Marriage. Singleness. Dating. Divorce.
If it has to do with intimate relationships, it can be pretty sensitive territory. So we’re moving into this five-week series, “Happily Ever After” on marriage and relationships, with full knowledge and consideration that everyone has a unique story. Still, it’s the very importance of the topic of marriage and relationships that makes it so important to talk openly about.
Even if you grew up around “happy marriages,” people in those marriages probably didn’t sit you down and say, “Now let me tell you why our marriage is so healthy,” and then give you a simple 3-step master plan.
In Philippians 2:1-8, Paul longs for the church to experience unity, even within the midst of their personal uniqueness. And we can do this, he claims, if we have the same mindset as Christ, who emptied himself for our sake.
Pastor Aaron today used the image of a fuel tank. We can fill someone’s tank, but we also have to take from it. Any relationship is a balance of give and take. Unfortunately, many relationships are running on fumes. One or both parties are using up the reserves but not doing anything to fill it back up again. What would it look like to have the mindset of Christ and pour ourselves out for the sake of the person with whom we are the closest?
- If you had to list up to five things that your partner does to “empty” your tank, what would they be?
- If you could list up to five things that your partner does to “fill” your tank, what would they be?
- What’s standing in the way of sharing these things with your spouse or significant other?
- If you currently don’t have a significant other, how can thinking through these questions help you if and when you do date or marry someone?
“The Church must be outwardly focused to be inwardly strong.”
This morning, Pastor Aaron shared some of the fundamental principles that made the original followers of Jesus bond so permanently, and which to this day still solidify the Church’s identity and purpose.
When Jesus initially called disciples to himself, he identified himself as having a purpose: “I will send you out to fish for people” (Mark 4:19). Even after Jesus’ ascension, the early church simultaneously saw health in their community and rapid growth.
The reason? Purpose.
“Healthy community flows out of a unified cause — not the other way around.”
So the question each of us is asking today is: “What part is God calling me to play in the purpose God is fulfilling through this congregation and in this community?”
- Have you ever shared a common purpose with someone so powerful that it created a lasting bond?
- Have you ever lacked a common purpose with someone and felt your friendship grow weak?
- If you had to tell a stranger what UPPC’s purpose was, what would you say?
- If you had to tell a non-Christian what your purpose is as a Jesus follower, what would you say?
(A Christmas gift for UPPC Group Life followers: an early blog! Life gets busy during the weeks surrounding Christmas, so I wanted to get this to you now. There will be another blog entry after the message on Dec. 31, but not until Tuesday Jan. 2. –Mike)
Cut off. Alone. That’s how Mary and Joseph might have felt.
The census Caesar decreed meant that Bethlehem was filled to bursting with every cousin, grandparent, and third-cousin-twice-removed who traced their lineage to the line of David. It probably felt a bit like some people’s Christmas gatherings, come to think of it.
So Mary and Joseph’s urgent need placed them in a vulnerable situation. Physically, because she was about to give birth. And socially, because who wants her to give birth in their living room? They must have felt so alone.
Ironically, alone was the last thing they were. Because moving and kicking inside of his mother’s womb was the very Lord of creation Himself, ready to disembark. Or, perhaps, to embark on what would become the most important life in all history. The life of “God with us.” No more would he be enshrouded behind a cloud on a mountaintop. No more would he be relegated to a tabernacle-tent. No more would he be veiled behind the temple curtain. God chose to be with us. And he meant it.
- Have you ever felt truly alone? What led to that loneliness? What did you do to cope?
- Have you ever known someone who was lonely? What could/did you do in response?
- If God chose to be with us in the flesh then, how does God choose to be with us in the flesh now?
- Imagine having an encounter with another human being that convinced you God was right there with you. What would that encounter be like?
Luke 1:67-80, “A Parent’s Joy”
There are times when God seems silent.
There are times when we need to be silent.
And there are times when we need to burst forth in joyful song! Today was a day to break the silence of Advent; a time to cast our minds forward to the fulfillment of God’s promises.
As Jesus’ people, we live an “already-not-yet” existence. In Christ, the Kingdom of God has already come, breaking into our world with the rushing wind of God’s Holy Spirit. But the Kingdom of God has not yet been fulfilled, evident in the broken, but healing, world in which God has placed us. And so Jesus’ people are to be characterized by a unique sort of waiting.
Like the moment after the orchestral overture, but before the curtain rises, we wait with baited breath, with eager anticipation, with joyful excitement. For we know that what we wait for will come. And it will be worth the wait.
- Can you recall a time in your past when you just had to share some good news? When you burst forth with joy?
- Have you ever known someone who was so full of excitement, enthusiasm, or joy that they couldn’t keep silent?
- In seasons when God seems silent, how do you suppose you might maintain hope?
- In seasons when the noisy din of humanity drowns out the peace-giving presence of God, what could you do to find peace?
- In seasons when you’re blessed with joy, what can you do to express it?
Last week, we began this Advent contemplation of “Silence” by looking at the painful silence that accompanies a longing for the voice of God. But even when God sent a messenger to Zechariah, to announce the coming of a new prophet John the Baptist, there was a need for a new kind of silence — the silence of the people.
The story of Zechariah’s life-changing encounter with the angel Gabriel is linked above. But in sum, Zechariah and his wife are childless and elderly, but when God reveals that Elizabeth will bear a son who will be a prophet, Zechariah can’t believe it. In response, the angel makes him mute until the day the child will be born.
Of course, when you read it, it’s clear that Zechariah’s muteness is a sort of punishment. But really, I see it as more of a discipline, that is, something imposed upon him for the sake of teaching him an important lesson. Perhaps the lesson was something like, “Oh, you don’t think God can do this? Well, how about you stop using your mouth for a season and learn how to use your other senses; your ears, your eyes. Observe and see all that God can and will do.”
Had he not been silenced, we might conclude that Zechariah might have rationalized his experience away, like Scrooge does when he’s getting creeped out the night before his ghostly encounters: “Perhaps a bit of bad beef…”
But because Zechariah was silenced, he was actually blessed with the opportunity to observe all that God can and will do in God’s own time, and with God’s own power. And thankfully, it is all for the benefit of the world.
- Would it be hard for you to not speak for nine months? Discuss.
- Have you ever had an experience of slowing down and turning off the noise of your life? What was it like?
- Why do you think God seems to insist on encountering people in simple, humble, and easy-to-miss ways, as he does with Elijah at Horeb (1 Kings 19:12)?
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, a period of waiting for the arrival of the Messiah, Jesus. We recognize Advent in a few ways. (1) We anticipate the Christmas holiday, of course (think “Advent calendar.”) (2) We acknowledge that we are currently in a period of waiting for Jesus’ return and the final consummation of God’s creation. (3) We remember the time before Jesus’ birth, sometimes referred to as “the silence of the prophets,” during which people waited for centuries to hear a word from God.
Of course, even before this relative silence, people would cry out to God in times of distress. One in particular, the prophet Habakkuk, articulates the kind of prayer one might even hear today as he asks God to explain why the world around him is so full of wickedness. God, it seems to Habakkuk, is silent. Ironically, God has plenty to say in this 3-chapter book, and reveals the plan for God’s people to be conquered by the terrifying Babylonians.
Later, the voice of God would fall silent for generations. This silence, perhaps, cultivated in people a longing, an anticipation, for God to act. To save. To anoint a particular king who would usher in a new and permanent era for God’s people and the world. This king was known in Hebrew as the moshiach or Messiah.
- Do you have an experience of trying to hear from God, but “hearing” nothing? What was it like? Did it ever change?
- Habakkuk actually has two complaints: one about his own people and one about the invading Babylonians. Which do you find more concerning today, the problems within your community, or problems that threaten from outside your community?
- Think of something you had to wait for. There was nothing you could do to speed up the process, and maybe you didn’t even know when the waiting would end. Is there anything you learned? Did the waiting shape you in any way?
- If you’re currently in a period of waiting, especially for God to do something, what are some ways you can learn or mature because of the waiting?
1 Peter 2:4-10
With Thanksgiving officially come-and-gone, the “holiday season” has begun! (Okay, if you’re in retail it began some time in October…maybe even September!)
So it got me thinking about why this season so often involves spending time with family (for better or worse!) Maybe it’s because family is our first experience of being “a people.” Today’s passage was meant to be read by a number of different people-groups who had no earthly reason to see themselves as unified. But because of the gospel of Jesus Christ, God reaches out to lost and disparate peoples, transforming them “from lost to one.”
It today’s passage, Peter proclaims that God is building a whole new kind of people, characterized not by merit or birth, but by mercy and re-birth. And God is creating this people to embody a “spiritual home” (v.5) for the world, to declare all that is praiseworthy (v.9) about God.
- Who are “your people?” Family? Friends? Countrymen? How do you draw those lines?
- How does the gospel of Jesus blur the lines of peoplehood, as we typically understand it?
- If God is building you into a “spiritual home,” (v.5) how at-home do you think people feel when they’re with you?
- If our purpose is to declare God’s excellence (v.9), how could we do that day-to-day that would bless people? In words? In deeds?
- Finally, how can our “good words and deeds” be clearly understood by others as motivated by the fact that “once we had not received mercy, but now we have received mercy?” (v.10)
Thousands of years ago, God set up a system by which he would bless the world through people: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:3). During the second temple period, the system was the same as it had been since God gave Moses the Law: everyone bring a tenth of their best wealth to the temple, so the storehouse would be full. So that…who would be blessed?
Those in the most need.*
But when the chosen people of God aren’t faithful in this calling, the community suffers. This faithlessness of God’s people and its repercussions are at the heart of Malachi 3. Of course God could solve all the world’s problems. But scripture is clear from end to end: God plans to bless the world through you, me, and all whom he calls.
The good news in this passage is that God intends to abundantly bless the community who are faithful stewards of what God has given. Note: to bless the community. There’s no individual “prosperity gospel” here. This is not a call to manipulate God into fulfilling our wish lists. This is a call to join God in blessing others, so that we, like the faithful before us, can have our names written in the scroll of remembrance as those who honored God.
- What is the biggest challenge you face when it comes to giving a portion of your income to ministry efforts?
- God’s law has always been to give the first 10% of our income. Does this challenge you? Why or why not?
- Can you think of a time when you gave from your personal income or wealth and experienced God’s provision afterward?
- Do you think our city would change if every Jesus follower gave the first 10% of their income to ministry efforts? If so, how?
*See Deut. 14:28-29.
Do remember the first time you had to dress nicely for a special event?
First, our parents or guardians sort of, well, force us to do it. But later, maybe during adolescence, we might take more ownership of how we dress. And of course, many of us have memories of our first formal school dance–the ultimate dress-up occasion!
What we wear does matter. Our clothes can help us feel like we belong or make us feel appealing. Clothes often have to be functional, like work boots or glasses. And our clothing can even express our identity or beliefs! In any case, our clothing communicates a message.
That’s why it’s such a good analogy for Paul to use in his letter to the Colossians. Theirs was a deeply troubled church, torn by teaching that contradicted the gospel of grace which they had accepted. It was as though they had taken off the “garment” of grace and replaced with one of their own making.
So Paul urges them to clothe themselves with a way of living that reflects the new life they’ve been given in Christ. God uses our messy real-life challenges not only to help us grow and mature, but in doing so our lives become a message of grace, hope, and love.
- Do you feel that you’re experiencing the new life of Jesus? If so, describe how that feels. If not, what could you do to have a daily experience of Christ’s life?
- Paul gives a list of about 14 different ways of interacting with people. Which ones would be the most challenging for you?
- Which of the behaviors Paul lists could become the most significant “message” of the gospel in your community?