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3 truths to learning contentment

It’s difficult to thrive in a season we’re currently in, faced with a global pandemic that doesn’t seem to show signs of slowing. Besides the fact that the virus exists, the measure our society has taken to curtail its spread has upended most of our lives. Especially our rhythms.

Rhythms are so important in life. With the right rhythm, movement becomes beautiful, artistic dance. Something worth marveling at and replicating. With the wrong rhythm, movement becomes awkward, stilted, and, painful to watch.

In a season like we’re all in, it’s tough to find your footing. And we can easily find ourselves turning to lots of different things to satisfy us. From our vice of choice to our jobs, from binging the latest on TV to obsessing over our outdated kitchens that we’re forced to stare at all day every day, discontentment hangs on to our shoulders like a wet blanket. It drips water on everything we touch. It jades our responses, emotions, and resolve. And it’s like trying to quench our thirst by drinking sand. The more you drink, the thirstier you get.

This feels like the kind of season that the Apostle Paul would lean in and give us encouragement during. Because it’s encouragement, hope, and perseverance we need right now. In Philippians 4, Paul says this:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

You’ve heard that last sentence above, likely quoted on a motivational poster of a marathon runner telling you that you can sprint a marathon. Out of context, that interpretation seems valid. Within context, though, it takes on a much deeper meaning. Paul can “do all things” because he has learned contentment. Meaning he’s walked through different seasons of life, and God’s driven him to a deep, abiding satisfaction despite his circumstances.

I bet Paul, if he were writing today, would say something like: “I have learned to be content…while being quarantined, while not knowing the future of our culture, while not being able to go to gyms or restaurants…”

A global pandemic makes it hard to find contentment. But it’s the perfect soil for exploring. My grandpa has a farm with a creek bed that’s perfect for exploring. In it you’ll find rocks, bugs, shells, crawdaddys, and Native American money. I was able to show our kids the wonders and joys of it while we were there this summer. The more you stare at the creek bed, the more you see. At first glance, you just see a bunch of random rocks. But as your eyes adjust, you see layers and layers of treasure.

So what does it mean to learn contentment like Paul mentions? How do we explore it in this season?

3 truths to learning contentment

1. It’s a process.

This process oftentimes involves pain before it produces fruit. Look at Paul’s life: he learned contentment through some pretty painful experiences. And contrast that with Jesus’ words that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and you’ve got the extremes covered. The process involves you walking through these only to realize that you’re not in control. And that circumstances don’t determine contentedness.

2. It takes time.

Every time you walk through a new, previously unknown season, you’ve got the chance to walk through becoming more content in who God has created you to be and what He’s created you to do. When my wife and I went through premarital counseling, our pastor said something that has stuck with me: don’t get married to someone you haven’t experienced all 4 seasons with. The principle was this: you can’t know you love someone until you see them in multiple scenarios. The same is true with contendedness: you can’t know if you’re content until you’ve experienced life.

3. It takes trust.

Ultimately, contendness involves you trusting. Trusting that He will make your paths straight, that His plan is better than yours, and taking a risk on His ways.

Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. – Psalm 37:4

You can’t delight in someone you do not trust. And as you delight, your desires change. And as your desires change, you become more content.

Trust in God –> delight in God –> contentment in all things

Keep your eyes on Jesus. He’s the author and the perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2) And the one that offers true contentment.

 

Carpe Opportunity: Stepping toward our fears

If you’re a leader, you no doubt have built it as a habit to recruit other leaders around you. 

In the business world, that’s called talent acquisition. In the church world, it’s called volunteer recruitment. In sports, it’s called tryouts. In parenting, it’s called, “Help!

In my role as a pastor, I’m constantly looking for others I can bring on to my team. Some times, I have a role I’m trying to fill. Other times, I’m trying to find a role for a rockstar with amazing potential. 

This time for me, the couple I was talking to fit both bills. I was calling them to join our team or writers that creates our weekly sermon discussion guides. Every week we build a discussion experience for individuals and groups to access, to help take the sermon further than Sunday mornings. This couple and I had a great discussion. I vacillated between vision-casting, logistics, sharing my heart for theology and life change, and “next steps” for the future of where this is going.

And I realized that this is an opportunity that is a no-brainer for them. It’s something they have both had extensive training for, both professional and practical. They can step in to this role and do it in their sleep. What will take them 2-3 hours to complete at an A+ level would take others 10-15 hours. To get a C+. They’re going to step on to this team and make a big impact.
As our conversation wrapped up, I off-handedly mentioned the two of them potentially stepping in to lead a small group in the future.

They froze.

I thought it was just our internet connection.

This opportunity wasn’t on their radar, nor was it in their comfort zone. They instantly began thinking through the barriers and resistors to this opportunity, and the reasons why now isn’t the right time and why they’re not the right people. You’ve done the same thing.

Jesus came to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” – Finley Peter Dunne

When it comes to opportunities God has put in front of you, don’t just pursue the ones you can do in your sleep. Pursue the ones that cause you to lose sleep. [TWEET THAT]

Those are the ones that are outside of your comfort zones, and the ones you have to depend on God and others more than ever. If you, in your own strength, wisdom, experience, and power can do the work in front of you, it takes no faith. And with no faith, there is no growth.

If God called His own Son to remain with something that was uncomfortable (Mark 14:35-36), because He had a greater redemptive plan, shouldn’t we expect that same?

So step out towards that thing that makes you afraid. That causes you to lose sleep. Seize the opportunity that’s in front of you, not so you can tout your accomplishment. Seize it BECAUSE it makes you fearful, BECAUSE you have to trust God anew, and so that you can brag on the God who redeems all things.

 

Exploring uncertainty

We are in unprecedented times. In the midst of a global pandemic, Church hasn’t changed, but the way we do it has.

Recently, I’ve been asked what our plans for the upcoming season look like. Will we launch new groups in the same way we have before? Will we offer connection events? Will people want to enter a group leader’s home (that they don’t know) to interact with relative strangers?

Will chips and salsa ever make their return to small group life?

In times past, I have trained leaders to not stress over a perfectly clean house. Instead, I’ve encouraged them to invite people in to their lives, piles of old mail and all. This was a push for authenticity and vulnerability: don’t stuff the piles of mail or your struggles under the bed.

But now, where masks are becoming the norm, hand sanitizers expected, and cleanliness not just a value for some but a necessity for most, we find ourselves as groups pastors in unprecedented times.

So what do we do?

I’d love to give you the neat and easy steps to ensuring a group’s success, or the hard-and-fast “you must do this to launch new groups in your context” kind of post. Unfortunately, we don’t have that luxury. And whether you’re a small business owner, a public school teacher, a nurse, a stay-at-home-dad, or a pastor, you know this to be true. And anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying to you or trying to sell you something.

As always, I’ve found the Scriptures to be an amazing guide. They don’t always tell us every single step to take. But they show us the path, and teach us how to walk on it. Check this out:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
   and he will make your paths straight. – Proverbs 3:5-6

I’ve read this thousands of times. But in light of our current season, I find a renewed hope here. What’s the best next step for you to take?

Trust in the Lord. With all of your heart. We’re prone to leaning on our own understanding, which is oftentimes gained from years of experience. And when we do that, sometimes we “win” and sometimes we “lose.” But what happens when we “trust in the Lord”?

Sometimes we “win” and sometimes we “lose.”

But there’s a much different outcome when we trust in the Lord. Even when we “lose,” our paths are made straight.

My kids love to ride their bikes in our neighborhood, and at the end of our road there’s a gravel drainage area. It’s basically a basin, with a downward-sloping hill on all 4 sides: the perfect place to ride a bike. But riding across crushed granite doesn’t net you the kind of speed you want as an 11-year-old boy. So my kids got to work, moving rocks and dirt to the side in order to make a path. It was hard work. And it took them a long time. But the result was something they were really proud of. “Dad,” my son said with a puffed out chest. “Come check out what we’ve done.”

The Hebrew word for “straight” in this passage denotes the clearing of a road, to make it safe. Everybody loves a straight path, but not everyone wants to go through the painstaking process it takes for that path to be made straight.

The painstaking process begins with trust. Not a blind trust that runs head-first off a cliff. But a trust that takes one step at a time down a path that’s being made straight. The path that proves the One that’s carving it out is worth being trusted.

So what should you do as a business owner this next season? Trust in God. Then take a step.

What should you do as a pastor? Trust in God. Then take a step.

As a single person? Trust in God. Then take a step.

As a small groups pastor that is uncertain what the future of groups will look like? Trust. In. God. Then take a step.

As we’re all in a season of exploring uncertainty together, may our first step not be giving glib “do this” answers. But may we, despite our callings, start with trust.

 

Excessive, annoying grace

Confession:
I like coffee. And maybe (said while squinting my eyes and making the universal pinching symbol for tiny) I am a little excessive about it. Just maybe.

I have just a few different ways of brewing coffee. Here’s what I’ve got:

Chemex
Aeropress
Toddy
V60 Hario
Stove top Italian Espresso Mokka
Iced coffee brewer
Espresso machine
Manual Espresso maker
French press
Traditional brewer
Keurig

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You never know what kind of coffee you’ll need. Seriously. I may need to make lattes for guests, or a pot of clean coffee for me and…well, I’d probably just drink the whole pot of Chemex. *Confession alert.*

Or maybe it’s hot outside and an iced coffee is preferred. Or maybe we have a lot of people in the house that could care less about the taste of their coffee and I’ll get the Keurig out. 😃

Regardless, I’ll bet you look at my coffee brewing collection and say I’ve got a little too much. Too many options. You probably have just 1 way, maybe 2, of brewing your coffee at home, and can’t imagine why a person in their right mind would need more. You may even say that my collection is a bit excessive. I can see why you’d say that.

Because you don’t love coffee as much as I do.

I love drinking it. Sipping it. Gulping it. Making it. I love the art and science of making the *perfect* cup.

And I especially love serving it to others.

You may not appreciate my excessive approach, until you’ve had a cup from my house. I can guarantee you that it’ll be the best cup of coffee you’ve ever had. Ever.

Annoying obsessions

There are lots of things we see other people doing things that are excessive seem excessive and annoying to us, right? When people collect items we don’t care about, it seems odd to us. From comic books to cars. Baseball cards. Pokemon. Pogs  (remember those??). Signatures from famous people. Action figures. Barbies. Buttons. Cameras. Typewriters. Fountain pens.

And coffee equipment. It’s annoying to you. You may think, “Why would anyone need so many different ways to brew a cup of hot dirt?” But I assure you, I do. And if you enjoy coffee as much as I do, you will appreciate my collection.

Grace

Grace: noun \ˈgrās\ Unearned favor from God.

Grace is the same way. I need excessive amounts of it.  I realize the gap between who I am and who God’s created me to be. I see the mistakes I have made and continue to make. And I need grace each and every morning. I need it by the bucketfuls. I need it so much that I preach and teach on it. I tweet it. I talk about it in conversation. I need it in every different form I can get. I get it and I give it.

Without it, I’m bankrupt.

If you don’t feel like you need it, my obsession is strange. Which means I may be annoying to people. More often than not, it’s annoying to “church” people. People that “have life all figured out.” People that think it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.  Sorry, folks, I’ll take all of the “good thing” I can get.

Side note: I’m so thankful I’m not at a “churchy” church. My church is a place where it’s ok to be in process, ok to still be figuring things out. Ok to not be ok (but not ok to stay that way).

It’s impossible to abuse grace. Because it’s meant to be applied when you’re at your worst and when you think you’re at your “best.” Even our “best” is filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6) So even in my best year in my best season on the best hour of the best day…I still fall woefully short. I’m still in need of grace to cover me. When perfection is in demand, I’ll choose to let someone else live it.

Grace is always needed. Never earned. Paid for already. (John 1:14-17)

To get that grace, you’ve just got to ask. (Romans 10:9-10)

If you want the favor of the King, cast all of your eggs in the basket of grace. That’s where mine are.


 

Tim Cooper, North Point Community Church, interview

I recently got to interview Tim Cooper, director of leader training and resources at North Point Community Church, and organizer of their upcoming small groups conference ReGroup (which is a must-go-to conference for anyone on a church staff or that serves in small group leadership).

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1. Be honest, Tim. It’s your job to put this conference on. If it wasn’t, is this still a conference you’d attend?

Before I was on staff at North Point, I paid to come to several North Point conferences. I’ve always been a fan of the passion and excellence that North Point puts into Community Groups. Now it’s a privilege to get to be a part of putting on a conference so other churches can see our approach. So, yeah, I’d attend.

2. Now that you’re in the third year of hosting re:group, what have you learned? What will be different this year?

We sent a survey to everyone that attended last year and there were several breakouts they specifically requested. Based on some common themes, we’ve added five to this year’s list of breakouts. In particular, Bill Willits is leading a breakout called “Transitioning to a Group Model.” It’s the most requested topic in our survey results, and Bill has a ton of wisdom to bring to the table. I’m really excited for attendees to hear what he has to say.

3. What are you most looking forward to this year at the event?

Two things come to mind. First, we don’t pretend we have all the answers. We still have a ton to learn. So, the oppportunity to interact with other ministry leaders and to hear about their challenges and successes is really exciting. Second—and I think this is related to my first point—I love it when others churches get to meet our team. Most people coming to re:group know who Andy Stanley is, but not many of them know our Groups staff. They’re a collection of humble, wise, and gifted people that care so much about helping groups ministries thrive. Watching other churches interact with our staff is always one of my favorite parts of any conference we do.

4. Why should someone peel back the curtain on North Point’s small group system?

Figuring out how you build or grow a groups ministry at your church is tricky. It’s a real uphill struggle for a lot of churches. At re:group, you won’t just be exposed to our approach to groups ministry; you’ll get a lot of practical information about how to implement and grow a culture of groups. You’ll get to see what it looks like when a thriving church is all-in with groups. That can be great motivation for senior pastors and other leaders trying to create a thriving groups ministry.

Are you going to ReGroup?


 

A change for the Reed family

When God calls, you’ve got to go.

Well, I guess you don’t have to go. But to not go would be disobedience, and that’s not a choice I’m ready to commit to. So my family and I…we are going. With buckets full of bittersweet joy.

At the end of the month, I will be joining the Saddleback Community Church staff on the groups team!

This is a very bittersweet move for us. We’re leaving behind so many great relationships at Long Hollow. And beyond that, all of our family connections are here in the middle Tennessee area. We’re leaving what we know, who we love, and where we naturally find comfort. We’re leaving behind a culture that’s woven into our DNA. We’re leaving behind our Tennessee roots.

But to be joining Saddleback, and the work God’s already doing through them in both Southern California and around the world, is for us a step towards something that we feel like God’s been preparing us for for a long time.

We never saw our road at Long Hollow as just preparing grounds. We never treated it as such, either. We poured every ounce of our hearts, our lives, our energy, our minds, our bodies, our ideas, our love, our pain, our laughs, our screams, and our tears into the mission God called us to at Long Hollow. We never felt called through Long Hollow. We felt called to Long Hollow.

But at the end of the day, aren’t all experiences training grounds for what’s next? Doesn’t God always use people and places, whether good or bad, to shape our hearts for the next step? Don’t all things work to make us more like Jesus? (Romans 8:28-29)

So we’re moving. With as much excitement as we have fear. With as much eager anticipation as we have sadness.

With boldness we are taking a courageous step of faith.

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10 things a small group leader has to stop doing

There’s a lot of talk about what small groups need to look like. How they need to be structured, what they need to study, and where they need to go.

Through all of this, group leaders can become overwhelmed. Group leaders want to have a healthy group, and instead of adding more to their plate, it’s time to start taking things away. There are tasks that are killing your group. And killing you, too.

Let’s quit those together.

10 things a group leader should stop doing

1. Stop talking so much.

Group leaders need to listen way more than they talk. Listen to stories. Listen for pain. Listen for God’s voice in the midst of their group. Instead, most group leaders want to try to impress their group by how much they know and how close to God they are.

But that’s not what group members are looking for. And they’re not impressed.

2. Stop thinking so much.

Just love people and lead them to Jesus. Don’t make it so difficult. When you’re consumed by “planning,” the heart of the group gets lost. If you want to stop your group from sliding off of the hill, stop thinking so much. Let the Spirit prompt you in the moment. Maybe you’ve been relying on your plans and your agenda more than you have on God leading you. Instead of your leadership flowing out of your relationship with God, it’s flowing out of your to-do list.

3. Stop canceling group meeting.

This has got to quit. Let your group know that the weekly meeting is happening, even if it’s just you and your spouse. Don’t cancel because half of the group is out sick. Let this be an opportunity to get to know the other half of your group in a way you can’t when everyone’s there.

Oh, wait…you, the leader aren’t going to be there? Then it’s a perfect time to give someone else the reigns and help them develop as a leader.

4. Stop meeting every week.

(Hey, it’s my blog. I can contradict myself if I want. 🙂 ) It might be time to give people a breather. Take a week, or two, off. Recharge for what’s coming. Let people invest in their family. Let people relax. Then come back ready to dive back into small group.

5. Stop sticking with a curriculum even though it’s terrible.

If a curriculum isn’t working for your group, throw that junk away. It’s not worth driving your group into the ground over. You might even put the curriculum down for the night and just study the Scriptures together. Try asking these 3 questions of a text:

a. What does this passage say? (just repeat it in your own words)

b. What does this passage tell me about God?

c. Based on what this passage says, what are you going to do?

6. Stop simply studying together as a group.

Small group life is so much more than just a Bible study. It encompasses doing life together, not just studying together. Serve, pray, go, do, and laugh.

7. Stop viewing group as a 1.5 hour program.

If you want to stop doing something today that will have a huge impact quickly, then stop thinking that your group is relegated to a 1.5 hour meeting once/week. Work it in your schedule to meet with at least one person/week in your group outside of your normal meeting time. At this meeting, just get to know them a little better. Buy them a cup of coffee, and listen.

8. Stop being scared of “obedience.”

Sometimes you’ve just got to push people. It’s awkward and uncomfortable and you’ll probably get pushed back. But small groups help people obey, not just know, the Scriptures.

9. Stop telling people what they have to believe.

Give people space to explore. Push towards obedience, but give people the freedom to explore their relationship with Jesus without feeling like they need to have all of the answers and have all of their life figured out. Let them know it’s really okay to be “in process.”

10. Stop making group boring.

Shake up your routine. Change locations, studies, discussion facilitators, or prayer time. Plan a retreat, or give some practical homework. Or just throw all of that out of the window and play a game with your small group. Routines are good, but they can work against you if you stick closer to those than you do to the mission of your small group: helping people take steps of faith together.

Anything else you’d add, that a group leader should stop doing?


 

Is your church really safe?

Is your church safe? I don’t mean “we have police officers” and “we have hidden cameras” and “I’m packing heat on my pew.”

Is your church safe for you to be you? Can you be the you that doesn’t have it all figured out? That has more questions than answers, some days? Can you be the you that you are on the inside that nobody else sees? The you that wonders how in the world a God that loves justice could also love you? The you that you’re ashamed of?

Is it safe to for you to bring your doubts?

Fears?

Questions?

Struggles?

Victories?

Insecurities?

Quirks?

Gifts?

Doubts?

Is it safe for you to bring the full force of these and not be shunned?

Not be cast out?

Not be shamed?

Not be laughed at?

Not be marginalized?

Not be made to feel “less than”?

Maybe a bigger question than, “Can you?” is “Do you?”

Do you lead the way in vulnerability? Because if you don’t, they won’t. If your current church environment doesn’t afford you this luxury necessity, create it. If you’re waiting for someone else to give you the permission, you now have it. I’m granting it to you right now. Be you. And when someone else brings their junk, don’t take a step back. Take a step forward towards them and with them. Give grace, mercy, and patience. Give truth in love. Give space for continued exploration.

If we have a Savior that died for us, and was the ultimate example of welcoming sinners, we as the Church should be the most welcoming environment on earth. The safest place to still be “in process.” The place where when you join our community you instantly feel at home. You may not be able to put your finger on it, but our people should feel like your people. Our group, your group. Our home, your home. Our grace, your grace. Your story, our story.

By our posturing, may we, the Church, be certain we’re not telling the world, “Fix your junk before you come in here. Otherwise we will boycott, marginalize, slander, and shun you.”

The safest place you’ll ever find yourself is in a small group community that simultaneously knows and loves you. (Tweet that)

Jesus was a “friend of sinners.” (Matthew 11:18) Are we?


 

I wish I could forget

Ever said this? I bet you have. There’s something that’s happened to you that you wish you could wipe from your memory forever. You wish it would never pop up when you hear that song. Or visit that restaurant. Or smell that smell or see that movie. You wish you could go back to the time before it ever happened because the reminder is so deeply painful.

I was recently meeting with someone who had been deeply sinned against. He had been hurt by someone else, and he made the statement, “I just wish I could forget that this ever happened.”

Maybe you’ve said something like that.

You wish you could forget

  • that relationship
  • what she did to you
  • how he treated you.
  • when your dad left.
  • when you failed at ___.
  • when you quit ______.
  • the pain of divorce.
  • when you started your addiction.
  • when he hit you.
  • when you got fired.
  • when you had to ask my kids to forgive me.
  • the time he sinned against you.
  • the time he sinned against you again.
  • the time he sinned against you again and again.

It would be easier to just forget this pain, wouldn’t it?

But remembering the pain of someone hurting you allows you to love them in a way you couldn’t otherwise. It gives you the chance to offer grace where it is not deserved. Forgiveness where it hasn’t been earned. And it encourages you to seek God in a way you wouldn’t otherwise, being forced to lean on Him for support in a fuller way than you may have without the pain.

God doesn’t let us fully forget. Because by leaning more fully on God, and offering more grace, love, and forgiveness, we become more like Jesus.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. – the Apostle Paul, Romans 8:28-29


 

Preschoolers’ version of Christmas

How do preschoolers tell the Christmas story?

My church sat down with some recently.

I think you’ll enjoy their…retelling.

A Kids’ History of Christmas from Long Hollow Creative on Vimeo.


 
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