Law starts with love. Because how did Jesus say we are to do the law? By loving God and neighbor as ourselves.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:9-10
“Love must be sincere…” And then Paul continues in the chapter with all these things we should be doing: hating evil, clinging to good, being joyful, patient, blessing those who curse us, etc.
And not just love, but sincere love. If we’re focused on the list, box checking, refrigerator list Christianity, even though they are all things you should be doing: you are practicing hospitality or sharing with those in need…there’s a danger- we may have a secret ulterior motive.
One of our motivations is the hope that we’ll be loved back.
So, in that case, you’re really doing it for yourself. It’s self-love.
What can I get out of it?
Will people like me more?
Will God love me more?
Self love is not sincere love. Sincere means without hypocrisy. And if we’re not sincere, we’re hypocrites. Self love is hypocrisy.
We’re not really doing it because we love others, we’re doing it because we love ourselves.
Check out how we learn to do it the right way, in love, here:
Sometimes during winter, the chemicals on the road put a light film on my windshield. At night, when I am driving on a dark road alone, I really don’t notice it.
But when an oncoming car shines its headlights onto my windshield, that slight, unnoticeable film makes it almost impossible to see. I had no idea that something that potentially blinding was there until it got illuminated.
God’s Word is the set of headlights that reveals the junk that keeps us from seeing things as they are. Stuff in front of us, on a collision course even, that we might not have even noticed before.
Psalm 119:105 states:
God’s Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.
Christian, God is at work, even in your darkest times. But God’s will, the Law He has written in His Word and in our hearts, may become clouded over and difficult for us to see in the middle of it.
Church family helps to hold and aim that lamp as an instrument of God, helping us to see clearly and putting us back on the road. That’s one reason that Life Groups are so important.
True change can only be accomplished if we allow the Holy Spirit to rewrite our code with God’s.
Ezekiel 36:26- I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
Jeremiah 31:33- I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
Here are some things we ask our small groups to consider at my church every summer break:
Has your group been together for several years? AND
Is your group too big?
Answer yes to either of these- and you may be unintentionally hanging the “closed” sign on your front door.
Your “closed” to new members for two reasons:
unofficially: nobody wants to be the new kid on the block OR
officially: they are simply too big numerically, so there is no room at the inn.
The problem: exclusivity
The solution: plant a new group
Allow the leader you have trained to lead your group. Then you and one another experienced member leave and plant a new one. It can be the same night, the same place, the same everything- just mostly new members. Then…
Exclusive becomes inclusive:
Yes, people will not want to get out of their comfort zone. But when we don’t, we exclude. And the gospel is never exclusive- in fact, exclusion is the opposite of the gospel.
Christ didn’t die to keep people out- he died to bring them in.
So we make a sacrifice of our own comfort and exclusivity to include those who have not experienced what we have experienced in community. We bring them in.
Now, you’ll get no argument from me that churches are primarily Word Ministry based. Practically, para-church organizations are better equipped to serve communities. But every church should have a couple of gateway programs that do community outreach as part of their discipleship program.
A couple of years ago, the church I attend started a community service program called Send Seventy, modeled after Jesus sending the disciples out in pairs. Send Seventy was designed to get people out into their neighborhoods to serve. It platformed out of our Life Group ministry- so that people could go together and support one another as they tried something new. Hopefully, three things would happen:
Together, people could overcome their trepidation to try something new.
Once they tried it, service would become something they wanted to do, rather than a burden or just another thing on the to-do list. (Enter sanctifying Holy Spirit:)
They’d be motivated to find a place that fit them and continue serving.
Gateway programs like this are important in combatting community service lethargy. Many people, myself included, shy away from service because its new and intimidating not to know anyone or what to do- we’re uncomfortable. A gateway service program called Salt and Light is run by our church at a local homeless shelter ministry. It’s led and supported by a regular and dedicated leadership team from the church, but with plenty of room for people to get out of their pews and try it out.
Church community service programs should be designed to introduce people to service so that they can find their own service home and routines in their own contexts, neighborhoods and comfort zones.
Did Send Seventy work? Well, it worked for me. I’ve shared my struggles with serving and new routines and busy-ness. But after a few tries (and few bad fits), I found a place in my neighborhood where I feel comfortable, know the people and can serve regularly.
The Cheesecake Factory is known for its ability to pull off an eighty page menu. Churches, not so much…
Cheesecake Factory Church
The Cheesecake Factory is known for its ability to pull off an eighty page menu. Churches, not so much. In church world, something for everyone sounds great but usually fails at disciple-making. A church with too many menu items becomes stretched and spread too thin. Or, as Frodo Baggins would say “butter scrapped over too much bread.” You wind up with a dozen or so ministries with a dozen or so people in each- it dilutes resources- people, energy, time and money. Ministry fatigue results. So I prefer the Steakhouse model instead, pick a few things you can do well and stick with it.
What ministries in your church are good at disciple making? Where can you get the most bang for your buck? Small Groups are a “big bang” discipleship program. Connectivity, care and share, in depth bible study, gospel application, meaningful group prayer, leadership development, and even eating the occasional cheesecake together. If your only going to get people one time every week or two outside of church, this is a good one.
If you have many programs that accomplish all of these things well, then great! But we should always be evaluating and asking- how are they making disciples? If you’re only hanging out/socializing, that’s great- maybe you’re only studying the Bible together, not bad either, or serving, or praying, etc. But where are you doing all these things at once?
Check out this message on John 17:17-24 – its as close as I’ve been able to come to fully and biblically articulating the (drive by) theology behind my position: The Beauty of Gospel Community
Most people are reluctant to go to group prayer meetings precisely because they’ve been to group prayer meetings. Count me among the recalcitrant. Group prayer time used to send me into despair. I once suggested privately to my wife that we should pass a Yahtzee timer around. Not very loving or patient on my part. Hopefully, I’ve grown since. But my problem wasn’t the prayer, it was the prep. The backstories dominated the time. All too often, they began, “It all started back in fifth grade.” Cue famous painting “The Scream.” But two years ago, a couple of our Life Groups began to combine once a month for dedicated prayer time. Wary of past time sinks, we laid a few ground rules:
Get started right away. After a short 2-3 minute introduction by an informal leader- with a few community and church themed things we should be considering, we got started, right away.
No backstories. If the details are important, they are important enough to reveal them in the prayer.
Make a list of things to pray for BEFORE you arrive.
Pick a passage of scripture to pray for- concerned about the will of God? Worried you won’t have anything to pray? Plenty of material here. God’s Word is God’s will.
Embrace the silence. The Holy Spirit is still moving.
Then simply pray until everyone is prayed out. You’ll know when. Our early meetings lasted 15 minutes and eventually stretched to 45. It felt like two. Prayer is like distance running- you have to get in shape.
Getting right to prayer was the answer. There is still a place for backstories- albeit more appropriately in Life Group setting where the express purpose is to share life experiences. But give it a try. Get a couple of groups together, once a month, and if you’re nervous, have one of the pastors take the lead until you get the hang of it.
God and Jesus were spiritually and supernaturally connected before the world began. When Jesus gives us his glory- we have access to the same kind of supernatural community. Gospel community unifies, sanctifies and glorifies. We can only be unified in God and Jesus to the extent that we are unified in one another. We can’t neglect the work and commitment it takes to study, worship, and have fellowship together.