1. Seize the Opportunity

(John 9:1-12)

  • Talk about your favourite picnic or swimming spot.
  • Share stories from your own lives of occasions when something that seemed terrible at the time turned out to be a great opportunity.
  • Describe the sort of person you like to be with. What traits or characteristics should that person have?
  • Write down five things that a negative sort of person might say and five sayings which you would expect a positive person to come out with.

On arriving at the site of their burnt out factory Martin and Brian sit in Martin’s Commodore and stare at the smouldering ruins in front of them for a minute or two before they open doors to get out and walk toward what used to be the building out of which they ran their highly successful manufacturing business. Martin shakes his head while Brian lets out a murmured oath as they look more closely at the remains of the building in which they had invested so much energy and capital.

At first sight the main building appears to be substantially intact, but closer examination shows that the interior has been gutted. The big iron beams are twisted. Part of the roof has collapsed. The iron cladding has lifted and curled in many places along the sidewall. The machinery is ruined. The concrete masonry wall around the office seems to be intact. It waits to be seen how much smoke and water damage there has been there The old part of the building, where they had started operations seven years ago, is gone. It has been turned into an expanse of ash and charcoal with twisted pieces of metal protruding at grotesque angles. The main hotspots seem to have been in the dispatch area and inside the second roller door where the truck would have been housed overnight.

A police officer walks over and they question him about a rumour that two youths were seen running from the building soon before the fire broke out. He also tells them that a neighbour reported having a five-litre can of two-stroke fuel stolen from his garden shed overnight.

‘Just let me get my hands on the culprits,’ mutters Brian. ‘Their bodies ‘ll be burning all over by the time I finish with ‘em. They’ll be sorry they ever came near the factory.’

‘You’d better leave that to us,’ cautions the policeman.

‘What if you do catch ‘em? They’ll only get a kindly talking to by the judge. They’ve got to be made to pay. They can’t get away with this. There’s too much vandalism going on. Someone has to straighten out these louts.’

Martin reminds his partner that it should all be covered by insurance. ‘In fact,’ he says. ‘While we won’t be able to meet orders for a while, this gives us the opportunity to build a purpose-built factory. Up till now the place has just grown like Topsy. We’ve added here and added there. We’ve put in machinery wherever we could find space. Not where we could get maximum efficiency out of it. This’ll allow us the chance to start again, and to get rid of the mistakes we’ve made.’

So there are two ways of looking at something like a factory fire: it can be seen as a disaster for which the perpetrators need to be punished, or it can be seen as an opportunity to be grasped. When people looked on a man who had been born blind some showed the first of these attitudes – someone has to carry the can. If it wasn’t this man, then it must be his parents who are to blame. But Jesus showed the other approach. He saw it as a window of opportunity. Instead of seeing God involved in this as the judge, he saw an opportunity for God’s saving love to come into operation.

We come up against these different attitudes in life. One is backward looking and cries out for vengeance, for punishment. Someone has to be blamed. We need a scapegoat. But the attitude, which conforms more closely to that shown by Jesus, is that which accepts what has happened and looks ahead to see what can be done to make things better. The setback is seen, not as a permanent blockage, but rather as a doorway to something greater. Seize the opportunity. And this is presented as God’s approach

John 3:17                                 Romans 8:1                                         Joel 2:30-32

  • Which is more important in making us who we are: the things that happened to us in our childhood, or the hopes and possibilities we look forward to?
  • Have you made any new discoveries lately? Gained any fresh insights?
  • In what way do you think Jesus is the Light of the World?
  • From a Bible Dictionary, Commentary or Encyclopedia find out what you can about the Pool of Siloam.
  • Pray for people who live under a burden of guilt imposed upon them by others that they might find release.

2. Making Use of the Time

(John 11:7-10)

  • Do you have opportunities at this stage in your life that you have not had before?
  • Give examples of occasions when it was the right time for something to happen in you experience and by contrast occasions when it was the wrong time. It could have to do with investments, or reading a book, or meeting someone, or moving house, whatever.
  • Some people are always early, others are always running late Where do you stand in this? What makes the difference?
  • Would it make a difference to the way you live if you knew the date of your death?

A party of day-trippers is eating ice creams under the big fig trees in front of the store.

‘We better get down to the jetty,’ one of them says.

‘What, now?’ someone responds. ‘We’ve got an hour and fifteen minutes to wait.’

‘I don’t like to be late.’

‘I’m going for a swim,’ someone else says.

‘So am I,’ come several voices in chorus.

‘That was a long walk we did, and that crystal clear water looks so inviting.’

‘Well don’t miss the boat!’

‘We won’t miss the boat. We’ll keep our eye on the time.’

There is a set time for the ferry to return to the mainland. No use getting over-anxious about it. Might as well make good use of the available time. And so this could be a reference to the ferry that takes us from this life to the next. We may not know the precise day of our departure, but there is no point in getting over-anxious about it. What God wants is that we be living our lives right up to the end.

As a child may slow down before reaching the end of the race, we may be tempted to stop living before we come to the end of our lives.

His disciples tried to warn Jesus off going to Judea. They saw trouble looming there, but Jesus was not going to be put off. There was still time for him to carry out his mission. He was not going to stop until he had reached the end.

There is a right time for everything, but that time does not last forever, so make use of the time while it is available. There was a right time for Jesus to be actively engaged in his earthly ministry, but that time would not last for ever, so he made the most of the time available to him. There is a time for responding to God’s invitation, but the opportunity will not last forever. It is for us to make our response while we have the opportunity.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13                        Ecclesiastes 3:1-8                       Colossians 4:5-6

  • Psalm 31:15 addresses God: ‘My times are in your hand.’ Can you say that and what do you mean by it?
  • Slowing down in your activity should mean having more time to give to your relationship with God. Have you found this to be true?
  • Jesus insisted that he should keep on doing God’s work while he had the opportunity. How does this apply to you?
  • Christian discipleship is a life of stewardship, responsible management of what God entrusts to us. Spend some time talking about the stewardship of time. Can you help one another become better managers of time?
  • Pray for your own faithful and obedient time management.

3. Face Facts

(John 11:11-16)

  • What, for Christians, ensures that belief in life after death is more than merely wishful thinking?
  • Should we always speak the truth even when it hurts others?
  • On a commitment metre measuring one to ten where would you place yourself in relation to
  • Jesus Christ? Are you satisfied with that?
  • Find out what you can about Thomas the Twin.
  • Pray for your own Christian commitment and loyalty and for that of each member in the group.

‘Face up to it, Jenny. You’re never going to make the trip. You always have an excuse. You’ve always got some reason why you can’t go. Well, I’m not waiting any longer. I’m going. I’ve made my bookings today and I leave on the fourteenth of March.’

‘But you said we’d go together.’

‘But every time I suggest a date you say it’s not suitable. I’m committed to this thing. I’m determined I’m spending twelve months in Europe, and I can’t go putting it off and putting it off. You can come too. It’s not too late. But I’m not putting it off any longer.’

‘I need to work a bit longer to get enough money,’ says Jenny to her friend.

‘You’ve had two years to save up for this. You can’t buy new clothes every month and a get a new car and take resort holidays if you want to go to Britain. You’ve got to be realistic about these things. Wishful thinking won’t get you there. You have to make sacrifices.’

And so it looks as though the two friends will go their separate ways. One remains steadfastly committed to her dream of spending a year overseas. The other talks about it, says that she wants to go, but always has something else to do when they try to set a date. Whether it be touring Britain and the Continent or any other objective, dreaming about it will not make it happen. In this instance, Jenny’s friend remains utterly loyal to her objective but has to face up to the fact that if she waits for her friend to be ready she will never go.

Thomas was a matter-of-fact sort of person. There was no shilly-shallying with him. He was not going to sit around dreaming of a nice easy transition into messianic power and authority. Yet he remained utterly loyal to Jesus. He could see that by going into Judea Jesus was putting his head into a noose. He was headed for a showdown. So in a down-to-earth kind of way The Twin said, ‘Let’s do and die with him.’

For the Thomas sort of person there is no point in softening the blow by saying of the deceased relative, ‘He passed on.’ He died and there’s no getting around it. Soft sounding words won’t change the reality: ‘He’s dead.’

This shows guts. A bit blunt perhaps, but committed and loyal. This attitude is impatient with nice sounding words that don’t achieve anything, but it will put up with all manner of sacrifices out of loyalty to a cause or a leader.

John 20:24-28                                     Luke 9:57-62                                 Ruth 1:15-18

  • Through your involvement in this group, are you growing in appreciation of the other people in it. Tell them what you have learnt to appreciate about them.
  • If you could have any thing you wished for, what would be your wish?
  • Discuss loyalty. Is it declining in our community? Discuss its values, good or bad.
  • How do you handle the tough questions about life and Scripture? Do you tackle them head on or do you try to avoid facing up to them?

4. A Matter of Life and Death

(John 12:37-50)

  • In prayer, give thanks for your group and for its members.
  • Share stories of natural disasters you have lived through- cyclones, blizzards, floods, etc.
  • What do the following have in common: lung cancer caused by smoking, drowning while swimming outside the flags, failing an exam when disregarding the need for study, being fined for speeding when speed limit signs have been erected?
  • Freedom of choice, do you find it something that you appreciate or something that makes life more difficult?

Although he is only twelve yours of age everyone in the caravan park knows Nathan, the son of the proprietor, for he is frequently seen cleaning the pool, using the ride-on mower, serving behind the kiosk counter, practising throwing basket ball goals or simply larking around with his mates. But when, around midnight he runs from caravan to caravan, through the tent area and along to the group who are still drinking in the dark around the barbeque area everyone is startled. His cry of warning brings a variety of responses. Some of those who hear his announcement about a crack having opened up in the dam wall upstream laugh at the joke; others tell him off in no uncertain terms for disturbing their night’s rest. One man tells him that if it were really serious the police would have come around to issue the warning. Another informs the lad that he is an engineer and he knows that the wall will not collapse. Even when he tells them that his father sent him, they take no notice. But some pack up their goods and leave there and then. The caravan park echoes with the sound of voices, motorcar engines starting up and tyres scrunching on gravel.

The floodwaters rise so quickly that no one remaining in the caravan park escapes. The devastation is terrible, the loss of life total. The next day the media are filled with accusations about whom they should blame. But one of those who did pack up and leave points out that Nathan’s warning was decisive as to whether people lived or died. Those who heeded his warning were now alive and thankful for what he had done, but what had been their opportunity to escape turned out for others to be their destruction. It all depended on how they responded to his message. Nathan’s intention was clear. He wanted to warn everyone of imminent danger. He desperately did his best to save them. Positive action in response to his efforts meant life, rejection of his warning was a condemnation to death.

Jesus announced and demonstrated the divine authority behind his message. Some accepted it, but many didn’t. And it has continued thus all through subsequent history. Some have believed and in believing have found salvation, others have refused to believe and their refusal has been the point of condemnation.

The whole point of having freewill is to be able to make choices, but with that privilege goes responsibility for the choices made. If, when in need of help, we reject the offer of help, we condemn ourselves to suffering the consequences. The offer of help us not that which condemns, but rather it is our rejection of it.

Acts 17:22-34                             1 Corinthians 1:18-24                               John 3:16-21

  • The believability of the message depends upon the believability of the messenger. What makes for believability on the part of a Christian?
  • What prevents people from accepting the gospel of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ? Why doesn’t everyone accept it?
  • Invite members of the group to share their experiences of God’s salvation – how, when and under what circumstances they first came to accept Christ as their personal Saviour?
  • Read John 12:43 again. What’s so wrong about loving human glory more than the glory that comes from God?

5. It’s Too Late Now

(John 19: 38 – 42)

  • Tell us about the time you missed your train, bus, plane, ship.
  • Tell us about some significant opportunity that you have had. Did you take it up, or let it slip?
  • What opportunities has membership of this group brought you?
  • Tell of a time when you thought of the right reply only it was too late then.

The neighbours gather in a group across the street around the Williamson’s front gate and watch with horror as two men in dark trousers and white shirts carry a stretcher out of number 25 and place it in an unmarked commercial van. They cannot see the body strapped onto the stretcher for it’s completely enveloped in dark green plastic. But they know who it is. They have been following events all day. Halfway through the morning her parents arrived. One of the neighbours gave them a hand to break in through a side window and was with them when they made the grisly find. Later a police car came and remained parked outside for hours while plainclothes police with a photographer, and then a doctor, arrived. Janice’s father came back together with her brother, and then finally the funeral directors. They all know that Janice, who moved into number 25 about five months ago, has died in the bathtub from loss of blood following a self-inflicted slashing of her wrists.

‘I knew that they were having troubles,’ a man in shorts and singlet says in a hoarse whisper. ‘But I had no idea that it was as bad as this!’

‘Her ex-boyfriend left her for another woman,’ Marjorie told him.

‘She’d told him she didn’t want any more to do with him, so he moved out. Then she tried to get him back, but he wasn’t having anything to do with it. She kept hoping he’d come back, but when he left town with his new girlfriend she knew there was no hope. That knocked her around. She told me then she ‘d kill herself. But I didn’t think she’d actually do it. They don’t, do they? When they say that they’re goin’ to kill themselves then never do it. It’s all talk, isn’t it?’

‘She told me a bit about her troubles,’ says another of the neighbours. ‘But, hell, I didn’t want to get involved. It wasn’t none of my business.’

‘Makes yer sick, don’t it?’ a man says. ‘To think it happened right here! Right in our street.’

‘Makes me feel real bad,’ says Mavis Williamson. ‘I should have done something to help her. I knew she was lonely. I knew she needed a friend.’

‘I felt sorry for Janice, too,’ says Marjorie. ‘She had a hard life. I only wish now I’d been a bit more attentive. Several times she tried to talk about it, but it was always the wrong time. I was just going out, or I had something cooking on the stove, or the kids needed help with their homework. It was never convenient, so I never listened. Damn it all! I wish I had now.’

They fall silent as their eyes follow the van down the street until it turns the corner onto the main road.

The secret disciples, Joseph Arimathea and Nicodemus, didn’t think it would come to this. Now, doubtlessly, they wished they had spoken up earlier. But it was too late. Jesus was dead. All they could do is secure for him a decent burial. That’s more than he, as a condemned criminal, would have had if they hadn’t intervened. But what if they had spoken up earlier? It may not have come to this.

There are times when, too late, we realize that we have let the side down, we’ve betrayed a friend’s confidences, we’ve cowed before the threat of being the odd one out, we’ve been less than truthful out of fear for our comfort and security. It seems inadequate, but all we can do is to try to make amends. We hope that it is not too late to do something. And, after all, we say better late than never.

We all live with regrets, but we don’t all handle regrets in the same way. Some dwell on them so that they come to dominate their psychological landscape, and then they burn a hole deep into the fabric of their personality, ruining it. Others try to skip over the regrets by pretending that they are not there. But, like other dark shadows relegated to the subconscious, they will get up to mischief if they are not confronted and acknowledged. Others act furiously in an endeavour to make up for their mistakes. Burn themselves out with work in an attempt to atone for their error. But still there is another way and that is the way that brings the regrets under the cover of God’s grace and forgiveness. Sorrow remains for hurts that have been caused and restitution is made wherever possible, but self-acceptance and reassurance come through an awareness of God’s forgiveness.

1 Samuel 15:10                    Matthew 27:3-5                                  Romans 2:25-3:3

  • How do you handle regrets: dwell on them, skip over them, keep busy, offer them to God?
  • Do you know any secret believers? Why do they keep their faith a secret?
  • How do you feel when you miss an opportunity to speak about Jesus or to help someone in his name?
  • Where was Arimathea? See if you can find out.
  • Pray for each other that each will handle his or her regrets constructively.