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, 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?