Bible

What do you bring to your small group?

‘Elisha returned to Gilgal and there was a famine in that region. While the company of the prophets was meeting with him, he said to his servant, “Put on the large pot and cook some stew for these prophets.”

One of them went out into the fields to gather herbs and found a wild gourd plant and picked as many of its gourds as his garment could hold. When he returned, he cut them up into the pot of stew, though no-one knew what they were. The stew was poured out for the men, but as they began to eat it, they cried out, “Man of God, there is death in the pot!” And they could not eat it.

Elisha said, “Get some flour.” He put it into the pot and said, “Serve it to the people to eat.” And there was nothing harmful in the pot.

A man came from Baal Shalishah, bringing the man of God twenty loaves of barley bread baked from the first ripe corn, along with some ears of new corn. “Give it to the people to eat,” Elisha said.

“How can I set this before a hundred men?” his servant asked.

But Elisha answered, “Give it to the people to eat. For this is what the LORD says: ‘They will eat and have some left over.’” Then he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the LORD.’

2 Kings 4:38–44

 

 

Two curious stories. Two stories about ravenously hungry people being fed by miracles from God. Perhaps that is all there is to them: stories that proved what a great prophet Elisha was. Personally I can’t help feeling there is more to them than that!

Here are three guys who made a contribution. They put something in.

The first man put poisonous weeds into a pot of stew. It wasn’t intentional. It was ignorance and perhaps carelessness. But the result was a disaster; you can see those hungry young students pulling faces as they tried to spoon up the bitter concoction. Ugh, revolting, ‘there is death in the pot!’

Have you noticed that in group situations there are usually characters who have the unfortunate knack of making problems even worse by what they put in? Negative things, bitter things, reproachful things. ‘I told you this would happen!’ ‘Nobody ever listens to me!’ ‘A fine mess you’ve made of things, haven’t you!’ By the time they’ve said their bit everything seems worse than it was before.

Then there was a man who made a really helpful contribution. This was another occasion when there wasn’t enough to eat, and he turned up with twenty bread rolls. This was a kind and generous action but the trouble was that there were a hundred hungry men to feed. This man did the right thing though. He did what he could, even if it wasn’t going to solve the problem. This is important. Do what you can, give what you can, so long as what you are putting in is good. Whether you share words, deeds, gifts or prayers. Don’t hold back, thinking, ‘What’s the use?’ Give what you can even though it seems pitifully inadequate.

The third man was Elisha. His contribution was faith. He had a special quality of faith that put him in touch with God’s methods and God’s timing. His faith turned the bad broth into appetizing stew. His faith multiplied the bread to feed a hundred hungry men. When people are around who have the quality of faith it is surprising how situations can change. You probably feel that you don’t have as much faith as Elisha had, and you may be right. But just remember that you have the same God!

 

About Norman Moss

Norman and Margaret Moss commenced ministry together in 1957. After 9 years in Chiswick, they pastored a church in Wimbledon for 31 years, and since then have been widely engaged in travelling ministry. Margaret contributed to the Dictionary of Christian Ethics (IVP) and Norman has written several children’s books. Both have wide experience with small groups.

Transformed Life: Summary Week

In this series of posts, we’re looking at the eight weeks of the Transformed Life church programme. This final update is the Transformed Life Summary Day.

As we reach the end of the Transformed Life programme, Dave Smith encourages us to reflect on the revelation of our new identity, belonging and purpose in Christ and apply these truths to our everyday lives. He provides for us a list of declarations for the promises, truths and prayers covered through Ephesians 1–3. You could list some of these in various places – on the fridge, on your computer, at work – as daily reminders to yourself about your own identity, belonging and purpose.

Here at Small Group Central, we hope you have enjoyed and been encouraged as you have worked through the Transformed Life programme.

Your feedback

If you would like to share your experience of Transformed Life, then we would love to hear from you – contact us or send an email to hello@transformed-life.info

Spread the word

If you have already completed Transformed Life, we would love you to encourage others to take part this year. Transformed Life can be started at any time during the year, so please spread the word and let others know about this church programme.

What next? Transformed Living …

We are working with Dave Smith once again to produce a follow-on programme called Transformed Living. This will continue to explore Ephesians, looking at chapters 4–6, and is currently due to be released in 2017. We will keep in touch with updates!

We also have a number of other CWR church programmes that you may be interested in. Click below to find out more …
 

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40 Days with Jesus: What we love!

Week 1

We love persistence and devotion … particularly Mary’s persistence and devotion to Jesus on that first Easter Sunday morning. In Day 1 of the devotional, Dave writes:

Mary was clearly so devoted to Jesus that at the earliest opportunity after the Sabbath, she got up to visit the tomb. Then, as we shall see, having witnessed the empty tomb, she was determined to find the body of Jesus, in contrast to the male disciples, who went home. Although Jesus eventually took the initiative and appeared to her, it seems as if this is in direct response to her loving, persistent seeking of Him.’

Week 2

We love revelation … and how the scriptures reveal the true identity of Christ and the hope that we have in Him! On Day 11 of the devotional, Dave writes:

‘Just as Jesus first revealed Himself to these disciples on the Emmaus Road, so He wants to reveal Himself to you and me as we daily and diligently read and reflect upon the Scriptures. As we do, we can be assured that the risen Christ will Himself come to us, and by the Holy Spirit will Himself become our Bible teacher.’

Week 3

We love hope … and the new hope that Christ brought to His fearful disciples and still brings to us today. On Day 16 of the devotional, Dave writes:

‘The reality of the physical resurrection of Jesus is at the very heart of the new hope that is at the centre of the Christian message. Hence, after having declared ‘Peace’, Jesus sought to give the startled disciples clear and convincing proofs that He was really, physically alive … The great news of Christianity is that … whatever challenges and trials we face in this life, we can be assured that there is a glorious hope that will far outweigh all of this. Because Jesus conquered death, and is alive, we no longer need to fear death.’

Week 4

We love restoration … not only does Jesus help us in our present struggles, but He also comes to heal us from our past failures. On Day 26 of the devotional, Dave writes:

‘The habit of God asking us to face our shortcomings with a question rather than directly accusing us is frequent in Scripture … At the root of our greatest failures is our ultimate failure to fulfil the greatest commandment to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart … soul … mind and … strength’ (Mark 12:30) … God made you, has a plan for you and sent Christ to restore you – from both self-inflicted damage and from hurts caused by others. The wonderful news is that when He restores, He makes all things new!’

Week 5

We love purpose … and that Jesus not only gave us our true purpose but promised to be with us every step of the way. On Day 31 of the devotional, Dave writes:

‘Until I became a Christian, I had no real understanding of my life purpose, other than a vague desire to be ‘happy’. Yet as soon as I invited Christ into my life, I had deep and abiding sense that I was made on purpose and for a purpose. I quickly realised that this purpose involved being loved by, and in return loving, the God who had made me and saved me, and that this love was to overflow in making a difference in other people’s lives.’

Week 6

We love confidence … the confidence we can have that Jesus really is alive and is still transforming lives today. As we look back over the evidence from the last six weeks, Dave writes on Day 37:

‘All of this points to a stunning conclusion: the Jesus who had been crucified and lain dead in a tomb for three days, had come back to life. The testimony of the New Testament letters and the book of Revelation, as well as nearly 2,000 years of subsequent Christian history, is that Jesus remains alive today!’

Obedient worshippers and faithful friends: What we can learn from Ruth

By Philip Greenslade

The Story

The story of Ruth illustrates the gospel in a nutshell. It is also a remarkable story of unsurpassed loyalty and commitment, shining like a sparkling diamond against the darkness of betrayal and murder that often characterised relationships in the Old Testament.

In Hebrew the word Ruth means ‘friend’ or ‘associate’. It is derived from the word for a shepherd and his flock and carries with it the sense of close companionship and support on a common journey. Ruth was from Moab,  and therefore an ‘outsider’ to God’s promises to the chosen nation of Israel. When her Israelite husband died she could have remained in Moab with her sister Orpah. Instead she chose to accompany her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Israel.

It is intriguing to compare Ruth with Orpah who initially said she would go with Naomi and even kissed her. Eventually, however, she turned back to live amongst the familiar people and idolatry in the country of her birth. Ruth’s words to Naomi are some of the most beautiful in scripture: ‘Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.’

Like Abraham before her, Ruth launched herself on a journey of faith to a distant land that she had never seen, but trusting in the God of whom she had heard and come to believe in. Orpah sincerely offered Naomi her best wishes on a difficult and dangerous journey. Ruth faithfully offered Naomi herself.

The story of Ruth develops with God providentially arranging her marriage to Boaz. Ruth is redeemed from poverty, isolation and widowhood and becomes accepted as a member of a wealthy and powerful family amongst God’s people. She is chosen by God to be an instrument of His purpose by which Jesus can be introduced into the world.

Obedient Worshippers and Faithful Friends

Like Ruth, we were once ‘strangers to God’s promises’ and ignorant of His love and mercy. Perhaps, through unfortunate circumstances or the witness of others, we have embarked on a journey of faith that means we have to leave behind our old lives of sin and selfish thinking.

We have been specially called by God to be a companion of Jesus to live a new life amongst others who also know Him. We have been adopted as sons and daughters into the royal family of heaven with God as our Father. The new kingdom we find ourselves in is at first strange and sometimes frightening: but as we faithfully follow His directions, God blesses us and we become an instrument through whom Jesus is introduced to the world!

Ruth is also a wonderful example of real friendship.  In an age where many relationships break down, her loyalty and total commitment to Naomi is a perfect illustration of true dedication whatever the cost. Ruth’s relationship with Naomi was not based on shallow convenience or expediency, but on unshakeable principles of covenant commitment. Jesus put it this way: ‘Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.’ (John 15:12.)

This is the depth of love and faithfulness that Jesus calls us to emulate. ‘By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ (John 13:35.)

Let the story of Ruth challenge and inspire you to be an obedient worshipper of God and a faithful friend to others.

 

Want to learn more?

If you want to find out more about the story of Ruth you can pick up a copy of Cover to Cover Ruth: Loving kindness in action from the Small Group Central Shop.

 

About Philip Greenslade

Philip has worked with CWR since 1991 in the areas of biblical studies, pastoral care and leadership. With his passion for teaching God’s Word, he offers a refreshing and challenging perspective for all.

Small groups: What’s changing – what’s not?

By Ron Kallmier

I have been involved in a wide range of Christian small groups and in small group leadership training for more decades than I care to remember. Over that time it has become clear that some elements never change, some change intentionally and some changes occur unplanned.

Let me explain:

Years ago the primary focus of small groups seemed to be communicating Bible truth in the small group. Sometimes this teaching was structured around the Sunday message/sermon. Other groups followed printed material on a given Bible book or topic, often designed for 10-12 sessions.

There remains in print a considerable range of small group resources for this purpose. While many groups may still follow this model, many Christians appear to be prioritising, building deeper relationships and support for their Christian growth within their small groups today. The obvious risk with pursuing this important relational component is that our biblical foundations can become minimalized or ignored altogether. Do we want to return to earlier years when the strengthening of relationships was not a major small group objective, if it was considered at all?

Christian leaders are now faced with a dilemma. Biblical teaching and information is more instantly available than ever. This is certainly true in more affluent countries, yet the research coming out of organisations such as ‘Barna Research’ suggests that Bible knowledge has been on the decline, not the increase, over recent decades. Additionally, small group resources, responding to the demands of Christians, spend a lesser number of sessions on any given topic.

The CWR Small Group Toolbox series has followed this demand trend by offering four sessions on each topic. A number of small group members that have spoken to me over recent years have said that their group loses interest in a book or topic after a few weeks. Hmm! What does this tell us about the health and dynamics of the group to which these people belong? More personally, have you and I ever thought the same as these people?

In these blogs I will attempt to address some of the issues that relate to Christian small groups today. You may or may not agree with my points of view. That is OK. My aim is simply that we sit back and have an objective look at why we have Christian small groups today, to review how we go about conducting these groups and to clarify what we hope to achieve through them.

I trust you will enjoy our journey.

 

About Ron Kallmier

Ron, an experienced teacher, counsellor and pastor who served as CWR’s Director of Training, turns our attention to a few of the essential leadership skills relevant to discussion in small groups.

 

Is the Bible dangerous?

By Andy Peck

Maybe some of you have noticed that reading the Bible can be a dangerous business?

I don’t just mean this because if it is read correctly it can truly impact and challenge the way we live. It is also hazardous because we can easily fall into the trap of making incorrect assumptions about God and His ways in the world.

By not fully understanding the way that Scripture is written, Christians have justified slavery, discrimination, domestic abuse, apartheid and dictatorships (to name a few!). Poor reading and interpretation has left many Christians failing to know and enjoy the true grace of God, because they assume some of the accusing texts must apply to them. As a result, it is important that we notice the features of the Bible’s literary styles so we can truly hear what God is saying to us, without drawing harmful conclusions.

The Christian Church has never had so many excellent Bible-study aids, yet surveys suggest that levels of Bible reading and understanding have never been so low. So how can we make sure we don’t fall into error when we read the Scriptures? Here are the 4 Cs of Bible reading to bear in mind as you read.

Covenant

Our Bibles have two testaments for a purpose – they reflect the old and new covenants God made with His people. Much of the Bible (39 books no less) was written when there was a different covenant (agreement) between man and God. This is not to say that God was different, but the way he related to humanity was. It was a provisional arrangement, which God knew had a shelf life until Jesus came. The Old Covenant was based on the law and demonstrated our inability to do what God wanted and why we needed a rescuer of the calibre of God himself to enter our world and bring in the new arrangement through His death and resurrection. Failure to ‘spot the difference’, can lead to odd interpretations. We are wise to read the Old Testament the way the apostles did: in the light of the coming of Jesus.

Context

You would rightly feel annoyed if someone twisted a sentence that you had written by taking it out of the context in which you had written it. But Christians do this all the time when they wrench a verse out of the paragraph in which it occurs. Many have quoted Jer. 29:10 to encourage friends who are uncertain about the future: ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ But look at the context and you see this is said to 6th century BC Jews in Exile in Babylon. It has nothing to do with you or me. Far better to encourage someone that God is with them in whatever the future brings. Eg. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children (Romans 8:15-16). So we read the Bible in context, of the book in which we are reading and also in the context of the overall story of the Bible.

Canon

If u get a msg that lks like this u know its a text! You wouldn’t necessarily complain that the writer didn’t spell it correctly. The canon of the Bible uses all manner of types of literature and we are wise to read it in the way it was written. We don’t believe we worship a saviour made of oak because we know that Jesus is using a metaphor when he says ‘I am the door’. We read proverbial sayings differently from commands and read commands under the law differently from the commands of Jesus under the New Covenant. When the prophets speak of the moon turning into blood, we know it’s not a strange warning from the met office but the way they spoke of events that had great significance. The Bible is a library of books and just as we wouldn’t usually decide on randomly reading a library book without spotting which section it came from, so we shouldn’t read the Bible without checking what kind of literature we are reading.

Community

If you think you have seen something in the Bible no one else has seen, you are probably wrong! The Bible is written at a different time and culture to our own, and we need to read it in community lest we unwittingly miss-interpret it. We have the benefit of church history’s reflection on scripture and scholarly work from the finest minds that give us insights into the cultural and literary background. You may not have access to such books yourself, but checking your interpretation with more experienced and better read Christians will help keep you on the straight and narrow when you read the Bible on your own.
Covenant, context, canon and community: 4 C’s helping you to be a ‘careful’ and ‘safe’ Bible reader!

 

Want to learn more?

Bible Genres is a Cover to Cover study guide for individuals and small groups, which aims to help readers interpret Scripture by looking at the 7 main styles of literature included it the Bible. Namely: law, narrative, psalms, prophecy, Gospel, Epistles and apocalyptic. It explains that we can get ourselves into a massive mess if we fail to spot the ways the author intends to express meaning, as well as how to overcome this. To find out more, click here.

 

About Andy Peck
Andy is a writer and Bible teacher who has served as a tutor with CWR since 2006. He is the author of Coached by Christ, A Life to Die For and co-author of Unlocking the Bible. He worked as an editor with Christianity magazine and hosts the Leadership File on Premier Christian Radio.

Header image credits: Danger : : Danger / TMAB2003 / BY-ND

Why read the Bible at all?

Ask me ‘Why read the Bible at all?’ and I reply ‘Because as you read you discover God’s Story.’ Jesus proved with His parables that there is no better way to communicate God than through stories.

The Bible

This is what the Bible essentially is – a thrilling, action-packed adventure with God, one in which we can play a part. It is not a pick-and-mix catalogue of religious goodies or spiritual recipes. It is not an occult code to be deciphered by ‘experts’. And the Bible is most definitely not a compendium of texts which we can use to buttress our own theological position.

Under pressure to ‘make the Bible relevant’, we too often trivialize or water down its message, reducing its impact to slogans and soundbites. We can end up draining the Bible of its colour, squeezing the life out of it and rendering it a ‘flat’ book, a bland moral mandate with passionless principles. But this is not the way the Bible came to us. It came as a story – a vast, sprawling, untidy, story, but a story nonetheless.

It’s not always the easiest book to read, but it is the most rewarding and enriching. As rambling and muddled and topsy-turvy as this long historical story can be, we can nonetheless find God at its centre, because He’ is the author. In saying that God wrote this story we are recognising that the threads of meaning and the trajectories of truth are all part of His sovereign plan. It is the One Creator God who initiates this story.

The God of the Bible

And as this One Creator God supervises His creation, steering it in the face of history’s setbacks and rebuffs, we find out who this God really is. It’s in the gripping narrative showing us how God achieves His purpose that we discover what kind of God this God is. God is not only the author of the story; He is the chief actor in it too. He works from the inside not the outside. So God shouldn’t be seen as an ‘Olympian’ figure, detached from the achievements and struggles of His creation. Rather, He has chosen to fully immerse Himself in the story, making Himself vulnerable to its pain and ambiguity. By working within – not outside – the drama, God leaves Himself exposed to misunderstanding, puts His reputation for holiness and omnipotence on the line, and risks His good name through association with some pretty shady characters.

In short, God is willing to become the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and even – particularly even – of Jacob! Meeting God like this in His own story, we find a God who is involved, intimate, wild, passionate, unpredictable, utterly faithful, vulnerable, open, persuadable – a tough and tender God who travels and travails with Israel with genuine emotions.

God never thought that being God was something to be exploited to His own selfish advantage, but humbled Himself to the level of His human partners, submitting to bear the cost of whatever His creation might come to. Which brings us to Jesus. And this is why we read the Bible – because it leads us to Christ. As they live in and through the biblical story, attentive Bible readers soon begin to experience the story’s cumulative effect.

Jesus and the Bible

Jesus gathers in all the historical threads that weave through the Old Testament and makes sense of them all. The story of Christ is the climax of the earlier parts of God’s story and the key to its unfolding in the future. Without the Old Testament we cannot begin to understand Jesus, and without Jesus the Old Testament makes no final sense. When we search the Scriptures looking to find eternal life, we will inevitably come to Jesus to whom all the Scriptures point. Luke 24:32: ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he opened the Scriptures to us on the road’ marvelled the Emmaus Two.

From Moses through the prophets, Jesus explained to them how the long redemptive story of God was filled full by His life, His death and His resurrection! In Jesus all the promise-plans of God converge. The Israel story is conclusively redrawn, the world’s story is redeemingly rewritten and the story of God is fully revealed to us. We read the Bible because it tells our story too.

Your story

‘The Bible seeks to catch us up in a grand narrative, a great saga of God’s dealings with humanity – a saga begun in God’s journey with Israel, continued in the surprising call of God even unto gentiles. The church is the product of that story’, wrote William Willimon. As we immerse ourselves in this great story we encounter the real God, and get to find out what He’s really like. As we relive God’s story with Him we find ourselves saved and shaped by it. We learn to appreciate the satisfying unity of Scripture while enjoying its fascinating diversity, constantly getting drawn into its action, finding ourselves caught up in the saving movement of God.

By reading the Bible we learn to ‘indwell’ the story more and more, and looking out on our contemporary world through more biblical eyes. We stop trying to make the Bible relevant to our modern lives and begin to find instead that we are being made increasingly relevant to the Bible!

Professor Gary Burge of Wheaton College recently lamented the inability of many of his evangelical students to put major events and characters of the Bible in the correct linear order. They just didn’t know what comes where in God’s great story. ‘No one’, he says, ‘is announcing that the biblical story is The Story that defines our identity and life in the church.’ Well, some of us are trying to do just that!

Read the Book and relish God’s story!

Want to learn more?

If you want to get your head around the Bible story you can pick up a range of Bible study guides from the Small Group Central Book Shop. Alternatively, why not have a look at Bible60, written by Andy Peck.

About Philip Greenslade

Philip has worked with CWR since 1991 in the areas of biblical studies, pastoral care and leadership. With his passion for teaching God’s Word, he offers a refreshing and challenging perspective for all.