Week 12 – November 30, 2014
Living as Ambassadors for Christ
The role of an ambassador is the primary role the church plays in its encounters with surrounding cultures and contexts. In 2 Corinthians 5:20, Paul refers to the church as Christ’s ambassadors, through whom God makes his appeal of the world to be reconciled to him. So how do we go about the task of being ambassadors for Christ? We invest in the lives of the people around us, identifying with them and taking their concerns to heart. We immerse ourselves relationally with them, sharing their experiences and spending significant time with them. We suffer for the sake of Christ, bearing the cross, paying the cost of discipleship by empathizing with and entering into the pain of broken contexts. We believe that God is already at work in the world and is revealing himself to those who do not know Christ, and we join God in that work by announcing the good news of the kingdom of God brought near through Jesus Christ and made available through the Holy Spirit.
“And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’ For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”
2 Corinthians 5:18-21
1. According to 2 Corinthians 5:11–6:1, what does it mean to be an ambassador for Christ?
2. As we read Luke 10:1-20, what can we observe about Jesus’ sending of his disciples? How did Jesus send them? Where were they sent? What instructions were they given? What was to be their demeanor or attitude?
3. Based on these texts, what can we know about who God is and what God does? How does this influence the way we relate to God and join with him in what he is doing around us?
Week 11 – November 23, 2014
Gifted for Mission
For many, discussions about spiritual gifts can seem unclear and confusing. In reality, however, God gives each of us unique gifts that are meant to be used and shared with one another. Spiritual gifts cover an incredible array of possibilities for us to be God’s hands and feet here on earth. Indeed, we each have an active role to play in God’s mission. So in what ways has God called and equipped you for a unique work of love in the world? Using your gifts to honor God and to serve your neighbor brings order to our chaotic world; it helps establish God’s vision for redeeming all of creation. Indeed, we are gifted for the sake of and in service to the community and the world. Each and every believer has gifts for ministry and is called to serve others for God’s glory.
“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 (NLT)
1. What is the common source of spiritual gifts? What is the com-mon objective of our various gifts?
2. How do the gifts that each member of the community receives serve the common task of building up the body of Christ?
3. In what ways does Paul’s description and discussion of spiritual gifts help us to see that we are all gifted and empowered to partici-pate in the mission of God within each of our unique contexts?
Week 10 – November 16, 2014
Pointing Toward the Kingdom of God
Jesus announced good news: “The kingdom of God is breaking into histo-ry” (Mark 1:15). It was an announcement that God’s healing power was invading history in Jesus and by the Spirit to restore the whole creation to again live under the gracious rule of God. As to when the kingdom of God is coming, Jesus’ teachings claim that the kingdom of God is already pre-sent among us but yet to be fulfilled (Luke 17:20-21). Neither aspect can be minimized if we are to be true to his teachings, but how can the two emphases be held in balance? Without the promise that the sovereignty of God will someday be established over all the earth, we would not have the hope that faith requires. Who could trust in the reconciling power of love and self-sacrifice without the promise of the kingdom of God? On the other hand, if the hope of the kingdom were entirely future, what differ-ence would it make to us now? The coming of the kingdom in the life of Jesus means that the power the kingdom is already at work among us. The presence of the kingdom, therefore, means that we can already begin to experience the community of the new age in the fellowship of those who are committed to God’s reign on earth. The hope of the coming kingdom gives us the courage to lead changed lives in the present, yet it will not let us become so heaven bound that we are of no earthly use.
Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you. Luke 17:20-21
1. What is the relationship between the kingdom of God and the local church?
2. What are concrete ways that kingdom citizens (modeling the character of King Jesus) point toward the inbreaking of God’s kingdom in the world?
3. In what ways does the present/future reality of God’s kingdom give purpose and meaning to the lives of kingdom citizens today?
Week 9 – November 9, 2014
Dependence on the Holy Spirit
It is impossible to overstate the challenge that the believing community faced as a result of Jesus’ death. Jesus’ death and departure presented the disciples, and the church, with a crisis far greater than simply the loss of their teacher and friend. If the revelation of God is rooted in the incarnation, what happens when Jesus is gone? It is the genius of John’s Gospel to present the Spirit as the solution to this crisis. Throughout Jesus’ words about the Spirit, the emphasis repeatedly falls on the Spirit as the one who will continue Jesus’ work after his absence, as the one who will make it possible for the experience of God made known and available in the incarnation to be known after Jesus’ death. Following the resurrection, the disciples response to Jesus in the opening verses of Acts demonstrates that their questions weren’t that different from ours (Acts 1:6). If nothing else, Jesus’ response points to the Holy Spirit as the catalyst for empowering his disciples to be witnesses for the kingdom of God. Indeed, our mission receives its authenticity from the Spirit. The presence of the Spirit is here to transform us, and in the process of this transformation, develop our giftedness. We are transformed and gifted by the Spirit for the sake of participating in mission—the mission of God in both our local community and the world.
“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” John 16:12-13
1. Where do you see the Spirit working in your life, workplace, marriage, and family?
2. How do we distinguish and discern the voice of God (the leading of the Spirit) from all the voices that speak so loudly in today’s culture?
3. In what ways do you see the Spirit working in and among Brentwood Hills? How does the Spirit aid us in discerning where God is leading us as a church?
Week 8 – November 2, 2014
The church is a community of people who’s primary purpose is to tune their hearts and lives to God—to meet him where he is at work. If the church is to develop the passion, strength, and discernment to live as a sent, Spirit-filled community, its foundation must be built upon prayer. Indeed, to nurture our relationship with God means that we more fully and more profoundly manifest our prayers in our lives and our lives in our prayers. We must learn to see where God is working in our communities and discern how God desires for us to participate. To this point, as Darrin Patrick observes, “Prayer reminds us that the monumental task of reaching our neighborhood with the gospel will take an act of the Spirit.” With this in mind, pray the following two prayers with vigilance in days ahead: (1) “God, what are you doing?” and (2) “God, where do you need me to be?” As we ask these questions in prayer, surrendering our desires and placing our full dependence on the Spirit’s guidance, we allow God’s kingdom agenda to shape our decisions, renew our relationships, bring new life out of our vocations, and empower us for mission.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” – John 15:5-8
1. In what ways does prayer cultivate an environment for God’s people to discern what the Spirit is doing in, with, and among us as a community?
2. What does it mean to “abide in Jesus”? How does prayer contribute to this? What is the fruit of a life committed to prayer?
3. How is prayer connected to the coming of God’s kingdom? How does prayer expand our vision beyond the immediate, obvious, and possible?
Week 7 – October 19, 2014
In the worship assembly we embrace and commit ourselves to the mission of God in the world. Together we proclaim the story of redemption and witness to the mighty acts of God throughout history. The assembly is also a gospel event—we participate in the mission as a communal representation of the kingdom of God in that moment. It is the kingdom of heaven on earth declaring the praise of God. Ultimately, the assembly is a sacramental encounter with God. It connects us to the One who sends us into the world as missionaries and empowers us to embody and share the love of Christ with the people we encounter daily. As we draw near to the presence of God, profess our faith together in community, and motivate one another for love and good deeds, the final act of the assembly sends us into the world for the sake of the world. Through our worship gatherings we proclaim the story of redemption, the renovation of our lives, and our participation in God’s mission to renew his creation and to seek and save the lost.
Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:22-25
1. What is the relationship between worship and daily life?
2. What worship activities enable us to experience God’s presence in worship? What activities allow us to experience fellowship with others? Do we see the relationship between the two dimensions?
3. Why is the worship assembly a crucial component of missional living? How does the worship assembly send us “into the world for the sake of the world”?
Week 6 – October 12, 2014
What is the relationship between community and mission? In short, the church comprises the people of God, called to be formed into a unique social community whose life together is the sign, witness, and foretaste of what God is doing in and for all of creation. It is a community that acts and works together to serve that mission, and that mutually encourages and provides accountability for all members as they seek to grow in their faith together. So what must take place for this to happen? Christian community exists when believers connect with each other in authentic, loving ways that encourage growth in Christ. Christian community welcomes one another—just as Christ has welcomed us—and is devoted to one another in mutual love. Within this community, we are called to engage in transparent relationships that cultivate, celebrate, and make evident Christ’s love for all.
The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved. – Acts 2:42-47
1. How does the life and ministry of Jesus illustrate the importance of community? How do the communal practices described in Acts 2:42-47 move believers toward full maturity?
2. Why is the ministry of presence essential for a healthy church community? What keeps us from being fully present and hospitable to others?
3. Why is it difficult to be transparent in today’s world? How can we cultivate an environment of safety and unconditional love—one where honest and transparent discussion can take place?
Week 5 – October 5, 2014
In reflecting on the relationship between risk and belief, C.S. Lewis observed, “Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief.” For the early church, the reality of their belief in Christ was evident through their commitment to love their neighbors as themselves—despite the associated risks of danger, harm, rejection, and loss. Their deep trust in God’s faithfulness and guidance moved them to respond to the needs of others with full attention and without qualification. Given today’s world of self-preservation and non-involvement, what can we discern from the example of the early church? In short, we see that fear becomes a great obstacle in moving deeper into the suffering of the world. We dread discomfort, build walls for safety, and fear for our reputation. Yet, as we set our eyes on Christ—the one who says “Do not be afraid”—we may slowly let go of our fear, see the suffering of our neighbors, and respond with peace, love, and compassion. So who are our neighbors? And what would it look like if we loved our neighbors as if they were ourselves? We are called to trust that the risk of loving others—whatever that may entail—is always a risk worth taking.
“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do likewise.” – Luke 10:36-37
1. In the story of The Good Samaritan, shouldn’t we expect the priest and the Levite (of all people) to help the man left for dead on the side of the road? Why did they refuse to get involved? What were their concerns?
2. Why did the Samaritan stop to help? What did he risk by stopping? What did he give up by taking the injured man under his care?
3. Are we willing to be a Good Samaritan to others? How does our sense of self-preservation keep us from living that way? Are we too busy to notice people in need, much less help them?
Scriptures to read in preparation: Luke 10:25-37; Isaiah 58; Matthew 5:1-16; Matthew 9:9-17; Matthew 25:34-40
Week 4 – September 28, 2014
We all have questions about God, the Bible, and the church. This is a good thing. Questions mark critical turning points in Scripture, and in many cases, they provide a deeper understanding of what God is doing through his people and in the places around them. Our heroes of faith believed that God was actively working in the world for the redemption of God’s creation, and if we are to make the same connections between Scripture and our world today, we must read and interpret the text in light of the central element of the overall story—mission. The story of Scripture challenges our assumptions about what God is up to in our world and reminds us that a church can do great things when it aligns its expectations with God’s. We, like the people in these stories, are invited to cultivate our imagination to see the possibilities of what the Spirit wants to do in and among the people of this church.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After saying this, Jesus was taken up into a cloud while the apostles were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” – Acts 1:8-11
1. Why is the Bible important to you? What is the goal of reading it?
2. How does our motive for reading Scripture influence what we see in the text and the way we interpret it?
3. How does the story of Scripture heighten our awareness of what God is doing among the people of this church? As we read together in community, how may our discussions of the text help us to discern what God is calling us to do?
Week 3 – September 21, 2014
What words or images come to mind when you hear the word vocation? Some may think of a job title or their place of work, but the word itself encompasses more than one’s employment or duties. On one level, the word implies “a strong feeling of suitability for a particular occupation that one regards as particularly worthy of great dedication.” On another level, the word vocation literally means “experiencing and living by a calling.” With this definition in mind, how would you describe the vocation of the church? We can say with confidence that the vocation of the church is related to its calling. The first century church, for example, illustrates the many ways that God calls particular groups of people into a particular way of life and mission. So what does this mean for Brentwood Hills today? This week we explore the relationship between God’s mission in the world and the vocation of the church.
Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. – Colossians 3:16–17
1. What would it mean for Brentwood Hills to understand itself as a people of God chosen for a mission? What sense of vocation might this give us?
2. On an individual level, would this change the way you approached your daily occupation? If so, how? What does a Christian business owner, lawyer, doctor, nurse, banker, teacher, etc. look like? How does living within the mission of God influence the way we think about our work?
3. What sense of vocation might this give us as a church? How could we use the unique gifts, skills, and resources of our community to share the love of Christ in Nashville?
Week 2 – September 14, 2014
The first lesson in our Treasure In Clay Jars Bible study focused on God’s mission in the world and our role in God’s story. With this in mind, how well do we know the world in which we minister? Is it possible to share the story of God in ways that are relevant to the people around us? A church that desires to be God’s missionary presence in the surrounding community must have an understanding of its surrounding culture. Our second lesson explores the differences between the Christian worldview and the worldviews of our culture, as well as how we can use this information to help others see a better story—God’s story—for life. So what would a community of generosity and simplicity look like in a world driven by consumption? What would a community of joy and thanksgiving look like in a world of entitlement? As Jesus was sent into the world, so we are sent to be the glory of God, sharing a better story in the places we live, through the way we live.
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. – Romans 12:1-2
1. Why is it important for us to recognize the worldviews of our culture? Why is it important to speak in a way that our culture understands?
2. In 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, what does Paul mean when he says we regard no one from a “worldly” point of view? If our old life is gone, what does the new life look like? What does it mean to be an ambassador for Christ?
3. In Romans 12:1-2, what two things does Paul want to be true about our lives? If we allow God to transform our hearts and minds, how does this change the way we see the world and think of others?
Week 1 – September 7, 2014:
The first lesson in our Treasure in Clay Jars Bible class study invites you to understand the mission of God in the world and where our lives fit into this beautiful story. The story of God begins with God creating the universe and humanity for the purpose of an intimate connection and relationship with God. As sin enters the world and places a barrier between humanity and God, God works to restore his relationship with humanity. God works through individuals, and then a chosen people, and finally through the sending of the Son—God himself in Christ—to witness to the world what it means to live faithfully in relationship with the Father. Could it be that the rest of the story points to the coming of the Kingdom of God and the restoration of the rule of God on earth? Where does your life fit into the story of God’s mission?
That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” – John 20:19-23
1. What is the relationship between church and mission? How does the church fit into God’s story in the present day?
2. Consider the meaning of the following statements: “The church has a mission” and “The mission has a church” — which statement is true?
3. If mission begins with God, how does this challenge and shape our understanding of evangelism? What is our role? How do we live out this understanding of evangelism and God’s mission?