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.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Tough Question

Great thoughts from Chris Eisenberg who's a member of our group:

Tough question Wednesday night: how do we square Good God with the difficult stuff going on in our lives? Heart disease; relationship dysfunction; chronic disease and pain; unfulfilled relational longings. I struggle with that one. Not so much with what I believe in my heart as regards a Good God, but in explaining that to people - especially those who are in the midst of the dark night of the soul. It just sounds so hollow and self-serving, doesn't it?

When I think about things like this, it's often through the prism of what others have said and taught me. One of those people over the years has been author Philip Yancey and his book Reaching for the Invisible God: What Can We Expect to Find. Just when we're confident we understand God, the bottom drops out. We lose a loved one. Our health fails. Or our own intellect begins to shout objections it once only whispered. Where is God with the answers? Why is he so distant so often? Most of know how we're supposed to think and respond to these things as Christians, but that often doesn't square with how we do think and respond to them.

I process this question based on the belief that God is Good, that God is trustworthy. Because of His love for me, I can trust him - in the good, in the bad, in the somewhere in between. Even in its fallen state, God judged the World - judged us - worth the rescue effort, worth the condescension to the bounds of time and space, worth dying for. Though God may not prevent the hardships of this world, neither did God seek personal immunity from them. Deliberately, God's son Jesus submitted to the worst of this fallen world. The World can be redeemed - that was the whole point in Jesus' coming to earth. God transformed ultimate evil into ultimate good, working through humanity's violence and hatred to accomplish our redemption.

I see God's goodness in my life, and the lives of others. It validates what I know of Him from the scriptures and confirms what I think I hear the Holy Spirit telling me at times. Even in those very dark hours - when it is so very difficult to acknowledge the presence of this Good God (and believe me, I really struggle with that in the difficult times) - God has shown himself again and again to be good. Not good as in --"the boo-boo has gone away so everything's better now" but rather, "hey-- look at me! I'm your Father; I'm with you; I won't leave you; you can trust me, even in this very tough time."

What a blessing to fellowship with you men; and to walk the journey with you. I’ll end with this prayer:

Heavenly Father, …You know what to say just when we need to hear from you. No god is as near as you are and no god is as good as you are, in every storm and stressful season…Father, you’ve created us and you’re redeeming us, all for your glory. You’ve summoned us by name, calling us to life in the gospel. You’ve given us a new name and its “Mine.” There’s no sweeter name we could possibly hope to be called. We praise you for the security of being in your family and embrace.

We also praise you for your honesty. You’ve never promised we won’t experience floods and torrents, and fires and flames. But you do promise you’ll be with us at all times. To know you are near and to know you are good is all we really need. We’ll go anywhere and do anything, as long as we’re certain you’ll never abandon, shame or reject us. In the gospel, you give us this certainty.

We don’t have to be afraid of anything or anyone. You are with us and you are for us. Continue to write bigger and better stories of redemption than we, ourselves, would ever choose to pen.
Scotty Smith, Pastor for Preaching
Christ Community Church
Franklin, TN

Friday, March 25, 2011


I was inspired all around this Wednesday. It’s encouraging that one of the guys is willing to try facilitating the group this April, another is providing critical support to a brother in crisis, a third continues to trust God in the middle of chaos and uncertainty, and a fourth seems to have a peaceful acceptance of the possibility of an “early departure” – which we all would rather not think about, but in truth we all face that possibility ourselves. Quite the evening. Jack quips, "Never dull" - that's the truth! I thank God for these guys.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Jump Start

There was not a lot of energy in the room this week at group. One guy was jet-lagged from a return trip from Asia. One guy was mentally fatigued from his struggles at work. Another guy seemed exhausted from the major life battles he’s waging. And the rest of us couldn’t muster the extra energy to overcome the power outage. Clearly, a small group in need of a jump start.

I learned a couple of things from that meeting. First, “presence” for small groups is huge. Any one of our guys could have decided to stay home - catch up on their sleep or just relax and try to recharge their emotional batteries. But they came to group. It was important for them to be present and it was important for our group that they were present. You feel God’s presence and support in a special way in a good small group and you can’t experience it if you’re not present. They also showed me that they cared enough about me and the other guys in the group that, even though they may have wanted to stay home, they came and shared what they could. Their presence was important to all of us.

Second, even when it’s on reserve power, my group is a place to grow in my relationship with Jesus. I felt I was working harder to lead the group well (I couldn’t even get a closing song in the right key – not one of our finer choral moments!) and that guys were working harder to try to respond to the questions (lots of quiet moments). But when we prayed, it was from the heart and, even on reserve power, there was strength and energy in the prayers. God shows up no matter what.

Third, wherever we are on our journey – tired, excited, depressed, comfortable, sad - God’s love really is high and deep and wide. God can reach us anywhere and be really present in our daily lives if we open ourselves to God’s grace. The guys who came with drained physical and emotional batteries were making themselves available to God. They were taking advantage of an opportunity for God’s grace to recharge the batteries. They still looked pretty beat when we left, but I’m praying that the energy of small group, even if it was low energy, carried them a little further on their journey.

Power outages usually don’t last long in our group and I always value the jump start I get in the middle of the week. I’m looking forward to Wednesday night.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Daily Exchange Rate

Last week’s group started with an apology. Now we talk a lot about not “posing” in our group and being authentic with one another. But when one of our guys feels the need to apologize to the group for something that few of us even knew about, maybe we have reached a new and better place. He was humbled by telling his story and his feelings resonated with all of us. We had all been there, but many of us had not done as well with the apology part of the story.

That was followed by another guy sharing what has been grabbing him about the Gospel writer Luke as he reads Thirty Years That Changed The World by Michael Green. His personal commentary was great. Equally important to me was that we have created a place where guys want to share the excitement of their faith however and where ever it’s developing.

It’s amazing where a good group of guys struggling to follow Jesus better in their daily lives can take you. Apologies and personal commentaries open windows into our hearts and minds as God is working in us. Group is a great place to grow!

And then we moved on to our session on Life Rules. “We are a product of acceptance and rejection in our lives.” “Our view of God is shaped by the doses of acceptance and rejection in our lives.” “God doesn’t call us to change people, but to accept them because accepting people first can lead to change.” These are not exact quotes, but Andy Stanley pushed us on the topic of acceptance: We are called to accept others as God has accepted us.

As I sat quietly (I wasn’t leading – we’re sharing leadership to help prepare ourselves for multiplying sometime in the next year or so and it was nice to just sit in the circle.), I wrote these thoughts in my journal: We often operate on the basis that acceptance is an exchange and that we are accepted by others in an exchange - a sort of relational consumerism. I accept you if I get something and I am accepted if I have something to give to someone. If there is nothing to exchange, we are slow to accept and often don’t even make the effort. But our relationship with God doesn’t fit that equation. What can I possibly have to exchange with the God of the Universe? Everything we have is God’s anyway so an exchange doesn’t make much sense. God changes the equation.

The starting point for God is not an exchange, but a gift. God’s acceptance of us is nothing but a freely given gift. Once we accept God’s gift, we can then enter into our covenant – our exchange – with God: I will be your God and you will be My people.

Accepting others as we are accepted by God changes the equation of our everyday life. Relational consumerism gives way to Godly gift giving. What an impact shifting the equation would have on our relationships with difficult people. What would happen in your life if you began to give God’s gift instead of continually monitoring the daily exchange rate?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Why Group?

A new guy joined us for group last night, and perhaps in light of that (but a great exercise either way) Jack offered each of us the opportunity to express our expectations for small group. I was surprised how clear and defined my own expectations are, and surprised again how selfish my list sounded – but I think it’s a good list. Here's it is:

1. Authenticity. I don’t want to waste time pretending to be something I am not, or hearing you do likewise. Group is a sacred place where we determine to be honest, including our fears, difficulties, and failures.

2. Confidentiality. Authenticity doesn’t happen without a reassurance of safety. It’s hard enough to risk rejection in the group by letting you know my crap, I certainly don’t want it shared outside the group.

3. No advice. I enjoy and learn from the advice that sometimes will surface in group, but that’s not why I come. I simply need to be heard an accepted. My true challenges have little to do with needing guidance. I pretty much know what I need to do. More often, I simply need to be honest with myself, and honesty in group helps me do that.

4. Presence. The thing I really come to group for is to be with the guys. When there is a good exchange of ideas and I am challenged (as actually happens at every group), I consider that a bonus. The most significant thing for me is simply the time spent with people who know me well, and whom I know well, and where there is mutual concern.

5. Change. If I leave group with more knowledge, that’s nice, but what I really want and need at the end of the day is to be different for the time spent. Positive life change is my litmus test for time well spent.

What’s your list?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

On Stage

Part of my personal struggle has been to believe that God actually speaks directly to me. I speak a lot “at” God, but I have not been a good listener. That’s partly because not believing that God is speaking to you doesn’t encourage much listening. But I’m getting better. And as I get better at believing and listening, I am hearing God in my life more. God showed up big for me at group this week.

I’m not even sure how it started - I only know I didn’t start it this time. Somehow the conversation turned to whether our group would – should – could – wanted to even talk about multiplying into two groups. I started this conversation months ago, but we all felt very hesitant and resistant. Why would we take a chance on destroying the good thing we had built? Did we really want to go through all the work that it takes to create an environment where authentic, gut level sharing is not only possible, but the only accepted standard? What if the two groups we created weren’t as life giving and authentic as this one?

Given the resistance, I stopped talking about dividing the group. Instead, at the end of every group for the past few months, I have prayed openly in the group that God would open our hearts and help us find a way to share what we have found in our group with other men. God showed up Wednesday and softened our hearts a bit. By no means have we agreed to form two groups. We’re all still hesitant, fearful, and - I think we would all agree - a bit selfish. But now God has engaged us in the conversation and only good things can happen. We spent our group discussing could we, should we, would we. We’ve agreed to continue the conversation and, more importantly, pray about multiplying our group. Stay tuned for how this part of the story unfolds! The conversation alone reinforces for me that God listens to my prayers and will speak directly into my life if I work on God’s time and listen for the quiet stirrings.

But that was only half the story. I have been struggling since before the Plan B series with whether I’m in a big enough story. My life is blessed – especially compared to the struggles guys in my group are facing. So I’ve been questioning whether I’m using my gifts and talents enough. Have I just become comfortable and not really contributing much to the world around me? God and I have been round and round on this. Is it God’s plan and God’s story that I’m currently in or is it my plan and what I want the story to be that’s making me unsettled? Does God want more from me or do I want to write my own script?

It seems one of the reasons most of the guys are hesitant to multiply our group is that they believe my leadership has contributed significantly to the authenticity and depth of our group. Talk about humbling. I know I lead this group well, but it’s out of my weakness and need. I need this group in my life as strength against my sinfulness. I need a place that is authentic because I have fooled myself so much in my life - I have often been the least trustworthy person I know when it comes to sin and other important aspects of my life. I believe I lead well because I need much from this group and have gotten much from this group. To be praised as the leader of this group by the amazing men in this group is high praise.

And so whose story is important? God is using my weakness, neediness, talent and availability to help create an environment where ten other guys feel the strong presence of God and the real support of other followers of Jesus. Is that an important enough story to feel good about where God has led me in my life? Has Jesus put me on a big enough stage to make an important difference in others’ lives? I think we all imagine ourselves doing big, important things on the world stage. But leading ten guys in a journey to deeper relationship with Christ and struggling to figure out how to welcome others into that journey is the stage God has placed me on. Awesome. I am blessed to be in the story God has set me in. I am praying I play my part well.

How’s your story? Is God’s stage big enough for you? Are you performing well on that stage?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Unknown Unknowns

I just heard an interview with Don Rumsfeld, on his new book. In it he says there are "known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns." There are things you know you know; there are things you know you don't know about and there are things you don't know you don't know about. Nativity is building a culture of small groups and it is exciting to watch and be a part of. I know how important small group is in supporting your life's journey. I know what an amazing, life-changing, God-changing-your-life thing it is and can be. I'm in one.

There are people who have a general sense of a program at Nativity, "sort of like Bible study, right?" but they haven't joined up yet and so it is a known unknown for them. They know they are not part of something, but don't know exactly what they are missing.

Then there are people at church who do not know about small groups and do not know at all what one is because they just don't know they exist in the first place.

We in small groups, should let our enthusiasm and even gratitude to God for our own personal small group, spill over so that everyone at Nativity knows.

No more unknowing.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

10,000 Miles From Home

Ellen and I have been traveling the last ten days. I’ve missed my small group and being at Nativity on Sunday. What a great thing to have a small group DVD with me and to be able to check out Sunday’s message and the message guide readings on the internet. I feel connected and nourished even when I’m almost 10,000 miles away from home.
We’ve been staying at a home near Manila for children who have physical and developmental handicaps. What an amazing place! It’s a bit off the beaten path, not flashy, and very basic by American standards. It’s not Haiti, for sure, but, it’s not Timonium either. I’ve watched handicapped kids serve other handicapped kids at dinner; I saw staff members sweep sidewalks with straw for brooms; I walked through a laundry that does wash for 80 children every day with one staff person and two developmentally children doing all the work; I arm wrestled with kids who have trouble walking, but smile constantly; and I constantly felt God’s presence where ever I went.
And in the midst of all this I came to a deeper understanding of what Plan B is all about. When Fr. White talks about God calling us into a bigger story, I feel that my story is clearly not big enough. I don’t influence enough people or make enough change in the world. I am not part of a big story. And some of that’s true – I can clearly be doing more. But that looks at the story from my viewpoint – not God’s.
How much influence does the woman in the laundry room have here? How much change in the world is happening because of what a doctor does in this isolated part of the Philippines? Who even knows this place exists? What’s the big story here – really?
But being in a big story means being in God’s story, not my own. How can God not see what is being done here in so many simple ways with these children as a very big story. Sweeping a sidewalk with a straw broom – what’s the big deal. If you do it in God’s story, it’s a big deal. If all you care about is your story – not such a big deal.
What story is God calling me to be in? One with a lot of status, fancy clothes, big car, nice house? Maybe, but what’s so big about that story if that’s the whole story. God will certainly see someone fixing toilets in this home for kids as a bigger story than me working to get a new, bigger car. Someone feeding a child here is surly in a bigger story than me if I’m just trying to influence others just to get more for myself.
Being in a bigger story is what we should be focused on. But it’s only a bigger story if it is God’s story. And God’s story is a big story whether it’s in a small children’s home in out of the way Manila or in my own backyard of Timonium. I need to be in God’s story, whatever it is for me, because that’s the only really big story. What story are you in?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Hope In the New Year

Our first get-together of the New Year and there’s no message series to kick us off. So what do a group of mostly Catholic guys do to begin a New Year? You reach a bit (or maybe a lot for some of us) and ask each guy to bring and share a scripture verse that reflects their hopes for the New Year.
If you want to know if God really shows up in small groups, check out the richness of the scripture that this bunch of self professed bible illiterate Catholic guys were able to pull together on very short notice.

I hope in the New Year that I…
Proverbs 3:5-6 = trust God more and rely less on my own wisdom and power
James 2:23-26/4:13-17 = have the courage to do the right thing no matter what the personal cost
Exodus 4:39-42 = know the Lord more than know about the Lord (Rahner)
Romans 12:9-13 = keep faith, practice love, and share myself even in midst of my struggles
Matthew 6:25-34 = worry less and focus on what I really need, not want
Romans 8:28 = really come to know (not wish or hope) that God is working always for my good even if I can’t see it
Psalm 46 = will become more quiet, know that God is God, and that God is okay with my struggle
1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 = serve my clients at work better by working harder
Psalm 19 = can translate the ability to see God’s greatness in nature into seeing God’s greatness in my life
Jeremiah 29:11/Ecclesiastes 7:14/Joshua 1:9/Psalm 23 (obviously, some of us are better versed in scripture than others or just couldn’t settle on one!) = commit to what God, not I, want for my life and deal with my anger issues better
Ephesians 4:17-32 = live a more God honoring life and not just say the words

It continues to amaze me what can happen in small groups. Two years ago, this exercise would have been a difficult (if not threatening) one for most of us. We all had a “passing acquaintance” with scripture, but never really encountered God in the words of scripture. And now, scripture’s richness, comfort, guidance and hope are real parts of our group. The practical scripture application from the pulpit at Nativity and the message series definitely help. But you if you only sit in rows on Sunday and never join the circle of a small group, you will really miss out on an important part of your journey. God’s word speaks more clearly to us in our circle, has more practical meaning in our lives because of what we share with each other, and, more and more, our hopes are built on those words and how they resonate more clearly through the voices of our group members.

What would your scripture verse be for the New Year? It’d be great if you’d share it with us - and your own small group. We’d love to add your hopes to our prayers for the New Year.