Here at Harvest, every small group we start has 5 tasks to accomplish throughout its life: fellowship, study, provision, worship, and evangelism. All five of these are taken from the last few verses of Acts 2, but I want to take some time to expound on each one of these tasks. Today, we’re going to continue the series by exploring the idea of studying the Bible.
This one is a little weird to discuss, because it seems a little unnecessary to talk about how important it is to read and study scripture. But I believe there is a risk within the small group atmosphere, and sometimes even the temptation, to veer into the realm of simply becoming a social club. Friends meeting together to eat and talk for a couple of hours and then go their separate ways. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, there is so much potential growth to be had by incorporating Bible study as a core element of the small group routine. We often talk about the benefits of corporate worship, that is, worshiping our God in unison with others, but can we apply the same idea to the inspection of God’s Word?
“The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.”
The give-and-take nature of a small group is absolutely necessary to the process of Biblical study. When we read it on our own, while an admirable thing to do, we cannot help but apply our own presuppositions to the text. I am not saying we should refrain from individual study, but if we, at the same time, neglect to present the results of that study to others, we risk running into the issue of twisting scripture into simply the most personally pleasing form we can imagine. We should be doing all we can to avoid becoming one of the “scheming swindlers” that Kierkegaard discusses. We need to have others hold our understanding if scripture accountable, and provide motivation to act in accordance with that correct understanding.
Having a group Bible study helps us to expand the realm of our insight into the subtleties and possible interpretations of scriptures. It is inevitable that the people in your small group will open your eyes to different ways to read a particular passage, or make a connection between two seemingly unaffiliated verses that changes the way you read both of them.
Take, for example, God is often given the description of being a father. While it is a pretty simple title, our experiences with earthly fathers can differ wildly. He who never knew his father may find comfort in the fact that God is there to guide and take care of him, while the woman whose father was abusive may shirk from having to contend with another father figure in her life. Simple ideas like this can cause our interpretation of such a complicated and intricate work of literature like the Bible to begin to take a different path from our neighbor’s. We should seek to understand how others come away from the text and, in turn, see how we are applying our own experience to what we have read.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.”
The Bible does not easily lend itself to a quick and easy understanding. It is not a book we can simply read through once, take the main point it is trying to make, and then move on with our lives. No, investigating God’s word is a lifetime-endeavor, filling our days with a desire to gain an ever-deepening understanding of the history of God’s people, the life, death, and life of Jesus Christ, and what it truly looks like to live a life reflecting His word.
We should be investigating the Bible on our own, with our families, and even when in social situations. In the small group setting, we not only have the chance to read and understand the words of scripture better, but will have opportunities to live out what we have learned when chances to support and provide for others arise. The impact of scripture needs to extend beyond the simple consumption of the text. It should cause us to go and turn it’s words into actions.
I have been involved in lots of different youth groups for about 10 years now, and something I have tried to convince students of, time after time, is that their faith and Biblical knowledge is nobody’s responsibility but theirs. This extends into adulthood as well. If you are a relying on a Sunday sermon every week to feed you the entirety of your knowledge and understanding of scripture, then you are missing out on the true depth to which scripture reaches into the human experience, and the change in world view that a personal and well-traveled interrogation of God’s Word can bring.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17
Interested in getting involved in a small group? Email Kyle Fox for more information.
You may recognize some booklets for our “Super Hero Memory Program” that have gone home with your kids in the last couple of weeks (1st-3rd Graders). We are very excited about this! I am investing in our kids memorizing the Bible, in them hiding Scripture in their hearts. My goal is to get them started on being able to recognize Bible sections, to maybe even have a piece of Scripture to lean back on when they need help deciding what is right. I hope that this sets their hearts on a good course and crafts their identity. That’s a big goal, but if you don’t have a big goal why be motivated to try?
Here’s a few guidelines, straight from me. They have until August 4 to memorize these verses. There are many one-point verses, a few two-point verses, one three-point verse, and ten points for memorizing the book titles in order for each testament. That last one – that’s an easy ten points! They will need to keep their book throughout the summer, and when they bring this book to church they can recite the verses they memorized that week. A check-in volunteer, a classroom teacher, or I will sign and date when they recited the verse. At the end of the ten weeks, they can turn their books in to me and I will add up how many points they earned.
If they reach fifty-one points, they get to go to our Grand Prize Party. This will be something awesome, like laser tag, mini golf, or a movie pizza party. Like I said, I am investing in your kids learning Scripture! There are other prize tiers too, and you can check these out in the memorization books.
This program is for upcoming first through third graders. I am also relying on you, parents/grandparents/guardians, to help them memorize. These kids aren’t all strong readers yet, and we aren’t providing designated class time for memorization. So at home, help them read the verses, find some songs on YouTube that give the verses a fun tune, and Google other great memorization practices. I know that when I had to memorize verses in college, Scripturetyper.com was an AWESOME resource. I’m splitting the responsibility with you- help them learn, and we’ll listen to the recitation and provide GREAT prizes.
There is good in it for you too! No Grand Prize Party for adults, but I have confidence that as your are coaching your kid or listening to them practice, it will help you to memorize these verses yourself. Have you memorized much Scripture? I know that many people come to faith as adults, and I am so excited about that. But in that process, did you go through the elementary process of memorization?
Church, this isn’t just for parents of the kids in Uptown. Memorizing Scripture is incredibly useful. Scripture says that we hide His word in our hearts so that we might not sin against Him. It helps us with our call to righteousness. It turns our heart towards loving him. Scripture also says to always be ready to give an answer for the hope that we have. This is a great reason to study apologetics through philosophy and science, but it is also a great reason to memorize Scripture. When someone challenges you, and I hope that they do, what do you have to say? Do you have passages of the Bible that you can share in conversation with someone who might doubt what God’s word has to say? Can you share something that motivates you to love?
Even me. I know many of the verses that these little disciples will be memorizing, but I can’t tell you the scriptural “address” of several of those. There are others that I only have a faint idea of what they say, I can refer to a phrase and say “I’m pretty sure that is in the Bible somewhere.” I had a great memorization program in my children’s ministry, and in college! So some of you might be like me, and need to decide on a refresher course. If you need accountability, feel free to come talk to me, or as always you can email me at email@example.com
This summer, I commit to memorizing these Scriptures alongside our kids. I will make sure that, by the time the day comes around in August, that I will know all of these verses. I will memorize the books of the Bible in order. I hope you will too!
DOWNLOAD THE MEMORY VERSE BOOK HERE: Memory Verse Program Book 2017
Scripture Memory Challenge:
- John 16:33
- Zephaniah 3:17
- Philippians 4:4
- Colossians 3:12
- 1 John 5:3
- Hebrews 13:8
- Psalm 150:6
- Romans 10:13
- Romans 3:23
- James 1:17
- Matthew 28:20
- Psalm 118:24
- Psalm 119:105
- Matthew 22:39
- 1 Corinthians 10:31
- Psalm 19:1
- Genesis 1:1
- Psalm 139:14
- Matthew 28:6
- 1 John 4:9
- 1 Thessalonians 5:17
- Isaiah 26:4
- Joshua 1:9
- Psalm 46:1
- Isaiah 40:28
- John 3:16
- Ephesians 4:32
- Philippians 4:6
- 2 Timothy 4:12
- 2 Timothy 3:16
- Romans 6:1
- John 14:6
- Luke 2:52
- Psalm 136:1
- 1 John 3:18
- Ecclesiastes 9:10
- Galatians 5:22-23
- Matthew 28:19-20
- Proverbs 3:5-6
- Matthew 22:37-39
- Books of the Old Testament
- Books of the New Testament
I had an unexpected encounter recently.
Friday mornings, my wife is in the office and my two older kids are at school, so my youngest (Charlotte) and I have that time with just the two of us. Well, a few weeks ago, I decided to take Charlotte out to breakfast, only the healthiest of meals, of course.
So, we made our way to Burger King, put in our order, and sat down to wait for our food. We sat in our booth, alone in the restaurant, save for one other man.
He was probably in his late 50’s, sitting alone, and was also waiting for his food. He sat quietly for a while, then, while I was playing with Charlotte, turned to me and asked, “Do they bring your food out to you here, or will they call your number?”
I told him that I wasn’t sure, and thought the brief conversation over. But he had more to say. “Yeah, I wanted to make sure I know what to expect, that way if it happens, I know who to complain to. I don’t usually like to complain, but sometimes you need to. I mean, I don’t lean right or left, so I don’t usually complain about politics or anything like that…”
He continued like this for a little while, talking about the things he would and would not complain about. I assumed he was just a person who welcomes conversation, so I smiled and continued to respond as he spoke. But his ultimate purpose became clear as he went on. “You know, you don’t want to complain about things that aren’t important, and you can always tell what’s important because God tells us what is most important in the world. His Holy Word guides us and lets us know what’s truly important in the world.”
Ah! Now I understood. He was a Christian who was looking for a way to share his faith. I was impressed by how direct he was, and happy to hear what he had to say, but was also trying to communicate to him that I was a fellow believer.
After some time, I was able to mention that I was a pastor. This seemed to surprise him, and that seemed to satisfy him, and he brought his testimony to a close. I remember thinking to myself how bold he was in his faith, and how he was so willing to preach Christ to a stranger.
But this is when things took a bit of a turn.
He stood up and walked to the counter and asked the cashier if his food was ready yet. She said it would be just a moment, they only had two people working at that time.
Well, I guess he thought this would be the right time to complain, and so began a lecture on what “fast food” should mean, how many staff should be working, and how to communicate with customers. The cashier, also the manager, said that she was sorry for the inconvenience and that his food would be out as quickly as possible.
At this point, he heaved a sigh and went toward the bathroom, only to find them locked, as per that Burger King’s “restrooms for customers only” policy. This began a second lecture on customer convenience and how businesses should be run, all while the manager is helping customers.
The manager apologizes again, she gathered his food, handed it to him, and he walked out the door without so much as a thank you. Now, I want to make one thing clear before I go on, I don’t know this man personally, and I cannot make judgments about him. So many things could have impacted his attitude that Friday, not the least of which being that he was just having a bad day. So I won’t say anything about the man personally.
But, what I will say is that, were I a non-Christian bystander in this situation, this would have directly impacted my opinion of Christians. Here we see someone eager to share the gospel, directly followed by being eager to judge and lecture an overworked manager.
It reminded me that, when it comes to being an ambassador for Christ, telling people about Jesus must always be paired with treating them with the love of Jesus.
It reminds me of James 1:22-25. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”
Hearing the word, reciting the word, even spreading the word, means nothing if we aren’t doing what it says. We are called to love others, to treat them as we would want to be treated, and to do those things joined with telling them about Jesus. We can’t just think that our words are separate from our actions. We cannot just hear the word, we need to be living it as well.
Even at Burger King.
For as long as I can remember, going to camp has always been the highlight of my year. To me, life was divided into two seasons: camp and not camp. Each year I would wait and wait for camp to arrive, and it was always the most amazing week. I made friends with kids from all over the Pacific Northwest – friends that I am still in contact with as an adult – my camp friends. During camp, I wouldn’t get homesick, but I definitely got campsick when it was time to be back at home.
Some of the most formative moments in my life happened while I was at camp Wi-ne-ma. There are so many different directions that my life could have taken. Camp had a profound impact on my life. I met my best friend at camp when I was fourteen years old. I met my husband at camp when I was fifteen years old. I was sixteen years old (and at camp) when I decided to go to bible college and pursue a ministry degree. Without the things that I learned and experienced at camp, I truly do not know where I would be today – or even who I would be.
At camp, we get to share with kids how much God loves them. At camp, kids get to try new things and grow more independent. At camp, we learn to slow down and how to live in community with one another. At camp, everyone gets to unplug from his or her lives (especially all the technology). At camp, kids get to reconnect with nature – God’s beautiful creation surrounds them. At camp, we get to make mistakes and we get to fail, and that is okay. At camp, lives and hearts change.
Camp Wi-ne-ma will always hold a special place in my heart. Even to this day, I cannot keep myself away. Every year I go back and volunteer as a counselor at camp. I still look forward to camp season, I still get to go and see old friends (and make new ones), and I still get campsick when I am away. I believe in camp and the powerful and profound impact that it can have on our lives.
In ten days, I will be back at camp Wi-ne-ma. We have some amazing things in store for campers this year, and it makes me so excited. I want as many kids as possible to have the opportunity to come to camp too. I want them to make new friendships and lasting memories, just as I did. I want them to be stretched and challenged in the same ways that I was stretched and challenged. Most of all, I want them to experience firsthand the love of God. So if you haven’t signed up for camp yet, do it today – you won’t be sorry that you did [SIGN UP HERE]. Camp changed my life, are you ready for it to change yours?
Hello Harvest Family. I am sending your way ten reasons why you should be part of the VBS volunteer staff. Some are big, some are small, all are relevant. Enjoy!
1. We have snacks. They’re going to be good snacks. They are going to be theme-driven and cute. Why even finish the list?
2. Jesus loves kids. He said to let the little children come to me. Whether you are a regular volunteer, so scared of large groups of children that you make a wide loop into the auditorium away from the kid wing, or have been slowly considering whether or not Uptown is a ministry you want to commit to, we can find a way for you to take part in Jesus’ love for the little ones.
3. Your kid/grandkid/brother/niece would love it. They would be so excited to have you there taking part!
4. You’ll get a t-shirt. All volunteers are going to get an AWESOME t-shirt, design and color TBD.
5. You will get to take part in teaching kids about how BIG God is. If you love God, if you love God so much that you just can’t help but let it pour out of you, I NEED you. No negotiations. We will have unreached kids there that NEED someone passionate to tell them about how awesome God is.
6. You can be a part of our children’s ministry, even if you don’t have the opportunity for a month on/month off Uptown commitment. I get it, it’s hard to say “yes, I can be in the classroom every other month.” But this is just three hours a day for five days. It’s easy. It’s a great opportunity for members of our congregation who are not normally in our ministry to get to support their discipleship.
7. You really love stargazing, right? Well, we have a stargazing themed VBS this year. It’s perfect for you!
8. These lessons are great for everyone. They are basic and important. Kids, big kids, and adults alike can benefit from what we are offering.
9. We have crafts. And games. And worship. And missions. It’s going to be so much fun.
10. You love Harvest. We love you! You’re part of our family. Serving at VBS is a great way to solidify connections and make relationships. It’s a good thing, I promise.
There you have it. Ten simple reasons. If you resonate with any of these, you can pass a background check, and you have some spare time in the month of July please consider being a part of the VBS staff. There is a wide variety of ways you can help, and they aren’t all Monday –Friday 8:30-12:30. You can sign up with this link [Sign up Here] , or fill out a volunteer form on Sunday. I’ll be in touch soon.
If you have questions or concerns, always feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hello Church Family,
Rebecca and I just returned from about 7 weeks in Uganda where our oldest daughter Rachel, her husband Daniel and a pending adoptive grandchild are living and working as missionaries. Daniel is a veterinarian, a graduate of Oregon State, and he sets up small business enterprises where Ugandans in isolated communities can raise turkeys, goats and rabbits not only to augment their own diets but also to generate some income. There are several places in Uganda where he has ‘start-ups’ so there is a bit of travel for him to keep the process in motion. Each of these locations is connected to a local church work so Dr. Daniel’s work creates a bridge between destitute and marginalized widows and families and the message of Good News.
While we were there I was able to go directly to three of the sites where he has gotten things in motion. Each one of the
visits was moving and humbling. At one location the widow we visited was so grateful for our visit, words of encouragement and prayer that she gave me a Rooster. I can afford more roosters than she could imagine but the gift was graciously accepted. At another site (about 18 hours of driving away) we visited displaced forest pygmies who have been driven onto marginal lands, and without resources and support. Large portions of Africa are being depopulated and left as animal preserves because of international effort to create wildlife sanctuaries. National governments are financially rewarded for this but nothing trickles down to blunt the effects of displacement on those evicted without compensation, from lands that they lived on out of recorded history. The Pastor of the local Baptist church in this area which is just north of the Rwandan border and Daniel have partnered to identify open land (Pastor George’s task) and establish a protein and income source for these impoverished and neglected people (Dr. Daniel’s task). The tribe they work with are the Batwa and they are an unreached people group with animistic beliefs. They are now building interdependence with the local church.
I spoke to them in a breathtaking circumstance, part way up the side of a cone volcano, one of three in a line marching into northern Rwanda. Through an interpreter I used ideas from Acts chapter 17 to present God’s nature and made the case that special trees and rocks and mountains cannot help us with our needs because they are only created things, like us. God, who made all things, is our source of help. Pray for these people as Pastor George and Dr. Daniel continue their work with the Batwa.
About 15 kilometers from the town of Soroti, where Rachel and Daniel are based is a third work that has just started. Rebecca and I were present as two turkeys each were ‘loaned out’ by the church there to widows and impoverished families. Several weeks later students from the Bible School that Daniel teaches in came along for a follow-up with those who received turkeys. We (Dr. Daniel, Pastor Charles and I) visited a blind man and his wife who have many children. He went blind in 2010 and this has devastated his ability to provide for his family. This visit almost overwhelmed me because his needs are so complex; even to provide food for his children. They eat one meal a day which many poor families do in Uganda, and the children can augment this with mangoes which have two seasons, Spring, and Fall, and anything else they obtain in the bush. The family has a small plot of land and their daily meals are derived from this. We prayed for Michael and his family before we left and you can to. Other ‘helps’ are in the works for him but they cannot be associated with U.S. money because it distracts desperate people from looking to God for help and they look to humans (us) as their benefactors. This does not mean that we cannot help but our help should pass through the local church so it is rightly identified with God for His glory.
It is tempting to pull our pockets out and let the change fall liberally all over the place. Many of us have the wherewithal to answer today’s problems for some. We may want others to see us as good people and our heart is to help and do good things, but when we do this carelessly people begin to depend on us as though we are their answer to life’s problems. That is God’s role and not ours.
So Rebecca and I are home now but home seems a little strange. Some things have changed, maybe it is us. We have atoms from the dust of Africa in our bodies. We lived as visible minorities in a culture not quite like our own. As we look around us we must conclude that we are so blessed but we feel a vague burden with our blessing. New ideas are forming in our minds. Just like Abraham was blessed to be a blessing, so have we been blessed.
Guest Post by Harvest Board Member
Steve Long (pictured with wife Rebecca)
“Friendship is a lot like food. We need it to survive. What is more, we seem to have a basic drive for it. Psychologists find that human beings have fundamental need for inclusion in group life and for close relationships. We are truly social animals.” Hara Estroff Marano, Psychology Today
Here at Harvest, every small group we start has 5 tasks to accomplish throughout its life: fellowship, study, provision, worship, and evangelism. All five of these are taken from the last few verses of Acts 2, but I want to take some time to expound on each one of these tasks, and talk about why it is included, Biblical examples of what they each look like, and how we can incorporate them into the small group atmosphere. Today, let’s start with “fellowship.”
It’s hard to imagine that anybody would disagree that spending quality time with others is a necessary part of the human experience. Whether they are part of the church or not, people inevitably seek out others for friendship and support. Isolation has been shown to Of course, the followers of Christ are no different, we may simply have a grander reason for doing so; that is, to mimic the desire of unification that God is shown to have in scripture.
Indeed, the concept of “fellowship,” through the lens of the church, is far more than simply spending time with each other. Friendship is only the beginning. So let’s take a look at some passages of scripture that discuss fellowship, and see if we can glean wisdom from them.
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
From nearly the very beginning of human history, it has been decreed by the Creator itself that it is not good for us to be alone. Now, it is important to mention the specific context here: God then created Eve, who was a very specific kind of counterpart to Adam. But we cannot remove the fact that God did not say “it is not good for man to not have a wife,” or “it is not good for man to not have to do all the work by himself.” God simply says that it would be detrimental if the man that was created to remain by himself. As created beings of God ourselves, it is probably safe to say that the same concept applies to us: we should not be alone.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
The book of Proverbs is an interesting section of the Bible. Nothing else is quite like it, in that it is simply a book of wise advice from Solomon, handed down to his sons. It is full of pithy statements, that, give us some kind of wise truth. It is important to note that any given idea from Proverbs will not always be true, for we all know that sometimes we can find that we are not sharpened by other people. Not every friendship has a positive effect on our life. But we can, without a doubt, say that, in general, if we have good intentions and reflect the love of Christ, the fellowship we have with others will result in stronger relationships and stronger faith.
Have you ever thought about what it actually means to sharpen something? When you sharpen a pencil, you are removing pieces of that pencil until you have left a refined point with which you can produce a finer line when you write.
I believe that it is also true with us. As we seek to refine our faith, we remove the sin that entangles us. We leave behind our misconceptions about scripture. We even often discontinue relationships that do not have a positive effect on us.
Strong fellowship is a part of this. When we regularly meet together and grow more intimate relationships with one another, we have an opportunity to provide accountability to each other, to teach and learn from each other, and to provide emotional support and prayer for one another.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
God, in an utterly gracious and often perplexing act of charity, has given us permission to share in the task of bringing the earth and its inhabitants to a place of reconciliation with Him. The author of Hebrews claims, in the tenth chapter, that fellowship is a part of this process. We have the opportunity to encourage each other in carrying out the work of love that Jesus modeled for us in his ministry. We should continue to meet together on a regular basis, in order to carry this burden of evangelism as one.
Additionally, Hebrews’ author gives us what, in literary terms, would be called “the ticking clock.” He reminds us that we don’t have the rest of eternity to bring all of God’s creation back into the fold, as we sometimes want to believe. The author refers to the “Day,” the day when Jesus will return and His righteous judgment will come to pass. With such a large task to accomplish, it is imperative that we not cease to meet together and encourage each other on in our faith.
So, in this brief cruise through scripture, we have learned that fellowship was deemed necessary for humans by the very being that created them, that fellowship helps us to improve ourselves and those we are spending our lives with, and that meeting together regularly for encouragement is absolutely necessary if we are to make progress in the task that our Creator has given us.
This week, take time to consider the concept of fellowship. Take time to ask yourself if the time you spend in the company of others is going beyond just simple companionship or if you could be doing more to continue the example of close and intimate relationships that we see in the lives of Jesus and his disciples. There are many more words of wisdom regarding fellowship that can be found in scripture. Below, there is a space for comments. Add to the conversation by telling us about some of your favorite moments of unity and relationships in scripture!
Don’t just tolerate doubt. Celebrate it!
Greetings from The Bridge! If you don’t know what that means, The Bridge is our Preteen Ministry where we focus in on our 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students here at Harvest. I have been working with preteens for a long time now, and I absolutely love it! Did you know that research shows us that more than half of all Americans who accept Jesus as their savior do so before the age of 13? A lot of that happens in the Preteen years! Not only that, but the kids that make that decision young are statistically more likely to remain committed and steadfast in their faith than people who are converted later in life. We have the amazing opportunity to reach kids before they need to be rescued!
Preteens are at a unique stage in their development where they are moving from childhood to adolescence – they are “in between.” Their brains and bodies are changing at a remarkable rate, and they are feeling and thinking things that they have never felt or thought about before – all without knowing how to vocalize what is happening to them. Preteens are challenging and exciting, they are full of opportunity and potential, but it can also be frustrating to know what to do with a preteen and often they themselves can be frustrated with the changes they are experiencing.
Because of all of these things, it can be easy for preteens to fall into the cracks. It can be difficult to know how to “get through” to them, and they will often show little to no interest in what an adult has to say. This leaves parents and teachers feeling frustrated, but it is all completely normal in the developing brain of a preteen! You see, Preteens are transitioning out of childhood on a relational level and a cognitive level. They are starting to form their own identity outside of their family, and their friends and peers are becoming a huge part of their lives and a major influence on their behavior – which is why they are more interested in talking with their friends than with an adult. How preteens view the world is also shifting as they move out of having a black and white (concrete) understanding towards more abstract and personal understanding. This opens the door to questions and doubts about the world around them and how they fit into the grand scheme of things.
When you look at your preteen things may appear to be calm and quiet on the surface, but there is a lot happening behind the scenes as they begin to ask questions, have doubts, and wrestle with issues of morality and faith. Chances are they are thinking and wondering about things that you have no idea they are attempting to sort out. At first, that questioning and doubting can be shocking, especially when it comes to God and the Bible, but it is important to create an environment where it is safe for Preteens to express their honest doubt.
Honest doubt is not the same as having a spirit of unbelief. Doubts and questions should celebrated, not simply tolerated! They are a key indicator that your preteen is on their way to a living, breathing relationship with Jesus Christ. They are moving beyond simply “knowing about God” to “knowing God” personally! Make it clear to your preteen that there is a difference between doubt and unbelief. Let them know that it is okay to ask questions, and it is okay to have doubts; there is no sin in asking questions. If there is no room for doubt, there is no room for faith.
So be ready. The questions are coming (if they haven’t already). So make it clear to you preteen that it is okay to ask questions – in fact it is wonderful! Tell them that church, The Bridge, and your home are all a safe place for questioning. They get to bring their doubt with them. And don’t be afraid of not having all the answers, I can guarantee that you will not have all the answers to all their questions. There are some things that we just trust. On this side of eternity, we don’t have all the answers, some things are unknown to us – and that’s okay. Celebrate doubt, and be prepared to receive them in love, for:
“Now we see but a dim reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13: 12-13.
In Uptown have been talking about the fruits of the Spirit. We had one memory verse during this series, and that is Galatians 5:22-23. My goal for the children in this series is to know that piece of Scripture, “But the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” My secondary goal is for them to, at a young age, start to understand the being and purpose of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is a mysterious being. While the children are learning that the Holy Spirit is a Helper that God sends to give us certain fruits, I think there are a few deeper things that adult believers should know. I have come to love a few sections of verses about it.
Primarily, Acts 2 shows a dynamic outpouring of the Holy Spirit from heaven onto the disciples. In Acts 1 Jesus ascends into heaven, and in the very next chapter there appears tongues of fire blown in by violent winds. The Spirit even enabled them to speak to people from other nations and other languages, which the disciples put to good use by spreading the gospel further. Peter preached and converted thousands of people. A portion of what he offered them in his final appeal was “the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Peter had just experienced this, and now whenever we speak of the “gift of the Holy Spirit,” we have an amazing visual of the power that the Holy Spirit has.
The next starts in John 14:15, and reads in the NIV as follows:
“’If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.’
“Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, ‘But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?’
“Jesus replied, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’”
I will not try to expound on everything in this passage, in truth I include all ten verses only because I think it is important to have a rounded idea of the context. The most important parts for me today are about the role of the Holy Spirit. We see in the first few verses as well as the last few verses that when Jesus left the Earth He sent another Being in His stead. The being:
- Is a Counselor
- Will be with us forever
- Includes Truth as part of its very being
- Is rejected by the world, they neither see nor know Him
- Is Holy
- Is sent in the name of Jesus
- He lives with us and will be with us
- Will teach us all things
- Will remind us of the things Jesus taught
The last passage that I will leave you with today is Galatians 5. Again in the NIV, it reads like this:
“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ have been crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not be conceited, provoking and envying each other.”
I recommend memorizing verse 22 and 23 along with the kids we are teaching, because we all have moments when we need to be reminded to choose to be holy. If you believe in Jesus as the Christ, you have the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit puts these good things in our lives to overcome our sinful nature. They cannot coexist. This is straight from the Scripture.
One thing we are teaching in Uptown is that its okay to ask God for help, because He can send us His Helper (that lives with us and in us) to help us choose, for example, patience rather than fits of rage. He can send His Helper to help us choose peace instead of discord; joy instead of envy; self-control instead of selfish ambition. We don’t have to rely on ourselves, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit. As 2 Peter 1:3 reads, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”
I believe that it is because of the gift of the Holy Spirit that we are reminded of what Jesus wants us to know, that we are made righteous, and that we are given certain qualities, or “fruits,” through our belief in and love for God. For some of you this might be an indication of some new places to study to get to know the gift that we have from the Father in the Holy Spirit, and for others I have hopefully provided a refreshment through remembering the Helper that you have.
I think it is a safe thing to say that a well-cultivated church atmosphere would be a comfortable and inviting place for people to relax and be open with what they are feeling and the things with which they are struggling. A core component of Christian community is recognizing that we are all different, with differing backgrounds, preconceptions, and opinions. And if we keep our Christian life to just a Sunday morning service, this isn’t much of a hurdle to overcome. To be frank, these are things that are easy to avoid for an hour and a half on the weekend. We can come in, greet each other, ask about how things are going, get a coffee, worship, enjoy the sermon, and leave without ever needing to express our views on scripture or have in-depth conversations on how we interpret the Word of God.
But I believe that the free exchange of ideas, theories, and opinions is extremely important to the process of discipleship. The disciples of Jesus lived in a time when their cultural homeland was ruled by Rome. The first century church was spread across a world teeming with alternative viewpoints, other religions, varying political systems, and all other manner of voices at odds with both their own personal beliefs, and the teachings of scripture. Acts 2 tells us that three thousand people were added to the church after a single sermon from Peter! It is hard to believe that the early church wasn’t full of people who help a wide range of opinions. Sure, they all accepted the gospel, and were baptized into the Christian faith, but we all know that their are still a multitude of ideas that can differ from one person to the next, even in the same congregation.
A great opportunity to create this forum of discussion is within a small group. An intimate setting in which the members can feel free to present their ideas and opinions without feeling as though they need to align to a certain thought process. A place where simple and honest conversation can happen between people with different backgrounds and worldviews. A place where one person may be able to impart wisdom to another.
Because that is the companion thought to this whole idea. Not only should we be allowing others to present their ideas and opinions, but we also have a responsibility to accept teaching, correction, or advice from others. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The Christian should be the one with the humility to accept that their interpretation of a Biblical passage or opinions on a certain topic may not always measure up to the truth of scripture. Not only should we allow others to teach us, we should crave that correction! For then we will be that much closer to the “thoroughly equipped servant of God” that 2 Timothy claims we have the opportunity to be.
The truth is, the church should be a place where viewpoints, opinions, and ideas should be able to be shared freely and without fear of ridicule or belittlement. If we want to change how we are viewed by the outside world, then we should probably make sure that we are being truly accepting and accommodating within our community. Allow others the opportunity to share their interpretation of scripture or their viewpoint on how we should respond to a certain political situation.
So here is my blog-post-challenge (I’m making it a thing.) to you: don’t shy away from honest and open discussions about things with which others may disagree, and don’t hesitate to allow others to impart wisdom to you. After all,
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”