Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: small groups (page 1 of 2)

Book Review: Moses

Moses: In the Footsteps of the Reluctant Prophet, Adam Hamilton, Abingdon Press, 2017.

In Moses, Adam Hamilton retraces the footsteps of Moses, whom Hamilton argues is the “single most influential person in the Hebrew Bible.” While he blends historical facts and reflections on visiting sites, Hamilton steadies the course that there is much to learn from this reluctant prophet.

Moses is equal parts history, theology, and commentary. Taking a serious look at Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, the reader is invited to consider what he or she can learn from the Moses narrative. I am careful here because it is not just Moses’ life that offers implications for our own. It is the also the people around him.

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4 Books to Read this Lent

Lent is right around the corner. In a few short days, we will gather for Ash Wednesday in churches, on sidewalks, and in coffee shops to confess that we have not been as faithful as we could be, and to begin this journey we call Lent toward the empty tomb of Easter.

Here are four books I’ve read recently that would be great resources for small groups, sermon series, or individual devotional time.

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YouTubevotional: Election Day

ballot-box-bunny-bigger-stickThis is the first of what I hope will be a weekly occurrence. YouTubevotionals are for personal devotional time, or for use in a small group, youth group, or a Sunday school class. -JCS

Introduction

It has been a long – long –  election season. It will soon be over, as citizens head to the polls on Tuesday to cast their votes. The 1951 Looney Tunes cartoon Ballot Box Bunny is eerily similar to this election season. The cartoon may help us explore the impact of the election season and think about leadership.

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Pete’s Dragon: Discussion Questions

Petes-Dragon-Movie-PosterPete’s Dragon is the newest family film from Disney. It is a brilliant film filled with adventure, laughs, and plenty of tear-jerkers. It is a great film to take a youth group, or other group, to. You can read my ponderings on the film here.

Below are some discussion questions you can use with your group. I’m sharing them here for those who are looking for such a resource. As a Christian educator, I should tell you, if you use these questions, don’t feel like you have to use them all. If anything, let the questions be a guide to having a conversation around the themes presented in the film.

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Book Review: For the Love

blog_642262_2683366_1437256531In her book, “For the Love,” Christian writer, blogger, and DIYer, Jen Hatmaker provides a collection of essays ranging from helicopter parenting to the future of Christianity. The idea for her book comes from a phrase she acknowledges she says a lot: “For the love.” It’s like saying, “Good grief,” or “WTF?” in different situations. Each essay (chapter) covers something that she has encountered that has caused her to utter the words, “For the love.”

The target audience for this book is the large number of women readers that have been congregating around Hatmaker for the last several years thanks to successes like her book “7.” Having said that, I enjoyed reading this book (there were some sections I skipped over). Haymaker comes from an evangelical background, which she explains at different points, highlighting the good things that came from that and the more challenging things. At  her current place in life, a 40-something writer, mom, and pastor’s wife, she recognizes that church no longer needs to be the way it was.

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Book Review: Just Say Yes

“We’ve never done it that way before.” “You need to go through the proper channels for that.” “We have a process and you need to respect the process.” “That’s an interesting idea. It might not work because . . . .” 

Have you heard those phrases before at church? I know I have. I may have even said a few of them. These are just a few ways that churches say “no.” This approach of doing church – this culture of No – is stalling the church from vital growth, according to Bishop Robert Schnase.

Just Say Yes!Robert Schnase serves as Bishop of the Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church. Much of his writing has focused on ordained ministry. But it was Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations that made Bishop Schanse a “church-hold” name. His newest book, Just Say Yes! Unleashing People for Ministry, continues in the spirit of Five Practices in changing the attitudes and culture of churches.

Have you heard the joke about how many Methodists does it take to change a light bulb? The answer is, “They have to form a committee first.” In some churches, committees are where creative ideas for ministry go to die. As churches move from being inner focused to being outer focused, the traditional role of committees is no longer conducive to fulfill the mission of the church. New people to church, especially young people, who come with creative ideas for new ministry initiatives tend to finally give up after the rounds of committee meetings to get one idea approved. By the time the initiative is approved, the need has already been addressed.

For those whose passion for the church has waned due to being told  “No,” more than once. Or for those leaders who recognize that “NO” is leading the church more than “YES,” Schanse’s book is for you. He points out key concepts that can change the culture of a church. And no, changing the worship service times is not one of them.

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Book Review: I Will

cover64157-mediumChurch researcher and consultant Thom Rainer addresses a growing problem in many churches, mainline and non-denomotional alike. Church member burnout and declining membership.

Rainer begins his little book, I Will, with a short narrative about a divorced, single-mother of three, Heather. Heather joined a church to make a difference, yet she found herself in an unexpected place in her church. It was a place that left her feeling spiritually sick and after four years, she left the church.

It is reported that active church members, like Heather was, are those who attend church events or services at least three times a month. This stands in stark contrast to what was considered to be the norm: three times a week. A lot goes into this change, but for Rainer, it is not enough. He calls for a “church membership revolution.”

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Re-Light Your Candle

Ten candles had been lit to remember the saints who had claimed the promise of the resurrection this past year. The candles were flickering throughout the service. The wax dripped along the edges of the candlelabra. 

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Follow That Star

Follow That Star - Wise MenMatthew’s Gospel rounds out the birth narrative of Jesus with the visit of the magi (Matthew 2:1-12). The magi, most often depicted and sung about as the Three Wise Men, travel from afar following the brilliant star in the sky. These studiers of stars knew there was something special about the star and what – or who – it pointed to.

We think of them as three Wise Men, because of the three gifts they bring. These gifts tell us a little bit about who Jesus is. Gold for a King, frankincense for a Priest, and myrrh used for preparing a body for burial. Gold because Jesus is King. Frankincense because Jesus is the High Priest. But myrrh? Imagine the look on Mary and Joseph’s faces when these travelers from the east laid out myrrh. A symbol of death. Jesus will die, so that we may live.

As far as the 12 verses in Matthew tell us, we do not know how much the magi knew about Jesus. Was it faith or was it curiosity that started them on this journey? Many a preacher, theologian, and blogger has told us that the magi had great faith to trek across the desert in search of the King. But I would like to think that some curiosity was involved too.

Curiosity includes being an explorer, an investigator, and a willingness to learn. Curiosity begins with questions. What if . . . .The more we invest in our faith, the more questions we will have. The more we will wonder about Truth.

These are not questions that should be set aside on the shelf as we continue to have faith in the mystery. It’s okay to be curious about the mystery. It’s okay to explore faith. It’s okay to investigate faith. It’s super okay to be willing to learn more.

Remember the saying, “Curiosity killed the cat?” The statement implies that if we are too curious we will die. I remember as a kid watching our cat Midnight on summer days explore parts of the yard and the woods. Cats are naturally curious. But curiosity did not kill Midnight. She exceeded her nine lives and lived a good, healthy life.

We can too. We can have a healthy faith life while having some curiosity. But there are those in the church who will caution us that if we get too curious we will die. Why? Maybe out of fear that our explorations will reveal the ugly truths. Maybe they are concerned that we will explore ourselves out of the church. And these are valid and wonderful concerns.

Christian Piatt notes that for some “it feels rootless.” It is just too radical to go outside the lines. But some of the greatest radicals have changed the face of Christianity. St. Francis of Assisi. Catherine of Sienna. Martin Luther. John Wesley. Mother Teresa.

They were curious about faith and did so without being uprooted.

We preach and teach to follow Jesus. But do we have enough curiosity to follow that Light? Do we always welcome the questions? Do our churches, small groups, or youth groups, create spaces to be curious?

Wesley Covenant Prayer

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

as used in the Book of Offices of the British Methodist Church, 1936

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