Monthly Archives: February 2013

2/24/13 Weekly Small Groups GPS Guide

(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 Word Made Flesh

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.

MONDAY

John 1:1-18

John’s prelude was like the overture to a great musical work. “In the beginning” was the first of many allusions to Genesis 1-2—Jesus the creator was creating anew. The “life” and “light” images also came from those “beginning” stories. “The Word” told both Jewish and Greek readers why Jesus mattered so much. “The Word,” who was with God and WAS God, “made his home among us” (verse 14). God did not shun our darkened world, but came to live here—and in this world, Jesus’ life created new life and light for all who trusted in him.

 

TUESDAY

John 1:19-51

John the gospel writer introduced us to John the Baptist (or Baptizer), a fiery preacher of repentance. People wondered if he might be the long-awaited Messiah, but he directed their attention to Jesus. Andrew and Philip answered Jesus’ call, and then invited Peter and Nathanael to join them in following Jesus.

 

WEDNESDAY

John 2:1-25

Jesus changed water in jars used for ritual purification (verse 6) to wine as a sign that he offered a better way than his day’s rigid, repressive ritual system. When he cleansed the Temple, he challenged an ugly, lying trade. The Temple rulers exploited their control of Temple shekels and ritual animals to make huge profits from pilgrims who came to worship God. In linking these two stories, John said Jesus was declaring that he was the way to God, not rituals that had become more obstacle than signpost.

 

THURSDAY

John 3:1-36

John’s story introduced one powerful man–Nicodemus, a Pharisee—and returned to John the Baptist, the great prophet. The two men drew their power and greatness from very different sources. Nicodemus’ authority came from religious status attained through strict outward piety. John the Baptist’s authority came from his God-given message, pointing to the greatness of the coming Messiah, not to himself. John’s humble joy as Jesus “increased” (verse 30) showed the inner change Jesus spoke of to Nicodemus.

 

FRIDAY

John 4:1-30

Jews and Samaritans tended to shun each other. But John said Jesus “had to go through Samaria” (verse 4). That wasn’t a geographic requirement, as the map on page 2 shows. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear John was describing a spiritual necessity. Jesus talked openly with a woman even the Samaritans no doubt shunned. He offered her “living water,” and her response made her the first witness to Jesus in John’s story.

 

SATURDAY

John 4:31-54

Jesus was at ease in Samaria, but his disciples probably weren’t. Jesus must have amazed them by saying, in that hostile city, “Open your eyes and notice that the fields are already ripe for the harvest” (verse 35). But the fields WERE ripe—many Samaritans accepted Jesus’ message. John then underscored Jesus’ inclusive caring by telling of his “long-distance” healing of a royal official’s ill son. The man probably worked for Herod and/or the Romans, but that didn’t bother Jesus, and Jesus’ power richly repaid the father’s trust.

 

To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.

 

SUGGESTED PRAYER

Oh God, thank you for the Bible, which can almost let us feel as if we talked and walked with Jesus as he appeared to the people of New Testament times. We offer our bodies, minds and hearts to the message of Jesus as we bask in his light. We humbly acknowledge that the best that we are, have been and will ever be comes from your transforming mercy and grace. We offer ourselves to you in Jesus’ name, Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

Do you feel that we live in wonderful times, with amazing new technologies and know-how, or do you feel that we live in difficult times? Do you find this world beautiful or ugly? Do you wish your departed family and friends could experience today’s exciting times, or are you glad they don’t have to witness and experience today’s difficulties?

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

 Read John 1:1-18. John helped us to understand that the coming of Jesus Christ changed the world and our lives. What did his life on earth change? How does the very idea of God deciding to live among us affect your view of the nature of God? What if God had chosen to remain “at a distance”? John used the term “new life” and said that we had become God’s children. How have you found that true in your own life, and the lives of others you know?

 Read John 1:19-51. When asked where he was staying, Jesus said, “Come and see.” Do you think that Jesus meant to say something more than simply seeing where he was temporarily housed? In what ways has your faith grown when you have been willing to “come and see”? Do you think, at this early stage of Jesus’ ministry, the disciples understood the significance of the terms “Lamb of God”? What does the title “the Lamb of God” mean to you? How can we, especially during this season of Lent, “listen” to Jesus more intently?

 Read John 2:1-25. Jesus turned water into wine (his first miracle) using jars that were used for Jewish ritual purification. Do you see any significance to using these jars? How was Jesus’ way better than the rigid, repressive ritual system of the Jews of that time? What upset Jesus about the Temple practices of selling sacrificial animals and changing foreign monies? Do you find Jesus’ actions surprising? What message was he sending to the religious leaders in Jerusalem? What would their reaction have been? Reread verse 25. What does this verse say to you?

 Read John 3:1-36. Nicodemus was a leader of the Pharisees. Why did Nicodemus come to Jesus at night? What did Nicodemus saying, “…we know that you are a teacher who has come from God” imply? Do you think Nicodemus’ talk with Jesus changed him? What makes you think so (see John 7:45-52; John 19:38-42)? What does “born again” mean to you? John said, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven.” Has this been true for you? What does this say about our need for humility in the wake of our successes?

 Read John 4:1-30. Although women usually came to the wells together, this woman came alone. Why? With that in mind, when Jesus offered living water that would become “a spring of water welling up to eternal life,” what reaction would you have expected her to have? Do most Christians have a similar hopeful reaction, knowing that, without Christ, their sins will keep them from eternal life? Jesus said it wasn’t important where we worship, but rather that we worship “in spirit and in truth.” What does this mean? Why is there value in worshipping together whenever possible?

 Read John 4:31-54. John did not only tell us that people came to believe, but reported why the people believed. Briefly share why each of you believe in Jesus. What have you seen, heard, read or felt that has strengthened your belief?

From last week: As you went through last week, did you do your best to live out the admonition to “love others as you love yourself”? Did you mentally project yourself into their situations? Were you concerned about their well-being, while not ignoring your own? Did you, as much as is possible, offer others the support they needed? Did you do this especially for those you have not been especially friendly with? Please share with the group whatever you experienced.

 

 

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

From Pastor Hamilton’s sermon of February 24, 2013:

Let’s jump in with the big idea, the premise of the entire gospel, that Jesus embodies God’s Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God…And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth…No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Fathers heart, who has made him known.”

The Greek word used by John for the Word is LOGOS. It is the root of our words Logic and Logical. The Stoics spoke of the Logos as the mind and purpose of God that permeated all of creation. John says that this Word he is about to tell us about was in the beginning, was with God, and was God. He goes on to say: “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” Remember, in Genesis, God speaks and creation happens: “And God said, ‘Let there be light!’ and there was light, and God saw that it was good.” This Word is the heart, character, will and mind of God. It is the Logic that created the cosmos. It is by this logic that we “live and move and have our being.”

So far no philosopher or theologian of the first century would object to what John has said. Jews and Greeks would agree that the universe is logical, and that its logic is the mind of God. God is logical. Further, God desires to speak to us. The premise of the Bible is that the God who created the universe wants to be known by human beings. Again, few in the first century would have debated this lofty and powerful statement.

But then we come to verse 14 and John makes his outlandish claim: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” As he begins his gospel on the life of Jesus, John is telling us that God’s heart, mind, logic, will and desire to reveal himself to the human race has been wrapped in human flesh, coming to us as a person, in Jesus Christ!

He’ll end his prologue restating the claim, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Fathers heart, who has made him known.”

We call this the doctrine of the incarnation. “Incarnate” means to enflesh. John does not tell us how this happens—that Jesus embodies God’s word. The church would spend the next three hundred years working out how to express Jesus’ divinity and his humanity, and the nature of the Trinity. John’s not concerned about that—he is concerned that you know that everything else he will say in this book about Jesus is pointing to who God is and what God is like.

Human beings have always believed in God, but what is this God like? Prophets and lawgivers and preachers have tried to describe God based upon their experiences of God and their own logic. But in Jesus, God stepped into our world. The Word became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth. This is why Jesus is so central to our faith as Christians. His birth, life, teachings, miracles, death and resurrection answer the questions, “Who is God? What does God expect of us?”…

In the prologue, John says, “In him was life and that life was the light of all people.” Notice this mention of “life.” In him, the “Word made flesh,” in Jesus, was life. This is a hugely important idea in John. In fact, John 20:31 says that he wrote his gospel “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.”

42 times John uses the word “life” in his gospel. Most of the time it is Jesus who speaks of the life he offers, and usually he describes this as “eternal life.” The most famous of these is the most famous verse in the entire gospel, what Barth called the “gospel in miniature,” John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

But in John eternal life is not just what happens after we die. It is certainly that, so Jesus says in John: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will never die.” Of course most who believed in him would physically die, but there would be life after death. But for John, eternal life begins now—it is a state in which you are not afraid of death, in which you experience a new life in Christ. In John 5, Jesus says: “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

We have eternal life now. It is a promise that we have life after death, a promise Jesus will dramatically illustrate in raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11, and in his own resurrection. But it is also living in God’s kingdom here and now, living with purpose, receiving God’s forgiveness, knowing we are loved. We walk in his light. His presence sustains and keeps us.

How do we access this life? In John the primary way we access life is by believing and trusting in Christ. You trust in him. You trust that his words are the words of life. You trust that he is the way and the truth and the life. And you begin to walk with him.

This is what we mean when we speak of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ—it is trusting in him, talking to him, listening for him, believing him, following him, knowing him, walking with him. “In him is life, and that life is the light of all people.”

I read this great quote from Russell Moore in Christianity Today recently: “For too long, we’ve called unbelievers to ‘invite Jesus into your life.’ Jesus doesn’t want to be in your life. Your life’s a wreck. Jesus calls you into his life. And his life isn’t boring or purposeless or static. It’s wild and exhilarating and unpredictable.”

 

Why is Jesus called the “Word” in John 1?

First answer:

The answer to this question is found by first understanding the reason why John wrote his gospel. We find his purpose clearly stated in John 20:30-31. “Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” Once we understand that John’s purpose was to introduce the readers of his gospel to Jesus Christ, establishing Who Jesus is (God in the flesh) and what He did, all with the sole aim of leading them to embrace the saving work of Christ in faith, we will be better able to understand why John introduces Jesus as “The Word” in John 1:1.

By starting out his gospel stating, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” John is introducing Jesus with a word or a term that both his Jewish and Gentile readers would have been familiar with. The Greek word translated “Word” in this passage is Logos, and it was common in both Greek philosophy and Jewish thought of that day. For example, in the Old Testament the “word” of God is often personified as an instrument for the execution of God’s will (Psalm 33:6; 107:20; 119:89; 147:15-18). So, for his Jewish readers, by introducing Jesus as the “Word,” John is in a sense pointing them back to the Old Testament where the Logos or “Word” of God is associated with the personification of God’s revelation. And in Greek philosophy, the term Logos was used to describe the intermediate agency by which God created material things and communicated with them. In the Greek worldview, the Logos was thought of as a bridge between the transcendent God and the material universe. Therefore, for his Greek readers the use of the term Logos would have likely brought forth the idea of a mediating principle between God and the world.

Source: http://www.gotquestions.org/Jesus-Word-God.html

Second answer:

Jesus was the expression of God’s love the way you or I might use a word to express our love. It’s kind of a spoken event that inspires or causes actual action. But God is so powerful and all-encompassing that in Jesus His word becomes flesh—a human being, a separate entity yet still part of the Holy Trinity (that is united. A paradox, but that’s another question.)

The Greek word was ‘logos,’ and it corresponds to the Hebrew thought in the Old Testament that God spoke, and things happened. The Greeks used ‘logos’ to mean either an inward thought or an actual word. John knew that this word would’ve made sense to the culture he was writing in and would resonate in a certain way with Greeks and Jews both.

Source: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080307141539AAtCeN0

 

Final application:

This week, focus on this season of Lent. During Lent, many Christians prepare for Easter through fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. The purpose is to set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ, his life, suffering, and sacrifice, his death, burial and resurrection. Do this and next week share with the group how these practices affected your week.

 

Advertisements

2/17/12 Weekly Small Groups GPS Guide

(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)

Very, Very Extraordinary

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.

 

MONDAY

Leviticus 19:15-18, 33-34

Bible students call Leviticus 19:1-37 the “Call to Holiness.” In this passage, God called Israel to a way of life, a code of conduct. These are not just rules for the sake of rules. This Call outlined a way of life that would help Israel function as a loving community, serving one another’s well-being. Israel’s spiritual formation (like ours) involved not only the reverence they showed to God, but also the way they treated all of their “neighbors.”

 

TUESDAY

Mark 12:28-34

Scholar William Barclay noted that there were two schools of thought among rabbis. Some believed “there were lighter and weightier matters of the law…great principles which were all-important to grasp.” Others “held that every smallest principle was equally binding.” Jesus, like the scribe in this passage, saw some principles as central, more vital to grasp than others. Loving God and loving your neighbor, both agreed, are the greatest commandments.

 

WEDNESDAY

1 Corinthians 12:24-13:3

In the Greek culture of New Testament times, humility was “not considered a virtue…but was viewed as weakness” (Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments). So it’s not surprising that young Christians in Corinth got into disputes about whose gift was most valuable to the church. The apostle Paul wasn’t writing abstractly about love in this passage. He was telling his converts that, if not exercised in love, no ability had any lasting value.

 

THURSDAY

1 John 4:7-16

As John wrote about how Christians treat one another, he likely thought about himself and Jesus’ other disciples. They jockeyed for position, and got angry with one another at times (cf. Mark 10:35-45). Over time, Jesus re-shaped their thoughts and actions. John knew that loving others with Christ’s love doesn’t spring from a naturally warm human disposition. This kind of active love comes from God, who “has given us a measure of his Spirit” (verse 13).

 

FRIDAY

Romans 5:1-8

For many Christians, God’s grace and the salvation it brings produce times of awesome joy and peace. But human emotions are volatile and erratic. At times of pain or doubt, even the strongest, most confident Christ-follower may struggle to feel that “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts.” That’s why Paul based our ultimate security not in how we feel at any given moment, but in a fact—Jesus valued and loved us so much that he died for us.

 

SATURDAY

Romans 8:31-39

The apostle Paul wrote Romans to introduce himself to Christians in Rome, a city he had never visited (cf. Romans 1:10). In today’s reading, he summed up the letter’s first eight chapters, in which he laid out the good news of the gospel as he preached it. For him, God’s love was not abstract or theoretical. He faced all of his life’s challenges with the profound personal certainty that “nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We, too, can live each day in that deep, life-giving trust.

 

To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.

 

SUGGESTED PRAYER

God, thank you for helping us feel the certainty of your steadfast love. Thank you for the loving sacrifice Jesus made for us. Help us to understand that you are love, to know you better so that we might come to love you more. Use us to extend that love to others as we seek to make a difference in our world. Teach us to love others as we love ourselves. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

Is it easier for men or women to “love others as we love ourselves”? Are men or women more attuned to the plights of others? Is your answer based on how you think men and women feel inside or on how their feelings are outwardly expressed? Or do you believe differences in the ability to love others as we love ourselves are based on factors unrelated to gender?

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

 Read Leviticus 19:15-18, 33-34. Is it human nature to look out for our own best interests? After that, where do each of us draw the line in caring for the best interests of others—our spouses, our children, the rest of our family, our friends, our co-workers, strangers, our enemies? If we extended our caring beyond whatever is “usual” for us, how would that affect the way we relate to each of these kinds of people? Who are the “neighbors in your life? In what ways are they just like us, even when there are some things that make them seem different?

 Read Mark 12:28-34. As a believer, a student of the faith, how much importance would you place upon the passages Jesus quoted as compared to the rest of the Bible—low, medium or high? Why? As Christians, we sometimes tend to locate all the significance of the Bible on the New Testament. Here, as in many cases, Jesus quotes from the Old Testament. What does this say to you about the relevance of the Old Testament? Jesus calls us to love others as we love ourselves. How would you describe the way you love yourself? Are you ever self-critical? Self-disciplined? Disappointed in yourself? Frustrated with yourself? Angry with yourself? Concerned about your well-being? What light does examining how well or poorly you love yourself cast on the kind of love Jesus was talking about for your neighbor?

 Read 1 Corinthians 12:24-13:3. In what kinds of ways did Paul point out that, although we are believers, we are all different from one another? In what key way did he say that we can be alike? How can love for one another unite us? How can love for one another magnify the power and capability of the entire body of “the church”? How can love for one another ensure the continuity of “the church”? Why should we be humble even when we have some or many great gifts and talents to offer to the church? Why should we embrace those whose talents and gifts are very different from ours?

 Read 1 John 4:7-16. Where does love come from (where did it originate)? If love comes from God, do we as believers have a duty and responsibility to share God’s love with others? Jesus said he was “the light” and the “living water”—could these be symbols of God’s love? Have you ever thanked God for the love you feel for others? Have you ever thanked God for the love you have felt from others for yourself? Is love a one-way thing? John says God IS love, not just that God loves. What does this convey to you?

 Read Romans 5:1-8. Some say that faith is mainly about feelings. Others say faith is rooted in Christ’s life, death and resurrection. What do you think? Verse 3 says we even take pride in our sufferings. What is this saying to you? What kind of a person would you be if you had never suffered? If children are spoiled and overly protected from life’s difficulties, how are they likely to turn out? Does God spoil his children? Does he allow us to come to grips with our own mistakes and their consequences? Does this mean that he doesn’t love us, or does it mean he really does love us?

 Read Romans 8:31-39. This is from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Rome was the greatest military and political power the world had ever seen. It was as if Paul was saying, “Can Rome, even Rome, separate us from God and his love?” What was the answer to this question? How do you know? (As it turned out, a later Roman emperor, Constantine, was a critical force in the growth of the Christian church.) What could tend to make us feel a separation from God’s love? What spiritual “anchors” help you to stay connected to God’s love and the hope and peace God offers, even when times get difficult?

From last week: As you went through last week, were you alert to chances for you to put yourself in Christ’s hands and counteract evil with your influence as a gentle, loving Christian? If so, share with the group whether you found this to be clear and simple, or terribly unclear and complicated.

 

 

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

 

From Pastor Chrostek’s sermon of February 10, 2013:

Three words are generally used for love in scripture: Philia, Eros, and Agape. C.S. Lewis writes a great book describing these different kinds of love, Four Loves. Take a look at it if you’re interested in learning more.

Philia is the first word. Philia is a Greek word for the kind of love we call friendship. Philia means a strong bond between folks with mutual interests or passions. I call this SuperBowl love. It’s love for your friends, co-workers, or commercial watchers….

Eros is altogether different. Eros is perhaps the sense of the word we’re most comfortable with. Eros refers to this idea of ‘being in love’. Eros is different from sexuality, but linked because Eros love is rooted in one’s devotion to another. From this type of love and devotion, romantic love often emerges, thus we get words like erotic. Eros is what we think of when we think husband and wife, boyfriend or girlfriend. Eros is what Valentine’s Day has become about—we buy gifts out of our love and devotion to another.

Yet Eros and Philia to me don’t seem all that extraordinary. These are things we experience frequently. They are ordinary. Which brings us to the third kind of love: Agape.

Agape is different than both philia and eros. It’s best understood as the kind of love that brings forth caring and mercy regardless of circumstance. It’s selfless. It’s sacrificial. It’s rooted in humilty and grace. C. S. Lewis recognizes agape as the greatest of all loves. It’s a love seen most clearly in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In John 15, we hear Jesus say, “Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Agape is seen most vividly at the cross, when Christ’s heart literally breaks out of love for humanity.

The apostle Paul is describing agape when he speaks of ‘love’ in 1 Corinthians 13. He writes, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

Agape love is beautiful, poetic, memorable—it’s very, very extraordinary. We hear about it at almost every wedding. But it’s not chocolate or hearts or songs…it’s much deeper than that. The common use of this text in weddings has linked it in the minds of many with flowers, kisses and frilly wedding dresses. Richard Hays, the Dean of Duke Divinity School, writes that the first task for any pastor is to rescue Paul’s words from the romantic sentimentality in which popular piety has embedded it. Paul was not writing about love (agape) to talk about marriage. He was writing about the need for agape within the community of faith to transform the world. Paul was instructing the church as to how to build Christian community. The way to do this is through Agape love.

And so he writes to his church, “You can talk in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but if you don’t have love, you’re nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If you have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, or if you have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, you are nothing. If you give away all of your possessions… even if you hand over your body so that you may boast, but do not have love, you gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

Building Christian Community, being the church, requires that we live according to agape love. Love is necessary…it’s imperative…it’s the bedrock of living fully a life of faith….

Paul urges his church in 1 Corinthians to be filled with God’s love, to be patient and kind and not arrogant or rude. He reminds us that we are called to be ambassadors of Christ’s perfect love in the world, in this city, in our lofts and neighborhoods. We’re called to build Christian community, love-filled community everywhere we go, and we are called to do this by sharing with others in the same way that Christ shared his life for each of us. Even thinking about this can be scary, but this is what the journey of Lent is for—preparing us, pushing us, leading us, challenging us, to live fully into God’s presence, always looking for opportunities to transform the world by the grace of Jesus Christ. On this Valentine’s Day weekend, be like Christ, love like Christ, and do so without fear. For the next six weeks as we spend time focusing on the gospel of John, allow the love of Christ to meet you where you are most vulnerable, meet others in their moments of greatest needs and get messy.

 

What is love? Five theories

It’s the most popular search on Google – but what’s the answer? Experts in fields from science to fiction share their thoughts:

The physicist: ‘Love is chemistry’ – Biologically, love is a powerful neurological condition like hunger or thirst, only more permanent. We talk about love being blind or unconditional, in the sense that we have no control over it. But then, that is not so surprising since love is basically chemistry. While lust is a temporary passionate sexual desire involving the increased release of chemicals such as testosterone and estrogen, in true love, or attachment and bonding, the brain can release a whole set of chemicals: pheromones, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin and vasopressin. However, from an evolutionary perspective, love can be viewed as a survival tool—a mechanism we have evolved to promote long-term relationships, mutual defense and parental support of children and to promote feelings of safety and security.

The psychotherapist: ‘Love has many guises’ – The ancients did not lump all the various emotions that we label “love” under one word. They had several variations, including: Philia which they saw as a deep but usually non-sexual intimacy between close friends and family members or as a deep bond forged by soldiers as they fought alongside each other in battle….Pragma is the mature love that develops over a long period of time between long-term couples and involves actively practicing goodwill, commitment, compromise and understanding. Agape is a more generalized love. It’s not about exclusivity but about love for all of humanity. Philautia is self-love, which isn’t as selfish as it sounds. As Aristotle discovered and as any psychotherapist will tell you, to care for others you need to be able to care about yourself. Last, and probably least even though it causes the most trouble, eros is about sexual passion and desire. Unless it morphs into philia and/or pragma, eros will burn itself out.

The philosopher: ‘Love is a passionate commitment’ – The answer remains elusive in part because love is not one thing. Love for parents, partners, children, country, neighbor, God and so on all have different qualities. Each has its variants—blind, one-sided, tragic, steadfast, fickle, reciprocated, misguided, and unconditional. At its best, however, all love is a kind of passionate commitment that we nurture and develop, even though it usually arrives in our lives unbidden. That’s why it is more than just a powerful feeling. Without the commitment, it is mere infatuation. Without the passion, it is mere dedication. Without nurturing, even the best can wither and die.

The romantic novelist: ‘Love drives all great stories’ – What love is depends on where you are in relation to it. Secure in it, it can feel as mundane and necessary as air—you exist within it, almost unnoticing. Deprived of it, it can feel like an obsession; all consuming, a physical pain. Love is the driver for all great stories: not just romantic love, but the love of parent for child, for family, for country. It is the point before consummation of it that fascinates: what separates you from love, the obstacles that stand in its way. It is usually at those points that love is everything.

The nun: ‘Love is free yet binds us’ – Love is more easily experienced than defined. As a theological virtue, by which we love God above all things and our neighbors as ourselves for his sake, it seems remote until we encounter it enfleshed, so to say, in the life of another—in acts of kindness, generosity and self-sacrifice. Love’s the one thing that can never hurt anyone, although it may cost dearly. The paradox of love is that it is supremely free yet attaches us with bonds stronger than death. It cannot be bought or sold; there is nothing it cannot face; love is life’s greatest blessing.

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/13/what-is-love-five-theories

 

Final application:

This week, do you best to live out the admonition to, “love others as you love yourself”. Mentally project yourself into their situations. Be concerned about their well-being, while not ignoring your own. As much as is possible, offer others the support they need. Do this especially for those you have not been especially friendly with. Next week, share with the group how things went.

 

2/10/12 Weekly Small Groups GPS Guide

(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)

Evil’s Ultimate Defeat

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.

 

MONDAY

Genesis 3:8-15

In this archetypal story, evil entered the world when Adam and Eve, misled by the snake, ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Evil brought the human race terrible problems, but this was not a story of despair. The Hebrew storytellers were confident that evil would be defeated in the end. God firmly told the snake that, though he would strike humanity’s heels, Eve’s offspring (particularly Jesus, as it turned out) would strike (or crush) his head.

 

TUESDAY

Luke 22:14-20

The night before Jesus went to the cross, evil’s power looked unbeatable. Religious leaders in Jerusalem, who claimed to lead God’s people, were joining forces with the procurator from Imperial Rome to kill him. Yet Jesus, who knew suffering lay ahead (verse 15), nevertheless boldly pledged that he wouldn’t eat or drink the Passover/Lord’s Supper elements again until the day when God’s kingdom had triumphed.

 

WEDNESDAY

Romans 12:12-21

Paul, drawing insight from Jesus’ life, taught Christians in Rome how to deal with evil. It was thought-provoking counsel: “Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them” (verse 14). “Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions” (verse 17). Paul said we can do that because we trust God to deal with evil in better ways than we ever could. So, he ended, “Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good” (verse 21).

 

THURSDAY

1 John 4:4-10, 5:1-4

On one hand, John’s churches faced teachers who used Greek philosophy to deny that Jesus was God. On the other hand, brutal Roman persecution threatened to imprison or kill anyone who didn’t recognize Caesar as “Lord.” In that hostile world, the only “weapons” Christians had were trust in Christ and love for each other. That was enough, John said–it would defeat the world.

 

FRIDAY

Revelation 12:1-12

In Revelation’s vivid imagery, verses 1-6 depict Jesus being born into the world. Revelation piled up phrases to capture all the malevolent power of evil arrayed against Jesus: “the great dragon…the old snake, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.” But Jesus won a decisive victory over evil, and a loud voice from heaven declared God’s victory.

 

SATURDAY

Revelation 19:11-16, 21:1-7

Some images change little over time—good guys, for example, ride on white horses. Others take a bit more thought—the sword from the victor’s mouth is a symbol for the power of God’s word (cf. Hebrews 4:12). The big message the seer of Revelation was sending to his friends in Asia Minor, and to us, was that evil is not forever. The story’s glorious ending is: GOD WINS!

 

To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.

 

SUGGESTED PRAYER

Heavenly Father, grow in us the love and faith that changes families, communities and the world. Reshape our natural attitudes, and help us live at peace with others, without malice. Eliminate the darkness of our hearts with your eternal light. Thank you for the glorious promise of a new life, free of pain and sorrow. Guide us to share that hope with those who suffer. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

What movies have you seen lately that seemed to clearly show the line between good and evil? Which movies most clearly showed the victory of good over evil? Why do we seem to want good to stamp out evil in movies?

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

 Read Genesis 3:8-15. When God said that Eve’s offspring would crush the serpent’s head, who did the serpent represent? Who did the promise that “Eve’s offspring” would crush the serpent’s head point to? Was this a rigid prediction of future events, or a foreshadowing of how God works? How is the serpent (or evil, or the devil) crushed? How did Adam and Eve’s hiding from God illustrate the spiritual impact of shame in us? Does shame ever make you feel like hiding from God? What’s required to get over that response? Do you believe that evil will ultimately come to an end?

 Read Luke 22:14-20. When Jesus said, “For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes,” was he speaking wishfully, hopefully or confidently? What happens to evil when the Kingdom of God comes? What does communion mean to you? Does it express your confidence in God’s plan for the future? Do you think that, when millions of Christians take communion, God’s plan is somehow strengthened?

 Read Romans 12:12-21. What kinds of evil do we meet in everyday life? Do we always recognize evil? How can we, individually or as a group, “overcome evil with good”? Paul said, “Bless people who harass you.” Is that consistent with our human nature? If not, how do we deal with these situations? Does God want us to be defeated by evil? In overcoming evil, Paul gave us several examples of how to act. Which of these do you find most difficult? All of us have, at one time or another, repaid evil with evil. How did this make you feel? Did it improve the situation?

 Read 1 John 4:4-10, 5:1-4. In verse 4, who do you believe is “the one who is in the world”? What then, is the significance of the entire verse that says, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world”? As we look back, we realize that hundreds and thousands of Christians survived, despite the oppressive persecution of the mighty Roman Empire. How does knowing this affect your view of these verses? Is this Godly power at work today? Does it have any effect upon your view of the future?

 Read Revelation 12:1-12. What do you see as the central message of these verses? They capture all the malevolent power of evil arrayed against Jesus: “the great dragon…the old snake, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.” But Jesus won a decisive victory over evil. However, if we still find evil at work in the world today, where is Jesus’ victory? Is God’s victory at work in the lives of his followers? Can we more fully tap into God’s power in our lives? Rome exiled the seer of Revelation to an island called Patmos. Does that same force of evil work to isolate and discourage faith today?

 Read Revelation 19:11-16, 21:1-7. Although evil might still exist in the world today, these verses promise its ultimate end by the power of Jesus Christ. Who will benefit from this victory? “To the thirsty I will freely give water from the life-giving spring of the water of life.” What does this verse mean? Have there been times in your life when you were desperate for God and suddenly you felt God’s refreshing touch? Is this the message God would like for us to deliver to others who desperately need his help?

From last week: As you went through last week, were you alert to the times in which your thoughts, words and actions are inconsistent with your vision of what it means to call yourself a Christian? Did you pray that God might refine your life so that you might become more like Christ? Please share with the group whatever you discovered.

 

 

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

 

From Pastor Hamilton’s sermon of February 10, 2013:

How does Jesus rescue us from evil? He shows us a different way—the way of love, mercy and servanthood. By his death he offers us forgiveness and models for us how one defeats evil—not by returning evil, but by demonstrating sacrificial love. And his resurrection assures us that evil will not have the final word, but is ultimately defeated.

As we begin to follow Jesus, he redefines our values, our ideals and how we respond to evil….My small group was talking about what happens to us as we age. Some people, as they get older, become more of their best selves—beautiful, compassionate, kind. Others seem to become more of their worst selves—they speak ill of others, they become more self-absorbed, mean-spirited, judgmental and bitter. We all agreed we want to grow old becoming more like Christ, not less like him. But this doesn’t “just happen”—it is a daily process of choosing the right, of practicing the spiritual disciplines, and of inviting the Spirit to work in us.

That leads me to consider how evil is defeated in society. In this life there will always be evil in our world. Every human being wrestles with good and evil and God has given us the choice as to which we’ll choose to give in to. Jesus’ strategy for healing the brokenness of the world is found in his great commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” He knew the world is changed one person at a time. Each person who comes to faith in Christ chooses to walk in a different path than they were walking in before.

This is why our mission here at Resurrection is “To build a Christian community where non-religious and nominally religious people are becoming deeply committed Christians.” With each person who becomes a Christ follower the world is changed. This is how evil is pushed back in society—one person at a time. Then, when we work together, we can do more than we could alone.

We’ll continue to battle evil in our world—there will be injustice, terrorism, violence, genocide, atrocities and war—yet the Bible is clear that one day God will say, “Enough!” Goodness and mercy will always ultimately prevail, even if, for a season, evil seems to hold sway. Deliverance will always come. It may come slowly, but it will come. One day, evil will be finally and utterly destroyed.

This message is found across the scriptures. I love Zechariah 9:12 where the prophet speaks to the Jews who returned from Exile to find Jerusalem in ruins. He says: “Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope!” We are prisoners of hope. We believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that God’s justice will always prevail. History shows this. In the last century alone, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Pol Pot and Idi Amin and their cruel regimes were ultimately defeated. Evil can never ultimately prevail.

We began this sermon series six weeks ago in the Garden of Eden. In that Garden human beings misused their freedom, turned away from God’s way, and paradise was lost. John 19:41 notes, “Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb.” John also notes that when Jesus was raised from the dead he appeared like a gardener. All that, as I have taught you before, pointing to Christ’s work and our work, of pushing back evil and restoring God’s garden, restoring paradise. The Bible ends where it begins, back in a garden. This garden is found in the last chapters of the book of Revelation, and here evil is finally and ultimately defeated.

Some read Revelation as a roadmap to the end times, and make charts and graphs and write books about how the events happening today are fulfillments of the things in Revelation. But I don’t think that is how Revelation “works.” The book was written near the end of the first century. Most of the apostles, leaders of the early Christian movement, had been killed for their faith. Christians had been expelled from the synagogues in many places. The Romans had destroyed Jerusalem, and put to death a million Jews. Rome’s power seemed invincible. Her economic grip on the world seemed unchallengeable. And Christians were tempted to give up their faith in the face of adversity, and to worship the empire and her emperors and her economic benefits.

But John says, don’t do it! He paints a picture of the fall of Rome, which he sees as a pawn of the devil. And as he paints this picture of Rome’s defeat, he paints for Christians of every generation the ultimate defeat of evil.

In verse 11 of chapter 19 there is this powerful image of the last battle with evil: “Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire…He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.” Do you see this powerful picture of the final triumph of good over evil? John pictured the powers of evil being destroyed in this battle by just a word from Christ’s mouth. The devil and his demons are bound in a pit for a long period of time. Later, he is released to test the nations once more, but evil is obliterated once and for all. Finally, in chapters 21 and 22, there is a new heaven and a new earth, cleansed of evil. Listen: “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’”

We are in a very real battle with evil. Revelation is a reminder that evil will ultimately be defeated. Evil in our world starts in each of our hearts. There are people who succumb to evil and do violent, horrible things. Some see this as evidence that the Christian faith is not true, that if it were, these things would not happen. Listen: a faith whose leader was crucified by evil people is not a faith that promises bad things will never happen. I see the evil that happens in our world as evidence that we need the Christian gospel.

Jesus came to be the light, and to call us to walk in the light. He came to save us from ourselves and then call us to be the light of the world, a city set upon a hill. He called us to walk in the light and to push back the darkness in our hearts and in our society.

 

The criterion of evil

What is the criterion by which to determine what is evil? In other words, is there is a universal, transcendent definition of evil, or is evil determined by one’s social or cultural background? C.S. Lewis, in The Abolition of Man, maintained that certain acts are universally considered evil, such as rape and murder. Yet it is hard to find any act that was not acceptable in some society. The Nazis found even genocide acceptable for their purpose, as did the Imperial Japanese Army with the Nanking Massacre.

For monotheistic religions, the criterion of good is the will of God. For them, evil is disunity with, or disobedience to, the will of God. But not all humans are monotheistic. Many belong to other religions, and many are unbelievers. Furthermore, the three monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) have different interpretations of the will of God. Even people of the same faith many times have different understanding of the same God….

Given all this, what is the criterion of evil? One appropriate, perhaps more general and universal, way to put it would be to say that selfishness is evil, and unselfishness is good. And if it is still hard to make an immediate judgment, one can wait until anything bears its fruit, which can speak as to whether it is evil or good: “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16, NIV).

Source: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Evil#Kinds_of_evil

 

If you could stamp out one thing that is morally evil in life, what would it be?

Genocide: After the crimes of the Holocaust became internationally known, the world vowed it would never happen again. But history since 1945 has shown that the international community has stood by, again and again, as genocide unfolds. From Bangladesh to Darfur, humanity is still struggling to end what Winston Churchill once called a “crime without a name.”

Human trafficking: Buying and selling people, for forced labor, sexual exploitation or other forms of exploitation, amounts to a form of slavery. The Council of Europe Convention on Human Trafficking—also known as the Palermo Protocol—wrote a definition running to more than 100 words. A simpler definition is: “The acquisition of a person, by means of deception, coercion or force, for the purpose of moving them into a situation of exploitation.”

Others: Child abuse in various forms, Crime in various forms, Addictions, Selfishness, etc., etc., etc.

Source: Various

 

Final application:

This week, be alert to chances for you to put yourself in Christ’s hands and counteract evil with your influence as a gentle, loving Christian. Next week, share with the group whether you found this to be clear and simple, or terribly unclear and complicated

 

2/3/12 Weekly Small Groups GPS Guide

(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)

Evil in the Name of God

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.

 

MONDAY

Exodus 20:7, 34:5-10

In Bible times, a “name” conveyed a person’s inner essence. The third commandment dealt with much more than the “cussing” many Christians associate with it (though casual use of God’s name as a swear word is surely undesirable). God revealed his “name,” his character, to Israel through Moses. They didn’t always live up to it, but they recorded and passed on the command that they not use God’s “name” to support actions that were out of harmony with it.

 

TUESDAY

Isaiah 55:1-9, Isaiah 19:19-25

God called the prophet Isaiah, like most of Israel’s prophets, to share a message with God’s people that was challenging—often downright unpopular—yet filled with hope. Isaiah’s vision said God’s mercy was wider than we’d expect—wide enough to even reach out to include Assyria and Egypt, Israel’s enemies and oppressors.

 

WEDNESDAY

2 Kings 5:1-14

A Syrian general named Naaman had leprosy. An Israelite girl captured in a cross-border raid said she knew of a prophet who could heal him. The king in Samaria thought the Syrians were trying to start a war. Naaman was at first too proud to wash in the Jordan River as the prophet Elisha said. Many of the religious and national attitudes that keep the Middle East in conflict today were at work. Yet God’s love and mercy overcame the obstacles, and the foreign general found healing.

 

THURSDAY

Exodus 21:15-25, Matthew 5:21-26, 38-45

In this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus repeatedly used the formula, “It was said…but I say to you…”. The law in Exodus 21 (cf. also Leviticus 24, Deuteronomy 19) limited revenge to “an eye for an eye.” In a world in which revenge was often viciously excessive (“you hurt me, I’ll kill your whole family”), Israel’s law of proportional revenge was more merciful than most. But Jesus taught an even more radical approach: “Love your enemies.”

 

FRIDAY

Ephesians 2:11-19

The apostle Paul knew about religious prejudice and hatred—he’d lived it (cf. Galatians 1:13-14). In these verses, he was probably picturing the wall in the Jerusalem Temple’s courtyard that bore signs warning in Hebrew, Greek and Latin that any Gentile who went beyond that wall was subject to death. He also knew from his own life that Jesus’ power tore down the dividing wall between people, and broke through barriers of race, prejudice and fear.

 

SATURDAY

John 8:1-11

John said the religious leaders, stones in hand, were using this woman to trap Jesus (verse 6). That probably explains why the woman’s partner (she couldn’t commit adultery alone!) wasn’t there—the leaders may well have set her up. They saw themselves as righteous, as upholding God’s law (verse 5). Jesus reframed the issue, saying, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone” (verse 7). After the “righteous” people slunk away in the face of this challenge, Jesus told the woman whose life he’d saved, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, don’t sin anymore.”

 

To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.

 

SUGGESTED PRAYER

O God, you freely offer us your complete forgiveness, rather than the evil of condemnation, darkness and pain. Help us turn away from our fear, guilt and shame. Help us tear down the barriers that separate us from others. Give us strength to love others as you love them, to be merciful to our enemies. Help us speak and act as Christians, to be like you in every thought and deed. Amen.

 

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

What different kinds of things tend to attract people to the Super Bowl? Are there positive and negative reactions that the game brings out in people? Why do you enjoy or not enjoy it?

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

 Read Exodus 20:7, 34:5-10. God made a covenant with the Hebrew people, and has made a covenant with you. How would you describe the covenant God has made with you? Why has God specifically chosen you to make this covenant with? How would God feel if you were to use his name inappropriately? How similar would it be to call ourselves “Christian” and then to act unethically or illegally? Which is worse, using God’s name inappropriately in words, or acting badly while claiming to be Christian? As a Christian, does the responsibility to act and speak responsibly feel like a heavy burden? How easy or difficult is it to “forget your Christianity” when you decide to say or do something that is “wrong”?

 Read Isaiah 55:1-9, Isaiah 19:19-25. Assyria and Egypt were Israel’s enemies, yet Isaiah said those countries would turn away from their wickedness and God would bless them. What is the central message of these verses? How do these verses apply to today’s world? How do they apply to you and your life? How was this aspect of God applied in the story of Jonah (Jonah 3:10-4:2)? Jonah didn’t want God to save the city and people of Nineveh. Are there people you don’t want God to save? As committed Christians, should we do something about these kinds of attitudes and feelings? If so, what?

 Read 2 Kings 5:1-14. In this story, fear, arrogance and pride threatened to undermine God’s plan for healing. Do any of those feelings ever seethe in the hearts of Christians and interfere with God’s plan for blessing others? When those feelings arise, are we, as Christians, furthering God’s kingdom on earth, or hindering it? Have you ever found yourself with such feelings? What can we do about this?

 Read Exodus 21:15-25, Matthew 5:21-26, 38-45. Is “getting even” a common and acceptable practice in American society? Is “getting even” a part of human nature? Is “getting even” an acceptable practice within Christianity? Why not, if it’s a part of human nature? When Christ said for us to love our neighbor and love our enemies, he used a word that meant that we should care about their well-being. This suggests that Christ was telling us to set aside our feelings for a moment and be more concerned about our actions. Is getting even consistent with caring for the well-being of others? Could Jesus be asking us to substitute his more supernatural, godly response toward others for our more natural, human response? How is this even possible?

 Read Ephesians 2:11-19. What do you see as the central message of these verses? If Jesus were to describe us as individuals, would he first and foremost see us as Christians, or as Methodists, Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, etc.? Do we see ourselves as Christ does, or do we tend to segregate ourselves from others of the faith? Where do we start first if we wish to break down the barriers that such thinking tends to build? What other barriers tend to separate us from others? How do we attack social, economic, cultural or political separators?

 Read John 8:1-11. If Jesus said to the woman in the story, “Neither do I condemn you,” what is he saying to you, personally? Can you fully and completely accept the truth of this message to you, personally? Why can’t some Christians fully accept this forgiveness for themselves? How can we help them? What causes us to, occasionally, back up and doubt that God has forgiven us? What can you do when this happens?

From last week: Did you make it your personal mission to recognize and resist temptations that came your way? Did you begin the week and every day with a prayer that God might give you insight and strength to resist? Did you look for opportunities that might allow you to, invisibly and behind the scenes, help others to avoid their temptations? What was this experience like for you?

 

 

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

 

From Pastor Hamilton’s sermon of February 3, 2013:

When we were in D.C. last week, I took LaVon, Danielle and JT to the Lincoln Memorial by night. I love seeing this magnificent monument to a heroic president who played such a pivotal role in ending slavery.

On the north wall, to the right of Lincoln’s statue, is the text of his Second Inaugural Address given as the Civil War was coming to a close. And there is a line in this address that stood out to me in a way that I had not noticed before. The line, speaking of the North and the South and their different views of slavery, says, “Both read from the same Bible and pray to the same God.”

Today none of us would believe that slavery, the practice of buying and selling human beings, is in keeping with the gospel. But in 1865 that was not self-evident to everyone. In fact, those supporting slavery had a greater claim to being biblical, at least in terms of the sheer number of scriptures. There are over 100 supporting the idea that slavery is God’s will and intention for human society. The abolitionists did not have a single verse that said that slavery was not God’s will, at least not directly. What they had were scriptural ideas: that all human beings are of value and worth, created in the image of God, and a call to love our neighbor and act with justice and kindness.

This is informative for seeing how the church is currently wrestling with homosexuality. Both conservatives and progressives read from the same Bible and pray to the same God, yet they interpret the Bible quite differently.

On this and a host of other issues my own views have changed over time. And I have come to hold my convictions about matters of interpretation with greater humility. The more I know, the more I know I don’t know. I recognize my three pounds of gray matter is not sufficient to fully comprehend the God of the universe. I’m reminded of a quote attributed to John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. “When I was young I was sure of everything. In a few years, having been mistaken a thousand times, I was not half so sure of most things as I was before. At present, I am hardly sure of anything but what God has revealed to me.”

Which leads to one last way that we commit evil in the name of God and that’s when we’re just plain unpleasant as Christians, when we judge others, when we are cruel to one another, when we are uncharitable in our words and actions by gossip, or by unkindness. I’m reminded of the words of Jesus, “Take the log out of your own eye before you take the splinter out of someone else’s eye.” Here our scripture from Paul is instructive. He says, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear…Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

We are a people defined by love—love of God and love of neighbor. When we face decisions the question must be, “What is the most loving thing to do?” When we think of what that looks like, we remember Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

I was thinking about what it looks like for Christians who are seeking to get it right to stand up and be heard, to be salt and light and to practice love, and I saw it captured in the actions of 9 year old Joseph Miles of Topeka who, with his mom, drove past Washburn University as the folks from Westboro Baptist Church were picketing. He asked his mom for permission to make his own sign, which he did. His sign, caught in a photo that was shown around the world, said, “GOD HATES NO ONE.”

We may not always agree—clearly we don’t on everything–but we can agree to love, to be champions of love in a world that has seen too much judgment, too much hypocrisy, too much hate from the lips and lives of religious people. Let’s not be imposters, pretenders, fake followers of Jesus Christ. Let’s follow him who said, “They will know that you are my disciples in that you love one another.”

 

Taking God’s name in vain?

“Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” – Exodus 20:7, King James Version (KJV)

Do we really even need to discuss this? Everybody knows that this commandment basically says, “Don’t Cuss!” Right?

Well, if that was all there was to it, why write this? ‘Cussing’ is not the best use of our gift of language, a gift that we have in far greater complexity than any other animal on this planet. And there may be places where the Bible tells us that God is not in favor of cussing. But perhaps this commandment has only partially to do with cussing.

First, let’s assume that the traditional view is correct: we are not to use God’s name to cuss. If that is true, we should note how people have tried to get around it! “Dog gummite”, “Gosh Darn”, “Jiminy Cricket” and “Jumping Jehoshaphat” are all ways of ‘cussing’ without ‘cussing’. Are we supposed to believe that by mispronouncing something we get away with it?

This commandment has an additional warning attached to it, which most don’t. That gives this one special, additional meaning, which makes us want to make sure that we do not unknowingly violate it.

This commandment has less to do with what we say, and everything to do with how we live. That is why the additional comment about ‘not being regarded guiltless’ makes so much sense.

So a question: What does it mean to say “in vain”?

vain, adjective: ineffectual or unsuccessful; without real significance, value, or importance; baseless or worthless

When we refer to ourselves as Christians, aren’t we “taking God’s name” in a somewhat similar way in which some brides take the last name of their new husbands? As Christians, aren’t we claiming a lifestyle that is based on the lifestyle and teaching of our Lord, Jesus Christ? Then, we speak and act badly while claiming to be CHRISTian.

If then, as “Christians”, our speech, actions and lifestyles are, in fact, ineffectual or unsuccessful; without real significance, value, or importance; baseless or worthless, haven’t we taken God’s name “in vain”?

Source: Adapted from http://www.achievebalance.com/spirit/cnc/third.htm

 

Final application:

As you go through this week, be alert to the times in which your thoughts, words and actions are inconsistent with your vision of what it means to call yourself a Christian. Pray that God might refine your life so that you might become more like Christ. Next week, share with the group whatever surprised you about your week

 

1/27/12 Weekly Small Groups GPS Guide

(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)

Tempted: The Seven Deadly Sins

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.

 

MONDAY

James 1:9-18

Some Scripture stories show temptations coming from outside us (e.g. Jesus’ temptation—cf. Matthew 4:1-11). But James (almost certainly Jesus’ half-brother) knew that often our own inner wishes and wants lead us away from God’s path. This is why so many great Christians through the centuries have practiced and taught disciplines (e.g. meditation, journaling, spiritual direction, counseling) that help us to know ourselves clearly and honestly.

 

TUESDAY

Luke 22:31-34, 39-46

Self-preservation (a basic human instinct) led the disciples to deny Jesus, even though he’d warned them that they would scatter and abandon him. They had not yet fully grasped (as later, facing martyrdom, they showed they had) that they were safer with Jesus than away from him, no matter what happened. As we deepen our faith that in God we’re always ultimately safe, stress will be less able to override that trust in our lives.

 

WEDNESDAY

Luke 8:4-8, 11-15

“Everyone who has ears should pay attention,” Jesus said (verse 8). This seemingly bland sentence is actually key. One of Pastor Hamilton’s “5 Rs” is “Recognize the consequences of your action.” In Jesus’ story, each type of “soil” produced different consequences—and we choose, minute by minute, day by day, what type of “soil” we are. Temptation repeatedly tugs us to fall away from God, but paying attention to God’s word keeps us choosing to be “good soil.”

 

THURSDAY

1 Timothy 6:5-11

God calls us to find “great profit” in “holy living, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness.” To value money above these traits skews our values and leads us away from the qualities God says are truly profitable. The Apostle Paul, Timothy’s mentor, guided this young leader as he battled against false teachers and false values in his church.

 

FRIDAY

Galatians 5:24 – 6:4

A key part of Christian life (one we often shrink from) is honestly, caringly helping each other deal with temptation. Paul knew this task is delicate, and urged the Galatians to restore one who is doing wrong “with a spirit of gentleness.” He also knew we can only help as fellow strugglers, writing, “Watch out for yourselves so you won’t be tempted too.” In that spirit, another of Pastor Hamilton’s “5 Rs” is “Reveal your struggle to a trusted friend who will hold you accountable.” It can be crucial to know that others who have earned your trust are with you.

 

SATURDAY

Hebrews 2:14-18

In the end, all any temptation can do, whether from inside our self or outside, is to suggest. It cannot force us to act. Central to Pastor Hamilton’s “5 Rs,” with the same message as this passage from Hebrews, is “Rededicate yourself to God through prayer–stop, in the midst of the temptation, and pray, asking for God’s help and strength.” Jesus faced temptation and won, and is always eager to help us choose well.

 

To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.

 

SUGGESTED PRAYER

Lord Jesus, you are our mentor and guide; teach us to make your values our values. You have sowed the seeds of your word in our lives and we pray that those seeds will grow into a bountiful harvest. Help us avoid temptation and unhealthy cravings. Remind us that, ultimately, you are all we need, above all else we might desire. In your name we pray, Amen.

 

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

Why do you think the erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey, given mixed reviews at best by critics, sold over 65 million copies? Do you have to have read the book to understand this phenomenon, or does knowing human nature explain the book’s popularity?

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

 Read James 1:9-18. According to these verses, temptation never comes from God, but rather from our innermost wants and desires. Do we always recognize temptation when it strikes? How do you resist temptation? Do you feel guilty when you fall to temptation? If you fail, does that ever strengthen your resistance the next time that temptation arises? Pastor Hamilton has said that one way to resist temptation is to remember that you are a child of God, a follower of Jesus Christ. Has remembering your faith and commitment ever helped you? How can spiritual disciplines help you resist temptation?

 Read Luke 22:31-34, 39-46. Have you ever felt that you were strong in your resistance, only to find yourself yielding to temptation? The instinct of self-preservation led Peter to fail, when he was sure he wouldn’t. Although we might not face death as a result of our faith, in what other forms might self-preservation take and cause us to stumble? When we say we are being tested, who or what is testing us? Think of temptations that are particularly difficult for you to overcome. How can anticipating such temptations improve your chances of resisting them?

 Read Luke 8:4-8, 11-15. Have you found that you have been a different kind of “soil” at different times in your life? What kind of soil do you see yourself now? Could it be that, during each day, the kind of “soil” we are changes depending on the circumstances and types of temptation we face? Can simply thinking about God help us to avoid temptation? Farmers prepare the soil before they plant. In what ways can we prepare the soil of our souls? As our faith grows stronger, are we are more often good soil, or do you think we are continually challenged to “do the right thing”? Do the number of challenges increase as our faith grows or are they fewer in number? Does age affect our reaction to temptation?

 Read 1 Timothy 6:5-11. So, is money the “root of all evil”? What’s the difference between money and “the love of money” being the root of all evil? How can the love of (desire for) money skew our values and lead us astray from God’s values? According to these verses, what are some of God’s values? In what ways are God’s values “profitable”? What Bible stories would have led the people of Timothy’s day to believe that godliness would guarantee personal wealth? In our lives of today, what is around to entice us to love money? What steps can you take today to resist the temptation to look to money for happiness, fulfillment, and security?

 Read Galatians 5:24 – 6:4. What do you see as the central message of these verses? If we see that someone else has yielded to a temptation, what are we asked to do? What are we cautioned about? If we are the one who has yielded to temptation, how can we go about accepting direction and accountability from another trustworthy Christian? To what extent have you as a group built enough trust in one another to make this a possibility? According to these verses, what kind of pride is acceptable and what kind is not?

 Read Hebrews 2:14-18. Do we face temptations as tough as those Christ faced? This reading said because Christ faced even more taxing problems than we face, he can help us through temptations. Has anyone ever helped you who had faced some of the same problems? How do you feel knowing that Christ empathizes with your struggles? As a Christian, are you more confident in your ability to face life with Christ at your side, or does that alliance seem unreal to you?

From last week: Did you watch for systemic evil in our society? Did you make a list of what you found? Did you pray for our country and for the world that such evils might be contained and eliminated, and pray also that you might be freed from and not be caught up in any evil that might seem to be “the norm”? Can you share with the group what you found and experienced?

 

 

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

 

From Pastor Hamilton’s sermon of January 27, 2013:

I think the reason the listing of the Seven Deadly Sins stuck with people, so that we’re still talking about it 1,600 years later, is that we look at the list and most of us recognize that we struggle with at least three or four. I’ve struggled with all seven. They are often listed in ascending order of severity (though different authors rank them differently).

1. LUST, 2. GLUTTONY, 3. GREED, 4. SLOTH, 5. WRATH, 6. ENVY, 7. PRIDE

Each of these actually starts with something that is good. But it distorts the good, ultimately by turning the good into a god. I’ve got here a makeshift throne. It represents what is most important in my life—what I will choose to serve, or what I invite to rule over me. Each of the seven deadly sins will eventually lead to the same sin—idolatry….

In our scripture James described how temptation works. James writes, “Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” This imagery is powerful. There is a moment of conception, the idea begins to take hold in our hearts and starts to grow.

So, how do we overcome the deadly sins? Prudentius was a Christian who lived from 348-413 AD. He was, among other things, a poet. He penned the hymn “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” and a well known allegory called Psychomachia, which means “Battle for the Soul.” In it he describes our struggle with sins in battlefield terms and notes that it is virtue that defeats the vices:

1. LUST is defeated by FAITHFULNESS

2. GLUTTONY is defeated by TEMPERANCE

3. GREED is defeated by GENEROSITY

4. SLOTH is defeated by SACRIFICE

5. WRATH is defeated by FORGIVENESS

6. ENVY is defeated by KINDNESS

7. PRIDE is defeated by HUMILITY

I’ve often found this true in my life. Being clear about the purpose of your life, and practicing virtue, builds the strength to defeat temptation. Love and faithfulness become keys to battling lust. When I was a teenager dating girls, I tried to think about showing love to them, and faithfulness to a wife I would one day marry as key to not succumbing to lust (which I felt, but attempted to not act upon). Today, I have a picture of being faithful to my wife until we are parted by death. I pray for this. I have remembered this when, over the last 30 years, there were moments of temptation. Temperance—intentionally abstaining for a time, or choosing moderation, is a weapon to ward off Gluttony. Generosity fights off greed. The practice of giving God the first tenth, and then, as our income grew, giving more than that away, has kept our heads on straight about money and the desire for more. Intentionally doing what requires sacrifice and risk for the sake of others is the antidote to sloth. Forgiveness defeats wrath. Saying good things about those you envy, and celebrating their success, defeats the power of envy. And practicing humility defeats pride.

Some years ago I was teaching the youth at the church, speaking on temptation and sin. I offered the kids 5 R’s for resisting temptation. I’ve since shared this with you and, and two years ago at the Willow Creek Summit with 100,000 Christian leaders:

1. REMEMBER Who You Are – You are a child of God, a follower of Jesus Christ, a leader in the church. You may be someone’s husband or wife, someone’s mother or father. Is the thing you are struggling with consistent with who you are?

2. RECOGNIZE the consequences of your actions. When I’m feeling tempted, I ask myself: will I feel better or worse after doing this? Will I feel more human or less? Will I be proud or ashamed? Will I be more free or will I be enslaved by doing this? Who will be hurt by my actions? If the thing becomes known, what will happen to the church, the people who trusted me?

3. REDEDICATE yourself to God. In prayer I ask for God’s strength, but I also remind myself who is on the throne of my life.

4. REVEAL your struggle to a trusted friend. Part of the power of temptation comes from its secretiveness. When you tell the secret to someone holding you accountable, it loses some of its power. This is why James tells us in 5:16, “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you might be healed.”

5. REMOVE yourself from the situation. When Jesus speaks about sin in the Sermon on the Mount he tells us that if our eye causes us to sin, we’re to pluck it out, or if our hand causes us to sin, we’re to cut it off. He is using hyperbole but he’s seeking to make this same point—remove yourself from the situation.

 

What others have said about temptation

“Every conquering temptation represents a new fund of moral energy. Every trial endured and weathered in the right spirit makes a soul nobler and stronger than it was before.” – William Butler Yeats

“Good habits result from resisting temptation” – Proverbs

“Temptation wrings integrity even as the thumbscrew twists a man’s fingers” – Chinese Proverb

“Temptations, when we meet them at first, are as the lion that roared upon Samson; but if we overcome them, the next time we see them we shall find a nest of honey within them” – John Bunyan

“As the Sandwich-Islander believes that the strength and valor of the enemy he kills passes into himself, so we gain the strength of the temptations we resist” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Saintliness is also a temptation” – Jean Anouilh

“Moralists and philosophers have adjudged those who throw temptation in the way of the erring, equally guilty with those who are thereby led into evil” – Mark Twain

“There are temptations which strong exercise best enables us to resist” – John Lubbock

“I am suffering incessant temptations to uncharitable thoughts; one of those black moods in which nearly all one’s friends seem to

be selfish or even false. And how terrible that there should be even a kind of pleasure in thinking evil.” – C.S. Lewis

“It is not only easier to find fault with another person than to examine one’s own character, it is also tempting.” – Martin Dansky

“No man knows what he will do till the right temptation comes.” – Henry Ward Beecher

“Many a dangerous temptation comes to us in fine gay colours that are but skin-deep.” – Matthew Henry

“Temptation cannot exist without the concurrence of inclination and opportunity.” – E. H. Chapin

“God is better served in resisting a temptation to evil, than in many formal prayers.” – William Penn

 

Final application:

This week, make it your personal mission to recognize and resist temptations that come your way. Begin the week and every day with a prayer that God might give you insight and strength to resist. Look for opportunities that might allow you to, invisibly and behind the scenes, help others to avoid their temptations. Next week, share your experiences with the group.

 

1/20/12 Weekly Small Groups GPS Guide

(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)

Systematic Evil

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.

 

MONDAY

Amos 5:20-24

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., June 6, 1961: “So let us be maladjusted, as maladjusted as the prophet Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day could cry out in words that echo across the centuries, ‘Let justice run down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’…I believe that it is through such maladjustment that we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.”

 

TUESDAY

Micah 6:1-8

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., March 25, 1965: “Let us march on ballot boxes, until we send to our city councils, state legislatures, and the United States Congress men who will not fear to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with their God. Let us march on ballot boxes until all over Alabama God’s children will be able to walk the earth in decency and honor.”

 

WEDNESDAY

Matthew 5:1-12

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., November 6, 1956: “Don’t despair if you are condemned and persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Whenever you take a stand for truth and justice, you are liable to scorn….I still believe that standing up for the truth of God is the greatest thing in the world….The end of life is not to achieve pleasure and avoid pain. The end of life is to do the will of God, come what may.”

 

THURSDAY

Matthew 5:43-48

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., December 24, 1967: “Agape is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return….This is what Jesus meant when he said, ‘Love your enemies.’ And I’m happy that he didn’t say, ‘Like your enemies,’ because there are some people that I find it pretty difficult to like….I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself…every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear.”

 

FRIDAY

Luke 10:25-37

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 3, 1968: “The first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ Then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’ That’s the question before you….The question is not, ‘If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?’ ‘If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?’ That’s the question.”

 

SATURDAY

Psalm 30:1-5

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from his book The Strength to Love: “I read these words: ‘The United States Supreme Court today unanimously ruled bus segregation unconstitutional in Montgomery, Alabama.’ My heart throbbed with an inexpressible joy….The dawn will come….’Weeping may endure for a night,’ says the Psalmist, ‘but joy cometh in the morning.’ This faith adjourns the assemblies of hopelessness and brings new light into the dark chambers of pessimism.”

 

To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.

 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from his book The Strength to Love: “I read these words: ‘The United States Supreme Court today unanimously ruled bus segregation unconstitutional in Montgomery, Alabama.’ My heart throbbed with an inexpressible joy….The dawn will come….’Weeping may endure for a night,’ says the Psalmist, ‘but joy cometh in the morning.’ This faith adjourns the assemblies of hopelessness and brings new light into the dark chambers of pessimism.”

 

To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.

 

SUGGESTED PRAYER

Lord, we thank you that, in our lives and in the life of our country, although difficult times continue to appear, the worst thing is never the last thing. We pray that you help us to put others ahead of ourselves and that we avoid hate, replacing it with your never-ending love. Help us to work to bring about truth, justice and peace in a troubled world. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

 

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

In your opinion, what was the most troubled time in American history? Do any of the problems encountered during the Civil War period endure today? Why have these problems not been completely eliminated by now?

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

 Read Amos 5:20-24. Read aloud the quote from Monday on page 1. The scales of justice can swing both ways. Do you ever have difficultly deciding what is just and what is unjust in a given situation? What can we do in cases like that? Why is justice an essential Christian practice? When in history have Christians been broadly unjust? Did other Christians stand in opposition to that injustice? Did this dissension, although painful, result in a more just world? Dr. King said that we should be “maladjusted” like the prophet Amos. What did he mean?

 Read Micah 6:1-8. Read aloud the quote from Tuesday on page 1. Micah said some in his day were “skilled at doing evil.” Do you find this still to be true today? Where do you see this kind of evil in the world? Why do some people practice evil? Do we, as Christians, need to be reminded to do what’s right, or does it come naturally? What influences us to do what is right? Have you ever taken an unpopular stand for justice? What happened? Were you ever blessed because someone else took a stand for justice? Do you think there were times when someone stood for justice for you, and you never knew about it? Under what circumstances has God himself suffered for people who never realized it?

 Read Matthew 5:1-12. Read aloud the quote from Wednesday on page 1. Is our natural tendency to seek first God’s approval or to seek first the approval of others? How can we overcome our basic nature? What will drive us beyond seeking popularity for ourselves toward true righteousness in the eyes of God? Do you admire the accomplishments of Abraham Lincoln? Was he universally admired as he struggled to have the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution ratified? What does that tell us about righteous acts as viewed in the present vs. as they are viewed by history? If you are old enough, have your views of Dr. King and his work changed with the passage of time? If so, how?

 Read Matthew 5:43-48. Read aloud the quote from Thursday on page 1. C.S. Lewis defined agape as a selfless love, a love committed to the well-being of the other (even our enemies). Do we have to “like” someone to be committed to their well-being? Can we attack someone if we are committed to their well-being? Can we defend ourselves against someone if we are committed to their well-being? Can we defend or even attack if the well-being of others is threatened? These are the difficult questions that men and women who are considering opting out of military service on religious grounds or as “conscientious objectors” face. Even if our answers are “yes” to these last three questions, must we also hate?

 Read Luke 10:25-37. Read aloud the quote from Friday on page 1. The Salvation Army’s highest national civic award is The Others Award. It dates back to when The Salvation Army’s founder used the word “others” to describe the non-profit’s selfless mission. It recognizes the people who first think of others before themselves. Why could the word “others” describe the mission of all Christians? How do we shift our thinking from ‘what will happen to me” to “what will happen to him (or her)”? Although “pulling oneself up by one’s own bootstraps” was a common philosophy of American pioneering heritage, was unselfishness also a part of that culture? Is it still true today?

 Read Psalm 30:1-5. Read aloud the quote from Saturday on page 1. Does everyone’s life contain at least some times of terrible sorrow, weeping, pain and agony? Do these times always seem to come to an end? When they are over, does that pain make the freshness of the new day seem even sweeter? Do you liken these transitions to going from darkness into light? As Christians, do the difficult times seem to end sooner with God’s help? How do we call upon God’s help? Are we being selfish by asking for God’s help? Has going through tough times strengthened or weakened your faith? Why?

From last week: Did you watch for evil trying to do its work in your life and in the lives of others? Without being judgmental, how did these battles seem to turn out? Are there situations that you might be able to tell the group about, without mentioning names?

 

 

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

 

From Dr. Myron McCoy’s sermon of January 20, 2013:

First Colored Baptist church of Birmingham, the original name of 16th Street Baptist Church, began in 1873 during the days of Reconstruction in the heart of the downtown. The “city fathers” forcibly relocated the congregation to make way for what they said was the need to make room for expanding retail stores in the early 1880s….The congregation moved as ordered. They built a building of considerable size before others completed their building plans, which created so much angst in the larger community that the city ordered the church to demolish the building in 1908….Determined to please God and desirous of serving the needs of the city’s growing black population’s need for alternative gathering space, a new structure that seated 1,600 congregants in worship and a large basement auditorium was designed and built in 1911. Systemic evil was nothing new for the congregants of the16th Street Baptist Church, and hosting meetings as a community gathering spot was rich in the DNA of the congregation.

While considering the context that led to the bombing on that fateful Sunday morning, I must also remind you that a Methodist layman named George Wallace was inaugurated Governor of Alabama on January 14th, 1963. He threw logs on the fire of hatred with inflammatory words of defiance some 8 ½ years after the historic Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas: “I draw the line in the dust . . . and I say, segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever!”…

In April, 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference went to Birmingham at the invitation of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR). They led a massive direct action campaign, coinciding with Easter, the second biggest shopping season of the year, to put an end to practiced segregation…. Faced with a court injunction issued against such protests on April 10th movement, community leaders determined that they would disobey the court order which Dr. King characterized as ‘‘an unjust, undemocratic and unconstitutional misuse of the legal process.’’ King was arrested on Good Friday, April 12th, and while in jail he wrote “Letter from Birmingham Jail”….By May 10th, an agreement was reached that called for the removal of ‘‘Whites Only’’ and ‘‘Blacks Only’’ signs in restrooms and drinking fountains, a plan to desegregate lunch counters, an ongoing ‘‘program of upgrading Negro employment,’’ the formation of a biracial committee to monitor the progress of the agreement, and the release of jailed protestors on bond.

Fierce segregationists responded to the agreement with a series of violent attacks that included bombings at the motel room where SCLC leaders met and the home of Dr. King’s brother. President Kennedy responded by ordering federal troops into position near Birmingham and making preparations to federalize the Alabama National Guard. Three months later, America’s racial attitudes and feelings were stirred on August 28th with King’s “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington.

It is in this context of systemic evil with a society going bad that Ku Klux Klan members bombed Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing the four young girls. While giving the eulogy for three of the four young girls, Dr. King said ‘‘the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity’’ have something to say to:

• Ministers of the gospel who remain silent behind the security of stained-glass windows

• Politicians who feed their constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the meat of racism

• Governments that compromise with undemocratic practices and blatant hypocrisy

• Anyone who passively accepts evil systems and stands on the sidelines in the midst of a mighty struggle for justice

As I think about the unhealthy context that allowed so many to be swallowed up in a web of ugliness, I am reminded of the psychological phenomenon known as “groupthink.” Some of the negative characteristics of groupthink (first described by social psychologist Irving Janis) can occur as groups set themselves above the law in almost mob like fashion while eliciting, expecting, and encouraging conformity of opinion.

A troubling modern example would be the report compiled this last summer by former FBI director Louis Freeh detailing the cover-up of child-sexual abuse at Penn State. How could so many respected, upstanding persons fail so miserably in defending young children, while going overboard to protect their own images and a football program? Groupthink sacrificed vulnerable children and protected Mr. Sandusky….The Freeh report also reminded us…to practice resistance to evil by speaking out against abuses of power, as did Dr. Vicky Triponey, the former Penn State vice president of student affairs, who ran up against “the Penn State way” and was fired when she dared try to discipline football players for various infractions from bar fights to sexual assault….

And then there is Jesus, whose life showed the highest standard of integrity and peace. He was, as Gandhi said, “the most active nonviolent resister known to history.” Jesus’ life and teachings help us to resist all that might be wrong. He said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who harass you.” He taught us to pray saying, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Jesus proclaimed a vision of God’s realm, and began a campaign into Jerusalem to confront the empire’s violence. Even under arrest, torture and execution, Jesus practiced resistance, loving and forgiving everyone while insisting on God’s truth.
Appearing before Pilate he said: “If my kingdom were of this world, my attendants would use violence and fight to protect me; but it is not of this world, so they do not use violence.”

Even though the systemic evil of Jesus’ crucifixion was legal in the government’s eyes, the resurrection was totally illegal. Yes, the soldiers were sent to guard the tomb, and put the imperial seal on the tomb as if to say: “We killed you, stay dead!” But, O how grateful we are Jesus practiced some more resistance and in essence said, “No, I am alive!”

 

Systemic evil

These days, the term “systemic evil” is heard quite often. It refers to moral evil committed by an organization or a social institution or system. Traditionally, moral evil has been regarded mainly as something committed by an individual person, but systemic evil is a social sin coming from a system collectively. An organization or a social institution or system usually has its own culture, and its members tend to be, psychologically, very easily influenced by it. If the culture is dominated by any unhealthy ideologies or thoughts, such as totalitarianism, authoritarianism, institutionalism, mammonism, racism, and sexism, then the organization or social institution as a whole is found to be collectively committing systemic evil, and its members are consciously or unconsciously participating in the evil. Imperialism, Communism, Nazism, sociopathic industrial corporations, inflexible church institutions, and the Ku Klux Klan are some of its examples. This evil was already pointed out by Walter Rauschenbusch early in the twentieth century, who said that it exerts the “super-personal forces of evil”….It is more and more understood that sin is not only personal, but also social and collective. Source: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Evil

 

Final application:

This week, watch for systemic evil within our society. Make a list of what you find. Pray for our country and for the world that such evils might be contained and eliminated. Pray also that you might be freed from and not be caught up in any evil that might seem that it is “the norm”. Next week, share with the group what you discovered

 

1/13/12 Weekly Small Groups GPS Guide

(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)

Making Sense of the Devil

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.

 

MONDAY

Zechariah 3:1-9

The Old Testament said very little about a cosmic rebel against God called “Satan.” A few books (e.g. Job 1:6-12) mentioned “The Adversary” (Hebrew ha satan—a title, not a name). They showed him as an accuser, a prosecutor in God’s celestial council (see Psalm 82:1-4, Psalm 89:6-7, Exodus 15:11). In Zechariah’s vision, God rejected the Adversary’s charges against the high priest, and gave Joshua clean clothes, a sign of divine cleansing and grace.

TUESDAY

Matthew 4:1-11

By Jesus’ day, Israel saw “Satan” (the Hebrew word now used as a name) as the devil, God’s great enemy. The gospel writers told of a defining test between Jesus and Satan. It focused on whether Jesus would use his power for his own benefit, or carry out his mission in humility and service, living out God’s counter-cultural principles. The confrontation was crucial, but it wasn’t close. Jesus won, decisively, using God’s word as his guide.

WEDNESDAY

Luke 10:17-24

Luke said Jesus sent out 72 disciples to share the good news of God’s kingdom and heal (Luke 10:1-16). As they returned, Luke described a side of Jesus we might overlook. The disciples reported God’s power to defeat evil, and Luke said Jesus “overflowed with joy from the Holy Spirit.” Unlike medieval artists or some filmmakers, Jesus never saw the devil as fearsome or overpowering. He understood evil’s power and danger, but was confident that God’s power is much greater than Satan’s.

THURSDAY

1 John 3:4-10

John’s letter spoke to believers facing the false teaching that some “enlightened” Christians were “above” ways of thinking and behaving the “unenlightened” might need. John said the real division was between those who obeyed God and those who didn’t. He could not have meant the sharp line he drew to say that any slip or sin means you’re not God’s child (cf. 1 John 1:5-10, Romans 7:14-25). He used Greek verb tenses pointing to a person’s overall life direction, not each individual act.

FRIDAY

1 Peter 5:6-11

Peter described the devil as a spiritual danger to the unwary. (He may have meant his image of a “roaring lion” to connect the lions some Christians faced in a Roman arena to Satan.) But Peter was also confident that it was possible to “defang” that lion. God, he wrote, will empower us to resist the devil by “standing firm in the faith” (v. 9).

SATURDAY

Ephesians 6:10-18

Ephesians said God gives us the “armor” to defeat evil powers, to push back the darkness. The darkness is real, and it is serious—it ultimately involves the entire cosmos, or as we might say, the very nature of reality. The weapons God’s children receive are spiritual, not physical. The passage said truth, justice, peace, faith, salvation, the “sword” of God’s word and praying “all the time” are keys to success in the battle against evil.

To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.

 

SUGGESTED PRAYER

 

O God, we willingly put on your armor to push back the darkness and to spread your light throughout our world. We accept your offer of freedom and hope as we resist the evil around us. We want our lives to be characterized by righteousness, not sin. When we stumble, we seek your forgiveness and strength. Help us to resist temptation (including the temptation to judge the lives and struggles of others). In the name of Jesus, Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

 

Do you believe “the devil” is a symbol or metaphor for the evil in each of us, or you believe in a literal devil who commands an army of demons? Why? Is it important which of those we believe? How do TV and movies seem to like to portray the devil?

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

 Read Zechariah 3:1-9. This Joshua was the first high priest after Israel returned from exile in Babylon. “The Adversary” (Heb. ha satan, or “the satan—accuser”) said Joshua wasn’t good enough to be high priest. God rebuked, not the high priest, but the accuser. What does this say about being judgmental or having judgmental attitudes? Why do we tend to be judgmental? How did God react to Joshua? If we accept God’s forgiveness, how can we hold to the direction that God gave to Joshua (and to us)? Which is easier, to emulate God or the Satan of this story? Why?

 Read Matthew 4:1-11. By this time in Hebrew history, Satan is seen as the devil and as God’s enemy. What was the devil tempting Jesus to do? If Jesus had invoked his Godly powers, what effect would this have had? What was the significance of Jesus avoiding temptation? How does Christ’s decision compare to that of Adam and Eve? In what ways do we experience temptation? How effective are we in avoiding temptation? If, when we fail, we allow shame to envelop us, can that block God’s power in us? Can facing our inner struggles actually strengthen us?

 Read Luke 10:17-24. Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning.” Do you believe Jesus referred to a long-ago event, to what happened during the mission of the seventy-two, or both? What does this say about Satan’s real power? Why is this valuable for us to understand? Jesus then told the seventy-two, “I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy.” Was this power given just to them? As faithful followers of Jesus Christ, do we have similar power today? How do we use this power? Jesus said, “Nothing will harm you.” What does this mean, and does this apply to us as well? If God dwells within us, how much power over Satan’s evil ways do we really have? How do we make this power go to work in us and for us? How do we go about allowing God to have authority over us?

 Read 1 John 3:4-10. John was not saying Christians do not sin. John is speaking here about whether righteousness or sin dominates a person’s life. No one lives a life of total sin or perfect righteousness. Do you think people tend to “become what they do”? Are you comfortable that righteousness dominates your life? Do you still need forgiveness for those times in which you make the wrong decisions? Who doesn’t? Can you see how, with Christ in you, you are actually transformed for the better as compared to who you might be without God’s strength and power?

 Read 1 Peter 5:6-11. What does it mean to “humble yourselves under God’s power”? Why is this important? Peter admonished us to remember our fellow believers. Can this help us with our struggles against evil influences? Are we meant to face our struggles alone? Should we be terrified of the “raging lion”? Peter said for us to “resist him” (the devil). Are we alone when we offer that resistance? Who is there to give us strength? Is this to say that we should in any way tease or tempt the devil? If we found ourselves facing a real lion, would we tease or tempt him?

 Read Ephesians 6:10-18. Have someone read, out loud, the comments under “Saturday” on page 1. Most of the believers in Ephesus came to the Lord from a background in magic, astrology, witchcraft, goddess worship, and various mystery cults. Can you see why Paul emphasized the armor of God as these people faced their world? What forces in today’s world have made it hardest for you to make, or hold fast to, your commitment to God? Which parts of the armor of God have been most important to you in pushing back the darkness in your own life, and in the lives of others? Do you feel greater confidence because Paul used the image of God’s armor?

From last week: Did you watch for private, difficult choices that came up for you which might involve good vs. evil? Did you seek God’s strength and advice? Did you make notes for your eyes only that depicted the situation, the choices you made and how you made them? What did you learn from this exercise?

 

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon of January 13, 2013:

Over the years, I’ve heard from perhaps ten people who had actually had physical experiences with demons—they saw, heard and sometimes smelled them. Are these hallucinations or delusions, or did they really happen? My thinking is that it is possible to be a faithful Christian and see the devil as metaphorical way of talking about the temptations and evil and even the lies that deflate and defeat us. But I’m inclined to say, based upon scripture and the experiences of others, that there is a devil and demons who tempt, tests and seek to lure us from the path.

The reality for me is that either way, my experience of temptation and evil and my response to it is the same.

We’ve defined the idea that we’re meant to walk in a path that represents God’s will. The devil, however you define him, seeks to obstruct us from that path and lure us away. How does he do that and how much power does he have?

Back when I was a kid there was a television program on in the early 1970’s, called the Flip Wilson show. Wilson was a comedian who played a number of characters on his show. He used to dress as a woman and, when he did, he called himself Geraldine. Geraldine was always claiming, “The devil made me do it.” But the fact that this was a humorous skit pointed to a fact even nominally religious people understand: the devil DOESN’T make us do anything. That is above his pay grade. He is not given that power. He has the power of suggestion. We have the power of decision.

In our passage of scripture from Ephesians, Paul speaks of standing “against the wiles of the devil.” Ever wonder what a wile is? I had to look it up this week—it’s “a trick—a deceit, a cunning strategy intended to ensnare.”

How does he trick us, or deceive us? He knows our weaknesses, understands the pain in our past, he keeps track of all the old tapes that play from our childhood, and he understands how to make toxic things look appealing.

The reason why it is important to know the path God wants us to take, and the truth of the Christian good news is that it stands directly counter to what the devil wants us to do—what our shadow, our dark side, the devil in each of us wants to do….

The devil’s path is focused on the self, on self-indulgence, on over-indulgence, or self-pity, on self-destruction, or on self-loathing. He lies to us about what will make us happy, and seeks to convince us to do what will make us slaves.

He can’t make us do these things. He can only suggest and whisper, and we decide to listen and to give in. And over a long period of time, if we consistently listen to him, that path destroys us….

So many of you wrote on my Facebook page of the things you struggle with: food, alcohol, sex, pornography, hurts from the past, the old tapes that play from an abusive childhood that lead you to self-loathing and self-destructive behavior. And it is here that I find it helpful to name the devil. To say, “Devil, I’m not listening to this anymore!” To rebuke him in the name of Jesus Christ, “In the name of Jesus Christ, to whom I belong, leave me alone!”

A broad view – what or who is the devil?

The Devil (from Greek: διάβολος or diábolos = slanderer or accuser) is believed in many religions, myths and cultures to be a supernatural entity that is the personification of evil and the enemy of God and humankind. The nature of the role varies greatly, ranging from being an effective opposite force to the creator god, locked in an eons long struggle for human souls.

While mainstream Judaism contains no overt concept of a devil, Christianity and Islam have variously regarded the Devil as a rebellious fallen angel or demon that tempts humans to sin, if not commit evil deeds himself. In these religions—particularly during periods of division or external threat—the Devil has assumed more of a dualistic status commonly associated with heretics, infidels, and other unbelievers. But most Christians do not see evil as eternal, but as having a beginning and an end.

In mainstream Christianity, God and the Devil are usually portrayed as fighting over the souls of humans, with the Devil seeking to lure people away from God and into Hell. The Devil commands a force of evil spirits, commonly known as demons. The Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament) describes the Adversary (ha-satan) as an angel who instigates tests upon humankind. Many other religions have a trickster or tempter figure that is similar to the Devil.

To many Christians the Devil is known as Satan and sometimes as Lucifer (although it has been noted that the reference in Isaiah 14:12 to Lucifer, or the Son of the Morning, is a reference to the Babylonian king). Some modern Christians believe the Devil was an angel who, along with one-third of the angelic host (the demons) rebelled against God and was consequently condemned to the Lake of Fire. He is described as hating all humanity, or more accurately creation, opposing God, spreading lies and wreaking havoc on the souls of mankind. Other Christians consider the devil in the Bible to refer figuratively to human sin and temptation and to any human system in opposition to God symbolizes humans’ own lower nature or sinfulness. As such, the Devil can be seen as an allegory that represents a crisis of faith, individualism, free will, wisdom and enlightenment.

People often put the concept of the Devil to use in social and political conflicts, claiming that their opponents are influenced by the Devil or even willingly supporting the Devil. In addition, the Devil has also been used to explain why others hold beliefs that are considered to be false and ungodly.

Satan is often identified as the serpent who convinced Eve to eat the forbidden fruit; thus, Satan has often been depicted as a serpent. Though this identification is not present in the Adam and Eve narrative, this view goes back at least as far as the time of the writing of the book of Revelation, which specifically identifies Satan as being the serpent (Rev. 20:2).

In the Bible, the devil is identified with “The dragon” and “the old serpent” in Revelation 12:9, 20:2. Satan has also been identified with “the prince of this world” in the John 12:31, 14:30; “the prince of the power of the air,” and “the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” in Ephesians 2:2; and “the god of this world” in 2 Corinthians 4:4. He is also identified as the tempter in the Gospels.

Beelzebub is originally the name of a Philistine god (more specifically a certain type of Baal, from Ba‘al Zebûb, lit. “Lord of Flies”) but is also used in the New Testament as a synonym for Satan.

 

Final application:

This week, watch for evil trying to do its work in your life and in the lives of others. Without being judgmental, how did these battles seem to turn out? Look for situations that you might be able to tell the group about next week, without mentioning names.