Strong Faith Week 2

Dear Ladies,

   I love that this Psalm offers such hope of protection. I see all those phrases that sound  oh so lovely- "covered with His wings" , "His faithfulness is our shield" , "angels guarding us". It makes it seem like we can just cruise through life without a care in the world. 

     That would be ideal if we were on a cruise ship, but here's the thing ladies. This is Christian walk is a battle ship. We don't get to avoid life's attacks. Jesus promises as much in John 16:33 when He says " In this world you will have trouble...." not might, not maybe some of you. YOU WILL!

      Our lives, and our Christian walk will not always be pretty. Loved ones will die. Unexpected bills will challenge our finances. Children will stray far from the faith we want them to embrace. Our bodies will fail and our hearts will break. And yet there's a couple of promises we can cling to in this sweet Psalm. 

     Verses 9-10  tell us "If you only say ' the Lord is my refuge' and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent". Harm will still come near us and threaten our peace of mind. Life may get unpleasant but harm will not overtake us. We stand in the shadow of the Almighty. He stands right beside us in the midst of all our struggles. He is the Captain or our battle ship. Ahoy!

     Love, as always, Renée 

Now on to this week's lesson

Read Psalm 23

Memory verse 23:4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod an your staff, they comfort me

1. In order to fully appreciate a shepherd, we need to fully understand the animals in their care. What do you know about the characteristics of sheep?

2. How many of those characteristics do you share?

3. Vs2 says "he makes me lie down in green pastures. Where in your life are you caught up in busyness?

4. Sheep by nature are fearful. They're frightened by quick moving water which is why's they need the shepherd to guide them to quiet waters. Where do you need God to quiet your soul?

5.A shepherd does his part- bringing the sheep beside still waters. How are you doing your part to drink in what God offers?

6. What dark valley has God walked you through?

7. We often associate a rod and staff as tools of discipline. How can it be comforting to be disciplined?

8. How have you experienced God's goodness and love this past week?

For personal growth: One of the problems with sheep is that they're headstrong. They go their own way even if that means they're heading straight into danger. They'll eat poisonous weeds even as their shepherd is leading them into lush green pastures. How often do you do the sme thing? Do you go your own way too? Has that ever worked for you? What is it about you that makes it hard to trust in God's leading? Might it be pride? Do you think you can do better on your own? What will it take to get you to completely surrender to God's leading?

For the good of the group: Vs 5 speaks of anointing with oil. Generally this was done to keep flies and pests away but oil was also used for treating wounds. From what has God healed you? 

Strong Faith Week 1

Dear Ladies,

     It's so encouraging to me that God didn't tie this book up in a nice little bow. I love that Jonah stayed imperfect. I think I would have hated it if Jonah ended with chapter 3. Don't get me wrong. It would have made a nice little story. 

               Once upon a time, Jonah ran away from God. But God didn't let Jonah run away forever. 

               He came to Jonah's rescue and used him to save Nineveh. And they all lived happily

                ever after, THE END!

     Except that's not the end at all. There's a fourth chapter for a reason. I won't speak for the rest of you, but I claim chapter 4 for myself because I am just as broken as Jonah was. Even with all the grace God has given me I do not like it when good things happen to bad people. Make no mistake ladies, Nineveh was bad people. Sadly I'm bad people too. That's why I get so tickled when I see how God uses flawed people to accomplish His work. 

     Seems like it would be so much easier to do things Himself. But look who He chooses. Noah drank,Thomas doubted,Peter sank and Jonah pouted. He sat outside the city with a full head of steam going.  More than once! He was mad when Nineveh repented and then he lost his cool when his shade disappeared. And still God used him and loved him and preserved him in Scripture for eternity. There's hope for me yet. 

          Love, as always,Renée 

Now on to this week's study ( and a whole new study it is) We're going to cruise through different psalms until it gets too cold for us to keep walking

Read Psalm 91

Memory verse 91:2 I will say of the Lord He is my safeguard and my fortress, my God in whom I trust

1. It's funny how our lessons tie in together. One of the last things we read in Jonah was about God providing and then removing a shade plant for Jonah. What do you think it feels like to be in God's shadow?

2. In vs 3 it says He will save you from the fowler's snare. What types of things trap or ensnare you?

3. The image of being sheltered under wings is a common thread woven through scripture. Describe a time when you needed God's protection. 

4. What kind of things do you fear?

5. Is it comforting to read the words "It will not come over you"? Why or why not?

6. When you were last truly frightened and/or watching your world crumbling around you did it feel like you could cling to the thought that God was your refuge? If not- what got in the way?

7. Can you describe a time when you felt invincible because God stood with you?

8. God tells us in these last few verses that when we call on Him,  He answers. How would you explain this to someone who does not know God's love?

For personal growth: This Psalm is all about God's protective watchcare over those He loves. As amazing as that sounds, we wouldn't need an army of God's angels if we weren't heading into life's battles. How prepared are you to face what's coming? Are you battle ready? ( see Eph 6 re: holy armor) Do you trust that God loves you enough to protect you as He promises? What battle scars do you carry 

that might hinder your ability to give God the full measure of your trust? Are you willing to ask Him to remove any barriers that stand between you and Him? 

For the good of the group? How can we pray for you to fully embrace God's promise of protection?

Jonah Week 3

Dear ladies,

     I would like to dispel doubt. It's easy for us to believe that a fish couldn't swallow a man or that even if it could the man would never survive. Well hello Google!!  I actually found news accounts of  men being swallowed by whales, one of which occurred at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. 

    Even without Google we have at least 2 reasons to believe. First our God is capable of anything. After speaking all of creation into a existence a fish with a man-sized belly is small potatoes. Second, Jesus spoke of this as though it was an actual historical event. If He believed it- I  believe it. 

    Whether or not you believe the fish was real, there can be no doubt that Jonah's repentance was real. He accepted that death was coming soon, and used his dying moments to cry out to God, and to acknowledge the hope that can only come from Him. Verse 4 said " I have been banished from your sight yet (don't you just love that word) yet I will look again toward your temple."

     I know it's not easy to find hope in the midst of life's struggles, but ladies, that's when we need it most. And if Jonah could find reasons to praise God while being carried to the ocean floor with seaweed wrapped around his neck, perhaps we could look a little harder. Pray for God to give you a heart that beats for Him, as it breaks over your current circumstance. Be like Jonah. "I cried out to you Lord, and you answered". We have no better place to turn. 

     Love, as always, Renée 

Now on to this week's lesson

Read Jonah 3

Memory verse: 3:5. The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed. 

1. Think back a few chapters. What was the cost of Jonah's disobedience?

2. If it was your decision to make would you have given Jonah a second chance? Why or why not?

3. Has God ever given you a second chance? Describe the circumstances. 

4. God didn't just forgive Jonah. He restored him and chose him to deliver His message to the Ninevites. What do you think that felt like for Jonah?

5. Was Jonah's waiting time in the fish punitive or instructive and what was the effect that time had  on Jonah?

6. What was God's message for The Ninevites and how did they respond to His words?

7. What would change in your life if you thought you only had 40 days left?

8. How can you be certain that the Ninevites repentance was genuine?

For personal growth: This passage beautifully illustrates repentance and restoration. Is there something in your life that you know displeases God? What makes you want to continue clinging to it? What are the barriers to repentance? How far are you willing to go to humble yourself before God? Once you became willing to humble your heart, what was it like to experience the restorative powers of God's grace?

For the good of the group: how much more wickedness do you think God will tolerate from our nation before He gives us a 40 day count down? 

Jonah Week 2

Dear ladies,

     In this first chapter in Jonah we see two completely different mindsets. On the one hand there's Jonah. He clearly knows who God is, clearly heard what God asked of him, and just as clearly chose to go his own way. On the other hand we have a whole crew of sailors. They knew only enough about God to be afraid, but not enough to be obedient. They knew His power but not the power of His love. In the end they were all literally in the same sinking ship. 

     Just as there's two different views of God in this passage, there are two different responses to Him. The sailors only had fear. They didn't know God. They didn't know that God doesn't wipe people off the face of the earth for personal gain or entertainment. Their response to God was to beg for mercy and hope for the best. Perhaps if they begged and bribed their way into His favor things might still work out. Their fears were confirmed as they contemplated Jonah. If God was this angry at one of His own people what hope would there ever be for them?

     And then there's Jonah. He trusted God's loving nature enough to sleep through a raging storm. That trust shows in the way he accepted the penalty for his disobedience. He understood that sin comes with a cost and he was willing to accept the price, even if it meant death. He allowed himself to be sacrificed to save the others on board that ship. He knew God and trusted in His fairness. 

       Ladies,  sometimes God calms the storm, but only sometimes. More often He lets the storm rage and calms the child.  Clearly the better choice would have been obedience right from the start, but it took the storm to bring Jonah to the place that we meet him in this week's lesson. So this is where we move forward. 

      Love, as always, Renée 

Now on to this week's lesson

Read Jonah 1:17-2:10

Memory verse 2:2 He said " in my distress I cried out to the Lord and He answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called out and you listened to my cry"

1. Why do you think God provided the fish for Jonah?

2. What was Jonah's response to his new accommodations?

3. Jonah is quick to acknowledge that God is responsible for his trip overboard, because he deserved it. How likely is it that you rightly identify the cause of your misery?

4. When has God used someone else or some circumstance to change your heart to make it align with His will? 

5. How long do you think it took Jonah to pray as he did in this chapter? How long would it have taken to bring you to a place of humble acceptance?

6. Which verse or verses in Jonah's prayer mean the most to you personally? Explain your choice.

7. Where do you find hope and encouragement?

8. In verse 8 Jonah says that those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God's love for them. Do you think this was a judgement of the sailors? Why or why not?

For personal growth: what worthless idols do you cling to? What is it that takes up the greater part of your time and energy? What occupies your first waking thoughts and/or your last before going to sleep? What might God be asking you to let go? What needs to change in your life in order for Him to occupy His rightful place in your heart? 

For the good of the group: it's not clear how long it took Jonah to come to repentance but God's response was restoration. Can you tell of a time when He restored you? 

Jonah Week 1

Dear Ladies,

     What a journey this has been as we've spent the last 12 weeks delving into the Sermon on the Mount. Who could have imagined where this would take us? This past week was no exception. 

      I really love this lesson because Jesus makes it so simple. He once again explains what holy living looks like and then leaves His audience with a choice- take it or leave it. This is still our choice today. We can either continue on the broad smooth path that leads to destruction or we can accept Christ's invitation to join Him in Heaven. 

     It's not easy. Jesus promises that few find their way. So I ask you this question that I often ask myself. How confident are you, how confident am I, that that you and I are heading the right way? If you are in doubt I encourage you to speak with one of the pastors, with one of the elders or with me about how you can be certain that God is who He says He is and can do what He says He can do. I want all doubt to be erased. I can promise you that I've walked down quite a few wrong roads, and made choices that didn't honor God and yet Jesus( aren't those the sweetest words my friends- and yet Jesus) in full love, set me back on the right path. Sing it with me "I once was lost but now I'm found". Ladies, let Him find you too. 

     I love how our next study so perfectly illustrates God at work, loving His wayward child Jonah back onto the right path. He did it for Jonah like He continues to do it for each of us. I can't wait to explore this new book with each of you. 

             Love, as always, Renée 

Now on to this week's lesson

Read Jonah 1:1-16

Memory verse 1:9 He answered " I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of Heaven, who made the sea and dry land"

1. A little history here. What does this passage tell you about who Jonah is? List as many facts or conclusions you came to after reading this chapter. 

2. It's easy to point out Jonah's failures. What are his admirable traits and which of these do you share with him?

3. And now a little geography. We aren't told where Jonah is from, but we do know  where God asked him to go and where he chose to go.  Find the following 3 places on a map - Joppa, Nineveh and Tarshish. About how far is Nineveh from Tarshish?

4. How do we know that Jonah knew exactly from whom he was running ? 

5. What's the farthest you ever ran from God and what was the outcome?

6. What was the sailor's response to the storm and how does that compare with your response to life's storms?

7. Jonah told the sailors exactly what they needed to do to calm the storm. Why were they hesitant?

8. How likely is it that's any of these men grew to follow the one true God? Would that experience have been enough to convince you?

For personal growth: when chaos was breaking loose on board the ship Jonah was sound asleep below deck. So not only did he deliberately disobey God, it seems that he was at complete peace doing so. When you choose to disobey, how does that sit with you ?

Are you able to sleep at night? How drastic are the measures that God used to bring you back into obedience?  As we look at the potential risk to a full crew of sailors- how big would the fallout have been from your disobedience. Have you thanked God for protecting you and those who may have been affected by your poor choices?

For the good of the group: Jonah allowed himself to be thrown overboard not knowing the outcome. How well do you accept God's discipline?