(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)
Go Tell It on the Mountain
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.
Why do people need Christ? The apostle Paul laid out a central reason to the Christians in Rome: people need Christ because he lived, died and rose again to reconcile us to God. Being reconciled to God does not just mean “fire insurance.” It opens us to a quality of life in which we see even problems differently, knowing that “trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (verses 3-4).
John 1:9-18, 3:16-17
People need Christ’s salvation and reconciliation for the present as well as the future. John wrote that in Christ we can find our true identity. Christ, who was God, “authorized us” to become God’s children. As we claim that identity, we realize that God is on our side, and find that as God’s children we can live a life filled with grace and truth.
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth that they needed the church. One reason for that was that they could best use their gifts to carry out Christ’s mission when they did it together (an idea he expanded in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27). God knew this basic truth all along: ten people can be more than ten times more effective working together than if they all work alone!
“His body, the church, is the fullness of Christ”—strong words! Paul was sure that people need Christ’s church—not buildings or policies, but deeply committed people serving together. The church is an environment where God’s people can experience God’s power more fully—the same awesome cosmic power that was at work when Christ arose from the dead (verse 20).
Acts 2:42-47, Hebrews 10:22-25
The very first Christians in Jerusalem formed a congregation that met regularly, shared life, and supported one another. As the gospel spread, Christians in other places also formed congregations, often more than one in each city. They knew they were part of something bigger than just their congregation, but they belonged, grew and served together in their specific churches.
To whom does our church belong? The answer is straightforward: our church (and every church) belongs to Jesus Christ, its divine head! He is the one we can trust to lead us to God’s goal of spiritual maturity, “measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ.” As we serve and grow together, we must always be listening to his voice. (Click here goo.gl/9vCW3 for a useful list of spiritual practices that have helped Christians through the centuries listen to Christ’s voice.)
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Lord Jesus, we open ourselves to you as the head of the church, and of our individual lives. We pray that we might be the kind of encouragers and inviters you want us to be. Pour out your great power and goodness on each one of us, so that we can spread that good news to the world. Thank you for walking through our lives with us, and for brightening our path with your light. Amen.
Looking back at Thanksgiving, what do you remember most—the food, family or friends getting together, shopping, or something else? For how long does the spirit of gratitude stay with you? Do you think it affects most people more, less or the same as you?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read Romans 5:1-11. Paul said Christ’s life, death and resurrection brought reconciliation with God, and that through this we can have peace, hope and no more guilt. Why don’t some Christians feel forgiven—what robs them of inner freedom and leaves them feeling unsettled, hopeless and ashamed before God? What can turn this around for them? Are you comfortable with the absolute truth that Christ forgives and saves you? If not, how could you more fully internalize this truth in your spiritual life? How does any uncertainty you feel affect your desire to share your experience with others?
Read John 1:9-18, 3:16-17. How do we become God’s children? Why should we be glad to be part of God’s family? How should being God’s children change the way we live our lives? What causes some people to rebel against being God’s children? What happens when we rebel? What happens when we live as God intends? Which life is most fulfilling? What tends to pull us closer to God and causes us to begin living a life more like God intends for us? Are we then living a life God dictates, or a life that God wants for us for our own sake? Why is it important that we understand this distinction?
Read 1 Corinthians 1:1-9. Paul assures us that, through Jesus Christ, we have been enriched in every way. In what ways have you felt enriched in your life? Do you think you would feel fewer of these blessings if you were not a follower of Christ? In what ways can these gifts be used to carry out Christ’s mission? If we pool these gifts and work together, how much more effective can we be? Do we continue to grow, or is the injection of these gifts a one-time event? Thanksgiving is over—do you still feel grateful, and do you continue to express thanks?
Read Ephesians 1:15-23. Do you believe in a supernatural God with supernatural powers? Read it again: “that you may know… his incomparably great power for us…That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead.” Do you believe this vast power is truly available to you? How does God intend us to use this power? Paul prayed that we might be filled with the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation.” What do these words mean to you?
Read Acts 2:42-47, Hebrews 10:22-25. Why do we believe that the fellowship of believers, the church, is vital to the growth of individual faith? In what ways have you found that to be true? Does the fellowship of believers bring people (who are often otherwise unlike) together in ways that ordinary socializing might not? Hebrews 11:25 says we should encourage one another. What does this mean? How can we make encouraging others more of a habit in our own lives?
Read Ephesians 4:11-16. What is “the body of Christ”? Who does the body of Christ belong to? Who controls the body and keeps it coordinated? How can each of us assure that we are “under control”? Have you ever started to act or react in your usual way, only to “catch yourself” and act in a way more in line with God’s intentions? How do you think that state of “catching yourself” really happened?
From last week: Did you carry paper and a pen with you, keeping an abbreviated journal of everything you noticed that you were grateful for? Did you thank as many people as you could who had played a part in your gratitude? Did you benefit by doing this?
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, November 25, 2012:
I’d like to mention a lesson I think we could learn from the shepherds. They were known then, as they are today, for their hospitality. The Bedouin woman we met in Israel did not know us. We did not speak her language, though our guide did. She lived in a tent with a cardboard floor, yet she invited us in to have tea and offered us a taste of her goat cheese.
Sometimes the more successful we become the less likely we are to show this kind of radical hospitality. Sometimes we forget to practice it even towards one another. I think most of us here want this church to be a place where we show radical hospitality—it’s just that we sometimes forget. It takes an intentional decision to show this hospitality.
Not long ago I received an e-mail from a friend of mine who had started coming to our church. He volunteered in one of our ministries but, when he sat down, he was told, “That’s so and so’s chair. You can’t sit there.” Ohhh…that’s not what hospitality looks like! I don’t know who said that, but I’m guessing they just weren’t thinking, and didn’t realize that here’s a guy who needs a team to belong to. We’d just forgotten.
After a worship service a couple of weeks ago, a man told me, “I’ve been coming here for five years, but I feel like there must be something wrong with me. Other than the brief greeting at the beginning of worship, I feel like no one talks to me. I have gone to programs, and no one notices or goes out of their way to draw me in.” Here’s a man who’s a bit of an introvert. He shows up for things, but he needs a shepherd who says, “Come have tea with me.” He’s volunteered for ministries but no one called him back.
Here’s the thing—if you are a visitor, you can consider yourself a customer. But once you join the church, you are no longer a customer—you become an unpaid staff member. We call our pastors “pastors,” not ministers, because we’re all ministers.
I want you to look at the people around you and visualize that they are people who need someone to connect with them. You are here to minister to, welcome and care for them. Last night after worship I saw a man whose wife died last week. He’s about my age, and this was the first weekend to worship without her. How he needed people to take an interest in him! Several months ago one of our members stepped out of the worship service to go to the restroom. There she found a woman sobbing. She stopped and realized that she would not be going back into worship—this was where she was needed.
This is our job—to help people get connected, find hospitality and community. I mention this because in December many more new people attend here. So people show up, and we welcome each other for a few moments at the beginning of worship, but hospitality is more than saying “Hello!” It is actually welcoming the stranger and seeking to care for them….
Each of the last four or five years our congregation has committed to give away the entire Christmas Eve offering for projects benefitting children living in poverty. We invite you to consider giving an amount to that offering equal to what you will spend on your own family. If you spend $1,000, consider giving a similar amount. One man I heard of took his entire family on a cruise for Christmas, and gave the same amount the cruise cost to benefit children in poverty.
This year at Resurrection half of the offering will go to our work in Madisi, Malawi, including a partnership with a project that works with 1,000 orphans most of whose parents died of AIDS. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, and these are the poorest of the poor, and we’ll be helping them and other projects in Malawi.
The other half of the offering stays here in Kansas City. It will support rebuilding the playground at Troost Elementary School, our reading programs at six low-income elementary schools we partner with, and other programs surrounding these schools.
As you are preparing your shopping lists, what would happen if you actually chose to spend an equal amount blessing children in poverty as you will buying gifts for people who don’t need anything? You will have taught your family something important, you will have borne witness to your faith, and you will have become a modern day messenger of Christ….
Write this down: Here’s what Christmas—the birth of Jesus—means to me… I’d like you to answer that in one paragraph. Your answer to this is your testimony or witness this month.
Then I want to invite you to do these three things:
What if you shared your answer on Facebook? You could write, “My pastor challenged me to tell what the birth of Jesus means to me in one paragraph or less. Here’s what I came up with…”
For those of you who are old school, and send out Christmas letters: I read your Christmas letters, and I love the fact that some of you are very intentional about talking about your faith. What if you include two or three sentences talking about what your faith has meant to you, or what Christ’s birth means to you?
Finally, what if each of us invited one person to join us for Advent worship, Christmas Eve or both in the next four weeks?
In doing this you play the part of the shepherds who saw the Christ child and told all that they met what they had seen and heard and they returned to their homes rejoicing and praising God.
What is “the Church”?
What is the church? Is the church a building, the place where believers gather to worship? Or is the church the people—the believers who follow Christ? How we understand “the church” is quite important in determining how we live out our faith.
The Christian idea of “the church” is a New Testament concept. Jesus was the first to mention the church: “Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’” (Matthew 16:16-18, ESV)
Some Christian denominations, such as the Catholic Church, interpret this verse to mean that Peter is the rock upon which the church was founded, and for this reason, Peter is considered the first Pope. However, many Protestants and other Christian denominations understand this verse differently. Though many believe Jesus noted the meaning of Peter’s name here as “rock,” there was no supremacy given to him by Christ. Rather, Jesus was referring to Peter’s declaration: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This confession of faith is the rock upon which the church is built, and just like Peter, everyone who confesses Jesus Christ as Lord is a part of the church.
The word “church” as rendered in the New Testament comes from the Greek term ekklesia which is formed from two Greek words meaning “an assembly” and “to call out” or “called out ones.” In summary, the New Testament church is a body of believers who have been called out from the world by God to live as his people under the authority of Jesus Christ.
The local church is defined as a local assembly of believers or a congregation that meets together physically for worship, fellowship, teaching, prayer and encouragement in the faith. At the same time, all believers are members of the universal church. The universal church is made up of every single person who has exercised faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, including members of every local church body throughout the earth.
The founder of the “home church” movement in England, Canon Ernest Southcott, may have said it best: “The holiest moment of the church service is the moment when God’s people—strengthened by preaching and sacrament—go out of the church door into the world to be the church. We don’t go to church; we are the church.”
The church, therefore, is not a place. It’s not the building, it’s not the location, and it’s not the denomination. We—God’s people who are in Christ Jesus—are the church. The church, both in the universal and local sense, is important because it is one of the main vehicles through which God carries out God’s purposes on earth. The church is the body of Christ—his heart, his mouth, his hands and feet—reaching out to the world.
Becoming or continuing to be an “encourager” can be a challenge. This week, focus on your local church and do your level best to encourage those you interact with. Find ways to listen effectively and hear what they are saying about areas of their lives in which encouragement is particularly needed. Be careful not to intrude where you’re not wanted, but offer solace, helpful ideas, pats on the back, additional points of view or a shoulder to cry on. Next week, share with the group how this went.