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Illustration: Dead ends
We live in a world where directions are easier to get than ever before. We can get directions in real time from a GPS system, look them up on the internet, or use an app like Google Maps to find out how to get where we’re going.
Most of the time, this works out fine. But everyone once in a while, directions lead us astray. That happened to Lauren Rosenberg. Lauren was trying to walk around Park City, Utah, and she looked up directions via Google Maps on her Blackberry. The directions included a half-mile walk down Deer Valley Drive. But the map didn’t tell Lauren that Deer Valley Drive was actually State Route 224, a highway with no sidewalk or pedestrian path. As Lauren walked down this highway, a car hit her. Lauren survived, but she decided to sue Google for $100,000 to cover her medical expenses because of the faulty directions the map gave her.
Does anyone have a personal story about a time when GPS gave you bad directions that landed you in the wrong place or at a dead end.
Connecting the illustration
We all know the feeling of being led astray by maps and ending up at a dead end. And while you may not have been stuck at a literal dead end, we all know what this feels like. We know what it’s like to have no future and no hope. Maybe it happened in a tragedy in your life, or when you lost a job, or when you hit a dead end in your education, or when you lost valuable a valuable something or someone in your life. Maybe it happened relationally when a parent abandoned you and your family. Whatever form it takes, a dead end is a pretty miserable place to be.
When we’re stopped at a dead end, though, we can still go dumpster diving. We can still look for God in this unexpected place – God is in the dead ends. Let’s look at a story from Scripture about how someone who was stopped at a dead end found God there.
SPLIT UP INTO GROUPS
Take turns reading sections and answering the questions
Break the ice into a delicious blended drink
- Say your names and share a favorite ______ or something new to share about yourselves.
- Ask briefly about each person's expectations for this discussion. Is this a place where we can be honest with each other? Are we open to others' suggestions to us?
arrested: finding God in a Dead end
The book of Acts tells the story of the start and spread of the Christian church. After the church exploded onto the scene at Pentecost in Jerusalem, Jewish leaders started to persecute Christians. This persecution forced Christians to leave Jerusalem, which actually caused the church to spread more quickly. The church’s continuous growth led to continued persecution. Saul was one of the primary persecutors of the church before his conversion in Acts 9.
After his conversion, Saul became Paul, and he became one of the primary missionaries of the church, especially outside of Jerusalem. But Peter, who had been one of Jesus’ 12 disciples, remained a prominent leader of the church in Jerusalem. That made him a target when King Herod began to persecute the church at the beginning of today’s passage.
The Herod in this passage was Herod Agrippa, the grandson of the Herod we find in the Christmas story in the gospel of Luke. This Herod was the leader the Romans had appointed over Jerusalem and Caesarea, and during this time he had more power than any local governor since his grandfather had held. So when Herod Agrippa targeted the church and especially Peter, he had more than enough political power to do what he wanted. This means that being arrested by and tried by Herod was a major dead end for Peter.
it isn't fair: kangaroo court
The trial by jury system that is used to try accused criminals in the United States and elsewhere is based on fairness. The prosecution tries to convince a jury that the accused person is guilty, but the defendant also has a chance to present a defense to the charges against him or her. Ultimately, the jury is supposed to fairly decide whether the accused has been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But the truth is that not all courts are fair. For example, in the American south between the Civil War and the 1960s, African-Americans often were convicted with very little evidence or even based on completely false evidence. This kind of court, in which the trial is anything but fair, is called a kangaroo court.
In this passage, the apostle Peter was about to be put on trial. But we should not assume that this trial was fair. King Herod, whom the Romans had set up as the ruler of the area around Jerusalem, was out to get Christians as a way of building up his popularity. He had already killed James, the brother of John, and now Herod set his eyes on Peter. So Peter was put in prison, and the action in this story picks up the night before his kangaroo court hearing was to begin.
read Acts 12:1-19 and discuss the following questions
- What dead end was Peter facing in this passage?
- Describe the situation Peter was in.
- How did Peter find God in this unexpected place?
- How did God help Peter get out of this dead end? When did God do this?
As the church grew, Peter emerged as one of its leaders. He was preaching when the Holy Spirit spoke through him at Pentecost, and he also followed God’s leading to share the gospel with Cornelius, a Roman centurion. So Peter knew how to look out for God’s presence and how to follow God even into unfamiliar territory.
But that didn’t prevent Peter from running into a dead end. King Herod, who was sympathetic to Jewish leaders, decided to start persecuting Christians, and he put Peter in his crosshairs. Herod had Peter arrested, which was likely the first step in a process that would lead to a sham trial and then Peter’s execution.
Peter’s life and ministry were stopped cold. He sat in jail, bound with two chains, waiting for a trial that he knew wouldn’t be fair. But at this dead end, God showed up. An angel appeared and woke Peter up. Peter was in such a fog that the angel had to tell him exactly what to do, from putting on clothes and shoes to following the angel out of the prison. Before Peter realized what was going on, he had walked out of the prison and down a street.
The Bible tells us that this is when Peter “came to himself.” As he did, he realized that he had found God at his dead end. “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.” (v. 12)
Peter went to the house of Mary, who was the mother of John Mark and likely a hostess of a house church in Jerusalem. The people there were astonished to see Peter free and in front of them, but Peter told them to spread the word to the rest of the church. Then Peter left, knowing that the search for him would be on in the morning.
Peter found God in an unexpected place – a dead end. As a result, his life began to grow at a dead end. Now let’s learn from his story to see how we can keep the excavation process going when we’re at a stop sign.
finding opportunities at dead ends
In recent years, the United States has gone through a financial crisis that has left many people at dead ends. People have lost their jobs, their homes, and more in what has been called the worst economy since the great depression. But the truth is that some people find opportunities at these dead ends. Here are a couple of examples of people who made a fortune during the great depression.
- Michael Cullen, who was an executive at Kroger Grocery and Bakery Company, had the idea for a large, self-serve food market with room for automobile parking and products designed for the new technology of at-home refrigeration. But executives at Kroger didn’t like the idea, so Michael split off on his own in 1930 to form King Kullen Grocery — the first modern supermarket. Within two years, Michael’s new company made more than $6 million in revenue — the equivalent of $75 million today. And eventually, the Kroger company came around to Michael’s idea of the supermarket.
- Charles Darrow lost his job after the stock market crash of 1929. So he spent his time developing his idea for a board game. That was a good investment of his time, because his game Monopoly became a hit, selling 20,000 units in its first year and making Darrow the world’s first millionaire game designer.
These stories tell us that when we come to a dead end, we don’t have to give up. Michael and Charles looked around and found opportunity at a dead end. And we saw in today’s passage that we actually have the opportunity to find God at a dead end, just like Peter did. Now, let’s see how we can find God and let life begin at a dead end.
Dead ends don’t have to kill us. Instead, when the road of your life stops at a dead end, wake up to God and let new life begin. So how do we dig in and start the excavation process at a dead end?
We begin finding God in dead ends when we listen for God’s voice and follow Him — even if it doesn’t make sense. Peter apparently thought he was dreaming when the angel first showed up in prison with him. But Peter put on his clothes and shoes and cloak as the angel commanded, and he followed the angel straight out of the prison. It didn’t make sense, but Peter obeyed, and by the time he figured out what was happening, he was free.
We can follow Peter’s example in this. Often, when we come to a dead end, we become hopeless. We don’t think anything can get us out of the situation that we’re in, and so any instruction God gives us doesn’t seem to make sense. And sometimes, God is going to reveal where He is leading us only after we begin to walk. That was true for Peter in this passage, as well as for other Biblical characters like Abraham and Joseph. We can’t wait for things to make complete sense to us before we begin to move away from a dead end.
We also find God in dead ends when we refuse to give up hope. We see this in the way Peter’s friends gathered and prayed for him. Peter had been in prison for several days, but people continued to pray and trust God to intervene, even though it seemed too late for something to happen.
We too must not lose heart when we hit a dead end. Dead ends are a part of life, and we will all have to face them in one part of life or another. But when we refuse to give up, we can dig in and continue to look for God even in a situation that seems pretty depressing and hopeless. And then God comes through, and we discover that we really can find God at a stop sign. So when the road of your life stops at a dead end, wake up to God and let new life begin.
Discuss the following questions
- What do we tend to do at dead ends?
- Why do we become hopeless? How can we combat hopelessness?
- How can this group help you when you are fighting hopelessness?
- Why do we need to follow God even when it doesn’t make sense? How can we do this?
Someone read the following
There are things about God that we can only experience at dead ends.
It’s only in bondage that you can find that God can actually free you.
It’s only in sickness that you find that God can actually heal you.
It’s only in need that you find that God can actually provide for you.
It’s only in mourning that you find that God can actually comfort you.
If you look for God at your dead end, you will find Him. So when the road of your life stops at a dead end, wake up to God and let new life begin.
Someone read the following illustration
We’ve talked about how life can begin at a dead end. The reason we’re saying life can begin — instead of using a word like restart or grow — is that a dead end can actually put our lives onto a new, far better trajectory that we never would have found without getting stopped cold. If life is a garden, dead ends are an opportunity to be uprooted and replanted in a better place.
That certainly was true for Jerry Seinfeld. As a young comic, Jerry got a small role as a mail boy on the TV show Benson. After appearing in three episodes, Jerry showed up for work one day but couldn’t find a script with his name on it. When he asked why he had no script, he found out he had been fired — only no one had bothered to tell him. Jerry was humiliated, and he decided that he wouldn’t be a part of a sitcom again unless he got significant creative control. It took nearly 10 years, but finally Jerry got his own show, and Seinfeld became one of the most popular and most profitable sitcoms of all time.
(Citation: Ethan Trex, “8 successful people grateful they got canned,” mentalfloss.com)
Discuss the following questions
- What dead end did Jerry face? How did his life begin at a dead end?
- Would his life have taken the same trajectory had he not gotten stopped cold at this dead end? Explain your answer.
- Where are you at a dead end right now?
- How does this dead end make you feel?
- Where do you think God is at work in your dead end? (help each other see where God might be working in their dead ends)
looking out with others
- Who is someone you know who is at a dead end from somewhere you live, work, or play?
Dead ends often make us feel hopeless. This feeling is normal. The Israelites faced a dead end when they were leaving Egypt. After Pharaoh let the Israelite slaves leave, he changed his mind and sent his army after them. Suddenly, the Israelites were trapped at a dead end between the army behind them and the Red Sea that blocked their path. Let’s see what their emotions were like at this point.
Read Exodus 14:10-14 about how we can help others with their dead ends
- What did Moses say to the Israelites at their dead end?
- How is the person from your life who is at a dead end feeling? How can you say something to them like what Moses said to the Israelites?
Moses reassured the Israelites when they were at a dead end, reminding them that they could find God even in that desperate situation. And that’s exactly what happened. God parted the Red Sea so that the Israelites could pass through, and then when the Egyptian army tried to pass through, God sent the water rushing over them to keep them from recapturing the Israelites. The Israelites’ lives as slaves now truly free began at this dead end.
We need to play the same role for each other that Moses played for the Israelites. We need to help others see what God is doing at dead ends in our lives, and we need to help them find God when they’re stopped cold like this.
To close our group time, we’re going to do this for each other by praying about the dead ends that each of us is facing.
Share any additional requests and pray specifically for the following
- Each other's dead ends
- The people you talked about in your lives who are at dead ends
- Compassion and wisdom to encourage those people this week
- Other requests
- Anything else on your heart
We are a
Go on a 9-month mission trip without taking time off work, leaving your neighborhood, or spending a small fortune. This is a chance to invest time in the lab or learning and start to launch out in love to your neighbors.