God Started Something

We’ll be partnering together once again, as we celebrate our TENTH BIRTHDAY on Sunday, February 3! Click the image above for details.

God Started Something

How have you heard the word “love” used this past week? I bet you can think of at least two or three different ways!

What do those uses of the word reveal about the way people typically view love?

Does our culture define love differently than God does? How?

It seems that this world loves being in love, doesn’t it? But, God sees “love” as something different, doesn’t he? Love is the defining mark of the Christian.

Don’t make a mistake about this. Jesus was really clear:

John 13:34–35 (NLT)
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

After Jesus, Paul wrote to us about various gifts of the Spirit, and how they impact us:

1 Corinthians 12:27-31 (NLT)
All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church:

first are apostles,
second are prophets,
third are teachers,
then those who do miracles,
those who have the gift of healing,
those who can help others,
those who have the gift of leadership,
those who speak in unknown languages.

Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles?  Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! So you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts.

How would you sum up this short passage?

Paul tells us to “earnestly desire the most helpful gifts,” then he makes a very interesting statement:

1 Corinthians 12:31 (NLT)
But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all.

In other words, these are good… But let me show you something much better. Here is what Paul says is better:

1 Corinthians 13:1–3 (NLT)
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

What metaphors did Paul give for using spiritual gifts without love? Why do you think he chose these metaphors?

What happens if people are not motivated to use their gifts out of love?

What do you think the Corinthians felt when they read these words?

Why did all the gifts and power that Paul listed “gain nothing”? What does that tell you about the power of love?

No matter how impressive a spiritual gift may appear, no matter how dedicated a religious act may be, the absence of genuine love renders these actions meaningless. The Corinthians may have felt like Paul was going too far. Paul, however, wanted the church to know that everything they did should come out of love. Greatness without love is at best annoying like a clanging cymbal and at worst completely meaningless.

Paul continues…

1 Corinthians 13:4–7 (NLT)
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Which of these attributes of love stands out to you the most? Why?

So, based on the above short passage, how would you define love?

Ephesians 5:2 (NLT)
Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul implies that you have to know Jesus to know love… Is that true?

Paul is not talking about an emotional love. The kind of love he described here is above emotion; it’s self-sacrificing for the sake of another. These 15 characteristics describe loving others even when doing so is difficult. Of course, that is when love is most needed. If we love only those who measure up to our standards or who never pose any challenge, then is that really love? This is the kind of love that you can only truly see in Christ. It’s only through experiencing the self-sacrificial love of Jesus that we can truly love others. In the final set of verses in this chapter (vv. 8-13), Paul contrasted love’s permanence and eternal presence with the temporal things of this world.

But let’s return to Paul’s famous “love chapter” in 1 Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 13:8–13 (NLT)
Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.
When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

In what ways do you see the difference between the eternal and the temporary in this passage? How do you see the difference between the eternal and the temporary in your life?

Why is love greater than faith and hope? What will happen to our faith and hope when Christ returns? What will happen to love?

Love will never end as we love God and love others. This type of love can play out practically in our relationships. Loving God and loving others is far more than head knowledge. No real transformation in our church occurs without love being at the center of it. Paul’s words are clear that anything we do apart from love will pass away. When we embrace the truth that love is permanent, then we will show it consistently to others, and it will be a defining aspect of our character.

What is something you can do this week to show love and respect to your spouse? To someone in your family?

What are some ways you can show your love by giving/service this week?

In what ways have you seen people interrupt their normal routine to take action on behalf of another person? Which people or groups do you find it difficult to love?

How can you use the way God has spiritually gifted you to love others in the church?

Pray together.  Thank God for showing us the nature of true love in Jesus. Ask Him to help your group remember the central place of love in your lives and our church, and to never allow a focus on spiritual giftedness to take the place of genuine love.

Something Big Is Coming

Welcome back for the new year!  My lifegroup started back this past week, and we went around the circle and prayed for each family. Maybe your group needs that also?

The Holy Spirit

What comes to your mind when you think about the Holy Spirit?

What are some common perceptions/misperceptions about the Holy Spirit?

I thought this video was a pretty funny one, but it might not be to your taste.

This can be a little difficult to understand. The Holy Spirit, like Jesus, is part of the Trinity. That means He is co-equal and co-eternal with God and yet distinct from the other two persons of the Trinity in His work. Though we often feel inadequate to be used by God for His kingdom, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell believers for the express purpose of empowering us to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). Today we will see how, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can find confidence to be used by God for His kingdom and glory. The Holy Spirit gives us the will, the wisdom, and the power to carry out Jesus’ commission to take the gospel to the world.

Here is some of what Jesus says about the Holy Spirit:

John 14:15–17 (NLT)
“If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.”

John 14:26 (NLT)
“But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.”

John 15:26 (NLT)
“But I will send you the Advocate—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me.”

John 16:7–10 (NLT)
“But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me. Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more.”

So, according to Jesus, who is the Holy Spirit, and what does He actually do?

Acts 1:8 (NLT)
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

So, thinking about the Holy Spirit as described by Jesus, how does He help us accomplish the mission that Jesus gives us here in Acts 1:8?

The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity that indwells followers of Jesus and is the presence and power of God in their lives. The Holy Spirit helps us understand Jesus and remember His teaching (John 14:26). The Spirit bears witness to Jesus (John 15:26) and will convict the world of sin, righteousness and God’s judgment (John 16:10). After Jesus returned to heaven, the Holy Spirit picked up where Jesus left off. While Jesus physically walked the earth for a very short time, the Holy Spirit will be with us forever, and we are dependent on His power to help us take the gospel to the nations and to open the ears of those who hear it.

Even though the Holy Spirit wasn’t officially given to us until after Jesus’ ascension, He does show up from time to time in the Old Testament. He was also promised in the Jewish Scriptures. In the passage below, what did Joel prophesy about the release of the Holy Spirit?

Joel 2:28–32 (NLT)
“Then, after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your old men will dream dreams,
and your young men will see visions.
In those days I will pour out my Spirit
even on servants—men and women alike.
And I will cause wonders in the heavens and on the earth—
blood and fire and columns of smoke.
The sun will become dark,
and the moon will turn blood red
before that great and terrible day of the LORD arrives.
But everyone who calls on the name of the LORD
will be saved,
for some on Mount Zion in Jerusalem will escape,
just as the LORD has said.
These will be among the survivors
whom the LORD has called.

So, how does Luke, the author of Acts, tell us that Joel’s prophecy was fulfilled at Pentecost? (see below)

Acts 2:1–2 (NLT)
On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting.

Sure, the Holy Spirit has always been at work in the world. Throughout the Old Testament and in the New Testament prior to Jesus’ birth and even during His ministry, the Spirit shows up time and again. Sometimes the Spirit is described as a mighty wind that was an agent from God. The Old Testament often tells of God giving the Holy Spirit to people He chose and called out for service such as prophets, priests, and kings. In Joel 2, the prophet announces God’s promise to release His Spirit on all humanity, which Peter connected to the events that happened at Pentecost (Acts 2:17-21).

How was the role of the Holy Spirit in the world forever changed after Pentecost?

What would you say are one or two of the greatest blessings of having the Holy Spirit dwell within you?

On the day of Pentecost, God released His Holy Spirit into the lives of all believers, just as Jesus had promised many times. In the old covenant era (before the cross), the Holy Spirit came upon men and women to empower them for the work God had called them to accomplish, but His work was not on such a grand scale. When God promised to establish a new covenant, He also promised to give His Spirit. And the nature of the Holy Spirit’s work would be different in the new covenant than in the old. All who belong to God because of the work of Jesus Christ receive the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence.

In what ways does the reality of the Spirit’s life-giving, permanent presence in your heart affect your view of Christian living?

How does having the Holy Spirit’s power make a difference in how you have been able to serve God and live out His Acts 1:8 mission?

Acts 1:8 gives the church, both past and present, its marching orders. We are to faithfully share with the rest of the world the story of what Jesus has done for us. We can do so confidently because we believe that we have been changed by Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and sent out as witnesses to change the world.

In what ways does the reality of the Spirit’s life-giving, permanent presence in your heart affect your view of Christian living?

What evidence could you point to that shows the Spirit’s power at work in your life?

As a member of the church, how does the Spirit enable you to share the gospel and join in the church’s mission? What is your next step in the mission?

 

First Visit At Architect Office

Several of us took the day on Wednesday to travel over to Greenville, SC to meet with our architects! It wasn’t our first meeting with them, but it was our first chance to see their offices first-hand, and to start narrowing in on conceptual ideas for our new building.

These guys had come to meet with us at The Orchard a month or so ago, just to ask a bunch of questions and to listen to us. I am so thrilled that these guys love Jesus. We have been able to hear their testimonies, and to pray with them. It is SUCH a comfort to know that they are about the KINGDOM, not just about designing buildings and getting paid.

Our group consisted of elders John Crawford and Steve Marks. Dianne Fowler, Suzie Fleming, and Jon Breshears also went along to speak for their respective ministries.

So, the whole trip went well, and we are beginning to get some great ideas of exactly what type of building we are aiming for. We still have a long way to go before we have any designs to show off, but I am really happy with the direction we are heading.

 

Baptism

Did you see those baptisms this week? It was awesome.

Here is how we typically define “baptism:”

Baptism is an outward symbol of an inward commitment.”

Do you think that is a good definition? Why or why not?

Let’s talk about symbols for just a minute… How do you feel about a married person that goes around without his or her wedding ring?

Have you ever been surprised to see someone who you discovered to be different on the inside than what they were “advertising” on the outside? How? What was your reaction to that person?

What is it that our baptism says about each of us? What does it say about what Christ has done in us?

Why do some Christians feel that baptism is unimportant for them?

In light of these verses, what was the importance of baptism to Jesus? (John 3:22, John 4:1, Matthew 28:18-20?)

John 3:22 (NLT)
Then Jesus and his disciples left Jerusalem and went into the Judean countryside. Jesus spent some time with them there, baptizing people.

John 4:1–3 (NLT)
Jesus knew the Pharisees had heard that he was baptizing and making more disciples than John (though Jesus himself didn’t baptize them—his disciples did). So he left Judea and returned to Galilee.

Matthew 28:18–20 (NLT)
Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

What does Paul write in Ephesians about the sign of baptism for us? What does this sign mean?

Ephesians 2:4–6 (NLT)
But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.

hint: It means that God has done in me spiritually what He did in Christ physically.

If baptism is important to Jesus, and if it means something much deeper than getting wet… What do the following verses say about how deep this meaning of baptism really is? What is it drawing a picture of?

Ephesians 1:19–20 (NLT)
I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. 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.

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!

If you need to be baptized, please contact our church office at hello@orchardellijay.com so we can arrange for your baptism very soon!

Nine Reasons to Serve in 2019

There is real power in starting things off right. We always want to “get off on the right foot,” and set the tone in any relationship. As we start off a new year, how are you setting the spiritual tone in your life? We are made by God to build the church (Ephesians 4:11-13) God made you with unique talents, a unique personality, and specific skill sets. He has even given you spiritual gifts! You will get the most joy and make the biggest difference in 2019 when we use these God-given traits to build the church!

9 Reasons to Serve in 2019

1. Jesus serves.

Jesus led his life as a servant. He could have come as a conquerer, but instead he said “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

2. Serving allows us to discover and develop our spiritual gifts.

1 Corinthians 12 compares the church to a human body. Just like our bodies are made of many parts serving specific functions, the church is made up of people with different skills and abilities. Alone these pieces aren’t very useful, but together we create something beautiful.

3. Serving allows us to experience miracles.

In John 2, Jesus was at a wedding and the couple was running out of wine for its guests. He tells the servants to fill several big jars to the brim. When they served the water to the guests, it was wine! The guests never knew what happened; the servants were the ones who witnessed the miracle. The same is true for us when we serve.

4. Serving allows us to experience the joy and peace that comes from obedience.

1 Peter 4:10-11 says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms… so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” Serving is a form of worship, a way to express gratitude for what Jesus has done for us, and to share the love and grace we’ve been given.

5. Serving helps us to be more like Jesus.

We shift our focus off of ourselves onto others through serving. We begin to see others as Jesus sees them. And we see Jesus IN others (Matthew 25:40).

6. Serving surrounds us with other Christians who can help us follow Jesus.

When we’re working side by side with other people, a bond inevitably forms. This was part of God’s plan for how the church is supposed to work. That’s why Hebrews 10:24-25 instructs us to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together… but encouraging one another.”

7. Serving increases our faith.

As we move out of our comfort zones, God increases our faith by revealing new potential — in ourselves and in His Church. When we see what He can do when His power is at work within us, we begin looking for the doors He’s opening rather than pushing our way through the one’s He’s closed (Ephesians 3:20).

8. Serving allows us to experience God’s presence in new ways.

Encouragement and healing go hand in hand. As we encourage others and they find healing, we’re encouraged. It’s the reason so many people who go on mission trips say they came home feeling like they got more than they gave.

9. Serving is good for your soul.

Studies have shown that volunteering is so good for the mind and body that it can ease symptoms of stress and depression. Tapping into our gifts and passions builds self-confidence, energy, and strength. Serving others can also be the best distraction from our own worries.

We make all sorts of rational explanations for not serving:

I don’t have time.
I don’t know what I would do.
I don’t have any special skills to contribute.
They don’t need me.

But the reality is the Lord doesn’t call the equipped; He equips the called. God used men and women with similar doubts to change the course of history. Moses didn’t think he was a leader or speaker, but God worked through Moses to bring Israel out of slavery. David was the youngest (and therefore most insignificant) of all his brothers, but God worked through David to defeat a giant and eventually made him a king. Paul used to kill Christians before he met Jesus, but he went on to become one of the most highly-regarded and prolific writers/church planters in history.

God doesn’t just want to work through you, He wants to work in you. Learn more about how you can start serving RIGHT HERE.

Deepen Your Worship Response

We all have lots of stuff going on during these next few weeks. I thought I would provide an overview calendar of our church schedule for you.

We always give all our volunteers the last Sunday of the year off. It is our little way of saying “thank you” for all the constant effort they put in!

I hope you will join us for our annual Christmas Eve service! Be sure to invite your coworkers and neighbors as well!

Giving As An Act of Worship

How does your bank account and your schedule reveal your priorities?

Should our financial and scheduling priorities reflect the priorities in God’s Kingdom?  How?

Worship is our response to what we value most. The way we use our time, money, and talents reveals what we really value. When we steward our resources in worldly ways, we dishonor Jesus. He calls us to focus on Him, and not on the things of this world.

Luke 10:38–42 (NLT)
As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”
But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

How was Martha focused on the worldly, while Mary was focused on Jesus?

Does this make caring for guests in your home wrong in some way?

What can we learn from the next instance, where Jesus is annointed at Bethany?

John 12:1–3 (NLT)
Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.

How did Mary give her best to Jesus?

What message does Mary’s example of extravagant love and unwavering devotion for Jesus hold for us today?

If you were to give your very best to God, what would that include?

What would you find the most difficult to freely hand to God without further claim to it?

Why do you think people often have difficulty giving God the glory He is due?

How valuable is Jesus based on your generosity?

Mary’s act of extravagant love was focused on Jesus. Believers, whether in the 1st century or the 21st century, keep their focus on Jesus by giving Him the best of who they are and what they have rather than holding back for themselves. By doing so, we show our reverence to Him as Savior and Lord of our lives. Giving our very best to Jesus serves as a testament to the importance of His kingdom and values, not those of this world, our temporary home.

John 12:4–8 (NLT)
But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.” Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself.
Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

How did Judas respond to the situation? Doesn’t Jesus care about the poor and want us to do the same? Explain.

What was Jesus’ response to Mary’s anointing Him with costly perfume? Why did Jesus respond in that way? What does this event teach us about approval?

When have you faced criticism for seeking the approval of Jesus over the approval of people?

What does a believer’s life look like when he or she is seeking Jesus’ approval?

What problems do believers often face when they choose to seek Jesus’ approval rather than that of others?

Concern for the poor was not the real motive behind Judas’s outburst; greed was. Mary’s generosity was less about cost and more about the cross. Jesus’ words about the poor did not mean His disciples should think of poverty as inevitable and therefore do nothing. Rather, Jesus meant that believers will always have opportunities to help poor people, but this was Mary’s last opportunity to minister to Him before His death. Likely Mary did not realize that Jesus’ death was near any more than the disciples did. Jesus, however, viewed Mary’s actions as a kind of pre-anointing for His death on the cross, His sacrifice that gave humanity a gift unsurpassed by all others.

Why do you think an upright heart pleases God?

Who is watching you and following your example of generosity? How does this affect your giving? What do others see from your example?

How does our attitude in generosity reveal our relationship with God to others? How might we misrepresent God if we’re not joyful givers like Mary?

How might our attitude in giving serve as a witness to those who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ?

Respond To Seeing Him

This week, I invited a new acquaintance at the gym to our Christmas Eve service. He seemed to be excited about it, as he and his family have been out of church for a while, and are looking for a way to “ease back in.” I keep a few of the invitation cards in my truck so I can continue to invite people. Who will be sitting with YOU on Christmas Eve?

If you haven’t already, why doesn’t your group take a second right now, go to our church Facebook Page, and like/share our Christmas Eve service event? Leave a comment also!  Your social interaction EXPONENTIALLY increases our reach!

 

Respond To His Worth

Have you ever lost something of symbolic value (i.e., a wedding ring, a family heirloom, or some sort of memorabilia)? If so, explain what made this item special, how it felt when you lost it, and if you were able to retrieve it later.

Which is worth more to you—monetary value or symbolic value?

What does the way we treat items of symbolic value say about how we think about the things they represent?

God had commanded that His nation, Israel, care for something valuable… The Ark of the Covenant. That ark represented dtheir history and relationship with YHWH, the One True God.

The Israeltes made a big mistake, though. They assumed that simply possessing the ark meant their relationship with God was good. They thought that simply having the Ark would make them strong, and give them victory over their enemies.

1 Samuel 4:1–11 (NLT)
At that time Israel was at war with the Philistines. The Israelite army was camped near Ebenezer, and the Philistines were at Aphek. The Philistines attacked and defeated the army of Israel, killing 4,000 men. After the battle was over, the troops retreated to their camp, and the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the LORD allow us to be defeated by the Philistines?” Then they said, “Let’s bring the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD from Shiloh. If we carry it into battle with us, it will save us from our enemies.”
So they sent men to Shiloh to bring the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, who is enthroned between the cherubim. Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli, were also there with the Ark of the Covenant of God.  When all the Israelites saw the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD coming into the camp, their shout of joy was so loud it made the ground shake!
“What’s going on?” the Philistines asked. “What’s all the shouting about in the Hebrew camp?” When they were told it was because the Ark of the LORD had arrived, they panicked. “The gods have come into their camp!” they cried. “This is a disaster! We have never had to face anything like this before! Help! Who can save us from these mighty gods of Israel? They are the same gods who destroyed the Egyptians with plagues when Israel was in the wilderness. Fight as never before, Philistines! If you don’t, we will become the Hebrews’ slaves just as they have been ours! Stand up like men and fight!”
So the Philistines fought desperately, and Israel was defeated again. The slaughter was great; 30,000 Israelite soldiers died that day. The survivors turned and fled to their tents. The Ark of God was captured, and Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were killed.

Oops.

Israel got careless. They THOUGHT that simply having the ark with them in battle would be good enough… But Israel was supposed to care for and honor the Ark of the Covenant. It represented so much more than simple power.

Possessing the ark did not indicate a right relationship with God anymore than wearing a wedding ring indicates a healthy marriage. They symbol serves the greater reality, but the symbol does not control or define the greater reality.

Unfortunately, this was a tough lesson for the Israelites to have to learn. How many died that day?

This next set of passages is kind of long, but divide it up and read it together.

1 Samuel 4:12–5:5 (NLT)
A man from the tribe of Benjamin ran from the battlefield and arrived at Shiloh later that same day. He had torn his clothes and put dust on his head to show his grief. Eli was waiting beside the road to hear the news of the battle, for his heart trembled for the safety of the Ark of God. When the messenger arrived and told what had happened, an outcry resounded throughout the town.
“What is all the noise about?” Eli asked.
The messenger rushed over to Eli, who was ninety-eight years old and blind. He said to Eli, “I have just come from the battlefield—I was there this very day.”
“What happened, my son?” Eli demanded.
“Israel has been defeated by the Philistines,” the messenger replied. “The people have been slaughtered, and your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were also killed. And the Ark of God has been captured.”

When the messenger mentioned what had happened to the Ark of God, Eli fell backward from his seat beside the gate. He broke his neck and died, for he was old and overweight. He had been Israel’s judge for forty years.
Eli’s daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant and near her time of delivery. When she heard that the Ark of God had been captured and that her father-in-law and husband were dead, she went into labor and gave birth. She died in childbirth, but before she passed away the midwives tried to encourage her. “Don’t be afraid,” they said. “You have a baby boy!” But she did not answer or pay attention to them.
She named the child Ichabod (which means “Where is the glory?”), for she said, “Israel’s glory is gone.” She named him this because the Ark of God had been captured and because her father-in-law and husband were dead. Then she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the Ark of God has been captured.”

After the Philistines captured the Ark of God, they took it from the battleground at Ebenezer to the town of Ashdod. They carried the Ark of God into the temple of Dagon and placed it beside an idol of Dagon. But when the citizens of Ashdod went to see it the next morning, Dagon had fallen with his face to the ground in front of the Ark of the LORD! So they took Dagon and put him in his place again. But the next morning the same thing happened—Dagon had fallen face down before the Ark of the LORD again. This time his head and hands had broken off and were lying in the doorway. Only the trunk of his body was left intact. That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor anyone who enters the temple of Dagon in Ashdod will step on its threshold.

Why do you think losing the ark to the Philistines was a big deal to Eli and the Israelites?

How did losing the ark reflect the spiritual state of Israel at the time?

How did the Philistines repeat Israel’s mistake regarding God’s power and holding possession of ark?

God does not allow false gods to rob Him of His glory. How do you see this demonstrated in the passage so far? (Dagon’s statue)

What did the symbolic objects representing Dagon (statue) and Yahweh (ark with tablets) say about each of them and the differences between the two divine figures? How is Dagon about man reaching up to God, and the Ark about God reaching down to man?

What is God showing us in this incident between Dagon and The Ark?

1 Samuel 5:6–12 (NLT)
Then the LORD’s heavy hand struck the people of Ashdod and the nearby villages with a plague of tumors. When the people realized what was happening, they cried out, “We can’t keep the Ark of the God of Israel here any longer! He is against us! We will all be destroyed along with Dagon, our god.” So they called together the rulers of the Philistine towns and asked, “What should we do with the Ark of the God of Israel?”
The rulers discussed it and replied, “Move it to the town of Gath.” So they moved the Ark of the God of Israel to Gath. But when the Ark arrived at Gath, the LORD’s heavy hand fell on its men, young and old; he struck them with a plague of tumors, and there was a great panic.
So they sent the Ark of God to the town of Ekron, but when the people of Ekron saw it coming they cried out, “They are bringing the Ark of the God of Israel here to kill us, too!” The people summoned the Philistine rulers again and begged them, “Please send the Ark of the God of Israel back to its own country, or it will kill us all.” For the deadly plague from God had already begun, and great fear was sweeping across the town. Those who didn’t die were afflicted with tumors; and the cry from the town rose to heaven.

So, now it isn’t just Dagon. Now it is the Philistines themselves “falling down” before The Ark. What does this part of the story suggest about God’s commitment to display His holiness to the world?

The Philistines were just passing The Ark… The Holy Ark… The dwelling place of the presence of God… They were passing it around from place to place… How is this like the way people today think about God and worship Him?

What were they overlooking about The Ark? What were they missing here?

1 Samuel 6:1–9 (NLT)
The Ark of the LORD remained in Philistine territory seven months in all. Then the Philistines called in their priests and diviners and asked them, “What should we do about the Ark of the LORD? Tell us how to return it to its own country.”
“Send the Ark of the God of Israel back with a gift,” they were told. “Send a guilt offering so the plague will stop. Then, if you are healed, you will know it was his hand that caused the plague.”
“What sort of guilt offering should we send?” they asked.
And they were told, “Since the plague has struck both you and your five rulers, make five gold tumors and five gold rats, just like those that have ravaged your land. Make these things to show honor to the God of Israel. Perhaps then he will stop afflicting you, your gods, and your land. Don’t be stubborn and rebellious as Pharaoh and the Egyptians were. By the time God was finished with them, they were eager to let Israel go.
“Now build a new cart, and find two cows that have just given birth to calves. Make sure the cows have never been yoked to a cart. Hitch the cows to the cart, but shut their calves away from them in a pen. Put the Ark of the LORD on the cart, and beside it place a chest containing the gold rats and gold tumors you are sending as a guilt offering. Then let the cows go wherever they want. If they cross the border of our land and go to Beth-shemesh, we will know it was the LORD who brought this great disaster upon us. If they don’t, we will know it was not his hand that caused the plague. It came simply by chance.”

So these instructions were carried out. Two cows were hitched to the cart, and their newborn calves were shut up in a pen. Then the Ark of the LORD and the chest containing the gold rats and gold tumors were placed on the cart. And sure enough, without veering off in other directions, the cows went straight along the road toward Beth-shemesh, lowing as they went. The Philistine rulers followed them as far as the border of Beth-shemesh.

What does this discussion and action of the Philistines show us about humanity’s knowledge of spiritual things?

I think the lesson for us here is, “Don’t take God’s presence for granted.”

What do you think? How do we become careless and presumptuous about God’s presence?

What steps should we take right now during the holiday season to respond appropriately to Him?

Worship is for Everyone

For today’s discussion, you will want to have a sheet of paper and something to write with. Make sure your group gets that together BEFORE you start the discussion questions this week.

Everyone Worships

Have you ever had a relationship with someone who frequently said one thing, but did another?  What do you call a person like that?

How do you feel about that person?

Can you trust someone like that?

Are we ever that way with God?

Worship is more about what we DO than what we SAY… What does this mean?

I think we are that way with God, mainly because we forget what we are here for. We think Christmas, along with everything in our lives, is about US. But what does the writer of Colossians say about that?

Colossians 1:15–17 (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.

Take a minute and read that again, but this time read it quietly to yourself.

What word or thought stands out for you in that passage? Why?

Paul pleads with us to live differently. Read what he says about it here:

Romans 12:1–2 (NLT)
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

The Apostle Paul, writing this letter the Romans really defines worship for us. And our worship should define everything else in our life. In fact, after this definition of worship, most of the rest of his letter is really just an expansion of how worship works in our life.

First, Paul gives us the context of how we should live lives of worship:

Romans 12:3–5 (NLT)
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. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.

What is the main point here?

How does this idea break the back of worshiping self?

How, then are we to truly worship God? Let’s do a little  project together. Grab your paper and read through the rest of Romans 12. (verses 6-21) As you read, jot down ways Paul is telling us to flesh out out true worship. In other words, if worship is more about what we do than what we say, then what are we supposed to do?

And, in verse 21, what is the result for each of us?

After you make your lists, spend some time in your group talking about this, and how we are to work out our worship.

The rest of the letter to the Romans pretty much fills out Paul’s thought on this. Read it this week!

Finding Contentment In Life

Think of the last movie you watched or book you read. Would you describe the main character as content? What about them made you describe them that way?

What are some things in your life that you are not content with?

On Sunday, we read the words of Paul, who had been through a LOT of bad stuff… After his rejection by his own people, the Jews, after the beatings, after the imprisonments, throughout the loneliness, the hunger, and the pain, Pau says this:

Philippians 4:11 (NLT)
I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.

Do you think this was easy for Paul? Do you think it came naturally?

Compared to Paul’s circumstances, most of us have life pretty easy, don’t we? So, why do we find it so difficult to be content?

Paul “learned the secret” of contentment, (Philippians 4:12) and he didn’t want it to stay a secret. In fact, he wrote this letter to the church to help them explore that very secret! Here is how he puts it:

Philippians 2:14–15 (NLT)
Do everything without complaining and arguing…

Okay.. Can we stop right here for a second? I know I struggle with this, and I bet you do, also. I know… Because I hear it ALL THE TIME. I hear it from myself, and I hear it from seemingly everyone around me. Why are we who should be “full of joy,” and who should “shine like the sun” so quick to go negative?

(Wait, what? You aren’t negative? Okay… What were the last three things you said about politics, the weather, the holidays, and traffic?)

As a group, what can we do for each other about this?

Let’s go back to what Paul, the beaten, the imprisoned, the rejected says:

Philippians 1:27 (NLT)
Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ.

Describe that.

Is that us?

Philippians 2:14–15 (NLT)
Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.

Paul tells us that there is a PURPOSE for our being positive, rather than negative… He wants no one to be able to criticize our attitudes. How does that last statement clarify our purpose in this dark, cynical, negative, politically polarized world?

How does our negativity undermine our purpose, dimming our light?

According to Paul, there is only one way to accomplish this… What is it? (see verse 16, below.)

Philippians 2:16 (NLT)
Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless.

It is easy for us to jump to the conclusion that the “word of life” is the Bible… But don’t forget… These people did not have a Bible. There literally wasn’t one yet. So, what is the “word of life?”

I think Paul describes this “word of life” as he writes to the church in Corinth:

1 Corinthians 15:1–4 (NLT)
Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place.
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said.

For Paul, the “word of life” is the gospel. Literally, the Good News of Jesus for us. Paul is showing us how the gospel transforms our very attitudes and changes the way we see and approach life.

It sure changed Paul, didn’t it? Because of the gospel, Paul was able to be content.

Philippians 4:12-13 (NLT)
I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

What do you and I need to do during this holiday season to be reminded of who we are, and how we should live in a manner worthy?

Continue to Ask

On Sunday, Paul Stippich concluded his two-week mini-message series with us. Isn’t it great to have a guest speaker every now and then?

As part of his message preparation, Paul sent us the following questions for our discussion:

What is going on around Ellijay that we need to be burdened by? (okay.. That is a big question. Your group should probably spend some time on this one.)
James 2:14–17 (NLT)
What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.
How can our lifegroup begin to make a difference in some way? (in other words, dream up a project, pick a date, and start preparing!)
What season are you in with giving? Time, Talent (skills,) Talents (money,) touch.
What do you think about our church involvement with our community? How engaged are we with:
  • Celebrate Recovery
  • School assistance
  • Summer Food Program at Tower Road
  • Benevolence assistance
  • Downtown Outreaches
    • Independence Day
    • Halloween
    • Light Up Ellijay
  • Hope Tree
  • Community Christmas Celebration
To what level is our group involved?
How are we equipping the next generation to serve, rather than to be served?
What does a life without action look like? How would that affect our church?