Week 1  - Back to Basics

Week 1 - Back to Basics

Series Introduction

Our finances can get so out of control so fast, especially heading into Christmas season. Back in the Black will help us avoid financial pitfalls, climb out of financial potholes, and experience financial freedom.


Sermon Introduction

Most of us have made unwise and foolish financial mistakes over the course of our lifetimes that we wish we could go back and have a do-over on. 70 to 75% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, just one missed paycheck away from a crisis.

We can experience enormous freedom when we get back in the black. God’s Word, the Bible, is a great source of financial advice. This week Gene shared numerous Scriptures and synthesized them into a Financial 10 Commandments. These commandments are the basics to help you get back in the black.

Commandment #1: Thou shalt work hard

Proverbs 28:19 (NLT) Hard workers have plenty of food; playing around brings poverty.

The Bible always connects acquiring money with working hard. These days it seems like there is a growing entitlement mentality that says someone else ought to support me. The Bible says if a person will not work, they shall not eat. God knows that hard work not only produces the income we need to stay alive, productivity makes our lives more satisfying and fulfilling.

  • When is a time you’ve experienced the satisfaction that comes from accomplishing something you have worked hard for?

Commandment #2:  Thou shalt not keep up with the Kardashians

Exodus 20:17 (KJV) Thou shalt not covet.

Ecclesiastes 6:9 (GN) It is better to be satisfied with what you have than to always be wanting something else.

Thou shalt not covet is one of the 10 Commandments God gave to the Israelites through Moses. Coveting means you not only look at something your neighbor has and simply appreciate it, but you say to yourself, “I’ve got to have that too.” We go on Instagram and see our friend showing off the latest iPhone and think “I need that.”  We overspend trying to keep up. You can save yourself tens of thousands of dollars if you will just declare your neighbors the winner right now and say, “I will not keep up with the Kardashians!”

  • Each of us has things in our life we desire. From a love of cars to the latest gadgets, we struggle with being content. In what area of your life are you most tempted to say “I’ve got to have that too?”

Commandment #3: Thou shalt not impulse spend

Isaiah 55:2 (NIV) “Why spend money on what does not satisfy?”

Some people are emotional shoppers. When they feel sad, lonely, down, bored, or just feel they need a little pick-me-up they say, “I’m going shopping! That will make me feel better!” Others work so hard to earn money, and then they just obliterate their financial future with uncontrolled impulse spending. They come home still feeling empty and dissatisfied.

  • What situations in your life tend to trigger emotional or impulse spending? What are some healthier ways you can deal with those situations?

Commandment #4: Thou shalt create a budget

Proverbs 21:5 (NLT) Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity.

You will never just drift back into the black. You need a plan. If you put together a simple budget and work your plan, you will have plenty. Without a plan, we live re-actively instead of pro-actively. We impulsively buy things we don’t need because we have no other pro-active plan to direct our spending.

A budget is simply a financial plan to help you decide in advance how you’re going to spend, invest, and give rather than just hoping it’s all going to work out somehow.

  • When have you been most successful in budgeting and what is your biggest struggle to living pro-actively and not re-actively?

Commandment #5:  Thou shalt honor God first

Proverbs 3:9-10 (NIV) Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.

Deuteronomy 14:23 (LB) The purpose of tithing is to teach you always to put God first in your lives.

First fruits, refers to the first part of your income and is what the Bible calls the tithe, the first 10% of any income, earnings, bonuses, or inheritances we receive. It’s not just a percentage amount, but it’s the first percentage. We have found when you honor God first in your life, you invite His supernatural touch and activity into your finances. Whatever area you are willing to put God first in, He will bless.

  • Where do you need more of God’s blessing in your life? What holds you back from putting God first?

Commandment #6:  Thou shalt pay yourself second

Proverbs 13:11 (NIV) Whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow.

After you’ve honored God first, instead of spending everything else you have to live on, you need to pay yourself by saving money. The reality is that 1 in 3 people in America has nothing saved for retirement and 6 in 10 Americans couldn’t cover a $1000 emergency. If you make an advance decision to save a percentage of your income, little by little it will grow.

  • What is something you could give up monthly to enhance your savings for retirement and/or emergencies?

Commandment #7:  Thou shalt minimize debt

Proverbs 22:7 (NIV) The borrower is slave to the lender.

When you live with debts that you can’t pay, making minimum payments, and unable to save, you know exactly what it feels like to be a slave to the lender. It is never too late to start finding freedom.  This February we will be offering Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. Consider signing up and learn the tools to become debt free.

  • Have you attended Financial Peace University? If so, did you find it helpful in helping you get your finances under control? If not, would you consider it?  You can sign up at fpu.com/1052933.

Commandment #8:  Thou shalt not make any major financial decisions without wise counsel

Proverbs 20:18 (NLT) Plans succeed through good counsel.

Many people grew up in a house where there was a lack of wise financial counsel. Often, we repeat the mistakes of our parents.   Embarrassment and fear of being told something we don’t want to hear prevents us from seeking wise counsel.  But how many financial fiascos could we have prevented if we had sought counsel from people who told us what we needed to hear instead of what we wanted to hear?

  • Who do you turn to for wise financial counsel? If you don’t have anyone currently, is there someone you would trust to talk to as a next step?

Commandment #9:  Thou shalt leave a legacy

Luke 12:20  God said to him, ‘You fool!  This very night your life will be demanded of you.  Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”

According to Jesus, a fool is someone who lives with no thought of God. He hadn’t thought about God in life, and he certainly hadn’t thought about God in death. Each of our lives will come to an end one day, and we have the chance to determine who will get what we have. It is an opportunity to bless others and make an eternal impact.

  • What type of legacy do you desire to leave?

Commandment #10:  Thou shalt trust God

Philippians 4:19 (NIV)  And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

Ultimately, how you approach your finances is an issue of how much you trust God. Our faith in Jesus can guide us and help us find our way back in the black.

  • Do your actions reflect a true trust in God’s financial wisdom? Where have you seen His provision in your life? Where do you need His provision?


Application

Review the list and identify which of the Financial 10 Commandments you need to work on. What is your next step to becoming debt free? Split into groups of 2 or 3 and pray for each other.

Gene mentioned the EveryDollar App (https://www.everydollar.com/). Download it and start budgeting today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Week 5 - Let It Go: Pride

Week 5 - Let It Go: Pride

Series Introduction

When you can’t let go of stuff, it will eat you up – physically, emotionally and more importantly spiritually. If we can inspire, help, equip or challenge people to just LET IT GO, we can change our overall well-being in life.

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


Sermon Introduction

Pride is something all of us deal with. It destroys relationships, makes us un-coachable, and keeps us from being vulnerable. It leads us to make unhealthy choices, spend too much to impress someone, and hold people at a distance.

Pride isn’t healthy self-esteem or being proud of your kids. Pride is that inflated sense of self-importance and being self-absorbed. It is feeding a huge ego, and a huge ego Edges God Out.

In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis wrote, “the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea bites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”

Pride is often looked upon by high achievers as a virtue, yet God uses strong language to talk about pride. He detests pride and opposes the proud. Pride can make a man or woman so full of themselves that there is no room for God and His love, His acceptance, His wisdom, and His leadership in our lives. That’s why we have to let it go.

To let go of pride is to admit publicly that you need God’s amazing grace in your life.

  • Where does pride have its strongest hold on you? 

Have someone read Proverbs 16:5, Psalm 101:5 and Daniel 4:27

Moses wasn’t perfect, but Numbers 12:3 says, “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.”

Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s palace. He had striking features. He was educated, wealthy, and a natural leader. As a young man, Moses realizes he’s an Israelite. He sees an Egyptian beating a fellow Israelite and kills him. As a result, he has to flee from Egypt and ends up across the desert in Midian. Moses gets married and goes to work for his father-in-law Jethro, tending sheep. One day the angel of the Lord appears to him in the flame of fire from within a bush. God is calling him back to free the Israelites from the Egyptians.

Have someone read Exodus 3:11.

We see here that Moses is not the same man as he was 40 years earlier when he impulsively killed an Egyptian.

  • What are some ways that God has helped you to overcome pride?

Have someone read Romans 12:3.

The Apostle Paul is telling us to view ourselves accurately, to be honest in our evaluation of ourselves, but that’s difficult and sometimes painful. The world tells us to boast about our gifts. Who wants to expose their bumps and blemishes? But to live in freedom, we need to stop and look in the mirror once in a while and ask the question Moses asked: “Who am I?”

  • Why do you think it is so hard for us to be honest about our shortcomings?

Have someone read Matthew 5:3.

Jesus is saying that the people who recognize their need for Him are blessed.  He doesn’t mean that we should view ourselves as worthless.  Quite the opposite!  If we were worthless, He would not have died for us.  You have incredible value, worth, and significance to God. To be poor in spirit simply means to recognize that you need God and then to depend on Him.

People who are poor in spirit people can look themselves in the eye and say, “I don’t measure up to God’s standard of holiness.  When I look in the mirror I have blemishes. Every day I say things; feel things; think things; do things; or refuse to do things that just underscore the fact that I’m a sinner in need of amazing grace.”

Jesus says, blessed or happy are those who can look in the mirror and humbly acknowledge they need God. The kingdom of heaven belongs only to those who can admit they don’t deserve it.  Developing an accurate view of ourselves will lead to humility and is the first key to letting go of pride.

  • How can we cultivate a poor spirit, one that recognizes our spiritual poverty but on the other hand doesn’t cause us to think of ourselves as worthless?

The second key to letting go of pride is to view God accurately. When Moses asks God “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?” God responds in Exodus 3:12 by saying “I will be with you.” Moses starts listing all the reasons he isn’t the right pick. God doesn’t agree or disagree. Instead, He takes the focus off Moses and puts it on Himself. Moses doesn’t need more self-confidence, which always leads to pride or to disappointment in yourself. He needs God-confidence, a humble awareness of God at work in his life. Put your confidence in the all-powerful, all-loving, and all-knowing God of the universe.

  • What challenge are you facing where you need God-confidence not self-confidence?

Fast forward and Moses has led the Israelites out of Egypt, but they’re not yet in the Promised Land. They’re in the desert in between. The people are complaining, they’re high-maintenance, and they want something to drink. God says to Moses, “Speak to this rock and water will miraculously come from this rock.”

Have someone read Numbers 20:10-12.

Moses did something different than what God told him to do, and so God tells Moses, “You’re not going to go into the Promised Land.” Gene talked about how some say this is because of disobedience, but he thinks the problem is pride.  Moses says, “Must we bring forth water from this rock?” Not God, but “God and I.” Moses wasn’t bringing the water from the rock, God was.  If you want to let go of pride you must give all the glory to God.

Pride keeps us from God. When we are prideful we say “I don’t need your help, God. I’ve got this.” Pride keeps us from acknowledging our need for a Savior.

  • What are some ways that pride has kept you from being as close to God as you could be?

Thanks to God there will be a day when pride will be vanquished. And the Bible tells us there will be a day when every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, that He alone is worthy.

We don’t have to wait until that day. We can humble ourselves and surrender to Jesus today. We can acknowledge our need for Jesus in our lives. One way we surrender is through baptism.


Application

This weekend we had the opportunity to hear a testimony from Aaron and Brandi. 

Aaron was hesitant to get baptized before the whole church, but he shares that “I really believe that my life started the day I gave into faith and believed that Jesus Christ is our Savior.” For some of you, that is your next step, to humble yourself and stand publicly admitting you need Jesus and want to be baptized. If that is you, share with your group and prayerfully consider signing up to be baptized at eastside.com/baptism.

Break into small groups and pray for each other to be able to overcome the pride you have in the area you shared about at the beginning of the group. Pray that God would help you to see yourself accurately, to view God accurately, and to praise Him, giving Him all the glory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Week 4  - Let It Go: Fear

Week 4 - Let It Go: Fear

Series Introduction

When you can’t let go of stuff, it will eat you up – physically, emotionally and, more importantly, spiritually. If we can inspire, help, equip or challenge people to just LET IT GO, we can change our overall well-being in life.

  • What are three treasured things you would grab from your home if there were an emergency?


Sermon Introduction

The most repeated command God gives humans in the Bible is, “Fear not….do not fear….do not be afraid.”

There are many types of fears – relational, medical, educational, job related. Fear can grip us, and when we let fear overcome us it starts to dictate how we live our lives.

Have someone read Exodus 14:10-14.

The Israelites have just escaped Egypt and now find themselves facing a wall of water before them and enemies racing towards them. They have a very natural human response to this situation where their backs against the wall. First, they’re afraid. Then they get sarcastic with their leader and start imagining worst-case scenarios.

For those of us that fall in to that worst-case scenario mentality, we need for someone to say, “Hey, if you cave into fear, and sarcasm, and worst-cast-scenarios right now, where is that going to take you?”  We need someone to help us see there is a better plan.

Do you tend to make better or worse decisions when you’re scared? Share a time when you made a decision out of fear that you later regretted.

It’s natural when your back is against the wall to be afraid, but we have to be careful not to let fear drive us to make bad decisions, not to allow fear to make us panic when we need to relax and remain clear-headed, not to get sarcastic and biting and drive others away when we need people to help us.

The Israelites look at their situation and start predicting the outcome… and it’s not good.

  • When you’re afraid, what coping mechanism do you tend to use?

When we let worst-case scenarios take control of our mind, we lay in bed at night afraid. Late at night things weight heavy on our hearts and all the bad outcomes race through our minds. That almost never is helpful. The author of Aesop’s Fables once said: “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes…Most of which never happened.”  In the dark of night, we can choose to stand firm and decide not to let those thoughts overcome us.

Have someone read Matthew 6:27.

Jesus is telling us it’s just unproductive to worry. Worrying doesn’t solve our problems. It is never the solution. It doesn’t improve our lives. In fact, worry will take time away from us. Constant worry has physical consequences. Worry steals from us. When we decide to not allow fear to control us we can use that energy in a much more positive way.

  • Is there a time in your life where you made the decision to stand firm rather than fear? What caused you to make that decision, and how did it feel?

Moses makes a bold statement to the Israelites in Exodus 14:13, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today.”

Moses is saying, “We’re going to abandon the scared, sarcastic, worst-case-scenario plan for the let it go plan.”

First, we’re going to adopt a fear-not mentality. Then we’re going to stand-firm and expect God’s help. This is the plan to implement when you find yourself with your back against the wall, and it comes straight out of the Bible: fear not, stand firm, expect God’s help.

Have someone read 2 Timothy 1:7.

The Apostle Paul is telling his young protégé Timothy—who has been given the huge responsibility of leading the church in the city of Ephesus—that he doesn’t need to be afraid.

We don’t have to freak out. We can have the self-discipline to choose a different path. We can develop the ability to be in a fear-not position when we’d normally be in a freak-out position.

  • What is one area in your life where you are feeling afraid currently? What would it look like to stand firm and trust God with this situation?

Standing firm requires faith. It requires the discipline to reset our way of thinking and to be brave. Time after time the Bible teaches us that God tends to wait for your declaration of faith before He supernaturally intervenes. Moses makes that declaration when he stands up and says, “I’m taking a different route.  You can all believe what you want to about God, but I’m expecting God to bring deliverance to us today.”  He doesn’t know how that will happen, but he is declaring his faith in God.

In Exodus 12:15 the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.” His words are simple and clear.  Just move on and step toward that very thing you fear in faith. God doesn’t side step what they fear. He doesn’t take them over a bridge. God takes them through their fears. Choosing to stand firm in faith doesn’t mean we don’t have to walk through our challenges, but we can be assured that God is with us and that He will make a way.

Maybe you are in the midst of a challenge right now. Work is presenting a difficult situation to navigate. A relationship is on the line. Financially, you are desperate to see God’s provision. This is not the time to freak out but to fear not and stand firm.

  • What step can you take to overcome a fear that you are facing currently?


Application

Gene shared how he finds it helpful to write about his fears in a journal.  First, he writes out his fears, which somehow don’t seem as big and as overwhelming written down on paper Then he writes out more rational and faith-filled thoughts. This week, consider trying to journal each day stating your fears and how you can stand firm in the midst. Write your prayers and ask God to help you overcome your fears.

Gene ended our time with a prayer that you can pray together as a group now and at home in your quiet times.

PRAYER:  God we pray for the brothers and sisters in our group who have decided to stand humbly and courageously to face their fears.  We’ve all been there, and we know how futile it is to live in fear and to get sarcastic and blame others and imagine worst-case scenarios.  We’ve done it thousands of times and it just doesn’t work.  We also know how freeing it is to write new chapters where you say, “It’s fear-not time.”

So, God, help us to get on the fear not plan, and to discipline ourselves to take those thoughts and put them aside.  Give us the ability to stand firm, knowing you will never let go.  Help us to have faith… because some of us have given up believing that you can part the waters for us.  Maybe we believe you can for Israel, for someone else, but not for us.  Help us to change our thinking and to start writing with a pen of faith.

We believe You’re for us, not against us.  We believe help is on the way, and the waters are going to part.  And we look forward to the serious-water parting you will do in your time and your way, because we are standing in a declaration of faith today.

Week 3 - Let It Go: Envy

Week 3 - Let It Go: Envy

Series Introduction

When you can’t let go of stuff, it will eat you up – physically, emotionally and more importantly spiritually. If we can inspire, help, equip or challenge people to just LET IT GO, we can change our overall well-being in life.

  • What is one thing on your bucket list, and why is it something you want to do?


Sermon Introduction

This weekend Rusty talked about overcoming the curse of comparisons and the weight of envy. Chances are pretty good that at some point in your life, you find yourself satisfied… until you take a look over to the left and someone else has something a little bit better than you do. And then you find yourself a little bit miserable.

The fastest way to kill something special is to compare it to something else. We compare relationships, jobs, houses, and cars. We find ourselves measuring our value and worth based on what other people have. Craig Groeschel says, “Where comparison begins, contentment ends. “

  • Where in life do you tend to compare yourself with others?

Have someone in your group read 2 Corinthians 10:12.

It’s as if Paul, who started a bunch of churches shortly after Jesus death and resurrection, is saying, "It’s ridiculous to say, 'Look how their kids act all the time,' 'Look how much money they’re getting paid.' 'Look at their relationship and what I don't have.' It’s ridiculous to compare yourself to other people as if they’re the standard."

Comparing does two things. It either makes you feel superior or inferior. We don’t honor God in either of those moments.

Some of us look at others and feel superior.  "I got the nice car because I worked hard and God loves me.  I've been faithful, and look at that old piece of junk thing that he's driving because obviously he doesn’t love God like I do and doesn't work as hard as me."

But most of us will feel inferior, which takes us down a path to envy and jealousy. You look on Instagram in the middle of a busy day, working hard to make ends meet, and see your friend laying on a beach in a fabulous city. You throw your child a simple birthday party and the day after go to a huge, over the top birthday celebration at your friend’s house. And envy begins to creep in.

Jesus’ disciples, the twelve guys who followed him more closely than anyone else, struggled with envy and competition just like us. As you read through the Gospels, the Biblical accounts of Jesus’ life, you find them saying things like, "I got to sit next to Jesus. I was closest to him." And “Who's his favorite?” There's this little competition between .

  • Share with your group a time you felt envy and competition in a relationship. How did it make you feel?

Have someone in your group read John 20:1-4.

It must have been great to be John, “the one that Jesus loved.” But it had to be hard to be Peter, the other one. Many of us can relate. We have been the other one. We have lived in the shadow of a beloved or larger than life parent, sibling, or friend. Our friend has progressed at a faster pace and succeeded in areas we are still trying to reach.

Have someone in your group read John 21:1-22.

Peter has this powerful encounter with Jesus. Before the crucifixion, Peter was very bold in his love for Jesus and again, he almost took shots at the other disciples. Peter said, "I love you. If all these other losers are unfaithful to you, I will always be faithful to you. I've got your back. I will never leave you.” But then he denies knowing Jesus. Not just once, but three times.

In the midst of this moment Peter turns around and saw behind him "The disciple that Jesus loved." He's having this encounter with Jesus and then, what does Peter do? He thinks, "There's John. There's my competition."

In John 21:21 it says that when Peter saw John, he asked Jesus, "What about him, Lord? What about him? You told me to feed the sheep; what about him? What's his assignment?" Haven’t we all felt like that? We worry that their assignment, their role, their place, their position, their outcome—whoever they is in our life—will be better, more important.

Jesus replied to Peter, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what's that to you? Why are you wasting your time on him? I'm talking to you." Jesus says, "As for you, follow me. Your assignment is to follow me.“

His message for us is to stay in our lane, do what God has called us to do. We each have a unique assignment. We don’t have to worry about anyone else. When we start down that path of comparison we take our focus off Him. We cannot faithfully follow Jesus if we're always comparing ourselves to somebody else.

If we want to be who He fully calls us to be we have to stop looking over our shoulder saying, "What about them? Why are they getting the attention? Why are they more blessed than I am in this area of their life?"

Why do we do this? Because by nature, we are sinful human beings. Our sin nature causes us to view ourselves differently than God views us. We are trying to find some external win to satisfy an internal longing, and there is no external accomplishment, blessing, relationship, money, satisfaction that ever quenches the inner spiritual longing. There is nothing on the outside designed by God to satisfy you on the inside. Only God Himself can do that.

  • What are some specific ways we can overcome envy and comparison?

Often, when we truly get to know people whose lives we envy, we realize that they have their own problems.  They make a lot of money, but they hate their job.  They have a great family, but they suffer from anxiety.  They’re really good looking, but they’re so insecure that they make themselves miserable.  Life seems good on the outside, but on the inside they’re every bit as tied up in knots as we are.

Essena O'Neill was a 19-year-old Instagram model whose life looked amazing in the photos she shared online.  She writes:

I grew up being a teen [idol]. I was social media famous at 15. At 12 I saw myself as this huge, solid, too tall, nerdy, awkward majorly unpopular girl. I thought to be social media famous would be the best job ever and if all these people ‘liked’ me I would be happy. At 15 I got what I wished for, I was first Facebook famous - tall, slim, blonde, smiling, straight A student… Then I moved onto Instagram and tumblr, then shortly after - at the request of others - YouTube. …

I pushed away all my old friends and anyone who knew me for me (goofy, nerdy Essena – not the teen [idol]). I talked ill of my old friends and only hung out with social media people…

During this time I became so caught up in pleasing people, getting more success in my career, becoming thinner (fitter was my excuse), dating countless guys at the same time, meeting with lots of different agencies and having proposals for major modelling and YouTube deals. All I talked about was my social media, getting a new fancy car, getting a fancy flat in LA, new cute clothes, my growing followers, brand deals…. This was everything I did and talked about each day. …

What’s ironic, during all of this struggle I was getting more and more followers, thinner and thinner, better and more visually appealing pictures… online it looked like I had the perfect life… yet I was so completely lonely and miserable inside. I hid it from everyone. I smiled and laughed in pictures and vlogs. No one knew I had what now is described as social anxiety disorder, depression, body [dysmorphic disorder]… whenever I met someone I instantly thought ‘they hate me’ or ‘they make fun of my videos’ ‘they think I’m stupid’… I felt exhausted trying to keep up this bubbly, funny, happy façade. …


The culture of Instagram fame, sexism in media, the sexual objectification of women, the deception in paid posts, the idea that skinny starving girls get ahead, that if you’re born into the body I have – you get a career out of it, you get an invite into all the parties, everyone wants to take you to lunch, everyone says they love you… I lived that life and felt so alone, shallow and lost… BECAUSE I WAS.

  • What runs through your head as you read Essena’s story?

  • We all create façades, pictures of ourselves that we present to the world that aren’t real.  When we pretend like our lives are great, we can easily cause others to be jealous and envious of us.  How do you think the façade you create might be impacting others?

Have someone read Hebrews 12:1-2

We stay in our lane, we fulfill our purpose, we do what we're created to do, and we keep our eyes focused on Jesus. If you ever ran track, you know why this is so important. The fastest way to lose the race is to look to the side. To win the race you just keep your eyes on the finish line. You keep your eyes on the prize. You keep your eyes on Jesus. You run with perseverance.

When someone else wins their race, what do we do? We celebrate them. This does not come naturally, but when we do it, it’s a huge win! We celebrate God's blessings. We cheer them on. We may even learn from them. If they're doing something that's a little bit better, rather than become jealous or envious, we need to ask, "What can I learn from what you did? How can I apply it to my own race?"

  • Share with the group a time where you learned something from watching someone else’s race.

We don't want to compare with the heart that would ever say, "I'm less than," because their win doesn't bring inner validation to us. Jesus, pleasing him, serving him, is the only thing that does, running with purpose in every single step, purpose in every step.


Application

Go around the group and share a unique purpose, calling or talent you believe God has given you.

Think of an encouraging truth you can use to remind yourself of your own God-given talents and character traits. The next time you catch your mind starting to go down the path of comparison and envy, you'll have a plan to cling to!

After everyone has shared, spend time in prayer thanking God for creating you, that you are His masterpiece. Celebrate your groups’ unique gifts. Confess where you have envied or compared and ask him to help you to stop.

 

 

Week 2 - Let It Go: Anxiety

Week 2 - Let It Go: Anxiety

Series Introduction

When you can’t let go of stuff, it will eat you up – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. If we can inspire, help, equip or challenge people to just LET IT GO, we can change our overall well-being in life.

  • What is your favorite activity to do in the fall with your family and friends?


Sermon Introduction

The OC Register reported that here in the West we are healthy, affluent, and have a great sense of freedom, yet levels of anxiety and depression have risen 20 percent! Nearly one-third of adolescents and adults struggle with anxiety.

For many of us, our lives didn’t turn out the way we hoped they would. In the midst of our health and affluence, something has happened to us that is turning our emotions inside out. We find ourselves depressed and anxious, and we don’t know why.

  • How do the statistics in the Register resonate (or not) with the people you encounter at work, in your neighborhood, at the gym, and among your friends and family?


Understanding

Have someone read Genesis 29:14-30.

Jacob longs for Rachel but is deceived by Laban into marrying Leah. This deceit creates a web of lies, rejection, and heartache for everyone.

At one time in our life each of us has thought “If I could just have that man or woman, my life would be fulfilled!” Earnest Becker said that The Romantic Solution is “The belief that if we can find that one true love, all our feelings of insignificance, purposelessness, and meaninglessness will dissipate.”

This happens with more than relationships. We believe a job, a new car or a bigger house is the solution that will fill that hole in our souls. We all have an inner emptiness that says if I can find ______ then ________ will be gone or the problem will be solved. The abuse I suffered will no longer hurt me. The overwhelming sense of failure will disappear. We tell ourselves that if that thing happens, we will matter and not feel so alone anymore.

  • What are some of the things you have tried to fill an empty place with? What was the result?

Have someone read Genesis 29:31-35.

Leah lives in the shadow of her sister. She is referred to in the Bible as having weak eyes while Rachel was lovely.  That is painful to read because we’ve all felt like this before.  We look at our Instagram feed and fight feelings of envy or hopelessness.

Leah was chasing the same lies Jacob was, believing if he would love her things would be ok. We get a picture of how Leah is feeling through the names she gives to her sons.   We can sense her anxiety and longing. The names of her first three sons symbolize her emptiness and longing, but she names her fourth child Judah saying, ”Now I will praise the Lord!” Something had changed. Leah moved from searching to a sense of peace at where she was.

  • When is a time in your life when you’ve moved from a place of anxiety to a place where you had God’s peace?

No matter who you are or how good your life seems, apart from God there will always be disappointment.  There is a God-shaped void that only He can fill.  And when we turn to anything else to fill that void, whether good things like work or family or serving, or bad things like drugs or alcohol, you will always be let down when you discover that thing cannot ultimately satisfy.

Jesus is the only one who can satisfy. You were created for relationship with God, a real relationship that is full of passion, pursuit, intimacy, community, and a thirst for more. This weekend Pastor Jeff said “You cannot feel an eternal void by temporary means.  You will never know Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.”

Have someone read Isaiah 55:8-9

Anxiety creeps in and overwhelms us when we think we know better than God how our lives should look.  The problem is that ultimately, we cannot control even our own lives.  Certainly, we influence what happens in our lives by the decisions we make, but you have no control over the circumstances you were born into and you certainly can’t keep yourself from dying.  You can raise your kids well, but you can’t make them be upstanding productive adults.  You can work hard, but the place you work might still close its doors.  We can influence, but we cannot control.

Part of combatting our anxiety is trusting that God is in control. We can live life to the fullest when we rely on Jesus.

When we live each day in God’s word, praying, pursuing intimacy with Him and seeking community, our lives will be transformed, not always because our circumstances are different but because we are different. It is possible to be in the absolute worst circumstances of your life and still be at peace and in the center of God’s will.

Sometimes God will even use difficult circumstances to draw us closer to Himself.  People often find God in the midst of their attempt to recover from an addiction, after losing a loved one, or after being laid off from a job.  When things are going well, we think we can do it on our own, but when the chips are down, we turn to God.

  • What is one time God used difficult circumstances in your life to draw you closer to Him?

Every time you gain that which you thought would save you, the hole in your heart just gets bigger. Sometimes God lets us have what we want, and we realize it isn’t going to satisfy us. Other times He strips those things away.

Nobody said this better than C.S. Lewis.

“Most people, if they learned how to look into their hearts would know that they want something that this world can never give them.  These are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning will ever satisfy.  There is always something that we have grasped at that first moment of longing that just fades away with reality.  The thing we thought we were going to get in the new experience always evades us.” –C.S. Lewis

  • Who in your life needs help dealing with anxiety, and how can you come alongside them and support them?

End your discussion time by reading Psalm 63:1-3 together.


Prayer

Break into groups of two or three and spend time in prayer.

Leah took the most passionate desires of her heart and put them on the Lord.  Share something in your life that is causing you anxiety and that you need to let go of and give to God.


Application

If you find yourself struggling with anxiety, consider joining one of our Care and Recovery groups that are designed to help you work through difficult seasons of life.

Week 1 - Let It Go: Shame

Week 1 - Let It Go: Shame

Note to Leaders:

This week’s message and discussion might bring up issues people need help with. When people are walking through difficult seasons of life, they will turn to their small group and to us as their leaders for support.

If there are people in your group who need support beyond what you are able to provide, please reach out to your coach or director. We can provide referrals to counselors or help get people connected with one of our Care & Recovery groups.


Series Introduction

When you can’t let go of stuff, it will eat you up physically, emotionally and spiritually. If we can inspire, help, equip or challenge people to just LET IT GO, we can change our overall well-being in life.

  • What’s a song that takes you back to high school? What specific memories does it make you think of?


Sermon Introduction

Our past—things that happened to us or choices we made—triggers memories, much like the soundtrack of our high school years. Only some of these aren’t fond memories but moments we are deeply ashamed of. We were wounded, and we can’t let it go.

Many of us (even those of us who would call ourselves Jesus Followers) carry so much heavy stuff around that wreaks havoc in our lives. These things affect us emotionally, physically, relationally. They follow us to work and impact the way we do our jobs. They filter the way we make decisions. We find ourselves unable to give or receive love, and the stuff we refuse to let go of literally makes us sick.

  • When is a time that holding on to something made a significant impact on you?


Understanding

“The difference between guilt and shame is very clear in theory. We feel guilty for what we do. We feel shame for what we are. A person feels guilty because he DID something wrong. A person feels shame because he IS something wrong.” –Lewis Smedes

It is unresolved guilt that becomes shame. Many of us have seen that play out in our own lives and in the lives of our family members. Jesus knew this, which is why he made such a big deal out of forgiving those who have hurt us.

Shame attacks your core identity and starts to redefine you to you. It changes you. You no longer see yourself as a unique, priceless, deeply loved child of God but as someone who is not worthy enough.

When that happens, our true identity gets hacked and we stop believing in our God-given worthiness and start trying to prove our worth by constantly striving, performing, pleasing, and perfecting. You start believing lies that the enemy tells you and start engaging in negative self-talk with words like “I’m so stupid… I’m so ugly… I’m so unwanted.”

We bargain with ourselves saying “If I was thinner or richer or _______________ I would be good enough.” We start to believe that God created us as unlovable rather than unique and deeply loved.

  • What are some of the things you do to try to prove your worth to yourself and to those around you?

The truth is, we don’t have to do anything to prove our worth.  Jesus did that when he died on the cross for us.  We’re worth the price of the Son of God Himself.

In her book “The Gift of Imperfection,” Brene Brown—author, researcher, and professor—shared Ten Guideposts for Wholehearted Living:

1. Cultivating authenticity: letting go of what people think

2. Cultivating self-compassion: letting go of perfectionism

3. Cultivating a resilient spirit: letting go of numbing and powerlessness

4. Cultivating gratitude and joy: letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark

5. Cultivating intuition and trusting faith: letting go of the need for certainty

6. Cultivating creativity: letting go of comparison

7. Cultivating play and rest: letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth

8. Cultivating calm and stillness: letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle

9. Cultivating meaningful work: letting go of self-doubt and “supposed to”

10. Cultivating laughter, song, and dance: letting go of being cool and “always in control”

These guideposts to whole-hearted living describe what Jesus called life to the full. They involve letting go of those things that keep us in unhealthy patterns and unhealthy ways of thinking, allowing us to embrace the life Jesus came to give us.

  • Which one of the ten guideposts do you need to cultivate in your life, and what steps do you need to take to cultivate it?

Have volunteers read Hebrews 10:11-18 and 1 John 2:28-3:3.

Shame tells us that God can never forget what we've done., but the words of God that we read here tell us a better story.

  • What keeps you from believing that God loves you enough to forget your sins? 

Have a volunteer read Psalm 32:1-5.

David prayed to God after he made what might have been the worst mistake of his life. He got a married woman pregnant and then had her husband killed to cover it up.

When David hid what he had done, he found himself wasting away, but when he came clean God forgave him, even though his actions were horrible. David approached God with vulnerability rather than allowing shame keep him from being in God’s presence. Our lives would be so much better if we would be let go and experience God’s grace and healing in our lives.

  • Does your own experience resonate with David’s? Do you find that when you’re honest about your past it brings forgiveness and healing? Why do you think that is?

Have volunteers read Hebrews 10:19-39, 1 John 3:4-10, and Romans 6.

No matter what we’ve done, no matter what is in our past, Jesus offers us hope, healing, and forgiveness. God calls us not to continue in the things that have caused such deep shame in our lives but to give them up and to follow His plan and His path, which leads us into lives that are satisfying and full of purpose and meaning.

  • What is one step you can take that would bring honor and glory to God?

Mike shared with us five simple steps to help us let go of our hurts, guilt and shame.

  • Embrace brokenness

  • Relinquish control

  • Evaluate myself with fearless honesty

  • Think a whole new way

  • Encourage others with my life and story

We don’t have to let shame rule our lives. We can do what David did and approach God, be honest, admit our brokenness and lean into Him. He wants us to be free, and when we find freedom, we get to share our story.

Remember that God doesn’t just forgive our sins. He also removes the shame that accompanies them.

When we refuse to own our story, our story ends up owning us. It doesn’t have to be that way. When we own our story and get honest with God and other people, we’ll find grace, freedom, and unfailing love.


Application

Here are several steps we can take to let go of our shame. Have each person in the group select one to implement and share with the group how everyone can support him/her in that step.  Let everyone know that they don’t need to share any more than they are comfortable with about what they are struggling with, and remind them there is no shame in getting meeting with a counselor or otherwise getting help. Quite the opposite, it’s something to be proud of.

  • Cultivate one of the ten guideposts for wholehearted living by implementing the steps you identified earlier.

  • Create your own spiritual soundtrack. Find Scriptures to that address the shame you are facing. Read these Scriptures each day.  You might write them on sticky notes and put them on your mirror or on your dashboard. Internalize these passages. When guilt and shame creep back in, focus on what God says. Bring a verse to share with your group next week.

  • Share about the shame you’re experiencing with someone else in the group. Sharing our stories brings freedom. Being willing to be vulnerable takes courage but when we share our stories with people who respond with empathy and understanding, shame won’t survive.

  • Meet with a Christian counselor who can help you process the shame you are feeling. Your small group leader can connect you with someone from our small groups team who can refer you to a counselor.

  • Join one of our Care and Recovery groups so that you can get help with the issue you are facing and ultimately find hope and healing.

 

Week 4 - When You Can't Sleep

Week 4 - When You Can't Sleep

Note to Leaders

As part of this lesson, your group will discuss what spiritual next steps they need to take during this season of life.  Helping people those steps is one of the most important responsibilities that group leaders have. We would encourage you to take some time to review this training on how to help your group members take a next step before your group meeting. It should take about 20-30 minutes to read through and answer the questions.

We would also encourage you to prioritize this discussion in your group. It may take some time for people to dialogue and consider their response.  It’s towards the end of this discussion guide, so if you feel like you might be running short on time please skip some of the earlier questions so that you can make sure to have enough time for this exercise.


Series Introduction

Some stories remind us that no matter how tough life gets, how big the giants are, how impossible our circumstances appear, God has the power to intervene and write a better story for our future.

  • Right now, what in your life brings you a sense of meaning and purpose?


Sermon Introduction

What keeps you up at night? Maybe it’s heartburn? Your bladder? Maybe it’s hot-flashes or restless leg syndrome. Some of you live with a snorer that keeps you up at night.

A lot of people say, “I can’t sleep at night…and in the morning I can’t wake up!” Does your mind ever get swirling with all kinds of thoughts that you just can’t shut down? Ever have ‘one of those nights’?


Understanding

Have a volunteer read John 3:1-15.

It’s interesting that Nicodemus went to Jesus at night.  It’s as if his restless mind wouldn't let him sleep until his questions were answered. There was something missing in his life.

A good night's sleep is elusive to many of us. Statistics show that 1 in every 3 struggles with getting a good night's sleep. Everyone has those nights when our problems and challenges keep us from sleeping. We stare at the ceiling. We toss and turn. In the middle of the night, everything seems scarier and our problems seem insurmountable.

Like Nicodemus, many of you are at the same spot right now. To the world you look like everything is going great. People look at you from the outside looking in and think you've got it all. You might be financially solid and feel grateful for everything you have…. but deep down you have this gnawing sense that something's missing.

  • When you can’t sleep, what keeps you up at night?

Nicodemus goes to Jesus and says, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”  Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin, the intellectual ruling elites, so when he says “we all know,” the we he’s talking about aren’t your average, everyday Joes, these guys are a big deal.

But while others might have been wondering what was up with this Jesus guy, Nicodemus was the one who had the courage to go ask, to take a risk. Jesus respected that and jumped right in and addressed Nicodemus’ questions.

This story shows us that we can approach God with our questions. He has always honored and even embraced skeptics, explorers, questioners, and doubters. Time and time again we read in the Bible about people having honest conversations with God. We don't have to be afraid to ask. God wants to hear your questions. He loves explorers, and He loves you!

Some of us have intellectual arguments against or questions about the existence of God.  And sometimes those arguments and questions are legitimate questions. Other times we are simply building a wall of false intellectualism around a heart that’s been wounded somewhere along the way, and we need to couple our intellectual pursuit of truth with a willingness to open ourselves emotionally to the idea that there is a God.

Some of us grew up going to church, and even though we believed in Jesus at an early age, Jesus was an idea, a concept, a truth, but not someone with whom we had a relationship. As teenagers, some of us attended churches that were all about the laws of the Bible. We rebelled and experienced judgment. There was no grace there, and even today some of us are exhausted from doing good things and striving to earn God’s favor. We need healing, and want real answers.

  • If you were being honest with God and with yourself, what questions would you ask Him?

Together, read John 3:16 out loud: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

That night sitting with Nicodemus Jesus offers these life-giving words.

There is a chatterbox that plays in our heads and tells us we are worthless, but Jesus says that we are loved. In our world, value is determined by what someone is willing to pay for something. Jesus says God loves you so much that He gave His only son for you. He paid the ultimate price for us.

But this isn’t the end of Nicodemus’ story.

Have volunteers read John 7:50-51 and John 19:38-44.

Nicodemus not only defends Jesus before the religious leaders, after Jesus is crucified—at a time when Jesus is viewed as a criminal worthy of death and his closest followers have scattered out of fear—Nicodemus helps to bury Jesus’ body.

Nicodemus journeyed from being a doubter to a fully devoted follower of Jesus.   When he started he understood the Scriptures on an intellectual level. He kept the laws, but deep down he knew that wasn’t enough. Like Nicodemus, we need to allow Jesus to transform our hearts, to allow Him to write a better story in our lives.

  • Right now, where are you spiritually?  Have you allowed God to begin writing a better story in your life? Are you somewhere in the middle of that journey?  Have you undergone significant life transformation?

No matter where we are in our spiritual journey, we all need to take a next step.  None of us have arrived.  None of us are completely like Jesus.

  • What is one next step you need to take in your spiritual journey during this season of life? Leaders, you may want to talk about some of the examples discussed in the training mentioned above.


Application

Take 10 minutes right now to make a plan for taking your spiritual next step.  We don’t do the things we intend to do, “I intend to read the Bible more.” We do the things we plan to do, “I will read two chapters of the Bible at 6:30 AM before the kids get out of bed.”

Here are some tips for making this plan.

  • Be specific. Describe exactly what you plan to do. (i.e. “I will get baptized in two weeks.”

  • Do something that you can measure whether or not you’ve achieved it. Don’t say, “I will be nicer,” but rather “I will avoid raising my voice when I am angry.”

  • Be realistic. If you aren’t currently setting aside time to pray each day, don’t start by planning to pray for two hours every morning like Martin Luther.

  • Stretch yourself. While we want to be realistic, we don’t want to make the goal so easy that it’s meaningless.  If you’re goal involves generosity, giving away five dollars a month isn’t a goal worth setting unless you are someone living on the streets.

  • Make the commitment for a defined period of time.  This will help keep you from giving up when you get tired or bored or frustrated, or whatever.  When that commitment is up, re-evaluate whether you should continue, shift your focus a bit, or try something totally different.  If you’re going to go to couples counseling with your spouse, commit to it for three months, don’t give up because session one wasn’t great.

  • Pick someone to discuss your spiritual next step with regularly, and make a plan for when and where you’ll do it.  You might even pick someone from the group.  For example, you could decide to grab coffee with John every other Sunday before church.

  • Write down your plan. You can write it in a notebook you carry around or keep it in your phone, but make sure you’ve got a record of what you’re planning to do.

Week 3 - When Disappointed With God

Week 3 - When Disappointed With God

Series Introduction

Some stories remind us that no matter how tough life gets, how big the giants are, how impossible our circumstances appear, God has the power to intervene and write a better story for our future.

  • What in your life are you most excited about right now?


Sermon Introduction

Every one of us knows what it is to feel disappointed.  We’ve all faced disappointment with someone, something or some situation. The promotion we were counting on goes to a coworker, a loved one says something that hurts us, an accident short-circuits our plans.

We feel like God isn't listening to us anymore. We feel abandoned by God. We are waiting on God to heal, to provide, or to comfort. In those moments, God seems silent, and we feel deep disappointment with Him.

  • Share a time when you felt let down by someone in your life.


Understanding

Take turns reading John 11:1-24 aloud

Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha, lived in a little town called Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem, and they had developed a tight friendship with Jesus. Lazarus gets sick, and they send a message to Jesus. But He waits a few days before going to them.

When Jesus finally arrives, His response was not what they were expecting. He says, “Don't worry; it's all good.” When things have gone wrong, and we feel out of control, it's hard to not to worry. Our natural tendency is to focus on our pain or problem.

Following Christ does not guarantee us a life free from pain or disappointment. And one day it will be our last day on earth.

When Martha hears that Jesus is coming, she goes out to meet Him and says, "Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died."

You can hear the disappointment in her voice. It's the same speech her sister Mary gives Jesus when she joins them a little later. Maybe they had been talking to each other and asking where Jesus was? Why didn't He come before Lazarus died? If only He had been there.

  • What “if only” are you facing right now? Is there something you have been praying about and feel like God is late to show up?

Waiting is hard. We hate waiting and avoid situations where we will have to wait. Disney lovers hate waiting. They created the FastPass because we have such an aversion to waiting.

Often, what we don’t realize is that God doesn’t operate according to our expectations and timing because there is a bigger story going on, one we may not be aware of.  God cares greatly about your personal story, but God is also writing His story in the world.

Martha is disappointed with Jesus because He doesn't live up to her expectations and her timing, but even in the midst of her disappointment she acknowledges that He can still do something. In verse 22 she says, "but even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask."

We learn from Martha we can be honest before God. We can say "I don't understand Lord, but I know you and trust you can fix this."

When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, "Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her and the others weeping and wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within Him, and He was troubled.  He hated seeing His friends so broken hearted.

Jesus had this righteous anger over the sin, rebellion, and evil that had brought the consequences of death. It's why the Bible calls death "the final enemy to be defeated." 

If you have ever lost a family member or close friend you know how hard it is.  Sitting by their side in the hospice in their last days or making the funeral arrangements will rip your heart out.  At this moment, seeing his friends wailing, it ripped Jesus' heart out too.

This expression of emotion would have been shocking to people. Back then people believed that God was unable to feel any emotion, but John shows us that we have a God who cares, and Jesus feels our pain when we're disappointed with God.

Jesus stands there with all that emotion welling up inside of Him and loses it.  He wept because His friends Mary and Martha were sad. He weeps with you. He feels the pain of your disappointment. We can run to Him and honestly share how we feel.

  • What do you think about the idea that Jesus feels your pain and disappointment?

Have a volunteer read John 11:25-44

As powerful as they are, the words "Lazarus come out" are not the most important words in this story. The most important words are, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

Everyone can experience resurrection and life. That is the reason to celebrate.  Seeing a bigger story than we possibly could imagine, Jesus knew that just days later He would die on the cross and rise again, offering hope, reconciliation, healing, and eternal life  to those who would follow Him.

  • What do we learn about God’s timing from this story?

Jesus tells them "Didn't I tell you that you would see God's glory if you believe?"

We, like Martha, face that question in times of disappointment and waiting. Do you believe this? We are challenged to not waiver in our faith when Jesus doesn't operate according to our expectations and timing. Will we trust that God feels our pain and disappointment? Will we believe that He can and will write a better story that will be for God's glory?

  • Have a few people share (depending on time) a time in their life where they waited on God.  How did they see, looking back how God used it for His glory?

We all walk through times of deep disappointment and pain. In the midst of them, we can't imagine how any good will result, but the beauty of time is that we can look back and see how God was with us. He gives us a better story, and our stories encourage others. When we share a "God story" there’s almost always someone who needs to hear it, who needs to know that God will meet them in their time of need.

We have the choice to trust that even though we don't know the ending and find comfort in knowing that God does. We can choose to thank God for being faithful even when we don't see the end in sight. We can choose to celebrate that through His death on a cross, His burial, and His resurrection Jesus offers a better story. 

  • End your time together in prayer. Divide into groups of 3-4 to pray for those areas of life where you need God to write a better story. Pray expectantly that the Lord will walk beside you and meet your needs.

 

 

 

 

Week 2 - When Things Go Wrong

Week 2 - When Things Go Wrong

Series Introduction

Some stories remind us that no matter how tough life gets, how big the giants are, how impossible our circumstances appear, God has the power to intervene and write a better story for our future.

  • What is one of your favorite stories about your best friend from childhood?


Sermon Introduction

We’ve all had days where we feel no one hears us or that it will never get better.

Days where we wonder, “Didn’t God hear my cry? Why didn’t I get the answer I wanted?”

Maybe today you feel frustrated, depressed or anxious. Maybe you are worried about a family member or have doubts that God is real. Maybe it seems like this season you are in will never end. We could all use a better story when things go wrong. Jesus knows that, and He’s ready to help write a better story whenever we are willing to give Him the pen to write the script.

  • Where in your life do you feel like you need a better story


Understanding

Have a volunteer read John 2:1-11.

Turning water into wine is Jesus’ first miracle. It wasn’t a big showstopper like some of his later miracles where the lame started walking or people came back from the dead. Today it might not seem like running out wine was a big deal, but in Jewish culture to run out on day one of a weeklong wedding celebration would have brought huge shame on the family. 

  • What can we learn about Jesus’ involvement in our life from this miracle?

It’s easy to think that our problems are too small and we don’t need to bother Jesus with this. We take the big things to him or wait until we are knee deep in our mess before we cry out for help.

We can go to God with all of our needs.  Mary models this for us when she goes to Jesus and says “they have no more wine.” Often, we like to tell God exactly how we think He should solve the problem, but Mary doesn’t do this, she just states the need and puts in in His hands. She trusts Jesus and relies on His wisdom for how to respond.

  • What in your life do you struggle to trust God with?

Have a volunteer read Philippians 4:6.

Have you ever shared your needs with God and then proceeded to do what you thought was best? Did you forget to wait and listen? In periods of waiting, we often doubt that God hears us and decide to charge forward.

If you want to see God show up in your life, you need to do what He asks. It sounds straightforward, but the struggle is real if we are honest. We live in an instant gratification culture. We can order from our favorite restaurant and have food delivered to our house in under an hour. Want a movie? Order it online. We don’t even have to go to the doctor; we can visit the tele-doc. Waiting is not part of our culture.

When we read John 2, it seems like Mary asked and received immediate results, but the truth is, she had been waiting for 30 years.

  • What is something significant that you wanted for a long time and finally got? How did being forced to wait impact the way you viewed that thing once you finally got it?

Have a volunteer read Luke 1:26-38.

Mary’s been waiting for 30 years for Jesus to show His miraculous power. For 30 years she has remembered what the angel told her, the appearance of the shepherds and the wise men. There were most likely moments of wondering when this was going to come to be.

There are times when we get an immediate answer to our prayers.  It seems like friends or family have their needs met, but we are still waiting for God to show up. Jealousy starts brewing in our hearts, and we begin to feel like God has forgotten us. Don’t lose faith. Go to Jesus and do whatever he tells you to do.

Waiting on God takes faith. It requires trusting that He sees the big picture and that He has a plan for our life.

  • What keeps you from waiting on God? 

Gene shared his “weird God story” of how Philippians 4:4 was his dad’s favorite verse and that three times on significant days in the year following his dad’s death—his dad’s birthday, his parents’ wedding anniversary, and his mom’s birthday—that treasured Scripture appeared in their devotional. God knew exactly what they needed, bringing his family great comfort. God knows just what we need and often finds little ways of reminding us.

Remembering the times God met us in the past encourages us to keep believing during the times of waiting. Sharing stories of God’s faithfulness inspires us to have faith that if God meets others, He will show up for us in our times of need.

Last week many of your shared your stories in your small group.

  • Share with the group a time in your life that God showed up for you. 

Close your time together by praying in groups of 2 to 3. Pray for a need or situation you mentioned tonight and ask God to show up.  Ask for wisdom and discernment and strength to wait on the Lord. Pray for courage to do what He tells you to do.


Application

Writing down stories when God answers our prayers helps us to remember. They can be powerful reminders when we are struggling.

Consider keeping a journal and writing down those “weird God stories” and moments little and big when God showed up for you in your time of need. We can quickly forget all that He has done for us, and when we have a written journal, we can look back on it when we desperately need to remember that Jesus loves us.

The book of John records the ministry of Jesus and accounts of how He showed up for people, how He revealed his power to the disciples and his followers.

Also consider taking up Gene’s challenge and reading a chapter of John each day.

 

 

 

 

Week 1 - Darryl Strawberry's Story

Week 1 - Darryl Strawberry's Story

Series Introduction

Some stories remind us that no matter how tough life gets, how big the giants are, how impossible our circumstances appear, God has the power to intervene and write a better story for our future.


Understanding

Darryl Strawberry was a four-time World Series winner and an eight-time MLB All-Star, but ultimately success, fame, and fortune didn’t satisfy.  He had everything that most of us dream of—all of the things that we think would make us happy—and yet he was miserable and unfulfilled.

  • What is something you wanted, and got, but that didn’t end up being as satisfying as you thought it would be?

Darryl talked about his life growing up.  He came from a dysfunctional home.  When he was 13, his dad threatened to kill his entire family.  He channeled this pain into baseball.  It drove him to be great.  But in the midst of all of his success he turned to drugs.  The greatness wasn’t enough.

The truth is, the stuff we think will satisfy us doesn’t ultimately.  A recent survey indicates that nearly half of homeowners have some regrets about their home purchase.  We spend our lives striving for things that don’t—can’t—satisfy us.

Ultimately drugs, cancer, and run-ins with the law destroyed his career and his marriage… and almost destroyed him.

Darryl shared about how he accepted Jesus at a Christian conference his wife had invited him to while he was playing for the Dodgers in the early 90s, but he didn’t allow Jesus to actually transform him.  He talked about how he never gave himself fully to God. He believed but didn’t truly follow Jesus, didn’t trust enough to allow Jesus to transform him.

 As time passed Darryl lost his mom.  His drug habit resurfaced, and it began to affect his marriage.

Some of us have dramatic stories that involve drugs or alcohol or run-ins with the law.  For others of us our journeys have (gratefully) been less exciting.  But all of us are in process.

We too often fall into the trap of thinking, “I’m a good person.”  And maybe that’s true to a degree.  Maybe you’re not just an awful person who goes around hurting other people intentionally, but we all need to be transformed.

Maybe you have a quick temper and respond to people with sharp words rather than kindness.  Maybe you’re jealous of what others have.  Perhaps your greedy.  It could be that you’re always stressed out and harried.  You might be proud and think more of yourself than you should.  Maybe you’re too apt to walk by someone in need without stopping to help.  None of us are perfect.  We all need to allow Jesus to transform us.

  • What has this process of transformation looked like in your life?  Is it just beginning? Has it been going on awhile? Do you need to begin to allow Jesus to transform your life?

Darryl used the word discipleship a few times. Discipleship is the process by which we are transformed.  We gradually become more and more like the person we’re following.  You could actually be a disciple of anyone.  If you wanted to be a pop star, you might become a disciple of Taylor Swift.  If you wanted to be an NBA player, you might become a disciple of Kobe Bryant.

Being a Christ-follower means becoming a disciple of Jesus.  Usually this involves another person, someone who has been following Jesus faithfully for a longer time than you have, who helps to show you and teach you what it looks like to become like Jesus.  This is someone who you get to know and who gets to know you personally.  It isn’t the pastor who preaches on stage or the person whose life you admire from afar.  Discipleship involves time and relationship.

Discipleship is a big part of the reason that we have small groups at Eastside.  It is our hope that these kinds of discipleship relationships form in the context of small groups.

  • Is there anyone who is a little further along in his or her relationship with Jesus who has been instrumental in your spiritual journey?  If so, who? How did your relationship with that person develop?  What was it about that relationship that impacted you so deeply?

  • Do you have someone like that in your life now?  If not, who is someone who you might want to have that kind of relationship with?  If you can’t think of anyone, what is something you can do to foster that kind of relationship?

  • Who are you discipling currently?  If there isn’t anyone, who is someone who you might begin discipling?  Consider the people who you already have influence with.  When you speak, who listens? Who pays attention?

As Darryl continued to share his story, he spoke about how the woman who is now his wife pursued him, not romantically but as a friend, how she went into drug houses to pull him out, how she wouldn’t give up on him, how she wouldn’t let him slide into drugs, darkness, and despair.

  • Who might God be calling you to pursue?  Maybe it’s someone who is in desperate circumstances, someone who needs to be introduced to Jesus, or an estranged family member. 


Group Activity

What made Darryl’s message so powerful this weekend was that it was based on his experience, on his life.  There’s something powerful that happens when we share our stories, our personal and faith journeys with each other.  As a group, go around the circle and share with one another how God made himself real to you, when you truly owned your faith.

This might be the story of when you first came to believe in Jesus.  But for many of us, these are different stories.  If you came to believe in Jesus as a young child, there was likely a time later when you truly owned your faith.  Even though he was an adult, God made himself real to Darryl not when he came to believe in Jesus at a conference but when God transformed his life, helping him to overcome his addictions.

If you don’t have time for everyone to share with your entire group together.  Break up into smaller groups of 2-5 to share these stories.


Application

Discipleship is a lifelong process.  It doesn’t happen overnight, and you can’t rush it.  But you can be intentional about it.  This week, take an intentional step to develop a discipleship relationship.

Get together with someone you are considering discipling or who you might want to ask to disciple you.  It could be over lunch or coffee.  It might be inviting the person to help you with a project or offering to help them with something.

Depending on your level of relationship with that person, you might go ahead and ask them to begin investing in you (or if they would be interested in you investing in them), or you might just spend some time building your relationship.  Discipleship isn’t a quick fix, it’s a long-term investment.

Report back to the group next week how this went.

 

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.