A Bethel Small Group Journey
Written by Connie Edwards
Our Bethel Sunday Church Service is amazing—the teaching unmatched! Yet, it is the fellowship and involvement in our Small Group, and the Bethel Christian Writers Group—a special interest of mine—that keeps my husband and I committed and growing. Last year on Connection Sunday, joining a Bethel Small Group took courage (just a tiny bit) and so did signing up for the Bethel Christian Writers Group (come check it out!). We’ve had a great time and been blessed!
Climbing aboard the Zobel Craft, fourteen souls, including Captain Neil and his First Mate, Ruth, settled in for a voyage.
“Good afternoon, mates,” the Capt. began. “Today, our tour takes us across the Persian Gulf. Read the guide I wrote for you and discuss it during our trip. Of utmost importance, we need to arm ourselves before entering Susa. Stored beneath your seats is a full set of armor for each of you. Please buckle up and place your headsets on.”
Capt. Neil eased The Zobel out of the harbor and into open water of the Arabian Sea. We adjusted our hats and sunglasses, and gripped the railing as the boat chopped through large swells.
“Hang on.” The Capt. opened up the throttle causing the bow to rise until nothing but the sky loomed over it for a moment as the boat rose above the wakes, and then leveled smooth.
Our small group scoured the booklets and the accompanying Scripture from the Book of Ester. We became so enamored with how Ester became Queen; we did not notice we had entered the Shatt Al-Arab, where the Tigris and Euphrates come together and flow into the Persian Gulf.
Captain Neil slowed the boat and dropped anchor at a dock. “It’s time to put on your armor. We are entering Southwestern Iran. King Xerxes is a warrior king and we are traveling through his kingdom to Susa, where we will arrive just in time to witness Queen Ester risk her life to save her people, the Jews.”
We lifted the seat bottoms and clothed ourselves with the whole armor, in the order listed in Ephesians 6:11. We adjusted the breastplate of righteousness in place, and buckled the Belt of Truth around our waists. Fit our feet with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. Then we picked up our shields of faith so we could extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Pulling the helmet of salvation on, we picked up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
The armor clanked a little but was surprisingly light and well fitting. Helping each other through the process gave us the sense that we were now part of something strong—much larger than ourselves—spirits soared.
Tom read from Ephesians 6:18 “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”
We followed Bill off the boat and into Humvees he had arranged to meet us there, and our caravan sped across dusty miles to Susa. Through the massive gates of the Shushan Palace, we were greeted by lush gardens. No one seemed to notice us, or the Humvees, which seemed absurdly out of place against the surroundings.
It was almost too much to grasp.
“It must be around 470 B.C.” Cal said.
“Isn’t this about the time the Temple is being rebuilt?” Chris asked.
“Yes it is,” Capt. Neil said. “We will make a brief stop in Jerusalem to see it before leaving this time zone.”
Armor clanked as we walked and talked freely, unnoticed among the palace courtiers.
“There she is!” A sudden shout stopped us, and everyone in the courtyard bowed.
Turning, and with a collective gasp, we froze as the most beautiful woman we had ever seen, walked toward us.
“Queen Ester,” Claudia whispered.
Her Majesty paused—tilted her head slightly—shrugged and continued.
Laced with exotic scents, her flowing scarlet robe brushed us as she passed. Adorned with a sparkling gold crown beset with large precious stones, the Queen moved lightly up the stairs toward the throne room. We followed. She hesitated at the threshold for a moment and looked over her shoulder.
“It felt like she saw us and recognized our armor.” Carol later related.
Queen Ester lowered her head and walked toward the King. The throne room hushed for what seemed an eternity hanging in seconds. King Xerses face lit up at her presence and he held his gold scepter out to her. She moved forward and touched it.
The group stood spellbound until the conversation between the King and Queen ended. We knew the story—knew she was risking her life—knew her people would be spared because she obeyed God—knew she would live.
“It would be marvelous to stay for the banquets, but we must move on.” Capt. Neil said.
As promised, we stopped in Jerusalem, awed by the Temple, still under construction. “Zerubbabel will finish this by 515 B.C.,” Cal said.
From there the group began visiting women in the lineage of Christ, mentioned in Matthew 1—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary.
Different members of the small group volunteered to guide each journey. (Although, we ultimately realized that Captain Neil could drive a Humvee better than any one of us.)
Capt. Neil and the small group slipped back to the time of Judges. A dark time for the children of Israel—a time when they were scattered, unable to take back the Promised Land—a time when they were exposed to, and many adopted, foreign cultures and idol worship—a time away from God.
However, God chose several women to be bright lights who became significant in Jesus’ ‘Ancestry.God’.
Except for Jesus’ mother, Mary, these ancestors were not Israelite women. Their accounts show us that God used them mightily to bring forth His Son, Jesus Christ, who came to save everyone, both Jew and Gentile—including each of us!
Our Capt. and First Mate guide us to Moab where we follow Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, on a remarkable journey to Bethlehem. The account is in the Book of Ruth.
Traveling about thirteen miles West-Southwest of Bethlehem, Pete and Connie steer us to grazing lands near Hebron. There, we agonize and rejoice with Tamar, a Canaanite who married Judah, Abraham’s great grandson. Genesis Ch. 38.
Moving on, about 25 miles North-Northeast to Jericho, Ruth takes the lead as we encounter Rahab, who God rescues from a sinful bondage, and whose courage helped Joshua conquer the city of Jericho. Joshua, Ch. 2.
Eighteen miles West-Southwest again, we reach the City of David—Jerusalem. Dick and Sue direct us into a time when David’s reign took a serious down turn—a time when this King, who God said was a man after His Own heart, offended God—sinned. We see the gripping account of David and Bathsheba unfold in 2 Samuel Ch. 11, and witness how God forgave and restored him.
“Like David,” Sue concludes, “we learn in 1 John 1:9 (NIV) "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."
Ah, yes. Diane and Jim take us to a long-awaited visit in Bethlehem. A mere five miles from Jerusalem, we arrive at our first visit to the New Testament—the birth of Jesus—and our final destination. The familiar account endears us to Mary, the beloved mother of Jesus. Before being whisked home, we pause—give thanks—and worship our King. Matthew Ch. 1 & 2; Luke Ch. 1 & 2.
Our journeys taught us of God’s faithfulness even when we cannot see Him at work.
No sooner had the group volunteered to take turns guiding, than events in the lives of our group leaders demanded their full attention and energy. It was as though God knew this in advance—go figure!
What’s next? Our journey begins with Psalms 1.
It is easy to be invisible—either intentionally or unintentionally—in a well-attended church the size of Bethel. For us, just knowing there are at least twelve other people somewhere in the church body with whom we can exchange a wave, a smile, a hug, or maybe even a prayer, makes us feel at home.
Carol said it well. “I’ve never been in a small group that I love like this one.”
I hope you connect with a small group and feel the same way.