Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Won't Accept My Worship?!

I was struck powerfully by this verse in my Bible reading last night...

Why doesn't the LORD accept my worship?” I’ll tell you why! ..." (Malachi 2:14, NLT)

Hold on... did you just say the Lord sometimes won't accept my worship?! I better listen up for when and why!
I’ll tell you why! Because the LORD witnessed the vows you and your wife made when you were young. But you have been unfaithful to her, though she remained your faithful partner, the wife of your marriage vows. Didn’t the LORD make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. “For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” (Mal 2:15-16, NLT)
In this passage and in other chapters in Malachi, God is hammering his people for taking their vows lightly and failing to put Him first. They are shortchanging him and being disloyal in their relationships, their resources (robbing God by failing to tithe), and in their respect (animal offerings).

Guard your heart --> do not be unfaithful to your wife.

These are not two unrelated commands! If you do the first, you will be able to do the second, over the long haul. Fail to do the first... it's a nightmare waiting to happen.

Men... guard your hearts. Men of Calvary Baptist Church... join me in the Courageous Study starting March 13th - Honor Begins at Home.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Review - NIV Life Application Study Bible

A good study Bible is one of the must-have's for the serious follower of Christ. The NIV Study Bible series from Zondervan has for a long time been one of the best study Bible's on the market. The Leather-bound NIV Life Application Study Bible does not fail to deliver - it's a very high quality and useful resource that will enhance your study and enjoyment of God's word. This particular version has a durable cover, a high quality binding that lays flat well, and a ton of special resources aimed not only at helping the reader understand the Bible, but apply it to their life.

Here are some of the key features of the NIV Life Application Study Bible which I liked: the ongoing study notes are the best feature of the Bible, explaining many nuances of the text right on the same page where you are reading; the introductions to the individual books of the Bible; the helpful "timeline" charts; book outlines; lots of maps and charts; abundant cross references for deeper study. The concordance in the back is a feature you will use over and over. I also really like the "character sketches" for a number of key figures in the Bible such as Abraham. There's even a reading plan to help you get on track with reading through the Bible in a year.

If you're looking for a high quality and easy to read study Bible with a ton of useful features, look no further.

The NIV Life Application Study Bible was received as a complementary Review Copy from the Amazon Vine program. The book is published by Zondervan and is available at Amazon.com and other retailers.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Review - Leading Small Groups With Purpose

Steve Gladen's new book Leading Small Groups with Purpose is an excellent guide for small group leaders to help them foster the health of their group. Those who lead the small group ministry itself would do well to check out Gladen's first book Small Groups with Purpose (which I reviewed previously), while this book is aimed squarely at the small group leader.

Part One helps the small group leader understand his or her role, what is needed for healthy small groups, and some great discussion on the barriers people face on considering joining a small group. He talks about how each group is unique, how this requires being flexible, and how people must first crawl then walk before they can hope to run.

Part Two has ten chapters, a pair for each of the five purposes considered: fellowship, discipleship, ministry, evangelism and worship. For each of these areas there is one chapter which talks about the importance and necessity of living out that purpose, and a second chapter 'Practical Suggestions'. Together this core section of the book talks about the essential foundations of biblical community, spiritual growth, reaching out, and living for God. I really enjoyed sections like: "understanding the after-the-group meeting", "don't let the agenda crowd out the Holy Spirit", "an intentional pathway for development", "it's about health not just connection", "the goal of discipleship is transformation", "help your group members find their serving suite spot", and "conflict resolution."

Part Three is also very helpful and practical. It covers several of the common obstacles (and opportunities) surrounding group health.

There are a lot of books on small groups, including some really excellent ones. Why read Leading Small Groups with Purpose? It's super practical, written by someone who has helped literally thousands of groups and hundreds of churches. It's also very intentional, focused, balanced, and well-written. I also appreciate that Gladen is not at all dogmatic that his approach is the right way or only way. Even if your church or ministry has a framework different from Saddleback's, you as a small group leader will find a lot of useful information in this book.

I'll give you one more reason. Steve Gladen is the real deal. I had the privilege of meeting him last week at the GroupLife Midwest 2012 conference, and the heart and passion Steve has for helping small group leaders is nothing short of incredible. Sometimes we assume pastors at a big church will have a big head; instead I'm seeing more often they have a big heart. If you're a small group leader or point person for small groups you should also check out his small group network.

Both Leading Small Groups with Purpose and Small Groups with Purpose are available at Amazon and other book retailers.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Don't Give Up!

Right now I have several friends who for a variety of reasons are running on empty. They have run out of gas or are on fumes. If you're feeling this way too, let me share with you the words I shared with a classmate this week...

You're running of of gas my friend because you are not a parked car! You're working hard following the vision or dream you believe God has laid on your heart. Vision is a good thing, but when it it truly a vision from the Lord, then the very maker of heaven and earth is with you!

Galatians 6:9 (NIV) is a promise from God you can take to the bank! "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."  The word for weary (ekkakeo) means "to be utterly spiritless, to be wearied out, exhausted" - i.e. out of gas. 'not give up' (ekluo / loosened) is "to be enfeebled through exhaustion, to grow weak, grow weary, be tired out" it's actually not a wimping out or being a quitter or poor attitude (as I had previously imagined) but a physical "I can't take another step forward". I point that out just because Type-A's (which I'm guessing you're one) may have an attitude of rather-die-than-quit, but are sorely tempted in the process to "just try harder" and push until poof there's just nothing left. Cars that run out of gas have no 'choice', they don't 'choose' to quit, they simply konk out. If you're running out of gas, consider whether you are simply taking on more than God has ever asked you to do, or if you are on the edge of wanting to give up on something God has truly laid on your heart. If the latter... do not give up!!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Be Courageous

I recently saw the movie Courageous and was just blown away with a powerful sense that God is calling me, calling us, to step it up in our walk with Him and not shy away from doing the right thing - even when it's hard. He's calling each one of us to be courageous in serving and protecting those we love. Last Sunday the Calvary family received some news that was tough, and we face some uncertainty that may tempt us to fear, to doubt, to wonder about our future. I want to encourage each one of us to be courageous in facing the future. In II Tim 1:7 Paul tells us that God did not gives us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and self-control. Or to paraphrase, God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but a spirit of courage, and love, and of duty - to do what is right. Cowardice is not fear, but failing to move forward because of fear. Courage is not an absence of fear, but a determination to do what is right, even when there is fear or doubt or uncertainty. We need that spirit of courage in this season at Calvary. After seeing the movie Courageous I wrote down the following prayer - will you make this your prayer too?
Lord - help me be courageous. In little things and in big things. Help me courageous to always choose the right action, the action that honors you, serves others, and draws me closer to your Son.

My words and my actions matter. Not because of who I am or anything special about me, but because of what God is doing through me, by the power of the Holy Spirit, for the glory of the Father, in the name of the Son. My actions matter because every act comes either from believing the truth leading to obedience and growth in Christlikeness, or from believing a lie, leading to sin, and grieving somebody. Every opportunity. Every act. It draws us to the Father, or pulls us away. Surrender is key. Not partial surrender. Not giving up one thing while holding back another. Total surrender. God is holy. He is holy. He IS Holy. He and He alone is utterly worthy of our whole life, and nothing less.

My words and my actions matter, because so many eyes, including four very, very special ones, are on me, wondering if the Christ I preach is real, if the Bible I teach I follow, if the Spirit I say lives in me, works through me. Does He matter? Do they matter? My actions and words can encourage, they can build up, or my words or actions can wound. Wound horribly. Wound in ways I cannot heal. May it never be - Lord, help me be courageous.

New Calvary Leadership Podcast

I'm becoming increasing passionate about discipleship and leadership development. We care a lot about our volunteer leaders at Calvary Baptist Church, but it's challenging to get the right mix of respecting people's schedules and making time to get together. So I've launched a leadership podcast specifically aimed for leaders at Calvary. The goal of this podcast is to be able to share more than just information about groups or events, but to try to share more of the "why" behind the vision and direction and programs at Calvary, as well as share some "how-to" ideas regarding challenges and situations we all face as leaders. I'll focus primarily on small groups, but will try to share a lot of things of interest to ministry leaders - or even ideas you can apply in the workplace as you are salt and light influencing others there. The first post will talk about being courageous, and I'll follow that up with some tips for our small group leaders over the next few episodes.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Roadtrip to the GroupLife Midwest 2012 Conference

This weekend I was incredibly blessed to be able to head up to the GroupLife Midwest 2012 Conference for small group leaders. Even better, I got to go along with 8 of our outstanding small group leaders from Calvary Baptist Church! We had a blast together. The best part may have been stopping at Giordanao's after the conference to debrief over a Chicago deep dish pizza :)

The Keynote Speaker was Steve Gladen, the pastor over (thousands of) small groups at Saddleback. Steve shared about the courage and character of a leader, and had a special breakout session for those of us leading the small group ministry at their church. It was like drinking from a firehouse of helpful information. Steve has recently put out two books along these lines - Small Groups with Purpose and Leading Small Groups with Purpose. Steve is just an incredible person. He's really passionate about helping churches all over the world transform lives with small groups.

In addition to the wonderful talks and great breakout sessions, I was thrilled to be able to meet up with some people I have followed and/or interacted with online for quite some team -- Mary Beth Stockdale, Mark Howell, Rick Howerton, Eddie Mosley, Mindy Caliguire, and of course Steve Gladen. These are all very cool people with great hearts and a ton of practical know-how on small groups and ministry. If they hold this event again next year, I hope to bring the rest of the team, and will get their earlier for the meet-the-speakers event :)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Stepping Up to a New Role

For the past three years while enrolled in a Master's program at Rockbridge Seminary I have been a volunter staff / ministry intern at Calvary Baptist Church. There I have served as the Volunteer Ministry Coordinator - supporting ministry leaders, helping our people understand their S.H.A.P.E. for ministry, recruiting and appreciating volunteers, and being an overall champion for the Biblical Purpose of Ministry.

Now in 2012 I find myself enrolled once again at Rockbridge (this time pursuing an M.Div), and have shifted roles at Calvary. Same bus. Different seat. I am now leading up the Small Groups Ministry at Calvary. I am extremely excited about discipleship, leadership development, and fostering healthy authentic community in small groups, and so I'm thrilled for this opportunity. As a result you will probably see this blog shift a little in focus, covering more items of interest to small group leaders and discipleship.

I want to hit the ground running, so this month I'll be hosting a gathering luncheon for all our leaders, taking several of them up to Chicago for a training conference, helping several people launch new groups, and will even have a 'fun' night out featuring hot buffalo wings! :)