CT Bible Study: Service Rooted in Grace


©2010 Christianity Today International ChristianBibleStudies.com
Used by permission.

Scripture: Psalm 46:1–11; 51:1–6; Luke 10:38–42; James 1:19–27
Based on: “Born Again … Again,” by Chris Rice, Christianity Today,
March 2010

We cannot change the world without changed hearts.

Evangelical Christianity has long
been a faith for activists. From
William Wilberforce to Chuck
Colson, Bible-believing Christians
have sought to change the world for Christ through
works of evangelism, ministry to the poor, and cultural engagement. We
have aggressively used the tools of modern technology and marketing
to confront people with the gospel and its implications in all of society.
Such activism undeniably has blessed the needy and opened hearts to
God’s message.

However, there is an unavoidable downside to all this activism:
Sometimes we have become so caught up in changing others that we
neglect our own hearts. Driven by our kingdom-inspired visions, we
become blind to our own failings. Such blindness, which doesn’t come
upon us all at once, makes us forget who we are—sinners saved by
grace—and, more importantly, who God is. It is a blindness that also
makes us deaf to his transforming voice. No longer close to our Savior,
we plunge on, not noticing the people we trample upon along the way.
We need a fresh start. We need to be born again … again.

Part 1 Identify the Current Issue
Note to leader : Provide each person with “Born Again … Again,” from
Chr i s t iani t y To d a y, included at the end of this study.
Chris Rice and Spencer Perkins were on a holy crusade to change evangelical hearts and
minds about race. These godly men wanted fellow believers to break down racial divides
that still plague the church so that the body of Christ can more closely reflect the prayer of
Jesus: “that they may be one.” There was just one problem: Chris and Spencer were getting
to the point where they couldn’t stand one another. Rice admits: “At the same time that my
African American colleague, Spencer Perkins, and I were traveling the nation preaching
about reconciliation, we could hardly sit at the same dinner table at home, where our families
shared daily life in an intentional Christian community called Antioch. The long friendship
and partnership that we had forged in Reconcilers Fellowship, a national ministry we cofounded,
was on the verge of breaking up.”
It’s an old story. Personal strife has broken up more than one missionary team or
congregation. There is an old saying that applies to this lamentable truth: “I love humanity;
it’s people I can’t stand.” We know that such strife and animosity in our lives and ministries
are ungodly and unacceptable. But in the midst of doing good, how do we become good?

Discussion Starters:[
Q] Without naming names, describe a time when you faced interpersonal conflict in a
church or ministry situation. What caused the problem, and how did you handle it?
[Q] Would you describe yourself as more activist or as more contemplative? Explain.
[Q] Which causes really stoke your kingdom passion?
[Q] Do you have a spirit that readily forgives, or one that secretly “keeps score”?
Part 2 Discover the Eternal Principles

Teaching Point One: God gives us strength and courage amid every
storm of life.

Chris Rice and Spencer Perkins and their related ministries were doing good work.
Unfortunately, both men were facing burnout—with regard to both their relationship and
their ministry. Problems seemed too big and long-lasting. “While Reconcilers Fellowship
was vibrant, in my eyes the Antioch community had shriveled up inside,” Rice says. “We were riddled by unresolved relational difficulties, financial stress, and constant and
intensifying busyness. I could no longer live with joy and excitement in one sphere and
discouragement and hopelessness in the other. Nor could my wife, Donna. I was striving
to make a national impact, but that wasn’t enough anymore.”
They were soon to discover that busyness is not the sum total of the Christian life—even
for a godly cause. In working for God, they had lost the ability to hear from God. As a
result, their ministries suffered, as did their experience of God and fellowship with one
another. Looking at the problems that swirled all about them, they neglected to see the
Solution.

They may have been able to learn from ancient Israel, who was God’s chosen nation
and should have faced the future with confidence. But, perched on a strategic land route
between pagan superpowers, the people were tempted to fear what might happen. This
psalm counsels confidence, not in the nation’s goodness or strength, but in God.

Read Psalm 46:1–11.
[Q] In verse 1, how is God described and what pictures do these words inspire?
[Q] Verses 2–3 say we should not fear. How do verses 4–9 help calm our fears when
facing life’s challenges?
[Q] What do verses 10–11 tell us about the balance between activism and
contemplation?
Optional Activity: Pass out copies of Mar tin Luther ’s great hymn,
“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” and sing or read it together. Ask each
member to share which verses or sections are especially meaningful at
this particular time in their lives.

Teaching Point Two: We progress in the Christian life when we see
our sin as first and foremost against a holy God.

Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice had crystal-clear views of one another’s sin. Two friends,
John and Judy Alexander, tried to reconcile them, but it wasn’t easy. “Our old wounds
spilled back into the room—all the painful residue of renegotiating leadership roles,
our very different styles, the constant submitting to each other,” Rice writes. “My long
struggle with being jealous of Spencer was always a card he could play. We each held
tightly to our ‘lists’: ‘You did this to me’; ‘Well, you did that to me.’ John said the problem
between me and Spencer was mostly about me. I didn’t want to hear that. My list about
Spencer was too long, too full of truth. I was tired of such an intense life together. Tired of living in a culture of demanding so much from myself and others. Tired of being tired.
And all I wanted to do was to win.” What they lacked was a clear understanding of their
own sin—which would have softened their hearts toward one another.
They could have learned from David, who had sinned against Uriah, Bathsheba, and an
unnamed male child. Only at the prompting of the prophet Nathan did he come clean (2
Samuel 12:1–14). Psalm 56 represents his cry for forgiveness and restoration from God.

Read Psalm 51:1–6.
[Q] In verse 1, David asks for mercy and the removal of his sins on the basis of God’s
love and compassion. When we seek God’s forgiveness, what do we bring to the table?
[Q] In verse 2, David asks for cleansing from his sin. What exactly is he asking for?
How would he know when he has it?
[Q] In verses 3–5, the king confesses his sins. Who, primarily, is the offended party (v.
4)?
[Q] How does a solid understanding of our sinfulness and God’s righteousness affect
how we treat and view others?
[Q] God rejoices in us owning up to our sin and promises to teach us wisdom (v. 6).
How do the two go together?
[Q] How can we apply that wisdom in our relationships and ministries?
Optional Activity: Take time for reflection: What sins do you need to
confess and forsake? What wisdom do you need to live differently?

Teaching Point Three: Sitting at the feet of Jesus is better than
anxious service.

Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice were confronted with their need to give grace to each
other—to not only be saved by grace, but also to live by grace. Part of that grace involves
a kind of letting go and trusting God, of not thinking that the results of our efforts are
up to us. “I hope I have become as radical about receiving the gift of Sabbath as I am
about pursuing justice,” Rice says now. “I remain deeply committed to being shaped by
Jesus’ story of the Samaritan who crosses social and racial divides to offer hospitality to
the other (Luke 10:25–37). Yet I have also sought to be like Mary of Bethany in the story
that immediately follows: She ‘wasted time’ listening at Jesus’ feet (‘the one thing needful,’
he said) while her sister, Martha, slaved away doing good deeds in a world of everpressing
needs (vv. 38–42).”

Read this account in Luke 10:38–42.
[Q] In verses 41–42, Jesus gives the unexpected answer and gently rebuffs Martha,
saying her sister has chosen more wisely. Sometimes the truth hurts. How does his
answer make you feel?
[Q] Why did Mary make the right choice and how should her choice to “be still”
guide us in our ministries?
[Q] Do you have a good balance between reflection and activism? If not, why not,
and how can you make better choices?

Teaching Point Four: Hearing the Word and doing it go together.
Nothing in this study should discount the necessity of Christian activism. We always face
the danger of going too far in the other direction and falling into a passive faith. But our
activism must be balanced—even preceded—by a grace-filled, vital walk with Christ. We
must listen to him so that we will be able to rightly help others, as well as ourselves. As
Rice says, “rather than starting with activism—‘What should we do?’—grace calls us first
to slow down and start with God’s gift of lament: to see, name, and feel the brokenness.”
We see this kind of inner and outer balance in James 1:19–27.

[Q] Three commands are given in verse 19. Which ones deal with actions, and which
with attitudes?
[Q] How might verse 20 bring balance to our life when we are involved in Christian
activism?
[Q] How could verse 21 help us as we are involved in Christian activism?
[Q] What is the point of the “man in the mirror” illustration (23–25)?
[Q] List the hallmarks of true religion (v. 26–27). How many are internal and how
many are external? Which kind do you find more difficult to practice? Why?

Part 3 Apply Your Findings
Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice launched an activist ministry promoting racial reconciliation,
and through prayer and hard work they began to see encouraging signs of progress in churches.
But amid the daily pressure, stress, and busyness, these two godly men found that they needed
personal reconciliation. They needed not more action but more reflection. So instead of keeping
lists of how each had been offended by the other, they began to live in a new way, offering grace
to one another.
“We decided to replace a culture of demands with a culture of grace,” says Rice. “Spencer said it
felt like going back to kindergarten—learning a new language and new practices. For us, ‘telling
the truth’ had come to mean telling the church and each other how they needed to change. But
now we saw that the greatest truth was telling and showing each other how much God loves us.”
This study attempts to help us find the balance between activism and reflection, arguing that
reflecting on God’s Word will enable us to discover the spiritual resources to begin living that
life of grace. When we do, we will see, first, that God gives us strength and courage amid every
storm of life. Second, we will understand that progress in the Christian life comes when we see
our sin as first and foremost against a holy God. Third, we will grasp that sitting at the feet of
Jesus is better than anxious service. Fourth, we will begin to appropriate the truth that hearing
the Word and doing it go together.

Action Points:
• This week, get up half an hour early (or go to bed 30 minutes later) to
reflect on each of the four scriptural passages in this study, one per day.
On the fifth day, choose a passage of your own. Use a pen and notebook
to record your thoughts and questions for God. Jot down what he might be
telling you, par ticularly with regard to your ministry commitments. What
changes, internally and externally, is he asking you to make? Then discuss
this with a trusted and mature friend.
• Ask God to show you someone to whom you must apologize. Then go do it.

— Stan Guthrie is author of Missions in the Third Millennium: 21 Key Trends
for the 21st Century and of the forthcoming All That Jesus Asks: How His
Questions Can Teach and Transform Us (Baker). A CT editor at large, he
writes a column for BreakPoint.org and blogs at stanguthrie.com.

Recommended Resources
¿ Check out the following Bible studies at: ChristianBibleStudies.com.
¿ Knowing God J. I. Packer, author of the book Knowing God, says that seeking God’s
truth “enlarges the soul because it tunes into the greatness of God.” In this study, he
tells how to shrink the self and exalt God, and how to practice repentance. Other
articles discuss finding time for intimacy with God and involving both the heart and
mind in the search for God.
¿ Essentials in Knowing God This 10-session Bible study will deepen your
relationship with God by focusing on him and discovering what he is like. This course
will also teach you how to repent, find forgiveness, and get rid of guilt. Finally, it will
help you fill your prayer life with joy and beauty.
¿ Who Is God? This 12-session Bible study will help you think realistically and
practically about who God is. It will help you understand what the Scriptures have to
say about him, and how to make him a part of your daily experience.
¨ More Than Equals: Racial Healing, by Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice (IVP, 2000).
When Spencer Perkins was 16 years old, he visited his bloodied and swollen father
(pastor John Perkins) in jail. Police had beaten the black activist severely, and Spencer
never forgot the moment. He couldn’t imagine living in community with a white person
after that. But his plans were changed. Chris Rice grew up in very different circumstances,
of “Vermont Yankee stock,” attending an elite Eastern college and looking forward to a
career in law and government. But his plans were changed. Spencer and Chris became
not only friends, but yokefellows—partners for more than a decade in the difficult
ministry of racial reconciliation. From their own hard-won experience, they show that
there is hope for our frightening race problem, that whites and African-Americans can
live together in peace.
¨ Shaking the System: What I Learned from the Great American Reform Movements, by
Tim Stafford (IVP, 2007). Working to make the world better is an American tradition
that goes back hundreds of years. Stafford examines reform movements of the last two
centuries—including the abolitionist, temperance, suffrage, and civil rights campaigns—
highlighting principles to guide Christian activists today. Discover how to prevent
burnout, avoid violence, and engage in practical and ethical politics.
¨ The Pursuit of God, by A.W. Tozer (Wingspread, N.D.). In the muddle of day-today
life, have you somehow forgotten that Christianity is a living, vibrant relationship
with a personal God? In this classic bestseller and recipient of both the ECPA Gold
and Platinum Book Awards, The Pursuit of God reminds and challenges you to renew
your relationship with your loving God. In each of the 10 chapters, Tozer explains one
aspect of hungering for God and ends with a prayer.
¨ The Attributes of God, Book and Study Guide, by A.W. Tozer (Wingspread, N.D.).
What is God like? With profound spiritual insight and solid biblical guidance, Tozer
examines 20 attributes that reveal God’s essential nature.
¿ Christianity Today’s special online section about racial reconciliation is available
at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/special/racialreconciliation.html.
¿ “Ethnic Harvest: Resources for Multicultural Ministry” is available at http://www
.ethnicharvest.org/index.htm.

I apologize for the formatting problems with this study, which is available for your private use. If you would like to use it in a group, please purchase it at the CT Bible Studies website.

About Stan Guthrie

Stan Guthrie is an editor at large for Christianity Today magazine and for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. His latest book is God's Story in 66 Verses. He also is author of All that Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us, Missions in the Third Millennium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century, and A Concise Guide to Bible Prophecy. He is co-author of The Sacrament of Evangelism. Besides authoring, writing, and editing books, Stan is a literary agent, bringing together good authors, good books, and good publishers. Stan writes the monthly Priorities colum for BreakPoint.org. He has appeared on National Public Radio's €œTell Me More,€ WGN's Milt Rosenberg program, and many Christian shows, including The Eric Metaxas Show and Moody Radio'€™s €œNew Day Florida.€ A licensed minister and an inspirational speaker, he served as moderator for the Christian Book Expo panel discussion, Does the God of Christianity Exist, and What Difference Does It Make?
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