Saturday, November 9, 2013

Abram Gets His Ha

Part II


In Part I we studied Abram up to God’s fourth promise to Abraham, which is the first sealed as a covenant. God alone walks through the divided animals, symbolized as a torch and a smoldering pot. This was in response to Abram’s complaint that he was going to die without children, so what did it really matter that God was going to give him great things and bless his descendants. Abram’s reaction to this is not recorded.
0)    What might your reaction be to a huge promise from God that doesn’t seem possible?

Read Genesis 16.
1)    What do you think of Sarai’s actions here?

Next we see the second covenant (fith promise) between God and Abram.  God renames Abram (‘Exalted Father’) to Abraham (‘Father of Many’) and Sarai to Sarah (both mean ‘High Born Lady,’ or princess even, and the change is from the specific to the general, as she is to be the mother of a nation).  Read Genesis 17.
2)    Isaac means ‘he laughs.’  Is this chapter proof that God has a sense of humor?  (Puns in particular?)
3)    What is the meaning of God’s choice of Isaac over Ishmael for his new covenant?

When Moses comes down from the mountain after the 2nd 40 days, he tells the people:
Deuteronomy 10:15-22:The Lord set his heart on your ancestors and loved them. Because of this, today he chooses you, their descendants, out of all the people of the world. So circumcise your uncircumcised hearts, and don’t be impossible to deal with any longer. The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, powerful, and awe-inspiring God. He never plays favorites and never takes a bribe. He makes sure orphans and widows receive justice. He loves foreigners and gives them food and clothes. So you should love foreigners, because you were foreigners living in Egypt. Fear the Lord your God, worship him, be loyal to him, and take your oaths in his name. He is your glory. He is your God, who did for you these spectacular and awe-inspiring deeds you saw with your own eyes. When your ancestors went to Egypt, there were 70 of them. Now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.
4)    Why might God have chosen circumcision as a sign of Abraham’s 2nd covenant?
(See Ephesians 2 for why we do not need circumcision now.)

Read Genesis 18.   (Sixth promise.)
5)    Who is the Lord in this story?
6)    How and why does God allow the pleadings of humans (Abraham here, or us in prayer) to change His actions?

New Yorker, came out the week of Part I.
Now the crux of the story: Genesis 22:1-18. (Seventh promise.)
7)    What do you envision when you hear this story?

8)    How might Abraham have been able to do this?

9)    In what ways does God call us to sacrifice today?

Hebrews 11:8-19
Faith led Abraham to obey when God called him to go to a place that he would receive as an inheritance. Abraham left his own country without knowing where he was going. Faith led Abraham to live as a foreigner in the country that God had promised him. He lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who received the same promise from God. Abraham was waiting for the city that God had designed and built, the city with permanent foundations. Faith enabled Abraham to become a father, even though he was old and Sarah had never been able to have children. Abraham trusted that God would keep his promise. Abraham was as good as dead. Yet, from this man came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the grains of sand on the seashore.
All these people died having faith. They didn’t receive the things that God had promised them, but they saw these things coming in the distant future and rejoiced. They acknowledged that they were living as strangers with no permanent home on earth. Those who say such things make it clear that they are looking for their own country. If they had been thinking about the country that they had left, they could have found a way to go back. Instead, these men were longing for a better country—a heavenly country. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God. He has prepared a city for them.

When God tested Abraham, faith led him to offer his son Isaac. Abraham, the one who received the promises from God, was willing to offer his only son as a sacrifice. God had said to him, “Through Isaac your descendants will carry on your name.” Abraham believed that God could bring Isaac back from the dead. Abraham did receive Isaac back from the dead in a figurative sense.

Galatians 3:6-9
Abraham serves as an example. He believed God, and that faith was regarded as the basis of Abraham’s approval by God. You must understand that people who have faith are Abraham’s descendants. Scripture saw ahead of time that God would give his approval to non-Jewish people who have faith. So Scripture announced the Good News to Abraham ahead of time when it said, “Through you all the people of the world will be blessed.” So people who believe are blessed together with Abraham, the man of faith.
10)    What does it mean for us to live in faith? How does it matter? How will it show?

After this, the story tells us that Sarah died, Abraham sent a servant to find a wife for Isaac, and then he married again! Keturah bore him six more sons, and it sounds like there were sons by concubines as well; before he died, he gave them gifts and sent them away. But “Abraham left everything he had to Isaac.”

Genesis 25:7-11
Abraham lived 175 years. Then he took his last breath, and died at a very old age. After a long and full life, he joined his ancestors in death. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah…There Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah. After Abraham died, God blessed his son Isaac, who settled near Beer Lahai Roi.
11)    “After a long and full life” indeed!  What do you take away from this story of Abram’s beginnings?
12) What could be said about you after your life that would bring you joy?


We did a two part - hence two month study - on Abraham. Got to some very good and deep thinking by the guys in the men's group. Recommend these two.

photo: Howard Lifshitz @ Flickr
In Jewish synagogues, this is the season of studying Abraham. 

In Genesis, the flood is the first major division in history. Noah and his sons multiply, Babel is built and falls, and Noah’s 10 generations of descendants find themselves in a pluralistic society where polytheism flourishes. It’s not clear whether Noah’s descendants kept the faith or not.
Most traditions have Abram being born near the year 2000 BC. I made a spreadsheet interested in those ages between Noah and Abraham.
Notice that when Abram is born, Shem is alive! Terah had moved them away, but this raises the possibility that Abram or Terah knew someone on the Ark. I do not take Old Testament ages as literal numbers, but the ideas and relationships here are significant.

Read Genesis 11:27-32.
1)    What are the important relationships here?
2)    Does it sound like Terah first got the call that Abram answers later?

Canaan was Noah’s cursed grandson, Ham’s son. Lands are named after people who live there, who are often named after a first ancestor. Read Genesis 12:1-9
3)    How would you react to these promises?  Would you go? Would you need proof?

One Jewish teaching story (Midrash), which also is in the Koran, says that Terah was a manufacturer of idols, and Abram – as a child – beheaded them, then placed the hammer in the hand of the last one. Terah accuses Abram, but has to admit that they are only clay to do so.

Because of the fertilizing properties of the Nile, and the advanced state of agriculture, Egypt was protected against the worst of the droughts. Note that while this is often described as Abram’s lie, it is in fact true, as he reveals in 20:12 that Sarai is his half-sister.  Read Genesis 12:10-20.
4)    What are we to make of this story? Why include an embarrassing story like this in scripture about your patriarch?

So Abram goes back to Canaan, but now he and Lot have so many flocks and followers that the site is not big enough for both of them, and they have to divide it up.  Then God makes another amazing promise to Abram. Read Genesis 13:8-18. 
5)    Why Abram? What might God have been looking for?

There is a very interesting meeting here, as Abram meets Melchizedek. Many scholars think the name Melchizedek means ‘Zedek is my king,’ where Zedek is a Canaanite name for the God Most High.  The name God Most High in verse 18 is a translation of El Elyom, another early name for God.   Salem is almost certainly ancient Jerusalem.  Melchizedek is mostly of interest because of the psalms prophecy (Ps 110:4) that the Messiah will be a priest of the order of Melchizedek, in contrast to being a priest by being a descendant of Levi, which would not be possible for a descendant of David, since David wasn’t a Levite.)
Read Genesis 14:13-20. 
6)    What do you think is going on between Abram and Melchizedek here?  What is the significance of this meeting?

Read Genesis 15.
7)    What is righteousness (v. 6)? Why does Abram’s belief count as righteousness?
8)    Is it okay to ask God for a sign, as Abram does in v. 8?  If so, when is it okay?

It is here that God’s promise is first called a covenant.  The Hebrew word here is berith, whose root means ‘to cut.’  This refers to the sign of a covenant, which was to divide an animal and walk together between the parts.  This was a symbol of a covenant in the ancient world that predates Abram by many centuries.  Some sources believe it symbolized the walk unto death together, others saw it as giving one the right of death should the other break the covenant. 
9)    What might be the meaning of the smoking firepot and the blazing torch?  Why did only God walk through the covenant and not Abraham?
10)    What might God’s purpose have been in not giving the land to Abram right then?
11)    Anything else you notice or wonder about here?

That's about as far as we got! See Part II for more.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Faith and Reason

Acts 17:1-4 When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. 4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women. (And then in 17:16-17:34)
1)    Do logical arguments for ideas in our faith appeal to you or not interest you? Why or why not?

Faith and reason are often portrayed as mortal enemies. (But Paul obviously would oppose this idea.) Definitely this is a perceived struggle since the Enlightenment. Probably since Galileo Galilei.

Firm Foundation
In 1616 the arguments against Copernicus’ theory that the earth went around the sun reached a fever pitch. Galileo went to Rome to defend it, but the church decided against it, based on three lines of scripture.

Psalm 93:1 The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength; indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.

Psalm 96:10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.

1 Chronicles 16:30 Tremble before him, all the earth! The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.
2)    How do you interpret these? Why do they not mean that the sun goes around the earth?

Opposition seemed to be loosening, encouraging Galileo to write about the idea as a theory. But the climate shifted suddenly, and in 1633 Galileo was tried and convicted of heresy, condemned to spend the rest of his life in house arrest. He died in 1648, having used that time to great effect, and is now called the father of physics.

Galileo held the Bible to be true, but did not take every passage literally, especially scripture that is a book of poetry. He believed Scripture true in that the sun does rise and set – the writers were describing what they saw.  So he believed that science did not contradict Scripture, as Scripture was discussing a different kind of movement of the earth, and not rotations.

Hebrews 11:1-3 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  This is what the ancients were commended for.  By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

The rest of Chapter 11 is about the faith of the heroes of the Old Testament. Then Chapter 12 begins:
Hebrews 12:1-3 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  Take a minute to read or skim the rest of the chapter.

3)    How does the faithfulness of other believers, from scripture or in your life, encourage you?

Thomas Aquinas, ca 1250, was first nicknamed by his fellow monks the “dumb ox,”  but later proved to be one of the greatest thinkers in human history.  He thought doctrine needed to be based on scripture, and worked on both through faith and reason. Faith and reason are both necessary, because truth that can be reached with reason does not need faith, and there were truths that were entirely beyond reason, like eternal salvation. Two quotes by him help here:  “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” and  “All that is true, by whomsoever it has been said has its origin in the Spirit.”

Studying scripture he thought about its truth in two (or four) ways: historical/literal truth and spiritual truth. Spiritual truths he divided up into three categories, allegorical – like when the old testament writers wrote about Jesus, moral – like when Jesus modeled for us how to live, and anagogical. Anagogical is his term for a teaching about what is yet to come, like Revelation. All the scripture dealing with salvation, he felt, is literal, and literal scripture holds a special place.

Scientific Scripture
One bit of scripture revered by many faithful scientists is Psalm 19. Let’s read it together.

4)    (vv1-6) How does creation give glory to God in your eyes?

5)    (vv 7-9) How does God’s word compare to God’s creation? Are they connected?

6)    (vv10-14) It feels like David is personalizing creation and word here. Do you identify with his response? Is any of it challenging to you?

David, growing up in the hills, always seems comforted by creation. But he also was ahead of his time in understanding the breadth and awesome span of God’s work.  Read Psalm 8 together.

7)    How do you respond to David’s song? “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”

Scientists who are Christians feel that part of their work is to show atheist teachings as philosophy rather than science. In particular, the most subtle shift: moving from the scientific process as a way of approaching truth to the belief that science is all the real knowledge there is. (Sometimes called scientism.) At the least, they ask the Church to accept them in the spirit of Acts 15.

Acts 15:5-11 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”
The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.  Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?  No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

8)    Does this passage apply to the evolution debate? Can you be a Christian and believe in evolution?


Personal Note
This was a bit of a tough study for me. I outed myself as a Christian who believes in evolution. While I don't pretend to be anything else, I haven't made an issue of it, either, and my bible study group are creationists for the most part. They were - of course - loving and just as supportive afterward as they have been before.  I shared how I have been told by many well-meaning Christian brothers (not sisters, interestingly) that you can not be both. While I have not always been accepting of creationists, either, I've repented of that and would now hate to ever give someone the feeling that they should not believe in faith where they have been lead. I do want us all to be able to be in church and worship the Lord together.

A Hard Teaching

0)    What is the hardest teaching of Jesus for you? Does anything come to mind?

Previously in the Gospel of John: (5:1-15) Jesus heals on the Sabbath, getting himself and the former lame man in trouble with Jewish authorities. (5:16-47) Jesus continues to heal on the sabbath, continues to claim God as his father, and exacerbates conflict with the authorities when he criticizes them deeply and publicly. (6:1-15) Jesus feeds 5000+ with 2 loaves and 5 fishes. (6:16-21) Jesus walks on water to join the disciples in a boat.

1)    Can you imagine hearing through the grapevine that these things are going on? What would you think? Would you seek this person out?

Read John 6:22-27
2)    When do we seek Jesus for the food that spoils? What does that look like these days?

3)    Work is always a dangerous word because of baggage and connotations. How is Jesus using it here? What is work for eternal food?

Isaiah 55:1-4 “Listen! Whoever is thirsty, come to the water! Whoever has no money can come, buy, and eat! Come, buy wine and milk. You don’t have to pay; it’s free!  Why do you spend money on what cannot nourish you and your wages on what does not satisfy you? Listen carefully to me: Eat what is good, and enjoy the best foods. Open your ears, and come to me! Listen so that you may live! I will make an everlasting promise to you - the blessings I promised to David. I made him a witness to people, a leader and a commander for people.
4)    How does this connect to what Jesus is saying?

Read John 6:28-32
5)    “What does God want us to do?” Boy is that a good question the people asked Jesus! His response depends on translation.
NIV: ‘ 29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” ’
GW: ‘29 Jesus replied to them, “God wants to do something for you so that you believe in the one whom he has sent.” ’
Seems like a significant difference.  How do you interpret was Jesus is saying?

6)    Are the people being naïve or actively trying to manipulate Jesus to get what they want? (Or both?) Are there any ways we try to manipulate God?

Read John 6:34-40
7)    Obviously Christians have been hungry and thirsty to the point of death, and Jesus was clear he was the bread. So what do you think he means with the never hungry nor thirsty?

8)    This sounds like predestination in the first half of v. 37. But it sounds like free will in the second half of v. 37.  What is Jesus saying?

9)    Not to get too deep in the end times stuff, but what does Jesus mean by “bring to life on the last day”?

Read John 6:41-51
Link: Isaiah 54:13 All your children will be taught by the Lord, and your children will have unlimited peace.
10)    Isn’t this a pretty reasonable criticism? Why might Jesus have reacted so strongly?

11)    What does Jesus having seen the Father have to do with eternal life here?

Bread! Bread is seriously important to the Jews. From it’s first mention in scripture on. (Gen 3:19 “By the sweat of your brow, you will produce bread to eat until you return to the ground, because you were taken from it. You are dust, and you will return to dust.”) The word bread can mean food in general, the very means of sustenance. To eat bread requires special hand washing and a special blessing. And by bringing up manna Jesus already has them thinking about Deuteronomy 8:3: “So he made you suffer from hunger and then fed you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had seen before. He did this to teach you that a person cannot live on bread alone but on every word that the Lord speaks.”

12)    How can we understand how much Jesus saying this would freak them out?

Read John 6:52-60
Now his blood, too! Another freak out. The main requirement of meat to be kosher is complete bloodlessness, because of this command:
Genesis 4:1, 3-4 God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them… 3  “Everything that lives and moves will be your food. I gave you green plants as food; I now give you everything else. But you are not to eat meat with blood in it. (Blood is life.)”
And furthermore, the Greek language used here has switched from the usual word for eat to a word more like devour.

13)    What can we, as disciples, do when what Jesus is saying is hard to accept?

14)    How do you make sense of this hard teaching?

Read John 6:61-70.
15)    Verse 63 reminds me of C.S.Lewis’ line: you do not have a soul. You are a soul; you have a body.  What does it mean that life is spiritual? How do you keep your focus on that?

16)    What do you take away from this whole exchange? Why did Jesus give this message at this point in time? What does it say to us?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Go and Make

Think of Peter, James, John, Matthew, etc. What came first: being disciples or believing Jesus was their Savior?

Matthew 28:10,
10 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go, tell my followers to go to Galilee. There they will see me.” … 16 The eleven disciples went to the mountain in Galilee where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they bowed down in worship, though some had doubts. 18 When Jesus came near, he spoke to them. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 So wherever you go, make disciples of all nations: Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach them to do everything I have commanded you. And remember that I am always with you until the end of time.” [God’s Word]

In the Message: 16-17
Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set for their reunion. The moment they saw him they worshiped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally. 18-20 Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”

In the NIV:
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

That’s the end of Matthew’s gospel! Jesus rose, told them this and … CUT.  That’s a print!

What does this command mean to you?

How important is it? (To you personally or to the church as a whole?)

Breaking it down:
What does this mean?  All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me

How does the authority idea become the reason for the command? Therefore

To a place or do it now or get off your butt or…? Go

What is a disciple and how do I make one? make disciples of all nations

What else?

Versions of this scene are in all of the gospels.
Mark 16:15-16 Then Jesus said to them, “So wherever you go in the world, tell everyone the Good News. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

Luke 24:47-48  “Scripture also says that by the authority of Jesus people would be told to turn to God and change the way they think and act so that their sins will be forgiven. This would be told to people from all nations, beginning in the city of Jerusalem. You are witnesses to these things.”

John 20:21-23 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” After he had said this, he breathed on the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whenever you forgive sins, they are forgiven. Whenever you don’t forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

What do you notice in common amongst all these versions?

What do the others add to the ideas in Matthew?

Scripture Share: Look over the following verses for what connects with you, or with the gospel passages we read.

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths smooth.

Proverbs 3:11-12 Do not reject the discipline of the Lord, my son, and do not resent his warning, because the Lord warns the one he loves, even as a father warns a son with whom he is pleased.

Psalm 86:11 Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.

Matthew 4:19-20 Jesus said to them, “Come, follow me! I will teach you how to catch people instead of fish.” They immediately left their nets and followed him.

Luke 6:39-40 Jesus also gave them this illustration: “Can one blind person lead another? Won’t both fall into the same pit? A student is no better than his teacher. But everyone who is well-trained will be like his teacher.

Romans 5:6-8 Look at it this way: At the right time, while we were still helpless, Christ died for ungodly people. Finding someone who would die for a godly person is rare. Maybe someone would have the courage to die for a good person. Christ died for us while we were still sinners. This demonstrates God’s love for us.

Colossians 1:21-22  Once you were separated from God. The evil things you did showed your hostile attitude. But now Christ has brought you back to God by dying in his physical body. He did this so that you could come into God’s presence without sin, fault, or blame.

Colossians 2:6-7 You received Christ Jesus the Lord, so continue to live as Christ’s people. Sink your roots in him and build on him. Be strengthened by the faith that you were taught, and overflow with thanksgiving.

1 Thessalonians 2:6-8  We didn’t seek praise from people, from you or from anyone else, although as apostles of Christ we had the right to do this. Instead, we were gentle when we were with you, like a mother taking care of her children. We felt so strongly about you that we were determined to share with you not only the Good News of God but also our lives. That’s how dear you were to us!

2 Timothy 3: 16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,  so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

1 Timothy 2: 8 Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.

Hebrews 5:12-14  By now you should be teachers. Instead, you still need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word. You need milk, not solid food. All those who live on milk lack the experience to talk about what is right. They are still babies. However, solid food is for mature people, whose minds are trained by practice to know the difference between good and evil.

1 Peter 2:21 God called you to endure suffering because Christ suffered for you. He left you an example so that you could follow in his footsteps.

1 John 2:5-6 But whoever obeys what Christ says is the kind of person in whom God’s love is perfected. That’s how we know we are in Christ. Those who say that they live in him must live the same way he lived.

1 John 3:16-18 We understand what love is when we realize that Christ gave his life for us. That means we must give our lives for other believers. Now, suppose a person has enough to live on and notices another believer in need. How can God’s love be in that person if he doesn’t bother to help the other believer? Dear children, we must show love through actions that are sincere, not through empty words.

Caesar Kalinowski shares six simple ways to make disciples without adding anything to your schedule. His idea is that his church should expand on the rhythms that they do in the course of everyday life. There's a video:
  • Know God’s story.
  • Listening. listening to God, and listening in community is how you get to know peoples stories.
  • Celebrate. Life is living in a rhythm of celebration. The church should be the most celebratory people of the planet. We get to live forever!
  • Rhythm of Eating. Talk about moving from additional to intentional. We’re already eating like 21 times a week…What if I were to have three meals a week with people I’m trying to make disciples of?
  • Bless. Ask the spirit to reveal to you three people that you could bless intentionally each week through either words, action, or gift. Imagine a community of people in a neighborhood, like ten or twelve, all blessing three people a week. It’ll transform a place.
  • ReCreate. Resting in what Christ has done for us, not to earn, but then we work. It’s the idea of sabbath.
What do you think? Are these scriptural? Practical?

Would they be effective?

Read Hebrews 12:1-12.  How would you summarize this? How does it connect with the other scripture we’ve read? Other than the coincidence of words, does it take discipline to be or make disciples?

What Kind of Fool Am I?

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline” Prov. 1:7

The primary problem with fools as described in the Bible is that of pride.  As we look through scripture, look for these traits:
  • They are unteachable. They refuse to accept correction, listen to advice, or take personal responsibility. Instead, they think they are always right and others are fools.
  • They have control issues. They think everyone should listen to them and do what they say; often if they meet with resistance, they can be very angry. They seem to fear allowing anyone else (including God) to be in charge. Many times, they feel somehow that they are above the system - the rules that apply to everyone else don't apply to them.
  • They do not have spiritual insight.  Since the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and that is why the way of wisdom seems ridiculous to a fool. He might even mock those who walk in it.

There are FOUR Hebrew words for a fool.  It’s notable that they have more words for this than English does, because usually this is reversed! There will be 4 or more English words for a single Hebrew word.
  • A simple fool, or peti, is a person who makes mistakes but quickly rights them and is restored to fellowship with God and with others.  Proverbs 1:4, 22, 32; Proverbs 7:7; Proverbs 8:5; Proverbs 9:4, 6, 16; Proverbs 14:15, 18; Proverbs 19:25; Proverbs 21:11; Proverbs 22:3; Proverbs 27:12; Psalm 116:6
  • The hardened fool, kesil and ewil, is someone who makes mistakes but never learns from them and will not listen to others.   Proverbs 3:35; Proverbs 8:5; Proverbs 10:1, 18, 23; Proverbs 12:23; Proverbs 13:16, 19-20; Proverbs 14:7-8, 16, 24, 33; Proverbs 15:2, 7, 14; Proverbs 15:20; Proverbs 17:10, 12, 16, 21, 24-25; Proverbs 18:2, 6-7; Proverbs 19:1, 10, 13, 29; Proverbs 21:20; Proverbs 23:9; Proverbs 26:1-12; Proverbs 28:26; Proverbs 29:11, 20; Ecclesiastes 2:14-16; Ecclesiastes 4:5, 13; Eccl 5:1-4; Eccl 6:8; Eccl 7:4-6, 9; Eccl 9:17; Eccl 10:2, 12,15; Psalms 92:6
  • The mocking fool, or lewtz. The mocking fool mocks the things of God. This word means “scoffer” or “scorner” and today means a clown. When you encounter cynical people who disregard the things of God, you know these people are mocking fools. Proverbs 1:22; Proverbs 3:34; Proverbs 9:7-8, 12; Proverbs 13:1; Proverbs 14:6, 9; Proverbs 15:12; Proverbs 19:25, 28-29; Proverbs 20:1; Proverbs 21:11, 24; Proverbs 22:10; Proverbs 24:9
  • The God-denying fool, or nabal. This term relates to the morally wicked person who ignores the disgrace he brings on his family and who despises holiness.  He conducts his life without any recognition of God and thus is corrupt and perverse. Psalm 14:1, 3; Ps 39:8; Ps 53:1; Ps 74:18, 22; Proverbs 17:7; Prov 17:21; Prov 30:22; Isaiah 32:5-6 (Nabal is also a person, whose story is told in 1 Samuel 25. He insults David, is about to be killed, is saved by his wife Abigail, and then dies of his foolishness. Abigail goes on to become David’s first wife.)
(This section is expanded from Os Hillman using Strong’s Concordance. HT Randy Deater)

1)    Do you see a difference among types 2-4? Do you know any other types?

Let’s read Proverbs 26.
2)    Can we put in plain words what the author describes as foolish behavior? What makes it foolish?

Let’s read Proverbs 17:7-24.
3)    What happens to fools? What happens to those around them?

Let’s read Proverbs 18:9-24.
4)    How can we deal with fools and/or foolish behavior? What is our responsibility to those with a fool in their lives?

The Top (Biblical) Signs of a Fool:
1.    A fool folds his hands and wastes away. (Ecclesiastes 4:5 & 10:12),
2.    Laughter of a fool is pointless or meaningless (Ecclesiastes 7:6)
3.    Silence is their only camouflage (Proverbs 17:28).
4.    Insults those trying to advise them. (Proverbs 9:7)
5.    Talk their way into a beating. (Proverbs 18:6)
6.    Hates those who try to correct them. (Proverbs 9:8)
7.    Works against those trying to help them. (Proverbs 19:3).
8.    Prefers speaking their opinion to gaining understanding. (Proverbs 18:2).
9.    Despise discipline. (Proverbs 1:7)
10.    Cannot apply wisdom. (Proverbs 26:7,9)
11.    Repeats stupidity. (Proverbs 26:11)
12.    Stubborn to the point of fighting. (Proverbs 20:3)
13.    Dangerous to themselves. (Proverbs 12)
14.    …and even their words are dangerous to others.
15.    They live in darkness and don’t know what makes them stumble. (Proverbs 4:19)
16.    Can’t see where they are headed. (Ecclesiastes 2:14)
17.    Wears their anger on their sleeve, even when it’s counterproductive (Proverbs 12:16)
18.    “Better to meet a bear robbed of its cubs than a fool carried away with his stupidity.” (Proverbs 17:12)
19.    Behavior makes no more sense than a drunk’s. (Proverbs 20:1)
20.    Inflates their own sense of importance. (Galatians 6:3)!
21.    Doesn’t prepare for even important endeavors. (Matthew 7:26-27)

Proverbs 8 & 9 personify Wisdom and Folly as competing for your attention.  Wisdom is calling out to the senseless, trying to teach and save. But Folly… “is loud, gullible, and ignorant.  She sits at the doorway of her house. She is enthroned on the high ground of the city and calls to those who pass by, those minding their own business, ‘Whoever is gullible turn in here!’ ” (Prov 9:13-16)

More resources:

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Too Good to Be True?

A study of the epistle to the Colossians.

Good News, but Too Good to Be True?

The epistle to the Colossians has strongly contested and defended authorship. Arguments in favor of Paul’s authorship include the author saying – in no uncertain terms – that he is Paul. If it is Paul, he wrote it in prison (like Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon); Tychicus is named as the letter carrier, just like Ephesians and Philemon. News of the happenings in Colossae (which still exists in western Turkey) were probably brought by Epaphras, mentioned in the letter to be visiting Paul. (Epaphras is mentioned later in Philemon described as being in prison with him.) 

Col 1:13-18 Paul’s addressing problems in the church at Colossae. Why start with Christ? Why these ideas about Christ? Are there any big ideas he left out?

Not that Paul isn’t always capable of powerful, dense writing, but this is especially packed. Slowing way down:
Col 1:19 What does it mean?

Col 1:20 What does this mean? Especially “everything on earth and in heaven”?

Col 1:21-22 Why emphasize “physical body”?

Col 1:23 “On the condition…”? How do you make sense of this?

Col 1:24-25 Are we all called to be happy (in the serving sense) in our suffering? What does “whatever remains of Christ’s sufferings” mean?

Col 2:8-15 Circumcision again. What made this such a tough issue for the early church? Is there anything like that for us now?

Col 2:16-19  What do you imagine is going on in Colossae? Is there any parallel to it in our day?

Col 2:20-23 Can you put this in your own words? Are you free in this way? How do you know? or What holds you back?

The Prescription
Col 3:1-11 “Therefore, put to death whatever is worldly in you.” How do you do that?

“You’ve gotten rid of the person you used to be and the life you used to live, and you’ve become a new person. This new person is continually renewed in knowledge to be like its Creator.”
Is salvation one and done or is it ongoing?

Col 3:12-17 What do you notice? How do you do this?

Col 4:2-6 Good advice… so what should we do?

Uh oh. 
Col 3:18-4:1 What do these three examples have in common? How would you generalize Paul’s point here?

Some describe this as Paul approving of slavery. Fair or not? In particular, people are arguing that if you want to be literal with same-sex language in the bible you need to be literal with this.

News and Notes
Col 4:7-18 Sometimes people will skip over these specific notes about specific people. What do you notice about them? What’s important about Paul including them in the letter or the church including them in the Bible?

Col 1:3-11 Let’s pray this for each other:
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in our prayers for you. 4 We thank God because we have heard about your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. 5 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. 6 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. 7 You learned about this Good News from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant. He is taking your place here as a trustworthy deacon for Christ 8 and has told us about the love that the Spirit has given you.

9 For this reason we have not stopped praying for you since the day we heard about you. We ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through every kind of spiritual wisdom and insight. 10 We ask this so that you will live the kind of lives that prove you belong to the Lord. Then you will want to please him in every way as you grow in producing every kind of good work by this knowledge about God. 11 We ask him to strengthen you by his glorious might with all the power you need to patiently endure everything with joy. 12 You will also thank the Father, who has made you able to share the light, which is what God’s people inherit.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Cross Is…

Adapted from In My Place, an article by Steve Brown.  Romans 5:6-11, verse by verse.

Even radical bible scholars count Romans as an epistle definitely written by Paul.  His purposes in writing the letter include:  prayers for his coming journey to Jerusalem, his plan to go to Rome and then on to Spain, to outline his teaching before his arrival in Rome, and to address the big conflict in the community.  The conflict between the Gentile and Jewish Christians developed because Emperor Claudius exiled Jews from Rome in AD 49, which resulted in Gentile Christians taking leadership positions.  The tension came when Jewish Christians returned in AD 54 after Claudius' death and found the Gentiles not keeping Jewish food laws nor observing Jewish holy days.

Martin Luther described Romans as "the chief book of the New Testament… it deserves to be known by heart, word for word, by every Christian."  His lectures on Romans in 1515-16 were probably when he developed his criticism of the Roman church, which led to the 95 Theses of 1517.  In 1738, John Wesley’s reading of Luther's Preface to the Epistle to the Romans began his conversion experience, which may be considered the beginning of Methodism. In 1919, Karl Barth's commentary on Romans was the beginning of neo-orthodoxy, which was a big influence on Bonhoffer and the German Christians who resisted the Third Reich.  Modern day evangelists use the “Romans Road” to present the case for salvation:  Romans 3:23, 6:23a, 6:23b, 5:8,10:9-10,10:13.
That’s a good epistle!

Romans 4:23-25 is a good summary of the 4th chapter on faith.
1)    What is Paul saying? How definitive is it? (Is he clear or ambiguous?)

Today we’re concentrating on only 6 little verses, Romans 5:6-11.  But first we should look at verses 1-5.
2)    How would you sum up those first five verses to a fellow Christian? (To a non-Christian?)

The CROSS is a…necessity v6:  You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.
3)    If we are forgiven, why do we always pray to be forgiven?

The CROSS is a…surprise v7:  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.
4)    How would you feel if someone offered their life up for yours?  (Or, if you’ve experienced this in the military or elsewhere,  how did you feel when they did offer their life for yours?)  What if it was someone who was a better person than you?  Someone with more to lose?  Brown notes: we deserve wrath, we expect anger, and yet we find God offering love.

The CROSS is a…demonstration v8: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
5)    Can we witness if we are miserable and bound?  God demonstrated his love to us that he might demonstrate his love through us.

The CROSS is a…promise v9: Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!
This reminds me of the best teacher I ever knew.  She enforced complete discipline to make sure that her classroom was a safe place for her elementary students, but always, always any act of discipline was followed by an act of love.
6)    What does this verse mean to you?

The CROSS is a…reality
v10: For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
7)    Do you live in guilt? That’s living in a lie.  The reality is you are forgiven.  What difference does that make in how we live day to day?

8)    Are you afraid of death?  That fear is a lie.  The reality is you are going to live forever.  What difference can that make in our decision making?

The CROSS is a…celebration v11: Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
9)    Consider the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).  What keeps the older brother from celebrating?

10)    What helps you be able to join the celebration?

The CROSS is the … last word. The cross is crucial to Paul. One of the biggest disputes in the early church was over circumcision. The sign of the Abrahamic covenant, it was utterly necessary to be one of God’s chosen. But let’s read Galations 6:11-17.
11)    Why does the cross settle this dispute for Paul?

12)    What disputes in the church today could be settled by this same argument?

The cross is for us? In Matthew 16, after Peter is shut down for telling Jesus that He shouldn’t have to suffer and die, it says: (Mt 16:24-25) ‘Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Those who want to come with me must say no to the things they want, pick up their crosses, and follow me. Those who want to save their lives will lose them. But those who lose their lives for me will find them.’
13)    Amazing that this was before the crucifixion. What do you feel like Jesus is telling you?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Keeping a Kosher Mouth

Adapted from Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus, by Lois Tverburg, chapter

1)    Do you ever say things you wish you could take back? Like what?

When we think about what the bible says about speaking, maybe the first two things to come to mind are commandments: (Exodus 20)
7 “Never use the name of the Lord your God carelessly. The Lord will make sure that anyone who carelessly uses his name will be punished.
16 “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.”

2)    Do you think about these commandments ever? How do you interpret them?

Looking for practical wisdom, we should always consult proverbs.
  • 12:18 Careless words stab like a sword, but the words of wise people bring healing.
  • 12:22 Lips that lie are disgusting to the Lord, but honest people are his delight.
  • 14:3 Because of a stubborn fool’s words a whip is lifted against him, but wise people are protected by their speech.
  • 16:23-24 A wise person’s heart controls his speech, and what he says helps others learn. Pleasant words are like honey from a honeycomb – sweet to the spirit and healthy for the body.
  • 18:6-8 By talking, a fool gets into an argument, and his mouth invites a beating.  A fool’s mouth is his ruin. His lips are a trap to his soul.  The words of a gossip are swallowed greedily, and they go down into a person’s innermost being.
  • 18:20-21 A person’s speaking ability provides for his stomach. His talking provides him a living. The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love to talk will have to eat their own words.

3)    What do you get from this advice? What seems most important in it to you?

In our times we seem to expect that words are of little import, it’s what we do that matters. There almost seems to be an expectation that people will only speak in their own interest or will lie if need be, so don’t pay attention to words.
4)    How does the modern casual attitude towards speech affect our lives?

Jesus spoke a few times about the words we speak.

Read Matthew 5:33-37
5)    What is Jesus saying here? Does it apply to our time as well as to his time?

Read Matthew 15:1-20
6)    What is Jesus’ point? Why might he be so upset? Did the Pharisees ask a bad question?

The single longest teaching on speaking comes in James. Not surprisingly, given the overlap with proverbs, some consider the book to have the most practical advice in the New Testament on Christian duties. Read chapter 3.
7)    What is the advice you find in here about the words we use?

One of the reasons that this chapter of Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus is so interesting is that the author shares rabbinical teaching that comes from the Old Testament scriptures on speech. They’ve thought about exactly how we use speech in sinful ways. It’s like they’re trying to work out this part of Psalm 34:
Ps 34:12-13 Which of you wants a full life? Who would like to live long enough to enjoy good things? Keep your tongue from saying evil things and your lips from speaking deceitful things.
•    Motzei Shem Ra – to put out a bad name – slander. Miriam and Aaron’s criticism of Moses is seen as this (in Numbers 12). This was Jesus phrase in the Beatitudes.
•    Lashon Hara – an evil tongue – telling negative truths.  This is seen as violating humility (which Paul recommends in Phillipians 2:3). Warning sign,  “he’s great, but…” Illustration: slicing a pillow.
•    Avak Lashan Hara – the dust of an evil tongue – non-verbal commentary, or inviting lashan hara by a set up question or invitation. Or sharing something because it shows another in a bad light.
•    Halbanat Panim – whitening the face – humiliating another. “The pain of humiliation is more bitter than death.” Especially dangerous when correcting someone.
•    Geneivat Da’at – stealing knowledge – to mislead without speaking untruth. To imply something false, often to give a too good impression of yourself or something else.  Fake discounts, omitted information, ingenuous offers. Danger sign: someone feels duped.

Speech is a favorite topic of discussion by many wits and wise folk.
•    Once a word has been allowed to escape, it cannot be recalled.  ~Horace
•    “How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is To have a thankless child!” –Shakespeare, King Lear (Lear’s complaining about his daughter.)
•    “Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.” – Ben Franklin
•    “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” -  Abraham Lincoln
•    A lie does not consist in the indirect position of words, but in the desire and intention, by false speaking, to deceive and injure your neighbour. - Jonathan Swift
•    “It takes your enemy and your friend working together to hurt you to the heart: the one to slander you, and the other to get the news to you.” – Mark Twain

8)    Do any of these seem biblical to you, or a good way to put the scriptural advice?

Much of the above is about speech to avoid. What about words we should try to say? David prayed
Psalm 19:14 “May the words from my mouth and the thoughts from my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my defender.”
9)    What should we be trying to say?

10 Big Ideas from the Nativity

Bad bible blogger! Never put up December's study. It's an mild adaptation of an former youth study. It engendered a pretty healthy discussion with a bunch of old guys, though. Due to the formatting, it's easier to share as a PDF: