week 4: focus on relationships, not rules and rituals

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1 week 4: focus on relationships, not rules and rituals This includes: 1. Leader Preparation 2. Lesson Guide 1. LEADER PREPARATION LESSON OVERVIEW Jesus walked into a world where obedience to rules was valued over love for God. Jesus didn t toss out the Ten Commandments, but he taught that our heart s attitude matters more than our outward practices. Even in the 21st century, we can fall into the trap of defining our faith through rules and rituals, but Jesus calls us to focus on our relationship with him. This lesson will encourage your teenagers to consider the condition of their inward spiritual life, not just their outward behavior. LESSON OBJECTIVES 1. WHAT: The path to spiritual health and spiritual vitality is found in a healthy, vibrant relationship with Jesus, not through obedience to religious rituals, rules, or routines. 2. WHY: If we aren t careful, we can adjust our outward behavior without experiencing any genuine inward change and still believe we re pursuing a path of healthy spirituality with God. 3. HOW: Students will be encouraged to think about the condition of their inner life, not just their outward behavior, and consider ways to develop a deeper, stronger relationship with Jesus, which will lead to outward changes. PRIMARY SCRIPTURE Mark 7:1-23 SECONDARY SCRIPTURES Matthew 6:1-16; Mark 12:41-44; and John 15:4-8 TEACHING PREP The short overview below is designed to help you prepare for your lesson. While you may not want to convey this information word-for-word with your teenagers, you ll definitely want to refer to it as you lead your small group lesson.

2 Read Mark 7:1-23. In this passage, Jesus directly confronts Jewish religious leaders who were criticizing his disciples for not following all of the rules, rituals, and regulations that a committed Jew was expected to obey. Jesus gets to the heart of the matter and says his critics are too obsessed with the wrong priorities. They should be more concerned about inner character than outward behavior. One of the greatest tragedies in youth ministry is seeing teenagers graduate from high school and then graduate from their faith. While this happens for a multitude of reasons, one of the key factors is a lack of habits for personal spiritual growth and too much reliance on outward behavior as evidence of Christian faith. Certainly, our behavior matters as Christians. But God s chief concern is our inner character our heart. If we act the right way on the outside but don t have the right motives or attitudes, we disappoint God. Our hypocrisy may not be visible to the world around us, but God knows what s happening inside of us. That s why this lesson encourages students to focus on their relationship with Jesus, not religious rules or rituals or regulations. A changed heart will lead to a changed life, but it s important for students to recognize the importance of a deep, personal faith one that is truly developed through a focus on inner character. [NOTE: If your small group or youth ministry is looking for a resource to help encourage personal spiritual growth in your students lives, consider investing in the H.A.B.I.T.S. resources available through Simply Youth Ministry (www.simplyyouthministry.com). These resources can help your team provide teenagers with practical tools to develop solid disciplines that contribute to spiritual growth.]

3 week 4: focus on relationships, not rules and rituals GETTING THINGS STARTED 2. LESSON GUIDE Welcome your students and invite them into your meeting area. Open in prayer, and then begin with this ILLUSTRATION: Before your group meets, prepare a food item or a beverage that will look good but isn t good on the inside. You could take a dozen eggs but let them sit outside for a week. Or make some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that actually have horseradish or anchovies or something unexpected inside. Or take a two-liter of soda and add huge amounts of salt to it. You want something that looks fine on the outside but isn t quite so good on the inside. But here s an important instruction for this illustration: Do NOT reveal to your students that something is wrong with the food item until AFTER your initial questions and discussion. Whichever idea you choose, your purpose is to communicate that we can look good and right and spiritual and healthy on the outside, but the inside is what really matters. How many of are hungry enough to eat (or drink) this whole thing right now? What would you be willing to do to convince me that you really want to eat (or drink) it? If I told you that this really wasn t as good as you thought it was, would you trust me? Why or why not? Reveal the food s deficiency or odd element inside. Then Now that you know what s wrong with this, how many of you are still willing to eat (or drink) the whole thing right now? What spiritual message might you find in this illustration? After your discussion, SAY SOMETHING LIKE: So, you and I aren t going to eat this because it s clearly inedible. We have to toss it out. Fortunately, God doesn t toss us out if we re rotten on the inside. God is able to work in our lives and change us and transform us into new people. Jesus knew that our inner health is more important than our outward behavior, as we ll see in today s lesson.

4 TEACHING POINTS The goal of the Teaching Points is to help students capture the essence of each lesson with more discussion and less lecture-style teaching. The main points we have chosen here are (1) Outward change without inner health isn t change at all, (2) Inner health is rooted in relationship with Jesus, and (3) Inner health leads to a changed life. Remember: All throughout these lessons, it s up to you to choose (1) how many questions you use, and (2) the wording of the main points keep ours, or change the wording to make it clearer for your audience. Read Mark 7:1-23 together as a group. Consider allowing one or more of the teenagers to read the text. SAY SOMETHING LIKE: Our lesson this week examines what it means to develop a spiritual life that focuses on our relationship with Jesus, not just religious rules and regulations and rituals. Let s spend a few minutes exploring what Jesus shared in this passage about inner health and outward change in our lives. 1. Outward change without inner health isn t change at all SAY SOMETHING LIKE: In this passage from the Bible, some Jewish religious leaders confront Jesus. The Pharisees criticize Jesus disciples because they weren t following all of the religious rules and rituals. Jesus responds by saying that the Pharisees were focused on the wrong priorities. Instead of encouraging people to develop inner health, they were obsessed with rules and rituals and traditions that really had nothing to do with a person s spiritual condition. The Pharisees emphasized outward behavior that really wasn t significant it was just the appearance of spiritual health. If we talked about being physically healthy, most of us would know what that means. We have a good idea of when we re physically healthy and when we aren t. But what about the phrase inner health? How would you define it? What does that mean to you? We might not be focused on outward rituals like washing our hands or purifying cups and pitchers, but what are some practices that can become our gauges for analyzing other people s spirituality? How do some people evaluate whether others are good Christians or not? Are these things wrong for us to value or pursue? Where s the line between living a good life for the right reasons and living it for the wrong reasons?

5 What happens to us spiritually if we feel our salvation or our sense of value to God is based on our actions? What happens when we struggle and fail and don t live up to other people s expectations? Is this healthy or unhealthy? Explain. In verses 6-7, Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13. How might a Christian fall into this same trap of saying the right things honoring God with words and lips but lacking inner health having hearts that are far from him? SAY SOMETHING LIKE: It can be easier to gauge a person s spirituality through outward, visible actions than to evaluate a person s inner character. It s sometimes easier to fake those outward, visible actions than to experience true change on the inside. God is most concerned with our hearts in other words, our inner lives. You can put on a mask and pretend to be a spiritually mature person, but maturity is developed on the inside. If we aren t careful, we can adjust our outward behavior without experiencing any genuine inward change and still believe we re pursuing a path of healthy spirituality with God. Our outward actions DO matter but only if it s reflecting what s truly happening inside of us. 2. Inner health is rooted in relationship with Jesus If Jesus says we are defiled by the thoughts, attitudes, and actions that come from within us, how can we change what s inside us? What are some ways we can develop greater inner health? Read John 15:4-8. Jesus says that our spiritual condition our inner health is affected by whether we stay rooted and abiding and remaining in him. What does that idea mean to you? What does it mean to abide or remain in Jesus? SAY SOMETHING LIKE: My relationship with Jesus is essential for staying spiritually healthy. The same is true in your life. We abide in Jesus by spending time praying, reading the Bible, learning about the life of Jesus, thinking about how we can love and serve others, demonstrating God s compassion to our community, worshiping God, and giving to others. 3. Inner health leads to a changed life Is inner health our responsibility or God s responsibility? Or is it a shared responsibility? Explain your answer. What are some of the ways inner health can lead to outward change?

6 SAY SOMETHING LIKE: The Bible presents us with an interesting challenge: God is the one who changes us, yet we have to make choices that put us in the right position to experience that change. This happens through our daily choices and decisions and lifestyle. As we develop healthy habits, we will begin to see more and more outward evidence of inward growth. This doesn t mean we become perfect Christians overnight. In fact, you and I will NEVER be perfect in this lifetime but we CAN be always growing, always maturing, always focusing on our relationship with Jesus. ADDITIONAL DISCUSSION [optional] Read Matthew 6:1-16. In this passage, Jesus offers instructions on the right ways to act and behave when giving, praying, and fasting. How would you summarize these verses in one sentence of instruction? Go ahead and give it a shot. Our lesson this week centers on developing a spiritual life that s focused on our relationship with Jesus, not just religious rules and regulations and rituals. How does this passage from Matthew 6 fit into our conversation? Read Mark 12: What does this story teach you about what matters most to God? Would you say this widow s outward behavior was based on inner health or wrong motivations? What about the rich people s outward behavior? Explain your answers. APPLICATION Pair up each student with another person in the group for these questions. What are some of the outward changes you ve seen in your life as you ve developed your relationship with Jesus in other words, as you ve experienced spiritual growth? When have you attempted to create or display outward change without authentic change on the inside? How did other people react? What did you learn from this experience? We talked earlier about how we recognize signs of physical health in our lives. What are some good, healthy outward signs we might see in our lives when we re spiritually healthy on the inside?

7 What are some ways you can remain or abide in Jesus this week? How will these things help you develop inner health and a stronger relationship with Jesus? Bring your students back together to share some of their answers to those questions. SUMMARY End your small group lesson here. Provide your teenagers with a quick summary or take-home challenge based on (1) the content of this lesson, (2) the dialogue that took place during the lesson, (3) your understanding of the issues and struggles your teenagers are facing, and (4) the big picture of your youth ministry and what your leadership team wants accomplished with the teaching and discussion time. FOR KEEPS [MEMORY VERSE] Encourage and/or challenge your teenagers to memorize the verse below. Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. All of you listen, he said, and try to understand. It s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart (Mark 7:14-15).

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