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The God I Wish You Knew

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.

 

 

Week 6 - He Lays Himself Down

Week 6 - He Lays Himself Down

Series Introduction

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.


Understanding

Imagine for a moment that you are one of Jesus’ 12 disciples, one of his closest friends. For three years you and Jesus have been inseparable.

You've listened to His teaching. You've watched Him walk on water. You've stood in disbelief as He fed 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish.  You've rejoiced as the sick were healed and have witnessed firsthand this man cast out demons, calm storms, and raise the dead.

  • What do you find most notable about how Jesus lived his life?

You and 11 others have left everything: your jobs, your homes, your families. Jesus has turned your world upside down, but now you're watching him as he slowly dies in agony over the course of six hours.

You see the nails driven into his hands, the spikes puncturing His feet. You see the cross lifted up and dropped with a thump in the ground and hear the tearing flesh. You watch him in agony until finally a soldier pierces his side and what remains of his blood comes pouring out.

  • What do you think it would have been like to be present when Jesus was crucified?

Picture yourself in the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion. Can you imagine ever forgetting what happened? Can you imagine ever allowing the drama, and the emotion, and the passion of that sight and smell and sound to escape your memory? Can you imagine the meaning and the significance of that event ever losing it's impact on you?

It's an interesting question, because just hours earlier Jesus says and does something extraordinary with His closest friends. He’s eating the Passover meal with them, the meal that reminds the Jewish people that God delivered them out of slavery in Egypt, and he says to them, "Eat this bread to help you remember Me.  And drink this cup to help you remember Me."

Remember? After being with them almost 24/7 for three years, Jesus is worried they might forget Him?

But that's exactly what He's worried about, not in the sense that He would slip their minds not in the sense that they might one day say, "Jesus who?"

He is concerned about a kind of spiritual forgetfulness: the kind of forgetfulness that leads to worship that's little more than empty rituals and church-life that's not much more than going through the motions; the kind of forgetfulness that leads to spiritual half-heartedness, unsacrificial servanthood; and passionless faith.

Jesus was concerned about spiritual forgetfulness that leads some of His followers to gradually take detours into sin, and the kind of forgetfulnessthat would lead some to continue to carry their sins, living in guilt, when He died in order for them to be set free, forgiven, and released.

So Jesus takes the bread and takes the cup of the Passover meal and says, "Remember Me.”

  • How has spiritual forgetfulness impacted your life?

Who we are depends on our ability to remember. Imagine for a moment that you could no longer remember your life: the books you had read, the people you had met, the music you had loved, the places you had traveled.

It would be as if all of the experiences that are such a huge part of who you are had never happened.

In the Old Testament, Joshua leads the people of Israel across the Jordan River into the land God had promised them, and then Joshua tells them to pile up rocks as a memorial.  He says, "When your children see this pile of rocks and they ask,’"What's this pile of rocks doing there?’ I want you to tell them about the time we were crossing the Jordan River and God pulled the waters apart so that we could cross on dry land.  I want it to be there as a memorial.  I want you to remember."

Throughout the Old Testament Got speaks about the importance of remembering: “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Remember you were slaves in Egypt and I reached out with a strong arm and delivered you from Egypt. Remember when you see a rainbow that I have promised I will never again destroy the earth by flood.         

“When you celebrate the Passover and eat the unleavened bread for 7 days, and your children ask, "Why are we doing this?" I want you to tell them about the time that your lives were spared because of the blood of an innocent lamb so that they will remember.”

God is constantly telling His people to remember… because we so quickly forget!

  • Share a story with the group about a time when God showed up in your life in a significant way.

There are two kinds of memory problems.  The first is that we forget the things we should remember.

We forget our car keys, the names of people we met, how to get to that store we only went to the one time, whether or not we’ve seen a movie, and where we parked.

That Passover meal we just mentioned, the one that was supposed to serve as a reminder of God’s delivering the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  Well, they really needed it, because a few days after they left Egypt they ended up dancing around a golden calf, worshipping it!

And that’s not just a them problem, it’s an us problem.  The way we react when our children want our attention, the way we respond to those in need, the way we cheat just a little on our tax returns, it’s like we’ve forgotten God.

And so Jesus gives his followers this meal to help them remember.  When we remember deeply it’s as if something is alive again, it’s made real again.  When you hear that song from your youth, when you smell that perfume your mother always wore, when you walk into your childhood home, when you reconnect with old friends, it’s as if the past is alive again.  You don’t just remember: it’s as if you re-experience what happened before.

That’s what Jesus is calling us to in communion.

  • What are some other ways that we can keep Jesus and His sacrifice at the forefront of our minds?

The second memory problem is that we remember what we should forget.

We can’t forget that we once hurt someone else, that we haven’t been a perfect parent or child or brother or sister or friend, that we have a past that we are not proud of.  Even though we have experienced amazing grace, even though Jesus has paid for all of our sins, our wrongdoings, we keep holding onto them, holding on to the guilt and the shame.

The twelve men present with Jesus at that Passover meal, at that first communion, were twelve men who would desert, betray, or deny him in some way or another within the next few hours. And yet Jesus still chose to share this meal with them and to give them this symbol to remind them of Him.  Because he knew they would need to be reminded of who He is, of his mercy and grace.

You see, God isn’t just the greatest Remember-er.  He’s the greatest Forget-er.  He forgives everything we’ve done wrong, not holding it against us.

Have a volunteer read Psalm 103:11-13.

  • What impact does remembering the things we should forget have on us?


Application #1

This week, take a piece of paper and write out some of the things you wished were gone from your life, the bad habits, the shame and guilt of things you’ve done wrong, the things that you just wish weren’t with you anymore.

Take that piece of paper, hold it in your hand, and ask God to relieve you of these burdens, to take them away.

And then take that piece of paper and get rid of it. Put it in the paper shredder. Throw it in the fire pit.  Rip it up and put it in the trash.  Give those things over to God.  You no longer have to live with the same and guilt and sin of your past.  If you are a follower of Jesus God has forgiven you and wants you to live a new life.

Application #2

Easter is a great time to invite others who don’t yet know Jesus to come and hear about the incredible love of God and the freedom He offers us.  Begin each morning this week in prayer asking God to give you an opportunity to invite someone to church with you this coming weekend.

 

Week 5 - Michael Jr. - Bringin' the Funny

Week 5 - Michael Jr. - Bringin' the Funny

Introduction

Michael Jr. got his start when George Wallace took him to the legendary Comedy & Magic Club in Hermosa Beach. Even though the club is the home of Jay Leno and “The Tonight Show” staff, the club’s owner slipped the unknown comic onstage to perform. A week later, Michael Jr. was performing at the “Just for Laughs” comedy festival in Montreal where he became the first comedian to ever appear live via satellite on “The Tonight Show.”

That performance catapulted Michael’s career.

Now, Michael tours the country performing and can also be seen on TV regularly. Michael recently appeared in Sony Pictures' feature film War Room.

On the home front, Michael is happily married. He and his wife are the proud parents of five beautiful children.

  • Share a story with the group about someone in your life who created an opportunity for you to succeed.


Understanding

Have a volunteer read Romans 8:28-29.

Michael told us about his childhood, how as a kid he had trouble reading.  That difficulty reading words forced him to figure out how to read people and situations.  God turned a negative into a positive, as Michael now uses those same powers of observation to find the funny in everyday life.

  • What is a difficulty you’ve had in your life that God has turned into something positive?

Earlier in his career, Michael Jr. would perform on stage and try to “get laughs.”  He wanted the audience to give him their laughter in response to his jokes, but God changed Michael Jr.’s perspective.  He no longer tries to “get laughs” but rather to “give people an opportunity to laugh.”  It was a radical perspective shift. Instead of trying to get something for himself, his comedy became about trying to give something to the people there.

  • How do you view what you do?  As a way to get something for yourself (fulfillment, purpose, a paycheck, etc.) or as a way to serve others? What would it take for you to shift your perspective from receiving to giving, and what impact would that have on you and the people around you?

Michael Jr. talked about your why versus your what.  Your what is what you do, but your why is your reason for doing it.  His why is to inspire people to walk in purpose.  His what is stand up comedy, television, books, etc.  Your why is the purpose God has given you in life, the thing He has called you and wired you to do.

You might not have ever thought intentionally about your why or your what, but we all have them.  We often think about our what in terms of our jobs.  And for some people, their why and their job are obviously connected.  If your why is to help people learn how to love one another better and you’re a marriage and family therapist, then it’s pretty obvious how your why and your job are connected.

But if your why is to help people learn how to love one another better and you’re a dishwasher in a restaurant, it might be a little less obvious.  But without you, that frazzled couple with five young kids wouldn’t have the opportunity to have an opportunity to re-connect with each other over a quiet dinner.

And sometimes we live out our why in ways other than through our jobs.  You might help people learn to love by showing them in practical ways, by having meaningful conversations with friends, or by volunteering at Fristers to help young moms learn how to parent their kids well.

  • What is your why?  What purpose has God given you in life?  What is your what?  How are you living that purpose out?

  • How can your why and your what be used to honor God and serve others?

If you’re not sure what your why and your what are, consider attending Next Steps, where you’ll have the opportunity to begin exploring your why and your what.

Michael Jr. talked about how some people have a hard time giving, and others have a hard time receiving.  Some of us are owned by our money and possessions.  Greed rules our lives.  Others of us are owned by our pride.  We may be generous with others, but we can’t admit that we need people to help us out as well.

  • Which is more challenging for you: giving or receiving?  Why?

  • If you struggle with giving, what can you give away to help become a more generous giver?  If you struggle with receiving, what is one area of your life where you could use the help of others?


Application

Have a volunteer read Proverbs 17:22.

Michael Jr. goes into prisons and hospitals to bring comedy and laughter to the people who are there.  He leverages his gifts, talents, and skills to serve others.

  • What gifts, talents, and skills do you have that you could use to serve others?

Week 4 - He Transforms

Week 4 - He Transforms

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.


Introduction

Have a volunteer read Genesis 37:3-8.

Joseph was a daddy’s boy, his father’s favorite—a blessing and a curse when you have 11 brothers.  Jacob gave Joseph this sweet coat.  It was like wearing ancient Gucci while all of your siblings were running around in a JC Penney special.  Great for Joseph, not so great for everyone else.

Pretty boy decides his dream about ruling over his whole family would make good dinner conversation… because picturing your spoiled little brother as your king is super-endearing.

Eventually, that dream would come true, but it doesn’t always pay to speak your mind.

  • When is one time you’ve said something that you later regretted?

God had work to do on Joseph before he could become one of the most powerful men in the world.

Joseph’s brothers hated him.  So when the 10 oldest brothers are on a business trip taking care of the sheep and dad sends the chosen one to check up on them, they’re none too happy.

In fact, he comes walking up in his Gucci jacket, and they’re really unhappy.  They’re so unhappy, they decide to kill him.

Fortunately, they back off of that plan, but what they do instead is only a bit better.  They throw him in a pit until they can figure out what to do with him.  Some slave traders are passing by, so they sell Joseph to the slave traders, but not before taking his coat.

They take that jacket they hate so much, soak it in animal blood, and bring it back to their dad as evidence of Joseph’s death.

Have a volunteer read Genesis 39:1-6.

The slave traders bring Joseph to Egypt where he’s sold to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s top officials.  But in spite of the fact that Joseph has just been sold into slavery, the Bible tells us that God was with Joseph.

Potiphar recognized that Joseph had both great integrity and great aptitude.  Potiphar ends up putting Joseph in charge of his entire household.  And don’t think white picket fence with two cars, a dog, and 2.5 kids.  Think Downton Abbey.

I don’t know that any of us would want to be in Joseph’s shoes: betrayed by our brothers and separated from our family, probably for the rest of our lives.  That said, as situations go, this was likely far better than Joseph had expected after his brothers sold him.  He could have easily ended up in an Egyptian brick factory.

  • When has a situation in your life turned out better than you expected?  This could be something bad that ended up not so bad (or even good) or something good that ended up even better than you thought it would be.

  • Has there ever been a time when you’ve been rewarded for doing the right thing?

Joseph did have one problem, however: Mrs. Potiphar.  She was the one part of Potiphar’s household that he didn’t give to Joseph… for obvious reasons.

Joseph was an attractive young man, and Mrs. P had a thing for him.  But Joseph refused to betray Mr. P like that.  So, one day when no one else is around inside the house Mrs. P grabs Joseph by the jacket and demands that he comes to bed with her.

He refuses and runs out of the house leaving his jacket in her hands, and when Mr. P comes home she claims Joseph tried to sexually assault her.

Mr. P has Joseph thrown into jail.

  • Has there ever been a time when you’ve paid the price for doing the right thing?

  • What character defects have you seen in each of the people in Joseph’s life (Jacob, Joseph himself, the brothers, the slave traders, Potiphar, and Mrs. Potiphar)?

  • Which of these characters do you most identify with?

Have a volunteer read Genesis 39:20-23.

Once again, Joseph finds himself in a place he’d rather not be.  He went from being daddy’s favorite to a slave in Egypt, but at least he was in a pretty posh position.  Now he finds himself in prison as a slave in Egypt.  But notice that again the Bible says that God was with Joseph.

And just like with Potiphar, the warden puts Joseph in charge of the entire jail.  It’s crazy, but the warden put a prisoner in charge of the prison.

While in jail Joseph meets Pharaoh’s cupbearer and his baker.  These are pretty important people, especially the cupbearer.  Each of these guys has a dream that Joseph interprets for them.   Unfortunately for the baker, the dream foretold his death.  Fortunately for the cupbearer, his dream foretold his release from prison and his restoration to his position.

Joseph tells the cupbearer that he was falsely accused and asked the cupbearer to put in a good word for him.

But the cupbearer forgot for two full years.  At this point, Joseph has been in Egypt for 13 years.  Talk about a dream deferred.

  • Have you ever found yourself waiting, hoping, longing, even striving for things to change only to find circumstances going from bad to worse?

After the cupbearer has been out of jail for two years, Pharaoh has some troubling dreams that no one can interpret, and finally the cupbearer remembers Joseph and tells Pharaoh about him.  Joseph tells Pharaoh that his dreams predict that there will be seven years of abundant harvest in Egypt, followed by seven years of famine.

So Pharaoh puts Joseph in charge… of the country.  To make a long story short, Joseph devises a plan to store enough food during the years of plenty to make it through the years of famine, saving countless lives—including those of his own family, with whom he is eventually reunited and who do end up bowing down to him.

Joseph became the prime minister of Egypt—making him one of the most powerful people in the world, but it took thirteen years of separation, slavery, and imprisonment for him to get there.  The truth is that the coddled prima donna that Joseph was before life threw him a curveball would have never been able to effectively lead a country.  It took trial by fire to develop him into the kind of person who could lead a country through such a dark period.

We can learn many things from Joseph, but one key lesson is that God is more concerned with our character than our comfort, more concerned with our holiness than our happiness, and it is often life’s challenges that God will use to develop our character.

God was with Joseph in the midst of his difficult circumstances, just as God promises to be with us no matter what is going on around us, but God didn’t and doesn’t promise deliverance from those circumstances.  He promises to keep us through but not necessarily keep us from.

  • How has God used circumstances in your life to develop your character in the past?

  • How might God want to use current circumstances in your life to continue developing your character?

Have a volunteer read Romans 8:28-29.

Paul teaches us—and we see this in Joseph’s life—that God uses our experiences to not only shape our character but for good.  God uses the challenges that we experience to make a positive impact on the lives of others.

  • How can God use your past experiences to meet the needs of others?

Week 3 - Bravely Forward Short Film/He Speaks

Week 3 - Bravely Forward Short Film/He Speaks

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.

Week 2 - His Grace is Enough

Week 2 - His Grace is Enough

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.

  • What attribute of God’s character do you struggle to understand?


Introduction

In his sermon, Gene told a story about a man he met in an airport.  The man worked for an electronics company, but a decade earlier he had been stealing cars for a living.   When he discovered God’s grace, it transformed him.  He told Gene that becoming a follower of Jesus made a free man out of him.

Many people think following Jesus will take away their freedom, but this man found freedom in following Jesus.

  • What has been your experience with faith? Is it something that has set you free? Or do you feel like faith has kept you captive?

Our goal is help you understand the amazing grace of Jesus, to help you understand that Jesus came to set us free, that God doesn’t want to have a faith that makes us feel less than, unworthy, or not good enough but rather to have a faith that causes us to understand in the deepest core of our being that we are forgiven and loved.

Have a volunteer read Matthew 20:1-16

Jesus tells this story as a demonstration of God’s grace.  The vineyard owner—who represents God—doesn’t pay the workers what he owes them.  He generously gives them far more than they deserved.

Can you imagine? You’re struggling financially.  You’ve got bills to pay and mouths to feed.  You’d give your left arm for a steady job, but for right now, you’re a temp worker.

One day, no work comes your way, and you’re trying to figure out how your family is going to eat dinner.  Finally, just before quitting time, you get hired for the last hour of the workday.  It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing, maybe enough to buy a little something for your family to eat.

It’s quitting time, so you go to the business owner to pick up your measly check, and you get paid for the whole day.

  • Have you ever experienced grace like this? What kind of impression did it make?  How did you respond in the moment?  What impact did it have on how you view the world, on your character and personality?

To understand what grace truly is, you need to understand justice and mercy.  Justice is getting what we deserve.  Mercy is not getting what we deserve.  But grace is getting what we don’t deserve.

It’s easy to want justice.  But if we’re honest, we usually only want justice for other people, not ourselves.  When is the last time you broke a traffic law?  Last week?  Last night?  On the way to small group?

Justice would dictate that you get a speeding ticket for doing 70 in a 65 zone.  But you don’t want justice.  You want mercy.

Now, that jerk in the car that just cut me off?  Boy, I wish a cop had seen that!

Imagine that instead of giving you a speeding ticket, the officer who pulled you over escorted you to your destination with lights and sirens, helping you get there faster than you ever could have on your own.

That’s grace.

That’s the God we wish you knew, the God who pays a full day’s wage for an hour of work, the God who gives us far more than we deserve, the God who demands justice for the wrong things we do… and then proceeds to take the punishment justice demands on Himself, being at the same time completely just yet expressing profound mercy and grace.

  • Most of us tend to be either more justice-oriented or mercy/grace-oriented.  Which are you and why?

Have a volunteer read Romans 6:23.

Some of us grew up in performance-oriented homes where the way to be loved was to say good things, behave in good ways, and excel in some particular area of achievement. The unspoken message: “We will love you if… We will approve of you if…”

It’s easy to transfer that characteristic from our parents to God. We begin thinking we have to earn God’s approval with our performance.  We come to believe—whether we’d admit it or not—in karma: the idea that our spirituality is dependent on our doing more good than bad, rather than on God’s generous grace.

God is the employer who gives us a full day’s wage because of His grace, His generosity, because Jesus was willing to hang on the cross to pay for the things we’ve done wrong.

The truth is, no good we could ever do could repay that. The price God paid was too high.  All we can do is accept God’s generous grace.

We all, at times, try to earn our own salvation, to earn God’s forgiveness. We might know intellectually that is impossible, but we feel like there’s something we can do, should do, to earn it.

  • What are some of the ways you personally have tried to earn God’s free gift of grace?

Ironically, this subtle attempt to earn our salvation, which initially stemmed from a feeling of unworthiness, often grows into self-righteousness.  At first we felt unworthy and so began trying to become worthy.  Eventually we do enough good that we begin feeling worthy and start looking down on others who we perceive as less worthy.

This is what happened to the Pharisees, the religious leaders that were always trying to trick and trap Jesus.  They started out as a group that earnestly wanted to follow God’s ways as closely as possible, but in their pursuit of doing everything right, they began looking down on those who they perceived as not being as faithful.

  • How can we avoid becoming self-righteous like the Pharisees?

Of course, none of this means that we shouldn’t do good things.  If one day a friend walks up to you, hands you the keys to a new BMW, and says, “These are the keys to your new car.”  When you ask why, she says simply, “Because I love you.  I care about you.  You mean the world to me.”

How will you respond? Are you going to spit in her face, tell her you can’t stand her and never want to see her again?  Are you going to just respond, “Oh, ok, cool.” and make out like it’s no big deal?

No, of course not!  You’re going to be grateful.  You’re going to say thank you.  And you’re probably going to be extra nice to that friend, not because you have to and not because you can somehow earn the car by being nice.  You respond that way because you’re grateful.

If your friend asks to borrow the car are you going to lend it to her?  Why?  Because you can earn the car by loaning it to her?  Because you have to?  No.  You’ll do it because you’re grateful, because her generosity engendered love and generosity in you.

It is an imperfect comparison to be sure, but it is in many ways similar to God’s gift of grace to us.  We can’t pay him for it.  No good deeds are going to allow us to earn His grace.  But God’s grace towards us elicits a response of gratitude in us that causes us to love and to serve both Him and others.  We don’t (or at least we shouldn’t) serve God because we have to but because we get to, because we’re grateful for His grace.

  • When we’re doing something good, what are some indicators that we’re serving out of gratitude? On the flip side, what are some indicators that perhaps we’re doing good deeds in an attempt to earn God’s grace?


Application

At the end of service this past weekend, Gene presented an opportunity to be baptized, to identify with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, publicly declaring that we are followers of Jesus, allowing the waters of baptism to serve as a symbol of God’s cleansing of our lives.

Most of you have probably already been baptized, and that’s wonderful.  But some of you haven’t.  Maybe you were thinking about it last weekend, but you just couldn’t pull the trigger.  You were nervous or scared or you just weren’t sure you were ready, but you’re still thinking about it.  Maybe you’re even wishing you had gone forward.

It’s not too late.  If you want to be baptized, you can just email us, and we’ll make it happen.  And we would encourage you to tell your small group so that they can support and encourage you as you take this step.

If you want to be baptized, just contact the point person for baptisms at your campus:

  • Anaheim: Steven Ma – stevenma@prodigy.net

  • La Habra: Norm Hamre – nhamre@eastside.com

  • Park Rapids: Justin Domogalla – jdomogalla@eastside.com

Week 1 - He's a Good, Good Father

Week 1 - He's a Good, Good Father

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.

  • What word or attribute best describes your personal experience with God, and why did you choose that word?


Introduction

How you react to the concept of God as Father depends largely on how you grew up.

Some of us had a dad with all kinds of issues.  Maybe your dad wasn’t there for you, and you were raised by a single mother or passed around into foster homes.  Maybe your dad had his own hang-ups or addictions or he was abusive.

You wish you had memories of a good father, memories of fishing with your dad and drinking black cherry sodas while you munched on onion and garlic potato chips, memories of shooting baskets in the driveway or getting dunked in the pool.  You wish you could remember just one time seeing your dad crack open a Bible or listening to him pray an authentic prayer.

And some of us were fortunate enough to have that kind of a dad.

  • How has your experience with your own Dad shaped your understanding of God as Father?

Have a volunteer read 1 Timothy 5:8.

No matter what kind of dad you have or had, there is one thing we can all agree on: there is an unmistakable connection between love and provision.  If you truly love someone you will find great joy, great satisfaction, and great delight in providing for them.

The words “I love you” are cheap and meaningless unless they are backed up by action. The apostle Paul said in 1 Timothy 5:8 that if someone has the ability to provide for his family but refuses to, he is worse than someone who is far from God.

In other words, it’s unthinkable, unconscionable for someone to neglect to provide for those he calls his own.

  • When you think about the people who have provided for you throughout your life, who sticks out, and what did that person do to make such an impact?


Understanding

Have a volunteer read Matthew 6:25-34.

Jesus begins by saying, “…don’t worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food, drink, and clothes. Doesn’t life consist of more than food and clothing?” And then He give two examples of our good, good heavenly Father provides.

He points people toward a bird in a tree.  And they were probably thinking, “We don’t have time to go bird watching.  We’ve got real problems: mortgages and credit cards and utility bills and college tuition.”

  • What are the things in your life that worry you and stress you out the most?

Jesus continues: never mind that stuff for a second.  Just look at the bird doing barrel rolls over there.  Whistling and chirping.  Notice that there are no wrinkles on the birds face; no signs of high blood pressure; no migraine headaches; no therapist next to him. And this little bird has no off-shore bank account, no multi-million dollar life insurance policy, no barn filled to the brim with birdseed.

In fact, this little bird is always just one worm, one cockroach away from starvation, but the bird has no anxiety.  Learn a lesson from that little bird. Birds don’t worry if there will be enough cockroaches or worms tomorrow.

Built into this little bird is a basic reliance on the good, good Father.  Every day the little bird banks on this good, good Father’s character, this good, good father’s identity, this good, good father’s providing hand. And every day the bird learns again that the good, good Father won’t let him down and can be trusted.  This little guy has learned to trust the heavenly Father to take care of Him one day at a time.

  • What keeps you from trusting God with the things that worry you?

Jesus gives a second example for people who aren’t into birds. Jesus says look over here at a little flower, a lily, the one that’s swaying back and forth.  It has it’s lovely petals outstretched to heaven.

Check out this little flower. It doesn’t have any contingency plans. It’s not on the brink of emotional collapse. It’s not in a frenzy about how it looks. It’s stunning in it’s beauty, yet its never even had an appointment with a fashion consultant.

This little flower knows that God is going to provide its needs.  He’ll rain on it.  He’ll cause the sun to shine on it. This little flower has learned over time that the good, good heavenly Father’s character can be trusted and His identity is sure and His provision is real. God wouldn’t think of letting the little flower down.

Jesus continues, “And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won’t he more surely care for you?”

And of course, that’s a rhetorical question.  Of course He will.  The flower will come and go, but you’re valuable in an ultimate sense.

Part of Jesus’ message here is that God sees you as valuable. How does the fact that God sees you as valuable impact how you perceive yourself?

  • Have you ever felt like you’ve been let down by God?

Have a volunteer read Philippians 4:4-20.

Paul writes these words…

“Rejoice in the Lord always.”

“Do not be anxious about anything....”

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

…while imprisoned. In fact, in addition to this he had suffered beatings where he was left for dead; shipwrecks; imprisonment; hunger; thirst; and homelessness.

So what’s included when Paul says that God will meet your needs?

First, it includes your physical and material needs.

And notice that the promise is needs, not wants.  Contrary to what prosperity theologians teach, God hasn’t promised perfect health and riches.  We may want a fancy car or big house, but that doesn’t mean we need them.

And this isn’t an excuse to be lazy or wasteful.  It doesn’t mean we just pray for money and God drops it in our bank account.  God also calls us to be good managers.

What it does mean is that God loves you so much that He is working behind the scenes to arrange for His infinite resources to come and rescue you or provide an opportunity or answer a prayer to meet your needs, and He can do that in so many different ways.

It doesn’t always look like a divine act. It may be an unexpected check in the mail, a friend who offers to help fix your car, or a cart full of groceries left on your doorstep.  Often it is those with the fewest resources who have learned to trust God the most.

  • What are some of the ways you have seen God’s provision in your own life?

Second, it includes relational and emotional needs.

God knows when you need a friend, an ear, an arm around the shoulder.  God knows when you need an extra touch of His presence, some encouragement. God knows when you’re just worn out and you can’t go another step. God knows when you’re fearful of the future because you’ve lost someone you love very much. God knows when you’re worried about the results of the medical test.

Third, God knows the deepest needs of our souls.

Joni Eareckson Tada is paralyzed from the neck down due to a swimming accident in her late teens.  One night shortly after the accident, all of her friends and family had gone home, and she was lying in her bed, terrified, lonely, and depressed.

One of her best friends had hidden behind a couch in the waiting room so that she could come back in when visiting hours were over.  That friend crawled hand and knee past the nurses station, climbed into Joni’s bed, and laid there and began singing a hymn that said, “Man of sorrows, what a name for the Son of God who came.  Hallelujah, what a Savior.”.

Joni said of that night, “The comfort of being reminded that Jesus knew sorrow, that Jesus knew loneliness.”  He knew what it ways to be without.  He knew what it was not to be able to move when He was hanging on the cross, brought her incredible comfort.

  • What need in your own life do you want God to meet?


Application

God often works to meet the needs of His children through others of his children.  In other words, God meets the needs of His people through us, His people.

Think through the things that you know people in your life are praying for.  You probably even heard a few during this meeting.  You won’t be able to do something about all of them, but there is probably one or two of those prayers that God can use you to answer.

Make a plan to do something to be the answer to that prayer this coming week.  Think through specifically what you will do and when you will do it.