Showing items filed under “Christian Living”

#MyStory :: Vicki Delair on Why I Lead a Small Group

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I guess I first should say that before I was ever a part of a small group I used to think that these groups were for “weird” or “religious” people. Even being an outgoing person by nature, I didn’t think it would be something I was comfortable participating in because I had a fear of not fitting in. Then Sean (my husband) and I joined one because of a specific financial study they were doing. It is something that to this day I look back on and I am so grateful we decided to try it. It grew our faith and relationships in so many ways, and it was the furthest thing from being weird!

So, when the idea came up about starting or leading one myself, I thought, “Ugh, now people are going to think that I am weird too!” But, I also knew that if I was willing to be okay with that and put myself out there, God would use it to bless me and other people through authentic relationships. Of course, I also thought a lot of other negative thoughts as well, like most of us tend to do when the enemy wants his way. Things like;

  • “Am I qualified?”
  • “Who am I to want to start or lead a group?”
  • “Who in their right mind would want to hear what I have to say?”
  • Or, “Who in the world would want to hang out with me?”

Those were a lot of things I had to work through by remembering that it wasn’t about me, it was about Jesus, and that if he had a hand in it, people would get what they needed from it. So, I did it!

When I first felt a small tug from God to lead a group, I think I did want to do it, but I was hesitant because of fear. I’m sure I am like a lot of people when it comes to opening myself up to others because most people just don’t like being vulnerable. I had a fear of being unqualified, a fear of failing, a fear of not knowing enough Bible verses, a fear of not knowing how to lead a group, or what I was supposed to do. But, what I have learned is that you can’t let things like fear and hesitation stop you from doing what God has called you to do. That’s called disobedience, and that’s not something I wanted to be to God after what he asked Jesus to do for me. After all, it repeatedly says in the Bible that we are supposed to be in community, that we are supposed to be relational, and that we should look after the interests of others. So, who am I to tell God “no” when I see verses like Galatians 5:13, “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.” Or, in 1 Peter 4: 10-11, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen”

Of course, even once we decided to take the plunge, I would get all in my head with things like imagining opening my home and having no one show up. I also would play out scenarios about what I would do if this or that happened and even found myself worrying about seating, or if they’d be hungry or bored. So, as a result, I over planned, over bought, over prepared, and prayed a lot for God to help me figure it out. I also had this ridiculous fear of praying out loud, and I had to work through that as well, realizing it was the enemy, once again, trying to psych me out, getting me to play his games, and stop me from doing what I knew God was telling me to do.

But you know what? I was amazed that after the very first small group meeting, everything came easier! It was like I just had to get that initial hurdle over with and from there I was good to go.

Don’t get me wrong, I would still get nervous or worry about things too much (which I think is silly now), but I also got a taste of God’s joy and peace just from being obedient and connected to others for God’s glory, and that completely outweighed any of the other stuff.

In general, I think that we all hesitate at some point to put our “true” selves out there for fear of judgment or rejection. But, what I have found instead is that when I am at my most transparent, people are most willing to hear me. When I am the most vulnerable, people feel the most trusted by me. When I am willing to walk out my faith in real life ways and I am not content to stay the same, the more people want to be a part of that journey too. Even today, after years of leading small groups, there are studies that Sean and I do that are out of our comfort zone, or sometimes the size of the group gets big and I worry about all those “Martha”-type things (Luke 10:38-42) that make me think people are not going to enjoy themselves. But that’s when I remember that there is nothing “special” about me or Sean that make our group or our leadership something fantastic and wonderful, except for our relationship with Jesus Christ and our willingness to be his disciples. “It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God.” (2nd Corinthians 3:5). The key is the Holy Spirit, just like we see in the book of Acts, where he goes before us and apart from him, or without his blessing, nothing we do will bear fruit.

We also must remember that spiritual warfare is a real thing. The enemy wants us to stay on the surface with relationships and keep us superficial and putting up a front like we’ve got it all together, because when we aren’t truly connected with other believers he can keep us isolated and alone and it is in those isolated places that he can do his best work. He uses things like guilt, shame, or embarrassment to prevent us from making bold moves in our lives for Christ, and if we aren’t careful we tend to believe those things and avoid stepping out because we feel we have to “protect” ourselves from the ridicule we believe we are going to receive instead. The craziest part is that the complete opposite is true- because when you do put yourself out there for Jesus, you get to truly experience the joy, comfort, and peace that comes along with it, and it is something not worth giving up on.

Despite things getting better, there still have been (and continue to be) some hurdles to get past. Like most people in our area, the biggest challenge for me is time. I’m a wife, a mom of three active kids, I work two jobs, I serve and volunteer when I can, my husband owns his own business, and we have very big extended families that are all close as well. If we aren’t careful, and praying, and working together to keep it prioritized as something that is important in our lives, it would be easy to push it to the wayside or not give it much thought. Add to that, we live in such a busy time, and such a busy area of the country, that it is difficult to find the time, energy, and sometimes even desire to keep it on the schedule. But the funny thing is that we have taken breaks in the past and I can honestly say that during those times life feels a little bit harder, and we really miss the connection with other people.

But despite all the difficulties we’ve had, nothing can compare to the eternal friendships, life change, and growth we’ve experienced. Not to mention, what a tremendous impact it has had on us personally with our own faith and family! To see friendships and bonds form, to see marriages restored, and families transformed is an amazing thing to witness. We have had people become believers by coming to our group and have watched so many people grow and mature in their faith. We have had the privilege of walking beside people who were down in the deepest valleys of life in a variety of different ways, and I can’t even put in to words what it feels like to see them persevere and stand firm and come out on the other side. And, to be able to witness to one another about all we are seeing happen in each other’s lives and how the blessings of God are visible in one way or another, it’s just an amazing experience. Just think… when we are really doing life together then we’ll have the opportunity to make friends right now in this broken place; friends that we’re going to also know in heaven where everything is perfect. Isn’t that cool?

Vicki wanted to offer two things to those people out there who might be considering becoming a small group leader. Here’s her advice:

First, pray! John 15:4-5 says “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” Ask God to show you what you are supposed to be doing, and once you know what that it is, you need to act. Don’t ignore what he is telling you to do because you will miss the blessing in it.

Next, don’t do it alone, after all, life is better connected! Ask for guidance from people who have started them in the past or from the connect group leader. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel and other leaders can be a good resource for helping you narrow down your vision or purpose for your group.

Also, I can’t stress enough for you to be obedient in putting your armor on daily like it tells us in Ephesians 6: 10-18, because I can guarantee you that as soon as you step out and act boldly for Jesus, the enemy will attempt to push you back down.

Finally, C.S. Lewis once said, “Remember that He is the artist and you are only the picture. You can’t see it. So quietly submit to be painted –i.e., keep fulfilling all the obvious duties of your station (you really know quite well enough what they are!), asking forgiveness for each failure and then leaving it alone. You are in the right way. Walk—don’t keep looking at it.” (C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 3).

If you are letting God direct your path, there’s nothing to worry about. Be courageous and step out in faith! God has a plan and you are part of it, and what is he going to say if you refuse to do your part? If you really do believe you are going to meet God face to face one day, do you want him to ask you why you wouldn’t serve him? Or, do you want him to say “well done”?

 


If you want to get involved in a group, or lead a connect group, contact Amber Adams on our Connect Page.

 

Bring on the Blankets

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As she walked around the corner at the train station, a man who appeared to be homeless, made eye contact and began moving toward her. He seemed to be inebriated. As he mumbled to her she heard, “I wan’t to be delivered from my addition today.” Walking to him, she placed her hand on his shoulder and felt God move.

 

Jill Poldervaart was at Union Station in the heart of Washington DC. She was handing out blankets to the needy and offering prayer to anyone who would accept it as part of her Blanket the City ministry. Over the years she had meet and spoken to many people living on the street. She knew immediately that this encounter was different than any she’d had in the past.

It begin in Colorado with a lunch-hour invitation. It seemed innocent enough. A co-worker invited her to join their group serving the needy and homeless that day simply by handing out food and offering prayer.  On one particularly cold and raining day the group was heading out at usual.  Jill considered not going due to the elements. The warmth of the office was inviting and comfortable. Despite the taunting in her mind, she choose to go. As they handed out food one of the recipients made it clear, it’s not just food that he needed, it was cold, he needed a blanket. He laid out where he’d be should someone such as Jill be willing to return later with a blanket. Circumstances as they were, a long drive home and a long drive back all while not knowing if the man would be traceable, made it impossible to  fulfill with the request.

That’s not where it ended as it was through this man, Filling the Void Ministry was launched. An annual event lead by Jill and her family to reach out to those who were cold and living in the streets. With a few volunteers to help procure and deliver, new blankets began being gifted on an annual basis to those in need living in the Colorado cold. Although the blanket is a tangible gift, some may recognize the gifts that are given of even greater worth - a conversation, an exchange of names, and a look into the eyes of the recipient with an offer of prayer.

The ministry in Colorado continued and impacted numerous people over the years. God then moved Jill and her family to Maryland. Not knowing the area, their first winter in their new home left Jill wondering if the ministry could continue not just in Colorado but could it come to this area as well? During the second winter, the Holy Spirit prompted Jill encouraging her to take a step into a new ministry in the area she now lived. This lead her and her family into Washington DC. January easily created a homeless population at Union Station of people needing blankets. People needing conversation, People needing prayer. Jill, along with volunteers from her connect group, boarded a train to their destination seeking out those in need.

It was on one of those trips that as she sought out people to gift with a blanket that she encountered the addict needing deliverance that day from his addiction. And that was the day, the power of God reach through Jill and into the man. Jill could feel the Holy Spirit move through her and into the addict. Jill’s husband who witnessed the event was certain he’d never seen anything like it.

A huge smile came across the addict’s face. He appeared to relax immediately and it seemed as though something had left him. They exchanged a few words and parted ways. Had God healed him? What became of the man? This we will never know, but God does know. There’s peace and confidence in believing that God has healed and that he has provided for the addict touched by the Holy Spirit through Jill.

Through this experience and many others Jill sees clear evidence of God's agape or unconditional love. God's love that is always giving and impossible to be taken away."God loves everyone and we should treat every person we meet in the same way,” explains Jill.

Blessed. Righteous. Selfless. These are just a few words that describe taking to the streets and gifting those in need. In Matthew 25:35-46, Jesus reminds us that when we take the time to feed, clothe, give drink, and visit the “least of these” we are doing these things to and for him, Jesus Christ. To those righteous followers, the Bible tell us in verse 46 that they will be rewarded with eternal life. Jill, her family, and the volunteers of Blanket the City are touching the lives of the needy.

Not only is this act of service changing the lives of those being served, it is changing the lives of Jill, her family and each person who participates. They are witness of God’s great love while being his hands and feet. As Jill explains it, "Those in need are more than the people who appear homeless…we are all in need, we are all broken."

 

Want to get involved? People can support the ministry by donating small, new, inexpensive blankets easily carried. Jill will also tell you, "If any other group would like me to take them out to do a Blanket the City they can rally their folks together and I will be happy to show them the way!"

For more information, reach out to our offices at The Church at Severn Run @ 410-551-6654 or  find ways to serve on our website at http://severnrun.com/serve/.

 

JW

Your Story : Your Witness


But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

(1 Peter 3:15 ESV) 


Most of us claiming the resurrection of Christ act like we don’t have a story to tell. We might think we can’t be a witness for Jesus because our story isn’t “good enough.”

That is simply not true.

A witness is an "attestation of fact, event, etc., from personal knowledge;” (source) Witnessing has nothing to do with our goodness, or our imperfections. Each of us can speak with authority based on our personal knowledge of the situation.

Personal knowledge is an important element of a Christian witness. And personal knowledge is something God promises us as we pursue a relationship with him.

And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20)

What is your personal knowledge of Jesus? What is your personal knowledge of the hope that Jesus’ resurrection gives to you? This is your story. This is what you can share.

As a Jesus follower you have personal knowledge of what Jesus has done in your life. You have personal knowledge of how Jesus changes your heart. You have personal knowledge about why you trust him. You have a story about giving up your life and following after him.

Your story doesn’t have to be dramatic. It certainly won’t be like anyone else’s story because you’re unique. But you do have a story...a story about the day you invited Jesus into your heart...a story about how he reveals himself to you. This is what we must share.

Have you prayed prayers and seen answers? This is your witness. 

Have you seen miracles - even small ones? This is your testimony.

Have you seen Jesus revealed in and around you? This is your story.

Your witness, your testimony of fact from personal knowledge and relationship with Jesus, is your story about how Jesus is real to you. 

No one can refute it.

As a disciple you must share it.


And God will use it to bring glory to himself.

 


If you would like to receive a weekly devotional like this in your inbox each Thursday, sign up for the Weekly Life Lifters here!

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#MyStory : Convicted and Blessed to Tithe

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All my life I’ve been told what to do.

I grew up as a PK (Pastor’s Kid), so I’ve known what tithing is and why we do it for as long as I can remember.

The problem is, the humanity in me has told me that I had a million logical reasons not to. I’m also not afraid to admit that for a good portion of my life, I just plain didn’t care. This took me down a dark path my first five to six years in the military, and not tithing is the least of the transgressions I’d rather soon forget. But, my life changed a few years back and I finally found that what I knew my whole life was not only realer than I could imagine, but that it finally mattered to me. However, even though my heart was in a better place, tithing still wasn’t on my ‘to do’ list. I think that I started tithing more, but it was intermittent at best, and depended on what I had left instead of giving up front.

Fast forward two years and here we are showing up in Maryland. We had had an awesome church back in California. I knew that it would be tough to replace, but we began looking for a church immediately. The very first church we tried was Severn Run. I instantly knew that I was home, and my wife felt the same way.

As time has gone by these past two years since we started attending services here, we’ve plugged in to various outlets and groups of the church. I went to Fight Club for a little while, and my wife has been a big part of the Mom’s connect group. I joined the writing team (and of course, I’m still here), and my wife helps watch the kids every other Sunday. Despite that, it wasn’t until the “On the Road” campaign that started last year that we actually started tithing a set amount on a consistent basis. At that point, I committed to give more than I ever had before in my life, but the thing is it still wasn’t 10%; it still wasn’t as much as I could have been giving.

I like to think that I’ve always been generous with my money, but the funny thing is I was never generous to God; the one place where my money was fully deserved and where it’s use would go beyond a full belly or short-lived smile. Not that those things don’t matter, but I know that God can do a thousand times more of those things than I ever could, if only I would give to him.

Recently Pastor Drew had talked about “The Given Life” and his series of messages spoke to my heart. I knew what I needed to do, but week after week I struggled to do it. I looked at how much 10% would be, and it felt like a LOT to me. I thought that it was doable, but that perhaps some things might have to give if I was going to make it work. I put it off for a few weeks, but finally I broke down and knew that I couldn’t wait any longer. I knew what I needed to do.

So…I did it.

We use online giving, which is great because I’m super forgetful and don’t ever carry around much cash. There’s no way I could be consistent if that feature wasn’t available. So, I went in there and updated my giving to ensure that I was in fact giving away 10% of my paychecks on a bi-weekly basis. I didn’t quite know how it was going to look those first two weeks that it started to come out, but I trusted God to take care of us.

I also felt compelled to share what I had done, so before writing this blog post I shared what I had done on Facebook, and added a little challenge to the friends I had who went to Severn Run. I felt like I should do this because of Pastor Drew’s words on how our church’s average was well below the national average. I don’t know how much all our friends give, but that’s not the point. I did not want it to seem like I was boasting, but I felt that people needed to see that step of faith and feel challenged to do the same. And if what I did might do that, even for one person, then it was worth it.

So, April 1st came and the first installment of my tithe came out. I was sitting on the computer downstairs playing videogames, because that’s what I sometimes do on a lazy Saturday morning, when my wife comes down and brings me a letter she just got in the mail. Inside the letter was a rather large check that neither of us were expecting, along with a letter. The check was from a stocks fund set up by my wife’s grandparents that was supposed to be distributed evenly to all the grandkids. Instantly I was blown away. I didn’t even think for a second that this was by accident. I knew that only God could do timing like that. For so long I had avoided doing what I should, and when I finally did it and put my trust in God, he was already ready to take care of us.

I don’t think that it always happens this way, or in this kind if perfect timing, but I do know that God rewards faith. I don’t know that everyone will see as ‘tangible’ a result of their faith as I did, but I do know that in God’s perfect timing and ways, he is always looking out for us. Because only God could set in motion events years before the day that I would finally say that I had the faith to step out of my circle of safety and into the waves of uncertainty. I don’t fully know what lies ahead, but I know that if I keep my eyes on him, I will never have to fear sinking below the surface.

My only hope is that through my giving, others may come to know the peace that has transformed my life and has given me the strength to do what’s unnatural to my humanity. I know that it will make all the difference.

I'm a New Believer - Now What?!

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So you are a new believer! Welcome to the family! You're excited to begin your walk and wondering… What's next? 

You may also be asking things like…

  • How do I become a part of the church?
  • How do I grow in my prayer life?
  • Should I get baptized?

Here's a good place to begin answering some of those questions.

 Grow In Your Personal Relationship with God

Just as we would develop our relationship with a spouse by spending time with them and being in constant communication, we need to develop a relationship with God by spending time with him and being in constant contact.

We communicate with God through prayer throughout each day as we seek guidance and assistance. It is also important to make “quiet time” a priority. A “quiet time” is a time we set aside each day to focus on discussing with God our triumphs, our failures, and our struggles. Many people also read personal Bible studies or devotionals during their quiet time. There are many great resources for these studies online.

You don’t even have to follow a plan to grow your relationship with God. You can simply read a few chapters in your Bible (the books of John or Matthew are a good place to start), and after you read, pray and ask God what he wants you to know from what you read. This kind of daily communication with God will help you grow in your faith and learn how to communicate with and listen to God.

Baptism

Baptism is an important symbol of our decision to declare Jesus as Lord of our lives. There is nothing magical about the personal experience, but baptism brings attention to what God is doing in our lives and that is what makes it such a critical step in a new believer's walk. We have a huge celebration when a new believer rises out of the water, and there is an even bigger celebration in heaven.

Join the Severn Run community

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17)

Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them. (Matthew 18:19-20)

Throughout the bible, we are encouraged to connect with other believers. An easy way to begin connecting is to join the church. This simply requires attending a Membership Matters class one Sunday afternoon, where we discuss the passions of the Church at Severn Run and hear about all of the places where we can play our parts within the church.

A common saying at Severn Run is that “life is better connected”. This sums up the idea behind Connect Groups, where a group of believers share real-life together. There are Connect Groups covering all stages of life, often with multiple times to fit different schedules. Connect Groups give us the opportunity to grow into real and honest relationship with others. This happens through shared life experiences, friendship and encouragement during our walk with Christ.

Serve

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1)

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. (Hebrews 6:10)

The final passion of our church is to serve others. There is a limitless number of ways to serve, but what is important is that we find our gift. We find our gift(s) by prayerfully looking for different opportunities to serve and being willing to say “yes” to God when those opportunities arise. This may require us to step outside our comfort zone, but when we have faith, that is when God can really take over in our lives and do wonderful things.

Finally, finding a friend to help you walk through your new faith journey will help you tremendously. The Church at Severn Run is eager to walk beside you as you learn about God’s love for you. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions or need any help. You can call the office at 410-551-6654. You can email us at

Posted by Zach Baum with

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