A Conversation with the Group Talk Podcast

Click here to listen to Part 1 of my conversation on the Group Talk Podcast.

Click here to listen to Part 1 of my conversation on the Group Talk Podcast.

I was recently interviewed by Carolyn Taketa (@taketacarolyn) for the podcast she hosts, Group Talk. 

Group Talk is a podcast that is all about leading small group ministry. 

I had a wonderful time talking to Carolyn and we did a part 1 and a part 2 of this conversation. For part 1 this is what Carolyn asked: 

What is the difference between small groups and support groups?

How do we care for the people in our small groups in ways that are healthy without becoming therapists for them?

How do we keep small groups on track for their intended purpose? 

 

I was eager to share and have a thoughtful conversation with Carolyn. I lead a hybrid team that handles pastoral care and discipleship in our church. It has educated me in far more than any book could on the subject. 

Take a moment to listen to the podcast and even subscribe to it. They have some fantastic guests on. I guess they took a break from the whole "fantastic guest" theme this time around, though! 

 

Can a Few Words Change You Forever?

All of us have read something that has changed the entire trajectory of our lives. 

It's a bold statement, but I stand by it. Even if you don't classify yourself as a "reader," everyone in the modern age has been shaped by what they have read at some point. 

We all have favorite books, but if we really drill down we can identify specific words and moments that changed us irreversibly. John Piper said once, "Books don’t change people, paragraphs do — sometimes sentences". The simple act of reading what someone else has written can change you forever.

I find this completely amazing. 

A human can look at a handful of ink and paper and think/feel what the author was thinking and feeling when they wrote it? We take it for granted, but it is a magnificent way we are able to interact with and influence one another. 

I thought I would kick things off with a few sentences and paragraphs that have completely changed me: 

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

Viktor Frankl wrote those words in a Nazi concentration camp. These thoughts and more are contained in his amazing, bestselling book, Man's Search for Meaning. In it, Frankl asserts that the men and women who survived the camps were not necessarily the youngest, fittest people. They were the people who had meaning. They had something of utmost significance attached to their survival. 

Everyone should read this book every year of their lives. 

Not only does it put your life and my life in perspective. But Frankl developed a holistic view of the human condition by witnessing the very worst of it. 

It begs the question: What is my meaning? Everyone lives for something. Frankl inspires me to search for my own intentionally and intelligently.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

Poems count, right? Welcome to probably the most mis-attributed poem in the universe. Marianne Williamson wrote this poem, Our Greatest Fear. It is so often attributed to others because everyone quotes it. Because it speaks truth that few of us are able to put into words on our own. 

The theme of this poem is that you and I are gifts to the world, and the greatest threat to our gifts being realized is our own stubborn fear. Read the rest of the poem, print it out, and pin it to your cube wall. I think that's pretty standard operating procedure with this piece. 

I have printed, memorized, and reflected on this poem. It never stops being meaningful. 

Everyone has something to offer this world - not in what they can do for me, but in who they are. Idealistic, I know. Still, I believe this to be true at a core level. I hope it inspires you, too.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

The Bible's a book so I'm counting this, too. Romans 12:2 is another quote that has been printed out and pinned to my wall more times than I can remember. 

I can tell you where I was sitting when I read this verse and realized for the first time that faith and reason can and should coexist. They thrive with one another. 

I grew up being taught autopilot religion and it didn't appeal to me one bit. I was more than ready to throw in the towel. 

If you actually read the Bible, though, Christians and autopilot don't work so well together. We are called to constantly renew our mind. Christians are called to faith in a living God that has us take risks, serve others, and be light in this world. Paul helped me realize this. 

[Your sentence here]

What's a sentence, paragraph, or book that has blown your mind or changed your life? What words caused you to change course? What poem inspired you to be the very best you could be? 

Comment below and join the conversation.

Psalm 14 - Bedtime bedlam

I knew going into these Psalms that more than half the book is filled with laments. And I've read through the Psalms in order before. They never seemed this bleak. What gives? 

I think one of my major learns in experiencing these prayers, songs, and pleas is that my life is pretty decent. 

I consider the metrics of my own lament: I complain, I fret, I avoid, I'm defensive. I speak and act insecure. I pace while talking to myself. I'm sure after this reading that David must have done the same. I realize David (and others) knew real suffering in a way I don't come close to. 

This has not made me feel guilty. It has made me feel hopeful

Is there anyone around to save Israel?
    Yes. God is around; God turns life around.
Psalm 14:7

Read the first 6 verses of Psalm 14. Harsh stuff! Painful stuff. Bleak-fest. And David has the guts to end with this: "Yes. God is around; God turns life around." 

 

Bedtime is always far more serene after kids are  actually  asleep . . . 

Bedtime is always far more serene after kids are actually asleep . . . 

Tonight we had a tough bedtime routine. Kicking and screaming were involved. Tears and tantrums were present. A mom and a dad doubted themselves. We have had a lot of those lately. And a lot of doubt, too. 

So here's the deal: If a rough bedtime can mess with two well-adjusted(ish) adults so much, it makes me realize just how tough the rest of actual problems are. Refugees, shootings, racial divides, political mayhem, economic crises, and the list goes on. In the midst of all this, it worries me that I can get knocked on my butt by a 3 year old. 

This is why even the dark, painful, broken Psalms fill me with hope. David feared for his life often. He had real and present enemies. He had problems that make my problems look like a cake walk. 

And he sang and prayed, "Yes. God is around; God turns life around."

Not, "Gee, God. I hope you're around. I hope you help soon. What gives?" He prayed as real and present as his problems were. God existed before his problems and God will exist long after those problems are a distant memory. God is around. 

The next time I'm in the process of getting my butt kicked by the aforementioned or feeling dread while reading the news I want to remember this viscerally. God is around. 

 

Father, may you turn life around in your way for your reasons. My prayer is just that we play a small role and serve you in it. To you be the glory. Amen. 


I am in the process of reading a Psalm a day in The Message translation by Eugene Peterson. It is written personally and in a way that helps me see these Scriptures anew. A friend shared with me a method he uses for reading the Psalms. 

1. Read the Psalm slowly in my head. Focus on understanding.

2. Read the Psalm audibly as a prayer to God. 

3. Pray the same prayer in my own words. Make the Psalm my prayer for my life right now. 

It has been a great exercise in speaking to God. I encourage you to try it!

Psalm 4 - Why Settle?

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I'm terrified of settling. 

Whether at work, at home, or even in my hobbies, I have a visceral reaction to anything that seems even remotely like settling. I've built my persona on striving and growing so settling leaves a coppery taste in my mouth. It bugs me. 

While this can be a good thing, it isn't always. Sometimes my kids misbehave. It might be because their entire lives have been shorter than the average box of Twinkies that exists today. But my "always striving" mind tells me otherwise. It prompts me to push them. It wants them to strive like I strive. It can't settle for current state. 

Here's the switch that needs to happen: Settling can be good. (See, even just saying that made me twitch a bit). 

That's right, I said it and I'm going to say it again. This time with a slight twist. 

Settling can be good when we settle into something good.  

Right now I'm reading through the Psalms in The Message Bible translation. I am doing it to approach the Psalms from a fresh perspective and see them with new eyes. 

Psalm 4 speaks to me anew. Read verses 6-8 here.

Why is everyone hungry for  more ? “More, more,” they say.

Why is everyone hungry for more? “More, more,” they say.

"Why is everyone hungry for more? “More, more,” they say.
“More, more.”
I have God’s more-than-enough,
More joy in one ordinary day

Than they get in all their shopping sprees.
At day’s end I’m ready for sound sleep,
For you, God, have put my life back together."

If I'm chronically unsettled then I am far more likely in the "hungry for more, more, more" camp. Even if I'm not the shopping spree type as Peterson mentions in his translation, I'm still prone to pile things into my life to seek fullness. It might be stuff, or experiences, or skills, or relationships. It's still not going to scratch the itch. 

I'm desperate for God's more-than-enough. I'm willing to settle into it. I'm longing for the "sound sleep" that signifies fulfillment. 

I hope I'm not the only one who struggles with settling. I pray that my fellow unsettlers and I can deepen our dependence on God. 


I am in the process of reading a Psalm a day in The Message translation by Eugene Peterson. It is written personally and in a way that helps me see these Scriptures anew. A friend shared with me a method he uses for reading the Psalms. 

1. Read the Psalm slowly in my head. Focus on understanding.

2. Read the Psalm audibly as a prayer to God. 

3. Pray the same prayer in my own words. Make the Psalm my prayer for my life right now. 

It has been a great exercise in speaking to God. I encourage you to try it!

Merry Christmas – Now Get Out of My Way...

It was December a couple years ago. We had just moved into our first house and had a newborn at home. I was working in full-time ministry and had a part-time job on the side. It was a snowy weeknight and I had just finished a holiday-themed event for job number 2. The text message arrived a couple of hours earlier that my wife had not gotten around to dinner or even eaten anything herself because our baby was so upset. I was driving through the snow and a bit of an upset baby myself. I was frustrated at my hunger, the traffic, the long hours, and whatever else I could think of. I finally arrived at the grocery store to grab something quick when I encountered a challenging obstacle: The Salvation Army bell-ringer who had positioned himself directly in front of the store entrance and wanted to have a conversation with every person who walked in. Choose your own adventure: Do you play nice and have a conversation with a stranger? Pretend you’re on your cell phone? Walk in behind another customer so they get stopped and do a nice bit of blocking for you?

It’s that time of year again. Christmas music permeates every square inch of retail space we dare venture into, Starbucks offers 6 dozen new holiday drinks, lights and inflatable snowmen pepper various yards in our neighborhoods, and we realize that between our family members, we have 22 different holiday events to attend. Amidst all of this, does church slow down? Quite the opposite! Everything heightens during the holidays.

We have entered the December Time Warp.

Every year our family does some sort of pep talk gathered around the kitchen table or on the couch after we’ve set up the Christmas tree (traditionally done in the Noto household the day BEFORE Thanksgiving just to really throw a wrench in things). We ask ourselves, “how do we want to do the holidays this year?”, or, “what’s really important to us this time of year?” It’s as if we’re going into the fourth quarter and nervous about how the game’s going to turn out. Have you ever felt this way?

It makes sense if you think about it. We have all woken up on the other side of New Year’s thinking to ourselves, “what even happened last month? That’s not the holiday I was hoping for.”

Dallas Willard once said, “you must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” I can’t think of a time of year when hurry more easily crops up. Everything – family, ministry, team celebrations, group get-togethers, volunteer appreciation – all become equally important simultaneously. It is all too easy to start believing the lie that I can do anything and everything if I just focus a little more. It is in this spin-cycle-velocity living that we miss the very things we are starving for and that Christ came to give us.

Anything new we do this year will pale in comparison to what Jesus has done for us. Anything we receive is nothing next to what we have already received freely and undeservedly. The connection and warmth we try fervently to create is already ours in deeper ways than we could ever manufacture.

Paul heard the words “my grace is sufficient for you”(2 Corinthians 12:9). We are talking about a much different context, but the same truth applies. Hillsong captured this sentiment when they penned the lyric, “Christ is enough for me.” If that is the way I want to live my life then I need to do more than talk the talk. I need to walk the walk. Christ’s grace is sufficient, it is enough, and I am hoping and praying that this very truth is reflected in my schedule, my celebrations, and my family this year.

Do your groups tend to model “Christ is enough” or “Go, go, go!” this time of year? How do you and your staff interact with that? What does your schedule say about the way you go through this time of year?

This post was originally written for smallgroupnetwork.com and posted on December 18, 2015.