The Gospel in Hard Times for Students

And another small-group resource on the high school front, by a name even more of you will recognize. . . .

The Gospel in Hard Times for Students: Study Guide with Leader's NotesJoni [Eareckson Tada] and Friends. The Gospel in Hard Times for Students. 144p. $15.99, New Growth Press.

The Gospel in Hard Times for Students, by Joni and Friends, is a faith-bolstering small group resource that illustrates how suffering is a catalyst that can deepen our understanding of God’s plan.

Through eight in-depth sessions, This resource points to Jesus, our Good Shepherd, for answers to today’s hard questions.

This study guide includes leader’s notes, real-life stories for discussion, biblical application, suggested video clips, and action plans to demonstrate how Jesus identifies with our sorrow. This study guide invites readers to see that how we choose to react and manage hardship has life-altering potential.

In this small group resource, young men and women can learn how the church carries the burden of suffering, seeking gospel answers to questions such as, “Why am I going through this?” and “Where is God when I need him?”

The Gospel in Hard Times for Students explores how a loving faith community—one body with many parts—can not only meet our needs but also help us walk alongside others who are afflicted, disabled, and marginalized.

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Real Change for Students

And here’s a small-group study for the high-schoolers in the audience . . . taking its cue from the late David Powlison. . . .

Real Change for Students: Becoming More Like Jesus in Everyday Life (Study Guide with Leader's Notes)Andrew Nicholls and Helen Thorne. Real Change for Students: Becoming More Like Jesus in Everyday Life. Edited by David Powlison. 96p., $12.99, New Growth Press.

Every honest Christian knows the need for change. But how to get there? How do young adults move forward from struggles both big and small? And how does our faith in God affect our everyday thoughts, feelings, and actions?

In this six-session small group resource for students, participants have the opportunity to reflect on one particular area in their lives and then to learn more about how God changes us to become more like Jesus. All of us struggle to love God and those around us, but God has promised to keep working on us. And God always keeps his promises. The change his gospel produces will make your life and your relationships truly beautiful.

This self-contained resource with leader’s notes will encourage small group participants to understand and apply a biblical view of change to their lives and relationships.

Real Change for Students is based on the CCEF model of change from David Powlison’s course, “Dynamics of Biblical Change.” The easy-to-use six lesson format and included leader’s guide encourages students toward an honest discussion of their own struggles while providing an understanding of how a relationship with Christ brings change.

Topics addressed include understanding how we typically respond to trouble and pressure; how the cross of Christ brings comfort, help, and change; and how we can grow to be like Christ in the hardest circumstances.

Within this small group resource are biblical insights, discussion questions, and a personal change project to help young adults seeking to change negative patterns and live by faith in all circumstances. While the study material is designed for young adults within small groups, it can also be used for one-to-one discipleship study.

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Pick It Up—Put It On—Walk It Out: a small-group session

For this session, you’ll need….

  • 1 old, beaten-up jacket and one new jacket, for every four to six people. The older Image result for greasy jacketand smellier your old jacket is, the better—but not so bad that people would get dirty just putting it on! (Know any mechanics or landscapers who’d loan you their jackets for the day/evening?) Pair up your jackets, and leave them in an open area where everyone will be able to easily access them.
  • a plan to worship
  • a plan to celebrate. However you want to handle this is up to you; perhaps you even want to have a separate session for this. But make plans to celebrate together what God’s been doing in your midst over the last several weeks.

Laying Down Your Day (15 minutes)

It’s our final session of this study—thanks for coming! I know you’ve just arrived and gotten comfortable, but I’m going to ask you to put on coats anyway—the coats you see over there.

Have your group gather into groups of four to six by each pair of coats.

Everyone should try on the old jacket first. But don’t just put it on and take it off again—get comfortable with it. Take a whiff of it; get a feel for where it’s been.

Put on one of the dirty jackets; show everyone how it’s done.

Once you’ve done that, pass it on to the next person to try on, while you go ahead and try on the new jacket. Again, leave it on for a few moments—get a feel for where this jacket hasn’t been yet, and what kind of person might wear it.

Pass on your dirty jacket to the next person, and repeat your actions with the new jacket. Once everyone’s had a chance to try on both jackets, bring the group back together. Discuss:

  1. Which jacket felt better while trying it on? Why?


Ask for one or more volunteers to read Colossians 3:1–16, then discuss:

  1. How was trying on and taking off each jacket like the taking off of the “old self” and the putting on of the “new self” that Paul describes here? How is it different?


Ask for another volunteer to read the following passage from “Put on Eternity.” Then, discuss the question that follows.

Our natural “old” experience is life and death, and that experience extends to everything else in this life. The new resurrection life is life and life only. . . . Gaining this perspective on our lives on earth changes everything, and frees us to become more like the Savior we profess to follow.

  1. When have you experienced this truth? Or, put another way: How does “put[ting] on the new self” (Colossians 3:9) free us to “seek the things that are above” (v. 1)? Share from your own experience.


Laying Down the Word (20 minutes)

Read Hebrews 12:1–15 as a group, letting each member read at least one verse each. It’s OK to let the same person read the opening and closing verses, but make sure everyone gets a turn.

Let’s connect this passage with how we’ve experienced this study, and discuss these questions together:

  1. Describe the flow of this passage. How does it start, where does it go to, and where does it end?


  1. Let’s apply that flow to ourselves now. On a personal level, how has your laying of your life and your pursuit of Jesus—and the disciplines you’ve undertaken in order to do that—already begun to produce “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” in you? Share a little about that.


  1. How has that, in turn, enabled you to “ [s]ee to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God”? In order words, how has this study helped you to help others to “lay it down”? Again, share how God’s been able to use you in this capacity.


Have a volunteer read the following passage from Day 1, and then discuss the question that follows:

Your life is no longer yours. Stop behaving as if it is. You cannot force God to lead you into the next phase of your life. You can renounce all you have and entrust your life to him, move when he tells you to move, and rejoice that he considered you worthy to be trusted with anything. Pick up your cross. Consider yourself dead to sin and alive in Jesus. And truly begin to follow the One who carried your cross before you were even born.

  1. How are you still wrestling with this idea? Is there fear, a lack of understanding, maybe even an unwillingness to deal with it? Take a step of faith here and be open about what you’re still working through.


Laying Down Your Life (20+ minutes)

Get into your pairs one more time. Give everyone time to reassemble.

We’ve spent a lot of time this week looking beyond this week. For the next fifteen minutes, I’d like you to do the same thing with your partner(s). Talk about how God’s been speaking to your heart this week, and over the last few months. How has God helped you to better understand what he’s created you for, and what are the next steps you think he’s leading you into?

When you’re done sharing, pray for one another. Don’t be afraid to pray not only about what the other person’s shared, but also about what you’ve been seeing in that other person over the last several weeks. Put together what God’s been showing you with what God’s been showing them. Let’s get started.

Bring your group back together after fifteen minutes. Ask for a few volunteers to share what God’s been showing them—but if more than a few people share, don’t cut if off. Let God have his way.

Afterward, lead your group in prayer, again giving everyone the opportunity to pray. Thank God for your time together—and for the eternal life you look forward to together. Ask God to help each of you to go even deeper into laying down your lives before him, and before others.

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A Small Book for the Anxious Heart

It is what it says it is. 🙂 And it’s by an author a few of you will recognize. . . .

A Small Book for the Anxious Heart: Meditations on Fear, Worry, and TrustEdward T. Welch. A Small Book for the Anxious Heart: Meditations on Fear, Worry, and Trust. 192p., $17.99, New Growth Press.

Fear and anxiety are chronic struggles for many people that are only intensifying and increasing. Best-selling author Edward T. Welch shares the comfort and peace of Jesus in fifty brief readings for those who wrestle with fear.

A Small Book for the Anxious Heart is a small but powerful devotional to remind men and women of the encouraging, beautiful words in Scripture to anxious people.

While many books on fear and anxiety exist—promising to help men and women manage their struggles with methods and formulas—this devotional reaches deeper into Scripture, making the Word of God more accessible. Don’t put a Band-Aid on your fear and anxiety; rather, learn to bring your fear to Jesus, relying on his Word.

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Walk It Out  

All of our lives, when lived rightly, are a journey into trust. A few days ago, I mentioned one prayer I’ve been repeatedly lifting up to God. In fact, there’s another particular prayer I’ve been praying for quite a while, and I think (and hope) that the development of this prayer has been reflected in these pages.

At first, and for a long time, it went like this: “Lord, help me to learn to trust you more deeply.” However, over the last several weeks, I’ve felt the need to add this: “. . . and to become more worthy of your trust.”

This is not about theology, so don’t go there. This is about relationship. I want to know God more deeply, but I have to allow him to know me more deeply. Again, suspend the theology; I know God knows me. And yet, I try to hide.

This journey into trust, however, requires me to stop hiding. It requires me to put my sin and my agenda and my fear away, so I can truly experience God’s knowing of me—that my relationship with God might be truly intimate and not just “all in order.”

The fact is, both parts of this prayer are flip sides of the same problem—there’s only one person in this equation who can’t be trusted. However, my own untrustworthiness feeds my inability to trust God. Only as I begin to obediently walk out what God’s commanded do I begin, in turn, tofeel as if I can trust God with every part of my life. God doesn’t condemn me; he forgives me and wants me to be better.

This isn’t just for me. At the same time that I need to receive his grace, I need to extend it to others. I need to show genuine pity—not in the sense of “I feel sorry for you,” but in the sense of “I ache for you and want to help you.” Because that’s the kind of pity Jesus has shown to me.

As we’ve observed repeatedly this week, we know the way to where Jesus is going. It’s time to walk it out.

We are called to be a blessing to every person we meet, whether they realize it or not. The only way to become that blessing is to be emptied of our own stuff, so that God can fill and transform us into the individuals he has created us to be. Each of our lives need to move from being of Christ to being in Christ—and finally to the point where our life “is Christ” (Philippians 1:21, et al.).

Love is union—with Jesus and with those he’s called us to love. We as Christians—or, as C. S. Lewis put it, “little Christs”—are called to reconcile the world to God. We’re not just here waiting to be taken from the world, but to begin bringing a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven to the world now, even as we are “in the world but not of it” (see John 17:15–16).

We cannot change the things, or the opportunities, that we’ve lost, but we can be prepared to receive and walk in the new things God has created us to do. We are new creations. God is still creating something new within us. God wants to bring us into something new. But we must want what God wants—not just something new.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted…. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:1–3, 12–14)

One last thing to remember about walking: It’s not always exciting. Sometimes there are breathtaking vistas, and that great feeling of “a second wind.” Sometimes it’s monotonous. Sometimes it’s difficult. Often, it’s just plain tiring. But walking gets you somewhere. If we’re following Jesus, it’s somewhere better.

We can walk in the knowledge that tomorrow will be a good day—and that even if it’s not a good day, experientially speaking, God is working out the events of the day for our good (Romans 8:28). Because his good is our good.

The time to walk out our new lives in Christ is today. So let’s do it. And may God continue to bless you as you lay it all down again each day, for the sake of the One who laid down his life for us.

Lay It Down Today

We’ve approached your next steps from a variety of angles this week. Hopefully, at least one of these approaches has resonated with you. So now, it’s your turn.

If you sense what God is leading you into next, or know you’re already in the midst of it, spend time thanking God for the desire he’s given you, how he’s fulfilling it, and for the desire to keep moving forward. If not, spend time pursuing things with God. “[H]ow much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11).

Finally, spend some time thanking God for this journey into trust he’s taken you on over the last few months; and ask him to take you far beyond even where you are now—and into eternity with him.

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Rooted (IN)

A journey out of shame and into healing . . .

Rooted IN CoverSusan F. Carson. Rooted (IN): Thriving in Connection With God, Yourself, and Others. 240p., $14.99, Deep River Books.

We are all on a journey of becoming who we already are. We are already fully loved, created with intention to live with joy and significance. To thrive in spirit, soul, and body. To live deeply connected with God, with our true selves, and with others.

But something is in the way.

Author Susan Carson says she has experienced it, too—the shame, pain, and disappointments of life leave you isolated and separated from God, your true self, and others. You end up drifting through life outside yourself, longing to experience love and acceptance and grace. . . .

Rooted (IN) is a journey out of shame and into love. The spiritual paths and practices in this book open the way to living rooted and grounded in the love of Christ that heals and restores. Over the last few decades, serving as a Director of Roots&Branches Network, Susan Carson had the honor of praying with hundreds of people. She has learned the only way out of our shame and pain is a journey in.

Rooted (IN) will equip you with the principles and prayerful practices you need to stop being stuck and start living a life full of joy and meaning with your tribe.

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Put on Eternity    

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth… seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Colossians 3:1–2, 9–10)

Those of you in the Northeast might be familiar with the radio ministry of Wayne Monbleau (Loving Grace Ministries); perhaps not. In any case, he ministered heavily to my wife and me twenty-plus years ago, and he’s still going. He’s also written his share of worship songs, and one in particular sticks with me—the epic acoustic hootenanny “Let Heaven Fill Your Thoughts.” Seriously, it’s an eight-minute song that gets more rollicking as it goes along, as it depicts the “family reunion” that awaits us in heaven. But it’s the lines that close out the minor-keyed introduction that still resonate with me:

Let heaven fill up all of your thoughts; keep your mind upon the Lord
Your life right now will seem so small when you think what you will behold
When you’re a thousand—years—old
When you’re a million—years—old
When you’re ten million—years—old.

Obviously it’s a great way of gaining perspective on our lives right now. But I’m beginning to view it even more in terms of what awaits us. An eternity with Jesus awaits us. As we begin to gain a broader and deeper perspective on that, we don’t have to consciously adjust our vision to make our lives “seem so small”—they are that small.

And yet our small lives are seeds that contain this far greater eternal life. By reaching for what lies beyond this life—and bringing it to those around us—we begin to sprout and grow into the life God has intended for us all along.

To be human is to die. Everything around us . . . ends. That’s why Christ had to become a man, and had to die a human death, in order to reach us and impart eternal life to us. He calls us to do the same. To follow Jesus is to follow him through death and into eternal life. If God allows, we will have the privilege of helping others walk that same ever-beginning path. Indeed, serving others now prepares us to serve God throughout eternity, and softens our hearts so that Jesus himself may continue to serve and guide us. Because that’s what’s in store for us:

Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. . . . For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Revelation 7:15–17)

When all is said and done, what will I have to show at the day of judgment? I watered some seeds, helped plant a few trees, and did a whole lot more not worth discussing. Millions, probably billions, will have more to show, and go on to greater rewards. And I should rejoice in that, because God’s work was accomplished. More importantly, I will rejoice that one day I will no longer be unknowingly in God’s presence, buried under my own sins and those of the world around me—or often at best, mentally acknowledging a presence I cannot quite feel. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Our natural “old” experience is life and death, and that experience extends to everything else in this life. The new resurrection life is life and life only. We are just passing through—

. . . not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:13–16)

Gaining this perspective on our lives on earth changes everything, and frees us to become more like the Savior we profess to follow. Remember, we “know the way to where [Jesus] is going” (John 14:4). Eternal life starts now. So let’s get ready to walk it out. . . .

Lay It Down Today

Let’s begin practicing our ministry to God right now. For the next twenty-four hours, commit to praying every half-hour. If you need a reminder, set an alarm or create an Outlook event, and keep putting it to sleep. It doesn’t need to be a long or complex prayer—in fact, it could be a one-sentence prayer such as, “Lord, help me to desire what you desire, and to meet those needs in your strength.” Just pray faithfully and repeatedly throughout your day. See what God brings to your attention as a result—and ask him what he wants you to do about it.

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