Remember the Sacrifice

Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. — John 15:13–14

Looking out across the rolling wooded acres of Arlington National Cemetery, with its hundreds of thousands of white stones in perfectly ordered rows, brings an assortment of emotions that are impossible to escape. Sadness. Desolation. Pride of country. Anger over so many lost young lives. The stones represent tremendous loss as well as the gift of freedom we are able to enjoy.

Arlington National Cemetery is a United States military cemetery located across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., in Arlington County, Virginia. Within its 624 acres, over four hundred thousand active-duty service members, veterans, and their families have been buried. In addition to the military heroes, Arlington is also the final resting place for a select number of presidents, astronauts, senators, and Supreme Court justices. Founded during the dark days of the Civil War, the cemetery now contains the remains of military personnel from every American war — from the Revolution to Iraq and Afghanistan.

But what about those of us who have never been called upon to lay down our lives in battle? Is the whole concept of “sacrifice” something for others and not for us? No! The Lord Jesus Christ calls each of His followers to a life of sacrifice, for His sake. The apostle Paul wrote,

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
 — Ephesians 5:1–2

Sacrifice isn’t just some dramatic final act of heroism. Sacrifice is also laying down our privileges, benefits, and pleasures for the good of someone else. The book of Hebrews says,

Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. — Hebrews 13:16

We may yet be called on to give up our lives on earth for the sake of another. But in the meantime, Jesus calls us to daily follow Him by giving more attention, care, love, time, and help to others than we give to ourselves.

Lord Jesus, sometimes my sacrifices seem so small, so insignificant, compared with those who have given so very much. But my goal today is to follow You with all my heart, being ready to set aside my own plans and pleasures whenever You call me to.

Sacrifice is a daily determination to put the needs of others before our own.

Friday Funnies

Happy Friday and Happy Memorial Day Weekend!
Here are 3 funnies to start off your weekend.

douchebag, dad is lawyer, frat clothes

gus psych, psyche quotes, psych meme, psych quotes, gus shawn, psyche politely decline

dogs at table, dogs dinner, dog meme, funny dogs

Friday Funnies: Surprised Pugs

I searched for "Surprised pugs" and was not disappointed.
dog surprises pug, brown dog and pug, scared pug, pug funny, pug meme, funny dog pictures

surprised pug, funny pug, pug eyes, puggle, brown tan pugs, trio of dogs

This pug mom looks so surprised. Like this is an 
episode of that show where someone doesn't 
know they're pregnant.
I made these for you, pug puppies, pug puppy and mom, i didn't know i was pregnant, surprise pregnancy, surprise dog pregnancy, puppies, dog and puppies, black pug

Friday Funnies

Happy Friday everyone!  Here are 3 funnies to start your day with: 

funny car photo, car meme, duck duck goose meme

funny lockers, middle school, high school, middle school lockers, junior high lockers, orange locker, tech locker, locker with electrical outlet, locker with docking station, charging devices at school

sorry I heard your family got a cat, black lab and golden retriever, golden retriever, golden retriever hugging, dogs hugging over fence

Tim Cooper - Training Leaders to Engage Culture - Re:group 2016

Pointing to Jesus’ ability to focus on core issues of the faith while moving time and again “toward the messes,” Tim Cooper emphasized that we need to treat core issues of the faith differently than peripheral ones (as Jesus did when he went to Matthew’s house).
“Address core issues of the faith differently than peripheral ones.”
To help train their leaders to distinguish between core issues and peripheral issues North Point developed a “beliefs assessment” that measures a leader’s ability to make the distinction. You can see their beliefs assessment right here.
Here are some tips to help distinguish core versus peripheral (from the Beliefs Assessment):
  • Core issues are beliefs that are essential to faith.
  • Christians have considerable differences of opinion about peripheral beliefs.
  • While core issues have endured over time, many peripherals have changed over time.
  • Even if something is peripheral, that does not mean it is unimportant.
  • Statements about core beliefs can be pronounced publicly in the local church, but conversations about peripheral topics are many times better handled privately.
  • Whether a topic is core or periphery determines how much energy and emotion it warrants.
In explaining the thinking behind the beliefs assessment, Cooper pointed out that “the more issues that are core to you the harder you make it for people to turn to God.”
“The more issues that are core to you the harder you make it for people to turn to God.”
Can you see their thinking? Have you ever thought through this tension? Have you ever trained your leaders to manage this tension?

Tim Cooper - A Higher Standard than Jesus - re:group 2016

There are times every once in a great while when something a speaker says is so convicting it causes an audible gasp or sigh in the room. There was one of those times on Day Two of re:group in the session by Tim Cooper called Training Leaders to Engage Culture.
“If what someone is doing keeps you from ministering to them them, you have a higher standard than Jesus”

Tim Cooper - Influencing Culture: Jesus’ Model vs the Pharisees’ Model - re:group 2016

One of the big takeaways was embedded in a careful look at the difference between Jesus’ model for influencing culture vs the Pharisees’ model for influencing culture. Sharing an insight into Jesus’ model, Tim Cooper talked about an incident that Matthew records in Matthew 9:9-13:
“As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.
10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’
12 On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'”
Pointing to verse 13 and citing an insight from Richard Beck’s Unclean, Cooper noted that sacrifice is intentionally moving toward purity (away from what is impure) while mercy is moving toward what is different.
“The Pharisees, seeking purity, pull away from the sinners. Jesus, seeking fellowship, moves toward the sinners.” Richard Beck, Unclean: Meditations on Purity, and Mortality.
And once again, I have to circle back to a great question from the breakout: “What’s encouraging your small group leaders to push through their natural instinct to avoid people God is trying to influence?”

Training Leaders to Engage Culture - re:group 2016

One of the most powerful takeaways I came away with was a renewed commitment to the importance of training small group leaders. Yes, adults learn on a need to know basis, and yes, I still believe the best practice is to do TO and FOR your leaders whatever you want them to do TO and FOR their members, but when leaders are well trained they will be better prepared to do something beyond facilitate a good discussion. And they will almost always need to be trained to engage culture.
Let me share an aha moment from the Community for Everyone breakout:
“The wider the diversity (you hope to include) the better the leader must be.”
Did you catch it? Do you see it? I can’t assume every small group leader has my passion for reaching people who are far from God. I also shouldn’t assume they have my intuition about what to say or how to engage. And as a result, I need to make sure I’m actually equipping small group leaders to engage culture.

Training Leaders to Engage Culture

Here is the introductory paragraph from the session notes of a breakout called Training Leaders to Engage Culture:
“From politics to sexuality there are numerous topics where culture intersects with faith and opinions vary. How we think about these issues is as important as what we think about them. In this breakout, we will take you through how we train volunteers to engage with culture. We’ll explore some root causes of existing cultural tensions and focus on how to walk alongside someone who has a viewpoint different from your own.”
I loved the 5 declaratory statements that were part of the breakout notes:
  1. We have to decide if we really want to influence the culture we live in. Note: The difference between what churches believe is true and right and what the culture believes is true and right creates a gap. How we teach people to handle the gap influences how we view and treat the people on the other side of the gap.
  2. Our ability to influence culture is limited by our disgust toward it.
  3. To overcome disgust, we must intentionally move toward the messesGreat Question: “What is encouraging your leaders to push through their natural instinct to avoid people God is trying to influence?”
  4. Jesus models how to influence culture. Note: It was right about here that Tim Cooper said, “If what someone is doing keeps you away from ministering to them, you have a higher standard than Jesus.”
  5. Managing the tension between theology and ministry requires work.
Can you make out the flow of the discussion?
I have to tell you, I’ve thought of little else since I attended this breakout. I am convinced that as the West becomes an increasingly post-Christian culture, it is imperative that we become better at engaging culture.
I found the conclusion of the breakout notes captivating:
“How we educate volunteers to engage with and influence culture is one of the most important things we will do as a church. When our devotion to God is illustrated, demonstrated, and authenticated by our love for others, we make it possible to change our culture…and our world.”

Community for Everyone Re:group Conference 2016

“If we want everyone to experience life-changing community, we need to make space in groups for people with a variety of lifestyles and theological beliefs. How do we create avenues for opportunities for dating couples living together? How do we help LGBT people experience a growing relationship with Jesus through community? In this breakout, we’ll explore what we’re learning as we try to move a diverse population from rows into circles.”
Think with me for a moment.
Like the North Point Ministries churches, our small group strategy is designed to form and launch groups for married couples, men (married and unmarried)  and women (married and unmarried). As a result, it is already more and more common for us to field questions from people who are trying to figure out if they fit or where they fit.
Are you answering those questions too?
Let me tell you, if you’re not yet wrestling with questions about “how can I/we participate or “I/we can participate” it is probably only a matter of time (a very brief time).
Again, I love the thinking behind North Point’s philosophy and strategy. Consider these three statements:
“Our mission as a church is to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Check. That’s not how we say it but it is what we say. And you are probably the same.
“Our vision is to create churches that unchurched people want to attend.”
Check. I resonate with that vision and you probably do too.
Stop and think for one moment, through, before we continue.
Follow the thinking right here:
If you want unchurched people to attend and are praying that unchurched people to attend and God answers your prayer and unchurched people do attend…doesn’t it stand to reason that these same unchurched people will arrive with lifestyles and habits (and much more) that are consistent with and shaped by the culture?
How are you doing? Still with me?
Okay, so here’s the third statement:
“We believe for people to grow spiritually, they must be connectedrelationally.”
Check. I’m with you. We are with you.
And now, what must we do to make community available for everyone? In our case, I’m certain we can’t easily fit everyone into our three categories. At least, not without a lot of forcing men and women to fit. 

Andy Stanley - Community for Everyone - re:group conference 2016

After announcing that North Point Ministries has 72,000 people in groups. “20 years in people ask me, ‘What would you change if you started over?’ Our one numeric goal (to have 100,000 people in groups) has shaped everything. It has shaped everything including our budget. Your goals shape where the money goes. Groups is the best bet.”

1.     Mission Matters
a.     Our mission as a church is to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.
b.     Our vision is to create churches unchurched people love to attend. If our strategy works? Unchurched people will attend!!
c.     We believe that for people to grow spiritually, they must be connected relationally.

2.     Tensions in Connecting People
a.     As we reached a growing diverse population, we must evaluate our methods of forming groups. Scott McKnight The Celebration of Difference – Who are the groups of people who tend to be invisible? Who are the invisibles in your church?
b.     Historically, we have formed small groups composed of:
                                               i.     Men (married and unmarried)
                                             ii.     Women (married and unmarried)
                                            iii.     Married Couples
c.     Our way of forming groups has left some people wondering if there is a group for them.
                                               i.     Heterosexual dating couples who are living together.
                                             ii.     Gay and Lesbian couples. Some married, some not married.
                                            iii.     Individuals who defined them as Same-Sex Attracted (SSA) who are choosing a path of celibacy; or homosexuals not in a relationship.
d.     The Theological and the Practical
                                               i.     We must stay focused on both of the theological and the practical. Don’t see it as an either / or, but as a both / and.
                                             ii.     Some aspects are more informed by the practical than the theological or vice versa.

“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.
Acts 15:19 (NIV)
·      Let’s don’t make it difficult for people wanting community!
                                            iii.     In interpreting scripture, we desire to focus on what is major rather than debating what is minor. When you start with the majors, it begins a relational bridge to walk on.
                                            iv.     We want to focus on making a difference rather than making a point.
                                             v.     More is required—both practically and theologically—from those in leadership. The wider the door gets to community and diversity, the more you need a good leader. The core of a great small group is a great small group leader.
3.     Creating Community for Everyone
a.     In seeking to create community for everyone, we’ve:
                                               i.     Tested new ways to form groups. (non-traditional couples {heterosexual living together, homosexual not living together} to get into a mixed groups). The challenge for a mixed groups is finding the right leader.
                                             ii.     Learned through staff-led groups. Not operating on neutral turf—we operate on a deficit. They worked at building friendships. “I can accept you without accepting everything about you.” Take a step in one area of your life… Celebrate the small steps and the small wins.
                                            iii.     Expanded options for our short-term groups. Mom Matters. Parenting. Spiritual Growth. John Woodall’s Seven.
b.     In seeking to prepare our leaders, we’ve provided specific training.

Can we as a church minister to gay and lesbian individuals without coming to theological consensus?

Andy Stanley - Life is Better Connected - re:group conference 2016

Only numeric goal North Point has ever set has been in small groups - 100,000 people in small groups. 

After announcing that North Point Ministries has 72,000 people in groups. Anyone sitting in a circle with a leader is a group: children's, students, adults - 72,000 people are currently connected in groups. “20 years in people ask me, ‘What would you change if you started over?’ Our one numeric goal (to have 100,000 people in groups) has shaped everything. It has shaped everything including our budget. Setting that numeric goal has set the direction of our entire organization. Your goals shape where the money goes. Groups is the best bet.”

We wanted to build a community of Jesus followers who were in community. The most powerful evangelism is when we "one another one another."

“People often come up to me and say, “I visited your church.” I tell them, “No you didn’t. You visited one of our worship services. Our church meets in circles.”
“We wanted to build a community of Jesus followers who were in community.”
“The most powerful form of evangelism is a community of Christians who love each other.”
“The one another factor is the explanation of the first couple hundred years.”
“Our kids think you’re supposed to be in a group and lead a group.”
“The church doesn’t happen in rows. The church happens in circles.”
“When people say, ‘I’m going to call the church,’ we should say, ‘no you’re not. You’re going to call somebody. The church meets in circles.'”
“[Life-change] happens a little bit in rows and a lotta bit in circles.”
Circles are better than rows. Accountability, belonging, and care happens in groups. 
Andy's kids believe that they should be in groups. They are to be in one and lead one.

“People often come up to me and say, “I visited your church.” I tell them, “No you didn’t. You visited one of our worship services. Our church meets in circles.”
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 NIV
All of us stumble and fall.  Who feels free to ask, "Are you okay?" and won't except "Fine" for an answer. “When people are in circles, ‘the church’ automatically picks them up.”
When people stumble and fall and there's no one. There is generally nothing the church can do. 
“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
Ecclesiastes 4:12 NIV

  • I have seen many broken people in group. I have been in groups that were going through brokenness. I have never been in community who's broken hearts left them broken down. 
  • Group life is preventative. Because somebody can see what I can't see. In group life, people can see what is coming. Groups are preventative. Somebody (in your group) can see what they can’t see. Somebody can always see it coming.”
  • “Groups are preventative. You can’t measure prevention. You can measure what happens without it. There is way way more going on (in groups) than you can measure.”
  • Who really needs this are singles. Who tells a single person, "I see this coming down the road for you." When you don't like something or hear something you like? You just change room mates. You get another girlfriend. You move and you get another job. For Singles ... Group Life Matters because it allows people to speak into your life! We all need it! #regroup16 @AndyStanley
  • There's no such thing as a marriage problem; there's just problems that you bring into your marriage. @regroupco @AndyStanley #regroup16
  • Every marriage needs some support to need life support later. Every marriage needs some support now to avoid life support later. @regroupco @AndyStanley #regroup16
Group life is preventive. 
When it comes to Group Life? If people wait until they need it? Then they won't have it. 
  • Groups are like retirement savings. If people wait until they need it [to be picked up] they won’t have it when they need it. It is kind of like retirement savings. If you wait until you need it, it's too late to get it. 
  • They were already there, so they were already there for us. But if they aren't already there? They won't be there for you during the crisis. 


Imagine the difference in your father or your mother grew up in a church that valued circles more than rows. Imagine the difference in your family if your family had been in a group - a place where everyone knows you and you can't shuck and jive your way out of your mess - during your darkest times when you were single. During the dark times of your marriage. 
Your story would be better if your parents or grandparents would have been connected.

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