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Which Came First?

Thursday, September 03, 2015
Which Came First?

We’ve all been a part of it … the small group ambush: Someone begins to share about a difficult situation they’re facing, and as soon as they finish, three people start talking at once – “You know what you really need to do …,” “Why don’t you …,” and “What always works for me is …” This scenario is understandable because we care about each other and want to help relieve pain, fear, or tension. But it’s almost never the most helpful response.

Biblically speaking, love leads obedience; that is, we obey because we are loved, not in order to be loved. This is true for children with their parents and for all of us with our Heavenly Father. God doesn’t love us because we obey; he wants us to obey because he loves us. It’s not a chicken and egg situation that could work either way. So, in small groups we have the chance to live this out by offering sympathy before solutions, by being a place where someone gets friends before getting fixed, by praying for them before problem-solving with them. What does that look like?

It means that when someone shares a struggle, tells his story, or asks for prayer, we listen long and well before we talk. We ask questions to understand and empathize before we lecture. We pray for God’s wisdom and direction before we offer our own. This is part of what it means for us to be a safe place – a safe place even and especially for someone to struggle, to be honest, to be sinful.

It’s part of what it means for our relationships with each other to be the door through which we enter the other two key relationships (with God and with our neighbors). Our new groups just starting up will begin with sharing their stories with each other, and our existing groups will continue week by week to share more of their lives with each other. What response patterns will you set for your group to avoid the “small group ambush”? How will you show members that you welcome them even before they get through these emotions and if they never do? How will you demonstrate God’s love and grace that comes before our obedience?

There comes a point in time when knowing some things that have helped you can give a discouraged person hope. God in his grace never leaves us where we are and without hope – but He does first meet us where we are. Without that aspect of mutual understanding and experiencing of pain, heartache, or struggle, we often remain resistant to simple suggestions to fix things quickly, because they seem to devalue or belittle our situation.

There aren’t many places or relationships in our world where someone can share openly and honestly without being analyzed and evaluated. Our small groups can be those places because we have known a God who leads with love to us. Which will come first in your small group? Sympathy or solutions? Friends or fixing? Praying or problem-solving? Pick one of these silly mantras to keep running in your head as you listen to others share. Repeat it to your small group if you need to in order to help them learn to think this way and become a group that leads with love.


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Recommended Reading

You'll find most of my recommended books available in the Guest Center at Southwood.

  • You Can Change
    You Can Change
    Tim Chester

    How do we mortify sin? How do we address the sin in our lives that reignite like a trick birthday candle we thought we had already blown out of our lives? This is a careful and thoroughly theological book that is hopeful without avoiding honesty. It is practical without being legalistic. It gets to the root of the sinful areas of our lives without offering a prescriptive regimen to hide behind avoiding the grace that has the only true power to teach “us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” Titus 2:11-14

  • Relationships: A Mess Worth Making
    Relationships: A Mess Worth Making
    Timothy Lane & Paul Tripp

    Small groups would be easy if weren’t for the people in the group! This book will help equip you to see your own sin first and provide the courage and humility to address it in others.

  • The Heart of a Servant Leader

    This is a collection of letters written by Jack Miller to people experiencing real-life concerns and struggles. Through these gracious and honest letters you will learn how to humbly offer to others (and yourself!) hope, repentance, and courage that flows from the truth of the gospel of grace.  Though this isn’t a “how to” book full of nifty steps to Your Best Gospel Life Now. It’s a glimpse into the heart of a person who has found food at the Cross, and you watch (and learn) as he humbly points others to the feast.

  • Comforts From The Cross
    Comforts From The Cross
    Elyse M. Fitzpatrick

    This 31 day devotional will bring you to the foot of the cross to remember and celebrate the truth of the gospel of grace, and develop skills that will help “inform, free, gladden, and enliven your soul every day.” Becoming proficient in applying the Gospel of grace to our own hearts is a key skill that is well worth our effort to develop.

Recommended Listening

  • Christ PCA - Nashville
    Scott Sauls and CPC Staff

    Listen to sermons from Senior Pastor Scott Sauls and other CPC pastors at a sister church.

  • Lookout Mountain PCA
    Joe Novenson and LMPC Staff

    Check out sermons by Senior Pastor Joe Novenson and other LMPC pastors at a sister church.

  • Steve Brown Etc.
    Steve Brown

    Steve Brown’s unique blend of orthodoxy and controversy, humor and profundity, and a refusal to play religious games will give you permission you have needed to stop being so uptight. And even if it’s for 30 minutes, you just might experience radical freedom, infectious joy and maybe even a bit of surprising faithfulness.

Recommended Links

  • Tim Chester: reformed spirituality and missional church
    Tim Chester

    Tim has an incredible way of applying the Gospel of grace that is both practical and honest with a consistent skillful affinity to point us to Jesus. He is director of The Porterbrook Institute; a church planter with The Crowded House in Sheffield, UK; and the author of over a dozen books including Total Church and You Can Change.

  • Of First Importance
    Living Each Day in the Good of The Gospel

    Here you will find a growing collection of gospel-centered quotes to help reorient your thoughts toward the splendor and grandeur of the person and work of Jesus.