1. Love Floods In

(John 1:16)

  • How has your life been enriched by the love and compassion of others?
  • How important is love in the life of a small child? What damage is done when a small child is deprived of love?
  • Why does the term do-gooder carry so many negative overtones?
  • Draw a windmill with the same number of blades on it as you have members in your group and write the name of each one on one of those blades.

I see a galvanized iron tank on a wooden stand beside a windmill. Beside the tank there is a cattle trough. Next to the trough is an open half-tank, protruding one half-sheet above ground. The wind is blowing through a gap in the hills, and the blades of the windmill are turning furiously. Water is flowing into the top of the tank at a great rate. It is pouring out through an overflow pipe. The trough is full, and, by gravity feed, water is running out of the brimming trough onto the soft earth and into another round tank half-sunk into the ground. Out of its fullness the tank has filled the trough and from its fullness the trough is putting water into the lower tank beyond it. All around, the grass looks brown and brittle where it has not already been trampled or grazed out, but here is a scene of plenty. No shortage of water here. The sub-artesian system has never run dry. There are green shoots around the tank and mud along by the trough.

The picture is of Jesus, filled to the brim with grace and compassion, full of mercy and love, with that grace, compassion, mercy and love overflowing to fill the lives of people around him so that the same kind of grace, compassion, mercy and love flow out through them to touch the lives of others. And it keeps on coming – grace upon grace. In a world starved for genuine love, in a world tired of false love, here is love flowing generously. God’s love flows through his Son and then on through those who become God’s children through their faith relationship with him. We meet up with the overwhelming, joyous world of God’s generous love.

Romans 5:5                           Ephesians 3:18-19                            1 John 4:7-12, 16

  • Grace keeps coming. Read through John Newton’s famous hymn, Amazing Grace, in silence and then indicate which line stands out for you most sharply.
  • Does the grace, mercy and compassion of Jesus flow through you? How is it expressed?
  • What gets in the road of this grace, mercy and compassion flowing through you and what can be done about it?
  • What does the grace, mercy and compassion of Christ mean for racism and sexism?
  • Pray that God’s grace will spill over from your life into the lives of others. Pray that you might be an agent of God’s grace.

2.The Creator Loves People

(John 3:16)

  • Invite the people in the group to talk about a gift that they received for their last birthday.
  • We show love by giving gifts. How else do we show love?
  • What has somebody else sacrificed for you?
  • To what extent can depth of love be measured by the amount of sacrifice made?

Richard and Rylma are hurrying to get across town. As soon as word came through about the fire, they dropped everything, grabbed hold of young James and jumped into the car. There was a minute or two of delay as their six-year-old broke away to go scrambling under an azalea bush. In their shock and panic they shouted at him to leave the dog where he was and to get into the car as quickly as possible, but it was only a matter of seconds and the boy climbed up into the back seat, strapped himself in and sat quietly cuddling his dearest friend.

Richard bends over the steering wheel as he pushes it to the limit. Rylma talks continuously about the terrible loss it would be to for her sister, brother-in-law and nephew. The phone call had said that the whole house had been gutted. The family’s pet dog had died, and all their possessions had been destroyed. Without really knowing anything about the cause of the blaze, she announces that it was the electrical wiring which had caused it. She had told her sister soon after they had moved in to the old weatherboard place that they should have it checked.

Of course they would have to come and stay with them, she says. It would be a squeeze, but it would not be for long. Maybe the insurance would pay for alternative accommodation. Pity about the dog. She knew how much James’ dog meant to him. Thomas was about the same age. He would be inconsolable. ‘Just as well they were out when it happened.’

On arrival outside the charred remains of her sister’s home, Rylma jumps out like a flash to hold her sister close as she sobs into her shoulder. Richard speaks to one of the fireofficers directing operations as damping down proceeds. James takes his time getting out of the car. It is a bit of a struggle with the dog in his arms. But he walks slowly over to Thomas and then with a brusque, quick movement, thrusts the puppy into his cousin’s arms, then runs back to resume his seat in the car. It is as though he has fulfilled his mission. He is ready to go home. He had made his sacrifice. It is time to leave.

The Spirit, which looks out on all creation with a sense of satisfaction saying, ‘It is good,’ has a particular love and concern for that part of creation that we call human, even to the extent of making personal sacrifice for it. It is as though a father gives his own heart in the surrender of his only son, such is the love God has for people.

God’s desire for them is that they should not be confined to time-bound captivity, but that they should live life on the eternal dimension. Jesus, the embodiment of the divine nature itself, opens up the way for this to happen.

Romans 5:8                              Romans 8: 38-39                               1 John 4: 16-19

  • As you read through the three Bible passages listed above pick out one verse that speaks to you and share it with the group.
  • If the Son is God’s gift to the people of the world, what should we do with that gift?
  • Why is it that eternal life is only promised to those who believe?
  • Why do you think John 3:16 has become the best known verse in the Bible?
  • Pray for people who do not believe in Jesus Christ that they might come to accept God’s gift of eternal life.

3. Getting Caught in the Spiral

(John 4:46 – 54)

  • For this activity one person should do some preparation beforehand. For each person in the group write down on a piece of paper one characteristic (frequently used gesture or expression) and place them in a container. Then when the group meets pull them out one at a time and invite people to guess the person being identified.
  • If you landed on a tropical island and wondered whether anyone lived there, what signs would you look for?
  •  Where do you see signs of God?
  • Do you, or have you in the past, kept poultry? Tell us about them: the breed, the circumstances, the purpose. Was it commercial? Were they show birds?

Through this window I see a close-up view of a red hen settling down again on her nest. It’s not one of those imprisoned battery hens. This is a free-range bird, but natural instincts confine her to her nest as surely as if she were serving out a court-imposed sentence. She ruffles her feathers and shuffles around until she settles down comfortably covering her incubating eggs. Her nest is located in a wooden box nailed onto the back wall of a fowlhouse, but her companions have left her alone. However she does not seem to be concerned. With glazed and vacant stare she settles down to fulfil her appointed role in life.

I am amazed. What on earth does the picture of a hen sitting on her eggs have to do with this passage? The passage is about faith and miracles. The connection eludes me for some time. And when it comes I have to grin. ‘Yes, it is,’ I say to myself. ‘The faith and miracle question is one of those of the chicken and egg variety. Which comes first: faith or miracle?’

It is by faith that people see miracles, for miracles are more than just marvellous events; they are wonders which signify that God is at work. It is the realization that God is involved that makes it a miracle in the biblical sense. But then faith is brought to birth by miracle.

Faith does not just arise out of some human process; it is awakened by recognition of God’s activity.

We can change the image and speak in aeronautical terms of thermals and updrafts. It probably does not matter where one enters the spiral – with faith or with miracle. But having entered the spiral, faith buildson miracle and miracle grows out of faith. However until faith sees God working or God’s activity produces faith one remains earthbound. At either point one can enter the upward spiral. Then it is possible to be carried high, very high indeed, but one has to enter it somewhere.

Luke 8:18                                 Luke 16: 24-31                            1 Chronicles 16:8-13

  • In your own experience, give examples of how your faith has been strengthened by seeing signs of God at work in the world.
  • How has your faith opened your eyes to see God at work in daily life?
  • Have you ever witnessed a miracle? What is a miracle really?
  • How important are miracles for your faith?
  • Pray that God will help you to see signs of his presence and work in daily life.

4. Back to Our Roots

(John 10:40-42)

  • You might like to arrange for people to bring wedding photos with them or photos of them as children. Pass them around.
  • Invite people to talk briefly about genealogical or other investigations they may have conducted into their family history. Or tell of a time when they visited a location important for the history of the family.
  • What is your earliest memory?
  • What do you know about the history of your church? Make it a brief discussion.

Janice holds their wedding album open on her lap as John sits on an arm of the lounge chair with a hand on her shoulder. Red cheeks and moist eyes suggest that she has been crying.

‘Do you think we should reaffirm our vows?’ John asks in subdued tone.

She shakes her head then flicks a strand of hair back as it falls across her face.

‘We ought to do something,’ he continues. ‘It’s been a rough patch. We’ve been through four weeks of separation. I completely misunderstood you. I was a fool. But now that we’re back together, shouldn’t we do something to reaffirm our marriage.’

There is a pause. ‘You know what I would like?’ Janice says softly without taking her eyes off the wedding photos. ‘I’d like us to go back to Port Macquarie for a week’s holiday.’

‘Where we spent out honeymoon.’

She nods. ‘It’d sort of be like a new beginning.’

‘What about the children?’

‘Mum ‘d take them for a week. Can you get time off?’

‘I’ll ask tomorrow. They owe me plenty. I don’t see why not.’

‘You might think it’s funny,’ she says. ‘But that was a very special time for me. For both of us. I think we need to go back there. It’ll reawaken memories and call us back to our first love. I know we can’t wipe out the past year or so, but it might help us make a new start.’

Memory grounds us in our own experience. It gives us something to go back to, something definitive. It helps us to find ourselves when we have been tossed around by life’s experiences. So Jesus, before his final journey to Jerusalem where he would go through great suffering leading to his death, we are told, went back to the place where his public ministry all began, where John baptized him.

And his presence there reawakened memories of that period three years earlier when John the Baptist had been drawing the crowds and pointing to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Through those reawakened memories many believed on him. John, by this time, had been executed, but through memory his influence lived on.

John 1:29-30                                1 Corinthians 11: 23-26                      1 Kings 19: 1-3, 8-9

  • When troubled by doubts or fears do you return to some significant faith-forming experience in your life? Share as you are able.
  • What have been the most important influences in the formation of your faith?
  • Are there people whose influence lives on in your life although they are no longer with you?
  • Sometimes it is necessary to go backwards to go forwards. Give examples.
  • Pray that God may use your influence to accomplish his purposes in the lives of other people.

5. Emotion, Essential to our Humanity

(John 11:28-38)

  • Over recent days, what has made you feel happy and what has made you feel sad?
  • Invite members of the group to mime or draw the expression of emotions (e.g.: happiness, sadness, jealousy, loneliness, confusion, anger, impatience, contentment.) Let them make their presentations one at a time and let the rest of the group guess what it is that the person is trying to express.
  • Have you ever cried in a movie? When was the last time?
  • Some people show their emotions more readily than others. What about you, would you say that you show your emotions openly or that you usually keep your emotions hidden?

The parents are worried. Their son is seven years of age. Copes well with his schoolwork. A little slow at maths, but has developed language ability above the average. Runs and jumps like any normal lad. Height, average for his age. A good-looking kid. But there is something wrong. He shows no emotion.

The eyes never light up. He never gets excited about the prospect of a picnic or games. He has no friends. He eats what is put before him giving no indication of whether he likes it or not. He generally does what he is told, but they have not seen him smile. For that matter, they have not seen him cry either. He watches television with stony face. From the amount of time he spends at the computer one could surmise that it was there that he was happiest, but he gives no sign of it.

They have taken him to counsellors and psychiatrists, but no one can make him laugh or cry. ‘If he’d only get angry!’ his father would say. ‘But it’s as though he’s fallen through a trapdoor inside himself somewhere and all we see is the outer shell. The real boy is not there.’

Emotion is an essential part of our humanity. Take away the ability to feel emotion and you have taken away an essential part of a person’s humanity. We are not just rational or thinking machines. To be fully human is to feel emotions like desire and revulsion, anger and sympathy, happiness and sadness, tenderness and compassion.

Jesus showed emotion. He got angry, was deeply moved, wept. So we see him as a genuine human being. And we can warm to a person with genuine feelings. And since Jesus reflects the nature of God

the biblical picture of God is not of one who remains aloof, uncaring, untouched by human troubles, but rather one who feels deeply the plight of the oppressed, the lonely, and the lost. The Bible even speaks of God’s love for the world. God is not just a Mind or a First Cause or a Great Architect. God is a Father with all the emotion of a father for his children.

How can we rule out the expression of emotion in worship? How can we expect people to live the Christian life as an ideal unless they feel deeply about Jesus and his way of life? How can we divorce theology from the way we feel in our relationship with God?

Psalm 69: 16-21                                       Luke 6:22-23                             Zechariah 9:9

  • What part does emotion play in your Christian life?
  • If God communicates emotion as well as understanding, what are the main emotions that God implants in you?
  • What emotions do you feel in a service of worship?
  • Can one have too much emotion in worship? What about emotionalism?
  • Pray for the church services in your church that they may come alive with feeling and with the power of God’s Spirit.

6. Good Servant, Bad Master

(John 18:15-18,25-27)

  • Who is the most inspirational person that you have met, read about or seen on TV recently?
  • Which of the following do you fear: snakes, frogs, spiders, heights, the dark, crowds, storms, incapacity, insolvency, making a fool of yourself?
  • What makes for a good and healthy relationship?
  • What makes for a good and healthy small group fellowship?

As I look through the window I can see children playing with matches. I want to call out to them. They’re going to cause trouble. They’re inside a bedroom. This could be dangerous. There are bunk beds against the wall and a colourful quilt lying on the floor. I shout, but, of course, they can’t hear me. Surely one of their parents will come through the open doorway to reprimand them. Look! After several abortive attempts, the eldest of the three has succeeded in lighting a match and is holding it out at arms length for his sister and brother to see. He is obviously pleased with his success, but this only spurs his sister on to redouble her efforts. Several match heads break off and fall to the floor. As the flame burns closer toward his thumb and forefinger the boy cries ‘Ouch!’ and drops the smouldering match onto the floor. The other two children continue their attempts at lighting matches.

Soon there is the smell of burning cloth. Then there is panic. The three children run from the room crying and shouting for their mother, but by the time she arrives the flames have taken hold on the quilt and clothes lying on the floor and are spreading to the lower bunk. She too flies into a panic, chasing her children out of the house and calling to her neighbour for help. By the time the neighbour comes in and phones 000 the flames are well and truly launched in their destructive campaign to destroy the children’s bedroom. Neighbours come in with fire extinguishers. Someone drags a garden hose through the house spraying water everywhere on the way through. By the time I hear the siren the folk who have gathered inside and outside the house have greatly subdued the enemy, but smoke fills the room and indeed the whole house. The fire officers soon bring it under control and start making enquiries of the mother as to how it all started.

There is an old saying about fire being a good servant, but a bad master, and I realize that it’s like that with fear. People are equipped with the response called fear. A very useful emotion. Without it the human race would have died out long ago. For fear prompts action in the face of threat. Fight or flight, challenge or avoidance – these are the actions prompted by fear.

But, like fire, it can turn nasty. It can destroy. What seems to have been meant for preservation, leads to destruction. It was like that with Peter. When challenged about his association with the arrested man, he suddenly found himself seized by fear so that he took the avoidance path without thinking, not realizing what it was doing to himself, to his leader and to other people. The match head had fallen onto the quilt and it was smouldering away in uncontrolled, destructive abandon. His denial, unless it could be adequately dealt with, was going to become forever a gaping chasm between himself and his leader, between himself and God. Denial of a friendship guts the friendship leaving it charred, smoke-damaged and all but destroyed. Infidelity not only undermines a marriage, it undermines every kind of human relationship.

Genesis 3:8-10                               Psalm 64                                         Isaiah 41:8-10

  • What are some of the good and useful functions of fear?
  • What makes fear destructive?
  •  What are some ways in which we deny our friendship with Jesus today?
  •  In your searching or in your Christian faith how have you personally felt threatened?
  •  Pray for people whose lives are being destroyed by fear, and for those whose relationships suffer because of denial and faithlessness.