Andrew Vaughan

Awesome things we totally didn’t expect

This is Session 3 in Series 4 of the Enter Life Curriculum. [Series 4 HomeEnter Life Home]

The Story

Can you think of a time when you were in a tight or awkward situation and really needed some help? Did anyone come to your rescue? By the time Jesus was old enough to begin his public ministry people’s expectations of what God had promised were pretty high. They had been waiting for a really long time. I think most were hoping for a mighty warrior like David who would drive out all the foreign armies and let them live peacefully again in their own country. Isaiah had done nothing to reduce their expectations when he spoke this promise from God long before:

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known … and cause the nations to quake before you! For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you. Isaiah 64:1-3

Part of Mark’s job was to show people that what God had given them in Jesus was actually far more awesome (and I really mean AWESOME) than they could have expected in their wildest dreams. Mark writes four stories that give a glimpse of the kind of guy Jesus really was, here they are:

Mark 4:35-41, 5:1-20, 5:21-34, 5:35-43

As you read these, keep in your mind that phrase ‘awesome things we did not expect’. Notice how amazed, confused and even frightened people are when they see Jesus in action. Mark is trying to show them two things about this guy Jesus:

  • Who we was
  • What life would be like when Jesus is in charge

Take the story about Jesus speaking to the wind and the waves, telling them what to do. Only one person had ever done that before:

  • In Genesis 1:9-10 – God shoves the water to one side to create dry land
  • In Exodus 14:21-22 – God creates splits the water of the Red Sea to create a pathway for Moses and his people to pass through
  • Joshua 3: 9-17 – God stops the river Jordan to again create a dry crossing

And now here’s Jesus saying to the wild water: ‘Quiet! Be still!’ No wonder the disciples were scared out of their boots: ‘who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him!’ (Mark 4:41) Jesus wasn’t just some guy who could do cool things. He was unlike any other human being who ever lived. Fully human but also fully God. In the next three stories Jesus demonstrates pretty awesome God-like qualities too: the ability to dominate evil spirits; the power to heal; and the ability to bring people back to life. But Jesus is doing something else too. He’s showing people what life is going to be like when he is fully in charge of things. Revelation 21:1-5 tells of what life is going to be like in God’s new Kingdom:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Jesus is beginning to show people what that looks like. The woman who had been bleeding for year, the guy controlled by demons and the little girl who died – all experienced Jesus’ kind of life in a radically new way. The people who looked on had to keep picking their jaws up off the ground. They had never seen anything like this before. Amazing things they never expected. Somewhere Isaiah was quietly smiling to himself.

Your story
What are the most obvious signs of the kingdom of darkness in the places you spend the week? Pick one of these stories and spend some time imagining yourself in the place of the person who’s at the center of the story. Try and enter the story in your imagination as much as you can. What’s the strongest thing you might be feeling before and then after Jesus does his thing? Hold on to that afterwards-feeling.

If Jesus’ Kingdom is about experiencing the rule of God … does this help you understand God’s Kingdom better? Which one of the ‘before’ parts of these stories fits most closely with your life right now?

  • Feeling swamped and terrified by things that are out of your control that threaten to sink you
  • Struggling with the effects of evil or just plain bad stuff around you, not even knowing who to turn to
  • Feeling that somehow you are not good enough for other people or for God – you’re ‘unclean’ like the woman – and you can’t seem to shake it. All you can do is reach out and try to touch the hem of Jesus’ coat.
  • There’s weeping and mourning around you, or in your life – maybe related to something or someone you’ve lost. There doesn’t seem to be much hope for the future.

Some of the people in these stories had great faith that Jesus could rescue them, others had hardly any faith, one person didn’t even know Jesus existed … Jesus can work with even the tiny little bit of faith we can scrape together and do mighty things in your life – or in the lives of your friends.

Is there anything about the faith you have in Jesus that needs to change?

What are some specific things you can do to grow a more dependent kind of faith?

How does what you’ve encountered today help you pray: ‘Lord, let your Kingdom come in my life’?

 

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What if God was one of us?

 

This is Session 2 in Series 4 of the Enter Life Curriculum. [Series 4 HomeEnter Life Home]

The Story


Gabriel She struck the angel Gabriel as hardly old enough to have a child at all, let alone this child, but he’d been entrusted with a message to give her, and he gave it. He told her what the child was to be named, and who he was to be, and something about the mystery that was to come upon her. ‘You mustn’t be afraid, Mary,’ he said. As he said it, he only hoped she wouldn’t notice that beneath the great, golden wings he himself was trembling with fear to think that the whole future of creation hung now on the answer of a girl.

Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures. Read the story in Luke 1:26-35 here

 

The Story so Far… Ever since that mind-blowing experience on Mount Sinai with Moses, God had been trying to keep his rebellious people more or less on track. He drew as straight as he could with the crooked and fragile lines of their lives. God sent a long line of prophets to announce a new punishment or a new blessing depending on how faithful to God his people had been. And then things just kind of petered out … God stopped speaking. For Four. Hundred. Years. (that’s quite a long time)

The religious authorities got nervous. People began asking questions: What was going on? What about the promised return home? Has God finally come to his senses and given up on us? What was happening with the Relationship Rescue plan our ancestors were so excited about? Were all those prophecies about someone who would save everyone wrong?

And then one day, quietly, some strange things began to happen. Rumours of angels began to circulate. A few people who remembered the Old Story started to pay attention. But looking back afterwards no-one – no-one – could admit that had the slightest idea of what God was about to do. Human beings had been very good at demonstrating how bad they were at keeping their side of the relationship agreement with God. Now God was going to solve that puzzle by becoming human himself. A holy human being who would finally be able to faithfully obey what God asked. Thing is: if you’re God, then becoming a human is quite messy, and a bit limiting:

  • The One who formed the stars became an embryo growing inside a young woman’s womb.
  • God stepped out of a timeless eternity and became captive to time – measured by his heartbeats
  • Stepping back a bit from the beauty and joy of an intimate relationship with God in heaven, Jesus had to learn what it felt like to be lonely and hungry, how to endure pain.

The technical word for what Jesus went through was incarnation. The root of that word is that same as the word carnivore. Jesus – who had been there with God since before the beginning, was about to become a piece of meat – well, more or less. John wrote what is probably the best description of what Jesus did.

The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one. Everything was created through him;nothing—not one thing!— came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.

 The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.

 No one has ever seen God, not so much as a glimpse. This one-of-a-kind God-Expression, who exists at the very heart of the Father, has made him plain as day.

John 1: 1-18. Read the whole text here

That was the mission – to show us what the invisible God was like, to bring grace into the world, to finally do something about sin and evil.

One of Us
A singer called Joan Osborne once wrote a song called One of Us that went:

If God had a name what would it be? And would you call it to his face? If you were faced with Him in all His glory What would you ask if you had just one question? …What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us Just a stranger on the bus Tryin’ to make his way home?

Jesus was God becoming one of us. The writer of Hebrews says that because Jesus did that God knows first-hand what it is like to be human with a body; to be hungry and tired, to be tempted, to suffer, even to die.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Hebrews 4:15

Jesus knows what it is like to be tempted, he knows what pain – emotional and physical – feels like, he knows what it is like to live in a fragile body in a broken world. There is no other god who can make this kind of claim.

The Most Crazy Thing This massive act of submission by Jesus might make a bit more sense if it was for just a little while. The Gospels say Jesus was about 33 years old when he died. I guess in the context of eternity that’s not a very long time. The amazing truth, really, is that when Jesus got himself a meaty body and became a man – it was forever. Jesus will always be human – fully human and fully God. There was no expiry date on Jesus’ decision to become like one of us.

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body Philippians 3:20-21

Your Story and God’s Story

What difference does it make to know that Jesus was also a teenager once – with bad skin, unpredictable hormones and crazy dreams for the future?

Jesus knows what life is like at your age. How could that change the way you talk to him now?

One of the most significant parts of the story is when Mary said to (the trembling?) Gabriel: ‘Ok, I’m willing to do this.’ How willing are you to say the same thing in response to the things that God is forming inside you?

The best response to finding out something this amazing about God is to worship. If that’s something you’re willing to do, how could you do that now?

 

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A New Kind of Holiness

 

This is Session 4 in Series 4 of the Enter Life Curriculum. [Series 4 HomeEnter Life Home]

The Story

 

Who are the outsiders in the places you spend time during the week: the people who never get invited to parties, the ones who are always the butt of the joke? Who are the people whose lives are so ‘bad’ that you might not want anything to do with them?

Back in Bible times, a lot of the religious leaders were very aware that the Covenant – God’s Relationship Rescue Plan – was not being kept by many people. There just wasn’t a whole lot of faithfulness to God around, let alone holiness… These leaders became obsessed with trying to stay faithful to the Covenant – and particularly the Law that God had given them through Moses. They were so obsessed with this that they wrote a whole lot of extra laws. And when I say ‘a lot’ I mean like 613 extra ones

It’s a huge and tragic irony that in the end they completely missed the point of what God was trying to do. They were keeping the Law as well as they could but they didn’t care much for other people. God didn’t like that. After all, it was people and relationships that God was trying to rescue.

Inside or Out? Back in those days everyone knew who was inside or outside the holy group. The Pharisees made sure they were ‘inside’ but there were a whole lot of people left stranded on the outside. Enter Jesus, the Holy One, God in the flesh, full of righteousness and grace.

Guess which group he wanted to hang out with?

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Check out the story Mark tells in Mark 2v13-17. In those days a ‘sinner’ was someone who was considered an outsider because of their failure to observe the Law in the microscopic detail the Pharisees wanted. They were outsiders To go to someone’s house and share a meal with them was an intimate and trusting thing to do. You fully associated yourself with the person whose meals you ate. While he was at the tax collectors house Jesus invited other ’sinful’ people to join them. While the religious leaders watched in speechless horror, Jesus enjoys the party – eating and drinking with every kind of dirty, ‘sinful’ person he could find… Spend a few moments entering the scene at the party in your imagination:

  • What can you imagine Jesus is thinking and feeling as he hangs out with these people?
  • Imagine you are Levi – a tax-collector despised by just about everybody but now entertaining this famous Rabbi in your own house. What are you feeling?
  • What does this story reveal about the kinds of people God cares about? Who, if any, might be excluded from this?

So, what is true holiness? That’s the issue at the heart of this story. The teachers of the Law were obsessed with holiness. It was the only way Israel would ever be redeemed. Jesus was passionate about holiness too—and yet his actions seemed so offensive to those Pharisees … The heart of holiness as Jesus demonstrates it is not about keeping the Covenant Law but about ‘keeping people’. It’s about getting our hearts right and working to be in right relationship with God and people The best way to describe ‘righteousness’ is right-relatedness. We are right with God when our relationships are right – with God, with others, with creation, with ourselves … Jesus’ love for Levi and his friends and his desire to bring them into his kingdom far outweighed any concerns he might have had about being associated with ‘law-breakers’.

In John 1:18 we read this: ‘No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.’ If we see Jesus acting like that then we know that’s what God is passionate about too.

Seeing your story in the Story
Hebrews 12:2 says Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith – that is he begins, shapes and fully maps out everything the Christian life is about. With that in mind, what does Mark’s story show us about what an authentic Jesus-following life looks like? Think back to the outsiders you know about —the people no-one else wants to hang out with or even be associated with. What would it look like for you to do the kinds of things Jesus did with those kinds of people? What would motivate you to even want to try? When Jesus – the God-Man – arrived on the planet he blew a lot of people’s minds about who God was and what God wanted from us. I think Jesus still does that today.

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A Hero With the Least Likely Name and Outfit Ever – the Servant’s Story

 

This is Session 1 in Series 4 of the Enter Life Curriculum. [Series 4 HomeEnter Life Home]

The Story

What does your ideal hero look like: A totally ripped Superman? A tech-loaded, armour plated Batman? Thor with his magic hammer?

thor

 

By the time Isaiah comes around it’s clear that the story of God’s relationship rescue plan is not going very well. The crooked lines that God’s people keep drawing in their lives are too, well … crooked. No matter how hard God tries to discipline and encourage his people into living well they just aren’t able to get it all together. It’s time for a hero. There are two chapters in Isaiah that predict what this hero is going to be like. Thing is, if you’re looking for the next amazing, awesome Marvel Comics superhero, you’re going to be disappointed. Not even the name is inspiring:

The Servant

Can you do anything with that one Stan Lee?

Turns out that’s exactly the kind of name God goes for. Isaiah 52 and 53 are one of the most famous chapters in the Bible. They are the ultimate verses about how God is going to bring all the crooked lines of peoples’ lives back to the way things God wants them. The Servant – hmmm, that name … – is going to come. When he’s done, life will never be the same again. This prophecy was given hundreds of years before Jesus was born. The people back then had no idea what was coming – except for this mysterious prophecy. On the one hand the servant sounds pretty lame – he’s not even very nice to look at. On the other hand the things he would do sounded good. Very good. Too good to be true maybe. Unfortunately for them the people back then would never get to see if it was.

We have.

***

The prophecy is in two parts. The first twelve verses are an announcement that the hard life of exile is nearly at an end. The second part is about what the Servant will do to one day finish off the exile-life for good.

Here’s the first part in Isaiah 12v1-12:

Here was some seriously good news for the people who heard them back then. Life had been unbearable for hundreds of years. They had been living as slaves and servants in far-away countries as a result of their continued reluctance to keep God first in their lives. It seemed it would never end. Then, one day, Isaiah unwraps the latest news from God: Put yourself in the boots of someone that had been living a hard life in a place far from home and who had almost lost hope of ever going back. Imagine what they felt when they heard this for the first time:

Wake up, wake up! Pull on your boots, Zion! Dress up in your Sunday best, Jerusalem, holy city! Those who want no part of God have been culled out. They won’t be coming along. Brush off the dust and get to your feet, captive Jerusalem! Throw off your chains, captive daughter of Zion! God says, “You were sold for nothing. You’re being bought back for nothing.”

Again, the Master, God, says, “Early on, my people went to Egypt and lived, strangers in the land. At the other end, Assyria oppressed them. And now, what have I here?” God’s Decree. “My people are hauled off again for no reason at all. Tyrants on the warpath, whooping it up, and day after day, incessantly, my reputation blackened. Now it’s time that my people know who I am, what I’m made of—yes, that I have something to say. Here I am!”

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger bringing good news,Breaking the news that all’s well, proclaiming good times, announcing salvation,telling Zion, “Your God reigns!” Voices! Listen! Your scouts are shouting, thunderclap shouts, shouting in joyful unison. They see with their own eyes God coming back to Zion. Break into song! Boom it out, ruins of Jerusalem: “God has comforted his people! He’s redeemed Jerusalem!” God has rolled up his sleeves. All the nations can see his holy, muscled arm. Everyone, from one end of the earth to the other, sees him at work, doing his salvation work. Out of here! Out of here! Leave this place! Don’t look back. Don’t contaminate yourselves with plunder. Just leave, but leave clean. Purify yourselves in the process of worship, carrying the holy vessels of God. But you don’t have to be in a hurry. You’re not running from anybody! God is leading you out of here, and the God of Israel is also your rear guard.

That must have been pretty cool to hear … What they didn’t realise back then was that this was going to take a pretty long time. You can read about the return to Jerusalem in the book of Nehemiah but truth is, things didn’t get better for everybody. After a few more hundred years things looked pretty much the same. By the time Jesus was born not much had changed. The people were back in their home country but there were still foreigners in charge. In the rest of chapter 12 and 13 God lays out the long term plan. There was still some hard work to do to get things back on track. People back then might have wondered who this ‘Servant’ was going to be and when he would come. When we read this passage knowing what happens with Jesus in the Gospels it becomes clear that this is an incredible prophecy about what Jesus would one day come and do.

The second part of the prophecy is in Isaiah 52v13 to 53v12 

“Just watch my servant blossom! Exalted, tall, head and shoulders above the crowd! But he didn’t begin that way. At first everyone was appalled. He didn’t even look human— a ruined face, disfigured past recognition.Nations all over the world will be in awe, taken aback, kings shocked into silence when they see him. For what was unheard of they’ll see with their own eyes, what was unthinkable they’ll have right before them.” Who believes what we’ve heard and seen?  Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this? The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling, a scrubby plant in a parched field.There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look. He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain first-hand.One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum. (The Message)

So ya … it’s interesting that there are no descriptions of what Jesus looked like in the gospels, so we have to imagine that part. What’s also interesting is that thousands of people were attracted to Jesus – children, men, women all came from far away to be near him. If it wasn’t his appearance that did that … well, must have been the things they heard him say and saw him do.

But the fact is, it was our pains he carried— our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures. But it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises we get healed. We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost. We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way. And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong, on him, on him.

Read that passage again. And again. And again. And a few hundred more times. Jesus was embarrassed and humiliated on the cross. People mocked him. ‘Save yourself!’ they shouted. In the end the joke was on us – but so was the healing. Jesus became the one, final sacrifice that finally dealt with the problem of sin. Isaiah goes on, just in case we didn’t get it the first time. Bringing God’s people back to a place of being in right-relationship with him was going to cost the Servant an enormous amount:

He was beaten, he was tortured, but he didn’t say a word. Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered and like a sheep being sheared, he took it all in silence. Justice miscarried, and he was led off— and did anyone really know what was happening? He died without a thought for his own welfare, beaten bloody for the sins of my people. They buried him with the wicked, threw him in a grave with a rich man, Even though he’d never hurt a soul or said one word that wasn’t true. It’s fascinating to read the gospel stories of Jesus’ crucifixion and see just how accurate this prophecy really was – even the part about Jesus being buried in xx’s tomb Still, it’s what God had in mind all along,  to crush him with pain. The plan was that he give himself as an offering for sin so that he’d see life come from it—life, life, and more life. And God’s plan will deeply prosper through him. Out of that terrible travail of soul, he’ll see that it’s worth it and be glad he did it. Through what he experienced, my righteous one, my servant, will make many ‘righteous ones,’ as he himself carries the burden of their sins.

Therefore I’ll reward him extravagantly— the best of everything, the highest honours— Because he looked death in the face and didn’t flinch, because he embraced the company of the lowest. He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many, he took up the cause of all the black sheep.

There was only one thing that was ever going to motivate this Servant to go through this brutal experience. It was a vision he had. A vision of one day everyone who had faith in him becoming fully ‘right’ with God. A vision of the relationship that was broken in the beginning being completely restored. With right-relationship comes life – ‘life, life and more life.’ Jesus wanted that badly enough to go through the agony of the cross. But all this was in the distant future for the people lost in exile as they listened to Isaiah’s message from God. What Jesus went through is in the distant past for us. And yet, on either side of the event this prophecy put in the spotlight, the promise is the same. The Relationship will be restored. Things between us and God will be right again. And it was all because of the Servant. A Stan Lee classic superhero? Not really. The Servant was way more heroic than that.

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Leaders Guide

Seeing your story in the Story

You may want to work with these lyrics from Macklemore’s song Cinema. A song about what the movie of his life is and could be like …

Selfish, selfish, selfish me, yeah, me
Yeah, girlfriend, break-up, new one, one-night stand, cheat, cheat, repeat that
Drug use, clean up, drug use, drug use, clean up, drug use, rehab
F- you I suck dude, self-loathing, self-esteem, ego, then me again
Put a soundcheck right in the middle
A never ending quest to try and get fans
There you have a beginning, a middle and a really shitty end
Nah, give me a break through, can I get a montage, come on I need that
Humble me, give me a conflict, a hardship, let me break through this cement
They’re gonna be so disappointed when they roll the credits in
I realized that my movie sucked and I was the only one that could edit it
Well the course, the chain of events, that would be the evidence, some say it’s coincidence
I say I found something greater than myself and started accepting it
And I can see, feel, taste and smell again
And I’m the only one with the hammer to break this shell I’m in
It’s gonna take me crackin’ this mirror to finally be myself again
Met my potential a long time ago and I’m not stopping til I resemble him”

How’s the movie of your life shaping up?

How does the story you tell yourself about the broken or disappointing things in your life go? Is your story about trying hard to please people, or being the best person you can be? Maybe the story isn’t going so well – there’s a little bit too much that’s gone wrong with no clear view of the way out.

Who are the heroes in your story? Who are you looking for to help you out? What would it mean to you to let your story be re-written so that it includes the story Jesus tells about you? The story that’s contained in these verses from Isaiah. The story that says there’s a way out of the broken and messed up parts of your life because the stuff Jesus dealt with on the cross makes healing available to you? What would it take to re-tell your story so that things are right between you and God? What would the re-telling of your story be like when it includes the truth that God sees you as significant enough to be worth going through all that pain that Isaiah foretold?

 

The Lucky Ones

We may have our own ideas about who the lucky ones are in this world. The people other people want to be: the rich, beautiful, famous and super-talented maybe? Jesus paints a picture of what the people are like who rock in his world. It’s very different. It’s beautiful. It’s what we’ll become like if we keep hanging out with him.

The Post

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A whole bunch of people have trekked from all over to see the amazing things Jesus is doing and to hear the almost unbelievable things he’s talking about. Jesus gets them all together and tells them something that will rock their worlds – and ours … He describes the people who ‘win’ in his world. It’s like he puts up some Roll of Honour boards but the categories are completely different to anything you’ll see in your school hall. It’s not a list that would make sense in the normal world. But Jesus calls these people ‘blessed’. That word blessed means something like ‘happy’ or ‘in sync with the way things really are’. Or …

you’re the ones who rock in my world!

Are these people the rich or the super-talented – the ones with millions of followers on their YouTube channel? Or maybe the super-holy, you know, the perfect people who never seem to do anything wrong? Well , they could be … but so could you and me and people who look pretty average on the outside.

In this session we look at four of the things Jesus describes (we don’t have space in this series to get to them all). You’ll find that at the end of these notes.

Here are some thoughts on the things Jesus describes in general:

1. When Jesus lists the various characteristics he’s not talking about different kinds of people who maybe have that one things going for them. Jesus is talking about ONE person who has ALL of those things growing in them. Wow …
2. The things Jesus describes don’t come naturally to any of us (in our sinful state). The only way these things can become part of who we are is if they grow in us – just like the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5v 22-23). If we hang out with Jesus and do what he said right at the beginning: believe that God’s Kingdom is near and repent – change our way of thinking and acting, we’ll begin to see these things more in our lives.
3. The third thing follows on from the second – we can’t make ourselves become more like the people Jesus describes here. We have to let God work in us.

In the Beatitudes Jesus talks about eight characteristics of people who rock in His world. Here are some thoughts on four of them

Blessed are the poor in spirit….
Have you ever felt that, as much as you want to, you are hopelessly unable to live the kind of life that would actually have a chance of pleasing God? Ever felt that no matter how hard you try you suck at being a good Christian? Yes? Well congratulations! You rock in Jesus’ world! Cos that’s what being poor in spirit is about.

‘You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.’ (The Message)

The funny thing is – the more people grow close to God, the more they realise how sinful and desperately in need of God’s mercy and grace they are. They become ‘poorer in spirit’ – and that’s the place God can begin to work in them. People who reckon they’re doing pretty well and have things nicely sorted with God … yeah not so much. But the broken-hearted and those who realise they are absolutely dependent on God’s mercy and grace. You’re the winner … the Kingdom of heaven belongs to people like you.

Blessed are those who mourn …
Ok, so mourning isn’t something we usually want to spend a lot of time doing. But here’s what happens as Jesus draws us into his way of life: we begin to see what real Life could be like, our eyes start to focus on an amazing new vision of what happens when things go the way God wants them to. And then, when we see the world as it is now – our broken, messed up world, and our broken, messed-up lives – we get upset that things are so wrong. We feel sad, or even angry. We don’t like it and we want to do something about it.

That’s mourning. Jesus said people who mourn like that rock in his world, they are the lucky ones – because they will be comforted. The word ‘comforted’ actually means ‘filled with strength’ (from the Latin cum (with) forte (strength) ). The Holy Spirit comes alongside you and fills you with strength so that you can hang in there while we wait for God to make all things new. Pretty awesome hey?

Blessed are the meek …
This would be an awkward one if the word ‘meek’ here meant someone who’s a bit like Dobby from Harry Potter – you, know … weak and submissive, always being trampled on like a doormat. It’s not like that at all … There are only two people in the Bible who are described as ‘meek’: Moses and Jesus. If you know their stories you’ll know they are as un-Dobby like as it’s possible to be. In the Bible people who are ‘meek’ are those who have learned not to rely on their own strength and abilities but rather to lean on God and trust God to help them.

Psalm 37 describes perfectly what a ‘meek’ person is like:

Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.
Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: he will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret – it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.

The ‘meek’ are invincible because they have learned to trust and rely on the One who truly is invincible. People who are ‘meek’ don’t rely on fighting and pushing other people around to get what they want because they know God has good things in store for them. ‘Meek’ people don’t retaliate or become obsessed with getting even because they know God will take care of that. The ‘meek’ are like an eagle that sits on a branch high up, expectant and waiting for the right moment to launch itself and go soaring in the thermals, carried along on God’s strength. Jesus promises that that those who become ‘meek’ and learn to rely on Jesus will inherit the earth because Jesus himself will inherit the earth. You get to share in Jesus’ inheritance – which is pretty much everything God owns, which is pretty much everything …

Blessed are the pure in heart …
Of all the characteristics of the people who rock in Jesus’ Kingdom this one – being pure in heart – is probably the one most likely to undo us. Who is pure in heart? Anyone who takes an honest look inside themselves – into their hearts – will have to admit that there’s a lot of ‘impure’ stuff going on, right? Even Paul the Apostle, after many years of doing amazing things for God said this about himself: ‘

‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.’ (1 Timothy 1v16)

A key thing to remember is that in this passage Jesus isn’t talking about different kinds of people who each have one of these qualities. Jesus is talking about someone who has ALL of these things going for them. So someone who is ‘pure in heart’ is also someone who is ‘poor in spirit’, they mourn because of the mess they see in their lives, they rely on God and not themselves, they hunger for right-relatedness. The ‘pure in heart’ know that they are not perfect. In Psalm 24 David asks this:

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god.

Purity of heart, in this Psalm, is about loyalty to God, it’s about being single-minded in one’s pursuit of God, not trusting anything or anyone else as much as they trust God. A guy called John Stott said that the ‘pure in heart’ are those who are transparent before God, they can’t hide anything from God. The pure in heart know they can be too easily tricked into thinking that they’re doing just fine, so they open up their hearts for God to see.

We all tend to hide our dark things away from the light. We become pure in heart when we allow the integrity and transparency of life in God’s Kingdom to invade our lives. We grow in purity of heart when we simply want Jesus to be around more in our lives – no matter how aware we are of our sin or how badly we might thing we’re doing. The pure in heart are the ones who pray this prayer from Psalm 139 v24:

‘Search me and know my heart Jesus, see if there’s anything wrong in me and show me the way to live a life that brings me true Life’

The pure in heart pray this prayer too from Psalm 51:

‘Create in me a pure heart God! And renew a right spirit in me’

redperson

So that was a brief look at four of the characteristics that Jesus says people in his Kingdom will see growing in their lives. It’s important to remember that no-one is naturally good at ANY of these things! So what do we have to do to get onto this list? Work harder at being poor in spirit or upset at what we see around us? No! We simply need to let the Holy Spirit continue to shape us on the inside.

‘Repent and believe the good news!’ Jesus said. That’s still the invitation. Stop trusting and chasing after ways of living that keep God to the sidelines. Believe that Jesus is near, listen to what he says and then go do it … Jesus’ promise is that soon we’ll find ourselves being blessed in surprising ways and that we’ll start to become the people who really are the winners in his Kingdom.

Leaders Toolkit

In this tab you’ll find ideas and questions to help you lead your group through an interactive, story-based journey. Read our leaders guide to explore how to get the most out of these four parts.

1. Rewind

What’s your story?

 

Who are the people other people want to be?

Does your school have those honour boards on display somewhere? You know, the ones with the names of students who’ve done really well at sport or academics or whatever? If it does, what categories are on those boards? What does that say about the things your school thinks are important?

Do you fit into those categories or are you good at something your school doesn’t celebrate so much?

And outside of school, who are the lucky ones – the people you’d love to trade places with? Who are the people who seem to succeed and win at everything? What makes them special? How do you compare against them?

From The Wordspace

theWordSpace_cropped
Get your group to re-read one or more of the WordSpace posts from this week on their phones or from a printout (you’ll find them on the website.) It might work well do this in groups and get them to report back after a few minutes
o Do any of the posts spark any comments or questions?
o If you had to choose one post to share with a friend or keep for themselves, which one would it be?

2. Refresh

What’s God’s Story?

Read Matthew 5v1-12

And the post in The Post tab.

Get your group to engage with these four Beatitudes …

There’s a lot to think about in each of the beatitudes, let alone 4 – or all 8! You may want to decide to focus on one, or break the group into smaller groups with each group focusing on one Beatitude and reporting back.

Here are some questions you may want to work with:

o  Can you think of a movie character, or someone in real life (not Jesus!) who is most like this characteristic?
o  How would someone who’s like this be likely to be misunderstood by people who don’t believe in Jesus? What names would they be called?
o  Is there some way this person would be admired or attractive to people?
o  Can you think of a time or story in the gospels where Jesus is like this Beatitude?

3. Replay

Your Story and God’s Story

So you’ve encountered a bit of what God’s life is about – how does that fit with the way things are in your life – your story – right now?

Some questions to help you replay your story …

o  Did any of the four characteristics we looked at in this session make you feel excited in some way – like, ‘yes that’s me!’? Any make you feel like you’ve got a long way to go to get like that?

o    Would you prefer it if these were things you could try and get right directly or is it better that it’s about hanging out with Jesus and letting them just happen?

Re – draw your picture of Jesus

Does reading the things Jesus celebrates in people change the way you think of him in any way? Is there anything there that would inspire you to worship him?

4. Remix

Your Story Re-imagined

What practical action, response, thought do you want to take into the week?

Repent …

Have you encountered something today that makes you want to say to God: ‘wow, I’ve totally got that wrong in my life, sorry! Help me see how to think or act differently from now on’ ?

A little while after saying these things in Matthew 5 Jesus also said this:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Growing into the kind of person who rocks in Jesus’ world is about depending less on yourself and more on God. It’s about letting Jesus change you from the inside.

Some questions to help you remix your story …

o  What can you do to ‘come towards and get away with Jesus’ this week?

o  What would you like to ask Jesus to do for you or to grow in you?

From the WordSpace

Here are five posts from the WordSpace we’ve posted specially to tie in with this topic:

Download a PDF version here

Does your school have those honour boards on the walls of your assembly hall? You know, the ones with the names of students who’ve done really well at sport or academics or whatever?

What do those boards say about who rocks in the eyes of your school?

In Matthew 5v1-11 Jesus posts his own honour board for the people who rock in his world. It’s a surprising list packed with those who crave good relationships; who aren’t full of themselves; who weep when they see the world’s hurt – and a bunch more.

Would you like to have your name there? It begins with asking Jesus to mould you into that kind of person. He’ll do it.

#GodsVisionforYou
#andrewv

 

I’m someone who wants to make Jesus proud. I just wish I was better at it.

Most times in my Christian journey I try to do things the RIGHT way (usually through my own strength.) Then when I fail I always get disappointed in my lack of ability.

The great thing about Jesus is that He is proud of us and loves us whether we get it right or wrong. And the closer we draw to Jesus the more we’ll find ourselves getting things right.

God is way more interested in moulding you than in what you can give to Him. So let’s rest more in His love and a bit less in our ability.

Sound good?

Read Romans 8v37-38

#GodsVisionforYou
#faithworks
#keegan

 

Did you enjoy the World Cup? I’m a big footie fan, and it was the best World Cup I can remember. My favourite moment was Van Persie’s amazing diving header against Spain. For 4 weeks those players rocked our world.

People who rock God’s world are not always the superstars in the spotlights. I love seeing people bring calm where there are arguments or conflicts. That stuff lasts forever – so much longer than a goal or a game or a career.

I love sport, but I want to become more like those calm-creating peacemakers and rock in God’s world – forever. How about you?

#GodsVisionforYou
#vicardave

 

‘Never laugh at live dragons, Bilbo you fool!’ (Gandalf)

There’s some good advice in case you meet a dragon today. I love how in the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit movies it’s hobbits that get to be the heroes of the story. They live in holes in the ground. They’re small. They have to be rescued all the time. Hobbits don’t usually think very much of themselves – which makes them perfect for carrying Rings and other adventures.

I think Jesus would call hobbits ‘poor in spirit’. He’d say ‘you’re blessed!’

Do you feel like you’re nobody really special? You might be just the person Jesus loves to bless – and use for big things.

Just remember about the dragons …

#GodsVisionforYou
#theStoryinMovies
#andrewv

 

Wow, God, you say some crazy things sometimes! Happy are those who mourn? Happy are those who are meek? Happy are those who are pure in heart? Clearly your thinking is different to mine.

But I do want to be happy. And I do believe that you know better than I do what will make me truly happy.

Jesus, you know what it is like to be truly human and that your Holy Spirit is working in me to be the best version of myself that I can be.

‘Teach me your ways, God, teach me your paths.’ Psalm 25v4

#GodsVisionforYou
#fridayfeedback
#roblloyd

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GivenGain

A Messenger Likely to Get Shot – Isaiah’s Story

How we live matters. We can have the best worship services with all the lights and great music but the worship God really wants are lives of obedience, love for others and care for the victims of injustice. If we wander off that path God will do anything it takes to get our attention again and restore us to that full and abundant life he wants for us.

This is Session 4 in Series 3 of the Enter Life Curriculum. [Series 3 HomeEnter Life Home]

The Story

 

It may be pretty hard to see how ancient text like what we have in the book of Isaiah could possibly be relevant for us today. I mean, have you tried actually reading the whole book – or just a chapter? These prophets were cranky! Their favourite phrase seems to be ‘Woe to you …’ and there’s all kinds of doom and gloom.

And yet … in these books a picture emerges of how messed up life can be, and how determined God is to not let us get lost in that. If you think that ignoring or disobeying God isn’t a big deal then reading the prophets will grab your attention. If you think God is a merciless, vengeful tyrant always breaking things then these passages will show just how loving and tender God can be. These passages are raw with emotion, brutally honest and heartbreakingly tender. If you think God doesn’t have feminine, mother-like qualities you need to read Isaiah …

In this session we’re going to dip into just one chapter of Isaiah’s book. You should balance this one with other passages like chapters 9. 55, 58 and 65.

In the Old Story, God decides to begin restoring the damage caused by human rebellion by creating covenants.

Think of the prophets as the Covenant Enforcers. Their job was to keep reminding the people about the Covenants and the laws and what would happen if they obeyed and disobeyed. In a nutshell the Covenants were basically this:

God says: I promise to be your God. I will bless you and everyone through you, and you get enjoy the things you were made to deeply desire. You, just need to let me be God – that means being holy and faithful to me – not worshiping anything else.

Seems simple enough right? So how did that go in those old days? Turns out …

cantlook

Not very well.

Please+don't+shoot+the+messenger

Around 740 BC Isaiah gets called into action. Things have been going pretty badly. People have been worshiping other things, and when people DO worship God their services have become a bit routine. They’ve got all the bells and whistles and smoke but their hearts are someplace else … God doesn’t like that. What Isaiah writes in the first chapter of his book is beautiful, harsh, shocking, sad, hopeful … Check it out

Let’s dig into the passage a bit:

Verses 1-4: The ancient, great command – the one that captured everything God wanted from his people was this:
Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got! (Deuteronomy 6:5 The Message)

But look what’s happened: In Isaiah 1v1-4 God tells it like it is. It’s not pretty.

My people have walked out on me, their God, turned their backs on The Holy One of Israel, walked off and never looked back.

verses 5-9: in the next section Isaiah explains why life is not going very well. Whether it’s their physical bodies or their whole country – things are pretty messed up: people are sick and broken – just like God said would happen.

‘From the bottom of your feet to the top of your head, nothing’s working right.’.

Is that a decent description of how things can still be today?

tumblr_m8i1o8qzxj1qiaqpmo1_500  tumblr_m8ystlN1Gy1qiaqpmo1_500

verses 10-17: Now things get pretty hectic. People are praying, fasting, burning incense and offering costly sacrifices to God – all the things good God-people should do right? But God says he hates it all. What? God hates people worshiping him? Yes – if the songs they sing in church aren’t backed up by what they do outside of church…

I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening.”

Ok, so what is the worship God really loves?

  • Actually stopping doing the stuff you know is wrong
  • Pursuing the things you know are right
  • Making a noise when unjust things go down
  • Encouraging people who’ve been stepped on
  • Standing up for people who are weak

verses 18-26 This part is a great summary of what the whole book of Isaiah is about: The people have rejected God so God honours their choice and lets them experience life with God. It’s ugly. There’s so much bad stuff going on in Israel that God decides to shake them out of their slackness. The people are forced to pay attention to God when God hoofs them out of their towns and dumps them for a while in other places – like Babylon and Assyria.

A bit of hardship is often a sure way to get people to pay attention to God again. Israel ends up spending many years in exile. It’s a tough time. People like Daniel and Esther and have to figure out life with God in a hostile place. But, God promises to use their suffering to draw his people back to him and to make them more holy – if they repent and learn to worship God with their whole lives. One day God will bring his people back and make things right again (read Isaiah 40 for one of the best passages about this.

Finding your life in the Story
So how is the story about a tribe from long ago relevant to us? A lot of water has passed under the bridge since 740BC. Well actually, we are actually quite a lot like those poor Israelites – living in a world that is in many ways, far from ‘home’ for us. It’s a bit like being in exile. Things aren’t the way they are supposed to be – and life can be hard and painful.

And here’s where there’s genuinely GOOD news for us:

1) We can live faithful and holy lives when everyone around us is doing messed-up and crazy stuff. Just like Daniel and Esther and Isaiah (and a bunch of other heroes from the Old Testament) we are free to live lives that are aligned with God’s ways. Just like those people, we’ll probably need to be brave and risk being mocked. We’ll need to trust that God knows what he’s doing. Just like those people we have the God who never changes with us in every situation we face.

2) God can use hard times to get our attention. Do you find that the better things are going the more you tend to forget about God? Sometimes God allows us to suffer and go through tough times in order to teach us things we wouldn’t learn otherwise. There are lots of worship songs out there about being refined and made holy. Being refined is a hot, uncomfortable and painful process! The bad stuff is literally burned away – ouch! But the result is a whole new level of purity. If you’re going through a tough time maybe stop and see what God might be saying through it to you.

3) How we live our lives really matters. Worshiping God in cool Christian events has no meaning if we don’t align our hearts with the things on God’s heart in our lives each day and then try to live that out. Isaiah 58 is a beautiful description of what that looks like.

Life can be tough, and often we are our own worst enemies when we wander off in crooked directions away from God’s will through our pride or just plain stubbornness. Sometimes God needs to discipline us in order to get our attention again and bring us back to where God wants us.

The good news is that God disciplines us because he loves us. He keeps drawing us back to the straight line of enjoying life with him.

In the end the choice is ours. How much will we embrace God’s training of us so we can truly live?

redperson

Leaders Toolkit


In this tab you’ll find ideas and questions to help you lead your group through an interactive, story-based journey. Our leaders guide has more info on how to use our Story-based framework.

Click on the time bomb to see how you could run this session in 15 minutes, 30 minutes or longer.
timebomb

Download a PDF version of this session here

Rewind

How do you or your friends explain what’s happening when things go badly in life? Is it bad karma from somewhere? Just bad luck? Or is God somehow involved?

Can you think of a moment when you were really worshiping God? What did that look like? What things helped it happen?

theWordSpace_cropped

Get the conversation started …
Get everyone to check out the WordSpace posts from this week on their phones or from a printout (you’ll find them in the next tab.)

o Is there a post that stands out for you? Why so?

o Is there something in a post that raises a question for you? What is that?

o If you had to choose one post to share with a friend, which one would it be?

Refresh

Read the post in The Story tab.

replay

Some questions to help you replay your story 

o Did what you encountered sound more like good news or bad news to you? Any idea why?

o Was there anything in this Story or in the passage in Isaiah that was particularly meaningful for you? Did any parts describe your experience of life, or of Christian worship?

o What feelings or emotions did you experience while hearing that part of the Story?

o Are there people in your life who sometimes tell you the truth about your life? How well do you tend to listen to them?

remix

What practical action, response,or new way of thinking do you need to take into the week?

Some questions to help you remix your story …

o Could you spend some time this week ‘listening to your life’ – reflecting on the things you do and listening to what God might be saying to you? Maybe that will mean talking to someone who knows God and who you trust – and hearing what they say.

o What could you do to express a life of worship for God through being obedient in something or caring for someone?

From the WordSpace

Here are five posts from the WordSpace we’ve posted specially to tie in with this topic:

A Whore-Wife and Crazy Kid Names – Hosea’s Story

It’s easy to judge a prostitute for their unfaithfulness. The message of Hosea is that God probably quite often sees us as people who abandon him and prostitute ourselves to the next best exciting thing that comes our way. The good news is that God will do whatever it takes to woo you back.

This is Session 1 in Series 3 of the Enter Life Curriculum. [Series 3 HomeEnter Life Home]

The Story

Hosea probably had one of the toughest jobs of all the prophets in the Old Testament. That’s actually saying quite a lot because some of the things the prophets had to do were pretty intense – like lying in poo or walking around naked (those stories in Ezekiel 4 and Isaiah 20).

The main job of a prophet back then was to be a kind of Covenant-enforcer. They had to tell the people if they were doing well or not so well in keeping the Covenant that would restore their relationship with God. Sometimes they used words to do that. Other times… well God needed to take things to the next level to get peoples’ attention. With Hosea God seems to go completely overboard… Read the story in Hosea chapter 1.

Find a whore and marry her. Make this whore the mother of your children. And here’s why: This whole country has become a whorehouse, unfaithful to me, God.”

Is that crazy or what?? The Bible says a lot about how bad adultery and unfaithfulness is. And here’s God telling Hosea to go marry a prostitute!

And then, as soon as everyone sees the newlywed couple together: holy, God-guy Hosea and um … rather embarrassing prostitute Gomer, God says this:

you all are like Gomer to me’

BOOM!

That came from God?

It gets worse.

The couple soon start a family, but God tells Hosea what to name his kids:

Name this one No-Mercy. I’m fed up with Israel. I’ve run out of mercy.”
Name [your son] Nobody. You’ve become nobodies to me, and I, God, am a nobody to you.”

Every time someone would call Hosea’s kids it would be a reminder from God that they had really messed up this Covenant thing.

I wonder how many friends those poor kids had?

After Gomer has had three children she wanders off and falls in love with another guy. There’s a messy, embarrassing and painful separation. Hosea doesn’t know what to do … until, in Chapter 3, God says:

‘Hosea, go get back together again’
‘God. Are. You. Serious?’
‘Yes. Go do it.’
‘Ok.’ “Start all over: Love your wife again, your wife who’s in bed with her latest boyfriend, your cheating wife. Love her the way I, God, love the Israelite people, even as they flirt and party with every god that takes their fancy.”

Have you ever really liked someone who didn’t like you back? Or maybe a best friend suddenly didn’t want to be friends anymore? Can you remember, or imagine, what that feels like? Can you imagine what Hosea felt like watching his wife messing around with other guys?

Can you imagine what God felt like watching the tribe he loved and wanted to protect turn to other things for their comfort and security?

In the end God shows his people some tough love. God lets them have what they want. If they are so keen to live without God then God lets them experience what life can be like that way …

The people of Israel are going to live a long time
stripped of security and protection,
without religion and comfort,
godless and prayerless.
But in time they’ll come back, these Israelites,
come back looking for their God and their David-King.
They’ll come back chastened to reverence
before God and his good gifts, ready for the End of the story of his love.
Hosea 3v4-5

It’s tough love because God is pretty sure his people will realise how empty life is without God – but only after suffering for a while.

God will bring his people back from their crooked path to his straight line. Again. Why? Because God just can’t give up on these stubborn, faithless, clueless people he loves madly.

Hosea Chapter 11 is one of the most beautiful and heart-aching passages in the Bible.

My people are hell-bent on leaving me.
They pray to god Baal for help.
He doesn’t lift a finger to help them.
But how can I give up on you, Ephraim?
How can I turn you loose, Israel?
How can I leave you to be ruined like Admah,
devastated like luckless Zeboim?
I can’t bear to even think such thoughts.
My insides churn in protest.
And so I’m not going to act on my anger.
I’m not going to destroy Ephraim.
And why? Because I am God and not a human.
I’m The Holy One and I’m here—in your very midst.

Have you ever wondered how God views you? Do you think it’s sometimes like the way Hosea viewed his wife – someone who he loves dearly and deeply but who is so often unfaithful and so easily tempted by other things?

The message of Hosea is that God probably quite often sees us as people who abandon him and prostitute ourselves to the next best exciting thing that comes our way. The good news is that God loves and cares for us so deeply that he will keep enticing us back into a relationship with him. God will do whatever it takes to woo you back.

It doesn’t say in the book how things end between Hosea and his whore-wife Gomer. I hope Gomer learned to become faithful and that they enjoyed a happier marriage. I hope they changed the names of their kids…I hope they were able to overcome the pain and brokenness of a relationship wrecked by unfaithfulness.

The stories of each of our lives are still being written but there’s a larger story in which a holy groom on a cross suffers all the pain and brokenness of sin and evil so that his bride’s unfaithfulness can be forgiven and their relationship restored. Check this out in Revelation 19v1-8.

Here’s the last paragraph in Hosea

If you want to live well,
make sure you understand all of this.
If you know what’s good for you,
you’ll learn this inside and out.
God’s paths get you where you want to go.
Right-living people walk them easily;
wrong-living people are always tripping and stumbling.

If you find you’re doing more tripping and stumbling in your life than you would like, here’s an invitation to think about what walking along God’s paths might be like instead. It begins with a relationship with God – no matter how unfaithful we’ve been

redperson

Leaders Toolkit


In this tab you’ll find ideas and questions to help you lead your group through an interactive, story-based journey. Our leaders guide has more info on how to use our Story-based framework.

Click on the time bomb to see how you could run this session in 15 minutes, 30 minutes or longer.
timebomb

Download a PDF version of this session here

Rewind

o What’s more important to you: loyalty or honesty?
o Have you ever been let down or even betrayed by a friend? Has a friend stuck with you through some tough times or had your back when people turned on you? What did that feel like?
o Are you the kind of person who is loyal and faithful to someone (or something) no matter what, or do you tend to be distracted by other things that come your way? How does that work out in your relationship with God?

theWordSpace_cropped

Get the conversation started …
Get everyone to check out the WordSpace posts from this week on their phones or from a printout (you’ll find them in the next tab.)

o Is there a post that stands out for you? Why so?
o Is there something in a post that raises a question for you? What is that?
o If you had to choose one post to share with a friend, which one would it be?

Refresh

Read the post in The Story tab.

replay

Some questions to help you replay your story 

o Did you have any particular feelings or thoughts towards Hosea or Gomer when you heard this story?
o In what ways could that story translate into your life?
o God plays quite a big role in this story – what aspects of God’s character stuck out for you?

Redraw Your Picture of Jesus

The idea of Jesus having the same kind of relationship to us as a husband has to his wife is a strong theme throughout the Bible. Does seeing how Hosea loves and treats his wife Gomer help you redraw your idea of what Jesus is like in any way? What characteristics are the most appealing to you?

remix

What practical action, response,or new way of thinking do you need to take into the week?

Re-pent …
Have you encountered something in Hosea’s story that makes you want to say to God: ‘sho, I’ve been pretty unfaithful and easily distracted in my relationship with you. I’m sorry! Help me figure out how to deal with the things that I keep chasing after that draw me away from you.’?

Jesus invites us to repent often and with freedom. It’s a real gift from God – go for it!

Some questions to help you remix your story …
o Are you in a place where you’ve abandoned a friendship or some other relationship because you’ve been a bit like Gomer and chased after something or someone else? Has someone done that to you? How could you begin to restore that relationship this week?
o Do you need to press the reset button on your relationship with God and start over? How could you do that this week?

 

From the WordSpace

Here are four posts from the WordSpace we’ve posted specially to tie in with this topic:

What would you do if you were caught doing something to hurt someone you loved a lot? Would you hide because you felt bad, or try and beg for forgiveness?

Often when we realise we’ve sinned against God we go into hiding until we think God might have forgotten! Hosea’s encouragement is this, ‘Come, let us return to the Lord!’ (Hosea 6v1)

Coming back to God when we’ve let him down can be hard, but it’s also the most healing thing we can do. Do you need to return to God and tell him about some stuff?

Check out Hosea 6 here – http://bit.ly/1lUEsAH
#fridayfeedback
#andrewv

Have you ever been cheated on? It really hurts deep down right? You feel betrayed, angry, sad…

In the Old Testament God tells Hosea to marry a woman who was known for sleeping around (Hosea 1v2). God knew Gomer would cheat on Hosea sooner or later and that it would hurt – but God wanted to show the Israelites that their sin was wrecking their relationship with God too.

When we choose to love other things in our lives more than God it’s kinda like we’re cheating on God too. What does it tell you about how much God loves you that he always stays faithful to you, no matter how unfaithful you’ve been?

Read Hosea 1 here: http://bit.ly/1i4GlLQ
#GodsViewofYou
#Hosea
#roblloyd

If you were to imagine God as a person who’s standing nearby, would you want to move towards him or away from him?

In the book of Hosea God says his people are like a wife who has had an affair. Even though they have cheated on him, God still wants them to come back to him and be faithful to him again (Hosea 2v16)

Do we go looking for love elsewhere because we see God as angry or scary? What if we really saw God as someone who loves us like crazy – no matter how unfaithful we’ve been? Would you want to move closer?

Read Hosea 2 here: http://bit.ly/1i4FT09

#KnowingGod
#Hosea
#roblloyd

Do you know the feeling when you really like someone who doesn’t like you back? Or when a best friend betrays you? I think God was feeling that way when he told the prophet Hosea to marry the local prostitute Gomer. They quickly broke up. Really awkward.

Then God said to his people: ‘You are all like Gomer to me’

Yoh

Could God say that about us? Do we put our trust in anything exciting that comes our way? Here’s how God responds. He tells Hosea: ‘start all over: Love your wife again your cheating wife. Love her the way I, God, love my people’ (Hosea 3v1, The Message)

Faithful God! Unfaithful me. Have mercy Jesus!

Read Hosea 1 here: http://bit.ly/14yaDdp
#andrewv

Here for Such a Time as This – Esther’s Story

God draws straight with the crooked lines of our lives. We are not always faithful and obedient – just like many of the people in the Old Testament story didn’t always get things right. We might be pretty ordinary but that doesn’t stop God from being able to use us in such times as the ones we live in right now.

This is Session 3 in Series 3 of the Enter Life Curriculum. [Series 3 HomeEnter Life Home]

The Story


There were a bunch of times when it appeared that God’s centuries-long plan to restore what was lost at the beginning was really close to being a total fail. God kept using normal people who often got scared or lost their way to work out his plan. Somehow, despite what often looked like randomness, the plan stayed more or less on track. God kept drawing straight with the crooked lines lived out by the people he chose.

Here’s another story from the time the people of Israel were stuck in exile because of their inability and refusal to keep their side of the Covenant – God’s Relationship Rescue plan. It’s from the book of Esther in the Old Testament.

It’s about 480 BC, the Israelites have been carried away from their homes and dumped in Persia. Once again, there’s a king in charge who has more power than sense. Here’s a guy who gets really angry, really quickly and loves writing decrees that can’t be changed that seriously mess with other peoples’ lives. What could possibly go wrong with a guy like that in charge?

In that mix are two Israelite people who find themselves caught up in the action. Here’s how things unfold (in dramatically shortened form):

King Ahasuerus throws a seven day booze-fest after which he is so ‘merry with wine…’ that he decides to show off his beautiful Queen Vashti to his guests. Vashti isn’t that keen on being a fashion accessory and refuses to come.

The king is SHOCKED and APPALLED! Husbands everywhere start wondering if their wives will also stop obeying their every command. An example must be made of the naughty queen.

The queen is banished and the king looks for a replacement. Rather unsurprisingly the king decides to select his favourite from a bunch of beautiful young virgins but only after they’ve spent a whole year in a beauty spa.

The plot gets a bit less runny: Esther, a Jewish orphan, is volunteered by her adoptive dad, Mordecai, to be part of the contest. She wins and becomes the new queen.

In the meantime, Mordecai discovers two guards plotting to kill King Ahasuerus. He tells Esther, who tells the king. The guards are killed and Mordecai gets his name written in the book of heroic deeds.

Enter a guy called Haman who, for some reason, gets promoted by the king to the most important job in the land. There’s lots of power and money – and sex probably – which all goes straight to Haman’s head. He loves making people bow down and tremble before him. Everyone does, except one – Mordecai.
This makes Haman pretty mad. How mad? Mad enough to concoct a scheme to kill ALL the Jews in the entire empire (that’s quite mad).
Mordecai is gobsmacked. This is all his fault! He tears his clothes and sits in a pile of ashes (as you do). Then he gives the details of the genocide plan to Esther. This puts Esther in a bit of a bind. She can’t just drop in on the king and tell him what your problem is (you get killed if you try). She has to wait until the king calls her – which hasn’t happened in a month …
(we’re going to slow down for the next bit cos things get really interesting…)

Esther is not keen to get killed for approaching the king without permission. Mordecai has some blunt words for her: ‘listen Esther, you are in a prime spot to do something about this evil plan – and you will be killed too if the plan goes ahead. If YOU don’t do something then someone else will and, who knows, don’t you think it’s possible that you’ve been put in the powerful spot you have precisely for such a time as this?’

Esther gets it. She decides to risk her life by breaking the law and going to the king uninvited. To boost her chances of surviving she gets her friends to fast for three days. Esther decides the best way to the king’s heart is through his stomach and prepares a two-day feast for him and Haman. Remember, Haman is the bad guy responsible for the plot to kill the Jews. He’s also planning to publicly execute Mordecai on gallows he’s having specially built.

On the first night the king can’t sleep (indigestion, or something else?) and, instead of counting sheep, starts reading the book of heroic deeds. He finds the part about Mordecai stopping the guards from killing him and realises Mordecai never got rewarded for that. Then, and you really can’t make this up …, the king asks Haman to suggest the best way to reward someone for outstanding loyalty. Haman is convinced the king is planning to shower good stuff on him, so he proposes a spectacle full of royal robes and horses and parades – his own little power fantasy. I would so love to have seen Haman’s face when the king says ‘great idea! Now go do all that for Mordecai’

Things get worse for Haman when Esther tells the king about Haman’s plan to hang Mordecai. Guess who ends up getting hung on his own gallows? Mordecai is then named as his replacement…
It turns out the king’s first decree to kill the Jews can’t be undone so Mordecai writes another decree allowing the Jews to defend themselves. They do this with spectacular, gory success. It’s a brutal day but they completely destroy everyone who tried to knock them off.

And that’s pretty much how it ends. Cool story hey? Here’s something I thought was especially interesting: did you notice in the whole story God never gets a mention? It’s like that in the whole book of Esther. At the same time it’s clear that God is a silent character involved in every part of the story (just like in Daniel’s story.)

Everything that happens to Esther is wrapped up in what God was working out in the lives of his people in exile: being adopted by Mordecai, being beautiful enough to win the king’s heart, being smart enough to play the right games with her enemies, and being saved from death for breaking the no-entry rule. When there was no hope for the people of Israel, God placed Esther right where she could do something about it. She was there for ‘such a time as this’ …

Esther and Mordecai had to play their part too. It took great courage, faith in God – and lots of fasting, but they take the risks they need to and make the crafty plays that help to swing things Israel’s way.
The other thing I love about this story is what it reveals about God’s character. God keeps to his word and doesn’t let his people off the hook for their rejection of him. They go off to a harsh exile because of their stubborn rebellion just like God warned them many times through the prophets.

But … look at how God is actively involved in that place of exile. God never stops caring for his people, keeping them safe and using ordinary people like Esther and Mordecai to get the job done. We’ll see in the next story how God keeps promising that their exile won’t be forever and that God will give back to his beloved people everything they lost – and more…

God draws straight with the crooked lines of our lives. We are not always faithful and obedient – just like many of the people in the Old Testament story didn’t always get things right. We might be pretty ordinary but that doesn’t stop God from being able to use us in such times as the ones we live in right now.

redperson

Leaders Toolkit


In this tab you’ll find ideas and questions to help you lead your group through an interactive, story-based journey. Our leaders guide has more info on how to use our Story-based framework.

Click on the time bomb to see how you could run this session in 15 minutes, 30 minutes or longer.
timebomb

Download a PDF version of this session here

Rewind

Can you think of an event or two in your life where you’re like: ‘wow, I ‘d really like to go back and do that over’?

What did the after effects of that moment look like for you?

Would you say those times are more like obstacles to your personal growth or could they be things that make you stronger?

theWordSpace_cropped

Get the conversation started …
Get everyone to check out the WordSpace posts in the next tab.

o Is there a post that stands out for you? Why so?

o Is there something in a post that raises a question for you? What is that?

o If you had to choose one post to share with a friend, which one would it be?

Refresh

Read the post in The Story tab.

replay
Some questions to help you replay your story 
The Bible tells us in places like Malachi 3v6 and Hebrews 13v 8 that God is the same today as he was all those years ago (check out this song by Jesus Culture ). God is at work in our own lives – often behind the scenes – giving us the things we need and putting us in places so that we can be his hands and feet in a world that desperately needs God’s restorations and healing.

Can you point to a time where God was doing something like that in your life? Maybe in the life of your city or country?
What does God need from us to be able to make a difference through us? Look at what Esther and Mordecai were like: they were faithful, they were savvy (even a bit crafty!), and they were prepared to take risks. Are there situations you’re in right now that require a bit of those things?

Isn’t it amazing to think that God actually wants to change things by working through us? How awesome is it to be considered worthy of that by God!

Re – draw your picture of Jesus
One of the clearest ‘here-for-such-a-time-as-this’ moments in Jesus’ life is recorded in Luke 4v14-20. Jesus takes an ancient prophesy about someone who is 100% sold out for the cause of giving life and hope for people fighting for survival in the brutal back-end of our world – the poor, the prisoners, the sick, the victims of injustice. Jesus – the second person of the Trinity, the king of the Universe – commits himself completely to the cause of those who have the least amount going for them in this world.

How does thinking about that for a moment help you re-draw your picture of who Jesus is and what he is like?

How might that help you understand the way Jesus feels towards you right now?

remix

What practical action, response,or new way of thinking do you need to take into the week?

Re-pent …
Have you encountered something in Esther’s story that makes you want to say to God: ‘sho, there are some things I need to rethink about my life. Sorry for the times I’ve kept my head down and played things safe when I could have been more obedient. Help me figure out what I might be able to do for your Kingdom in the places I live.’?

Jesus invites us to repent often and with freedom. It’s a real gift from God – go for it!
Some questions to help you remix your story …

o Here’s an idea: think of all the people you come into contact with regularly. Who are the people who might listen to you if you decided something needed to be said?
o Have you been placed among those people and caught up in those issues ‘for such a time as this’? What are the things you are uniquely able to do because of the places you go to and the people you know? What would it take for you to actually begin to do a few of those things?

From the WordSpace


Here are five posts from the WordSpace we’ve posted specially to tie in with this topic:

 

I love the story of Esther in the Old Testament. A stunningly beautiful woman (who knows what that looked like back then?) Esther becomes queen to the powerful king Xerxes. The tale gets dark when the king signs a law that will kill all of Esther’s people. Esther is scared to get involved but her father Mordecai says: ‘surely Esther, you have been placed here for such a time as this?’

How does God view you? I think it’s as someone who is uniquely placed in your family, school, neighbourhood for such a time as this. Do you see yourself as significantly as God does?

What could God be calling you to do today?

Read Esther here: http://bit.ly/1jYZE6h
#andrewv
#Godsviewofyou

Esther is a great story about how to put faith into action too. Esther (Mordecai’s adoptive daughter? or cousin? see 2v7, 15) has a tough choice to make: do nothing or risk her life and talk to the king? She fasts, then goes for it, God comes through and thousands are saved.

What are the things around you that don’t seem right? Have you been placed where you are ‘for such a time as this’? What are the things you are uniquely able to do because of your faith and the people you know?

Be bold and courageous!

Read Esther here: http://bit.ly/17fCYZW
#faithworks

#andrewv

Have you ever felt like nothing ever goes your way? And that when plans change that it always affects you more than others?

From a human perspective, it seems that plans are always changing to hurt or break us. But in the bigger picture, God knows exactly what he is doing in our lives. And even when things seem really bad God says in Hebrews 13v5 that, no matter what happens, he will never leave you or abandon you.

Keep in mind that Gods timing is perfect – and even bad plans will be worked for our good! (Romans 8v28)

Read Hebrews 13 here: http://bit.ly/1491dVz
#teens2teens
Daniel Mitchell, Cape Town

The Bible is about God, right? Then how can a whole book that doesn’t mention him make it into the Old Testament?

The book of Esther doesn’t mention God once. Does that mean he isn’t part of the story? Oh course not! God is a part of every story. And not just the ones that make it into the bible, either. He’s part of every story that could ever be told about this world.

Just because God’s name isn’t being mentioned somewhere doesn’t mean you won’t find him if you look for him. Just because you didn’t pray yesterday or read your bible, doesn’t mean he wasn’t active in your day. Sometimes God is ignored, sometimes he is silent, but he’s never absent.

#esther
#roblloyd

Do you agree that the way we view ourselves can be REALLY fragile sometimes? Just one critical comment, a bad mark, a squeaky voice moment, getting dropped or dumped and suddenly you are a useless, hopeless person. On other days we feel we’re great but it’s really just because something went well for once…

Here’s what God sees you as: a masterpiece. Not only has God made you but, if you have faith in Jesus, God has made you alive and ready to do significant things in partnership with him. And God’s view of you doesn’t change – no matter what might come your way this week.

Read Ephesians 2:8-10 here: http://bit.ly/13YAMlV

#GodsViewofYou
#andrewv

God, things at home aren’t going so well. I feel desperate. Do you see what’s happening? Can you hear me? ‘I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the towering rock of safety’ (Psalm 61v1-4 http://bit.ly/13kz4NZ).

You’re here with me in the midst of it all… comforting and loving me, showing me the truth through your word… you’re the place where I can hide now. And you know what hurts. Could you also please show me someone ‘safe’ who I can share about my home situation with… someone who won’t judge, someone I can trust? Thanks, my God-rock.

#FridayFeedback
#wendyb

Faith for Faithless Times – Daniel and Friends

It’s tough living as a Christian when the people around you think you’re crazy or deluded or defiant. So many opportunities to compromise your beliefs come your way. Daniel and friends show us what living faithfully in faithless times can look like. Keeping God in focus can change everything.

This is Session 2 in Series 3 of the Enter Life Curriculum. [Series 3 HomeEnter Life Home]

The Story


Have you found it tough to be a faithful Jesus-follower when it seems everyone around you isn’t really interested, or believes something completely different? How do you tend to respond when the things your friends do don’t really honour God? Daniel and his friends lived in tough times for people who loved God. There’s some good stuff in Daniel’s story that might encourage you …

Here’s some background info to get you started: It’s around 600 BC. With a few exceptions, Israel has pretty much ignored God’s relationship rescue plan – the Covenants – and is about to suffer the consequences. In Isaiah 3 God had warned the people that some bad stuff might happen if they continued to ignore their side of God’s Covenant. Unfortunately, Isaiah’s warnings echoed around among deaf ears and no-one paid much attention.

So God upped the stakes a little and begins to follow through on what God said would happen in Deuteronomy 28: If you reject the Covenant, things are going to go badly for you. The Babylonian empire, ruled by Nebuchadnezzar has just invaded Israel, ransacked the Temple, and dragged off a whole lot of people to be servants and slaves back home. A young guy called Daniel was one of them … Daniel’s story was first written to encourage people who were living in tough times. I think the story has got lots to say to us today too – plus it’s just a really cool story, the kind you couldn’t make up.

We’re going to dip into three scenes that take place years apart and which reveal some great stuff about living faithfully in faithless times.

Scene 1 takes place in Daniel 1v1-21. The new life has actually started out pretty well. A little bit too well for Daniel who has a few problems with the rich and lavish food and wine he’s being made to consume. Daniel manages to convince the guy in charge to give him just vegetables and water for ten days. Despite the risk of losing his head the official puts all the good food back on the top shelf and hands out just the veg.

The veggie diet does wonders and soon that’s the new standard menu. God is impressed with these young guys and gives them some special gifts to help them thrive in other ways too.

To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.

Here are two things that impress me in this story:

Even though God had caused the official in charge to be kind to Daniel, the guy was still too scared to give Daniel what he wanted. It took some crafty scheming by Daniel – and a brave guard too – to go ahead with the plan. Daniel doesn’t take the ‘sit back and let God do everything’ approach, but neither does he do everything himself. Seems like a well-balanced approach to me…

I also love how God responds to Daniel’s act of faith; it’s as if God says to himself ‘now here’s a young person I can trust with some bigger stuff…’ I wonder if God sometimes waits to see how we handle the small things we have now before trusting us with bigger things.

The second scene takes place in Daniel 3. King Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t the most stable of kings. One day he’s raving about Daniel’s God: ‘your God is the God of gods and the Lord of Kings!’ (2:47) and then he’s getting everyone to worship a colossal gold statue-god he got someone to make. That presented a problem for Daniel’s friends …

Despite the dire warnings of being fried alive, Daniel’s friends refuse to do what everyone else is doing and bow down to this man-made statue. Can you imagine the peer pressure when everyone else is face-down in the dirt and they’re just standing there? Pretty soon they’re in the burning pit but miraculously emerge unscathed. They even get a surprise visit by a mysterious person in the middle of the inferno.

Here’s the part that’s worth the price of admission for me: how crazy is the reply that the three friends give to the king in verse 16-18??

King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.’

These guys have rock solid faith that God is able to save them from anything the king throws at them but … if God chooses not to save them for some reason it doesn’t matter. They are so committed to God they would rather die than worship someone or something else – as lots of faithful Christians have been prepared to do in all the years since, and continue to choose to do today.

In the end, God comes through in a spectacular way, Nebuchadnezzar flip-flops back onto the ‘God is awesome’ side and the three guys get a hectic promotion.

The third scene is the famous one where Daniel survives a night with hungry lions (Daniel 6). It all started when jealous officials convince a very convincible king to ban praying to anyone other than him. Darius’ lack of judgement puts Daniel in a tricky spot but, instead of taking a month-long prayer break Daniel keeps on going, every day, just like always.

Here are three things I admire about Daniels prayer life when I read verse 10:

1.  Prayer was Daniel’s first response to this new crisis in his life.
2.  Praying regularly (three times a day) was an old habit. Daniel didn’t pray any harder when heard the bad news, he just kept on as before.
3.  Daniel’s prayers were mostly about saying ‘thank-you!’ to God.

Any lessons there for you?

God comes through for Daniel in another amazing way and he leaves the den with some new lion friends instead of being lion poop. Will God always save us from harm like Daniel? Um, no. Faith in God doesn’t guarantee our safety from lions, or robbers or stuff that might harm us. There are many faithful Christians who have also literally been thrown before lions for their faith … and they have been eaten.

Sometimes we are going to genuinely suffer for our faith, and sometimes God will miraculously save us from trouble. Sometimes we need to say, like those three guys in scene 2: ‘I know God can … but even if he doesn’t …’

Here’s the thing I really love about Daniel’s story: did you notice how the narrator in each of the scenes shows us how God is always in control? God is always there in the story: causing the official to show ‘favour and sympathy’ to Daniel (1:9), giving Daniel special knowledge and wisdom to rule wisely and even interpret dreams (1:17), sending an angel to be with the three guys in their fiery furnace ordeal (3:24-25) and to wire closed the lions’ mouths in the den with Daniel.

We live in a world of broken relationships. The very thing God intended to be perfect has been wrecked by sin. Sin touches all of our lives – some in more obvious ways than others. That makes living faithfully in these times really hard sometimes, but … God draws straight with the crooked lines of our lives. Even when people do stupid and hurtful things to us, or we make dumb decisions and suffer the consequences, God never leaves us and never gives up control. That’s why Paul can say in Romans 8v28 that, no-matter what happens to us God can work all things for the ultimate good of those who love him.

Isn’t that some pretty good news for faithless times?

redperson

Leaders Toolkit


In this tab you’ll find ideas and questions to help you lead your group through an interactive, story-based journey. Our leaders guide has more info on how to use our Story-based framework.

Click on the time bomb to see how you could run this session in 15 minutes, 30 minutes or longer.
timebomb

Download a PDF version of this session here

Rewind

If you imagine the level of faith and belief in God in the places you live in as a kind of climate, what are the conditions like – dry and dusty desert; tropical rainforest; something in between?

What challenges or obstacles from the people around them do people who want to live faithfully as Christians have to deal with? What about other faiths?

How do you tend to respond when the things your friends do don’t really honour God?

theWordSpace_cropped

Get the conversation started …
Get everyone to check out the WordSpace posts from this week on their phones or from a printout (you’ll find them in the next tab.)

o Is there a post that stands out for you? Why so?

o Is there something in a post that raises a question for you? What is that?

o If you had to choose one post to share with a friend, which one would it be?

Refresh

Read the post in The Story tab.

replay

Some questions to help you replay your story
o  Which of the three scenes we looked at in this session seemed most relevant to your situation?

o  The first story could be called: ‘Keeping things simple and small to help focus on God’ Are there things you need to stop taking in for a while so you can connect with God better? It might not be rich food but what about other things you can do without for, say, ten days?

o  Hopefully you won’t ever have to deal with someone threatening to braai you alive … but sometimes having faith in and being loyal to Jesus means saying ‘no’ to things that other people try and make us do. Are there things you need to choose to not devote yourself to or be part of?

o  In the third story, Daniel had every chance to use his great power to set up some nice stuff for himself – but he didn’t. What if someone tried to find something in your life they could accuse you about: how ‘trustworthy, neither corrupt nor negligent’ (Daniel 6v4) in the things you’re responsible for would they find you?

Re – draw your picture of Jesus
Daniel and his friends frequently faced temptation to compromise their belief so they could avoid the threat of suffering and death. Jesus faced that too – he knew the path he was on was heading straight to an agonising crucifixion. He was pretty seriously tempted to give it all up and stay safe. Yet Jesus refused to back down – even when his prayers to God to save him were answered by: ‘No.’ or when the devil or the soldiers offered to make things easier for him.

Check out what’s in Hebrews 12v1-3.

o  How does thinking about Jesus in this way help you re-draw your picture of what Jesus is like?

remix

What practical action, response,or new way of thinking do you need to take into the week?

Re-pent …
Have you encountered something in Daniel’s story that makes you want to change something in your life? Maybe something about staying true to what you believe when things get tough that makes you want to say to God:

wow, I’ve been too easily influenced by the people around me and maybe stopped doing some of the God-honouring things I used to do. Sorry! Help me stay faithful to you in these faithless times.’

Jesus invites us to repent often and with freedom. It’s a real gift from God – go for it!

Some questions to help you remix your story …
o Is there something you can give up for the next few days that might help you focus on God a bit more – or express your commitment to God? Can you find someone to do that with?

o  Are there things in your life that you ‘bow down’ to – things you allow to rule your life or things you trust in more than God? What would it take to turn away from doing that?

o  Are you facing persecution of some kind for your faith right now -or is someone you know? How could you draw strength and courage from God and those around you this week?

From the WordSpace


Here are five posts from the WordSpace we’ve posted specially to tie in with this topic:

What crime do you think would justify a death sentence? Murder? Rape? Child abuse? Apostasy? A-pos-WHAT?!

Mariam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, 27, was condemned to death by hanging on May 15 this year for apostasy: for becoming a follower of Jesus! Given the choice to abandon Jesus or face a death sentence, she refused to deny her faith. Yesterday, prayers for her protection were answered and the Sudanese government announced they would release her (http://bbc.in/1nDNwwt).

Check out some other brave youngsters in Daniel 3 (http://bit.ly/1odRk3D). What do you need to say NO or YES to as an act of loving Jesus?

# MariamYahiaIbrahimIshag
#GodsStoryNow
#hein

The Dark Knight Rises was the best Batman movie (IMHO). At first, like the Bond of Skyfall, Bruce Wayne battles his ageing body and is easily beaten.

Things begin to turn around when Bruce is thrown into a deep prison. For months all Bruce can do is recover and train. When he (spoiler alert!) finally escapes he’s unstoppable.

The Bible is full of people – David, Daniel, Jonah, Paul, Jesus – who had to suffer in tough places before they could do what God called them to.

Are you stuck in a tough place? Maybe you simply need to let God work in you where you are – before you go out and become unstoppable too.

Read about Jesus’ experience in Matthew 4v1-11 here: http://bit.ly/1c4kTS1

#theStoryinMovies
#andrewv

 

Would you turn down a great opportunity for no other reason than you felt it just wasn’t right? In the first chapter of Daniel’s story, Daniel trades his 5-star meal for some veg and water because he felt it would corrupt him. Does this mean we all need to become vegetarians? Thankfully not!

There is another story where Jesus tells Peter what will become of him one day (it wasn’t good news), and Peter responds by looking at John and asking, “What about him?” Jesus’ response was basically, “It’s none of your business. You must follow me.” Sometimes God asks us to do things that go beyond what he might ask of someone else. Are you willing to say “yes” to God no matter what he asks?

John 21.18-23 here…

#daniel
#roblloyd

 

Galaxies by Owl City is a song about the fear, exhilaration, joy and lostness of space travel. Could be about finding your way through school and exams too. Listen here: http://bit.ly/1JBEbQ0

‘Dear God, I was terribly lost
When the galaxies crossed
And the sun went dark.
But dear God, You’re the only North Star
I would follow this far.’

‘Oh telescope,
Keep an eye on my only hope,
Lest I blink and get swept off the narrow road,
Hercules, you’ve got nothing to say to me,
‘Cause you’re not the blinding light that I need.
For He is the saving grace of the galaxies.’

If you feel like you’re being swept off the narrow road, how about letting God’s grace and rock-solid faithfulness be the blinding light you look towards?

Read Psalm 25 here: http://bit.ly/1vgHZ2p

#yourSoundtrack
#andrewv

How are you feeling as you get ready for today? Are you thinking of the things you’re struggling with: conflicts you’re caught in, the test you haven’t really studied for, the habits you’re definitely going to avoid today? Or are you focusing on something better?

Someone once said we tend to move towards the things our eyes are focused on. Is that true for you? What if you fixed your eyes on what is unseen, the hope to which Jesus has called you, the fearfully and wonderfully made person you are, and on Jesus himself who is God’s great YES to us?

Great verse on that in Ephesians 1v18: http://bit.ly/17oWMw0

#faithworks
#andrewv
Sara Bareilles’ song ‘Brave’ is so good we can’s seem to post about it enough!

The story the Bible tells of what’s going on in human history shows us people needing to be brave and stand up for what they believe (like these guys in Daniel 3:16-18 http://bit.ly/1E0S2NZ ). There are also stories about people getting scared and chickening out.

We’re part of that big story too. What tough things are you facing this week?

Imagine the Spirit living inside you singing these words from Sara’s song to you today:

And since your history of silence won’t do you any good / Did you think it would.
Let My words be anything but empty / Why don’t you show them the Truth
Say what you need to say and let My words flow out honestly.
I want to see you be brave
(original version here: http://bit.ly/1E0RUxL )

#YourSoundTrack
#doctER

Men Behaving Badly – David and Sons

David’s story shows us that God doesn’t push the rewind button so that our mistakes get undone. God gives us grace as he moulds and shapes us into the people he desires us to be. And that happens most powerfully when God blesses the broken stuff in our lives and uses that stuff to nudge us down the painful path of maturity

This is Session 1 in Series 3 of the Enter Life Curriculum. [Series 3 HomeEnter Life Home]

The Story

Have you ever messed up or hurt someone in such a way that it took a long time to heal the damage – or maybe what got broken isn’t going to be easy to fix at all? Maybe someone did something to hurt you. You might have asked for and received forgiveness or been able to forgive someone but the scars remain.

Sin wrecks things. Sometimes the traces and after-effects of our bad choices are hard to remove. But God draws straight anyway and by grace makes us stronger in the broken places. David’s story is a bit like that. Let’s check it out.

David gets a lot of airtime in the Bible. His story begins in 1 Samuel 16 and continues through to the end of 2 Samuel and into 1 Kings. He also gets a whole chunk of 1 Chronicles (chapters 11-29) all to himself. That’s about 59 chapters of very expensive paper space. Here are some highlights:

  • David is anointed by Samuel on God’s instructions. God likes what he sees in the young shepherd-boy’s heart
  • David single-handedly knocks off a big hairy giant called Goliath using the tools and skills he mastered in the lonely hills looking after sheep – and a whole lot of faith in the God he’d learned to trust.
  • David learned what it took to be patient and respectful in refusing to kill his arch rival Saul
  • God chooses David to be the one to receive a special covenant blessing. In a time when having a long line of descendants was a really big thing God promises David that the Saviour that Israel was waiting for would come from his family. It didn’t get much better than that.

 

David was the king that Israel loved and would celebrate forever. He lived large and showed everyone what a covenant-keeping life could actually look like – well, nearly.

But David and his sons were human like the rest of us. Like the rest of us they had deep desires for significance and intimacy and identity. And like all of us they sometimes went digging for satisfaction of those desires in broken places – with horrible results…

If you have time read 2 Samuel 11-18 (if not then try 11-13, 15 and 18). Here’s an executive summary of some of the highs and lows:

One day David spies Bathsheba – the wife of Uriah – bathing provocatively on her roof. David lures Bathsheba in and they get together – if you know what I mean. Bathsheba gets pregnant; Uriah won’t provide a convenient cover by sleeping with his wife while there’s a war on.

David gets Uriah knocked off in battle and all is well – until Nathan points out to David what he’s done. Slow down and read that part in 2 Samuel 12v1-14

David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”  Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!”’

You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’

The rest of the story shows how that painful prophecy plays out in David’s family.

The lust and sex continue when Amnon sees just how drop-dead gorgeous his half-sister is. He hatches a rather bizarre plan to get her alone in his bedroom and then rapes her.

I would like my sister Tamar to come and give me something to eat. Let her prepare the food in my sight so I may watch her and then eat it from her hand.

Amnon then falls very much out of love with Tamar. Absalom, Tamar’s real brother, hatches a plan to kill Amnon – which he does a few years later.

When King David heard all this, he was furious. Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister Tamar’

Absalom flees from David but after a while returns to Jerusalem, but David refuses to see his son for over four years. Absalom woos the whole nation, setting himself up as the wise and in-touch guy that David is apparently not. A rebellion grows in a nearby city and David is forced to act.

David acts by running away from Jerusalem and the hunt is on. David gives orders to crush the rebellion but to not harm his son:

Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.’

Absalom is killed in a spectacularly bizarre way in chapter 18v9 (a warning to long-haired horse riders everywhere). David is distraught at the loss of his rebel, son-killing son, and is left to pick up the pieces. This must be one of the saddest moments in the Old Testament:

‘O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!’

One of the pieces that gets picked up is the child David has with Bathsheba – Solomon – who becomes a mighty and wise king. Oh, and a king who is eventually seduced by money, sex and power. And so it continues …

What a story …

One thing that impresses me about David is his fatherly love for his sons – no matter what they did to wreck his kingdom, and his life. Even when David’s bitter enemy dies all David can think to say is: ‘if only I had died instead of him.’ Wow.

And like so many of those stories in the Old Testament you’ve got to be asking ‘where is God in all this?’ It’s like God is a lead character in the plot, but mostly a silent one; intervening through various people where necessary but also allowing things to play out. That God is sovereign and ultimately in charge is the message of the whole Bible but boy are there crooked lines and really messed up sections where you’re wondering: ‘is this for real?’

It seems to me that God responds in one of two ways to the choices people make. Where people sin and chase desires in broken ways God says: ‘see, here are the consequences of your actions.’ When people respond to God in repentance God says: ‘here’s my forgiveness and grace to transform the things that got broken.’

It doesn’t seem to me that God ever pushes the rewind button so that our mistakes get undone (that Falling Plates video  you may have seen is good but it gets it wrong on this point – the broken plates of our lives don’t get magically unbroken in reverse when we turn to God). God gives us grace as he moulds and shapes us into the people he desires us to be.

And that happens most powerfully when God blesses the broken stuff in our lives – and instead of unbreaking it –uses that stuff to nudge us down the painful path of maturity.

Ernest Hemingway was right: ‘The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.’

Jars of Clay really nail his idea in their song Faith Enough.

Should the world rely on faith tonight?’

Yes. For any of us creatures who are so easily tempted to head down crooked paths – it’s our only hope.

redperson

Leaders Toolkit


In this tab you’ll find ideas and questions to help you lead your group through an interactive, story-based journey. Our leaders guide has more info on how to use our Story-based framework.

Click on the time bomb to see how you could run this session in 15 minutes, 30 minutes or longer.
timebomb

Download a PDF version of this session here

Rewind

Can you think of an event or two in your life where you’re like: ‘wow, I ‘d really like to go back and do that over’?

What did the after effects of that moment look like for you?

Would you say those times are more like obstacles to your personal growth or could they be things that make you stronger?

theWordSpace_cropped

Get the conversation started …
Get everyone to check out the WordSpace posts from this week on their phones or from a printout (you’ll find them in the next tab.)

o Is there a post that stands out for you? Why so?

o Is there something in a post that raises a question for you? What is that?

o If you had to choose one post to share with a friend, which one would it be?

Refresh

Read the post in The Story tab.

replay

Some questions to help you replay your story 

o  David, Amnon and Absalom all make some pretty bad decisions in this wild ride of a story. What would you say are some of the deep desires that drive their choices? Can you identify with any of those desires?

o  What would you want to say to these guys if you could speak into the story? What might they want to say to you if they got to see what’s going on in your life?

o  Do you agree with the idea that the broken things in our lives could become the places we are made strong? Any idea what that might look like for you?

o  How do think God might be drawing straight with the crooked lines of your life? Does the fact that God is able go do that give you hope?

Re – draw your picture of Jesus

David is in many ways a kind of prototype for Jesus – an immensely powerful king chosen and anointed by God, the focal point of a covenant God makes with his people, and a guy who’s madly in love with people and with God. For the most part the nation of Israel loved and worshipped David like no other king they ever had.

o  How does seeing Jesus as a perfect kind of David help you re-draw your idea of who Jesus is and what he is like?

remix

What practical action, response,or new way of thinking do you need to take into the week?

Re-pent …

When David is confronted by Nathan the prophet he is immediately ‘cut to the heart’ with regret at what he had done.

David wrote Psalm 51 in response. Is there anything in that Psalm that speaks for you?

Some questions to help you remix your story …

o Are there any broken things in your life that you need to bring to God so that they can be blessed and healed? What would it take to do that this week?

o Does it feel like you have wandered off down a path that’s not really where God is leading you? What would it take to change direction and do or think things differently?

From the WordSpace

Here are five posts from the WordSpace we’ve posted specially to tie in with this topic:

Jars of Clay are one of my favourite bands. Here are some lyrics from one of their best songs (I think!):

‘The storm is wild enough for sailing / The bridge is weak enough to cross / This body frail enough for fighting / I’m home enough to know I’m lost’ (Faith Enough)

I love these words cos they remind me that when things in my life are wild, weak and frail God gets to show his strength in me. The chorus ends with the question: ‘should the world rely on faith tonight?’ Yes! Even if our faith in God is small…

Are there wild or weak things you need to rely on faith to overcome today?

Listen to the song here: http://bit.ly/9AqXxt
Read Matthew 5v3-10 here: http://bit.ly/YgYtmX
#yoursoundtrack
#andrewv

 

Lord sometimes I wish I was invincible, that the song would be true: ‘I am TITANIUM!’ Instead I’m often exhausted and hurt by life: by the expectations of others, disappointments, pressures, challenges, complications…

Help me to sing like David: ‘God, the one and only I’ll wait as long as he says. Everything I hope for comes from him, so why not? He’s solid rock under my feet, breathing room for my soul, An impregnable castle: I’m set for life. My help and glory are in God granite-strength and safe-harbor-God So trust him absolutely, people; lay your lives on the line for him. God is a safe place to be.’ Psalm 62v5-8 (The Message)

#Fridayfeedback
#lifeofdavid
#hein

‘Sticks and stones only break your bones, but words can tear your heart out’ (Steve Turner). That’s true right?

David has some hectic words spoken to him before he takes on Goliath,: ‘your heart is evil, ‘you’re only a boy’, ‘I’ll give your flesh to the birds’ (1 Samuel 17v28-44)

I love how David shakes off those word-bombs and keeps going. His secret? Maybe he’d learned to just BE who he was. David’s relationship with God helped him be comfortable in his own skin. That released David to DO amazing things – no matter what opposed him.

Are you amped to DO things for God? Do you need to learn to just BE a God-loved person first?

Read what Paul said about this in Ephesians 2v8-10 here: http://bit.ly/1gpUIbd

#lifeofDavid
#Faithworks
#andrewv

Imagine your school decided to have a good-looks competition for everyone. Are people suddenly gymming and crash-dieting? Who wins?

David became Israel’s most loved king ever. God worked out his plans through David more than almost everyone else in the Bible. But David would not have won a beauty contest.

God didn’t care about David’s looks, but God really liked what he saw in his heart (check out 1 Samuel 16v1-13 http://bit.ly/19IPiWJ ) David wasn’t perfect but he was learning to trust and worship God – even as a kid.

How’s your heart – your inner life? Do you need to pray David’s prayer: ‘God, create a clean heart in me!’?

Read Psalm 51v10 here: http://bit.ly/17W8GhQ

#Godsviewofyou
#lifeofDavid
#andrewv

Do you ever sing songs to yourself when things get really tough? Way back in 1971 a guy called Gavin Bryars came across a homeless man in London singing these lyrics:

‘Jesus’ blood never failed me yet / Never failed me yet / Jesus’ blood never failed me yet / There’s one thing I know / For he loves me so.’

He was repeating them over and over to himself. Bryars recorded and looped it into a powerful 74-minute track. So simple but it’s the heart of our faith! Jesus’ blood is the unfailing sign of God’s unfailing love for us.

Are things or people failing you? How about singing that homeless guy’s song a few times over to yourself this week?

Listen to Jars of Clay’s cover here:http://bit.ly/1qtIVZD

#yourSoundtrack
#andrewv