There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability;
there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community. - M. Scott Peck

Friday, July 1, 2011

Growing Pains

This week our group celebrated a final gathering as one large group before we multiply into two, along with a celebration feast to honor our group leader.

Regarding the former, we have truly labored and struggled over the issue of whether and when we should multiply. Not arguments (at least, not a lot of those), but more of an emotional wrestling that left us all weary. We know we have a great thing in our small group. Jack has lead us to the place where we have a remarkable level of honesty and disclosure about our respective “stuff”. The product of that work has been a level of intimacy that I have never seen anything like in previous groups. We all feel like comrades who have been through battles together, and we most definitely do not want to abandon each other.

In spite of this, we've come to the reluctant conclusion that what we have is a very good thing – evidenced by how much we want to hold on to it – but to keep it only for ourselves betrays the example of Jesus, who both directs us and demonstrates the need to give it away. So we realize that the only way to bring what we have to new men, is to make room for new men. We are now two smaller groups, each looking for a few more men with courage – or at least the willingness to take a risk. This whole process feels very much to me like the conflict I experience frequently now in living out my faith. I have persistent doubts, and I don’t always want to do what I know is the faithful thing, but I know that living in faith is far more important than convincing myself that I have no doubts. Doing faith matters more than talking about it or wanting to do it.

To honor our leader this past Wednesday we didn’t go to great lengths, but it was deeply meaningful to us all. Jack has pursued honesty and candor in the group, and has expressed love for us that feels to me much like a military leader with a paternal heart. Imagine a tearful ship’s captain. We all ready ourselves for battle willingly, seeing the genuine care and investment that he has for us and has brought to the fight.

I will celebrate and warmly remember what we had, mourn a little, and eagerly look forward to what God will do next. This is true adventure. I wouldn't trade it for the world. Are your days this meaningful? Would you like them to be? Take a risk.

Friday, June 3, 2011

No Where Else

The blog has been quiet recently (I lost some margin last month and the blog landed on my “stop doing” list for a while), but Small Groups have not.

I received this email from Pastor White:

“Just got back from an extremely sad funeral for a new born. In spite of the sadness, it was a really beautiful funeral, mostly because it was planned by the Mom's Small Group. They also brought up the gifts, greeted the guests... The family was completely surrounded by the support of the small group in a way that parish staff could never have provided. Very impressive.”

What a great testament to this Small Group. We talk about our Small Groups being supportive, but not “support” groups. What a great example of what that means. Our Small Groups are not meant to be places where people take turns focusing only on their individual personal needs or where one person’s brokenness dominates the life of the group. Nativity Small Groups are intended to be environments where every member deepens their faith and strengthens their walk with Jesus.

But in a time of need, especially one of such deep sadness as this family must be feeling, our Small Groups should be able to provide a level of support and comfort that can be found no where else. Authentic relationships rooted in a growing relationship with Jesus can respond to tragedy in a way no other relationship can. Support flowing from a shared experience of growing deeper in faith in a Small Group has a richness and a texture that is both spontaneous and deeply heart felt. Being surrounded by a group of people who have chosen to do life with you and even go into life’s battles with you on a regular basis is special. It brings a level of comfort and support I have experienced no where else.

How is your Small Group’s heart when it comes to supporting all your members? Are you ready to go to battle for each other? Do you have authentic relationships rooted in a deepening relationship with Jesus that can provide a level of comfort and support that can be found no where else?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spoiled by God

Let me start at the end of our meeting. It was late, but the topic of multiplication came up before we started to pray. One of the guys challenged us – he questioned whether we were being as authentic as we could. We were talking a good game, but not really supporting each other enough outside our Wednesday meetings. Were we really such a connected group? Was our conversation about multiplying just an excuse not to go deeper? How can we talk about being ready to open up to new guys if there’s so much more we need to do among ourselves? Maybe we aren’t as far down the road as we think we are.
You could feel the push back from some of us. It’s not a comfortable thought to believe you’re in one place and be called out on not really being as honest as we need to be about where we are as a group. Even the guy who was calling us out was questioning how authentic he was being in the group.
As I listened to the conversation, one of the real tensions in our group became very clear. None of us want to risk losing what we have worked so hard for – a place where we can honestly share who we are and what we are struggling with in our life; a place to give and get support; a place to be called out and challenged to be better. This is a place where we are all growing in our relationship with Jesus and each other. Nobody wants to lose it. We all need it.
But every one of us wants to share the experience. We all know guys who would benefit from being in a circle with other guys working hard to figure life out and live as Jesus wants us to live. The conflict is a sign for me that God is working in each of us. We are being called out by Jesus – What do you believe? What do you need to do to build my kingdom?
Now let me circle back to the beginning of our meeting. One of our guys just came back from his father’s funeral. He told us the story of the great difficulties he faced trying to work out the funeral arrangements for his father in a city where he had few contacts and didn’t know the players. Suffice it to say that, sadly, there were not a lot of God moments in his narrative. But at one point, in the middle of all the hassles, his mother turned to him and told him that “God has spoiled me.” She didn’t say that God loves me or that God cares for me. She said has spoiled me. What an amazing description of God’s love for us. In the midst of what must have been great sorrow – they had been married for almost 50 years – she is able to talk about being spoiled by God’s love. Wow.
It’s amazing to think that God might use a widow in Florida to deliver His message to a bunch of guys in Timonium. What if our group is spoiled by God? What if we shift the lens to see how God has blessed each of us over the last two years in awesome ways as part of our group rather than to focus on what we might lose? I know I am spoiled every Wednesday when I meet with my brothers in group. And I know we will resolve our tension about how to grow our group. But I also know that God wants to use us to spoil as many people as we can with his love.
Happy Easter.

Transformation and Battles

Our group branched in two directions at a recent meeting. First, the message took me down the path of transformation. A Christ follower’s goal is to transform of our lives. And yet, on our own, that real life transformation is very improbable. Fortunately, the transformation of each of our hearts and minds and lives is our God’s fervent desire, loving focus and unending task. No matter what we do, that remains a constant – God is always at work in us for the transformation of our lives. Our part of the relationship is to open ourselves to God’s work in us and position ourselves in relation to God for that good work to be accomplished and not thwarted.
God’s transformation of our lives is not a passive thing that we sit around waiting for. We have a major, active role in the work God is trying to accomplish in us. Somewhere I heard that I’m responsible for the inputs (all the things I do that deepen my relationship with God) and God is responsible for the output (my transformed life). It was comforting to sit with the thought for a while that the God of the Universe is constantly working on my transformation.
The second branch of the evening was less comforting. As we discussed the message, guys talked about what was going on in their lives and what needed to change - persistent depression that doesn’t seem to be getting better despite all the right stuff being done to cope with it, a lack of motivation at work that continues despite the financial fears it generates, the lingering burden of work and home worries that continually drain energy and enthusiasm, the untimely death of an elementary school child and the death of a 36 year old veteran of three wars who was just turning the corner on his addiction. Difficult stuff.
And I was struck with the thought – this group of men is under attack. (Now this is a John Eldredge thing and can seem a bit goofy, but I’ve become a believer.) We talked about God and we talked about ourselves. But I felt the real presence of the third player on this stage – the Devil, Satan, the Evil One. I’m not sure what the comfortable term for this evil player is, but his presence was real. He had a real hand in fostering the levels of depression, lack of motivation, and questioning of God that was in the room.
The bad news is this evil force can worsen and deepen all the negative things that push us away from God and his work to transform us if we let it. The good news is that this evil force becomes most active in situations where people are moving closer to God, where transformation of lives is taking place. I believe transformation can take place in Small Groups. I believe that transformation is taking place in the lives of the guys in our group. The battle is real for all of us all of the time. I’m blessed to have a band of brothers to battle with me.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

What's The Point?

“Knowing” Jesus has been pretty much an intellectual thing for me as a Catholic. And, when I worked at Catholic Charities, it was easy to tie in everything I did at work to that intellectual exercise of having a “good relationship with God.” But Sundays at Nativity and Wednesdays in my Small Group are moving that intellectual “knowing” to more of a heart “knowing.” Jesus isn’t looking for an intellectual exercise, but a heart changing relationship.

Group last night highlighted the extremes of that important heart relationship. We talked about Jeremiah following God’s instructions about underwear. Underwear - really? Bury them. Dig them up. What’s the point?

Sometimes my everyday life feels like “What’s the point?” Am I really making a difference? Get up, go to work, come home, go to bed and do it all again tomorrow. What’s the point? Without having a real heart relationship with Jesus - not just an intellectual one, it might be easy to question what the point is every day. But Jeremiah used a pointless exercise to deepen his trust in God. No questions asked, no hesitation, no push back – bury them then dig them up. I want that kind of faith and trust.

And then we had the crushing sadness of the death of a young man – a student at Immaculate Conception school. He’s not old enough for death. No family should have to go through that kind of pain and sorrow. This makes no sense. How do the fathers among us in the room even begin to process this one – especially one of our guys whose children were in school with him? How does anyone? He was just a young boy. What’s the point?

We have no ability to understand and there’s no good earthly reason for this tragic event. An intellectual relationship with God does not get you through this valley of tears. Only a relationship of the heart with a good and gracious God can get us to the other side of the deep, aching pain and sadness. And certainly, it is never easy. Jeremiah’s task seems even more ridiculous by comparison. But knowing God like Jeremiah, trusting God like Jeremiah, believing in God like Jeremiah is the only thing that can possibly make such a loss bearable. I need that kind of faith and trust.

Knowing Jesus at a heart level changed my relationship with Jesus. It changed how I look at mundane things and how I approach tragedy.

And so we pray from the heart to our good and gracious God for the Cox family.

Thursday, March 31, 2011


A few things became a little clearer for me last night in our small group, thanks to the continued generosity of the men – a group willing to reveal what they are struggling with:

1. I take great encouragement that as a group, we are much more concerned about honesty and authenticity than evaluating/judging behavior or beliefs.

2. We may not always understand why evil is permitted and desperate struggle is so integral to life, but we can trust that God is absolutely reliable. Whatever he asks from us, we can trust that it is for the long-term best.

3. Difficulty and hardship provide an opportunity for faith to be made visible, in a way that is not found when times that are easy.

4. When we experience unjustified attack or harm, and then question God’s faithfulness because of it, we are in a place that is similar to Jesus on the cross.

5. God is faithful, in spite of what sometimes seems like his apparent absence; we have not been forsaken.

I am learning that meaningful faith and genuine friendships require each other.