Tag Archives: intimacy

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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 In this vortex of activity, money has been replaced by time as the principle premium commodity of value.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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Scripture Meditation: “Stop and Consider.”

Categories: Spiritual Disciplines, Spiritual Formation, Tags: , , , , ,

...as long as we try to access the divine Whisper of divine Affection on the run, we may only hear the wind and not the Spirit.

stillness-2Transform Thought:

From the statement on meditation taken from the Quest Study Bible that I referenced in my “Soul Food” blog, I want to look at 2 aspects in greater depth. I will deal with the other in a subsequent blog. The first point of consideration comes from the following paragraph:

“In some ways meditation doesn’t easily fit into the Western culture. We value action and busyness more than stopping and considering. The author of this psalm was from another time and culture, one with a tradition that valued meditation. As a result, meditation came more naturally for him and others with his Middle Eastern background. We have to overcome some cultural obstacles to learn to meditate.”

Zero-in on the line, “We value action and busyness more than stopping and considering.” Sure does sound like good, ole fashioned, Western philosophy to me!

It’s been said that we remember what’s important to us. Try this one: we meditate on what’s important to us. In my teachings I have explained the art and discipline of meditation employing the picture of a cow chewing its cud again…over and over…again. That action describes “rumination” and applies to mental activity as well. Specifically regarding meditation, it can be a very deliberate practice engaging the entire mind and heart. (More on that later).

The statement points out our tendency toward NOT ruminating, not deeply, intentionally, considering because our gravitational preference is toward activity. The way I see it, we value INDUSTRY over INTROSPECTION, COMMOTION over CONTEMPLATION. As a matter of fact we sometimes rush TOWARD action to AVOID considering!

Years ago while bustling from one place to another, a friend of mine walking with me and observing my actions for over a year, out of the blue asked me a question that stopped me dead in my tracks. “Jonathan, what’s driving you?”
He noticed my tendency to a rapid gait, rapid speech, and like manner in many things. This prompted the question. I remember that day as the beginning of several weeks where I was constantly returning to that scene and then re-asking myself the same question: “What is driving me?!”

You may be wondering, “Wasn’t that a simple enough question? How could that have taken several weeks to answer?”
Answer: (Yep, you guessed it!) I was too busy to stop and consider it seriously. I came to a painful recognition that I had begun to value what I was doing for Jesus more than who He is. In Matthew 7, Jesus confronts a great group of people at heaven’s door. They came with expectations that their entrance was guaranteed on the basis of their effort, their eternal security locked in by their temporal industry. They offered their resume of religious duties, the likes of which would surely convince God that He is now obligated to let them in. Jesus responds to their demand with a chilling response: “Depart from me, evildoers, I never knew you!”

Wow! These people spent so much time doing what they considered to be good enough but never considered what Christ truly wanted. His response reveals the central priority of His desire: for us to be in mutually intimate harmony with Him. What, however, is more chilling, is that in all their activity, they never even realized that were not attentive to God on His terms. They were living for their work but not living for God. Jesus’ statement implies that there never was a relationship and just because they were deeply involved in some pretty significant work, this did not draw them one step closer to God nor the security of eternity with Him. Apparently God is more interested in what comes out of heart than what comes from our hands.

Look at a portion of Jesus’ message to the church of Ephesus in the Book of Revelation.

2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Revelation 2:2-4

Here, INDUSTRY trumped INTIMACY. Sounds like these folks needed to take time and consider the Whom they were so busy “doing” for. Hmmm…sounds like they aren’t the only ones!

In Psalms 46 in the midst of tremendous, calamitous chaos, the world convulsing with cataclysmic tremors, nations seething with rage, and the Lord dispensing divine wrath and judgment, this same God, who is also our refuge and strength, says,
Be still, and know that I am God. (Ps. 46:10)

In one sense of the word, this passage could be translated,
“Stop your striving. Experience the truth of who I am as God”.

This statement has a lot packed in it but one thing it calls us to: stopping and considering; deliberately, stepping away from the hustle and bustle, surrendering to stillness, sometimes best done in solitude. When it comes to meditation, we must decide to be in a place where the cacophony of the world and the static of our life is reduced to low enough decibels that we begin to hear the still, small voice of God. But as long as we try to access the divine Whisper of Divine Affection while on the run, we may hear only the wind and not the Spirit.

Consider this: the Bible is more than just a book about stories. It is a book about 1 story, His-story, being lived out through the many stories of humanity. It is a sacred book of the divine self-disclosure of God Himself in relationship with mankind in any dimensions. For us to access the depths and riches and wonders of the mind of God, we most certainly will need the tutelage of the indwelling Spirit, but we also need to come in humility, sit down at the table of wisdom, and feast on the kind of truth that enlightens the mind and satisfies the soul. This “Soul Food” is rarely good or beneficial when we are cramming it in us with other foods – traffic, ESPN, American Idol, reconciling check books, fretting over expenses, etc. – because divine “soul food” must be the main course, not the side dish.

So what do you think? Is it time to cease the striving and settle into the work and wonder of knowing God through His own “authorized biography”? Is it time to Stop and Consider?

Let’s follow Jesus’ example who had to be one of the most, if not the busiest man ever but never seemed to be in a rush, never seemed to be stressed. Lived life in rhythmic harmony with His Father. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus did not merely find time, but made time to be with His Father. That relationship empowered and sustained Him in the stewardship of life and accomplishment of the will of God. Keep in mind: it is stillness together with Christ that holds us together in Christ. But as this article indicates, that ain’t natural for us. It is a state of being that must be learned, practiced, and defended against the regular, incessant, voices of this world seducing us away from true fellowship of peace and rest with God.

Transform Tips:

Years ago when I was the director of a youth camp for a church in Miami, Florida we instituted a “Time Out” everyday during camp week at 4:30pm for 5 minutes. Adults and students alike were to dedicate this time to stopping, stillness and silence. This meant for 5 full minutes (an eternity for teenagers!) no swimming, no playing, no selling food at the snack shop, no walking, no talking. In a camp of 300 Jr. and Sr. High School students this miracle happened each day! They could use the time to pray, sleep, dream, reflect, hold their breath, anything…just to learn the value that they could “turn off”. It was pretty amazing for folks visiting the campus at around that time to walk around and hear no noise and see nothing human moving, like a spell had been cast over us. Then promptly at 4:35pm motion and activity whirred back into rhythm and life.

Maybe we could practice our own “Time Out” each day for a week…in a place where you won’t get fired! A time to remember that we are more than human doings, that we are human beings called into fellowship with the Holy God.
Here are some other suggestions of “Stopping to Consider”.

  • Determine a time and place with the optimum environment for stillness and silence. Consider this a sanctum, a sacred place to meet with God and then meet with Him there.
  • Before you start to meditate on the Scripture take several minutes in silence and consider Whom you are talking to or simply to disconnect from what you were doing or need to do. Consider taking a brief walk, savoring a cup of tea or coffee right before diving into hearing the voice of God in His Word.
  • Pray Psalm 119:18 to God but say it in your own words. (I was going to write it out, but thought “Nahh. They’ll have to stop and look it up!)
  • As you read the Scripture, take time to think through, read the entire chapter in one sitting but ruminate on 1-2 verses at a time rather than the whole chapter.
  • Journal your thoughts and reactions. I have found that writing is a discipline that forces me to slow down and adjust to the rhythm of careful thought and heart-felt contemplation.
  • Don’t wait until the end of your Scripture meditation to pray to God. Take time throughout your meditation to pray to God in response to what you’re considering. Dialogue with God as He “speaks”.
  • Close your time with prayers of praise and gratitude and confession and requests for divine guidance before moving on to intercession for others.