Jonathan

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What’s in “The” Name!

Categories: Devotional Insights, Tags: ,

The precious Name “Jesus Christ” is constantly abused in the world, where people use it as a curse word. This verbal assault reaches all the way to heaven where every word is heard and recorded. When we trustingly whisper His Name, His aching ears are soothed. 

(Devotional insight inspired by Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling, devotional book, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2004)

In reflecting on this devotional insight of Sarah Young, it hit me: I have been conditioned and trained to live with great sensitivity to hearing my name called. Even if I am in any size gathering and someone is calling to another “Jonathan”, I immediately respond with body language or verbal affirmation. I can’t help it. That’s my name. It gets kind of humorous (or awkward), when another “Jonathan” other than me is the true target of call and the caller clarifies by saying to me, “Not you. The other “Jonathan”!”

Every day, thousands, maybe millions of people call out the Name “Jesus Christ” but not to call Him. Not to speak to Him. They call it out either in exasperation of an event in life, or in defamation of His character by attaching that Name with something that is far below what is virtuous, noble, and appropriate worthy of the Person behind the Name. “Jesus Christ” is called out in contempt,  (defined as something being despised, dishonored, disrespected, disgraced) with no intent or attempt to seek His aid, His presence, His light, His truth, His help.

The thing is… He hears every usage of His Name…every time it is called out!

He, in His divine infinite omniscience, knows intimately the intent behind every usage. He registers every mention and motive, whether uttered by those who do not know Him or those who profess to know Him but still, sadly, use His Name in contemptible ways. (What’s possibly just as, if not more sad, is when His own people, refuse to call out His Name for aid only He can bring. Instead they call out for everything else OTHER than Him!) Truth is some of us followers of Jesus Christ, could use His Name a whole let less and call out His Name a whole lot more than we do!

I shudder to think of the doing day when all of us will stand before the actual divine Person behind the Name and give an account of all we have done in this body, whether good or bad… every thought… every word spoken… whether good or bad… even His Name!

Between now and then, maybe we should take time to reflect on the magnitude and meaning behind the Name “Jesus Christ”:

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.  Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.  Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form,  he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.  Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the Name above all other names,  that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.                           Philippians 2:5-11 (NLT)

The supreme issue is not what we think about His Name, but what He thinks of His own Name and how God the Father regards this Name that was given to Joseph by the angels, that not even demons will utter the way we do and can! The Name to which eventually, no living being will ever call out without properly attaching its significance to the One it belongs to. It is not the Name that makes Him great but He — in His character, His supremacy, His authority, His divine otherness — that makes that Name great… and greatly to be praised!

My we bless Him by calling out His Name in ways He loves to hear it, to seek Him, to honor Him, to love Him, to worship Him. Nothing less than these motives is worthy of Him and His wonderful Name.

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Truth is the Superfood of faith. Scripture is the pantry. I say now’s the time to chow!

Categories: Devotional Insights, Spiritual Formation, Tags: , , , , , , ,

Scripture is the spiritual superfood of the soul (way better for you than Chicken Soup) and the high protein, no-fat food of faith!

I read an article on ‘superfoods’, which according to the journal of all things wise and wonderful, “Wiki-pedia”, is regarded as an unscientific term without legal definition or scientific basis and thus considered a misleading marketing ploy (how’s that for a downer…though I just registered as a subscriber of superfood.com!) is also used to describe foods…

“…with high nutrient or phytochemical content that may confer health benefits, with few properties considered to be negative, such as being high in saturated fats or artificial ingredients, food additives or contaminants.” (Wiki)

The term is used generously by many health conscious patrons and nutritionists as they enthusiastically espouse the apparently innumerable benefits of consuming these catalysts of super health. Included in this alluring food group are such foods as blueberries which tops the list as a superfood,  broccoli, spinach, pumpkin, tomatoes, quinoa, nuts, seeds, bananas, potatoes, dark green vegetables, and fish (due to the omega-3 fatty acids which promote cognitive development.

My wife is an MS sufferer of 24 years and has become a patron of these superfoods with benefits already logged. Because of her dietary change, we have had some changes in our eating habits as well with changes for the good. So yeah, I am a superfood believer!

That covers our physical/psycho-chemical needs. What about our spiritual/soul-centered dimension. There is no better, purer, more potent food for faith than the words and Word of God. Check out these verses from the NIV about how Scripture is like food.

I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.    -Job 23:12

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!   -Psalms 119:103

When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.    -Jeremiah 15:16

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”    -Matthew 4:4

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,    -1 Peter 2:2

Scripture is the spiritual superfood of the soul (way better for you than Chicken Soup) and the high protein, no-fat food of faith! Consider how you take advantage of it like food: You prepare it, you chew it, you swallow it and then let it do its work. Consider Who you dine with and dine on: the character of Jesus Christ as His life becomes the sustenance of our life in Him.

Truth is the Superfood of faith. Scripture is the pantry. Study is the kitchen of preparation. Meditation is the feasting where the meal is chewed and consumed.

We cannot mature in the faith without consuming the Word of God frequently, intentionally and prayerfully. We must ingest and digest high quality morsels in high quantity measures. We can’t afford to skip meals or skimp on the meals we partake of. Our ability to stand with confidence, run with endurance, rest in His peace, serve with patience, worship with integrity and love God and others passionately requires our feasting on the spiritual soul satisfying bounty He has already prepared and delivered among the pages of the Bible, the banquet of divine truth!

I say now’s the time to chow!

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“Wiping our Feet!”

Categories: Ministry Tips, Worship Ministry, Tags: , , , , ,

3 Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. Psalms 24:3-4 (NIV)

I was seated in our den recliner for a morning devotional when I heard this strange scraping sound outside on my porch. When I got up I found out it was made by our dog, Buster…wiping his feet prior to coming inside the house! Turns out, my wife, frustrated with the dirt Buster would track indoors, had taken time earlier, to stop the dog on the back door mat, bend over him and manually swiped his feet, all four, on the mat, knocking off the door and then letting him inside. (No, I am not making this up). She did this so many times that Buster began doing it himself! I was dumbfounded!  My dog was becoming cleaner than the humans who lived there!

I see a parallel with this and the way we approach God in our corporate worship experiences. We have done so much in our contemporary churches to remove barriers from people entering in. We have altered architecture, symbols, music, clothing and our overall environment to facilitate better accessibility for people to enter our worship services to engage God. Some of this needs to happen and needs to continue.

But I fear that although we have taken people’s inhibitions to heart, we may have neglected God’s conditions in our approaching Him in worship and these conditions have not changed. No one comes to the Father but through Christ and the necessary admission of their spiritual need for Him as our sole, soul’s spiritual resource. Such an exchange can wonderfully affect our environment and ‘response-ability’ to worship God in spirit and truth. Throughout the Scripture, those sincere members of the faith community consistently responded to the presence of God with reverence and humility. In many cases, however, our casual worship services may miss the depth of that kind of reverence.

This devotional is not a criticism of the church but a challenge to those of us who serve in this powerful ministry of worship. Prior to our “ascending the hill of the Lord” (this includes singers, instrumentalists, AV technicians) and leading others to do the same, are we “wiping our feet”? Are we keeping the holiness of God in mind and heart? Are we confessing our sins before the God who provided His Son who is absolutely not a door mat, but is the One through whom sins against God are resolved and our relationship with God restored? Do we recognize that He expects only the holy to stand in the holy place and that we are to pursue holiness even as He makes us holy?

True holiness makes all the difference in the world. Jesus teaches that the pure in heart are the ones who see God. It is therefore the pure who are in the best position to help others see Him. This is not about our being perfect. It is about our commitment to remain in the process of being made perfect. We must approach our ministry responsibilities with a profound awareness of the righteousness of God and His holy expectations for us. As we hold instruments in our hands, our guitars, keyboards, organs, faders, switchers, mics, etc, with the hope that they respond effectively, may we recognize with awe and wonder that we are being held in the Hand of God who desires us to respond to His desires for His glory. May we serve as holy vessels — broken but holy.

Father, You are worthy of our very best, not only in performance but also in lifestyle and character. Help us to make sure to take time before placing our hands on our instruments and our feet in the “holy place”, to confess and repent of our sin, receive Your forgiveness and restoration, and renew a corresponding passion to live free from the power of sin and in the power of Your righteousness. May we be instruments of holiness always before You, whether on or off the stage. Always for Your eternal glory, in Jesus’ name, Amen.”

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Ambushed in my Devotional.

Categories: Devotional Insights, Tags: , , , ,

I think that many times, we come to Jesus without resolving that 'thing' that must happen in us before we come to Christ.

My day started way off rhythm…

Cup of coffee,  water the grass,  workout,  hunt for a stupid water bottle with an envelope in it (don’t ask!),  spoke with my mother,  took the kids to school,  showered and dressed,  contacted home-care personnel to inquire about the stupid water bottle with the envelope in it (I mean it – don’t ask!) — these are all the things I did this morning before having my Quiet Time, what I apparently deemed more important to do later than first.

Then to make matters worse, my devotional article was from Oswald Chambers’ “My Utmost for His Highest”, the one for today (divine sense of ‘humor’ here…or is it ‘humbling’), entitled, “The Exclusivity of Christ” featured Jesus’ words, “Come unto Me” from Matthew 11:28. He began with the question, “Is it not humiliating to be told that we must come to Jesus!” He went on to mention our tendency toward “spiritual impertinence” in our expectation for God to disclose “big things” when what he really tells us is to “come”.

Then he lowers the boom with the following:

“Come unto Me”. When you hear those words you will know that something must happen in you before you will come.

That got me. I think that many times, we…I mean “I”…come to Jesus without resolving that ‘thing’ that must happen in me before I come. This means I can physically come to Jesus for devotional and yet still not really “be there” with Him. I believe this is one of those elements that also gives me permission to pursue other things on the way to pursuing to Him.

What follows is my journal response to this article in light of my off-rhythm start:

“How grossly impertinent, rude, arrogant, self-willed! He bids me come and I do everything else but that…intent to ‘constrain’ God to my schedule rather than submit to His. It is only in my coming to Him that I then am able to go with Him in His power and strength. How I treat Him early, sets the tone for the rest of the day if I truly believe that each day belongs to Him.”

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Small Group Priority: Time.

Categories: Ministry Tips, Small Groups, Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The human heart was never intended to do intimacy in microwave fashion. When relationships are required to operate in excessive megahertz there are usually excessive mega-hurts! Look around and see the fallout of lives where taking time was not priority.

We live in a microwave, fast lane, express culture where ‘blur’ is the natural perspective and ‘rush’ the natural rhythm of life. In this vortex of activity, money has been replaced by time as the principle premium commodity of value. Whoever said Rome wasn’t built in a day didn’t live in the 21st century where ‘fast’ is the new ‘slow’ and innovation lags behind invention!

We actually have been conditioned to believe that we can actually do all things in the shortest period of time possible. But while industry thrives on production in less time, intimacy never will. The human heart was never intended to do intimacy in microwave fashion. When relationships are required to operate in excessive megahertz there are usually excessive mega-hurts! Look around and see the fallout of lives where taking time was not priority.

Churches can sometimes be notorious in reflecting the culture too much and reinforcing the chaotic rhythms of life to the beat of a manic metronome. One of the best gifts we can give to each other is time — time to process the groanings of our heart; time to hear and be heard; time to care and be cared for. Time to hear the voice of God and actually deal with the “now what” of it rather than the “what’s next?” It only takes a few moments to absorb content into the mind, but it takes time to apply the intent of that content to the soul.

Dynamic, transformational small groups discourage and outlaw a “drive-thru” Christianity and favor more a “drive-in and park” environment. They give and take time to hear the whisper of the still small voice of God as well as the murmurs of the hearts in response to that Word as they all bring their chaos-riddled lives to it. Honoring time gives everyone in the group time to better “know and be known” with the understanding that such revelations gained can stabilize one’s life when they reengage the frenzy of real world obligations.

Practicing this healthy priority can be expressed in several ways.

First, avoid the trap of responding to each other in Bible studies with only answers to the questions on the page. Take time to read between the lines by seeking to discuss how the truths they encountered impact real life…their real life. In my small group, when I take the husbands into another room after our group has studied together, I start off by asking the question, “How does what we have just studied and discussed affect us as fathers, husbands and men?” Small groups must consecrate time during the study to allow for the ‘rubber to hit the road.’ This is one of the ways Scripture can be experienced as the Living Word of God for life.

Second, do not allow your formal meetings to be the exclusive venue of interaction. So much of life happens in the informal and in-between gatherings. For our group, periodically we will schedule breakfasts, lunches, or game nights where we hang out and bear down on whatever comes up. These times are especially effective in creating friendship and community where there is no other agenda than that.Keep in mind that this does not mean that all members need to attend. As long as there is at least one other person, time can be well spent if the goal is developing deeper friendship.

Third, observe a combination of the previous 2. Use informal, in between times to follow-up on things said and discovered during the formal gathering. In this way people can know that they have been heard and that what they said really mattered. This can happen at a restaurant, bowling alley, or coffee shop but can also take place on the phone or via email (though probably not Facebook!) The point here is to take time to connect with one another’s hearts and minds in a way that fosters friendship.

Individual Christ-follower: are you taking the initiative to connect with a member of your group outside of the group meeting times in meaningful ways? Don’t wait for the leader to do this for you. Step up and out and make time for a group member!

Small Group Leader: are you encouraging and facilitating times for your members to be together in significant ways? Have you considered using one of your times you study the Bible as opportunities to “study one another”?

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Small Group Priority: Truth

Categories: Ministry Tips, Small Groups, Spiritual Formation, Tags: , , , , , ,

True Christ followers diligently explore and honestly encounter God in His Word, and through their obedience to His Word become more devoted representatives and reflections of Christ.

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32

Far from some vague, relative, philosophical abstraction of reality, Jesus makes it quite clear: to be His disciple requires that they follow His teaching, considered absolute Truth. It stands to reason that one cannot hold to a teaching that they have not learned.

As we look at this first essential of small groups, TRUTH refers to the priority the community of faith places on their ‘listening’ to its Leader Himself, Jesus Christ, who proclaimed Himself to be, among other things, Truth (John 14:6). His disciples hear Him best when their hearts and lives are open to His Word, the Holy Scripture.

Those who so intend, so incline their H.EA.R.T. to His Word in the following ways:

Hearing – They make themselves available to others who teach and preach truth based on Scripture. There has never been a time where this has be more accessible beyond sitting in a church service. Now we can listen to sermons, teachings, lectures, devotionals through radio, TVs, CDs, DVDs, podcasts, and streaming audio/video via the internet. Apart from the absence of technology and freedom to receive biblical truth (as denied in many countries banning such), there is no excuse for any believer to not access the Word of God through these mediums.

Examining – They take time to read Scripture carefully, thoughtfully, systematically and consistently to familiarize themselves with the heart and mind of God as revealed in His Word to them. The simple objective here is to know what He said. Each of the 66 books of the Bible, read from their individual beginnings to ends, is a manuscript record of His divine self-disclosure through inspired men.

Analyzing – They devote time to study God’s Word, seeking to go beyond familiarity to depth of understanding. This practice requires the use of such bible references as bible dictionaries, word studies, handbooks, language lexicons, maps, encyclopedias and commentaries aimed at helping the contemporary followers of Christ now to know what the historical followers meant when they wrote what they did then in response to Christ’s revelation. This is a much more formal practice requiring patience and humility.

Remembering -They devote themselves to cherishing God’s word by taking it to heart, knowing that we remember what is important. When we memorize Scripture, we carry His Word with us, refusing to leave it in a notebook or library or study desk because the place the Word truly belongs and was meant to reside was in our souls and be engraved on our hearts and minds so that we may live according to this living counsel of truth.

Thinking – The follower of Christ practices meditation – focused thinking – on biblical truth seeking to understand and apply spiritual principles to real life in personal ways. If what one remembers is important, then what one thinks about is both foundational and instrumental in affecting one’s mind and then one’s life.

Christ followers personally and interpersonally engage in these with the express purpose of then applying biblical truths and principles to their lives. As they diligently explore and honestly encounter God in His Word, they anticipate and participate in the spiritual transformation of their minds and and hearts as they submit their lives to Christ. They become conformed to the image of Christ through their obedience to His Word. The goal is not to become a stelllar Bible student but a devoted representative and reflection of the Christ who sets us free by His truth.

Many Christians in the world suffer being forbidden to access truth through the Scripture, but any Christian who has access to it, and yet chooses or neglects to discipline themselves to Hearing, Examining, Analyzing, Remembering, Thinking about His Word is disqualified from the greater depths of spiritual maturity available only to those who have a H.E.A.R.T. for Holy Scripture.

Consider also that of the 5 components mentioned, only “hearing” may be considered passive to an extent (though one could certainly make a case for “active listening”). The others must be actively and personally engaged by the Christ follower.

Individual Believer: how often and consistently do you personally, diligently access God’s Word on your own, with the intent not for more information but for greater intimacy and influence from your Master and Lord?

Small Group Leader: to what degree do you challenge, model and encourage your members to pursue the truth that is so readily available in and between your meeting times?

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Debating the Inspiration of Scripture.

Categories: Devotional Insights, Tags: , , , ,

stillness-2One of the objections raised by folks regarding the issue Scripture’s authority stems from the difficulty of how we (Christians) can place a great deal of trust in a manuscript written long ago by ordinary men, prone, as all men are, to defects and biases. I admit that, on the surface, this is what it seems, but the internal and historical claims of the inerrancy of Scripture go beyond this common objection. I submit that this common objection misses the point. The focus for debate really rests on something far more profound and transcendent. See if you can detect it in the passages below, usually used to affirm the authority and inerrancy of Holy Scripture:

2 Peter 1:16, 20-21 16We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

20Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. 21For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness

Did you catch it? Human authorship or participation is not central. The issue is not about the reality of the weakness of man but about the existence and influence of God. I submit that there are 2 questions that need to be answered and upon which the debate should be waged is,

  1. Does God exist? AND
  2. If He does exist, does He interact personally with human beings?

When considering publications like the NY Times, USA Today, Wallstreet Journal, Encyclopedia Britannica, Encarta, etc, no will argue that these are written by ordinary men, prone to defects and biases. Yet, of their millions of readers, subscribers and patrons few question the integrity of the writers in connection with their manuscripts, though many may disagree with them. Yet when it comes to the Holy Scriptures, the same concession is inadmissable and the integrity of the biblical manuscripts are thus discredited. Maybe it is precisely because the Scripture goes beyond orthodox literary decorum to claim divine inspiration.

If there is no God, the debate is over and Bible was written by men who either thought they were divinely inspired and they weren’t, or knew they weren’t but said they were. Either way, under those conditions, the Bible would be an unethical collection of writings based on that which is not truth, yet claiming superior authority,  and, therefore, unworthy of any serious consideration…if there is no God!

But if, indeed, God exists, and if indeed, He does personally interact with human beings, then He most certainly can inspire men to scribe His truth for all men to encounter and thus the authority of Scripture can be firmly established. People may still disagree with its content but they cannot simply repudiate or dismiss its source. The summation of the internal claims of Scripture and the external, historical affirmations of those claims is that “Scripture is inscribed by men inspired by God.” The first part is obvious and undeniable. It is the second part that adherents cherish by faith but that antagonists must sufficiently disprove.

So let’s not rest arguments against the validity and authority of Scripture purely on the weakness of man. That fact is irrefutable. Let’s debate the issue on the true lodestone being  the Living Lord Himself, God Almighty, the true Author of His Living Word.

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5 Priorities for Small Groups.

Categories: Ministry Tips, Small Groups, Tags: , , , , , ,

5 essentials by which a small group can measure themselves to evaluate their potential of being the kind of faith community where Christ's presence is exalted, Christ's power is experienced, and Christ's purpose is expressed.

I have participated in, led or overseen small groups in some form since I was in high school. I have seen a variety of iterations, philosophies, movements, paradigms, ad infinitum. As a church leader, I have reconfigured, recast, retooled, restarted, and retired groups based on the call for effectiveness toward transformation. Though there have been a lot of changes, there has also been some consistent elements that keep coming to the surface for me and represent the “city on the hill” of what this venue of transformation can be.

It always keeps coming back to my regular reading, meditation and application in the principles of, what I consider, the foundational small group passage in Scripture from Acts 2:42-47.

42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

I don’t think I shall ever fully understand this passage since their context is so foreign to us here and now in the West, but when I look back on my own history with small groups — groups that worked well or not at all, groups that came close to the ideal and groups that wanted little to do with that dream — I have identified 5 major components or priorities that I see in the portrait of this 1st century biblical community that I believe must be operative in contemporary communities of faith if they are to foster an environment for conducive for transformation.

Truth: letting God speak. This is where participants consistently, diligently, engage in the study, meditation, and application of God’s Word, The Bible, both individually and corporately. The objective is to be faithful and obedient to the Living Word of God in Christ as we submit our lives to His Written Word, the Holy Scriptures.

Transparency: letting people speak. Unless people are free to share what is going on in their lives, intimacy and thus, development as a person or group is impossible. Transparency is where people are encouraged to be truthful about who they are — truthful to God and others. Without this, the truth of God through His Word becomes informational rather than transformational and the small group becomes a gathering of people rather a transformational community of faith, hope and love.

Trust: mutual security in freedom. This essential is risky but must precede transparency in some degree. It is a willingness to assume the goodwill in others and operate on that basis in the offering of myself to those I am involved with. It is to willingly allow others access to the deeper recesses of my life in progressive confidence of their respect of and love for me.

Time: readjusting schedules to facilitate community. Intimacy, like maturity, develops over time, but that time is intentional. Development of character and community must be allowed to occur beyond set time frames and meeting times. We must not merely take time, but make time to love properly and to see others for who they are.

Task: group participation in common ministry projects. People experience a different aspect of growth when they commit themselves to accomplishing something together. This allows for a different part of their personality to emerge and to build better cohesion to the community.

So, for members and leaders of small groups, are you effectively, consistently and intentionally…

…engaging God’s Word individually and corporately in a way that informs and impacts your live with TRUTH?

…taking TIME to be together slowing down enough to hear and know and to find rest in Christ with one another?

…working together to build an atmosphere of TRUST where members can be TRANSPARENT with each other, bringing the truth of their lives into the life of the group?

…working together mutually on a meaningful TASK that enables you to see a different side of yourselves but also celebrate what you can accomplish together as a team?

This is not at all meant to be an exhaustive list but, again, my perspective of the essentials by which a small group can evaluate their potential of being that kind of faith community where Christ’s presence is exalted,  Christ’s power is experienced, and Christ’s purpose is expressed.

(Soon you will be able to click on the “T”s and access an individual post for that particular priority giving you further insights and practical applications as it applies to the small group environment.)

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