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Study Resources for May 24, 2015

The teacher for this session was Steve Booth. (email Steve

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Ezekiel 37:1-14

INTRODUCTION: Think of a really low time in your life like a divorce, a break-up, loss of a loved one, etc.

With that thought, please watch clip "Elevation Creative: Say Something" from Elevation Creative.
• Why do we seem to have so many ups and downs in this world?
• What happens when a relationship that started so well, suddenly gets complicated?
• How can we weather the ups and downs without losing confidence in who we are in Christ?
• Have you ever felt like the woman in this video?
• Is it "better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all?"
• Why do intelligent people search for painful information on social media, like the woman in this video?

EXAMINATION: Read Ezekiel 37:1-14.
• How much do you know about the prophet Ezekiel?

Watch the clip "Dry Bones" from YouTube.
• How would you have felt seeing a vision of bones?
• How odd is Ezekiel's response to the Lord's question about the bones?
• If you had a vision of dry bones becoming an army: would you be excited or think you drink too much communion wine?
• Would this vision have meaning to you if you were lacking hope living in exile?

• Have you ever felt exiled and hopeless?
• Is there hope in times of dryness? Do we need a shaking and a rattling in our lives?
• How can we find hope in time of distress and loneliness?
• What can your church do to help the "dry bones" of our world have new life again?
• Do we believe that God's Spirit can revive us and our world?
• Name one specific area to ask God to bring renewal in your life.

Watch the clip "Spirit Wind" from Casting Crowns.

Study Resources for May 17, 2015

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

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Thanks for your participation on Sunday. It was a good lesson. I enjoyed your thoughts and the discussion. You are the best! We have another lesson in 1 John. Here we go...

• Have you ever been called to give a testimony in a court of law?
• What was that like for you?
• If you were to ever be on a TV commercial as one of those "not an actor, a real person" persons, what product or service would you be willing to advertise?
• What would your life look like if you knew you would live forever?
• What would you be afraid of? Why?
• Would the way you treat other people change? Why or why not?
• God's word tells us that Christians have eternal life. What does that mean?
• How should that change the way we live our lives?
• How should that change what we are afraid of?
• How should that change the way we relate to each other?
• How is eternal life not just about death but how you live your life?

• What do you call someone who imitates everything you do?
• How would you explain a mirror to someone who has never seen one?

Watch the Friskies ad, "Impersona-Cat."

• How did the older cat try to explain the mirror?
• Did the older cat even understand the mirror?
• How do you tell others about the majesty of God and God's love?
• Do you ever feel like it gets complicated to explain like describing a mirror to a cat?

As 1 John concludes, the author wants to give assurance that his words can be trusted, so he calls for witnesses. If the best form of advertising is word of mouth, John has some trustworthy voices on his side.

Read 1 John 5:6-13.

• Why does the author put such high value on the testimony of eternal life?
• How does the author compare eternal life to life?
• Does the idea of eternal life help you to feel less threatened and unprotected in this world?

The author of 1 John chooses three witnesses to testify about the reality and presence of Jesus Christ in the believer's life. Maybe we could add to the list.
• What or who has been a witness of Christ's reality and presence to you?
• What is a testimony?
• What did John want the hearers of this letter to testify about/of?
• What are the three witnesses he lists?
• Why do you think John mentioned these?
• Could it have to do with Jesus’ divinity and humanity (and the debates about that in the 1st century)?
• What type of testimony do you have within you?

• How does the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus give us both life now and forever?
• Due to the testimony within us as followers of Jesus, what are we compelled and empowered to do?
• Why did John write this letter? Was it for confidence to act in love due to the life of Jesus and eternal life?

• What is the inner testimony that John is talking about?
• Why do you think John was concerned about their inner testimony?
• Did they need to learn to listen to the true inner testimony concerning Jesus, just as we do also?

Watch the Jeanne Robertson video, "Cursive Writing"  from GodTube.

Just as Jeanne wanted her grandchild to learn cursive, God has so many things for us to learn and enjoy about eternal life if we are willing to learn.
• What have you learned about the testimony of Jesus within you?
• How can you grow in that testimony?
• Does that testimony lead you to more than a monetary inheritance? How so?

Study Resources for May 10, 2015

The teacher for this session is Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

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We are still in 1 John (1 John 5:1-5) and talking about love.

Watch the clip "Ground Rules" from the movie Despicable Me.
• What rules did you have growing up?
• What kind of expectations do you think God has about us?
• What do you think this week’s passage says about those expectations that we or other people place on us?
• What are the expectations that Christ has for us according to this week’s passage?
• How does loving other people help us to overcome the expectations of this world?

Watch the clip "We Believe" from A.D. The Bible Continues.
• What do we really believe about Jesus?
• Why is it important?
• How did the belief that Jesus was the Messiah change the 1st century believers?
• How did it empower them to love?
• Do we believe that Jesus can actually change us and our world?

In today's text, John gives a summary of what he has said so far. It is as if he has highlighted his scroll, then rewrote his highlights in a single paragraph. Read 1 John 5:1-5.
• What two points is John making in this paragraph?
• Why do you think it is so important for us to love other people?
• How does this passage describe how we can have confidence that we are indeed loving God’s children?
• What do you think the author means by "God’s commands?"
• If that is the litmus test for loving God, how do you think you are doing? Why?
• How does loving other people cause you to conquer the world? What does that mean?

"Many people believe that Jesus was a good rabbi who got carried away with himself. Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet. Humanists recognize Jesus as a good man and an important teacher. John insists, though, that Jesus is more than a preacher or a prophet; he is the Son of God." – Rick Jordan
• What interpretations have you heard about who Jesus is?

This is not just a debate with other faiths. The church has struggles with understanding who Jesus is, as well. Many of the earliest creed were driven by conflicts over Jesus' humanity and/or divinity.

"The most deadly and recurrent misconceptions about Jesus in our 2000 years of Christian living have had to do with those who would slight or ignore or deny his humanity. It seems to be much easier to believe in a Jesus who is all divinity and doesn't soil his hands with humanity than to follow a Jesus with dirt under his fingernails." – Eugene Peterson

"Did some of his followers experience Jesus as a divine reality after his death, and have some Christians had such experiences in the centuries since? These experiences led to the conviction that Jesus was 'one with God' and at the right hand of God. This is the context in which it makes sense to praise and pray to Jesus. But this doesn't mean that Jesus during his historical life was God. Jesus was completely human. He did not have a divine component that made him different in kind from the rest of us. That's what it means to say that he was fully human. He didn't have a divine supercharger." – Marcus Borg
• Which emphasis do you think is the greater danger in our time: a focus on Jesus' divinity or on his humanity?
• How does this commandment to love distinguish Christ-followers from other religions and philosophies?
• How well does this play out in the Church?

"Love is the most context-specific act in the entire spectrum of human behavior... A dictionary is nearly worthless in understanding and practicing love... Because of the totally personal, particular and uniquely contextual community dimensions involved in even the simplest acts of love—the circumstantial complexity and inescapably local conditions—there is a sense in which we cannot tell a person how to love and so our Scriptures for the most part don't even try." – Eugene Peterson
• How do you feel about the open-endedness of this command to love?
• Which is the greater imbalance for the typical 21st century Christian: the love for each other with little emphasis on the love for God or the love for God while ignoring love for one another?
• Which is the greater danger for our church?

Read John 16:28-44. Jesus did have victory over death in his resurrection. However, we seem to be far from claiming with Jesus that love has overcome the world.
• Why is this?

"Often when we act out of love, what we actually experience feels much more like what we ordinarily think of as duty. But love, as we use it here, includes as a part of its very nature a willingness to care for the other person, which means to take on a real responsibility for another, and in many cases, as every parent knows, a further willingness to sacrifice our own emotional comfort... It is important to note that this kind of love comes naturally up to a certain point. Past that, we have to keep choosing that part of it which seems to run counter to our immediate desires and even needs... Day by day love has to be learned and exercised even toward the people we find it easy to love. How much more true it is of the difficult people in our lives we want to love." – Roberta Bondi
• What do you think about that?

"While we are called to carry Christ's message to others, it's not our job to choose who God accepts into the family."
• Do you agree or disagree?

"God does not love people in the abstract. He loves them as persons, with all their contradictions and all the traits that make it difficult to love them. When people open their lives to his love, they discover that it is a restless love, always reaching out to other human beings. The only way that we can really play it safe is to have nothing to do with God's love. Then we can retain the privilege of deciding who is good enough for us to associate with. In that way we can remain isolated in the ghetto of our indifference and take comfort in how religious we are and how much better than other people we are. It is dangerous for people to come into contact with God's love. It makes them do foolish, reckless, disturbing things. It makes them challenge the suffocating strictures of society that shut men off from one another. It causes them, thoughtless of their own security and position, to give themselves away in order to help others." – Malcolm Tolbert
• What do you think?
• Why do you think it is so important for us to love other people?
• How does this passage describe the way we can have confidence that we are indeed loving God’s children?
• What do you think the author means by "God’s commands?"
• What is a wonderful act of love that you have seen in your lifetime? How did it start?

Watch the clip "Humanity FTW: The Pizza Shop That Pays It Forward" from Upworthy.com.
• How great would it be to see the world as a place we can help?
• What small thing can we do to start paying it forward?

Study Resources for May 3, 2015.

The teacher for this session is Kathy Thompson. (see bio) (email Kathy)

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We are continuing through 1 John. Some of this is getting personal. Hang in there with me. Learning how to love isn't always as easy as it seems. Let's get started!
• How would you describe your personality?
• What loving action have you received this week?

These two sentences are two basic building blocks of the Christian faith: God is. God is love. There is a God and this God is love. Then, we take it a step further to say, this God of love came in the flesh as Jesus Christ. 1 John is written to Christians. It seems that some of these Christians were having trouble grasping the basics of the faith — things like God is love, therefore, we should love.
• How many of you are watching the NBC miniseries A.D.?
• What do you think of it so far?
• Does it help you understand what it would have be like to live during that time in history?

Watch the clip "Faith Video (Promo)" from A.D. The Bible Continues.
• What do you think of the choice of that song for the miniseries?
• What do you think is the most likely reason that Christianity survived in the first few centuries? Was it their unexplainable love? Was it their acts of charity?

Read 1 John 4:7-21.
This congregation is struggling, apparently, with persons wanting to take on the label of being a "follower of Jesus," but not wanting to take up his ways.. like loving other people. John begins this section, "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God."
• Why bring God into a discussion about how we should treat other people?
• What about those people who have hurt us?
• What about those who are just unlovable?

Read Lamentations 3:22-24, Psalm 136:1-3,23-26, and Psalm 103:8-14.
• What did you hear about God's love in these passages?
• What is the difference between saying "God is loving" and "God is love"?
• Is it incorrect to say that "love is God" instead of "God is love"?
• What does it mean to live through Jesus (1 John 4:9)?
• Is love a choice? And if so, how?
• Is a life of love the proof of your relationship with God?
• How did John write that we can demonstrate God’s love?
• How does "confessing God" demonstrate love?
• How does abiding in God show love?
• How are love and fear incongruent?

"The Greek noun "agape" was rarely used outside of Christian circles, but was adopted by the early church as a term for describing the kind of generous, selfless, compassionate love that is characteristic of God, embodied in Jesus, and expected of Christ's followers." —Tony Cartlege

The late Fred Rogers often underscored the nature of love as a choice. "Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like 'struggle.' To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now."
• Is this a good definition?

"Our life and our death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother or sister, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother or sister, we have sinned against Christ. The fulfillment of our deepest purposes and our profoundest longings for God can never be separated from our love of God's own images among whom we live. We find ourselves in God not for self-fulfillment that will make us independent from the need for other people but in order to love." —Roberta Bondi
• What do you think of this idea: that we will find our life's purpose only as we love other people?
• How do we see such love in our lives today?

1 John tells us that we judge our love for God not by our worship service attendance or our emotional spiritual experiences.
• Love for God is judged by what?

1 John defines love for God by our active love for others. He also insists that if we do not have agape love for others, we do not love God.
• Did we love God first or did God love us first?
• What did we do to earn that love?

Dorothy Day, a 20th century social activist said, "I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least."
• How do you feel about that?
• Were you raised to be afraid of God?
• What is the difference between fearing God and simply having fear?
• How can we be followers of Jesus and not be afraid when all of our senses tell us we have things to be afraid of?
• Does it have to do with trusting (fearing) the one who has power over death and nature itself?

Watch the clip "The Counselor: Week 1 Promo" from LifeChurch.tv.
• Do you think we need some time with the "Great Counselor" to understand divine love casting out harmful fear?

Study Resources for April 26, 2015.

The teacher for this session is Kathy Thompson. (see bio) (email Kathy)

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We are still in 1 John, and we are talking about living and loving and abiding.

Think of the ways that the word "love" is commonly used or misused in our society.
• What kind of behavior demonstrates genuine love?
• How can we know what we really love? Does our online bank account tells us? Does what we do on our day off tell us?
• Have you ever caught a foul ball at a baseball game? What did you do with it?

Watch the clip "Boy Catches Baseball Foul Ball and Gives it to Girl" from ArtFido.com.
• Why is everyone so impressed with this young man?
• Are acts of love so uncommon in Boston?
• Do our hearts condemn us or assure us?

One way to describe where we live is our "abode." It is our safe place, our place for rest, a place to receive family and friends—or a cocoon for privacy.
• What things determine where we live?

One of the major themes in the Gospel of John and in 1 John is "abide." They are not talking about our physical abode. John is talking about a spiritual abiding. In our text for today, we see some similarities to the fifteenth chapter of John.

Read John 15:4-8. It begins with, "Abide in me as I abide in you."
• What do you think Jesus meant by that?
• What is the benefit of abiding in Christ?
• What is the penalty for not abiding in Christ?

Read 1 John 3:16-24.
• Can we make someone experience a certain emotion?

Laying one's life down for a friend is a radical demonstration of love. It is the ultimate sacrifice. The Bible Lesson Writer says, "We may never know if we would be brave or heroic or committed enough to die for someone else, but every day we do have the opportunity to help those who are in need or to ignore them."

1 John is talking about giving aid to brothers and sisters—that is fellow followers. The Bible is full of commands to love the stranger, the outsider and the marginalized.
• Is there a disconnect here between helping our brothers and sisters in Christ and people outside of the church?
• Can God's love abide in anyone who has worldly goods and sees a brother or sister in need... and yet refuses to help?
• How do you respond to the "prosperity gospel" that says that if you do good for others, you get good things back; or "God wants you to prosper and here's how to get the goods"? Are these justified by these scriptures?

Abiding in Jesus means more than an acknowledgement of certain facts or doctrines. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:3-7, "If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't have love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love. Now these three abide, faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love." (The Message)

In John's gospel and in 1 John, love is more than a feeling: love is an action verb.
• So, if we have a heart of love that is proven by actions of love, how does that affect our relationship with God?

Watch the clip "The Problem with Charity" from the movie About a Boy.
• What are your impressions of this clip?
• Have you ever felt like you didn’t care about anything? Why or why not?
• What "needs" do you know about, but seem to have no passion for whatsoever?
• How do you feel about not caring for those needs?
• What do you think Jesus would say about taking care of those who do not have much?
• What role does our faith have in the things about which we are passionate?
• How would walking close with Christ help us to care about the things he cares about?
• How would you respond to a Christian who does not concern themselves with the things that concern Christ? Why?

The Bible Lesson Writer says, "The person who loves unselfishly as Jesus loves can be confident in prayer because he or she will not ask for anything that is outside of God's will."
• How do you feel about this interpretation based on today's scripture?
• Why does the writer emphasize believing in the name of Jesus Christ? Why would that be important?
• Do we need a "heart transplant" to have a heart filled with love?

Watch the clip "3D heart model saves 4-year-old girl in Miami" from the Miami Herald. Those people were so grateful to the doctors for what they had done to develop a new procedure to save that little girl.
• How grateful are we when we remember what God has done for us?
• How can we keep remembering God’s acts of love for us?

Study Resources for April 19, 2015.

The teacher for this session is Kathy Thompson. (see bio) (email Kathy)

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The next few lessons are going to be in 1 John. I look forward to our time together.
• As a child, what did you think you would be when you grew up?
• What kind of job did you think you would have?
• Do you think people can change?

In today's lesson we are going to talk about two questions:
• Who are you?
• What is your identity?

• Do you know why movie theatres rarely do midnight screening anymore?
• Do you remember the Dark Knight Movie theatre shooting in Colorado?”

Watch the clip "Theater shooter’s parents plead for his life" from WTNH News8.
• What would you say to the parents concerning their son?
• Why are they speaking up for their son?
• Would you speak up for your child if they committed a horrible violent act?

Read 1 John 2:29-3:7.
• What does it mean to be children of God?
• What privileges does that give us?
• If we are children of God, why do we sometimes feel forgotten?
• How serious does sin seem to the writer of this text? Why?
• Does it reassure you that something like God’s DNA is within you as a follower of God (v.9)?
• How do you think God feels when we show divine love to others?
• How can we make our "Godly parent" proud?
• How do we demonstrate that we are children of God?
• If God’s spirit truly dwells within us, can we live a life lacking in love?
• What is the difference between being emotional and being loving?
• Can you be violent with others and still be loving?

Watch the clip "Fight Church Official Trailer" from Deadline Hollywood.
• So can you love your neighbor as yourself and knee them in the face?

Some translations read "you must be born again;" others "you must be born from above."
• What does that mean?

Rick Jordan says, "Because God does what is only right or righteous, God's children pick up that lifestyle. We are talking about identity, but also about behavior. Who we are drives what we do. What we do reflects who we are."
• How does that strike you?
• According to 1 John 3:1, how do we know God loves us?
• How is this a representation of God's love?

John describes God's love with the word "agape," a term that was rarely used outside of the Christian context. Early believers used it to describe the kind of selfless, generous gracious love that God has shown us and expects from us.
• How have you seen this kind of selfless, generous, and gracious agape love modeled by a child of God lately?

Read John 1:10-13. Apparently, the church was experiencing rejection from the world.
• Can you think of examples when selfless, generous and gracious love is rejected in our world today?
• What does he mean when he talks about "what we will become?"

D. Moody Smith says, "The eschatological teaching of this passage is stated unmistakably... For our time and our knowledge, the most important fact about our eschatological future is that we shall be modeled after who Christ is, and even that can only be fully known when the time comes."
• If we are meant to become more like Jesus in the next life, what do you imagine that would mean?

The lesson writer says, "While we live on earth, who we are affects what we do."
• Is that true? Can you think of examples that would explain this thought?

He also says, "The ultimate conflict is between the author of evil and the Son of God."
• How do you feel about blaming the evils of the world on the devil?
• What about the problems in the church?
• How and why do we find ways to avoid pointing to the devil or even naming evil, sin?

Eugene Peterson says, "Euphemisms proliferate: mistake, bad call, poor judgment, error, wrong, neglect, slip, oversight, misstep, stupidity, screw-up, bungle, faux pas... Sin is a refused relationship with God that spills over into a wrong relationship with others-it is personal or it is nothing."
• What do you think?

Many times we are told that we look like our parents.
• Who do we look like in the spiritual world to others?

Henri Nouwen writes in his book, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World"...

"We are the Beloved. We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children and friends loved or wounded us... That's the truth spoken by the voice that says, 'Your are my Beloved.' Listening to that voice with great inner attentiveness, I hear at the center words that say, "I have called you by name, from the very beginning. You are mine and I am yours. You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests. I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother's womb. I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child. I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step. Wherever you go, I go with you, and whenever you rest, I keep watch. I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will quench all your thirst. I will not hide my face from you. You know me as your own as I know you as my own, You belong to me. I am your father your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover, your spouse...yes, even your child... Wherever you are I will be. Nothing will ever separate us. We are one."

• What inheritance do we receive as children of God?

Watch the clip "'Children Of God' - Official Music Video" from Third Day.

May God help us feel chosen.

Study Resources for April 12, 2015.

The teacher for this session is Kathy Thompson. (see bio) (email Kathy)

See the session.

I hope you had a wonderful Easter. Let's get busy.
• What was the purpose of the last handwritten letter you wrote?

Watch the clip "hate vs. love - christian hypocrisy" via YouTube
• What images stood out the most to you in this video? Why?
• Is it fair or unfair to label Christians as hypocrites? Why?
• How do you think the world views Christianity?
• In your opinion, what does a true Christian look like?
• How might the world begin to see Christians if all Christians lived by those standards?

The letters that we have in the New Testament were written in response to issues and problems that the new church was experiencing. If there was a perfect early church, we would never know about it today. As it turns out, there were plenty of problems, so we have 19 letters. First John is one of those letters. It is really more of a sermon than a letter in style, because it does not have the normal greeting or a signature that is found in letters.

Eugene Peterson says, "The community that received this pastoral letter was pretty much a mess. In addressing their behavior, John uses the words and phrases 'lie' or 'liar' five times, 'hate' four times, 'child of the devil' once and 'commits sin' once. He also makes references to failure or refusal to love, self-deceit, and refusal to help someone in need. Not an ideal congregation by a long shot. And yet not unusual."
• How do you respond to Peterson's quote?

Rick Jordan says, "The fellowship John has in mind here is not a church dinner or social occasion. Koinonia comes from a root that means 'common' and in the New Testament describes the common bonds that Christians share as fellow children of God."
• What are some common bonds we have with other Christians?
• Would you agree or disagree with this statement: in an ideal world, churches would never have conflict.

Read 1 John 1:2-2:2.
• What does it mean to confess?
• How is God faithful to you?
• How is God just?
• What gifts come with God's forgiveness?
• What does it mean to be "cleansed of unrighteousness?"
• Why do you think we hesitate from using the word "sin" to refer to something we do that is morally wrong?
• What is sin?

Eugene Peterson says, "One of the major impediments to a life of love... is that a good many people in the community were denying that they sinned... It makes life much simpler. It means we don't have to bother with relationship; it means we don't have to take men or women seriously; and it means we don't have to deal with God in a personal way—for sin is basically a depersonalizing act. It is not, in essence, breaking a rule, but breaking a relationship."
• How does a denial of sin harm a relationship?
• If we focus on rules rather than relationship, what kind of religion do we nurture?
• How does that focus on rules affect relationships?
• How does a focus on rules affect our fellowship with God?

Read John 1:1-5 and Genesis 1:1-5.
• How do these passages about light relate to a "life of love" that 1 John promotes?

First John 1:9 is a beautiful passage. It is the gospel in a sentence.
• How could you use this single verse to talk with a nonbeliever about your faith?

In this Easter season, it is good for us to reflect on what the life and death and resurrection of Jesus means. We have the benefit of 2000 years of time for reflection, interpretation and creating systematic theologies. We know that the disciples did not understand what Jesus was talking about prior to his death when he spoke of his resurrection. As time passed, the early Church tried to make sense of what this means.
• What is the purpose of Christ's death?
• What is the meaning of Jesus' resurrection?

In verses 2:1-2, we have an early interpretation. Integrity of faith means living a life that is consistent with one's speech. This is what it means to live an embodied faith. Our actions must match the words that come out of our mouths. Later in the book, the author is more specific and says that if we claim to love God, we must show love to others—otherwise, we do not actually love God. The author of this book believes strongly that the words one speaks should match his or her actions. There are lots of ways this idea can be important in our everyday lives.

We may say that God loves everyone, but we ostracize someone because they are different or weird.

An old poem by Edgar A. Guest says...
    I'd rather see a sermon
    than hear one any day;
    I'd rather one should walk with me
    than merely tell the way...
    For I might misunderstand you
    and the high advice you give,
    But there's no misunderstanding
    how you act and how you live.

We say that forgiveness is important, but cannot bring ourselves to call the friend who hurt us over a year ago. We say that God wants us to care for the poor, but we have to have that new thing and cannot use the money to help someone less fortunate than us. We say that God is hope and life, yet are burdened by worry, an inflated sense of responsibility, and a lack of trust that God can carry us.

In reality, this issue does not play out in the big and visible areas of our lives, but rather in the small choices we make every day.

May our actions this week match the words that come from our mouths and the beliefs we hold in our heart.

Study Resources for April 5, 2015.

The teacher for this session is Kathy Thompson. (see bio) (email Kathy)

See the session.

Happy Easter! Let's dive in.
• What Easter traditions do you have?

Watch the clip "Testimonial Interrogation - Final Hearing" from the movie Contact starting at the 1:22 minute mark.
• Why did the court not believe the evidence that was presented by Jodie Foster’s character?
• Why did her lack of physical evidence not cause her to retract her story?
• How did her own personal experience outweigh the lack of evidence?
• How is your own personal story the best evidence you have when telling someone about Christ?
• Which subject interests you the most: history or science? Why?
• Is it difficult to explain the resurrection to a non-believer?

One of the earliest letters we have and one of the earliest writings of the New Testament, is 1 Corinthians. It is not the first letter that Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. We know this because he references a prior letter in this one. This was a young church with people who were "young in the faith." Apparently, some of them had difficulty accepting the fact of Jesus' resurrection.

Read 1 Corinthians 15:1-11.
• Why does Paul have to spend so much time writing about the resurrection?
• Does the culture of Corinth make it difficult for the Christians there to trust in the importance of the resurrection?
• How important is the bodily resurrection of Jesus for our faith?
• How is salvation an ongoing process?
• Do verses 3 and 4 sound like an early church confession?
• What evidence was there in Paul’s life that Jesus was real?
• Could people see the proof of Jesus in Paul’s life? In what ways?
• How does that relate to our everyday lives?
• How important is grace to Paul?
• How does the grace of God make Paul into a man of faith?
• How does grace change you?
• What words do you see in this text that hint of doubters among the believers?

The Gospels had not been written at the time of this letter.
• How did people know the stories of Jesus, including his resurrection?

Corinth was a cosmopolitan city. The church would have been made up of Jews and Gentiles. We know there was a division among the Jewish leaders. Pharisees believed a resurrection of the dead was to come, the Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection. In the Gentile world, Gnosticism was taking root.

"They considered one's physical life to be relatively unimportant, flawed and regulated to the lower world. In their view, only the spirit mattered. The notion of a physical resurrection was unnecessary." —Rick Jordan.

For Paul, belief in the resurrection of Jesus was everything.

"Take away the stories of Jesus' birth and you lose only two chapters of Matthew and two of Luke. Take away the resurrection and you lose the entire New Testament..." —N.T. Wright
• What do you think?

Paul lists witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus...
• who does he include?

Notice the gender of these witnesses!

"Whether we like it or not, women were not regarded as credible witnesses in the ancient world. When the tradition had time to sort itself out and acquire the fixed form we already find in Paul's quotation of it in 1 Corinthians 15, the women were quietly dropped; they were apologetically embarrassed. But they are in all four gospel stories, front and center, the first witnesses, the first apostles. Nobody would have made them up. Had the tradition started in the male-only form we find in 1 Corinthians 15, it would never have developed into the female-first stories we find in the gospels" —N. T. Wright

In other words, if the gospels had presented only men as witnesses, the gospels would be less reliable.
• What do you think of that logic?
• Was the church and Paul accommodating the current customs by not mentioning the women?
• Why do you think Paul lists the witnesses of a resurrected Christ?

Paul is using an historic approach rather than a scientific approach to believing in the resurrection of Jesus. There were people who witnessed something unusual and reported their personal experiences with a resurrected Jesus.

"There are different types of knowing. Science studies the repeatable; history studies the unrepeatable...History is full of unlikely things that happened once and once only... But how far does a 'scientific' position go? Is a scientist, for example, expected to have a scientific approach to listening to music? To watching a football game? To falling in love? " —N.T. Wright

How many of you have seen the TV series on ABC: Resurrection? (Fair warning: I understand the show has gotten a little creepy since the first season so focus on the basic idea of someone being resurrected.)

Watch the trailer for the TV show Resurrection.
• How would you feel if a family member was resurrected?
• Could you believe in the impossible?
• How do you think Jesus’ followers felt when they were told Jesus was alive?
• How excited do you think Jesus’ followers were to actually see a resurrected Jesus?
• How excited should we be to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection?
• How excited should we be to live out our lives based on Jesus’ resurrection?
• How has the resurrection of Jesus changed you? How can you reflect upon that this Easter season?

We live in an era when science and rationality rules. However, scientists can believe in the resurrection, too, because a scientist can believe in history, as well as science. But for everyone, there is the element of faith.
• How do you explain the faith that is involved in the belief of Jesus' resurrection?

Paul closes his case with a majestic image of a day when all who believe will leave mortal bodies and take on imperishable and incorruptible bodies that are no longer subject to death or decay. Such a promise comes through faith in Christ, and calls for faithful living in light of what is to come.

Study Resources for March 29, 2015.
Based on The Good and Beautiful Life by James Byran Smith.

The teacher for this session is Kathy Thompson. (see bio) (email Kathy)

See the session.

We are two Sundays away from Easter! I can't believe it.
• How would you describe a joyful Christian life?
• What do you do to maintain a joyful Christian life?

As we read Jesus' closing words from the Sermon on the Mount, we may be tempted to fall back into the legalism that has been addressed throughout this study. To avoid this tendency, we may want to return to the opening sections of the Sermon on the Mount. There we are reminded that we "are the salt of the earth and the light of the world." With this identity in place, Jesus concludes the Sermon by describing the results of our choices: the better life comes through obedience, and obedience only results from action.

This chapter addresses two false narratives:
1. What matters is having faith in Jesus, not having an ongoing relationship with him.
2. The only way to be a good Christian is to keep all the rules.

• How do you react to these narratives and how have they shaped your own faith journey?

It has been said that only 10% of Christians are actively developing their relationship with God on a daily basis.
• Why is that?

Smith says, "Many Christians have been taught that a relationship with Jesus is not important. Things like private prayer, personal Bible study, solitude, devotional reading and serving others are rarely taught, thus are seen as add-ons practiced by the most zealous overachieving Christians."
• What do you think?

Jesus' narrative is: abide in me and bear much fruit.

In explaining John 15:5-8, the author says, "To abide in Christ involves spending time with Jesus. For me, this happens when I keep my mind and heart set on his presence with me."
• What does it mean to "abide in Jesus" and how do we do that?
• What practices help you abide in Christ?
• How does this affect your daily life?

Smith says, "Most of us would like to live with joy. The majority of people I know would like to be thought of as good people. I know very few people who would not like to have more peace. Jesus says that these things naturally will become a part of our lives and our character if we abide in him. But apart from him we can do nothing; we cannot bear this fruit anymore than a cut branch can bear fruit."
• What does he mean?
• If we need to focus on the relationship rather than the rules, how do we do that?

Of the four images Jesus gives at the end of the Sermon on the Mount: wide vs. narrow gate, inner vs. outer reality, people claiming to know Jesus who don't, and building on sand vs. rock...
• which one is the most challenging to you? Why?
• As you grow in seeing yourself as being indwelt by Christ and living in the unshakeable kingdom of God, have you been able to endure life's storms differently?
• Describe the difference.

We are now at the end of the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus gives four illustrations that essentially make the same point: arranging your life around Jesus and his teaching is the only way to a good and beautiful life.

Read Matthew 7:13-14. Jesus clearly tells us that the "narrow way" is challenging, but he adds that it leads to life. Taking the wide path leads to destruction.
• How would you explain these concepts to a new Christian?

"Nondiscipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in light of God's overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil. In short, it costs exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring." — Dallas Willard.
• Do you think this is accurate?
• Have you seen evidence of this in your world?

Read Matthew 7:15-20. A church father interpreted this passage by saying that the false prophets are not "heretics, but them that are of a corrupt life, yet wear a mask of virtue." He goes on to say that we should not "look to the mask but to the behavioral fruits of those who patiently pursue the narrow way."
• What do you think?

When we develop a relationship with Christ and we abide in him, we will naturally bear good fruit.

Read Matthew 7:21-23. Smith says, "The best way to interpret this section is to focus on the four words "I never knew you." Once again it is about relationship.
• Is it possible to do powerful works and not abide in Jesus?

Smith says, "To build our lives on the rock of Jesus' teaching, we need to take control of our time, instead of letting time control us. The most frequent excuse for not growing in our spiritual lives is lack of time. Most of us live at the mercy of our schedule, instead of planning ahead and arranging our schedule around our apprenticeship to Jesus."
• How can we do this?

It seems what Jesus is saying here is that it is possible to do powerful works and still not be in relationship with him.
• So what is the most important thing according to Jesus?

Read Matthew 7:24-27.
• If you were explaining this passage to a friend, what would you tell them?
• What foundation are they talking about?

Read 1 Cor. 3:11.
• What steps can we take in the days ahead to build our spiritual house on the solid foundation of Christ's teachings?
• Why do some people conclude that doing the things Jesus commands is not necessary in order to be a Christian?
• What part of the Sermon on the Mount is most helpful to you?

Smith talks at the end of the book about developing a spiritual discipline. He quotes a mother's (Madam Guyon's) advice to her daughter.
    1. Go to bed at a reasonable hour.
    2. As soon as you awake, present your first thoughts to the Lord and offer him the first fruits of the day.
    3. Spend half an hour in devotion time after you are dressed.
    4. Never pass the morning without reading some spiritual book.
    5. After your devotional time, be careful not to let your spiritual thought fade away.
    6. Whenever you have free time, read scripture.
    7. Never spend an entire day without reserving some part of it for recollection and prayer.
    8. As you prepare for sleep try to examine yourself, particularly, your thought and words and actions of the previous day.

• Is this a good plan?
• Is this something that can be done?

The author says that we can use tools like this to enhance our spiritual life. He recommends that we use spiritual tools on a regular basis. He cautions us to remember that, "The spiritual tools are wise ways to live with God, not means to getting God to like us."

Study Resources for March 22, 2015.
Based on The Good and Beautiful Life by James Byran Smith.

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

We only have two more lessons in this series. I can't believe that we are almost celebrating Easter!

Avarice... Let's get started.

The dictionary defines avarice as "an insatiable greed for riches." This chapter raises questions about "adequate material provision," consumerism and marketing.
• What is simplicity and poverty?
• How does all of this relate to kingdom economics?

The main idea of this chapter is that we are all stewards of the money that we earn or are given and we can invest it either in earthly or heavenly treasures.

At the beginning of the chapter the author shares his story about buying a pair of Adidas® Americanas.
• Can you think of a possession you desperately wanted and eventually bought?
• How did you feel once you owned it?
• What finally happened to the item?
• How did your family handle money when you were a child?
• How does your family handle money now?

It is possible that our deepest, most reinforced narratives revolve around our money, possessions and the happiness that comes from consumerism.

Read Matthew 6:19-21.

To experience transformation we must begin by taking an honest evaluation of what we "treasure." On page 159 we get a definition of treasure. Dallas Willard explains: "We reveal what our treasures are by what we try to protect, secure and keep... Humans are designed to treasure things. Jesus isn't telling us not to treasure things, he is telling us which kinds of things to treasure."
• So, what things should we treasure and how do we really "store up" treasures in heaven?

Read Matthew 6:22-24.
• What is Jesus saying here?

In Jesus' day, an "unhealthy eye" referred to a stingy, envious, jealous person. A person with a "healthy eye" was generous.
• What metaphors do we use today to describe being generous and selfish?

"Generosity indicates that one is living in the kingdom."
• Is this true?

"There are two types of treasures that we can invest in, heavenly or earthly, two kinds of eyes, generous or stingy, and two deities we can serve, God or mammon (wealth or the spirit of wealth). Earthly treasures are temporal, heavenly treasures are eternal. The wise choice is obvious. Stingy people are inwardly focused and do not experience joy; generous people are outwardly focused, give freely and experience joy. Finally, mammon says it can produce peace and happiness, but it fails. God promises peace and happiness, and always delivers. Who will we give our allegiance to? Our loving, giving, endlessly able Father. Jesus is not trying to shame us, but is offering good investment advice. And that is because he understands the nature of the kingdom of God" (pg. 161).
• What insights and questions do you have about this quote and Matthew 6:19-24?

Read 1 Timothy 6:6-10.
• What stands out for you in this scripture?

"Simplicity is an inner attitude that affects what we choose to purchase." According to Richard Foster, simplicity is "an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle."
• What do you think?

Instead of being legalistic about the things we should own, the author says that we can ask the following questions:
1. Do I really need this?
2. Will it bring me kingdom joy and not merely temporary happiness?
3. How much of the money I would spend on this item can I free up to invest in heavenly treasures?
• How would you rate yourself in the area of simplicity?

Treasures in heaven relate to the things God is doing. I guess the best way to lay up treasures in heaven is to live out Matthew 6:33. Living in the kingdom requires wisdom. It means that we need to understand Jesus' teachings as insights for kingdom living. We need to examine the ways we spend money, how we think about possessions, and see them in light of the kingdom of God.

Study Resources for March 15, 2015.
Based on The Good and Beautiful Life by James Byran Smith.

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

These lessons have been fun and you have been great. We will be celebrating Easter before we know it!

What in the world is "vainglory?"

The author says, "It is the need to be thought well of by others; it is driven by the notion that the opinions of others determines our worth. When this vice is fully grown in our hearts we find ourselves more interested in others' opinions of us than actually being a genuinely good person or doing good for the sake of doing good."

I agree with him that "vainglory is a struggle for folks who are relatively mature in their Christian path and may only be evident to those who are very mature in their faith. However, it is easily present for someone who has grown up a Christian." Well, that's a little scary. I still don't really get it.

The dictionary says vainglory is:
1. excessive elation or pride over one's own achievements, abilities, etc.; boastful vanity.
2. empty pomp or show
• So what do you think?

Bryan Smith says, "The world measures our worth on the basis of our appearance, productivity and performance—which seem to be the only things that count. This narrative says our value is determined by others' assessment. We are only as good as our next performance."

The narrative here is that our value is determined by others' assessments.
• What do you think? Is it easy to be drawn into this mindset?
• How do we allow our value to be determined by others?

"Vainglory is essentially rooted in insecurity and is driven by our need for affirmation by others. It is very subtle and hard to detect."

Look for the good and the bad in each of these situations:
• Whenever I accomplish something or receive accolades for something I have done, I immediately want to let others know.
• I try to keep others from knowing my weaknesses and failings.
• In most conversations, I try to appear humble, and yet I very much want the other person to know how wonderful I am. And if that doesn't happen, I find subtle ways to interject my accomplishments. If I do it well, they will not even notice.
• I am not above dropping names.
• Nearly every act of service I have ever done has become known to others.
• When watching my kids perform in sports or the arts, I find myself sometimes more interested in them performing well in front of others than I am in their own enjoyment of the game or the show.

Read Matthew 6:1-8,16-18.

"Giving money to the poor. Praying. Fasting. All three activities are some of the most spiritual activities a person can do. So what about Jesus' harsh words? Actually, he is not speaking against these practices. He is attacking the way in which they are being practiced. He is not concerned with the method but the motive. As we have seen, Jesus starts with the world's standard of rightness, not murdering, not lying under oath, and the peels off the veneer to see if the heart is good. The same is true here, He takes three righteous and holy actions and then shows how the condition of a person's heart determines whether or not the discipline is a blessing or a hindrance" (pg. 144-145).
• How does this strike you?
• Why do we long for approval and praise from others?
• How can we apply the Puritan saying to "live for an audience of One"?

Smith writes, "No matter how many worldly 'trophies' we acquire, we won't be able to lay our head down in peace because we are only as good as our last success. But our loving Father—the only One who matters—tells us that we are loved, that we are of immeasurable worth" (pg. 189-149).

Read Isaiah 42:3-4.
• What words or phrases in these verses resonate with you?

Confession is a powerful tool against vainglory because it gives us the opportunity to be honest and open about our struggles. At the same time, as we are reminded of God's forgiveness, we can take the focus off of ourselves and turn it towards God and God's grace.
• How do you practice confession?
• How do you know how much to confess?

James 5:16 tells us, "Confess your sins one to another that you may be healed." Confession becomes the path to healing and wholeness.
• Do you think that is true?

True self knowledge comes from looking into the face of Jesus, not the face of others.

Study Resources for March 8, 2015.
Based on The Good and Beautiful Life by James Byran Smith.

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

I made a mistake about the lesson this week. I said that it was going to be on anger, but we are scheduled to discuss lust. Maybe we can talk about anger later!

The silence of the Church is the easiest path when it comes to this topic. (And mine too.) Most people find this topic a little difficult to deal with and especially to have an out-loud conversation. The point of this chapter is to turn our attention to what will bring us wholeness and health in our relationship with God, others, and even ourselves.
• What connections do you see between the media and lust?

The main idea of this chapter as outlined by the author is, "Lust (epithumia) is the creation of a false image or persona wherein we objectify that persona or image in and attempt to fill a deep need for intimacy, which can only be met by our union with God in his kingdom."
• What do you think?
• What messages have you heard at church about sex?
• What has been implied about sex through the silence?

Dallas Willard maintains that, "The two main errors in the area of human sexuality are these: (1) assuming that all sexual desire is good, and (2) believing that all sexual desire is evil."
• What do you think?

The author says that, "Throughout the history of the church few Christian thinkers espouse a positive position on human sexual desire. The vast majority speak of sexuality as dark, evil, and sinful. The church's narrative is not broadcast, but comes through relative silence: don't ask, don't tell, don't talk about sex." By refusing to talk about it, we imply that it is sinful.
• What do you think?
• How did these two narratives become so prevalent?

Both contain a measure of truth, as do all of the false narratives.

We don't say the desire for food is evil because it leads some people to gluttony, or that thirst is evil because it leads some people to drunkenness.
• So what's the scoop?

Jesus realized how important sexuality is and how it can destroy life or enhance life. Read Matthew 5:27-30.

This text has been used in many circles to imply that simply looking at a woman lustfully is the same as committing adultery. A closer look reveals something different. The word that is used here for lust is "epithumai." This word does not refer to ordinary sexual attraction but to "intentionally objectifying another person for one's own gratification."

"Epithumai" is not talking about the first look, but the second. It goes beyond mere attraction. "It intentionally cultivates sexual desire for the sake of the feeling itself. It is the opposite of love."

On pages 91-92, the author connects "epithumai" and adultery, and he notes that in both cases, "valuing the other as a sacred being is tossed aside."
• Do you agree or disagree with the comparison between lust and adultery?
• How can a lustful person have the same inner condition as an adulterer?

Jesus teachings are about the difference between inner and outer righteousness and on becoming a new kind of person in the kingdom of God. Jesus is most concerned with the heart and the process of developing of a good heart.

"Adultery implies that the fulfillment of my desire is more important than fulfilling my commitment. I don't care if I hurt others; right now all I care about is me."
• Is this an accurate definition?

Rob Bell writes, "It's not about getting rid of desire. It's about giving ourselves to bigger and better and more powerful desires... Life is not about toning down and repressing your God-given life force. It's about channeling it and focusing it and turning it loose on something beautiful."
• What do you think?
• Is "epithumai" strictly a male problem?
• Though the expressions may vary, what is the central issue both men and women share in the struggle with "epithumai?"

We cannot change our heart by changing outer behavior.
• Is this a true statement?
• Could this be why Jesus spoke about "plucking our eye" when it offends us? What did he mean?
• How can living closer with God in his kingdom help us deal with "epithumai?"

Read Matthew 14:22-33.
• What is Jesus inviting us to do?
• What is the "boat" that Jesus is inviting us to step out of?
• What fears keep us from moving into the bigger dream?

The author makes several points about how living in the kingdom of God is the cure for "epithumai."
1. In the kingdom we know who we are and whose we are. The need to feel loved, to be important, and to be sacred and special is met in our oneness with Christ.
2. When I set my heart on things above, I discover that I am part of something thrilling and exciting—the divine conspiracy—and everywhere I turn God is at work. Now I have the drama I seek and I have a place to channel my energies.
3. Finally, because I know who I am and am secure (God is good and desires my good) I am free to see others in a new way. I no longer see them as objects to exploit but as real persons who God dearly loves.
• Is this going to work?
• Is it accurate? Is it too simplistic? Is it complete?

The author states, "the vast majority of sexual failure happens when physical intimacy exceeds commitment. We are not just dealing with bodies but bodies with souls."
• What do you think?

Living in the kingdom of God begins to diminish our lust by addressing three different issues: first, we come to see ourselves as one "in whom Christ dwells"—deeply loves and we are valued by God. Second, we catch a vision for something bigger than our desires—the kingdom of God is active and dynamic all around us, and we have been invited to participate in that action. Third, we come to see others as God sees them—not as sexual parts designed and assembled for our pleasure, but as spiritual beings with an eternal destiny in God's kingdom.

Read Psalm 139:1-18.

Rob Bell says, "Gratitude is so central to the life God made for us. Until we can center ourselves on what we do have, on what God has given us, on the life we do get to live, we'll constantly be looking for another life." The author says, "Lust is really about spiritual hunger for God and his kingdom. Therefore, our sexual problems are resolved when we enroll as Jesus' apprentices in his glorious kingdom."
• What do you think?


Study Resources for March 1, 2015.
Based on The Good and Beautiful Life by James Byran Smith.

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

We will begin on chapter three this week. I hope you are enjoying this study as much as I am.

Our perception of the world is "upside-down" according to Jesus. To call Jesus' teaching a "paradigm shift" is an understatement. Those who were hearing this lesson thought that those who would enter the kingdom of God comprised an exclusive club; they were Jewish, male, religiously upright, healthy and wealthy.
• Do we have an idea of who is "worthy" for the kingdom?
• Who do you think will be there?
• Do you think we will be surprised by who is there?

The author states that, "Most people find it very liberating to hear that the Beatitudes are not 'prescriptions' we must fulfill to be blessed by God. However, there is possible temptation for individuals who aren't on the list of Beatitudes; in our comfort we may assume that we don't need God. It is this danger that leads us to Luke 6:24-26, where Jesus adds to the Beatitudes with a list of warning for those who are rich, full, laughing and well thought of by others."
• What do you think: is there tension between the two lists?
• Are there times when you find yourself in one or more lists?

Read Matthew 5:1-12. Jesus said the "poor in spirit," "those who mourn," "those who are meek," and "those who are persecuted" are blessed. The author stated, "Because my most common old narrative said we have to earn God's favor through our actions, I naturally assumed this list was a prescription for how to get God to be happy with me. Jesus seemed to be teaching that those who had these inner attitudes and outer behaviors were the truest of all believers. I began to believe that those who practiced them were the Marines of the Christian army, the select few who were a cut above the rest."
• How do you view the Beatitudes?
• Is it easy to slip into this mindset?

The writer goes on to say that, "The Beatitudes are not prescriptions for blessedness, but descriptions of the kinds of people who are invited into the kingdom of God."
• What do you think about this interpretation?
• Is the reason that we don't offer hospitality and blessings because it makes us vulnerable? Why?
• So how do we obtain spiritual wellness?
• Do we have to experience persecution or try to be poor in spirit or meek to stand up for Jesus in order to be blessed?
• What is the context here?
• What is Jesus really trying to say?

Jesus blessed the poor, touched lepers, healed and forgave Gentiles, and "notoriously sinful females." This rocked the religious world. L. Gregory Jones says, "Because the culturally impure were welcomed at Jesus' table, they were implicitly included in a relationship of communion with God." Jesus' response was, Matthew 21:31.
• How could Jesus say this?

Because he is the kingdom of God. Think about it, when he touches, heals, eats, talks with, listens to people, those people have come in contact with the kingdom. Therefore, the Beatitudes are invitations of inclusion.
• How does this interpretation differ or compare with what you have been taught?

Think about a time that you have been excluded from some group.
• What was that like?

The author says that, "The Beatitudes, far from being a new set of virtues that further divide the religious haves and have nots, are words of hope and healing."
• What do you think and why?

"Blessed are" has been translated with words like "happy are." Neither of these translations does justice to the Greek word here. The Greek word is "markarios." The most accurate translation of this word might be "well off." This even heightens the shock value here.
• What do you think?
• Which of the Beatitudes do you most relate to? Describe the negative and the positive.

The people mentioned in the Beatitudes are not blessed because of their condition, they are blessed because of Jesus. Jesus gives a warning to the rich and powerful. "Jesus warns them not because God does not accept rich, satisfied or happy people, but because rich, satisfied and happy people often think they have no need for God."
• Have you seen this in your life or in the lives of others?

Read Luke 6:20-26. "Jesus' stern warning is born of love. He knows that we try to find solace in our wealth and fulfillment in our bellies. And we confuse fleeting pleasure with joy. When all is well in the kingdom of this world we are tempted to think we have no need for the kingdom of God."
• What do you think?
• Can success lead you away from God? Explain.
• Can difficulties draw you closer? Explain.
• Looking at our list of those who are blessed in the eyes of the world, is Jesus' warning appropriate for them? Why or why not?
• How has God used you in your weakness?
• Have you known someone who is a "living beatitude"? If so, describe this person.
• What would it mean to live as a beatitude?

Listen to Rich Mullins' song "Surely God Is With Us" from Christian Singers VEVO.

Study Resources for February 22, 2015.
Based on The Good and Beautiful Life by James Byran Smith.

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

For many people, the kingdom of heaven is a place we go when we die. "By just labeling the kingdom as an end time reality that will come at the return of Christ, its role and value for our present lives is negated. This is a very big reason the kingdom of God seems to have been lost to most Christians."
• What do you think?

We will be discovering here that the kingdom of God is in our midst—right now. For many people this is a major shift in thinking. This is an exciting spiritual discovery.

The primary idea of this chapter is to understand that Jesus' primary message, his central teaching, his Good News, was the availability of the kingdom of God.
• What is the gospel that Jesus preached?

The author says, "The gospel Jesus preached includes even more than being loved, forgiven, reconciled, and given a new identity. The gospel also includes an invitation to a great adventure, which I have come to know as living in the kingdom of God... The good news about entering heaven when we die has overshadowed the equally good news that we can enter heaven now."
• What do you think?

Read Luke 17:21-22.
• How does this passage confirm the teaching of this chapter?
• Did the kingdom of God leave when Jesus ascended into heaven?

The author defines the kingdom of God as "a present reality that will be fully consummated in the future. It is here and is as real and powerful as it will ever be. Everything Jesus said about the kingdom is true in our lives. Yes, one day it will be the governing power over the entire universe, but for now it is intended to be the governing power over you and me."
• With this definition in mind, what do you think Jesus might mean when he says, "the kingdom of God is among you?"

Jesus continued to teach his disciples about the kingdom of God even after his resurrection. Look at Acts 1:3. Apparently the message had not changed. From his opening sermon to his hillside teaching to his post resurrection discourses, the subject is the same. Jesus preached and taught about the kingdom of God, and he expected his followers to do the same. In the Gospels, Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God over 100 times.
• How can we have missed it?

For "two whole years" Paul preached nothing but the kingdom of God. In Paul's letters he used the phrase "kingdom of God" or its equivalent 14 times.
• So, how often have you heard about the kingdom?

The author writes, "children do not need to be in control. They have very little authority or power, and live each day in dependence and trust, receiving everything as a gift. And this, I believe, is what Jesus is advocating."
• What do you think?
• Anybody here struggle with control?
• What areas do you have to have control in?
• What does this say about you and me?

The author says, "Change the way you have been thinking—a life of intimacy and interaction with God is now in your midst."
• How can we change the way we think?
• What would a life of intimacy and interaction with God look like in your life?
• So, how do we enter the kingdom of heaven?

Read Matthew 5:20, Mark 10:15 and John 3:5.

The author states that, "Jesus' primary message was the availability, presence and power of the kingdom of God. The power of the church rests in the kingdom of God. God is creating an all-inclusive community of persons whose hearts and character are shaped by Jesus."

And all the people said, "Amen."

Study Resources for February 15, 2015.
Based on The Good and Beautiful Life by James Byran Smith.

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy.)

See the session.

We are starting our book study (The Good and Beautiful Life by James Bryan Smith). I hope you have access to a book. This study may get personal so get ready for a bumpy ride!

We live in a busy world filled with noise and distractions. It is easy to enter one conversation while still processing the last conversation. In the midst of all this busyness it can be difficult to hear the whispering voice of God. When we gather with friends to share our spiritual journey, we want to hear God's voice in the lives of those around us.
• When was the last time you heard the voice of God?
• Where do you go to find spiritual nourishment?

The primary idea of this chapter is that all human beings desire happiness, but not all narratives lead to happiness. The narratives of Jesus are the best guide to "a good and beautiful life."

In this chapter we read about Ben, a man who lived an ambitious, selfish, even sinful life, but he also found redemption and radiance before his life was over.
• Who have you known in their old age were living the fruit of their narratives, good or bad?
• What wisdom can you gain from them?

The author says, "Happiness is a temporary condition based on our circumstances. Joy is an inner disposition not based on external circumstances and therefore not subject to change."

John Wesley used happiness to describe the virtuous life. "True happiness meant that a person was also good," Wesley said, "You cannot be happy without being holy."
• What do you think?

The author feels that the narratives that come from the world are false and are built on half-truths and outright lies. "When we adopt them, they slowly destroy our souls. All behavior is based on a narrative."

Some examples of our cultural narratives:
"You only go around once, so take all you can."
"All is fair in love and war."
"Don't suppress desire; all desires are good."
"Rules are made to be broken."
"Don't be confined by your commitments."
"Nice guys finish last."
"If you are a Christian, your life must be boring, constrictive and unpleasant."

• What are some false narratives that you see at work in our world?

"Sin is always ugly, and genuine virtue is always beautiful. Sin leads to ruin; virtue to greater strength. And this is why everyone, even atheists, loves Jesus. Jesus was pure virtue. He lived a good and beautiful life, which he is calling his apprentices to live."
• What does it mean that Jesus lived a good and virtuous life?

Narratives try to guide us, orient us, and tell us which way to turn.
• Can you think of a time in your life when one of your narratives was proven wrong?
• How did you work through this change?
• How is you life different now?

The author points out that we should not ask the question, "What will I have to give up to follow Jesus?" But rather, "What will I never get to experience if I choose not to follow Jesus?"
• What do you think?

The author describes six steps to ruin and he writes, "Someone, or something must take the place of God. We would like a god who would do a lot of good for us and ask very little in return. The solution is to create an idol.
• What are some idols we, as a society, tend to worship?
• What do we want from these idols?
• What "voices" deceive us into believing these "gods" can give us what we desire?

Here's another "voice" (read Matthew 5-7).

"We should read the Sermon on the Mount this way. Jesus is not demanding we live his way in order to get his blessing or get into heaven when we die; he is simply telling the truth about reality. He warns against lust, not because he is a prude, but because he knows it destroys human lives when unchecked. He tells us flat out not to worry, not because it will give us ulcers, but because people who live with him in the kingdom of God need not worry; it is a waste of time. Lust and worry, judgment and anger, retaliation and pride, are never good or beautiful, and never lead to freedom. In fact, they are a flight from freedom."
• Agree?

In the sermon, Jesus gives us the truth about reality.
• How does this truth agree or disagree with your own understanding of reality?

So the life I want most for myself is...
• What is the "good and beautiful life" for you?
• Will it involve a major life change?
• Will it demand a new set of friends?
• Will it involve changing old narratives and habits?

Study Resources for February 8, 2015

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

Ok, let's get into our lesson for this week!
• How are you doing on your New Year's resolutions?
• What is one goal you have for 2015?
• Have you ever experienced burnout?
• How do you avoid burnout?
• How do you know when to serve people and when to care for yourself?

Watch the clip "Patriots Vince Wilfork saves woman in overturned car" from CNN.
• How would you have felt about helping someone in need after a long day at work?
• Do you think Wilfork felt he had to help or did he want to help?
• Would you blame Wilfork if he simply kept driving because he was clearly exhausted at that point?
• What do you do when you are exhausted, but see needs that you could help with?
• How do you find balance?
• What things that do you do daily or weekly to help keep balance in your life?

Jesus had goals which shaped his plans. He spent time in prayer, reflecting on his goals. Today's text tells us about Jesus' goals. Read Mark 1:29-39.

Before the end of the first chapter of Mark, Jesus had become famous (vs. 28): "At once, his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee."
• What are the advantages and the disadvantages of his notoriety?

By this time in Mark's Gospel, Jesus has been baptized by John. He begins preaching after John was arrested and calls his disciples. Then, Jesus goes into the synagogue to preach and also exorcises a demon-possessed man. This event really made the people talk. In the midst of all of this, Jesus seeks refuge at the home of two of his disciples. However the hostess was ill.
• How did Jesus heal her?
• Then, what did she do?
• What does this teach us about our spiritual lives?
• Once people found out where Jesus was staying, what happened?

After Jesus' gift of healing was the talk of the town, people came from everywhere to receive his blessing and his touch.
• What might this teach us about our church's ministry and outreach?
• Why didn't he heal everyone?
• What do you think were the effects of the healings?
• Does it reassure you that even Jesus needed spiritual time alone?
• How hard was it for Jesus to get away to have “alone time”?
• Do you find it odd that Jesus left without going back to heal more people?

After healing and loving people, Jesus goes to spend time in prayer. It appears that Jesus demonstrated a lifestyle that was centered on his Father and on the needs of others.
• How would you describe a "centered life"?
• How would you compare a "balanced life" with a "centered life"?
• Is it possible to have a balanced life?
• What helps you to center your life? What distracts you?
• What is the danger of doing things for God rather than spending time really getting to know God?
• How does a relationship with God change the way we view the world?
• How does it help you meet the needs of those around you without being burnt out?

Rick Jordan says that "Miracles... had their place as metaphors of the message, and they served to bring attention to Jesus so people would have the opportunity to hear his words of forgiveness and challenge."
• What do you think of this idea: that the miracles were not the ends, but the means to attract persons to the message?
• What is Jesus' message in the text today?

Luke 4:18 gives us Jesus' inaugural address: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

In his ministry, Jesus went on to proclaim good news and bring deliverance not only to the poor and the blind, but also to those who were captive to sin: meeting both physical and spiritual needs. His message consisted of word and action, proclaiming that God was doing a new thing, the kingdom had arrived, and all could be a part of it. His transforming miracles of healing, casting out demons, and feeding the multitudes were like acted-out sermons, visual demonstrations of the deliverance available to all who would "repent and believe the good news."



Study Resources for February 1, 2015

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

This lesson was a hard one.

• When it comes to your future goals, do you think it's more important to dwell on the past, the present or the future? Why?
• How important is your past in regard to your future? Why?
• Why is the past important when it comes to your spiritual journey?
• How have you seen God working in your life and in your family in the past?
• What hope does that give you about God working in your future? Explain.
• What is one of your best church experiences ever in terms of praise, spiritual growth and thanksgiving?

Watch the clip "My Bad Church Experience" from North Point Media.
• Why was this prayer time awkward?
• Why is it sometimes hard for us to give thanks for our blessings?
• Why does that become more difficult around other people?
• Who inspires you to be a better person?

Today, our focus is on the goodness and the greatness of God. Consider all that makes God great: from big things, like speaking the creation into being, to small things, like the flavor God put into strawberries. Those are physical hints of God's greatness and goodness. There are other hints about God's greatness and goodness in relationships: in acts of compassion and justice, in loving attitudes etc.
• How do you describe the goodness and the greatness of God in your life?

Psalm 111 is an interesting one. It is in the third person and therefore, it is regarded as a hymn rather than a prayer. It offers praises about God without addressing God personally. It was written for an individual to sing the verse and then for the congregation to join in for the rest of the hymn.
• How does it affect our spiritual lives to join others in worship?
• What are the disadvantages of separating ourselves from a worshipping community?

Read Psalm 111.
• Why does the author of this psalm praise God for things God has done in the past?
• Does that remind you of a hymn?
• What evidence does the author give of God looking after His people?

The psalmist talks about the great deeds of God. We can also recount many of the wonderful marvelous deeds God performed for His people.
• What about you? What has He done for you?
• How is the power of God shown?
• What does it mean to fear the Lord?
• Do you think that fear is an appropriate response to God? Why or why not?
• How does fear bring about wisdom?
• What inspiration can we receive from these verses?
• What does it mean to praise God?
• How do you praise God in worship?
• How do you praise God individually?
• If the exodus to the Promised Land was the ultimate act of deliverance for the psalmist, then what are the glorious acts of deliverance for us today?

The covenant gives a positive spiritual structure for the psalmist.
• What is a positive spiritual structure for you?

• Have you heard about the militants killing people in Nigeria?

Watch the clip "Nigerian family flee Boko Haram militants" from Reuters.
• The psalmist seems positive about God and His greatness, so what would the psalmist say to the displaced Nigerians?
• What would you say to those people?
• Does it make it hard for you sometimes to embrace God’s greatness when evil wins battles?

As New Testament Christians, we do not have the exact covenant between us, as a people or nation, and God. In Christ, we believe that there is a new covenant. Part of the "goodness and the greatness" of God is the law. The good and great God who gives us the law of love for God and for one another is worthy of our worship.

One commentator says that, "Christians who read this psalm together as part of their worship join with their spiritual ancestors and present-day Jewish brothers and sisters in a common song of praise. Such Christians know that there is an intimate connection between God's unfathomable gift of love in Jesus Christ and their response of faithfulness. Faith in Christ means letting our lives be shaped by taking God's love to heart. We receive love by becoming loving, just as we receive grace by becoming gracious."

May we be loving and gracious to others.

Study Resources for January 25, 2015

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

We are moving to Jonah this week.

• There has been a significant amount of talk about Louis Zamperini’s life with a book and a recent movie… what do you know about his war experience?

Watch the trailer from the movie Unbroken.
• How angry would you have been if the Japanese commandant tortured you for so long?
• Can you understand why people have such difficulties forgiving war crimes?

God told Jonah to go to Nineveh. Nineveh had a reputation for being violent and bloodthirsty and according to historians was "a prophetic paradigm for wickedness and the world's most evil city." This would not be a vacation spot on your bucket list! Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh. After a short detour and an encounter with a big fish, Jonah grudgingly headed to the world's most evil city.

Read Jonah 3:1-10.
• Which details of the Jonah story are the most interesting to you?
• Do you think this narrative is more like a parable, a historical account, or something in between?
• Why would anyone want to avoid Ninevah?
• How would the original hearers of this narrative have reacted to God wanting a messenger to go to the Assyrians when the Assyrians were so brutal and had conquered Israel?
• Why go to Tarshish then?
• Does Jonah ever really want to go to Ninevah?
• Have you ever gone somewhere "under protest" in God’s name?
• What do you think Jonah was thinking as he walked through the city of Ninevah?

Jonah delivered a short sermon.
• Why do you think it was so short?

Regardless of the length of the message, something happened in the hearts of the people of Nineveh. When God speaks, something happens in us. Read Hebrews 4:12-13.
• Has God ever used someone whom you would not have expected to speak to you? Explain.
• Has God ever used you to witness in a way you were not expecting?
• Do you really think everyone would repent after a sermon like Jonah's?
• What do you think Jonah wanted to happen after his sermon (see Jonah 4)?
• What is the spiritual lesson of this narrative?
• Who in your life do you least want to share the Gospel with? Why?
• How can God help you overcome that... or will you simply be bitter like Jonah?

It is not as apparent in this chapter as in the next—that Jonah wanted these people dead. They were his enemies. He does not want to preach a message of hope but of doom and destruction.

Compare the feelings that Jonah had about the Ninevites with the New Testament passage, Luke 9:51-56.
• What does this story teach us about the character of God?
• How did their response change God’s mind?
• How do you feel about God being able to change His mind?

It has been suggested that there seems to be within us a "love to hate." It was certainly there inside of Jonah. "We may hate a group/nation/person because we feel we are superior—they are unworthy of our attention or affection. We may hate a group/nation/person because of something they did to us in the past and we cannot imagine that things could ever be better between us."
• Do you think this is an accurate statement? Why or why not?
• Is peace really possible?
• Can enemies really be transformed into allies?

William Willimon writes, "Perhaps this is what faith is... the willingness to be surprised, shocked by the surprising intrusions of God's power to change us, Jonah thought he had faith. That is, he thought he knew exactly what God would do and what God would not do, where God was working and where God wouldn't dare to work, who God would love and who God wouldn't stoop to love. Jonah thought he had it all figured out, nailed down, fixed. And Jonah got surprised. Surprised by God."
• Has God ever surprised you?
• Could it be that the message of Jonah is that God loves even those people that we can hardly tolerate?

No one is beyond hope, and that's a message our world needs to hear, even us. The story of Jonah affirms the character of God as persevering, responsive, and merciful to all who repent.

Joseph Price says, "While the Assyrian city of Nineveh is being portrayed as the focus of the prophecy, the nation of Israel is being warned that its narrow and bitter attitude is a rejection of the God of their father. As the chosen people who should be the light to the nations, they should rejoice with its mission, not merely out of self-interest but out of fulfillment of the divine command."
• What do you think?
• Do we have "Ninevehs" in our world and in our lives that we struggle with?
• What can we learn from these verses?

Watch the clip "Faith: Louis Zamperini reads his Letter to the Bird" from Faith Community Church.
• How hard must it have been for Louis to forgive?
• How hard must it have been for the Jews to learn that God’s love was for everyone, even the Assyrians?
• What can we learn from that in our evangelism efforts?
• What does it really mean in our culture to view everyone as precious to God "and made in God’s image" (Gen 1:26-27)?

Study Resources for January 18, 2015

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

This week we are going to talk about hearing the voice of God. Listen!
• My usual bedtime is...
• On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being a light sleeper and 10 being a heavy sleeper: where do you fall?

• Do you have a call for your life?
• Are you a good listener? How do you know?
• Are men or women better listeners?

Watch the clip "Study Confirms That Men Are Awful Listeners" from KTLA.

Read I Samuel 3:1-20. Today's text is in part: about a good night's sleep interrupted. Eli's sleep was interrupted by a little boy, Samuel, whose sleep had also been interrupted. Here's a little back story...

Eli is not a model minister. He misjudges Hannah when she comes to pray for a child. He raises two of his own sons to be priests, but does not discipline them for misbehavior. They are known to be corrupt. He is said to be growing blind, which is a physical condition, but maybe the author is speaking spiritually, as well. And, possibly because of his ineptitude and his sons' wickedness, "the word of the Lord was rare in those days." Yet, God uses Eli.
• How is God using Eli in this story?
• What does it say about our spiritual life, that God is willing and does use Eli?

• When Samuel hears his name, he doesn't recognize the voice.
• Whom does he assume the voice belongs to?
• Why did God's voice sound like Eli's voice to Samuel?
• Should people learn about God from our voices?
• Does God still call people today? How do you know?
• How open are you to God’s voice?
• Would you recognize God's voice if you heard it?
• Is it possible to have heard from God, but preferred to stay comfortable and not respond to HIs call?
• Is it encouraging to you that Samuel eventually learns how to hear God’s voice even though at first he cannot understand it?
• What can we do to hear God better?
• Some of us may have an audible experience of God's voice, can you share?
• How else do we hear God's voice?
• What did it mean for visions of the Lord to be rare?

The call of God is central to this text. To be called by God is an act of spiritual intimacy and divine urgency. When God calls, it means that he knows our name. To be called by God also indicates a need for a response.
• Can we identify with Samuel?

Verse 7 tells us that, "Samuel did not yet know the Lord and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him."

"Like him, we may be set apart for service, even having had some years of religious instruction without really knowing the Lord in a direct way. And like him, we are sleeping. We do not fully sense the divine around us. Life has dulled our hearts, minds, and souls that we can work all day in the temple of the Lord but never hear God." — Lawrence Wood
• Is this an accurate statement?
• Have you ever experienced this?
• Why was Eli's life so sad?
• What is your overall impression of Eli?

The text tells us that Eli's sons did not have a relationship with God and it seems that even Eli struggled with hearing from God.
• Could this be a reminder for us today that faith is more than pure head knowledge?
• Have you ever heard of someone giving their child to God? How would that work today?
• How odd is it to you that someone would trust their child with such an under-performing priest?
• How many times would the Lord have to speak your name before you would understand?
• Would you have been hurt if you had been the priest and you were not the one hearing from the Lord?

I wonder what it was like for a child to relay God's message to a priest.
• What does this tell us about Samuel?
• Is this conversation between God and Samuel considered a prayer?

The word of the Lord had come to Eli fairly recently and it was not a pleasant word. Read I Samuel 2:22,27-34.

Now the word is coming to a child, Samuel.
• Why do you think God chose to give Samuel such a grown-up message to deliver to Eli?

None of us likes to deliver bad news.
• How would you describe Eli's reaction?

God had a call for both Samuel and Eli. For Eli, the message came through a prophet and then through a small child. For Samuel, the call
came through an unusual voice in the middle of the night. Neither call was expected. Neither could be denied. Both Eli and Samuel
understood that this was the word of the Lord.

Watch a clip from the episode "Whisper" from the TV show Smallville.
• How was he able to hear the voice of his father?
• How is this similar to how we have to listen to God’s voice in our world?
• What distractions seem to get in our way when we are listening for God’s voice?
• How can we tune them out?
• Has God recently told you something, convicted you, or given you a passion for some area of ministry? Explain.
• How do you react when you experience God’s revelation? Who did you tell?

Study Resources for January 11, 2015

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

• What languages do you speak?
• What language did you take in school?
• What are the scariest things in the world to you?
• Why are those things scary to you?

Watch the clip "I'm going on an Adventure!" from the movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
• Why did Bilbo seem to be happy that the dwarfs had left his home at the beginning of this clip?
• What changed his mind and made him decide to go on the adventure?
• Why would he choose the unknown adventure over the safe and secure life at home?
• What is the greatest adventure or journey that you have ever undertaken?
• Have you ever passed up the chance to take an adventure? If so, why did you not go?
• How is this clip similar to what we see in scripture when the disciples are called to follow Jesus?
• What are you scared of in your spiritual life?

In today's text, Paul meets some people who do not know about the Holy Spirit. Read Acts 19:1-10.
• Why did Paul ask the disciples if they had received the Holy Spirit?
• How do you think Paul understood the Holy Spirit at this point?
• How uncomfortable do you think this question was for the disciples of John?
• Do you think talking to Paul scared them, excited them, or perhaps both?
• Why are there so many baptisms for these disciples?
• Did these disciples still have much to learn in their faith?
• How difficult was it for these disciples to move from just focusing on repentance to being part of the ministry of Jesus Christ?
• When do we practice "laying on of hands?"
• What are some significant aspects of laying on of hands?

These were disciples of John the Baptist. Some have said that John was "the last Old Testament prophet" because he preceded Jesus' ministry. It has been debated whether or not the followers of John whom Paul met in Acts 19 should be considered Christian. They had experienced baptism, but didn't know about the Holy Spirit. The text does not say whether they had begun to follow Jesus in addition to the teachings of John. We could debate and quote theologians all day, but Luke's primary concern was those people on the fringes of the faith that he brought into the church in the fullest sense.

In today's society the notion of being spiritual, but not religious, is very popular.
• What does this really mean?
• How does this compare to the Acts text?

The "speaking in tongues" that happened after Paul's prayer is a bit of a mystery to us.
• Do you have any experience with speaking in tongues?
• How would you explain speaking in tongues to an unbeliever?
• If we receive the Spirit at baptism, why do you think some people speak in tongues while others do not?

Part of what Paul did in this story was to bring an "outside" group, the followers of John, to the inside as followers of Jesus. He was creating church! Luke tells us that there were 12 of them.
• What do you think the significance of this number might have been?
• How did they react to the teaching?

It was interesting that the text tells us that Paul spoke boldly and argued persuasively. He was able to speak for three months. But when Paul had discussions daily, he was able to minister in the city for two years.
• What might this say about the most effective method of witnessing and/or teaching?

All Christians can agree that the Holy Spirit still speaks. The Holy Spirit speaks to us when we need to be challenged, comforted or convicted of sin. The Holy Spirit can speak through us to bring those same messages to others who need comfort, or affirmation, or encouragement.
• How does the Holy Spirit speak to you?
• What is the greatest journey you have ever been on?
• Have you ever wanted to go on a wild spontaneous adventure?

Watch the clip "Surreal Journey" from Ben Chase Photography.
• What images strike you as the most interesting in this video? Why?
• How does this video journey compare to your personal spiritual journey?
• Are our spiritual journeys about the finish line or making progress on the journey, like these disciples?
• What can we do to improve our spiritual journey, make it more satisfying or stretch to help us grow?

The life of Jesus is an ongoing story about the embracing arms of God. He preached a kingdom so gracious and so inclusive, that we can take into a world that needs transformation. Acts 19:1-10 joins divine gifts and personal commitment. The passage clearly insists that a chief difference between John's baptism of repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus is that the latter involves and includes the gift of the Spirit.

"John's baptism of repentance points almost entirely to a personal turning away from evil and toward good. Baptism in the name of Jesus involves a divinely given reality, but this reality both empowers and disposes people to witness to God's deeds of power. The gift of the Spirit in baptism sweeps people up into the dynamic of the Spirit and its expansive Way. It drives believers to participate in the church's expansive mission. It empowers them to witness in word and in deed to a universally inclusive reality. And so by the Spirit they are empowered to witness to a truth that many in today's terrorized and war-torn world may need to hear." - Douglas Ottati
• What do you think?

Study Resources for January 4, 2015

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

Does writing 2015 make you feel weird? It does me.
• Can you remember three good things that happened to you in 2014?
• Can you remember three difficult things that happened to you in 2014?
• Did the year work out as you had planned? Why or why not?
• If you could do it all over again, what would you change? Why?
• What do you expect will happen in your life during 2015?
• How do you respond when something doesn’t go as planned? Why?

We know the story of the Wise Men. Before we read the story, let's take a little quiz!

1. Which book of the Bible talks about the wise mens' visit?
a. Isaiah
b. Luke
c. Matthew
d. Mark

2. The visitors from the East were...
a. Kings
b. Magi
c. Astronomers
d. Wise men/scholars

3. How many were there?
a. Three
b. 12
c. We don't know

4. Where were the wise men from?
a. Arabia
b. Persia
c. Chaldea
d. Iran
e. We don't know

5. How did the wise men know a king had been born in Judea?
a. They heard a prophecy
b. They saw a star
c. They saw it on CNN
d. We don't know

6. How did king Herod and Jerusalem respond to the news?
a. They were excited
b. They were frightened
c. They were angry
d. They were happy

7. What were the wise mens' names?
a. Balthazar, Melchior and Caspar
b. Peter, Paul and Marion
c. Groucho, Harpo and Chico
d. We don't know

8. How did the wise men know to go to Bethlehem?
a. The shepherds told them
b. King Herod told them
c. The chief priests and scribes told them
d. They followed a star
e. We don't know

9. When did the wise men arrive in Bethlehem?
a. Christmas Day
b. Epiphany
c. Several days after Jesus was born
d. At least a year after Jesus was born
e. We don't know

• How much notice do you like to have before someone comes for a visit?

Read Matthew 2:1-12.
• How does this translation identify these men?

The tradition that the wise men were kings arose from the early church's loose association of Isaiah 60:1-7.
• Can you see how we merged Isaiah with Matthew and got "We Three Kings" and put them on camels in our manger scenes?

This text tells us that kings of surrounding nations would come bearing gifts including camels and flocks plus gold and frankincense. The Greek word "magoi" is the word from which we get "magi." It is also the root word for magic. The astrologers of that day studied the stars for changes and were associated with sorcery or magical powers.

The magi weren't from around here.
• Where were they from?

God gave these men a desire to find Jesus.
• What does that tell us about how God works in the world?
• What does this tell us about how God uses all people to accomplish His purpose?
• What led the magi to Jerusalem?

The magi go to Jerusalem to meet with King Herod, a paranoid and violent ruler.
• Why do you think they stopped in Jerusalem instead of going on to Bethlehem?

In his sermon, "Missing by Nine Miles," Walter Brueggemann points out that if we are not careful, we are all able to miscalculate and miss God. Jerusalem is nine miles north of Bethlehem. "The wise men had a long intellectual history, but they missed their goal by nine miles. They had miscalculated by that much. Herod thought he was in the epicenter of God's future; but he had miscalculated as well by nine miles. This is a very long nine miles, long and demanding, long for the Eastern intellectuals. It was far too long and too demanding for Herod, who would rather hold on to his rage, wave his patriotic flag, and defend the way it used to be, before the intrusion from nine miles off center."
• The question is, do we miss Jesus?
• How do we compare to the wise men? To Herod?

When the magi got to the manger, they worshiped. The verb used here is translated as "knelt down." It actually means "to fall" which would suggest that they fell on their faces before the baby. One writer states that, "There is nothing to suggest that they thought of the baby as divine; only as a future king with whom good relations would be important."
• How do you feel about that interpretation?

The gifts that were brought to the baby were given with no strings attached. They were used to serve Jesus.
• What does this say about our stewardship and offerings?
• Do we give and have expectations?
• What gifts are you planning to offer to Jesus this year?

• How is this story in Matthew different than what you heard as a child and see in nativity scenes this time of year?
• Why was King Herod so distressed by the prophecy about Jesus? How did he respond?
• What do you think about God letting His son be born into such a dangerous time?
• What measures were taken to protect Jesus?
• How would you describe the world that Jesus came into? Why?

• When you began to follow Christ, did you think everything would be perfect? Why or why not?
• What did you expect?
• How would you feel if you committed to following Christ, but then only bad things seemed to happen to you? Why?
• How does this week’s passage show us that God works in the midst of the chaos in our lives?
• What chaos are you experiencing that God can bring hope into?
• Why do we sometimes have a difficult time seeing God at work when we are in chaos?
• Describe the hope we have that God is indeed at work in those situations.

Study Resources for December 21, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

This week we will celebrate Christmas! God comes to us in flesh and blood. We accept this as fact, but it is a fact we accept in faith. There is much mystery, and a lot that can't be explained. How could a sinless God come to bear our sins, an eternal God come to die, and an all-powerful God become powerless? That's the short list!

Watch the clip "What Is Christmas Really About?" from the movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
• How does the Grinch’s answer to the meaning of Christmas resonate with our world?
• How does the way you celebrate Christmas endorse or conflict with this line of thinking?
• Would you consider it a "good" Christmas if you get a lot of presents? Why or why not?
• What emotions seem to stir up in you during the Christmas season? Why?
• What are your favorite Christmas memories or traditions?
• How would you respond if someone asked you about the meaning of Christmas?

Watch a clip of "The Bath Item Hypothesis" from the TV show Big Bang Theory.
• Do you feel this time of year that the “die has been cast?”
• How often do you simply feel obligated to give a gift of equal value?
• How did we get to the point where we feel obligation over genuine concern/love for others?
• What do you do to make the rituals of the Advent and Christmas season powerful for you and your family?

Read Luke 1:26-38.
• If you were choosing the mother of our child, as God did, what are some qualities and qualifications you would insist on?

If we look a little closer, we see that Mary lacked many things that we would probably find desirable. Her hometown had an unsavory reputation and Mary had no special ancestry. She probably had no formal education and would have grown up to marry an ordinary man. They would struggle together for all of their lives.
• What does this say about who God calls and who God uses?

As ordinary as Mary was, there was something special about her, too. She was "favored." The angel gives no history or life story.
• What does it mean to be favored?
• Could it be that the word favor has something to do with grace?
• Did God choose Mary specifically or could He have choose any teenage girl?
• For what obvious reasons was Mary troubled by this news?
• Why is being "favored by God" sometimes troubling news to receive?
• Why might God choose to show favor to a young girl like Mary who was a "nobody"?
• If God shows favor for someone like Mary, what might that mean for God’s response to someone like you?
• How does it make you feel that nothing is impossible for God? Explain.

Evidently, the angel's words were not comforting to Mary. Verse 29 is translated as "much perplexed" (NRSV), "greatly troubled" (NIV), "thoroughly shaken" (The Message), and "confused and disturbed" (NLT).
• What does this tell us about Mary?
• What does this tell us about God?

In a Christmas play, most little girls want to play the part of Mary.
• Do you think Mary wanted to be Mary?

"Mary is given the opportunity to partner with God in a way no other person ever had or ever would again. But Gabriel's message is not so much about Mary's virginity as about God's ability to make the impossible, a miracle, happen," writes Rick Jordan.
• What do you think?

It appears that Luke and Matthew both place the emphasis on God's miraculous act rather than on the fact that Mary was a virgin. It has been suggested that we change the phrase "virgin birth" to "miraculous conception".
• What do you think of the choice of words we use to describe this supernatural event?
• What do you think is the emphasis of this story?
• Is Mary a partner in this?
• Did she have a choice? Why or why not?

Mary was told that "nothing will be impossible with God."
• How might those words have helped Mary through the next nine months?

Mary's answer is arguably the biggest miracle in this story, "let it be to me as you have said."
• What characteristics or personality traits do you think contributed to her willingness to answer God's call?
• How can we develop those kinds of traits in our lives?
• When you look at the world, and at your friends, what group of people would you say are really blessed? Why?
• What makes someone blessed according the world?
• How do you see this passage responding to that?
• How do you see people trying to gain God’s favor in our world?
• Who are the ones who actually gain God’s favor?
• What does that mean in regard to our efforts?
• How does this passage change your perspective on those seen as outsiders or unwanted in our society?
• In what ways could your Christmas celebration change this year so that others may know they are favored by God?

Study Resources for December 14, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

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What is your worst pet peeve?
• What is your pet peeve?
• Why does it bother you so much?
• Does it seem silly for us to get so worked up about such insignificant things? Why or why not?
• How do you respond when you are confronted with something that bothers you? Why?
• What are some of the bigger, more important things that bother you?
• What are some things that don’t bother you, but probably should?

• When you are feeling down, what gives you a quick "pick-me-up"?

"One thing that makes me happy is..."

Paul's letter to the Thessalonians is probably the earliest writing we have in the New Testament. A big concern was, "how should we live as we await Jesus' return?" In last week's lesson, the writer of Peter addressed this same subject in one of the last writings we have in the New Testament.

When Paul was writing the Thessalonians, there was an expectation that Jesus could return at any moment, certainly within their lifetimes. Paul's writing as he ends this letter may reflect that belief. He offers rapid-fire imperatives, as if to say, "no time to explain, just do it!" Interestingly, Paul is talking as much about attitude as he is behavior.

Read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24.
• How would you feel if verse 16 were a literal requirement for being a Christian? Why?
• What do you think it means to be "joyful always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances"?
• Why would Paul want us to "test everything" and "hold onto what is good"?
• What would this look like in your home and at our church?
• What hope might it have given the people to be reminded of God’s faithfulness?
• In what areas of your life do you need to be reminded of God’s faithfulness?

Watch the clip "Special Pancakes" from the movie Imagine That.
• How were joy, prayer, and gratitude expressed in this clip?
• How could someone else respond very differently in this set of circumstances?
• What circumstances take place in your life that tends to rob you of your joy?
• How is joy different from happiness?
• How could you have joy even in a tough situation?

• How often do you pray?
• Are there certain times you pray?
• Are there times or issues you do not feel comfortable praying about? Why?
• How were you trained or encouraged to pray?
• What does it mean to live a life in a prayerful manner?
• If you are praying continuously, how will you respond differently to some of your conflicts?
• Should we take the "pray without ceasing" literally? What is he talking about?
• How can we make this work?

Next, Paul talks about thankfulness.
• What is the difference between giving thanks for all circumstances and giving thanks in all circumstances?
• Would you consider yourself to be grateful for what you have? Why or why not?
• How do your desires for Christmas express this?

Paul uses a lot of "be" statements.
• Is he being nave?
• How can we be joyful and rejoice always?
• What is there to be joyful about when circumstances are bad?
• We cannot always choose our circumstances, but can we choose our attitudes about our circumstances?
• With these three short imperatives, "be joyful, be prayerful, be thankful" are pointed to as "God's will for you," how can we apply these imperatives to our lives and our search for God's will for our lives?

Next, Paul tells us to be attentive.
• What does it mean to "quench the Spirit"?
• How do we do that?

"Prophets" in New Testament lingo usually means, "one who preaches." There are popular prophets today.
• How do you judge whether a prophet is good or bad?
• How can we, in this day and age, test everything?
• What can we use as a measuring stick?

Paul concludes with a blessing. Up to this point, Paul has used a lot of imperatives and it seems like the work is up to us, but he changes in this blessing. The active participant now is God, (the God of peace, the one who calls you).
• What does this say about our spiritual life: that is, how much is up to us and how much is up to God?

God wants us to be whole and holy. That sounds very spiritual, and it is.
• What is being blessed in this benediction?
• What does this tell us about God's concern for us?
• What does it say about the relationship of spirit, soul and body?
• How does your perspective influence your attitude?
• How can we understand a Godly perspective?

Watch the clip "God Bless You Chick Fil A" from comedian Tim Hawkins.
• How easy it for you to say to others "my pleasure"?
• How do we learn to do that?

Watch the clip "Every Life Has a Story" from Chick Fil A.
• If a company can display proper attitude, then can we learn that also?
• How can we learn to embrace others' lives so we can live with joy, prayer, and thanksgiving?
• What does this text have to do with Advent?

Study Resources for December 7, 2014

The teacher for this session was Steve Booth. (email Steve)

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• Which makes you the most impatient: waiting for an event like Christmas or graduation; waiting for something like a traffic light or a computer to boot up; or waiting for a person?

"Compared to my spouse/friend, I am (more/less) patient." Time feels differently for us depending on our situation. For those happy in the moment, time flies. For those living in anxiety, time seems to stand still.
• Where are you right now?
• When things are going badly, how do you usually respond? Why?
• When things are going well, who is the first person you tell? Why?
• If you were in a tough situation, where would you turn to get help?
• Why do you put your hope in that person/thing?

Watch the clip "Jesus' Illustrated Story" from the movie Amistad.
• What situation were the prisoners facing?
• How did the story of Jesus give them hope?
• Think about a situation where you turned to God for hope; what was the outcome of that situation?

• Are you anxiously waiting for Christmas Day?
• How do you feel about waiting?

Watch the clip "Ryan Gosling reads a Dr Seuss" from the movie Fracture.
• Do you feel like you are in the waiting place? Is that okay?
• Does God use our waiting? How?

Read 2 Peter 3:1-15. Impatience is a symptom that things are not going our way. We really do want the world to revolve around us and if we are inconvenienced, we grow impatient. We spend a lot of time waiting: in lines, for others, for things, for occasions, for answers to prayer.

The early Church was waiting for Jesus' return. We read about this from the earliest letter in the New Testament (1 Thessalonians) to today's text, among the latest of the letters written. 2 Peter was probably written in the first half of the second century. It seems they were growing impatient, maybe because some people were making fun of their seemingly absent Savior.
• How does the author describe what is going to happen before Jesus’ return?
• What does the author say about God?
• How might this have given hope to those who were anxiously awaiting Jesus' return?

The people expected Jesus’ return in their lifetime.
• Now 2000 years later, do we expect Jesus to come back soon? Why or why not?
• Why do we not anticipate Jesus’ return like they did?
• How do you feel about people who do anticipate the return of Jesus and share that news publicly with others? Why?
• Why did the author stress the importance of how we are supposed to live while waiting for Christ’s return?
• Do you think our behavior matters if Jesus does not come back in our lifetime? Why or why not?
• Have you ever been promised something but it took a long time to happen? How did that make you feel?
• Can you use that thought to relate to the feelings of the original hearers/readers of this text in regard to Jesus’ lack of a return?
• If you were one of the original hearers, would you have started to give up on Jesus’ return?
• If we are confident in God’s return with judgment and blessing, should that not influence our everyday actions?
• Can we use our time of waiting to learn how to comfort others in the pain of waiting?
• Does it help you during a time of waiting to know that God’s understanding of time is different than ours (v.8)? Or that God is patient (v.9)?
• What can we do to make this world our Godly home during this waiting time?
• How can we search diligently for the God of peace when we feel so much stress (v.14)?

Christians were discouraged. Peter begins this chapter by giving them some sources of encouragement.
• What are these sources of inner strength?

In these days of instant communication and powerful internet search engines, it's a bit hard for us to imagine the difference in communication 2000 years ago. They had to wait between communications.
• What was life like before instant communications?
• How would you feel if you were transported to a time or a culture that required long periods of time between communications?

One good thing about letters is that you were given the opportunity to think about the communication you received. You could read and re-read the letter over and over again. Then it was possible to share the letter with others. The author of 2 Peter wanted Christians to remember, to ruminate about their God.

The recipients of 2 Peter were facing some persecution.
• What was the nature of their persecution?
• Was it life-threatening?
• Is it really persecution if someone disagrees with your beliefs?
• What, in your opinion, is the difference between disagreement and persecution?

Approximately, 150-200 years had passed since Jesus ascended. The disciples and followers of Jesus expected him to return within their lifetimes.
• How do you think this belief shaped their daily lives?
• What did Jesus say about his return?

Read Matthew 24:32-44.
• How does this teaching of Jesus jive with 2 Peter?

As human beings, one of our limitations is that we live in time. God has no such restriction.
• How does God describe Himself in Revelation 1:8; 17-18?
• How does this shape your faith?
• How do these verses affect the spiritual discipline of waiting?
• How has the loss of a loved one affected your perspective of time and eternity?

The author of this letter says, the return of Jesus need not make us impatient if we have God's perspective of time in mind.
• Does that mean another reason for Jesus' delay is that God is patient?
• Does the thought of the world's end or of God's judgment affect the way most people live?
• Does it affect the way you live?

We might hope that people will live "holy and blameless" lives simply out of gratitude for what God has done for them, for their gift of salvation and for love of their neighbors. However, Peter offers another reason.
• What is that reason? How do you feel about that motivation?
• Can we really be transformed into a "holy and blameless life" into Christlikeness?
• What needs to happen for all areas of our lives to be "made right?"
• What does this passage have to do with Advent?
• Is it difficult to find hope when there are such terrible things happening in our world? Explain.
• When you are in a difficult situation, what does it look like to respond with the hope you have in Christ?
• How might some of the relationships in our life look if we lived as if we expected Christ’s return?

Study Resources for November 30, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

• What childhood games did you play?
• What was your favorite?

Watch the clip "Little girl plays hide and seek with giant dog" from Rumble Viral.
• Are you impressed with how well-trained the dog was?
• What motivated the dog to search and follow commands?
• Did you notice how often the dog went to the Christmas tree?
• Do you ever feel like you are playing "hide and seek" for that perfect Christmas gift?
• Do you ever feel that God is sometimes playing "hide and seek" with you? What causes that?
• Have you ever felt like God abandoned you? What was that like?

According to a recent BBC article: "The Baby Laughter Project, which has surveyed parents from more than 20 countries, has shown that games like peek-a-boo are perfect for showing one such fundamental development-object permanence. The term describes the understanding that an object still exists, even if you can't see it. Very young children don't know this, which is why babies under and around 6 months of age can look shocked and startled at peek-a-boo."

On the spiritual plane of our lives, however, it is not so much fun when we seek God's face, and it is not there. That is what the Israelites were dealing with.

Watch the clip "Disappointed with God" from Central Media.
• Which of these quotes stood out to you the most? Why?
• How does it make you feel that so many of our religious heroes had doubts, struggles, and expressed disappointment with God?
• How do you think God feels about his people expressing disappointment? Why?
• Would God rather us be honest about our feelings or pretend that everything is fine?
• Have you ever experienced a disappointment with God? Explain.

The book of Isaiah is one of the longest books in the Old Testament and it covers a span of nearly 200 years. The part of the book that we are in today was likely written in the time following the Israelites' exile into Babylon. As you recall, after four centuries of living in the Promised Land, Babylon destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the temple, and took many of the people to Babylon where they live for the next 50 years. After this time of exile, the Persian army defeats the Babylonian army, and then allows the Israelites to return to Jerusalem and to begin to put their lives back together.

They had returned to Jerusalem from their exile in Babylon with high hopes. The commentary writer says, "They were bitterly disappointed. Instead of a land flowing with milk and honey and foreign aid, they found a devastated city, in the midst of a desolate countryside... The returnees faced years of famine and draught, barely surviving while trying to rebuild and paying heavy taxes... and providing tribute to Persia."
• Where was God in all of this?

Read Isaiah 64:1-9.
• How difficult was this time for the Israelites?
• What did the Israelites want God to do?
• What was their understanding of why God did not do what they wanted?
• How would you describe the way the people thought they had been treated by God?
• Have you ever felt that God had abandoned you?
• What does it feel like to experience true loneliness?
• Why do we struggle to see God in our lives when things are going badly?
• What is the difference between a person who laments to God when things are going badly, and one who turns their back on God in the same situation?
• How do you think God responds to each of those persons? Why?
• Can you understand why they may have felt God let them down?

They are blaming God and wanted a divine appearance.
• Can you relate to Isaiah’s desperate cry for grace?
• Do you feel like the work of God’s hands?
• How do you feel about praying in public?
• What do you think God really wants to hear from you?

Watch the clip "Honest Prayer" from Worship House Media.
• What did you think about this prayer?
• Have you ever felt like the girl in this prayer?
• What kind of things do we tend to avoid taking to God about in our prayers?
• Why is it so important to be honest with God in our prayers?
• When you hear those words from Isaiah, what do you think they mean for us today?

Watch the clip "Diamonds" from Elevation Media.
• Do you feel like a glass pebble or a precious diamond?
• Do you feel like God is allowing you to grow under pressure this year?
• Does it reassure you that God allows us to endure pressure to make us stronger?
• What can we do to let the "divine master craftsman" shape this Advent season for us, our family, and our church?

Study Resources for November 23, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

Watch the clip "I Think I'm Going to Buy a Plough" from The Cosby Show.
• Why did Theo want to be paid for his work?
• Do you think we should always gain something when we do the right thing? Why or why not?
• Why do we hesitate to do something for someone else unless we have something to personally gain?

• How much do you know about Jewish culture?
• How much do you know about the Jewish religion?

Watch the clip "Gwyneth Paltrow Converting to Be Jewish" from HollyscoopTV.
• What do you think of her decision to become Jewish? Are her reasons good?
• What do you think her faith means to her?
• What does your faith mean to you?
• How do you show it? Do you show it by words and actions?

In ancient days, one of the images a politician liked to use was that of a shepherd. Rick Jordan notes, "The early Babylonian king Hammurabi claimed that the gods had appointed him to be shepherd of the people. He wrote of providing water and grain to his subjects, and based his famous code on the responsibility of a shepherd-king to ensure that 'The strong may not oppress the weak, in order to give justice to the orphan and the widow.'"

Unfortunately, sometimes these shepherds turn out to be neglectful or even harmful. That was happening in our Bible passage for today.

Let's get a little background on Ezekiel.

Ezekiel is a unique prophet in many ways. He is the only prophet to receive a call outside of Jerusalem. Ezekiel receives his call in Babylon after he has been taken in to exile. He still believes that if the people change their minds, the final blow to Jerusalem can be avoided. Because of this belief, the book of Ezekiel starts out sounding harsh and judgmental. Ezekiel is using every tactic at his disposal to help explain to the Israelites how they must change their ways if they want to avoid everyone being taken to Babylon and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.

Ezekiel was an active priest who lived and worked in Jerusalem prior to the deportation from Judah to Babylon, in 597 BC. When Nebuchadnezzar's forces conquered the city, Ezekiel was forced into exile with other leading inhabitants of Jerusalem. In the fifth year of his exile, Ezekiel was overwhelmed by a vision that changed his life and set him on a course of prophetic activity for the next 22 years.

Read Ezekiel 34:1-31.
• What kind of shepherds do these people sound like?
• Do their actions match their stated faith?
• Who do you think Ezekiel is talking about?
• How dependent are sheep on their shepherd?
• So a bad shepherd damages himself as well as his sheep, right?
• How angry do you think this made Ezekiel and God?
• How does this relate to the universal struggle of the "haves" and the "have-nots?”
• Is this narrative only about bad shepherds? Is it also about bad sheep too?
• How do you feel about Ezekiel saying God will judge the bad animals?
• How are we called to be leaders?
• What things do we do that inadvertently damage others?

We are still dealing with the abuse of power by those who are supposed to be our protectors. Some leaders are passively neglectful in their abuse of power.
• Can you think of examples?

Some are aggressively abusive.
• Can you think of examples?
• Can you think of other abuses of power we have heard about recently?

This could make us cynical of all who are in powerful positions.
• What gives you hope in spite of stories about the abuse of power?

God wanted the leaders over the Hebrew people to know that there were heavenly eyes on them. God was not going to leave the sheep without protection.
• How does this image of God as shepherd make you feel?
• Can you share a story of God providing for your needs?

If the leaders can be a problem for the sheep, so can the other "animals" that we live with. Ezekiel promised judgment, not only for the shepherds who treated the flock with contempt instead of care, but also for the "rams and goats" who thought only of themselves and added to the misery of weaker members of the flock.
• What are some examples of rams and goats in our society today?
• How do they add to our misery and steal our joy?
• What is an example of persons with resources "muddying the waters" for those with fewer resources?

The New Testament has a good bit to say about sheep and shepherds. Read Matthew 9:35-36, 10:6-7, and 18:12-14.
• What parallels do you hear in these passages between Ezekiel's message and the gospel?

This message from Ezekiel appears to mean that God desires humans to act justly toward one another, and is displeased by acts of selfishness, discrimination, and exploitation. Those who practice these kinds of injustices will be held accountable. We live in a society in which the disparity between the rich and the poor, the "haves" and the "have-nots," is growing every wider. And this is part of what Ezekiel is talking about.
• What is our responsibility in this kind of situation?
• What is our role in all of this?

Watch the clip "What Can One Person Do To Help?" from Bystander Revolution.
• What responsibility do we have to take care of other people?
• How do you feel when you see someone being treated unfairly?
• How is other people’s pain a Christian’s responsibility?
• What does it mean for a Christian to have responsibility for the needs in their community?
• How can one person make a difference?

Watch the clip "The Case" from the movie Lucy.
• How would you have felt as Lucy in this scene?
• How much worse would you have felt when people get behind shields and walk away?
• Would you call those men good or bad shepherds?
• How many times do we as leaders carelessly give advice, like saying it's “nothing dangerous?”
• What measures can we take to make sure we become better leaders and better followers?

Study Resources for November 16, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

This week's story is one that we don't talk about very often. Let's dive on in.
• Can you think of a woman you respect who serves in a leadership role? Why her?
• Can you name a woman who instills courage in you? Why her?

As you think about your own personal spiritual journey, no doubt there have been both men and women who have had an impact on you.
• Can you like to share some of your experiences?
• How do you deal with the "enemies" in your life?

There is a debate in the Church about who is eligible to serve as a leader. In some churches, a candidate must have tenure or be of a certain age to serve as a deacon. In some churches, even non-Christians are allowed to have roles as choir members, small group leaders, committee members. In some churches, women can have leadership roles over children, but not over men. Yet, a growing number of churches are calling women to be their pastors.

Because of the autonomy of the local church, Baptists are all over the map on this issue: who may lead us?
• What are some qualifications for a good church leader?
• How would you rate your confidence and certainty when it comes to following God? Why?
• How would you know if God was calling you to do something specific in your life?
• How do we "get in our own way" when it comes to following Christ?
• What does it mean to have a willingness to serve God?
• What happens to the possibility of following God if we are not willing to live our lives for God?
• Do you think righteousness is about the things we do or the things we are willing to do? What is the difference and what does it look like?
• How can you be confident that God will use you if you are willing to follow Him?
• In which areas in your life are you willing to be used by God to make a difference in the world?

We can see from history that being a man is not the most important qualification for leadership, particularly for spiritual leadership. In the Old Testament book of Judges, we are given profiles of leadership. These are men and women. Within these profiles, we see a pattern of sin, punishment, repentance and deliverance. This cycle is repeated throughout this book.

Occasionally, there is a good, godly leader with strong character. Many times, there is a leader who has weak character and flimsy spiritual conviction. Ehud, the third judge, was a good leader and "the land had rest for 80 years." Read Judges 3. Once Ehud dies, the people wandered back into idolatry.
• What does this tell us about the role of a spiritual leader?
• What does this tell us about the spiritual life?

Read Judges 4:1-23.
• Had you heard this Biblical narrative before? If not, were you surprised by how violent it is?
• Did it surprise you that women were key leaders in this Old Testament period?
• Is it significant that Barak would not go without Deborah?
• What does this say about his status and reputation?
• What does it say about Deborah’s status and reputation?
• What gave Jael the ability to carry out this task?
• Clearly she was not safe with Sisera, especially in that time/culture, so how could she be so brave?
• What does this text tell us about Jael hiding and killing Sisera?
• Is it significant that a poem was written with great joy about his death (Judges 5:23-27)?
• Are you comfortable with the details of this event?

The narrator led us to think that Deborah's prophecy about a woman causing the Canaanites fall would be fulfilled by her, but we are given a twist: it's another woman. We don't know why Jael, wife of random man mentioned in verse 11, did not want to keep the alliance with the Canaanites.
• What do you think?

Because of the leadership of these two women, Israel had 40 years of peace.

Watch the clip "Step Out" from Elevation Media.
• So how can you be brave in God’s will? What does that even mean?
• What events that demand bravery did you relate to most in the video?
• What do you need to do in the short-term and long-term to be brave?

Watch the clip "The You Are Project" from You Are 2014.

Jesus dealt with evil during His ministry.
• Can you think of some examples?
• Do you find His way difficult, easy, disturbing, or comforting?
• How can we learn from Him?

Study Resources for November 9, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

This week is all about choices and how we can make good faith choices. We are continuing the journey with the Hebrew people and Joshua.
• "A choice I made in the last 24 hours was to..."

We are always making choices. Most choices are inconsequential. However, there are choices we make that we know, up-front, will affect the rest of our lives.
• What are some of those choices?
• What movies scenes do you remember in which the characters had to make life-changing choices?

Watch the clip "The Pill" from the movie The Matrix.
• Do you sometimes feel you chose the "blue pill?"
• Do you wish your choices led to exciting things like the magical powers in The Matrix?

What are some of the best choices you have ever made?
• Is choosing not to choose often worse than making a choice?
• Do you think the Israelites had excuses for all their disobedience?
• Do you know people who have excuses to avoid every tough choice?

Watch the clip "Colter’s Excuse Warehouse" from comedian Bob Smiley.
• What excuses do we make that are as silly as these?
• What can we remember and focus on — in time of difficulty and tough choices?

Some of our choices are faith choices: What or who will I give my ultimate loyalty to? What or who will guide my life? What or who will I serve?
• Do you have the answers to these questions? Why or why not?

In last week's lesson, Joshua became the leader of the Hebrew people. Today, we look at the end of his career as Israel's leader. Read Joshua 24:1-25.
• Why were the Israelites so tempted to worship other gods?
• What other “gods” are we tempted to serve today?
• What would have been the result if the Israelites continued to serve other gods?
• What would be the result if we continue to worship other gods?
• In your opinion, why was Joshua so serious about his warnings not to forsake God?
• How did Joshua’s argument lead them to a serious commitment?
• How would you describe Joshua's speech?
• What shapes our faith?
• What shaped the faith of the Hebrew people?

Here, the pagan Hittite culture is shaping the very covenant between God and God's people.
• Can you think of how other cultural elements shape our faith?
• Is there a place to draw the line, to say, "This is the true, Christian way to..." or will the Church always be adapting to the trends of local culture? Is this good or bad?
• How do we choose which changes are appropriate and inappropriate?
• How confident is Joshua that the people will remain faithful to the covenant?
• What are the Hebrew people called to do in response to God’s goodness?
• What is the people’s response to Joshua telling them to choose (vs.16-18)?
• After their response, why does Joshua say they would not be able to serve a holy God?
• How does that relate to us today?
• Are we constantly called to choose to be faithful in our relationship with God?
• What do we need to put away daily to fulfill our part of the covenant with God?
• Who is Joshua placing in leadership positions?

• What evidence do you see of God working in your life?
• Was God present in the good times or the bad times? Explain.
• How is the evidence in your life similar to the evidence presented to the Israelites?
• From your own experience with God in the past, what can you tell us about how God is going to respond to the future events in your life?
• Knowing how God has responded to us in the past, why do we still struggle to commit to serve God?

The choice to become a follower of Jesus Christ is indeed a choice. But, following that initial decision, we continue to have choices. A question we might ask ourselves, as followers of Jesus is, "Is this the choice Jesus would make if He was in my situation?" Our daily choices give us opportunities to determine what or whom we truly serve.
• What was Joshua's choice?

In our faith and life journey, we too can run into dangers and temptations. There are literally millions of false gods that we can choose and many ways to divide our loyalties. We, like Joshua and the Israelites need to remember where we've been, where we are now and where we're going. Jesus makes that quite clear for us in the Gospels. He tells us that we, like the Israelites, have been delivered, provided for and protected. We, like the Israelites, have been and still are chosen by God. We have been called, loved and forgiven. We have been assured and promised that Jesus is always with us.
• Do we take that for granted?
• Do we divide our commitments and our loyalties or do we like Joshua and the Israelites profess that we will serve the Lord?

Each Sunday we have the opportunity to renew our covenant commitment with our God. We are given the opportunity to remember whose we are, who we are, where we are, where we are going, where we have been and the God who loves us.

Study Resources for November 2, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

Here we are getting ready to go into the Promised Land.
• Do we have a "promised land?"

Let's get reacquainted with Joshua.
• "The biggest change in my family recently is..."

Change is stressful. In fact, there may be "distress" if the change is one that we didn't want. There is even stress when the change is what we wanted. This is true for us as a nation. We are getting ready to elect new officials. A new leader can cause us to wonder if they are up to the job. The Israelites had gone through change in leadership and the death of a beloved leader. The future was unknown and scary.
• Can you think of a time in which you were scared/nervous to do something new?

Watch the clip "Nervous Phone Call" from the movie Despicable Me 2.
• Can you relate to Gru?
• Have you ever wanted to just burn things up and try to pretend that things were better?
• Have you ever felt scared to lead a group of people after a great leader had passed the task to you?

This is what happens to Joshua in today’s passage. The Hebrew people were going through a stressful time. Moses was a popular leader with the people, and he had always been there, always calling Israel forward in obedience to God. He kept them focused on God and their journey to their promised land. Then, Moses died.

For 40 years, Moses led the people through the wilderness. God demonstrated that He was with them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. With new leadership, would God still be with them now?
• Have you ever wondered if God is still with you?
• How do you handle it?

Joshua was to succeed Moses. The people had their questions. Would he be successful? Is God with Joshua? I am sure there were many dinner table discussions about these questions during this time. Tony Cartlege says, "The stories in Joshua and the historical books that follow illustrate this point in manifold ways; Obedience to God leads to life and blessing, while apostasy leads to grief and exile."
• What do you think? Is this true?
• If it is true, why don't we become more obedient?

Read Joshua 3:7-17. The Ark of the Covenant was a tangible reminder that God goes before the people as they journey into the Promised Land. Now, God gives Joshua the authority to command the priests to carry the Ark before the people and to carry it with them as they enter the Jordan River.
• Do you think Joshua was scared/nervous following the great and powerful Moses?
• Do you feel inadequate because God does not seem to speak to you the same exact way as God did to Moses?
• How comfortable would you feel being told by God that you were to be exalted?
• Would you focus on yourself or have exalted God like Joshua did?
• Since the Ark represents the presence of God, how comforting would it have been to the Israelites to see God holding back the chaos of the waters?
• What possible meaning could the symbolism of crossing water to leave Egypt and then crossing water again to enter the Promised Land have?
• Would this have been reassuring since they probably had heard stories of crossing the sea to leave Egypt to start this journey?
• Do you ever wonder if God has a plan for your life?

Watch the clip "Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy Clip 3" from Marvel Entertainment.
• Ever feel like your life is in chaos-like raging waters?
• Ever wonder if anyone is even listening to you? How do you handle this?
• How hard is it to remember that in our life that God has always been there for us even when life is chaotic?

• What were Joshua's first words to the people?
• What is Joshua implying about his role?
• What is Joshua implying about God's relationship with the people?
• What do you think Joshua means in his next statement, "the living God?" Why would that be important?

There are a few other passages in the Bible that describe God in that way: read Psalm 42:1-3, Psalm 84:1-2, and Daniel 6:26-27.
• It is one thing to claim that your god is alive, but what would be the proof that their God was alive?

The Ark was not an idol or a god.
• What purpose was there to having the Ark ahead of the people?
• Who remembers what was in the Ark?

Read Numbers 17:10 and Hebrews 9:4. These are powerful symbols.
• What are some powerful symbols of our faith for you?

Moses is now gone, the cloud and the pillar of fire are now gone, but the Ark remains. It is an ark of Covenant.
• What do you think that means?

"As their parents or grandparents had witnessed the proof of God's presence through the plagues sent against Egypt and the crossing of the sea, so they would see a glimpse of God's power in cutting off the waters of the flooded Jordan River, which could be crossed in no other way." - Rick Jordan
• Has God ever done a miracle in your life that only He could do?
• Would you share a story from your family history of a time God worked in an amazing way? Explain.
• What does this story tell us about the power of God?
• What does this story tell us about the grace of God?
• Do we have a Promised Land or was that just for the people of God?
• Is it an actual place or a spiritual experience?
• Have you reached yours?
• Do we get there all at one time or is it a process? How do you know?

The Jordan River is a barrier to the Promised Land.
• What does this story tell us about our own spiritual life and the barriers we face on the way to our Promised Land?

Crossing the Jordan was a significant major transition for Joshua as the new leader and for the people of God. They had transitioned from slaves to pilgrims and then soldiers. This was not Egypt and this was not the desert. This was a time of transition.
• How is your pilgrimage similar to the Hebrews? How is it different?
• In what ways has God "opened the River" for you?

Later in the book, Joshua tells the people to remember to tell the stories to their children to teach the children about their heritage, their traditions, and their faith.
• What things are most important in passing on our heritage?

Study Resources for October 26, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

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It is always good to be together. I look forward to this lesson.
• If you thought that you were going to live to be 120 years old, how would you react?

We are going to look at the end of Moses' life this week. Watch the clip "Space Camp" from the movie Stranger Than Fiction.
• How would you respond to the question posed in this clip?
• How would your life change if you knew exactly when you were going to die?
• How would your priorities change?
• How would you feel if you served God your whole life but died before receiving any of the rewards? Why?
• Would that be fair? Why or why not?
• What do you think people will say about you when you are gone?
• How would you describe a "good death?"

Read Deuteronomy 34:1-12.
Moses was able to climb Mount Nebo. From there, he could see all of the Promised Land. God was not just giving Moses a geography lesson, Moses was, in a sense, looking at the future. He had led his people as far as he could and someone else would take over now and led the Hebrews.
• Do you consider how what you choose and what you may do, will affect future generations? Can you give an example?
• How would you feel if you were Moses and had served God faithfully only be told you will not enter the promised land? Why?
• Why would God let Moses see it, even though Moses wouldn’t get to go there?
• How did the Israelites respond to Moses’ death?
• Do you think Moses had a good death? Why or why not?

• In what ways did Moses have a unique relationship with God?
• What do you think it would be like to have that kind of relationship with God?
• Could someone today have that kind of relationship with God? Why or why not?
• What are some of the obstacles that get in the way of having that kind of relationship with God?

"Barcelona, Spain is the site of a very large, very unusual church, the Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family). When Antoni Gaudi designed the church in 1883, he knew that he would not live long enough to complete it, though he continued working on it until his death in 1926. He made plans for two of the four entrances to the building. The remaining entrances were given designated themes, but he left the creation of the art work to artists of future generations. Gaudi said, 'There is no reason to regret that I cannot finish the church. I will grow old but others will come after me, what must always be conserved is the spirit of the work, but its life has to depend on the generations it is handed down to and with whom it lives and is incarnated.' The church is still being constructed with an estimated completion of the first third of the twenty-first century."
• What lessons can we learn about our lives and the influence we may have on future generations?
• How does the text describe Moses' death?

God buried Moses.
• What does this tell us about the relationship God and Moses had with each other?

Moses' burial site was not known.
• Why not?

Moses knew as he climbed Mount Nebo that this would be his last hike. Most of us will not know our last day as we live it.
• Do you think that is good?
• Would it make a difference in how you lived that day? How so?

Many people, as they near life's end, note a difference between death and dying.
• How would you describe the difference?

There are some people who model for us how to live. Others model for us how to die.
• Who has modeled living and dying for you?

Part of our stewardship of life has to do with the end of our lives. There is an old hymn, "Living for Jesus a life that is true, striving to please him in all that I do."
• How might that apply to the end of our life?
• Is there also a responsibility in our dying?

And so Moses is remembered in the end as a truly great man and an incredible prophet of God. His death came at the right time. If he had continued on with the Israelites as they entered the promised land, he would have had to taken on the role of military leader because a great deal of the next part of their journey was spent in battle — but God knew that Joshua was more fitted to that role. Moses' time as their leader had come to an end — as all things do. Every thing has an expiration date and none of us live forever.

It is how God made it happen. When Moses died, it was a good death. Did he have things left undone? Probably. We will all leave unfinished business. Was he disappointed that he did not get to go to the promised land? Probably. But he also was able to know that he had served God in the best way he knew how.

When Moses heard the word from God about his death, he spent his last hours blessing the tribes of Israel, all 12 of them. I am sure that as he climbed Mt. Nebo, tears welled up in his eyes. Jewish tradition describes his death this way: "When he reached the top of the mountain, he halted. 'You have one more minute,' God warned him, so as not to deprive him of his right to death. And Moses lay down. And God said: 'Close your eyes.' And Moses closed his eyes. And God said: 'Fold your arms across your chest.' And Moses folded his arms across his chest. Then, silently, God kissed his lips. And the soul of Moses found shelter in God's breath and was swept away into eternity." — Beuchner

And the scripture says, "So Moses died...by the mouth of Yahweh." Deut. 34:5.

May we all strive to live with the same devotion to God as Moses did. May we all seek to live fully into the life that has given us so that at the end of our time, people will speak well of us.

Study Resources for October 19, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

We are still talking about Moses. He was a cool dude. Let's see what's going on in Exodus 33!
• How would you describe yourself?
• How would others describe you?
• When you think about abandonment, what does that do to you?
• Have you ever felt really close to God?
• Have you ever felt deeply apart from God, which caused more stress on your emotions? Why?

Watch the clip "Glory of God" from The Church Tools Media.
• What images/words caused you to reflect on your relationship with God?

The beginning of this relationship between people who have just been released from slavery and the God who calls them to live in the wilderness has a rocky start, to say the least. The people are critical of Moses, God's chosen leader, they are skeptical that God knows what he is doing and they insist that Aaron create a golden calf that they can celebrate as their god.

Relationships are hard enough with those people that we can see. Here they were expected to have relationship with a God that they could not see. Read Exodus 33:1-23.
• Do we often settle for less in our relationship with God?
• How good would it be to have such a tight relationship with God that you can chat with God like Moses does?
• What is Moses asking for in verse 13?
• What are some good ways we can ask God for guidance in terms of planning?
• Does a close relationship with God help in hearing God’s plans for you?
• Is Moses saying that without the presence of God, there is no people of God?
• Why is Moses not satisfied with God’s answer in verse 17?
• Does it seem to you that Moses, at this stage of faith, can never get enough of God?

"Fearful of Yahweh's apparent absence, the people constructed an image to represent Yahweh's presence – but the action had the reverse effect – God threatened a permanent absence." – Rick Jordan

God and Moses get together in the tent of meeting where they have an honest discussion about the status of their relationship. Moses seems to persuade God to continue traveling with the people.
• What are Moses' arguments?
• What does this say to you about intercessory prayer?

Oswald Chambers says: "You cannot truly intercede through prayer if you do not believe in the reality of redemption. Instead, you will simply be turning intercession into useless sympathy for others, which will serve only to increase the contentment they have for remaining out of touch with God. True intercession involves bringing the person or the circumstances that seems to be crashing in on you, before God, until you are changed by His attitude toward that person or circumstance. Intercession means to 'fill up with what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ' (Colossians 1:24), and this is precisely why there are so few intercessors. People describe intercession by saying, 'It is putting yourself in someone else's place.' That is not true! Intercession is putting yourself in God's place; it is having His mind and His perspective."
• What do you think?
• How does Moses have God's mind and perspective in this conversation?

Moses uses an analogy of abandonment.
• What would God's abandonment mean to you?
• What does it mean that Moses found favor with God?
• What does it mean for us to find favor?

• How many of you go shopping on Black Friday? Why?

Watch the clip "Gods Favor in way you didn't expect..." from PraiseSermon.com
• Do we often find ourselves focusing on the wrong things when God has more important things for us to do?
• What would it have been like to be in the special presence of God?
• Is it more important to see God or hear God (v.19)?
• Does God ever tell Moses to stop asking no matter how bold the request?
• Did God give Moses what he wanted or just what he needed? What does that mean for us?
• Should we keep asking for God’s glory even if we feel God is not listening?

This is a distinct relationship. These were God's people. There would be a growing sense of identity. Obviously, they are not there, yet. Moses argues with God that they will never get there if God chooses to abandon them. Eventually, the Hebrew people would be so identified with Yahweh that they would not know how to describe themselves without mentioning Yahweh.
• How does that relate to our identity and our faith?
• Could someone describe you completely without mentioning Jesus Christ?
• How do people know about your identity as a follower of Jesus?

Next, Moses is going to ask to see God. The theological word for this type of event is a "theophany," which comes from the Greek words "theos" (God) and "phainein" (to show). The dictionary describes it as a "visual manifestation to humankind of God or a god." Apparently, even Moses was having a difficult time having a relationship with an imageless God.
• Do you? Would your faith be stronger if you could see God? Why or why not?
• Do you think Moses' desire to see more of God was a sign of his lack of faith – or was it a sign of his desire to have a more personal relationship with God?

All of the theophany stories have one common thread and that is that they occur in times of crisis and at God's initiative. For a human being to ask God to put in a visible appearance would be considered a little presumptuous, and yet Moses felt close enough to God and bold enough to do it.
• Was God's answer to Moses yes or no or some of both?

God tells Moses that no one can see God and live.
• Can we see God?

The word here does not mean the two parties were looking directly at each other... but that they were speaking "person to person" or "up close and personal." In verse 14, when Moses prays, "If your presence does not go..." the word 'presence' is literally translated face. "The most important revelation was not what Moses would see, but what he would hear."
• What did Moses hear?
• What difference does it make to know somebody's name?
• What does knowing somebody's name imply?

Moses did not get all that he wanted or all that he asked for, but he did get all that he needed for this period in his life.
• Have you ever experienced this in you spiritual life? How so?

God's message, "My presence will go with you and I will give you rest." Exodus 33:14 was his gift to his people in a time of crisis.
• Do you find this to be comforting? Why or why not?

Study Resources for October 12, 2014

The teacher for this session was Jim Somerville. (email Jim)

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Rebels without a Cause: Exodus 32:1-14

Today’s text is the story of the Golden Calf. At one point in the story Aaron points to the calf and says to the people, “This is your god, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” That raises some questions about who God is and what God looks like.
• Do you have any thoughts about that?
• Do you know what God looks like?

Here’s what happens when you type the word God into a Google image search:

It’s obvious that people picture God in lots of different ways, isn’t it? Today’s text is about some people who were struggling with the idea of an invisible God.

Digging Deeper (lesson notes from Rick Jordan):

Moses, their leader, had led them out of Egyptian slavery. They walked through a wilderness with an image ahead of them (a cloud by day and pillar of fire by day). Now, Moses has gone to the top of a mountain to visit with this God that no one has seen. Moses is gone for what feels like a very long time. (Exodus 24:18 reads, “Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.”)

Read Exodus 32:1-6. The cloud by day was gone. The pillar by night was gone. Moses was gone.
• What do you think was going on inside the people?

This was a crisis of leadership. Their leader was gone.
• In our own nation, what would happen if our President were to go on a 40-day retreat?

This was more than a crisis of leadership, however, because Moses was more than a political leader. He was also the peoples’ spiritual leader. After generations of being slaves in Egypt, it may be that all they knew of God was what Moses told them. Now, the people come to Aaron, Moses’ brother with their complaint.
• What is their complaint?
• How would you describe Aaron’s reaction to their complaint?
• Does it surprise you that Aaron does not put the people off in some way? Why or why not?

The gold has been melted and formed into a bull. Apparently, it is time to party. This is the first time the former slaves seem to be happy.
• What does this say about our own spiritual lives?
• Is it possible to be “happy” yet spiritually lost?

The Bible Lesson writer warns, “we also have a tendency to make God over in our own image. We pick and choose which parts of the Bible or images of God best suit our inclinations and in doing so we miss out on the richness of the multifaceted image of God that we find in the scriptures.”
• How can we overcome this “tendency?”

Read Exodus 32:7-14. God is ready to undo what has been planned.
• Why?

Moses pleads for the people. He is a prayerful intercessor.
• What does Moses’ role teach about our role as intercessors?
• What does it teach us about the priesthood of all believers?

Debbie Blue’s book, Consider the Birds, says this about today’s passage: “You get the feeling throughout the stories of the Hebrew people that they are just getting to know Yahweh, just learning to trust and love God. We often think of the wanderers as ungrateful, unfaithful, barely conscious...Their desires are not yet matured. This is, after all, just the beginning of their narrative. They don’t even know who God is yet...[T]hey are stuck in some old way of seeing and doing and being, like there hasn’t even been an Exodus from Egypt, like all they know of gods are statues and tyrants.” [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p.57]
• What does this teach us about the dangers of being “stuck” with our image of God?
• How might we help persons whose image of God is stuck with negative images such as God as a Santa Claus or God as an angry old man looking for ways to strike us down?

Debbie Blue notes, “God in these stories seems to be a bit of a blundering lover as well — at moments he could be gracious and tender, at moments... he could be perceived as doing evil. The narratives about him are mixed — like traces of an oppressive tyrant remain next to images of gracious love.” [p. 58]
• How does this interpretation strike you — that not only are the people trying to figure out if they can trust and love God, God is trying to figure out if he can love and trust the people?
• How do you like her image of God as a “blundering lover?”

Those who are mature in their love know what they expect from their lovers, but are also still surprised by an insight or a story their lover might share. We know how we see our lover, but may be surprised by a different person’s perspective — their image of our loved one is an image we had not considered.
• How do you relate this to our image of God?

Study Resources for October 5, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

Okay, let's see what we can discover in Psalm 19!
• What in creation makes you happy?

2014 has been a year of "supermoons." When we have what appears to be unusual occurrences in nature like this, there are always people who are predicting end of the world happenings or super calamity.
• Is the moon trying to tell us something?
• When is the most nervous you have ever been?
• Have you ever been so nervous that it was hard to put a logical sentence together?

Watch the clip "Bob-on Blind dates" from Bob Smiley.
• How important are words to your daily life?
• What do your words reveal about you?”
• What was life like before cell phones?

Watch the clip "Going wireless-less: SOHO man has lived 10 years without a cell phone" from New York Daily News.
• Could you give up your cell phone?
• Is your cell phone helpful to your faith or a hindrance?
• Do you need more time away from the phone?
• What do your times of silence reveal about you?

Read Psalm 19:1-14.
• What is the overall point of this Psalm?
• Does it sound like the Psalm has two different themes?

There are two major sections to this particular psalm and it is likely that there was a time when these two parts were actually two separate psalms. However, those who put the Bible together, put these two psalms together and they did so for a purpose. The whole psalm is talking to us about the way God reveals Himself to us.

In the first six verses, the psalmist is speaking of the way that God is revealed through the beauty and wonder of creation. The psalmist is so enamored with the awe of God's creation that he cannot help but understand God more deeply through it.

In the second section of the psalm, the psalmist speaks about the law of God and how it reveals God to us. We often think of the law as something that is binding and inhibiting. Yet, there are other ways to consider the law and to these ancient Jews and even to many Jews today, the given law is evidence of a God who wants the very best for us. As children of God, we are called by God's law, by God's statues and ordinances to a way of life that will give us abundant life. This is evidence of God in our lives and of God's deep and abiding care for us.
• How does the Psalmist say that God is revealed through nature?

The sun, moon, and stars are silent witnesses. "God's message can be revealed either with words or without them."
• Can you think of some messages that you have received from the heavens?
• Why does God choose to speak without words?
• Can you think of other examples of God speaking to you through times of silence?
• How does nature/creation bring comfort to your life?

According to Psalm 19, the heavens do make a declaration.
• What do you think the psalmist is talking about?

The psalmist tells us that the mere presence of the heavens "says" something to us about God. I am sure that there are many aspects of nature that can and do speak to many of us.
• What message do you receive about God through nature?
• Do you think that animals and insects communicate with one another?

It has been suggested that,"If we realize that we do not fully understand how animals communicate and may be witnessing about God, maybe we can also humbly admit that we have no idea how inanimate creation may be doing the same."
• Do you think this could be true? Why or why not?

The Celtics believed that God spoke through the Creation. John Scotus Eruigena was a Celtic philosopher in the ninth century and he said, "Christ moves among us with two shoes, as it were, one shoe being that of creation, the other that of the Scriptures, and stressed the need to be as alert and attentive to Christ moving among us in creation as we are to the voice of Christ in the Scriptures."

Read John 1:1-5. Eriugena took this passage seriously. He believed, "If God were to stop speaking the whole created universe would cease to exist... God is in all things, the essence of life; God has not created everything out of nothing, but out of his own essence, out of his very life."
• How might this different perspective of creation affect our care for the world?
• How might it affect our spiritual lives?

The psalmist talks about the sun as a bridegroom waiting for the day's events. A wedding day is one of great joy.
• If you are married what was your wedding day like?
• Is it possible to meet each day with that kind of anticipation?

The next image is of a runner. He takes joy as he runs.
• Do you think you can really hear the sky sing for joy?
• What in nature could you imagine being full of joy as it celebrates life?

We have in this psalm references to the heavens and nature singing to God, and then, there is a sudden shift. The psalmist then talks about how God is revealed through the Torah or the law of God.
• How is God revealed through the law?
• What characteristics of God do we see in the law?
• How did that work in the Jewish culture?
• How does that work today?

"Faithful Jews saw the law as the basis of their life with God, and thus a source of daily inspiration. The law was not just a collection of rules, but a set of principles that could revive the soul."
• How do we relate to God through His word?
• Do we treat it as just a bunch of rules for living?
• Do you see God’s laws like the Jewish people did, as a set of principles that can cause our souls to flourish or do you see God’s law as something that holds you back?

• How can God’s instruction bring relaxation to your everyday life?
• What is an unconscious sin?
• Why is the writer concerned with unconscious sins?
• Since we all have a tendency to rebel against God’s instructions, how can we guard against this?
• Does verse 14 sound like a concluding statement to you?
• If so, how can we do what the Psalmist suggests?

"I'd rather see a sermon than hear one."
• Can you share an example of someone who "lives" what others "preach?"
• If we believe that God is speaking to us, why do we tend to rebel and not listen?
• Or as Paul put it, why have we left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done?

The last verse has been memorized and prayed by Jews and Christians alike. God is always at work, redeeming the world. God is always speaking - through creation, through the law, through the community of faith and in many other ways.
• Can you think of another way that God speaks?

Play the clip "Faith Moment: Clay Walker" from The American Bible Challenge.
• Do we need to balance our times of silence and words so we can be strong in maturity of our faith no matter the circumstances?

Study Resources for September 28, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

Let's look at Matthew 21!
• What are some symbols of authority?
• What are some ways a person gains authority?
• What would it be like to not have any authority?
• What benefits or problems could come from not having authority?
• What evidence is there in our world that some people feel like they are "above" any authority?

Watch the clip "Hulk Smashing Loki" from the movie The Avengers.
• Can you think of a time you tried being in charge and ended up beaten down like Loki?
• Why does this happen to us?

In today's text, some people with undisputed authority question Jesus' authority. Read Matthew 21:23-32.
• Who confronted Jesus?
• What gave them the authority to challenge Jesus' authority?

As far as the chief priests and elders were concerned, Jesus was overstepping his authority.
• What are some examples of people overstepping their authority today?

Although he taught in the temple, Jesus was no more educated than any other Jewish carpenter. He had no qualifications or endorsements and he was not in a lineage of teachers or priests.
• What or who gave Jesus authority?
• Can someone have an authoritative role, but not have the respect the role normally demands? Example?
• Jesus could have just answered the priests and elders, but why didn't he?

Jesus answers their question with a question about John the Baptist.
• How is the authority question woven in his question?
• Do you think most Christians you know "talk a good game," but fall short when it comes to living out their faith? Why or why not?
• What happens when someone is simply "going through the motions" of being a Christian as opposed to someone actually living it out?
• Are the people who "talk" the most faith usually the people who truly have a more sincere faith? Why or why not?
• How did the chief priests miss the point of what it meant to do the will of God?
• How would you feel if you heard this story as a religious leader?
• How would you feel if you heard this story as a tax collector?

• How important is authority in Christian circles? Is that good or bad (or both)?
• How do we determine if someone has the authority to speak and especially speak for God?
• Why is it difficult to say all the authority we need comes from God's Word?
• Does it seem to you that the more insecure ones are always asking for more authority?
• In this passage, which of the sons followed the will of God?
• How important is it for us to be authentic in worship and faith in God?
• Are we more concerned with looking good or being good?
• Are we working in the vineyard or just talking about it?
• What or who has authority in your life? Is that good or bad?

Watch the clip "The Rug" from CentralFilms.
• Could you relate to any of those different rugs that he fell standing on?
• Why do we still cling to the "rugs" of life even when we find security in God?
• Are we willing to trust God to enable us to flourish in life on this earth?

Watch the clip "We're Not A Celebrating Team" from the movie When the Game Stands Tall
• Who wanted Chris to celebrate in the worldly things?
• Who was really in charge and knew what was best — even if Chris had to be benched to get the point?
• Have you ever felt "benched" by God because you enjoyed the temporal things a little too much? How so?

Jesus made authority in the fellowship dependent on service to our brothers and sisters.

"Genuine spiritual authority is to be found only where the ministry of hearing, helping, bearing and proclaiming is carried out. Every personality that emphasizes the distinguished qualities, virtues and talents of another person, even though these be of an altogether spiritual nature, is worldly and has no place in the Christian community; indeed, it poisons the Christian community."  — Dietrich Bonhoeffer
• What do you think?

Jesus' challenge to the religious officials of his day is a challenge to us, as well. It's easy to get so caught up in church tradition as a cultural identity that we fail to encounter Jesus as a life-changing Lord. The call of this text is a call to an authentic faith in God as revealed to us in Christ — to believe that Jesus really is who he said he is.

Study Resources for September 21, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

We are going to look at a parable of Jesus that can be a little unsettling. I have seen a lot of people struggle with this one. Jesus tries in this parable to open our minds a little more to the mind of God. We are surrounded by "unfairness" in our world. What are some examples of situations that are unfair?

Play the news clip, "Miley Cyrus' Homeless VMA Date is a fraud."
No matter what you think of Miley, are we not all guilty of sometimes wanting to be seen serving others and God?
• Why do you think Miley and her friend stretched the truth for the VMA event?

Play the clip, "Ray's Not Invited" from Field of Dreams.
• Was Ray treated unfairly?
• Why or why not?
• Why did Shoeless Joe question Ray's motivation for building the field?
• What does he get from of all his hard work?
• Why do we always think everything has to be about us?

• Do we sometimes fall into the trap that we are better people because we serve God?
• Do we sometimes fall into the trap that we can make up for lost time by doing good works for God?
• What does it truly mean that the first shall be last and the last shall be first?

Moses' law set forth the pay term for the common worker. Read Deuteronomy 24:14-15.

Read Matthew 20:1-7.
• Is this parable about being fair of something even greater?
Apparently, the grapes are ready for harvest and there is a short window of opportunity before they spoil on the vine. Even if he has regular laborers, this is crunch time and the owner of the vineyard needs more hands. The rabbis taught that a full workday lasted from dawn until the first stars came out. There is no 9-5 shift work on the farm.

• The landowner finds workers early in the day. Then, he needs more, then some more and then some more. How many different groups did he hire? The landowner had been desperate to hire enough workers to complete the harvest ingathering. The long day is over and it is time to pay the workers.

Read Matthew 20:8-16.
• What strikes you about the process the landowner laid out for the payment of the day workers?
• Why do you imagine the landowner wanted to begin with the last workers hired?
• Was the landowner fair?
• Was the landowner generous?
• Which is more like God—a strict adherence to legal/social expectations or grace for the undeserving?
• How do we feel about grace for the undeserving?
• The complaint of the first workers was, "you have made them equal to us."
Is this a true statement?
• Is equality a good or a bad policy?
• Assuming that the landowner represents God in this parable, what do we learn about the character of God from this story? Do we like this kind of God?

• How uncomfortable does this parable make you feel?
• If you were the first workers hired, would you complain?
• How would you feel if you were hired later in the day but paid a full day's wages?
• Do we expect to be rewarded for our hard work?
• Is that the point of service to God? Rewards?
• Do those of us who have served God almost our entire lives get a special place in Heaven?
• Should it really matter?
• Does this parable mean that God's view of fairness is different than ours?
• Should we not rejoice when people leave a life of frustration searching for hope and peace, and find the peace and joy of Christ? Is that always easy? Why or why not?

This story was told in response to a question the disciple Peter asks Jesus immediately after a rich young man decides against following Jesus, choosing to keep his wealth instead.

Read Matthew 19:23-27.
• How would you respond if someone asked, "what do you get for following Jesus?"
• How does this parable compare to Jesus' response to the thief crucified on the cross next to him?
• "Those who receive the kingdom and its rewards do so because God is good, not because they have earned it."
What do you think?

Theologians debate what Jesus meant by "the last will be first and the first will be last." It is a similar statement to what he said to Peter in the same conversation that led to this parable, "many who are first will be last, and the last will be first." (19:30).
• What do you think these statements mean?
• How can we as individuals and as a church demonstrate "gracious generosity?"

• Donald Hagner observes, "In the realm of grace upon which the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus is based, it is wrong to set one's mind on the rewards that will set one on a higher level than others." Do we do this? How?

What ever Matthew's particular intent, the parable forces us to face our own striving for reward and our inborn prejudice toward those who haven't worked as hard or as long as we have, but who receive the same grace and hope of eternity that we have come to know. Whether we come late to the party or early, our place is in the field, and when payday comes, we can trust the Lord of the vineyard to do what is right.

Study Resources for September 14, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

Last week was about conflict and this week is about forgiveness. How appropriate! Let's dive in.
• When someone hurts you, how do you usually respond?

When we are wronged, we feel vulnerable. In order to feel strong again, sometimes we think of revenge or hold a grudge against them.
• How does that grudge make you feel powerful over someone?
• How might real power be the ability to forgive someone?
• What do you need in order be able to forgive someone? Why are those things necessary?
• Is it possible to forgive without them? Why or why not?

Watch the clip "God's Shining Light" from the movie Into the Wild.
• What do you think of Ron’s explanation of why you should forgive?
• How is forgiveness really about love?

Describe how God’s light shines on you when you love someone enough to forgive them.
• What happens to someone who refuses to forgive someone?
• How does that bitterness affect someone’s relationship with God?

Think about those in your life you have a difficult time forgiving.
• How is a grudge against them affecting our ability to follow Christ?

Forgiving someone says more about us than it does about the person who wrongs us.
• What does it say about God that God forgives us?
• How can we experience the freedom that comes from forgiving someone?
• What should we as Christians do about grudges?
• What happens if we falter and find it hard to be genuinely forgiving?

The late theologian Edward Schweizer says, "God's forgiveness is not for decoration but for use."
• What do you think?

In Matthew 18, Jesus focuses on relationships in the in the community of faith. Among his disciples, there was a variety of backgrounds, beliefs, political affiliations, personalities and quirks that automatically led to conflict among the Twelve. There was a need for patience, repentance and forgiveness. The same goes for the early Church and for our Church today.

Read Matthew 18:21-35.
• How would you describe Jesus’ attitude toward forgiveness?
• How does this parable prove Jesus’ point?
• How could the servant who had received the forgiveness of his debt, turn around and deny it to someone else?
• Do we ever do that? Explain.
• Why might Jesus be so adamant about the need to forgive someone?
• What do you think was Peter's motivation for asking this question?

The rabbis of their day taught that you are only required to seek forgiveness three times. Peter begins with more than double that number.
• Why do you think Jesus gives a higher number?

Read Luke 17:3-4.
• How do you feel about Jesus' teaching here?

If we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, we must offer grace to others as we accept humbly grace for ourselves. Bonhoeffer said, "If my sinfulness appears to me to be in any way smaller or less detestable in comparison with the sins of others, I am still not recognizing my sinfulness at all... How can I possible serve another person in unfeigned humility if I seriously regard his sinfulness as worse than my own?"
• What do you think?
• What does this quote teach us about forgiveness?
• Why is it that it is often easier for us to confess our sins to God than to a brother?

God is holy and sinless, He is a just judge of evil and the enemy of all disobedience. But a brother is sinful as we are. He knows from his own experience the dark night of secret sin.
• Why should we not find it easier to go to a brother than to the holy God?

But if we do, we must ask ourselves whether we have not often been deceiving ourselves with our confession of sin to God, whether we have not rather been confessing our sins to ourselves and also granting ourselves absolution...
• Who can give us the certainty that, in the confession and the forgiveness of our sins, we are not dealing with ourselves, but with the living God?

God gives us this certainty through our brother. Our brother breaks the circle of self-deception.

"A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person." — Dietrich Bonhoeffer
• How do you feel about Bonhoeffer's insistence that we should confess our sins to others not just to God/ourselves?

Theologian Richard Rohr says, "Forgiveness is simply the religious word for letting go... Thankfully, God has given us a way to not let the disappointments, hurts, betrayals, and rejections of life destroy us. It is the art of letting go. If we can forgive and let go, if we don't hold our hurts against history and against one another, we will indeed be following Jesus The wounds of the crucified Jesus symbolize sacred wounds, transformative wounds that do not turn him bitter. After the crucifixion, there's no record of Jesus wanting to blame anybody or accuse anybody. In fact, his last words are breathing forgiveness... If we are to follow Jesus, he says we're simply to forgive one another as God has forgiven us."
Easier said than done.
• How do we do this?

Study Resources for September 7, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

Let's dive into Matthew and dealing with conflict. Not my strong suit!

Watch the clip "What Have I Done" from the movie Doubt.
• If you were accused of wrong-doing in the church, how would you feel?
• If you knew someone had committed a “serious offense” in the name of your church and/or God, how upset would you be?
• How upset would you be to be in the same room with them?
• Why does the nun want a third party?
• Why do you think the priest insists to talk without one?
• Is it possible to know people will commit serious offense just because "you know people"?
• How hard is it to forgive and/or be objective when we will feel someone is a "bad person"?
• How much tougher is it to forgive a respected church leader?

Watch the clip "Stephen King-This is SportsCenter" from ESPN.
• If Stephen King wrote for you, how would you handle his scary ideas?
• How should we deal with conflict in our work place, families and social gatherings?
• Is it always clear to know what to do in terms of conflict in your local church?
• How does our church typically handle conflicts?
• Are conflicts healthy or do they hurt a church body? Explain.
• Would it be better to just avoid conflict?
• What is the difference between a conflict designed to punish someone and a conflict designed to resolve a dispute?
• What difference does it make to approach a conflict with forgiveness and grace?

Sin: the question is not "if" someone is going to sin but "when." But the next question is, "What then?" We know of the extremes. There are sins that were punishable by stoning in the Old and New Testaments. Religious leaders were begging Jesus to give them the signal to stone this woman. Instead, Jesus said, "Let the one without sin cast the first stone."
• We do not stone people in out country or in our churches today, but how do we punish people?

Read Matthew 18:15-20.
Describe the steps Jesus teaches to handling church conflict.
• Does Jesus seem to give reasonable steps? Why or why not?
• Why does Jesus place so much importance in involving other people in the disagreements?
• According to this passage, how important would you say reconciliation is to God’s church?
• How do verses 19-20 speak about God’s presence when reconciliation takes place?
• How does this week’s passage highlight grace and forgiveness?
• How do you handle disagreements?
• How do you respond when someone makes you really angry?

    Are you slow to anger, quick to forgive,
        fast to anger, quick to forgive,
            fast to anger, slow to forgive, or
                slow to anger, slow to forgive?

• How can we help each other to be slow to anger and quick to forgive when we are wronged by someone else?
• Is it harder on us when a fellow Christian sins against us than when a non-believer sins against us? Why or why not?
• What harm does sin cause the body of Christ?

In this passage, Jesus seems to be talking about the sin that can destroy and cause severe damage to relationships.
• What are some sins that Jesus could have been referring to as sins that cause harm to the church?

Jesus was influenced by what the rabbis of his day taught. "Rabbinic sources indicate that a person should never shame another publically or he/she could be excluded from the world to come."
• How does the process that Jesus offered prevent the shaming of an individual?

Paul says that the first step to community restoration is a private conversation.
• What are some risks to this?

There is the potential that the one-to-one visit does not do what was hoped for.
• Then what?

An ancient rabbi, Ishmael is quoted as saying, "Judge not alone, for none may judge save One." "When we go alone we take along our blind spots, ore prejudices, etc. Additional witnesses may add authenticity to our complaint."
• What do you think?
• Do you think additional witnesses should be chosen because of their role (e.g. Chairman of the Deacons, Chair of the Personnel Committee, etc.) or because of their "spiritual skill set"? Why or why not?

I like the way The Message says it, "If he won't listen to the church, you'll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God's forgiving love."
• How does this fit in with the character of Jesus?

I've heard it said that if you are going to err, "err on the side of grace."
• How would this relate to the reproving process outlined in Matthew 18?

Usually we may think that the offender rather than the offended should initiate this discussion, asking forgiveness for their misdeed. However, Jesus teaches that the offended initiates the reconciliation process.
• What do you think of that?
• What does this teach us about the character and behavior of God?

These words can be taken our of context. These verses are spoken in the context of two or three persons going to an individual in hopes of reconciliation with the Christian community. We aren't conducting a trial to shame or convict somebody of sin or transgressions.
• Does this text seem a little harsh to you?

Matthew's Gospel was not initially intended for universal use, but written for a particular community of faith that was almost certainly Jewish in origin. First-century Jews engaged in commerce and affairs of governance with other ethnic groups, but were the inheritors of a Judaism that sought to maintain its ethnic identity at all costs. Thus, Gentiles were excluded from participating in the synagogue, as were Jewish tax collectors who worked for the Romans and were regarded as turncoats."
• Does this make sense or does it muddy the waters?

We must still ask the question, "Should we not welcome all sinners, in hopes that their participation in worship might lead to repentance?"

Study Resources for August 31, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

Paul's letter to the Romans is pretty theoretical and theological for the first 11 chapters. Last week, we began looking at Romans 12, which launched us into the beginning of Paul's practical theology. In verses 1-8, he urges Christians to "no longer be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind." For the rest of this chapter, Paul addresses what the "transformed mind" looks like in the typical daily lifestyle.

To do this, Paul offers 30 bullets. He does not elaborate or illustrate. We are simply given a list of 30 "do's and don'ts." They could be described as "bullets for believers." The first section deals with our life in the faith community, the second section deals with our life in the community in which we live.

Watch the clip "How to Hug a Vampire Promo" from Keystone Church
• Who are the "vampires" in your life?
• If you cannot think of any, have you considered you might be a vampire to others?
• What makes vampires so annoying?
• Do you ever feel you cannot escape from people who suck the life out of you?
• What are to be the basic building blocks of our Christian faith?

One phrase that we often use is "a labor of love." Love is more than an emotion. It involves choice, decision and action.
• How do you describe true love?
• How can we possess genuine love without hypocrisy?
• What would it be like to be around someone who is filled with genuine love from the Spirit?

Read Romans 12:9-21. In verses 9-10, Paul talks about "agape" love. It's a genuine kind of love that doesn't look for something in return.
• Can you think of an example of selfless love?

He talks about "hating what is evil." Notice that he doesn't say hate those who commit evil acts.
• How can we separate the behavior from the person and love one and despise the other?
• Is it possible to really do that?
• What does it mean "to hold fast to what is good?"
• What is more important: taking a stand against something that is evil or taking a stand for something that is good?

Paul moves from "agape" love to "phileo" love when he talks about loving with mutual affection. It's that brotherly love that we have for others. He goes into outdoing one another in showing honor.
• How does this brotherly love show up in our world today?
• In an era that seems to celebrate sarcasm and skepticism, when have you witnessed brotherly love and honor displayed in your world?
• What does it mean to "outdo someone" in showing honor?

The next bullet for believers is zeal. We live in a world full of apathy. But genuine love has energy.
• What does it mean to have a zeal for others?
• Can we be zealous in a quiet way?
• Who has been a model of persistent zeal for you?
• What does it mean to be ardent in spirit?

There is only one other reference to the word "ardent" in the New Testament. Read Acts 18:24-28. We see Apollos speaking with a burning enthusiasm.
• How can we be ardent in spirit?
• What would that look like?

Paul tells us to serve the Lord and to rejoice in hope.
• How would you describe these attributes?

The word "rejoice" here is the same word that was used as Jesus entered Jerusalem in Luke 19:37 as well as when the disciples were persecuted for their preaching in Acts 5:40-41.
• Do we rejoice in hope in the midst of persecution and trouble?

Now we really enter an area that is hard, to be patient in suffering and persevere in prayer.
• How can we handle suffering with patience and grace?
• How do we continue to pray when God appears to be silent or the outcome is not what we want?

Paul tells us that it is important to be generous with others.
• We can be generous to others, but what about those that outside the faith, those who get on our nerves, those who don't believe what we believe, those who hurt us, or those who evil? What do we do with that?
• Who models Christian generosity in your life?
• How can we repay good for evil in the world that we live in?

Maya Angelou says, "Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet." The non-ending, centuries long cycle of vengeance-revenge-revenge in the Middle East and in other parts of the world should have taught us all by now that this is one way to exist, but no way to live.
• How do you respond?
• How can "heaping coals of fire" on an enemy's head be good?

The purpose must have been positive, or it would contradict everything else Paul has said in the chapter.
• How familiar was Paul with dealing with difficult people?
• Did God always remove those difficult people in Paul’s life?
• Do you think God sometimes uses “vampires” as a type of spiritual sandpaper to smooth out our rough edge of love?
• What are the ways Paul describes the actions of people with genuine love?
• Is there a difference between how we show love for unbelievers as compared to believers?
• What are the best ways to show love to those who mistreat us?
• Do we really think we can overcome evil with good?
• Is the goal to pour coals of fire piled on our enemies’ head?

Watch the clip "The Choice We Have In Our Difficult Relationships" from Elevation Media.
• How would you have felt like Wade in this story, sweating in the back seat?
• What does it mean to possess rear control for this illustration?
• How often do you forget that you have control of your life?
• What are ways that we suffer needlessly dealing with people who suck the life out of us instead of using our own control?
• Why do we choose to stay mad and upset with annoying people?
• Do we realize that no one can take away our joy and genuine love?

William Barclay says, "Evil can never be conquered by evil. If hatred is met with more hatred it is only increased; but if it is met with love, an antidote for the poison is found." As Booker Washington said: "I will not allow any man to make me lower myself by hating him." The only real way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.

Study Resources for August 24, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

This week we are going to talk about being gifted and being a living sacrifice.

Watch the clip "Real You" from the movie Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
• Why did Sam feel a need to conform to what everyone else thought was acceptable?
• Have you ever changed something about yourself to please someone else? Explain.
• Besides appearances, what are some other areas in which we choose to conform in order to "fit in?"
• How does conforming sometime lead us away from what God wants our life to become?
• How can we resist the desire to conform? What might that do to our faith journey?

Read Romans 12:1-8.
Up to now in this letter, Paul has presented some pretty deep theological teachings. From Chapter 12 to the end of the book, Paul gets very practical. Paul begins with "I appeal to you" which implies that we have a choice.
• Can you think of examples of how our bodies are used to demonstrate our inner spiritual gifts?
• What do you think he meant by "living sacrifices?"

Watch the trailer for the movie Sacrifice.
• What does the word “sacrifice" make you think of?
• Does every person have a sacrifice and "every hero a destiny?”

Paul is describing what love in action looks like. The Romans, Jews and Gentiles of his day associate the word "sacrifice" with the lambs and other animals they bring to the temple for priests to kill on an altar. But Paul makes clear that God wants living human beings, not dead animals, as sacrifices. A person committed to God's will is the kind of offering most pleasing to God. The word for "worship" can also mean service and the word for "spiritual" can mean rational.
• Does the thought of "reasonable service" seem like a better understanding for you or does it muddy the waters?
• So what is Paul getting at when he calls our "living sacrifice" a reasonable service?
• What does he mean when he says "not to be conformed?"
• Is conformation a choice? Why or why not?
• What is transformation?

Matthew 17:1-5 tells us about a visual tranformation.
• How can we be transformed?
• How can we renew our mind?

Proverbs 23:7 (KJV), "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he..."
• Do you think this is true? Why or why not?
• It would be nice to think new thoughts in a new place, but how do we think a new thought in an old place?
• If we want to feel differently, then do we have to think differently?
• What comes first, a change of mind or a change of behavior?

In The Message verses 1-2 sound like this: "So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you."
• What if we gave God more than just our religious life?
• What if we gave him our everyday stuff?
• Would we be changed? How?

Knowing God's will can sometimes be a challenge.
• How can we know His will?
• What do we do while we are waiting on Him?

The "body of Christ" is larger than just one local congregation.
• What does Paul say about humility and working together?
• How do they affect our relationship with other Baptists? Other Christians?

Although Paul says that there is not to be ranking of the importance of gifts, we might ponder why he listed them in the order that he did.
• Was it totally random, or do you think there is a reason or a pattern?
• Why do you think we tend to rank gifts and give more importance to some?

Watch the clip "The Conscience of All Mankind" from the movie Gandhi.
• What were Gandhi’s gifts/skills?
• Why did (and still do) so many people admire Gandhi?
• How can we make humility and simple truth more powerful than any present-day empire?
• Gandhi was often told during his hunger strikes that one can do more by living than dying, so could this be the wisdom of "being a living sacrifice?"
• What things do we need to be living sacrifices for?
• How can we act as living sacrifices for our community and world?

There is a difference between a thermometer and a thermostat. While a thermometer can only reflect the temperature, a thermostat also functions to change the temperature. When believers are transformed by the presence of Christ and put their spiritual giftedness to work, they don't just reflect the world, but actively work to make it better.

Paul uses inclusive words when he talks about gifts and the church. We all have gifts and the intention is for us to use them. They are given with the intention that we will use them to bless others. Many times we try to withhold them or not use them.
• Why do we do that?
• How can we be better stewards of the gifts that God has given us?

Study Resources for August 17, 2014

The teacher for this session was Steve Booth. (email Steve)

We had good conversation last week and I'm sure we will have a lot to talk about this week too.
• Do you have a Jewish friend?
• How does the fighting in Gaza, between Israel and the Hamas, make you feel?

Play the clip "Gaza Cease-fire Takes Hold as Negotiators Gather" from Newsloop.
• Does it make you wonder why evil is allowed to exist?
• Do you get confused listening to all the news reports especially when people talk about Israel as "the people of the book" (referring to the Bible)?
• How concerned are you for the Hamas people and how concerned are you for the Jewish people?

One of the tenets of American life is the conviction that, if you work hard, you will be rewarded; effort will eventually pay off. Similarly those who are lazy and ineffective will find themselves at the bottom of the heap or out of the door. Either way, people get what they deserve. This can even creep into church life. All we have to do is believe, attend church on Sunday and "pony up" when the plate is passed and everything will be okay with our relationship with God and man.
• What do you think?
• Do you ever slip into this thought pattern?
• Where does grace fit in here?

Saul of Tarsus was an enthusiastic, dedicated religious leader of the Jewish community. He was so zealous to keep the faith "pure" that he persecuted those whom he thought were deserting or distorting the faith—namely, those who claimed Jesus as their Messiah. However, after an amazing encounter with Jesus in a vision, Saul converted and became just as zealous in promoting the Christian faith. His name was changed to Paul and his faith had a new allegiance, though still solidly rooted in Judaism.

In Chapters 9-11 in Romans, Paul is explaining his position on the past, present, and future relationship of God and the Jewish people. The theological journey Paul began in Romans is brought to a culmination here.
• The question is: has God actually rejected his chosen people, the Israelites?

Many of us have not converted from one religion to another, so it is hard for us to imagine the struggles involved.
• What do you think some of those struggles might be?

Paul did not discount his Jewish heritage. In fact, he was proud of it.
• What do you know about Jewish people today?
• You know their faith does not look exactly like it did in the 1st century, right? How is it different today?

Read Romans 11:1-32. Paul uses himself as an illustration that God has not rejected the Jews in verse 1. To Paul, salvation was all about God and God's grace, God offered, God initiated, and God inspired; however, God also blinded some persons from the truth about Jesus.
• Well, has God rejected the Jews?
• Why does Paul say no?
• What do you think of his reasoning?
• Do you understand how difficult this would have been for him since he was a Jew?

Read Romans 11:17-18 again aloud.
• What determined your place in the spiritual tree in Paul’s analogy?
• How are branches broken?
• Are you totally comfortable with Paul’s tree analogy?
• How do you feel about Paul's answer to this quandary about the fact that there weren't more conversions?
• So, why would God "give hardened hearts" to most Jews?
• Why would God choose the Gentiles?
• According to the text, what is our relationship then to the Jewish covenant with God?
• Are the Gentile followers of Jesus somehow superior in their relationship to God?
• How does this square with what Paul says in the previous chapter (10:12)?

It is difficult and hard to understand what all of this means. It is important for us to humbly acknowledge that much about God and God's Kingdom is a mystery to us. Read Isaiah 55:7-9.
• When Paul speaks of "all Israel" being saved, what does he mean?
• Does he speak of all Hebrews who have ever lived, or those who have had an opportunity to respond to Jesus, or something else?

Many have tried to solve this mystery by plugging these words into a Last Day timeline or by reinterpreting Paul's words to say that by Israel—Paul meant Christians/Church, or by limiting the word "all" to mean "some/elect." However, these interpretations take this phrase "all Israel will be saved" away from the context of Paul's theological struggle.
• Could it be that we weren't meant to understand it all?
• Could it be that it might be best to leave the mystery in the context and trust that God will ultimately do what is right by the Jews and the Gentiles?

Have someone read aloud Romans 11:25.
• What is the mystery Paul talks about (verses 25-32)?
• What is Paul's sincere hope for all people?
• What should be our hope for all people?
• What does it mean to you when you hear that God's ways are higher than ours?

Watch the clip "Carrie Newcomer - Room at the Table" from Carrie Newcomer.
• How inclusive would you say the Christian faith really is? Why?
• Why do some people think that Christianity is an exclusive religion?
• How should you respond when you are in a discussion about who is included?
• In your opinion, what are the "non-negotiables" for following Christ?
• Who in your life have you left out, who needs to know that God has included them?

Watch the clip "Mystery of God (Kinetic Typography)" from Impact Films.
• What words/images in that video were most encouraging to you and which ones where most confusing?
• In the end, why is it important for us to remember our place on the tree, and who is the root?

Grace confronts us with a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. We cannot bless ourselves with God's grace any more than we can withhold blessing from others. God's gifts are freely given by God, who acts in sovereign love, not something we can give to or even claim for ourselves. Grace is God's alone to offer, and God offers it, it seems to all people: the Jews and the Gentiles, the faithful and the disobedient. There is no one beyond the reach of grace. Those who have received the gift of grace are also to accept the call of the Giver. Grace is a call to discipleship. God no more rescinds the call than God revokes the grace. He never ceases to call us back to our own faithfulness.

The gift, the grace, and the love are as irrevocable as is the call. They were called "chosen" and we are called "adopted" not to replace but instead to serve together with gratitude for the grace that has been extended.

Study Resources for August 10, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

We are in Romans and we will settle here for a few weeks. This is a good place to be. I am sure we will have fun and learn more about what God has for us to know as his followers.

• Can you define "Law?"
• Why do we give lawyers such a hard time?

God's law is considered to be "defining and life-giving."
• How is God's law different from man's law?

There is a problem with keeping all of the laws in the Books of Moses—no one can keep them perfectly all of the time.

Watch the clip "How Christian Are You" from Elevation Church.
• Do you ever feel like you don't measure up?
• Do you ever find yourself using a "scale" to judge others or yourself?
• Do you ever wonder why people you know don't wonder more about Christianity?
• Do you ever wonder why people you love and cherish miss the love and mercy of God?

The Apostle Paul wondered about people he loved also. Read Romans 10:4-15. We see in today's text that Paul is wrestling with the fact that most of his fellow Jews continued to seek righteousness through the law rather than through faith in Christ.
• Before we are too hard on these guys, do we ever seek righteousness through good deeds?

In verse 4, Paul says that Christ is "the end of the law."
• What does that mean?

Romans 7:12: "So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good."
• How does Romans 7:12 jive with what Paul is trying to say?

The Greek word for law here is "telos" and it can mean termination, but it can also mean fulfillment or purpose. One commentator says that there are two different ways in which Christ is "the end of the law."
1. He terminates the law as a means of salvation.
2. Christ is the culmination of the law by doing what we were incapable of doing—reconciling us to God and to one another.

In other words, Christ represents the very purpose of the law. With the coming of Christ, the law no longer serves the function of reconciling humans with God.
• So how does the law function after Christ?
• What is its purpose?

"In the Old Testament, sacrifices were physical and tangible. In the New Testament our sacrifices become spiritual."
• Do you agree with that statement?
• Can you think of examples that would prove or disprove it?

What does "confession" mean?
• Does confession have to be a public thing?
• Can we be saved and not confess to others about our experience?
• Can our salvation just be "head knowledge?"
• How does verse 9 in Romans, "That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him form the dead, you will be saved." compare with Deuteronomy 6:5? ("Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.")
• What does this passage say about the inclusiveness of God's salvation?
• Do we exclude people?
• Are we ever guilty of thinking that we earn a relationship with God and/or can really move up the Christian scale? What do you think?
• If Jesus walked on the earth today, how would He most likely make a difference in our world?

Watch the clip "Pride" from JourneyBoxMedia.
• Is there anything wrong with being rewarded for our values and faith?
• Do our words often get drowned out by our actions?

The end of the text talks about evangelism.
• How would you define and explain evangelism?

It seems that evangelism is one of those ideas that has somehow lost its way, at least in some religious circles; it has come to be associated with itinerant preachers, tent revivals and fundamentalists—expressions of faith that can make us feel uncomfortable.
• Do you think this is true?

It has been said that New England Christians consider missions to be the most acceptable form of evangelism, while Southerners are more comfortable going out and talking about their faith, even in public. One commentator says that, "The tension around evangelism is not from the methods employed, but rather from the motive; the tension is between doing and believing. Those who feel that, by their actions, they can 'save' others, whether by good works or persuasive words, have missed the mark."
• What do you think?

In verse 15, Paul quotes an Old Testament text about "beautiful feet." It was the heralds of his day that would bring news. They would walk and run over rough terrain to bring news to the people. Their feet were calloused, dirty, and ugly. The metaphor that Paul uses here about "beautiful feet" would be almost impossible for the heralds of his day because they had yucky feet.
• Who was your herald? Who shared the good news of the Gospel with you?
• How do your feet look this morning?

Study Resources for August 3, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (mail Kathy)

See the session.

Let's jump into Matthew together.
• Do you have a "family story" that gets retold? Can you share it?
• Have you ever seen a miracle? If so, explain.
• What would be a miracle in our world today?

Name a few of the miracles that Jesus performed in the Gospel.
• Does Jesus still perform miracles today? Why or why not?
• How does a miracle make it easier for someone else to believe that God is looking out for them?

Watch the clip "Be the Miracle" from the movie Bruce Almighty.
• Now after watching this clip, what miracles do you see happening right now in our world?
• Has your definition of a miracle changed or broadened a little?
• Why do some people think miracles have to be a magic trick?
• If we look at our community, what needs do we see that should to be met?
• What skills, resources, or abilities do we have to do something about those needs?
• How could our actions be the miracle some are looking for—to be assured of God's love for them?
• Like the disciples, what might it feel like to be the miracle for someone else?

In today's text, thousands of people join in a spontaneous picnic. You have probably heard this story many many times, it's told in all four of the Gospels.
• Why do you think every Gospel writer felt this story needed to be told?

The story just before this event was the tragic beheading of John the Baptist. John was Jesus' first cousin. They were close and John had been the one to baptize Jesus. You can imagine how Jesus was feeling as he dealt with this very personal grief. Read Matthew 14:13-21.
• What was going on with Jesus in verse 13?
• When you need to be alone when life has been tough, where do you go and what do you do to recharge?

Jesus wanted to get away from people, but the people wanted to be with Jesus. We've all probably been there—we just want a deserted place. This was before the days of bubble baths, but there was a boat, so Jesus got in it. Surprisingly, when the boat reached the other shore, there were the people—again! One commentator says that the first miracle in this story is Jesus' attitude.
• How did he react to the sight of all these needy people?

For Jesus, compassion was not just something that he felt, but it was something that he did even when he was tired.
• Have you ever had tugs of compassion, but not acted on it?
• Why do we do that?

Then Jesus heals the sick. We are given no details about this. We have no further stories. For some people, this was the day that changed their lives—the day they were healed. This was a big day.
• Can you imagine watching all of those people being healed?
• What was the disciples' response?
• How do we respond when we are tired and exhausted?
• Does being tired sometimes blind us to all that God is doing?
• We have heard this story many times but, when Jesus says to the boys, "you feed this multitude," can you imagine how they felt?
• How do you react when you feel led to participate in God's work?
• Where did the disciples find the bread and the fish? (Trick question.)

Matthew does not tell us about the small boy, only John's account does.
• What do you think is the point of leaving out that detail?
• Could it be that for Matthew it was not the source of the food that was important?
• What was the point?
• What did Jesus say in verse 18?

I want to do something a little different today. I want you to look with me at these resources that we all have. You can add to the list and think about the "loaves and fishes" that you have:
    Ability to work with people, things, ideas
    Other material wealth
    Any other resources or gifts

Now consider these questions. (We will not answer out loud unless someone would like to make a point.)
• How are you doing as a steward of these resources?
• How are you doing as one who shares his or her loaves and fish?
• After this personal inventory, can you identify some changes you might want to make?
• Could Jesus have fed all of these people without involving the disciples? So why did he?

Matthew tells us that Jesus broke the bread, he blessed the bread, and he gave it to them.
• What does this remind you of?

The disciples took what Jesus had blessed and shared it with others. We often ask God to bless and multiply our gifts.
• What does this story have to teach us about our personal stewardship—our loaves and fishes?

I find it interesting that Jesus did not laugh at how little the disciples had.
• What does this say to us about the limitations we may feel about what we have?

There were 12 baskets of leftover and there were 12 disciples as well as 12 tribes in Israel.
• Is this a mere coincidence, or can we think of a symbolic meaning?

Donald Hagner says the feeding of the 5,000 is designed to show that Christ came first to the Jews, as a fulfillment of their messianic hopes, while the feeding of the 4,000 in Matthew 15:32-38 demonstrates the extension of Jesus' provision to the Gentiles. In that story, the word for "basket" is a word typically used by Greeks, and the leftovers fill seven baskets, symbolizing Christ's provision for all nations.

Watch the clip "Matthew West—Do Something" from VEVO
• How can we do something?

I think this story teaches us several things. First, this story teaches us that God is love. The key reality is that Jesus had compassion and in spite of all that was going on in and around him, he met the needs of the people in a very real way. It is a compassion that cares deeply about the most basic need of all of us.
• Does it amaze you that the God of the universe intends peace in the world, and end to hunger, the well-being of families and the spiritual wholeness for all people?

Second, this story teaches us about being disciples—about the awesome responsibility that God has entrusted to all of us. Jesus did not physically feed the people, he told the disciples to do it. God has entrusted us to be the body of Christ: the hands and feet through which God's work is done in the world. God works through people like you and me.

Third, this Gospel story reminds us that when we need it most, God will give us the power to work for good in the world. The disciples felt overwhelmed with the need.
• Haven't we all felt the same?
• Have we ever heard the voice of God say "go" and because of our sense of powerlessness turned away?
• Does your basket look empty today?

Take a closer look, Jesus will fill it up with all that we need for this moment.

Study Resources for July 27, 2014

The teacher for this session was Steve Booth. (email Steve)

See the session.

A Listening Heart: 1 Kings 3:1-15

Opening Question: If you could ask God for any one thing, knowing God would give it… what would you wish for? Why?

Read 1 Kings 3:1-15.

A New King
• What do we learn about Solomon in the first verse?
• What important political decisions is this young king making?
• The writer notes that already, early in his reign, Solomon is not completely obedient to God (verse 3).
• In what ways was this also a political decision (see verse 2)?
• Why do you think God chose to come to Solomon in Gibeon, while Solomon was offering sacrifices on the high places there?
• What is strange about God’s appearance—what does God tell Solomon, and why is it unusual (verse 5)?

Read John 14:13-14. This is one of several similar promises by Jesus.
• In what ways do these verses sound similar to Solomon’s situation?
• How do they sound different?
• What reasons does Solomon give for the thing he requests (verses 6-8)?
• What is a listening heart (or an understanding mind)?
• In Hebrew culture, the heart is where you make decisions, so is a listening heart the best thing he could have asked for?
• Did God give Solomon more than he asked for?
• What was Solomon’s responsibility as a result of these wishes?

Watch the clip "Brains, Courage and Heart" from the movie The Wizard of Oz.

An Important Gift
• So what about Dorothy… or more importantly what about you?
• Do you see how sometimes we just need to examine what God has already placed within us?
• Are you like the lion who was wise enough to run away when needed but could stand for good if needed?
• Do you have great heart or great intelligence? What is the gift inside of you?
• How can we avoid the mistake(s) of Solomon and remember that our gifts are given to us by God for God’s Kingdom and not our personal gain?
• What does God give to Solomon beyond what he had requested—and why does God plan to do this (verses 11-12)?
• What else does God promise—and under what condition (verse 14)?

Many of us as children were taught that Solomon asked God for wisdom… but that’s not exactly true. Look at different translations for verse 9.
• What is Solomon asking for?
• How is it different from “wisdom” as we might traditionally define it?

Solomon essentially says, “God, you’ve given me a job. I’m asking you for what I need to do that job well.”
• How could we apply this reasoning to our personal requests to God?
• What “job” has God given to us as followers of Christ—and why might we also ask for the things Solomon requests?
• Why is it hard to have a listening heart and a discerning mind in today’s information-saturated world… and why is it all the more important?

Study Resources for July 20, 2014

The teacher for this session was Steve Booth. (email Steve)

See the session.

Love God First: Isaiah 44:6-20

Watch the clip "Idol Worship" by The Skit Guys
• What do you think of the comparison made in this video?
• Do you think being a sports fan could be considered idol worship? Why or why not?
• What would it be like if God were worshipped with the same kind of passion expressed by fans in the clip?
• In what other areas in our modern world do you see great worship of idols?
• What is so wrong with worshipping those things?
• What is the difference between something being important to you and it being an idol?

• How much time is your TV at home on ESPN?

Watch the clip "'King James' returns, Cleveland rejoices" from CNN.
• What do you think of the Cleveland fans and their love/hate for "King James?"
• How do you feel about the owner’s son asking if he could wear the LeBron jersey again?
• How much love do you think the basketball fans in Cleveland have for "King James?"

Read Isaiah 44:6-8.
• What does is mean for Yahweh to be King of Israel?
• What does it mean for God to be first?
• How do we balance our daily lives and family—and still love God first?
• Can we place God in the center of our lives and let everything else revolve around God?
• Do we see God as a rock? (What does that mean?) Why or why not?
• Shouldn’t the stability of God versus the instability of idols, whether wooden or created by us today, be a factor that makes us confident in our faith?

• What are some common mistakes that we make in our Christian walk? Why do we make these mistakes?
• What are some things that distract you most from God’s love?

Watch the clip "What if worship was like an NBA game" from BlueFishTV.com
• What do you think is the point of the clip?
• How would it look for people to tailgate before your worship service (especially drinking out of communion cups)?
• Given we serve a God who is much greater than any athlete, how would you compare our response to Him as opposed to our favorite athlete?
• How does the recognition that there is no one like our God, inspire and motivate you and your church to minister and serve in Christ’s name?

Study Resources for July 13, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (mail Kathy)

Let's jump in. As we study today, there are places in our nation and in our world that suffer from severe droughts. There are wildfires that have consumed property and have taken lives in this country. What they need is rain. At this time of year, people are beginning to harvest gardens. Without rain, however, there will be no garden. Our lesson this morning talks about rain... and snow. God makes the obvious connection that rain and snow are for the nurture and survival of life, and then takes it to another level.
• What does it mean that God's Word is like rain for the earth?

Watch the clip "Obi-Wan's Revelation" from the movie Return of the Jedi.
• Did Luke have a right to be angry with Obi-Wan for not telling him the whole truth? Why or why not?
• Do you think Obi-Wan lied to him? Why or why not?
• Why would he have held back this information?
• Is honesty always the best policy? Why or why not?
• Can you think of an example when it is okay to withhold the truth?
• Could the situation in "Star Wars" have played differently if Luke knew the truth from the start?
• Should we mean what we say, and say what we mean?

Commentators think that the chapters 40-55 of the book of Isaiah are addressing the exiles living in Babylon to return home. Cyrus had just issued an edict in 538 BC which gave the exiles permission to return home and rebuild Jerusalem. The Babylonians had allowed the Israelites a considerable amount of freedom to carry on their business and even to accumulate property. Very few of those who remained in Babylon remembered Jerusalem. They had jobs, families and property. The call to uproot and go to a land that had been trashed a generation before, really made no sense. Yet, here was a window of opportunity. They were free to return to their Promised Land. Would they do it?

Read Isaiah 55:1-13.
• What arguments was God making through Isaiah?
• How are these words valid for 21st century Christians?

Notice that God is calling not only the righteous, but also the "wicked." God urges them to return.
• What does this tell us about the character of God?

Notice the pile of imperative verbs in this test. Isaiah calls on the people to "come, buy, eat, listen carefully, delight yourselves, incline your ear, come to me, listen to see, to seek the Lord, and call upon him."
• What does the use of all of these verbs suggest about the need for human response in God's offer of redemption?

God seems to be pointing out that there is a purpose for rain and snow. It is for the nurture and thriving of life. The rain does not hit the ground and bounce right back to the clouds. It stays for a while, soaking into the ground, seeping into underground streams flowing into creeks, rivers, and oceans.
• What does it mean that God's Word is like rain for the earth?

In Hebrew, the words "deed" and "word" are the same term. God's words and deeds go together. When God speaks, things happen. Jesus' words had power. Jesus came with purpose. He did not come just to say nice words or just powerful words. He came, He spoke, and He acted.
• What does this say about our life of faith and the words we use?

Isaiah proclaimed a word of deliverance and restoration to Israel, but Israel had the responsibility of hearing and acting on it. God would not set Israel's people on a magic carpet and whisk them off to Jerusalem without their cooperation and consent. We see here that God's words and deeds are bound together—and our response is the next link in the chain.

Read Ecclesiastes 4:12.
• How have you seen that play out in your life?

Watch clip from the movie The Lion King.
• Since the original hearers of our text today were returning to a land ravaged similar to the “pride land” in the previous clip, do you think they expected things to turn out well?
• If the people are willing to leave Babylon, what will they experience?
• What is the promise to Isaiah’s hearers in verses 12-13?
• What kind of promise is being made to God’s people in general?
• Can you think of a time that you turned from one way of behaving or thinking that was not God's way and turned toward God's way for you?
• After that experience, did you experience joy and/or peace? Could you share that story?

Watch the clip "Time Machine" from the movie Pursuit of Happyness.
• How did Chris’ words help make his son’s situation more hopeful?
• Did you find this clip to show the actions of a loving father, or of a dishonest father? Why?
• How did this passage bring hope to the people who were facing a hopeless situation?
• Give some examples that would make it appear that our world is in a hopeless situation. How can we bring hope in those situations?
• Why is it so difficult to see the world how it "ought to be" rather than the way it actually is?
• Where do you need God's nourishing rain in your life?
• What word jumps out at you in this passage?

God means what God says. The Word engages the world through the language and the life of the prophets and the people of God again and again, then the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us.

Study Resources for July 6, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (mail Kathy)

See the session.

This week we are in Zechariah. We are only here for one week and then we will move onto another book. Let's dive in!
• If you were a prisoner, what is one thing you would miss from the "outside"?

Watch the clip "Check, Mate" from Journey Box Media
• If you were a prisoner of war, would you give up hope?
• How powerful was hope for these two gentlemen?
• Is there always a way out?
• What causes you to lose hope?
• Do you want to pass on hope to the future generations?

Inmates are locked up because they have been found guilty of a crime. But what happens when a society is "imprisoned?" That was the situation for the setting of today's scripture lesson. The people were not imprisoned by a foreign power, but by discouragement and a lack of vision for a future. So a prophet is sent by God to encourage the people.
• Who is the best leader you know?
• What characteristics make him/her a good leader?
• What are the most important characteristics you look for in a leader? Why?
• How important is it for a leader to have humility?
• What is the difference between a leader who is humble and one who is not?

Read Zechariah 9:9-13. The Gospel writers all quoted this passage.
• Do you remember what it was used to reference?
• How hard would it have been to be an exile returning to Jerusalem?
• What do you think it means that the king gets rid of the war horses after riding in on a colt?
• How far geographically does this king rule?
• What will happen as a result of the peace?
• What does it mean to be a "prisoner of hope?"
• What gave them hope?
• Does this also give us hope?
• What meaning do you think it has that Jesus appears to have chosen to follow the pattern of this text - to show how peace would come to God’s people?

Usually a victory calls for a party! Here we have a paradox. A victorious king enters the city with humility. There is no celebration of the Most Valuable, the regaling of the difficult times overcome, and there's no "trash talk" about the opponent. It is not what is expected!

When Bubba Watson won the Master's golf tournament for a second time, he took his family out to eat to celebrate this accomplishment. He took them to... the Waffle House! There were some people that were very upset that a champion would choose to go to the Waffle House. "Surely he deserved something more exciting and upscale!" Maybe this was a bit how the people felt watching Jesus ride a donkey into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. A victorious king should ride on a stallion or sit in a fancy chariot. But this idea came from Zechariah's prophecy.
• In verse 10, what happens to the weapons of war?

Zechariah had a limited view of the earth, but he declared that the king's peaceful rule would extend throughout the world.
• How did this prophecy give them hope?
• How does it give us hope?

He goes on to say that prisoners will be set free, released from "the waterless pit." It has been suggested that this could be in reference to the story of Joseph and his brothers.
• Who remembers that story?

Read Genesis 37:18-24.
• Why do you think Zechariah used this image when making this prophecy?

In verse 12, he calls the people of God "prisoners of hope" or "prisoners with hope."
• What do you think this means?
• How do you describe God's kind of hope?

It has been said that "hope" is not a matter of waiting for things outside us to get better. It is about getting better inside... it is about allowing ourselves to believe in the future we cannot see... about trusting in God.
• Is this a good definition of hope?

In verse 9, we have a triumphant, but humble king who will bring a reign of peace.
• How is God pictured in verse 13?
• How does that jive with verse 9?
• In Isaiah 9:6, how is Jesus described?
• What does Jesus say in Matthew 26:51-52 and Matthew 10:34-37?
• What do you hear in these verses?
• Is it a paradox? Is it a fuller picture of Jesus? Explain.
• What does this passage tell us about God?
• Are our lives a reflection of what we see Jesus doing here?

When Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a colt, He provides us with a code to live by; a code of peace rather than war, of restoration rather than destruction, of hope rather than the despair of the pit.

Zechariah's promise is in the plural here. It is for those who are imprisoned and for those who long for the prisoners' release. It is a promise of restoration and of wholeness. As children of God, we need to bind our hearts to the promise of such new life, and live for the new life in Him. In this life long faith journey with Christ, we learn that we are in the process of a sacred journey, that is not complete this side of heaven. We do not wait in hopeful expectation for resolution to our problems. Our hope is in faith... believing in a future we cannot see, trusting a God we cannot always understand, and believing in a hope and a promise of life everlasting.
• What brings you hope?
• Is it a memory of when you felt God close to you?
• Is it a song of praise or proclamation to God?

Watch the clip "My Little Songbird" from the movie Alone Yet Not Alone
• Can you think of a terrible time in your life that turned out positively? What kept you going?
• Can you relate to the hope that the people in Zechariah’s day must have needed?
• Do you remember the songs of your childhood? Do they bring you hope, discouragement, or neither?

Viktor Frankl was a prisoner of war during WWII. He spent time in the Nazi death camps including Auschwitz. Throughout his experience there, he was uniquely able to observe how death camps affected the guards and the prisoners, including himself. He came to the conclusion that if a person could maintain hope, they could live in any circumstance. If they could trust that their suffering had meaning and if they could believe that they were needed after this time of suffering, they could maintain enough hope to survive even a death camp. "A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the 'why' for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any 'how.'"
• What do you have to live for?

Study Resources for June 29, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (mail Kathy)

See the session.

We are in Jeremiah for one more week and then we will move on.
• What is your favorite television commercial? Why?
• What is the purpose behind a commercial?
• How does a commercial influence you to buy a product?
• Is the main goal to make you unhappy with what you already have?
• Has there ever been a product you couldn’t live without? Why or why not?
• How does advertising affect you? How do you know?
• What is the most unbelievable commercial you have ever heard/watched?

Watch this 1949 commercial from Camel cigarettes
• Well, what did you think of that?
• How would that commercial play today?
• Would we believe it? Why?
• Is Christianity selling you something? Why or why not?
• What untrue results do some preachers claim will result from your faith?
• Can you think of a good piece of advice that you have trouble following?
• As many churches, church organizations, denominations and independent ministries as there are, how can we be sure we are in the right "place"?
• How can we know for sure we are listening to "the word of God"?

Jeremiah was a prophet of God, called to be God's spokesman as a young person. He preached with conviction whatever God told him to preach. He preached words of warning for many years, but he was ignored. But, Jeremiah continued to preach. When the Babylonians threatened the region, Jeremiah saw that not only had God's judgment arrived, it was going to last a long time.
• Has God ever spoken to you? How did you know?
• How do you know when God is speaking to you?
• Has God ever asked you to do something you thought was odd?

Read Jeremiah 25:3-11. God speaks through Jeremiah to teach Israel a lesson.
• What does he ask Jeremiah to do?

Read Jeremiah 28:1-17. This passage describes a "prophetic showdown" between the prophets Jeremiah and Hananiah. At stake was nothing less than the future of Judah. The question is: should they revolt against the Babylonians as Hananiah proposes, or submit to their yoke, as Jeremiah urges?
• How do you know what to believe?

It seems that two prophets who are equally qualified wanted the king's ear. But Hananiah's message was in direct opposition to Jeremiah's message.
• What are the two conflicting messages?

So the question is, which prophet is right?
• Who has the true word from God?
• Is Jeremiah calling Hananiah a false prophet? Why or why not?
• Why did Jeremiah choose not to argue with Hananiah about his prophecy?
• What was Hananiah selling to the people?
• What problem did Jeremiah have with his message?
• Why would someone tell people what they wanted to hear—rather than tell them the truth? Share an example of this.
• Would you rather someone tell you what you want to hear—or be completely honest with you? Why?
• Can you give a personal example of someone who told you something you did not want to hear?
• Why would a prophet only tell people things they wanted to hear?
• Is it smart to trust in a "feel-good" prophecy?

Jeremiah knows all too well that the God who has called him to prophesy, despite his own protests, is a sovereign God. The God of the covenant is faithful, but this covenantal faithfulness is not an insurance policy that "kicks in" whenever we think we need deliverance.
• So, how do we discern God's will today?
• Can God's will look different today than from the way it looked yesterday?
• How do you discern between true prophets and false prophets?

Discerning truth is not an easy matter, especially since we are so prone to be influenced by what we already want or what we think will serve our interests. This passage invites us to become bold instruments of "radical truth-telling" and "radical hope," both of which are at the heart of God's radical dream for all of humanity.

Watch the clip "Karen Kingsbury: Finding Love" from The American Bible Challenge
• How often do we simply say that we believe something—but do not know why?
• Why is that such a bad way to live?
• What can we miss out on?
• How can we be more like Jeremiah and stand for God even when it is unpleasant in the short term?
• From your experience, what are the positive and negative results of people living their lives faithful to God?
• What is the point of living a faithful life?
• How should we respond when facing a world that tells us we do not have enough?
• How should we respond when religious people promise us "easy wealth" or happiness from following God?
• How does destruction come when we do not live faithful lives?
• How have you experienced fulfillment in your journey with God?

Like the people of Jeremiah's time, we too are often faced with the question, how do we choose between conflicting truth claims? For believers this question takes on a special urgency as we struggle to discern the will of God in our own lives, as well as our church, our nation, and our world. Jeremiah helps us to see that the quick and easy answer, the popular position, the position held by the charming prophet, is not necessarily the right one.

The historical moment in which these events take place can be described as a time of crisis in which God's people are called to discern the truth and act accordingly. Discerning truth today is as much of a mystery, at times, as it was in Jeremiah's day. It isn't always easy, especially since we are so prone to be influenced by what we already want or what we think will serve our interests. Many times we find ourselves standing in a place between "what is" and what "could" and "should be." This is not a fun place. We are called as children of God into relationship with Him and it is in that relationship that we find the truth and the grace that we need to stand on. It is in this place that we find His will and our purpose.

Study Resources for June 22, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

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We are in Jeremiah for a few weeks.

Watch theofficial Disney trailerfor the movie Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
• Have you ever had a really bad day? Explain.
• How do you usually handle it when your day does not work out the way you planned it?
• How did Alexander help his family deal with the bad days they were having?
• How did his experience with bad days change his perspective?
• Do you seem to have more bad days than good days? Explain.
• How is your relationship with God affected when you seem to experience more than your share of bad days?
• What are your prayers like during those bad days?

Jeremiah has the misfortune of living in a time of great social upheaval. His job is unpleasant at best. Jeremiah is expressing his grief and anger at having to do the job that he feels he has been called to do.

While Jeremiah preached in and about Jerusalem during the late 7th and early 6th centuries, the written collection of his prophecies would have first been read by people living in exile, far from Jerusalem. For Israel-in-exile, whether held captive in Babylon or having escaped to Egypt, the prophet's words would be a reminder that the words of God he had proclaimed—had been fulfilled. Judgment had come, but the prospect of hope remained. If they would turn back to following God, they might also sing praises once again.

Jeremiah was an unpopular guy, but his unpopularity was not due to his faults.
• Why do you think he was so unpopular?

We can only imagine how distorted the religious landscape was. The basic message of faith that Moses gave the people is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, "Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your might."
• What were some things that Israel was doing that went against this commandment?

Then, God, through Jeremiah, threatens destruction of life, society and security. The problem is, Jeremiah has made such prophecies before—and nothing bad had happened.

ReadJeremiah 20:7-13
• What is going on within Jeremiah's soul?

We see that Jeremiah is on a spiritual roller coaster with some dramatic twists and turns. It seems that Jeremiah feels powerless before God's power and His calling. He has become an object of contempt and ridicule.
• Do you think that if God calls you to do something, could you anticipate God's presence to always be with you, God's power demonstrated, and God granting you success?

When Jeremiah decided to stop speaking, the word of God burns inside of him, and he has no peace either. To make matters worse, God seems absent.
• Have you ever felt that way?
• What does the story of Jeremiah teach us?
• Was Jeremiah a successful prophet?
• Why would God deliver this kind of message, but not act quickly to fulfill the threats?

God's love and patience can interfere with a preacher's popularity! If God had acted in judgment quickly, Jeremiah might have been given a wide berth and deep respect. Instead, God has Jeremiah preach what seems to be a foolish message accompanied by a melodramatic smashing of pots and a threatening ultimatum to the powers that be. Rather than respect and awe, Jeremiah is treated with contempt and violence.
• Have you ever cried out to God, complaining like Jeremiah does?
• How hard would it be to speak words “from God” that are unpopular?
• What would motivate you to speak with “a fire in your bones” even though you knew it would probably lead to trouble?
• Are you able to trust God even when it seems like God is nowhere to be found?
• How did Jeremiah start praising God in his time of complaining? Does that seem realistic?
• Are you able to be honest enough to complain and praise, almost in the same sentence?

Jeremiah's journey here could be seen as a journey of courage in the midst of conflict. "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear." — Ambrose Redmoon
• What do think of this idea of courage?
• Have you ever witnessed this kind of courage?

Watch the CNN report,"Christian Woman Sentenced To Die In Sudan"
• If you were this lady, would you simply deny your faith to be released to see your family?
• Can you imagine the complaining that Christians do to God when they are facing death?
• Can you imagine the “fire in their bones” that keeps them going?
• What can we do to develop such "fire" in our faith?

Watch the clip "I Promised" from the movie Alone Yet Not Alone
• How would you feel if you were one of those young ladies captured and taken away from their family?
• Does love for your family motivate you to do courageous things?
• What is the scariest thing you can imagine facing as a follower of God?

The lament that Jeremiah expresses in this passage could be seen as an expression of faith. Lament and even anger at God, is not the opposite of faith. The prophet struggles with the realities of the life of faith. It seems that there is room for the struggle. Jeremiah shows us that the life of faith is not always serene. It is not simply quiet submission to God's will. It can be a life of struggle with God sometimes.
• Could this be where we get reassurance that God's grace is "all sufficient?"

Paul Tillich wrote that "grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness, when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life, when despair destroys all joy and courage."

Jeremiah's journey takes him to the edge of despair. He experiences the silence of God and the ridicule of his fellow Jews, even to the point of feeling betrayed by his own calling; but when he expresses his pain, he does it through the language of faith. His response to pain reminds us that there is room for "lament" in faith, and expressions of pain in our worship, because the grace of God is sufficient.

Study Resources for June 15, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

We are in the Old Testament now. It is a very familiar story.
• Do you feel like God created you to be something?
• Should we show appreciation to God for our creation?
• How can we show appreciation to God for creating us in our 21st century world?

Watch the clip"Faith Moment"from Max Lucado, The American Bible Challenge
• Does the creation narrative remind you that we all have a “good” purpose?
• How can we listen to God’s Spirit more closely to find that purpose?

This week we begin a series on "words from God." This lesson is on God's first words, at least the first words we have from God as recorded in Genesis. In Genesis 1, God speaks Creation into being. In Genesis 2, God is much more "hands-on," saying very little, planting the garden, molding Adam and the animals from the mud, etc. In both chapters, God made it all happen.

ReadGenesis 1:1-13. The Bible is neither a history book or a scientific text. It is a document of faith and love, and it is full of stories that illustrate that faith and love.
• What was earth like in Genesis 1:1?

God's Spirit/wind/breath is present. In Hebrew this word is "ru'ah."
• What is the first thing God speaks into creation?
• Why light rather than the sun?
• When does the sun come on the scene? After the plants?

This makes no sense scientifically, but theologically, "by introducing plants before the sun the author attributes life's existence to God alone and moves the creation of celestial bodies further down the list as a subtle way of pointing out that in Israel's belief system, they were not gods." Israel's God is different.
• What are some characteristics that we might think all "gods" have in common?
• How is Israel's God different?

When God created the heavenly bodies, they were objects created for God's purpose. They were not divine. The Babylonians named them and worshipped them. ReadEphesians 1:9-10.
• What was the ultimate goal of Creation?

We have faith in this God that we cannot see, who creates things from nothing. ReadRomans 4:16-17.
• What does it mean to be created in God's image?

The word "image" is from the word "tselem," which carries the physical connotation of image, copy, or statue. The word "likeness" comes from the word "demut," which has a specific meaning; the word "likeness" qualifies the first word and shows that while we are made in God's image, we are not an exact copy.
• Does the text suggest that our physical appearance looks like God?

The Old Testament writers refer to God as "Spirit," but also frequently used anthropomorphic terminology to describe God's appearance.
• Can you think of any examples?

God was said to have delivered Israel with a "mighty outstretched arm" (Deut. 4:35). God would not allow Moses to see His face, only His back inExodus 33:23.

Hebrew thought was more holistic than ours. To be in God's image was not only to have a spirit, but also to be like God in some greater sense. One implication of this truth is that gender, race, cultural background, and social status are all meaningless in God's eyes. We all share equally in the divine image, and all are worthy of respect, honor and equal treatment. Paul affirmed this same truth for the Christian church inGal. 3:28. A second implication has to do with the decisions we make concerning our physical bodies.
• How well do we take care of our bodies?
• Do we bring glory to God with our bodies?
• When Paul was emphasizing the proper use of our bodies as the "temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 6:19-20), what was he talking about and how can we apply that truth today?
• If we believe that we are made in the image of God, how do our lives reflect that concept?
• In what ways are we most like God?

To be made in the image of God is to be physical, spiritual, and relational. It is to be rational in our thinking, and responsible in our decision-making. To maximize God's image is to use all these capabilities for good, reflecting that image most clearly.

In Genesis 1, God speaks and commands creation into being. Each act or element of creation is generated by God's word. God speaks and actions occur, stuff happens. God's word is dynamic, because it expresses God's will. The creation is not accidental or random. It is intentional. We were created intentionally. Creation assumes significance not for just that it happened, but for order, for balance, for harmony between darkness and light and for unity within creation. The opening passage in Genesis is a theological affirmation that all of life, all aspects of order, and all possibilities within creation are dependent upon the creative act of God. It shows us the bond between Creator and creation. "In the beginning, God..."

Study Resources for June 8, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

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We are finished with 1 Peter for now and moving on to 1 Corinthians. Thanks for your participation on Sunday! We are going to talk about working together as a team.

• What team sports have you played?
• What positions did you like to play?
• Do you ever find the people at your work annoying? What about at your local church?
• Do you ever just want to be left alone?
• If so, how long is "too long" to be separate from others to still be productive in your family, school, or work?

Watch the clip"Headache Commercial"
• What do you do when you want to be alone?
• Is it healthy or does it have bad side effects?
• Are you ever annoyed by the person who seems to have it all together? Why?

As members of our church, we are members of a "team." We have some things in common when it comes to basic beliefs about Jesus. Many of us have common histories as long-term members of this church. All of us pray. We all give God praise and bring our concerns to Him. However, as much as there is that unifies us, we are each unique in our walk with God.

This passage boldly declares that God remains present and active—in and through communities of faith. Christian community, worship, and ministry must manifest unified diversity. Diverse gifts and insights that proclaim Jesus and sustain His body are valuable. Paul sought to heal divisions and reestablish unity in the early church. His approach was radical in that he reminded the Corinthians that unity must spring from their common identity as people in Christ.

Read1 Corinthians 12:4-13
• Do you feel gifted? Do you think God has not blessed you with significant spiritual gifts?
• How do you understand the term “spiritual gifts?”
• Do you think they are important? Why?
• What are some other spiritual gifts that the New Testament writers mention, but are not included in our text today?
• What gifts do we perceive as more important today? Why?
• What do you think are your spiritual gifts? How can you tell?
• Do you think it is significant that the list starts with speaking with knowledge and wisdom and concludes with the gift of tongues?

When we talk about spiritual gifts, we are talking about how the Holy Spirit of God shines through us. It is not the same for each person.
• How is giftedness different from skills or talents?
• Can you share a recent experience of a time when you realized the Holy Spirit was shining through you or a fellow Christian?

Paul does not define how wisdom and knowledge differ.
• How would you make that distinction?

It takes faith to trust in Christ for salvation but in this context, as a specially offered spiritual gift, it means something different.
• What does faith mean in this context?

The gift of healing goes beyond medical training.
• Does anyone have a story you can share about the spiritual gift of healing?

A "miracle" is uncommon by definition, so it seems this would be a rare gift. The word is translated form the Greek word "dunameis" (like dynamite), so could also be translated "mighty works."
• Do you know anyone who has a gift of miracles or mighty works?

Prophecy is "the ability to declare the word of God for a given situation—not just to predict the future" as our common use of this word infers.
• When have you experienced God's message to you at just the right time?

There is no single defining list of spiritual gifts in the Bible. We have several lists:Romans 12,I Corinthians 12,Ephesians 4, and some misc. passages. These passages list about 28 different gifts and they do not share the same gifts.
• Why do you think God doesn't just give us the all-inclusive list?

Scripture tells us that these gifts are given to make us grow more into the image of Christ (Ephesians 4:15). They are to be seen as equally needed to strengthen the church (Romans 12:3-8). In1 Corinthians 12:7, they are to be used for the common good. God has given us these gifts so that we can build one another up.
• What are some benefits of "building up?"
• How can we discover our spiritual gifts? Is it an easy process?
• Why is it easier to see the gifts in others?

Watch the clip"General Braddock Insults Chiefs" from the movie Alone Yet Not Alone
• Why did the General reject the help from the “savages?”
• What were the costs of this mistake?
• Do we make similar mistakes by overlooking certain people and their gifts in our local churches?
• Do we really believe that we all bring something important to the Christian table?
• What gifts are overlooked in our church and in the overall Body of Christ?

Like the Corinthians, we all have gifts to offer for the common good and the praise of God. How we use them, however, determines their effectiveness. The Spirit gave us His gifts. May we use them wisely.

Study Resources for June 1, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

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Peter concludes his letter to the churches and he advises them to remain faithful in the face of persecution, to abstain from evil, and to act with integrity. Now he warns them to be on their guard against the power of evil.
• How would you describe "evil?"
• Do you think that there is an evil presence in our world? Explain.

Watch the clip"Increasingly Worried Man Hasn't Yet Come Across Any Guacamole In Burrito" from TheOnion.com
• What was humorous about this video?
• Tell of a time when you saw someone worried about something that seemed unimportant.
• Have you ever worried about something meaningless? Tell us about it.
• Why do we sometimes worry about insignificant things?
• How do you typically respond when you are worried about something?
• Do you think it is possible to not worry? Why or why not?
• What are the things you tend to worry about the most?

As with so much of the New Testament, the comfort that Peter pronounces is both comfort for the present and comfort the future.
• Can you think of some times when Jesus gave comfort for the present and for the future?

In the face of danger, Peter encourages the listeners to cling to the hope of God's promised good. They are to do this in three ways:
1. Act humbly, acknowledging the power and providence of God.
2. Act watchfully, disciplined enough not to doze off in the face of impending danger.
3. Act faithfully, resisting the evil one and those who follow in his entourage.

Read1 Peter 5:6-11
• When you think of the word "humble," what do you think of?
• If you were to hear a person described as being "humble," what would you assume that meant?
• What does "humbling yourselves" have to do with God taking care of your worry?
• How do you practically "cast your cares upon God?" How does God take care of them?
• Is there a comfort in knowing that other people are going through similar trials and difficulties?
• How does suffering help make you strong, firm, and steadfast?
• How important is it for you to have control over your life?
• How do you feel about giving up that control to God?
• How is "worry" really about staying in control of a situation?
• How would your life change if you were able to completely give up worry?
• What do you think about submission?
• What do you think Peter meant when he talked about "humbling ourselves before God?" How do you do that?

Scripture tells us that if we humble ourselves, God will exalt us.
• Can you think of a Bible story that would illustrate this?

How do you respond to the statement: "It is our worries we are to turn over to God - the things we can do nothing about - not our responsibilities."

One writer says, "we cannot expect God to make our apologies or pay our bills or improve our physical fitness, but we can look positively to God for hope
and help as we do these things, and need not waste energy worrying about them in the meantime."
• How can we really do this?

Imagine a lion is loose in your neighborhood.
• What would you do to protect yourself and your family?
• How does this relate to what Peter is saying about this "evil lion" on the loose?
• How does the strategy of humility aid us in resisting the devil?
• How does the strategy of casting our cares on God aid us in resisting the devil?

It is true that we often initiate our own crises through our choices based on our sinful nature. And, sometimes, bad things that cause us suffering are no fault
of our own - they just happen. However, Peter wants us to know that there is another cause for our suffering. The devil intends to harm us, to "devour"
God's children.
• How does that make you feel?
• What is the role of the devil in 1 Peter 5:8-9?

One commentator says, "Christians make two common mistakes in their thinking about the devil. One error is in taking demonic power too seriously... The other is in not taking evil seriously enough."
• Which way do you lean?
• What is the "perfect balance" between these two viewpoints?

Many of us remember the late comedian Flip Wilson. He was known for portraying a character named Geraldine Jones, who was famous for excusing her bad behavior by saying, "the devil made me do it." The notion that the "devil made me do it" may go back to Genesis 3.
• Does the devil make us do anything?
• Are there temptations we face as individuals and as a society imposed by an external source, or do they come from our own internal desires?
• Where does Peter put the ultimate responsibility for resisting temptations?

The roaring lion can take on many shapes and dimensions in our society.
• What shape does the lion take in our community: racism, unfair wages, inadequate housing, prejudice, greed, etc.?
• What can we do to resist this evil?
• What can our church do?
• How does evil distract us from God's will?

Watch the clip"Ice Cream Truck"from the movie Despicable Me 2
• Do you ever feel like a minion always falling for the latest trick of evil?
• What can we do to stop being sucked in?
• Can we learn from the mistakes and successes of others? Is that the point of 1 Peter 5:9-11?

Many of the phrases in this book are architectural in nature. To make you "perfect/complete" means in a complete joint - as the timbers of a building. "Establish" means make you firm in every part, adapt you strongly to one another, so that you may be mutual supportive. "Strengthen" means to crimp and bind every part, so there shall be no danger of warping, splitting or falling. "Settle" means to cause to rest evenly and firmly upon the best and surest foundation that we may grow together to a holy temple in the Lord.
• Why do we live in houses?
• How does this "house that is built by God" relate to the passage about the devil?

The primary comfort that the epistle provides for those who suffer is the comfort of God's presence, grace and eventual triumph. There is, however, also a secondary comfort. The "koinonia" (communion, community) that these believers share with Christ, is echoed in the koinonia they share with their fellow Christians, who also suffer. Peter calls upon the faithful to resist in part by reminding them that they are part of a resistance movement that extends far beyond their own communities and reaches all the world. The promise of God's triumph over the forces of evil moves from a description to a doxology: "to him be the power forever and ever. Amen." (1 Peter 5:11)

Study Resources for May 25, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

How would you complete this statement: A good thing someone did for me lately was...

Watch the clip"Plutonium Truck"from the movie The Amazing Spiderman
• Even in the comics, being a superhero seems really tough, right?
• Do Spiderman’s super powers make it easier to serve others?
• Are they a blessing, curse, or neither?
• If Spiderman is good then why does he suffer so much?

Peter is writing to a suffering Church. They are scattered in what we now call northern Turkey. We don't know if the persecution they are experiencing is from society or if it is sanctioned by the government. Either way, there is enough pain that Peter addresses it throughout his letter.

Read1 Peter 3:13-22. Peter begins by asking a question that should be answered with something like, "be nice to others and they'll be nice to you." Sometimes that works. But it was not working for these Christians. They were being punished for doing good. At a first glance, this text seems to be calling us to an unrealistic standard. "Do not be afraid of those who want to harm you." Really? "Do not be upset." Are you kidding me?
• Intellectually, we can understand this standard, but when push comes to shove, is this really livable?
• How does this text allow us to grow closer to living a life like Jesus, when it so easily can be perceived as setting an unreachable standard that only Jesus met?
• Why would God allow a good group of people to be persecuted?
• Does that happen today? Has it ever happened to you?

Peter insists that suffering leads to blessing. It puts a different spin on the parting wish that I have heard a lot in recent years. "Have a blessed day." If blessing comes through suffering, we may not be so eager to be blessed.
• Are we willing to be blessed by being persecuted?

Maybe we need to pay more attention to what we are wishing for people when we "bless" them!Matthew 5:10says that the persecuted were blessed. We would probably agree with the statement that we are blessed to live in a country where we are free to worship without fear of persecution.
• How does that compare to the statement, "Would that we were persecuted for our faith so we might be more like Christ and receive the kingdom of heaven"?

ReadJames 1:2-4. Difficult times can be times that try and strengthen our faith.
• Can you give an example of this?
• What should our attitude be when we are defending our beliefs or behavior? (1 Peter 3:16)
• Have you witnessed poor examples of responses by Christians?

In 1 Peter 3:18, Peter says that the suffering Christ experienced was for a reason.
• What was that reason?

Peter's concern throughout this letter is that our attitude and lifestyle should be such that whether life is peaceful or turbulent, our actions will bring people to God.
• How can we be reflect God's essence in the hard times?

The next part of this passage is a source of debate in the church. Many churches repeat the Apostle's Creed every Sunday.

Watch the clip"Apostle’s Creed"
• What do you make of 1 Peter 3:19-22?
• Do those words sound reassuring or scary to you? Do they make sense?
• How does it relate to suffering and our belief in God?

The phrase "he descended into hell", can be prickly to some people.
• Where did Jesus go and when did he go there? Why did he go there?

Frederick Buechner says, "He descended into hell," is the way the Apostle's Creed puts it. It has almost a blasphemous thud to it, sandwiched there between the muffled drums of "was crucified, dead, and buried" and the trumpet blast of "the third day he rose again from the dead." Christ of all people, in hell of all places! It strains the imagination to picture it, the Light of the World making his way through the terrible dark to save whatever ones he can. Yet in view of what he'd seen of the world during his last few days in the thick of it, maybe the transition wasn't as hard as you might think. The fancifulness of the picture gives way to what seems, the more you turn it over in your mind, the inevitability of it. Of course that is where he would have gone. Of course that is what he would have done. Christ is always descending and redescending into hell. "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden" is spoken to all, whatever they've done or left undone, whichever side of the grave their hell happens to be on."
• How does that hit ya?

At this time the American Church is free from the type of persecution that the audience here was experiencing. We might argue whether that is a good thing for the Church or not. Persecution is a blessing no one wants. But all of us probably do face the fear of rejection if we choose to give a more visible witness. We don't want to be arrogant or obnoxious. We want to be sincere and do good works with integrity. If we follow Peter's teaching, we do so that we can show others God's love and grace. As we act, our attitude should be, "I do this because, were Jesus on earth today, He would do this."

In the text we read about those who had disobeyed God. The author is referring to those in Noah's day who angered God to the point of flooding the earth. The call to obey has existed for many, many years; it goes all the way back to Adam and Eve, who did not obey God. Today, however, the word "obey" gets a bad rap! It can be seen as oppressive and insensitive.

The word obey in Hebrew means "to listen closely, to listen acutely." So, for example, when God told Adam and Eve to obey, God was not saying "do what I tell you or else." Instead God was saying, "listen closely to Me." The Greek word for "obedience" carries the same meaning: to listen closely. Jesus listened closely to God, which led Him to serve and to love humanity in radical and selfless ways.

The writer is not trying to threaten, but to awaken in us the desire to listen closely to God, to listen to God in a way that reveals our confidence in God. Our life story will be one of close listening, a story of trust and confidence in God, revealed most clearly in our actions toward others. Living like Jesus.

Study Resources for May 18, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

Four Sundays after Easter, and the last bloom from the lily has dropped off. "Alleluia" has been tucked away for next year, and we are close to Pentecost and Ordinary Time. What better day to call for a refresher course about the impact of Easter Sunday? Though every Sunday is supposed to be a little Easter, we all know that the march through Ordinary Time can feel long and drawn out. All the Easter gladness we can come up with, must carry us across that long trek and sustain us, fully convicted and remembering the power of the resurrection.

Watch the clip"I'm Spartacus"from the movie Spartacus
• Why did those men claim to be Spartacus?
• Why was Spartacus so touched by their actions?
• Has anyone ever had your back like this? Explain.
• Have you ever felt that you were out there facing the world alone? Share your story.
• What was it like to feel so alone?
• How is this clip like the church is supposed to be?
• How can the church help others to know they don’t face the world by themselves?

In our passage today, Peter uses several metaphors to describe our life in Christ. He uses biological, architectural, and ecclesiastical images. Read1 Peter 2:1-10.
• Which one speaks to you?
• What are the images that Peter uses?
• How do you describe your life in Christ?
• When you think of all the times the Biblical writers mentioned stones or rocks, what or who do you think of most?
• Do you think the original hearers would have been offended by being called babies and told to put away the evil things that damage relationships?
• Does it help to remember that these were new Christians?
• What would have been pure spiritual milk for the early Christians? What about for us today?
• What does “living stone” sound like to you?
• What does Peter’s name mean? Was he a living and changing stone build on the true cornerstone?
• So what is a cornerstone?
• Are you uncomfortable thinking of yourself as a priest?
• Do you believe that as followers of Christ, we are supposed to speak for and to God?

Baptist love this text. It is the foundation for our belief in the "priesthood of all believers." It has been described like this: "Priests are to represent fellow humans before God and to represent God to their fellow humans. God has chosen all believers as priests, not just ordained clergy."
• How do you feel about this statement?
• How can we embrace the idea of priesthood of all believers?
• How is this reflected in our church?

Peter begins by saying to get rid of all wickedness, especially the sins that hurt the community. The words Peter uses are words that describe undressing, taking off filthy clothing. Becoming a Christian should cause a change in attitude and behavior. A major part of Peter's letter has to do with influencing others to follow Jesus.
• What does Peter mean in saying we are to live as priests who offer "spiritual sacrifices" to God? (Verse 5)
• Who has influenced you in your walk?
• What did they do that made such a difference?
• Who have you influenced?
• What happens to our relationships when we live as the passage describes?
• What does it mean to be the people of God?

Watch the clip"I Am Home"from the movie Freedom Writers
• What had this class become to this young man?
• Why did he need those relationships?
• What would it feel like to be a part of a group like this?
• Have you ever truly been a part of a community? What was it like?
• What is it like to be part of the “people of God”?
• How would it change you life to know that you were part of a group that was always there for you?
• How does this week’s passage help to get us to that point?
• What can you do to help those around you understand that they do not face the world alone?

Watch the clip"Let Go"from Journey Box Media
• When we hold onto the acts of evil done by others, are we missing something?
• When we hold onto our lives for only our benefit, are we failing to be living stones?
• When we keep the love of God to ourselves, are we failing to be priests to all nations?
• How can we overcome the struggles of life and still be genuine “rocking priests” for God?

God's own people live in the real world. The real world is in real peril. Included in our identity as Christians is the call to proclaim something of what we know about God to the world. This is no small calling. God's people are empowered through Christ. No stereotype can define us because we have been claimed by God. Peter celebrates the saving mercy of God and gives his audience their identity as God's people.

Study Resources for May 11, 2014

The teacher for this session was John Hamlett. (email John)

See the session.

Following our focus on holiness from last week, in this week’s passage Peter is writing to Jewish and Gentile Christians who are living in a society that was hostile to the life that their Christian faith called them to live. In this passage, he begins by addressing them as aliens and exiles—as people who do not belong. He goes on to encourage them to conduct themselves honorably no matter how difficult the suffering becomes and that they are to submit to every human institution—including the emperor and governors who may punish them.

The truth was that no matter the path they chose—to follow the laws and customs of this society, which were not in line with their way of living; or to stand up for what they believed—they would be suffering. Peter is writing this epistle to encourage them in their suffering by appealing to Christ's suffering. He tells them that when they suffer, they must remember that Christ also suffered—and they can take courage from that, trusting that their own suffering would not be in vain.

The passages in Chapter2:18-25and Chapter3:1-6, have been identified as the “Household Codes,” and are similar to other passages:Eph. 5:22-6:9 andCol 3:18-4:1. These Household Codes are directed to various members of the community and encourage them to endure the suffering of unjust treatment by others. It is important that we understand the context of these passages and how they might be applied to life today.

We do face our own kinds of suffering and ridicule. It may come in the form of a co-worker who is intent of making you look ridiculous in front of the boss or a boss who takes all of her frustrations out on you. Maybe it is a subtle racism that you face in your school setting or maybe you are bullied because you are an easy target. Many of us have found ourselves at the wrong end of some kind of ridicule or mistreatment that we could not easily escape—and because of that we faced a choice in how we would respond. Peter calls us to respond as Jesus did—with grace and without shame.

Read1 Peter 2:11-25
• What are your first impressions of our scripture passage?

It’s often said that “actions speak louder than words,” and St. Francis is famously quoted, “Preach the Gospel always; use words when necessary.”
• Do you agree that our actions are more important than words when we share our faith?
• Are actions enough by themselves?
• According to Peter (v. 12, 15), for what reason should we strive to live a godly life?
• Why do some people—particularly Americans—have problems with verses 13-14?
• Is it possible to live in submission to human authority, even when we don’t agree with that authority at times? How?
• Most of us value freedom of expression, but can we, as people of faith, always speak completely freely? Should we?
• How does verse 16 relate to this?
• Think of the non-violent protests during the Civil Rights era—how can a respectful response to violence speak even louder than the violence itself?
• Likewise, how could our inaction or silence in unjust situations speak even more loudly than either words or actions?
• What is Peter saying in verse 20?
• Does all our suffering relate to Jesus’ suffering?
• How could you use this passage – by itself, without its context or the rest of scripture—to justify things like slavery or abusive relationships?

Look through the whole passage again.
• How can you tell that Peter is speaking about Christian conduct rather than about the unjust systems themselves?
• Do you think Peter would make a distinction between how we react when we are mistreated, and how we respond when others are mistreated? Explain.

Both Peter and Paul spoke about powers and systems that are higher than individual human beings—spiritual sources of evil in the world. Sometimes we must remember that our battle is against them, and not against people.
• How does this passage speak to that reality?

The following is a brief clip from the movie 12 Years a Slave where the main character was responding to being placed into slavery after having been a free man.

Watch the clip"I want to live"from the movie 12 Years a Slave
• How do you think you would respond to being forced into slavery?
• What should be our model when suffering comes our way due to our beliefs?
• How can our suffering be redemptive?
• Are we being agents of redemption when we care for people without food and medicine whether stateside or overseas?
• What can we give up/suffer through to help others in God’s Kingdom?
• What types of suffering have you experienced because of your faith in Jesus Christ?
• Do you face situations currently that seem to be an attack on your faith?
• How do you respond at work, home, church, out in public when you believe you are being treated unjustly or unfairly?
• How do you respond when accused of an offense you know that you know you did not commit?
• Have you ever had to deal with some form of abuse? How did you respond?

Study Resources for May 4, 2014

The teacher for this session was John Hamlett. (email John)

See the session.

“Be Holy and Full of Love”

Read1 Peter 1:13-23

This week, we continue our look at 1 Peter with chapter 1 verses 13-23. You remember from last week that this letter was written to Christians who are facing persecution as they continue to learn how to live a life motivated by Christ's life, death, and resurrection in a culture that does not agree with such a way of life.

And this is where Peter begins. He appeals to the Old Testament's idea of being holy - which is to be set apart - to be different and to look different and to act different. When Moses was on Mount Sinai, God called the Israelites to be a holy nation - to look different than all the other nations around them - the idea was that people who belong to God live differently than others - not because they are superior or more righteous, but because they have learned that there is a different way that leads to a more abundant and full life.
• What is holiness?
• Why do you think we are called to be holy?
• What makes it difficult for us to be holy?

1 Peter 1:13
(NRSV) Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed.
(The Message) So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives.
• Why does Peter urge us to prepare our minds and set our hope on the grace that Jesus will bring?

Peter thinks salvation is not yet complete – in verse 13 he speaks of a grace that hasn’t yet been revealed.
• Why is it important for us to remember that there is still more grace to be given and received?

1 Peter 1:14
(NRSV) Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance.
(The Message) Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness.
• How can we be like an obedient child?

1 Peter 1:15-16
(NRSV) Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." (Which references: Lev 19:2 Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.)
(The Message) God said, “I am holy; you be holy.”

The Old Testament idea of being “holy” is to be set apart to be different, for a different purpose.
• How does this meaning apply to what Peter is instructing here about putting away old practices (verses 14-16)?
• How does God’s holiness make us holy?

Additional passages related to holiness:

Romans 12:1-2 (NRSV)
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of Godwhat is good and acceptable and perfect.

2 Timothy 2:20-21 (NRSV)
In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work.
• How do these passages convey the message of God’s call to holiness?

1 Peter 1:17
(NRSV) If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.
(The Message) You call out to God for help and he helps—he’s a good Father that way. But don’t forget, he’s also a responsible Father, and won’t let you get by with sloppy living. Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God.
• We often call out to God for help in times of trouble but sometimes relax when things are going well. What does it mean live in reverent fear?
• What does it mean to have a “deep consciousness of God?”

1 Peter 1:18
(NRSV) You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold.
(The Message) It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in.

1 Peter 1:19
(NRSV) but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.
(The Message) He paid with Christ’s sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb.

1 Peter 1:20
(NRSV) He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.
(The Message) And this was no afterthought. Even though it has only lately—at the end of the ages—become public knowledge, God always knew he was going to do this for you.

1 Peter 1:21
(NRSV) Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.
(The Message) It’s because of this sacrificed Messiah, whom God then raised from the dead and glorified, that you trust God, that you know you have a future in God.

• What does Peter reveal about Jesus and God the Father in verses 19-21?

Though simple truths, they are profound.
• Why do these facts matter to people who were born practicing other religions?

Holiness means to be dedicated or consecrated to God, set apart, separate from evil, to belong to God, and to demonstrate morally pure behavior: "I will be your God, and you will be my people," says Yahweh (Lev. 26:12; Heb. 8:10). Thus, prior to any consideration of morality, biblical holiness describes a unique relationship that God has established and desires with his people. This relationship has moral ramifications, but it precedes moral behavior. Before we are ever called to be good, we are called to be holy. Unless we rightly understand and affirm the primacy of this relationship, we fall into the inevitable trap of reducing holiness to mere morality. Yet for the Christian, it takes on a slightly different form: we are to derive our holiness from Christ’s holiness. And so in this way, holiness becomes a slightly different goal.
• What does this statement mean to you?
• We have all heard the statement “Holier than thou.” What has given holiness such a negative meaning?
• How would you define holiness?
• Can you think of a person in your life who demonstrates holiness?
• How do they demonstrate holiness and love?

• Are you familiar with the Desert Fathers and Mothers?
• What are the things that they did in a quest for holiness?

Following the path of the Desert Fathers and Mothers may not be possible for us, but what changes can we make to our lifestyle in order to better pursue holiness?

1 Peter 1:22
(NRSV) Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.
(The Message) Now that you’ve cleaned up your lives by following the truth, love one another as if your lives depended on it.

Pursuing holiness or a right relationship with God yields the fruit of genuine love.

Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” And so, Peter reminds us that because of Jesus' great act on the cross, we are loved and we are called to love as he loved.

We're about to watch a clip from the movie Schindler’s List. Schindler’s List follows the life of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman, who helps to save the lives of over 1,000 Jews in Nazi Germany by hiring them to work in his factory. He is a man with many flaws but a big heart. After the Jews had been freed, they presented Schindler with a gift. He struggles a bit to accept this gift and their outpouring of appreciation.

Watch the clip"He Who Saves One Life Saves the World Entire"from the movie Schindler’s List
In 1958, Mr. Oskar Schindler was declared a righteous person by the council of the Vad Yashem in Jerusalem, and invited to plant a tree in the Avenue of the Righteous.
• Why do you think he is sad?
• Is it guilt or is it true devotion with love for humanity?
• How do we tell the difference?
• If you were given the chance to save over 1000 people’s lives, would you feel excited, sad, or both?
• Why do you think the Jews wanted to give Schindler a ring?
• Does true love encourage gratitude and love in others?
• Did Jesus do that for us?
• Considering his former lifestyle would we have declared Schindler to be a righteous person?
• Have you ever felt unworthy to be a servant of God?

1 Peter 1:23
(NRSV) You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.
(The Message) Your new life is not like your old life. Your old birth came from mortal seed; your new birth comes from God’s living Word. Just think: a life conceived by God himself!

You are born anew, freed from the past, meaningless way of living, now you are filled with God’s love and can live and love freely.
• Since Jesus is holy and God is holy, how is it possible for us to be holy?
• How are we to go about being holy?

Read and reflect on the poem, “With That Moon Language” by Hafiz
Admit something:
Everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me.”
Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise
someone would call the cops.
Still though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one who lives with a
full moon in each eye that is
always saying,
with that sweet moon language,
What every other eye in
this world is
dying to

• In what ways can you relate to this poem?
• How does it relate to God’s call for us to live holy lives?

Study Resources for April 27, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

This week, we will begin a series that will come from the small book of 1 Peter.
• What was the hardest thing for you this winter?
• Did the wintry weather wear you down?
• Could you live somewhere with snow year-round?

Watch"Joggers get more than they bargained for"clip from KOIN 6
• Do you ever feel like you got this "Christian thing" down, and then the world makes you fall?
• What things makes it difficult for you to live a holy life (besides snow and ice)?
• What is the scariest thing that could happen to your personal faith?
• Does your faith ever make you feel like you do not "fit in?"
• Are you are an oddity as a jogger in the snow and ice?
• How would you describe your experience of coming to the faith: natural childbirth, a re-birth, adoption, etc.?
• What is hope?
• Where do you place your hope?
• What is living hope?

John McClanahan writes, "A living hope is hope which refuses to give up and die."
• Have you ever felt like just giving up?
• What kept you going?
• Is there a difference in just keeping on, and truly living?

It is Christ's life that gives life to our hope. This book is referred to as one of the "general epistles" because it was written to the Church in general, not to a specific church. From reading the letter, it is obvious that the Christians are undergoing some type of persecution.Read 1 Peter 1:3-9
• In verse 3, Peter begins with one character trait of God: what is it?
• What is the difference in grace and mercy?
• Can you share a time when you experienced mercy from someone?
• How does that mirror or differ from God's kind of mercy?

God's mercy is through a "new birth in a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus."
• How is Jesus' resurrection a new birth?

Peter rejoices that what God offers us through Jesus' resurrection, is a new birth. This new life births within us a "living hope."
• How does the resurrection of Jesus give us hope?

Peter says we will receive an inheritance.
• Have you ever received an inheritance?

The Bible makes more than 250 references to inheritance, a clear sign that everyday conversations about legacy took place in ancient times too.
• Can you think of some them?
• When do you normally receive an inheritance?
• How is God's inheritance different from the inheritances that we receive on earth?

To all the properties ever passed along to successor generations, to all earthly inheritances, one thing is common. They all lack permanence. Jesus left us an inheritance that is "imperishable, undefiled, and unfading." Jesus bequeaths two things to His disciples before departing: peace and joy. The first He breathed; the second He lived.
• How is our eternal life an inheritance?
• How does this relate to the "merciful" character of God?

Watch"A moment of silence"clip from Reuters Video
• Why did the workers stop for a moment of silence?
• What can we learn from that as we attempt to grow stronger in our faith?
• When we stand for our faith, do you think it makes it difference in the world around us?
• We do not know the Christian values of the rescue workers, but do you think it is significant that in a time of crisis that they needed to reflect for hope for themselves and others?

The church here was undergoing persecution. Even today in some areas of the world, Christians have to deal with persecution. In the United States, we may not suffer this type of intense persecution, but we may find that we face persecution in other ways.
• What kinds of persecution do we face today?
• Can you think of times that we may bring some persecution on ourselves?

Jesus instructed us to not be surprised at persecution and in response to the persecution to turn the other cheek and love our enemies.
• Why do you think it is hard for us to do what Jesus told us to do when it comes to attacks on us or our faith?

One commentator wrote, "Pain, whether it arises from persecution or misunderstanding or heartache, is not just to be endured; it can be tapped for self-growth, and increased maturity... Suffering is not required for faith, but it can strengthen it along the pathway to our ultimate salvation."
• Have you seen this demonstrated?
• How has pain been a resource for personal growth for you?
• How has pain strengthened your faith?

Peter uses language that encourages hope and faith in what is not seen. Not only do we trust in an inheritance we have not yet seen, we trust in the One who offers us such an inheritance.
• What are some things that we do not see, but we believe in?

Those who have a living hope don't just muddle through, continuing to breathe with no purpose or joy. When we have a living hope that is grounded in Christ's resurrection we can learn to find growth and strength even on difficult days. We can trust in God's good future for us. We can open our hearts to live fully in every moment of life, even the hard ones. That is a living hope.

We are living in the Easter season. We believe that Jesus rose from the dead, yet none of us were there as eyewitnesses. We trust in the words of those who loved Him and witnessed it all. This week, pay attention to the things you trust in, although you do not see them. As these things come to mind, say a prayer of thanksgiving to our God for all of His blessings: those seen and those unseen.

Study Resources for April 20, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

On two significant occasions in the life of Jesus, the words are announced by angels, 'DO NOT BE AFRAID."
• Do you remember what they are? (Jesus' birth and the empty tomb.)

As a child, we can be reassured with words like "There's nothing to be afraid of." As adults, the fears can be more complex and words of reassurance are harder to come by. We live with an increasing sense that death is greedy and life can be tough. In fact, we know enough about life and the way the world works, that if someone tells us not to be afraid, we can be suspicious.

But when the angels arrive with their "fear not" calling card, we know that it is not the assurance that nothing can go wrong, because often things do go wrong. It is not assurance that everything turns our for the best because sometimes it doesn't. Rather, it is assurance that, what ever may happen to us, whatever a day may hold, God has the power to strengthen us and uphold us; that what ever we may face, we do not face it alone; that nothing we encounter is stronger than God's love; that ultimately God gets the last word. And God's love is triumphant and good. Only God can offer that kind of assurance, and that is why in the end, only God or one of God's messengers can say. "Do not be afraid," and say it with authority.

Watch the clip"Giant Robot Dinosaur Scares Zach"
• What is something that makes you really scared?
• How do you respond when you are confronted with your fear?
• What makes you respond that way?
• What are some common fears in our world?
• What are some of the uncommon fears you have heard of?

Watch the clip"Phone Practice" from the movie Despicable Me 2
• Do we often build our fears up to be so scary that we shoot flames in terror at them?
• Do we need a few minion fireman to help us with our fears?

Describe the fear you experience when going through an unknown situation or losing someone you care about.
• How might God want you to respond to these types of fears?
• How can our fears either push us away from God or draw us toward God? Explain.
• What gives you a mixture of joy and fear?
• Do you have a funny illustration or story about something you fear?

When we think of Easter, we probably have positive feelings. The cold weather has finally moved on. Flowers are starting to appear. And, we have an extended weekend to enjoy with friends and family. Easter doesn't normally cause fear. For those who lived through the first Easter, there was both joy and fear. The day began in grief. Some women had seen Jesus crucified and had seen him placed in a tomb. (Matthew 27:55-61.) Women did not generally count in this culture, but in this passage, the women are named.
• What do you think it was about these women that impressed Matthew so much that he named them?

ReadMatthew 28:1-10.
• How did their fear cause them to react?
• Do we really understand the concept of fear?
• How would you define fear?
• Is fear the opposite of faith?
• What did the angel invite them to come and see?
• Why did “come and see,” come before “Go and tell”?
• Why was it important for these women to go and tell?
• What would have happened if they did not tell?
• How have you experienced God’s power in your own life?

In verse 7, the angel told the women to tell the disciples of Jesus' resurrection.
• Why is it important for you to go and tell?
• Why do so many Christians feel unable or unwilling to share what God has done in their own life?
• What happens if Christians do not go and tell?

Watch the YouTube clip"Bad Evangelism: A How Not To Guide"from AgathosEntertainment
• Even though this is a silly video, what truths did you see in how some Christians really share their faith?
• What are some other ways that Christians practice bad evangelism?
• What is wrong with guilt, shame, and manipulation in sharing your faith?
• How should we share our faith with others?
• What is the most effective form of evangelism you have experienced?
• When sharing our faith, how does “come and see” play itself out?
• How can this group help each other to go and tell what God has done in our lives?
• Why do you think we focus more on the cross than the empty tomb?

Jesus told His followers that he would be killed and then would be raised from the dead, most recently on Passover, eight days before this Sunday. (Matthew 26:26-32.)
• Why do you think the disciples could not or would not hear this resurrection prediction?
• What do we as 21st century Christians have difficulty believing about what Jesus told us?

Scripture tells us that the women left the tomb with great joy and with fear.
• How does the women's experience compare with our experiences with joy/fear?

The women left the tomb with fear and joy, but now seeing Jesus, they fall down in spontaneous worship. Then, they hear the first commandment of the resurrected Jesus, "Do not be afraid."
• When has worship strengthened your soul and eased your fears?

The ones who let these words of assurance steep deeply into their souls, end up singing praises and offering blessings. In this kind of worship you can almost hear the ancient benediction, as a promise fulfilled, "May you fear God so much, that you fear nothing else at all."

Study Resources for April 13, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

This is our last Sunday in Psalms. We will be in Matthew next week celebrating Easter!
• What does it mean to you to be blessed?

Nowhere in scripture are we promised worldly ease in return for our pledge of faith. If we are looking for the definition of blessing, Jesus spells it out clearly in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12).
• How does Jesus' definition of blessing compare to the world's definition of blessing?
• What do we need victory from in our lives?
• What distracts you from your place in God’s will?

Watch the clipPope Francis Goes to Confession in Public
• How hard must it be for Pope Francis to change traditions in his sub-culture?
• How hard it is for you to change habits in your daily life?
• How easy is it for us to declare like the Psalmist, that “you are my God?”

ReadPsalm 118:1-4,19-25
• What are your favorite images or words in this psalm? Why?
• In what ways does this psalm describe God’s protection and blessings for God’s people?
• How often do you celebrate God?
• We don't usually have a celebratory attitude. Why not?

Watch "I Want to Live" from the movie 12 Years a Slave
• What were your impressions of this clip?
• How does it relate to our conversation so far?
• How would you describe living an abundant life?
• How is that different from merely surviving?
• How do your relationships influence an abundant life?
• Would you describe your life as an abundant life or just survival?
• In what areas of your life might you be missing an opportunity to fully live?
• How do those areas influence your walk with Christ?
• How would living an abundant life cause us to truly celebrate what God has done for us?
• How can we celebrate what God has done for each of us?
• What is the meaning behind verse 17?
• How is following Christ more about the way we live our lives, rather than just what happens to us after we die?

The scripture talks about a rejected stone that has become a cornerstone (in the foundation) or a capstone (holding an arch together). David has been given credit for this psalm.
• Can you recall any times that he was rejected?
• Can you think of a time that a rejected person or idea later became an important part of a success?
• What reasons does the psalmist give to be afraid in his world?
• What enemies do you face in your physical and spiritual battles?
• Who can enter through the gate to God?
• What must they do to enter through that gate?

David rejoices that God has answered him and has become his salvation. He goes on to say that "this is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." In our modern context, this verse is generalized to mean any and every day. But for the psalmist, it refers to the day he realized that God was his salvation.
• Do you have a day, a moment in time when you realized that God is your salvation?

We might think the psalm could end here, but it doesn't. ReadPsalm 118:26-29andMatthew 21:1-11. The Hebrew word Hosanna, means "God save us."
• What parallels do you see in these two passages?

Psalm 118 is not a "last verse" of life. It looks forward to salvation, but the psalmist finds himself in an in-between time. He believes that God has provided salvation and that eventually all will be right.

Palm Sunday is a day of celebration. Next Sunday is Easter. Between the Hosanna of this day and next Sunday's "Christ has risen", there is a week of in-between time that included betrayal, rejection, and abandonment. Fear, pride and spiritual ignorance reign.
• Do you ever feel like you are in the in-between time?
• How do you deal with that?

We see in this psalm that God hasn't just done something, He has become something for His people (vs. 14b, 21b). When Jesus came into our world, he not only accomplished our salvation, He also is our salvation. A new community, a new family is being formed that will share life in Him forever. Jesus is that cornerstone, rejected on earth, which has become the foundation for that new family. The psalm concludes that only the Lord could do this. This is the new day of a new creation He is forming for us. We must rejoice!

Study Resources for April 6, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

We have one more week in Psalms and then we will travel to the New Testament. These psalms have been a great way to journey toward Easter. I hope you have enjoyed them too.

Watch the clip"What keeps you awake at night"
• How much sleep do you need each day?
• What is the strangest thing that bothers your sleep?
• What most often interrupts your sleep?
• How does that make you feel the next day?

In today's scripture the psalmist cries out from the depths. He is not speaking literally, but figuratively, like we do when we say we feel "down" today or that we are "down in the dumps."
• How would you define "the depths"?

It has been said that the "depths" in this psalm could be "the state we cannot get out of by our own efforts."
• In a society that emphasizes self-help and independence, how easy is it to hear that help comes only from the Lord and that we are to wait eagerly for Him?

This psalm is called a psalm of ascents. As the psalmist climbs the hill toward God's home, he feels depressed. It seems that he is in the process of letting go.
• Do we ever hold on to our fears and failures?
• Do we ever hold on to our pain and sorrow stuck in the depths of an emotional quicksand?

It is at this point that the psalmist is reaching out to God and asks for help because he can't deal with the pain anymore.

Anne Lamott says in her book, Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers, "There's freedom in hitting bottom, in seeing that you won't be able to save or rescue your daughter, her spouse, his parents, or your career, relief in admitting you've reached the place of great unknowing. This is where restoration can begin, because when you're still in the state of trying to fix the unfixable, everything bad is engaged: the chatter of your mind, the tension of your physiology, all the trunks and wheel-ons you carry from the past. It's exhausting, crazy-making."
• What do you think? Has this been true for you?
• Are you closer to God in the mountains or in the valleys?

Read Psalm 130
• What is going on with the psalmist?
• What are the depths referred to in the first verse?

Watch clip of"The Survivors"from Star Trek: The Next Generation
• What did the man’s sin cause him to do?
• How do you know that he felt guilty about his sin?
• What punishment does his crime deserve?
• How do you typically respond when you feel guilty about something you have done?
• Have you ever had so much guilt that it ate away at you?
• Sometimes when we do something really wrong, we doubt God’s ability to forgive. Why?
• How do we know that God is always willing and able to forgive?
• Does he see God as a Holy Scorekeeper?
• Do we ever look at God this way? Why?

"Many believers hold to the view of a judgmental God who keeps meticulous records of wrongdoing. The psalmist understood, however, that God has better things to do than compile an individual encyclopedia of failures for every person on earth."
• Do you agree?
• Have you ever known people who acted like they were too far away from God to be forgiven?
• How easily can we fall into that trap also?
• How do we balance these images of God as judge and God as helper/forgiver?

The Bible consistently holds that God is forgiving, and forgiveness is the opposite of keeping score. (Read Isaiah 43:25.)

Jesus had a lot to say about forgiveness, and about the importance of forgiving others.
• How reassuring is it that God's love is steadfast and that God never gives up on us?

Some scholars believe that the pilgrims to Jerusalem sang the first six verses, then a priest sang these last verses. Theses are verses that encourage hope for those feeling like they are in a pit.
• How much does worry influence your daily life?
• Does your sense of personal sin and failure drag you down sometimes?
• Why is so difficult for us to cast our cares on God instead of worrying?
• So what do we put our hope in?

"We live on hope... The basis for such hope is found in the promises of a dependable, loving, and forgiving God... Hope is what keeps us going."

Watch"The First Ever 2014 Cadillac ELR: Poolside"Commercial from Cadillac
• So why do we work so hard?
• Are we just "a bunch of crazy hard-working believers" like the commercial says?
• Do we think that makes God happy?
• Do we really believe in God’s care for us?

• What would our lives look like if we truly embraced God’s care instead of trusting only in our own abilities?
• How did the psalmist deal with personal weaknesses? How can we?
• When you feel guilty for your failures, what do you turn to? Is it prayer, meditation, or Scripture? Or to the distractions of the world?
• How much must God love us to forgive us of our failures?

As we cry out to God, we can be assured that help is on the way and that with God there is steadfast love. There is a word for that place where we call out to God and where we speak and hear the promises of redemption. It is called "church." God's people are not merely waiting. We are watching. We watch and hope.
• What difference does this make?
• It is the difference Between resignation and resurrection?

Study Resources for March 30, 2014

The teacher for this session is Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy

See the session. 

This week we continue our journey in Psalms.

Where do you go when life gets crazy? Psalm 23 is the place we go for assurance and comfort. No psalm in scripture is better known than Psalm 23. These six short verses have been the source of encouragement for Christians and Jews throughout the centuries. The psalm is uttered from the point of view of a deliverance that is already evident.

In this psalm we can see the themes of provision, abundance, and restoration. The shepherd walks with us in the midst of our trials. When Middle Eastern shepherds take their sheep into the summer grazing land, they often go into the mountains, and there are no mountains without valleys, places that may be deep in shadow and frequented by wild animals or thieves. We will also walk in deep, dark valleys.
• Why are we always so surprised to find ourselves in the valley? (ReadI Kings 20:28and look for the "Lord of the hills" reference.)

The psalmist does not refer to God in abstract terms, but uses God's personal name because the psalm is about a personal relationship between the psalmist and God. Yahweh is my shepherd.

The darkness is not changed, but rather we are changed when we receive the gift of His presence. Usually in Lent we are challenged to greater faithfulness and repentance, but this psalm is showing us the sustaining power of our God. We can feel encouragement as we progress along the dark path that leads to Easter. Instead of being called to deal with our sinfulness and our mortality, here we are offered an outstretched hand from one who will walk with us and give us comfort, courage, and presence. This gift of presence is especially meaningful for modern people who find authentic presence with one another an increasingly scarce commodity.

ReadPsalm 23andPhilippians 4:7.Compare the peace.
• Have you seen people experience this kind of peace? Have you?

Sometimes we need that Shepherd's hook/club to protect us from evil. Sometimes we need that hook/club to give us direction. Sometimes we need that hook/club to (scratch behind our ears) show us affection.
• Have you experienced this in your life?
• In what ways are you completely dependent on God?

Sheep prefer to lie down in a shallow depression, because it is more comfortable. If a sheep is particularly heavy with wool, it may accidentally roll onto its wide back, and not be able to get up. Sheep in this situation are said to be "cast" and will die unless the shepherd finds them and returns them to an upright position.
• Does anybody need a little turning over this morning?
• How can we experience the restoration of God when we feel exhausted?
• It tells us that the shepherd directs the sheep to lie down in green pastures: is he talking about the importance of Sabbath rest?
• What would Sabbath rest look like to you?

Watch "That's All I Need" from the movie The Jerk
• Did he really need any of those things? Why or why not?
• Why did he take them?
• Aside from things needed to survive, if you could only have a few things that you want, what would they be? Why?
• How do we confuse what is a need and what is a want?
• Is it wrong to want things? Why or why not?
• When does wanting things become bad?

Watch "iBook" commercial for Apple iPhones
• What is the message behind this commercial?
• How is this like other commercials you have seen?
• Why do commercials focus on what you don’t have, rather than what you already have?
• How might this affect someone watching it?
• Do people today tend to focus on what they don’t have or are they grateful for what they already have? Explain.
• What happens if we are always focused on what we don’t have?
• How does focusing on what you don’t have affect decision making?
• What happens to someone who is consistently focused on what they do not have?
• How can faith be affected by this type of mentality?

Give an example of someone of faith not satisfied with what they have.
• What does the psalmist claim that God provides for us?
• What are your wants? (When the Lord is the shepherd our wants are different.)
• What does it mean to be in want?
• Is it possible to not be in want as the first line says?
• In what ways does God's presence meet our essential needs?
• How can we practically rely on God to meet our needs and be content?
• How can we begin to be grateful for what we have rather than just desire to gain more?

• What does the presence of God do for the psalmist?
• What did the phrase "anointing with oil" and "overflowing cup" mean to the psalmist?
• What should they mean for us today?
• Have you ever felt abandoned?
• What did you do?
• What does the presence of God for yesterday, today, and forever mean to you?
• Which part of Psalm 23 do you find most comforting? Why?
• How have you seen this psalm play out in your life?

Give an example of how God has blessed you in your life.
• Are you satisfied with God’s blessing? Why or why not?

This portrait of God as a shepherd finds its completion in the New Testament, where Jesus tells us that He is the good shepherd and He lays down His life for His sheep. This psalm is written from the perspective of a cooperative bunch of sheep.
• Can you think of why this kind of cooperation would be important?
• Where do you feel the closest to God, on the mountain or in the valley?

Because of God's kind of love, God does not give up on us. He pursues us gently with blessings of goodness, and His steadfast love. The Psalmist recognizes that this is not a brief experience, but a life-long relationship. As long as we live, wherever we go, God's goodness and steadfast love will be close behind, tirelessly leading us more deeply into the joys of divine hospitality.

When a small child trips and skins her knee, a simple kiss from a loving caregiver brings healing. Does the skinned knee go away? No, of course it does not. The physical pain remains, but the offering of love in the form of a kiss makes all the difference. In this same way, Psalm 23 is about finding life in it truest sense, which is union with the Lord, and discovering that it can bring healing to our lives. When we come to the Lord's table, we get a holy kiss that heals our places of hurt. We see the darkness around us lose its power in the midst of the Lord's presence, and we are restored.

Study Resources for March 23, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy) 

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We are continuing our study in Psalms. It has been a good one. I hope you have enjoyed it too. Today's psalm is Psalm 95.

Watch "88 Miles Per Hour" from the movie Back to the Future
• How would you have reacted in Marty’s shoes?
• Would you have moved out of the way? Why or why not?
• Why did Marty reluctantly choose to stand by Doc?
• How did his relationship with Doc make him more trusting?
• Is there anyone that you would trust no matter what? Explain.
• What about them has earned your trust?
• Why do we sometimes have difficulty trusting others?
• Why do we sometimes have difficulties trusting God?
• How do you know that God is trustworthy?

Today's psalm takes place in a corporate worship setting. This community has experienced invasion, destruction, deportation, and more. Their worship is not shallow or superficial. It is worship that is deep and meaningful. The first part of this psalm speaks of God's people, who stand in awe and worship before the Lord. The second part of the psalm speaks from the perspective of the Lord looking in disappointment on people who have had a history of failing to follow as they should.
• Have you ever done something against your better judgment and then realized that it was absolutely the wrong thing to do?

In verse seven, the psalm changes from eyes to witness and voices to sing to ears to listen and feet to follow. The first part of the psalm makes the second part all the more difficult.
• If God is so good and worthy of praise, and if we have seen God's glory and were nodding our heads during the first verses, why is it that we have so often failed to listen or to follow?
• Do our daily circumstances and problems ever cloud our ability to worship?

ReadPsalm 95:1-11.
• How wonderful does this sound?
• Why should we worship?
• What do you visualize when you hear “rock of my salvation?”
• How do you feel when you hear “King above all gods?”
• How should we worship our Creator?
• How can we listen to God’s voice?
• Does God love/appreciate/"loathe" our act of worship on Sunday morning? During the week?
• How should we understand the Psalmist's perspective using the term “loathing?”

The psalmist uses the word "come" 3 times in these verses. (v. 1, 2, 6)
• What are the phrases your Bible uses to translate the word "come?"

Commentaries note that each call to "come" uses a different verb. The verb suggests walking toward the sanctuary, coming into God's presence, and entering a sacred space. Now think about how we worship: the places, the rituals, the people involved.
• How would you describe our worship to someone who did not know what worship is?
• What images would you use?
• What image did the psalmist use in verse one? Why a rock?
• What is the image for God that is used in verse seven?

The psalmist invites us to worship our God who is a rock and a shepherd.
• How do those images make you feel?

Rock is a metaphor for God and is common in the Hebrew Bible. (Gen. 49:24; Deut.32:4,15,18,30,31; Isa. 44:8; and Hab. 1:12)

The word to try/test does not mean to set God up to prove something, but means to test God's patience.
• How do we test God's patience today?
• When we meet together for worship, are we meeting our needs or God's?
• What has been the most powerful worship you have ever experienced? What made it so powerful?

Watch "More Focus" from the movie The Karate Kid
• Do you agree that being still and doing nothing are two totally different things?
• Do you need focus like Dre?
• In terms of worship, what should be our focus?
• Are we like Dre and worry about other things instead of our true focus?
• What can we do to regain our worship focus?
• Will God have to make us see our reflection up close and personal first?

Think of a time when it was easy to worship God because of how great things were going for you.
• Have you ever been guilty of not trusting God with a struggle in your life?
• Why do we have a lack of trust, even though we have experienced God as trustworthy?
• Why is it tough to worship God when we are experiencing pain or suffering?
• What is the benefit of worshiping during difficult life circumstances?
• How does God provide for us during our times when we need God the most?
• How can we help ourselves become more sensitive to God working around us?
• What do you think God’s reaction is to a “cookie-cutter” style worship?
• What are some changes in corporate worship that our church has added in the last twenty years?
• What about our personal worship?

I think it is important to remember that God did not allow the Israelites to enter the promised land because of their sin, but He did not abandon them in the wilderness. The relationship continued. Maybe there is something important in noting that not trusting and honoring God might keep us from some of the wonderful things God has in mind for us. This is not to say that God abandons us. God will continue to bring good out of even our faltering and failing.

The beauty and the plenty of the promised land is still just around the corner and as we wait to enter it, God is with us. We are reminded that the proclamation of God's reign always calls for a response. The kingdom of God has come near and He challenges us to respond. This psalm teaches us that the recognition of God's sovereign claim on our lives and the world involves praise and an offering of our lives in faith and obedience.

Study Resources for March 16, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy) 

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This week we will look at one of the psalms in the category, "Psalms of Assent." There are 15 such psalms that pilgrims sang on their way "up" to Jerusalem.
• Do you have a favorite song that you associate with road trips, church, or a special time in your life?

Watch the clip "Blake's Death" from the movie Mr. Deeds
• What journey are you on?
• Do you ever feel your journey in life is ill-advised like Blake’s?
• Do you ever feel that your journey is a waste of time?
• Do we forget that we have a provider who will be there to guide our steps?
• Do we often strive to make it to the top of the mountain no matter what?
• How can we tell if our journey is misguided or blessed by God?
• What journey should our church be on?
• What can our group do to bless that journey?

Lent can be seen as a journey. Let's read this Psalm of Assent and begin our journey this week. Read Psalm 121.
• Do these verses seem positive to you or a little scary?
• What new adventures in your life can you celebrate today?
• Are there some difficult adventures in your life that you can celebrate with God's help and keeping?

Sometimes when we want to encourage someone, we might say, "keep your chin up" or "keep looking up." This "looking up and offering a prayer" implies a posture of hope.
• Can posture alone sometimes kick-start us on the path toward a better state of mind?
• How might looking up in a time of prayer make you feel different from "every eye closed and every head bowed?"

The psalmist here is looking up to the hills of Jerusalem, acknowledging that the Lord is the source of his help. Place is important. To the Jews, Jerusalem was the home of the Temple, the place God chose to dwell. As Baptists, we do not have a Holy City such as Jerusalem.
• Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Rather than look toward a Temple, Christians believe that Jesus came to "live among us." Jesus fulfilled the Temple's purpose.

Notice the word "keep" in this psalm. It is the word "shamar" and it is the same word used to describe a shepherd's keeping of the sheep. It suggests watching over, guiding, protecting, and being present with the flock. It has been translated as keep or keeping. This word is used six times in this short psalm.
• What is the difference in having and keeping?

I may have a pair of shoes. They are my possessions, I own them and when they wear out I will get rid of them. I keep my dog, Eli. I love him and he is dear to me. I protect him from harm and watch over him because if he suffers, it hurts me too. We provide for Eli, we care for him and we do this because we love him. That's like God. We are His beloved, we are important to Him. If we suffer, it hurts God too. This Psalm celebrates the fact that the Lord is our keeper.
• Is it hard for you to accept the fact that God is our keeper?

It is easier to accept the fact that God loves us. This psalm shows us that God loves and therefore God keeps us. God does not lose His grip on us. Having a keeper is a two-way street. For all that we gain we must first give ourselves to the one who offers the protection. We gain protection, but we lose a sense of total independence.
• How do you imagine these words shaped the people's image of God as they traveled to Jerusalem singing this psalm?

Jesus sang this psalm as He traveled with His parents to Jerusalem. These psalms were sung by exiles returning to Jerusalem from Babylon and captivity. The singing of these psalms gave the people of God hope.
• Have you ever lived in "exile?"
• What is it like to return home to a God who protects, loves, saves, graces and gives you hope for tomorrow?
• Have you found power in hope? How so?
• Does this Psalm sound like it is over-promising with perfect protection?
• Does the Psalmist promise if we are good then we will never face harm?
• So what is the promise here?
• Could it be a blessing or a prayer? Explain.
• How does the psalm resonate with your life?
• What comfort does this psalm give you?
• Does God always protect us and keep us from harm? Why or why not?
• How should we respond when we face harm?
• How do you sense God’s protection in your life?

This psalm begins at the point of departure. A destination is in sight, and it looks to the pilgrim as if God is calling for him, or he hopes to find God at that destination. The thing that turns these journeys into journeys of ascent is that a church or an individual perceives that to embark upon them is to respond to the God who calls us to leave one place for another.
• Have you heard a call from God? How did you respond?
• How can we feel/know that God is always with us?
• How long is the promise given for in this Psalm (v.8)?

It is comforting that during this season of Lent, we can celebrate the good news that even as we face evil, God is and always will be our keeper. God's watchful eye and creative hand never stop (John 10:28).
• How does that make you feel?

Jesus reminded His followers, and we remind ourselves during Lent, that the way of a follower leads to a cross (Mark 8:34). As we read Psalm 121, we can claim and celebrate the good news that even as we face the cross, God is and always will be our keeper.

Study Resources for March 9, 2014

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The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

Have you ever really messed up? Have you ever done something so bad that you felt as if you could not tell anyone because of how you would be perceived or because you were afraid of getting punished or of breaking a relationship beyond repair? We have all, at one time or another, have probably felt that gut wrenching knot that comes when we know we have really mess up. Today's Psalm is about that experience and how we can respond to it.

Watch the clip "From Shame" from GodTube.

• Why are Christians so afraid to confess their sins?
• Why does running from them seem like a better solution?
• How do we run from their sin rather than taking responsibility for it?
• What is the definition of grace? Can you give examples of grace in our world today?
• How do you feel when you deserve to be punished but someone lets you off the hook?
• How do you feel when you have really messed up but no one knows about it? Why do you stay silent?

Happiness is high on most people's list of priorities. Hunger for happiness drives much of our lives. The ambitions we pursue, the relationships in which we engage, the professions we enter, the hobbies we love, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, and even the way we observe Lent reflect individual beliefs about what brings fulfillment and happiness. The Dalai Lama observes, "Indeed, the more I see of the world, the clearer it becomes that no matter what our situation...rich or poor, educated or not, of one race, gender, religion or another, we all desire to be happy...It is in our nature...Our every intended action in a sense our whole life-how we choose to live it within the context of the limitations imposed by our circumstances-can be seen as our answer to the great question which confronts us all: "How am I to be Happy?"!

Read Psalm 32.

In Psalm 32, happiness comes from being forgiven.
• How do we receive forgiveness?
Sometimes we think we must do something instead of living in the wonder and awe at what God does in forgiving us.
• Have you ever truly forgiven someone?

Watch the clip Learn to Forgive from the movie The Messenger.

• How would you feel as Joan of Arc?
• Do you understand her desire to lash out at the world and then be with God now?
• Does it bother you that the priest says God always has a good reason?
• Have you ever experienced true forgiveness from another person?
• Have you truly felt forgiveness from God for your sin?
• How does the Christian season of Lent factor influence these ideas of forgiveness?

• Do we truly feel happy to be forgiven?
• What would life look like if we truly acted forgiven?
• Though we must show discernment, how helpful or necessary is it to our lives is it to publicly confess our sins to other Christians and our close family/friends?

Psalm 32 opens up a doorway to understanding forgiveness in a deeper way that while repentance may well be a precondition for receiving forgiveness, it is a process in which God is the primary "grace" agent. This Psalm is a view of confession and repentance from the far side of forgiveness, looking back on forgiveness instead of forward to the reception of forgiveness. It is a reflection on being granted forgiveness and all that goes with it, rather than an expression of the need for and the hope for forgiveness.

• Why do we need to confess our sins if God already knows what they are?
• Why do we try to hide and/or deny our sins and our sinfulness, given the repeated calls for repentance in scripture?
• Why do we persist in our spiritual blindness, failing to see that the forgiveness has been there all along?

The terms or words used in verses 1-2 are similar, but not exactly the same. The word translated as "transgression" is "pasha," which suggests rebellion or wrongdoing that could be directed against God, other nations, or individuals.

The general word for sin is "chata'a," which describes an offense against someone or turning away from the right path. Iniquity translates the word awon, which can also be rendered guilt. Deceit describes a more specific category or area of sin.

• In vs. 3-4, the psalmist gives an aching description of physical and emotional turmoil he endured. Is it possible to be sin sick? What would it look like to be sin sick?

In verse 10 the word translated as steadfast love," chesed," is often connected in the Bible with God's patience and grace toward a sinful people. Ex.34:6,"The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness..."

Watch the clip Cardboard Testimonies on YouTube.
Play the Cardboard Testimony video.
• Have you ever witnessed someone who’s life as been changed through confession? Explain.
• Why would these people stand up and share their struggles and past mistakes with a group of people?
• How is it easier to share a struggle once it is over and you have learned from it?
• How much more difficult would it be to share a struggle you are still struggling with?
• How was grace shown to people holding the signs?
• If you were to share your burdens, how do you think it would be received? Why?
• Have you ever received grace from someone when you expected to receive judgment? What was it like?
• What happens to us when we deny ourselves the opportunity to receive grace from God and others?

• What does "I am only human" mean?
• What attitudes may accompany this saying?

• In the Psalm, the thought that "I am only human", is an acknowledgment that brings relief. How do you see that relief in these verses?

One commentator says, "The psalm does not trouble over the speculative question of a life free of transgression. It assumes transgression." The psalmist is not talking about forgiving another person, the psalmist is talking about accepting God's forgiveness.

• How can accepting forgiveness free you up to get on with living?
• Do you think that the spiritual life has an effect on the physical life? How so?
• Does it work the other way as well-does the physical life have an effect on the spiritual life of a person?
• What is the lesson for the forgiven person in the scripture passage?
• How would you describe the God of Psalm 32?

• God wants to relieve us by offering grace and forgiveness. The only way that can happen is if we go through the difficult process of confession. Sometimes that needs to happen with God alone and sometimes we need to confess and make amends with another person. Ultimately, when we choose to remain silent, we deny God and others the opportunity to show us grace and forgiveness and we deny ourselves the opportunity to experience the healing power of that kind of grace. Have you found this to be true?

• The Psalmist invites us to learn from his own arrogance, stubbornness, and long illness. "Avoid my suffering and my mistakes," he advises. He calls on us to intensify our prayer life and the confession and forgiveness will restore fellowship broken by sin. Therein lies the happiness and the joy that transcends circumstances. To rejoice is a choice, and joy is the gift. Could it be that Christian happiness could be best understood in terms of being in relationship with God and engaging in practices such as confession? Could it be that practicing this kind of confession provides the foundation on which fundamental friendship flourishes?

John 3:16 tells us that God loves the sinner and invites us to be free of the burdens and pains and penalties of sin. We have the choice to accept or reject this love. We can live in the past with guilt and regret or we can "get on with living" covered by God's grace and mercy.

Study Resources for March 2, 2014

The teacher for this session was John Hamlett. (email John)

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Introduction to the Book of the Psalms:
• How would you describe the book of the Psalms?
• How were the Psalms originally used by the people of Israel?
• What are the different types of Psalms?
• How should we view the book of Psalms today?

Today our passage is about the inauguration of a king in Biblical times.

Introduction to Psalm 2 and Psalm 1:
• Why is it important to look at Psalm 1 even though our focus is on Psalm 2?
• How are Psalms 1 and 2 categorized?

Imagine you are part of a large assembly gathered for the coronation of the new king. Read Psalm 1 and 2.
• What sort of feelings might you experience as the words are read aloud?
• What do you think the writer’s purpose was with the different sections of Psalms 2?
• Does this Psalm sound like a hymn to you?
• What did this Psalm probably mean to the original hearers?
• How would they have viewed a king?
• What was to be the king’s relationship to God?
• How can we apply this Psalm to today since we do not have a king in the USA?
• Does the idea of the king being anointed as a “messiah” help us understand?
• How important is it for us to follow God as a servant?
• Since the early church saw these types of Psalms as leading to Jesus as the Messiah, can we see the basic idea as serving Jesus as similar to serving a Godly servant king?

Discussion Questions:
• If you were running for political office, what would you campaign for?
• What political leadership position would you like to hold?
• If you were elected, what laws would you write?
• What would motivate you to make decisions?

Watch "Believe in Her" from the movie The Messenger

• Is it good to serve your political leaders?
• Should we pray for our leaders even if we disagree with them?
• If you were the king, would you see Joan of Arc?
• As a leader, is it hard to believe in others?
• Do we ignore the ones who love us because we are too busy being a leader today?
• If God were to speak in that clip, what would God say to the people involved?

• How much courage was it going to take the king to see Joan of Arc?

Watch the clip "Natalie Grant: On Courage" from the American Bible Challenge
• Do you believe faith takes courage?
• Do we truly believe that we are leaders in this world?
• How much courage do we need? Where does that courage truly come from? What can we do to earn it?

Study Resources for February 23, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

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We continue our study in Corinthians. Today we are talking about building a church.
• When you have an argument, who usually wins? Why?

Often we argue about unimportant things.
• What are some of those things?
• Why do we allow unimportant things to cause disagreements?
• When you argue, are you trying to seek a good solution or win the argument? Why?
• Should Christians argue? Why or why not?
• What can arguing do to a church congregation? Is it ever a good thing?
• Are there any issues that are important enough for Christians to argue about? What makes them so important?
• Can this kind of arguing strengthen communities of faith?
• How does church fighting turn communities away from the Gospel?

The Christians in Corinth were building a church. Not a church building, but a community of Christian believers. Like a physical structure, a spiritual construction can be costly, time-consuming and rewarding hard work. Just as a solid-looking wall may hide some rotting beams, there can be surprising challenges, because there is a sinner inside every saint. Pride peeks out from around dark corners, cultural clashes happen, and expectations go unmet. There are unexpected delays and there are always some costs that were not anticipated. The Corinthians go back to Paul in hopes that he can guide them toward completion. Paul stresses the basics: a solid foundation and excellent building materials.

Read 1 Corinthians 3:10-23.
• What was the church in Corinth arguing about? What was wrong with their arguments?
• What types of foundations do churches unfortunately build themselves on other than Christ?
• When that happens what is the result? Is it inevitable that they will fail? Why or why not?
• What does a church look like that is built on a foundation of Christ?
• What do our arguments say about our foundation?
• What does it mean that we are God's temple and no one should destroy it?
• How would we be changed if our only focus was building our lives (temple) on Jesus Christ?

When we consider the foundation of our faith, let's reflect on why we are Christians.
1. Some people are Christians because it is the cultural thing to do. We were raised in a Christian nation/community/culture, so we are Christian.
• Why would this be less than a solid foundation?
2. Everyone else around us was baptized, so we were baptized.
• Why would this be less than a solid foundation?
3. We were afraid of hell.
• Why would this be less than a solid foundation?
4. Can you think of any other shaky foundations of faith?

• Paul writes about his role and that of the other leaders, how would you describe his perspective?

Paul was not a stranger to conflict. He had conflict with many other leaders. (Acts 15:35-41)
• Are conflicts inevitable?

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul lists some "building supplies" that are necessary for building churches and relationships.
• What are some of those supplies?

Sometimes it may be easier for us to grasp the idea of God living and dwelling in a building rather than in each of us as a community. In verse 16, the "you" that Paul mentions is not a singular, private you. Paul says that God dwells in the temple of believers. Here Paul is referring not to an individual, but to the entire Christian church in Corinth. This was radical in the first century, because previously God was understood to dwell in the temple in Jerusalem. Paul extends the understanding of God's dwelling place in the temple to the community. Community is what we are called to build, knowing that the Holy Spirit dwells in the people of God.
• Do we struggle with this today?

Watch "Greater Things" from the movie Big Fish.
• Do we limit God like a goldfish in a small bowl with our petty divisions?
• The story of Edward is fictional, but do you like him believe God has greater things for you and the church?
• Are we willing to let God show us greater things?

People can have individual experiences with God, but God is not a private God.
• Is this is an accurate statement?

"At a time when individualized spirituality is prevalent and churchgoers struggle to fit worship into the other demands of children's sports games, homework, housework, jobs and family time, some are tempted to stop going to worship altogether. Paul's assertions that God dwells among the community of believers when it gathers together can serve as a reminder that worship within the context of a church community is essential for encountering God. The suggestion that God dwells among the gathered community lends a powerful reminder that God desires the wholeness and unity of God's people."

Maybe what Paul is trying to tell the church is that we need to look at the community we are building, and to see if God and the "fools" of the world are at home there. As early Christians struggled to understand the nature of the new faith communities it was creating, the contemporary church must continue the struggle too.
• Do you feel holy?
• Do we know that God wants us to feel strong in grace?
• What can we do to feel like the temple of God?
• Or is the problem that we are working instead of letting God do it?
• How have you seen God's Spirit living in our congregation?

Paul continues to argue that the Gospel is wise to the spiritual, but foolishness to the world. He emphasizes that all that we have, whether it is our spiritual leader or our spiritual life itself, is a gift from God. The understanding that we belong to Christ comes as a gift from God.

Churches are formed for several reasons: as a part of an intentional plan, from a painful split, or out of a small group Bible study.
• What is our church's birth story?
• How will we contribute to our church's story?

Study Resources for February 16, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

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We are still in Corinthians this week and I look forward to all that God has in store for us this week.
• How does it make you feel when someone calls you immature or babyish?
• Do you want to strike back with a biting comment of your own? Why or Why not?

Paul called the Corinthian church babies—let us learn about that. Read 1 Corinthians 3:1-9.
• Do Paul's words seem harsh?
• How do you think the church at Corinth made Paul feel?
• What were the signs of carnal (baby-like) attitudes in the church?
• What competition do you sense in this passage was taking place in the church?
• What was the result of that competition?
• How are these evidence of immaturity?
• What would you consider "milk" and "solid food" in terms of spiritual teachings and activities?
• What does a mature Christian look like?
• In a similar vein, what would a mature church look like?
• How did Paul make sense of the roles each of their differences played in the church?

It has been suggested that we all carry a deep wound of loneliness that is not easily overcome, and that this wound is so much a part of our human condition that we cannot escape it. We want to belong in the worst way, so we join communities, but they always tend to disappoint us.

These wounds were very evident in the church Paul founded in Corinth. The people of the church wanted desperately to belong. They divided themselves into groups and claimed that they belonged to Paul, Apollos or some other charismatic leader. Paul felt that this was clearly a misunderstanding of the gospel. The strife and jealousy that pit the rival factions against one another in the Corinthian community are opposed to genuine fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Paul came preaching Christ and Him crucified—a God who alone can give a sense of who we are and whose we are, a beloved people of God.

I think Paul's experience with the church is familiar to us. We separate ourselves into camps within our denomination, certain of our own moral and theological superiority. Historically, we divided ourselves to define ourselves in terms of denominations, but now it seems our dividing lines have turned inward. We try to cling to our opinions over the authority of scripture, human sexuality, and what kind of music we consider "sacred."
• How can we apply Paul's words to our own situations today?
• Do you think Paul wanted to rescue the Corinthians from their failure?

We hear the saying, "making mountains out of molehills."
• What were the little things that the Corinthians were doing that lead to bigger problems?
• What would be your advice to the Corinthian Church to fix their problems?
• How can we focus on what is really important in being the church?
• Do you think God wants to rescue us from our failures?

Watch "Ray" from the movie I Need Help.
• Do we believe we have all the needed gifts to be in God’s will?
• Do you think that God just wants us to show success in a few little things before we are blessed with bigger things?
• How hard do you think that is on a loving God who wants the best for us?

While Paul was addressing a specific argument among certain people, his images and words can have a profound impact on the way we see and perform our role in God's kingdom.
• How should this understanding change the way we interact with one another—with our human leaders and fellow workers?
• How should this understanding change the way we approach our work in God's kingdom?
When we view God's work in this way, what new challenges also arise?

Watch this clip: "Egghunt"
• What mistakes did the first caveman make?
• Why did he see the second caveman as competition?
• What lesson did he learn?

Explain your level of competitiveness with the group.
• What good and bad qualities come from competitiveness?
• What would a world look like without competition?
• Is this a world you would enjoy? Why or why not?
• In what ways do you see competition in the church?
• What is the positive or negative outcome of that competition?

Think about the areas you serve at church.
• How would you feel if you had to accomplish those tasks on your own?
• What is it like to be a part of something that is using multiple people to accomplish something?
• How is our church ministry greater than just us?
• How does God use our efforts to make something grow?

Tell about the first person who ever told you about Jesus Christ. What about the person who helped lead you into a relationship with Jesus.
• Who is your life has helped to nurture your faith?
• How have all of those people joined together to carve out a role in your spiritual journey?

The problem with the Corinthians is not their desire to grow in divine wisdom. The problem is that they have been seeking the wrong kind of wisdom from the wrong sources!
• Do we ever do that?

Genuine insight into the plans and purposes of God is given only through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Therefore persons who are truly in touch with divine wisdom are recognized, not by their philosophical sophistication or their impressive speeches, but by signs of the Spirit's presence with them. Radical!
• What kinds of signs indicate the presence of the Holy Spirit?
• How can we make sure that we don't miss the signs?

Study Resources for February 9, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

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Watch this clip: "False Advertising - Hot Wheels"
• As a child, did you ever beg for the cool toy and then were disappointed by how it really worked?
• How did that make you feel as a child?
• Do you think people sometimes feel that way about their faith in God?
• Why does the excitement of faith sometimes dull after awhile?

The apostle Paul was a gifted thinker and writer and church starter. Public speaking did not seem to be his forte, however. Corinth was known for its gifted public speakers and persuaders. Paul's weakness in this area apparently caused some people to doubt his call and spiritual authority. The Corinthians were used to hearing Greek orators and philosophers speak with impressive deliveries. Paul refused to be judged by style or polish alone. Paul felt that the substance of his message was more important than the style of his delivery.
• Is it easy to be swayed by rhetoric and personal charm? Example.

In last week's text, Paul spoke of the "foolishness of the gospel." This week the messenger of the gospel is also considered to be foolish.
• Why do you think we feel we need something more than God's grace for our salvation?

Read 1 Corinthians 2:1-16.
• What ideas/products have you fallen for as an adult because of loud and persuasive arguments (even if you later realize the idea/product was no good)?

Commercials tempt us all the time. Remember some of the old ones? "Winston taste good like a cigarette should." "You'll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent."
• Did this happen to the Corinthians? Why?
• What kind of wisdom was Paul talking about in these verses?
• How did the church see wisdom as a source of gaining power?
• Can power be a dangerous ambition?
• How does Paul compare power to the humility of the cross?
• How does the desire for power make someone blind to the true wisdom of the cross?
• Have you ever heard a religious expert say they had a special secret knowledge?
• How did that make you feel?
• What value does logic and rational arguments have in terms of Christian faith?
• Does this section of scripture sound contradictory to the previous verses? How so?
• If you were Paul, would you have gotten frustrated with the Corinthian Church due to their disobedience?
• Do you ever desire secret knowledge in your Christian life?
• How would Paul feel about our desire for mysteries and secret knowledge today?

Paul expanded his emphasis on learning from the Spirit by insisting that persons who are unspiritual or self-centered (psuchikos) can neither understand nor receive the gifts of God's Spirit, because they are not in touch with the Spirit.
• How would you explain this to a nonbeliever?

On the other hand, those who are spiritual (pneumatikos) know the presence of God, and they know what God has revealed to them, and are not subject to the judgment of others (v.15)
• How would you explain this to a nonbeliever?

Paul tells us that the Spirit of God is still living and active, still revealing the mystery of God to the people of God.
• How is this true in your life today?

This emphasizes on the importance of remaining in touch with the Spirit, for Christian faith is not found in static rituals, but in a dynamic relationship.
• How do you remain in touch with the Spirit of God?
• How do you maintain a dynamic relationship with God?
• How do we determine if someone's teaching is true?
• How do we decide what is truth and what is lies?

There are 8 questions that I think we can ask to determine truth.
1. Is it Biblical?
2. Is it logical?
3. Is it beneficial?
4. Is it moral?
5. Is it loving?
6. Is it legal?
7. Does it enslave?
8. Is it Christ-like?
• Can you think of any other questions to ask?

How would you define the Spirit of Christ to someone else? Paul seems to indicate that the one who knows the Spirit of Christ also knows the mind of Christ, and it is this that matters-not human wisdom or religious secrets, but the Spirit of Christ.
• What is the mind of Christ?
• How much time should we spend searching the Scriptures and praying?

Watch this clip: "Anything But Silent"
• Why do we feel pressure to do more and know more as Christians?
• When does it become too much? Or does it?
• How do we know if we are trusting God or simply seeking “secret” wisdom searching for answers?
• What can we learn from the Corinthian Church to help us balance our relationship with God and keep that relationship from being just a quest for knowledge?
• What can we learn by focusing on the wisdom/foolishness of the cross?
• What do we risk by living our lives by faith?

"Why Do Fools Fall In Love?"
Why does my heart skip this crazy beat?
For I know, It will reach defeat
Tell me why, tell me why?
Why do fools fall in love?
Love is a losing game
Love can be a shame
I know of a fool you see, for that fool is me
Tell me why, tell me why?

In a sense, love makes no sense.
• Who was St. Valentine?

The Gospel story is a love story. It is foolish to those who scoff at love. It is foolish to those who believe they are unworthy of love. But it is life to those of us who believe. It may make us do foolish-seeming things, like make sacrifices for others and others' needs. A sacrificial love makes no sense, but it is actually the only sensible way to live.

Study Resources for February 2, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

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In our time and culture, the image of the cross is fairly common. As a symbol of Christian faith we see it on church steeples and lawns, on bumper stickers and on business cards.
• Have we lost our sensitivity to the sight of the cross or are we lost in wonder when we see it and realize its meaning?

Read 1 Corinthians 1:18-31.

In today's lesson, Paul wants the church to remember what the cross was about and to consider why a crucified God is a difficult concept for most people to grasp and understand.
• What is it that Paul says has the potential to "rob the cross of its power"?
• How do you think this could rob the cross of its power?

According to Paul, the cross divides the world in two groups: those who are perishing and those who are being saved.
• How do you feel about that statement?

These verses also give us a perspective about the process of salvation.
• What do you notice about the words/verbs that Paul uses?
• What insight can we gain from this image?
• Is salvation a moment in time or a process? Why?
• How have you experienced salvation?
• What kind of signs do you think Paul is talking about?
• Why do we want signs sometimes before we believe?
• What do you think Paul meant about wisdom?

Paul's readers, like many of us, lived in a sophisticated society that found pride in self-reliance and continual achievements.
• Is this an accurate assessment of our culture today?
• How does the need for self-reliance and continual achievements affect a person's faith?
• Can you think of some seemingly foolish things that happened in the Bible?
• Have you ever done anything foolish for God?

Watch "Moses Parts the Sea" from the Ten Commandments.
• From human perspective, how foolish was Moses as a leader taking the people to the sea?
• On the other hand, how did it show God’s wisdom and power?
• Do we limit God’s power/wisdom by doing things our way?
• Do we limit the chance to embrace the wisdom of God by forgetting how loving and powerful God truly is?
• Do we truly believe God can work out of what seems like foolishness today?

Paul's statement that "God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom" is almost common sense.
• Isn't God, by definition wiser than we are?

We need to remember that Paul is writing to people nurtured in Greek culture, including the stories of Greek gods. Paul was addressing 3 different groups of wise people in Corinth:
1. philosophers (mostly in the Greek tradition)
2. scribes (experts in the law)
3. popular rhetoricians who gained acclaim through public speeches (similar to today's syndicated columnists or TV commentators.)

All of these "wise people" could argue and debate issues of the day with great eloquence and convincing rhetoric, that impressed their listeners. Paul insisted that their dependence on human reasoning left them blind to the deepest truth of the gospel. A crucified savior may not make any sense to human ears, but even the foolishness of God far surpasses the best of human wisdom.

The Corinthians and others in the Roman Empire were surrounded with the "wisdom" of gods who were all out for themselves, who were so powerful they could do whatever they wanted to mere humans, and who despised any signs of weakness.

Paul tells us that God can use the weak, the ignorant and the common to teach the world great truths about God and God's ways.
• Can you share a story of how this has come true?

Dr. Raymond Bryan Brown commented that human wisdom is wisdom we can master, while God's wisdom is wisdom that masters us.
• Do you think this is accurate? Why?

How do human beings come to really know God?
• Does authentic spirituality follow the pattern of Babel with human beings constructing towers to heaven with their own understanding, insights and spiritual wisdom?
• Or does true religion mirror the pattern of Sinai, where knowledge of God results from God coming down from heaven to establish fellowship with humanity?

Paul tells us in this passage that fellowship with God is a product of God's decision to come down to us. He tells us that this can be seen through the cross.
• What kind of picture of God is presented by today's human wisdom?
• How does God work in your life in unexpected ways?

Watch this excerpt from preacher, Matt Chandler.
• What truths about Christianity would sound crazy to someone who has never heard it?
• How can we believe and live the gospel if it sounds so foolish?
• Should we defend or embrace the idea of a foolish gospel? Explain.
• What types of things does the world tell us to seek after?

Give an example of how someone would be perceived as foolish for not seeking those things.
• Is it easier to follow Christ or the world at your work and home? Explain.
• What makes someone willing to accept another’s perception of foolishness for the gospel?

Study Resources for January 26, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

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We are continuing our study in 1 Corinthians and this week we will be looking at how the early church struggled with different opinions.
Watch the video clip  "Reconciling with Dad" from the movie Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.
• What are some things you dislike?
• What type of people do you dislike?
• If the world was ending (like in this movie clip), would it be easier to forgive others? Why does it matter?
• Why can't we all just get along?”

Today there are many distinct groups in the Christian faith.
• Were "denominations" inevitable?
• Are there some advantages to having multiple denominations? How about disadvantages?
• What can be the danger to the Christian witness?

Read today's scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:10-17.

• What is the church arguing about in this passage?
• What problems were those disagreements causing?
• How did Paul suggest they handle their disagreements?
• How does the division in the church rob the cross of its power, as Paul suggests?

Disagreements and quarrels persist in our churches today. Many churches struggle over doctrine, authority and interpretation of scripture, and vision. The words that Paul wrote to the church at Corinth have not succeeded in bringing total unity to the church today.
• Do Paul's words have relevance for the contemporary church? Why or why not?
• Why do you think God chose the church?

Chloe was apparently a leader in the Corinthian church. She sent people to Paul to make him aware of certain concerns that she had. The divisions in the church were more than mere opinions. There were quarrels that led to deep divisions. The Greek word in verse 10 for divisions is "schismata."  This is where we get our word "schism." Looking back over church history, we know that schisms have led to inquisitions, persecutions and executions. They were justified on the basis of theological correctness and moral purity.

Although we aren't exactly sure of everything in this particular church conflict, we can guess that the emphasis on individual freedom at the expense of the community and the disregard of the poor may be at the core of some of their problems. Paul will talk about this later on in his book.

Paul was upset. He spends the first 4 chapters of this book urging unity within the church.
Paul challenges the church to "say the same thing." In Greek literature this is a common phrase that means to live in political and social unity.
• How in the world can we do that?

One commentator expresses it this way, "We can seek to deal with the tragedy of our divisions as we focus not on the power struggles or on the wisdom that we have accumulated, but on the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ, most fully expressed in His suffering death on the cross, which to us who are being saved is the power of God."
• How can we do this, really?

The New Baptist Covenant is a movement to bring various Baptists together in a community to work for the common good as a united witness for Christ. They have discovered that working on behalf of others is something that can unite different kinds of Christian believers. Stephen Reeves, the CBF associate coordinator of partnerships and advocacy says, "Advocacy is putting your neighbor's needs ahead of your own needs, which comes in stark contrast to lobbying for your own self-interest. For churches, the first thing to think about is your community. It starts by looking outward and becoming a voice for the folks you see in your community."

• How can we do that here in Richmond?
• What are some ways we can partner with other denominations to bring the kingdom of God to Richmond?

Paul alludes to his weaknesses and the fact that he was a sinner and was not the most articulate spokesperson God could have called. He was not interested in becoming a celebrity Christian in the Corinthian church. He wanted to be a support and a guide toward unity.

• In a world that celebrates confrontation, glamorizes getting all we can in any situation, and sees winning as the ultimate priority, how can we be a humble, loving, unity seeking church that puts others first and seeks God's authority?

• What is the mission of our church?
• How hard are we working to bring about the purpose of our church?
• Do you sometimes feel like a warrior fighting a losing battle?

Watch "The Dark World" from Marvel's Thor.

• Overall, do you help or hinder God’s will?
• What is your purpose in being a part of your church?
• Are we truly fulfilling the purpose of Christ or do we pretend we have it under control with fires burning around us? Wouldn’t it be nice if God came down in a miraculous way, like Thor, to help us?
• If that happened, would we pretend we have it all under control anyway?

• What would unity look like in our church and community?
• What can we do to help God’s will for unity in our world?

Study Resources for January 19, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

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This Sunday we are in 1 Corinthians. We will be in Corinthians for a couple of weeks so we can settle here and enjoy the visit.

Watch  "Show Us a Sign" from the movie The Messenger.
• What do you know about Joan of Arc?
• Does it seem silly to think about a teenager leading an army?
• Would you have believed her?
• Where did she find her strength to proclaim her beliefs and stand before the leaders to ask for an army?

Corinth facts:
It was an important stop on the trade route for the East.
It was the center of Roman government for the province of Achaia
It was an eclectic cosmopolitan city.
It was famous for immorality and depravity.
It was home to a variety of belief systems.
Rituals of their pagan neighbors had a strong influence on the church's worship.

One important dynamic in human relationships is the perceptions that we have of ourselves and others. We act and react to others out of the perceptions we have. As Paul begins his letter to the church at Corinth, he expresses both his perception of himself and his perception of the church. Both those perceptions make a strong impact on what Paul writes and how he deals with the people.

Read 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
• How does Paul see himself?
• How does Paul see the people of Corinth?

Paul has no illusions about the Corinthian Church. He has heard about their quarrels and divisions. Yet Paul begins his letter by affirming his understanding of who they are and reminding them of who they are called to be in Christ. When Paul calls attention their shortcomings, he does so because he is calling them to be who God has called them to be.

C.S. Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters, letters from a devil named Screwtape to his nephew on earth named Wormwood. Wormwood is charged with keeping his patient in the clutches of the devil. In one of the letters, Screwtape rebukes Wormwood because his patient has become a Christian, but he tells Wormwood how to fix the situation:

"One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me, I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity. Fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate. When he goes inside, he sees the local grocer with rather an oily expression on his face bustling up to offer him one shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither of them understands. When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbors whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbors. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like the body of Christ and the actual faces in the next pew."
• Does Satan still use these kinds of tactics in our today?
• How effective are they?

Paul begins his letter to the church with a clear perception of who these people are (v.2). The church can be called to be what God intends it to be only when we have a clear perception of who these people are and what grace has brought them to this place.
• What do you think?
• What does it mean for us to be "holy people?"

In spite of all the failures of the people of Corinth, Paul can see the gifts of God in that community. Paul sees them as having been enriched, receiving the ability for speech and having been given knowledge. And on top of all of that, they are not lacking in any spiritual gift. As we look at our own churches, our weaknesses and failures are often to obvious. Paul can teach us to be grateful for the gifts that God has given to our church.
• What are some gifts He has gifted to this church?

The church is rich in blessings, not because of the accomplishments of the people within the fellowship, but because of the grace of God that has enriched and sustained the people.
• If we really believe that, why do we try to take the credit?

One final perspective Paul has is that even though the church is not fulfilled in the present, it waits for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ (v.7). The church seeks to minister in this day and to be faithful in this day looking with hope toward a future when the church will be perfected.
• Why do you think God chose the church?
• Did the Corinthian church have potential?
• What kind of potential do you see in our church?
• Why do you think God puts up with the church and all of its flaws?
• Why do you think the Corinthians needed to be reminded that God is faithful?

Watch the video clip  "Like Human Beings" from the movie Defiance.
• How would you feel as a refugee hunted by a powerful military?
• Would it have been easier to give up or keep going?
• Would it have been easier for the Corinthian church to give up instead of pressing on?
• What about your church?
• If you were Tuvia, where would you find strength to lead?
• Where should we find our strength?
• What does that really look like?
• For these refugees every day of freedom was an act of faith, so how do we live as an act of faith?
• Should we ask God for the strength to do that?
• How do we ask God?

If God has called us to live as human beings then God will provide the Spirit and strength, right? Paul uses the word "called" several times.
• What do you think it means to be called?
• Have you ever been called?
• What did that feel like?
• What did that mean for you?
• Do you think you have found God's calling in your life?
• How do you know?

If we look closely at the three times Paul uses the word called (v.1,2,and 9), is he talking about doing something or about being something?
• Is there a difference and if so, what is that difference?
• What comes first the doing or the being?
• How does what we do shape who we become?

Frederick Buechner says, "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."

It seems that there are two points that we can take from this scripture lesson to the world:
1. God is faithful
2. God's call for us is to become a community of faith and put into action all that we know about God and who we are in response to Him.

Show us our calling, and give us the grace to follow it.

Study Resources for January 12, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

We are now in the book of Acts. The title of this lesson is "Who Converted Whom?" It is an powerful passage that is as powerful today as it was when it was in the early church. Let's dive in!

We grow up assuming that the customs we were raised with are "normal."
• Have you ever traveled to a foreign country?
• What custom differences did you notice?
• What American custom/tradition/law do you think would be the most surprising to someone visiting from another nation?

When we go into a different culture, we realize that, although many things may be basically the same, there is a "different normal" for people from different countries.
• When have you needed a different perspective?
• Did it take something like a vision from God for you to see the light?

Watch "The Raiders" from The Big Bang Theory
• Can you think of a time that an encounter with someone changed your view on life?”
• What do you know about the Biblical narrative of Peter and Cornelius?

In Acts 10:9-16, we see Peter having a vision about food. Peter went up on the roof to pray and became hungry. He had a vision of heaven opening up and down came a large sheet that contained all kinds of food that Jews were not supposed to eat and a voice told him to get up and eat. He was sure that he wasn't supposed to eat anything that was seen as impure or unclean. This happened three times and the sheet went back to heaven. Peter was puzzled and couldn't get this vision out of his mind.

Simon Peter grew up in a Jewish family with its religious rituals and rules. Some of these rules had to do with what someone may and may not eat. This is called "kosher." Even today, observant Jews are careful to only eat kosher foods. According to one rabbi, "The short answer to why Jews observe these laws is, because the Torah says so. The Torah does not specify any reason for these laws, and for a Torah-observant, traditional Jew, there is no need for any other reason."

We are all sensitive to the issues with which Peter was struggling when he encountered Cornelius. These issues are deeply rooted in the human experience. People isolate themselves from one another. People find identity within a group, and fear that they will lose that identity if they do not guard their separateness. We find it difficult to relate or to associate with someone who is different from us. We have a sense that we will lose our status within our own group if we dare to reach out to those on the outside. If the ways in which we deal with and relate to others are challenged, it is no simple matter to change our mind and to act in a different way. Prejudice runs deep.

Three men come to see Peter from Cornelius the Centurion. Cornelius wants Peter to come and talk with him. Peter invites the men into the house to be his guests and they left the next morning to see Cornelius.

In our country, we have had major transitions in what was considered "right."
• What are some cultural shifts you have seen in your lifetime?

For Peter, the release of restrictive rules about food was just the beginning. There were also people with whom Jews were not to associate. Cornelius and his friends were seen as unclean by the
Jews. Peter goes to Cornelius' house and finds that he is a devout man who fears God (vs.2).
• What do you think is the significance of God giving Peter this vision before he met Cornelius?

Now to our focal passage for today. It is here that we see the message of good news to the non-Jews.

Read Acts 10:34-43
Over night, Peter's perspective changed! Salvation was not only for the Jews, but also for all people, including Roman soldiers like Cornelius.

Watch a clip from the movie 12 Angry Men.
• What did you think of the way the other juror’s treated the man’s prejudice?
• How did it effect the prejudice man? How did this make you feel?
• How do you know if you are prejudice against something/someone?
• How do we face up to that?
• When we think we have God’s favor, who do we consider different enough to be left out of God’s favor?
• How do we as a church begin to embrace those who we have always seen as being left out?
• What will it take for the church to face its' prejudices and move past it?

Through his own process of discovery, Peter finds that his understanding and interpretation of some truths and laws were somewhat flawed. In verse 34, Peter restates an Old Testament principle found in Deut.10:17. It wasn't a new thought, but Peter discovers that God's impartiality extends to people. Peter's discovery indicates that the door is now open for the inclusion of all people into
the kingdom.

Watch a clip from the movie Undercover Boss.

• Who needed to change in this clip?
• Did the boss know everything?
• Did he need to listen to an employee?
• Do we need to listen to others even if they do not share our view or culture?
• If we are all created in God’s image, then do we all have equal value?
• Do we limit the spreading of the Gospel by forcing our culture/views on others?
• How can we overcome the prejudices of our work, family, church, and culture?

It is a difficult matter indeed for us to break through the limitations of how we see and deal with others. Our only hope is to be open to the Spirit and to seek an ever new understanding of the God who "shows no partiality."


Study Resources for January 5, 2014

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

We are going to be in the first chapter of John this week, John 1:10-18. It is almost impossible to begin with the tenth verse. I encourage you to start with verse 1.
We will be talking this week about the Word. I began to think about words and how we all use them. I am always surprised at the some of the choices of words people use in their everyday vocabulary. I have read research that says that women use between 18,000-20,000 words a day and men use between 800 and 10,000. Now my question is who is sitting around counting all of that?! Words are extremely powerful and so many times we are very careless with our words. The Word is unlike any other! This Word heals, restores, graces, saves, pardons, and loves.

John 1:1-18.
John's opening words are unlike other nativity stories. Instead of "a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger," John begins with words that reflect all the way back to creation.

Watch this brief Bible Text Animation.

• How many times have you heard this passage?
• Do you thoroughly understand it?
• How would you explain it to someone that had never heard it before?
• How miraculous is it that the Word (God) became flesh for us?
• When we use the word, "word," we might mean several different things. What are some ways we use "word" in our culture?
Our text this week focuses on this word, "word." In the first five verses, the Greek word for word is "logos." Like our "word," logos can have different meanings, depending on the speaker and the context.
Dr. William Hull said that "word" can be approached in three ways. "Word" - "as divine power to the Jews, as rational principle to the Greeks, and as redemptive proclamation to the early Christians."
How would you describe the word "logos?"
For us, Logos refers to the person of Jesus Christ.
Notice that John's Gospel begins like the first three words in our Bible. "In the beginning" John is using Genesis 1 as a template; John is saying that Jesus and God are one and the same.
Here, the light of the world is appearing in the dark world-darkened by sin and evil.
• How did the world react to Jesus?
• How does the world react to Jesus today?
One way to reject or to reduce the Light of the World is by recasting the Light, to put a lampshade over the Light.
• What are some ways the world puts a lampshade over the Light?
• In verse 12, John talks about believing in "His Name." What does that mean?

Dr. Hull says, "Grace without truth is easily seen as sentimentality while truth without grace can appear to be an inflexible rigidity." Verse 14 tells us that Jesus has both grace and truth.
• Why does He need both?
• Can we balance truth and grace in our world? How so?

Watch this clip from CBS Evening News On the Road.

• How does this video reflect the balance of grace and truth in the lives of these middle school boys?
• How can we incorporate a balance of grace and truth in our lives?
• Does having God who became one of us encourage us to help others?

Watch "Not One of Them" from the movie Superman Returns.

• How is the fictional character of Superman like Jesus?
• How is he not like Jesus?
• How does Superman deal with truth and grace?
• Do we live like people who have a Savior not just a comic book superhero?
Tony Cartlege says, "To put John's words in simplistic terms, Jesus left heaven and came to earth to engage with humans so that humans can leave earth and enjoy a heavenly relationship with God."
• Do you think this adequately describes John's words?
• If not what would you add?

In early Jewish writings, the most frequent terms used to indicate God's activity were terms that would be translated as "Word," "Presence," and "Glory." For example, in describing God's work, the rabbi would say, that the Word spoke, the Presence dwelt, and Glory appeared. There was a strict prohibition on using God's name in early writings—even the Hebrew versions of "God" and "Lord"—because it was thought to be presumptuous. The custom of avoiding any public use of God's name continues among observant Jews, who avoid either saying or writing "Yahweh," "God," or "Lord." Instead they are likely to refer to God as "the Holy One, blessed be He," or "the Name," (in Hebrew, HaShem).

• How did John reflect these thought in verse 14?

• In our culture, we appear to take the name of God very lightly. What happened?

• In verse 14, John uses 3 words to describe Jesus, "word, presence or dwelling, and glory." Why does he use these words to describe Jesus?
The purpose of Jesus coming to live among us is found at the end of this passage in verse 18: to make God known.
• What are some things you know about God because "the Word became flesh" in Jesus Christ?
It is here in these words that we see God revealing more of Himself to us through Jesus. It took creation-light and life. It took a human baby to show us what God looks like. It took the sharing of life—He "lived" among us and therefore, we can enter into a new relationship with Him; we were once no people but, now we are called "children of God."

In the Cotton Patch version of the New Testament, Clarence Jordan translates these verses like this, "The Word was made flesh and moved into the neighborhood. When the Word moved in, He had a kind of glory that we all could see-a one-of-a-kind glory like God We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish." Jesus was generous not for what He could get, but for what He could give. The Word did the right thing for the right reason because He was generous inside and out. The Word has integrity, honesty and wholeness. The Word has no break or impurity. The Word is true from beginning to end, from start to finish.

Some people are impressed by the power of the Almighty God that created all things. Others are impressed by the omniscience of God, the fact that God knows everything at the same time. I am most impressed with the love of God, because it is love that brings God to the neighborhood. As this kind of love moves into our neighborhoods again this new year, how can we celebrate it and share it in new ways with those that are in the most need?

Study Resources for December 22, 2013

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

What keeps you going? Fear or hope?

Watch "Christmas Is More" from the movie How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

• What did the Grinch think Christmas was about? What revelation did he have about Christmas?
• Do you think he still missed the point? Why or why not?
• Describe the Christmas traditions or patterns that take place in your home on Christmas.
• If an observer watched your family celebrate Christmas, what would they likely perceive that Christmas was all about? Why?
• What might your celebration look like if it were only focused on the birth of Christ? Why?

Today we are in Isaiah 7:10-17.

• Think for a moment about your deepest hopes. Is hope just a feeling, or does deep hope also urge us to action in some way? Explain.

Let's look a little at Ahaz in this passage. You can find out a lot about Ahaz in 2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28. Ahaz is the king of the southern Kingdom (Judah). The Assyrian King, Tiglath Pileser III, is expanding his kingdom by taking over nations west of Assyria. The kings of Syria and the Northern Kingdom (Israel) have allied together and urged Ahaz to join them.

Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king and he reigned in Jerusalem for sixteen years. Ahaz ignored the prophet Isaiah's advice to put his trust in God rather than in military alliances. Turning to the Assyrian empire, he purchased aid with treasures from the temple and the king's palace. The strategy worked temporarily. But Ahaz opened the doors for an invasion by the Assyrians later. He made copies of foreign gods and set them up in Jerusalem. He went so far as to sacrifice his sons in fire, to mirror the practices of foreign nations. Scripture says that in every town in Judah he built high places to burn sacrifices to other gods and provoked the LORD. When he died, he was buried in the city of Jerusalem and not in the tombs of the kings of Israel.

Let's read Isaiah 7:10-17.

• Isaiah the prophet gives Ahaz a prophecy, telling Ahaz to "take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint" about these two kings. "If you do not stand firm in the faith, you will not stand at all." What do you think he means by this?

• What do you think Isaiah means by, asking for anything "as deep as Sheol or as high as heaven?"
• Can we ask God for anything as deep as Sheol or as high as heaven? Do we?
This text is a powerful witness to God's work in the world. Ahaz and his subjects are terrified at the impending attack from Assyria which threatens not only the survival of the nation, but also the promise that a descendant of David would always reign in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 7:11-16). In this time of national terror, YHWH sends Isaiah to reassure Ahaz of divine protection. In Verse 10, YHWH speaks to Ahaz through Isaiah. It isn't clear how much time has elapsed since verses 1-9, but Ahaz apparently had not demonstrated the faith that Isaiah had demanded. The prophet offers Ahaz a sign to improve his confidence. Ahaz refuses and a frustrated Isaiah responds that YHWH will give him a sign anyway, the birth of a child.

• Why do you think Ahaz turned down this offer of a sign?

By giving the sign anyway, God shows Israel steadfast faithfulness and grace.
• How is God being faithful to us today?
• Where can God be seen and known?
• Where is God breaking into the world?
• Can you see God's gracious activity in our lives and in our world?
• Is God gracious and faithful to us sometimes despite our objections?
At first glance, it seem that Ahaz is piously following the law of God in Deuteronomy 6:16, but, as Isaiah makes clear, the king is missing the point of God's offer. Ahaz does not test God if he accepts God's free offer, rather God is testing Ahaz. When Ahaz refuses the sign, he is actually refusing to trust in the living God who is speaking to him.

• How does God meet you in unexpected ways, with unexpected grace?
• Can you think of answers that sound righteous but are actually refusals of God's grace?
• What is it like to trust in God's living presence in hard and sometimes frightening situations?
• Do you think we ever try the patience of God?
One commentator makes the statement that Ahaz reacted out of fear rather than faith.
• Do we ever do that? How effective is it?
• How would this child with this name be a sign for King Ahaz and the nation?

The sign God gives in Isaiah arouses hope. At the same time it opens up the gap between what the world is and what it ought to be. There is a sharp contrast between the world as it is and the world that God intended for it to be.

In Matthew 1:18-25 we read about the birth of God's gift to the world. Let's read Matthew 1:18-25 and see how God demonstrated His gracious love to us with the birth of Jesus.
• Is it reassuring that God continues in history to remind us that God is with us?
• What does Advent mean to you in your life?
• Do your thoughts of Advent include the idea of Jesus' second coming?
• Is judgment a part of your thought process when you think about Jesus coming again?
• Does the idea of Jesus' return give you hope?
• Do you think that the only thing stronger than fear is hope?
• Can you have too much hope?
• Can hope ever be dangerous?
• How can we avoid misplaced hope?
• How can we show our hope to the world?
• Does your hope lead you to feel that God is really "with us"?
• So, what is the real point of Advent?
• In the Isaiah passage, does it end (v.17) with a positive promise?
• We usually think of Emmanuel-God With Us- as a positive sign. How would Ahaz and Judah view it differently at this time?
• Why is God's presence-within us and among us- not always such a comfortable thing?
• Why is God's presence usually a blessing and a conviction?
• How can we make the blessing of Gods presence a reality in our life?

Watch "Working Christmas Eve" from the movie The Family Man. 

• What were the expectations versus reality that the businessmen had to deal with?
• What good news were they expecting?
If you have seen the movie, you know that Nicholas Cage's character changes as the movie concludes.
• From this clip, what appears to need changing?
• What are some events that happen in a person’s life that cause one to change?

• How did Jesus call people to change?
• How does remembering Advent cause us to rethink our lives?
• Dr. William Hull said, "The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for and the most you can do is to live inside that hope; not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof."
• How would living in hope change you this Christmas?

• What areas of your life might God be trying to transform in you during this Advent season?
As we think about transformation, I am reminded of a young woman a long time ago that could trust God enough with her reputation, her future, her body-with everything. Her final words to the angel, "Let it be."
Oh that we could experience that kind of transforming power in our lives this Christmas season.
"Let it be."

Study Resources for December 22, 2013

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

What keeps you going? Fear or hope?

Watch "Christmas Is More" from the movie How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

• What did the Grinch think Christmas was about? What revelation did he have about Christmas?
• Do you think he still missed the point? Why or why not?
• Describe the Christmas traditions or patterns that take place in your home on Christmas.
• If an observer watched your family celebrate Christmas, what would they likely perceive that Christmas was all about? Why?
• What might your celebration look like if it were only focused on the birth of Christ? Why?

Today we are in Isaiah 7:10-17.

• Think for a moment about your deepest hopes. Is hope just a feeling, or does deep hope also urge us to action in some way? Explain.

Let's look a little at Ahaz in this passage. You can find out a lot about Ahaz in 2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28. Ahaz is the king of the southern Kingdom (Judah). The Assyrian King, Tiglath Pileser III, is expanding his kingdom by taking over nations west of Assyria. The kings of Syria and the Northern Kingdom (Israel) have allied together and urged Ahaz to join them.

Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king and he reigned in Jerusalem for sixteen years. Ahaz ignored the prophet Isaiah's advice to put his trust in God rather than in military alliances. Turning to the Assyrian empire, he purchased aid with treasures from the temple and the king's palace. The strategy worked temporarily. But Ahaz opened the doors for an invasion by the Assyrians later. He made copies of foreign gods and set them up in Jerusalem. He went so far as to sacrifice his sons in fire, to mirror the practices of foreign nations. Scripture says that in every town in Judah he built high places to burn sacrifices to other gods and provoked the LORD. When he died, he was buried in the city of Jerusalem and not in the tombs of the kings of Israel.

Let's read Isaiah 7:10-17.

• Isaiah the prophet gives Ahaz a prophecy, telling Ahaz to "take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint" about these two kings. "If you do not stand firm in the faith, you will not stand at all." What do you think he means by this?

• What do you think Isaiah means by, asking for anything "as deep as Sheol or as high as heaven?"
• Can we ask God for anything as deep as Sheol or as high as heaven? Do we?
This text is a powerful witness to God's work in the world. Ahaz and his subjects are terrified at the impending attack from Assyria which threatens not only the survival of the nation, but also the promise that a descendant of David would always reign in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 7:11-16). In this time of national terror, YHWH sends Isaiah to reassure Ahaz of divine protection. In Verse 10, YHWH speaks to Ahaz through Isaiah. It isn't clear how much time has elapsed since verses 1-9, but Ahaz apparently had not demonstrated the faith that Isaiah had demanded. The prophet offers Ahaz a sign to improve his confidence. Ahaz refuses and a frustrated Isaiah responds that YHWH will give him a sign anyway, the birth of a child.

• Why do you think Ahaz turned down this offer of a sign?

By giving the sign anyway, God shows Israel steadfast faithfulness and grace.
• How is God being faithful to us today?
• Where can God be seen and known?
• Where is God breaking into the world?
• Can you see God's gracious activity in our lives and in our world?
• Is God gracious and faithful to us sometimes despite our objections?
At first glance, it seem that Ahaz is piously following the law of God in Deuteronomy 6:16, but, as Isaiah makes clear, the king is missing the point of God's offer. Ahaz does not test God if he accepts God's free offer, rather God is testing Ahaz. When Ahaz refuses the sign, he is actually refusing to trust in the living God who is speaking to him.

• How does God meet you in unexpected ways, with unexpected grace?
• Can you think of answers that sound righteous but are actually refusals of God's grace?
• What is it like to trust in God's living presence in hard and sometimes frightening situations?
• Do you think we ever try the patience of God?
One commentator makes the statement that Ahaz reacted out of fear rather than faith.
• Do we ever do that? How effective is it?
• How would this child with this name be a sign for King Ahaz and the nation?

The sign God gives in Isaiah arouses hope. At the same time it opens up the gap between what the world is and what it ought to be. There is a sharp contrast between the world as it is and the world that God intended for it to be.

In Matthew 1:18-25 we read about the birth of God's gift to the world. Let's read Matthew 1:18-25 and see how God demonstrated His gracious love to us with the birth of Jesus.
• Is it reassuring that God continues in history to remind us that God is with us?
• What does Advent mean to you in your life?
• Do your thoughts of Advent include the idea of Jesus' second coming?
• Is judgment a part of your thought process when you think about Jesus coming again?
• Does the idea of Jesus' return give you hope?
• Do you think that the only thing stronger than fear is hope?
• Can you have too much hope?
• Can hope ever be dangerous?
• How can we avoid misplaced hope?
• How can we show our hope to the world?
• Does your hope lead you to feel that God is really "with us"?
• So, what is the real point of Advent?
• In the Isaiah passage, does it end (v.17) with a positive promise?
• We usually think of Emmanuel-God With Us- as a positive sign. How would Ahaz and Judah view it differently at this time?
• Why is God's presence-within us and among us- not always such a comfortable thing?
• Why is God's presence usually a blessing and a conviction?
• How can we make the blessing of Gods presence a reality in our life?

Watch "Working Christmas Eve" from the movie The Family Man. 

• What were the expectations versus reality that the businessmen had to deal with?
• What good news were they expecting?
If you have seen the movie, you know that Nicholas Cage's character changes as the movie concludes.
• From this clip, what appears to need changing?
• What are some events that happen in a person’s life that cause one to change?

• How did Jesus call people to change?
• How does remembering Advent cause us to rethink our lives?
• Dr. William Hull said, "The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for and the most you can do is to live inside that hope; not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof."
• How would living in hope change you this Christmas?

• What areas of your life might God be trying to transform in you during this Advent season?
As we think about transformation, I am reminded of a young woman a long time ago that could trust God enough with her reputation, her future, her body-with everything. Her final words to the angel, "Let it be."
Oh that we could experience that kind of transforming power in our lives this Christmas season.
"Let it be."

Study Resources for December 15, 2013

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

• If you could change one thing about this world, what would it be? Why?
• What do you wish God would do to restore this world?

We are in Isaiah again this week and we have another passage on peace.
• How do you define peace? What does peace look like to you?
Last week we talked about Isaiah's hope for peace on earth and this week our passage not only talks about peace on earth, it even foresees peace in the animal kingdom. This passage contains the most complete descriptions of the personal characteristics of the Messianic King to be found in the Old Testament. As Christians we cannot help but look at this Old Testament scripture through the lens of Jesus. So, when we read this passage we recognize Jesus because this is a prophesy of the Messiah. But the original listeners, 600-800 years before Jesus' birth saw this passage as more about nationalism than eternal salvation.
Isn't it often true that we do not recognize God or God's Word and works until we take a backwards view?
During Advent, we read scriptures that, to us, obviously talk about Jesus. But to the people who lived and walked during the time that this book was written did not understand all that Isaiah was saying.

Let's look at some of the images that Isaiah uses.
First there is the shoot coming from the stump of Jesse. Isaiah was not the only prophet to speak of a coming king as a shoot or branch from the stump of Jesse.
Jeremiah 23:5-6, Zechariah 3:8, 6:12. All three scriptures used the image of Israel as a great tree, especially when under David's leadership, that had been cut down. But from a stump that appeared lifeless and dead, the prophets saw a new shoot springing up, a branch that would grow strong with new life and bring renewed hope to God's people.
• What situations in our world today seem hopeless or dead?
• Do we really believe that God can restore and bring life out of relationships, situations, and lives that appear to be dead?
Jesse was the father of King David. David was Israel's greatest king, the king against which all other rulers were compared.
• What was a stump before it became a stump? Isaiah is mourning the loss of the Northern Kingdom/Israel to the Assyrians, and fears that Assyria may come and take the Southern Kingdom/Judah as well. Assyria took the brightest and the best, the strongest and the healthiest. They scattered these people of Israel throughout the Assyrian Empire. What was left was a shadow of what had been an nation.
• I think that the world tries to scatter us today. It tries to separate us from what is truly important and fragment us. Do you feel scattered today? How so?
Isaiah has a hope that new life will spring from this stump. This new ruler will have the Spirit of God resting on Him. Whenever in the Old Testament the Spirit of the Lord is given to men it is in order that they may be divinely equipped for some demanding task. Basically the Spirit of the Lord connotes power, and those upon whom the Spirit rests act with wisdom and strength that comes from God. This is one Spirit that rests upon him here. It is described in several ways, but one Spirit. The remainder of v. 2 is describing the working of the Spirit in His life. He will have wisdom.
• What is knowledge?
• What is wisdom?
Knowledge as the Hebrews understood it meant more than possessing certain information, it meant "understanding that could be gained only on the basis of a close personal relationship." To fear the Lord meant "to be reverent before Him." To know and to fear the Lord, therefore, was the essence of Old Testament faith. In this passage the knowledge of the Lord begins with the Messiah and ends as a gift to all of us (v.9).
• How can we know and fear the Lord today?

Watch "Fluffy Prize" from the movie Despicable Me.
• Is revenge ever a good option? Can we seek peace through revenge?
• Should we use force to accomplish what is right?
• What about if the evil is really annoying and harmful to those who are helpless?

Read Isaiah 11:1-10.
• What symbols of restoration are revealed in this passage?
• What do you think this passage meant to the original hearers?
• What characteristics of this ruler do you most admire?
• What leadership qualities would you add to the list?
• What do you think that a judge/ruler would look like and what kind of justice would he bring?
• Is justice easy to find?
• How does the world achieve peace?
• Does it differ from God's idea of peace?

• How possible or practical was this vision of a peaceable kingdom in Isaiah's day?
• Does it seem likely today?
• Do we need a vision or a goal to achieve greatness?
• How difficult is it for people to be peaceful in our city? What about in our church and family?

• Do you think Isaiah's imagery about the animals is realistic? Why or why not?
• What is the significance of this part of the passage?

Watch "Reconciliation and forgiveness start here" from the movie Invictus.

• How does this clip relate to this week’s text?
• Why was Mandela’s officer so reluctant to accept the men Mandela had appointed?
• Do you think it was easy for Mandela to put the past behind him? Why or why not?
• Why did he choose to forgive and reconcile?
• What would have happened if Mandela held on to his own bitterness?
• Who in our culture do you find yourself in disagreement with?
• If you are willing to share, whom would you consider to be an enemy?
• How does our bitterness and disunity affected our attitude and demeanor?
• How does the message in this week’s text from Isaiah speak to what you might be experiencing in relationships?
• How might our actions change in order to bring about peace? How does the notion of “peace starts here” apply to your life?
• What can we do on a regular basis to help bring peace? What would it take for us to truly pray for peace? Is our church willing to work toward peace this Advent?

Watch "No More Blood" from the movie The Messenger. 

• If we are bringing the kingdom of God to Richmond, what part does peace play in that process?

Study Resources for December 1, 2013

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent. This is the season of expectation and anticipation. We begin the countdown to Christmas. It really is just around the corner! Today we are going to be talking about peace and hope.

• What do you really want for Christmas?
• If you could have a perfect Christmas, what would it look like?
• What does this world need this holiday season?
• How does our world define peace?
• How does our world define hope?
• Do these definitions differ from how God defines peace and hope?
During Advent, there is anticipation that something good is on the way. This is the season of hope.

Watch this clip from the movie Man of Steel.
• Do you have a personal symbol of hope?
• When you are going through tough times, what gives you hope?

• Is peace realistic?
• What would peace require?
• Are we willing to work for it?
Weapons and war are in our news all the time. It is hard to imagine life without them. According to the website www.InternationalRelations.com, there are 14 ongoing wars in the world today. In our own country, debates rage about the accessibility of guns and gun ownership/control. The Bible can be used to support any side of these discussions, but I think we all would probably agree that in an ideal world, people would get along with one another. In the US, 19% of our nation's budget is for the defense of our nation. Just imagine if we did not need to use all of that money for weapons and war. I do think that a world without war is just a dream, but it is "The" dream of God according to Isaiah.
• In what ways do war and weaponry become a thief of hope?
• How does reliance on violence to solve conflict affect our relationship with God?
• Have you ever had a "swords into plowshares" experience? (For example, a conflict that produced a creative solution or a new relationship?)

Watch "Fluffy Prize" from the movie Despicable Me. 
• Is revenge ever a good option?
• Should we use force to accomplish what is right?
• What about if the evil is really annoying and harmful to those who are helpless?
• Do we see weapons as power?
• Does that not make it tough to seek peace when we have a desire for power through armed forces?
• Are we willing to work for peace?
• Do we need peace in our individual lives before we get peace in our world?

Isaiah lived during a crucial time, midway between the founding of the kingdom under Saul and David and its eventual destruction. A civil war had split the Israelites into the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom, and Isaiah lived in the Southern Kingdom. When Isaiah began his work, the nation seemed strong and wealthy, but Isaiah saw signs of danger. People were using their power to harass the poor and they weren't taking care of the widows and children. People were giving lip service to God and kept up the outward appearances of religion but had no deep relationship with God. The armies of neighboring countries were threatening Israel and huge empires were growing. Egypt and Assyria were very powerful. The Israelites were in the middle and needed to make a choice about where they would place their trust. Isaiah warned the people that relying on military power or wealth or any force other than God would lead them to disaster.

This week's lesson is from Isaiah 2:1-5.
The name Isaiah means "the Lord saves." His ministry lasted about 40 years. The word peace is used 26 times in this book and the word salvation is used 27 times.
• What would it be like to live in a world completely ruled by God's grace?
• In contrast, what difficulties did Israel face in this time?
• How would you feel living in those circumstances?
• What is Isaiah's dream for the people? For Jerusalem?
• How peaceful is Jerusalem today?
• How do we deal with that fact and this passage?
• Does Isaiah see a day that has already happened or one that is to come (or both)?

Watch "I'll do push-ups" from Coach Carter.
• How could the team have chosen to remain divided?
• Instead, how did their actions help them to grow closer as a team?
• How can we take the message of hope and peace into our world and create a little unity?

• Isaiah is speaking a message of hope to the Israelite people. Many of us live comfortable lives, but our world is certainly far from the peace that God calls us to. As Christians, how do we translate God's kind hope and peace into action?
• We ultimately have the same question given to us today that Isaiah was posing to the Israelites. Where do we place our trust? Our hope? Who is the source of our peace for today and for tomorrow?
One commentator writes, "Isaiah's words constitute a challenge to the modern concept that it is the nature of things to be at war. He would have rejected the notion that eternal conflict between nations and classes is inevitable. He also would have challenged the view that violent revolution is the only road to social and political justice. He saw a better solution to the world's problems. His view is that war is not an inevitable factor in human affairs but one that has developed from a body of acquired habits which could be replace by another set of habits better serving the interests of mankind." The words of this tremendous vision have appropriately been inscribed on the walls of the United Nations Plaza in New York: "The nations shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."

Study Resources for November 24, 2013

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.


Watch "Lead Them" from Braveheart.

• What hindered Robert the Bruce from being the best leader he could be?
• What did he have to do differently to lead the people to freedom?
• What characteristics make good leaders?
• How do people get hurt when leaders fail?
• Can you think of a time when a leader hurt others with bad decisions?

We are spending some time with the prophet Jeremiah today. Jeremiah shares with us some of the issues that can surround bad leadership. We can get a better understanding of Jeremiah 23 from looking at Jeremiah 21:11 - 22:30. It is in these verses about the house of David that Jeremiah names the failure of kings Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin. Jeremiah blames these kings for Judah's ultimate downfall. He blames these kings for failing to execute justice. Their greed for power and prosperity has led them away from the justice they are called to provide for the people.

God is bringing people together that have been scattered over many places. Jeremiah tells them that they have been scattered because of poor leadership and the times that people followed that leadership rather than listening to God. These leaders had taken advantage of their positions and served their own narrow interests. Does that sound familiar?

Their role as leaders had a religious dimension since these leaders represented God (YHWH) to these people. These leaders were considered God's anointed ones, called to lead in God's name and on God's behalf.

Looking through Jeremiah we are able to see that there were expectations for a righteous king. The promise of God does not stop at the effort to bring home the scattered ones, and to put in place new leaders, but it goes beyond the present to another time. Jeremiah's word is that God will raise up for the people a true heir of David's lineage. This is clearly a word of restoration. Here is a word that looks forward to the future, a different kind of future, that belongs to God and does not limit itself to the things of the past.

The text takes us from judgment to promise, and from what humans have messed up to what God is still able and willing to accomplish. Now that's good news.

• This kind of leadership is fully realized in Jesus Christ. Jesus reached out beyond the people's expectations with a model of radical inclusivity. As we look to Christ as the model shepherd or king, what can we learn for living in and engaging the world? The reign of Christ is the reign of peace not exclusion. The question for the church is how do we live faithful under this reign?

Read Jeremiah 23:1-8.

• The leaders of Judah were seen as shepherds to the people.
  When you think about shepherds, what comes to mind?
  Why is a shepherd such a good image and prototype to use for a leader of government, as these kings were supposed to be?
  How had these shepherds done a poor job?
  Who will now be the Shepherd, and how will he set things right? (vs.3-6)
• Why is this prophecy a beautiful dream for us today?
• Do you know any leaders who have already exemplified this kind of leadership?
• Even though the people of Judah did not see a literal fulfillment of this promise in verses 5-6, how do we understand Jesus as its ultimate fulfillment?
• The Exodus from Egypt was a defining event for God's people.
  What will be their new defining event, according to verses 7-8?
  What will God's power accomplish?
  What will be God's intent?
  How will this unity set them apart from the other people in the world?

Watch "I'll do push-ups" from Coach Carter.

• How did their actions help them to grow closer as a team?
• How did their actions foster unity?
• How can we change our actions to foster unity and hope rather than division?
• How does our response to disunity reflect our faith to others?

• Aren't we all leaders or role models in some way?
• What can we do to be better role models/leaders in God's world this week?

Watch "Get back up?" from The Karate Kid.
• Win or lose, should we fight hard even if we might fail?
• What are some ways we can get back up after things do not go our way?
• Does confessing our gratitude and personal weaknesses, like Mr. Han did, aid our ability to be Godly role models?

• Why are leaders often criticized?
• What should we do with really bad leaders?
• Do some leaders just care for "their people" rather than everybody?
• In this passage, it says that God will gather a remnant? What does this remnant mean?
• What does it mean that God will raise up a branch?

As God continually calls us back into relationship, we are called to look to the righteous branch of David, manifest in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and we are constantly to reorient our lives, proclaiming to all the love and grace in our God.

This passage speaks powerfully to what God will do the future and to what God is doing in the here and now. This word speaks to the possibilities of the present, as well as to the hopes of the future. God is able to do all of that under the same word of promise.

Study Resources for November 17, 2013

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.


• Nothing much is known about this prophet except what can be learned from his writings. His name means "my messenger" or "my angel." Malachi tries to get the people reconnected to God. Their faith had faded and the Israelites did not see that God loved them and they felt that serving God brought no real reward. The people had become lukewarm. "Malachi's people had kept their religion, but they had lost contact with the God whom the religion was all about." Malachi was the last Old Testament voice. For 400 years, it appeared that God was silent. It was during this time that the Pharisees led the Jewish people back to keeping the law of Moses. These laws became rituals. They forgot though that the law was not the point. The law was supposed to be a way to honor God and worship Him. Faith grows weary when we are just going through the motions and bound by rules and regulations. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah had predicted that great times of blessing would result from the rebuilding of the temple, but the temple had been rebuilt and the anticipated age of prosperity had not come. It seemed like God was not fulfilling the promises. Have you ever felt like God wasn't being faithful to the promises He made to you? How do you react?
• In today's text, God is pictured as overhearing our conversations. Does God know our thoughts and does He listen in on our conversations?

Watch "Ray's Not Invited" from Field of Dreams. 
• When it comes to your faith, do you ever wonder what is in it for you?
• How do you feel when others get the "good" stuff?
• If you were Ray, how would you feel not being invited?

Read Malachi 3:13 - 4:3.
• What is the major complaint Judah had against God?
• Why did they think they should prosper rather than the evildoers?
• What is the Lord's response to their complaints?
• What does the distinction God makes between the righteous and the wicked look like?
God hears and sees those people that have spoken encouragement over others. He says He is going to put those names in a book.
• Can you think of someone whose conversations have shaped you toward faithfulness? Whose words have given you encouragement?
• Do you ever get excited to serve God, but then we lose interest? Why?
• Do you feel like you are God's treasured possession?

• If we truly felt special, why doesn't that translate into our everyday lives in the way we treat ourselves and others?
• What do you expect from God?
• Do you expect special privileges like protection from disease and pain?

Watch this clip from The Wizard of Oz.
• Was the Wizard bad?
• Why couldn't he fulfill his promises?
• Did he actually give them what they were looking for? Why or why not?
• Why were the characters happy with their gifts even though they were not what they thought they would be?
• Do you think the Wizard makes up for his lack of wizardry?
• How is this similar or different from the way God relates to us?
• Why do people expect wealth, health, or happiness from God?

• How do you feel when other people get rewards that you may feel faithful Christians actually deserve?
• How do you make sense when bad things happen to good people?
• Does this ever affect your faith?
• What reward are you looking for in your relationship with God?
• What happens if you don't get it?
• Do earthly rewards paint a picture of who in this world is righteous and who is evil? Why or why not?
• If we are not guaranteed earthly rewards, what is the point of worshipping and serving God?

• Though a quick reading of Malachi appears to focus on judgment rather than hope, a commentator argues that "the prophet's purpose was to insure his people that God still loved them and was keeping His covenant with them."
Do we ever confuse God's message?
Do we need to be reminded of God's love and His promises?
• God's timing is not our timing. We believe that God will fulfill HIs covenant and will keep His promises-but sometimes that takes a long time. In the process, some become disillusioned and impatient. We have the option of becoming cynical or faithful. Which one do you want to be?

• Do we need to renew our covenant with God reminding us that we depend on Gods grace and not our own efforts?
• Why should we be followers of Christ?
• What can we do to continue to remember why?

Study Resources for November 10, 2013

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

We often tend to think of the past as a better and maybe more glorious time than the present. The Prophet Haggai and his contemporaries apparently believed this too. Haggai was one of the three postexilic prophets (Zachariah and Malachi were the other two) who arose in Judah after Persia became the dominant power in the ancient Near East, and the Jews had been permitted to return to their homeland.

The outcome of the work of restoring the temple in Jerusalem was quite disappointing and frustrating to the small nation of Judah. Back in their land after decades of exile in Babylon the people were trying hard to bring back the presumed glories of their past, but nothing had gone as expected with the restoration work.

• It wasn't just the temple that was the issue, God's reputation was at stake. He could not be properly honored so long as the house He called home was in ruins. The temple symbolized God's presence and Israel's priorities.
Do we often remember things better than they really were?
Do you think God is honored when we do things for divine purposes?
What does our spending say about our priorities? Priorities can often be found in our checkbooks.
Are you someone who always gives their best or someone who just gives enough to get by?
How do we spend most of our time? What does that say about our priorities?
What does it mean to give your absolute best for God?

• The people were worshipping, but not giving their best. This was evident because the Temple was not being rebuilt. Does worship look different when we give our best?
What priorities do Christians tend to put ahead of their worship of God?
How does an understanding of God's continuous presence change the way we worship?
How might an understanding of God's presence change the way you life your life?
The church cannot live on what was in the past. So what is the focus here? Is the actual building the focus of a congregation's expectation rather than to hear the call of God to be the church-the kingdom of God?

Read Haggai 1:15b — 2:9.

• The people have been back in Jerusalem now for about 18 years. What have they accomplished? What have they not accomplished?

• Why were some upset with the simplicity of the temple?
How did God respond to those complaints?
Do you think that the people in our text showed their genuine love for God by their upkeep and construction of the temple? Does that seem odd to you?
Why would it be important to God to have a house that is greater than the former glory of the old temple?
What is the significance of God granting peace to these specific people?
Does God really need a "house" to live in, and if not, what is this really about?
What does the temple signify for them?
What has been the people's priority, and how has that priority shown itself in their lives and spirits (1:5-6)?
How has the earth begun to show the effects of their upside-down priorities (1:10-11)?
Have you noticed this to be true in your own life as well-that when our priorities are mixed up, our spirits, our environment and our perception of the world changes?

• Some of the oldest members of the community might have remembered the previous beautiful temple before it was destroyed (2:3). In their current situation the people could not afford to build anything as large or as beautiful.
How might this be discouraging to the community as they tried to rebuild?
Why is God's presence (2:4-5) more important than the outward appearance of the temple?
Why do you think God reminded them that all the earth's treasures belong to God (2:8)?
What are God's promises to the people as they rebuild? What will become of this new temple-in appearance as well as its importance (2:6-9)?
Why is "shalom" the best gift that God can bestow on that place, no matter how it looks?
Does this mean, them that we should not worry about the appearances of our places of worship?
How would you describe your church building to someone who has never been here?

• So what does it really mean to put God first, and does this always entail a building? Are we called to provide a sanctuary or to discover a sustainable way of living our faith together?

• Do you ever feel discouraged like the people in Haggai's day?
Watch "How Will History Remember You?" from The Emperor's Club.
What would Haggai call us to do today?
What work are we being called to do without fear because God's Spirit is with us?
Do we need to be reminded that God is with us and calls us to make a lasting difference?

Watch "Sam's Speech" from The Two Towers.
• In the movie trilogy, "The Lord of the Rings", two powerless characters are asked t experience personal hardship for something larger than they are. They sacrifice to work against great evil.
What are some reasons to live "beyond" just our own concerns?

Read John 14:16-18.

• Here, Jesus uses the second-person-plural pronoun when He says "you." He is speaking not to one individual, but to the whole community of faith. The blessing of the church comes through God's joyous interaction with the people and their interaction with one another. God is truly present with the people, and the relationship between God and humanity is real. John tells of his vision of a new Jerusalem that will need no temple (Rev. 21:22-26). The promises of God are promises of His abundant love, grace and presence in the past, in the present, and in the future. The move into the future is not just a repeat of the past and a faint echo of former glory, but the Lord declares through His prophet Haggai the "the latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former" Now, how about that!?

Study Resources for November 3, 2013

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

Habakkuk, is unlike any other Old Testament prophet. He was Israel's representative before God instead of being God's representative to Israel. He took up Israel's cause before God and sought His sympathy on her behalf. The other Old Testament prophets represented Yahweh to the people and served as God's spokesmen in calling them to repentance and righteousness.

Habakkuk lived during a very ominous period in the life of Judah. The Babylonians overthrew the Assyrians and expanded their kingdom westward toward Egypt. This meant that Judah had now been brought under the domination of Babylon in much the same way the Northern Kingdom had been made subject to the Assyrians just a century or so earlier. Not only was Judah struggling with forces on the outside, she was also struggling with many internal problems as well. It was a time that reflected a general deterioration of religion and religious principles in society. These were dark days for Judah. Habakkuk could not understand why God just stood by and did nothing to fix the situation. Habakkuk couldn't believe that God would permit injustice and wickedness to continue and to seemingly allow the wicked to prosper and flourish. It is here that we begin our journey with the people of Judah, Habakkuk, and God. It is here that we glimpse his inner struggle with the problems that he was dealing with in his life, with his God, and in his world. We see an attempt to comprehend what God is doing and what He is trying to say to His people through Habakkuk.

The book of Habakkuk isn't very long and its structure is pretty straight forward: complaint and response, complaint and response, complaint and response, the future of the wicked, and a celebration of God's faithfulness. Makes me tired.

• Would you call yourself a complainer? What is wrong with complaining? Should we complain to God?
Does God hear our complaints? Does God respond to complaints?

Read Habakkuk 1:1 — 2:4.
• The name Habakkuk means the "embracer" or the "wrestler." How is his name reflected in his relationship with God? How is it reflected in how he relates to his God?

• What emotions did you hear in this passage? Is it a sign of a weak faith? Can a person of deep faith also be a person of strong negative emotions? Habakkuk is quoted 3 times in the New Testament (Heb. 10:38,Gal. 3:11, and Rom.!:17), and in each passage, the emphasis is on living "by faith" rather than living "in faithfulness". What is the difference?

• The immediate context of this passage seems to be the armies that threaten and are threatening God's people. Habakkuk doesn't blame God for the invasions, but rather for the destruction and devastation that comes with the invasion (1:4). Calvin paraphrases this verse, "When all things are in disorder, when there is now no regard for equity and justice, and men abandon themselves as it were with loose reins, unto all kinds of wickedness, how long Lord, wilt thou take no notice?" Have you ever felt like this? Does it sometimes feel like the wicked are winning?

Watch "Shoot Her!" from Out of Africa.  

• Do we often think we understand everything going on in our world? Do we ever give bad advice because we do not understand the situation? Does this sometimes harm others? Do we believe God is always before us and with us? (Remember Romans 8?)

• Does 2:1 really mean that we should stand still until we get an answer? Do we get the word out when God tells us something?
What does it mean for us that the "righteous will live by their faith?" Is faithfulness easy in our world?

• Do you ever wonder where God is when life is falling apart? How can (and does) God work with us and in us in this world? How does a person of faith have hope when the world seems unjust? Do you ever wonder where God is in the violence and destruction that goes on in our world? How do you explain to a non-believer when they ask where is God?

• In his book, Night, Elie Wiesel wrote of a death camp inmate asking, "Where is God? when so many of their people were being tortured and hung. Jesus understands this question. When Jesus was on the cross He asked God why He had forsaken Him? Wiesel answered his friend by saying, "Where is God? He is here hanging on the gallows."

• John Calvin says, "This is a remarkable passage; for we are taught here that we are not to deal with God in too limited a manner, but room must be given for hope, for the Lord does not immediately execute what He declares by His mouth; but His purpose is to prove patience, and the obedience of our faith." God's response is live by faithfulness.
I think that Habakkuk in his boldness with God, believed that an answer would come because he kept asking. He placed himself in a position to offer his laments to God and he expected that not only was God listening but that He would answer. Otherwise, why would have Habakkuk been so persistent? Does this remind you of the lesson a couple of weeks ago about the persistent widow?

• What if we positioned ourselves to say to God, "Here I am, God. I will keep watch and see what you will say to me."?
What if we refused to turn away, and waited with determination for God's reply? Habakkuk is telling us that the vision will finally arrive. Habakkuk knew that God's response was not just for him, but for his whole community who were suffering. This is the promise that also comes for our reading this text together, in community. By our sharing of faith with one another, we stand on the mountain together, and we never have to cry out to God or wait for the promise of victory alone. Could it be that the fulfillment of a promise is something that we have to wait for and it is in the patient waiting that God does a miracle in us? Our waiting is not a hope that is wishing for a Savior, but a hope that lives in the knowledge and the anticipation of His arrival.

Study Resources for October 27, 2013

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

This week's lesson is about prayer, attitudes, judging, comparisons, and examinations. I don't know about you, but that is a pretty big list to cover. Let's dive in. We have a lot of rules that govern the way we live in our homes as well as in society. Some are written down and others are not. In Jesus' day, there were many rules to be kept in daily living. The persons who monitored these rules of commandments were the Pharisees. The word Pharisee is derived from the Hebrew word, which means, "those who are separate or set apart." What set them apart was their devotion to keeping the law in the belief that the Jews must work harder to keep the laws that set them apart from the other nations. It was in this "separateness" that the people of God were to maintain their cultural and religious identity. The Pharisees weren't necessarily poor, but more affiliated with common people.
There were different types of tax collectors, but the man here was probable a Jewish mercenary who was hired to collect duties from merchants who used the roads as well as ordinary citizens going about their business.

Two men: a tax collector and a Pharisee.
Jesus was not against tax collectors or Pharisees as people. He ate with them, visited with them, and chose them as followers.

• In what areas do you compare yourself to other people? What are the areas that make you feel as if you do not measure up? Do you ever believe you might be a little better than some? Do you think we should compare ourselves to others? When we compare ourselves to others, what standard do we use? When we approach God, what standard does God use?
Does God compare us to others? Why or why not?

• The following video is a little light moment. There's nothing theological here, but I just wonder...
Watch "Bernadette's New Voice" from The Big Bang Theory.
What do our prayers sound like to others? What do our prayers sound like to God?

Read Luke 18:9-14.
• In the KJV the last phrase is translated as "despised others". In the Greek the verb means to "take no account of" or to "despise utterly". The same verb in other places is defined as "set as nought." What is the definition of nought?
Jesus is talking about people who see others as nothing, less than, a zero. Do we do that in our culture? Do we see and treat others as nothings? How do we do that?

• I found a phrase this week called "passive contempt." Passive contempt is when we act as if the other person doesn't matter. It's that we don't see them as a fellow human being, at all. We don't see them as having concerns of their own, needs of their own, desires, feelings, or of being of any value at all, one way or the other. As far as our actions are concerned, they are a zero.
When I think about Jesus, I know that he saw everybody, all of them, individually, uniquely created and yet he treated each of them the same. He treats all of us as special loved children of God.
What would it mean for us to be aware of every person around us, connecting, loving, caring and really seeing them?

• What is your prayer style? Is there one right way to pray?
Who is Jesus talking to in this parable? How hard is it to see the Pharisee as a normal person?
Do we judge this Pharisee unfairly?
Do we sound prideful when we pray aloud at church?
Does it make you uncomfortable when people lead prayer in worship?
How do we pray aloud in worship without sounding arrogant?
What can we learn from the tax collector's prayer?
Why did the Pharisee pray the prayer that he did?
What was the problem with the Pharisee taking pride in his accomplishments?
Was there anything good about his prayer?
It has been said that, "when we go to God in prayer we must leave not only our sin at the door, but our virtue as well." How do we do that?

• Is the Pharisee praying to God or to himself?

• How could this be a story about God rather than a story about a Pharisee and a tax collector?
If God is the only one who can judge, how does this change our lives?
How should we live our lives in response to this?
Do we judge ourselves as righteous?
Is looking at others the best way to evaluate our spirituality?
What other people mentioned in the Bible struggled with pride?
Who are you in this parable?
How much time do we inadvertently spend focusing on other people instead of our personal relationship with God?
Does prayer help us to focus on something besides ourselves? How?
Is this why we pray without ceasing?

Listen to
Sanctus Real - Pray.
Have you ever been here? Does this clip change your attitude toward prayer? How so?

• One of the key words in the passage is "justified." (vs.14)
What is the definition of justification? What does it mean to you? Can justification be obtained by doing things?
The doctrine of justification asks the question of how we reach a status of righteousness in God's eyes. The Pharisee trusted in himself for his own righteousness, and the tax collector trusted in God for righteousness. He did nothing to earn or deserve God's mercy. God's mercy is freely given . Our justification, therefore," is the recognition of our guilt and shame, resulting in the confirmation of our forgiveness and our reception of God's righteousness". One of the hallmarks of the Protestant Reformation is that we are justified by God's grace alone. To suggest that we can be justified by any other means is to reject the free grace of God. Ephesians 2:8

• What does it mean to be prideful? Karl Barth identifies pride as "the chief sin of the religious person, because it is fundamentally idolatrous: it confuses Creator and creation Giver and gift." What do you think?

• Could it be that balance is the key here? We cannot trust in our ability to fulfill the law and find salvation. Yet we cannot abandon the law. We humble ourselves before a merciful God and are confident in the Lord's promises. All find a welcomed home in God's temple.

• What does it truly mean to be humble? How can we achieve humility?
Does prayer help us to focus on something besides ourselves? How?
Is that why we should pray without ceasing?

Study Resources for October 20, 2013

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

See the session.

Read Luke 18:1-8.
• In working on this passage, I remembered times of persistent prayer in my life. Have you ever felt like this widow?
How do you go about getting something you want from God?

• Is this parable about begging God for stuff? How careful should we be in our asking God for "stuff"?

• The judge was more than a judicial hired hand. He was actually supposed to represent Gods justice, but this judge rejects this role. His job description is in  2 Chronicles 19:6-7. What makes the judge evil?
• Scripture tells us that he did not fear God. What does it mean to you to "fear God"? Do we ever lack "the fear of God" in terms of justice for our world? What does it mean to pray for justice in our world? Should we ever be in a hurry for God to grant justice?

• Who are the widows, orphans, and the needy in our world? How does this lack of "the fear of God" in caring for the widow, the orphan and the immigrant play our in our own time? Is this something our church is paying attention to? If we are going to bring the kingdom of God to Richmond, how do we or how can we meet the needs of the "least of these"? Why do we not act when we know of an injustice?

The widow is powerless. She was someone who had no sponsors to care for her. This became such a common state that "widow" came to mean not simply a woman whose husband was dead, but also one who had no means of financial support and needed special protection.

• What method did the widow use to get what she wanted from the judge? Why did the judge finally cave in? Did you notice the internal conversation the judge has with himself? Luke describes other such internal conversations like the rich fool, the prodigal son, and the dishonest steward-all of them talk to themselves. How is God like and unlike the judge in this passage? Does the widow give us a good example of how we can get what we want? Why or why not?

• What if we stand this parable on its head and look at it another way. What if the widow is Jesus, standing at the door of our heart knocking and we are the judge? What if it is His persistence that causes us to change the way we treat the world, the helpless, and those who are looking for justice? Could it be that there is hope for all of us because we have a Savor who is relentless and continues to stand at the door of our hearts and knock?

This parable is an example of an argument that was used a lot in those days, called from the lesser to the greater. If a wicked judge will finally give in and hear the widow's case, how much more will our heavenly Father be willing listen and grace us?

I think that in order to get the full meaning of this passage, we must begin at the end!. "And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?" This question adds another dimension to the meaning of the parable, by shifting the focus from the judge back to the widow and her perseverance. Luke, makes perseverance in prayer and not losing heart elements of faith. I think Luke is trying to tell us that perseverance and courage are not just abstract qualities, but a part of our faith. Luke tells us in several places that we are to persevere in prayer. In Luke 11:5-8, Luke makes a similar point. Here the "friend" who asks for a loaf of bread at midnight is like the widow who seeks justice; the "friend who refuses to get up and give it to him is like the judge. Here too, the "lesson" of the parable is persistence. Luke also reminds us that, "Ask, and it will be given to you" saying (11:9-10).The widow becomes an example of this kind of prayerful faithfulness.

• Could it be that the persistence in prayer is not to change the mind of God, but to seek the changes such prayers can work in our own hearts and minds? Frederick Buechner said, "Persistence is a key, not because you have to beat a path to God's door before God will open it, but because until you beat the path, maybe there's not way of getting to your door." Could it be that Jesus was giving us this parable not only to call us to persistence in our prayer life as well as a reminder to the church of the importance of securing justice for the poor and the oppressed that surrounded them?

Watch "Powerful Inspirational true story...Don't give up!”
This is a powerful story and we could pick out several themes to discuss, but I want to know what was the most inspiring part of this video for you? What might have driven him to struggle through the pain in order to finish the race? How was his persistence rewarded? How was that reward different form the one he set our to receive? Why do many people choose to quit rather than be persistent?

We are reminded, once again, that once again that the life of faith is not only about telling God what is on our wish list, but constantly lifting up every joy and concern, every fear and doubt, every lament and plea to the One who hears and answers.

• I don't think that Jesus was trying to resolve the mystery of unanswered and answered prayer, but to teach the disciples the importance of persistence; of keeping on and never giving up. Can you think of examples in scripture of those followers that were persistent and never gave up? Jesus is trying to help us see that faith is actively seeking and eagerly anticipating the coming reign of God, never ceasing in our prayers for others, for the world, even for ourselves. How would this change your prayer life?

• What does this parable in Luke say about how God related to us? Does our persistence affect God's graciousness? What causes some people of faith to give up rather than to be persistent? How do we keep our faith strong while struggling with pain? How might the reward for persistence be different from what we expect? How can we be assured that God will bring about justice in the world?

• We live in an imperfect world. So, we pray for "thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." We long for health, justice, and wisdom. We get frustrated with the fruit of sin - poverty, war, injustice, and hatred. How does this parable impact or change your prayer life?
He continues to knock. Who will answer the door today?

Watch "Bernadette's New Voice" from The Big Bang Theory.
• Do we need to pray for persistence? Do we sometimes need to be pushy like Bernadette's voice change? Where do we find that inner "voice" or strength to be a voice for justice? How does regular prayer help us be like the widow in terms of getting justice?

We do know that when there is an active faith at work, faith that is lived as we strive toward the coming reign of God, then hope remains alive and we can count on God to come down on the side of justice. We can count on God to hear the cries of those who have no voice, no influence and no power. We can count on God to hear those who have nowhere else to turn. And we can sing the hymn of faith that says, "O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home."

Study Resources for October 13, 2013

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

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Our lesson in from Luke 17:11-19. A very familiar passage.

Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem with His eyes on the cross. As Jesus and the Boys reach a village on the border between Samaria and Galilee, they encounter 10 men.

Read Luke 17:11-19.
• Did you notice how Luke refers to these ten men-not as "lepers" but as "men who had leprosy?" It may be a subtle shift in language, but it may be significant in our perception and understanding of others. Does one description feel differently to you? What difference does it make in perception? Do we ever casually speak of a "homeless woman" without thinking first that she is a real person who has no home? Do we think of others as just "alcoholics" as opposed to persons who suffer from an addiction? How successful are we in separating someone's condition from their person?

• What were persons with this skin disease to cry out when approaching others? What did these guys say?
Why do you think they said that instead of the other?

• What was Jesus' instruction to the ten men? This was in accordance with the Levitical law.
See Leviticus 13:45-46.
According to Leviticus 14, being clean is costly:
1. They had to submit to a head-to-toe exam by a local priest.
2. 2 clean birds were then purchased and one of them slaughtered over fresh water in a clay vessel.
3. The other bird, along with a piece of cedar, a sprig of hyssop and some crimson yarn, were to be dipped in the blood of the sacrificial bird and then shaken 7 times to sprinkle blood over the persons seeking to be declared clean.
4. The living bird was then released, and the healed were required to wash their clothes, bathe in water, and shave off all their hair.
5. They were allowed to enter the camp, but required to stay outside of their tent for 7 more days.
6. After 7 days, then had to shave again -every hair including the eyebrows-then bathe and wash their clothes another time before being declared clean.
But Wait There's More
7. On the 8th day after these rituals, the healed person had to bring to the priest at the tent of meeting, 2 male lambs and a ewe, plus a gallon of choice wheat flour mixed with olive oil, and 2/3 cup of olive oil to the priest.
8. They were to undergo another complex series of rituals involving sacrifices (most of which the priest kept)
9. The priest administered a dollop of both blood and oil to the right-side ear lobes, thumbs and big toes of the former lepers.

• At times Jesus healed people immediately. Why do you think Jesus does this healing differently?
Read Hebrews 11:1.
Do you think this passage in Hebrews had anything to do with it?
Jesus could have just reached out His holy hand and healed people but there seemed to be an emphasis on the importance of faith, obedience, and thanksgiving. Is gratitude an expression of faith? Is gratitude a result of our faith or is faith a result of our gratitude?
When Jesus said, "Your faith has made you well." was the faith He was referring to the leper' initial appeal for mercy or the man's cry of praise in response to what Jesus had done for him?
Alan Culpepper asks, "If gratitude reveals humility of spirit and a sensitivity to the grace of God in one's life, then is there any better measure of faith than wonder and thankfulness before what one perceives as unmerited expressions of love and kindness from God and from others?"

• In looking around do you see a correlation between gratitude and daily joy or health?
Could it be that gratitude recognizes that we are not self-sufficient or independent, but people who are blessed daily by God-and we rely on those blessings?

• What was Jesus' response to the Samaritan that returned? What do you think Jesus was trying to get at with all of these questions? This is not Biblical it's gospel according to Kathy, but do you think that Jesus was a little saddened and perplexed by His own peoples ingratitude? Could He have been thinking about the cross and how His people would react?

• The text reminds us about the importance of being thankful. Do you think how we react to miracles, large or small, says something about our faith and our relationship to Jesus?

• This passage has another twist to it too. What was the nationality of the grateful man? As a Samaritan, he was considered unclean anyway by the Jews, whether he was a leper or not. He would not be restored into Jewish society or ever seen as "clean". But, Jesus declared that this man is healed, save, cleaned, and restored. Leprosy had united these then men and now the disease is gone. They are free to go back to life as "usual". They are free to love, hate, unite, divide, and to remove or retain barriers of separation. So once Jesus blesses us, do we work to go back to our lives before our encounter with Him? Do we go back to life as we have always lived it with barriers and prejudices, judgmental natures that exclude rather than include, rationalizations that excuse our sin rather than confession and gratitude? Are we using our blessings to bless others?

• Alan Culpepper says that if gratitude is not synonymous with faith, neither response to God is separable from the other, Faith, like gratitude, is our response to the grace of God as we have experienced it. Can we identify ways in which faith and gratitude are both aspects of our encounters with God? Could there be a divine relationship between gratitude, thanksgiving and personal well-being? Is our praise or lack of it, a reflection of our understanding of God's redemptive and healing grace in our lives?

• C.S. Lewis observed particularly in the Psalms that there is a connection between gratitude and personal well-being. "I noticed how the humblest and at the same time most balanced minds praised most: while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praised least. Praise almost seems to be inner health made audible."

Watch singer, songwriter Jimmy Wayne: saying “thank you.”
Can you relate to anything that Jimmy Wayne said in the video?

My prayer for us is to have inner peace and healing this week, expressed in some praise and gratitude to our healer, Jesus.

Study Resources for October 6, 2013

The teacher for this session was Jay McNeal. (email Jay)

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As we hold our last class that connects with the Bible in 90 Days we will aim to cover as many of the following questions as possible.

• How has the role of women changed from the culture of the Bible to today?

• A major issue of debate in our time is immigration reform. What does the Bible say about "aliens," foreigners, immigrants?

• Are families supposed to look like they did in biblical times?

• Is equality a value that was esteemed or advocated for in the Bible?

• What does the Bible tell us about war, killing, and violence?

• What are the differences between kings and judges in the Bible? Should we have kings, judges or some other form of government today?

Watch the movie clip, "Maverick vs Viper" from Top Gun.


Study Resources for September 29, 2013

The teacher for this session was Jay McNeal.  (email Jay)

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We will discuss dividing the Word of God rightly in Sunday's WebClass. Did you see both ways of reading the capitalized words? Most of the time our eyes work together well with our minds to discern what is written, but sometimes we may come up with something very far from what was intended.

We will make extra time this week to allow for conversation with participants online and in the studio. So feel free to send questions to me, Jay McNeal, ahead of time or live on the webcast. See you Sunday at 10am!

Watch the movie clip, "Maverick vs Viper" from Top Gun.
Watch the movie clip, "There Is No Spoon" from The Matrix.


Study Resources for September 22, 2013

The teacher for this session was Jay McNeal.  (email Jay)

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Study Resources for September 15, 2013

The teacher for this session was Jay McNeal. (email Jay)

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Study Resources for September 1, 2013

The teacher for this session was Jay McNeal. (email Jay)

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Read the Bible in 90 Days

Genesis 2:1-7. compared to Genesis 1.

• Which is the best Bible?
• Why do some books make it into the Bible and some not?
• What would cause you to disregard the Bible entirely?
• How many books are in the OT? NT?

• These are canon questions. And what is a canon?

We will hear questions like this and look at the beginning of Genesis in anticipation of the Bible in 90 Days Challenge launching September 8th. We will also revisit two of my favorite movie clips, "Plant the Seed" from The Lorax and the final courtroom scene in A Few Good Men.

Study Resources for August 25, 2013

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

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We are continuing our study in the book of Isaiah.
Read Isaiah 58:1-14.

• In the first three verses, Isaiah points out the irony of the people's religious observances. What do the people think about themselves?
• What, according to verses 3-5, is improper about their fasting?
• How is their behavior incompatible with their religious actions?
• What is a traditional fast—in practical terms (what do we do) and in spiritual terms (what it accomplishes)?
• What does Isaiah mention as "true fasting" in this passage? According to Isaiah, what will be the effect of this true fasting (verses 8-9)?
• How does true worship—fasting, Sabbath-keeping, singing, praying, studying—change us?
• Do you think that these kinds of unselfish actions change the way God behaves toward us, or do they change the way we view and understand God? Or both?
• Why is it important to continually turn our thoughts and actions toward God's desires, rather than our own?
• Why can it be dangerous to keep doing religious things that no longer confront us with God's desires for ourselves and the world?
• How effective are our devotional practices?
• How can we alter them so that they focus on what's important?
• How can we approach traditional "rituals" in a way that allows God to change us?

• What was God's complaint in our passage?
• Did the hearers of this passage really care for the poor?
• Can we be righteous without being religious?
• Can we be religious without being righteous?
• What fasts should we embrace?
• How easy is it to make the church building, our worship services, our programs, and our church business as ways to please God? Should we do these things differently?
• Do we ever act or feel like attending worship services keeps God happy?
• What is true worship?

• Will the poor always be with us?
• Do you think we can end extreme poverty in our world?
Watch "Fast Forward" from the movie 58: The Film.
• What would it be like to live on less than a $1.25/a day?
• Does God bless our worship when we let people suffer in poverty?
• What can we do to help?
How can we "loose the chains of injustice" in our community and the world?

• What actions do people in our communities see as being distinctly Christian?
• What are the typical religious traditions, ordinances, or practices in our church?
• When we participate in these things, how do they affect our relationship with God?
• How can doing a good thing for God become something meaningless to the person doing it? Explain.
• How had the actions of the people the prophet spoke to in this week's passage fallen into this trap?
• Do you think Christians, as a whole, are more interested in looking Christian or acting Christian?
• How does this passage speak to our community of faith?
• Who in our communities suffer while we practice our traditions that we think glorify God?
• What might happen to our faith if we truly cared for the needs of others rather than how we are comfortable worshipping God?

Watch "Cycle of Debt" from the movie 58: The Film.
• Do you think that it is important for us as a church to get involved with people's finances?
• How does our relationship to our money impact our relationship to God and His church?

Study Resources for August 18, 2013

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The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson.
(email Kathy)

We are continuing our study in the book of Isaiah. If you read the text, you may have the same question that I had. "How on earth is this a "love song"? It begins under the banner of love, but goes in a sad direction in a short few verses. But it is under this banner of love that God declares His judgment. It is in this song of love that we see a God who chose, who cleared, who dug, who planted, who safeguarded and who loved "huge." We see how His people, then and now, are infinitely loved and assured.

This love from God comes with expectations. Three times we see: God expected...(verses 2,4,7). A vineyard is a ground for farming, working and investment. The gardener has to work it in order to reap fruit that refreshes, feeds, pleases, provides, and sustains a community. Rocks are cleared and holes dug, furors are plowed and hedges are built, and walls are put up in order to build watchtowers. The end result is unexpected because this vineyard does not feed. It does not refresh. It is not pleasing ,and it doesn't foster any sense of community.

God was looking for justice (mishpat), but they had shown Him bloodshed (mispach). He looked for righteousness (tsedakah), but they heard only a cry (tse'aqah). We are lavishly loved and expected to work. From the beginning in the garden we have jobs to do. If we are going to bring the kingdom of God to Richmond, Virginia, we are going to have to work. Of course God could wave His holy finger and make it happen, but we are to partner with Him on this earth. The fruit that is produced here will be eternal.

The good news is that He still sings, plows, plants, guards, and looks for good fruit. This harvest of love is justice and righteousness.

• When you hear the word "justice" what issues come to mind?
• What is a good definition of righteousness?
• As Christians and as churches, what kind of fruit does God expect from us?

Read Isaiah 5:1-7.

• What things did the vineyard owner do to make a perfect environment for his vineyard?
• From your knowledge of biblical history, how did God continually prepare His "people" to be a vineyard?
• These vines were not simply infertile...they produced bad fruit. What was their fruit, and why was it -in a way-worse than producing no fruit at all?
• When the grapes did not produce the desired fruit, what did the vineyard owner do in response? Was it fair?
• How does this correspond to what God allowed in Israel's situation?
• What fruit did God expect from His people? (verse 7)
• How has God prepared us to be his "vineyard"?
• Is the fruit that God expects from us different from the fruit He expected in Isaiah's time?
• Do you think God expects the same fruit from all of us, or does it differ according to different persons, different communities and different cultures?
• If God were to issue a warning to us today as we see here in Isaiah, what do you think God's warning would be?

• How does Isaiah's vineyard compare to Jesus' vineyard in John 15:1-6?

Watch "I Will Fight" from the movie First Knight.
• Do we looks away from the evil and injustice around us?
• Are we afraid to do anything about it?
• Does evil take advantage of that?
• King Arthur knows he cannot allow evil to spread. What evil is spreading in our culture?

"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." —Elie Wiesel.

Watch "You Have My Resignation" from the movie Geronimo—An American Legend. 
• Should we protest evil even when we feel overwhelmed?
• Do you think making a stand of any type is at least a good place to start as good citizens of God's Kingdom?

• If we imagine our souls to be vineyards, we might imagine how God has prepared us to be fruit producers. How has God broken the ground, prepared the soil, and planted vines in your life?

Study Resources for August 11, 2013

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The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson.
(email Kathy)

How is our worship, both personal and in community, related to the way we behave and live the life of faith?
In today's passage, it seems that the Children of God, were not particularly interested in what their Father wanted of them.

Tony Campolo said, "In a survey of mothers, Japanese mothers want their children to be successful; American mothers want their children to be happy. In the ethnic Italian neighborhood in which he grew up, Campolo said that his father wanted him to be 'good' instead. This idea that somehow you're happy all the time has got to be challenged, he said. May God save us from the nation that has made the pursuit of happiness the reason for living."
Would you rather be happy or joyful?

Read Isaiah 1:1-20.
• What is being said about God's people in these verses?
• What has resulted from the people's disobedience, according to verses 5-6?
• How have they suffered and how does the land reflect their disobedience?
• What emotions do you detect here and how does God feel about what His people have done?
Isaiah pictures God here as a Heavenly Parent. This is the only place in the Old Testament that the image of God as Heavenly Parent is found. There are references, however, to God's people as children in the Old Testament. (see Exodus 4:22-23, Deuteronomy 32:5-6, 18-20, Psalm 103:13, Jeremiah 3:19 Hosea 1:10, and Hosea 11:1-4.)

• Jesus referred to God as Father and when He prayed, He called Him Abba (Daddy). We have a close, plugged in, and concerned God. How does that image of God, as opposed to a distant unconcerned deity, shape a person's faith?

• In this time period, there was economic prosperity. Does prosperity make it harder to please God?

Watch "Get People to Like You" from the movie The Hunger Games.

• What things do we do to get people to like us?
• Do the characters in this clip seem likeable?
• Do we ever try to trick God into liking us and seeking His approval for the decisions that we have already made?
• Do you think our worship makes God happy?

• The nation of Israel rebelled against God and placed themselves in such a way that they were a "hut in a field or a city under siege." We might say a "sitting duck." Before we are too hard of these folks, do we ever place ourselves in a position for temptation and sin to ruin our lives? If we know better, why don't we do better?

• The Jewish people thrived on religious traditions and observances.
What kind of effect do you think verses 11-15 might have on them?
Do you think God is really ignoring their prayers? Explain.
What have the people failed to do, and how does this relate to their worship observances?

• What can the people do to restore their relationship with God (verses 16-17)?
• What specific things does God mention, and why are each of these important to God?
• Red stains are hard to remove. What do you think God is saying, then, in verse 18?

• How scary is it to care for the vulnerable?
• Are we ever reluctant to show hospitality to the vulnerable, the oppressed, or the forgotten ones in society?
• How does God respond to our lack of hospitality and or selfishness?
• Why is this so important to God?

• How does our worship reflect our values?
• Do we value what God values—doing right, seeking justice?

Watch "Sentencing" from the movie A Few Good Men.

• What was the marine guilty of?
• Do we do this today? Explain

Watch "Come For You" from the movie 9.

• Is God calling you to do something scary?
• Can we help people who fall through the cracks? How?
• So what specifically can we do as acts of justice in our world as individuals and as a church?

Study Resources for August 4, 2013

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

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Once we become a Christian, how should our behavior change...and why?

Read Colossians 3:1-17.

• How does Paul explain what it means to "set your heart on things above"?
• Why is it essential for us to change our focus?
• How can we think like Christ?
• Do you think Paul's list of old behavior is supposed to be all-inclusive? Explain
• God decides to transform us slowly, rather than all-a-once. Why do you think He does it that way?( vv. 4, and 9-10)
• When will the transformation be completed?
• Why is Paul's image of "taking off" and "putting on" our new selves-like clothes-such a good illustration to use?
• What other illustrations can you think of to describe the process by which God transforms us into Christ's image?

Watch "Never leave the cave" trailer from the movie The Croods.
• Have you ever believed something and then realized that it was not correct?
• What would happen if we never grew in unity as Christians?

Verse 11 is frequently cited when talking about racism and discrimination of different kinds.
• How do we put aside our negative reactions as Christians?
• How do we replace our old nature's tendencies with something new? How easy is that?
• Do you ever struggle to show compassion for people who are different?
• How do you think the hearers of this passage responded to this line of thinking?
• Why would disregarding of differences be important to someone following Christ?
• This passage talks a lot about a Christian's actions. How does the acceptance of others impact our actions?
• Why do you think this passage focuses on actions?

Watch "Not Easily Broken" from the movie Human Race. 
• What are your thoughts on this vides clip?
• Why do some people choose to be afraid of and hate those who are different from themselves?
• What are the results of the walls that divide people today?
• How do those differences, and the fear and hatred caused by them, affect our journey with Christ?

• What is your favorite article of clothing?
• According to verse 12, what "new clothes" are we to put on?
• How much effort do we put into clothing ourselves anew?
• What does it mean to do something "in the name of the Lord Jesus?"
• How might this change the things we do and the way we do them if we are striving to do them in the name of the Lord Jesus?

Watch "Why Are You Doing This?" from the movie Fireproof.
• Do we reflect Christ so much that even our family can see it?
• Do we ever just go through the motions?
• How does that work for you?
• Do we ever have to stop showing God's love?

We all know the song, "They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love".
• Is our love for our God and for others so transparent that the world can see it?

Study Resources for July 28, 2013

The teacher for this session was Steve Booth. (email Steve)

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Adjusting Our Reality
Text: Colossians 2:6-19

Read Colossians 2:6-19 to familiarize yourself with the passage.

In today's text, we continue our look at the letter to the Colossians in chapter 2 verses 6-19. As mentioned in the previous two sessions, while the city of Colossae had a large Jewish population, the majority of Christ followers in the city were likely Gentile. The followers of Christ were facing some false teachings or some kind of negative influence that the author of this letter is warning them about. In today's text, we learn a little more about what those may have been.

• If Christ is the fullness then do we need anything else? Does Christ’s fullness allow us direct access to God?
• How do we walk in Christ? What things distract you from your walk? Do you do anything that distracts others?
• What does the text say Christ’s death did for us? What purpose did we gain from Christ’s death? How can we walk in faith and still be rooted in Christ?
• How odd does it seem to you that a person possibly in prison is writing to the Colossians about avoiding captivity to false teachings?
• What rules do Christians need to follow?

• Have different religious teachings ever confused you? Did they lead you down the wrong path?
• How painful is it to be distracted by false teachings or our own sinful desires?
• Is fasting attractive to you? If not, what religious rituals do you enjoy? Do they ever become more important to you than walking in Christ?
• Do your worship practices help you focus on Christ or something else? How can you be sure?

Watch the clip "You are Free" from the movie Les Miserables. How would you feel as Valjean?
• Valjean could not earn his freedom, are we like that in our faith? Have you ever been told that your faith was not enough? Did it make sense? Why or why not?
• Do you sometimes feel you need more than Christ to pay your spiritual debt?
• Are you tempted to create man-made rules versus remembering our freedom in grace?

Study Resources for July 21, 2013

The teacher for this session was Jay McNeal. (email Jay)

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With permission from Steve Booth and Jim Somerville we are going to deviate from our usual format at talk about the Microchurch Initiative at FBC. First, I will tell you about the concept of "Microchurch." Then I will ask you how you might, theoretically, do it, either in the context you truly exist in, or you can create a fictitious scenario.

There is a video on the Microchurch website. Watch the Microchurch video.

There is also a Microchurch Facebook page and a blog (2nd website) that you can click on links to from the church's webpage. If you are use to going to FBC's main webpage then you can just click on the "Microchurch" link at the bottom right corner of that home page. The video is a conversation between David Powers and Jim Somerville. We will not watch the video in class, but it may help you get a sense of Microchurch before you get my monologue.

Study Resources for July 14, 2013

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

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This week we begin a journey in Colossians.
There's nothing like getting a letter, especially a letter from home. This letter from Paul to Colossae is like a letter from home. Paul was in prison because of his missionary activities when he wrote this letter. It is amazing that Paul, having done nothing wrong, is sitting in prison and yet finds reason to be grateful and to be encouraging to a church facing hardships of its own.

In a book called God and the Art of Happiness, author Ellen Charry notes that "we have a natural tendency to base our sense of happiness on circumstances, and when conditions are bleak enough, our only hope of real joy gets pushed into an anticipation of heaven. True happiness now, even in the midst of trouble when we realize that the saving relationship we have with Christ is not only about a blissful eternity but also involves "growing into the wisdom of divine love and enjoying oneself in the process."

Read Colossians 1:1-14.

• What does Paul think about prayer? How often do we thank God for others' faith, hope, and love?
• Paul uses faith, hope, and love a lot in his writings. 1 Thes. 1:2-3, 1 Thes. 5:8, Gal. 5:5-6, and 1 Cor. 13:13. How do these verses compare with Colossians 1:3-5a?
• Theologian Henri Nouwen says that one problem with prayer is that many Christians view it largely as an intellectual exercise—an "activity of the mind that reduces prayer to simply speaking with God or thinking about God." How do you define prayer?
• If Paul were writing a letter to our church, what would he be pleased to see?

When Paul wrote to the church in Colossae, he had many things to say, but the main thing he wanted them to understand was this: "Jesus is enough."

• Do we live and pray like Jesus is really all we need? Do people you know wonder why you even bother attending church or praying? Can we be faithful and loving all on our own?

• In vs. 10, Paul gives us 3 areas of growth. What are they?
• What do you think Paul means by "living a life worthy of the Lord"? Can you think of an example of someone living a worthy life?
• This fruit bearing thing was important to Jesus. In John 15:1-5, He clearly expected His disciples to work on bearing fruit. What do you think Jesus and Paul meant by "bearing fruit"? What would be some examples of bearing fruit in our faith?
• What is the difference in growing in the knowledge of God and growing in the knowledge of the Bible, or knowledge of doctrine, or knowledge of spiritual heritage?
• How has the gospel produced good fruit in this culture? Is there genuine truth in our world? Who decides what is true in our culture?
• We are constantly bombarded with false messages, how do we discern what is really true?
• How would Paul answer that question? How can the fruit of the Spirit help us in discerning truth?

In Paul's mind, God's will is for the redemption of the world through Christ and for those who belong to Christ to "lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God."

Watch the video "Creation of Hope" from Granger Community Church.
• How does seeing everything God has created give you hope?
Paul views the Colossians as mature, but is concerned that they will be tempted by still small voices to follow false ideas.
• Do false ideas cause people to eventually lose hope?
• What is the writer's intention with the image of the light and the dark?
• What do you hold onto when you want to stay in the light?

For Paul, prayers of thanksgiving are a foundation for the church because these prayers communicate a certainty of Christ's salvation in this world and foster the love of Christ in our world. This gratitude is reflected through the church in tangible ways that produce Christ's kind of love for all of His creation.

Study Resources for July 7, 2013

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

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Read Psalm 30.

Being kind of nosey, I want to know the entire story. The psalmist here does not bother to give us the details of his problems but begins by praising YHWH for an act of deliverance described in the past tense.
So even though we don't know all of the events that inspired this psalm we can read the emotions that the psalmist experienced.
• What might have occurred here?
• What images does the psalmist use to describe it?
• How does he seem to feel?

Psalm 30 shows us how we can embrace our emotions to find comfort, peace, praise, sadness, mourning, and glory in God. The psalmist tells us that embracing our feelings, even the so-called negative feelings, and acknowledging those feelings before God is good and necessary in order to truly turn mourning into dancing.

• What do you do when you have strong emotions?
• How do you turn mourning into dancing?
• How does the psalmist draw inspiration and hope from his brokenness?
• What does the psalmist plan to do, and encourage others to do, in response to God's faithfulness and restoration?
• How can we truly sing God's praises even in the midst of trying circumstances?
• Should we rationalize our way through problems?
• Should we live as if they aren't happening?
• Why is it important to really experience these things?
• How can we grow through these experiences?

• Have you ever believed in something and then found out it was not really what you thought it was?
Watch the video clip "What Are You Going to Believe In?" from the movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

• Do we sometimes spend too much time listening to the loud voices in the world?
• How hard is it to press on with life when we feel overwhelmed by sickness or stress?
• Do we want to blame God?
• What do you think happens next to Mr. Smith?
• What could happen next for us when we are facing adversity or tragedy?
One commentator suggested that the psalmist was initially living in "careless security, seemingly held in honor by Jehovah".
• Do we ever live in careless security?
• Do we take time to be connected and thankful in all things?
• I guess the question becomes, no matter what happens to us in life-good or bad- is God's love enough for us? Why or why not?

G.K. Chesterton has suggested that thanksgiving is a matter of celebrating one's dependence upon God. Dependence literally means "a hanging from." "An attitude of gratitude, thanksgiving for the invisible, but durable tread of God's dependable grace comes to mark the faithful community's response to God."
Theologian Karl Barth is reported to have declared that there is only one sin, suggesting that the "single sin from which every lesser sin emanates is the sin of ingratitude-the failure to comprehend the theological truth that human life in all its beauty, abundance, and possibility is a gift". No one has recognized the underlying truth beneath Barth's statement better than the psalmist: "O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever."


Study Resources for June 30, 2013

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

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If there were a Hall of Fame for prophets, Elijah would be in it. God spoke to him and he listened and obeyed. God used Elijah and accomplished mighty things. The Bible gives us an honest insight into the lives of our spiritual heroes. We see their strengths as well as their weaknesses.
Last week, we saw Elijah discouraged and drained physically and spiritually. And we saw our God minister to all of his needs.
In today's passage, we see Elijah still kinda cranky. But our God can even use the cranky to accomplish great things! For some of us that's good news!

Read 1 Kings 19:15-21.
• What were the jobs God gave Elijah to do?
• How many of these did Elijah do?
• Why do you think Elijah avoided doing the first two jobs?

• How many faithful people did God find?
• Why do you think Elijah thought he was alone among the faithful?
• Have you ever noticed that when we become despondent or spiritually dry, our tendency is to withdraw and feel sorry for ourselves, just like Elijah did? God's response reminds us that we need a larger community of faith to remind us that we are not alone. When we are surrounded by other believers on a regular basis, we draw strength from communal worship and shared hope. We also need faith friends like Elisha who are close to us, who know our stories, who are willing to challenge us and who put faces on the love of God.

• How would you describe Elijah's demeanor?
• This calling and anointing of Elisha was a little different than the anointing and blessings that we find in other places in the Old Testament. What might this say about Elijah's feelings? How does Elisha react to this anointment?
• What role is Elisha going to fulfill according to verse 21? Different translations use different words here. How does this role compare with the role of the disciples of Jesus? How does it compare with our role as followers of Jesus?

Watch the video clip "Titan Ronnie Bass."
• Have you ever had to take over for someone else on a team?
• What advise or instruction have you been given in order to take over for someone else?
• How do we empower others to lead?
• Why is the development of new leadership so important to any organization?
• How can insecurity get in the way of developing new leaders?
• How do you think Elijah might have felt about mentoring this younger prophet?
• Who have been your mentors?

• What has success taught you?
• What has failure taught you?
• What has helped you move on in life?
• What has God done for you?

Watch the video clip from Coach Carter: "Thank You Sir."
• What kind of impact did the coach's lessons have on those young people?
• Do you think that it is important to have a mentor?
• Who in your life would you consider to be one of the strongest mentors to you?
• How did that person share hope with you and lead you in the right direction?


Study Resources for June 23, 2013

The teacher for this session was Steve Booth. (email Steve)

What Are You Doing Here?

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1 Kings 19:1-15


Watch the video clip from Rudy: "Rudy, Rudy, Rudy."
• Why was Rudy so excited about being a part of such a great experience? How was Rudy treated by those around him, after this victory? What would that be like?
• Have you ever been a part of a great victory? How did you respond after that victory?
• How long did it take for you to come down from the thrill of victory?


Read 1 Kings 19:1-15.

• What victory had Elijah just experienced before the events in this passage?
• Why would Elijah be afraid of anything after the events that had just transpired?
• How do you think Elijah felt as he ran away? Have you ever felt that way? Explain. Why would Elijah pray to die?
• How was God revealed to Elijah? Why would God choose to reveal God-self that way? What impact might that had on Elijah?
• How has God revealed himself to you in unusual ways? How can you recognize God speaking to you in an usual way?

• Why would God ask Elijah, “What are you doing here?” Has God ever asked you a question? Explain.
Watch the video clip from Ring the Bell: "This Is My Yankee Stadium."
• Why was it so hard for Rob to understand why Scooter did not want to play in the major leagues? What do you think of Scooter’s decision? Explain.
• What do you want to do with your life? How would you react if God had other plans for you? Would you rather do something that the world views as successful or be happy doing what God wants from you? Explain. Why does the world seem to promote worldly gain so much?
• How do we figure out what God wants us to do with our lives? How do we allow a place for God in determining our future? How can our community of faith help you to seek God your journey?

Study Resources for June 16, 2013

The teacher for this session was Steve Booth. (email Steve)

How Low Can You Go?

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Read 1 Kings 21:1-29.

• Why would Naboth not sell his land? Who really owns the land (Lev. 25:23)?
• Did Jezebel manipulate people? How?
• Could Ahab have stopped her?
• What is Ahab’s reaction to Elijah’s words? What do you think Jezebel did then?

• Did Ahab start out greedy? How could he and Jezebel be so evil to kill for land?
Watch the "Greed is Good" clip. Would Gordon Gekko agree with what Jezebel did? Why?
• Is individual greed good for a country, a church or you?
• When have you been party to greed directly or indirectly?
• How do we stand up against greed? Do we feel it is unimportant and/or impossible?

More Greed
• Do you feel cultural pressure to succeed and accumulate stuff?
Watch the video clip from "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.
• Is greed legal now? What would Elijah say to Gordon Gekko? Would Gekko listen even after his prison time?
• What does it mean when Gekko is told “no matter how much money you make, you will never be rich?”
• Does our culture agree on what “being rich” is?
• What is our role in our economic system that exploits the poor and needy? How can we change the way we spend our money so that it does not exploit those less fortunate? What role should the church have in this area?

Study Resources for June 9, 2013

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

Unlikely Help

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The widow’s doubt, as well as her profession of faith, may be our own story today. It is easy to believe in death and evil powers, because that is what we witness in the world every day. It is much harder to imagine the power of love that conquers death. As we read this story may we be able to affirm God’s ultimate sovereignty and love that gives us victory over death itself.

Read 1 Kings 17:1-24.
• Why do bad things happen to good people?
There is no complete, satisfactory answer to this question.
Some people believe that bad things happen because:
  1. God is doing something bigger than what we have going on in our individual lives.
  2. Natural disasters affect all persons in a local area.
  3. Bad things happen and it is not a sign that God has forgotten or forsaken us.
• God provides for Elijah in a miraculous way. What does that tell us about our relationship with God?
• Zerephath is not a part of Israel. As a matter of fact, it was a pagan land and the homeland of King Ahab's wife, Jezebel.
Why did Elijah go there?
• Why do you think God would want Elijah to move to Zerephath?

• Why do you think Elijah asked the widow for food?
• Why did she gamble her life and her son' s life saying yes to Elijah?
• How does the widow minister to Elijah in this passage?
• Does it seem odd that an important man of God would have such an experience with a lowly widow? Why or why not?
• Who is helped most in this story, Elijah or the widow? Why?
• How do we compare this story to our understanding of God's grace?
• Can you think of other biblical stories when God's goodness and power have been questioned by those who have seen God's miracles?
• Why is it so hard for us to trust that God will take care of us "this time" even though we know God has taken care of us in the past?
• As we live among and serve the "widows and the orphans" or "those with the most need and least resources" in our world today, do we find that we are agents of God's grace-as well as recipients of God's grace? Explain.

• Why was Elijah angry with God?
• Why did God intervene in this situation?
• Does God act every time someone cries out to Him?

Watch "Run Forrest Run" from the movie Forrest Gump.
• Do you believe miracles happen today or are those just stories from the Bible?
• Can you think of some daily miracles around us we often ignore?
• Do we need something supernatural to help us believe? (v. 20 & 24) Why?
• Has God ever placed somebody in your life to help you when we least expect it? Explain.
• Can we often miss them if they look powerless, like the widow?

Watch "Could You Live Like This?" from the World Food Programme website.
• What would it be like to work day and night just to eat?
• What would it be like to know you were close to starvation?
• What would it be like to know that you cannot provide basic needs for your family and you might die of starvation?

Too many are like that widow or that child, literally or figuratively. There are too many in our world feeling lost, hopeless, hungry, and thirsty for something beyond the tangibles of daily living. They are searching for more than meager leftovers, scraps of food, love and justice this world has to offer. The good news is that God has a heart for the widows and orphans of this world. Our challenge is to partner with God to meet the needs of His world. God promises us that when we receive the stranger and the poor, we may be receiving angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:1-2 As we bring God's heaven to Richmond, we need to meet needs and minister in His name.
• How can we start doing that today?

Study Resources for June 2, 2013

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

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Culture Pressure
In today's passage from 1 Kings, we have God's people in a mess, the prophet Elijah, the wicked and weak King Ahab, and Queen Jezebel. The Israelites were not being faithful to their God. They were drawn to the worship of other gods by surrounding nations that were all polytheistic. Ahab was an Israelite and knew that the worship of any God, other than YHWH, was wrong, but he was married to a worshipper of Baal. Ahab did what Jezebel said to do.

The Israelites did not question the existence of other gods. Instead, they had to decide which god could really affect human existence. If Baal was the answer, they would have to practice the magic to survive. Then they could live the materialistic, self-centered life that comes form serving gods of their own making. If Yahweh, was the answer, then they would have to live by the high ethical and moral standards of the Law of Moses (Torah).
Elijah didn't try to argue them or convert them into belief. He led them to a place where they could decide. For the people to make no choice was to serve Baal. Not choosing for God is to choose against Him.

It has been said that as a modern day culture, "We frantically dance to appease powers that are not real; we try to ensure prosperity through things that cannot respond to us; we look for hope in things that cannot truly transform our lives. Seeking the Holy in profane places, we go limping through life with two different opinions as visible as the hopping prophets of Baal."
• Do you think this is accurate and why or why not?

For many today, God does not exist. Like the Israelites, most of us care little for questions about the existence of God. We are more concerned about the matters that directly affect our lives on a day to day basis. Our Western culture prides themselves on self-sufficiency. We do not worship Baal, but we have not chosen to completely worship God either. "Our idols are not wood and stone, we have made ourselves idols."

• What "idols" or other "gods" do we worship today?
• What things are we tempted to place as more important than God?
• Why are we tempted to mold God to our idea of what He should be rather than change ourselves to match God's standards?

Read 1 Kings 18:17-39.
• Considering that the Israelites were supposed to be monotheistic, what did their idolatry say to their neighbors about their faith and their God?
• What was the process that the prophets used to call on Baal? What did Elijah do the call on YHWH?
• What was different and what do these differences say about the two deities?
• Elijah had to repair the altar before he could use it (verses 30-32). What does this tell us?
• Elijah's sacrifice was a spectacle. Why do you think it had to be so spectacular to make the point to the people of Israel?
• It has been said that there is a fine line between bravery and foolishness. Was Elijah foolish, brave or maybe both taking on 450 prophets?
• Have you ever been in a situation where you had to challenge someone else about the sovereignty of God? How did it go?
• What is it like to be outnumbered as a Christian facing those who believe something differently?
• How should we handle a situation when faced with those who believe things different from us?
• What demonstrations of God's power can we use to share with those who have never experienced it?

Watch "Pray for Rain" from the movie Faith Like Potatoes.
• What kind of miracles does God do today to reveal Himself to people?
• If we do not see God doing "Red Sea" moments in our lives does that mean that He is not at work?
• Are we people that God can use to do miracles?

• In what ways has God asked us, as Christians, to live differently from the culture around us?
• How is this "difference" a witness to our God and to what God has done for us?
• What do you think it really means to worship only God and not these other things?
• Why is it important to strive toward worshipping only God, and what kind of witness does this present to others?
• Some people believe we must completely separate ourselves from our culture in order to live differently. Is this necessary? Is it even possible?
• Why is it more difficult to live within our culture, not separately, and to remain different?
• Have you ever felt all alone resisting the temptation to conform to this world?
• Was Elijah really alone? Are we?
• When faced with cultural pressures, is it easy to take a stand? Do we remember our victories? Our failures?
• How do these victories and mistakes strengthen our Christian walk?

• Are we as individuals and as a world thirsty for a God whose words can once again water the earth? (Isaiah 55:10-11)

Watch "New World" from the movie The Patriot.
• General Cornwallis sees that he has lost the war even though he had the stronger army, just like Ahab. How did Cornwallis see the world changing forever? How did the world change for Ahab?
• What can we do to stand for good in our world?
• Do others see us as people that God uses?

Elijah shows us that God is indeed among His people and He is alive and active. We do not have to fear abandonment by God. He is faithful.

Study Resources for May 26, 2013

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The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

We are now in Romans 5:1-11. This is a favorite passage of mine. I love the visual of standing in grace. Let's stand in some of that grace together as we look at this passage!

• Do you think words can adequately explain what happens when God saves us? Why or why not?
• How do you define grace?


"God's grace is more than unmerited favor; it is favor bestowed on sinners who deserve wrath. Showing kindness to a stranger is "unmerited favor"; doing good to one's enemies is more the spirit of grace." Luke 6: 27-36.

Read Romans 5:1-11
Paul tells us that there are three things that we are to be proud of, to rejoice in, or to boast about. (v2. in our hope; v.3. in our suffering; v.11 in God.)
• In what sense is Paul using the word "boast"? Can you think of a situation that would show the difference between bragging and the boasting that Paul is talking about?
• "Our present life of fellowship with God through the Spirit is just a foretaste of the life that lies ahead for us." What is it in your present experience with God that you see as a foretaste of an eternal life with God?

Watch "That's My Mission" from the movie Saving Private Ryan.
• Think about: Would you consider Hanks' character a good man for risking his won life to save another?
• What is Paul's main point in verse 7-8? Do you believe most people are good and are worth saving?

Watch Master Yoda's famous quote to Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars.
• Do you follow the progression of this thought: fear-anger-hate-suffering?
• Can you come up with a particular issue that has in the past followed this scenario?
• Yoda's list is pretty bleak, but how does Paul's progression play out?
• What time did you suffer that eventually brought you character or hope?

• Why is it important that we now stand "in grace," and why is that better than standing on something else-our own works for example?
• What is this hope that we boast of?
• What do you think Paul means when he says we can boast about our sufferings? How is that possible?
• How can suffering make us stronger?
• What does this passage say about the quality of God's love toward us?
• According to Paul, suffering produces endurance, which produces character, which produces hope. Why is hope the highest aspiration in this list?
• Are we willing to accept the challenges that we face as opportunities to grow spiritually?

Paul was not saying that God was in the business of sending suffering for the purpose of making believers stronger. We believe that God can work in us through the constant love that "has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit" and bring us our of the experience as stronger people. It is contrary to the nature of God to believe that He targets us for a learning exercise.

Watch the movie clip from The Wizard of Oz, "There's No Place Lke Home." 
• What are some things you miss when you are away from home?
• Are there times when even Christians can still feel that way?
• What can we do to help each other rest in peace and joy in God's grace?
• What can we do to help others find that same grace?

• In verse 1, Paul says that our salvation allows us to "have peace" with God. What kind of peace is this?
• To "justify" someone or something does not have the same meaning today that it once did. To Paul it meant to declare and treat someone as free of guilt. How did Jesus death on the cross justify us in this way?
• To "reconcile" means the same thing today as it meant to Paul. What does it mean to reconcile a relationship?
• How did Jesus' death allow us to be reconciled to God?

In this passage, what did Paul say about...
• the timing of Jesus' death?
• our old and new relationship to God?
• the way we can view suffering?
• the reasons we have hope?

• Do these things explain what salvation is to us?
• How was salvation first presented to you?
• What does salvation mean to you?
• Is it OK that God's salvation can remain a mystery to us?
• How do our lives illustrate the transforming power of the resurrection?
• How does this passage give us a sense of present assurance for future possession?

Study Resources for May 19, 2013

The teacher for this session was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

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This Sunday is Pentecost, the birthday of the Church! Before we dive into Psalms, let's look in Acts 2:1-8, 37-41. This is the account of God's Spirit being poured out on His people.
In these verses we see how the disciples reacted to the Spirit of God.
• In what ways did those disciples see, hear, and feel the Spirit of God that day?

Let's look at Genesis 1:2
The Spirit was present even at the beginning.
• What do you think the Spirit's role might have been as the universe was created?

Read Psalm 104:24-35
• What does the Spirit do in the midst of God's creation-not just at the beginning, but each and every day?
• How is the Spirit's presence central to all the beautiful parts of nature we see in this Psalm?
• What passion for worship is described by the psalmist?
• Do you see that same passion in Christians today? Why or why not?
• What do you think the psalmist was really trying to express in this passage?
• What is the psalmist saying in verse 35, and how can this impact our own journey with God?
• Would removing the bad people create a perfect society?
• What can we do to create a more perfect world?

Read 1 Samuel 16:12-41
• How did the Spirit come to David?
• What kinds of things would David go on to accomplish?
• When the Spirit departed from Saul what happened to him?
• What happened at the day of Pentecost when the Spirit came?
• What was the effect on the Christians gathered there?
• What would be the effect on the people of Jerusalem that day?
• How is the Spirit's work within God's people similar to His work within God's world?
• How is it different?

• How does the Spirit renew creation?
• Have you ever felt renewed by God's Spirit?
• Do you think we will always "feel" renewed by the Spirit, or that we will notice his presence as the disciples did at Pentecost? Explain.
• How does the Spirit work in our church to renew the passion and the mission of our church?
• What kind of renewal do you think we need today as individuals, as a community of believers, as a nation, as a world?

Watch the Stranger than Fiction movie clip, "Part of a Story." 
• How would you have responded if someone told you this story?
• How do you respond when a Christian tells you they have heard the voice of God?
• Why are a lot of people skeptical of such claims?
• Have you ever felt God leading you to do something? Explain
• If you had to describe the Holy Spirit to someone else, what would you say?
• How would you describe the work of the Holy Spirit in your life?
• Are you skeptical of claims that the Holy Spirit leads and guides Christians? Why or why not?

Study Resources for May 12, 2013

The teacher for this session was Steve Booth.(email Steve)

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Come, Lord Jesus

Read Revelation 22:6-21

I'll Be Right Back
• Watch the "Tron: Legacy Trailer" and pay particular attention to any dialogue about time.
    o How long had the father been gone in this clip?
    o How do you think that would have affected the son in this clip?
• How has 2000 years of waiting for Jesus' return affected the church?
• Do you think the amount of time since Jesus said, "I'm coming soon" is a deterrent for potential believers? Why or why not?
• How do we reconcile the idea that Jesus hasn’t returned yet?

Can We Start Over Again?
• Watch the "Jumanji" clip. Warning: This clip is pretty loud. You may want to adjust the volume prior to listening. The movie is about a magical board game that brings the jungle to life, which generally wreaks havoc to anyone and everything around. This clip is the final move in the game.
• What was happening in this clip?
• Have you ever had moments you wish you could get a "do-over"?
• If the Tree of Life mentioned in the text refers to the same tree in the creation account found in Genesis, why do you suppose the vision rewinds all the way back there?
• Why is it important that ALL who are thirsty are welcome to drink?
• Is that a promise that ALL will be in heaven?

I Am Coming Soon
• Watch "A Father's Farewell" from Superman.
    o What was the core of the father's message to the baby boy?
    o What hope is the father trying to provide?
• How is that similar to the words Jesus has for us in this last chapter of Revelation?
• Obviously, Jesus wasn’t referring to historical time when he said "I am coming soon," so what other way is there to take it?
• How can we draw Christ closer to us as a church and a body?

Study Resources for May 5, 2013

The teacher for May is Kathy Thompson.(email Kathy)

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It is probably easy to recognize everything that is wrong in our world, especially in light of the violence in the past few weeks.
• Can we this week look for what might be happening that is right and good in the midst of all sorts of current events?
• What are some "tastes" or "moments" of heaven happening in this present time?
• Can you think of some example of something that happened that was good or right in the middle of current events?
• How about the emphasis our church has with bringing the kingdom of heaven to Richmond? What would the kingdom of heaven look like here in Richmond?
• Can you think of an example of an act that was in line with God's heart and the vision we find in the text?
• What kind of things would you like to be remembered for?
• What stops you from living life well?

Read Revelation 21:9-22:5
• What are the descriptions of heaven given in this passage?
• Why do you think there will be no night?
• How might these images give hope to those who heard it?
• Do you think it's harder, for those who live in relative plenty and safety, to appreciate John's vision?
• How does John's description of heaven give you hope today in the midst of your own challenges?
• How does this city connect the faith of the Old Testament with the faith of the New Testament (verses 12-14)?
• In what ways does this restore the earth to the way it was before Adam and Eve first sinned?
• Does this image of heaven seem like the image you have in your head? Why or why not?
• How is the image of heaven meant to be an image of hope for us?
• What or who is the source of all the things needed for life in this new city?
• Is this really and different from today?

• Do you think that the images of heaven that we see here in the text give us hope for today?
• Do we spend too much or too little time dwelling on heaven?

Watch the "Is This Heaven?" clip from the movie Field of Dreams.
• What do you think of the description of heaven in this film?
• Do you think heaven is about your dreams coming true? Why or why not?
• If you were asked to draw a picture of heaven, what would your picture look like and why?

Study Resources for April 28, 2013

The teacher for April was Kathy Thompson.(email Kathy)

See the session.

No More Tears

• What's the most beautiful place you have ever been?
• Could you adequately explain how beautiful it is?
• Why is so difficult to explain something that only you have experienced?

• What was the first question that God asked His people? It was "Where are you?" God wanted a continued relationship with us, but we continue to rebel. God continues to seek us out. Prophets were sent from God to warn God's people and to bring them back to Him. Isaiah 65:17-25.

Read Revelation 21:1-6

• What do you think of John's description of the new heaven and the new earth?
• Does anything surprise you about this brief description of things to come?
• Does anything comfort you? Frighten you?
• What are the characteristics of this new heaven and earth?
• Why was it important, to the people of John's time, that the sea had disappeared?
• If John were retelling the vision for people of our times, what might he say had disappeared?

• What direction are things moving–are people being taken up, or is God coming to the people (vs.2-3)? Does this matter?

Here in verses 3 and 4 we have the point of Heaven. The whole point is that, in the new age, God's swelling will be with His people. This is the mutual dwelling that God had in mind from the beginning–a place with no pain, sickness or death or any sorrow. A place where He walked and dwelled with His people.

• In verses 4-5, we learn that people and places are being re-made, NIV says "the old order of things has passed away." What other things are happening here?

• What is the significance of God now dwelling with humanity?
• How might this new heaven and new earth give hope to those who were told about this vision?
• Why doesn't God simply replace them rather than transform them into something new?

• Do you think that our focus on various interpretations of the book of Revelation has gotten us off track from the book's true meaning?

Watch the "Let it grow" clip from the movie The Lorax.

• This is a silly movie, but what dies it tell us about people's ability to change and grow?
• Why are people so hesitant to change?
• What usually has to take place in order for people to be willing to change?

Some say that people are unwilling to change until the pain of changing is outweighed by the change of staying the same.
• How have you found that to be true in your experience?
• Do you look forward to a day when all things are made new? Why or why not?
• What relationships or situations have you experienced that were transformed and made new by opening yourself up to God?
• How can we, as people who resist change, open ourselves up to being changed by God on a daily basis?

Study Resources for April 21, 2013

The teacher for April was Kathy Thompson.(email Kathy)

See the session. (note: This video begins several minutes into the class session.)

Revelation 7:9-17

Read Revelation 7:9-17.
Remember John's audience. They were being persecuted for their faith and the word is a word of assurance. God is in control and He is the one who has ultimate control. The image of hope continues and we are told that even though these people have suffered greatly, they will hunger and thirst no more. God will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Eugene Peterson says of the evils unleashed in chapter 6, "The world as we observe it is shot through with evil... War is social evil; famine violates and ravages God's bounty; sickness wastes God-given bodies; sins against society, sins against the land. Each of these evils is common, but each is also disguised so that we culturally accept its presence as something normal..."
• Have we become so used to evil that it seems "normal"?
When we pray the Lord's Prayer, we say, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
• What does that look like?
• What evils, that we may consider normal in this life, will we no longer need to deal with in heaven?

Our faith is a faith that sings. We are rooted in the Hebrew tradition of taking our concerns and our praises to God in song.
Read Psalm 23.
• What parallels do you see between this Psalm and the songs in Revelation 7?
• What importance is there in the diversity of the multitude?
• What does it say about God that His worshippers were so diverse?
• What is the significance of the white robes? The palm branches? The washing of their hands?
• How did the differences in the multitude bring them together?
• How might this passage have given encouragement to the ones who heard it?

Watch the video clip on Cultural Diversity.
• What are some of the problems caused by social diversity?
• How do our cultural differences separate us socially and spiritually?
• Do you think you live in a diverse community? Why or why not?
• How much interaction do you personally have with people who are different from you?
• Why do we tend to spend time with people similar to us rather than those who are culturally different from us?
• What can we gain by building diverse relationships?

• How does our church reach a diverse group of worshippers?
• Why do many churches have difficulties worshipping with those who are different from themselves?
• How can the differences among us draw us closer to each other and to God?
• What strategies can our churches implement to be come more diverse?

The multitudes experienced the presence of God in an extraordinary worship experience.
Read Isaiah 43:1-7.
• Can we experience the presence of God in our everyday lives? How?
• Why is it that we can experience His presence sometimes more clearly than at other times?

The text tells us that God will care for our physical needs, vs. 16, our spiritual needs, vs. 17, and our emotional needs, vs. 17.
• How might this comfort people who are living in persecution? How does this comfort you?
Revelation 7:16-17 and Isaiah 49:10. are similar. How are they alike and how are they different? How do they apply to us today?

Study Resources for April 14, 2013

The teacher for April was Kathy Thompson.(email Kathy)

See the session.

Revelation 5:1-14

We are in the 5th chapter of Revelation this week. The entire chapter! Revelation 5:1-14. I am so appreciative of your participation.
In this chapter, we will look at worth and worthiness.
• How do we measure worth and worthiness?
• How does society measure worth?
• How does God measure worthiness? Does it differ?
• Does honor go to the most deserving or the most powerful? Why?

Read Revelation 5:1-14.

Watch the video clip from The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.
• What are some of the characteristics of Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia?
• Why was it bad to mess with him?
• How can Aslan be ferocious, yet gentle and kind at the same time?
• Do you think we can draw any parallels between Aslan's character and the character of Jesus? Why or why not?

• In the scripture lesson, why does John want to open the scroll so badly?
• Who does he expect will be able to open it?
• What is the symbolism behind the proclamation of a lion, but the vision of a slain lamb?
• What kind of King did the Jews expect Jesus to be especially considering their lands were occupied by the Roman Empire?
• Instead, what kind of King did Jesus come to be? Why might some have had a problem with that?

• In verse 8, the prayers of the saints are depicted as golden bowls full of incense in the Throne Room of God. What is the significance of the prayers of the saints?
• In verse 7, the angels sing about 7 gifts that the Lamb will receive. What do you think is the significance of each gift?

All of creation joins together in a hymn of praise in verses 12-13, bringing together what has been separated by the orders of creation, time, and geography. This is a reflection of the worship of the early church that brought together those who were otherwise separated in their world: slaves/free, Jews/Greeks, men/women, haves/have-nots, those with honor/those with culturally defined shame, pure/impure. A diverse, community came together to sing praise to the Lamb.
• How does all of this impact our vision of worthiness?
• Who is worthy in our world, in our eyes, in our experience?

• When you look at the problems in this world, what kind of actions do you expect from God to bring about healing or change?
• Do we ever have bitterness because God does not solve our problems the way we think God should? Why or why not?
• How do you think John might have responded in seeing a slain lamb rather than the lion he was expecting?
• How do we respond when God shows up in unexpected ways?

Study Resources for April 7, 2013

The teacher for April was Kathy Thompson.
(email Kathy)

See the session.


• What comes to your mind when you think of the Book of Revelation? Why?
• Many view Revelation as an apocalyptic book. How do you think the world will likely end?
• Why do we seem to be intrigued by the mystery of this book?

I think that the verse that kinda sums up the book of
 Revelation is 17:14.
• How does this verse speak to you?

Our focus during this study will not be so much on the end times as it will focus on the end message.
John begins his message with God. So we will begin right there.

Read Revelation 1:1-3.
There are 7 blessings listed in Revelation. I will not have time to go into them, but I sure do like a promise of a blessing.
You can look them up
1:3, 14:13, 16:15, 20:6, 22:7, 22:14, and 19:9.

Read Revelation 1:4-8.
"The revelation of Jesus Christ" - "Apocalypsis"- an unveiling, uncovering, disclosing.

• What does verse 4 tell us about God and time?

• Carl Jung had a saying hung above his door that said, "Bidden or unbidden, God is present."
Is that thought a comfort, or a threat, or both?

• According to this passage, what has Jesus already done?
• What is Jesus going to do?
• Why would this kind of information matter to people who are in the midst of persecution?

• What type of descriptions does John give about Jesus in the passage?
• Why are those significant?

• John calls Jesus the "ruler of the kings of the earth." This is a political statement and a phrase that was used in describing the Romans Caesars. A follower of Jesus is always dealing with politics, because the rulers of this world want to have our allegiance, just like they did in Jesus' day. How does giving our allegiance to Christ cause us to conflict with giving our allegiance to the present rulers of this world?

• What does this passage tell us about the return of Jesus Christ?
• Why will people mourn because of His return?
• To the people of John's time, who were being persecuted, how might this passage bring about hope?

• There are a lot of images and pictures of the return of Jesus. What do you think it will be like when Jesus returns?

• When Jesus returns, how do you think the world will respond? Why?
• How might Jesus respond to the church? Why?
• Do you ever face persecution for being Christian?

• Do you think that modern Christians and the church would really be excited about the idea of Jesus coming back?

Look again at verse 7.
Compare verse 7 with
Daniel 7:13-14, Matthew 24:27-31, and Zechariah 14:3-9.

I continue to have more questions than answers. I look forward to our time together and all of the insights that you will bring!

Study Resources for March 31, 2013

The teacher for March was Kathy Thompson.(email Kathy)

See the session.

Amazing Experience

Read John 20:1-18.
• All 4 Gospels report that the women were the first to discover the resurrection. How were they (especially Mary) uniquely fitted for this experience?
• We have the advantage of knowing the outcome of this story, but John points out (verse 9) that those who first experienced it had no idea what was happening. What emotions might they have experienced at seeing the tomb disturbed and Jesus' body missing?
• Why do you think Jesus chose to appear first to Mary?
• What role do the angels play in this revelation? Why do you think the 2 disciples did not see the angels?
• What finally makes Mary realize she is talking to Jesus? Why is this significant?
• In looking at the resurrection story one more time, is there anything that is surprising to you?
• How do you think this event felt to each of those who appear in this story—Mary, Peter, and John?
• Who do you identify with today?
• Why is it important to continually revisit this story, even though we know it so well?

An interesting note, In John 13:16, Jesus calls His disciples "servants" and in John 15:15, He calls them "friends" now He calls them "brothers" (20:17). The resurrection creates a new kind of relationship between God and all of us. Brothers and sisters, how cool!

• Do you think that the story of the resurrection has lost some of its power for those of us who have heard it so many times? Why?

Watch the video clip from "Armistad" about Jesus' Illustrated story.
• What do you think it would be like to read this story for the first time?
• What do you think these men thought about this story?
• Why was it so powerful to them?
• How can a story have so much meaning without proof?
• Do you think the resurrection can be proven? Does it need to be?
• How is the resurrection meant to be experienced rather than proven?
• Who are we looking for this morning?
• How can the resurrection be something powerful to us this year?

Study Resources for March 24, 2013

The teacher for March was Kathy Thompson.(email Kathy)

See the session.

Think about:
• If Jesus were to come into our room, what kind of entrance would you expect? Why?
• We are comfortable with people cheering enthusiastically for their favorite sports team or celebrity. Are we comfortable with a loud, visible demonstration of worship of God? Why or why not?
• How have you experienced God's power?
• Where have you seen God's power at work in this world?
• What power of God have you seen in what some might consider to be "chance" of "coincidence"?
• What miracles have you experienced or seen in others?
• What can we celebrate about God's strength, ability and influence?
• What can we celebrate about God's greatness, beauty and goodness?

Read Luke 19:35-40.
• Where do I find myself in this story?
• Would I have joined the crowds who followed Jesus into the city, only to abandon him a short while later?
• Would I have stood apart and passed quick judgment, like the Pharisees?
• Would I have tended to my business and ignored the procession altogether? Or would I have been like those few disciples surrounding Jesus who stuck with him to the end and never gave up?

Watch the video clip from "Rudy."
Did you find yourself catching the excitement of the moment?
It was obviously important that Rudy was given the opportunity to play. Why might the head coach have not played Rudy earlier?
Why do you think the celebration for Jesus coming into Jerusalem was so elaborate and big?
Do you find it strange and scary how the crowd was for Jesus on this day, and in 6 days he would be executed?
Why do we get so depressed when our expectations do not match up with reality?
- What were the people expecting Jesus to do once He got to Jerusalem?
- How did Jesus disappoint them? Do we have any expectations of Jesus today? Explain.
- What does the church expect of Jesus today? Is there anything about our worship that is unexpected, or surprising?
   Why or why not?
- How can we take joy in the unexpected?

Study Resources for March 17, 2013

The teacher for March was Kathy Thompson.(email Kathy)

Extravagant Worship

Read John 12:1-8.

See the session.

• How would you define and explain extravagant worship?
• Do you prefer extravagant or a calmer form of worship? Explain.
• Do you think God cares if your worship is acceptable to others? Why or why not?

• What prevents us from being generous/extravagant/intimate in our worship?
• What prevents us from being generous/extravagant/intimate in our acts of love towards others?
• What risks do we take when we worship and when we serve others?

• What was Mary's act of worship in this passage?
• How was this act of worship viewed by those who witnessed it?
• How did Jesus show his acceptance of Mary's gift?
• How was Mary's gift an act of worship?
• How was Mary's gift a demonstration of servanthood?
• How can we demonstrate our love for God by serving others?
• Do you agree with Judas, even a little?

• Consider verse 8. Now that we no longer have Jesus with us, are these kinds of extravagant acts still necessary?

• Why do you think we sometimes struggle just loving God and loving others?
• What reputation has the church earned in the eyes of the world?
• What reputation has our church earned in the eyes of this community?

• How can we love God with the passion, intimacy, and extravagance that Mary showed in this passage?

• How can we love people with the passion, intimacy, and extravagance that Mary showed in this passage?
• How would the reputation of the church change if we could love like Mary?

 Watch the video "Love God, Love Neighbor."

• Mother Teresa of Calcutta explained that she served the poor because they were "Jesus in disguise." How can we express extravagant gratitude to Jesus by ministering to others?
• Mary demonstrated her love for her Lord through her actions. She was not only generous but extravagant. How can we be the same?

Study Resources for March 10, 2013

The teacher for March was Kathy Thompson.(email Kathy)

The Prodigal Son

Read Luke 15:1-3, 11-32.

See the session.

Something to think about: In the 2 parables at the beginning of chapter 15, the things that were lost could not be blamed for their situation or their "lostness". The Prodigal made choices and decisions that caused him to be lost. He really did not deserve any help from his father.

Extravagant grace  How have you experienced extravagant grace? Are you someone who prefers grace or justice?

• Watch the "Back to God" clip from Les Miserables.
What did Jean Valjean deserve in this clip?
- Why do you think the Bishop decided to show him grace?
- How might this desplay of grace impact his life?
- How do you define grace in your life?
- How does God's grace change you?

- Why did the younger brother decide to go back to the father?
- What response did he deserve and how did it differ from what he got?
- Why did he have such a difficult time understanding the grace his father gave him?
- Why do we sometimes feel undeserving of God's forgiveness?
- What does this story teach us about God's grace?
- Why doesn't God just give up on us?

- Do you think the older brother was treated unfairly?
- Does he lose anything because of the grace that was shown to his brother?
- How would you have responded as the older brother?

- Who are some people in our society that might be considered unworthy of God's grace?
- How do we respond when we are confronted with God's grace and love for everyone?
- How does this parable jive with the understanding the world has of justice? How about your understanding?

• Watch the music video "Prodigal" by Casting Crowns.
- Reality is, neither son understood the father's grace. The younger son thought that he had to return home and become in some way "less than" he was when he left. The older son could not separate his own sense of fairness and justice to include anything or anyone else that didn't fit into his definition of right and wrong. When all was said and done, both sons were loved, graced, forgiven, and welcomed home.
- Do we have a rigid sense of who is worthy, who is valuable, and who is deserving?
- Could we be surprised by who God chooses to grace?
- Do we have spiritual blind spots when it comes to who is deserving of God's grace?

Study Resources for March 3, 2013

The teacher for March was Kathy Thompson. (email Kathy)

When Bad Things Happen to Good People

Read Luke 13:1-9.

See the session.

• Begin to think about when bad things happen to good people. How do we make sense of those situations? Do people get what they deserve? Should they? How does the view of an unfair world affect out view of God? Or does it?

• What happened in the 2 events that Jesus refers to in the scripture lesson? How did the people try to make sense of these tragedies? Why do you think that Jesus did not give an explanation for the tragic events? Why do you think Jesus told this parable and how does it relate to the tragedies?

• What recent tragedies from the news catch you attention and where do you think God was during those events? Why does it sometimes take a tragedy to reflect, repent, and draw near to our God? How do we give thanks for the manure of life?

• Watch the "Braveheart" clip.

• What do you think William Wallace meant when he said, "every man dies, not every man really lives?" Is there a relationship between how we live and how we die? Is it important?

Kathy ThompsonA native of Virginia, Kathy is the daughter of a Baptist minister. She also married a Baptist minister! She and her husband, Robert, live in Ashland, Virginia where he recently retired as Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Ashland, where they served for twenty years. Kathy was active in the music department at First Baptist and taught Sunday School for many years. A first grade teacher at Hanover Academy, Kathy teaches music to preschoolers through the eighth grade. She is a graduate of George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. She and Robert are the parents of 2 sons: Matthew and his wife Jennifer, and Christopher and grandparents to Peyton Elizabeth. They also have a precious dog named Eli.



The teacher for February 24 was Jay McNeal. (email Jay)

Study Resources for February 24, 2013

See the session.

Changing Systems

Read Luke 13:31-35.

Empty Threat
• Watch the "Constructive Criticism" clip from Undercover Blues.
    Why does it seem like the couple didn't take this death threat seriously?
• Does Jesus take the threat of Herod seriously? Why or why not?
• How much credence do we give looming threats like environmental or economic ones?
• What challenges or warnings do you think the church is facing today?
• Do you think churches listen to warnings or tend to shrug them off?

Systemic Problem
• Watch the clip "The System" from The Matrix. Pay special attention to the lines rather than the visual.
• This scene is stolen by the woman in red, but what was the monologue talking about in this scene?
• Do you think systems or groups are corrupt because they're made of people, or are people corrupted
    by systems? If both, then which is more to blame?
• What parts of our society encourage sin, oppression, or corruption?
• As a group make a list of the top 5 societal problems in our society.
• What would have to change to begin solving those societal problems?

See You Real Soon
• Watch the "I'll Be Right Back" clip from Cast Away.
• What is Jesus' promise or foreshadowing at the end of this passage?
• Does God promise that there will be an end to all of the societal wrongs in the world?
• What does it do to us when we expect something to change or happen sooner than it does?
• So what does Jesus promise to return to Jerusalem mean to us who live on the other side
    of the world and the other side of an ocean of time?


The teacher for January - February 17 was Steve Booth. (email Steve)

Study Resources for February 17, 2013

Wilderness People

See the session.

Read Luke 4:1-13.

In the Desert
• “Why do you think God sometimes allows us to face difficult experiences, even though we may pray against them?”
• Have you ever had a (nonlethal) showdown with someone? Maybe a drag-out, knockdown argument or a contest of some sort?
• In real life, does the showdown usually mean the end of the issue? Why is that?
• Does the battle between Jesus and his Adversary end here?

• Watch the clip "Ignorance is Bliss" from the Matrix .
    ◊ What things really tempt us?
    ◊ What was the difference between the focus of the tempted and the tempter in this clip?
• Many tend to think that the bread was a very elementary temptation. How tempting would bread be to you after 40 days?
• What do you think the point of Jesus' fasting was?
• Lent is starting this week; are you giving anything up?
• What would have changed if Jesus had just turned some stones into bread? Would the world have ended?

Holding Fast
• Watch the "Don't Rock the Boat" clip from How Do You Know? What did Jesus rely upon to get through his temptations?
• Did Jesus' temptations end here? Where else might Jesus have been tempted?
• What helps you resist temptations?
• Why might this story be important as we begin the season of Lent?

Steve BoothSteve serves Richmond's First Baptist Church as Associate Pastor for Christian Formation. He was ordained by the Highland Baptist Church, Louisville, Kentucky. He came to First Baptist Church after having served churches in Virginia, North Carolina, and Indiana. Steve is a native Mississippian with family roots in North Carolina. He is a graduate of Campbell University and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He holds the Doctor of Ministry degree in supervised ministry from Andover Newton Theological School. He and his wife, Barbara, are parents of Jordan, Megan, and Meredith and grandparents to Jackson.  Jordan and his wife, Erin, are Jackson’s parents.  Megan, and her husband, Peter, live in Charleston, SC.




Study Resources for February 10, 2013

Shiny, Happy People

See the session.

Read Exodus 34:29-35.

You Seem Different
• Watch "Show Yourself" from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
    ◊ When the three realized the white wizard was someone they knew, how did they react?
    ◊ What had happened to Gandalf to make him so different?
    ◊ How is that similar or different to Moses' change in appearance?
• What are some things we can assume about someone who appears drastically different?
• Do people change in a deep way? Explain why you think that.

Really Different
• Watch the Bible Background Video
• How do we tend to react when someone changes in a big way?
• Have you ever become suspicious or doubtful of someone who changes drastically? Can you share that?
• As a rule, would you say that we like it when people change or we don't like it when people change? Why?
• Why do you suppose Moses started wearing a veil?
• How do we expect people to change as they grow in their relationship with Jesus?

We Can All Be Different
• Watch the clip "Get Happy" clip shown during the Super Bowl.
    ◊ How does the "Jamaican" influence his workplace?
    ◊ What finally works in making his attitude spread?
• Do you think being around Moses had the ability to change people?
• If we want to impact our world in a positive way, how do we encourage someone to experience what we have?
• Has someone's experience of God ever had a ripple effect on you?
• Is there a Moses in your life that makes you think they've experienced something that no one else has?


Study Resources for February 3, 2013

When God Calls

See the session.

Read Jeremiah 1:4-10.

• Watch the Evan Almighty movie clip and consider these questions:
    ◊ How would you respond if God called you to do something like this? Why? How would your family respond if you told them God called you to do this?
    ◊ Do you think this movie clip expresses the way most people think a call from God will change their lives? Why or why not?
• What do you think a call from God would actually be like? Have you ever felt God calling you to do something? What was it like?
• How would you respond if God called you to do something you did not want to do or did not think you would be able to do?

Read Jeremiah 1:4-10 and watch the FaithElement.com Bible Background Video.
• What excuses did Jeremiah make to avoid God's calling? What was God's response?
• Do you find it odd that God would call a child like this? Why or why not?
• What would it be like for God to touch your lips? What would it take for you to have an encounter with God that you were confident about?

God Calls Us
• Do you think God might have a role prepared for each of us before we are even born? Or is this only for certain kinds of people? Explain.
• Why is it helpful for us to understand this, even if we might not know what that role might be?
• Can we be certain that we are proclaiming God's message, and not our own? How? Why is this important?
• Consider a time when you felt you were being used by God:
     ◊ Did you recognize beforehand that God was calling you to do something?
     ◊ How did God uniquely prepare you for this task? What shortcomings did God overcome in you?


Study Resources for January 27, 2013

A Community Listens

See the session.

Read Nehemiah 8:1-10.

• Watch the "Reading a Book" video by Julian Smith.
• What are the books that have made you borderline anti-social? Are there other hobbies that can do that to you?
• What's the difference between the ridiculous music video by Julian Smith and the reading in Nehemiah?
• How well do you think people today would do with listening to someone read for 6 hours on end?
• Do you think in general that we think of reading the Bible as private or communal? Why?

• Watch the clip from Life is Beautiful called "Creative Translation." The clip is set in a German concentration camp and the translator's entire purpose is to keep this boy from understanding the horror of what they're living through.
• What do you suppose the other men in the room were thinking as the translator was speaking? What do you think the other prisoners said or did after the clip ends?
• What's the importance of good translation as it pertains to the Bible?
• Assuming we don't speak the original languages that the Bible is written in, what translators do we rely on? (Bible translation committees, teachers, pastors, commentaries)
• In what ways are we still translating even if we're reading in English?

Illustrated Story
• Watch the clip "Illustrated Story" from Amistad.
• How much of the Gospel message do these two men grasp even without the ability to read English?
• How might their understanding be deepened by knowing how to read the words between the pictures?
• In what ways are we as modern Americans much like the two men in the clip?
• How might we deepen our understanding of Scripture?
• What "Levites" do you regularly rely on? In other words, who do you trust as a teacher of Scripture?
• What effects can encountering the Bible have on us?
• How can we be better teachers for the next generation of listeners?


Study Resources for January 20, 2013

Advocates Wanted

See the session.

Read Isaiah 62:1-7.

• Read Isaiah 62:1-7.
• What promises does Isaiah give the people about God? Why might they need these promises at this point in time? What does it mean for them to be called priests and ministers of the Lord?
• Do you think they deserve all of these things that are promised to them after all the suffering they have experienced? Why or why not?
• Do you think we get the same treatment after our suffering? Why or why not?

• Watch the Charlotte's Web video clip.
• How does this video relate to this week's passage?
• How might Wilbur have felt when Templeton told him the truth about the farmer's plans for him? How did Israel feel hopeless and alone in this week's passage?
• Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you felt hopeless or alone?
• Where does Wilbur find reassurance that he is not alone? When you feel alone, where does your reassurance come from? How did God's promises bring hope to the Israelites? Do these promises have any hope for us as well? Why or why not?

• Watch the I am Sorry video.
• What do you think of the apologies offered in this video? Do you think he is right about the way Christians treat other people badly? Why or why not?
• Why do you think some people do not feel welcomed at a church? Do you know people who would never step foot into a church because of the way they think they will be treated? Explain.
• How will the church ever welcome these people it has traditionally rejected? What role can you play in this change? What would happen if you spoke up for one of the rejected? What happens if you remain silent?
• How can our church change to be more welcoming and accepting of others?


Study Resources for January 13, 2013

God Has Not Forgotten

See the session.

Read Isaiah 47:1-7.

Today's discussion will be focused around the idea of assurance during troubled times.

Where Have All the Superheroes Gone?
•Watch "There is No Superman" from the movie Waiting for Superman.
•Do you remember ever having an epiphany (fresh insight) similar to the one in this clip: a feeling like there's no one powerful enough to save everyone?
•This clip comes from the movie "Waiting for Superman" which documents the sad state of education in much of our nation. What problems or troubles would you say that we're facing in this country?
•Do you feel hopeful about the future? Why or why not?
•Was Israel's exile in Babylon greater or lesser than our current situation? Explain.

A Little Premature
•Watch the clip entitled "None Like It Hot" from An Inconvenient Truth.
•Why is the "once and for all" solution a totally unsatisfying answer for the little girl? What are some of the premature or unsatisfying solutions we often use to cover over major issues?
•Does this Scripture seem at all helpful or pertinent to the problems we face?
•So if there are no easy fixes, what do we do? Do we wait, give up, try to fix things ourselves?

A Small Light in a Dark Room
•Watch the clip from Saving Private Ryan called "It Doesn't Make Any Sense" and be warned that there is one occurrence of harsh language.
•Why do you think Matt Damon had such a hard time believing that he was worth saving?
•Do you think that Israel questioned God's reassuring words that He still cared for them even in their pain?
•What might God be reassuring us of in the midst of the challenges we are facing?


Study Resources for January 6, 2013

Light of Hope

See the session.

Read Isaiah 60:1-9.
The prophet Isaiah's words in Isaiah 60:1-9 are words of hope to a hurting group of people. Their treasured past is in fragments, and there is little joy in the present. The home that they are returning to is nothing but rubble and rebuilding is full of backbreaking labor and painful memories. Although most of us today have not experienced anything like being displaced from our nation or losing everything, we are a people who are hurting – hurting for loved ones who are lost, memories that are just memories, homes to which we cannot return. Tragedy still abounds in the world today. As we have just celebrated Christmas and the New Year, a time in which we look towards the celebration of Christ's birth and a time in which we look forward to what the New Year brings. Hope is what sustains us and keeps us looking for the light even when darkness is threatening to swallow us.

Home, Sweet Home
• Watch the clip from the movie, E.T., entitled "Where are you from."
• What sorts of things can we guess just by knowing where someone comes from?
• Are you more of a product of your home or is your identity in spite of your home?
• What does today's Scripture tell us about those unable to go home?

There's No Place Like It
• Watch the clip entitled "Longing for Home" from the new Hobbit movie.
• You may have never read the book or know much about the dwarves in this clip, but what would you guess about their home judging from the song they share?br> • Do you ever wish to go back home? Why or why not?
• Thomas Wolfe said, "You Can’t Go Home Again." What do you think he meant?
• How was the memory of home a sort of deception to the exiled Israelites?

A Small Light in a Dark Room
• Watch the "You Are Heroes" clip from the movie Freedom Writers. The lady in the clip is supposed to be Miep Gies , a Dutch citizen who helped hide Anne Frank from the Nazis.
• What's the difference between being haunted by your history (like Isaiah) and being propelled by it (like Miep)?
• From our standpoint, we can see Jesus' coming in the Isaiah passage, but obviously the Israelites couldn't. How can we be hopeful for others even if we don’t know all the details?
• How can we be like that "small light in a dark room?"


The teacher for December, 2012 was Jay McNeal.  (email Jay)

Jay McNealJay graduated from Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond May 25th. He has been a member at First Baptist Church for two years and he was ordained by First Baptist later the same day that he graduated. Jay worked closely beside Dr. Somerville this school year as his intern. While Jay continues to be employed at the seminary's library he has also come on staff at First Baptist. He is leading the Microchurch Initiative as the Microchurch Pastor. More information is available at www.fbcrichmond.org/micro.

Study Resources for December 30, 2012

Growing in Faith

See the session.

Read Luke 2:41-52.

Learning About Jesus

What do we learn about Jesus and his family, from the fact that they made this pilgrimage every year? What does this contribute to our understanding of Jesus’ later life and ministry?

How do you think they felt to see that Jesus was apparently unconcerned about their worries? How does it make you feel to see Jesus causing problems for his parents? How much remorse does Jesus feel for the aggravation he has caused his parents? Why? Why is it hard to think of Jesus growing, learning and causing heartache? Why is it important for us to think about these things? Is Jesus obedient?

Learning About Ourselves

Watch the Spiderman clip. “These are the years a man changes and becomes the man he’s going to be for the rest of his life ... with great power comes great responsibility” (Uncle Ben from Spiderman).

- In what ways does Luke say that Jesus grew (v. 52)?
- If Jesus – the perfect Son of God – had to grow and learn in these ways, what does it say about you and me?
- Much later, the events in this story probably made more sense to Mary (and possibly to Jesus!). Can you think of times in your faith journey that something happened that only made sense much later? Have you ever affirmed to others that “Everything happens for a reason”?
- In what ways are we called to grow responsibly?

Home Alone



Study Resources for December 16, 2012

See the session.

Read Luke 3:7-18.

Welcome and Prayer


Read scripture and provide some biblical background. Identify three parts: Warning,
Instructions, and Messianic Expectation. We will be preparing our own way to the
Christmas miracle by looking closely at these three parts of John’s message.

- Watch clip. "The Wire" from The Great Escape.
- How many people got onto Steve McQueen's case about crossing the infamous wire?
- Did you find his character a bit too cocky or brazen?
- What is John warning the people about in verse 8?
- How might this warning apply to us today?
- What do we find ourselves resting on as sources of security?
- How might that be harmful to us spiritually?

- Watch the "How to High-5" clip.
- What are some other social situations that you would love others to follow a rule
about? (Be alert from now until Sunday to find creative answers to this one!)
- How do John's instructions in verses 10-14 seem to you?
- Do we still have tax-collectors and soldiers today? What jobs might these values be
applied to today?
- How did you expect John to answer the soldiers' question?
- What do you think John the Baptist would say to you personally?

Messianic Expectation

- Finally, show the "One-Upsmanship" clip.
- How could you say that we live in a sort of "bigger & better" society?
- Is the iPhone 5 better than the 4? Why or why not?
- Since we really don’t see Jesus literally dunking people in a lake of fire or bundling
grains of any sort, what is John saying?
- If you didn’t have the rest of the Gospel story, would John's warnings make you
WANT the Messiah to come or be fearful of it?
- How does Jesus take John's message further in his ministry? 

Study Resources for December 9, 2012

See the session.

Title: A New Power in Town

Read Luke 3:1-6.

Welcome and Prayer


Read aloud the short scripture passage.

Name Dropper
Reread Luke 3:1-2
Who are these people?
Watch the Geek Test clip from the newest Star Trek movie.  Watch it online.
Do you recognize the names "James Kirk" and "Leonard McCoy"?
If we're not familiar with the original Star Trek show, are these names really all that important?
What do these names in Luke tell us about Jesus' context?
What is a time that seemed fairly meaningless or coincidental that turned out to be really important in your life?

Confessions or Repentance
Reread Luke 3:3 and immediately watch the Repent clip.  Watch it online.
Did the confessor seem genuine in this clip?
What's the difference between "confession" and "repentance"?
Does it make a difference to your loved ones whether you confess a wrong or repent of it?

Level the Playing Field

Reread Luke 3:4-6 and then show the Natural State clip.  Watch it online.
Anthony Hopkins is arguing against the idea that putting one class, people, or race above another is natural. Do you agree or disagree with that claim? Note that we're not talking about whether slavery is right or wrong, but whether or not it is natural for humans to do that.
What inequalities do you see in our time? Who lives "on the mountain" and who live "in the valley"?
How might personal repentance lead to a more level community?
Can making a more level community lead people to personal repentance?


Study Resources for December 2, 2012

See the session.

Read Jeremiah 33:14-16.

This is the first Sunday in Advent which focuses on Hope. After our opening prayer I am going to ask you to name something you each hope for this Christmas season.


Read the brief passage and then watch Biblical Background video of Nikki Hardeman's. Watch it online.

Face the Darkness
- Watch the clip entitled "Nothing Will Stop Me."  Watch it online.
- Could the Lorax stop the man from cutting down all the trees?
- What are some of the dark things in our world that you feel like people just don’t often see or pay attention to?
- Why do you think it’s hard for us, as individuals and as a society, to face the darkness that’s before us?

- Watch the "Plant the Seed" clip. Watch it online.
- What’s being said here, in your own words?
- What was Jeremiah's promise in today's passage?
- What hope can we derive from this promise?
- As Christians, how does the promise of Jesus' coming (or second coming) provide hope in the darkness that we face?

Community of Hope
- Finally, watch the "Let it Grow" clip and close with these final questions. Watch it online.
- How does the hope of the seed grow in this clip (all puns intended)?
- What if no one else in the town had spoken up? Who do you think would have won? Would anything change?
- Is this an image of how the church should be?
- When is it right to tell others about the hope we find in Jesus?

The teacher for October 28 through November 25 is Steve Booth. (email Steve)

Study Resources for November 25, 2012: Power in Truth

See the session.

Read John 18:33-37.

- Who holds the power in our society? Who seems to have the power in the Scripture passage?
- Watch the "Power?" clip from movie, The Fifth Element. Watch it online.
- What was the priest's point about that power meaning nothing?
- In what situations do we find power completely nullified?

- How would you answer Pilate's question: "What is truth?"
Watch the "Whole Truth" clip from the movie, Dave. Watch it online.

- What are the effects of the President telling the truth in this clip?
- What does the truth have to do with power?
- How can following truth empower you?
- Do you have a hard time discerning truth or is it easy for you to see? Explain.

REAL Power
Watch "THAT is Power" from Schindler's List. Watch it online.
- What are the two images of "power" in the clip?
- Have you seen earthly examples of the power of grace or mercy?
- How the idea of power through grace seem weak or idealistic to some?
- How did Jesus use grace to exhibit his ultimate power?
- How can we be agents of God’s grace in a way that is real to people?


Study Resources for November 18, 2012: Nothing Is Permanent

See the session.

Read Mark 13:1-8.

- Watch the video clip from 2012. Watch it online.
- How do you feel when people begin discussing the end of the world?
- What are the ways some predict the end of the world will happen? What response do you have when you hear those predictions? Why?
- How should a Christian view the end of the world compared to those who do not yet know Christ?

End Times
- Read Mark 13:1-8.
- Why did Jesus turn a discussion about the temple into one about the end of the age?
- Why did the disciples want to know more? What signs did Jesus give? Have those signs already happened? When?
- Jesus was very vague with his response, how do you make sense of his answer?

Without Fear
- Why were the disciples so proud of the structure of the temple? How might they have felt when Jesus said it will be destroyed?
- Watch the Star Wars video clip. Watch it online.
- How did the officers feel about the Death Star they had created? How is this story similar to Jesus’ description of the temple?
- Make a list of the 5 most important things to you. How does each have value to you?
- Of all the things you value, which ones are permanent? Which ones are temporary? What happens if we place out trust in the things that are temporary?
- How is an experience with God something permanent? How does this passage and discussion help us to approach the future without fear?


Study Resources for November 11, 2012: Making Just Choices

See the session.

Read Mark 12:38-44.

Pride Comes Before…
- Watch the "Demonstration" clip from Iron Man. Watch it online. How do you experience Tony Stark in this clip? What do you think of people like Tony Stark? Do you want good or evil for them?
- Jesus’ first warning in our passage today talks about people who draw attention to themselves and, as a result, eventually reap negative consequences. Is that good news or bad news for us? Do the showoffs eventually get punished in some way?
- How do you think Christians are to respond when this punishment happens?

A Fall.
- How do you tend to react when someone proud or sure gets taken down a notch?
- Watch the clip entitled "Declined" from Not Easily Broken. Watch it online. How did it feel to watch the husband while his card was being run?
- Why do you think you didn’t want this couple to be embarrassed as much as you would like to see Tony Stark humbled a bit? Would you characterize the couple as proud?

The Way of Scribe or Widow?
- Watch the "First World Problems" video. Watch it online. For more insight, watch the video, "First World Problems explained". Watch it online.
     * First World Problems – frustration or complaint only experienced by privileged individuals in wealthy countries
     * meme - an element of a culture or behavior that may be passed from one individual to another by some non-genetic means (esp. by imitation or via the internet).
- How does the whole First World Problems phenomenon relate to Jesus comparison of the scribes and the widow?
- Are we more like the scribes (religious scholars) or the widow? Why or why not?
- Why does Jesus praise the widow for what she gives?
- What are some reasons people stop giving to the church? Are any of those good reasons? Why or why not? What does the way you spend your money say about you?
- What would you say is the practical takeaway of this passage? In other words, what should we DO with the truth revealed in this story?

Study Resources for November 4, 2012: Love God, Love Neighbor

See the session.

Read Mark 12:28-34.

- Watch the One Question video Watch it online.
- What do you think of the questions asked in this video?
  Which of the questions have you ever wondered about?
  Do you think these questions are important? Why or why not?
- If you could ask God one question, what would it be?
- What question could you ask God that would transform your life? Explain.

- In Mark 12:28-34, why were these different groups asking Jesus questions?
  Do you think they were seeking answers, or just wanting to debate Jesus’ answers? Explain.
- How do both of Jesus’ answers fit together?
  Is it possible to keep one of the commandments without keeping the other? Why or why not?
- How might the answer to this question transform someone’s life?

- Watch the Love God, Love Neighbor video. Watch it online.
- What evidence do you see in the world of Christians loving God and loving their neighbor?
- How has your church lived out Jesus’ command to love God and love your neighbor?
  How can your church improve upon becoming a community of people who love like Christ?
- How does this command impact your life?
  What areas of your life might you need to take Jesus’ instruction to heart?
  What areas can you be more loving to others?

Study Resources for October 28, 2012: No Answers, but Presence

See the session.

Read Job 42:1-7; 10-16.

Surrender to a Different View
- Watch "Frank’s Surrender" clip from movie, Catch Me If You Can. Watch it online. Watch it online.
- What did Frank come to believe before he surrendered to Carl?
- What did Job come to see as he made his own repentance?
- While the criminal in the movie clip was clearly guilty with his stacks of checks, was Job guilty of anything?
   Why might Job not be guilty after all?
- What are your thoughts about whether or not we have a right to question God?

Now We’re Even
- Watch the clip entitled "Repayment" from movie, The Usual Suspects. Watch it online.
- What motivates the criminals in the clip toward repayment? In Job’s story,
  GOD is the one doing the repaying by blessing Job with all that he had twice over. How is that idea revolutionary?
- If God is repaying Job, do you think that means that God recognizes that there was a wrong done to Job?

Life Continues
- Watch the "Happyness" clip from the movie, Pursuit of Happyness. Watch it online.
- The premise of the entire movie is that Will Smith’s character has been homeless and unable to find work
  for a good amount of time, but hasn’t let it compromise him. How is that similar to Job’s story?
- How do you think Job will look back on this time of his life?
- After a trial in your life has passed, how do you tend to look back on it?

The teacher for October 21 was Rev. Andrea Skeens. (email Andrea)

Rev. Andrea SkeensAndrea has been a part of FBC for about two years. She was recently ordained by FBC in April 2012. She grew up in the East end of Richmond and currently lives in Varina with her husband Brandon and two dogs. She is a graduate of Virginia Tech and Union Presbyterian Seminary. Her focus in ministry is Christian education and pastoral care.


Scripture focus - Job 38:1-7, 34-41

The teacher for the four-session series on the Psalms is Lu Treadwell. (email Lu)

Lu Treadwell
Lu Treadwell's career has been spent in higher education and the church. She has taught world history to college freshmen, and served in Christian education at Crescent Hill Baptist Church, and at Waco's St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Upon her retirement from Baylor's Truett Seminary where she designed and directed the mentoring program, she became minister to senior adults at Seventh and James Baptist Church, and moved from Waco to Richmond last year.

Click here to download a reading list for the series.

The Five-Book Arrangement. As both the NIV and the NRSV suggest, the doxologies in Pss 41:13; 72:19; 89:52; and 106:48 have the effect of dividing the psalter into five books:

Book I Psalms 1-41
Book II Psalms 42-72
Book III Psalms 73-89
Book IV Psalms 90-106
Book V Psalms 107-150

The New Interpreter's Bible. Page 659

October 14, 2012: The Psalms

See the session.

October 7, 2012: The Psalms

See the session.

September 30, 2012: The Psalms

See the session.

September 23, 2012: The Psalms

See the session.

Study Resources for September 16, 2012: Woman Wisdom

The teacher was Steve Booth. (email Steve)

See the session.

Text: Proverbs 1:20-33.

The Warning
- Watch the Apocalypse clip from 2012. Watch it online. Beware of some colorful language said in humor.
- Why is the warning in this video easy to ignore?
- Is the warning in today's Scripture easy to ignore or does it feel truer?
- If you were "Woman Wisdom," how would you warn the people of Israel?

The Choice
- Watch "The Wrong Way" from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles Watch it online.
- Why do you think it is so hard for some people to take advice?
- How can we sometimes be like the two men driving the wrong way?
- When do the men realize the truth of the warning?
- What does Woman Wisdom ultimately want us to choose?

The Consequence
- Play the Search for Bobby Fisher movie clip. Watch it online. How does this clip relate to this week's passage?
- Why did Josh's opponent not see the results of his actions? How did Josh eventually figure it out?
- Where did Josh's wisdom come from? How would Josh have seen the consequences without having someone to teach him?

- How does wisdom help us to see the consequences to our actions?
- Do you believe the consequences listed in today's passage?
- Speaking more generally, how might your life go in another direction if you didn’t listen to God's wisdom in your own life?
- Where are some different places we can turn to seek out God's truth and wisdom for how to live our lives?

Study Resources for September 9, 2012: Nuggets of Wisdom

The teacher was Steve Booth. (email Steve)

See the session.

Background Text: Proverbs 22.
Focal Text: Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23.

- Watch the Bible Background video of Proverbs 22 by Nikki Hardeman from FaithElement.com. Click here to view video.

God is the Maker of All
- Read Proverbs 22:1-2.
- Watch the "Natural State is Freedom" clip from the movie Amistad- Watch it online.
- In what ways are 21st century Americans living up to the declaration that "all men (and women) are created equal?"
Where are we not living up to our nation's founders' dreams of equality for all?

Sowing and Reaping
- Read Proverbs 22:8-9.
- Watch the Granny Games clip - Watch it online.
- How does the Granny Games clip illustrate the wisdom of the Scripture?

The Lord Pleads
- Read Proverbs 22:22-23
- Watch the "Back to God" clip from the movie Les Miserables - Watch it online.
- How do you think God sticks up for the “despoiled” (those deprived of something valuable by force) in the present day?

September 2, 2012: Song of Songs

See the session.

The teacher was Steve Booth. (email Steve)

Read Song of Solomon (Songs) 2:8-15 in several translations or paraphrase versions (i.e., New International, New Revised Standard Version, The Message, etc.). After reading, reflect on the following questions:

  • How does our culture define “love” and “intimacy?” Are these definitions (perspectives) accurate? NOTE: Viewing the first two video clips – “Time Stands Still” and “As You Wish” (see below) – might be helpful in reflecting on our culture’s definitions of love.

  • How might this passage reflect the love between God and God’s people?

  • What are some things that you think the writer of Song of Solomon (Songs) comprises a real and healthy loving relationship?

  • How can Christians model this kind of healthy love for the rest of the world?

Video Clip, “Time Stand Still” from the film Big Fish Watch it online.

Video Clip, from the film The Princess Bride "As You Wish."

Video Clip, from the film Crazy Stupid Love "Do You Like This Girl?" 

August 26, 2012 - Armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-17)

The teacher was Andrea Skeens. (see bio) (email Andrea)

See the session.

The teacher for August 19 was Dr. Michael Harton. (email Mike)

Mike HartonDr. Harton is a popular speaker and well-known in Virginia as an outstanding educator. His professional background is varied and extensive, including formally serving as the Regional Coordinator for the Initiative for Ministerial Excellence with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Interim Dean of Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, interim staff educator at various churches, Professor of Christian Education at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and as the Director of Bible Teaching and Discipleship for Virginia Baptists. He is the co-author of The Religious Education of Adults (Smyth & Helwys) and is contributing editor for The Church’s Ministry to Adults, and Handbook on Adult Religious Education. Dr. Harton and his wife, Raylene, are active members of Richmond's First Baptist Church.

Study Resources for August 19, 2012

  • See the session.
  •  Please re-read the scripture from August 12, Ephesians 4:25-5:2.  Read the scripture for this week, August 19, Ephesians 5:15-21,  and read Philippians 2:1-11. Come to class prepared to share your thoughts on what it means to be like Christ in light of these three scripture readings.

  • Resources used in this session:

    Video Clip, Mi Ha-Ish - Psalm 34 in Hebrew  Watch it online.

    Video Clip, Information Overload  Watch it online.

    Video Clip, Ray - Losing Everything  Watch it online.

    The hymn, "Come All Christians, Be Committed" words by Eva B. Lloyd 1966 Broadman Press

    Come, all Christians, be committed to the service of the Lord.
    Make your lives for Him more fitted, tune your hearts with one accord.
    Come into His courts with gladness, each your sacred vows renew,
    turn away from sin and sadness, be transformed with life anew.

    Give your time and talents daily, they are gifts from God above,
    to be used by Christians freely to proclaim His wondrous love.
    Come again to serve the Savior, tithes and offerings with you bring,
    In your work with Him find favor, and with joy His praises sing.

    God’s command to love each other is required of everyone.
    Showing mercy to another mirrors His redeeming Son.
    In compassion He has given of His love that is divine;
    on the cross sins were forgiven; joy and peace now fully thine.

    Come in praise and adoration, all who on Christ’s name believe.
    Worship Him with consecration, grace and love you will receive.
    For His grace give Him the glory, for the Spirit and the Word,
    and repeat the gospel story till the world His name has heard.

    The teacher for the following sessions was Rev. Andrea Skeens. (email Andrea)

    Rev. Andrea SkeensAndrea has been a part of FBC for about two years. She was recently ordained by FBC in April 2012. She grew up in the East end of Richmond and currently lives in Varina with her husband Brandon and two dogs. She is a graduate of Virginia Tech and Union Presbyterian Seminary. Her focus in ministry is Christian education and pastoral care.

    Study Resources for August 12, 2012

    Study Resources for August 5, 2012

    Study Resources for July 29, 2012

    • See the session.

    • Read focal text 2 Samuel 11:1-27.

    • Lesson Outline and Questions for Discussion:

      • Choose one of the following characters from 2 Samuel 11:1-27: David, Bathsheba, Joab, or Uriah. Write a monologue – from the perspective of your chosen character – with regard to their struggle with loyalty. To whom did the character owe loyalty? How was the loyalty tested? What motivated their decisions? How was their community affected? How did they feel?

      • Consider if you would like to share a part of the monologue you wrote and either bring that with you to class if you attend in person or if you attend online, you can email what you would like to share to webclass@FBCRichmond.org.

      Resources used in this session:
      Video Clip, Joe Paterno's Legacy  Watch it online.

      Video Clip, from the film Gladiator  Watch it online.


    The teacher for the following sessions was Dr. Stephen “Steve” C. Booth. (email Steve)

    Steve BoothSteve serves Richmond's First Baptist Church as Associate Pastor for Christian Formation. He was ordained by the Highland Baptist Church, Louisville, Kentucky. He came to First Baptist Church after having served churches in Virginia, North Carolina, and Indiana. Steve is a native Mississippian with family roots in North Carolina. He is a graduate of Campbell University and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He holds the Doctor of Ministry degree in supervised ministry from Andover Newton Theological School. He and his wife, Barbara, are parents of Jordan, Megan, and Meredith and grandparents to Jackson.  Jordan and his wife, Erin, are Jackson’s parents.  Megan, and her husband, Peter, live in Charleston, SC.



    Study Resources for July 22, 2012 - God Will Not Be Contained

    • See the session.
    • Read focal text 2 Samuel 7:1-16.
    • Lesson Outline and Questions for Discussion:

      • What is the biggest weakness the church has in reaching the world? Why? You might want to view the
         “Lost Me” video clip.
      • What traditions, procedures, actions, or expectations cause people to be turned off by the church?
      • How is church more like what we want rather than what God wants?

      • Read 2 Samuel 7:1-16
      • Why did David want to build God a better house?
         What possible motivation might David have for wanting to build God a house?
      • How might Nathan have felt, as a prophet, when God disagreed with him? Why?
      • Why did God not want a house to be built?

      • Watch the Jurassic Park movie clip.
         What was Hammond’s motivation for building the park? Where did he go wrong?
         What is wrong with thinking he can control so much power?
      • Do you think modern churches try to contain God? Why or why not? Why do we try to contain God?
      • What happens to our churches when we try to contain God?
         What do we miss out on when God is contained in our churches?

      Resources used in this session:
      Video Clip, You Lost Me  Watch it online.

      Video Clip, from the film Jurassic Park  Watch it online.


    Study Resources for July 15, 2012 - All Good?

    • See the session.
    • Read focal text 2 Samuel 6:1-23.
    • Lesson Outline:

      • Watch the Spiderman movie clip - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5d6rTQcU2U&feature=related
      • What is your impression of Uncle Ben’s advice?
      • Why is responsibility necessary for those who have great power?
      • How much power do you have? Why or why not?
      • Do you think that power corrupts? Why or why not?
         Would you be able to handle power over other people?

      • Read 2 Samuel 6:1-12
      • Who is the most powerful person in this passage? Who is acting on his behalf?
      • What characters seem to receive punishment in this passage? What punishment do they receive and why?
         Do you think these punishments were fair? Why or why not?
         How do you make sense of these punishments?
      • Do you think David acted in any way that deserved punishment?
         Why was the most powerful decision maker not punished?

      • Watch the Robin Hood movie clip.
      • What is your impression of the king in this clip?
         Do you think this attitude is common among those in power? Why or why not?
      • How do the powerful in our culture make decisions that harm the weak and poor?
         What happens when those in power are not responsible with their power?
      • Watch the Schindler’s List movie clip.
      • How do you think God wants us to use the power entrusted to us?

      Resources used in this session:
      Video Clip, from the film Spiderman – "Uncle Ben”  Watch it online.

      Video Clip, from the film Robin Hood – "Taxing the Poor”  Watch it online.

      Video Clip, from the film Schindler's List – "That is Power”  Watch it online.


    Our teacher for the following sessions was Rev. Andrea Skeens. (email Andrea)

    Rev. Andrea SkeensAndrea has been a part of FBC for about two years. She was recently ordained by FBC in April 2012. She grew up in the East end of Richmond and currently lives in Varina with her husband Brandon and two dogs. She is a graduate of Virginia Tech and Union Presbyterian Seminary. Her focus in ministry is Christian education and pastoral care.


    Study Resources for July 8, 2012

    • See the session.
    • Read focal text 2 Samuel 5:1-10.

      Preparation for WebClass
      As you read this passage, please think of two types of comments/questions.

      First, think about any questions you have about the text itself. Is there anything that doesn't make sense to you? Is there anything you would like to discuss more related to the text?

      Next, think about why this story is important to us, people of faith. Can you think of ways this story would apply to you and your life? What about your community of faith? What might God be saying to you through this text?

    Study Resources for July 1, 2012

    • See the session.
    • Read focal text 2 Samuel 1:1-27.
    • Preparation for WebClass
      In the past few weeks, we have learned about Saul’s fall from God’s favor, David’s anointing as future king, and the complicated relationships between David, Saul, and Jonathan. In today’s text we see David’s genuine grief over Saul’s death despite their tumultuous relationship. For David and for us today, grieving is not a singular emotion but a process that is full of strong and sometimes conflicting emotions. Grief does not follow a prescribed set of steps nor it is the same for all people or all situations. Today’s Scripture teaches us that it is okay and important to grieve. We often talk about grief in relation to death, but we may also grieve loss of relationships, changing circumstances, and past experiences. Sometimes our feelings are even bittersweet. Like David, the next step may even bring us closer to God’s plan for our lives, but that doesn’t make the loss any easier.

      For the writers in our class:
      Think of a time either in your past when you experienced grief or something you may be currently grieving. This can be grief over any type of loss. Write a "goodbye letter" to whomever or whatever you are grieving. Finish your letter by describing what your life is like or will be like without that person, thing, circumstance, place, etc. in your life.

      For the artists in our class:
      Think of a time when you experienced grief, or something/someone you are currently grieving. Create a visual representation of what that person, place, thing, circumstance, etc. means to you and how your life is different or will be different without it.

      Chose a small portion of your letter or drawing to share with the class if you feel comfortable. For the members of the online community, your creations and letters can be sent to webclass@fbcrichmond.org and will be shared on Sunday. Please only send what you wish to share. For the members of the community that attend the class physically, please bring with you what you wish to share in class.

      Either light a candle in real life, or imagine lighting a candle. Pray to God by giving thanks and by admitting your struggles and asking for help. Close in silence.

      Resources used in this session:

    Study Resources for June 24, 2012

    • See the session.
    • Read focal text 1 Samuel 17:57-18:16.
    • Preparation for WebClass
      1. Read 1 Samuel 17:57-18:16
      2. For the writers out there:
          a. Make two lists, one with characteristics, behaviors, and emotions of David, and one list of Saul’s characteristics, behaviors, and emotions.
          b. In each of those lists, circle the words that connect most to your life.
          c. Spend some time in prayer asking the Holy Spirit to help you increase the positive words you circled and decrease the negative ones.
      3. For the artists out there:
          a. On one side of the paper, draw a picture (either realistic or abstract) that represents David’s inner self, on the other side of the paper draw Saul’s inner self.
          b. As you draw, contemplate how your inner self connects with David’s and Saul’s. Ask the Holy Spirit to help your inner self be more like Christ.
      4. Finish your time with a devotional reading of Psalm 4.
      5. Feel free to bring your papers and thoughts to class and share if you wish.

    • Resources used in this session:

    The teacher for the following sessions was Dr. Stephen “Steve” C. Booth. (email Steve)

    Steve BoothSteve serves Richmond's First Baptist Church as Associate Pastor for Christian Formation. He was ordained by the Highland Baptist Church, Louisville, Kentucky. He came to First Baptist Church after having served churches in Virginia, North Carolina, and Indiana. Steve is a native Mississippian with family roots in North Carolina. He is a graduate of Campbell University and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He holds the Doctor of Ministry degree in supervised ministry from Andover Newton Theological School. He and his wife, Barbara, are parents of Jordan, Megan, and Meredith and grandparents to Jackson.  Jordan and his wife, Erin, are Jackson’s parents.  Megan, and her husband, Peter, live in Charleston, SC.



    Study Resources for June 17, 2012 - A Heart Like God’s

    In 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13, today’s readers can hear the story of the ancient King David, the revered and rebellious ruler who is said to be a man after God’s own heart. In today’s lesson, we explore this biblical account and discuss what it means to be a person after God’s own heart.

    Lesson Outline:

    Outward Appearances

    • When Saul was first chosen king, he was noted as one of the strongest, tallest, and most handsome men among the Israelites. What might this tell us about the priest Samuel’s expectations of the person who would be the next king? Do you think our appearances matter?

    • Watch the What Not to Wear clip. Note what everyone says about the person based on the clothing or appearance.

    • What sorts of things do we assume about people using only their appearance as a basis?



    • What might God have been showing Jesse and David’s brothers through the process of selection, and the fact that Samuel anointed him in their presence (vs. 13)
    • Watch the Brief Shining Moment (Miss Congeniality) clip. What changed Gracie’s (Sandra Bullock’s character) so that she could see more deeply into the other pageant participants?
    • What was a time in your life that your initial impression was later changed by experience?
    • Other than spending time with someone, how else can we get past appearances? In the Bible passage, how did Samuel get past his own limited sight?

    The Lord sees to the Heart
    • God says that he can see David’s heart, but does not say specifically what he is looking for. Considering Saul’s failures, what kinds of things must God be looking for in Israel’s next king?
    • Watch the Authentic Speech (The Adjustment Bureau) clip.
         - Do you think anyone really running for office would ever make such a speech like this? Why or why not? How do you think people would actually react if someone did?
    • What do you think would happen if you were completely open and honest, letting everyone see to the heart of you?
    • What does it mean to you that God “sees to the heart?”
    • Even though David was still young, what special gift did God give him in preparation for his role (vs. 13)?
    • What lessons can we learn from this story about selecting leaders for God’s people? About being leaders of God’s people?

    Movie Clips:

    What Not to Wear – Watch it online.

    Brief Shining Moment (Miss Congeniality) - Watch it online.

    Authentic Speech (The Adjustment Bureau) -Watch it online.

    Return to main WebClass page...

    Study Resources for June 10, 2012 - God's Flexibility

    • See the session.
    • Read focal text 1 Samuel 8:4-20.
    • Lesson Outline:

      Change of Leadership
      • Do you think Samuel was more hurt by the people’s rejection of Samuel, Samuel’s sons, or God?
      Watch the Beowulf movie clip.
      • Why do you think it’s a constant temptation to rely on people for our leadership rather than on God?
      • What are some ways we reject God’s leadership personally, as a group, as a church?

      Like the Other Nations
      • Why do you think Israel wanted to be like the other nations? What were they afraid of?
      • What did God and Samuel want for Israel? Why would God give in to what Israel wanted?

      God Gives Room
      Watch The Adjustment Bureau movie clip.
      • How different might Israel’s history have been even though God knew it would be a harmful thing?
      • Why did God allow Israel to choose a king even though God knew it would be harmful?
      • Do you think God has a set plan that everyone follows or that God allows us to change things?
      • How might we tell the difference between God’s choice for leadership from our own choice?

    • Resources used in this session:

      Video Clip, from the film Beowulf “We Need a Hero”  Watch it online.
      Video Clip, from the film The Adjustment Bureau “Rewrite”  Watch it online.

    Return to main WebClass page...

     Study Resources for June 3, 2012 - God Speaks

    • See the session.
    • Read focal text Psalm 29:1-11.
    • Lesson Outline:

      A Holy God of Glory and Power
      • Many people tend to seek and find the presence of God in nature. What are some places, events, or times in which you sense God’s presence through creation?
      • Watch the “Creation Creator” clip. What might each image of creation (in clip) say about the Creator?
      • How does God’s holiness relate to what we see through the creation?

      The Lord Over the Storm
      • What characteristics of God do you draw from a storm?
      • Watch the “Forrest Gump” clip. To Forrest, the storm was God’s blessing. What might the other shrimpers, whose boats were destroyed have said about God?
      • Why might our view of God’s power over nature be different than the psalmist’s?

      The Voice of the Lord
      • Watch the “Patch Adams” clip. Like Patch, we usually don’t hear a voice from the sky. What are some ways that you hear God speaking to you?
      • If we look, as the psalmist did, at nature as being God’s “voice,” what things can we learn about God from what he is “saying” through
          - powerful events (like storms)
          - beautiful events (like sunsets)
          - intimate events (like the birth of a child)

    • Resources used in this session:

      Video Clip, “Creation Creator”: What does the creation say about the Creator?  Watch it online.
      Video Clip, from “Forrest Gump”: Pray for Shrimp (1994)  Watch it online.
      Video Clip, from “Patch Adams”: Challenging God (1998) Watch it online.

    Return to main WebClass page...

    Study Resources for May 27, 2012 - Pentecost
    Everyone’s Invited to the Party

    • See the session.
    • Read focal text Acts 2:1-21.
      Background text: Joel 2:28-32
    • Lesson Outline:

      • A Mighty Wind and Tongues of Fire (Acts 2:1-4)
        - What do you think the wind symbolized? What do you think the fire symbolized?
        - Why are wind and fire such powerful examples of God’s presence?
      • Bewildering Speech (Acts 2:5-13)
        - Do you remember the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9)? How does the story of Pentecost relate to Babel?
        - The miracle of Pentecost was, above all, a “miracle of understanding.” We don’t know if the miracle was in the Christians’ ability to speak, or the people’s ability to hear. Which do you think it was? Does it matter?
        - “All were amazed and perplexed ... but others sneered ... “ Have you ever experienced anything like this? How can it be that God’s Spirit is so powerful and evident, yet doubted or scoffed at?
      • An Insightful Sermon (Acts 2:14-21)
        - For what purpose did God cause the “miracle of understanding” to happen at Pentecost? How might God employ a “miracle of understanding” today?
        - How might God be prompting us to expand the Gospel beyond our social and religious boundaries? What unexpected people might God be calling to do this work?

    • Resources used in this session:

      Video Clip, from "The Legend of Bagger Vance" (2000) – The Woods Watch it online.
      Video Clip, from "Chocolat" (2000) - The Gospel According to Chocolat Watch it online.

    Return to main WebClass page...

    Study Resources for May 20, 2012 - Waiting

    • See the session.

    • Read focal text Acts 1:1-8.

    • Lesson Outline:
      • Waiting for the Promise (vv. 1-8a)
          - Listen to the John Mayer “Waiting on the World” video clip. What is this song about?
              What do they have to wait to change the world?
          - Do you think God ever calls us to wait? Why? How frustrating is it to wait for God’s timing?
              What is your most difficult waiting situation.
      • Witnesses to the World (v. 8b)
          - Jesus says the Holy Spirit is going to bestow power on the disciples – what is the purpose of that gift?
          - What barriers did the disciples face as they contemplated the mission set before them?
          - What obstacles (external and internal) keep us from being faithful witnesses to God’s transforming love?
      • Present Through The Spirit (vv. 9-11)
          - The disciples continued to look into the sky after Jesus ascended into the sky.
              What might this reveal about their expectations?
          - When is waiting the most appropriate response?
          - How does our waiting on God contribute to our spiritual formation?
          - Is the Spirit of Christ present in your life? How do you know?

    • Resources used in this session:

      - Video Clip, "Waiting on the World" by John Mayer. Watch it online.
      - Video Clip, "A Return to the Light" from film The Legend of Bagger Vance. Watch it online.

    Return to main WebClass page...

    Study Resources for May 13, 2012 - Hindrances to God's Mission?

    • See the session.

    • Read focal text Acts 10:44-48.
      Background passage: Acts 9:32-11:18.

    • Lesson Outline:

      • Special Status - “By no means, Lord ...” (Acts 10:9-33)
          - Who do we exclude from the Kingdom?
          - In what ways are we hindrances to God’s mission in the world?

      • Who’s Judging Who – “God shows no partiality ...” (Acts 10:34-43)
          - In our culture, what group’s behaviors do we treat as if they do not deserve the Kingdom of God?
          - How does your judgment of their behavior change when it comes to God’s calling?
          - What hard beliefs and ideas do we have that keep us from being able to be transformed?

      • Acceptance for the Unacceptable – “They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” (Acts 10:44-48)
          - Can you think of any experiences in your life, when the Holy Spirit has drawn you closer to believers who are different from you? Explain.
          - What ways does God break down the barriers today between groups of Christian believers, or between believers and non-believers?

    • Resources used in this session:

      - Amazing Grace - an emotional video showing transformation through grace. Watch it online.
      - Gridiron Gang - Coaches persuade athletic director to play their team. Watch it online.
      - I Am (Nicole Nordeman), a music video.  Watch it online.

    Study Resources for May 6, 2012 - What Prevents Me?

    • See the session.

    • Read focal text Acts 8:26-40.
      Supplemental texts:
      Isaiah 53:1-8 (The text Philip helped the Ethopian eunuch understand.)
      Deuteronomy 23:1

    • Lesson Outline:
      • Hearing God’s Call (vv. 26-29)
      Most scholars agree that Philip was not the Apostle Philip (one of the 12) but one of the seven chosen to be a deacon in the early church. Read Acts 6:1-7 to discover characteristics of those chosen to be deacons. What might be the connection between Philip’s character and his ability to hear the voice of God’s messenger (8:26-29)?

      • Explaining God’s Message (vv. 30-38)
      What were some possible reasons for the eunuch’s confusion and inability to understand Isaiah’s prophecy about a “suffering servant of God”? When have you struggled with understanding a Biblical passage and had someone help you discern its meaning?

      • Living as God’s Example (vv. 39-40)
      The text demands that we ask ourselves if we are willing to reach out to anyone, of any color, of any background, without regard for whether we think they deserve it, or whether their presence makes us uncomfortable in some way. What prevents us from sharing the good news of grace that knows no limits?

    Return to main WebClass page...

    Study Resources for April 29, 2012 - We Cannot Keep From Speaking...

    • See the session.

    • Read Acts 4:1-22.
      • A rude interruption (4:1-4)
      • A loaded question (4:5-7)
      • A compelling witness (4:13-22)

    • Resources used in this session:

      - Video Clip, "Why I hate religion but love Jesus/Spoken Word," a poem. Watch it online.
      - Excerpt from Martin Luther King’s last speech. Watch it online.

      - Questions to ponder:
          1. Peter said many starling things during his sermon (4:8-12) – including the accusation that the Jews and religious leaders had killed Jesus. But according to verse 2, what was it about Peter’s message that so disturbed the religious leaders? Why do you think this upset them more than the other things we said?
      What is clever about the council’s leading question in verse 7?
          2. What is clever about Peter’s response to the question?
          3. Luke tells us in verse 13 that Peter and John were common, uneducated men. Why would this be so surprising to these highly educated religious men?
          4. What had these men “seen and heard” that was so difficult to keep quiet? Have you ever had such an experience with Christ that you could not keep from speaking about what you had seen and heard?
          5. What obstacles keep us from sharing the Good News about God’s love through Jesus? What keeps us from being as bold as Peter? In what ways do we share our faith?

    Study Resources for April 15, 2012 - Holding All Things In Common

      • Resources used in this session:

        - Video Clip, "Waking Ned Devine," a town hall meeting scene. Watch it online.
        - Video Clip, "It’s A Wonderful Life" scene with "Hark the Herald" and "Auld Lang Syne." Watch it online.
        - Video Clip, "Border Song" by Elton John (performed May 1970). Watch it online.
        - Video Clip, "Get It Together" by The Youngbloods. Watch it online.

        - Questions to ponder:
            1. What do you think Luke, the author of Acts, was trying to communicate about the earliest Christians when he wrote, “those who believed were of one heart and soul”?
            2. On the surface, it might seem like the earliest Christians in Jerusalem were living communally in which everyone pooled their possessions and all lived from a common fund. This text has often been used to justify certain kinds of political and ideological stances. What do you think? And, if not making a political statement, what do you think Luke intended to communicate regarding the earliest days of the church following the resurrection?
            3. In verse 33, Luke says “with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” Can you share a story of how a personal faith experience gave power to a theoretical theological idea? (an idea such as “God is love” or “God provides” or “God’s way are deeper than our ways.”)
            4. “Great grace was upon them all.” (verse 33) What do you think this phrase means? How might it inform the early Christians generosity and service to each other?
            5. Looking past our focal passage, read Acts 5:1-11. What happened to the faith community’s “one heart and soul” attitude as a result of Ananias and Sapphira’s choices?
            6. How would our lives look like if we let go of our fears and viewed our material possessions through eyes of faith? How would our church look? Our communities?

    Return to main WebClass page...

    Study Resources for April 8, 2012 - The Rest of the Story

      • See the session.

      • Read Acts 10:34-43.

      • Read Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24.

      • Read 1 Corinthians 15:1-11.

      • Read Mark 16:1-8, 9-20.

      • Resources used in this session:

        - Video Clip, "What is Easter?" man on the street interviews by Joe Perez. Watch it online.
        - Video Clip, "Easter Song" by Keith Green. Watch it online.
        - Video Clip, "Easter is Coming" from WorkingPreacher - the Center for Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary. Watch it online.
        - Video Clip, "Christ The Lord Is Risen Today" a hymn by Charles Wesley. Watch it online.

        - Questions to ponder:
                 1. Watch the video clip, “What Is Easter?” What do you think of the answers given in this video? What does it say about our culture’s perception of the Easter story?
                 2. Why do you think the Church seems to focus more on the defeating death of Jesus than on his victorious resurrection?
                 3. You may notice in your Bibles that there are footnotes about multiple endings for Mark’s gospel. Most Biblical scholars agree that Mark’s gospel originally ended at verse 8. Later, other scribes added verses 9-20. Read verse 8 again. If Mark did end his gospel here, what do you think he was hoping to get across to the reader?
                 4. When Jesus appeared to the disciples in Mark 16:14, “he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.” Is it still hard for us to trust the testimony of persons who tell incredible stories of healings, miracles, and divine interventions? Why are we hesitant to believe?
                 5. Twenty-five or so years later, the apostle Paul would write. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (I Corinthians 1:18) How does God’s power in the Easter story shape the way you think and live?
                 6. Dr. Tony Cartledge in his commentary on this passage says, “We may desire to hold on to Easter as the bedrock of our faith, but Mark’s gospel won’t fill us with certainty and assurance. If we show up on Easter to get a booster shot of orderly and systematic religion, we won’t find it in Mark.” Does the messiness of the Easter story bother you?       

    Study Resources for April 1, 2012 - The Quest Requires... A Different Kind of Power

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    Our teacher April 22: Walter Morton. (email Walter)

    Walter MortonWalter Morton is a graduate student attending Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond for his Masters in Theology. A former church staff Media Minister in Texas and holder of a Masters in Media Studies from the University of South Florida, Walter has many years experience in leading Bible study as well as teaching media courses to university students. His approach to study is multi-disciplinary. Walter lives with his wife, Sandra, a practicing licensed Masters Social Worker. And their cat Molly.




    Study Resources for April 22, 2012 - A Healing in the Temple at Jerusalem

    Return to main WebClass page...

    Our teacher for the first quarter of 2012 was Dr. Phyllis Rodgerson Pleasants. (email Phyllis)

    Phyllis Rodgerson PleasantsAfter interesting and varied careers as high school history teacher, office manager/paralegal, registered lobbyist in Washington, D.C., and church history professor for twenty years at academic institutions both in the US and in Europe, Phyllis has launched out on her own as a consultant/educator for local congregations and businesses. Her focus is thinking historically in order to participate in creating the future. As one friend said, "she is a historian of the future -- neither trying to recreate the past nor idealize the past, but use the past to build on and point to the future." Phyllis's education include a BA at Mary Washington College, MEd at the University of Virginia, MDiv & PhD The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and external study with Bishop Kallistos (Timothy Ware) at Oxford University, England. Phyllis grew up in Bon Air Baptist Church where her father was the founding pastor. Her mother, Bernice Rodgerson, is a member of First Baptist Church.


    Study Resources for March 25, 2012 - Every Quest Requires Renewed Commitment to the Quest

    Study Resources for March 18, 2012 - Every Quest Requires a Symbol

    Return to main WebClass page...

    Study Resources for March 11, 2012 - Every Quest Requires Rules/Guidelines

    Study Resources for March 4, 2012 - Every Quest Requires Participants: What is Required to be a Participant

      • See the session.

      • Class outline (pdf).

      • Read Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16.

      • Read Psalm 22:23-31.

      • Read Romans 4:13-25.

      • Read Mark 8:31-38.

      • Resources used in this session:
        - J.S. Bach: Mass B Minor 4. Gloria in Excelsis, 5. Et in Terra Pax / Eric Ericson Chamber Choir. Watch it online.
        - An example of a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game - Watch it online.
        - Mozart: Gloria in excelsis Deo, Great mass in C minor. Watch it online.

      • Following this session, Jeannie Dortch, one of the class participants, passed along a link to a talk by John Hunter, inventor of the World Peace Game, along with this comment: "I was blown away with what I am sure are similarities between this game and the MMORPG that we have been discussing in class. There is no religious conversation involved and it is not real, but it is full of truth, love, compassion, and sacrifice. It brought tears to my eyes and a new sense of perspective in terms of what gamers learn in their quests. Could it be that God is so big that he sees ways of reaching others that even I could not imagine?" Watch the talk online.

    Return to main WebClass page...

    Study Resources for February 26, 2012 - Quest for Easter: Entrance

    Study Resources for February 19, 2012 - The Kingdom of God:  It Takes a Community

      • See the session.

      • Class outline (pdf).

      • Read Isaiah 43:18-25.

      • Read Psalm 41.

      • Read 2 Corinthians 1:18-22.

      • Read Mark 2:1-12.

      • Resources used in this session:
        - A video clip showing the work of some seminary students in Charlotte, NC. Watch it online.
        - A video clip of Bruce Springsteen's song, "What Love Can Do." Watch it online.
        - "Oscar Romero, quoted in Celtic Daily Prayer, 2002, p. 329.
        - "Why Peasants Responded to Jesus," William R. Herzog II, in Christian Origins:  A People's History of Christianity, Vol. 1, Fortress Press, 2005
        - John Chrysostom,"Homilies on Matthew," XXIX, p. 195-198.
        - "An Experiment in Love" (1958), in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by James M. Washington, San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1986, p. 16ff.
        - Spoken prayer from The Alternative Service Book 1980, Church of England.


    Return to main WebClass page...

    Study Resources for February 12, 2012 - No one untouchable in the Kingdom of God

    Study Resources for February 5, 2012 - The Kingdom of God: Authority, Signs and Wonders - Is that all there is?

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    Study Resources for January 29, 2012 - Teaching with Authority

    Study Resources for January 22, 2012 - The Kingdom of God

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    Study Resources for January 15, 2012 - Calling

    Study Resources for January 8, 2012 - Baptism

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    Study Resources for January 1, 2012 - Epiphany

    Return to main WebClass page...

    Email us.

    Our teacher for the 1 Thessalonians and Advent series is Dr. Michael Harton. (email Mike)

    Mike HartonDr. Harton is a popular speaker and well-known in Virginia as an outstanding educator. His professional background is varied and extensive, including formally serving as the Regional Coordinator for the Initiative for Ministerial Excellence with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Interim Dean of Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, interim staff educator at various churches, Professor of Christian Education at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and as the Director of Bible Teaching and Discipleship for Virginia Baptists. He is the co-author of The Religious Education of Adults (Smyth & Helwys) and is contributing editor for The Church’s Ministry to Adults, and Handbook on Adult Religious Education. Dr. Harton and his wife, Raylene, are active members of Richmond's First Baptist Church.

    1 Thessalonians

    Introduction and overview (October 9, 2011)

    1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 (October 16, 2011)

    1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 (October 23, 2011)

    1 Thessalonians 2:9-13 (October 30, 2011)

    1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (November 6, 2011)

    1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (November 13, 2011)

    Psalm 100 (November 20, 2011)

    We regret that, due to technical difficulties, we were unable to record this session and make it available here. But Dr. Harton has provided his class notes and outline so that you may study Psalm 100 on your own.

    Advent, 2011

    Mark 13:24-37 (November 27, 2011)

    Mark 1:1-8 (December 4, 2011)

    John 1:6-8, 19-28 (December 11, 2011)

    Luke 1:26-38 and John 1:1-14 (December 18, 2011)

    Email us.

    Return to main WebClass page...

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