ANTIDOTES TO WORRY

Here are some helpful Bible verse that could be a great encouragement for our daily battle with worries:

An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up” (Proverbs 12:25, NIV).

“I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4).

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7) (Also seePsalm 55:22-23)

“Then Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?’” (Luke 12:22-26, NIV). (Also see Matthew 6:25-34)

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:5).

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones” (Proverbs 3:5-8).

“…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:26-28).

“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).

The apostle Paul found his strength in God, He reminds us that, “I …have …been in prison …frequently, been flogged …severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. …I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. …Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. …I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. …[God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 11:23-12:10).

“So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:6).

“…put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore.” (Psalm 131:1)

LEADING A SMALL GROUP DISCUSSION: Inquire

INQUIRE – learning the ‘art’ of asking some questions. This sets apart the great discussion leaders from the average ones. Even if you are brilliant at working through the suggestions in the previous three posts: Involvement, Introductions and information – that would just build a platform.

And in order to build on that platform you need to develop this essential skill for a fruitful small group discussion – the skill of asking questions. Some are very native to this skill and seem to have been born with it. But the vast majority of people learn it over time and practice.

The key players in the question game are you (asking) and your group (responding). Here are some of my tips for getting the most out of this process:

  • Readiness – As I suggested before doing your homework in both understanding the questions provided and ‘owning’ them will be very useful. Maybe you can even re-write or add a few of your own.
  • Relax – A good sense of warm familiarity will help to make people like they can attempt to answer without fear of being laughed at or corrected. You need to know who your crew are and what they are comfortable with. You can draw some introverts gently into conversation but don’t force them.
  • Relate – As people share emphasise the common nature of their experience, maybe at times even illustrating how you might feel the same excitement/frustration. That will make them feel less vulnerable and more ‘normal’.
  • Repeat – sometimes people either do not understand the question or they need time to ponder it and repeating it in a slightly altered way might do the trick and avoid the kind of silence that might make people self-conscious (i.e. ‘boy we are a thick group’).
  • Referee – as you are in charge of the discussion, you need to use both your discernment and your courage to make sure that people don’t monopolize the room or feel too intimidated to speak. Again, knowing people is a great plus. You can easily draw them in by mentioning something they have experienced/they are passionate about. How you handle the extremes will set the tone for the group atmosphere.

LEADING A SMALL GROUP DISCUSSION: Information

INFORMATION – although in the previous post I have stressed the importance of relationships, perhaps at the expense of simply a discussion being just a platform for information dissemination – I think that WHAT we talk about is essential too.

As a discussion leader you must be familiar with your material. If you’re leading a Bible study – you must be well acquainted with the passage and particularly its context. Read it several times, underlining the interesting and intriguing items that ‘jump’ at you.

If you use the notes provided, make sure that you understand them and own them. The points and questions will always come across better if you make them yours. Often, therefore, the questions might need tweaking and customizing. There’s nothing worse than a discussion leader squinting at the notes and saying: ‘I haven’t got a clue what this means’…

It would be fantastic if people would know the subject/passage due to be discussed so that they could familiarise themselves with it. Though not all will do their ‘homework’ – some might and the discussion would be enriched by it.

If your discussion is a Church small group – take time to read the passage discussed and get people (who are comfortable reading out loud) to participate in reading it. Sometimes it helps using different versions too, or even making up a dramatized reading.

Here are some helpful questions worth using as a check regarding information for your discussion leading:

Can I sum up the theme & purpose of our discussion – in a sentence each?

What are the tricky issues/questions I can anticipate people bringing up?

If I could use 3 questions only – what would they be?

Can I let people know in advance what we are doing so they can prepare too?

LEADING A SMALL GROUP DISCUSSION: Introductions

INTRODUCTIONS – As I wrote in yesterday’s post – the aim of the discussion is not just to ‘get it right’ from an information point of view. The discussion should be a community building tool. Therefore good inter-personal relationships within the group are essential

Start by introducing people if they don’t know each other. Make newcomers feel at ease and make the long-term ‘customers’ feel valued in being there. Use ice-breakers or get them to talk about their day/week. That would create a sense of warmth and intimacy where people feel safe and accepted in sharing their opinions as well as voicing their questions or doubts even.

Talking about us and our lives – with all the ordinary or extraordinary ‘ups and downs’ – to people who are interest, is such a rare commodity these days…

If you as a leader work at this you will reap great results in the depth and effectiveness of the group discussion. At the end of the day – the discussion as a ‘journey’ is often more important than the destination itself.

Here are some helpful questions that can help you enhance the introductions within the group:

Do I know the people in the group that I am leading?

Have I made them personally welcome eve before the meeting?

Have I prepared some good ice-breakers to get them talking?

Am I ready to set an example in vulnerability by talking about my life/week?

Are there any hindrances in people feeling welcomed in the group?

LEADING A SMALL GROUP DISCUSSION: Involvement

Over the next few days I will write about some of my favourite tips for leading a discussion, combining my two passions for both communication & community. These are hopefully personal practical lessons – learned over the last 25 years or so.

INVOLVEMENT – this is probably the number one tip for any small group discussion leader. Don’t monopolise the conversation or try to provide all the answers, even when group silence seems to lure you in doing that.

A good leader draws people out of their ‘corner’ and brings them into the conversation. You must remember that for the average person, speaking in a group would be a pretty daring and uncomfortable experience. The more people contribute – the richer the group experience will be.

There are naturally quiet people who are authentic introverts who simply enjoy listening. Don’t pressurise them – as that will drive them away. With sensitivity discern what would build people up and strengthen your group.

If you want to do your homework and want to be better prepared to involve others – here are some helpful questions:

How do I create an atmosphere of warmth in the group?

Do I own the questions (understanding/knowing them)?

Am I talking too much?

Do I know the people – who are the introverts & extroverts?

NEXT TIME – Introductions

BEWARE OF DRIFTING

I was writing about the need to refocus yesterday and then almost providentially I have stumbled across this quote via Twitter by D. A. Carson. I hope that it provides some food for thought and fuel for prayer: I will use it as a tool of evaluation my sense of direction.

People do not drift toward Holiness.

Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.

We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance;

we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom;

we drift toward superstition and call it faith.

We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation;

we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism;

we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.

REFOCUS

There have been a lot of contests today – and to be honest non of them really interested me that much. And I don’t mean in a dismissive act of snobbery… Not the FA Cup, or the Premiership or the Eurovision. Yet I wondered what happened to the many lost and to the very few who won. What do you do after the euphoria wears thin or the sadness and regret linger? I would think that both sides would need to REFOCUS.

Oh how much we need to do this, daily as Christ-followers. Jesus’ most influential presentation of the Christian faith is the Sermon on the Mount. Here He teaches us about the right way to live, our influence, our privileges and our destiny as His followers. And right in the middle is one of the most profound verses in the Bible:

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’ Matthew 6:33

Jesus speaks these words in the context of human worry about material things: clothes, food – fears and pressure we can all identify with.

We live in a world that often expects to attain everything with as little work, expense or sweat. Just think of it: the latest diet that does not involve self-discipline or the gym, or the purchase of the latest gadgets (even if you don not really have the adequate amount of money). Words like discipline, rigor, sacrifice, passion, determination, endurance and resilience are often ‘strangers’ to our vocabulary (and lifestyle).

Yet living the Kingdom way (as Jesus wants us) means ‘seeking’. The image that comes to my mind is that of a determined and driven explorer that longs to find the promised new territory or treasure. Not content with just reading or hearing about it – but desiring to be there him/herself. No matter what barriers will come in the way, no matter what cost, no matter what sacrifice.

If we want to truly experience God’s blessing in our lives we should never cease to be ‘seekers’ of His kingdom. That means that we are on a journey. It means we keep drawing near to Him in prayer – allowing that Relationship to become deeper every day. It means we study His word, realising that it is life-giving. It means that we influence our society and culture (and not vice-versa). It ultimately means we let go of our control over life and become HIStory makers!

If you become available to God to live through you, if you pursue His agenda and live for his glory there is no telling what God can do in you/through you on this earth! Make this your prayer and confession:

‘Yes Lord, walking in the way of Your truth we wait eagerly for You, for Your name and renown are the desire of our souls.”   Isaiah 26:8

DON’T JUST ENTERTAIN ME

A really thought provoking article for all those involved in Youth Ministry – http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2011/spring/redbull.html

A few years ago I volunteered at an event put on by a national youth ministry.

The evening was fun but grueling. We bobbed for apples, captured flags, and raced eggs across the floor using only our noses. The games culminated with a frigid indignity: I laid on my back and let three giggling teenagers make an ice cream sundae on my face.

As I toweled chocolate syrup from my chin, a leader ordered the teens into a semicircle. It was time for the devotional, which included a gospel presentation—but it was a gospel presentation that made me want to stand up and scream.

“Being a Christian isn’t hard,” he told the group. “You won’t lose your friends or be unpopular at school. Nothing will change. Your life will be the same, just better.”

Maybe his words would have slipped by me if they hadn’t been such blatant reversals of Jesus’ own warnings about the offensiveness of his message or the inevitable hardships of following him.

I glanced at the teens. One was flicking Doritos chips at a friend. Others whispered to each other or stared at the floor. None of them seemed to be listening. And why should they? I wondered. Who cares about something that involves no adventure, no sacrifice, and no risk?

Unfortunately what I witnessed that night is hardly unique. Often ministries, especially youth ministries, are heavy on fun and light on faith. It’s fired up entertainment and watered down gospel.

Amused to death

The entertainment emphasis can be traced at least a generation, and perhaps nowhere was the impact felt more profoundly than in youth programs. Instead of stressing confirmation of faith—youth ministry’s original raison d’être—the focus shifted to attracting more and more kids to the ministry (which inevitably involved entertaining them). Not necessarily bad goals, but there were some ugly unintended consequences.

Today some youth ministries are almost devoid of religious education. They are “holding tanks with pizza,” as church researcher Ed Stetzer has called them. Some use violent video game parties to attract students through the church doors on Friday nights.

Over the past year I’ve conducted dozens of interviews with 20-somethings who have walked away from their Christian faith. Among the most surprising findings was this: nearly all of these “leavers” reported having positive experiences in youth group. I recall my conversation with one young man who described his journey from evangelical to atheist. He had nothing but vitriol for the Christian beliefs of his childhood, but when I asked him about youth group, his voice lifted. “Oh, youth group was a blast! My youth pastor was a great guy.”

I was confused. I asked Josh Riebock, a former youth pastor and author of mY Generation, to solve the riddle: if these young people had such a good time in youth group, why did they ditch their faith shortly after heading to college?

His response was simple. “Let’s face it,” he said. “There are a lot more fun things to do at college than eat pizza.

Good point.

If our strategy is to win young people’s allegiance to church by offering better entertainment than the world, then we’ve picked a losing battle. Entertainment might get kids to church in their teens, but it certainly won’t keep them there through their twenties.

And recent studies confirm that they’re leaving in droves. The Barna Group estimates that 80 percent of those reared in the church will be “disengaged” by the time they are 29. Barna Group president David Kinnaman describes the reality in stark terms:

“Imagine a group photo of all the students who come to your church in a typical year. Take a big fat marker and cross out three out of every four faces. That’s the probable toll of spiritual disengagement as students navigate the next two decades.”

Most of us don’t need a “big fat marker” to see this phenomenon play out. We’ve had a front row seat to the exodus.

Failure to form

In his book UnChristian, Kinnaman reports that 65 percent of all American young people report making a commitment to Jesus Christ at some point in their lives. Yet based on his surveys, Kinnaman concludes that only about 3 percent of these young adults have a biblical worldview.

Whether or not we accept Kinnaman’s definition of what constitutes a biblical worldview, few would argue that anywhere near 65 percent of young adults in the U.S. could be described as active followers of Jesus. We may have done a good job of getting young people to sign a pledge or mutter a prayer, but a poor job of forming them into devoted disciples.

Perhaps we’ve settled for entertaining rather than developing followers of Jesus.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with pizza and video games. The real problem is when they displace spiritual formation and teaching the Bible. And ultimately that’s the greatest danger of being overly reliant on an entertainment model. It’s not just that we can’t compete with the world’s amusements. It’s not only that we get locked into a cycle of serving up ever-increasing measures of fun. Rather it’s that we’re distracted from doing the real work of youth ministry—fostering robust faith.

Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life, liked to say, “It’s a sin to bore a kid with the gospel.” A generation later, that philosophy morphed into an entertainment based gospel that has actually produced entertainment numbness and an avoidance of the gospel’s harder teachings. Somehow we thought we could sweeten the gospel message for young people to make it easier for them to swallow, but it turns out that they’re choking on our concoction.

In the end, pizza and video games don’t transform lives. Young people are transformed by truth clearly presented. They’re drawn to a cause to live and die for. In other words, they want the unvarnished gospel. When we present that gospel, with all its hard demands and radical implications, we’ll be speaking the language they long to, and need to, hear.

Signs of life

I don’t want to be too hard on youth pastors. I was one. I know how tough it is. Teenage attention spans are short. Pressure to get numbers up is constant. But it’s possible to instill a more dynamic faith if we change our focus, even if that decision comes at the expense of our conventional metrics of “success.”

Thankfully there are youth ministries trying to turn the tide. Faithbridge church in Houston, Texas, is one example. “We don’t pour much effort into planning big hoorah events,” says lead student pastor Dylan Lucas. “We’re really focused on the Word and leadership training.”

The ministry pairs small groups of five to seven teens with adult leaders, and then provides those leaders with intensive training. “We equip these leaders to teach. The youth pastor can’t do it all,” says Lucas.

Follow-up is another focus. “Our job doesn’t end at graduation,” Lucas says. “We call that ‘Day One.'” Each graduate leaving for college receives a $10 Starbucks gift card with the following instructions: go find a spiritual mentor on campus to take out for coffee.

“We keep tabs on them,” Lucas says. “We have relationships with their families, and we bring them back to help lead the next generation.”

Of course not all graduates stay on the straight and narrow. “When we see someone go off, we don’t ignore it,” Lucas says. “You have to pick up the phone and make that awkward call.”

Drew Dyck is managing editor of Leadership Journaland author of Generation Ex-Christian.

Copyright © 2011 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.

WHAT IS YOUR LIFE’S BLUEPRINT?

As we are talking about exams and the stress that comes with them, in Pulse tonight – I remembered this great motivational speech by Dr. King. Six months before he was assassinated, King spoke to a group of students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia on October 26, 1967:

I want to ask you a question, and that is: What is your life’s blueprint?

Whenever a building is constructed, you usually have an architect who draws a blueprint, and that blueprint serves as the pattern, as the guide, and a building is not well erected without a good, solid blueprint.

Now each of you is in the process of building the structure of your lives, and the question is whether you have a proper, a solid and a sound blueprint.

I want to suggest some of the things that should begin your life’s blueprint. Number one in your life’s blueprint, should be a deep belief in your own dignity, your worth and your own somebodiness. Don’t allow anybody to make you fell that you’re nobody. Always feel that you count. Always feel that you have worth, and always feel that your life has ultimate significance.

Secondly, in your life’s blueprint you must have as the basic principle the determination to achieve excellence in your various fields of endeavor. You’re going to be deciding as the days, as the years unfold what you will do in life — what your life’s work will be. Set out to do it well.

And I say to you, my young friends, doors are opening to you–doors of opportunities that were not open to your mothers and your fathers — and the great challenge facing you is to be ready to face these doors as they open.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great essayist, said in a lecture in 1871, “If a man can write a better book or preach a better sermon or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, even if he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.”

This hasn’t always been true — but it will become increasingly true, and so I would urge you to study hard, to burn the midnight oil; I would say to you, don’t drop out of school. I understand all the sociological reasons, but I urge you that in spite of your economic plight, in spite of the situation that you’re forced to live in — stay in school.

And when you discover what you will be in your life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it. don’t just set out to do a good job. Set out to do such a good job that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn’t do it any better.

If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be be the best little shrub on the side of the hill.

Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.

— From the estate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.