GRACE CHURCH NWA

2828 NORTH CROSSOVER ROAD

FAYETTEVILLE, AR  72703

SUNDAY WORSHIP  10:15 AM

Grace Church Learning Guide / Week of December 2nd, 2018

Are you there God? It's me, Habukkuk

Norma Farthing

Key Text / Habakkuk 1:1-7, 2:1-4, 3:3b-6, 17-19 (NET)

For a PDF of the Learning Guide, click here.

 

 

THE SET-UP

Only God can answer our toughest questions, and sometimes his answers are more confusing than the questions.  Yet this is one of the ways God teaches us to trust him.

REFLECT

One unique aspect of our text this week is the idea that God uses evil people as characters in His story whose evil ultimately brings about redemptive good. But those evil people whose byproduct turns into redemption do not go undealt with by God’s justice either, and then He’s done with them. We also saw this a couple of weeks ago in the story of King Hezekiah as he’s threatened by King Sennacherib of Assyria, outlined in scripture in Isaiah 36-37 and 2nd Kings 
18-20
(and in poetry form in the “Resources” section). As you reflect on this idea, what does this make you think about God? Are these thoughts uncomfortable, or not so much? Why or why not?

 

PRACTICE 

As we enter December, many things slow down, like jobs or school. But other things quickly fill the vacuum, like travel and extended family time. This week, cultivate a habit of spending a few minutes daily in the advent resource here (also accessible from the weekly newsletter), allowing for at least those few minutes a day to stabilize the pace of life.

THE BRIDGE

Yet again, we hear this week from another prophet to Judah prior to their exile (there are six total prophets to Judah prior to their exile, Habakkuk being the 4th we’ve studied in as many weeks and the last one we’ll study for the time being). But unlike the previous prophets, Habakkuk doesn’t receive a message from the Lord and then relay it to the people of Judah. No, this book is a conversation between Habakkuk and God, a brutally honest one where Habakkuk asks God how he can remain optimistic and faithful when he sees so much injustice and corruption, while God appears to be doing nothing. And God responds.

MAP IT

 

Again, we learn this week from yet another prophet to the Southern Kingdom of Judah prior to their Babylonian exile. As a result the map technically stays the same. Thus, if you have not already, see map here, reading the paragraph titled
“Babylonian Captivity and the Fall of the Kingdom of Judah”, following the lines of both the northern and southern kingdoms captivity into foreign lands. HOWEVER, we see something really interesting in this week’s text related to
geography: some versions of Habakkuk use the term Chaldea/Chaldeans instead of Babylon/Babylonians. And we know that in Genesis, it says Abraham comes from “Ur of the Chaldees”. While Abraham’s birthplace is the subject of scholarly debate, if it was indeed in what was known as Chaldea, the name Chaldea did not exist at the time of Abraham. Those transcribing the Bible used the term retrospectively as Abraham’s birthplace. In addition, Chaldea is at times synonymous with Babylon (like here in Habakkuk), but other times refers to a tribe of people living in Babylon, an area that is present-day Iraq.

DISCUSS


•     Have you ever had an experience with God where His response seemed as unsatisfactory as the reason you went to Him in the first place?
•     What was the experience, and how did it make you feel?
•     Did it help instill a new level of trust with God? Why or why not? 
Some of the key takeaways from this week’s text are that we remember our past, recognize our  present, and reframe our future. And yet we often find ourselves regretting the past, fearing the  future, and thus unable to live in the present.

•     What encouragement can you take from this week’s text and teaching that will allow you to fight those ruts that we sometimes find ourselves in? In Genesis 45, we see in the story of Joseph that after his brothers sold him into slavery, he’s able to save them from famine years down the road. And he says that what his brothers meant for  evil, God meant for good. And we see the same thing in our text this week, where God uses the corruption of man to bring about his redemptive purpose.

•     What are the scenarios that you’ve observed this in your world?
•     What practice can you observe that will help you remember this when evil abounds seemingly without restraint?

In Habakkuk 2:2, the instruction is to write down what has happened here so that others may read it and know about God.

•     Is there anything that would be constructive for you to write down for your own memory and 
meditation of God’s goodness?
•     What about writing something down that would be an encouragement to someone else? 
Habakkuk 2:1 shows us the man Habakkuk waiting for God’s response. Then in 2:3, God assures  Habakkuk that while the response may not come as soon as he wants, it will come in it’s appointed 
time.

•     How can we encourage one another in patience in our relationship with God? In Habakkuk 3:19, God tells Habakkuk that he has given him “the agility of a deer, able to  negotiate rugged terrain.” Other translations say he has made his “feet like hinds feet, able to walk on high places.”

•     What emotions do these words evoke when you read them?
•     As you compare them with verse 17 from chapter 3, what comes immediately to mind?

 

 

 

RESOURCES

Commentary on Habakkuk 1:1-7; 2:1-4; 3:[3b-6], 17-19, with Faith as a Way of Life narrative lectionary podcast, Working Preacher
Read Scripture: Habakkuk and Theme Video: Justice, The Bible Project
Worshipping with Shigionoth, blog post, www.churchofchristarticles.com
No Good Thing Ever Dies, blog post by Norma Farthing, Grace Church NWA
Psalm 22 and Matthew 27:45-46, New English Translation, biblegateway.com
The Destruction of Sennacherib, Poem by Lord Byron, www.poetryfoundation.org
Kate Bowler Talks About Her Cancer Diagnosis and Her Faith, article by Elizabeth Dias, Time Magazine

BONUS RESOURCE

 

The Gift of Presence, the Perils of Advice, blog post by Parker J. Palmer, On Being

 

 

GRACE IN THE MOMENT

 

Check out the latest blog post here: Connor Murphy gives us a great look into his history and experience with an innovative agriculture technique called “aquaponics”, which could have amazing repercussions for food sources among world populations that are the most food insecure.
 

Please email Teresa at tcornett@gracechurchnwa.org if you would like to contribute to the blog!

 

 

LOOKING AHEAD

 

Next week we explore the story of one of the most courageous figures in all of scripture, Esther. After Judah is exiled into Babylon, 100 or so years pass and some Jews have gone back to Jerusalem, but some have stayed in Babylon. A wild turn of events leads Esther, a Jew, to become queen of Persia. But then a decree goes forth for the extermination of jews in Babylon, and Queen Esther finds herself in a difficult place. Read about her response in Esther 4:1-17.

 

 

 

 

Grace Church Learning Guide / Week of December 9th, 2018

Out of a Harem Comes Help?

Linda Murphy

Key Text / Esther 4:1-17(NET)

For a PDF of the Learning Guide, click here.

 

 

THE SET-UP

Sometimes you have to go against common sense, against what you want to do, in order to follow God’s plan.
 

REFLECT

Two things that our protagonists in this story display that for most of us are foreign are the practice of fasting and the practice of grieving. Fasting forces us to take discomfort to God and seek Him more intensely, and grieving gives us space to express and experience negative emotion at the messiness of a world we exist in but didn’t create. Reflect on a time these practices were life-giving, if you’ve practiced these in the past. Reflect how these practices could transform your future (ensure you get adequate medical advice and feedback before fasting). 

PRACTICE 

Is there a hard conversation to bring resolution you need to have by the end of the year? Mordecai knew that the punishment could be severe for Esther to approach the King. But he knew the consequences would be even more severe if something wasn’t said. Is there a scenario you need to act on where the risk of not saying something outweighs the risk of the blowback if you do? Pray for courage, wisdom, and words to make this happen. 

THE BRIDGE

As noted in recent weeks, in 586, the southern Kingdom of Judah is overtaken by the Babylonian empire, and the Jews are taken into exile in Babylon. This happens just like numerous prophets said it would if Judah did not turn from their abusive and corrupt ways. This effectively ends the era of kings in Israel. But like we learned last week in Habakkuk, Babylon was corrupt too, and God said they would not escape judgment themselves. 100 years later, the ancient empire of Persia has overtaken Babylon, and that is where we find our story this week. Within the last century, some jews have gone back to Jerusalem, but others have not, including Esther and Mordecai. And thus we pick up this week in the Persian capital city of Susa, where King Ahasueras reigns. 

MAP IT

 

Examine the middle east map of Esther’s time during the reign of King Ahasuerus  here, especially focusing on the boundaries of the Persian Empire. Examine Esther’s place in the timeline of the Old Testament, and compare this ancient map to the present day map.

DISCUSS

  • Esther did the uncomfortable and inconvenient thing for the good of the Jews living in Persia. Have you ever had to do or say something that wasn’t your desire so a greater good could be accomplished? What was it? How did it pan out?

  • Mordecai told Esther that if she didn’t speak up, the Jews in Persia would find deliverance from God another way. Like another story in scripture from the time of Persia, Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego refused to bow to an idol and were thrown into a firepit. And before they went in, they said God will save us, but even if He doesn’t, his faithfulness will not be in question. These were truly regular people. What do you think gives them this kind of confidence? What steps would it take to develop this kind of confidence in the goodness of God?

  • Have you ever had a moment where you felt you were in the right place at the right time to make an impact “for such a time as this”? What was it? What needs are you meeting right now that you are uniquely equipped to meet? How did you get to this place of impact?

  • Is there a challenge you are facing that you can, like Esther and Mordecai, bring your community in to help pray over and support you? What areas of opportunity do you have to live life giving more of yourself and asking for more support from others?

  • Haman despised the Jews living in Persia and plotted to annihilate them in his anti-semitism, but we have no record of Haman having true interaction with them. And while we may not be murderous, it becomes easy to de-humanize those we don’t know well or understand. Is there a group of people or type of person that you fear or that make you feel insecure that you subconsciously de-humanize in some form or fashion? What can you do to begin to relate to a person or people of this group?

RESOURCES

 

LOOKING AHEAD

 

Next week, we go back to the prophet Isaiah, who lived prior to northern Israel’s and southern Judah’s exiles to Assyria (721 BC) and Babylon (586) respectively. And while we go “back” to Isaiah, we don’t go back in history. Because oddly, the first two thirds of the book of Isaiah speak from a pre-exile perspective, while the last one third speaks from a post-exile perspective. The first two thirds speak of judgment and hope, while the last third, where we find our text next week, focuses on the hope of Israel, as the judgment of exile has already happened. Read this message of hope in Isaiah 42:1-9A.

 

 

Grace Church Learning Guide / Week of December 16th, 2018

The Servant Shaped Imagination

John Ray

Key Text / Isaiah 42:1-9 (NET)

For a PDF of the Learning Guide, click here.

 

 

THE SET-UP

When God’s servant shows up, the Kingdom breaks out with justice, healing, and revelation.
 

REFLECT

Every so often I have this dream, a dream I’ve had since I was a kid. When I was young I lost a wallet that had $11 in it. Now that was a ton of money at the time and a huge loss. So after I started having dreams I would find the wallet and feel the flood of relief and joy at getting it back. It doesn’t take a specialist in dreams to figure out the meaning of this dream and why I still occasionally have it these many years later. For our reflection this week, take time to consider what dreams you have (the sleeping or “daydreaming” type) that flood you with joy and relief. Is it winning the lottery, having the new car, finding the right partner? Where is your hope and imagination invested? 

PRACTICE 

As strange as it might sound, we can discipline our imagination and choose where we find our hope. While often this seems impossible and we just “are the way we are”, the truth is we have much more control over it than we think. This week, further develop your practice by choosing a phrase or portion of Scripture and writing, repeating and meditating on it as a source of hope. Maybe it’s Isaiah 40:31. Maybe it’s a phrase like “I will hope in your love above everything else”. Whatever you decide on, make a habit of repeating it, writing it, making it an essential part of what focuses your attention and imagination. 

THE BRIDGE

During last week’s teaching, we learned about Esther, a Jewish girl who perhaps accidentally became queen of Persia after winning a beauty contest, then subsequently saved the Jews living in Persia from extermination from an angry but powerful man in the Persian King’s cabinet named Haman. But this week, we go “back” to Isaiah. Why? Isaiah was a prophet during the time before the exile, right? Yes. But Isaiah is strange. Because roughly the first 2/3rds of Isaiah speak to Israel from a pre-exile perspective and hone in on judgment for Israel’s injustice, but eventual hope in redemption. Then the last roughly 1/3rd of the book of Isaiah, where we find ourselves this week, speaks to Israel from a perspective after their judgment, after exile. And accordingly, this section speaks mainly of hope, because their judgment via exile has already been carried out.
 

MAP IT

 

Last week, we spoke of Esther, the Jewish girl that had become queen of Persia. During her era, many of her fellow Jews had returned to Israel, but some had not. There were multiple migrations of Jews back to Jerusalem from Babylon after exile. See here for the map of their return from Babylon, and later Persia, who had overtaken the Babylonians, which is around the time of our text from Isaiah this week.

DISCUSS

We come to know God by by knowing who God chooses and what is important to God.

 

We are formed and sustained by our our hope in the promises of God and build on our experiences of God.

 

We make God known by responding to God’s servant and acting in accordance with His character.

 

  1. Our text speaks of a servant, but the writer never gives a specific identity. Why do you think this servant is intentionally left anonymous?

  2. The text lists all the actions this anonymous servant will carry out. Which action sticks out to you the most or gets you the most energized? Which action sticks out to you least or gets you least energized? Why?

  3. What does the nature of this servant tell us about God? When have you observed or experienced these reflections of God’s character in your life?  

  4. Why do you think God chooses this servant to carry out these specific actions? What can we learn about God as we look at who his servant his?

  5. What are simple ways we can show God’s glory as we conform to the nature of God and his servant?

RESOURCES

 

LOOKING AHEAD

 

As we progress through this Advent season, we anticipate in hope the coming of Jesus. And next week, we’ll focus on Matthew’s recording of his birth. Matthew was a Jewish tax collector, a disciple of Jesus, and his gospel account masterfully ties the personhood of Jesus with the storyline and prophecy of the Old Testament. Read about it here in Matthew 1:18-25.

 

 

 

 

Grace Church Learning Guide / Week of December 23rd, 2018

God with You, God with Us

John Ray

Key Text / Matthew 1:17-25 (NET)

For a PDF of the Learning Guide, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE SET-UP

Jesus is God with us; then, now and forever.
 

REFLECT

As we’ve studied the idea of Covenant, we learned that God’s first covenant with Abraham was enacted so Abraham and his descendants would share God’s blessing with others. How does the Covenant fulfillment of “God with Us” enable you to share this gift with others?

 

If “God with us” is a reality, what constraints (imposed by self or others) on our lives are no longer relevant?

 

In what ways have you seen or experienced the practice of “God with Us” as an ongoing reality that helps disregard those constraints, or “throw off everything that hinders”?

 

God with us allows us to live free and for others.

God with us is to be an ever present reality, not just a one time event.

God with us is the ultimate expression of love.

PRACTICE 

For many people this next week will be really full. Full of celebration and obligations. Full of memories both pleasant and painful. Whether this season rushes by for you or drags on forever, take time in the moments to whisper “Emmanuel”. It might seem a strange practice at first, but let it come to serve as a reminder you are not alone. You are not alone in the crowded room or the empty home, in the bustling shopping mall or by yourself on the long drive. You are not now, or are you ever, alone. Emmanuel, God with you, God with us. God is as close as the breath you use to say “Emmanuel”.  
 

THE BRIDGE

After Israel’s exile, they are able to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city wall and the Temple of the Lord, ushering in an era called Second Temple Judaism. And like we learned in Esther, Persia is the ruling empire of the day in the Mediterranean world. Then, the Bible goes silent for 430 years, until John the Baptist comes preaching repentance and baptism. This is often called the Silent Period or the Inter-Testamental period.

 

But while scripture doesn’t testify to this time period, God was at work and much occurred. First, a Greek named Alexander the Great conquered Persia and the civilized world. Greece then spread their language and culture across the empire. But no empire lasts forever, and Greece was overtaken by an empire like the world had never seen, Rome. And during this reign, all roads lead to Rome. So even though Israel is a mere subculture of the ruling empires, by the time Jesus arrives on the scene like we’ll examine this week, there is a common language (Greek) and a physical infrastructure for the dispersing of the good news He will bring.

MAP IT

 

See map and commentary of the east Mediterranean in the time of Jesus here, noting the proximity between Jerusalem (where the Temple was) and Bethlehem, a rural town a mere 6 miles away.

DISCUSS

We come to know God by by knowing who God chooses and what is important to God.

 

We are formed and sustained by our our hope in the promises of God and build on our experiences of God.

 

We make God known by responding to God’s servant and acting in accordance with His character.

 

  1. Our text speaks of a servant, but the writer never gives a specific identity. Why do you think this servant is intentionally left anonymous?

  2. The text lists all the actions this anonymous servant will carry out. Which action sticks out to you the most or gets you the most energized? Which action sticks out to you least or gets you least energized? Why?

  3. What does the nature of this servant tell us about God? When have you observed or experienced these reflections of God’s character in your life?  

  4. Why do you think God chooses this servant to carry out these specific actions? What can we learn about God as we look at who his servant his?

  5. What are simple ways we can show God’s glory as we conform to the nature of God and his servant?

RESOURCES

 

LOOKING AHEAD

 

See everyone Monday evening at our Candlelight Service. 6:00 pm @ 2828

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grace Church Learning Guide / Week of December 30th, 2018

You, Me, and a Family Tree

Ryan Jackson

Key Text / Matthew 1:1-17 (NET)

For a PDF of the Learning Guide, click here.

 

 

THE SET-UP

Jesus is the focal point of all scripture, God’s ultimate gift of faithfulness enabling His people to live free.
 

REFLECT

When we look at the people Matthew included in the ancestry of Jesus, we don’t see flawless men or women who would have won Homecoming Queen. We do see the raw stuff that makes up the human experience: joy and pain, healthy living and self destruction. Reflect on what you know about some of the people listed in this genealogy, their strengths and their shortcomings, and consider the security that comes with knowing that God showed his favor to so many of them.  

PRACTICE 

This week, we turn the page into a new year. We often set New Year’s resolutions. Sometimes we keep them, sometimes we don’t, and sometimes we just plain forget about them a few weeks in. Ask God to give you guidance this week on what, if any, resolutions to set, and what it would look like to proceed in grace this year in light of our New Year’s Resolution culture.

THE BRIDGE

Between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament, 400 years have elapsed that scripture does not speak to. And none of the Gospel writers make any attempt to fill in the gap. But God was at work and some of world history’s most important events happened during this time period.

 

First, Alexander the Great conquered the known world and “Hellenized” it, spreading Greek language and culture. Then, the Roman Empire conquered the Mediterranean world and flexed it’s mighty muscles like the world had never seen. Under Roman rule, Jewish persecution became a reality, and led to a successful Jewish revolution called the Maccabean Revolt, which Hanukkah celebrates. By the time Jesus arrives, Greek is widely spoken, Roman roads lead all over, anti-Semitic persecution could be a threat at any moment, and the ruler of Judea, King Herod, can’t figure out if he wants to please the Israel sub-culture who he rules or the Roman Empire he is accountable to.

MAP IT

 

At the time of Jesus’ birth (and Matthew’s writing), Israel was under the dominion of the Roman empire. See here for a map of the Roman Empire at the time of Christ, enlarging the image and finding Judea on the map, which was the region including Jerusalem the Israelites returned to after exile in Persia.

DISCUSS

Do you have any New Year’s Resolutions you want to share? What would it look like to rely on your Grace Group and rely on God to execute on these goals?

 

What’s one thing you could contribute to enhance the quality of your Grace Group in 2019? What about your friendships and family relationships? How could it bring your experience of community to another level?

 

Are there any commitments or obligations might be healthy for you to either add or prune in 2019? What are they, and why might a change be healthy?

 

We often look at the story of the Old Testament with God as the rule-maker, Israel as the rule-breaker, and then Jesus comes along to make it okay. But Matthew’s genealogy shows us a God who has given Israel the gift of himself, and ensures that when they are unable to share the gift with others, he brings them repentance and relationship with him. Are there any experiences with God in your life that you thought was a punishment from God for breaking God’s law, that could be more accurately re-framed in light of God’s patience and faithfulness?

RESOURCES

BONUS RESOURCE

 

LOOKING AHEAD

 

Next week, we will look at the events immediately following the birth of Jesus: first, a gift-bearing visit from three non-descript men often referred to as Magi, or wise men, whose visit is celebrated in the church as “Epiphany Sunday”. Then, a threat  of infanticide to the life of baby Jesus that results in fleeing the country. And lastly, the return of Jesus’ family to the land of Judea in Israel. Read about it in Matthew 2:1-23.