GRACE CHURCH NWA

2828 NORTH CROSSOVER ROAD

FAYETTEVILLE, AR  72703

SUNDAY WORSHIP  10:15 AM

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.