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.