An expose on the culture in which we find ourselves.

Etna and I have enjoyed watching the summer series show Suits on AMC in its first seasons. The acting is excellent and the storylines are intriguing. This season the writers—and ultimately the AMC network—have pushed the boundaries yet again with foul language on the show using one particular phrase repeatedly that feels like a punch in my gut every time I hear it.

This morning we watched this week’s episode. Between the recap from last week and this week’s airing, I counted at least six uses of the Lord’s name used in vain (the "GD" phrase).

That’s the offensive phrase. Just about every other unsavory word doesn’t seem to bother me (right or wrong), but hearing "GD" pains me greatly. Why?

It’s offensive because of my respect and love for my compassionate Creator and his incredible and sacrificial love for mankind (you, me, and every other soul on this planet throughout time… even mass murders, rapists, and self-proclaimed haters of God).

It’s also offensive to God. Really offensive. In fact, it’s the third of the Ten Commandments (shared a couple of commandments before “Thall shall not kill” if that helps you see the seriousness of it, even though I don’t think God puts any of the commandments above the others). Using “GD” proclaims that God damns people (meaning he desires that certain people to go to hell and is purposely sending them there with prejudice and malice, two ungodly attributes he does not possess).

God has never “damned” anyone. He created man in His own image for heaven’s sake (pun intended), and even sent His Son Christ to die for us to make a relational connection to him while we were still sitting in a self-created and separating cesspool of sin.

Interestingly, I cannot recall an actor on broadcast TV (movies, yes, but not TV) using the N word or a slur for a homosexual and probably never will. And this exposes the root of the issue. Read the next three paragraphs slowly and ponder the much broader implication before you scroll down to the next post.

When a culture chooses to elevate its respect of man and thumb its nose at the Creator of man, God gives that culture what it wants… independence from Him. And then culture falls apart and nobody is happy with the results (if they're still around to be unhappy as history proves). A Man powered Godless culture has no foundation or stability on which to operate. It’s a house built on shifting sand.

Will I write AMC and request they avoid the use of this phrase in future episodes of Suits and other shows they air? You bet. Will I send a letter to the FCC asking why they were permitted to get away with this? Absolutely.

AMC writer's flagrant use of "GD" is the fruit. I’ll attempt to pick it off the tree with written letters. But it’s the root of that tree that motivated me to write this and share it with you in hopes you will stop and think about it for a moment. Some how, some way, our culture now thinks using a racial slur is worse than a God slur. They’re both wrong and offensive to God. Let’s work toward not denigrating one another OR our Creator.

[If you’re reading this and you agree, please stop and pray for mankind and yourself while you’re at it.]

Seven Signs We Are Worshipping the Family (by Jason Helopoulos, not me!)

Sometimes I read a pastor's blog and think, "Wow. I soooo agree! This belongs on my blog too."

Obviously, so did this pastor. He has a guest blogger who wrote a nice short to-the-point blog entry about family and how you know yours is not focused on Christ. Well, here's some indicators that fit not only your immediate earthly family, but your spiritual family (your cell group or small group)…

"What you draw them in with is what they'll be committed to" ... So true!

In Organic Church, Neil Cole writes, "What you draw them with is what they'll be committed to."

Wow. Truer words have never been written, even if the sentence structure isn't the best!

I see this truth play out over and over across the USA in small group ministries. Church leaders become fatigued with the fact that the consumer Christians in their congregations aren't interested in participating in Christ-centered groups (where the members are challenged to lay down their agendas for the cause of Christ). So, they retool their small group ministry and sell the sizzle of "Designer small groups" where the drawing topic can be anything from emergency preparedness to scrapbooking to dealing with cancer.

My dad pioneered the use of these kinds of groups for evangelism years ago, because "Type B" unbelievers (furthest away from trusting Christ on the Engel scale) aren't drawn to the message or the messenger, but to a secular interest. He called them Interest Groups or Share Groups.

However, there were a number of differences between Dad's Interest/Share Groups and what's going on in today's small group ministries:
  • Interest/Share Groups were subsets of a Christ-centered group and run parallel to the mother group. 3-4 mature believers in a group would form an interest group and report back each week as to how it was going and how to pray for the spiritual condition of each person in the interest group.
  • Interest/Share Groups were 8-12 weeks in length, which was the amount of time necessary for deepening friendships to form.
  • The goal of Interest/Share Groups was to relationally bridge the unbelievers to the members of the Christ-centered group... during the weeks of the interest group gathering, the unbelievers were invited to meals in the home of one of the leaders of the Interest/Share Group and members of the Christ-Centered group would also be at that meal.
  • After 8-12 weeks in an Interest/Share Group, the unbeliever would learn that Christians aren't what they initially thought they were like. A paradigm shift was the goal.
  • After the Interest/Share Group concluded, it often created an empty place in the weekly calendar and a relational void for the unbeliever. This was very good because they had made friends with the Interest/Share Group leaders and the members of the Christ-centered group, and would be far more open to visiting the Christ-centered group.
Now let's contrast this with Designer Small Groups:
  • The goal is to get church members to meet around a topic of interest off church property between corporate gatherings. Big church meetings aren't relational, and this fills that sociological void.
  • Congregational members are far more likely to sign up to lead a Designer Group because they get to choose the focus of the meetings. They're motivated to market their idea and fill their group!
  • Church leadership usually require that prayer requests are taken and prayer or worship is present in the group to legitimize it a bit with a spiritual element.
  • The hope that God will move powerfully among the members as a result is certainly present, and I have no doubt that it does happen. But one could argue that it's not strategically intentional for the members of these groups. Most don't know it's anything more than a church sponsored Designer Small Group.
The church that my wife and I were a part of for nearly ten years abandoned Christ-centered groups a while back for Designer Groups. Due to a number of problems in the Christ-centered groups (no discipleship pathway, lax relationship-driven leadership development, and the groups were not the missional thrust of the church, etc.) they decided to give this a try to battle group member fatigue.

And the members of the groups were indeed fatigued. As a member, if you're not growing spiritually toward group leadership and beyond AND seeing personal transformation in yourself and others in the group and some success with evangelism and one-on-one disciple making, fatigue will set in fast!

After six months of designer group participation, I've not seen a lot of fruit from this diversion at the church. More people are in groups, but walking into a garage doesn't make you a mechanic, just a guy standing in a garage. Neil Cole was not wrong. It may not be easy, but drawing people into a small group whose sole focus is Christ makes for a powerful group experience when the members of the group shed their agendas and Christ's presence, power, and purposes are experienced.

So tell me, dear blog readers... what has been your experience with Designer Groups long term? Have the members of the church seen lots of spiritual fruit from it? Has it transformed the minds and hearts of those who have participated?

Victim or Victor?

Each day, everyone chooses to be a victim or victor in one or more areas of life.

A victim…
- Is passive, feeling as if they’ve already failed.
- Is highly resistant concerning personal change.
- Views challenges as unsurpassable brick walls.
- Does not typically set personal goals that are vigorously pursued.
- Works overtime in making excuses for the current situation in which they find themselves.
- Often feels entitled to special treatment and scoffs at victors who are rewarded “unfairly” or seem to get everything they want easily.
- Battles loneliness.

A victor…
- Is active, and chooses to view failures as stepping stones to success.
- Ignores fears surrounding personal change, choosing to adopt change instead of avoid it.
- Views challenges as speed bumps to move over or move past.
- Maintains personal growth goals with milestones for success.
- Works overtime to achieve goals and remain victorious in weak areas of life.
- Enjoys the hard-earned rewards of a victor.
- Attracts new friends easily...because they're not a victim.

Lots of small groups play the victim it seems. They don't make goals. They don't like change. They're passive.

So is your group more a victim or more of a victor?



Do you drive by multiple small groups to get to your small group meeting?

A few weeks back I had the pleasure of breaking bread with a discipleship/small groups pastor in a suburb of Northwest Houston whose personal vision was kingdom-driven. He had just completed a survey of other area churches and mapped all their small group meeting locations, overlaying them on his own church's group locations.

From what he gathered, five different churches in the area had small group members who were driving by 1 to 3 other small groups to get to their own group. His conclusion? "This is crazy! We're all part of the family of God. Why should we drive past CLOSER small groups in our own neighborhoods just to get to the one that belongs to our church family?"

I quickly asked a couple of question that I was sure he'd asked himself: 1) Are the other area churches similar in theology? 2) How does your lead pastor feel about the idea of his members going to a small group belonging to another church?

This staff pastor said that it was his lead pastor's idea and that he didn't mind if his members went to other small groups if a network could be established and all the pastors and the members agreed to participate.

When I discuss this concept with other pastors, they are quick to point out that they might lose members (read leadership and tithes into that concern) to other churches if they did this. Of course, they might gain new tithing lay leaders too, but they weren't as confident in this happening as they were concerned that the loss would happen!

This is some serious out-of-the-box kingdom thinking here. It's certain to kill off a castle protection mentality if it takes hold.

So what say you? Do you think a handful of independent churches in a geographical area could overcome their fears and do this?