A Few Things to Keep in Mind (and then the readings and questions below):
1) When you read the bible and/or pray, ask God to be your guide. As Jesus says, “…the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit can teach you everything you need to know (and can help you not to worry about the rest).
2) Keep in mind that the bible is real. That is, it came out of real places, real times and real communities. This is a good thing, because it means God has been relating to people throughout history. It’s also a difficult thing, because the places, times and communities are foreign to us. A good study bible can help with this. But again, you don’t need to know everything.
3) Think about the bible as a whole (as best you can). Every word, sentence, paragraph, idea (and so on) has to be considered with all of the other words, sentences, paragraphs, ideas (and so on).
4) Study and pray with others. In groups, there’s camaraderie, comfort and challenge. Good things.
5) Dive in and let go. Remember that the point is to know how to be in scripture and prayer as much as it is to BE in scripture and prayer.
Readings and Questions
Week of July 27-August 2
Readings: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, 2:1-6; Isaiah 29:13-14
1. Do you remember a time when you talked to someone (other than family member) about what you believe?
2. We posed this question on Sunday: When it comes down to it, how do I talk about what I believe? So…how?
3. Some of the Corinthians were talking about their beliefs as they were experts in faith, as if they’d figured out Jesus/God/the Cross, as if they’d mastered the Cross. In doing so, they were being really dishonest. Why is coming across like an expert or master so dangerous?
4. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul communicated that nobody can talk like they’re experts in faith for the very reason that the Cross simply doesn’t make sense in human terms/wisdom. Paul suggests that to be able to talk about God and the Cross you ultimately have to live out the Cross and experience God’s redemption through it. In other words, the best way to talk about the Cross, for instance, is to talk about what the Cross has done to you; you have to tell your story. Can you see yourself doing that? If so, how so? If not, why not?
5. To put it practically, we have to be simple, honest and bold about what we believe, and we have to rely on God’s Spirit to give us the right words to say. There’s no need to recite theology or regurgitate doctrines. We can just simply and honestly tell our story about what the Cross of God has done to us. Doing this helps broken people and people who believe differently than we do feel like they belong in the conversation (because they do!). Do you agree that such honesty and simplicity can achieve that?
Week of July 20-July 26
Readings: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 11:1-6
1. Do you remember a time when someone did something for you that made you think they REALLY cared about you?
2. We learn from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that the Corinthians were gifted speakers. Yet while the Corinthians could say all the right things, they were communicating all the wrong things. It could be that their actions were speaking more loudly than their words. Do you think it’s still true that actions speak louder than words?
3. It seems that long before we ever say what we believe, our actions will communicate everything about what we really believe. What does this mean in relationship to evangelism? In other words, if we’re all called to be God’s storytellers and storylisteners, what role do actions play in all that?
4. Paul’s actions spoke loudly and clearly about how he valued the Corinthians. For instance, we think he spent 18 months with the Corinthians. What did Paul communicate by spending that amount of time with them?
5. Apparently different groups of Corinthian followers of Jesus were communicating that they were more important than other groups/followers–that their version of Christianity was better, that their gifts mattered more and that they could be church without other groups. In response to that, Paul says basically, I never ACTED like that. Paul talks about how he simply did his part as a humble servant in the body of Christ. Paul’s actions communicated how he valued people as a part of Christ’s body, the church. How can we do that?
Week of July 13-July 19
Readings: 1 Corinthians 4 (primary); James 1:19-27
1. Can you remember a time when you felt like someone was “pushing” their beliefs on you?
2. Do you know someone whom you consider to be a good listener? If so, how do they make you feel?
3. Nicole Chivilis, a chaplain in Seattle, said in an article in Christian Century, “Listening well creates a space where a truth can be spoken.” Do you agree with that statement–that simply listening helps people to be more open and honest? Or is there more to it than that?
4. In his letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul suggests that some of the Corinthians’ gifts were actually being used as weapons. For instance, someone with the gift of language might have been showing off constantly with showy words. We might imagine that poor listening (to God and neighbors) turned the Corinthians’ gifts into weapons. Do you consider yourself to be a good listener or a bad listener? When you practice “active listening”, what do you find?
5. Paul suggests that listening to God’s Spirit constantly in prayer and mindfulness is a key to coming alive in our giftedness. How do you/can you ensure that you’re doing that?
Week of July 6-July 12
Readings: 1 Corinthians 1 (primary); Acts 1:1-11
1. Icebreaker: From whom did you learn your faith? In other words, who has influenced what you believed and how?
2. Evangelism. What does that word make you think, picture and feel?
3. One of the final things Jesus is quoted as saying in the bible is this: “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” All of us have different spiritual gifts. For instance, some people share what they believe (witness or evangelize) more easily and more gracefully then others. Yet, Jesus talks as if we will all be witnesses, or God’s storytellers, with the help of the Spirit. Why are we so afraid or turned off by evangelism/witnessing/storytelling?
4. It may be that we’re not afraid of evangelism; it may be that we’re afraid of our perceptions of evangelism (what we think it is, how we’ve seen others do it, the bad stories we’ve heard). For instance, maybe we perceive that the goal of evangelism is to convert others to believe like we do. What if that’s not what evangelism is? What if evangelism is more like storytelling and story listening? In other words, what if evangelism is more like listening (and really listening!) to others and then telling your story–the way believing in Christ has changed you?
5. The Apostle Paul did exactly that (from question #4). He spent 18 months with a group of people (the Corinthians). He learned their way of life, listened to them and then shared how encountering Jesus had changed him. What Paul shared (which you can read in 1 Corinthians) is that he believed all people–every human story–were a part of God’s story. Do you believe that, that God wants to co-write a story with you and every human you meet?
Week of June 29-July 5
Readings: 1 Corinthians 12:8-13:13 (primary); Genesis 2:5-7
1. Icebreaker: Can you remember a bad fight you had with a sibling, friend, spouse, etc. that seems stupid now when you look back?
2. 1 Corinthians was written somewhere around 1960 years ago to groups of Jesus followers who were struggling with division big time. In your opinion, would Paul (the author of the letter) write a similar letter to churches today?
3. In an attempt to unite these divided followers of Jesus, Paul invites them to think about Spirit: that they share a reliance on the Holy Spirit, like the breath in their lungs. Does that work–to remember what we share in common as a foundation? If yes, why? If no, why not?
4. One could imagine note accompanying letter that says: “Open this when everything’s falling apart.” When everything is falling apart for these Corinthians who are trying to be church, Paul says this: You rely on God’s Spirit more than you know, and you rely on each other more than you know. What if we took that seriously…really? Why don’t we?
5. To help the Corinthians realize how they need each other to be church, Paul says, “We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body…Certainly the body isn’t one part but many.” What’s your gift, the gift that our church needs you to share for us to be a complete body? (I suggest that you help each other to answer this. For instance, maybe go around and say what you think someone else’s gift is.)
Bonus: For Paul, the gift we can/must all cultivate and share is love. If God’s Spirit is the breath in our collective lungs, what’s love?
Week of June 22-28
Readings: 1 Corinthians 12:1-7 (primary); John 3, 15:26-16:15
1. Icebreaker: Do you have any interesting (or better yet) bad camping stories?
2. For centuries, most Christians have believed that God is made up of Father, Son and Holy Spirit (aka, the Trinity). How do you make sense of that? Do you feel like you can make sense of it? Does it matter to you?
3. Jesus (“the Son”) prays, “Our Father…”, and Jesus talks about “His Father” all the time. But he also talks about the Holy Spirit all the time. Have you heard the Holy Spirit talked about much (maybe in comparison to Jesus and the Father)? If so, how? If not, why do you think not? (Here are some places where Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit: Matthew 28:16-20; John 3:5-8 and 14:25-26; Acts 1:1-5.)
4. 1 Corinthians is a letter written about twenty years after Jesus, by Paul to a group of new Christians who were struggling with conflict and leaving behind their old ways. In order to help them out in the midst of their struggle, Paul says what he says in 1 Corinthians 12:1-7. Why is the Holy Spirit–what Paul says specifically about the Spirit–the solution to their troubles?
5. The Holy Spirit is also called the Companion, or the Helper, by Jesus. Jesus makes it sound like God–that is God’s very self–wants to live inside you as your daily helper, like the breath in your lungs or the voice inside your head. Jesus (and Paul) says we will more fully know God and ourselves if we follow Jesus and seek out this Helper. Can you remember a time where there was a strong voice inside you that helped you to be like Jesus? Or, is this something you struggle to relate to?
6. BONUS! Check out what’s called the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed here. It’s a was one of the first statements about what the church believed from 381. What do you think about?
Week 5 (June 1-June 7)
Readings: 2 Peter 3 (primary); Jude (secondary)
- Icebreaker: What’s the longest road trip you’ve ever been on?
- Some have used this phrase to describe God’s Eternal Kingdom: here now and not yet. What does that mean to you?
- Like a LONG road trip to the beach with detours, traffic jams, flat tires, empty tanks, whiny kids and storms, following Jesus can feel like there’s no real purpose or joy here and now as we make our way to God’s Eternal Village. Would you say you feel like that never, rarely, often or all the time in your faith?
- The writer of 1 and 2 Peter wants to stir up in us sincere understanding with a reminder that “the Day” is definitely coming when “the heavens will pass away with a dreadful noise, the elements will be consumed by fire, and the earth and all the works done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:10 CEB). When you hear a passage like this, what do you think or feel?
- The reality of this “Day” is a theme repeated throughout the bible, yet listen to what this writer says about this Day: 1) “…with the Lord a single day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a single day” (2 Peter 3:8, CEB). 2) “The Lord isn’t slow to keep his promise, as some think of slowness, but he is patient toward you, not wanting anyone to perish but all to change their hearts and live” (2 Peter 3:9, CEB). Why do you think, considering both verses, we’ve had such a habit of using the reality of Judgment Day as an opportunity to make ourselves judges—people who focus on the how, when, where, who and what Judgment Day?
- Finally, Peter calls us to see absolutely everything and everyone as if it’s heading towards God. If this is true, what then does it mean to “love your neighbor”?
Week 4 (May 25-31)
Readings: 1 Peter 4:7-5:14 (primary); For the Life of the World: Episode 1 (viewed in The Current)
1. Icebreaker: What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?
2. In Episode 1 of For the Life of the World, one thinker says the bigger picture of our being in exile boils down to this question: What’s our salvation for? So…what’s it for?
3. Here’s a quote from Episode 1: “Just like John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and the future coming of the kingdom, we are pointing to a new reality that’s off into the future, even if it’s somewhat present right now. We’re not the Messiah; we’re people who prepare the way. Are we willing to do that hard work for something we may not even see, for something we might not ourselves be able to envision? Can we stand in the midst of exile while the whole place seems to burn? Can we allow ourselves to do the humble work of sewing and tilling so that another can come along and reap? Can we be so bold as to declare that that work is preparing the way of the Lord?” Our culture tells us to seek all the rewards and gratification right now. 1 Peter challenges us to take part in the bigger picture God has created and saved us for; it calls us to do the humble, hard work described above, though the fullness of the joy and reward is ultimately beyond what we can envision. Can we do this? Will we? How do you struggle with this?
4. 1 Peter 4:10 says, “And serve each other according to the gift each person has received, as good managers of God’s diverse gifts” (CEB). Episode 1 mentions how each of our areas of work is like an instrument, which we can play in isolation and make good music, but the point is to play our instruments in harmony to make a song. Another way Evan, the narrator, puts it is that there are invidual economies, and then there is oikonomia (OY-KAH-NAH-MEE-UH), which is God’s House. Our culture invites us to be rugged individuals making good music. 1 Peter invites us to be Christ-like collaborators in exile–people who join our gifts and work to the Big Picture, the Big Song, oikonomia. Why is it so much easier to do what our culture invites us to do?
5. Evan talks about how the song we’re making is called “Gift.” Everything we see is a gift. God’s creation. Our work. Our skills. Our money. Our arts. Our families. All of it is a gift from God. But instead of offering those gifts back to God, we’ve taken them for ourselves. Evan says Christ was a gift from God, and Christ shows us how to exist in the world as exiles: Christ, a gift from God, offers himself heavenward as a gift for the life of the world. Evan connects us to the Chinese lantern, something that is made from stuff of the earth yet also made for fire, also made to be let go as a gift to heaven. Evan says, “For all our work in this world is made of stuff of the earth: our families, our labor, our governments and charities and schools and art forms. All of it takes place here below, but all of it is pointing towards heaven. All of it is in a sense holy. Imagine if all of us offered our work for the good of our cities around us. How might we be able to change those cities? What would it look like if we only understood that our humble work is a heavenward offering? Would would our city of exile look like then?” Do you think of your work like this? Do you think of your gifts like this? Do you think of your very self like this?
6. One of the last questions of the movie is, what does it take to transform a city? One of thinkers in Episode 1 quotes the prophet Jeremiah who was writing to God’s people when they were exiled to Babylon. Jeremiah said to those exiles, “See the welfare of the city into which I have placed you, and in seeking that welfare, you will find your own welfare.” So, what does it take to transform a city?
Week 3 (May 18-24)
Readings: 1 Peter 3:8-4:11 (primary); Psalm 34 and Romans 12 (secondary)
1. Icebreaker: What’s the best/worst thing a neighbor has ever done to/for you?
2. In 3:8, the writer is still thinking about what codes Christians should live by “in house”, literally within households and figuratively between Christians. He says, “Finally, all of you be of one mind, sympathetic, lovers of your fellow believers, compassionate, and modest in your opinion of yourselves” (CEB). First, what do you notice about these concepts (being of one mind, being sympathetic, being lovers of fellow believers, etc.)? Second, do you believe we’re doing these things well “in-house”–within our households and between fellow Christians?
3. 1 Peter implies that if we’re not prepared to make sacrifices for what we believe on the inside (“in-house”), we certainly won’t be prepared to make sacrifices for what we believe on the outside. Do you agree with that, that change mostly has to happen from the inside out? Or, are you the kind of person who changes from the outside in–so you discipline yourself on the outside which then changes your heart on the inside?
4. In this section (3:8-4:11), the writer talks about how BIG, in his mind, Christ’s suffering and resurrection really are. He talks as if Christ’ suffering in the flesh set the stage for the complete spiritual renewal of the history of the world–from the time of Noah to now; as if God sized up all humankind’s mess and set out to address it; as if the cross and resurrection happened to bring all of us (maybe even the dead! see 3:19 and 4:6) into the presence of God through spiritual renewal. A summary of this section might go like this: The whole world–including you!–is ripe for renewal, so cut the crap and be reconciled to God and to each other! What’s your response to this BIG vision?
5. Ultimately 1 Peter gets down to business in chapter 4 (as if it already wasn’t): “The end of everything has come. Therefore, be self-controlled and clearheaded so you can pray. Above all, show sincere love to each other, because love brings about the forgiveness of many sins. Open your homes to each other without complaining. And serve each other according to the gift each person has received, as good managers of God’s diverse gifts” (4:7-10, CEB). 1 Peter calls us to think about ourselves and our neighbors–the ones literally next-door and all the rest–as people meant to belong to this eternal village–God’s Kingdom–where our homes are open to each other always. But again, that village is being gathered and built now! What can you do for your next-door neighbors to live like you believe this? How can you change your actions and interactions with co-workers, colleagues, classmates, etc. to live like you believe this?
Week 2 (May 11-17)
Readings: 1 Peter 3 (primary); Ezekiel 34 (secondary)
1. Icebreaker: Can you think of an abnormal household code or rule that you or your family follows?
2. When we interpret anything in the bible, we have to consider what’s going on in “the world behind the text.” Think of it this way: If you sent a text message to someone that said, “You should try going to sleep earlier,” we could guess, in the world behind the text, that the recipient was going to bed too late. So, based on 2.18 and 3.1-7, can you guess at what the world behind the text looked like? (Side note: Biblical commentaries can be helpful with what’s going on behind the text.)
3. The writer of 1 Peter identifies what were normal household codes in the world behind the letter, AND THEN he imagines new Christ-like counter-cultural codes for “the exiles”* who received the letter. Looking again at 3:1-7, can you identify some of the new codes?
4. In 3:15-16, the writer says, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” The writer must have thought that these new Christ-like codes would challenge and intrigue people who witnessed Christians embodying them. Have you had “anyone demand from you an accounting for the hope that is in you” recently?
5. 1 Peter 3 challenges us to ask, what are the norms or codes of our culture, and if we follow Christ and long for the eternal Kingdom, should they be normal? Maybe think specifically about the culture of our households–think about your specific household. To you, what are the household codes of our culture (e.g., time spent at home or dinner at a certain time)? Then, what would our households look like if we were living as exiles–as people who are Christ-like and longing for God’s Kingdom here and now?
*Revisit week 1 if you can’t recall what “exiles” refers to.
Week 1 (May 4-10)
Readings: 1 Peter 2 (primary); Psalm 33 and Daniel 1 (secondary)
- Icebreaker: Can you remember a time where you had to adapt to a new culture? If you can, what happened when you looked different–when you failed to adapt?
- 1 Peter is written to new followers of Jesus who are called to “live into” God’s Kingdom “because they have received mercy.” When you hear the phrase “live into” what’s that mean to you, or what do you think of?
- The writer calls the recipients of this letter “exiles” (1.1, 2.11). Most of these people weren’t exiles; they weren’t forced to physically live away from home. So how do you think this writer sees himself and these new Christians as exiles, as peopled living away from homeland? (See #1 of Introduction below for more historical background on the letter, if your group wants.)
- 1 Peter 2:13-25 are some of the most difficult, and some would say offensive, verses in the bible. Verses like “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters…” have been used in history to promote slavery. Yet many of the earliest Christians patterned their lives directly after Jesus in that when they were insulted, they did not retaliate; when they suffered, they made no threats(2:23). When forced to make the choice between giving up their beliefs (because Christianity was illegal in that time) or being executed, literally thousands of people followed Jesus unto death. Why not just skip over all this struggle and transform sin and suffering “in a jiff” with thousands of angels as Jesus said he could do (Matthew 26:53)? In other words, why does Jesus/God build the Kingdom of eternity the way 1 Peter describes?
- Every generation of Jesus followers in every culture has to ask itself these questions: How do I live into God’s eternal Kingdom here and now? How do I live as an exile who follows Jesus–someone who’s embracing Christ-like countercultural living here and now? In my relationships, in my work, with my money, with my time, with my body, with what I wear, with what I consume–with everything–how? So…how? Feel free to address any of those areas or others in which you believe “the battle is being waged” here and now.
Introduction (April 27)
Readings: John 19:41-21; 1 Peter 1
- 1 Peter is a letter written somewhere around 50 years after Jesus to Christians all over modern-day Turkey. In that context, the Christian movement was seen as illegal, because it went against the gods of the Roman Empire. A Roman governor by the name of Pliny the Younger, who was governor over one of the regions to which 1 Peter is addressed, wrote a letter to the Roman Emperor Trajan which tells us a lot about how Christians were viewed and treated by Romans. (You can read it here and discuss it, if you want.) The letter tells us that Christianity was exploding in spite of persecution not even a century after Jesus. What does that say to you?
- The writer of 1 Peter says faith in Jesus is more precious than gold “that, though perishable, is tested by fire.” What similar tests (if any) do you imagine people who believe in Jesus face here and now? What tests are different?
- For this writer, the ultimate outcome of faith in Jesus Christ is “an inheritance that is imperishable”, “the salvation of our souls.” Why then would the writer advise the recipients of this letter to “prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed”? In other words, why not just believe and wait if the ultimate outcome is beyond this physical life? (Hint: Maybe God’s eternal kingdom is not just something we wait for; maybe we become believers and builders as we follow Jesus.)
- In 1.14, it says, “Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance.” What do obedient children do that we should do in relationship to Christ?
- Finally, 1.23 talks about being “born anew.” The suggestion of the first section of this letter is that if we believe in Jesus, we should expect to experience new life here and now, especially as we experience trials! Do you ever find yourself avoiding trials and making sacrifices in your journey with Christ? When you’ve made sacrifices (financially, physically, etc.), did you find new life here and now to some degree, or did you find yourself frustrated?