Friday, July 30, 2021

Being a Navigator of Discussion


During my undergraduate studies, I pursued a degree that required me to take some of the more challenging math courses that the university had to offer. One particular course I had to take was Calculus 3 (also known as multi-variable calculus). After a few weeks in, I quickly realized that my instructor for the course was terrifying. Not only was his teaching style unapologetically abrasive and unsympathetic, he would laugh at and criticize his students who answered his questions incorrectly in class. In my stubbornness to try to see it through, I unfortunately ended up failing the course which meant that I had to take it once again. The next semester, I chose a different professor, who was arguably the kindest, gentlest, and most sympathetic math teacher I had ever had the pleasure of studying under during my undergraduate career. I’m happy to say, the semester ended up with a completely different result and I ended up acing the course.

Becoming involved within a church’s small group ministry can sometimes feel similar to this. Oftentimes, the small groups we join will yield an incredible experience that is exactly what we need in our lives from week to week. Yet there are times when we hear of an individual who mentions that their small group leader is not allowing enough time for group conversation or that the group that they had signed up for is not aligning with the expectations that they held. While the good times in our groups can help transform our lives for the better, the less-than-positive experiences can leave us wanting to try another group. But this does not have to be the case, and we small group leaders can implement some strategies that can help lessen the number of negative experiences that occur within the church’s small group ministry.

Adhering to Group Expectations
Revisiting an older article from our archives, a reflection on expectations can help us pause and meditate upon what exactly our group is trying to accomplish. By establishing the levels of Love, Learn, and Serve ahead of time, there becomes less of a chance for confusion or dissatisfaction as the group continues to meet throughout the span of its life.

Navigators of Discussion
In their book Creating Community, Andy Stanley and Bill Willits encourage group leaders to promote participation, explaining that “since shared participation creates broader ownership of the group, all group members should be encouraged to participate often in the facilitation and leadership of the group meeting. This essential also reminds leaders to promote participation by being navigators of discussion, not teachers of curriculum. The difference is critical. Every time leaders ask open-ended questions, they are inviting participation. More than sharing the right answers, we want people to share their lives” (emphasis mine). In a post-Covid world, we stand to benefit more from a community that gives us a space to share our story and to let us live out our faith. This key point ties in directly with the “Love/Learn/Serve” breakdwon, where there are distinct differences between how a class is led versus a small group, or how a community service-oriented group is organized versus a prayer group.

Balancing Content with Life-Change
For new group leaders, being at the helm of a group can at times feel daunting. What if no one wants to open up and be vulnerable when answering my questions? What if I feel that I don’t know enough about the topic to lead a conversation? This is the beauty of a discussion-led small group that leans on materials like sermon discussion notes or a community book: leaders have the content to fall back onto. If it occurs where there are not that many individuals who care to open up a given week, then that’s okay. In such a case, the group is able to use the book (or sermon notes) as fuel to help drive the interaction between the group members. While answering the previously prepared questions, group members can slowly open up at their own pace and eventually come to the realization that they are establishing connections with one another. Nevertheless, life and its challenges still occur (even in the midst of us attending small groups). If the discussion at the beginning of a group meeting reveals that a member of the group is experiencing some major life changes and that they are in need of prayer, then the group can shift gears and minister to those who can benefit from an extra helping of grace and love. Exploring multiple options like these of where to take the group can encourage the group leader to be in alignment with the Holy Spirit’s direction and also help foster an environment that can generate more organic positive life-change to occur within the lives of each group member.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Prayer and Jesus, the True Watchtower


In his writings, legendary evangelist Smith Wigglesworth said, “The Word of God is not to be prayed about, the Word of God has to be received. If you will receive the Word of God, you will always be in a big place. If you pray about the Word of God the devil will be behind the whole thing. Never pray about anything which is ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ It has to be yours to build you on a new foundation of truth.” If you paused for a moment there to make sure you were reading that right, then you’re in good company. When I first had read that, I too had to double back and try to understand what he had meant. I remember thinking, “Why should we not be praying about the word of God?” Yet as I paused further to reflect, I eventually realized that although the difference between the two appears to be subtle, it becomes a bold and powerful perspective on prayer once we understand it and apply it to our lives.

In our last article, we discussed how Satan is like a circuit court judge and how Jesus’ authority and ruling will always be able to overpower the efforts of the evil one. In addition, it was mentioned that a case must be filed and submitted to a higher court before any review and overturning of ruling can be declared. In the Christian context, this method of spiritual “appeal” for us is our prayers, and if we believe that the wrong judgment was made upon our lives by the devil, then we confidently appeal to the Lord in our time of prayer.

But if we are to appeal to the Lord with a Wigglesworth approach, what might that look like? For example, if  the devil is trying to make a judgment that brandishes us as a hopelessly lost person who is forever enslaved by our past sins, we don’t just simply pray: “Scripture says in Isaiah 1:18 that ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool…’” Rather, a prayer that receives and imbues Scripture into our hearts may instead sound like, “Lord, my sins were red as scarlet, but God, you have made them as white as snow through the perfect sacrifice of your Son Jesus Christ so that my crimson red sins can be made as wool in the realm of the eternal!”

Or if we feel that the devil is trying to make a judgment upon us that tries to disqualify us from serving in the kingdom of God due to the insecurities we hold over ourselves, we don’t just simply pray: “Scripture says in 1 Corinthians 12:7 that “to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” Rather, a prayer that receives and imbues Scripture into our hearts may instead sound like, “Lord, I believe your word and your word says that I have been blessed with a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good of the kingdom of God and the Holy Spirit empowers me in one or more areas of my life to be more than a match for Satanic forces.”

This is what Smith Wigglesworth meant in the difference between praying about Scripture and receiving Scripture within our hearts so that we own our faith within our prayers. Praying with such conviction bolsters our hearts and our minds as it allows us to reach for levels of holiness that are essential in today’s day and age. 2020 clearly made it known that the path ahead is slated to be challenging journey for the world as a whole. Similar to a group of travelers who decide to venture into the wilderness, they will look at the surrounding landscape from a higher vantage point in order to get a proper view of what to expect. Once they climb into an outpost or a watchtower, they are able can see not only a proper path to pursue, but they can also be aware of any alarming situations like predators that are lurking about. In a large field with tall grass, a lion can successfully remain unseen and prowl without being noticed, but the same lion looks quite foolish to any onlookers if they can easily see it from a watchtower. This is precisely what we are called as Disciples of Christ to do: to operate on a level that is completely different than the evil one. Because we are lifted up and protected by Jesus who is our outpost and solid foundation, the devil’s attempts at spiritual warfare are unable to be hidden from us and we can then clearly see his presence and any dangers that may lay ahead.

To help us capture this essence and this passion in our prayers, allow me to leave you with one last quote from the writings of Smith Wigglesworth: “I never saw a man get anything from God who prayed on the earth. If you get anything from God, you will have to pray into heaven; for it is all there. If you are living in the earth realm and expect things from heaven, they will never come. And I saw, in the presence of God, the limitations of my faith, there came another faith, a faith that could not be denied, a faith that took the promise, a faith that believed God’s Word. And from that presence, I came back again to earth, but not as the same man. God [gives] a faith that could shake hell and anything else.”

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Supreme Court and Jesus, the True Judge


We must acknowledge an important spiritual reality of the world that we live in: it is the reality that Satan is the ruler of this world’s fleshly-driven affairs. Such a statement need not catch us off guard, for 2 Corinthians 4:4 informs us of this, explaining that “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God”, NIV). While the book of Revelation gives us the perspective of the eternal and informs us of the defeat of Satan before the forces of God, one of the biggest mistakes we Christians can make on the topic of spiritual warfare is to underestimate the evil one and forget that the battle is still ongoing here in the physical realm (a fight in which we find ourselves caught in the middle). Rather than ending up as collateral damage from the continuous onslaught that Satan hurls upon this earth, let us refresh our understanding of his limitations so that we are more properly equipped for the spiritual confrontations that lay ahead of us.

As much as he might try, we know from Scripture that the devil can never obtain the ability to judge as justly or as righteously as God. After all, Jesus is the one true judge, as seen in our previous article on this series which covered Revelation 19:11. In addition, we can revisit the words of Jesus Himself, who in John 8:15-16 said, “You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me”; and in John 5:30, where He said, “My judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.”

Even with the lordship of Jesus established, it won’t stop the devil from trying to become a judge with the same kind of power. But according to 2 Corinthians 4:4 and Revelation 19:11, Satan’s reach and jurisdiction is only within this earthly realm. He doesn’t have authority in the eternal, and if you and I are claimed by the Lord, then the devil has no chance of being able to snatch you or me out from the hand of Jesus (John 10:28). Thus, his attempt to judge you and me from his ramshackle, pitiful throne can only be done on earthly, temporal terms. In other words, his actions are unable to touch eternity and his jurisdiction stops at the edge of time. Yet while he may be the ruler of this world, Matthew 24:35 reminds us that “this earth will pass away, but [the words of Jesus] will never pass away.” When this earth passes away, Satan's throne will be destroyed with it.

In the end, Satan may try to gather all the material he can to try and judge us. However, even if he recorded all of our actions and all of our sins, the spiritual reality is that he still has absolutely no power over God in the eternal. Even on this earth, he struggles to gain a foothold in the lives of the alert Christians who understand Luke 10:19, where Jesus says, “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” Indeed, once we believe that Jesus has given His disciples this authority, the snake may bite but it has been de-venomized. For us, we walk in confidence, knowing that the sting of eternal death has been removed.

It is similar to the difference between a circuit court judge and a Supreme Court judge. If you don’t like the ruling of a circuit court, you can continue to appeal until eventually it can make its way to the Supreme Court. The devil is like a circuit court judge. He has some level of power and he can make a ruling in one direction or another. Should we accept the ruling of the circuit judge, we must live with the changes that such a ruling may bring upon our lives. However, if we feel that we are still in the right and that our case has not been properly heard, then we can appeal. For us Christians, this means that we have the ability to appeal to a higher authority: A higher judge, THE Supreme Court judge: Jesus Christ.

Nevertheless, it is not enough to merely claim that the devil circuit court judge was wrong. From the legal perspective, a higher court will not make a ruling to overturn the lesser circuit court until the case is brought forward to the higher court. In other words, the case must be filed before any action is taken by the higher court. In the Christian circumstance, our method and our vehicle through which an appeal is made is prayer. In our final article remaining in the series, we will explore this concept further on what our prayer “appeals” can look like and how we can put our previous knowledge in this series to use.