Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Christian's Hope

“I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest. I do not judge the universe.”
– Dalai Lama

“Hope is the dream of a waking man.”
– Aristotle

“To me, we're marketing hope.”
– Joel Osteen

Is a Christian’s hope different than regular hope? Buddhist hope?  Is hope important?

1)    Do you often think about or experience hope?

2)    When is it hardest for you to have hope?

(Colossians 1:3-6) We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in our prayers for you.  We thank God because we have heard about your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. You have these because of the hope which is kept safe for you in heaven. Some time ago you heard about this hope in the Good News which is the message of truth. This Good News is present with you now. It is producing results and spreading all over the world as it did among you from the first day you heard it. At that time you came to know what God’s kindness truly means.
3)    How can our hope be stored up in heaven?

 (Titus 1:2-3; 3:7) My message is based on the confidence of eternal life. God, who never lies, promised this eternal life before the world began.  God has revealed this in every era by spreading his word. I was entrusted with this word by the command of God our Savior.

(Romans 8:24-25)  We know that all creation has been groaning with the pains of childbirth up to the present time.  However, not only creation groans. We, who have the Spirit as the first of God’s gifts, also groan inwardly. We groan as we eagerly wait for our adoption, the freeing of our bodies from sin.  We were saved with this hope in mind. If we hope for something we already see, it’s not really hope. Who hopes for what can be seen?  But if we hope for what we don’t see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.
4)    Is there any tension or contradiction in Paul’s letter to Titus and to the Romans? Can hope be for something certain and something unseen?

(Titus 2:11-14)  After all, God’s saving kindness has appeared for the benefit of all people.  It trains us to avoid ungodly lives filled with worldly desires so that we can live self-controlled, moral, and godly lives in this present world.  At the same time we can expect what we hope for—the appearance of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.  He gave himself for us to set us free from every sin and to cleanse us so that we can be his special people who are enthusiastic about doing good things.
5)    So what is hope supposed to help us do? How might that work?

Some scripture on hope:
•    Psalm 33:18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, On those who hope for His lovingkindness,
•    Psalm 31:24 Be strong, and let your heart take courage, All you who hope in the LORD.
•    Romans 5:2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.
•    Romans 15:13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
•    1 Thessalonians 4:13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope.
•    1 Timothy 4:10 For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.
•    Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
6)    What does hope give us? Have you ever experienced one of these passages?

1 Peter 1: The God’s Word translation often puts faith as confidence. (3, 13, 18-21)
3 Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! God has given us a new birth because of his great mercy. We have been born into a new life that has a confidence which is alive because Jesus Christ has come back to life. …

13 Therefore, your minds must be clear and ready for action. Place your confidence completely in what God’s kindness will bring you when Jesus Christ appears again. …

18 Realize that you weren’t set free from the worthless life handed down to you from your ancestors by a payment of silver or gold which can be destroyed. 19 Rather, the payment that freed you was the precious blood of Christ, the lamb with no defects or imperfections. 20 He is the lamb who was known long ago before the world existed, but for your good he became publicly known in the last period of time. 21 Through him you believe in God who brought Christ back to life and gave him glory. So your faith and confidence are in God.

7)    What is Peter teaching us about hope?

8)    Look back at the quotes on the first page. How would you respond to those speakers?

9)    One more quote:
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” 
– Martin Luther King, Jr. 
What was Rev. King getting at? Is he using hope in the scriptural sense?

(1 Corinthians 13:8-13)  Love never comes to an end. There is the gift of speaking what God has revealed, but it will no longer be used. There is the gift of speaking in other languages, but it will stop by itself. There is the gift of knowledge, but it will no longer be used.  Our knowledge is incomplete and our ability to speak what God has revealed is incomplete.  But when what is complete comes, then what is incomplete will no longer be used.  When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I no longer used childish ways.  Now we see a blurred image in a mirror. Then we will see very clearly. Now my knowledge is incomplete. Then I will have complete knowledge as God has complete knowledge of me.  So these three things remain: faith, hope, and love. But the best one of these is love.

10)    What is Paul saying that faith, hope and love have in common? We seem to think more about faith and love… what does hope add to our lives in Christ?

Post script: The first question in this study brought up a not uncommon sentiment: "I hope I win the lottery." It reminded me of the story this fall of a man who won the lottery, then waited to collect. He lived his life as if he had not won it, though he had certain knowledge that he had. It relates pretty directly to how Peter and Paul teach us about hope, for we are certain of our hope, also. Here's the news story from USA Today.

Post post script: To some extent this study was inspired by this comic. it's a bit in your face, especially for our group that has some beloved members with terminal illnesses. But it's a good wake up for those not dealing with the temporary nature of this world, which includes me much of the time.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Psalms and Politics

Image from the Sunday Drive Home blog
Adapted from Eugene Peterson studies on the psalms, particularly Where Your Treasure Is, using materials from Rev. Deanna Wildermuth.

After we read each psalm, let’s share what we noticed and what we might have had questions about. If we didn’t cover them already, then we can look at the questions.

Read Psalm 2
1)    Do you feel like the nations still rebel against the Lord?
2)    What is the comfort for believers here?

Read Psalm 14
3)    To us this sounds like atheism. Would it have meant the same thing then?
4)    Do verses 2 and 3 include us? Does this psalm tell us to do anything?

Read Psalm 46
Peterson writes about Psalm 46: “Healthy prayer does not withdraw. But neither does it confront. It is not so much a dealing with what is wrong with the world or myself as a way of dealing with God in the world and in myself. Evil (in the form of violence in the psalm) is dealt with indirectly: it is absorbed into the forms and ceremonies of prayer. Prayer frees us from the assault of brute experience by setting us in the energies of grace experience. In the process, violence itself is changed.”
5)    How do you think violence is changed through prayer? What are the “energies of the grace experience”?
6)    Psalm 46 starts with the opposite of positive thinking. How does the worst case scenario prepare us to say in the midst of the inevitable crisis, “We will not fear”? Does it change your attitude regarding violence and evil?

Read Psalm 62.
7)    If someone’s telling you to wait on the Lord, or to trust in God only, it implies you’re not trusting God only or not waiting on Him. What tempts Christians away from trusting ad waiting on the Lord?
8)    How can we balance the need to take action (being the body of Christ) with the idea of waiting on the Lord?

Read Psalm 77.
9)    That sounds like self-pity at the beginning. Is it okay to complain in prayer? What good does it do?
10)    How does the psalmist get out of their self-pity?
11)    Dealing with politics, it can be easy to doubt. Has there been a time that caused you to doubt? How did you deal with it?

Read Psalm 82.
12)    “Among the gods” and “You are gods”?? What’s up with that?
13)    (Might be too political) Verses 3 and 4 prompt the question: what role should Christians want our government to have for the oppressed and the poor? Is this telling us to do something for the poor and the oppressed?

Read Psalm 110.
14)    Might sound familiar. It was the most referred to psalm in the New Testament; quoted 7 times, alluded to 15.  Examples of texts: Matthew 22:42-45; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44; Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62; Luke 22:69; Acts 2:34-35; 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 1 Peter 3:22. Also in the Apostle’s Creed.
What makes this psalm so important?
15)    Does this psalm refer to things that Jesus has already done, is going to do, both or neither?

Read Psalm 114.
Psalms 113 to 118 are used at festivals. For example, this song is sung before the Passover seder.

Peterson writes about Psalm 114: “Prayer that enters into relationship with earth and sky, sea and mountains plays. It skips and dances. We do not live in an iron clad universe of cause and effect. In the presence of the God of Jacob there is life that is beyond prediction. There is freedom to change, to become more than we were in the presence of the God who ‘turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.’ ”
16)    How does he get that we do not live in an ‘iron clad universe of cause and effect’ from this psalm? What might he mean? Do you agree?
17)    Have you ever experienced prayer as playful?

What We Are

Give a short talk for Lakeshore Fellowship's first family night. Parents meeting together while their kids are in middle school or K-5 ministry. The theme I was given was individuality, based on Ephesians 2:10.  I had the following Prezi:

Ephesians 2
We can believe this because it’s scripture. But, what’s the hardest part to believe? To really make sense of? (Small group discussion.)

Sir Ken 15:18-17:45

Ken’s big point is helping students find their element. I think of parenting the same way. How do we find out where our children’s greatest strengths are? Especially when we can see that it can make such a difference. From this I get both the idea that strengths are not always obvious and can even appear negative, and that this parenting thing is the hardest job.

From, if you can believe it. But if you’re a Christian you actually believe this. Paul seems to know that it’s hard to believe because he writes…

Ephesians 5:1-2
God’s children, each and every one. And we’re supposed to imitate God as a parent. No pressure. 

Temple Grandin
Often when we talk about individuality we just talk about the warm fuzzies. Temple’s story makes clear the strengths and challenges. She has abilities that are rare and challenges that she has faced only through support. It’s one of the best parenting stories I know. (Small group discussion: what are the strengths and challenges you have to deal with?)

With your whole Very
Jesus’ pick for the greatest commandment comes from the section of Scripture known as the Shema to the Jews.  When we look at that passage from Deuteronomy, the connection to parenting is clear. Looking at the Hebrew language raises some alternate interpretations. Instead of the love God full out, pedal to the metal feel of most English translations, it sounds like loving God as come-as-you-are, for the long haul, and this prase that seems to sound as odd in Hebrew as it does English: love God with all your very. With your peculiarities, your extremes, your gifts and your problems. Very comforting to me.

Ephesians 6:18
How can we do this? Paul told us this, too. Through prayer and all together.

Community: one of my favorite images for cooperation. Because it’s hard, and because we’re only complete together.

Pray: Together for all of us.

P.S. Remember the “God has made us” part of “God has made us what we are.”

Friday, September 7, 2012


Work effort activity job employment trade profession livelihood making occupation duty task undertaking

“Work saves us from three great evils: boredom, vice and need.” – Voltaire

0)    What makes something you do into work?

Genesis 2:15-18
15 Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to farm the land and to take care of it. 16 The Lord God commanded the man. He said, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden. 17 But you must never eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because when you eat from it, you will certainly die.” 18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is right for him.”
1)    The biggest misconception about work is that it’s a consequence of the fall. What does it mean that there was work even pre-Eve?

Genesis 3: 17-19
Then he said to the man, “You listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree, although I commanded you, ‘You must never eat its fruit.’ The ground is cursed because of you. Through hard work you will eat food that comes from it every day of your life. The ground will grow thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat wild plants. By the sweat of your brow, you will produce food to eat until you return to the ground, because you were taken from it. You are dust, and you will return to dust.”
2)    How did the Fall change work?

John 5:16-21, 36
16 The Jews began to persecute Jesus because he kept healing people on the day of worship. 17 Jesus replied to them, “My Father is working right now, and so am I.” 18 His reply made the Jews more intent on killing him. Not only did he break the laws about the day of worship, but also he made himself equal to God when he said repeatedly that God was his Father. 19 Jesus said to the Jews, “I can guarantee this truth: The Son cannot do anything on his own. He can do only what he sees the Father doing. Indeed, the Son does exactly what the Father does. 20 The Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing. The Father will show him even greater things to do than these things so that you will be amazed. 21 In the same way that the Father brings back the dead and gives them life, the Son gives life to anyone he chooses. …  36 But I have something that testifies more favorably on my behalf than John’s testimony. The tasks that the Father gave me to carry out, these tasks which I perform, testify on my behalf. They prove that the Father has sent me.”
3)    Jesus and the Father have work? How is that possible? What does it mean about work?

Ecclesiastes 2:4-11
I accomplished some great things: I built houses for myself. I planted vineyards for myself. I made gardens and parks for myself. I planted every kind of fruit tree in them. made pools to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves. In addition, slaves were born in my household. I owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I also gathered silver and gold for myself. I gathered the treasures of kings and provinces. I provided myself with male and female singers and the pleasures men have with one concubine after another.  So I grew richer than anyone in Jerusalem before me. Yet, my wisdom remained with me. 10 If something appealed to me, I did it. I allowed myself to have any pleasure I wanted, since I found pleasure in my work. This was my reward for all my hard work.

But when I turned to look at all that I had accomplished and all the hard work I had put into it, I saw that it was all pointless. It was like trying to catch the wind. I gained nothing from any of my accomplishments under the sun.
4)    Whoa. What does Solomon discover about work?

Ephesians 2:10
God has made us what we are. He has created us in Christ Jesus to live lives filled with good works that he has prepared for us to do.
5)    Is what we consider our work the work to which God has called us?

1 Corinthians 3:3-9
When you are jealous and quarrel among yourselves, aren’t you influenced by your corrupt nature and living by human standards? 4 When some of you say, “I follow Paul” and others say, “I follow Apollos,” aren’t you acting like sinful humans? 5 Who is Apollos? Who is Paul? They are servants who helped you come to faith. Each did what the Lord gave him to do. 6 I planted, and Apollos watered, but God made it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is important because only God makes it grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have the same goal, and each will receive a reward for his own work. 9 We are God’s coworkers. You are God’s field.
6)     What is the planting and watering metaphor saying? How does God interact with our work?

Isaiah 28:23-26
Open your ears, and listen to me! Pay attention, and hear me! Does a farmer go on plowing every day so he can plant? Does he continue to break up the soil and make furrows in the ground?
When he has smoothed its surface, doesn’t he scatter black cumin seed and plant cumin? Doesn’t he plant wild wheat in rows? Doesn’t he put barley in its own area and winter wheat at its borders?
God will guide him in judgment, and his God will teach him.
7)    What is something that you have learned about work from God’s teaching?

  • 21:5 The plans of a hard-working person lead to prosperity, but everyone who is always in a hurry ends up in poverty. 
  • 21:25 The desire of a lazy person will kill him because his hands refuse to work. 
  • 22:29 Do you see a person who is efficient in his work? He will serve kings. He will not serve unknown people. 
  • 24:27 Prepare your work outside, and get things ready for yourself in the field. Afterwards, build your house. 
  • 28:19 Whoever works his land will have plenty to eat. Whoever chases unrealistic dreams will have plenty of nothing.
8)    What proverb would you write about work or what saying do you like about work?

2 Thessalonians 3:6-10

Brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ we order you not to associate with any believer who doesn’t live a disciplined life and doesn’t follow the tradition you received from us. You know what you must do to imitate us. We lived a disciplined life among you. We didn’t eat anyone’s food without paying for it. Instead, we worked hard and struggled night and day in order not to be a burden to any of you. It’s not as though we didn’t have a right to receive support. Rather, we wanted to set an example for you to follow. While we were with you, we gave you the order: “Whoever doesn’t want to work shouldn’t be allowed to eat.”
9)    Why would they give that order? How does it fit with the previous scriptures on work?

James 2:14-26
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”     and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
10) Deeds here is 'works' in the King James. Is this work in any of the senses we've talked about it?

Biblical Worldview of Work by Kenneth Boa
Job Satisfaction and the Value of Work
Work by Steve Bishop
Ethics of Work by James Eckman

Image credit: Sean MacEntee @ Flickr


Forgot to post this last month. Sorry!

This year I'm back to monthly studies for the men's group with no youth study.

20 Questions on Habakkuk

Habakkuk is a man of mystery, mentioned only in his own short book (nestled between Nahum and Zephaniah) and apocryphal writings. (A truly weird story that involves dragons and Habakkuk being transported to feed Daniel in the lion’s den.) He lived around the time of the Babylonian (aka Chaldean) rise to power (ca 600 BC), probably contemporary to Jeremiah and Zephaniah. His book has long been treasured for its style of writing as well as its message.

Read 1:1-11
1)    How would you put Habakkuk’s question in your own words?

2)    Have you ever asked anything similar?

3)    How does God answer?

4)    Is there anything today that feels like an injustice that God is allowing? How might that injustice be serving God’s purposes?

5)    After all God’s glowing description of the Babylonians, what do you think is meant by “So they will be guilty, because their own strength is their god.” ?

Read 1:12-17
6)    How does Habakkuk respond to God’s answer?  What new question does God’s answer prompt?

7)    What makes you feel like Habakkuk feels in this passage? How do you deal with it?

Read 2:1-3
8)    Habakkuk seems patient. What helps you be patient when waiting on God? Do you wait on God?

9)    What is the Lord telling Habakkuk in the beginning of his response? Does it apply to us in the post-Resurrection era in any way?
Read 2:4- 20
10)    How would you sum up the Lord’s response here?

11)    Is it an answer to Habakkuk’s question?

12)    How does it connect with the Lord’s first answer?

13)    What’s the relevance of this warning for today? Do you see any connections with the modern world?

Read Habakkuk 3
14)    Question – answer; question – answer; psalm? How is this psalm of Habakkuk a response to the question and answer session?

One question I had about the psalm was the beginning.
In Exodus 33:2, Moses’ final blessing begins: “The Lord came from Sinai. For his people he rose from Seir like the sun. He appeared like sunshine from Mount Paran.”
In Isaiah 63:1, Isaiah writes “Who is this coming from Bozrah in Edom with his clothes stained bright red? Who is this dressed in splendor, going forward with great strength? “It is I, the Lord. I am coming to announce my victory. I am powerful enough to save you.”
Edom is another word for Teman, and was known as the inheritance of Esau, south of Judah; the Edomites were traditional enemies of Israel.
15)    What meaning might it have had for the Jews to imagine God coming from the south?

16)    What other questions do you have about the psalm?

17)    Is there any description of God here that really resonates with you?

18)    One neat sermon on Habakkuk 3 talks about how this is a good chapter for anyone who feels like they’ve got a handle on what God would or wouldn’t do. How does this chapter address that?

19)    Have you ever been able to rejoice in the Lord in terrible times? Can you share it?

20)    What’s one thing you can take away from this reading of the book of Habakkuk?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Re RePeter

Note: occurred to me I never posted the modification of the RePeter youth bible study that we did in the men's group. It added some good discussion, and lead to the Go Forth evangelism study we did this month. 

Go Forth

Note: Our men's bible study this month was a bit different than usual. Instead of our usual digging into scripture, we went through the materials from Evangelism Explosion, which was a James Kennedy program for equipping his churchmembers to talk to people about salvation.  I asked the men to bring the scripture and personal connections to the topic.  As it is, this was way too long for an hour plus. But, going through the basics of salvation was clearly worth it, even for this bunch of experienced guys. I've added a couple of the scripture connections they added in parentheses.

Recent bible studies we’ve done have had a big message or discussion point about sharing Christ with others. Pastor Lee shared his Evangelism Explosion (EE) text and some of his experiences. From the text it sounds like it started as a visitation program to people who had tried Pastor Kennedy’s church.

Presentation of the Gospel
The two questions
1) Do you know for certain if you die that you will go to heaven?

2) If God were to ask “why should I let you into heaven?” what do you think you would say?

The big points
Romans 6:23  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
3)    As we go through these, let’s consider how we make sense of it, how we might explain it to someone else, and what Bible verses or stories it brings to mind. You don’t have to know chapter and verse – we’re just looking for connections.

A.    Grace.
  • Heaven is free.
  • We can’t earn it.
  • This completely free idea is the only way it could work.

B.    Sin. Ps 53:3 “Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Matthew 5:48, 1 John 1:8-9)
  • We are all sinners: thoughts, words, and deeds - done and left undone.
  • We cannot save ourselves.

C.    God.
  • God is merciful.
  • God is just.

D.    Jesus.
  • He is God and Man.
  • Salvation is through Him and what He did.

E.    Faith. (Rom 10:9)
  • Not acknowledging Jesus existence, his crucifixion or even his resurrection.
  • Salvation is through Jesus alone. Knowledge, assent, and trust.

Two Passages on this:
Ephesians 2:1-9 You were once dead because of your failures and sins. 2 You followed the ways of this present world and its spiritual ruler. This ruler continues to work in people who refuse to obey God. 3 All of us once lived among these people, and followed the desires of our corrupt nature. We did what our corrupt desires and thoughts wanted us to do. So, because of our nature, we deserved God’s anger just like everyone else. 
4 But God is rich in mercy because of his great love for us. 5 We were dead because of our failures, but he made us alive together with Christ. (It is God’s kindness[a] that saved you.) 6 God has brought us back to life together with Christ Jesus and has given us a position in heaven with him. 7 He did this through Christ Jesus out of his generosity to us in order to show his extremely rich kindness in the world to come. 8 God saved you through faith as an act of kindness. You had nothing to do with it. Being saved is a gift from God. 9 It’s not the result of anything you’ve done, so no one can brag about it.

Romans 3: 21-26 Now, the way to receive God’s approval has been made plain in a way other than Moses’ Teachings. Moses’ Teachings and the Prophets tell us this. 22 Everyone who believes has God’s approval through faith in Jesus Christ.
There is no difference between people. 23 Because all people have sinned, they have fallen short of God’s glory. 24 They receive God’s approval freely by an act of his grace through the price Christ Jesus paid to set us free from sin. 25 God showed that Christ is the throne of mercy where God’s approval is given through faith in Christ’s blood. In his patience God waited to deal with sins committed in the past. 26 He waited so that he could display his approval at the present time. This shows that he is a God of justice, a God who approves of people who believe in Jesus.

4)    What connections do you see between the gospel presentation points and these two passages?

Then what?
5)    In EE and Billy Graham revivals this is where they ask the person to make a statement of faith or pray the sinner’s prayer. What would you do with someone at this point?

Smoothing the Way
Some features of the EE method are to: create a transition to the gospel, earn a right to ask personal questions, find out where the person is, create a desire to hear the gospel, ask permission to share

1 Peter 3:15 “Always be ready to defend your confidence in God when anyone asks you to explain it. However, make your defense with gentleness and respect.”
  • People argue doctrine; testimony is your personal experience.
  • Chance to share what’s good now about salvation: fellowship, peace, love, forgiveness, new perspective, freedom in a real, concrete way.
  • OK if you don’t remember becoming a Christian. Telling your own story with your own facts.

6)    How does being saved make a difference in your life?

1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 Don’t despise what God has revealed. 21 Instead, test everything. Hold on to what is good.
  • avoid argument, be positive, acknowledge truth.
  • OK to postpone if it’s extraneous. “That’s a different question. What I was trying to say…
  • OK to answer later. If it’s a relevant question, but you don’t have an answer, say so and that you’ll think about it and get an answer.
  • Common objections:

  • What about all the non-believers?
  • God wouldn’t send anyone to hell/hell isn’t real.
  • Why believe the Bible?
  • It can’t be free/works must play a part.
  • Atheist/materialist/agnostic/pagan.
7)    How do you answer these? What other objections do you hear?

Follow up. It’s about discipleship, not a single big moment. Works come in as a response to grace. A thank you.

In addition to the study, I brought this list culled from some recent blogposts, linked below, from a Christian writer.  I meant these for discussion - please take his notes with a grain of salt.

Cliches Christians Should Avoid. From 3 different articles by Christian Platt. See
I’m uncomfortable with some of these, but his full list (29 items long) includes some things I wish Christians wouldn’t say (like “God helps those who help themselves” or “God must have wanted another angel”) so they are at least worth considering and maybe answering. If nothing else, they show potential sticking points.  For the following: would you avoid these in talking to people about Jesus, or are they important to include?

Can I share a little bit about my faith with you?” Too often, Christians presume we have something everyone else needs, without even knowing them first. Ask someone about their story, but maybe not the second you meet them. Christian evangelism often is the equivalent of a randy young teenager trying to get in good with his new girlfriend. When your personal agenda is more important than the humanity of the person you’re talking to, most people can sense the opportunism from a mile a way.

Do you accept Jesus as your personal lord and savior?” Again, this is not in the Bible. Anywhere. And for me, it goes against the whole Christlike notion of the suffering servant. People tried to elevate Jesus to the status of Lord, but he rejected it. So why do we keep trying? Plus, the whole idea of a lord is so antiquated, it has no real relevance to our lives today. Be more mindful of your words, and really mean what you say.

Jesus died for your sins.” I know, this is an all-time Christian favorite. But even if you buy into the concept of substitutionary atonement (the idea that God set Jesus up as a sacrifice to make good for all the bad stuff we’ve done), this is a abysmal way to introduce your faith to someone. I didn’t ask Jesus to die for me, and if I’m not a Christian, I really have no concept of how that could possibly be a good thing. he whole idea of being washed clean by an innocent man’s blood is enough to give any person nightmares, let alone lead them into a deeper conversation about what Christianity is about.

Are you saved? I’ve addressed the theological understandings of hell and judgment in other pieces, but regardless of whether you believe in hell, this is a very unattractive thing to say. First, it implies a power/privilege imbalance (ie, “I’m saved, but I’m guessing you’re not based on some assumptions I’m making about you), and it also leaps over the hurdle of personal investment and relationship, straight into the deep waters of personal faith. If you take the time to learn someone’s story, you’ll like learn plenty about what they think and believe in the process. And who knows? You might actually learn something too, rather than just telling others what they should believe.

Christianity is the only way to God/Heaven. You may believe this with your whole heart, and I’m sure you have the scriptures at the ready to support it. But consider the possibility that either those you’re speaking with think differently about this, or if they haven’t put much thought into it, that what you’re saying feels like an ultimatum or a threat.  Yes, there are texts to support a theology of exclusive salvation, but there also are some to support a more universalist notion of salvation (John 1:9 – “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”). And think about how such a statement might sound to someone who has lost a loved one who was not a Christian, at least by your standards of what that means. And theologically speaking, it opens up a whole Pandora’s Box in answering for the fate of all those who lived before Christ, who never hear about him, and so on.

Antidotes to the Clichés to avoid:
  1. Listen more; talk less.
  2. Stop trying to fix everything.
  3. See yourself in the “Other.”
  4. Pray.
  5. Quality over quantity.
  6. Share generously of yourself.
  7. Be open to the possibility that you’re wrong.
  8. Apologize.
  9. Own your love.
  10. Make sure your life reflects your faith.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


We've studied Peter before, and Pentecost. But this time of year it's hard to keep away from the Big Fisherman.

The Low – the night of the Last Supper 
John 13:36-38
36 Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “You can’t follow me now to the place where I’m going. However, you will follow me later.” 37 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I’ll give my life for you.” 38 Jesus replied, “Will you give your life for me? I can guarantee this truth: No rooster will crow until you say three times that you don’t know me.

John 18:15-18, 25-27
Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. The other disciple was well-known to the chief priest. So that disciple went with Jesus into the chief priest’s courtyard. 16 Peter, however, was standing outside the gate. The other disciple talked to the woman who was the gatekeeper and brought Peter into the courtyard. 17 The gatekeeper asked Peter, “Aren’t you one of this man’s disciples too?” Peter answered, “No, I’m not!” 18 The servants and the guards were standing around a fire they had built and were warming themselves because it was cold. Peter was standing there, too, and warming himself with the others. … 25 Simon Peter continued to stand and warm himself by the fire. Some men asked him, “Aren’t you, too, one of his disciples?” Peter denied it by saying, “No, I’m not!” 26 One of the chief priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked him, “Didn’t I see you with Jesus in the garden?” 27 Peter again denied it, and just then a rooster crowed.

1)    How can Peter go from “I’ll give my life for you” to “No I’m not!” in one night?

artist's image, ca. 1000 AD.
Of course, Jesus still loves Peter. He knew Peter was going to deny him. But he also knew what Peter could and would do in His name.
John 21: 1-19
Later, by the Sea of Tiberias, Jesus showed himself again to the disciples. This is what happened. 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two other disciples of Jesus were together. 3 Simon Peter said to the others, “I’m going fishing.” They told him, “We’re going with you.” They went out in a boat but didn’t catch a thing that night.  
4 As the sun was rising, Jesus stood on the shore. The disciples didn’t realize that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus asked them, “Friends, haven’t you caught any fish?” They answered him, “No, we haven’t.” 6 He told them, “Throw the net out on the right side of the boat, and you’ll catch some.” So they threw the net out and were unable to pull it in because so many fish were in it. 7 The disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord.” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put back on the clothes that he had taken off and jumped into the sea. 8 The other disciples came with the boat and dragged the net full of fish. They weren’t far from the shore, only about 100 yards. 
9 When they went ashore, they saw a fire with a fish lying on the coals, and they saw a loaf of bread. 10 Jesus told them, “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught.” 11 Simon Peter got into the boat and pulled the net ashore. Though the net was filled with 153 large fish, it was not torn. 12 Jesus told them, “Come, have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared to ask him who he was. They knew he was the Lord. 13 Jesus took the bread, gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was the third time that Jesus showed himself to the disciples after he had come back to life. 
15 After they had eaten breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than the other disciples do?” Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus told him, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Jesus asked him again, a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter answered him “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus told him, “Take care of my sheep.”  
17 Jesus asked him a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt sad because Jesus had asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” So Peter said to him, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus told him, “Feed my sheep. 18 I can guarantee this truth: When you were young, you would get ready to go where you wanted. But when you’re old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will get you ready to take you where you don’t want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to show by what kind of death Peter would bring glory to God. After saying this, Jesus told Peter, “Follow me!”
2)    What connections do you see between this story and the denial story?

NT Wright (a great Anglican teacher and theologian) points out that the first time Jesus said love/agape (unconditional), and Peter responds with love/philia (friendly).  Peter used to respond HUGELY to Jesus, but now he’s understated. The second time, Jesus says agape again, and again Peter says friends again.

3)    Why does Jesus shift from ‘feed my lambs’ to ‘care for my sheep’? Why doesn’t Jesus bring up Peter’s denial?

4)    Wright notes that the third time, Jesus asks “Simon, are you my friend?” Doesn’t Peter sound upset? How would you feel?

Wright comments: “I think Jesus is saying, in effect, ‘Very well, Peter: if that’s where you are, that’s where we’ll start. If you can say you’re my friend, we will build on that. Now: feed my sheep.’ And then, of course, he goes on to warn Peter of what is to come; this sheep-feeding business will cost him not less than everything, as it had cost the master Shepherd himself.” It’s very comforting to me that Jesus takes me where I am.

Consider also when Peter addressed the crowd after Pentecost.  One thing to note is that he didn’t run out after Easter Sunday, nor even after Jesus’ ascension, but waited, as Christ told him, to receive the Holy Spirit. But then he spoke to a multitude.
Acts 2:36-39
36 “All the people of Israel should know beyond a doubt that God made Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” 37 When the people heard this, they were deeply upset. They asked Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38 Peter answered them, “All of you must turn to God and change the way you think and act, and each of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins will be forgiven. Then you will receive the Holy Spirit as a gift. 39 This promise belongs to you and to your children and to everyone who is far away. It belongs to everyone who worships the Lord our God.”

Acts 4:10-12 Later Peter and John are on trial for healing a lame man. Peter says:
“10 You and all the people of Israel must understand that this man stands in your presence with a healthy body because of the power of Jesus Christ from Nazareth. You crucified Jesus Christ, but God has brought him back to life. 11 He is the stone that the builders rejected, the stone that has become the cornerstone. 12 No one else can save us. Indeed, we can be saved only by the power of the one named Jesus and not by any other person.”

Acts 4:17-19 The Pharisees think everyone knows about the miracle and are afraid to punish them. They say:
“17 So let’s threaten them. Let’s tell them that they must never speak to anyone about the one named Jesus. Then the news about the miracle that they have performed will not spread any further among the people.” 18 They called Peter and John and ordered them never to teach about Jesus or even mention his name. 19 Peter and John answered them, “Decide for yourselves whether God wants people to listen to you rather than to him. 20 We cannot stop talking about what we’ve seen and heard.”
5)    Is Peter following Jesus’ instructions?

6)    Jot down one thing to remember from this study.

Christ is Risen from the Dead by N. T. Wright. Again. You should  really read that.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


(Based on the Nooma of the same name.)

Scripture from the Nooma

Read the following:
Matthew 22:34-40 The Greatest Commandment
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” 

John 13:31-35 After the Last Supper
31 When he [Judas] was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. 33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 
Watch the video with these two questions in mind, then come back to discuss them:
1) What is Rob Bell’s main point?

2) Does his point come from the scripture he’s citing?

As always, though you can find the complete Noomas on YouTube, I encourage you to buy the videos if you're going to use them for teaching. Here's the trailer for Bullhorn.

3) What would you want to say to the man with the bullhorn?

Scripture confirms our need to care for the poor and the helpless time and time again. But we do have a message to share also.
Romans 10:8-17
This is the message of faith that we spread. 9 If you declare that Jesus is Lord, and believe that God brought him back to life, you will be saved. 10 By believing you receive God’s approval, and by declaring your faith you are saved. 11 Scripture says, “Whoever believes in him will not be ashamed.” 12 There is no difference between Jews and Greeks. They all have the same Lord, who gives his riches to everyone who prays to him. 13 So then, “Whoever prays in the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 But how can people pray to him if they have not believed in him? How can they believe in him if they have not heard his message? How can they hear if no one tells the Good News? 15 How can people tell the Good News if no one sends them? As Scripture says, “How beautiful are the feet of the messengers who announce the Good News.” 16 But not everyone has believed the Good News. Isaiah asks, “Lord, who has believed our message?” 17 So faith comes from hearing the message, and the message that is heard is what Christ spoke.

4) What should we tell people about Jesus?

Resurrection of the Body

I adapted the Not Zombies youth lesson for the men's study today. The main difference was an expanded look at 1st Corinthians 15, with a connection to a Tom Wright speech. Here's the whole study if you want it in one piece. One of the fascinating parts about doing the study was how much the idea of our great commission came out in all of the earlier readings, before we even read the Wright stuff. (Couldn't resist, sorry!) See also the overview of the whole book, Dear Men of Corinth.

1st Corinthians 15: 12-19
12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

5) Paul’s making a logical argument here. What’s the point and how does he argue it?

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
6) What does this passage have to do with Harry Potter?

7) What does he mean here? What does it have to do with the resurrection of the body?

29 Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? 30 And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31 I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” 33 Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” 34 Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God - I say this to your shame.
8) “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die,” is a famous phrase and oft quoted. Is that what Paul is recommending? Do you agree with his point about associating with bad people?

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. 42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we[g] bear the image of the heavenly man. 50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

9) Is Paul explaining by analogy or constructing an argument? What does the idea of an incorruptible body mean to you?

51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed - 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

The scripture Paul refers to is possibly Isaiah 25:8 “He will swallow up death forever, and he will remove the disgrace of his people from the whole earth. The Lord has spoken.” in addition to Hosea 13:14 ““I will deliver this people from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction?”

N. T. Wright writes: “Christ is risen from the dead, the first fruits of those who sleep; and we who celebrate him as our contemporary are charged to work with him on his kingdom-project in the present time. 1 Corinthians 15 is a spectacular chapter, but one of the most remarkable verses in it is the last (verse 58), where Paul doesn’t say ‘therefore enjoy the presence of Christ’, though he might have done, or ‘therefore look forward to your glorious future’, though he might have said that as well. He says ‘therefore get on with your work in the present, because in the Lord your labour is not in vain.’ That is at the heart of the meaning of the resurrection. Because God is already making his new creation, all that you do in Christ and by the Spirit is part of that new world. Every cup of cold water, every tiny prayer, every confrontation with the bullies who oppress the poor, every song of praise or dance of joy, every work of art and music – nothing is wasted. The resurrection will reaffirm it, in ways we cannot begin to imagine, as part of God’s new world. Resurrection isn’t just about a glorious future. It is about a meaningful present. That is what it means that Jesus, our contemporary, is raised from the dead as the first fruits of those who slept.”

10) What do you think about this connection of resurrection with commission? How does it connect to the gospel passages we read? (Or other scripture.) Was that part of what Paul was saying here?

11) I will freely admit that this is the part of my faith I least understand. Yet I believe it on the authority of the Bible. Is it okay to believe something of which you haven’t made sense?

To close out, how about a Johnny Cash hymn of the most poetic verse?

Christ is Risen from the Dead by N. T. Wright

Saturday, May 5, 2012


John the Apostle (also called John the Evangelist and John the Beloved) wrote a gospel, three epistles (1st John, 2nd John and 3rd John) and the book of Revelation, though a few scholars think the last 2 epistles might be written by a different author. The epistles were probably written shortly after Revelations.

In John 15 (no starting number means it’s the Gospel of John), it’s after the resurrection, and Jesus has told the apostles he’s leaving them, but will send the Holy Spirit. 

John 15:1-7
Then Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father takes care of the vineyard. He removes every one of my branches that doesn’t produce fruit. He also prunes every branch that does produce fruit to make it produce more fruit.  You are already clean because of what I have told you. Live in me, and I will live in you. A branch cannot produce any fruit by itself. It has to stay attached to the vine. In the same way, you cannot produce fruit unless you live in me.

“I am the vine. You are the branches. Those who live in me while I live in them will produce a lot of fruit. But you can’t produce anything without me.  Whoever doesn’t live in me is thrown away like a branch and dries up. Branches like this are gathered, thrown into a fire, and burned. If you live in me and what I say lives in you, then ask for anything you want, and it will be yours.  You give glory to my Father when you produce a lot of fruit and therefore show that you are my disciples.

“I have loved you the same way the Father has loved me. So live in my love.  If you obey my commandments, you will live in my love. I have obeyed my Father’s commandments, and in that way I live in his love. I have told you this so that you will be as joyful as I am, and your joy will be complete. Love each other as I have loved you. This is what I’m commanding you to do. The greatest love you can show is to give your life for your friends. You are my friends if you obey my commandments. I don’t call you servants anymore, because a servant doesn’t know what his master is doing. But I’ve called you friends because I’ve made known to you everything that I’ve heard from my Father. You didn’t choose me, but I chose you. I have appointed you to go, to produce fruit that will last, and to ask the Father in my name to give you whatever you ask for. Love each other. This is what I’m commanding you to do.”

1)    Why a vine? What are vines like? How do you picture them?

2)    What are Jesus’ commandments?

3)    What’s the difference to you whether we are God’s servants or Jesus’ friends? In what sense do we know what God is doing?

Nadia Bolz-Weber wrote about this passage: “There’s not a lot of agency for us in this text. God prunes us. We have already been cleansed by Jesus’ word. We cannot bear fruit without abiding in Jesus. Apart from him we can do nothing. The only thing that Jesus seems to think is ours to do is to: a) abide in him and, if we do, b) we can then ask for what we wish and it will be done for us. The getting all my wishes part sounds great. That is more like it. But I have yet to meet anyone who has had all their wishes granted but I’ve really been hoping Jesus will become my magic Genie. All I have to do is abide in him!?!
So, how do I do that?”

4)    What do you think? How do we do that?

In his first epistle, John wrote:
1 John 4:7-21
Dear friends, we must love each other because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born from God and knows God. The person who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, because God is love. God has shown us his love by sending his only Son into the world so that we could have life through him. This is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the payment for our sins. Dear friends, if this is the way God loved us, we must also love each other. No one has ever seen God. If we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. We know that we live in him and he lives in us because he has given us his Spirit.

We have seen and testify to the fact that the Father sent his Son as the Savior of the world. God lives in those who declare that Jesus is the Son of God, and they live in God. We have known and believed that God loves us. God is love. Those who live in God’s love live in God, and God lives in them.
God’s love has reached its goal in us. So we look ahead with confidence to the day of judgment. While we are in this world, we are exactly like him with regard to love. 18 No fear exists where his love is. Rather, perfect love gets rid of fear, because fear involves punishment. The person who lives in fear doesn’t have perfect love.

We love because God loved us first.  Whoever says, “I love God,” but hates another believer is a liar. People who don’t love other believers, whom they have seen, can’t love God, whom they have not seen. Christ has given us this commandment: The person who loves God must also love other believers.

5)    Both of these readings have a lot of “we live in Him” and “He lives in us.” How does that work? How do you think about it?

6)    There are several different words for love in Greek and other ancient languages. Which of these would you use for some of the times John says love in this letter?
  • Agape – idealized, spiritual love; unconditional love or charity

  • Eros – romantic, passionate love

  • Philia – love of friendship, comradeship

  • Storge – fondness, affection

7)    Is ‘we love God because God loved us’ like your relationship with a parent? How does that work?

8)    What does this letter tell us about what it is to abide in Jesus?

9)    Jot down one thing you want to remember from this lesson.
The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis
The Hardest Question, Easter 5B by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Lord is my _____

Good Shepherd Sunday! Love this collection of Good Shepherd passages. But for a lesson, we had already covered it. (The Baaaa study.) As much as I LOVE theKing James translation, it is hard for modern folk to connect to the shepherd imagery. So I was thinking about a lesson where we looked for a new metaphor; the Lord is my ______.

The problem is that (a) shepherd is really good, and gets better the more you know about it, and (b) I struggled with coming up with a new metaphor. I am not opposed to giving students things with which I struggle, but I do use that to get at appropriate difficulty.

Karen had the idea to use Prayer Out of the Box to get at praises of God... which worked pretty well. It was hard to get the students completely engaged today, but it is an amazing collection of scripture for praise. They picked two cards, and then selected one passage from the choices on each of their cards.

We then made a poster of it afterwards! They weren't too much into that either (beginning to think it's the teacher), but Xavi and Yzzy helped me finish it up afterwards.

Praise His name!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Not Zombies

The Apostle’s Creed is an ancient summation of what we as Christian’s believe. The Nicene Creed that is more common in church is an expansion on this from 325 AD.
1.    I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
2.    I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.
3.    He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
4.    He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
5.    He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.
6.    He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
7.    He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
8.    I believe in the Holy Spirit,
9.    the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,
10.    the forgiveness of sins,
11.    the resurrection of the body,
12.    and life everlasting. Amen.

1)    Today we’re going to look into 11 & 12. What do you think about them?

There was definitely something different about Jesus after Easter.
John 20:11-18
11Mary, however, stood there and cried as she looked at the tomb. As she cried, she bent over and looked inside. 12She saw two angels in white clothes. They were sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying. One angel was where Jesus’ head had been, and the other was where his feet had been. 13The angels asked her why she was crying.  Mary told them, “They have removed my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.”  14After she said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there. However, she didn’t know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus asked her, “Why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”

Mary thought it was the gardener speaking to her. So she said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I’ll remove him.”  16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” Mary turned around and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (This word means “teacher.”)

17Jesus told her, “Don’t hold on to me. I have not yet gone to the Father. But go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”  18Mary from Magdala went to the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord.” She also told them what he had said to her.
2)    What do you think was different about Jesus? Why did Mary finally recognize him?

One of the things people might have thought when Jesus was came back from the dead is that he was a ghost.
Luke 24:36-48
36While they were talking about what had happened, Jesus stood among them. He said to them, “Peace be with you!” 37They were terrified, and thought they were seeing a ghost.  38He asked them, “Why are you afraid? Why do you have doubts? 39Look at my hands and feet, and see that it’s really me. Touch me, and see for yourselves. Ghosts don’t have flesh and bones, but you can see that I do.” 40As he said this, he showed them his hands and feet.

41The disciples were overcome with joy and amazement because this seemed too good to be true. Then Jesus asked them, “Do you have anything to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish. 43He took it and ate it while they watched him.

44Then he said to them, “These are the words I spoke to you while I was still with you. I told you that everything written about me in Moses’ Teachings, the Prophets, and the Psalms had to come true.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. 46He said to them, “Scripture says that the Messiah would suffer and that he would come back to life on the third day. 47Scripture also says that by the authority of Jesus people must be told to turn to God and change the way they think and act so that their sins will be forgiven. This must be told to people from all nations, beginning in the city of Jerusalem.48You are witnesses to these things.
3)    What are the important details to you?

But in the Creed it is not talking about Jesus, but about us. Paul writes:
Philippians 3:18-21
18I have often told you, and now tell you with tears in my eyes, that many live as the enemies of the cross of Christ. 19In the end they will be destroyed. Their own emotions are their god, and they take pride in the shameful things they do. Their minds are set on worldly things. 20We, however, are citizens of heaven. We look forward to the Lord Jesus Christ coming from heaven as our Savior. 21Through his power to bring everything under his authority, he will change our humble bodies and make them like his glorified body.
4)    What could this mean?

1st Corinthians 15:12-26, 29-34
12If we have told you that Christ has been brought back to life, how can some of you say that coming back from the dead is impossible? 13If the dead can’t be brought back to life, then Christ hasn’t come back to life. 14If Christ hasn’t come back to life, our message has no meaning and your faith also has no meaning. 15In addition, we are obviously witnesses who lied about God because we testified that he brought Christ back to life. But if it’s true that the dead don’t come back to life, then God didn’t bring Christ back to life. 16Certainly, if the dead don’t come back to life, then Christ hasn’t come back to life either. 17If Christ hasn’t come back to life, your faith is nonsense and sin still has you in its power. 18Then those who have died as believers in Christ no longer exist. 19If Christ is our hope in this life only, we deserve more pity than any other people.
5)    Paul’s making a logical argument here. What’s the point and how does he argue it?

 20But now Christ has come back from the dead. He is the very first person of those who have died to come back to life. 21Since a man brought death, a man also brought life back from death. 22As everyone dies because of Adam, so also everyone will be made alive because of Christ. 23This will happen to each person in his own turn. Christ is the first, then at his coming, those who belong to him will be made alive. 24Then the end will come. Christ will hand over the kingdom to God the Father as he destroys every ruler, authority, and power. 25Christ must rule until God has put every enemy under his control. 26The last enemy he will destroy is death.
6)    What does this passage have to do with Harry Potter?
7)    What does he mean here? What does it have to do with the resurrection of the body?

 29However, people are baptized because the dead will come back to life. What will they do? If the dead can’t come back to life, why do people get baptized as if they can come back to life?
30Why are we constantly putting ourselves in danger? 31Brothers and sisters, I swear to you on my pride in you which Christ Jesus our Lord has given me: I face death every day. 32If I have fought with wild animals in Ephesus, what have I gained according to the way people look at things? If the dead are not raised, “Let’s eat and drink because tomorrow we’re going to die!” 33Don’t let anyone deceive you. Associating with bad people will ruin decent people. 34Come back to the right point of view, and stop sinning. Some people don’t know anything about God. You should be ashamed of yourselves.
8)    “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die,” is a famous phrase and oft quoted. Is that what Paul is recommending? 

9)    Do you agree with his point about associating with bad people?

10)    I will freely admit that this is the part of my faith I least understand. Yet I believe it on the authority of the Bible. Is it okay to believe something of which you haven’t made sense?

11)    Jot down one thing to remember from this study.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Psalms and Praise

From Reflections on the Psalms by C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis became a Christian as an adult. As a new believer, he had a lot of trouble with the idea that we should praise God, and, worse, that God Himself demands it.  After all, we usually can’t stand people with that attitude.
1)    Why do you think that we are instructed by scripture to praise the Lord?

Lewis notes that you hear a lot of praise every day.
2)    What have you praised or heard praised this week – whether it deserved it or not?

The Psalms are especially thick with this: “Praise the Lord,” “Praise the Lord with me,” and “Praise Him” is everywhere.  Lewis asks:  why is the praise so often telling other people to praise Him? God says “He who offers me thanks and praise honors me,” in Ps 50: 23.  Sometimes the psalmists warn God that if he lets his followers die he will be in danger of getting no praise.  Read:
•    Ps 30:8-10,
•    Ps 88:10-14, and
•    Ps 119:174-175.
3)    How is this different than a pagan asking their gods to do something for them and then they will make an offering to the gods.  Isn’t this bargaining with the Lord?

Lewis tries to understand the idea of praise from thinking first about a beautiful object.  Something can be so beautiful that it deserves admiration.  He clarifies that this is very different from being admired, as many worthless things are admired by many.  But sometimes admiration and appreciation is the correct response to this thing.  People who don’t or can’t admire beautiful things often get our sympathy – the blind who can’t see the Grand Canyon and the deaf who can’t hear Mozart.  But God is the most deserving and demanding of praise.  How much should we pity those who can’t see or feel this?
4)    Read Ps 119:169-176 in this context.  Why is the Lord deserving of praise?

The idea that God needs our praise is addressed in Ps 50: 7- 14.
5)    How does Ps 50 contradict the idea that He needs our praise?

When we think about the people we know in terms of whether they are praisers or not, we can divide them into personality type by whether or not they have praise for things in their lives.
6)    Characterize those who praise least:  what are they like?

7)    Characterize people you know who are full of praise:  what are they like? 

He also notes that praisers usually want people to join them. “Isn’t she lovely?”  “How cool is that?”  “Wasn’t that awesome?”  The urge to have others do the same is natural when we’re praising.  Praise completes the enjoyment.  When we love something, we want to tell others, need to share our excitement. 
8)    What is something that you’ve liked so much you told your friends or family how great it is?

In commanding us to glorify Him, God is commanding us to enjoy Him.  And our praise and worship here is a foretaste of what is to come.  If you can enjoy the orchestra warming up, it’s because of anticipation for the concert to come.  If we enjoy the praise and worship now, how great is that to come?
9)    What has the Lord done in your life for which you can praise Him?

10) Jot down one thing you want to remember about praise.

In closing, we can read Psalm 65 together.  A song of David.
Praise awaits you, O God, in Zion;  to you our vows will be fulfilled.
Oh you who hear prayer, to you all men will come.
When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions.
Blessed are those you chose and bring near to live in your courts!
We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple.

You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness, O God our Savior,
the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas,
who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength,
who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of nations.
Those living far away fear your wonders;  
where morning dawns and evening fades you call forth songs of joy.

You care for the land and water it;  you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, 
for so have you ordained it.
You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops.
You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance.
The grasslands of the desert overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness.
The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain;
they shout for joy and sing.
Photocredit: kelly_lovefusionphoto @ Flickr

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Passion

One Page Wonder

This lesson has a bit of the "Crossing the Streams" feeling for me. In teaching there is a kind of project called a foldable, and this is my favorite kind of foldable, the one page wonder. The idea is for the students to make their own mini-book. It being Palm Sunday, the lesson is on the Passion. They were pretty involved and made some interesting scripture selections. Intentionally there's too much for them to use, so that they will read and make choices about importance and what goes in. I've also go images of the one I made with them. I made mine at the same time instead of ahead of time so that there would be less imitation and more creation. I wrote in the passage from Mark 14:61-63 because I forgot it on the first version of the scripture passages. It's really one of the key passages to me, since Jesus identifies so strongly with how the Lord named himself to Moses.

Here's the scripture:

Here's a form with some gridlines and directions. But really any sheet of paper will do. (There really are gridlines, but it's a faint grey.)

And then here's my example.

A quick look in action.

Too late for me, but not for you; just saw this beautiful little video that's a visualization of Mark's Passion narrative:

Image credit: What Good Foundation @ Flickr


A bit late for this study, but it's good anytime during Lent. The idea is a powerful one from Philip Yancey, and the starter question was a good one all by itself.

What does it teach us about Jesus?

0) Picture Jesus. Describe what you see.

 This study is adapted from Chapter 4 of Philip Yancey’s book The Jesus I Never Knew.  The idea of the book is that Mr. Yancey tries to set aside all his preconceptions about Jesus, and then look freshly at scripture to see what God’s Word has to say.

1)    Before we read the account freshly, what comes to you when you think of Jesus’ temptation in the desert?

Mark mentions the temptation briefly in Mark 1:12-13, but Matthew gives a fuller account in Matthew 4:1-11.  Take a moment to read Matthew’s account, which follows the story of Jesus being baptized by John.

Matthew 4:
1Then the Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2Jesus did not eat anything for 40 days and 40 nights. At the end of that time, he was hungry.  3The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.”

 4Jesus answered, “Scripture says, ‘A person cannot live on bread alone but on every word that God speaks.’ ”

 5Then the devil took him into the holy city and had him stand on the highest part of the temple. 6He said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, jump! Scripture says, ‘He will put his angels in charge of you. They will carry you in their hands so that you never hit your foot against a rock.’ ”

 7Jesus said to him, “Again, Scripture says, ‘Never tempt the Lord your God.’ ”

8Once more the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms in the world and their glory. 9The devil said to him, “I will give you all this if you will bow down and worship me.”

 10Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan! Scripture says, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’ ”

 11Then the devil left him, and angels came to take care of him.

2)    What other bible passages or stories does this remind you of?

3)    Are the tasks Satan asks Jesus to do evil in and off themselves?  What does that mean about why the devil is asking them?

4)    What did the Jews think the Messiah was going to be like? How do the temptations relate to the expectations?

5)    Yancey contrasts his own temptations (the most common human ones), which revolve around lust and greed and so on, with those of Jesus.  One way he thinks about this is that Jesus’ temptations were connected with his mission in becoming human.  What connections do you see?

6)    Yancey describes Jesus reaction to his temptations as the “miracle of restraint.”  He could have done the tasks, he could have crushed Satan, but he didn’t.  Yancey notes that power can force obedience, but only love can evoke love.  Do you agree?  Why or why not?

7)    Where else in scripture do we see restraint as a response from Jesus or from the Father?

James 1:
12Blessed are those who endure when they are tested. When they pass the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. 13When someone is tempted, he shouldn’t say that God is tempting him. God can’t be tempted by evil, and God doesn’t tempt anyone. 14Everyone is tempted by his own desires as they lure him away and trap him. 15Then desire becomes pregnant and gives birth to sin. When sin grows up, it gives birth to death.

 16My dear brothers and sisters, don’t be fooled. 17Every good present and every perfect gift comes from above, from the Father who made the sun, moon, and stars. The Father doesn’t change like the shifting shadows produced by the sun and the moon.

 18God decided to give us life through the word of truth to make us his most important creatures.

8)    How does his advice relate to Jesus’ temptation in the desert?

9)    Jot down one thing you’d like to remember from this study.

Photo credit: biblevector @ Flickr