Monthly Archives: July 2013

7.28.13 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)

Facing the Unexpected with Joseph

A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.

MONDAY

Genesis 37:1-36

The story of Joseph is one of the most readable, entertaining, and moving stories in the Bible. It began with Joseph as a young man, one who had big dreams (literally!) about his future. His father foolishly favored Joseph openly, stirring hatred in Joseph’s older brothers. When Jacob’s cluelessness gave them a chance, the brothers unexpectedly interrupted Joseph’s plans in an ugly way—they sold him to traders going to Egypt.

 

TUESDAY

Genesis 39:1-22

When he arrived in Egypt as a slave, Joseph distinguished himself. He did his work so well that Genesis said his Egyptian master Potiphar “handed over everything he had to Joseph and didn’t pay attention to anything except the food he ate.” But Potiphar’s wife became attracted to Joseph. He refused her sexual advances, and her lies got him unexpectedly imprisoned.

 

WEDNESDAY

Genesis 40:1-23

Joseph was a foreign slave, unjustly imprisoned by a member of Egypt’s power structure for something he didn’t do. How could he possibly escape that predicament? Then the Egyptian Pharaoh jailed two men who’d worked in trusted positions in his palace. When each man had a mysterious dream, God helped Joseph explain those dreams. As the dreams indicated, Pharaoh executed one of the men, and reinstated the other to his trusted position.

 

THURSDAY

Genesis 41:1-45

After two years, Egypt’s king himself had troubling dreams. The steward remembered Joseph (who was still in prison). God helped Joseph interpret the king’s dreams. Pharaoh, impressed by Joseph’s discernment and wisdom, unexpectedly announced that he was making the imprisoned slave his chief deputy, with power over all of Egypt!

 

FRIDAY

Genesis 42:1-11, 44:18-45:15

The famine that came to Egypt also affected Palestine, and Joseph’s brothers went to Egypt unexpectedly to buy food. Joseph, Egypt’s powerful famine “czar,” was the man they had to see. They didn’t recognize him, understandably, but he certainly recognized them. He firmly tested them to see if they had changed. They had, and a poignant family reunion began.

 

SATURDAY

Genesis 46:29-30, 50:1-26,

Hebrews 11:21-22

In Joseph’s day, Egypt was a superpower, and he had an inside view of that country’s power and wealth. Yet he and his father Jacob never forgot that, according to God’s promises, their people’s future lay beyond Egypt. They trusted God to keep those promises. Through all of life’s twists and turns, all the unexpected ups and downs, Joseph had kept God as a fixed point, the one source of certainty in an uncertain world. His last faith request was, “God will certainly bring you out of this land….you must bring up my bones out of here.”

 

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, keep growing hearts like Joseph’s in us; hearts that trust you and are consistently able to overcome evil with good. Help us to be people who see life as you see it, and use any power we receive to help others. Help us to live one day at a time and see beyond any passing troubles that might afflict us. Like Joseph, bless our households and all who are part of them. Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

What do you consider the most unexpected event in the history of America? Was it a positive or a negative event? Was it a man-made event? Have you seen good come from unexpected negative events? In what ways can God use America for good?

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

 Read Genesis 37:1-36. Have you ever felt like “the favorite” in your family, at work, or some other setting? Or have you ever felt like the “second banana,” overshadowed by someone else’s popularity? What have you learned as a result? How did it affect the way you act toward others, and in showing special attention? What are the interpersonal risks if you openly acknowledge that you are especially good at something? How can we avoid these risks of being or appearing to be superior to others?

 Read Genesis 39:1-22. Have you ever done the right thing and still gotten in trouble for it? Has someone else done something wrong and you became the one who was blamed? How did you handle these situations? Don’t children often blame others for their own misdeeds? As you grew up, when did you start realizing the need to take responsibility for your own mistakes? When does personal integrity become important, and why? How do you overcome being treated unjustly?

 Read Genesis 40:1-23. Do most of us tend to see first how we might help others or do we first see how others might help us? What governs this tendency? Does our position in life or our job play a role in this? Does our Christianity play a role? How does God play a role? How sensitive are you to how others seem to be feeling at any given moment? Do you try to hide how you are feeling from others? Why might we tend to do this? When others ask how we are, what is the typical response? Why?

 Read Genesis 41:1-45. By giving God credit rather than taking credit for himself in interpreting the dreams, Joseph showed character. What is character? Why would we seek to gain character? How do we obtain it? What role does God play in character development? How do you know that God wants you to be of good character? Do we have any responsibility to help others develop character? How do we do that in a way that might be acceptable? Pharaoh gave Joseph great power. In what ways is power used wisely? In what ways is power abused? Are you comfortable with the idea that great power might be vested in you? Are we all capable of wielding great power? Why do you answer that question as you did?

 Read Genesis 42:1-11, 44:18-45:15. Would most people have been as generous toward the brothers who sold him into slavery as Joseph was? Joseph saw beyond the trials he’d been through to the vastly larger truth that all was part of God’s plan for good. Have you ever looked back on a time of troubles and been able to see how those troubles led to a better end? Can God bend our hard times into blessings rather than curses? Under what conditions does God do that? Do you trust God to do that kind of “creation” work in your own life? Where does that kind of trust in God come from?

 Read Genesis 46:29-30, 50:1-26, Hebrews 11:21-22. Joseph’s life and faith demonstrate the potential for God’s power to work in our own lives. With God’s help, Joseph overcame evil by doing good. How can we move past betrayal, revenge, disappointment and pain and enter into the freedom of God’s hope, harmony and life-giving power? How do we become more like Joseph, full of goodness and full of God’s Spirit?

From last week: Did you make a list of significant unexpected things that have happened in your life over the last year or two? Which ones were unexpectedly good? Which ones were unexpectedly bad? With what attitude have you tended to deal with the unexpected events? Do you want to continue facing the unexpected in the same way, or do you want to make any changes, with God’s help? Please share with the group whatever you learned from this exercise.

 

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

From Pastor Ann William’s sermon, July 28, 2013:

Sometimes we have periods in our own lives when we don’t hear from God – days, months, years at a time. During those times we assess that God is hidden or silent, or otherwise disengaged from the daily happenings of our lives.

The prophets and psalmists often lamented God’s hiddenness, using the words, “How long, O Lord?!” This cry for relief expresses what Joseph must have been feeling as he fell from his position as the greatest son in the world to a falsely accused criminal sentenced to prison. “How long, Lord, will this go on?”

I wonder, do any of you know the words of Jeremiah 29:11? This is a verse we often look to for encouragement and comfort: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” It’s a beautiful, encouraging verse. But how many of you know the verse preceding it, the lesser-known verse Jeremiah 29:10? To Israel God says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place….” THEN and ONLY THEN it reads on: “For I know the plans I have for you…” I think it’s important to notice that this great promise of hope comes with a preface: “when seventy years are completed.” No wonder we are frustrated when God seems silent or hidden. Most of us are not patient enough to wait seventy years to hear what our purpose in life is meant to be. We want to jump ahead to verse eleven and forget verse ten was ever there….

Joseph is faced with the opportunity to save his family. The question is, how will he respond? At first, Joseph sends them back and forth from Canaan to Egypt a couple times without the brothers knowing it was him, and then we come to today’s scripture passage which shows Joseph coming clean, announcing it has been him, their brother Joseph all along. It is here in this moment, when the same brothers who treated him as though he had no value or worth at all were begging him for mercy, that Joseph realizes God has had a larger purpose in mind for his entire life. He proclaims: “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance” (Gen. 45:4-7).

Now this is not to be understood that God intended that Joseph would be rejected by his brothers, that God ordained he would be falsely accused and sent to prison unfairly, that God intended for him to visit the depths of despair. What we mean is that regardless of what human beings were doing, regardless of if they were choosing evil or good in word action and deed, that God’s ultimate purposes would be completed….Even when Joseph’s brothers had only evil, revenge, and hatred in mind, even when Joseph was acting with careless arrogance, God’s objective to save the people of Israel is not thwarted. This story clearly points to God’s work in, through and despite human brokenness and imperfection.

Perhaps we might think it doesn’t matter what any one of us does to respond to the unexpected in our lives since God’s objectives will be completed either way. We may be tempted to think our actions don’t have any power….

The problem with facing the unexpected is when life feels out of balance, when we feel like we are least prepared to do anything but survive, we feel powerless. We feel we are nothing but victims of our circumstances. We may be tempted to think we need to have things in order, and to get things on track before we have anything to contribute. But what if I told you God could use you just exactly where you are? Perhaps our task is not to try to understand. Perhaps our task is to join in God’s work just exactly where we are. That’s exactly what Joseph did. We don’t have any evidence that he ever moped around or wasted any time wondering why all of this was happening to him. He simply focused on how he could play a role in the story God was telling….

Scripture assures us that God’s good work will continue. The question is whether or not we will be a part of it. Will we use the unexpected situations in our lives to serve God’s mission and purposes? Are we joining in God’s work of saving all people? How are we stepping out with courage and boldness to make the world look a little more like the kingdom of heaven? Whether your life situation has brought you to the lowest rank or the highest power, there are opportunities before you to find God’s business in your corner of the world and make it your mission to participate.

You know, Joseph himself only plays a small role. He preserves the Israelite people, and serves a part in God maintaining God’s covenants of land, descendents, and blessing. But when Joseph dies, the Israelites are in bondage. Joseph’s role was not to save the whole world or play the role of Savior, but simply to do his part, exactly where he was, playing whatever hand he was dealt.

The call is clear. When life hands you an unexpected turn God asks for your hands and feet. When a great injustice has been done to you, God requires your loving and forgiving heart. When great power has been bestowed upon you, God calls you to use it for good. So that the whole world may see our God is working to save all people! So that the whole world may see our God is working through us, in us, and despite us to save all people!

What others have said about the unexpected

No one is so brave that he is not disturbed by something unexpected. – Julius Caesar

Objects we ardently pursue bring little happiness when gained; most of our pleasures come from unexpected sources. – Herbert Spencer

You have to take risks. We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen. – Paulo Coelho

Many people pray to be kept out of unexpected problems. Some people pray to be able to confront and overcome them. – Toba Beta

Most people want to be circled by safety, not by the unexpected. The unexpected can take you out. But the unexpected can also take you over and change your life. – Ron Hall

Sometimes you’ve got to embrace the unexpected. The things we never saw coming often take us to the places we never imagined we could go. – Kemmy Nola

Nearly all the best things that came to me in life have been unexpected, unplanned by me. – Carl Sandburg

There is frequently more to be learned from the unexpected questions of a child than the discourses of men. – John Locke

A sudden bold and unexpected question doth many times surprise a man and lay him open. – Francis Bacon

The shortest period of time lies between the minute you put some money away for a rainy day and the unexpected arrival of rain. – Jane Bryant Quinn

I think my mother… made it clear that you have to live life by your own terms and you have to not worry about what other people think and you have to have the courage to do the unexpected. – Caroline Kennedy

Some things are so unexpected that no one is prepared for them. – Leo Rosten

Any human anywhere will blossom in a hundred unexpected talents and capacities simply by being given the opportunity to do so. – Doris Lessing

The best things in life are unexpected – because there were no expectations. – Eli Khamarov

In chess one cannot control everything. Sometimes a game takes an unexpected turn, in which beauty begins to emerge. Both players are always instrumental in this. – Vladimir Kramnik

All creative people want to do the unexpected. – Hedy Lamarr

Old age is the most unexpected of all things that happen to a man. – Leon Trotsky

The fear of burglars is not only the fear of being robbed, but also the fear of a sudden and unexpected clutch out of the darkness.

– Elias Canetti

Creativity comes from looking for the unexpected and stepping outside your own experience. – Masaru Ibuka

Final application:

This week, carry a notepad and pen everywhere. Make notes on every unexpected thing that happens to you and whether it was pleasant or unpleasant, for good or for bad. At the end of the week, go over the list and see if you still think it was for good or for bad. Next week, share with the group whatever you discovered about the unexpected.

 

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7.21.13 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)

Facing the Unexpected with Sarah

A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.

MONDAY

Genesis 11:27 – 12:7

The Genesis story mentioned Abram’s wife Sarai prominently right from the first, a rarity in that patriarchal age. God’s solemn covenant pledge immediately introduced a note of tension that involved Abram’s partner. God told Abram, “I give this land to your descendants,” an odd promise given that, so far, “Sarai was unable to have children.”

 

TUESDAY

Genesis 12:10-20

Abram, a man of his time, saw his own survival as the only essential to carrying out God’s promises. Apparently he saw Sarai as expendable, though only if that were truly necessary. (Genesis 20:1-17 recorded that they—there is no record that Sarai protested this deception—made this error twice.) God’s outlook was bigger than their patriarchal culture. God saw Sarai as just as important to the covenant as Abram, and shielded her from harm.

 

WEDNESDAY

Genesis 16:1-15

Sarai must have thought that she’d been plenty patient. It had been over ten years since God promised to make a great nation of the family she and Abram did not yet have! Other well-off women had maidservants bear children for them when they couldn’t. Sarai thought that might help God’s plan happen—but things didn’t work out well. Sarai tried to put Hagar and her son “in their place,” leading Hagar to run away. But God cared about and saved those two lives.

 

THURSDAY

Genesis 17:15-22

In Hebrew (and most Middle Eastern) culture, names mattered—names carried meaning. So at a pivotal moment, God renamed Abram Abraham (“father of a multitude”—Genesis 17:5), and Sarai Sarah (generally thought to mean “princess”). God repeated the promise that Sarah would have a son herself. With great honesty, Genesis reported that both aged “parents,” perhaps understandably, laughed (cf. Genesis 17:17, 18:12).

 

FRIDAY

Genesis 21:1-7

Just as God had promised, Sarah did bear Abraham a son in their old age. They named the boy Isaac (Hebrew “laughter” or “he laughs”). Through God’s persistence and faithfulness as much as Abraham’s and Sarah’s, the sweeping story of God’s covenant with his people Israel was underway. In Isaac, Sarah’s story found a truly joyous ending.

 

SATURDAY

Hebrews 11:8-12

In chapter 11, the letter to the Hebrews listed great heroes of faith. As all Hebrews would expect, the list included Abraham, the grand patriarch who was, literally, Israel’s founding father. But, accurately echoing the Genesis story, Sarah was on the list too. She was Abraham’s partner through the long journey from promise to fulfillment; she bore the son God had promised, setting in motion the family line that led to Jesus.

 

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

 

SUGGESTED PRAYER

O Lord, you called an older woman named Sarai who had never had a child, and you promised that, unlikely candidate though she was, she would be the mother of a great nation. Years later, you renamed her Sarah and you kept your promise. Give us the faith and hope to see ourselves as you see us, to trust that you can use even the most unlikely parts of us for your purposes. Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

In this weekend’s sermon, Pastor Anne Williams said, “We pray and ask God to give us the desires of our hearts, and sometimes they don’t come. Then, spiritually, we have to figure out how to make sense of the disappointment.” What is one way your life has turned out differently than you had dreamed or planned? How disappointing was/is that, and how do you make sense of it?

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

 Read Genesis 11:27 – 12:7. At God’s call, Abram and Sarai, despite their advancing age, moved out of Haran, an established city, and into the less settled region of Palestine, where they lived a nomadic life. In what ways has God called you to move beyond places (internal or external) where you are comfortable on your faith journey? Although it’s pleasant, what spiritual hazards can being too comfortable cause? Can you think of any reason why God would choose an older, childless couple to found a great nation, rather than a young family with six healthy kids? Does God still work through the things that make you “unlikely,” rather than only through your obvious gifts and assets?

 Read Genesis 12:10-20. Neither Abram nor Sarai seems to have questioned their world’s assumption that women were essentially the property of men. What does it tell you about God that he worked with them anyway, rather than trying to immediately correct all of their mistaken cultural assumptions? What does it tell you about God that he would not “play along” with the mistaken assumptions that Abram and Pharaoh made, but found a way to keep Sarai from being absorbed into a monarch’s harem? It’s been said that “God loves you just as you are, but loves you too much to leave you just as you are.” How have you experienced that in your life?

 Read Genesis 16:1-15. Archeologists have found marriage contracts from ancient Nuzi and Assyria that called for the same kind of child-bearing plan Sarai used in this story. Do you find it surprising, given what you know of human nature, that in a culture that valued a woman’s ability to bear children above all else, Hagar’s pregnancy would have strained her relationship with Sarai? When Hagar ran away, there’s no record that Abram and Sarai sent out a rescue party into the desert—yet God preserved her life, and that of her unborn son. Ishmael could not be the son of the promise, yet God saw his life as worth saving. What lesson could that have taught later generations of Israelites? What can it teach us?

 Read Genesis 17:15-22. Middle Eastern families didn’t choose their children’s names for how they sounded, but for what they meant. So God renamed Abram and Sarai to names that better fit God’s purpose for their lives. Share around the circle: What does your name mean (if you know)? Do you know why your parents chose that name for you? Do you like your name? How has your name shaped your view of yourself, positively or negatively? Abraham plaintively said to God, “If only you would accept Ishmael,” but God again made it clear that Sarah was integral to the covenant. God would bless Ishmael with many descendants—but the covenant line would run through Sarah’s boy. What was God saying through this exchange with Abraham about the worth of women and the value of the marriage commitment?

 Read Genesis 21:1-7.Pastor Williams said in this weekend’s sermon, “The resolution in Sarah’s life doesn’t come through the fact that she bears a child. The resolution in Sarah’s story comes in the fact that she learns God can be trusted.” In what ways have you learned that God can be trusted? Where are the sore points, the “growing edges,” in which you are still wrestling with the question of God’s trustworthiness?

 Read Hebrews 11:8-12. As we have seen this week, Abraham and Sarah had a number of times along their journey in which their confidence in God faltered, in which they tried to substitute their best understanding of a situation for God’s plan, which reached beyond their culture’s knowledge and assumptions. Given that, would you have included them in a list of the “heroes” of faith? How can seeing Abraham and Sarah as people of faith give you strength and confidence at the times when you become aware that you have failed God, that your trust and commitment may have slipped?

From last week: Did you reflect on how well someone like Jesus would fit into your group or your congregation? Would he be welcome? Did you also reflect on how well your group or congregation would fit into a kingdom led by a Lord like Jesus. Share any insights you gained with the group.

 

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

From Pastor Anne William’s sermon, July 21, 2013:

In a perfect world, God would be a magician like a character from Harry Potter with a magic wand who would just utter an incantation under his breath and change our situation. With the wave of a wand, we would see things change back to the way we had hoped for.

But the Gospel doesn’t work like we sometimes hear on TV, the way one pastor I read about teaches. He wrote a letter to his congregation. He began his letter by asking “Do you need better transportation? Does your car need total repair or total replacement? Do you have a dream vehicle or luxury automobile you long to purchase? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these please carefully read the rest of this letter.” Later he suggested that donating to the helicopter fund is the “key to releasing a favor on your transportation situation.” If members would offer $52 to the helicopter blade fund, they would experience a “breakthrough favor [for their own transportation need] in 52 days or 52 weeks.” If we put it into an equation, that kind of understanding of faith might look something like this – A Good God + My Faithfulness = I Get What I Desire.

I know there are some people who relate to God in this way and if you find yourself in that place today, I want to encourage your faith and celebrate the ways God is working in your life.

At the same time, many of us haven’t found that to be the way God works. In my personal experiences, and reading the Bible, I have found that the world is much more complicated and unfair than a simple cause and effect equation. The question this simplistic equation raises is, what does this say to those that don’t have the happy ending they hope for? Here we run into a dilemma. We are left to assume that either a) something is wrong with me, or b) God isn’t the good, loving God that we thought.

That’s exactly how Sarah responded to her frustration. First she blames God. She says: “The Lord has kept me from having children” (Genesis 16:2). After all, the promise had been given but it wasn’t happening. The nursery was painted, diapers had been bought, baby name was picked out, and yet nothing. Nothing!

Sarah’s next step is to blame herself. A woman like Sarah’s entire worth would be based upon whether or not she can provide a child for her husband. So she internalizes her infertility as something inherently wrong with herself. Perhaps she second guesses herself, thinking “maybe I heard the promise wrong”, “maybe I haven’t been faithful enough.” Maybe it’s me that is the failing part of this equation. Perhaps if I could eliminate myself…And so, she suggests to Abraham: “Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” (Genesis 16:2) Here she is trying to force the dream to come true. Commentators assure us that this was an acceptable social custom for the time and place, but still, her actions reveal a spirit of untrusting, a sense of desperation.

I wonder, have you ever thought to yourself – it must be my fault? There must be something wrong with me? Has an unexpected turn caused you to doubt yourself?…

Of course we prefer to trust someone who provides our every desire and protects us from all disappointment. But that’s not how life works out. When we only trust God if life goes the way we want it to, that’s what author Phillip Yancey calls a “contract faith.” Thank goodness there is another way! Instead of having a “contract” faith with God, he suggests a “relationship” that transcends any hardship or situation we face. He writes: “If we develop a relationship with God apart from our life circumstances, then we may be able to hang on when the physical reality breaks down. We can learn to trust God despite all the unfairness of life.”

That’s the kind of trust that Hebrews 11:1 describes: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Some would say it is foolish to trust in something that cannot be seen, but in fact it may be the most courageous thing we could do. When all you can see around you is the trials, the little disappointments, the moments in life that haven’t lived up to our expectations, this is when the rubber hits the road in our faith and we get to really decide if we are willing to truly trust that God is God and that’s enough. Let me put it in Church of the Resurrection lingo for you. Being a Deeply Committed Christian means trusting God even when it doesn’t make sense, even when you can’t see the happy ending, even when we don’t understand.

Regarding Sarah and laughter

“Quantitatively speaking, you don’t find all that much laughter in the Bible, but, qualitatively, there’s nothing quite like it to be found anywhere else. There are a couple of chapters in the Book of Genesis that positively shake with it. Sarah was never going to see ninety again, and Abraham had already hit one hundred, and when the angel told them that the stork was on his way at last, they both of them almost collapsed. Abraham laughed ‘till he fell on his face’ (Genesis 17:17), and Sarah stood cackling behind the tent door so the angel wouldn’t think she was being rude as the tears streamed down her cheeks. When the baby finally came, they even called him Laughter—which is what Isaac means in Hebrew—because obviously no other name would do….

Sarah and her husband had plenty of hard knocks in their time, and there were plenty more of them still to come, but at that moment when the angel told them they’d better start dipping into their old age pensions for cash to build a nursery, the reason they laughed was that it suddenly dawned on them that the wildest dreams they’d ever had hadn’t been half wild enough.”

–From Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who, pp. 171-173

 

Final application:

Make a list of significant unexpected things that have happened in your life over the last year or two. Which ones were unexpectedly good? Which ones were unexpectedly bad? With what attitude have you tended to deal with the unexpected events? Do you want to continue facing the unexpected in the same way, or do you want to make any changes, with God’s help? Share with your group any insights you gain through this process.

7.14.13 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)

In the Ditch with Jesus

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

1 Corinthians 1:17-25

This week, starting with Paul’s startlingly blunt words about the limited popular appeal of his message, we will focus on God’s unexpected ways of saving us. The Life Application Bible summed up Paul’s words well: “Many Jews considered the Good News of Jesus Christ to be foolish, because they thought the Messiah would be a conquering king accompanied by signs and miracles…Greeks, too, considered the Good News foolish: They did not believe in a bodily resurrection, they did not see in Jesus the powerful characteristics of their mythological gods, and…to them, death was defeat, not victory.”

 

TUESDAY

Genesis 22:1-14

Abraham set out with his son Isaac, at God’s command, to offer a sacrifice. Isaac asked, “Where is the lamb for the entirely burned offering?” Abraham, perhaps uneasily, replied, “God will see to it, my son.” When they arrived, however, he tied Isaac himself, the son he’d waited decades for, to the altar. It was a desperate situation. But God DID see to it—Abraham suddenly saw a ram caught in the underbrush, and sacrificed it in Isaac’s place.

 

WEDNESDAY

2 Kings 5:1-14

With a feared, seemingly hopeless skin disease, the Syrian general Naaman was willing to take a suggestion from a captured Israelite slave girl. A nearly comic string of faulty notions followed. Naaman went to Israel’s king, not the prophet (verses 5-6). When he reached the prophet Elisha, he expected a formal religious ceremony (verse 11). His servants finally convinced him to bathe in the Jordan, and God healed him in that unexpected way.

 

THURSDAY

Luke 10:1-2, 17-24

Just before the Good Samaritan story, Luke wrote that Jesus sent 72 people to extend his mission. These peasant disciples were common, ordinary people, probably “uneducated and inexperienced” (cf. Acts 4:13)—no one expected them to be messengers of salvation. Yet Jesus equipped them to accomplish great things for God’s kingdom. They did so well that Jesus, in Luke’s words, “overflowed with joy” and said he saw Satan fall like lightning!

 

FRIDAY

Luke 10:25-32

The story Jesus told in answer to the lawyer’s question is familiar. When we read it, we tend to think of ourselves as one of the rescuers. We ask questions like, “Do we pass by people in need? Are we as caring as the Samaritan?” Good questions, but they can lead us to ignore the other person in the story. Spiritually, we’re all like the man injured beside the road. We all need a Savior. If you were bleeding by the road, how would you expect God to rescue you?

 

SATURDAY

Luke 10:33-37

Bishop Will Willimon, who preached at Resurrection last weekend, wrote: “Like most of Scripture, the story of the man in the ditch is a story about God before it is a story about us, about the oddness of our salvation in Christ….[We] would rather be the anything-but-poor Samaritan who does something nice for the less fortunate among us. In other words, [we] don’t like to admit that just possibly [we] might need to be saved.”

 

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

 

SUGGESTED PRAYER

Lord God, open our eyes, our ears and our hearts to all of the ways you are at work in our lives. Remind us that you don’t always come to us looking powerful and respectable, any more than you did during your earthly life. As you went to all lengths to reach us, fill us with your passion to reach out and touch others where they live with your message. Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

How do you deal with the possibility of roadside trouble (e.g. carry an auto club card, own multiple vehicles and depend on a family member to come to the rescue, trust your own mechanical knowledge)? Have you ever had to accept help from someone who initially made you a little uncomfortable?

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

 Read 1 Corinthians 1:17-25. Imagine that Paul was going to plant a new church (which he had done in Corinth—this letter was sent to that church), that you were considering being on the team of supporters in that venture, and that this was his “pitch” to your first meeting. Would you still want to be part of the new church? What was his point in describing his message in these terms? In what ways does his description of the gospel’s impact on people, negative and positive, still ring true today? How have you found the message of Jesus to be “the power of God” in your life?

 Read Genesis 22:1-14. The writer(s) of Genesis said God created this test for Abraham and Isaac. In a world where some other religions practiced child sacrifice, do you find it plausible that God would test someone’s faith this way, or do you think it more likely that Abraham misunderstood what God wanted and God had to correct him on the mountain? Have you ever seen God open paths of deliverance from a difficult situation, material or spiritual, which seemed impossible to your limited vision? When have you found it necessary to trust God because there was no obvious, immediate solution to your struggles?

 Read 2 Kings 5:1-14. This story began when an Israelite slave girl, captured in a cross-border raid, said she wished her owner, her captor, would seek healing from Israel’s prophet. If you were the Israelite girl, would you be likely to wish that God would heal this powerful man? If you were the general, would you be likely to listen to an idea from a slave girl? Have you, like Naaman, ever tried to dictate to God just how God must help you? Are there any parts of your life where you are resisting “bathing in the Jordan” because you’d like God to work in a different way?

 Read Luke 10:1-2, 17-24. Jesus told the 72 people he was sending out, “The harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest” (verse 2). What did Jesus mean by “the harvest”? Think about your life: who, what, and where is your “harvest”? Family? Friends? Neighborhood? Workplace? What “harvest” possibilities exist for you working together as a group? Do you believe God can work powerfully through your combined gifts and passions to truly change the world for the better?

 Read Luke 10:25-32. The GPS says, “Spiritually, we’re all like the man injured beside the road. We all need a Savior.” Do you agree, or have there been (or are there) any points in your life when you’ve felt like saying, “Talk to someone else about grace and forgiveness—I’m good”? Think of people who don’t fit into the mold of “priest” or “Levite” today–who serve God in ways different from what you expect or prefer (e.g. music too loud or too boring, clothes too formal or too casual, etc.). When have you seen God change lives today through any of those ways you’d rather no one used?

 Read Luke 10:33-37. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1, Jesus was a strange type of Savior. He was born in a stable to peasant parents, poor, politically powerless, and crucified to satisfy the demands of the religious leaders of his day. A song by Todd Agnew says, “My Jesus would not be welcome in my church, because the blood and the dirt on his feet might stain the carpet.” Does thinking about who Jesus was, and what kind of life he led, ever make you a bit uneasy? Are you willing to accept salvation from a Lord who was as unexpected as a “good” Samaritan was in Israel? How will accepting God’s rescue through Jesus free you to serve God more fully, with less need to worry about “how it will make you look”?

From last week: Did you think about who the “Samaritans” are in your life? Did you ask the Holy Spirit to give you strength, courage and love to approach them just as Christ approached the woman at the well? If you had any such encounters, share your experience with the group.

 

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

 

A Blog entry about Bishop Will Willimon’s message on the Good Samaritan:

Continuing in Bishop Willimon‘s recent book, Who Will Be Saved?…

In chapter 1, Willimon retells the parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10, considering the response of the Jewish man who has been beaten and robbed and who is lying in need. The persons he would have accepted salvation from–the priest, the Levite–pass by, but the last person on earth he would desire or even think of receiving salvation from–the Samaritan–is the one who indeed saves him. Willimon writes, “So this is not a story about a person who stops and gives the man in the ditch the use of his cell phone in order to call the highway patrol–we would have done that. It’s a story about the odd, threatening, humiliating, and extravagant form by which God draws near to us for our rescue” (p. 11).

What need have we educated, successful, wealthy, resourceful, clever, resilient North Americans for salvation at the hands of a homeless, jobless, wandering rabbi put to death by an foreign government in military and political occupation of his ethnic homeland? This is a juxtaposition in profiles if ever there was one.

Willimon continues: “Like most of Scripture, the story of the man in the ditch is a story about God before it is a story about us, about the oddness of our salvation in Christ. … [We] would rather be the anything-but-poor Samaritan who does something nice for the less fortunate among us. In other words, [we] don’t like to admit that just possibly [we] might need to be saved.”

If indeed a way to hear that story is as Willimon puts it here, one of the things we notice is that the Samaritan would have found himself finally in a position of strength vis-a-vis this Jew. The one who considered himself a full member of the people of God, at the mercy, literally, of one whom he despised and considered unworthy. If the man had been half-conscious, he would have certainly cringed upon the approach of the Samaritan. The tables are turned, the Samaritan now able to return some of the abuse that he and his kin suffered socioculturally. But to the surprise of the man in the ditch, the Samaritan does not respond with violence to this opportunity to shame one of those who looked upon him and his race as shameful. Instead, he responds with mercy, care, love, compassion.

A new friend in a covenant group pointed out recently that Moses did not look fully upon God’s glory because it would have killed Moses for him to do so (Exodus 33:20). Yet when we did finally look upon God’s glory in Jesus (John 1:14), we killed him. But in Jesus, we see the one whom we beat and executed when given the opportunity respond not with violence but with love. Odd and great is the salvation that comes through Jesus.

–From http://guymwilliams.net/tag/william-willimon/, posted Feb. 9, 2009

 

Final application:

In Matthew 8:19-20 we read, “A legal expert came and said to him, ‘Teacher, I’ll follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens, and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Human One [or, Son of Man] has no place to lay his head.’” This week, reflect on how well someone like Jesus would fit into your group or your congregation. Would he be welcome? Reflect on how well your group or congregation would fit into a kingdom led by a Lord like Jesus. Share any insights you gain with the group next week.

 

6.30.13 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 Gift of Imperfection

A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.

 

MONDAY

John 4:1-6

We often read the story of Jesus’ meeting with a Samaritan woman in one quick rush. This week we will read it at a slower pace. It began as Jesus went from Judea (southern Israel) to Galilee (the north). Most Jews in his day bypassed the region of Samaria, which lay between Judea and Galilee, but Jesus went through Samaria by design (he “had to go”—verse 4), and reached Jacob’s well at noon.

 

TUESDAY

John 4:7-10

In the hot Middle East, most women enjoyed a morning or evening social time at the well. That this woman came alone at noon was telling—she probably didn’t wish to meet the other town women. John also gave non-Palestinian readers the key background to understand this remarkable conversation—”Jews and Samaritans didn’t associate with each other” (verse 9). But Jesus initiated contact, saying matter-of-factly, “Give me some water to drink” (verse 7).

 

WEDNESDAY

John 4:11-15

Jesus offer of “living water” (in common usage, the term meant the freshest, cleanest water, not stagnant water that had stood in a cistern) was intriguing. But the woman at first showed skepticism: “Where would you get this living water?” (verse 11) That didn’t discourage Jesus. He described the spiritual water he offered in such appealing terms that the woman’s thirsty soul responded, “Give me this water!” (verse 15).

 

THURSDAY

John 4:16-24

It was probably shame that led the woman to come to the well alone. Jesus frankly described the life situation at the root of her shame. She acknowledged that he was accurate, but at first tried to shift the subject by raising a religious debate between the Jews and Samaritans (verses 19-20). Jesus didn’t take the bait. He said the key to worshipping God fully was not finding the “right” place, but laying aside shame to worship “in spirit and truth” (verse 24).

 

FRIDAY

John 4:25-30

The woman had said, “I see that you are a prophet” (verse 19). As Jesus disclosed her past without shaming her, the woman seemed to sense an even greater power at work, and spoke of the coming Messiah. Jesus replied, “I am.” The woman went into Sychar to tell the very people she’d been avoiding about Jesus. Now unashamed, she said he was “a man who has told me everything I’ve done!” With wonder, she added, “Could this man be the Christ?”

 

SATURDAY

John 4:31-42

Jesus’ disciples reentered the scene. No doubt still ill at ease with Samaritans, and “shocked” to find him talking with a Samaritan woman (verse 27), they urged Jesus to eat. He told them that doing God’s will, reaping a harvest of willing followers, nourished him in a deeper way than any physical food could. At the Samaritans’ invitation, he stayed on in Sychar for two days.

 

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

 

SUGGESTED PRAYER

Lord, give us a hunger and thirst for righteousness, an appetite for your plan for our lives. Help us to live your true life every day. Help us to shed our shame and embrace your mercy and forgiveness more fully. Help us to accept unlikely people as your children, and to reach out to them in love. Thank you for your steadfast love and for the peace your love brings to us. Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

Who’s the most unforgettable, different person you’ve ever met? What caused you to feel that way towards them? Would you like to see them again? Do you think you would treat them differently than the last time you saw them?

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

 Read John 4:1-6. Jews of Christ’s time did not like Samaritans, but Jesus chose to go through their country. Why did he decide to do this? What does this demonstrate about Christ’s global mission? What does this say to us as Christians today? What does the fact that Jesus became tired tell us about him? Why was it important that Jesus was able to suffer in much the same way as any of us? Do you accept that Christ was “fully human”? Do you accept that he was also “fully God”? Is this a difficult concept for you (as it is for some)?

 Read John 4:7-10. Besides being thirsty, why did Jesus ask this woman, a Samaritan, for a drink? What would other Jews have thought about this? What message is Jesus sending to us as we read about this request? How would you describe what Jesus meant when he spoke of his “living water”? Do you have that water within you? How can you offer others a drink of that living water?

 Read John 4:11-15. In verses 11 and 12, did the woman have any idea what Jesus was talking about? How does this compare to the state of the beliefs of the world of today? Did verses 13 and 14 increase her understanding? Does it give you hope that the rest of the world might begin to understand as well? Do you know others who might be thirsty for the refreshing water of eternal life? Are they more likely to respond to the message due to the words we use or to the way we live? Why? Did Jesus show any signs of being uneasy with this “different” Samaritan woman? Do you know people who make you uneasy? What makes you feel this way toward them?

 Read John 4:16-24. What made the woman come to the well when no one else was around? By accurately describing her situation to her, what did Jesus accomplish? Does shame sometimes actually prevent some people from coming to God? Can that block be overcome? What does shame usually come from? How can we, as Christians, help others to get past their shame? Are you able to share negative aspects of your life as well as positive ones, thanks to the freedom that Christ has given you?

 Read John 4:25-30. Was Jesus able to help the woman get past her shame? How can you tell? Was she finally able to face her neighbors and share her joy with them? Is Jesus as real to you as he was to this woman, or is he more of a character in a book? What makes him real to you? Why doesn’t everyone feel about Christ as you do? Would other Christians be better off if they read this story and others like it by reading the Bible more often? Would you? How can we “permit” Jesus to transform our own lives even more than he already has?

 Read John 4:31-42. Does it seem as though the woman first accepted Christ’s forgiveness, and the town then forgave her as well? If we see ourselves as “clean” in God’s eyes, does that make us better at dealing with others on a more loving level? Did this woman become an “instant evangelist”? Where did this ability come from? Where is our strength? Where do your gifts come from?

From last week: Did you pray and review what you’ve learned about your spiritual gifts? If you’d never really given that much thought to your gifts, did you spend time reading 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12:1-8 and Ephesians 4:1-16? Did you pray and think about which gifts you see most present in you? Please share with the group whatever you discovered.

 

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

 

From Pastor Penny Ellwood’s sermon, July 7, 2013:

The Bible is full of stories about imperfect people, people who have made mistakes but had their stories redeemed by God. Moses murdered a man but became the great leader of the Israelites, David, an adulterer, was one of the greatest Kings known, Peter denied Jesus and became the rock on which the church was built and Paul who persecuted Christians, ended up spreading the word of God across the nations. The Samaritan woman in the fourth chapter of John is another of these. Her story is well-loved and one of my favorites in the Bible….

About noon a Samaritan woman came to draw water from the well. She was hoping to find the well deserted, but a man sat on the side of the well and to her surprise, he spoke to her. She looked around see if there was someone else standing behind her that she hadn’t noticed, for a respectable Jewish male, as this man appeared to be, would never speak to a woman, especially not a Samaritan woman, and had he known, certainly not a woman with her reputation….

The conversation between Jesus and this woman began with a simple question from Jesus: “Will you give me a drink?”…

As Jesus listens to her, taking her questions seriously and treating her with kindness and respect, something she rarely experiences, she begins to sense there is something special about this man. She discloses to him her belief and hope in a coming Messiah. Imagine her surprise when Jesus reveals himself as the Messiah.

Little did she know that day as she trudged to the well in the oppressive heat that she would find a water to quench the thirst of her soul. This is the wonder of God’s grace. Only someone who loves you can look at your past, know the truth and reach out to you anyway. He’s not ashamed of her past but he cannot help her until she is able to get beyond the shame and admit the truth of her life. Jesus is offering this woman a relationship of such satisfaction and security it will surpass everything she’s ever known….

Brene’ Brown, an author and researcher has done some really interesting work on the subject of shame. [Some of you may be familiar with her TED Talks. Her talk on “The Power of Vulnerability” has over 10 million hits.] She also writes and speaks about vulnerability, authenticity and how to engage with the world from a place of worthiness.

I have been fascinated with her work because I’ve seen how shame can lead to feelings unworthiness and how it can cripple lives and keep people from living fully into the person God created them to be. I’ve also seen the healing that occurs when we become vulnerable and share our stories, which Brown’s studies have shown as a remedy cultivating a sense of worth. [I’m really looking forward to hearing her speak the Willow Creek Leadership Summit in a couple of weeks.] Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”…

Brown says, “Shame needs three things to grow out of control in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment.” Shame is all about fear. We’re afraid people won’t like us or accept us if they know who we really are or what we’ve done or been through, or what we believe or how much we’re struggling. So we try to hide our shame and we remain silent, which only gives shame more power. Brown says we need to share our shame with someone who has earned the right to hear our story and will respond with compassion because shame when spoken loses its power over us….

So what if we told our stories? There would be a lot less isolation, shame, guilt, confusion, anger, and loneliness. Instead there would be communities of broken people who realize our God is a God of grace and that no “story” is beyond repair. And perhaps others would acknowledge their need for help and say, “Take my broken story and help me find a new one too.” As author Daniel Taylor says, “The best cure for a broken story is another story.” So let us heal our stories and choose new ones that say, “I am loved by God, and do I have a story tell. . .Come and see!”

 

Samaria

Samaria…is a mountainous region in the northern part of the geographical area to the west of the Jordan River roughly corresponding to the northern part of the West Bank. The name derives from the ancient city of Samaria, the capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel (the capital of the southern Kingdom of Judah was Jerusalem). During the 1967 Six-Day War, the entire West Bank was captured by Israel. In 1994, control of Areas ‘A’ and ‘B’ were transferred to the Palestinian Authority.

The name Samaria is of biblical origin, derived from the individual [or clan] Shemer, from whom Omri purchased the site. (1 Kings 16:24). It was the only name used for this area from ancient times until the Jordanian conquest of 1948, at which point the Jordanians coined the term West Bank.

The Samaritans are an ethno-religious group named after and inhabiting Samaria after the beginning of the Assyrian Exile of the Israelites. Religiously the Samaritans are adherents of Samaritanism, an Abrahamic religion closely related to Judaism. Samaritans claim their worship, based on the Samaritan Torah, is the true religion of the ancient Israelites prior to the Babylonian Exile, preserved by those who remained in the Land of Israel, as opposed to Judaism, which they assert is a related but altered and amended religion brought back by those returning from exile.

Their temple was built at Mount Gerizim in the middle of fifth century BC and was destroyed by the Maccabean Hebrew John Hyrcanus in 110 BC, although their descendants still worship among its ruins. The antagonism between Samaritans and Jews is important in understanding the Christian Bible’s stories of “Parable of the Good Samaritan” and the “Samaritan woman at the well”.

Much more at source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samaria (first printed in March 25, 2012 Study Guide)

 

Jacob’s Well

Jewish, Samaritan, Christian, and Muslim traditions all associate the well with Jacob. The well is not specifically mentioned in the Old Testament, but Genesis 33:18-20 states that when Jacob returned to Shechem from Paddan Aram, he camped “before” the city and bought the land on which he pitched his tent. Biblical scholars contend that the plot of land is the same one upon which Jacob’s Well was constructed.

Jacob’s Well is mentioned by name in the New Testament (John 4:5-6) which says that Jesus “came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the field which Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there.” The Book of John goes on to describe a conversation between Jesus and a Samaritan woman (called Photini in Orthodox tradition), that took place while Jesus was resting at the well. (John 4:7-15 ) The site is counted as a Christian holy site.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacob%27s_Well

 

Modern Samaritans

Today a few Samaritans survive, not having lost their identity through intermarriage. There are about 550-600 active practitioners of the Samaritan religion with some admixture of Islam, most of whom live in the city of Nablus, in the area now known as the West Bank. Although their temple is long since destroyed, they still celebrate Passover every year around their ancient temple site of sacrifice, Mount Gerizim, their holy mountain. The Day of Atonement is the holiest day of their year and the Sabbath is most rigidly observed. They are a distinctly religious community and their high priest acts as their political official and representative.

Source: Various (first printed in May 13, 2012 Study Guide)

 

Final application:

This week, think about who the “Samaritans” are in your life. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you strength, courage and love so that you might be able to approach them just as Christ approached the woman at the well. If and when the time seems right, share with them about your church and why you enjoy and find fulfillment in serving God. Next week, share your experience with the group.

 

6.30.13 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)

Batman vs. Superman, or Both?

A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.

MONDAY

Exodus 4:27-31, 17:8-13

God called Moses to lead Israel out of slavery in Egypt. Moses and the Israelites must have felt great excitement and hope for a better future, but also fear and uncertainty about when and how they would get there. Moses challenge was to lead a nation into the unknown, and God used him in powerful ways. He was a towering figure in Israel’s history—but not a solitary one. All through their journey, Moses drew on the strengths of others to help him.

 

TUESDAY

1 Samuel 20:17-42, 1 Chronicles 11:15-19

King David was a heroic, historic leader. (Even today, Israel’s flag bears the “star of David.”) Yet without the steadfast friendship of Jonathan (who was King Saul’s son, and could have seen David as a rival for power), David might not even have survived to reach the throne. As king, he counted on the help of many mighty men, and like other great leaders, was wise enough to honor them for their help.

 

WEDNESDAY

Acts 9:23-30, 13:1-3

Was the apostle Paul a heroic individual carrying the good news of Jesus to the Roman Empire all alone? No—the book of Acts said his ministry might not ever have started if Barnabas (the name meant “son of encouragement”—cf. Acts 4:36) hadn’t vouched for him to the wary believers in Jerusalem. Later the church in Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas out as partners, and Paul always had similar partners as he spread the message of Jesus far and wide.

 

THURSDAY

Luke 6:12-16, 8:1-3

The gospel writer Luke recorded that even Jesus, with a mission unique in history, needed support from others. Most everyone has heard about the 12 disciples. In a male-dominated society, Luke also noted the more surprising fact that a group of loyal women (even one from King Herod’s household) helped Jesus in his ministry, even financially.

 

FRIDAY

Luke 19:29-36

On Palm Sunday, Jesus rode on a donkey’s colt, a symbol of peaceful royalty (cf. Zechariah 9:9). Luke’s story made it clear that the donkey’s unnamed owners had the colt ready when the disciples came for it. It wasn’t a random encounter–the owners had agreed to let Jesus use their animal. Their generous help was one key element that made possible Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem five days before the crucifixion.

 

SATURDAY

1 Corinthians 12:4-13

Through this series, we’ve looked at the promise that God “is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us” (cf. Ephesians 3:20) In today’s reading, the apostle Paul explained to the Corinthian Christians that God indeed gives each of us power to join in the divine mission of changing the world for the better. But no one of us receives all the gifts and talents needed for the job. To live out the “superhero” potential God has planted in us, we need each other as well as God.

 

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

 

SUGGESTED PRAYER

Heavenly Father, thank you for the ways (including this group) that you provide other people to help us along the way. Give us a willingness to share with you today whatever it is you need from us. We offer you back the gifts you’ve given us, asking that you will put them to use through your power, so that we may carry out your mission in the world. Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

What’s the best experience you’ve ever had of being part of a team that worked together for a common purpose? In what ways did your teammates’ strengths complement yours as you worked together (but not alike)?

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

 Read Exodus 4:27-31, 17:8-13. God gave Moses a huge challenge: to lead a nation who had been slaves for several generations into a great but unknown future. God used him in powerful ways, but often by sending him the helpers that he needed. What weaknesses do you perceive in yourself that make you feel that God probably can’t use you, at least not for much? In what ways can you depend more fully on God’s help (directly, or through the presence of others) to enhance your ability to live fully when you face fear and uncertainty?

 Read 1 Samuel 20:17-42, 1 Chronicles 11:15-19. King Saul expected his son and heir Jonathan to view David as a rival, an enemy (1 Samuel 20:31). Despite David’s many abilities, think about how history might have been different if Jonathan had helped his father kill David (e.g. Jesus wouldn’t have been “the son of David”). In what ways does the story in 1 Chronicles 11 help you understand the qualities that made David such an effective leader? Who is the best leader you have ever personally worked with or for? Did that person honor those who helped to produce successes, or ignore them and focus on personal glory?

 Read Acts 9:23-30, 13:1-3. The GPS quotes scholar William Barclay’s observation that Barnabas’ support for Paul when others doubted his conversion showed two deeply Christian traits. Barnabas “insisted on believing the best of others,” and he “never held anyone’s past against him.” How easy or difficult do you find it to show those two traits? When have you been blessed by someone else extending either or both of those two traits in their treatment of you?

 Read Luke 6:12-16, 8:1-3. Jesus prayed all night–and still, one of the twelve he chose was Judas. Does this suggest to you that praying for God’s wisdom in choosing friends is a waste of time, or that it is a really important activity that we too often don’t even think about? A common rabbinic morning prayer in Jesus’ day said, “Lord, I thank you that I was not born a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.” When you read that Jesus treated women very differently than that, do you feel irritated at having to deal with “political correctness,” or are you challenged to examine how you may be unconsciously buying into stereotypes (about gender, race, religion or whatever) that limit and ridicule other people?

 Read Luke 19:29-36. Wow–Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry might not have happened if some of Jesus’ followers (the text is plural, but doesn’t say how many) hadn’t been willing to loan him their young donkey! In what ways have you put things that are valuable to you at God’s disposal, for use in God’s service? How has the willingness of other people to share time, talents or possessions enriched your worship of God, or your service to God and others?

 Read 1 Corinthians 12:4-13. In what ways, either by intentional design or just through “doing what comes naturally,” does your group function in ways similar to what Paul described as “the body of Christ”? Quickly go around the circle, identifying which strengths and talents you believe each of the members of your group has. Are there ways that you as a group could more fully live into the vision of being “the body of Christ,” with each of you taking a role based on the gifts you have in your life? (If you’d like help exploring this, visit http://www.cor.org/spiritualgifts.)

From last week: Did you pray that you might be a messenger as Jonah was a messenger for God? Did you look for opportunities where you might, through the way you live your life, be a live demonstration of God’s grace to people you might not like, might not choose to be God’s children? Share with the group whatever you experienced in doing this.

 

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

 

From Pastor Scott Chrostek’s sermon, June 30, 2013:

There’s a whole host of superheroes. The question I want to wrestle with today is not a question of how many people are doing this, but I want to take a look at the question of who is the greatest? Which among these superheroes is the greatest?

I’ve found that this is a very common question among superhero or comic book fans. Everyone seems to think that their favorite superhero is the answer; they believe that their superhero is the greatest superhero. People have explained to me why they think Aquaman needs to be considered as level with the best superhero of all time, or why Batman is the best or Wonderwoman…you get the picture. People have opinions. They are invested. I am invested. For the record…my favorite is Superman….

There’s something not right about these images to me. I mean, Superman or any other superhero isn’t supposed to be fighting against the good guys. They are supposed to fight against evil. They are supposed to overcome their enemies so that life and peace and hope abound. They aren’t supposed to fight over who’s the greatest. In fact, it would seem like if we are trying to uncover what it takes to become a superhero, then competing, fighting or arguing with others over who is the greatest would be the opposite of what it takes to become the best version of the people we were created to be. And yet, we wrestle with this….

[At several points in the gospels,] Jesus hears this question about who is the greatest. He answers by saying, “Whoever wants to be first must be last and servant of all.” If you want to become like me, Jesus said, if you want to know what it takes to become a superhero…you mustn’t worry or argue about who is the greatest. Instead you must serve, you must humble yourself, you must welcome children, and in Matthew, Jesus just flat out says, those who want to be great must change and become like children.

So what does that look like? How can we welcome them or become like them? What can we learn from children?

I decided at the beginning of the year to spend time in our KiDS COR downtown every Sunday morning. I get to spend time with our littlest members at either the 9 or 10:45 service, so I can welcome them, get to know them, love them and learn from them. Often I find myself getting down on my hands and knees so that I can be at their level. When I get down there, my world changes.

Everything looks different, better and exciting. They have these great toys to play with, kitchen sets, hardware benches, puzzles and trains and cars, more than you could ever ask for or imagine and all of it is exciting. So, as I get with them, it would seem that regardless of what we do, what toys we pick up and play with, whatever the activity, children are almost always appreciative of the time other people spend with them. They treat it like a gift. And then I realized that kids have this ability to see everything they encounter as though it were a gift. Their whole world is understood as though they were unwrapping new adventures or new gifts. They pick up and play with new toys, new experiences, new people, new sights, new sounds, new encounters. It’s all a gift to them, and generally speaking when kids receive a gift, they get excited and so they run around and play with whatever it might be. They use what they encounter, they share it with others, they live into it and they employ it. Kids like to play and they like to invite friends and strangers to play with them in their own little world!

And this is what you see when a child receives a cape. If a child gets a cape…they immediately get this big smile on their face and they put it on. They wear it, and then they go about flying or at least trying to fly, because that is what gifts are for. They are for using, for sharing, and for employing so that we might change the world or at least to live fully into it. I love it, when a child gets a cape. There’s no comparing, there’s no worry, they aren’t worried about determining who is the greatest, they are simply worried with how great using those gifts makes them feel. They are worried simply about flying, rescuing, saving, and beating back the enemy. This is how we should all feel. This is what makes us great too.

And this is exactly what Paul was trying to communicate with his church at Corinth. Corinth was a wealthy community, rooted in spirited athletic competition on a variety of levels, and so people were accustomed to ask questions about greatness, similar to the disciples’ quarrels. So Paul writes them a letter to restore order and to remind them of the gifts they’ve each been given. Paul writes to his community, saying, stop arguing, stop wondering who’s the greatest. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (and not for selfish ambition). (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)

There are a ton of gifts and one spirit, there are a variety of services, but one Lord. Jesus calls us to humble ourselves, to serve one another, to welcome children or more importantly to become like children…so stop arguing about these gifts and whose is the greatest, and instead go to work using all that you’ve been given, employ whatever you have and help and encourage others to do the same thing, because you need them. In the same way that a body requires a variety of parts in order to live, move, breathe and have being, so too will you need each other’s diversity in order to live fully as the body of Christ.

This is a compelling picture for the church. Richard Hays writes that the overall picture of the church implied in these verses is, to put it mildly, remarkable. It’s a picture where “each one of us” is empowered by the Spirit or gifted with extraordinary gifts. The church as a whole is envisioned as a charismatic or “gifted” community in which the power of the Holy Spirit is palpably present, operating through the complementary, not competitive, gifts of its members. It takes everyone, pulling together, weaving together and playing together in love and humility in mercy and grace in order to become the living body of Christ.

“The Body of Christ:” Diversity and Solidarity

“Paul’s communal plan for believers in the risen Christ involved the proper use of power, diversity, and mutuality. In the midst of a society in which governing power would have normally been bestowed on some members and not on others, Paul argued for a transformed perspective, a renewed mind (Rom 12:2).

First emphasizing the fact that those with power over others needed to make an adjustment in their conduct, Paul argued that members of the body of Christ were to receive honor and respect based not on their social rank but on their status as partakers of the one sacramental loaf (1 Cor 10:17; 11:27). Those members who were weaker should be compensated so that they, too, shared power and were free to be virtuous body members responding to their Lord and other community members with integrity.

Secondly, Paul stressed the crucial importance of diversity and solidarity in order for unity to exist. Diversity was possible because the Spirit of Christ permeated the entire body, and bestowed the various spiritual gifts needed by the body to each individual member. Uniformity among members was not possible, since the body needed diversity in order to function, and thereby sustain each member’s freedom in Christ. Solidarity was necessary because, due to diverse distribution of gifts, members needed each other for the community to be functional. The need for each member’s participation called for the practice of mutual care, one for the other. After all, the Corinthians were ‘individually members one of another.'”

–Excerpt from an article by Judith A. Stevens found at http://gbgm-umc.org/umw/corinthians/newcreation.stm#community

 

Final application:

This week, if you have already been in a setting in which you studied about which spiritual gifts you have most strongly, and got input from others, review what you learned. If you’ve never really given that much thought, spend time reading 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12:1-8 and Ephesians 4:1-16. Pray and think about which gifts you see most present in you. (A great resource, available in The Well bookstore, is Serving from the Heart, by Carol Cartmill and Yvonne Gentile.) Next week, tell the group which gifts you believe you may have, and ask the other members if their perceptions of you line up with that.