Sermon Study Guides

Neighborhood + Justice

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Read Isaiah 58

Introduction:
The prophet Isaiah describes the people of Israel seeking to please God with outward spiritual disciplines. The people fast to show their obedience to him, while at the same time acting cruelly and unjustly toward their neighbors (v. 3-4). The people want justice and goodness for themselves (v.2), yet they don’t treat others within their community in those ways. What’s more, they don’t understand why God doesn’t respond to them for their “outward show” of fasting and worship (v.3). This passage shows how God views their actions in light of his desire for his people to pursue justice.

These verses are significant for us to truly know God and live as his disciples: he reveals his desire for people to be freed from oppression, protected when vulnerable, and provided for when in need. It follows that the people who call themselves by God’s name should desire and do the things that matter so much to him (see also Micah 6:6-8). 

Yet, we might ask, isn’t this passage about freedom and meeting needs in a spiritual sense and not about actually lifting our neighbor’s burden or giving food and clothes to those who don’t have them? The answer is that these verses have both a spiritual and a literal meaning. As Christians, we have experienced the freedom that God provides by reconciling us to himself through the sacrifice of his Son on the cross. This is the spiritual meaning of Isaiah 58. In the gospel, God provided a way for us to be free from the punishment for sin that we deserve and experience God’s mercy in Christ bearing that punishment for us. Early in his ministry, Jesus made clear that he was the fulfillment of the promised Savior anointed by God “to proclaim good news to the poor…to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4: 18). Jesus’ death and resurrection make a way for all of us to be free from the oppression and darkness of sin.

As Christians, we have been renewed in Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit for the work of renewal in the world (Rev. 21:1-5). Much of that work of renewal is actively restoring justice in our neighborhoods and communities. This is the literal meaning of Isaiah 58. As Bethany Hoang, serving with International Justice Mission, writes, “Seeking justice is bringing right order and exerting life-giving power to protect the vulnerable.” We honor God’s desire for his people to act justly when we are actually helping to end oppressive practices, protecting widows and orphans, and caring for the homeless and displaced among us. As Christ reminds us, when we do these acts of justice for our neighbors in love and gratitude for what Christ has done for us, it is as though we have done them for Christ himself (Matt. 25:34-40).

Reflection: Take personal inventory of your life, heart, and spiritual journey. Use these prompts / questions as a way to prepare for group discussions – or – for personal times of prayer.

  1. What kinds of injustice locally and globally are most likely to get your attention?
  2. How does your faith inform your response to injustice and your desire for justice?

Discuss:

  1. What about the sermon stood out or impacted you the most? Do you have any follow up questions about the sermon?
  2. In Isaiah 58, verses 1-5 describe the fasting of the Israelites and why God takes no notice of it. What do we learn about how the Israelites were worshipping and serving God in these verses?
  3. How does God describe the fast that he desires in Isaiah 58:6-7? What will be the results of this kind of fasting (verses 8-14)?
  4. What meaning do Isaiah 58 and Matthew 25:34-40 have for us as we worship and serve God today?
  5. In light of the gospel, why do you think it is so important to God that his people pursue justice and stand against injustice? What difference does the gospel make in strengthening justice and eliminating injustice in the world?

Apply:
In seeking justice, we can’t do everything, and we can’t do nothing. Each of us has limited time and resources; yet, we can see from God’s word that as Christians we are meant to take action to restore the justice that God desires in the world.

What, then, can we do? Discuss this question with your family, friends, community group and other significant people in your life. Work together to identify ways to wisely and actively seek justice in your neighborhood and community.

Download this material as a study guide.

Learn more about the Redeemer Discipleship Project here.

Work+Rest

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Read Deuteronomy 5:12-15 and Matthew 6:25-34 

Introduction:
In a hyper-paced society where innovation and productivity are core values of nearly every industry, it’s no surprise that we have an unhealthy relationship toward work. Understanding our work, why we labor, and what it means to reflect God as a “worker” saves us from manipulating our work and demanding it define us. Instead, we can explore the themes of calling and vocation with freedom, using every effort as a broken yet significant means of bringing about renewal in the world.

Tish Harrison Warren writes, “About 1/3 of our lives are spent asleep. Through these collective years of rest, God is at work in us and in the world, redeeming, healing, and giving grace. Each night when we yield to sleep, we practice letting go of our reliance on self-effort and abiding in the good graces of our Creator. Thus embracing sleep is not only a confession of our limits; it is also a joyful confession of God’s limitless care for us. For Christians, the act of ceasing and relaxing into sleep is an act of reliance on God.”

Does it ever strike you as odd that God has to command his people to rest? We all love a good nap, a walk on the beach, and an exotic vacation. Yet God knows that the human heart won’t truly rest unless we consciously stop, think, reflect, and remember the rhythms of our Creator and Redeemer. The human heart is hard-wired to work, to strive, and to prove. Thus the 4th of the 10 Commandments from Deuteronomy 5 is much more than a commandment to take a rest on Sundays. It’s a command to remember that life is about more than working, striving, and proving. Life is about trusting God with each and every moment of our days and our nights. It’s about trusting that He’s sufficient – sufficient enough for us to stop proving and to start resting and enjoying Him and the life we’ve been given. While work is good and God-given, life is about so much more than what we can accomplish in a day.

How we approach our work forms us. This is why Christian discipleship entails viewing our work through the lens of the gospel. Only there do we find the solution for our restless hearts – a Savior who worked to prove our worth and value on our behalf. Now amidst all the work we can truly rest.

Reflection: Take personal inventory of your life, heart, and spiritual journey. Use these prompts / questions as a way to prepare for group discussions – or – for personal times of prayer.

  1. Take a brief inventory of both work and rest in your life. If extremes of work and rest are poles of a spectrum, where do you fall? Do you lean toward work or rest? Why do you think this is?
  2. What recharges you more than anything else? What depletes you more than anything else?

Discuss:

  1. What about the sermon stood out or impacted you the most? Do you have any follow up questions about the sermon?
  2. What are some cultural values and stories that impact your understanding of work and rest?
  3. What is the greatest source of anxiety in your life? Why is this the case? Re-read Matthew 6:25-26. If you believed those verses were true, how would your anxieties shift or change?
  4. What do you mistake (or replace) as rest when it is actually distraction?
  5. How is Jesus the Rest that we all need (Matthew 12:1-8)?

Apply:

Attempt to set small goals for THIS coming day and week by seeking to rest from work part of each day and week. If you live as part of a family or with roommates/housemates, have a conversation about what helps each of you be refreshed in your relationship with God and with others.

When you find yourself at work or at school, pause for 5 minutes in the middle of your work. Take an inventory of your body by closing your eyes and scanning your body from head to toe. What do you sense? Do you sense unrest? Do you sense hurry? What is your body sharing with you about work/rest? Pray to God that you would listen well to the rhythms of your body and know that God is the active One at work over the whole universe.

Download this material as a study guide.

Learn more about the Redeemer Discipleship Project here.

Posted by Jonathan Kerhoulas with
Tags: life, rest, trust, work

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