We met under the cover of night. We slipped into our cars and cautiously veered around the road blocks – careful not to draw attention to ourselves. We communicated quietly or with our eyes so as not to make much noise. We handled the goods with care as we swiped the merchandise from it’s location and transported it to the designated area. By the time we had finished, we had relocated all the goods without any issues. Everyone had done their job flawlessly. The cops didn’t suspect anything. The items were delivered and we were safe in our homes celebrating a successful mission.
I love my Community Group! We successfully completed the mission described above last night. We delivered Christmas gifts to a needy family. For now, they live in a duplex that will be torn down in the next couple of months and so their streets are blocked off. We were able to bring a little joy to this family and even share the Gospel with them.
Thanks Jennifer! God needs more people scheming on His behalf! I’m happy to be a criminal for God’s glory! Thanks for the opportunity.
We just got back from a little trip with our Community Group (or “Life Group” as they will be called soon) and so I’ve been reflecting on some of our times together:
I love this group. We play together, serve together, worship/learn/grow together, and just do life together. They have been there for us in both good and bad times. Don’t get me wrong – cultivating these relationships hasn’t been easy. We’ve all worked at being intentional and made sacrifices, but in the end, it’s definitely worth it.
In general, we just enjoy being together and find ways to be together. I don’t think it matters what we’re doing near as much as just being together. In doing so, we “rub off” on one another and begin to share memories/experiences which shape us. Even our parenting skills are influenced as we watch how everyone else “does” it. These are the people I consciously choose as “influencers” in our lives and I will protect those relationships.
Here are just a few of the things we’ve experienced together so far:
Before my son Kasen had surgery earlier this summer, the kids from our group gathered around him and prayed for him. In this one act, they were an example for taking our burdens to the Lord. Their faith gave him more courage and their little prayers communicated their love and support for him. They taught him that God is in control and his faith was strengthened as he witnessed God answering those prayers.
When my truck broke down, one of the guys in our group came to my house to help with repairs – truly an answer to prayer. I’m not good with this sort of thing, but my friend is. This is how the body of Christ should function – each one offering his own gifts.
Some of them showed up to support me on the night I was leading a fundraiser for another organization I’m involved in. One of them actually serves on the board.
We volunteer together at the Pregnancy Help Center and work to be a blessing to one of our local schools. We also serve at our church together by cleaning the building and working behind the scenes.
The girls celebrate birthdays together and the men hang out and see movies together. We plan “Date Nights” together. Our kids play on the same soccer teams.
We go on trips/retreats together – Jellystone and Livingston.
We spontaneously decide to do things together – bike rides to the park for picnics.
We spend time praying for each other and study the Scriptures together. We have worked our way through a few books (Respectable Sins, The Praying Life) as well as sharing our own life stories with one another.
Prayer: LORD, Thank you for giving these people to us. They are instruments in Your hands to help keep our family on track. When they speak, I often hear Your voice. When we’re together I sense Your presence and know You are near. When we’re together, I feel safe to ask questions and wrestle with what it means to live as You have called us. These relationships give us opportunities to practice living out this call to love one another and I must admit that sometimes it can be difficult. I’m so grateful that You brought them to us and pray that You will continue to draw us into deeper relationships that will push us deeper into our relationship with You. AMEN.
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.
I never finished this, but it was an idea for a poem or song or something to give to my children. It expresses the things I plan to share with my kids when I take them to visit Meridian State Park someday. I’ll tell them the story of how I came to know Jesus. I’m so excited about that day! These words capture some of the emotions I feel as I think about telling them.
Anyway, maybe I’ll finish it someday, but I wanted to go ahead and post something so I wouldn’t lose it.
Come let me show you this place, this place full of grace.
Come let me show you the spring where we sat and listened to the quiet
And the outcropping where we waterbombed the bus.
Let’s go walk the carpet of bluebonnets
and run past the bees on the trail of Mesquite
As a child I ran these trails and stepped on a snake
These vines scratched my legs but helped heal me too.
We played frisbee golf and waterballoon volleyball
Chased Bulldog to soak him
James Garner taught us the Scriptures under the tree.
Ross Senter spoke around the campfire.
Let me show you the grace in this place.
Come watch the horizon swallow the sun
Breathe in the lights. See the milky way run
From up on the ledge and above the lake
Lets watch the sky. and see the stars come awake.
Come hear distant voices from the lake down below
Let’s sit and sing and wait – take it slow
If we’re lucky we’ll see a star fall from space
Here in this place – this place full of grace
And this is where I sat and sang and cried
Around the campfire On the night I gave my life to Christ.
This place is so dear. It’s a place I want you to know
Whether this place or that place, I want you to have your own place full of grace.
SmallGroupTrader.com (sgt) has published another article that I wrote. It’s truly an honor to be able to write for them. They have a great vision for creating and providing resources for small group leaders and are really doing some innovative things. (Check out the free video training clips for small group leaders.) It’s taken many years of full-time ministry to become the leader that I am, and yet I can do a little research on their site and see all kinds of ways that I can improve. Some of the best names in the church world (particularly the small group world) are represented there and I feel blessed to be able to be a part.
This latest article is titled: “Practical Ways to Connect as a Group” I tried to give a little theory and a few specific ideas for building community in a small group setting. The original idea came from a sgt (small group trader) list of “needed” articles. The request was “How do I Help my group Gel?” The final edit was done by the sgt folks.
I’d also encourage you to check out a small group guru and Miranda’s lifelong family friend Heather Zempel while you’re there. She’s got some great articles on sgt, an incredible blog, and has even written a brand new small group resource called Sacred Roads which was published earlier this month.
OK – he’s only 16 months, but close enough. Kasen loves tents! When we go to the Bass Pro Shop, one of his favorite things to do is to run in and out of all the display tents.
Our small group went camping at Brazos Bend this week for Spring Break so Kasen and I made a quick day trip up to spend a night with them. He loved it! His first tent camping experience was a huge success. He went on a bike ride, played with his friends, helped find a geocache, fell asleep by the campfire, and slept til about 3am. He woke up and looked around a bit then snuggled back down into his sleeping bag for the rest of the night. He was still up like an alarm clock at 7am, but it was a good night.
Side note: We did have a little scare. Kesleigh had a skin infection and we were told we might need to take her to the hospital. The good news is that the antibiotics are working. Pray for her to have continued improving health.
I’m also grateful that we were also surrounded by great, caring friends (our small group) who prayed for her and engaged in some incredible conversations around the campfire. There’s just something about a campfire that brings those things out.
I just wanted to let everybody know about a new resource for small groups. Smallgroupexchange.com launched earlier this month and has tons of helpful materials. If you’re not too sure about something, they’ve got articles to help. There are also plenty of ideas and materials you can purchase (with reviews) to guide your study. They even have free training videos for small group leaders.
The smallgroupexchange folks have also asked me to do some writing/reviewing for their site. Wow! What an honor. You can check out my small group exchange bio here or one of my articles (What should we Study? & Leadership is Service). While you’re there, you should check out Heather Zempel’s articles. She’s a great writer and small group guru who has been a family friend to Miranda for her whole life. She’s quickly become my friend too. She also has a great blog called Wineskins for Discipleship.
Gosh, I’m not even sure where to start this post. That title alone – MERIDIAN STATE PARK – conjures up so many images and emotions within me. Meridian holds memories of friends, campfires, fried fish, rock climbing, hiking, Bee’s Ledge, Herman, water balloons, swimming, guitars, and singing. It makes me think of people like my dad, JET, Deason, James, Jackie Jo, Schlotzhauer, Chris, Bulldog, Chuck, Ronnie, Shayne, Robin, Todd, Dowdy dude, Brandon, John, Mary Francis, Joni, Wendi, Stephanie, Holly, Mike, Seabolt, Susan, Jaime Jo, and so many others. Connie, Tinker, Susan, Yvonne – truly the list goes on and on. And the crazy thing is that each item on this list is a memory. Most importantly, Meridian is the place I gave my life to Christ. It’s the place that everything else in my life hinges on. If it weren’t for the people and relationships that I made that Wednesday night (July 18, 1985), I honestly don’t know where I’d be.
By the way, this ID pic was taken of me just a month or so after that Wednesday night. As you can see, I was well on my way to a really great mullet – the 80s were so cool!
Joe, my youth minister, invited some folks to go to Meridian this past weekend. I was the first to arrive, and so I walked around the camp alone just praying for about 45 minutes before anyone else showed up. As I walked, everywhere I went, it seemed like every step I took my mind was flooded with these emotions and memories of something which had happened in that very spot. I thanked God for each of those events and for the people connected with them.
Joe talked Saturday night about the “Standing Stones” from Joshua 4 which were set up to memorialize what God had done in that place. (Stopped the Jordan river from flowing so the Israelites could cross and enter the Promised Land.) When people would come across a standing stone in later generations, they would ask the question, “What did God do here?” and then they would worship Him in that place. (No! These people are not bowing down to a standing stone, but to God. The stone only reminds them of the Lord’s work.)
Anyway, as I thought about Meridian this weekend, I realized that Meridian is the first “Standing Stone” Memorial that I have in my life. It’s the place that began my life with Christ. As I have continued to live my life with Christ, there have been many others. I can look back at quite a few other memorials and see where God has moved. Some of those include: Jan 3, 2004 and my Beautiful Bride, the day my dad died, the Godbolds, the Wesley Foundation @ A&M, Mike Mathews, The Wave, Throne Together, my trip to Israel, Mercy Ships, and now Lake Jackson. There are still many others both past and future, but it sure makes my life easier knowing that I can look back at each of these events and see very clearly that God moved. My faith almost doesn’t seem like faith, because I have had so many evidences or revelations of God in my past. Each of these memorials has made me who I am. When I step back and look at all of them together, each one adds to the other to point me down the road for my future. I still don’t know what my future holds, but with each of these anchor points it sure seems like God is leading a particular direction. His wind is mighty, my sails are up, I’m excited to imagine what’s next.
Ichthus was a great experience. There were so many places that I saw God at work. Here’s a short list (They aren’t in any particular order – I mean how could you rate God’s work anyway?):
1 – The church vans
2 – Our church family helping us pay for gas
3 – Edith and John (Our hosts in Germantown)
4 – Our adult sponsors – and new ones too – it was sure fun getting to know them
5 – The youth – not even one fight all week long – nothing but smiles, inside jokes, and shared experiences, and maybe a few shared smells too
6 – Our cooking teams (we ate pretty well all week)
7 – All kinds of denominations worshipping under the one name of Jesus
8 – The bands – every style from 95 thesis, twelve guage valentine, to chris tomlin, reliant k, and david crowder
9 – The speakers – justin lookadoo, efrem smith, and even the xxxchurch guys
10 – watching youth spend time with God reading His word each day without me telling them to do it
11 – wagon riding, ultimate frisbee, and lightning bugs
12 – rearranging tents
13 – rolling down hills
14 – water for a dry throat
15 – prayers of people in our church
16 – communion for that many people all at once
17 – Sunsets during worship
18 – specific things God is teaching me through some of our experiences (want to know more? check my other posts)
God worked all over the place. We’ll never even recognize all the places until maybe one day in heaven when God reveals it all to us. Thank you God for it all! We don’t deserve the incredible gift You have given us in these experiences – thank you for loving us like You do.