Revitalize - How to revitalize your worship Psalm 100

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If you want to revitalize the worship in your church, sing!  Make music a big part of your life. Sing in the car. Buy a growing stack of CDs. Sing loud. If you can’t sing, hum. If you can’t hum, mumble. If you can’t mumble, mouth the words. Participate joyfully in worship. I don’t think many Christians see singing as a moral obligation. We are commanded to sing. And, few things will improve a worship service and revitalize a church like a house full of people singing at the top of their lungs. Click here to have the leaders guide to the Bible study.

Revitalize - How to Live Lives on Fire for God.

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Revelation 3.14 - 22 Revitalization starts from the inside out. It starts by returning to our first love. It starts by cultivating a red-hot love for God. It is sustained by habits—mostly the habit of the Christian Quiet Time. It effects our buildings. It influences our worship. It changes our group-life. It awakens our ministry. It revolutionizes our outreach. But, it starts with the heart. Click here to have the bible study that will help you to see what a life on fire for the Lord looks like. 

Revitalize - Return to the love you once had

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Ephesus was once a thriving church. It had been served by people like Paul and John the disciple. It was held as a shining example of what a church should be in the second century AD by many of the great leaders of the church. It was even the place where one of the great councils of the Catholic Church was held in 431 AD. Yet, today the city doesn't have a single Christian church. This study looks at why that happened and how the modern church can avoid that fate. A full copy of the leader's guide is available by clicking here. I hope that you enjoy it and that it sparks a lot of thought. 

Nehemiah Revival: It is God who lifts us past our weaknesses

Failure was all around them. They stood in a place of greatness, but all around them was failure and decay. The temple above them on the hill had once gleamed with gold. Now, their temple was simple and the walls made of burnt and broken stone. The glory of David and Solomon was long past. Would they ever be great again? It can feel the same way in the church today. We remember the days when it was fashionable to go to church and the Sunday school was filled with kids eager to learn. Now we step into half-filled sanctuaries, and the population of the church is graying. Times have changed, but God has not. God can lift us past our weakness. This Bible study will show you how the Lord lifts us up and how the Jews confessed their past and committed to the future. 

For the full bible study on Nehemiah 9 including the leader's guide, click here. It is in PDF form and is free. Feel free to use it for your personal bible study or for your church or small group. 

Nehemiah Revival: Revival starts with scripture

Focus passage: Nehemiah 8

The church at large needs revival. Our first reaction is to look out into the world and complain that it has changed. We complain about government. We complain about our culture. We want to write nasty things on Facebook and badger people into doing what is right. We are looking at the wrong place for the problem. The church flourished in the midst of the evil Roman Empire. The problem is us. The problem is that the church is listening more to the media and culture than to God. Most church people know less about the Bible than we did a generation ago. Parents don’t think it is important to teach their kids the simple Bible stories at home or make sure they get to Sunday School. Christians are struggling for they have the wrong information. They know more about pop culture than biblical characters and values. They want God to build the world and make it beautiful, but their hearts are running on empty. We need a revival, and it needs to start with us if the world is going to change.

For the full bible study on Nehemiah 8 including the leader's guide, click here. It is in PDF form and is free. Feel free to use it for your personal bible study or for your church or small group. 

Nehemiah Revival: How much do you want it?

Under Nehemiah's gifted leadership, the people did the impossible and rebuilt the walls. Now all that was left was to rebuild the gates. Since Sanballat and the others were not able to stop the people from working, they began to attack Nehemiah. If they could get rid of the leader, they could stop the project and retake the city. As they finish the task before them, the Jews and Nehemiah can teach us a lot about success and revival in the church.

The first question is how much do you want it? Revival in the church is not easy. That should not surprise us for some of the best things in life are not easy. You want a baby. Are you willing to put up with morning sickness, 2 AM feedings, and three-year-old temper tantrums? You want to be in business or be a lawyer or doctor. Are you ready for four to eight years of college? There will be exams and all-nighters.

A lot of people want a great church, but they want others to do the work, and they will just sit their butt down and enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labor. Instead of rolling up their sleeves, they hop from church to church trying to cash in on the good times. My question is how much do you want a great church and are you willing to fight for it? As much as we want it, Satan doesn’t want vibrant churches and will make it hard.

For the Bible study, click here

Leadership from Nehemiah: Conflict in the Church

When the enemy fails in his attacks from the outside, he then begins to attack from within; and one of his favorite weapons is selfishness. If he can get us thinking only about ourselves and what we want, then he will win the victory before we realize that he is even at work. Selfishness means putting myself at the center of everything and insisting on getting what I want when I want it. It means exploiting others so I can be happy and taking advantage of them just so I can have my own way. It is not only wanting my own way but expecting everybody else to want my way too.

Bible Study – Nehemiah 5:1-19

1. What do you think when someone begs you for a handout on the streets of a big city?

2. A great outcry was raised by the people working on the wall. What were the three complaints that they had? (5:2-5)

 3. How does Nehemiah react to the cries for justice? Why does he get so angry with the nobles and officials? (5:6-8)

 4. How would our society view the claims of the poor in the text? What seems to be important to God that is not always important to us?

 5. God had redeemed the people and brought them back to Palestine. How had the rich undone what God in His grace had given? (5:8)

 

6. How does Nehemiah say this financial crisis looks to the Gentiles around them? (5:9) How did their actions affect how the nations would see the Lord?

 7. In financial matters, should we deal with a Christian differently than a non-Christian?

 8. What had Nehemiah’s practice been and what did he demand of the rulers and the wealthy? (5:10-11)

 9. How did Nehemiah and the people show that this was a spiritual problem that they were giving the Lord and not just a political problem (5:13)

 10 How had Nehemiah been an example in this area for the people? (5:14-18)

 11. What “reward” did Nehemiah expect from all the good things that He had done? (5:19) What does his example tell us about leadership?

Lessons on dealing with conflict from Neh. 5.

Godly leaders don’t ignore problems v. 6 When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. It is easy to know about problems and let them fester. Nehemiah took the problem head on even though the people he had to address were the leaders that he needed to help with the project. Good leaders do not ignore problems, but seek to resolve them no matter what the cost.

Godly leaders are patient and think before they act v.7 I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. One of the reasons conflicts are not resolved is because people react too quickly. Nehemiah took time to think about the situation and may have asked others about it as well. The wise person thinks before they act rather than jumping on the problem with their emotions.

Godly leaders approach people one on one v.7 Nehemiah 5:7 I told them, "You are exacting usury from your own countrymen!" So I called together a large meeting to deal with them. Often we are tempted to complain about others to the whole group not the individual. By talking to the people directly, he was able to remind them of what God’s will from scripture was. The people needed to realize they were opposing God and not just Nehemiah.

Godly leaders set a good example v.10 I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let the exacting of usury stop! Nehemiah and his brothers were lending money, but were not trying to get rich by doing so. They were helping others rather than using them. If we are going to resolve conflict, we must practice what we preach.

Godly leaders demand accountability v. 12 "We will give it back," they said. "And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say." Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised. People will do what they say if you make them be specific about what they agree to and if you let them know you will check up on them. The priests were set up as the accountability people.. Accountability can be the key to success.

Leadership from Nehemiah: Facing Opposition

Nehemiah chapter 4

Nehemiah’s arrival in Jerusalem was a threat to Sanballat and his associates (2:10), who wanted to keep the Jews weak and dependent. A strong Jerusalem would endanger the balance of power in the region, and it would also rob Sanballat and his friends of influence and wealth. When things are going well, get ready for trouble, because the enemy doesn't want to see the work of the Lord make progress. The opposition is not only an evidence that God gives blessings, but it is also an opportunity for us to grow. The difficulties that came to the work brought out the best in Nehemiah and his people. Satan wanted to use these problems as weapons to destroy the work, but God used them as tools to build His people. The chapter before us is a lesson on how to battle discouragement.

Bible Study – Nehemiah 4:1-23

1. What do you do when you find yourself discouraged?

2. What weapons does Sanballat use to stop the building of the wall? (4:1-2)

3. How does Nehemiah respond in the face of this opposition? How do you feel about the requests that he makes of God? Why is this appropriate?

4. When is it appropriate to pray for harm or judgment on someone else? Why is it beneficial to ask the Lord this kind of request?

5. When ridicule fails, what is the next line of attack for the enemies of the Jews? (4:8) How does Nehemiah respond to their attack?

6. Where would you post a guard in order to guard the hearts of Christians today?

7. What two internal threats raise their head when the external threat seems defeated? (4:10-12)

8. What does Nehemiah want the people to remember? (4:14) How did it help them to remember the Lord and the needs of others?

9. Which gives you more difficulty – the criticism of others or your own doubts and fears?

10. How does Nehemiah put to rest the threats from the enemies of Jerusalem? (4:16-18)

11. What dream would you like to see that seems so big it is beyond human control but within the provision of God?

 Three thoughts on facing opposition

1. It is impossible to lead without facing opposition – The leader needs to learn to take the heat from without and overcome the discouragement from within. Darts come our way. People drag their feet. Satan does not want the work that we are doing to be done. If you face opposition, you are often doing something valuable for the kingdom. Don’t always take it as a sign that you are going the wrong way.

2. It is essential to face opposition with prayer – The forces of evil are strong. Your God is stronger. Your first response to opposition outside the group or inside your church must be prayer. The church today fails too often because its leaders do not pray (and often do not know how to pray). Nehemiah prayed for three days upon coming to Jerusalem and months before that. Realize that if you start from chapter 1 when he heard about the walls, he spent more time in prayer than he did building the wall.

3. Prayer is not all that is necessary to overcome opposition – When you have prayed, you must act. Things get done when God’s people actually put their hands on the task and lift one stone after another into place. Those who move forward into the fray trusting the Lord to be with them will accomplish the task. Those who sit and wait for the Lord to make it easy will find that the task will never be done.

 

Leadership from Nehemiah: Getting the Job Done

Nehemiah chapter 3

Nehemiah faced a problem. Saying it and doing it are often two things. The people had been ready to say “Let’s start rebuilding! (2:18), yet Nehemiah must have wondered if it would really happen. In this chapter, we will see that the people started out rebuilding the wall immediately. This chapter is one long list of people who found a zeal for the Lord and who lifted up their hands to accomplish something great for themselves. It is a testimony to the people of Jerusalem who put their words into actions and built the wall for God’s glory and for their own protection. In just 52 days they would rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. That timespan shows how hard they worked and how dedicated they were to the task. 

Bible Study – Nehemiah 3:1-32

 1. When have you enjoyed working with a group of people on a project?

 

2. What was the sheep gate and why would the priests care about this section of the wall? (3:1)

 

3. Not every group of important people helped with the wall. Who was unwilling to help? (3:5) How did the average people of the city show themselves to be more noble than the nobles? (3:5,27)

 

4. How does it affect a project when some people think that they are above doing the hard work?

 

5. What seems to be a guiding factor of what part of the wall that some people did? (3:10, 23, 28-29) Why would this be a natural thing to do?

 

6. What is most dear about the ministry of your church to you? Why might that be a good place for you to serve? What does the building of the wall tell you about the way to accomplish a big task?

 

7. What do you notice about the amount of work (3:11, 19, 21, 24, 27, 30) and the energy (3:20) that some put into their work. How is this a model for us?

 

 

8 Why do you think that the people of Jerusalem and the surrounding villages were so committed to this work?

 

9. Nehemiah’s name is missing in this list. What do you suppose that Nehemiah was doing while the work was going on? What does that tell you about the role of the leader?

 

10. What does this passage tell you about how to accomplish an important task?

 

Becoming a Leader

Five lessons on getting the job done.

Ministry happens when the leaders set the example v. 1. Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set its doors in place, building as far as the Tower of the Hundred, which they dedicated, and as far as the Tower of Hananel. The first ones mentioned in this list of rebuilding the wall was the High Priest. Priests were not the ones that were involved in manual labor since their work was to teach the people and lead worship. Yet, here we find them working at the sheep gate where the animals would come into the temple to be sacrificed. Their example will lead priests from the surrounding region to work on another part of the wall (3:22)

Ministry happens when everyone gets involved v.8. Uzziel son of Harhaiah, one of the goldsmiths, repaired the next section; and Hananiah, one of the perfume-makers, made repairs next to that. They restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall. We find perfume makers, goldsmiths, and Levites. We find residents of Zanoah, Mizpah, and the hill of Ophel. It was not a few who worked on the wall, but people of diverse regions and occupations. This was a community problem and so we have a community solution. As they worked together, there seems to be a unity among the people. Each one does their part and that builds strength among the people in a way that just a few working on the problem would never do.

Ministry happens when people take responsibility for things dear to them v 28. Beyond them, Benjamin and Hasshub made repairs in front of their house; and next to them, Azariah son of Maaseiah, the son of Ananiah, made repairs beside his house. Many of the assignments were taken because they affected the lives of a group of people. If you lived near a section of the wall you wanted it to be strong and give you protection. You had a vested interest in rebuilding that section. Many of the places that God calls people to serve are the places nearest their heart. They may be involved in children’s ministry because they have young children or involved in music because they enjoy having a choir. God often calls us to serve in a place that is dear to us. It is where we often get the most benefit and can make the greatest contribution.

Ministry happens when a few get excited about the work v. 20. Next to him, Baruch son of Zabbai zealously repaired another section, from the angle to the entrance of the house of Eliashib the high priest. One man, Baruch, is specifically mentioned because he seems to be on fire for the project. His work ethic and excitement about the project surely caught on to others. They say how he worked and they worked a little harder. In the modern church, a person who is really excited about ministry talks about what they are doing and seems to draw others to the project as well. A person on fire can do more than a hundred people who are only lukewarm to the project.

Ministry happens when some are willing to quietly do their work. It is hard to imagine Nehemiah not taking part in the project. He spurred others on and got people excited about what God was doing. You will, however, not notice his name anywhere in the list. As he writes this account, he is silent about his part in the work. He worked behind the scenes and never wants the glory for his work. Perhaps, he did not have a section of the wall but was making sure that wood was delivered to each spot for the gates or that food was being served for the workers. He worked hard, I am sure, but he is glad to give others the credit and to give God the glory.

Leadership from Nehemiah: Start well

You have a great ministry you feel called by the Lord to start. Where do you begin? How do you begin your plan? How do you encourage others to join you in this ministry? Sometimes we get stalled before we start. Nehemiah had only a few months to get the walls rebuilt before he had to return to Persia. His plan is a model for us on how to begin any project. This third study on leadership shows us how to lean on God and encourage others so that the project begins strongly.

 Bible Study – Nehemiah 2:11-20

1. Have you ever walked through an area hit by fire, earthquake or tornado? What was it like to walk through the wreckage?

 2. What do you think Nehemiah did his first three days in Jerusalem? Why was that important?  (2:11)

 3. What is the midnight ride about? (2:13) What did he learn about the situation in Jerusalem?

 4. How do you gather the facts for a project at work or a project at home? What do you need to know and why is it beneficial to know it first hand?

 5. Why did Nehemiah make this ride at night? (2:16)

 6. How does Nehemiah describe the problem in Jerusalem? (2:17) Whose problem is it and why is that a powerful motivator for the people?

7. Why was it so important for the walls to be rebuilt according to Nehemiah in verse 17? Who was this city an offense to in addition to the Jews who lived there?

 8. What words would you use to motivate a church to grow and serve its community? How does a plateaued or declining church make God look to the world around us?

 9. What encouragement does Nehemiah give to the people? (2:18) How is this report encouraging and not bragging?

 10. How did Nehemiah stand up to the foreign rulers who opposed the wall? (2:19-20)

 11. What is one thing that you have learned from Nehemiah about being a leader in this section?

 

Becoming a Leader

Four lessons on leaning on God.

 Godly leaders listen first to God v. 11 I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days

Many times people think of leadership as being the same as busyness. However, it is not what we do in the open that brings success, but what we do in private. When Nehemiah got to Jerusalem after a two-month journey, he did not start working immediately, he spent three days quietly. While he was waiting, he was spending time in the word and in prayer allowing the Lord to put things into his heart so that he could lead effectively.

 Godly leaders check their information. v. 13 By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire.

Having spent time with the Lord, he sneaks out at night to examine the walls of the city. He wants to honestly face the full reality of his problem. He wants to see exactly what he is up against and take the plans that God has given him and apply them to the reality. God gave him the ending point and the means. Nehemiah now must get a good idea of the starting point. How bad is it? Your first step is always to assess the truth so you honestly know where you are beginning and what you are up against. Without it, you will have little hope of overcoming your challenges.

 Godly leaders inspire others v.17 Then I said to them, "You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace

He didn’t tell them that they had a problem. Notice the pronouns – we, us, and we. He owned the problem and appealed to their inner needs. Without the walls, all of them were in trouble. There would be no security and no prosperity until the wall was rebuilt. His words to them identified their needs and told them that together they could overcome the problem. Nehemiah also told them what God had already done (v. 18) so that they could see that they could depend on God in what seemed an impossible task. Nehemiah inspired them by telling them that He was with them and so was God.

 Godly leaders depend on God in the midst of opposition. v. 20 I answered them by saying, "The God of heaven will give us success.

When troubles come, many just give up. They figure it is too hard or that it must not be something that God wants. Nehemiah takes a different tack. He was confident that the Lord would continue to help them. Would there be problems ahead? Sure there would be, but the Lord can handle them. You can see that put into effect in the rest of the book as Nehemiah prays to the Lord about something in each chapter. God is a partner in this project. Nehemiah knows that God can overcome any problem.

 

Leadership from Nehemiah: Be ready

God tends to open doors for ministry when you least expect it. The next door neighbor asks a question about your faith. The school near your church opens its doors for a ministry after a fire claims the chemistry lab. A coworker is going through a painful divorce and asks about your church. How do you get ready to help before help is needed? Nehemiah has some answers in this second study about leadership. 

Bible Study

Be Ready when Opportunity Comes

Nehemiah 2:1-10

 

1. What situations make you nervous or scared?

 

2. It has been four months since chapter one. What do you think Nehemiah has been doing in that time?

 

3. It had been about four months since Nehemiah had gotten the news of the sorry state of Jerusalem. Yet, he had not been sad in the presence of the king all this time. Why had he pretended to not be sad in all this time?

 

4. Can others read you like a book or is your heart under lock and key so that people struggle to read you? What strengths does each character trait provide? What weaknesses?

 

5. How does Nehemiah respond when he is asked what he wants? (2:4-5)

 

6. What do you imagine this prayer was like? What do we learn about prayer from this? (2:4) Contrast this prayer to the prayer in chapter 1. What do you learn?

 

7. The king asks Nehemiah what he wants. Look at Nehemiah’s response beginning in verse 5. What does this tell us about what Nehemiah has been doing (besides praying) over the last four months?

 

8. If someone were to offer to help you with the biggest problem in your church or life, what would you say? How much have you prayed about it up till now? Are you ready to let God bring a solution?

 

9. How did preparation before this moment help Nehemiah in what is ahead? (2:5-9)

 

10. Did Nehemiah get what he asked for? (2:9) What could Nehemiah have done without this help?

 

11. Let’s say that your church has a need and God was ready to gift your congregation with a memorial of $100,000 to help with that need. What have you learned from Nehemiah about being ready when God is ready to make a miracle happen?

 

12. The gracious hand of God was on Nehemiah. Did this mean a trouble-free life? See verse 10. What is the lesson for us?

Becoming a leader

Four principles of preparation

Changing hearts is God’s specialty 1:11 – We often try to change people to make them do our will. That is manipulation. It is far better to pray to the Lord about them. It may be a boss who doesn’t listen, a spouse who is being unreasonable, or someone who doesn’t want to work well with you. Talk to God about them. Find out what you can do in this situation and what you just have to wait for the Lord to do.

 Praying and waiting go hand in hand 2:1 – You never really have prayed until you have learned to wait. It must be on God’s time and not yours. Let it go and let God change the situation. He has the power to do the miracles and the power to change hearts. It will be tough for it cuts across the grain of our human nature. You have to give up your homemade solutions and let God be in charge.

Faith is not a synonym for disorder or a substitute for careful planning. 2:5 – Leaders like Nehemiah think through the problems that they face. They may not be able to do everything now, but you know that they have brought everything before the Lord and have run through all the obstacles with God as well. Faith breeds organization. We can’t be irresponsible and think that God will somehow make everything work out well nor can we be ill prepared and expect God to work miracles so that great things happen when we have done very little to be ready.

The opposition will come if we carry out God’s will. 2:10 – If you do God’s will, there will be at least one person who will oppose you. You can’t let opposition scare you. You have to have prayed about the obstacles so that you can receive God’s encouragement before the problems come up. If you know that God is going to be with you, it is easier to have faith and to continue the project. You are certain God will not fail and that the obstruction is opposing God and not just you. 

Leadership from Nehemiah: Be honest and face the situation

Leaders are hard to find. I hope that this helps you learn from the book of Nehemiah about leadership and to honestly address how he was a great leader and how his leadership style challenges us. God will develop leaders if we let Him. May the Lord help all of us to grow and become the leaders that He wants us to be. In this first chapter, we see how important it is to be honest about the situation and to be willing to help. 

1. Be honest and face the situation

Neh. 1:1-11

1. Where do you consider home? What would you do if your hometown faced a disaster like an earthquake, tornado or wildfire?

Read Nehemiah 1:1-11

2. What is the setting? What is the news that Nehemiah receives about his hometown? (v 1-3)

 

3. What is Nehemiah’s reaction when he hears the news of the city? (v.4)

 

4. How grieved do you think the church is about the physical and spiritual state of God’s people? Enough to pray? Fast? Act? Why is it not enough to wait and let others do something about it?

 

5. How does Nehemiah describe God in the prayer? (v.5) Why would this situation need “the God of heaven”?

 

6. How big is your God? What do you say about God? What are you willing to do because of what you believe?

 

7. Who is at fault for these problems? (v.6-7) Why do you think that Nehemiah included himself (“we” v.7) in the sin even though he was 800 miles from Jerusalem and lived almost 170 years after the captivity began?

 

 8. The concept of shared guilt is foreign to western ears, but is common in the Bible. What would be the result if more Christians saw a problem and treated it as “their problem” instead of pointing the finger or “finding who is to blame”?

 

9. What promise could the Jewish people claim? (v.9) Why was this promise so important to Nehemiah? What does this promise show about God?

 

10. As you look at the problems with the church at large, what promises of God would you be able to quote as you pray? How would such Bible promises lend power and authority to your prayers?

 

11. What specific request does Nehemiah end the prayer with? (v.11) What is he offering to God in the process?

 

12. Leaders tackle problems and do not make excuses. What is one issue facing your church that you would be willing to tackle alone or in the company of others? Why is that issue important to you?

Lessons from Nehemiah

 Marks of a leader in Neh. 1

1. A leader has an honest perspective on the needs v.4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. A leader doesn’t ignore the problem or sugar coat it. He doesn’t expand the problem and make it seem worse than it is. He sees the world around him or her as it really is. He sees what others are going through and has an honest appreciation of what is really needed.

2. A leader empathizes with the needs and reacts with compassion v.4b - For some days I mourned and fasted. The problem wasn’t 800 miles away. It was Nehemiah’s problem and he not only felt their needs, but he began to pray to see what God was calling him to do about the problem. It would have been easy to ignore the problem and say that it did not affect him. Yet it affected the people that he loved and thus he, like Esther, saw that it was his problem and that God had put him in a unique position to help.

3 A leader goes first to God with the need – v.5 Then I said: "O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, Problems will never be truly solved until you take it to the Lord in prayer. Prayer is essential in the life of the leader. Nehemiah believed in the power and compassion of God. He also (in verse 6-7) confesses that the problem has occurred because the people forgot their God.

4. A leader makes himself available to the plans of God v.11b Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man." I was cupbearer to the king. When a leader spots a problem, he bows before the Lord and offers himself. You have asked the Lord to work miracles, but God often does not do His work here on earth without tools. A leader doesn’t expect someone else to volunteer while they sit back. The leader offers himself for service before the Lord.

 

 

 

 

Rejoice in the gift


Focus: Luke 2:1-20

What is your favorite Christmas movie?

1.       What do we know about Caesar Augustus?

2.       Verse 4 talks about their journey. How do you imagine Mary and Joseph felt by the time they got to Bethlehem?

3.       How do you picture this manger? What do you imagine it looked like?

4.       How do you react when you are asked to do something difficult? How has your worst situation compared to what Mary and Joseph are facing?

5.       Try to imagine the contrast between how Jesus came to earth and how royalty travels to a foreign land. What would it be like for a modern king to travel?

6.       Whenever there is a birth, there is a birth announcement. Who was Jesus first birth announcement given to? What does this tell us about the recipients and about the savior himself?

7.       What do we know about these shepherds?

8.       Verse 9. What do you imagine this glory of the angel’s looking like?

9.       Verse 11 What was the message of the angels and what does it mean?

10.   Does Christmas ever become so hectic that it loses all its joy?

11.   Verse 13-14 The angels break out into song. Why do you think that they feel that they need to break out into verse and what would the effect of their song have been on you if you were there?

12.   Verse 14. The angels promised peace. How does the biblical word peace differ from the way we often use the word?

13.   Verse 15. What do you admire about these shepherds? What do learn about following God from their example?

14. If you were to spread the news about Jesus’ birth, who would you want to tell first? What would you tell someone about your Savior?

For the leader's guide, click here

God is with those who listen

Focus passage: Joshua 1:1-9

All of us need to listen. We listen intently as the mechanic tells us what is wrong with our car. We follow the advice of the doctor who has just listened to our heart. We need their expert advice and guidance for we are in an area where we know that we don’t know it all. We often need the help and advice of someone who can help us navigate our way through life. We need someone who can help us figure out what is right and wrong for our lives. Many will turn to talk show hosts and magazines. God invites us to turn to him instead and promises blessings for those who listen and follow him. As we study this week, we will see the blessings of creating a special place in our lives just to listen to God and seek his advice.

Moses has died and Joshua has been given the task of leading over half a million people into the Promised Land. It sounds like an impossible task doesn’t it? Yet, God promises that He will be with Joshua as he reads and studies the words of the scripture. Our lives are often filled with impossible tasks as well. Yet, our God promises to be with us in all situations if we are willing to spend time with him reading and meditating on the Bible, which he has given us. As we are in the word, he will give us direction and help and will strengthen us so that we can handle whatever life brings.

Opening question: What kinds of books do you like to read? Why do you find them uplifting?

1. How would you feel if you were just made the leader of a million people like Joshua? What promises does the Lord give to Joshua in verse 3-5 to give him confidence?

I know that I would be scared if I was suddenly the ruler of a group of people. I don’t know how a president does it. The Lord promises to give him every place that he sets his foot on and that no one will be able to stand up against him. Most important, God promises to never leave him or forsake him.

2. What must Joshua do if he wants to be successful according to verse 7? What do you think it means to be successful?

To be successful is to obey all the laws that Moses gave him. Obey the Bible in other words. Successful is to have a life that made a difference to others. It is to have a life that you can look back at and feel like you accomplished something.

3. Why is obedience to the Lord and his will the key to real success?

God made us and knows what we will be good at. He is the one who can lead us into the places that we can make a difference and give us the ability to really do them well. We can do little without his leadership and power.

4. What is the second command that the Lord gives to Joshua in verse 8? Why must he do this even before he can be obedient and do what it says?

Do not let the Bible depart from your mouth – meditate on it day and night. How can you be obedient if you don’t know what it is that the Lord wants you to do?

5. What does this passage say about the place of Bible study in our life? How does Bible study bring the Lord into our lives wherever we go? (verse 9)

The bible must be our daily companion. It is the way that we can make sure that the Lord is with us wherever we go. In the word, he will speak and guide us and give us his power.

 

Peter - Restored

Focus Passage:  John 21:15-25

Jesus' first words to Simon Peter were "Come, follow me" (Mark 1:17). His last words to him were "You must follow me" (John 21:22). Every step of the way between those two challenges, Peter never failed to follow—even though he often stumbled.When Jesus entered Peter's life, this plain fisherman became a new person with new goals and new priorities. He did not become a perfect person, however, and he never stopped being Simon Peter. We may wonder what Jesus saw in Simon that made him greet this potential disciple with a new name, Peter—the "rock." Impulsive Peter certainly didn't act like a rock much of the time. But when Jesus chose his followers, he wasn't looking for models; he was looking for real people. He chose people who could be changed by his love, and then he sent them out to communicate that his acceptance was available to anyone—even to those who often fail.

 

   1.   When did you ever have to restore a broken relationship?

 

   2.   What did Jesus ask Peter three times? (21:15-17) How did Peter feel after Jesus had asked him the same question three times? (21:17)

 

   3.   What did Jesus predict about Peter's future? (21:18-19) What concern did Peter raise? (21:20-21)

 

   4.   With what did Jesus want Peter to concern himself? (21:22)

 

   5.   Was Peter restored to honor, to service or to both? Why?

 

   6.   How was the restored now called to restore?

 

   7.   Is there someone you know who needs to be restored? How might you do that? Who around you might help?

John the baptist - Preparing others

Focus Passage - John 1:19-28

There's no getting around it—John the Baptist was unique. He wore odd clothes and ate strange food and preached an unusual message to the Judeans who went out to the wastelands to see him. But John did not aim at uniqueness for its own sake. Instead, he aimed at obedience. He knew he had a specific role to play in the world—announcing the coming of the Savior—and he put all his energies into this task God has given each of us a purpose for living, and we can trust him to guide us. John did not have the complete Bible as we know it today, but he focused his life on the truth he knew from the available Old Testament Scriptures. Likewise, we can discover in God's Word the truths he wants us to know. And as these truths work in us, others will be drawn to him. God can use you in a way he can use no one else. Let him know your willingness to follow him today.

  1.   What are the characteristics of a humble person?

     2.   Who did the Jews think John was? (1:20-21) What did John say about who he was? (1:20-22)

   3.   How did John "make straight the way for the Lord"? (1:23)

   4.   Who did John say was coming after him? (12:27) What did John say he was not worthy to do? (1:27)

   5.   In what ways can you honor Christ with your accomplishments?

   6.   If you had been John how would you have felt about your role?

   7.   What are some areas in which you struggle to be humble at this time in your life?

Nicodemus - Persistant

Focus Passage: Mark 10:46-52
 

Bartimaeus had heard of Jesus and his miracles, and learning that he was passing by, hoped to recover his eyesight. In coming to Christ for help and healing, we should look to him as the promised Messiah. The gracious calls Christ gives us to come to him, encourage our hope, that if we come to him we shall have what we come for. Those who would come to Jesus must cast away the garment of their own sufficiency, must free themselves from every weight, and the sin that, like long garments, most easily besets them, Hebrews 12:1. It is not enough, however, to come to Christ for spiritual healing, but, when we are healed, we must continue to follow him; that we may honor him, and receive instruction from him. Those who have spiritual eyesight, see that beauty in Christ, which will draw them to run after him.

             

   1.   When has persistence paid off for you?

  

   2.   How does the blind man address Jesus? (10:47-8) Why did the people rebuke the blind man? (10:48)

  

   3.   How did the blind man respond to the criticism from the crowd? (10:48) What do the blind man's actions tell you about his character and his attitude toward Jesus? (10:48)

  

   4.   How did the crowds of people treat Bartimaeus after they found out Jesus had called for him? (10:49) What is the mood of Bartimaeus after Jesus calls him?

  

   5.   When have you persistently prayed for one particular request? What happened?

  

   6.   What does it mean to be persistent in prayer? What role does persistence play in prayer?

  

   7.   What connection is there between a person's faith and whether God answers their prayer?

  

   8.   What is one request that you will commit yourself to pray for regularly this week?

Nicodemus - Open to Jesus

Focus passage - John 3:1-21

God specializes in finding and changing people we consider out of reach. It took awhile for Nicodemus to come out of the dark, but God was patient with this "undercover" believer. Afraid of being discovered, Nicodemus made an appointment to see Jesus at night. Daylight conversations between Pharisees and Jesus tended to be antagonistic, but Nicodemus really wanted to learn. He probably got a lot more than he expected—a challenge to a new life! We know very little about Nicodemus, but we know that he left that evening's encounter a changed man. He came away with a whole new understanding of both God and himself. God looks for steady growth, not instant perfection. How well does your present level of spiritual growth match up with how long you have known Jesus?

   1.   When have you felt like you wanted to start life all over again?

     2.   At what time did Nicodemus visit Jesus? (3:2) Why did Nicodemus believe Jesus was from God? (3:2)

     3.   What did Nicodemus think Jesus meant when He said that a person must be born again? (3:4) Why should Nicodemus have understood what Jesus said? (3:10)

     4.   What is required to enter the kingdom of God? (3:5-6) What evidence do you see of that change in Nicodemus?

     5.   How did God demonstrate His love for the world? (3:16) Why did God send His Son into the world? (3:17)

     6.   How would you describe what it means to be born again to someone? Why must someone be open to God for this to happen?

Joseph - Faithful and True

Joseph is a central figure in the Christmas story, but who was he really? What made him a good candidate to be the father of Jesus. The first time we see him in Matthew 1, he sets himself apart and shows us what it means to be a child of God. 

Focus passage: Matthew 1:18-25
 

The strength of what we believe is measured by how much we are willing to suffer for those beliefs. Joseph was a man with strong beliefs. He was prepared to do what was right, despite the pain he knew it would cause. But Joseph had another trait—he not only tried to do what was right, he also tried to do it in the right way.Joseph knew Jesus was someone special from the moment he heard the angel's words. His strong belief in that fact, and his willingness to follow God's leading empowered him to be Jesus' chosen earthly father.

   1.   How do people typically react when facing embarrassing situations?

     2.   What happened to Mary while she and Joseph were engaged? (1:18) What do you think Joseph initially thought upon hearing this news about his bride-to-be? (1:18-19)

   3.   What positive character qualities did Joseph possess? (1:19) How does Joseph show those qualities in the way he plans to handle this delicate situation? (1:19)

    4.   How did Joseph respond to the angelic message? (1:24)

     5.   What would have been your reaction had you been in Joseph's situation? How do you imagine the "grapevine" treated the Mary-Joseph situation?

     6.   How does our desire for approval or acceptance keep us from doing the right thing?

     7.   Why do you think Joseph remained faithful even though it was such a tough thing to do?

     8.   What difficult, hard-to-swallow command of God do you need to obey today?

Matthew - A Changed Man

Focus Passage: Matthew 9:9-13

 

Today we begin a study of what God can do for us by looking at a series of men in the New Testament. The Bible studies are simple and don't provide you with all the answers. My hope is that the questions will help you to just look at the Bible passage in a new light. Let me know if they are helpful in the comments.

I think that more than any other disciple, Matthew had a clear idea of how much it would cost to follow Jesus, yet he did not hesitate a moment. When he left his tax-collecting booth, he guaranteed himself unemployment. For several of the other disciples, there was always fishing to return to, but for Matthew, there was no turning back.

Two changes happened to Matthew when he decided to follow Jesus. First, Jesus gave him a new life. He not only belonged to a new group; he belonged to the Son of God. He was not just accepting a different way of life; he was now an accepted person. For a despised tax collector, that change must have been wonderful! Second, Jesus gave Matthew a new purpose for his skills. When he followed Jesus, the only tool from his past job that he carried with him was his pen. From the beginning, God had made him a record-keeper. Jesus' call eventually allowed him to put his skills to their finest work. Matthew was a keen observer, and he undoubtedly recorded what he saw going on around him. The Gospel that bears his name came as a result.

   1.   What past misdeeds would disqualify someone from your job? Elected office? The Supreme Court? The ministry?

  

   2.   What did Jesus tell Matthew to do? (9:9) What might you be willing to give up for Jesus?

  

   3.   What kind of people joined Jesus and His new follower for dinner? (9:10) What did the Pharisees think of Jesus' attendance at Matthew's social function? (9:11)

  

   4.   What did Jesus tell His listeners they needed to learn? (9:13) What did Jesus say He had come to earth to do? (9:13)

  

5.      What changes took place in Matthew's life so that he could let Jesus in?

 

6.      What dangers do we face when we befriend non-Christian

 

7.   What would you change in your life so you could be closer to Jesus this week?