Several years ago, the Christ in Youth Summer Conference (now known as MOVE) had a theme called ONES. The bottom line for the teaching that week is that we were never meant to be alone. I pray daily that those who attended the conference that summer will NEVER forget that bottom line, and I have incorporated that message into the “Love People” part of our vision statement at VCC. Life truly is better when we do it together. At VCC, Life Groups are the vehicle we steer folks towards so they can become more involved, and better known among the family of believers.
Among the purposes of our Life Groups:
Deeper study and application of God’s Word in a more intimate setting. Pouring over a passage of Scripture with 10 or 12 other people makes for a deeper time of study and reflection, a chance for give-and-take in discussion, and a bonding that simply is not possible in the Big Group time on Sunday mornings.
A chance to get to know some others on a deeper level. Our discussion are more than academic in nature, and because of that, we get to know the others in our Life Group on a deeper level. We learn their personalities, their quirks, maybe even their fears, and their faith issues (positive and negative), and can band together in love, prayer, and support for one another.
Doing Life Together. That means more than “just” a Bible study. While studying God’s Word is of primary importance, it is not the ONLY thing we do in Life Groups. We do social outings together (dinners, affinity activities, game nights, just to name a few).
There’s a Shepherding component that is HUGE here. When members of your Life Group are sick, in the hospital, having major life change issues, or whatever, members of the Life Group are the first responders. We fix meals, we check on folks who missed even one Life Group or Sunday morning gathering. We are there to help in whatever way necessary. We are family.
Challenging each other to move to that “next step” in our faith journey, ultimately getting to “Serve Others.” Whether it is serving inside the church structure on a ministry team, or serving outside the church structure in our community (and preferably both), we challenge each other to be the “hands and feet of Jesus.” It is so much easier and frankly more fun to serve others when you do it with a group of like-minded believers!
So often, the church loses as many people out the “back door” as come in through the “front door.” It is because we are not doing a great job in helping new believers connect with the body of Christ known as the local church. At VCC, our goal is to get everyone “plugged in” through a Life Group. We are far from achieving our goal, but we are making strides in that direction. Helping others see the benefits of being in a Life Group WILL make a difference in this matter.
So, what other benefits have you seen from being part of a Life Group? I would LOVE to hear from you on this matter.
The vision statement for Vero Christian Church reads: Love God, Love People, Serve Others. This statement was crafted after much study, prayer, and discussion. While it adopts a Simple Church phraseology, it is deep. Simple does not equate easy or shallow. Complex does not equate deep or thoughtful.
If we are to properly do life together (as I wrote about in this previous post), then we must start with a solid foundation. That foundation is our relationship with God. All other relationships will rise or fall based on this fundamental relationship.
As we Love God, we desire to spend time with Him. In prayer. In Bible study. in personal, private worship. In corporate worship. Yes, all of the above are necessary for a deepening relationship with God. Doing life together means just that: together. Not solo. There are NO Lone Ranger Christians. Christ is coming back to redeem and collect His Bride, the Church. Not a bunch of individuals. As I mentioned in my previous post, we are all living stones in and for the Temple of God.
Notice I used the word “desire” in the paragraph above. We must DESIRE to spend this time with God and His people. It is not a “have to” attitude God is seeking. It is a “get to” or a “want to” desire. I LOVE my time in God’s Word each day. But, I LOVE the time Peggy and I spend in God’s Word together each day even more. I LOVE the time I get to spend with brothers and sisters in Christ on the Lord’s Day each week. When we gather, we publicly proclaim our love for God. We sing His praises, we pray for one another and for others outside our fellowship. We gather around the Lord’s Table, eating bread and drinking juice to proclaim the death, burial, resurrection, and coming again soon of our Lord Jesus. We hear God’s Word proclaimed, and are challenged to apply that Word to our daily lives. We are encouraged by one another, and we feel the love of God working through our Christian brothers and sisters.
That gathering with my fellow living stones of God’s Temple is the highlight of my week. It is a time of Celebration and joy. It is a time to express our love for God as a family. It crushes my heart that so many who claim to follow Christ do not see the importance of weekly gathering with the body of Christ. I guess this is not a new problem because the writer of the book of Hebrews (I believe it is Paul who wrote this book, but that is a subject for another day) says:
23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Yeah, apparently the teaching in the early church was that God thinks it is important to be in the weekly assembly. I believe it is critical for us to obey God’s Word. I also know that I could not survive this thing called life without that regular, weekly gathering with my brothers and sisters in Christ to express our collective Love for God.
How about you?
Peggy and I are immersing ourselves in 1 Peter this year in our couple’s devotion time. We go through one chapter each day (Monday-Friday, since there are five chapters in this book), allowing the Scriptures to wash over us. We discuss a verse that stands out to us each day. Today, I am simply blown away by the thought that we individual Christians are stones being built into God’s Temple. See, there is a thought out there in supposedly “Christian circles” that I can love God but not be part of the church.
One stone does not much of a Temple make.
Wrong. Period. The church is the Bride of Christ. apart from the church, you will have no eternal fellowship with God. While each individual one of us is a Temple for the Holy Spirit indwelling us, TOGETHER we are the stones making up the Temple of God. One stone does not much of a Temple make. Life is better together, because God designed us that way.
We are living stones that God is building into His Temple. That means He is not through with us. There is more work to be done. In community. Together. There is no such thing as a “Lone Ranger Christian,” nor does the Bible recognize anyone as Christian who is not part of a community of believers. So, can we who claim to follow Christ please stop trying to say that we don’t need or want to be part of His Church? We are being completely disingenuous, and are making fools of ourselves.
One stone does not a temple make. One Christian does not a church make. A Christian apart from the body of Christ is dying whether they recognize that fact or not. Spiritually, they are decaying, and will soon enough be so numb to this reality they will not even recognize it.
To this end, I would like to devote the next few posts to the three components of Vero Christian Church’s Vision Statement: Love God, Love People, Serve Others. I pray you will join me as I explore the meaning behind each section of that vision, and how it relates to the fact that life is better together!
The sun came up this morning. In spite of the gloom still surrounding you from the events of the past few days, birds are chirping, and the sounds of a new beginning fill the air.
Suddenly, some of the women who had gone to the tomb come running back, breathlessly babbling about the tomb being empty, and some guy telling them to tell you that the Master is not dead. Well, that is seriously confusing since you saw Him die with your own eyes.
So, you run to the tomb, and just as the women had reported, the stone has been rolled away. The grave clothes are laying there, but the body is gone. You don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Is this some cruel joke the Roman authorities are playing? Did the religious leaders formulate a plan to get all of your fellow followers of the Master to come together so you could all be arrested as well?
Quickly, you run back to your hiding place, praying every step of the way. Still, no answer. Wait. You are so tired of waiting. But, the women are abuzz with what, or rather who they saw outside the tomb. They claim it is the Master who told them that He would come see the rest of the group. The Master told them to tell you and the others that He was no longer dead. Do you dare believe such news? If true, it is the GREATEST news known to mankind.
Morning turns to afternoon which turns to evening. The hiding place is filled with your fellow followers, all of whom are trying to make sense out of the past three days. Suddenly, the room is filled with a light that is not of this world, and there He is!
The Master proclaims peace to the quivering crowd, and while you cannot believe your eyes, the One you saw crucified on Friday is standing before you on Sunday. What a Glorious Day!
What are you waiting for?
This. Changes. Everything. In spite of your sin, in spite of your repeated failings, denials, and just plain ole silly moves, the Master wants you to help spread the Good News. So, what are you waiting for?
Friday had been the most difficult day ever. While it started out with a praise service in the Garden, it quickly turned to a dizzying sequence of arrest, skirmish, scattering and disbelief. Then, it was a joke of a trial, a campfire that still didn’t truly warm you, and denial (3 times).
Before you knew it, your Master had been brought before government officials, scourged, mocked, spat upon, and the increasingly growing crowds are screaming for His blood. Yes, Friday was a day you will never be able to forget, no matter how hard you try. The humiliation. The degradation.
The images of your Master being beaten to a bloody pulp, struggling to carry that heavy cross beam up the hill to the place of the Skull are surpassed only by the images of the spikes being driven in His hands and feet just before He is lifted up, high above the city, outside the city gates. There, the Master is hung out to die.
Too much to comprehend.
Hearing His cries of anguish still haunts you. But hearing Him say, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they are doing” is haunting as well. Forgive them? Seriously? Then, as the skies grew dark and the whole earth seemed to shake, He gave up His spirit and died. The Master died. Too much to comprehend.
Waiting, praying for God to intervene, and wondering why He didn’t answer those prayers, now it is Saturday, and the shock has not begun to wear off. You are numb to your very soul. “Why, God? What possible good could come from this? How could You allow the Master to be crucified?”
You keep praying, but God does not seem to answer. The silence is deafening. You are broken in every possible way. You wait.
Still, no clear answer seems to be forthcoming, so you wait.
Your fellow followers of the Master are scattered, but slowly start coming back to a place with which you are all familiar. Hushed sobs fill the air. No one dares speak aloud. All are wondering the same thing: why? What next? Still, no clear answer seems to be forthcoming, so you wait.
You are exhausted from the events of the past 36 hours, but sleep does not come. More crying out to God, “why, God? What do we do now?” Still, no reply. So you do the only thing you know you can do at this moment. You wait.
You have no idea what is coming next, but you are trying desperately to trust God Who knows all and will work all things for the good. At least that’s what you learned over the past three years from sitting at the feet of your Master. Still, it just doesn’t seem like ANYTHING good could possibly come from the events of the past day and a half. You would LOVE to drift off to sleep just for a respite from the anguish, but sleep eludes you. So, you wait.
Friday is done. Saturday is fading away. Sunday is coming. Wait.
This post may not help a single person who reads it, but it is one I feel compelled to write in the form of a confession. Thanks for bearing with, and for praying for me.
The storm clouds swirled around Vero Beach this morning (Thursday, April 6th). Tornado warnings, hail, wind damage, and lots of rain reported in our area. As of this writing, no indications of significant damage, injuries or deaths, and for that we are very grateful.
Storms are part of life in this sin-filled, fallen world in which we live. While I will NEVER minimize the devastation of physical storms, I still believe that they pale in comparison to emotional and spiritual storms. I also know that in spite of (perhaps even because of) the fact that I am a follower of Christ, those storms can be quite intense.
I have previously discussed that I have a tenancy towards depressaholism (a word I coined to describe my battles with a form of depression). You can tell when it has really flared up, because I stop writing for a while.
The thing that truly upsets me about my battles in this area is the totally selfish mode in which I find myself. By that I mean that there are stretches of time when I just don’t care about taking care of myself. Physically, emotionally, sometimes (but not often) even spiritually. I just get the “I don’t care” attitude going. I know that is as selfish as it can be.
I have a responsibility to my LORD first of all, and among the aspects of that responsibility is the commitment to take care of my body, which is a temple for the Holy Spirit. While I do not want to take 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 out of context (it is talking about fleeing sexual immorality), I believe the admonition to take care of your body entails EVERY aspect of that endeavor.
1 Cor. 6:19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
I confess to you (and those who see me on a regular basis know this is true): I have not taken care of my body properly over the past few months. My weight is up, my A1c is up, and my depressaholism feeds into the “I don’t care” attitude that must be squashed.
So, I find myself in that Romans 7 battle Paul describes:
Romans 7:15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
Again, I do not want to take this out of context, but in following God’s desire for my life, there are things I need to do. there are others things I need to stop doing. Not just physically, but especially emotionally. The storm clouds swirl around in the midst of this battle. I know in my head Who wins in the end, and I know that I want to be on the winning side. I also know that I dishonor my Lord when I fail in this battle. Sigh.
I praise God for my Lord Jesus. I want to submit to His Lordship in every area of my life. I praise God for my beautiful Bride, Peggy. I want to honor her by living a life of submission to Christ. I love our children, grandchildren, siblings, in-laws, outlaws, church family, friends, neighbors, and those who do not follow Christ. May my actions line up with my desires and words. May I start by getting my “house” or “temple” in order. Thanks for your prayers.
30-some years ago, we were introduced to Jim and Debbie Reeves. As folks coming in new to Westwood Christian Church, our senior minister Don Boswell formed a group of young married couples to study Scripture and do life together. We met at Jim and Debbie’s house.
While we enjoyed all the couples in that group, a special bond formed between the Reeves’ and us. We found ourselves hanging out together outside of “church related functions.” I had our kids call Debbie “Grandma Debbie” (because she is a couple months older than me) from the get-go. People would ask if Debbie and Peggy were sisters, to which they would quickly answer, “YES!” We have a bond that goes far deeper than friendship. We are family.
We shared with each other in the ups and downs of raising our kids, and we share in the joys and heartaches of grandparenthood now. We can go months without communicating with one another, yet pick up like we just spoke earlier in the day. We are family.
Jim and Debbie come to Florida a couple times a year now. They have a “retirement home” about two hours away from us (long story that is not important to this blog), and while neither are retired yet, they are making plans along those lines for the “near future.”
We had the privilege of spending some time with them last weekend, while they were here in Florida. We ate (way too much). We watched KY basketball. The girls shopped. You see, Stein Mart was having this “huge sale” that they just could not resist.We ate. We cat-napped around the house. We had deep, meaningful, spiritual discussions. We talked about stuff that made us laugh and had no eternal significance at all. We ate. We just relished each others’ company. Oh yeah, and we ate.
We have established a few “local spots” where we like to eat, and the trick is trying to hit them all any time Jim and Debbie are here with us. We failed to hit them all, but it was not for a lack of trying!
While Debbie and Peggy are not biological sisters, we all are related by Blood. It is the Blood of Christ which binds us together. The common interests we have, the common sense of humor we share, the bonds that endear Jim and Debbie to us are all because of our shared love for Jesus. We are truly blessed to call Jim and Debbie family, and honored that they feel the same about us.
God created us all to crave community. We were not designed to follow Jesus on our own. We need people who share our values and faith, but who also share our likes, sense of humor, and goals in life.
Make no mistake about it. I love being a husband, a dad, a Pop Pop. I love my biological brothers and sister. I love Peggy’s sister. I love our biological family. Those are important roles I play in life. But I love being a brother to Jim and Debbie Reeves. They have made and continue to make this journey called life such a pleasure.
I pray that you have someone in your life like that. If not, you are missing out on one of the biggest blessings God could every bestow upon you. Our BFFs absolutely make our lives a more rich and rewarding experience.
How about you? I would love to hear about your BFFs and the impact on your life. Let’s continue the conversation in the comments section below.
In my previous post, I discussed what a biblical Elder should look like (or smell like), citing work done by Dr. Lynn Anderson on this matter. Elders are shepherds, mentors, and equippers. Knowing that, how should I react, and how should I relate to my Elders. Let me suggest a few items for consideration and prayer.
First, we need to pray for our Elders daily. These men are under the call of God to lead the flock of which we are a part. The least we could do for them is to pray.
We need to be willing to be mentored and equipped for works of service. I would dare say that we should look for areas of service where there is a need, and where we have skills to help meet that need, and VOLUNTEER to take care of that area. We need to let our Elders know that we are with them.
Dr. Anderson asserts and I agree that we can help our Elders by shepherding flocks ourselves. At Vero Christian, we call those flocks “Life Groups.” Our Life Group leaders shepherd the people in their group. If there is that rare shepherding need that arises needing an Elder’s attention, this need is reported to the Elders. Otherwise, the Life Group leader and his group members handle the shepherding needs of the members of their group. This is a TREMENDOUS blessing not only for the people in the Life Group, but for the Elders as well.
We all play the role of shepherd to someone. Whether it is raising your children in the faith, teaching a Sunday School Class, discipling a fellow Christian, mentoring a younger man or woman, or leading someone to Christ. Realize that God has designed you for those roles. God expects each of us to mentor others. On purpose. As Paul told Timothy, we are to “teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.
Elders who have a servant’s heart can overextend themselves, taking on responsibilities that should be delegated to others. They see areas of need, and often dive in to handle that need themselves. What if we, members of the flock, looked around at areas of need (preparing and serving Communion, helping in the children’s ministry on Sunday mornings, etc.) and VOLUNTEERED to meet those needs? We would be serving the body and would be obedient to God’s call on our lives.
I wonder what would happen if we approached an Elder and asked them to mentor us? Yeah, you are right. They probably would faint. It would be fun, though, wouldn’t it? I mean to have an Elder pour themselves into us. Having an Elder looking at our lives, seeing what God can do through us, and casting a vision for us in that manner. You thought I was referring to making an Elder faint, didn’t you?
The body of Christ is healthier when we all function as we were designed. God has gifted each of us in different ways, and those gifts are to be used for the building up of the body of Christ. Biblical Elders will shepherd, mentor, and equip. Christians will respond by being willing to submit to the Elders; by being willing to be mentored by someone who is further along in their faith journey than us, or someone who has a skill set we need to learn; and by being willing to allow someone to equip us properly for works of service.
I declare this to be “freak your Elders out week.” Approach an Elder and ask how you may be of service. Better yet, tell them about how you have seen a need and how you are willing to meet that need.
I would love to continue the conversation in the comments section below.
Having “grown up” in the church for most of my life, I can honestly say that I hadn’t given much thought about what an Elder should look like or act like.
I mean, Elders were those old guys with sour looks on their faces, like they had been baptized in pickle juice, you know…they hung around in the shadows of the church building, coming forward to serve at the Communion Table and sit in those throne chairs left over from the Dark Ages. I never thought of them as “bad guys,” I just didn’t want to hang out with them.
You, too, may suffer from misconceptions about what the role of a biblical Elder is. Manmade traditions have clouded the clear call of God in this matter. To this end, allow me to summarize some thoughts from Dr. Lynn Anderson, president of Hope Network and author of the two volume work, “They Smell Like Sheep.“
Elders are shepherds.
Which, is a good thing in light or Isaiah’s assessment of us when he wrote: “we all, like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way.” We need a shepherd who lives with us, walks with us, feeds, waters, protects us in a hands-on, personal manner. A shepherd is simply there for the flock. A biblical Elder smells like sheep.
A shepherd is committed to the Lord, to the church, to the clear teaching of the Scriptures, and to the people entrusted to his care as an Elder.
A shepherd is trusted. They are followed because they have established that they can be trusted in the good times and the not-so-good times. Shepherds attract flocks through loving service and authentic relationships.
Elders are mentors.
While a shepherd tends the flock, a mentor pulls up along side individuals to model behavior, values, and faith through a shared life. Mentoring is pouring your life into someone else so they become more like Christ. Mentors are models, not moguls lording it over anyone. Elders as mentors are not cowboys driving the herd, or sheriffs “enforcing the law.” Mentors who pour themselves into others often see things in the person they are mentoring that the person being mentored may not see in themselves.
My spiritual mentor, Don Boswell, saw in me the potential to move out of that broadcast journalist mindset and into full-time ministry. 30 years later, I am still living out that vision Don cast before me, and loving every minute of being a minister of the Gospel of Christ.
Elders are equippers.
News flash: biblical Elders do not do all the work of ministry that needs to be done. They cannot do all of the work of ministry that needs to be done. As the flock grows, needs grow, and those needs outgrow the ability of a handful of Elders to handle. So, Elders need to follow the words of Paul in Ephesians 4:11-13, and equip others for works of service. This means that Elders must
Delegate meaningful tasks to others.
Search for the “right fit” for the tasks at hand.
Train them with the skills necessary to accomplish those tasks.