In spite of her gifts as a communicator and writer, Heather Zempel is truly humble. She admits her mistakes and paints a picture of stumbling through the maze of small group ministry and leadership, but her passion and heart are also very clear. She loves people and isn’t afraid of a little mess – and in some cases a lot of mess. She doesn’t try to prescribe any particular model for building community but rather draws on her experiences (sometimes very funny) to give the reader some helpful tools for gaining a better perspective on your particular situation.
Here are some of my favorite quotes:
“I decided a couple years ago to stop trying to strike a balance [in my life] and to pursue life in rhythm instead.”
“People can find legitimate community and be discipled outside our structures.”
“Most people come into groups looking for social space; we encourage leaders to aim for taking their groups [beyond that] to personal space; and we hope individuals will look for intimate space opportunities with a select few inside the group.”
“We need to ensure that our routines don’t become routine.”
This is the best book I’ve ever read on small group ministry! If you’re a part of a small group or want to be, you should read this book!
Heather is actually a family friend, (As a child, Miranda played football with her every Thanksgiving. Mike was the all-time quarterback.) but. . . . well, nevermind – I can’t deny that I’m biased to this book, but it’s still the best I’ve ever read on community groups.
John Medina, author of Brain Rules, explains that multi-tasking is a truly a myth. The way that the brain works doesn’t allow for it. Although the brain can do multiple things simultaneously (You can walk and talk at the same time or breathe and read a book.) the conscious brain can only pay attention to one thing at a time. Our tendency to listen to music, answer the phone, and send e-mails or text messages, while trying to write a paper or finish a project at work is not productive. A focused concentrated effort can go a long way to help manage our time.
Here’s how Medina explains: “Research shows that we can’t multi-task. We are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich input simultaneously.” Without going into the neurological details, Medina goes on to explain that there are 4 steps that the brain must go through each time attention is shifted from one task to another – four more when attention is shifted back. The process takes several tenths of a second each time. It doesn’t sound like much time but it adds up quickly and maybe more importantly, the distraction hinders the more complicated processes of the task at hand. If you’ve ever found yourself losing track of previous progress, or heard yourself say things like, “Now where was I?” then you have experienced this problem. Medina says, “Studies show that a person who is interrupted takes 50% longer to accomplish a task. Not only that. He or she makes up to 50% more errors.”
This means that if we would put our cell phones on silent (or God forbid – turn them off), close the layers of applications running on the computer, shut the door, and give our tasks a focused effort, we could probably accomplish much more during the day and have fewer errors in our work. Our minds are just too crowded by all the messages competing for our attention. The immediate gratification of our “information addiction” is hurting us. Maybe we should just choose to ignore a few things. All of this thinking reminds me of another post which was inspired by the phrase, Selective Ignorance.
I don’t know about you, but when I was a student, I was a procrastinator. (OK – I probably still am.) But when the deadline was approaching, I would stop everything else and focus on the project. Although I had weeks to work on it, I was able to get it done in a couple of hours with focused effort. Based on my own experiences, I believe know Medina is right.
What would my life look like if I fasted from multi-tasking? Would my kids get more of me? Would I be more present in the moment? Would I get more done? Which messages/projects would I choose to ignore? Would I have to ignore them at all if I had more time ’cause I was getting more things done?
David Platt’s book “Radical” has been a great book for me! As Miranda and I have struggled this past year with our finances, (I’m still looking for a full-time job) we’ve learned much about what it means to trust in the LORD for our needs. We’ve learned new spending habits (well…non-spending habits). And we’ve both been feeling called to give more. It’s a crazy time to begin feeling this calling so strongly, ’cause it’s also the time where we’re pinching pennies more than ever before. This book has really pointed out some of the things we’ve already been learning and made the concepts much more concrete. Even in the midst of unemployment, we are choosing to work on some of these principles and to give in spite of our situation. After all, as Platt explains, “I don’t think God will ever say, ‘I wish you would have kept more for yourself.’” Anyway – pick up the book and read it. You won’t regret it. Well. . . maybe you will regret it temporarily as God interferes with your “American Dream,” but in eternity, you won’t regret any of it.
Here’s the video preview, and below it is a list of my favorite parts of the book.
My favorite parts of Radical:
Jesus’ spent his life with 12 guys. He ran people off who were “ready” to follow Him. When he finished His ministry there were only about 120 who were actually doing what He asked of them.
Luke 9 – Jesus turns 3 different people away saying, (1) “You’ll be homeless.” (2) “Let someone else bury your dad.” (3) “Don’t even say goodbye to your family.” – Jesus persuaded them NOT to follow him. David also tells a story about one of his mentors who began a talk saying, “My goal tonight is to talk you out of following Jesus.”
Quote: “The modern-day gospel says, ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Therefore, follow these steps, and you can be saved.’ Meanwhile, the biblical gospel says, ‘You are an enemy of God, dead in your sin, and in your present state of rebellion, you are not even able to see that you need life, much less to ’cause yourself to come to life. Therefore, you are radically dependent on God to do something in your life that you could never do.”
Requirements for discipleship include: Hate father, mother, sister, and brother. Hate even your own life. Carry your cross and follow Jesus. Give up everything. Drop your nets, your careers, your families & friends. – Compare this to the modern: Admit, believe, confess, and pray a prayer after me.
Quote: “This is where we come face to face with a dangerous reality. We do have to give up everything to follow Jesus. We do have to love Him in a way that makes our closest relationships in this world look like hate. And it is entirely possible that He will tell us to sell everything we have and give it to the poor. . . . We rationalize these passages away. . . And this is where we need to pause. Because we are starting to redefine Christianity. . . We are molding Jesus into our image. He is beginning to look a lot like us. . . And the danger now is that when we gather in our church buildings to sing and lift up our hands in worship, we may not actually be worshiping the Jesus of the Bible. Instead we may be worshiping ourselves.“
The cost of discipleship is high, but the cost of non-discipleship is even higher.“Consider the cost when Christians choose to ignore Jesus’ commands to sell their possessions and give to the poor and instead choose to spend their resources on better comforts, larger homes, nicer cars, and more stuff.” David tells a story of 2 headlines side by side: (1) “First Baptist Celebrates $23 Million Building” and (2) “Baptist Relief Helps Sudanese Refugees” ($5,000 – not even enough to get a plane into Sudan.)
Matthew 13 – Sell everything to purchase a the field with the treasure in it. No matter how crazy people think you are for selling all your stuff, you sell it anyway, ’cause you know about the treasure that awaits you in heaven.
God hates sinners. (Ps 5:5; John 3:36)
Story: Preaching Professor who takes students to graveyard and asks them to speak over the graves and call people from the ground to rise up and live. After some awkward moments, he reminds them that this is the exact thing God has called them to do – call the spiritually dead to life. Only God can do such a thing.
Quote: “God beckons storm clouds, and they come. He tells the wind to blow and the rain to fall, and they obey immediately. He speaks to the mountains, ‘You go there,’ and he says to the seas, ‘You stop here,’ and they do it. Everything in all creation responds in obedience to the Creator…until we get to you and me. We have the audacity to look God in the face and say, ‘No.’“
When Jesus says in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” He is NOT speaking of the cross, but of the “Cup of wrath” (2nd Cup in the Passover). He is not fearful of the cross, but is sweating blood as He considers all of his own Father’s wrath, for all of mankind throughout the centuries being poured out upon him.
Story: Preacher describing the wrath of God in this way: Imagine your standing a mere 100 yards away from a dam which is 10,000 miles high and 10,000 miles wide. The dam breaks and the water rushes toward you. In the last moment, a hole opens up at your feet and swallows all the water. At the cross, Christ drank the ‘cup of wrath’ which was meant for us.
Quote: “Suddenly contemporary Christianity sales pitches don’t seem adequate anymore. Ask Jesus to come into your heart. Invite Jesus to come into your life. Pray this prayer, sign this card, walk down this aisle, and accept Jesus as your personal Savior. . . We have taken the infinitely glorious Son of God, who endured the infinitely terrible wrath of God and who now reigns as the infinitely worthy Lord of all, and we have reduced him to a poor, puny Savior who is just begging for us to accept him. Accept him? Do we really think Jesus needs our acceptance? Don’t we need him?”
Matthew 7:21-23 – Not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven. – Jesus was speaking to the religious people. Many people will be shocked.
The only proper response to the gospel is much deeper than a prayer, a “decision,” or an intellectual assent. It is a total surrender to an infinitely worthy Savior - Jesus. “We are saved not just to be forgiven of our sins or to be assured of our eternity in heaven, but we are saved to know God.”
Quote: “Where in the Bible is missions ever identified as an optional program?” It’s for everyone. No one can say, “I’m not called to missions.”
We like to interpret Scriptures how they suit our own preferences. For example: When it comes to the responsibilities given to us in the Great Commission (Matthew 28), we say it’s just for the people who are “called,” but when Jesus offers to give rest to the weary and burdened (Matthew 11:28), we claim it’s for everyone. We like the “abundant life” verse (John 10:10) and claim it as our own, but write off Acts 1:8 (“you shall be witnesses”) as something only for those who are “called.” Or we rationalize it saying, “Well Jesus was only talking to the disciples.”
We should listen to Scripture in order to reproduce rather than just to receive. It’s the difference between watching a football game as a fan or watching like a coach watches – examining the opposing team’s formations and strategies so he can be better prepared to use what he learns when they play again.
Materialism is a blind spot in American Christianity, much like slavery was. Christians in the future will look back on our generations and probably be ashamed of our selfishness.
Wealth can be a barrier to God.
Story: John Wesley makes a purchase: [Wesley] had just finished buying some pictures for his room when one of the chambermaids came to his door. It was a winter day and he noticed that she had only a thin linen gown to wear for protection against the cold. He reached into his pocket to give her some money for a coat, and found that he had little left. It struck him that the LORD was not pleased with hos he had spent his money. He asked himself, “Will thy Master say, ‘Well done, good and faithful steward?’ Thou hast adorned thy walls with the money that might have screened this poor creature from the cold! O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid?“
We should put a financial cap our lifestyles.
Quote: God won’t ever say, “I wish you would have kept more for yourself.”
Quote: “A radical lifestyle actually begins with an extraordinary commitment to ordinary practices. . .” (Prayer, Bible Reading, etc)
How we could start over and build our lives on the necessities rather than the luxuries? In America, we think things are necessities that others would consider luxuries.
Quote: “We can stand with the starving or with the overfed. We can identify with poor Lazarus on his way to heaven or with the rich man on his way to hell. We can embrace Jesus while we give away our wealth, or we can walk away from Jesus while we hoard our wealth.”
Quote: “Franklin Roosevelt was emphasizing how Americans will postpone immediate gratification and even endure hard sacrifices if they are convinced their future will be better than their past. Americans are willing to take great risks, he said, if they believe it will accomplish great reward.” I’m not sure this holds true anymore. Seems to me like Americans have a tendency to always go for immediate gratification.
We like to say that there’s no safer place to be than in the center of God’s will. What if God’s will was the most dangerous place to be? Would we still want to be in it??
I finished an audiobook recently called “Redeeming Love” by Francine Rivers. It’s not the kind of book that I would normally read, but it was only $7 on itunes and I had a giftcard to use. Also, the book just came up in the most random conversations quite a few separate times so I thought I’d give it a shot.
The book tells the story the marriage of a girl who goes by quite a few names (Angel, Amanda, Sarah) and her husband Michael Hosea. She was a prostitute, but God told Michael to marry her anyway. It makes for an interesting set of circumstances in which He tries to love her in spite of her “baggage” and she struggles to receive the love that He offers to her – all-the-while trying to learn how to live a new way of life as a wife. The story also mirrors the Biblical account of the prophet Hosea with is prostitute bride, Gomer. Although Redeeming Love takes place in a completely different setting and the author doesn’t follow the Biblical account exactly, there are certainly many similarities. Rivers says herself that her intention was to retell the Biblical story and I’d say she has done a great job of it.
For me, this was a good story to hear during this time in my life. I have been looking for a job for almost a year. I feel like I have tried everything I know – I finished an alternative certification program and have interviewed for a few teaching positions, but I still seem to be coming up short. As a man who wants to provide for his family and make a difference in the lives of students, I feel worthless sometimes. I know God is using this time to mold me and He’s using it in ways I’ll probably never understand, but my knowledge of those things doesn’t make the emotional turmoil I’m feeling go away. With each interview, my hopes are ignited, but with each phone call saying they have chosen someone with more experience, those hopes are thrown to the ground once again. This emotional roller coaster is wearing on me. Today, I spoke harshly to my wife for no reason. This is not who I am – but it seems to be . . . well. . . who I am right now, and it’s not acceptable.
In Redeeming Love, after getting married and running away from Michael, Sarah eventually finds herself on the auction block being sold as a slave. (I can identify – life is being stripped away from me too.) But then, in the last possible moment, Sarah is bought and redeemed. She eventually finds her way back to Michael.
The hope in this story is helpful. My only problem is that I feel like I’ve been on the auction block for a while and for some reason – I guess God thinks I can handle even more stripping before He steps in – or maybe there’s more to learn?? or new habits to develop?? or new thoughts to develop??
Prayer: Lord, if you’re listening, I’m ready. I need You. I need Your help. I cannot do this. I have no power or control. I want to be who You have called me to be. (and I believe that’s a teacher) I want to provide for my family. I want to help students to understand the world around them and live productive lives. I am weak and I need Your strength. I am desperate, but I know You are in control. I will trust You. Help me to stand strong, to trust more, to notice Your gentle nudges and respond appropriately. Lord, help me to be and to become all that You’ve called me to. I surrender. Redeem me. AMEN.
In Switzerland, the government wanted to use nuclear plants to power the country, but they needed a place to dump all the waste. A study was done in the little town which was being considered. When asked, 50.8% of the people agreed to put themselves at risk for the common good of the nation. To see if they could shrink the number of those against the proposal, they offered $2,175 per person per year to the townspeople. Surprisingly, this had the opposite affect. This time only 24.6% agreed. When the deal was sweetened to $6,525 per person per year, only one person changed his answer. What??? This doesn’t make sense.
Will you do this for free? Sure. We can do that.
How ’bout if I give you lots of cash? No, I don’t think so. Would more $ help persuade you? Nope.
So what happened?
Ultimately, it goes back to the brain. (There is physiological evidence for what I’m about to say. Check Chapter 7 of “Sway” by Ori and Rom Brafman) When only the altruistic part of the brain was stimulated, people were agreeable. But when $$ is offered, the pleasure part of the brain is also stimulated. Because of it’s power and the amount it is exercised, (how often we use it) it takes more to stimulate the pleasure center of the brain. It needs more powerful drugs to make it excited than the altruistic part.
In the experiment, somehow $6,525 didn’t seem like enough compensation to truly stimulate the pleasure part of the brain, but the altruistic part was satisfied with doing it for the common good of the people. Although normal reasoning might lead one to offer financial incentives as motivation, it appears that this might not always be the best option. One might be better off evaluating the offer for how much it might stimulate the pleasure center as opposed to the altruistic part of our brains to make a better decision about whether to offer the incentive or not.
I’m not sure if this says more about our physiology (the way God made our brains) or about the parts of the brain that we choose to exercise. If she had been tested, would Mother Theresa’s “pleasure center” beat her “altruism center?” Could the “altruism center” be exercised enough to outperform the “pleasure center?”