Martin Luther King

Today our country pauses to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. As we do so, we may ask ourselves: Why, especially in a time of so much racial tension, injustice, and strife, did Dr. King’s message resonate with so many?

King was, of course, a gifted orator, and his calls for justice and and equity were often poetic and deeply historic. But I think a great deal of the power behind King’s message came from the way that he was pressing a claim onto consciences.

He drew frequent contrasts between the promised end to the injustice of slavery and the ongoing injustice of Jim Crow. In his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” King, against the so-called “white moderates” who counseled “patience,” pointed out “an appalling condition” that Americans were still, in large numbers, exiles in their own land. With such injustice, there was no room for the “tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”

This is the kind of prophetic, sin-and-judgment language that we see in the Old Testament. We often hear caricatures of evangelical “hellfire and brimstone” preaching. But most evangelical churches breezily converse about sin in terms of consequences to be avoided. In fact,…

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Burning OutOkay, we’re already making our way through the new year. It’s now fully 2017 and we don’t need to talk any more about 2016. We can move on. Onward and upward, right?

By the way, how are you doing on your new goals . . . your resolutions? Are you on track or have you already given up. Either way, there’s grace here for you! Whether you set goals or not, whether you’re after some new plateau of your life like a tenacious animal or you’ve already limped away like an injured koala bear who fell off the top branch trying to reach that last leaf, and whether you’re expecting big things in the new year or you’re resigned to just handling whatever comes your way best you can — it’s all okay. No judgment here! Enjoy the new year and I hope that 2017 is the best yet for you!!

But I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a phenomenon that happens to far too many leaders — and it often catches them by surprise. In other words, it’s a tragedy that most of us can only react to — rather than…

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January is the perfect time to add more small groups. Tell your members small groups are important because:

1. Small groups move us out of self-centered isolation. It’s the classroom for learning how to get along in God’s family. It’s a lab for practicing unselfish, sympathetic love. You learn to care about others and share the experiences of others: “If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it. Or if one part of our body is honored, all the other parts share its honor” (1 Corinthians 12:26 NCV). Only in regular contact with ordinary, imperfect believers can we learn real fellowship and experience the connection God intends for us to have (Ephesians 4:16, Romans 12:4–5, Colossians 2:19, 1 Corinthians 12:25).

Real fellowship means being as committed to each other as we are to Jesus Christ: “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:16b NIV). This is the kind of sacrificial love God expects us to show other believers — loving them in the same way Jesus loves us.

2. Small groups help us develop spiritual muscle. You’ll never grow to…

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Love in Action

By Rodney Holmstrom

Little Girl with DogI’m not saying this is the right frame of mind, nor is it always the case, but sometimes in ministry we can look at the kids’ area as a “childcare” area so that mom and dad can work on their struggles in life.

In Celebrate Recovery our place for the kids to go is called Celebration Place, and for students, it’s The Landing. What I love is that it’s not just a place to keep kids occupied during the adult services, but instead a place for kids and teenagers to work on their own lives. We like to call these ministries “Pre-covery.”

The wonderful story below was written by a dad in Celebrate Recovery and shows how impactful this ministry is not just for the adults but for the whole family. It will bless your heart.

Raising young kids is hard — especially when one has a severe ADHD diagnosis.  He has some severe behavioral patterns that escalate quickly, and often the cool-down process takes a while. Sometimes, like in many households, bedtime is an absolute war zone. It’s like they’ve forgotten that we just did this 24 hours ago.

When my oldest…

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Kid with a BibleHi, my name is Sylvia, and I am a grateful believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with co-dependency and food issues. I came to Celebrate Recovery in a different way than most. I have led our Celebrate Recovery Kids Time program for eight years. The kids had fun and got to see Jesus each week. However, this was not helping improve their lives. I had a strong management background and knew how to take care of kids. I thought that was all I needed.

Although I was a Christian who had strong faith, I wasn’t actively seeking time with Christ to work on my stuff. I was not learning who he wanted me to be. I struggled with abandonment issues with my earthly father, and I didn’t want to search for a deeper relationship with God. I did my job and wanted the best for the kids. I did not focus on life-change for them because my life hadn’t changed yet. I didn’t understand what that really meant.

We started using the Celebration Place curriculum immediately after its release. We loved the lessons but hadn’t ever gone through Celebrate Recovery

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RunningThese are five questions every pastor will answer in 2017 whether he addresses or neglects them.

Pastor, how will you answer each one of these five questions?

Question #1: Will I prioritize my personal walk with God daily?

This is not a question about whether you will study for sermons, but a question about prioritizing your personal walk with God. Your personal walk with God will determine everything else in your life and ministry. Therefore, prioritize your personal reading of the Scripture, your personal prayer life, and your personal spiritual growth in Jesus Christ.

Question #2: Will I devote myself to being the spiritual leader in my family?

This is not about functioning as the spiritual leader of your church, but it is a question about devoting yourself to be the spiritual leader of your family. The level of your spiritual leadership in your church will never go beyond your personal walk with Christ and the genuine spiritual leadership you provide in your family. In other words, you cannot lead your church spiritually if you do not lead your family spiritually. Therefore, determine now to operate with great intentionality as the spiritual leader of your family.

Question…

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RebelAs a pastor, more than other people, I see the hurt and the heartbreak that happens in a family when a child makes rebellious and destructive decisions. And thankfully, there’s a story in the Bible that offers us a lot of insight.

What has often been called “the story of the prodigal son” is really a picture of how God shows his holiness, his goodness, and his kindness to his children — each son in this story was rebellious in his own way. Some of the insights we learn about parenting from this story might surprise you.

The story, found in Luke 15:11-32, unfolds in three stages.

Stage 1: Rebellion.

Beginning in verse 11, “Jesus said, `There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.'”

Stage one is rebellion. In every parent-child relationship, there’s going to be a struggle. It’s a struggle for control, a power struggle.

At birth, as a parent, you are…

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CherishAbout five centuries ago, Copernicus changed the way we think about our universe when he postulated that the Sun, not the Earth, is the center of our universe. (We, of course, now know that it isn’t the center of the universe, but the Sun remains the center of our solar system.) Plato, Socrates, Augustine, and Aquinas all lived without understanding a basic truth that any educated person today takes for granted.

One hundred years later, just four centuries ago, Sir Isaac Newton discovered what we call gravity, something that even a contemporary fifth-grader could describe.

The relative youth of basic knowledge is rather stunning. For all his wisdom and brilliant insight, Aristotle knew less of hard science — astronomy, anatomy, and even physics — than the vast majority of Advanced Placement high school students do today. It’s remarkable to consider relatively recent advancements in intelligence and understanding.

A TV series like Mad Men, initially set just 60 years ago, seems like a ridiculous relic of an atrocious past — men treated women like that? People were that insensitive to race issues?

Just as intellect and social understanding have grown, so our love should grow, as…

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Over the years, I’ve seen lots of great church-planting practices, and many not-so-great ones. Too many churches open and then close too often because instead of looking to God, they were looking to themselves. Even more unfortunate is the fact that many church plants continue to exist but are like an enclave for the small community of people who attend. It’s like the community couldn’t care less that the church exists.

We must always ask ourselves: What difference does my church plant make in this community and in the world?

It’s a significant question that will take lots of prayer and a good plan. As you consider this, let me share three church-planting practices that need to die if we are to begin and sustain church plants that glorify God and keep us on mission with him.

First, we need to stop the sort of messaging that communicates (implicitly or explicitly) that all other churches are really bad and ours is the best.

I have seen this a lot over the years. For example, a mailer may go out and the messaging says something like:…

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SoundboardIf you have ever been a part of a rehearsal or sound check, you have most likely experienced some level of stress. Whether you are the worship leader waiting on the sound guy to finish up or you’re the technician sprinting from the stage and back, there are plenty of opportunities for frustration and miscommunication to creep in. At Saddleback, we are constantly looking for ways to bridge the gap between the platform and the booth. We protect that relationship fiercely and put in countless hours of hard work both on stage and off the stage.

Each week we evaluate our weekend services and take a close look at our processes. We celebrate the things that worked well, and we spend some time looking one another in the eye, asking the hard questions, and giving honest answers so that we can grow and improve.

Did the production team know the band’s and vocalist’s needs ahead of time?
Were the techs given adequate time to set the stage and thoroughly test equipment?
Did the platform team and production team understand what was expected of each other?

The keys to a successful rehearsal and weekend service are…

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Here in America the recent election has caused disruption between and within communities. It reminded us that differences in opinions can grow into disruptions of community. Small Group Network’s international membership is likely not experiencing this in the same way. But we are all familiar with the lurking questions that create dissonance.

The dynamic of divisiveness is universal. New Testament writers frequently address disagreeing groups and coach them to right relationship. Rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, groups that disagree on specific teachings teachings — they are all encouraged and equipped to handle these situations.

Differences of opinion, especially heated or hostile differences, cause divide. It might be temporary, but there is always a risk that it intensifies. Sometimes it grows deep and wide enough that it cuts off relationship and communication. Divides can break up friendships and marriages. They can also lead to a Christian community’s splintering.

What causes a difference of opinion to grow into a disruption of community?

Several factors that lead opposing points of view to disrupt relationship. Help your leaders monitor these influences whenever possible.

It’s personal.

Disagreeing about a theoretical idea is easier than a personal concern. Imagine a small group of…

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Dave Gonzales was living a life most people dream about. But when divorce sent him into a depression, Dave turned to drinking to cope with the pain and loss. Now looking back on the decade that he spent as an alcoholic, he is grateful that despite the odds, he didn’t end up at the bottom of a grave.

Without a family to go home to, Dave began frequenting local bars and restaurants. What began as a few drinks after work developed into a much greater problem. When the bars would close, Dave would head home to spend the balance of his night drinking and gambling online. Shooting whiskey, drinking beer, and playing cards into the early morning hours became a regular occurrence.

Things grew worse for Dave when the economic crisis set in and his income dropped. Now dependent on alcohol, Dave made cuts everywhere in his life except his bar tab. He lost his apartment and car, and with no place to go, his only option was to sleep on his mom’s couch. Things had spiraled out of control — alcohol controlled Dave’s life. As time went on, his consumption continued to…

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