13 November

Hope in the Christmas Story of Jesus

I don’t know about you, but if you’re not careful, Thanksgiving comes, and the Christmas crush is on. And it does just that. It crushes us with the busyness and the stress and all that we’ve got to get done and check off our list. Then, all of a sudden, the whole thing is over, and we’ve missed the miracle that is Christmas.

And that’s why I want to help us rediscover the rhythm of Advent. Advent, at its core is about waiting. Specifically, it’s about waiting in expectation, and remembering that God comes through on his promises.

You might be in a part of the story right now where you can’t see how all the pieces are coming together, God’s working right now amid the waiting. While you’re waiting on God, God is working his plan in your life.

I love how in the Christmas story, Luke says that the shepherds were out in the field and suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest in on earth, peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

Isn’t that interesting? Here they are in the middle of a normal life, taking care of their flock. And suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appears.

But when you think about it, this suddenly wasn’t all that sudden. We see a promise of a savior for the entire story of Scripture. Starting in Genesis 3 we see God is making a way for our sins to be forgiven.

Moses talked about a prophet who was going to come later. David talked about a king who would come. Isaiah talked about a suffering servant who would come and bear the sins of mankind. But then the Old Testament story ends and there are 400 years where there’s no recorded message, no recorded word from heaven, no prophet, nothing but silence from heaven.

I don’t know what season of waiting that you’re in right now, but 400 years is a long time to wait. And generation after generation after generation, there’s a promise, but they can’t see any progress. There’s a promise, but they can’t see how God is working. And I have a feeling that a lot of us today are in that very same place.

And what I want you to know is there’s a suddenly coming in your story, just like there was in the story of the birth of Jesus.

I don’t know what you’re waiting on today, I would guess someone is waiting on a loved one to decide to come back home. Someone is waiting on a pregnancy that they prayed for so long. Someone’s waiting for a job to come through. Or maybe someone is waiting on clarity. “What am I supposed to be doing with my life?” You’re waiting on a doctor’s report or a test result or some other miracle that you’re hoping for and leaning towards in your life.

God comes through on His promises. And He’s going to come through on the promises that He’s made for you. These are not glib little slogans for the world, happy little slogans like, you know, God works while we wait.

God speaks into this moment in the in the backdrop in the framework of Christmas morning saying there’s going to be a suddenly in your story.

After centuries of nothing, Jesus Christ himself, the Son of God and human flesh cried in a manger to say that waiting is over and suddenly we can see what God has seen all along.

I believe that most of the time he’s looking at me and he’s like, “I already know how the story’s going to end. I already know how ultimately things are going to play out.”

The very end of our story is Revelation 21. When John sees a new heaven and a new earth coming down and sees that God is in the midst of it. John hears the voice of the One who sits on the throne, who says there can be no more tears and no more sorrow and no more pain and no more death. Because the old things have passed away and the new things have come.

This is the ultimate future we’re waiting for. But in your specific story today, God sees all of it and he knows in which frame the redemption is suddenly going to appear and He knows exactly how it’s all going to resolve for your good and for his glory. That doesn’t mean that everybody gets a bow at the end of their story. It just means that God’s working in every story for a purpose this greater than you and I can see and understand.

I would guess that you don’t like to wait. I know I don’t. We are raised waiting. Waiting for Christmas, for birthdays, for summer vacation. Waiting to go to high school, to leave high school, to grow up. And even as adults we still don’t want to wait 5 seconds for anything, but God puts us in situations often where his full plan is being unfolded in a way that we can’t totally see and comprehend.

So today, take hope in the Christmas story of Jesus. Be encouraged that God is working in your story, that God does have a bigger plan than you can see or understand today. Then even if you feel like you’re stuck in centuries of nothing, no word, no profit, no voice from God that you have enough to bank on today based on the very thing we’re celebrating in this season.

Know that God isn’t going to leave you hanging this time. Just like He didn’t leave humanity hanging on the day that Christ was born in the waiting. Today God is working.

So, what’s a good step that you and I can take this Advent season where we’re beginning this journey of waiting with expectation?

I think it’s just to pray that to God. “God, I can’t see it, but I still believe you’re working. I can’t understand how it’s all playing out right now, but I don’t have to see it all to believe that you still have a plan for me. And so today in the waiting, I choose to praise you. Today in the waiting, I choose to put my hope in you.

“And I know that if I trust and if I hope in you, I will not be disappointed. Because you always are working in the waiting.”

A season overflowing with anticipation, Christmas comes the same time each year with great hope and promise of a baby born long ago. But this season meant for joy is often consumed by busyness, pressure, mixed emotions, and is gone as quickly as it came.

What is it all for?

In this four session study, pastor Louie Giglio reminds us that it’s in the richness of Advent – a season of expectant waiting and preparation – that we find our answer. And it is throughout this waiting season that we prepare our hearts to greet December 25th with joy, peace, hope, and refreshed promise in our newborn King.

Learn more about Waiting Here for You by Louie Giglio and click here.

17 October

7 Things that Happen in a Good Small Group by Henry Cloud and John Townsend

One truth that has emerged from small groups is that there is no one right way to do small groups. Just as there are many mansions in God’s house, so there are many different needs in God’s body, the church, and today we are much more able to find a group somewhere that is designed to meet those needs.
God has placed many different gifts in his people to meet those needs. Indeed, we are a Body. In his grand design we exercise those gifts with each other and help each other grow. The small group is one of the best ways for this to happen. So it is no surprise that churches desire to connect people in small groups.
Also, the local church has varying degrees of commitment to a small group program. For some, it is an add-on program, an option, or a part of what they offer. For others, the groups are integrated with the church’s mission and designed to deepen the life past what happens in a weekly service. For still others, the small group is not a part of what they do, it is what they do.
But no matter what the style, topic, or emphasis, there are specific tasks that effective small groups perform to produce the best growth. Understanding these tasks will help you as the leader to choose the activities and attitudes that promote the most growth during the group time.

1. A Second Family

An important aspect of any growth-producing group is that it provides a context for members to reexperience whatever they missed in life the first time around. Groups are like a second family for people. Whatever needs their original families or environments did not provide, or whatever they provided that the person did not need, the group restores and repairs. It is a second chance. Like little children, members should come with immaturities and needs, and the group helps them move to the next stage. Groups of people working like that repairing family are a large part of God’s process of maturing us: “God sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6).

2. Connection

Groups connect. That is, they bring people together on a personal and heart-based level. Connection is the basis of any good work in a group. For a few minutes every week or so, members receive the experience of being attached, loved, and in relationship with likeminded people. Connection, far more than the information dispensed, keeps people coming to group. When people feel attached, they become much more invested in the process, and their hearts become more open to God, growth, and each other. As Paul entreated his friends, “As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also” (2 Corinthians 6:13).

3. Discipline and Structure

You will always see an element of discipline and structure in a good group. Though the group is based on a foundation of grace and acceptance, it also requires order and responsibility through clear expectations about members’ attendance, involvement, and participation. Good groups use discipline and structure to protect the time, the process, and the members from disruption. They understand that safety only comes when things are somewhat predictable and when people know that out-of-control behavior, for example, will be confronted and addressed. This is not about being mean, harsh, or punitive. It is about helpgin the group function as it should.

4. Prayer

Prayer can be one of the small group’s most powerful tools for growth. God designed prayer as a way for people to connect with him for all the blessings of life. When we are present in groups in his name, Jesus is there, too: “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). Coming together for prayer in small groups connects people with God and each other. Corporate prayer brings people together in their faith and love for God and in their dependence on him and each other. It draws us close, vertically, and horizontally.

5. Forgiveness

Healthy groups powerfully administer grace and forgiveness, the foundation from which all growth and healing stems. Good groups are based on, and are full of, grace and forgiveness. There really can be no lasting life change without these ingredients. Grace speaks to our weakness and inability, forgiveness to our many failures. Weakness, inability, and failure are the main reasons we need group, so that we may be strengthened in many areas of life. Without grace and forgiveness, the truth cannot come out. Make grace and forgiveness evident in every meeting. As we receive these gifts, so should we administer them to one another.

6. Support and Strengthening

Support and strengthening indicate that a group is doing the right things. When members become weak or discouraged, groups can help them become stronger and better able to handle life. Groups take our weakness and transform it into strength. People who can admit their weakness can also receive the strength the group offers, while those who must stay strong miss this blessing: “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). As people begin to open up in group—whether about faith, relationship struggle, or a personal battle—they bring up things they simply don’t have the strength or courage to tackle, handle, or even face. These are the substance of group work, as they require group intervention and strengthening.

7. Discipleship

The term disciple means pupil or learner. In the Old Testament it also refers to one who is accustomed to something. These definitions describe well a significant part of what groups do in their members’ lives. That is, groups help individuals become learners of God’s ways by getting them accustomed, or acclimated, to righteous ways of living and relating. Groups model and teach one another by word and by experience that the things important to God work best for us. They help members experience the freedom that comes with being honest and taking ownership over their lives. Discipleship happens because the great laws are not only true, but work in profound ways in the group and in a member’s life.

A great Bible study to consider for your group that helps in benefit 7 above, is Rick Warren’s Created to Dream. In this 6-session video Bible Study, Rick Warren reveals how God uses six phases to develop your spiritual maturity while fulfilling the dreams God gives you. A great dream is a statement of faith. Whether you dream of creating something beautiful or accomplishing something incredible, your dream is the first step God uses to develop your spiritual maturity and change your life. The Bible is full of stories of people whose God-given dreams became reality—but to get there, they had to take a journey of faith.

Learn more about Created to Dream here.