Monthly Archives: June 2013

6.23.13 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 Battle Between Good and 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

Joshua 2:1-20, 6:22-25, Matthew 1:5

As the Israelite people moved into Canaan, Joshua sent two spies to study the strategic city of Jericho. Rahab, a Canaanite woman, sheltered and protected the men, even though they were “enemies” of her people. In return, she asked them to spare her and her family when the city fell, and they did. But there was more—her action led to her becoming one of Jesus’ ancestors, wrote the gospel writer Matthew.

 

TUESDAY

Jonah 1:1-3, 3:1-10, 4:1-3, 10-11

Jonah ran the other way when God called. He ran, not due to fear, but because God was sending him to preach in Nineveh, a city Jonah hated. The story describes some pretty dramatic measures to get Jonah to carry out God’s call, including three days in the belly of a “great fish” (Jonah 1:17). Jonah wasn’t much of a hero, but God’s mercy worked heroically even through that very reluctant prophet to reach the people of Nineveh.

 

WEDNESDAY

Matthew 9:9-12, Luke 19:1-10

Jesus’ message and ministry often surprised people, and seemed illogical, unpredictable, even undesirable to some. Today we read that he called Zacchaeus and Matthew, who were tax collectors. The “tax collectors” in Jesus’ day were Jews who got rich helping the Roman occupiers. Most Israelites hated them as traitors and cheats. Yet Jesus bravely welcomed them into his kingdom, and even invited them into his mission.

 

THURSDAY

John 3:1-18, Luke 7:36-50

The religious group called the Pharisees (from a Hebrew word meaning “set apart”) doggedly opposed Jesus’ ministry. At times, Jesus expressed anger at their hard-hearted brand of “righteousness” (cf. Mark 3:5). He never wrote them all off as “enemies” or “hopeless,” though. Whenever he found a Pharisee with any willingness to listen to him, he reached out in love.

 

FRIDAY

Luke 10:25-37, 17:11-19

Hatred and suspicion between the Israelites and the neighboring people of Samaria had roots that reached back over 500 years, to Israel’s return from exile in Babylon (cf. Ezra 4:1-5). Jesus’ fellow Jews saw Samaritans the way many Israelis today see Palestinians—and vice versa. In contrast, Jesus saw Samaritans as just people who needed his love as much as everyone else, and he treated them accordingly.

 

SATURDAY

Matthew 15:21-28, Ephesians 2:11-14

The names “Tyre” and “Sidon” may not register with us at first. But when we study a map of ancient Israel, we realize that Jesus had gone well outside the boundaries of Israel, into modern Lebanon, when he met the Canaanite woman and healed her child. His example in episodes like that, as well as his commission to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), sent his followers on a mission to continue his work of tearing down all the ethnic and other walls by which we humans divide ourselves from one another.

 

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 and you alone are our peace. You are the power of right in the world and the source of goodness, courage and love. You are God, you are the Savior and you are our hero. We praise your holy name. Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

What’s the most unexpected significant event that’s occurred in your life? What made this event so unexpected? Was it desirable or undesirable? How likely is it that something else equally or more unexpected will happen in your future?

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

 Read Joshua 2:1-20, 6:22-25, Matthew 1:5. Rahab was a “mere” prostitute, yet she became one of Jesus’ ancestors. As we interact with people in our daily lives, as we glance at people through our car windows and as we pass people without giving them a second thought, do we have any idea who might become very significant to God’s plans for the world? Does this tell us anything about how we should treat others? What do we have to do to be one of God’s heroes?

 Read Jonah 1:1-3, 3:1-10, 4:1-3, 10-11. Why didn’t Jonah want to go to Nineveh? Do you consider Jonah a hero? What does the story tell us about God? What does it tell us about ourselves? Why didn’t God destroy Jonah when he refused to obey? Why doesn’t God destroy us when we don’t obey? Should we be proud of ourselves when we do obey God? From where do we get our strength, courage and commitment to obey God? Does God “owe” us anything when we do what is right? What can we expect from God when we obey?

 Read Matthew 9:9-12, Luke 19:1-10. Why was Christ’s association with tax collectors so shocking to people? Did this association damage his mission on earth? Jesus surprised people with many aspects of his ministry. Has God ever surprised you with things he’s done in your life? Has your spiritual life seemed logical to you or others? Were there times in your life when life seemed to sidetrack you? Did God do anything to pull you back on the right track? Do you relate to the words from “Amazing Grace” that say, “I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see”? Were the tax collectors doomed and damned, or merely lost?

 Read John 3:1-18, Luke 7:36-50. The Pharisees were a group of senior Hebrew religious leaders who doggedly opposed Christ and his teachings. Do you find yourself liking Nicodemus even though he was a Pharisee? Why? Did Christ seem to see the Pharisees as enemies? Does Jesus’ explanation of being born again make sense to you? Did Nicodemus finally get it? How do you know? What about the Pharisee in Luke’s story…do you think he “got it”? Did Jesus waste his time in preaching to that Pharisee? What does that tell us about our own ministry?

 Read Luke 10:25-37, 17:11-19. What was significant about the fact that it was a Samaritan and not a Jew who stopped and helped the man who was hurt? Might this be likened to the relationship between Jews and Palestinians today? Does God classify people based on their ethnicity or “religion”? How does he see people? Can God’s love for all people, in some way, help us to overcome our own prejudices? In the second story, only one in ten men who were helped thanked God for the huge blessing they had received. How would you say that compares to people today? Do most people even recognize the blessings they have received from God? Do any of us thank him enough?

 Read Matthew 15:21-28, Ephesians 2:11-14. Does Christ’s initial attitude toward the Canaanite woman surprise you, especially considering the previous story about the Samaritans? Was any purpose served by Christ appearing to be reluctant to help this woman? Might that purpose have less to do with the woman, and more to do with Jesus’ disciples and those of us who read the story today? What, to you, is the central message of the verses from Ephesians?

From last week: Did you consider Paul’s statement, “…when I am weak, then I am strong.”? Did you reflect upon and acknowledge your weaknesses, and open yourself to the power of God in your daily life? Did you try to do all things in Christ’s name? Please share with the group any accomplishments or situations that you believe came about from God’s mighty power.

 

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

From Pastor Scott Chrostek’s sermon, June 23, 2013:

Superheroes all have enemies and therefore great obstacles to overcome, and that’s what the comic book genre or the superhero genre is all about. What makes people super is their ability to overcome obstacles….

In John 10, Jesus explains that “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

The enemy, regardless of shape or appearance is opposed to God. It is as death is to life, as darkness is to light, as empty is to full, it is as absence is to presence. In other words if God is everything…then the Devil is nothing. The enemy, evil, is the absence of God or anything good….

Let me assure you, that just because we might name evil or define evil as nothing, or the absence of good, that doesn’t mean it’s in any way nebulous, vague or not to be worried about. In fact, this definition of evil should scare you a bit. Absence hurts. It can bring about pain, destruction and unwanted damage.

I’ve shared this several times with the RezDowntowners. One thing they’ve learned about me is that one of my responsibilities in my marriage is that I take care of the cars. One of my most frequent jobs then is keeping the wheels in alignment. Why do I need to do these things so often? Because of things like potholes. Wendy never sees them and therefore never avoids them and so I’m regularly replacing tires or fixing the alignment on our cars…but in reality potholes are nothing, they are areas deprived of concrete. They are holes, empty, vacuous, menacing spots of nothing, of absence and yet they become dangerous and can do real damage when driving, biking or even walking….

Maybe it’s easier to think of times, like moments of triumph or moments of tragedy, when all you wanted to do was share the news or vent or cry on somebody’s shoulders, only there weren’t any shoulders to be found, or there wasn’t anybody available. In the midst of those moments, how do you feel when the people you care about most don’t show up, don’t call, don’t write, but instead come up invisible with nothing to mention? Absence or deprivation can be painful….

When you hold the light of Christ up against the darkness, you quickly realize that darkness really is powerless. It’s nothing compared to the light. And this is exactly what we experience on candlelight Christmas Eve when the room is dark as one solitary candle enters in. We experience the power of the light as the darkness immediately hides. There is power in the light, and that power is only magnified as it spreads from person to person, and this is what God calls us and reminds us to do as children, born of the light. We are to go and let our lights so shine before others that by our good works, people might come to know and give glory to God, and go/do likewise….

And yet, things still hurt…the world still suffers…we aren’t always able to be as joyful as we might be on Christmas or on Easter…Even though God in the life, death and resurrection of his only son our Lord, tramples over sin and death, and triumphs o’er the grave…the world we live in doesn’t always reflect this, neither do our own lives. Sometimes it seems dark, it seems hopeless, it seems like evil is winning.…so I guess the question is why?

All I can think is that we forget the story. We forget who God is. We forget about the mighty acts of Jesus Christ his only son our Lord. The battle between Good and Evil persists because we are forgetful people….

The good news in the midst of all of these kinds of moments, is that Jesus never forgets us. He remembers always and everywhere. Even in those places or situations where darkness enclosed upon him but especially when it closes in upon us, Jesus remembers. In the midst of darkness, Jesus remembers to pray, he remembers the assurance of scripture, he remembers to cry out those powerful words of forgiveness and mercy even as he is gasping for his last breath…and what’s more amazing is that he does so for us, as his children, as his good creation, as though we were his very own so that we might go and do likewise.

As Jesus faces the darkness, he offers us his love, he lays down his life for us, that we might be filled with the light and love of Jesus Christ, that we might be empowered to go and do likewise, to accomplish abundantly far more than anything we could ever ask or imagine, but we have to remember, we must always remember we aren’t alone.

My friends, as we consider the making of a superhero, we need to spend time remembering who we are and more importantly who God is. We need to remember like Paul that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)

Even though we are walking through valleys of the shadow of death, we must remember that Christ is with us, comforting us, leading us, preparing a table before us in the presence of our enemies. It’s only when we remember the power and presence of God that we can begin to invite the life and light into the world around us.

We must remember.

God’s power through his…Amazing Grace

“Amazing Grace” is a Christian hymn with words written by the English poet and clergyman John Newton (1725–1807), published in 1779. With the message that forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of sins committed and that the soul can be delivered from despair through the mercy of God, “Amazing Grace” is one of the most recognizable songs in the English-speaking world.

Newton wrote the words from personal experience. He grew up without any particular religious conviction, but his life’s path was formed by a variety of twists and coincidences that were often put into motion by his recalcitrant insubordination. He was pressed (forced into service involuntarily) into the Royal Navy, and after leaving the service became involved in the Atlantic slave trade. In 1748, a violent storm battered his vessel, the Greyhound, so severely that he called out to God for mercy, a moment that marked his spiritual conversion. However, he continued his slave trading career until 1754 or 1755, when he ended his seafaring altogether and began studying Christian theology.

Ordained in the Church of England in 1764, Newton became curate of Olney, Buckinghamshire, where he began to write hymns with poet William Cowper. “Amazing Grace” was written to illustrate a sermon on New Year’s Day of 1773. It is unknown if there was any music accompanying the verses; it may have simply been chanted by the congregation. It debuted in print in 1779 in Newton and Cowper’s Olney Hymns, but settled into relative obscurity in England. In the United States however, “Amazing Grace” was used extensively during the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century. It has been associated with more than 20 melodies, but in 1835 it was joined to a tune named “New Britain” to which it is most frequently sung today.

Author Gilbert Chase writes that “Amazing Grace” is “without a doubt the most famous of all the folk hymns,” and Jonathan Aitken, a Newton biographer, estimates that it is performed about 10 million times annually. It has had particular influence in folk music, and has become an emblematic African American spiritual. Its universal message has been a significant factor in its crossover into secular music. “Amazing Grace” saw a resurgence in popularity in the U.S. during the 1960s and has been recorded thousands of times during and since the 20th century, occasionally appearing on popular music charts.

More at the source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazing_Grace

For the lyrics, see: http://www.constitution.org/col/amazing_grace.htm

 

Final application:

This week, include in a morning prayer a request that you might be a messenger just as Jonah was a messenger for God. Look for opportunities where you might, through the way you live your life, be a live demonstration of God’s grace to those you might not choose to be God’s children. May God’s grace shine through the example of your life. Next week, share with the group, whatever you experienced in doing this.

 

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6.16.13 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)

Pa Kent, Alfred, and Uncle Ben

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

Matthew 1:18-25, Matthew 2:13-21

The Father’s Day we just celebrated reminds us that many dads who look pretty ordinary are actually superheroes for their families. So it was when Jesus came as a human baby. God did not call a great general, prominent politician or well-known priest to be his earthly father. Instead, Joseph, a humble village craftsman, guarded the baby Jesus and his mother. He never became famous or influential, but he played a great role in God’s plan of salvation.

 

TUESDAY

Genesis 16:1-15

Sarai, Abram’s wife, tired of waiting for the child God promised. Like other well-off women in her day, she had her slave girl, Hagar, conceive a child with Abram, planning to make the child her own. But Hagar’s insolence angered her, and her mistreatment drove her servant into the desert. Sarai’s God saw Hagar as a person, not just a rude slave, and rescued her. This Egyptian girl was the first person in the Bible to call God a personal name—and tellingly, she used the name El Roi, “God who sees.”

 

WEDNESDAY

Luke 8:41-48

In Jesus’ day, many looked down on the sick (especially those with long-term conditions), and saw them as suffering for sins they had committed. Even worse, this woman’s disease made her ceremonially unclean. But through her trust in Jesus, she received healing and acceptance that changed her forever. This woman trusted Jesus enough to reach beyond the shame of people’s judgment—and his power gave her back her life.

 

THURSDAY

Matthew 27:35-44

God’s superheroes, living in God’s strength, often do not look the way we’d expect those who wield great power to look. Nowhere was that more true than in God himself in the flesh, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus’ enemies ridiculed him as he hung on a cross: “Look—he can’t even save himself!” Yet, while they scoffed, through that seemingly helpless man on the cross God’s power was extending salvation to the whole world.

 

FRIDAY

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Jesus is God, the Creator-King of the universe (cf. Hebrews 1:1-3). So it would follow that, as Paul said in today’s passage, “the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” The good news? God shares his eternal power with his people. The catch? It doesn’t always come in the ways we’d expect. Paul knew the often ridiculed and hated message of Jesus had the power to transform lives wherever he preached it.

 

SATURDAY

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Some false teachers in Corinth claimed that they were a cut above the apostle Paul, that he was weak and unimpressive (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:10-12). With pained irony, Paul called them the “super-apostles” (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:5). He knew he could claim imposing human credentials and accomplishments (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:22-27). In the end, he wrote, his right to lead rested on a greater power—God’s power, at work through the very things humans might see as weaknesses.

 

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, create new life in us. Fill us with wisdom, serenity and courage. Send your healing power into us; strengthen our faith. Allow us to see ourselves and others as you see us and cover us with your love, making us heroes of your will. Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

What “superpower” would you most like to have and why? Which of the action heroes of the movies are your favorites? What is it about them that make you admire them?

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

 Read Matthew 1:18-25, Matthew 2:13-21. Do you think Joseph might have had to give up some of his dreams in order to obey God and become a good father to Jesus? Does every good father have to do that to some degree? Have you ever had to give up some aspect of your life because it was incompatible with your perception of God’s will for your life? Joseph had a dream which he believed was direction from God and Joseph acted on that dream. Have you ever felt those kinds of “inner nudges”? How do you discern between mere fleeting thoughts and God’s nudges?

 Read Genesis 16:1-15. God saw Hagar as a person, rather than as a mere slave. He gave her the strength to persevere even during a very troubling time of her life. Can you think of times in which God has done that for you? As a slave, Hagar was almost invisible to other people, but God saw her as someone special. Do you see yourself as pretty much an “average person” who is rather invisible to society as a whole? Do you understand that you are truly special to God? Does this understanding help you navigate through life? Even the most spiritual person, like Abram and Sarai, makes mistakes. How does God help you to see your mistakes, learn from them and keep on going?

 Read Luke 8:41-48. Is God as powerful today as in Bible times? What makes you think so? Do miracles occur today? Why do you think miracles are so invisible to most of us today? Jesus felt power go out from him when the woman was healed. Have you ever had the sense that you could actually feel God’s power in your life? If so, was that miraculous? Have medical science’s incredible advances been what you would call miraculous? Have the death-reversing effects of CPR been a miraculous gift from God? Has your growing understanding of the Bible and the faith been miraculous?

 Read Matthew 27:35-44. As we read this story, who seems powerful and who seems weak? Where did the real power lie? What do you think God did for you, personally, that day on the cross? Do you think you fully understand all that was happening that mysterious day? Do you think we tend to better understand it as our faith grows and becomes stronger? As we now understand the story, did humans do something to God, or did God do something powerful to and for humans? Should our focus today be on the horrible thing we did to God or on what God did for us?

 Read 1 Corinthians 1:18-25. Don’t most people tend to live their day-to-day lives by relying on their own power, wisdom and intellect? What is the source of our strength, wisdom and intellect? Do some people seem to have more or less of one or the other of these gifts? How does our strength, wisdom and intellect compare to God’s? As we go through each day, how often do we tend to think to ask God for his outlook on whatever we are doing? Would we be better off if we thought of this more often? How do we go about doing just that?

 Read 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. God said to Paul, “…my power is made perfect in weakness.” so Paul said, “…when I am weak, then I am strong.” What did God mean? What did Paul mean? Paul said that his right to leadership was not a result of his personal strengths and gifts, but rather a result of God’s incredible power and will. Could that be true for you, too? Have you ever observed God’s power working through someone’s weakness? How do we go about giving up our very self in favor of God acting in and through us? If we were to do so, would we become, in effect, super-human? Is that God’s will for each of us? Why do you think so?

From last week: Did you put on your mirror, desk, monitor, or other spot where you would see it every day, the list of the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control)? Did you, each day, re-read the list to see which of the items needed to be cultivated in your life, and then do your best to exercise those items throughout your day-to-day life? What was your experience in doing this?

 

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

From Pastor Scott Chrostek’s sermon, June 16, 2013:

The faith of our fathers or ‘father figure’ is vital when we look at what it takes to become a superhero. One ingredient that makes Superman, Batman, Ironman, Spiderman and all the other comic book superheroes who they are is that each one had someone, some sort of “father figure” leading the way, encouraging them, supporting them, even inspiring them. I say ‘father figure’ because it seemed that almost every one of the big superheroes didn’t actually have fathers, but they had someone who chose to love them the way a father should love his children, unconditionally, sacrificially, with everything they had and all they were….

The same can also be said for Jesus. Jesus relied heavily on the presence and power of his parents. Though we know a lot about Jesus and his mother Mary, we don’t really ever hear that much about Joseph, Jesus’ other parent. So I’d like to spend some time talking about him today….

We read: “Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18-19)…This is crazy! This can’t be true, can it? That’s what we read. Mary this young unwed woman was engaged to marry Joseph, this righteous man, from a long line of righteous people. But she is already pregnant with child. All that was right has gone horribly wrong. Mary is pregnant with child before she is able to marry Joseph. What next? What does Joseph do now?

I know this story is of old and I know that we hear the Christmas story over and over again…but every time I read it, I think to myself, what would I have done, if I were Joseph? What would you do?…

This Joseph falls asleep and begins to hear the whisper of God’s voice. God begins by reminding Joseph where he comes from. God says: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

In his moment of darkness and confusion, God meets Joseph. He speaks to him and helps him to remember. He addresses Joseph as the son of David. “Do not be afraid, Joseph, son of David. Remember that you aren’t just any man. You come from David, the one who, though small and outnumbered, was able to overcome giants, to slay Goliath. You come from the generations, from a whole line of heroes and promise keepers who have all overcome and harbored my promises of greater things yet to come and still to be done. Joseph, Son of David, have no fear.”

From that point forward, Joseph becomes this ordinary hero. He accepts this child, adopts him as his own. After Jesus’ birth, Joseph receives another vision and courageously leads his family to Egypt in order to escape Herod who was looking to slaughter Jesus. A few years later, Joseph led his family back to Israel, but fled once more for fear of death to Galilee, Nazareth specifically. The whole time he was loving, leading, raising and modeling for this holy infant what it looks like to possess a power that allows us to do abundantly far more than you could ever ask for or imagine…to do amazing things even in the midst of trying circumstances.

Joseph, in choosing to support Jesus, modeled for Jesus how to take risks, even if those risks would cause others to look down on you, persecute you and judge you. Joseph modeled what it looked like to take risks, so that Jesus might learn to do the same, because he would one day be tempted not to take them.

He would teach Jesus how to withstand the disapproval of others when making tough decisions, for Jesus would have to one day withstand the disapproval of a whole bunch of people. Joseph taught Jesus how to act in the midst of moments when all hope seems lost and only pain remains, in the same way he waited and trusted in the Lord’s whisper, when he faced a no-win situation in what seemed like the darkest hour.

Joseph modeled for Jesus how to make the long hard journey to Bethlehem with Mary so that Jesus wouldn’t be alone as he eventually will have to make that long hard climb to Calvary.

When we consider the making of a superhero we have to think about Joseph and the role of ordinary heroes in our lives. One question I would ask you today is, who is your ordinary hero? Who chose to love you, invest in you, form you, shape you, care for you, and lead you? As you remember them, give thanks for them. Live in ways that honor them…and do not be afraid.

Secondly, I would like for you to consider, who you are choosing to love sacrificially? Who are you pouring into, investing in, leading and loving as though they are your own?

The Power…of God’s Word

I believe that knowledge of the Bible without a college education is more valuable than a college education without the Bible. – William Lyon Phelps, Former professor at Yale University

Lila and her husband were expecting their fourth child and looking forward to the new baby’s arrival with eager anticipation. Then, unexpectedly, their dreams were shattered by a miscarriage.

Not only was Lila grieved by the loss of the child, it soon became apparent that her life was in grave danger. Serious complications suddenly became evident, and she was rushed by ambulance to the hospital.

Lila was vaguely aware of her surroundings as she slipped in and out of consciousness. Her family was at her side encouraging her, and many friends and loved ones were praying fervently.

During the crisis, she found it nearly impossible to focus her mind on anything except for one clear impression that persisted in her mind. “I can endure…I can survive…I can withstand…all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Somehow, in spite of the loss of blood and the close proximity of death, she was aware that she was not remembering the words just right. Yet, intuitively she understood that God was promising to see her through.

Two weeks later, she returned home weakened but alive. While reading her Bible, she suddenly remembered the exact Scripture. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

How she praised God for His Word, which had penetrated the fog of unconsciousness with a powerful promise of strength and provision! The Epistle to the Hebrews records: “The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any two edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (4:12)

God’s holy inspired Word has several characteristics that guarantee powerful results. First, it is infused with the power of the Holy Spirit. It has been said that a Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to a person who isn’t. That is because God’s Word is energetic and active, speaking to today’s world and our own personal needs and circumstances.

Second, God’s word is truth. It awakens our conscience. With the power to reach into the private corners of our hearts, the Word bares our motives and secret feelings and reveals our hidden longings.

Third, God’s Word discerns our true character. It exposes the weakness in our attitudes and conduct, enabling us to correct ourselves by the power of His Holy Spirit.

I urge you to begin hiding the Word of God in your heart, drawing upon its wisdom for your life. Remember that God’s Word will never return to Him void, but will most certainly accomplish what it was sent to do. Share the Word with a friend, bearing witness to the faithfulness of our wonderful Lord and the power and authority of His Holy Spirit.

Source: http://www.cru.org/training-and-growth/classics/10-basic-steps/5-the-bible/05-power-of-gods-word.htm

 

Final application:

This week, consider Paul’s statement, “…when I am weak, then I am strong.” Reflect upon and acknowledge your weaknesses, and open yourself to the power of God in your daily life. Try to do all things in Christ’s name. Next week, share with the group any accomplishments or situations that you believe came about from God’s mighty power.

6.9.13 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)

Practice Makes Perfect

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

Luke 10:38-42

The gospels make it clear (though without as much detail as our curiosity might like) that a family in Bethany, a “suburb” of Jerusalem, were Jesus’ dear friends. There were two sisters, Martha and Mary, and their brother Lazarus. Mary, in a quiet way, emerged as a spiritual “superhero.” In this brief story, the gospel writer Luke showed the secret of Mary’s spiritual strength.

 

TUESDAY

Ephesians 4:11-16

The apostle Paul wrote that no one follows Christ all alone. Christ’s power, he said, calls us into the spiritual unity of the church. At times when we find that unity with Christ and one another is still hard, God calls us to accountability, to become spiritually mature so that nothing can knock us off course. Building this kind of community requires us to speak the truth in love, and grow in our faith together each day so that we become more like our Savior Jesus Christ.

 

WEDNESDAY

2 Peter 1:5-8

Faith is the key foundation for constructing a strong walk with Jesus, but it’s not the whole building. Peter listed seven other traits to “add to” our faith: moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, affection for others and love. Put them all together, he said, and you’ll be equipped for an active, fruitful life for God.

 

THURSDAY

James 1:2-5

Sooner or later, trouble comes to everyone. Spiritual superheroes are not people who go through life avoiding trouble—that just can’t be done. But it takes wisdom from God to use those tough times to build spiritual maturity and strength, rather than sinking into despair and complaint. Thankfully, James said God is willing to give us that wisdom when we ask for it in faith.

 

FRIDAY

Galatians 5:16-25

The apostle Paul sketched an appealing picture of a Spirit-powered life, the kind of life we get to have as we follow Christ. (For a thought-provoking study, compare Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit with Peter’s list of traits from Wednesday’s reading.) Paul vividly contrasted the Spirit-powered life with the negative outcomes produced when we base our lifestyle solely on our selfish desires.

 

SATURDAY

John 12:1-7

On Monday, we read about a key way that Mary built her spiritual strength. In this story, her heroic, “all in” love blessed Jesus’ heart in the last week of his life before the crucifixion. Mary defied cost and social scorn to act out her gratitude and love for Jesus. When Judas questioned her act, Jesus showed how much it meant to him with the unusually sharp rejoinder, “Leave her alone.”

 

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

 

SUGGESTED PRAYER

Lord, help us to love you as courageously and committedly as Mary loved you. Grant us the wisdom we need so desperately and for which we forget to ask. Help us to become the people you would have us be and fill us with the talents, skills and gifts we need to encourage those around us. It is in Jesus’ name that we ask. Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

In real life, what kinds of people seem to come the closest to being superheroes? What attributes do they seem to have that qualify them in your mind for this status?

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

 Read Luke 10:38-42. It has been said that our lives are largely carved out of the choices we make. How do you feel about that? Can making the right choices in life make us, as compared to others, something like “super heroes”? Would you classify Mary as one of the heroes of the New Testament? What kinds of spiritual choices have you made? Have your best choices made your life better? Is Christ one of the choices you have made? Can Christ be, as he suggested, the only truly important, pivotal choice?

 Read Ephesians 4:11-16. As you look at your local church, can you see how Christ has equipped each member differently? Can you see how the differing individual gifts, talents and skills that are brought together strengthen the entire body of Christ? Are you able to see a clear role for yourself within the church? Does finding that role require any choices on your part? Do you believe you have the ability to benefit others within the church as you do your part? In your day-to-day life, do you ever consider your Christ-inspired role and how it can benefit others outside your local church?

 Read 2 Peter 1:5-8. In these verses we are encouraged to become ever stronger and stronger in our ability to serve God and humankind. Can you envision these words as a description of a kind of training program? Is it, in a way, like getting advanced degrees in Christian living? If you followed this advice, can you see yourself growing ever closer to becoming the Christian “super-hero” that Christ would like you to become? Would you be pleased if you could measure yourself against each of these virtues and see yourself as strong in every category? Why should we choose to work so hard and constantly strive for “Christian perfection”?

 Read James 1:2-5. Do you think God tests our faith, or does the world, with all its pain and challenges, offer enough tests without God adding to it? Can you see how the challenges of life force us to exercise our spiritual muscles and strengthen our faith? Can any of us avoid trouble in life? Is this good? How have life’s trials actually helped you? Is it part of God’s plan for us? Is God’s free offering of wisdom something that can help us in our struggles? Why wisdom? Is the phrase “the worst thing is never the last thing” a piece of wisdom? Is it helpful in facing your trials?

 Read Galatians 5:16-25. If we were to live perfectly in step with these verses, would we be getting pretty close to becoming spiritual “superheroes”? When Paul spoke of “the desires of the flesh,” was he talking about natural pleasures like going to work to support our family, having intimate relations with our spouses or enjoying a good meal? If not, what was he talking about? How did he describe the results of following “the desires of the flesh”? Does being “led by the spirit” mean that we will enjoy life less, or more? What reasons can you give for your answer?

 Read John 12:1-7. One way to get the most out of Bible reading is to envision yourself in each and every one of the characters. Can you see yourself or some part of yourself in each of these people? What’s the danger of always seeing yourself as the hero or, the superhero? What lessons can you learn as you look for at least a part of yourself in Judas or one of the people unmentioned in the scene?

From last week: Did you put on your mirror, desk, monitor, or other spot where you will see it every day the words “God is able to do far more than we could ask or imagine”? When you saw the words, did you ask God how they apply to your everyday life? What was your experience in doing this?

 

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

 

From Pastor Scott Chrostek’s sermon, June 9, 2013:

God gifts us with this power to do extraordinary things, greater things, or abundantly far more than we could ever ask or imagine. As Christians the knowledge of that power should inspire us to live differently, more generous, loving, charitable lives. Christ came that we might have life, and have it abundantly. We were created in God’s image and we were gifted with the ability to live in ways that mirror God’s image or reflect his goodness, mercy, and unconditional love everywhere we go, in ways that invite others to do the same, thus changing the world.

To do this, however, we must take responsibility. We must own it, live it, breathe it and above all things remember it. To put it simply we must practice it.

The first time we meet Mary of Bethany is when she and her sister Martha were playing host to Jesus. Once Jesus arrived Martha bustled all around trying to get everything ready, while Mary set everything aside in order to sit at the Lord’s feet. Martha was working while Mary faithfully sat at Christ’s feet. Jesus praises Mary for choosing ‘the better part which will not be taken away from her.”

The next time we meet Mary…she and Martha are weeping and mourning over her brother, Lazarus’ death. Mary and Martha had sent for Jesus, and he arrived in Bethany on the fourth day. Martha ran out to greet Jesus and then Jesus called for Mary.

In John 11:28 we read, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” Mary without any hesitation runs to meet up with Jesus and for the second time in as many attempts, falls at his feet, only this time she’s weeping and pleading for him to rescue her brother.

When Jesus arrives in Bethany for the third time, Mary, Martha and Lazarus take Jesus and the disciples in and begin to care for them, and they shut the rest of the world out for this one special night.

Just as they all sit down for supper, Mary joins back up with the dinner party, only she comes back into the story holding an alabaster jar in her hands. Wordless she kneels for the third time in as many attempts at Jesus’ feet and this time she breaks the jar’s neck and as she does the smell of perfume fills the room as though she was trying to cover up the stench of something terrible, and then as everyone in the room watches her, she loosens her hair. She pours perfume on Jesus’ feet. She touches him and then she wipes the perfume off with her hair–totally inexplicable. What? What is she doing? Why now? Why this really expensive perfume? And why is she back at his feet? Shouldn’t she be standing up?

She could have anointed his head with that perfume and everyone there could have proclaimed Christ as king. But she doesn’t do that. When she moved toward him, she dropped to her knees, she bowed before his feet and poured the perfume on his feet, which could only mean one thing. The only kind of man who got his feet anointed back then was a dead man, and Mary knew it…so did Jesus. Mary, in the midst of this moment knelt down at Jesus’ feet for the third time and anointed Jesus for his burial. Jesus replies to everyone’s confusion saying, “Leave her alone.” Let her finish delivering the message.

In one of the most tender moments in the gospel, Mary anoints Jesus feet with this precious perfume. In the midst of darkness, she lavishes him with excess and demonstrates her unending love.

The power of Mary’s actions and her life of practiced discipleship is that she knows how to respond to Jesus without being told. Every time we meet Mary, she sits, kneels or bows at Jesus feet. She worships. Regardless of what is happening around her, she is fixed and focused on the Lord. When she’s entertaining dinner guests, she’s kneeling at his feet. When her brother dies, she is bowing at Christ’s feet. In the days leading up to Jesus’ death, Mary is once again at his feet.

The life of discipleship, the making of a superhero is defined by ongoing acts of love and one’s persistent response to the power of Christ within us. The more we remember and practice, the stronger we become.

Are you practicing? What gifts has God offered to you? Are you refining them? Are you employing them? Are you honing them so that you might live lives that shine with the light of Christ? Everybody can do something.

Fruit of the Spirit

Gal. 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Now, quick, without looking, how many fruit are there of the Spirit? Take a guess and then count to see if you got it right. Did you get it right? Did you get nine? If you did, you’re wrong because there is only ONE fruit of the Spirit, that’s right, just one. In Greek the word for “fruit” is “karpos” and it is in the singular. So, to translate this a little loosely, it could read like this. “But the single fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” This means that all of these graces listed are one group that goes together as a unit.

Now, this little tidbit of information is important. First of all, notice that the fruit of the Spirit is just that, of the Spirit. It is not your fruit, but the fruit of the Spirit of God. This is because God is love (1 John 4:8) and He lives in the believer (John 14:23). This means that it is the work of God the Holy Spirit in you to bear this fruit. Of course, you cooperate with God in bearing this fruit and you absolutely need to seek to develop it, but it is God who is “…at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). Of course, we know that it is God’s good pleasure that you love and bear the fruit of love.

Second, if it is all one fruit, then all the nine things listed there are already yours in the Spirit of God. In other words, all nine things are really one thing that you have because the Holy Spirit indwells you—if you are a Christian, that is. You see, if you are loving, then will you not have joy? If you are loving, will you not also have peace? If you are loving, will you not also be patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled? It could easily be said that love is the tree that bears the fruit of joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If you have love, the love of God in your heart because of your belief and faith in Jesus and His sacrifice, then all the other graces listed there are yours too. You just need to develop them.

But when you examine yourself you might notice that some of the fruit (speaking of individual aspects of love here) are not all that well developed. You might be kind and good, but need to work on your patience. You might have great joy and peace but need work on self-control and gentleness. None of us are perfect, and we all have areas of improvement. But all Christians have the Spirit of God and therefore, they have the fruit of the Spirit of God in them. It is there, if only in developing form, but it is there.

Now, this is important. Why is it there? I want you to focus on this following point. The fruit of the Spirit of God is in you because, if you are a Christian, you have been bought with a price. You have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, God in flesh (John 1:1,14), who died on the cross for your sins (1 Pet. 2:24). It is only because of what Jesus did that you can ever hope to be good, or gentle, or kind, or patient, or loving, or anything. You cannot truly live these things without the Spirit of God in you.

Finally, it is by faith that you walk before God (Hab. 2:4). It is by faith that you seek the Lord and seek to manifest the love of His Spirit in you. It is important because the unbelievers need to see those graces working in you. They are an evidence of your conversion and a testimony of God’s indwelling.

So, ask yourself if you are loving or trying to show love not only to God but also to people. Then go back and count those fruit again. When you get to “one,” stop and ask the Lord to develop that in your heart.

Source: http://carm.org/fruit-of-the-spirit

 

Final application:

This week, put on your mirror, desk, monitor, or other spot where you will see it every day, the list of the fruit of the Spirit (see above). Each day, re-read the list to see which of the items need to be cultivated in your life, and then do your best to exercise these items throughout your day-to-day life. Next week, let the group know the ways in which your life was enriched.

6.2.13 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)

Far more than we could ever ask or imagine

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

Acts 1:4-9

Just before he left this earth, Jesus boldly told his followers they would be his witnesses “to the ends of the earth.” At that point he had a group of about 120 committed followers (cf. Acts 1:15). To talk about reaching even the city of Jerusalem, which had crucified their Lord just weeks earlier, must have felt daunting. To talk of reaching “the end of the earth” must have seemed utterly impossible to many of those who heard Jesus.

TUESDAY

Acts 9:1-9

As Jesus had promised, God poured out the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 2), and thousands of people believed in Christ (cf. Acts 5:14). Others, like the energetic Pharisee Saul, hated the new faith. Saul was so eager to stamp out the message that Jesus was the Messiah that he went as far away as Damascus in Syria. On the road, Jesus met him unexpectedly, and stopped him in his tracks. Saul spent the next three days blinded, pondering what this all meant.

WEDNESDAY

Acts 9:10-22

God used an otherwise unknown Christian to change the world. He sent Ananias, described only as “a certain disciple,” to heal the blinded persecutor Saul. Ananias feared doing this—he knew that Saul arrested and killed Christians. God described Saul as “the agent I have chosen to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites.” Setting his fears aside, Ananias obeyed. His action changed Saul’s life, and set him on the course that led to him becoming the great evangelist Paul.

THURSDAY

Isaiah 41:8-10

Ananias was not the first or the last person God called to play a “superhero” role through the Holy Spirit’s power, to do something greater than he could have dreamed. Through Isaiah the prophet, God pledged to strengthen and help any descendant of Abraham willing to do God’s work. Paul, carrying out the call Ananias brought him, wrote, “If you belong to Christ, then indeed you are Abraham’s descendants” (Galatians 3:29), extending Isaiah’s promise to all Christ followers.

FRIDAY

John 14:9-12, 20:19-22

John 14 reported that Jesus, on the night before he was crucified, made a startling assertion. He told his disciples, “Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these.” After his resurrection, he told them the Father was sending them just as he had sent Jesus. But they wouldn’t work in their own strength—Jesus gave them his power through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

SATURDAY

Ephesians 3:14-21

This passage wasn’t just abstract spiritual talk. Paul described a truly life-changing, world-changing power—“superhero” power, if you will—at work in real people’s daily lives. It wasn’t the brute force power of the Roman Empire, but the power of God’s love. He prayed that the Spirit in their “inner selves” would enable God’s people to “have the power to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth.” As the love of Christ transforms us, he added, God is able, as The Message puts it, to do “far more than you could ever imagine, guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.”

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

SUGGESTED PRAYER

O God, movies are fun, but we thank you that it doesn’t take a special costume to be a superhero. Every day you are at work in our world, in our neighborhoods, in our lives. Keep us in tune with what you are doing. Whether you call us to go to the ends of the earth, or just to a corner of our hometown, give us hearts open to your Spirit’s power, and spirits willing to answer your call. Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)                                                                                

Who was your favorite superhero when you were a kid? Have you seen any superhero films in the past year, and if so, which one did you enjoy the most?                                                                                                                                          

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY     

 Read Acts 1:4-9. Couldn’t the God who created the universe have written the news of Jesus in the clouds, or spoken it in a repeating sound loop from the skies? What factors made it more effective for Jesus to say to people pretty much like us (and, through them, to us), “You will be my witnesses”? Can you think of one or more people whose witness has shaped your life? Verse 6 showed that the disciples still wished that Jesus would set himself up as an earthly king in Jerusalem. But he had a different, bigger plan. Have you ever had to set aside your own wishes and plans, and accept what God gives you instead? At those times, do you find it difficult to trust that God is doing what is best? Why or why not?

 Read Acts 9:1-9. What reason would anyone (an energetic, committed young Pharisee like Saul, say) have for hating the message that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior of the world? Have you ever felt like trying to “stamp out” a point of view that differs from your own? Saul met Jesus in a dramatic, forceful way (perhaps because he had resisted many chances to respond to the message delivered in other ways). Share with each other stories about how you met Jesus. What does it tell you about “the wideness in God’s mercy” that God seems to meet each person in an individualized way?

 Read Acts 9:10-22. If Ananias had responded to God based on his (understandable) feelings of fear, he’d likely have missed a chance to reshape history. When have you moved beyond fear or other emotions to obey God? Afterward, how did you feel about the experience—positive, regretful or something else? How can you build loving, caring connections with people who are different from you, connections in which your faith is a natural part of your identity and caring rather than a forced, awkward “witness”?

 Read Isaiah 41:8-10. Many scholars agree that the latter part of the book of Isaiah (chapter 40 on) spoke to Israelites living through the defeat and exile in Babylon. Few things could make people feel more powerless. Are you facing challenges that leave you feeling powerless and afraid? What are some of the main ways that you can access the strength and help God promised through the prophet? How can you as a group help one another tap into God’s strength?

 Read John 14:9-12, 20:19-22. Was Jesus just using hyperbole (exaggeration to make a point) when he said his followers would do greater works than he did? What parts of Jesus’ work on earth were unique and unrepeatable? In what ways do you see the truth of what scholar William Barclay wrote: “When it came to a matter of numbers and extent and changing power, the triumphs of the message of the Cross were even greater than the triumphs of Jesus in the days of his flesh ….In the days of his flesh he was limited to Palestine; when he had died and risen again, he was liberated from these limitations and his Spirit could work mightily anywhere”? How have you, individually or as a group, taken part in Jesus’ work in the world today?

 Read Ephesians 3:14-21. What’s the biggest dream you’ve ever dreamed for your life? What’s happening with that dream—is it a reality, in process, or have life’s pressures and disappointments led you to shelve it? Brainstorm together a big dream you believe God might want you as a group to pursue. (If necessary, keep at it over the next several weeks.) Ask God to lead you to what he wants to accomplish through you that is far more than you could ever ask or imagine.

From last week:

Did you begin each day with a prayer for the people of Moore, Oklahoma as they continue their grieving, clean-up and reconstruction process (and as tornadoes again struck their area)? Were you able to pray for the professionals and volunteers who have gone there to help in the process? Share with the group any insights you might have had.

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

From Pastor Scott Chrostek’s sermon, May 26, 2013:

Last summer, “The Avengers” assembled to save the Earth from an extraterrestrial army and in doing so, it became the third-highest-grossing movie in history. Spiderman, Batman, and Ironman did similar things in their most recent incarnations, earning each of them blockbuster status. This summer there are four more superhero movies coming to a theatre near you….

I’m particularly interested in this because of the state of the church. Anyone tracking religious currents in American life cannot limit that search to institutional faith. Many Americans—especially young people—are shunning traditional expressions of faith. A recent Pew Research study said over 32% of young people between 18-29 are unaffiliated with faith. The gurus call this group “the none’s.” This is the same group driving our affinity for the messages and symbols most often associated with superhero movies….

If at the heart of superhero movies are symbols of faith, if these stories are rooted in Scriptural heroes of the past, then Christian communities, particularly churches that seek to reach out to non-religious and nominally religious people, need to engage these movies. I would even go so far as to say that we might have something to learn from them, like how we might be superheroes. We should understand what it takes to become superheroes ourselves. This is what the emerging generation is seeking. And I believe that by God’s grace, we have the power to do extraordinary things. We are called to open ourselves up to the power of Christ so that we can change the world in extraordinary ways. The grace of Jesus Christ can give us the power to become heroes.

In John 14, Jesus addresses his disciples, moments after foreshadowing his death. He reveals his love by describing the lengths he will go in order that they might have life and have it abundantly. In that dark and difficult moment, he urges his disciples saying, don’t wait for me to return, but take action…go to work…Jesus urges them saying, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.” (John 14:12)

Jesus tells us that we, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can do the same things he did, in fact, we will do greater works than these. Really? Do you believe this?

In Ephesians 3, the Apostle Paul confirms this. He prays for his community using words that mirror Christ’s remarks in John. In Ephesians 3 Paul writes: “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:16-19) He prays that we might come to know the fullness of God’s love and in so doing be filled with all the fullness of God. Then without skipping a beat, Paul continues by praying, “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20)

When we are filled with the fullness of God, when we know the height, breadth, depth and length of God’s love, we are able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine! By God’s grace we are created with a capacity and given the ability and the opportunity to do greater things even than Christ. Do you believe this?….

Sometimes I wonder, what would happen if a whole community of people believed this? How might the world be different? I’m not sure I can answer that just yet, but I can tell you how Paul’s life was changed when just one person believed it.

We first meet Ananias as he and his Christian community in Damascus cowered in fear and darkness, awaiting persecution. Word was out that Saul, a notorious persecutor of Christians, was coming to stamp out their Christian communities. Saul sets out walking toward Damascus to do this horrible thing, but a bright light from heaven interrupts him…Saul, fearfully whimpers, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” His servants then walk Saul to Damascus to sit by himself in a house. All of a sudden this strong, powerful villain had been reduced to helplessness, unable to do anything without the help of another.

And that’s when we meet Ananias, an unknown leader of the Christian community in Damascus. He doesn’t fly. He cannot leap tall buildings in a single leap and he cannot run faster than a speeding bullet. He is, however, a faithful disciple. He was a follower of the Way, and because of that he was number one on Saul’s list of people to persecute maybe even kill.

As Saul sits in waiting…this faithful disciple named Ananias, who with his community is afraid of what’s to come, receives a vision. He sees something almost impossible and yet it stirs him to action. Acts 9:10-12: “The Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ He answered, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ The Lord said to him, ‘Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.’”

Ananias receives this crazy, unimaginable, yet bold vision to meet with Saul, his mortal enemy, the one who wanted to destroy him and his community. Ananias wondered, “How could this be, that God would call me to go to visit with such a person?”…. Ananias is surely thinking to himself, “Are you sure you want me to go visit this particular man? Isn’t there another I could go visit?”

Acts 9:15: “The Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel.’” So Ananias goes to meet him. He walks into this house, sits down before his enemy, the one who was planning to persecute him, and he gently touches him. Ananias says, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 9:17)

Did you catch that? Ananias refers to Saul not as enemy or stranger, but as his brother. What? That’s crazy! This is his enemy. This is the person who was trying to kill him. This is Superman’s Lex Luthor. This is Batman’s Joker. This is Spider Man’s Green Goblin. This is not the guy to be calling “brother,” and yet that’s exactly what Ananias does.

From this point forward Saul becomes Paul and Paul sets out to do extraordinary things. He builds churches, writes letters, suffers and boasts and proclaims the life changing power of Jesus Christ to everyone he meets. 2000 years later we continue to read his letters, 2000 years later we continue to celebrate Paul’s history, retrace Paul’s missionary journeys, and celebrate his heroic actions, but we never hear about Ananias. But I wonder: what would have happened if Ananias hadn’t acted? What would have happened if he hadn’t visited Saul, offered Saul his love, baptized him, healed him, fed him or called him brother?….Ananias is what I would consider to be a superhero.

Reflection on Ephesians 3:20 from N. T. Wright:

“Verses 20 and 21 are often used as a benediction in church services, and it’s easy to see why. As we draw to the end of a time of prayer, the overarching aim should be to give God the glory. But if it’s the true God we’ve been worshipping, we should be filled with a sense of new possibilities: of new tasks and new energy to accomplish them.

Read verse 20 carefully. Then think of what God might do in you and through you—you as a community, you as an individual. Now reflect on the fact that God is perfectly capable of doubling that, trebling that, going so far beyond it that you would look back at the present moment and wonder how you could be so short-sighted.”

–N. T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters

Final application:

This week, put on your mirror, desk, monitor, or other spot where you will see it every day the words “God is able to do far more than we could ask or imagine.” When you see the words, ask God how they apply to your everyday life. Next week share with your group any thoughts or images that you experience as you do this.