Tuesday, March 31, 2015

How to define a Lead Pastor's job in 35 words or less...


I am reading “What’s Best Next” by Matt Perman. Matt worked for John Piper and is a Southern Seminary Grad. Here’s a link to his book.

It’s good. 

Piper says, “This book is simply extraordinary. This is largely because of the way God has wired Matt Perman. His mind is saturated with biblical truth, and he is passionate, sometimes to a fault (as you will see in his personal stories), about being effective for the glory of Christ. Those two traits have combined to produce a God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated book that, without blinking, gets into stuff like Al Mohler’s midnight productivity and Seth Godin’s method for carving out time for work that matters. I doubt there is a person on the planet who knows both theological issues and time management literature to the depth and extent Matt Perman does. This combination is at times mindboggling.”

Matt recommends a Master Weekly Schedule (Ideal Work week) and points to Michael Hyatt's ideal weekly schedule as an example. 


Anyway, for what it’s worth. here’s what I had on my Master Calendar way back in 2013…
From an old Master Weekly Schedule dated January 2003 when I was Lead Pastor at CVC, here's how I tried to prioritize my time as a senior pastor... in less than 35 words. 

***


1. Provide overall leadership and cast vision - pray and think!


2. Communicate God's Word - study and teach!


3. Develop new and existing leaders - disciple and deploy!


4. Reach the lost - invite and include!


5. Develop stewards - give and encourage!


As I look at this, 12 years later, I think I would at least add "Be an example - love and be loved!" 


But for now. let's just go with what I put on paper on my Master Schedule 12 years ago. 


Question: How would you define the lead pastor's role in 35 words or less?


P.S. I case you didn't hit the link before and want to learn about how to put together a Weekly Master Calendar (an ideal work week)? Check out Michael Hyatt's wise advice here.

Monday, March 30, 2015

How to pray for your Easter services



CVC has a 24 hour prayer chain going to ask the Lord for His blessing on our Easter services. If you haven't yet signed up to pray, this link is where you can go to sign up

Lately, I've been waking up to pray at 3:45 AM. I thought I might share some insights about how the Lord led me to pray this morning in hopes that it might inform a few others at CVC who are wondering, "How might I pray better for our church and for Easter services?" 

***

I ask You, Lord God, that on Resurrection weekend we might have the capacity to glorify You in a way that You should be glorified. Give us hearts filled with praise, Lord Jesus, as we think about Your death and Your resurrection so that we might be saved and reconciled to God. Let us love You with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and let us love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

I ask that Chad Allen, our lead pastor, be filled with the Holy Spirit, be anointed, and have with the old time preachers called "unction." May he speak the word of God with boldness. May none of his words fall to the ground. As he explains Your word, may it not return void, but may it accomplish the purposes for which You sent it. May he have clarity of thought and expression. May You use him not only as a seed–planter and a soil–waterer, but also a soul–harvester.

Cause our people at CVC to be burdened about those who don't know Christ, opportunistic when it comes to inviting people to attend our services, and bold to share a good word for Christ and for our church, CVC. Help us think of creative ways to be inviters and includers because we remember that what many of our friends need is a simple invitation. Remind us that when we invite people to join us at our Easter services, it's a simple way to invite people to new life in Christ. Teach us to leverage the fact that their sensitivities are already heightened to spiritual things.

Send people to CVC and to all our sister churches in Northeast Ohio. Send them from the north, south, east, and west. May people have a spiritual hunger that cannot be explained. May the soil in their hearts be soft. May the seed which will be planted bear fruit – 30 fold, 60 fold, and 100 fold. Do not let the enemy come and steal the seed. Instead, may there be a planting, a watering, and a harvesting that results in the salvation of many souls.

Bless the singers, the instrumentalists, and the technicians who will work hard to provide the praise and the atmosphere that will glorify You. Bless their preparation and the execution of their important roles in our services. Thank You for the sacrifices that so many volunteers will make throughout resurrection weekend to bring glory to You. May anyone who participates in our services – artists, greeters, ushers, teachers - have smiles on their faces, joy in their hearts, and a spring in their step.

Cause us to be fed from Your word as we reflect on the meaning of Your cross and Your resurrection. Cause us to understand that because of the message of Easter, everything changes. Feed our souls. Enlighten our minds. Give us feet to share the best news ever. Make us filled with joy. Make us more like Christ. Cause us to think more highly of You. Set us free from sin. Send us on your mission. Set our souls on fire. And do all this so that the fame and the name of Jesus Christ will be spread far and wide and deep and long.

In Jesus name, amen.

Friday, March 27, 2015

28 characteristics of the best church leaders in 2015 - according to Lyle Schaller


Our recent loss of the insightful, church consulting pioneer, the 91 year old Lyle Schaller, caused me to pull some of his books off my shelf to review and reflect. His insights certainly shaped my leadership and Cuyahoga Valley Church over our 29 year history.

You can read about Schaller's life and legacy in an article by Leith Anderson. You can see some of his most memorable and influential quotes in a blog post by Will Mancini

In his book Getting Things Done (published in 1986), Schaller asked, "Who will be the leaders in 2015?" He called for existing leaders to identify, enlist, educate, socialize, nurture and train persons who would be the leaders of the churches in 2015. 

Then, Schaller, with his typical prescience, identified some of the qualities and competencies that would need to be present in the lives of the best and most effective initiating leaders. Way back in 1986, he was calling church leaders to raise up leaders for 2015 who would be "venturesome rebels." 

In five short paragraphs, he described what kind of leaders the church of today would need. With apologies, I have tuned his paragraphs into a list so we might evaluate ourselves. 

28 characteristics for effective leaders - "venturesome rebels" - for 2015 and beyond...

1. They display a high level of self-confidence. 
2. They are not conformists.
3. They are willing to take risks. 
4. They are hard workers.
5. They are curious.
6. They are impatient. [I'm sure that this, for Schaller, was a Spirit-inspired impatience with the status quo.]
7. They are assertive,
8. They are survivalists.
9. They are energetic. 
10. They are hardy. 
11. They are flexible.
12. They are self-starters.
13. They are tough.
14. They are persistent.
15. They are decisive.
16. They are persuasive.
17. They are ambitious. [Schaller was thinking of a holy ambition for the advancement of God and His kingdom and glory.] 
18. They are optimistic about the future. 
19. They have learned how to manage their time in a productive manner. 
20. They are reflective. 
21. When criticized, they do not respond in anger but look beyond that anger in an effort to analyze both the content of the criticism and the motivation of the critic. 
22. They function in a long time frame.
23. They are comfortable conceptualizing abstract ideas in a five to twenty year time span.
24. They display the characteristic of "mental rehearsal" - anticipating the arguments of the opposition and reflecting on alternative courses of action.
25. They rarely allow themselves to become captive of what others claim is the most urgent immediate issues. 
26. They have vision. 
27. They have the ability to inspire others to want to turn that vision into reality. 
28. They have a willingness to intervene. 

As I thought through Schaller's list, I thanked God that He has indeed raised up some key leaders to be "venturesome rebels" for the good of and the growth of His church. I did some self-evaluation. Surely, this is a list to aspire to and to pray toward. 

Questions: How do you think current church leaders are measuring up? What qualities would you add to Schaller's list? 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Do you need a guest speaker?



"Rick Duncan has a heart for both the local church and making an impact for God's Kingdom. He works hard to connect these things together in his teachings and there is always a genuine impact on the individuals who have an opportunity to learn from him. Every time Rick has taught at our church he is happy to work with our team to accomplish what God has laid on our hearts and makes real connections that impact people's everyday lives." Andy Sikora, Lead Pastor, Renew Communities

***

I was so humbled to receive these words from my friend, Andy. I had asked him to share some of his thoughts about my teaching. 

Since I have passed the baton of Lead Pastor to Chad Allen at CVC, I still teach about once every 4-6 weeks at CVC and I have staff responsibilities on other weekends. But that means that I am free on certain weekends to fill in whenever and wherever I am needed.

So, I asked Andy and a few other leaders to share some of their thoughts about my ministry in hopes that churches in need might call on me to help on those weekends when I am free from responsibilities at CVC. 

As I have been thinking and planning my schedule for the rest of the year, I know that some churches are without a current lead pastor. Other pastors might want someone to fill the pulpit while they are away on vacation or at a seminar. At times, a church might want a seminar speaker for a special topic. 

Know that it would be an honor for me to serve in a teaching capacity at your church if you find yourself in need. This is one simple way that CVC and I can serve the larger body of Christ. 

Simply send an email to our CVC Missions Assistant, Elena Golsch, at egolsch@cvconline.org. 

Perhaps God will give us the opportunity to serve you. 

***

“We were very blessed to have Pastor Rick with us to speak on a Sunday morning as he helped us engage the Word of God. He didn’t just preach a sermon as a guest speaker, but he listened to what God had for him to say to us and he pastored our church even for the 35 minutes we got to spend with him." David Erlandson, Worship Pastor, Trinity Baptist Church

"We have been abundantly blessed by Rick's teaching here in an urban context, Slavic Village, Ohio. He has an innate ability to bring Biblical Truth into the context of everyday life in a way that is relatable to people from all walks of life." Jeff Bodziony, Lead Pastor, Forward Church

Monday, March 23, 2015

How a Reading and Listening Application Guide can help young leaders grow


Because I was invited to help develop a leadership development process for young 20-something leaders in our state, I was thinking through how we might approach the process of coaching, mentoring, and equipping younger leaders.

When I have taught leaders here at Cuyahoga Valley Church, I have used reading and listening application guides for their homework.

I ask the young leaders to read some pages in a book and to listen to podcasts or view content online. I want to make sure that they have actually read the materials and listened in advance. 

So, I ask them to write down their top 2-3 take-aways from the reading and their top 2-3 take-aways from their listening. Then, I ask them to share the information on their top 2s or 3s with someone BEFORE they come to the huddle. That way, they will have had to process it in advance and will have had to master it a little in advance (because you can’t share what you don’t know).

Those reading and listening application guides are then used for discussion purposes.

Finally, I ask them to hand them in and I “grade” them by writing on them, looking for things to use to encourage and challenge them. I hand them back the following week.

Below is a sample:

Reading and listening application guide for CVC’s leadership development class

1.  Something I learned from this past week’s class notes was…

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

2.  I shared what I learned from this week’s class notes with…  _____________________

3.  Here are 2-3 things/quotes that I learned from this week’s reading…

a.

b.

c.

4.  I shared what I learned from this week’s reading with …  _______________________

5.  Here are 2-3 things/quotes that I learned from this week’s podcast or video

a.

b.

c.

6.  I shared what I learned from this week’s listening with …  _________________________

7.  Here’s how Jesus is changing my life and/or speaking to me…

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________



Your name____________________

Friday, March 20, 2015

How were the people who lived before Christ saved?


Recently, via text, a member of our staff received a short question that prompted some deep theological thinking. Here's the question: "What happened to ALL the people BEFORE Jesus came and died for us?"

Perhaps another way of asking the question is this: "If forgiveness of sins and salvation come through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the how were people in the Old Testament saved before Jesus came?"


The assumption that is usually made is that the way of salvation in the Old Testament must have been different than the way in the New Testament. That is, in my view, a wrong assumption. I think it may originate in part from the dispensational theology that many radio preachers made popular in the latter half of the 20th Century.

These posts from David Murray's blog are really good. Murray is a Scot and an Old Testament professor at Puritan Reformed Seminary and wrote, "Jesus On Every Page" and "The Happy Christian."


Bottom line? It seems clear to me that the saints in the Old Testament were saved by grace through faith in the Messiah who was coming. What God did was apply the work that He would do in the future on the cross to the Old Testament saint. It's was faith that saved Abraham (Genesis 15:6). It's faith that makes all the Old Testament saints sons and daughters of Abraham. The Old Testament saint believed God and it was counted for him and for her as righteous. They are saved by grace through faith. The Old Testament saint didn't have to do anything. It would be finished.

They, obviously, could not see in the Messiah's work all that we can now see on this side of the cross. But if full understanding of the benefits of Christ's sacrifice is necessary for salvation, then who among us would be saved? No. We respond in faith to the true God according to the light we've been given. And God graciously grants us double imputation - Jesus takes our sin and we get His righteousness.

I once said in a message from Luke 19:1-10 on Zacchaeus, "Jesus took His future work on the cross when He would die in the place of Zacchaeus to pay for Zacchaeus' sin and applied that work to Zacchaeus' life that day. Jesus said, 'Salvation has come to your house today because you are a son of Abraham' – you've been made righteous in My sight by faith in Me. No wonder Zacchaeus was happy. It was finished. It was done. All done. There was nothing in Zacchaeus' spiritual inbox left to do. There were no 'to do' lists to tackle. 'It is finished!'"

Now, for those Old Testament characters who did not receive the gift of faith and, therefore, did not exercise the gift of faith, they are not saved... just like those who do not exercise faith today are not saved.

We must never fail to underestimate the importance of Genesis 15:6,"And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness." This passage is certainly a big, big deal to Paul.

About Genesis 15:6, Matthew Henry says, "Some think that his [Abraham's] believing in the Lord respected, not only the Lord promising, but the Lord promised, the Lord Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant. He believed in him, that is, received and embraced the divine revelation concerning him, and rejoiced to see his day, though at so great a distance, Jn. 8:56 . God counted it to him for righteousness; that is, upon the score of this he was accepted of God, and, as the rest of the patriarchs, by faith he obtained witness that he was righteous, Heb. 11:4 . This is urged in the New Testament to prove that we are justified by faith without the works of the law (Rom. 4:3 ; Gal. 3:6 ); for Abram was so justified while he was yet uncircumcised."


About Genesis 15:6, John Gill says, "He [Abraham] believed in the promise of God, that he should have a seed, and a very numerous one; he believed that the Messiah would spring from his seed; he believed in him as his Saviour and Redeemer; he believed in him for righteousness, and he believed in his righteousness as justifying him before God: and he counted it to him for righteousness; not the act of his faith, but the object of it; and not the promise he believed, but what was promised, and his faith received, even Christ and his righteousness this was imputed to him without works, and while he was an uncircumcised person, for the proof of which the apostle produces this passage, (Romans 4:3 Romans 4:10 Romans 4:23 Romans 4:24 ); wherefore this is not to be understood of any action of his being esteemed and accounted a righteous one, and he pronounced and acknowledged a righteous person on account of it; for Abram was not justified before God by his own works, but by the righteousness of faith, as all that believe are, that is, by the righteousness of Christ revealed to faith, and received by it."

Thursday, March 12, 2015

7 principles for equipping your successor

7 principles for equipping your successor

1. Keep the long view in mind. 

Preparing your successor is a coaching, mentoring, equipping, encouraging, training, discipling, and training relationship that is specifically designed for the lead pastor role. But don't just think about getting the next lead pastor ready for a role. That's merely short-term thinking. Focus on helping him lean forward to break the tape at the finish line of his life so that he will hear a "Well done!" from Jesus on the Day. Your role in his life needs to be more than just a professional relationship. Your role needs to be that of a spiritual friend who is going to care for his spiritual, relational, emotional, intellectual, physical, and rhythmic success.

2. Follow best practices. 

It will help you immensely if you become increasingly familiar with the best practices to invest in next generation leaders. Make a list of books, blogs, and podcasts that will equip you to equip a new generation. Then prioritize those tools that you will use in order to pour into the life of the next lead pastor.

3. Be a proactive leader, not a pastoral responder. 

You will be tempted to stay caught up in the busyness of ongoing ministry to the neglect of your investment in the next leader's life. But remember, toward the end of his ministry, Jesus spent increasing amounts of time with decreasing numbers of people. So, to follow His pattern, it makes sense for you to spend what some people might think would be an inordinate amount of time with the next leader. Some needs may have to go unmet and some phone calls may have to go on returned as you invest most deeply into the life of your successor.

4. Remember that the relationship trumps the task. 

Focus on relationship before you focus on the training. Have fun together. Eat together. Play together. Go to conferences and seminars together. Help your spouses connect together. Actively be involved in the spiritual walk of your successor. Retreat together. Be intentional. The person you are coaching needs to hear words like these: "I believe in you." "I am for you." "I love you." Yes, the project is to help that person replace you. But in ministry, it always should be "people over projects."

5. Create a high relational – high challenge environment.

You have invited this new leader into a high challenge environment because you're asking him to take over organizational leadership. But if it is not also a high relational environment then you are simply creating a command culture. Hopefully, what you have created (or are creating) is a high challenge and a high relationship environment which creates a coaching culture. Ask yourself, "What steps do I need to take to make moving to a high relational – high challenge environment possible?" Focusing on the task at the expense of the relationship will derail the process. A task orientation is necessary because there are technical aspects to the succession plan and need to be addressed. But the relational aspect cannot be overstated or ignore.

6. Maintain and model a proper rhythm. 

Think of the tick tock of a grandfather clock. The pendulum rhythmically swings back and forth. On one side is being, abiding, relating. On the other side is doing, working, tasking. We need a rhythm in our lives. We also need to keep in mind the rhythm as the transition takes place. Encourage an appropriate rhythm in the life of your successor. 

7. Be a holistic example. 

 Make sure that the new leader is able to observe you in many ministry contexts. Enjoying breakfasts. Having lunches. Hanging out with your family. Exercising. Engaging people in the church foyer. Doing weddings. Handling funerals. Leading elder meetings. Organizing staff meetings. Praying. Doing devotions. You get the idea. You want your successor to see you in many environments. It's not because he's going to be a copycat. Often times, people need to see "a way" so they can find "their way."

Monday, March 09, 2015

A reason to rejoice: Jesus sought me when a stranger

Yesterday in a message I said, "We don't seek God. He seeks us. God is the seeker. If left to ourselves, we would never seek after God."

Need proof? It comes from our Bible reading for today in Psalm 53.

"God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one" (Psalms 53:2-3).

There would be no salvation, no forgiveness, no hope of heaven if Jesus did not seek after us.

Jesus is looking for the lost. He’s the seeker!

God says, "I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak…" (Ezekiel 34:16a).

In Luke 15 Jesus taught us that He is looking. He’s like a shepherd seeking a lost sheep, a woman seeking a lost coin, and a father seeking a lost son. Once the lost is found, there’s rejoicing! Jesus looks at us to rescue us and then to rejoice over us!

I love the words of the old hymn:

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.

Seeking and saving the lost. That’s been the mission of God since our first parents sinned. The Lord sought Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after they sinned. And He’s been seeking and saving sinners ever since.

If He didn’t seek us, we wouldn’t seek Him. Jesus said, “You didn’t choose Me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). We seek Him because He first sought us.

It's amazing, isn't it, that Jesus would seek the likes of us!

If you have been sought and saved, that's a reason for rejoicing!

Saturday, March 07, 2015

6 secrets for spiritual impact

Will you be in front of God's people tomorrow? Tomorrow, will you have an opportunity to give spiritual input to people who are far from God?

Will you be leading a youth Bible study or a children's Sunday school class? Will you be praying publicly or playing an instrument or leading worship or making announcements? Will you be delivering a message?

If so, then you already know that spiritual preparation is even more important than technical preparation.

Psalm 51 makes that clear. In verses 10-12 we see six prerequisites that are necessary fir God to use us in teaching and leading so that people are truly helped.

1. A cleansed heart.

"Create in me a clean heart, O God" (Psalm 51:10a).

2. A renewed spirit.

"...and renew a right spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10b).

3. The Divine Presence.

"Cast me not away from your presence" (Psalm 51:11a).

4. The Spirit's power.

"...and take not your Holy Spirit from me" (Psalm 51:11b).

5. Our salvation's joy.

"Restore to me the joy of your salvation" (Psalm 51:12a).

6. A willing spirit.

"...and uphold me with a willing spirit" (Psalm 51:12b).

And what happens when all these things come together? Psalm 51:13 tells us. It's what we long to see take place.

"Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you" (Psalms 51:13).

So, will you use verses 10-12 as a basis for your prayer and then claim the promise found in verse 13?

What might happen if you spent 30 minutes today to get ready to be useful on the Lord's day tomorrow?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Every story whispers His name – how the Isaac/Ishmael story points us to the gospel of Christ

Today I had a big challenge and a huge joy of teaching some international students from India, China, and South Korea at Mosaic Church. It was a cold, cold day (-2 degrees) in Northeast Ohio, but these internationals, many of whom are students at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland State University, showed up at services anyway.

I was asked by ministry leader, Tom Wright, who was on vacation in 77 degree weather in Florida today, to teach from Genesis 21 – the story of the birth of Isaac and the casting out of Ishmael. The challenge was to explain the story in a simple way to people who are unfamiliar with the redemptive history of the Bible. Then, I wanted to connect the dots to the story of Jesus.

I wanted to answer the question, "How does the story of Isaac and Ishmael point us to the story of Jesus?"

Many years ago I heard the statement, "Jesus is in the Old Testament concealed and in the New Testament revealed." I have the Jesus Storybook Bible that I purchased for my grandson. The book is subtitled "Every story whispers His name" - meaning, of course, that every Old Testament story teaches us something about the Person and work of Jesus. This approach reflects the message of the book Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament, by David Murray. Today, I told the internationals that history is really His–story.

Below is my lesson plan. I tried to make it a dialogue and gave the internationals the opportunity to explore the text in small group settings and then to make their own discoveries. 

Finding joy by grace through faith: a study of Genesis 21:1-21

Lesson Plan for Mosaic – February 15, 2015

What ethnic/economic/political/religious tensions exist in your country of origin? What do you believe are the root causes of the conflicts?

What do you believe are the root causes of the conflict between the Jewish and Arab peoples? How concerned are the people in your country about the Arab/Israeli conflict?

Ishmael, 1st son of Abraham from his wife's servant Hagar, is the ancestor of several prominent Arab tribes and the forefather of Muhammad. Isaac, 2nd son of Abraham through his wife Sarah, is one of the Patriarchs, the physical and spiritual ancestors of the Jewish people, and is one of the forefathers of Jesus. Read Genesis 21:1-21. How do you think this history plays a part in the current Jewish–Arab conflict?

Suppose you are teaching Christianity to people who do not have a Christian background. How would you explain how the birth of Isaac fit into God’s overall redemptive plan?

How do you feel when someone makes or breaks a promise to you? (They replied with words like happy, secure, and that they could trust the promise-giver. I wrote their answers down on a large Post-it.) Christians believe that God is faithful, trustworthy – that He is a God who always keeps all His promises. For example, see Genesis 28:15, Numbers 23:19, Deuteronomy 7:9, I Kings 8:23, and Nehemiah 1:5. The story of the birth of Isaac is a display of our promise-keeping God. (Note: His timing and His ways are often confusing to us.) How might a person live if he/she is not confident that God is trustworthy? How might a person live if he/she truly believed that God is trustworthy? (I wanted to make the point that the gods in some religions are whimsical and non-trustworthy and that if some has a God like that, he/she should want to "trade" that god for the God of the Bible.)

Christians believe that Ishmael and Isaac are historical/allegorical illustrations of two approaches to God. Read Galatians 4:21-24, 28-31. Based on what you have read Genesis 21 and Galatians 4, make a list of some of the differences you see between Isaac and Ishmael. (I then gave each group 3-5 minutes to come up with a list. Their lists included several of the following differences listed below. I wrote their responses on a Post-it.)

Isaac                                                                                    Ishmael
son of the promise                                                             son of the flesh
born of the Spirit                                                                 born of the flesh
freedom                                                                                slavery
persecuted                                                                           persecuting
source of joy                                                                        source of sorrow
embraced                                                                             cast out
illustrates trusting God                                                       illustrates trusting self
teaches "by grace thru faith"                                            teaches "by (human) merit thru works
relationship - God reaches down to us                            religion - us reaching up to God

Christians sometimes talk about the difference between religion and relationship – between a religious approach to God and a relationship with God. (I drew the bridge to life illustration and pointed out that Jesus has made it possible for us to approach God the Isaac way. I wanted them to see that we all have to choose. Will we approach God the Ishmael way or the Isaac way?) How have you seen religion assist someone's relationship with God? How have you seen religion interfere with one's relationship with God?

Isaac's name means laughter. From an allegorical viewpoint, he represents an approach to God that produces great joy. In your country of origin, how has religion been a source of sorrow and/or a source of joy? (I wanted them to see that the Ishmael way to approach God leads to sorrow, but the Isaac way to approach God leads to joy.)

Question: How would you teach Genesis 21 to a group of internationals?

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