(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
The Bible and Truth
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
This week the GPS will explore six ways to enhance your listening for God to speak to you through the Bible. One approach many Christians find helpful is to memorize key parts of the Bible. This takes the Bible’s message off the page and stores it in your mind and heart, where the Holy Spirit can call it to your attention at any moment of challenge or need. Consider memorizing all or part of these verses.
Another way God can speak to you through the Bible is for you to use your imagination and place yourself “in” the scene or story the Bible told. This passage contains many vivid details, the kind an eyewitness like Peter would have included in a story. Let its vividness draw you in and spark your imagination.
Hearing God through the Bible does not require turning off your brain. Careful study and analysis is often one of the ways God speaks as you read the Bible. For this passage, learn all you can about shepherds in Jesus’ day. Use a study Bible or a Bible dictionary, or search the Internet for terms like “good shepherd” or “Jesus AND shepherd.” (Then read carefully—just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s automatically accurate!)
Many Christians have found that re-writing a Bible passage helps them to hear what God may want to say to them through that passage. A simple form of this practice is just to insert your name where it fits in the verse: “Come unto me, Bob…” However, you can also reword the promises or challenges in ways that fit your current needs and circumstances.
Today we invite you to practice the elements of “spiritual reading” (what the Latin-speaking church called lectio divina). (To learn more about this time-honored spiritual practice, click on http://www.cor.org/fileadmin/users/communications/GPS_guide/lecto-divina.pdf.) Any child of God can read the Bible this way, though no one ever “masters” or “finishes” it. Jesus’ outline of the qualities that lead to true happiness is a great passage on which to practice this approach to hearing God in the Bible.
1 John 2:28-3:3
There is no one “magic technique” for hearing God’s voice through the words of the Bible. But of all the approaches we’ve encouraged you to try this week, probably no other has enriched the lives of more of God’s people through the centuries than praying the Scriptures. Especially when we struggle for words, when our pain or our joy is nearly overwhelming, shaping the words of the Bible into a prayer keeps a channel open between us and God in spiritually invaluable ways. As we use the Bible’s words, we often find that God seems to speak back to us through them.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from www.cor.org/guide.
Jesus, you are the Word, you are with God and you are God. We need the power of your holy Word. Open our minds to new ways to understand Scripture. Open our hearts to the truth of your message. Open our souls so that your word has a very real impact on the way we live our lives. Guide us until the day we are complete in you, for it is in your name we pray. Amen.
Are you confident that, in today’s society, the people can usually distinguish between truth and manipulations of the truth? Is it easier or harder today than it was for past generations? Why? Will it be easier or harder for our grandchildren?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
- Read Philippians 4:4-7. One of the suggestions made for enhancing the message of the Bible is memorizing key verses. Memorizing Bible verses or passages is one example of how to keep the truth of the Bible close to you at all times. Have you ever spent any time memorizing the Bible? What benefits do you think memorization might have? Have there ever been times in which recalling a passage has helped you? Would you be willing to try memorizing more verses?
- Read Mark 4:35-41. These verses can easily provide us with a vision of a beach, high winds and large, breaking waves. Another suggestion for making the Bible more real is for you to imagine yourself right there in midst of the scene. Have you ever tried this? Others have also said that, to get the most out of your Bible, you can “identify” by seeing yourself in every character of the Bible. Have you ever tried that? Do you think that these techniques might help you get more out of your reading and study? How could such envisioning help us in our everyday lives?
- Read John 10:1-15. As we read and study the Bible, we need to see beyond the words, find as much as we can about the meaning for the original readers, and then seek the meaning for our own lives. What do you know about shepherds in Bible times? In what ways is the work of shepherds the same today? As we study and analyze a passage, will each of us find the same meaning and understanding? Why might each of us see something a bit differently? What value is there for us to study and discuss the Bible in a group setting? Can we learn anything from the interpretation of others? Could others learn anything from us?
- Read Matthew 11:27-30. In these verses, Jesus seems as if he is speaking directly to the reader. How can we more deeply personalize our Bible readings? Would inserting our name in the passage help? Some people avoid reading the Bible altogether, being afraid or even knowing the Bible will speak directly to them and say things they don’t want to hear. Are you ever reluctant to read the Bible for that reason? Do you read the Bible as much as you think you should? Have you ever tried to take certain Bible verses and rewrite them, using more everyday language, so that they will speak to you more clearly (called paraphrasing)? Would you be willing to try it? In memorizing verses, is it okay to shorten them (for instance, remembering Jesus’ words in these verses simply as Jesus said, “My yoke is light”)?
- Read Matthew 5:1-12. When we say we should read the Bible every day, that doesn’t mean reading as fast as we can to cover as many verses or chapters as possible. A time-honored way of getting the most out of the Bible is practicing an approach called “spiritual reading” (Latin, lectio divina). Reading slowly and re-reading, pausing to really think about the passage, taking time to pray for inspiration about the passage, and then pondering how the passage might apply to your own life are the steps in “spiritual reading”. Do you think slowing down might help you get more out of the Bible? Do you think that reading the verse out loud might also be of benefit?
- Read 1 John 2:28-3:3. A final suggestion for hearing God through the Bible is to shape the words of the scripture into a prayer. Have you ever tried this? Take the time here, in the security of your small group, to select a key phrase(s) (e.g. “we can have confidence,” “see what kind of love the Father has given to us in that we should be called God’s children,” “when he appears we will be like him because we’ll see him as he is,” “everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself [or herself] even as he is pure.”) and shape it into a prayer. Next time you have a group prayer to offer, do you think you might try this technique?
From last week: Did you examine any judgmental attitudes you might have about others? As you went through your week at home and at work, did you make an effort to discard those judgments and see those people as you might see yourself, giving them every bit of positive, uplifting and supportive attitude you could muster? How hard was this for you and did you learn anything?
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Hamilton’s sermon, September 16, 2012:
Are the gospels reliable accounts of the life of Jesus? I hope you can see that the content of the gospels was being written down nearly from the beginning of the church, just after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The multitude of eyewitness sources makes it a very credible and reliable witness to Jesus. These four gospels are first-century accounts of the life of Jesus drawn from the recollections of those who walked with Jesus. They are as reliable and trustworthy a document as you could hope for regarding the life of Jesus.
Let’s not forget John. John does not seem to draw upon these other gospels, though he shares some affinities with Luke. John seems to have been written independently, and it is believed that John captures the reflections of the apostle John, writing before his death as a man in his 80’s who is not nearly as concerned with writing Jesus biography, as with making plain the meaning of Jesus’ life. You don’t read John expecting that Jesus said everything exactly as John has it–that was not John’s point. It was that you understand who Jesus is, and what his life means. The early church called it the “spiritual” gospel.
Clearly we see once again that the Bible didn’t fall out of heaven, nor was it dictated by an angel. Luke specifically wrote that he had sources he used, he carefully investigated everything, and then he wrote his gospel (Luke 1:1-4). It is generally believed that Matthew and Luke wrote some time between 70 and 85. Matthew quickly became the most popular and widely disseminated of the gospels, though Mark was written first. And when it comes to the earliest books of your New Testament, they were not the gospels at all, but the letters of Paul….
Before we end with the why of reading the New Testament, I want to simply share with you some suggestions for reading the New Testament:
First, SET A GOAL. Make a commitment to read for ten or fifteen minutes a day, or so many chapters a week. Here’s a goal I would like to challenge you to: Every Christian should read through at least one of the gospels every year. Next year we’re going to study the gospel of John together as a church. I’d suggest this year you might consider reading the first and most popular gospel in the early church, Matthew.
Second, have A GOOD STUDY BIBLE with notes at the bottom of the page to help you understand. For beginners I would recommend the Life Application Bible. For those looking at more in-depth study I would recommend the NIV Study Bible or for those more advanced, The New Interpreter’s Study Bible.
Third, TAKE NOTES. Have a small note pad or journal on which you write what you feel you learned and how you believe God spoke to you as you read. It’s okay if the insights are not dramatic. Having the notepad will make you dig as you read.
Fourth, as you prepare to read, pray, “Lord, speak to me, I’m listening.”
Fifth, ask these two simply questions:
1. WHAT DOES THIS PASSAGE TEACH ME ABOUT GOD?
2. WHAT DOES THIS TEACH ME ABOUT GOD’S WILL FOR MY LIFE
This week your GPS will give you different suggestions for how to read scripture. Try these out. These will include a practice called lectio divina and also praying the scriptures.
So I’d like to end by answering the question, Why should Christians read the scriptures? To answer that I’d like to return to our scripture passages for today. Both Luke and John tell us why they wrote their gospels, and in these words we find a pretty good picture of why we should read them.
Luke tells us that he wrote his gospel “So that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” (Luke 1:4) John tells us why he wrote his gospel: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)
John wrote these things so that you might believe and by believing you might have life in his name. This is what reading our New Testament offers us. It offers us instruction, inspiration, guidance, training in righteousness. It teaches us the way of Jesus, and as we read and study it we become shaped by his words, his story, his life and death and resurrection. Christians are Christ followers. We believe in him we find life, and in doing his will we give life. It is in reading, praying and living these words that we have life in his name. My hope and prayer is that you will be people shaped by the Spirit as you read and meditate upon this book.
Get the Most out of Your Bible Study
Maybe it’s culture. Maybe it’s genetics. Nonetheless, we are often plagued by an inability to concentrate on Bible study reading for more than five minutes without thoughts of tomorrow’s clothing choice, what we’d like to be munching on, the grout in our bathtub, or just about any other topic (regardless of relevance) one could think of. Oh, and these are usually alternating, fleeting thoughts, resonating back and forth in our brain, peppered with an occasional thought of Bible study.
Yes, we are what they call “distractible.” And yes, it can be a challenge. However, here are some ways to combat these problems:
1. Partner up. Use the tried and true method of having an accountability partner. Pick someone who will not only encourage you, but do it with you, and someone who will be willing to call you out if needed.
2. Journal it. At first it can feel a little like school, so it’s important to find a journal that doesn’t remind you of an old notebook from junior high. Choose one you like. Barnes and Noble has a great selection, as does Target. You might bullet point your reading and that organization helps keep you focused.
3. Connect it. Whether it’s a steaming cup of coffee, that cozy chair by the window, or your afghan from Grandma, associating Bible study time with another favorite activity can help an unfocused mind.
4. Lose the media. It sounds obvious, but the ringing of a cell phone (and especially the curiosity of who might be calling), can lead to many minutes of distraction. Turn it off. The television can also be a distraction, even if it isn’t on. Some have found that if they’re trying to study right before the start of their favorite TV show, they don’t get as much out of it.
5. Pick a time. Not everyone is a morning person, but you might find it the easiest time to be consistent because first, it is the same time every day, and second, when you start your day with God, it’s much easier to keep Him at the forefront throughout the day. But even if it’s not morning, pick a time.
6. Have a plan. Although it sounds spontaneous and fun, the “open-the-Book-and-point” method doesn’t always yield the best results. Try reading through one book of the Bible at a time, or go through a topical study.
This week memorize at least one passage of the Bible. One suggestion would be the reading on Monday, above. Next week, share your experience with the group and recite the passage to them, telling them why you selected it. (You can decide as a group whether you will accept “Jesus wept” (John 11:35) as an acceptable passage to memorize!)