Author Archive for martin

THE STORY – weekly worksheets

exploring T H E   S T O R Y

 

 THE NEW TESTAMENT

 

CHAPTER 28 : NEW BEGINNINGS

 

Exploring the text

 

1. What was Jesus like? (not in physical looks, but his character …)   Make a list.

 

At the beginning of the video, we are given a snapshot of “the Gospel” – the good news.

  • Are there things in that explanation that we are unsure about ?
  • Who did God use to share this good news with you over the years?

 

 

2. Acts 2. 1-4 – the arrival of God’s gift – the Holy Spirit

Jesus promised this gift before he was crucified (read John14. 15-18 and John 16. 5-13) and then again just before the ascension (read Luke 24. 45-49)

  • What do we learn about the Holy Spirit from these verses?
  • What do these things mean in our daily lives?

 

 

3. “Be my witnesses” (Acts 1. 8)

Jesus’ charge to his disciples was that when the Holy Spirit came, they were to “be my witnesses” and it would be the Holy Spirit who would give them the power to do that. (The Greek word for power is “dynamis … where we get the word dynamo and dynamic from)

  • What is a witness?
  • In what ways does the Holy Spirit give us power to be witnesses to Jesus?
  • What are the regions they are told to be witnesses in and how do they equate to where we live today?

 

 

4. The Fruit of the Spirit

Paul tells us in a number of places how we recognise the Holy Spirit. Basically it boils down to His nature and His actions (sometimes called gifts or ministries).

Read Galatians 5. 22-23

Here is a list of “fruit” attributed to the Holy Spirit.

  • Why do you think Paul calls them “fruit” ?
  • What do you understand by the fact that the word “fruit” here is singular, not plural?
  • Compare the fruit of Spirit with the list you made about the character of Jesus – are there any similarities?

 

When Jesus tells his disciples about this wonderful gift, he uses a word that means “one just like me”.  The Holy Spirit, like Jesus, carries the full nature of God …

 

 

5. Actions of the Spirit

This is one area where there is misunderstanding, and division … even in Paul’s day of those early Christian churches. The different things we see Jesus doing in the Gospel stories are ways in which the Holy Spirit works today … speaking, teaching, healing, setting people free, miracles, to name a few.

  • Are you aware of the ways the Holy Spirit is working in and through his church today?
  • Why is “what Spiritual gift do I have?” a wrong question to ask?
  • How can we allow the Spirit to work more in us and through us?

 

Personal Reflection

 

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” and “You will be clothed with power from on high”

These are Jesus’ words to his disciples.

  • How is this power seen in you?
  • Who might God want you to share this good news with?

CHAPTER 27 : RESURRECTION

 

Exploring the text

There are 4 accounts of the resurrection, one in each Gospel. The one in Mark is probably the first account, so begin by reading this out loud to the group. Make a list of the details on the flipchart …

 

  • Mark 16.  1-8

 

Now read the other 3 accounts out loud, underlining the similarities and adding any extra details to your list.

  • Matthew 28. 1-10
  • Luke 24. 1-12
  • John 20. 1-18

 

 1. What is the same about all these accounts?  What are the differences?

 

2. According to these accounts, why was the angel (angels) there? (clue : NOT to let Jesus out)

 

3. What is the general reaction of the women?

 

4. What about the disciples’ reaction?

 

5. Look at Mary’s experience in John’s account  (John 20. 10-18)

  • Is there anything unusual about it?
  • Is there anything in her experience that matches your own?

 

6. Despite the differences in the 4 accounts, what is the clear message the writers are telling us ?

  • Why is this important for our faith today?

 

7. Paul reflects on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15

Read 1 Cor 15. 2-22  (again you may want to read this out loud … )

 

  • What does Paul say the consequences of Christ NOT being raised are?
  • And what are the results of his resurrection?

 

 

Personal reflection

 

How does the fact that Jesus died and rose again for me affect my life today?

 

CHAPTER 26 : THE HOUR OF DARKNESS

 

Exploring the Text

Before we read further, talk about (or write down) the sequence or moments of “darkness” that Jesus faced through what we call Maundy Thursday and Good Friday … and it all begins in a garden …

 

1. Gethsemane    … submission (Mark 14. 32-42) … and betrayal (Mark 14. 43-50)

 

  • How would you describe Jesus’ experience here in these verses ?
  • In what way was an important battle won here?
  • What does submission to God’s will mean for us in our Christian lives?

 

 

What follows is a series of trials, beatings and abuse … and one friend has not run away like the others.

 

2. Denial (Mark 14. 66-72)

 

  • Why do you think Peter is so strong in his denials ?
  • What situations might lead us to deny our Christian faith?

 

3. Death (Mark 15.33-41)

 

  • It is finished (John 19.30)  The word Jesus uses means “accomplished” – what things had He accomplished?
  • What does that mean in terms of what is left to do?
  • What is the significance of the curtain being torn from the top to bottom? (15.38)

 

4. For us …

 

  • Hebrews 10. 19-22 – what is the result of Jesus death for us? How do we make use of this privilege?
  • John 14.6 – Jesus makes an exclusive claim about access to God. How does this affect the way we see other faiths?
  • How would you explain what the cross mean to you to a friend?

Personal Reflection

 

  • How would you explain in your own words where we have reached in The Story?
  • Where have you reached in YOUR story?

CHAPTER 25: JESUS, SON OF GOD

 

Exploring the Text

 

1. Matthew 16. 13-20 – who do YOU say I am ?

Over the last couple of weeks, we have seen some strong hints as to who Jesus is … at His baptism, the things he taught and did, and the authority he did them with.  People were asking the question and coming up with a whole array of answers …

 

  • What are some of the answers people might give today to that question?
  • How would you counter any of these answers?
  • What other titles has Jesus been given so far in these last few weeks?
  • Why does Jesus charge them NOT to tell anyone who He is?

 

 

2. Matthew 16. 21-23 – Jesus predicts his death

Jesus begins to talk to them about what must happen to Him

 

  • Why is Peter’s response a reasonable one?
  • Why is Jesus so strong in His answer to Peter?
  • What does this tell us about God’s Upper Story plan?

 

 

 3. Matthew 16. 24-28 – Jesus’ challenge

Jesus challenges those who follow Him …

 

  • How do you interpret Jesus’ challenge in v.24-25?
  • What does it mean for us in our day to day lives to : 1. Deny self;  2. Take up our cross;  3. Follow Him;  4. Be ready to lose our life for Jesus ?
  • How does v27 fit with the Gospel of grace (that there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, but trust Jesus)?
  • Do you think people today are concerned about the soul? If not, why not? (v.26)

 

 

4. John 8. 31-47 – Opposition to Jesus

Jesus arrives in Jerusalem and begins teaching … but immediately begins to face opposition and fierce questioning. Even his words to those who had some faith in Him seems quite harsh and uncompromising, and certainly got their backs up!

 

  • What things does Jesus say that reveal something about who he is?
  • What is the crowd’s reaction to His words?
  • Why is their final reaction so violent (John 8.58)?
  • What is the opposition to Jesus today?

 

 

So begins the journey towards the cross …

 

 Personal Reflection

 

Consider the titles Jesus is given through the Gospels : for example, saviour, messiah, Son of God, Lamb of God, Emmanuel … what do these mean to you?

Reflect that this Jesus, the Son, Saviour, Lamb, Messiah …  died for you.

CHAPTER 24 : NO ORDINARY MAN

 

Exploring the Text

1. Jesus’ Parables

Jesus used different methods to teach truths about God’s kingdom. One of these is “parables” – stories with a meaning.

  •  Which is your favourite parable and why is it important to you?
  • What upper story truths does your parable convey?

 

2. The “lost” parables  (Luke 15)

Jesus tells three parables about three lost things – a sheep, a coin and a son.

  • What similar threads run through these three parables?
  • What do you learn about the love and heart of God from them?

 

3. The Sermon on the Mount  (Matthew 5.1 – 7.34)

This section of more formal teaching is split into lots of different sections. The first of these sections is called the “Beatitudes” – a word that means blessed or happy (Matt 5. 1-12). As with other elements of Jesus teaching, these show us how God’s kingdom is different to the world around us …

  •  Some are easier to understand than others, so what do they mean/how do they work?
  • How are these different from the world around us?
  • How do these things make someone blessed or happy?

 

4. Challenges

Jesus’ teaching challenges the norm of that time :

  • Materialism (6.1-4 and 6.19-34)
  • The way we treat each other (5.21-48 and 7.1-6)
  • The OT Law and religious structure (5. 17-20)
  • Prayer and fasting (6.5-18)
  • Personal faith (7.7-27)

 

  • In what ways do we need to hear and heed these challenges today?
  • What is the point Jesus makes in the final section of this teaching ? (Matthew 7. 24-27)

 

5. Teaching by example

Jesus also taught by showing people what God’s kingdom was like

  •  What miracles did Jesus perform over his ministry (share as many as you can think of)
  • What lessons do these teach us about what God’s kingdom is like.

 

Personal Reflection

 The video uses the example of Jesus walking on water, and Peter stepping out of the boat to do the same …

  • Which “boat” might Jesus be calling us to step out of?

 

 

CHAPTER 23 : JESUS’ MINISTRY BEGINS

Exploring the Text

 1.    Jesus’ Baptism                (Matthew 3. 13-17)

  •  What strikes you about the way Jesus is identified at his baptism?
  • Why is important to know right from the start who Jesus is?

 

  2.   Jesus’ Temptations  (Matthew 4. 1-11)

  •  What exactly were the three temptations about, and in what ways do we face the same things?
  • How has the Bible helped us in facing temptation?

 

 3.    The Lamb of God           (John 1.29)

John the Baptist identifies Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. The video links this with both Passover and the sacrificial system for the forgiveness of sin.

  • What does this mean to you, in a modern world that does not have the same sacrificial understanding?
  • In what way does Jesus “take away the sin of the world” ?

 

 4.    Jesus and Nicodemus   (John 3. 1-16)

Jesus talks to this teacher about upper story things, but Nicodemus is stuck in the lower story ….

  •  What does Jesus tell him about the work of the Holy Spirit?
  • What does Jesus reveal about God’s master-plan, and what lies at the heart of it?

 

5. The woman at the well (John 4. 21-24)

Jesus told the Samaritan woman that God looks for people who will worship the Father in Spirit and truth.

  • What do you understand by this?
  • How can our worship reflect this? (Is Jesus just talking about formal worship?)

 

Personal Reflection

How important is it for you to know who Jesus is, and how important is it for you to grasp who you are in God’s eyes?

 

CHAPTER 22 : THE NATIVITY

 

  • What’s your favourite part of the Christmas story and why?
  • If you were in a nativity play as a child, which part did you play?

 

The Christmas story appears in only two Gospels, from the two main character’s points of view – Matthew tells it from Joseph’s, and Luke tells it from Mary’s. In John’s Gospel, we have that famous reading that gives more of an overview of the theology behind the nativity, starting in a similar way to Genesis.

 

Matthew 1. 18-25

  • What do you think Joseph will have thought or felt like before and after the angelic visit in his dream?
  • What is the significance of the link with Isaiah 7.14 and the name Emmanuel? 

 

Luke 1. 26-38

  • What did Mary know about her child before He was conceived?
  • Why was being born without sin, of a virgin, so important?
  • Compare Mary’s song of praise (Luke 1. 46-55) with Hannah’s song (1 Samuel 2.1-10). Did Mary see herself as part of God’s Upper story? 

 

John 1.1-14

  • Look at the different names or titles that Jesus is given in this passage – what is their meaning or significance?
  • John 1.4 – “In Him was life, and that life was the light of mankind”. What do you think this means, that “in Him was life”?
  • What echoes or links are there in John’s words with what we’ve looked at in the Old Testament story?

 

The shepherds are the first visitors to the stable and leave, telling everyone they met about all that had happened. And the people they told were amazed…

  •  What do you suppose amazed them ?
  • Can you share any moments when you have experienced God in your life?

 

  • What did you make of the closing comments on the video about Jesus coming into our lives and as he grows, there’s a point He must come out?
  • How do you think this happens?

 

In Jesus’ arrival, we begin to see God’s answer to the hopes and failures of the Old Testament story.  It’s interesting to see the characters in Jesus’ genealogy at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel – they were not saints by any means!

 

Personal Reflection

Is Jesus in my life?  If so, how is he seen?

 

 

 

CHAPTER 21 : REBUILDING

Exploring the text

1. Nehemiah – a man of prayer and practical action.

  • What situations led Nehemiah to pray ? (Neh. 1. 3-11; Neh. 2. 1-9;  & Neh. 4. 1-6)
  • Nehemiah prayed for protection AND posted guards … what does this tell us about Nehemiah’s faith?
  • What does this example mean for our faith?

 

2. Ezra – an expert in the Law

As the book of the Law is read aloud, a team of Levites help by “Making it clear”  (translating … as well as explaining what it meant) and it brings the people to tears. (Neh. 8. 1-9)

  • Why?
  • Have you been moved by something you’ve read in the Bible?
  • How can we help “translate” God’s word in our time?

 

3. Malachi – the last prophet

Malachi challenges the people to give God their first and best, rather than their last and leftovers.

(Mal. 1. 6-14 and 3. 6-12)

  • In what ways do we tend to give God leftovers rather than our best?
  • What is God’s mood over the priests’ and people’s actions and complacency?
  • What is God’s answer? (Mal.  2.17 – 3.5)

 

 

Our Old Testament reflections

  •  Which characters or lessons have you found helpful over these weeks of exploring the Old Testament?
  •  How do these Old Testament studies help us in our Christian lives today?
  •  Which episodes have helped us understand a little more of Jesus’ story?

 

 

This is NOT homework !

Malachi looks forward to Jesus and to John the Baptist’s preparation.

Over these next few weeks, before we plunge into the New Testament, why not read one of the Gospels as our preparation for the next stage of the Story?

 

  • Mark is the shortest and thought to the first one written
  • Matthew is aimed at a Jewish readership and focuses on how Old Testament promises are fulfilled in Jesus.
  • Luke is for a wider readership and contains some of the most famous stories
  • John is the last Gospel written and contains more teaching and theology.

Choose one and use August to read and reflect and enjoy the whole story …

 

 

 

CHAPTER 20 : ESTHER

Exploring the text

The characters :

Xerxes – the powerful king of Persian empire, an empire that stretched from India to the Nile.

Mordecai – a Jewish exile, who foils a plot to assassinate the King, who took in his cousin (Esther) when her parents died, and who watches over her, even in the King’s courtyard, making sure she was alright.

Haman – a powerful court official, from the tribe that came out the Amalekite remnant (see first in Exodus 17). He has a fearful hatred of the Jews and seeks to exterminate them, even offering to pay the royal treasury to do it!

Esther – the beautiful Jewish woman who is made queen, and whose dangerous task it is to plead for mercy for her people, even though the king didn’t know she was a Jew and even though royal protocol might mean she is killed for approaching the King..

 

 

1. Part of Xerxes’ story shows him making judgements based on half the evidence and skewed advice …

  • Do we fall into the same trap?
  • What does this teach us about making judgements ourselves?

 

2. We see in Haman how Saul’s disobedience to God hundreds of years before has long term consequences.

  • What lessons does Haman teach us about pride, self-centeredness, and hatred?
  • Where do we see sins of the past giving rise to hatreds now?
  • How would you advise a Christian living in a situation where they encounter someone like Haman?
  • Are we aware of situations in the village/families that result from sins or mistakes of the past, and how should we face them?

 

3. Mordecai seems to tie all these other characters together …

  • What words would you use to describe his character, and why?
  • How does God use Mordecai to bring his Upper Story plan into the lower story plots and schemes?

 

4. Let’s look at Esther … and her decision to go to the King despite the cost :  “If I perish, I perish”.

  • What strikes you about Esther’s character, how she related to people, and the risks she took?
  • What do we understand by Jesus’ words in Luke 9.23?
  • Are there times when you have had to take a stand for what’s right, even though it was costly?

 

Esther is not the first Hebrew that God positioned in a place of influence to be a source of deliverance for His people.

  • Who are the other deliverers we have studied in The Story and what common threads connect Queen Esther’s story to theirs?

 

The book of Esther has been called the “godless book” because God’s name is never mentioned. Prayer, the Law, sacrifices, and temple worship are also conspicuously absent.  And yet this part of the story is crucial in God’s plan.

  • Where do we see God at work in this story?
  • How does this book fit into God’s plan?

 

 

Personal reflection

Spend some time looking back over your life and the steps that have brought you to where you are today.

  • Can you recognise moments and “coincidences” that you now recognise as God’s plan for you?

 

CHAPTER 19 : THE RETURN HOME

Last time we saw how Daniel’s prayer was taken up with God’s promise to let the exiles return home after 70 years. God’s plan for this is through King Cyrus of Persia, who appears in Daniel’s story … and is the subject of the spiritual battle going on … and perhaps we see why this was such an important battle in this week’s story.

 

1. Read Ezra 1.1-4

Here’s Cyrus’ proclamation, linking it as Daniel did with the prophecy of Jeremiah. It results in the first wave of exiles returning to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel.

 Read Isaiah 45. 1-6 – (note Isaiah’s words are 120-150 years before Cyrus came to the throne !)

  • What do you notice about the relationship between God and Cyrus?
  • Why does God choose him? (Is. 45.6)

 

2. Read Ezra 3. 1-6

  • Why was it so important to rebuild the altar first?
  • What does this tell us about priorities?
  • What does it tell us about the significance of the temple building itself?

 

3. Read Ezra 4. 1-5 and v.24

Here we read about opposition to the rebuilding, despite Cyrus’ decree, and work stops for 16 years.

We get a different “spin” on this from Haggai …

Read Haggai 1. 1-11

  • What’s your assessment of the situation here? What kind of conflict did they face?
  • Was the opposition a convenient excuse to stop rebuilding or just a distraction?
  • Are there times we get side-tracked by our own “priorities” and find our relationship with God has faltered?
  • What was the encouragement they needed to start again?  (Haggai 1. 13 and Haggai 2. 4-5)
  • When have we found that to be an important encouragement/truth?

 

4. The Temple is completed, despite further opposition, and the Passover is celebrated, as returned exiles. (Ezra 6.15-22)

  • How do the people recognise God’s hand at work?

 

The video tells us about what the temple was for :

God’s Passion – proximity – to be with us

Our Problem – sin – pushing God away, choosing our own pathway

God’s Solution – access through the a sacrifice – worship system > Jesus

Worship is about what God is worth to you, and seeing how much we are worth to God.

 

  • How do we show how much God is worth to us?
  • What does having access to God through Jesus mean to you?
  • What excuses/misplace priorities are made today that actually keep people away from God?

 

Personal reflection

  • How high a priority do I put worshipping God in my week?
  • What would it mean for me to put God first?
  • Haggai’s advice : Give careful thought to your ways …

CHAPTER 18 : DANIEL’S STORY

Exploring the text : A look at Daniel

Daniel was taken into exile by the Babylonians in the first wave of exiles for “training” (around 605BC)  … from a noble/royal family – not really a prophet in the same way as all the rest, but he is rooted in Jeremiah’s prophecy .  The first 6 chapters relate to events in Babylon over a period of 70 years.

As with Joseph, God places a man at the heart of influence throughout this time of crisis/exile, and there are certain similarities with the two stories.

The last 6 chapters (in first person) relate 2 visions and the challenge to God to fulfil Jeremiah’s prophecy.

 

1. Daniel’s Faith

  • How would you describe Daniel’s faith? (Dan 1. 6-16; Dan 2. 17-23; Dan 2. 27-28; Dan 6. 10-14)
  • Are these characteristics important elements in our faith?
  • In what circumstances might Christians have to take a similar stand today?

 

2. Daniel’s Visions  of Empires (Dan 7 and 8)– apocalyptic writing (akin to Ezekiel/John ..)

These visions come mainly during Belshazzar’s Godless reign … the unfolding of this vision was about to start. The descriptions are very pictorial but relate to the empires between then and Jesus … and can be seen unfolding historically.

  • What place do these kinds of pictures or visions have in our faith today?
  • What do they tell us about God’s Upper Plan?

 

3. Daniel’s Intercession and spiritual warfare (Dan 9-11)

Dan 9. 1-2 : Comes out of a deep relationship with God and clear access to Jeremiah’s prophecy (contemporary of Daniel –called to be a prophet in 627 – so his words would have been when Daniel taken into exile. Carried with him for 70 years ! And now called on God to fulfil his promise and return his people home.

 

His prayeridentification with sin of nation (9.5 ; 9.8; 9.10-11; 9.15)

reminders of God’s action/faithfulness  (9.4; 9; 9.15-16)

ask for forgiveness and mercy  (9.16; 9.18-9)

 

  • What does this tell us about the nature of prayer ?
  • What do you notice about the answer (Dan 9. 20-23)?

 

4. The battling angel : (Dan 10)

The angelic answer is despatched, but waylaid – till Michael came – notice King of Persia is captive.

This is one of the only passages that identifies the spiritual warfare of prayer … Spiritual forces, rulers, authorities, powers, in the heavenly realms have an earthly effect.

  • How does this equate with what Paul tells us in Ephesians 6. 10-20?
  • What is our part in this spiritual battle?

 

Daniel ends with a wonderful promise – and the first mention of resurrection in the Bible :

“Go your way and then at the end of days, you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.” (Dan 12.13)

 

A time of Reflection :

In what way does God put people or nations “into exile” today ?

CHAPTER 17 : THE KINGDOM FALLS

Exploring the Text

This week’s episode brings the Kingdom of Judah into exile under the Babylonian invasions – there were three stages between 604BC and 586BC. Rather than look at the text that covers this history, as it’s similar to previous weeks, our focus is on the prophet Jeremiah. His journey begins in Josiah’s reign, the last good king of Judah, and takes us through the period that saw Judah’s fall – a period of 41 years. His book is not a clear chronology, but the building up of a picture … and the fact that the exile was in these three historical stages.

 

1. Jeremiah’s call (Jer.1. 4-19)

  • What is the nature of Jeremiah’s calling?
  • What are God’s reassurances to him?
  • What words strike you in this passage?

 

2. The Babylonian invasion (Jer. 4. 5-11)

  • Can you identify who is speaking in these verses?
  • What does this tell you about Jeremiah’s relationship with God as he fulfils his calling?
  • Are there any lessons we can learn for our own relationship with God?

 

3. Judgement justified?  (Jer. 5. 1-19)

  • Where do you catch sight of God’s mercy and hope in this dialogue?
  • What is Jeremiah’s role in this dialogue?
  • How does this match Paul’s assessment of mankind in Romans 3.23 ?

 

Chapters 6 and 7 or Jeremiah foretell of the siege of Jerusalem and the fall of the Temple, and we have the first call of reform (Jer. 7.3) because their faith/religion is worthless and misplaced. (there are three other identical calls).

What a terrifying verse Jer. 7.16 is !  (we see it again in Jer. 14.11)

4. God’s lament (Jer. 8.18 – 9.2)

  • What do these verses tell us about God’s heart?
  • Can you think of any parallels with Jesus attitude and anguish?

 

5.  Warnings to the exiles (Jer. 10. 1-7)

As the people are taken into exile, what warning does God give them?

What is Jeremiah’s response?  (see also his prayer in Jer. 10.23-5)

What warnings might we be given today?

 

6. Jeremiah’s complaint (Jer. 12. 1-4)

  • What is the nature of his complaint?
  • He questions God again in Jer. 14. 19-22 – how would you describe this part of the dialogue?
  • Where does Jeremiah’s faith lie … and therefore his hope?

 

God’s answer is a long one … and includes some visual aids (eg. a ruined linen belt (Jer. 13) and a potter reforming the clay (Jer. 18) … ). But the final answer comes in Jer. 23. 1-8 and Jer. 25. 1-14)

  • What does God promise?
  • Why is this so important?

 

Jeremiah’s life is under threat because he has taken on all the powerful institutions of Judah … and he is imprisoned in Zedekiah’s reign.

  • His letter to the exiles in Jer 29 contain words of hope and promise (Jer 29. 11)
  • Jer. 31. 32-34 give us the beginning of the promise we see already intimated
  • Jeremiah ends with a record of those taken into captivity and the assimilation begins.

 

 

CHAPTER 16 : THE BEGINNING OF THE END

Exploring the text

This chapter covers 200 years of history – the kingdom of Israel is overrun by the Assyrians in 722BC and the kingdom of Judah falls to the Babylonians in 586BC, to emerge again after a period of exile of 70 years.

 

1. Scan through the first verses announcing each king (2 Kings 13 – 2 Kings 16)

  • What pattern do you see?
  • What practices did they get up to and lead the people in ?  (the sin of Jereboam is mentioned regularly – you can find this in  1 Kings 12. 23ff)

 

2. God allowed a foreign power to invade and defeat the Northern kingdom of Israel. (2 Kings 17. 1-18

  • Why did God bring such devastating judgement of his own people?
  • What do you learn from God’s response to the behaviour of Israel?

Note : what a dreadful verse v.18 is !

 

3. Hezekiah’s reign – deemed “good” in the eyes of the Lord. (2 Kings 18. 1-12)

  • What did he do that pleased the Lord ?
  • What can we learn from the description given him in these verses?

 

In 2 Kings 18. 13-37 we read about Hezekiah facing Assyrian pressure , and we discover that this invasion is at the Lord’s command (v.25) and the city of Jerusalem is under siege (v.27).

 

4. Read the speech made by the Assyrian commander (2 Kings 18. 28-35)

  • What strikes you about his speech?
  • What is Hezekiah’s response ? (2 Kings 19)

 

5. We meet Isaiah for the first time here …

  • How would Isaiah’s message restore faith for Hezekiah?
  • When have we needed someone to encourage us to hold fast to God ?

 

6.  The Assyrian threat is repeated (2 Kings 19. 9-13) and Hezekiah turns to prayer.

  • Which elements strike you about Hezekiah’s prayer?
  • What is God’s response through Isaiah? (2 Kings 19. 20-34)
  • What is God’s response to the Assyrian army?

 

7. Hezekiah falls ill – (2 Kings 20) and is spared for a further 15 years … note what the problem was (v. 7). But he ends his life in peace … and Manasseh takes over (2 Kings 21. 1-9).

  • What was the problem with Manasseh’s reign?

 

8. Isaiah’s role at this stage of Judah’s history was twofold : to bring specific encouragements and warnings from God, and to point us forward to the fulfilment of God’s promise to his people – indeed, some of his prophecies  seem to be specifically about Jesus , even though this was hundreds of years before He was born!

 

Look at the following passages and see if you can link them to Jesus’ life.

Isaiah : 7. 13-14 / 9.2-7  /  11.1-5  /  35. 1-10  /  40. 3-5 and 9-11  /  42. 1-9  /  49. 5-9  /  50. 4-9  /  53  /  61.1-5

Personal Reflection

Hezekiah cleansed the temple/land from the things that stood for compromise and idolatry.

  • Are there things I need to do to cleanse my spiritual life ?
  •  Are there things I need to bring to God in prayer that I find overwhelming?

 

CHAPTER 15 : GOD’S MESSENGERS

Exploring the Text

This week’s topic covers a large number of different books towards the end of the Old Testament. The video told us a little about Hosea’s story …and how his relationship with Gomer was a visual aid for the unfaithfulness of Israel, as well as the constancy of God’s love.

1. Look at the charge in Hosea 4;

  • What words strike you about this chapter?
  • What parallels do you see with our nation today?
  • What is God’s response ? (Hosea 5. 4-7)

 

2. Israel assumes that God will not turn away from them – that whatever they do, God will always be on their side. God sees through their feigned repentance, their shallow  faith  (Hosea 6.)

  • Do we take God’s forgiveness for granted ?
  • Why should we treat this great gift with respect and sincerity?

 

3. God reminds Israel of his love for them … (Hosea 11. 1-11) – read this passage and again share the words or phrases that particularly strike you.

  • How would you describe God as he appears in these words?
  • What does the strength of God’s love lead him to do?

 

4. The book of Hosea ends with encouraging promises – hope amid the failure (Hosea 14)

Where there is true repentance, God forgives and brings his blessing, his presence.

  • What are the results of continued or habitual sin?
  • What images to Hosea paint of forgiveness and restoration?
  • How do you understand the final verse of Hosea ?

 

5. The message of the prophets is largely one that confronts Israel with their sinfulness and pronounces God’s judgement on them, unless they turn and repent.

  • How do you see this being a relevant message in today’s world?

 

 

6. When Elijah challenged the false prophets of Baal, at one time he turned to Israel and said,

“How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; if Baal is god, then follow him” (1 Kings 18.21).

  • What can it look like today when Christians waver between two opinions, trying to follow Jesus while keeping one foot in the world?
  • How does this kind of lifestyle prevent us from experiencing the kingdom of God?

 

Personal reflection

  • In what ways do I take God’s love and forgiveness for granted?
  • Is God calling me to return to him?

 

 

CHAPTER 14 :  A KINGDOM DIVIDED (1 KINGS 12>)

Exploring the Text

Solomon’s legacy is a kingdom where idolatry had become part of the official system; and two sons …

1. Rehoboam sought counsel to make an important decision (1Kings 12. 6-11) and so did Jeroboam (1Kings 12. 25-33).

  • What criteria did each seem to use in evaluating the counsel of others?
  • What makes for wise counsel? What kind of counsel does or should your small group provide for each other?

 

2. Jeroboam “counterfeited worship” by redirecting Israel’s attention away from the temple in Judah to local idols. Notice the sites he put up altars – Shechem, Peniel, Bethel … remember these ?

  • What did he gain from this?

 

3. Does the prophecy from the man of God, the sign of the altar, and the leprous hand represent acts of grace or acts of judgment toward Jeroboam (1Kings 13. 1-9)?

  • What should Jeroboam’s response have been?

 

4. Jeroboam recognized that Ahijah spoke the truth, even when he did not like it. (1Kings 14. 1-17)

  • How do you respond when you hear a truth you do not like?
  • How can you be different from Jeroboam and use these as opportunities to change?

 

5. Have you had an occasion when someone asked you for advice and counsel because he or she respected your integrity and truthfulness? What happened?

 

6. Under King Rehoboam, the people of Judah “engaged in all the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites.” (1Kings 14.24) The idolatry in the culture had become the idolatry of God’s people.

  • In what ways are God’s people today similar to the non-Christian culture all around us?
  • How are we different?

 

7. There is then the beginning of a long list of kings who carry a common refrain : “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord …”

  • Why would God allow such evil kings to rule over His people?
  • How do the tragedies in this chapter fit into God’s Upper Story?

 

8. Why did the sons of Hiel die during the rebuilding of Jericho? ( 1Kings 16.34-5) … see (Joshua 6:26).

  • What does this incident teach you about the character of God?

 

9. The split of Israel and Judah led to continual warfare for hundreds of years.

  • What issues divide God’s people today?
  • Read Jesus’ prayer for his people (that includes us) in John 17. 20-23 – why is unity so important?
  • What unites us?

 

Share with your group practical ways to promote unity at our church and unity with believers from other churches.

10. What is the standard used in this chapter for a good king?

What kind of standards are you setting for the generations that will follow you?

CHAPTER 13 : SOLOMON’S REIGN   (1 Kings 1-11)

Exploring the text

1. Randy talked about incremental changes that went unnoticed till it was too late … (boiling frogs!!)

  • What incremental changes have we been aware of that have changed the culture around us?
  • What should we do?

 

2. Solomon asked God for wisdom to lead the people. (I Kings 3. 1-15)

  • Did God answer his request ? (1 Kings 4. 29-34)
  • What would we say if we were offered anything we want?

 

3. Solomon made careful plans for the building of the temple. (1 Kings 5. 1- 6.38)

  • What do you understand by the word “However” in this context?  (1 Kings 6.38 – 7.1)

 

4. Compare God’s promises to Solomon with His promises to David (1Kings 9. 1-9)

  • Which promise(s) had God faithfully fulfilled?
  • What would Solomon and his descendants need to do to keep a successor on the throne?
  • How could Israel avoid captivity?

 

5. Solomon accumulated unprecedented riches and a great number of foreign wives.

Look up Deuteronomy 17:15-17 and 28:1-14.

  • Did Solomon go too far? Is extreme wealth a good thing or a bad thing?

 

6. Solomon’s failures began when he married women who served other gods.

  • Is it important for a husband and wife to both be committed Christians? If so, why?
  • What advice would you give someone who is considering marrying a non-Christian?

 

Personal reflection

Look at Solomon’s prayer of dedication. (1 Kings 8)

  • What do his words teach us about God?
  • How does his prayer help us in the way we talk to God?

 

Explore the book of Proverbs – pick out ones that you find helpful

CHAPTER 12 – THE TRIALS OF A KING

Exploring The Text

 

We have been reminded already in previous episodes that “the best of the best” is still not good enough, and David’s story shows that spectacularly.

 

1. The story of David’s fall begins in 2 Sam. 11

There is a kind of “domino effect” as one sin leads to another …

  • Who did David sin against—Bathsheba, Uriah or God?
  • Which Ten Commandments did David break in his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah?
  • What were the steps in David’s sin and cover-up?
  • In what ways does this “domino effect” happen today ?

 

2. What effects did David’s sin have on :

  • Bathsheba
  • Uriah
  • The prophet Nathan
  • The military commander Joab
  • Soldiers in Joab’s unit
  • The baby conceived

 

3. Nathan, the prophet, is sent to challenge David (2 Sam 12)

  • What specific things strike you about what he says to David (2 Sam 12. 7-14)
  • What are the wider implications of David’s sin?
  • What is David’s response?

 

4. The second part of 2 Sam 12 relates what happened next.

  • Why did God take the life of the child when it was his father who sinned?
  • How do you feel about God’s decision?
  • Does God’s punishment of David (and all his family) fit the crime if God truly forgave him?

 

5. Psalm 32 describes what David felt before and after his confession

  • If all our sins were forgiven by Christ dying on the cross, then what value does confession have today?
  • Why is it so important?

 

6. Look at Psalm 23

  • Why do you think this passage continues to be so meaningful to people?

 

 

Personal Reflection

  • In what ways do I deceive myself into thinking “I’ve got away with it” ?

Paul warns the Ephesians, “do not give the devil a foothold” (Eph 4.27)

  • Where are the places in my life that might be weaknesses and places of potential sin?

CHAPTER 11 – SHEPHERD BOY TO KING

Exploring The Text

1. When Saul disobeyed God, Samuel told Saul that the LORD had sought out a man after God’s own heart and appointed him as the ruler for His people.

  • What does it mean to be a man or woman after God’s own heart based on David’s example? (See Acts 13:21-22.)
  • What sort of things are on God’s heart, and how do we find out?

 

2. In his battle with Goliath, David trusts himself to God, based on his past experience, in the face of a defiant and dismissive enemy.

  • What examples of defiance against God are we aware of today?
  • What examples of dismissiveness towards God are we aware of?
  • What have we found that helps us stand up to these attitudes, or helps us overcome them?

 

3. Read  1 Sam 24. 1-13

  • What was the fundamental reason for David’s choice to spare Saul’s life in their encounter at En-Gedi
  • How does this choice reflect David’s view of submission and of God?

 

4. After David is made king, finally, and prepares to bring the Ark of God to Jerusalem (The City of David).

  • What do you learn about God’s character and His ways from the episode of David and the ark (2 Sam 6. 1-19)? (For further insight, see Exodus 25:14 and Numbers 4:15.)
  • How does the Bible describe David’s worship?
  • Would you characterize your own worship as reserved or unbridled?

 

5. Read 2 Sam 7. 1-16.

In humility, David offered to build a house for God, but instead God promised to build a “house” for David.

  • What prompted David’s concern for God’s dwelling place?
  • What specific covenant promises did God make with David?
  • How is this covenant with David later fulfilled in Christ (Luke 1:32-33)?

 

Let’s finish tonight with David’s prayer (2 Sam 7. 18-29)

  • Read it out loud and pick out a word or a phrase that particularly strikes you
  • Spend a moment in quiet and then share these words or insights together
  • Read it again to finish

 

  Personal Reflection

David had to wait 14 years before actually becoming King.

  • Have you ever had a lengthy wait to receive something you felt God had planned for your life?
  • What kept you hopeful during your wait?
  • How can God use times of waiting (sometimes in a wilderness) to prepare us for what lies ahead?

 

David’s life and struggles are reflected in his Psalms. Spend some time over the next 2 weeks reading some of them …

 

 

CHAPTER 10 – SAMUEL AND THE MONARCHY

Exploring the text

Hannah’s prayer

1. What can we learn about prayer from Hannah and Samuel? (1 Sam 1. 1-20)

 

2. Samuel was just a boy when God called him to be a prophet to Eli and all of Israel. (1 Sam 3. 1-10)

  • What do you notice about the timing and nature of God’s call?
  • What does Eli teach Samuel about listening to God?
  • How do we discern God’s call today?

 

3. Samuel is hurt when he sees that the Israelites want a king like other nations, instead of recognizing God as their king.  (1 Sam 8.1-22)

  • In what ways do we struggle with a desire to be like the culture around us – to be like everyone else?
  • Are there times when we choose to reject God, and why does God let us?
  • How do Paul’s words in Romans 12. 1-2 help us?

 

4. The choice of monarch was not God’s perfect plan, and even though Samuel spelt out the consequences, the people still wanted a King . (1 Sam 8. 9-20)

  • Do you recognise similar consequences in our modern leaders and governments today?
  • Can you identify examples of the “permissible will of God” in your experience?
  • What are the consequences we face of insisting on our way rather than God’s?

 

5. Read through the chapters that describe Saul’s appointment as King (1 Sam 9-11) and list Saul’s qualities.

  • Would you have chosen Saul, based on these qualities?
  • What kind of King do you think the people of Israel were looking for?
  • What qualities would you look for in Christian leadership?

6. The episode with the Amalekites and Saul’s fall from grace is in chapter 15. and the Lord grieves over his choice of Saul as King (1 Sam 15.35)

  • What were the problems with Saul’s behaviour and attitude?
  • Does Samuel’s judgement echo in today’s world, and in what ways? (1 Sam 15. 22-23)
  • Can people frustrate God’s plan, even his permissible plan, and if so, how do we avoid making these same mistakes?

 

Personal Reflection

Saul’s rationalising of his sin cost him his Kingship. Are there areas in our lives where we rationalise sin ?

 

 

CHAPTER 9  –  RUTH

Exploring the Text

1. Meanings of Biblical names are always significant.

  • Elimelek’s name meant “my God is King.”
  • Naomi’s name meant “beautiful,” but later asked to be called Mara, meaning “bitterness.”
  • Ruth’s name meant “friendship.”
  • Boaz’s name meant “swift strength.”

Who best lived up to their names and who did not?

 

2. Naomi was a woman of faith, but she also questioned God and was deeply honest about her struggles

(Ruth 1.19-21)

  • In what ways did Naomi’s losses affect the way she viewed God and his work in her life?

Compare Naomi’s attitude at the beginning and end of this story.  (Ruth 4. 13-17)

  • How does her view of God and the Upper Story change?

 

3. The period of the Judges was marked by weak faith and irresponsible living, but this foreign woman gives hope.

  • What do we learn about Ruth’s character from her actions and attitudes?
  • How can she be an example today ?
  • Why is it important that Ruth was an “outsider” ?

 

4. The story of Ruth demonstrates laws that God had given Israel to take care of marginalized people (Deuteronomy 25:5-10, Leviticus 23:22, 25:25, Leviticus 19:9-10).

  • What kind of character do Boaz’s actions display? (Ruth 3 – 4.10)
  • What do these laws and customs reveal about the heart of God for the poor, the widow and the orphan?
  • How could your group care for the less fortunate and thereby reflect the heart of God?

 

5. The word for redeem is used twenty times in this story, making it a key theme.

  • What does it mean to be redeemed?
  • How does Boaz’s redeeming of Ruth compare to our redemption found in Christ?

 

Personal Reflection

What does it mean to you that Jesus is the redeemer ?

Who should we draw alongside who need to know that they are loved and beautiful in God’s eyes?

 

CHAPTER 8 : GIDEON       (JUDGES 6-8)

Exploring the Text

 

1. Israel is constantly running from the true God to other false gods.

  • What are some of the false gods in our culture today?
  • Which of them do we tend to trust?

 

2. False gods trigger a cycle: a web of sin, God’s judgments, crying out for help, and God providing deliverance.

  • In what ways do Christians today embrace the sin, practices and culture of our day, and end up feeling distant from God?
  • Why do we seem to repeat the same patterns, even though we know the outcome of sin will not be good?
  • How can we stand firm against this? (Romans 12. 1-2)

 

3. Contrast how God saw Gideon and how Gideon saw himself (Judges 6. 11-16)

  • How is this helpful in our relationship with God when we feel like Gideon?
  • What’s really special about the meeting in the winepress?

 

4. Do you think Gideon’s request for a sign was an act of faith or an act of faithlessness? (Judges 6. 36-40)

  • Does his faith change over time?
  • When is it right to “lay out a fleece”?
  • Why does God choose the most unlikely people to accomplish his Upper Story plan ?

 

5. How did God strengthen Gideon and help him press through his fears as he faced the power of Midian?

  • How does God do that today when we are feeling inadequate or fearful?

 

6. One of the recurring themes of this period of Israel’s history is that a new generation would rise up who did not know God and what he had done for his people in the past. When they forgot, they wandered.

  • What can we do in our generation to help them hold onto God in the future?
  • What parts of the story are most important to pass on?

 

7. Where do you see God’s grace in this chapter?

  • What does this story tell us about the determination of God to fulfil his Upper Story plan?

Personal Reflection

  • Where are the destructive cycles in my life that keep dragging me away from God?
  • What are the lessons from Gideon’s’ story that can help me break the cycle?

 

Exploring further …

Read the stories of the other Judges – one will be a well-known name, Samson.

 

 

 

CHAPTER 7 : TAKING THE LAND    (JOSHUA)

Exploring the text

1. Joshua follows Moses – he has been well-trained in God’s presence, staying in the tent of meeting, and assisting Moses on Mt Sinai. He already knows God well when he takes over leadership from Moses.

He also experienced God’s power in the battle against the Amalekites (Exodus 17).

  • What lessons do you think Joshua learned from this battle ?

 

2. What basis did Joshua have for being “strong and courageous” (Josh. 1.6-9)?

  • Which assurances that God gives Joshua most strengthen and encourage you?
  • Notice too Joshua’s faith (Josh 3.5) … how do we grow a faith like his ?

 

3. Joshua sends two spies into Jericho where they are sheltered and saved by Rahab. (Josh. 2)

Rahab told the two spies: “I know that the Lord has given you this land” (Josh. 2.9).

  • Upon what was her declaration of faith based?
  • How could she be a prostitute, so easily tell lies, not be a part of God’s chosen people, and yet be attributed with great faith?

 

4. Joshua calls the people to stand firm on the word of God, to be obedient, and brings them across the Jordan following the arc, to circumcision  (Josh. 3 – 5).

  • Why is this so important in the conquest that follows ?  (eg. Josh. 7)

 

5. Joshua is given the promise that God will be with him right from the start, and meets the commander of the Lord’s army before the taking of Jericho (Josh. 5. 13-15).

  • Why is it important to know God is with you, and that you follow in obedience to him ?
  • How can we ensure that we are walking close to him ?

 

6. “Devoted to the Lord” (Josh 6.17). This was a Hebrew term referring to the giving over of things or persons to God, often by totally destroying them.

  • How does God’s command to annihilate entire cities fit into the Upper Story of the Bible?  (look at Deuteronomy 9.1-6)

 

7. Joshua’s story ends with the division of the land and as they begin to settle he reminds the people what God has done for them … the covenant is renewed, and Joshua challenges the people to choose who they will serve (Josh 24. 14-15).

  • Who do you choose to serve ?
  • What does service mean ?

 

Personal reflection

We are told to be people of the Word; people of Prayer; people identified as Belonging to God.

How do these work out in our lives?

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 6 : WANDERING  (NUMBERS 13 – DEUT.34 )

Exploring the Text

1. As the Israelites wander around the wilderness both physically and spiritually, God disciplines them to get them back on course, sometimes strongly.

  • What are the values of being disciplined by someone who loves us and wants the best for us?
  • What’s the difference between punishment and discipline?
  • What lesson is God trying to teach them?

 

2. Ten of the spies let their minds and eyes focus on the obstacles in the Promised Land (Num. 13.26-33).

  • What obstacles do we tend to focus on in our lives?
  • How does it help to focus on the One who can overcome them?

 

3. Israel believed the report of the faithless spies out of fear (Num. 14. 1-10).

  • What do you think was the cause of their consistent lack of faith and trust?
  • Why does their rebellion bring such dire consequences? (Num. 14. 20-23)

 

4. Where have you seen the sins of one generation poison or damage those who came after them?  (14.18)

  • What about good choices and spiritual maturity being passed on as a blessing to the next generation?

 

5. God asks the question: “How long will these people treat me with contempt?” (Num. 14.11).

  • Do you think their actions merit such a severe word as “contempt?”
  • How do people today treat God with contempt?

 

6. Despite His forgiveness, Israel’s rebellion led to a 40 year punishment and kept an entire generation from seeing the Promised Land.

  • What does this teach us about the nature of forgiveness?
  • How might you minister to someone whose life choices resulted in irrevocable consequences?

 

7. Read Number 20. 1-13. Despite his years of service, Moses’ disobedience kept him from entering the Promised Land.

  • What did Moses do wrong?
  • Do you agree with the punishment?
  • What does this teach you about God’s expectations for leadership?

 

8. Moses charged Israel with passing the commandments down to their children. (Deuteronomy 29)

  • What is your role in teaching the next generation?
  • What are some practical ways you can serve as a parent, grandparent, or mentor?

 

 

 

Personal reflection

  • What will help me hear and respond more quickly when the Lord is seeking to lead me?
  • What are the obstacles I face or fear, and how can I overcome them?

 

 

Exploring further …

The book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ own account of this difficult journey, and his charge to Israel to keep God’s covenant. Read through it; much will be familiar, but you get a deeper insight into Moses’ relationship with God.

How does he emphasize God’s Upper Story of redemption?

Look at his final charge (Deuteronomy 30. 11-20) – he places the choice firmly in our hands … choose life.

 

 

CHAPTER 5 : COVENANT   (EXODUS 19-40)

In order for God to continue His Upper plan to dwell with his people once more, He provides a new covenant (The 10 Commandments), a new place of worship and presence (The Tabernacle), and a new system of sacrifice to atone for sin.

 

Exploring The Text

1. What do the Ten Commandments reveal about the nature of God and His desire to have a relationship with us (Ex 20. 1-17)?

  • Jesus summarised the Law as “Love God with all that we are, and love your neighbour as yourself”. What does this tell us about the Upper plan of God ?
  • Jesus pointed to the heart that sinful actions come out of … (Mark 7.20-21).  How can our hearts and therefore our actions change ?

 

2. God describes Himself as jealous (Ex. 20.5)

  • What does this tell us about God?
  • Why is it okay for God to be jealous?

 

3. What does it mean that God is holy?

  • Moses is not allowed to enter the Tabernacle when the cloud of God’s presence covers it (Ex 40.34-5), but when the tent of meeting was outside the camp, he was able to meet God face to face (Ex 33.7-11). What do you think the significance of this is ?
  • What are the implications of God’s holiness as we seek Him?

 

4. “Mad cow worship” is how the video describes the people trying to invent their own religion, to create their own way to God (Ex. 32).

  • How do people still do this today ?
  • What are the results ?

 

5. After punishing the Israelites for the golden calf, Moses immediately sought reconciliation with God.

  • What does this teach us about intercession and reconciliation ?
  • How do we react to sin in the world, or in the church ?

 

6. Jesus promised a gift to every Christian – the Holy Spirit, who would dwell with us and within us. (John 14. 15-18).

  • How does recognising that God lives within us help to connect our Lower Story with His Upper Story on a daily basis ?
  • What ways do you experience the presence and care of God in your daily lives ?

 

 

Personal reflection

The Lord spoke to Moses “as one speaks to a friend” (Ex 33.11). What was there about Moses that God found so pleasing? How would you rate your relationship to God, from 1 = Total Stranger to 10 = Close Friend.

God reminded Moses that children live with the consequences of their parents’ sins (Ex. 20. 4-6). How have your parents’ choices (good and bad) affected your life? How are your choices possibly affecting your children? What needs to change?

 

 

CHAPTER 4 : DELIVERANCE  (Exodus 1- 18)

Exploring the text

In the Lower Story, it looked like Pharaoh was controlling the world. But the time had come for God to deliver Israel and get them back on the path towards his promise. It is time to reveal His name, His power, and His plan. He just needs the right person …

 

1. Have you ever been surprised by God’s call ?

  • How did Moses’ life experiences prepare him for God’s call?
  • What life experience could God use to minister to others through you?

 

2. God is actively involved in his people’s deliverance.

Look at Exodus 3. 1-10. What do you learn about God in the following areas ?

a. what did God, see, hear and feel ?

b. what did God say He would do

c. what did God call Moses to do ?

 

3. How did Moses see himself and his abilities, and how did God see him ? (Exodus 4. 10-12)

  • Have you ever had a conversation with God like the one Moses had ?
  • How can we increase our ability to see ourselves from God’s perspective ?

 

4. Is the best policy to say “yes” to God, even when we feel we are inadequate for the task ?  Why ?

 

5. God always was, is and will be – He introduces Himself as “I AM” – the self-existent one – the one who is always present.

  • How does embracing the reality that the God we worship is the eternal “I AM” help us face the challenges of a normal day ?

 

6. Look at Exodus 12. 1-24

  • How does the Passover point us towards the death of Jesus on a cross as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”?

 

7. While this story has many obvious displays of God’s wrath, we also learn a lot about God’s goodness.

  • List the ways this story shows God’s goodness.

 

 

Personal reflection

God provides food and water for the Israelites while they are wandering in the desert.

Reflect on times when God met your need (emotionally, physically, spiritually, financially, etc.) in an unexpected way.

 

Despite this care and provision, the people of Israel continue to grumble.

How does perpetual dissatisfaction affect those in its orbit? How does it affect our faith ?

 

What are the “Egypts” we can find ourselves in and what would it take for us to be set free ?

 

 

 

CHAPTER 3 : JOSEPH    (GENESIS ch. 37-50)

 

Exploring the text

Joseph’s is a well-known story and the first time we read about forgiveness in the Bible.

1. As a teen, Joseph had two dreams that indicated he would one day rule over his brothers  – Gen. 37  (5-10)

List Joseph’s character qualities that demonstrate why he was God’s choice for a leader.

Which of these character qualities are important in a leader today?

 

2. In the darkest times of his life we read “The Lord was with Joseph”  – Gen 39.2, 39.21 and 39.23.

How have you experienced the Lord being with you in the hard times of life?

What are some of the signs that God is with us, even in the dark places?

 

3. In what ways do you think Joseph allows God to work through him?

Where does he “catch” the fact that his story is aligned with God’s plan?

Do we have to reach “rock bottom” to trust God fully?

 

4. Joseph is re-united with his brothers 22 years after they sold him as a slave – Gen. 42 – 45

What strikes you about Joseph’s attitude towards his brothers and the way he treats them?

Gen 42.6-17  and Gen 43.29-34  and  44.1-13  and 45.1-5

What does this teach us about the condition of Joseph’s heart and the depth of his faith?

 

. Why do you think Joseph did not reveal his true identity at first? What was he waiting for?

Do you see evidence that his brothers had changed over the years?

 

6. How was it possible for Joseph to forgive his brothers? How did they receive it? – Gen. 50.15-21

Jesus taught us to ask for God’s forgiveness as we forgive others who sin against us.

Why is it easier to forgive others than to receive forgiveness or believe that we have been forgiven?

 

7. Jacob’s whole family lived in Goshen for seventeen years before he died.

Do you think the family relationships were every truly restored?

 

 

Personal reflection

God has an amazing ability to bring good out of life’s bad situations. Can you identify times like this in in your own experience? (Romans 8.28)

 Are there things we find it hard to forgive?

 We were reminded last week that we are called to be a blessing in the world today … how can the story of Joseph help us or teach us?

 

Exploring further …

Ponder the whole life story of Joseph. List the ways God’s sovereignty came to light.

How does God’s sovereignty impact on your personal faith in Him?

 

 

 

CHAPTER 2 : GOD BUILDS A NATION (Genesis ch. 12-36)

The second chapter of the Story is about Abraham, and God’s promise to build a nation through which He would bring us back into a restored relationship with Him.  It opens with God calling Abram to make the sacrifice of leaving a comfortable life: homeland, friends, family and steady income ….

 

Exploring the Text

1. When God called Abram to follow Him, there was a clear sense of partnership. God promised to do specific things and also called Abram to do his part (Genesis 12. 1-5).

What was God’s part and what was Abram’s part in this great adventure?

2. Many of the people God called to follow Him and do great things had excuses and reasons they thought God should not use them. What are some of the common excuses people still use today when they want get out of following God’s leading for their life?

3. What do you learn about Abraham and Sarah’s faith from Hebrews 11 (8-9)?

4. Abraham serves as the example of justification by faith (Genesis 15.6). Faith could be described as “trust in action based on God’s revelation.”

Identify acts which demonstrate Abraham’s faith and where does his faith vanish ?

5. Sarah decided to “give God a helping hand” (Genesis 16. 1-2) allowing her maid Hagar to sleep with Abraham and produce a son.

Can you think of any examples of ways in which we jump ahead of God’s timing for our lives in an effort to help Him?  Why is it so hard to be patient?

6. God chose Abraham and his descendants to represent Him to others who did not yet know God. What parallels can you draw between Israel and the Church?

 

Personal Reflection

What do you find hardest about faith in God today ?

Which older people have helped you as a model of faith and love for God? How have they had an impact on your life?

Abraham and Sarah waited 25 years for God to fulfil His promise of a child. Have you waited for a long period of time for God to act in a given situation? Are you waiting on something now? (Share the circumstance only if you are comfortable.) How might this example serve to encourage you? How can the group best pray for you?

 

Exploring further …

Consider God’s interaction with each character in chapter 2 of The Story. What patterns can you identify? What do these patterns reveal about the character of God?

 

 

CHAPTER 1 : THE BEGINNING OF LIFE AS WE KNOW IT …

1. Chapter 1 introduces us to God as being creative and purposeful.

How might knowing that life has purpose and direction affect our daily decisions ?

2. What do you think it means to be made in the image of God ? ( Genesis 1.26-27)

How do we as people reflect or display the image of God ?

3. Part of the meaning of being made in the image of God is that we were made for relationships and community. When sin entered the world relationships were destroyed (Gen. chapters 3 & 4).

Describe the change in relationships that occurred between the following:

a. God and mankind

b. Adam and Eve

c. Mankind and the rest of creation

d. Mankind and everlasting life

How are these changes in relationship reflected in our world today ?

 

4. God gave Adam and Eve the freedom to reject the perfect fellowship He had planned (Genesis 3.1-13)

What does this spiritual reality say about the power of the choices we make each day ?

5. Adam and Eve chose to reject God’s vision for their lives and disobey His command. In rejecting God’s plan, they chose to run their own lives without Him.

Where do you see that same desire in our lives today, and what are the results ?

6. If God loved Adam and Eve, why did he throw them out of the garden ?

On the video, it’s called “an act of grace”. Do you agree or disagree with this statement, and why do you feel this way ?

7. What are the parallels between Noah’s culture and our own (Genesis 6. 1-8).

What attributes and actions of Noah can help us face the challenges of godly living in the world today?

 

Personal reflection

If you could take a walk in the perfect garden with God, what would you ask him and why ?

In a normal day, what gets in the way of you taking a walk with God and talking to him about the things on your heart ?

How can we stop ourselves crossing the line before we rebel against God ?

 

 

 

Remembrance Sunday 2012

Romans 5. 1- 8

What do you hope for ?

With Christmas coming up, we sometimes have a quite few things we hope for … perhaps on your Amazon gift list ?

Sometimes our hope is deeper – we hope we can get through the week OK, hope things work out alright with problems we face; we hope our loved ones will be safe;  in USA, hope that next 4 years will see econ. improvements so that next presidential term is a success; in church, hopes for new ABC announced this week … or in our case, we hope the new GD puppy doesn’t destroy the kitchen while we’re here !

Hope is about something beyond us, out of our control, something we reach for, something that’s worth it in the end …and it leads us to do certain things … Continue reading ‘THE STORY – weekly worksheets’

Don’t Lose It!

Matthew 21 (33-46)

Jesus is answering all kinds of challenges and questions following His arrival in Jerusalem and restoring the Temple as a “house of prayer” – and here He delivers a devastating body blow in these words!

Look at v43.

“Therefore the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will bear its fruit”.

Jesus says here that the kingdom of God can be taken away from us … like it’s a possession we have.

There are some who clearly felt that it was theirs to keep, to have for themselves, and by implication to withhold from others. The final verses show that the chief priests and Pharisees who were responsible for the religious system of the time recognised Jesus meant them.  They lived what they considered to be good, upright, religious lives. They were well-educated in the Law, and able to answer all the questions other people struggled with. They were well-respected leaders, and thought they knew it all.  But they were wrong – this wasn’t what God was looking for. At other times Jesus had called them “hypocrites” because they said one thing but did another and at another “blind guides”.

And here, because of their lack of “fruit”, Jesus says the kingdom will be taken away from them. It was not theirs by right, but it was God’s gift. If it was misused or withheld, it could be removed by the One who entrusted it to them.

But might he also be talking about the nation of Israel, described in the Old Testament as the vineyard ? Perhaps the nation had grown complacent, seeing their privileged position as their right, rather than God’s gift and calling to be a witness to other nations. Jesus says the kingdom will be given to “a people” suggesting another nation or nations …

… or does he mean those in Israel who respond to Him ? So often these were the poor and needy, who understood about a gift of grace. They couldn’t help themselves and so threw themselves on the mercy and love of God. What they received was not deserved, but an unexpected treasure.

However we choose to interpret this it is clear that  God wants people who bear the fruit of the kingdom

But what does that mean ?

We might think it’s about the fruit of the Spirit, those characteristics of a Godly life (Galatians 5.22-3). But Paul wrote these words long after Jesus, so He must mean something else.

It seems to me that it is tied up with the kingdom being God’s gift of grace. As we receive this amazing treasure, we have a choice. We can keep it for ourselves, or we can give it away.  The dynamic of God’s kingdom (and incidentally Harvest)  is the latter – to give it away.  As we receive from God in our need and unworthiness, so we can give away to those whose need is often greater than ours!  It’s interesting that this is the same principle that governs the “Spiritual Gifts” Paul writes about. They are gifts to be given away, not for our benefit.

God’s kingdom is all about grace and He calls each one of us to live kingdom lives, bearing the fruit of grace as we give it away.

 

 

The struggle !

Romans 7. (14-25)

The first six chapters of Romans sees Paul presenting the condition of mankind, and the opportunity to find a second chance through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  He argues that we cannot serve two masters, and how we are either in God’s kingdom, serving Him, or we are not – there is no possibility of having a foot in both camps.

But then we get to chapter 7 !

In these verses, Paul reflects on the theory, and sees that his experience seems to present something quite different.  He wants to do what is right, but somehow, he keeps making mistakes, doing the wrong thing.  Yes how can this be ?  If his old sinful nature is dead and gone, how can it still have such a strong hold over him ?

So Paul struggles … and has three options :

1. the theory is wrong

2. he has a split personality

3. someone else is making him do it

 

Paul seems to like options 2 and 3 !!

On the one hand he blames “sin living in me” for the wrong things he does, and then talks about these two sides – the spiritual and the physical, at war with one another. This is called “dualism” and was a common philosophy in Paul’s day …

But dualism doesn’t explain why, if the old sinful nature has been “crucified with Christ” (6. 6-7), that old sinful self keeps raising its head again !

Nor does the notion of “sin living in me” and making me sin give a satisfactory answer because it means we can blame “someone else” for our behaviour and never accept responsibility for it.  That doesn’t seem to be either right or how God treats us.

So what’s the answer ?

 

Louise suggested an example might be when we have an addiction – a habit we can’t break out of, like alcoholism.  We might be able to go to rehab and get straightened out, so that we are “dry” but for the rest of our lives we will always have the struggle to stay “dry”. One drop could send us back to where we were.  That’s a really helpful way of looking at this.

 

It seems to me that there are three important truths we need to add to this :

1. There is forgiveness

If we know anything about the cross it is that we can find forgiveness there whenever we fall or make a mistake or deliberately sin.

2. There is a way out

Sin always starts with temptation … and that’s the place of resistance, the place where we can say “no”. Paul writes to the Corinthians that whenever we are tempted, God provides a way out – so we need to train ourselves to look for it.

Jesus set the example, didn’t he ? He was tempted, as we are, but without sin.  He was able to recognise the temptation for what it was, and to see the way out.

3. There is help

Following an example is all very well, but we find it so hard – especially when the temptation is by its very nature something we want to do !

But Jesus promised something much better – not just an example to follow but a living model within. The Holy Spirit brings us the discernment and the strength to withstand temptation, just as Jesus did. This is Jesus’ gift to us.

 

 

 

 

John 10.1-21

sheep (1-6)

The Pharisees are getting more and more angry, trying to work out who Jesus is – especially when he seems to be breaking their law.

Jesus had just healed a blind man, a man who had been born blind, and he had done this on the Sabbath! The Pharisees were so angry that in the end, they threw the once-blind man out of the synagogue.

Jesus finds the man and tells him that it was he who healed him, and the man worshipped him. But some of the Pharisees saw this and questioned Jesus, and he ends up telling them this parable …

In the Middle East today, a shepherd will go into the community sheepfold and call his sheep – the sheep recognise the voice of their shepherd and follow him out of the sheepfold and onto the hills. The shepherd leads them to pasture, calling them all the while, and the sheep follow.

This is the picture Jesus reminds the Pharisees of.  It was a picture they would recognise, because it was happening every day, all around them, just as it does today.

But as with all Jesus’ parables, there is something hidden in it.  For Israel, shepherds took them back to the time they had a King. David, the shepherd boy had become their greatest King – a King who wanted to follow God and lead his people properly.

Other Kings had come after him who were not so good – in fact some were terrible !! They were not interested in the people’s welfare or safety, but wanted power and wealth for themselves. Israel was broken in two, and in the end over-run by invading armies and the people taken into exile.

It was a terrible time for Israel, and some of the prophets looked forward to the day when God would bring a new King, a King who would rule forever in peace and safety, a King who would be a good shepherd. But even more than that, Ezekiel tells us this : This is what the Sovereign Lord says (that’s God) “ I myself will search for my sheep and look after them  …”  and he will place a new David shepherd over them, who will bring peace. (Ezekiel 34)

So when the Pharisees question Jesus about who he is, and Jesus starts telling them a story about shepherds, there is a big clue here as to what Jesus is telling them.  And when they don’t understand, he tells them directly –“ I am the good shepherd – who lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10 v.11).

What do we discover about this good shepherd/King  in his story?  He calls, and his sheep recognise his voice and follow him. And the shepherd leads them, and they follow his voice.

Here was a man, born blind, healed by Jesus, and wanting to follow Jesus – all he heard to begin with was Jesus’ voice … but when Jesus finds him again, after all the abuse he’s received from the Pharisees, he wants to believe in Jesus and follow him. Jesus uses his story to tell the Pharisees that as he calls, people will recognise him for who he is – the Good Shepherd, the King of love that God has sent – and they will follow him.  That’s the sign of who Jesus is.

gate (7-11)

The Pharisees still don’t understand what Jesus is getting at !  Maybe it was because it was such a huge thing …

So Jesus spells it out for them – and gives three answers. The first of these is in verses 7-10

Jesus tells them : I am the gate for the sheep

That’s what’s pictured here –  The shepherd lies across the doorway at night to stop the sheep getting out and wandering off, and to stop predators getting in. The shepherd makes himself a human door.  This is all about safety – security – putting the sheep above the shepherd’s own protection – and that’s what was expected of the King.

This is precisely what Ezekiel tell us in his passages about the Good Shepherd. He will rescue them from where they are scattered, tend them in good pasture, bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. They will live in safety and peace, no longer being oppressed and downtrodden, no longer afraid.

There is also a sting in the tail of this image, because God talks about judgement and punishment for those who were meant to be good leaders, good guides and shepherds, but who have exploited their position and led the people away from God and into their own agenda. They were only interested in themselves and have spoilt the life and opportunity of the rest of the flock.

There were many such figures in Jesus’ day :

  • Herod’s camp – bowing to Rome, oppressive overlords, provided they could keep their power and wealth
  • Revolutionaries (zealots) fighting for the freedom of Israel
  • Religious leaders, more concerned with their own interpretations and status than the welfare of the people

There are many such figures today …

So first, Jesus tells the uncertain and unbelieving Pharisees that he is the gate through which we can find safety from the myriad of damaging and destructive powers we come across in the world. It is part of belonging to God, of being his people.  We can come in and go out and find pasture because, in David’s words, we are his people, the sheep of his pasture …

And this is what life is about.

We sometimes think that this means that faith in Jesus will mean we live an abundant, fruitful, almost charmed life from now on – but that not the reality.  We all face all kinds of problems and difficulties in life because that’s what life is like – for those who follow Jesus and those who don’t. so what is this abundant life ?

We are given all kinds of leads today about what’s an abundance – what gives a life that people chase after :

  • Wealth – that means we don’t have to worry, but so often leads to greed …  and can be so destructive, as we have seen in our global, financial world in recent years
  • Celebrity – recognition that has its own destructive forces, and leaves many empty, lonely, and the focus of so much media speculation and story.
  • Power – that is so fickle, and carries its own destructive qualities if it falls into the wrong hands – so much that people kill their own to maintain it.
  • Twitter – a desire for openness and integrity … seems something to applaud, except it too can be abused and used to damage people for no good reason.

 

We see these kinds of things in abundance – super-abundance for some ! But is this what gives a fulfilled life ?

Or is it to do with the government’s drive to make us happy ?

Jesus’ words are about a super-abundance of life because we are under his care. We belong to him and therefore have nothing to fear in the world around us, nor in the next.

Remember John’s emphasis in his Gospel about belief ?  How important it is to believe in Jesus ?  Easter .. most of the time Jesus talks about that, it is to do with life – new life – abundant life – eternal life – and as he meets the once-blind man again after he’d been thrown out of the synagogue community, the man asks Jesus to tell him who had healed him, so that he could believe in him.

When Jesus says “it was me …” the man says “Lord, I believe” and worships him.

As he had followed Jesus’ voice telling him to go and wash himself in the pool of Siloam, his eyes had been opened, and he put his faith in Jesus. Surely that is still true for us today.

We hear Jesus calling us, and as we respond, our eyes are opened to see who he is – our shepherd, our king, our Lord. It is in him, and only him, that we find life in all its fullness, overflowing in us and through us.

A life not to be grasped for ourselves, but to be lived and shared, and given away. And this leads us into the next answer Jesus gives.

the good shepherd (11-21)

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep”

Jesus is the good shepherd, as opposed to the bad, self-centred and rejected shepherds of Israel’s history. What is the characteristic of the good shepherd ?  He lays down his life for the sheep.

This is the first time in the Gospel that Jesus speaks openly about laying down his life. There is a sense in which this could be taken as a metaphor – simply meaning that the sheep are his priority. Like when people say how committed they are to something … like that old Brian Adams song – everything I do I do it for you.

But we see that there are two elements of this that are important :

a. it shows ownership – these sheep belong to him and therefore he would lay down his life to protect them and save them. A hired shepherd has no such responsibility – and runs away in the face of danger.

b. it shows authority – Jesus is not being forced to do this, it is his choice, bound up with his father’s love. He has the authority to lay down his life and to take it up again. There is no coercion, no arm-twisting … this is his free choice.

That as the good shepherd, Jesus chose to face the dangers of a predatory enemy hell-bent on destroying. He chose to lay down his life on behalf of his sheep.

identity (v16)

The last piece of the puzzle is in v.16

Some of you will have seen President Obama setting out his plans for a settlement across the whole Middle East, and raising Israeli hackles with the suggestion that the model should be the 1967 land-holding map.

From the early moments of the OT story, the promise to Abraham about a people got focused into being predominantly about land for the people. Clearly this people needed somewhere to settle and live, but the covenant between the people and God is more about their relationship with God and each other.

However, throughout the OT there is a thread that declares God’s intended plan of salvation that covers all people – not simply the chosen Israelites. They were meant to be an example to the nations of how God’s covenant works – a living relationship of worship and care. Other nations and peoples would be drawn into this “kingdom under God” …

Set against this though was this strong sense and desire for identity and separation from others. See it more and more in recent years – the desire to be identified as different from others – whether it’s in teenage fashion or Scottish independence !

The Jewish people, under Roman occupation in Jesus day, were only too aware of this desire.

You can imagine the reaction of those listening to Jesus as he says that he has other sheep, not of this pen … this takes us back to promises in Isaiah particularly, where it is clear that God’s Messiah will come for all nations, not just the Jews.

It may not have been a popular message, given the culture of the day and the fierce sense of national identity that had grown up in Israel.  But this was always part of God’s plan – to reach beyond Israel and offer salvation and life to all mankind.

Some rejected Jesus as being mad and demonised after this, but others will have seen that what Jesus is saying, in 3 slightly different ways, is that he is the shepherd king – the Messiah promised in the OT …

Where does that leave us ?

1. last week – call to listen to his voice and follow him, day by day

2. this week – challenge to look again at what Jesus chose to do for us

To see him as the good shepherd, to trust him, and to offer our lives to him.

April 2011

“Martin Writes” April 2011

There are many “wow” moments in life. Moments when you stop and stare; moments when you find you have a smile on your face; moments that form the treasury of memories that you look back on.

We were treated to one of those moments when James’ choir (officially the Warwickshire County Boys Choir !) sang to a seriously packed church last month.  It was a simply wonderful evening, not just listening to the varied programme so well performed, but seeing the faces of the boys move from concentration to enjoyment to delight (no, that wasn’t seeing the table loaded with cake !). It was a truly memorable evening, and we owe James and Cassie a huge debt of thanks for arranging it for us. James was the busiest of everyone that evening, selling the programmes, organising the technical end, running errands, singing, and even finding time to sign the odd autograph !  He deserved his lie-in the next day, and his efforts raised nearly £900 towards the Tower Fund. Well done !!

Continue reading ‘April 2011’