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Join us every First Wednesday of the month as we journey through the book "Invitation" by Brian D. Russel

First Wednesday consists of a time of dinner starting at 5pm till 6:30pm. Following Dinner from 6:45pm-7:15pm we will have a time of family worship and prayer. We then will breakout into groups, CF Kids, Impact Students, and CF Adults for guided study sessions based off of the Invitation book. We then invite you during the weeks in-between each First Wednesday to take part in the At-Home sessions that you will find right here on this page, and do them during your devotional time, family time, or set up a coffee time with your friends and do it together. The purpose of this study is not only to invite into a deeper understanding of God's word and story, but to also encourage you to invite others into a conversation about faith and growth. So come with us on this journey, you are Invited!

Before you begin here is an overview of the Bible (From the Book "Invitation" By: Brian D. Russel)

INTRODUCTION
Life is a story. Each of our lives tells a story and intersects with the stories of others. All of our stories weave together into the complex tapestries that form the human story. God desires to shape and transform all of these tapestries into a beautiful grand tapestry that points the world to God’s goodness and love. To serve this purpose, God speaks to us through Scripture. Followers of Jesus call their Scriptures “the Bible,” which means “The Book.” The Bible is God’s gift to us. The Bible narrates a story. It is the story of God’s plans and actions for humanity and all creation. It includes God’s perspective on the world as God intended at creation, how it is today, and how it will be in the future. Some people think of the Bible as an answer book. But this can be misleading if we expect the Bible to answer every conceivable question we may want to ask. I think of it more as a book of questions that God wants us to ask of ourselves. If we read and ponder the Bible carefully, it will ask us questions and shape us with its answers. Since the beginnings of the Christ-following movement, God’s people have read the Old and New Testaments as sacred Scripture. The biblical story proclaims a counter-story to every other human story. It engages every human culture and works to realign those cultures with the will and purposes of God. It does this by intersecting with our stories at key points but then offering a crossroads to lead us into the new story that God desires to write through us. The question for us is this: What story primarily shapes our life? This is a question that we must continually reflect upon as we read the Bible. But first let’s look briefly at the broad contours of God’s story in the Bible. The rest of this introduction will provide a snapshot of the Bible’s content and a broad outline of how this study will proceed. The Bible contains the story of God’s purposes for humanity and the world. It can be summarized in six movements: creation, the fall, Israel, Jesus the Messiah, the church, and the new creation. 

 

Creation 
The biblical story begins with God’s creation of a very good world (Gen. 1–2). This is an important beginning. The world that we find ourselves in today is not the world as God originally intended. God’s original creation is a place of wonder and goodness. It is not fractured by violence or any form of evil. Instead, God fashions a place of abundance, beauty, and justice. As God creates, he evaluates his handiwork as “very good” (Gen. 1:31). God fills this earth with plants and living creatures. God creates humanity as a community of women and men to serve as his hands, feet, and mouthpieces—his ambassadors to and stewards of creation. Remember this: God created us for his mission. The Bible emphasizes the importance of men and women in God’s plans by declaring that God has crafted all humanity in the very image of God. The invisible Creator desires to manifest his character and plans through the lives of the human community. In the beginning, humanity lives in a garden of abundance and experiences harmonious relationships between humanity and God, between humanity and creation, and between women and men. This is Eden and life as God intended it. 

 

The Fall 
But the biblical epic takes a pivotal turn in Genesis 3–11. In these chapters, humans choose their own way over God’s. The Bible calls this sin. Sin exists because God allowed for its possibility. Authentic relationships require choices. God did not create robots when he made us. God desires humanity to live eternally in communion with him. This is the highest and best purpose for all people, but God did not compel the first humans to obey (nor does he compel us). In the stories of these chapters, humanity chooses to live outside the boundaries of God’s purposes. This choice has profound implications. It fractures the created order and causes a breach in the harmony of creation. Humanity falls short as stewards of creation and in its role of embodying the invisible God to creation. These stories teach that humanity has lost its way. But God does not give up on his creation. Rather, God responds by reaching out to bring healing and reconciliation to creation. The bulk of the biblical story is the narrative of God’s mission to redeem and restore a lost humanity and broken creation. God’s goal is to make it “very good” again. 


 

Israel: The People of God 
Israel’s Ancestors The remainder of the biblical story narrates God’s solution to the problem of a lost humanity and fractured creation. In the rest of the Old Testament, God calls forth a new humanity (Israel) to serve as his special people and as agents of God’s blessings to the nations. The story of Israel begins with Abram (later Abraham) in Genesis 12. God chooses to use a family to initiate his plan of salvation. God’s mission will advance through Abram’s descendants. He calls Abram and his wife, Sarai (later Sarah), out of the context and turmoil of Genesis 3–11 to be the first family of a new humanity through whom God will bless all nations (Gen. 12:3). He blesses them so that they can be a blessing to the world. This will be a pattern throughout the Bible’s story. An encounter with God’s graciousness is always a commission to God’s mission. It will be through Abram and his descendants that God’s mission of salvation will reach its climax. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus will serve as the fullest expression of God’s mission that begins with Abram (see Matt. 1:1). But we are getting ahead of the story. God calls Abram and Sarai to migrate to a new promised land: Canaan. God gives Abram a new name: Abraham. God then gives Abraham and Sarai a promised son, Isaac, in their old age. God’s blessings flow to Isaac, who has two sons, Esau and Jacob. The mission of God moves forward through Jacob’s side of the family. Jacob’s twelve sons give the names to the twelve tribes who will soon become the nation of Israel. Late in life Jacob and his entire family migrate to Egypt during a time of famine. 
-Deliverance from Egypt Israel lives in Egypt initially as guests, but soon Egypt’s pharaohs enslave God’s people and thwart God’s mission to bless the nations through Israel. This oppression sets the stage for God’s fundamental actions of salvation in the Old Testament: God’s dramatic deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt, the establishment of covenant with his people at Sinai, and the return of his people to the promised land. God delivers his people from Egypt, the dominant superpower of the time, through a decisive demonstration of his power and ability to save. He does this as a means of revealing his name and glory to all the earth (Ex. 9:16). God shows himself to be incomparable to all other gods (Ex. 15:11) and the true King of all creation (Ex. 15:18). 
-Covenant at Sinai At Sinai (Exodus 19–Numbers 10:10),3 God reminds and recalls Israel to the mission given to Abraham: God’s people are to serve as a missional community that reflects his character in/to/for the nations and the world (Ex. 19:4–6). At Sinai, God invites his people into a special relationship that the ancient world called a covenant. In this covenant, God’s people agree to live out God’s ethic to the world. This ethic may be summarized as “Love God and love others.” God pledges himself to his people as their unique deity. God’s people will serve as his hands, feet, and mouthpieces in the world in the service of God’s mission to bless the nations. The bulk of Exodus–Deuteronomy describes how God’s people are to live to embody his character in the worship of God and in their relationships with one another before the eyes of the nations. These books also warn God’s people about the dangers of idolatry, injustice, and unfaithfulness to their fulfilling God’s mission in the world. 
-Promised Land, Kingship, Temple, and Exile The remainder of the Old Testament’s historical books (Joshua–Nehemiah) narrate the potential and pitfalls of living as God’s missional people in the world. God settles Israel in the land originally promised to Abraham. These books recount times of blessing in which God’s people are faithful to their covenantal commitments. High points include Joshua’s generation in settling the land, the rise of David and his kingdom, Solomon’s building of the temple in Jerusalem, the reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah, and the renewal of God’s people in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. But much of these books tell of the unfaithfulness of God’s people through their practices of idolatry and injustice. These practices ultimately cause the destruction of God’s temple in Jerusalem and the exile of God’s people to Babylon. This part of Israel’s story serves as a warning to future generations of God’s people. Faithfulness matters in God’s mission to bless the nations. Idolatry and injustice remain potent forces that compete with God’s desire for faithfulness. 

 

God’s Prophets

What is the meaning of the unfaithfulness of God’s people, and how does God react to it? God’s people are unable and often unwilling to live faithfully within his covenant. They turn away from their exclusive relationship with God by pursuing other gods and goddesses. They also practice injustice within the community and by mistreating outsiders. In response, God sends his prophets. The books of Judges through 2 Chronicles contain some stories and words of the prophets, but the prophetic books (Isaiah–Malachi) record the vast majority of the messages of the prophets. 
The prophets serve primarily to call God’s people to realign with their God-given mission of reflecting God’s character in, to, and for the world. The prophets address God’s people and demand them to return immediately to God’s ways. The prophets call God’s people back to the ethos and mission described for God’s people in Genesis–Deuteronomy. But the prophets also point forward to a future work of God in which God will usher in a new age of salvation. The prophets foresee a time in which God will act decisively to advance his mission to bless the nations, redeem humanity, and heal all creation. This new age will be known as the kingdom of God. Much of the expectation centers on visions of a messiah or descendant of David who will rise up and once again serve as king of God’s people. It is fitting that the Old Testament ends with the writings of the prophets, as they function as a natural bridge to the arrival of Jesus and his gospel of the kingdom. 

 

Jesus the Messiah 
The New Testament opens with Jesus announcing the arrival of the kingdom of God. This is the beginning of the new age of salvation envisioned by the prophets. The New Testament continually references and alludes to the Old Testament to make it clear that God’s new work in Jesus is an extension and fulfillment of the Old Testament. Jesus proclaims, teaches, and embodies the kingdom through his words and deeds. Jesus’ preaching and actions emphasize the kingdom’s openness to the marginalized among God’s people and even to foreigners. Jesus dies a sacrificial death by crucifixion for the sins, injustices, and suffering of the world. He dies as Israel’s messiah who lays down his life willingly for the sake of others. The cross is God’s answer to the brokenness, shame, and lostness of humanity and all creation. God vindicates Jesus’ life and death by raising him from the dead on the third day. Jesus’ resurrection announces God’s victory and ushers in the age of the church in anticipation of new creation. 

 

The Church 
Following his resurrection, Jesus sends his followers into the world to live as God’s missional community that reflects God’s character in, to, for the nations. The church goes out in the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s people serve as witnesses and clues to the reality of the kingdom of God. They proclaim the good news of God’s salvation and healing. The New Testament teaches the earliest Christians how to live as God’s people with the goal of extending God’s salvation to the world through the testimony of their words and lives. Each book offers reflection and instruction for living as God’s holy and missional people. The dominant ethic of the early church was a commitment to reaching others. Each church in the fledgling Christ-following movement was a kingdom outpost surrounded on all sides by competing religions and ideologies. The apostle Paul’s writings dominate the second half of the New Testament following the four Gospels and Acts. Paul is a central actor in the book of Acts. He epitomizes the “go to” ethos of the New Testament. Through the faithfulness of Paul and his companions, God propels the gospel across much of the Roman Empire. Paul and his associates start new churches and move on to the next place where the true God is not yet known. The writings of the New Testament take seriously the challenges of living as God’s people in a world that does not share or encourage the values of the gospel. Reading these books helps us today to understand and embody the good news of Jesus for the watching world. 

 

The New Creation 
The New Testament ends with a vision of a secure future in God’s new creation. All creation returns to relational wholeness and goodness. The New Testament does not lay out a precise road map or time line to this future. The New Testament’s visions of the future are not couched in some code that we can decipher, nor are they intended to give us a play-by-play description. They exist to encourage believers to remain faithful witnesses in the present in the full confidence that God’s desired future is secure and will be wonderful. Most of the New Testament books address the future in some way, but God’s good future dominates the overall vision of Revelation, the final book of the Bible. Just as the first two chapters of Genesis begin the Bible with a description of a very good creation, the final two chapters of Revelation bring the biblical story to a conclusion by describing the new creation as a new heaven and new earth. The abundance, goodness, peace, and justice of the original creation returns, and God is enthroned and recognized as Lord of creation while dwelling forever with God’s people. Creation is as God intended it, and humanity serves forever as God’s missional community that reflects God’s glory. This is the story that we will explore in greater detail. This is the story that God desires for us to use as an authoritative guide to live the life of God’s dreams. This is the story that will invite us to live as the people whom God has created us to be. We will now tell this story in more detail beginning with Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom.

INVITATION AT HOME

Over the next few weeks take part in these studies at your own pace with your families, during your quiet time, or join in with friends or fellow church family at a local coffee shop and do it together. By the time we come around to the next “First Wednesday” we will do a brief reflection on these first weeks before jumping into Session Two. So, we invite you to go deeper and to Invite others to come along with you!

 

Open every Study with this Prayer: God, I am here, ready to listen and receive all that you have for me. Astonish me with your Word. In Jesus’ name, amen!

 

Study One: Missional Community

Read Matthew 4:18–22 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.—Matthew 4:18–22

 

Core Truth: Following Jesus involves living as part of a community that guides and points others to God.

Jesus began his ministry by announcing God’s kingdom and calling his audience to realign with it. What does it look like to realign with God? Jesus begins to answer this in Matthew 4:18–22 by creating a new community that will embody the kingdom’s values. This new community begins with two sets of brothers: Simon Peter and Andrew, and James and John, the sons of Zebedee. It is important for us to understand and see that the value and importance of community is embedded in the DNA of God’s kingdom. We were created for community. Following Jesus involves being part of the new humanity that lives for God’s kingdom.

 

Missional Community as Clues to the Kingdom

God’s people on mission serve corporately as clues to the reality of the kingdom. In the New Testament book of Philippians, Paul uses a powerful metaphor to describe how a missional community manifests the kingdom in the world, to the world, and for the world. In Philippians 2:15, he describes how God’s people shine forth like stars. This is a rich image. Imagine the stars on the darkest of nights when you are far from the lights of any city. How do they appear? They leap off the fabric of the sky and radiate brightly. For millennia, humans have used the stars for guidance and to tell stories. Sailors have navigated their vessels by way of the stars. Storytellers have found pictures outlined by groupings of stars in order to narrate memorable tales. When Paul talks about shining like stars, he is reminding the Philippian Christians that their words and actions tell a story. Individual followers of Jesus serve as clues to the kingdom of God. The beauty of community is the possibility for enough clues to group together to point to the deepest truths about God’s love and desire to bless the world.

 

Questions for Reflection

How is your current understanding of the church challenged or stretched by the biblical emphasis on community?

 

Who currently walks with you in your journey with God into the world on mission? Who needs to join you?

 

Close with a prayer of thanksgiving and direction. (If you are with family, or a group, ask if there is anything that you all can pray for, for one another, and include those prayer concerns in your closing prayer)

 

 

 

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Study Two: The Mission and the Kingdom

Read Matthew 4:19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”—Matthew 4:19

 

Core Truth: The call to follow Jesus is a commission to serve as God’s agents of blessing for the world.

When Jesus calls his first followers into his new community, he immediately initiates them into his mission. He calls them from their vocation of fishing to become part of a movement that will multiply itself by extending God’s blessings to others. Notice the words that Jesus uses to call his initial disciples: “‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people’” (Matt. 4:19). This text is vital for understanding what it means to be part of God’s people. God’s mission is central to the meaning of true spirituality. God’s people are a community that exists for a purpose greater than itself. God’s people are a missional community whose vocation is to share the good news of God’s kingdom with the world.

 

Mission as Central to Following Jesus

Much of Christianity today has lost its connection to God’s mission. We are more likely to hear about following Jesus as a means of going to heaven than we are to hear about following Jesus into the world to extend God’s blessings to others. If we want to recapture the original power of the Christ-following movement, we must reconnect spirituality and mission. We are blessed to be a blessing to others.

Following Jesus is a commission to mission. There is no waiting period before a disciple becomes a maker of disciples. It is significant to recognize that as soon as the brothers answer Jesus’ call, they are now part of Jesus’ mission.

Jesus’ words “follow me” also imply movement. Following Jesus is not an abstract intellectual pursuit. It is not detached from the world. It involves a moment-by-moment relationship with Jesus. Jesus models movement in the way he lived. As we read the Gospels, we will discover that Jesus moves from place to place and manifests the power and good news of the kingdom wherever he goes. Jesus teaches his disciples about God’s mission by engaging them in his mission. Mission is about multiplying God’s blessings to others. Jesus’ mission includes shaping and forming new followers into people who can bless others while extending the kingdom to those yet to experience it.

As we think about what it means to follow Jesus today, it is vital for us to recognize the centrality of mission. Jesus calls us so that we can be an extension of his mission. He invites us into relationship so that he can send us out to invite others. He blesses us so that we can bless others. When we follow Jesus, we function as Jesus’ hands, feet, and mouthpieces in the world. We are clues that point to him.

 

Questions for Reflection

How does Jesus’ call to mission cause you to realign your understanding of the meaning of a spiritual life?

 

Who are the people in your life that God desires for you to serve and bless as God has blessed you

Close with a prayer of thanksgiving and direction. (If you are with family, or a group, ask if there is anything that you all can pray for, for one another, and include those prayer concerns in your closing prayer)

 

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Study Three: God’s GPS for Living

Read Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. —Psalm 119:105

 

Core Truth: Mission, community, and holiness are three core themes that serve to guide us through the Bible as God’s GPS: Global Mission, Persons in Community, and Spirit-Transformed (holiness).

Jesus calls those of us living today to respond to the good news of the kingdom by realigning continually with his words and life as we find them in Scripture. In fact, Jesus’ call to realign invites us to go back to the beginning of the Bible and read it from Genesis to Revelation as a journey of realignment.

What does the journey of realignment entail? What sort of life do the Scriptures imagine for us? How do we read them in a way that allows the scriptural story to transform rather than to merely inform? Life is a journey, and the Bible is our authoritative guide to living as the people whom God created us to be. So, the questions become: How do we get to where God wants us to be? What does the life of God’s dreams for us look like? In the modern world, when we take a journey, we have tools to help get us there. We can use maps. Many of us also use GPS navigational technology. GPS technology depends on the use of a series of satellites orbiting earth. As long as the traveler is able to triangulate his position with three available satellites, GPS systems are able to guide him to his final destination. They lead us by locating our position and continually realigning our movement so that we make it safely to the desired location. Airlines and ocean freighters use the technology as well. Remarkably, while in route, planes and ships using GPS are at any given moment slightly off course. But the GPS continually recalculates the position, and the vessels are able to realign so that they end up safely where they are intending to go. Even in our cars, if we miss a turn or move in an unexpected way, our GPS recalculates our position and makes adjustments to our route in order to find the next best way to arrive at where we are going. The Bible is the map to the life of God’s dreams for us. But how do we figure out how to use it? Wouldn’t it be great if there were a GPS for reading the Bible? We’ve already described the Bible as God’s story. It is a story that seeks to shape us to live as God’s people. Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom is nothing more and nothing less than a reaffirmation of this intention. When we talk about a continual realigning of our lives with the values and ethics of the kingdom, we are talking about tapping into the navigational system that God has given us in the Bible.

 

GPS for the Bible

We need a GPS system because God’s story is about advancing the gospel. Jesus creates a movement. The gospel is always moving to bless those who do not yet know God. As Jesus’ followers, Jesus calls us to follow him into the world (see Matt. 16:24; 28:18–20). Since we are moving, just like an airliner or ship with GPS, we will need to make ongoing realignments in order to stay on track to where Jesus is leading us.

G = God’s mission (mission)

P = Persons in community (community)

S = Spirit-transformed (holiness)

Let’s Go Further:

 

Here are some questions that we will use to help us in our journey through the Scriptures:

Global Mission Followers: How does this text shape our understanding of God’s mission in the world? How do we need to change to embody this mission for the world around us? Seekers: What sort of world is this text inviting me to spend my life working to create? What would my life look like if I joined this mission?

Persons in Community Followers: How does this text envision the corporate life of God’s people? How do God’s people need to change in order to embody the portrait of community assumed by this text? 27 God’s GPS for Living Seekers: What type of community is this text inviting me to explore? How is this text inviting me to participate in a community that exists for something greater than my own wants and desires?

Spirit-Transformed Followers: What sort of person do I need to become in order to live out this text? How do God’s people need to change in order to more profoundly reflect the character of God? Seekers: What type of lifestyle/character is this text inviting me to embody? How would my life be enriched by aligning my character with the vision of this text?

 

Questions for Reflection

Describe your current understanding of the themes of mission, community, and holiness (GPS).

In what ways do you need to grow in mission, community, and holiness to become the person God created you to be

Close with a prayer of thanksgiving and direction. (If you are with family, or a group, ask if there is anything that you all can pray for, for one another, and include those prayer concerns in your closing prayer)

 

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Study Four: A Holy Missional Community

Read Matthew 4:18–22 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.—Matthew 4:18–22

What words or themes stuck out to you in this reading?

Core Truth: Jesus’ followers reflect the character of God and the values of God’s kingdom in their daily lives as they embody his mission.

Jesus calls disciples to follow him into the world and serve as a missional community. Central to this mission is the ethic or way of life that God’s people live out. God’s people are to reflect and embody the values of the kingdom in their lives together as Jesus’ disciples and in their interactions with the wider world. God desires to do a transforming work in our lives so that we can be shaped into the people whom God created us to be.

 

Mission and Holiness

We’ve already learned that the call to follow Jesus is a commission to mission. Following Jesus also involves serving as models of Jesus’ way of life to the world. God desires that our lives manifest the values we hold and the mission we proclaim. Following Jesus involves learning both God’s mission and the habits of life that show others the goodness and love of God. The Scriptures call this holiness. Holiness is a characteristic of God and one that he desires to be present in and modeled by his people. At its heart, holiness is love. If love is absent, God’s mission is not advanced. When Jesus says, “Follow me,” he is calling his disciples to observe and imitate him. He desires to instruct and form in them habits of holy love. When we read the Gospels, the stories about Jesus serve to teach us how to live. They are not merely reports about the past. Following Jesus is about walking moment by moment with mindfulness. We follow Jesus so that we begin to live and act in ways that align with his life. The holiness that Jesus teaches is a missional holiness. Jesus’ disciples don’t become holy so that they can go on mission; they learn the necessity and way of holiness by engaging in mission.

The holiness that Jesus teaches is not a flight from or separation from the world. Jesus’ mission is to engage the world with the good news of the kingdom. Jesus understands that the kingdom is more dangerous to the world than the world is dangerous to the kingdom. Jesus engages the world in the confidence that his light will illuminate the darkness and spark new life and light in others. He is not worried about having his light snuffed out by the world

We are not called to solitary lives of holiness. Jesus’ call to “follow” him as part of a missional community is a crucial step in becoming a disciple. Holiness manifests itself most clearly and missionally in our relationships with others. It matters how we interact with other followers of Christ. It matters how we engage people outside the circle of Christ-followers.

 

Questions for Reflection

What kind of person do you hear Jesus calling you to become?

How would you need to change if you were to follow the way of Jesus?

How would your community need to change in order to prioritize mission and holy living?

Close with a prayer of thanksgiving and direction. (If you are with family, or a group, ask if there is anything that you all can pray for, for one another, and include those prayer concerns in your closing prayer)