Seeker Series: Why? Believe in God…

quote anselm

Should someone believe in God? The Christian Bible asserts,“11 Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, foryou created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”(Revelation 4:11) Christians believe that God is a personal creator, loving, merciful and knowable. The Bible tells us about God, who he is, what has done and will do. Can we know God exists without the Bible? Yes, there is very good evidence for the rational belief in the existence of God. We are able to know God exists without using the Bible!

· Does the universe exist?

Of course it does, we are all here functioning, enjoying our families and friends in this world. We see the created world all around us. Where did it come from? The modern education system teaches the Big Bang theory and then evolutionary theory over billions of years created all that we see. That is avoiding the answer. Take a step back further, to what started the chain of events. In everything in our lives, we know it had a cause. It had to come from somewhere. The computer you’re looking at, the chair you’re sitting on originated from somewhere. It didn’t just spontaneously pop into existence from nothing. Imagine for a minute how funny the world would be if items just popped in and out of reality that we live in. If a pink pony unexpectedly appeared next to you on the couch, you would be looking for an explanation of where that pink pony came from! Consequently, both the pink pony and the universe all around us must have a cause.

The line of reasoning it would look like this:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

2. The universe began to exist

3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

We know that all things that begin to exist have a cause. That is reasonable. The universe began to exist. This is attested to by the Big Bang theory of the creation of the universe, again reasonable to believe this point. Therefore, the universe has a cause. The question remains as to what is that cause.

For the universe and everything in it, including time itself to be created, that creator is required to be outside of time. The universe must have been created supernaturally by an “uncaused creator being” that can create on its own free will. This “uncaused creator being” must beoutside of the time that was created when the universe began. By definition the “uncaused creator being” can be a God that is transcendent, infinite and eternal creator. Anything that is created into an existence cannot be god, thus God is the uncaused, cause of the universe!

· Why does this universe support life?

Sir Isaac Newton once said, “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.” Scientists know our universe is a very special place. If any of the physical properties of the universe were just slightly different, the universe and life would not exist! Here are a few examples:

1. After the Big Bang, if the universe expanded at a rate of one millionth slower than it did, expansion of the universe would have stopped.

2. “If the thickness of the earth’s crust were greater, too much oxygen would be transferred to the crust to support life. If thinner, volcanic activity would make life on earth impossible.”

3. Jupiter’s planetary gravitational pull acts as a cosmic buffer protecting the earth from bombardment from asteroids and comets moving around our solar system.

There are many other environmental constants (over 100) that need to be “just right” in order for the universe to sustain life. If any are just slightly different, no life on earth exists. Stating the argument formally, it looks like this:

1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either; physical necessity, chance or design.

2. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.

3. Therefore, it is due to design.

Could the finely tuned values to create the universe be what they are due to an unknown physical necessity? No, the constants and quantities are not necessary. They must have the values they do in order to support life. How does random chance fair? Not well, if left to chance any number of random variables of the universe could have occurred if the cosmos spontaneously originated out of nothing! Could it be design? Yes, that is a reasonable conclusion. God is a designer. An eternal creator of the universe specifically setup to sustain life for His creation. Does this support that belief in God is plausible? Yes, a universe that was created by a transcendent, infinite and eternal creator can have the “just right” attributes for a universe that sustains life.

· If universe began to exist and it is a special place. What does this mean for me?

“19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature
have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the
things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19-20)

Utilizing these two lines of reasoning above
we have good reasons to believe God exists without using the Bible!

There are more reasons I would encourage you to investigate. I invite you to genuinely search for answers. (Jeremiah 29:13) Read the Bible, investigate thoroughly and ask questions. Asking questions like these defines what it means to be human. They deserve consideration. If there is an omnipresent, omnipotent eternal creator God who created the universe, than why is it so incompatible that he sent Jesus Christ to redeem us? We will cover that later…

“16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and
invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things
were created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:16)

1. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Re 1:8). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

2. Geisler, N., & Turek, F. (2004). I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist (p. 95, 105-106). Wheaton, Ill.:
Crossway Books.

“Take care of your Mother…”

Driving Away

Two men, who had succumbed to their own sinful desires, presented me with that final emotional statement prior to their departure from my life. The first time it occurred at age 7, the other time I was well into adulthood. Each time it deeply hurt. Who tells a 7 year old boy, to “take care of your Mother”? I didn’t understand what it meant. My Mother and Father were supposed to take care of me. During the second occurrence I empathized with the concept of, “take care of your Mother”. I had a family of my own, but the painful sting of the finality of the situation struck cords of anguish within me I thought were long since buried. My Fathers of this world had twice failed me in spectacular fashion and left me with a poor example of love, marriage and trust. This is the end result of porn use and sinful desires. This is where years of pornography consumption the leads. This is the ending.

Here is the beginning.

Pornography is an uncontrolled virus of our culture. The statistics are appalling.

  • U.S. pornography revenue: $13.3 billion. $4 billion more than mainline Hollywood films in 2007
  • Daily pornographic search engine requests: 68 million (25% of total search engine requests)
  • U.S. adults who regularly visit Internet pornography Web sites: 40 million
  • Internet users who view pornography: 42.7%
    http://erlc.com/issues/quick-facts/por/#sthash.N2DdVq8T.dpuf

And it gets worse.

Is it any surprise that the two men that were placed in the position of responsibility to raise me failed miserably in maintaining a marriage founded on an intimate relationship with one woman?

A pornographic culture is compelling men, both young and old, away from the biblical doctrine of the Imago Dei. Simply stated, the Imago Dei is that humanity is created in the image or likeness of God. “27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27) Conversely, this doctrine is NOT articulating we are “gods”, or can be “gods”, but that both males and females have been created IN the image of God. God the Father has imputed his commutable attributes of spirituality,knowledge, goodness, love, holiness and other attributes, to his created beings. (Genesis 5:1-2, 1 Corinthians 15:49)

  • When men are allowed to consume women as a collection of body parts to be displayed and fantasied about, they fail to consider that within that individual is a soul. A soul that is created in the image of God! (Matthew 5:27-28)

Within this pornographic fantasy perishes the sanctity of a marriage covenant. (Genesis 2:24, 1 Corinthians 7:2) Hardcore, graphic pornography is intensely encouraging man’s sinful desires to view women in a way that is not healthy. The statistics above outline the conclusion that the money follows the pornographic demand.

If you’re a man addicted to images where does pornography use end? If you’re lucky you repent your sin to God, confess to your spouse, pray deeply for forgiveness and together you move forward in healing reconciliation. (Ephesians 4:24, Colossians 3:10) Refraining from use of erotic images by continually working on sanctification with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 6:11)

Most men are not that fortunate to receive an ending as described above. (Mathew 7:13) The lines between fantasy and reality are distorted. Escalating from the anonymity of solitary porn use, to strip clubs, and who knows what else, causing a splintering of all your relationships to occur. Lies and secrets breed to cover the traces. No longer will “regular” porn suffice, but with an ever increasing appetite more explicit pornography must be consumed creating new neural pathways in your brain. This modifies the way the brain functions to perceive what is real and not-real disabling the ability to formulate relational bonds. This will drive a deeper wedge between you and your spouse removing any traces of intimate connection from the relationship.

Still not convinced? The scientific research confirms these findings with a research study published in the Journal of American Medical Association: Psychiatry. It concludes that “the more pornography a person watches, the less gray matter, connectivity and activity they have in their brain.” http://pornharms.com/wp-content/uploads/K%C3%BChnGallinatJAMA.pdf

“9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:9-10)

Many men are in this dark place of exploiting pornography and are unable or unwilling to find the light. (1 John 1:5) Whatever the situation, I plead with you to want better for yourself, your spouse and your children. No child daydreams of becoming a porn star. No one imagines that the only way they will be able to survive in this world is to become a detached tool of lust for someone on the other end of a computer screen. I implore you to look at your children, especially your daughters and want more for them! Teach them that there is more to this world then the desires laid before us by an over sexualized society. (Deuteronomy 6:5-7)

No sin is too dark, to hidden, too horrible to escape the atonement work of Jesus Christ.

24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:24-25)

You haven’t astonished the Lord by the choices you have made. He knows your heart. (Romans 3:12-17) Forgiveness is available and freely provided to those who pursue the grace offered. A new life and beginning is open to you and your family. (John 3:3-8)

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions.” (Psalm 51:1)

I plead with you to receive open invitation from Jesus, thus breaking the cycle of telling your children to, “take care of your Mother”, before you leave the shattered remains of your secret life for someone else to clean up…

Are you still trying to change on your own?

Your New Self Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Clouds and Sky.

9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

This time of year brings a flurry of new aspirations and New Year resolutions. Thoughts drift to creating a better you, a slimmer body, or new lease on life that will catapult you into the coming months. Possibly you’re desired transformation is from a dark place and comes with a higher cost. Perhaps you must stop using pornography, mend a broken relationship, emotionally heal or surrender a physical addiction. The list could go on and on. Recently, I’ve been wondering why God created us as He did. We seem to have this fascination for self-improvement. So we attempt to modify and change ourselves, often failing miserably at the task. Any change we perform comes from the head, not the heart. This “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” attitude rarely amounts to much behavioral modification in the long haul.

We are incredibly broken people with quirks, anxiety, attention deficit disorders, controlling natures, and various mental proclivities. I weary of my personal quirks. I grow tired of fighting my heart, but also struggling with my head. (Ps. 139:23) The heart is where the change needs to occur. “The heart is the source of motives, the seat of passions, the center of the thought processes, and the spring of conscience.” (S.G.F Brandon, 1967) Realizing that you are broken with a heart that is depraved and deceitful (Jer. 17:9) is the first step in renewing your mind so change can occur. The heart is the center where the Holy Spirit will act to regenerate and continue the progressive work of God centered sanctification. (Ezek. 11:19)

I exhaust myself pleading with God to “fix” me, so I try to do it on my own. Perhaps the better answer is I confess my brokenness and repent of it. Repentance is the rejection of sin, a commitment to abandon it, and an action to follow Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 7:9-10) While outward appearances lead us to believe following Christ is easy, the truth of the matter is, it challenging. Culture continues to close in modern day Christians making the inward personal struggle to follow Christ a very lonely place. Where is God when we cry out in pain that no one sees from the outside? He is there. The Holy Spirit is the comforter that walks along side, and will be present with you during your darkest hours. (John 14:16)

“2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:2)

Jonathan Edwards (1703 –1758) was a 17th century Christian preacher and theologian. Early in his life he wrote a series of personal resolutions in his diary. Edwards’s hoped that these resolutions would serve him as a reminder of spiritual principles to live his life by. While each statement said something about how he wanted to change his heart and mind, there was a focus on the eternal that would do us well to remember now. I consider these below my favorites from Edwards writing.

• “Resolved, never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way I possibly can.”

• “Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.”

• “Resolved, to examine carefully and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and so direct all my forces against it.”

The anxieties in this life only matter for a short period of time and no doubt, our brokenness is frustrating. Strive for self-improvement, but complete this task in a way that is God honoring and works towards the One who knows your heart. When you ask for forgiveness the Holy Spirit will come. (Matthew 6:8-13) Place trust not in your effort, but in work and effort of Christ. Live fully, knowing you’re broken with the full assurance that Jesus paid the debt for your sin, quirks, anxiety, controlling nature, and all other personal characteristics you may be trying to change. (Galatians 2:20) Stop exhausting yourself and place your trust in Jesus, the one who knows how broken you are. Perhaps this is his task to complete, not yours…

“10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” (Psalm 51:10-12)

Brandon, S. G. F. (1967). Jesus and the zealots. New York: Scribner’s.

Acts 15- What must we do to be saved?

“16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16)

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What is the final destiny of life and how are we “saved” to receive that destiny? These could be the greatest questions that everyone needs to answer. The end of this life will find each and every one of us. There is no avoiding it. Individuals attempt to create an answer to what happens after this life ends. Culture also speaks strongly as to how or what our focus should be on during our life. Just live in the now, do “right” by people and everything will work out fine. Focusing on “living our best life now” provides a vain attempt to avoid the providing any answer. But, avoidance is not an answer. Living for the “now” does not contain the power to provide salvation from your sin and bestow admittance to enteral life in glory with God. Each religion or worldview (a worldview is a person’s fundamental orientation of looking at the world around them) must be held to the same critical standard. The all need to answer the same question; “What must I do to be saved and have access to the afterlife?”

What Paul and Barnabas answered in Acts 15 addressed an early argument within the first century church. “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved. 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.” (Acts 15:1-2) Christianity believes in the gospel of Jesus Christ. God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ, by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5) Other religions and worldviews must address this difficulty. No one receives a free pass not to provide a solution. Let’s consider three other common belief systems.

An individual who adheres to Mormonism will consider this the path to salvation:

• There are three kingdoms of glory: the celestial kingdom, the terrestrial kingdom, and the telestial kingdom. The glory we inherit will depend on the depth of our conversion, expressed by our obedience to the Lord’s commandments. It will depend on the manner in which we have “received the testimony of Jesus” (D&C 76:51; see also D&C 76:74, 79, 101)

In this Mormon doctrines and covenants (D&C) passage we see Mormons believe there are “levels” to heaven and that inheritance into “heaven” will depend on obedience or works completed in this life.

Devotion to Islam also claims a route to eternal life.

• In Islam salvation is achieved through good works and including “honorable deeds” such as, keeping five “pillars,” of Islam: witness for Muhammad, ritual prayers five times daily, alms giving, fasting during Ramadan, and a pilgrimage to Mecca. The Koran states in Sura 21:47, “On the day of judgment Allah will have a set of scales to weigh one’s good deeds against his bad deeds.”

Completing enough “good deeds” to win favor with an impersonal and unknowable god is an impossible task and obedience to this leads groups and individuals down dangerous paths. In both religions, works are necessary to gain favor with god and entrance into heaven or paradise.

Finally, let’s look at Pantheism a worldview that is commonly seen in Western Washington.

• Pantheism is the belief that God and the universe are one. The “God is everything, and everything is God” approach of Pantheism creates problems as it removes the personal identity and relational attributes of God.

Without a personal identity, there cannot be a relationship. It follows there would be no human destiny of the soul after this life with god if a relationship does not exist. Some forms of Pantheism assert the divine is an illusion, therefore making a god unknowable. Pantheism doesn’t answer the question of, “What must I do to be saved and have access to the afterlife?” It appears to avoid the question entirely.

All three worldviews are in direct contradiction to the personal and knowable God of the Bible.

“4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7)

“26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.” “9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him…” (Hebrews 7:26 and 5:9)

So, what must we do to be saved?

“30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:30-31)

The apostle Paul and Barnabas are refuting a basic question that remains for us today. Who is included in God’s saving grace? Apostle Paul argues that the saving grace that Jesus provided is for all, both Jew and Gentile, provided by Jesus on the cross, and is God’s alone to impart. “8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:8) Paul references back to Peter in Acts 10, because the “gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles” (Acts 10:44) ensuring that God’s saving grace was provided by the Holy Spirit for all, both circumcised and uncircumcised.

How should we connect with others of a different belief system so they may have access to eternal life? Always with love, grace and the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 22:39) For all that come to the cross, hear and believe the true words of God are invited into His infinite grace. This is very good news! Someone who believes they need to “earn” their way into heaven should find a tremendous amount of relief and comfort knowing that God loves them and has provided the way for salvation! No amount of “works” or “deeds” will appease a god or defend a god that is detached from his creation.

To the believers, pray continually asking for the Holy Spirit to use you. Be the hands and feet of Jesus, doing the hard work that needs to be completed for the Lord. Witness boldly to others showing them God’s everlasting grace as it has been shown to you.

To the unbelievers, may we pray for you? We pray you find that your work placating God is unnecessary. We want you to know Jesus came to atone for your sins, transgressions, and failures. We, as Christians do not stand above you, but beside you, as sinners deserving of God’s wrath. We are all sinners. Jesus alone is the perfect sacrifice for you and for us all. Rest from your unwarranted works, my friend, they are not needed…

“29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

Re-Blog- Five Tips for Leading Your Small Group | TGC

Five Tips for Leading Your Small Group | TGC.

By KEVIN DEYOUNG

As school starts back up, so will plenty of church-sponsored and church-related small groups. Some will study the Bible. Others will read a Christian book together. Almost all will have a designated leader or leaders. While knowing your Bible and having Christlike character are the more important factors, there are also a number of skills which go a long way in leading an effective small group.

1. Communicate early and often, and then follow through.

A good leader is always leading. If you wait until the meeting to lead, it may be too late. In this era of easy communication, there is no reason leaders can’t remind the group of upcoming dates and assignments. Make sure everyone knows what is expected. Conclude every meeting by highlighting what’s next–what should be read? when is the group meeting? where are they meeting? who will be leading the discussion? Then before the next meeting send out a reminder email (or call or text or tweet or Facebook post). People forget. People are lazy. People get busy. People need lots of friendly reminders to stay on task–especially students.

As for the meeting itself, respect people’s time. Get things started promptly and end at the agreed upon time. Sure, emergencies come up. There are exceptions to almost every rule. But people need to know that they can count on you to get the meeting started and ended on time.

Whenever possible, keep things consistent. Changing dates and times almost always leads to dwindling numbers.

Ask people for specific commitments. Don’t do everything yourself. Get someone to bring a snack, another person to organize the upcoming barbecue, and someone else to open in prayer next week. This not only builds up others, it will encourage greater participation. Asking for commitments is better than making a general invitation.

2. Think through your questions ahead of time.

If your group consists of nothing but very mature Christians who have known each other for years you may be able to get away with little preparation. But that’s not the make up of most groups (and if so, it’s probably time to mix things up a little for the sake of newcomers and those just starting out as followers of Christ). Make sure your questions are crisp and clear. If you aren’t sure what you are asking, you can be sure no one else will either.

If the selection you are studying (in the Bible or in a book) is hard to understand, you may need a number of knowledge questions. Don’t make them so obscure that only seminary trained Christians would know the answer. But don’t make them so painfully obvious (e.g., fill in the blank questions) that everyone is embarrassed to venture forth an answer.

Don’t stay at the level of knowledge only. Ask questions which call for analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Prepare final questions which get at the heart.

Be creative in how you phrase your questions. Don’t just say “What do you think?” or “How do you feel about this?” or even “How can we apply this to our lives?” Ask questions like:

  • What is one thing you want to see change in your life as a result of this study?
  • What new promise can you take with you into the week?
  • What did you learn about God?
  • Where have you seen these things lived out well?
  • How does this relate to the cross?
  • How does this resemble our church for good or for bad?
  • Where is this a struggle for you in your marriage?
  • What do you have a hard time believing in God’s word?

You get the picture. There are hundreds of good questions you can ask on any given week. Few of them will come to you on the spot without any preparation.

3. Be mindful of group dynamics.

Being a leader is much more than opening and closing in prayer. You should do whatever you can to foster a warm, welcoming environment in your group. This means being especially mindful of new people. The 30 minutes of hang out time before the study may be a sheer delight for the old-timers, but for new people it’s bound to feel anxious and awkward. As a leader, you should do whatever you can to make them feel at ease. Ask them questions. Get the group to introduce itself. Have an exercise ready to encourage group sharing. The less people know each other the more structure is needed.

Keep in mind that newcomers may not know your history, your humor, or your theology. I made the mistake once of teasing one of our longtime small group members about not yet being convinced of paedobaptism. It was playful banter between me and these friends, but for the new folks visiting it sent them the (wrong) signal that credobaptists weren’t welcome here. I later apologized and explained that I was only joking with my friends and that we’d love to have them (the new couple) in our group. My bad.

One of the hardest and most important things a leader must do is try to include as many people as possible in group discussion. Obviously, the aim is not to make quiet members feel embarrassed, but often the quiet members simply need to be asked. A good leader won’t allow every discussion to be dominated by the same two or three people. He will specifically call on those who haven’t said much. He may need to gently add from time to time,  “Let me see if anyone else has something to add before I come back to you.”

A good leader will be sensitive to the mood of the group, discerning whether there is hurt, confusion, sadness, or frustration that needs to be addressed. Don’t just play traffic cop. Be a shepherd.

4. Know how to handle conflict.

The worst fear of most small group leaders is that they will be called upon to quell some raging inferno of disagreement. Thankfully, most Christian groups (in my experience) play pretty nice (almost to a fault). Angry conflict is rare, but it does happen. Depending on the circumstances, here are some of the things you may want to say in the midst of disagreement:

  • Sam, it sounds like you are trying to say XYZ. Am I hearing you correctly?
  • Amanda has offered a different interpretation. What do the rest of you think? How should we interpret this verse?
  • I know it’s hard to talk about such a controversial or painful topic, but I don’t think we should we run away from constructive conflict. I’d love to hear what everyone else is thinking.
  • This is an important discussion, but it’s not really involving the whole group. It would be great if the two of you could get together and continue the conversation at a different time.
  • It sounds like I may have done something to upset you. Why don’t we talk about it after the meeting is done?
  • Guys, I’m happy for us have disagreement in this group. But that sounded personal. Let’s try to be gentle even when we are passionate.

There may be times where the leader needs to be even more direct. You may have to shut down the conversation, explicitly correct a wrong interpretation, or reprove someone for speaking in a harsh and unedifying way. While we don’t want hot-headed leaders who make conflict worse, neither can we afford passive “leaders” who put their own people-pleasing and fear of man above the good of the whole group.

5. Plan for prayer.

If you expect prayer to just happen it will only barely happen. There is nothing wrong with 60 seconds of prayer to begin and end a meeting, if that’s your plan. Just to know that without preparation, that’s what will almost always happen. Effective times of prayer–whether short or long–take intentional planning. Are you going to ask for prayer requests? If so, how will ensure your “prayer” time is not all sharing with almost no praying? What are prayer requests from previous weeks that need follow up? How long do you want the prayer to be? How many people are you hoping will pray?

Leading in prayer requires clear direction. Don’t be afraid to call on certain individuals to pray (usually not newcomers). Remind people that their prayers can be short (in fact, you may want to encourage them to be short). Guide people through different topics (family, church, nation, world, etc.). If your prayer time is generally brief, consider setting aside a meeting every few months for nothing but prayer. We’ve often done this in our group, usually separating men and women for these most extended times of sharing and prayer.

The biggest difference between a small group that is spiritually, relationally, and biblically edifying and one that feels like an awkward waste of time is leadership. Good leaders do not always get good followers. But it almost never happens that you get good small groups without faithful, wise, skilled men and women to lead them.

Zeal is good for a Christian’s own soul…

“Zeal is good for a Christian’s own soul. It will help mightily to promote inward feelings of joy, peace, comfort, and happiness. None have so much enjoyment of Christ as those who are ever zealous for His glory—jealous over their own walk—tender over their own consciences—full of anxiety about the souls of others—and ever watching, working, laboring, striving, and toiling to extend the knowledge of Jesus Christ upon earth.” Sermon excerpt from, Be Zealous by J. C. Ryle

J.C. Ryle was the first Anglican bishop of Liverpool in the late 1800’s. His writings are as timely now, as they were then.

• Be zealous in leading yourself and your family.
• Be zealous in working for His glory.
• Be zealous in pouring yourself out every week for the souls of people around you.

“Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” (Romans 12:11)

Continue to remember what an honor it is to serve in a Christ centered community of faith.
As a church we are the living body of Christ. Love, hope and faith are what the Bible demands Christians zealously proclaim.

As J.C. Ryle said, “Beware, I beseech you, of checking zeal. Seek it. Cultivate it. Try to blow up the fire in your own heart, and the hearts of others—but never, never check it.”

Be Zealous and God Bless

Link to sermon: http://www.reformedsermonarchives.com/ryle1.htm