God Doesn’t Want You to Worry

By Allen White
Brett Eastman and I are working with a growing number of churches at Lifetogether.com to help them produce their own video-based curriculum and grow their small group ministries successfully. As we watch churches take big steps forward for the Kingdom, we also see the enemy at work. Divisive church members, staff setbacks, and a variety of other things seem to surface. For the record, Brett and I are not causing any of this trouble. But, there is an enemy who doesn’t like to see churches make bold moves in connecting and growing their people to reach others and serve their communities. For all of my friends who are struggling today, I’d like to share one of the most popular posts from my devotional blog over at http://galatians419.blogspot.com. If you’re worried and stressed today, I hope these words encourage you.

Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Matthew 6:27
We can’t add anything to our life by worrying. We might even shorten our lives by worrying.
When we worry about something, we put ourselves through the same physiological state as if the event was actually happening. Our brain knows the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined, but our nervous system does not. Worry puts our bodies in a state of emergency – fight or flight.
Our blood pressure goes up. Our heart races. Our palms begin to sweat. Our stomachs produce extra acid to digest what’s there. No wonder worriers end up with ulcers. The body doesn’t know the difference between a real emergency and an imagined one.
Our lives are in God’s hand. The length of our lives is determined by God Himself (Job 14:5). We can’t add to that. God is in control. We are not. So, what do we do when we’re overcome with worry?
The Bible says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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).
Since God is in control, there is really no reason to be anxious about anything. But, when we do feel anxious, it means that we’re out of our depth. We are worrying about things that are well into the future and out of our hands. When that warning light pops up on the dashboard of our souls, we must take the next step.
Give our worry to God in prayer. If we’re still worried about it after we’ve prayed, then give it over to God again and again and again. Wash, Rinse, Repeat.
God knows the resolution to every one of our problems. God knows what we’ll feel like when our current problem is resolved, so before the problem is even resolved, God gives us something that we don’t deserve. He gives us the peace that we will experience when everything is okay. But, He gives us the peace now, even though the resolution is still in process.
What are you worried about today? Stop and give the situation to God. Even if your prayer is “God, I don’t know what to do. Please take this over and help me.” He will help you.
Then, when you start worrying about it again (and you might), stop and pray again. If that warning light comes on again, stop and pray again.
I share a story in my stress management class about a woman who went to see a psychologist about worrying. The doctor prescribed a biblical remedy. He gave her a card with the word “STOP” on one side and Philippians 4:6-7 on the other side. He told her that every time she started to worry, she should get the card out and read it out loud.
The next week the patient was pleased to report that the first day she had to use the card 20 times, but by the end of the week she only had to use it twice a day.
What are you worried about right now? A worry is something you think about three times a day or more. What are those worries?
God doesn’t want you to worry. He’s got this one (and the next one). Place your worries into God’s hands, and He will give you His peace in return.
How Do You Deal with Irrational People?

How Do You Deal with Irrational People?

By Allen White

Irrational behavior has no good argument. Yes, Jesus challenged the religious leaders of His day, but He loved them just as much as He loved His disciples. Jesus came to save the lost. The high priest and the others were lost. They just didn’t know it. People who result to anger, cursing or violence aren’t interested in working through a problem. They only want their way. They make
it clear that the only way to get along with them is to co-dependently acquiesce to their wishes. As long as you’re willing to stay on the bottom, things will work out just fine for the bully. That’s a hard place to live.How do you deal with an irrational person? Jesus provides some answers for us.

Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.” 

When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded. 

“If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. John 18:19-24

1. Stay Calm. When someone yells at you, it’s hard not to yell back. But, then again, you’re not in Kindergarten any more. If the other person decides to jump off of the cliff emotionally, jumping off with them won’t solve anything. (Remember what your mother used to say.)The Bible tells us, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). This is a proverb, not a promise. Jesus gave no harsh words. He stayed calm.

2. Speak the Truth. When people are upset, it’s easy to start back pedalling and even saying whatever it takes to get them out of your face. The problem is that you lose your integrity in the process. The Bible says, “…a double-minded man [is] unstable in all he does” (James 1:8, NIV 1984).The great thing about always telling the truth is that you don’t have to remember what you said. If you always tell the truth, you’re consistent. But, it’s necessary to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Truth-telling is not an excuse for rudeness.

3. Avoid Personal Attacks. Jesus taught to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39), then He got slapped. He didn’t over-react. He didn’t retaliate. He didn’t call down 10,000 angels (Matthew 26:53).Jesus knew that His accusers weren’t the enemy. He was fulfilling God’s mission. It wasn’t pleasant. That’s for sure. But, it was necessary for our salvation.When someone challenges you, points out a fault, or falsely accuses you, it’s a natural defense to point out the accuser’s faults. It’s childish, but it’s natural. But, it doesn’t get you anywhere.If what they are saying is true, even if it’s hard to accept, then we need to take it under consideration. If it’s false, then we really don’t need to worry about it.My kids often get hurt feelings when one calls the other a “baby.” I’ll ask them, “Well, are you a baby?” “No,” they reply. “Then don’t worry about what they say.” Now, nobody likes to be called a “baby,” not even me, especially when I am acting like one.

When you’re falsely accused, you need to remind yourself of the truth. You need to be who you are whether others like it or not. When you get into defending yourself to false accusations, you’re just wasting your time. There’s no winning there. “For the LORD will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants” (Psalm 135:14).What irrational behavior are you dealing with these days? Who is getting under your skin? Pray for them. Ask God to help you calmly speak the truth when you encounter them. Then let God do His work. If you need help getting started, pray this: Psalm 109.Today’s post comes from the devotional blog: galatians419.blogspot.com
Small Group Coaches Are Not Bureaucrats

Small Group Coaches Are Not Bureaucrats

Over the years, I’ve faced many ups and downs with small group coaching. The first time we launched groups, we had no coaches at all. Soon the groups burned out. When we debriefed with them, the response was “we feel like lone rangers out there.” We definitely needed coaches.
The next time we launched groups, our leaders had a coach. His name was Allen. Allen recruited all of the leaders, trained all of the leaders, and coached all of the leaders. “Hi, my name is Allen, and I’m a recovering control freak.” The ministry grew to 30 groups, and then it got stuck. In light of our stuckness and Exodus 18, new coaches were needed immediately.

Searching the congregation, we looked for the cream of the crop. Who had led groups? Who was wise? Who was good with people? We found them. These were experienced, mature folks who were willing to help other leaders. I put them to work: disseminate information, collect reports, visit the groups, and report back. I still held on to all of the training, but the coaches did all of the hand to hand combat.

A dear coach named Carol came to me one day. She said, “I’m not too sure that I want to continue coaching. I’m bored, and I kind of feel like I’m your spy.” She was right to feel that way. That’s exactly what she was. But, why was she bored? First of all, Carol was a wise, mature believer with much to offer. I had turned her into a paper-pusher and a spy. While the coaches participated in the group huddles, the pastor of small groups still ran the meetings and did all of the training. He was still in recovery….

Finally, I turned all of the training and meaningful interaction over to the coaches. Suddenly, I had fewer people to communicate with. The coaches were doing their job. Then, the complaints started rolling in. Not from the leaders, but from the coaches: “I can’t get the leaders to show up for any meetings.” “I call them, but they won’t call me back.” So, I fired all of the coaches. Actually, I didn’t. It was time to regroup.

Did we need coaches to disseminate information? No, we had email. Did we need coaches to collect reports? No, we used churchteams.com. Did we need coaches to be spies? Yes, we actually did, but not like that.

What can a coach do that a small group pastor or director cannot? A coach can develop a close personal relationship with each of the group leaders. One pastor or director with even five groups cannot keep up with every group leader and what’s going on with their groups. Coaches serve a vital role in the relational makeup of a small group ministry.

Coaching relationships still have an intentional aspect. The role of a coach is to refocus the player. When they look at their group leaders, they see busy, sometimes frazzled people, who desire for God to use them, but often don’t have much time to think about their group. This is where the coach comes in.
If the coach will meet with each group leader, even just once every three months, God will use that coach to encourage the group leader and to energize that group. The meeting simply goes like this:

1. Ask the group leader who is currently in their group. Not to take a roster, but to start a conversation.
The leader will list out the names:
Bob
Sue
James
Peter
Paul
Mary

2. Ask the group leader what is going on with each of the members. As the group leader begins to think about each member, God will bring to the leader’s mind a next step the leader needs to take in the relationship. “Well, I haven’t seen Bob in a while. I need to give him a call.” “Paul is struggling to find work. I need to pray for Paul and see what help he needs.” And, so on.

The coach doesn’t need to tell the leaders what to do. The coach simply needs to offer the space for a leader to reflect on his/her group. After they write down the next steps for each group member, the coach and group leader should set up an appointment in three months. This gives the leader time to take action and gives a deadline for accountability.

Those of us who serve as professional small group folks, especially the recovering control freaks among us, crave more complexity in these relationships. Here’s what I know – complicated coaching in my experience has led to no coaching. By being available to leaders when they need their coach, scheduling quarterly meetings, and participating in a couple of training events per year, leaders will have more than enough resources to motivate them in ministry.

For those of us who would like to tinker will all of this more than we ought to, why not start a blog or something?

How Do You Deal with Irrational People?

When Bible Study Becomes Idolatry

By Allen White
Over the years, I’ve encountered a few folks who are thrilled with Bible study, but less than thrilled by fellow believers. These folks have a great handle on the Word, but fall short in the deeds department. They don’t want to be bothered by going back to “elementary” teachings. They are Scriptural carnivores looking for the meat.

A while back, a church member complained he was bored with the basic, “seeker” nature of the questions in a study guide. “After all,” he told me as Hebrews 5:13-14 says, “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (NIV). I told him that’s not what the verse was talking about.
The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were contemplating abandoning Christianity and returning to Judaism. The “elementary teachings” and “milk” refers to the Old Covenant. The “solid food” refers to the New Covenant and life in Christ.
He told me he enjoyed this discussion. It was deep. Oh brother…
Most of us Bible scholars understand that an idol is anything we turn to instead of God. The confusion comes when the idol is studying God’s Word rather than turning to God. That seems a bit like splitting a hair. Maybe the correct issue is our pride regarding our Bible knowledge. We must remember that “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). So, how do you know when Bible study has become idolatry for you?
1.       You’re more interested in the study guide than your fellow group members.
A small group is community built around a Bible study. If you’re going to err in one direction or the other, then choose community over Bible study. But, if you always neglect Bible study, then that’s a problem too.
But, if you care more about the lesson and less about group life, you just might be missing the point. Sure, you can memorize Ephesians 4:32, but are you practicing it? If you leave your group meeting irritated because someone shared so much about their life crisis and the group couldn’t complete the Bible study, you just might be elevating Bible study a little too high.
2.       You can’t tolerate “easy” questions.
Most Bible studies are designed with a opening question that anyone can answer. Then, there are discovery questions which are answered directly from the Scripture passages. Later in the study are interpretation questions and application questions. If you find yourself irritated by icebreakers and bored with discovery questions, then you may be focused on the wrong things. If what you have to say about God’s Word is more important than what God’s Word actually says, you have made an idol out of the study.
I am amazed at the number of “mature” believers who will pitch a fit over questions they already know the answers to. They have no patience for helping new believers understand the Scripture. Their focus is on their own intellectual curiosity. The study needs to cater to their interests. My question is this: How mature are these folks really?
3.       You feel prayer requests and sharing life wastes precious Bible study time.
If you love Bible study, but you can’t stand people, you are missing the point. Our knowledge of Scripture should deepen our love for God and our love for each other. If you’d rather parse Greek verbs than persist in prayer for your fellow group members, then take a hermeneutics class and parse away…on your own…by yourself.
Please understand, in no way am I encouraging any group to toss out their Bible study. But, if studying the Bible doesn’t increase our compassion for others, something’s broken. After all, knowledge without grace leads us to legalism.
4.       You can recite passages you never intend to obey.
Francis Chan asks this question, “If I asked my children to clean their rooms, and they only memorized my words, would that be enough?” We all must admit that it’s far easier to know the Word than to do the Word. Yet, the Bible tells us that faith without works is dead.
In the church, we have gone far too long substituting knowledge for faith. Often our excuse for not acting is that we don’t know enough. “I can’t witness to my neighbor. I don’t know enough of the answers.” Yet, we know Jesus. Isn’t He the answer? Our apologetic arguments aren’t going to win anyone to God’s Kingdom. Salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), right?
If we stopped our Bible study until we lived out the commands we already know, do you think we’d ever pick up our Bibles again? Now, we all need the encouragement of Scripture. But, as Howard Hendricks said, “Most Christians are already educated beyond their level of obedience.”
5.       Bible study has become an escape from your real life.
I love God’s Word. I might even love God’s Word more than I love other people. After all, I’m going to do what God’s Word says rather than what others tell me to do. But, there’s a line we can cross when it comes to loving God’s Word – Can we love God’s Word more than we actually love God? We can learn His commands, yet not obey them. We can recite obscure nuances of Scripture from memory, yet do we go to those lengths to help other people?
Yes, we should turn to God’s Word for comfort. But, more importantly, we should turn to God. We should delight in helping others discover the truth of God’s Word. We should be challenged by the deeper meaning of Scripture – not secretive, hidden meanings – but truths applied and lived out in our daily lives. The Word of God is active, not passive. Our worship belongs to God, not to His Word.