November 23, 2017
by Walter Norvell
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God is Bountiful Toward Us

Thanksgiving has been on my mind lately. I have been focusing on being thankful for some time now. I have made it a part of my daily prayers to thank God for specific things in my life. Of course, the Thanksgiving holiday is now on us. I don’t do much with football watching or venturing out on Black Friday, so Thanksgiving is about family and reflection for me.

Cultivating thankfulness has taught me some lessons. First, it is hard to be thankful and maintain a complaint. Thankfulness seems to push out a complaining spirit. What a challenge it is to be thankful and unhappy at the same time.

Another effect that happens as one cultivates thankfulness is that the realization of blessings grows. As I look at a few things to say thank you for, I begin to find more and more things for which to thank God. I have heard it said that a child is thankful for one present, but when given two, he or she looks around for the third. Maybe that is true, but when thankfulness begins to develop, looking for the next blessing is not about being a selfish child, but a grateful child of God.

A true thankfulness does not focus on the gift or blessing received. It is appreciated but thankfulness is rendered to the one who gives the gift. The grateful recipient may treasure the gift but thanks goes to the giver. As one becomes aware of God’s blessings, the blessings only point to the Source of the blessings.

The thankful receiver bears a bountiful harvest. – William Blake Click To Tweet

This past week I thought about giving thanks as I was reading Psalm 13. The last verse grabbed my attention: “I will sing to the Lord because he has dealt bountifully with me. (Psalm 13:6 ESV).” That last phrase sparked my imagination. I began to recall ways that God has been bountiful with me.

What have I deserved from God? Nothing. Yet I have much: a wonderful family with Mary and our sons, who with their sweet wives have given us five grandchildren. I haven’t missed a meal or a paycheck. No bill is overdue. I have a roof over my head, more clothes than I can wear, and two rooms full of great books. My technology cup runneth over! Two vehicles provide dependable transportation. And friends, a multitude who tolerate and even encourage me.

Spiritual blessings abound even more. God has given me grace based on his great love. Jesus died in my place and paid the penalty for my sin. The Spirit lives in me, guiding me and transforming me. In the Lord, I have a calling and a purpose for life. I have a secure home with Him for all of eternity.

When President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the official observance of Thanksgiving Day in 1863, his proclamation said, in part, “It has seemed to me fit and proper that they [blessings to the nation] should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.” This proclamation was set historically in the Civil War, but many of its words are still applicable today.

Today is the Thanksgiving Day observance President Lincoln instituted 154 years ago. Use today to cultivate thankfulness. Discover for yourself how bountiful God has dealt with you.

Scripture: Read Psalm 50:23. How will you offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God?

Dig Deeper: Here is a link to Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation. Today is a good day to meditate on Lincoln’s insightful words.    

Now It’s Your Turn: What is your thanksgiving to God today? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 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.” We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

November 20, 2017
by Walter Norvell
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Small Group Challenges: What Do We Study Next? (Part 4)

We have been thinking about how to select and use appropriate study materials for small groups. You can find the previous posts here: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Today, let’s think about how a group can continue the Bible study started in the worship service with the pastor’s sermon. Many groups and churches take this approach in small group Bible study. The idea is really good: dig deeper into the sermon text in small group. For most churches, there is no way for a small group to process the sermon together. But, by doing this approach, the group spends more time on one passage. The practice drives the learners deeper into the passage.

But, this approach has some hurdles to clear:

  • This approach assumes everyone is present in both the worship service and the small group time. Missing worship services means the small group discussion will likely suffer.
  • Visitors to the small group may not have heard the sermon.
  • If the small group meeting is several days after hearing the sermon, will the group remember enough of the sermon to engage in discussion?
  • What do you do about special days when you have guest speakers or other special events in the worship service and not the typical sermon?

Here are some suggestions for groups who study the sermon Bible text:

  • The discussion facilitator needs to take great notes on the sermon text.
  • The pastor may be able to help by providing an outline of the sermon or at least providing the text reference to the group leader a few days in advance.
  • If the church makes a video of the sermon, secure a copy on DVD and play it for the group meeting. Repeating the sermon will help make learning deeper. Since most sermons are about 20 minutes long, there is still plenty of time for group discussion.
  • If the group meets several days after the sermon, consider sending everyone in the group 5-8 discussion questions that will be used in the group study. Asking questions in advance allows the learner to prepare for the discussion.
  • Playing a DVD of the sermon during the group study catches visitors and those who could not attend the worship service up with those who attended the worship service.
  • Don’t start a sermon critique group, but guide the group to discuss the Bible text instead.

Your group might want to consider studying the weekly sermon texts as the focus of the group study. This approach requires a lot of preparation and coordination but allows the opportunity to dig deep into the sermon text. Work with your pastor closely if your group decides to take this approach.

Scripture: Read 1 Corinthians 15:1-2. Notice how Paul writes about how the Corinthians heard his preaching and received it, resulting in salvation. How could a small group studying the Sunday sermon text build on this idea from Paul?

Dig Deeper: Read Small Groups with Purpose by Rick Warren and Steve Gladen.

Now It’s Your Turn: Does your group study the weekly sermon text? If so, what advice have you got for others who do the same? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 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.” We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

November 16, 2017
by Walter Norvell
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Faith That Astonished Jesus – Part 2

Recently I had the wonderful privilege of speaking in Chapel at Williams Baptist College. The campus minister had asked me to speak on the semester theme “Real Life Faith.” Below is the second part of that address. You can find Part 1 here.

 

Faith That Astonished Jesus

Matthew 8:5-13

So, this centurion, not likely where he wanted to be, turned to Jesus to heal his beloved servant.

Matthew 8:5-6 — When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” (ESV)

The two accounts imply that the centurion values this servant. He loves his servant. The language in these accounts suggests to us that the servant is a boy. Everything else in this centurion’s life had gone south but now this, too.

Jesus responded quickly.

Matthew 8:7 — And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” (ESV)

Jesus’ response startled everyone present, I am sure. For a Jew to even enter the house of a Gentile would have communicated ceremonial uncleanliness to that Jew. Obviously, Jesus was unafraid of such.

The centurion countered Jesus’ response in an amazing way.

Matthew 8:8-9 — But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (ESV)

The centurion knew the cost to Jesus if he came under his roof. Some of the commentary writers rationalize that this centurion, learned in the worship of the one true God, recognized Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. At the very least we can see that the centurion had rejected his Roman gods. He asked instead that Jesus simply “say the word and my servant will be healed.” Several times in these chapters Jesus only spoke to heal. Gentile healers and magicians and many Jewish healers chanted over those they were paid to heal. They used ceremony and ritual. They employed incense and ointments. But no such trappings were needed if one was God. The only One who had authority to heal was God. God created all things by the spoken word alone. In John 1, Jesus was called the Word, emphasizing his power and his authority, even showing us that Jesus was the Agent of creation himself, calling all things into existence from nothing. The centurion believed that Jesus only had to speak and his servant back home would be healed.

How had the centurion come to this understanding? He explained it himself. He knew what authority was. He had to respond to authority over him with obedience to a superior officer’s orders. He had authority over the soldiers he led. He knew that, based on his authority in the Roman army, if he ordered a soldier to come, that soldier would come. He knew if he ordered a soldier to go, that soldier went. Knowing the one true God and believing that Jesus was the Messiah, he knew all authority was located in Jesus. Whatever Jesus spoke would happen. The centurion was placing himself under Jesus’ authority.

Jesus responded to the centurion’s faith in a remarkable way. He recognized the centurion’s faith and commends it. In fact, Jesus only commended the faith of others three times and all three times, it was the faith of Gentiles who grabbed Jesus’s attention. The Voice Bible says it this way, “Jesus was stunned by the depth of the officer’s faith. He said to his followers, “This is the plain truth: I have not met a single person in Israel with as much faith as this officer.”

The Message Paraphrased Bible makes it even clearer: “Taken back, Jesus said, “I’ve yet to come across this kind of simple trust in Israel, the very people who are supposed to know all about God and how he works. This man is the vanguard of many outsiders who will soon be coming from all directions—streaming in from the east, pouring in from the west, sitting down at God’s kingdom banquet alongside Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then those who grew up in the faith but had not faith will find themselves out in the cold, outsiders to grace and wondering what happened.”

The centurion’s faith so impressed Jesus that Jesus compared his real-life faith to the non-existent faith of the Jews who should have understood and led the way with faithful lives. This centurion’s faith foreshadows the faith of another centurion in Acts 10 who came to faith in Jesus and the Holy Spirit fell for the first time on Gentile believers.

The centurion had put his faith in Jesus Christ and faith in Jesus always gets Jesus’ attention. So, he turned to the centurion and said, “‘Go. What you believed could happen has happened.’” At that very moment, his servant became well (The Message).” I love this wording: “what you believed could happen has happened (emphasis mine).”

This whole story leaves me asking, “How can I cultivate such astounding, real life faith?” I think the centurion gives us the example. Here are some traits of astonishing faith:

  1. With astounding faith, the centurion turned to Jesus in true humility. He submitted to Jesus’ authority.
  2. Astounding faith is not rooted in human advantages. Rank, money, intelligence, wealth, talent, power—none is related to astounding faith.
  3. Astounding faith enabled the centurion to accurately understand the present reality. He needed Jesus’ help. Astounding faith recognizes its own desperate need. No one but Jesus can help.
  4. Astounding faith looks past the challenge to victory. It reaches into the future to grasp what is preferable over the present situation.
  5. Astounding faith is faith placed in the right person—Jesus Christ.
  6. Jesus responds to astounding faith with answers to our prayers.

But, while Jesus commended the faith of the centurion, he included a warning. He warned his own people the Jews that though they had every advantage—including the patriarchs and by association, the law, and the prophets – they never found real life faith.  In our culture, these would have been the people who attended church a lot, showed off their religious connections, even attending a Christian college. But, they never had astounding faith. Where there is no faith, there is no salvation. What will happen in eternity to those without faith? They will be throw into the outer darkness, full of anguish and pain.

The centurion learned about life. It was not always so beautiful. But living on the edge of faith is that great “adventure out there.” The adventure is out there. It is not adventure lived on the edge of a waterfall. It is lived on the edge of faith. And the view from the edge of faith is even grander!

What about you? Are you cultivating an astounding faith which receives the answers you need or are you rejecting real life, astounding faith and thereby choosing the outer darkness of pain and suffering? The choice is yours. I will cultivate astounding faith. I am going to the real paradise, heaven. Will you come with me?

Scripture: Read Hebrews 11:1-2. How do these verses explain the astonishing faith of the centurion?

Dig Deeper: Read this web post, “What does it mean to “believe” in Christ?

Now It’s Your Turn: What astonishes you about the centurion’s faith? How are you helping your faith grow?  Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 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.” We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

November 13, 2017
by Walter Norvell
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Small Group Challenges: What Do We Study Next? (Part 3)

We have all seen the Summer Olympics, mostly known for its track and field events when someone will likely be named the fastest man or woman on the planet. I admire the distance races, both individual and relay. To watch all that training, for years, focused on one brief race, amazes me. But what lies behind all the running and training is strategy. The athletes study each other so they can know when they must kick up the speed to beat their opponents. Many variables exist, but one constant remains: the runner must stay the course. There are no shortcuts.

Curriculum comes from a Latin word which means a race course. The original word referred to the course used for chariot races. Again, no cheating allowed. Stay the course.

As an educator, I work with curriculum. My colleagues and I have laid out courses of study, much like a race track. Faithful students run the course, and when successful, they get that diploma after years of work. Again, no cheating allowed.

A curriculum plan is a series of educational experiences, laid out in a sequence of difficulty, so that students are exposed to and master minimum levels of knowledge, understanding, attitudes, and skills. As the instructor, I take the curriculum plan and administer it in the class room. Therefore, the learners experience the curriculum, the sum experience all the educational effort.

As a small group leader, I also work with a curriculum plan. Our church has selected a curriculum plan that helps us reach our goals and mission. All of our adult classes are expected to use the resources provided in the curriculum plan. At times, even the younger age groups may also use the same curriculum plan. When I work that plan in my small group, the learning experience develops.

In the last two Monday posts, we looked at some of our choices about what to study next in small group. (here and here). Now let’s consider some choices about curriculum.

In a typical Sunday School, your church has likely chosen a curriculum plan for you and order your curriculum resources (those magazines or books you get). From time to time your church might consider a curriculum change but most professionally prepared curriculum plans should be used for a number of years, maybe five or more because curriculum plans have goals to cover most of the Bible. A good curriculum plan uses a systematic approach. Stay with a curriculum plan to see that cycle through. We want to see our churches help make disciples. We help them “run the course” in Bible study so they will grow and know the Lord.

When considering a curriculum plan, ask questions like these:

  • Does the curriculum address all major doctrines?
  • Does the curriculum’s doctrinal basis align with your church?
  • Does the curriculum address learner needs?
  • What Bible translation does the curriculum use?
  • Does the curriculum address the Great Commission where possible?
  • Does the curriculum encourage evangelism when appropriate?
  • Does the curriculum help your church make disciples?
  • Is the curriculum sensitive to special annual observances like Christmas and Easter?
  • Does the curriculum involve learners with active learning suggestions?
  • Does the curriculum coordinate across age groups?
  • Is it age-appropriate?
  • Does the curriculum focus on the Bible and address the whole Bible?
  • Does the curriculum provide visual aids?
  • Does the curriculum present easy to use teaching suggestions any leader at your church can follow?
  • Can the curriculum work with limited resources or space?

Curriculum plans are powerful Bible study tools. Denominations and Christian publishing houses invest much in the development of curriculum plans to help churches make disciples. If your small group is looking for a new study, consider using a curriculum plan to guide your Bible study.

Scripture: Read Psalm 119:26-27. What do these words say about being deliberate in our Bible study?

Dig Deeper: Here is a comparison chart using LifeWay curricula. Looking at this can help you learn ways to make good curriculum decisions.

Now It’s Your Turn: When using a curriculum plan, we have a systematic plan for Bible study. What are the benefits of a systematic Bible curriculum?  Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 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.” We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

November 9, 2017
by Walter Norvell
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Faith That Astonished Jesus — Part 1

Recently I had the wonderful privilege of speaking in Chapel at Williams Baptist College. The campus minister had asked me to speak on the semester theme “Real Life Faith.” Below is the first part of that address. Part 2 will appear next Thursday.

 

Faith That Astonished Jesus

Matthew 8:5-13

One of my favorite all time movies is this one: UP. I find it so inspiring, so challenging, so beautiful. I never tire of seeing it, and since I don’t like movies in general, that is saying a lot. Last summer I asked my grandson in Texas if he had ever seen it. “No, Granddad. Momma says it is a bad movie and we aren’t allowed to see it.” “Bad movie?” I asked. Karen whirled around from the stove and emphatically said, “Yes. It is the saddest movie I have ever seen. I will not allow it to be shown in my house. Ever. So, Don’t. Even. Think. About. It.” “What is sad about it?” I asked, from the corner of the living room where I had retreated. “Just watch the first five minutes!” she glared at me, shaking a wooden spoon in my direction.

So, I watched the movie again. In those first five minutes, we meet a cute, but quiet little boy named Carl, enamored with the adventures of that famous and infamous explorer, Charles Muntz. Playing on the street he hears a voice and he soon discovers Ellie, a snaggled-tooth little girl full of the same adventurous dreams. She reminds Carl of Muntz’s motto: “The adventure is out there.” Soon Carl has promised Ellie he will take her to that land explored by Charles Muntz in South American to build a house at Paradise Falls. Childhood sweethearts, they grow up together and marry. They buy that dilapidated old house where they first met and renovate it into the cutest and most colorful Victorian home you have ever seen. Carl takes a job selling helium balloons at the zoo, in front of the South American animal exhibit. Their thoughts soon turn to family, dreaming about having many children. Yet, as the years pass, Ellie is unable to conceive. To process their grief, they turn once again to that dream trip to Paradise Falls. They start saving, but time and again, some emergency befalls them and they break into their savings to cover the unexpected expenses. Years turn into decades, but one day Carl remembers his promised dream trip to Paradise Falls. So, he secretly buys the tickets and tucks them into a picnic basket. He takes Ellie to their favorite picnic spot to surprise her with the purchased tickets. But, Ellie is weak and falls. Carl gets her to the hospital, but Ellie dies. Carl buries her and goes home to that empty Victorian house alone. For Carl, his paradise with Ellie has indeed fallen. He continues alone, hobbling through life on a four-prong walking cane, tipped with four tennis balls.

Maybe Karen is right. Maybe this is the saddest movie ever!

Life seldom goes as planned, at least by our plans. In UP, Carl and Ellie’s lives did not go as they planned.

Life is wonderful but at best, life is a mixed bag, isn’t it? I was present at the birth of both sons Mary gave to me. What joy!  But, we walked through the pain of a miscarriage in between them. I was holding my mother’s hand as she took her last breath. As awful as that sounds, my age has taught me that even that experience was a blessing, just in disguise. Our faith has everything to do with handling those high moments and those low moments.

I imagine you have plans to find your adventure out there, to find your Paradise Falls. But what if you don’t turn out to be the music star you dream about? What if you don’t make it to the pros or the Olympics, or to wherever you want your athletic dreams to take you? What if you don’t get a job in that school you want to teach in or at that church you think you could lead so well? What if you discover yourself surrounded by a swamp of dirty diapers every day? What if you become a dad who gets up every day and works a hard job you don’t really like much, but you do it to put food on the table and shoes on little feet? What if you finally get your 15 minutes of fame and it is only 9 and a half minutes long?

What if you end up in a place that seems like the middle of nowhere? What if you are hated and ostracized by your neighbors?

I know a man like that in the New Testament. The story unfolds in Matthew 8:5-13. In the context of Scripture, Matthew 8-9 unfolds after the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 7:28-29 tells us, “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority and not as their scribes.” Then, the stories of Matthew 8 and 9 unfold to show us the extent of Jesus’ authority.
He has authority over disease. The passage starts with Jesus healing a leper. Lepers were the most ostracized people in Palestine in the first century. Then he heals a servant of paralysis and many more of various diseases. He calms a storm, showing Jesus had authority over nature and the created order. He casts out demons demonstrating his authority over Satan and all evil strongholds. He raised a little girl from the dead. He gave back sight to the blind and he gave speech to the mute. He had authority to interpret Scripture. And in the midst of all this, he had the authority to call people to follow him and be his disciples. Jesus’s authority is complete. He is Lord over every square inch of life.

In Matthew 8:5-13 we find an interesting story. It takes place in Capernaum, the Galilee city that served as Jesus’ ministry headquarters. It was described in the Bible as a city, denoting some significant size and population. It was near the trade route so the city had a customs office to assess taxes on commercial trade. It also had a Roman garrison, probably of about 100 soldiers stationed there with their officer, a centurion.

There are four centurions mentioned in the NT. Centurions were officers over units of 100 soldiers. Part of their qualification to lead was notable character. Centurions were the heart of the Roman army and the backbone of the Roman army. And, as occupying forces, they were hated and ostracized, much like those first century lepers. Gentiles in a Jewish land; ceremonially unclean, rejected by the people they were to protect and lead.

But this centurion was different. He knew the hardship of being in a land where he was hated. No Roman would have chosen to live in a backwater place like the Galilee. He had probably worked hard to achieve his rank, only to be stationed in Capernaum. Yet, he came to love these Jewish people that hated him so. In the parallel passage in Luke we discover that he was likely a God-fearer, a Gentile who worshiped the one true God of the Jews. The two accounts vary between the centurion approaching Jesus directly and his Jews elder friends coming to Jesus on his behalf. Both may have actually been true, but considering the culture, when a superior sent others to represent him, it was as if the superior was actually present. These elders pointed out to Jesus that this centurion loved their nation and even had built the synagogue in Capernaum. In both accounts the centurion had a beloved servant who is seriously sick. When the centurion heard about Jesus and his mighty acts, he took his plea to him.

(Part 2 next Thursday.)

Scripture: Read Romans 8:35-39. How does this passage comfort you when life doesn’t go as planned?

Dig Deeper: Read Waiting on God by Andrew Murray.

Now It’s Your Turn: How does your faith help you address the difficulties of life? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 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.” We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

November 6, 2017
by Walter Norvell
0 comments

Small Group Challenges: What Do We Study Next? (Part 2)

Last Monday, we started thinking about how to select new studies for our small groups. We looked at the importance of making the Bible our textbook, even when using other resources to help us with Bible study. You can find that post here.

A major consideration in selecting what to study next in your group is to consider your church’s goals and mission. Whatever you choose to study, make a choice that will help your group align with your church’s mission. When groups practice alignment, everyone begins moving in the same direction to build up the church and accomplish its mission. Some churches keep a list that helps achieve this alignment. The list would contain recommended curricula, study resources, recommended books of the Bible, and ways to follow up the sermon series. I think the church should own its curriculum plan and expect all groups to employ that plan in their studies. Talk to your staff ministers or your pastor to see if your church has such a list of recommended resources. If they do and your choice isn’t on the list, talk to your ministers to make sure your choice will help your group align with the church’s mission. I think your leaders will enthusiastically affirm your choice when they see the reasons behind your choice.

Many groups work through Bible books in their study time. This is an excellent option. The study of one Bible book at a time is the basic way to study the Bible. But, you might ask, what Bible book should we pick?

Start by asking and answering some basic questions:

  • What books of the Bible has your group studied lately? Look back about two years if your group has been together for a long time.
  • What needs are evident in our group? Books of the Bible have themes and can address various life needs.
  • How long will it take to study through a book you are considering?
  • If you choose a Bible book, will you study it verse by verse, all the way through or will you focus on prominent passages in a very long book? Consider a book like Psalms. It contains 150 psalms. If you study one psalm a week, that is almost 3 years! Can your group sustain interest that long or would it be better to study specific psalms?
  • Is there a book of the Bible in particular that will help learners move toward the church’s goals or mission?
  • Are there resources available, online or in paper versions, that will support this study?
  • What do you think God is leading your group to study? Pray a lot about this.

As a group leader, you need to do your homework before making the decision. Your group should make the choice together, but you can lead them with some recommendations because you have answered the questions above. You need to have some basic ideas about some possible books of the Bible you might study. You can preview books for consideration with these resources:

  • The Holman QuickSource Guide to Understanding the Bible by Kendell H. Easley. This is a handy resource which overviews each book of the Bible for themes, outlines, authorship, date of writing, literature style, worldview issues, etc.
  • The ESV Study Bible. This edition has excellent introductions and background information preceding every book. Other valuable study Bibles include the NIV Study Bible and the CSB Study Bible.
  • The Bible Project provides excellent book overviews in video format. Not only will they help you make teaching decisions but they are excellent resources to use in your small group.
  • As always, I highly recommend the work of Dr. Bob Utley at freebiblecommentary.org. You can quickly peruse his overviews and see trustworthy commentary material.

Next week we will continue this question by considering how to choose a curriculum series or individual book studies.

Scripture: Read Isaiah 2:3. What is the relationship between knowing the Word of God and walking in a relationship with Him?

Dig Deeper: Read Small Groups for the Rest of Us by Chris Surratt.

Now It’s Your Turn: Has your group recently completed a study of a book of the Bible? Which one? How did you decide to study it?  Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 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.” We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

 

November 2, 2017
by Walter Norvell
0 comments

Meeting the Trinity in Prayer (Part 3)

Meeting the Trinity in Prayer (Part 3)

 (Note: I recently preached a doctrinal sermon at the annual meeting of the Arkansas Valley Baptist Association. I was asked to preach on the doctrine of prayer. I decided to narrow that topic a bit to discuss the role the Trinity plays in our praying. Here are links to Part 1 and Part 2.)

Thirdly, the Holy Spirit is our Helper in prayer.

We have seen that we can have confidence as we pray because we have a loving, caring Father. We can have confidence as we pray because the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, demonstrated how to pray and taught us how to pray. Now let’s examine the role of the Holy Spirit in our praying.

Admittedly, we Baptists are a bit afraid of the Holy Spirit. We live in a religious culture that has frequently abused and misrepresented the Holy Spirit. So, we are leery. The Spirit might move us in worship to lift our hands. He may tug at our hearts when a missionary speaks in church to empty our wallets into that love offering as it passes by. He might send us to Africa.

In our caution about the Holy Spirit, we do not experience him in his fullness. Yet, think about what Jesus promised us about the Spirit. In John 14:15-17 (ESV): “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”

The Spirit is our Helper. He is another one, just like the original. He is the Spirit of truth and he is the Spirit of Jesus himself. The Spirit is the member of the Trinity that abides in us at the moment of conversion and lives in us. He fills us. Through him, we have the fullness of the Trinity living in us. The Spirit teaches us. I stand here to teach you today, but don’t be fooled. If you learn anything in this sermon, you will have learned it by the Holy Spirit. John 14:26 (ESV) says, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

The role of the Spirit in our praying is that he helps us pray.

At times, I have prayed without fully knowing what to pray. I often pray amiss because I ask God to relieve symptoms instead of asking the Great Physician to work in the best ways for those whom I am praying and for his glory. But, I have confidence that the Spirit will take my stammering words from a sincere heart and translate them so that my caring Father understands what I really meant to say. Paul taught us in Romans 8:26-27 (ESV): “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

My second-born grandson is James Elliot Norvell. His parents picked his name, the name of the great missionary martyr, Jim Elliot, to instill in James a sense of purpose about following God’s plan. But, unknown to them at the time and known only after his birth, we learned that James was born with Downs Syndrome. While nations around the world are aborting children in an effort to make their nations “Downs-free” nations, we know the joy and treasure that James is.

James’ speech is really difficult to understand. He has wonderful language perception. He understands you very well, but the low muscle tone in his larynx causes us difficulty in understanding him. His speech is improving every day. Just yesterday, I held hands with him at the dinner table as he returned thanks for us. I could catch a lot of words but what I understood the most was his heart’s gratitude for those things he was praying for. He thanked God for the things that seven-year-old boys thank God for. We work very hard at understanding James. We strain to make sense of the sounds. We know they are words, but they are unclear to us. We want more than anything in those moments to fully understand him.

I have often wondered how my stammering prayers may sound to God. But he does not turn away from me with a shrug of his shoulders, not knowing what I said. The Spirit takes my jumbled words, never the best choices, often said without much faith, and turns them into the right words for the Father. And every stumbling prayer I make from a sincere heart of belief, the Father finds joy, just as we find joy in James’ jabbering. I can look into James’ eyes and see his passion, his need, his growth and our Father does the same with us as the Spirit intercedes for us.

Not only does the Spirit work in heaven on the receiving end of prayer, but he works in us as we pray, on the sending end of prayer. Look at Jude 20-21 (ESV): “But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” The best prayers are the prayers framed in the throne room of God, worked through our hearts here on earth, and sent back to God in faith. We are to pray in the Spirit. He guides us as we pray. He helps us understand with spiritual differentiation, what to pray. He helps us get at the heart of the matter. He illuminates us with God’s glory so we praise and adore the Father. He teaches us what to pray so we can pray in the name and according to the character of Jesus. He implores us to tell God our needs and he gives us, what I think is our greatest task and privilege of all prayer: interceding for others. I have never come up dry when my prayers include “Lord, show me what I need to pray about.” He has never failed to give me a “yes” answer when I pray, “Your will be done.” We often think of prayer as our last resort when it actually is our first and only resort.

We can pray with confidence because we have a caring Father in heaven. We can pray with confidence because the Son set the example and taught us to pray. We can pray with confidence because the Spirit is our Helper in every matter of prayer. So, why wouldn’t we pray?

Jesus showed us the hard challenge of prayer as he prayed in the garden on the night of his betrayal and arrest. You know the story well. Jesus agonized in prayer alone. He asked his disciples to pray for him, but out of weariness and maybe a lack of understanding the moment, they slept. Luke tells us that Jesus returned from his praying to find them sleeping, again. So, he aroused them one final time and said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation (Luke 22:46 ESV).” So, I repeat Jesus’ admonishment to us all: “Rise and pray.”

Scripture: Read Ephesians 6:16-18. What does “praying at all times in the Spirit” mean?

Dig Deeper: Read Lord, Teach Us to Pray by Andrew Murray.   

Now It’s Your Turn: How does the Holy Spirit help you as you pray? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 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.” We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

 

October 30, 2017
by Walter Norvell
0 comments

Small Group Challenges: What Do We Study Next?

Determining what a small group or a Sunday School class should study together is a huge consideration. There are so many facets to the question, we will spend several Mondays on this decision. Look forward to future posts about the following questions:

  • What does the church have to do with telling our small group what to study?
  • Which book of the Bible should we consider studying?
  • What are the benefits of using a curriculum series for our small group?
  • How can we pick a good contemporary book to study in small group?

Remember, the correct answer every time you consider what to study is that you will study the Bible. That may be an obvious answer but we live at a time of unprecedented availability of Christian literature. We can find Christian books, articles, and studies in all sorts of formats: books, blogs, podcasts, magazines, curriculum from Christian publishing houses, video-based studies, or internet-based studies. But all this availability offers us a subtle temptation, studying about the Bible instead of studying the Bible.

Group leader, you are the one charged with making sure the group studies the Bible. We call what we study the curriculum plan. Then, the learning experience in the class is curriculum. I think the church leads in setting the curriculum plan but the curriculum in the small group belongs under the guidance of the group leader. The leader guides the learning experience. The leader is responsible for directing study of the Bible.

There are lots of things you can do to keep the group studying the Bible and not something else.

  • Make sure you use a paper copy of the Bible. You demonstrate that we are studying the Bible.
  • Don’t read from a curriculum guide or a leader’s guide during group Bible study. Go to a little bit of trouble to make a simple outline of your study instead of using that leader’s guide. Just fold the paper in half and use it in your Bible.
  • When you are using a resource to help you understand the Bible, keep looking up passages and reading from your Bible. That resource is a guide; the real textbook is the Bible.
  • Thank learners for bringing and using their Bibles.
  • Invite volunteers to share in reading passages aloud.

So, what do we study next in small group Bible study? Plan to study the Bible. Next, we will look at other questions about Bible study options.

Scripture: Read Acts 17:10-12. What was the benefit of a careful study of Scriptures by the Bereans?

Dig Deeper: Read Connecting in Communities: Understanding the Dynamics of Small Groups by Eddie Mosley.

Now It’s Your Turn: How does your group determine what to study next? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 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.” We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

 

October 26, 2017
by Walter Norvell
0 comments

Meeting the Trinity in Prayer (Part 2)

The 1-Minute Sunday School Trainer Template 2019-10-26 Meeting the Trinity in Prayer (Part 2)

(Note: I recently preached a doctrinal sermon at the annual meeting of the Arkansas Valley Baptist Association. I was asked to preach on the doctrine of prayer. I decided to narrow that topic a bit to discuss the role the Trinity plays in our praying. You can read Part 1 here.)

 Second, we pray because Jesus taught us how to pray and he is our example in prayer.

Jesus’ praying was remarkable in many ways. He was often in private and secret prayer. Mark tells us that, “And rising very early in the morning while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed (Mk. 1:35 ESV).” Jesus also taught us to pray in secret (Matthew 6:5) because our caring Father could see and hear what was done in secret, away from the eyes of those we might be tempted to impress. You see, secret prayer is the workhorse of prayer.

Jesus also prayed in public and in groups as Matthew cited twice in his gospel. Our Lord prayed prior to major decisions. Luke 6:12-13 (ESV) tells us, “In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, . . .” His praying was marked with an intimacy with the Father, using the designation of Jewish children who called their fathers, Abba. We must be careful with that word because our word “Daddy” allows the reverence due God to fade in a worldly familiarity that Jesus never intended. Yet, the caring Father calls us all into an intimacy in prayer with him that the world will never understand.

Jesus not only modeled a vibrant, intimate, powerful prayer life, he also taught us how to pray.

Please look in your Bibles at Matthew 6:6-13. First, Jesus taught us some important principles about prayer in verses 5-9a (ESV): “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this.” Let us see five principles about praying:

Don’t show off!

In Jesus’ day, some wanted to build their own reputations as “special people” better than anyone else, because they thought they could earn God’s approval with their actions. All they got from prayer for being noticed in public was public attention, not God’s attention. Since God promises to hear you, forget about public approval; it means nothing to God.

Make most of your prayers private.

To avoid being tempted to pray in public only to impress others, Jesus taught us that most of our praying should be done in private, in secret. Why? Because no one else can see you pray in secret because only God can see in secret. Public praying is important at church and with groups of our fellow believers. Praying together is necessary and important, but most of our praying needs to be in private. When you are prayed up in secret, you can prayer with your brothers and sisters in the Lord as you ought.

Don’t use lots of words and meaningless talk. God is not impressed.

The Gentiles during Jesus’ time thought that God was impressed with many, fancy words. Their words did not have to mean much, as long as their words were sophisticated and many. Yet, Jesus taught us that a simple appeal to God, no matter how brief, when prayed in faith, God would hear and answer. God is not impressed with our smart words or our many words because God looks at our hearts as we pray. He discerns our motives in prayer. He can see our love for God and for those for whom we pray.

Remember God already knows, but He wants us to talk to Him anyway.

Here is a mystery. God already knows everything you need. He knows your needs even better than you do. But, here is what is so amazing. He still wants to hear what we think we need. So, we learn that while we can pray for what we think we need, we pray that God will give us what He knows we need. He loves us and wants to give us only his best.

Prayer is expected of all disciples.

Jesus did not say, “If you pray, pray like this.” He said, “Pray like this.” His words imply that he assumed we would be praying. Prayer is expected of every believer, of every disciple of Jesus. Martin Luther said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”

Now let’s look at the model prayer Jesus gave us. Look on at Matthew 6:9-13 (ESV).

Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil. (ESV)

Jesus gave us six petitions here as examples of what to pray. The first three petitions are about God’s nature and God’s purposes:

  1. Hallowed be thy name. God is to be honored at all times. He is never to be treated in an empty or common way because he is completely other. He is holy, set apart from all things because he is perfect. We hold God’s name in highest esteem.
  2. Thy kingdom come. God has a plan and he is working his plan. He invites us into his mission and in some mysterious way, links our praying to some of the success of his plan in our lives. We must pray that God will complete his plan which is all about his kingdom. Are you more concerned about building God’s kingdom than you are your own kingdom? If so, pray, “Thy kingdom come.”
  3. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We are to pray that God’s rule extends to all things on earth just as it does in heaven. In heaven, all creatures seek the will of God, but this is not yet truth on earth. We have hunger although we can grow more food than humans can consume. Injustices abound. Children around the world die of diarrhea which is almost completely preventable. Wars and rumors of wars abound. Nations are divided against nations and nations are divided within nations. Thousands die every day without ever hearing the saving name of Jesus. Is God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven? If the answer is no, we have our prayer cut out for us.

Jesus also taught us to pray for our needs and the needs of others in this passage.

  1. Give us this day our daily bread. God is concerned with our daily needs. We are to pray for the things we need today that will enable us to serve Him. A good father is concerned about the needs of his children and will even try to give his children more than they need. We can humbly bring every need before the Father because our Father loves to care for his children.
  2. And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. Every sin is an offense to God. Every sin is a burden to God because the pain and suffering of sin is never what God wants for us. In the way God has forgiven us, we dispense that same forgiveness, that same grace to those who may have offended us. When we have tasted God’s wonderful grace, who are we to withhold it from anyone that offends us?
  3. And do not lead us into temptation but deliver us from evil. We suffer much and those around us suffer much because we do not pray that we be delivered from temptation. We will ask forgiveness when we sin, but what would life be like if we learned to pray against temptation before it ever comes to us so we can avoid that sin completely?

Dallas Willard, in The Divine Conspiracy, gave us a personalized version of the Lord’s Prayer. While we often pray it from memory just as Matthew gave it to us, what if we took this model prayer so to heart, we could come to pray it in our own words. I think that is how Jesus meant it. Willard says,

Dear Father always near us,

may your name be treasured and loved,

may your rule be completed in us –

may your will be done here on earth

in just the way it is done in heaven.

Give us today the things we need today,

and forgive us our sins and impositions on you

as we are forgiving all who in any way offend us.

Please don’t put us through trials,

but deliver us from everything bad.

Because you are the one in charge,

and you have all the power,

and the glory too is all yours – forever –

which is just the way we want it!

We must also remember that Jesus taught us in Luke 11:5-13 that we are to pray persistently. I don’t presume to understand how revivals come, but one thing I know: revivals always come after persistent prayer, confessing our sins and beseeching God that he reveals himself anew to his church and to the world.

Jesus gave us promises concerning prayer. In John 14:13-14 (ESV), “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”

So, the Father cares for us. The Son is our example in prayer and He taught us how to pray. So, why wouldn’t we pray?

Scripture: Read John 17:1-26. What do you learn about Jesus as you read his prayer?

Dig Deeper: Read Growing Disciples Series: Pray in Faith by T. W. Hunt and Claude V. King.   

Now It’s Your Turn: How do the promises of Jesus concerning praying in his name encourage you to pray? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 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.” We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

 

 

October 23, 2017
by Walter Norvell
0 comments

Small Group Challenges: My Group Needs Discipleship

Every believer is a disciple. Some are growing more effectively than others, but all believers are disciples. Being a disciple is not a super spiritual level that a handful of believers achieve. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is the one and only level of following him.

Greg Ogden in Discipleship Essentials has written, “A disciple is one who responds in faith and obedience to the gracious call to follow Jesus Christ. Being a disciple is a lifelong process of dying to self and allowing Jesus to come alive in us.” While every believer is a disciple, we grow as disciples through a process.

Your small group is a strategy for helping disciples grow. To the degree that a disciple participates in the mission of Jesus to make disciples, the disciple will grow. In one of my classes, we are working through The Disciples Path: The Journey (Vol. 1). Just this week we read, “Discipleship is meant to be done in community with others – specifically, within the church.” Your group, in praying together, studying the Bible together, fellowshipping together, ministering together, and worshipping together, in the context of sharing life, is making disciples. Don’t overcomplicate this; it is rather straightforward and simple. In your group, learn to be like Jesus and then help each other be like Jesus every day, wherever they are.

Growing in our discipleship of Jesus will take the rest of our lives. There is a wide zone of maturity when we have grown enough to begin telling others about Jesus and helping others be disciples, too. That doesn’t have to start years after becoming a Christian. It starts as soon as a new believer shares with someone else what Jesus has done for him or her.

I think there are two big ways you can focus on making disciples in your group. First, use the Bible as your textbook. Other books and study materials are wonderful but keep the Bible first and foremost. Those other materials help us study the Bible but it is really the Bible we study. Don’t let a Bible study resource take the place of the Bible in your group.

Second, help your group engage the Bible every day. Encourage them to study ahead and after your small group meets. Help them find plans to read their Bibles every day. Help them reflect as they read their Bibles. Here is a simple diagram to make this memorable. Teach the meaning of diagram like this:

  • The sword is the Bible (Heb. 4:12). It points to God. What does this passage teach us about God?
  • The hilt points to people. What does this passage teach us about people?
  • S stands for sin. Does this passage reveal a sin to avoid?
  • P stands for promise. Does this passage give us a promise to believe?
  • E stands for example. Does this passage give us an example to follow?
  • C stands for command. Does this passage give us a command to obey?

As you lead your small group, always be intentional about discipleship. Ask members to share their steps toward maturity in Christ or their challenges to growth. Encourage them. Share your life with them over coffee, in the kitchen, under the car hood, at a meal, or on a walk. We live for Jesus 24/7 and we disciple with Jesus 24/7.

You cannot make a disciple grow nor should you if you could. But you can teach them well. You can encourage and support them. You can be the best model you can be for following Jesus. There are no perfect disciple-makers so don’t wait until you think you are. Discipleship is a journey we take with others. So, stop the bus and help others get on board for the greatest adventure of the human experience.

Scripture: Read Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15, and Philemon 2. What do these verses have in common?

Dig Deeper: Learn more about the Disciples Path family of resources here.

Now It’s Your Turn: How has being in a small group helped disciple you?  Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 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.” We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.