Category Archives: Bible study

The Missional Church Part 2

Missional Church (part 2) – The Mindset – Acts 17.16-33

For Central Baptist Church House Groups on the 29th September (for Word doc, click here)

In this second study in our Missional Church series we turn to the mindset required as we engage in church planting. Paul exemplified this mindset in his cross-cultural evangelism – willing to be flexible on every, and any, non-essential, but completely rock-solid on the core truths of the gospel.

1.     Jim stated that central to a missional mindset is the ability to “observe, absorb and feel” – if you have time before the house group, spend an hour in the city centre observing and praying over the people walking by. Pray that God would give us compassion for the crowds as Jesus had (Matthew 9.36). Share some of your reflections on this experience with the group. Which of these three verbs do we prayerfully need to work on the most?

2.     Paul’s Athenian sermon is a great example of communicating in a language our hearers understand. What points of contact does Paul use to draw in the crowd? When does the tension arise? What is the key teaching that they cannot accept?

3.     Paul uses contemporary culture to build bridges to his hearers (see v 22,23 & 28). How can we use literature, media and conversations to understand people and listen to our culture? What messages do we hear? Spend some time sharing thoughts on how you could introduce & explain the gospel, beginning from areas of common ground (e.g. a song, book, movie or news story).

4.     What are the main themes that Paul touches on in his message? How does Paul communicate the gospel? What aspects of God’s character does Paul focus on?  How does he introduce sin, repentance and judgement?

5.     Jim said “God has to do something in us, before he can do something through us.” What is God’s final objective in all His work in us (Romans 8.28-30, Hebrews 12.7-11)? How is that sometimes different from our objectives in life? Share an experience of when God has broken you in order to shape you.

6.     Jim said one of the key things church planters need is “being prepared to take a hit” – have we taken a hit recently in our gospel witness? What are the points of tension with our society? Do you feel prepared to answer the objections? How can we gain a hearing for our response?

7.     Jim stated that “the vast majority of our city do not worship the one true God revealed in Jesus Christ, and so numb have we become to that that we accept it as the norm.” Is this true for us? If so, what are we prepared to do for them? Are ready to enter the harvest field?

Paul’s missional mindset meant that, as well as adopting the style of his preaching to his hearers, he also accommodated his lifestyle, as much as he was able, to those he was witnessing to. While holding the central truths of the gospel with an unshakeable grip, he used every means possible to bring his message to life. This required a high level of maturity where he was able to distinguish the essential from the peripheral. May God grant that we also would be empowered with the same passion for being soul winners and see many in our homes, work and community come to know the only Saviour.

“Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible…To the weak I become weak to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do this for the sake of the gospel that I may share in its blessings. 1 Cor 9.19-23

The Missional Church Part 1

Missional Church (pt 1) – The Message – Matthew 28v16-20.

(For CBC house groups on 15th Sep 2010 – for word doc download click here)

In this first of four studies centred on the theme of church planting, we look at Jesus’ message to his disciples – his mission statement for the worldwide church to pursue until he comes back. This message is to be the beating heart of every local church, an unending commission that calls the church to the task of world evangelisation supported by local training; of pioneer missionary endeavour combined with feeding the flock.

1.     What comes to mind when you think of church planting? Spend a few moments in the group sharing experiences of those who have been involved in church planting in the UK and abroad. What have we learnt from our experiences?

2.     The authority and presence of the Lord are the two bookends to the Great Commission. How do these two aspects of Jesus’ reign impact our approach to outreach and discipleship? How does the enemy seek to undermine our confidence in both these areas?

3.     Jim reminded us that the great need in Scotland is for “proclamation allied to planting”. What would you say is the greatest priority for the church to focus on in order to further this goal? How do our local church and denominational structures support or hinder this goal?

4.     Jim said “the church that gives, lives” – how does the example of the early church in Jerusalem (Acts 4.32-35) and Antioch (Acts 13.1-3) inspire us to undertake this challenge? How did these churches receive blessing for their obedience?

5.     Jim argued that we cannot separate the task of growing the local church from mission. What happens to a church when they are separated? What do we need to change in our individual and corporate lives to re-unite these two?

6.     Jesus was the watershed in turning God’s kingdom message from “Come” (to the temple) to “Go” (into all the world). What has replaced the temple in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 3.16-17)? Does this perspective help us overcome the attacks we mentioned in question 2b?

7.     Someone once asked the question “Why should anyone hear the gospel twice before everyone has heard it once.” How would you answer this in the light of our discussion tonight? What would you say to someone who thought that “mission” only happened overseas? How can we be more effective in reaching those who have never heard in Dundee and beyond?

As the church grows, it is inevitable that it will expand into new territories and people groups. Jesus’ vision for the growth of the church across the entire world is to be like the strawberry plant – sending out runners into new areas, supported and upheld from the sending plant until it is ready to put down its own roots and send out runners from this new base. This view of the great commission helps to overcome the barriers we sometimes place between church ministry and world mission. We desperately need those (like Paul) with a burning ambition to preach Christ where He is not known (Romans 15.20) but, for a lasting impact, these pioneer missionaries must be followed by those who (like Apollos) have a heart for training and discipleship (1 Corinthians 3.6). Spend a few moments reflecting on where God would have us contribute most effectively to the extension of His kingdom.

The Talk – John 21.15-25

Study 28 – John 21v15-25  – The Talk.

(For CBC house groups on 1st Sep 2010 – for word doc download click here)

In our final study in John’s gospel the focus turns to Peter. He has been a strong character throughout John’s gospel, but critically at his time of testing he denied evening knowing his Saviour and Lord. Now Jesus confronts him directly with his failure – is this the end of Peter’s ministry before it has even begun or would Jesus find a way to reinstate his most enthusiastic disciple?

1.     Jim began by asking us to remember a significant conversation we have had that was hard at the time, but we appreciated later. Can you think of such a conversation? What was done well, and not so well? Are there lessons we can learn from how we have been spoken to in the past?

2.     Jim said “Jesus loved Peter too much to leave him alone” – how do we decide when, and when not to, rebuke one another (compare Mat 18.15, 1 Tim 5.1 & 1 Peter 4.8)? How do we strike the balance between love & truth, covering over & exposing?

3.     What does Jesus’ response to Peter’s three confessions say about his priorities for the apostles? What is the connection between our love for Jesus and our love for the church? (1 John 2.9-10, Ephesians 5.25-27).  How can we grow in our love for the church despite the frustrations and failings we experience?

4.     We see in v15-17 that our love for Jesus is the defining criteria for service in the church. How does love for Christ inevitably lead to service of others? Do we come to church to serve or be served? What does this say about our own spiritual health?

5.     Peter’s appointment as an elder and spiritual overseer has been a rocky road. One commentator says: “each shepherd of the flock of God…is to mirror both authority and a certain brokenness that is utterly exemplary (his emphasis).”  How should this temper our enthusiasm for seeking this responsibility (1 Tim 3.1)? How should this inform our appointing of elders?

6.     Peter had always been keen to follow Jesus, yet in v18-19 he learns that his discipleship would end in martyrdom. Peter laboured for many years waiting for this prophecy to be fulfilled; rather than crippling him, it liberated him. How would we respond to such a call to sacrifice?

7.     In v20-24 the beloved disciple comes into view. Although both are called to spiritual leadership, one of them is “called to strategic pastoral ministry and a martyr’s crown, the other to a long life and to strategic historical-theological witness, in written form.” Jesus refuses to compare the two callings for Peter and John – how does their different ministries encourage us to labour in our area of service? How does it help us not to esteem certain ministries over others?

Through his humiliation and subsequent reinstation Peter is now ready to be a true servant of the church. No longer the brash, confident leader, he has learnt the frailty of his own nature and will from now on tread carefully as he grows in spiritual maturity. His self-righteousness has been replaced with tenderness and compassion, and he will show by his fruitful ministry over three decades that he has become a wise and loving Shepard. As he encourage the scattered flock:

“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow-elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed. Be shepherd’s of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5.1-3)

A Prayer for Glory

John 17v1 -5 – Jesus Prays – (1) For His Glory.

We come now to the first in three studies in Jesus’ prayer recorded in John chapter 17 (click here for word doc download). It is a startling prayer for a man who knew he was about to die. Others have crumbled in the face of death, but not Jesus. This is the most intimate and detailed prayer of Jesus that we have recorded in the gospels. It is a beautiful expression of confidence and trust in his Father to bring to fulfilment his eternal plan for humanity. 

  1. In the very next chapter Jesus will be betrayed, arrested and ultimately crucified. If you had only one prayer to pray what would your prayer be? Share with the group some of the themes you would touch on. How does this compare with Jesus’ concerns?
  2. How would you define “glory” to someone unfamiliar with biblical language? Describe the flow of glory occurring in this passage between the Father and the Son. How is glory displayed through Jesus’ humiliation (Phil 2.8-11)?
  3. Who can and cannot see this glory (John 1.14, 2 Corinthians 4.3-4)? Share with the group how God opened your eyes to see this glory.
  4. One commentator says of verse 3: “Eternal life is not so much everlasting life as personal knowledge of the Everlasting One”. Describe the difference between simply existing forever and having eternal life with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  5. If eternal life is the possession of a deep knowledge of God, what would you say to someone who sees their faith only as “a ticket to heaven when they die”? If life in all its fullness is available here and now, what extra is awaiting us in heaven?
  6. Once someone has this relationship with God it can never be taken away, even through death (Romans 8.38-39). How does this bring us comfort us in the face of death?
  7. Jim summed up this passage as Jesus saying “Not keep out, but come in”. How can we participate in this glory-feast (think back to our studies in John cp 15.1-17)? Have you responded to this invitation to see Jesus’ glory?

Throughout these verses Jesus’ overriding concern is for the final completion of his earthly mission. As our Mediator and Saviour, his primary concern is for the ones he has come to save rather than himself. He desires glory for himself, not for selfish reasons, but only so that he may in return glorify his Father and grant eternal life to all those who will believe. This eternal life is the restoration of the relationship with God that brings a quality and depth to life that begins now and lasts for evermore.

Father show us more of your glory and deepen our understanding of who you are. May we know that eternal life which is more precious than physical life and deeper than any human love, Amen.

In a Little While…

Here is my latest study on John’s gospel that our house groups are using tonight. It provides a encouraging reminder that even though we will face hard times in the days to come, in a little while we will finally see Him face to face, and that will make it all worthwhile.

John 16v16-33; Full On.

As Jesus closes in upon the cross he seeks to encourage his disciples that although painful, the trial that is coming will be short. A new day will dawn and their grief will one day turn to joy. But for now they must prepare themselves for his going away and the sorrow soon to arrive.

  1. Jesus’ approach of not holding back difficult teaching is in stark contrast to our own politicians – particular at this election time. They would rather be popular than transparent. What would happen if the political parties adopted this strategy? Why does Jesus not fear being unpopular?  
  2. Jesus warns them that he is going away – where is he going and why can’t they see him? Do you think verse 16b refers to his death and resurrection or the second coming? Why?
  3. What is the event that will turn their grief to joy (v20)? Compare John 20.20, how does this sudden change in outlook support the historical truth of the resurrection? 
  4. What is the connection between the birth pains of verse 22 and the prayer requests of verse 23? What has changed following the cross (Luke 23.45)? 
  5. How does verse 22 and Romans 8.18 help us when we go through hard trials? What is our hope, which like the disciples, we have to wait for (1 John 3.2b)? 
  6. Over and over again Jesus speaks of timing – “in a little while” (v16-19), “her time” (v21), “your time” (v22), “that day” (v23, 26), “time is coming” (v32). What does this emphasis teach us about the importance of waiting and timing to God? What can we learn from God’s Providence to encourage us in our waiting?  
  7. In light of this passage, we could also say that “in a little while” we will see Jesus. How does what Jesus says to his disciples encourage us while we wait? According to Romans 8.23-25 what are we ultimately waiting for? 
  8. Why did Jesus use figures of speech (v25 & 29) when his hearers so often failed to understand them? Compare Matthew 13.10-17, what purpose are the parables and figurative language serving?

Even though Jesus would be the one who would be betrayed, deserted, beaten, mocked and crucified, he focuses on the disciples’ forthcoming grief at his suffering, rather than their failure. His aim in giving them this stark warning is that when it arrives they will know it is part of his plan and be at peace (v33). In Jesus’ opinion peace comes from walking with him through life’s difficulties rather than naively offering false promises. God is ultimately in control through all of life’s dark days.

The Work of the Holy Spirit

John 16v4-15; The Work of the Holy Spirit

As Jesus prepares to leave his disciples he promises them that they will not be left alone, the Counsellor will come to be with them. This promised outpouring of the Spirit will fulfil the dual purposes of bringing conviction and comfort. He will expose sin and explain Christ. The third person of the trinity would be poured out in a dramatic way on the day of Pentecost, and he would change these fearful followers into empowered apostles.

1. How would you describe how the Holy Spirit works in your life to someone who has never been to church? Share a time with the group when you experienced his work in your life.

2. What are some of the images that scripture uses to explain the Holy Spirit to us? (e.g. Mark 1.10, Acts 2.3, Proverbs 9.1-6, Isaiah 30.21) What do these images reveal about his work and person?

3. If the Holy Spirit is “a person and not a power”, as Jim said, what difference does this make in how we relate to him? Jesus also compared the work of the Spirit to the wind (John 3.8), how does this illustration help to explain His personhood?

4. Jesus describes the work of the Holy Spirit as bringing conviction for sin, revealing unrighteousness and warning of judgement. Pick one of these three activities and describe in your own words how the Spirit does this practically in your life and the world.

5. Galatians 5.22 describes the fruits of the Spirit’s work in our lives, how do we reconcile these characteristics of growth with the more disciplinary aspects of the Spirit’s work in the previous question?

6. What impact does this understanding of the Spirit’s work have on our evangelism? How do we balance bringing a message that the world needs to hear with the one it wants to hear? How does it influence our message to others about the love of God?

7. When preaching in the open air to the miners, it is said that John Wesley would preach on the law until he saw the streaks of white down their cheeks (from their tears) and then he would preach grace. Why do you think our society responds differently today when they hear of their sin and a coming judgement? What does this change mean for how we reach them today?

8. Jim mentioned in his sermon, “the Holy Spirit is the best preacher we will ever hear”. How can we allow the Preacher more influence over what we say and do?

The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives brings peace, joy and assurance. But he also lets us know when we are thinking, saying and doing things that grieve him. Through it all his aim is to be our ever-present encourager and guide to help us “find out what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5.10). Take some time to invite him to speak to you and teach you this week more about living in the Spirit.

Testify

Here is my second study in John chapter 15, you can find the first one by scrolling down or on the new page I have added to the blog.

John 15v18-6v4 Testify.

In our last study on the opening verses of John 15 we were confronted with Jesus’ challenge to be ready for the pruning that is an essential part of our union with him. He now increases the challenge by preparing us for the inevitable persecution that will accompany all those who follow him. As the full cost of our discipleship is gradually revealed to us, Jesus encourages us that the result of our faithfulness will be the proclamation of the gospel and the perseverance of our faith.

  1. In Jim’s sermon he mentioned a time when he came face to face with the hatred some people have for Christians, when someone said to him “death will take care of people like you”. Have you ever had a similar experience? What should be our reaction to such experiences? (Mat 5.11)
  2. What would you say to someone who said “most Christians in the UK would do anything they can to avoid ridicule and rejection” – do you think this is a fair assessment? How can we know if we worship comfort more than Christ?
  3. In an attempt to make Christianity more appealing some leave out this hard teaching about the cost of following Christ. What happens to our discipleship when we leave out this aspect of the cost? How can we help those who have lost this understanding?
  4. “When the revelation of God is made it will evoke a reaction” – why do some people respond with hatred when they don’t know anything about us personally? What reaction are we evoking in daily lives? How can we balance this expectation of rejection with Proverbs 16.7?
  5. What is our responsibility in the face of persecution (1 Peter 4.14-16)? What is our confidence (Mat 10.19-20, Rom 8.35-38)? Share an encouragement of how you have grown through testing.
  6. In Acts 9.5 Jesus is effectively saying “if they are persecuting you, they are persecuting me”. Why does God allow his son to be persecuted? Would God ever deliberately lead us into persecution (Acts 20.22-24)? How does this challenge a shallow understanding of God’s love?
  7. If the message of suffering is not what people want to hear, and if the cost is so great, why does the church grow so quickly in times of persecution? Do we generally make it too easy or too hard for people to become Christians in our presentation of the gospel? What is our confidence in saying these hard truths to those outside the faith?

Even though we know the truth of these passages, the reality is that we are often far from living this way in our outlook on life. Why is this? Take a moment to reflect on the full cost of following Christ and ask God that he would give us all the strength to withstand persecution when we are tested.

Father would you break us and free us from our love of comfort and enable us to give our lives as sacrificial offerings for your purposes, whatever they may be. For Jesus’ sake, Amen

The True Vine

I am going to be posting bible study questions that I am producing for our church’s house groups. We are working our way through John’s gospel on Sunday mornings and have reached chapter 15. My first study guide is listed below:

John 15v1-17 The True Vine.

This passage brings us to the heart of Jesus’ relationship to his disciples. These verses express the nature of the relationship between the Trinity and the church – the Father working as the master gardener, the Son being the fruitful & faithful vine and the Spirit indwelling and filling the branches, that is, the church. The church is invigorated by the life-giving sap and in return displays the characteristics or “vital signs” of spiritual life – fruitfulness.

  1. The vine was a common feature of life in first century Israel, what image might Jesus have used today in 21st century Scotland to communicate the truths of this passage to a modern audience? What does it say to our instant communication & permanently online society?
  2. What are the benefits of remaining in the vine? What are the results? Think of a time when you were particularly aware of this connection to Jesus – how did this make you feel? How do these experiences help us in the hard times?
  3. If “a Christian is someone who is united to Christ, and reveals it in a fruitful life”, how can we know that we are connected to the vine? How does this challenge a shallow understanding of what is means to be a Christian? What does it mean for those times in our lives when we struggle to see our fruit?
  4. What role do we play and what role does God play in growing more fruit in us? (see Philippians 2.12-13 & Matthew 7.24-27)
  5. What does it mean to “remain” or “abide” in Christ? How can we ensure that Jesus’ words (v 7), remain in us?  What would we say to someone who understood this to mean a purely intellectual belief in the truth of Christ’s teachings?
  6. How do we maintain a healthy approach to discipline in our daily devotions? How can we avoid legalism and stale routine whilst maintaining a close walk with God? Share some practical pointers that have helped you personally.
  7. Have we felt the pruning of the gardener? How can we turn this painful pruning into an opportunity for growth? What is the difference between pruning and punishment (see Hebrews 12.4-11)? Why is it worth the pain? (see Romans 8.18)

The call to fruitful, loving, joyful union with Christ “is simultaneously a mandate to Christ’s followers and a summons to those who do not yet know him. That is why the union of love that joins believers with Jesus can never become a comfortable, exclusivistic huddle that only they can share” (Don Carson). Take some time to pray for those who are not yet joined to the vine and ask God that we would always have this outward-looking, open-handed enjoyment of his love. Renew your commitment to the vine in the words of Frances Havergal in his hymn Take My Life:

“Take my love, my Lord, I pour, at Thy feet its treasure store;
Take myself and I will be ever, only, all for Thee.”