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