A Growing Church: The Power of Coincidence

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This week we will continue our journey through Acts by studying a passage that isn’t directly related to Sunday’s sermon. In Acts 6 we read about the choosing of “The Seven” who were the first to join the apostles in an official leadership capacity in the church, managing the food distribution program for widows. The apostles had said these were to be people full of the Holy Spirit, and the next chapters give witness to this. First, one of the seven (Stephen) is unjustly killed for his faith in Jesus, becoming the first Christian martyr. Then the entire church faces persecution and is scattered outward from Jerusalem. Philip (also one of the seven) goes to the despised Samaritans to bring the good news to those people (whom Jesus seemed to have a soft spot for). While there, Philip does amazing miracles and wins over many people. One of the most remarkable stories is his encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch, which we will look at today.

 

 

Key Verse: 

Acts 8:4 -Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.

 

Opening Discussion:

Have you ever observed or been a part of a “coincidence” in which two people seem to have been brought together by God at just the right time, for some purpose they couldn’t have foreseen or planned? Share with the group.

 

 

 

 

 

Looking at Scripture:

Read Acts 8:26-40.

 

How do you think a high-standing Ethiopian had become interested in the Jewish faith enough to have visited the temple and purchased an expensive copy of one of the Jewish prophetic writings? What kinds of things cause everyday people to get curious about God today?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What different elements did God bring together to lead this man to putting his faith in Christ? 

 

 

 

 

 

The passage the Ethiopian was reading is one in which God (through the prophet Isaiah) is comforting Israel, assuring them that their suffering in exile will be rewarded in the end, when God restores their fortunes. That is how it had been understood for seven centuries from Isaiah to Christ. Yet early Christians quickly interpreted it to actually be pointing toward what had happened to and through Jesus. With this in mind, readIsaiah 52:13-53:12. 

 

(Note the difference in wording between the quote in Acts and the actual verses 7-8 in Isaiah. This is because the author of Acts is quoting from a Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint, which was in wide circulation in that day. It is possible this was what the Ethiopian was reading. In our English Bibles, the Old Testament passage is translated directly from the Hebrew, resulting in variances in wording).

 

Acts 8:35 says that Philip “began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” Put yourself in Philip’s shoes. Where would you start, and how would you share the message? What elements of the Christian gospel (and life of Jesus) do you see reflected in the Isaiah passage?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Application

When sharing the Christian message, it’s important to start where people are at. How would you frame the gospel for someone who is:

·     A seeker who is actively exploring/comparing spiritual paths?

·     Someone who had been hurt by Christians?

·     A Muslim?

·     An Orthodox Jew?

·     An passionate atheist (does not believe in God)?

·     Someone who grew up in church, but has drifted away?

·     An agnostic (doesn’t know what he/she believes) who has had no exposure to Christianity?

 

 

 

 

Are you willing to be used by God in “coincidental” opportunities to share your faith with others? Ask him to use you in this way, and to help you have the words to say in the moment.

 

 

 

 

Bonus:Have you ever wondered how Jews who don’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah interpret Isaiah 53? Read http://jewsforjudaism.org/knowledge/articles/isaiah-53-a-jewish-perspective/and reflect on whether you find the arguments valid, or if you find the Christian interpretation more convincing.

A Growing Church: Shepherds of the Flock

 

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This Sunday Jeremy talked about something pastors rarely teach about: pastoral ministry. The primary term for “pastor” in the New Testament was actually “elder.” These were leaders in the church set apart for teaching and other ministries, sometimes on a volunteer basis, sometimes supported financially by the church. Paul makes it clear that the goal of leadership in the church was not to be the sole source of ministry, but to equip the rest of the church to do ministry (Ephesians 4:11-13). Every elder/pastor is unique and should serve according to their own personality and gifting. We should expect God to call men and women into pastoral ministry from MCC and should support those who embark on this journey.

 

Key Verse: 

1 Peter 5:1-3 - To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

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Opening Discussion:

If you listened to Jeremy’s talk on Sunday, what stood out to you? Were there any surprises or “aha!” moments?

 

 

 

 

Some people joke about pastors only working one day per week. But do you have any sense of what they do the rest of the time? As a group, try to brainstorm any tasks or roles you think might be a part of pastoral ministry today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking at Scripture:

Read Acts 20:17-38.

 

What can we learn from this passage about the role of an “elder” (or pastor) in the first century? How do you think Paul’s role as an “apostle” (literally, ‘one sent out’) compared to the role of the elders he was leaving in charge?

 

 

 

If you were to list the top 5 traits a pastor should have, what would they be?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Titus 1:6-9.How do Paul’s traits differ from the ones you listed? How are these requirements related to the mission of the church? 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you think these are meant to be universal requirements, or are any of them flexible/contextual?

 

 

 

 

 

How are members of a church supposed to relate to their pastor? Read 1 Timothy 5:17-21and Hebrews 13:17 and try to sum up what those passages teach. Do you have any further thoughts on how to relate to pastors?

 

 

 

 

 

Split up the following passages in your group, where Paul asks people to pray for him:

Romans 15:30-32; Ephesians 6:19-20; Colossians 4:3; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2.

What can you learn from those passages about the importance of praying for your pastor and spiritual leaders? How can you pray for our pastor and other pastors you know?

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Application

Is there anyone you know that you think God might be calling to be a pastor? Do you think it would be appropriate to share this with them?

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Growing Church: Becoming Bold

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In the face of threats and persecution the early church prayed not for safety and protection, but for boldness (Acts 4:29). The Greek word for boldness, parresia, didn’t mean rudeness, obnoxiousness, or arrogance like we sometimes think of today. Rather it meant a combination of courage, confidence, and clarity. This is what Peter displayed as he addressed the Jewish leaders, accusing them of killing the Messiah and asserting that Jesus was the only road to salvation. Like the early church, we need to be “bold” when it comes to sharing our faith. But what does boldness look like in our context? 

 

 

Key Verse: 

Acts 4:29 -Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.

 

Opening Discussion:

Sometimes what we think of as “boldness” can have disastrous or embarrassing consequences. Have you ever decided to just “tell someone what you really thought” and regretted it? Have you ever seen Christians decide to be “bold” with their faith, but seen it backfire? Share your stories as a group.

 

 

 

Looking at Scripture:

Both Peter and Paul were known for their “boldness.” Here we will compare two “bold” speeches/sermons they gave in two very different contexts.

 

First, read Peter’s speech to fellow Jews in Jerusalem in Acts 3:11-26.

 

What kind of people do you think Peter is talking to here? How does he build bridges to their experiences and perspectives? What might be a parallel group of people in our culture today?

 

 

 

How many times does Peter quote or refer to Scripture in this passage (direct quotes are indicated with footnotes in most Bibles)? How would these people react to his use of Scripture?

 

 

 

Summarize what Peter is trying to say in a sentence or two.

 

 

 

 

What parts of Christian belief did Peter leave out of his speech? Why do you think this is?

 

Now read Paul’s speech to the Areopagus (airy-AH-pa-gus, an educated, non-Jewish council) in Athens in Acts 17:16-34.

 

What kind of people is Paul talking to here? How does he build bridges to their experiences and perspectives? What might be a parallel group of people in our culture today?

 

 

 

 

How many times does Paul quote or refer to Scripture in this passage? Who does he quote (check the footnotes in your Bible)? Should he have used more Scripture in this speech?

 

 

 

 

Summarize what Paul is trying to say in a sentence or two. 

 

 

 

 

What parts of Christian belief did Paul leave out of his speech? Why do you think this is?

 

 

 

 

Overall, what are your thoughts about the comparison between these two speeches and their two different contexts? What can we learn from them about how we can be “bold” with our faith today?

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Application

The “boldness” the believers prayed for consisted of clarity, confidence, and courage. When it comes to your own ability to talk about your faith, rate which of those three you are strongest in, and which you are weakest in. How do you think God is calling you to be more bold?

 

 

 

 

End by praying for boldness for our church, and for each individual in your group. Watch for opportunities to share your faith and practice boldness in the next few days.

 

A Growing Church: Signs and Wonders

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One of the reasons the early church grew was because of the healings and miracles happening through the apostles. One of these is described in Acts 3, Peter’s healing of a man in his 40’s who had been unable to walk since birth. Peter, however, refuses to take credit. He denies that it was his own power or godliness that made the man well, but simply “faith” (trusting) in the “name” (person) of Jesus. Then he uses the attention as an opportunity to share the gospel, and many come to faith. These kinds of demonstrations of God’s power are a clear way to grow the church, even today. So why don’t we see more miracles and healings in 21stcentury North America?

 

 

Key Verse: 

Habakkuk 3:2 -Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known.

 

Opening Discussion:

Have you ever witnessed what seemed to you to be a miraculous answer to prayer? A healing, or another kind of supernatural sign? Describe what happened, and how it affected you and the others who witnessed it.

 

 

 

 

Looking at Scripture:

Read James 5:13-18. 

 

What is your first reaction to this passage? What stands out to you? What questions do you have? Discuss your questions and thoughts with the group.

 

 

 

 

Oil was used in Judaism to signify that a person or object was being “set apart” or consecrated to God for a special reason. It was also used for medicinal purposes. Scholars are divided on what meaning (ritual or medicinal) James has in mind here. What do you think makes most sense?

 

 

 

 

Verse 15 says “the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well.” It seems cut and dry, almost formulaic: prayer + faith = healing. However, actual experience does not seem to line up with this simple passage. Some people blame a lack of healing on a lack of faith. Do you agree or disagree?

The following passages shed further light on Jesus’ teaching on the relationship of faith and healing. Split them up among your group, having different people read a passage, summarize it, and report back what it has to say about the kind of faith that Jesus is looking for. (Note that the words faith, trust, and belief all represent the same Greek word).

 

Matthew 9:27-31; Matthew 13:54-58; Matthew 15:21-28; Matthew 17:14-20; Mark 9:17-29; 

Luke 7:1-10

 

 

 

 

How do you think faith (trust/belief) is formed? If you don’t have “enough,” how can you get more?

 

 

 

 

Based on your discussion so far, complete the following statements. When it comes to healing:

We believe God can…

We trust God to…

We ask God for…

 

 

 

 

Bonus:Read the story of Elijah that James refers to in 1 Kings 17:1, 18:1-2, 41-46 (you can read all of chapters 17-18, but only those verses directly refer to the rain miracles). What can we learn about who initiates miracles and the role of prayer from this passage? Why do you think James uses this as an example of the “powerful and effective” nature of prayer?

 

 

 

 

Personal Application

Is there any area of your life where you are struggling with trusting (having faith in, believing) God? What would it look like for you to move forward in an attitude of trust?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is there anyone you know that could use a miracle? How can you pray for them in a way that includes both trust in God, and a realistic perspective on the world?

 

 

 

 

A Growing Church: Staying Small

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The Day of Pentecost described in Acts 2 not only brought the Holy Spirit to the church, but also 3000 new converts. That meant the original group of 120 had to deal with 2500% growth overnight! How did they do it? They found ways of devoting themselves not only to prayer (as they had been doing, 1:14) but also to the teaching of the apostles (relaying what they had received from Jesus), to breaking bread (sharing meals in homes, likely including celebrating Communion), and to “fellowship” (Acts 2:42). They made intentional efforts to continue the culture Jesus had established and the sense of community they had shared, even as they grew larger. As we grow, we too must find ways of “staying small” as we get bigger.

 

 

Key Verse: 

Acts 2:42 -They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

 

Opening Discussion:

Describe a time when you felt like you were a part of a group that really bonded well (e.g. a sports team, a summer camp experience, educational cohort, family vacation, etc.). What kinds of factors made the group “gel” in such a way that it stands out in your mind? 

 

 

 

Looking at Scripture:

On Sunday Jeremy shared that the Greek word koinonia(translated “fellowship” in the verse above) refers to a participation or sharing in something. It is a deeper form of mutual relationship than what we might think of as typical fellowship or socialization. With that in mind, read 1 John 1:1-7.

 

The word koinoniaappears (as “fellowship”) four times in the text, twice referring to a sharing with/partnership with each other, and twice referring to a sharing with/partnership with God.

 

What do you think it means that God calls us into koinoniawith himself?

 

 

 

 

What do you think it means that God calls us into koinoniawith each other?

 

 

 

 

What do you think John means by walking in darkness? How does this break our koinoniawith God?

 

What kinds of things (attitudes, behaviours, words) do you think break a sense of koinonia with each other?

 

 

 

John has a very unique way of writing, that comes through even in our English translations. How would you summarize this passage in your own words? Imagine yourself as an eyewitness to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Start with that experience (as John does) and then try to capture what he’s trying to say in words that would be more natural for you. Take a moment to write it out below, then share with your group.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(After sharing you may want to look up Eugene Peterson’s rendition of this verse in the Message. Use Biblegateway.com or another online Bible).

 

Read Romans 15:25-27

 

Hidden in this passage are two occurrences of the word koinonia: first, the financial gift Paul is delivering to the poor in Jerusalem is literally called a “koinonia” (translated “contribution”); and second, he makes the point that the Gentiles have “koinonia”-ed (translated “shared”) in the spiritual heritage of the Jews. What kind of additional light does this passage shed on the meaning of koinonia?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Application

What might be some practical ways of living out koinoniain our church today?

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes we have habits and behaviours (often rooted in past wounds) that make it difficult for us to participate deeply in relationships (e.g. avoidance, busyness, hesitance to open up, lack of trust, etc.). In other words, the biggest barriers to true fellowship can sometimes be interal. Is there anything that sabotages koinonia in your own life? How can you work to intentionally pursue deeper, spiritually significant relationships?

 

 

A Growing Church: The Wind of the Spirit

 

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The beginning of the Church was marked by the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-41). While the Spirit of God had made occasional appearances throughout the Old Testament (as Jeremy explored on Sunday), being filled with the Spirit was something that only happened on special occasions, mostly to special leaders and prophets. Pentecost marked the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy that one day the Spirit would be poured out on all people, men and women (Joel 2:28-32). Two thousand years later, we are still living in the age of the Holy Spirit, dependent on his guidance, empowerment, and gifts.

 

Key Verse: 

Joel 2:28-29 -And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

 

 

Opening Discussion:

When the Holy Spirit is mentioned, what kind of people/events/emotions come to your mind?

 

 

 

 

 

Looking at Scripture:

Some of Jesus’ primary teaching about the Holy Spirit came in his final speech to his disciples the night before he was crucified. Read the following excerpts from John 14:15-27; 15:26-16:15 to get a sense of how Jesus viewed the coming of the Spirit. 

 

What can we learn from these passages about the Holy Spirit? Make a list of as many things as you can find in the text, making sure not to read in your own assumptions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Greek word translated “Advocate” (or “Comforter” in some versions) literally meant someone who comes alongside to help or offer assistance. How does the Holy Spirit come alongside of us to help?

 

 

 

 

 

In Joel’s prophecy of the coming of the Holy Spirit prophesies (speaking God’s message), dreams, and visions are mentioned. While these are all recorded in the New Testament as valid expressions of the Spirit of God working, it quickly became apparent that he gave a wide variety of gifts. Make a list of all the gifts of the Spirit you can find in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Romans 12:6-8; and 1 Peter 4:10-11.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What other ways do you think you have seen the work of the Holy Spirit “manifested” (expressed)? Are there any gifts you might add to the list you’ve made so far?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you think there are things we can do that either encourage the movement of the Holy Spirit, or hinder his work among and in us?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Application

As you look at the list above, what do you think your top three spiritual gifts are? Not sure? Seek input from your fellow group members and close friends. Or you can take an online assessment, such as this one (you may take it as a guest): https://spiritualgiftstest.com/spiritual-gifts-test-adult-version/

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Growing Church: Prayer as Priority One

 

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Between Jesus’ ascension into heaven (Acts 1:9) and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:4) the first church found itself in an in-between time, waiting for what Jesus had promised. They spent this time seeking God in “constant” (continuous and persistent) prayer. Our church can learn from them, prioritizing prayer as the fuel that drives everything else, and seeking God’s will as we anticipate hiring an additional pastor. Not only that, but as individuals we must make prayer a priority in our own lives, especially when it comes to making significant decisions.

 

Key Verse: 

Acts 1:14a –They all joined together constantly in prayer.

 

Opening Discussion:

Have you ever seen something particularly powerful or miraculous happen in response to prayer? Share your stories.

 

 

 

 

 

Looking at Scripture:

Prayer is mentioned twice in the passage we read on Sunday (Acts 1:12-26), setting a rhythm that is repeated throughout the rest of the book. Use the following exercise to explore prayer as a theme in the book of Acts:

 

·     On computer: Use BibleGateway.com to search for “pray” (includes pray, prayer, prayed, prays, etc.). Scroll down on right side and click “Acts” to narrow the search

·     On smartphone:  Use Bible Gateway App. Click menu on top left, then search. Turn off the button that says “Search Entire Bible,” then choose Acts to Acts as search range. Click magnifying glass in top right, and search for “pray” (again, includes other forms)

·     This should give you about 34 different occurrences. Some of these are passing references that don’t give us insight (such as “the time of prayer” mentioned in 3:1). 

·     However, others illustrate a church that continually went to God in prayer. Divide up the ones that seem worth looking into and have different members of the group read one (or more) in context and report:

 

1.    What was the occasion/situation?

2.    What was the content of the prayer?

3.    What happened as a result of the prayer?

4.    What can we learn about prayer from this passage, as a church and as individuals?

 

 

 

Why do you think people and churches struggle with prayer today? What obstacles (practical, spiritual, emotional, etc.) keep us from taking everything to God?

 

 

 

 

 

Do you think MCC is a praying church? Why/why not? How could we become more prayerful?

 

 

 

 

 

Make a list of the top ten things you think we should be praying about as a church (hopefully this will include our efforts to hire an additional pastor). Then take a few minutes as a group to pray forour church andas our church.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Application

Make a list of things that you would like to pray for personally, and commit to pray for them every day for the next 30 days. Include:

·     Situations you’re not satisfied with

·     Decisions you need help with

·     People who need something

·     Those who need to trust Jesus

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeremy suggested a few ways to increase our emphasis on prayer at MCC. Which of them could you implement?

·     Praying for the church regularly, as a discipline (set aside time/space)

·     Emphasizing prayer to a greater extent in meetings, small groups, etc.

·     Getting on the prayer team schedule to occasionally pray before the services

·     Showing up at 9:30 to pray before service even if not scheduled

·     Coming to prayer meeting at the McClungs Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. (or hosting your own prayer meeting

·     Praying specifically for our hire of an associate pastor

Easter 2018: Saved and Called to a Holy Life

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Through the resurrection we are saved and called to a holy life. To be saved means to be forgiven of all of our sins, to be welcomed into God’s family, and to be assured of an eternal home with him when we die. Those are the privileges of the Good News of Jesus. But (according to the verse below, as well as 1 Peter 1:3-16 which we looked at on Sunday) we also have a responsibility: to live a holy life. Holiness is not primarily about being more “religious,” but about living a life that is different—different from those around us, from our friends and family, and from our old selves. The two (salvation and holiness) go hand in hand.

 

Key Verse:

2 Timothy 1:9-10 - He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

 

Opening Discussion:

Both the word “saved” and “holy” are often misunderstood and can even have negative connotations. If saved means “rescued,” and holy means “different,” how does this compare with the extra baggage that often comes along with these words?

 

 

 

Looking at Scripture:

Read Romans 6:1-14. While Paul doesn’t specifically mention the word holiness, it’s clear that he’s making the same kind of point—God has saved us AND called us to live differently.

 

Is there any part of this passage that stands out to you? Anything that confuses you?

 

 

 

 

 

In a sentence or two, summarize the overall point you think Paul is trying to make in this passage.

 

 

 

 

 

Verse 2 says, “we are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” Do you think Paul expects believers to be perfectly sinless? If not, what is he talking about?

 

On Sunday Jeremy talked about noticing the “therefores” when studying the Bible. This important word connects two related ideas and often can help us understand the point the author is trying to make. Find the two “therefores” in this passage and try to identify the sets of ideas that they connect.

 

 

 

 

 

Paul talks about baptism as being symbolic of deeper realities of death and resurrection in our lives. Describe your own experience of baptism (if you have one). What does your baptism mean to you now? According to this passage, how should your baptism affect your daily life?

Note: If you haven’t been baptized but would like to be or would like more information, please let Jeremy know!

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think verse 14 means? How does being under grace (God’s forgiveness/mercy) free us from the mastery of sin? How does this tie back to verse 1?

 

 

 

 

 

Hebrews 12:14 says “Make every effort…to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” One of the big reason we are called to live differently (in a holy way) is so that people around us can come to understand God better. How have you seen this done well? How have you seen it done poorly (Christians living in ways that didn’t properly represent God’s heart and character)?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Application

Where have you seen the pattern of death/resurrection play out in your own spiritual life?

 

 

What are some things in your life now you know you need to die to?

 

 

Where do you need some resurrection power?

 

 

Where is God calling you to greater holiness?

Soul Cleanse: Forgiveness

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Offering forgiveness is such an important part of discipleship that Jesus included it in the prayer he taught his followers (“forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors,” Matthew 6:12). Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, justifying, or trusting again. It means cancelling the invisible debt that is owed to you by someone who has wronged you. While there are plenty of psychological reasons to let go of past wrongs, Christians have a unique reason to forgive: because we have been forgiven. The unconditional love and grace that God has shown us in Christ becomes not only a model, but the motivation for us to show grace (and forgiveness) even to those who have hurt us most deeply.

 

Key Verse:

Colossians 3:13 - Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

 

Opening Discussion:

Sometimes offering forgiveness is fairly easy. Sometimes it can seem impossible. What makes forgiveness hard? What kinds of fears (and other motivations) keep us hanging on to past wrongs, even when we’ve tried to let go?

 

 

 

Looking at Scripture:

Read Matthew 18:21-35.

 

What is your emotional reaction to the parable Jesus told? What do you think Jesus intended to stir up in the hearts of his listeners?

 

 

 

 

Use the footnotes in your Bible to determine an approximate value of the debts owed by and to the servant in the story. Do you think these values are a fair representation of your debt to God, and the debts others owe you?

 

 

 

 

Jesus said that forgiveness was to be offered “seventy-seven times” (v. 22). Why do you think he chose this number? Are there any limits on the kind or amount of forgiveness we show to others? What are would be some healthy boundaries to put in place with someone who repeatedly sins against you (“I forgive you, but…”)?

 

 

In a similar passage (Luke 17:3-4), Jesus says “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” Here Jesus includes the idea of repentance as a condition of forgiveness. Do you think it’s important that someone repents (or apologizes) before you offer them forgiveness? Is it healthy to keep forgiving someone who doesn’t ask for it or deserve it?

 

 

 

 

When we are wronged there is a debt of justice that must be satisfied and an emotional wound that must be healed. While these are two separate things, they are also closely connected. Discuss the relationship between forgiveness and healing. How can one lead to the other? How can a lack of one hinder the other? Besides forgiveness, what else can help to speed the healing of past wounds? How do you know when you have truly forgiven someone? How do you know when you’ve been healed?

 

 

 

 

 

Read Luke 6:32-38 and reflect on the radical way of life that Jesus calls his followers to. Why does Jesus demand so much of his followers? Why do you think he links God’s forgiveness with our forgiveness of others so often? How does unforgiveness (being unmerciful) poison our souls and hinder our relationship with God?

 

 

 

 

Personal Application

Is there anyone in your life you have a hard time forgiving? Are there any wounds that remain open and unhealed? Events that you can’t think of without experiencing deep pain? People you can’t talk to without getting angry? In situations like that, even if you think you’ve forgiven, there may be lingering unforgiveness causing the wound to fester. Ask God to bring insight into where and how you need to offer further forgiveness.

 

 

 

In cases of those who have wronged us repeatedly, it can be helpful to write out a list of individual wrongs or hurts and then cross each off, declaring the debt to be cancelled, and asking God to heal the wounds.

 

 

 

Sometimes the biggest block to our offering forgiveness to other is that we haven’t connected with (or we have forgotten) the forgiveness God offers us. If you struggle with forgiveness, ask God to give you insight into your own forgiveness. Make a list of all the ways that you have wronged God, and then reflect on the price he paid in order to cancel your debt.

Soul Cleanse: Busyness

Click here for pdf.

Busyness is rampant in our society today, and it’s toxic to our souls. Nothing steals our joy, kills our relationship with God, and destroys our sense of focus and purpose like unbridled busyness. Like Martha, we find ourselves “worried and upset about many things,” when, according to Jesus “few things are needed—indeed, only one.” But how do we unclutter our lives and leave the kind of “white space” or margin that makes for beautiful art?

 

Key Verse:

Psalm 127:1-2 - Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves.

 

Opening Discussion:

Reflect on your own relationship to busyness, then share with the group:

            What kinds of activities are you most tempted to become overly busy with?        

 

What kind of signs let you know you’ve become too busy?

 

Why do you think you struggle saying “no” to busyness?

 

What do you most feel you miss out on when you’re busy?

 

 

Looking at Scripture:

Read Mark 1:21-34.

 

This was clearly a very busy day for Jesus, that involved helping and pouring into others from morning until night. Review all that he did that day, and describe how you would have felt by bedtime if you were in his shoes.

 

 

 

 

Jesus’ busy day came on a Sabbath, a day when the Jews had strict rules about what could be done. Many religious people in his day would have thought that he was breaking the Sabbath by “working” (healing) on a day of rest. Why do you think Jesus felt justified in allowing this Sabbath to be filled with stuff “to do”?

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading, Mark 1:35-37. What can we learn from Jesus about how to handle the inevitable busy periods of life?

 

 

 

On Sunday we talked about the Sabbath as a day of “ceasing” or “stopping,” a God-ordained way to fight busyness and bring much needed margin into our lives. Far from just good advice, the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments. Read the command (given for the second time) in Deuteronomy 5:12-15.

 

 

 

The ancient Israelites all practiced Sabbath together, rich/poor, servant/master alike, on the same day. What challenges would this have offered? What opportunities? How would their experience have differed from our experience of Sabbath today?

 

 

 

Verse 15 connects their obedience to their newfound freedom from slavery. How would the Israelites be tempted to bring the mindsets and values of their enslavement into the Promised Land? How would Sabbath help to preserve their freedom?

 

 

 

Does busyness ever feel like slavery to you? What would be the personal benefit to having a day free of obligation?

 

 

 

Personal Application

If you were to choose a period of time (preferably 24 hours, but less if necessary to begin) to practice Sabbath on a weekly basis, when would it be?

 

 

 

Much discussion has taken place within Judaism about what is permitted/forbidden on the Sabbath. Brainstorm some things that you enjoy and are life-giving (permitted), as well as things that feel like obligations (forbidden). Share your thoughts with the group and discuss.

 

Permitted                                                                    Forbidden                                          

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How will you practice the principle of Sabbath (stopping, resting) in your life on a daily, weekly, and annual basis?

Soul Cleanse: Apathy

Click here for a pdf.

Click here for the "Apathy Worksheet."

To love God and love others is the heart of Christianity. Because of this, apathy (the opposite of love), is something that is very toxic to our faith. Apathy sets in when we close our hearts off to the things God cares about (and calls us to care about). We must seek to overcome these apathetic tendencies by opening our hearts to the people we encounter and allowing ourselves to be moved to action to meet their needs. Our journey toward greater passion begins with passionate prayer.

 

Key Verse:

Revelation 3:14-15 - These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!

 

Opening Discussion:

Apathy is something that affects all people from time to time. Why do you think people grow apathetic? What are the excuses we hide behind?

 

 

 

 

 

The root of our English word passion is “suffering” (Latin), while apathy means “without suffering” (Greek). How does love cause us to suffer? Why is apathy such an inviting option? Discuss the idea of suffering as it relates to passion and apathy.

 

 

 

 

 

Looking at Scripture:

Read Luke 18:1-8.

In Jesus’ day, a widow would automatically have been assumed to be poor, defenseless, with very little going for her. So she would be an easy target for those looking to take advantage of her financially or in other ways. We don’t know what this particular (fictional) widow was experiencing, except that she was facing injustice and needed help that only the judge could provide. Put yourself in her position. As you asked (and kept asking) the judge to grant you justice, what range of emotions/thoughts would you experience?

 

 

 

 

 

Have you ever prayed for something in such a way that you experienced those emotions?

 

 

This parable can be confusing, but Luke gives us the meaning before he tells the story. According to verse 1, what is the point Jesus is trying to make? How is this widow an example for us of how to pray?

 

 

 

 

 

How do you think apathy in prayer and apathy in action are related? Which do you think comes first in our lives? How do you think we can use prayer to “jumpstart” our passion?

 

 

 

 

 

Review the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. What excuses do you think the Priest and Levite made as to why they couldn’t help the man in trouble? How are these similar to the excuses we make for our own apathy?

 

 

 

 

 

There are millions of needs in this world – good causes, individuals, etc. There is no way one person or church can meet all of them. How can we know which ones we are called to meet? Is there a healthy way to see a need but truly not feel called to meet it?

 

 



 

Do you think apathy is a problem in our church right now? Where do you see us struggling? Where are we passionate? How can we get better? How can you contribute?

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Application

On a separate sheet of paper (or using the Apathy Worksheet given out on Sunday and available online), list out some areas where you are struggling with apathy. For each, write out:

 

·      A confession of how you have failed to love God/others in that area

·      A passage of Scripture that reinforces the need to be passionate in that area

·      A prayer that expresses passion in that area

·      Any action steps God brings to mind that you need to take

Soul Cleanse: Doubts

Click here for pdf.

One of the toxins that can take hold within our souls is doubt. Of course, not all doubt is bad—struggles and questions are a natural part of faith. But we tend to keep “pet” doubts around that keep us from having to really live as followers of Jesus or trust God in painful ways. These “pets” begin as honest doubts rooted in intellectual questions, past disappointments, or cultural resistance to Christianity. But over the years we grow comfortable with them because they keep us from having to live in full obedience to God. Lent is an opportunity to address these doubts and anything else that keeps us from living lives of faith.

Key Verse:

Hebrews 11:6 - And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

 

Opening Discussion:

One of the biggest sources of doubt when it comes to our Christian lives is our cultural environment. Describe a way that you have seen belief in God or Jesus or the Bible depicted as stupid or weak by society or individuals. How does it make you feel when you hear these messages?

 

 

 

 

 

Looking at Scripture:

Read John 20:19-29.

 

Why do you think Thomas was so adamant about not believing unless he saw and touched the wounds of Jesus? Do you think it was okay for him to demand this kind of personal encounter?

 

 

 

 

 

Jeremy talked about three sources of doubt: intellectual questions, disappointing past experiences, and cultural pressure. How do you think each of these sources would be active in Thomas’s life, feeding his doubts? If you were Thomas, which of the three would be the strongest reason not to believe in the resurrection?

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus mercifully and directly addressed Thomas’s doubts, and gave him the opportunity to believe. Have you ever had an experience of wrestling with doubt and having Jesus give you what you needed in order to continue in belief?

 

Hebrews 11:6 says that anyone who comes to God “must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Often our doubts take one of those shapes: doubts about God’s existence/identity, and doubts about his intentions. Brainstorm some common doubts you think people struggle with in each area.

 

Who God Is                                                                            God’s Heart/Intentions                     

E.g. God is the Creator                                                          E.g. God will provide for my needs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which of these do you struggle most with (or keep as a “pet”)? How does that doubt affect your ability to live wholeheartedly for Christ?

 

 

 

 

Personal Application

After Jesus gave Thomas the evidence he needed, he told him to “Stop doubting and believe.” The word for believe could also be translated “trust.” Is there any area where God has really given you everything you needed in order to believe, and is now calling you to stop doubting and trust him?

 

 

 

 

Jeremy suggested a few “next steps” in order to get rid of different kinds of “pet” doubts:

1.     If the doubt is intellectual, to address it head-on, understand that others have also asked it, to seek wisdom, and wrestle through the problem until it is adequately resolved.

2.     If the doubt is emotional, based in past disappointments, God needs to be given a “second chance,” by taking small steps of faith in that area (after considering what his promises really were).

3.     If the doubt is rooted in messages from the outside world, those messages can be labelled for what they are (naturalism, universalism, etc.) and countered by reinforcing the Christian message through music, books, media, friendships, etc.

 

As you examine the nature of your own doubts, what are practical steps you could take to begin to address them and live in greater faith?

Soul Cleanse: Entitlement

For a pdf click here.

As we think about purifying ourselves “from everything that contaminates body and spirit” (2 Corinthians 7:1) over Lent, one of the most poisonous toxins we need to be aware of is entitlement. Of course, there are times when a sense of entitlement is right and good—in our relationships, as citizens, and under the law, we all have a right to expect to be treated certain ways. The problem comes when we think that we deserve certain things from life itself—or from God. This kind of entitlement is based on a lie, is a bottomless pit, and it interferes with our ability to receive life as a gift, and truly enjoy all that God has for us.

 

Key Verse: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 - Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

 

Opening Discussion:

When it comes to entitlement, one of the biggest sources of “you deserve…” messaging in our lives is advertising. Marketers attempt to harness a sense of entitlement in order to get us to buy their product. Can you think of a time when this has worked (or almost worked) in your life? What kinds of ads trigger the biggest struggles with discontentment for you?

 

 

“Life (or God) owes me nothing.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why?

 

 

Looking at Scripture:

Read 1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19.

 

What does this passage have to teach us about our relationship to wealth/money/possessions?

 

 

 

 

 

What are Paul’s “minimum requirements” for contentment? Do you think he expects others to follow his lead and adopt the same standard? If so, is it fair?

 

 

 

 

 

What are Paul’s requirements for those who are rich? How can we (as Canadians who are richer than most people who have ever lived) carry out his commands in practical ways?

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think is the relationship between greed (or love of money) and entitlement?

Ecclesiastes is a book of ancient Hebrew wisdom literature, filled with practical observations about life (but not necessarily a lot of what we would normally think of as theology). The author (King Solomon) has it all—wealth, pleasure, wisdom, relationships—but struggles with a sense of meaninglessness in his own life and in humanity in general. Read some of his observations about wealth and contentment in Ecclesiastes 5:10-20.

 

What strikes you most about this passage? Did anything stand out?

 

 

 

 

In your own words, what does Solomon say is a good way to approach life (in 18-20)? What implications does this passage have for addressing a sense of entitlement?

 

 

 

 

Paul was well-trained in the Scriptures, including this book of Ecclesiastes. Do you see any similarities between what Solomon writes here and what Paul wrote centuries later (in the previous passage from 1 Timothy)?

 

 

 

 

Personal Application

Think through the various good things in your life—your home, relationships, job, pets, transportation, experiences, education, etc. Which are you most grateful for? Which do you take for granted? Which are you most likely to complain about, feel discontent with?

 

Grateful                                              Take for Granted                                           Discontent

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the areas you take for granted or feel discontent with, see if you can identify a sense of entitlement, that you somehow “deserve” them. Why do you think this?

 

Expressing thanks regularly to God for those things can help you to enjoy life to a greater degree. Make a plan for how you will work in habits of thankfulness each day. When entitlement starts to creep in, remember the truth:
Life is a gift. God owes me nothing. What I have is enough.

Soul Cleanse: Making Lent Count

For pdf click here.

Lent is a season of spiritual preparation leading up to Easter. We live in an environment that can be toxic to our faith. Like a spiritual “cleanse,” the season of Lent is an opportunity to examine our lives and identify those things that would compete with God for his place as our sole source of meaning, purpose, provision, security, etc. It is an invitation to turn back to God in repentance. Fasting (giving up food or something else for a time for spiritual purposes) is a great way to express this to God, and to exercise our self-control “muscles.”

 

Key Verse:

2 Corinthians 7:1 - Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

 

Opening Discussion:

On Sunday we brainstormed a list of spiritual “toxins”: attitudes, mindsets, and values in our environment that are toxic to our relationship with God (e.g. materialism, entitlement, doubt, etc.). What are the three contaminants in our culture that you think are most destructive to our faith today?

 

 

 

What are the “idols” that are most often worshiped in our culture?

 

 

 

Looking at Scripture:

Read 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1.

 

Based on the context, what do you think it means to be “yoked together with unbelievers.” What dangers do you think Paul is warning against here?

 

 

 

 

Use the footnotes in your Bible to identify the Old Testament passages that Paul quotes in verses 16-18. Split them up among your group members, having someone look up each one and read the surrounding context. What can you learn from these passages about:

 

o   Idolatry

 

o   Holiness

 

o   Our relationship with God

 

Make a list of the promises of God found in these Old Testament passages. Why do you think Paul connects the need to purify ourselves with God’s loving commitment (“since we have these promises…”)?

The phrase “let us purify ourselves” (7:1) seems counterintuitive for Christians who are taught that only Christ’s sacrifice can purify us from our sins. Do a search on BibleGateway (or another online Bible, NIV translation recommended) for “purif” (this will give you results for all forms of the word). Read the New Testament results starting in 2 Corinthians. For each verse (there should be about 8-9), identify who is doing the purifying, and (if possible) what is being purified.

 

 

 

 

In light of these passages, what can we say about what is God’s responsibility when it comes to our purification, and what is our responsibility?

 

 

 

 

 

Fasting helps us to express our desire to return to God wholeheartedly, and it helps us exercise our self-control “muscles.” It can also address the root of some of the contaminants that come into our lives. Usually we think of fasting as food, but what are some other things you could abstain from for spiritual purposes? Brainstorm some creative ways to approach fasting today.  

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Application

Spiritual toxins in our lives usually have something to do with looking to things other than God to fill his role (idols). As you examine your own life, what is most toxic to your relationship with God? What is it that represents His biggest competition in your life?

 

 

 

 

Outline a plan for fasting (food or otherwise) that you will commit to until Easter as a way of focusing on your spiritual life.

 

 

 

 

Besides things you will “give up” for Lent, is there anything you need to “add in” to make the next few weeks a spiritually meaningful time?

 

 

Vision Sunday 2018

For pdf copies, click links below:
Vision Handout
Budget Handout
Discussion Questions

Recap

Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed that branches out and grows into a huge plant, or to yeast that mixes through dough (Luke 13:18-21). The Apostle Paul said that God “uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere” (2 Corinthians 2:14). Churches are meant to grow. Our vision for MCC is that we would branch out, expand, permeate our whole region with the good news of God’s love in Jesus. In the next 5-10 years, we want to establish “outposts” throughout Muskoka and Almaguin that will be localized expressions of our unique culture, vision, values, and mission. To see this happen, our most immediate need (and our focus for 2018) is developing and implementing an intentional strategy to help people grow as disciples.

 

Opening Discussion

How do you feel about the beyond-the-horizon vision of expanding our influence throughout Muskoka and Almaguin?

 

How do you feel about the immediate vision of working on our approach to helping people grow spiritually (discipleship)?

 

Listening to Scripture

Read 2 Corinthians 5:11-21, asking God to speak to you as you read.

Is there anything that stood out to you as you read the passage?

 

 

Was there anything you didn’t understand? Does the group offer any insight/clarity?

 

 

In v. 14, Paul says “Christ’s love compels us.” To do what? Because of his experience of the love of God found in Jesus, what did Paul feel compelled to do? Look for clues in vv. 11, 19-21.

 

 

In v. 17 Paul mentions the “new creation” that happens in those who are “in Christ.” What does he mean by this? How has Christ made a difference in your life? Make a list together of all the benefits of having Jesus (church, God, faith) in your life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In vv. 18-21 Paul talks about the message and ministry of “reconciliation.” What does it mean to be reconciled to God?

 

How do we engage in the “ministry of reconciliation” (ministry = service in Greek)?

In 2-4 sentences summarize the “message of reconciliation” (the gospel) as you understand it. Try to avoid using “churchy” words—use language an unchurched friend could understand. Share your summaries with each other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Application

The Apostle Paul was one of the most prolific church planters in the early church. God used him to spread the gospel across the known world. The passage we just read gives us a glimpse into how he saw his own ministry. How can his approach to ministry give us insight into what God is calling us to do as we seek to expand our influence into every nook and cranny of Muskoka?

 

 

 

If we are on a mission together to help people be reconciled (reconnected) to their Creator, what kind of things would be helpful/beneficial to us and enable us to accomplish this mission? How does our own discipleship/growth affect our ability to influence others?

 

 

 

Our vision to expand our influence across Muskoka/Almaguin is not about us. It’s about people who need to be reconnected with God, who need the hope and love that we have found in Christ. Think back to the “new creation” benefits you listed out as a group. Sometimes we feel that we don’t have much to offer as Christians, that no one wants to hear our message. And yet we believe Jesus has made a huge positive difference in our own lives. Take a moment to reflect on all the good things God does for us, allowing him to bring to mind people in your life that would also benefit from having those things. Make a list of ten people that you know who could use a church like ours.

 

 

1.      

2.      

3.      

4.      

5.      

6.      

7.      

8.      

9.      

10.   

 

 

 

 

Finish your group time by praying for them as a group (first names may be most appropriate). Continue to pray for them in the coming weeks.

On Mission: Serving the World

Click here for pdf.

According to Jesus, servanthood is the true path to greatness (Mark 10:35-45). The fourth part of our mission as a church is helping people become disciples of Jesus who serve the world in faithful stewardship. This means looking at everything in our lives as a gift that has been entrusted to us by God in order to serve others. When it comes to changing the world, the concept of stewardship finds the right balance between hopeless passivity, and feeling the weight of the world, thinking we need to do it all ourselves. Each of us has a unique and important role to play in serving the world around us, and if we are doing that we can trust God with the rest.

 

Key Verse: Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. – 1 Peter 4:10

 

Jeremy theorized that one of the reasons many people find Donald Trump annoying is that they have a secret, inner Trump that wants to be great and first, and that needs recognition and praise. We just learn to hold those thoughts in, and so when someone lets them out so blatantly, it gets on our nerves. Do you think this is true? What brings out the inner Trump in you?

 

Read John 13:1-17.

 

Footwashing was the job of the lowest servant or slave, an undesirable task that was smelly, dirty, and uncomfortable. Jesus used this job to demonstrate the kind of servanthood we can show to others, however, the example is not as meaningful in our world today. If Jesus were alive in Huntsville today, how do you think he would have demonstrated this kind of humble servanthood?

 

 

 

Verse 14-15 say “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Do you think Jesus meant that we should literally wash each others’ feet? Figuratively? Both?

 

 

 

 

 

Can you think of any situations in which someone has served you in this kind of humble, selfless way? How did you feel at the time? What did you learn through the experience?

 

 

 

 

Jeremy suggested that while some people struggle with serving others because they are too proud, more struggle with it because they don’t believe they have anything valuable to offer. Do you think this is true? Which side do you struggle with more?

 

Read Matthew 25:14-30

 

Notice the words “faithful” and “entrusted” that are repeated in the passage. Make a list of the things have you been “entrusted” with. What might it mean to be faithful in each case?

 

Things I have been entrusted with                             How I can be a faithful steward

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suppose the Master were to return tomorrow and ask you to explain what you have done with what you’ve been given. What part of your life would you feel most comfortable answering (i.e. where do you feel you’ve been faithful)? What part would you feel most uncomfortable explaining (i.e. where do you feel you’ve hidden your gifts under a rock)?

 

 

 

 

What are some specific action steps you can take to become a more faithful steward of the gifts God has given you?

 

 

 

 

Share any reactions to or comments on the following quotes that Jeremy used Sunday:

 

“Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

 

“Self-care is never a selfish act - it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.” – Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

 

“There is as much guidance in what does not and cannot happen in my life as there is in what can and does—maybe more.” – Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak