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

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Plateau Jumping

We wrestled with the idea of biblical fellowship last night in group. Rick Warren’s description of biblical fellowship (authenticity, courtesy, mutuality, hospitality and unity) is a great description of small group fellowship. Most of us felt our group was striving for those characteristics. Then we pushed further - which of these did we do well as a group and which of these could we do better. That’s when we hit the plateau.
Most of us have been together for over a year, some longer. We meet every week, including most of the summer. We’ve each shared our stories, sometimes painfully so. We know each other pretty well and share pretty freely. And yet we agreed last night that we’re on a plateau and need to go deeper. Everyone agreed our relationships could be more personal, deeper, and more faith filled. So how do you get off a plateau?
Warren talks about having a spiritual partner as well as being part of a small group – someone in your group who you can call and share with between meetings. There’s no question that anyone in the group would take a phone call from another member without any hesitation and be glad to do it. And there’s the rub – that’s the plateau. While we’d gladly take the call, none of us seemed real comfortable making the call. Not sure if it’s just a “guy thing”, but asking for help, sharing problems, taking that first step is really uncomfortable. Do I really trust these guys that much? Will any of them really have time for or care about my stuff in the middle of all of their stuff? How petty will all of this sound to someone else?
Sometimes the only way to get off a plateau is to jump off. Or maybe get pushed by God.

Friday, August 20, 2010

How Personal Is Personal?

I’m always a bit uncomfortable with the question of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. On a plane ride to Phoenix - I pray that I arrive safely. As I face some of the economic challenges recently – I ask God to protect me financially. When I sit at Nativity on Sunday - I am aware of the presence of God. But when someone asks me “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” I become uncomfortable. I think that’s because I fear that the real answer is that I have a relationship with God when I need it or when it’s convenient for me.
When I think of the important relationships in my life I think about loving relationships, ones that have an impact on my life every day, ones that are a constant presence to me, that center me, support me, challenge me, and are always there for me – no matter what. Shouldn’t I be able to say at least those same things about my relationship with my God – and even more?
Our group listened to Rick Warren Wednesday night talk about developing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. As we talked about it, I began to think about how to make Jesus more personal in my life. Invite God into my relationship with my wife every day? Give Jesus a place in all my other relationships? Ask what is honoring to God before I make decisions? Invite Jesus into my meetings at work? Fill more of the spaces in my day to day life with things that are God centered (music, reading, relationships) rather than all the things that point me to the temptations and distractions of our culture. Engage Jesus directly in whatever I’m doing throughout the day?
When Jesus says personal, He means personal – everyday, all day. I find that level of relationship with God a real challenge and I fear I may not be up to it. And so maybe this is where I make my relationship with Jesus really personal – by inviting Jesus to be personally involved with me in this challenge, to quiet my fear, and let Jesus work in all the details of my daily life. For Jesus, personal is personal – every day, all day.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

When The Music Fades

We grappled with Rick Warren’s idea of worship this week. Warren expands the idea of worship beyond church walls and daily prayer requests to our everyday, practical lives. Not a new concept, but compellingly stated in The Purpose Driven Life.
The purpose of worship is to please God, not ourselves. Anything that is pleasing to God is worship. Warren’s challenge is to make everything we do pleasing to God and, therefore, worship. We all bought in to the concept – that’s the easy part. It was the practical application that brings us up short. We each talked about how hard it is to keep God front and center as we go about our daily lives – how God pops up every once in a while during the day, but is not the strong, constant presence that Warren describes.
As I sat in our circle, I was struck more and more with how central the idea of relationship is to making worship practical in our lives. Worship doesn’t exist outside of a relationship. Pleasing God is about being in relationship with God. First and foremost that’s what God wants and finds pleasing. The stronger my relationship with Jesus has become, the more practical my worship has become. God is much more present to me in every facet of every day of my life as I have deepened my relationship with my God. And my relationships with others – especially my wife, my brothers in small group, and the community at Nativity – have been key to helping me deepen my relationship with Jesus.
Pleasing God is the purpose of our lives. We please God by being in relationship with God. The practical expression of that relationship is lived out everyday through our relationships with others. Worship is about relationships. And as the song says, when the music fades and all is stripped away, Jesus looks into our heart and it’s all about our relationships.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Strong Circles

Almost 18 months ago our small group took the challenge and multiplied. Last night, for the first time since we divided into two separate groups, eight of our original ten group members (two others were out of town) came together for a barbecue. We had all seen each other at Nativity to say hello and ask how things were going, but we had not spent any time together. The strength of a good circle is amazing.
It was like we had never stopped meeting. After dinner we sang a few songs (this group is where I became the Guitar Hero for the first time) and talked about our groups. Tough questions were asked and honest responses were given. Just like the old days. “It hasn’t been the same since we split.” “We’ve struggled to go as deep as we did in our original group.” “It’s tough to find time for group sometimes.” “We have a good group, but it’s not the same.” After some great conversation, we each prayed. It felt good to be with this group of brothers.
I left wondering if we had made the right choice to multiply when we did. As one of the guys said, “There’s never a perfect time to multiply.” I think he’s right. I left with lots of questions, though.
But I’m sure of one thing – the strength of a good circle is powerful. We are all still in a small group. We are still bonded as brothers. We still want to care for and support each other. When we prayed, it was easy to feel God with us.
We have each been truly blessed by that group experience we shared. And we are each challenged not to duplicate the experience – that’s not possible – but to use the growth we experienced from that original group experience to help our new groups experience the power and depth of a faith filled circle. Given what we each gained from that experience, how can we not try to share it with others?
We sang Amazing Grace last night. A signature song for the evening. The strength of a circle – amazing grace.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Good To Be Back

After 4 weeks it was good to settle back into our small group meetings – great to see all the guys. Everyone seemed to miss it and we are all ready to get back to it. We’re working through Purpose Driven Life the next six weeks. Thought it would be a good connection to the heart of the Nativity environment and a good set up for the fall. And it certainly is a conversation starter!
What if you don’t believe in eternity? Doesn’t our purpose change at different seasons of our life? Is anyone else struggling with this purpose thing as much as I am – seems like I’ve been asking that question for years? Is salvation possible without a relationship with Jesus Christ – what about Ghandi? Isn’t life tiresome or uncontrollable at times even if you’re clear about your purpose?
One of the things I like about my group is that we have become comfortable with raising questions and not feeling like we have to wrestle the answers to the ground each week. All those are tough questions each in their own way. In the absence of answers, we prayed together. I’m looking forward to the next five week. Good to be back.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Creating a culture of small groups

In our culture (meaning North Baltimore), it is normal to go to Church. Not everyone goes to Church on a regular basis, but it is not considered abnormal to go and most people in our community have in their self-image as a Church going person. In this community it is also normal to volunteer. I think if you took a poll of people in Timonium and the surrounding area, most people would say it is good to volunteer and they try to volunteer through coaching, or helping at school or whatever. So when we ask people to do volunteer ministry at Church, people can see that as normal. It is in the framework in which people in this community view themselves.

Small groups are different. They are a complete paradigm shift. People in this community saw their parents go to Church and see many people volunteer, but groups are by nature in homes and private, not public. We are working this year to show the great benefits of groups and that very busy people carve out time for their small group because it is worth it.

One of our efforts to show that busy people are in small group is by giving out FREE t-shirts to anyone in a Nativity small group. This offer is good for the first 200 people who sign up. The catch is that we ask you to wear them to Church the weekends of September 11 and 12 through October 2 and 3. This in preparation for our Launch on October 4, our program to get new people into groups. We are still getting specs on the t-shirt, but I promise it will look good.

If you are interested in helping promote groups, please go to There are three quick questions to fill in so we can get you the right shirt.