Small Groups: Actually Study the Bible

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I don’t have a neat graphic for you. I don’t even have anything particularly nice to say. Brace yourselves.

Small groups need to be about Bible study.

As in, you have to actually study the Bible.

Not the pastor’s sermon. Not a book. Not a video.

The Bible.

Let me be clear: I’m not talking about flopping your Bible open, pointing to a verse and deciding what it means. I am ALL FOR workbooks and commentaries and concordances and lexicons. I couldn’t understand the Bible without that stuff. What I’m talking about here is reading a book by a Christian author, discussing its contents and calling it good. That’s not Bible study. That’s a book club.

There’s nothing wrong with book clubs or sermon/video discussion, but don’t tell me or anyone else that you’re in a Bible study group (or leading a Bible study group) if that’s not what you’re doing. Can you belong to a book club? Sure. Is it okay to be involved with people who meet and discuss video teaching? Sure. But there has simply got to be space and time in your life when you’re cracking open those pages (even if they’re electronic…sigh). If that book club or video group takes up that space and time, as in you can’t fit Bible study into your schedule, then you’d best be ditching that and plugging in somewhere else.

Don’t tell me that Bible study is too hard. You have the Spirit of the Living God dwelling inside of you if you’re in Christ.

Don’t tell me that you’re can’t find a group. You and I both know that’s not true. If believers around the world can bravely face imprisonment or worse to meet together and soak in God’s word, then you can get off your butt and look through the church bulletin or website.

If you’re called to start a group, don’t tell me that you’re too scared to do it because there isn’t a single teacher out there worth his or her salt who isn’t terrified of screwing up.

Books are great. Videos are great.

God’s word? It’s in class by itself. It is alive and active (Hebrews 4:12). It comes directly from Him (2 Timothy 3:16). You can find yourself dying without it (Hosea 4:6). You’ll be deceived if you don’t know it (Colossians 2:8).

If you don’t care about any of that, if you don’t want to learn from God and fall more in love with Him, then, my friend, your priorities are all wrong. Don’t talk to me about how busy you are, because if you have time for Facebook or Netflix or getting your nails done or going hunting, then you sure as heck have time for Bible study. The fact is that it’s not about you not having time. It’s about not wanting to, and if that’s the state of your heart then you need to repent.

See? I told you I didn’t have anything nice to say.

Bible study matters. And since we’re rejecting the “just Jesus and me” thing, studying the Bible in a group setting matters. As the world grows ever-more wild, it is essential to come together to learn from the Lord. We must embrace His word. In so doing, we will be equipped for the spiritual battle that rages all around. Remember: Satan doesn’t play fair. There’s nothing he’d like more than to distract and isolate and then beat you up for giving in to the temptation to hide. So, fight! Don’t just go with the flow or do whatever you want! Get in Scripture. Find others who are going deep and pulling out the treasures.

We need to grow up, put on our big kid pants and do the thing.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the Small Groups miniseries, go here.

Photo Credit: Westside Church

Five Minute Friday: Cheer

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

What is this life sometimes? When pain and promise mingle in an exquisite bittersweetness?

I can’t make sense of it. Maybe I’m not supposed to. Maybe you aren’t, either. Maybe the tart and the sugar mixing together simply is. And meant to be embraced.

Kate says: cheer.

Go.

And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. …

But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. …

 Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord.For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. … 

Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.’ Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus. …

– Acts 436-37, 9:27, 11:22-26, 15:36-39 (NKJV)

I love Barnabas. I want to have a long conversation with him one day. I want to hear his stories. I want to know when he decided that encouragement was his life’s work. How he came to understand that he’d been supernaturally gifted to cheer on others. For while he doesn’t appear often in the Acts narrative, almost every time he does he’s pulling for the underdog. Championing the little guy. He even went so far as to separate from his best friend in order to give Mark one more chance.

That’s a guy I want to know.

That’s a person I want to be.

There’s enough criticism in the world, and not the constructive kind (which we all need). It’s the tear-you-down-to-prove-I’m-better kind. Barnabas wasn’t into that and we shouldn’t be, either. We don’t see him putting on airs or stepping on others or trying to be more and better than what he is. He recognized his call, knew his place, and stepped into it gladly.

I imagine that as Paul sat in that cold jail cell near the end of his life, his thoughts turned to Barnabas. Where would he be without the stranger quickly turned friend? What would have happened if he hadn’t cleared the way? Hadn’t convinced the apostles that Paul was the real deal? How would he have ministered in those first shaky days without Joses, the Son of Encouragement?

Of course Paul had been tasked with a special mission by God Himself, but all throughout his letters he expresses his love and thanks for his fellow believers. He needed them. He wasn’t ashamed to admit it, either. If the greatest missionary to ever live couldn’t do it alone, then certainly none of us can.

We never know how God might use us to impact and influence others. Let us resolve that the ways in which we touch people will be positive, full of grace and truth.

Let us cheer each other on.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)

Photo Credit: Evelyn Mostrom

Desiring Change

Far East Broadcasting Company @ blog.febc.org

Gentle Reader,

And so I insist—and God backs me up on this—that there be no going along with the crowd, the empty-headed, mindless crowd. They’ve refused for so long to deal with God that they’ve lost touch not only with God but with reality itself. They can’t think straight anymore. Feeling no pain, they let themselves go in sexual obsession, addicted to every sort of perversion.

But that’s no life for you. You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to Him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces His character in you.

– Ephesians 4:17-24 (MSG)

It doesn’t happen overnight. You make a choice here, a choice there. You linger a little longer than you should. You let yourself focus on what should be ignored. Suddenly, you find yourself off of the path you started on, lost in a tangle of thistles. You didn’t intend to go there, didn’t intend to stray so far…

If you want the rest, head on over to the FEBC Gospel blog. Then stay awhile and check out some of the other great, encouraging articles.

My journey to faith. (15)

Small Groups: Who You Are

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

We’ve discussed the importance of defining group expectations in order to spur people on to commitment both to growing in the Lord and to the group, but perhaps more important is knowing who you are as a leader. In the past I’ve been very uncomfortable with who God created and called me to be. I’ve allowed myself to be walked on. I’ve allowed the opinions of others to dictate how I would lead and teach. Really, I wasn’t much of a leader at all. When depression walloped me with the force of a tornado (read more about that here), I took several years off. I didn’t think I’d ever teach again. I didn’t want to be in charge.

God had other ideas.

As He does.

That time of rest was key, for when my pastor asked early last year if I’d be willing to “beta test” a small group in our church, I was ready to begin again – and this time I was far more sure of myself because I was far more sure of God.

I’ve made a million little mistakes. My mind works faster than my mouth and I stumble or stutter. I forget to tell people what page number we’re on in the workbook. I go off on tangents. I try to teach the entire Bible in a single session every time we get together. Sometimes I’m crabby and I don’t really want to open my home to anyone. Once in awhile I even think, “I guess I have to teach these people about Jesus but I’d really like to just sleep.”

Jonah, man. I get him.

Over and over again, through all the mistakes and the missteps, God works. He uses this flawed woman to communicate His love and holiness. (What is that? I mean really, what is that? Incredible). Somehow He gets the message across. More often than not, I find that I learn far more than I teach – and that’s a good thing.

The best small group leaders want to learn everything they can and simply can’t avoid telling others about it. Couple that with a desire to see others know and love the Lord and you’re well on your way to success. It’s not about having a polished presentation or the nicest house. Love God and love others. That’s it.

Again, it’s important to know who you are. What “style” of Bible study are you attracted to? Workbooks, commentaries, footnotes, original word searches? How many hours a week can you devote to preparation? Are you willing to try new things, read new authors? (Spoiler alert: You’d better be). Are you able to embrace the fact that you’re a really flawed and often stupid human being but that’s okay because it’s all about God anyway?

Every leader is different. Every group is going to have it’s own unique flavor. There isn’t necessarily a “right” or “wrong” way to go about teaching, but here are some of the things that I’ve learned through a whole lot of failure:

1

Leading and teaching are tough jobs. There are going to be problems. Billy Jean isn’t going to like Bobby Joe. Jimmy is going to hate one of the studies. Maggie won’t want to pray. Dave will get divorced. Sarah will get sick. You’re going to have as many eye-rolling and tearful moments as you are delightful ones. Go with it.

More painful than any of the above, there’s going to come a time when the Lord sees fit to bring a particular group to an end. It won’t come with a bang or an explosion. You’ll just know, as will the others, that He’s accomplished whatever He set out to accomplish and it’s time to move on. That final meeting will tear your heart to pieces. Remember that you’ve done a good job, the best that you can, and the Lord is pleased with your obedience.

********

In the next and final installment of this miniseries, we will turn to what usually winds up being the last thought on anyone’s mind: content. You need to actually study the Bible.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the Small Groups miniseries, go here.

Photo Credit: Westside Church