GCI Equipper

Faith Forward

Jesus, having returned from the 40 days of temptation in the desert and beginning his public ministry, enters a synagogue and is handed a scroll of the prophecies of Isaiah. He unrolls the scroll and reads these powerful words, which is part of Isaiah’s prophecy about himself.

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19, quoted from Isaiah 61:1-2)

What are the chances of Jesus just happening to turn to that passage? We can surmise that Jesus was intentional about reading that passage on that day to introduce his ministry. He was the one who inspired Isaiah to write it, and he knew what the passage meant

I have long referred to this passage as Jesus’ mission statement. Here Jesus makes a resounding proclamation of the shape and form of his ministry. Throughout his ministry Jesus befriended the poor, healed the sick, touched the unclean, defended the lowly, forgave sinners, controlled the weather, exorcised demons, raised the dead, gave sight to the blind, and proclaimed the kingdom. The apostle John referred to these as “signs” that Jesus was who he claimed to be. In particular, John focused on seven signs or epiphanies that help us understand that Jesus is divine; he is the Son of God.

This is what Epiphany is all about—Jesus is the light of the world. Through this season, Epiphany keeps us focused on him, which reminds us that we are not the light of the world in and of ourselves. We are the light of Christ. When Jesus calls us the light of the world, it is because he is in us through the Spirit. We are messengers of the true light. We proclaim Jesus; we are messengers of the light. Because we know the light, we share his love and his life with others so that they can see him as the light. This is sharing our faith; this is moving faith forward; this is discipleship.

In his book, Living the Christian Year, Bobby Gross suggests that one of the best ways for “inhabiting Epiphany” is to “immerse yourself once more in the story of Jesus.” Read about how he fulfilled Isaiah 61. Read through the seven signs that John shares. Think about the impact Jesus had in a world full of darkness—bringing light and joy into people’s lives.

And then ask, how do we participate with Jesus? How do we bring our faith forward? How do we help others be disciples (followers) of Jesus? Here are some ideas:

  • First, ask God to help you see others as he sees them. See their true value; see their true identity.
  • Ask God to give you his compassion for those who are hurting, or who seem so far removed from a relationship with God.
  • Take the next few weeks and pray for your leaders, asking God to help them see the need to disciple others.
  • Read a book about starting a small group, or about sharing your faith. Check with your Regional Director for some ideas.
  • Gather your church leaders and start a small group discussing discipleship and how your group or congregation can be lights to those around your church location.
  • Ask God to help you see his invitations to enter conversations with others. Look for divine appointments. Expect them.

This year’s theme for Equipper is Faith Forward—developing healthy Faith Avenues for our congregations and Fellowship Groups. Included in the Faith Forward theme is a deeper dive into the Christian Calendar. The Faith Avenue, along with last years’ theme of the Hope Avenue, is one of the three key elements of ministry focus. The other is the Love Avenue, which we will focus on in 2022. This is part of our effort to join Jesus in his ongoing ministry, and our desire to be healthiest expression of church we can be.

May God bless you as the light of Jesus shines through you and your congregation.

Rick Shallenberger
Editor

PS.  For a more thorough discussion of our focus on Healthy Church, and our focus on developing and equipping leaders in Grace Communion International, check out A Giant Step Forward, a book written by Greg Williams, Rick Shallenberger and Tom Nebel.

Faith Avenue: Intentional Disciplemaking

The key focus of the Faith Avenue is to help people grow as disciples of Jesus.

By Randy Bloom, GCI Board Vice Chair

How were you discipled? Reflecting back on your life, how did the church of Jesus help you grow closer to him, participate more with him, and grow deeper into the community of believers – his church?

Perhaps you can clearly identify and describe various ways your local church has helped you grow as a disciple of Jesus. Sadly, some (many?) Christians aren’t sure how they were discipled. Upon reflection, they realize that while they have grown in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus, the process of growing closer to Jesus and into more active participation in his church and its mission was more of a process of osmosis. It just gradually “happened” over time. Too many churches have been weak in their intentional process for “making disciples” (Matthew 28:18-20). We want to change that in Grace Communion International. Thus our 2021 theme of Faith Forward.

One suggested framework for intentional disciplemaking

It’s true that discipleship is a life-long, gradual process beginning with evangelism (in various forms) and a person’s response to the gospel. It is also true that we cannot transform people—the Holy Spirit transforms people in Christ. But the church is called to participate in the Spirit’s process of making disciples. The disciplemaking efforts of a healthy church need to be intentional, just as Jesus was intentional about the growth and development of his followers during his earthly ministry. One framework, as seen throughout Jesus’s ministry, has been expressed as reaching, nurturing, equipping and multiplying.

Reaching (outreach) ministries are those focused outside the walls of the church for and with people in the community surrounding the church meeting place. Nurturing has to do with helping people enter a relationship with Jesus and grow as mature believers. Equipping entails helping people learn to participate in various aspects of ministry service. Multiplying involves developing leaders who can lead ministries and start new ones (and perhaps pastor churches or start new churches).

Keep in mind, this only describes a working framework. Disciplemaking is not a linear process by which people move from “one step to another” along a projected trajectory of time. It is personal, dynamic, and varies from person to person. The challenge for a healthy church is to have Faith Avenue ministries in place to disciple people wherever they are in their life journey with Jesus.

Disciplemaking is community building

In addition to focusing on helping individuals grow as followers of Jesus, disciplemaking includes making intentional efforts to build community – building up the body of Christ as an integrated community of Christ.

Small groups continue to provide one of the best ways for creating opportunities for relationship building and spiritual growth. They provide ideal environments for building relationships, nurturing believers, and equipping them for ministry service, community engagement and leadership development.

Informal social gatherings (picnics, game nights, community service projects) provide excellent opportunities for relationship building that contribute to a healthy church environment.

Building a healthy community of disciples entails bringing people of all ages together in as many ways as possible to get to know each other, learn from each other and grow together in Christ. This often takes effort and creativity, but the rewards are great.

No doubt you have several effective disciplemaking ministries in place, in your church, in addition to your weekly worship service. I hope you take time to brainstorm some new ways to engage people of all ages to help them grow as followers of Jesus. Doing so contributes to the health and vitality of a congregation and fulfills the church’s mission in Christ.

Faith Avenue small group ideas

There are innumerable ways to reach people with godly principles and help others to live like Jesus. Any group started with the right foundation of sharing Jesus’ love and life with others can be successful and helpful to others.

  • Focused on evangelism
  • Building relationships in the community
  • Women’s group – encouraging women in the congregation to invite friends to learn from other women
  • Moms’ group – a good way to reach moms in the neighborhood
  • Young mothers’ group – specializing in caring for a first, or very young child and sharing biblical principles with young mothers
  • Men’s group
  • Dads’ group
  • Single parent group
  • Singles’ group – encouraging singles in the church to invite friends from work or their neighborhood to share, grow and learn together
  • Exercise group—running, cycling, going to the gym together
  • New believers’ group
  • Cooking and sharing menus group
  • Groups for those who often get little attention
    • Unwed mothers group
    • Widows and/or Widowers group
  • Mentoring teens and youth
  • Youth group
  • Young adults group
  • Crafts group
    • Sewing, crocheting, etc.
    • Basic home maintenance
  • Managing your finances

The list is endless. Send us information of your discipleship groups so we can share best practices and grow together.

Epiphany: Who Was Jesus?

By Bill Hall, National Director, Canada

Who is this Jesus? That’s a question that has echoed through the centuries ever since the son of Mary and Joseph walked on this earth.

Perhaps you recall this question being asked by Jesus’ disciples during that fateful boat journey where the disciples feared for their lives:

And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” (Matthew 8:23-27 NRSV)

What sort of man indeed!

Almost 30 years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a one-day event which discussed the “Historical Jesus.” The discussion featured a well-known evangelical theologian and his liberal theologian friend. During this day-long discussion both theologians agreed that history tells us Jesus was a real flesh-and-blood person who lived in Judea under the rule of Rome. Both agreed that Jesus’ words and teachings were profound and worth listening to and following.

Where they differed was in their understanding of Jesus’ real identity. The liberal theologian recognized Jesus as a great moral teacher, inspired by God, who taught principles of life that should be followed. The evangelical theologian agreed but added another dimension to understanding Jesus, that he was also the Son of God.

That identity is crucial to our understanding of what God has done and is doing in our world today.

Christian musician Steve Bell, in his series on the liturgical calendar entitled The Pilgrim Year, says this about the season of Epiphany:

Next to Ordinary Time, Epiphany (from the Latin word meaning manifestation, or shining forth) may be the least observed season of the Christian calendar year, and yet its power to stagger us with mystery and animate our faith is hard to overstate. [1]

One of the major dates of the season of Epiphany, which begins with January 6, when some churches celebrate the coming of the Magi, is the following Sunday, which recalls the baptism of Jesus.

Steve Bell continues:

Here is a revelation as staggering as the incarnation. As Jesus comes out of the waters of his human baptism, thereby cleansing all matter stained in sin and brokenness, the heavens split, the Spirit descends and the voice of the Father declares Jesus’ divine sonship. For the first time in history, God’s oneness is revealed not as numerical oneness, but as a communal oneness: a com-unity. Time stops as we see this tableau of the Father, Son and Spirit.  Our own spirits swoon as the imagination begins to apprehend the far-reaching consequences of this revelation that God is com-unity, and we’ve been made in the image of God.[2]

As the season of Epiphany comes to an end and moves toward the next season of the Christian calendar, there is one more event commemorated that speaks to Jesus’ identity.

The Transfiguration remembered on Transfiguration Sunday brings us again to the identity of Jesus and the fact of his divine Sonship:

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Matthew 17:1-5 NRSV)

Some see the two celebrations—the Baptism of Jesus and the Transfiguration—as acting like bookends that frame the whole ministry and journey of Jesus, from the very beginning of his ministry to a glimpse of the age to come.

Others see this liturgical cycle within the framework of light. The light of the star which guided the Magi to Jesus then ends with the light of Jesus as he is revealed in the Transfiguration.

Regardless of how one sees the season of Epiphany, it is certainly a time for the Church to reflect on the realization of the true identity of Jesus as a member of the Triune God, and we should, as God says in Matthew, “listen to him!”

[1] P 15 Pilgrim Year, Volume 3, Epiphany Bell, Steve 2018 Novalis Press, Toronto Canada

[2] Ibid p 17

The Need for Discipleship

The Faith avenue creates the most spaces for disciple-making environments.

By Heber Ticas, Superintendent of South America

I recently had an encounter with a young man who desired to go deeper in his faith. He was brought up by parents who professed to be Catholic, but rarely expressed their faith. He felt that he knew about God but was not sure who God was for him. I could sense a heartfelt desire in this young man to embark on a journey of faith. He was longing for greater understanding of what it meant to be a follower of Christ. In other words, he was longing to be discipled.

A disciple is a follower of Jesus Christ, and discipleship is the process of maturing in Christ—learning how to live in and share his life and his love with others. Discipleship is an essential component of any healthy ministry. In GCI, we believe that a healthy church lives out her participation in Jesus’ ministry in the three avenues of hope, love, and faith. It is the faith avenue of a local congregation that creates the most spaces for disciple-making environments. Such environments afford a congregation the ability to journey with new believers in the process of maturing and growing closer to Christ. What do these disciple-making environments look like? I believe that a robust faith avenue will create disciple-making environments that mirror Jesus’ model. Below I describe three elements that I believe are found in Jesus’ disciple-making ministry.

  • Life on life: By life on life, I am trying to express that relationships are key in this process of participating with Jesus in helping someone grow closer and become more like Christ. It is more about sharing life together than a cognitive exercise.
  • Life in community: The discipleship journey is not meant to be lived out alone. As followers of Christ, we are called to be the body of Christ. This means that we journey together, we learn from each other and most of all, we lean on each other.
  • Life on mission: If discipleship is the journey towards becoming a mature follower of Christ, then a mature disciple is one who also understands our calling to participate in Jesus’ everyday mission to the world.

We will read more about these during 2021 as Equipper focuses on our theme of Faith Forward. Perhaps, there may be a few paradigms shifts that may have to take place in order to attain a healthy faith avenue. If your pastoral formation was anything like mine, you have probably understood discipleship to be more of an intellectual endeavor.

A healthier faith avenue will veer away from the intellectual aspect of discipleship as the sole component, and into the relational element where growth and learning materialize as it is modeled in community. I am not proposing that fun and games replace Bible study, but rather that spiritual discussion and spiritual maturity is best achieved in community.

These communal environments are the spaces where I believe discipleship best occurs. As I continued my conversation with the young man that I mentioned earlier, it dawned on me that our faith avenue in my congregation was lacking an intentional space where a 22-year-old young man can be plugged in and experience life with other believers in such a way that Christ can be modeled for him. As a pastor, this is one of the challenges that I face as I continue to participate with Jesus in his ministry. I pray that by his Spirit, the Lord gives us the wisdom and guidance to grow as leaders, and to forge ahead into healthier rhythms in our faith avenue.

My Christmas Epiphany

“Go Tell It on the Mountain” is more than a song, it’s a reaction to good news.

By Tim Sitterley, U.S. Regional Director West

I must admit up front that it took me some time to warm up to many of the songs of the Christmas season. Since they were not a part of my childhood, it was easy to lump carols with a deep scriptural heritage in with secular songs like “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”

And then I had an epiphany one day. Walking through a crowded shopping mall muttering “humbug” under my breath, I caught the words to “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” playing softly over the PA system. I stepped out of the flow of foot traffic and began seeing the crush of men, women and children frantically moving from store to store. I realized for the first time that whether they were aware or not, they were hearing the story of the greatest event in human history. “Rejoice! Emanuel—God with us—has ransomed captive Israel.” I may have shed a tear, but I would never admit it publicly. (Oops…)

Since then, I have become a fan of the music of the season. One familiar carol, an African-American spiritual song, composed by John Wesley Work, Jr., dating back to at least 1865, has become a favorite post-Christmas carol. “Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere. Go tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.”

The simple joy expressed in that spiritual expresses a truth as relevant today as it was over 2,000 years ago. The Creator of all things has come in flesh. How can we not shout that good news to all who will listen? The prophecy in the fifth chapter of Micah has been fulfilled:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel. (Micah 5:2 ESV)

On January 6 in the Western Christian calendar, we celebrate those who were the first to declare their epiphany as to who this young child really was. Journeying perhaps 500 miles or more, wise men from the East sought after the Christ child, following (after some guidance by religious leaders in Jerusalem) the prophecies from Hebrew Scripture, specifically those from the book of Micah.

When the magi saw Jesus, they fell down and worshiped him. They had brought precious gifts with them for the child, who they recognized as a king appointed not by people or family name, but by God. They had an epiphany, or a sudden insight into the true nature of something. They realized that they were in the presence of God. Theophany is another theological term describing the wise men’s experience that night: a moment when God manifests himself to the world. The birth of Christ represented the introduction of God’s Spirit into human form, or incarnate.

The origin of the word epiphany comes from the Greek phrase “to make known.” And with the understanding of the word epiphany, we quickly come to realize that while we celebrate the adoration of the Magi, there are many epiphanies in the New Testament. The divine nature of God in flesh is made known time and again, and in each case the natural human response is to tell anyone who would listen.

I doubt seriously that the shepherds in the hills surrounding Bethlehem kept silent about their angelic encounter that led them to worship the newborn Lamb of God. Their specific responsibility was to raise sheep to be offered up at Passover. Thirty-some years later, those still alive were probably telling the same story as Jesus joined their flocks in his final entry into Jerusalem before his crucifixion.

A Samaritan woman of questionable reputation had her epiphany while drawing water at a well one afternoon. She could not wait to tell what had been made known to her entire village, becoming one of the first evangelists in Scripture.

Even when Jesus instructed a blind man he healed to tell no one, the man was unable to keep quiet.

When Mary had her epiphany of the resurrected Jesus early one morning outside a garden tomb, she wasted no time in shouting that incredible news to a group of frightened men hiding out in an upper room.

And while we have no biblical record of the story after the story, one has to wonder how many people were impacted by the declarations of the centurion who witnessed Jesus’ final words on the cross and declared his epiphany.

And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39)

The surviving disciples dedicated their lives to the “going and telling” of the revelation of their epiphany of who Jesus was and is. Paul’s epiphany occurred on the road to Damascus, and he died in the ministry of sharing the gospel that had been revealed to him. A countless line of witnesses since then have continued to share the good news that has been revealed to them. Just as the magi realized that Jesus was their king, recognizing Jesus as our Lord and King is the ultimate realization that anyone can have—it’s a life-changing epiphany.

So what about us? If you are reading this, I can safely assume that at some point in your life you have experienced that ultimate epiphany. Jesus is no longer just a historical figure, the subject of songs sung with friends and family on cold December evenings. The reality and majesty of the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of the Son of God has become the central focal point of your life. The one who came to proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed, has revealed himself to you, and is in you through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

How much shouting from the mountainside have you done lately? Who have you shared the good news with? May your exuberant joy be the epiphany of someone who desperately needs to know the love of Emmanuel, the God with us the Magi worshiped so long ago, and the God who is still with us today.

“Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let earth receive her King.”

Book: A Giant Step Forward

A Giant Step Forward: Toward an Emerging Culture of Liberation

The next chapter of Grace Communion International

By Greg Williams, Rick Shallenberger and Tom Nebel

We’ve titled this book A Giant Step Forward because it describes our journey – first into doctrinal reformation, then into a greater understanding of our personal relationship with God, and now into leadership reformation.

Our slogan in leadership development is healthy church. Our goal for GCI churches to be the healthiest expression of churches we can be. Believing healthy church requires healthy leadership, we wrote this book to lay out a plan for developing leaders. The book includes many tools that we have presented in Equipper articles and GCI Church Hacks. These tools are clearly described in this book.

Leadership development is only part of our movement toward healthy church. We also needed a clear focus for our congregations, which we drew from Scripture. Paul uses the terms Faith, Hope and Love, which we believe are three key elements of ministry focus as we seek to join Jesus in his ongoing ministry.

A Giant Step Forward also discusses the importance of these three elements of ministry by sharing the journey we’ve been on and the aspirations of where we strive to go.

Get your copy, click on the image below.

 

Children are the Now

The statement “children are the future” has become so common that it is a cliché. As someone who works with young people, I have said the phrase more than a few times. I always said it with the best intentions to audiences of well-meaning adults who sagely nodded their heads with me. My desire was to convey how children are precious and worth our care and investment. I wanted my audience to understand that children will one day grow up to fill the shoes of the leaders, thinkers, and makers of our time. While these statements are true to some extent, they are incomplete.

In an effort to paint a picture of the future, I overlooked the present. I inadvertently was sending the message that children were valuable only because they would grow up to be adults — that they did not have value and capabilities now. Thankfully, Jesus saw children as the now.

But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. (Luke 18:16)

As an adult, I often centered myself in this passage and tried to discern what children symbolized for me. Based on the story, I understood them to represent people without status who were completely trusting and dependent on their provider. These are good lessons and a faithful interpretation of this passage. We all should approach God with a humble, reliant attitude. However, what if we did not look for symbolism and looked at the interaction between Jesus and the children?

Jesus actively pursued the children, despite the fact that adults were getting in the way. He talked about their present value to the kingdom and implied that adults had things to learn from children. I do not believe that Jesus was speaking purely symbolically. I believe that he meant that children are presently contributing citizens of the kingdom of God and they have their own connection to Christ.

I am a witness to the extraordinary things God can do in and through young people. A wonderful young lady I will call Rose comes to mind. Rose is a year older than my daughter and the two of them became friends because they sang in the same choir at school. Rose’s faith in Jesus caused her to make a significant impact on our town. When one of her classmates died from a lung condition, Rose helped create a scholarship in his name and organized a benefit concert to raise funds. She also organized the first school-wide Black History Month Celebration, which is now an annual gathering attended by the community. Rose has a gorgeous voice and boldly sang praise songs at both events. She lives her faith out loud and, as a college student, continues to sing praise songs on Instagram. I could say more about this incredible person, but I believe my point has been made. Rose is one example of the powerful things that can happen when young people are given a chance to go where the Spirit leads them.

Adults are very good at creating spaces where children can learn from us. However, how good are we at creating spaces where we can learn from them? When we interact with children, do we expect that they have something to teach us? It is true that children are the future. However, if we follow Jesus’ example, we will see that children are the now.

Dishon Mills, GCI Generations Ministry Coordinator

Gospel Reverb – Listen to Him w/ Charles Fleming

Listen to Him w/ Charles Fleming

Video Transcript

Listen to Him with Charles Fleming Listen in as host, Anthony Mullins and guest, Charles Fleming, unpack these lectionary passages:

February 7    1 Corinthians 9:16-23 (NRSV)     “Proclaim the Gospel!” (12:55) February 14     Mark 9:2-9 (NRSV)     “Listen to Him!” (27:25) February 21     Mark 1:9-15 (NRSV)     “That Was Fast” (38:11) February 28     Mark 8:31-38 (NRSV)     “Follow Me” (52:40)
If you get a chance to rate and review the show, that helps a lot. And invite your fellow preachers and Bible lovers to join us!

Listen to Him with Charles Fleming

Listen in as host, Anthony Mullins and guest, Charles Fleming, unpack these lectionary passages:

February 7    1 Co. 9:16-23 (NRSV)     “Proclaim the Gospel!” (12:55)

February 14     Mark 9:2-9 (NRSV)     “Listen to Him!” (27:25)

February 21     Mark 1:9-15 (NRSV)     “That Was Fast” (38:11)

February 28     Mark 8:31-38 (NRSV)     “Follow Me” (52:40)

If you get a chance to rate and review the show, that helps a lot.
And invite your fellow preachers and Bible lovers to join us!

Faith Forward w/ Greg Williams

Faith Forward w/ Greg Williams

In this episode, host Anthony Mullins interviews Dr. Greg Williams. Greg is the President of Grace Communion International. Together they discuss our denominational theme for 2021, Faith Forward.

Video Transcript

“I like the fresh expression of using the term connect group. Because it makes you think, ‘How is this going to be different than what we’ve done in the past?’. Because in the past...a lot of times when we would think about a small group, we would think the pastor is coming to give Bible Study with a group of 8 or 10 people. A connect group is not really about the pastor giving another Bible Study to a small group of people. In fact, I hope for a lot of our pastors they don’t really have to facilitate connect groups. I hope they can participate and be ministered to as well through their participation.” -Dr. Greg Williams, President of Grace Communion International
Main Points:
  • How does the Faith Avenue support the Healthy Church movement in GCI? (7:10)
  • How do you see the Faith Avenue symbiotically working with the other Avenues – Love and Hope? (13:03)
  • We are hearing more about Connect Groups in GCI. What is a Connect Group and where does it fit in the life of a local congregation? (15:35)
  • What does ministry multiplication look like as it relates to connect groups? (28:56)
  Resources:
  • Faith Avenue – an infographic overviewing the teams and roles that make up the Faith Avenue
  • Faith Avenue articles – An issue of Equipper Overviewing the Faith Avenue

In this episode, host Anthony Mullins interviews Dr. Greg Williams. Greg is the President of Grace Communion International. Together they discuss our denominational theme for 2021, Faith Forward.

“I like the fresh expression of using the term connect group. Because it makes you think, ‘How is this going to be different than what we’ve done in the past?’. Because in the past…a lot of times when we would think about a small group, we would think the pastor is coming to give Bible Study with a group of 8 or 10 people. A connect group is not really about the pastor giving another Bible Study to a small group of people. In fact, I hope for a lot of our pastors they don’t really have to facilitate connect groups. I hope they can participate and be ministered to as well through their participation.”
-Dr. Greg Williams, President of Grace Communion International

Main Points:

  • How does the Faith Avenue support the Healthy Church movement in GCI? (7:10)
  • How do you see the Faith Avenue symbiotically working with the other Avenues – Love and Hope? (13:03)
  • We are hearing more about Connect Groups in GCI. What is a Connect Group and where does it fit in the life of a local congregation? (15:35)
  • What does ministry multiplication look like as it relates to connect groups? (28:56)

Resources:

  • Faith Avenue – an infographic overviewing the teams and roles that make up the Faith Avenue
  • Faith Avenue articles – An issue of Equipper Overviewing the Faith Avenue

Sermon for February 7, 2021

Speaking of Life 3011 | Loving Us Without Walking Away

We have all experienced situations that have not gone our way. President Greg Wiliams reminds us that, the never-ending love of God meets us in our weariness.

Video Transcript

Speaking of Life 3011 | Loving Us Without Walking Away Greg Williams This is one of my favorite pictures. It hangs in my office and I see it every day. My son Gatlin was playing college football, and this is a post-game scene. Gatlin played the position of linebacker and his primary role was to shut down the opponent’s ability to run the ball in the middle of the field. That afternoon the game wasn’t shaping up like we were hoping for. In particular, the other teams running backs were coming through the middle and breaking off long runs. It was as if the other team was reading our playbook. The bad news is that all afternoon they exploited the part of the field Gatlin was defending and our team suffered a decisive loss. In this moment captured by the picture, my wife Susan walked alongside my boy in silence. She held that moment for him, saying nothing, just loving him without walking away. The picture reminds me of a passage in Isaiah. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:29-31 (ESV) Perhaps the reason for this verse’s popularity is the weariness we can all identify with. Weariness of lost games and lost relationships, weariness of our own failures and the failures of those we love—fatigue in a fallen world. That’s why this picture means so much to me. It’s my son having that existential experience of failure and his mother reaching out to stand up with dignity and grace beside him. The Williams boys have their share of trophies and ribbons and championship rings—we did all that. But this picture is my favorite. This is the tangible, never-ending love of God we meet in our weariness. Of Jesus—God with us—who not only experienced death but all the frustrations and the “nothing-to-say” disappointments of life as well. Jesus never sinned, but he knew what it was like to have things go wrong. He had to learn to be a carpenter by way of hammered thumbs and uneven tables. Do we think of him that way? Do we think of him walking off the proverbial field with Mary by his side simply staying close? He walks beside us. He suffers with us. He gives power to the faint and reminds us that love, joy, and grace—not defeat—will have the final word. I am Greg Williams, Speaking of Life and reminding you that you never walk alone.  

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c • Isaiah 40:21-31 • 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 • Mark 1:29-39

The theme this week is God’s great care. The call to worship Psalm tells us of God’s tenderness toward Israel through the centuries, and also his loving care for the natural world. Isaiah 40 gives us a vivid poem about God’s greatness and power, and then provides a tender image of him lifting up those who wait in him. Mark 1 gives us a touching story of Jesus taking gentle care of an elderly person and others who might have easily been overlooked in that society, and ours. Our sermon comes from 1 Corinthians 9, part of a longer discussion in which Paul calls us to reach out with God’s great care, putting relationships before our personal rights and preferences.

Paul and the Main Thing

1 Corinthians 9:16-23 ESV

Begin with reading for this week: 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 ESV.

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

It’s the kind of aphorism you might see in your grandpa’s workshop or on grandma’s cross stitch sampler. Put your mind and energy into what matters most; don’t let the unnecessary take up all the oxygen in the room.

When you need a car, color doesn’t matter. When you need a job, the premium corner office may have to wait. The person you fall in love with is shorter/taller/wider/louder than you always imagined—who cares?

At the church level—hymns or modern worship, videos or PowerPoint, liturgy or spontaneous praise, written prayers or impromptu prayers, drums or no drums, wine or sparkling cider—these conversations have gone on forever—pretty much since the start of the church.

In this letter to believers in Corinth, Paul was trying to get the church to keep the main thing—the gospel—the main thing. He found himself right in the middle of a paradigm shift in the way God was relating to humanity. The summation of the rituals and practices of the Israelites—held faithfully for thousands of years—had served their purpose. There was understandable tension in making a change, and that’s what we’ll explore today. Let’s consider this seemingly minor but powerfully symbolic discussion in this corner of 1 Corinthians.

Let’s look at this—like the old shorthand way of summarizing school lessons—as a matter of three R’s.

  • Rituals
  • Rights
  • Relationships

Rituals

As Christians, we tend to underestimate and misunderstand how influenced we are by our Israelite (primarily Jewish) heritage. There is an important bit of theological and historical context we need for this section of 1 Corinthians to make the most sense to us.

Paul uses the word “law” throughout his letters. Often what he refers to is the distinctive practices of Judaism—strict Sabbath-keeping, dietary restrictions, circumcision, and a strong sense of the ethnic Hebrew lineage. There were many rituals and identifiers given to Israel by God to show their distinction.

These ritual laws worked in conjunction with moral/ethical laws to form Israel’s identity as God’s people. There was nothing trivial about these practices in the Jewish mind. Only a few generations earlier, the Jewish people had been brutally persecuted for keeping them. Their great grandparents had been killed and tortured for insisting on Sabbath and circumcision. For a somewhat transient and occupied Israel, cultural practices held their identity together.

Along comes Paul and company to say these practices are no longer necessary. The gospel message declared faith in Christ as the connection with God, stating that Jesus fulfilled all these signs of his coming. They taught that the moral and ethical law is still in place, but to keep the ritual law after the coming of Christ is like wearing your wedding dress after you’re already married.

We need to be sympathetic to how important these rituals were to Paul’s audience. Add to this that the early church was a patchwork of Jews and Greeks—two cultures that could not be more different and often had difficulty communicating.

One of Paul’s consistent pastoral issues was that Jewish believers wanted to add old practices to what it meant to be a Christian. Yes, you believe in Christ but you also have to get circumcised or, in this section here, avoid meat served to idols. Paul emphatically says no, the main thing and the only thing is a relationship with Christ through faith.

A consistent pastoral issue with the Greek community was their casual worship of other gods—they might have a whole cadre of gods and goddesses they worshipped, and they were ready to give Jesus a place on the shelf. To which Paul says: No, clear the shelf, Jesus should be the only one worshipped.

Greco-Roman culture also had a relaxed sexual ethic compared to the Jewish and Christian standard. Paul encouraged them to live out their new identity by the power of the Spirit in a healthy and pure sexuality.

All these intense pressures are at work here in Corinth—a port city of several different cultures known widely as a licentious and fast-living place. There is also a long-embedded, distinct Jewish community living within all this.

The discussion in this section of the letter concerns a common practice in Corinthian culture—eating food offered to idols. The regular practice was to eat in the temple as an act of worship to the pagan gods. You burned part of your meal in front of the idol as an offering and ate the rest of it in its presence as worship and allegiance. But there was always too much meat, and this became a source of income for the priests. They sold the remaining meat back to the community.

Jewish citizens, as a safeguard against involvement with the idols, avoided food offered to idols. This became a mark of Jewish identity. Paul tells them that such things aren’t important anymore. The idol has no power, or even existence, and the meat is simply meat.

This becomes an issue, understandably, for those of Jewish heritage. Paul’s reiterated message to them is that those who are in Christ—not those who follow certain practices—are the people of God now.

Rights

Am I not an apostle?!

This emphatic question comes in a discussion Paul has through his writing. The thumbnail-sketch background of this is that orators and teachers like Paul were routinely paid for their services by their followers.

Paul talks often in this section about preaching the gospel “free of charge” among them—meaning that he has not imposed his rights as a teacher. Rights are a huge discussion for Paul—this or that is my “right”— but he maintains that he would immediately put his “rights” aside if any right got in the way of the gospel. My rights do not matter that much.

The issue with some in the Corinthian community was that they were flaunting their right as free children of God in this practice of eating food offered to idols. In their joy in freedom from old restrictions, they were indulging their rights in a way that hurt the community.

The Corinthian community was obsessed with being the most spiritual and the most knowledgeable, to the point that the community was splintered. Paul’s letter starts out spoofing their divisions:

What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:12-13 ESV)

Whether it’s new Greco-Roman believers flaunting their freedom or Jewish believers clinging to the past, the name of the game was division. And Paul says that is the main problem, and the way to fix that is the main thing.

Or, as he said it, “Now I will show you the most excellent way…” and he follows that with a brief essay on love (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13).

Relationships

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. (1 Corinthians 9:19-22 ESV)

Here’s where the discussion has taken us. There’s an issue in the church with Christians eating food offered to idols. Some want to hold to tradition and others think they have a corner on what Christian freedom means.

Paul says, “You’re both wrong.” First of all—eating food offered to idols is irrelevant. The association doesn’t matter. On the other hand, you also have to be careful when practicing your freedom from this obsolete cultural requirement.

Here’s where Paul lays down an example. The problem was not the meat itself, but the worship ritual it was used in. Christians were sternly forbidden from taking part in this worship and Paul has strong words for it later.

So, if you are eating said meat around believers who are solidly strong in their faith, that’s fine. If one of them has an issue with it, they need to re-evaluate what “saved by grace through faith” means (tell this truth in love of course).

However, if you are eating this meat in front of a new or on-the-fence believer, that’s a problem. They can be tempted to go back to those pagan temple rituals or even put themselves back there mentally and emotionally, causing spiritual damage.

Your so-called “right” to freedom in Christ isn’t worth that.

As Paul says elsewhere:

Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. (1 Corinthians 8:13 ESV)

He will never eat meat again if it causes his brother or sister to stumble back into their old life. That’s love. He doesn’t want to nudge anyone even an inch in a wrong direction.

The guiding principle here is relationship. It’s not your obsolete rituals, it’s not your rights to Christian freedom. Relationships in the family of God are the determining factor and the only one worth preserving.

“To the weak, I became weak…” The weak are the people who may slip back into the old life if they are still learning how to live in their Christian freedom.

The old ritual and the old accretions to the law, like the idol-food prohibition, are not relevant anymore. We are free in Christ. Paul says you can take or leave these things, even practicing old rituals if it might help clear the way between someone and Christ. He concludes this passage as follows:

I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:22-23 ESV)

Paul would even respectfully take on the obsolete practices if he was ministering to the Jewish community. Just as quickly, he would drop such practices if he was ministering to the non-Jewish community. His identity is in Christ, and which meat he ate or days he practiced doesn’t affect that one way or the other.

But here we are in the 21st century. In Western nations, it’s rare that we will run into an issue of eating meat offered to idols!

But the principle comes through, which is why the Holy Spirit has given us this passage.

Examples:

  • You are free to wisely drink alcohol; it’s not a theological issue. But if someone joins your table who is only one week sober, you should have your beer another time. Your relationship with that person and their relationship with God is more important than your choice of beverage. It’s always a good idea to avoid alcohol unless you already know the other person is OK with it.
  • A new believer catches a ride with you. You are best to turn off your radio and join in a conversation. You may like heavy metal music, but what if your brother just came out of a lifestyle in which this music accompanied drug use, sexual irresponsibility and violence. Your music can raise questions he may not be ready to ask. Your brother’s spiritual health matters more than your right to pick the tunes. Ask him what type of music he prefers before turning on your radio.
  • At least in the U.S., it looks like this. One sister is a Democrat, one is a Republican. They’ve both carefully and prayerfully made their political choices and ended up at different destinations. They disagree, no doubt, but they must never believe the other to be less spiritual or mature in Christ. Theologically, political affiliation itself is a matter of indifference. {Fit this for your context}
  • A young brother considers hymns to be outdated and irrelevant and “dead.” An older brother grew up on the classics, and he thinks new praise choruses are distracting and obnoxious. They create a blended service of worship and gradually come to appreciate—even worship through—each other’s musical choices. The tempo of the music doesn’t matter, the relationship between these brothers matters.

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. The main thing is the gospel; the main thing is the supernatural love between brothers and sisters. While Paul’s main point here was “so that he might win some”, he never compromised the gospel. He does not say to preach what others want to hear, or to move from grace back to focusing on the law, his point is to start by meeting people where they are in order to bring them forward to a relationship with Jesus.

There’s a great old quote from American history: “My right to swing ends where the person’s nose begins.” If your freedom in Christ is causing a brother or sister spiritual damage, then it’s not worth it. On the other hand, if you make what works for you spiritually (Christian music, abstinence from alcohol, etc.) a litmus test of someone else’s faith, then you’ve also missed the point.

It’s a tall order; our categorizing brains don’t like it. But this is what God has called us to. Don’t exclude a brother/sister, and don’t cause them to stumble either.

Keep the main thing the main thing.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life: “Love Us Without Walking Away”
  • Greg shared a picture of his wife Susan walking with their son after his team had just lost a big game. Can you think of a time when someone walked alongside you and supported you after a big loss—maybe without even saying a word?
  • Do you feel like God walks with us this way sometimes? That he meets us in our weariness as well as in our strength?
From the sermon: Begin with the reading for this week: 1 Corinthians 9:16-23
  • “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”—have you ever heard this proverb before? Does it resonate with you? Why is it difficult?
  • Paul talks about how our relationship with each us other as brothers and sisters in Christ is more important than our real or perceived “right” to act in a certain way. In a sense, we give up many of our rights in relationships—why do you think that is? Have you seen the power of giving up your personal rights in a relationship, whether marriage, parenting, in the church, or elsewhere?
  • We talked about rituals in church, like how we baptize or do a worship service or take communion. Why do you think this has divided the church? How can we better maintain unity in diversity?
Quote to ponder: “My right to swing my fist ends just where another person’s nose begins.” ~~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Sermon for February 14, 2021 (Transfiguration Sunday)

Speaking of Life 3012 | Shining Out of Darkness

Being in the darkness can make you feel sad, alone, or afraid. There’s good news, Jesus is that light that no darkness can overcome.

Video Transcript

Speaking of Life 3012 | Shining Out of Darkness Cara Garrity Were you ever afraid of the dark? Many of us have had this fear at some point. Oftentimes, the darkness congers our nightmares, causing us to see things that are not there. Generally speaking, complete darkness can be disorienting. We feel more vulnerable in the dark because we cannot see the pitfalls, obstacles, and dangers in our path.  For several summers, I worked at a Christian camp that was based in a beautiful wooded area. My first summer, I made the unfortunate mistake of forgetting my flashlight one night. I had to walk the long path back to my cabin in the dark with the sounds of the woods around me. The path is easy to navigate by day, but at night… Let’s just say I became very acquainted with a large bush on the side of the path! It is fitting that the Bible uses darkness as a symbol for separation from God. According to scripture, disconnection from Jesus causes us spiritual blindness, and we stumble through our lives like a person trying to navigate a dark, unfamiliar path. Spiritual darkness can cause the same kind of disorientation and vulnerability as we try to figure out the way forward in our lives. When we are in spiritual darkness, we struggle with our identity because we cannot see the One in whose image we were made. The good news is that Jesus can find us in our darkness. Not only can he find us, but he has the power to chase away the dark because he is light. Notice what Paul said: And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God's glory displayed in the face of Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 This week, Christians all over the world will be celebrating the transfiguration—an event where Jesus revealed his divinity by shining brighter than the sun. Jesus not only revealed that he is God, but he showed us the kind of God he is. He is pure light and in him there is no darkness. He is a powerful God, who uses his limitless strength to save, rescue, and redeem. Jesus lives to chase away our spiritual darkness, and he has the power to make us children of light. And, Jesus will keep working until the entire world is filled with light. Because Jesus shines, we will never again have to fear the dark. I am Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 50:1-6 • 2 Kings 2:1-12 • 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 • Mark 9:2-9

This week’s theme is the transcendent power of God. God’s power is beyond our imagination, and he has no rival or equal. The call to worship Psalm sings praises to the “mighty one.” In 2 Kings 2:1-12, God shows his power through the miraculous last days of Elijah. In 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Paul explains God’s power to shine the light of the gospel through the darkness of this world. In Mark 9:2-9, we see God revealing Jesus’ power and divinity through the transfiguration.

Underestimating God

Mark 9:2-9

If you have any familiarity with Superman, you will know that his alter ego is Clark Kent, a mild-mannered reporter for the Daily Planet newspaper. Working for a news organization allowed the Krytonian to interact with the people he was protecting and to hear about situations that may have required his super attention. The Clark Kent persona would also allow for comic relief. Not knowing they were talking to Superman, people would often underestimate Kent and say things to him they would never say to the Man of Steel. It was all the more silly because Superman’s “disguise” was a pair of horned rim glasses. How was anyone fooled? With all Superman’s power, you would think he could come up with a better disguise! Or, at least he could spend the cash for some hipster designer lenses.

The way people underestimate the disguised Superman is similar to how people underestimate God; however, when we underestimate God, it is not always funny or cute. Sometimes we think about God as if he is less than what he is. We think about him like he is capable of cruelty and neglect. We think about him as if he were not good. When things are going our way, we sing God’s praises. But when our situation is challenging, we question God’s ability to deliver us. Why do we underestimate God? And more importantly, how do we stop?

Today is Transfiguration Sunday, commemorating the day when Jesus, on a mountain, was revealed evidence of his deity to three of his closest friends. On that day, Jesus shone brighter than the sun and showed that he was more than just a good teacher. He was and is something far greater. From a theological standpoint, the Transfiguration, as we call it, is important for us because it helps us understand Christ’s nature—fully God and fully human. However, I believe there is more to the Transfiguration. I believe the story of the Transfiguration can help us avoid underestimating God. Let’s look at the Mark’s version of the transfiguration story.

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. (Mark 9:2-9)

For the purpose of this message, I would like to focus on Peter’s response. Prior to this story, Peter had one of his best moments. In Mark 8:29, Peter proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah, knowledge only God could reveal. It was a huge spiritual victory for Peter. Less than a week later, on that mountain, Peter is getting yelled at by a cloud! I love Peter, and I do not think I am a better than the apostle. But you really have to mess up if a cloud is needed to straighten you out! I have done some bad things, but nothing “cloud bad!” I am joking, of course. It was God speaking through the cloud. God had to lovingly and firmly correct Peter in that moment because his thinking was way off.

First, Peter called Jesus “rabbi.” A week earlier, Peter called Jesus the Messiah. Now he is calling him “rabbi,” or “teacher.” Keep in mind, Peter is speaking as Jesus is shining and talking with two dead heroes of faith. How does one go from “Messiah” to “rabbi” in that moment? We will get back to this question.

Next, Peter proposed building three tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. There was a belief in Peter’s time that divine beings dwelled in tabernacles, or tents, and scholars believe Peter wanted to extend the Transfiguration phenomenon. He wanted to honor the three beings by creating places of habitation for them, which also facilitated the continuation of the experience. Peter had good intentions, but he was “cloud wrong.” Peter was inadvertently putting Elijah and Moses on the same level as Jesus. Perhaps he saw Christ as a great prophet like Moses and Elijah. Without meaning to do so, Peter had diminished Jesus in his own eyes. He underestimated the Son of Man as his Lord and Savior and he somehow imagined the Eternal Son would be pleased to stay in a tent made by human hands.

Again, how did Peter go from acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah to underestimating him in less than a week? In verse 6, Mark gives us important information about Peter’s state of mind. Peter “did not know what to say, for they were terrified.” Peter and his companions were afraid, and rightly so! Peter is better than me. After seeing Jesus shining and two dead guys walking around, I would have set the world record for fastest descent of a mountain! I would have felt a primal fear that would make me run like Usain Bolt! At least Peter stayed on the mountain, and I give him credit for that. However, Peter felt a type of fear that compelled him to speak. It was not just the primal terror that triggers our flight response. Some other type of fear was working in Peter that drove him to insert himself into the Transfiguration. We do not know what was going through Peter’s mind, but perhaps he felt he would be punished if he did not show the proper respect to Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Perhaps Peter thought Jesus needed to be reminded that the three disciples were there so they would not accidentally be incinerated by Christ’s power. Whatever the reason, Peter’s fear became greater than the image of Christ in his mind.

I am not picking on Peter, because all of us do the same thing. For example, if someone we care about becomes seriously ill or if our car unexpectedly needs a costly repair, it is natural to be anxious or afraid. However, if we are not careful, we can allow that anxiety or fear to spiral into worry. If the worry goes on long enough, the fear can cause us to accuse God of being cruel, uncaring, distant or some other negative adjective because he is “allowing us to go through this.” “If he loved me,” we might reason, “he would protect me from this hardship.” We end up underestimating God’s goodness and his ability to deliver us.

I wish I could tell you that my relationship with God is not affected by my circumstances, but I cannot. I sometimes allow my situation to determine my perception of God’s goodness. I let my problems affect my belief in God’s ability to save me. I make my fear a false god and allow it to erode my trust in Jesus. Ironically, the more I give in to fear and worry, the less I am inclined to bring my problem to God—the one who could actually help me. I somehow allow myself to believe the great Creator of heaven and earth, the one who holds all things together, the one who puts the very breath in my lungs, is weak. Lord, have mercy on me and anyone else who falls into that trap!

During the Transfiguration, when Peter underestimated Jesus, God told him, ““This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” In calling Jesus his Son, the Father is establishing Christ’s equality with himself. In speaking of his love for Jesus, the Father is stating his unity with the Son. In other words, the Father told Peter that Jesus is the Creator and the Almighty. Jesus is the one who caused the stars to shine and seas to roar. Jesus is the one who raised the mountains. Jesus caused the birds to sing and the flowers to bloom. Jesus created humanity in his image, and by his active will, puts air in our lungs, providing the very breath Peter used to underestimate him. We know the passage:

All things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Col. 1:16b-17 ESV)

God instructs Peter to listen to this Jesus—the real Jesus—not the Jesus of his corrupted imagination. Peter should have rejected the Jesus of his fear and bowed down before the King of kings and Lord of lords. He should not have presumed to know anything and looked to Christ to show him how to think and be. God’s admonition to Peter is important instruction for us as well. We cannot allow the circumstances of our lives to diminish Christ in our hearts. We are so prideful, thinking we know what God should do, and when and how he should do it. And, when he does not do things the way we expect, we tend to judge him and diminish our estimation of his greatness. Instead of submitting our will, emotions, and reason to him, we sometimes treat God like he is a corrupted human being.

The Transfiguration reminds us that yes, Jesus is our friend and brother, and he is the first new human, but his unity with humanity does not rob him of his majesty and divinity. Transfiguration Sunday should be a reminder that we cannot and should not underestimate our Savior.

If we fully trusted Christ, we would never underestimate him. Trusting Jesus involves not only believing in him, but also having faith that God is giving us what we need. It is trusting in his perfect timing. It also means that we trust his leading and believe he will tell us what we need to do to join him in the work that he is doing. Trusting God means following him despite a lack of understanding and without the full picture. Most importantly, trusting God means being content with what we have, knowing that God would only deprive us of things we do not need or are harmful to us. Peter did not have full understanding of what was happening on the mountain of Transfiguration, so he tried to interpret events for himself.

One way to keep ourselves from underestimating Jesus is to regularly put ourselves in a position to be overwhelmed by our great God. We need to put ourselves in the place where words fall short—the place where logic fails. We need to go to the place where all we can do is worship him.

For some of us, music takes us to that place. Praise and worship music helps us draw nearer to God. Experiencing nature is another way to be filled with awe. When we immerse ourselves in creation, we cannot help but notice its beauty, symmetry, and glorious complexity. It will inevitably lead us to the feet of the Creator who prepared such a beautiful world for us. Commit to doing whatever it is that makes you feel overwhelmed with wonder and gratitude on a regular basis. We need to create a space for Jesus to be transfigured before our eyes.

After the voice from the cloud spoke to Peter, everything else disappeared. Moses, Elijah, and even the cloud faded away. Only Jesus was left. He is all we have, and he is all we need. His greatness cannot be overestimated. There is none like him! Nothing else can satisfy like Jesus! No one else can save like our Lord! There is no greater love than that which flows from the heart of our Jesus! Let us make everyday Transfiguration Sunday because Jesus is worthy of all praise!


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • In what ways is separation from Christ like being in the dark?
  • In what ways does Jesus bring light?
  • Can you think of a time when you underestimated God?
  • Do you think Peter was wrong for wanting to extend the transfiguration experience?
  • What makes you feel in awe of God? How can you encounter that on a regular basis?

Sermon for Sunday, February 21, 2021 First Week of Easter Preparation

Speaking of Life 3013 | Rainbow’s Promise

Do you recall the first time you saw the colorful rainbow?  The flash of color across the sky is a promise of hope.

Video Transcript

Speaking of Life 3013 | Rainbow’s Promise Greg Williams Do you remember the first time you saw a rainbow? Rainbows are iconic, universal, showing up in legends and stories throughout history. Despite years of pollution and our increasingly busy lives, rainbows still make us stop…and look up. The first recorded rainbow appears in Genesis 9, just after the flood recedes. Noah walks out into the steaming earth and hears the voice of God: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. Genesis 9:13-15 (NRSV) This is what is called by theologians “The Noahic Covenant”—one of several agreements that God made with Israel—and by proxy all the world. And here we see this strange imagery of the rainbow. “I have set my bow…” This word “bow” is the same Hebrew word as the bow of battle. To the original readers, the bow would have been a common sight in battle. It meant war and death. But for God to “set his bow” meant that war was over, that the struggle was over. This is the sign of the rainbow in the clouds, turned away from us, a bow at rest. That rest is what we remember when we see it. and it reminds us of all of life. As violent as the storm might be, the rainbow will be there—the power of the thunder and rain turns to beauty and color. That’s all that’s left standing. The covenant reminds us that a devastation like a flood won’t destroy us again. God will not destroy us and start over; he will work with us and through us to accomplish redemption. He works through each storm in our lives to make beauty and light come through. Instead of ending history, he works within it. And instead of starting over with humanity, he became one. He set his bow in the sky. He set his covenant that he will always work with us and within us on our relationship with him. Let’s remember this promise when the storm comes. I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life

Psalm 25:1-10 • Genesis 9:8-17 • 1 Peter 3:18-22 • Mark 1:9-15

The theme this week is the God who can be trusted. In the call to worship Psalm, the poet pleads with God for his help, appealing to his trustworthy character. Genesis 9 tells us about God’s promise to never destroy the world again—signified by the rainbow. 1 Peter 3 tells us about Jesus completing God’s epic, trustworthy plan of redemption. Our sermon is about Jesus’ temptation in Mark 1, where Jesus’ trust in the Father is tested in the wilderness.

Mark 1: Wild Animals and Angels

Mark 1:9-15 ESV

Read Mark 1:9-15 ESV

With Mark’s usual bullet-point brevity, Jesus appears, is baptized, starts his ministry, wrestles with the devil, and calls his first disciples all in the first half of the first chapter.

But in the middle of this bullet-point list, the author takes a moment to show us the disturbing image of Christ alone in the desert among the wild animals. Jesus is in that wilderness place where there is no shelter, where the harsh environment could devour him in a moment.

And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. (Mark 1:13 ESV)

Matthew and Luke write about Jesus’ wilderness interaction with Satan at length, taking nearly a dozen verses. Mark gives us a sentence and a half. Let’s break down the packed description of this verse into its parts and see what we can learn from this strangest of stories: Jesus meeting this old enemy on enemy turf—waste, loneliness, fatigue.

And he was in the wilderness…

Have you ever been to the desert? Or the heart of the jungle, or the sea after you lose sight of land?

These natural landscapes can be gorgeous, but they can also kill you in a moment. A wrong step and you disappear into the ocean; a short walk with a broken compass in the desert and no one hears from you again. There’s a fascinating power to places like this, where all our human ingenuity and technology and money can’t stand against nature. Nature reminds us how very old it is and that it doesn’t need us here, and sometimes doesn’t even seem to want us here.

Being in the wilderness alone can be one of the most frightening experiences. But before we start to feel sorry for Jesus, let’s focus on the first part of our passage for today. Jesus was preparing himself for this sojourn into the wilderness.

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11 ESV)

Jesus comes to the Jordan and asks John to be baptized. Other Gospel writers share more of this, which we will save for another day. I want to focus on what happened when Jesus rose from that baptism.

Immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. (Mark 1:10 ESV)

Right away we realize this is no ordinary baptism, and this is no ordinary person being baptized. Jesus saw the Spirit descending on him. We can only speculate if any others saw this, or if Jesus just told the disciples what he saw. And this is only part of the experience…

And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11 ESV)

What affirmation! “You are my beloved Son.” If there had been any doubt in Jesus’ mind (and I’m not saying there was), it would have disappeared at the sound of this voice from heaven giving this message of affirmation. “You are my beloved; I am delighted in you.” We can only imagine what this affirmation did to Jesus’ confidence. It was with these words ringing in his ears that he came out of that river – full of the knowledge of his identity, and confident in his Father’s love.

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. (Mark 1:12 ESV)

I find it interesting that we see the words “drove him out into the wilderness.” Other translations use words like the Spirit compelled, sent, impelled or led Jesus. The implication is not that the Spirit forced Jesus to go against his will, it is that the Spirit was leading Jesus to a divine appointment. Going to the wilderness and being tempted by Satan was no accident—it was part of the plan.

And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. (Mark 1:13 ESV)

Wow, that’s pretty brief. The other Gospel writers spend much more time on the methods Satan used to tempt Jesus, and many sermons have been given on those temptations, but Mark seems to have a different purpose and sums it all up in one sentence. But there is a lot in this sentence.

Jesus was in the wilderness. Such a common biblical term. Unlike modern days, most of their world was what they would describe as “wilderness”—untamed, dangerous, sometimes lethal even while being beautiful. Most of us would be scared to go into the wilderness for an extended period of time. But we cannot assume that of Jesus.

He went into the wilderness full of confidence. He had just heard the voice confirming his identity and affirming his Father’s love. We also know the Spirit led him to the wilderness and the Spirit never leaves or forsakes us. It is similar to us going into the “wilderness” of the world to fulfill the great commission. We go with the confidence that Jesus is the one to whom has been given all power and authority on heaven and earth, and we go in with the assurance that he will be with us always. (See Matthew 28:18-20). So what was Jesus doing in the wilderness? Spending time with his Abba, preparing for his ministry, and defeating the enemy.

…forty days…

Make sure you pay attention when the biblical writers include details like this, especially numbers. Do the numbers sound familiar?

Let’s take a step back and look at it. Jesus passes through waters and goes to the desert to wander. Jesus is replaying the story of Israel here, a nation that passed through the Red Sea and wandered in the desert for forty years before entering the promised land.

You will see this several times through the Gospels—Jesus replaying the story of Israel, only this time it ends in eternal victory. The story of Israel started with Abraham, then Isaac and Jacob, but the extended family became Israel in the desert. Their identity as God’s people was solidified in that difficult time in their tents in the middle of nowhere.

God’s sacred geometry was coming together—our inadequacy and need for him was proven in the desert once, and the need was fulfilled in the desert again. Jesus redeems the journey through the wilderness. Israel spent 40 years because of unbelief in who God was and what he was doing for them. Jesus spends 40 days knowing who he is and knowing God is for him. He rewrote the story of God’s beloved.

Have you seen that in your own life? Jesus steps into your story—he doesn’t destroy it and start over—he rewrites it. One example close at hand is the apostle Paul. After receiving the best training in writing and speaking and arguing, Saul found himself suddenly meeting Jesus. God rewrote Saul’s story. He then used all of Paul’s gifts for writing and speaking and arguing, for his glory and for the gospel. He is rewriting your story because you are his beloved.

…being tempted by Satan.

Jesus heard a familiar voice as he walked out there in the wilderness—the enemy. The enemy of God, God’s plan, God’s people, and of course, God’s Son. But Mark doesn’t spend any time detailing the temptations—he just makes a matter-of-fact statement—Jesus was tempted by the enemy. Some like to depict this as a battle between Jesus and the enemy; it wasn’t a battle. Jesus was in control from the very beginning. He was the beloved Son of God, Satan was the self-proclaimed enemy of God.

There was no ensuing battle, there was simply a matter of putting the enemy in his place. Mark is looking back on this event and simply states the obvious: Satan tried and failed, end of story.

And he was with the wild animals…

Here again, Mark uses just a few words to convey a powerful reality. The wilderness is full of wild animals. This might have included panthers, bears, wolves, hyenas, maybe even lions. Normally one would be terrified to spend 40 nights where there are wild animals. But Mark very likely had a different reason for mentioning these wild animals; he was showing that Jesus had been protected. Jesus went into the wilderness knowing who he was and how much his Father loved him. As a result, he trusted his Father for protection from all the elements of the wilderness.

When we know our true identity—beloved child of God—and we know that God has us in his hands, we can face our own wilderness experiences in full confidence that God is always in control. We can face temptation with the faith of Jesus.

and the angels were ministering to him.

And here’s the last of this brief description. Jesus is tended to by heavenly power through this ordeal. He is cared for and watched over; he is never out of the Father’s eye.

Note that he is also not taken out of the situation. The wild animals and the angels are both there with him in equal parts—like death and resurrection, like joy and pain, like life. Like Jesus, we are never alone in the desert We may be surrounded by wild animals at times, but we are also ministered by angels, letting us know God is always with us.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15 ESV)

Mark ends this bullet-point synopsis and gets to the point: Once John’s ministry ended, Jesus’ began. He started proclaiming the good news. He started sharing his love and life with others. He picked up the work of redemption, restoration, and reconciliation. The Spirit led him into the ministry to prepare for ministry. He went in with full confidence and assurance; he came out with mission and purpose. It was time to get to work. It still is.


Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for sermon:
  • Have you ever been to the desert? The jungle or the sea? Can you understand how such a dangerous environment underscores the drama of this story?
  • We talked about Jesus replaying the story of Israel’s journey in the wilderness. How does this help you make more sense of the gospel and the Bible in general?
  • The sermon claims the temptations of Satan wasn’t really a battle. Why do we make this claim? What does identity have to do with dealing with temptation and testing?
  • When have you struggled with trusting that God will take care of you?
  • What do we mean by “it’s time to get to work”?
Questions for Speaking of Life:
  • Did you know the biblical significance of the rainbow? Interesting that God’s second covenant with us was not simply to not destroy us again, but to work with us. Does that give you hope? What does that tell you about who God is?
  • Is there a struggle or a difficult relationship in your life where you need to “set your bow”? Just lay down arms and let go?
Quote to ponder: “Teach us to care and not care. Teach us to sit still.”~~T.S. Eliot, in his poem, “Ash Wednesday”

Sermon for February 28, 2021

Speaking of Life 3014 | A Dead-End Road

Before we had GPS, you needed to have a map to point you in the right direction. This is similar to our experience in following Christ. Being a disciple means we follow him because we trust him no matter where he leads.

Video Transcript

Speaking of Life 3014 | A Dead-End Road Heber Ticas Have you ever had the experience of following someone in a car when you didn’t know your way around? Before the days of GPS this would be an exercise of trust. When I’m driving, I like to make the decisions. I feel confident in my sense of direction and how to find my way around. So, when I must follow someone else, it is easy to second guess their choices. Especially when the person turns down a road that I think will lead in the wrong direction. For example, what would you do if the person you were following suddenly turned down a road that was marked “Dead End?” I would probably start honking at them and flashing my lights in protest. In some ways, this is our experience in following Christ. Being a disciple means we follow him because we trust him. But then he leads us down roads that are clearly marked “Dead End.” Surely Jesus knows better than to go in that direction! So, we start honking our horns and flashing our lights to warn him of his mistake. Have you ever been there? Jesus’ first disciples reacted in much the same way when he told them he was going to travel down a dead-end road to Jerusalem. The long-awaited Messiah made it clear that he was going to travel the road of suffering, rejection and death. For Peter especially, this was a hard road to follow, yet he did. As we follow Jesus, we too will have to follow him down roads that we would rather avoid. Listen to Jesus’ description of being his disciple: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”  Mark 8:34b-35 (NRSV) That’s not exactly the road map I would draw up for myself. But as we follow Jesus, we come to trust that he knows the way far better than we do, even if it looks like a dead-end road. In fact, he tells us that he is the way. Because of who he is, we can follow him no matter where he leads. And that is especially true when he travels down a dead-end road. Mi nombre es Heber Ticas, Hablando de la Vida.

Psalm 22:23-31 • Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 • Romans 4:13-25 • Mark 8:31-38

This week’s theme is Following in faith. The call to worship Psalm points to the promise of all nations eventually turning to follow the Lord and worship him. Both the Old Testament reading and the text in Romans positions Abraham as a paradigm of faith in following God for all believers in every age. The Gospel reading in Mark records Jesus’ instructions concerning discipleship.

Redefined Discipleship

Mark 8:31-38

The season of Easter preparation (Lent) has a way of keeping any fairytale illusions of the Christian life at bay. After celebrating Advent and Christmas with all the festivities involved, we may be tempted to think the Christian faith is just another attempt to enjoy life according to our fantasies. But the season of Epiphany opened our eyes to see the gospel story a little deeper than simple dream-fulfillment. We come to see who Jesus is, and who we are in relationship to him. We are then thrust into the season of preparing for Easter, where we must adjust to what we have just seen. This is a season of repentance—changing our mind about who we think God is, who we see ourselves to be and how we view our world. Everything has changed now in the light of Christ. Easter preparation calls us into a reorientation that fits the reality we have come to see and know in Christ. This can be a painful but necessary repentance if we are to enter the transformation held out to us in Jesus.

The context of our text today mirrors this journey. After Jesus heals a blind man at Bethsaida, he then goes to work on opening the eyes of his disciples. Epiphany set the stage. Jesus asked them how other people saw him and they reported some circulating speculations. Some said that maybe he was John the Baptist back from the dead or even better, Elijah. Others simply thought he was one of the prophets. But the great illuminating discovery came when he asked them personally who they thought he was. Peter served as the mouthpiece to the amazing revelation that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah.

Their eyes were beginning to be healed of spiritual blindness. But like the blind man at Bethsaida who needed Jesus’ hands placed on him twice before fully seeing, the disciples would need further healing before they would see plainly. They may see that Jesus is the Messiah, but they would need to adjust their thinking to fit Jesus’ revelation of how he will fill out the role of Messiah. Easter preparation is underway. This is a painful reorientation for the disciples, and it may hold some painful revelations for us today as well. But as Jesus redefines what it means for him to be the Messiah, we will have to face the fact that this will redefine what it means for us to be his disciples. But once we make it through this section, as painful as it may be, we can take comfort in the fact that the next story Mark records in his Gospel is the Transfiguration, which we covered two weeks ago. The hard work of repentance during the season of Easter preparation leads us into transformation. So, let’s read the text.

Read Mark 8:31-38.

Notice the passage begins with “He then began to teach them.” This was Mark’s way of signaling that Jesus was entering a new level of ministry with the disciples. He was about to give them a much fuller picture of what they were involved in, and it wouldn’t be easy for them to hear. The disciples had left everything to follow Jesus and they were excited to be part of what God was doing. Even with their ups and downs in following Jesus, they must have had some sense that they had signed up with the right rabbi. This journey was going somewhere good and they didn’t want to miss out on it. But Jesus knew his time with them was short and that his disciples were not prepared for what lay ahead. So, Jesus doesn’t speak a parable, he doesn’t tell a story and he doesn’t sugarcoat his teaching. As Mark records it, “He spoke plainly about this.”

Jesus’ plain speaking involves four things that Jesus “must” go through. In the NIV the word “must” appears twice in this proclamation. Jesus does not leave us with any other options or ways of viewing how he fulfills his calling. There is no plan B or loophole in being the Messiah, and as his disciples did, we often look in vain to find an alternate way of following him. Jesus knew that when the going gets tough, his disciples would be tempted to pack up and go. But there is no going around the word “must.”

Let’s look at the four things Jesus said he must go through. As we survey these four things, keep in mind that as his disciples, we “must” go through these four things as well.”

  1. First, Jesus said he must “suffer many things.” Not only must he suffer, but he must suffer many If there is one thing most of us want to avoid, it is suffering. Especially in the American culture, avoiding suffering seems to be many people’s highest calling. But not so for a disciple of Christ. We trust Jesus in our sufferings, and we know we do not face them alone. Nor do we find our sufferings as working against us. Jesus works in our sufferings to bring about his good purposes. This is good news. Suffering is unavoidable, but in Jesus, we can see that even our sufferings are adding up to something of immense value. Nothing is wasted. So, instead of trying so hard to avoid suffering and being completely miserable while suffering, we can be thankful for what God is doing in our suffering and take comfort that God is with us.
  2. Second, Jesus said he must “be rejected”—and not by just anyone, but by those of high standing. This also can be a hard Messiah to follow. Surely Jesus should be concerned about his reputation, right? Especially among those who have some influence in our lives. But Jesus leaves his reputation in the hands of his Father. He trusts the Father with his reputation so much that he is free to be the obedient Son even when that means confronting those who may give him a bad name. How often do we fear rejection to the point that our reputation becomes our true object of worship? Being a following of Christ is not about protecting our reputations or making a name for ourselves.
  3. If the first two weren’t bad enough, Jesus lowers the boom with the third one—DEATH. Here lies the offense of the gospel. Jesus is a King who dies on a cross. That doesn’t sound like a Messiah worth following.
  4. The last thing Jesus tells the disciples is that he will rise again after his death in three days. Jesus tells them how his suffering, rejection and death will be answered by resurrection. But the disciples didn’t even acknowledge Jesus’ claim. They could not get past the idea that a Messiah and Savior of the world would have anything to do with suffering, rejection or death.

After Jesus redefines what it will look like for him to be the Messiah, Peter quickly reacts as a disciple who wants nothing to do with it. The cultural expectations of disciples in the ancient Middle East would frown heavily on Peter’s rebuke of Jesus. Disciples were to listen to and learn from their masters and should never correct them. Peter rebuking his teacher not only paints Peter as a hot-headed and bold disciple, but also exposes how shocking was Jesus’ description of how he would fill out the role of Messiah.

The Jewish people’s understanding of what a Messiah would look like in the first century helps shed some light on Peter’s extreme reaction. The picture of a Messiah for the Jewish people would not be associated with any of the scriptures that speak of suffering or death. It was only after Jesus’ death and resurrection that the early Christians understood these scriptures to be speaking about the Messiah. So, when Jesus refers to the Messiah in these terms, it is a radical departure from the mindset of the Jewish people’s view of a Messiah.

Peter’s rebuke was meant to be in private, as we are told he “took him aside.” This private reprimand may show Peter’s attempt to protect the image he had of his master rather than publicly disgracing Jesus to the watching crowd. He is still trying to protect Jesus’ reputation, which of course would reflect on his own. Peter’s reaction is no small thing, as the word for rebuke here is the same word used when Jesus exorcised a demon. Peter is mightily struggling to repent of his way of thinking to align with what Jesus just told him. What Peter needs to repent of is his desire to follow himself instead of Jesus. As long as Jesus leads in a way that Peter wants, he was willing to follow. But now that Jesus has turned down a road he doesn’t want to go, he rebukes his master.

Surely Peter is not alone in his response here. How often do we rebuke and resist Jesus when he leads us down roads that require us to die to ourselves in one way or another? It’s a lot easier to follow Jesus when we think suffering is not involved. Are we willing to follow when Jesus leads us to a place where we have to swallow our pride and not hold so tightly to our reputation? In short, how willing are we to die to self in our daily living? Surely Peter is in good company!

Jesus has a response to Peter that cuts to the root of his problem: “Get behind me, Satan… You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Peter, who just proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah, is now speaking for Satan. Jesus doesn’t let Peter fool himself into thinking that he just misspoke out of a misunderstanding. Peter’s problem is deep, and it runs through all of us. We are often more concerned about our own interests than God’s will—just like Satan. When we resist following where Jesus leads, we are cooperating with the devil. It’s God’s grace and love that causes Jesus to resist our resistance and rebuke our rebukes. He doesn’t let us settle for our self-centered and not-of-God orientations.

Beginning in verse 34, Jesus addresses the disciples as well as the crowd and teaches them what it means to be his disciples. This message is not just for the church, but for the whole world—whether we want to hear it or not. Reality doesn’t move for dissenters. Jesus goes on to talk about a life of denying oneself for the sake of following Jesus. We are called to find our life only in Christ, which will mean we must die to everything else that competes with that allegiance. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his book The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Much of our culture invades our beliefs and attitudes that Jesus must rebuke and set right for us to follow him. We are so ingrained with the way the world works, that we can be convinced that we are in the right and God must be in the wrong when he leads us away from the cultural landmarks of success and comfort.

Mark tells us the setting of this story took place in the villages around Caesarea Philippi. After King Herod died, his kingdom was divided into three parts and given to his three remaining sons to rule. The northern region, where Caesarea Philippi was located, was given to Phillip the Tetrarch. Caesarea Philippi was an area where political power struggles and games were played. This was not to be the way for Jesus’ followers then, and it is not the way for Jesus’ followers today.

Jesus is still calling for disciples to turn from our power grabbing and self-seeking ways and to humbly follow him as the only true Lord and Savior. We are to live as disciples who are willing to suffer for Jesus, willing to be rejected for Jesus, willing to die to self for Jesus, and willing to acknowledge to all that Jesus is the true Messiah, Lord and Savior.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • From the Speaking of Life video, the comparison of following someone in a car to following the Lord was made. Can you see some parallels between the two experiences? In what ways does this analogy break down?
  • Can you think of times it felt like Jesus was leading you down a “dead-end road”? Share this experience and how it turned out.
  • The sermon talked about the season of Easter preparation being a time of repentance as a response of seeing more of who Jesus is and who we are in relationship with him. Can you think of ways you have come to see more clearly who the Lord is or who you are in relationship to him that lead to a change in the way you live?
  • When Jesus redefined for the disciples how he was going to be the Messiah, it meant they had to redefine what it meant to be his disciples. The first three things Jesus tells them are that he must suffer, be rejected and die. How does this inform your life as a disciple of Jesus? Can you share any experiences where you had to suffer, be rejected or “die” in some way as a disciple of Jesus?
  • How did Jesus’ rebuke of Peter strike you? Why do you think Jesus was so strong in his rebuke to go as far as calling Peter “Satan”?
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” What do you think Bonhoeffer meant by this?