Living Grace

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of December 25, 2016
Key Text: Luke 2:8-20 (NET)

THE SET-UP

The announcement of Jesus birth is the ultimate cause for celebration!

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

Commit to seeking God, pursuing spiritual formation and engaging with Scripture daily in 2017 through the practice of Lectio Divina, using the Lectio Divina Journal as a guide.

 

DEEP CUTS 

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: Grace Holt ponders the art of listening, and thinking. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it!

 

 

 

LOOKING AHEAD

Jesus begins to be recognized as the answer to prayers that generations of God’s people have prayed. Read about it in our text for next week, Luke 2:21-38.

This week, instead of our regular format of reflection and discussion prompts, we offer this devotional from N.T. Wright. It masterfully weaves together many of the themes we've studied this fall.

 

THE JESUS WE NEVER KNEW

In the scriptures, the Creator made the world as a unified though two-sided creation. Heaven and earth were made for one another; the creation story in Genesis 1 is modeled on the idea of constructing a temple, a building where heaven and earth come together. The wilderness tabernacle in Exodus was then a small working model of the whole creation, with Aaron the High Priest taking the role of Adam and Eve, the divine image-bearers. When Solomon constructed the first Jerusalem Temple it, too, was a microcosm, a small working model of the whole creation, with king and priests as the image-bearers. Most people never think of Israel’s Temple like this, and that is one reason we don’t understand Jesus.

The Jerusalem Temple was always a sign of the divine intention to renew the whole creation. It stood at the heart of Israel’s national life as a sign that Israel was the bearer of the divine promise for the whole world. But remember what happened in the time of Jeremiah. The symbol was turned outside in. The Temple was seen as a talisman, an automatic guarantee of security against the outside world, no matter what the people and the priests got up to, and the result was destruction and exile. Then in Jesus’ day the chief priests who ran the system were worldly and wealthy. Equally, many would-be revolutionaries regarded the Temple as the focus for their ideology of nationalist violence. And though the Temple Mount still retained the sense of divine promise and presence, as the Western Wall in Jerusalem still does for millions of Jews, there was an equally strong sense that the great promises had not yet been fulfilled. Prophets went on promising that YHWH would return to the Temple. But he hadn’t done so yet. Isaiah had said that Israel’s God would return ‘in plain sight’, and that the whole world would know about it; but nowhere in that extended exile does anybody say it’s happened.

This is where the Jesus we never knew comes into sudden focus, as unexpected then as now. We are quite used to Jesus the ethical teacher, Jesus saving souls for heaven, Jesus perhaps as a social revolutionary – or, from the other side, Jesus as a Superman-figure doing impossible things to prove his divine power. We may not agree with any or all of these pictures but at least they are familiar. Even Leonard Cohen’s disturbing image of Jesus the drowning sailor is a poetic image we can understand and relate to. But Jesus as the living embodiment of Israel’s returning, rescuing God, Jesus bringing to its climax not only Israel’s history but world history – this is not what we are used to, and it’s not what Jesus’ own contemporaries were expecting.

This unexpectedness provides, incidentally, one of the clearest signs that this story was not being invented by clever writers a generation or two later. On the contrary: Jesus’ own closest followers clearly took some time to get their heads around what was happening and what it all meant. They didn’t have a template all prepared into which they could just fit Jesus. Jesus burst open the existing templates and seemed to be insisting that what he was doing was the new focal point around which previous ideas had to be reorganized. The kingdom of God, he was saying, is like this – and this – and this – with each ‘this’ indicating another extraordinary thing, the healing of a crippled woman, the raising of a dead girl, the shameless party with the riffraff, the extraordinary catch of fish, and all accompanied by small, glittering stories which broke open the existing models of what the kingdom might look like and created a fresh imaginative world into which his hearers were invited to come if they dared. A world where a shamed father welcomes home his scapegrace son. A world where it’s the Samaritan who shows what neighbor- love looks like. A world in which the seeds of the final harvest will bear a great crop but only when three- quarters of them seem to have failed. A world in which the farmer will come looking for fruit and find none; in which the vineyard-owner will send his son to get the fruit and the tenants will kill him. A world in which God will become king but not in the way everyone expected. A world in which the full revelation of divine glory will not be in a blaze of light and fire coming to dwell in the temple but rather in a life and death of utter self-giving love which, for those with eyes to see, will reflect the self-giving love of creation itself. ...

In western culture, people have routinely imagined that the word ‘God’ is univocal, that it always means the same. It doesn’t, and never has. There are various options. If you ask someone... if they believe in God, chances are they will think of the god of modern western imagining, which is either the eighteenth- century Deist god – distant, aloof, detached but still threatening – or even the still more distant Epicurean divinities, off on their own while the world does its own thing. In reaction to that, now as in the ancient world, many flirt with pantheism – there’s a divine force in everything and we’re all part of it – but that too has little in common with the Temple-focused, story-shaped world of Jesus. Many Christians will think in Platonic terms, of an upstairs world where the soul belongs with God as opposed to the messy, shabby downstairs world of physicality and politics. No wonder we never really knew Jesus, even though in grace and mercy he makes himself known despite our wrong ideas and mistaken imaginings. But when you start with the story of a long-awaited return from exile which is also the forgiveness of sins; when you start with the unfinished narrative of YHWH and his dealings with his people; when you hold in your minds the promise that when all other help fails then Israel’s God will come in person to rescue and deliver; and when you start with the symbol of the temple in which heaven and earth belong together as a sign of creation and new creation, with a human being, a king or a priest, standing there to complete the picture in offering a true sacrifice; then it makes sense, glorious sense, world-shattering sense, heaven-and-earth sense to see Jesus of Nazareth as the climax of this story, the fulfillment of this symbol, the living embodiment of this God.

And the four gospels which tell his rich, powerful story are written as an invitation. Here, they are saying, is the story of the world’s true God. You didn’t know him, but he knew you. You didn’t want him, truth be told, because he comes to wound as well as to heal, to warn as well as to welcome. But the four gospels tell their story and invite you to read it and make it your own. To read it prayerfully, humbly, wonderingly, asking that your own life will be reoriented around this life, this divine life, this human life. Jesus reaches out his hand as to a drowning child, and we who feel ourselves sinking under the wisdom of the world will find that in his brokenness he will touch our brokenness, that in his forsakenness he will meet us in ours.

N.T. Wright
Excerpt from a lecture presented at SMU on 15 November 2016.

NTWrightOnline.org

Copyright © 2016 Wisconsin Center for Christian Study, All rights reserved.

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of December 18, 2016
Key Text: Luke 1:26-45 (NET)

THE SET-UP

Totally unexpected, or long yearned for, God shows up.

 

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

How is this story uniquely God’s?

When we submit to God’s timetable,

how might that impact our faith?

 

How should we respond to God’s story?

 

 

GRACE IN 3D

Have you ever asked God for something repeatedly, over a long period of time, without getting a response? Did God eventually give you what you asked for? If so, what are some specific ways your faith was shaped by the waiting and the receiving? Has God ever brought something into your life that you never asked for, but that you were certain came from God? If so, what was it? How did you respond? Would you share your experiences with your Grace Group?

 

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • We talk all the time about how the Bible is God’s story, and no doubt it is. But if we’re to find within it the essence of the big narrative — its deep, pure DNA – surely it is here. This is God’s story: Utterly surprising, totally supernatural, yet unflinchingly earthy. It upends everything; exalting the lowly, the unlikely, the excluded, growing from the smallest of seeds to overtake the entire universe. It sings the songs of Genesis and Revelation at the same time. So sit with it this week. If you have never attempted the practice of Lectio Divina, give it a try with this passage. Most of all, stay with the story throughout the week and let it form more fully in your heart and in your imagination.

 

  • The text reminds us that God doesn’t submit to our time table. God moves according to a perspective and an agenda that radically supersede our own, sometimes showing up long past the time we expect — even beg — God to act, sometimes starting things rolling way before we feel ready. Personally, I find this both terrifying and comforting. How does it strike you? What does it do to your desire for control and understanding? How does it affect your faith? Your joy? 

  • The only appropriate response to God’s story is obedient faith together with humble adoration. That is what we see exemplified in both Elizabeth and Mary. Eventually it is tested to the extreme as they watch their sons grow and suffer so much, but that’s not what defines either of them. It’s their answer to God: “Let this happen to me according to Your word.” Considering what’s happening to them both, does that reaction sound reasonable to you? What makes it possible? Did they feel it or choose it, or both? What are we meant to learn from their example? Do you think we answer God this way as a church? Why or why not? What about you, personally?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

  • Learn more about Lectio Divina; see if these tips help you practice it with our text for this week.

  • Ask God to give you a deep desire to accept His timetable, especially when it conflicts in a big way with your own, and to feed your joy in spite of your circumstances.

  • Serving others is a practical extension of obedient faith and humble adoration. Grace Take-Out: Serving Up Soul gives us the opportunity as a church to be the hands and feet of Christ in our community, so commit to be part of it and kick off 2017 with a Kingdom focus. See our page on SignUpGenius to find out what to bring.

 

DEEP CUTS 

 

Bonus Cut  Want to know what it looks like when a baby leaps in the womb? Here’s a computerized rendering:

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: Can we have the joy of Christ without having the mind and heart of Christ? Chris Lawson offers some thoughts. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it!

 

 

 

LOOKING AHEAD

Here’s what it’s all about. Next week, we celebrate the extraordinary gift we have in Jesus, God’s Son. Read ahead in Luke 2:8-20.

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of December 11, 2016
Key Text: Isaiah 61:1-11 (NET)

THE SET-UP

Let’s recover the radical nature of the first Advent.

 

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

What is true encouragement

for the poor?

What does it mean to release captives

and free prisoners?

 

What is true help for the brokenhearted,

comfort and strength for all who mourn?

 

 

GRACE IN 3D

Our text this week says we’re commissioned to help the poor, the brokenhearted and the imprisoned. Is any one of these groups easier for you to connect with than the others? Or harder? Why? Do you have suggestions for some practical ways your Grace Group could reach out to the poor, brokenhearted or imprisoned? How about ways that we could reach out as a church? Would you share your ideas with your group this week?

 

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • Cultures seem to respond to poverty and to the poor in two extremes. The first is to blame them for their situation; label them as lazy, shiftless and ignorant. At best, they’ve had “bad luck” that’s still probably rooted in poor choices. The other extreme is to categorize them as helpless victims and offer patronizing packages of charity. The Bible rejects both. It neither condemns nor objectifies, but instead proclaims and promises justice. What do you think it means to participate in justice for the poor? How are we to understand it? For certain it means that we cannot stand above or apart from them: There can be no “them” — only “us.” What do you think it means to consider yourself one of the “poor”?

 

  • Most of us reading this have never spent a significant amount of time, if any, behind prison bars. As a result, we tend to spiritualize the concept of captivity and prison. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Understanding our fallenness and the reality of life apart from Jesus is a legitimate state of captivity from which we need to be set free. However, we must work to remember that for millions in the world, captivity and prison are absolute realities. In Jesus’ first sermon, He boldly proclaims He is here to set the captives free. What does this mean for us as His followers? As agents of His Kingdom? Is it just to work in the realm of the “spiritual,” or is it more? If so, how? 

  • We might have trouble connecting with the poor or imprisoned, but all of us know what it means to be brokenhearted, or to mourn. So the idea of comforting people who are in pain may scare us more than the other instructions in our text because we all know heartbreak. We have experienced its depths and often, instead of letting it be a bond between us and others who mourn, we run away as far and as fast as we can, terrified of the memories of our pain. But what if the way to see our own trauma redeemed was, in part, to find solidarity with those who suffer now? What if our experience of pain could help us comfort others in the midst of theirs? (Paul had some thoughts about this; read them here.) Do you think this is possible? Are you willing to try?

In all of the above questions, it is essential that we understanding the radical nature of what it means to receive before we attempt to give. We just can’t give what we have yet to receive. This week, make a serious effort to understand and experience how Jesus has provided all of these promises to you.

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

  • Discover what life is like for children living in poverty around the world. The Compassion Experience offers a free, family-friendly exhibit in Rogers through December 12 that’ll give you an up-close look at the realities of global poverty and how you can help children in need.

  • Hear from women incarcerated in Northwest Arkansas who share their experiences through the Prison Story Project, and find ways to volunteer in local prison outreach through the Jail Ministry at Cross Church.

  • The IMPACT: Care in Community ministry at Fellowship Bible Church provides training for volunteers who want to help those in difficult situations, including divorce, job loss or loss of a loved one.

 

DEEP CUTS 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: Alexis Peters finds that peace is often a journey, not a destination. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it!

 

 

 

LOOKING AHEAD

Best. News. EVER! Read about it in Luke 1:26-45 [46-56].

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of December 4, 2016
Key Text: Joel 2:12-13; 28-29 (NET)

THE SET-UP

At Christmas, we celebrate the gift of Jesus. But what about God’s other gifts to us? Are you leaving some unwrapped under the tree?

 

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

What does it mean to

“tear our hearts and return to God”?

How can we model

God’s lovingkindness?

 

Are we living differently because of

the gift of the Holy Spirit?

 

 

GRACE IN 3D

Pull out your calendar — whether paper or digital — and think about the 24 hours we’re all given equally each day. Now if you’re a working person, go ahead and take out 9 hours right away for the work you must do whether you want to or not.  If you’re a stay-at-home mom with young children, take off 16 hours! Now take out some healthy time for sleep. Sleep is very important, and some recent research on Alzheimer’s shows that adequate sleep is a difference-maker in fighting this horrible disease. Go ahead and schedule time for exercise, good nutrition and hydration, because your body is the temple of the Lord, and you must take care of it.

 

From my estimations, you’re probably left with about 5 hours a day. How will you use this gift of time? I can easily spend an hour scrolling through social media. How could you plan in your calendar ahead of time to give the LORD an undivided heart next week, and to give yourself time to hear from the Holy Spirit, and leave time to act on His directions?  If that thought just makes you laugh hysterically, think of one small way you could make room and offer to hold each other accountable for that effort.

 

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • Up until this point, God dealt with people through a chosen mediator, like Noah or Moses. But in our text this week, Joel gives us a preview of a much more intimate connection when God Himself would become our mediator. What does it mean to you that the God of the universe desires that kind of closeness with you? What does it mean to “tear our hearts” and “return to God”? What is Joel getting at when he says, “Tear your hearts, not just your garments”? When we repent, does our motivation matter? How is repenting in order to restore a broken relationship different from, say, asking forgiveness because you want to be let off the hook for having wronged someone?

 

  • In verse 13, Joel describes God’s lovingkindness by using the Hebrew word chesed. This is a very interesting choice; read more here about its meaning. Do you ever struggle to accept that God offers this kind of love and restoration to you with no strings attached? Do you think it’s possible to love others unconditionally if we can’t accept unconditional love? Once we receive God’s lovingkindness, how are we to model it? From time to time, we all encounter people who are hard to love. Think about those who present a particular challenge for you: What are some specific things you need from the Holy Spirit in order to love them better? Or at all? 

  • If you abide with Christ, you’ve been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Do you live that reality? If you do, can you name some ways you’re set apart because of it? According to verses 28 and 29, that enormous and life-changing gift comes with its own set of gifts. If you’d like to learn more about them, you could start here or here. What are the gifts the Spirit has given you? How do you use them to serve the Kingdom?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

  • Curious about what’s in your gift boxes?  Take a spiritual gifts test here. There’s a version for teens on the site, as well!

  • Family challenge:  Go home and watch your favorite version of How The Grinch Stole Christmas with a focus on demonstrating lovingkindness to those who might be isolating themselves!

 

DEEP CUTS 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: We celebrate God’s extraordinarily big love during Advent. But, Donny Epp asks, are we ready for it? Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it!

 

 

 

LOOKING AHEAD

Almighty God is our deliverer, and we’re covered by His covenant love. We get a peek at what that means in Isaiah 61:1-11.

Living Grace

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of November 27, 2016

2016 ADVENT GUIDE

THE SET-UP

Christ is our Hope above all other hopes, the true King above all other kings.

 

 

SO, WHAT IS ADVENT? AND WHY DO WE PARTICIPATE IN IT AT GRACE?

Think about the difference between a store-bought strawberry in January and one that’s fresh off the vine in May. There’s simply no comparison. Even in our drive thru-loving world, there are some things we can’t have on demand, 24/7/365. Neither can we live our lives expecting to grow and change, to learn and serve, in a monotonous rhythm of sameness. We need seasonality and variety, regular cyclical emphases as reminders and ways to dwell deeply and practice faithfully.

 

The Christian seasons of Advent and Christmas help us do just this. Christmas actually begins on Christmas Eve and lasts for the following twelve days. Advent is a season of preparation for Christmas that reflects the longing of the Jews for a Messiah. Christians are reminded of how much we also need a Savior as we remember Jesus’ first coming and renew our longing for His next and final coming.

 

“Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming” or “visit.” As we set aside and celebrate the season with this name, Christ-mas, we recognize and dwell deeply in both “advents” of Christ: the first in Bethlehem and the second yet to come. Advent offers us an opportunity to faithfully embrace the three elements of Christian practices of time: eschatological, which means time is linear and moving in a specific direction with a specific purpose; cyclical (not that history repeats itself, but that as Mark Twain famously said, “it often rhymes”);  and seasonal.

 

As we reorient our expectations and affection, our actions and attitudes about Advent, the hope is to make more room, experience more peace, share more love and celebrate with deeper joy our risen and living Savior!

 

Grace and peace, y’all.

 

 

CALENDAR OF EVENTS

November 27

First Sunday of Advent: Hope

Grace Church worship, 10:15 a.m. @2828

Christ the King Anglican Church worship, 5 p.m. @2828

 

December 4

Second Sunday of Advent: Love

Grace Church worship, 10:15 a.m. @2828

Christ the King Anglican Church worship, 5 p.m. @2828

 

December 11

Third Sunday of Advent: Peace

Grace Church worship, 10:15 a.m. @2828

Christ the King Anglican Church worship, 5 p.m. @2828

 

December 18

Fourth Sunday of Advent: Joy

Grace Church worship, 10:15 a.m. @2828

Christ the King Anglican Church worship, 5 p.m. @2828

 

December 24

Christmas Eve

Christ the King Anglican Church worship, 5 p.m. @2828

December 25

Christmas Day

Grace Church worship, 11 a.m. @2828

 

THERE ARE PRACTICES THAT HELP US REORIENT OUR HEARTS TOWARD CHRIST AND EACH OTHER.

 

Having warm fuzzy feelings and good intentions will never be enough to withstand the onslaught of commercialism, the demands of our circumstances or the weakness of our own flesh as we seek to faithfully follow Jesus and be continually transformed into His image, especially at this time of year. It takes intentional, communal and Holy Spirit-infused practices such as these. Will you commit to make them part of your Advent and Christmas celebrations this year?

  • Repentance  Yeah, I know I sound like the Grinch, but Christmas isn’t only for celebration and revelry; we’ll get to that. It starts, like all legitimate expressions of thanksgiving, worship and celebration, with repentance. With remembering the reason why we need a savior in the first place, the reason why God chose to go to such extraordinary extremes to redeem and reconcile, to fulfill and make manifest His salvation. If we don’t get this, we miss the whole thing. Make time during Advent to sit with the reality of what our lives would be without God, of the mess we have made of this world that God yet redeems.

 

  • Rest  If suggesting repentance makes me sound like a Grinch, suggesting rest risks making me sound like a lunatic. Many things about this season may demand significant time and emotional energy, but we don’t do ourselves or anyone else any good by burning out. So practice your daily disciplines, your Sabbath rhythms. Resist the cultural call to Do More! Buy More! Go More! Fight back with purposeful times of rest. Imagine getting to the end of advent refreshed and recharged. 

  • Worship and Celebration  Two things go along with repentance and rest to help accomplish the goal of experiencing a life-giving Advent season: worship and celebration. If we are not intentional about making these the “reasons for the season,” we will spend much more time in the mall, shopping online or worrying over decorations and driving than actually worshipping the One who came and celebrating what His coming means. Make these times a priority, or something else will take their place.

  • Giving and Receiving  While this may seem contrary to everything written above, giving and receiving gifts can be profoundly spiritual acts when done in the right spirit. Giving helps us express appreciation and reflect on what others mean to us and how grateful we are for them. Humbly receiving reflects our need for others and helps make room for grace, so give and receive with humility, thoughtfulness and grace as part of your Advent practice.

 

 

 

THE MASH-UP: ADVENT EDITION

Listen

Reflect

Respond

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: Norma Farthing shares some thoughts about hope, the best of things. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it!

 

 

 

LOOKING AHEAD

Our repentance makes way for an extraordinary outpouring of the Holy Spirit. That’s a pretty awesome trade-off. Read about it in Joel 2:12-13 and 28-29 (NET).

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of November 20, 2016
Key Text: Jeremiah 36:1-8, 21-23, 27-28; 31:29-34 (NET)

THE SET-UP

God is relentless in His effort to transform our hearts. We can either burn His word or let His words burn within us.

 

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

What does it mean that

God’s love for us is relentless?

Why is it necessary for us to

sometimes wrestle with God?

 

How do we live into the responsibility

and possibility of that tension?

 

 

GRACE IN 3D

In our text this week, King Jehoiakim seems to think he can destroy God’s word just by burning up the scroll it was written on. That sounds pretty stupid. Except don’t we sometimes do kind of the same thing? What are some of the ways we try to water down or ignore God’s word, especially when it says something we wish it didn’t say? Have there been times when you personally disrespected or disregarded Scripture as it applied to something you were wrestling with? Something God was calling you to? Would you be willing to share your thoughts with your Grace Group?

 

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • For weeks now, we have read story after story of God’s repeated reaching out to us, seeking to regather, lead us, heal us and love us. God is relentlessly creative (arks, bushes that burn but don’t, stone tablets, angels with hot coals …) and yet maddeningly redundant in His love for us. Is this the basis for your relationship with God? Do you still try and work for instead of from God’s love?

 

  • But living with this near constant wrestling is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, it is inherent in our name as “Israel”; ones who wrestle with God. Each of us will have to wrestle to know this love in a personal way. It is essential we don’t give up. Take a minute and make a list of the good things that have come in your life though “wrestling” or testing. While we all want it to be easy, the easy way rarely gives us good things. Do you think this is true? Why? 

  • There is a difference between stress and tension. Stress is essential in immediate emergency situations but deadly when experienced in the long term. A certain degree of tension, however, is necessary for us to grow and change, develop and learn. What are the ways you are embracing the tension while avoiding the stress? What practices are you adopting that facilitate growth and change, the ability to stay rooted during storms?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

As you reflect this week on our text, think about what true heart change would mean for you. If the Word of God is written on your heart, what are some specific ways you’ll live differently as a result of that truth?

 

DEEP CUTS 

 

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: John Ray reminds us that in the beginning — our beginning — it was good. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it!

 

 

 

LOOKING AHEAD

Whoever started the ugly rumor that if you obey God faithfully your life will be free of trouble, it certainly wasn’t the prophet Daniel. Read about what was possibly the longest and most dramatic night of his life in Daniel 6:6-27.

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of November 13, 2016

THE SET-UP

God is our Creator and sovereign Lord.  He certainly does not need us to fulfill his purposes in this broken world, and yet he calls us both collectively and individually to do just that.

 

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

What does it mean to “encounter” God?

How are we changed when we do?

 

How should we respond to God, as a result?

 

 

GRACE IN 3D

When you think of the kind of person God would want to answer a call to serve, what picture comes to your head? Someone who’s Einstein-smart? Super-hero brave? Has tons of money? Doesn’t make mistakes? How bout this: Does the picture look at all like you? Would you be quick to say, “Send me”? Why or why not? Be prepared to share your thoughts with your Grace Group.

 

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • The scene Isaiah witnesses in verses 1-4 might cause us to think that God is a little bit in love with theatrics. No doubt here that Isaiah is square in the full-on presence of God. Do you think God reveals himself this way today? Why or why not? Can you know you’re in God’s presence if there’s no throne or XXXXXXL-size robe or smoke or bellowing angels? How? Does it make a difference whether or not we expect to encounter God? Why or why not? What do you find to be awe-inspiring about God?

 

  • Is it possible to come face-to-face with God and not be changed? How does this kind of revelation shape our understanding of God? Of others? Notice that Isaiah’s condition has nothing at all to do with whether or not he’s strong, smart, brave or eloquent; he’s unclean because he’s a sinner. And God doesn’t point out that Isaiah is unclean — there’s no need. Isaiah sees it himself, in light of this profound revelation of God: It’s a matter of who he is, not what he can do or what he has to offer. Does encountering God cause you to see or understand yourself differently? If so, how?

  • What are some specific things this passages tells you about God? Based on what you know to be true about Him, how do you respond when He calls you? Does this Old Testament God look to you like the New Testament Jesus? Why or why not? In verse 8, Isaiah answers God’s call. But the text doesn’t say that the call was necessarily addressed to Isaiah. Do we always get a personal, individual calling from God? Are we called every time to something big and brand new? Can you name some things we’re all called to, all the time? Are there any you especially struggle with? If so, what are they

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

As you meditate on our text this week, ask for an encounter that will give you a fresh understanding of God’s holiness. What is God calling you to right now? What are some specific ways you’ll respond to that calling?

 

DEEP CUTS 

 

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: John Ray reminds us that in the beginning — our beginning — it was good. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it!

 

 

 

LOOKING AHEAD

God speaks, Jeremiah takes notes and a new covenant is born. Read about it in Jeremiah 36:1-8, 21-23, 27-28, then follow with 31:31-34.

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of November 6, 2016
Key Text: Jonah 1:1-17; 3:1-4:4 (NET)

THE SET-UP

The mercy of God knows no boundaries, but obedience to God sometimes overwhelms us.

 

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

How are we to more deeply understand

the boundless mercy of God?

What does it mean to be humble

in our obedience to God?

 

How are Jonah and Jesus connected?

 

 

GRACE IN 3D

How would you define justice? How does your idea square with what Scripture teaches us about God’s definition of justice? Do you ever wish you could talk God into acting according to what you think is just, and do you ever get mad because you can’t? Give some thought to these questions, and be prepared to share with your Grace Group.

 

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • Most Americans live lives of incredible privilege, of truly historic wealth. While many of us would probably say this doesn’t feel like our individual experience, as a culture we can’t deny it’s our reality. And with this wealth and privilege comes the significant temptation to think we somehow deserve it because we are better, special; that God prefers us over others. This lie reduces God to a tribal deity who serves our national, cultural and personal interests; who very much shows us beaucoup favor while showering wrath on our enemies or showing them favor just to teach us a lesson or make us jealous. The profound and instructive story of Jonah shatters our preferential posturing and shows us God’s mercy is limitless, that God is the God of every nation and loves all people and creation without bounds. Even as much as he loves us. Does this understanding challenge or offend you? Why? How does a deeper understanding of this change the way you define and think of “others”?

 

  • Two very common mistakes are often made when it comes to discerning God’s will: assuming that if it’s of God, it’s always going to be super easy — all the doors will swing open and we’ll effortlessly accomplish whatever it is we feel God leading us to do; or that if God asks it, it’ll always be totally the opposite of what we’d choose and about as much fun as eating cold mashed peas. While both of these assumptions are to be rejected, we do have to recognize we obey God because of who God is, not primarily because we agree, or like it, or understand. And because we’re human and live in a messed up world, opportunities for obedience will often be profoundly uncomfortable and come at significant cost. So how do we keep this at the forefront of our responses to God? How do we live in such a way that says “yes” to God, regardless of how it makes us feel or what it costs us?

  • How are Jonah and Jesus connected? This is kind of an extra-credit question. The parallels between Jonah’s story and the life of Jesus are quite numerous. In some ways they are identical; other ways offer stark contrast to similar situations. How many can you find? Where do they match up? Where are they contrasted? How does a better understanding of Jonah’s story help you have a better understanding of Jesus?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

As you reflect this week on our text, think about your own obstacles to obedience. Claim the promise in Philippians 2:12-13; when you pray, ask the Holy Spirit to give you clear understanding and boldness to obey, whenever God offers you an opportunity.

 

DEEP CUTS 

 

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: John Ray reminds us that in the beginning — our beginning — it was good. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it!

 

 

 

LOOKING AHEAD

If you’re abiding with God, you’re called to serve. How will you respond? Something to think about as you read our text for next week, Isaiah 6:1-8.

Living Grace

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of October 30, 2016
Key Text: 1 Kings 17:1-16 (NET)

THE SET-UP

Obedience is often scary and difficult. But it forces us into deeper understanding of who God really is.

 

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

How do we obey God

even when it’s scary?

What do we do when

obedience is hard?

 

What does it mean to us

that God is the God of everyone?

 

 

GRACE IN 3D

Has God ever asked you to do something really scary, or hard? So hard, in fact, that you were pretty sure there was no way you could do it? What was it? How did you know you were hearing from God? How did you respond? Did you learn anything about God, or about yourself, that you would not have learned any other way? If so, what? Would you share your thoughts with your Grace Group this week?

 

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • For most of us the problem with obeying is not a lack of information, but a lack of imagination: We just can’t imagine it’s possible to do all the things God commands and become the person and people God wants us to be. I mean, really love God with our whole hearts AND love our neighbors as ourselves? Give to everyone who asks? Take up our cross and follow? Seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly? Who can do all that? Who wants to do all that? Even when we are convinced that God loves us and will take care of us, obedience is scary. What are the things you are most afraid of when you think about totally obeying God? Poverty? Physical pain? Being unhappy? Being rejected, or made fun of?

 

  • Doing what God tell us to do isn’t always easy, even when we have a Holy Spirit-inspired, active Gospel imagination that facilitates our obedience. At Grace, we often quote Scottish theologian John MacMurray who wrote, "The maxim of illusory religion runs: 'Fear not; trust in God, and He will see that none of the things you fear will happen to you'; that of real religion, on the contrary, is 'Fear not; the things that you are afraid of are quite likely to happen to you, but they are nothing to be afraid of.'" Overcoming fear is essential, but only part of obedience. There seem to be so many other challenges. What are the biggest ones you face? Time? Resources? Feeling overwhelmed, inadequate or ill-equipped? How do you find your way through these? How do you overcome them?

  • What does it mean that God is the God of everyone? One of the main things we see from our text this week is how our obedience affects everyone around us. Our disobedience can do severe damage  — look at the drought caused by the idolatry of Ahab and the people — or be life-giving. The obedience of Elijah and the widow from Zarephath led to blessing and provision. It is also important to note in this story how God included, even highlighted, His provision for and through a person “outside” of the people of Israel. What is the significance of this? When you think about how God works, how open are you to sharing with and receiving from people who are very different from you? Is it easy or difficult for you to see God working in and through all kinds of people?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

Is God asking you to do something right now that scares you? As you reflect on our text for this week, pray for calm and courage to be obedient in spite of how you feel. If you make the decision to trust God’s promises and provision, what are three specific ways you’ll live differently this week as a result?

 

DEEP CUTS 

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

LOOKING AHEAD

Jonah is famous for getting instructions from God and doing exactly the opposite, then spending three days and nights re-thinking his response from inside the belly of a whale. Read up on his story in Jonah 1:1-17 and 3:1-10.

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of October 23, 2016
Key Text: 2 Samuel 7:1-17 (NET)

THE SET-UP

There is a place of deep abiding and rest, a “house” that only God can give us.

 

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

What does it mean for us

that God builds us a house?

What does it mean to live in that house?

 

How do we fully experience

all that comes from living there?

 

 

GRACE IN 3D

Where and how do you experience God’s presence? Does God feel more accessible, more contained, within the walls of a church building? We’re promised that God is always with us. Based on your experience, does God keep that promise? Would you share your thoughts this week with your Grace Group?

 

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • Home. Families are torn apart trying to hold onto it. People fight wars over it, risk everything in search of one. A place that promises rest and security. A house to call our own. Understanding this deep desire within each of us is key to understanding something essential about God’s promise to us. It is a foundational element of God’s grace that God has created us with this longing — not to frustrate us, but to fulfill it through our relationship with Him. And this house that God promises is not something we can ever earn, trade for or, ultimately, lose. It is one of the essential gifts of God. Have you experienced this “house of God”? What do you think it means? Why do you think it is important to God to promise this to us?

 

  • This house God promises in the passage seems to be tied up pretty tightly with an ancient historical figure and people. So what does that mean for us? What does it mean for us to be part of the house of God, and find rest there? A huge part of this deals with our identity, the way we understand who we are and where our “roots” are. In ancient times, what “house” you belonged to defined everything about you, what you would be able to experience, what kind of job you would have, whom you could marry...everything. So how do we live into that reality today? Is being part of God’s house what defines you, or are you mostly defined by other things?

  • Considering the above ideas, how does it make you feel when you stop and contemplate what is promised to you, what is available to you as a member of the House of God? What keeps you from experiencing this in the deepest parts of your being?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

Even when we know we’re children of God’s House, actually living this reality is another matter. When you meditate on our text for this week, ask the Holy Spirit to let the truth of God’s provision sink into your soul. Pray for passion and energy to share it. You might find inspiration from Gregory Porter.

 

DEEP CUTS 

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: What does it look like for us to be salt and light to immigrants? Grace Holt has some thoughts. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it!

LOOKING AHEAD

Elijah encouraged a poor widow to trust God. Next week, we’ll see that she divided a small amount of flour, and her blessings were multiplied. Read about it in 1 Kings 17:1-16.

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of October 16, 2016
Key Text: 1 Samuel 1:9-11, 19-20; 2:1-10  (NET)

THE SET-UP

Despite how we feel, even in our darkest moments there’s no question as to whether God always remembers us. But do we always remember God?

 

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

What does Hannah teach us

about prayer?

What do these passages teach us

about God?

 

Can we trust God to hear us

when we pray?

 

 

GRACE IN 3D

Hannah’s prayer praises God for the way He turns things upside down: “The bows of warriors are shattered, but those who stumble find their strength reinforced. Those who are well-fed hire themselves out to earn food, but the hungry no longer lack. Even the barren woman gives birth to seven, but the one with many children withers away.” Does that sound like the Jesus Christ you know? As you’ve apprenticed Him, have you ever seen Him act or answer prayers in a completely unexpected way? If so, would you share the story with your Grace Group?

 

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • Hannah lived in a world where her value and security were directly tied to her ability to birth children, especially boys. Because she was barren, people around her would have assumed she did something to bring infertility upon herself and was cursed as a result. That’s a heavy load to carry, and some of us would buckle under the weight of it; we would avoid fellowship with God because the intensity of that kind of shame is nearly impossible to overcome. Not Hannah, though. What does her example say to you? Does it challenge your beliefs about what we have to do to be acceptable to God? To be used by God? If so, how?

 

  • From our vantage point, we have the benefit of seeing that God had big plans for Samuel. What do you make of the fact that of all the women He could have selected to be Samuel’s mom, He chose a woman who was bullied, diminished and marginalized? A woman who quite literally had nothing to offer Him? What does this tell you about the heart of God? About how God accomplishes His purposes? Does it shape your thinking about how we have to present ourselves in order to be used by God? If so, how?

 

  • If we take the facts as they’re presented to us, it seems pretty obvious that Hannah could have been praying and trusting God for years before she finally became pregnant. Do you think God only started listening to her shortly before He granted her request for a baby? Do you ever wonder if, based on the response you get to your prayers, God is listening to you? How are we supposed to pray faithfully if it feels like God doesn’t remember us? On the other hand, consider Hannah’s prayer of praise: What are some specific ways we can let God know that we remember Him?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

If you’re secure in Christ’s love for you and His protection and provision over you, how will you acknowledge it this week to Him as well as to others? If you’re not — if you feel like you’ve been forgotten or forsaken — pray for the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to the truth of your position as a child of God. How will you live differently as a result?

 

DEEP CUTS 

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: What does it look like for us to be salt and light to immigrants? Grace Holt has some thoughts. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it!

LOOKING AHEAD

David figures that of course God would want a spectacular house of worship constructed in His honor — who wouldn’t? Well, God, apparently. At least not yet. The topic comes up when God establishes a covenant with David; next week, we’ll read about it in 2 Samuel 7:1-17 (NET).

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of October 9, 2016
Key Text: Exodus 32:1-14 (NET)

THE SET-UP

Humans seem hardwired to distort the image of God. Good thing God’s promises aren’t linked to our performance.

 

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

Why do we lie about who God is?

What do we gain when we

engage with the true God?

 

Does God’s faithfulness to us

depend on our faithfulness to God?

 

 

GRACE IN 3D

If we’re honest, we’d probably all admit to having created false idols from time to time — turning our attention completely away from God and giving our focus, resources and loyalty to things that have nothing at all to do with the Kingdom. But what about the idols that represent God: false images of the true God? The Geneva Study Bible says, “The root of Idolatry is when men think that God is not present, unless they see him physically.” Maybe God seems distant to us; maybe we want something tangible to make our relationship with God feel more real. Whatever the reason, do you think there are things we idolize in the Church? At Grace Church? What about you, personally? Would you be willing to share your thoughts with your Grace Group?

 

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • It’s been said that the most damnable lies are the ones that are mostly true. This is especially accurate when we apply it to our ideas about God. The people waiting on Moses at the base of Mount Sinai didn’t all of a sudden become atheist, or rise up in rebellion against God, or even give up in apathy and stop worshipping. They just “adjusted” who their god was. They still believed  in “god,” they still worshipped. What was driving them to do this? Why was it so easy for them, after seeing the Red Sea split, the fire by night and cloud by day, to do this? Do you think we are guilty of the same types of “adjustments”? If so, how?

 

  • Have you ever felt that God was unjust? Unfair? What about times you feel that God is absent,  isn’t listening or just doesn’t care? What is your response to these feelings? When what you want, what you really believe should happen, doesn’t? When Moses argues with God on the mountain about what should happen to the people who are dancing around the golden calf down below, we see a strange thing. Moses reminds God who God is, what God has promised and what the “right thing” to do is. Kinda crazy, right? But don’t miss the effect: In the process, something is happening to Moses’ heart. What do you think happens to ours when we engage in this kind of wrestling with God?

 

  • Remember this quote from Eugene Peterson? “The only serious mistake we can make when illness comes, when anxiety threatens, when conflicts disturb our relationships with others is to conclude that God has gotten bored looking after us and has shifted His attention to a more exciting Christian, or that God has become disgusted with our meandering obedience and decided to let us fend for ourselves for a while…” How often, and in how many ways, do you connect your experience of God’s presence and blessing to your performance? Do you connect His attention and affection to your earning?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

Who do you say God is? Does the way you live your life, spend your resources, place your priorities tell the truth about who you know God to be? Are there people, places or practices that are the objects of your worship, rather than God? If you’re not sure, ask the Holy Spirit to show you. Pray for curiosity to know God deeply, and for awareness of the evidence of God’s love and provision in your life. As these prayers are answered, what are three or four specific ways you’ll live differently as a result?

 

DEEP CUTS 

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: Wrestling with the inevitability of death leaves author Ike Peters with way more questions than answers. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it

LOOKING AHEAD

Hannah celebrates God’s faithfulness. Read about her circumstances and her prayer in 1 Samuel 1:9-11, 19-20 and 2:1-10.

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of October 2, 2016
Key Text: Exodus 12:1-13; 13:1-8 (NET)

THE SET-UP

 

Passover celebrates God’s rescue plan, which involves a lamb and offers a preview of the Lamb to come.

 

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

What’s the significance of Passover?

What does it tell us about

God’s love and protection?

 

What does it mean for

twenty-first century Christians?

 

 

GRACE IN 3D

Passover is the most significant event in the history of the nation of Israel; a profound, supernatural display of God’s power and protection. The Jews were commanded to always remember it, using a detailed set of rituals. Have there been times when God was at work in your life in a particularly powerful way? Are there special things you do to honor or remember them? If so, what are they? Would you be willing to share them with your Grace Group?

 

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • In Exodus 12:2, God basically tells Moses and Aaron that the Jews are to toss out their civil calendars and completely reorient their lives around Passover. Then in 13:1-8, God gives the Israelites some oddly specific instructions about how to memorialize their delivery from Egypt. What’s that about? Why is Passover so significant? (If you’d like some background, you could start here or here.) And why do you think the rituals God commands here are so precise? Do you think it matters much whether they’re strictly followed? Why or why not?

 

  • The Passover story is really pretty gruesome. Does God seem merciful to you in our text this week? Loving? Compassionate? Vengeful? Dangerous? Can the holy creator God be all of those things at once? The Israelites were told to put the blood of a spotless lamb on each side of their doorframe: Does it make a difference to you whether the purpose of that blood was to keep the death angel out or invite God in? Why or why not? Again we find a set of narrow instructions about how to choose and slaughter the lamb, what to do with it and how to apply the blood. What does that say to you about God’s love for and protection over His children?

 

  • When you read through this text, do you see the Cross show up as the narrative unfolds? If so, where? And what does that say to you about God’s plan to rescue and restore His children? From our synoptic study of the Gospels, think about how Jesus described the symbolism of the bread and wine during His last supper with the disciples. Do you see a connection there with Passover? If so, how might that inform your approach to communion?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to your mind specific instances when God has protected or provided for you. What tools will you use or habits will you adopt to honor them? Can you name at least three ways you’ll commit to living differently as a result?

 

DEEP CUTS 

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: Forgiving is often difficult, but the payoff is huge. Josie Lawson writes about it on the Grace Church blog. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it

LOOKING AHEAD

Moses was barely out of their site before the Israelites were melting down their gold and making themselves a stand-in. And God wasn’t especially happy with their industriousness. Read about it in Exodus 32:1-14 to get a jump on our teaching next week.

Living Grace

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of September 25, 2016
Key Text: Genesis 37:3-8, 17b-22, 26-34; 50:15-21 (NET)

THE SET-UP

The ultimate Shalom sacrifice of the cross is echoed throughout our broken histories.

 

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

How do we see God working dead ends

in the Bible and in our own stories?

How, specifically, is forgiveness the key

to reconciliation and shalom?

 

How do we understand the

pattern of reconciliation in the Bible?

 

 

GRACE IN 3D

At the end of our text this week, Joseph tells his brothers that their evil acts against him were ultimately used by God for his good. What do you think about this passage? Do you think it has anything to do with real life? Has there ever been a time when you were in a pit of your own — angry or grieving or in pain because of circumstances outside your control — and God brought good that could not have come to you any other way? Have you ever been trapped in a pit that, so far, doesn’t appear to work for your good at all? What do you make of that? Could you forgive the way Joseph did? Be prepared to share your thoughts this week with your Grace Group; see how your experiences and beliefs are alike or different.

 

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • It is a difficult, even impossible, concept to embrace: God continually wants to bring resurrection. But for something to be divinely resurrected, it has to be dead. For something to be supernaturally healed, it has to be humanly irreparable. For forgiveness to really be forgiveness, the offence must truly have damaged. And yet that is what, in many ways, defines God. The one who forgives, resurrects and restores. If you really want to see God at work in the Bible, in our world and in your life, look here. Where you have seen God working in your life through forgiveness? What is it like when forgiveness is present and practiced? What is it like when it is absent? What factors encourage it or hinder it?

 

  • Forgiveness is not just about the restoration of personal relationships; it has much farther-reaching implications. How are we to understand the necessity of peace, shalom, in our personal relationships if peace is to exist in our communities, countries and world? Have you ever considered how the lack of forgiveness in the relationships closest to you negatively affects the greater community? How walking in forgiveness in those same relationships helps spread peace to those around you?

 

  • How do we understand the pattern of reconciliation in the Bible? Look in any hymnal and you will find a substantial number of songs about the Cross. Rightfully so. But it is important to understand that God did not start his reconciliation efforts on Calvary. Instead, they start in the Garden and are the continual focus of God’s interaction with humanity. Scripture is filled with instances of the overwhelming and relentless love of God seeking after us. Consider the stories in the Bible where you see this happening. Where do you see it happening in your own life? In the lives of those around you? In our communities, and our world?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

In light of our teaching this week, will you respond differently to God’s great love and passionate pursuit of you? If so, how? What are some specific ways you will practice forgiveness differently as a result of what the Holy Spirit is teaching you through our text?

 

DEEP CUTS 

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: At the communion table, we find a beautiful and poignant reminder of Christ’s love. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it!

LOOKING AHEAD

It was the month to begin all months — a watershed so monumental that it literally stopped and reset the clock for the entire Jewish nation. To get a look ahead at our study of the Passover, read about it in Exodus 12:1-13 and 13:1-8.

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of September 18, 2016
Key Text: Genesis 15:1-6 (NET)

THE SET-UP

For apprentices of Jesus, to “have faith” is a jumping-off point, not the endgame. God wants our faith to be robust, ever-deepening and authentic.

 

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

How do we acquire more faith?

How do we develop deeper faith?

 

What is authentic faith?

 

 

GRACE IN 3D

Have you ever found yourself in the depths of a struggle of some kind — physical, financial, emotional, spiritual — and been told by a well-meaning someone that everything would work out if you “just have more faith”? How did you feel? How did you respond? What does that mean to you: “just have more faith”? Why do you think believers say that to each other when things look grim? Would you be prepared to share your thoughts with your group this week?

 

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • “Just have more faith.” This is often given as a “prescription” to people who are struggling, or afflicted, or questioning. Rarely does it do more than add to the hurt, isolation or doubt the person is feeling. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it is wrong. If we learn anything from the Bible, it’s that God is calling us to have more faith. How do you see that reflected in the text this week? How do you see that same calling at work in your own life? How do you respond? What keeps you from responding?

 

  • The more deeply rooted a plant is, the healthier it is. Faith works much the same way: It’s a matter of depth, as well as quantity. But how does this “deepening” happen? When we’re tested? Facing adversity? When we say “yes” to challenging, demanding situations and opportunities that “activate” our roots to seek deeper soil and more nourishing layers? Conversely, have you ever really experienced a time of going deep when everything was easy, life was smooth and challenges minimal? Where are you being invited to go deeper in your faith? Does this change the way you consider challenges and “messy” situations you encounter?

 

  • There is another part of faith that is extremely, essentially personal. God is crafting in each of us a faith that is “authentic” to our situation, personality, understanding and context. Grasping this truth frees us to ask the questions that are essential to us; it allows us the freedom to feel, experience, and explore who we are, why we are and how all this ultimately relates to us. It’s not private, but it is intensely personal. And it takes a lifetime, probably an eternity. What are the experiences, questions and emotions that God is using to craft an authentic faith in your life? Do you have a model, or idea of what authentic faith even looks like? Why is it important?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

How will you live differently as a result of what the Holy Spirit teaches you through our text and worship this week? What’s one specific opportunity, challenge or situation that you need to lean into for the purpose of developing more, deeper and authentic faith? Share with someone in your family or your Grace Group what you’ve committed to do.

 

DEEP CUTS 

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: Out on the 401 Trail, the score was J.Ray -1, Anxiety - 0. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it!

LOOKING AHEAD

Meet Joseph’s brothers, who set a very low bar for family loyalty and harmony. In God’s hands, even their vile and heartless betrayal worked for Joseph’s good. Read up on their story in Genesis 37:3-8, 17-22, 26-34; and 50:15-21.

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of September 11, 2016
Key Text: Genesis 2:4-9, 15-17; 3:1-13 (NET)

THE SET-UP

Sin and shame can drive us to hide from God. But God created us, breathed life into us. And nothing we do will ever cause God to hide from us.

 

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

What’s special about

the way God created us?

What does it mean that

God breathed life into us?

When we sin, what can we do

to redeem ourselves?

 

 

GRACE IN 3D

Our text this week tells us some tremendously important things about God’s heart and character. And the way we hear and process this story shapes our thoughts and assumptions about Him. Imagine that everything you know about God is based only on this passage. What would you think about Him? Does He seem compassionate? Angry? Loving? Vengeful? Close? Distant? Write down your thoughts, and when you get together with your Grace Group, compare notes. How are your answers alike? How are they different? Then, see what kind of composite you come up with. What does that picture of God look like? Is it consistent with our text? How?

 

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • Take a second to review Genesis 1: God’s M.O. is to “speak” things into being through Day Seven. Then something interesting happens in verse 26. Who’s the “us”? (If you want to explore this question, Isaiah 40:13-14 might be a good place to start.) What’s different about the way God set out to create man? (Find some clues in verses 26-29.) Now read Genesis 2:7. When it tells us that God “formed” man, the word picture is of a potter forming something purposefully from clay. It’s not used to describe the way God created any other creature. What does all of this tell you about God’s heart for man?

 

  • We’re not told of any other creation that began breathing because God first breathed into its nostrils. So why Adam? What, exactly, is the “breath of life”? As a result, what does Adam have that other creations don’t? Read John 20:19-25. Some Biblical scholars draw a parallel between our text and this one; the words used for “breath” suggest the same meaning in Hebrew and Greek. What do you make of that?

 

  • After Adam and Eve disobey God and eat from the forbidden tree, it doesn’t take them long to realize that their world has changed on a dime. What evidence do you see here of their awareness of their sin? Of their shame? When you read verses 8-13, how do you picture God in your head? Aggressive? Angry? A concerned Father? Based on what you read here, do you think God’s manor or behavior gave them any reason to hide? Sounds like they were working hard to spin the situation so that they could justify themselves. What can they teach us about our ability to redeem ourselves when we sin?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

It’s human nature to want to make our own way and fix our own messes. If that drive prevents you from resting in God’s gift of redemption and restoration, ask the Holy Spirit to show you how to let go and lean fully on God’s provision. When you do, what are some specific ways you’ll live differently?

 

DEEP CUTS 

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: YWAM missionary Jamie Durham talks about the Fortress that’s greater than fear. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it!

LOOKING AHEAD

Father Abraham had many sons. To get a jump on next week’s message, you can read all about his descendants in Genesis 15:1-6.

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of September 4, 2016
Key Text: Genesis 1-2:3 (NET)

THE SET-UP

God’s first word is “YES!” In the beginning, it is good.

 

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

What does Genesis tell us about God?

As a creation narrative,

what makes Genesis special?

How does God define “rest”?

 

 

GRACE IN 3D

To some, the focus of our text is the creation. Actually, though, the spotlight is on the Creator. Read all the way through Genesis 1-2:3 a couple of times. If everything you knew about God came only from this passage, how would you describe God? Write down your thoughts; when you get together with your Grace Group, compare notes. How are you alike in the way you see the God of Genesis 1 and 2? How are you different? Are there words or phrases that come up more than once? Only once? Talk about how your thoughts compare as you begin a conversation about Sunday’s message.

 

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • It’s often said of the modern Western Evangelical Church that we ignore Genesis 1 and start our Bible with Genesis 2 and The Fall. As a result, the focus can become only our sin and its consequences; even when we allow for our salvation, we forget the beauty to which we have been restored. What do you think we are to learn about God and ourselves based only on Genesis 1? How do you think having a robust imagination around Genesis 1 affects the way we understand “the Big Picture”? How we understand our faith?

 

  • If you take a look at the various creation narratives, such as that of the Babylonians or Norsemen, you might quickly notice there are some similarities with the Biblical creation narrative, as well as some major differences. What are the differences you see? What difference do the differences make?

 

  • Genesis 2:2-3 tells us that God “rested” when creation was finished. This is not the rest that comes from exhaustion, but a cessation that comes from completion. In Hebrew, the word is shabbat. (Guess what word we get from that?) How does this affect the way you think about the world we live in? What does it reveal about God’s assessment of creation?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

This is a perfect time of year to get outside. Take an hour or two and find a park or streamside or hammock, then settle in and read Genesis 1-2:3 again. Let the words sink in; offer them back to God in conversation. You could start like this: “In the beginning You, Abba, created  the heavens and the earth. Now  the earth was without shape and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the watery deep,  but Your Spirit was moving over the surface of the water…” See what happens. This is a great activity to include your kids in, as well.

 

DEEP CUTS 

For a further look at Genesis 1:

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: YWAM missionary Jamie Durham talks about the Fortress that’s greater than fear. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it!

LOOKING AHEAD

Everything was perfect in the Garden. Until … Read Genesis 2:4-9 and 15-17, followed by 3:1-13, to find out how it all changed.

Living Grace

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of August 28, 2016
Key Text: Psalm 125 (MSG)

THE SET-UP

The Psalms of Ascent inspire us to draw close to God by speaking and praying the Word, singing praises and serving others.

 

 

GRACE IN 3D

Remember when we set the stage for our study of the Psalms of Ascent by thinking about our go-to songs along our spiritual journey? Those that encourage us? The ones we sing when we need calm, comfort or direction? Now, see if you can come up with “Psalms of Ascent” for your whole Grace Group. Think together about songs that are meaningful to each of you: If you were to create a list of those that best reflect your entire group, which songs would you choose? Why?

 

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

Let’s review some key questions from our study of the Psalms of Ascent.

  • From Psalm 120: Do you think it’s possible to be satisfied in Christ and satisfied with the world?

  • From Psalm 121: What happens when it appears that God is not the guardian that we desperately want God to be?

  • From Psalm 122: What does it mean to live as God’s people?

  • From Psalm 123: How does God’s mercy change us and those we serve?

  • From Psalm 124: How are our faith and practices informed by our understanding of history, our place in community and the future?

  • From Psalm 125: What’s the difference between trusting God and trusting our thoughts or feelings about God, or trusting what we believe about our relationship with God?

  • Now read our final song, Psalm 126What does it mean to you to be released by Christ from captivity?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

If our study of the Psalms of Ascent has drawn you closer to God, what are some specific ways you’ll live differently as a result?

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: John Ray finds encouragement and direction in the words of Psalm 122. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it!

LOOKING AHEAD

Next week, we’re headed back to the beginning. Get a jump on the teaching by reading Genesis 1.

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of August 21, 2016
Key Text: Psalm 125 (MSG)

THE SET-UP

Only God deserves our trust, because only God can secure our future. Placing our trust in anything else is a futile endeavor.

 

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

What’s the difference between trusting God and trusting our thoughts or feelings about God, or trusting what we believe about our relationship with God?

To get our heads around God’s character, do we need something to hold onto that represents it?

 

If we can trust that God exacts ultimate justice, how would we live differently as a result?

 

 

GRACE IN 3D

Has there ever been a time when you believed you were trusting God a million percent, but God let you down? Did the experience change the way you think about God? If so, how? Because of your experience, do you have questions about God that still haven’t been resolved? Did you learn things about God you probably would not have learned otherwise? If so, would you be willing to share them with your Grace Group?

 

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • What’s the difference between trusting God and trusting our thoughts or feelings about God, or trusting what we believe about our relationship with God? Does the object of our trust really matter? Why or why not? What’s the difference between faith and trust? What does that distinction mean to our relationship with God? Based on this psalm, what do you think it means to have a heart that is “right”? (You might find a little help here.)

 

  • Does God ever feel too far removed for you to be able to connect with God? To put your trust in God? Do you ever feel like you need something to hold onto that represents God’s character in order for you to understand it? Is it a bad thing to have something tangible, something you can understand as a symbol of God’s character?  How do we know when we’re trusting that “something” instead of fully trusting God? What might some of the consequences be? What are some specific ways we can guard against misplacing our trust?

 

  • What is it that makes us so quick to judge, so inclined to try to seek retribution? Do you find it easy or hard to trust that God will exact ultimate justice? To respect God’s timing? What about the Church: Do you think present-day Christians generally trust God to judge as God sees fit? Why or why not? Do you see evidence in our world that informs your opinion? Could you give some specific examples? If we could always trust God to be the ultimate judge, no matter the circumstances, how would we live differently as a result? How would our world be different?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

As you meditate on this psalm, ask the Holy Spirit to encourage you by affirming the ways you’re placing full trust in God — not your thoughts or feelings or assumptions about God. Also ask for some guidance about how to redirect, if your trust is at all misplaced. What are some specific ways you can respond to the Holy Spirit’s teaching?

 

DEEP CUTS 

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: Teri Naylor shares a once-in-a-lifetime journey to the Holy Land. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it!

LOOKING AHEAD

Lighten up, and thank God for the gift of joy! This isn’t a command; it’s the natural consequence of a close walk with God. And next week, we’ll see what Psalm 126 has to say about it.

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of August 14, 2016
Key Text: Psalm 124 (MSG)

THE SET-UP

Our anthems help form our imagination for history, community and the future.

 

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

 

How are our faith and practices informed by

our understanding of history?

Of our place in community?

 

Of the future?

 

 

GRACE IN 3D

Before your Grace Group meets this week, write down what you know to be true about God based on your individual experiences, and also on your experiences as part of a faith community. If you wanted to relate these things in a song, what would you say? Share your notes with your Grace Group: How are your experiences alike? How are they different? See if together you all can combine your thoughts into one poem or song that tells the story of your collective understanding of God.

 

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • Generally, we think of history as somewhat interesting but mostly unimportant; pretty much irrelevant to our everyday lives. We treat it as a subject to be studied (or ignored), a setting for certain movies and books, but not something that is part of us, something we inhabit. Not so the people of Israel and those who are singing this song. They had a much different concept of and relationship to their history: They regarded it as alive, very much a part of their present. How does this sit with us? What happens when we start to think of ourselves as part of a bigger story that we didn’t create and we can’t really control? How does this inform our faith and practices?

 

  • Likewise, we’re inclined to view life and everything in it from our individual orientation, our unique perspective. Again, Israel’s primary orientation was communal. Things were judged and evaluated based on how they affected the whole of the group. The good of any single person was always subservient to that of the community. Success and failure were not individual accomplishments, but owned by the community as a whole. How does our understanding of our place in community inform our faith?

 

  • Israel’s imagination was constantly occupied with the generations to come. Current circumstances were inseparable from what happened in the past and what it meant for the future. This is increasingly difficult for us to imagine in our all-that-matters-is-right-now, YOLO society. How does our understanding of the future inform our faith?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

Ask the Holy Spirit this week to grow your imagination about your place in the bigger salvation story, your place in community (both at Grace Church, and in the Church), and your future. Based on what you read in Psalm 124, name some specific ways you’ll commit to love, live and serve differently as your understanding grows.

 

DEEP CUTS 

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: Let’s play Jeopardy! Grace Holt will take “Realizations” for 200 … Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it!

LOOKING AHEAD

We look to many things for security. But God’s word is clear: There’s only one Source we can stake our lives on. We’ll talk about it next week when we take a look at Psalm 125.

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of August 7, 2016
Key Text: Psalm 123 (MSG)

THE SET-UP

God is the ultimate source of all mercy. But posturing ourselves to look to and wait on God isn’t easy. There’s a reason we need mercy.

 

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

What does it mean to “wait on God”?

What is the meaning and experience of mercy?

 

How does God’s mercy change us and the we serve?

 

 

GRACE IN 3D

What’s the difference between grace and mercy? Do some research before your Grace Group meets (you could start here). When you get together this week, compare notes. Draw a line down the middle of a big sheet of paper. Write definitions for grace on one side, and mercy on the other. Where do these definitions intersect? How are they different?

 

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • Ever wonder why the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 kicks off with “love is patient”? I think it might have to do with the fact that being patient is so difficult. Really, really, really difficult. And in this Psalm we have people who are trying so hard, but also feeling like they might not make it. Have you ever felt that way? Totally overwhelmed, abandoned, forgotten? What encouragement can you take from this psalm?

 

  • It has been said that most people are not looking for transformation, just relief. And while mercy certainly contains elements of “relief,” it is so much more. Do a quick look-up in the dictionary. What does it say? The Hebrew word used here carries ideas of being gracious; showing favour, or pity. How do you think this differs from grace? How would you describe your experiences of giving and receiving mercy?

 

  • Do you think of yourself as a merciful person? If so, what evidence would you give? Can you think about how you learned to be merciful? What effect do you think it would have on you and on others if you cultivated more merciful practices?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

So here is the challenge for this week: Forgive a debt you are owed. It might be financial, or something that someone borrowed from you, or an emotional grudge. And do it without coming off as condescending, or with a sermon, or grudgingly. Just let it go. Pray for yourself and the person. Let them know with as little fanfare as possible. Then see what happens.

 

DEEP CUTS 

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: John Ray describes the weight of heart-wearines. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it!

LOOKING AHEAD

In A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson calls Psalm 124 “a song of hazard — and of help.” We’ll take a look next week; read ahead to get a preview.

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of July 31, 2016

THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS TO BE GOD'S PEOPLE / JOHN RAY

Key Text: Psalm 122 (MSG)

THE SET-UP

We are crazy people called to gather as a peaceful house to bless the world.

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

 

What does it mean to live as God’s people?

What is the big deal about worship?

 

What does it mean to be about peace?

FAMILY FOCUS

This week, start a discussion at home about Sunday’s teaching. You might begin by posing a question: What is worship? What does it mean to be people who have to “wrestle” things out, to at the same time be at peace?

 

GRACE IN 3D

Worshiping God might be your very favorite activity. If it is, that’s awesome. But most of us, if we’re honest, would admit that worship is sometimes not our favorite activity. And sometimes it falls a little bit behind work, or shopping, or sports, or sleeping in, or trolling Facebook, or binging on Netflix, or writing Harry Potter fan fiction, or whatever’s next-to-last on our list of Favorite Things. As apprentices of Jesus Christ, worshiping Him is one of the very most important things we do to grow in our faith and in our relationship with Him. But sometimes we just don’t really want to. What then? How do you get yourself in the frame of mind to worship when you just don’t feel like it?

 

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • What do you think it means to be part of “God’s people”? What pictures come into your head when you think about that? Is it more about what you think or how you behave? The author of this week’s Psalm tells us that “being Israel” means to be moving toward God, together with God’s people, all the while worshiping. What do you think it means to always be moving toward God? Is it exciting to be moving toward God together with other believers? Why or why not? Is there anything about it that’s difficult? If so, what? Are there things about worship that are exciting? Difficult? Boring?

 

  • What’s the big deal about worship? Is it that God has a big ego, and we worship to make Him feel good about Himself? What’s in it for us? When you worship God, does it help you know what’s important in life? Does it help you want to be closer to God? Does it help you know God better? To think more like God thinks? If so, how?

 

  • Do you treat people differently or make decisions differently when you’re worshiping regularly? As Jesus’ apprentices, we’re promised that we can always have peace. But sometimes life just isn’t very peaceful. Does worship give you peace in spite of whatever’s going on in your life? If so, how would you describe it? Does your peace grow as you get to know God better? Verse 6 says that people who love God will prosper. In Hebrew, the word for “prosper” that’s used here is shalah. Do a little research on it (you could start here or here): How is it different from the way we usually think about prosperity?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

One of the most effective things we can do to spread is to invite people to join in the worship of God. So think about your family, friends, neighbors, co-workers: Who among them could you invite to worship with us at Grace Church?

DEEP CUTS 

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: Josie Lawson talks about what worship means to a kid on the worship team. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it

LOOKING AHEAD

Next week, we’ll see that serving others begins with being a servant of God. Psalm 123 shows us how it works.

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of July 24, 2016
Who You Gonna Call? - John Ray
00:00 / 00:00
Key Text: Psalm 121 (MSG)

THE SET-UP

We all have to choose who we trust and where we look to find safety. Let’s recognize and commit to the only trustworthy decision.

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

 

Where do you believe your strength comes from?

Is the God of Psalm 121 familiar to you?

 

What happens when it appears that

God is not the guardian we, at times,

desperately want God to be?

 

GRACE IN 3D

Psalm 121 is a fantastic example of the Bible passages we can easily misunderstand and misuse if we don’t dig beneath the surface to find their meaning. Have you ever been either encouraged or discouraged by a passage that held a deeper message than you realized at the time you first read it? How did you come to understand it more clearly? Did a clearer understanding challenge or reinforce what you believed to be true of God? How?

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • We’re hardwired to look upward when we need help. Maybe that’s why mountains, hills and “high places” have always held prominence in our religious imaginations and practices. But the author is clear in verse 2 that help comes “from God, the maker of the high places,” not from the various shrines, cults and altars that are built on them. What are your “high places”? Do you think that, as a church, we have high places — people, beliefs, traditions, circumstances —we’re tempted to look to for strength and salvation, instead of to our very present God? If so, what are they?

 

  • If everything you knew about God was based only on a surface reading of Psalm 121, what would you believe about God? About God’s protection? What would you believe about Christianity? Would it square with what you believe based on experience? If so, how? And if not, what’s the difference? Does the contrast cause you to wrestle with understanding which picture of God is more accurate?

 

  • Have there ever been times you felt like you were outside God’s protection, as if God was too busy to guard you or — worse —forgot all about you? If so, what happened? Did the experience challenge what you believe to be true of God? Does the Bible ever appear to contradict itself? For instance, it seems to promise that suffering is a given (Matthew 10:38 and Philippians 1:29) and that God protects us from suffering (Psalm 32:7 and  2 Thessalonians 3:3). Is it possible to acknowledge our suffering and believe at the same time that God is our Guardian? That God has done, is doing and will do what is promised in Psalm 121? Why or why not?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

In A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson writes, “The only serious mistake we can make when illness comes, when anxiety threatens, when conflict disturbs our relationships with others is to conclude that God has gotten bored looking after us and has shifted his attention to a more exciting Christian, or that God has become disgusted with our meandering obedience and decided to let us fend for ourselves for a while, or that God has gotten too busy fulfilling prophecy in the Middle East to take time now to sort out the complicated mess we have gotten ourselves into. That is the only serious mistake we can make.”


This week, ask the Holy Spirit to show you the things in your life that you’re trusting for peace, protection and security. Pray for conviction to let them go, and a deep desire to place your trust solely in Jesus Christ.

DEEP CUTS 

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: Martha Lester meets God over a lemon icebox pie. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it!

LOOKING AHEAD

David — a man after God’s own heart — threw himself into worship with great enthusiasm. Next week, we’ll look at a song he wrote that celebrates worship in Psalm 122.

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of July 17, 2016
Worst Camping Trip Ever - John Ray
00:00 / 00:00
Key Text: Psalm 120 (MSG)

THE SET-UP

Transformational discipleship starts with an honest look at where we are, and a commitment to resist being conformed to the world around us.

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

 

Can we be satisfied in Christ

if we’re satisfied with the world?

What is “repentance” in this context?

 

What are the most destructive lies

we believe about our world?

 

GRACE IN 3D

Do you have favorite travel playlists? Specific songs you love to listen to on particular occasions? Bible scholars disagree about the origin of the Psalms of Ascent, but some think that, in a way, these specific psalms came together like a playlist for the Israelites when they traveled three times every year to attend the feasts in Jerusalem. Think about your spiritual journey: Are there specific verses or passages of Scripture that encourage you at particular times? Songs or hymns that you find yourself humming in particular places?  “Playlists” that you go to when you’re angry, discouraged, in pain, in need of direction? Would you share them with your Grace Group?

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • In A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson says, “A person has to be thoroughly disgusted with the way things are to find the motivation to set out on the Christian way.” Based on your own experience, do you think he’s right? Have there been times in your life when hard circumstances drove you to apprentice Christ more closely? Do you think it’s possible to be satisfied in Jesus and satisfied with the world, at the same time? To be satisfied in Christ and live in a state of distraction? To pursue discipleship and also immediate gratification? Why or why not?

 

  • What is repentance? Do you think of it as a feeling or a decision? Most of us think about it only in terms of personal failure, but is there more to it? A community aspect? Peterson points out that it is “always and everywhere the first word in the Christian life.” (See how many times you can find it in the New Testament; you could start with Matthew 3:2 and 4:17, Luke 15:10 or Acts 2:38.) In Psalm 120, the writer seems to be waking up to the fact that the world is a mess and is asking God to intervene. Most people would probably say that our world is a hot mess, too. So why doesn’t true repentance come easily? What could we have in this life that’s worth sacrificing our apprenticeship with Jesus?

 

  • What are the most destructive lies we believe about our world? About ourselves? Relationships? God? The Church? How do these lies impact our relationship with Christ? Our priorities? What lies do we need to repent of believing? What is the truth we need to turn to? What do we need to let go of so we can grab hold of God, as individuals and as a community?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

Peterson describes repentance as “a realization that what God wants from you and what you want from God are not going to be achieved by doing the same old things, thinking the same old thoughts. Repentance is a decision to follow Jesus Christ and become his pilgrim in the path of peace.” As you meditate on our Scripture this week, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you any lies that you’re believing. Pray to have the desire to repent and to become a “pilgrim in the path of peace.”

DEEP CUTS 

  • The writer’s word for “distress” shows up 73 times in the Old Testament. Find the references, and see if you any of these hit home, in “Tsarah,” from Bible Tools.

  • To understand the metaphor for being doomed and cursed, take a look at “Living in Meshech and Kedar,” from Christian Worldview Journal.

  • Smith’s Bible Dictionary has some interesting background on the book of Psalms in context, at Bible Study Tools.

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: Ike Peters offers some thoughts about what peace looks like in a hurting world. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it!

LOOKING AHEAD

So how do we walk that “path of peace”? Not — you’ll be relieved to know — in our own power. Read ahead about God’s providence and protection in Psalm 121.

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of July 10, 2016
A Long Obedience - John Ray
00:00 / 00:00
Key Text: Jeremiah 12:1-5 (MSG)

THE SET-UP


Maturity in Christ — true resurrection living — takes time, perspective and serious commitment. We need songs to help get us there.

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

 

What is our response when we feel pressured

on every side and life seems unfair?

How do we keep a faithful, Biblical

and Spirit-led perspective?

 

What are the things primarily forming

our imagination?

 

GRACE IN 3D

Unless you live under a rock, you can’t escape hearing a lot about the turmoil in our world. When you learn about incidents fueled by hostility, inequality or fear, how do you feel? Do you ever wonder where God is in all of it? How do you filter out the noise of news and social media? Where do you find peace? Perspective? How should the Church respond? Would you share your thoughts with your group this week?

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • If you pay any attention to the news lately, you can quickly feel totally overwhelmed. We would be right in echoing the words of Jeremiah in verses 1-4 of this week’s text. It’s particularly easy to take offense when we feel like we are being faithful and things aren’t going well for us, especially when we look around and see others playing loose and fast with the “rules” and getting well-rewarded for it. It seems such an insult, so unfair. What is your response in these situations? How do you handle it when those who don’t try half as hard get twice as much? What about when your best attempts at making peace or trying to rally people to a good cause are met with apathy, derision or sabotage?

 

  • The response to the questions, honest questions, that are asked in verses 1-4 is unexpected. Instead of words of assurance or comfort, God’s reply is terse and challenging. How does this help us change our perspective? Do you think God is simply saying “shut up and try harder” or is there some deeper, more compassionate implication? How does this response strike you personally, emotionally? What does this say about focusing mostly on our own understanding of a situation compared to seeking to make God’s understanding our main perspective?

 

  • What are the things that are primarily forming our imagination? Unless you live in a cave (and if you did, you certainly wouldn’t be reading this), you are bombarded with information, images and opportunities. It’s relentless. The question becomes not are we going to be influenced by this torrent, but how and by which ones? It may seem impossible to control the flood, but we are called to use discernment, discipline and discretion in response. What are the ways you are intentionally cultivating the things that help you form an “active Gospel imagination”? What are the songs you’re learning and teaching others, the books you are reading and sharing, the movies and shows you are watching and talking about? What are the events and celebrations that form your calendar?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

This week you are going to be inundated with people’s opinions, political posturing and fear-motivated denouncements of “others.” Instead of jumping in the fray and adding to the noise, find ways to sit and listen, really listen, to those most directly affected by what is happening. Offer support, real tangible support, to those who are suffering the most. Find events or groups that allow for a proper and Biblical response of lament, repentance and peace-making.

DEEP CUTS 

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: Jane Ray talks about how grace helps us find a way through pain. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it!

LOOKING AHEAD

The first of the Psalms of Ascent offers some timely insight on how anger and grief over the condition of our world can be catalysts for us pursuing a life of peace in Jesus Christ. See what you can find in Psalm 120.

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of July 3, 2016
Running On Empty - John Farthing
00:00 / 00:00
Key Text: Philippians 2:1-11 (NET)

THE SET-UP

Paul instructs the church at Philippi in a great paradox of the Christian faith: Emptying ourselves is the way to fullness of joy. And some 2,000 years later, this teaching also holds true for us.

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

 

What does it take for the church to have

the kind of unity Paul describes?

How do we pour ourselves out,

the way Jesus did?

 

What’s the upside of emptiness?

 

GRACE IN 3D

If you’re accomplished in the art of self-deprivation, then, way to go — because for most of us, it’s a total uphill climb. Especially when it comes to unplugging ourselves when we feel compelled to seek out distractions. In fact, a little practice might be in order. Choose a day this week to try to lean in to the discomfort of being alone with your thoughts. Silence your phone, stay off of social media, put down your earbuds, don’t watch TV or log onto your computer. When you’re jonesing for a connection, see how long you can make yourself sit and listen instead of giving in. What do you hear? What do you observe? How long can you make it? Is it easy or hard? Why? When your Grace Group meets, find out how your experience compares to everyone else’s.

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • Paul’s letter to the Philippians shows us, yet again, that the problems cropping up in the very first churches look a whole lot like the problems that surface in the Church today. In chapter 2, he challenges them to pursue unity: Based only on what you read here, do you think it’s possible for believers to have “encouragement in Christ” and “fellowship in the Spirit,” or koinonia, without it? According to Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament, Paul describes being “of the same mind” in verse 2 as “‘thinking the one thing,’ like clocks that strike at the same moment. Perfect intellectual telepathy.” Do you think we have that kind of unity in the Church today? At Grace Church? Why or why not? What about verses 3-4? Honestly, is it worth putting our own interests and needs aside in order to cultivate it?

 

  • What do you think it means that Jesus “emptied” Himself? Scripture is pretty clear about the fact that this was His own choice (do a little research, and see if you agree; you could start with Matthew 20:26-28 and 26:39). But that kind of selflessness rubs way against the grain for most of us. Why do you think we’re so driven to do exactly the opposite, to actively fill ourselves up and continually try to meet our own needs first? In a culture plagued with addiction, how do you think that’s working out for us? If Jesus was willing to let go of equality with God in order to pour Himself out for us, what could we possibly have that’s worth holding onto? When we fight so hard to resist emptying ourselves, what do you think it’s costing us in our personal relationship with Christ? What do you think it costs us a church?

 

  • The feelings we often associate with emptiness are fear, anxiety, restlessness and dread. But what about the upside of emptiness? What might Christ fill us with if we weren’t so busy trying to fill ourselves? How might He grow our church, and the Church, if we put our entire selves completely in His hands? Hard as it may be to do that — to change our own inclinations and behavior — by sheer force of will, here’s some good news: We can’t. At least not in a lasting, redemptive way. Read Genesis 1:1 and Psalm 51:10. When David asks God to create a pure heart within him, he’s talking about bara, the very same kind of creating that brought the world into being. Or as Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible explains, “causing something to exist where there was nothing before.” Can we trust God with that kind of change? If we give ourselves over to it, how do you think we might respond differently to the Gospel? What impact could that brand of selflessness have for the Kingdom?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

Is there room right now in your heart and mind for what Christ might want to pour in? If you try to avoid emptiness by filling yourself with anything other than Him, ask the Holy Spirit to make you aware of it; to show you how you can empty yourself out, and invite Jesus in. You’ll very likely become aware of opportunities to serve that you might not have noticed before, so commit to respond in whatever way the Holy Spirit prompts you.

DEEP CUTS 

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: Teresa Cornett considers how God challenges us to grow up in our faith. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it!

LOOKING AHEAD

Next Sunday we begin an 8-week trek through seven of the Psalms of Ascents, which is kind of like a timeless pilgrim’s playlist. John Ray opens the study with an introduction based on Jeremiah 12:5 — a verse that challenges Jesus’ apprentices to build endurance for the long game.

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of July 31, 2016

THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS TO BE GOD'S PEOPLE / JOHN RAY

Key Text: Psalm 122 (MSG)

THE SET-UP

We are crazy people called to gather as a peaceful house to bless the world.

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

 

What does it mean to live as God’s people?

What is the big deal about worship?

 

What does it mean to be about peace?

FAMILY FOCUS

This week, start a discussion at home about Sunday’s teaching. You might begin by posing a question: What is worship? What does it mean to be people who have to “wrestle” things out, to at the same time be at peace?

 

GRACE IN 3D

Worshiping God might be your very favorite activity. If it is, that’s awesome. But most of us, if we’re honest, would admit that worship is sometimes not our favorite activity. And sometimes it falls a little bit behind work, or shopping, or sports, or sleeping in, or trolling Facebook, or binging on Netflix, or writing Harry Potter fan fiction, or whatever’s next-to-last on our list of Favorite Things. As apprentices of Jesus Christ, worshiping Him is one of the very most important things we do to grow in our faith and in our relationship with Him. But sometimes we just don’t really want to. What then? How do you get yourself in the frame of mind to worship when you just don’t feel like it?

 

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • What do you think it means to be part of “God’s people”? What pictures come into your head when you think about that? Is it more about what you think or how you behave? The author of this week’s Psalm tells us that “being Israel” means to be moving toward God, together with God’s people, all the while worshiping. What do you think it means to always be moving toward God? Is it exciting to be moving toward God together with other believers? Why or why not? Is there anything about it that’s difficult? If so, what? Are there things about worship that are exciting? Difficult? Boring?

 

  • What’s the big deal about worship? Is it that God has a big ego, and we worship to make Him feel good about Himself? What’s in it for us? When you worship God, does it help you know what’s important in life? Does it help you want to be closer to God? Does it help you know God better? To think more like God thinks? If so, how?

 

  • Do you treat people differently or make decisions differently when you’re worshiping regularly? As Jesus’ apprentices, we’re promised that we can always have peace. But sometimes life just isn’t very peaceful. Does worship give you peace in spite of whatever’s going on in your life? If so, how would you describe it? Does your peace grow as you get to know God better? Verse 6 says that people who love God will prosper. In Hebrew, the word for “prosper” that’s used here is shalah. Do a little research on it (you could start here or here): How is it different from the way we usually think about prosperity?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

One of the most effective things we can do to spread is to invite people to join in the worship of God. So think about your family, friends, neighbors, co-workers: Who among them could you invite to worship with us at Grace Church?

DEEP CUTS 

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: Josie Lawson talks about what worship means to a kid on the worship team. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it

LOOKING AHEAD

Next week, we’ll see that serving others begins with being a servant of God. Psalm 123 shows us how it works.

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of July 24, 2016
Who You Gonna Call? - John Ray
00:00 / 00:00
Key Text: Psalm 121 (MSG)

THE SET-UP

We all have to choose who we trust and where we look to find safety. Let’s recognize and commit to the only trustworthy decision.

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

 

Where do you believe your strength comes from?

Is the God of Psalm 121 familiar to you?

 

What happens when it appears that

God is not the guardian we, at times,

desperately want God to be?

 

GRACE IN 3D

Psalm 121 is a fantastic example of the Bible passages we can easily misunderstand and misuse if we don’t dig beneath the surface to find their meaning. Have you ever been either encouraged or discouraged by a passage that held a deeper message than you realized at the time you first read it? How did you come to understand it more clearly? Did a clearer understanding challenge or reinforce what you believed to be true of God? How?

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • We’re hardwired to look upward when we need help. Maybe that’s why mountains, hills and “high places” have always held prominence in our religious imaginations and practices. But the author is clear in verse 2 that help comes “from God, the maker of the high places,” not from the various shrines, cults and altars that are built on them. What are your “high places”? Do you think that, as a church, we have high places — people, beliefs, traditions, circumstances —we’re tempted to look to for strength and salvation, instead of to our very present God? If so, what are they?

 

  • If everything you knew about God was based only on a surface reading of Psalm 121, what would you believe about God? About God’s protection? What would you believe about Christianity? Would it square with what you believe based on experience? If so, how? And if not, what’s the difference? Does the contrast cause you to wrestle with understanding which picture of God is more accurate?

 

  • Have there ever been times you felt like you were outside God’s protection, as if God was too busy to guard you or — worse —forgot all about you? If so, what happened? Did the experience challenge what you believe to be true of God? Does the Bible ever appear to contradict itself? For instance, it seems to promise that suffering is a given (Matthew 10:38 and Philippians 1:29) and that God protects us from suffering (Psalm 32:7 and  2 Thessalonians 3:3). Is it possible to acknowledge our suffering and believe at the same time that God is our Guardian? That God has done, is doing and will do what is promised in Psalm 121? Why or why not?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

In A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson writes, “The only serious mistake we can make when illness comes, when anxiety threatens, when conflict disturbs our relationships with others is to conclude that God has gotten bored looking after us and has shifted his attention to a more exciting Christian, or that God has become disgusted with our meandering obedience and decided to let us fend for ourselves for a while, or that God has gotten too busy fulfilling prophecy in the Middle East to take time now to sort out the complicated mess we have gotten ourselves into. That is the only serious mistake we can make.”


This week, ask the Holy Spirit to show you the things in your life that you’re trusting for peace, protection and security. Pray for conviction to let them go, and a deep desire to place your trust solely in Jesus Christ.

DEEP CUTS 

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: Martha Lester meets God over a lemon icebox pie. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it!

LOOKING AHEAD

David — a man after God’s own heart — threw himself into worship with great enthusiasm. Next week, we’ll look at a song he wrote that celebrates worship in Psalm 122.

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of July 17, 2016
Worst Camping Trip Ever - John Ray
00:00 / 00:00
Key Text: Psalm 120 (MSG)

THE SET-UP

Transformational discipleship starts with an honest look at where we are, and a commitment to resist being conformed to the world around us.

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

 

Can we be satisfied in Christ

if we’re satisfied with the world?

What is “repentance” in this context?

 

What are the most destructive lies

we believe about our world?

 

GRACE IN 3D

Do you have favorite travel playlists? Specific songs you love to listen to on particular occasions? Bible scholars disagree about the origin of the Psalms of Ascent, but some think that, in a way, these specific psalms came together like a playlist for the Israelites when they traveled three times every year to attend the feasts in Jerusalem. Think about your spiritual journey: Are there specific verses or passages of Scripture that encourage you at particular times? Songs or hymns that you find yourself humming in particular places?  “Playlists” that you go to when you’re angry, discouraged, in pain, in need of direction? Would you share them with your Grace Group?

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • In A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson says, “A person has to be thoroughly disgusted with the way things are to find the motivation to set out on the Christian way.” Based on your own experience, do you think he’s right? Have there been times in your life when hard circumstances drove you to apprentice Christ more closely? Do you think it’s possible to be satisfied in Jesus and satisfied with the world, at the same time? To be satisfied in Christ and live in a state of distraction? To pursue discipleship and also immediate gratification? Why or why not?

 

  • What is repentance? Do you think of it as a feeling or a decision? Most of us think about it only in terms of personal failure, but is there more to it? A community aspect? Peterson points out that it is “always and everywhere the first word in the Christian life.” (See how many times you can find it in the New Testament; you could start with Matthew 3:2 and 4:17, Luke 15:10 or Acts 2:38.) In Psalm 120, the writer seems to be waking up to the fact that the world is a mess and is asking God to intervene. Most people would probably say that our world is a hot mess, too. So why doesn’t true repentance come easily? What could we have in this life that’s worth sacrificing our apprenticeship with Jesus?

 

  • What are the most destructive lies we believe about our world? About ourselves? Relationships? God? The Church? How do these lies impact our relationship with Christ? Our priorities? What lies do we need to repent of believing? What is the truth we need to turn to? What do we need to let go of so we can grab hold of God, as individuals and as a community?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

Peterson describes repentance as “a realization that what God wants from you and what you want from God are not going to be achieved by doing the same old things, thinking the same old thoughts. Repentance is a decision to follow Jesus Christ and become his pilgrim in the path of peace.” As you meditate on our Scripture this week, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you any lies that you’re believing. Pray to have the desire to repent and to become a “pilgrim in the path of peace.”

DEEP CUTS 

  • The writer’s word for “distress” shows up 73 times in the Old Testament. Find the references, and see if you any of these hit home, in “Tsarah,” from Bible Tools.

  • To understand the metaphor for being doomed and cursed, take a look at “Living in Meshech and Kedar,” from Christian Worldview Journal.

  • Smith’s Bible Dictionary has some interesting background on the book of Psalms in context, at Bible Study Tools.

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: Ike Peters offers some thoughts about what peace looks like in a hurting world. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it!

LOOKING AHEAD

So how do we walk that “path of peace”? Not — you’ll be relieved to know — in our own power. Read ahead about God’s providence and protection in Psalm 121.

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of July 10, 2016
A Long Obedience - John Ray
00:00 / 00:00
Key Text: Jeremiah 12:1-5 (MSG)

THE SET-UP


Maturity in Christ — true resurrection living — takes time, perspective and serious commitment. We need songs to help get us there.

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

 

What is our response when we feel pressured

on every side and life seems unfair?

How do we keep a faithful, Biblical

and Spirit-led perspective?

 

What are the things primarily forming

our imagination?

 

GRACE IN 3D

Unless you live under a rock, you can’t escape hearing a lot about the turmoil in our world. When you learn about incidents fueled by hostility, inequality or fear, how do you feel? Do you ever wonder where God is in all of it? How do you filter out the noise of news and social media? Where do you find peace? Perspective? How should the Church respond? Would you share your thoughts with your group this week?

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • If you pay any attention to the news lately, you can quickly feel totally overwhelmed. We would be right in echoing the words of Jeremiah in verses 1-4 of this week’s text. It’s particularly easy to take offense when we feel like we are being faithful and things aren’t going well for us, especially when we look around and see others playing loose and fast with the “rules” and getting well-rewarded for it. It seems such an insult, so unfair. What is your response in these situations? How do you handle it when those who don’t try half as hard get twice as much? What about when your best attempts at making peace or trying to rally people to a good cause are met with apathy, derision or sabotage?

 

  • The response to the questions, honest questions, that are asked in verses 1-4 is unexpected. Instead of words of assurance or comfort, God’s reply is terse and challenging. How does this help us change our perspective? Do you think God is simply saying “shut up and try harder” or is there some deeper, more compassionate implication? How does this response strike you personally, emotionally? What does this say about focusing mostly on our own understanding of a situation compared to seeking to make God’s understanding our main perspective?

 

  • What are the things that are primarily forming our imagination? Unless you live in a cave (and if you did, you certainly wouldn’t be reading this), you are bombarded with information, images and opportunities. It’s relentless. The question becomes not are we going to be influenced by this torrent, but how and by which ones? It may seem impossible to control the flood, but we are called to use discernment, discipline and discretion in response. What are the ways you are intentionally cultivating the things that help you form an “active Gospel imagination”? What are the songs you’re learning and teaching others, the books you are reading and sharing, the movies and shows you are watching and talking about? What are the events and celebrations that form your calendar?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

This week you are going to be inundated with people’s opinions, political posturing and fear-motivated denouncements of “others.” Instead of jumping in the fray and adding to the noise, find ways to sit and listen, really listen, to those most directly affected by what is happening. Offer support, real tangible support, to those who are suffering the most. Find events or groups that allow for a proper and Biblical response of lament, repentance and peace-making.

DEEP CUTS 

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: Jane Ray talks about how grace helps us find a way through pain. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it!

LOOKING AHEAD

The first of the Psalms of Ascent offers some timely insight on how anger and grief over the condition of our world can be catalysts for us pursuing a life of peace in Jesus Christ. See what you can find in Psalm 120.

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of July 3, 2016
Running On Empty - John Farthing
00:00 / 00:00
Key Text: Philippians 2:1-11 (NET)

THE SET-UP

Paul instructs the church at Philippi in a great paradox of the Christian faith: Emptying ourselves is the way to fullness of joy. And some 2,000 years later, this teaching also holds true for us.

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

 

What does it take for the church to have

the kind of unity Paul describes?

How do we pour ourselves out,

the way Jesus did?

 

What’s the upside of emptiness?

 

GRACE IN 3D

If you’re accomplished in the art of self-deprivation, then, way to go — because for most of us, it’s a total uphill climb. Especially when it comes to unplugging ourselves when we feel compelled to seek out distractions. In fact, a little practice might be in order. Choose a day this week to try to lean in to the discomfort of being alone with your thoughts. Silence your phone, stay off of social media, put down your earbuds, don’t watch TV or log onto your computer. When you’re jonesing for a connection, see how long you can make yourself sit and listen instead of giving in. What do you hear? What do you observe? How long can you make it? Is it easy or hard? Why? When your Grace Group meets, find out how your experience compares to everyone else’s.

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • Paul’s letter to the Philippians shows us, yet again, that the problems cropping up in the very first churches look a whole lot like the problems that surface in the Church today. In chapter 2, he challenges them to pursue unity: Based only on what you read here, do you think it’s possible for believers to have “encouragement in Christ” and “fellowship in the Spirit,” or koinonia, without it? According to Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament, Paul describes being “of the same mind” in verse 2 as “‘thinking the one thing,’ like clocks that strike at the same moment. Perfect intellectual telepathy.” Do you think we have that kind of unity in the Church today? At Grace Church? Why or why not? What about verses 3-4? Honestly, is it worth putting our own interests and needs aside in order to cultivate it?

 

  • What do you think it means that Jesus “emptied” Himself? Scripture is pretty clear about the fact that this was His own choice (do a little research, and see if you agree; you could start with Matthew 20:26-28 and 26:39). But that kind of selflessness rubs way against the grain for most of us. Why do you think we’re so driven to do exactly the opposite, to actively fill ourselves up and continually try to meet our own needs first? In a culture plagued with addiction, how do you think that’s working out for us? If Jesus was willing to let go of equality with God in order to pour Himself out for us, what could we possibly have that’s worth holding onto? When we fight so hard to resist emptying ourselves, what do you think it’s costing us in our personal relationship with Christ? What do you think it costs us a church?

 

  • The feelings we often associate with emptiness are fear, anxiety, restlessness and dread. But what about the upside of emptiness? What might Christ fill us with if we weren’t so busy trying to fill ourselves? How might He grow our church, and the Church, if we put our entire selves completely in His hands? Hard as it may be to do that — to change our own inclinations and behavior — by sheer force of will, here’s some good news: We can’t. At least not in a lasting, redemptive way. Read Genesis 1:1 and Psalm 51:10. When David asks God to create a pure heart within him, he’s talking about bara, the very same kind of creating that brought the world into being. Or as Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible explains, “causing something to exist where there was nothing before.” Can we trust God with that kind of change? If we give ourselves over to it, how do you think we might respond differently to the Gospel? What impact could that brand of selflessness have for the Kingdom?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

Is there room right now in your heart and mind for what Christ might want to pour in? If you try to avoid emptiness by filling yourself with anything other than Him, ask the Holy Spirit to make you aware of it; to show you how you can empty yourself out, and invite Jesus in. You’ll very likely become aware of opportunities to serve that you might not have noticed before, so commit to respond in whatever way the Holy Spirit prompts you.

DEEP CUTS 

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org: Teresa Cornett considers how God challenges us to grow up in our faith. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it!

LOOKING AHEAD

Next Sunday we begin an 8-week trek through seven of the Psalms of Ascents, which is kind of like a timeless pilgrim’s playlist. John Ray opens the study with an introduction based on Jeremiah 12:5 — a verse that challenges Jesus’ apprentices to build endurance for the long game.

Living Grace

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of June 26, 2016
Noble Believers Search Scripture First - Mike Malony
00:00 / 00:00
Key Text: Acts 17:1-15 (ESV)

THE SET-UP

Paul presents Christ as the key to understanding Scripture. And that changes everything.

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

What can we learn from the Berean believers?

How do we use Scripture to learn what’s true?

 

What’s so threatening about the Gospel?

 

GRACE IN 3D

Apprentices of Jesus are united in the Church as a family, a faith community. Powered by the Holy Spirit, we can help each other evaluate truth and understand how Scripture should shape our worldview. That on-going conversation is vitally important, but it can get tricky. The only place where everyone agrees all the time about everything is at the First Imaginary Church of I-Don’t-Exist.


So as a family of believers, how can we best love one another in ways that honor Christ as we search out the truth of Scripture? What about as a Grace Group? Seems like we might benefit from some ground rules, or guidelines. Imagine that you’ve been asked to come up with a “playbook” for navigating conversations about Scripture. What would you include? In your opinion, what should always be done to ensure a fruitful, respectful conversation? What should be avoided? When your Grace Group meets, be prepared to compare lists. Are there things everyone agrees on? Things everyone feels differently about?

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • Paul says the Jews in Berea were “more noble” or “noble-minded” than the Thessalonican Jews. For sure, that bunch didn’t set a very high bar. But those in Berea distinguished themselves by any standard in the way they responded to the Gospel message. So what can we learn from their example? Paul tells us a lot about their character: that they had “a better and more generous spirit” than those in Thessalonica, and their investigation of Scripture “parallels the best in human jurisprudence, unbiased investigation to get at the truth.” What do you think it means to approach Scripture with a generous spirit? When examining Scripture in the context of community, do you think it’s easy or hard to maintain enthusiasm and generosity of spirit? Why? Do you think it’s important to spend time with Scripture every day? Why or why not?

 

  • Jewish audiences would have been well-versed in the law of the Torah; probably would have held tightly to it, lived strictly according to its teaching. To help them understand that Jesus is the Messiah they’re waiting for, Paul takes them back through the Scripture they know so well and connects the dots that point to and reveal Jesus’ identity. (His teaching might have gone something like this.) Considered in the context of this truth, everything about the law would have changed for the Jews. In light of the Gospel, do you imagine it was easy or hard for them to let go of what they’d believed? When you study Scripture to determine the truth of a teaching, idea or circumstance, do you read it in light of the person of Jesus Christ? What does that mean? Do you think it’s possible to know truth without the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Without working and walking it out in community with other believers? Why or why not?

 

  • Because he preached the Gospel so boldly, Paul spent a lot of time being beaten up, thrown in jail and chased out of towns all over first-century Asia Minor and Europe. Fear seems to have been a common and excellent motivator for those attacks; we see it here, for example, in verses 8 and 13. What’s so scary about the Gospel? Why do you think Jewish and political leaders found it threatening? Do you think we’re less afraid of it today? Why or why not? When you read it carefully and commit to live according to Jesus’ teachings, are there things about it that you’re afraid of? If so, what are they?

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

If the Bereans’ example means to be open, tolerant and generous, and to accept the Gospel with great eagerness, what are some specific things you’ll do this week to follow it? Will you filter Scripture through a Christ-focused lens? Would you be willing to get rid of sources you might lean on — books, websites, TV, social media — that don’t reflect Christ? If so, do you think your worldview or your understanding of Scripture might change? Why or why not?

DEEP CUTS 

If you’d like to explore some background on Paul’s time in Berea, you could start here.

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post on gracechurchnwa.org:  Lessons from a father, and the Father. Leave comments! Share it! Tweet it! Pin it! Post it!

LOOKING AHEAD

Paul sure made the most of his time in a prison cell, which was a great thing for the church at Philippi. And us, too. For next week, get a look ahead at his prison letter that gave us Philippians.

Grace Church Teaching Guide / Week of June 19, 2016
Faith - John Ray
00:00 / 00:00
Key Text: Romans 1:16-17 (NET)

THE SET-UP
 

Apprentices of Jesus are called to live with faith while navigating a world of rules and obligations that seem to dictate how our lives turn out. What does the Gospel mean to us in that context?

 

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

 

What does it mean to live our lives according to the Gospel?

What is a true “faith response” to the Gospel message?

 

How does living faithfully help us understand and express faith?

 

GRACE IN 3D

How many times have you found yourself in a situation that was painful, or confusing, or seemed entirely out of your control? In those times, how often have you been told by a well-meaning someone to “just have faith”? And in those times, how often have you wanted, in all Christian love and fellowship, to punch that well-meaning someone in the neck? Being told to “have faith” when we’re hurting or in need can make us feel frustrated and dismissed. Why is that? Based on your own experiences, what are some of our most common misconceptions about faith? On the other hand, think about specific times in your life when truly having faith in God’s love and provision was a game-changer: What do you know about faith that you would not have known otherwise?

THE HEAD AND THE HEART

 

  • In verse 16, Paul uses the word dunamis to name God’s power — same root as our word “dynamite.” When he talks about this power, he knows from very personal, compelling, life-altering experience what it is. (Read up on his come-to-Jesus conversion in Acts 9.) Despite having pushed through unfathomable hardship, he can honestly say that he’s proud of the Gospel. It’s clear to see how his understanding of faith is shaped by his closeness with Jesus Christ. How do your understanding of the Gospel message and your relationship with Jesus impact the way you live? The way you understand faith? Can you relate to Paul’s boldness in sharing the Gospel? Why or why not?

 

  • Some try to figure out the Gospel by reducing it to a philosophy, abstract idea or code of conduct. In reality, we have to interact with it — submit to it, fully embrace it, trust it — in order to comprehend it. The submitting, embracing and trusting is what we call “faith.” Faith requires an object; in the case of Christianity, it’s a person, Jesus. So how do you personally interact with the Gospel? With Jesus Christ? Is it easy? Why or why not? What makes it easy? And what are the obstacles?

 

 

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

 

Writing in Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, the British theologian Dr. William Sanday says, “‘Faith,’ as understood by St. Paul, is not merely head-belief, a purely intellectual process such as that of which St. James spoke when he said ‘the devils also believe and tremble’; neither is it merely ‘trust,’ a passive dependence upon an Unseen Power; but it is a further stage of feeling developed out of these, a current of emotion setting strongly in the direction of its object, an ardent and vital apprehension of that object, and a firm and loyal attachment to it.”


Does this describe your faith in Jesus Christ? What are some practical ways you can walk out your firm and loyal attachment to Him this week?

DEEP CUTS 

 

 

 

THE MASH-UP

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

In this week’s blog post o