Helpful Links
  • A Thumbnail Sketch of the Bible Story
    A Thumbnail Sketch of the Bible Story
    by Dr. James R. Hicks
  • Being Transparent: With Yourself, God, and Others
    Being Transparent: With Yourself, God, and Others
    by Susan M Sims
Tuesday
Aug122014

Purpose and Possible Usages of Honor God's Word

For many years people have quoted or used the Apostles and Nicene Creeds for worship services, devotions, handouts for church visitors, and even as launching points for spiritual conversations.   This simplification of the Bible Story can be used for all ages, childhood through adulthood, and can be used for all stages of spiritual growth.  This summary is not meant to replace the valuable exercise of studying and reciting the great creeds, but to add to the overall purpose and focus of the creeds:  spiritual maturity through repetition and communal affirmation. 

Honor God’s Word reminds us, not only are summaries of theological truth important, but recognizing the landmarks and the chronological order within the Bible Story are important as well.   This is an excellent resource for both young and mature Christians.  

If you are interested in purchasing copies of the Honor God’s Word bookmark (3”x8”), you can email small group institute for more information.  The bookmarks are available in bundles of 20 for $10 or 50 for only $20. 

Monday
Jan202014

Now Is The Time For Small Groups

January is the time for starting new traditions and habits.  In my case I am beginning two new small groups. One will be meeting at 4:00 PM on Sundays and another at 6:00 PM.  Both groups are by invitation only and after three weeks the groups will closed.  We have already met one time, agreeing on a covenant for the class.  

The covenant agreed upon included:  

  • Regular attendance is expected with exceptions being sickness and special personal situations.
  • If someone is going to be absent, they are expected to contact the facilitator (teacher).  Because growth in community life is so important, if several people are going to be absent, that particular group session will probably be cancelled
  • Filling out the weekly book questions in expected
  • This particular group is a level four group which is more intimate and in contrast to a level one, which is known as a "Chit-chat group".
  • Group participation is expected, although no one need be embarrassed.  
  • The length of this class will be approximately six months unless otherwise agreed upon.
  • Group members can expect to experience the fun and enriching of community bonding within a context of personal spiritual growth.

I am so excited!  You can experience the same thrill as you begin in faith with a pioneering spirit.  If you have any questions about the subject, book used as a text, methodology or other details, please contact me at this website.   

Wednesday
Apr172013

Acceptance

Being accepted is one way a teacher is automatically an example.  The church has believed in them and approved them to be a teacher of a particular class or group.   It is a special privilege to teach a group and be an example of someone who has been accepted by others.  It is also a great responsibility.   Just like every teacher has been accepted by their peers or someone in authority to allow them to teach, everyone in the group needs to be accepted.  It is the teacher's responsibility, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to create an atmosphere ensuring everyone’s acceptance.  Granted, some behaviors and attitudes in a group will not be tolerated, but when people are spiritually hungry and demonstrate a spirit of teachableness, they deserve to be accepted.  If there is one thing every person desires, it is to belong and to be accepted, so let’s be examples of being accepted and accepting others.  

Jesus was our greatest role model as we endeavor to accept others.  Jesus accepted the little children; He accepted the sick, the sinful, the demon possessed and ultimately you and me.  One of the harshest forms of torture is isolation, which is not being accepted.  We must always be willing to accept others and, if need be, openly defend them if they are not being accepted by individuals in the group.  People long to be accepted by both God and others. 

The experience of being accepted and accepting others is a road we all must travel as His disciples.  In The Shaking of the Foundations, philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich wrote,  “Sometimes . . . a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying:  ‘You are accepted.’  You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you . . . do not try to do anything now . . . do not seek for anything . . . do not perform anything.  Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!”  He goes on to say, “If that happens . . . we experience grace."*

Only as the open arms of acceptance are extended in a class or group, can the nourishments of His graces be handed out.

May you be a vessel to distribute this grace.

*Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations, SCM Press, 1949, page 162. 

Wednesday
Feb272013

Blog Hop

Today I'm participating in a blog hop with some fellow authors and bloggers. Part of the blog hop involves me answering questions about my recent work.

1. What is the working title of your book?
a. A THUMBNAIL SKETCH OF THE BIBLE STORY

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
a. As I was going through grad school I found that a condensed study or introduction for a given subject was always helpful when learning a new subject. Later, while pastoring and teaching small groups for over thirty years, I found many people, when given a Bible, read only a small portion of the Scriptures and then stopped. They felt overwhelmed by the massive amount of material. Also, they listened to a sermon but had no idea where the smaller story fit in the over-arching story of the Bible. During those thirty plus years, various people asked if I could write a short and simple overview. Their request and need was a key stimulator for this writing.

3. What genre does your book fall under?
a. Religion & Spirituality / Christian self-help.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
a. My book does not lend itself to a movie.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
a. The Bible is just a simple story with smaller episodes linking the larger theme.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
a. Self-published at this time.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your
manuscript?
a. After thirty plus years of teaching the Bible, I wrote a rough draft. Then, I had thirty plus people, some having a considerable amount of church background and some who had little if any, to read the draft and let me know what in the Bible was so confusing to them. Then I rewrote the book, adding some portions and clarifying others that had not been simplified enough.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
a. There are numerous books that give an overview of the Bible. I don’t know of any that includes communicating to the non-church as this one. Including the non-church was a major consideration in writing it.

9. Who or What inspired you to write this book?
a. Socrates said, “you can tell more about a person by the questions they ask than the statements they make." Listening to the questions of those I have taught over the years revealed key misunderstandings people have concerning the basic Bible story. My desire was to clear up those misunderstandings.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
a. In this book, great effort has been given to eliminate any theological jargon and denominational biases. Whether Protestant, Jew, Catholic or no religious background at all, anyone can be comfortable with this book as being a basic thumbnail sketch of the Bible.

Please take the time to visit some sights I enjoy reading Jason Hicks, and Susan Sims and Michael Biggs. Thank You.

Jason Hicks is at www.djasonhicks.com
Susan Sims is at www.susansims.blogspot.com
Michael Biggs is at www.up-words.net


Wednesday
Jan232013

The Book is now available on Amazon

After many months of preparation and numerous edits, A Thumbnail Sketch of the Bible Story is now availalbe on Amazon.

Here is the link to A Thumbnail Sketch of the Bible Story on Amazon's store page.

Tuesday
Jan222013

Going Deeper with Small Groups

I recently read in Luke 5:4 where Jesus had finished teaching from a boat and then said to Simon, “Put out into deep-water, and let down the nets for a catch (NIV).” I immediately thought of the level of shallowness at which some Sunday School classes and small groups function.

There are different levels of sharing any time a Sunday School class or small group meets.  There is the shallowest level known as the “chitchat” level. This is when we talk about sports and personal interests.  The second level is the “opinion level” where people give opinions about truths that are being studied but do not open up their personal lives.  The third level is a level of “spiritual intimacy.”  This is when people share past experiences as well as present failures and victories applying them to the subject being studied.  The first two levels are good and needed but fall far short of creating Christian bonding within a class or group.  It is probably safe to say, the majority of groups spend little, if any, time at the “spiritual intimacy” level.  

The “spiritual intimacy” level is the most fun and enjoyable for all Christian nurturing.  Recently, I started two new groups at our church. One of these two “spiritual intimacy groups” ranges from ages twenty to thirty, and I have been teaching this group from four to five thirty on Sunday evenings.   The second group ranges from ages thirty-one and above, and I have been teaching this group from six to seven-thirty on Sunday evenings.  As I said both are geared to function at the “spiritual intimacy” level for the next six months.  Most would consider themselves Christians.  A few may question God’s existence but they are willing to explore.  Certainly, we will have some chitchat and a lot of knowledge will be shared, but both classes will be taught at a level of sharing “feelings” and not just at a level of sharing “intellect”.  

Before the classes began, I met with every participant and let them know the class covenant that included, among other things, faithful attendance, absolute confidentiality, and completion of all written assignments.  Also, every person was told, no one would be embarrassed or do anything they did not want to do. However, they were expected to be a participant and not just a spectator.  

I know personal healings are already taking place.  This includes deep healings in my own life.  We limit our ministries if we think the altar is the only place to shed tears or share “spiritual intimacy” before God.  In only two sessions with both of these groups, we have experienced tears as well as laughter.  Luke supports this level of teaching when he writes, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”  We have only met in this closed group for two weeks but we have bonded more than some groups do in years.

What exactly are characteristic details of “spiritual intimacy groups” and how do you form one must wait for another discussion.  But I can tell you this, as teachers, we must be willing to be vulnerable with our own feelings and be comfortable when God’s Spirit moves on the hearts of our listeners.  

Don’t be afraid to move out into the deep.  It is only in the deep our nets can become full.  

Wednesday
Apr252012

Probing Discussions and Skipping Rocks

Discussion times in small groups and Sunday School classes can be like probing for deep treasure and skipping rocks.  

During discussion times, probe for Deep Treasure.

Small group leaders and Sunday School teachers must go beyond the first discussion question with a follow-up question.  The first question can be planned, but usually the follow-up question and additional questions are determined by each given response.  In the probing process, you will be searching for true opinions rather than surface reactions. 

An example of this would be:

Question: how does our lesson speak to the community in which we live?

Answer: our community needs to set Godly standards as a priority. 

Question: how would our group be different if we better applied these Godly standards?

Answer: we would feel as though we are one team fighting against Satan, rather than individuals struggling alone.

Question: as a team player in our group, what specific actions can you take this week to fulfill God’s standards so both our group and community will be blessed?         

Answer: I need to remember I am not alone, and others are truly attempting to do  the impossible for God.  

As teachers listen intently, practice patience, and depend on divine guidance, it will be amazing how easily the skill of probing can be acquired.

During discussion times, Skip Rocks.

Skipping rocks across a river or lake and getting more people involved in a discussion time are very similar.  In skipping rocks across a lake, the idea is to see how many times the rock will hit before it sinks.  In a class or small group, the idea is to see how many people you can draw into a discussion before the discussion ends.  The following ideas will not only show how to lead others into a discussion but how to change the atmosphere and pace of the discussion.   

An initial question by the teacher can be followed up by asking “can you tell us more?”  When the teacher feels like the other members of the group need to be included in the discussion, the teacher can begin skipping rocks by asking “how do the rest of you feel” or “does anyone feel differently?”

Next, skipping rocks can be a technique to change the atmosphere if one person begins to share more information than he/she should or speak up more often than he/she should.  When this occurs, the teacher may call someone else in the group by name and say, “John, how would you respond to this question?”  The teacher would continue to skip rocks if he/she asked the entire group not just to respond to the original question, but how would they respond to how John responded to the question.  

Skipping rocks can also have different speeds.  If the discussion begins to slow down, the teacher might ask an easier question to the entire group such as, “everyone, quickly give me the first word that comes to your mind when you think about heaven (or whatever the lesson is about)?” 

On the contrary, if the class discussion has been lively and you want to slow it down to go to prayer, you might say to the group, “now, think before you answer, take your time, and tell me in a short phrase, how have your feelings changed about our subject today?”

Skipping rocks is especially fun because the teacher is facilitating action along with the leadership of the Holy Spirit.  

On January 15, 1799, George Washington said to Patrick Henry, “the views of men can only be known, or guessed at, by their words or actions.”  Small group leaders and Sunday School teachers have the incredible pleasure of being partners with God as they probe deeply one moment and joyfully skip rocks the next.

Tuesday
Apr242012

Knowing Others in Your Group

How well do you know the person in your small group or Bible study?  Think seriously about this question. 

A few weeks ago I was leading a small group and I started out with a general ice breaker:  tell the group something about yourself that you don't think we already know.  The response was fascinating.  One response in particular caught my attention.  I will call him George.  I knew George was a creative-type person and that he enjoyed playing with video (making movies, editing footage, etc).  But what I did not know is that he had actually spent time on a professional shoot with the popular TV series Burn Notice (season five).  George already had more past experiences than most people only dream of for their life.  He also had the battle scars that went with these "now realized dreams".  The funny thing was when he was telling the story, he only alluded to these scars at a single point, and then quickly and quietly changed the subject -- this was all he was ready to reveal at this time.  

This was a reality check for me.  I was ready to jump into my lesson plan, wow the group with some mind blowing facts and even some transformational experiences.  But there I sat with this new group thinking:  who am I really speaking to, and how can I facilitate real life change or transformational experiences if I don't even know what really makes them unique people.  How can I hope to apply the "given material" to George if there are parts to George that I don't even know myself.  

Now I know you might say, "well how can we ever know if we really know someone?"  It's almost like asking, "can you draw a perfect circle" knowing that the laws of geometry dictate that it is impossible to draw a perfect circle; at the microscopic level we will always fine imperfections.  But the real point is not how perfectly we know mental facts of someone.  Instead the point is this nagging question:  are we taking time out of our weekly schedule to be inquisitive of the people we think we know, so that we can "be Jesus on a more personal level."

Next time you begin your group session, start with a simple little question:  what movie have you watched last and why did you enjoy it, who is your favorite historical person and why, what fictional character do you like and why, etc.  These questions are not just facts about someone.  They open the door into the inner makings of a person...and this is the real person you, as a group leader, are trying to reach and facilitate life change for the Kingdom's sake.  Remember, Jesus had three years to impact his disciples.  Yet, the majority of the ink used to write the gospels tell of Jesus' last year.  The first two years spent "living life" with Jesus were important, but just in a different way -- they laid the foundation for the third year in which Jesus could change their world forever.   

So feel free to slow down and inquire about your group -- not only may it surprise you, but it may open the door to some unique transformation for unique individuals. 

Friday
Nov182011

The Heart of Discipleship

What is Discipleship?  It is more than making homogenous copies of yourself or your most saintly church member.  It is about turning people's orientation toward Jesus, plain and simple.  It is about helping others run passionately after the Jewish Rabbi with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength.    

I don't know about you, but I am not interested in leading a group session where people simply feel like they had a good one-hour Bible study. I don't want to waste my time walking people through the charades of sudo-Christian living where the life change is bland, tasteless, or non-existent.  It has to be about real life change at the end of the day.  That life change may mean new Christians looking more like the Jewish Rabbi called Jesus and less like a good clean-cut person obeying all the rules of an American Christian (no matter how badly we would like for them to be synonymous). 

Friday
Nov112011

I'll Just Take My Toys and Walk Away

The other day, my two-year old nephew and his older sister were told by their grandmother to be still and not move.  This had gone on for about thirty minutes of telling both of them to set still and not aggravate each other.  Noticing that his sister was the instigator, the grandmother simply said to her, “I hope if God tells you to do something, you will obey Him.”  My nephew simply looked at his grandmother and said, “Well, if God told me to do something, I would just take my toys and walk away.”  How childlike is that response, so innocent and pure - if I don't like it, I will just "take my stuff and walk away."

I could not help but immediately think about how this applies to community life, both individually and as a collective small group.  How do our members respond when we ask them to share their most precious and fragile possessions?  

Money - it can be replaced, it is only paper.  

Time - it can be made up with a bit of caffeine; by making promises to make it up later; to steal time from sleep or family or even from work when we have to.  

However, what is most precious to everyone?  It’s ourselves, letting down the walls and inviting others to see us as we really are: naked, hurt, fearful, and/or unsure.

It's ironic that so much of our life is spent screaming, "look at me." For example, the cars we drive, clothes we wear, gadgets we buy, and even the language we use has more "I" pronouns and less "we" or "you."  Yet, when the spotlight actually gets turned to us and we are asked to share who we really are, or what we really love, hate, hope for and fear, we quickly clam up and try to put on a "normal" face, a poker face that says we have it all together.  

What if God asked me to share, not my toys, but myself?  How would I respond?  (That's a hypothetical question - a safe questions to which I can imagine a nice answer).  So, let's look at real life experiences.  How have I responded in the past when God has asked me to share myself with others -- my hopes and fears, my good times and my dark times, the thoughts that race through my head faster than I can give voice to them?  What have I done when God has asked me to share myself with others?  

That is really what community is all about - sharing ourselves with others as we live life together.  It is not always clean and antiseptic.  And sometimes it even smells more like a bathroom than a sterile operating room or laboratory.  But it is real living.  It is community in the truest sense.  And as a counselor once told me, if you want to really experience the joys together, you have to also go through the dark valleys together.  This means being real and open in all areas and in all times of your life together.  

I started off asking how our small group members would respond to this community question - what if God asked them to share?  Then I realized, "as the leader, so goes the group."  So the spotlight is now on you and me.  How do we respond to God's beckoning call to share and live our lives open and transparent within our community?  Do we really want to lead and model the way of perfect love and trust as small group members?  Or will we just take our toys (our most precious possession) and walk away?