LIFE group discussion guide: of shepherds & sheep

NOTE: Following is the discussion guide we’ll use tomorrow (Feb. 22) in our LIFE groups at MoSt Church. This guide will enable your follow-up of this morning’s worship gathering. To find previous group discussion guides, look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous issues.

Reason

Stated in a single sentence, this is the purpose of this morning’s service.

To help us focus on the character of our Lord as the tireless, benevolent servant-leader of his people.

Revelation

These Scriptures form some of the foundation of this morning’s service.

“‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

“‘As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

“‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another.

I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.

“‘I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the land of savage beasts so that they may live in the wilderness and sleep in the forests in safety. I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them. They will no longer be plundered by the nations, nor will wild animals devour them. They will live in safety, and no one will make them afraid. I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops, and they will no longer be victims of famine in the land or bear the scorn of the nations.

Then they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them and that they, the Israelites, are my people, declares the Sovereign Lord. You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign Lord.’” (Ezekiel 34.11-31)

Relation

Use one of the following icebreaker questions to prime the pump for group conversation.

1. What does “peace” look like to you? Tell us of a place of unusual tranquility & harmony for you.

2. The pic here is of God/his people as shepherd /sheep. What would be a modern, urban metaphor?

Research

These exercises/questions are meant to help us grapple with the Scripture(s) related to this service.

1. Underline each occurrence of the phrase “I will.” Circle every use of the words “Lord” & “shepherd.”

2. Make two columns; one for all the good God will give and one for all the bad things God defeats.

Reflection

These questions help us discern and share what we sense God’s Spirit is doing as we encounter his word.

1. Given what’s said about how “sheep” act & what they experience, what are people really like?

2. Who are we that the Lord should care for us this way? Why would he expend himself so for us?

3. The God who depicts himself as he does here is clearly a ____________ God.

4. What can you do to make life better for the other sheep in the flock? What habits can you develop?

Response

These ideas/suggestions are for use beyond the group meeting; to aid your living out today’s gathering.

1. Develop a servant spirit & helpful habits for the sake of God’s under-shepherds. Answer their calls.

2. Pray daily for God’s under-shepherds & your openness to their direction for your maturity.

LIFE group discussion guide: serve!

NOTE: Following is the discussion guide we’ll use tomorrow (Jan. 25) in our LIFE groups at MoSt Church. This guide will enable your follow-up of my sermon that morning. To find previous group discussion guides, look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous issues.

Reason

Stated in a single sentence, this is the purpose of this morning’s sermon.

To declare our need to spend our lives actively serving God, and to urge us to do so.

Revelation

These Scriptures form some of the foundation of this sermon.

• … servants of the word … (Luke 1.2 CEB)

• … Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant.” (Luke 1.38 CEB)

• He has granted that we would be rescued … so that we could serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness in God’s eyes, for as long as we live. (Luke 1.73-75 CEB)

• You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him. … You cannot serve God and wealth. (Luke 4.8; 16.13 CEB)

• … do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. If you do, you will have a great reward. You will be acting the way children of the Most High act … (Luke 6.35 CEB)

• That servant who knew his master’s will but didn’t prepare for it or act on it will be beaten severely. (Luke 12.47 CEB)

• … when you have done everything required of you, you should say, “We servants deserve no special praise. We have only done our duty.” (Luke 17.10 CEB)

• … the greatest among you must become like a person of lower status and the leader like a servant. (Luke 22.26 CEB)

Relation

Use one of the following icebreaker questions to prime the pump for group conversation.

1. Think employment and job roles. Which ones strike you as “servant-type” jobs?

2. What is the biggest hurdle to your seeing yourself as truly a “servant of God?”

Research

These exercises/questions are meant to help us grapple with the Scripture(s) related to this sermon.

1. Find and count every occurrence of some form of the word “serve” in Luke’s Gospel.

2. Read Luke 6.35 above. Reflect on it. Then read its context (vs.27-38). Thoughts?

Reflection

These questions help us discern and share what we sense God’s Spirit is doing as we encounter his word.

1. How does the word “servant” hit you? Positive or negative? Respectable or humble?

2. Would it truly be best to live tomorrow like it was literally your last day to live?

3. “The good is the enemy of the best.” Is this true? Does this sound like Jesus?

4. We’re saved by God’s mercy thru Christ on his cross. What role do our works play?

5. Which matters most in the long run in serving God: “big things” or “little” ones?”

Response

These ideas/suggestions are for use beyond the group meeting; to aid your living out today’s message.

1. Discipline and exercise yourself in a “I expect nothing in return” attitude and air.

2. Habitually give words and actions of appreciation to any you see “doing good.”

guest post: relationships & responsibility

 

The following is a guest post by my friend Virgil Fry. In it, Virgil addresses two proverbs rarely commented on, and he does so with deep insight. Thank you, Virgil!

If a man pampers his servant from youth, he will bring grief in the end. (Proverbs 29:21)

Do not slander a servant to his master, or he will curse you, and you will pay for it. (Proverbs 30:10)

This 21st Century reader lays no claim to understanding fully the context and content of these two proverbs. A lot of commentators throughout the centuries are equally unclear on the concise meanings.

Both verses refer to a servant/master relationship that is not as readily practiced in our current American setting. That said, there are certainly class distinctions and practices that do permeate our society (for example, being a Caucasian male can open doors of opportunity that others may have to fight for).

Two issues that do permeate these verses are: overprotecting another from responsible living, and the high cost of character slander. In human relationships, one person in power can over-shelter another (whether it’s one’s child or some other relationship). In parenting, the current vernacular coins the term “helicopter parenting.” That phenomenon is seen when a parent refuses to allow any part of a child go unsupervised, smothering the child with hyper-vigilance. In addiction recovery, families often learn that covering up destructive addictive behaviors actually enables, rather than assists, the one dealing with addiction. When we take on all responsibility for another’s foibles, in the name of trying to avoid conflict, all pay a heavy price for the lack of responsible behavior. That is part of the “grief in the end” I read in this proverb. Entitlement living, of which we are all capable, is not healthy living. We are at our best when we take responsibility for our own actions, and allow others to do the same.

Then to consider the high cost of slandering another: we all know the destructive carnage that character assassination reeks. There is a fine line with truth-telling about another’s weaknesses or taking great pleasure in bolstering my own ego by vilifying another’s faults. Jesus spoke clearly to this issue: Judge not, that you be not judged. Tearing down another person without taking it up with that person directly is a human relationship disaster. We are called by God to be more than character assassins: we are to be bridge builders, those who encourage one another.

So let us be mindful of overprotecting those we blindly idolize. And rather than indulging in relational sabotage, let us be those who help build healthy relationships.

LIFE group guide: be humble

 

NOTE: Following is the discussion guide we’ll use in our LIFE groups at MoSt Church tomorrow (Dec. 8). This guide will enable your follow-up of the morning sermon.

To find previous group discussion guides, look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous issues.

Reason

Stated in a single sentence, this is the purpose of the sermon series, or this particular sermon in a series.

To call our attention, and our conscience, to some of our Lord’s direct charges to us.

Revelation

These Scriptures form some of the foundation of the sermon. Underscored words are emphasized in the Greek text.

• Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor. (Proverbs 18.12)

• The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matthew 23.11-12)

• “But look! My betrayer is with me; his hand is on this table. The Human One goes just as it has been determined. But how terrible it is for that person who betrays him.” They began to argue among themselves about which of them it could possibly be who would do this. An argument broke out among the disciples over which one of them should be regarded as the greatest. But Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles rule over their subjects, and those in authority over them are called ‘friends of the people.’ But that’s not the way it will be with you. Instead, the greatest among you must become like a person of lower status and the leader like a servant. So which one is greater, the one who is seated at the table or the one who serves at the table? Isn’t it the one who is seated at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22.21-27)

• … being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! (Philippians 2.8)

• … all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. (1 Peter 5.4b-6)

Relation

These icebreaker questions are meant to help us all just start thinking, talking, and relating to the topic or texts. Discuss one.

1. Who is a humble cartoon character that comes to mind? A proud one?

2. How does it make you feel, or what is stirred within you, when you witness humility?

Research

These exercises/questions are meant to help us grapple with the Scripture(s) related to this morning’s sermon.

1. Matthew (26.20-35) and Mark (14.17-31) conspicuously leave out of their accounts of the Last Supper two matters Luke includes at length (22.14-38). What two matters?

2. What specific age group did Peter have in view when he penned 1 Peter 5.4-6?

Reflection

These questions facilitate our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us thru his word. Choose some.

1. What does Christianity look like without humility?

2. Is it possible to be humble without living as a servant? Without humiliation? Explain.

3. How exactly does a Christian avoid becoming proud or living in prideful ways?

4. Like contentment, humility is learned. What can a believer do to learn humility?

5. Respect your limits, but do not devalue yourself/short-sell your abilities. Thoughts?

Response

These ideas/suggestions are for your use beyond the group meeting; to aid you in living out today’s message in the coming days.

1. Live one day with this thought foremost in mind: “I am here to serve others.” Repeat.

2. Resurrect a servant-habit you’ve “retired” from. Serve in a way you never have before.

devoted: put your shoulder into it

 

NOTE: Following is a copy of the discussion guide that will be used in MoSt Church’s LIFE groups tomorrow, Nov. 11. This guide will enable your follow-up of my sermon tomorrow morning entitled Devoted: Put Your Shoulder Into It. Look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous discussion guides. All Scripture quotations below are from the Common English Bible (CEB).

Aim

To explore what it means to devote our shoulders to God.

Word

• I lifted the burden off your shoulders; your hands are free of the brick basket! In distress you cried out, so I rescued you. (Psalm 81.6-7)

• Isn’t this the fast I choose: releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke, setting free the mistreated, and breaking every yoke? (Isaiah 58.6)

• It’s good to wait in silence for the Lord’s deliverance. It’s good for a man to carry a yoke in his youth. He should sit alone and be silent when God lays it on him. (Lamentations 3.26-28)

• Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11.28-30)

• … they tie together heavy packs that are impossible to carry. They put them on the shoulders of others, but are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. (Matthew 23.4)

• Suppose someone among you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them. Wouldn’t he … search for the lost one until he finds it? And when he finds it, he is thrilled and places it on his shoulders. (Luke 15.4-5)

• Why then are you now challenging God by placing a burden on the shoulders of these disciples that neither we nor our ancestors could bear? (Acts 15.10)

• Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are important when they aren’t, they’re fooling themselves. Each person should test their own work and be happy with doing a good job and not compare themselves with others. Each person will have to carry their own load. (Galatians 6.2-5)

Open

Icebreaker questions are meant to help us all start talking. Choose one of the following to discuss as a group.

1. Being silly or serious, finish this sentence: “It seems as though I’m never able to _________.”

2. Tell us of a time you were shocked to be able to carry or lift some unwieldy something.

Dig

These questions are meant to help us grapple with Scripture related to this morning’s sermon. Choose some.

1. What does Lam. 3.26-28 mean? Answer with its original context in view.

2. What sort of “bad burdens” do Matt. 23.4 and Acts 15.10 have in mind?

3. Gal. 6.2-5 says “carry each other’s burdens” and each “will have to carry their own.” Huh?

Reflect

These questions facilitate our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us thru his word. Choose some.

1. Are all burdens blessings or only some? How can we tell what burdens are from God?

2. Does God ever give a person a load too heavy for them to manage? Explain.

3. What is a heavy load you sense the Lord has laid on you that he has enabled you to carry?

4. Burdens become unmanageable to carry whenever we try to carry them without ________?

5. What can we each do to help another carry their burdens while not dropping our own?

6. Make a list of “blessed burdens” you sense group members carry these days and pray.

this went thru my mind

 

Church decline: One Observation of Declining Churches by Ron Edmonson

“I’ve worked with a number of churches in decline. One thing I’ve noticed that is fairly consistent among declining churches is what they do once they realize they are in decline. … They dig their heels into the tradition that got them where they are today. They go back to what’s comfortable. They resist any changes in what they’ve done before, hoping to avert future decline.”

College: The Rising Cost of Higher Education [infographic]

“The College Board forecasts that in 15 years, the cost of a four-year college education at a private college will top $400,000 (at the current rate of increases).”

Deacons & deaconesses: #359 – Deacons, Ministers, or …? by Patrick Mead [required reading]

“Rather than use made up words like ‘deacon’ and made up words formed from made up words (!) like ‘deaconesses’ it would seem to make more sense to use the Biblical concept and call both of them ‘ministers’ or ‘servants.'”

Doubt: What Christians Can Learn From A Bible-Belt Pastor Who Became An Atheist Leader

“The problem of personal evil and suffering was a huge factor in his de-conversion.”

Food: 40% of U.S. Food Wasted, Report Says

“The report points out waste in all areas of the U.S. food supply chain, from field to plate, from farms to warehouses, from buffets to school cafeterias.”

Learning: Ministry Inside.90 by Jim Martin

“The following are five suggestions for learning from ‘masters.'”

Productivity: What Successful People Do With The First Hour Of Their Work Day

“…  many successful people schedule themselves a kind of grown-up home room every day. You should too. The first hour of the workday goes a bit differently …”

Sharing faith: Ten Questions to Diagnose the Evangelistic Health of Your Church by Thom Rainer

“In my work with churches across America, I often ask a series of questions that help me assist the church to become more evangelistically focused. Recently, I took time to write down the questions I ask most often. Look at these ten questions to get at least some hints of the evangelistic health of your own church.”

The Pledge of Allegiance: A Restless Patriotism by Richard Beck [required reading]

“I’m a mess when it comes to the Pledge of Allegiance. Sometimes I say it. Sometimes I don’t. Social context generally determines what I do, with the main criterion being not wanting to embarrass anyone or make anyone feel uncomfortable. I also struggle with not saying the Pledge as I don’t want to be taken as being ungrateful or dismissive of those who have made sacrifices for everything I enjoy in America. So I’m trying to walk this line between being socially appropriate, respectful to others (particularly to those who have lost loved ones in war), deeply grateful, and yet holding onto the belief that the Pledge of Allegiance is inherently idolatrous. That’s a tough line to walk and I don’t walk it well or very consistently.”

Bruner on John 13.8

 

“The Footwashing [John 13] is the classic parable of how – almost ‘incredibly’ – Jesus wants to relate perpetually to hid disciples: namely, to be at our service. (But aren’t we at his service? He is Lord. Yet he apparently wishes to live much of his Lordship in the service of his people. This is hard ever to grasp. It must be preached and taught again and again, and believed again and again.) For some mysterious reason we mortals – and not least, we disciples – resist divinity’s free grace, its totally unmerited service of us, its way of saving or ‘salvaging’ us human beings. This story illustrates the Gospel’s truth unforgettably. Moral: Let us let ourselves be loved by the Lord. Let Jesus be our Servant-Lord, not our conscience (in relation to the Lord, that is to say; ethically conscience is, under Christ’s Lordship, often a good guide). Give in. Be washed, simply because Jesus wants to wash us and not because we think or feel we deserve to be washed.”

F.D. Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Eerdmans, 2012), pp.765-766