Lay Down Your Baggage: a small-group session


For this session, you’ll need….

  • a large suitcaseoverstuffed-suitcase1
  • a variety of items—at least one per person. Include a Bible, as well as several of the following:
    • work-related items, such as a stapler or even a laptop computer
    • family-related items, such as a photo album
    • items representing personal interests, such as a football, book, backpack, musical instrument or baking pan. The heavier the item, the better—but make sure it fits in your suitcase.

Find an area where you can spread out all your items (and your group members, once this activity starts). Put out all your items before your group arrives.

 Laying Down Your Day (20 minutes)

Have group members get into subgroups of three or four.

Take a few minutes to talk about your “Lay It Down Today” assignments (see previous entries). Which did you find most useful or interesting? Which ones were more difficult or hard to connect with? In each case, why? Talk about it, and we’ll come back together in about five minutes.

After five minutes, bring everyone back together. Take them to the area where you’ve placed all the items from your supply list.

The items here are meant to represent different interests and priorities each of you have—God, work, family, hobbies. So let’s take turns here. Grab an item that represents an interest or priority of yours, and place it inside the suitcase.

Let everyone take a turn loading items into the suitcase. If you have more than one item per person, let everyone have another turn. Load your suitcase up, but be sure you can close it. Once your suitcase is fully packed, say something like, Let’s see how easy it is to carry all this stuff from our lives around.

Take about 10 seconds to pick up and hold your suitcase, and then pass it on to the next person to hold. Let everyone have a turn—and don’t let your suitcase hit the floor until everyone’s had a turn. Afterward, sit back down and discuss these questions:

  1. We’ve spent a lot of time looking at our need to “lay down our baggage.” Even though we loaded it with mostly good things, how is our suitcase like the baggage you’re carrying in your life right now?
  2. How relieved were you to hand your baggage to someone else? What does that tell you about the need to let go—and the importance of helping others to let go?
  3. What does it also tell you about the dangers of putting all our baggage on others?

We all have our “stuff.” Some of it—like the items in our suitcase—isn’t all bad, but has taken too much priority in our lives. But as we’ve read this week, we still carry around a lot of baggage from our past, and while we may have moved on from it we’ve never really let go of it. We still carry it around, and it still holds us back from fully becoming who we were meant to be in Christ. So let’s dig deeper into this. 

Laying Down the Word (25 minutes)

Have someone read the following excerpt from “Lay Down What’s Done.” Then, discuss the question that follows.

“Our experiences, to a large degree, have made us who we are. But we are more than our experiences, let alone our negative ones. There’s a life in Christ waiting for us that goes beyond what we would limit ourselves to. ‘Laying down what’s done’ doesn’t mean we forget the things in our past. And it certainly doesn’t mean we stop feeling anything when they come to mind, although hopefully we learn to move on more quickly. It does mean that we no longer allow ourselves to own those things, and that we no longer allow them to own us.”

  1. In what ways do you still find yourself defined by the negative experiences in your past? What positive things have nonetheless come out of those experiences?

Ask for another volunteer to read the following excerpt from Day 3. Then, discuss the questions that follow.

“When we refuse to forgive, we keep others in bondage. Jesus says it: ‘Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven’ (Matthew 18:18). Forgiveness, or the lack thereof, has that kind of power. By believing that we need—deserve—to be repaid for the wrongs done to us, we become, in a very real sense, spiritual slave owners. We accuse others of evil—then, instead of freeing them from it, leave them trapped in it. Are those the kind of people we want to be?…

“In short: You don’t get to hold onto your hurt. You don’t get to allow it to fester into bitterness. You don’t get to hold it over their heads. Let me handle it. You, lay it down.”

5. How does our unforgiveness reveal a lack of trust in God?

6. How does giving your hurts and bitterness over to God release both you and those who’ve wronged you from the bondage of unforgiveness? Share a personal example, if you can.

Have a volunteer read the following excerpt from “Lay Down Your Addiction,” and then have another volunteer read Hebrews 2:14–15, 18. Discuss the questions that follow.

“[A]ll of our addictions—all of our sin, really—is a response to the gnawing sense we have, deep down, that God doesn’t really want what best for us. That God’s will comes at his whim, and at our expense. That we, the created ones, somehow don’t owe everything we have to the Creator in the first place.”

7. Whether it’s unforgiveness, caving into an addiction, or any other baggage we carry—what power do you think sin gives you, at the time you’re indulging it? Share as much as you’re comfortable.

8. How does (or should) the fact that Jesus has “been there” help free us from those sins—and to release others as well?

 Laying Down Your Life (15 minutes)

Discuss:

9. What idols did you identify in your life, as you read “Lay Down Your Idols“? (Review now, if necessary.) How do they connect with the other baggage you’ve identified this week? In other words, how do your past hurts and your current idols feed one another?

Have a volunteer read John 5:2–15, then discuss:

10. What are some reasons that we choose not to get well? How would (or did) Jesus respond to those excuses?

11. Where are you not allowing Jesus to heal you right now—or where do you wish he would but instead you just feel stuck? In what ways might you still be resisting his healing?

Close by praying for your group—or, if you’re familiar enough with one another, pair off. Spend some time praying about your answers to question 11 (and 9 as well, if you have time). Ask God to overwhelm your lack of trust with his love, and to give you a heart that’s willing to lay down your baggage, so you’re willing to receive whatever God wants to give you in return.

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Are You Jesus?


Are you revealing Jesus to those you meet? Every day, we’re given that opportunity. . . .

Are-You-Jesus-2b-approved-194x300Joshua McClure. Are You Jesus? 184p., $14.99, Deep River Books.

We all need to ask ourselves this and answer in a personal way. In a world where people need to see Jesus, so often the only Jesus they will see is through those of us who walk with him. Since Jesus calls us to follow after him, his character and actions should become our character and actions.

In Are You Jesus?, award-winning author Joshua A. McClure presents an insightful, powerful portrayal of the effect of Jesus’ life upon those who respond to his call to be “set apart” to him. He demonstrates not only why, but how we should merit to be recipients of his commendation in Matthew 25:40, “when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!”

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Lay Down Your Idols


Today we finish our section on the past, and begin moving into the present. But there are still some things in our way we need to push aside. Let’s spend today identifying and dealing with them.

We have been created for worship. Therefore, we will ultimately worship something, and very often it’s something less than God. Peter Kreeft, in Christianity for Modern Pagans, aptly points out, “The alternative to theism is not atheism but idolatry.” Even as Christians, the temptation to worship something in God’s creation—or of our own “creation,” for that matter—remains, and we often fall victim to it without even realizing.

If we’re willing to look closer, what we worship—read: what we place above us—is the person or thing we believe will give us the most pleasure or benefit. We may subjugate ourselves to it, but ultimately it’s still about us. So let’s frame the question this way: What do you let serve you, other than God? That’s your idol, or at least your potential idol.

Let me make this even easier, albeit in ascending order of emotional difficulty. By the time we’re done, this may feel more like a pile-on than simply moving from one category to the next, but that only means we’ve uncovered a big idol. So let’s. . . .

Follow the money. Well, where does it go? For that matter, how much of your “essential” spending is essential? As you observe where your money goes, think about the feelings you have in relation to those “purchases.” What are you really trying to buy? Security, pleasure, reputation?

Follow your time. Same idea. Where’s your time going? And again, yes, some blocks of time are immovable or at least difficult to change. But where does your “down time” go? And do you need to spend that much time at work, or is it a choice? Either way, what’s motivating those choices?

Follow your tongue. Now it gets harder—first of all, because you actually have to listen to what comes out of your mouth. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matthew 12:34, KJV). So, what does your abundance look like? Or to put it more bluntly: What are you full of? And why?

Follow your fear. What causes you anxiety? What makes you defensive? What do you find yourself unnaturally worried about? Don’t stop and justify it with, “Well, I have to, because….” Just answer the question. Then answer this one: What’s that fear telling you about what you truly value? What idol is lurking behind that fear, pulling the strings?

Follow this sentence to its ultimate conclusion: “My life is wasted unless I . . . .As you do this, take special note of that last little word. Because ultimately, all of this idol talk is about the I. We turn to our I-dols because we don’t believe that what God has for I is good enough. And yet, our own efforts leave us feeling even emptier—as if our lives have been wasted.

Here’s the thing: God doesn’t feel your life is a waste. Ever. You don’t have to fix it. Anything in your life that does need fixing is God’s responsibility—but we have to let him do the fixing, and cooperate with him as he does.

What’s more—and we’ll delve more into this in future weeks: Your life is a small speck in the face of eternity. Any “waste” that’s happened, or is happening now, is not only redeemable but nothing in the face of God’s glory. As you lay down the idols you’ve identified, God will take that “waste” and transform it into something that reflects his glory.

As we close this section on laying down your past, there’s probably no better way to do so than with Romans 8:1–2: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” The past is as done as you want it to be. God will use it as he sees fit—not to condemn you, but to transform you back into his image. So let’s lay down the things we worship aside from God, and let’s move into the present.

Lay It Down Today

Where did all that “following” lead you today? Now’s the time to lay those things down—literally, if possible.

For every idol you identified, try to find a physical item that represents it. Is it a home or car? Get out your keys. Money? Get out your wallet or purse. Reputation? Find an award or some other item.

Then, get on your knees before God. No, seriously, do it. Lay down each of these items before him. Confess how, and why, they’ve become idols in your life. Ask God to help you trust him, and to use these items for his glory instead of yours. Thank God that he is the one who’s truly worthy of your worship, and begin living into that reality.

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Israel, the Church, and the Middle East


So, what should the Christian’s attitudes toward Israel be—historically, politically, and especially spiritually?

Darrell L. Bock & Mitch Glaser. Israel, the Church, and the Middle East: A Biblical Response to the Current Conflict. 304p., $24.99, Kregel Academic.

The relationship between the church and Israel has been the source of passionate debate among Christians throughout much of church history. In recent years the traditional pro-Israel stance of evangelicals has come under fire by those who support the Palestinian cause, calling for a new perspective and more nuanced approach by Christians who believe that the land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people by virtue of God’s covenants and promises. . . .

The book is directed toward pastors, global Christian leaders, theological students, and well-read lay Christians who are actively seeking guidance and resources regarding the Middle East conflict. The contributors represent a broad evangelical spectrum.

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Lay Down Your Addiction


Now that we’ve addressed the need to lay down the things we hold against others, let’s spend the rest of this week addressing the other side of our baggage—namely, the logs in our own eyes. Let’s begin today with the things we know we struggle with, and then drill down deeper tomorrow.

For today, I’m going to use a word we’ve come to compartmentalize—addiction—and show how pervasive this mindset really is in our lives. Let’s define addiction here as anything you need to get through the day that isn’t God. All of our addictions—all of our sin, really—is a response to the gnawing sense we have, deep down, that God doesn’t really want what’s best for us. That God’s will comes at his whim, and at our expense. That we, the created ones, somehow don’t owe everything we have to the Creator in the first place. There’s a reason that the acknowledgment of a higher power is part of any good recovery program, after all.

There’s another old-fashioned and equally overcompartmentalized word for what we’re talking about: lust. It doesn’t have to be the sexual kind (although it might well be). What lust in any form means, is: We want what we want and we want it now. And we keep on wanting it—because it wants us, too. That’s the power of lust, or addiction. We believe it will satisfy a need God can’t, or won’t.

But here’s the thing we forget: If God won’t satisfy it, it’s not really a need. We’re the ones who have elevated our desires to that status.

“God’s been duping you; God’s been duping you.” Satan has been using this trick from the very beginning, and it’s still probably his most effective. When we cease to trust God, we welcome the lusts of our own hearts. Yet, once we’ve regained our senses afterward, there’s a sense of heaviness, sadness, not totally unlike the feeling of a Sunday-morning hangover after a particularly long Saturday night. (And for some of you, it might be exactly like that.) Our overindulgence—our giving way to our compulsions—always has consequences, both physical and spiritual.

Jesus didn’t fall for Satan’s trick. He not only endured temptation, but he overcame temptations we were too weak to have Satan even bother to throw at us. Jesus knows the way out, because he’s been there.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery…. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:14–15, 18)

Because Jesus went through temptation for us, came out the other side, and then paid the price for our own failure anyway, he is able to deliver us. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

It may not seem that way at first glance, but one of the most practical responses we can make to our addiction is to engage in spiritual disciplines such as prayer, Bible study, solitude, and worship. Here’s why: Instead of letting ourselves be carried away by every impulse that strikes us, such practices help us say to God, “I’m staying right here. I’m focusing on you. Help me to follow what you want.” To be clear, the disciplines aren’t a catch-all solution. In fact, they can become an addiction in themselves if we make them only about how holy we are or become anxious over “doing our duty.” Nonetheless, they are a declaration of intent, with the actions to back it up. They’re opportunities to take our misguided passions and guide them somewhere more useful.

As our focus becomes more and more about God, our compulsions melt away. Not that we’re never tempted again—or for that matter, might not stumble again—but we have a practical way to get up and dust ourselves off. Don’t overlook the importance of that. With that, let’s get to today’s assignment.

Lay It Down Today

We’re going to practice one spiritual discipline right now: Silence. Pulling ourselves away from the world helps us to hear God more clearly. It’s a way to remove ourselves from the constant compulsive flow of the world that draws us so easily into temptation and addiction. And, it’s a way of telling God (silently, of course) that he takes priority.

Psalm 46:10a is a pretty popular phrase we throw around for this: “Be still, and know that I am God.” (I’ve always liked rephrasing it, “Shut up—I’m God.”) I want you to start your time of silence by reading all of Psalm 46—because it’s all about trust, and the fact that God is worthy of our trust. Afterward, take at least ten minutes to close your eyes and be totally silent before God. Your mind will probably keep buzzing for at least the first few minutes. That’s OK. Give the buzzing time to die down. Let God speak, and quiet yourself down enough so that you can hear him. When you’re done, write down your thoughts.

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Being a Proverbial Student


Ready to go to college? Just one question: Why? Are you there to gather information, or to learn?

Being-a-Proverbial-Student-approved-194x300Jeral Williams. Being a Proverbial Student: Getting a Degree vs. Getting an Education. 128p., $13.99, Deep River Books

Parents and other support groups are understandably concerned about preparing Christian students for the temptations of university life. Many books are written, and extensive advice is given, to prepare for campus living. However, the academic preparation for Christian students is often ignored or, at best, underrepresented. The book of Proverbs makes it clear: God intends for students to pursue wisdom

Drawing from over 35 years of experience, author Jeral Williams presents a variety of fun ideas that will guide Christian college students in the pursuit of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.

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Lay Down Your Bitterness    


I had originally considered calling this entry “Lay Down Your Judgment” or “Lay Down Your Grudges.” Either would have worked, and I’ll touch upon them here. But I think the title I settled on captures both those ideas, and something more.

My atheist buddy Tim has an amusing-truth kind of song called “I Hate to Be Judgmental,” which begins, “I hate to be judgmental, but some people make me sick.” Later on, though, a larger truth comes up: “I hate to be judgmental, but there’s nothing else to do / Everybody’s judging me—why shouldn’t I judge you?” And it’s true; this judgment thing is an endless cycle. Getting worked up over someone else’s shortcomings is a pretty good time-killer that helps us feel better about ourselves.

Furthermore, it’s quite easy to extend this attitude to other Christians. I mean, we—and of course, by we, we mean they—should know better. They’re Christians, right? There’s certainly truth to that. But let’s remember, especially in a book dedicated to this premise, that all of us are still learning how to properly lay down our lives at Jesus’ feet.

Before we extend judgment, consider this: If Jesus is indeed the greatest thing, indeed the greatest person, in my life, shouldn’t that be true about every Christian I meet—and for that matter, every potential Christian? Shouldn’t I be looking for that movement of the Spirit in the other person, no matter (or especially given) what sin God calls them out of . . . and that Jesus already paid the price for?

When we refuse to forgive, we keep others in bondage. Jesus says it: “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18). Forgiveness, or the lack thereof, has that kind of power. By believing that we need—deserve—to be repaid for the wrongs done to us, we become, in a very real sense, spiritual slave owners. We accuse others of evil—then, instead of freeing them from it, leave them trapped in it. Are those the kind of people we want to be?

Yet we all do it. I certainly do. And at the same time, I keep someone else locked up, too—me. Slaves still need to be fed and watched over, you know, no matter how much contempt we have for them. And we fearfully await the day they rise up in rebellion against us.

With all that in mind, let’s come back to last week’s “transgressor” thoughts and expand even further. Something else I’ve been noticing in the gospels, and I suspect you have, too: The people we’d normally think of as transgressors (or whatever word we’d substitute for that)—those who commit sins of some obvious type of self-indulgence—aren’t the people who truly anger Jesus. He doesn’t let them off the hook, but he also very openly offers his compassion to them. At the same time he calls them out on the carpet, he calls them to something better. He knows that these people are only trying to fill a void in their lives, however poorly or self-destructively. Thus, he points to himself and says, “I’m what you’re looking for. Lay down all the rest of it and come follow me.”

The people who truly anger Jesus are the victimizers—those who corrupt others, who take advantage of others, those who hurt and damage others, and especially those who do all this under a veneer of self-righteousness. It’s one thing to try to avoid God’s holiness and judgment; it’s a whole ‘nother level to put yourself in the position of God, master, and judge of others. These are the people Jesus takes on constantly, and who are subjected to his anger and pronouncements of judgment. Not surprisingly, it’s these people who ultimately condemn Jesus to death—enabling him to “be numbered with the transgressors.” And yet, how does Jesus tell us to respond?

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:27–36).

In short: You don’t get to hold onto your hurt. You don’t get to allow it to fester into bitterness. You don’t get to hold it over their heads. Let Jesus handle it. You, lay it down.

Lay It Down Today

Today’s assignment is a two-parter:

1) Read 1 Peter 3–4. Take note of all the encouragements Peter offers us to live as Jesus told us. There’s a lot of them. Meditate on them. Pray over them.

2) Today’s reading has likely brought someone to mind—and it’s OK if it’s the same person who came up last week; that just proves you’re not done yet. Repeat the following sentence with that person’s name inserted. “Jesus forgave [name] just as he forgave me.” You may need to ask Jesus to give you a heart to truly forgive, to help you receive his forgiveness toward you, or both. So ask.

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