Category Archives: Small groups

The Ministry of the Encouragers Acts 4:36-37; 9:26-30; 15:1-41

In biblical times names did more than simply distinguish one person from another. They had meaning, they stood for something—sometimes for the very essence of the people who wore them.

Take the name “Barnabas” for example. His original name was “Joseph,” but because of a certain graciousness about him the apostles gave him the nickname of “Barnabas.” It means “son of encouragement.” What a great name! Barnabas was known for his willingness to seek out those who were struggling and encourage them along in the work of the Lord. In what ways can the ministry of the encouragers bless the church today?

Getting People into the Church

Barnabas helped Paul find acceptance by the church in Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-30).

The newly converted Saul of Tarsus was, at first, denied fellowship by the church in Jerusalem. But Barnabas believed in his conversion story and helped him find a home with the believers.        All that Paul was later to do and write might have been lost had Barnabas not been there to help him find a home in the church.

Barnabas helped the Gentiles find equal acceptance with the Jews in the first century church (Acts 15:1-35). Some Jews were refusing to admit the Gentiles as equal members. They were insisting that they become Jews before they could become Christians. Barnabas, along with Paul, stood up for the Gentile believers and helped them have equal access to the gospel and its blessings.

The church still needs sons and daughters of encouragement to stand at her open doors today. How many “Pauls” never make it into the church because of its fear of outsiders? How many people of other races and classes never make it into the church because of its slowness to accept those who are “different”?

Keeping People in the Church

Barnabas encouraged John Mark in a way that may have saved him for meaningful service (Acts 9:36-40). John Mark had failed Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, and Paul was not willing to give him another chance. But Barnabas believed in Mark and took him along with him on his own separate journey in order to encourage Mark in the Lord’s service. All that John Mark was later to do for the Lord might have been lost had Barnabas not been there for him in that difficult time.

B  Such encouragement can keep people in the church today. People are still failing and growing discouraged in their efforts to live for Christ. Some of them even leave the fellowship of the church. Such people can be saved and restored to meaningful service through the ministry of encouragement.

The church needs the ministry of evangelists, of elders, of deacons, of teachers and a host of other functions. But perhaps what it needs most is the ministry of the encouragers—people who will be quick to catch the faltering and call home the lost.

Try praising your wife/husband even if it does frighten her/him at first.

A pat on the back is only a few vertebrae removed from a kick in the pants, but is miles ahead in results.

No problem is ever as dark when you have a friend to face it with you.

Martin Luther once was so depressed over a prolonged period that one day his wife came downstairs wearing all black. Martin Luther said, “Who died?” She said, “God has.” He said, “God hasn’t died.” And she said, “Well, live like it and act like it.”

Researchers have discovered some interesting truths about geese as follows:

  1. They fly in a “V” formation because it takes 71% less energy compared to flying solo. So, church people need to stick together!
  2. The lead goose has the difficult job of breaking the wind barrier, so they rotate leadership. So, let’s share the hard jobs at church!
  3.   Geese honk as they fly. If one drops out and breaks the efficiency equation, the others honk encouragement to the leader. In church, let’s honk some encouraging words!
  4. If a goose is hurt in flight, two others accompany it to the ground and give help. In church, let’s take care of each other!
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Posted by on December 27, 2017 in Small groups


Strengthening Our Grip…on Involvement Acts 2:42-47

17th century sage John Donne once wrote: No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee!”

be devotedSince we all are involved in mankind, how much more should we Christians be involved in the lives of other believers?

(John 17:23 NIV)  I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

(John 17:26 NIV)  I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

These verses underscore the fact that love and unity should characterize our involvement with each other.  In this lesson we want to get a better grip on our involvement with other Christians.

Involvement in God’s Family-A Historical Glance.  Throughout history, no church has better modeled involvement than the church in Acts 2. At the end of Peter’s message on the Day of Pentecost, three thousand Jews were saved. They had no church building, no Bible, no seasoned pastor, no traditions or forms of church government. Yet this new congregation knew more about how a church should function than we do today with two thousand years of experience and libraries full of church history notes.

And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42). Initially drawn together by the thread of their common commitment to Christ, the early church members became a tightly knit group. The Greek term for fellowship is koinonia, the root of which means “common.”

And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

First, fellowship was entered into by all. Not one of them had an island mentality. They shared everything they had: property, possessions, food, even their own lives. Second, this sharing was sincere, not contrived or coerced.

Their fellowship sparkled with authenticity. The early church expressed its involvement in two ways. The people shared with someone: things like money, time, food, encouragement, reproof, confession. And they shared in something: a situation, an experience, a failure, an emotion. In all their times of need, they were never alone.

As you look back at the involvement of the believers in Acts 2, how do we compare? Do we build bridges that link our life with others, or do we hermit ourselves away on some isolated island! The only cure for loneliness is to build relational bridges to span the seas that separate you.

In two other New Testament passages, Paul vividly describes the involvement in Acts 2 by answering the questions: Why should we be involved with others? Why should we open up our lives? Why take the risk?

  1. God Commands It — Romans 12:9-16.
  2. The Body Needs It — 1 Corinthians 12:20-27.
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Posted by on September 25, 2017 in Small groups


“People Power” From God

We can’t make it through life without dealing with people. They are everywhere. They are in our homes and at our work. They are at church and where we enjoy our leisure.

 A lot of us are like the cartoon character, who said, “I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand.”

Like it or not, we need people. We might wish we could live life totally on our own terms, but that is impossible.

Learning to deal with people will help us at work or at church. It will help us live a happier life. Let’s look at some excerpts of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, to see what principles he can give us for getting along with people.

  1. Be careful about judging others (Matthew 7:1-5).
  • This does not say we cannot or should not discern good from evil.
  • It does say we should not subject others to unreasonable criticism.
  • We are not wise enough to make such criticisms.
  • We are not good enough to make such criticisms.
  • It will keep us busy enough, just monitoring ourselves.
  • If we try to straighten other people out while we have the same problem, then we become as comical as the man with a plank in his eye trying to pick out specks in others’ eyes.
  1. Do more than expected (Matthew 5:38-42).
  • Turn the other cheek. This does not mean that we cannot defend our lives. It does mean that we should not take little insults too seriously.
  • Go the extra mile
  • Give another your coat
  • This will drive others crazy until they find out why you are so kind.
  1. Don’t let disputes fester (Matthew 5:23-26).
  • It has been said that time heals all wounds, but this is not always true.
  • Sometimes time allows a situation to become worse and worse until it becomes dangerous.
  1. Show kindness to everyone (Matthew 5:43-48).
  • It is a shame to say sometimes we can’t even show kindness to those who are kind to us.
  • Jesus wants us to be kind, even to the undeserving.
  • Showing kindness to an enemy is the ultimate revenge.
  1. Treat others as you want to be treated (Matthew 7:12).
  • This is what has been called the golden rule, for the principle is worth gold to us.
  • Jesus saw this statement as summary of the law and the prophets.
  • Notice that Jesus states this as a positive. He didn’t say, “Don’t do to others anything you would not want done to you.”

Conclusion – People who have people power can be used of God in a mighty way. After all, people are His first concern, and people are His greatest tools.

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Posted by on September 21, 2017 in Small groups


Know Your Enemy — Ephesians 6:10-11

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. {11} Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.

The Devil

A murderer from the beginning. There is no truth in him—father of lies. (John 8:44 NIV)  You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

He does not have horns and carry a fork, but probably is in a gray suit and very charismatic. He uses different approaches and looks for our weak places.

Our enemy is not flesh and blood but spiritual forces of evil: For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

The devil in action. He goes after everyone.

  1. Temptation of Adam and Eve (“We shall be as God”).
  2. Jesus’ three temptations (Matthew 4).
  3. Satan entered into Judas before his betrayal (John 13:2).
  4. “Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31).
  5. “Satan has filled your heart” (Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5:3).
  6. The devil attacks all of us.

Overcoming the devil

Resisting the devil (James 4:7). Resist the devil and he will flee from you James 4:7: Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

  1. Submit yourselves to God.
  2. Come near to God and He will come near to you.
  3. Wash your hands, purify your hearts.
  4. Grieve, mourn, and wail. Know your unworthiness because of sin.
  5. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Overcoming this roaring lion

(1 Peter 5:6-9 NIV)  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. {7} Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. {8} Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. {9} Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

(Romans 16:20 NIV)  The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. (Ephesians 4:27 NIV)  and do not give the devil a foothold.

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Posted by on August 12, 2017 in Small groups


Strengthening Our Grip…on Priorities

mothers loveKnowledge apart from application falls short of God’s desire for His children. He wants us to apply what we learn so that we will change and grow spiritually. As we progress through some lessons in coming weeks, it is our desire to discover (or rediscover) biblical truth and understanding and encourage the needed application.

As time passes, Christian organizations, like wineskins, tend to lose their vitality. They often lose their energy and enthusiasm. Paul gives four priorities in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-13.

  1. The ministry must be Biblical. “You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. {2} We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition. {3} For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. {4} On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.

Whenever a church concentrates on trying to please people instead of pleasing God, breaks form in its foundation. God’s Word alone gives a church an authorative blueprint. A plumb line of practice must square with founding principles.

{13} And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.”

  1. The ministry must be authentic. {5} You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed–God is our witness. {6} We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else. As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you… Paul’s ministry did not include egoism or exploitation. It was genuine and sincere. We must also be free of deception and the desire to impress.
  2. The ministry must be gracious. {7} but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. {8} We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.

What picture can be more tender, gentle, and compassionate? He knew the Thessalonians needed the Word, but he didn’t push it down their throats.

And we also need the love of a father who will take us by the hand and teach us how to walk: {10} You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. {11} For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, {12} encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

  1. The ministry must be relevant. {13} And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.

When we have these priorities in ministry, our Christianity becomes incarnated in our lives rather than something we put on and take off, like a coat from the closet. It is something we assimilate, something that soaks into our lives so deeply and completely that it changes the very chemistry of our being.

When we strengthen our grip on changing from the inside out will we significantly impact the world around us.



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Posted by on December 12, 2016 in Small groups


Strengthening Our Grip…on Status Mark 9:33-37, Philippians 2:5-11

0ee131c050c4792d6ad5b3a3eee48d87Even in a democratic society, status counts. Where we live, what kind of car we drive, and how we dress are important factors which help determine how we feel about ourselves and others. Some social commentators believe that it is an American myth that people can move easily up the class ladder. How we feel about our place and position in life can either lead to peace or perpetual dissatisfaction.

But what is true status? Is it living in the finest neighborhoods; having a powerful and influential job; or being brilliant and famous? Jesus’ disciples debated the question of status and greatness. In the following studies, we will see both Jesus’ and Paul’s responses and perspectives on status and greatness.

The context of this passage is important. Jesus has just predicted that he, as Messiah, will be rejected by the religious leadership in Israel, he will be killed, and then he will rise again (Mark 9:30-32). The disciples are literally unable to understand these words because Jesus’ teaching is so different from what they understand about the Messiah. To them the Messiah will be a conquering hero who rids Israel of its enemies and establishes the world-wide reign of God.

Read Mark 9:33-37 and discuss your responses to the following questions.

1. Why did the disciples keep quiet when Jesus asked them what they were arguing about?a. They were embarassed

b. They knew he would scold them

c. They were tired of listening to him preach at them

d. They felt it was none of his business

e. They knew they were wrong in arguing with each other

2. Why would the disciples even argue over who was the greatest?a. They believed that high status meant privilege b. They were just exhibiting their human nature

c. They really didn’t like each other

d. They didn’t understand what Christ had been teaching them

3. What did Jesus mean when he said that to be first, we must be the very last?a. The only status that matters is what God thinks of you

b. By putting others first, you can manipulate them

c. By serving others first, you are also serving God first

d. When you serve others, they will step aside and let you go ahead  e. When you serve others, you will inherit eternal life

 4. Which of the following conventional wisdom contradicts Jesus’ teaching?

a. Only the strong survive

b. You can have it all

c. Look out for #1

d. No guts, no glory


5. What does it mean to be a “servant of all”?a. Doing menial tasks for everyone else

b. Following the example of Christ

c. Allowing others to treat you poorly

d. Maintaining an attitude which looks to serve others

e. Considering others’ interests over your own

 6. Why did Jesus liken himself to a child?

a. Because children have more admirable qualities than adults

b. Because Jesus, like a child, is to be accepted just as he is

c. Because children are loved and held in high esteem by God

d. Because children are naturally humble and loving

e. Because Jesus, like a child, should be accepted by faith

Status-seeking can change a person’s life. What are the most common changes one experiences when seeking status?

__ closer friendships         __ alienation of friends              __ selfishness                    __ unselfishness

__ compromise                 __ more integrity                        __ stress                             __ greater concern for others

__ competition                            __ more time with family           __ less time with family   __ less concern for others

__ financial problems    __ excitement                         __ more leisure                  __ more work

__ less time with friends  __ more time with friends           __ increased self-esteem   __ family conflict

Read Philippians 2:5-11.

  1. If you had the opportunity to be God, what one thing would you do first?
  2. What do we learn from these verses about humility and sacrifice?
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Posted by on October 10, 2016 in Small groups


Hungering In hope – 1 Peter 1:13

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Sometimes in spite of all the positive thinking we can generate, life is really terrible. Simple optimism will not do. Genuine hope (“confident expectation”) must go beyond positive thinking. Genuine hope is not “Wishing for something you know isn’t going to happen.” It is not an idle wish at all.

Hope is a vigorous principle; it sets the head and heart to work and animates a man to do his utmost.

I like the story about the boy and his father who were planning a fishing trip for the next day.  That evening as the father was putting his son to bed, the boy hugged his father’s neck and said, “Daddy, thank you for tomorrow.”

The apostle Peter offered this counsel: “So, then, gird up the loins of your mind; be sober; come to a final decision to place your hope on the grace which is going to be brought to you at the revealing of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:13).

Peter has been talking about the greatness and the glory to which the Christian may look forward; but the Christian can never be lost in dreams of the future; he must always be virile in the battle of the present.  So Peter sends out three challenges to his people.

He tells them to gird up the loins of their mind.  This is a deliberately vivid phrase.  In the east men wore long flowing robes which hindered fast progress or strenuous action.  Round the waist they wore a broad belt or girdle; and when strenuous action was necessary they shortened the long robe by pulling it up within the belt in order to give them freedom of movement.  The English equivalent of the phrase would be to roll up one’s sleeves or to take off one’s jacket.

Peter is telling his people that they must be ready for the most strenuous mental endeavor.  They must never be content with a flabby and unexamined faith; they must set to and think things out and think them through.  It may be that they will have to discard some things.  It may be that they will make mistakes.  But what they are left with will be theirs in such a way that nothing and nobody can ever take it away from them.

He tells them to be sober.  Peter is appealing to them to maintain the essential steadiness of the man who knows what he believes.

He tells them to set their hope on the grace which is going to be given to them when Jesus Christ comes.  It is the great characteristic of the Christian that he lives in hope; and because he lives in hope he can endure the trials of the present.  Any man can endure struggle and effort and toil, if he is certain that it is all leading somewhere.  That is why the athlete accepts his training and the student his study.

For the Christian the best is always still to come.  He can live with gratitude for all the mercies of the past, with resolution to meet the challenge of the present and with the certain hope that in Christ the best is yet to be.

Hope is also a powerful concept. Without hope in the future, we have no power in the present. Hope may keep us alive. Without hope there is no reason to live. It has been said, “Life without Christ is a hopeless end, but life with Christ is an endless hope.”

Hope is grief’s best music. Hope is like the clouds: some pass by, others bring rain. Hope is like the sun, which, as we journey toward it, casts the shadow of our burden behind us.

Do not look forward to the changes and chances of this life in fear; rather look to them with full hope that, as they arise, God, whose you are, will deliver you out of them?

He is your keeper. He has kept you thus far. Do you but hold fast to His dear hand, and He will lead you safely through all things; and, when you cannot stand, He will bear you in His arms. Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow. Our Father will either shield you from suffering, or He will give you strength to bear it.

I like the example of the hospice nurse, who had ministered to many as they faced death, trying to ease the transition. A minister asked her, “Do Christians die differently from others?” “Most definitely, yes,” she replied, “Christians really do die better.” Why do Christians die better? “They know it isn’t over.”


Hope prevents us from clinging to what we have and frees us to move away from the safe place and enter unknown and fearful territory.


It’s the wise individual who can hope for the best, get ready for the worst, and take what God chooses to send.

Have I forgotten Paul’s prayer? “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

How can I tolerate gloomy expectations when my Lord is Jesus, the God of creation? When my family is in his faithful care? When my church is his church, under his sovereign direction?

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Posted by on August 18, 2016 in Small groups


Free to Fail — Matthew 25:24-25; Philippians 4:13

     (Matthew 25:24-25 NIV)  “Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. {25} So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

     (Philippians 4:13 NIV)  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Matthew 25:25 and Philippians 4:13 are two very different statements. One was made by a man who was afraid to fail and did nothing. The other was made by a man who was free to fail and did everything.

As far as the biblical record is concerned, some of the greatest achievements in the history of God’s kingdom have come from very ordinary, imperfect people who have overcome failure to be used of God in a significant way. Their lives model some biblical principles for overcoming failure.

Do not try to hide or conceal your failures. Some people spend their lives trying to cover-up their mistakes. They become “prisoners of pretense,” retreating into fabrication and delusion. Their entire lives become a charade, a great hypocrisy.

The first step in overcoming our failures is to admit them. We must be willing to honestly confess them before God and seek his forgiveness and restoration (1 John 1:8-9). If there is any place where we should be able to admit our failures, it is the church. Christians are not perfect, just forgiven.

Do not be discouraged by your failures. When you fail in life, you are in good company. Sir Walter Scott, Thomas Edison, Richard Byrd, Walt Disney all were considered failures before they went on to their greatest achievements.

In the Bible, too, we read of failures whom God took and used to accomplish great things in his service. He took a slave hiding as a fugitive from justice and used him to deliver an entire nation from bondage. He took a woman who failed in marriage seven times and used her to win a city to the Savior. He took a crooked tax collector and made him into an apostle and a biographer of the Christ. He took a man who failed Christ in his darkest hour, denying Him three times, and used him to open the doors to the kingdom of God.

He can do the same thing in our lives. God does not easily give up on His children. Like the tireless potter bending over the spoiled clay, He yet desires to make something good and noble of our lives (Jeremiah 18:1ff).

Do not let fear of failure keep you from attempting great things for God. Some people are petrified at the thought of failure. They would rather face anything than the ego shattering experience of trying something and having it end in failure. So they adopt a “play-it-safe” philosophy and end up not doing anything at all. Just like the steward in the story of the talents they bury their potential in the ground and end up standing before their Master with little in their hands.

It is not until we are free to fail that we are free to succeed. No one was more free to fail (from the world’s view) than Jesus. It is impossible to look like a success when you are hanging on a cross. Yet he let it happen. In selfless abandonment to the will of God, He was free to fail in the eyes of man that He might succeed in the eyes of God. If the church cannot risk failure in the sight of men, how can we succeed in the sight of God?

Conclusion — In Christ we are called to be secure enough in God’s grace to conquer our fear of failure. We are called to be free enough in our faith to take the risks that bring reward.

Abraham Lincoln suffered a string of failures before he was elected to the presidency. His country store went out of business. As a young lawyer he had trouble getting clients. He was defeated in his campaigns for the state legislature, the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Vice Presidency. Yet very few, if any, Americans have had more impact on our history than he.

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Posted by on July 11, 2016 in Small groups

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