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

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


Bravely Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Take Action

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


He Speaks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a volunteer read Psalm 119:105.

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

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

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

Have a volunteer read John 16:13.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Application

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

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

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