel 23). Eight years. Many of you like ‘being on the road’; how about ‘traveling’ for eight years straight because the ruler of your country wanted you dead?

Now since this story is told over a handful of chapters, only so many details managed to fit. Thus, we don’t have much indication as to how David was feeling and thinking during this part of his life, but I don’t doubt he was tired and probably wondering why God hadn’t saved time and shown up sooner. Sound like a familiar thought?

I bet David realized something important, though. There was more at stake than just his own life. There was also the entire nation of Israel, and subsequently the rest of the world, too. David knew that God was using him as a part of His story (Psalm 31:7-8). He also knew that he would eventually be the king of Israel (1 Samuel 16:1-13), and that God has never been unfaithful in any of His promises. Also, it’s a no-brainer God was growing and preparing David for the future even in this tough time.

Let’s flip this coin. 

David knew that asking God to help him immediately in that moment would have been selfish, as the request disregards how others are affected. That holds true today – our actions affect other people, and it wouldn’t surprise me if whatever my Sovereign God does affects everyone in the world as well (ex. providing a way for salvation). Answer me this: do you know how every decision affects each and every person possible, all the time? Of course not. And in our ‘timing’, we tend to forget this.

God knows, though. And He acts accordingly, in His timing.

It was in God’s timing that Saul was practically handed to David in the next chapter. It was in God’s timing that he was later made king over Israel. It was in God’s timing that Jesus was sent to reconcile a lost race. None of this happened within your timing at all.

Think of all the blessings God has given you – think of your life. Has everything really worked out in your timing? In all honesty, whenever I’ve tried to control something more, I’ve almost always ended up being frustrated. God doesn’t run into this problem on His watch.

Are you asking God to do something right now? Is there a dire decision that needs an answer? Seek God’s timing, not your own. If He doesn’t answer right away, appreciate the present meantime He is using to prune you for the future, like David.

Have you ever needed God to answer you right away, but He did/didn’t? If you had to flee for your life for eight years, where would you go?

Losing the Gospel

As the Summer approaches, this is naturally a loaded time of the year for everyone. Trips are being planned, students are finishing school, businesses are preparing for the next season, etc.

It’s easy to forget the important aspects of life when we have so much going on, and when we forget those important foundations it shakes the support beams of our lives.

This could look like a huge number of things (like busyness), but what’s important is that we never let go of that core foundation we build our life upon. For Christians that is obviously God, in particular the Gospel.

2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 – “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (italics added)

When Paul mentioned “our gospel,” he wasn’t referring to a separate batch of good news he, Timothy, and Sylvanus contrived at some point. He was referring to the Good News that personally reached into their hearts and brought them to their Heavenly Father.

As Paul stated, God calls to us with the Gospel. It breaks the heart of stone and melts all with its selflessness.

When Israel was wandering around the desert and getting captured by different empires, they didn’t get it. Even when God was working in their midst, they didn’t change (Deuteronomy 29:2-4). They were lost in their sin.

And we aren’t much different! Think about what your life was like before you met God. What were you doing? How were you thinking? Nothing, it seems, really reached you or changed you (Acts 28:26-27). You (and I, too) had a heart of stone.

That is, until Jesus. Everything stopped with Him. Everything changed, including your life. And not just your life, but all of human history. Humanity was gone in sin, but with Jesus there is now reconciliation with God (2 Corinthians 5:14-21). No matter your background, skin color, personal sins, whatever.

No one is impervious to the glorious power of the Gospel, which is ultimately the power of love. I’m not talking about the love Jimi Hendrix mentioned in his day. I’m talking about God, because God is love. Can people still resist the Gospel? Absolutely, but no one can be left unaffected by it. After hearing it, some people react angrily. Some people react in fear. Some people simply break and run to God. Either way, you can’t just hear the Gospel and not deeply think about it.

This message, this Jesus, is what being a believer is all about. No wonder, then, that when you see churches dying off, being cliquish, or preaching odd doctrines, you’ll never find the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the center. Do you ever see these same churches affecting their communities? No.

A church is just a community of believers. Individuals. When a church is not focused on Jesus, that means the individuals aren’t. They’ve forgotten the Gospel.

When you see ‘Christians’ living for themselves, there’s no Jesus there. They’ve forgotten the Gospel.

When you and I go on each day acting like our schedules are more important than what’s happened in Japan or anything else in the world, we don’t have Jesus at the center. We’ve forgotten the Gospel. It’s a tragedy.

Back in December I went to a Christmas conference with Campus Crusade. One of the speakers, Felipe Assis, preached on how important it is that disciples of Christ hear the Gospel everyday. There shouldn’t be a day when you don’t re-tell the story of what Jesus did on Earth, to yourself. It makes perfect sense: the Gospel reminds us how much we need God everyday, how much God loves us, how big God’s grace is, and how much the rest of the world needs Him.

Speaking of the world, the sad thing is there are plenty of people who have either never heard the Gospel or have heard a distorted version from an abusive guy, a neglectful family, or a twisted pastor, to name a few. When we leave behind the Gospel, we leave behind these people, too. We forget about Jesus, and we forget about those who need Him. To put it into perspective, we’re then like the Israelites. God has saved us from Egypt by His grace, and there are nations all around the world that need to hear about Him. But we’re too busy walking in circles around some desert to really care.

Jesus did not come so we could continue in this way. We cannot forget that as students of Jesus it is our obligation to make sure people hear the Gospel and experience it through our relationships with them.

We must remember that we were once lost and depraved in utter sinfulness. And when we had no way out, no idea as to the purpose of life or what true love was, we were given the Gospel. God sent us Jesus, and our lives changed. Mine definitely did. I love hearing this story everyday. It delights my heart, and each time I hear it I want to pass it on.

So as you finish reading this blog post and continue on with your life, I hope you reflect on how important the Gospel is to you. As you wake up for school or work or hanging out with friends this week, I hope you think about how much of what Jesus did for you really shakes you to the bone (or doesn’t). I hope it’s your core no matter what season of life you are in.

Lastly, if you don’t tell yourself the Gospel daily, I pray that you start now.

Just a Bunch of Hands and Feet

There are a lot of misconceptions about church. Especially among Christians.

It’s not a place to gain acceptance or reputation.

It’s not a place to sleep. As tempting as it might seem.

It’s not a place to justify and feel better about what you did the night before.

It’s not a place to feel “Christian.”

It’s not a place where you go because ‘that’s what you’re supposed to do.’

It’s not a place you don’t wake up to go to because you’re sick (Sadly, my case this morning).

Then what is the church?

I like to define the church as a place where believers come together and learn about Jesus Christ, grow in relationship with him and fellow believers through  a loving community, and go from to serve the community and preach the Gospel. And by “church” in this post I am usually referring to the ‘church building’ or wherever you go on Saturday/Sunday rather than the Biblical understanding of the actual body of believers, which is definitely not just a place. (I forgot to specify that when I originally posted this).

It’s important to understand that at the heart of the church is Jesus Christ. Not people. The Gospel is of utmost importance, not the attendance numbers.

And the last part of my definition of church is absolutely crucial, though telling others about Jesus is what Christians forget most often. Churches can become so focused on events and programs and sermon series’ that they lose focus on some of their Savior’s final, earthly words. Jesus told his disciples to go make more disciples in every part of the world (Matthew 28:16-20).

Forgetting this last part is probably why many churches die out after a number of years. It becomes a clique, and no outreach is done (or very little). Let’s be honest here — who wants to play Pin the Tail on the Donkey with the same folks year after year?

By being Christians, we should be aiming to be Christ’s disciples. Do you consider him your teacher, and you his student? As a Christian, as a student of Jesus, we should be trying to look more and more like him every day (Ephesians 4:15). What exactly did his ministry look like? He spent most of his time telling people about the Gospel and loving them for who they were, regardless of status, income, and appearance. And people were drawn to him, because of who he is and what he said.

Why is this the one area we Americans usually neglect? We’d rather read books and feel good about ourselves. We’d rather go to church and say “hello” to our one-day-a-week friends (or hang out exclusively with a select few every week). Yet there are plenty of people in your area of life that have never been told the Gospel. There’s still homeless people who could use some food, and there’s broken lives that need true love. There’s even one-day-a-week friends who are going through something terrible and need advice, prayer, and comfort! I know that I need to be reminded of this a lot. And I can’t help but think — what is a loving community that doesn’t welcome new people in or help the people within? Learn, grow, go. If any one of those three are off, the church is not really being the church. If one falls, the other two will follow suit.

Because of our sin, as churchgoers we tend to really focus on only one of the three attributes above and sometimes idolize it. Maybe we become obsessed with the preaching/pastor. Maybe we love our community so much that we feel insecure when things change. Sometimes we can even idolize outreach to the point of legalism. That’s why Jesus is the core of the church.

We are his hands and feet as parts of his body (1 Corinthians 12:12-27), but if he’s not the center then it seems like we are just a bunch of hands and feet scattered all over the place. “Thing” from the Adam’s Family comes to mind. When love Jesus with all of our soul and tell others about him, people will be drawn to him and not to us. That’s what church is all about.

Are you connected to your church? Do you have any great outreach stories or just anything cool from your community of believers? Please, share!