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If you were going to plant a garden, what would you do? I have asked this question many times at small group discipleship training.  The first answers usually are: dig, plant, water.  What else: weed, fertilize, pick.  What else? Buy seeds.  What kind of seeds will you buy? Oh, we have to decide what we are going to grow!
May 14, 2013 0 0 comments
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Growing a discipleship ministry is an ongoing process, much like growing a garden. Good gardeners are aware that they need to cultivate particular practices in order to develop a healthy, vibrant garden. If they faithfully plant, water, fertilize, etc., they will yield a good crop. Maybe.
May 8, 2013 0 1 comments
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In my small group role for Home Missions, this is the most frequent question: “Our church wants to start small groups in order to grow community and disciples, what is the best method?”  I can’t answer that question; however I have discovered the process of leading a discipleship ministry that continually adapts to the local environment is more important than finding the right strategy. 
April 30, 2013 0 0 comments
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Just before Jesus’ death he prayed, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21)  Jesus knew that the gospel was going be spread through relationships. He also knew that it had to start with a loving community ...
April 2, 2013 0 3 comments
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On April 15-17, thousands from the CRC will be gathering to pray for our denomination at the 2013 Prayer Summit and in homes and churches across North America and around the world. Your small group can participate in this growing movement by hosting a “Watch and Pray” event in the comfort of your home or join by using the daily Prayer Guide.
March 4, 2013 0 0 comments
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To follow Jesus and become a fisher of men, we need to do what Jesus did. He spent time with those who were lost and needed a Savior. We cannot catch any fish by casting our fishing poles on the ground and we cannot win the lost from our comfortable church pew.
February 5, 2013 0 0 comments
Discussion Topic

Worship, study, fellowship and prayer are all vital parts of Small Groups. Read Acts 2:42-47. Another important part is service. We need to be open to serving our fellow small group members as well as those who are hurting outside of the church. Currently our Small Groups are studying Under the...

February 4, 2013 0 0 comments
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The small group leader was overwhelmed and exhausted. She did not see what she had expected: she was tired and discouraged. She had to do more but she didn’t have a clue what that should be. She cried out to God in prayer.
January 22, 2013 0 0 comments
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Some months ago, I gave you a glimpse of the “whys” and “whats” of Discipleship Triads and how they operate at CenterPointe Church, a young church plant in Plainfield, IL. Writing the final report for the Sustaining Congregational Excellence Grant which supported this project for our church gave me the opportunity to reflect on the effectiveness of Discipleship Triads and celebrate how God has worked in and through them in our setting.
December 12, 2012 0 1 comments
Q&A

So, we are way behind the eight ball in giving our small groups ministry some overdue attention.  While we have had a pretty vibrant number of small groups meeting together for years to study a wide range of topics, it has been sort of running without any coordinated effort or inter-action ...

November 20, 2012 0 6 comments
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I am often asked the question, “Why are believers not declaring the gospel?” My firm belief, pastoral experience and observation is that “believers do not declare the gospel if they do not delight in God.” As we all know, people will talk about what they find most interesting or exciting. If you really like sports, cooking, children, etc… you will talk to others about those things or about the relationships that matter the most to you.
November 19, 2012 0 18 comments
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If you follow this blog, you know that I often compare a small group discipleship ministry to a garden. A small group creates an environment for spiritual growth. In the small group, we can we spur one another on in growing together in knowing and following God. Hebrews 1:24-25 is a great overview of the purpose of a discipleship small group:
November 13, 2012 0 0 comments
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It is easy to get in a rut. Here are a couple of small group prayer ideas. Experiment with them in your group. Share your experiences and other prayer ideas. “Let us spur one another on...”
October 23, 2012 0 1 comments
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A quality Koosh ball is my favorite tool to illustrate small group the communication opportunities and challenges.Buy a Koosh ball. Take the ball to your group and throw it around.
October 16, 2012 0 0 comments
Discussion Topic

The Bible Study group/small group that I am part of has decided to study the book "the Harbinger" by Jonathan Cahn. I have mixed feelings about this book being an appropriate one for use as a Bible Study. In my opinion the passage of Isaiah 9:10-11 is only loosely connected with the book. I am...

October 6, 2012 0 1 comments
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Small Group leaders dream of lively discussions with lots of interaction. Here are a few tips for leaders to use in leading small group conversations.
September 25, 2012 0 2 comments
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“A couple years ago we built a discipleship and leadership development system for our whole congregation. But when we implemented our new discipleship system, it flopped. Creating and implementing a workable discipleship system for the whole congregation is very difficult.”
September 11, 2012 0 2 comments
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We are still in the early stages of this small group experiment, but so far the results have been great. As pastors, we feel the congregation is more involved and interacting with the weekend messages. The format means that we don’t have to create something new – it flows out of what we are already doing. 
September 4, 2012 0 0 comments
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With all the choices of small group options, why choose sermon based small groups? Two selling points are: 1) it allows people at a variety of spiritual stages to dig deeper than a thirty minute message, and 2) it takes little preparation for either the facilitator or the group member.
August 28, 2012 0 7 comments
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Imagine small group leaders and teams standing as scarecrows over our groups and ministries to guard against Satan’s assaults. Farmers place scarecrows in gardens because the farmer expects birds to go after his seeds. It is naïve of us to not be ready for Satan’s attempts to wreak havoc in our Christian communities.
August 14, 2012 0 1 comments
Resource, Article

Last week I blogged about adding mission and service to your small group. We reviewed some of the benefits that an infusion of mission can provide your group. These benefits included a deeper level of community (communitas) and opportunities for many different gifts and abilities to be used...

August 7, 2012 0 0 comments
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Things got exciting around our congregation this summer. Two things happened specifically with our youth group. First of all, they went on a mission trip to Logan County, WV to work with Disaster Relief Services in the wake of the floods of this spring. It was a great trip where they worked hard, often under difficult conditions. The second thing that happened was even more unusual. Plastic flamingos began appearing in front yards throughout our community.
July 31, 2012 0 1 comments
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What do you do? I am a “facilitative, organizing catalyst who brings energy, creativity andpassion to change or development-oriented efforts (catalyst) through building structures, methods or programs (organizing) that equip, empower or provide tools for growth (facilitative).” That is a mouth full.  
July 16, 2012 0 4 comments
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The CRC that nurtured my growth as a child taught me that Jesus saves and is present for me to reach out to in prayer in times of need. There were also lessons about discipleship that the church of my childhood never taught me. 
July 10, 2012 0 2 comments
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The Coffee Break idea started forty years ago and has grown into a missional movement of the CRC and many other denominations. Hear are some themes that might ignite kingdom growth in Coffee Break and small groups today.
June 26, 2012 0 2 comments

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re-reading your posts, Henry, I have another question for you... how did you know you were called to be a pastor (maybe I'm wrong about you being a pastor, but that's what i understand from you "entering the ministry" in your 20's)?  You say God has never told you what call to take, or what car to buy... so then when pastors are "called"... what do they mean?  

Regarding spiritual intimacy, I think of Eph. 1:17-18, where Paul prays for the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that we may know God better - as one example of a scriptural call for intimacy... I believe almost every time the OT talks about "knowing" God, it is the same Hebrew word (yada) that He uses for marital intimacy...  will our knowledge/experience be limited?   of course, because God is an infinite God, and so we can only know a very small part of Him, a drop in an ocean, but even that drop that we can know is beyond amazing...  Scripture uses the analogy of husband and wife, between Jesus and the Church (Eph. 5:32 -  and song of songs for almost 2000 years, it's only in the last 100 years or so, that some no longer support this analogy in song of songs - which is an entire discussion)...

   that   thaand that the eyes of our hearts are enlightened, so we can know the hope of our inheritance...  eyes of our hearts refers to a spiritual experience... this is our inner being, also referenced in Eph. 3:16, where the Spirit is working in us...  our faith is Spirit and truth... it takes both working together...  Paul says he does both when he prays in I Cor. 14:14-15...  praying in tongues is a spiritual experience...  the peace that passes understanding is a spiritual experience, becoming new creations in Christ is a spiritual experience (2 Cor 5:17)...  having our hearts of stone become hearts of flesh (Ez 36:26), having His Spirit dwell in us, is a spiritual experience...  I have testimonies of when He has melted my heart, when my heart was getting hard and cold, and aloof and proud, and in less than a moment He melted it, it was not emotionalism, because there wasn't enough time for that, but there were "triggers" that He used...  was there dialogue with God during these times... oh yes...  they were terrible and beautiful experiences at the same time, and I'm so glad He didn't let my heart stay hard... 

King David talks about praising Him with all our "inmost being" ...  so that our youth is renewed like the eagles - that sounds like a spiritual experience...  that "deep rooted assurance" of faith mentioned somewhere earlier (i think it's referred to in  HC Q&A 23), is a spiritual experience - it's that you know that you know in your inner being through a gift of the Spirit, even though there is no tangible "faith" to show other than through our actions... 

those are just a few examples from scripture that I can think of off the top of my head... 

Hebrews 6 talks about the elementary teachings, which includes faith in God (v1), and growing/maturing beyond that... I know this is a difficult passage with various interpretations, and maybe you interpret this differently, if so I would be interested in knowing how you view this...

as for "hiding" our works, interestingly Matt 5 tells us we are a light on a hill, and we are not to cover it up...let your light shine before men SO THAT others may see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven...  they are for HIS GLORY!!!

One of my favorite passasges is II John 4 where he says in effect - I rejoice to see your children walking in the truth.  One of the things that I am most thankful for is the great cloud of witnesses that I have come to know in my experiences in life.   Since my father was also a minister I have lived in the shadow of the church all my life.   What has frequently amazed me was the instant raport I have experienced when I discovered someone was a fellow believer.   That bond of fellowship is forever.  I have enjoyed many experiences with fellow beleivers.  I have also shared their sorrows and even on one occasion actually wept with a brother.  I have listened to believers talk about their inner pain and frustration.  But most of the believers I have meet have not defined their lives primarily in terms of "spiritual" experiences.  As far as I could tell, they thought about human experiences and living with fellow believers by faith and in obedience to Christ and his word.  All of this is medaited by Christ and his word and Spirit.

I am sure you are aware that there is a long standing tradition that defines spiritual experience in terms of the soul's direct and immediate contact with the essence of God.  When I here people say they have heard God speaking to them or they have a great sense of God's presence I suspect that they are operating out of this tradition.  This tradition greatly minimizes created reality or even negates it.  The soul is good, the body is bad.  To become truly spiritual one must get the soul out of the body.   Can you imagine that salvation is defined in terms of death. 

While the tradition of pietism does not go that far it trends in that direction.  I have met  charismatics who were very uncomfortable with the concept of Jesus in the flesh.  One thing I thought of after I post my previous comments was the sermon on the mount where Jesus warns (Matt 6:1) "Take heed that you do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them: else ye have no reward with your Father who is in heaven."  He then mentions giving alms, praying and fasting.  I take this to mean that we are not to parade our religous and spiritual life before men. 

Having said that, I believe that if Christ has first place in our minds and hearts and we seek to grow in his grace and knowledge that there will be some kind of difference seen in our lives.  But I also beleiver that since our lives are hidden in Christ ( Col 3) that we probably can't see it in ouselves.  Paul says someplace that he does not even judge himself.  When Christ is revealed then we will know what our lives have really been about and what Christ has done with and in them. 

When I entered the ministry in my early twenties there were seniors who told me that the older they became the more they saw their sinfulness.  That certainly has been true for me.  I don't see much in my life to brag about or to set before others as an example.  But along side of that there seem to be a growing conviction that every thing scripture says about Christ is true.  That he is the Living One, that he is risen and both Messiah (Christ) and Lord, that I belong to him and that he is the only hope that I have in life or death.  But that conviction although I believe a result of the Spirit's work thorugh the Gospel, is not the gospel and I do not go around telling people how strong I think my faith is.  For even though it may seem very strong in my heart and mind I have no way of evaluating it.  All I know is that when I read scripture it keeps confirming what I have known all my life. 

John Calvin insists that God in his naked majesty cannot be known.   He can only be known through the person of the mediator.   There is only mediated knowledge of God in Christ.  And that knowledge comes into a real world of people in their everyday lives. 

Since "spiritual experience" can be a vague concept - perhaps it might be helfpul to express your understanding of what that means to you.

Henry,

An even more vivid assertion...that a believer delighting in God is equivalent to Eve giving in to the devil's temptation, because both of them are "personal experience".

I am fully in agreement with you as to the christocentric focus of Biblical witness...all of the sermons of Acts, I believe, we're squarely focused on the resurrection of Jesus. I also fully agree that experience cannot be the foundation or primary focus of Christian witness. But it does not follow that all experience is therefore illigitemate, or that those who may have had such experiences are suspect. If my brothers and sisters in Christ have had an experience that I may not have had, can I not rejoice with them?

If Jesus is dead there is no salvation and there can be no intimacy.  He earned salvation for us and payed the price in his humanity.  For John Calvin is was always through the flesh of Jesus to God the Father.  Because we are united to him by faith through the Holy Spirit he shares with us all of his blessings.  Look at QA 76 of the Heidelberg.  In John 6 Jesus says we must continually eat his flesh and drink his blood.

The only kind of intimacy with Christ that I know about is to keep on believing in him and trusting him with my life. 

I hear a lot of talk about feeling God's presence, hearing God talking directly to me (private revelation) and having spiritual expieriences.  I have asked people what God "feels like" and no one can tell me.  I have never had any private revelation telling me what car to buy or which call to take.  I don't know what "spiritual experiences" are.  I know what human experiences are with all their emotions and feelings.   I have felt close to people as well as rejected by people.

In the last three decades there has been a  growing emphasis on our human words primarily in terms of prayer and testimonies.  In my opinion these have become more important that God's revealed truth in the scriptures.  What I think, feel and experience becomes more important than Christ himself.

There is indeed such a thing as "spiritual experience", but how does the bible define it.  James says in 1:27 "True and undefiled relgion (read religious experiences) before our God and Father is to visit widows and orphans and keep oneself unspotted from the world."  The life of faith is clearly defined in terms of keeping the commandments which have an internal dimension but also an external one that always involves the neighbor.  Paul says in Romans 12 that we should present our bodies a living sacrifice which is our spiritual service or worship.  There is a great deal of creatureliness in genuine spirituality.   John says if a man says he loves God and hates his nabor he is a liar and the truth is not in him.   Pauls says in Gal 5:14 "For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."  Isn't it interesting that he mentions no love for God.  We may well mistake human emotions for spiritual experiences.

Now regarding personal testimonies.   My evaluation about what the Lord is doing in my life is not the word of God nor the means of grace.   My words about my self  is not the power of the gospel. In I Thess 4:18 Paul says "Wherefore comfort (or exhort) one another with these words."   He says something similar in I Thess. 5:11 "Wherefore comfort (exhort) one another, and build each other up, even as also you do."  He is clearly refering, not to believers experiences, or even his own, but to the word of God revealed and written. 

My experiences are all flawed and so is my description of those experiences.  How dare I even begin to compare them with Christ's perfect experiences and the truth of the Living Word written in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the risen Christ.   I know of only one biblical way to comfort and encourage and that is with the gospel, the words of grace and mercy revealed in Jesus Christ crucifed and risen.  My personal spiritual stories have no power to change anyone' life.  I don't even have any power to convince anyone of the truth of the gospel as faithful to the scriptures as my words may be.  Only the bodily risen Jesu, who is at the same time the eternal Word is able, by his Holy Spirit using the words of the gospel, the words of truth in the bible, to change hearts and lives and to give comfort and encouragement.   This is the only way an unbeliever can become a believer and the only way a believer can be encouraged and grow in Christ. 

In the garden of Eden there were two possible paths.  The first was to obey the word that God had given - a rather strange word forbidding Adam and Eve to eat of one specific tree.  The second path was the one Eve took first, and then Adam - the path of the personal experience of beling like God.  What does Scripture say?  Eve saw that the tree was good for food and a delight to the eyes and desirable to make one wise - she ate - she experienced.  I John 2:15-17 picks up on these three.  "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.  If any man love the word, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh (good for food), and the lust of the eyes (pleasing to look at) and the vainglory of life (wise in one's own eyes), is not of the Father, but is of the world.  And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever."  

Consider also the visit of Jesus to Emmaus recorded in Luke 24.  The two travelers are down hearted.  (As an aside reflect on what Cleopas says to Jesus " are you the only one in Jerusalem who doesn't  know hwat has happened?"  He was the only who truly knew.  Is there some divine humor here?)  After they explain themselves Jesus scolds them for not believe the the OT scriptures.  Then he opens the bible to them point it to himself.  They don't know who he is until he acts as the host and serves them.  Then their eyes were opened and they knew him and he vanished immediately from sight.  Think of the intimacy and spirituality of that experience.  And what did they say on the way back to Jerusalem .  Wasn't that the most exciting spiritual experience we ever had,  wasn't that wonderful to be that close to Jesus, etc, etc.  Verse 32 records their reaction.  " Was not our heart burning within us while he spake to us on the way, while he opened to us the scriptures? 

It is only throught the words of scripture, the words of the gospel that we have access to Jesus and it is only through him that we have access to the Father.  There is no other way.   The risen Lord Jesus is to have first place in everything ( Colossians 1).

there might be another distinction here... that between testimonies that God gives as encouragement for us personally, along with other believers, and what is evangelism for non-believers...  our testimony is not limited to our conversion, but is added to on a regular basis as we walk in faith..

I believe that the crc has never developed a biblical  reformed approach to evangelism and witnessing.   There are two aspects to this discussion.   What does it mean to "witness" and what is the motivation for doing so.  If I see an auto accident and am called in to court to testify, the court is not interested in my emotional reaction to the experience or even my speculation about the accident.  What the court wants to know is what I saw.  What actually happend, not in me, but outside of me, out on the corner of Fifth and Main.  Or if I am campaigning for someone else running for office, my job is to encourage people to vote for the candidate.  I should not be talking about my qualifications for being a campaigner, but the qualifications of the candidate. 

In John 5:39-40 Jesus makes clear that the scriptures bear witness to him and that the life was in him.  Jesus sent the apostles out to bear witness to himself.   Where in the gospels do the authors talk about their spiritual experiences.   Where in Acts does Luke talk about himself.  They are always concerned to present the facts about who the man Jesus is and what God has done and is doing in and through him.  Three times in Acts Paul gives an account of his conversion but where is the description of his emotional, spiritual reaction.  Those accounts are more about the risen Jesus than Paul.   As Paul says in II Cor 4 - we preach not ourselves - but we preach Jesus as Lord. 

In II Cor. 11 Paul is talking about false preacher/prophets and in vs 18 he shas that many glory after the flesh and that he will be foolish enough to do so also.  So he continues to talk about his qualifications and experiences.   In vs. 21 he says I speak in foolishness and in vs 23 he says I speak besides myself.  He is basically saying I am out of my mind to talk like this. In II Cor 12:10 he talks about taking pleasure in his weaknesses, etc - for when I am weak - then I am strong because Christ's grace is sufficient. 

My understanding of witnessing is to always point to the person and experiences of the risen man Jesus of Nazareth in whom dwells the fulness of the godhead bodily.  In his body he bore our sin and through his blood we are forgiven.  Furthermore, "resurrection" which is at the heart of the apostolic message does not apply to deity but only to the humanity of Jesus.  This is critical for understanding the gospel. 

Now what motivates me to witness.  Is it because I am so in love with God, or so filled with joy, or I have fresh new wonderfful grace experiences every day.  These may all be present.  Certainly all the fruits of the Spirit should be involved in our lives to one degree or the other.  But the primary motive is not experience but faith.  We do not live by sight.  We live by faith.  And while this faith is a gift of the risen Christ through the Holy Spirit, it is my faith and a faith, with all its ups and downs,  that has been encouraged and strengthed throughout my life.  I can remember learning "Jesus Lov es Me" at the age of 3-1/2.  Obviously any faith at that point was very simple.   There never has been time in my life when I did not have some knowledge of Christ.   There is within me a deep seated faith conviction ( which I cannot in any way prove) that the once crucified, but now risen and ever living Jesus of Nazareth is the only Man I can trust, the only man throuigh whom I can access the Father, the only man who can forgive and justify, the only one who has solved the problem of death and our living hope promising that someday we will be freed from death.   We groan waiting for our adoption the redemption of our bodies and when we see him our bodies will be made like his body.  Creation too waits for our adoption when it will be freed from the curse of sin.  I have learned all this from the Bible.

When I thought witnessing was telling others about my wonderful grace experiences - I could not witness.  But when I learned from scripture that witnessing was telling others about what God has done in Christ and who he is today as the risen Lord and the benefits and blessings to be found in him -  witnessing became easy and I almost dare say a joy.  Why is this present in my life?  There is only one reason.  Because, in the midst of all my failures and weakness, yes even sins,  the risen Lord Jesus empowers and enables by his Holy Spirit, through the gospel.  The great motivation comes not from us, but from him.  I think that the church, as it becomes increasingly enamoured with "spiritual experience" s forgetting about the risen Jesus who always works in us. 

There is only one way that I talk about myself when I witness.  I point out that sin is self-exaltation and that when I learned that Christ was my righteousness, my self worth, my self esteem - then I learned that I no longer had to be important.   I could be more free to esteem others better than myself.  But that has nothing to do with any kind of spiritual superiority on my part but only with the excellency and worth of the Risen Jesus.  He is the living one.  He was dead once but is now alive forever. 

The danger for the church is that it always wants to return to the flesh and become obsessed with its own experiences.  The apostles had one passion - and that was to proclaim the name of Jesus and tell the world that this risen man was Messiah and Lord, that he was in charge of the world and the church and that he was returning someday to destroy, not creation nor our bodies, but all sin and evil making all things new.

Witnessing is point to Christ.

Motivation for witness comes from the Holy Spirit and the faith conviction that Jesus is Lord and the only way to the Father.

And with the eagerness of the NT believers, we pray "Lord, Jesus, come quickly."

Henry, you mention that we ignore the bodily resurrection of the Man Jesus - I would submit that we have missed spiritual intimacy with Him, which that concept seems to make us very uncomfortable, but my perception on that could be wrong.  I would also submit we have to some degree  ignored and quenched the power of the Holy Spirit, and been in contempt of some of His gifts, particularly those gifts we can't explain...

I struggle with when someone thinks someone else has spiritual "superiority", maybe they are sensing pride in some - but let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater on this.   I would suggest these "dymanic experiences" are the prompting and work of the Holy Spirit in their lives, and not something to be disdained... everything we are, including our spiritual experiences are a gift of God, through His Holy Spirit, we can do nothing without Jesus...  the concept of spiritual superiority shuts down every testimony of what God is doing in our lives, here and now... Yes, none of this has any meaning without salvation and we can not do it on our own, but as a loving and generous Father, He gives us fresh encounters with His goodness and love daily, and I hope we would want to share those testimonies, but when those hearing the  testimonies receive them with skepticism or criticism or contempt, instead of joy and thankfulness, then we are quenching the Holy Spirit and His work in our lives... if we don't share those testimonies, we are quenching Him as well... It is all for His glory, and our good...  I would hope the response to testimonies of what God is doing in our lives, would be met with joy and excitement, and be encouraging to others... instead of threatening.

I also think we need to recognize that there are different levels of maturity of believers, in our faith..

If we are not "experiencing" the Holy Spirit, then we need to look at our attitude toward the Holy Spirit.. are we quenching Him, through contempt of His gifts, through skepticism/criticisim, through unbelief that He still speaks to us in various ways (which includes making scripture living and active)?

having grown up in the crc, and still a part of it, I have noticed a significant resistance to how the Holy Spirit works via some giftings, for a variety of reasons, which is an entire discussion in itself...

unfortunately the new age stuff is the enemy's counterfeit of the working of the Holy Spirit, and so there will be things that look the same, but are oh so very different because of where it is coming from (Holy Spirit vs enemy spirit), with good fruit from the Holy Spirit and bad fruit from the enemy...   this is where testing of the spirits (I John 4:1/1 Thess. 5:19-22), and discernment comes in...

When we love God with all our hearts, souls, strength and mind... that will overflow to loving our neighbors...  and we will desire to be with Him via the Word, worship and prayer, to share about Him, to trust Him, and to obey Him...  He will consume us, and we will be obsessed with Him and serving His Kingdom

Henry,

While I think that your characterization of a beliver delighting in God's grace as a Phariasee in front of the temple is a bit off, I too feel more affinity with the publican asking for mercy.  But as we look at that parable, it continues and says that it was the publican who went home justified.  It does not say that he went home rejoicing, but one can imagine, if he knew that his sins had been covered, that rejoicing would not be an out-of-line response to this action of God.  Indeed, the HC says that part of the "coming to life of the new self", along with a cognitive belief in the truths of the gospel is, a "wholehearted *joy* in Christ" and a *delight* to do his will.  Things which one would assume are felt affectively as well as known cognitively.

What at first seems to be the distinction between yourself and the original poster of this thread is that he would say that this joy and delight is essential to the process.  You at first seem to be saying that it is, rather, incidental to the process.  But as I read what you are saying, it almost seems like you are saying that it is not even allowed.

Please clarify.

This is the second article in a month (See Greg Selmon's "Today's Compelling Story of Grace" 10-18-12) that suggest the motivation for witness is found in the spiritual superiority of the individual believer.   Critical to witness is the believer's dynamic experiences of grace, fresh each day, and their personal passion for God.  What I hear being said is that we must be like the pharisee in the front of the temple who thanks God that he is not like other men, that he has all these fantastic spiritual experiences, that he is not like the sinner in the back of the room.  We must have something to show and tell about ourselves (called sharing Christ), when actually it is simply talking about and possibly even boasting about ourselves. 

Probably the most fantastic spiritual experience in this life would be to be raised from the dead.  The rich man in Hades pleads with father Abraham to send Lazarus back to his brothers arguing that the bible (Moses and the Prophets) is not sufficient - they need to see something.   The answer comes back that is they do not believe the bible neither will they believe if someone rises from the dead.

Genuine spiritual growth results in a growing realization that all the benefits and blessings of salvation are not found in self but in the person of the bodily risen Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God, so say the apostles.  Now pershaps I am spiritually regressing but the older I have become the more if feel like the "sinner" in the back of the temple and the man who buried his one talent.   So according to your thesis I would have no impetus for witnessing.  While love for God is the highest commandment it is not the most important thing in this life.  We are not saved by our love but by our faith, which is a gift of God.  By that gift we become increasingly convinced of the historical facts and present reality of the bodily risen Jesus.  I am not interested in telling others about my fantastical "grace experiences" because I have none to tell about.   But there seems to be a great desire and passion to talk about the person of Christ and his experiences, that he is risen and he is Messiah and Lord.   That is the essence of the biblcal witness and the heart of the gospel. 

Scripture is very clear that we are not to boast about ourselves, but only about Christ himself.   That can be done only by using the truth and facts of the scriptures as they point to Christ. He himself makes this point in Luke 24 both on the way to Emmaus and to his disciples. Paul says in II Cor. 4 that we preach not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord.

In Acts 23-26 Paul summarizes this his entire gospel in terms of the hope of Israel - the resurrection of the body.  In acts 2-4 the heart of the apostolic witness becomes plain.  Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God.   You killied him.  God raised him from the dead and made him MNessiah and Lord and in him is the forgiveness of sins.   See also Acts 13.  In Acts 17 Paul asserts that God has appointed a man by which he will judge the world and has demonstrated this by raising Jesus from the dead. 

I would suggest that the lack of motivation comes from the fact that the church has almost comletely ignored the fact and significance of the bodily resurrection of the Man Jesus ( yes I affirm his full deity).   All my life I have heard that my "gratitude" is the driving force for living a life of faith - while scripture (even the Heidelberg Catechism) locates the motivation factor in the renewing work of the Risen Jesus by his Holy Spirit after his image.  Paul says - I count all my religious accomplishments as garbage for the sake of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ.  I want to know Christ, the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering.  We hardly ever hear about the return of Christ and when it is mentioned we are told that we are going to spend eternity in heaven even though scripture, both Old and New, makes clear we will spend eternity in a renewed created order with our complete persons - spirit, soul and body make new, whole and imperishable.  I don't know many beleivers who are enthused about our glorious future.

Christ is viewed primarily as "a spirit being" and as "God".  It seems that his glorified humanity, the very same humanity in which he was sin's curse on the cross, has evaproated into the divine all.   Very Platonic and new age.  The fact of the  matter is that  there is a man on God's throne.  By man came death - by man came the resurreciton of the dead.   If the dead cannot be raised, then Jesus is still dead and we are fools to trust a dead man.  The apostles were not passionate about thier own spiritual expereinces - they were passionate about the reality of the bodily risen Lord and the fullness of present blessings found in him as well as the tremendous, sure and living hope that he is. 

I would also suggest that Piper has things backwords.  He is essentially saying that we are nothing but mirrors reflecting God's love back to himself.    I don't matter, you don't matter - all that matters is God.  Again this strikes me as very new age like.  While we may not lose our indiduality all that matters is the flow of love to God as though he were a giant vacuum cleaner or black hole sucking all the energy out of the very things he has made.  He needs nothing from us for he is full and complete in himself.  God so loved the world that he gave.  Ephesians 2:7 states the purpose of saving us - so that God forever and ever can show us the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  He wil continually unfold and reveal himself to us forever in a renewed created order without sin.  What a great message to tell - not about my experiences - but about who he is.

While Berkhof’s proposal that “the heart is the seat of religion” may be too theologically sterile for today’s Church, it speaks the same truth that Piper has proposed: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” The question will always be, “What satisfies us?” or, “What do we love?” It is a testament to our sinful nature that we must continually reevaluate religion in the dimension of what we love – and to what degree. These are all restatements of Jesus’ words, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” “whoever has been forgiven little loves little” and “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” And, they all convict us about why we do – or do not – evangelize. Why do we not “delight” in Jesus and therefore ‘good news-ify’ others? It may simply be that our heart’s love is not satisfied with the good news. If true, that is a very scary place for the Church to be.

Check out smallgroups.com  put out by Christianity Today. Lots of articles on line as well as materials to download.

Steve

I wonder.   Yes if we delight in God, then we will be compelled to share the gospel.  But maybe the real thing is simply to experience God in our lives.  It may be delight;  it might be a sorrowful experience;  it might simply be inspiring.   But perhpas it cannot be merely theoretical delight.   It needs to be as real as cutting your finger or spraining your knee or eating your desert.  It needs to be real.  And we have to make ourselves vulnerable.  Pride, vanity, self-consciousness, fear must all disappear or be overcome.   Your trust in God to provide must be real, if you lose your job, or if you lose chance of advancement or if you lose acceptance by peers.  Remember Christ's suffering for us.  (compared to that, our risks are very small). 

These are great helps Sam!  One thing that has worked well in our small group, is to separate the men and the women for prayer.  We find that when we are in different rooms, the prayers in both groups come more freely.  I'm sure its the smallness of the group that encourages participation, but also the single gender in each group allows for some freedom in prayer.

In another Bible study group that I host, we also will divide into small groups of 3 or 4, for a short prayer time, which encourages each person to pray, while developing closer relationships.  Our journey to God, is something that should be practiced in deep community with each other.  Smaller groups for prayer encourages these deeper relationships.

I recommend the study of this book, but I would first recommend that you obtain a copy of the Isaiah 9:10 Judgment DVDs (a set of two DVDs) so you may view what precisely what the Harbinger covers.  Read the book.  Judge for yourselves about its message, then watch the DVDs, or go to Youtube at the following URL:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj1q-H55mGU&feature=related  and this URL:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydlVzRxRUBc  both of these showcase the DVD documentary based upon Jonathan Cahn's book, The Harbinger.

The Harbinger is a warning to Christians in America to repent, to return to God, to seek His ways, and to pray for the nation and be a light unto the people, and to renew our nation with leaders who will honor the Lord and serve His purposes.  There is already a stir in the halls of official Washington D.C. as I write this, and several elected representatives and senators have reacted to its message; a timely message that we must heed if we are to survive as a people and as a nation before the coming of Christ.

If Nineveh did it, and it was not a covenant nation with God, but God warned it through the prophet Jonah, we can do it to, why?  Because as Christians we are God's people, and as Christians we have a responsibility to pray for our nation, for our leaders, and elect public servants who represent our values and our ideals; ideals and values that made our republic the envy of the world.

We have lost it all in one generation, and if we continue the trajectory that we have been the past fifty-two years, we will not endure as the shining city on a hill that President Reagan spoke so eloquently about and America's pilgrim fathers once envisioned which was culled from the words of Our Lord in Matthew 5:14.  Yes, I would highly recommend you read The Harbinger, paying close attention to its underlying theme and its plea to US and to prayerfully develop a Bible Study around it.  If you are interested in more information about a study of The Harbinger, you may contact Hope of the World Miistries at their website at the following URL:  http://www.theharbinger-jonathancahn.com/

*** RECOMMENDED VIDEOS ***

(1) "ASTOUNDING REVELATION - GOD'S JUDGMENT ON AMERICA - REVEALED!" (9:53 video)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JW6roFN7NAE&feature=plcp

(2) 9/11 PROPHETIC FULFILLMENT (10:06)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_bcsgbSraM

(3) Jonathan Cahn with Sid Roth - Harbinger the Warning
Part 1 (28:31): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcsv4t9SzTg
Part 2 (28:31): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlrDYRVlUf0&feature=relmfu

*** CLUELESS U.S. LEADERS ***

(1) "Tom Daschle Speech, 12 September 2001"; (4:24 video)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukYiWd3T9sk
(watch starting at 3:11 -- By the way, In Revelation 3:11, Jesus tells us "Behold,I am coming quickly!")

(2) "John Kerry Speech After 9/11"; 12 September 2001 (Text)
http://www.themoderntribune.com/john_kerry_speech_after_9_11_-_rebuild_americ...

(3) "Giuliani The Night of 9-11-01 'We will rebuild'", 11 September 2001 (0:23 video)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xiA5NNjf7XQ

(4) "OBAMA'S 9 11 SPEECH - PSALM 46, What is he really trying to tell us?", 11 September 2011 (1:50 video)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzrkCAlzclA

*** BOOK AND VIDEO IF YOU REALLY WANT TO STUDY THESE PROPHECIES ***

Book: "THE HARBINGER: THE ANCIENT MYSTERY THAT HOLDS THE SECRET OF AMERICA'S FUTURE" by Rabbi Jonathan Cahn (paperback, Kindle edition, or audio CDs) available at http://www.amazon.com/ or the World Net Daily website at http://superstore.wnd.com/

DVD: "THE ISAIAH 9:10 JUDGMENT: IS THERE AN ANCIENT MYSTERY THAT FORTELLS AMERICA'S FUTURE?" -- a "documentary treatment of "The Harbinger" book -- available at Amazon.com or the World Net Daily website at http://superstore.wnd.com/

good tips!  Here's one more:  Whenever I have led a Bible study or small group discussion and I ask a question, I count to "7" in my head.  I don't answer the question; I don't rephrase the question, until I have fully counted to 7.  You'll be surprised; 99% of the time, someone will offer an answer in the silence of 7 seconds!  Too often leaders feel like they have to jump in  so fast.  7 seconds may feel long when it's silent & you think people are staring at their Bibles mindlessly or staring at you, the floor or the others in the group, but it's not really that long!

I just wanted to add some additional tips about open -ended questions that were shared with me by a communications pro. The best open-ended questions start with the key question words: Who, What, When, Where, Why & How; and cannot be answered with a yes or no. (My favorites start with "Why" or "How.")

Great tips here!

The paragraph has been updated.

That should be "goodreads.com" rather than "goodbooks.com." I hope my mistake did not create confusion.

Thanks Drew.  We are going to get this kind of small group started at our church as well.

John

We have a sermon-based Small Group ministry we call "Table Fellowship."  Here's a brief video I did for our classis about Table Fellowship: http://youtu.be/UvXfwa_zOO4

We have been doing something similar to this on Sunday mornings while the kids are in sunday school, we call it sermon reflection . I think it is very helpfull in concentrating on the sermon and the scripture passage, and also I would think it would be helpfull for new believers to be able to mix with more mature believers and discuss things that might not be clear to them.  I would like to hear more ideas on this as it seems the interest at our church is waning. 

We are thinking about beginning this at our church, so I am looking forward to forthcoming blog posts!

keep the updates coming.  I'm watching this with interest.

I'm eager to hear more about this idea. Thank you!

Thanks Drew.

I'm very interested in following your posts.   

We have used Ascending Leaders' materials in our church in a variety of ways - formal discipleship courses, informal triads and small groups, individual study and supplement for preaching series. The flexibility of the material and the rich content make for a wonderful resource to help people grow in their character, something that is really lacking in our churches today. I have grown in my faith using AL's materials as well. I highly recommend "Christ Habits", "Spirit's Fruit" and the other AL resources for spiritual formation in your church.

Did  you know that "scarecrows" occur in Jeremiah's description of false idols (at least in the NIV and NRSV - Jer. 10:5; KJV has "palm trees")? I remember doing a sermon on "Scarecrows in a mellon patch" once -- partly because both the sound and imagery of that phrase seemed irresistable. In that context it becomes a picture of something that is not very effective. Since Satan is not easily detered, the metaphor of armor in Eph. 6 (of "fortress" often in the Psalms) makes a stronger image. But any recognition of the need to defend against the attacks of Satan is worthwhile. Thanks for the reminder!

posted in: Scarecrows

Nate - thanks for your blog and being willing to field questions.

Thank you for your response Daniel.  The answr to your question is "yes" and "no." 

Yes: I agree with the "process" concept of discipleship,  that one never finishes and that Scripture provides a framework of various roles which we would think would match up with the process of one's maturing as a disciple. I first read Bill Hull's Disciple Making Pastor 25 year ago and agreed wholeheartedly. 

No: Between roughly 1987 and 2001 I wrestled with how to practically do this in congregational ministry. I found it easier to agree with, than to implement. Our material is meant to be quality content to help people practically move forward well on the discipleship journey. While you would find our that our materials assume a process perspective on discipleship as taught by the NT, they do not teach such directly. We try to use more Jesus model of sending people into growth. Thus the process and materials simply gets people going in quality growth.

I hope that adequately answers your question. 10,000 people is tremendous!!! May God use you to teach 10,000 more. Over the last 7 years, roughly 6,000 have used something of our material. A growing disciple is a good and beautiful sight to behold!

Michael,  I have been a "disciple-making pastor" for 25 years.  It has been the most explosive part of my ministry.  Over 10,000 people have been directly, and indirectly affected by this "organic" multiplying ministry.  Pastors and "apostolic leaders have been raised up."   Disciplemaking is often engaged as an effort to make better disciples, more committed, intense, dedicated followers---Far less often has it been taught about Disciple-making--as a method of growing through teaching,  My materical focuses on the Apostlic methods of Paul, John and Peter.  IThes 2:7-13; II Tim 2:1-2; I Jn 2:7-10; and II Peter 1:3-8;    The apostles knew about stages of a disciples growth toward maturity----baby, child, brother, parent, elder, pastor, apostle.  

Just wondering if your material focuses on this reproductive aspect of disciplemaking?

  

Thank you gamaoli for your gracious words of affirmation. We desire to provide CRCs and other churches with a tool that works well to grow people of character and impact (growing, active disciples). It sounds as if we were successful in your case. We are grateful.

Ascending Leaders is GREAT and what growth potential there is for each of us with this course of study.

My first serious introduction to spiritual disciplines was through "Christ Habits", a study produced through Ascending Leaders. Actually, I've gone through it twice with two different groups. I refer back to the materials often as I continue to be "in training" as one of Jesus' disciples, rather than just hoping to be one. The more I practice spiritual disiplines, the more I change and grow. This study was also my first introduction to triads. I have not found a better way to go deeper into the Word and each other's lives.

Thanks for this article, Sam. I'll be co-directing for the second year this year at AACRC and find reviewing the five missional themes of Coffee Break helpful. Five of our seasoned Coffee Break leaders have stepped down in the last couple of years and we've been thinking about how we could recruit new leadership from the women from our church who have been attending Coffee Break for a number of years. After reading Marian's comment below I am wondering if their workshop is open to women of other churches and what city in Ontario they are located and also what resources are available from the Coffee Break ministry staff?

Good to see you!

Bev

Thanks Sam,

This is a great summary of the discussion, and of the main themes of Coffee Break.  I've been thinking a lot about the Leadership Development piece, and about how we might continue to grow the Leadership of women, in our churches.  In Ontario, we're planning a Women's Leadership Retreat for the end of September, for any woman who wants to grow in her leadership, and in whatever she believes God is calling her to.  If you're interested in this retreat, please send me an email marian.lensink@gmail.com.

Also, it might be helpful Sam, to post this conversation on the Coffee Break forum as well!  Are you able to do that?  Or I could do it, with your permission.

Thanks!

Marian

I love that Ogden uses the term "hot-houses" for these optimum environments for growth. That term certainly applies to the triads and quads at CenterPointe.

Yep! I learned the power of triads by going through Ascending Leaders Christ Habits study. It was a great introduction not only to triads, but to spiritual disciplines. I recommend it!

I cut my small group leadership teeth on coffee break and men's life.  Yes, believe it or not, coffee break for a man.  I was 20 and assigned to lead a Bible Study for people far from God in a national park.  I asked my mother in law, a long time coffee break leader, what she recommended and she gave me a coffee break book. Then I began using Men's Life materials while an intern shortly after they came out in the late 80s and again had the joy of having people far from God in my groups. Coffee Break had within it the seeds that sprouted, more fully developed in other ideas later. For instance, while coffee break and later men's life introduced the ideas of confidentiality and bonding, those ideas have grown up and it is TRIADS/QUADS that create the optimum environment for that to happen.

Thank you Ruth, for this gentle and insightful piece. Yes, comfort and confidentiality are high on the list. We learned so much of  this in Coffee Break and God was the inspiration for all of that. Blessings in your work...stay in touch.

Right on Ruth. You know I have been a believer in triads/quads for years and can tell many stories as evidence of their power. I was in a quad this past Tuesday night with a 30 year old converted Muslim, a 60something man and a 50something man. There is where we get down to the heart of it all. I could tell you some cool stuff from it, except what is said in our quad stays in our quad so I am sworn to confidentiality.

Very interested in looking into this strategy for discipleship.  Looking forward to next week's article.

Fernando,

Sounds like a great plan for your discipleship garden. I noticed that you started with the blessing of your council and that your leaders participated in the first group. I'm wondering if this is a key principle to the success of any discipleship strategy that a church develops. When the elders, deacons and key leaders own the strategy it will more likely take root! Next week's guest blog from Dave Huizenga will have more about this idea.

Thanks for your input in the conversation! 

Hi Sam (and Allen), in a few weeks, we will be completing one year of foundational gardening... hoping that a process of intentional discipleship/disciplemaking can take root in our suburban racially diverse garden/congregation. This process slowly took off with the full blessings and knowledge of the pastors and Council. (I replaced my previous contributor's photo/portrait with that of our first discipling group, aka DG-1.) Except for two, the group is composed of elders and deacons. To get started, we used Greg Ogden's Discipleship Essentials workbook. We slightly amended and wrote our own "My Discipleship Covenant" to which DG-1 members responded with increasing faithfulness, commitment and passion to help disciple others. Through the 8 months when we met Wednesday evenings, group members were convinced Biblical discipleship was not simply acquiring knowledge as important as it is BUT to more so obey and live out the essence of Matthew 28:18-20. In February, DG-1 members "graduated". To date, we have a second group of senior high schoolers plus two new adult members. DG-1 members were willing to help others in the discipleship process but only a few stepped up. With the few, we're trying to be faithful and diligent with what we need to do.

After almost a year of foundational work for our chruch's discipleship garden, I and my DG-1 friends had learned a lot. Most of these lessons are nothing fancy nor new. We simply returned to the elemental ways how Jesus made disciples. When we met as a small group or in our triads, we said we were at the feet of the Lord listening with intent and purpose. For my friends and myself, the 8-month process (which we firmly believe could have only been led and blessed by the Holy Spirit) brought us into a host of life and character changes, notably the passion to help others become disciples.

Having been myself discipled through the Navigators ministry in the Philippines, a heart and vision for intentional discipleship and disciplemaking had taken root, and had not been lost. For years, this was not the main thing for me. These days, may this be for me and for the others in our church. May the Master Dsiciplemaker be honored as we labor together!!

Sam, I'm looking forward to more in this forum. Thanks for your and Allen's work.

Thanks Sam,

I look forward to reading more and hope to hear more about how other churches are making disciples.

 

Allen

Thanks Allen for taking us along for the ride.

Tim Brown... wow!  lots of interesting  controversies about grace, gospel, faith leading to sanctification, assurance, etc., etc..  in the links you provided   but the bottom line for me is simple.   Saved by grace through faith.   and then, "shall we sin more, so that grace may abound?"   Christ talked more about obedience, than He did about grace.   Although He exhibited grace in his life and actions.  And in his death and resurrection.  

Lately, I've heard the quote, "judge not, that you be not judged", used as a way of muting the commands of obedience.   It is a way of neutering the authority of elders and pastors.   It is often used as a way of reducing the commands of Christ in our daily lives.  

We can debate the theological precepts forever, but the bottom line is that our desire to follow Christ is always fighting with our sinful nature.   We are sinful saints.   When we stop fighting against that sinful nature, then sin wins.   Pray for the Spirit to fill us, to win the victory over the daily sin in our lives.  Scripture says that no one who follows Christ continues to sin.   Don't make excuses for it, and don't try to justify yourself in your sin.    Believe it and do it right.   

posted in: What is "Sonship"?

For what it's worth, "Sonship" teaching has been somewhat controversial within Presbyterian circles, not because of its name but because of its theology.  Number 19 in this paper by John Frame gives some of the background: http://www.frame-poythress.org/frame_articles/2003Machen.htm  An account of a conference on "Sonship and Sanctification," which included presntations "for" and "against" is: http://www.banneroftruth.org/pages/news/2001/06/greenville_conference.php

posted in: What is "Sonship"?

Thanks for a good review Diane! The ten months my wife and I spent going through the Sonship material with Drew Angus was one of the most profound experiences in our spiritual growth. As a pastor of 15 years and student of discipleship and leader development, I highly recommend this course. The material is solid, reformed in its approach, and carries out its goal of personal transformation. I wish more CRC folks were aware of this rich resource. As Drew pointed out, WHM's more recent "Gospel Centered Life" is also an excellent course and more user-friendly for small groups and newer Christians.

posted in: What is "Sonship"?

I have tried to send this as a pesonal email through the network site, but it won't go through, so I'm posting it here. . .

Hi Allen,
Read your last post and wanted to take it "off-line", so that the back and forth between us doesn't get circular :)
I understand your final post and appreciate that you have a responsibility to moderate that thread. I also agree that the issue will not be "resolved" in any text-based, on-line dialogue. However, your previous post (at 3:02) gave me the impression that my comments were not welcome, that they "distracted" from the "real" conversation we should be having, and that I should take them somewhere else.
Your further post clarified in a more effective way, for me. They were less personal (i.e. not directed specifically at me) and I understood that you heard my comments, not just that you wanted them to stop.
The conversations did not seem circular to me, as they were responses from different people, with different emphases.
It's difficult to have a real conversation online. I bless you in your role. I trust, in general, it's more 'fun' than 'friction'. :)
Colleen

posted in: What is "Sonship"?

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