Small Group Discussion Questions (NET)

1. Have you ever felt like “dry bones?” consider the complaint of the Israelites in exile (Ez. 37:11). Have you ever felt this way?

Ez. 37:11 Then he said to me: "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.' 



2. Who has God used to speak encouraging words into your life? What change was brought about by these words?



3. What has God done in your life that draws others to you, so that you may introduce them to Him?

Revelation 1:5-6
5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood,6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father--to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

4. Is there someone in your life right now who needs to hear you speak the words of life? Which of these biblical “words of life” is this person most likely to respond to? Please feel free to add to these examples.


John 10:10
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

2 Peter 3:9
9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

John 1:45-46
45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote--Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." 46 "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked. "Come and see," said Philip.

Will you speak the words of life? Where you are given the opportunity, will you say the things that can make the difference between life and death for people you see every day?

Our scripture, from the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, transports us, along with God’s prophet to a valley. Not a valley with a peaceful stream, or a valley with lush meadows, but a desolate valley, a valley full of dried up human bones.
If you have your copy of God’s word, you can turn with me to the book of Ezekiel, Chapter 37, where I’ll begin reading in verse one.

Ezekiel 37:1-14
1 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I said, "O Sovereign LORD, you alone know." 4 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones and say to them, 'Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.' " 7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.' " 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet--a vast army. 11 Then he said to me: "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.' 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.' "
Okay, so a valley filled with old dried up human bones…Creepy! But look closer at the book of Ezekiel and we learn that God’s prophet had seen and experienced so much tragedy and loss that he didn’t spook easy.

Ezekiel was God’s prophet to the nation of Israel during a very dark time. You could say that God’s chosen people were going through a rough patch… well, that’s an understatement. Ezekiel served God during the exile, the time during which a Syrian king had conquered the nation of Israel and taken men, women and children back to Syria to be slaves. How could this happen to God’s chosen people, those he had rescued from bondage in Egypt and had led into a promised land of plenty?

The nation of Israel was never defeated by a foreign force while they were faithfully serving God. It was only during times that the religious leaders and people of Israel turned away from God and worshiped pagan idols, that God allowed others to defeat them. Now this might cause you to think of God as vindictive or judgmental. But here’s the thing.

Biblical and historical records tell us that it was known to the leaders of the countries that surrounded Israel that God was their protector and that he had defended them from other nations for hundreds of years. It is likely that those who thought of attacking Israel considered evidence of the Israelites state of faithfulness. They could see the alters to pagan gods that the Israelites built on the hilltops surrounding Jerusalem. Some of the Israelites even consulted pagan priests and oracles to learn more about their so called gods.

God had a plan for Israel that would have kept them safe. They knew the plan, but chose another way.

God often gets the blame when bad things happen. It is true that bad things sometimes happen to those who are innocent or who have been faithful to God. Sometimes others make terrible choices that cause harm to good people. Sometimes things just happen and we can’t begin to fathom why. But we have all seen the difference between that person who suffers pain or illness with a deep conviction that they are being sustained by God, and that loved one or coworker who suffers in the dual agony of physical pain and hopelessness because they do not have a sense of connection to the God who knows all our sorrows.

The nation of Israel during the time of Ezekiel was not a group of people who had been mistreated or unfairly harmed. The leaders and people of Israel made choices that they knew would damage their relationship with God. They made choices that God had told them would lead to harm. They just decided that they could have more, or better, or greater things if they did it their way instead of God’s way.

We see people around us suffer for the same reason. Many of us have seen first hand the devastating effect that choosing our own way has on our lives and on the lives of those around us.

Some will say that God has forsaken them, or that they can’t believe a loving God would let such difficulty and heartache befall them. These people take the position that they have no responsibility for the trials in their life and blame God for not rescuing them.

The promise of God is the same for all people; if we seek him and follow his plan for our lives, we will experience the comfort of his presence and the best possible life that this fallen world has to offer. And even if we don’t follow him, he still works to preserve our lives so that we might have every chance to return to him and live in the fullness of his blessings. Yet many will curse the name of God because he fails to provide the reward of his presence after they have rejected his plan for their lives.  

By the time Ezekiel began serving God as his prophet to the nation of Israel, the people that God had chosen to call his own had developed a track record of unfaithfulness. God had delivered this people from bondage in Egypt and brought them to a place so wonderful that it was referred to as the land of milk and honey, the promised land. He protected them from surrounding nations that attacked them and sought to make them an example of how good things could be for any people who worshiped the one true God.

God’s plan for Israel, and his plan for his people in every age is two-fold. He wishes to bless us directly because he cares for us as his children, and he wishes to communicate his love for others through us.


This is what God said to Abram/Abraham when he began his covenant with the father of all Israelites.

Genesis 12:2-3
2 "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

As God brought the nation of Israel out of bondage in Egypt, he reminded Moses of his plan for his people.

Exodus 19:5-6a
5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.'

A priest is one who has the responsibility of leading others to God. Israel was chosen by God to be an entire nation of people who would lead others to him.

As believers in Jesus, those who have called on him for salvation, we have been given this same role, or priesthood, as members of the Church of Christ.

Revelation 1:5-6

5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood,6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father--to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

Israel exchanged the opportunity to be God’s example of how good he can be to those who will let him, for the worship of pagan gods, worthless idols. They participated in the rituals of other religions that included deviant sexual behaviors, bizarre forms of self-harm and, according to God’s word, they even sacrificed their children.

The Old Testament records a predictable cycle: God blessed the nation of Israel, after a time they became dissatisfied with even the best of circumstances and began to look for “something better.” They called upon the pagan gods of their neighbors, and when this didn’t work, instead of turning back to God they just increased their efforts to please other gods through increasingly depraved worship practices. Eventually, the rejection of God’s blessings and protection led to their persecution, enslavement or destruction at the hands of other nations. This usually led at some point to a collective, “Oops! Shouldn’t have done that. Oh God, please save us!”

The Book of Ezekiel tells us that once again, the nation of Israel had rebelled against God, and this time things had gotten really bad. Even though he was faithful to God, Ezekiel himself had suffered terrible loss because of the collective sins and unfaithfulness of Israel. Ezekiel had been taken in bondage to Babylon along with his wife who he buried there. He sought to be faithful and listen to God. God used Ezekiel to be his voice among the Israelites in captivity, but they often mistreated him instead of listening.

The initial response of the formal religious leaders who had watched as thousands of Israelites were taken into captivity was denial. While the reality of their circumstances spoke clearly of the inescapable consequences of intentional wrong doing, Israel’s religious leaders said, “hey, it’s all a big misunderstanding.” God condemned this attitude because it interfered with the understanding of spiritual truth needed to begin the process of repentance and healing.

God told Ezekiel in
Ezekiel 13:10a why he was so disappointed in those who were supposed to be leaders of his people.

10 " 'Because they lead my people astray, saying, "Peace," when there is no peace,

It was through the prophesy and teaching of Ezekiel that God allowed the Israelites in captivity to understand their circumstances more clearly. But once they began to understand that they were responsible for their circumstances, they began to lose hope and to fear that their sin and rebellion had finally broken their relationship with God forever.

God called on Ezekiel to correct this misunderstanding. He said to Ezekiel in

Ez 33:10-11a
10 "Son of man, say to the house of Israel, 'This is what you are saying: "Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?" ' 11 Say to them, 'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.

It was during this time of hopelessness in exile that God brought Ezekiel to the valley of dry bones and asked him the question, "Son of man, can these bones live?"

It seems like Ezekiel was playing it safe with his response; “You alone know, oh God.” But Ezekiel was speaking the truth of his experience. He had seen God do miraculous things, and he had seen God’s chosen people perish because they chose to reject him. Ezekiel did not know what God was going to do, but he obeyed God’s command and saw the miraculous power of God working out the tremendous love he had for his people.

We live today in what many have called a chosen nation. We are blessed materially. I know, times are hard. But consider this the next time you hear someone talking about the 99 percent; if your income were just $13,000 a year, you would still be among the wealthiest 10 percent of people on this planet. This information is available at the web-site Giving-What-We-Can.org. The site has an interactive tool that will allow you to see how your income ranks in comparison to what is earned by others around the world. Additionally this tool allows you to calculate the impact of tithing on your ranking. I will challenge you to go to Giving-What-We-Can.org and calculate your ranking to see how you compare with the rest of the world after subtracting the 10% the Bible teaches us to give to the Lord. (http://www.givingwhatwecan.org/resources/how-rich-you-are.php)

We have it so much better than others around this world. We are also blessed with freedom to worship God without fear of persecution. Yes, it’s becoming unpopular to be a Christian in many circles, but having our feelings hurt is not persecution.

Like Ezekiel, we are surrounded by people who know God, or at least know of him; people who have tried church and tried doing it God’s way, but have chosen another path. And in many cases that path has brought heartache, hopelessness and destruction into their lives and the lives of people around them.

As God called Ezekiel to speak the words of life to the exiled nation of Israel, he calls us to speak words of life to those who are suffering because they have rejected God and refuse to turn to him even though they are suffering the consequences of a self-ruled life.

The story of Ezekiel helps us understand more about the call that God has placed on our lives to speak words of life to the dry bones that are the people around us who need to be reminded of God’s love and his plan for their lives.

What was it that made Ezekiel fit for the task that God called him to? What does God require of those who will speak the words of life?

A patient heart and listening ear
Humility
Faithfulness

Ezekiel had listened patiently to his fellow Israelites; their complaints, struggles and hopes.
Ezekiel had suffered along with those who had disobeyed God and had humbly accepted the justice of the consequences of Israel’s disobedience.
Ezekiel had shown himself to be faithful to God regardless of circumstances.

Each of us lives in a unique set of circumstances. There are people that we have relationships with as a result of shared experience. There are those who would listen to you who would not listen to me or to our pastor. But in order for any of us to be fit for the task of speaking the words of life, we must demonstrate humility and faithfulness. We must accept the consequences of disobedience in our own lives and in the lives of others as a working out of God’s love for us. And in order to be credible as speakers of truth, we must live lives that demonstrate faithfulness to God in public and in private.

At this point you might ask, “What exactly are these ‘words of life’ we are called to speak into the lives of the people who God places in our path?”

When you encounter that friend or relative, coworker or even stranger who has given up hope, what exactly should you say? Ezekiel said exactly what God told
him to. Can we find the same type of help in God’s word?

One scripture that I think encapsulates the words of life is found in the Gospel of John.

John 10:10
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

But we may find, as Ezekiel did, that there are people around us who know they are suffering because of their own choices, but believe that God will never forgive them. In this situation, tremendous words of life are found in:

2 Peter 3:9
9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Some we encounter will be skeptical. Instead of arguing, we can draw from the wisdom and simplicity of Jesus’ disciple Philip. His encounter with his friend Nathanael is found in John, Chapter 1:

John 1:45-46
45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote--Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." 46 "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked. "Come and see," said Philip.

If we are faithfully seeking God’s direction in our own lives, each of us will be given the opportunity to speak the words of life to those who need to hear. As we consider this call from God, that I believe is a call for every Christian, there are some things we should keep in mind.

We need to be sensitive to God’s timing. Not everyone we encounter is ready for us to start quoting scripture. In fact, if someone is not ready to hear the words of life, if they don’t have a reason to listen to us, we may contribute to their heart becoming hardened toward the words that could bring life at the right time. God’s timing becomes apparent to us through the process of patient listening and just getting to know people-their hurts and their joys.

It’s also important for us to know that the words that bring life to the perishing are not always “warm and fuzzy.” Sometimes we have to help people recognize that things they have come to love are in the way of the good God wants for them. We need to be gentle, but speak the truth about these things when we sense that God has provided the opportunity.

And finally, while we wish it were not true, not everyone will receive the words of life. We don’t know if the bones before us will live again. We can know that it is God’s will that no one should perish and speak the words of life as he leads, but ultimately everyone has to make a choice.

Have you responded to the words of life that God has used others to speak to you. Have you found the true, full life that comes from having a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. If not, it is our desire at Northshore Church to speak the words of life to you. Today, you can receive the gift of salvation.

If you have taken God up on his offer of abundant life here and now and eternal life with him when this world is no more, consider this morning his call to share the words of life with others.