The Power of Confession in Your Small Group

Our small group is unlike any other group I’ve known. It’s not because we all get along (though we do), nor because we’re like-minded (though we are). And it’s certainly not because we have it all together.

Actually, the fact that we don’t have it all together is the reason I love our small group. Confession marks our time together, and it has changed at least three things: the way we interact, the way we pray, and the way we pursue godliness.

1. Confession changes relationships.

In a small-group setting, walls come down when everyone walks in the light. But this doesn’t just happen. We must choose to set aside our pride and talk openly about sin. Initially this talk feels uncomfortable, but the sooner we confess to one another, the sooner grace-fueled relationships characterize the group.

Honest confession melts away the mirage that certain people are “better Christians.” It enables us to live on the level ground of the cross, rather than in the false worlds of comparison, guilt, pride, and condemnation. Confession—or a lack thereof—also flows from each person’s walk with Christ. If we walk in the light before him, we’ll feel more comfortable walking in the light before others.

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Six Unique Ways Women Bring Life and Health to the Church

Do you recognize these women?

Sandy loves people. She’s gifted in making someone feel like they’re the only person in the room. Not only does she ask insightful questions and listen well, she remembers conversations and follows up later. Because of her warmth and kindness, women in the church to gravitate toward her.

Joan is a gifted leader. She also has a knack for teaching the Bible to women. Church staff come to her about recommendations for resources and seek her guidance about the direction of women’s ministries. She loves leading Bible studies and small groups, and takes great joy in seeing women grow in knowledge of and love for God’s Word.  

Cynthia’s wheelhouse is hospitality. She isn’t married and doesn’t have kids, yet she’s a spiritual mother to many. There’s rarely an evening during the week when someone from church isn’t spending time at her home. The women know Cynthia’s door is always open, so they take advantage of her standing invitation, gaining wisdom and life skills in the process.

God’s Beautiful Plan for the Church

Who are these women? They’re the women of your local church, designed and gifted by God for specific purposes. They’re the women who, alongside the men, are fulfilling God’s plan for his church:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ… (Ephesians 4:11-14, emphases mine)

Two important truths stand out here about the church:

The highest measure of a church’s life and health is Christlikeness. When we talk about the “life and health” of a church, we aren’t talking about its size, programs, or leadership, at least not in isolation. These may be indicators of a church’s life and health, but not its foundation. Rather, Paul says a healthy church body is unified in the faith and in the knowledge of Christ, both of which cause the church to reflect him in increasing measure – which is its highest goal.

Christlikeness is attained as men and women do the work of ministry. How does God bring about Christlikeness within his church? Partly through the gifts of its congregation. God intends to use sinful, flawed, undeserving people – men and women alike – for “the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” All our varied gifts and efforts in serving the church aim toward God’s goal of Christlikeness.

Six Unique Ways Women Bring Life and Health to the Church

Knowing these truths, what are the unique and varied ways women contribute to the life and health of the church? What are some facets of their “work of ministry” that build up the church toward the goal of Christlikeness?

Read the rest of the article at iBelieve.

How to Be Sure You’re Marrying “The One”

If Christian marriages are to picture the gospel (Ephesians 5:22-33), then believers in dating relationships need to be able to answer the question, “Am I willing to serve, sacrifice for, and forgive the person I’m with until death do us part?”

If you are seriously dating someone right now, ask yourself that question. If your answer is “yes,” then it’s likely you’ve found “the one.”

See, finding “the one” is less about demanding from the perfect person and more about choosing to serve an imperfect person – flaws, sins, and all – the one whom God has intentionally placed in your path. 

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Three Ways to Welcome Others as Christ Has Welcomed You

 

Another ministry year has begun. Our small group kicked off last week with good food and discussion around the purpose of our time together. In preparing for the women, and in adding some new women to the group, the idea of “welcoming warmly” has been on my mind.

This morning’s sermon drove these thoughts home, as the pastor asked us to consider how Christ has welcomed us. Christ’s welcome and our ability to welcome go hand in hand:

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15:7)

In what ways has Christ welcomed us, and how does this enable us to “welcome one another”? Whether you’re leading a small group, hosting friends and family, pastoring your flock, or getting to know your neighbors, consider a few ways to welcome, based on how Jesus has welcomed you:

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How to Date with Holiness, Honor, and Humility

I was flabbergasted and a little shook up. About four years ago, as I progressed through the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, I was flabbergasted that couples existed who waited to kiss until their wedding day and shook up because, if God commanded this, then I had already blown my chance over a high school romance.

Even still, something was not sitting right with me about this premise. So I went to my pastor.

We sat in his office and talked for a solid hour about the purpose of this book and the thoughts it advocated on dating. I still have the email he wrote to me, finishing up our conversation. He said:

I also think we need to be wise about our dating approach. To go out to dinner and a movie with a “date” is one thing. To go for a weekend trip to a cabin in the woods is putting oneself in a situation where one is more removed from helpful boundaries…

Helpful boundaries. Let’s talk about them.

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Forgiveness: A Marriage Best-Practice

Marriage is a covenantal partnership that involves two people, a husband and wife, working towards a common goal: to represent Christ and his people to the world.

Founded on and motivated by the gospel, marriage is set apart from other partnerships, like businesses or organizations. But a marriage is similar to these entities in that it is founded on a mission, forms plans around its mission, makes decisions according to its mission, and tackles obstacles using its mission as a guide and motivator.

So what is the mission of marriage according to the Bible?

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:31-33, emphasis mine)

Paul says that Christian marriage is a means of displaying the love of Jesus Christ for his church; marriages are on mission to be living, breathing illustrations of the beautiful gospel.

When Jesus came to earth as God-in-the-flesh, he gave up all of his divine rights, sacrificing his very life for the sake of his chosen people. He covered believers, once for all time, with his purity and holiness, bearing our sins and taking our deserved judgment in The Great Exchange of Calvary. He washed us clean and continually presents us to God as righteous and holy, as a husband and wife are to do for one another in the sanctifying ministry of marriage.

So if a marriage is motivated by a gospel-centered mission, just as a business is propelled by its mission statement, the pursuit of certain “best-practices” will propel a husband and wife towards this mission. One of these is forgiveness.

A “Best-Practice” Test

My husband and I came up against a test of marriage “best-practices” not long ago. Ready to enjoy a long vacation weekend at the lake, we arrived and spent our first couple of hours watching the sunset over the beach. The wind picked up as a storm rolled in and, as a result, a unwelcome fleck of sand flew across my left cornea, scratching it and leaving pain in its wake.

Not an ideal start, to say the least.

Instead of soaking up the beautiful evening as planned, we found ourselves waiting at the emergency room for two hours, surrounded by sick children, injured adults, and a medical staff who was in no hurry to help us. Needless to say, the tension, frustration, and disappointment tipped us both over the edge and, before we knew it, we had turned into two irritated people. After getting released from the emergency room, we went straight to bed, having agreed to work out the tension in the morning.

The next day, forgiveness was the name of the game, as we were both challenged to be faithful in the best-practices of our marriage, redirecting our gaze on our common mission and recognizing where we both had failed.

Forgiveness is not easy, but it is indeed best.

Three Reasons Why Forgiveness Is a “Best-Practice” for Marriage

Why is forgiveness a “best-practice” for Christian marriages?

Forgiveness is hard. The Bible often teaches that the hardest things in life are the most growth-producing, ordained by the hand of God for our good and his glory. So forgiveness offers broken human beings the opportunity to deny self and partake in a difficult act of love and mercy, one that runs against the grain of our fleshly desires.

In marriage, it can be tempting to swallow our frustrations and brush offenses under the proverbial rug because, well, ignoring the tension is easier than confronting it head-on in love, grace, and truth. However, in the long-run, the ignoring of tension and the belittling of sin only causes a bitter root to spring up and grow. This bitterness is destructive and unhelpful and only serves to cause division, which is exactly what the enemy of our marriages wants to see happen.

When forgiveness is hard (and it is hard), look to Jesus. The Son of God was so assured of his mission to save sinners that he was able to say at the hour of his murder, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

So look to Jesus, find strength in the gospel, and then pursue forgiveness, even when it is hard.

Forgiveness is humbling. Admitting “I was wrong” is not a sign of weakness and bondage; it is a sign of character and humility, both of which lead to freedom from selfish ambition when founded on the gospel. The world tells us to stand our ground and demand our rights, but the gospel frees us to set aside our own interests in order to seek the best interest of the other person (Philippians 2), in the example of Christ. The “offended party” has an equal opportunity to practice gospel-humility in how they respond to their spouse’s confession: in grace and forgiveness.

So look to Jesus, find strength in the gospel, and then pursue forgiveness, even when it humbles you both.

Forgiveness is healing. Finally, forgiveness is a “best-practice” for marriage because it produces healing where a bitter root would threaten to spring up and wreak havoc. Since God, in Christ, reconciled the world to himself through the gospel, and since marriage is to picture the gospel, then the pursuit of reconciliation in marriage is key to freedom from discord and mutual spousal growth in grace.

A marriage in pursuit of healing through reconciliation demonstrates to the world that establishing peace is more important than being “right,” that forgiveness is better than keeping a record of wrongs. When the world asks, “How could you forgive your spouse like that?” see the beautiful opportunity to share the extent of God’s love for sinners in Christ.*

So look to Jesus, find strength in the gospel, and then pursue forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation.

In what area of your marriage do you need the “best-practice” of forgiveness today?

*If you are in a marriage where the offenses against you have been abusive in nature, seek out a pastor, elder, counselor, or trusted member of the body of Christ. Certain offenses are more serious than others and should be held to high accountability, especially if they are repeated offenses rooted in abuse.

[Post Credit: Unlocking the Bible]

Dating: Good or Bad Fruit?

I wrote this article in 2013 but found myself thinking about it after Valentine’s Day this past weekend. If you’re dating, I pray it’s of help to you!

What is your dating relationship producing?

[Spoiler alert!] In a season one episode of Downton Abbey, we see a classic example of “good girl falls for bad boy”. The tall, dark, notorious footman, Thomas, has conivingly convinced the innocent kitchen maid, Daisy, that he is worth trusting. Naturally, sweet Daisy falls for the bad boy, her emotions overtaking her reason. Thomas, however, feels absolutely nothing for her, using her for his own evil, twisted purposes.

But she falls for his dirty schemes. She falls so hard that she begins to lie for him. More than once. She spats unkind words at the people she loves all because Thomas dislikes them. And ultimately she begins to lose a sense of her identity, morals and values altogether. 

Daisy eventually busts. Her good-natured heart cannot handle the negative results of her time spent with Thomas. She eventually frees herself and tells the truth to those she had wronged.

Have you ever been in a situation like Daisy’s? Or rather, a relationship?

I think a very important question to be asking ourselves when dating is, “What is this relationship producing?” If our dating relationships are intended to be responses to the gospel of Jesus Christ, then certain traits will distinguish them as such. Let’s call these traits “fruit”, and let’s look at a passage from Luke to unpack the importance of fruit, itself:

A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart. (Luke 6)

Just as a tree is identified by its fruit, so a relationship’s virtue or vice is identified by what it produces, both in the couple and in each individual person. Fruit, then, acts as an identifier. When picking a shiny, red apple from a tree, we can very confidently state that the tree is an “apple tree”.

But what about your relationship? When you examine its fruit, what is identified?

According to Galatians 5, there is a certain kind of spiritual fruit we should see being produced:

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
 
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.

Because we are in Jesus Christ, we have been given the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. And the Holy Spirit produces unique, set-apart fruit within us! This fruit identifies who we are, and whose we are. Notice, though, that the fruit of the Spirit is not limited to our individual lives: “…let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives”.

The Spirit’s leading is also tantamount to our dating relationships because then, and only then, will we produce fruit that is lasting, good, and built on a firm foundation. 

I remember the moment when I once realized that a relationship of mine was not producing the fruit of the Spirit in me. At first it saddened me and shocked me. But eventually, there was freedom that came with this understanding, a deep knowing that Christ had given me the power to realize this–all because of the Spirit dwelling in me! When we allow the Spirit to lead us in our dating relationships, we “won’t be doing what [the] sinful nature craves” (v.16). The sinful nature produces bad fruit, while the Spirit-led nature produces good fruit!

Here are a few questions we can ask to determine what fruit our dating relationships are producing:

Am I being led forth in peace?

A very wise friend once reminded me that the peace of God is the fruit of pursuing him in everything we do. If we are truly seeking Christ and walking in righteousness, then he will give us deep peace if good fruit is yielded! Paul says in Philippians 4:  “…Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.”

Am I compromising in any way?

If a relationship is causing us to brush aside our convictions and values in Christ, then good fruit is most likely not being produced. In Jesus we have “nailed the passions and desires of [our] sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there”. A relationship should encourage us to be Spirit-led, not urge us into compromise. This could mean anything from physical and emotional boundaries, to brushing aside other equally important relationships.

Are we serving one another in love?

Mutual submission is key to any relationship, whether between family members, friends, or in dating. “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (Philippians 2:4). But service is a two-way street, and dating is an excellent way to see if both parties are willing to serve the other in love. The fruit of the Spirit is full of loving service: “Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another” (v. 26).

Does this relationship encourage community and accountability?

A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). We need the other important relationships in our lives to be strengthened consistently, especially during dating. Our family members and closest friends know us best and can speak into our lives. Isolation rarely produces good fruit. Is your relationship encouraging community?

Does this relationship encourage our walks with God?

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:33). The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord with everything in us. This is priority number one. Our dating should remain in right standing to this priority!


As a tree is identified by its fruit, so the foundation of our dating relationships will be identified by what is produced. 

What is your relationship producing?