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Listen Like Jesus: Listening with Discernment
In our message today we look at Jesus’ first miracle – turning water into wine.  Our focus is not so much on the miracle as it is on the conversation Jesus had with Mary.   When Mary brought the problem to Jesus – ‘they’ve run out of wine’, Jesus listened with discernment.   He was aware of Mary’s concern but he was also aware of His priorities.  He understood the embarrassment and guilt that could come upon the wedding party if they run out of wine – but he also understood what was most important. Mary told the servants to “do whatever he (Jesus) tells you to do”.   She was willing to ask anything – but also willing to yield everything.  As followers of Jesus, we need to be willing to ask. God wants us to bring our requests to Him – but we also must be willing to yield to His will.   Ask anything – yield everything! Personal Reflection: Is there an area of my life I haven't fully yielded to God?   What is that area?   How will I respond?
August 15, 2021
Listen Like Jesus: Listen to Know
The Big Idea of this study is that for us to truly listen to other people it is more than hearing them, we need to know them. Question of the Day: What one thing can you do to show people that you are listening to them by seeing them?
August 8, 2021
I Used to Think…But Now I Know: Selective Hearing
“I Used to Think that God Didn’t talk to me, Now I know that I have selective hearing”
August 1, 2021
I Used to Think…But Now I Know: Practice Makes Perfect
The Big Idea of this study is that Jesus warns us that unless we put in practice his teaching on the Kingdom of God we will crash during the storms of life. He doesn’t want people to just study his words, he wants us to hear and do what he says. Question of the Day: What is one thing you can focus on this week to build a solid foundation?
July 25, 2021
I Used to Think…But Now I Know: True Religion
The Big Idea of this study is that fake religion leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths. In our speech, care of others and Jesus honouring lifestyles we have the opportunity to cause people to instead, have a hankering for Jesus and his community of friends. Question of the Day: Would someone be attracted to Jesus and his community of friends by getting to know you?
July 18, 2021
I Used to Think…But Now I Know: Just Say “Yes”
“I Used to Think I Had to Be Special for God to Use Me, Now I Know I Just Have to Say Yes” - Bob Goff •Series Prompted by Several Quotes in His Book: Love Does
July 11, 2021
I Used to Think…But Now I Know: Leadership is Influence
The Big Idea of this study is if we really want to influence people, we need to help them see the good attributes that God has given them. In Love Does, Bob Goff states: “I used to think that words said about us describe us, but now I know they shape who we are.” Our world is full of people who suffer from self-doubt and insecurity. We’ve all seen how online no matter what your opinion people can be beat up and criticized just for stating their mind. We see Paul in his letter to Timothy encouraging his protégé in what he saw in him. He took ink and pen and encouraged Timothy in an area of strength in his life. We need to remember our 3 circles of relationship and actively look for way to encourage those people in them. There are 3 circles of relationships that everyone can have influence over. Inner circle: There are the people that are closest to you, your family members, your or your best friends. Your Influence Circle: These are the people that you run into on a regular basis. The people that you work with, your neighbors Your Life Circle: These are the ones that you have a shallow relationship with: The person who serves you coffee or the people you might walk by in your neighborhood. We know that if everyone suffers from self-doubt and insecurity, it is part of our duties as Jesus followers to make people’s lives better. We can do that by encouraging them this week. Questions for Discussion: Do you see our society more as a place where people are encouraged or a place where they are criticized? How do you think that effects the way they live? When in your life did someone reach out to you and encourage you when they noticed you needed it? After that encouragement, how did that fuel you? If you have encouraged others in the past, how was it received and how did you react? Troy said, “Many people don’t feel good enough about themselves to let you feel good enough about yourself.” Do you find that to be true? Why or why not? How are you going to reach out to someone in one of the three circles and encourage them this week?
July 4, 2021
I Used to Think…But Now I Know: Participants Needed
The Big Idea of this study is that what we sometimes call “the life of faith” is really a life of action.  True belief is not just a matter of our heads or hearts; it requires participation in the work of Jesus. In Love Does, Bob Goff states: “I used to think that being a believer was enough, but now I know that God wants participants,”  I often put it this way: “I want to not only believe in Jesus, I want to act like I believe in what Jesus believed in…for even the devil believes in Jesus.” In our text the Apostle Paul is summarizing discussion on believers attending idol festivals. In doing so he concludes with some important principles for living out our Christian faith. Put simply, following Jesus will make a big difference in how we live compared to people who don’t know Jesus. We do everything for the glory of God!  That is a huge statement. It encompasses everything we do: work, leisure activities and our Christian service. Everything for the glory of God. Everything with the intent of praise and honour going to Jesus. Therefore, be careful that your behavior doesn’t do the opposite and malign the intent of the Gospel. Paul calls this “causing others to stumble.” When followers of Jesus act in ways that confuse nonbelievers about what it means to be saved or when we confuse new believers, it certainly does not help the cause of Christ. In everything we are to follow the example of Jesus. This needs to be our highest priority but it is a grand task and will require some real sacrifices. Just like Jesus. Questions for Discussion: 1.  While in Paul’s day eating at idol festivals was a hot topic in Christian circles with lots of debate, what are the hot topics today for believers? To vaccinate or not? Alcohol consumption? Etc? 2.  What does it mean to do everything for the glory of God? How do we do that at work or school when it is not always acceptable to even mention Jesus? 3.  In what ways can your everyday life affirm the truth of the Gospel and in so doing, bring glory to God? 4.  How can we remember to put others first and not simply make decisions in our own best interest but for “the good of many” as Paul puts it? 5.  Why is it important to keep referring back to Jesus as our example and not get too enamoured with the teaching or example of fellow believers?
June 27, 2021
I Used to Think…But Now I Know: Shaped By Love
The Big Idea of this study is that the Lord uses our circumstances to shape us. We make choices with our renewed minds and trust the Lord with our choices. Like clay in his hands, he shapes us in the midst of our life events. “I used to think I could shape the circumstances around me, now I know my circumstances shape me.” - Bob Goff in Love Does. I am not entirely sure what Bob meant by that, but it has prompted in me the question of how we find God’s will. Many believers tie themselves up in knots trying to discern the Lord’s will, hoping to hear a voice from heaven when they simply need to move forward with the decisions at hand. God allows us to discover his will by making choices. He has given us a renewed mind so that we can think like Jesus, so we need to rely on that and trust the Lord. Our choices and the circumstances we find ourselves in will shape us, but we can trust that we are in the Lord’s good hands and he knows our needs. Matthew 10:11-14 is informative along this line and it demonstrates how Jesus expected the Apostles to find his will. They were to move ahead and look at their circumstances and make wise decisions. During this all important mission to the lost, Jesus trusted his followers to allow their circumstances to lead them.  There was no voice from heaven, no burning bush, and no prophetic spokesperson. They just made informed choices and moved forward. There are three primary ways to follow the Lord’s leading. The Word of God, His Holy Spirit, and our circumstances each play a role in shaping our future.  While it may not seem very “spiritual” to realize how much our circumstances shape us, but it takes a great deal of trust in Jesus to move ahead knowing that he gives us the ability to make wise choices. Questions for Discussion: 1.  When faced with a decision between two alternatives have you ever been stuck just waiting to hear definitively from the Lord? How did that work out? 2. If Jesus lives in you, can you make decisions based on the confidence that he has given you a renewed mind and that he guides your thoughts like the disciples in Matthew 10:11-14? 3. Discuss these three cautions: 1. Closed doors are not an indication of God’s pleasure or displeasure with us. They are just indicating “yes” or “no;” 2. Don’t assume the worst when circumstances are difficult; and 3. Remember you are being shaped by love in the hands of the master potter.
June 20, 2021
I Used to Think…But Now I Know: Love Does
The Big Idea of this study is that love is more than thinking good thoughts about someone or something. It requires action. When we truly experience Jesus, we walk as he did. Bob Goff wrote a wonderful little book a few years ago that caught my attention called Love Does.  Bob is a lawyer and follower of Jesus. He has started a nonprofit that helps children who are in prison in underdeveloped countries get a fair trial. This series is based on a number of quotes found in his book that resonated with me. I have built this series around the quotes and have endeavoured to explore the Biblical values that they present. In our text this week John is refuting a false claim by some teachers he has come across. While they were claiming to know God because of some kind of ecstatic experience with God like a vision or mystical revelation, John maintains that if we really know God we will act like Jesus acted, or in his words, “walk like him.”  In particular, true believers will love their brothers and sisters in Christ and treat them as such. Loving behavior is for John the acid test of truly knowing God.  Everyone likes to be loved. Everyone likes to think about love and ponder the benefits of being in love, but followers of Jesus go beyond this to act in loving ways. Love does. Questions for Discussion: 1.  Have you ever caught yourself thinking about love but fallen short of actually doing the loving thing? 2.  Explain the difference between judging someone and discernment. 3.  What is the most profound experience you have had with the Lord? These can be amazing and incredibly moving. John is not trying to depreciate these things but he is trying to put the emphases on our response to these kinds of encounters. Have you known people who have the big story about experiencing God but little follow through in terms of love or “walking as Jesus did?” Why does this happen? 4.  Discuss the idea that what John is saying is countercultural. Can you cite examples of how our culture puts such a huge value on individuality and personal freedom to determine truth. 6.  How must we then live? 5. (Bonus Question for Keeners) Discuss how that second cultural shift in slide 10 (from goods produced at home to goods produced in factories) has affected raising and educating children and family values.
June 13, 2021
Sayings of the Wise: Avoiding Dead Ends
Today we conclude our series in Proverbs with a look at Proverbs 24:19-22.  This “Saying of the Wise”, challenges us to consider how we respond to evildoers in the world today.  Have you ever looked at the world and thought evil doers are winning the day? We watch evil doers seemingly prosper and have success. How can that be?  How should we respond to them?  We’re told not to fret or be envious because they have no future.   This begs another question though – why would we be angry or envious? If we find ourselves envious towards evil doers, this may reflect a false narrative  and/or perhaps I’ve forgotten my identity in Christ.  Both errors will lead me to respond to evil doers in an unhealthy manner. How should I respond?  In Matthew 5 Jesus tells us we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  Easier said that done – true!  But yet, this is how Jesus instructs us to respond. With God, all things are possible. Discussion Questions: Can you share an example of an evil doers succeeding? How did this make you feel? Talk about how the false narrative (God responds to me based on my behavior). Have you seen this narrative lived out? Discuss our Identity in Christ and why it is important for us to remember who we are in Christ?  How does our identity in Christ impact how we relate to and view evil doers? Read Matthew 5:43-48 and discuss: Who are our enemies? What does it look like to ‘love my enemy’? Why is it important to pray for those who persecute us? What does it mean to “Fear the Lord”? When I have ‘Fear the Lord’ in what ways will that impact my daily living? Read and discuss Romans 13:1-7 How Christ Followers should respond to our leaders in government. How should we respond to government laws regarding COVID protocols (ie, wear masks in church, limit the size of group that meets, etc).
June 6, 2021
Sayings of the Wise: It Takes Wisdom to Build a Home
The Big Idea of this study is that wisdom bids us to build a home full of wisdom that requires understanding and knowledge, but there will be other competing voices calling out to us, don’t go there. In the book of Proverbs wisdom is often personified and depicted as a woman who builds a house.  Lady wisdom calls to the youthful to come and enjoy the benefits of living a wise life.  This image is set in contrast to another kind of woman, often a prostitute, who also calls out to come and enjoy her favours. Our text reminds us that both wisdom and folly appeal to us. Wisdom requires effort to be effective (build a house).  Understanding and knowledge often don’t come easily. On the other hand, folly or Lady Folly, who tends to call out more loudly and boisterously, promises easy pickings. “Stolen water and food eaten in secret is delicious” (9:17). The idea of folly as a home or a place of residence that becomes a trap or house of horrors has a long history in North American lore.  Songs like Hotel California and The House of the Rising Sun depict very similar motifs to our Biblical Proverbs.  In the teaching of Jesus the wide and narrow pathways of Matthew 7:13-14 teach a similar lesson. Be careful where you go, dire consequences result from poor choices. Questions for Discussion: 1.  Discuss the house or home motif as it depicts wisdom and folly. Does this still resonate with our culture? Why or why not? 2.  What are the rare and beautiful treasures found in the house of wisdom? 3.  Compare the effort to gain the house of wisdom with that of the house of folly.  Have you found this to be true? 4.  Why are forbidden things so attractive? 5.  What is the take home lesson from these proverbs? How should we then live?
May 30, 2021
Sayings of the Wise: The Silent Epidemic
The Big Idea of this study is that wisdom demands that we be very cautious regarding consuming alcoholic beverages. When I lived in dorms at University I chose not to drink beer with my friends.  When they asked why I would say:  “If ten passenger jets fell from the sky every year and killed everyone on board, you would think twice before boarding a plane.” The abuse of alcohol has even more devastating effects.  According to the World Health Organization, alcohol abuse is the number one killer in the world: more than war, more than cancer, and certainly more than the current Covid epidemic.  Yet very little is ever reported about this silent epidemic. The Bible perceives wine as a blessing from the Lord (i.e. Prov. 3:9-10; Psalm 104:14-15). Jesus turned water into wine for his first miracle. But it also warns of its misuse and danger.  Proof that any good gift from the Lord can be abused and end up causing great harm. Our Proverb this week is a warning about drunkenness and the abuse of alcohol. “It bites like a snake and poisons like a viper.”  The abuse of alcohol is a worship disorder.  It is an attempt to find something only the Lord can supply.  Peace, security, joy, etc. cannot be found at the bottom of a bottle but only in worshipping our creator. Be very careful then about your reason for consuming alcohol, if you do.  If you can’t find these things without a drink, you are in danger. According to Stats Canada almost 20% of Canadians have a drinking problem in that they are drinking heavily; way over the limit of what is safe to drink.  This is concerning and affects people who are following Jesus. We have people in our congregation who have suffered greatly from alcohol abuse. The solution of course is to continue to come to Jesus.  There is no problem too great, no failure too terrible that He cannot resolve. Questions for Discussion: 1.  This proverb is more than the two line classic bit of wisdom that we see in most of the Wisdom Literature, it is a lot longer.  Is that significant? 2.  Are you surprised by the extent of the harm due to alcohol abuse?  Why do you think this is underreported? 3.  Discuss the idea that God’s blessings can be abused.  Can you give other examples? 4.  Discuss the abuse of alcohol as a worship disorder. What is the cure? 5.  Part of the problem with alcohol addiction is that often people who are addicted don’t realize they are addicted.  How can we check to see that our use of alcohol is not problematic?  Have you had that conversation with yourself or others?
May 23, 2021
Sayings of the Wise: An Armload of Nothing
The Big Idea of this study is that our desires need to be kept in check by our will which needs to be in line with the will of Jesus. I believe Confucius had it right when he wrote: “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First by reflection, which is the noblest, second is by imitation, which is the easiest, and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”  Scripture encourages us to learn wisdom by the first two methods. Our proverb this week challenges us to be careful about what we desire. It contrasts the desire to follow the ways of sinners and the desire to follow God’s will. Sin is that which is harmful to us and others and detestable to God. The reason it is detestable to God is that it is harmful to his creation. Sin is not attractive. In fact it is ugly.  The only reason we are attracted to evil people or evil things is that our desires have focused on them and we unthinkingly follow our desires. But if our wills are focused on the Lord and his will, then we will filter our desires through that grid and reject those things that do not line up with God’s purposes for us. Our proverb gives us the motivation to do this: So that we don’t end up with an armload of nothing. So that we have a good future.  Our posture as we walk the pathway of life is to look up at the Lord and “fix our eyes on Jesus” and look forward to the future because God has a good plan in store for us. Questions for Discussion: 1.  Is it surprising that our desires may not be good for us?  Why do we so easily assume that what we want is good for us? 2.  How can your will be a filter for your desires? How do you make sure your will is submitted to the will of Jesus? 3. Discuss sin as “that which is harmful to us and others and offensive to the Lord.” 4.  How much grief would be avoided if people would just pause and think about the consequences of their desires?  Why is this one of Satan’s favourite tricks? 5.  What promise is there in our proverb regarding the future? In contrast, what does that say about unrepentant sinners or those who follow the ways of “careless rebels?” (Eugene Peterson’s term) 6.  Take a moment to examine your strongest desires. Do they fit with what you know to be Jesus’ desire for you?
May 16, 2021
Sayings of the Wise: Practice Restraint
The Big Idea of this study is that riches will not buy happiness. It is better to be “rich toward God” and “rich in good deeds.” It seems like it is natural to think that money will solve our problems.  And money does solve many problems.  If you are very poor, more money will make a big difference in your well-being.  But wealth does not solve the most important problems, even though it seems we think it will.  Seeking riches can be a trap and lead to all kinds of problems. Our text this week warns us about the danger of trying to get rich.  This is the Old Testament equivalent of 1 Timothy 6:7-10 “The love of money is the root of all evil…” and of course Jesus’ teaching on the subject. In particular the story of the rich fool in Luke 12 comes to mind “I will eat drink and be merry…” Since wealth cannot solve the biggest issues of our lives it is better to seek after being “rich toward God” (Luke 12:20) and “rich in good works” (1 Tim. 6:18).  Remember Matthew 6:33 "Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you as well.” That is a tremendous promise, but we must focus on seeking the right things. Questions for Discussion: 1.  Why is it that it is so natural and prevalent to assume that wealth and happiness are linked together and that if we just had more money we would be happier?  What evidence do you see contrary to this myth? 2.  What does it mean to “show restraint” regarding riches? 3. Put in your own words the reasons craving wealth is dangerous and unsatisfying. 4. Discuss C.S. Lewis’s quote: “Human history is the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.” 5. What new habits might you adopt to help you become “rich toward God?”
May 9, 2021
Sayings of the Wise: Wise Words in Our Hearts Bring Wise Answers to Our Lips
The Big Idea of this study is the importance of the Lord’s wisdom.  It should be a lifelong goal to get wiser. Have you ever looked back on your past mistakes and wished you had been wiser? It sometimes seems that the only way to get wisdom is through mistakes. How often have you said: “I’ll never do that again!” But scripture tells us that wisdom comes from the Lord. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5) The book of Proverbs is full of wisdom. But we have to take it to heart. Our text this week says that when we apply wisdom to our hearts it is ready on our lips. The study and application of wisdom need to be a life-long pursuit. It will save us from a world of hurt. Over the next several weeks we will be looking at this collection of thirty sayings from Proverbs 22 to 24.  I believe we will find that placing these principles in our hearts will help us when we encounter those times when we are faced with challenging circumstances – like Covid! Questions for Discussion: 1.  Discuss examples of how technological change has prompted the need for greater wisdom. One big example of this would be the availability of pornography. 2.  Discuss the importance of having a storehouse of wisdom so that when we encounter difficult situations we will have a ready response. 3.  How much time or energy have you spent this past week contemplating wisdom? 4.  Discuss the three reasons the writer of Proverbs gives for gaining wisdom. 5.  Discuss the relationship between wisdom, trust, and effectiveness. 6.  How might you plan to increase your wisdom?
May 2, 2021
Jonah: Salvation Comes From The Lord
The Big Idea of this weekend’s message: Many of us have surrendered to God’s moral will for our lives, but many of us have never surrendered to how God wants to use us with the people we interact with each and every day. As we look at the story of Jonah, it’s more than the kid's story we might have read to our children. It is not just a story of someone who disobeyed and learned his lesson. It was someone who thought that his own death might be better than a whole city repenting and turning to God. Many of us are satisfied with being good people. We love our family, we follow the rules, pay our taxes and try and smile at our neighbors. Jonah had the same attitude. Maybe he thought, “God, I’ll serve you where people who think like me live.” God had a greater plan for his life. God is calling us to be more than just ‘nice Christians’, he wants us to make a difference in the world that we live in. There are many things that we can get angry about in our world. Our neighbors make a mess, make too much noise, their yard isn’t nice enough. What about those customers who get mad at the barista who didn’t make their $6 Latte hot enough? Then there are the people who don’t think like us and no matter what argument you throw at them, they still won’t believe what you believe in. In this story we see Jonah angry and upset about stuff that really doesn’t matter. Like Jonah, maybe we need to ask ourselves what we are really concerned about and find out if that aligns with what concerns God. Questions for Discussion: If you were read the Bible as a child what was your favorite Bible story? Talk about a time when you wouldn’t help someone because they didn’t deserve it. Describe a time that someone was good to you where you didn’t deserve it. What do you get angry about? How is what you get angry about relate to what concerns God? How can you take who you are and who you’re connected with and intersect with what God is doing in your world?
April 25, 2021
The Good and Beautiful Life: Our Place in God’s Family
The Big Idea of this study is that peacemakers demonstrate that they are brothers and sisters of Jesus. Our families of origin, for better or for worse, have a lot to do with our view of ourselves. Our nuclear family dynamic: conversations around the dinner table, on the way to school, and in front of the TV have a lasting impact. Those early impressions of who we are in the world and of our particular giftings and shortcomings tend to greatly influence our life’s trajectory.  This is why the Kingdom of God is such Good News. We have been adopted into a new family. We are being shaped by a new paradigm.  Our trajectory has been altered by the grace of God. Our new family and in particular our new Father and Older Brother change just about everything about us. This is the gist of our text. Peacemakers (and we need to define that carefully) will be called Sons of God. Actually “children of God or sons and daughters of God” the intent of the original language is not to focus on the male gender. But the language definitely wants us to reflect on Jesus as the Son of God and our connection to him. Peacemaking efforts must take into account the idea of “shalom.” This is the Hebrew way of viewing peace, not the absence of war, but the presence of wholeness or wellbeing. Sometimes efforts to achieve peace can be wrongheaded and end up making matters worse, especially if they are based on avoiding difficult issues or running from problems. Keeping in mind the idea of shalom helps to avoid that tendency. Peacemakers, those who contribute to shalom, are recognized as brothers and sisters of Jesus, children of God.  This is at the heart of his work in the world, both globally and at the individual heart level. It is both good and beautiful to be a peacemaker.  It indicates our new identity as children in God’s family. Questions for Discussion: 1.  When did you first become aware that your nuclear family largely influenced your life’s work and calling?  Was that a good thing?  Have you considered that if it was a bad thing, you need to forgive them? 2.  Discuss how the idea of shalom is different from the English word for peace. 3.  Try to think of Gospel stories that demonstrate the idea of shalom.  Doesn’t Jesus just exude shalom wherever he goes? 4.  Discuss the connection between shalom and the good and beautiful life.  Have you experienced moments when beauty and shalom meet together in a moment of time? 5.  Discuss this statement: “The Sermon on the Mount is not like the law ‘Do this and you will live’ but rather ‘Really live and you will do this.’”
April 18, 2021
The Good and Beautiful Life: Blessed Are The Pure In Heart
The Big Idea of this study is God is more concerned with the interior reality of our hearts than the outward appearances of our lives. As we focus on Jesus’ definitions on “The Good Life” this week we see his emphasis on the internal life. We can all be tempted to put on appearances, if even for good reasons. We can be led to believe the good life consists of having a persona or image that is approved of by the people around us. We can even believe that God is impressed with the exterior appearances of our lives. The Pharisees were a group of religiously-motivated people in Jesus’ day whose goal was to maintain the ritual purity of the people’s worship. Their initial goal was good – to honor God with the system of worship he had given them – but they had lost the plot, the heart of the issue. “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength.” They began to concern themselves with the exteriors of piety, hoping that would move God to solve their problems. But God is much more concerned with interior truth than exterior appearances. David is a great example of someone who, though entangling his heart in false pursuits of the good life, recognized his need for a new heart. He did not hide his sin before God but prayed for God to restore his heart, and spirit which had been encumbered by sin and idolatry. He knew that his sin was always on full display, and couldn’t be hidden. We need this kind of openness before God, in order for God to do the interior work of purifying our hearts. God has promised to give us new hearts – and he does this by making us new creations in Christ. When we come to Jesus and open our lives in submission to him, he pours his Holy Spirit into us and turns our hardened hearts into soft ones, sensitive to him. This is the good life. Questions for Discussion: One way to determine if your heart has been captured by a false idol is by paying attention to your unusually strong emotional reactions. Have you ever noticed yourself having an unusually strong emotional reaction that was associated to an unhealthy dynamic in your heart? The centre of Israel’s identity was “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength.” Discuss the challenge of having a singular devotion to God in the world today. How can the good intention of honoring God with our lives become too much about our appearances, and not so much about interior reality? How can we foster an emphasis on our hearts without neglecting external obedience? Read Jeremiah 17:9 – does this resonate with you as true? Then read Ezekiel 36:26. How does this promise give you hope? A good phrase to remember is : “Don’t ask ‘How Do People See Me?’ Rather ask: ‘How Can I See God?’” Discuss the challenge of remembering this in your life.
April 11, 2021
No Ordinary Death, No Ordinary Resurrection, and No Ordinary Outcome
The Big Idea of this study is to think more deeply about the death and resurrection of Jesus. This was no ordinary death, no ordinary resurrection and no ordinary outcome. It is sometimes said of John’s Gospel that it is book in which elephants can swim and children wade. By that it means his writing is both for children and scholars. It is one of the first books we give new believers to read. It is also fitting material for serious study by mature believers.  John is writing later that the synoptics (the other Gospels) and he is perhaps more interested in writing theology than simply telling us the story of Jesus. John introduces holy week with the account of the resurrection of Lazarus. In fact this miracle is what really hardens the Jewish leaders resolve to put him to death. For them, it is the last straw. John is also using the Lazarus story to prepare us to see some significant details in the resurrection of Jesus.  In particular in both accounts a stone needs to be removed and a body unwrapped. In both situations the Jesus event far supersedes what happened in the Lazarus account.  With the Lazarus miracle fresh in their minds and don’t forget what an incredible miracle that was; he was dead four days!  What happened at the tomb of Jesus must have been mind blowing. John takes us even deeper into the meaning of the resurrection when Mary Magdalene sees the two angels at either end of the shelf on which the body of Jesus had once rested. The image was meant to mirror the mercy seat in the most inner sanctum of the Temple where the lamb’s blood was sprinkled for atonement. For those who have eyes to see this is the great significance of the crucifixion and resurrection. Once and for all, the Lamb of God has taken away the sins of the world (John 1:29). John wants us to see the significance of all these things. Questions for Discussion: 1.  Read John 20:1-18. Why are they running? How unusual is this? Might there still be some fear of discovery by the enemies of Jesus? What were they expecting to find? There is usually no hurry to visit a cemetary. 2.  Mary comes back with them but hangs around the tomb instead of going home. Note the role of women in the revelation of the resurrection. Why might this be significant? 3.  Discuss this idea: “They removed the stone so Lazarus could get out. The angel removed the stone so that the disciples could get in.”  What stones might be acting as barriers to see the resurrection in your friends lives? How might they be removed? 4.  List as many differences as you can between the resurrection of Jesus and that of Lazarus. Why is this Good News?
April 4, 2021
Good & Beautiful Life: Intolerance and Resentment Will Eat Us Up
The Big Idea of this study is our need to be shown mercy and our need to be merciful. Like forgiveness it is one of the key characteristics of Kingdom of God living. As we approach Easter it is important to remember that there is more going on than meets the eye. We tend to focus on the details of the event and miss the big picture. This in fact is the greatest moment in history. It culminates God’s grand plan to redeem humankind from the dastardly effects of the Fall in early Genesis. This is what the Old Testament stories have been building toward.  The Law, the Prophets, the Wisdom Literature are all pointing in this direction. The Crucifixion and Resurrection set in stark contrast the ways of God with the ways of humankind. We see the way the world deals with its problems through the abuse of power, lies and injustice. In Jesus we see how God responds to the challenges of dealing with the human condition with love, forgiveness and mercy. Mercy is one of the characteristics of the Kingdom of God that is in sharp contrast in the Easter event.  While Jesus receives anything but mercy during his trial and crucifixion, it all culminates in mercy being offered for all.  “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21) Our text this week emphasizes the reciprocal nature of mercy. Like forgiveness, what goes around, comes around. Those who give mercy, receive mercy. And mercy is an amazing thing. It is the withholding of punitive consequences to the guilty offender. It is exactly what Jesus has done for us on the cross. There is something good and beautiful about mercy. Like forgiveness, it releases us from the bondage of things that have been done to harm us. In contrast, intolerance and resentment will eat us up. It is far better to live the Jesus way. Questions for Discussion: 1.  At several points during the Passion Narrative (The Easter Story) the Gospel writers contrast the attitudes of the enemies of Jesus with Jesus’ attitudes and actions. Where do you see mercy, intolerance and resentment reflected in the story? 2.  How and why is mercy less passive than the previous beatitudes? 3.  Discuss other examples of mercy in the Old Testament narrative. Why is it so often demonstrated in the history of Israel? 4.  Why is showing mercy difficult? 5.  Compare the reciprocal nature of both mercy and forgiveness. 6.  Discuss other mercy busters that you have experienced. 7.  In what ways can you demonstrate mercy in your family, work, and social life? 8.  Discuss St. Augustine’s quote: “Trust Your Past to God’s Mercy, Your Present to His Love and the Future to His Providence.”
March 28, 2021
Good & Beautiful Life: Healthy Cravings
The Big Idea of this study is that when we hunger and thirst for righteousness we cooperate with God’s purposes in the world. He is at work making everything right. I used to think that living a righteous life was about what I didn’t do. The old saying: “I don’t drink or smoke or chew or hang around with girls who do” was the tongue in cheek slogan of my early years. Now I realize that righteousness is more about what I do and not what I don’t do. It is about cooperating with Jesus in his work in the world. Jesus’ work in this world is a reclamation project. He wants to make things right or shall we say; righteous.  He wants to help the creation fulfill what it was intended for, to give God glory.  When we hunger and thirst for righteousness we crave this “setting right” of the world, which is currently way out of whack. We want to see justice and peace and equality. We crave His Kingdom come where the lion and the lamb lay down together.  We crave a good and beautiful life for everyone and work toward that end. When we hunger and thirst for righteousness we are filled with that righteousness. In other words, we are set right. Again as in all the beatitudes we see that character transformation, who we are on the inside, always leads to the best kind of life to live. Questions for Discussion: 1.  Do you know people who are morally good but no fun to be around? Their moral goodness is not attractive or beautiful. Why is that? 2. Discuss examples in the life of Jesus where he demonstrated both his goodness and his beauty so that not only did he take “the high road,” he attracted others to the high road. 3. I think we need more attractive Christians. What do you think I mean by that? 4. Discuss how the beatitudes describe the character of Jesus. Which of the Gospel stories reveal these “blessed” traits? 5. How might you increase your appetite for righteousness?
March 21, 2021
Good & Beautiful Life: The Mourning and Meek
The Big Idea of this study is that those who mourn, as well as the meek, are blessed. Not because of their condition but because in spite of it they experience God’s grace. Who is really living the good life? Often our perspective is tainted as we compare ourselves to others from an outside point of view. Though people’s external circumstances may look ideal, they may not be experiencing the good life of God. On the other side of the coin, many people today they would never consider themselves to be living the good life, and looking at their circumstances we may agree. Most people who have ever lived on planet earth have found themselves suffering along with the masses of poor and underprivileged. Jesus spoke to these people in the sermon on the mount. The crowds were made up of common people who were suffering and oppressed. He was healing them from their physical illnesses and teaching them and, because of their great number, he went up on the mountain so all could hear him. He taught them that though their circumstances might lead them to believe they were cursed or forgotten, they were not forgotten by God, but rather blessed. Those who mourn were blessed because they would receive comfort. Our God is the God who suffers along with his creation. In the incarnation of Jesus, he put on flesh, stepped into our shoes, and feels the suffering of the world along with it. How can he bear it? The pain of all the world? Yet this is what our God does. In our mourning we find comfort in a God who can truly empathize with our pain, who can feel it with us. He taught that the meek were blessed. This may not refer to the virtue of gentleness, but rather to an inability to fight back. The lack of capacity to pull themselves out of their circumstances. Likely this refers to people caught in systems that would keep them subservient to landowners for generations. But Jesus taught that they were blessed – that they would inherit the entire earth, for it belongs to their Father in heaven. We are not blessed because of the hard situations we find ourselves in. We are blessed in spite of them. And we who may not be experiencing grief or oppression, and who call Jesus Lord, must find ourselves working on the side of the mourning and the oppressed. Questions for Discussion: 1.  Consider your perspective on who is living the good life. What does that look like to you? 2. Consider the most populated places of the world today and the often low quality of life there, as well as the thousands of years of history before us. Most people lived “nasty, brutish, and short” lives. Yet Jesus taught that there is a blessedness of life within their circumstances. What does this tell us about the nature of “the good life”? 3.Grief and mourning are built into living human lives. When we need comfort in our mourning we receive both sympathy and empathy from others. Sympathy says, “I’m sorry you’re going through this.” And empathy says “I feel it too”. Discuss how the incarnation of Jesus was the greatest act of empathy the world has seen. 4.  The meek are those who are not able to fight back for themselves, or do not have the power to change their circumstances. (Ie. Indentured, potentially oppressed servants who worked for landowners) Jesus said they will one day have land of their own, the entire earth will be their inheritance. How does the hope of eternity affect our blessedness?
March 14, 2021