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Pray: To open your time together.

Read: Acts 1; John 16

Consider: Some thoughts for your group

The book of Acts is our first glimpse into the life of the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection and reappearance. What a journey this group has been through! It may be helpful to pause and put yourself in the disciple’s shoes for a moment. Having spent three intense years living with Jesus every day, putting their faith in Him completely, and watching Him transform people’s minds, bodies, and communities the disciples are ready to die for Him. Until He is arrested and then they scatter. They watch him die at the hands of their oppressors and must have imagined this story was over and held a darker ending then they could have ever imagined.

But resurrection day came! Amid their darkness, despair, and fear Jesus returns and reclaims the story. And for 40 glorious days Jesus lives with them again and teaches them all that has happened. Imagined the renewed hope! But Jesus is clear that this time He will be leaving and for a very important reason. A helper is coming. The story of Jesus and His kingdom will continue, but this time it will be through His church and by the power of the helper, the Holy Spirit.

Like the disciples, we are called to bring the kingdom of God into our world through the power of the Holy Spirit. But unlike the disciples, we often move ahead of God to do the work we see before us.

Far too often, we blunder ahead, with what little we know about Jesus and even less what we know about His kingdom and what we’ve experienced of His presence. Waiting always precedes action. Prayer always precedes practice. The presence and power of the Spirit is needed.

Group Questions:

  1. Put yourself in the place of the disciples: what do you imagine you would be experiencing during the 40 days of living with the resurrected Jesus?
  • Reread Acts 1: 4-5. What is your history and understanding of the Holy Spirit?
  • Waiting is so challenging sometimes, but Jesus clearly commands the disciples to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit before they go into action. What are you waiting on the Sprit for right now?

Closing Prayer:

Spend some time praying for one another. If you are in a season of waiting on the Spirit, share that with your group and pray for the Spirit to lead, comfort, and fill your hopes and direction.

Pray: To open your time together.

Read: Luke 24:13-35

Consider: Some thoughts for your group

The last few Sundays at Westside we have been discussing the idea of “thin spaces” in the Gospel of Luke. These thin spaces are experiences that the disciples and others have had when the heavenly realm seems to break through into their earthly realm. When physical healing happens, or food is miraculously multiplied the supernatural breaks into the natural world and amazing things happen.

In the story of the disciples encounter with Jesus on the Emmaus Road, we see one of the ultimate thin spaces in the account of Luke. Imagine the whirlwind that Cleopas and the other disciples must have been living in since the crucifixion of Jesus. From the elation of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem to the trial, torture, crucifixion, and burial of Jesus… What must have these disciples been thinking as they walked to Emmaus?

Although the disciples encounter Jesus and cannot recognize him at first, they later testify that their hearts burn within them as He explained the scriptures and all of God’s story of redemption for the world.

Group Questions:

  1. When has your heart burned with hope at the idea of God’s good plan?
  • The disciples spent countless hours with Jesus before His death, but were unable to recognize Him as they walked the Emmaus Road. Where might God be at work right now that we may be missing Him?
  • The first thing Jesus did with the disciples after they could recognize Him was to share the good story in all of scripture and how the Old Testament was pointing to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. What is the importance in your life of the scriptures today?
  • Have you ever experienced a “thin place” on earth where it seems heaven might be breaking through on earth? If so, explain what that experience was like. If not, what do you make of these experiences that we read about in the bible?

Closing Prayer:

Spend some time praying for one another. Pray for a burning in your own heart to hear from Jesus and for Him to reveal the good story He is writing in your life. Pray for an experience where the heavenly realm breaks through in your life.

No Community Group this week. Enjoy the start of Easter Holiday and join us for Good Friday Service on April 7 at 6pm.

Pray: To open your time together.

Read: Luke 11: 1-4; Matthew 6: 9-13

Jesus challenges and reframes what prayer is and what is means for us through his instructive teaching on the Lord’s Prayer.

Our Father – Jesus calls God, “Our Father”, which should give us pause. We know God is Jesus’ Father, and Jesus is the good and perfect son, but how do we get in the mix? Jesus is inviting us into the same love and intimacy with the Father that He has enjoyed for eternity. Also, we are invited to receive the love of the Father as He intended it. Our experience with our earthly fathers can cloud all father language, but ironically one of the best ways to disassemble faulty Father narratives is by bringing them to the One True Father in prayer.  

Question 1: How does your relationship with your earthly father limit or expand your experience with God as Father? What does it mean to you that Jesus says “our”, as in “we all get to share this love of the father together”?

In Heaven – the Greek word for Heaven is “Ouranos” which means “atmosphere” or “air”, In other words Jesus is declaring that God is not in a heavenly space that is far away and only accessible when we die, but rather God’s heavenly space is all around us, and in us. We are inseparable from God’s presence.

Question 2: How does this “Ouranos” language help you reimagine prayer? How would you pray differently if you believed God was as close as the air you breathed and full of compassion for you and delight in His creation?

Hallowed Be Your Name – The implication of Jesus statement here is that the people of Israel have been treating God’s name as other than holy. That’s why Jesus enters the scene. To re-establish what holiness on earth looks like.

Question 3: What would have to happen for your city, school, neighborhood, or community to believe that God is holy? (hint: it might require a remnant of people who lived as holy as a representation of Him)

Your Kingdom Come, Your Will Be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven – Jesus seems to indicate that God’s kingdom has not fully come and His will has not fully been done, YET. Which seems to indicate that we have work to do here. Kingdom work and that prayer is a keyway we channel what will be in the future to the here and now of our lives.

Question 4: How can you pray for God’s Kingdom to come to your community? When it shows up, what will God’s Kingdom in your community look like?

Prayers for your group:

  • Pray for God’s provision in your life and those you know need God’s help
  • Pray for God forgiveness toward you and as you receive forgiveness, model God’s love and forgiveness to those in your community (and even those outside of your community).
  • Pray for God’s wisdom, courage, and help resisting all that is evil in this word.

Pray: To open your time together.

Read: Luke 9: 51-56; 10: 33-37

Hospitality is a central theme of the Kingdom of God. But we live in a world and culture that is wrestling with how to be hospitable to a multitude of perspectives and how to rightly respond to hostility. One of the central questions in our cultural moment is how to respond to those who disagree with you, and even a step further, may reject you. Increasingly in Western culture, we have come to accept rage and violence as a response to social rejection.

Author and Theologian, JC Ryle makes this observation about Jesus’ response to being unwelcomed by the Samaritan village, “Uncourteous as the Samaritan villagers had been, their conduct was not to be repaid with violence. The mission of the Son of Man was to do good when men would receive Him, but never to do harm. His kingdom was to be extended by patient continuance in well-doing, and by meekness and gentleness in suffering, but never violence and severity.”

But Jesus doesn’t stop at a non-violent response. He takes us deeper.

On Sunday, Pastor Steve said, “Jesus intentionally tied the Law, seen as the bedrock of faith and godliness, to the concept of love for the other. Whereas many would have considered love for one’s neighbor as an expression of goodwill towards friends and other community members, Jesus went further. Through this parable, Jesus made a very clear point that the love he calls us to reaches wide and deep. Wide outside of our small comfort level of those with whom we like, agree, and relate. Deep into a love that costs us something.

Loving your neighbor “as yourself” means loving those far outside your community, ethnicity, culture, worldview, and political tribe – not with pity or obligation, but as you love yourself. There is no other way to follow Jesus.

Questions for your group:

  1. Is there a time recently where you felt unwelcomed or even rejected? What was that experience like? Can you relate to the disciple’s response to retaliate?
  • What is challenging to you about Jesus’ response to being unwelcomed? What is hopeful in Jesus’ response?
  • As you read the parable of the Good Samaritan, what parts stand out to you? If we take this story to heart, what does it look like to live as one who “loves your neighbor as yourself”?

Pray:

Take some time to quiet your mind. A few deep breathes may be helpful to bring your mind and body to rest. Ask the Holy Spirit what you can learn from this discussion about love and community and give some space to listen to what God has to say. Spend some time sharing what you heard with each other, and as appropriate, pray for those ideas to take root in your life this week.

Pray: To open your time together.

Read: Matt 26:26-27; 1 Cor 11:17-34 (also 27-34 in the Message Translation)

The Big Idea: Jesus is the fulfillment of the Passover promise from God to His people – “Trust me, faithfully follow my instructions, and I will deliver you from all evil.” At the last supper, Jesus is the lamb whose blood delivers us from death and evil.

Paul, reflecting on Jesus at the last supper, calls the early church in Corinth to stop treating communion with so little regard as to use it as a dinner party that only the best are invited to join. Instead, be humbled and come to the meal with holy awe at what God has done for us.

And in that spirit, be reverent and courteous to one another when you come together to the Lord’s Table (v33) for communion is a spiritual meal – a love feast (v34).

Questions for your group:

  1. Have you ever considered the link between the Passover and the Last Supper? If not, re-read both passages as a group (Exodus 12 & Matthew 26) and consider the ways the Passover points to Jesus and the ways Jesus fulfills the Passover promise.
  • How do you experience communion? Is it meaningful? Is it routine?
  • Read Paul’s instructions to the early church in 1 Corinthians 11 and consider how these instructions can inform your own experience with communion.

Pray: Pause in silence for a few minutes and reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice for you on the cross, the true lamb slain for all people to overcome death and evil. Ask God to give you a holy awe for His love and grace toward you. Ask God what ways you can live in light of the cross this week.

Pray: To open your time together.

Read: Colossians 3:1-4; Matthew 5: 1-10

We should be stunned by the way Jesus demonstrates His use of power in His lifetime. If we believe in the Trinity, then we believe that Jesus left the place of perfect love, harmony, joy, and peace to pursue us. And that pursuit led to a life poured out in poverty, ridicule, mockery, and eventually public torture and execution.

What would cause anyone to leave so much beauty and goodness to experience so much sadness and hatred? It can only be radical love that knows that any opportunity for us to experience what Jesus experiences in the Trinity is worth the cost of such brokenness. That is a power that overwhelms all others: states, emperors, kings, principalities, and powers. Jesus wins because of radical love and then He invites us into that love. That is cruciform power.

Now we are invited to live that same radical love-filled life that sees past this small existence in our mortal lives to enter an eternal lovefest with the Trinity. If we had that perspective on the big picture God is painting, we would live less anxious, fearful lives and love people, even our enemies, with that divine perspective.

Questions for your group:

  1. What is one way you see or feel God currently asking you to lay down your life for another?
  • Are there any of the beatitudes which you feel yourself resistant to? Why do you think you are resistant?
  • What resistance do you feel internally about the idea of an “upside-down kingdom”? What does Jesus’ upside-down kingdom look like in your life?

Pray: Ask God to meet you in the places that feel difficult or impossible to follow Jesus and ask the Holy Spirit to empower you to follow the way of Jesus.

Pray: To open your time together.

Read: Galatians 2:20

Read each portion of the words from the apostle Paul below and as you do, consider what these words mean about living a cruciform life:

I have been crucified in Christ;

It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me;

The life I now live is a life of faith, is a life I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and dies for me.

So often in the Christian life we mark our calendar with the celebrations of the year. Christmas and Easter are the main headlines. Much of our preaching and teaching is centered on the resurrection of Jesus and what has been accomplished in the finished work of Christ. This is all very important and worthy of our attention. And, we should also give our focus toward the cross. We don’t get Easter without Good Friday. We don’t get the empty tomb without Jesus’ death on the cross.

Over the next three weeks let us prepare our heart, mind, and spirit for Easter by giving the cross our full attention. The apostle Paul paints a beautiful picture of the cruciform life in his letter to the Galatians. The cruciform life is one that is completely eclipsed by the work of Jesus. It is no longer we who live, but Christ lives in us.

Questions for your group:

How do you think of the cross?

Have you ever paused to consider your life in view of Jesus’ work on the cross? What do you experience when you read Paul’s description of those who “no longer live, but Christ lives in them”?

What part of Paul’s words in Galatians causes you to delight in your life with Christ? What part is confusing or discouraging?

What happened when Jesus went to the cross and what implications does that have on your life today?

Pray: Whatever emotions or thoughts you experience when considering the cross, bring those to Jesus. He sees you and loves you and wants to hear your heart, so tell Him. Remember, there is no shame before Christ, so share your hopes and fears, delights and sorrows with Him.

Pray: To open your time together.

Read: “Psalm of Ascents”: Read Psalm 134 aloud in your group Consider:

Some thoughts for your group:

The pilgrimage that takes place during these songs of ascents is both an invitation and a command of and to the people. This is also true for blessing – we are invited to bless the lord and commanded to bless the lord. Our feelings about the need for perfect honesty or authenticity don’t change that. Bless the lord. Lift your arms and eyes.

“We can’t always command our heart, but we can command our arms. We are psychosomatic beings – body and spirit are intricately interrelated. Go through the motions of blessing God and your spirit will pick up the que and follow along.”

Eugene Peterson, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”

Group Questions:

When you read Psalm 134 aloud, what images come to mind?

How do we worship God with our bodies?

How do our feelings often drive our worship? How do you navigate worship when you don’t feel like worshipping God?

Have you experienced a time when you didn’t feel like worshipping or blessing God, but decided to anyway. Describe that experience. What do you take away from that experience?

Peterson describes humans as psychosomatic beings – “intricately interrelated” through our body and spirit. In your spiritual journey, have you experienced that interconnection of your body and spirit? Has your experience mainly been in one facet more than the other? Which facet do you most rely on and why do you think that is?

Closing Prayer:

Spend some time praying for one another. For those who feel comfortable, take a moment to position your body differently than you may be used to for prayer. You can kneel, raise your hands, lay on the ground, or stand. There is no “right way”. But take a moment to respond with your body before you respond with your words.

Pray for God to meet you in every facet of your mind, body, and spirit. Pray for a tangible experience of God’s nearness to you and the group. Pray for each other by speaking God’s promises of life, love, grace, and hope for today.

Pray: To open your time together.

Read: Psalms of Ascent – Read Psalm 128 aloud together

Consider: Some thoughts for your group

Christian happiness comes from somewhere different altogether. The Christian life isn’t centered around winning or getting or even earning. In fact, we’re of the belief that it’s more blessed to give than to receive. That’s when our happiness increases – when we find ourselves engaged in the beauty of cruciform living, we discover a new dimension through which to view the world.

“Too much of the world’s happiness focuses on taking from one to satisfy the other. To increase my standard of living, people in another part of the world must lower theirs. The worldwide hunger crisis that we have today is a result of that method of pursuing happiness.” – Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Group Questions:

What does “happiness” mean to you? How do you measure your happiness?

Peterson highlights a kind of engagement with happiness where one person benefits mainly at the cost of another. Have you experienced that interplay in your life? How prevalent is this cost/benefit exchange of happiness in our world?

How does the way of Jesus shape our own happiness? How does the way of Jesus shape the way we consider other people’s happiness?

Closing Prayer:

Spend some time praying for one another. For those wrestling with happiness, pray for the joy of the Lord to be their strength. For those wrestling with the happiness of their neighbors, ask for the Holy Spirit to expand our vision and capacity as a church body to love our neighbors as ourselves.  

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