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Four Letter Words

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?