Prepare to Grow Offers Small Group Lessons

I wanted to highlight some small group material done by a good friend of mine Houston Heflin. Houston knows a lot about education and ministry and has developed several series of lessons. His website is called Prepare to Grow. Below are links to some samples of each of his lesson series.

(Download Sample lesson from Exodus: Bound to Freedom Series)

(Download Sample lesson from Psalms of Great Faith Series)

(Download Sample lesson from Colossians: Life with Christ Series)

If any of these are of interest to you feel free to visit Houston’s site. Thanks to Houston for permission to post this information and links to his sample curriculum.

New Small Group Series – Practical Christian Living

I posted to the Small Group Lessons page at the top of this blog a new series on Practical Christian Living. There are currently 10 lessons with 4 more on the way.

Bible Study – Seeing the Big Picture

I have always been one for details. When I study a passage I tend to break things down as small as possible. When you do that there is only so much information you can handle at a time. What is the background? Who is speaking? Where are they located and how might that affect the message? What does it say in Greek? What are the common words and themes in this story? There is so much to be learned by a study like that but there is also so much to be lost. When we get so entwined in the details of the text there is often a tendency to miss the broader context and how those verses advance the story that is being told. This is especially true of the Gospels which are narrating a story that is trying to take is somewhere. Each story and teaching advances the narrative and that can be missed when we get caught up in all the details of one story at a time.

We have been taught to do things this way from the sermon to the classroom. When you hear a sermon that is narrative based it usually centers on one story and is torn out of its larger context. The result is we know the details of the story of the money changers, Jesus’ healings, his triumphal entry, and the mount of transfiguration but we have never understood the scope of just how interconnected those stories are. When you go to a 13 week class on Luke you get this story and that story each week but rarely hear that the author is taking us somewhere by the placements of the stories (the larger context). The result is we have missed the big picture!

Recently I have started studying larger blocks of text, looking for their interrelations. Instead of asking about all the nuances in the details you begin asking questions like: “What are the overarching themes? How does this story advance the overall story? Where is the author taking us (in the story, not in geography)? What does this have to do with what just happened and how does it move us closer to what is about to happen? When you begin asking these questions you start to realize a couple of things:

1) The paragraph breaks, verse divisions, and section headings are often not very ideal. The New Testament was originally written in a text that had basically no punctuation or even spaces between the letters. They didn’t have all the nice clean breaks we have placed in the text that make artificial mental boundaries in our study of the text. We fragment things rather than look at the text as a whole/unit.

2) The stories are far more connected that you might have imagined. When you study a gospel like Mark this way you begin seeing ties between the stories that do something you may never have imagined – the stories teach us things about each other! That’s right. The stories in context actually shed light on each other and help us gain a better understanding of the individual parts. In other words the author is purposefully taking us somewhere by the stories he tells and the order in which he tells them. Why are the gospel stories often in slightly different orders? Because they are each trying to make their own point.

3) There are broader geographical themes that you miss when you study one story at a time. In Mark Jesus does miracles on the west (more Jewish side) of the Sea of Galilee and then crosses the sea and does similar miracles on the east side of the sea, closer to and even including Gentile crowds. You miss that if you only study one story at a time. Why does Jesus feed 4000 and 5000? Different sides of the sea, different crowds and cultures, which sends a message that we don’t get if we read the gospels flat. Which is the next point.

4) We tend to read the Gospels flat. We don’t catch the broader contours of the narrative landscape. Translation makes this difficult. We often miss repeated words and phrases because they are not always translated the same way in the same chapter. You see this when Jesus teaches the parable of the sower. The crowd is standing on the “ground” (NIV translates “shore”) and the parable is about seed that falls on the “ground”. We end up reading this parable flat because we don’t see the connection in English.

5) The broad themes begin to jump out. In Mark is it the kingdom of God, authority, and discipleship. You don’t really notice how many times these things are mentioned when you take it one story at a time or one story in isolation.

There is more I could toss out there but the gist of what I am trying to say is that I think it is important to zoom in on a text and also to zoom out on the broader context. We have normally thought of context as the couple of verses before and a couple verses after but that is not really true to real context (especially in the Gospels). When you start to look at the big picture the Gospel starts making sense in ways that never stood out before. More on that later.

Small Group Curriculum – Acts of the Apostles

This is a series of lessons that we just finished up last month in our LIFE groups. Again, feel free to use these in any way that is helpful to you and your ministry. I only ask that these not be published for profit.

Introducing Acts (Acts 1)
Cut to the Heart (Acts 2:1-41)
The First Church (Acts 2:42-47)
Filled with Amazement (Acts 3-4)
Giving Gone Wrong (Acts 5:1-16)
Dealing with Persecution (Acts 5:17-42)
Called to Service (Acts 6:1-7)
Stand Up for Jesus (Acts 6:8-8:4)
Evangelism: Partnering with God (Acts 8:26-40)
Saul: Change of Heart (Acts 9:1-30)
The Gospel to All Nations (Acts 10)
Prison Break: Celebrating God’s Deliverance (Acts 12)
Set Apart for God’s Work (Acts 13-14)
Tradition Gets Trumped (Acts 15)
Evangelism & Relying on God (Acts 16)
Religion & Relationship (Acts 17)
Balancing Boldness & Wisdom (Acts 18-19)
Farewells Don’t Have to Last Forever (Acts 20)
Don’t Judge Too Quickly (Acts 21)
The Importance of Testimony (Acts 21-22)
The Resurrection On Trials (Acts 23)
Convenience Or Commitment (Acts 24)
Almost Persuaded (Acts 25-26)
Faith Through the Storm (Acts 27)
From Storm to Solid Ground (Acts 27-28)
To The Ends of the Earth (Acts 28)

Small Group Curriculum – Ministry of Jesus

This was a series I wrote over a year ago on the ministry of Jesus. I think it has some good content as well as a layout that allows the teacher to find things quickly and shift to new sections if time is an issue. I will add more lessons to this at some point in the next few months.

The Names and Titles of Jesus
Jesus’ Mission (Luke 4:16-22)
Jesus’ Baptism (Matthew 3:13-17)
In the Wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11)
Fishers of Men (Mark 1:16-20)
Whole Again (Mark 2:1-12)
Sowing Seed and Softening Soil (Mark 4:1-20)
Who is the Greatest? (Matthew 18:1-6)
Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:34-40)
Victory in Jesus (Matthew 27:7-28:10)

How God Defines Beauty

We studied how God Defines Beauty in our LIFE groups this week. I am going to start uploading all of our lessons to Kingdom Living rather than just linking to our church website. Here is the pdf of How God Defines Beauty. I want to add to this the role of consumerism in forming our definition of beauty. Most of our ideas of what is beautiful comes from people who want to sell us something. The way to generate sales is to breed dissatisfaction so that the consumer feels a need for their product. There is no way to develop a healthy sense of beauty much less a healthy self image by surrounding yourself with messages that say you aren’t good enough unless you buy this, do that, etc. The good news of scripture is that you are valuable and beautiful no matter what anyone else has to say

Here is the text of the lesson.

Icebreaker: Where do most people get their definition of beauty?

We live in a “touched up” world. The Dove Campaign is beginning to show how much touch up work goes into the average photo you see on the newsstand, billboard, or internet. What you see is no longer what you get. We are surrounded by a made-up and make believe world that tells us beauty is basically unattainable unless you starve yourself. That is not how God views us. God sees us as beautiful because that is how he made everyone of us.

Outward Beauty:

Gen 1:26, 31

With what two qualities did God make mankind?

· He made us in his image

· He said that what he had made was good.

Every culture is different in how they define beauty. Because different cultures say different things are beautiful we see that the way culture defines beauty is arbitrary. It is not arbitrary with God. God’s view is, If you exist, you are beautiful to him. Our culture defines beauty and then tries to sell the product that will help make you the way they defined it! That is crazy. You can never be happy or satisfied with that kind of standard. In Genesis God said what he made was good.

Psalm 139:13-16

What does this scripture say about God’s involvement in creating us?

· God is hands on. God is actively engaged in his creation. God loves who and what he makes.

How does the psalmist respond to the idea that God created him this way?

· He responds with praise.

The world’s message of beauty is designed to create dissatisfaction with self and forms an ideal that is unattainable. Why would it be hard to praise God for creating you if you are dissatisfied with yourself?

· Because you wish you were not the person God created you to be.

· God created you with value, worth, and beauty because He chose to make you, you.

Ecclesiastes 3:11-14

How many things has God made beautiful?

· Everything

God says over and over again that he is head over heals for us! Revelation 2 even calls his church his bride who is being prepared for the great wedding day with Christ. He thinks we are beautiful. But not just on the outside. Society dwells on outward beauty because they do not realize what inward beauty can be. God thinks you are beautiful but not just because of how he made your outside. Even moreso God sees you as beautiful because of how he made you inside.

The Value of Inward Beauty

Outward beauty is not all there is to life. When we spend our time and money chasing that and not tending to our souls we have gotten our priorities out of line.

Proverbs 31:30 & 1 Samuel 16:6-7

The proverbs say there is something more lasting and substantial than outward beauty. God gave us a clearer picture of what that is when he selected David to be king. When the people selected a king they picked Saul because of his physical characteristics (he was head and shoulders above the rest). When God picked a king what was he looking at?

· The inner person—the heart, soul, and character.

People use all sorts of products to makeup the outward person. What can we do to really develop the quality of our inner self?

· Through relationship with God, trusting God, faith, Bible study, prayer…all the things that put us in touch with God and his people.

· Time invested in those things will never go to waste.

1 Peter 3:3-4

Beauty is not skin deep. As we already saw outward beauty fades. What type of beauty does Peter say never fades?

· Beauty that comes from a gentle and quiet spirit.

· God puts a great value on that.

God sees past all the outward adornment straight into our hearts.

Application:

Where have you gotten your cues of what makes you beautiful?

When you get ready for your day which gets more prep time the outside or the inside?

What does God see when he looks past all the makeup, all the nice clothes, and jewelry right into your soul?

God thinks you are beautiful through and through. God says we are valuable and that it more important than what anyone else in the whole world has to say about it.

Practical Christian Living – From Consumerism to Contentment

We are experiencing technical difficulties with our email due to a website server switcharoo and so I am posting the content of our next LIFE group lesson here. Feel free to give feedback.

Icebreaker: What would have been your favorite thing about living in the Garden of Eden?

Last week we talked about sin in the garden and how the serpent tried to challenge God’s command not to eat fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Satan was substituting God’s way with an alternative that, although sounded good and pleasing, in the end resulted in emptiness and death. God had all their needs taken care of but Satan convinced them that what God had provided was not enough—they needed more.

That is the message of the world—Consumerism. Why does consumerism breed dissatisfaction?

·You feel like you never have enough. There is always something bigger and better you can buy.

Consumerism can become an entire worldview—something that effects the way we see everything. Because of that we have to address this early in our study because many of the other things we study are problems because people have developed a consumer mindset that has taken the place of God in their lives. In other words, when this has fully taken root, we begin believing that the world can meet our needs instead of God. But like Adam and Eve the end result will be emptiness and even death.

How does the world bombard us with the message that what we have is never enough?

· Advertisements, trends, movies, television, internet, etc.

How was the Garden of Eden before sin entered the picture?

· It was a perfect existence between God and mankind.

· They should have been satisfied—all their basic needs were met.

The Bible makes very clear that God is the one who supplies our needs. Because of that we should be content.

Phil 4:19 

How many of your needs did Paul say God will meet?

· All

What is the difference between a want and a need?

· A want is something that is non-essential for the continuance of living life as a whole person. A need is something that only God can provide that is essential for life and spiritual development.

· Paul didn’t say God will meet all your wants. Paul said God will give you what you really need.

What does the world tell us we really need?

· Definitely not God—they say God will mess you up or that God is out to get you or that he doesn’t exist.

· The world says we need stuff. Once you get enough stuff you will be satisfied.

· The world says we need love and acceptance—the difference is how you go about finding it.

Matthew 6:28-34

The world says if you don’t have what you want you better worry until you get it. What does God say about worry? Why?

· Don’t worry—God will provide what you really need.

Jesus shifts the priority from chasing some really important things (food and clothing) to something of even greater importance. What does Jesus say is the most important thing to seek out?

· A relationship with God

What does Jesus say will follow if we make God our priority?

· The things we really need will be provided in addition to the greatest thing—a relationship with God.

Back to the way the world looks at this. The world says if you want clothes you chase clothes. If you want food you chase food. If you want stuff you better chase it yourself because no one else is going to do it for you. And don’t chase just anything. Only the best is worth your attention. Following that line of thinking to the end makes stuff our “lord” instead of God. Stuff begins to rule our lives and we end up on an endless pursuit of things that will make us seem important or “somebody.”

Gen 1:26-27

Where does scripture say our value is found?

· Our value rests in our relationship with God. We are made in his image and that makes us valuable.

What does it take for the world to say you are valuable?

· If you have the right income, job, clothes, cars, appearance, etc.

· In other words, you don’t have any inherent value apart from your things.

Consumerism robs us of who we are and it steals away from us a healthy view of others. Instead of seeing others for who God made them to be we start seeing others for how they can benefit us, how they can help our cash flow, buy our product, compliment us, etc.

Moving from Consumerism to Contentment:

Philippians 4:11-13 shows us that contentment does not come from filling ourselves with stuff. Contentment is not based on circumstances or a series of good purchases. Contentment comes from resting in the fact that we have value that comes from God and that through God our needs will be met.

What are some things in your life you feel get in the way of seeing God and others in a healthy way?

What are the necessary steps it will take for you to find contentment in God alone?

Online Bible Resources and Tools for Study

This is a copy of the Bible Resources page from the top of this blog. This list includes 31 essential Bible resources and tools to assist in Bible study and teaching. If you have anything you would add feel free to include them in the comments. Any updates will be found on the Bible Resources tab at the top of Kingdom Living.

Original Languages:
The Bible Translator – Journal of the United Bible Society (full text)
Interlinear Hebrew Old Testament
English-Hebrew Old Testament
Septuagint Online
ZHubert – Everything Greek
English-Greek New Testament
Liddel & Scott Greek Lexicon
Greek New Testament (NA26)
Modern Translations
Bible Gateway – Translations

OT/Jewish Resources:
EarlyJewishWritings.com
Jewish Encyclopedia (full text)

New Testament Resources:
IVP Commentaries Online
New Testament Gateway – Goodacre
New Testament Resources – R. Decker
Gospel Synopsis

Church History:
Early Christian Writings
Christian Classics Ethereal Library
Tertullian Project
NewAdvent.org (Newadvent.org)
Restoration Movement Texts

Full Texts:
Perseus Project – Ancient Texts
Online religious books out of copywrite
Many recent full texts
Rob Bradshaw – Biblicalstudies.org.uk

Miscellaneous:
Apollos Bible Study Resources
Bible Maps
Bible Studies on the Web
Bibliographies
World Wide Study Bible

Tools:
Bible Tools at Christianity.com