Small Groups: A Beautiful Mess by Ben Reed

Today’s guest post is by Ben Reed. Ben  is the small groups pastor at Grace Community Church in Clarksville, TN. He blogs regularly at Life and Theology, wrestling through subjects such as small groups, parenting, leadership, social networking, and counseling…all from a distinctively biblical point of view. You can follow him on Twitter HERE or on Facebook HERE.


Ever been in a relationship of any kind? Then you know what I’m about to say is true: relationships are messy.

Because of the Fall (Genesis 3), try as we may, building meaningful relationships with others is one of the most difficult things we will try to do. Because it’s not just us that we have to work on.

If our problem is, let’s say, lying, we can work on that. We spend time in prayer. Read books about how lying is a sin. Write little encouraging notes to ourselves on our bathroom mirror and on sticky notes that get lost.  Read books that talk about how the Truth has set us free from lying. Bring others into our story, let them know our struggles, and have them call us to the carpet when we lie.

But building relationships isn’t all about us. You can try all you want, but the fact that you’re trying to build a relationship with a fellow sinner complicates the game. Because it’s not just you that has to deal with a sinner…the other person has to as well. Trying to line up two sinful hearts is an unbelievably difficult task.  So many of us find ourselves gravitating towards isolationism, where we run from relationships. It’s much easier than pursuing them.

But this doesn’t please Christ. For whom did Christ die?

The Church.

And who is the Church?

A body of believers. 

Which means that you, in and of yourself, are not the church. You need others. And they need you.  [Read more...]

John Calvin: True Religion Begins with Heavenly Teaching

[I]n addition to the proper doctrine of faith and repentance in which Christ is set forth as a Mediator, the Scriptures employ certain marks and tokens to distinguish the only wise and true God, considered as the Creator and Governor of the world, and thereby guard against his being confounded with the herd of false deities.

[W]hile it becomes man seriously to employ his eyes in considering the works of God, [. . .] his special duty is to give ear to the Word, that he may the better profit. Hence it is not strange that those who are born in darkness become more and more hardened in their stupidity; because the vast majority instead of confining themselves within due bounds by listening with docility to the Word, exult in their own vanity.

If true religion is to beam upon us . . . it is necessary to begin with heavenly teaching. [I]t is impossible for any man to obtain even the minutest portion of right and sound doctrine without being a disciple of Scripture. Hence, the first step in true knowledge is taken, when we reverently embrace the testimony which God has been pleased therein to give of himself. For not only does faith, full and perfect faith, but all correct knowledge of God, originate in obedience. And surely in this respect God has with singular Providence provided for mankind in all ages.

For if we reflect how prone the human mind is to lapse into forgetfulness of God, how readily inclined to every kind of error, how bent every now and then on devising new and fictitious religions, it will be easy to understand how necessary it was to make such a depository of doctrine as would secure it from either perishing by the neglect, vanishing away amid the errors, or being corrupted by the presumptuous audacity of men.

It being thus manifest that God [. . .] has given the assistance of his Word to all whom he has ever been pleased to instruct effectually, we, too, must pursue this straight path, if we aspire in earnest to a genuine contemplation of God;—we must go, I say, to the Word, where the character of God, drawn from his works is described accurately and to the life; these works being estimated, not by our depraved Judgment, but by the standard of eternal truth.

If [. . .] we turn aside from it, how great soever the speed with which we move, we shall never reach the goal, because we are off the course.

We should consider that the brightness of the Divine countenance [. . .]  is a kind of labyrinth,—a labyrinth to us inextricable, if the Word do not serve us as a thread to guide our path; and that it is better to limp in the way, than run with the greatest swiftness out of it. Hence the Psalmist [. . .] introduces God as reigning; meaning by the term, not the power which he possesses and which he exerts in the government of universal nature, but the doctrine by which he maintains his due supremacy: because error never can be eradicated from the heart of man until the true knowledge of God has been implanted in it.

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.6.2-3

Watch Me

Photo by Jenny Erickson

In his latest (short) book, From The Resurrection to His Return: Living Faithfully in the Last Days, D.A. Carson shares a story from his youth on the necessity of one-to-one discipleship. I heard Dr. Carson share this story back in April and it’s stuck with me, so much so that I wanted to share it with you (which seems appropriate in light of yesterday’s post):

As a chemistry undergraduate at McGill University, with another chap I started a Bible study for unbelievers. That fellow was godly but very quiet and a bit withdrawn.

I had the mouth, I fear, so by default it fell on me to lead the study. The two of us did not want to be outnumbered, so initially we invited only three people, hoping that not more than two would come. Unfortunately, the first night all three showed up, so we were outnumbered from the beginning.

By week five we had sixteen people attending, and still only the initial two of us were Christians. I soon found myself out of my depth in trying to work through John’s Gospel with this nest of students. On many occasions the participants asked questions I had no idea how to answer.

But in the grace of God there was a graduate student on campus called Dave Ward. He had been converted quite spectacularly as a young man. He was, I suppose, what you might call a rough jewel. He was slapdash, in your face, with no tact and little polish, but he was aggressively evangelistic, powerful in his apologetics, and winningly bold. He allowed people like me to bring people to him every once in a while so that he could answer their questions. Get them there and Dave would sort them out!

So it was that one night I brought two from my Bible study down to Dave. He bulldozed his way around the room, as he always did. He gave us instant coffee then, turning to the first student, asked, ‘Why have you come?’ The student replied, ‘Well, you know, I think that university is a great time for finding out about different points of view, including different religions. So I’ve been reading some material on Buddhism, I’ve got a Hindu friend I want to question, and I should also study some Islam. When this Bible study started I thought I’d get to know a little more about Christianity—that’s why I’ve come.’

Dave looked at him for a few moments and then said, ‘Sorry, but I don’t have time for you.’ [Read more...]

People Are Imitating You; Are You Worth Imitating?

One of the subjects I enjoy studying is leadership.

What motivates people? What makes a “leader”? How can one become more effective as a leader, versus being a “manager”? These kinds of things.

Recently a group of men and I have been working through a leadership training program with one of our mentors, and one of the questions that came up was on the subject of being an authentic Christian leader. The author’s line of thought led him to Luke 6:40:

A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.

Basically, the author’s point in mentioning this verse was this:

We become like the people we follow. Who are we following—and what are people becoming like when they follow us?

In Philippians 3:17-20, Paul addresses this very issue (in the context of spiritual authorities), writing:

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Who is worthy of our imitation?

Is there a person in our lives who we can look at and say, “Yes, I want to be like that”? [Read more...]

John Calvin: Self-Ignorance Deceives, But Knowledge Humbles

It was not without reason that the ancient proverb so strongly recommended to man the knowledge of himself. For if it is deemed disgraceful to be ignorant of things pertaining to the business of life, much more disgraceful is self-ignorance, in consequence of which we miserably deceive ourselves in matters of the highest moment, and so walk blindfold.

But the more useful the precept is, the more careful we must be not to use it preposterously, as we see certain philosophers have done. For they, when exhorting man to know himself, state the motive to be, that he may not be ignorant of his own excellence and dignity. They wish him to see nothing in himself but what will fill him with vain confidence, and inflate him with pride.

But self-knowledge consists of this[:] first, when reflecting on what God gave us at our creation, and still continues graciously to give, we perceive how great the excellence of our nature would have been had its integrity remained, and, at the same time, remember that we have nothing of our own, but depend entirely on God, from whom we hold at pleasure whatever He has seen it meet to bestow.

[S]econdly, when viewing our miserable condition since Adam’s fall, all confidence and boasting are overthrown, we blush for shame, and feel truly humble. For as God at first formed us in his own image, that he might elevate our minds to the pursuit of virtue, and the contemplation of eternal life, so to prevent us from heartlessly burying those noble qualities which distinguish us from the lower animals, it is of importance to know that we were endued with reason and intelligence, in order that we might cultivate a holy and honourable life, and regard a blessed immortality as our destined aim.

At the same time, it is impossible to think of our primeval dignity without being immediately reminded of the sad spectacle of our ignominy and corruption, ever since we fell from our original in the person of our first parent.

In this way, we feel dissatisfied with ourselves, and become truly humble, while we are inflamed with new desires to seek after God, in whom each may regain those good qualities of which all are found to be utterly destitute.

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.1.1

What Would God Say to the President of South Africa?

PJ Smyth of GodFirst Church in Johannesburg recently preached a sermon called “What Would God Say to the President of South Africa?

And who should happen to have been in attendance that day?

Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa.

[vodpod id=ExternalVideo.955719&w=425&h=350&fv=]

The sermon notes can be found here. His three points were as follows:

  1. I have made you the President of South Africa
  2. Anticipate submissive and prayerful followership by Christ-following South Africans
  3. In view of me appointing you, lead confidently and humbly

This comment, speaking of our need to submit to the authorities God has placed over us, really stood out to me:

Check out the progression in 1 Timothy 2: I urge…that prayers be made for kings and all those in authority, (why?) that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness which pleases God our Savior, (why? Because he wants) all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. Wow! Did you see it?

Paul wants prayers for governments ultimately because he wants the gospel to advance, because he knows that Governments, like all aspects of creation, ultimately exist to facilitate the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Men and women responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ is the goal of creation. Jesus used the phrase ‘You must be born again’ (John 3).

The Duchess of Huntingdon once asked D.L. Moody why he always seemed to speak on the John 3 text ‘You must be born again’. He replied, ‘Because Madame, you must be born again’. Being born
again means receiving the forgiveness of God, and the lordship of God into your life. Or, to use a phrase that we find so helpful, to begin to ‘put God first’ in your life.

There is another reason Paul ultimately places a higher value on the gospel than on government, because he knows that it is ultimately only the gospel, not merely a government that can produce a truly godly nation. Think it through: The government can outlaw racism, but only the gospel can deal with hatred. The government can ban corruption, but only the gospel can deal with greed. The government might subsidize the poor but only the gospel can make the rich compassionate. The government might ban porn, but only the gospel can deal with lust.

We thank God for the government and Laws of RSA because they keep a lid on sin, but only the gospel can change the heart of a man or woman.

I am in awe of Pastor Smyth’s boldness. Well done.

HT: The Resurgence

Know Your Enemy

From Mark Driscoll’s recent sermon, Jesus Casts Out Demons. The transcript follows:

[W]hat Paul says to the Corinthians is if we know how our enemy works, then we can defend ourselves. But if we don’t know how he works, he’s going to defeat us. And there are many names given for Satan in the Bible, but I’ll share nine of them with you because they all refer to a particular aspect of Satan’s work.

1. Accuser (Revelation 12:10)

He is called, in Revelation 12:10, “the accuser of the children of God.” He accuses them day and night. Some of you will hear: “you are a failure, you are without hope, you are beyond the love of God, you are beyond the grace of God, what you have done can never be forgiven, God does not love you, you should die, you should kill yourself.” You will hear that negative self-talk, often “you, you, you.” And if there were someone next to you saying those things, you would rightly identify it as accusation from opposition. But because it’s from a spirit being who is unseen, you think you have low self-esteem, negative self-image, negative self-talk, but it’s accusation. It’s accusation. [Read more...]

Book Review: Surprised by Grace by Tullian Tchividjian


Title: Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels
Author: Tullian Tchividjian
Publisher: Crossway (2010)

The book of Jonah is one of the most captivating in the Old Testament. The rebellious prophet has inspired more art than nearly any other Old Testament figure, and his story has been told and retold repeatedly in the centuries since the events first occurred.

But Jonah is not only a tale of a prophet on the run—it’s one of the clearest depictions of the gospel in the Old Testament. And in Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels, Tullian Tchividjian takes readers on a journey through the biblical account to help us discover the gospel according to Jonah.

Rebels on the Run

Tchividjian is very thorough in his approach to the book. He takes his time giving us the background of the prophet Jonah, who is only mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament in 2 Kings 14:25:

He [King Jeroboam II] restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher.

Jonah was kind of a big deal (as far as prophets go). He was the prophet of God whose preaching instructed Jeroboam how to restore the borders of Israel. So when God instructs him to preach judgment in Nineveh, the leading city in Assyria, what would we expect him to do?

The assignment probably takes his breath away. Jonah may already be a homeland hero due to his prophetic success toward building Israel’s defenses, but if that means anything at all in proud, idolatrous Nineveh, it can only be a strike against him. (p. 29)

Instead of obeying, he ran to Tarshish, hoping to evade God’s command. Of this, Tchividjian writes, [Read more...]

Small Talk

Over the last several days, we’ve met dozens of children, but I’ve never really been able to have much of a conversation.

I think this has a lot to do with expectations; being so concerned that I need to say something profound that will impact these kids lives forever, or avoiding saying something that would inadvertently damage them beyond measure. (No pressure, huh?)

Thursday was different.

In our last project visit, I had a chance to really just relax and have some fun. And after an intense game of volleyball, I took a seat on the stairs to have a drink and recharge.

Carmen sat down next to me and started talking.

I learned that she was eleven years old and has one brother named Pedro who is also at the project. She has two cats, named “White” and “Black.” She loves science & social studies, and she wants to be a lawyer.

I asked her why and she said, “I just like what they do.” (Seems as good a reason as any, I think.)

She asked me whether I play any instruments, and I told her about how I used to play the trombone when I was a bit older than she is now. We talked about music, drawing, family, our favorite colors, what I do for a living…

We just talked. No pressure, nothing seriously profound. Just a nice conversation.

I think it’s what both of us needed.

I wonder how often our expectations get in the way of us simply enjoying the opportunities and connections that God brings into our lives? To miss the trees for the forest sometimes. (Yes, I meant to say it that way in case you were curious.)

If I’d been stuck in that mode, I don’t know that I would have been able to enjoy this time with Carmen.

Her sitting down with me was a wonderful gift from God. Our conversation may not have been earth-shatteringly profound, but it made an impact. And I’m grateful for it.

Future Leaders for a Nation

From left to right: Alexa, the program specialist, Karen, Luis and Maricella

Wednesday night we had dinner with three of Compassion Hondura’s Leadership Development students and the program specialist. These young adults are exceptional graduates from Compassion’s child sponsorship program who have been given the opportunity to get a university education and become Christian leaders in their communities and country.

Karen joined the sponsorship program at nine years old and says it was a place of great blessing. She graduated from the program at 18 and is now studying Psychology at the National University of Honduras in Tegucigalpa.

“[Psychology] lets me serve Christ and talk to people about Him, [and] to tell people how valuable they are to God.”

Luis is 20 years old and is studying to be an industrial engineer. He joined the sponsorship program at 7 and graduated at 18. “The tutors taught us to be clean and healthy, but I may have been coming just for the food. I got to like it and had fun. I only had one sponsor, a Presbyterian Church in California. Many people wrote me often.”

Leaving home to continue in his studies is hard for Luis (to get the courses he needs, he has to move to another school). The church he grew up in was where he learned about Jesus. It was where he was baptized. “But I’mm going to miss my mother and her cooking,” he said with a smile. “My mother is a great cook.”

“I want to graduate and the first thing I’m going to do is buy a house, because ours is in bad shape. When I get my degree I want to work, help my family and build my house.”

Maricella is getting a degree in international commerce. Her story is one of the most tragic; her older brother died two years ago at the age of twenty-one of a degenerative disease; her younger brother is confined to a wheelchair by the same illness. She wants to graduate because she feels that she’s the only hope there is for her family, her church and her community. She wants to own her own business so she can help her family.

What stood out to me the most meeting these students is their commitment to serving Christ, helping their families and loving people. It was inspiring to see these young men and women who had nothing growing up and now have an opportunity to help change the direction of their nation.

I think they can do it.

Pray for them.

Thinking Beyond Today

Did you know that if you ask the average child in this area what he wants to be when he grows up, he won’t be able to answer?

It’s true.

During Tuesday’s visit to a church in the Copan Ruins, the project workers shared with us that most of the kids have never really given it any thought.

They’re too busy just trying to get through the day to think about what the future might hold.

That’s why it was really encouraging for us to see “My Plan for Tomorrow,” a resource in Compassion’s curriculum designed to help children ages 12 and up to figure out what direction they want to go with their lives.

[Read more...]

"What the Children Need Most is…"

The other day, we were shown the project offices at the church we visited. After seeing the meticulous records and going through a whole list of questions, I asked a project worker, “If there was one thing you’d like us to tell Canadians [and Americans, too] back home, what would it be?”

She thought for a moment and said:

Pray.

“What the children need most is your prayers. They have a lot of issues and need a lot of help. They have medical problems and some have mental problems… but what they need is your prayers.”

This was not what I was expecting as an answer, but it’s so obvious.

More than anything else—even more than the financial support that sponsors provide—the children need our prayers.

One of the challenges I’ve come up to here (besides the language barrier) is that I’m being confronted with how lazy I am spiritually.

What I mean is that I too often take prayer for granted, or see it as the last resort after I’ve tried to white-knuckle my way through a situation.

But that completely misses the point.

It misses the point of the gospel, which pointedly shows us that no amount of white-knuckling can to what only Christ could. And because of His death for our sins, the Father hears our prayers.

So why not take advantage of this gift?

These kids need our prayers. We need our prayers.

And God is good and faithful to answer for His glory and our joy.

Tiny Smiles and Big Hearts

On Monday we had our first “official” visit to a Compassion partner church, The Ark of Salvation in San Pedro Sula. The children meet in the church while they’re building a new classroom facility.

This is one of the little faces that greeted us today. This girl, and all the children her age, were making puppets.
[Read more...]

"I Just Want My Husband to Be Saved"

This is Fanny. She’s 46, married and has five children. The youngest is in the sponsorship program. Her husband sells eggs from their home.

Our visit to Fanny's home

Her four-year-old son is registered in Compassion’s program at The Ark of Salvation Church down the street.

We came to her home to ask a few questions about how having her son in the program has affected her life. She and her oldest daughter are Christians, and she is glad that her son is now going to a church.

as we talked, we asked her if there was anything we could pray with her about. Her answer was simple:

“I just want my husband to be saved.”

And we did.

First Corinthians 7:14 says that “the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife.” Because of her influence and consistent Christian lifestyle, there’s every chance that his heart would soften to the gospel and he would be saved. It would be amazing to see this happen.

To see this family united in Christ.

I believe it can happen.

Fanny and her family

“I just want my husband to be saved,” Fanny told us.

I want that, too.