(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.