Small Group Tools
Contemporary Comments 2018
Texts: Psalms 119:11; Ephesians 6:18; Romans 8:5-6; Hebrews 11:1-6; 1 Kings 3:14; Ezekiel 36:26-27
One of Portland, Oregon’s last true diners, where neighbors gather and never wait long for a coffee refill, closed its doors for good on Sunday. When Greek immigrant Jim Sassalos bought the restaurant in 1974 it was a shambles, with cracked dishes and mismatched seats. It was just what he was looking for. Sassalos operated his business against the conventional wisdom for restaurant success. “We didn’t want a McDonald's,” Jim’s wife Jane says.
The Overlook replicated the diner immortalized by “Seinfeld”—busy and inexpensive, where customers sit at booths or counters eating burgers and breakfast all day. The diner soon became so packed that Sassalos began a tradition that flies in the face of conventional wisdom: seating strangers together. “If there was a table with two people and two empty chairs, I’d say, ‘Here's a new neighbor you've never seen before, but you know them now.’ ” That quirky practice charmed his future wife. “I’d get soup to go,” says Jane. “I was too shy to sit in, but Jimmy started seating me with people. He was good at figuring out who should sit with who. By the next spring we were married.”
Jim visited with customers, running orders and clearing dishes. “He’s that way every day,” says Doug Englund, sipping iced tea. “This is a place for all sorts of people, people in suits, people from the shipyards, people of all political persuasions.” Jim wants young people to know that there is opportunity available as long as they’re willing to work hard and redefine their vision of success. “I hear people say there is no American dream,” he says. “My experience is the American dream still exists. The people who don’t see it want to start at the top.” True success in life means escaping from the materialistic lure of the world.1
God’s ways are always opposed to the world’s ways. This week’s lesson lists strategies for true success in life. “Success in the battle with the world,” states Thursday’s lesson on the Holy Spirit, “will be accomplished only from outside of ourselves.” Just as Jim built his success through customer relations rather than slick business acumen, we find success through our relationship with Christ rather than the pursuit of material possessions. We develop that relationship as we spend time in the Word and in prayer.
We see this model of success at work in the life of Solomon. Solomon could have asked God for power and wealth, but he saw that there was something of far greater value than material success—Solomon asked for wisdom above all else. The paradox is that Solomon received both. As long as Solomon lived by God’s plan for his life, he experienced both material success and personal satisfaction and happiness. That success is still available to all who are willing to live by God’s ways.
— For Reflection
Connecting: Hand out printed fertilizer recipes that you find online. Have group members rewrite the recipes by trading the ingredients with spiritual concepts—e.g., “work the egg shells into the soil” could be changed to “work God’s Word into your heart.” Share the new recipes with your group.
Sharing: Read Ezekiel 36:26-27. Why is it important for God to transform our hearts from stone to flesh?
1. Stone-hearted Christians turn people away from God.
2. The commandments written on stone may affect our behaviors, but they never transform our characters.
3. Only a heart of esh that feels the pain and suffering of others can really begin to know the true heart of God.
4. The Commandments written on “ esh” naturally transform our characters, which in turn direct our behavior.
5. When we live by the Spirit- lled heart of esh, we don’t need to try and remember all the rules and regulations for Christian living.
Applying: Suppose you see an acquaintance delving deeply into a soul-destroying worldly pursuit. What is the best way to address this with him or her? What kinds of things can you say that will make an impact? What things should you avoid saying?
Valuing: Static is anything that obscures good communication in a relationship. Is there any static present in your spiritual life? Prayerfully consider how you can eliminate that static and have a stronger connection to Jesus.
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