Lay Down Your Triggers: a small-group session


For this session, you’ll need….

  • a DVD of the Image result for fried green tomatoes towandamovie Fried Green Tomatoes. (Note: You can still have the discussion without viewing the clip, but it’s a good way to set the mood/get everyone relaxed.) Cue the movie to 1:21:02 (DVD Chapter 27), where Evelyn is cruising into the parking lot.
  • a 6-8’ strip of masking tape. Before your session, place your tape strip across the floor of your meeting area, making sure there’s room both in front and in back of it.

Laying Down Your Day (15 minutes)

Watch your scene from Fried Green Tomatoes; stop the DVD at 1:23:08, where the two young women are left dumbfounded and crying. Then discuss the following questions:

  1. How do you normally react when you’re irritated? How long do you hold onto your reactions afterward?
  2. What’s one circumstance or behavior that truly “sets you off”? How do you react? Why do you think that particular circumstance or behavior sets you off?

Ask someone to read the following excerpt from “Lay Down Your Circumstances“:

Our circumstances reveal who we are and what we really trust. The situations we face each day—especially the bad ones—tend to bring out what we’re made of, whether we want them to or not. We may be shocked by what our circumstances reveal about us, but God isn’t. He wants us to stop being shocked, too, so that we trust him rather than ourselves to get through them.

Then say something like, We all have our triggers—things that upset us, anger us, or make us anxious or fearful. They might be trivial, or they might be so serious that we feel justified in the things we say and do as a result. But all of these triggers indicate places where we need to develop a deeper trust in God and in the work he’s doing in our lives. Let’s look further into that.

Laying Down the Word (30 minutes)

Ask for one or two volunteers to read the following excerpt from “Lay Down Your Boundaries.” Then, discuss the questions that follow.

Often without even realizing, we place limitations on what God wants to do in our lives, who we’ll reach out to, when we’ll make ourselves available, where we’re willing to go for his sake. Once God’s done laughing at our plans, he gently—or sometimes quite abruptly—pushes us past the boundaries we’ve tried to impose upon his infinite intentions for us.

It’s OK to realize how insufficient we are, or for that matter how truly little we love the people around us. God already knows it. But it’s not OK to resist God’s will because of our insufficiency, as if he won’t provide everything we need to perform his will.

  1. In what ways do you feel you’re unqualified to represent Jesus? Explain.

 

  1. On the other hand, in what ways—or with what kinds of people—do you just not want to represent Jesus? Why?

 

Have someone read 1 Corinthians 1:26–31. Then discuss:

  1. Think again about your answers to questions 3 and 4. How does this passage address the issues you brought up? How should it affect your responses to those situations?

 

As a group, take turns reading John 17:1–26. (Review the bullet list in “Lay Down Your Self-Consciousness” also, if it’s helpful.) Then, discuss these questions:

  1. What has Jesus already done for us? What does he expect us to do with what he’s given us, according to his prayer for us here?

 

  1. Which parts of Jesus’ prayer are easiest for you to receive? Which parts are hard to understand, or maybe even accept? In both cases, why?

 

Laying Down Your Life (20 minutes)

One of your challenges last week was to find a Christian friend or mentor to whom you can “confess your weakness” and be accountable. You’re still encouraged to find someone, but for the remainder of this study, we’re also going to do that informally within this group. Take a few minutes right now to stand up and find a partner. Try to pair up with someone you don’t know as well, if possible. Stay standing when you’re done.

Allow up to three minutes for group members to pair up. If people are hesitant to find a partner, help facilitate this as leader. Also, if you have an odd number of people, it’s OK to have a third member, but have no more than three people together.

Leader: Read the entire italicized piece that follows:

In your pairs (or triads), read Matthew 18:1820 and James 5:1316. Then discuss between yourselves:

  1. What promises do you find in these passages?
  2. Where do you most need to take hold of those promises in your life right now? Put another way: What “triggers” do you most need God’s help in overcoming right now?

When you’re done reading and talking, pray for one another about what you’ve shared. Also, set aside a time each week when you can touch base with one another, whether that’s in person, by phone, e-mail, texting, whatever. Again, from now until this study is finished, these people are your partners in growing together. So let’s get started.

Give pairs fifteen minutes to talk and pray, and then bring your group back together, keeping them standing in their pairs. Guide them to the masking-tape line you set up before your session.

Have one of your pairs step up to the line, then say something like: Think again about what you’ve just shared together over the past fifteen minutes. Then, think of our tape line as those triggers you’ve shared about—the ways you’ve restricted yourself from stepping into what God has for you next. Take a moment to quietly reflect on that together, and how you can help each other get past that boundary you’re each facing right now. Then, when you’re ready, cross over our line together. You don’t have to hold hands or anything—unless you want to.

Give each pair (or triad) time to reflect and cross over; maybe even give them each a round of applause as they start this commitment together.

Close your time together in prayer, saying something like: Lord, we thank you that you bring people and situations into our lives to help us grow. Help us to begin seeing the people we’re paired with in that way. Help us to learn from each other . . . to inspire each other . . . to pull each other up. Help us to be faithful in connecting with each other outside of our time here. We thank you in advance for what you’re going to do with these spiritual friendships you’re creating between us, and we ask your blessing upon us in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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I’ll Have It God’s Way


End-of-life decisions are hard, for everyone involved. This book will give you the means to make those decisions more clearly, even if it doesn’t make those decisions any easier. . . .

I'll Have it God's Way CoverHattie Bryant. I’ll Have It God’s Way: Living Fully, Now and into Your Forever. 156p., $19.99, Deep River Books.

Our complex modern healthcare system, fear of death, and lack of planning push us into a default end-of-life approach, instead of one that fits our values and desires. As a result, while 70–80% of people say they want to die peacefully and pain-free at home, surrounded by friends and family, fewer than 30% end up doing so. Christians are included in these statistics. It has become clear that modern medicine cannot give us all we need to live with meaning until the moment God calls us home.

This study equips you with the biblical truth, healthcare facts, and practical steps you need to act on now, while you’re still healthy, to prepare you to live fully all the way to heaven. In I’ll Have It God’s Way, you’ll be guided gently through the necessary steps to take you from a vague idea of what you want to an applicable plan to make it happen.

By the time you complete the study, you will have decided on a medical proxy, created an advance care directive, and even created a video to give to those in your circle of care. Your family, friends, clergy, and physicians will have the information they need to understand and honor your wishes in your final days. You’ll have put all the tools in place to make your intentions a reality, one manageable step at a time.

I’ll Have It God’s Way is designed for small groups to work through together, but it is equally helpful for individuals who wish to go through it themselves or with their families. Videos and discussion questions guide learning and discussion in six sessions, while additional reading and homework assignments provide more opportunities to internalize and personalize each step between sessions. Helpful worksheets, URLs for the online videos, and a template for an advance care directive are included.

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Lay Down Your Self-Consciousness (Part 2)


The gospel of Jesus Christ is offensive. It declares that we’re all sinners, separated from God, and in need of a Savior. We can’t just skip to “God so loved the world” and ignore our ongoing need to repent—both inside and outside the church. Jesus is faithful to forgive every one of us who are willing to receive his yoke of obedience to him, and his love expressed for us on the cross.

Still, we must also be faithful to Jesus—and because he sends us into the world to be light to it, our faith is going to offend people. Sure, our humanness will sometimes get in the way of the gospel. But if we’re truly sharing in humility, and out of love for both Jesus and the other person, more often than not any offense we cause will come from getting the message right. Many people don’t want to hear the good news, at least initially—and it’s that initial reaction we’re so afraid of. We get so self-conscious about how badly we might screw up—how badly we’re screwed up—that we don’t share our life in Jesus at all. But as we become more conscious of Christ in our lives, we become less conscious of ourselves.

Paul said in Romans 1:16–17: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. . . . For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” Live by faith, then. Trust that when God wants you to speak, the power of the gospel will be there. You are weak. And guess what? In God’s eyes, that makes you uniquely qualified to do his work.

In closing this week, let’s briefly examine Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17 (or better yet, go read the whole thing now and come back when you’re done). Look at what Jesus prays, and what he prays for:

  • God has been manifested to us through him (v. 6).
  • We have been given the truth (vv. 7–8, 14).
  • We belong to Jesus, no matter what, and Jesus is glorified by us (vv. 9–10).
  • We will be hated for belonging to Jesus (v. 14).
  • We have been sent into the world, and are not to be removed from it (vv. 15–18).
  • Jesus’ prayer is for all who will believe in him through his word (v. 20).
  • We are to manifest God’s glory, so that the world will know the one who sent us (vv. 22–23).
  • Jesus knows the Father, and because he does, so do we. Not only that, but Jesus will continue to make the Father known to us (vv. 25–26).

All these things are non-negotiable. Jesus has told us everything we need to know at this moment in our lives, and given us everything we need to carry out his will in this moment. Do you believe that?

We know when God has spoken to us, yet we often lack confidence that this Word of God is truly enough for others. Here’s a test: When placed in a situation when it’s time to share what God’s given you, share that word and only that word. Then—and I say this as respectfully as possible—shut up. Allow God’s Word to work, and get out of the way.

God does not expect us to be perfect. He expects us to listen, and obey. That is enough, and it always has been enough. God has always been in the business of making something out of nothing.  So lay down your self-consciousness, give God the opportunity to do what only he can do, and enjoy the front-row seat he’s given you to watch him work.

Lay It Down Today

Actually, you have two assignments today. And yes, both involve opening your mouth:

1) Let’s pick up from an earlier assignment: You’ve begun identifying weaknesses you face, and you may well have resonated with this issue of self-consciousness. Who can you trust to share with about this weakness? He or she doesn’t have to be more spiritually mature than you, but if not, the two of you should at least be at a comparable level of spiritual growth. Seek that person out, and commit to meeting on a weekly basis. Pray specifically for one another’s weaknesses, and invite God to reveal his power in the midst of them.

2) OK, so that assignment’s a little scary. This one’s probably scarier: Who needs to hear about what Jesus has done in your life (and can do in theirs)? Push past your self-consciousness. Meet for coffee or lunch and share your story. Don’t anticipate that person’s reaction; trust God to do His work and to give you his peace as you share. If the other person will allow it, close your time in prayer, asking God to meet this person wherever he or she’s at. Keep yourself open to whatever God wants to do with this relationship.

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The Gospel of John in Modern Interpretation


So, for your scholars who want to learn more about how other scholars got there . . . in this case, their interpretation of the gospel of John. . . .

The Gospel of John in Modern InterpretationStanley E. Porter and Ron C. Fay. The Gospel of John in Modern Interpretation. Milestones in New Testament Scholarship. $25.99, 256p., Kregel Academic.

The Gospel of John in Modern Interpretation provides a unique look at the lives and work of eight interpreters who have significantly influenced Johannine studies over the last two centuries. The chapters contain short biographical sketches of the scholars that illuminate their personal and academic lives, followed by summaries and evaluations of their major works, and concluding with an analysis of the ongoing relevance of their work in contemporary Johannine scholarship.

Key thinkers surveyed include C. H. Dodd, Rudolph Bultmann, Raymond Brown, Leon Morris, and R. Alan Culpepper. An introduction and conclusion by general editors Stanley Porter and Ron Fay trace the development of Johannine scholarship from F. C. Baur to the present, and examine how these eight scholars’ contributions to Johannine studies have shaped the field. Anyone interested in the recent history of the study of John will find this volume indispensable.

 

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Lay Down Your Self-Consciousness (Part 1) 


This next devotional is noticeably longer—and for that matter, noticeably ornerier—than usual. If you disagree with my opening views, or at least feel I could be a bit kinder, fine. But bear with me, and try to hear the point behind the point, because the more important issue will be bringing up the rear:

There’s a huge preoccupation in the American church right now with cultural relevance—which, in many cases, could just as easily be read as “being indistinguishable from the rest of the world” and/or “becoming as inoffensive to non-Christians as possible.” To be sure, there are plenty of actions the church needs to repent of, and opinions formed in the light of previous cultural norms that need to be rethought in the light of eternity. But let’s be honest: Much of the incessant handwringing about how Christianity is perceived by those outside it has far more to do with how non-Christians perceive us than how they see Jesus. Thomas Merton said it much better than I could, and more than fifty years earlier:

One of the symptoms of this is precisely the anguished concern to keep up with an ever-changing, complex, and fictitious orthodoxy in taste, in politics, in cult, in belief, in theology and what not, cultivation of the ability to redefine one’s identity day by day in concert with the self-definition of society. “Worldliness” in my mind is typified by this kind of servitude to care and to illusion, this agitation about thinking the right thoughts and wearing the right hats, this crude and shameful concern not with truth but only with vogue. To my mind, the concern of Christians to be in fashion lest they “lose the world” is only another pitiable admission that they have lost it. (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, emphasis mine)

Certainly we’re called to love others regardless of how deeply we disagree with their lifestyle or opinions, and just as certainly we’re not called to live in a Christian bubble, sheltered from the rest of the world. However, we’re not called to be relevant or hip or tolerant—we’re called to follow Jesus. That’s it. We only need to be relevant to Jesus. If we’re doing that, Jesus will send us out into his world in the ways he wants us to go. That’s what he does. Any cultural relevance we need will take care of itself, because Jesus will care of it for us—and because we’ve loved those other people enough to see what they really need in their current circumstances.

So, what does my seemingly off-topic rant above have to do with today’s topic of self-consciousness? A lot, actually. If we’ve learned nothing else this week, we’ve learned that a lot of things can trip us up in our walk with Jesus, even when we’re “on our best behavior.” Our insufficiency can overwhelm us. Thus, we often feel as if we have no business talking about Jesus, and that we’re just going to tick people off when we do.

But reflect one more time on the words of 1 Corinthians 1:26–31. Despite all our issues—and arguably because of them—God chose us to be witnesses who would reveal his glory to the world through our weakness. We’re the ones who think we have to be perfect or relevant or inoffensive in order for the gospel to be heard through us. God disagrees—and thankfully he disagreed when he chose you, too. In the words of the late C. Jack Miller, “Cheer up—you’re a lot worse than you think!”

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Paradigms in Conflict


Missions: Where theology and practice meet. . . .

Paradigms in ConflictDavid J. Hesselgrave; Keith E. Eitel, ed. Paradigms in Conflict: 15 Key Questions in Christian Missions Today. 384p., $25.99, Kregel Academic.

Drawing from Scripture, social sciences, and history, David J. Hesselgrave tackles the most pressing issues facing missionaries today.

The author and contributors show how theological issues have real impact on missions, and they present arguments on both sides of the fifteen subjects of debate while also offering their own biblically informed perspectives on the subjects. Despite rapid global changes, Hesselgrave holds that much of traditional theory, practice, and theology is still valid, if not essential, for the future of Christian missions.

Current and prospective missionaries, pastors, seminary students, missions committee members, and laypeople interested in world Christianity will all benefit from the discussions covered in this book, including:

  • Sovereignty and free will: An impossible mix or a perfect match?
  • Common ground and enemy territory: How should we approach adherents of other faiths?
  • Business as mission: When is it mission and when is it not?
  • Harvest missions and pioneer missions: Discipling the masses or reaching to the margins?
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Lay Down Your Weakness         


So, let’s get back to our weaknesses. (I’m sure you were looking forward to that.) Most of us are well aware of how we fail to measure up to our own standards, let alone God’s. But again, Jesus knows this, too. And again, his concern is not with our failures but with our willingness to follow. He will attend to the things he’s called us to. We simply need to show up, and follow.

Sounds simple enough. The problem is, we don’t do it. We don’t think Jesus will do what he’s promised. Why should he? Look at us.

It’s easy for many of us to look ourselves and think we’re useless to God. We’re still struggling with all those sins and temptations we addressed weeks ago, for crying out loud. What business do we have even thinking about being useful to God?

But remember last week’s passage from 1 Corinthians: God chose the foolish to shame the wise . . . the weak to shame the strong . . . the low and despised, and even things that aren’t, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no one could boast in his presence. God chose you, in your weakness—you could almost say because of your weakness. He wants to use your weakness, and his transformation of it, to display his glory.

However, more often than not, we fly between our pride that we can do everything on our own and our failure that leads us to think we can’t do anything. We’re weak, we’re tempted, we’re overwhelmed, and we don’t know what to do about it. Fortunately, the Bible is clear that our ongoing weakness and temptation can actually be a pretty good teacher. Here are just a few of the potential lessons our weaknesses can teach us, if we’ll allow them to:

  • We’re not as strong as we think we are.
  • We always need God to carry us through, or at least accompany us as he guides us along.
  • If we’re humble enough to let him, God will carry us through, because . . .
  • God is far stronger than we give him credit for.

In the course of writing this book, I’ve really come to appreciate Peter a lot more. As brilliant as that “man out of time” Paul was . . . as loving and engrossed with Jesus as John was . . . as assertive as James was . . . for that matter, even as wonderfully morosely skeptical as my boy Thomas was . . . I think I’m beginning to understand why Jesus chose Simon to become Peter, “the rock on whom I will build my church.” It’s because he was the most human of the disciples. And humanity was what Jesus came to redeem.

For all the evidence you need of this, look at Peter’s “story arc.” We already hit on a huge paradigm shift earlier, in what we could call “The Tale of Two Fishing Trips”—his transformation from someone who encountered the Son of God and could only see his sin, to someone who encountered the risen Jesus and swam as hard as he could toward him. In between are incredible highs and lows, including the near-simultaneous events where Peter first grasps that Jesus was the Messiah, is informed that he would be the rock upon whom Jesus whom build his church, and then rebuked “Get behind me, Satan!” (see Matthew 16:13–23). You almost imagine Peter kicking the pebbles in front of him and protesting, “Gee, all I was trying to do was protect you, Jesus.”

Peter didn’t yet understand that he was totally incapable of protecting Jesus—and he certainly didn’t grasp it when he tried to protect Jesus again during his arrest in the garden. Jesus once more rebukes Peter: “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:11). Peter didn’t yet realize that his strength, like Jesus’, came from obeying his Father’s will.

Even after Jesus came back from the dead, Peter was subject to relapses of fear and bravado. We see this in Galatians 2:11–21, when Paul rebukes him for skulking away from those Gentiles whom Jesus had already declared clean to Peter (Acts 10:9–47). Eventually, though, Peter learns to stop forcing it, and trusts that God will do what he intends to do, when he intends to do it. We see evidence of this in Peter’s final letter: “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:8–9).

We are lifetime projects. The sooner we realize it, the better. So let’s lay down our weakness, lay down our own tools that don’t work anyway, and allow Jesus to be the one who builds us up.

Lay It Down Today

What are your weaknesses, and how does God want to use them? After all, God allowed them in your life—and God wastes nothing. Spend time meditating on your “weak spots,” and what God’s teaching you through them.* Your response might look like one of the bullet points above, or it might be something else. But bottom line: How can God’s strength be manifested through (or despite) your weakness? Ask God to begin to help you see and rely on his work in your life.

Also (more on this next week), begin thinking about whom you can share about your weaknesses with—a Christian friend or mentor who can be trusted with this information.

* Note: Meditating doesn’t mean “indulging.” In fact, if your mind begins drifting toward things it shouldn’t, stop meditating right then and start praying, because you already know what God needs to transform, and how badly.

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