The Best Family Life

We say it all the time… “You are what you eat.” Is that right? What does that mean?

How does what you eat affect your behavior?

Is this true of us spiritually? How so?

Jesus had an interesting perspective on this… One that really upturned long-standing traditions of holy people trying to remain holy:

Matthew 15:10–20 (NLT)
Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “Listen,” he said, “and try to understand. It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.”

Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?”
Jesus replied, “Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be uprooted, so ignore them. They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch.”

Then Peter said to Jesus, “Explain to us the parable that says people aren’t defiled by what they eat.”

“Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.”

Jesus here is responding to a question from a Pharisee who was trying to prove Jesus was an enemy to the Jews. The Pharisee confronted Jesus with this question:

“Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.” (Matt. 15:2)

Go back and read Matthew 15:10-11 again, which is Jesus’ response to the Pharisee’s question. What was the problem with the Pharisees focusing so much on dietary rules and restrictions?

What were the Pharisees missing as a result?

Jesus was pretty clear that the Pharisees were focusing on behavior– obeying dietary laws. Their trouble was that they missed the critical issues of the heart– dishonesty and hypocrisy.

Was the law important? Absolutely! The Levitical dietary laws were how the Jewish people were to keep “clean” before God… It was how they were able to worship him. But Jesus supersedes them all. His New Covenant makes them “obsolete.” (Hebrews 8:13)

Jesus is really clear that it isn’t the external that makes you impure… It is what is inside. So, Jesus isn’t nearly as concerned with what you do, but with who you are. He is less concerned about behavior, and more concerned with the heart.

Could this explain why Jesus was so patient and graceful with sinners (like the woman at the well, for example) YET he was super critical of the scribes and Pharisees?

So, what do you think about the following statement: “Jesus isn’t out to change your behavior. He is out to change your heart.”

Do you agree with that? Disagree?

How does your heart and your behavior affect each other?

Read the last five verses of that passage again…

Matthew 15:15–20 (NLT)
Then Peter said to Jesus, “Explain to us the parable that says people aren’t defiled by what they eat.”

“Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.”

Peter asked for Jesus to clarify His teaching, which He did in verses 16-20. Jesus gave a very simple biological illustration. Food goes in, is processed, and exits. How could that possibly render anyone morally impure? The implication is that the extensive dietary laws which were staples of Pharisaic teaching were useless in leading a person to God.

What does that which comes out of one’s mouth reveal about a person?

How can a person be defiled by that which comes out of the mouth? Describe how this has proven true in your own life.

Jeremiah 17:9 (NLT)
“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked.
Who really knows how bad it is?

What does this verse reveal about our hearts? How does it relate to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 15?

Jesus clarified His meaning by illustrating the defilement that comes from the heart. He used the plural verb form in each example, indicating that all kinds of sin under each category are included. He began with evil thoughts, for they give birth to evil actions. Jesus taught clearly that character is rooted in the heart. That presents a problem to us because we all have heart trouble, as Jeremiah 17:9 reveals. This fact has a number of implications, including that we have no hope of developing godly character on our own.

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)
This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

Why is this verse such good news when you think about the things that come out of your mouth and the nature of your heart?

Our hearts are sinful by nature, which means that, when left unchecked, they will defile everything we do and who we are. But in Christ, we have been made new, which means our hearts are clean. This process is both immediate and ongoing. God has made our hearts new, but we will continue to struggle with sin as long as we are on this earth. That is why it is so important for us to invest in being fed and grown into who God has called us to be. Consider Solomon’s teaching in Proverbs 4.

Proverbs 4:23–27 (NLT)
Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.

Avoid all perverse talk; stay away from corrupt speech.

Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you.
Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path.
Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil.

Based on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 15, why is it urgent that you guard your heart?

Next Generation Faith

Is there anything tangible that has been handed down through your family? What is it?

Why do you think passing on things like this is an important part of family life?

What about faith? Do you think families typically pay enough attention to how their faith will be passed down from generation to generation?

Legacies are built one moment at a time, but they’re not built by accident. Instead, through careful and intentional actions, families can pass on the important parts of their family dynamic to the next generation. Though we might typically think of things like a set of dishes or some other antique being passed from generation to generation, nothing that we can pass down is more important than faith. Enduring families plan for the future when they take active steps to pass on their legacy of faith.

The book of 1 Kings opens as King David is in the last days of his life. The great warrior and leader has grown old and sick; everyone knew he was near death. One of his sons, Adonijah, decided to make a play to inherit the throne and the kingdom. That made sense since Adonijah was David’s oldest living son. But David had promised Bathsheba that their son, Solomon, would be king after he died.

1 Kings 1:5–10 (NLT)
About that time David’s son Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, began boasting, “I will make myself king.” So he provided himself with chariots and charioteers and recruited fifty men to run in front of him. Now his father, King David, had never disciplined him at any time, even by asking, “Why are you doing that?” Adonijah had been born next after Absalom, and he was very handsome.
Adonijah took Joab son of Zeruiah and Abiathar the priest into his confidence, and they agreed to help him become king. But Zadok the priest, Benaiah son of Jehoiada, Nathan the prophet, Shimei, Rei, and David’s personal bodyguard refused to support Adonijah.
Adonijah went to the Stone of Zoheleth near the spring of En-rogel, where he sacrificed sheep, cattle, and fattened calves. He invited all his brothers—the other sons of King David—and all the royal officials of Judah. But he did not invite Nathan the prophet or Benaiah or the king’s bodyguard or his brother Solomon.

Based on what you just read, what kind of man was Adonijah? Why do you say that?

What part did David play in his son becoming like this?

What does that tell you about the role a parent has in leaving a legacy of faith in their children?

If we judge him just by these verses, Adonijah seems to be opportunistic, greedy, and ego-centric. He assumed and demanded the throne of Israel, presuming upon his father with little respect. But David certainly played a role in the way his son developed. The Bible tells us that David never once exercised discipline and instead played a passive role in his son’s growth of ego. If we want to leave a legacy of enduring faith as parents, we cannot assume it will just happen on its own.

Judges 2:10 (NLT)
After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the LORD or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel.

What kinds of things contribute to a situation like the Bible describes here?

Do you see anything similar happening around us today? How so?

How should Christian parents think about the issue of their legacy differently than non-Christians?

Everyone leaves a legacy, but not every legacy is good. If we are apathetic or unintentional, then we won’t play any part in what the next generation receives from us.

Do you think your parents played an active role in passing on a legacy of faith to you? How did they do it?

How has that impacted the way you think about leaving a legacy in your own family?

If you haven’t been intentional in thinking through how you want things to be in your family when you’re gone, don’t lose hope. As we continue in 1 Kings 1, we see that it’s not too late; we can still embrace our responsibility to pass on the faith. Instead of just accepting the way things were going, Bathsheba, the prophet Nathan, and David took action to change their legacy. Through some skillful political maneuvers, they anointed Solomon while Adonijah was celebrating his own victory.

1 Kings 1:41–48 (NLT)
Adonijah and his guests heard the celebrating and shouting just as they were finishing their banquet. When Joab heard the sound of the ram’s horn, he asked, “What’s going on? Why is the city in such an uproar?”
And while he was still speaking, Jonathan son of Abiathar the priest arrived. “Come in,” Adonijah said to him, “for you are a good man. You must have good news.”
“Not at all!” Jonathan replied. “Our lord King David has just declared Solomon king! The king sent him down to Gihon Spring with Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada, protected by the king’s bodyguard. They had him ride on the king’s own mule, and Zadok and Nathan have anointed him at Gihon Spring as the new king. They have just returned, and the whole city is celebrating and rejoicing. That’s what all the noise is about. What’s more, Solomon is now sitting on the royal throne as king. And all the royal officials have gone to King David and congratulated him, saying, ‘May your God make Solomon’s fame even greater than your own, and may Solomon’s reign be even greater than yours!’ Then the king bowed his head in worship as he lay in his bed, and he said, ‘Praise the LORD, the God of Israel, who today has chosen a successor to sit on my throne while I am still alive to see it.’ ”

Why do you think it meant so much to David to see his son Solomon coronated as king?

Can you relate to that as a parent? What would it mean to you to see your children carry on in the faith?

David passed on the throne as an inheritance to his son. We can pass on the values and worldview that can lead our children to take up following Jesus for themselves. Although we can’t make our children become Christians, we can train them up in the way of the Lord. When we take an active role in doing so, we are doing everything we can to protect the legacy that matters so much to enduring families of the faith.

What are some ways we can build that legacy of faith in our children by helping them to think through the issues of culture in a biblical way?

What habits are you trying to instill in your children that will endure with them after you’re gone?

What role does prayer play in this? How can you make prayer for and with your children a more regular part of your daily routine?

Family Titles

For this week’s discussion, I’m going to challenge you to do something a little different. Break up into groups. Men together, and women together in separate groups.

Okay.. Are you in groups now?

What did you grow up dreaming about, or expecting in your future marriage?

What are some specific ways—either positively or negatively—your family situation (parents, their marriage, etc.) has affected your view of marriage?

Are there any marriages you look up to or admire? What is it about those marriages that makes them admirable?

Let’s look deeply at how the apostle Paul tells us to live upward in our husband/wife title:

1 Corinthians 7:1–40 (NLT)
Now regarding the questions you asked in your letter. Yes, it is good to abstain from sexual relations. But because there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband.

The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife.

Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. But I wish everyone were single, just as I am. Yet each person has a special gift from God, of one kind or another.

What is Paul’s perspective on sex inside of marriage?

Why do you think God calls us to put our spouse’s needs above our own? How does doing so change our own perspective?

So I say to those who aren’t married and to widows—it’s better to stay unmarried, just as I am. But if they can’t control themselves, they should go ahead and marry. It’s better to marry than to burn with lust.

But for those who are married, I have a command that comes not from me, but from the Lord. A wife must not leave her husband. But if she does leave him, let her remain single or else be reconciled to him. And the husband must not leave his wife.

Okay.. That is a lot to digest in a couple of sentences. Why do you think he says this? What is he saying here about the value and the purpose of marriage?

Now, I will speak to the rest of you, though I do not have a direct command from the Lord. If a fellow believer has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to continue living with him, he must not leave her. And if a believing woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to continue living with her, she must not leave him. For the believing wife brings holiness to her marriage, and the believing husband brings holiness to his marriage. Otherwise, your children would not be holy, but now they are holy.  (But if the husband or wife who isn’t a believer insists on leaving, let them go. In such cases the believing husband or wife is no longer bound to the other, for God has called you to live in peace.) Don’t you wives realize that your husbands might be saved because of you? And don’t you husbands realize that your wives might be saved because of you?

Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you. This is my rule for all the churches. For instance, a man who was circumcised before he became a believer should not try to reverse it. And the man who was uncircumcised when he became a believer should not be circumcised now. For it makes no difference whether or not a man has been circumcised. The important thing is to keep God’s commandments.

How does this change the first perspective Paul shares on marriage?

Yes, each of you should remain as you were when God called you. Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you—but if you get a chance to be free, take it. And remember, if you were a slave when the Lord called you, you are now free in the Lord. And if you were free when the Lord called you, you are now a slave of Christ. God paid a high price for you, so don’t be enslaved by the world. Each of you, dear brothers and sisters, should remain as you were when God first called you.

Now regarding your question about the young women who are not yet married. I do not have a command from the Lord for them. But the Lord in his mercy has given me wisdom that can be trusted, and I will share it with you. Because of the present crisis, I think it is best to remain as you are. If you have a wife, do not seek to end the marriage. If you do not have a wife, do not seek to get married. But if you do get married, it is not a sin. And if a young woman gets married, it is not a sin. However, those who get married at this time will have troubles, and I am trying to spare you those problems.

But let me say this, dear brothers and sisters: The time that remains is very short. So from now on, those with wives should not focus only on their marriage. Those who weep or who rejoice or who buy things should not be absorbed by their weeping or their joy or their possessions. Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away.

I want you to be free from the concerns of this life. An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him. But a married man has to think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife. His interests are divided. In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and in spirit. But a married woman has to think about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband. I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible.

But if a man thinks that he’s treating his fiancée improperly and will inevitably give in to his passion, let him marry her as he wishes. It is not a sin. But if he has decided firmly not to marry and there is no urgency and he can control his passion, he does well not to marry. So the person who marries his fiancée does well, and the person who doesn’t marry does even better.
A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but only if he loves the Lord. 40 But in my opinion it would be better for her to stay single, and I think I am giving you counsel from God’s Spirit when I say this.

In what ways is an unbelieving spouse “made holy” because of his or her marriage to a Christian?

What challenges does a Christian married to an unbeliever face when pursuing personal holiness?

In your own words, how would you explain the main goal of a Christian marriage?

What happens in a marriage when our hearts are set on our own happiness rather than on honoring God and personal holiness?

In what areas of your marriage would you say you are more focused on your own happiness than you are on holiness? What needs to change?

What counsel would you give a Christian friend who is married to a non-Christian?

Children and Parents

As a child, what was the biggest thing you ever did to disrespect or disobey your parents?

How big of an issue is lack of respect today between parents and children?

Why might it be difficult for us to honor Jesus as a child honors a parent, or serve Him as a servant serves a master?

Based on our past, our family upbringing, life circumstances, or even bad bosses at work, it can be difficult to serve and honor Christ the way He calls us to. Having the same attitude of submission that Jesus showed isn’t easy. In all of our relationships, ESPECIALLY our family relationships, Christ-followers are to show respect for Christ and for each other.

Last week, we talked about how God designed the family to represent his relationship with us. Even if we are not married or have children, God’s design for the family teaches us about how we relate to each other.

In the passage we’re studying, it all starts with this simple idea:

Ephesians 5:21 (NLT)
And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

This is Paul’s introductory statement of how to be a Christian family. What does it look like for us to submit to each other…

as spouses?

as parents?

as children?

Why can this idea of submission stir up controversy?

I like what Paul says about this in his letter to the church at Philippi…

Philippians 2:3 (NLT)
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.

Why is this hard for us?

Does Paul say that others are, in fact, better than me or you?

Submission doesn’t imply losing your sense of worth or self. It is a voluntary and loving choice to follow in a way that displays how Christians follow Jesus. Christians don’t submit because someone forces them to do so; they submit voluntarily. A wife isn’t forced to think of herself as her husband’s property. Kids shouldn’t see themselves as slaves to parents. Instead, we should realize that God has designed our family on purpose, and that we are partners together in discovering and demonstrating Christ.

Ephesians 6:1–4(NLT)
Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do. “Honor your father and mother.” This is the first commandment with a promise: If you honor your father and mother, “things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.”

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.

How can children of all ages and family situations give their parents the respect God commands?

Jesus, John 15:9–10 (NLT)
“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.

What do we learn about submitting to our parents from Jesus’ example? What are specific situations that might make submitting to your parents more challenging?

When is it appropriate for parents to submit to their kids?

No Christian ever grows beyond the responsibility to show respect for his or her parents by honoring them. If children are to honor their parents, then parents have a reciprocal responsibility to be submissive to their needs in ways that will lead them to maturity. Growing up in a Christian home is to be a positive, encouraging experience for both parents and children.

How can I live this out with my family this week?

God’s Family Structure

As a child, what was the biggest thing you ever did to disrespect or disobey your parents?

How big of an issue is lack of respect between parents and children?

God is the designer, the patent-holder on the family!  He made it to represent His relationship with His family… He is our Father, and we’re His children. So, when a child dishonors or disrespects his parents, he not only harms his relationship with his parents, but his relationship with God as well.

Exodus 20:12 (NLT)
Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

This commandment has been called the “bridge commandment.” It forms a bridge between relating to God and relating to others. A person learns respect for God by learning respect for authority in the home.

Understanding this, how might weak parenting undermine a child’s ability to relate to God?

To “honor” literally means “to treat with respect” or “to prize highly.” Does our culture encourage children to “respect” and “prize highly” their parents? Why or why not?

How can we teach our children to honor this commandment? How can we as adults still honor our parents?

Ephesians 6:1–4 (NLT)
Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do. “Honor your father and mother.” This is the first commandment with a promise: If you honor your father and mother, “things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.”
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. 

What does God ask of all children and with what promise?

Paul’s instructions are for children of all ages. The tense of the verb “obey” in Greek emphasizes habitual, constant obedience. Paul gave three reasons for obedience; moral duty, spiritual duty, and one of the Ten Commandments—a Commandment with a promise attached. He also gave fathers two commands, which are equally applicable to mothers: to nurture them through maturity and to avoid actions and words that drive children to resentment.

What do you think might result from a society in which people generally honor and obey their parents?

How can children of all ages and family situations give their parents the respect God commands?

No Christian ever moves beyond the responsibility to show respect for his or her parents. If children are to honor their parents, then parents have a reciprocal responsibility to be submissive to their needs in ways that will lead them to maturity. Growing up in a Christian home is to be a positive, encouraging experience for both parents and children.

What are the most important ways that Christian parenting is different from secular parenting?

How can parents bring up their children “in the training and instruction of the Lord”? Did this happen in your home?

Deuteronomy 6:4–9 (NLT)
“Listen, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.  Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

What is the truth parents were to communicate to their children? How were they to communicate that?

What does it mean to have the Word of God “in your heart”? What are some practical ways we can teach this to our children? How will doing so help us make sure we are growing in Christ and in relationship to one another?

Families are instructed to pass on the ways of God to the next generations. However, parents and grandparents cannot teach what they themselves do not know and practice. A passionate devotion to the Lord must first be in the parents’ hearts. Only then are they equipped to help instill a genuine love for God in younger lives. Because these adults are devoted to God, they seek to know His truth and apply it in their lives. Their devotion influences everything they do and say. If adults in families place God at the center of their lives, children benefit from their examples.

Another translation says to “impress God’s commandments” on your children. How do you interpret that?

Looking at verse 7, when might be appropriate times to “talk about them” in your context?

In addition to studying the Bible together, why is it important for families to take time to pray together?

PRO TIP: The PARENT CUE APP is absolutely great for facilitating exactly this!! Find it in your App Store.

What are some things we can do in our families to build this relationship with God into our families?

PRAYER
Ask God to give each of us the grace we need to lead our families to love and serve Him and His church.

Jesus Must Die

What was the last test that you took? How did you feel walking into it? How did you prepare in advance?

Have you ever felt you had a strong opinion about a particular topic, until you were confronted with it? Have you ever been in a position where you didn’t have your opinion as well-formed as you had previously thought?

Gospel writer Mark tells us of Jesus challenging the opinions of his own disciples, and of people around him.

At this moment, nobody had ever called Jesus “Messiah.” Nobody had dared to wonder out loud if he could actually be the one sent from God to deliver his people. Jesus had never even said it about himself. Instead, what we see immediately preceding this moment is Jesus doing big miracle after big miracle.

  • feeding the five thousand
  • walking on water
  • Big healings
  • Feeding the four thousand

After these, Jesus asks his disciples, “Don’t you understand yet?” (Mark 8:21)

Jesus never tells them who he is… He is showing them who he is. He is making his case by his amazing, miraculous actions.

That’s when Jesus and a small crowd begin to travel…

Mark 8:27–29 (NLT)
Jesus and his disciples left Galilee and went up to the villages near Caesarea Philippi. As they were walking along, he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
“Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other prophets.”
Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”
Peter replied, “You are the Messiah.”

If Jesus asked you the same question He asked His early disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”, how would you respond?

Do you think Peter fully understood the implications of what he was saying? Why or why not?

Mark 8:30–33 (NLT)
But Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead. As he talked about this openly with his disciples, Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things.
Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples, then reprimanded Peter. “Get away from me, Satan!” he said. “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”

Why do you think Jesus told the disciples not to tell anyone about His true identity? How would their description of the Messiah at this time have fallen short of Jesus’ true identity and mission?

How does this scene help you understand all of Jesus’ previous commands to keep His healings and miracles a secret?

Jesus did not refute the disciples’ identification of Him as the Messiah. He strictly warned them, however, not to use this title related to Him. Why? The title “Messiah” meant different things to different people. Even the disciples misunderstood its full implications for Jesus. He preferred to privately teach them its meaning as it related to Him and His purpose from God. Before they could tell the world the good news about Him, they had to live it first, and this meant telling no one until they had the complete picture of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

What are those four things Jesus prophesies about Himself in verses 31-32?

How might the disciples have felt about this teaching? How might this have altered their understanding of Jesus’ mission and their part in it?

Peter was understandably shocked by the insight Jesus gave them into His mission. Why do you think Jesus reacted so strongly to Peter?

A combination of denial, spiritual immaturity, and love motivated Peter to correct Jesus. Peter’s confrontation provided further opportunity for Jesus to teach. He could not allow the rebuke to go unchallenged. No doubt the other disciples felt the same way. While Peter apparently spoke privately, Jesus turned to the group and rebuked Peter in front of them. Just as Satan worked throughout Jesus’ ministry to divert Him from His purpose, Peter now provided the same kind of interference. Peter put human preference above God’s will. Jesus’ death was not something any of them wanted to consider. But He taught the truth that the cross could not be avoided, and it was not to be feared.

Mark 8:34–38 (NLT)
Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

What activities or attitudes are key to following Christ, according to this passage?

In your own words, what did Jesus mean by “take up his cross”? Why is doing so a necessary part of discipleship?

Why does Jesus want wholehearted commitment? Why isn’t it enough to be “somewhat” willing to follow Jesus?

In order to call ourselves Christians, we have to be willing to follow Jesus no matter what it costs us, because that cost is far less than the cost Christ paid for us.

Discuss the concept of shame, which Jesus warned against in Mark 8:38. Where do you see this in your own experience?

What promise did Jesus make to His followers in this passage? How does that promise encourage you to take up your cross daily?

Jesus often used paradoxical statements to provoke thought. His teaching about losing one’s life in order to save it is a case in point. To live a self-centered life is to miss both the joy of living a Christ-centered life on this earth and the reward of Jesus when He returns. Jesus wants us to consider seriously the requirements of following Him. He pointedly asked what we would be willing to give in exchange for our souls.

What are some practical ways you might integrate the practice of self-denial into your life this week?

What is one situation you anticipate this week when you will have the opportunity to confess that Jesus is the Christ of God?

In what ways can we help each other take up our crosses?

Standing in the Gap

Raised To New Life

I am so excited about our “New Life” class, happening on Sunday, April 7.

If you have turned your life over to Christ, and are wondering “now what?” THIS is the class for you.

Maybe you have become a Christian, but you haven’t taken that very important first step of obedience by being baptized. THIS is the class for you.

In this class, we will go over what salvation really is, how to have a life-changing relationship with Jesus, and we will even write out our own testimonies! All in less than two hours! It is a great start to a “new life!”

Just tap the icon here to sign up for the “NEW LIFE” class on Sunday, April 7.

Safety First

Okay, seriously… Do you really need a verse to know that we should do everything we can at our church to protect everyone there? Especially our children? Do we really need a Bible study on this?

So, why do you think there are SO MANY pastors and churches out there that literally decline to implement safety plans for their congregations?

Believe it or not, I have heard of many pastors who just won’t take basic steps to deter becoming a headline. I think most are lulled into a false sense of security because it hasn’t happened to them. It is definitely the kind of thing that feels like it can only happen “somewhere else,” such as a giant, metropolitan, megachurch.

BUT, 2017’s mass shooting at Sutherland Springs, TX was at a small church in a rural area. Of Texas. It can literally happen anywhere. Shouldn’t all churches be ON THIS?

At one point in the Old Testament, God chose Ezekiel to be Israel’s “Watchman…” To be the guy who stood in the gap for his people:

Ezekiel 33:1–2 (NLT)
Once again a message came to me from the LORD: “Son of man, give your people this message: ‘When I bring an army against a country, the people of that land (the land being attacked) choose one of their own to be a watchman.”

Interesting. God is describing what happens to Israel when they are attacked by another nation. According to what God himself is saying here, who is the one who brings the attacking army?

What does this say about God and His plan?

I think that this is a great example of God’s sovereignty, and that ALL goes according to His plan. Even the attacks of the enemy. As long as He is in control, nothing is unplanned.

Hey.. I preached a message on that right after my parents’ awful car accident a few weeks ago. It has WAY more views than any other recent message. Maybe it will be helpful to you.

Okay.. Back to the story

God continues to instruct Ezekiel about his role as his nation’s watchman:

Ezekiel 33:3–5 (NLT)
“When the watchman sees the enemy coming, he sounds the alarm to warn the people. Then if those who hear the alarm refuse to take action, it is their own fault if they die. They heard the alarm but ignored it, so the responsibility is theirs. If they had listened to the warning, they could have saved their lives.”

According to this, who’s responsibility is it to sound the warning to the people? Who’s job is it to “take action?”

How serious is this responsibility? What is the result if they don’t take action, and who’s responsibility is that?

But there is another level of responsibility:

Ezekiel 33:6 (NLT)
“But if the watchman sees the enemy coming and doesn’t sound the alarm to warn the people, he is responsible for their captivity. They will die in their sins, but I will hold the watchman responsible for their deaths.”

So, clearly the watchman bears the ultimate responsibility for his nation taking their stand. Do you get the feeling that this is important to God? Why?

Does this/should this convey the seriousness with which we, the church leadership, should take our responsibility?

What does this imply about those pastors/church leaders who will not step up in this role?

It doesn’t stop there

This is not only about safety from a potential attacker. God clearly has a spiritual component that Ezekiel the Prophet is responsible for:

Ezekiel 33:7–9 (NLT)
“Now, son of man, I am making you a watchman for the people of Israel. Therefore, listen to what I say and warn them for me. If I announce that some wicked people are sure to die and you fail to tell them to change their ways, then they will die in their sins, and I will hold you responsible for their deaths. But if you warn them to repent and they don’t repent, they will die in their sins, but you will have saved yourself.”

What does this say about our responsibility to be the watchman for people around us?

Who, specifically, am I the watchman for? How am I taking on that responsibility?

Your BEST opportunity to take on that responsibility this entire year is coming up just 21 days from this message. Do you have a plan to stand up for your neighbor, your co-worker, your friend?

As you close, pray by name for people you are the watchman for.

Use your paper invitation this week. You can also share this website with someone you know:

 

 

I am Thirsty

John 19:28 (NLT)
Jesus knew that his mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture he said, “I am thirsty.”

John makes sure to tell us that Jesus’ mission had been accomplished. What does that mean to you? (use the next verses as a guide)

Hebrews 9:22–26 (NLT)
In fact, according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.
That is why the Tabernacle and everything in it, which were copies of things in heaven, had to be purified by the blood of animals. But the real things in heaven had to be purified with far better sacrifices than the blood of animals.
For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf. And he did not enter heaven to offer himself again and again, like the high priest here on earth who enters the Most Holy Place year after year with the blood of an animal. If that had been necessary, Christ would have had to die again and again, ever since the world began. But now, once for all time, he has appeared at the end of the age to remove sin by his own death as a sacrifice.

Just before Jesus died that day, he said “I am thirsty.” He made this statement knowing that everything he had been sent for was completed. The theological term for this is “substitutionary atonement…” Jesus was our substitute. He atoned for our sins in our place.

We sinned, He died
We were guilty,
He took our punishment.

Hundreds of years earlier, the prophet Isaiah explained it like this:

Isaiah 53:6 (NLT)
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the LORD laid on him the sins of us all.

The Apostle Paul put it this way:

Romans 5:8–9 (NLT)
But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation.

And like this:

Galatians 3:13 (NLT)
But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. 

Peter the fisherman/pastor said it like this:

1 Peter 2:24 (NLT)
He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right.
By his wounds you are healed.

John, the closest friend of Jesus might have been the clearest:

John 3:16–17 (NLT)
For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

What, according to Paul’s letter to the Colossian church, is so unique about Jesus?

Colossians 1:15–20 (NLT)
Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
for through him God created everything
in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
Everything was created through him and for him.
He existed before anything else,
and he holds all creation together.
Christ is also the head of the church,
which is his body.
He is the beginning,
supreme over all who rise from the dead.
So he is first in everything.
For God in all his fullness
was pleased to live in Christ,
and through him God reconciled
everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

As we get closer and closer to Easter, how does it make you feel to know that God loves you enough that He sent His Son as a sacrifice for you?

How should your life reflect the fact that your debt of sin has been declared fully paid by Jesus?

How do we tend to take that gift of grace for granted?

As your group closes in prayer, why don’t you pray together for specific people that you are inviting to join you for Easter Sunday?

 

Father, Forgive Them

We’re in this “Red Letter Day” series to prepare our hearts and minds for Easter Sunday. Can you believe that it is just five Sundays from now? Easter is our very best opportunity for Kingdom influence all year long, and I really hope that you are already praying with me about what God would do in and through us on this most important day.

Whatever God wants to do, he will do through us. Are you thinking and praying about that neighbor, co-worker, or friend that you will be bringing with you to the football field on Easter Sunday morning? In your group, make a prayer list of people who you are inviting to Easter Sunday. Use that list for prayer tonight, and at each life group meeting for the weeks leading up to Easter.

Rebecca has created a GREAT landing page for you to use as you invite people to Easter on the Field… Tap the big image here to check it out.

Forgiveness

When you think about forgiveness, is there a particular person who comes to mind? Why that person?

Do you think most people in the world truly understand forgiveness? Why or why not?

What kinds of things hold us back from truly receiving and giving forgiveness?

We forgive others because we have been forgiven by God. In fact, our willingness to forgive others is directly related to our understanding of just how much God has forgiven us. When Jesus told us to forgive others, He emphasized the relationship between the forgiveness we give with the forgiveness we’ve been given. His parable of the unforgiving slave helps us see that when Christians forgive, we demonstrate the forgiveness, grace, and love of God.

Matthew 6:9–15 (NLT)
Pray like this:
Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us today the food we need,
and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.

If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Why do you think Jesus chose forgiveness as the only subject in the Lord’s Prayer that he tied to people’s actions?

According to Jesus, what is the true reason we forgive? How is that different from most people’s motivation to forgive?

Why is it so important for us to practice forgiveness?

Why is it so difficult?

Jesus emphasized forgiveness because it, above all else, shows that a person understands what God has done. Jesus emphasized our inability to pay for sins ourselves in a parable later in Matthew.

Matthew 18:21-22 (NLT)
Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!

What do you think Peter expected Jesus to say when he asked if someone should forgive a brother seven times?

Do you think Jesus’ answer surprised Peter?

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt that forgiving someone might be the same as enabling them? If so, share. How do you think Jesus would handle that situation?

When is the last time you felt in awe of the forgiveness God has shown? How can you make that a regular part of your life?

Is there anyone in your life that you need to forgive right now? What is keeping you from giving forgiveness?

Do you think forgiveness is easier the first time or the 100th time? Why?

What is one practical way our group can show God’s grace to our community?

Moral Margin

How have you seen your life or the life of someone you know impacted by sexual sin?

The pattern of sin is described in this passage that we looked at on Sunday:

James 1:13–15 (NLT)
And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.

In your own words, what is the pattern of falling into sin?

What are some of the defenses and safeguards that you have in place that help you move in the right direction, rather than settling in with sin?

In what areas of your life could you use more moral margin? How can you go about creating that margin?

Romans 6:12–14 (NLT)
Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.

God has given us a higher calling, to life, rather than to death. All of us face temptation to go in the wrong direction. Describe how you have been able to live up to that standard and how difficult it can be.

How can we help each other in living with moral margin?