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Pray: To open your time together.

Read: 2 Corinthians 4

Consider: Some thoughts for your group

Paul writes his letter to the church in Corinth as an encouragement to a young and diverse church body amid a challenging cultural community. The city of Corinth was a key economic center for many nations and because of that it welcomed a wide array of cultural and religious expressions.

Nestled in the midst of all of this diversity was a small group of people following “the way”. Paul and Jesus’ disciples spread word of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus through the known world, and accompanying the message of the gospel was the hope that was ushered in with the kingdom of God. As we see in the letters to this young group of churches, the fine line between hope and despair was ever present.

In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul leans into two distinct ideas regarding our journey as people following the way of Jesus: 1) We are pressed, but not crushed; 2) We keep an eternal mindset, and don’t lose heart in the day to day struggle.

To live into this kind of faith journey the early church had to cling to the hope promised in Jesus amidst a world that seemed to be distant and perhaps even in conflict with the kingdom of God.

“So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, in the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4: 16-18, the Message translation.

Group Questions:

  1. Do you resonate with the Corinthians churches challenge to be light in a dark place? Talk about the places you experience the light of God in your current world. Where does the darkness seem to be winning?
  • Do you feel more hopeful or discouraged at the start of 2022? What is hopeful? What is discouraging?
  • Read Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 aloud in your group. As you hear these word, what stands out to you?

Staying Curious:

What might God be doing in the midst of your challenging situation? Is God inviting you to learn something new or to grow in faith right now? Paul says, “We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal”. What might we be missing by focusing only on what we can see right now?

Closing Prayer:

Spend some time praying for one another for the week ahead and pray for a renewed sense of hope in God’s plan for each of our lives. If anyone feels especially discouraged in their current circumstances pray for the eternal hope in Christ and in God’s work of making all things new.  

Pray: To open your time together.

Read: 2 Kings 7:3-10

Consider: Some thoughts for your group

What qualifies us to be bearers of good news? So often we disqualify ourselves from the work of sharing the good news of Jesus. We believe we aren’t educated enough (“maybe if I went to seminary?”). We believe we aren’t experienced enough (“maybe if I worked in ministry?”). We generally believe we are not enough based on our own measure of Godliness.  

This week we see some biblical heroes who could not be less qualified to carry a message of salvation and hope. Four men with leprosy left on the outskirts of their city to die a slow, lonely death. In their day and age, leprosy was not just a diagnosis of your body, it was a diagnosis of your soul too. The belief was that humans were divinely punished with greater suffering based on their own sinful life choices. In the belief system of their day, these men must have really earned the wrath of God to be in such miserable shape. Enough so that they were left at the entrance to the city to starve to death. Imagine. Everyone they knew believed them beyond salvation.

And yet, God writes s a miraculously hopeful story in the lives of these outcasts. In a somewhat comical turn of events these dying lepers drive out an entire army of enemies, collect the spoils of war (although they did no fighting), and return to their city with the good news that salvation has come!

Group Questions:

  1. What must these men have believed about themselves at the beginning of this story? What value did they hold in the eyes of their friends, family, or community?
  • How hard must it have been for them to leave the city entrance to go surrender themselves to the enemy? What do you think was going through their minds as they made that journey?
  • As is so often the case, God uses our folly and hopelessness for His own purposes. What does this story tell us about the character of God? If God can use these outcasts, what is preventing Him from using you for His purpose?

Closing Prayer:

Spend some time praying for one another for the week ahead and pray for a renewed sense of hope in God’s plan for each of our lives. If anyone feels a prompting to ask God to use them in their workplace, family, or community be sure to pray for that.

Pray: To open your time together.

Read: John 6:1-14

Consider: Some thoughts for your group

A young boy with his loaves and fishes set the stage for one of Jesus greatest miracles: taking a little and making much. Jesus uses the young boy’s meager meal to feed a crowd of thousands, and in the process challenge His disciples to have faith for all that God can do with the smallest offering.

As we have discussed often in this teaching series, the heroes who often get our attention in the bible are revered as mighty people of faith, courage, and determination. In this story, our young hero is not really any of those things, but instead is a model of giving God what we have (great or small) and trusting in God’s ability to multiply our offering into great things.

Pastor Evan said on Sunday, “Maybe because he was too young to know better, maybe because he hadn’t experienced the loss of hope. This boy believed his offering might just make a difference. To give up your lunch and risk hunger is no small thing. In the uncertainty, the boy chooses generosity. That’s the sign that hope is alive, that cynicism hasn’t taken over and it’s also the way to set the stage for a miracle: Respond to uncertainty with generosity.”

Group Questions:

  1. Put yourselves in the shoes of the young boy. What would it be like to have Jesus asks for your meal to give to others? How do you think you would respond?
  • Put yourselves in the shoes of the disciples. How would you respond to Jesus saying to share a small meal with thousands of people? What must it have been like to see all those people fed and still food left over?
  • What might God be asking of you? Do you have a sense for any part of your life that God is calling toward generosity?

Closing Prayer:

Spend some time praying for one another. Ask if anyone has prayer requests for the week ahead and pray for a strengthening of faith, even amid uncertainty.

Pray: To open your time together.

Read: Genesis 16: 1-6; 17: 15-17; 18:9-15; 21: 1-7

Consider: Some thoughts for your group

Faith is not a rational concept. The apostle Paul says that the ways of Christ seem like foolishness to men. Perhaps there is not better depiction of this concept in scripture than the story of Sarah. She doubts God’s faithfulness and goodness throughout her journey to motherhood. She is mistreated and she mistreats others. She feels forgotten and even cursed. But ultimately God is faithful.

Sarah’s journey of faith is not a pretty picture. How many of us can relate? The faith journey is often an ugly road of twist, turns and heartache. Perhaps this happens to us because we have the wrong person at the center of our focus. If we pull up 30,000 feet and get a Gods eye view of Sarah’s story we will find that for much of her journey she has placed herself at the center. We cannot blame Sarah for this. We are all guilty of the same self-focused pursuits. But perhaps we can learn from our ancient sister.

Sarah was convinced that her fulfillment as a woman, a wife, a mother, and even her place in the community would be fulfilled by having a son. In her mind, she was incomplete. This way of seeing herself distorted her perception of her value and in the end cost her much of her life happiness and peace.

Of course, there was tremendous cultural pressure on every woman to fulfill this specific role in her marriage and community. It would be unfair to criticize Sarah for wanting to do what was being required of her. But we can use what we see in Sarah’s story to reflect on how we will choose to follow God today. In the end, Sarah was consumed by bitterness and reacted in cynicism to God’s promise. How will we wait for God’s promises to be fulfilled in our own life?

Group Questions:

  1. What is something that you have been waiting for and praying for that has yet to be fulfilled in your life? How have you submitted this hope to God?
  • What does waiting in faith look like in your life? Understandably, we all can take on parts of Sarah’s cynicism, doubt, and anger while we wait. How do you personally resist and/or reset your heart to hope in God?
  • Sarah created even more pain and suffering in her life by taking matters into her own hands. How do we decide when to act and when to wait? What role does prayer, wisdom, and seeking counsel from trusted mentors and friends play in your own journey of faith?

Closing Prayer:

Spend some time praying for one another. Ask if anyone has prayer requests for the week ahead and pray for a renewed hope in the places your group is waiting in faith. Pray for the grace and peace of Christ to be present for each other as we wait in expectation of what God will do.

Pray: To open your time together.

Read: Exodus 35:30-35

Consider: Some thoughts for your group

This week we are introduced to another unsung hero of scripture named Bezalel. As Exodus tells us Bezalel is special not just because of his skill with design and craftsmanship, but because he was filled with the God’s Spirit. God used both the skill and the heart of Bezalel to help build the most important physical space in the Hebrew world, the Tent of Meeting.

There are few sacred spaces left in our modern world. We still build temples of our modern age, usually in the form of arenas for concerts and sporting events, but for the Hebrew people the most important and sacred space was the Tent of Meeting that became the center of worship for all of God’s people.

At the time, the Tent of Meeting was the only place in the world the Spirit of God resided and there was a tremendous amount of ceremony, repentance, and cleansing that every individual was required to partake in before they could enter this sacred space. By God’s grace and through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, this sacred space is no longer hidden behind a vail for the religious few, but instead Christ has torn the vail and made all the earth His dwelling place.

Group Questions:

  1. Why was it so important that Bezalel not only had physical skill, but a heart for God and a life filled with the Spirit of God? What would happen if your gifts and talents were fully put to use for the glory of God? How might your life look different?
  • What are some sacred spaces that you can identify in our modern world? What makes a space sacred?  
  • Why is it important for the people of God to gather? How do you experience the gathering of the church today? Is it a sacred experience to you? Why or why not? Where else have you experienced sacred spaces of worship outside of the church?

Closing Prayer:

Spend some time praying for one another. Ask if anyone has prayer requests for the week ahead and pray for the space you are in right now to be sacred as the Holy Spirit ministers to each of you in your group.

Pray: To open your time together.

Read: John 19:38-40

Consider: Some thoughts for your group

What do we do when life does not turn out as we had planned? The question isn’t if, but when significant change comes to our lives. Our relationships. Our work. Our health. Everything in our lives is continuously shifting and sometimes the hardest realization is how little control we actually have of our circumstances. So, the question we must wrestle with is how we will react to change and even disappointment when it arrives.

Many of the “heroes” we are discussing in our current teaching series are not significant because of their ability to avoid challenges in life, but instead the character and faith they display in the midst of challenges. Such is the story of a man named Joseph. John 19 gives us a short story of a man named Joseph who was a “secret” disciple of Jesus. Joseph loved and followed Jesus, but political and religious unrest made it dangerous to be known as a Jesus-follower.

Even in that dangerous environment Joseph loved Jesus enough to take the risk of tending to Jesus’ dead body after the crucifixion. Although Jesus was considered both an enemy to Rome and to the religious community, both of whom had Jesus crucified, Joseph loved Jesus enough to associate himself with the radical by taking his body from the cross and caring for it before taking it to the tomb. Joseph’s simple act of love and honor for Jesus, without knowing what will come on resurrection Sunday, gives us a beautiful example of a life fully dedicated to Christ.

Group Questions:

  1. As you read the story of Joseph what stands out to you most? Why do you think Joseph was compelled to tend to Jesus’ dead body?
  • We have the benefit of knowing that Jesus will soon rise from the grave, but Joseph didn’t know that when he tended to Jesus body. What does this tell us about the impact Jesus must have had on Joseph’s life?
  • Imagine the disappointment, fear, and maybe even anger that Joseph must have experienced seeing Jesus die on the cross. Joseph was a disciple and believed that Jesus was the promised messiah who would redeem the world. Can you identify with the feelings Joseph must have experienced? Have you experienced disappointment, fear or anger that left you questioning God?
  • In the end, we know that Jesus does rise from the grave, but Joseph gives us a beautiful example of faith and hope in waiting time before we see the fulfillment of God’s promises. Is there something you are waiting for God to do in this season? Share those hopes with your group.

Closing Prayer:

Spend some time praying for one another. Ask if anyone has prayer requests for the week ahead and pray for those who share what it is they are hoping and praying for God to do in their life.

Pray: To open your time together.

Read: Ephesians 6:21-22 & Colossians 4:7-9;16-18

Consider: Some thoughts for your group

We’ve spent the last few weeks learning from some of the unheralded heroes of the bible. People who don’t get much publicity, but never-the-less play significant roles in the story of God in scripture. This week we learn about one of the apostle Paul’s most trusted friends, a man named Tychicus.

Tychicus stands out not because of the miracles he performed, the strength he demonstrated, or courage he displayed, but instead Tychicus gives us a glimpse of a friend who is faithful and trustworthy to do his small part of advancing the good news of Jesus to the world.

While Paul was imprisoned in Rome, he wrote many letters to the early churches throughout the known world. Of course, Paul could not delivery these letters himself and so he had to choose a few people to take his message to the churches and trust that the messenger would give a good and faithful report of what God was doing.

Tychicus was entrusted not only to deliver the letter, but to read it to the early church and give them a full picture of what was happening to Paul and the rest of the believers abroad. In his reading, Tychicus was both a news deliverer and a faith encourager. 

Group Questions:

  1. Have you considered the various roles we all play in the big story of God? Have you ever heard of Tychicus before this teaching? How do you see his role in the ministry of the Church?
  • Paul highlights some of the character traits of Tychicus: Trustworthy, Encouraging, Faithful, Hopeful. What of these characteristics stand out to you as necessary in our day and age to take the gospel to the world?
  • As Tychicus traveled from one city to the next, he would have been reminded of the dire situation all around. The early church was persecuted, often in hiding, and had virtually no power or authority in politics, business, or culture. And yet, the message of Paul was overwhelmingly hopeful for the future and the kingdom of God that was at hand. How can each of us carry this hope amid the current challenges and division in our world?

Closing Prayer:

Spend some time praying for one another. Ask if anyone has prayer requests for the week ahead and take time to encourage one another for the good has planned for you to deliver this week in your work, your family, and/or your neighborhood.  

Pray: To open your time together.

Read: Luke 24: 1-12

Consider: Some thoughts for your group

Have you ever felt that God has let you down? While many in the bible are revered as heroes for their faith in difficult times, the reality is that most of us have experienced disappointment with God when things don’t to go the way we anticipated. In Luke 24, we see this kind of disorienting disappointment in action.

A group of women are making the trip to Jesus’ tomb, and their world has been shattered. Remember that we have the advantage of knowing how the story ends, but for these women all they knew for certain was that the person they had believed in was gone. Jesus was supposed to be the savior of the world, God’s prophet who healed sick people, and even raised others from the dead. Jesus said His kingdom was at hand! But now, Jesus was gone, dead, and too poor to have his own grave. He is buried in a borrowed tomb.

This is not how it was supposed to be. So, understandably, everyone else has scattered. The crowds have gone. The fans have stopped cheering. Even the disciples are hiding in a locked room somewhere. But this group of women have walked to the tomb at sunrise to see Jesus. Not because they believe He is alive, but because they love him anyway. They are going to show their respect and love for Him, even though He has thoroughly let them down… or so they believe.

As they encounter the angels at the tomb they are told, “Remember how he told you when He was still with you [that he would raise from the dead]?” And Luke 24:8 says, “And then they remembered His words.” So much of our life with Jesus is remembering and trusting what God tells us even when things look different than we expected.

Group Questions:

  1. Have you experienced disappointment with God? Share your story of walking through that circumstance. Are there things that turned out differently (for good or bad) than you expected? What did you learn about God in the process?
  • We can’t overlook the significance of a group of women being entrusted with the good news of Jesus resurrection. Women in this time and culture were very much considered second class citizens. Why do you think God picks these women to bring the good news of Jesus resurrection to the disciples? What does this tell us about who God will use for His own purposes?
  • Nearly all the disciples respond to the women’s message with skepticism. “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” But Peter is different. It says, “Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb.” What do you think is going through Peter’s mind that causes him to react this way? What does it say that he responds differently than the other disciples?

Closing Prayer:

Spend some time praying for one another. Ask if anyone has prayer requests for the week ahead, and if someone is wrestling with disappoint with God spend some time praying and encouraging that person.

Communion:

At the close of Sunday’s message, Pastor Steve will be leading the church through communion. If you would like to participate as a group please have bread and juice/wine available to the group. If helpful, below is a short guide through communion:

Communion is a meal of remembrance of Jesus suffering and sacrifice for us.

Scripture reference: Luke 22: 7-20

At the last supper, while Jesus was gathered with His disciples before He was crucified, Jesus took the bread from the table, gave thanks and broke it, and said, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant of my blood, which is poured out for you.”

As you take and eat the bread and drink the juice/wine, remember Christ’s love, grace and sacrifice for our sin and receive His gift of grace.

Pray: to open your time.

Read: Luke 23: 26-43

Consider: Some thoughts for your group

In Luke 23 we are given a front row seat to the end of Jesus earthly life. It is a painful one. Jesus, innocent and unjustly accused, is in His last moments of a tortuous death on the cross. To each side of him are two thieves. The Son of God is being put to death with common criminals. We might be tempted to look past this moment as unfair to Jesus and insignificant because of His circumstances. But we would be wrong to look away.

In this moment, an extraordinary exchange is happening between the three dying men. Many have spent the day mocking Jesus, extolling him to save himself if he is really who He claims to be. One of the thieves joins this chorus, “Aren’t you the messiah? Save yourself and us!” Can you blame him for this response? Desperation has set in, and the end is near. We can empathize with the man’s panic. Surprisingly, the reprimand comes not from Jesus, but from the fellow thief also on the cross.

“Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” The second thief is clearly processing the end of his life in a very different posture. Rather than desperate demands for his own rescue, this man clearly sees the brokenness of his own humanity. Two men. One Circumstance. Two very different responses to Jesus’ presence.

Most significant of all is Jesus’ response. The thief says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus responds, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Notice a few things in this exchange: 1) The man clearly believes that there is a kingdom beyond this world; 2) The man believes that Jesus is the key to that kingdom; 3) Although there is no formal prayer, no confession or repentance, no accounting for sins, Jesus assures the man of his future, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

Group Questions:

  1. Can you relate to either of the thieves that are present with Jesus? Which one do you most relate to in their responses to their circumstances? Think of a challenging circumstance you are in now. How can this account of two people responding differently to the same circumstance help shape your perspective on your own response to your challenging situation?
  • In this account there are many opinions about who Jesus is and varying expectation of what Jesus should do. The crowd mocked him, clearly not believing He was a messiah. The one thief was perhaps unsure of Jesus but made a desperate appeal anyway, kind of a spiritual Hail Mary. The other thief seemed to have a confidence in who Jesus was and what He was capable of doing. Who do you believe Jesus to be? What do you believe Jesus is capable of doing in your own circumstances?
  • Jesus responds to the dying mans plea, “Remember me..” with a generous grace. He does not chastise, rebuke, shame or dismiss the thief on the cross. Jesus invites him to paradise with Him. How does Jesus’ response in this situation fit with your understanding of salvation? Do you believe that Jesus has extended this same generous grace to you?

Closing Prayer:

Spend some time praying for one another. Ask if anyone has prayer requests for the week ahead, and if someone is prompted to pray for Jesus to meet them in their circumstance pray for that same generous grace to be present for that person.

Pray: to open your time.

Read: 1 Timothy 4:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

Consider: Some thoughts for your group

Do you remember what it was like when you were young? Some of us grew up in a time where the phrase “Children should be seen and not heard” was not just a turn of phrase, but a whole parenting philosophy. Others of us grew up in nurturing communities with families who cultivated deep relationships with us. Most of us grew up somewhere in the middle.

In the mid-2000’s Fuller Youth Institute conducted a study of thousands of young adults who were part of a Christian community in their developmental years (elementary to high school) and had transitioned to college. Statistics showed that a very high percentage of students walked away from their faith in their college years, but some did not. One of the key factors for those students who stayed, and even grew, in their faith during and after college was a significant relationship with someone other than their parents who modeled a life following Jesus.

As we all have heard, we are living in a time when more and more people are leaving the faith and few young people are following Jesus. If we are to build up the next generation of believers who bring the good news of Jesus to the world, it will require all of us to invest ourselves in young people.

Group Questions:

  1. Did you have a significant person in your life that shaped your faith? What were some of the characteristics of this person? What impact did that relationship have on you?
  • In 1 Timothy we read Paul’s instructions to a young pastor and his church.  In this letter, Paul’s says, “Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity”. How do you live as an example to other believers? How do you live as a witness to non-believers? If you are not a follower of Jesus, how have you experienced those who call themselves Christians? Is there a noticeable difference?
  • In Matthew 28:16-20 is called “the great commission”. If you’re not familiar with it, give it a read. Who are you currently mentoring or discipling in your life? If the idea of discipling someone else is intimidating, you’re not alone. Discuss in your group what you find intimidating about discipling and what might be some benefits, for you and the other person, if you were to take the step of inviting someone into this journey with you.

Closing Prayer:

Spend some time praying for one another. Ask if anyone has prayer requests for the week ahead, and pray for those who feel prompted to invest themselves and their resources in our younger generation of Jesus-followers.

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