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February 14, 2014, Lead Me Not Into Temptation

Erik Ullestad, Des Moines, IA

Warm-up Question

What’s one thing you couldn’t live without for a month?

Lead Me Not Into Temptation

The hit television show The Biggest Loser is wrapping up its 17th season. The premise of the show is simple – a group of people compete in a contest to lose weight. Different challenges and mini-contests are introduced throughout a given season. Most often the group is secluded in a boot-camp setting, removed from the distractions and bad habits of their normal life. This season’s theme is temptation, which means contestants will spend more time off-campus than in previous seasons. They will learn to deal with temptations and indulgences of daily life, ranging from food to money to electronic devices.

shutterstock_350734811-1  Critics of the show throughout the years have expressed concern that the producers put entertainment ahead of health. Former contestants, like season three winner Kai Hibbard, did not appreciate some of the tactics employed by the show. “It was the biggest mistake of my life,” Hibbard confessed. Another former contestant, Suzanne Mendonca from season two, believes some of the style-over-substance approaches don’t help contestants in the long run. “We’re all fat again,” she lamented. The producers of Season 17 hope that bringing the gap between the Biggest Loser gym and the real world will help contestants navigate the many challenges that can be stumbling blocks to living a healthy lifestyle.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever watched The Biggest Loser? What do you think of the show?
  • In 2014, Gallup indicated that 27.7% of adults in the U.S. are obese. What factors do you think contribute to such a high obesity rate?
  • The people on The Biggest Loser face significant temptation to eat unhealthy amounts of food. What unhealthy habits tempt you to do things you know are unhelpful?

First Sunday of Lent

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Romans 10:8b-13

Luke 4:1-13

Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

Jesus begins his ministry in a rather strange way. After he was baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus went into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days. Throughout those six weeks, he was tempted by the devil. At the very end of this fast, the devil tried to take advantage of Jesus’ extreme hunger. The devil poses three tests — turn a stone into bread, worship the devil, throw himself down from the temple — as an attempt to demonstrate his power. Jesus rebukes the devil each time. So the devil goes away. And Jesus returns to Galilee.

There is a lot happening beneath the surface of this war of words between Jesus and the devil. One of the fascinating aspects of their duel is that they both quote Scripture. Jesus references Deuteronomy in Luke 4:4 and 4:8, and the devil invokes Psalm 91 in Luke 4:10-11. This is a cunning attempt on the part of the devil to bait Jesus into doing something he shouldn’t do. It seems that Luke wants us to know that there’s more to knowing Scripture than simply reciting it. The devil uses Scripture for an inward, selfish purpose, whereas Jesus realizes that Scripture compels us to a life of obedience and self-sacrifice.

This story ushers lectionary-minded Christians into the season of Lent. It is no accident that Lent is forty days long; the same number of days Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. People often observe a Lenten discipline by fasting from something (candy, soda, social media, etc.) or by starting a new habit (writing a daily thank-you card or giving money to a good cause). Sometimes people refer to this as “giving something up for Lent.” The purpose of these disciplines is not to show how holy a person is or to draw attention to oneself. The goal of a Lenten discipline is to follow Christ’s example of humility, self-denial, and reflection.

Discussion Questions

  • What’s the hungriest you’ve ever been?
  • How did the devil try to tempt Jesus?
  • Have you ever gotten into a Scripture-quoting argument with someone? How did it end up?
  • What do you think is the purpose of a Lenten discipline?

Activity Suggestions

Develop a Lenten discipline for your group. Solicit input from everyone to come up with something that will be attainable and meaningful for everyone. Perhaps you’ll all decide to read from the Bible every day. (There are lots of good Lenten reading plans online.) or encourage daily prayer. The group may want to commit to giving time or money to a local organization that fights hunger. Whatever you decide, encourage everyone in the group to participate earnestly and honestly. Having this kind of accountability can add a sense of camaraderie among your group and may help breathe new life into the season of Lent.

You know about Advent calendars, right? How about making a Lenten calendar. The season of Lent is the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, not counting Sundays. Individuals can make their own Lenten calendar by using two pieces of cardstock, an exacto-knife, and a glue stick. This simple craft will help people observe a ritual of daily walking through the journey of Lent. It might help them with a Lenten discipline as well.

Closing Prayer

Holy God, we give you thanks for the witness of your son, Jesus. Help us to fix our eyes on him as we journey to the cross. Turn our thoughts from selfish desires toward your will for our lives. Help us to love others as you have loved us. In Jesus’ name, amen.

April 13-19, 2011–Technology + Betrayal = Ruined Lives

Contributed by Jay McDivitt,Grace Lutheran Church, Thiensville, WI

Warm-up Question

When you feel betrayed or bullied, how do you deal with those feelings?

Technology + Betrayal = Ruined Lives

The New York Times recently ran a very long article on the dangerous and relatively new world of “sexting” gone terribly wrong . The article focused primarily on a case in Olympia, WA.  A racy cell phone photo went viral when a friend betrayed another friend and sent the photo around the community (and quickly, around the country), combined with nasty names and accusations.

This feature story is just the latest in a long line of tragic stories of technology combined with betrayal to ruin lives.  At the beginning of this school year, a spate of cyber-bullying cases around the country – particularly targeted at lgbt people – led to suicides. That rash of bullying led to a massive video campaign (“It Gets Better”), in which ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson participated. In March the White House launched a significant campaign to combat cyber-bullying, and states across the country are taking up legislation to control “sexting” and other technologies which can be devastating to young lives.

People have always been bullies. And contrary to what many of us might think, it’s not just kids who find themselves betrayed by friends, bullied for being different, abandoned, or left out.  When love is lost or jealousy takes over, people of all ages deal with all the deadly emotions that come to the surface – and often turn to hurting other people to make themselves feel better.

Bullying and betrayal are nothing new; it’s just that technology has magnified the effect, scope, and duration of the pain inflicted. Digital pictures can be sent to billions of people with a few clicks of a button – and they can stay on phones, servers, and hard drives forever. Every good tool can be used as a weapon, and available technology has made it possible, with very little effort, to inflict lasting and devastating harm  in an instant.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you know anyone who has bullied or been bullied online or via cell phone?  Do you know people who once were friends but turned against each other? (You’ll probably want to change names to protect both the guilty and the innocent…)
  • Do you think there should be some legal controls on how young people use technology?  How should the legal system, schools, parents, or others deal with the rise in things like “sexting”?
  • How can you be helpful when people are being bullied or betrayed?  What is your role as a Christian when people are using technology (or just good old-fashioned words) to make life hell for other people?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, April 17, 2011 (Sunday of the Passion)

Isaiah 50:4-9a

Philippians 2:5-11

Matthew 26:14-27:66

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

This is one very long story. In all four Gospels, Jesus’ “Passion” (the events from his betrayal, through arrest and trial, to his death on a cross) is by far the longest story.  This story, full of heartbreak, may be the most familiar story in Christian life, but that doesn’t make it easy to read.

Part of why this is such a hard story to hear is because it is so full of terrible things that hit close to home for most people. Think about it.  How many people do you know who have

  • been betrayed by one of their closest friends, sold out for chump change, popularity, or prestige (26:14-16, 20-25, 47-50);
  • been deserted and abandoned by friends when friends were needed the most (26:40-45);
  • been falsely accused (26:59-62, 27:11-14);
  • had a friend pretend they didn’t know or like them at all – just to fit in (26:69-75);
  • been abused, teased, called names (27:39-44);
  • felt like God was nowhere to be found in the midst of struggle (27:46)?

The vicious beating and excruciating death may not be common in the halls of your school, but it is a reality all over the world in places where powerful  people abuse, mistreat, and kill with impunity those who challenge or oppose them. This is, literally, one Hell of a story.  And as the awful scene unfolds, it’s impossible not to find ourselves in almost every character’s sandals.

So what’s the good news in this endlessly scary story?  Hanging on the cross is One who knows intimately everything we know and experience – and much more. Jesus has walked in our shoes.  He knows what it is to be betrayed, abandoned, mocked, teased, and deserted.  He knows what it is to doubt and to struggle to see God’s face in the midst of tragedy and loneliness. He knows our story and he carries all our loss and grief in his own body into the grave.

We know how the story ends. “It Gets Better” is a grand understatement for the triumph of Easter morning.  But for many of us and our neighbors Easter dawn isn’t quite here yet.  We still carry the stories of betrayal, loss, loneliness and grief with us as we begin this Holiest of Weeks. Without the brilliance of the empty tomb the cross feels meaningless.  Until Easter breaks perhaps this is enough: You are not alone. Ever. Jesus knows what you’ve been through, knows who you are, and walks with you and for you in the midst of whatever awful things you experience.  He’s been there. He’s there right now. And he will not leave you until it all gets better.

Discussion Questions

  • To what character or moment in the Passion story do you most relate? Where do you find yourself in this story?
  • Why do you think the writer of Matthew spends so much time telling this story?
  • For most churches, this story is told on the same day that we tell the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey (two donkeys in Matthew…weird, I know) and being greeted by joyous and worshipful crowds of people waving palm branches.  Not much time passes between that story and the story of betrayal and death.  When have you experienced such a sudden change or turn in your life or the life of someone you know?
  • When life is hard, is it helpful to know that Jesus has been there, too?  Is that enough?  What do you need to hear when you’re living through grief or pain or confusion or loss?

Activity Suggestions

Find or make wallet-sized cards (business card size). Each person makes 2 or more cards. Write “You are not alone” on the card.  Add some Bible verses or other words of encouragement. If possible, laminate them. Then think to yourself about a person who may need to hear this good news – someone who is being bullied or left out, someone who has lost friends or changed schools, someone who needs a friend. Pick someone you plan to give one of your cards to.  Carry the other one around with you – for encouragement when you’re feeling lost or lonely, or to give away the next time you see someone hurting.

Think of another way to share the good news that “you are not alone” with someone who needs it.  Talk with the group about what would be a meaningful or effective way to tell people that they are not alone – that it will get better. How can you be Jesus for someone who has been betrayed?

Closing Prayer

Jesus, you know me and you love me with your whole life.  Help me to know and feel your presence when I  feel lost or abandoned; then help me to share this good news with all those who are desperate for a word of hope. Amen.

March 30-April 5, 2011–Hope and Modern Medicine





Contributed by Jay Gamelin, pastor to Jacob’s Porch, a Lutheran Campus mission to The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH.

Warm-up Question

What is the sickest you have ever been?  What did it take to get better?  If you are still feeling the effects of illness or injury, what are the steps you are taking to improve your health?

Hope and Modern Medicine

There is a correlation between an optimistic patient and the likelihood of improved health say researchers at Duke University.  Gathering data from several thousand patients undergoing cardiac diagnostic testing, they found that patients with a positive outlook for the coming 15 years were half as likely to die from heart disease as the most pessimistic patients.  Even after removing data from the most affected and depressed patients, a positive outlook still remained as a large factor in the continued health of the patients—for many as much as the medication they took to treat heart disease.

This research suggests that creating hopeful expectations for patients, even what may seem like unrealistic hope, can have a profound impact on the health of patients.  The study highlights the growing understanding of how a person’s health is not simply an equation to solve with medicine and surgery but also something impacted by mysterious forces that stem from emotional and spiritual well-being.

In other words, it takes more than medicine to provide the best care.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you believe the study?  Do you think a positive attitude and hopeful outlook improve health?  Why or why not?  What evidence do you have of this in your own or in another’s life?
  • How do you think a positive outlook affects your everyday life?
  • What would change for you tomorrow if a miraculous event happened in your life?  How might you see the world differently if you had a tremendous amount of hope?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, April 3, 2011 (Fourth Sunday in Lent)

1 Samuel 16:1-13
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

The impossible is just that- not possible.  We are taught that there are immutable laws in the universe that define and govern the way we interact.  Following in the steps of Newton, Einstein, and Curie,  scientists are still working hard to discover the rules of the universe so that we can better understand how we interact with the world.

So what do we do when we encounter something that goes against these laws?  In today’s text we see four ways to reflect on outrageous hope.  The man born blind is confronted first by the disciples.  They assume that the man’s condition is a result of sin.  Next, after the man is healed, the neighbors assume that the healed man must not be the man born blind but someone else.  Third, when he is brought to the priests they assume that there is foul play involved and wish to focus on condemning the method by which the man is given vision.  All three of these find some fault, some way to explain the problem so that it makes sense in their understanding of the universe.  For them the man being blind then given vision is a problem not a solution.

Last is the man himself.  When asked he answers with sublime simplicity: “I do not know whether (Jesus) is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”(9:25)   The man does not try to answer why he can see, he simply states the obvious, he can see.

When we encounter the unbelievable hope we have in Jesus it is so easy to try and explain it, to make sense of it, to try and reason why Jesus is or perhaps is not who we say Jesus is.  But one thing is true.  A man was blind.  Many, many women and men witnessed this.  Jesus healed this man and he could see.  Many, many women and men witnessed this and even died defending what they saw.  Even his parents!  This is what we know: it really and truly happened.

Perhaps when we try to explain everything we just make it complicated.  Perhaps living in hope and faith is not knowing and explaining but simply stating “I do not know how.  One thing I do know: He was dead and now he is risen.”

May we have hope.


Faith is, at one and the same time, absolutely necessary and altogether impossible–Stanislaw Lem

Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast– Lewis Carroll

Things are only impossible until they are not–Jean-Luc Picard

Discussion Questions

  • What makes it difficult to believe impossible things?
  • What is the difference between believing and knowing?
  • What is the difference between us and the disciples?  How do we come to trust what others have seen?

Activity Suggestions

Faith Box:  Have a box in the room.  Put something that may seem improbable in the box.  Perhaps have a picture of Mount Rushmore and stick it in.  Or write 10 tons of rocks on a sheet of paper.  Tell the youth that Mount Rushmore or 10 tons of rocks is in the box.

  • Do they believe you or not?  If they do, why?  If not, why not?
  • What is one thing you believe but have no proof?  (Life in outer space perhaps?  Or the Loch Ness Monster, Sasquatch, whatever)  What causes you to believe this?
  • What we believe is often determined by the trust we put in the person making an impossible claim.  Who told you about this impossible thing?  Do the students trust this teacher?  Why or why not?
  • The thing in the box: do the students believe what you put in there?  Do they trust your witness?
  • What does this say about whether or not we trust the disciples?  What do we trust about the teachings we have learned?  What makes it hard to trust?


Closing Prayer

Jesus, you really died.  You really rose.  Help us to trust those who have told us this impossible thing.  Amen

February 24-March 2, 2010–Accepting the Challenge

Contributed by Daniel Wiessner, Tacoma, Wash.

Warm-up Question

Have you ever done something that you knew was dangerous?  Why did you do it?  Some possibilities: peer pressure, standing up for a friend, pride in your own accomplishments, just for the thrill.

Accepting the Challenge

A number of sports carry hazards. (Football comes to mind.) This year’s Winter Olympics reminds us of the inherent dangers of a person traveling at 90 miles per hour. The luge track at the Whistler Sliding Center, in British Columbia, was touted as the fastest course around, but speed and a small misstep in practice proved fatal for Georgian Olympian, Nodar Kumaritashvili.

While the only other luge-related death in the Olympics was way back in 1964, Kumaritashvili’s death has raised the more general issue of athletes’ safety in professional sport competitions such as the Olympics.

Kumaritashvili had apparently expressed concerns about the safety of this particular track, but he, like his fellow sliders, took on the risk. In the same way, we all accept challenges which pose some sort of danger, be it social, emotional, or even the possibility of physical harm. Even with the risk, the goal of succeeding in our ventures drives our ambition to go for the gold.

Article source:

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you know anyone who has ever been hurt in a sport? Do you think the growing intensity of sports today makes them too dangerous?
  2. If the chances of serious injury (or even death!) from participating in your favorite leisure time activity increased 5%, would you still do it? 15%? 40%?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, February 28, 2010 (Second Sunday of Lent)

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

Philippians 3:17-4:1

Luke 13:31-35

Gospel Reflection

In the gospel lesson this week, Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem and begin the climax of the Gospel story.  The Pharisees are warning Jesus about Herod. This is the same Herod who, not long before, was responsible for the death of John the Baptist. Rather than turning tail, however, Jesus gave the messengers another message to deliver: Jesus was going to cure illness and cast out demons like he had been doing the whole time, and then “on the third day” (soon) he will finish his work. Finish his work? Jesus knew exactly what was coming. In the church year, this journey to Jerusalem marks the beginning of the season of Lent, and on Good Friday Jesus will give his life to pay for the sins of the whole world.

Athletes may train their entire lives with dreams of competing at the Olympic Games, despite the dangers of their craft. Similarly, Jesus’ life of selfless acts of saving and healing culminates with his trip to Jerusalem. In the same way that past hazards had not changed his message or direction, Jesus would not be swayed by warnings about a murderous Herod. Athletes risk life and limb for a shot at the gold; Jesus went to Jerusalem knowing that he would give himself as the ultimate sacrifice for us all.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are some of your personal goals? What are you doing to reach them? What “dangers” are you facing in your pursuit of these goals?
  2. Have you ever walked into a situation knowing that it wasn’t going to end well, but also knowing that good was going to come out of it?


Activity Suggestion

Talk to someone you know and greatly respect. Ask what hurdles he or she crossed in order to accomplish major life goals.

Closing Prayer

Dear Lord, thank you for the talents you have given us, and our ability to meet life’s tough challenges head-on. Please watch us and keep us safe as we venture through this week. Amen.