love is never transactional

The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love. This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him. – 1 John 4:8-9

Tell them to do good, to be rich in the good things they do, to be generous, and to share with others. When they do these things, they will save a treasure for themselves that is a good foundation for the future. That way they can take hold of what is truly life. – 1 Tim 6:18-19

– Derek Maul

The key to leading a small group is asking good questions. And the key to asking good questions is listening.

Of course facilitating is a little more than just that. First, it is important to be well-prepared and well-read in terms of the subject matter. Plus there has to be a sense of an outline, a general direction for the conversation. Then, of course, it is impossible without prayer.

But a lot can – and will – happen between the beginning and the wrap-up, and that is where listening is so critically important. Because everything is subject to change.

Here’s what is interesting, though. Even though I seldom use the majority of questions I have prepared, the fact that I have well thought out questions “ready to go” makes it that much easier to substitute the right ones.

Small groups are a lot like good vacation road trips. You have an idea of where you want to go, but then everything you respond to along the way turns out to be so much more interesting. The side-trips, the serendipities, the detours because you got lost for a couple of hours.

This goes to a principle I often reference. It is impossible to improvise with any creativity and effect unless you have first put in the work, and have the knowledge, the practice, the skill-set, the resources from which to improvise.

I may have shared this before but it is worth repeating. Rebekah was asked to teach at a national conference. Her presentations were so popular she was invited back the next year (and several more). But the organizers were nervous because so much of what she does – even though rooted in preparation – is improvisation. So they took her aside the day before the first session. “We have PowerPoint slides to go with your talks,” they said. “But we know you like to go off on a tangent sometimes…. So we have included this blank slide…” And – I kid you not – in the notes it read: “Rebekah Maul – Slide #24: be spontaneous here (approximately two minutes…).”

I love that!

Good Conversation:

So our conversation Wednesday evening turned around the moment Pilate offered the possibility of a pardon to the crowd. Should he release the criminal insurrectionist (Barabbas) or the Prince of Peace (Jesus)?

The author talked about Christ’s death in terms of “substitutionary atonement,” and my group discussed some of the theological issues surrounding that concept (I – for example – have a hard time with the notion that God’s hands are tied regarding the consequences of sin, as if God is somehow constrained by a legal principle).

So we were talking. And I found myself thinking that “salvation” is not a technical, transactional, issue so much as it is an invitation into Real Life. That is when this question surfaced in my mind/spirit. “So what has Christ’s death and resurrection done – personally – for you?” I asked. Then our discussion morphed into a powerful response of heartfelt faith.

It’s a good question. Has the fact that Jesus died – willingly and in response to his great care and love for me – made any difference in my life? If so, how can I describe what Jesus has done – is doing – for me?

You see, the Gospel is not so much transactional as it is relational. God’s love in Jesus is not a formula but an invitation. Salvation is not something that is done to us, it is something we participate in.

  • The Gospel is not so much transactional as it is relational.
  • God’s love in Jesus is not a formula but an invitation.
  • Salvation is not something that is done to us, it is something we participate in.

Jesus invites us to join in with God’s ongoing initiatives of love, light, mercy, grace, hope, and promise. This is what got Jesus crucified, and Christ has literally opened the door for us (that would be me, and you too) to live abundantly.

All of this became beautifully evident in the testimony of the men sharing in our small group discussion. It wasn’t exactly where I thought the conversation was going… but it was exactly where we needed to be.

This is what happens – always – when we invite God to be a part of our conversation. – DEREK


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