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Sunday, November 5, 2017

October Small Group Material {2017}

Sometimes God Closes Doors and Windows and the Building Falls
by Julia Rogers

            For the last few years, my back has caused me a considerable amount of pain. Looking back, it really all started after the birth of my firstborn and continued to grow worse after each pregnancy. It went from the occasional flare up to now a pain that never completely goes away. A “good day” can be described as just having a “dull ache.”  After going through 22 weeks of rehab and seemingly no improvement, the next step was an MRI, which revealed all sorts of things that I can hardly pronounce…concentric disc bulge, facet and ligament hypertrophy, neural narrowing with contact of exiting nerve root, canal stenosis, disc protrusions, and endplate degenerative changes….issues that require a surgery that I’m too young for and could potentially cause other issues.
            On the bad days, it leaves me feeling completely drained. Before my own issues, I had heard people speak of chronic pain and how exhausting it was. It wasn’t until I dealt with it myself that I learned that it is exhausting in every way: physically, mentally and spiritually.
            As I’ve processed the nearly constant pain and inconvenience, I have been helped by Christian author, Jared Wilson. He beautifully describes what it means to be broken and facing trial after trial and yet still know that he is loved by God. He knows what it’s like to let go of the rope we’re all holding on to and let Jesus catch him. 
Wilson writes, 
“I have a problem with all the “chase your dreams!” cheerleading from Christian leaders. It’s not because I begrudge people who want to achieve their dreams, but because I think we don’t readily see how easy it is to conflate (combine) our dream-chasing with God’s will in Christ.
You know, it’s possible that God’s plan for us is littleness. His plan for us may be personal failure. It’s possible that when another door closes, it’s not because he plans to open the window, but because he plans to have the building fall down on you. The question we must ask ourselves is this: Will Christ be enough?”  (The Story of Everything, 122)

            This paragraph reflects a theme of Christianity that is often neglected in even our best churches: tomorrow might not be better than today. Yes, that may seem overly “Debbie-Downer”ish of me, but when facing life’s most horrible circumstances, it’s best to explore this theme beforehand, lest we be caught completely off guard in the middle of a catastrophe, questioning and doubting God’s love for us.
Sometimes Decreasing Means Death
            Two things from Wilson’s quote can be illustrated by looking briefly at the life of John the Baptist. First, the statement about littleness. John the Baptist said with reference to Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). John desired that Jesus would move into the spotlight instead of him, modeling for us the eternal beauty of littleness.

            Second, Wilson spoofs a common phrase in Christian lingo: that a closed door must mean another opportunity (a better opportunity!) will always arise. But it’s possible that won’t be the case — it wasn’t for John. When God sent John to prison, he didn’t get out. He was executed there (Matthew 14:1-12). 
But before he was killed, John sent messengers to Jesus to ask if he was the Messiah, or if they should look for another (Matthew 11:1-3).

            Rather than nourishing his faith, the difficult circumstances of John’s life were acting like poison, which then led him toward doubt and disillusionment. It just didn’t seem like Jesus was doing the kinds of things he expected the Messiah would do. If Jesus came to set captives free (Luke 4:18), then why am I still locked up?

            To be more blunt, in prison John was asking whether Jesus would be enough for him when he actually did decrease and it seemed he was going to die. 
Will Christ Be Enough?
            And the question we often ask is similar. Will Jesus be enough for us when one door closes and God doesn’t open a window?
Yes, yes He will. 
            When you stand up for what’s right and end up in jail (as was the case for John); when you have cancer; when a major hurricane steals away all your earthly possessions; when you lose your job; when you lose your child; when your house is robbed; when your parents get divorced; when you’re sick and lying in bed and your children ask, “Mommy, are you okay?” Jesus is still Jesus. And He will be enough for you. 
            When the apostle Paul repeatedly prayed for his difficulties to be taken away, God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Elsewhere, God reminds his people, “I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). 

            Today, if you are weak, know that Jesus is strong and he loves you dearly — even if you don’t understand your own pain and God’s plan for it. Our afflictions are “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

            Though the doors and windows may close and though the whole house may fall down, our foundation in Christ will never crack.

 Small Group Discussion Guide

* Key Point:       
When sin entered the world, death entered. Chronic pain, illness, and disease are a form of  death.  Suffering, in many ways, remains a                                              mystery, one that we will never fully understand this side of eternity. We can, however, glean these truths from God's Word:

*Truth #1:  Suffering produces intimacy with God (Job 42:5).
Job, who endured unspeakable suffering, said, "My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you." Intimacy with God is often borne in the furnace of affliction.
          "There's an opening of the soul that happens during times of stress or duress,"says Pastor Tim     Hager. "During times of suffering, we experience God at a deep, profound level." 

***If anyone feels comfortable, please share with the group a time in which you were suffering, or currently suffering, and that suffering led you to deeper intimacy with God.

*Truth #2: Suffering equips us to comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).
Suffering gives us compassion for others who are hurting, enabling us to minister more effectively. Sufferers want to be ministered to by people who have suffered…to hear that there is hope. Those who have suffered make the most effective comforters.

***If anyone feels comfortable, please share with the group how you have been able to comfort someone who has suffered in the same way you have. OR how someone has comforted you by sharing their similar sufferings.

*Truth #3: Suffering refines us. 
We can read in Isaiah 48:10 that "…I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction." 
The meaning of this verse makes it clear that pain and suffering have a way of bringing our strengths and weaknesses to the surface. When the worthless particles float to the surface, God skims them off; he purifies and refines us to be the radiant bride of Christ.

***If anyone feels comfortable, please share with the group how God has refined you through suffering.  What particles did he skim off, purify and refine?

*Truth #4: Suffering conforms us into God's image (Romans 8:28-29).
We may be tempted to read these verses to say that God will bring good out of everything. While He can and does redeem pain in our lives, these verses speak of being conformed to God's image through our suffering. Simply put, when we seek God through His Word and prayer, we find Jesus. Remember, Jesus understands our pain because he, too, suffered. 
            We read the words of Psalm 22:1: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?" 
 Did God abandon His Son in His hour of need? We find the answer three days later—God raised Him from the dead! Because of this promise, we have hope for our future. 

***Let’s be honest. If suffering didn’t exist in this world and life was all rainbows and butterflies, would you ever truly see how much you needed Christ? Share with the group a time of suffering that you experienced that made you truly see your great need for Christ.