What can you tell me about small groups?

Small Groups LogoWe’ve started a new small group ministry within the bilingual group that I work with at the University Church of Christ. Going on the theory that late is better than never, let me ask for some input.

Have you been involved in small groups? Have you been in an especially successful group? Have you been in a group that was unsuccessful?

What works and what doesn’t in terms of…?

  • frequency
  • size
  • location
  • format
  • study/discussion materials
  • childcare

Any other thoughts or suggestions you’d like to share?

Image from CreationSwap.com

Links To Go (February 18, 2015)

In court, ‘guardian angels’ aim to help immigrants facing deportation

They call themselves “guardian angels.” They say they are protectors of the tens of thousands of children apprehended at the U.S. border in recent years after fleeing rising violence in Central America.
Because the government does not provide lawyers to immigrants facing removal, many of the children have ended up navigating complex deportation proceedings alone. Last fiscal year, 72% of children in deportation hearings were not represented by an attorney, according to federal data analyzed by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.


Ash Wednesday: Picking and Choosing our Piety

Finally, it also puzzles me that time and energy is spent each year on extolling the virtues of Lent when comparatively little is spent on extolling the virtues of the Lord’s Day. Presbyterianism has its liturgical calendar, its way of marking time: Six days of earthly pursuits and one day of rest and gathered worship. Of course, that is rather boring. Boring, that is, unless you understand the rich theology which underlies the Lord’s Day and gathered worship, and realize that every week one meets together with fellow believers to taste a little bit of heaven on earth.


Which Life Matters?

Last week three Muslim students were killed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Their murderer was a white professed atheist. I don’t know if this was ‘terrorism’ or a ‘hate crime.’ It was terrorizing. It was hateful. I do know that when there is a shooting of non-Muslims by Muslims there is not a second of hesitation in labeling the acts terrorism. There is not a second lost in searching out the greater conspiracy behind it, usually a major, international terror organization.
Did American media gloss over this murder?
The day after the murders CNN listed the killing further down on their home page than news of the opening weekend of the film 50 Shades of Grey.
Apparently the only time Muslims are newsworthy is when they are on the shooting side of the gun.


Can I Pray for You? | One Question to the Gospel Series

We don’t pray to manipulate anyone. Prayer is not a formulaic evangelism technique. Rather, it is a real confession of our real need of God and it’s a real expression of our real care (and God’s) for the one we are speaking with. When someone detects our authentic faith and care in our desire to pray for him or her, it can connect with him or her in a way that’s different and sometimes more disarming than more abstract discussions or arguments do.


Away from the Body and at Home with the Lord

I understand that some good Christians have an underdeveloped eschatology that rarely touches on crucial New Testament themes. But many of these same Christians have a sweet and simple longing for heaven, a commendable confidence that because of Christ they will, in fact, die and go to a better place. Correcting eschatological imbalances is good, but not if it means undermining or minimizing one of the most precious promises in all the Bible; namely, that to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21). Even the intermediate state is indescribably good–better to be away from the body and at home with the Lord is how Paul put it (2 Cor. 5:8).


Steps You Can Take to Listen More Deeply

  • Change the point of conversation from “agree/disagree” to “understanding.” There is no “winner” in a good conversation.
  • Be comfortable with the idea that understanding doesn’t mean you agree. And that’s OK.
  • Use phrases like “this is what I hear you saying” and see if they agree. If not…
  • Ask clarifying questions like, “When you say _______________ do you mean ______________?” If they say “no” then keep asking. Come at it from other angles. Or ask them to rephrase what they are trying to help you understand. Don’t just assume because they spoke some words you are interpreting those words through their filter. Your filter may be different.
  • Manage your own anxiety while paying attention to theirs. If they are getting anxious help them calm. You can ask: “You sound a little ________________. Is that how you are feeling?”

Posting a photo is the worst way to get people to see your Facebook posts

Data provided to Business Insider by the social-media analytics company Socialbakers shows just how badly photos perform compared with videos, links, and even simple text-only posts in terms of reach on Facebook.
What makes this data so remarkable is that it wasn’t so long ago that posting photos used to give brand page owners the best chance of their posts being seen by their fans (indeed, a Socialbakers study dated April 2014 declared “Photos Are Still King On Facebook”). Now the algorithm has changed, punishing photos, perhaps in response to page owners trying to game the system by constantly posting photos, or maybe because Facebook has been shifting its strategy ever more toward video in recent months.


Immersive Michael Jordan Simulator Is the World’s Coolest Basketball Court

Here’s what happens when you step inside: your actual surroundings transform. You find yourself on a basketball half-court. At first, the walls around you are white as the THX 1138 set. But then those walls come to life. Suddenly, you’re surrounded by a realistic-looking crowd, because the walls are actually massive LED displays.
But wait, there’s more: The floor beneath you morphs into parquet. Which arena’s parquet? It depends what you selected while you were waiting in line. On wall-mounted iPads outside the scene you choose a scenario, and two of them are storybook moments from Jordan’s career.
You can either try to replicate his game-winning shot in the 1982 NCAA Championship game versus Georgetown, or you can replicate his final shot as a member of the Chicago Bulls in 1998: a top-of-the-key jumper against the Utah Jazz that boosted the Bulls to their sixth NBA championship.


Moving Mom

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe last few days have been unusual. My family has helped my mother move from her home in San Angelo to an apartment in Abilene. She is now in a retirement community about 5 blocks from my house.

The transition isn’t easy. She had lived in that house in that same house in San Angelo since the summer before I began first grade. She’d attended the same congregation since before I was born. She had her set appointment with the hairdresser and her time with the ladies that helped her clean the house. She was around friends that she had known for decades, even if they were able to see each other less and less over the years.

But my mother decided to let us help her move; once she made that decision, she never said one negative thing about it. She’s determined to make this work.

For my part, I feel like I did when my kids started school. Will she figure out how to do what she needs to do? Will she make friends? Will this initial difficult time give way to a happier time?

As my sister said once, the most important things in life you only do once. And no one can really tell you how to do them or exactly what you’ll have to do. Experience is the best teacher, if not always the most timely one.

Family takes care of family. Parents care for their children, and the children are to return the favor later in life.

photo courtesy MorgueFile.com

Links To Go (February 16, 2015)

ISIS and “the Nation of the Cross”

You can’t kill people who have already died. That’s who you are talking about and who you are talking to when you address “the people of the Cross”
The people of God have faced worse things than this before and we actually have a bit of historical perspective on what God does with our spilled blood. “The blood of Christians is the seed of Christianity” one early Jesus follower wrote during a much scarier time than this. And he was right, you have no idea the sleeping giant that you are waking with this challenge, and it’s not the West. It’s the power of the redeemed suffering of the people of God.


Thank You Obama for Denouncing “Christian” Violence: It is Actually Far Worse Than ISIS

In fact, for followers of Jesus, the violence perpetrated by “Christians” throughout history ought to be considered far worse than the violence perpetrated by ISIS or any other religious group throughout history, precisely because this violence was done in the name of Jesus. Whereas other forms of religious violence harm people, Christian violence also brought – and still brings – tremendous harm to the kingdom of God. While the church is supposed to attract people to Christ by the beauty of our Jesus-imitating self-sacrificial love, violence in Jesus’ name drives people away and justifies their hatred and unbelief.
For this reason, violence done in Jesus’ name must be considered by Jesus followers to be the most demonic form of violence there is. As demonic as the violence being carried out by ISIS is, “Christian” violence is much more so.


Christian and Countercultural

The summum bonum of our American civil religion is maximizing the opportunities for ­individuals to express and satisfy their desires—a belief that orthodox Christianity by nature opposes but that Christian moralistic therapeutic deism embraces and baptizes. As Smith told an audience at Princeton Theological Seminary,it is not so much that Christianity in the United States is being secularized. Rather more subtly, either Christianity is at least degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith.


Polarization In The CofC

The reason we are struggling in this department is failure on both sides. On the progressive side, you have quasi-non-judgmental feelings. This means that any definitive statement of truth is seen as a judgmental stance. So the conversation is closed off because no one wants to be judged, and you are judging me. On the conservative side, you have defensiveness. Instead of listening to divergent points of view, you have a simplistic proof texting attitude of quoting a verse like it was not known already in the conversation.


5 Quick Tips To Win Every Online Argument Ever

  1. Treat others like you want to be treated.
  2. Lead with humility.
  3. Don’t use polarizing language.
  4. Assume the best in others.
  5. Respond as if you’re conversing in person.

The 7 ingredients of a perfect blog post

  1. Whenever possible, open up with a story.
  2. Use a picture.
  3. Include links to helpful resources that tie into what you’re talking about.
  4. Whenever possible, use inspiration or humor (or both).
  5. Be yourself.
  6. Make it practical.
  7. Do it all in 33 seconds.

12 Things I know About Weight Loss

I am writing this post to myself (and maybe it will be of value to someone else). In the morning I am going to weigh-in at Weight Watchers. It has been a disastrous couple of weeks. Yes…weeks. So it is not going to be pretty … but there is power in knowing. In my years of struggling with my weight, here are some things I’ve written to myself this afternoon.


Dog escapes house, runs to hospital to comfort owner

A mini schnauzer who wanted to see her owner in the hospital escaped her home and ran 15 blocks to visit her.
Nancy Franck has been at Mercy Medical Center for two weeks following surgery and her dogs, Barney and Sissy, missed her. On Saturday, Sissy escaped her home and ran the 15 blocks determined to see Franck.
The security cameras caught her entering the front doors of the medical facility and crossing the lobby.


Links To Go (February 9, 2015)

The Girl in the Tuxedo: Two Variations on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

If she speaks of her religion and says there are faith convictions at stake that matter deeply to her, the therapist tries to help her overcome her “homophobic” values and free her from the “false consciousness” and oppression to which she is clearly subject.
And if she finally discusses the still unrevealed secret of sexual abuse—the fifty-year-old uncle and the summer six years ago? Exploring its possible connection with her same-sex attraction is forbidden. Any such discussion or treatment must still affirm her same-sex orientation and disassociate the abuse from her sexual development. She is, after all, only fifteen, and must be protected from dangerous ideas that might depress her further and chip away at her fragile self-esteem.


What If We’re Wrong?

Jesus’ Kingdom isn’t one that flexes its trillion dollar military budget, or one that appeals to good citizenship and social responsibility. No. It’s not one that can be won through violence or conquest – Jesus says that right here…it can’t be bought with bullets, bombs, or research and development. It can only be GIVEN by the Son of God and preserved entirely by Him who is so far above the affairs of governments, courts, and war.


Why the Bible is NOT a Practical Guide to Life

But Jesus didn’t tell us to be meek, to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies, and to humbly serve others because these are practical strategies for achieving our desired goals. He told us to do this because in so doing, God is glorified by our faithful obedience.


10 Traits of Inwardly-Focused, Ineffective Churches

  1. Worship wars.
  2. Prolonged minutia meetings.
  3. Facility focus.
  4. Program driven.
  5. Inwardly focused budget.
  6. Inordinate demands for pastoral care.
  7. Attitudes of entitlement.
  8. Greater concern about change than the gospel.
  9. Anger and hostility.
  10. Evangelistic apathy.

More Highly Than You Ought

Why do we talk too much about ourselves? Why do we get so defensive when someone challenges us? A very helpful diagnosis comes from the Apostle Paul. He writes, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.” (Romans 12:3, NIV)
I’m deeply persuaded that we’re addicted to the pursuit of self-glory because, when we look in the mirror, we think we see someone who deserves to be glorified. Instead of using the mirror of God’s Word to keep our judgment sober, we see an aggrandized version of who the Bible says we actually are.


The “Plus One” Approach To Church

When you meet people who feel disconnected from church, start with this question: Are you committed to worshiping with us every Sunday unless you are providentially hindered? If they say yes, then move on to “Plus One.” Is there at least one other activity in the life of the church in which you are consistently and wholeheartedly participating? Usually the answer is no.


The Paradigm Shift That Helped Me Defeat Perfectionism Once and for All

What helped me was to think of my work like software. When I started doing that, it was like the shackles came off and the iron door inside opened up. Here’s how it works.
All software contains bugs, but, as those imperfections are reported, developers correct them and issue updates. Users expect this cycle as a normal part of the process.
In fact, the more successful and useful the software is, the more likely it is to go through numerous iterations. The best programs are practically in a state of permanent beta.
When I started thinking along those lines I was finally freed to finish. My projects didn’t have to be perfect. They just had to be good and useful today. I could always update it tomorrow.


Man pauses for nap during police pursuit

The deputy reportedly chased Barbour through several yards before losing sight of him.
A K-9 unit was deployed to the scene, and the dog led deputies in a large circle before returning to the area where the deputy lost sight of Barbour. The group heard a loud noise loosely described as a “snorting wild boar,” which officers discovered was the sound of Barbour snoring while sleeping underneath a nearby trailer.