Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Shift to Essential Small Groups


As our churches cautiously navigate their way back to “business-as-usual,” one particular area of ministry within the church has become especially crucial for the upcoming season: the church’s small group ministry. In fact, this Fall may be one of the most important seasons ever in the history of your church’s small group ministry. Let’s explore why this might be the case and what we can do to help promote the small group ministry through the next few months.

The Way Church Was Made to Be
Acts Chapter 2 is one of the best sources we have to observe how the early church began and how the first Christians practiced their newfound faith in Christ. One verse in particular that highlights this time period is 2:46, which says “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (NIV). It is important to pause and note the two activities that the church of Acts 2 pursued here. Not only did they come together for larger gatherings in the temple courts, but they also gave equal importance to house-to-house meetings (in other words, small groups!). From what we see here in Scripture, the foundations of the Lord's church incorporated both of these activities, and neither of the two were given any more weight than the other. Indeed, when one activity is given more preference than the other, imbalance occurs and the church can lose its ability to spread the gospel effectively. Too much of an emphasis towards the temple court would not value relationship, while too much of an emphasis toward small groups would not value teaching and instruction. Both are necessary, and both make the faith of Christianity tangible and actionable.

Starving for Relationship
Similar to how a garden is prepared, we must first till the land. By doing so, it breaks up the roots and weeds, it aerates the soil, and it helps in digging up the larger rocks that would have prevented our crops from flourishing. In other words, by doing this, the soil becomes ready to receive the seeds that we sow. Between the lockdowns and working from home, some individuals have not been meeting with friends and associates on a regular basis for almost 6 months. For those who are energized by being around others, this can take a toll on the spirit. On the other end of the social spectrum, even introverts may find themselves retreating from relationships more and not realizing why. The spiritual impact of Covid-19 has tilled our hearts in a way that allows us to be more aware of the importance of relationships, and the church’s small group ministry is now primed to positively impact our communities in a tremendous way. Because of how relationally starved the church community has become, it is likely that the transformation experienced within small group relationships this year may be even greater than ever before.

What Can Pastors Do?
If ever we become dizzy or disoriented, we cling to an object that is stable or something that is rooted in the ground. The post-Covid world has shaken us up. While we may be disoriented at this time, we can rest assured that Christ is our solid rock and our fortress who is unwavering. As things in our lives become more disorienting, the stability of Jesus will become more appealing. With recent events reminding us how the early church grew so effectively, pastors today can take this opportunity to stir up change within their own congregation (good change!). Since Satan won’t allow people to naturally gravitate towards God, now is the perfect opportunity to convey to our congregations that intentional change is no longer optional and that a church that emphasizes “temple courts” too heavily is no longer relevant. By helping our communities understand that the “new normal” is indeed a life that is drastically different than 2019, we are collectively challenged to see life through a new lens: one that strives for the healthy balance of church that Acts 2:46 promotes…one that makes a concerted effort to grow and transform spiritually by pursuing meaningful and genuine relationships through small groups.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Preparing for God's Judgment


While all of us will experience the Lord’s judgment after this life passes at either the white throne judgment (Revelation 20:12-13) or the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10), there are also moments during our lives where we experience smaller moments of judgment. Last week we asked the question of if God’s judgment was fair, highlighting that we see examples of three kinds of judgment throughout the Bible: micro, macro, and grand (for the individual, nation/group, and world, respectively). This week, we will revisit the three and unpack what we can personally do in order to better prepare ourselves, should we experience one of the three scenarios.

Preparing for Micro-Judgment
More than likely, each of us are going to experience some degree of micro-judgment during our lives. But should we think that the slightest mistake will condemn us to eternal damnation? Or should we be so fearful, that we live in a constant state of worry? Of course not. As a quick refresher from last week,

Regardless of the scale of His response, the pattern of how the Lord acts is consistent. First, we see throughout the Scriptures that God chooses grace and decides to bless humanity out of love; second, we find ourselves abusing His grace because of sin; next, God warns his people and calls us to repentance through the prophets that He appoints; finally, judgment is dispersed in an effort to bring His children back to Him and restore the relationship between God and His people.

Whether this is for a nation or for an individual, His pattern is consistent. If we find ourselves adopting a lifestyle of sin where things like violence, sexual immorality, substance/digital addictions, or other sins become prevalent within our lives, there’s a good chance that the Lord will send a prophet our way who will implore us to stop. The person may be a pastor, a friend, or even our spouse, but the message will nevertheless be clear: repent before it is too late. For as we see in Ephesians 5:8-20, it is inevitable that secret sins will be discovered and revealed. Perhaps our actions may have been so severe that we are unable to escape some degree of correction, however our humility in seeking the Lord first will play a large role in our ability to find peace and avoid additional cycles of micro-judgment in the future. Thus, the very best way to prepare for micro-judgment is to repent and seek first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33).

Preparing for Macro-Judgment
We don’t need to navigate too deep into the word of God before we find examples of entire nations being judged for their pervasive sinfulness. While critics of the Bible focus on examples like the destruction of the Canaanites or Sodom and Gomorrah, we must not forget that God was just as consistent in the judging of His own chosen people whenever the Israelites would live in a state of sin (See books of Judges, Isaiah, and Jeremiah). Yet just as we see in Isaiah 6:12-13, the Lord will indeed identify and raise up a remnant during an instance of macro-judgment. Such a remnant is a “holy seed,” composed of those who truly rely on the Lord (Isaiah 10:20-21). Thus, under macro-judgment, the call to repent and seek first the kingdom of God becomes just as applicable and vital for the remnant as it was for the individual experiencing micro-judgment.

Preparing for Grand Judgment
According to Jesus, it is futile to try and predict the coming of the end times (Matthew 24:42-44). Instead of us worrying about the exact timing of such an event, Jesus offers parables to help us understand the more important takeaways on the topic. One such parable is offered in Matthew 24:45-51, where He tells of two different kinds of servants: one type who continues to work while his master is away, and the other type who decides to be wicked and abuse the master’s trust and resources. Naturally, the former is blessed, while the latter is judged accordingly. Only two grand judgment events are described in the Bible: The flood in Genesis 7 and the passing of the earth in Revelation 21. In both scenarios, humanity is on a course that will inevitably destroy itself and the Lord is stirred to directly intervene. While no one is able to evade an instance of judgment on such a grand scale, we look to Noah from the flood and God’s sheep from the end times to understand that the righteous servants who continue to serve the Lord will indeed receive favor and/or blessing surrounding the time of trial (Matthew 24:40-41, 25:34). Thus, the pattern officially solidifies itself for a third time as we note that repenting and seeking first the kingdom of God will indeed be the very best way to prepare for grand judgment.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Is God's Judgment Fair?


One theme that the Bible clearly communicates is God’s consistency. While it is consistent in showing His remarkable display of grace through both the Old Testament and the New Testament, it also shows the consistency in which He corrects His children if they move too far away from Him. Some may call this pruning, while others call it judgment. It is not an easy topic to traverse, and due to its delicate nature, we will spend a few weeks exploring the conversation further.

The Lord’s Response
A casual reading through the word of God will allow us to find varying degrees of chastisement from the Lord as He responds to sin. We see it at the micro-level for an individual when David pridefully counts the troops at his disposal or when he commits adultery with Bathsheba. We also see it at a macro-level in the books of Judges, Isaiah, or Jeremiah, where a nation must come to terms with the effects of their sinful actions. However, we also see this at the grandest level, where the entire world finds itself experiencing the full display of the Lord’s might (such as the flood in Genesis 7 or the passing of the earth in Revelation 21). Regardless of the scale of His response, the pattern of how the Lord acts is consistent. First, we see throughout the Scriptures that God chooses grace and decides to bless humanity out of love; second, we find ourselves abusing His grace because of sin; next, God warns his people and calls us to repentance through the prophets that He appoints; finally, judgment is dispersed in an effort to bring His children back to Him and restore the relationship between God and His people.

Through Parenting, We Understand
While some may view judgment as a display of selfishness from a deity who is power hungry, it becomes rather easy to understand what the Lord is doing through the course of human history by relating His actions to how we parent and raise our own children. Without the need for our sons and daughters to first earn our favor, we train them up in the Lord, instill good values, and shower them with love and blessings. Without question, we sacrifice for our kids unconditionally. Yet as our children begin to abuse our good graces or become careless, prideful, or even hurtful, we discipline them and explain the reasons for why they are being punished. If the degree of our response reasonably correlates to the severity of their transgression, they will grow to understand that we are fair and just in our parenting, and the relationship between us and our children will not be jeopardized.

Is God's Judgment Fair?
Asking if judgment is fair is a tough question to answer. Perhaps influenced by the worldviews from which we are raised in, an individual living in the Western world may say that micro-judgment is fair, while an individual living in the Eastern world may say that macro-judgment is fair. But is it really correct to ask if it is fair to us? After all, we can only answer this question through a sin-tinted lens that was inherited from Adam and Eve. While some feel strongly that they shouldn’t be judged for the sins of others, and while others feel strongly that an individual shouldn’t be judged if the person was acting for the betterment of the group, it is only Jesus Christ who has the ability to judge with perfect fairness (John 5:22; II Timothy 4:1, 8; Jude 14-15, Revelation 5:5-7). In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for God’s “will to be done on Earth as it is in heaven,” but do we really mean it? It is when we trust in Jesus to carry out His divine appointment that we will begin to notice a shift in our prayers: rather than asking if His judgment is fair, our hearts will cry out with a kingdom-like perspective, praying for nationwide repentance, interceding on behalf of our family members and peers, and asking the Holy Spirit to continue chiseling away at our own pride and sinfulness. May God have mercy on us.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Boosting Our Spiritual Immune Systems

Just as how we each have an immune system that supports our physical health, we also have an immune system that supports our spiritual health. First, it is important to recognize that an immune system does not automatically build itself up on its own. For example, if we want to build up our physical immune system, we go outside, we take vitamins, we eat healthy, we exercise, and we allow our bodies to fight off the seasonal common cold or the occasional flu. Even though antibiotics can help us to quickly defeat a bug, prolonged dependence on antibiotics can impact our bodies in two ways: first, they can sometimes destroy the good bacteria that we have in our system; and second, our immune system may have a hard time in effectively fighting off even smaller infections due to an established dependency on antibiotics. In other words, our immune systems can become lazy if we never let it run its natural course in fighting any of the bugs that find their way into our bodies.

Similar to the activities that can help in boosting our physical immune system, we can build up our spiritual immune system through spiritual disciplines such as reading Scripture, engaging in prayer, attending service, worshiping the Lord, serving in the kingdom of God, and even joining a small group. While we may be able to enjoy more nights on the couch or dodge the occasional conflict that arises when building relationships with others, refraining from doing these practices for long periods of time can impact our souls in two ways: first, we lose touch with Jesus and we begin to retreat from our relationship with Him; and second, our spiritual immune system may discover that it’s unable to effectively walk through even smaller spiritual struggles and challenges that inevitably find their way into our daily lives. Just as how a lazy physical immune can be decimated by something as small as a common cold, a lazy spiritual immune system can be absolutely wrecked by an event that disrupts the normal day-to-day.

There’s one person I know who was once laid off from her corporate job. What was remarkable was that she not only had faith that she was being led to an even better job, but she actually praised the Lord through the entire process and even witnessed to the supervisors who were letting her go! However, I also know of another person who found himself unemployed and was wrecked by the spiritual struggle that ensued, unable to function and, on some days, even felt unable to get out of bed to do everyday tasks. But this isn’t just pertaining to employment. Indeed, this could extend into other areas of our lives such as the arrival of a new baby, severe weather catastrophes, the loss of a loved one, the accumulation of stressful projects at work or at home, or other areas. Just as how our physical immune system is there to be the first line of defense against the onslaught of germs and pollutants that our bodies come into contact with, our spiritual immune system is there to be the first line of defense against spiritual struggles. By boosting our spiritual immune systems on a consistent basis, we will be able to interpret our current struggles from a heaven-centric viewpoint, to more clearly see how today’s events impact our mission for the kingdom of God, and to bless others through the power of our actions and our testimony.