Week 6: F-R-E-E

Note to Leaders

The summer semester ends on July 29, and the fall semester will run September 10-December 10.  Consequently, this will be the last sermon discussion guide produced until the fall semester begins. However, if your group has been using them and is meeting during the break, here are a couple of short studies you can use in the interim.

If you haven’t already done so, be sure to make a plan for your group for the fall semester, discuss it with the group this week, and then register your group for the fall. The registration deadline is Wednesday, August 9, but there’s no penalty for completing it early!


Series Introduction

The Bible teaches us that the things that come out of our mouth are a reflection of what is happening inside of us.  We might think the things that we say don’t really matter, but if we’re honest, they point to what is going on inside.

So we thought it might be a good idea to focus on a few positive four letter words, words that—if they get inside of us—could change the way we react and relate to each other, even the way we see our lives.


Introduction

Pastor Benji compared his story to the Biblical story of the prodigal son. He said “My story is all about a four letter word, ‘FREE,’ free to be all that God has destined me to be in Christ.“

  • What do you think of when you think of the word “free”?

  • What are some obstacles to our spiritual, emotional, and mental freedom?

Captivity is the opposite of freedom. We can be hindered or bound from living free. We can know Jesus but still let choices of the past keep us from fully experiencing the life He has for us.  Shame, insecurity, discouragement, hopelessness, criticism, and fear of our past being revealed are all things that can keep us from experiencing freedom.

If we are not careful these feelings can overcome the truth that God loves us and wants us to be free.

Before Pastor Benji started following Jesus his life was filled with drugs, bad choices, and hanging out with the wrong crowd, all of which led to him being arrested.

Some of us had a dramatic conversion like Pastor Benji.  Others of us had more or less normal lives but we realized something was missing, that there was a higher purpose to be found in Jesus.  Still others of us grew up in church, and maybe there was never a time when we remember not knowing Jesus, but there was still a shift that happened at some point when God made Himself real to us and our faith stopped being our parents faith and became our own faith.

  • How did your life change when you encountered Jesus for the first time or when God made Himself real to you?

Pastor Benji told the story of a prison chaplain who came to visit him and gave him a Bible. God often plants seeds and puts people in our lives to encourage us, to build us up, and to point us towards Him.

  • When is one time God placed someone in your life to encourage you?


Understanding

Have a volunteer read Luke 15:11-22.

In ancient Jewish culture to request your inheritance before your parents had died was to essentially say to them, “I wish you were dead so that I can get what is coming to me.”  You were valuing the wealth your parents would leave you over their own lives.

While we may not all go to that extreme, there are certainly times when we prioritize our own petty desires over the good of others, and there are times when we think that changing our life circumstances—rather than changing ourselves—is going to make us happy, when the truth is, it rarely does.

  • Has there been a time you thought obtaining one thing or changing your circumstances would solve all your problems? What was the result? Did it leave you satisfied?

  • Once the son left he went through several stages. What were they?

  • How do you think the father felt when he saw his son in the distance?

  • What can we learn from how the father reacted?

We read the story of the Prodigal Son and see ourselves or someone we love in that story. It is our story, the story of how God met us when we were lost and broken.

Some of us identify with the younger brother in this story.  Our tendency is to live it up no matter the cost, to party hard and do things that harm both us and the people around us.

Others of us identify more with the older brother.  We’re proud of our clean living and don’t do “bad things,” but we can also be judgmental and self-righteous.

  • Which brother do you identify with more and why?

Have a volunteer read Psalm 118:5.

Depending on your translation this verse might read, “He brought me into a spacious place” or “The Lord answered me and set me free.”

Today maybe someone you love is struggling, and you are heartbroken like the father: looking for them to come home. Hold on to the hope of Jesus. He is waiting with open arms. He wants to celebrate our freedom with us.

When we feel stuck and trapped we feel like the walls are closing in and God hears us. He places us in a spacious place. We have room to breathe. He sets us free.

Have a volunteer read Galatians 5:13-26.

  • What does this passage teach us about being free?

  • What is one thing you are struggling with that is keeping you from experiencing God’s freedom?

Pastor Benji challenged us to believe there is a seed inside of us: a seed of greatness inside of our souls.  That thing is the image of God. We were created in God’s image to reflect His character, His goodness, His creativity, and His love into the world.  Sin, the things we do that are not in line with God’s character, obscures and damages that image of God inside of us.  It creates brokenness and pain in us and those around us.

Jesus came so that brokenness and pain could be healed and so that the image of God could be restored in us.  God wants to take us, sin scarred and broken human beings and build His character in us.

  • Why is it sometimes so hard for us to believe that the image of God is in us?

  • What is one next step you need to take so that you find hope and healing and better reflect God’s character?  Consider one of these:

    • Spending more time in prayer

    • Reading your Bible regularly

    • Attending Celebrate Recovery or another care and recovery group

    • Walking away from a bad situation

    • Making new friends

    • Setting up an appointment to see a counselor

Have volunteers read John 8:36 and Colossians 1:21-23.

God’s heart is for us to live in freedom. He came to earth and died for us so that we can be free.

  • How has being reconciled with Christ brought freedom in your life?


Activity

Divide into groups of 2-3 and spend time praying for each other. Pray for areas where you need freedom and for courage to believe God has a plan for your life. Pray for a willingness to share your story and how God met you.


Application

You probably won’t have time to complete this section during your group discussion. If you don’t, you can give group members the option of completing it at-home this week.

When we make a decision to follow Jesus we might experience resistance. People in our lives might taunt us like they did to Pastor Benji, like when his friend laughed at him and said, “Benji Kelly will never get his GED.” He looked his former friend in his eyes and said, “Not only will I get my GED, I’ll be the first person in my family to ever get a graduate degree.”

  • Has there ever been a time that you made a bold prediction that came true?

  • Is there a bold prediction you are believing for your life but still waiting to see it fulfilled? A dream you believe God has placed in your life?

When Pastor Benji was a new Christian he punched a hole in a glass wall. He declared that he was going to get out that life and beat his addiction. The scar on his hand is a daily reminder he carries with him of punching his past in the face and boldly predicting his future.  Sometimes we have physical scars from our past, but many times they are emotional. We walk around pretending we are fine and try to forget the scars we carry.

We might not have a physical scar but we can create daily physical reminders of God’s promises in our lives.  They are gentle prompts to not lose faith and keep believing. They remind us to keep praying and seeking the Lord.

Here are a few creative ways to remember:

  • Write or print out a verse from the Bible, frame it, and hang it on the wall

  • Create a graphic of a verse and make it your screen saver or the lock screen on your phone

  • Write a word that represents how Jesus has changed you on a stone and keep it with you at work

  • Write out the promises God makes in the Bible and put them on post it notes around your house or apartment

God met Pastor Benji in prison before he went to court, and God now uses his story to bring hope to thousands of people. We can use our mistakes and failures to give back to others. Often our mess becomes our message of hope. Our story is so powerful. We allow God to work through us when we share how what God has done in our lives.

  • What hesitation do you have in sharing your story?

  • Who is one person in your life that needs encouragement? Pray about sharing your story and how God might use it to bring light to others.

Freedom is possible, even if our circumstances haven’t changed yet. We can boldly claim God’s promises in our lives. We can dream big dreams and pray bold prayers. We can talk to God daily in prayer and seek His direction. We can call out the lies we have believed and choose to believe that the image of God is inside of us.

Week 5: C-A-L-M

Week 5: C-A-L-M

Series Introduction

The Bible teaches us that the things that come out of our mouth are a reflection of what is happening inside of us.  We might think the things that we say don’t really matter, but if we’re honest, they point to what is going on inside.

So we thought it might be a good idea to focus on a few positive four letter words, words that—if they get inside of us—could change the way we react and relate to each other, even the way we see our lives.


Introduction

The world is full of bad news: floods, bombings, side effects from drugs, shootings, North Korea is testing missiles again, the hills are on fire, it just goes on and on.  The number of bad things happening seems to be endless.

It’s pretty easy for all of this bad news to turn into FEAR.  If we allow it, fear will plague us; it will pursue us relentlessly.

  • What things are you most afraid of?  Losing your job?  Your spouse leaving you?  Being mugged in a rough neighborhood?  What impact have these fears had on your life?

Fear can be crippling and can even ruin our lives, which is why Jesus wants to replace your fear with another four letter word: CALM.

Of all the commands Jesus gave during his ministry, the one that his biographers recorded him as saying more often than any other—21 times—is some variation of, “Do not be afraid.”

Jesus recognizes our fears, but he also calls us to trust in the faithfulness of God in every season.

  • Have you ever felt like you’ve been let down by God? What happened, and do you still feel that way?

  • Has there ever been a time when you’ve taken a risk because you thought it was what God wanted?  If so, what was the result?

  • What areas of your life have you learned to trust God with?  What has been the result of that trust?

Life is so Short

Have volunteers read James 4:14, Psalm 90:12, and Ecclesiastes 12:1-5.

Life happens in the blink of an eye.  When we’re young it seems so long, but the older we get the quicker life seems to pass.  Most of us spend our youth wishing we were grown up and our adulthood wishing we were younger… or feeling like we’re younger than we actually are.

And of course, when we’re single we want to be married. When we’re married we want to have kids.  When we have kids we want the kids to be grown and out of the house.  When the kids are grown and out of the house we long for the days when they were younger.  If we never had kids or never got married, then we wish we had… and so many who did get married wish they hadn’t.

  • Why do you think people so often spend their lives wishing they were in a different life stage?

God is so Faithful

Have a volunteer read Hebrews 13:8.

In the midst of all of the bad headlines, and in the midst of every stage of our lives, God is faithful.  He is rock-solid, never changing.

Some of you may be raising small children, in the middle of all of the chaos, driving kids from one thing to the next.  In the middle of all of that, God is with you. He is faithful.

Maybe you wished that were you, but you keep experiencing the heartbreak of infertility or you haven’t met the right person yet.  And in the midst of that, God is with you.

Whatever season of life you’re in, from childhood to young adulthood, from mid-life to the twilight years, God is with you.  Whatever you’re going through, whatever your next challenge is, God is with you.  You are loved and accepted just like you are.

  • How can you make the most of your current season of life?

  • What are some of the ways God has shown Himself faithful in your life?

  • Where do you need to most rely on God during this season?

Have volunteers read Philippians 4:6-7 and Isaiah 26:3-4.

  • How can you develop a greater sense of peace?

 

Week 4: K-I-N-D

Week 4: K-I-N-D

Series Introduction

The Bible teaches us that the things that come out of our mouth are a reflection of what is happening inside of us.  We might think the things that we say don’t really matter, but if we’re honest, they point to what is going on inside.

So we thought it might be a good idea to focus on a few positive four letter words, words that—if they get inside of us—could change the way we react and relate to each other, even the way we see our lives.


Introduction

What do you think of when you think of the word “kind”?

Gentle? Nice? Thoughtful? Generous? Compassionate?

That would make the opposite of kind mean, self-centered, rude, apathetic, cruel, critical, and harsh?

Gene kicked off week one of this series talking about how we are never better than when we are leading LOVE-driven lives.  Being KIND is simply putting that love in action. 

Kindness is not a feeling to be felt or an emotional to be internalized, kindness is something that you do. It’s something practical.

Mark Twain reportedly said that “Kindness is the language the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” Kindness is love demonstrated.  It’s love with hands and feet and a smile and maybe even a tear attached.

  • What is one kind thing you’ve been able to do for someone recently? What prompted you to do it?

  • What is one kind thing someone else has done for you recently? How did that act of kindness make you feel?


Understanding

Have you noticed that KIND people are way too rare in our culture?  Drive on the freeways, read social media, or visit Costco on a Saturday, and you’re unlikely to see a great deal of kindness on display.

It’s a competitive, fast-paced, road-raged, dog eat dog world out there, where all kinds of four letter words get thrown around.  And that’s why God wants you and me to have kindness living deep within us.

  • How can we cultivate kindness in our own lives?

Have a volunteer read 2 Samuel 9.

For many years before David became king, he was on the hit-list of Saul, the previous king. David was forced to live on the run, hiding in rocks and caves to keep from being killed.

David had had plenty of opportunities to be hardened, to build up calluses around his heart, to be selfish, prideful, rude, apathetic, harsh, but in this story we see that while David was tough and rugged on the outside, he was also KIND on the inside. 

  • David hadn’t done anything wrong or anything against Saul, but for years he was still the object of Saul’s murderous obsession. Put yourself in David’s shoes. How would this have shaped your character?

Remember how GRIT is internal toughness that relies on the grace and power of God? When you have that combination, you become you become known as someone who is KIND.

David’s best friend was a guy named Jonathan, and what was so intriguing about their friendship was that Saul was Jonathan’s dad.

Jonathan knew that David would be the next king, that he would take over the throne from his increasingly unreasonable, irrational, even evil father, and Jonathan protected David from Saul.

Jonathan and David had the kind of friendship that God longs for each one of us to have: a call at 3 AM, tell me the truth, laugh with me, cry with me, know my secret fears and struggles kind of friend. They became like brothers, but then Jonathan dies in battle.

  • Have you ever had a friendship like Jonathan and David’s? If so, what was it that caused that level of friendship to develop?

When we reach this story Jonathan and Saul are both dead, and David is now the king.  One day a little grief sneaks up on him.  It’s hard to lose a close friend or loved one like that.  It leaves a void, an ache in your heart. Heaven is real and this life is short compared to eternity, but it still leaves a void.

David undoubtedly felt this void and asks if anyone in Jonathan’s family is still alive because he wants to honor his friend.  He finds out that one of Jonathan’s sons is still alive. Now, to us the fact that Mephibosheth has a physical disability isn’t that relevant.  But in David’s time it would have made him be seen as almost less than human.  To top it off Mephibosheth lives in Lo Debar, which literally translated means “land of nothing.”  In other words Mephibosheth was a nobody living in the middle of nowhere.

More than that, as the heir of a deposed king, David should have wanted to kill Mephibosheth and his entire family to wipe out any attempt at a coup.

But to David, Mephibosheth wasn’t a threat and wasn’t a nobody. He was the son of David’s best friend.  So David extended kindness to Mephibosheth, restoring his ancestors’ land to him and inviting him to live at the palace like one of David’s own sons.

  • What do you think you would have done if you had been in David’s place?

Have a volunteer read Romans 2:1-4 and Galatians 5:22-23.

Acts 13:22 calls David a man after God’s heart, and these two passages teach us that God is kind and that His Spirit will produce kindness in us.  In other words, to be kind is to be like God.

Sensitivity

A lot of us have trouble being sensitive to people even after we become aware of their needs, but David was so sensitive he went looking for someone with a need.

There are Mephibosheths all around us, people who—for many different reasons—are walking with a limp.  That limp might be physical, emotional, social, or spiritual, but regardless, they need someone to notice them, to include them, to be kind to them.

  • Who is someone in your life that needs you to extend kindness to them?

Spontaneity

So often we overcomplicate things.  We want to plan and strategize and figure out if we can really do it. We use “prudent planning” or “waiting to be led by God” as a convenient excuse for withholding kindness.  Or maybe we let our own busyness or our own priorities get in the way of extending kindness in the moment.

Here are a few ways of extending kindness:

  • Leave an extra large tip for a server who looks like they’re having a rough day.

  • Ask the person next to you at the bar how they’re doing.

  • Call an old friend you haven’t spoken to in a long time.

  • Drop off a small gift to someone to let them know they’re cared for.

  • Visit a friend in the hospital… even if you don’t know what to say.

  • Welcome a troubled teenager into your home.

  • Leave quarters in a sandbox for a kid to find.

  • Say hello to someone you don’t know in the lobby at church.

  • Help stock a food pantry.

  • Gather clothing, furniture, blankets, toys, or money to give to people in need.

  • Help facilitate a care and recovery group to support those touched by divorce, suicide, grief, addiction, or wounds.

  • What excuses do you tend to use as reasons for not extending kindness in the moment?  How can you begin to rid yourself of those excuses?

  • What is one practical thing you can do this week to show kindness to someone else?

Sacrifice

Kindness always has a price tag attached.

David graciously takes all of the land and all of the possessions of the ex-king Saul, which were now rightfully David’s and gives them back to Mephibosheth.  He appoints Ziba and his 15 sons and 20 servants to wait on Mephibosheth hand and foot. And then to top it all off he pays a personal cost every day by inviting Mephiboseth to sit at his own royal table for the rest of his life as one of his adoptive sons.

It would have been so easy for David to just ease his conscience by simply sending payments for Mephiboseth’s rent or to give him like an acre out there in the middle of nowhere. He could have sent him meals on holidays or a card at Passover. He could have set up a little trust fund for him, and sent the interest check once a month.

But David personally sacrificed himself, his home, his cash, and his own family, because he was KIND.

Former NBA MVP Kevin Durant talked about the sacrifices his mom made when he was a kid, how she would go without food so her kids could eat.  20/20 did a story about a woman in California whose finance gave her one of his kidneys.

Those acts of kindness had a cost attached.  Kindness always has a price tag.  Sometimes it’s simply a few moments of time.  Sometimes it’s a willingness to go hungry or to give up a kidney.  Sometimes it’s money, comfort, or personal preference.

  • What are some of the ways others have sacrificed for you?

  • What are some practical ways that you can honor their sacrifice by sacrificing for others?

Week 3: L-I-N-E

Week 3: L-I-N-E

Series Introduction

The Bible teaches us that the things that come out of our mouth are a reflection of what is happening inside of us.  We might think the things that we say don’t really matter, but if we’re honest, they point to what is going on inside.

So we thought it might be a good idea to focus on a few positive four letter words, words that—if they get inside of us—could change the way we react and relate to each other, even the way we see our lives.

  • What is one change in perspective that has made a big difference in your life?


Introduction

Who are you in line for?

Nobody likes to be in line for anything.  We pick the shortest line. We get frustrated if the line is too long.

There are two line options at Disney theme parks.  One is the regular line that you stand in with your family.  You wait in line—usually a long line—and then you get on the ride.  The other line is the single rider line.  If you’re willing to ride by yourself, they’ll fill you in to an empty seat, and you can get on quickly.

In the church we do the same thing.  We want a single rider Christianity. We come to church for what I need. We listen to the message for what I want. We listen to the message for what benefits me. We attend the service if it benefits me.  And we’ll get involved and contribute if there’s something useful for me, myself, and I.

But God has designed us not as single riders but as a family.  He wants us as a body, as a family, to get in line together for one another.

  • What are some of the ways our small group can support one another?

When you’re a parent you will stand in line for things that have no benefit to you personally. You’ll stand in line so that your kids can meet a Disney princess or meet Santa Claus.  God calls us to get in lines that may not benefit us primarily.

You might need to lead a new small group not for yourself but for the people who God is calling you to get in line for.  You may not need another campus to open an hour from where you live, but you contribute because God is calling you to get in line for someone else who needs you to line up for them.

When you begin to realize that God has asked us to get in line for others, it begins to change the way you line up and it begins to change the attitude you have in line.

When you forget who you got in line for, your passion begins to ebb. Your attendance begins to slack off.  The reason you first started to show up is the last thing you remember because it becomes inconvenient to remember.

Jesus came because God said, “I need you to get in line for them.”  He came to get in line for our freedom, salvation, forgiveness, freedom, hope and healing.

When it was hard for him to stay in line, when staying in line meant hanging on the cross, He stayed for our sakes.

When we remember who we’re in line for and why we’re in line, we serve with passion, dedication, and joy.

  • How well are you remembering why you’re in line and who you’re in line for during this season?  Is serving the people God has called you to serve a chore or is it life-giving and energizing?  What can you do to help yourself remember who you’re in line for?

When you remember who you’re in line for, it clarifies and streamlines your life.  It’s easy to know what to say yes to when you know who you’re in line for, and it’s easy to know what to say no to when you know who you’re not in line for.

  • What things in your life do you need to start saying yes to (or start saying no to) based on who God has called you to be in line for?

Everything changes when you begin to remind yourself what God has called you to stand in line for.  Worship isn’t just casual singing when you remember that God has called you to stand in line, to pray diligently on behalf of a sick relative.  Work isn’t just something that pays the bills when you remember that God has called you to stand in line on behalf of a co-worker who is being laid off.  Your house or apartment isn’t just a mortgage payment or a rent check when you remember that God has called you to stand in line who have no place to call home.

  • What is one thing that is already a part of your every day life that you can leverage as an opportunity to stand in line for someone else?

Start a Line

As the church, we are called to start a line. God is looking for those who are brave enough to start a line for someone who no one is standing in line for.  That’s what Jesus came to do.  He started lines for “sinners,” not the religious people.  He started a line for the prostitute, the down and out, the guy hiding up in a tree.  He dared to start lines that freaked everyone out, that had never been started before.

God is waiting for his Church to start new lines, new small groups, new churches, new campuses, that’s the only way we get more people to know Jesus.

Have a volunteer read Matthew 15:22-28.

This woman wouldn’t give up.  She wouldn’t give up when she was put off because she was standing in line for her daughter.  When you’re truly standing in line for someone else, you won’t give up.  When you begin to step up and step out in passion for someone else, God shows up and shows off.

  • What is it that God has put within you? What and who has he called you to start a line for?

Stay in Line

Sometimes we get tired of standing in line.  We get weary, impatient when the baby doesn’t come, the person doesn’t change, the job doesn’t get better.

The only reason we begin to contemplate getting out of line because we forget who we got in line for in the first place.  We want to get out of the marriage, and we need to remember why we got in the marriage, remember the stay in line words we said at the altar, the commitment we made.

Discouragement tells us to leave the line.  You feel misunderstood; you want to leave the line.

  • What lines are you tempted to get out of that God might be calling you to stay in?

One thing that often makes us want to get out of line is something we all love to hate: line jumpers.   (Of course, we would never jump the line personally… we would never drive down to the very end of the lane that’s ending before we merge.)

As annoying as line jumpers are in traffic, they’re even worse in real life: the person that gets the promotion ahead of us, the person that showed up five minutes ago and is now the favorite person at the company, the person that showed up late to the party and is now the center of attention, the line jumpers.  We’re faithful, have been around forever, but no one applauds us, so we think, “I might as well get out of line.”

You begin to tell yourself that you aren’t important to the people there, that they don’t care, that you’ve been slighted, and so you begin to step out of line.

Have a volunteer read Luke 8:40-56.

Jairus went to get in line for his daughter, but suddenly this other woman cut in line.  And someone tells Jairus, “It’s too late. Get out of line.”  It seemed someone else had gotten his miracle.

Disappointment makes us want to get out of line.

But God sees things differently. From Jairus’ perspective that woman cut in line, but from God’s perspective, she had already been sick 12 years, as long as Jairus’ daughter had been alive.  That’s why we need to stay in line, to allow the sovereignty of God rule over our impatience and frustration: because God sees things we don’t see.

  • Are there any line jumpers in your life right now? How might God be calling you to respond to those people?


Application – Cross the Line

Have a volunteer read John 5:1-14.

The sick man in this story said that he had no one to help him get into the pool, no one to help him cross the line.  God calls us to help others cross the line, to help others come to know the life-giving power of Jesus.

Get a sheet of paper and have everyone in the group write down the first name of one person they care about who doesn’t have a relationship with Jesus.  Designate one person in the group to email the list to the entire group.

This week commit to praying over that list of people each day, and ask God to give the people in your group an opportunity to share Jesus with their loved one.

Week 2: G-R-I-T

Week 2: G-R-I-T

Series Introduction

The Bible teaches us that the things that come out of our mouth are a reflection of what is happening inside of us.  We might think the things that we say don’t really matter, but if we’re honest, they point to what is going on inside.

So we thought it might be a good idea to focus on a few positive four letter words, words that—if they get inside of us—could change the way we react and relate to each other, even the way we see our lives.

  • What is one change in perspective that has made a big difference in your life?


Introduction

Grit is something we often associate with tough guys: Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, UFC fighters, biker gangs, and coal miners.  But grit isn’t about external appearance or a gruff personality.

Grit is internal toughness.  It’s the thing that keeps you going that pushes through no matter the odds or the obstacles.  It’s that characteristic that drives you to break through rather than break down.

You might find grit in a tough guy, but you’ll also find it in the single mom who doesn’t give up on her kids; the son who works two jobs to support his ailing parents; the girl from the inner city who just won’t give up on her dream; the family who cares for a child with special needs; the teacher who invests blood, sweat, and tears into his most challenging students; the cancer patient who just won’t quit; and the businesswoman who sacrifices her own finances to avoid laying off her employees.

  • Who is the grittiest person you know?


Understanding

Have a volunteer read 2 Corinthians 12:1-10.

Grit requires grace.

Paul, who wrote 2 Corinthians, was one of the grittiest people to have ever lived.  He was a religious leader who persecuted Christians before having a radical encounter with Jesus that caused him to spend the rest of his life travelling around setting up churches and teaching people about Jesus.

Without Paul it is unlikely that Eastside—or most churches for that matter—would exist. But travelling around planting churches and talking about Jesus wasn’t easy.  Paul was at various points during his journeys shipwrecked, imprisoned, hungry, cold, beaten, and the victim of attempted murder.  He eventually died during one of his prison stays.

All of those experiences could have been avoided with the simple decision to stop travelling, to go back home and stop telling people about Jesus, but he didn’t give up.  He wouldn’t give up.

  • If you were Paul, do you think you would have kept going or gone home?  Why?

In the midst of all of this, there was something that seemed to be a perpetual thorn in Paul’s side.  We don’t know exactly what it was.  Some people have guessed that it was an illness of some sort, possibly exceptionally poor vision.  Others have suggested that perhaps it was a person who was continually harassing Paul.  Still others have wondered if maybe it was a sin that Paul just couldn’t seem to get past.

But whatever it was, God’s message to Paul was that His grace might not deliver you from difficulty but it will get you through difficulty.  No matter what you’re going through, God’s grace is sufficient.

When you know that you are deeply loved and treasured your Creator, when you know that you have been chosen, set apart, given enormous potential, it changes everything. You may feel inadequate.  You may be suffering or be going through hell, but the fact that you are much loved, a treasured child of the Most High God, will get you through.  If God’s grace was sufficient for Paul, it’s most certainly sufficient for us.

  • Have you ever had a problem or a situation that you felt like you just couldn’t beat?  What happened? How did you get through it?

Have a volunteer read Ephesians 1:18-21.

Grit requires reliance.

Most of us rely on our own power.  We want to be self-sufficient.  It’s the American way.  We think, “I can make it.  I don’t need anyone or anything.”  We hate to ask for help. We put people into two categories: those who need help and those who offer help.  Those who need help are the takers.  Those who offer help are the givers.

And if we’re honest, we often secretly (or not so secretly) judge the takers—most certainly other people, not ourselves—and glorify the givers.

But the truth is, as much as we might like to think we’re self-sufficient, we’re not.  We’re all takers on some level.  We all need help.

And if we’ll rely on God’s power—that power that opened a tomb covered by a boulder and guarded by soldiers, that power that raised the resident of that tomb back to life—then we will be able to do great things.

Of course, God doesn’t give us his power so that we can do great things for ourselves, so that we can become rich and famous, but rather so that we can love and serve others.

  • Why do you think it’s so difficult to ask for help and rely on anyone but yourself?

  • What is something you would like to accomplish that would serve others?

Have a volunteer read Philippians 4:10-13.

You’ve probably heard at lest part of this passage before, perhaps in the context of being able to hit a home run or close a business deal, but that’s not what it means.  Because let’s be honest, no matter how much we pray, most of us will never play in the NBA.

Paul wrote that verse while he was being held against his will.  Paul didn’t mean that he could win a gold medal in the ancient Olympics.  He meant that he could handle the shipwrecks and the hunger and the prison stays because he relied on God’s strength.

  • Where do you need to rely on God’s strength in your life currently? How can this group help you do that?

Week 1: L-O-V-E

Week 1: L-O-V-E

Series Introduction

The Bible teaches us that the things that come out of our mouth are a reflection of what is happening inside of us.  We might think the things that we say don’t really matter, but if we’re honest, they point to what is going on inside.

So we thought it might be a good idea to focus on a few positive four letter words, words that—if they get inside of us—could change the way we react and relate to each other, even the way we see our lives.


Introduction

The Bible says the greatest quality you can possess in life is love.  Jesus taught you are at your very best as a human being when you’re loving God passionately and loving people deeply.

In your life, in your relationships, in your family, in Washington DC, in this broken and divisive world…let love be your highest goal.

  • What is the most loving thing anyone has ever done for you?


Understanding

Have a volunteer read 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.

The Apostle Paul—who wrote this passage—is saying that you can have the eloquence of an orator; the knowledge of a genius; the faith of a miracle worker; the generosity of a philanthropist; and the dedication of a martyr burned at the stake for telling people about Jesus, but if you don’t love… it’s all worthless.

  • What do you think about the idea that all of your actions are worthless without love?

Have a volunteer read Philippians 2:3.

You might call this verse, “The Love Meter Test.”  Depending on your translation of the Bible this verse might read:

  • Consider others better than yourselves.

  • In humility count others more significant than yourselves.

  • In humility value others above yourselves.

If you value other people more than yourself, then you’re probably a pretty loving person. (Jesus also talks about loving yourself, so this doesn’t mean you should have low self-esteem.  Rather, you should love yourself well and then consider others more valuable.)

This is what Jesus did. He was the King of kings and Lord of lords, the only perfect person to ever live, yet He humbled himself, taking the position of a servant every day of His life and treating everybody as better than Himself.

He was always in trouble with the religious leaders of his day because he hung out with and loved notorious sinners. He would show respect and love for prostitutes, who only knew what it was like to be wanted for a few moments in the night, but cast away for the rest of the day. In the midst of a busy day he would say to His disciples, “Let the little children come to me. They aren’t interruptions, but opportunities to love.”

Every day of His life Jesus considered everybody as better than Himself.

Pastor Mark Batterson wrote, "In my experience, it's much easier to act like a Christian than it is to react like one. Anyone can put on an act. But your reactions reveal what is really in your heart."

  • What do your reactions reveal about what is really in your heart?

  • How would your life be different if you valued others more than you valued yourself?

There are a few things that often keep us from loving others well:

Running Too Fast

Often, the thing that keeps us from loving our friends, our roommates, our kids, our spouses, our coworkers, or the people in the car in front of us that are doing 63 in the left lane… is that we’re running too fast.  We’re overbooked and overcommitted.  We can’t slow down long enough to think about anyone else, and we certainly don’t have the energy to do anything for anyone else.

The truth is, loving others drains energy.  That’s why Jesus had regular times of rest and replenishment.

He would sail to the other side of the lake to escape from the crush of the crowds and activity, and along the way he would fall asleep in the boat.

God knows we all need regular times of replenishment in our lives and that’s why He built it in from the very being. During the week of creation God worked hard for six days.  And after six days of work, God created a day of rest, a holy day to restore and renew and reflect.

Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is, like Jesus did throughout his ministry, rest and replenish your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual tanks.

  • Go to bed earlier, eat healthier, stay in shape.

  • Put some breaks in your schedule, take at least one day of rest each week.

  • Use every single day of your vacation time.

  • Get in environments like church and small group on a weekly basis where your empty spiritual tanks gets refilled, because we leak.

It takes every ounce of energy you can find to love deeply.

  • What are some changes you need to make to help make sure you have the time and energy to love others well?

Holding On To The Past

It’s hard to love someone in the present when you’ve been hurt by them in the past.

You have 1 of 2 options with that person you struggle to forgive:

  • You can let it tear you up and rip you apart and be destroyed by your own bitterness, resentment and hatred.

  • Or because of the forgiveness you have received through Jesus, you can let it go.

There are 12 words that can heal any relationship: “I was wrong. I am sorry.  Please forgive me.  I love you.”

  • What keeps you from letting go of past hurts?

Using The Wrong Fuel

The Bible is clear that there are two different kinds of love at work in this world. There is an ordinary, generic, brand-X, kind of love. And there is an extraordinary love—the supernatural kind of love like God has for us that is fueled by a supernatural power.

Have a volunteer read Galatians 5:22-23.

Note that phrase, “fruit of the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is the fuel source for this love of another kind.

A lot of people think there’s a verse in the Bible that says, “God helps those who help themselves.  There’s no such verse in the Bible.  God helps those who admit they’re helpless and say, “God, I can’t do this on my own.  I need Your power. I need Your Spirit to enable me to do what I can’t do.”

When you become a follower of Jesus, God puts His Spirit in you and He is with you wherever you go.  And He works 24 hours a day to nudge you, to lead you to act and react to people with the love of another kind.

It is the kind of love that sacrifices for someone else, even though they will never know what you’ve done; the kind of love that compels you to forgive the person who hurt you; that causes you to help out the co-worker who’s always trying to one-up you.  It’s the kind of love that cares for a child with a developmental disability day in and day out year in and year out at great personal, emotional, and financial cost.  It’s the kind of love that puts you before me no matter what.

That’s the kind of love that the Holy Spirit empowers us to have.

  • What are some of the times you’ve been able to express this kind of extraordinary love to others?

  • How can you allow the Holy Spirit to work through you to express this kind of love in more situations?

What If We Planted Seeds

What If We Planted Seeds

Series Introduction

God has blessed Eastside with the opportunity to reach thousands of people with the message that Jesus loves them and wants to change their lives in profoundly positive ways.

But we don’t want to be satisfied with what God has already done, with what He has already blessed us with.  We want to use the blessings He has given us wisely so that we can help even more people understand the life-changing power of a relationship with Jesus.


Introduction

Deep down most of us want to be generous, we don’t want to love money, but something gets in our way: fear.

We’re plagued with the “what if” questions. What if the economy completely collapses?  What if I lose my job?  What if I can’t buy groceries?  What if there’s an unexpected illness?  What if I can’t pay my house payment?  What if there’s another major terrorist attack?

  • What “what if” question causes you financial fear?


Understanding

Giving some of our hard-earned money away goes against every natural inclination because we’re all natural born takers.  We’re all selfish.

Don’t believe it?  If you’ve ever had a baby, you know that suddenly life revolves around them.  And do they grow out of it?  Well, what’s the favorite word of every English speaking 2 year old on the planet?

Mine!

But here’s where our view of money and God’s view of money is different.  Our view is when you give money away, it’s gone, but God looks at money in a completely different way.  If we grasp this it will change everything about how we view money.

When God looks at what’s in our bank accounts or investments, He doesn’t see money to be lost but rather seed to be planted.  God sees everything He has entrusted into your management as seed.

He’s given you some seed to eat.  He’s given you some seed to pay the bills. He’s given you some seed to set aside for a rainy day, and He’s given you some seed to share and be generous with.

Now when you plant a seed do you say goodbye to it forever?  No you expect it to produce a return.  The seed you keep is all you have, the seed you sow God multiples.

  • How do you currently decide how much seed to plant (i.e. to give away)?

Have a volunteer read 2 Corinthians 9:6-15.

You’ve got to plant seeds in order to get a return.  We understand this to be true in many areas of life.

If you want to have a great friendship, you’ve got to plant seeds in the development of that relationship. If I just invest a shot-glass full of seeds in a relationship, it’s probably just an acquaintance.  If I invest a bucket load of seeds, I might find the kind of friend that the Bible talks about in Proverbs that sticks closer than a brother.

If you want to have a great marriage, you have to put something into it.  If we all put as much seed planting into marriage after the wedding as we did before, almost all of us would have extraordinary marriages.

  • Have you seeing this principle of sowing and reaping, of planting and harvesting, hold true in aspects of your life other than your finances?

Have a volunteer re-read 2 Corinthians 9:7.

For many of us our generosity is based more on emotion than on a plan. In fact, that’s how many of us manage all of our finances.  It’s why we can go to Wal-Mart to buy bananas and come home with an 80” TV.  We didn’t have a plan.

The key question for us to answer is, “What’s my plan for generosity?”

As a church we try to model good stewardship by operating this church as efficiently as we can: our church staff is half of most churches our size; we spend less than is given so we can pay cash for things like Park Rapids, La Habra, and Bellflower; and we’re trying to strategically position ourselves for when God brings more opportunities.

We want everyone who calls Eastside their church home to follow Paul’s advice that, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart not reluctantly (don’t be a scrooge) or under compulsion (don’t be manipulated by spur of the moment emotion), for God loves a cheerful giver.”

So what’s your plan for generosity?  In service on the weekend there was a card that was handed out to help you plan your giving and to help Eastside plan for the future.  If you didn’t get one or didn’t have a chance to fill one out, you can pick one up this coming weekend or access it online.

  • What do you think about the idea of planning your generosity? Is it something you’ve ever done before?

Gene shared three principles that he and Barbara use to plan their giving that are based on what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians.

1. Priority Generosity

You can give in one of two ways. You can pay all your bills, then give God your leftovers. Or you can do as the Bible instructs and prioritize giving to God, and then trust Him for your needs with the leftovers.

Gene shared about how he set up an automatic contribution to his retirement plan nearly 30 years ago, and little-by-little, deduction-by-deduction it has grown.  It works because he never sees the money.  He doesn’t spend it because it’s in the retirement account before it hits his bank account.  And he’s done the same thing with his giving, automated it so that it’s given to Eastside every time he’s paid, before he even has the chance to prioritize something else and spend it.

  • Do you discipline yourself to give first?  If so, what has been the result?  If not, why not?

2. Percentage Generosity

Have a volunteer read 1 Corinthians 16:2.

God doesn’t look at the amount we give, but the percentage. We don’t give equally, but we can all sacrifice equally. If you haven’t already, become a percentage giver.

Sit down later with your spouse and/or family, not while you’re listing to a sermon or at your small group, and decide, “This is what we’re going to do.”

The Bible teaches about mathematical percentage called the tithe.  It literally means 10%.  It was taught before the Old Testament law, contained in the Law, and then affirmed by Jesus in the New Testament in Matthew 23.  And whenever the subject of tithing comes up there are a few FAQs, so here they are:

Q: Do I tithe on the net or the gross?
A: That depends on whether you want a net blessing or gross blessing from God. You reap what you sow. Those who sow sparingly, reap sparingly. Those who sow generously, reap generously.

Q: Should I tithe if my spouse is dead set against it?
A: Returning the tithe to God was never meant to drive a wedge into a marriage relationship. Talk it over with your spouse and attempt to come to an agreement together.  Perhaps you could say, “Let’s try tithing or percentage giving for six months, a year, just on a trial basis.  If we’re not better off, if God hasn’t blessed us, I’ll quit bugging you about it.” And leave the results up to God.  But if you can’t come to an agreement, don’t destroy your marriage over it.

Q: Will I go to hell if I don’t tithe?
A: No… but someone else might. This is why so many Eastsiders are committed to being roof-wreckers, to help people get to Jesus no matter the cost, because in reality the stakes are so high.

  • What questions do you have about tithing or giving?

3. Progressive Generosity

If we really understand that from God’s perspective everything we have is seed, and that the more we sow, the more we will reap, as we mature as followers of Jesus we will naturally increase our percentage giving to beyond the tithe because we keep reaping more.

We reach a point where tithing won’t stretch us spiritually, it becomes so natural, so automatic, it’s like breathing.

Gene shared about how shortly after he and Barbara were married, the church he was pastoring started a long-term fundraising campaign to raise money to relocate.  They had just bought a new house and were already committed to giving a bit more than10%.

They prayed for God to lead them, and after enormous wrestling, prayer, and late night conversations, on a combined salary of around $100,000 they committed to give an extra $40,000 over and above their tithe for the next three years.

Of course, several months later Barbara got pregnant and quit her job when the baby was born, so their income went down considerably. It stretched them, but they kept that commitment, and at the end of that three years they made a similar commitment for another fundraising campaign.

They participated in these kinds of fundraising campaigns for nearly the entire first 10 years of their marriage, and then moved to Chicago in 2003 and found their new church was in such a campaign.  And then they came to Eastside, and we had a three-year fundraising initiative to relocate our broadcast campus to Anaheim.

Gene said that those have been some of the most spiritually stretching and developmental times of his life, because God got more of his heart.  And it was Jesus who said that where our treasure is there our heart will be also.

Gene also said that when they have been generous, God has blessed generously, and he shared stories about opportunities for extra income that have come their way.

  • Have you ever experienced the blessings that come as a result of sacrificial giving?

Have a volunteer read James 1:17.

Paul closes 2 Corinthians 9 with the proclamation, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!“

God gave us the most generous gift ever given in history: His only son. Not only that, every good gift we have has come from Him.

Every time we express generosity from our hearts in the name of Jesus Christ, it’s like sending God a thank you note and saying, “Thank you, God. Thanks for loving the world so much that you gave your one and only son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

Eastside exists because over 55 years ago a group of people with a heart for everyone started meeting in a warehouse and they planted seeds. And for 55 years, people have been planting seeds week in and week out: seeds in the hearts of the next generation; in the lives of the broken and the hurting; in marriages and families; in the lives of spiritual explorers; in some of the neediest corners of the world.

The seed you keep is all you have, but the seed you sow God multiplies.

  • It’s always fun to give a gift. What gift have you most enjoyed giving?


Application

This is the final week of our What If… series, in which we’ve all been challenged to consider how God would move if we were to pray, go, and give above and beyond for one year.

  • Pray – Set an alarm on your phone for 5:08 PM and commit to praying to ask God to use us to reach 1% of the 5.8 million people that live within 20 miles. In fact, do this one right now.

  • Go

    • If you’re not already serving, visit eastside.com/volunteer or come to week 4 of Next Steps to learn more about how you can serve.

    • If you are already serving, talk with your ministry leader about ways that you can get more involved: maybe you move from serving monthly to serving weekly; maybe you move from serving to leading; or maybe you move from your current campus to help launch the new Bellflower campus.

  • Give – Use the What If card and make a plan to give generously.

What If We Lived With a New Mindset

What If We Lived With a New Mindset

Series Introduction

God has blessed Eastside with the opportunity to reach thousands of people with the message that Jesus loves them and wants to change their lives in profoundly positive ways.

But we don’t want to be satisfied with what God has already done, with what He has already blessed us with.  We want to use the blessings He has given us wisely so that we can help even more people understand the life-changing power of a relationship with Jesus.

Have a volunteer read Mark 2:1-5.

These four people would stop at nothing to get their friend to Jesus, including boring a hole through someone’s roof.

What if that was our mindset? What if we would stop at nothing to introduce people to Jesus?

What if for one year we were to pray like we never have before, to set an alarm on our phones for 5:08 PM and pray every day for the 5.8 million people who live within 20 miles of an Eastside campus?

What if for one year we were to go like we have never gone before: to join the launch team for our newest campus in Bellflower; to invest time in one of our weekend ministry teams; to lead a small group and help a small circle of people to make friends, follow Jesus, and make a difference; to serve with local compassion and impact our communities, or to go beyond borders with our global compassion team and impact the world?

What if for one year we were to give like we’ve never given before to help strategically position our church to fully leverage God-given opportunities to reach more communities like we have in Bellflower, La Habra, Park Rapids, and Anaheim?

  • What are some of the sacrifices that others have made that have impacted your life in a positive way?

  • What sacrifices might you be willing to make to impact the lives of others?


Introduction

We recognize that money can be a sensitive topic, but it’s also one of the issues that Jesus talks most about.  How we choose to use our money speaks volumes about our priorities and, consequently, about our spiritual life.  We would encourage you as a group to engage these discussions with grace but not to shy away from them, as they could have a profound impact on you both personally and spiritually.

You may also find that some people in your group are relieved to know that others don’t have everything figured out financially either.  Because money is often such a taboo topic, it’s an area where many people who struggle are isolated.

Contrary to what you may have heard people say, the Bible doesn’t condemn money or wealth, but it does condemn the love of money and ill-gotten gains.  And it warns about the dangers that come along with having wealth.

  • We all like the idea of having more money, but if you were to suddenly find yourself rich, do you think you’d be a good rich person or a bad rich person? Why?

Tomorrow matters.

Its easy for us to forget this because most of are conditioned for instant gratification.  We want things today, not tomorrow.

But too often the now mindset takes over when we’re thinking about our finances.  It’s the now mindset that leads to debt and financial insecurity because there were some things we just couldn’t wait for, things that we wanted today, not tomorrow.We all get letters offering to loan us money, whether it’s an offer for a $1000 payday loan or a $100,000 credit card.   They talk about loans and financing and opportunity, but you know what they don’t talk about…

Debt.

But that’s exactly what they’re selling you: debt.  They want you to think they’re selling you clothes, and vacations, and shopping, and instant cash, but they’re not. They’re simply selling you debt.

  • Why do you think we have so much trouble saying no to things we can’t really afford?

  • If you have said no to things you can’t afford in order to avoid debt, what has been the impact?  If you have taken on debt in order to pay for things you couldn’t otherwise have paid for, is that a decision you are still comfortable with or do you wish you had made a different decision?

Have a volunteer read Proverbs 22:7.

Debt takes away your freedom.  It makes you a servant. Now not all debt is bad and the Bible doesn’t say it’s a sin to go into debt, but it does give lots of warnings about the danger of debt.

Debt can be harnessed for good things: a business, to own a home, for an education, but we really get in trouble when we start accumulating debt for things that depreciate in value: clothes, cars, boats, electronics, eating out, vacations, because we think we have to have things today. But tomorrow matters.

When we realize tomorrow matters, we will change the way we live today.When we realize tomorrow matters it will change the way we pray today. It will change the way we serve today. When we realize tomorrow matters it will even change the way we manage finances today.

Have a volunteer read Matthew 25:14-30.

Now, each of these bags of gold would have been worth about $30k.  So one guy gets $150k, another $60k, and the last guy $30k, and the owner says, “Hey, take care of my money while I’m gone.”

The first thing to notice here is that these guys are not owners but rather managers responsible for advancing the owner’s goals.  The financial resources that we have aren’t really our own either, they’re provided to us by God so that we can manage them well and advance His goals.

  • How would shifting your perspective from owner to manager change the way you think about your finances?

So two of these guys invest the owner’s money and double his money.  Now, we don’t know exactly how long the owner was gone, but even if he was gone 5 years, that’s still a 13% annual return!

But the third guy was scared.  He was afraid of losing the owner’s money, so he put it in a safety deposit box so he wouldn’t lose any of it.  But, of course, he didn’t do any good with it either.

The guy who managed a huge amount of the owner’s money well?  He was given even more to manage.  The guy who stuck what he was given in a hole in the ground?  The master called him wicked—not just lazy—wicked.

Jesus couldn’t have been clearer. We will be accountable one day to God, the owner, for how we managed His stuff.

  • What is the best financial decision you have ever made?

There are really only five things you can do with money:

  1. Pay taxes.

  2. Spend it.

  3. Pay debt.

  4. Save it.

  5. Give it.

Most of us prioritize our money exactly like this.  When we get paid we pay taxes… because we have to because it’s automatically deducted from our paycheck.  Then we spend money, some on things we need, some on things we want.  And then we pay our debt, the money we’ve already spent.  And if there’s any left over, we’ll save some.  And maybe at the end we’ll give away a few dollars to God or to the people in need whom He cares about.

God, the owner of the money we’re managing, is the last among our financial priorities.   We are so often unwilling to give away money to God or to people in need whom God cares about.  It isn’t usually an intentional decision we make.  It just happens by default.

  • How do you currently prioritize the five financial priorities listed above and why do you prioritize them in that way?

Each of these five ways of using our money falls into one of three buckets:

  1. A today bucket.

  2. A tomorrow bucket.

  3. An eternal bucket.

When we pay taxes, spend it, and pay debt, that goes into the today bucket.  When we save it, it goes into the tomorrow bucket.  The Bible teaches us to be wise like the ant who stores up food during the summer in order to make it through the winter.  And then when we give it to God and causes He cares about, it goes into the eternal bucket, because when people find Jesus it changes their lives for eternity.

Have a volunteer read Proverbs 3:9-10.

The Bible teaches us that our first priority should be to put money into the eternal bucket.  If we’re managing God’s resources, it only makes sense that we would give to Him first.  And it isn’t really about money, it’s about value.  When you prioritize something financially, you’re indicating that you value that thing.

If you decide to live in a small apartment so that you can drive a nice car, you’re making a value judgment.  You value the nice car more than a nicer place to live.  Or if you decide to drive a beater so you can afford a better apartment, you’re valuing a nice place to live over a nicer car to drive.

When you decide to give to God first, you’re communicating to God that you value Him, that you’re prioritizing Him in your life above all of your stuff.

And then wisdom says that before you start putting money into the today bucket, before you start spending, you should put some money into the tomorrow bucket, because unless you’re wealthy (and maybe even if you are), once you start spending you’ll almost always use up whatever is left.

There’s a simple plan to do this.  It’s called the 10/10/80 plan.  Take the first 10% and give it God.  Take the second 10% and save it (not under your mattress, invest it wisely), and then live on the last 80%

  • What do you think about the idea that you should give, save, then spend, rather than spend, save, then give?  Do you agree with Gene that the 10/10/80 plan is a financial freedom plan?

If you’re struggling financially or trying to figure out if give, save, spend is really a good idea, we would strongly encourage you to join Financial Peace University.  It meets on Thursdays at 7 PM on our Anaheim Campus (June 15-August 10) or Mondays at 6:30 PM on our Park Rapids campus.  For more information or to sign up, email Sean Rees (seanrees@msn.com) if you live in Southern California or Ginnie Peterson-Johnk (ginnie297@charter.net) if you live in northern Minnesota.

Week 1 - Demo Day

Week 1 - Demo Day

Note to Leaders:

The spring semester ends on April 29, and the summer semester will run June 4-July 29.  Consequently, this will be the last sermon discussion guide produced until the summer semester begins. However, if your group has been using them and is meeting during the break, here are a couple of short studies you can use in the interim.


Series Introduction

God created us to be in a relationship with others: friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, fellow small group attenders.  This series is designed to help ensure those relationships are healthy and strong.


Understanding

Demolition can be fun.  What’s better than swinging a sledgehammer at a wall and knocking it down?  It’s like you suddenly get to stop listening to your parents’ voice telling you to be careful, not to drop the dishes, and not to play baseball inside the house.

  • What’s the most expensive item you’ve ever accidentally broken?

Relationship demo day isn’t about demoing the relationships, it’s about demoing the things inside of us that keep us from having healthy relationships: anger, envy, lust, greed, selfishness, etc.

There’s one thing that, perhaps more than anything else, can poison our ability to have healthy relationships: pride.

Pride makes us defensive, it makes us keep arguing even when we know we’re wrong, it causes us to lie about our pasts, exaggerate our accomplishments, and pad our resumes. It keeps us from learning new things and asking directions. It forces us to cheat rather than lose and to spend money we don’t have.

Ultimately, it isolates us not only from other people but from God.

  • In your experience, how does pride impact people’s lives?

  • Do you agree or disagree with the idea that pride isolates us from God and others? If you agree, what are some of the ways this happens?  If you disagree, why do you disagree?

Pride reduces our capacity to give and receive love.

We start walking into rooms thinking, “Here I am!” instead of “There you are!”  Pride devalues people. It causes us to always size up the room, to rank others on all kind of shallow criteria, and of course, you always rank yourself at the top

Pride makes it really hard to say all of those phrases that are essential to any relationship:

  • I love you.

  • I’m proud of you.

  • I need you.

  • I was wrong.

  • I’m sorry.

Pride causes us to become controlling and intimidating, and when people feel like they have to walk around on eggshells around you, then you’re not in a healthy relationship.

We all struggle with ego and pride, so don’t be thinking, “I wish so and so was here at small group tonight,” because all of us are fixer-uppers, we all need demo and renovation, especially when it comes to pride and selfishness.

  • How can we move from a “Here I am” to a “There you are” mentality?

Have a volunteer read Philippians 2:1-8.

Jesus taught and modeled this radical version of humility, one that unlocks the prison cell of pride.  Jesus redefined greatness.  He said that if you want to be first, go last. If you want to be great, serve.  Greatness isn’t something you ascend to but rather something you descend into.

This is how you demo your pride. You choose radical humility. You choose the mindset of Jesus.  You roll out of bed and make a conscious choice—and ask the Holy Spirit to remind you—to live as if you are not the center of the universe.

Jesus is God.  Jesus is the center of the universe, and yet he chose to put others first, to put their needs above his own.  If anyone could have rightfully put himself first, it was Jesus.  But He didn’t.  He laid down His rights, His position, His status, for others… for us.

Jesus came in as much obscurity as someone could. He was born in a cave with shepherds and manure all around.  He grew up in a hick town with a bad reputation and made his living as a carpenter.

Jesus—God himself—came to earth as a lowly servant.

  • What is one thing you can do differently this week to put the needs of someone else above your own needs?

How does pride play out in your life?

If you don’t know, it’s a guarantee that someone else will.  Ask them, “What do you see? Do you think I have a pride problem?”

If they get real quiet, swallow real hard, and look at the ground, you have your answer.

But be honest, ask yourself and someone else, how does pride play out in you?  Do you exaggerate or boast? Do you get defensive or envious? Are you obsessed with the number of Instagram followers someone else has?  Do you have trouble showing affection? Do you have a hard time showing weakness?  Do you find it difficult to serve others?  Do you find it difficult to allow others to serve you?

  • How does pride manifest itself in your life?

Pride is really good at masquerading as something else.

One of the most obvious ways is as confidence. There’s nothing wrong with being confident.  Jesus was confident in who he was.  But there’s a big difference between confidence and arrogance… and unfortunately to the person who is confident… or arrogant, they are easily confused.

Pride can also disguise itself with intellect, fashion, fitness, religion, ethnicity, financial status, and even false humility.  So we need to be really honest with ourselves.

  • How does pride disguise itself in your life?

Maybe today you grab your sledgehammer and start swinging.

“Hey pride, you know what, you’re coming down!  I’m sick of you cheating me out of life, and love, and joy.  You are not my boss. You are not my warden. You are not the center of the universe. You are not the ruler of my life!”

Maybe you need to help someone without any recognition.  Maybe you need to hug your kids and tell them how proud you are of them even though you don’t like some of the decisions they’ve made.  Maybe you need to hold your wife’s hand, write an old friend a letter, or let go of a grudge.

Maybe you need to start attending Celebrate Recovery to deal with an addiction, go to counseling, get some help with your finances, or stop trying to control everything and trust God.

  • What change do you need to make to demo your pride?

 

Week 7 - He Lives

Week 7 - He Lives

Introduction

Easter is the most important day in the year for followers of Jesus.  It is the day when we mark that Jesus was not just a wise teacher or a kind prophet, but that he truly was and is divine, the Son of God, come to earth to suffer the death penalty as a payment for our wrongdoings and to be resurrected as He conquered evil and death.

  • How do you celebrate Easter (if you do), and how did your family celebrate Easter growing up (if they did)?


Understanding

The Easter story is a three-day story, yet Saturday is rarely discussed. We talk a lot about the two days on either side of Saturday.

On Good Friday the sky turned black, Jesus’ followers abandoned Him, the curtain in the temple was torn in 2; and Jesus died the excruciating death on the cross.

And for 2,000 years followers of Jesus have celebrated the day after Saturday—Easter Sunday—as the most death-defying, grave-defeating, fear-destroying, hope-inspiring, transcendent, joy-giving event in the history of the world. 

But what about Saturday, the in-between day in this three-day story?

Good Friday had left the followers of Jesus shocked, angry, afraid, confused; all their hopes and dreams died along with Jesus.

Then a man named Joseph of Arimathea went and asked Pilate for Jesus’ body.  He took it down from the cross, wrapped it in linen cloth, and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.

For more than a day—from sundown on Friday until early Sunday morning—Jesus’ followers waited, feeling more powerless, more hollow, more hopeless, than they had ever felt in their lives.

In the Easter story, Saturday is the day when hope is dead.

For all that time, hope is dead and God is silent.

  • When is a time you’ve felt hopeless and wondered if God was really there or really cared?

There’s a word in the New Testament of the Bible that’s used to describe the painful experience of God’s silence: mystery.

Mystery is the thing that has most disappointed you in life, the thing you may never be able to understand or get over, the chapter that will never make sense.

Perhaps it’s the night police showed up at your front door with very difficult news.  It may have been a diagnosis that rocked your family. It could be a fractured relationship or a financial or business collapse.  Maybe it was a failed marriage or a painful betrayal by someone you trusted.

Part of the reason that first Easter Sunday was so good, is because the day before was so bad.  Jesus’ dead body was sealed in a tomb, and we don’t find one person placing bets on His resurrection. On Saturday evening, no one is dreaming of Sunday morning.  The disciples are in a total meltdown. When Jesus died, all their hopes and dreams were crushed.

This isn’t Sunday. This isn’t Friday.  This is Saturday: the day God is silent.

  • If you could ask God one question, what would you ask Him?

There are two kinds of hope, and they are very different from each other.

When you hope for something, you are hoping for a particular outcome, for a particular circumstance to turn out the way you want it to.

Human beings are irrepressible hope-ers.

Hope is why kids go nuts at an Easter egg hunt, why entrepreneurs start businesses, why people go on first dates, why students go to college, and why couch potatoes buy exercise equipment from infomercials… and let them sit on a shelf in the garage!

  • What is something you’re hoping for currently?

Have a volunteer read 1 Peter 1:3.

The second kind of hope is when you put your hope in someone.

It’s not wrong or bad to hope for things, but ultimately, those things will not satisfy us; they will disappoint us.

Just ask anyone who’s ever been married if their hoped-for spouse fulfilled all of their hopes and dreams.  Ask a wildly successful businessperson if that hoped-for success brought them peace and contentment.  Ask an empty-nester if raising children brought ultimate fulfillment.

Every circumstance, every situation that we’re hoping for is going to wear out, give out, fall apart, melt down, or go away.

Notice the words hope and resurrection in 1 Peter 1:3. In the New Testament the word hope occurs 71 times. It occurs one time before the resurrection of Jesus but 70 times after the resurrection of Jesus.

God wants us to know real hope, genuine hope, comes from someone, and that person is Jesus Christ.

  • If you have put your hope in Jesus, have you found Him a worthwhile place to put that hope?  Why or why not? If you have not put your hope in Jesus, what has kept you from doing so?

The message of Easter is that God does His best work in hopeless Saturday situations. The story of Easter is that set-backs are set-ups for a comeback.  You have to remember that the story of Easter is not a one-day story. It’s not a two-day story. It’s a three-day story.

It was on Saturday, day two—while it appeared the disciples’ dreams had died and nothing was happening—that God was actually doing His best work yet. Saturday wasn’t the end. It was the set-up for the comeback. Saturday was the day God was engineering a resurrection. Three different times Jesus said he would come back to life, but no one imagined such a thing was even possible.

The problem with three-day stories is that you don’t know it’s a three-day story until the third day.  When it’s Friday, when it’s Saturday, as far as you know deliverance is never going to come

Maybe you’re still waiting for your third day. Maybe there’s stress at work... Maybe you’re in a marriage that is falling apart, or that has already fallen apart.  Maybe there is a son or daughter—somebody you love—who is str uggling or estranged from you or in prison. Maybe you have done the wrong thing, or said the wrong thing, or made a mistake that feels so big it could never be redeemed.

Or maybe life is going pretty well, and there is no crisis at all. But there will be one day. The death-rate is still hovering right around 100%.  Whatever you are facing, whether it’s today or tomorrow or the next day, the promise of Jesus to everyone who receives Him is that there is hope, there is a third day coming, because God does His best work in hopeless situations.

  • When is a time when you’ve experienced a day three comeback, when you thought all hope was lost and yet God came through?


Activity

Divide up into groups of 2-3 and spend some time praying for each others’ Saturdays, those places in life where God seems to be silent, where it doesn’t seem like there’s an answer to the problems you’re facing.

Some of you may be feeling a tug to put your hope in Jesus for the first time or for the first time in a long time.  If that is you, while you are praying with the group, simply tell God you trust Him, that you believe Jesus came and died to pay for the things you have done wrong and to give you hope.  We would also encourage you to reach out to one of our pastors and let them know you made that decision.  They would love to support and resource you as you begin your faith journey.

 

 

Week 6 - He Lays Himself Down

Week 6 - He Lays Himself Down

Series Introduction

The way that people, even church people, understand God is all over the map.  To some, God is the violent dictator crushing people under his feet.  To others He’s like a capricious child, subjecting the world to His whims. Still others believe him weak and impotent or removed and distant.

This series is designed to help you encounter the God we wish you knew, the God who is personal, present, caring, and powerful, the God who fills the void in your soul.


Understanding

Imagine for a moment that you are one of Jesus’ 12 disciples, one of his closest friends. For three years you and Jesus have been inseparable.

You've listened to His teaching. You've watched Him walk on water. You've stood in disbelief as He fed 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish.  You've rejoiced as the sick were healed and have witnessed firsthand this man cast out demons, calm storms, and raise the dead.

  • What do you find most notable about how Jesus lived his life?

You and 11 others have left everything: your jobs, your homes, your families. Jesus has turned your world upside down, but now you're watching him as he slowly dies in agony over the course of six hours.

You see the nails driven into his hands, the spikes puncturing His feet. You see the cross lifted up and dropped with a thump in the ground and hear the tearing flesh. You watch him in agony until finally a soldier pierces his side and what remains of his blood comes pouring out.

  • What do you think it would have been like to be present when Jesus was crucified?

Picture yourself in the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion. Can you imagine ever forgetting what happened? Can you imagine ever allowing the drama, and the emotion, and the passion of that sight and smell and sound to escape your memory? Can you imagine the meaning and the significance of that event ever losing it's impact on you?

It's an interesting question, because just hours earlier Jesus says and does something extraordinary with His closest friends. He’s eating the Passover meal with them, the meal that reminds the Jewish people that God delivered them out of slavery in Egypt, and he says to them, "Eat this bread to help you remember Me.  And drink this cup to help you remember Me."

Remember? After being with them almost 24/7 for three years, Jesus is worried they might forget Him?

But that's exactly what He's worried about, not in the sense that He would slip their minds not in the sense that they might one day say, "Jesus who?"

He is concerned about a kind of spiritual forgetfulness: the kind of forgetfulness that leads to worship that's little more than empty rituals and church-life that's not much more than going through the motions; the kind of forgetfulness that leads to spiritual half-heartedness, unsacrificial servanthood; and passionless faith.

Jesus was concerned about spiritual forgetfulness that leads some of His followers to gradually take detours into sin, and the kind of forgetfulnessthat would lead some to continue to carry their sins, living in guilt, when He died in order for them to be set free, forgiven, and released.

So Jesus takes the bread and takes the cup of the Passover meal and says, "Remember Me.”

  • How has spiritual forgetfulness impacted your life?

Who we are depends on our ability to remember. Imagine for a moment that you could no longer remember your life: the books you had read, the people you had met, the music you had loved, the places you had traveled.

It would be as if all of the experiences that are such a huge part of who you are had never happened.

In the Old Testament, Joshua leads the people of Israel across the Jordan River into the land God had promised them, and then Joshua tells them to pile up rocks as a memorial.  He says, "When your children see this pile of rocks and they ask,’"What's this pile of rocks doing there?’ I want you to tell them about the time we were crossing the Jordan River and God pulled the waters apart so that we could cross on dry land.  I want it to be there as a memorial.  I want you to remember."

Throughout the Old Testament Got speaks about the importance of remembering: “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Remember you were slaves in Egypt and I reached out with a strong arm and delivered you from Egypt. Remember when you see a rainbow that I have promised I will never again destroy the earth by flood.         

“When you celebrate the Passover and eat the unleavened bread for 7 days, and your children ask, "Why are we doing this?" I want you to tell them about the time that your lives were spared because of the blood of an innocent lamb so that they will remember.”

God is constantly telling His people to remember… because we so quickly forget!

  • Share a story with the group about a time when God showed up in your life in a significant way.

There are two kinds of memory problems.  The first is that we forget the things we should remember.

We forget our car keys, the names of people we met, how to get to that store we only went to the one time, whether or not we’ve seen a movie, and where we parked.

That Passover meal we just mentioned, the one that was supposed to serve as a reminder of God’s delivering the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  Well, they really needed it, because a few days after they left Egypt they ended up dancing around a golden calf, worshipping it!

And that’s not just a them problem, it’s an us problem.  The way we react when our children want our attention, the way we respond to those in need, the way we cheat just a little on our tax returns, it’s like we’ve forgotten God.

And so Jesus gives his followers this meal to help them remember.  When we remember deeply it’s as if something is alive again, it’s made real again.  When you hear that song from your youth, when you smell that perfume your mother always wore, when you walk into your childhood home, when you reconnect with old friends, it’s as if the past is alive again.  You don’t just remember: it’s as if you re-experience what happened before.

That’s what Jesus is calling us to in communion.

  • What are some other ways that we can keep Jesus and His sacrifice at the forefront of our minds?

The second memory problem is that we remember what we should forget.

We can’t forget that we once hurt someone else, that we haven’t been a perfect parent or child or brother or sister or friend, that we have a past that we are not proud of.  Even though we have experienced amazing grace, even though Jesus has paid for all of our sins, our wrongdoings, we keep holding onto them, holding on to the guilt and the shame.

The twelve men present with Jesus at that Passover meal, at that first communion, were twelve men who would desert, betray, or deny him in some way or another within the next few hours. And yet Jesus still chose to share this meal with them and to give them this symbol to remind them of Him.  Because he knew they would need to be reminded of who He is, of his mercy and grace.

You see, God isn’t just the greatest Remember-er.  He’s the greatest Forget-er.  He forgives everything we’ve done wrong, not holding it against us.

Have a volunteer read Psalm 103:11-13.

  • What impact does remembering the things we should forget have on us?


Application #1

This week, take a piece of paper and write out some of the things you wished were gone from your life, the bad habits, the shame and guilt of things you’ve done wrong, the things that you just wish weren’t with you anymore.

Take that piece of paper, hold it in your hand, and ask God to relieve you of these burdens, to take them away.

And then take that piece of paper and get rid of it. Put it in the paper shredder. Throw it in the fire pit.  Rip it up and put it in the trash.  Give those things over to God.  You no longer have to live with the same and guilt and sin of your past.  If you are a follower of Jesus God has forgiven you and wants you to live a new life.

Application #2

Easter is a great time to invite others who don’t yet know Jesus to come and hear about the incredible love of God and the freedom He offers us.  Begin each morning this week in prayer asking God to give you an opportunity to invite someone to church with you this coming weekend.

 

Week 5 - Michael Jr. - Bringin' the Funny

Week 5 - Michael Jr. - Bringin' the Funny

Introduction

Michael Jr. got his start when George Wallace took him to the legendary Comedy & Magic Club in Hermosa Beach. Even though the club is the home of Jay Leno and “The Tonight Show” staff, the club’s owner slipped the unknown comic onstage to perform. A week later, Michael Jr. was performing at the “Just for Laughs” comedy festival in Montreal where he became the first comedian to ever appear live via satellite on “The Tonight Show.”

That performance catapulted Michael’s career.

Now, Michael tours the country performing and can also be seen on TV regularly. Michael recently appeared in Sony Pictures' feature film War Room.

On the home front, Michael is happily married. He and his wife are the proud parents of five beautiful children.

  • Share a story with the group about someone in your life who created an opportunity for you to succeed.


Understanding

Have a volunteer read Romans 8:28-29.

Michael told us about his childhood, how as a kid he had trouble reading.  That difficulty reading words forced him to figure out how to read people and situations.  God turned a negative into a positive, as Michael now uses those same powers of observation to find the funny in everyday life.

  • What is a difficulty you’ve had in your life that God has turned into something positive?

Earlier in his career, Michael Jr. would perform on stage and try to “get laughs.”  He wanted the audience to give him their laughter in response to his jokes, but God changed Michael Jr.’s perspective.  He no longer tries to “get laughs” but rather to “give people an opportunity to laugh.”  It was a radical perspective shift. Instead of trying to get something for himself, his comedy became about trying to give something to the people there.

  • How do you view what you do?  As a way to get something for yourself (fulfillment, purpose, a paycheck, etc.) or as a way to serve others? What would it take for you to shift your perspective from receiving to giving, and what impact would that have on you and the people around you?

Michael Jr. talked about your why versus your what.  Your what is what you do, but your why is your reason for doing it.  His why is to inspire people to walk in purpose.  His what is stand up comedy, television, books, etc.  Your why is the purpose God has given you in life, the thing He has called you and wired you to do.

You might not have ever thought intentionally about your why or your what, but we all have them.  We often think about our what in terms of our jobs.  And for some people, their why and their job are obviously connected.  If your why is to help people learn how to love one another better and you’re a marriage and family therapist, then it’s pretty obvious how your why and your job are connected.

But if your why is to help people learn how to love one another better and you’re a dishwasher in a restaurant, it might be a little less obvious.  But without you, that frazzled couple with five young kids wouldn’t have the opportunity to have an opportunity to re-connect with each other over a quiet dinner.

And sometimes we live out our why in ways other than through our jobs.  You might help people learn to love by showing them in practical ways, by having meaningful conversations with friends, or by volunteering at Fristers to help young moms learn how to parent their kids well.

  • What is your why?  What purpose has God given you in life?  What is your what?  How are you living that purpose out?

  • How can your why and your what be used to honor God and serve others?

If you’re not sure what your why and your what are, consider attending Next Steps, where you’ll have the opportunity to begin exploring your why and your what.

Michael Jr. talked about how some people have a hard time giving, and others have a hard time receiving.  Some of us are owned by our money and possessions.  Greed rules our lives.  Others of us are owned by our pride.  We may be generous with others, but we can’t admit that we need people to help us out as well.

  • Which is more challenging for you: giving or receiving?  Why?

  • If you struggle with giving, what can you give away to help become a more generous giver?  If you struggle with receiving, what is one area of your life where you could use the help of others?


Application

Have a volunteer read Proverbs 17:22.

Michael Jr. goes into prisons and hospitals to bring comedy and laughter to the people who are there.  He leverages his gifts, talents, and skills to serve others.

  • What gifts, talents, and skills do you have that you could use to serve others?

Week 4 - He Transforms

Week 4 - He Transforms

The way that people, even church people, understand God is all over the map.  To some, God is the violent dictator crushing people under his feet.  To others He’s like a capricious child, subjecting the world to His whims.  Still, others believe him weak and impotent or removed and distant.

This series is designed to help you encounter the God we wish you knew, the God who is personal, present, caring, and powerful, the God who fills the void in your soul.


Introduction

Have a volunteer read Genesis 37:3-8.

Joseph was a daddy’s boy, his father’s favorite—a blessing and a curse when you have 11 brothers.  Jacob gave Joseph this sweet coat.  It was like wearing ancient Gucci while all of your siblings were running around in a JC Penney special.  Great for Joseph, not so great for everyone else.

Pretty boy decides his dream about ruling over his whole family would make good dinner conversation… because picturing your spoiled little brother as your king is super-endearing.

Eventually, that dream would come true, but it doesn’t always pay to speak your mind.

  • When is one time you’ve said something that you later regretted?

God had work to do on Joseph before he could become one of the most powerful men in the world.

Joseph’s brothers hated him.  So when the 10 oldest brothers are on a business trip taking care of the sheep and dad sends the chosen one to check up on them, they’re none too happy.

In fact, he comes walking up in his Gucci jacket, and they’re really unhappy.  They’re so unhappy, they decide to kill him.

Fortunately, they back off of that plan, but what they do instead is only a bit better.  They throw him in a pit until they can figure out what to do with him.  Some slave traders are passing by, so they sell Joseph to the slave traders, but not before taking his coat.

They take that jacket they hate so much, soak it in animal blood, and bring it back to their dad as evidence of Joseph’s death.

Have a volunteer read Genesis 39:1-6.

The slave traders bring Joseph to Egypt where he’s sold to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s top officials.  But in spite of the fact that Joseph has just been sold into slavery, the Bible tells us that God was with Joseph.

Potiphar recognized that Joseph had both great integrity and great aptitude.  Potiphar ends up putting Joseph in charge of his entire household.  And don’t think white picket fence with two cars, a dog, and 2.5 kids.  Think Downton Abbey.

I don’t know that any of us would want to be in Joseph’s shoes: betrayed by our brothers and separated from our family, probably for the rest of our lives.  That said, as situations go, this was likely far better than Joseph had expected after his brothers sold him.  He could have easily ended up in an Egyptian brick factory.

  • When has a situation in your life turned out better than you expected?  This could be something bad that ended up not so bad (or even good) or something good that ended up even better than you thought it would be.

  • Has there ever been a time when you’ve been rewarded for doing the right thing?

Joseph did have one problem, however: Mrs. Potiphar.  She was the one part of Potiphar’s household that he didn’t give to Joseph… for obvious reasons.

Joseph was an attractive young man, and Mrs. P had a thing for him.  But Joseph refused to betray Mr. P like that.  So, one day when no one else is around inside the house Mrs. P grabs Joseph by the jacket and demands that he comes to bed with her.

He refuses and runs out of the house leaving his jacket in her hands, and when Mr. P comes home she claims Joseph tried to sexually assault her.

Mr. P has Joseph thrown into jail.

  • Has there ever been a time when you’ve paid the price for doing the right thing?

  • What character defects have you seen in each of the people in Joseph’s life (Jacob, Joseph himself, the brothers, the slave traders, Potiphar, and Mrs. Potiphar)?

  • Which of these characters do you most identify with?

Have a volunteer read Genesis 39:20-23.

Once again, Joseph finds himself in a place he’d rather not be.  He went from being daddy’s favorite to a slave in Egypt, but at least he was in a pretty posh position.  Now he finds himself in prison as a slave in Egypt.  But notice that again the Bible says that God was with Joseph.

And just like with Potiphar, the warden puts Joseph in charge of the entire jail.  It’s crazy, but the warden put a prisoner in charge of the prison.

While in jail Joseph meets Pharaoh’s cupbearer and his baker.  These are pretty important people, especially the cupbearer.  Each of these guys has a dream that Joseph interprets for them.   Unfortunately for the baker, the dream foretold his death.  Fortunately for the cupbearer, his dream foretold his release from prison and his restoration to his position.

Joseph tells the cupbearer that he was falsely accused and asked the cupbearer to put in a good word for him.

But the cupbearer forgot for two full years.  At this point, Joseph has been in Egypt for 13 years.  Talk about a dream deferred.

  • Have you ever found yourself waiting, hoping, longing, even striving for things to change only to find circumstances going from bad to worse?

After the cupbearer has been out of jail for two years, Pharaoh has some troubling dreams that no one can interpret, and finally the cupbearer remembers Joseph and tells Pharaoh about him.  Joseph tells Pharaoh that his dreams predict that there will be seven years of abundant harvest in Egypt, followed by seven years of famine.

So Pharaoh puts Joseph in charge… of the country.  To make a long story short, Joseph devises a plan to store enough food during the years of plenty to make it through the years of famine, saving countless lives—including those of his own family, with whom he is eventually reunited and who do end up bowing down to him.

Joseph became the prime minister of Egypt—making him one of the most powerful people in the world, but it took thirteen years of separation, slavery, and imprisonment for him to get there.  The truth is that the coddled prima donna that Joseph was before life threw him a curveball would have never been able to effectively lead a country.  It took trial by fire to develop him into the kind of person who could lead a country through such a dark period.

We can learn many things from Joseph, but one key lesson is that God is more concerned with our character than our comfort, more concerned with our holiness than our happiness, and it is often life’s challenges that God will use to develop our character.

God was with Joseph in the midst of his difficult circumstances, just as God promises to be with us no matter what is going on around us, but God didn’t and doesn’t promise deliverance from those circumstances.  He promises to keep us through but not necessarily keep us from.

  • How has God used circumstances in your life to develop your character in the past?

  • How might God want to use current circumstances in your life to continue developing your character?

Have a volunteer read Romans 8:28-29.

Paul teaches us—and we see this in Joseph’s life—that God uses our experiences to not only shape our character but for good.  God uses the challenges that we experience to make a positive impact on the lives of others.

  • How can God use your past experiences to meet the needs of others?

Week 3 - Bravely Forward Short Film/He Speaks

Week 3 - Bravely Forward Short Film/He Speaks

The way that people, even church people, understand God is all over the map.  To some, God is the violent dictator crushing people under his feet.  To others He’s like a capricious child, subjecting the world to His whims.  Still others believe him weak and impotent or removed and distant.

This series is designed to help you encounter the God we wish you knew, the God who is personal, present, caring, and powerful, the God who fills the void in your soul.


Bravely Forward

Bravely Forward is all about how we as the church can engage in the pursuit to end homelessness in Orange County.

  • What has been your experience and interaction with people who are homeless?

One of the officers says that the people who are homeless in the community he patrols don’t necessarily want to leave because it’s their community, and some of them have known the people in that community for their whole lives.  It is one of the challenges of helping people to get off of the streets.

  • What do you think about that idea?  Does it change your perspective on people who are homeless?

In the movie, Brad Fieldhouse, founder and executive director of City Net talks about what we can do to help end street level homelessness.  He says that people who are homeless don’t need turkeys and toys.  Homelessness comes from brokenness and fractured relationships.  What they need is community.

He talks about having small groups of people check up monthly for six months with people who have recently gotten off of the streets.

  • What are some things that have kept you from engaging in local compassion causes in the past?  Is there a perspective or priority shift that might help your group to move bravely forward?

  • What would it take for your group to commit to engaging in being a part of the effort to end homelessness?  Visit eastside.com/localserve to learn more about what your group can do.


Take Action

  • At some point in the next month, invite someone who is homeless to lunch.  Have a conversation with that person. Get to know them not as a statistic or a panhandler but as a person with a story and a history.


He Speaks

We are faced with decisions every day.  Most of them are relatively inconsequential: what to eat for dinner, which route to take to work, whether to root for the Angels or the Dodgers.

But other decisions are life-changing: Should I look for a new job?  Should I move to take that new job? Is this the right person for me to marry? Do we want to have kids?  Should we stay married?  Can I afford to buy this house?  Should I go to college?  Should I go back to school?  What should I study?

  • What are some of the life-changing decisions you’re currently facing or have recently faced?

When faced with these kinds of decisions, most of us all would like some kind of divine guidance.  We make these decisions with a limited amount of information.  We don’t know how our decision will work out, and we’d love to hear from God who does know.

Maybe we think that God speaks to people like Abraham, Moses, Mary, Paul, or Gene Appel, but we wonder if He speaks to ordinary people like us.

  • When is one time you’ve heard from God? Or, if you don’t think you’ve ever heard from God, when is one time you’ve asked God for guidance but felt like you got no answer?

One key to understanding God’s will for our lives is to remember that God is more concerned about who we are, than about what we do, or where we go.

In other words, God is more concerned about the people we are becoming, about our character developing to look like the character that Jesus had, than He is about which job we have or where we live.

It’s not that He doesn’t care about those things.  He does.  We are his children, and he cares about the things that impact our lives.  But He knows that ultimately the thing that will make the biggest difference is our character.  You could move across the country or around the world, get married or get divorced, attend school or start working, but you will still be you.  And any hurts, habits, or hangups you had before you made that decision will follow you.

  • How do you think God might be trying to grow you, to shape your character, during this season of your life?

Have a volunteer read Psalm 119:105.

The primary way that God speaks is through the Bible.  He’s left us with an incredibly rich source of wisdom that we can access with the simple turn of a page or launch of an app.

  • Earlier you talked about some of life-changing decisions you’re currently facing.  Are there some things in the Bible that might speak to those decisions.

Not sure?  Openbible.info/topics has a good topical search engine for the Bible.  Also,you can do a keyword search in the Bible app or on biblegateway.com, and if you have a physical Bible, many have a concordance in the back where you can find verses that relate to the topic at hand.

Have a volunteer read John 16:13.

Every follower of Jesus has the Spirit of God inside of them, and that Spirit both shapes us—developing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control in us—and speaks to us—variously challenging, convicting, comforting, and encouraging, and always prompting us in the right direction.

It’s God’s Spirit that provides the check in our gut when we want to respond out of anger, prompts us to help someone in need rather than walk by, encourages us to stay sober, whispers that we should forgive rather than hold a grudge.

To hear God’s Spirit we have to be aware and cognizant that God might be trying to speak to us.  We have to pause and quiet our minds and hearts long enough to listen. And when we do sense that God might be prompting us, we have to act on that prompting.  Nothing will short-circuit our ability to hear God speaking to us like ignoring it when He does.  God may still speak, but our hearts and ears will grow too calloused to notice.

  • What are some of the promptings—the little internal nudges—you’ve received from the Holy Spirit recently?  If you don’t get these kinds of promptings, what do you think keeps you from hearing from God in this way?

Have a volunteer ready Proverbs 11:14 and 13:20.

God often speaks to us through a close confidant, a trusted advisor, mentor, or friend.

When you want to hear from God on something and you seek the advice of others, you have to consider the source.  Who is this person?  Do they have your best interests at heart or their own?  Do they listen to God in their own life?  Is their life one God would want me to model my life after?

You don’t go to someone who has been an abject failure in every business endeavor they’ve ever undertaken for advice on your startup. Similarly, you don’t go to someone whose life isn’t one that you want or that God would want you to have when you’re looking for life advice.

You need to go to someone whose life looks like a life that would honor God, and you need to go to someone who will tell you the truth, not just what you want to hear.

You also have to be careful that you don’t just keep asking more and more people until you get the message you want. Given enough time and relationships, you can always find someone who will agree with you.

And then once you have advice from a trusted source, you still have to run that through the filter of God’s word—the Bible—and the Holy Spirit.

  • Who are the people who you go to when you need advice?  What makes you trust them?  If you’re being honest with yourself, are they people who are a good source of Godly advice?

  • How can we be the kind of people who others can rely on for Godly advice?

One more way that God will speak to us is through the convergence of circumstances.

When I (Will Johnston) came to Orange County I had intended to take some time away from vocational ministry at a church and instead write, speak, and consult, sharing the experience that I had gained with other churches and ministries.

My wife, Rachel, moved to Orange County three months before I did, and got a postcard in the mail from Eastside, which was only a mile and a half from her apartment.

A couple of months later I visited Eastside with her when I got to town, and my second week I met Andi McGlothlin, a member of Eastside’s board.  I was trying to hide the fact that I had been a small groups pastor so as not to get roped into too much too quickly. Andi, however, pried it out of me after just a couple of minutes, and said “Oh, we’re looking for some help with our small groups!”

Fast-forward a couple of months, and Andi introduced me to Greg Curtis and Dave Higgins—two of Eastside’s pastors—who proceeded to tell me that they were looking to bring someone on to run the groups ministry.

As I asked them about how Eastside ran groups, they started explaining the “Free Market” model of small groups, where groups could be built around almost anything, from sports to meals to Bible studies or artistic endeavors.  It was a model I knew well, seeing as it was nearly identical to how we did groups at my last church, another large, multi-site church.

To make an already long story a little bit shorter, I applied, interviewed, and was offered the position.  I certainly prayed about it, but the truth is that a series of so many coincidences—from a postcard to a chance encounter and a near-perfect match to my experience—could really only be one thing—a series of divine appointments.  I wasn’t looking for a job at Eastside, but God made it clear through circumstances that this is what I was supposed to do.

  • When is one time that you think God might have been speaking to you through your circumstances?


Application

Set aside one hour this week to seek God’s will for a decision you are facing. Schedule this hour on your calendar.  We don’t do the things we intend to do.  We do the things we plan to do.

Pray and ask God to speak to you.  Spend some time searching the Bible to see what God might have already said about it.  Take some time to quiet your mind and heart and simply listen, and throughout the week, try to be aware that God may be prompting you in some small way.

Outside of this hour, reach out to a Godly, trusted friend or mentor.  Ask them to pray about your decision, and then follow up and see if God has spoken anything to them.  If not, simply ask what their advice would be given that they’re also a follower of Jesus and someone whose opinion you value.  And of course, be sure to check any advice against the Bible and the promptings of God’s Spirit in you.

Week 2 - His Grace is Enough

Week 2 - His Grace is Enough

The way that people, even church people, understand God is all over the map.  To some, God is the violent dictator crushing people under his feet.  To others He’s like a capricious child, subjecting the world to His whims.  Still others believe him weak and impotent or removed and distant.

This series is designed to help you encounter the God we wish you knew, the God who is personal, present, caring, and powerful, the God who fills the void in your soul.

  • What attribute of God’s character do you struggle to understand?


Introduction

In his sermon, Gene told a story about a man he met in an airport.  The man worked for an electronics company, but a decade earlier he had been stealing cars for a living.   When he discovered God’s grace, it transformed him.  He told Gene that becoming a follower of Jesus made a free man out of him.

Many people think following Jesus will take away their freedom, but this man found freedom in following Jesus.

  • What has been your experience with faith? Is it something that has set you free? Or do you feel like faith has kept you captive?

Our goal is help you understand the amazing grace of Jesus, to help you understand that Jesus came to set us free, that God doesn’t want to have a faith that makes us feel less than, unworthy, or not good enough but rather to have a faith that causes us to understand in the deepest core of our being that we are forgiven and loved.

Have a volunteer read Matthew 20:1-16

Jesus tells this story as a demonstration of God’s grace.  The vineyard owner—who represents God—doesn’t pay the workers what he owes them.  He generously gives them far more than they deserved.

Can you imagine? You’re struggling financially.  You’ve got bills to pay and mouths to feed.  You’d give your left arm for a steady job, but for right now, you’re a temp worker.

One day, no work comes your way, and you’re trying to figure out how your family is going to eat dinner.  Finally, just before quitting time, you get hired for the last hour of the workday.  It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing, maybe enough to buy a little something for your family to eat.

It’s quitting time, so you go to the business owner to pick up your measly check, and you get paid for the whole day.

  • Have you ever experienced grace like this? What kind of impression did it make?  How did you respond in the moment?  What impact did it have on how you view the world, on your character and personality?

To understand what grace truly is, you need to understand justice and mercy.  Justice is getting what we deserve.  Mercy is not getting what we deserve.  But grace is getting what we don’t deserve.

It’s easy to want justice.  But if we’re honest, we usually only want justice for other people, not ourselves.  When is the last time you broke a traffic law?  Last week?  Last night?  On the way to small group?

Justice would dictate that you get a speeding ticket for doing 70 in a 65 zone.  But you don’t want justice.  You want mercy.

Now, that jerk in the car that just cut me off?  Boy, I wish a cop had seen that!

Imagine that instead of giving you a speeding ticket, the officer who pulled you over escorted you to your destination with lights and sirens, helping you get there faster than you ever could have on your own.

That’s grace.

That’s the God we wish you knew, the God who pays a full day’s wage for an hour of work, the God who gives us far more than we deserve, the God who demands justice for the wrong things we do… and then proceeds to take the punishment justice demands on Himself, being at the same time completely just yet expressing profound mercy and grace.

  • Most of us tend to be either more justice-oriented or mercy/grace-oriented.  Which are you and why?

Have a volunteer read Romans 6:23.

Some of us grew up in performance-oriented homes where the way to be loved was to say good things, behave in good ways, and excel in some particular area of achievement. The unspoken message: “We will love you if… We will approve of you if…”

It’s easy to transfer that characteristic from our parents to God. We begin thinking we have to earn God’s approval with our performance.  We come to believe—whether we’d admit it or not—in karma: the idea that our spirituality is dependent on our doing more good than bad, rather than on God’s generous grace.

God is the employer who gives us a full day’s wage because of His grace, His generosity, because Jesus was willing to hang on the cross to pay for the things we’ve done wrong.

The truth is, no good we could ever do could repay that. The price God paid was too high.  All we can do is accept God’s generous grace.

We all, at times, try to earn our own salvation, to earn God’s forgiveness. We might know intellectually that is impossible, but we feel like there’s something we can do, should do, to earn it.

  • What are some of the ways you personally have tried to earn God’s free gift of grace?

Ironically, this subtle attempt to earn our salvation, which initially stemmed from a feeling of unworthiness, often grows into self-righteousness.  At first we felt unworthy and so began trying to become worthy.  Eventually we do enough good that we begin feeling worthy and start looking down on others who we perceive as less worthy.

This is what happened to the Pharisees, the religious leaders that were always trying to trick and trap Jesus.  They started out as a group that earnestly wanted to follow God’s ways as closely as possible, but in their pursuit of doing everything right, they began looking down on those who they perceived as not being as faithful.

  • How can we avoid becoming self-righteous like the Pharisees?

Of course, none of this means that we shouldn’t do good things.  If one day a friend walks up to you, hands you the keys to a new BMW, and says, “These are the keys to your new car.”  When you ask why, she says simply, “Because I love you.  I care about you.  You mean the world to me.”

How will you respond? Are you going to spit in her face, tell her you can’t stand her and never want to see her again?  Are you going to just respond, “Oh, ok, cool.” and make out like it’s no big deal?

No, of course not!  You’re going to be grateful.  You’re going to say thank you.  And you’re probably going to be extra nice to that friend, not because you have to and not because you can somehow earn the car by being nice.  You respond that way because you’re grateful.

If your friend asks to borrow the car are you going to lend it to her?  Why?  Because you can earn the car by loaning it to her?  Because you have to?  No.  You’ll do it because you’re grateful, because her generosity engendered love and generosity in you.

It is an imperfect comparison to be sure, but it is in many ways similar to God’s gift of grace to us.  We can’t pay him for it.  No good deeds are going to allow us to earn His grace.  But God’s grace towards us elicits a response of gratitude in us that causes us to love and to serve both Him and others.  We don’t (or at least we shouldn’t) serve God because we have to but because we get to, because we’re grateful for His grace.

  • When we’re doing something good, what are some indicators that we’re serving out of gratitude? On the flip side, what are some indicators that perhaps we’re doing good deeds in an attempt to earn God’s grace?


Application

At the end of service this past weekend, Gene presented an opportunity to be baptized, to identify with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, publicly declaring that we are followers of Jesus, allowing the waters of baptism to serve as a symbol of God’s cleansing of our lives.

Most of you have probably already been baptized, and that’s wonderful.  But some of you haven’t.  Maybe you were thinking about it last weekend, but you just couldn’t pull the trigger.  You were nervous or scared or you just weren’t sure you were ready, but you’re still thinking about it.  Maybe you’re even wishing you had gone forward.

It’s not too late.  If you want to be baptized, you can just email us, and we’ll make it happen.  And we would encourage you to tell your small group so that they can support and encourage you as you take this step.

If you want to be baptized, just contact the point person for baptisms at your campus:

  • Anaheim: Steven Ma – stevenma@prodigy.net

  • La Habra: Norm Hamre – nhamre@eastside.com

  • Park Rapids: Justin Domogalla – jdomogalla@eastside.com

Week 1 - He's a Good, Good Father

Week 1 - He's a Good, Good Father

The way that people, even church people, understand God is all over the map.  To some, God is the violent dictator crushing people under his feet.  To others He’s like a capricious child, subjecting the world to His whims.  Still others believe him weak and impotent or removed and distant.

This series is designed to help you encounter the God we wish you knew, the God who is personal, present, caring, and powerful, the God who fills the void in your soul.

  • What word or attribute best describes your personal experience with God, and why did you choose that word?


Introduction

How you react to the concept of God as Father depends largely on how you grew up.

Some of us had a dad with all kinds of issues.  Maybe your dad wasn’t there for you, and you were raised by a single mother or passed around into foster homes.  Maybe your dad had his own hang-ups or addictions or he was abusive.

You wish you had memories of a good father, memories of fishing with your dad and drinking black cherry sodas while you munched on onion and garlic potato chips, memories of shooting baskets in the driveway or getting dunked in the pool.  You wish you could remember just one time seeing your dad crack open a Bible or listening to him pray an authentic prayer.

And some of us were fortunate enough to have that kind of a dad.

  • How has your experience with your own Dad shaped your understanding of God as Father?

Have a volunteer read 1 Timothy 5:8.

No matter what kind of dad you have or had, there is one thing we can all agree on: there is an unmistakable connection between love and provision.  If you truly love someone you will find great joy, great satisfaction, and great delight in providing for them.

The words “I love you” are cheap and meaningless unless they are backed up by action. The apostle Paul said in 1 Timothy 5:8 that if someone has the ability to provide for his family but refuses to, he is worse than someone who is far from God.

In other words, it’s unthinkable, unconscionable for someone to neglect to provide for those he calls his own.

  • When you think about the people who have provided for you throughout your life, who sticks out, and what did that person do to make such an impact?


Understanding

Have a volunteer read Matthew 6:25-34.

Jesus begins by saying, “…don’t worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food, drink, and clothes. Doesn’t life consist of more than food and clothing?” And then He give two examples of our good, good heavenly Father provides.

He points people toward a bird in a tree.  And they were probably thinking, “We don’t have time to go bird watching.  We’ve got real problems: mortgages and credit cards and utility bills and college tuition.”

  • What are the things in your life that worry you and stress you out the most?

Jesus continues: never mind that stuff for a second.  Just look at the bird doing barrel rolls over there.  Whistling and chirping.  Notice that there are no wrinkles on the birds face; no signs of high blood pressure; no migraine headaches; no therapist next to him. And this little bird has no off-shore bank account, no multi-million dollar life insurance policy, no barn filled to the brim with birdseed.

In fact, this little bird is always just one worm, one cockroach away from starvation, but the bird has no anxiety.  Learn a lesson from that little bird. Birds don’t worry if there will be enough cockroaches or worms tomorrow.

Built into this little bird is a basic reliance on the good, good Father.  Every day the little bird banks on this good, good Father’s character, this good, good father’s identity, this good, good father’s providing hand. And every day the bird learns again that the good, good Father won’t let him down and can be trusted.  This little guy has learned to trust the heavenly Father to take care of Him one day at a time.

  • What keeps you from trusting God with the things that worry you?

Jesus gives a second example for people who aren’t into birds. Jesus says look over here at a little flower, a lily, the one that’s swaying back and forth.  It has it’s lovely petals outstretched to heaven.

Check out this little flower. It doesn’t have any contingency plans. It’s not on the brink of emotional collapse. It’s not in a frenzy about how it looks. It’s stunning in it’s beauty, yet its never even had an appointment with a fashion consultant.

This little flower knows that God is going to provide its needs.  He’ll rain on it.  He’ll cause the sun to shine on it. This little flower has learned over time that the good, good heavenly Father’s character can be trusted and His identity is sure and His provision is real. God wouldn’t think of letting the little flower down.

Jesus continues, “And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won’t he more surely care for you?”

And of course, that’s a rhetorical question.  Of course He will.  The flower will come and go, but you’re valuable in an ultimate sense.

Part of Jesus’ message here is that God sees you as valuable. How does the fact that God sees you as valuable impact how you perceive yourself?

  • Have you ever felt like you’ve been let down by God?

Have a volunteer read Philippians 4:4-20.

Paul writes these words…

“Rejoice in the Lord always.”

“Do not be anxious about anything....”

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

…while imprisoned. In fact, in addition to this he had suffered beatings where he was left for dead; shipwrecks; imprisonment; hunger; thirst; and homelessness.

So what’s included when Paul says that God will meet your needs?

First, it includes your physical and material needs.

And notice that the promise is needs, not wants.  Contrary to what prosperity theologians teach, God hasn’t promised perfect health and riches.  We may want a fancy car or big house, but that doesn’t mean we need them.

And this isn’t an excuse to be lazy or wasteful.  It doesn’t mean we just pray for money and God drops it in our bank account.  God also calls us to be good managers.

What it does mean is that God loves you so much that He is working behind the scenes to arrange for His infinite resources to come and rescue you or provide an opportunity or answer a prayer to meet your needs, and He can do that in so many different ways.

It doesn’t always look like a divine act. It may be an unexpected check in the mail, a friend who offers to help fix your car, or a cart full of groceries left on your doorstep.  Often it is those with the fewest resources who have learned to trust God the most.

  • What are some of the ways you have seen God’s provision in your own life?

Second, it includes relational and emotional needs.

God knows when you need a friend, an ear, an arm around the shoulder.  God knows when you need an extra touch of His presence, some encouragement. God knows when you’re just worn out and you can’t go another step. God knows when you’re fearful of the future because you’ve lost someone you love very much. God knows when you’re worried about the results of the medical test.

Third, God knows the deepest needs of our souls.

Joni Eareckson Tada is paralyzed from the neck down due to a swimming accident in her late teens.  One night shortly after the accident, all of her friends and family had gone home, and she was lying in her bed, terrified, lonely, and depressed.

One of her best friends had hidden behind a couch in the waiting room so that she could come back in when visiting hours were over.  That friend crawled hand and knee past the nurses station, climbed into Joni’s bed, and laid there and began singing a hymn that said, “Man of sorrows, what a name for the Son of God who came.  Hallelujah, what a Savior.”.

Joni said of that night, “The comfort of being reminded that Jesus knew sorrow, that Jesus knew loneliness.”  He knew what it ways to be without.  He knew what it was not to be able to move when He was hanging on the cross, brought her incredible comfort.

  • What need in your own life do you want God to meet?


Application

God often works to meet the needs of His children through others of his children.  In other words, God meets the needs of His people through us, His people.

Think through the things that you know people in your life are praying for.  You probably even heard a few during this meeting.  You won’t be able to do something about all of them, but there is probably one or two of those prayers that God can use you to answer.

Make a plan to do something to be the answer to that prayer this coming week.  Think through specifically what you will do and when you will do it.

Week 5: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Week 5: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

At the Movies is a series we do every year where we explore the Biblical truths we find in Hollywood movies.  So break out the popcorn.  It’s going to be an adventure!


Introduction

Note to Leaders: Watching this video is optional, but it may help give context to people who have not seen the movie or were not able to be at church.

CS Lewis—author of The Chronicles of Narnia—was born and raised in the church of Ireland, but at the age of 15 he declared himself to be an atheist.  He decided faith was way too hard, way too difficult, and anything this difficult actually showed there is no God.  He found no life in it, no joy in it and walked away from his faith.

In his late twenties, CS Lewis met JRR Tolkien—author of Lord of the Rings—and Tolkien influenced Lewis’s life toward Christ.  Lewis spent a couple of years examining the truths of Christianity, and then at the age of 31 he had a real encounter with Christ and gave his heart to Jesus.  Later in life Lewis penned an autobiography, Surprised by Joy. The real turning point for Lewis was discovering just how much joy there was in following Jesus.

How did you meet your best friend (besides your spouse), and why did you hit it off so well?

What do you think about the idea that there is joy to be found in following Jesus?  Does that resonate with your own experience?


Understanding

Have a volunteer read Ephesians 4:18.

A lot of people have a wrong view of God, but if you could understand God’s ways, just like CS Lewis did, you’d be surprised by joy.

The Chronicles of Narnia is a beautiful picture of God’s story.  His story begins with the creation of humanity.  God created human beings because He wanted a family.  He already had servants in the form of angels, but God wanted something much better than that.  He wanted real, intimate relationships.

So God created human beings with the ability to choose Him or not choose Him.  Some have chosen Him, and some have gone their own way.  But to have a family of people who wanted to be in relationship with Him, God had to give them that choice.

The challenges that we face are the result of human beings choosing to write a different story than the one God wanted to write.  They’re the result of people choosing not to follow God’s plan.

  • When is one time you felt truly loved, and what made that experience so special?

Have a volunteer read 2 Corinthians 11:14 and John 8:44.

The Chronicles of Narnia was supposed to be a love story of God’s plan for a family, the two sons of Adam and the two daughters of Eve, but the story gets interrupted when one of them, Edwin, gets seduced by the devil and turns his back on God’s story.

The same thing happens in our lives.  Satan tempts us away from God’s plan by telling us something that simply isn’t true.  He’ll promise you everything and then immediately betray you.

He always offers something that looks good, tastes good, feels good, seems good, something that makes us think that whatever Satan is offering is better than what God has for us.

But while what Satan offers may look good on the surface, the truth is they’re not good.  The tragedy is that every time we fall for that bait, we end up in bondage as a prisoner to evil.  It may not happen immediately, but every time we go our own way, we always end up in chains, bondage, and darkness.  It has been said, “Sin will take us further than we wanted to go.  Keep us longer than we wanted to stay.  Cost us more than we wanted to pay.”

  • What are some of the ways that you have seen sin imprison people?

Have volunteers read Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, and Hebrews 9:22.

Death is the inevitable end game of sin.  God is the source of all life, and sin cuts us off from God.  Sin is choosing to turn from God and pursue our own way, our own story.  And once sin enters the picture, no amount of regret or money or good deeds can undo it.  The only way to pay for sin is death.

But God said, “I still really want you, even though you didn’t want me.”  And so instead of us paying for our own sin with our lives, Jesus—God Himself—decided to come and give His life on the cross to pay our debt.

Sometimes people question how a loving God could send people to hell, but God doesn’t send anyone to hell.  Hell is just the place where you can pay your own bill if you so choose. But God didn’t want you to do that.  Instead He wanted to come into you life and give you a way of escape by paying for your sin.

  • When is a time someone has helped you out of a difficult situation without expecting you to give him or her anything in return?

  • Jesus’ sacrifice calls us to respond. First by accepting the forgiveness, the payment for our wrongdoing, that He offers, and second by showing that same type of selfless love to others.  What is one thing you can do differently this week to place the needs of someone else ahead of your own needs?

Hopefully you’ve understood the God story and will open up your mind and your heart to God’s power and God’s love for your life.  John chapter 1 out pretty clearly that to those who receive Him, to those who would believe on His name, to those who would actually invite God back into their hearts and lives, He would give the right to be a child of God.  That’s what God’s desire is for your life.

There are three types of people who are a part of Eastside small groups.

Some of you haven’t made a decision to follow Jesus.  There’s something that keeps you from doing so: maybe it’s fear or questions or past experience or your view of God.  You might feel far from God and be searching for the way back.

Some of you have decided to follow Jesus, but you still feel far from God right now.  There’s something that’s getting in the way of your friendship with God.  It could be ongoing sin. It could be simply not spending time with God.  Again, it could be past hurts or experiences.

Some of you have decided to follow Jesus, and you feel God’s presence in your lives.  You’re not perfect—far from it—but you’re pursuing friendship with God.

No one should judge anyone else based on which category that person is in, and no one should feel judged.  This isn’t about being a better person or a worse person: we’re all sinners.  This is about allowing God to work in us  and being able to enjoy the love, joy, and peace that come from God when we decide to live our lives as a part of His story and His family.

  • Which type of person are you right now?  If you’re one of the first two types, what would need to change for you to continue moving forward in your spiritual journey?  If you’re in the third category, how did you get there, and how can you sustain your relationship with God?

Note to Leaders: If someone is in your group who has not been a follower of Jesus and is ready to take that step, pray with them something like the following.  The easiest way is probably for you to pray a line and have that person repeat it after you.

God, today I want to enter Your story.  I thank you for coming to earth through Jesus to enter my story.  And today I understand that Jesus made a substitute payment for me so that I wouldn’t have to pay for my wrongdoing. I receive the payment Jesus made for me by dying on a cross. Jesus died for me and I want to live for him.

If someone in your group has made a decision to follow Jesus, please let us know by reaching out to Will at wjohnston@eastside.com.  We would love to resource that person as they being their spiritual journey.


Personal Activity

Last week we asked you to commit to praying for 30 days for the person closest to you who doesn’t know Jesus.  If you haven’t already done that, we would encourage you to start.  If you have, keep up the good work!

As you’re praying for the person, ask God to provide an opportunity for you to have a faith conversation with the person.

And remember, you don’t have to have a marathon prayer session every day.  You want to do more than just a quick, “God, be with her…” as you’re falling asleep, but you need only set aside two or three minutes each day.  (Although you can obviously pray longer if you’d like.)

However long you intend to pray, pick a specific time at which you will do it (right after you get up, at lunch, during your drive home, right after you go to bed, etc.).  We do the things we plan to do, not the things we intend to do.


Group Activity

We unleash compassion all year long, but on Saturday, March 4 we're coming together for a Serve Day to share the love of Jesus with the lost and hurting in our communities in some very practical and tangible ways.

We would challenge you to consider serving together as a group.  You’ll not only get the opportunity to make a difference in your community, we can just about guarantee you’ll get to know one another better as you serve shoulder-to-shoulder.

For a full list of projects and to sign up, visit eastside.com/serveday.

Week 4 - The Martian

Week 4 - The Martian

At the Movies is a series we do every year where we explore the Biblical truths we find in Hollywood movies.  So break out the popcorn.  It’s going to be an adventure!


Introduction

Note to Leaders: Watching this video is optional, but it may help give context to people who have not seen the movie or were not able to be at church.

The Martian is a science fiction film based on Andy Weir's novel by the same name. On November 25, 2035, the crew of the Ares III manned mission to Mars encounters an unexpected strong dust storm that threatens to topple their Mars Ascent Vehicle or MAV, forcing them to hastily leave the planet. During the evacuation, astronaut Mark Watney, played by Damon, is struck by debris and lost in the storm.  The last signal from his spacesuit indicates no signs of life. With Watney believed dead, and the storm worsening by the second, mission commander Melissa Lewis orders the remaining crew to return to their orbiting vessel Hermes without him.

  • What is the scariest natural phenomenon you have ever experienced (earthquake, hurricane, tornado, storm at sea, etc.)?

Have a volunteer read Psalm 23.

The Martian is a story about just how far people will go to save someone who they’ve lost.  It reminds us of the incredible lengths that God goes to save us: coming as Jesus to show us the way back to God, dying on a cross to pay for the things we have done wrong, and pursuing us in so many big and small ways throughout our lives.

Verse six of Psalm 23 says, “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life…” (NIV), but the word we often translate follow had a much stronger sense in the original Hebrew.  It meant to hunt or to pursue.  It’s as if David was saying of God,  “Surely your goodness and love will hunt me down all of the days of my life.”

  • How does the idea that God pursues us, that His goodness and love hunt us down, impact the way you view God?

Have a volunteer read 1 Corinthians 9:22.

If we’re going to love God, we have to love the people He loves. That’s why as long as there is one lost person in the world – our goal at Eastside is going to be to grow – because every person matters to God.  That’s why we continue to look for creative ways to explain the Gospel of Jesus. That’s why we pray for people who are spiritually lost.  It’s why invite them to attend, do multiple services, and start more campuses. We never stop looking for one lost person because God never stops looking for us.

So what do we do? We continually put ourselves in the shoes of those who are far from God – trying to understand what they are going through – so we can do everything we can to rescue them. So how do we do that? By trying to understand how people far from God really feel. Many are like Mark Watney – life dealt them a tough blow and now they find themselves in situations they don’t want to be in – trapped with seemingly no way out – just trying to survive.

  • When is one time you’ve felt trapped by your circumstances?  How did you deal with that?  Or, perhaps, how are you dealing with that?

  • Those of us who have followed Jesus for a long time often find it hard to understand what it is like to not follow Jesus.  What is one practical thing you can do to better understand and empathize with people who are far from God?

Have a volunteer read Romans 10:14.

In The Martian, when everyone hears that Mark is dead, they gasp.  But in the Church today that’s not how everyone responds.  Sometimes we become immune and unmoved by the fact that there are lost people around us are dying without the hope of Jesus and the promise of heaven.

That’s why we should never worry if the church is getting too big. Hell is getting too big, and too many people who’ve never understood the love and grace of God are going there.  In Jesus’ day many even criticized Him for going after those who were lost and dying – those who were far from God.

The biography of Jesus written by Luke the physician says the crowd muttered because Jesus was focusing His whole life on lost and dying people. Jesus would say things like, “It’s not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick.” In another chapter Jesus said that He came for one reason: to seek and to save the lost.

And now we, His people and His Church, have that same mission. The Church exists to continue the mission and ministry of Jesus. This is our #1 priority.

So how do we help people see how good God really is? Well of course we pray, but we also have to mobilize ourselves in such a way that we continually go on rescue missions. And it’s not easy – there’s always a cost involved. In fact, to do anything that matters, you have to lay something else down. 

  • What in your life has taken precedence over the mission that Jesus gave us to pursue those who are lost?  How do you need to reprioritize your life in order to rectify this?

In The Martian, it’s people who were already tired and ready to get back home who decide to turn around – risk everything – and go try to rescue Mark.  We need to do the same thing. We ought to continually count the cost, pay the price, and risk it all: to do everything we can to rescue just one more person.

We need to make the decision to find someone lost and help them, and be a light of hope for them.  We can encourage those who are down, pray for those who are hurting, listen to those who feel alone, invite those who need a word of hope.

You can’t do everything.  But you can do something.  You may not be able to help everyone. But you can help someone.  Everywhere you look there are people who need your help and the hope that only Jesus can give.

We all know people who need to experience the love of Jesus.  They need His grace, His mercy, His freedom, His salvation. We never stop searching, because our heavenly Father never stops searching for us.

  • Who is the person closest to you who doesn’t know Jesus?

  • Spend some time as group praying for those people.  Ask God to reveal himself to them.  Ask God to give you opportunities to love them, to share Jesus with them, and to invite them to church.


Personal Activity

Commit to praying for this person every day for the next 30 days.  You don’t have to have a marathon prayer session every day.  You want to do more than just a quick, “God, be with her…” as you’re falling asleep, but you need only set aside two or three minutes each day.  (Although you can obviously pray longer if you’d like.)

However long you intend to pray, pick a specific time at which you will do it (right after you get up, at lunch, during your drive home, right after you go to bed, etc.).  We do the things we plan to do, not the things we intend to do


Group Activity

We unleash compassion all year long, but on Saturday, March 4 we're coming together for a Serve Day to share the love of Jesus with the lost and hurting in our communities in some very practical and tangible ways

We would challenge you to consider serving together as a group.  You’ll not only get the opportunity to make a difference in your community, we can just about guarantee you’ll get to know one another better as you serve shoulder-to-shoulder.

For a full list of projects and to sign up, visit eastside.com/serveday.

Week 3 - Still Alice

Week 3 - Still Alice

At the Movies is a series we do every year where we explore the Biblical truths we find in Hollywood movies. So break out the popcorn.  It’s going to be an adventure!


Introduction

Note to Leaders: Watching this video is optional, but it may help give context to people who have not seen the movie or were not able to be at church.

Still Alice is a love story you won’t soon forget. Julianne Moore plays the part of Dr. Alice Howland, a highly acclaimed linguistics professor at Columbia University in New York.  She has a thriving marriage with her husband John, a doctor played by Alex Baldwin, and her 3 grown children. The movie begins on a very festive note because it’s Alice’s 50th birthday and the family is celebrating this joyful occasion.  But unbeknownst to Alice and the family she loves, Alice is sick.  And her life is about to change dramatically.

  • Who is your best friend (other than your spouse), and what makes you like him or her so much?

Have a volunteer read James 4:13-14.

Alice’s whole life is defined by words and language, but because of early onset Alzheimer’s, she loses her ability to engage well with the very thing that defined her.  She and those who love her undertake a very difficult journey.   You may be in a similar season right now. Someone you love is fighting some kind of disease: Alzheimer’s, cancer, Lou Gehrig’s, Parkinson’s, AIDS…

  • What is one thing that has happened in your life that has changed the way you viewed yourself?

Have a volunteer read Psalm 34:18.

There is a moment in the movie when Alice says, “I am not suffering. I am struggling.” One thing that makes Alzheimer’s and other diseases so difficult is how hard it is on loved ones.  Sometimes the burden is far greater for the caregiver than the patient.

Alzheimer's caregivers frequently report experiencing high levels of stress. There’s social withdrawal from friends and activities, anxiety about the future. Sometimes there’s anger at the person with the disease, anger that no cure exists, anger that people don't understand what's happening, even anger at God, because this wasn’t how you planned your life.

Sometimes we think that if God loves you and you love God, something this bad won’t happen, but that’s just not true.  Since the beginning of time Godly men and women have suffered sickness and disease. The Bible says it rains on the just and the unjust.  But the Bible also teaches that God will never leave you, and you can never escape His love.

  • Have you ever experienced God’s presence in the midst of difficult circumstances in your life?

  • What is one circumstance in your life now where you want God to be with you?

Have a volunteer read Matthew 6:34.

Still Alice was based on a book of the same name, and in it Alice has a line that doesn’t appear in the movie: “My yesterdays are disappearing, and my tomorrows are uncertain. So what do I live for? I live for each day. I live in the moment.”

While a significant illness may make us dramatically aware of that truth, the reality is that it is true for all of us. Yesterday is gone, and none of us are promised tomorrow.  Jesus says tomorrow’s not worth the worry.

It’s a reminder to live for God today.  To love our family well today.  To serve others today.  To make the most of life today.   That’s what Alice decided to do. She decided to make the most of what little time she had left.

  • What changes do you need to make in order to make the most of your life right now, to live for God and others in the present?

Have a volunteer read Philippians 3:20-21.

We are citizens of heaven. That’s where we belong. That’s where your loved one ultimately belongs. And when we are in Christ, one day God will transform our lowly bodies, our Dementia filled minds, our Parkinson’s ridden hands, our cancer filled lymph nodes to be glorious, healthy heavenly bodies.

  • When you think of heaven, what comes to mind, and what is one thing you’re looking forward to in the afterlife?

Have a volunteer read 1 Corinthians 13:13.

As Alice sinks deeper into dementia, there is a moment she asks her daughter Lydia, “What if I see you, and I don’t know that you’re my daughter, and I don’t know that you love me?” “Then,” Lydia says, “I’ll tell you that I do, and you’ll believe me.”

Have you ever wondered why love is the greatest? Because, while you can leave a mark of faith, hope, and love on others after you pass from this life, love is the only one of the 3 qualities that’s going with you to the other side to life beyond the grave.

If you had faith in Jesus Christ in this life, you won’t need any faith when you get to heaven, because you’ll see Him face to face.

When you get to heaven, you won’t need any hope, because there’s no sickness, no tears, no disease, no Alzheimer’s in heaven.

But heaven is filled with love, because God is love, just as we see in Jesus. That’s why love is the greatest.

  • What is the greatest (or one of the greatest) acts of love you’ve ever experienced?

  • What are one or two practical, tangible things you can do to better love others?


Application

Those who find themselves, like Alice’s husband John, as the caregiver of a loved one who is gradually fading away have to endure emotional, physical and even spiritual attacks that no human being is meant to bear alone.  Caregivers need our encouragement daily, our love continually, and our unceasing prayers. We need to practice the “one anothers” of Scripture. Love one another (John 15). Serve one another in love (Galatians 5). Be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 5). Pray for one another (James 5).

If there is someone in your group who is in a circumstance like this, how can your group rally around that group member to love and serve them?

If there is not, there is almost certainly a group member who knows someone in a circumstance like this.  How can your group rally around that person to love and serve them?

 

Week 2 - Rudy

Week 2 - Rudy

At the Movies is a series we do every year where we explore the Biblical truths we find in Hollywood movies.  So break out the popcorn.  It’s going to be an adventure!


Introduction

Note to Leaders: Watching this video is optional, but it may help give context to people who have not seen the movie or were not able to be at church.

Rudy is an uplifting story of determination and courage, based on the true story of Rudy Reutigger.  Rudy’s story is for anyone who has ever dared to dream; dared to move beyond the status quo; dared to believe God for more and greater things in your life but found the path painful and difficult.

  • What accomplishment in your life are you most proud of?

Rudy grew up in a blue-collar family in Joliet, Illinois. He dreamed of wearing the Notre Dame uniform, despite his lack of athletic and academic aptitude.  His family and friends all worked in the local steel mill, and without the grades to get into college, he takes a job there after high school.

His brother, his teachers, and even his parents told him to let go of his dream.  Only his best friend Pete continued to believe in him when no one else did.  And then when Pete died, Rudy was faced with the decision that we have all faced at some point in our lives: would he become bitter or better; would he give up or press on; would he quit or keep dreaming.

  • What is one significant challenge you have had to overcome in your own life, and how has overcoming that challenge shaped the person you are today?

  • Who is someone in your life who needs you to believe in them?

Have a volunteer read James 1:2-3.

The word that probably best describes Rudy is “perseverance.”  James writes that it is the difficult times in our lives that grow our character, that we should take joy in those things because they cause us to grow.

This is the great irony of life.  We try to avoid pain wherever we can.  It’s why our medicine cabinets are full of Advil for headache pain, Bengay for joint pain, and cough syrup for throat pain.  Yet pain is always the pathway to growth.

We all want gain with out pain.  We all wish we could be fit without exercise, wise without learning, CEO without ever taking an entry-level job, but the truth is that there’s no gain physically, relationally, professionally, educationally, or (especially) spiritually without pain.  Even for Jesus, there was no resurrection Sunday without the blood stained cross of Good Friday.

Rudy took advantage of his acceptance to Holy Cross, a community college across the street from Notre Dame. He worked hard, studied hard, and became a groundskeeper at the Notre Dame football field just to be near it.  Even though his application to Notre Dame was rejected again and again, he didn’t give up.

  • When is one time that perseverance has paid off for you?

  • Has there ever been a time that you persevered and didn’t achieve the result you hoped for?

  • What did these experiences teach you?

Have a volunteer read Isaiah 40:31.

There’s an old African proverb that says, “The problem with finding ivory, there’s always an elephant attached to it.”

Rudy gets accepted to Notre Dame, and through effort, drive and determination he manages to land on the practice team… where he becomes a tackling dummy for the rest of the time. And day after day he gets kicked, thrown, pushed, and bruised in practice.  But he keeps on as he waits and hopes for the opportunity to suit up and play in a game just once before he graduates.

All of us hate to wait, but many of us are in a season of waiting right now. We might dream of a loving relationship, well-adjusted kids, a better career, or finding meaning in life.  We’re tempted to leave our difficult marriage, explode at our kids, cut corners at work to get ahead, or seek meaning in all of the wrong places.

Rudy endeared himself to his team, showed up for practice after practice, took hit after hit, but he finally reached a breaking point.  He decided to quit the team when he didn’t make the cut to dress for the last game of his senior year.

  • Where in your life are you waiting for something to change? What has kept you from giving up?

Have a volunteer read Isaiah 40:31.

Rudy’s teammates go to bat for him with the coach.  They stick by him and help make his dream a reality.  There’s something powerful about others believing in your dream, speaking life into your dream, helping you achieve your dream.

  • Who in your life has been instrumental in helping you to achieve your dreams?

  • Who do you have in your life currently who you can rely on to support and encourage you?

  • How can this group help to support and encourage your dreams?


Application

Rarely do we look back at our lives relieved that we had given up on something. More often we look back with regret at giving up too soon.

What is the thing in your life that if you give up on it now you’ll look back with regret?  Your marriage? Your family? Your job? A friend? Your sobriety? Your faith?

Right now (yes, right here in the middle of small group) pull out your phone and text someone you trust. Make sure it’s someone who is wise and who loves Jesus.  Tell him or her that you need to talk about something important and ask if he or she has time to get together within the next few days. Don’t wait until you get home and can talk yourself out of doing this. Send the text right now so that you can’t get out of it.

We were never meant to face life’s challenges alone.  Share how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking with this person and ask for help to persevere.