Sermon Questions

May 21 – “Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:1 – 9:7)

  1. Read Isaiah 7:1-17 together. Establish context. Focus in on 7:9c, “If you are not firm in faith you will not be firm at all.” What does it mean to be firm in faith? What do I do with my doubts? How do I strengthen my faith in God’s promises? 
  2. Read Isaiah 8:11–18 together. Isaiah writes that God will save a remnant (the meaning of Shear-jashub’s name). They are those marked out by faith in an unbelieving world (an unbelieving Israel) — who, with Isaiah, “will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and will hope in him.” What are you currently waiting on the Lord for? 
  3. Read Isaiah 9:2-7 together. Immanuel is apparently much bigger than a contemporary of Isaiah or Ahaz, marking the time of Northern Israel and Syria’s imminent demise. He is the long hoped for son of David, ruling on an everlasting throne to establish justice forever.  What aspects or characteristics of this promised Son (9:6-7) most resonate with you … most feed your faith?

May 14 – “The Trauma & Drama of Holiness” (Isaiah 6:1-13)

  1. Read Isaiah 6:1-7 together. The prophet encounters the true King in His sanctuary. How would you describe his experience of the divine? What has been your experience? 
  2. Read Isaiah 6:8-13 together. What kind of mission is Isaiah commissioned for? Can you relate to his disappointment and confusion? How can you relate to the hope of the final verse? 
  3. Isaiah’s cleansing leads immediately to his calling. Read together Luke 5:1-11. What was/is your experience of Jesus’ call to follow Him and become a “fisher of men”? 

May 7 – “Right Vineyard, Wrong Grapes” (Isaiah 5)

  1. What began as a love song in verses 1 and 2 took a sharp turn in verses 3-7, as God lays out His case against His vineyard (the children of Israel). Instead of bearing good grapes (justice and righteousness), His vineyard gave Him wild, sour grapes (bloodshed and outcry). In what ways have we seen this unmet expectation play out in the church? What is some of the fruit (traits, character) that God has expected of us that we’ve not yielded in our lives?
  2. God’s woes against His people were laid out in detail from verses 8-22, all of which addressed different ways that those in power had abused it and mistreated the vulnerable. Even though the phrase “social justice” has been maligned and misused in our political spheres, the justice that God calls for from His people is centered on the proper use of power for the flourishing of all. How can we as the church better model this restorative justice to our society as a whole?
  3. Though God’s promised judgement is severe, it is not reflective of ill will towards His people, but rather a determination to see that they produce good fruit: true justice and righteousness. And, as Jesus says in John 15, we are empowered to do this by abiding in Him, the True Vine. Have you, individually and as a group, been abiding in Jesus as of late? How can encourage each other to abide in the Lord more intentionally?

April 30 – “Isaiah’s Vision” (Isaiah 2:5 – 4:6)

  1. Read Isaiah 2:5-22 together. How would you describe the “fear” from the biblical phrase, “fear of the Lord”? What else do we tend to “fear” and why?
  2. Read Isaiah 3:13-4:1 together. Among the nations, God holds Judah (3:1-12), and especially her leadership (3:13-4:1), to a higher degree of accountability. What does that mean for leaders in the church today, and for the church as a whole?  How should we pray for the church and for her leaders?
  3. Read Isaiah 4:2-6 together. What earlier biblical language is Isaiah using in his vision here? How would this language have spoken to the hearts of his audience? How does it comfort and encourage you? 

April 23 – “Isaiah’s Vision” (Isaiah 1:1 – 2:4)

  1. Read Isaiah 1:2-15 together. What aspects of Judah’s fallen life does the prophet highlight? Which aspects seems most relevant to you? How might you restate them? [Bonus: Is your disposition toward these failings like God’s – both critical (1:2-4, 6-8, 9-15, 20-23) and compassionate (1:5, 18-19)?]
  2.  Read Isaiah 2:1-4 together. Note also 1:25-27. How would you describe the hope God offers his people (then and now) in ways that especially resonate with your heart?  
  3. How does our great hope (2:1-4) practically impact the way we live today (1:16-17)? 

April 16 – “A Tale of Two Cities” (Isaiah 1:1-27)

  1. Read Isaiah 1:1-27 together. What’s confusing or strange to you?
  2. What struck you about God’s words to his own people?
  3. What do you hear God saying to us, as his own people in Christ?

April 9 – “The Scandal of Easter” (1 Peter 2:4-10)

  1. Read 1Peter 2:4-10 together. What does it mean for you to “come to him,” the living stone (v.4)? 
  2. Read Isaiah 8:11-15 together. What fears do you see tripping people up today? What fears / anxieties trip you up?
  3. According to Isaiah 28:14-16, rather than chase false securities the world offers us (v.15), we should find security in the Stone that alone makes us unshakable (v.16). What are some areas we can pray for you to find real security and rest in Christ during this season?

April 2 – “The Rejected Stone” (Luke 19:28-44)

  1. Picture it: Jesus is riding down the Mount of Olives into the Kidron Valley towards Jerusalem, being celebrated loudly by most of the people around Him, and then He suddenly bursts into tears and loud sobbing. While the multitude around Him saw cause for rejoicing, Jesus viewed the moment as a time for weeping. Can you think of a time in your life where you’ve experienced a similar situational irony? Have you ever felt like the Lord was weeping at what you took joy in?
  2. Even though the multitude demonstrated an outward acceptance of Him, Jesus knew that many of them had inwardly rejected Him. In what ways have we subtly rejected Jesus? Are there specific examples that come to mind for you that you’re willing to acknowledge and share?
  3. Unfortunately, in our subtle rejection, we unintentionally imply that Jesus is an insufficient Messiah, replaced instead by various things, ideas, or even people. How can we be prayerful for each other in this? How can we graciously encourage each other to denounce those false messiahs more fully embrace the lordship of Christ?

March 26 – “A War Of Words” (Ephesians 6:10-24)

  1. How do you use the word of God to wage war against the darkness (in your own heart and in the world)?
  2. All manner of prayers and supplications, at all times, with all perseverance, for all saints are to be offered to God. In this present war, what hinders you from instinctive prayer? 
  3. Our love is often understated, or even unsaid. a) Why don’t we open our lips in praise to God more freely? b) What keeps you from sharing in vulnerability with others? c) Why are we stingy in blessing others?

March 19 – “The War We’re In” (Ephesians 6:10-24)

  1.  What comes to mind for you when you hear the phrase “spiritual warfare”? How would you describe it based on Ephesians 6:10-20?
  2. The “wiles of the devil” are primarily lies and various forms of deception. What are some lies you’ve told yourself, been told or otherwise believed from childhood?
  3. Considering all the gospel “equipment” Paul lists in 6:14-18 (belt, breastplate, shoes, shield, helmet and sword), where do you feel you need most to “put on” Christ’s power and “be strengthened in His might”?

March 12 – “Our Lifelong Servitude” (Ephesians 6:5-9)

  1. How has the varied support and defense of American slavery and segregation from segments of Christianity affected your view of the Bible and/or Christianity?  
  2. We are to serve those who are our employers, managers, supervisors, etc. “wholeheartedly” and with “sincere” devotion — even when no one is watching or rewarding us — since we are serving Christ and not men (6:5-8). How does this truth currently challenge and encourage you in your daily work? 
  3. We are also to humbly serve those “under” us in an organization with all fairness, equity and gentleness (6:9). What relationships at work make this especially difficult for you right now? How might you invite the Lord into these spaces to strengthen you?

February 26 – “Parents And Children In Christ” (Ephesians 6:1-4)

  1. Observation: Read 5:18-6:4 together. What connections seem important for our passage (6:1-4)?
  2. Interpretation: What does the promise attached to the fifth commandment mean here – namely: “that it may go well with you and that you may live a long time on the earth?” Is this true for all obedient children? If not, how is it a promise?
  3. Application: Father’s are particularly addressed in vv.3-4, but the charge to gentle instruction and patient correction applies to both parents. How are you being intentional in your instruction and correction as a parent? As a son or daughter, how are you receiving correction and instruction? In what ways can you grow in patience and gentleness in your relationship with you parent/child?

February 19 – “It Refers To Christ” (Ephesians 5:22-33)

  1. During the time that Paul wrote this letter (largely to Jews, Greeks, and Romans), marriage had deviated sharply from what God intended it to be. The same can be said today, not only in our society at large, but in the church too, unfortunately. What are some ways that you have personally seen marriage distorted in the world around you?
  2. Submission to each other as fellow believers is already a pretty radical idea. But the idea of mutual submission between a husband and a wife was even more jarring for Paul’s audience, considering the cultural context. Paul calls “wives to submit to their own husbands as unto the Lord”, and for “husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church” (Eph 5:22, 25).
    • For those that are married, how have you wrestled with this (mutual submission) as a husband or a wife?
    • For those that are single, widowed, or divorced, how can mutual submission to your fellow believers be a real challenge for you?
  3. Thankfully, regardless of our relationship station in this earthly life (single, married, widowed, divorced), we can be assured that as followers of Christ, we are all married to a Bridegroom who loves us more than we could ever know, and who promises to one day “wipe away every tear from our eyes” (Rev 21:4). How does this future reality bring you comfort right now?

February 12 – “Redeeming The Time” (Ephesians 5:15-21)

  1.  Observation: Read chapter 5 together. What connections do you see within our passage (5:15-21) and its immediate context?
  2. Interpretation: What does it actually mean to be filled with the Spirit? How do we practically obey Paul’s command in 5:18?
  3. Application: Knowing the will of God is an obsession for people, especially when facing a crisis or difficult decision. What are some wrong ways we Christians seek to know God’s will? What do you know is God’s will for you in your current circumstances? 

February 5 – “Enlightening Exposure” (Ephesians 5:5-14)

  1. Ephesians 5:7 admonishes us “do not become partners with them [sons of disobedience or deceivers with empty words]. In what areas might you need to give heed to this caution? How might we help each other in this?
  2. Ephesians 5:8-10 describes us as once “darkness” but now “light” and admonishes us to “Walk as children of light…and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” In what ways is this distinction between what you were (darkness) and what you are (light) evident or not evident in your life? How might you “discern what is pleasing to the Lord”?
  3. The exposure of sin is necessary for forgiveness, healing, and restoration. Ephesians 5:11 admonishes us to “expose them” [unfruitful works of darkness]. Since such exposure needs to begin in our own hearts, what “unfruitful works of darkness” might you need to acknowledge, confess, and repent of so that you may be healed according to the promise of James 5:16 – “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed”? How might I also come alongside a brother or sister in their struggle and fight against sin?

January 29 – “Light In The Darkness” (Ephesians 5:3-14)

Begin by reading Ephesians 5:3-14 aloud together.

  1. Observation: From what you observe in Paul’s argumentation, his emphases, the surrounding context, etc., how would you summarize or restate the “big idea” of this passage?
  2. Interpretation: Paul appears to define the “works of darkness” primarily as acts of disordered desires (as John might put it, the lusts of eyes and lust of the flesh). Why do you think this is the focus of his concern?
  3. Application: Rather than share in the works of darkness, we are to produce “all that is good, righteous and true” – including exposing the works of darkness.  
    • How can we expose these “empty” works in our own lives? 
    • How ought we, with integrity and grace, to expose others’ darkness with through Christ’s light?

January 22 – “A Divine Society” (Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2)

  1. Interpretation: Read Ephesians 4:25-5:2 aloud together. Ask for observations and questions that arise from your reading: (a) What connections do see within the passage and in its broader context? (b) What words, concepts or questions stood out to you?
  2. Reflection: Paul says that when we speak words that are destructive or even unhelpful to or about one another, we grieve the Holy Spirit of God (see 4:29-31). How so? Why does this grieve the Spirit of Almighty God?
  3. Application: Paul commends us to ‘mimic’ God by imitating with others his forgiving love and kindness to us in Christ (see 4:32-5:2). It’s been said that we can’t give what we haven’t received. In Christ, we’ve received infinite kindness and endless grace. Where do you feel a lack of grace or patience in your life?

January 15 – “How To Walk” (Ephesians 4:17-28)

  1. Read Ephesians 4:17-21. In your memory of first being taught in “the way of Jesus” as a new believer, what were the bigger challenges or changes for you personally? How have you carried those lessons with you?
  2. Read Ephesians 4:26-27 (compare Psalm 4:4). Why are we commanded to be angry and not to sin? What are you angry about (be honest)? How can your anger lead you to wisdom and reconciliation/peace with others?
  3. Read Ephesians 4:28. What do you think this mean for your work day to day?  What might it mean for your giving to the church or others in need?

January 8 – “Growing Up Together” (Ephesians 4:4-16)

  1.  Read Ephesians 4:1-6 together. How would you summarize our “calling” Paul mentions here (4:1, 4)? How are you presenting pursuing that calling?
  2. Read Ephesians 4:7-14. Obviously, the perfect unity of the “one new man” (2:14-15) is not yet fully experienced in us (note 4:14). We are often disappointed with the people of God … and with ourselves. But if that perfect unity is true already “in Christ” (4:4-6), who now gifts the church with divine power to progressively realize this unity (4:7-13), then it is our sure destiny. What prevents you from fully believing this? What is presently stopping you from living out this faith and hope at Riverside?
  3. Read Ephesians 4:15-16. Two things are mentioned here that makes the body grow up into maturity/unity: 1) speaking the truth in love to each other, and 2) each member doing its work “properly.” How do you envision this playing out in our small group? What are some present barriers you see? 

December 11 – “The Beautiful Subversion” (Ephesians 3:1-13)

  1. According to Paul, grace isn’t merely unmerited favor or an undeserved gift. It is power.  Read 3:7-8 and share how God’s power has been at work in your life, from conversion (2:1-10) until now in your service/gifting from God (4:7).  
  2. Paul writes that the many-splendored beauty of God’s wisdom is now displayed to the heavenly powers and rulers through the church – specifically, in our communion with one another (3:6) and with God (3:11-12). Where have you seen the beauty of God in the church – even despite the ugliness we often bring to it?
  3. Paul asks the Ephesian churches not to be dismayed by his “rotting” in a Roman prison, but rather understand that God is using his sufferings for their everlasting glory (3:13; see also 2Corinthians 4:7-12). Despite the best efforts of “the rulers of this age” to oppress and silence the apostle to the Gentiles, the Word advances and the Gentiles are growing together with believing Jews to become God’s great temple on earth (2:19-22). What current set backs, heartaches, sources of shame, weaknesses, struggles and obstacles in your life might God be using to show the triumph of Christ over the powers of this evil age? 

December 4 – “The Mystery of Christmas, pt. 2” (Ephesians 3:1-13)

  1. Read Ephesians 3:1-5,13. Paul’s imprisonment was due to his Gentile mission (Acts 21:20-36). He was uniquely appointed to bring us this good news and so suffer for us (if you have time, compare Colossians 1:24-29)?  Who else has suffered to bring the gospel to bear in your life? How might you be called to suffer loss in order to extend the gospel into the lives of others?
  2. Read Ephesians 3:6 and 1:9-10. What was the content of the hidden mystery Paul was appointed to unveil? (Hint for leaders: the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile together in Christ to God as the inauguration or beginning of God’s unifying of all things in heaven and in earth in Christ). What relationships in your life now hint at and/or are a foretaste of God’s cosmic reconciliation of “all things in heaven and earth”? (Take time to reflect and celebrate / give thanks here).
  3. Read Romans 8:18-25. Paul says our present sufferings do not compare to the glory to be revealed in us as the divine sons and daughters. For now, all our sufferings – particularly the foundational sufferings of Jesus – build towards the healing of creation.  What are some things – big or small – that you’re presently suffering, that cause you to groan? How are they turning you toward our common hope for the redemption of all things?

November 27 – “The Mystery of Christmas” (Ephesians 2:13-16)

  1. In Ephesians 2:11-12, Paul reminds the Gentiles (and us) about how alienated we were from God, as well as from His covenant people, due to the physical distinction of circumcision. This has obvious parallels to the racial alienation of black people and other minorities throughout America’s history. Are there any ways that you yourselves have seen this alienation play out during your lifetime?
  2. As theologians Jemar Tisby and Mark Noll noted in “The Color of Compromise” (see quotes below), the individualized nature of evangelicalism can often numb us to the need to confront systemic/institutional injustice. What can we as a local church (and within your small group) do to avoid this mindset?
  3. Through the bloody work of Christ, the dividing wall of hostility that separated us along racial/ethnic lines has been destroyed, and we’ve been given both the message and the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). In what ways can we better take part in this difficult work?

November 20 – “Re-member” (Ephesians 2:11-22)

  1. The only command of Ephesians 2:11-22 (the first command of the letter!) is “remember.” Remember who you were as those “without hope and without God in the world.”  As you reflect on your past or your family’s past (whether Christian or not), what stands out as “hopeless” or “without God”?
  2. The hostility engendered by Israel’s law against both Jews and Gentiles has been annihilated (2:14-16). What new hostilities have we resurrected as the church today? What hostilities do you need to put to death with the gospel?
  3. Timothy Gombis writes, “God is freeing people from death, transforming their lives, uniting humanity in Christ and building the church as a monument to his victory over the powers of evil.” Do you consider the community of saints of which you’re a part as “the lasting monument of the triumph of God in Christ…”? How might living into this monumental truth change how you enage each other in SG, on Sunday mornings when we gather for public worship, and throughout the week as live our lives together as the people of God? 

November 13 – “Was Dead, But Now I Live” (Ephesians 2:1-10)

  1.  God’s grace toward us in Christ is more than a favorable disposition. It is power to transform us and restore us.  How might this truth change your prayers for grace and your pursuit of the “means of grace” (ex scripture reading/study, prayer, fellowship, worship, service)?
  2. Re-read Eph.3:1-3. Give examples of the corrupting influence of “the world, the flesh and the devil” in your own experience. How have you experienced liberation from these oppressive tyrannies? Consider the quote below. Where are you tempted believe that the broken ways of the world are “just the way it is”?

“[Satan’s] aim is to make a sinful life seem so natural that when their behavior is challenged, people will simply reply, ‘but that is how the world works!’”

Yusufu Taraki
  1. God’s grace not only secures our eternal status in heaven (2:7), but empowers us here on earth now (2:10) for “good works prepared in advance.” How does this promise affect how you evaluate your day today, and all that you did and experienced? How does it shape how you imagine tomorrow?

November 6 – “God’s Power Is Working!” (Ephesians 1:18-23)

  1. In our text, Paul points to Jesus’ resurrection as a way for us to somehow grasp just how much of God’s power was put on display at our conversion. Think back to your own conversion experience. What unique way did you see God’s power displayed when you were saved?
  2. If we’re honest, we sometimes see God’s power as a distant theological concept. But in reality, because He’s living in us through the Holy Spirit, God’s power is a very present force at work in our everyday lives. Think back to the past couple of weeks. In what ways have you seen God’s power at work in your everyday life?
  3. When God raised up Jesus from the dead, He highly exalted Him above every ruler, authority, and power, put all things under His feet, and seated Him in heavenly places. And because we are coheirs with Jesus, we too have been seated in heavenly places, even as we struggle with the present reality around us. How can the higher reality of our standing in Christ help us to encourage each other in this present reality?

October 30 – “Hyper Hope” (Ephesians 1:15-23)

  1. Paul’s prayers for the Ephesians is that they would know God (Eph.1:16-17). In his modern classic, “Knowing God,” J.I. Packer writes: “Not many of us, I think, would ever naturally say that we have known God. The words imply a definiteness and matter-of-factness of experience to which most of us, if we are honest, have to admit that we are still strangers. We claim, perhaps, to have a testimony, and can rattle off our conversion story with the best of them; we say that we know God – this, after all, is what evangelicals are expected to say; but would it occur to us to say, without hesitation, and with reference to particular events in our personal history, that we have known God?” How have you known God? How have you not known him?
  2. Paul prays specifically that we might come to know “the hope of [God’s] calling.” What is this calling, and why does it give us such great hope? What hinders us from more deeply embracing this hope?
  3. Paul concludes this section (Ephesians 1:23) with a rousing proclamation of the divine fullness of Christ, who now fills us. Read Eph.3:14-19 together (noting especially v.19). How are we experiencing the fullness of God in our life right now? How can we pray this for ourselves and one another?

October 23 – “The Wonderful Mystery of God” (Ephesians 1:1-14)

  1. In Ephesians 1:1-14, Paul invites his readers to reconsider the mind-and-heart-expanding story of God that we’re actually inhabiting. We often imagine ourselves living in much smaller, suffocating stories. What story/stories do you often find yourself living?
  2. Paul talks in depth here about our election and predestination by God the Father in Christ (1:4-5, 11). How does this language challenge you? How does it comfort you?
  3. The aim or “so what?” of Paul’s long, run-on sentence in 1:3-14 is praise (see 1:6, 12, 14). What aspects of God’s massive mystery in Christ (1:9-10) stir you to worship?

October 16 – “The Triumph Of The Vulnerable” (Esther 9 and 10)

  1. The end of our story highlights and briefly summarizes the great reversals for the Jewish people in Xerxes’ empire (see 9:1-3, 20-25). Recount some of the book’s wonderful reversals together and then reflect on “divine reversals” you’ve experienced in your own life. 
  2. The law of retaliation (lex talionis) is famously summed up in the biblical phrase, “an eye for an eye.” How do we wrongly use / apply this principle? How do we rightly apply it – if we can?
  3. Read Hebrews 2:5-9 together. The world is out of control (even with all our technology, expertise and encyclopedic knowledge). How does Jesus’ exaltation to the right hand of God give you rest and hope in the midst of the chaos? 

October 9 – “From Victim To Victor” (Esther 8)

  1.  In our culture, victims are both patronized (for the sake of our own virtue-signaling) and lionized (as inherently virtuous). How did Jesus relate to the marginalized within his culture? How does he relate to us?
  2. Esther, having received honor and power from Xerxes in chapters 6-8, immediately risks losing power, not only in transferring the control of her wealth to Mordecai (8:2), but by taking another risk with Xerxes on behalf of her people (8:3-6). How might God be calling you to risk losing power/position/wealth/resources to lift others up and in toward your community?
  3. Mordecai’s being honored spells honor for all his people (8:15-17). Likewise, Christ’s exaltation and honor spells high honor and a certain future for us. Read Colossians 3:1-4 and explain how you relate to Paul’s strange statement.

September 25 – “God of the Coincidence” (Esther 6-7)

  1. Though the events in Esther 6 and 7 seem like a bunch of pure coincidences, it becomes clearer the closer you look that God is clearly orchestrating things for the good of His people. Have you ever experienced this in your life? When did it become clear to you that God was behind the coincidences?
  2. Haman experiences the ultimate humiliation in this passage, with one coincidence after another seeming to pile on him without rest. It’s a comical, but sobering, reminder that God does indeed humble the proud. Though it may not be as dramatic as Haman’s experience, can you recall a time when God humbled you through a series of circumstances?
  3. After the plot was revealed and Haman was executed on the gallows, Xerxes’ wrath was abated. In a similar, yet incomparable way, the wrath of God was satisfied by Jesus’ atoning death on the cross (another type of gallows). How does the reality of this encourage you in your walk with Christ? How does it encourage you to pursue those who don’t yet know Him?

September 18 – “A Triumph of Grace” (Esther 5)

  1. How does Esther respond to the humiliation of her people in chapter 4? How does Haman respond to being ‘dishonored’ by Mordecai (3:8; 5:9)? Where have you recently felt humiliated or dishonored? How are you responding?
  2. Esther acts the part of royalty here, donning not only royal robes (5:1), but the patient strategy and regal wisdom of a queen (5:2-8; contrast this to Haman’s response in 5:9-14). How does your royalty in Christ (as co-heirs with him) settle you in the midst of chaos and fear to act with wisdom and faith? 
  3. Read Romans 8:31-39 together. How does Christ’s accomplished work of reconciling of us to God once and for all empower you to endure hardship and difficulty with hope?

September 11 – “Path To Maturity” (Esther 4)

  1. Maturing requires a shattering of our youthful innocence/ignorance. Not a disillusionment that leads us to despair or cynicism, but a coming to terms with brokenness that leads to grieving and humble action. How have the last few years (post-pandemic) opened your eyes or disabused you of illusions? Have you moved toward godly grief and action in these areas, or been drawn more into despair/cynicism?
  2. Leadership is an act of love in which we use what we have/are to meet real needs … and thereby risk real loss.  In what ways are you currently risking loss? 
  3. We cannot take risks, soberly and hopefully, apart from faith in the God who is ever faithful to us in Christ. Where could you use some encouragement in faith to take the risks God’s calling you to take? 

September 4 – “The Plight of the Vulnerable” (Esther 3)

  1. Though it’s uncomfortable to think that we could ever be as power-hungry and vengeful as Haman, are there ways that you have played that role in your life? Or have you encountered this in someone else you know? How did this perhaps affect the vulnerable around you?
  2. Mordecai’s peaceful protest created a tension that was quite uncomfortable for his colleagues. But he lived in the tension, despite their constant questioning of his actions. Are there any areas in your life that perhaps God is calling you to live in a righteous tension?
  3. Though Haman and King Xerxes thought that they were “sittin’ pretty” at the end of Esther 3, we know from the rest of the book that God ultimately got the last laugh. When Jesus sat down on His throne, it was not an omen of confusion or despair, but a sign of living hope and an invitation to eternal life. How does this reality encourage you in your own vulnerability? How can this reality encourage you as a group to minister to the vulnerable around you?

August 28 – “Exposed By The Vulnerable” (Esther 2)

  1. How have you been impacted by the willing sacrifice of individuals for the flourishing of others? What did it draw out of you, as a witness or even a recipient of their self-sacrifice?
  2. Caring for orphans is a major concern expressed throughout Scripture. What is the significance of Mordecai’s adopting and rearing Esther in our story? What does it reveal about him? How does his example instruct the church today?
  3. Human trafficking is sadly rampant through the world, both today and throughout history. How does Scripture regard human trafficking? How has the church responded? How should we respond today?
  4. Jesus Christ perfectly embodies the virtues Mordecai exemplifies. How did Jesus treat the vulnerable? Give examples. How did he relate to the powerful? How were both loved by him?

August 21 – “The Emperor’s New Clothes” (Esther 1)

  1. We are created by Christ (Col. 1:15–17) and recreated in Him (3:9–10) to fully image God’s communicable attributes – NOT his incommunicable attributes (omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence [omni-competence], eternality, aseity, sovereignty [all-governing/controlling], all-glorious, etc.), which only God possesses. How are you tempted to seek after or presume these uniquely divine attributes for yourself? Which ones in particular? How do you feel your humanity reduced?
  2. Looking at the list below of God’s communicableattributes, which are the most striking to you? How are you growing or struggling in reflecting these?
    • LOVE (Exod. 15:13; Ps 13:5–6; 33:5; 89:2; Rom 8:38–39; Eph 3:17–19; 5:1–2)
    • MERCY (2 Sam 24:14; Neh 9:31; Dan 9:9; Luke 1:50, 54)
    • KINDNESS (2 Sam 22:51; Isa 54:8; Jer 9:24; Rom.11:22)
    • PATIENCE: (Neh 9:30; Rom 3:25; 1 Tim 1:16; 2 Peter 3:15)
    • GOODNESS (Ge. 1:31; 2 Chron 7:3; Ps.119:68; 145:9; Mark 10:18)
    • WISDOM (Isa 28:29; Jer 10:12; 1 Cor 1:30; Col. 2:2–3)
    • TRUTHFULNESS (Num 23:19; Isa 45:19; John 3:33; 14:6)
    • FAITHFULNESS (Deut 7:9; Ps 33:4; 100:5; 1 Cor 1:9; 1 Thess 5:24).
    • JUSTICE (Deut 32:4; Job 37:23; Ps 99:4; Luke 18:7–8).
    • RIGHTEOUSNESS (Ps 89:14; Isa 51:6; Jer 23:5–6; 1 Cor 1:30).
    • GRACE (Exod 34:6–7; Neh 9:17; Isa 26:10; 2 Tim 1:9; Titus 3:5–7)
  3. Xerxes dehumanized his wife in reducing her to an attribute of his own glory. How does the pornographic industry, which so many in the church quietly patronize, dehumanize both its victims and consumers?

May 29 – “An Open Invitation” (Luke 14:12-24)

Please read the parable of the Great Banquet together (Luke 14:12-24)

  1. In verses 12-14, Jesus, as He usually does, meddles with the status quo of his audience, specifically when it comes to hospitality. In essence, He says “Don’t invite the usual suspects; invite the needy and the outsiders”. Are there any areas in your life where you’ve fallen into the trap of only being hospitable to your “usual suspects” (family, friends, those who think and look like you, etc.)? What would those life areas look like if you allowed Jesus to meddle with them?
  2. The man in the parable was understandably angry about being brushed by those he had invited to his banquet. But instead of responding with retaliation, he responds with greater hospitality, extending his invitation locally to “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind”, and additionally to foreigners outside of the city. Is there any way that comes to mind that you could extend this type of hospitality to someone (or to an organization), individually and/or as a group?
  3. As you consider the open invitation that God has given to humanity, it may be good to take some time now to share and pray together about people you know who you can share the gospel with, and also how you as a group can be better imitators of God “as beloved children” (Eph. 5:1) when it comes to your hospitality.

May 22 – “The Lamp” (Luke 8:16-18)

  1. Read Luke 8:9-18 together. Jesus tells the disciples the “secrets of the kingdom of God,” but then in vv.16-18 tells them that secrets are meant to be shared. It’s been said that the gospel is an “open secret”. Who shared with you this secret?
  2. Read Matthew 5:14-16 together. What dark corners of your world do you feel God is calling you to shine into with the good news of the kingdom? What are some of the present obstacles to that good work for you?
  3. Read 2 Peter 1:16-19. We can only shine if we ourselves have God’s light shining within us. How do you keep the light of God’s Word kindled in your heart? Or, to use Luke’s language, how do you “hold it fast in an honest and good heart” (8:15)?

May 15 – “The Hidden Treasure” (Matthew 13:44-46)

  1. Read Matthew 13:44. Why do you think the kingdom of heaven is described as “hidden in a field”? How is it hidden … both then and now?
  2. Read Matthew 13:45-46. Would you describe your encounter with the kingdom of God as a matter of “dumb luck”, so to speak, like the man stumbling upon treasure buried in a field (v.44), or more the fruit of a deliberate search, like the merchant’s (vv.45-46)? Either way, how has encountering the kingdom surprised you? 
  3. Read Matthew 6:321-33. What attachments in your life are cluttering or complicating your pursuit of the kingdom of God? How is Jesus calling you to respond to those attachments/concerns? 

May 8 – “Hearing Secrets” (Matthew 13:1-9)

Please read the parable of the sower together (Matthew 13:1-9)

  1. Parables are vivid stories & metaphors for instruction, but sometimes also confusing “riddles”. Why do you think Jesus taught in parables? (note 13:10-17)
  2. Reading Jesus’ interpretation of the parable (13:18-23), which soil do you most identify with – or most worry about? 
  3. What does it look like for us to “attend to the Word” implanted within us (James 1:21)? How can we help each other do this?

Apr 17 – “The Last Great Sign” (John 2:13-22)

  1. Why is Jesus so upset about the merchants’ servicing worshippers in the temple complex? What might Jesus upend within our churches?
  2. Jesus’ answer to the Jewish leadership is cryptic (even to the disciples at the time). Why do you think he answers this way?
  3. How has your faith in the resurrected Christ been strengthened through your reflections on Scripture? 

Apr 10 – “Blessings of the Blessed” (Psalm 134)

  1. Why do you think the congregation is calling the Levites (“servants of the Lord who stand by night in the house of the Lord,” v.1) to worship? Why do we all need “a call to worship” from others?
  2. The pilgrims summon the Levites and priests to “raise your hands toward the holy place” (v.2). How do you honestly feel about engaging your body in worship? Why is it important and/or challenging for us?
  3. The priests in turn declare the Lord’s blessing over the pilgrims/congregation before they depart (v.3). In what ways can we speak God’s benediction / bless one another now as the people of God?

Apr 3 – “Our Mystic Sweet Communion” (Psalm 133)

  1. David describes harmonious community with the luxurious and sensuous imagery of perfumed oil and refreshing mountain dew (no, not the Pepsi product) – richly and abundantly poured out!  When you think back on times of deep fellowship and rich unity with other believers, what images come to your mind?
  2. Do you agree with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s statement in Life Together about the dangers of our “idealizing” community: “He who loves his dream of a com­munity more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial”? Why/why not?
  3. The glory of the Christian life is our deep union with Jesus and one another – which is to say, eternal life together in Christ. Read John 17 out loud together. How is Jesus’ prayer already answered in his death, resurrection and ascension? How is not yet fulfilled? How is it being answered right now in our group?

Mar 27 – “God’s Dwelling Place” (Psalm 132)

  1. Read Psalm 132:1-5. David’s resolve to build God a house is not tainted with selfish motives, but comes from a genuine desire to honor God. What are some examples of leaders (local or global) that you’ve seen who appear to be doing good things but with selfish motives? How do they compare with David?
  2. The Lord lovingly overrode David’s desire to build Him a house, and then covenanted with David instead to build him a house (a ruling dynasty). Have you ever experienced God override a desire or ambition of yours? Was there a greater good that He brought about as a result?
  3. The resolve of the Lord in His covenant with David was driven by His love for David and for His people; “You will be my people, and I will be your God”. Ultimately, as it states in Revelation 21:3, God’s dwelling place is with man, and this is fully realized through the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit. How does this reality encourage you in your walk with the Lord?

Mar 20 – “Weaning Ourselves…Off Ourselves” (Psalm 131)

  1. Read Psalm 131:1. Discuss Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s quote: “It has always been my aim, and it is prayer, to have no plan as regards myself; well assured as I am that the place where the Savior sees proper to place me must ever be the best place for me.” Do you agree or disagree?
  2. Read Psalm 131:2. David says he has weaned himself off of self-seeking, and is now in repose within himself (or literally, “my soul is like a weaned child upon me”). He is self-contained within God’s grasp – at peace.  Have you experienced this? Would you describe yourself presently as contented and at rest in God?
  3. Read Philippians 4:11-13 together. What do you think the “secret” of contentment in Christ involves or looks like? What are our barriers to this contentment?

Mar 13 – “Hoping In The Dark” (Psalm 130)

  1. Psalm 130 famously begins with a cry “from the depths” (compare Ps.69:1-2, 14-15). What does that image evoke for you? 
  2. Hope seems impossible when we’re in “the depths” of anxiety, sorrow, pain, fear, guilt, or shame. How does this Psalm address these barriers to hope directly?
  3. Our hope is ultimately grounded in the character and commitment of God to us (see 130:7-8). How does God’s “steadfast love” toward us, supremely revealed in Christ, comfort or encourage you now?

Mar 6 – “Afflicted, But Victorious” (Psalm 129)

  1. Derek Kidner writes that  “most nations tend to look back on what they have achieved, Israel reflects here on what she has survived.” Looking back, can you think of some things in your life that God has graced you to survive (grief, trauma, etc.)?
  2. The affliction referred to in the first two verses of Psalm 129 is likely pointing to the oppression that early Israel experienced at the hands of Egypt. Think of and discuss times where you yourself (or others that you know) have experienced unjust suffering at the hands of other people. This may be a good opportunity to pray for those suffering in Ukraine (as well as other suffering people groups such as the Uyghur people).
  3. In the midst of recalling this intense suffering, the psalmist declares that “The Lord is righteous”, faithful to preserve His people, and that He has “cut the cords of the wicked”, rendering them powerless. In a similar fashion, Jesus, through His work on the cross, broke the power of sin and death over us who believe! How does this reality give you hope in the midst of your suffering (current or future)?

Feb 27 – “#Blessed” (Psalm 128)

  1. “Fear of the Lord” is a constant refrain throughout the Bible, summarizing our whole duty (head, heart and hands) before God. How would you describe this fear, and why is it so vital to blessing?
  2. How does the “physicality” of Psalm 128 (and note Ps.112:3) strike you? How has the “prosperity gospel” twisted our understanding – both in falling for it and in over-reacting against it?
  3. Jesus calls us to actual obedience, and to teach others to obey “everything I have commanded.”  Gospel blessing comes through the obedience of faith. What are some areas you are convicted to grow in obedience/surrender to Jesus? (Perhaps discuss the upcoming Lent fast with your SG here?)

Feb 20 – “I Was Here!” (Psalm 127)

  1. Read Psalm 127 together. Identify some of the repeated words and ideas in the psalm. What do you think the main message of this song is?
  2. Solomon reminds us that only the Lord can make our endeavors successful, that is, of any lasting importance and meaning. What current endeavors do you want to ask the group to pray the Lord’s blessing over?
  3. God’s blessing is evident in the gift of children – both literal and spiritual. If you’re a parent, what are 1-2 current praises or prayers for them you might share with the group? If you’re a disciple of Christ, how has God blessed you recently within his family? How do you hope to be a blessing in building up his household with others (at Riverside or City of Refuge in particular)?  

Feb 13 – “We Are Glad” (Psalm 126)

  1. The first verse of Psalm 126 gives such a striking picture of God’s restoration. When He restored Zion, the people were “like those who dream”. It was as if a far off dream had come true for them. Have you ever experienced God’s restoration in a way that felt like a dream had come true?
  2. The laughter and joy mentioned in verse 2 are not superficial; there is history behind them! They were evidences of God’s healing in the lives of His people. Can you recall painful moments in your life that you can look back on now with some joy? How is this evidence of God’s healing?
  3. Do you need God to restore you now? Are there things (relationships, physical/mental/emotional wellbeing, etc.) in your life that need His restoration? How can you as a group pray for each other in this?

Feb 7 – “Perfect Peace For The Imperfect” (Psalm 125)

  1. Consider the imagery of vv.1-2.  What does it make you think/feel? Compare with Psalm 46:1-7.  What terms would you use to translate it into modern terms?
  2. Jerusalem/Zion is used here as a symbol of God’s safe and protective presence. But of course, Jerusalem itself wasn’t always safe or secure – despite being the place God chose for “his name to dwell.”  Now replace “Jerusalem” with “the church” for his people today. What does God’s safety and protection mean here for us?
  3. Read Philippians 4:6-7. What does this text look like in practice? How have you experienced God’s peace “which surpasses all understanding” guarding your heart?

Jan 30 – “Maybe I’m Amazed” (Psalm 124)

  1. What stands out to you? What stands out to you or raises questions for you?
  2. Do you recall a time that God seemed to have dramatically intervened in your life, protecting you in a dire situation or saving you from a negative possible outcome? Maybe a few people can share their stories.
  3. The greatest wonder of God’s being “for us” (Rom.8:31-34) is displayed in our eternal salvation. How would you describe what God has saved you from in Christ? What does this mean to you?  What has God saved you to?

Jan 23 – “The Waiting” (Psalm 123)

  1. How does looking up to the heavens, that is, God’s glorious throne, redirect our hearts when we feel contempt or shame (v.1)?
  2. Re-read v.2.  What is the difference between “waiting for” and “waiting on” God for mercy?
  3. How would you define contempt? Where in your life are you experience contempt?   

Jan 16 – “For The Good of God’s House” (Psalm 122)

  1. The psalmist begins Psalms 122 with a tone of eagerness and anticipation as he thinks about being in the house of the Lord with his fellow worshippers. Have you felt this kind of anticipation regarding corporate worship in recent memory? If so, can you pinpoint what’s given you excitement about it?
  2. Jerusalem was chosen by God to be a beacon of unity, true worship, and justice (verses 3-5). There were moments where it lived up to this, but historically, it often failed to embody these three characteristics. The same can be said of the church at large, unfortunately. Has the reality of the church’s failures and imperfections discouraged you from engaging in corporate worship or community in any way?
  3. The psalmist exhorts his readers to pray for the peace and security of Jerusalem, and to actively seek its good. In light of Jesus being the cornerstone of the church, and despite it’s many failings, we are called to seek the good of God’s house, praying that those of us who are a part of it will continue to be built up into the likeness of Christ. How can we actively seek the good of God’s house (more specifically, each other)?

Nov 14 – Jude 17-23 “[Re]Member Jerusalem”

1) Jude calls us to two commands here as part and parcel of the call to contend (v.3). The first is to remember the predictions of the apostles regarding “scoffers” in the last days. Read Paul’s prediction in 2 Timothy 3:1-7 and discuss where you’ve seen this in the church today. Which tendencies do you see in yourself?

2)  Re-read vv.20-21. The second command is to keep ourselves in God’s love. Jude imagines we will do this by 1) building up one another, 2) praying in the Spirit, and 3) waiting for mercy. How might we more intentionally build one another up in this small group?  What would you like to see happen? How about prayer? Are there ways we would like to see our group grow in praying together?

3) Those who wait for mercy are much more prone to give it to others. Discuss vv.22-23 together. Do you need mercy in any of these areas? Have you shared that? Who in your circle of influence might need this mercy, and how can you show it? 

Nov 7 – Jude 8-16 “A Tract for the Times”

1) Jude quotes from two ancient Jewish books (v.9, v.14-15) not found in the Old Testament. Is that a problem for believers who hold to a high view of Scripture? Where else in the New Testament do biblical authors quote from non-biblical sources as stating truth?  Why do you think they do this?

2) In vv.8-16, Jude spills a good amount of ink on slanderous talk and boasting (including both loud-mouthed and humble-bragging) when describing “these people” who “have crept in unnoticed,” (v.4). What do you think this kind of speech reveals about someone?

3) Re-read v.16. Why is grumbling and consistent discontentment such a glaring problem for a disciple of Jesus? Where do you honestly tend to grumble? 

Oct 31 – Jude 5-7 “Divine Judgment and Redemptive Power”

1) Jude calls us to contend for our faith, especially in the midst of those who reject God’s authority and twist the boundaries that he has given. How can you contend for the faith and help others, or yourself, stay within the bounds that God has given? 

2) Jude uses the examples from the Old Testament as a means of shedding light on the way the false teachers were failing to live out their proclamation of faith in order to pursue their own desires. How are you tempted to pursue your own desires? 

3) The three examples from the Old Testament that Jude uses shows how God is faithful to judge those who rebel against both him and the boundaries that he has given. How does God’s faithful judgement encourage you? How does his faithful judgement challenge you?

Oct 24 – Jude 1-4 “Contend”

1) Jude, brother to the famous James (Galatians 2:7-10; James 1:1), and half-brother to the even more well-known Jesus, writes to a church troubled by “certain people who have crept in unnoticed…[and] pervert the grace of our God into sensuality…” (v.4). They also make arrogant claims about authority to manipulate and exercise power over others for their own benefit (see v.6, 8-11, 16). In what ways are our churches at present troubled by these sorts of influencers and leaders? How does this distort the gospel?

2) Read the whole letter of Jude out loud together (it’s only 25 verses). In light of the bookends (1:3-4, 20-23), what do you think “contend for the faith” looks like? What ought it NOT look like? 

3) Earlier we asked how the gospel is being distorted by influencers and leaders who twist grace into license, and “spiritual authority” into self-promotion. How are we ourselves liable to the same errors?