a safe place to grunt… if that’s what works for you

Yo. Small groups started this week. You only have 10 days left to sign up. The trimester runs until the end of June and if you miss this one, you don’t get another shot until September. And you’ll miss getting to know great leaders like Dade Dowdle. This guy rocks. Here’s his story…

Prologue:

Early in our marriage, my wife Joy and I were involved in a small group “back home” that had a big impact on our marriage and our individual walks with Jesus. I was not enthusiastic about joining a small group. I only agreed to participate because the strain of some big decisions we needed to make – a potential move to the DC area among them – had begun to show in our relationship with one another, and we were desperate for some help. I doubted whether a community to help pray us through things would make much of a difference. It did, in ways that I could not adequately express in the space available to me in this post. Suffice to say that since that time, we have moved three times (to the MD side of DC, to London, and then back to northern VA), and each time even I, the former skeptic, have prayed for God to bless us with a community of people with whom we could walk and pray through things.

The Post:

Joy and I started visiting Restoration around small-group registration time in the fall of ’09. Even though neither of us is from an Anglican, or even liturgical, background, we were pretty sure we liked Restoration, and so thought we would sign up for a small group. We decided we would stay at Restoration, and figure out the Anglican and liturgical thing. We absolutely loved our small group.
We were in Graham and Laurel Henshaw’s group. The first meeting we had some really great brownies, a good study, and a quick time for sharing and praying that set the stage for the duration of our group’s time together. In the following meetings we had more great brownies, more good studies, and times of prayer for each other that were as open and honest as we wanted them to be. We ended up feeling as invested in Restoration, and as invested in by Restoration, as promised, and developed some deep and meaningful friendships.

For this trimester, Joy and I decided to host a small group of our own. We decided to direct our study towards marriage due to (1) the benefit small groups have been to our relationship, (2) the fact that it seems every married couple we know wrestles with the same problems of balancing work and life and still investing in their marriages the way they would like to. We don’t hold ourselves out to be marriage counselors or to have any answers. Our claim is simply that for the next 10 weeks, we are going to invest some time every week to think about how we can invest in our relationships in the hope that doing so will help us to experience the fullness and richness that we believe God intends for our marriages to be. We will be using materials primarily from the Alpha Marriage Course as a guide, although we reserve the right to use it or not use it, or add other resources to it, as the group sees fit. We will not have homework, because in our experience no one ever does it anyway, and we don’t want something else to have to do. Also, we plan on having lots of good food. We would love to have you join us!

A Note for (Skeptical) Dudes:

After reading all of this from another dude, you may be thinking, “What a bunch of emotionally-driven crap. I’m not joining a group with a dude who, having started off like this, is bound to end up trying to sell me insurance or Amway products.” I know you may be thinking that, because that’s what I thought the first time I signed up for a small group. For what it’s worth, I do not sell insurance, or Amway products. Don’t let such fears keep you from joining us. This will be a safe place for guys to drink a beer and grunt if that’s what works for them.

Register for a Small Group!!

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Friends, Small Group Registration opened on Sunday and over 50 people have already signed up. As my friend Dan Moriarity used to say as he walked across Yates Field from the caf, ‘Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-haw!’

Erin dropped a great invitation on us Sunday–  to get plugged in to a smaller community that will wrestle with Scripture, with faithfulness, with letting Jesus lead…  You’ll notice some of the groups are doing special topics (Cindy D and Erica C looking at the Sermon on the Mount, the Janis’ digging in to one of the most formational books I’ve ever read [you’ll hear echoes of it in almost every sermon I preach]).  But most everyone else is wrestling with the Scripture I preach on Sunday.  This is THE BEST way to get Scripture IN you–  listen to it then talk it out with friends.

We follow a trimester system that allows ‘just enough’ commitment.  Registration is open for a month, then all of the groups close until the end of the trimester.  In March, you are done!  You can sign up again or try a different one.  If you miss TriOne, the next trimester begins in mid-April.

But don’t miss TriOne! Make some friends.  Lock in one evening a week to figuring out Jesus and what He wants from you.  If you have a favorite small group memory from 2009, throw it up there in the comments section.  It all starts the week of January 17th.

Why We Value Small Groups

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Is there any place in your life that 12-15 people want to hear what is going on.  Where laughter is spontaneous and comments are sincere?

I was listening to a message from John Piper this morning. He off-handedly opened his sermon with 7 Reasons Why Preaching is Not Enough. It was a list he had given to his small group leaders earlier that week.  As I listened, I found myself slowing down and looking for something with which to write.  I am so proud of our small group leaders.  And I will bang the small group drum as long as I am able.  Nothing else is as effective at getting the Gospel into us. I love preaching.  It’s a ton of work to prepare the messages.  It is the foundation of our corporate spirituality.  But preaching falls way short of my transformational hopes if you are not in a small group.  I hope everyone who pops in to restoration wrestles during the week with 12-15 friends who are trying to live it out.

Piper’s Reasons:

7 reasons for why preaching is not enough.  Reason why small group leaders are essential for the life of our church.

  • The impulse to avoid painful growth by disappearing safely into a crowd in corporate worship is very strong.
  • The tendency toward passivity in listening to a sermon is part of our human weakness.
  • Listeners in a big group can more easily evade redemptive crises. So if something causes you to get tears in your eyes on a Sunday morning, it is pretty easy to wipe them away and get out of there.  If it happens in a small group, someone’s probably going to ask–  what’s up?  How can we help.
  • Listeners in a large group tend to neglect efforts of personal application.  We all need someone to press in and say, ‘what are you going to do about that conviction’?  How will you move beyond mere religious sentiment to real life change.
  • Opportunities for questions leads to growth in mission. A sermon is not a dialogue.  I am trying to answer questions I think you are asking, but I am guessing and anticipating.  In a small group, you can ask your personally nuanced questions.
  • Accountability for followthrough on good resolves is missing. If someone knows what you intend to do in response to a truth, then you will be more likely to do it.
  • Prayer support for a specific need goes wanting… We have opportunities for prayer after the service, but we can’t pray for everyone.  However, we can literally pray for every person in our church, every week, if they are in a small group.  That’s good care.

I have 20 fellow-shepherds/pastors in our small group leaders.  I lean heavily on them to lead our church.  They pray hard and they work hard.  Tell them thanks!  Buy ’em coffee.  Small Groups are critical to what we do and everyone should be in one.  I’ll say it till they drag me out of here.

God’s Good No

Well, it’s almost a week later, and I’m still thinking about last Sunday’s sermon.  (Good job, David!)

For those who weren’t there (and for those who were and were sleepy), David walked us through Exodus 19.  God leads the Israelites to Mt. Sinai, he descends upon the mountain, and he calls Moses up onto the mountain so that God can to speak to him.  But God very clearly states that none of the rest of the Israelites are even to touch the mountain.  If they do, they will be put to death.

Maybe not quite what you were looking for when you got out of bed early on Sunday morning.

It’s a hard scripture, and it was a hard message.  David spoke to us about the limits that God puts on us and our behaviors.  He showed us that because God is a holy God — as this passage makes so clear — there are limits on how we can act and what we can do.  Because we are created in God’s image and called to reflect his holiness, and because we are human and not gods, there are limits on our choices and our behavior.  Both God’s holiness and our humanness mean that God sometimes says “no” to us.  That “no” can be very difficult — but because it is God’s, it is also very good.

What kind of limits does God put on us? David gave us lots of hard, specific examples:

  • Limits on how we spend our time and our money.
  • Limits on our work-life “balance” (or lack thereof).
  • Limits on physical intimacy in dating relationships.
  • Limits on marriage.
  • Limits on our internet and other media consumption.

There was something in there for just about everyone — it was what I think of as an “equal opportunity convictor.”

David also showed us how the Israelite community was charged with protecting and preserving the limits God had set around Mt. Sinai; those who transgressed the limits were not immediately smited by God but received their punishment at the hand of their fellow Israelites. In a similar way, we as a community of people following Jesus bear the responsibility of naming, protecting, and preserving the limits that God has placed on us.   This doesn’t mean that we have to turn into the morality police, but it does mean that we as a community need to take seriously the limits on how we live in light of God’s holiness.

Does that make you uncomfortable?  I hope so.  It does me.  This is hard stuff.  It’s hard to hear.  It’s hard to accept.  It’s hard to do right — and all too easy to do wrong.  But I think it’s true.  And so we have to wrestle with it.

So this is an invitation to a wrestling match.  I think this sermon should be the beginning of a conversation, not the end of it.  We want to hear what you think.  What spoke to your heart?  What made you mad? What made you seek and receive God’s forgiveness? What did you disagree with? What made you want to stand up and cheer?  We want to hear it all.

So please talk to us, and talk to each other.   Talk to your roommate, your spouse, your kids.  Talk to someone from your last small group.  Talk to me or to David (you can always reach us here).  Let’s wrestle together to understand God’s good “no.”

Getting Involved at Restoration: part 1

On Easter, Restoration tried its hand at multiple services: 9 &11.  Over 30 people were involved in leading that effort, from readers, to nursery workers, to greeters, to ushers, to worship leaders, to communion servers, to parking lot attendants.  Our Sunday worship is a true community event and uses many hands and feet.  We have so many opportunities for people to learn new things, to use tried and true gifts, and to stretch their hearts of service.

If you are new to Restoration, this next blog series (bleries?) is for you.  I will be posting different ways that people lead and serve our community.  You might read something and say, Eureka!  I want to do that too!  Look for a form at the bottom of the post and you will be well on your way to ‘gettin’ involved at Restoration.’

During the week, there are over 80 Restoration folks meeting in small groups around Arlington and Falls Church.  This is THE place to get to know folks and to be known.  The small group lasts 90 minutes–  that’s it, we promise!

10 minutes in tasty snacks and chit chat, 45 minutes wrestling through the Scripture I preached from on Sunday, 25 minutes sharing needs, concerns, and praying.  10 minutes to spare…

If you want to Get Involved, this is the place to do it.   Register here

You’ll also notice that we have started a new sermon series, The Prodigal God.  We gave everyone who came for Easter a copy of Tim Keller’s (pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC) book by the same name.  For the next 50 days (Easter to Pente (50) cost, May 31) we will be digging in to this story of a Dad and 2 sons.  You will not want to miss any of it.  Worship with us on Sunday, read the book, wrestle with the story in small groups during the week, and recognize the Father who waits with His arms open wide…

Small Group Highlight Reel

Our first semester of small groups comes to a close this week.  Registration for the next semester has opened.  Take a moment to share a highlight from Restoration’s first round of small group.  Did you have a particular passage that you enjoyed studying?  Was there a conversation that encouraged you–  made you think about stuff in a new way?  Did someone tell a really good joke?  Did you see God answer prayer?  We’d love to hear.

New Small Groups Video

Laughter, relaxation, balance, empathy, community, day-to-day, deep, challenging, fun, refreshing, necessary…those are a few of the adjectives I would use when describing my small group experience at Restoration. With second small group semester just around the corner, we thought we’d ask you to share a few adjectives of your own. Check out our newest video!

Enjoy, and spread the word. You can the video by going to the video’s homepage and easily send it to your friends, post it to Facebook…whatever you’d like. It’s on the homepage and it is designed to give someone who is checking out our church an inside view into our community.

I’ll be updating the “small groups” page soon, and we’ll write a blog post when registration is open. In the meantime, tell all your friends.

Thanks to all the participants, and my apologies to all those who didn’t make the cut. Apparently quite a few times when I hit “record” I was actually hitting “stop” so I have some riveting footage of my pocket, the palm of my hand, and the ground.

Sign up for a small group!

Small Groups started this week

Small groups started this week.  They last about 90 minutes.  After mingling and getting to know each other, we dig into the Bible passages that were preached from on Sunday.  The theme of this time is:  WRESTLE.  We want to wrestle with understanding what the texts mean.  We want to wrestle with what they mean to us.  How do we live these things out?  How is our relationship with Jesus more than just an intellectual exercise or a compartment of our life (or a drawer in our dresser)?  We need to wrestle together with Jesus, His Word, and our lives–  saying, ok God, you get to manage it all.  With these friends and your trustworthy words, I will let you lead my life.

How did the conversations go this week?  What did you like best about your small group?  Where are you feeling challenged?

This is a slice of the passages we studied...

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