They’ve Asked Me to Be a Small Group Leader in Children’s Ministry.
What do I do?
Written by Jeff Smith
Small Groups. It’s the building block of all `ministry. You are creating an emerging community. In children’s ministry the large group/small group model has made its way into all types of macro and micro programming. I recently had the opportunity to speak at a church that was changing their kid’s church model to a large group/small group model. I googled the subject to find a list of bullet points for teacher training and leadership development. But mostly, I didn’t find anything that fit the bill for this particular church. So, I decided to develop my own outline and share this resource on my blog.
This is an acronym base on the word of Dallas Willard, as far as I can tell. It outlines transformative ways to engage with God. It stands for:
MEANS. ( I sometimes substitute the word methodology here.)
To begin with, changing to a small group model involves two primary paradigm shifts. The first is spectator or volunteer to pastor. The second is a shift from teacher to storyteller. In my presentation this morning, I spent the first two hours on the latter subject. That material can be more than adequately covered in my book, “RIVET: Making Your Message Stick”. It is about engagement for effective communication. The ideas in that book are tried and true and very helpful if you want to be a better communicator.
I would like to use the VIM acronym to discuss the paradigm shift from spectator to pastor. Pastor? Does that sound intimidating? I’m not sure how you’re recruiting your small group leaders, but they need to know that their primary function as a small group leader becomes pastoral. So, we start with vision.
How do you see yourself in this role? Proverbs 20:19 says, “Without a vision, people perish”. If you can’t see yourself in an active role in a child’s spiritual formation, you’re not suited to be a small group leader. First of all, you’re working with a demographic that has the greatest opportunity for receiving Christ.
For years, church leaders have heard the claim that nearly nine out of ten Christians accept Jesus as their savior before the age of 18. If that statistic was accurate in the past, it no longer depicts U.S. society. The current Barna study indicates that nearly half of all Americans who accept Jesus Christ as their savior do so before reaching the age of 13 (43%), and that two out of three born again Christians (64%) made that commitment to Christ before their 18th birthday. One out of eight born again people (13%) made their profession of faith while 18 to 21 years old. Less than one out of every four born again Christians (23%) embraced Christ after their twenty-first birthday. Barna noted that these figures are consistent with similar studies it has conducted during the past twenty years.
Ecclesiastes 12:1 says, “Remember God when you are young.” That sentence was written by a guy who wanted to tell everyone after him that you don’t have to get hit by a Mack Truck to know that it hurts, right? The School of Hard Knocks is people that want to learn the Hard Way. You have a chance to bring them into the Kingdom of God at an early age. You need to see yourself as being life-giving and vital in that process.
What are you here for? Let me introduce you to an idiom I’ve heard. THIS is not about THIS. That’s not easy to explain in a blog like this. The short answer is that you may think you’re presenting a lesson in a small group, but what you’re really doing is building relationships. This is your new mantra: Ministry is relationships, relationships, relationships. So be prepared to communicate a lesson but be intent on building relationships.
I had a friend in ministry who was called to rebuild an ark. Not any ark. Noah’s Ark. It would be a sign of God’s return. He called his church “God’s Ark of Safety.” He actually built a part of the frame along the highway outside of Frostburg, MD. It was an amazing story. However, Ken Hamm came along and beat him to the punch. (The Ark Encounter in Williamstown, KY, is a powerful experience and visual replica of that edifice.) The Lord told my pastor friend to build the church and he would build the ark. That’s what he was faithful to do. He reached many with the Gospel using the ark as sanctified bait. I’ve not spoken with him about how he feels regarding the ark. But THIS was never about THIS. Do you see? Relating the Bible lesson may not be the primary reason you are there. As a pastor, you are building an emerging community and developing relationship. No one cares what you know until they know that you care. That includes kids. They are very intuitive. These relational platforms will be the place of your ministry to these kids.
Finally, you have the meat of your outline. What is your methodology? Means will be provided for by the Children’s Pastors or kid worship teams. They will give you curriculum, space, supplies, etc. But how will you go about building these communities that you will pastor?
Let’s start with your greeting. I assume that most small groups will be age specific. The church I was working with called their small groups, ‘huddles’. It reminded me of teams. So perhaps you could have a team mascot? Your group could be the Wolverines? You might have a group cheer that you start or end small group time. What about first contact? Make your greeting unique. Learn names as quickly as possible. The next thing you may want to learn is love languages. Be strategic in your initial contact by better understanding a child’s love language. I know it’s a lot of work. But, it will pay huge dividends.
· words of affirmation,
· quality time,
· receiving gifts,
· acts of service,
· physical touch.
Generally, the large group time will be first, right? Use this time to watch. Hopefully, the children’s pastors or ministry leaders will lead worship. This is not your personal worship time. You do that somewhere else. A pastor does not use worship for their personal worship. Worship is the litmus test of a person’s spiritual condition. This period of service is your BEST opportunity to gauge where your kids are that day: emotionally, spiritually, physically, etc. Take note. Again, I have a great resource on this subject called “Points for Praise”. It’s on the subject matter of children and worship. My grandpa was a farmer. His old adage, “You got to make hay while the sun is shining” is relevant here.
Let’s assume that worship is followed by offering and then it’s small group time. Huddle time. Tribes. Pods. Camps. Classes. Schools.
Again, this short article is not about the communication component of small groups. It’s about the relational component. It’s not a small person. It’s a small group. It’s a community. There is much to learn about managing community.
First of all, it’s messy. People in groups are messy.
One child won’t speak or engage. The next one hijacks every conversation. Another, talks while you’re talking. Only one will pray aloud. Everyone is so self-conscience; especially the older grades. “He’s touching me.” Did I mention you also need to be a social worker, psychologist, doctor, policeman…Yikes.
These are typical small-group issues, and you will face them at some point if you haven't already. Here are some steps for addressing these types of small-group problems:
• Pray. Don't use prayer as a last resort; stay on offense with prayer. You’re talking to the Divine Creator of the Universe. He’s still the Smartest Person in the Room.
• Address the issue first with the person individually. Be natural and seek to understand from their perspective. Make "observations" instead of accusations. For instance, "I've noticed that you don't comment much in the discussion. Is there something we can do to make it easier for you to engage the topic?"
• Be creative. This is especially helpful for the person skipping down rabbit trails. Come up with a time limit, a hand signal, or some other means to help them stay on track. You can actually make this fun and not burdensome. Jim Carrey is not my favorite actor (anymore). But his teacher saw a raw talent. Instead of trying to squelch it, she offered him ‘stand up’ time at the end of every class, if he would be quiet and behaved the rest of the time. It worked.
• Be patient. None of these problems will kill your group, and taking the time to allow them to be solved naturally will create a culture where community can emerge.
As a matter of fact, there is only one behavioral problem that I would like to address here. REBELLION. Sin is attractive. Can a bad apple spoil the whole bunch? I know Jesus went after the one lost sheep and left the other 99….somewhere. But, that’s not a winning strategy in small group leadership. You have to consider the group first. Rebellion is an attitude. It’s not necessarily behavioral. It’s a hard heart. It says, “I won’t and you can’t make me.” It must be broken for the sake of the individual and the group. It requires discernment. It must be handled deftly and within rules laid out by the leadership. Here’s how I used to handle it as a children’s pastor.
First of all, I always framed the issue in terms of rebellion. For example, “If you push Joe again, I will set you outside the group (until you’re ready to be a part of the community/group within our rules.) My kid’s church was called “Tabernacle”. I did a lot of teaching within that construct of how God dealt with “sin in the camp” as told through stories in Numbers and Deuteronomy. God’s presence can not abide where sin resides. This is true on every level. Framing an issue this way was always my last resort. See the story of Achan in Joshua 7-9. But once I said it, I meant it. How many times have you been in public and heard a parent say to a child, “If you do that one more time, you’re going to get a spanking.” It makes me cringe. Not because of the punishment, but because when that action happens again, stated punishment is not carried out. Rebellion has no consequence. That is NOT a spiritual reality.
Once framed, I would set the person outside the group, alone in a separate area of the space. The only acceptable response to rebellion is a contrite heart; repentance. Once that repentance occurred they were welcomed back into the community without fanfare and with open arms.
There are some other tools and ideas you can use in managing your small group of children.
I’m not saying that your “successful” if your kids answer both of those questions well. But it doesn’t hurt.
If you’re taking the time to read this and feeling overwhelmed already, then I’ve misinformed you. “Greater is He who is in YOU than HE that is in the small group” The work is dwarfed by the rewards, and there are many. To include that most sought after commendations, “Well done good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21)
(All of my books referenced in this blog are available on my website at www.saltandlightmin.org)
 Barna, G. (2004, October). Evangelism Is Most Effective Among Kids. Barna. https://www.barna.com/research/evangelism-is-most-ffective-among-kids/
 Gary Chapman, Ross Campbell, The Five Love Languages of Children (Chicago: Norfield Publishing, 2016).
It’s Super Bowl night. While the world watches a temporal game, we continue to focus on eternal things; things that matter for ever.
As I was considering this, I’m reminded about the nature of faith and how it plays into who we are as sojourners and aliens in this world.
Faith is the essence of things hoped for and the promise d0 things unseen. It’s not science for that very reason. It is not things that are observable or about things which we can see. Yet they are things that are certainly more important than a game that is the most highly watched event on television.
Hebrews tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God.
I recently did study of the Gospels and how Jesus commended faith. I found that the spectrum went from “No faith” to “Some faith” to “Faith” to “Faith that was great” to “Great Faith.” I wondered who fit into each of these categories and how did Jesus seem to assign the various levels of faith.
So, who wins the Super Bowl of Faith in the Gospels? In the “No Faith” category we have:
In the “Little faith” category, we have:
The phrase for ‘little faith’ is Oligopistos (Trusting little; lacking faith). Interesting that so far, the faith losers have included the man whose confession of faith would be the foundation of the church and the disciples whose faith would change the world. This says something important about faith, in general. It’s not about the amount of faith you have (although more is better); it’s about the subject of that faith. “If you have the faith of a mustard seed…”
Then, there are those commended for their faith. My definition of faith is “Move and God will meet you there.” I like that. It requires that we do something to demonstrate faith. Miracles worked this way in the Bible. All things spiritual work this way. Again, remember that faith without works is dead.
The word used for faith in the New Testament is Pistis/Pestice: It means a conviction of truth, moral convictions, or beliefs. In every one of these cases, the person had to do something, maybe even something out of the ordinary, in order to show faith and for the healing to occur.
But the winners of the Faith Super Bowl in the Gospels are two of the most unlikely characters you would find. In one case, Jesus calls their faith ‘great’. In other he refers to ‘great faith’.
Matthew 15 tells the story of a Gentile woman whose daughter had a demon. She begged Jesus to heal her. The disciples try to silence her and chase her away. Even Jesus brushed her off. But the woman would not be turned away. She was desperate and she knew that Jesus had the power to heal her daughter. She may have not known all the answers, but she did have GREAT FAITH. The Greek word is “megas”. When Jesus tells her that it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs, she is undeterred. I’ll bet her response was instantaneous. “But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the masters table.” WOW. She didn’t argue. She stated the truth and it showed humility and great understanding and Jesus saw in that moment that her faith was certainly great. It was great enough to be noticed by the Author and Perfecter of Faith himself. THAT is quite a commendation,.
But the winner of Super Bowl of Faith was even more unlikely. He was a Gentile. He was a Roman. He was a Centurion. Enemy. Enemy. Enemy. Matthew 8: 15-13 is worth your time to read again. I believe this specific Centurion was sympathetic to the Jews. I believe he understood Jesus’ claim as being the Messiah. But what he understood the best was authority. He knew the nature of it and how it worked. He explained it in his response. The Bible says that Jesus was amazed by his faith. “I have never found such GREAT FAITH in all of Israel.” Not among the chosen people. Not among the learned of those people. Not among his followers. Not among his family, neighbors or friends. This man was UNRELATED. Yet, he understood faith and exercised its power because he recognized authority. BINGO. The modifier for faith used here is “Tosotos” and means, ‘so many, so much, so great’.
So, we see in the New Testament, varying degrees of faith being exercised. The go from no faith to great faith and in between. It begs the question: What must I do to have more faith?” The disciples asked Jesus to ‘increase our faith!”
Here’s my Super Response to increasing your faith!
A. Know the game:
It's important. It's not a game at all. Why do you think we do what we do and call it faith? It's the air we breath in the spirit realm. Oh, And I know who wins!
Abraham and the Great
by Jeff Smith
I am God
God I Am
And I rename you Abraham
I like that name
God I am
I like the name of Abraham
Would you like
to covenant with me, I AM
And I will make your family tree
A holy nation unto me
I would like that
God I AM
To bless the seed of Abraham
I would like it for my tree
I would like it just for me.
Would you like your family
To be like kings and royalty?
Would you like them to be crowned?
Would you like their names renowned?
I would like that
God I Am
All the seed of Abraham
I would like my family
To be kings and royalty
I would like them to be crowned
I would like their names renowned
Oh, I would like it very much
All that royalty and such.
Well would you like it Abraham
If you could own all of this land?
All the land around you now
Over there to yonder cow
Over there to farthest knoll
Or up there to that canyon hole?
You see that groundhog near that tree
That would be your property
Everything the sun hits low
The animals and plants that grow
OH I would like that God I AM
If all of it was Abrahams
All the land around me now
As far as yonder spotted cow
Or over there to farthest knoll
I’ve got relatives down in that hole
Or where the groundhog burrows down
I won’t evict him from my town
I’ll sit and watch the sun set low
And know I own it all below.
We’ll sit and eat our bread and jam
Sarai and her Abraham
Oh Sarai! That will never do
We’ll change her name to something new
We’ll call her Sarah, Abraham
She’ll be the mother of your fam.
Do you like it Abraham?
The name that’s given by I AM
Oh, I like it. Yes. I do. I do.
I like the name that comes from YOU.
I’ll say it by the yonder cow
I’ll say it over my land now.
I’ll say it when on farthest knoll
It echoes down the canyon hole
I’ll say so the groundhog knows
Whether up above or down below
I’ll say it when the sun arises
I’ll say it loud so it surprises
I’ll say it when we have our jam
Sarah and her Abraham.
Then one more thing, old Abraham
Just need to mention ‘fore I scram.
You will need to have a son
To carry on when you are done.
I will do that Abraham
Because I am a GREAT I AM
A boy to play around your feet
You’ll need to add another seat
For when you eat your bread and jam
Isaac, Sarah, and Abraham.
Would you like that Abraham?
To have a son to share your jam?
OH. I would like that most of all.
To have my own son grow up tall?
We could milk the spotted cow
And ride the camels to the brow
And take a hike to farthest knoll
And throw rocks at the creek below
And chase the groundhog when it rises
And watch the sunsets and sunrises
And we could have green eggs and ham
When we eat our bread and jam
That would be the best, I AM
A son for this old Abraham.
But I’m afraid it’s past the time
To speak of things in children’s rhyme
We’re much too old I fear, I AM
We’d make a better Gramp and Gram.
It’s almost laughable to say
Sarah’s son is on the way
We couldn’t even do the laundry
Being old is quite a quandry.
THEN the GREAT IAM he thundered:
Would you like it ABRAHAM
To be reminded WHO I AM.
I’m the one who made the cow
And camels and the camel’s brow
The farthest knoll? Well you should know
I made it many years ago.
That sound you heard? The splash of rock?
I made it on a morning walk
To see the groundhog in the hole,
The canyon like a mixing bowl
The sunrise and the sunsets too
I even made the sky for you
And I made you Oh Abraham
Because I am the Great I AM
And I can make green eggs and ham
And bread and jam and Abraham
I can make for you a son
And now the conversations done
So be it in a year from now
You’ll take that walk to see the cow
So do you like that Abraham?
Well, could I call him Sam? I AM?
His name is Isaac, Abraham.
Got it. Thank you God the Great I AM.
(The following article was written as a response to an email from my friend, Kurt Jarvis, who was making a anthology of mission reflections and asked for contributions from friends.)
2015 and I had been asked to return to South Africa for a children’s ministry conference hosted by Ivangeli and my dear friend, Lisa Ekman. Lisa and her husband, Colin have been some of the “treasures in the fields” that I’ve discovered in 32 years of full time ministry.
However, in the beginning of that year, I started to experience a debilitating illness that put me at the crossroads of a breakdown. It was something I had never experienced before and was harrowing because I didn’t understand it or what was happening to me. After a few months of a severe depression, I finally went to a doctor. (I have no idea why no one suggested that to me or why I didn’t think that the problem might be physical.) The practicing physician took one look at me and told me I was having panic attacks. I sat there in shock. Anyone who has ever known me would be surprised to hear that I was struggling with any type of anxiety. Anxiety? Me?
It turns out to have been a simple case of chemical imbalance. Actually, it was simple enough that a small dosage of medicine took care of it almost immediately. However, I would spend the next two years working through the spiritual side of the issue through counselling and discipleship. But, that is only the backdrop for my mission reflection.
About the time I went to the doctor, I was considering cancelling my mission trip to South Africa. It would have been a gross misjudgment to minister to anyone in my state, let alone travel to South Africa and work with 1500+ children’s pastors over two weeks. I don’t even remember the sequence of events, but I can tell you they were extraordinary. God foiled every plan I had to cancel and at the last minute, I found myself on a plane to South Africa clutching on to my little bottle of medication and the faith I had built up in a miracle-working God over all those years.
He didn’t disappoint.
Although I didn’t know if it would, the medicine kept everything intact. But the miracle was how God used so many people in South Africa to minister to me. Colin and Lisa were brilliant and spoke to my soul at every level. I actually went away with Colin on a mini-retreat between conferences and he ministered to me as an angel of God in the desert. THREE (3) different missionaries that I worked with at the conferences were led to speak the same verse to me without necessarily knowing the extent of my story.
Psalm 37:25, “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.”
THREE. They were arrows that directly hit their mark.
Without any assurances, God put me on a plane and asked me to trust him in South Africa so that He could turn me around and set my feet on solid ground. Not only was it the beginning of my healing, it was the beginning of a five year journey that has led me deeper into a relationship with the person of Jesus Christ.
Missions. I trust God will use you as part of his plan to reach others. But I KNOW that you will be changed by trusting God in outreach.
Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please God.”
I would have been Peter. Remember when they were all on the boat and Jesus said, “Come”? I would have been Peter. The others would have thought of all the reasons why not and I would have said “Why not?”. I would have walked on water that day….and almost drowned. But, I would have walked on water.
Of course, the difference between faith and foolishness is obedience to the command of Christ. That was the case in Matthew 14. Until the moment when Jesus said the word, it would have been ridiculous to think you could walk on water, right? But once Jesus said the word, “COME”, all bets were off. Practical and Pragmatic made way for Phenomenal.
I can talk like this because I have lived that life. At almost every juncture in the road, I took the path less traveled; the one that required more faith. Almost everyone advised me not to do it. But here I am. There are NO regrets.
So, I’m used to looking at things through a different prism; things like COVID-19. I’ll start by saying that I agree with everything we’re being TOLD to do. How could you argue safe practices and social distancing in times like these? And yet, there is something hiding in the shadows.
Most people are going to talk about this pandemic in terms of the natural. They’re going to talk about it ad-nauseum. I turned off the TV weeks ago. But what is going on in the supernatural? I’ve been trying to listen to God’s Spirit without the noise of the world in the background. I’ve talked to a lot of people. Everyone has an opinion. But what is The Spirit saying?
I don’t know.
But here’s what I sense:
Governments in the West shut down the churches without a whimper from them. We are quite “non-essential”. However, the ABC stores are still open in Virginia. Oddly enough, AA can’t hold their meetings anymore, but we can get liquor. We can also get an abortion because that's not elective surgery? Meanwhile, churches around the world meet in homes where it’s illegal to gather in the name of Christ. They are underground, you see. And they face the threat of death every time they gather together. There are more martyrs in the 20th Century than through all history. Who haunts them? Governments. By the way, their faith is on FIRE. Churches in Iraq, Iran, China, and Africa are growing like wild-FIRE. They’re alive.
Our faith is NOT on fire. That may be one of the many reasons that people are leaving organized religions here in droves. We are the Church at Laodicea. This is Jesus’ response to that last days’ church in Revelation 3:15-18:
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
Christians have been dancing around words like practical, cautious, responsible, safe, etc. Just look at that list of words. Does it reflect ANYTHING of the person of JESUS CHRIST and his bride, THE CHURCH? I think (?) that the Spirit of God may be using COVID-19 as a mirror to show us that we are deceived. “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” (Rev 3:22)
Social graces require that there are three things never to be discussed in polite company: Politics, religion, and money.
All my life, I have never been one to discuss politics. Mostly, I have been not been interested. As I have gotten older, I am at least more aware and better prepared to discuss politics, if cornered. Still, my peace-keeping personality generally shies away from bringing up subjects with political themes.
Politics are supposed to be about ideologies; their built around how you see the world. Isn’t everything? I see the world through a Judeo-Christian worldview. That means, I understand things through the way I’ve been taught to understand the Bible. Interestingly enough, the Bible is also given to many different interpretations. It has always amazed me that a Supreme Court that evaluates everything based on one document (The Constitution) is generally split 5-4. Aren’t they all looking at the same document? The Bible is like that. Aren’t we all reading the same book? And yet, we have hundreds of Christian denominations.
So, I understand that my worldview is MY worldview and I admit that I could be wrong on certain topics. Somebody has to be! We can’t all be right. However, we all have convictions. These aren’t preferences. These are my convictions. Based on my worldview, I believe abortion is wrong. I believe we need to stand with Israel because they are God’s chosen people. I believe traditional marriage is between a man and a woman. I believe in eternity and the only way to get there is through the person of Jesus Christ. In my lifetime, these beliefs that were once mainstream have become marginalized and even now are considered dangerous. The Bible spawns ‘hate speech’. At this is mostly because it makes my view look different than yours. Narrow-mindedness? Please.
The Democrats took the name “God” out of their party platform in 2012. When they tried to reinstate it in 2016, it elicited boos and controversy. Apparantly the separation of church and state, which was an integral part of the founding of our country, now has a new meaning. They have left God out altogether. At least, they have left the God of my Judeo-Christian worldview behind.
Today, the political fight is not about ideology. It is about light versus darkness. It’s a stark struggle between good and evil. Donald Trump is not the enemy. Our enemy is not flesh and blood, but the rulers, authorities, the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Jesus, a man who came for the good of the world, was crucified by the religious and political leaders of his day. While Donald Trump is no Jesus, he is light to a dark world and the darkness can not abide it. They are trying to crucify him also.
The reason I can no longer be silent about politics is that it’s now overtly spiritual. Christians, or at least those who share the Judeo-Christian worldview of the traditional evangelical community can no longer be silent. I know I won’t win friends this way. I know I’ll lose family relationships, but to be silent while babies are being murdered for body parts when they are still in the womb is unthinkable anymore.
As David Platt says in his book “Counter Culture”, every Christian can do three things:
Not every Republican is good and not every Democratic is bad. But the battle lines of spiritual warfare have been drawn between light and darkness. I’ve waited long enough. I’m in.
It's been almost a year since our dog, Stryder, died. Like all families, we can say he was the perfect pet and miss him all the time. I put together a few words together to share with my family when we buried him and thought it might be a helpful document for anyone who needs words to share during the loss of family pet:
But however and whenever we part from one another, I am sure we shall none of us forget poor Tiny Tim—shall we—or this first parting that there was among us?"
Death is a part of life. Learning to face it and deal with it is as much a part of life as breathing.
· “The risk of love is loss and the price of loss is grief. But the pain of grief is only a shadow when compared with the pain of never risking love.” –
And so we are grateful for ____________________. We remember the many ways he brought us LIFE and taught us more about the unconditional love of God in so many ways. I know the world would be a much better place if everyone learned the unconditional love of a dog. If they have a fault at all, it is that their lives are too short.
But we know that going in. We know the pain is coming, you’re going to lose a dog, and there’s going to be great anguish, so you live fully in the moment with him, never failing to share his joy or delight in his innocence, because you can’t support the illusion that a dog can be your lifelong companion. There’s such beauty in the hard honesty of that, in accepting and giving love while always aware that it comes with an unbearable price.”
So, we never really owned _________________. We had him on a lease. I’m thankful that the lease was this long.
And so as we bury_________________ in the ground today, I know that his final resting place is in our hearts and will be there, truly, forever.
We shall never forget this first parting among us or our faithful family friend, __________________
1 Corinthians 13: 4-8
Prayer: You are our comfort God. As we mourn the loss of our pet, ______________ I pray that you would help us to be brave; to face the days ahead without him. Thank you for giving him to us, this little leap in my spirit who brought us so much joy and so much happiness. In many ways, he was the embodiment of you in the life. He taught us and showed us love. For his life forever tied to ours, we are grateful.
Matthew 7: 28,29, “When Jesus had finished saying these things (The Sermon on the Mount), the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”
What is a believer’s authority? Where did it come from and what is it for?
The Greek word used in Matthew 7 is Exousia. It is a derivative of the word, exesti. The two words used together combine the idea of right and might. It includes permission, authority, right, liberty power to do anything. It is used other places in Matthew, all of which connotate authority and power. Matt 7:29; 8:9; 9:6, 8; 10:1; 21: 23, 24, 27; 28: 18. It appears in the gospels 40 times; the New Testament 87 times and more times in Revelation than any other book of the Bible (18).
Our best understanding of authority comes in the form of our military. It is an organized, structured environment that is predicated on authority from the top to the bottom. The mission is key and everyone in the chain of command is committed to the accomplishment of that goal.
In Luke 7 a military man (Roman Centurion) asks Jesus to come and heal his servant. On the way, the centurion sends a servant to say that he is unworthy to have Jesus in his home. “But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set 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.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
The Roman military was a well-oiled machine. The centurion would have been responsible for about 100 soldiers. He is a man who had authority and was under authority and he understood the implications of both. His response enlisted Jesus’ amazement. That’s noteworthy. In his response, Jesus connects the man’s understanding of authority to faith. Obviously then, understanding the nature of authority is important to our faith.
You see, the supernatural world has laws just like the natural world. Gravity is a law of nature. The law of sowing and reaping is a spiritual law. “What a man sows, he will also reap”. (Gal 6:7) Authority is a spiritual law and the nature of the supernatural is built upon an order and structure where authority is delegated from top to bottom. This is true of both good and evil in the spiritual realm.
Jesus delegate authority to his disciples in Matthew 28 for the purpose of making more disciples. He also gave them authority over evil forces, sickness, and disease. All of Jesus’ disciples have this authority. But where did it originally come from? For what purpose?
In Genesis 1: 26-28, we are told that we were made in the image of God. That subject is a deep theological doctrine. But, in that same section, we are told to have dominion, rule over, and subdue all of creation. The Hebrew word for dominion or rule is “radah’. It’s a royal word. This is the dominating rule of a king.
From the beginning, we were created to reign. Of course, the consequences of sin made this job much more complicated and difficult. But God has been at work since then to restore ALL of His Creation to it’s proper order and the scenes in Revelation 2:26; 5:10; 20:6; 20:4; clearly show that is what we’ll end up doing.
I would go as far as to say that the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Protestant doctrine) was incorrect when it said that the primary purpose of man on earth is to bring God glory. I believe Scripture clearly shows that the primary purpose of man on earth is to rule and reign with Christ forever.
We will reign and rule over the angels. I would go as far as saying that the Westminster Shorter Catechism is wrong about the chief purpose of man being to glorify God. I would say it is to reign with him on high forever.
It is important to realize that this is no sideshow in the biblical story. Man’s ruling over creation on God’s behalf is a foundational and organizing reality of the biblical outlook on the world. One can get a hint of this from the consideration that as this is man’s task set out in the very first chapter of the Bible, so is it man’s climactic vocation in the very last chapter of the Bible—“They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5). Dominion over creation is man’s original task set out in Genesis 1, and reigning with Christ is his ultimate end, envisioned in Revelation 22. It is my contention therefore that Christian sanctification and discipleship is fundamentally a matter of training to reign.
Anyone who understands the nature of eternity and the supernatural will then understand that our most important task is to become more and more like Christ. That is what we call discipleship. God is trying to build up character in us that he can trust to do what he has equipped and empowered us to do not only in this life, but forever. He doesn’t want to do anything for us that we can do ourselves. (Great parenting advice.) And so, he gives us the example of Jesus, the power of His Holy Spirit and uses every day circumstances and situations to build that character in us. This is really the story of the Parable of Talents in Matthew 25: 14-30. The Judgement Seat of the Christ becomes that place of accountability where we are rewarded (or not) for our work on this earth and then given the corresponding places of honor (or dishonor) in the Kingdom of God where we will certainly exercise our gifts forever. Work is a holy thing and it will certainly continue forever. The notion of heaven being a 24/7 church service is only for those who are young in the faith or just immature.
And what is our authority given to us for? What is the purpose of our authority? In Matthew 10, Jesus calls his disciples together and sends them out with authority to accomplish the mission of healing every sickness and disease and driving out evil spirits. In Luke 10, he sends out 72 more. We aren’t given their ‘marching orders’, but we know it included driving out evil spirits because they returned saying “even the demons submit to us IN YOUR NAME.” In the life of Christ we also see that he had authority over nature and its elements.
We, as followers of Christ must learn to exercise our God-given authority. It is part of what the Holy Spirit is working in us as Christ-followers. Remember that Jesus has no rival and neither do you when you appropriate His authority in His name. Satan is NOT God’s equal. Everything is under Christ’s feet.
Last week, I spoke at a church about change. It's the new year and I wanted to encourage the believers that Christians must constantly seek transformation through intentional disciple. That's what we call 'discipleship'. As Eugene Peterson calls it, "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction".
Most people want to address the gospel as 'sin management'. But sincere followers of Christ are drawn to the beauty of walking with Christ every moment. The message of Jesus was, "Repent! For the Kingdom of God is at hand." The inference was NOW. Repent NOW. Change the way you're thinking, NOW. The Kingdom of God is available to you NOW. Those who never frame their life in view of eternity are satisfied with salvation being the start and end point of our Christian faith. But discipleship is the key to abundance and victory NOW. Why wait until you die to live eternally?
My Home Church just finished a study of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) with a message on verses 24-29, which talk about building your house on the ROCK. That was Jesus call to discipleship. If you are doers of the word and NOT JUST hearers, you can learn to live in the moment in light of eternity. Remember: THIS is not about THIS.
In his benchmark work, "The Divine Conspiracy" Dallas Willard talks about the elephant in the church is this very issue of discipleship. It's more and more evident as consumer Christianity creeps deeper into the psyche of brick and mortar buildings where money drives the train...and the training.
In Matthew 5, Jesus walks up to a man who has been lame for 38 years and asks the most unusual question, "Do you want to be healed?" Now, if it wasn't Jesus asking the question, I would think, "What a stupid question". But the fact that Jesus asks it is a revelation to us. Do YOU want to be healed? Do YOU want to live victorious? Do YOU want to have an abundant life here on this earth? Do you?
Discipleship won't work unless you do. You must DO something. God will NOT transform you into the image of Christ apart from you. Your part is practicing the disciplines necessary to bring change. That, with the work of the Holy Spirit and the every day issues of life, is all you need to start becoming a disciple of Jesus. But....do you WANT THAT?
Building your life on the ROCK means having the faith of Christ not just a faith in Christ. The latter will get you saved. Is that enough for you? Then your gospel is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. The good news is that you can be TRANSFORMED now.
Willard says that any curriculum for Christ-likeness must include the following two things:
It's four days until Christmas. One of the most needed messages during this time of the year is God is your PEACE. The stress and anxiety of gift giving, busy schedules, family dynamics, loss, grief and living make PEACE seem distant this time of year. But Isaiah 9:6 says that Jesus, the child in the manger, would be called a Prince of PEACE. All those who were touched by the Christmas story were promised peace. The angel told Zechariah, the shepherds, Mary, "Don't be afraid." The angel said that the announcement of Christmas would bring the blessing of peace in Luke 2:14.
Peace was prophesied. Peace was promised. Peace was provided.
So where is it now?
While Americans tend to be myopic when considering their experience, everyone's experience, there is no doubt that world peace seems impossible, which it is if you understand spiritual things from a biblical perspective.
Here's a newsflash: Global Peace Index 2018 says the world is less peaceful today than at any other time in the last decade. Here is the list of things you can do to bring world peace. (Try not to laugh)
1 Start by stamping out exclusion
2 Bring about true equality between women and men
3 Share out wealth fairly
4 Tackle climate change
5 Control arms sales
6 Display less hubris, make more policy change
7 Protect political space
8 Fix intergenerational relations
9 Build an integrated peace movement
10 Look within
Of course, none of these things will produce world peace because there's sin in the world and the Prince of this world is Satan.
The kingdom of God through the coming of Jesus Christ offers real and LASTING peace for anyone who lives in that kingdom (both now AND forever.) Jesus himself said that the peace he offers is NOT like the peace the world gives. (John 14: 27) The peace of the world plays on your fears. The peace of God requires your trust. They say there are 365 references in the Bible to not be afraid. That's one for each day. (Phil 4: 6-8; Isaiah 26:3,4; John 16:33; Rom 14:17 are just a few of my favorites.) Gideon first gave God the name "Shalom", which means peace in Judges 6 during a time of great fear and trouble in Israel. And God IS Peace. He is three persons who work together in total unity. There is never a lack of perfect harmony between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is always PEACE. The characteristic will be the mark of his kingdom and should be the mark of every follower who bears the name of Christ.
Peace comes from exercising faith in the character of God and His Word. We can have peace in the midst of challenges when we remember that “all things work together for the good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). It is not the absence of trouble any more than joy is the absence of sadness. It is all about being in the presence of God.
And so here is my recipe for PEACE this year. These are the things you can do to bring peace into your life...and it IS available NOW.
Recipe for Peace in your heart.
-Practice Presence. (Learn to walk with God ALL day)
-Grow a heart of thanksgiving.
-Intercede for others.
-Practice spiritual disciplines. (Col 3:5-14. This involves choosing life over death in your moment-to-moment choices.)
-Ruthlessly eliminate hurry.
-Keep your eyes on Jesus (Trust)
I actually wonder if people are interested in peace. It is available and they can have it. I believe the gifts of Christmas as celebrated during Advent: Hope; Joy; Peace are the marks that every Christian must bear if they are to shine in such a way as to attract others into the Kingdom of God.
The future kingdom of God will be peace-full. Isaiah 11:1-9 prophesies this place of perfect peace.
This Christmas, my prayer for you is the blessing of God in Romans 13:15 that brings all three of these Kingdom characteristics into one verse:
"May the God of HOPE fill you with all JOY and PEACE as you TRUST IN HIM, so that you may overflow with HOPE through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Come quickly Lord.