July 20, 2017
by Walter Norvell

Memorizing Scripture

Can you think of a way to always have God’s Word available to you no matter when it is or where you are? What advantages could that be to you? Help with witnessing? Fighting temptation? Focusing more on God? Comforting others in times of need? Meditation? The benefits are many.

Actually, anyone can have this benefit. The discipline we are talking about is memorizing Scripture. Some of us have more challenges in memorizing Bible verses than others. It is one I struggle with. I have several friends who have memorized entire books of the Bible. I have an old acquaintance who regularly challenges friends to memorize the entire Bible, a goal he is working on and has committed many books of the Bible to memory already.

The goals of Bible memory discipline are to place as much of Scripture in your minds as possible and to be able to recall it and use it whenever the opportunity arises. Some benefits of this discipline include:

  • A deeper sense of God’s presence.
  • A deeper ability in meditation.
  • Preparation to witness to anyone anywhere.
  • An opportunity to recall verses that help us or comfort us.
  • A ready tool to encourage other people.

Here are some suggestions to help you in the memorization process:

  • Read the verse you want to memorize frequency.
  • Write out the verse and keep it with you for review throughout the day or week.
  • Carry out methods that require you to focus on recall of the verse, not just reading it. One aid is the ScriptureTyper app, available on about every device there is. There is a very good free level for this app and an excellent, inexpensive paid level. This one was recommended by my colleague and I have found it very useful.
  • Write out the verse multiple times. I use this approach a lot.
  • Memorize verses with a friend or family member. This creates accountability.
  • Review. Review. The more you review the verse the deeper the verse will get into long-term memory. Memory is like a muscle; the more you use it the stronger it gets.
  • Quote the verse aloud often. That is the goal, isn’t it?

What are some verses to memorize? Here are some examples:

  • Verses or passages that mean a lot to you or speak to you in a significant way (Psalm 71:17-18 work for me).
  • A plan of salvation like the Roman Road (Romans 3:23; 6:23; 5:8; 10:13; 10:9-10). There are many wonderful ways to share a way to be saved. Find one you connect to and commit it to memory.
  • Key verses in a current personal or group Bible study (verses suggested weekly in your Sunday School materials).
  • Verses or passages that comfort you and can comfort others (Psalm 23).
  • Verses or passages that can become prayers (Matthew 6:9-13).
  • Verses or passages that help you fight sin and temptation (1 Corinthians 6:8).
  • Verses or passages that help you stay on mission with God (Matthew 28:19-20).
  • Verses that give you hope (Romans 8:24-25)

Scripture: Psalm 119:11 might be a great verse to memorize.

Dig Deeper: Here are some other lists of helpful verses to memorize. You might get motivated to engage in Scripture memory here:

Now It’s Your Turn: When has Scripture memory helped you and how? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


July 17, 2017
by Walter Norvell

Youth Small Group Leaders Belong on the Team

Sometimes you might feel as if you are a Lone Ranger as you lead your small group for youth. But the truth is, as a small group leader of teens, you are part of a far bigger team. You are teammates with all the other small group leaders. You are teammates with your youth ministry leader. You are teammates with parents who are engaging their teens in spiritual growth. You are teammates with your pastor and other church leaders who work in other areas of your church’s ministry.

I think of student ministry team like a cargo net. Volunteers, church staff members, and parents link up much like a net. Sometimes nets catch and protect teens in crises or bad decisions. At other times, the team forms a net that give teens a way to climb higher. With this illustration, do you see what might happen if there is a hole in the net? Could someone drop through? Could someone wanting to move up higher be thwarted and limited without the support a net can provide?

How can you join in this important network of parents, volunteers, and ministerial staff? Here are some ideas for you.

  • Be a low-maintenance volunteer that can work independently and interdependently.
  • Imagine what a great team member in the youth ministry looks like and be that team member.
  • Develop a clear understanding of your role in youth ministry. Set some goals and serve to make a difference.
  • Show your appreciation for the leader of your youth ministry.
  • Show your appreciation for other members of the youth ministry team. You understand more than most church members the challenges that volunteer youth leaders face.
  • Ask the leader of your church’s youth ministry how you can be of further assistance to him or her and to the youth.
  • Attend every leader meeting you can possibly attend so you are informed, and so you can encourage others.
  • Pray for the youth ministry team. Pray every day and pray for each leader by name.
  • Help youth and parents of youth to support the youth ministry.
  • Be a representative of the youth ministry team to the larger church. Help keep adults and guests aware of the youth ministry activities and goals.
  • Be a representative of the larger church to the youth ministry. Help teens understand what the church is doing and how they can participate. Interpret the work of the church to them.
  • When you have questions, ask the youth ministry leader. He or she will not know how to help volunteers until someone speaks up.
  • Deflect criticism of the youth ministry leader whenever you can.
  • If you have a conflict to solve on the youth ministry team, do so in private and make sure everyone wins. There do not have to be losers in conflicts.
  • Fulfill your responsibilities with prompt faithfulness. Keep your promises and show yourself dependable.
  • Arrive early and be willing to stay late if needed. If youth Bible study starts on Wednesday nights at 6:30 for an hour, put it in your calendar as 6:00 for two hours. Breezing in after the study has started and leaving when it ends will never let you build relationships. Some of the most valuable ministry time you will have with teens and other volunteers will be before and after the meetings.

I can hardly think of more than two or three things a church does that touches the future more than youth ministry. As adults called to touch the lives of teens, we share in this awesome opportunity. Let’s unite in youth ministry and create a network of love and support that will introduce teens to Jesus our Lord and Savior.

Scripture: Read Galatians 6:2-5. While “team” is not used in these verses, you can get the idea of team. How would you apply these verses to your youth ministry team?

Dig Deeper: Read “Fine-Tuning Your Youth Ministry Leadership Team” by Richard Ross. This article provides a structure for helping volunteers take on amazing roles in youth ministry.

Now It’s Your Turn: What advice do you have for strengthening a youth ministry team in a church? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

July 13, 2017
by Walter Norvell

Read the Bible

Every Thursday we are thinking about spiritual disciplines. Last week we considered the discipline of Bible study. We pointed out that Bible study is dependent on Bible reading. Let’s look at Bible reading as a spiritual discipline.

Bible reading is often one of the first disciplines we suggest for new believers. Bible reading is a basic skill but we can take it for granted and we can falsely assume that everyone knows how to read the Bible. To be a regular Bible reader, we need to develop some habits to help us.

  • Find a plan for reading your Bible. Some read for a specific time each day. Others read to complete books in the Bible. Some read to complete the Bible in one year. Within each of those approaches are a number of choices: reading specific genres, reading the Bible in historical order, reading the Bible cover to cover, or reading the Bible in several genres at a time.
  • Determine why you read the Bible. Reading it in some legalistic way will usually take the life out of your reading. Decide that you are reading your Bible as a way to know God, not just complete assigned readings.
  • Pray before you read. Ask God to reveal Himself to you as you read.
  • Start slowly. I often have college students deciding to read the Bible for one hour every day. That usually fails in about three days. Instead, I ask them to complete one book at a time or to read for only ten minutes a day. Habits need time to grow.
  • Avoid distractions. Turn off your devices. Maybe get up early. Tim Challies has a suggestion: no Bible, no breakfast. I have often used that simple saying to stay motivated in my Bible reading.
  • Consider using a hardcopy Bible. Many read off their devices and that is fine, but those devices can also be distractions. Most of us have a hard time reading the Bible on our phones and avoiding interruptions in our reading to look at every buzz that comes through our phones.
  • Read your Bible about the same time every day. I think morning is the ideal time. I think reading before bed is great, but often my fatigue kicks in about that time and I fail to read at all.
  • Find a good place to read. I need to sit up, usually at my desk or out on the front porch to stay engaged with the Bible.
  • Don’t equate length of reading with Bible engagement. The goal of reading is to engage the Bible and learn about God. It does not matter how much of the Bible you get through if none or little of the Bible is getting through you.
  • If keeping a tick list helps you read, keep a tick list. I don’t mark my printed Bible reading plan but I work that plan every day.
  • Don’t let boredom come in the door. Keep some variety in your reading. Use a different translation than you normally read. I mix it up by changing when I read and when I pray. Currently, I start my quiet time with a brief prayer for God to speak to me. Then I read a Psalm and think it over a bit. Then I use my PrayerMate app to guide my adoration, confession, thanksgiving, intercession and my personal petitions. Then I finish my Bible reading. In a few weeks, I will change up that order again. Being bored with the Bible is sometimes our own fault.

Reading your Bible devotionally is a good idea. You will also want to meditate on what you read, study some of the passages in depth, and memorize verses. One of the things that has amazed me is that the effects of Bible reading seem to accumulate. The more you read, the more connections you see across the whole Bible. It does have a uniform message and daily reading helps you see it. Today, while reading Psalm 40, I realized several connections to Psalm 71. That kind of insight encourages me. Any Bible reader can have those same sorts of experiences.

If you want to start reading the Bible more regularly, simply google “Bible reading plans” and you will find dozens to choose from. You can also use the YouVersion Bible reading app in your app store. While I don’t use my devices to read my Bible, YouVersion has some great plans. I just pick up my hardcopy and read the passages there instead.

The Bible is an unusual book. There is no other like it. Reading the Bible connects you to its life. You will quickly see that Bible reading is not a science but an art. Enjoy the art and you will find the Artist, our Lord, behind it.

Scripture: Psalm 19:7-11. Which of these descriptions of God’s Word speaks to you? Why?

Dig Deeper:  Read Habits of Grace by David Mathis.  

Now It’s Your Turn: What is the best Bible reading advice you have ever received? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

July 10, 2017
by Walter Norvell

Accept Teens as They Are

Over recent Mondays, we have focused this blog on some of the unique characteristics of leading small groups for teens or students. I am not sure what your terminology is for teenagers. You might call them teens, teenagers, students, youth, or every Gen Z-ers. All those terms work. I will use the terms interchangeably, so don’t let me confuse you. I am just trying to appeal to the largest possible audience reading this blog.

I have spent some time thinking about the needs of students in your small groups. I think students deeply desire to have an adult, or a few adults, simply care for them.

Our culture abandons teens. We expect them to be more independent at earlier ages. Often teens grow up in one-parent households where that parent works feverishly to provide. Sometimes in two parent-homes, both parents are deeply engaged with their lives and work and unintentionally neglect their teens. Teens go to school, often forming a sort of teen ghetto for six hours a day where they actually have very little contact with adults. The culture down plays adults and their roles in teens’ lives. Teens get all kinds of mixed messages from the culture and they seldom have the life experiences needed to sort it all out. They struggle to understand themselves and often make the assumption that since they do not understand themselves, no one else can understand them. They are looking for love and acceptance. You can build Christ-centered relationships with teens if you accept them. Why?

  • God loves them, just as they are. He is the One who transforms them so our job is to love them so they discover God’s love.
  • God made them. They are not accidents. They have purpose and meaning, found most significantly in Jesus Christ.
  • They have potential. Their potential is rooted in knowing and following Jesus.
  • They have ability and value now. They aren’t just the church of the future; they are the church today. They are capable of powerful ministry now.
  • They need Jesus. Your love and acceptance can open them to the salvation and discipleship Jesus offers them. Your acceptance models Jesus’ acceptance.
  • Their lives touch many other lives. They have influence and can use that influence for the kingdom of God. They can be on mission now.
  • Every idea out there is trying to capture them. If we do not reach them, some philosophy, ideal, concept, or sin will.

How can you demonstrate your acceptance to them?

  • Accept them where they are. They are not perfect. God is okay with that because He is the One who can and will change them.
  • Converse with them. Don’t just talk at them or lecture them. Seek to engage in real conversation just as you do with adults.
  • Listen to them. The things they say, or don’t say, may shock you. Be unshockable so they know you accept them.
  • Show interest in the things that interest them. Attend a band concert or a basketball game. Go to a scout court of honor. Know where they go to school, where they live, and where they work.
  • Ask them good questions about life which require more than a yes or no. Then listen to their answers with genuine interest.
  • If they disagree with you, listen to them. Let them hold their point. Love them anyway. You don’t have to win every discussion immediately. When you show you can listen without judgment of them as persons, they will be more open to hearing your point.
  • Pray for them. Then pray some more for them. Pray. Pray. And, then pray some more for them.

I lead multiple small groups of college students. God has blessed that work. Over the years I have learned two things that open them up to talking about the Lord. I tell them I love them. And, when I see Christ-likeness, achievement, success, commitment, and faithfulness in their lives, even if it is just a bit, I tell them how proud I am of them. Because I do those two things, my days are filled with divine interruptions that open the door for Jesus-centered conversations. Try it and see if this soon happens to you.

Scripture: Read John 13:34-35, John 17:12, and John 15:17. How would you apply Jesus’ teachings to accepting teens in your small group?

Dig Deeper: Take out a couple of sheets of paper. Write a name of a student in your small group. Then list everything you know about that student. Continue this with every name in your small group. How well do you know them? How can you know them better? How will this help them know you accept and love them?

Now It’s Your Turn: What are some ways you demonstrate unconditional acceptance for the students in your small group? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

July 6, 2017
by Walter Norvell

The Discipline of Bible Study

On Thursdays, we have been examining Christian disciplines, those practices that help us be available to God and grow in his grace. The disciplines are not the transformative power in our lives; Jesus is. But disciplines help us open up to hearing and obeying God so that we are transformed by His power into the likeness of Jesus.  This week let’s look at the discipline of Bible study.

In David Mathis’ book, Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines, Mathis makes a distinction between reading the Bible and studying the Bible. Obviously, you have to read the Bible to study it, but you can read the Bible without studying it. Mathis says reading the Bible creates a breadth of understanding the Bible. I find that true as I read multiple chapters each day in a plan designed to help me read through the Bible in one year. But Mathis also says that Bible study creates a depth of understanding of the Bible. You might think of the pair of disciplines in this way:

Adele Ahlberg Calhoun reminds us that Bible study is about knowing what the Bible says and how it intersections our lives. She says, “Bible study involves engaging the mind and focusing attention on Scripture in an attempt to understand and apply the truth to every area of my life (Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, p. 184).”

We need both disciplines in our lives. Bible reading gives us the big picture on the Bible while Bible study forces us to stop and dig a bit. Bible reading need not include any other resources: all you need is a Bible. But Bible study will likely include some other resources that you will need: a Bible dictionary, a Bible atlas, a Bible commentary, a study Bible, to name a few. These basics help us find meaning in the purposes of the Bible book writer, understand Bible backgrounds, understand ancient languages, and help us see how the passage sits in the context of the Bible.

Effective Bible study will require you to use some method of study. Most commonly, people use an inductive method where the student asks three basic questions:

  • What does the passage say? (Observation)
  • What does the passage mean? (Interpretation)
  • How does the passage apply to me today? (Application)

Lots of great methods use these questions. I have written about some in the past. Recently, I listened to a podcast with Nathan Foster and Andrew Rannuci from www.Renovare.org. You can link to it here and I highly recommend it. Rannuci only speaks about this Bible study method briefly, but it is notable. In his church in Australia, he teaches his people to use the SOAP method. I am a sucker for catchy, memorable ideas and this one caught me. SOAP stands for:

  • Scripture
  • Observation
  • Application
  • Prayer

So I began to experiment with this method. (Often the spiritual disciplines are really experiments anyway!) In my journal, I record the date. Then I write point #1 “Scripture” and include the references I am reading about on that day. I just list the references there. Point #2 is “Observation.” I try to summarize the passage or passages I am reading. I usually only write about one solid paragraph. I might list any questions about the passage I want to pursue. Point #3 is “Application.” I ask myself, “What does God want me to do with this passage?” I reflect some and think about my day, my tasks, my spiritual growth, my work, my family, etc., and then I write how God might want me to practice or live out this passage. Finally, point #4 is “Prayer.” Here I write out a brief prayer about intersection of the passage and my life. Again, this is usually brief. I realized that this method helps me bring together Bible reading, Bible study, meditation, and prayer. I like it. It has taken on a lot of meaning for me in only a few weeks of practice. Even if I am not writing anything down, using SOAP is a simple guide to dig into the passage and work out its application for my life.

Since this blog is about small groups, this post has immediate application for anyone leading a small Bible study group. Using a method like SOAP helps you model good Bible study technique. This is such a simple approach a leader can quickly teach it to a group for their personal study and re-enforce it in the group study. Dig into the discipline of Bible study and explore the SOAP approach.

Scripture: Read and study Psalm 111 with the SOAP method.

Dig Deeper: Read David Mathis’ book, Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.

Now It’s Your Turn: What is your reliable approach to Bible study? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”



July 3, 2017
by Walter Norvell

Help Teens Influence Their World

Last Monday we considered the various areas in a teen’s life. As a small group leader for teens, I need to understand their world as much as possible. You can read that article here. But, this is not the place to stop as we guide teens in Bible study.

We need to understand what influences teens but we need to also help teens understand how to influence their world. As Christians, we are to influence those around us for Jesus as we minister and witness. Bible study should equip us to do kingdom work, and we disciple teens now to do kingdom work now. Let’s look at the areas of teen life we examined to explore how we can lead students to minister.

  • Parents. Parents are the greatest influence in a teen’s life. The Bible teaches us to obey parents and to honor them. As you lead small group, you can frequently ask teens to apply the Bible passage to their homes and parents. Encourage teens to minister to their parents. Some teens in your group will have parents who are not Christians. Help teens see they can witness to their parents with love and honor, realizing how important their behavior and attitudes are when witnessing to lost parents.
  • Family. Encourage teens to apply Bible truths to their siblings and other family members. Ask teens to make plans to minister to their siblings. Encourage “secret” acts of kindness and love.
  • School. Challenge teens to make seating charts of all their classes with the names of the students in the class. Encourage teens to use these charts as prayer lists, praying for their classmates. Ask them to identify five different students to cultivate as new friends with the goal of getting those five new friends into church and youth group.
  • Extracurricular Activities. Teens can also treat their teams and clubs as groups that need Jesus. Help teens plan events at church that they can invite their teams and clubs to attend. Feed the basketball team or hold a club meeting at church. Seriously, let them do everything for the events and you simply help advise them. They can do it.
  • Media. Teens can learn to wisely use media in discerning ways. Help them think about how media helps or hinders their walk with the Lord. Challenge students to think about movies, TV shows, music, and games from a Christian perspective. Students can learn to ask, “What would Jesus watch?”
  • Community. Community is the place where your small group can work together in ministry. They can be lunch buddies for kids in elementary school. They can work in the community festival as volunteers. They can help with the local food bank. The volunteer opportunities are limitless. Help teens learn the joy of serving in Jesus’ name.
  • Work. As teens begin to take jobs, you can help them understand how to respond to a different level of authority than parents and teachers. Help them learn to work as unto the Lord. As teens begin to work, take the opportunity to help them think through stewardship, giving money, and saving money.
  • Church. We to love and serve the household of faith. Helping teens serve in and through their church helps them understand their church as God’s family and a community where all are loved and valued. There are members who need ministry in all kinds of ways: single moms, widows, families with special need children, sickness, physical challenges, economic needs. Your pastor can help your small group discover ways to serve in and through the church.

In small groups, we want teens to learn the “facts” in each passage we study, but we cannot settle for imparting only head knowledge. We also teach to the heart, to the things teens value. And, we can help teens develop ministry and witnessing skills as we teach. We move youth from knowing about the Bible to knowing God himself and serving him when they discover what he has done for them. Teach and lead teens in ways to helps them put feet, hands, and voices to the Bible truths they learn.

Scripture: Read Ephesians 4:15. How are you teaching teens to grow up in every way in Christ?

Dig Deeper: Read “Why You Need Daily Discipleship” by Dwayne McCrary. How can you apply this article to leading your small group?

Now It’s Your Turn: How do you help your small group find ways to serve in various areas of their lives? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

June 29, 2017
by Walter Norvell

Meditation Is Like Gem Hunting

On Thursdays, we are thinking about the Christian disciplines. You can look below to read previous Thursday posts. Today we turn our attention to a much-maligned and difficult discipline, meditation.

Meditation is often maligned in our circles because we connect meditation with Eastern mystical religions or possibly with Catholicism. But, the truth is meditation is a practice throughout the Old Testament. We will see some passages below that help us understand the use of meditation in the Bible. Meditation also appears in the New Testament in several books. Christian meditation does not seek to empty one’s mind, as Eastern mysticism asks, but to fill our minds with the things of God.

In the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Adele Ahlberg Calhoun describes meditation as “a long, ardent gaze at God, his work, and his Word. Slowing down and giving one’s undivided attention to God lies at the core of Christian meditation.” Dallas Willard says meditation is “prayerful rumination upon God, his Word, and his world.” Willard’s idea reminds us of the way a cow chews her cud, over and over, getting out every last nutrient.

I think of meditation as gem-hunting. My family has visited Franklin, NC, looking for rubies, garnets, and other precious stones. One of the ways you learn to tell the difference between regular rocks and raw gemstones is holding them up to the sunlight and rotating them to see the glimmer and sparkle the gemstones have. When you find one, the excitement flows and you look for more and more.

Meditation is difficult in that it requires a focus on God. Turning off the noise in one’s head so thoughts can be focused on the Lord is hard work. Our minds wander quickly because of several reasons:

  1. Our minds are undisciplined. We jump from one idea to another, seldom thinking intently on any one idea.
  2. The world around us is a distraction. The phone is ringing. The TV blares at us. The radio is always on in the car. Someone or something is constantly trying to get our attention.
  3. The enemy does not what us concentrating on the Lord and the things of the Lord.
  4. We don’t read the Bible in a way that encourages us to think deeply about it.
  5. We take the natural world, God’s great work of creation where his fingerprints are everywhere, for granted.

If you desire to develop your skills in meditation, start slow. Even a few minutes of concentration on the Lord is worthwhile. Meditation is a practice that accumulates. The more you practice it, the better you will get at it. Here are some ideas:

  1. As you read your Bible, look for words, phrases, or verses that grab your attention. I listened to the sermon of a close friend Sunday night. As he preached John 14:30-31 spoke to me, especially the phrase, “He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me.” I have thought about it all week. It is an insight into the spiritual battle of the cross.
  2. Make a note that helps you remember and engage in meditation. Sometimes I copy a stand-out verse from my quiet time and tuck it in my right pocket where I keep my keys. I use my keys a lot every day so every time I reach into my pocket, I feel that note and remember to think about that verse.
  3. Journal your ideas as you read your Bible. Use a journal or a journaling Bible. Journaling is a discipline by itself, but it often helps us meditate.
  4. Look for people during the day to tell about your meditation verse. Share.
  5. Meditate on God’s natural world. I tilled in my garden today and I kept thinking about the parable of the soils. I wondered if the earth would complain about the tilling as painful or if it would be thankful for removing the weeds, letting in oxygen so the seeds sown will bear fruit. Then I thought what kind of “soil” is my heart today. Does it receive the Word with joy or do the cares of life choke out the seedlings?
  6. Take sermon notes in worship services or as you listen to a sermon online or on the radio. Note-taking can also be a separate discipline, but it helps us meditate on the Word and our pastor’s ideas.
  7. Meditate on the news. What insights might God give you as you watch the news? How does the Word apply to the news? How might God expect you to respond to what you hear?
  8. Use time in monotonous tasks, where little thinking is needed, to think about God and his Word. I find mowing the yard such a task and my mind can focus on other things while I am mowing.
  9. Go outside and watch the landscape. Today, on a break from tilling my garden I listened to and watched a cardinal singing in the cottonwood tree out back. Watching his brilliant red appearance and hearing his cheery notes helped me praise and thank God.
  10. Regularly ask God to speak to you in all sorts of ways: Bible reading, preaching, study, talking to people, watching entertainment. He will if you will listen and that gives you something to think about. Last week, Mary and I watched the musical Brigadoon. Near the end, the male lead made a statement about how a man can come to think that the things he believes in become more real than the things he sees. Wow. What a thought to examine in light of the Lord’s call to faith?

Scripture: Practice meditation now by looking at these verses from Psalm 119 and consider how the psalmist meditates. Psalm 119:15, 23,27,97,99, and 148.

Dig Deeper: Browse the website www.renovare.org. This organization was developed by Richard Foster to help people living flourishing lives as they become more like Jesus.  

Now It’s Your Turn: What are your meditation experiences?  Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

June 26, 2017
by Walter Norvell

No Teen Is an Island

The first few lines of John Donne’s famous poem, No Man Is an Island, reads as

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

I think the same should be said of teens in your small group Bible study.

When teens come to Bible study, we are quick to forget that they are not isolated persons, free of the influence of others. Instead, they come to Bible study with all the influence, experiences, and challenges they accumulate every day throughout their whole lives. They are not islands. They are part of so many things bigger than they are. To minister effectively to them, leaders must bear in mind that teens belong to these greater systems:

  • Parents. No one they will ever encounter in their entire lives will have the influence on them that their parents have. Parents shape the lives of their children more than anyone else.
  • Family. Siblings and their birth order influences the lives of teens. The number of children in the family shapes the family’s use of resources such as finances and time. Beyond the nuclear family, grandparents influence teens in many ways, but especially through the influence they had on their own children and their parenting styles. Many teens experience a powerful bond with grandparents.
  • School. The impact of six hours a day, five days a week, for nine months a year, school is likely the second greatest influence on teens. The modern school places teens in cohort groups with limited adult contact. The influence of same-age peers becomes dominant.
  • Extracurricular Activities. Our culture values the experiences of teens in extracurricular activities. These include opportunities like team sports, community service, scouting, dance, self-defense classes, or academic-related clubs. Some say that church is extracurricular as well, but while church is often treated as extracurricular, I would treat it separately.

  • Media. Media is a constant influence in the lives of teens. They are seldom apart from their media: TV, streaming video, movies, gaming, social media, music, and print media, all delivered through digital screens from the size of a watch to the huge flat screen in the family room. Since teens consume media through multiple sources simultaneously, they can easily accumulate more media exposure hours than they spend in school each day.
  • Community. Where teens live brings into their lives both opportunities and threats. Some communities are rich in opportunities for teen development. Other communities are dangerous.
  • Work. Older teens may decide to work; some teens are forced to work. While we think work is generally a positive developmental experience, often teens work in poor situations in jobs that do not actually train teens for significant adult work. While some teens contribute to the financial well-being of their families, most teens have full control over their paychecks which are typically spent on frivolous and non-essential items.
  • Church. Since the 1960s, church has declined in its influence in all our lives, much less teens’ lives. Church operates from a weak position in even the lives of well-churched teens. Most parents think church involvement is fine, just as long as school, work, and extracurricular activities are addressed first. Church is an incidental. With church in this position, there is little time or priority given it.

Thinking of the influences in teens’ lives seems overwhelming to small group leaders, but don’t miss the obvious: they are in your small group!  Teens usually attend church and small groups because they want to know about the Lord, be with their friends, and respond to caring, loving adults.  Viewing teens as a sum of the various influences in their lives will help leaders guide them in Bible study. Understanding them will equip leaders to make disciples.

Next week let’s reverse engineer this issue to seek how leaders can help teens bring their own influence to bear in the various arenas of their lives.

Scripture: Read 1 Timothy 4:12. How can you use the world of teens to help them become examples in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity?

Dig Deeper: Read articles you can find on the website for the Center for Parenting Youth Understanding, www.cpyu.org.

Now It’s Your Turn: What other life arenas can you identify in the youth in your small group? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

June 22, 2017
by Walter Norvell

Doing Without to Know God More

We have been using our Thursday posts to examine some spiritual disciplines. Previously we have looked at the practices of silence and solitude, both basic and necessary habits that help us develop other disciplines. Today, let’s look at an oft-misunderstood spiritual discipline, fasting.

As I write each blog I spend some serious time looking for an appropriate graphic to use with each post. I have a couple of sites that allow me to download photos without charge. So, I went to my mainstay site and search the word “fasting.” I found about 60 pages of photos about either speedy things or fast food. I wonder how the modern concept of “fast food” has affected our understanding of fasting. I think our culture’s emphasis on speed and eating abundantly have discouraged us from the ancient practice of fasting. Fast is usually the way we approach food. We want food when we want it and without delay. We gulp without even tasting it, which maybe be necessary since we want it fast.

Fasting is something quite different. Fasting is not about my wants and it is not speedy. Our contemporary understanding of fasting is the abstinence from something. That could be a substance (like food) or an activity (like participation in social media). While these might be culturally appropriate at times, they stray a bit from the biblical perspective.

The biblical understanding of fasting is always abstinence from food. While many of us need a fast from social media, the real focus is giving up food for a time to focus on God. Think about it. Does abstaining from social media have anywhere the effect than fasting from food? Social media will never be a necessity for sustaining life, but food is a necessity. Fasting from food truly deprives the body of a life-giving substance and causes the believer to depend even more on God. Food is the issue. Food strikes at who we humans are and points us to the One who provides for and meets our needs. Generally, a fast is a private activity between a believer and the Lord. We do see examples of public fasts throughout the Bible, but we can probably understand these as public calls to God’s people to fast in privacy.

Fasting is putting aside food for a while so the believer can seek out God in a deeper way. The Bible reveals three basic kinds of fasts:

  • The normal fast, an abstinence from food. Jesus did this for 40 days in the wilderness (Luke 4:2).
  • The absolute fast, an abstinence from food and drink. Paul fasted this way in Acts 9:9. Note: in the Bible, an absolute fast was never more than three days.
  • The partial fast, an abstinence from certain foods. Daniel and his friends used this fast in Daniel 10:3.

Adele Calhoun defines fasting as “to let go of an appetite to seek God on matters of deep concern for others, myself and the world (Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, p. 14).” Fasting usually contains confession and a seeking of the Lord in a prevailing time of prayer. Often fasting was used in seeking the Lord’s will for direction in life. Every time we see fasting in the early church, it was to know the mind of God and to discern his will. My own limited experience is that fasting does slow down my life. It forces me to choose godliness when my grumbling stomach creates discomfort and moodiness. It clears off spaces in my life so there is opportunity to appeal to the Lord and seek Him.

Our American culture is food-driven, ironically amid a starving world. Only in America do we have game shows about food because food is so common here and so taken for granted. We have been convinced that even missing a snack will cause us undue suffering and deprivation. Fasting helps me put food in its proper place, a blessing from God that is to be shared with others.

I am a diabetic so, literally, every bite I take is taking a form of drugs. Several years ago, I talked to my doctor about fasting. After a conversation that assured him I was knowledgeable about both my disease and fasting, he encouraged me to go ahead.  So, if you have fears or doubts here, talk to your doctor.

I suggest that you learn to fast slowly. Try fasting one meal a week. Remember, as you fast you give that time used for cooking, eating, and cleaning up to the Lord. Then you might want to add a couple of more meals. For most of us, the regular practice of fasting might mean a 24 hour fast. I find that my blood sugar levels work well if I fast a Jewish day, sunset to sunset. But, that is what works for me. You need to find your own pattern.

Fasting is only commanded in the Bible in the Old Testament as part of the observance of the Day of Atonement. That fast was only one day a year. However, what really grabs me in the Bible about fasting is Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 6:16-18. Four little words keep this practice alive for me: “And when you fast.” In Matthew 5-7, Jesus explained what life in the kingdom of God would be like. I think he assumed that anyone seeking God would fast to teach themselves that God is who is important, not the food we put in our bodies. Fasting challenges our propensity to worry about little life issues that have minute bearing on kingdom life (Matthew 6:25-33). Fasting is a tangible way to seek first the kingdom of God.

Not every spiritual discipline is for every Christian, but I think this is a discipline that all believers should contemplate and consider for practice if only occasionally. Some spiritual disciplines we really “like.” Some challenge us to put more on the line for the cause of spiritual transformation in the likeness of Christ. Would fasting help you take the next step toward Christlikeness?

Scripture: Read and reflect on Matthew 6:1-34. What is the passage teaching you about God? What do you think God wants you to do because of this passage?

Dig Deeper: Read The Power of Prayer and Fasting: God’s Gateway to Spiritual Breakthroughs by Ronnie Floyd.  

Now It’s Your Turn: What are your questions about fasting? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

June 19, 2017
by Walter Norvell

Question Techniques for Student Bible Study

We have been using the Monday posts to think about today’s teens, Generation Z. While many teaching methods are appropriate for teens in small group Bible study, asking good questions may be the most helpful method you can use in guiding teens in Bible study. You can find a previous post about this topic here.

Here are four techniques for using questions in your small group Bible study with teens:

  1. Redirection. allows several learners to enter the conversation after asking a question. How? Ask the question. After a learner responses, ask the same question to another learner. You may need to add, “What can you add to that answer?” This technique encourages more learners to participant. Encouraging this sort of discussion will help youth feel more comfortable in group discussion. This also helps you avoid having one or two learners monopolize the discussion time.
  2. Prompting. allows you to offer clues and hints to encourage a successful response. This is particularly helpful when a learner gives an incorrect response. You can then add a hint or other information to help the learner answer correctly. For example, you might ask, “What are the marks of a disciple?” The learner might give a brief answer like, “A follower of Jesus.” Then you can prompt, saying, “Think about what we discussed. What does being a follower of Jesus mean?”
  3. Probing. technique allows you to prompt learners for more information. After asking a question and the learner responds, ask, “What else can you say to answer this question?” This helps you elicit a more complete response from your learners. This typically drives the learner deeper into the question.
  4. Wait Time. A scary time for a Bible study leader is that silence that usually occurs after he or she asks a question. You are wondering if they understand the question or if you did not teach the idea well. Be prepared for a full 10-second wait. Then re-state your question in another way. Wait again. The typical teacher only waits 1 second for a response so train yourself for a long wait. Get use to the wait. Why? Because if a teacher is quick to answer his or her own questions, teens will catch on and they will simply wait for the teacher to answer. Hang tough on this one!

Here are a few final hints:

  • Prepare questions in advance of the session. Don’t depend on getting inspired at the last minute as you teach. Plan your questions as you study to lead.
  • Prepare questions which motivate for learning, examine Bible content, and lead toward application.
  • State questions both verbally and in writing on the board or posters. When teens can see the question and hear the question, they tend to process the question better.
  • Present the questions and allow time for the learners to consider the answers.
  • Call for answers to the questions. Ask a question and expect an answer.
  • Do not ask questions that you do not intend for learners to answer. No rhetorical questions.
  • Make interpretative comments as necessary. You might need to add other information to clarify after a student responds, but resist the need to editorialize after every question.
  • Include everyone in the group in the answering process.

A master teacher is a master at asking questions. Questions help to determine how well you taught the session and can gauge learning. Learners who participate well in discussions become motivated to learn in a deeper way. Honing your questioning skills will help you be more effective in making young disciples.

Scripture: in Job 38-41, God asked Job several questions. Scan through Job 38-42. What do you think God wanted Job to learn as he dealt with God’s questions?

Dig Deeper: Read The Youth Worker’s Guide to Creative Bible Study by Karen Dockrey.

Now It’s Your Turn: Do you prepare questions as you study or do you come up with questions as you teach? Which works best in promoting learning in your group?  Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”