Community Group Blog

Limitations Become Launchpads

February  28, 2021
By Andrew Paulsen

Limitations can be so irritating, especially to us frontier crossing, boundary challenging, don't take no for an answer Americans. Rule breaking and defying limitations is in our blood. And that's why the covid pandemic has been so hard, there's been so many limitations put on us. But sometimes those limitations create opportunities, even launchpads, that God is using to share His love and to grow our character. Health limitations have allowed some people to focus on the people near to them. Work limitations have allowed people to reflect on what God really wants for them. Dining limitations have encouraged more family dinners and conversations. (I still can't think of a gospel moment with the toilet paper limitations, but with God all things are possible!)
Paul was severely limited throughout his journey to Rome, being shipwrecked, delayed, and imprisoned. He literally had a chain limiting his movement. Yet that limitation led him to share with so many people, from leaders to fellow prisoners, across the Mediterranean. Much of what we read in the Bible was written by him while he was forced to slow down as he was under house-arrest. His limitation helped launch the gospel, another reminder of the truth that in our weakness, He is strong.  So what's limiting your freedom right now, and are you willing to let God turn it into a launchpad for His Glory?

Allow Others to Help to Help Them

Feb 23, 2021
By Andrew Paulsen

Asking for help can be really hard. Admitting you need someone to do something for you is humbling. Yet, in those times of need, is when we sometimes connect the most with others. One youth pastor once wrote about how a young man learned more about God by helping him build a doghouse on a Saturday then all the talks and camps that he had ever been a part of. The time spent helping his youth pastor  and seeing his family up close and hearing how they spoke to one another and how they laughed opened him up to listening to his youth pastor, not only that day, but going forward in other events. And remember, this kid was asked to help by his youth pastor who needed it. By allowing this young man to help, the youth pastor was able to help this young man learn more about God.
Paul and his fellow travelers were in desperate need of help after being marooned on the island of Malta. The locals, labeled barbarians by the Romans and Greeks, were kind and served these survivors. Through that open door, Paul was able to show God's power and love to these people. Imagine if the crew and Paul had refused to receive help out of fear or pride of these strangers. They never would have seen Paul survive the snake bite or heard the gospel message. When we are vulnerable and admitting we don't have it all together, we are most approachable. Remember, in our weakness, He is strong. So our goal is not to become the most independent, self-sufficient individual ever, but to be powerfully used to love one another to God's glory. Sometimes that means allowing others to help so we can help them.

Crisis Causes Change

Feb 14, 2021
By Andrew Paulsen

My wife Charlotte and I didn't have the best Valentines' early in our relationship. We'd have different expectations, misunderstandings, and we just came away disappointed. But through those early storms in our marriage we learned to better communicate and understand each other and appreciate one another and we've had some good celebrations, and don't worry when we don't because of kids or work or health stuff. And through even bigger storms of life we've faced together, we grew stronger and closer.  Crisis has a way of doing that, helping us realize we need to change if we're going to get through it.
Paul and his friends in Acts 27 face a scary storm out at sea. And many of the sailors learned that their routines, their expertise, even the stars couldn't help them. And they struggled with fear, with wanting to abandon ship, and even remembering to eat! But Paul reminds them to have courage, to stay together, and to have some food.  Where did his hope and wisdom come from? Like Pastor Brian said, from God's presence which gave Paul peace and protection.  Crisis reminds us of God, which is always His plan, to be with us, even in the storm. And His presence changes everything!

Devoted Building Blocks

Feb. 7, 2021
By: Andrew Paulsen

When my sons were little, they liked to build towers out of blocks, Legos, pillows, or whatever else they could find at times. It was exciting to see how tall it could get, but they soon learned they had to think about how they started this tower and how they placed each thing on top of the others. Of course, they liked to watch the whole thing fall or knock it down, unless it was their brother knocking it down before they were finished!
Sometimes as we take on new goals or start new chapters in our lives, we have this same sense of wanting to build something that will last, that won't fall down in a dramatic mess. And we know there are people and problems that are going to try to knock us off our path and make it hard for us.
That's why being devoted to those things that help us build wisely are important. Because if we keep at it, the foundation and structure won't be completely destroyed when problems hit, we'll have an easier time of picking up and moving forward. My Community Groups team and I wrote words on Jenga Blocks of those things we are devoted to doing as we build groups this spring. Prayer, Encouragement, Authenticity, Patience, Available, and Humility were just a few of the words some of us devoted to.  And we're devoted to each other in brotherly love, like Romans 12:10 says. Sharing our commitment to God and each other will allow us to build in way that creates something that is pleasing to Him.

P.O.W.- Prisoner of Waiting

By Andrew Paulsen
Date: 1/24/21

At church recently we've had a couple of staff members who were pregnant or had spouse's who were pregnant. And like most, while they were nervous for the big day and all the stuff that can happen on top of all the new hospital regulations, they couldn't wait for the pregnancy to be over ASAP. They just wanted to get it over with, but there wasn't much they  could do, they were a prisoner to the time schedule of that little one.
Many of us have felt that way these past 12 months. Waiting for schools to resume, waiting for the election to be completed, waiting for Disneyland to reopen! We've felt held back, trapped and a prisoner to waiting.
Paul in Acts 25 is still waiting to be released from prison, a place he's been for many years. He's had practically no control over his situation and has had to go on trial multiple times for false accusations. He's a prisoner of waiting, but each trial he shows wisdom and courage. And I would like to think it's because while he's been a prisoner of waiting, he's been preparing. He's been thinking through his options, what rights he has, what words he can say. Just like parents-to-be show wisdom in preparing for their new child, we all should seek ways to prepare for what God has next as we wait. 

Character in  Your Character

By Andrew Paulsen
Date: 1/17/21

Just the other day I was at a wedding, a very small wedding of course because of Covid-19 regulations. A since it was so small, it was easy to see and talk to almost all of the guests. And of course people play certain roles, especially within their family: the funny one, the sentimental one, the partier, the worrier, peace-maker, and the shy wallflower. But like actors who find motivation to play their role, people also have their reasons for doing what they do: to preserve the peace, to gain favor, to frustrate and annoy, or to serve and help, to  show love.  That's what God looks at: what is the motivation going on inside our hearts. What's the character in the character we're playing.

In Acts 24, we have 3 characters: the lawyer Tertullus, the Governor Felix, and the prisoner Paul. Each one has their motivation and methods in the role they find themselves in. Tertullus has learned to win influence and power through flattery and deceit, praising Felix and slandering Paul. Felix has long been used to getting bribes and exchanging favors to gain position and wealth. And Paul has determined to be courageous, to live with a "clear conscience" even if that means he is imprisoned and persecuted. It's not the role we find ourselves in that's important, but the reality in our hearts that matters. Have character as you the play the character you've been given.

Remain

By: Andrew Paulsen
Date: 1/10/2020

A Late Happy New Year to everyone! Of course, many of us have been looking at photos, memes, and videos of highlights of the past year. Most of us were hoping that somehow 2021 would signal a change from the chaos and stress of 2020, but we've already been disappointed.  One of my favorite quotes that what used a lot last year was “You know what comes out of pipes when they are under pressure? Whatever’s inside them.” Which of course sounds like a dad joke, but also has some good wisdom. Whatever we have inside of us will come out in those times of stress. Many of us have felt lots of pressure, put through tension in ways we never imagined last year on this date.
And if you think about plumbing, most pipes have some sort of release valve, a way to relieve pressure.  And many of us have our coping mechanisms, our ways of finding stress relief. But many of our normal ways of coping: going to the gym, eating out at a restaurant, hanging out with friends and family, of even attending church, were drastically changed or limited.
So with all that pressure and without the normal forms of support or relief, what happened? If you’re like many, you did all the unhealthy binging: binging on Netflix, on junk food, on Amazon shopping. Or you burst, and you found you had a lot more gunk in your system than you wanted to admit: anger, bitterness, worry, lust, greed. That was me: at times I would get short-tempered, critical, and obsess over finances. So if there was any year there was pressure to do better, to make changes, to improve, it would be this year right?
And in our slogan driven society, there’s all kinds of phrases people have chosen for their goals or focus. My inbox has tons of them and I noticed a trend: many were "r" words: Renew, Refocus, Re-connect, Re-center, Revive, Realize, Restore, Rejoice. And these are all good words, but I want to throw out a different r-word for you: Remain.
In John 15, we see Jesus facing extreme pressure, and his friends kind of know he’s in a tough place, but don’t totally get it and don’t realize they are about to face tons of pressure too. You see he’s about to be arrested and then crucified. And their main source of comfort and strength, Him, will be killed before their eyes. And so he does another object lesson to help them understand how to live as his followers. There are grapevines along the road and in this farm-based society, they were all familiar with vines.
My sons and I are familiar with vines too. Our house is on a hill where it sits lower than the street behind it. Our backyard originally had a slope, but a previous owner ingeniously removed lots of dirt and built a retainer to give it more space and planted vines that cover part of the wall at the top. It creates a sense that we’re in our own little oasis. But those vines grow like crazy and about twice a year my sons and I trim them back. I’ve pretty much guaranteed that my boys will never have vines in their future homes, they don’t like this chore. We get dusty, scratched, and it takes hours. Pruning is hard work, and while we have self-cleaning ovens, and soon self-driving cars, we don’t have self-pruning vines.
Jesus tells his disciples in John 15:5 "I Am the Vine, You Are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." And He says a little earlier, "every branch that bears fruit, my father prunes so that it bears more fruit."
This takes trust and a focus on our loving father instead of the fruit. Because if we focus on the fruit, we think we’re ok, that things are going well. But God sees more for us, God has plans that we don’t know about. And after last year, we should realize there were lots of weeds mixed in our fruit and we need Him to do some work on us. So let's trust Him, submit to his pruning, and Remain with Him this 2021.

Walk with Purpose in Discipleship

By: Andrew Paulsen
Date: 10/26/2020

This last weekend my family and I made a trip to hike in a canyon that’s known for beautiful fall colors. It didn’t disappoint. The aspen trees were gold and orange and leaves would gently fall to the ground as we walked. The hike did some effort as we had to climb a little to get to one of the bigger glades. But the view of the valley with the stream and a small lake surrounded by autumn colors was worth it. Walking uphill takes a sense of purpose. It doesn’t just happen. There’s some effort involved and some willingness to push through some discomfort as the air gets thin and the legs start to burn. And when it’s your first time on a hike, you’re not exactly sure of how hard the ascent will be or how long it will take. The easy thing to do is to just stay in the flat area and take pictures, but then your experience is so much more limited.

The same is true in discipleship. Pastor Andy Dean spoke on the importance of intentionally discipling people God has placed in our lives, especially our kids. When we build a relationship with someone and realize we have an opportunity to help them grow
in their faith, it can be exciting at first. But soon we realize that it takes some work and a sense of purpose. 
Otherwise, the conversations stay flat and safe. But if we know that it’s worth it to take the conversations to a higher level, to be vulnerable about our own struggles and willing to ask some potentially awkward questions. Of course, we don’t know exactly how long this path of discipleship will take or how hard some of these talks might be, but if we trust God has a purpose in it, we will venture forward.

Our hike ended up being pretty easy, even though it was rated “Hard” by some website. We think it was because of the beauty of that valley and the fun talks we had while walking. As you seek to be faithful in the relationships God has given you, remember if you look at Him and see His glory and talk with him, the journey ends up being much more pleasant than what most people predicted.

Safe Fans for Bad Fans

By: Andrew Paulsen
Date: 10/12/2020

“While I am a huge sports fan, I am also a terrible sports fan. The reason is that I often don’t show up and watch when the games matter the most. Last week my Los Angeles Lakers won their 17th championship, and I barely watched any of the games. It looked like they were going to clinch the whole thing during Game 5, so I made time to watch it, only to see them lose at the last second. My heart had been pounding, my blood was rushing, I was yelling at the screen; I was fully engaged. And I let myself care, I got emotionally involved in the outcome of the team. Now, this is why many people love sports: the emotion, the drama. It’s similar for people who have their favorite soap opera or reality tv show or movie: the feelings we get make us feel alive. But not me, I don’t want to be disappointed. So, I was glad I had an event Sunday evening and couldn’t watch the next game. I was nervous and didn’t want to be crushed again. It was easier to disconnect and be loosely involved; I was safe. And it showed I didn’t truly believe in my team.

In Acts 18 as Paul’s ministry starts to take off in Corinth, he gets nervous and anxious too. And the Lord speaks to him, telling him to not to be afraid and to stay for an extended period of time. We don’t know exactly why Paul was afraid, but as Pastor Brian mentioned, the messiness of working in that culture that we see in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians was probably overwhelming and daunting. It would definitely be easier to be less connected and involved. But that’s not how you build gospel centered communities. You show up, you care, you share your life with other people and show the true meaning of life found in Jesus. So let’s not make the mistake of avoiding community because it’s hard and messy and brings up all kinds of emotions. Let’s embrace allowing ourselves to be raw and real and allow Jesus to work in us, despite us, and be there for each other. Because when we do that, we show we believe in Him.

In Common to In Community

By: Andrew Paulsen
Date: 10/5/2020

“Me Too!” This was about the tenth time in the last 10 minutes my wife and I had heard this phrase. Charlotte and I were getting to know a young couple as part of giving them advice and perspective before they got married. The young bride-to-be was excited to be talking with another couple and was discovering more and more of what she had in common with one of us. Those similarities made her comfortable and more willing to share. This wasn’t forced or even strategic, it just was happening over a meal. And that’s something I think can happen at most tables around the world: if we take time and open up, we’ll find things we have in common with just about anybody. Of course, the opposite is true too: if we take time and open up, we’ll find differences with just about anybody. The question is, what do we do with those discoveries? Do we enjoy and build on those things in common, or become bored and dismissive? Do we find those differences fun and interesting, or reasons to avoid and hold back?

Paul in Acts 17 has the perspective to appreciate and work through differences he had with the Athenians as well as use the commonalities to make connections. He wanted share the love of God with them in a way as best he could so they would listen and be able to respond. If we’re going to share the gospel with the people around us, having a similar outlook on people will truly help. And if you think about it, commonalties are good building blocks for a community. And love is the best motivation to build. Let’s find the commonalities, appreciate the differences and let God’s love drive us to build gospel centered communities.

Are You Tone-Deaf or In-Tune?

By: Andrew Paulsen
Date: 9/29/2020

With distance learning going on at my house with my 2 sons, I get to be part of band class! As cool as that may sound, it’s really an interesting experience. I’m used to hearing my sons play as they practice. They of course are learning and make mistakes. But now I hear the rest of the class over Zoom and the mistakes are multiplied, the timing is off, and it’s just a melodious mess! (Some of you are literally cringing as you read this, I personally find it kind of funny.) You can quickly tell that many of these kids are struggling with being in-tune. They don’t have their instructor there to help them with their instrument or give them a quick one-on-one tip. They really have to work at being in-tune with the rest of the band and the band director. Otherwise, they are in danger of being tone-deaf, which throws off the whole experience.

We also can be tone-deaf in our relationships and in our community. There are lots of reasons why this happens, but the big

Being Unaware

Just like a musician not paying attention to the music on the page or the director’s lead, we can be in our own little world and totally unaware of what’s going on around us. This leads us into doing things are are totally out of tune with what other’s are going through.
Not listening

It’s hard to play good music without having an ear for music. And many musicians will train their listening skills to pick out the chords and notes to harmonize with. The same is in our relationships. We need to practice good listening skills, otherwise we’ll be tone deaf. Do we hear what our family members are saying? Do we notice the tone and posture of our co-workers and neighbors?

Paul in Acts 17 shows he’s in tune with the people of Athens. He’s aware of all the idols. He’s listened to their philosophers and leaders. And he goes one step further: he cares. It says he was stirred in verse 16. He let the tune affect him and he responded. He reached out and met them where they were at.

But like a middle school band, if you only listen to the people around you, it’s not going to go well. If we pay attention to God and listen to him, he will direct us so that we in His will. And when a community is in tune with Him and each other, that’s when we have harmony.

Fellowship Found in a Hospital

By: Andrew Paulsen
Date: 9/28/2020

Our church is not very far from a hospital. You can see it right from the freeway just a few minutes after you see Calvary Murrieta. Hospitals are interesting places. Some of the most intelligent people work there with the most sophisticated machines, yet it’s a place nobody wants to go... until they have to go. In hospitals you experience amazing joy and crushing grief, the beginning of a new life and the end.

Hospitals are also places of amazing support and community. Last week, as many of you know, the Collins had to rush to the hospital as their oldest son had an unexpected episode that led to lengthy CPR and an ambulance trip. The nurses and doctors at Loma Linda acted quickly and fortunately he survived. I was able to visit the family that evening and though things were still tense and a lot of questions had to be answered, there was such support and love from friends and family who were there even though they couldn’t go in. Literally we are all outside along the sidewalk. Jamie and Meghan Collins were planning on being Community Group leaders. They were excited and committed to helping people connect and grow closer to God and each other. I understand better why. They wanted to pass on what they had already received from so many. Grace...Prayer... Encouragement...Love. I was honored and humbled to be part of that group that night which showed such Godly support.
2 weeks ago in Acts 16: 25-34 we heard Brian teach about the jailer in Philippi was converted after he experienced the love and joy that Paul and Silas had while in jail, so much of it so that they didn’t escape when they could have but stayed to talk to him. Paul and Silas I’m sure had an easier time making that decision to stay because they had been able to pray and praise together. Praying and Praising God in a community is so powerful, and it often leads to a powerful witness. Like family and friends standing outside a hospital, praying and comforting each other.

Off the Map

By: Andrew Paulsen
Date: 9/15/2020

Have you ever wanted to know exactly where you’re going? Of course you have. It’s why map apps are some of the most used features on our phones. It’s why a generation ago Garmins were big sellers for people to have in their cars. It’s why a real long time ago AAA was famous for all its free maps and travel guides to its members (My mom still has a collection in the glove box!)

And many of us wish we had a map for our life. That we knew the route, the journey, the ups and downs ahead of time so we would be prepared. But unfortunately, God doesn’t give us a map for our lives. So what do we do?

Choose Adventure over Anxiety

Not knowing where we’re going can makes us feel anxious. We don’t want to get lost, we don’t want to make a wrong turn, we don’t want to have to waste time or energy. But let’s be honest. Even when we think we have the control and know exactly what will happen, we still feel anxious. And something usually does go wrong, and we realize that we don’t have control. So instead of being anxious, we can adopt the attitude of adventure. We can look forward to the unexpected blessings and challenges and enjoy the discoveries that come with them. If we accept the adventure and take pleasure in discovery, going off the map is good.

Choose the Maker over the Map

For those who believe God is in control, it can be quite frustrating when God allows the unexpected twists and turns into our lives. And often, we ask God for the map of our lives, of our future. We say “God can you just give the layout of what’s going on?
Can I have a map?” And instead, God says, “Hey, I’m going to jump in the car and be your guide, we’ll go together. Won’t that be fun?” Most of us resist, “Yeah, but, can I know?” I picture God responding with a smirk and a twinkle in His eye “No, I’ll just tell you to turn left or right when we get to those crossroads.” In other words, God is in control, but if you’re like me, you don’t want to be in that place of dependence, you don’t want to need God to be your guide. But if we accept God as our guide, we don’t just get to have an adventure with amazing discoveries, but we have a relationship that is rich with moments and memories.

Acts 1:7 "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

Our theme for the fall is "Off the Map". It fits the book of Acts we’ll be studying. Paul and the rest of his team were literally going to places they’ve never seen, experiencing things they’ve never dreamed about in the lives. God was fulfilling his promise in Acts 1:7 of going to the ends of the earth. That’s where Paul and Timothy and Barnabas and Peter lived in Acts, off the map. And that’s where Community Groups is going to live in the Election Year, Covid Crazy time of 2020. We bring our experiences and gifts with us, we go together and not alone, and we let God be our guide. He’s the mapmaker; He knows where He’s leading us.