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Copyright © 2014 by Brett Eastman ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Published by Lifetogether Ministries

Pathways Faith, Hope, and Love A journey toward intimacy with Christ

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means -- electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise -- except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

BOOK ONE Faith: Seeking Your Life in Christ Together

Copyright and use of the curriculum template is retained by Brett Eastman. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotes are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 and 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. ISBN

by

Printed in the United States of America

Brett Eastman and Greg Hawkins

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HOPE

CONTENTS

Foreword by First & Last Name Intro by First & Last Name

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How to use this workbook

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FOREWORD BY BRETT EASTMAN HAVE YOU EVER FOUND YOURSELF JUST GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS IN LIFE, BUT FEELING DISCONNECTED?

OUTLINE FOR EACH SESSION SESSION ONE: STRENGTHENED

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SESSION TWO: ASSURED

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SESSION THREE: KNOWN

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SESSION FOUR: INFORMED

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SESSION FIVE: EXTENDED

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SESSION SIX: GIFTED

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—THE SUPPORT OF SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIPS

—THE AUTHORITY OF THE BIBLE

—THE INTIMACY OF GOD

—THE WISDOM OF THE BIBLE

—THE JOY OF PRAYER FOR OTHERS

—THE STRENGTH TO SERVE

APPENDICES

Frequently Asked Questions Small Group Agreement Small Group Calendar Spiritual Partners Memory Verse Cards (Clip and Review)

SMALL GROUP LEADERS

Hosting an Open House Leading for the First Time Leadership Training Prayer and Praise Report Small Group Roster P | 5

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Our culture keeps us dialed in and “connected” through technology: we can text, email, instant message. We can connect through social media, phone, video conferencing—or even in person. But sometimes, despite all these opportunities, we can sometimes feel isolated or alone. We could have 200 friends on Facebook but still feel like no one really knows us. More than ever, we need a group of friends who can encourage us, pray for us, love on us. Small groups provide that kind of community. It’s life-changing—and electronic connections can’t compare! This study focuses on connecting—with God and with others. You’ll learn about community, while experiencing it in your group. In this guide, you’ll find four small group lessons you can use with your small group to explore these invitations. You’ll also find some unique daily devotionals, each written as if it were a personal note from Jesus to you. Each will remind you of his deep love for you, and encourage you to grow closer to him as you prepare your heart for Easter. Here at LifeTogether, we believe life change happens in small groups. We’ve created resources that have changed millions of people’s lives, and we’d like to invite you to experience something equally profound. Brett Eastman President and Founder LifeTogether MInistries

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INTRODUCTION BY GREG HAWKINS “I’m interested in God, but I really don’t understand him.” “I’m curious about faith, but religion seems to be about guilt.” “God loves me? What does that mean, exactly?” I’m excited about my relationship with God, but I’m wondering what to do next.” “I believe in Jesus, I go to church, but my faith has kind of stalled out. I’m stuck.” If you’ve ever found yourself saying things like that, you are not alone. Since 2003, I’ve been involved in researching more than half a million church attenders. Most of them admit that they are trying to figure out this thing called faith. What is faith? How do you move forward spiritually? Is there a pathway to follow to find peace and joy?What if you could replace the statements above with radical ideas like: “I’m going deeper in my faith, and the relationship I have with God brings me joy.” “God loves me! I know it. I feel his presence and have peace in my heart.” “God is leading me every day on a great adventure. I never knew life could be this good.” “I really do believe I can do all things with God’s help.” “My faith is really important to me and gives my life meaning.”

USING THIS

WORKBOOK TOOLS TO HELP YOU HAVE A GREAT SMALL GROUP EXPERIENCE! 1. Notice in the Table of Contents there are three sections: (1) Sessions; (2) Appendices; and (3) Small Group Leaders. Familiarize yourself with the Appendices. Some of them will be used in the sessions themselves. 2. If you are facilitating/leading or co-leading a small group, the section Small Group Leaders will give you some hard-learned experiences of others that will encourage you and help you avoid many common obstacles to effective small group leadership. 3. Use this workbook as a guide, not a straightjacket. If the group responds

Such a life is possible. In our research, we’ve uncovered what helps people move forward along the path toward a life of fulfillment and joy. And the study you hold in your hands is a road map, of sorts, to help you move toward that reality. While every person is on their own journey, there is a path that will move you toward living a life of faith, toward having a deep hope in your soul, toward experiencing love in a whole new way.

to the lesson in an unexpected but honest way, go with that. If you think of

The journey begins with faith—what does that mean, to have faith? How do we do that? When we embrace faith, we discover that it gives us hope—the belief that things can be better, that we’re on a journey that will take us in the right direction. If we keep moving forward in hope, we’ll come to find the greatest thing of all—love. God, ultimately, invites us to live a life of love. How? That’s what this three-study series will help us to discover.

4. Enjoy your small group experience.

a better question than the next one in the lesson, ask it. Take to heart the insights included in the Frequently Asked Questions pages and the Small Group Leaders section.

5. Read the Outline for Each Session on the next pages so that you understand how the sessions will flow.

Living a Christ-centered life, in which everything you do is a reflection of Christ, is not only possible—it is the way you are meant to live. This study can help you find the pathway to that kind of life. P | 7

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SESSION ONE

STRENGTHENED THE SUPPORT OF SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIPS

MEMORY VERSE So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. [ COLOSSIANS 2:6-7 ] P | 9

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THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS, BY DEFINITION, A LIFE TOGETHER WITH OTHERS. IT IS LIVED IN THE CONTEXT OF COMMUNITY. WE ARE A PART OF THE BODY OF CHRIST—INTERDEPENDENT AND INTERCONNECTED, AND THAT IS A DISTINCTIVE OF THE LIFE OF FAITH. That doesn’t mean we never spend time alone. In fact, we need oneon-one time with God. This intimacy with Christ fills us, strengthens us. We receive his love, and then are able to share it with others. In a church or small group, we love and are loved. But as our faith grows, we find ourselves hungry for deeper connection. We want people speaking into our lives and we somehow realize we might experience God by loving others. Part of this makes sense. Part of this is a mystery, frankly. How can it be that we are somehow not complete without others? In our journey, we begin to see the value of accountability and encouragement that comes from one-on-one spiritual friendships. Ideally, there are spiritual friendships within a small group as Acommunity SPIRITUALdeepens. FRIENDSHIP IS A RELATIONSHIP FOCUSED ON P | 11

HELPING ONE ANOTHER SEEK GOD AND GROW IN FAITH.

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SPIRITUAL FRIENDS WILL ASK EACH OTHER THE TOUGH QUESTIONS... They encourage one another to stay strong in their faith, will “spur one

SHARE YOUR STORY

another on to good deeds” (see Hebrews 10:24). SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP TAKES COMMUNITY TO A DEEPER LEVEL.

It requires vulnerability about our own struggles. Conversely, it also requires us to focus on another person and their journey. That balance and reciprocal nature

AS YOU BEGIN AT THIS FIRST MEETING...

of this relationship make it both risky and rewarding.

Take time to pass around a copy of the Small Group Roster on page ???, a sheet of paper, or one of you pass your Study Guide, opened to the Small Group Roster. Have everyone write down their contact information. Ask someone to make copies or type up a list with everyone’s information and email it to the group this week. Then, begin your time together by using the following questions and activities to get people talking.

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EACH OF US HAS A STORY. The events of our life—good, bad, challenging or wonderful—have shaped who we are. God knows your story, and he intends to redeem it—to use every struggle and every joy to ultimately bring you to himself. When we tell our stories, sharing them with others, we give others the opportunity to see God at work.

WHEN WE SHARE OUR STORIES, WE REALIZE WE ARE NOT ALONE. We have common experiences and thoughts, and that others can understand what we are going through. Your story can encourage someone else, and telling it can be a path to freedom for you, and for those you share it with.

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BEGIN YOUR TIME TOGETHER. 1. When you were growing up, who was your best friend? Describe your relationship with this person.

2. Circle the statement that resonate most with your current situation.

3. Where would you place yourself on this spiritual continuum:

a) I feel lonely and disconnected.

a) Not sure I believe in God.

b) I have a lot of acquaintances but not many real friends.

b) I believe in God but am not sure about Jesus.

c) I’m connected with people but don’t always feel I can be myself around them.

c) I recently started a relationship with Jesus.

d) I’ve got just a couple of really close friends who encourage me and are helping me to grow.

d) I feel very close to Jesus and depend on him daily for guidance. e) My relationship with Christ is the most important relationship in my life.

4. In this study, we will be talking about hope over the next six weeks. What gives you hope?

5. What are you hoping to get out of this group? What strengths do you think you bring to this group?

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REFLECT &

REVIEW Whether your group is new or ongoing, it’s always important to reflect on and review your values together. On pages ???-??? is a Small Group Agreement with the values we’ve found most useful in sustaining healthy, balanced groups. We recommend that you choose one or two values—ones you haven’t previously focused on or have room to grow in—to emphasize during this study. Choose ones that will take your group to the next stage of intimacy and spiritual health. If your group is new, welcome newcomers. Introduce everyone—you may even want to have name tags for your first meeting. We recommend that you rotate host homes on a regular basis and let the hosts lead the meeting. We’ve come to realize that healthy groups rotate leadership. This helps to develop every member’s ability to shepherd a few people in a safe environment. Even Jesus gave others the opportunity to serve alongside him (Mark 6:30–44). Look at the FAQs in the Appendix additional information about hosting or leading the group.

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The Small Group Calendar on page ??? is a tool for planning who will host and lead each meeting. Take a few minutes to plan hosts and leaders for your remaining meetings. Don’t pass this up! It will revolutionize your group.

HEAR

GOD’S STORY

God uses stories to guide

it—changing our attitudes and

us. When we read the true

actions to live as he would live.

stories of Scripture, we learn

Use the following questions to

what God is like, we see His

guide your discussion of the

plan unfolding. And we learn

teaching and stories you just

principles for our own lives.

experienced, and the Bible

How can we become a part of

passage below. You may want

God’s story? By aligning our

to use the study notes on page

stories with His. But not just

?? to guide your reading and

understanding what it means to

discussion.

follow Him, but actually doing

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READ

USE THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS TO GUIDE YOUR

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EXPERIENCED, AND THE BIBLE PASSAGE BELOW.

COLOSSIANS

Use this space to record your thoughts, questions and ponderings as you watch the video and discuss the Bible passage.

DISCUSSION OF THE TEACHING AND STORIES YOU JUST

1. What actions and attitudes would you expect to find in a person who has the “peace of Christ” ruling in their heart? How would that impact community?

WATCH THE DVD FOR THIS SESSION NOW.

2. What does it mean that we are members of one body? Why do you think the Bible uses this metaphor to describe Christian community? (See Daily Devotions section for more on this idea.)

3. We tend to see the word “you” in the Bible and assume it is singular, that these are individual instructions. But read carefully—the “you” in this passage is plural. How does that impact the meaning of this passage?

4. Verse 16 tells us to admonish one another. What does that mean? What does it have to do with singing? How does admonishing one another strengthen the bonds of spiritual friendship?

5. How would a decision to do all things in the name of Jesus impact your experience of community and spiritual friendship?

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CREATE

STUDY NOTES

Explore the Bible passages related to this session’s theme as a group (if there is time) or on your own between sessions.

A NEW STORY Tax collectors and sinners. Jesus made it a point to reach out to people who were outside the religious subculture of his day—the outcasts of His society. Tax collectors were particularly scorned because they were Jews, but they worked for the oppressive government that occupied the land, the Romans. Tax collectors were notorious for cheating—collecting what Rome demanded, then whatever profit they could add for

God wants you to be a part of His Kingdom—to weave your story into His. That will mean change—to go His way rather than your own. This is

themselves, at the expense of their fellow Jews. Reasonably, the Jews saw them as traitors. While all people are “sinners” (see Romans 3:23), those labeled “tax collectors and sinners” by the Pharisees were those who deliberately ignored the law—people who lived a

a process, and won’t happen overnight—but it should happen steadily. By

lifestyle of sin, such as money-lenders, tax collectors and prostitutes.

small, simple choices, we begin to change our direction. We move forward

Mercy, not sacrifice. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day spent much of their time studying and

on our journey. The Holy Spirit helps us along the way: giving us gifts to

Old Testament completely memorized, word for word.

serve the body, offering us insights into Scripture, challenging us to love not

discussing the Torah, and how to live it out. They would have had most of what we call the

So when Jesus quotes just a short phrase from Hosea 6, they would immediately recall the

only those around us but those far from God. One of the clear catalysts that

entire passage—just as we might recall a whole pop song when we hear one line from it.

our research shows causes movement is to be a part of a community. We

In Hosea 6, God accuses his people of not truly loving him of unfaithfulness to Him,

grow in faith when we’re loved by others, and have an opportunity to love them as well.

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describing them with words like “footprints of blood,” “evildoers,” “wicked,” and worse. The accusations, delivered by the prophet Hosea, concludes ominously and succinctly: “Israel is defiled.”

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In this section, talk about how you will apply the wisdom you’ve learned from the teaching and Bible study. Then think about practical steps you can take in the coming week to live out what you’ve learned.

1. Who is your closest friend? Do you talk about spiritual matters with this friend? Explain.

2. Think of your current closest friends. Which of them would you describe as a spiritual friend—someone you can talk honestly with about your spiritual journey? If none seem to fit in that category, which one has the most potential to go deeper?

3. Consider taking this action step: between now and the next meeting, have a conversation with the person you identified in the question above, asking them if they’d be interested in getting together regularly to encourage one another spiritually.

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4. The passage we read earlier has the words “thankful” and “gratitude” in it. Go back and circle those words in your study guide, and look at the context. What are you grateful for? How does gratitude impact your relationships? How does it strengthen your ability to have hope?

This week, how will you nurture your connection with God? Can you commit to spending time in daily prayer or study of God’s word (use the Daily Devotions section to guide you). Tell the group how you plan to follow Jesus this week, and then, at your next meeting, talk about your progress and challenges.progress and challenges.your home or school, somewhere else? In other words, where do you work?

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TO CLOSE

To close your time together, spend some time worshiping God together—praying, singing, reading Scripture.

Have someone use their musical gifts to lead the group in a worship song. Try singing á capela, using a worship CD, or have some one accompany your singing with a musical instrument.

Read a passage of Scripture together, making it a time of praise and worship as the words remind you of all God has done for you. Choose a psalm or other favorite verse.

Ask everyone to share: “How can we pray for you this week?” Be sure to write prayer requests on your Prayer and Praise Report on page ???.

Close your meeting with prayer.

If you find it helpful, have someone

read the following prayer aloud: Dear God, we are so thankful that we don’t have to life alone. Thank you for the gift of friendship and community. Thanks for making us people who need one another and are built for connection. Help us to love each other well, to encourage one another as we seek you together. Amen.

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ADDITIONAL STUDY SCAN NOW GET EXTRA CONTENT FOR YOUR STUDY.

Read Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:

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If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone

If you feel God nudging you to go deeper,

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take some time between now and our next

who falls and has no one to help them up.

meeting to dig into His word. Explore the Bible

they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? 12 Though one

passages related to this session’s theme on your

may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands

own, jotting your reflections in a journal or in this study guide. A great way to gain insight

Also, if two lie down together,

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is not quickly broken.

on a passage is to read it in several different translations. You may want to use a Bible app or website to compare translations.

What practical benefits of having a companion does this passage describe? Have you ever “fallen down” spiritually and had a friend help you back up? What happened? How did your friend help you? What do you think verse 12 is referring to when it mentions “a cord of three strands”? In a spiritual friendship, who or what is that third strand?

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DAY 1: READ: 1 CORINTHIANS 12:12

DAILY DEVOTIONALS

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. REFLECT You, my child, are a part of a community that is my very body. Just as you use your body to walk, talk, and work—my body is the means by which I get things done in the world. When you figure out what part you play, you’ll see where you fit in the puzzle. RESPOND What characteristics of a body make it an apt metaphor for the church or Christian community?

During the week between meetings, keep walking on your journey of faith by reading and reflecting on God’s word.

EACH DAY, READ THE VERSE GIVEN. Take your time. Imagine that Jesus is sitting with you. Then, imagine him saying the words in the “reflect” section to you—reassuring you with his presence and loving you with his words of comfort and strength. After reflecting on Jesus’ words to you, take some time to journal your response back to him. You can write whatever’s on your heart. Answer the “respond” question only if it’s helpful. You may want to go another direction and that is exactly what you’re free to do. On the first day, you may want to read over all the verses for the week to get the “big picture” of the passage. But then walk slowly verse by verse, listening to Jesus and responding to him as you meditate on the truths of Scripture and experience his presence.

As you experience these devotionals and think about

community, think about how Jesus lived his life on earth—and use it as a model for your own. Jesus surrounded himself with people, not just because he wanted to teach them, heal them, etc., but because he desired to share community with them. This is a beautiful and mysterious thing—but one that should bring us great joy.

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DAY 2: 1 CORINTHIANS 12:13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. REFLECT You are unique—different from anyone else. And yet, you have more in common than you realize. My followers, though they come from many backgrounds and circumstances, were all given the same Spirit. That Spirit creates a unity unlike any other. You, in your uniqueness, contribute to the oneness. When you embrace that mystery, you’ll experience RESPOND The word “one” is repeated three times in this verse. What truth is the writer trying to emphasize with this repetition?

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DAY 3: READ: 1 CORINTHIANS 12:14-15

DAY5: 1 CORINTHIANS 12:19-20

Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.

If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

REFLECT My child, when you began a relationship with me, you became a part of my body—so you’re now in relationship with others. Each of you belongs, each has a role to play. Celebrate the contributions and gifts of others, and engage the gifts I’ve given you. You’ll find you experience a deeper connection and friendships. Let go of jealousy and comparison, and RESPOND What unique contributions do you bring to the “body” of your small group?

REFLECT Friendships within my body are not always easy, but they are always beneficial, my child. You may think you’d be better off alone, but that’s not true. Keep working to be honest and loving, keep building community one friendship at a time, and you’ll come to know just how wonderful it is to be a part of one body, connected by one Spirit. RESPOND Where have you experienced oneness within your community and friendships lately?

DAY 4: 1 CORINTHIANS 12:18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. REFLECT Every person you lock eyes with—including the one you see in the mirror—matters to me, and I’ve got a plan for their life. I’ve put you exactly where I want you, and put others around you to encourage and strengthen you. And I’ve placed you in the body so that you can also strengthen those around you. RESPOND Who needs you to strengthen them today? Whose life has God placed you in, perhaps for a purpose?

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SUMMARY

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MEMORY VERSE What you say goes, God, and stays, as permanent as the heavens. Your truth never goes out of fashion; it’s as up-to-date as the earth when the sun comes up. [ PSALM 119:89-90, MSG ]

ASSURED THE AUTHORITY OF THE BIBLE

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THE MORE YOU TRUST SOMEONE, THE MORE AUTHORITY YOU ARE WILLING TO GIVE THEM. When someone knows what they’re talking about on a specific subject, we sometimes refer to them as “a trusted authority.” Dr. Oz might be considered a “trusted authority” on nutrition and exercise; Stephen Hawking would be a “trusted authority” on quantum physics; Warren Buffet is a “trusted authority” on investing. When someone consistently gives us guidance that works, we trust them. We allow them to have authority—not because they demand it, but because it’s just smart to follow what they say. They’re not going to steer us in the wrong direction. SO TRUST AND AUTHORITY GO TOGETHER. The more you trust someone, the more authority you are willing to give them. That is, you follow their advice, believe they are telling the truth. If you say that you trust someone (or some resource) but then don’t do what they tell you is best, you don’t really trust them at all.

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DO WE TRUST THAT GOD, THROUGH THE BIBLE, IS GIVING US SOUND GUIDANCE? So trust and authority go together. The more you trust someone, the more authority you are willing to give them. That is, you follow their advice, believe they are telling the truth. If you say that you trust someone (or some resource) but then don’t do what they tell you is best, you don’t really trust them at all.

SHARE YOUR STORY

On our journey of faith, we must eventually decide; do we think the Bible is a “trusted authority” on how to love God and build a relationship with him? Is it, even, a “trusted authority” on anything? On how to live? Do we trust that God, through the Bible, is giving us sound guidance? Are we willing to choose to follow its advice, even when it tells us something that might be different from our own gut instincts or desires? In other words, are we willing to see the Bible as the authoritative word on life?

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AS YOU BEGIN AT THIS FIRST MEETING... As we said last week, when we tell our stories, sharing them with others, we give others the opportunity to see God at work. Your story is being shaped, even in this moment, by being a part of this group. In fact, few things can shape us more than community. P | 42


We can experience the presence of God as he helps us be brave enough to reveal our thoughts and feelings.

WHEN WE SHARE OUR STORIES,

we can encourage someone else, and learn.

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OPEN YOUR GROUP WITH PRAYER. This should be a brief, simple prayer, in which you invite God to be with you as you meet. You can pray for specific requests at the end of the meeting, or stop momentarily to pray if a particular situation comes up during your discussion.

3. Pair up with someone in your group. (We suggest that men partner with men and women with women.) This person will be your spiritual partner for the rest of this study. He or she doesn’t have to be your best friend, but will simply encourage you to complete the goals you set for yourself during this study. Following through on a resolution is tough when you’re on your own, it makes all the difference to have a partner cheering you on. Answer the following question: what made you decide to do this study?

1. When you need advice, to whom do you turn, other than your own gut instincts?

2. In your profession, who is someone who is a trusted authority—someone whose advice and guidance you would not only believe but act upon? Who are the experts in your particular field—whether it is business, law, medicine, parenting, whatever?

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HEAR

GOD’S STORY

READ 2 PETER 1:16-21(NIV)

For we did not follow cleverly devised sto-

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ries when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received

Some of us read or believe the Bible with a sort of blind faith. But what happens when we open our eyes? Does it make sense to believe it? Is it true?

honor and glory from God the Father when

Actually, the Bible is highly historically reliable. There is overwhelming evidence in other writings of the time, archeological discoveries, and eyewitness accounts (even of people who were not believers) to substantiate that what is written in the Bible is accurate and true, that the events recorded there really did happen. It records hundreds of prophecies about Jesus alone, all of which were fulfilled in his life (including some he could never have manipulated, including his birthplace and the method by which he would be executed). There is an intellectual and historical basis for believing the Bible is true.

with him I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves

For many of us, a bigger question is, so what? The question we grapple with is not whether the Bible is true, but whether it is relevant. Did God intend it to be simply a true history of his people, or does it still speak to us today, offer timely and trustworthy wisdom?

the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. We also have the prophetic mes-

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sage as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

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USE THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS TO GUIDE YOUR DISCUSSION OF THE TEACHING AND STORIES YOU JUST EXPERIENCED, AND THE BIBLE PASSAGE BELOW.

STUDY NOTES

Explore the Bible passages related to this session’s theme as a group (if there is time) or on your own between sessions.

1. This passage was written by Jesus’ disciple Peter not long after Jesus died. Peter spent three years with Jesus and saw him after the resurrection. What claim does Peter make about himself in verse 16? What does this tell you about the reliability of what he is writing?

2. In Verses 17 and 18, Peter tells in his own words what happened when he and James and John accompanied Jesus to a mountaintop and saw him transfigured. (See also Matthew 17, Mark 9 and Luke 9). If four witnesses all give the same testimony in court, what do we typically conclude about the reliability of their story? If someone is an eyewitness to an event, what do we conclude? What can we conclude about Peter’s testimony?

The Bible was not written all at once, but assembled by a wide variety of authors over a period of 1400 years or more. It is not a novel or a history book but an anthology of writings about God—and yet, it tells a cohesive story. The standards for inclusion in what is called the “canon” of Scripture were strict. Here’s a great group activity for the coming week: have anyone who’d like to, do some research to share with the group. Remind group members that Wikipedia is not infallible, and to look for information from credible sources. You can look at scholarly works, many of which are available online. Check, for example, websites like http://www.apologeticspress.org/ have articles on how we got the Bible and more. There are several books in print with the title “How We Got the Bible.” Via amazon or your local library, take a look at one or two of those books to see what you can learn.

3. What does verse 19 that tell us about the Bible?

4. According to verse 20, would you say that the prophets (Old Testament writers) were writing their own ideas about God, or were given words and ideas from God to write down?

“…carried along by the Holy Spirit..” This phrase is a word picture of what we mean when we say the scriptures were inspired by God. Human authors wrote human words, in a variety of styles and languages, but they were carried along by the Spirit, like wind in the sails of a boat. The wind carries different styles of boats, but the same wind gets them to their destination. The result is that we have Scriptures which are all cohesive and inspired by the same spirit, but delivered via different channels.

5. If the Bible is accurate about other things, can you trust it to be accurate in its advice about how to live your life today?

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Use this space to record your thoughts, questions and ponderings as you watch the video and discuss the Bible passage.

WATCH THE DVD FOR THIS SESSION NOW.

CREATE

A NEW STORY

In this section, talk about how you will apply the wisdom you’ve learned from the teaching and Bible study. Then think about practical steps you can take in the coming week to live out what you’ve learned.

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1. Have you ever had someone ask you questions about why you believe the Bible? How do you answer them?

2. If the Bible contains eyewitness accounts, and its testimony is verified by other writers of the time, what does that tell you about its historical accuracy?

3. If the Bible is historically accurate, what implications does that have for us today? Is it a reliable source of truth?

4. How would considering the Bible to be a “trusted authority” in your life impact your relationship with God?

5. The passage we read earlier has the words “thankful” and “gratitude” in it. Go back and circle those words in your study guide, and look at the context. What are you grateful for? How does gratitude impact your relationships? How does it strengthen your ability to have hope?

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Take a look at the Circles of Life diagram below and write the names of two or three people you would describe as spiritually curious, or spiritual explorers. Commit to praying for God’s guidance and an opportunity to have a conversation with them. Share your lists with the group so that you can all be praying for the people you’ve identified.

TO CLOSE

To close your time together, spend some time worshiping God together—praying, singing, reading Scripture.

Have someone use their musical gifts to lead the group in a worship song. Try singing á capela, using a worship CD, or have some one accompany your singing with a musical instrument.

A life of faith includes serving others, not to win brownie points but because it helps us to grow. But the first step toward serving others is, paradoxically, spending time alone with God: in prayer, in studying and reflecting on God’s Word. Here are some simple ways to connect with God. Tell the group which one you plan to try this

Read a passage of Scripture together, making it a time of praise and worship as the words remind you of all God has done for you. Choose a psalm or other favorite verse.

Ask everyone to share: “How can we pray for you this week?” Be sure to write prayer requests on your Prayer and Praise Report on page ???.

Close your meeting with prayer.

week, and then, at your next meeting, talk about your progress and challenges.

Prayer. Commit to personal prayer and daily connection with God. You may find it helpful to write your prayers in a journal.

Memorizing. Taking one Bible verse from this lesson and committing it to memory can be an exciting spiritual step. You’ll be surprised when the verse comes to mind at just the right time. You’ll find that you can use it to guide you when you pray or even just think. Try it, and share what happens with the group at your next meeting.

Daily Devotions. The Daily Devotions provided in each session offer an opportunity for reading a short Bible passage five days a week during the course of this study. In our hurry-up world, we often move too quickly through everything—even reading God’s word! Slow down. Don’t just skim, but take time to read carefully and reflect on God’s word. Write down your insights on what you read each day. Copy a portion of Scripture on a sticky note and put it somewhere you’ll see it, such as your car’s dashboard or the kitchen table. Or text it to yourself! Think about it when you sit at red lights, or while you’re eating a meal. Reflect on what God is saying to you through these words. P | 55

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ADDITIONAL STUDY If you feel God nudging you to go deeper, take

Read Proverbs 3:5-6 (MSG) ”Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all.”

some time between now and our next meeting to dig into His word. Explore the Bible passages related to this session’s theme on your own,

SCAN NOW GET EXTRA CONTENT FOR YOUR STUDY.

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jotting your reflections in a journal or in this study guide. Want to go deeper? Select a few verses and try paraphrasing them: writing them in your own words. If you like, share them with

What do you think it means to trust God? How do you trust him with “everything”—including the things that matter to you: your family, your career, your health, and so on? How do you “listen for God’s voice”? How does reading the Bible help you to “hear” from God?

the group the next time you meet.

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DAILY DEVOTIONALS

DAY2: READ PSALM 25:3 No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced, but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others. REFLECT Trusting me is the path to life. And you can’t trust what I say unless you know what I say— and it’s all there, written for you in my word. Don’t try to deceive others, and don’t deceive yourself! Truth will set you free, my child. Seek truth, truth you can really trust, and you’ll find me. RESPOND

Continue on your journey toward understanding and experiencing a life of faith. Each day, read the verse given. Take your time. Imagine that Jesus is sitting with you. Then, imagine him saying the words in the “reflect” section to you—reassuring you with his presence and loving you with his words of comfort and strength. After reflecting on Jesus’ words to you, take some time to journal your response back to him. You can write whatever’s on your heart. Answer the “respond” question only if it’s helpful. You may want to go another direction and that is exactly what you’re free to do. DAY 1: READ: PSALM 25:1-2 (NLT) I trust in you, my God! Do not let me be disgraced, or let my enemies rejoice in my defeat. REFLECT Do not be afraid. You can trust me to protect you, to keep you strong and free from disgrace. I’m here to hold you up. Trusting me means trusting my word: reading and hearing truth, and living it out. The way to avoid disgrace is to let my word guide you. RESPOND Use the words of this Psalm as a prayer. Are you willing to trust God? What barriers get in the way of trusting him?

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How are trusting God and trusting the Bible connected?

DAY 3: READ: PSALM 25:4 Show me the right path, O Lord; point out the road for me to follow.

REFLECT Are you at a crossroads, wondering which way to go? Do you need direction for your life? I’m happy to be your guide, pointing you in the right direction. Bring your questions to me, your struggles. I’ll show you the path, and better yet, I’ll walk it with you. Look to my word for guidance in how to live, how to walk with me. RESPOND Are you currently facing a big life decision? Use this verse as a prayer, asking God to show you the path. Then, spend some time just being quiet, listening for any thoughts or impressions that come. Write them in your journal, then test them against what the Bible says. God won’t contradict himself.

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DAY4: READ: PSALM 25:5 Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you. REFLECT People choose to put their hope in all kinds of different things: their career, or success, or even being in the right social crowd, dating the right person. Some even put their hope in winning the lottery or some other scam. RESPOND What do you think it means, practically speaking, to put your hope in God? What’s one thing you can do to actually do that this week?

DAY 5: READ: PSALM 25:6 Remember, O Lord, your compassion and unfailing love, which you have shown from long ages past. REFLECT When I look at you, my child, I overflow with love and compassion for you. I know life is hard, but if you’ll walk with me, trusting me, you’ll discover strength for the journey. My compassion for you has always been, and always will be. Open yourself to it, look for my love, share your burdens with me. You’ll find that I am and always have been trustworthy. RESPOND How does reflecting on the history of God’s compassion give you hope for the present and the future?

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SUMMARY

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SESSION THREE

MEMORY VERSE See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!  [ 1 JOHN 3:1, NIV ]

KNOWN

THE INTIMACY OF GOD

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THERE’S SOMETHING BOTH WONDERFUL AND SLIGHTLY DISCONCERTING ABOUT HAVING A FRIEND WHO HAS KNOWN YOU A LONG TIME.

THEY KNOW YOUR STORY—ALL THE GOOD AND BAD OF IT. IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO “SPIN” YOUR STORY OR MAINTAIN AN IMAGE WITH A LONGTIME FRIEND—THEY’LL SEE RIGHT THROUGH IT. But close friends, because they know who you were when you were younger and more foolish, can also celebrate with you as you take steps to grow up, to become a better person, to move forward in your career or even in your faith. They can celebrate your journey because they’ve seen so much of it. You can relax with them because you feel secure in their love for you. God has known you since before you were born. There’s nothing he doesn’t know about you. In fact, because he created you, he knows you better than you know yourself. And, perhaps astonishingly, he loves you anyway. Not just in an obligatory way—he’s in love with you. He earnestly desires deeper connection and relationship with you. His love is not limited or rationed. It’s abundant, it is “lavished” upon us without limit. And all we need to do is open our hearts to Areceive SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP IS A RELATIONSHIP FOCUSED ON it. P | 67

HELPING ONE ANOTHER SEEK GOD AND GROW IN FAITH.

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WHAT ON EARTH WOULD THAT LOOK LIKE?...

SHARE YOUR STORY

THE GOOD NEWS IS, WE DON’T HAVE TO FIGURE IT ALL OUT. WE CAN JUST LET GOD LOVE US, AND OPEN OUR HEARTS TO RESPONDING TO THAT LOVE, ONE DAY AT A TIME.SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP TAKES COMMUNITY TO A DEEPER LEVEL.

We can spend some time in prayer, just reflecting on the amazing truth of his love for us. Just as intimacy with a friend or a spouse is built over time, through conversations and shared experiences, so our connection with God will grow if we simply spend time with him. We can begin to truly experience God as a

OPEN YOUR GROUP WITH PRAYER.

deeply personal, intimate friend.

This should be a brief, simple prayer, in which you take a few moments to focus your attention on God and your group—perhaps asking him to help you be kind and respectful of one another, and to help you grow in wisdom as you learn together. You can pray for specific requests at the end of the meeting, or stop momentarily to pray if a particular situation comes up during your discussion

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EACH OF US HAS A STORY. Telling our personal stories builds deeper connections among group members. Begin your time together by using the following questions and activities to get people talking.

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BEGIN YOUR TIME TOGETHER. 1. When you were a kid, where did you imagine God “lived”? Was he at church, up in heaven, in your heart, right beside you? How has God “moved” as you’ve learned more about him?

2. Sit with your spiritual partner. If your partner is absent or if you are new to the group, join with another pair or someone who doesn’t yet have a partner. If you haven’t established your spiritual partnership yet, do it now. (See Share Your Story in Session Two.)

3.Who is someone who knows you well? How did they get to know you? (In other words, what specific activities or conversations help people know each other)?

Answer this question: in your time with God this week (specifically in reading your Bible or praying), how did God surprise you? Did you experience any “ah-ha” moments? Talk about what happened.

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REFLECT &

REVIEW Whether your group is new or ongoing, it’s always important to reflect on and review your values together. On pages ???-??? is a Small Group Agreement with the values we’ve found most useful in sustaining healthy, balanced groups. We recommend that you choose one or two values—ones you haven’t previously focused on or have room to grow in—to emphasize during this study. Choose ones that will take your group to the next stage of intimacy and spiritual health. If your group is new, welcome newcomers. Introduce everyone—you may even want to have name tags for your first meeting. We recommend that you rotate host homes on a regular basis and let the hosts lead the meeting. We’ve come to realize that healthy groups rotate leadership. This helps to develop every member’s ability to shepherd a few people in a safe environment. Even Jesus gave others the opportunity to serve alongside him (Mark 6:30–44). Look at the FAQs in the Appendix additional information about hosting or leading the group.

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The Small Group Calendar on page ??? is a tool for planning who will host and lead each meeting. Take a few minutes to plan hosts and leaders for your remaining meetings. Don’t pass this up! It will revolutionize your group.

HEAR

GOD’S STORY

God uses stories to guide

it—changing our attitudes and

us. When we read the true

actions to live as he would live.

stories of Scripture, we learn

Use the following questions to

what God is like, we see His

guide your discussion of the

plan unfolding. And we learn

teaching and stories you just

principles for our own lives.

experienced, and the Bible

How can we become a part of

passage below. You may want

God’s story? By aligning our

to use the study notes on page

stories with His. But not just

?? to guide your reading and

understanding what it means to

discussion.

follow Him, but actually doing

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READ

USE THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS TO GUIDE YOUR

JOHN

DISCUSSION OF THE TEACHING AND STORIES YOU JUST

15:11-15 (MSG)

EXPERIENCED, AND THE BIBLE PASSAGE BELOW.

1. In this passage, Jesus says that what he wants for us is joy. When one person wants joy for another, what does that tell you about the relationship?

Use this space to record your thoughts, questions and ponderings as you watch the video and discuss the Bible passage.

WATCH THE DVD FOR THIS SESSION NOW.

2. Loving others is not an easy thing to do. Why do you think Jesus said we should do that?

3. Do you see Jesus as a personal friend? If so, describe that friendship. If not, what gets in the way of that for you?

4. How does knowing God loves you motivate you to love other people?

5. What appeals to you about having Jesus as a friend? What scares you or makes you hesitate as you think about the idea of friendship with him? What expectations do friends have of one another?

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CREATE

STUDY NOTES

Explore the Bible passages related to this session’s theme as a group (if there is time) or on your own between sessions.

A NEW STORY Tax collectors and sinners. Jesus made it a point to reach out to people who were outside the religious subculture of his day—the outcasts of His society. Tax collectors were particularly scorned because they were Jews, but they worked for the oppressive government that occupied the land, the Romans. Tax collectors were notorious for cheating—collecting what Rome demanded, then whatever profit they could add for

God wants you to be a part of His Kingdom—to weave your story into His. That will mean change—to go His way rather than your own. This is

themselves, at the expense of their fellow Jews. Reasonably, the Jews saw them as traitors. While all people are “sinners” (see Romans 3:23), those labeled “tax collectors and sinners” by the Pharisees were those who deliberately ignored the law—people who lived a

a process, and won’t happen overnight—but it should happen steadily. By

lifestyle of sin, such as money-lenders, tax collectors and prostitutes.

small, simple choices, we begin to change our direction. We move forward

Mercy, not sacrifice. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day spent much of their time studying and

on our journey. The Holy Spirit helps us along the way: giving us gifts to

Old Testament completely memorized, word for word.

serve the body, offering us insights into Scripture, challenging us to love not

discussing the Torah, and how to live it out. They would have had most of what we call the

So when Jesus quotes just a short phrase from Hosea 6, they would immediately recall the

only those around us but those far from God. One of the clear catalysts that

entire passage—just as we might recall a whole pop song when we hear one line from it.

our research shows causes movement is to be a part of a community. We

In Hosea 6, God accuses his people of not truly loving him of unfaithfulness to Him,

grow in faith when we’re loved by others, and have an opportunity to love them as well.

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describing them with words like “footprints of blood,” “evildoers,” “wicked,” and worse. The accusations, delivered by the prophet Hosea, concludes ominously and succinctly: “Israel is defiled.”

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In this section, talk about how you will apply the wisdom you’ve learned from the teaching and Bible study. Then think about practical steps you can take in the coming week to live out what you’ve learned.

1. Which of the following best describes your current thoughts and feelings about God: A. I believe in God and want to get to know him better; B. I’m interested in a relationship with Jesus but don’t feel ready to make it my main focus in life; C. I believe in Jesus and I’m working on what it means to get to know him. D. I feel close to Jesus, we are indeed friends, and I depend on him for daily guidance. E. My relationship with Jesus is the most important relationship in my life; everything centers around it. 2.Friendships are strengthened by time spent together. How do you spend time with God? What does that look like in your life right now? If someone else observed how you spent your time over the last week, would a casual observer say it’s a high, medium, or low priority for you? 3. In the passage we read above, Jesus says that we should love other people the way he’s loved us. How, specifically, has Jesus loved you? How have you experienced his love? 4. Jesus challenges us to “Put your life on the line for your friends.” In what ways has Jesus done this for you? If you are building a friendship with God, what would this mean in your friendship with him? 5. What gets in the way of you believing fully that God is crazy about you?

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6. What one thing do you want to do in the coming week to let God into your heart a bit more fully, to open yourself to a deeper personal relationship with him? Share it with the group. 7. Tell about a time that you realized God didn’t just love the world, but loved you personally--intimately. How did that shift your relationship with him? 8. When we meet someone really amazing, it’s natural to want to introduce them to other people we know. Who are some people in your life that you’d like to introduce to Jesus? Spend some time praying about those you know who might respond to a simple invitation: to come to a church service, to join your small group, or even just to have coffee and talk about spiritual matters. 9. We have found that groups that connect outside of the regular meeting time build stronger bonds and feel a greater sense of purpose. why not plan a social outing with group members? As a group, brainstorm about ways that you could do something fun together—enjoy a meal or a night out together. 10. How will you spend time alone with God in the coming week? In prayer, in studying and reflecting on God’s Word, perhaps in engaging in an opportunity to serve at your church or in your community? Share with the group one or two specific steps will you take this week. If you’ve focused on prayer in past weeks, maybe you’ll want to direct your attention to Scripture this week. If you’ve been

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TO CLOSE

To close your time together, spend some time worshiping God together—praying, singing, reading Scripture.

Have someone use their musical gifts to lead the group in a worship song. Try singing á capela, using a worship CD, or have some one accompany your singing with a musical instrument.

Read a passage of Scripture together, making it a time of praise and worship as the words remind you of all God has done for you. Choose a psalm or other favorite verse.

Ask everyone to share: “How can we pray for you this week?” Be sure to write prayer requests on your Prayer and Praise Report on page ???.

Close your meeting with prayer.

If you find it helpful, have someone

read the following prayer aloud: Dear God, we are so thankful that we don’t have to life alone. Thank you for the gift of friendship and community. Thanks for making us people who need one another and are built for connection. Help us to love each other well, to encourage one another as we seek you together. Amen.

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ADDITIONAL STUDY

Read Psalm 139:1-6, MSG God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand. I’m an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.

If you feel God nudging you to go deeper,

You know when I leave and when I get back;   I’m never out of your sight.

take some time between now and our next

You know everything I’m going to say before I start the first sentence.

meeting to dig into His word. Explore the Bible

I look behind me and you’re there then up ahead and you’re there, too—

passages related to this session’s theme on your

SCAN NOW GET EXTRA CONTENT FOR YOUR STUDY.

own, jotting your reflections in a journal or in

your reassuring presence, coming and going. This is too much, too wonderful—  I can’t take it all in!

this study guide. A great way to gain insight on a passage is to read it in several different translations. You may want to use a Bible app or website to compare translations.

This Psalm reminds us that God knows us intimately, is aware not just of what we do but what we think. How does that make you feel? Have you ever found yourself hoping you can hide from God? What does this Psalm tell us about that? Think about a time you felt lonely. How does God respond to your loneliness?

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DAY 1: READ: JEREMIAH 31:3

DAILY DEVOTIONALS

I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. REFLECT I don’t force myself on you or anyone—but my deep desire is that my love for you, my kindness toward you, would draw you, would pull you closer to me.My love is not conditional or temporary. It’s always been there, and never failed. Come and live in this love, come and find the joy of experiencing my love for you. RESPOND Imagine these words as a text or email from God. Write a sentence or two of response back to his declaration of love for you.

During the week between meetings, keep walking on your journey of faith by reading and reflecting on God’s word.

EACH DAY, READ THE VERSE GIVEN. Take your time. Imagine that Jesus is sitting with you. Then, imagine him saying the words in the “reflect” section to you—reassuring you with his presence and loving you with his words of comfort and strength. After reflecting on Jesus’ words to you, take some time to journal your response back to him. You can write whatever’s on your heart. Answer the “respond” question only if it’s helpful. You may want to go another direction and that is exactly what you’re free to do. On the first day, you may want to read over all the verses for the week to get the “big picture” of the passage. But then walk slowly verse by verse, listening to Jesus and responding to him as you meditate on the truths of Scripture and experience his presence.

As you experience these devotionals and think about

community, think about how Jesus lived his life on earth—and use it as a model for your own. Jesus surrounded himself with people, not just because he wanted to teach them, heal them, etc., but because he desired to share community with them. This is a beautiful and mysterious thing—but one that should bring us great joy.

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DAY 2: JEREMIAH 31: 4 I will build you up again, and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt. Again you will take up your timbrels and go out to dance with the joyful. REFLECT I know you feel worn down, and life has been hard. You feel, at times, crushed. But I want to rebuild your life, strengthen, support, and reinforce your foundations. I can take ruins and make something beautiful. Just trust me, lean into my love for you. Pretty soon, you’ll be filled with joy. Not because of your circumstances or success in the world, but because you know that you’re loved. my love in a profound way. RESPOND What specific situation in your life needs God to come in and rebuild what has been broken or neglected? Invite him into that situation.

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DAY 3: READ: JEREMIAH 31: 13

DAY5: JEREMIAH 31: 34

Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness;  I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.

No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

REFLECT I’m well aware of your sorrows, my child. I know the pain that you’ve suffered, the challenges that seem overwhelming. I see that. I see you, your heart, your discouragement. Trust me, turn to me. I want to give you a fresh start, take away your sadness and give you great joy. You’ll find it when you simply let me love you. RESPOND What does it mean to have joy in spite of your circumstances?

REFLECT This is what I want: intimacy with you. That you would know me, that I wouldn’t be a far off mystery, but a close companion. So much so that you don’t even have to ask, “What would Jesus do?” because you’d already know my heart. RESPOND Where have you gone your own way, rather than God’s way? Take some time to just confess those mistakes, let go of them, and experience the joy of being loved and forgiven.

DAY 4: JEREMIAH 31:33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. REFLECT I want nothing more than a relationship with you—one in which you and I are so close, it’s as if my words are written on your heart. You’ll just know in your mind the truth that will give you life—I’ll whisper to your spirit so that your thoughts will echo mine. RESPOND This verse seems to express God’s longing for you? How do you respond to the idea of God longing for you and pursuing a relationship with you?

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SUMMARY

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SESSION FOUR

INFORMED THE WISDOM OF THE BIBLE

MEMORY VERSE If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. P | 93

[ JAMES 1:5, NIV]

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IN RECENT YEARS, COUNTLESS POLLS AND STUDIES HAVE SHOWN THAT ALTHOUGH AMERICANS SAY THAT THE BIBLE IS A SOURCE OF WISDOM,

AND EVEN CLAIM TO LIVE THEIR LIVES ACCORDING TO THAT WISDOM, A DISTURBING NUMBER OF THOSE SAME FOLKS DON’T HAVE THE SLIGHTEST CLUE WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS. That doesn’t mean we never spend time alone. In fact, we need oneon-one time with God. This intimacy with Christ fills us, strengthens us. We receive his love, and then are able to share it with others. In a church or small group, we love and are loved. But as our faith grows, we find ourselves hungry for deeper connection. We want people speaking into our lives and we somehow realize we might experience God by loving others. Part of this makes sense. Part of this is a mystery, frankly. How can it be that we are somehow not complete without others? In our journey, we begin to see the value of accountability and encouragement that comes from one-on-one spiritual friendships. Ideally, there are spiritual friendships within a small group as Acommunity SPIRITUALdeepens. FRIENDSHIP IS A RELATIONSHIP FOCUSED ON P | 95

HELPING ONE ANOTHER SEEK GOD AND GROW IN FAITH.

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YES, THE BIBLE HAS WISDOM....

SHARE

But in order for that wisdom to be helpful to us in any way, we have to

YOUR STORY

know what it says. We have to read and absorb it, not just agree in theory that those pages might contain helpful truth. Studying God’s word will help us not just to have knowledge, but will equip us to live a life of faith. If we want to have hope that is more than wishful thinking, we have to understand what our hope rests in. And it rests on the promises of God. The deeper our understanding of those promises, the stronger our hope becomes.

OPEN YOUR GROUP WITH PRAYER... This should be a brief, simple prayer, in which you invite God to be with you as you meet. You can pray for specific requests at the end of the meeting, or stop momentarily to pray if a particular situation comes up during your discussion. Telling our personal stories builds deeper connections among group members. Begin your time together by using the following questions and activities to get people talking.

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EACH OF US HAS A STORY. The events of our life—good, bad, challenging or wonderful—have shaped who we are. God knows your story, and he intends to redeem it—to use every struggle and every joy to ultimately bring you to himself. When we tell our stories, sharing them with others, we give others the opportunity to see God at work.

WHEN WE SHARE OUR STORIES, WE REALIZE WE ARE NOT ALONE. We have common experiences and thoughts, and that others can understand what we are going through. Your story can encourage someone else, and telling it can be a path to freedom for you, and for those you share it with.

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BEGIN YOUR TIME TOGETHER. 1. Think back to high school or college. What class did you enjoy the most? What made it interesting? How did you feel about studying for that class?

2. What do you think it means to study the Bible, as compared with just reading it? What would be the reason for studying it? 3. Sit with your spiritual partner. If your partner is absent or if you are new to the group, join with another pair or someone who doesn’t yet have a partner. If you haven’t established your spiritual partnership yet, do it now. (See Share Your Story in Session Two.) Answer this question: what do you think is your next step, when it comes to engaging with the Bible? What desires is God stirring in you when it comes to his Word?

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REFLECT &

REVIEW Whether your group is new or ongoing, it’s always important to reflect on and review your values together. On pages ???-??? is a Small Group Agreement with the values we’ve found most useful in sustaining healthy, balanced groups. We recommend that you choose one or two values—ones you haven’t previously focused on or have room to grow in—to emphasize during this study. Choose ones that will take your group to the next stage of intimacy and spiritual health. If your group is new, welcome newcomers. Introduce everyone—you may even want to have name tags for your first meeting. We recommend that you rotate host homes on a regular basis and let the hosts lead the meeting. We’ve come to realize that healthy groups rotate leadership. This helps to develop every member’s ability to shepherd a few people in a safe environment. Even Jesus gave others the opportunity to serve alongside him (Mark 6:30–44). Look at the FAQs in the Appendix additional information about hosting or leading the group.

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The Small Group Calendar on page ??? is a tool for planning who will host and lead each meeting. Take a few minutes to plan hosts and leaders for your remaining meetings. Don’t pass this up! It will revolutionize your group.

HEAR

GOD’S STORY

God uses stories to guide

it—changing our attitudes and

us. When we read the true

actions to live as he would live.

stories of Scripture, we learn

Use the following questions to

what God is like, we see His

guide your discussion of the

plan unfolding. And we learn

teaching and stories you just

principles for our own lives.

experienced, and the Bible

How can we become a part of

passage below. You may want

God’s story? By aligning our

to use the study notes on page

stories with His. But not just

?? to guide your reading and

understanding what it means to

discussion.

follow Him, but actually doing

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READ

DEUTERONOMY 11:18-22 (NLT)

USE THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS TO GUIDE YOUR DISCUSSION OF THE TEACHING AND

Use this space to record your thoughts, questions and ponderings as you watch the video and discuss the Bible passage.

STORIES YOU JUST EXPERIENCED, AND THE BIBLE PASSAGE BELOW.

1. In this passage, Jesus says that what he wants for us is joy. When one person wants joy for another, what does that tell you about the relationship?

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2. Loving others is not an easy thing to do. Why do you think Jesus said we should do that?

3. Do you see Jesus as a personal friend? If so, describe that friendship. If not, what gets in the way of that for you?

4. How does knowing God loves you motivate you to love other people?

5. What appeals to you about having Jesus as a friend? What scares you or makes you hesitate as you think about the idea of friendship with him? What expectations do

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CREATE

STUDY NOTES

Explore the Bible passages related to this session’s theme as a group (if there is time) or on your own between sessions.

A NEW STORY Tax collectors and sinners. Jesus made it a point to reach out to people who were outside the religious subculture of his day—the outcasts of His society. Tax collectors were particularly scorned because they were Jews, but they worked for the oppressive government that occupied the land, the Romans. Tax collectors were notorious for cheating—collecting what Rome demanded, then whatever profit they could add for

God wants you to be a part of His Kingdom—to weave your story into His. That will mean change—to go His way rather than your own. This is

themselves, at the expense of their fellow Jews. Reasonably, the Jews saw them as traitors. While all people are “sinners” (see Romans 3:23), those labeled “tax collectors and sinners” by the Pharisees were those who deliberately ignored the law—people who lived a

a process, and won’t happen overnight—but it should happen steadily. By

lifestyle of sin, such as money-lenders, tax collectors and prostitutes.

small, simple choices, we begin to change our direction. We move forward

Mercy, not sacrifice. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day spent much of their time studying and

on our journey. The Holy Spirit helps us along the way: giving us gifts to

Old Testament completely memorized, word for word.

serve the body, offering us insights into Scripture, challenging us to love not

discussing the Torah, and how to live it out. They would have had most of what we call the

So when Jesus quotes just a short phrase from Hosea 6, they would immediately recall the

only those around us but those far from God. One of the clear catalysts that

entire passage—just as we might recall a whole pop song when we hear one line from it.

our research shows causes movement is to be a part of a community. We

In Hosea 6, God accuses his people of not truly loving him of unfaithfulness to Him,

grow in faith when we’re loved by others, and have an opportunity to love them as well.

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describing them with words like “footprints of blood,” “evildoers,” “wicked,” and worse. The accusations, delivered by the prophet Hosea, concludes ominously and succinctly: “Israel is defiled.”

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In this section, talk about how you will apply the wisdom you’ve learned from the teaching and Bible study. Then think about practical steps you can take in the coming week to live out what you’ve learned.

1. Which of the following best describes your current thoughts and feelings about God: A. I believe in God and want to get to know him better; B. I’m interested in a relationship with Jesus but don’t feel ready to make it my main focus in life; C. I believe in Jesus and I’m working on what it means to get to know him. D. I feel close to Jesus, we are indeed friends, and I depend on him for daily guidance. E. My relationship with Jesus is the most important relationship in my life; everything centers around it.

2. Friendships are strengthened by time spent together. How do you spend time with God? What does that look like in your life right now? If someone else observed how you spent your time over the last week, would a casual observer say it’s a high, medium, or low priority for you?

3. In the passage we read above, Jesus says that we should love other people the way he’s loved us. How, specifically, has Jesus loved you? How have you experienced his love?

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What are you grateful for? How does gratitude impact your relationships? How does it strengthen your ability to have hope? 5. Jesus challenges us to “Put your life on the line for your friends.” In what ways has Jesus done this for you? If you are building a friendship with God, what would this mean in your friendship with him? 6. What gets in the way of you believing fully that God is crazy about you? 7. What one thing do you want to do in the coming week to let God into your heart a bit more fully, to open yourself to a deeper personal relationship with him? Share it with the group. 8. Tell about a time that you realized God didn’t just love the world, but loved you personally--intimately. How did that shift your relationship with him? This week, how will you nurture your connection with God? Can you commit to spending time in daily prayer or study of God’s word (use the Daily Devotions section to guide you). Tell the group how you plan to follow Jesus this week, and then, at your next meeting, talk about your progress and challenges.progress and challenges.your home or school, somewhere else? In other words, where do you work? P | 110


TO CLOSE

To close your time together, spend some time worshiping God together—praying, singing, reading Scripture.

Have someone use their musical gifts to lead the group in a worship song. Try singing á capela, using a worship CD, or have some one accompany your singing with a musical instrument.

Read a passage of Scripture together, making it a time of praise and worship as the words remind you of all God has done for you. Choose a psalm or other favorite verse.

Ask everyone to share: “How can we pray for you this week?” Be sure to write prayer requests on your Prayer and Praise Report on page ???.

Close your meeting with prayer.

If you find it helpful, have someone

read the following prayer aloud: Dear God, we are so thankful that we don’t have to life alone. Thank you for the gift of friendship and community. Thanks for making us people who need one another and are built for connection. Help us to love each other well, to encourage one another as we seek you together. Amen.

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ADDITIONAL STUDY If you feel God nudging you to go deeper, take some time between now and our next meeting to dig into His word. Explore the Bible

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Read Acts 17:10 10 As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures

passages related to this session’s theme on your

every day to see if what Paul said was true. 12 As a result, many of them

own, jotting your reflections in a journal or in

believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek

this study guide. A great way to gain insight

men.

on a passage is to read it in several different translations. You may want to use a Bible app or website to compare translations.

What attitude did the Jews in Berea have? How often did they study the Scriptures? What happened as a result? What do you think it means to “examine the Scriptures”? How could you do that? What results would you expect to see in your life as a result?

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DAY 1: READ: EPHESIANS 6:10-11 (MSG)

DAILY DEVOTIONALS

God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. REFLECT No one can ever take away my love for you, or pull you away from me. But the Devil will try to make you doubt that love. He’ll try to shame you, making you think you’re not good enough. So resist that voice of shame with truth: the truth you find in my Word. My Word is like a set of weapons and armor that will protect you—if you access it. RESPOND What shame and lies has the Devil thrown at you lately? How can learning God’s word help you stand up to that?

During the week between meetings, keep walking on your journey of faith by reading and reflecting on God’s word.

EACH DAY, READ THE VERSE GIVEN. Take your time. Imagine that Jesus is sitting with you. Then, imagine him saying the words in the “reflect” section to you—reassuring you with his presence and loving you with his words of comfort and strength. After reflecting on Jesus’ words to you, take some time to journal your response back to him. You can write whatever’s on your heart. Answer the “respond” question only if it’s helpful. You may want to go another direction and that is exactly what you’re free to do. On the first day, you may want to read over all the verses for the week to get the “big picture” of the passage. But then walk slowly verse by verse, listening to Jesus and responding to him as you meditate on the truths of Scripture and experience his presence.

As you experience these devotionals and think about

community, think about how Jesus lived his life on earth—and use it as a model for your own. Jesus surrounded himself with people, not just because he wanted to teach them, heal them, etc., but because he desired to share community with them. This is a beautiful and mysterious thing—but one that should bring us great joy.

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DAY 2: READ: EPHESIANS 6:13-15 Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. REFLECT My child, the journey you’re on is one that will have some tough times. But I’ve given you what you need to endure, to move forward. You can have hope—not a vague, uncertain hope—but a confident, strong assurance. When you waver, look to my word for weapons that will fight off discouragement, uncertainty and fear. It’s all there for you. RESPOND How does knowing God’s truth prepare you for the struggles of life? What habits do you need to cultivate in order to stay on your feet spiritually?

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DAY 3: READ: EPHESIANS 6: 16-17

DAY5: READ: EPHESIANS 6:18B

Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon.

Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

REFLECT Faith in me isn’t about theory and ideas. It’s learning the truth, then figuring out how to live out that truth. Live righteousness. Live peace. These aren’t just ideas or philosophies. They’re an armor of protection that will help you win the battles you face everyday. RESPOND An essential first step to applying God’s word to your life is to know what it says. How can you learn more about the Bible and what it says? Write down one step you’ll take to deepen your understanding of God’s word.

REFLECT It’s so easy to let your spiritual life slide, to just go through the motions. But stay alert, stay focused. Keep looking to me, keep yourself aware as you go on the journey of faith. And remember those who walk beside you. Look to them for strength, and then offer them strength and encouragement as well. Know the truth, tell it to each other, and you’ll prevail. RESPOND How does encouraging others with the truth of Scripture impact both their faith and yours? Who needs an encouraging word from you today?

DAY 4: READ: EPHESIANS 6:18A n the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. REFLECT My child, I love to hear your voice. I love to listen to you, to converse with you. But prayer is more than just that sweet conversation. If you ask for my help, I’m there to give it. Pray for yourself, but also pray for others. That not only helps them, it bonds you with them. Together, you can strengthen one another, and be encouraged that you are not in this battle alone. Seeing you connected with others who love me brings me joy. RESPOND Where are you feeling weak, or feeling attacked? Spend some time praying for God’s help, asking him to strengthen and protect you.

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SUMMARY

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MEMORY VERSE And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,  may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. [ EPHESIANS 3:17-18, NIV ]

EXTENDED THE JOY OF PRAYER FOR OTHERS

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WHAT AN AMAZING PRIVILEGE WE HAVE—TO SIMPLY BE ABLE TO TALK TO GOD, NO MATTER WHERE WE ARE. We can be confident that he will not only hear us, but guide us. As we step into that intimacy, we realize—our prayer life is not meant to be all about us. We can intercede on the behalf of others. We won’t just say, “I’ll pray for you” when a friend shares their struggles with us—we’ll actually follow through and do it. And in that intercessory prayer, we discover a deeper connection with God than we had when our prayers were all about ourselves. We experience what Jesus spoke of: to gain your life you must lose it, or at least stop thinking about it for a while. To be great, serve—and to pray for someone is to serve them. When we pray consistently for others, we also find a subtle but significant shift occurring in our hearts—our ability to love others (especially those we pray for) expands. Through the discipline of prayer for others, we become more loving. By following Jesus’ example of praying for others, we become more like him in our character.

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AND THIS LOVE IS NOT JUST THAT WE FEEL WARMLY TOWARD THEM. To pray for someone means we are willing to respond to God’s leadings, to be his hands and feet in caring for those we pray for, meeting their physical and emotional needs, sharing our faith with them. In other words, tangibly loving them, in very practical ways.

SHARE YOUR STORY

AS YOU BEGIN AT THIS FIRST MEETING... As we said last week, when we tell our stories, sharing them with others, we give others the opportunity to see God at work. Your story is being shaped, even in this moment, by being a part of this group. In fact, few things can shape us more than community. P | 125

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We can experience the presence of God as he helps us be brave enough to reveal our thoughts and feelings.

WHEN WE SHARE OUR STORIES,

we can encourage someone else, and learn.

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OPEN YOUR GROUP WITH PRAYER. This should be a brief, simple prayer, in which you invite God to be with you as you meet. You can pray for specific requests at the end of the meeting, or stop momentarily to pray if a particular situation comes up during your discussion.

3. Sit with your spiritual partner. If your partner is absent or if you are new to the group, join with another pair or someone who doesn’t yet have a partner. If you haven’t established your spiritual partnership yet, do it now. (See Share Your Story in Session Two.) Answer the question: what do you think would be your next step when it comes to prayer?

1. Have you ever had someone who prayed for you, interceding on your behalf? How did that impact your relationship with that person?

2. Tell about a time you received an answer to a prayer that you prayed for someone else. How did you feel?

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HEAR

GOD’S STORY

READ EPHESIANS 3:14-21 (MSG)

14-19 My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a

Some of us read or believe the Bible with a sort of blind faith. But what happens when we open our eyes? Does it make sense to believe it? Is it true? Actually, the Bible is highly historically reliable. There is overwhelming evidence in other writings of the time, archeological discoveries, and eyewitness accounts (even of people who were not believers) to substantiate that what is written in the Bible is accurate and true, that the events recorded there really did happen. It records hundreds of prophecies about Jesus alone, all of which were fulfilled in his life (including some he could never have manipulated, including his birthplace and the method by which he would be executed). There is an intellectual and historical basis for believing the Bible is true. For many of us, a bigger question is, so what? The question we grapple with is not whether the Bible is true, but whether it is relevant. Did God intend it to be simply a true history of his people, or does it still speak to us today, offer timely and trustworthy wisdom?

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brute strength but a glorious inner strength— that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. 20-21 God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

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USE THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS TO GUIDE YOUR DISCUSSION OF THE TEACHING AND STORIES YOU JUST EXPERIENCED, AND THE BIBLE PASSAGE BELOW.

STUDY NOTES

Explore the Bible passages related to this session’s theme as a group (if there is time) or on your own between sessions.

1. In this passage, the author (the Apostle Paul) prays for other believers at Ephesus. What, specifically, does he pray for? The Bible was not written all at once, but assembled by a wide variety of authors over a period of 1400 years or more. It is not a novel or a history book but an anthology of writings about God—and yet, it tells a cohesive story.

2. Based on what he chose to pray for, what struggles do you imagine that the Ephesian believers were going through?

The standards for inclusion in what is called the “canon” of Scripture were strict. Here’s a great group activity for the coming week: have anyone who’d like to, do some research to share with the group. Remind group members that Wikipedia is not infallible, and to look for information from credible sources. You can look at scholarly works, many of which are available online. Check, for example, websites like http://www.apologeticspress.org/ have articles on how we got the Bible and more. There are several books in print with the title “How We Got the Bible.” Via amazon or your local library, take a look at one or two of those books to see what you can learn.

3. Who is someone you know that needs you to pray a similar prayer for them?

4. Verse 21 talks about how God works within us. Tell about a time you experienced that in your life.

“…carried along by the Holy Spirit..” This phrase is a word picture of what we mean when we say the scriptures were inspired by God. Human authors wrote human words, in a variety of styles and languages, but they were carried along by the Spirit, like wind in the sails of a boat. The wind carries different styles of boats, but the same wind gets them to their destination. The result is that we have Scriptures which are all cohesive and inspired by the same spirit, but delivered via different channels.

5. What keeps Christ-followers from praying for others?

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Use this space to record your thoughts, questions and ponderings as you watch the video and discuss the Bible passage.

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CREATE

A NEW STORY

In this section, talk about how you will apply the wisdom you’ve learned from the teaching and Bible study. Then think about practical steps you can take in the coming week to live out what you’ve learned.

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1. Have you ever had someone ask you questions about why you believe the Bible? How do you answer them?

2. If the Bible contains eyewitness accounts, and its testimony is verified by other writers of the time, what does that tell you about its historical accuracy?

3. If the Bible is historically accurate, what implications does that have for us today? Is it a reliable source of truth?

4. How would considering the Bible to be a “trusted authority” in your life impact your relationship with God?

5. The passage we read earlier has the words “thankful” and “gratitude” in it. Go back and circle those words in your study guide, and look at the context. What are you grateful for? How does gratitude impact your relationships? How does it strengthen your ability to have hope?

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Take a look at the Circles of Life diagram below and write the names of two or three people you would describe as spiritually curious, or spiritual explorers. Commit to praying for God’s guidance and an opportunity to have a conversation with them. Share your lists with the group so that you can all be praying for the people you’ve identified.

TO CLOSE

To close your time together, spend some time worshiping God together—praying, singing, reading Scripture.

Have someone use their musical gifts to lead the group in a worship song. Try singing á capela, using a worship CD, or have some one accompany your singing with a musical instrument.

A life of faith includes serving others, not to win brownie points but because it helps us to grow. But the first step toward serving others is, paradoxically, spending time alone with God: in prayer, in studying and reflecting on God’s Word. Here are some simple ways to connect with God. Tell the group which one you plan to try this

Read a passage of Scripture together, making it a time of praise and worship as the words remind you of all God has done for you. Choose a psalm or other favorite verse.

Ask everyone to share: “How can we pray for you this week?” Be sure to write prayer requests on your Prayer and Praise Report on page ???.

Close your meeting with prayer.

week, and then, at your next meeting, talk about your progress and challenges.

Prayer. Commit to personal prayer and daily connection with God. You may find it helpful to write your prayers in a journal.

Memorizing. Taking one Bible verse from this lesson and committing it to memory can be an exciting spiritual step. You’ll be surprised when the verse comes to mind at just the right time. You’ll find that you can use it to guide you when you pray or even just think. Try it, and share what happens with the group at your next meeting.

Daily Devotions. The Daily Devotions provided in each session offer an opportunity for reading a short Bible passage five days a week during the course of this study. In our hurry-up world, we often move too quickly through everything—even reading God’s word! Slow down. Don’t just skim, but take time to read carefully and reflect on God’s word. Write down your insights on what you read each day. Copy a portion of Scripture on a sticky note and put it somewhere you’ll see it, such as your car’s dashboard or the kitchen table. Or text it to yourself! Think about it when you sit at red lights, or while you’re eating a meal. Reflect on what God is saying to you through these words. P | 139

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ADDITIONAL STUDY If you feel God nudging you to go deeper, take some time between now and our next meeting to dig into His word. Explore the Bible passages related to this session’s theme on your own,

SCAN NOW GET EXTRA CONTENT FOR YOUR STUDY.

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jotting your reflections in a journal or in this study guide. Want to go deeper? Select a few verses and try paraphrasing them: writing them in your own words. If you like, share them with the group the next time you meet.

Read Romans 15:30-32 (NIV) 30 I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. 31 Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there, 32 so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed.

And Philippians 1:9-11 (MSG) 9-11 So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life How does praying for someone allow you to “join them in their struggle”?

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DAILY DEVOTIONALS

Continue on your journey toward understanding and

experiencing a life of faith. Each day, read the verse given. Take your time. Imagine that Jesus is sitting with you. Then, imagine him saying the words in the “reflect” section to you—reassuring you with his presence and loving you with his words of comfort and strength. After reflecting on Jesus’ words to you, take some time to journal your response back to him. You can write whatever’s on your heart. Answer the “respond” question only if it’s helpful. You may want to go another direction and that is exactly what you’re free to do.

DAY 1: EPHESIANS 1:15-16A Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, I have not stopped thanking God for you. REFLECT When you put your faith in me, and when you let my love flow through you toward others, you bless them. You cause others to praise my Father. When we work together like this—me loving you, you receiving that love, then passing it on—we glorify God. This is the path to joy, my child. I’m delighted when you decide to follow me and join in. And then, when others come along and put their faith in me as well, you’ll thank God for that. This is how the Kingdom flourishes. RESPOND Who are you thanking God for? Whose faith and love for others has caused you to rejoice?

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DAY2: READ: EPHESIANS 1:16B-17 I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God.  REFLECT When you pray on behalf of others, pray for their material needs, but also, pray that they would have spiritual wisdom. That they would begin to get a glimpse of insight into spiritual truths, to see who God is and how much he loves them. Rather than praying for someone to change their behavior, pray for them to grow in their faith—and their behavior will likely change. RESPOND Is there anyone you are currently praying for in the way Paul describes in this verse? Who is someone who needs you to pray for them in this way?

DAY 3: READ: EPHESIANS 1:18 I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. REFLECT I have called you by name, my child. You are mine. Your assurance is not based on performance, on getting everything right, every time. Your hope is not based on what you’ve done, but on what I’ve done for you. It’s my love that gives you hope, it’s my sacrifice on your behalf that makes you mine. Have confidence in that. RESPOND Think about your relationship with Christ. Now look at the verse again, and underline one or more phrases that describes that relationship. What does it mean to have a heart flooded with light?

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DAY4: READ: EPHESIANS 1:19 I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. REFLECT I’m so much more than a companion—although the intimacy we can share is deeper than any human friendship. But when you put your faith in me, you don’t just find a cure for your loneliness. You receive incredible power to do great things with God—by doing great things for others. Whether it’s praying for them, feeding them (physically or spiritually), setting RESPOND Where do you need to see the power of God in your life? What situation are you praying about that needs God’s incredible power?

DAY 5: READ: EPHESIANS 1:19B-21 This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in REFLECT Do you understand the significance of my victory over death? I humbled myself, so that I could draw you, and all people, to myself. Grab hold of me, and let my power and authority change you, and change the people you are praying for. The battle is already won, my child. Trust me and keep praying, asking that others would understand and connect with the power I want to give them. RESPOND See also Philippians 2. Do you ever find yourself wondering or doubting whether God has the power to change a situation or a person you are praying for? What promise does this verse make about that?

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SUMMARY

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SESSION SIX

MEMORY VERSE When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! [ PHILIPPIANS 2:7, MSG ]

GIFTED THE STRENGTH TO SERVE

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THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS, BY DEFINITION, A LIFE TOGETHER WITH OTHERS. JESUS NEVER ASKS US TO DO SOMETHING HE HIMSELF WASN’T WILLING TO DO AS WELL. HE GAVE UP THE THRONE OF HEAVEN TO COME AND LIVE AS A HUMAN BEING. He didn’t live as an earthly king—he was born into a poor family of an oppressed people. He modeled, in every moment, an attitude of humility and service. And he calls us to do the same. The amazing thing is, when we respond to that call, when we get out of the bleachers and onto the field, we find a level of satisfaction and joy in our faith that we simply cannot experience as spectators. God calls us to serve, but with that calling comes an amazing equipping: he gives us spiritual gifts. Every believer is given divine enablements to do specific skills, each of which help others. When we use our gifts, we bless others but also find meaning, purpose and joy. A SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP IS A RELATIONSHIP FOCUSED ON P | 151

HELPING ONE ANOTHER SEEK GOD AND GROW IN FAITH.

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LOVING JESUS MEANS FOLLOWING HIM, AND FOLLOWING HIS EXAMPLE.

SHARE YOUR STORY

Discovering and deploying your spiritual gifts, while staying connected to him for strength and empowerment, will deepen and strengthen our faith. As we serve, we bring hope to others, and in so doing, find hope for ourselves.

OPEN YOUR GROUP WITH PRAYER. This should be a brief, simple prayer, in which you invite God to be with you as you meet. You can pray for specific requests at the end of the meeting, or stop momentarily to pray if a particular situation comes up during your discussion. As we have said in previous lessons, sharing our personal stories builds deeper connections among group members. Your story may be exactly what another person needs to hear to encourage or strengthen them. And your listening to others’ stories is an act of love and kindness to them—and could very well help them to grow spiritually. Begin your time together by using the following questions and activities to get people talking.

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EACH OF US HAS A STORY. The events of our life—good, bad, challenging or wonderful—have shaped who we are. God knows your story, and he intends to redeem it—to use every struggle and every joy to ultimately bring you to himself. When we tell our stories, sharing them with others, we give others the opportunity to see God at work.

WHEN WE SHARE OUR STORIES, WE REALIZE WE ARE NOT ALONE. We have common experiences and thoughts, and that others can understand what we are going through. Your story can encourage someone else, and telling it can be a path to freedom for you, and for those you share it with.

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BEGIN YOUR TIME TOGETHER. 1. Describe a time when you worked on a project—at work, home, or as a volunteer—that you completely enjoyed. One that made you say “wow, I get to do this! This is great.” What happened?

2. What is one thing that you know you’re good at? When did you discover you had this strength or ability?

3. Take time in this final session to connect with your spiritual partner. What has God been showing you through these sessions about what it means to stand in the gap? Check in with each other about the progress you have made in your spiritual growth during this study—which lesson or idea was most significant to you? Why? Make plans about whether you will continue in your mentoring relationship outside your Bible study group.

4. Take some time for each person to share about how they’ve done with inviting the people on the Circles of Life to church or your small group. What

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REFLECT &

REVIEW Whether your group is new or ongoing, it’s always important to reflect on and review your values together. On pages ???-??? is a Small Group Agreement with the values we’ve found most useful in sustaining healthy, balanced groups. We recommend that you choose one or two values—ones you haven’t previously focused on or have room to grow in—to emphasize during this study. Choose ones that will take your group to the next stage of intimacy and spiritual health. If your group is new, welcome newcomers. Introduce everyone—you may even want to have name tags for your first meeting. We recommend that you rotate host homes on a regular basis and let the hosts lead the meeting. We’ve come to realize that healthy groups rotate leadership. This helps to develop every member’s ability to shepherd a few people in a safe environment. Even Jesus gave others the opportunity to serve alongside him (Mark 6:30–44). Look at the FAQs in the Appendix additional information about hosting or leading the group.

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The Small Group Calendar on page ??? is a tool for planning who will host and lead each meeting. Take a few minutes to plan hosts and leaders for your remaining meetings. Don’t pass this up! It will revolutionize your group.

HEAR

GOD’S STORY

God uses stories to guide

it—changing our attitudes and

us. When we read the true

actions to live as he would live.

stories of Scripture, we learn

Use the following questions to

what God is like, we see His

guide your discussion of the

plan unfolding. And we learn

teaching and stories you just

principles for our own lives.

experienced, and the Bible

How can we become a part of

passage below. You may want

God’s story? By aligning our

to use the study notes on page

stories with His. But not just

?? to guide your reading and

understanding what it means to

discussion.

follow Him, but actually doing

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READ

USE THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS TO GUIDE YOUR

1 CORINTHIANS 12

DISCUSSION OF THE TEACHING AND STORIES YOU JUST

12-14, 27-31 (NIV)

EXPERIENCED, AND THE BIBLE PASSAGE BELOW.

1. In this passage, the Apostle Paul uses the metaphor of a body to describe the church. He is describing community and connection, but also service. What does this metaphor teach us about the nature of service?

Use this space to record your thoughts, questions and ponderings as you watch the video and discuss the Bible passage.

WATCH THE DVD FOR THIS SESSION NOW.

2. Go through the passage and underline the word “one” in your study guide. How many times does it appear? What point was Paul trying to make by this repetition, do you think?

3. Have you ever asked, “what’s inside of me, that I could give away in the Kingdom of God as a gift?” What happens when we ask that question?

4. Verse 28 lists some spiritual gifts. What is the connection between individual spiritual gifts and the oneness or unity that the rest of this passage talks about? How does using your spiritual gift contribute to the unity of the church?

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CREATE

STUDY NOTES

Explore the Bible passages related to this session’s theme as a group (if there is time) or on your own between sessions.

A NEW STORY Tax collectors and sinners. Jesus made it a point to reach out to people who were outside the religious subculture of his day—the outcasts of His society. Tax collectors were particularly scorned because they were Jews, but they worked for the oppressive government that occupied the land, the Romans. Tax collectors were notorious for cheating—collecting what Rome demanded, then whatever profit they could add for

How has God changed your story during this four-week study? What new things is He asking you to do? What truth has transformed your heart?

themselves, at the expense of their fellow Jews. Reasonably, the Jews saw them as traitors. While all people are “sinners” (see Romans 3:23), those labeled “tax collectors and sinners” by the Pharisees were those who deliberately ignored the law—people who lived a lifestyle of sin, such as money-lenders, tax collectors and prostitutes.

As we grow and learn, we must decide that we must create a new story. We must let go of past priorities and grab hold of God’s priorities. Spend some time in this final session talking about how you’ll do that.

Mercy, not sacrifice. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day spent much of their time studying and discussing the Torah, and how to live it out. They would have had most of what we call the Old Testament completely memorized, word for word. So when Jesus quotes just a short phrase from Hosea 6, they would immediately recall the entire passage—just as we might recall a whole pop song when we hear one line from it. In Hosea 6, God accuses his people of not truly loving him of unfaithfulness to Him, describing them with words like “footprints of blood,” “evildoers,” “wicked,” and worse. The accusations, delivered by the prophet Hosea, concludes ominously and succinctly: “Israel is defiled.”

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In this section, talk about how you will apply the wisdom you’ve learned from the teaching and Bible study. Then think about practical steps you can take in the coming week to live out what you’ve learned.

1. Who is your closest friend? Do you talk about spiritual matters with this friend? Explain.

2. Think of your current closest friends. Which of them would you describe as a spiritual friend—someone you can talk honestly with about your spiritual journey? If none seem to fit in that category, which one has the most potential to go deeper?

3. Consider taking this action step: between now and the next meeting, have a conversation with the person you identified in the question above, asking them if they’d be interested in getting together regularly to encourage one another spiritually.

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4. The passage we read earlier has the words “thankful” and “gratitude” in it. Go back and circle those words in your study guide, and look at the context. What are you grateful for? How does gratitude impact your relationships? How does it strengthen your ability to have hope?

This week, how will you nurture your connection with God? Can you commit to spending time in daily prayer or study of God’s word (use the Daily Devotions section to guide you). Tell the group how you plan to follow Jesus this week, and then, at your next meeting, talk about your progress and challenges.progress and challenges.your home or school, somewhere else? In other words, where do you work?

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TO CLOSE

To close your time together, spend some time worshiping God together—praying, singing, reading Scripture.

Have someone use their musical gifts to lead the group in a worship song. Try singing á capela, using a worship CD, or have some one accompany your singing with a musical instrument.

Read a passage of Scripture together, making it a time of praise and worship as the words remind you of all God has done for you. Choose a psalm or other favorite verse.

Ask everyone to share: “How can we pray for you this week?” Be sure to write prayer requests on your Prayer and Praise Report on page ???.

Close your meeting with prayer.

If you find it helpful, have someone

read the following prayer aloud: Dear God, we are so thankful that we don’t have to life alone. Thank you for the gift of friendship and community. Thanks for making us people who need one another and are built for connection. Help us to love each other well, to encourage one another as we seek you together. Amen.

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ADDITIONAL STUDY If you feel God nudging you to go deeper,

GET EXTRA CONTENT FOR YOUR STUDY.

3 Because of the privilege and authority  God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. 4 Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, 5 so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.

take some time between now and our next

6 In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the

meeting to dig into His word. Explore the Bible

ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. 7 If your gift is serving others,

passages related to this session’s theme on your

SCAN NOW

Read Romans 12:4-8 (NLT)

own, jotting your reflections in a journal or in

serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. 8 If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

this study guide. A great way to gain insight on a passage is to read it in several different translations. You may want to use a Bible app or website to compare translations.

This passage tells us to engage our gifts: to prophesy if that is our gift, to serve if serving is our gift. What is hindering the use of your gift? What is one step you could take to engage a gift you’ve been given? What character trait does verse three urge us to have? Why would that be important when we are talking about spiritual gifts?

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DAY 1: READ: 1 PETER 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins..

DAILY DEVOTIONALS

REFLECT My love for you has covered all of your sin—past, present and future. It is all sufficient, and nothing you have ever done could keep me from loving you. My dream is that you would love in this way—because when you love others, it covers not only their sins, but frees you from the bondage of your own sin. Love sets you free. You’ve been loved, now love others— RESPOND How is loving each other deeply related to service?

During the week between meetings, keep walking on your journey of faith by reading and reflecting on God’s word.

EACH DAY, READ THE VERSE GIVEN. Take your time. Imagine that Jesus is sitting with you. Then, imagine him saying the words in the “reflect” section to you—reassuring you with his presence and loving you with his words of comfort and strength. After reflecting on Jesus’ words to you, take some time to journal your response back to him. You can write whatever’s on your heart. Answer the “respond” question only if it’s helpful. You may want to go another direction and that is exactly what you’re free to do. On the first day, you may want to read over all the verses for the week to get the “big picture” of the passage. But then walk slowly verse by verse, listening to Jesus and responding to him as you meditate on the truths of Scripture and experience his presence.

As you experience these devotionals and think about

community, think about how Jesus lived his life on earth—and use it as a model for your own. Jesus surrounded himself with people, not just because he wanted to teach them, heal them, etc., but because he desired to share community with them. This is a beautiful and mysterious thing—but one that should bring us great joy.

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DAY 2: READ: 1 PETER 4:9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. REFLECT So many people are confused about what it means to offer hospitality. It’s not about entertaining, or tending to a million details. Just think of my conversation with my friend Martha. If you want to know how to extend hospitality, look to my example: I welcome people—all people—and provide a space in which they can be loved. It’s really that simple. Love others as you’d want to be loved. RESPOND Also read Luke 10:38-42.  What causes you to grumble? Why would hospitality induce grumbling?

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DAY 3: READ: 1 PETER 4:10

DAY5: READ: 1 PETER 4:11B

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

REFLECT My child, I’ve poured grace into your life, not just to save you from sin, but to save you for a purpose. You have been blessed to be a blessing, saved for a reason. You’re to be a conduit of my grace—pouring it out on others. Forgiving them as you’ve been forgiven, serving them as I’ve served you. Love others in practical, tangible ways, just as I’ve loved you. RESPOND We typically think of stewardship in terms of our finances. But what would it look like to steward God’s grace in your life? What parallels are there between stewarding our resources and stewarding God’s grace?

REFLECT When you believe in me and follow me, I give you spiritual gifts, and the strength to use them. The reason for your gifts is simple: to point others toward me. As you build others up, as you encourage and serve them, ultimately, your purpose should be to show God’s power and love. Don’t try to serve in your own strength—tap into God’s strength. That way, he’ll get the glory, and you’ll share in his joy. RESPOND According to this verse, what should our motive for service be? How can you access “the strength God provides”?

DAY 4: READ: 1 PETER 4:11A If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. REFLECT Words have power. They can build up or destroy. I’m called the Word of God because I came speaking God’s truth, living out what the Scriptures said. And if you’ve been gifted to teach, to lead, to do anything that requires you to say anything—you’ve been entrusted with something incredibly precious. Be brave, be bold—but use your gift with wisdom and discernment.

RESPOND What steps should we who have speaking gifts take to steward those carefully?

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SUMMARY

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APPENDICES

GREAT RESOURCES TO HELP MAKE YOUR

SMALL GROUP

EXPERIENCE EVEN BETTER!

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FAQ WHAT DO WE DO ON THE FIRST NIGHT OF OUR GROUP? Like all fun things in life–have a party! A “get to know you” coffee, dinner, or dessert is a great way to launch a new study. You may want to review the Group Agreement (pages ???-???) and share the names of a few friends you can invite to join you. But most importantly, have fun before your study time begins.

WHERE DO WE FIND NEW MEMBERS FOR OUR GROUP? This can be troubling, especially for new groups that have only a few people or for existing groups that lose a few people along the way. We encourage you to pray with your group and then brainstorm a list of people from work, church, your neighborhood, your children’s school, family, the gym, and so forth. Then have each group member invite several of the people on his or her list. Another good strategy is to ask church leaders to make an announcement or allow a bulletin insert.

HOW LONG WILL THIS GROUP MEET?

same goes with a group. Don’t bail out

either in the same home or in another home

before the 6 weeks are up–God might have

nearby. This can be an incredible blessing

It’s totally up to the group–once you come

something to teach you. Also, don’t run

for kids. Finally, the most common idea is

to the end of this 6-week study. Most groups

from conflict or prejudge people before

to decide that you need to have a night to

meet weekly for at least their first 6 weeks,

you have given them a chance. God is still

invest in your spiritual lives individually

but every other week can work as well. We

working in you too!

or as a couple, and to make your own

strongly recommend that the group meet for the first six months on a weekly basis if at all

WHO IS THE LEADER?

possible. This allows for continuity, and if

Most groups have an official leader. But

people miss a meeting they aren’t gone for a

ideally, the group will mature and members

whole month.

will rotate the leadership of meetings. We

At the end of this study, each group member

hosts/leaders and homes on a regular basis.

may decide if he or she wants to continue

This model ensures that all members grow,

on for another 6-week study. Some groups

give their unique contribution, and develop

launch relationships for years to come, and

their gifts. This study guide and the Holy

others are stepping-stones into another

Spirit can keep things on track even when

group experience. Either way, enjoy the

you rotate leaders. Christ has promised to be

journey.

in your midst as you gather. Ultimately, God

CAN WE DO THIS STUDY ON OUR OWN?

approach is to dialogue openly about both the problem and the solution.

Absolutely! This may sound crazy but one of the best ways to do this study is not with a full house but with a few friends. You may choose to gather with one other couple who would enjoy going out or having a quiet dinner and then walking through this study. Jesus will be with you even if there are only

is your leader each step of the way.

HOW DO WE HANDLE THE CHILD CARE NEEDS IN OUR GROUP? Very carefully. Seriously, this can be a sensitive issue. We suggest that you empower the group to openly brainstorm solutions. You may try one option that works for a while and then adjust over time. Our favorite approach is for adults to meet share the cost of a babysitter (or two) who

people to join your group. All groups tend

WHAT IF THIS GROUP IS NOT WORKING FOR US?

to go through healthy attrition–the result

You’re not alone! This could be the result of

the house. In this way, parents don’t have

of moves, releasing new leaders, ministry

a personality conflict, life stage difference,

to be away from their children all evening

opportunities, and so forth–and if the

geographical distance, level of spiritual

when their children are too young to be

group gets too small, it could be at risk of

maturity, or any number of things. Relax.

left at home. A second option is to use one

shutting down. If you and your group stay

Pray for God’s direction, and at the end

home for the kids and a second home (close

open, you’ll be amazed at the people God

of this 6-week study, decide whether to

by or a phone call away) for the adults. A

sends your way. The next person just might

continue with this group or find another.

third idea is to rotate the responsibility of

become a friend for life. You never know!

You don’t buy the first car you look at or

providing a lesson or care for the children

vital that you stay on the lookout for new

what decision the group makes, the best

have discovered that healthy groups rotate

two of you (Matthew 18:20).

No matter how you find members, it’s

arrangements for childcare. No matter

in the living room or dining room, and to can be with the kids in a different part of

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OUR VALUES

To provide a predictable environment where participants experience authentic community and spiritual growth.

GROUP ATTENDANCE

To give priority to the group meeting. We will call or

SAVE ENVIRONMENT

To help create a safe place where people can be heard and

RESPECT DIFFERENCES

To be gentle and gracious to people with different

email if we will be late or absent. (Completing the Group Calendar on page ??? will minimize this issue.)

feel loved. (Please, no quick answers, snap judgments, or simple fixes.)

spiritual maturity, personal opinions, temperaments, or “imperfections� in fellow group members. We are all works in progress.

CONFIDENTIALITY

To keep anything that is shared strictly confidential and within the group, and to avoid sharing improper information about those outside the group.

ENCOURAGEMENT FOR GROWTH

To be not just takers but givers of life. We want to

SHARED OWNERSHIP

To remember that every member is a minister and to

spiritually multiply our life by serving others with our God-given gifts.

ensure that each attender will share a small team role or responsibility over time (See the Team Roles on pages ???-???.)

ROTATING HOSTS/ LEADERS AND HOMES

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To encourage different people to host the group in their homes, and to rotate the responsibility of facilitating each meeting. (See the Group Calendar on page ???.)

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CALENDAR

Briefly check in each week and write down your personal plans and progress for the next week (or even for the next few weeks). This could be done (before or after the meeting) on the phone, through an E-mail message, or even in person from time to time.

Planning and calendaring can help ensure the greatest participation at every meeting. At the end of each meeting, review this calendar. Be sure to include a regular rotation of host homes and leaders, and don’t forget birthdays, socials, church events, holidays, and mission/ministry projects. Go to www.lifetogether.com for an electronic copy of this form and other ideas for your group to do together.

LESSON

Monday, January 15

1

Steve and Laura’s House

Joe

MY NAME:

SPIRITUAL PARTNER’S NAME:

LEADER OUR PLANS

Bill

OUR PROGRESS

WEEK 6

WEEK 5

WEEK 4

WEEK 3

WEEK 2

WEEK 1

DATE

HOST HOME DESSERT/ MEAL

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PRAYER REQUESTS

PRAISE REPORTS

SESSION 1 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. (Matthew 4:19-20) SESSION 2 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” (Matthew 26:26) SESSION 3 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) SESSION 4 “Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:10)

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If you’re starting a new group, try planning an “open house” before your first formal group meeting. Even if you only have two to four core members, it’s a great way to break the ice and to consider prayerfully who else might be open to join you over the next few weeks. You can also use this kick-off meeting to hand out study guides, spend some time getting to know each other, discuss each person’s expectations for the group and briefly pray for each other. A simple meal or good desserts always make a kick-off meeting more fun. After people introduce themselves and share how they ended up being at the meeting (you can play a game to see who has the wildest story!), have everyone respond to a few icebreaker questions: “What is your favorite family vacation?” or “What is one thing you love about your church/ our community?” or “What are three things about your life growing up that most people here don’t know?” Next, ask everyone to tell what he or she hopes to get out of the study. You might want to review the Small Group Agreement P | 187

and talk about each person’s expectations and priorities. Finally, set an open chair (maybe two) in the center of your group and explain that it represents someone who would enjoy or benefit from this group but who isn’t here yet. Ask people to pray about whom they could invite to join the group over the next few weeks. Hand out postcards and have everyone write an invitation or two. Don’t worry about ending up with too many people; you can always have one discussion circle in the living room and another in the dining room after you watch the lesson. Each group could then report prayer requests and progress at the end of the session.

You can skip this kick-off meeting if your time is limited, but you’ll experience a huge benefit if you take the time to connect with each other in this way.

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TEN COMMON LEADERSHIP EXPERIENCES. WELCOME TO LIFE OUT IN FRONT!

1

2

3

4

Sweaty palms are a healthy sign. The Bible says God is gracious to the humble. Remember who is in control; the time to worry is when you’re not worried. Those who are soft in heart (and sweaty palmed) are those whom God is sure to speak through. Seek support. Ask your leader, co-leader, or close friend to pray for you and prepare with you before the session. Walking through the study will help you anticipate potentially difficult questions and discussion topics. Bring your uniqueness to the study. Lean into who you are and how God wants you to uniquely lead the study. Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. Go through the session several times. If you are using the DVD, listen to the teaching segment and Leadership Lifter.

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heart is for this to happen over time. Not all Christians are called to be leaders or teachers, but we are all called to be “shepherds” of a few someday.

Consider writing in a journal or fasting for a day to prepare yourself for what God wants to do. 5

Don’t wait until the last minute to prepare.

6

Ask for feedback so you can grow. Perhaps in an email or on cards handed out at the study, have everyone write down three things you did well and one thing you could improve on. Don’t get defensive, but show an openness to learn and grow.

7

Use online resources. There are many notable small group leader blogs and resources available.

8

Prayerfully consider launching a new group. This doesn’t need to happen overnight, but God’s

9

Share with your group what God is doing in your heart. God is searching for those whose hearts are fully his. Share your trials and victories. We promise that people will relate.

10 Prayerfully consider whom you would like to pass the baton to next week. It’s only fair. God is ready for the next member of your group to go on the faith journey you just traveled. Make it fun, and expect God to do the rest.

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you don’t have an answer, and apologize when you make a mistake. Your group will love you for it, and you’ll sleep better at night! 4

TOP TEN IDEAS FOR NEW LEADERS

Congratulations! You have responded to the call to help shepherd Jesus’ flock. There are a few other tasks in the family of God that surpass the contribution you will be making. As you prepare to lead, whether it is one session or the entire series, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind. We encourage you to read these and review them with each new discussion leader before he or she leads.

1

2 P |

Remember that you are not alone. God knows everything about you, and He knew that you would be asked to lead your group. Remember that it is common for all good leaders to feel that they are not ready to lead. Moses, Solomon, Jeremiah and Timothy - they all were reluctant to lead. God promises, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Whether you are leading for one evening, for several weeks, or for a lifetime, you will be blessed as you serve. Don’t try to do it alone. Pray right now for God to help you 191

build a healthy leadership team. If you can enlist a coleader to help you lead the group, you will find your experience to be much richer. This is your chance to involve as many people as you can in building a healthy group. All you have to do is call and ask people to help, you’ll be surprised at the response. 3

Just be yourself. If you won’t be you, who will? God wants you to use your unique gifts and temperament. Don’t try to do things exactly like another leader; do them in a way that fits you! Just admit it when

Prepare for your meeting ahead of time. Review the session and the leader’s notes, and write down your responses to each question. Pay special attention to exercises that ask group members to do something other than engage in discussion. These exercises will help your group live what the Bible teaches, not just talk about it. Be sure you understand how an exercise works, and bring any necessary supplies (such as paper and pens) to your meeting. If the exercise employs one of the items in the Appendices, be sure to look over that item so you’ll know how it works. Finally, review “Outline for Each Session” so you’ll remember the purpose of each section in the study.

5

Pray for your group members by name. Before you begin your session, go around the room in your mind and pray for each member by name. You may want to review the prayer list at least once a week. Ask God to use your time

together to touch the heart of every person uniquely. Expect God to lead you to whomever He wants you to encourage or challenge in a special way. If you listen, God will surely lead! 6

When you ask a question, be patient. Someone will eventually respond. Sometimes people need a moment or two of silence to think about the question, and if silence doesn’t bother you, it won’t bother anyone else. After someone responds, affirm the response with a simple “thanks” or “good job.” Then ask, “How about somebody else?” or “Would someone who hasn’t shared like to add anything?” Be sensitive to new people or reluctant members who aren’t ready to say, pray or do anything. If you give them a safe setting, they will blossom over time.

7

Provide transitions between questions. When guiding the discussion, always read aloud the transitional paragraphs and the questions. Ask the group if anyone would like to read the paragraph or Bible passage. Don’t call on anyone, but ask for a volunteer, and then be patient until someone begins. Be sure to thank the P | 192


the bread is being passed, you may want to reflect quietly, sing a simple praise song, or listen to a worship tape. 4 Looking for a wonderful means of worshiping as a group? Why not lead your group in sharing the Lord’s Supper? If you’ve never done this before, the idea certainly seems daunting, but here is a simple form by which your small group can share this ordinance of the church. Of course, churches vary in their treatment of Communion so you may need to adapt these suggestions to your church’s beliefs.

Steps in Serving Communion 1

Out of the context of your own experience, say something brief about God’s love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, commitment, tenderheartedness or faithfulness. Connect your words with the personal stories of the group. For example, “These past few weeks I’ve experienced God’s mercy in the way He untangled the situation with my son. And I’ve seen God show mercy to others of us here too, especially to Jean and Roger.” If you prefer, you can write down ahead of time what you want to say.

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2

Read 1 Corinthians 11:23-26*: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this break and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

3

Pray silently, and pass the bread around the circle. While

When everyone has received the bread, remind them that this represents Jesus’ broken body on their behalf. Simply state, “Jesus said, ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’ Let us eat together,” and eat the break as a group.

5

Pray silently, and serve the cup. You may pass a small tray, serve people individually, or have them pick up a cup from the table.

6

When everyone has been served, remind them that the cup represents Jesus’ blood shed for them. Simply state, “The cup of the new covenant is Jesus Christ’s blood shed for you. Jesus said, ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’ Let us drink together.” Then drink the juice in a group.

Here are some other good Communion passages: Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:14-20, 1 Corinthians 10:16-21 or 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.

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person who reads aloud. 8

Break up into small groups each week, or they won’t stay. If your group has more than seven people, we strongly encourage you to have the group gather sometimes in discussion circles of three or four people during the SERVE or GO sections of the study. With a greater opportunity to talk in a small circle, people will connect more with the study, apply more quickly what they’re learning and ultimately get more out of it. A small circle also encourages a quiet person to participate and tends to minimize the effects of a more vocal or dominant member. It can also help people feel more loved in your group. When you gather again at the end of the section, you can have one person summarize the highlights from each circle. Small circles are also helpful during prayer time. People who are unaccustomed to praying aloud will feel more comfortable trying it with just two or three others. Also, prayer requests won’t take as much time, so circles will have more time to actually pray. When you gather back with the whole group, you can have one person from each circle

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briefly update everyone on the prayer requests. People are more willing to pray in small circles if they know that the whole group will hear all the prayer requests. 9

Rotate facilitators weekly. At the end of each meeting, ask the group who should lead the following week. Let the group help select your weekly facilitator. You may be perfectly capable of leading each time, but you will help others grow in their faith and gifts if you give them opportunities to lead. You can use the Small Group Calendar to fill in the names of all meeting leaders at once if you prefer.

10 One final challenge (for new or first time leaders): Before your first opportunity to lead, look up each of the five passages listed below. Read each one as a devotional exercise to help equip yourself with a shepherd’s heart. Trust us on this one. If you do this, you will be more than ready for your first meeting.

MATTHEW 9:36 1 PETER 5:2-4 PSALM 23 EZEKIEL 34:11-16 1 THESSALONIANS 2:7-8, 11-12 P | 196


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ABOUT LIFETOGETHER

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