Introduction

This spring, we’re praying that every NCCer would connect with a small group.* We’re specifically encouraging folks to consider an Elements group and live out the fruit of the Spirit with other NCCers.

These groups and this curriculum are designed with three components.

The first is a Bible reading plan that you can use as a personal devotional tool. Most of the passages of Scripture are relatively short and are intended to be meditated upon and digested, not simply read.

The second piece is the body of the curriculum designed to draw out truths found in Scripture and encourage discussion on the application of those truths in our lives. We believe that we were created to be in community with one another and that community is the context in which we are best able to grow in our faith.

The final piece is a take-away, something to help answer the question, "Now what?" The fruit of the Spirit aren’t just traits we exhibit twice a week—in church and at small group. Rather, we are called to be on mission every day, living out the character, ways, and mission of Jesus in every aspect of our lives. Join us as we dig into Scripture, dive into community, and engage our world.

How do I Join a Group

  1. Visit theaterchurch.com/groups to find a group that interests you.
  2. Email the group leader for further details.
  3. Show up.

CHAPTER 1: LOVE

Choosing Someone Else’s Highest Good

There has never been a more popular topic for authors, artists, poets, musicians, movie directors and storytellers than love – the longing for it, the basic human need for it, the pain endured to experience it, and the pain inflicted by it. It’s really difficult to find any story that does not contain some thread of a love story – whether romantic love, family love, or friendship love – embedded in it. It seems that good stories don’t exist outside this idea of love. There has never been a concept more talked about, sung about, written about, questioned, wrestled with, or disappointed in than the topic of love.

At the same time, we use the word so broadly that it has lost much of its meaning. With the same breath, we might say that we love our families, we love our pets, we love football or ballet or opera, we love chocolate or filet mignon or Brussels sprouts, and we love God. What kind of love does God demonstrate to us and in turn call us to display?

Love is the first fruit of the Spirit mentioned and it is the one that serves as an umbrella for all of the others. When we truly love God, we will experience joy and be compelled to faithfulness. When we truly love others, we will relate to them with patience, gentleness, and kindness. To fully understand the fruit of love, we have to begin with the character of God and we have to put it into practice.

Weekly Reading Plan

Express

Pick a couple of these to live out being on mission every day:

  • Each day this week, tell a different person that you love them.
  • Bless someone anonymously.
  • Invest your day off in serving someone else. Consider doing this with someone else from the group.
  • Determine your love language and share with a friend or family member. For more information, visit http:// www.5lovelanguages.com/profile/
  • Connect with Love Speaks, the NCC/A18 HIV/AIDS task force. Learn more at aoneeight.org/package/hivaids-task-force/

Pray the Scriptures

"God, pour Your love into my heart by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 5:5)

CHAPTER 2: JOY

Happiness That Doesn’t Depend On Circumstances

Our culture is obsessed with happiness. Even with the desire to be authentic and admit when we’re not happy, we still want what we want when we want it - even if it means we’re a little hypocritical. We may not always attempt to achieve happiness the best way, but even in our pet indulgences and guilty pleasures (including our addictions) we see a glimpse of how we’re hardwired: to enjoy. To be full of joy. To be joyful. Being joyful and expressing joy is part of God’s original plan for us. We’re meant to embrace it, and it is intended to be authentic.

Joy and happiness are fundamentally connected. Happiness, by definition, is a feeling of wellbeing. Joy is that same feeling of wellbeing regardless of what we’re going through. Joy contains happiness; it is happiness rooted to eternal truths and promises in Christ, not stuck on the outcome of temporary situations.

But let’s not pretend that joy can’t be downright difficult. We may lose a job, have difficult family situations or relational struggles, do the right thing without anyone noticing, become sick, or lose somebody we love. We may even wrestle with depression for no apparent reason. In these situations, the overriding sentiment toward joy can be that it’s a gift not given to us. It can feel like we’re losing our identity, grieving over lost time or potential.

In John 16:33 Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Take heart.

This tiny yet powerful phrase acknowledges suffering and anguish while calling us to joy. It doesn’t change our situation but it changes us.

The apostle Paul “took heart.” In the book of Philippians, he unpacks the mystery of joy. Writing from prison, Paul doesn’t ignore the reality of his troubles. He faced potential execution, but despite his uncertainties Paul encourages his friends in Philippi to protect their faith with joy: “Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith.” (Philippians 4:12)

Weekly Reading Plan

EXPRESS

Pick a couple of these to live out being on mission every day:

  • Start a gratitude list. See if you can get to 100 things. Choose to notice the little things.
  • Find reasons to celebrate. Gather friends or family around the table.
  • Attend a comedy show as a group.
  • Spend time with someone who doesn’t take things too seriously.
  • Visit a nursing home and bring joy to the residents. Consider doing this with others from your group.

Pray the Scriptures

“Lord, grant me the joy of Your presence and the pleasures of living with You forever.” (Psalm 16:11)

Chapter 3: Peace:

Trusting God’s Got It

Peace is trusting God’s got it. Easy in theory but difficult in real life! We live in a culture that is powerful and capable. We are energized by opportunities, driven to succeed, and are constantly on the go. When people ask us how we’re doing, the go-to response is no longer “fine,” it’s “busy.” Busyness is a badge of honor that we complain about but secretly wouldn’t have any other way.

Where is the gift of peace in all of our comings and goings and doings?

Not that our “doings” are bad. In fact, followers of Christ have an obligation to add real, tangible value to the world. God gives all of us time, talent and treasures to produce something meaningful with. He wants His people to be a blessing.

Peace isn’t at odds with the things we are called to do; it is the way we are to go about doing them. Do we rely on our abilities over God’s anointing? Do we make our schedules or do we pray over our calendars?

Queen Esther certainly left a mark on the world. She is famous for her beauty, bravery, patience, and humility. She was also a person of deep peace. Her biggest contribution came from what she did when she trusted God had everything under control.

In the events just prior to the text below, Esther had already been appointed queen. Haman, a wicked palace official who didn’t know Esther was a Jew, had the king decree a racial genocide to eliminate the entire population of Jews in Persia. Esther’s uncle Mordecai asked Esther if she would make a plea before the king on behalf of her people.

Weekly Reading Plan

Express

Pick a couple of these to live out being on mission every day:

  • Practice Sabbath. Spend the day doing the things that refresh and reenergize you – the “get tos” not the “have tos” – or doing nothing at all.
  • Find a quiet place and talk to God out loud. Tell Him the things that are causing you to not have peace. Ask God to take care of those things and tell Him that you trust Him with them. Spend some time resting in God’s presence.
  • Help someone else obtain the thing you most want.
  • Write a note of encouragement to someone who tends to be discouraging to others.
  • Attend the Southeast White House Reconciliation Lunch – Wednesday, February 18 from 12:30-1:30pm. RSVP to Dan Andrews: dan.andrews@theaterchurch. com

Pray the Scriptures

"God, I am trusting you to keep me in perfect peace when my mind is fixed on You." (Isaiah 26:3)

CHAPTER 4: PATIENCE

Sticking It Out When You Don’t Want To

There are two kinds of patience. There’s the patience you need when you’re stuck behind the world’s slowest driver, and then there’s the patience you need when you’re waiting on a dream deferred: finding a spouse, starting a business, having a child, achieving financial freedom, leading a loved one to Jesus.

The first kind of patience is important because it helps us achieve the peace that we discussed last week. This type of patience isn’t usually high on the priority list for driven and ambitious people. We have a lot to accomplish, a lot to get done. So anything that slows us down is a problem. Even though properly channeled drivenness and ambition can be huge assets, they can also result in a simple, crass, craven selfishness wherein we view ourselves as the most important people on the planet. "I’m important. What I’m doing is important. If you’re holding me up, you need to knock it off right now."

The key to growing in this type of patience is to create a little more margin – leave a little bit earlier, take on a little bit less – so that a minor delay doesn’t send the day into a tail-spin.

The result of this type of patience is a greater sense of peace. But that second kind of patience, that’s something else. On one level, it’s a fruit we’ve all needed at some point. We’re so fed up with high school, we can’t wait to start working or start college. We’re so ready to get out of college, we can’t wait to get to the “real world.” We’re so tired of the entry-level job – the one we couldn’t wait to start while we were in college – we can’t wait to get something better.

And then there are those who have been forced to learn patience of the extreme kind.

EXPRESS

Pick a couple of these to live out being on mission every day:

  • Pray for three people with whom you need to be more patient.
  • Each time you find yourself in line this week, let someone else go ahead of you.
  • Reflect/journal on something that you wanted but had to wait for or something that you currently want and are waiting for.
  • Schedule a meal without cell phones.
  • Make a prayer list for times when you are stuck waiting – in traffic, on the metro, in line, etc. – and use it.

Pray the Scriptures

"Lord, I bring by requests before You and wait expectantly." (Psalm 5:3)

CHAPTER 5: KINDNESS

Expressing Gratitude to God Through Service to Others

God wants us to be nice.

That’s what we often think when we think about kindness, isn’t it? But kindness is much richer and deeper than simply being nice to people.

Kindness is about serving, caring, and showing compassion. It’s about blessing and bearing burdens. It’s about radical hospitality, unconditional love, unqualified forgiveness, and the gift of presence.

When we recognize and accept God’s kindness towards us, we are enabled to extend kindness to others. We can see people through God’s eyes and with His compassion, responding as He does, with kindness and graciousness.

Weekly Reading Plan

EXPRESS

Pick a couple of these to live out being on mission every day:

  • Pay for the meal/coffee for the person behind you in line.
  • Find a way to serve a neighbor.
  • Do something kind for a person who is not kind to you.
  • Perform one random act of kindness per day. Do one of them with your group.
  • Join Adopt-a-Block this Saturday at 10 AM at the Southeast White House (2909 Pennsylvania Avenue SE). Contact Avery Marks to RSVP or for details: avery.marks@theaterchurch.com

Pray the Scriptures

"Thank You, O Lord, for Your kindness. Help me to turn from my sin." (Romans 2:4)

CHAPTER 6: GOODNESS

Pushing Back the Darkness

The annual goodness test was trickier than the reading test, the spelling test, or the dreaded fractions test. As I sat on the lap of the adored red-suited stranger, I recounted all of my wishes: some books, some games, a trip to DisneyWorld, a puppy, etc. Then, the test came. I always knew it was coming and I knew my answer should be firm and confident, but it always gave me pause. “Have you been a good kid this year?” How was I supposed to answer? Evidently, this guy had sneaky elves serving as his spies. And if I had been lucky enough to slip something past them, there was still the Jesus issue. That guy never slept. Did Jesus and Santa ever talk? Surely at least one of them knew I had hit my sister, been disrespectful to my parents, been mean to some kids at school, and complained every time I had to clean my room. But what kid didn’t? What was the real meaning of the question?

What constituted “good?” Was I comparing myself to my previous year’s behavior? Was I comparing myself to other kids? Was I comparing myself to Jesus? If my teachers had granted me A’s in conduct, did that count for good? Or was goodness more about who I was deep down inside? I always meant well. If my intentions were good or I knew in my gut that I was really a pretty good kid – would that suffice?

That’s where my answer always went: "I could have been better, but deep down I’m a good kid."

For me, goodness was a state of being. Or at least a state of wishing. Of good intentions. It was an inward virtue that I hoped would mature more and more as I grew older. When we look at goodness as it is understood Biblically, however, we find that there is no being without doing. God declared that creation was "good" not simply because it passed a test or met an expectation but because it was functional. It had the ability to accomplish the purposes given to it. One definition of goodness is "holiness in action." Goodness means taking active, intentional, and strategic steps to push back the darkness and usher in the Kingdom of God.

Weekly Reading Plan

EXPRESS

Pick a couple of these to live out being on mission every day:

  • Share a meal with someone who is homeless and listen to their story.
  • Bless your neighborhood – pick up trash, take cookies to your neighbors, etc.
  • Find an opportunity to provide tutoring for a child.
  • Make it a point every day to "make someone’s day."
  • Attend NCC’s Second Saturday Serve with your group.

Pray the Scriptures

"Thank you, Lord, for Your great love and the wonderful things you have done for me!" (Psalm 107:8)

CHAPTER 7: FAITHFULNESS

The Depth of Your Impact is Determined by the Duration of Your Investment

We live in a place characterized by short-term commitments: six months in this job, a year in that one, then on to the next position or even the next city.

And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that.

When you’re a staff assistant barely covering rent and working a job that you could have done nearly as well at 16 as at 22, you jump at the chance to move up for a bit more pay and more substantive work. When you get married and have kids, wanting to move closer to home and closer to family makes perfect sense.

But it’s also true that those who make the biggest impact – who make the biggest difference – are typically the people who make a long-term investment. This is true whether you’re building a business, working a job, or even simply being a friend.

There are three phases to any endeavor.

The first is the start-up phase. There’s always an initial learning curve. You have to figure out how to do the accounting for your new business, who’s who at your new job, or the basic life history of a new friend. This phase might last a few weeks, a few months, or a few years.

But once you’re through it and have reached the second phase, you’re probably fairly competent. You put in the time and effort; you’re seeing results. You have a profitable business, you get good reviews at work, and you’ve built a meaningful friendship.

Most of the time we bounce between the start-up and competency phases. We start something new. We figure out how to do it. We do it for a while. We get bored. We move on to what’s next and start the cycle all over again.

When we do this, we miss out entirely on the third phase.

In the third phase, the simple “how-tos” fade into the background. You can run the business, do the job, and relate to the friend almost without thinking about it. Instead, you’re able to focus on excellence. Your mind is free to see the things you didn’t notice when you were preoccupied with getting the job done, to root out inefficiencies, to look past the façade to the true condition of a friend’s soul.

In the third phase you’ve built the trust and relational capital that allow you to get more done because it’s easier to convince people your ideas will work. You get more latitude to operate. You know who to go to in order to get things accomplished.

It’s in this phase that we truly see dividends on our investment. We begin to experience more significant and more meaningful results because we’ve put in enough time to achieve excellence.

Weekly Reading Plan

EXPRESS

Pick a couple of these to live out being on mission every day:

  • Support a ministry/organization that has faithfully served your city.
  • Join an NCC weekend ministry team.
  • Find a way to demonstrate your commitment to your spouse.
  • Sign up as a mentor at the Southeast White House (ernest.clover@theaterchurch.com) or Casa Chirilagua (http://casachirilagua.org/mentoring/).
  • Sponsor a child through Compassion International. For more information, visit: http://compassion.com/sponsor_a_ child/

Pray the Scriptures

"Lord, may Your Name be glorified for your unfailing love and faithfulness." (Psalm 115:1)

CHAPTER 8: GENTLENESS

The Proper Application of Power and Love

The eighth fruit of the Spirit is gentleness, which is often translated meekness. Being gentle means to be even- tempered and balanced in spirit – a person who forgives, corrects, and brings peace. Gentleness is a condition of the heart and mind that demonstrates quiet, harnessed power. It is the opposite of harshness and violence.

Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, for I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). A yoke is a restraint device; one that the world places upon our shoulders. However, in Christ alone we are promised a yoke that is light and easy, one that is gentle. When we receive Christ we receive His yoke and are called to extend this gentleness to others.

Fear hinders our ability to be gentle with others. If we allow ourselves to act out of fear we will act rashly, foolishly, and hurtfully, but God did not give us a spirit of fear. He gave us a spirit of power and love and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7). The author of Hebrews says that faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1). Simply put, when we act out of a confident faith it will cause an outpouring of gentleness in our lives.

Weekly Reading Plan

EXPRESS

Pick a couple of these to live out being on mission every day:

  • Reply to an offense with a gentle spirit.
  • Have a conversation with a child.
  • Seek reconciliation with someone who wronged you.
  • Make amends with someone you have wronged.
  • Serve with InService at Union Station (rebecca.sadtler@theaterchurch.com) or in Alexandria (irene.bender@theaterchurch.com). Consider doing this with others from your group.

Pray the Scriptures

"God, help me to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry." (James 1:19)

CHAPTER 9: SELF-CONTROL

Set Free to Obey God’s Will

The Galatians 5 passage listing self-control among the fruit of the Spirit is preceded by a list of fruit of the sinful nature – “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21)

Many of those sinful fruit are avoided through self-control. In fact, self-control is often necessary to react with the other fruit of the Spirit when faced with a difficult situation or person. To be kind to the person who was unkind to you, to express gentleness when you’d rather reply with anger, to hold onto joy rather than give way to despair, to remain patient in the face of delay, to maintain peace in a situation that challenges your equanimity, to hold to the good when tempted by an attractive or selfish alternative, to remain faithful for the long haul, to love the person who is being so unlovable – all these can require the exercise of self-control.

Living with self-control can be difficult and countercultural in a society that screams self-indulgence. But as the Spirit works in us, we are enabled to “minister in the opposite spirit” – to hold our natural reactions in check and return good for evil.

Weekly Reading Plan

EXPRESS

Pick a couple of these to live out being on mission every day:

  • This week is Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter when we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and the hope we have because of Him. The Church has historically observed it as a solemn week of fasting. Consider foregoing something you would usually consume this week. You could give up:
    • Food – This could be a particular meal during the day, all food on one or more days, or some kind of comfort food (meat, sweets, alcohol, etc.). If you wrestle with disordered eating, commit to eating a healthy, balanced, appropriately sized meal three times every day.
    • Television – Spend time with family and friends instead.
    • Smartphone – If you need it for work, you could consider not using your phone to browse the Internet, play games, or engage in other non-work activities.
    • Sleep – Get up an hour earlier and spend extra time with God.
  • Fasting is a great way to exercise the “no” muscle, but why not take it a step further and actually flex that “no” muscle? Pray and think it through: what’s an area of your life where God wants you to start exercising self- control? Not just for a season, but for good? Do you need to break a habit or start a new one? Do you need to watch your tongue and stop gossiping or belittling others? Start doing so. Pray to the Spirit for help and ask a friend to come alongside you for support, encouragement, and accountability.
  • Create a budget and stick to it. Begin tithing if you aren’t already.
  • Make a plan for your own personal spiritual disciplines.
  • Attend Celebrate Recovery to get help dealing with your hurts, habits, and hang-ups. Visit http://ncc.gd/recovery for details.

Pray the Scriptures

"Holy Spirit, put to death the deeds of my sinful nature through Your power." (Romans 8:13)