Viewing entries tagged
A Better Story

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.