Advent 3: “Love” Face-to-Face Gatherings

The lessons focus on significant words of the season. They are arranged: 1. Hope, 2. Peace, 3. Love, and 4. Joy. However, feel free to rearrange them according to the Advent practices of your congregation.

Prep

Ready the videos; gather an Advent wreath with candles and matches; provide Bibles and refreshments, paper and colored pencils. Provide a pail, water, and towels.

Getting Started

Welcome all guests. Conduct a brief time for introductions of new participants.

Briefly review the scope of the study and The Bible Project. Revisit expectations regarding group dynamics, such as honoring one another with respect.

Offer an opening prayer. Light three Advent candles.

Prompt discussion: When you hear the word “love,” what comes to your mind? What feelings or memories are evoked?

Digging In

Make available paper and colored pencils and invite participants to doodle or draw as they watch the video.

Introduce the video: The word “love” is one of the sloppiest words in our language, as it primarily refers to a feeling that happens to a person. In the New Testament, “love” refers to a way of treating people that was defined by Jesus himself: seeking the well-being of others regardless of their response.

Watch the video.

Following the video, note key ideas such as the Greek word “agape,” meaning self-sacrificial love; the love of God and the love for one another are entertwined; we receive God’s love through Jesus and give it away to others. 

Invite participants to offer comments and observations on what they saw and drew. Discuss: Love is a spiritual practice and not something you fall into. It is through loving that we experience the love of God. You can’t love others until you truly love yourself and acknowledge that God loves you with a love beyond anything you can imagine.

Introduce Deuteronomy 10:17-19a. The covenant people are in the last stages of preparation before they enter the land of promise. God through Moses extols the people to make love the law of their new homeland.

Invite volunteers to read Deuteronomy 10:17-19a. The people were to be like the Lord who shows no partiality, accepts no bribes, defends the fatherless and the widows, and loves strangers and immigrants, giving them food and clothing. After all, they had been aliens in Egypt.

Discuss: What does love mean for the Lord? Why do you think love is focused on actions and behavior and not feelings? How does being like the Lord compare to the creation story where God creates human beings in the image of God? What obstacles do you face when trying to love others as God loves us?

Invite volunteers to read John 13:34-35. These words of Jesus follow the footwashing. First he shows them what it means to love one another and then tells them. What does it mean to live like Jesus in love, not just feel it or talk about it? How does loving one another show the world that they are his disciples?

Watch the video “Foot Washing” from Chuck Knows Church:

Concluding Options

1. Discuss: What if, instead of celebrating the Lord’s Supper, the church observed a footwashing during worship services?

2. Brainstorm ways you can be signs of love in the world. Choose a project to live out your commitment to love.

3. Wash one another’s feet. Provide a pail, water, and towels. For those squeamish about showing their feet, wash each other’s hands. Say aloud John 13:34-35 as the group participates: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Prayer

God of love, open our hearts and hands to extend your love to all the world, starting with those who are near. Thank you for sending Jesus because you so loved the world. Amen.

Advent 2: “Peace” Group Video Chat

The lessons focus on significant words of the season. They are arranged: 1. Hope, 2. Peace, 3. Love, and 4. Joy. However, feel free to rearrange them according to the Advent practices of your congregation.

Prep

Imbed the two videos into your video conferencing software. Watch this video to learn how to share video on your Zoom call. Create three screens with the texts for Isaiah 9:2-7, 11:1-9; and Luke 2:8-14.

Getting Started

Welcome all guests. Conduct a brief time for introductions of new participants.

Briefly review the scope of the study and The Bible Project. Speak about expectations regarding group dynamics, such as honoring one another with respect. What video conferencing protocols do you need to agree on?

Offer an opening prayer.

Prompt discussion: When you hear the word “peace,” what comes to your mind? What feelings or memories are evoked?

Digging In

Introduce the video: “Peace” is a very common word in English. It means different things to different people. It’s also a very important word in the Bible that refers not only to the absence of conflict but also to the presence of something else. In this video, we’ll explore the core meaning of biblical peace and how it all leads to Jesus.

Watch the video.

Following the video, note key ideas such as the Hebrew word, “shalom,” and the Greek “eirene” meaning wholeness and completeness; Jesus gives us his peace; we are called to be people of peace. 

Invite participants to offer comments and observations on what they saw and drew. Discuss: “Shalom,” means “whole,” describing peace within oneself and peace between people. What is the connection between inner peace and outer peace? Can we have one without the other? How can we be people of peace without promoting compassion, justice, and unity?

Display the screen with Isaiah 9:2-7.

Introduce Isaiah 9:2-7. The covenant people are in exile in a foreign land, a condition the prophets said had resulted from their disobedience to God. Now, the prophet announces that God is extending peace and reconciliation to them through a new ruler. 

Invite volunteers to read Isaiah 9:2-7.

Discuss: What emotions do you detect in the reading? What does peace mean for the prophet? Why do you think the promise of a new leader evokes promises of peace? When have you felt that way about new leadership?

Display the screen with Isaiah 11:1-9 and ask volunteers to read aloud. What does the image of the peaceable kingdom mean to you? How does this passage express peace as the absence of conflict and the presence of connection and completion? What steps have you taken this week to make the world a more peaceful place?

Introduce the Vulcan hand greeting by watching the video below:

Practice making the Vulcan greeting with words of peace. Wonder together how such a greeting can be one of the tools for making peace. If your congregation passes the peace during worship, talk about ways to live out that greeting.

Concluding Options

1. Discuss: Where in your life do you experience connection and a sense of completion? What factors contribute to your peace? What hampers your sense of peace? How can you make peace in such circumstances?

2. Discuss where peace needs to be restored in your life and in your community. List your answers as a petition to God. Circle one thing on the list. Prayerfully consider what practical steps you or your community can take to bring connection and completion to that one fragmented place.

3. Display the screen with Luke 2:8-14 and ask volunteers to read aloud. Wonder together why the angels announce peace to the world at Jesus’ birth. How does Jesus connect you with God’s peace? What is it like to have peace with God?

4. Play and sing along to Cat Steven’s Peace Train.

Prayer

God of peace, you have promised the end of conflict on earth, yet the world is still at war. Give us the resolve to be people of peace wherever we are and with whomever we meet. This we pray in the name of Jesus christ, the prince of peace. Amen.

Advent 2: “Peace” Face-to-Face Gatherings

The lessons focus on significant words of the season. They are arranged: 1. Hope, 2. Peace, 3. Love, and 4. Joy. However, feel free to rearrange them according to the Advent practices of your congregation.

Prep

Ready the videos; gather an Advent wreath with candles and matches; provide Bibles and refreshments, paper and colored pencils.

Getting Started

Welcome all guests. Conduct a brief time for introductions of new participants.

Briefly review the scope of the study and The Bible Project. Speak about expectations regarding group dynamics, such as honoring one another with respect.

Offer an opening prayer. Light the first two Advent candles.

Prompt discussion: When you hear the word “peace,” what comes to your mind? What feelings or memories are evoked?

Digging In

Make available paper and colored pencils and invite participants to doodle or draw as they watch the video.

Introduce the video: “Peace” is a very common word in English. It means different things to different people. It’s also a very important word in the Bible that refers not only to the absence of conflict but also to the presence of something else. In this video, we’ll explore the core meaning of biblical peace and how it all leads to Jesus.

Watch the video.

Following the video, note key ideas such as the Hebrew word, “shalom,” and the Greek “eirene” meaning wholeness and completeness; Jesus gives us his peace; we are called to be people of peace. 

Invite participants to offer comments and observations on what they saw and drew. Discuss: “Shalom,” means “whole,” describing peace within oneself and peace between people. What is the connection between inner peace and outer peace? Can we have one without the other? How can we be people of peace without promoting compassion, justice, and unity?

Introduce Isaiah 9:2-7. The covenant people are in exile in a foreign land, a condition the prophets said had resulted from their disobedience to God. Now, the prophet announces that God is extending peace and reconciliation to them through a new ruler. 

Invite volunteers to read Isaiah 9:2-7.

Discuss: What emotions do you detect in the reading? What does peace mean for the prophet? Why do you think the promise of a new leader evokes promises of peace? When have you felt that way about new leadership?

Invite volunteers to read Isaiah 11:1-9. What does the image of the peaceable kingdom mean to you? How does this passage express peace as the absence of conflict and the presence of connection and completion? What steps have you taken this week to make the world a more peaceful place?

Introduce the Vulcan hand greeting. by either reading this text or watching the video below: Actor Leonard Nimoy, who played the Vulcan Mr. Spock on the original Star Trek, invented a hand greeting based on a Jewish blessing. The hand forms the Jewish letter “shin,” the first letter in the Hebrew word “shalom” (the palm facing forward, thumb extended, and his middle and ring finger parted). It’s often accompanied with the spoken words “live long and prosper,” sometimes paired with the words, “peace and long life.”

Practice making the Vulcan greeting with words of peace. Wonder together how such a greeting can make be one of the tools for making peace. If your congregation passes the peace during worship, talk about ways to live out that greeting.

Concluding Options

1. Discuss: Where in your life do you experience connection and a sense of completion? What factors contribute to your peace? What hampers your sense of peace? How can you make peace in such circumstances?

2. Discuss where peace needs to be restored in your life and in your community. List your answers as a petition to God. Circle one thing on the list. Prayerfully consider what practical steps you or your community can take to bring connection and completion to that one fragmented place.

3. Read Luke 2:8-14. Wonder together why the angels announce peace to the world at Jesus’ birth. How does Jesus connect you with God’s peace? What is it like to have peace with God?

Prayer

God of peace, you have promised the end of conflict on earth, yet the world is still at war. Give us the resolve to be people of peace wherever we are and with whomever we meet. This we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, the prince of peace. Amen.

Advent 1: “Hope” Group Video Chat

Sankofa Bird

Prep

Imbed the video and photo of the Sankofa bird into your video conferencing software. Watch this video to learn how to share video on your Zoom call. Create a screen with the text for Isaiah 40:1-5, 27-31.

Getting Started

Welcome all guests. Conduct a brief time for introductions of participants.

Briefly introduce the scope of the study and The Bible Project. Speak about expectations regarding group dynamics, such as encouraging questions and comments. What video conferencing protocols do you need to agree on?

Offer an opening prayer.

Prompt discussion: When you hear the word “advent,” what comes to your mind? What feelings or memories are evoked?

(“Advent” means “coming,” describing the church’s expectations for the return of Christ and his kingdom come in its fulness.)

Digging In

Introduce the video: In the Bible, people who have hope are very different from optimists! In this video, we’ll explore how biblical hope looks to God’s character alone as a basis for trusting that the future will be better than the present.

Watch the video.

Following the video, note key ideas such as two Hebrew words for “hope” (“to wait for” and “tension in waiting”); waiting for God, whose past steadfastness leads to trust; optimism is different from hope; Greek word, elpis, a living hope in which we and all creation are reborn.

Invite participants to offer comments and observations on what they saw and drew. Discuss: How are hoping and waiting like hearing thunder in the distance? What is difficult about waiting for someone or something? What tensions have you experienced in waiting?

Introduce Isaiah 40:1-5, 27-31. The covenant people are in exile in a foreign land, a condition the prophets said had resulted from their disobedience to God. Now, the prophet announces the people’s rescue because of God’s steadfast love and trustworthiness.

Display the screen with Isaiah 40:1-5, 27-31 and ask volunteers to read aloud.

Discuss: What does it mean to wait for God? How does knowing what God has done in the past give us hope for tomorrow? What is it about God’s character that evokes trust in the human heart?

Display the photo of the Sankofa bird from West Africa: The symbol is based on a mythical bird with its feet firmly planted forward with its head turned backwards.

Say: People of faith can learn from the Sankofa the truth that to move forward into God’s future, it’s crucial to know the past and what God has already done. God’s character is the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. So we can hope that the God who liberated a people from slavery in Egypt and exile in Babylon and who raised Jesus from the dead will one day liberate creation from sin and death and raise all of us to new life.

Concluding Options

1. Invite the participants to talk about their attitudes about the future. Identify people who have nurtured their hope in God. Honor these harbingers of hope by creating and sending Advent/Christmas videos or making a contribution to an organization in their names.

2. Listen to “I Shall Be Released” by Bob Dylan (or various other artists. Check out Nina Simone’s version!). Connect the song’s lyrics of longing and waiting with prison and social justice. Wonder together what makes Dylan’s song a fitting Advent song for our times.

3. Invite the participants to share the story of an experience when the strength of hope in God’s future pulled them through a difficult time.

Prayer

O God, you tell us to hope in your faithfulness, yet when we look at the world, all we see is sin and sadness. Strengthen our resolve to be for the world witnesses to our living hope, Jesus Christ, your son, our savior, In whose name we pray. Amen.

Advent 1: “Hope” Face-to- Face Gatherings

The lessons focus on significant words of the season. They are arranged: 1. Hope, 2. Peace, 3. Love, and 4. Joy. However, feel free to rearrange them according to the Advent practices of your congregation.

The Sankofa Bird, source: uncommongoods.com

Prep

Ready the video; gather an Advent wreath with candles and matches; provide Bibles and refreshments, paper and colored pencils. Plan to display the picture of the Sankofa bird.

Getting Started

Welcome all guests. Conduct a brief time for introductions of participants.

Briefly introduce the scope of the study and The Bible Project. Speak about expectations regarding group dynamics, such as encouraging questions and comments.

Offer an opening prayer. Light the first Advent candle.

Prompt discussion: When you hear the word “advent,” what comes to your mind? What feelings or memories are evoked?

(“Advent” means “coming,” describing the church’s expectations for the return of Christ and his kingdom come in its fulness.)

Digging In

Make available paper and colored pencils and invite participants to doodle or draw as they watch the video.

Introduce the video: In the Bible, people who have hope are very different from optimists! In this video, we’ll explore how biblical hope looks to God’s character alone as a basis for trusting that the future will be better than the present.

Watch the video.

Following the video, note key ideas such as two Hebrew words, “to wait for” and “tension in waiting”; waiting for God, whose past steadfastness leads to trust; optimism is different from hope; Greek word, elpis, a living hope in which we and all creation are reborn.

Invite participants to offer comments and observations on what they saw and drew. Discuss: How are hoping and waiting like hearing thunder in the distance? What is difficult about waiting for someone or something? What tensions have you experienced in waiting?

Introduce Isaiah 40:1-5, 27-31. The covenant people are in exile in a foreign land, a condition the prophets said had resulted from their disobedience to God. Now, the prophet announces the people’s rescue because of God’s steadfast love and trustworthiness.

Invite volunteers to read Isaiah 40:1-5, 27-31.

Discuss: What does it mean to wait for God? How does knowing what God has done in the past give us hope for tomorrow? What is it about God’s character that evokes trust in the human heart?

Introduce the Sankofa bird from West Africa (above). The symbol is based on a mythical bird with its feet firmly planted forward with its head turned backwards.

Say: People of faith can learn from the Sankofa the truth that to move forward into God’s future, it’s crucial to know the past and what God has already done. God’s character is the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. So we can hope that the God who liberated a people from slavery in Egypt and exile in Babylon and who raised Jesus from the dead will one day liberate creation from sin and death and raise all of us to new life.

Concluding Options

1. Invite the participants to talk about their attitudes about the future. Identify people who have nurtured their hope in God. Honor these harbingers of hope by writing Advent/Christmas cards or making a contribution to an organization in their names.

2. Listen to “I Shall Be Released” by Bob Dylan (or various other artists. Check out Nina Simone’s version!). Connect the song’s lyrics of longing and waiting with prison and social justice. Wonder together what makes Dylan’s song a fitting Advent song for our times.

3. Commit to a living hope by helping small businesses in your area that are struggling. Brainstorm ways to do so and follow through.

Prayer

O God, you tell us to hope in your faithfulness, yet when we look at the world, all we see is sin and sadness. Strengthen our resolve to be for the world witnesses to our living hope, Jesus Christ, your son, our savior, In whose name we pray. Amen.

Sunday school, Yes or No?

I’ve been thinking about the problem of Sunday school as two related yet distinct realities.

It seems to me that the original Sunday school was more of a tutoring strategy than a school as we imagine it. It was a wonderful strategy for teaching street children and others how to read (the Bible). Poor children who worked six days a week could not attend day school, so Methodists created SS.

Over against the SS as a strategy is the so-called schooling model. The first half of the 20th century saw the church’s dedication to the schooling model, including teacher professionalization/certification, school accreditation, parent commitments, and so on. With a nod to the scientific method, churches adopted the broad contours of the schooling model without full-on adopting the model. In other words, the 20th century Sunday school was never a school. The burgeoning SS classrooms of post-WW II had little to do with progressive trends in education being adopted by the church. Yet today, many SS persist with little consideration of the latest advances in childhood education, with so many seeking resources for entertaining their children instead.

So as a model, the Sunday school is dead for the most part. Where the Sunday school persists, it either exists in large churches whose budgets and volunteers still prop it up or as a strategy that hearkens back to its earliest days. Some churches have found clues for the SS strategy’s fruitfulness from its early days, namely teaching children how to read. Literacy, cultural literacy, reading the times, and practicing ways to respond motivate the SS strategy. 

How might recovering the SS as strategy, tutoring children and others how to read—how to read their lives, the world, and the Scriptures—affect the church and its prophetic call?

Choose Joy and Love

“Live in joy and in love, even among those who hate.” – The Buddha

The Buddha’s words are a challenge and a goal. In a world that seems full of discord, where people prey upon our fears and hatred is sensationalized, it is difficult to remain joyful and loving. But it is not impossible. We can choose to practice joy and love every day. We can choose to respond to others in joy and love, even when they choose hatred.

Choose Joy!

Joy is more than being happy or always up. Joy is an internal sense of well-being and hope. Even when life is difficult, you can still find joy in life. If you are feeling joyless, take steps to bring joy back into your heart.

  1. Begin and end each day with gratitude and a renewed commitment to look for joy.
  2. Surround yourself with people who make you happy.
  3. Choose experiences and activities that bring you joy.
  4. Smile and laugh out loud.
  5. Watch a cute or funny video or program.
  6. Listen to music and dance.
  7. Go outside and enjoy the natural world.

Choose Love!

To love someone is to honor them as a person of value. There are many kinds of love. For instance, the love we have for a significant other is different than the love we feel for our parents or children. What does it mean to love all humanity, even those who hate? Jesus said, “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.” We can choose to show kindness to all people and consider their humanity.

  1. Pray for the people with whom you disagree or who treat you badly.
  2. Debate the issues and refrain from attacking the person.
  3. Spend as little time as possible with people who are not kind to you or who give you negative energy. Do not give up on showing them compassion and respect.
  4. Spend more time with the people who love you.
  5. Say “thank you” when someone does something nice for you.
  6. Show compassion and give support to people in need.
  7. Forgive and graciously accept forgiveness.

If you want to know more about living into joy and love, contact me. I can help you!

A Coach’s Coach

May 12, 2018 initiated a devastating year for me (Mark). My adult son David died after a 10-year struggle with osteosarcoma. Then, on March 1, 2019, I was laid off by my employer of 13 years.

The anguish of the past year remains mostly unresolved in my heart. I miss my son terribly; he was my best friend. I miss the work that gave my life meaning and the people with whom I spent most waking hours for more than a decade.

People suggested that I see a therapist following David’s death. I sought help at a local grief center, but quit after two sessions. I felt the grief counselor was focused on empathizing with my loss, filling up the silence with stories of her own tragedies. I needed someone to walk with me through my grief, yet remain outside my experience—because it was MY experience.

This is where I brag on Peggy, my wife and my partner. Peggy is a bonafide certified coach. Without an official “coach-coachee” relationship, Peggy would occasionally throw a question my way when she noticed me struggling. Questions like:

“What one word describes your grief today? How is that different from last week?”

“What color is your grief?”

“What are some ways you can honor David’s life?”

“Where do you imagine your grief will have led you after another five years?”

And then following my lay-off:

“What have you learned about yourself in the way you responded to the news?”

“How can you be kind to yourself? How will you do that?”

Peggy has a way of inviting her clients to take a step back and look at their situations from a different angle. My grief persists, but thanks to Peggy’s ability and commitment to professional coaching, each day is a bit better. Three steps forward, two steps back, sometimes—but I am moving forward.

Authentic Happiness

Everyone hears negative messages sometimes. What we do with them is key to changing the way we view ourselves and our lives.

I’m not talking about feelings that are considered negative – sadness, anger, fear. Our emotions serve a purpose and are unto themselves neither negative nor positive; they are simply a part of being human.

Negative self-talk is another matter. Negative self-talk may stem from messages we received as children, verbal and physical abuse, or comparing ourselves to others. It is difficult for someone who has low self-esteem or poor self-confidence to change those messages.

How can we manage our negative self-talk to hear authentic positive affirmation?

Consider ashre and shalom.

Ashre (ash-ray), a biblical Hebrew word, refers to the kind of life, behavior, and mindset that creates a deep and abiding happiness. Jesus uses the term in the famous Sermon on the Mount (“Happy/blessed are the peacemakers….”) as do many of the Psalms (“Blessed are those who dwell in your house….” Psalm 84:4). Ashre is a happiness that does not depend on happenstance. It is deep and abiding no matter what is happening in your life.

Shalom is another biblical Hebrew term that helps to describe this type of happiness. Shalom (peace or wholeness) conveys well-being and having peace of mind.

My goal as a coach is to help people find ashre and shalom. The key is authentic positivity and a growth mindset. With intentional practices we can condition ourselves to think positively. The way we speak internally and with others can actually change the brain. However, lavishing flattery on ourselves is being dishonest and can actually do us harm. Our positive messages need to be real and true. Much of the popular material in books and online about happiness gives us a false impression of what we want and need.

Healthy people seek a deep abiding contentment in which they remain hopeful and positive even during the hard times. Coaching creates a safe environment where persons can explore their thoughts and emotions and learn the practice of authentic positivity.

Jesus’ Joke

I’ve been reading Luke 15 lately, doing some research. Luke 15, for a lot of folks, is the pinnacle of the Gospel. It includes three parables—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost (or prodigal) son. In worship services, these three stories are rarely read together and that’s a shame. Luke positions these teaching stories just so to show Jesus’ comedic side.

Story tellers know that classic jokes follow the law of three—1) there’s a setup; 2) there’s a second event that follows the first in form and tone, setting up expectations; and 3) the punch line breaks the pattern set by the first two parts. The Three Little Pigs is a kind example; a less kind example is “A priest, rabbi, and minister walk into a bar…”

So, Jesus tells three stories with similar construction—there is something or someone lost, which is found, resulting in joyful celebration! Let’s look closer for the comedic triad.

In the first two stories, the sheep and the coin are lost, which leads to the shepherd and the woman dropping everything to find their respective possession. The “finding” corresponds to repentance in each story. So, in the third story, after the younger son takes his money and runs, we expect someone (the father?) to drop everything and search for him. Once found, we expect the son to repent. That’s the pattern. But it doesn’t happen!

No one goes in search of the younger son!!! Let that wash over you for a few seconds!

What might this mean for us?

Many churches today wring their hands about “the lost” and devise evangelism programs to search for them. For the most part, those efforts have been judged futile. Whether the “nones” or the “dones,” they’re not coming back because of our efforts. The “punchline” of the three parables suggests that those efforts are wrong-headed. What we in the church are called to do is to be ready when they come back by the movement of the Holy Spirit (my interpolation).

The joke’s on us. Replace your evangelism committee with a party committee that is always at the ready!! Be prepared to welcome any and all who enter your community’s life with rejoicing!

Give me a call or send me an email if you’d like to talk about what Hinds Coaching and Consulting can do for you!