Why Groups?

Hey Community Bible family, Pastor Josh here with the blog for this week. I want to discuss the value of Groups ministry at Community Bible.

Groups is one part of the threefold discipleship strategy here, which also includes corporate gatherings and mission. When we gather together corporately we are able to worship together, to hear the Word of God proclaimed, and we’re able to experience the synergy that happens as the saints gather together. Then in mission we are able to serve; serve those within our church family and serve the world around us. And then there’s the Groups piece of our discipleship strategy. In groups we get a real sense of belonging, and we’re able to develop relationships where we know others and we’re known by others. This is where gospel community happens best — when our lives are properly centered on Jesus, His saving grace, and daily enabling grace.

Having said that, right now things look different than they have previously because of the COVID pandemic. Instead of all our groups meeting in person, we have some groups meeting in person, some groups meeting online, and yet still other groups mixing it up where some of the group members are in person while they Zoom in the rest of the group. So what groups am I talking about?

This week we opened registration for Community Groups and for one of our equip groups — a women’s study launching Sept 24 which will meet virtually. We have D Groups which are small gender-specific groups of 3 – 5 that get in the Word together, spend time supporting one another and provide accountability for one another. We have a focus group meeting virtually for folks who are grieving the loss of loved ones called GriefShare. We have a men’s group that meets on Tuesday mornings with in-person and virtual options. And even our NextGen ministry for children and students is built around groups.

So there are still several opportunities for you to be involved in Groups at Community Bible, even during a pandemic. But I would imagine there are some reading this who may be thinking “I already attend a service on Sundays, why should I also participate in a group?”  Well I’m glad you asked!

There are 3 significant benefits that I’d like to mention in the next few paragraphs. First, is shepherding. To be sure, Jesus is the Good Shepherd and he has placed undersheperds here for the well-being of His flock; we call them pastors & elders, or the term overseer could be used. But the ratio of overseers to church body is frankly a bit overwhelming and makes shepherding well a challenging endeavor. And that’s where the various group leaders really shine… because God uses these folks to shepherd those within their groups.

We see an example of this sort of empowered shepherding in the OT in Exodus 18 starting in v.13 when Jethro, the wise father-in-law of Moses recognizes that Moses can’t effectively shepherd all the people who need shepherding, and says to him (and I’m paraphrasing): you and the people with you are going to wear yourselves out, for this thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone… look for able leaders from all the people, leaders who fear God, who are trustworthy and honorable, and place them over the people to help with the task of shepherding. When there were a few people, Moses could know them and shepherd them… but then the numbers blew up and Moses, like all leaders, could only know so many people… much less serve them well as a shepherd.

And of course we see it in the New Testament as Jesus identifies 12 men – twelve unlikely heroes – who would go on to champion the gospel, make disciples, change history, and ultimately change my life through the hearing of the gospel! So the first great benefit of being in a group is shepherding.

The second benefit of groups is fellowship. You know, we are relational beings, created in the image of a relational God. God himself exists eternally in relationship as Father, Son, & Spirit, and as image bearers we are created for relationship as well. There’s a vertical component of relationship – us with God – but also a horizontal component – us with one another. And we are designed to fellowship with one another. Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian says it this way: Community is deeply grounded in the nature of God. It flows from who God is. Because he is community, he creates community. It is his gift of himself to humans. Therefore, the making of community may not be regarded as an optional decision for Christians. It is a compelling and irrevocable necessity, a binding divine mandate for all believers at all times. And don’t we all enjoy fellowship with other people when we have things in common? When we are in Christ, we are bound with the most central of all things in common…the gospel. So I’ve mentioned shepherding and fellowship as benefits of being in a group, and the third is encouragement and accountability.

Hebrews 10:24-25 says: And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. I was recently on vacation with my family and we went tubing down a mountain river. While we were floating down the river the current would spin around and while we were talking and laughing with one another we would all take turns looking out for one another. We would let one another know when we saw them about to crash into rocks or when there were rapids ahead. Then we stopped and were wading around in the water for a bit, and as I stood there in the river, I could see fish looking upstream, and having to work just to stay in one place as the current rushed against them. I think our lives are like that. We have to look out for one another, encourage & exhort one another as the current of the world rushes against us. Knowing that you’ve got others who are for you, who are close enough to you to know you well, and that they are holding you accountable in the current of life is a priceless benefit of groups ministry.

In summary, I’d like to share these words from an article I read recently:

We live in an increasingly fragmented and disconnected world. Though social media and other technology have made our world seemingly more connected, people have fewer genuine friends than ever before. It feels scary and threatening to allow ourselves to be known or to invest in knowing someone else at a deep level. It is much easier and more convenient to stay on the surface. Yet when we take the risk of being authentic with a small group of people, we can experience God’s grace and love coming through others, which leads to freedom and transformation. So the goal of groups is to create environments where Spirit-driven, life-giving experiences can flourish.

You can find out more about groups by visiting our website or by dropping me a line at josh.sands@cbchurch.org. God bless you, and may God strengthen you to fight the good fight of faith.

The Bow Points Heavenward

What were among the first bible stories you ever learned? Some of my first stories were

  • God’s creation (Genesis 1-3)
  • Joshua and the battle of Jericho (Joshua 5-6)
  • David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17)
  • The fiery furnace (Daniel 3)
  • Daniel and the Lion’s Den (Daniel 6)
  • Jonah and the Whale (Jonah 1-4)
  • The birth of Jesus (Matthew 1; Luke 1-2)
  • Jesus feeds the 5000 (Matthew 14:13-21)
  • The death and resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 27-28; Mark 15-16; Luke 23-24; John 19-20)

And finally, Noah and the Ark (Genesis 6-8).

You remember the story, right? There is a population explosion on the earth. And virtually everyone everywhere had forgotten about God. Everyone was doing their own thing, turning away from what they knew to be right and true. In fact, Scripture diagnosis the problem this way:

“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (6:5).

When God looked upon the earth, he saw disease and death and destruction. God’s holy heart was grieved by what He saw. The world was filled with hate instead of love, and God determined that He must do something about it. He would bring an end to this corrupted world with a great flood. The arrow of His wrath would rightly be pointed at a wicked people.

But there was one man who found favor with God. His name was Noah. God instructed Noah to build an ark – a place of rescue and safety from the coming storm – for Noah and his family. Noah obeyed despite the mockery of public opinion. And one day it started to rain…and rain and rain and rain some more. Until the earth was flooded, and every living creature not on the ark perished.

When the rain stopped falling and the flood waters receded, God promises never to judge the world in the same way for its sins. The sign of God saying He would not flood the earth ever again in judgment was a rainbow in the sky.

I was reminded of this story this week while listening to a sermon on knowing God by Tim Keller. You can walk away from this story with a foreboding sense that, perhaps, God is really, really disappointed in humanity, so disappointed that He is eager to pour out His righteous fury on our sins. When we think about our own sinfulness and failures, sometimes we may be tempted to believe that God’s heart for us is filled with deep discouragement and displeasure. Even Noah, who found favor with God (6:8-9), would eventually demonstrate some disconcerting failures.

And there certainly is a reality that God’s heart is broken over sin and the impact of sin upon creation and people and even His very Son Jesus Christ. We must not overlook or forget that God is holy and just, and in His holiness and justice, He stands opposed to sin.

But the story of God taking action against the disappointing wickedness of His people does not end there.

God gives a sign – a symbol representing a promise – that God would never again judge the earth with a flood. What is that sign? You guessed it. A rainbow.

Except, the text actually doesn’t say “rainbow”. In the Hebrew (original language), the word used is “bow”, not “rainbow”. Bow. As in bow and arrow. A war bow, the main weapon in warfare in ancient times.

Why was the rainbow a sign of God saying, “I will not judge you”? It wasn’t because of the pretty colors. It was because of the direction of the rainbow. Have you ever noticed that the bow is not pointing towards us?

The bow of God’s wrath is not just pointing away from us. It is pointing to heaven. The bow of God’s wrath and judgment is pointing away from sinners. It points heavenward. So, every time a rainbow appears, what God is saying is, “I’ve promised a way for you to escape judgment for your sins. Don’t you see? The bow is pointed towards Me. I’m willing to take the judgment myself.”

Sinclair Ferguson reminds us that the war bow, the bow of battle now flung into the sky, “…is a picture of God, after hostility has ended, and He has established His new creation, flinging His bow of war, His bow of judgment, into the skies as reassurance to Noah, ‘Now that there is reconciliation, you can enjoy the peace that you have with Me; you can be sure that there will never again be this kind of judgment on the earth, until of course, the final cosmic judgment of all time.”

The bow points heavenward, of course, because God Himself takes the judgment of our sin to Himself, into His Son Jesus Christ, that we might enjoy full and final reconciliation with Him.

Dear friends, be encouraged today. The rainbow is a sign of God’s promise, that He has hung up His bow of wrath for those who have taken refuge in Jesus Christ. It is, as Jared Wilson writes, “a reminder to Himself of His grace towards the earth.” Similarly, the cross is a symbol and reminder of the infinite cost required for a just God to shower our sinful lives with grace and forgiveness. The cross is a reminder that when God pointed the bow heavenward, He redirected the arrow of wrath rightly aimed at us and aimed the arrow of His wrath at His sinless Son instead.

You are loved in Christ. The bow proves that. Rest in that love today.

Pastor Aaron.

Fear or Faith? It’s a Choice

Have you ever noticed that when the phrase “fear not” is used in the bible it is almost always used when fear is a normal human response to a given situation? For example, in Genesis 50 we see Joseph’s brother’s cowering in fear before him. Their dad had died, and they were now concerned and fearful that Joseph may have second thoughts about really forgiving them for all the wrong they had done to him and respond with severe consequences. But look at Joseph’s response in Genesis 50.  He exhorts them to “fear not” and adds “am I in the place of God”. Just two verses later he exhorts them to “fear not” and assures them of his care and protection. In Exodus 14 when the Israelites were being pursued by the Egyptian army the people were extremely afraid since they were boxed in by the Red Sea and had nowhere to go.  But what was the God inspired exhortation from Moses? “Fear not, stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord” (Exodus 14:13a).  Numerous other times we see God’s exhortation to “fear not” or “do not fear” in response to threats of oppression, violence and war. At other times the people have no food or water, basic provisions and what is their response? Fear. But what does God say? FEAR NOT. And he always provides! We see this so clearly in the opening verses of Joshua when the Lord exhorts him in the same way, but with an addition – Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Mmmm. It seems that fear can reveal where our trust and faith is rooted.

Now, I understand there is a good kind of fear. Fear of getting an awful shock is what keeps us from doing something unwise around electricity. Fear of falling off of a cliff to certain death keeps us from getting too close to the edge. You know what I’m talking about. That’s not quite what I’m getting at here though.

I’m referring to a deep-seated, deeply rooted view of life that is anchored in fear. So often (more often than not?) we don’t even realize we are living with that going on. It’s underneath the surface until something happens.  Ongoing, habitual fear is rooted in a lack of trust in God’s goodness and faithfulness, especially when the results don’t turn out the way we would want or imagine. Fear, like faith, are both incredibly powerful drivers in our lives. One drives us to despair and the other to peace in the midst of difficulty. For God to say “fear not” means that we look to the alternative – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). In this case I would equate trust and faith.  Hebrews 11:6 says it like this: “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him”. It doesn’t mean that we always get what we desire. It means that we submit our desires to him and trust him whatever the outcome.  It is easy to express faith and trust in God when things are going good – there is plenty of money in the bank, the kids are doing okay, my marriage is going okay or the relationship I’m in is healthy, school is going okay, I’m physically healthy and well, etc. It is when we are in the times of testing, trial, suffering and hardship that what we really believe about God is revealed or shaken. When what we are ultimately trusting in or whatever serves as our primary source of joy, contentment and fulfillment – that person, thing, idea, etc.- is taken away – how will we respond? What does our response reveal about our hearts and minds?

Grief and sadness over any kind of loss is normal and okay. Unsettling circumstances can result in a jolt of fear for sure and we are certainly living there a lot these days.  We just don’t want to stay there, right? If we are given to fear regularly or live in that mindset, we might very well need to make an adjustment.  How does that happen? Speaking the truth of God’s Word to ourselves with regularity is key.  I don’t just mean reading the bible perfunctorily, but rather with the goal of preaching the truth to ourselves where we are constantly reminding ourselves of the truth (Romans 12:1-2; Colossians 3:1-4). We have to constantly and regularly put ON the “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). This is a very powerful and transforming action and can literally change the way we think and react over time. Prayer is key. And again, regularity and consistency is of the utmost importance. That’s why both Jesus and Paul tell us to pray “always” (Luke 18:1; I Thessalonians 5:17).  These things and others (Fellowship with believers, Scripture memory, Fasting, etc.) build faith and trust. It is so exciting to sense your faith growing over time! It doesn’t mean you never fear, but it does mean that you begin to respond to circumstances differently and in ways that give glory and honor to God and strengthen your own heart at the same time.  

Grace & Peace,

Jon Eric Woodward

Simple Questions

Simple things are not always what they appear.

A  shared piece of fruit; rebellion.

Bread and table wine; redemption.

A lamb becomes majestic.

Parables of the mundane instruct a child and marvel a theologian.

Complexity and simplicity from the Creator of galaxies and the Creator of gnats.

A Word written to touch an untouchable in New Delhi or confound the confident in the marbled halls of Cambridge.

____________________________________________________________________

We need simplicity right now.

Simple questions to bring us back to the source of Life. Invite us to encounter again.

____________________________________________________________________

Where are you? (Genesis 3:9)

Cool of the day.

He calls out.

Fellowship broken. 

Hiding but not hidden.

“Where are you?”

Our first father and mother face a new reality.

 “Something has changed.

            Where are you?

            For the first time, I was afraid and hid.”

Shame. Identity. Justification.

But God is working.

Redemption begins to unfold.

____________________________________________________________________

Thousands of years later, another question like the first.

Do you want to be healed? (John 5:6)

An invalid.

            A sheep’s gate.

                         A pool of water.

                                    38 years of motionless wandering.

The Great Physician.

             The Lamb.

                        The Living Water.

                                     A greater Moses, leading a new exodus.

“Do you want to be healed?”

“Sir, I have no one to carry me…”

Shame. Identity. Justification.

Point missed.

But the Son doesn’t stop working.

____________________________________________________________________

I wonder:

             Where does your mind wander these days?

                        What has your affections?

                                    What are the desires of your heart?

The I AM,

            not the I was,

                        not the I will be,

                                    is still asking,

                                                still calling.

                                                            still inviting.

Still afraid? Still hiding?

“Sir, This virus,

             this school situation,

                        the CDC,

                                    the election,

                                                my employer…

                                                            I have no one to carry me…”

The Son is working.

Where are you? Do you want to be healed?

Simple questions.

But they were never just questions.

They were, and are, invitations to encounter, to behold.

And they need to be asked, to be pondered, to be answered more today than ever.

____________________________________________________________________

A Letter to One Whose Name Is Bitter

Dear Mara,

May I ask about your name? Mara. Bitter. You weren’t born with it, I know. You don’t have to choose to live with it. And you certainly don’t want to die with it.

What rogue seed ground its way into the soil of your life? Do you remember?
Words that punched and tore the fragile membrane of your heart?
Betrayal that exploded from the inside out?
Loss that left your roots and nerves exposed and burning with every touch?

Mara, perhaps it was a million stoney seeds that cracked into you, or maybe it was one. giant. thing. Whatever the circumstance, let me lean toward you and say with my whole heart, I am so sorry. I’d like to join you in your memory of that point of impact. You can cry if you want to, or if all your tears have long dried up, we can just sit for a spell and I will loan you all my sorrow and compassion.

(sitting together a while)

Mara, I know that like your namesake from centuries ago, you have shrugged into this name, this ill fitting, hot, itchy cloak of a name and you’ve worn it for so long that it feels like yours. Your name, your identity: Bitter. You probably didn’t even realize that when the surface of your life fractured, a tiny seed fell into the crack and made it’s home there in the hurt, burrowed in the tangle of shrapnel left behind by the words, the wounds, the why.

And like seeds do, in time Bitterness sprouted, not a tender green root of life, but a sharp thorny root that dug in and began to grow. And grow. And grow until the thorny, twisted thing of it made itself at home in you, convincing you that loving that vile root was the best way to love yourself, defend yourself, heal yourself.

And so, you chose to feed the Bitter
washed its leaves with the water of your attention
curled up in its false warmth
nurtured it like it was a friend

while it went about its task of strangling you to death.

Oh Mara, turn to Jesus! See Him on His cross, bound by your Bitter vine, held to the splintered wood, the poison of it seeping into His own body, strangling HIM, killing HIM. See His chest heave as He paid the price for your Bitter Root, hear His cry as he pulled it into death with Him —
It. Is. Finished.

Mara. It is finished.
He has so much more for you than this.

You are not your own, and you certainly are not owned by this invader, this imposter, this Bitterness. Mara, You were bought with a price by the One who named you from before time began. Your name, your true name, is inscribed on the palm of the hand of the Maker of heaven and earth. He did not rescue you from the domain of darkness to hand you back to it, Mara. He did not open His hand and let you run off its edge to hang and swing and cling to the vine of Bitter. Let’s say it together:
Enough, Vile Root.
Enough, Preserver of Self.
Enough, Thief.
The Lord hears. He forgives. He redeems.
May Mara be no more. Her day is finished.

Before time began, your name was on his lips, a name that holds a mysterious myriad of meaning. Enclosed and sealed inside your name are words like:
Child.
Little one.
Redeemed.
Forgiven.
Cherished.
Beloved.

Hear Him call your name on the breeze, feel the zip of air rush by as His sword cuts the root from its place. Let the air rush in even as He pulls and pulls the vine from you.

Let Him rid you of this home invader. Throw off the cloak of oppression that the vine has woven across your heart. Bow as He takes his rightful place on the throne of your being. Breathe the clean air, stretch your arms high. Adore him. Worship him. Open your mouth and let Him remove Mara from you and fill you with a song of rejoicing.
Look ahead, friend. The day is coming when you will hear Him say your name with His very own lips. You will run your fingers over the palm of His hand where the proof still puckers his skin even today that declares now and forever: you are HIS and He is yours.

I can’t wait to see you in person, to sit at the table at the Great Feast and hear the music from the mouth of the Lord as He sings out our true names face to face.

Looking forward to forever,
Shannon

Isolation and Spiritual Warfare

Have you ever watched those National Geographic shows where a lion, cheetah or wolf, etc. are chasing a herd of quarry? What are they focused on? Is the herd, as a whole, in their view? Na. Nope. Nada. They are looking for that one animal that for whatever reason gets separated from the herd and becomes isolated and alone. They are pretty much done for when that happens. We’ve seen it in the animal world and it’s not pretty. Not always, but almost always a disaster awaits the one who gets separated from the flock or herd.

Scripture tells us clearly that we have a predator, an enemy, who seeks to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10). In an even more vivid description, Peter exhorts us to, Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (I Peter 5:8). In addition, Solomon, the wisest guy who ever lived, tells us in Proverbs 18:1 that He who separates himself seeks his own desire and he quarrels against all sound wisdom. So, what do we learn about isolation? What is the takeaway from these passages?

To intentionally separate from the herd is not a wise move. To move away from the body, the family is not wise. Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand some live alone because they don’t have a choice. I’m not referring to those kind of situations. I’m referring to more of a way of life. A choice to do life on my own without letting others in. A choice to live in isolation away from other believers is unbiblical and unwise. That can be dangerous. To continue the illustration from above, when someone gets into a situation where they are isolated and separated from fellowship and the encouragement of other believers, the potential for us to get into problems is even greater. When a young calf strays from the protection of the herd, it’s only a matter of time before the eyes of the predator are on that animal. It’s no different in the spiritual arena with us as believers. Acts 2:42-47 is such a beautiful description of Christian fellowship where life thrives. There is a unity and harmony because each individual focuses on the well being of others and not themselves only.

The bottom line, whether we realize it or not, is that we do indeed need each other! We need fellowship. We need to sing together. We need to worship together. We need to eat together and have communion together. We need to be in one another’s presence. We need to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15). We need to do that up close.

Now at this point you are saying, but, JE we are in this crazy COVID-19 time! Are you out of your mind? I understand that many must be intentionally self-isolated due to health concerns. Absolutely. I get it. But, there are ways to attempt to stay connected. There is a lady in our church with a life-threatening health concern and she absolutely can’t get out because of that. But even during this unpredictable and challenging time she has fought to stay connected. She has fought for fellowship. How? She’s on the phone almost every day, reaching out to other women ministering to them asking how she can pray for and encourage them. She keeps zooming with various small groups, even though “zoom fatigue” sets in and she gets tired of that format. She and her husband pray together. She reaches out to her children and grandchildren, sometimes through email, the phone, Facetime or text. She has stayed active even though her health is in jeopardy. She has pursued others like a bull dog, yes to minister to others, but also to receive the blessing of ministry from others. In the same way that John Piper says that we often have to fight for joy, sometimes and in some seasons, we have to fight for fellowship – nearness to others in unique and perhaps foreign ways to us. But, it’s worth it. There’s joy to be found. There’s encouragement to be found!

So, regardless of your circumstances or personality type, go for it. Pick up the phone. Reach out to another believer and check on them. Pray together over the phone. Facetime. Email. Text. Do something! But don’t allow yourself to sink into despair because of isolation. Don’t separate yourself and stay there, even if it’s not your choice. There is a battle raging on around us and we do have an enemy who wants to take us down and one of the primary ways he does his dirty work is to separate us from healthy, vibrant, challenging, life giving fellowship and community. I can’t live without it and neither can you.

So, yes, be wise and discerning in these days, but don’t let yourself be duped into thinking that living in isolation is okay. Don’t allow your mind, heart and thinking to be shaped by social media and what hits us in the face on the TV. Soak your heart and mind in the Word. Be sensitive to the wooing and leading of the Holy Spirit. And look to the Body, the Church, His Bride, His people, you and me, yes to one another to serve and minister to. There are ways and means available no matter what your situation! If you’d like to talk about it further, give me a call. I’d love to fellowship with you!