Encourage One Another

Maybe I am close to being over jet lag. Spending a week where the time is twelve hours different than your home really messes with your biological clock. While I have been fairly productive, my thinking has not been clear enough to do much writing. So enough excuses, here’s one blog for the week:

Early in June I was introducing the oral Discovery Bible Study format to a house church group. The challenge was question # 8, “Which of the struggles mentioned earlier could we as a group do something to help one of us?” The problem was that the people in this group do not see each other much outside of their Tuesday night meetings. Some were even absent that night, and one was present through Skype, from his work. What can we do to minister to one of the group members?

One participant had shared that she needed a new job, and then she said, “What I really need is a better attitude about the job I have.” Another reminded the first one how excited she had been when she first got this job. We worked through the rest of the questions and the passage we studied and then came to number 8.

After I asked the question, the group reviewed what those challenges were that had been shared earlier. No one had a suggestion. Finally I asked the person who needed a new attitude if she could receive texts during work. She said, “Yes!” I proposed we all agree to text her each work day during the next week. Our texts were to encourage her to have a positive attitude about her work. All agreed to give it a try.

Five months later I still send out texts most work days. The original recipient of those texts is now a member of a six-person group. Most days my text is a verse that calls us to remember God’s character and the ways he blesses us. Last week I was unable to text because of being out of the country—I missed it. But that group was praying for me during my travels. God has knit our hearts together through this attempt to minister to one another. How are you putting what you learn into practice?

Today I just finished sharing the final verse from Psalm 145. This passage contains many powerful reminders of God’s goodness. It contains many calls to praise him and tell others of his deeds. Maybe you know a group of people to whom you could send such a text. Let’s take seriously the biblical call to encourage one another!

The Greater Blessing

The time I spent in Arkansas last week was rich. As I have reflected on it, one session was particularly memorable. Three young missionary families who are preparing to move to Tanzania interviewed several missionary families who moved to Kenya thirty years ago as a team.

There were light-hearted moments when cultural/linguistic missteps were shared. There were points when the one sharing would choke up when the memories from decades ago came rushing back.

Two answers to one question really stood out for me, though. “If you had it to do over again, what would you do differently?” the new team asked. The older responder (currently serves as a professor of missiology) said, “We would teach them to give from very early in our time with them, and we would turn the leadership of churches and projects over to them much more quickly.”

This former missionary who continues to explore missions shared that the issue of giving had been raised recently. He had traveled to Kenya for a large gathering of the congregational leaders from the churches that had been planted. One African leader rebuked him sternly: “You did not teach us to give. We would not be facing some of the challenges we are right now, if you had taught us what the Bible says on this from the beginning.”

Acknowledging the truth of the rebuke, this older, wiser brother reminisced over the difficulty this topic raised. The team arrived with vehicles, finances and resources the people of this tribe might never have. “How can we call them to give when they live on less than $2.00 per day?” summed up the struggle.

This former missionary stated that their team had been intentional in turning over leadership more quickly than was the norm thirty years ago. But he affirmed they still waited too long.

These have lodged in my mind. Next week I plan to share some reflections on these two. What are your thoughts? I would love to hear from you before I express myself.

Pruning on Purpose

Are there areas in your life that need selective pruning? Are there places where you need to be opened up to the Son’s light so new growth can begin? Some growth can actually prevent fruitfulness. At a Disciple Making Movement gathering earlier this summer a guy at my table shared that he had recently planted a cherry orchard. He was being mentored by an older man who was very experienced. When he questioned how heavy the trees were being pruned, his mentor said, “If you want fruit, you have to hurt the tree!”

From the outside (un-experienced position) looking in, that is how some pruning appears. But the master gardener knows where strategic “hurting” needs to happen. This is guided by the purpose. With the azaleas, the issues were keeping them healthy, beautiful and within their space so their beauty could be appreciated without them encroaching on the sidewalks and parking spaces. For the cherry orchard, the purpose was not beautiful trees, but much fruit.

What is God’s purpose for your life? Does he want you as a trophy? Is he tending you as a beautiful ornament to bring joy into an otherwise drab world?

Is God’s purpose for you to show off an abundant harvest? Recognize that the pruning will be quite different when the goal is fruitfulness. While a tree with thousands of cherries might make a beautiful photograph and feed lots of birds, one with one-third the cherries will make much better pies. That is why the person tending the orchard will strategically remove most of the cherries early in their growth so more nutrition goes into each piece of fruit.

Discovery Bible Studies can open us up to light from the Son. Obedience to what we hear from God can prune away the good things that are enemies to great fruitfulness.



Being Doers of the Word (Part 2)

Our fast-paced, disconnected-from-extended-family lives challenge obedient living. Even our friendships are often far-flung and limited by our schedules. In the DBS trainings I have done lately, I have been struck by this challenge. How will this group minister to one of the challenges they have shared? How can we take concrete actions that will bless one another?

One month ago I was encouraging a house church group to consider using the 8-Question oral DBS format. As we approached the last question, “How can we help with one of the challenges mentioned earlier?” I was concerned. There were five us us gathered that night, and one of them is an EMT who was present via Skype. None of the group worked together. How was the whole group going to practice service?

One participant had shared that she needed a new job, but more than that, she needed a new attitude about her existing job. I suggested maybe we could find ways to help her. Her good friend who was the hostess for the gathering said, “I remember how excited you were when you first got the job. You really felt like you were helping people early on.”

This young lady said she could receive texts at work, “No problem!”

“What if each of us text you something to encourage you to take a positive outlook on your work?” I asked.

I set an alarm that reminds me Monday-Friday mornings to text this young lady. I go to Bible Gateway and search for a verse that talks about work being done as though for the Lord. I text such to her five days a week. She says it has been a blessing to her.

I know doing this has blessed me. Why not harness some of the technology that contributes to our business in ways that bless others and enables us to be obedient–to be true disciples?


Being Doers of the Word (Part 1)

Living out of our identity as sons and daughters of the Creator looks like an apprenticeship. We once marched to the beat of a different drummer (a death march). But now, in Christ we hear the Father and seek to do His will.

Discovery Bible Studies (DBSs) call us to hear the Word and put it into practice. We obey out of love, just like Jesus did. We know that our obedience does not earn us standing before our Father. We know that it opens us to being channels of His blessing for others.

One of my teammates has a supporter who works in the water/waste management field. He is an engineer who is a consultant for numerous municipalities. Grease can be incredibly damaging to a city’s sewers. A business that chooses to run grease into the sewer system will block the flow of waste behind them in the system. Trust me, you want sewer flowing all the way to the treatment facility! Blockages are a nightmare. The technology this guy has developed to monitor such potential problems makes him a valued specialist.

Disobedience blocks our spiritual flow. It creates problems that prevent us from experiencing the richness our relationship with God offers. It also restricts the blessings our Father desires to pass through us to others.


Steering a Parked Life

Last week I encountered two quotes that converged for me. The first said, “It is hard to steer a parked car.” A vehicle that is barely moving is easier to turn than one that is sitting still. When we attempt to obey what we hear God calling us to do, our lives become more open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Another friend wrote the following in her Facebook status:

“Do what you know you should do, and you will know what to do…God clarifies in the midst of obedience, not beforehand”… I’m already seeing what I’ve begged God to show me while sitting still… He really is in the MOVEMENT!

How often do we miss out on blessings because we will not lean into what we already know God calls us to do? Yes, He is sovereign and will accomplish his ultimate purposes. But there are good things along the way that are connected to our openness to receive.

In John 14 and 15 Jesus expresses numerous blessings that come to those who are moving, those who obey Jesus:

14:15-17      When we obey Jesus, He will pray and in answer to his prayer the Father will give the Spirit of Truth

14:23-24      Loving obedience to Jesus results in the Father and Jesus abiding with the obedient disciple

15:10-11      Loving obedience brings Jesus’ joy to completion in the disciple

15:12-15      Loving obedience reveals we are Jesus’ friends

15:16-17      We will bear much fruit—fruit that lasts!

If you are not experiencing these blessings, maybe you are like a parked car. If you continue to beg God for clarity, maybe you are ignoring an earlier answer he has already given. Start moving in the direction he called you and see if your life is not more easily steered!

Outside the Box (cont.)

Good things are happening in the two DBSs I mentioned in my last post. These groups of women are exploring the nature of God. They are finding their time together is uplifting and enriching. The lady who pulled them together shared with me:

“The ladies have really opened up and have been very willing to share what is going on in their lives.  One lady in particular does go to our church and has for a couple of years but has not made any real connections with anyone in the church.  She has been extremely shy.  I am happy to report that she has opened up and shared in the group.  Tears just flow from this precious lady and I can see that healing is happening in her life.

I have to say that I believe the questions (thankful and struggles) really set us up to get into the word.  They are so receptive and excited to discuss the scriptures at that point of the meeting.”

Questions 1 & 2 remind us to note our blessings and our needs. Together they prime our minds to hearing from God. Answering them disciples us to praise God and turn to Him in intercession. They tune our ears to hear what in his character addresses our human predicament.

This lady also shared that the lady who responded to the Craigs List ad, “has continued to come.  She is having some serious struggles and it is apparent now why God led her to join our group.  Even though she is a new believer I am in awe of how God is comforting her and leading her.  She is clinging to Him and staying in the word.”

Just wanted to give you an update to this process. Join me in praying that more groups will begin as these ladies are discipled and begin to share what they are learning with the people who come to mind as they answer the question, “Who do you know who needs to hear this passage?”

Still Learning My Way Around

Recently I was encouraged to put an index to some of my more useful blog posts, on this site. I have placed links to similar posts within posts, but I was not sure how to accomplish what was requested.

After I got on my site the next time I decided to check out the “Categories” and the “Tags” links (if you put your cursor over the words that follow either of these two, you will find they change color, meaning if you click on one you will be provided every entry that deals with a specific category, or every one that mentions the tagged topic. So the categories is sort of like a topical table of contents and the tagged words are sort of thematic indexes. This is what you get when you read the blog of a novice–I keep learning more of the features that are built into this blog format.

If you go to the top of this article you will see that just below the title, “Still Learning My Way Around,” there is a box that has “Category:” followed by several items like, “Bible Studies, Communication, Community Development, etc.” Click on any of those and you will get all of the posts I have grouped under than category.

In that same box, just below “Categories” is the option of “Tags:” which is followed by words like “Discovery Bible Studies.” If you click on that you will get the 10-11 articles that mention these.

Hopefully this is old news to most of you. But just in case you are still sort of new to this whole blogging scene (like I obviously am), I want to be sure you know how to use this feature. While I listed all the categories, I only gave you a few of the tags since there are more than 40 of them.

Let me know if any of these posts prompt questions. Some of my best writing happens when people ask good questions.

Q & A: Empowering Strategies

Are there any particular pockets of people you find most responsive to DBS—e.g., the poor?

The common denominator that I see is “everyday people.” Believers, who have previously viewed themselves as unprepared to make significant contributions to the spread of the kingdom, find DBSs empowering. Different people have told me months/years after their training that what excited them is they had always assumed they were not qualified to share the gospel with others because they did not go to Bible College. These comments always take me to Paul’s statement that apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers are called to “to equip [God’s] people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:12). Often, the more highly educated a person is the less likely he/she is open to the idea of the Holy Spirit speaking to everyone through the Word.

Hunter did not come to faith until after high school. Through a dating relationship he fell in love with Jesus. Recently he did cross-cultural missions by serving as an English teacher in Asia. While there he shared with me, “When I first came [to faith] I always felt that you had to have tons of training and years of experience to be effective. It was not until I went to the workshop that I really threw all that out and really started to grow. It was the first time I felt confident and okay that I did not know everything and that it was okay to make mistakes. I have always wanted to do this but I did not feel that I was able to until that time. It really changed my life for the better.”

Martha had just started learning to facilitate Discovery Bible Studies. She wrote, “I contacted Jorene and shared about your training. She wanted me to share with her. I have plans to meet her at the Siegel Ball Park tomorrow evening while her boys play soccer and go over what you shared last week and will share tonight.  She just wrote me and asked if some “hungry” soccer Moms could join us.  I responded, “sure”…just tell them to bring their Bibles, a notebook, pen, open heart and mind and let’s see what happens.  We’re going to meet at a picnic table… that’s close to “under a tree”, isn’t it?” [A reference to DBS groups in Africa often meeting under a tree.]

Jorene wrote Martha the next week, “I just wanted to tell you a couple of cool things that have happened since we met at the soccer fields.  It looks like the soccer parents are really wanting to do a Bible study together and spend some time praying for our families.  I think that we will start this week.  I don’t know what it will look like, but I never dreamed that I could be doing Bible study at the soccer fields.  I’m just letting God figure out the details of it.”

She went on to describe what happened when she, her husband and their 14 and 11 year old boys used a discovery format for family worship, “We studied Matthew 6:33.  We did not discuss it until everybody had completed the study sheet.  I wanted the kids to hear from God and I think they did!  Every answer was so different, but I can see how God is working differently in each of their lives.  It was beautiful!  I have spent so many years teaching them and I love teaching them.  But, I think that this is a perfect tool to transition them to hearing from God and letting the Holy Spirit teach them.  I’m not telling them what the verse means, God is!”

Empowering “everyday” people is what excites me. Watching the light bulb come on brings great joy. Hearing them share what people hear from the Word who are handling it for the first time in their lives is so rich. Being obedient to Ephesians 4:12 is so rewarding!

[NOTE: Names have been changed.]

Captured Ministry

I thought my work among the incarcerated ended. Maybe it is transitioning rather than coming to a close. God seems to be bringing people across my path who have connections to my experiences.

About a month ago I received a call from a man who has been interviewed to be the executive director of a prison ministry. He heard of the model I used and wanted more information. Then I did a four-week training in facilitating DBSs and discovered that some of the participants had done time in the local work house. Recently I heard from a friend. His son has been incarcerated. Because he is concerned for his son, he asked me to pray that this young man will experience a spiritual awakening while in jail.

I offered to write his son, if the dad would provide me his address. Below is the basic information I included in my letter. Maybe this will be helpful to someone else.

Over a five year period I was able to help about 20 convicts by training them to do a simple Bible study method. It is called a 3-Column Study (Click here: 3-column-study-format). You can actually do the same thing with a blank sheet of paper. Turn it wide side up. Draw two vertical lines.

In the first column copy a section of verses straight out of the Bible—word for word. While some people find this boring, it slows you down and focuses your mind on what the passage says. In the second column re-tell that passage in your own words. Until you can paraphrase it you do not really understand it. This also helps prepare you to share what the passage means with someone else.

In the third column use the word S.P.E.C.K. to start thinking about how you should apply this passage to your life. The letter S. stands for Sin. Does this passage identify a sin that you struggle with in your life? If so, write out that sin. Does this passage contain praises to God, a prayer to God or one of God’s promises? If so, list all found in it. That is for the letter P. The letter E. stands for example. If this passage gives an example of how someone should live, then write that down. The letter C. prompts you to look for any commands that are in this passage. Write them. Finally, the letter K. causes you to note any knowledge about God’s character that is revealed in the passage.

After you have done the S.P.E.C.K. exercise you are ready to write out two or three “I will…” Statements. These communicate ways you will obey this passage. How will your life change when you put it into practice? What you write in this column should be a specific action(s) you will do to live the teaching of this passage you have written, re-told and will have to do with one of the S.P.E.C.K. items.

Doing this type of Bible study has benefited several men who were in jail. They found it very helpful. It helped one guy who had pretty much fried his brain on wild mushrooms. God’s Word re-wired his mind, but more importantly, his spirit was renewed.

I encourage you to give this a try. If you want to correspond, I will be honored to write back. But I have one condition—any letter you send me must be accompanied by a copy of a 3-Column Study. You keep the original, but send me a copy. Yes, I know it will be boring to copy it, but even that will be a valuable process.

If you do not have a Bible, request one from the chaplain. They will provide you one. I suggest you start with either the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) or the book of Ephesians. Do five or six verses at a time. Doing one of these a day will be an exercise that God will use to bless you.

Here are links to other articles I have written about some of what happened while I was working in the local jail:

Maybe there is more God will do in this area. I am looking forward to talking in person with the man about the prison ministry. I hope the young man chooses to open himself to God’s Word. Maybe some of those who learned how to train others to facilitate Discovery Bible Studies will be able to pass it on to folks in the work house. Join me in praying that Jesus’ work of “setting the captive free” will come to pass!