Signs (Part 3): Clean

TO START

Have you ever been unclean and made someone or something else unclean by association? We’re not looking for lofty metaphor here. Have you ever been literally unclean (dirty) and tracked your mess into someone else’s clean house or bedroom or nice white shirt? Tell your group a funny story.

 

DISCUSSION

Heads up: This week’s discussion guide looks a lot like last week’s (and like the week before’s). You haven’t got them mixed up. And if you don’t much like the way we’re encouraging you to read the text together--no worries; this is the last week in the series. :)

Also, as we’ve been saying, this series works well as an opportunity to let kids join the group discussion.

This week we were in Matthew 8: 1-4. To start small group this week we strongly encourage you to do a meditative reading of the text together (just like you did last week and the week before), encouraging members to use their imaginations and try to enter the story as if they were present.

  1. Read the Gospel passage twice so that the story and the details of the story become familiar. Read it once, then read the questions below (#2), then read it a second time.

  2. Close your eyes and reconstruct the scene in your imagination.

 -What do you see? Hear? Smell? Feel?

-See what’s going on and watch the men and women in the scene.

-What does Jesus look like?

-How do the others react to him?

-What are the people saying to one another?

-What emotions fill their words?

-Is Jesus touching someone?

Explain to the group that they’re welcome to enter into the scene, perhaps as an observer, as as an apostle, as a Pharisee observing (whatever makes sense).

You can construct a movie-like scenario or simply enter the story verbally, reflecting on the scene and mulling over the actions. Vividness is not a criteria for the effectiveness of this kind of meditation. Engagement is and the result is a more interior knowledge of Jesus.)

When you’ve given the group time to do this, come back together to discuss what you saw, felt and understood. (If you decided for some reason not to do this activity, still read the passage together and discuss whatever’s interesting to you. What sticks out as powerful, tender, special or confusing?)

After your time in meditative reading, consider some ideas from our message Sunday:

Justin said in his sermon, “Jesus exercises reverse contagion.” What does that mean? If you weren’t at worship Sunday, consider the text we’ve read and make a guess.

Because Jesus makes unclean things clean, we said, “Rather than driving you away from God, your sin should drive you toward him.”

  • Has this been your experience personally? Do you usually turn toward God when you’re waist deep in sin? Why is it so hard to do?

  • When you have turned to God in your uncleanness what was the result?

Take a moment in your group to enable confession. Do any of your members need to confess a sin that’s consistently getting the best of them, a sin they need Jesus to cleanse them of? Group is a place where people can confess sins and find healing, help and accountability. Remind your group of the way Jesus responds to us when we’re sick with sin.

This week we’ve talked about clean and unclean. These days we don’t call people clean or unclean but we still have ideas about which people are in and which are out, which people meet social standards and which ones don’t. Which kinds of people do you think might be considered “unclean” today?

If Jesus exercises reverse contagion, so should His body, the church. Are today’s “unclean” typically the kinds of people who feel comfortable in a church building? If not, what can we do to make church a more welcoming place for the unclean? Concentrate on things you can do personally to make church more welcoming. What does it look like as a church to help people become clean?

 

PRAYER

Pray Psalm 51:1-4, 7, and 10 together with your group in an effort to appeal to Christ, asking for the cleansing only He provides. Have one member read it and the rest close their eyes and open their palms, as if giving God their sin.

 

EXTRA

Read this poem from Walt McDonald. According to it, what is God like? Is that your understanding of God, too? If so, give an example of a time you’ve seen God “bat on the side of the scrubs.”

“Faith Is A Radical Master”

God bats on the side of the scrubs.

With a clean-up hitter like that, who needs

to worry about stealing home, a double squeeze,

cleat-pounding triples? If nothing else works,

 

take a walk, lean into the wicked pitch

 

careening inside at ninety miles an hour.

At bat, just get on base and pray the next nerd

doesn’t pop up. When someone’s already on, the coach

 

never calls me Mr. October, seldom signals Hit away.

 

If Johnson with the wicked curve owns the strike zone

or the ump, I’ll bunt. No crack of the bat,

no wildly cheered Bambino everyone loves.

 

Lay it down the line like the weakest kid in school,

 

disciple of the sacrifice. Some hour my time will come,

late in the game, and I’m on third, wheezing from the run

from first after a wild pitch, and Crazy Elmore

 

waving like a windmill by the third-base line.

 

Hands on my knees, I’ll watch the pitcher

lick two fingers, wipe them on his fancy pin stripes

and try to stare me dead. I’ll be almost dead,

 

gasping, wondering how I’ll wobble home if someone bunts

 

or dribbles a slow roller and the coach yells

Go! But there, there in the box is God,

who doesn’t pound home plate like an earthquake

 

but slowly points the bat like the Babe toward center field,

 

and all my family in the clouds go wild, all friends

I’ve loved and lost, even the four-eyed scrubs

in the dugout slugging each other and laughing,

 

tossing their gloves like wild hosannas, and why not–

 

it’s bottom of the ninth, two outs, a run behind

and a hall-of-fame fast baller on the mound,

but I’m on third and leaning home, and look who’s up.

 

If poems aren’t your thing, follow this link (http://ecdu.dionc.org/dfc/newsdetail_2/2350072) to read a story called “The Ragman,” another metaphor/parable to explain what God’s like. Ask the same questions you asked for the poem: According to it, what is God like? Is that your understanding of God, too? If so, give an example of a time you’ve seen God “take old rags.”

Signs (part 2): Moved With Compassion

TO START

This week we’re talking about compassion. Compassion is “concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” The thing about compassion is that you can’t have it unless you’re a person who NOTICES other people. Are you good at noticing other people or do you get too caught up in yourself? To test yourself, think back through your last conversation with another person. How many questions did you ask about them? How much did you talk about yourself?

Share with the group if you feel like you have room to grow. Think through some things you could do to be more aware of and interested in other people.

 

DISCUSSION

Heads up: This week’s discussion guide looks a lot like last week’s. Don’t worry; you haven’t got them mixed up.

Heads up #2: This entire series works well as an opportunity to let kids join the group discussion.

This week we were in Matthew 20: 29-34. To start small group this week we strongly encourage you to do a meditative reading of the text together (just like you did last week), encouraging members to use their imaginations and try to enter the story as if they were present.

  1. Read the Gospel passage twice so that the story and the details of the story become familiar. Read it once, then read the questions below (#2), then read it a second time.

  2. Close your eyes and reconstruct the scene in your imagination.

 -What do you see? Hear? Smell? Feel?

-See what’s going on and watch the men and women in the scene.

-What does Jesus look like?

-How do the others react to him?

-What are the people saying to one another?

-What emotions fill their words?

-Is Jesus touching someone?

Explain to the group that they’re welcome to enter into the scene, perhaps as an observer, as as an apostle, as a Pharisee observing (whatever makes sense).

You can construct a movie-like scenario or simply enter the story verbally, reflecting on the scene and mulling over the actions. Vividness is not a criteria for the effectiveness of this kind of meditation. Engagement is and the result is a more interior knowledge of Jesus.)

When you’ve given the group time to do this, come back together to discuss what you saw, felt and understood. (If you decided for some reason not to do this activity, still read the passage together and discuss whatever’s interesting to you. What sticks out as powerful, tender, special or confusing?)

After your time in meditative reading, consider the bottom line from our message Sunday:

Jesus is moved with compassion.

  • Does this trait of Jesus’ affect the way you feel about him? How so?
  • Can you think of other times in the Bible Jesus is compassionate? Make a list of at least five examples.
  • Has Jesus been compassionate to you? What does that look like?
  • What does it look like for us to imitate Jesus’ compassion? Give several examples of action inspired by compassion.
  • Can compassion exist without action? Why or why not?

Consider the following quote from John Holmes:

“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.”

  • Do you think this is a good definition of compassion?

  • When have you witnessed someone reaching down and lifting another person up? Share a story.

What gets in the way of you feeling compassion for other people?

 

PRAYER

Tonight ask God to give you hearts easily moved by compassion, ask for eyes to see the people who’re in need of compassion and hands eager to serve in compassion.

After you pray, share someone in your life who’s calling out in need of your compassion, and ask the group to hold you accountable in responding to their need.

 

AN OPPORTUNITY

In case your group isn’t familiar, Compassion International is an amazing organization “reaching down and lifting people up.” Compassion pairs one poor child in a developing nation with a financially blessed supporting family. You pay a small amount per month and correspond with the child via letters and emails. The money you pay provides for your child’s unmet physical needs and their instruction in a local Bible school. Watch this video together to see if you might be interested in partnering with them to help lead the developing world toward Christ and out of poverty.

https://youtu.be/VqZntNNBMe4

 

EXTRA

Make a pitch for ShareFest! Let your group members know what it’s like, and encourage them to sign up to help. You might even make time for people to sign up on their phones during group.

 

 

 

Signs (part 1): Interrupted

TO START

For some people this question will be ridiculous, but it’s likely a few people in your group have a very passionate response: Do you have an all-time favorite Billboard or sign? Describe it to the group.

You might want to visit this lovely collection of church signs: http://www.beliefnet.com/inspiration/funny-church-signs

  • What do these outside signs tell you about the church inside?

Changing directions, do you have a favorite Bible miracle? Which one? Why do you like that one so much?

 

DISCUSSION

(Heads up: This is a great week to include the older kids (6+) in your group discussion if you'd like.)

This week we were in Mark 5:21-43. To start small group this week we strongly encourage you to do a meditative reading of the text together, encouraging members to use their imaginations and try to enter the story as if they were present.

1. Read the Gospel passage twice so that the story and the details of the story become familiar. Read it once, then read the questions below (#2), then read it a second time.

2. Close your eyes and reconstruct the scene in your imagination.

-What do you see? Hear? Smell? Feel?

-See what’s going on and watch the men and women in the scene.

-What does Jesus look like?

-How do the others react to him?

-What are the people saying to one another?

-What emotions fill their words?

-Is Jesus touching someone?

Explain to the group that they’re welcome to enter into the scene, perhaps as an observer, as one lining up for healing, or as one helping others to Jesus (whatever makes sense).

You can construct a movie-like scenario or simply enter the story verbally, reflecting on the scene and mulling over the actions. Vividness is not a criteria for the effectiveness of this kind of meditation. Engagement is and the result is a more interior knowledge of Jesus.)

When you’ve given the group time to do this, come back together to discuss what you saw, felt and understood. (If you decided for some reason not to do this activity, still read the passage together and discuss whatever’s interesting to you. What sticks out as powerful, tender, special or confusing?)

After your time in meditative reading, consider the bottom line from our message Sunday: Jesus is in charge.

  • Is that an easy truth to accept or a hard one? Had you been present for those miracles do you think you’d a have more solid sense of Jesus’ authority? Why or why not?

How does knowing Jesus is in charge shape the life you’re living?

 

LISTEN

Consider the following two song representations of this miracle (both of these links are videos with lyrics):

“One Touch” by Nicole C. Mullin:

“Hem Of His Garment” by Sam Cooke:

  • Which one do you think captures the essence of the miracle best? How so?

Don’t like songs? How about a cartoon version?

 

EXTRA

As our church is in the process of looking for new elder candidates you might take some time in your group to discuss what that means and see if any of your members have questions (about the process or about elder qualifications).

Songs About God (part 4): "Where Are You?" Songs

TO START

As a kid, did you ever get lost, lose your parents in a store, get left behind accidentally? How'd it feel? Tell your small group the story. It’ll help you forgive your parents (and it’s cheaper than therapy).

 

SCRIPTURE READING

Read Psalm 10.

  • How does it make you feel?
  • Do you relate to the Psalmist at all?
  • Why do you think this is the Bible?

Consider the psalmist’s words:

“Why, Lord, do you stand far off?

   Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”

  • Have you ever wanted to pray these words to God?
  • Share a time when you wondered why God seemed so far off.
  • Did you turn to God during that time? If so, do you think that was a good choice? Why or why not? If you turned away from God, how did that go? What finally got you turned back?

 

DISCUSSION

On Sunday we said it’s important to bring our pain and questions to God for two reasons:

  1. He wants that because that’s how you have a relationship with someone.

  2. He wants it because he wants you to know him better.

How would bringing our doubts, sadness and confusion to God in prayer enable those two things? Have you seen those two things happen when you talk to God honestly in prayer? Explain.

Justin said on Sunday that it’s a good idea when you’re feeling far from God to make two lists: “Here’s what I don’t know” and “Here’s what I know.” Have you ever done something like this? What’s the value in mapping and categorizing your thoughts, feelings, and convictions?

Has this series inspired you to talk to God in a different way? Have you noticed any changes taking place in your prayer life? Have you tried writing a Psalm? Tell us about it.

 

PRAYER

Make a list of places, circumstances, relationships where it seems like God is far off. Make another list of things you know about God. Fill in this prayer (based on Psalm 10) with your lists:

Why, Lord, do you stand far off?

Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

Times like these when ________________________ and ______________________ and

_______________ and ____________________ …

Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.

Do not forget the helpless.

The Lord is King for ever and ever;

You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;

you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,

You are _______________ and _________________ and ____________________ and_______________ ...

God, be close to us and hear our prayer.

 

WATCH

A spoken word “Where Are You?” psalm (and imagined answer) by Joseph Solomon: https://youtu.be/QeY8lndPsdE

Songs About God (part 3): Angry Songs

If your small group meets on Sunday nights, please consider attending Plus 1 together. Don’t cancel group! Just change the location. :)

 

TO START

Have you ever done something really stupid when you were angry? Share with the group! This is a safe place. It’ll be fun. :)

 

SCRIPTURE READING

Read Psalm 69.

How does it make you feel?

Do you relate to the Psalmist at all?

Why do you think this is the Bible? Would you have put it in the Bible if you were in charge?

 

DISCUSSION

Have you ever been really and truly angry? What made you so upset? How did you handle your anger? Did you talk to God about it or run away from God because of it? Do you think you handled it well or poorly? Share with the group.

What’s valuable about turning toward God in our anger as opposed to turning away from Him? Think of relationships you’ve had with people--which is better, 1. to ignore and avoid someone when you’re angry with them, 2. to stuff your anger and pretend you’re fine, or 3. to face your anger and share it with the person who’s hurt you? Give an example if you have one.

On Sunday Justin asked, “Have you ever been so angry, you actually wished pain and suffering on the person who wronged you?” Then he said, if so, “What do you do with that?”

Well, what do we do with that? After considering these angry Psalms, what have you learned about dealing with vengeful anger in the presence of God?

If you’re not a person who gets angry, do you think you should get angry more? Is it possible you’re not getting angry because you’re not passionate about holiness, goodness, justice, etc.? What should you be angry about?

What can the church (remember, that’s you!) do to make more room for righteous anger? In our gatherings, in small groups, in personal relationships… Think of practical examples.

 

PRAYER

In the sermon, Justin said the psalmists have good reason to be angry. They’re angry about real injustice. What real, hard, hurtful or terrible things are you angry about? Share them together. Make a list and then pray it together. Say, “God, we’re angry about _______________.” You can also go on ahead and say what you wish would happen to those people/forces you’re angry at (so long as you do it in submission to the will of God).

 

DIGGING IN

So far in this discussion we’ve focused on expressing anger in God’s presence as being okay. What about what David does in the Psalms we’ve referenced--praying for the people who oppose him to be damned eternally? Is that something a Christian can do? Is David’s example permission (or more than permission, perhaps an invitation?) Consider this quick answer from John Piper: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eA7B9Qk9Tbo

Is Piper right or wrong? Or right and wrong? Discuss.

Songs About God (part 2): Story Songs

TO START

 

As a kid did you have a favorite story? Maybe a family story handed down from your parents about the way they grew up or about your family’s homeland. Maybe it’s a fairy tale or fable. Maybe it’s a book that shaped that childhood. Share with the group. What did you love about it? Did that story affect the person you grew up to be?

 

DISCUSSION

Humans love stories. What is it about a story that so moves us? Why do you like stories? What are your favorite kinds of stories? What do you like so much about that kind?

In an article about family storytelling from The Atlantic magazine Elaine Reese writes,

“In the preteen years, children whose families collaboratively discuss everyday events and family history more often have higher self-esteem and stronger self-concepts. And adolescents with a stronger knowledge of family history have more robust identities, better coping skills, and lower rates of depression and anxiety. Family storytelling can help a child grow into a teen who feels connected to the important people in her life.”

  • Do stories make you feel more connected to the people who tell them? To the people with whom you hear them? If so, how so? Give an example of a story that made you feel connected to someone else.

Do you have stories that make you feel more connected to God? Think of one story (that makes you feel closer to God) in each of the following story categories:

  • A story told by a friend or family member

  • A story in your Bible

  • A story you heard at church (in a sermon, in Bible class, in a video, in a testimony...)

What do those stories teach you about who God is and how He acts?

Read Psalm 107 together as a group. Identify the stories with in this Psalm. What are they about? Why is the Psalmist telling these stories?

You have stories about God. In fact, your entire relationship with God IS a story. Have you ever written down a part of your story? Do you find yourself sharing your story often? How does it feel to tell it? What do you think you could to do to be more proactive about telling the story God’s writing in you?

What’s your story with God about? If group members struggle with this, encourage them to spend some time in reflection and prayer.

We said on Sunday that when one person shares a story about their encounter with God, “One person’s experience with God becoming the community’s worship to God.” How have other people’s stories pointed you to God? Share an example.

 

 

TO DO

As a group, write a story Psalm about what God’s been doing in your small group. Write down the victories you’ve shared together over the years. Write about the moments you saw God work. Write about your collective struggles. Because it’s hard to write a PSalm together, let this Psalm just be a list of moments you’ve shared.

If your group is new, this activity probably won’t work for you. Instead, your group should spend time sharing personal stories of faith to get to know one another better. Perhaps you’ll use this prompt: Once, I saw God work powerfully…

 

Songs About God (part 1): Love Songs

TO START

Do you have a favorite song (it doesn’t have to be the absolute best, most perfect favorite--any song you like a lot works)? What is it? Why do you love it so much? Share with the group.

Also, before you start group, remind your group members to participate in our 24 hours of prayer and fasting. You can find more info about it at rrcoc.org/livelovepray 

 

DISCUSSION

When you read the Bible do you often go the Psalms? Or do you shy away from them? Why do you think that is? How does reading the Psalms make you feel?

Do you have any Psalms that have particular associations, a Psalm that makes you feel a certain way because of memories attached to it? Share with the group.

Justin said on Sunday, “Our relationship with God--yours and mine--should be vibrant enough, dynamic enough, active enough to inspire songs, to fill us with emotions and thoughts that beg for expression!”

  • Is this the reality of your relationship with God? Allow people to be authentic--whether that means being really excited and satisfied with their relationship or being dissatisfied and sad.
  • Do you often find yourself talking to God? When is it most natural to talk to God? When is it hard/inconvenient/not on your mind?

If praise is “observation turned proclamation,” what are you doing to observe Him intentionally, actively, and often? What behaviors or practices lead to faithful observation of God’s activity in our world and lives? Pick a few things you could do to more intentionally look for God this week.

Have you ever written a love letter? Give some examples of things you might say (or categories of things you might say) in a love letter. Do those same categories exist in a love letter to God? Give examples.

Consider this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible...

“But it is a dangerous error, surely very widespread among Christians, to think that the heart can pray by itself. For then we confuse wishes, hopes, sighs, laments, rejoicings–all of which the heart can do by itself–with prayer. And we confuse earth and heaven, man and God. Prayer does not mean simply to pour out one’s heart. It means rather to find the way to God and to speak with him, whether the heart is full or empty. No man can do that by himself. For that he needs Jesus Christ.”

  • What do you think of it? What does it mean?
  • Do you find it easier to pray on a full heart than on an empty one?
  • How might the Psalms lead us into the kind of prayer Bonhoeffer recommends?

Derek Kidner in his commentary on the Psalms defines friendship as candor and constancy. Do you feel like that’s something you have with God? Do you think candor is easy or hard? What about constancy? Explain your answer.

 

TO DO

This week, take some time to write Psalms together.

●  You might write a list of the characteristics of God: God, You are ________________ (filling in the blank as many times as you can).

●  You might read a praise Psalm together and modernize it. Don’t just take out the thees and thous. How would a modern writer express the same sentiment? What examples or metaphors would she use? How would Bruno Mars write this song if he suddenly decided to serve God? It’ll sound silly at first, but when you’re done you’ll have a Psalm that makes sense to you, one you might actually write in the car on the way to work.

●  You might compare God to things in similes or metaphors. What is God like? How so? Make a list of ten or twenty things. (Example: God is like a giant oak tree--beautiful, ancient, alive, massive, imposing, strong...)

 

SCRIPTURE

For this series let’s have group members share their favorite Psalms. Some of your group members won’t have favorites. Encourage them to be reading and looking for one. Others of your members will have favorites--let them go first. Read two Psalms tonight, looking particularly for the relationship between the Psalmist and God. How would you describe that relationship? What does this Psalm reveal about God or what it looks like to love Him?

 

PRAYER

This week, your praise activities are actually prayers, so that’s all we’re asking you to do. However, as the discussion goes on, be looking for members who seem like they’re struggling in their relationship with God. Identify what you can pray for.

 

TO WATCH

Check out this Song adaptation of Psalm 46 from Shane and Shane (you can find more Psalm songs on their Youtube channel): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbr-Oky1qV0

Looking for something informative/historical to read about the Psalms? Here’s an introduction to the book by The Bible Project: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9phNEaPrv8 

Marriage Material (part 4): Filling In The Gap

TO START

This week we said love is willing to look foolish. Think of a time when you did something foolish for the sake of love (particularly romantic love). Share with the group.

 

DISCUSSION

Here’s the thing. This week’s lesson probably made some of your group members feel squirmy. Resist the urge to find all the loopholes for loving other people this way. Focus instead on all the ways you should and can love other people in a way that protects and believes the best. We need to talk about what we CAN do. Talking about what we don’t have to do is less productive.

So, consider the four characteristics of love we discussed in the sermon. Consider them one by one. What does it mean and how do we do it? Define terms and give examples of what this would look like in real life. If your group members can’t do this, you should park here for a while. Understanding what God is asking of us and identifying ways to do it is your main goal in group tonight:

  1. Love always protects
  2. always trusts
  3. always hopes
  4. always perseveres

Ask yourselves these questions as a way to enable self reflection:

  • When my spouse does something wrong, do I punish or protect?
  • When I don’t know how my spouse acted in a moment (whether or not he or she met my expectations), do I believe the best or assume the worst?
  • When things get hard, do I lean in or turn away?

Do you feel uncomfortable with the answers you gave to these questions? There’s no question loving like this is hard. What makes it so hard?

We said on Sunday that people who love get hurt. Have you ever been too concerned about your own safety/protective to love someone well? Give an example.

Think of examples from scripture of people who loved someone else and got hurt because of it.

Why is love worth the risk of pain and heartbreak?

According to our text this week,

  • Love isn’t always drawing attention to failure.
  • Love covers the sins of another, protecting from harmful exposure.
  • Love is willing to risk looking foolish.
  • Love bears ill treatment bravely and calmly.

Which of these challenges seems the hardest to you? What gets in your way as you try to live it out?

Which one brings to mind a positive example, particularly of a married couple who practiced this characteristic of love?

 

SCRIPTURE READING

Read Proverbs 10:11-12.

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, 

but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

Hatred stirs up conflict,

but love covers over all wrongs.

As opposed to hate, what does love do? What does that look like exactly?

What do you get/learn from this passage?


 

PRAYER

Tonight, take the chance to ask God to enable you to love like I Corinthians 13 says you should. Together, ask God to fill you with His Spirit and grow the fruit of love in your life.

Too, look back over this series and identify one way you want to be better at loving. Pray for one another.

Marriage Material (part 3): No Record

TO START

Give a funny, light-hearted example of a time when you wanted your spouse to act one way and instead they acted in a much different way. (ex. Maybe they wore something you thought was atrocious. Maybe they told a joke you didn’t think was funny...)

Also, check in with your group to see who memorized I Corinthians 13:4-8. Bestow prizes.*
*If you can’t buy prizes (candy bars?), positive words of affirmation count. And isn’t memorizing the scripture reward enough. ;)

 

DISCUSSION

Love keeps no record of wrongs. Are you a person who keeps records of wrongs? Take a minute and let anyone who feels like he or she probably is a recorder keeper share that. What does it look like in their lives to keep records of wrongs? Share a story about a time when you did that.

For those who didn’t feel like they were record keepers, let’s take a quiz to see if they were right: Get out a piece of paper and write down the last time each of these people offended you or hurt your feelings. You have sixty seconds to answer (obviously not all of these relationships will apply to everyone):

  • Your boss
  • Your spouse
  • Your mom
  • Your brother or sister
  • A co-worker
  • A waitress or waiter
  • A store clerk
  • Your preacher or someone at your church
  • Someone on Facebook
  • How quickly were you able to recall wrongs? Do you feel good or bad about your response rate? Were the results surprising at all? If so, why?

Why is forgiveness such an essential part of love? Consider God’s decision to forgive us. Is that forgiveness essential to our having a relationship? If so, why?

Has someone forgiven you recently? How did it feel?

Have you had any positive examples of forgiveness in your life? Have you seen it modeled well? Share with the group.

Are you holding onto something you haven’t forgiven? Have you held onto something for too long before? Don’t share the offense, but do share how holding onto it has affected you.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote these words from prison:

“In a word, live together in the forgiveness of your sins, for without it no human fellowship, least of all a marriage, can survive. Don’t insist on your rights, don’t blame each other, don’t judge or condemn each other, don’t find fault with each other, but accept each other as you are, and forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts...”
  • How good are you at accepting your spouse as he or she is? Is that hard?
  • Was it harder or easier when you were dating?
  • What does it take to get good at accepting that your spouse won’t ever be exactly what you want him or her to be?

 

SCRIPTURE READING

Read Matthew 18:21-35.
Jesus says, “ This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

●  How will God treat us if we don’t forgive our spouses?

●  Does having this in mind change the way you think about forgiveness at all?

 

PRAYER

Tonight pray The Lord’s Prayer together.

Before you do, look at the line, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Who do you need to forgive so God can forgive you? Have members write any names down before the prayer. If they’re willing, ask them to forgive those people. They might even need to send a text before the prayer. Or personally commit to a conversation. Just give your group a minute or two of silence for soul-searching. Then, pray the prayer together out loud. 

Marriage Material (part 2): Less of Me

TO START

Over the next three weeks let’s make it our goal as a group to memorize I Corinthians 13:4-8a. Here’s the text:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Practice saying it together as a group. Have one person read it one line at a time and have group members repeat it. You might also have everyone write it out on an index card (or color it via this pretty downloadable coloring page: http://www.bibleparent.com/pdf/1corinthianesv.pdf).

You might offer a prize for group members who memorize it by next week. Kids aren’t the only ones motivated by the treasure box.

 

DISCUSSION

Consider the characteristics of love from I Corinthians 13 we covered this week. Define each one in your own words and offer an example of what it would look like to live that characteristic out in a marriage.

  1. Love is not self-seeking.

  2. Love is patient.

  3. Love is kind.

  4. It does not envy.

  5. It does not boast.

  6. It is not proud.

  7. It does not dishonor others.

What’s the problem with selfishness? What does selfishness do to a marriage? Give an example.

When, referring to the Copernican shift, Justin called us to put our spouses “at the center of our universe” instead of ourselves, how did that make you feel? How does the prospect of making that kind of effort make you feel?

  • Do you feel vulnerable? Does it seem dangerous? Do you feel guilty?
  • What would need to change for you to take that call to selflessness seriously? What’s keeping you from exercising that kind of selflessness?

Make a list of things you could do to self-less in your marriage--be practical and specific. What opportunities do you have to serve your spouse on a daily basis? Once you’ve made a long list, choose two or three things to do THIS week. Report back to your group next week about how you did.

 

SCRIPTURE READING

Read Philippians 2:3-8

  • According to this passage what shouldn’t we do? What should we do?
  • What example does Paul give of selflessness?
  • Paul says Jesus refused to use His equality with God “to his advantage.” In what ways are you more powerful than the people around you (your spouse in particular)? Do you ever use that power to your own advantage? What does that look like? What would it look like to use that power to their advantage?

 

PRAYER

Consider this prayer from Saint Vincent:

“O Dearly beloved Word of God, teach me to be generous, to serve Thee as Thou dost deserve, to give without counting the cost, to fight without fretting at my wounds, to labor without seeking rest, to spend myself without looking for any reward other than that of knowing that I do Thy holy will. Amen.”

Pray it together.

Now, change the words a little to ask God to help you be selfless in your relationships. Maybe have a female pray it for the wives and a man pray it for the husbands:

“O dearly Beloved God, teach me to be generous, to serve my spouse even more than he/she does deserve, to give without counting the cost, to fight for him/her without worrying about my wounds, to labor beside him/her and for him/her without looking for any reward other than knowing I’m doing what you want of me. Amen.”

 

TAKE A QUIZ

Consider this “You Might Be Selfish If…” list from a christian blogger. Keep track of how many hit home. No winners or losers in this quiz, just some good self evaluation.

You might be selfish if you get angry when someone cuts you off.

You might be selfish if you refuse to forgive.

You might be selfish if you don’t allow yourself to be inconvenienced.

You might be selfish if you don’t give money to church or charity.

You might be selfish if you are chronically unhappy (because selfless people are content).

You might be selfish if you refuse to help certain people.

You might be selfish if you are lazy.

You might be selfish if you think that what you are doing is more important than what others are doing.

You might be selfish if you insist on having your way.

You might be selfish if you always have to win or always be right.

You might be selfish if you refuse to sincerely apologize.

You might be selfish if you like being in control and find it hard to compromise.

You might be selfish if you hear constructive criticism as a personal attack.

You might be selfish if you find it difficult for someone else to be the focus of attention.

You might be selfish if you don’t want to work with others on a team.

You might be selfish if you prioritize what’s for your benefit rather than what might benefit others.

You might be selfish if you usually give negative feedback first.

You might be selfish if you are irritated when others ask you for help.

You might be selfish if you hear a message and think “______ (fill in a name)” should hear it.

You might be selfish if you think, “someone should do something about this” when you could do it.

You might be selfish if you are self-conscious about helping strangers in public.

You might be selfish if you are grumpy, sour, complaining or whiny.

You might be selfish if you only help others when it makes you feel good.

Marriage Material: Single-minded

TO START

Most people have a funny dating story. Share a time when you acted ridiculous on a date. OR Share your favorite places to take a date (spouses included).

If you have a group member who has intentionally chosen (or is called by God) to remain single, perhaps you’ll want to skip this. Be sensitive.

DISCUSSION

This week, let’s have a conversation.

If your group includes both singles and married people , take a minute to ask each other questions. Here are a few examples:

Single people , ask your married friends...

What do you wish you’d done more of while you were single?

What do you wish you’d done less of?

What can I do to better prepare myself for marriage (if that’s the goal)?

If you intend to stay single, How do I develop friendships and maintain meaningful relationships with married people? OR How would you use your time if you didn’t have to devote so much to marriage and family?

Married people , ask your single friends...

Do you want to be single? Are you called to singleness?

If so, how can I be a resource to you in your commitment to stay single? If not, what can I do to help you in your pursuit of marriage?

What’s hard about being single?

What’s a gift in being single?

Do you ever feel like being single makes you an outsider at church? If so, What could I do to help you feel more connected?

If you have any divorced members in your small group, consider asking them what they wished they’d done before they got married that might have perhaps altered the course of their marriage. Divorced singles might also have a much different perspective on singleness. Be considerate. Make sure the discussion makes sense in their context.

At the end of your discussion, pray over each other. Have married members pray over the singles and singles pray over the married members.

If your group is all married people...

What can you do to better support, encourage, and love the singles in your life?

What are the single people around you struggling with? How could you ease those struggles? Make a list of singles you know and love. Pray over them by name.

 

OTHER DISCUSSION IDEAS:

Walking by the Spirit, Not by the Flesh

What does it look like to walk by the Spirit? Give examples.

What does it look like to walk by the flesh? Examples?

Have you ever spent a season walking by the flesh? What does it feel like? What were the consequences?

What are the consequences of walking by the Spirit?

Why is it so hard to believe God when He says walking by the Spirit is what’s good for us? What can we do to build our trust in God’s plan for our behavior?

Loneliness

Married or single folks, do you ever feel lonely, unloved, or like you don’t belong? Share with the group.

Why do you think you feel this way?

What do you do to cope with it?

What might be some good steps to take when you’re feeling lonely?

Stewarding Time

Do you feel like you’re using your time as best you can to the glory of God?

What time-wasters should you give up to better commit your time to God?

Taking Risks

The Apostle Paul says that single people are more free to take risks for the kingdom than married people. Singles, what risks are you taking for the Kingdom? What risks might God be calling you to take?

Married people, how can you empower your spouse to take risks of faith? Have you ever held your spouse back from acting in faith? Do you regret it?

Why is it so hard to take risks, even when we know God is calling us and walking beside us? If it's not hard for you, share with the group why you think that might be. 

 

SCRIPTURE READING Proverbs 7:6-27

As you read this passage, consider (and remind your group) that anyone can be tempted by the adulterous woman (singles and married people alike) AND that the adulterous woman can just as soon be the adulterous man.

●  What can we learn from this example?

●  What precautions can we take if we want to walk in the way of the Spirit?

 

PRAYER

This week, pray for your singles or for the singles you know and love. Remember, not all singles want to get married. Pray for their path, too.

 

WATCH

Pastor Matt Chandler on not squandering your singleness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kW5B0OTrWMU

 

TAKE A QUIZ

Use this list of “8 Signs You’re Not Ready For a Relationship” (from eHarmony) as a quiz. How many of these traits do you have? Married people can play, too.

1. Your compass is not pointing north (You end up in relationships you know will be bad for you).

2. You need a relationship to feel happy.

3. You believe you can save him/her.

4. You’re looking for someone to save you.

5. You’re looking for someone to complete you.

6. You’re spending more time pursuing love than pursuing your interests (including pursuing the good work God’s calling you to).

7. You haven’t unpacked your baggage.

8. You’re bending and twisting yourself like a pretzel to fit what you think the person you’re attracted to might like.

Discuss your results by sharing any of the the things you struggle with from the list. 

Upside Down Christmas

For the three weeks of the Upside Down Christmas sermon series (December 11-25) and for the sermon on January 1st we will NOT be providing a small group discussion guide. Please take this into account as you plan the next four weeks of group. 

MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Works Like A Charm

Guest speaker: Mitch East

TO START

This Christmas season we’re encouraging our members to send Christmas cards to our missionaries--the Sibleys in Croatia and the Easts in Tanzania. Why don’t you make Christmas cards tonight? Write notes. Use glue and glitter and markers. Have fun.

 

SCRIPTURE

Read Proverbs 31: 10-31.

What do you think about reading Proverbs 31 as an allegory for the church? Does it work?

If the church is the bride of Christ, what does a good bride do (according to this passage)? Make a list together.

 

DISCUSSION

As we discuss this message let’s remember that WE are the church--not just our leaders or preacher. Too, let’s focus on ourselves and not other churches. Be constructive. The last thing we want this discussion to be is destructive.

What is charm? Do you feel personally like you’re tempted to charm others? Do you feel like you need to charm other people in order to introduce them to Christ? Explain.

What’s the difference between being charming and being hospitable or welcoming? If the church need not be known for her charm, what should she known for?

What does a church of good character look like? What does a church with character DO? (Remember: the church is a group of people committed to Christ and one another acting in the best interests of the Kingdom for the glory of God. It’s NOT a building, a set of leaders, hired staff, programming...)

On Sunday Mitch said, “God isn’t looking for a good-looking church; God is looking for a good church.”

●  Are you tempted to try be good-looking? In which ways/how so?

●  Why is it so hard to be good (as compared to being good-looking)?

What does it mean to fear the Lord? Do you feel like you understand what that would look like? How does a person who fears the Lord act? Be specific. Give examples.

Have you ever witnessed the transformation of a person bear witness to the power of God? Does our transformation affect the world around us? Give an example.

 

PRAYER

Tonight, pray for the church. Pray that she would be characterized by character and not charm. Ask God to fill us with His Spirit and grow in us the fruit of His Spirit. You might go around the room and have each member pray asking God to bless/shape/transform the church at Round Rock in one specific way.

You could also pray Proverbs 31, changing it from a description of a type of person to a plea, asking God to make us into that type of person. 

What It Feels Like To Be God (part 3): When You're Saved

TO START

Plan a holiday celebration/get together/outing as a group. Go see Christmas lights. Ice skate on the top of Whole Foods in Austin. Make Christmas cookies. Go caroling. Do something, anything fun.

Too, be sure to remind your group about the Christmas missions benefit dinner on December 11th. This year we’re looking for teams for our holiday lip sync battle. Each team will lip sync one Christmas song. If your small group’s up for it, contact Robin Marrs at rmarrs@rrcoc.org.

Finally, decide how often you’ll meet during the month of December (and whether you’ll meet the first week of January). Try to meet as often as you can.

 

DISCUSSION

The goal of this series has been, in part, to be empathetic toward God. Do you feel like thinking about how God “feels” has changed the way you see or act? Has it changed your relationship with God at all?  Have you had any epiphanies during this series? As you think about how it feels to be God do you have questions? If so, what are they?

Justin said on Sunday, “Redemption is the single-minded, dogged, immovable mission of God.” Is that true?

  • If it is true, what does that mean for you personally? How can you best partner with God to fulfill His mission?
  • Consider the Bible as a whole. What’s it about? Sometimes the best way to understand the theme of a book is to look at  the end and see what conflict is resolved. What does your understanding of the book of Revelation reveal about the theme of the Bible?

How does God feel when we come home?

  • Have you ever welcomed someone home who’d been gone for a long time (maybe a soldier, a missionary, or a runaway)? How’d you feel? Tell the group about it.
  • What story in the best Bible best illustrates for you God’s joy when we come home? How so?

We said on Sunday that God feels joy when we come home. We said He’s NOT thinking: “Oh fine. I guess I won’t smite you. Man, I really wanted to smite you.”

  • Have you ever felt like God wanted to smite you? How did that understanding of God shape your behavior? Would you have acted differently if you knew He’d be happy to welcome you--no matter what?

We say a lot that God loves you. What does it mean to you that God loves you? How does God’s love for you shape the way you live? How does it shape the way you see and understand God? If you’re not sure, say so.

 

SCRIPTURE

Read Hebrews 12:1-3.

According to this passage, why did Jesus endure the cross?

What is “the joy set before Him”?

In what ways could we follow Christ into joy? Suggest some ways you might sacrifice for others for the sake of their salvation.

 

PRAYER

Would you pray for the new Christians in our body? We’ve been so blessed to be used by God as a place where people can come home. In the last year we’ve had several men, women, teens and kids commit their lives to Christ. Tonight, pray for them. First, make a list of things new Christians need from God and from their church family. Then pray.

 

What It Feels Like To Be God (part 2): When You Leave

TO START

Have you ever felt betrayed or abandoned by...

A pet?
A favorite television show? A book ending?
A band?
An inanimate object?

Explain and explain how it felt.

Before you jump into discussion, you may want to watch the video linked in the “TO WATCH” section of this guide.

 

DISCUSSION

This week’s sermon was pretty heavy. Because of that, this week’s discussion questions are heavy too. Before you jump in, say a prayer that God would enable you to speak freely, to be vulnerable, and to welcome your brothers’ and sisters’ vulnerability with compassion and grace.

Were you familiar with the story of Hosea and Gomer before this Sunday (If your group members didn’t make it Sunday, have a member summarize the text)? How does this story sit with you? Does it make you uncomfortable at all? Is it surprising? Do you connect with it?

  • What does Hosea teach us about who God is?
  • How do you feel about God after reading Hosea’s prophecy?
  • What do you realize about yourself after reading Hosea’s story?
  • Where do you see yourself in it?

Remember, there are no bad answers.

How does God’s response to Israel in Hosea affect you and your behavior/allegiance/faithfulness? If leaving makes God feel the way He does in Hosea, does that motivate you to stay? Why or why not?

Have you ever been unfaithful to God for a season? Take a minute to let members write an apology to God on an index card. This isn’t a request for forgiveness; likely you’ve received that already. Rather, have members identify one “season of leaving,” meditate on the pain that must have caused God and talk to Him in prayer about how He must have felt and the pain He must have endured. In this exercise our goal is to feel with God.

As you think about a time when you left God, think too about your return. What motivated you to come back? How were you received by God?

Are you currently tempted to be unfaithful to God, your Master? Do you feel other things pulling at your heart, calling you to make gods of them (food, sports, approval, physical attractiveness or health...)? Share with your group. Let this be an opportunity for all of us to confess our temptations to be Gomer and to be encouraged by our spiritual family to stay close to God.

Next week we’ll have the opportunity to be baptized during worship. Do any of your group members have questions about baptism? Interest in being baptized? Group is a great time to discuss it!

 

SCRIPTURE

Read Jeremiah 13:25-27.

  • How does it feel to be God in this passage? Use as many emotion words as you can to describe His temperament.
  • How does God as jilted lover strike you? Is God’s reaction surprising or confusing or maybe embarrassing? Share what you’re feeling and thinking.

 

PRAYER

Who do you know who needs to come home to God? Make a list and pray over those people. Thank God for His love and grace, for promising to receive us ever after we leave.

Maybe tonight you could pray for God. Sounds weird, but before you dismiss it, consider telling God how sorry you are that He has to carry these burdens--our sin, our unfaithfulness, our pain. Talk to Him as you’d talk to someone you love who’s hurting.

 

TO WATCH

Have you spent much time studying the book of Hosea? If not, consider this cool, illustrated, well-made summary of the book and what God’s trying to teach us in it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kE6SZ1ogOVU

What It Feels Like To Be God (part 1): When It Hurts

TO START

Brainstorm representations of God in culture--movies, books, TV, songs. What’s it like to be God according to those representations?

 

DISCUSSION

On Sunday Justin shared this thought from social scientist Daniel Goleman:

“Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection.”

Do you regularly feel empathy for God? Have you ever thought about what it must be like to be Him? Have certain life circumstances made you more or less likely to feel empathy toward God? Explain. What do you think would be the practical results of knowing God better?

  • Give an example of a relationship of yours that has been enhanced by practicing empathy.

What sticks out to you about the story of Jesus at Lazarus’s tomb? Is it interesting, surprising, or just what you’d expect? Do you relate to it? If so, how so?

How does it make you feel to know that God hurts when we hurt? Is it healing? Confusing? Comforting? Explain…

Take a minute and do some group meditation. Have each group member clear their minds, close their eyes and think about the story of Jesus at Lazarus’s tomb. You can speak instructions while they meditate, but speak quietly and slowly. Leave space for members to follow your directions.

Have members imagine they are bystanders in the crowd. Where are they? What do their surroundings look like? What’s the weather like? Creativity is encouraged. Encourage members to try to see yourself in the story. Have them imagine Martha as she talks to Jesus having just lost her brother and likely her provider. How would she have looked? What would she have worn? What tone of voice would she have used? Do the same for the interaction with Mary. Then imagine Jesus. How does He feel? What’s His posture like? What’s the expression on His face as he listens to the women? Now imagine Him in front of the tomb. Try to see His face as He cries. What does His voice sound like when He calls Lazarus to come out?

Directly after meditating on that moment, have members remember (still silently) a time when they were suffering. Try to put yourself back into the moment. Remember where you were, what you were wearing, etc. Then, have them imagine God’s in the room with them. What does His face look like as you suffer?

  • When you’re done meditating, ask members to share any feelings or epiphanies they had while meditating.

When/where have you seen God’s love in the midst of your suffering? Share a story with the group.

What can we do to be like God in the midst of other people’s suffering? How might you hurt with the hurting in a practical, visible, helpful way? Give examples of what you could do to hurt alongside…

Those who’ve lost loved ones

Those who’ve lost a job or can’t get on their feet financially

Those whose children aren’t faithful to God

Those going through a divorce

Those dealing with life-altering diseases

Those battling mental illness

Those dealing with oppression, racism, classism, misogyny or the like

List any other ways we might hurt and corresponding ways to show empathy.

 

SCRIPTURE

Read Nahum 1:1-2

“This is the vision God gave to Nahum, who lived in Elkosh, concerning the impending doom of Nineveh: God is jealous over those he loves; that is why he takes vengeance on those who hurt them. He furiously destroys their enemies.”

  • Who/what are the enemies of God’s people today? Will God furiously destroy our enemies? If so, how?

 

PRAYER

Don’t skip this! Tonight pray a prayer of thanksgiving and a prayer of supplication. First, have group members share times when God showed His love to them during their hurt. Give thanks for each one of those times. Next, have members share where they’re hurting now. Ask God to walk with them in their pain, person by person.

 

TO WATCH

Watch this story from Angie Smith about God’s love and our suffering: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krMXoK8MA2E

On The Road To Better (part 6): Refined

 

TO START

Name one of your favorite historical people. What hard thing did he or she endure to help make him or her the person you respect so much?

 

DISCUSSION

Think of a difficult thing you endured as a child. Looking back at it, do you think it shaped you in any way?

As we talk about the ways God uses suffering to shape us, let’s define suffering. What counts as suffering? Give specific examples (grief, betrayal, illness, poverty, etc.).

  • Are there types of suffering God won’t use to transform us? Explain.

In which type(s) of suffering have you personally experienced God’s transforming work? Give an example from your life of a difficult thing you endured and emerged from a better person. Where/how did you see God working in that difficult season?

Justin said on Sunday, “For the person pursuing a relationship with God, not an ounce of pain is wasted.”

  • Is that true? Does it feel true?
  • How does redemption work exactly? Give an example from scripture of God redeeming a person’s pain.

James writes in chapter 1 verse 4: “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

  • Have you ever NOT let perseverance finish its work? What does that look like? How might we get in the way of what God’s trying to do in our suffering?
  • How can we ensure difficult things make us better and not worse?

Do you find the truth of this lesson, that hardship refines and matures us, encouraging? How should this truth inform our behavior in and our posture toward suffering? In other words, does knowing that God uses suffering in big ways change the way you suffer?

 

SCRIPTURE

Read I Peter 4:12-14

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”

  • What does it mean that God’s glory is revealed when we suffer?

  • Do you feel like “the Spirit of glory and of God” has ever rested on you? Share. If not, why do you think that is?

  • Do you tend to rejoice in suffering? What would rejoicing in suffering look like?

 

PRAYER

Have group members share any hardships they’re experiencing right now and pray over them one by one. Encourage members to share no matter how big or small their current trial is. Especially if one of your members is going through something very big, other members will be reluctant to share. Be sure to affirm their pain, even if it’s small.

 

TO WATCH

Take a moment to listen to Jo Saxon’s story about not having a dad and the way God led her through it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUaOGsR39pA

 

On The Road To Better (part 5): Truth & Consequences

TO START:

What were your parents’ go to “consequences” when you misbehaved as a child? Share with the group. Did the doling out out of consequences ever go wrong somehow? Perhaps comically?

What kinds of consequences do you deal with as adult when (first person to yell out an answer gets a point. The person with the most points wins)…

  • You don’t pay your bills?
  • You drive too fast?
  • You eat too much?
  • You stay up too late?
  • You ignore your text messages?
  • You don’t brush your teeth?
  • You forget to wash the makeup off your face before you go to bed?
  • You forget to set an alarm?
  • You leave your purse behind at the restaurant?
  • You pack all wrong for your vacation?
  • You try to lift too much weight at the gym?
  • You promise your kids they can stay up late?
  • You forget where you parked your car?
  • You drop your phone in the toilet?
  • You don’t mow the lawn?
  • You let your kids skip school?
  • You wear a costume to work on Halloween?

 

DISCUSSION:

God promises forgiveness to His children. What does forgiveness look like? What does it feel like?

Have you ever felt like you weren’t really forgiven? If so, why do you think that is?

Have you ever done something wrong, been forgiven but still had to deal with the consequences?

  • Were those consequences heavy or hard? What were they?
  • Did they stay heavy or did they get lighter over time?
  • How do you think God might have shaped you through those consequences?
  • A good thing to do with the bulk of your time tonight would be to share your stories with one another. Remember, everyone makes bad choices. Everyone deals with consequences of one sort of another. Sharing will help us realize we’re not alone.

Have you ever been mad at God, resentful or bitter because He didn’t remove the consequences of your mistake? Explain how you felt and why you felt that way.

Though God doesn’t always take away our consequences He does always walk beside us as we bear them. How does God’s presence and love equip us to bear the burden of consequences?

On Sunday Justin said, “We seem to care a whole lot about the circumstances. God cares a whole lot about the relationship.” Have you ever found yourself hung up on circumstances? How did you get past it to build a stronger relationship with God?

Consider this sentence: “God is not hardly as averse to pain as we’ve become. He’s okay with using it when it’s the best tool to shape us.”

  • How does that quote make you feel?
  • Is it true?
  • Give an example (from the Bible or experience) to prove or disprove your assertion.

 

SCRIPTURE:

Read Ezekiel 44:6-13

  • What did the Israelites do wrong?
  • What phrase does God use three times in this passage to describe the result of the Levites’ sin?
  • How does it feel to “bear the consequences” of our sin?
  • What do you learn from this one example of God interacting with His people?

 

PRAYER:

Tonight you might pray a prayer of confession. Here’s one you could read together from Psalm 51, David’s appeal to God for forgiveness after his sin with Bathsheba:

Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your unfailing love;

according to your great compassion

blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity

and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,

and my sin is always before me.

Against you, you only, have I sinned

and done what is evil in your sight

Cleanse me, and I will be clean;

wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Let me hear joy and gladness;

let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins

and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,

and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me from your presence

or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation

and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart

you, God, will not despise.

 

TO WATCH:

Watch Myrka Dellanos’s story of consequences and peace in Christ (Myrka speaks Spanish; the video is subtitled):

http://www.iamsecond.com/seconds/myrka-dellanos-2/

  • What consequences has God not taken away for Myrka?

  • What has He enabled for her anyway?

On The Road To Better (part 4): Stay Close

TO START:

How about you begin small group this week by practicing a spiritual discipline or act of worship? Sing a song, pray a prayer (perhaps one from the liturgical tradition like Wesley’s covenant prayer or The Lord’s Prayer), confess your sins, read a passage of scripture…

You might choose which one by having group members vote for their favorite way of drawing close to God.

 

DISCUSSION

What’s your earliest memory of worshiping God? What exactly do you remember? How did you feel in the moment?

What’s your favorite (or a favorite) memory of worshiping God? What were you doing? Where were you? Why do you think that memory is special to you?

What do you think worship accomplishes in you? Do you feel changed at all after having truly worshipped?

Consider the following acts of worship or spiritual disciplines. Read them aloud one by one. Raise your hand if that discipline or act has helped you look more like Jesus. Explain how. If we missed one, be sure to put it on the list.

Reading the Bible

Prayer

Fasting

Solitude

Memorizing scripture

Service

Confession

Singing

Silence

Communion

Holy Celebration

Sabbath-keeping

Giving

In his book You Are What You Love James K. A. Smith writes, “The practices of Christian worship train our love--they are practice for the coming kingdom, habituating us as citizens of the kingdom of God.”

  • What does he mean?
  • What habits does a citizen of the kingdom need?
  • What acts of worship/spiritual disciplines will we  engage in when Jesus comes back to reclaim us?

 

SCRIPTURE

Read I Corinthians 3:18

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

What does it look like practically speaking “to contemplate the Lord’s glory”? Give examples. How do you contemplate the Lord’s glory in your day to day life?

Why does contemplating the Lord’s glory result in our own transformation? Give an example from your own experience.

 

PRAYER

Pray this “Sevenfold Prayer of Transformation” from the Book of Common Prayer over your group:

Deliver them, Lord, from the way of sin and death.

Open their hearts to your grace and truth.

Fill them with your holy and life-giving Spirit.

Keep them in the faith and communion of your

holy Church.

Teach them to love others in the power of the Spirit.

Send them into the world in witness to your love.

Bring them to the fullness of your peace and glory.

You might also consider having each group member identify one area in which they’d like to grow and one spiritual discipline or act of worship that might enable that growth. Pray one by one for your members that they would enter into a habit of disciplined worship and by that discipline be transformed.

 

FOR FUN:

Watch this very funny video about raising hands in worship: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxbCtKfqwXY

On The Road To Better (part 3): What To Do When You're Wrong

TO START:

Think of something you’re doing or thinking lately that might very well be wrong. Feel free to keep it light. Did you cook the chicken wrong? Are you using hashtags wrong? Do you always get someone’s name wrong? Dig around and find the places where you’re not so confident. Share one with the group.

 

DISCUSSION:

This Sunday we read from I Samuel chapter 25, looking at the interaction between David and Abigail (If your group members weren’t at church on Sunday consider re-reading the passage). Were you familiar with this story? If not, what was surprising or interesting about it? If you’re heard it before, what did you notice this time that you might have missed before?

  • What can you learn from the way Abigail deals with David?
  • What can you learn from the way David receives Abigail?

It is an unavoidable truth: YOU’RE DOING THINGS WRONG. How does hearing that make you feel? Use your emotion words.

Have you ever known you were wrong but refused to change your mind or behavior because you were too proud to take advice? Think of a specific encounter (big or small). Share with the group.

What’s the problem with being a person who doesn’t welcome correction? If we stay that way what will be the end result?

Have you ever received gentle correction and been super thankful for the help? Share.

  • What did that person do to make the correction easy to receive?

During the sermon, Justin asked the following questions. Pick one to answer out loud:

  • How often do you ask other people for advice?
  • How do you respond to feedback?
  • When’s the last time you said, “If you were me, what would you do differently?”
  • Who have you given permission to to speak into your life?

We all want (or want to want) good counsel. How do we position ourselves to receive it?

Justin suggested two ways to open ourselves up to constructive criticism:

  1. Place yourself in environments conducive to it.
  2. Give permission.

Brainstorm practical ways to do those two things.

 

SCRIPTURE:

Read Leviticus 26:14-27

Here God is railing against His people for not accepting His correction. What’s your first reaction to this passage?

How does God send correction to us today? How might we reject His efforts to realign us?

What do you think God thinks when we choose to ignore helpful counsel and criticism?

 

PRAYER:

Pray this prayer written by Mark and Jill Herringshaw...

Father,

Chide me, but please guide me.

Inspect me, but don’t reject me.

Reproach me, yet coach me.

Scold me, but hold me.

Call me on the carpet, but don’t leave me lying there.

Amen.

 

FOR FUN:

Practice telling other people hard things by telling them hard things that aren’t actually true. Have each group member say a critical (but kind and helpful) thing to another member of the group--but here’s the catch: it can’t be real advice. Be sure to say something they definitely do NOT need to hear. Imagine it's opposite day.

Example: Say to a hard working, disciplined group member, “I’m concerned that you’re not trying hard enough at your work. I think you’re drifting toward laziness, and I want to help you do a better job of disciplining yourself. What can I do to help?”

The point is to get experience framing correction in kind ways while also getting the chance to encourage and compliment your fellow group members.