February 2011

Recently my wife and I saw The King’s Speech and I immediately incorporated it into our group. We were examining Matthew 7:7ff in which Jesus challenges us to ask, seek, and knock. I’ve always thought this to be an invitation, of sorts, to desire—to search your heart’s deepest desire, put away the darkest of fears, and make known what it is that you really want out of life. Jesus puts similar questions to both Bartimaeus and the paralytic by the well and both, I think, fail to consider Jesus’ question at the most profound level.

Matthew 7:7-8 gave me a reason to talk a little about just how comprehensive the Fall was—not only affecting humanity, but the creation, time, emotions, and … desire. And not only is the Fall of man comprehensive, but it continues to reverberate in our world and our lives. Although dramatically and irrevocably affected by the fall, desire nonetheless is still allowed by God because of the greater good that can be possible if those with re-generated hearts will just do the more demanding work of considering what we really want—as opposed to what we think we want. Doing so reveals to us what we ultimately long for: to be whole, complete, and with God in heaven.

Surprisingly, no one in the group recalled being exposed to the famous quote from St. Iranaeus: “The glory of God is man fully alive.” So we talked for a moment about the implications of loaded terms like “glory of God” and “man fully alive” as they relate both to one another and desire. The point is that for so many of us we, like Bartimaeus, wouldn’t even know how to answer this most provocative question if we were faced with the same circumstance e.g. like when Sam Phillips in Walk the Line asked Joakim Phoenix-as-Johnny-Cash, “What song would you sing if you had to sing one song to sum you up; one song to let God know how you felt?” So what is that “one thing” for you? Because of the events of Genesis 3 and the subsequent Fall it is much more difficult to understand, feel, and pursue our deepest and truest desires. And equally challenging to identify and stamp out our deepest and most enslaving fears.

There is a scene in The King’s Speech in which the speech therapist that is taking the future King George VI on a journey—not just addressing the mechanics of his speech impediment, but the deeper fears of his heart that have contributed to the physical malady—challenges him to be the king that he has been created to be (by now obvious to everybody but him). At the time, “Berty” is unable to face the overwhelming task of succeeding his older brother as well as his father as the true king of England. In this pivotal scene the future king opts to use his position of power not to become step into the role that awaits him, but rather to put the therapist in his place as only a “subject”. Doesn’t desire work in the same way? Instead of allowing God to work through our deepest longings we instead choose the path of least resistance, employing desire destructively? But by no means does this imply that we should abandon the pursuit. At least in part, this is what Jesus is encouraging us to do: keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking.

This illustration worked well with our group and we had some great discussion on becoming more missional and God’s call on our lives. The discussion we had pursuant to our deepest fears—what they might be and how paralyzing they can be—however, had the most impact. I like The King’s Speech for Best Picture, Best Actor (Colin Firth), and Best Director (Tom Hooper) when the Oscars go out in a few weeks. Geoffrey Rush is fantastic but I don’t think both he and Firth will win. (Plus, Rush is always good.) But I also liked this movie as a means for demonstrating the hard work and devotion it takes to finding one’s true, authentic voice—the voice God has given us and role we have been called to fill in the Larger Story He is revealing.

The fifth release in the Small Group Life series, Kingdom: Seek First the Kingdom, hits the stores on March 1. This is a timely resource that addresses a hot-button and extremely important issue not only for today’s church but also believers across the evangelical spectrum.

And it’s because of the significance of this message that I’ve been using this in the group I lead. We’ve been using this “episode” of Small Group Life since December and it has been a great experience. Without sacrificing any sort of theological weight, the study guides have been wonderful for driving good conversation, credible debate, and fresh insights. I’m also not afraid of the little tension that comes with good, provocative questions that make group members have to dig a little deeper.

The six topics that our editors and writers have chosen to create this experience run from the earliest whispers of Israel’s desire to have an earthly king—a Replacement God—all the way to the definitive conclusion—Paradise … Finally! Between the north and south poles of this study we examined the King’s character, what Jesus said about the kingdom, what it means to be a subject of God’s kingdom, and how we can catch glimpses of the kingdom now even though the fullest manifestation is yet to come.

What I have enjoyed most about Seek First the Kingdom is the flexibility. Even though a leader is required to spend much time in preparation, I have taken time to cater the experience to our group. For instance, I took the opportunity during our exploration of “The King’s Subjects” to bring Romans 7 and how the remnant of sin—sin’s stain—taints even the regenerated heart of a believer. The SGL format also allowed our group to draw from John 2:24ff (through 3:8) in order to take on the role that control plays within the heart of a King’s subject. Ultimately, it was the climate-controlled life of the Pharisee that was holding Nicodemus back. He was devout, yes, and certainly devoted, but unwilling to accept God’s invitation to travel “paths unknown.” This discussion was a great point of departure into the nearness of the kingdom of heaven (Luke 17).

Since the production staff did such a great job laying the foundation for this study, it still only took me a couple of hours to customize the discussion and incorporate a couple of new ideas and unique insights. We haven’t had to use the children’s Bible study ideas that come free with each Small Group Life release, but I’m sure there are plenty of groups that could make good use of these. And the free video downloads have worked well as an emailed link for us.

If you’re looking for a cool, easy-to-lead yet theologically robust and biblically sound small-group experience to get you from the spring to the summer, I highly recommend Kingdom: Seek First the Kingdom for your group this spring. Twelve small-group studies for $5.95 is a good deal.