A Semester Ends… and Summer is Calling

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I know that I have mentioned it before, but it bears repeating for any new readers, I am currently back in school working on my Bachelors in Divinity Degree with Christian Leaders Institute.    This is a fairly new program for them, previously the school awarded certificates and included an ordination program.  However, last year, the school began it’s accreditation process.  This resulted in the addition of a Bachelors in Divinity Degree program!  And since, they have begun partnering with some great theological seminary schools for continued education into their masters programs.

It blows my mind how different my life is from where I expected when I graduated high school.   I went to college for a Bachelors in Arts degree, in Theatre Arts specifically.  Talk about a shift!  And, while I still long for the stage (on it or behind the scenes)… in many ways I don’t miss it.   I think over the years I have become very disenfranchised with what we see on stage & screen.  Even when I was in the thick of it, I can recall not understanding the need for gratuitous violence or sex.  I’d watch an action movie and wonder WHY this film needed a sex scene?  If it didn’t add value to the story, if it didn’t serve a purpose… then WHY?  I would also question how much they would show, perfectly content with the two lovers closing a bedroom door.  I knew what was happening behind those doors, I didn’t need too see it or hear it.

I think for a time, I wanted to be that change.  I could be a Christian and work in this industry.  I would just have standards.  There would be movies I wouldn’t do, scenes I wouldn’t do.  Easy peasy.  Not really, not anymore.  The industry has changed so very much, and there are so many actors and actresses willing to do ANYTHING in order to land the job…. a woman with convictions & standards doesn’t have a chance.  Right?  In fact, quite often, what we see now is a person who was willing to bend the rules in the beginning to get established.  Once they become a power house that gets the ticket sales, THEN they establish their new standards.  Everyone admires them for it too.  But they paid a price to afford them those convictions.

Then I looked at Christian movies and videos, available at the time.  I thought for sure that HERE would be the place that I could make a difference.  The story lines, scripts, acting and filmography were quite often cheesy.  But, let’s face it… they were working with a smaller talent pool, definitely smaller budgets, and time frame.  If we could just begin to infuse these movies with better actors, better budget, better everything…. we could WIN.  Those changes began to take place.

Yet, I find myself really disappointed still.  We didn’t make it beyond the first 10 minutes of Left Behind, with Nicholas Cage.  I had HIGH expectations for this movie.  Noah, well… Noah had rock monsters.  Fireproof and Courageous were ok, but like a Lifetime Movie type of ok.  (Yes, I know I am being HIGHLY critical here).  In fact, to be totally honest, the BEST Christian movie of all time in my opinion was The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson.  Let me explain why.

In your earliest acting classes, you are taught two very important things.  1) Acting is the art of lying.  In other words, you are responsible for creating a character totally outside of yourself that is also totally believable.  Every word out of your mouth is not true for you, but you have to sell it as truth for your character.   2)  Acting is the art of suspending belief.  I know, that sort of sounds the same as the first, but it’s a bit different.  Because this one is about the effect on the audience of the entire production.  It means that the writing, set, performance is SO GOOD… that the audience is totally invested.  You are transported out of your movie theater style seats and you are immersed in what you are watching.   Suddenly singing in the middle of a battle field doesn’t seem out of place.  Dragons are not only real, but you have an emotional connection (love/hate) to them.   You grieve this person who has died.  You are rooting for the underdog.  In today’s industry it also means buying the CGI that allows things that defy laws of gravity, or are seemingly impossible.

The Passion of the Christ, is the FIRST and ONLY Christian film that has (again in my opinion) pulled of those 2 important things.  It was also a film, unlike any other in the Christian catalog, to illicit a response in me beyond the theater walls.  Who hasn’t walked out of a movie theater or play, and discussed it over dessert or the course of the next few days.  The Passion of the Christ, broke me because my belief was suspended.  I was transported into that moment, watching my Savior being beaten, mocked and crucified.  It was real.  It left a visual imprint.  I still talk about it to this day.  It created the standard to which I weigh all Christian productions against.

This should be the goal.

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So, as I draw to a close of this semester of school…. in a completely different area of study… I can’t help but wonder about our churches.  Churches today have access to greater resources than ever before, the pews and seats are filled and filling, and many “pastors” put on a great show.  But why?  What is the purpose?  What is the goal?

I am growing more, and more, concerned about the response of the church body as they walk out of the doors Sunday afternoon.  Did they get their fill up for the week?  Or did it inspire them to dig deeper, did it leave an imprint, did it make the person want to learn more?  Is this part of their process of change?

Are we failing our body, when we spoon feed them everything they need to know, without inspiring them to read more on their own?  There is nothing greater, to me, then when I arrive home from church on Sunday… and I crack open my bible.  I want to see more, I want to learn more about what the Pastor was talking about.  I have been known to email our Pastor, or my mentor, a question here and there about the message.  I’ve looked at commentaries.  I have gone on to share it with others, because it was so profound.  Always hoping they too will be encouraged to dig in and read it for themselves.

Is this not the standard we should be striving toward, as Pastors,  Bible Study Teachers, Small Group Leaders, Writers, Speakers, etc?  We don’t want to hand them a plate full of food, and call it a day.  We want them to return for seconds, thirds, and more.  We don’t want to satisfy their hunger for the word, we want to show them how starved they are!

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It was during a video lecture, from one of my classes, Dr. John De Vries mentioned the idea of having a Small Group that actually meets to discuss the sermon message.  INSPIRED!   Seriously, I thought to myself… wow, that is a great idea!  And yet, it seems so obvious and simple.

This teacher, did exactly what I was talking about… his words in the lesson, called me to go a step further.  The semester is over, summer is calling and I know exactly what I want to do with it.  This is my summer small group!  The great part about this?  It is going to create a ripple effect, in our church.   Dr De Vries started the ripple by inspiring me to do the small group.  This small group is going to create 1) accountability to attend services each week and 2) encouragement to dig deeper into the message and word.  And, I pray that God will bless this small group by rippling out further as we talk about it in our homes, with our friends and even begin to invite people to join.

If you are a student, or a parent of a student… this term is coming to an end.  Summer is calling.  God is calling.

BIBLE STUDY CONUNDRUM

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I follow a few blogs, most are Christian authors who are wives and mothers.  I was reading one recently, where the author talked about why she stopped going to bible studies.  The title definitely caught my attention, and the content definitely was relate-able.  Whether you are a working woman or stay at home mom, you understand the time constraints we are under in modern times.  Long passed are the days of bridge club and weekly hair appointments being our time consumers.  We are working.  We are volunteering.  We are in school.  We are raising kids.  We are tending to our husbands.  We are managing our homes.  We are shuttling our kids from activity to activity.  We have an endless to-do list.

We know what it is like to finally get ALL OF THE KIDS ready to leave for church, when the baby has a blow out diaper… you know the kind, the ones that require a full decontamination of the baby, you, the car seat.  We know what it is like to hunt through the house trying to find your car keys.  We know what it is like to just make it to bible study, let alone get the homework done between weeks.  We know what it is like to look at our schedules and not see space for a single additional activity.
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So, it is easy to think that we should just NOT attend a bible study.  Let that be the thing we cut out of our life, to make room for everyone and everything else.  It makes sense logically.  But does it make sense spiritually?

Perhaps, if you were attending church every Sunday, without fail… you could justify it.  After all what is the difference?  Once a week at church, or once a week at a bible study?

Perhaps, if you were diligent in carving out time in your schedule every day for personal study, you could justify it.  After all, you are getting your daily dose of The Word.

However, I wonder, how true are those statements?  Are we really attending each Sunday, without fail?  Are we really carving out time for daily personal study?

And then, I’d have to follow up that thought with…. is anything else in our life worth more of our time than God?

Here is what it comes down to:

I think you SHOULD participate in a study. God wants us there, and the Devil doesn’t. And he will remind you 100 times over why it’s too hard to get there.   Your schedule will be full of things that you will be easily convinced are more important than a bible study.

I also think you SHOULD step into leading a study.  Leading makes you accountable to show up, get the prep/homework done between sessions, and puts you in the position to accommodate your schedule.

Because, the truth is you are NOT alone. There are many women , just like you … who WANT to be a part of a study… but struggle to do so.

I am sure by this point you are either arguing with me, that I don’t understand your life & commitments…. or you are nodding your head in agreement.  Keep reading.

Being a part of a study should not replace attending sabbath services.  It shouldn’t replace your personal study.  It should supplement it.  It should add to it.  Being a part of a study keeps you connected to your church, sisters in Christ, and The Word during those times when life keeps you away from corporate worship or personal study.  It helps fill those voids.  Being a part of a study is more intimate than Sunday worship with the body, but not as isolated as personal study.  Being a part of a group brings investment in each other, accountability, and authenticity.

However, all of that said, perhaps the traditional bible study is NOT the right fit for you.  Fact is there is a pretty standard definition to what a bible study is.  You meet every week, week after week.  Sometimes for a session of 8-16 weeks as you work through a book, or over the course of a year or more as part of a small group.  It’s long term commitment.   You attend the meeting, where you spend 15-30 minutes of snacking and fellowship, 10 minutes of prayer time, dig into the study/watch a video, get an assignment, leave, spend time throughout the rest of the week trying to read the assigned scripture, and then complete the homework in the book.  Repeat cycle.

Something in that regime doesn’t work for you.  Maybe, you can’t meet weekly.  Or, the homework is too overwhelming.  With your work schedule or kids’ schedules you can’t commit to long term studies that cross seasons and even into years.It may be time to break away from the mold of “what a bible study looks like”.  When you do, I truly believe you will be able to find a way to fill that desire for a study without inviting chaos & stress in your life.  Here are some suggestions:

Lead a study allows you to work it around your schedule, allotting for vacations and kids schedules.Lead a topical study. This means no book, no homework, etc. The topic changes meeting to meeting. If you have to miss a meeting because a kid is sick… you are not behind.  Topical studies can come from the internet, study bibles or devotion books.  You don’t have to come up with it all on your own, just be ready to share it.  Topical studies will have 1 person presenting the information, and then move into discussion with the group.  Alternate who leads the discussion, alternate host homes.  Take the pressure off.Lead a study that meets less frequently. Every week is great, but it can’t be too much. Every other week, or once a month even.

Lead a study that meets via skype.  Pack your lunch one day a week, meet up with your friends on skype to fellowship and break bread together.  Or, start a study with co-workers in the break room.

Lead a study that is at your home, local coffee shop, or local playground (especially if you have an indoor one). The kids can play, while you study. Since you will all me like minded moms, no one will get upset if you have to step away to deal with your child’s needs… or the 100th time the toddlers interrupt mom for a snack, potty trip, drink, or general kisses and hugs.   And, if you know someone who homeschools, that has a teenager… I’d bet you they are looking for some volunteer hours, you may be able to get a babysitter/mother’s helper to wrangle the kids for you, for free.  Make them work for you & the kids, so the kids want to come & don’t fight you about leaving. At a park… great. Pajama Party day at friends’ house… YES! Then you don’t have to worry about getting them dressed.

Look to your group of friends to make up the study, less pressure. And ultimately in the group there is always a person who would happily open their home, but won’t want to lead… and a person who would happily lead, but won’t want to open up their home.  These are people you are meeting with already for coffee and lunch dates, now do it with a purpose.

Are you part of a walking group?  Suggest adding in meditating on scripture during the walks, or start your own walking group (biking, kayaking, etc).  What are the activities you are already doing where you can incorporate study?

You may also find success in a weekly study, if you instead begin looking for women who have a schedule just like your own.  Sitting at the ball field while your son practices?  I bet there are other moms too, who would be happy to do a study under the pavilion. Not worth driving back home during that Girl Scout meeting?  I bet you are not the only mom.

And remember a study group doesn’t have to be huge.  Where two or more are gathered, Jesus is there.

BOOK REVIEW: Gospel Centered Teaching by Trevin Wax

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I was given this book at a writers workshop at The Gospel Coalition’s Womens Conference.  I couldn’t think of better time to pick up a book like this, since our fall small groups are getting ready to start up at my home church.  The book’s first pages have  a lot of great accolades, from prominent teachers, that point toward this being a must read for anyone who is in a teaching position over other believers.   Pastors.  Small Group Leaders.  Ministry Leaders.  This book was written for you.  Not just for those who are currently teaching alone, but also for those who are considering answering the call to teach for the first time.

Regarding the Author:  Trevin Wax

When preparing a book that could be used by scholared teachers of the Word AND your every day small group lay leader, it is important to provide content that is easy to follow.  Trevin Wax has written a book that stays on track, moves from point to point with ease, utilizes famailiar verbiage, and condenses the information into a format that is not intimidating.  This book, if given to a small group leader, could easily be read within a short period.    The book is a comfortable read, and it is evident that Trevin Wax understands the audience that will be reading this book.

Regarding the Book:  Gospel Centered Teaching

When one steps up to teach a small group, for the first time, it can be a bit scary.  What do I teach?  How do I teach?  Will I be a good teacher?  When one has been teaching small groups, speaking in front of groups, or even presenting sermons for a long season; there are times where we can lose focus on what the point of it all is.  Perhaps we have gotten caught up in the bible stories themselves, over whom they point to.    It may even be a possibility that our every day lives have brought us to a place where we have a world view of things vs. a gospel view.   This can taint the perceptions of even the most seasoned teacher.  In some cases we may find ourselves teaching a great moral lesson and tacking a quick snippet about the gospel at the end, for good measure or because we feel the need to.  It becomes an after thought.

Gospel Centered Teaching is a great book for small group leaders and teachers of all seasons* because it helps bring us back into the heart of the scriptures.  We need to know the basics of the Gospel ourselves, we need to make sure that we can present the Gospel accurately, we need to understand WHY we need to keep our teaching Gospel centered, and finally we need to continually remind ourselves to keep the Gospel center to our teaching and presentations.  Trevin Wax’s practical explanations & easy to read format, make this a great book to give to your small group leaders and staff members.

From the Text:

“If we are not careful , the pursuit of knowledge is merely a sham to make ourselves feel intellectually superior to those around us. We start to view spiritual maturity in terms of knowledge rather than obedience.” (Trevin Wax, Gospel Centered Teaching)

“If we learn individual bible stories and never connect them to the big story; We put ourselves in the scene as if we are the main character.”  (Trevin Wax, Gospel Centered Teaching)

“Just because you know the Bible, doesn’t mean the Word will bear fruit in your life.”

 

Gospel Centered Teaching

Author: Trevin Wax

Publisher:  BH Publishing Group

ISBN:  978-1-4336-8172-1