Study Guide & Growth Plan
guide is restricting if it becomes the sum and substance for the user's
involvement rather than a flexible outline for discovery as well as a stimulus
for further personal growth. The purpose for this outline is to assist our focus
toward deeper involvement, thus I hope it engages the user much more in a
personal plan of growth and less so as a guide for study.
1. Reflect:Certain aspects of a chapter need our deeper reflection; let the Spirit help you take the content to a deeper understanding or to a further level.
2. Examine:Work with the Spirit to help you examine the issues more directly in relation to your own life; you may experience discomfort in some of these matters, yet this is a necessary process for change from the old in tension with the new.
3. Anticipate:If our engagement in this study is for more information or as an end in itself, then we have nothing further to look forward to; the plan and steps for growth involve first and foremost more intimate relationship with God; if this is not the experience we anticipate as the relational outcome of our involvement, our effort is in vain.
4. Optional:Only after you have thoroughly addressed the previous three sections--not necessarily completed because this is an ongoing process-- you may want to respond to this section; it will require further thought and may engage you in the theological task; for this purpose church leaders are especially encouraged to participate in this section, but only after addressing the other three.
undertake this Study Guide & Growth Plan, you may be challenged to adapt it for
your individual and/or small group context and needs. I encourage you to send us
any adaptations because they may be useful to others.
Study Guide & Growth Plan
Study Guide & Growth Plan
Chap. 1 The Relational Perspective
No matter how long we've had a relationship with Christ, we all need to understand the actual level of involvement we engage in with God from day to day, from moment to moment. We must never assume the depth of our involvement nor take for granted its practice. What we genuinely experience of God is directly proportional to the level of relationship we engage with him--not merely the fact of the relationship.
Be prepared to examine your relationships, particularly with Christ but also with others.
In order to establish relational significance with God, we have to revisit the Word and come to understand in deeper relational terms two basic elements to our faith:
1. What is God's revelation of himself in Christ Jesus?
2. What is the Gospel and thus what exactly is the Good News we claim for ourselves as well as proclaim to others?
Keep in focus these elements throughout the course of this study. It will be important to formulate (or reformulate) a functional understanding of these two basic elements for our daily practice, not merely for our belief system.
When you think of Christ, what are some of the specifics which come to your mind?
Write a list and reflect on your thoughts about Christ.
Later, try to identify:
-- what has become matter-of-fact information.
-- what you experience or don't experience in your relationship with him.
--what you want to learn/know more about him.
How have you defined yourself down through the years?
How do you specifically measure growth in relationships?
What are the indicators you use for growth:
-- in relationship with God?
-- in your family relationships?
--in relationships with friends?
-- in your relationships at church?
Next, on the above lists identify what indicators focus on secondary areas.
Note: In your thinking and probably in your culture these secondary areas may appear as primary. Yet, when we examine what exactly is experienced in a relationship, they often involve more indirect connections, quantity over quality, and as an alternative to going deeper in the relationship for more substance and satisfaction we are really making substitutes and settling for less.
Think about salvation for a moment.
Then reflect on what Jesus saved you to, not saved you from but the to aspect of salvation. What does this mean for you?
At this stage in your relationship with God what has been imperative from him for you to act on?
How do you think the relational imperative would affect this?
In what ways do you think we make it difficult to have intimate relationships today?
How can our Christian belief system create tension or conflict with God's design and purpose for the total person and for relationships?
How do we engage in an exchange process rather than a deeper relational process in many of our relationships, especially with God?
Try to identify current evangelical Christian practices which effectively in function become a form of self-justification. What are the relational implications of such practice and how does this affect our perception of the Gospel?
Study Guide & Growth Plan
Chap. 2 The Relational Connection
We generally assume that when we've done something for awhile or have been in a relationship a length of time, that we've gained experience and wisdom in that area. This may be true in certain areas, especially where there is a clearly defined way to do things. But this is not a good assumption to make about relationships because relationships are conducted in many ways--many of which may be practical yet not satisfying, or may form bad habits which constrain growth and development of relationships. Marriage and family relationships are the closest examples of the lack of positive experience and wisdom for relationships gained down through the years.
Relationship with Christ is the most significant relationship we have. Yet, here again, the assumption that experience and wisdom for practicing this relationship comes with time is a critical error. Philip and Thomas learned this the hard way. Review their interaction with Jesus in John 14.
What do you think Philip and Thomas were feeling as Jesus responded?
In what ways might you be similar to them in this interaction?
Consider how the disciples essentially put constraints on how much God revealed of himself in Christ. How does this affect how we see God and thus how we are involved with him?
In relationships a comfort zone is essentially maintaining a certain distance which keeps me from being more vulnerable to the other person(s) than I want. This keeps a relationship on my terms. Philip and Thomas, along with the other disciples, demonstrate living in a comfort zone in their relationship with Jesus. How could they have been different in their interactions with him?
This may seem like a strange question or be difficult to answer: what is it about God that you wish were different or even that you don't like about how he is? What do you tend to do with these thoughts and feelings?
How do you think putting God in a box affects how we can be involved with him?
When do you think you put God in a box?
What has been your own perception of the incarnation and what have you done with it?
When we don't fully depend on God's revelation of himself to define who, what and how he is, we turn to assumptions to define this for us. Many of our ideas, notions and perceptions of God come from such assumptions. As you reexamine the incarnation of Jesus Christ, what assumptions do you need to let go of in order to reformulate God's revelation of himself and allow him to be his true self--not what you want him to be?
How does Jesus demonstrate the relational process?
What further thanksgiving can you express to God for sharing his heart with you?
How can you further embrace your heart and express it more?
Consider more deeply the function of grace, that God's desires in the relationship are about wanting me (my authentic self) rather than what I have or what I can do. For you, what are the pros and cons of his desires?
What are you learning about the relational process, and what do you need to change in how you do relationship with Christ?
How does this balance and complete the relational equation?
How can we characterize the exegesis of the Bible commonly practiced today and the exegesis by the Word (Jn 1:18) expressed in Jesus' life?
Make a statement about the incarnation in relational terms that reformulates God's revelation of himself distinctly in the relational process.
Contrast substitutes and something less of a true person with the incarnation.
Define the importance of relational work and the principle of"no substitutes and nothing less."
Study Guide & Growth Plan
Establishing This Deeper Relationship
Our tendency in established relationships is to live in them as though relationships are static. The thinking here is, that since the relationship is established its condition will remain constant despite any lack of effort to work directly on the relationship. While it may not be our intention, for example, to take the relational involvement for granted or to assume its condition, such a static approach to relationships contradicts the truth that functionally relationships are always dynamic. We can count on something always happening in a relationship--either positive or negative, growing or diminishing; and the fact is any relationship declines in absence of relational work, despite the homeostatic appearance, for example, of many marriage and family relationships.
The dynamic nature of relationships also conflicts with the additional false belief that it is sufficient for only one party in the relationship to do the bulk of this relational work. Again, even though this may not be our intention this could be how we function with God, letting him do most of it. In the opening verse of this chapter (Jn 17:26) Jesus defines the essence of his relational work, work which quantifies the Father's revelation of himself through his Son and formulates the basis for the gospel. Yet, despite the total involvement with which Jesus engaged this relational work, it is not sufficient for this verse to become an ongoing relational reality. That is, there will always be a gap--an experiential gap--in our relationship with him without our part of the relational work. The dynamic nature of relationships makes it necessary for both parties to engage in relational work in order for the relationship to grow and not diminish. Prepare to further define your part.
To one degree or another we all face a gap between what we believe and what we experience in our faith, particularly about our experience directly in relationship with God. John 17:26 accounts for intimate involvement with the Father and experiencing from him the same relationally intimate love Jesus himself does. This relational experience cannot be substituted for by activities or even service for him; these represent indirect involvement with him. In the relational principle of "no substitutes and nothing less," we are talking about engaging God directly--specifically, not he engaging us in the context of our life (for example, what we're doing) but we engaging him within the context of his life. This means involving ourselves with the Jesus of the incarnation and following him for the correct reasons, thus functionally on his terms, not ours.
What are you "searching" for or pursuing in your relationship with Jesus (cf. Jn.6:24)?
In what direction do you think this is taking the relationship?
What are "secondary things" about your person which you focus on consistently?
What are "secondary things" about your relationships which occupy your involvement with others?
What influence do these have in how you see yourself? How you see others? How you do relationships?
Consider: what do you bring to a relationship if it's not what you do or have?
It is increasingly difficult in modern times to readily discern the substitutes we make and how we settle for less. Not only are we preoccupied by the "task" but are also dominated by multi-tasking. With a growing quantity of substitutes and an elevating dependence on virtual experiences, we are ongoingly engaging one alternative after another, in effect trying to satisfy a seemingly bottomless heart. Yet that which lasts and satisfies usually eludes us. This applies to Christian culture and the context of the church as well as to general culture and the surrounding context.
This process is significantly compounded when we account for Satan's counter-relational work. The distinction between truth and lie gets very hazy in various Christian practices. Can you identify some practices which appear as truths but in function are actually lies which distance the person from the heart and/or interfere with intimacy with God?
What lies have affected your own self-perception and how you do relationship with God?
How would you distinguish "time and quantity" and "depth and quality"?
Apply these to how you see God functionally and to how you actually do relationship with him.
Without becoming self-absorbed do you have a desire to experience more in the practice of your faith and your relationship with God?
What do you think needs to change in order to experience more?
So far, how does this study affect your formulation of the incarnation and the gospel of Jesus Christ?
What are the implications of limiting God's self-disclosure to correct doctrine and to engaging merely the mind and what we do?
Study Guide & Growth Plan
. . . To Uncommon Intimate Relationship
The title of this chapter can be taken in two ways. First, in the general context of everyday modern life intimate relationship is an elusive experience, thus not common to our common ways of living. This includes the context of churches and Christian practices. The reason intimate relationship is elusive evenamong Christians is that intimate relationships according to God's created (original and new in Christ) design and purpose is uncommon--the main focus of the chapter title. How we approach intimate relationship (if we do so at all), especially with God, will determine the extent of our experience--elusive or growing.
It may be hard to take responsibility for the fact that we make intimacy with God difficult, particularly if we've been praying for it. Yet, how we function and do relationships often create the primary barriers for Christians to experience intimacy with God; and our prayers may be merely extensions of common relational practices.
Be prepared to change further.
We usually don't think of God not knowing someone (Lk 13:24-30). After all, isn't the issue about us getting to know God? But when does the omniscient God not know someone?
Do you think Christ is demanding too much by holding us accountable to rigorously engage the relational process of developing intimate relationship with God (Lk 13:24)? What's the alternative?
How does that which is common distance us from our heart and interfere in our relationship with God?
How would you define redemptive change? Why is it the kind of change necessary for relationships?
Since none of us live in a vacuum, what is it about your broader context that you need to understand, particularly how it influences your focus and perceptions?
The early disciples didn't "get it" and couldn't "put the pieces together" because of this influence which prevented more deeply seeing Jesus' person and making intimate connection with him. With the information you have about Christ plus the benefit of hindsight (unavailable to the disciples), what part of God's revelation of himself have you yet to receive relationally and take responsibility for, thus in effect putting you in the same relational difficulties with Jesus as the disciples--even living on the road to Emmaus?
We distance our heart and maintain comfort zones in relationships because of biases and perceptions influenced by the common. Start to identify ways the common operates in your life which affect your person and your relationship with God.
How does redemptive change become necessary for you to take responsibility for where your heart is and for developing intimate relationship with God?
How do you go from thinking relationally to also acting relationally?
Define further what Christ saves you to and how not being freed (redeemed) prevents you from experiencing that.
Define ways you may function merely as a slave/servant, employee, student, house guest, observer in God's family.
For deeper change are there areas in your life which may involve the need for his comfort of a past relationship, his healing from a bad experience as well as his forgiveness and cleansing for sin? How can you address them relationally?
Give deeper focus to the relational messages you have "seen" from God and define various relational messages you give to him.
From a relational perspective discuss the incompatibility for relationship between the common and the uncommon. Be sure to include contextual issues which affect intimacy with God and the growth and development of our relationship.
Explain the rationale for defining"our greatest sin as Christians is relational distance with God."
Our correct perception of the incarnation necessitates directly from us what kind of response? Define different responses we can make to his revelation, and discuss how they adequately balance the relational equation or not.
Study Guide & Growth Plan
Developing This Intimate Relationship
The depth of intimacy in any relationship is dependent on the openness and honesty of each person in the relationship. How and what we present of our self are critical for relationship. Likewise, letting the other person be their true self without imposing our predispositions and biases is essential for intimacy.
The progression of Jesus' purpose in the incarnation is reaching its culmination. Yet, it's not about the cross but about the Father. He came to reveal the Father, and the cross serves only the Father and his purpose. (I use "Father" to be relationship-specific, not gender-specific.)
Given how vulnerable Jesus was with his heart and in his relational involvement, he doesn't provide us with theological revelations about God but rather gives us the relational imperative for direct involvement with God. His act of revelation is purely relational, made solely for relationship and can only be embraced by us relationally.
When Christ further takes us to the Father as his very own, he established the relational responsibility for us to intimately participate in the Father's life and their relationship, and thus to intimately experience also what they experience in their relationship together as family.
"Letting God love you." Is that a simple matter for you or is it difficult to leave your person that vulnerable to God? Be honest with yourself so you can be honest with God.
As you saw in Peter, consider if there are ways you are not open to intimacy with Jesus.
Go back to the portion (set off by the asterisks) at the end of the section entitled "The Only Relationship That Works." Work through these issues with the Spirit as you anticipate experiencing more of what Christ saved you to.
What Jesus fulfilled in the incarnation necessitates not only relational formulations of God's revelation and the meaning of the gospel, it may require their reformulation without the influence of our predispositions and biases. Relational formulations also demand ongoing intimate relational function which is the only practice having relational significance to the Father. Even after becoming a leader in the early church Peter had to learn this the hard way.
What are the implications of theology which does not change Christian practice in relationships?
Identify such gaps and discrepancies in evangelical theology, and also in your theology or belief system.
Study Guide & Growth Plan
Chap. 6 The Relationship of Following
We come to a critical juncture in our study that takes us to the next level of relationship with Christ. Authentic spirituality cannot be adequately discussed and fully undertaken without dealing with discipleship. The development of spirituality and spiritual formation depend on discipleship and its coherence with God's desires for his followers, both individually and corporately.
What are the main perceptions of discipleship in your Christian context?
What do you think would happen in your context if following the model of Christ or becoming more Christ-like were distinguished from what discipleship really means?
How does serving become in conflict with our true vocation as his disciple?
In John 12:26, how does Jesus redefine what's important?
What are the relational messages to you in John 12:26?
How do you look at the "servant model" and how would you reconsider it for yourself?
Further consider what's involved in being a friend in biblical times, and how Jesus lived and engaged his disciples. What part of this relational work do you need to work on?
Are there ways you define yourself or let yourself be defined that you need to let go of in order to be freer to be loved by God and to love him/others?
We have to distinguish between something we have to do because God expects it and that which he says is necessary for optimal function in our relationship with him. Doing the former tends to result in, even with good intentions, duties and obligations involving misplaced priorities with relational consequences. Practicing the latter is responsive to God's person and desires in what is important to him, thus bringing relational outcomes of deeper involvement with each other, particularly in the experience of love.
As you take to heart the relational messages at the very end of this chapter, how does this affect your relationship with God?
What changes in you do these messages encourage?
Explain the direct correlation between how we define ourselves and how we do relationships.
At this point in your deliberations, can you initially start to articulate how "discipleship as following the person of Jesus in the relational progression coheres with God's overall desires and thus brings coherence to our beliefs--that is, as parts of his whole?
Study Guide & Growth Plan
The Nature and Extent of Our Involvement: Vital Relational Acts
We have to start putting together the various words of Jesus into the whole of his "one and only" purpose fulfilled in the incarnation of his person. If we take any of his words out of the context of this whole, we lose the relational significance of his purpose in sharing those words. If we practice any of his words apart from the relational process he vulnerably established in the incarnation, such practice loses its relational significance to God.
If you truly believe that God is present in your life, how do you treat him ongoingly? Identify the relational messages you are communicating to him in each of the various ways you treat him.
Contemplate the statement: "The functional posture of worship serves as the primary determinant for what a relationship means to us."
Why does God need, in a sense, to exercise grace for himself also?
Explain the significance of Jesus' question in Luke 6:46 for the relational work you are engaged in ongoingly.
Why didn't Jesus separate obedience from love? Explain how obedience is a vital way for you to love him and know him deeper.
If love is making ourselves vulnerable to intimacy, what are the implications of practicing love without practicing intimacy?
How do substitutes and settling for less compromise relationships and the persons involved?
Review the incarnation as the relational process of love. Use this relational context to determine the relational work ahead for you.
How does Christ's life reflect "the giving of me" and how can you further grow to give him me?
Outline how you can further respond to Paul's charge in 1 Timothy 6:12 in your relational work.
How does the incarnation beg the relational question and how does our answer define the extent of the gospel, the Good News?
Explain what the Father's will is for us "here and now" and how this leads to eternal life.
Explain what agape love is and is not in relational terms.
What is the focus of authentic relational work and why is it important not to differentiate its various relational acts?
Study Guide & Growth Plan
Chap. 8 Extending the Relationship
Relationship with God was never meant to be between merely the individual and God. The intimate nature of this relationship is always designed to function, as in the Trinity, in life together--together with God as his very own and together as his family.
Too often we interpret relationship with Christ merely on individual terms. We stop short of following Jesus in the relational process that takes us to the Father and his family. At times, there is even an emotional sense of being possessive about Jesus, maybe idolize him. This essentially puts God in a box and constrains our relationship with him to operate on our terms. This way of doing relationship is not the commitment and devotion to Christ that the Father desires for us to be conformed to (Rom 8:29). Such a dominant focus on Christ takes him (and thus us) out of the relational context with the Father and short-circuits the relational process apart from the ongoing relational work of the Spirit.
This has two relational consequences. One, it individualizes Christ functionally (not theologically) separate from the Father and the Spirit; and, two, it also becomes a rationale for our individual freedom apart from the relational responsibility to the Father as his very own and to his family in interdependent relationships.
This brings us from how we define ourselves and thus how we do our relationships to how we do church--that is, actually practice being the church.
Jesus said it was to our benefit that he leave so that the Spirit would come (Jn 16:7). If he is not clung onto as the dominant focus of our attention, the Spirit could take over and complete what he started--the relational progression to the Father.
Describe the Spirit's relational work (use Rom 8 as your outline).
How does the old in us disrupt this relational process?
What is the need in us that the Spirit fulfills?
Define and distinguish the cooperative effort and the corporate effort.
Why are individuals alone incapable of fulfilling God's mission?
How specifically do you constrain the Spirit? Grieve the Spirit?
How does your church compare to the three churches in Revelation 2 and 3?
Explain what characterizes transformation in relationships and how this directly relates to fellowship.
How does agape involvement define the church and how does this help you to do church?
Does the corporate process of intimate relationships with the Father and thus discovering others give you more than you expected or want?
The first, the second and the new commandments express the whole of God's desires. How does seeing them individually and practicing them separately affect how you define yourself, do relationships and thus do church?
What do you need to account for in how you are doing church?
How does engaging in agape involvement make you feel, and what do you anticipate about its practice?
Explain how Christ practiced the process fundamental to church and laid the groundwork for it.
How is the corporate process of the church an extension of the intimate involvement within the Godhead?
How does grace work in how to do church as the Father desires and why is equalizing necessary to this relational process?
Study Guide & Growth Plan
Chap. 9 The Relational Conclusion
The face of Christ is difficult to take in and embrace when our focus is on his "hands" (his deeds) or on his "mouth" (his teachings). This focus reflects the influence of seeing ourselves and defining ourselves by what we do or have, as well as demonstrates the effects of living in relationships as a result of this definition. These ways directly alter our perceptions of the incarnation and God's revelation of himself.
Compare and contrast relational work from all other human activity.
How did Jesus replace the place for intimate connection with God? And what makes our practice foreign to him, resulting in something other than the relational conclusion?
Outline your life in the form of a story and examine how you've defined yourself, done relationships, practiced church.
How well does your story intersect with Christ's story and interact with his person and words?
What parts of your story do you need to let go of, disown, refuse in order to follow Jesus in his whole story?
What redemptive changes need to be made and further relational work engaged in order to be more deeply involved in relationship with him?
The experience gap is reduced only by involvement with God in intimate relationship on his terms and thus on his level. As you anticipate this, can you imagine engaging in even greater things than Jesus (Jn 14:12)? Rigorous relational work involves holding him accountable for this promise.
While this chapter may conclude our current study, it must (dei) not end the growth process. We are held accountable for all of God's revelation, especially his intimate relational work of the incarnation, thus accountable to follow Jesus in the relational progression to the Father as his very own and as his family together with his Son and all our sisters and brothers. This is not optional but the relational imperative to engage in ongoing relational work--rigorous relational work in cooperation with his Spirit. In the process be sure to account also for Satan's counter-relational work.