Monday, June 26, 2017

Moses and the Burning Bush Adult Sunday School Lesson

Uniform Adult Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday July 2, 2017

Purpose: To recognize God’s presence as we partner with God to correct injustice

Bible Lesson: Exodus 3:1-12

Background Scripture: Exodus 3

Key Verses: "Now the Israelites’ cries of injustice have reached me. I’ve seen just how much the Egyptians have oppressed them. So, get going. I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:9-10)

Exodus 3:1-12 (CEB)
(1) Moses was taking care of the flock for his father-in-law Jethro, Midian’s priest. He led his flock out to the edge of the desert, and he came to God’s mountain called Horeb. (2) The Lord’s messenger appeared to him in a flame of fire in the middle of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was in flames, but it didn’t burn up. (3) Then Moses said to himself, let me check out this amazing sight and find out why the bush isn’t burning up.

(4) When the Lord saw that he was coming to look, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!”
Moses said, “I’m here.”

(5) Then the Lord said, “Don’t come any closer! Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.” (6) He continued, “I am the God of your father, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God.” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God. (7) Then the Lord said, “I’ve clearly seen my people oppressed in Egypt. I’ve heard their cry of injustice because of their slave masters. I know about their pain. (8) I’ve come down to rescue them from the Egyptians in order to take them out of that land and bring them to a good and broad land, a land that’s full of milk and honey, a place where the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites all live. (9) Now the Israelites’ cries of injustice have reached me. I’ve seen just how much the Egyptians have oppressed them. (10) So, get going. I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

(11) But Moses said to God, “Who am I to go to Pharaoh and to bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (12) God said, “I’ll be with you. And this will show you that I’m the one who sent you. After you bring the people out of Egypt, you will come back here and worship God on this mountain.”

Some Thoughts by Burgess Walter

For the past four weeks, we have looked at those that were, “Called To Be Strong.”  This week we begin a new unit entitled “Calling of Prophets” and examine the calls of Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Amos. This week’s lesson examines Moses’ experience with God on Mount Horeb.

As usual a little background is needed to put today’s lesson into the historical setting. Briefly explained, God called Abraham, and a promise was made. Abraham’s grandson was Jacob, Jacob had twelve sons, one of which was Joseph, Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt. Joseph becomes second in command of all of Egypt. A great famine happens, and Joseph in his mercy, brings his father and brothers to Egypt to survive the famine.

The call of Moses takes place approximately 215 years after Joseph was in charge in Egypt.  In Exodus 1:8 we find these sad words, “Now a new king came to power in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph.”  That brings you up to date historically. Assuming you know about Moses’s story up to the point he was chased out of Egypt for killing an Egyptian.  Moses was raised and educated in the house of Pharaoh, he was a prince, prior to killing an Egyptian. Moses goes into the Sinai desert to escape punishment and marries the daughter of Jethro. Jethro was a righteous man and puts Moses in charge of his herd.

That is where our text for this week begins. Moses has plenty of time to contemplate while tending to Jethro’s herd.

God considers Moses the most qualified person to go back into Egypt and bring out the Israelites, that were slaves to the Egyptians.  Moses was qualified both politically and education wise to approach Pharaoh. He did have a speech problem that God would take care of. But most importantly God promised to be with him. God also promised that they would meet again on this very mountain, assuring Moses he would survive whatever the Egyptians might try.

After the death of Joseph, and the new Pharaohs came into power, the Israelites had become a very important work force for the rulers of Egypt. As they were treated worse and worse they cried out to God about their circumstances.  Verse 9 says, “Now the Israelites’ cries of injustice have reached me.”

A couple of things have taken place, the Israelites had multiplied and the Egyptians loved to have slaves. Like us, they cried out to God for deliverance. It may not be on our, time schedule or how we would do it, but we can always count on God to deliver. The promise to Abraham goes back 400 years, but God comes through.

My hymn for this week is “God Lead His Dear Children Along.”

Monday, June 19, 2017

Samson's Call Adult Sunday School Lesson

Uniform Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday June 25, 2017

Purpose: To remember that God created each person for a purpose that may involve circumstances not of our choosing

Bible Lesson: Judges 13:1-7, 24-25

Background Scripture: Judges 13–16

Key Verse: You are pregnant and will give birth to a son. Don’t allow a razor to shave his head, because the boy is going to be a Nazirite for God from birth. He’ll be the one who begins Israel’s rescue from the power of the Philistines. (Judges 13:5)

Judges 13:1-7 (CEB)
(1) The Israelites again did things that the Lord saw as evil, and he handed them over to the Philistines for forty years.

(2) Now there was a certain man from Zorah, from the Danite clan, whose name was Manoah. His wife was unable to become pregnant and had not given birth to any children. (3) The Lord’s messenger appeared to the woman and said to her, “Even though you’ve been unable to become pregnant and haven’t given birth, you are now pregnant and will give birth to a son! (4) Now be careful not to drink wine or brandy or to eat anything that is ritually unclean, (5) because you are pregnant and will give birth to a son. Don’t allow a razor to shave his head, because the boy is going to be a Nazirite for God from birth. He’ll be the one who begins Israel’s rescue from the power of the Philistines.”

(6) Then the woman went and told her husband, “A man of God came to me, and he looked like God’s messenger––very scary! I didn’t ask him where he was from, and he didn’t tell me his name. (7) He said to me, ‘You are pregnant and will give birth to a son, so don’t drink wine or brandy or eat anything that is ritually unclean, because the boy is going to be a Nazirite for God from birth until the day he dies.’ ”

Judges 13:24-25 (CEB)
(24) The woman gave birth to a son and named him Samson. The boy grew up, and the Lord blessed him. (25) The Lord’s spirit began to move him when he was in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.

Some Thoughts by Burgess Walter

As we continue to study the Book of Judges, we again see this cycle of sinning against God, repenting, and God coming to the rescue.  You should be aware that as our story begins this week, God has allowed the children of Israel to be controlled the Philistines for forty years.

As we learned last week, God declined to help if they continued to worship other gods. Instead God suggested they should ask those gods that they were worshipping for help. As God always does when they repented, God repented and helped them defeat the enemy.

In the settling of the Promised Land as given by God and divided by Joshua, the tribe of Judah was given the seaside territory occupied by the Philistines. Today that territory is called Gaza and the dispute remains between Israel and Palestine.  (which means “land of the Philistines”)

In our text, we see that Samson is from the tribe of Dan, which governed the territory and was located immediately north of Judah. As you read the story, after they blinded Samson they took him to Gaza, or modern-day Palestine.  So, while our story is over three thousand years old the battle continues.

Unlike our previous stories, deliverance was not promised by God, but only the beginning of deliverance. (“He’ll be the one who begins Israel’s rescue from the power of the Philistines.” ) 13:5b  What Samson begins David will complete temporarily. However, most prophecy speaks of the Philistines being around until the final battle of Armageddon.

Take note of the similarities and the differences between Samson and Samuel.  Both mothers were barren, God came to one and the other went to God. Both were committed to bring the sons up as Nazarites. There are also similarities between Samson, Samuel and John the Baptizer, all raised as Nazarites. (Numbers 6:1-6) These women were considered to be barren. These women were obedient to God’s call on their life, but answering the call meant giving up the thing they wanted the most. The son’s each of them received, was taken from them and used by God. 

When we yield our lives to God, the result may not be exactly what we had hoped for. Our commitment to do God’s will for our lives, will probably cost us something, but living within His will, offers us blessings we could never know any other way.

My hymn for this week is “O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee”

A suggested prayer is: Dear God of all creation, we never cease to be amazed at the endless ways you find to bless us. Your mercy and grace and love are everlasting. As we gather today in your name, teach us your ways. Help us face adversity and evil with courage. Transform our hearts and minds, and renew your Spirit within us; in Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen

Monday, June 12, 2017

Jephthah Answers the Call Adult Sunday School Lesson

Uniform Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday June 18, 2017

Purpose: To affirm that people who disagree on many issues can still work together to accomplish common goals

Bible Lesson: Judges 11:4-11, 29-31

Background Scripture: Judges 11

Key Verse: And Jephthah said to Gilead’s elders, “If you bring me back to fight the Ammonites and the Lord gives them over to me, I alone will be your leader.” (Judges 11:9)

Judges 11:4-11 (CEB)
(4) Sometime afterward, the Ammonites made war against Israel. (5) And when the Ammonites attacked Israel, Gilead’s elders went to bring Jephthah back from the land of Tob. (6) They said to him, “Come be our commander so we can fight against the Ammonites.”

(7) But Jephthah replied to Gilead’s elders, “Aren’t you the ones who hated me and drove me away from my father’s household? Why are you coming to me now when you’re in trouble?”

(8) Gilead’s elders answered Jephthah, “That may be, but now we’re turning back to you, so come with us and fight the Ammonites. Then you’ll become the leader over us and everyone who lives in Gilead.” (9) And Jephthah said to Gilead’s elders, “If you bring me back to fight the Ammonites and the Lord gives them over to me, I alone will be your leader.”

(10) Gilead’s elders replied to him, “The Lord is our witness; we will surely do what you’ve said.” (11) So Jephthah went with Gilead’s elders, and the people made him leader and commander over them. At Mizpah before the Lord, Jephthah repeated everything he had said.
Judges 11: 29-31 (CEB)

(29) Then the Lord’s spirit came on Jephthah. He passed through Gilead and Manasseh, then through Mizpah in Gilead, and from there he crossed over to the Ammonites. (30) Jephthah made a solemn promise to the Lord: “If you will decisively hand over the Ammonites to me, (31) then whatever comes out the doors of my house to meet me when I return victorious from the Ammonites will be given over to the Lord. I will sacrifice it as an entirely burned offering.”

Some Thoughts by Burgess Walter

There are a few historical facts that should be brought out about this week’s lesson. Jephthah was an illegitimate son of Gilead. Born of a prostitute, and rejected by the legitimate sons of Gilead. He was run off and denied any part of his father’s inheritance, by his brothers. So, Jephthah went north to Tob. There he became the leader of a band of outlaws, and he was very successful in that endeavor.

Meanwhile the Lord had become very upset with the habitual disobedience of the Gileadites and all of Israel. As recorded in Judges 10 (13) But you have gone away from me and served other gods, so I won’t rescue you anymore! (14) Go cry out to the gods you’ve chosen. Let them rescue you in the time of your distress.”

Of course, as soon as they repented, God repented and forgave them. That is where this week’s text comes in. Once again, God does not choose the best character to fulfill His mission, but he chooses the willing. Jephthah bargained with the desperate Gileadites and they agreed with the conditions.

Jephthah had to feel a great deal of vindication for the way his brothers had treated him, now he would become the ruler of Gilead.

On his way into battle Jephthah made a deal with God. Now I know none of you have ever done that. The deal found in the following verses:  (30) Jephthah made a solemn promise to the Lord: “If you will decisively hand over the Ammonites to me, (31) then whatever comes out the doors of my house to meet me when I return victorious from the Ammonites will be given over to the Lord. I will sacrifice it as an entirely burned offering.”

I think our purpose statement might be misleading, it is not about us agreeing or disagreeing amongst ourselves. It is, are we being obedient to the Lord or to other men?

God’s principles cannot be abandoned just to bring peace, God expects and demands obedience. And He is always willing to forgive if we repent of our own foolishness.

Jephthah was unable to take back his deal he made with the Lord, and it cost him the life of his only daughter. It was Jephthah’s lack of faith that cost him his only daughters life. It is that same lack of faith that can cost us eternal life.  

At the end of chapter 11 we read this tradition (40) for four days every year Israelite daughters would go away to recount the story of the Gileadite Jephthah’s daughter. Because of her willingness to become the sacrifice, this virgin daughter becomes a type of Christ.  She willingly lays down her life, to save all of those in Gilead.

While parts of this lesson can be very disturbing, it should be noted, God responds to those that diligently seek Him.  We are never more than a word of repentance from God, no matter how far we have strayed.

My hymn for this week is “Lord I Am Coming Home.” You too may have wandered far away; God’s arms are always open for the repented sinner.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Gideon's Call Adult Sunday School Lesson

Uniform Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday June 11, 2017

Purpose: To recognize that God is always with us, even when we doubt or feel abandoned

Bible Lesson: Judges 6:11-18

Background Scripture: Judges 6–8

Key Verse: The Lord’s messenger appeared to him and said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior!” (Judges 6:12)

Judges 6:11-18 (CEB)
(11) Then the Lord’s messenger came and sat under the oak at Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite. His son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to hide it from the Midianites. (12) The Lord’s messenger appeared to him and said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior!”

(13) But Gideon replied to him, “With all due respect, my Lord, if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his amazing works that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, ‘Didn’t the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and allowed Midian to overpower us.”

(14) Then the Lord turned to him and said, “You have strength, so go and rescue Israel from the power of Midian. Am I not personally sending you?” 

(15) But again, Gideon said to him, “With all due respect, my Lord, how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I’m the youngest in my household.”
(16) The Lord replied, “Because I’m with you, you’ll defeat the Midianites as if they were just one person.” (17) Then Gideon said to him, “If I’ve gained your approval, please show me a sign that it’s really you speaking with me.

(18) Don’t leave here until I return, bring out my offering, and set it in front of you.”

Some Thoughts by Burgess Walter

This is our second in this series of “Called to be Strong.”  I have always been fascinated by the story of Gideon. For many years I was a member of Gideon’s International, the group that used to distribute New Testaments and Bibles to 5th graders, graduates, hotels and doctor offices. Most of that has now been discontinued because of pressure from government agencies.

As I read this story, I am amused at the humor God shows. When Gideon is cowering in a winepress threshing out enough grain to make bread to feed his family, peering out over the top looking for the enemy, the Lord introduces Himself to Gideon, by saying “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior!”  You have to love Gideon's response, “With all due respect, my Lord, if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?"  I think Gideon’s question is a legitimate question and one most of us have ask ourselves.

When Gideon responds “With all due respect, my Lord, how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I’m the youngest in my household.”  The challenge for us today is believing God’s answer.   “Because I’m with you.”

When we are called by God to do His work and He has called us to perform for Him we can be assured that He is with us.

I recall how some 30 years ago, my wife, Katherine, asked a similar question. She felt God’s call on her to do something, but what? After a time of prayer, she felt God calling her to minister to young married women.  She organized a study group that would meet every week, study, pray, and encourage each other.  This group of young mothers and wives grew into a real source of ministry for these women.

While they faced many problems at home with raising children, running a household and tending to the needs of their husbands, their own spiritual life suffered. The only way this was a successful endeavor was because the Lord was with her. Many of those women are now grandmothers and active in their local church, and many still look back to that time and group as helping them to survive raising a Christian family.

God does not always call the equipped, but He will always equip the called.  Both Gideon and Katherine had doubts, but with God’s help, both succeeded.  Never be afraid to accept God’s call on your life.
My hymn for this week is “Jesus Calls Us.”


Monday, May 29, 2017

Deborah and Barak Adult Sunday School Lesson

Uniform Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday June 4, 2017

Purpose: To consider how we can accomplish great things when we work together to carry out any mission God gives us

Bible Lesson: Judges 4:1-10 

Background Scripture: Judges 4–5

Key Verse: Deborah answered, “I’ll definitely go with you. However, the path you’re taking won’t bring honor to you, because the Lord will hand over Sisera to a woman.” (Judges 4:9)

Judges 4:1-10  (CEB)
(1) After Ehud had died, the Israelites again did things that the Lord saw as evil. (2) So, the Lord gave them over to King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, and he was stationed in Harosheth-ha-goiim. (3) The Israelites cried out to the Lord because Sisera had nine hundred iron chariots and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly for twenty years.

(4) Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was a leader of Israel at that time. (5) She would sit under Deborah’s palm tree between Ramah and Bethel in the Ephraim highlands, and the Israelites would come to her to settle disputes. (6) She sent word to Barak, Abinoam’s son, from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “Hasn’t the Lord, Israel’s God, issued you a command? ‘Go and assemble at Mount Tabor, taking ten thousand men from the people of Naphtali and Zebulun with you.

(7) I’ll lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, to assemble with his chariots and troops against you at the Kishon River, and then I’ll help you overpower him.” (8) Barak replied to her, “If you’ll go with me, I’ll go; but if not, I won’t go.”

(9) Deborah answered, “I’ll definitely go with you. However, the path you’re taking won’t bring honor to you, because the Lord will hand over Sisera to a woman.” Then Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh. (10) He summoned Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh, and ten thousand men marched out behind him. Deborah marched out with him too

Some Thoughts by Burgess Walter

After a three-month absence, I am once again posting my weekly blog on the Uniform/International/Standard Sunday School Lessons. As I have stated I do the Uniform lessons to honor a long history of Sunday School teachers and writers. My grandmother, my father, my father-in-law, my uncle all taught Sunday School from the Uniform Series. In addition, one of my mentors was the editor of the Higley Commentary for many years, Dr. Loyal Ringenberg. He continued to mentor me until his death in 2000.

I grew up in a small town (Butler, Indiana) that had a Christian publishing house, called “The Higley Press” each year they put out a commentary on the yearly lessons of the Uniform/International Series Sunday School Lessons.  I think the last one published was in 2000. 

In addition, one of the great but underappreciated gifts to the church universal is the work of the Committee on the Uniform Series. The work of this interdenominational body of Sunday school scholars and editors had its origin in 1866 in the Sunday School Teacher of the Reverend John Heyl Vincent (a Methodist clergyman who was elected bishop in 1888). From the beginning, the goal of the Uniform Series was to standardize the lessons taught in Sunday school classes so that persons could study the same lesson in any Sunday school class they attended, no matter the denomination, anywhere in the United States. To that end, the Committee on the Uniform Series meets annually to prepare detailed lesson outlines that are then distributed to more than 20 denominational publishing houses. Then the varied publishing houses can locate writers within their own faith communities to draft Scripture-based lessons on eight general topics (such as God, Faith, and Worship) that provide an overview of the entire Bible every six years. For more than 150 years, these dedicated church workers have guaranteed that teachers and students in Sunday school classes— large and small, rural and urban, conservative and liberal—have the opportunity to explore the full breadth of God’s Word in the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Now for today’s lesson. First, we need to set the time, approximately 1426 B.C. is when our story takes place. Joshua has died and only parts of Canaan have been conquered by the tribes of Israel.  Each tribe was more or less responsible for conquering the territory given it by Joshua.

Just as both Moses and Joshua had warned, many of the tribes failed to drive out the Canaanites. The people and leaders of the different tribes began to worship the Canaan gods of Baal, they especially liked the fertility gods and the ceremonies that took place during that worship. This of course grieved Yahweh, the God that had brought them out of Egypt. (The Israelites were forbidden to use or say the word God, so they referred to Him in some unpronounceable name, we interpret as YAHWEH.) 

With the death of Joshua, each of the twelve tribe’s leadership fell to one of those within the Tribe. For the tribe of Ephraim, Deborah was chosen for the position of leadership and she was also a judge and a prophet.  Deborah’s reputation was such that she had influence over several of the other tribes.

Deborah devised a plan whereby Barak, a member of the Napthal tribe in Kedesh would be able to defeat Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army. Now today we might say Barak was hiding behind a woman's skirt.

Deborah’s reply consented to Barak’s wishes but she warned him a woman might become the hero rather than him. As you read the full story in verse (21) But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent stake and a hammer. While Sisera was sound asleep from exhaustion, she tiptoed to him. She drove the stake through his head and down into the ground, and he died. (22) Just then, Barak arrived after chasing Sisera. Jael went out to meet him and said, “Come and I’ll show you the man you’re after.” So he went in with her, and there was Sisera, lying dead, with the stake through his head.  So, Jael, Heber’s wife, becomes the hero, not Deborah nor Barak. It should be noted Jael was not an Israelite, but rather a descendant of Jethro, Moses’s father-in-law, a Midianite, that had settled in the land near Kedesh a sanctuary city.

The lesson for me points out how easy it is for us to stray from God’s commands and teachings. We set up our own God’s, created by us, in our image, the way we would like it to be. Ignoring God and His word, we worship in a way that pleases us rather than what pleases God. Which is exactly what happened in the story of Cain and Abel. Cain worshipped God his way, Abel followed God’s commands.

My hymn for this week is “Thy Word is a Lamp Unto my Feet.”

Monday, February 20, 2017

Christ Creates Holy Living Adult Sunday School Lesson

International Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday February, 2017

Purpose: To manifest the fruit of the Spirit as our faithful response to God and our witness to others

Bible Lesson: Galatians 5:18–6:10

Key Verses: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this. (Galatians 5:22-23

Galatians 5:18–26 (CEB)
(18) But if you are being led by the Spirit, you aren’t under the Law. (19) The actions that are produced by selfish motives are obvious, since they include sexual immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, (20) idolatry, drug use and casting spells, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, (21) jealousy, drunkenness, partying, and other things like that. I warn you as I have already warned you, that those who do these kinds of things won’t inherit God’s kingdom. (22) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, (23) gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this. (24) Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the self with its passions and its desires. (25) If we live by the Spirit, let’s follow the Spirit. (26) Let’s not become arrogant, make each other angry, or be jealous of each other.

Galatians 6:1-10 (CEB)
(1) Brothers and sisters, if a person is caught doing something wrong, you who are spiritual should restore someone like this with a spirit of gentleness. Watch out for yourselves so you won’t be tempted too. (2) Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. (3) If anyone thinks they are important when they aren’t, they’re fooling themselves. (4) Each person should test their own work and be happy with doing a good job and not compare themselves with others. (5) Each person will have to carry their own load. (6) Those who are taught the word should share all good things with their teacher. (7) Make no mistake, God is not mocked. A person will harvest what they plant. (8) Those who plant only for their own benefit will harvest devastation from their selfishness, but those who plant for the benefit of the Spirit will harvest eternal life from the Spirit. (9) Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up. (10) So then, let’s work for the good of all whenever we have an opportunity, and especially for those in the household of faith.

Some Thoughts by Burgess Walter

This week’s lesson brings to a climax Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul makes an argument for living by faith, with the help that has been promised of the Holy Spirit rather than trying to live by the law of Moses. 

If we choose to accept Christ as the promised Messiah and if we believe that accepting Christ as the Lord of our life, we also receive the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus promised, in his statements in John; 14:16 “I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion, who will be with you forever. (26) The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you.” And in 16:7 “I assure you that it is better for you that I go away. If I don’t go away, the Companion] won’t come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” Then Paul asserts we are free from following the Law of Moses when it comes to our being redeemed.

If we have chosen Christ, then Christ alone is responsible for our redemption not the blood of animals or obedience to dietary and Sabbath laws. Paul continues, in addition if we are followers of Christ, then our lives should show that the Holy Spirit now resides in us by producing the fruits of the Spirit.

Earlier in this letter Paul asserts that living as a Spirit filled Christians is renewed each day.  Galatians 2:19-20: “I died to the Law through the Law, so that I could live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live in my body, I live by faith, indeed, by the faithfulness of God’s Son, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

In verses 25-26, Paul offers a few warnings to persons who desire to live by the Spirit. First, in verse 25, Paul reminds the Galatians that life by the Spirit involves choice. It is a moment-by-moment walk with God in which we consciously open ourselves to the guidance of the Spirit. It is not enough to say that we live by the Spirit; we must make the decision to surrender every day. Second, verse 26 reminds Christians that life in the Spirit must not turn negative. There is no place for arrogance, infighting, or jealousy. These are actions indicative of self rather than the Spirit.

The choice is whether we let our desires rule, or if we allow the Holy Spirit to rule our desires. Many years ago, I heard an old country preacher explain like this. Every morning when I wake up, it is like I have two dogs living in me. One dog I call Spirit, the other dog I call self. When asked which dog wins? The old preacher said, “The one I said siccum to.”

When we live a Spirit filled life, we will also always be ready to help those that have fallen or said siccum to the wrong dog. We cannot serve two masters as Jesus said, in Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

This week’s hymn is one by Jeremy Camp “Christ In Me.” enjoy.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Freedom in Christ Adult Sunday School Lesson

International Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday February 19, 2017

Purpose: To practice true freedom by serving others in love

Bible Lesson: Galatians 5:1-17

Key Verse: You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love. (Galatians 5:13)

Galatians 5:1-17 (CEB)
(1) Christ has set us free for freedom. Therefore, stand firm and don’t submit to the bondage of slavery again. (2) Look, I, Paul, am telling you that if you have yourselves circumcised, having Christ won’t help you. (3) Again, I swear to every man who has himself circumcised that he is required to do the whole Law. (4) You people who are trying to be made righteous by the Law have been estranged from Christ. You have fallen away from grace! (5) We eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness through the Spirit by faith. (6) Being circumcised or not being circumcised doesn’t matter in Christ Jesus, but faith working through love does matter. (7) You were running well—who stopped you from obeying the truth? (8) This line of reasoning doesn’t come from the one who calls you. (9) A little yeast works through the whole lump of dough. (10) I’m convinced about you in the Lord that you won’t think any other way. But the one who is confusing you will pay the penalty, whoever that may be. (11) Brothers and sisters, if I’m still preaching circumcision, why am I still being harassed? In that case, the offense of the cross would be canceled. (12) I wish that the ones who are upsetting you would castrate themselves! (13) You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love. (14) All the Law has been fulfilled in a single statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. (15) But if you bite and devour each other, be careful that you don’t get eaten up by each other! (16) I say be guided by the Spirit and you won’t carry out your selfish desires. (17) A person’s selfish desires are set against the Spirit, and the Spirit is set against one’s selfish desires. They are opposed to each other, so you shouldn’t do whatever you want to do.

Some Thoughts by Burgess Walter

Today’s lesson is very challenging, I found that I was challenged by Paul’s words and what freedom in Christ really means.
The challenge I see from Paul’s words are; How can I take the freedom I have in Christ and make certain that my actions reflects Christ love for me and the freedom I have been given, is not wasted on selfish things?

The problem, as Paul saw it, was the Galatians had received the truth, but then became influenced by the Judaizes that used convincing language to sway them that the only avenue for a Christ follower was to come to Christ via the Jewish religion.

Paul reiterates his original message to them, that God has created a new covenant with all people, not just Jews. The new covenant is based on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God has created a way for everyone to receive the grace of salvation that does not require circumcision and following all the rules established by the law. 

Observing, holy days and dietary rules is no longer necessary for our salvation. Which I guess Paul counts as freedom. But Paul makes it clear that our freedom does not mean we are free from doing God’s work.

When we receive Christ through faith, we also receive the Holy Spirit, since we get all of God at that time. Unfortunately, God does not always get all of us. We often hold back, and are unwilling to give up our selfishness.

Paul’s assurance is that with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can become more Christ centered and less self-centered in our life. Paul assures the Galatians and us, that the law of love will become our goal and purpose, in a Christ centered and Spirit filled life.

For us, the lesson challenges us to ask, “How are we doing and sharing in God’s love?” Do we love our neighbor as ourselves? Or have we remained in our selfishness?

My hymn for this week shares God’s love, Love Divine all love excelling, and I love the line, “take away my love for sinning.”

Monday, February 6, 2017

New Birth Brings Freedom Adult Sunday School Lesson

International Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday February 12, 2017

Purpose: To resist the temptation to trust human traditions more than God’s gift of freedom through Christ

Bible Lesson: Galatians 4:8-20

Background Scripture: Galatians 4

Key Verse: But now, after knowing God (or rather, being known by God), how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless world system? Do you want to be slaves to it again? (Galatians 4:9)

Galatians 4:8-20 (CEB)
(8) At the time, when you didn’t know God, you were enslaved by things that aren’t gods by nature. (9) But now, after knowing God (or rather, being known by God), how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless world system? Do you want to be slaves to it again? (10) You observe religious days and months and seasons and years. (11) I’m afraid for you! Perhaps my hard work for you has been for nothing. (12) I beg you to be like me, brothers and sisters, because I have become like you! You haven’t wronged me. (13) You know that I first preached the gospel to you because of an illness. (14) Though my poor health burdened you, you didn’t look down on me or reject me, but you welcomed me as if I were an angel from God, or as if I were Christ Jesus! (15) Where then is the great attitude that you had? I swear that, if possible, you would have dug out your eyes and given them to me. (16) So then, have I become your enemy by telling you the truth? (17) They are so concerned about you, though not with good intentions. Rather, they want to shut you out so that you would run after them. (18) However, it’s always good to have people concerned about you with good intentions, and not just when I’m there with you. (19) My little children, I’m going through labor pains again until Christ is formed in you. (20) But I wish I could be with you now and change how I sound, because I’m at a loss about you.

Some Thoughts by Burgess Walter

This week’s lesson is a continuation of last week’s lesson, so you may want to review last weeks’ lesson first.
A review of the setting for this letter being written is; after Paul’s initial visit to the area on his first missionary journey, there were well meaning distractors that came and tried to persuade those originally taught by Paul that they and Paul were wrong in their thinking.

They were probably Jews from Jerusalem that thought the only way to worship the creator God was to first become a Jew. This was not only a burden for the male population, because of circumcision, it also meant observing all the Jewish Holy Days, and dietary restrictions.

Imagine the angst when these new Christians, who had been worshippers of unknown gods or Roman and Greek gods, go from the freedom taught by Paul, to the ridged teachings of these Judaizes.  Paul teachings were based on faith. But they were more accustomed to symbols, gods and practices, and whose images were readily available.
In Paul’s original visit he had obviously suffered from some sort of vision problem, pink eye, or sty or some unknown problem possibly caused by the Damascus road encounter with Christ.

Paul had not lived as a Jew among them, rather he lived as a man set free from the restrictions of diet and ceremony and lived as one saved and redeemed by God’s grace, through faith, as one whose burdens and sins had been forgiven and an assurance of eternal life was promised and received by Paul. Faith in Christ’s proclamation that He was the one and only Son of God and His life, death and resurrection was real.

Paul’s parenthetical statement in verse 9 (or rather, being known by God) is huge. It confirms what we call prevenient grace. God calls us long before we acknowledge Him, God knows us while we are still sinners and unbelievers.

As you contemplate your Christian life, how free are you? Are you burdened with rules in your Christian life?  How do you determine someone else's Christianity?  Our life should be lived in gratitude and purpose for what a loving Father has done for us. What is our basis for believing in an eternal life in the presence of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit?

My hymn this week is one I use often, but it tells the story so well, “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less Than Jesus Blood and Righteousness.”

Monday, January 30, 2017

Re-Created to Live in Harmony Adult Sunday School Lesson

International Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday February 5, 2017

Purpose: To affirm that our new life in Christ transcends all other divisions

Bible Lesson: Galatians 3:26–4:7

Key Verse: There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

Galatians 3:26–29 (CEB)
(26) You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. (27) All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (28) There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (29) Now if you belong to Christ, then indeed you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 4:1-7 (CEB)
(1) I’m saying that as long as the heirs are minors, they are no different from slaves, though they really are the owners of everything. (2) However, they are placed under trustees and guardians until the date set by the parents. (3) In the same way, when we were minors, we were also enslaved by this world’s system. (4) But when the fulfillment of the time came, God sent his Son, born through a woman, and born under the Law. (5) This was so he could redeem those under the Law so that we could be adopted. (6) Because you are sons and daughters, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” (7) Therefore, you are no longer a slave but a son or daughter, and if you are his child, then you are also an heir through God.

Some Thoughts by Burgess Walter

This is the first of four lessons from the Book of Galatians. The area was first visited by Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey, it included the cities of Iconium, Lystra, Derbe and others. (See Acts 13-14) The people of Galatia were from a branch of the Gaul’s, originally from north of the Black Sea. Gaul was best known for being part of the nation we now call France. During Julius Caesar's reign, it was an adversary of Rome.

After Paul and Barnabas left the area and having taught the Gospel of Christ, a group had moved into the area teaching a different form of Christianity. They taught that to be a follower of Christ first required that Jewish traditions and laws be observed. They also did not recognize Paul as a real Apostle, since he was not part of the original twelve.

In addition to the Judaizers there had also been an infiltration of some Eastern religions.  Paul probably writes this letter after the conclusion of the first Missionary Journey and his visit Jerusalem. Although others think it was later based on 4:11 “I’m afraid for you! Perhaps my hard work for you has been for nothing.” Which might indicate it was after several more visits. (Journeys 2 & 3) My thinking is since the council in Jerusalem wrote the letter saying circumcision was not necessary after the first visit, that should have settled the problem.

In this lesson, we will focus on the experience of salvation in Christ as the means to unity and deep community as God’s people.

Verses 26 & 27 focus on our new identity in Christ. In Galatians, Paul is writing to a mixed group of believers. Both Jews and Gentiles were in the church Paul established in the region of Galatia. A lot of the early believers of Christ were Jews, but as the word spread more and more Gentiles/Greeks became believers also. The Jews always traced their heritage back to Abraham, but of course the Gentiles/Greeks could not.

Hence the opening by Paul, and in verse 29 he makes a valid statement, reminding them Abraham was from a family of idol worshippers, and it was Abraham's faith just as it is our faith that sets us apart. In verse 29, Paul reminds his readers that this new reality in Christ is by faith. He points back to Abraham as the model (Galatians 3:6-9). Relationship with God in Christ is by faith. Abraham modeled the life of faith, and Abraham serves as the link to God’s blessing of all the nations (Genesis 12:3).

In chapter 4, Paul moves to illustrate his argument with a family metaphor. Paul’s argument is that in Christ all people (Jew/Gentile, slave/free, and male/female) are God’s children and part of one body.  He now moves to clarify what heirs means. Paul means that all people in Christ are fully heirs and enjoy all of the rights and privileges of being sons and daughters of God through Christ. There are no second-class citizens or family members in the church. Now it is important that you understand this applies to the Church, (body of believers) and not to the world. The world remains slaves to sin and has no rights as heirs.

In Paul’s thinking those in the world that do not believe in Christ are as minor children that have an inheritance that can only be granted by a trustee. The inheritance is completed when we by faith accept the truth that Jesus was God and through His life, death and resurrection we can inherit the promises He made.  Our salvation is not through our birth, our economic status, our religious affiliation, our family, our ethnicity, our educational level, or our culture. 

For Paul, the only object worthy of our trust is a person––the Son of God and Messiah, Jesus. Jesus faithfully lived and then died on the cross for the sins, injustices, and hurts of the world. Therefore, salvation does not depend on anything other than embracing a new identity with God through trust in Jesus.

Paul brings his argument to a climax in verses 6-7. In Christ, all who believe are no longer slaves nor are they minor children with limited rights. They are fully mature sons and daughters who through the Holy Spirit can address God directly as “Abba, Father.” Abba in Aramaic is like saying “daddy” or “papa” a term of endearment by a child.

For my hymn this week I will choose one of the great oldies, “Trust and Obey” because that is all we need to become an heir, son or daughter.


Monday, January 23, 2017

All Creation Praises God Adult Sunday School Lesson

International Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday January 29, 2017

Purpose: To join the chorus of creation in hallelujah to the Lord

Bible Lesson: Psalm 148

Key Verse: Let all of these praise the Lord’s name because God gave the command and they were created! (Psalm 148:5)

Psalm 148 (CEB)
(1) Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from heaven! Praise God on the heights! (2) Praise God, all of you who are his messengers! Praise God, all of you who comprise his heavenly forces (3) Sun and moon, praise God! All of you bright stars, praise God! (4) You highest heaven, praise God! Do the same, you waters that are above the sky! (5) Let all of these praise the Lord’s name because God gave the command and they were created! (6) God set them in place always and forever. God made a law that will not be broken. (7) Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all you ocean depths! (8) Do the same, fire and hail, snow and smoke, stormy wind that does what God says! (9) Do the same, you mountains, every single hill, fruit trees, and every single cedar! (10) Do the same, you animals—wild or tame— you creatures that creep along and you birds that fly! (11) Do the same, you kings of the earth and every single person, you princes and every single ruler on earth! (12) Do the same, you young men—young women too!— you who are old together with you who are young! (13) Let all of these praise the Lord’s name because only God’s name is high over all. Only God’s majesty is over earth and heaven. (14) God raised the strength of his people, the praise of all his faithful ones— that’s the Israelites, the people who are close to him. Praise the Lord!

Some Thoughts by Burgess Walter

This is the fifth and final lesson from Psalms. At the end of the Book of Psalms (146-150) there is a series of Psalms called the “Hallelujah Psalms” because each one begins and ends with “Hallelujah” or “Praise the Lord.”

The Psalm is remarkable because it lists every part of creation that praises the Creator God. It also makes clear that only the Creator is worthy of praise and none of His Creation.  No moon, sun, stars or world leaders no ocean or land mass. This eliminates a lot of worldwide religions both now and then. Nothing created by The Creator God should be worshipped, and more importantly they should be a part of this chorus of praise.

How many times have you thought about the sound grass makes as it grows as a praise hymn?  The sound that the wind makes as it rustles the leaves or is funneled through a small opening as a hymn of praise? The Psalmist sees all of this, and more.

From Hump Back Whales to the tiniest insect to the largest of boulders cracking and the earth groaning, to explosions on the sun.  Everything created, from angelic beings to unknown beings residing in unknown realms.

We fall far short in our appreciation of the Creator God. We tend to trivialize God to some sort of Santa Claus rather than worship Him. By comparison it too much for us to understand when we compare our power to His.  We are called to worship Him and sing our Hallelujahs and Praise the LORD.

The Creator God exists outside of and above creation, maybe the 13th-century medieval monk St. Francis of Assisi said it best in the words to the hymn “All Creatures of Our God and King” based on his reading of Psalm 148.

So, that is my hymn for this week “All Creatures of Our God and King” enjoy.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Praise God the Creator Adult Sunday School Lesson

International Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday January 22, 2017

Purpose: To celebrate God’s goodness as Creator and Lord of all

Bible Lesson: Psalm 104:1-4, 24-30

Background scripture: Psalm 104

Key Verse: Lord, you have done so many things!  You made them all so wisely! The earth is full of your creations (Psalm 104:24)

Psalm 104:1-4 (CEB)
(1) Let my whole being bless the Lord! Lord my God, how fantastic you are! You are clothed in glory and grandeur! (2) You wear light like a robe; you open the skies like a curtain. (3) You build your lofty house on the waters; you make the clouds your chariot, going around on the wings of the wind. (4) You make the winds your messengers; you make fire and flame your ministers.

Psalm 104: 24-30 (CEB)
(24) Lord, you have done so many things! You made them all so wisely! The earth is full of your creations! (25) And then there’s the sea, wide and deep, with its countless creatures— living things both small and large. (26) There go the ships on it, and Leviathan, which you made, plays in it! (27) All your creations wait for you to give them their food on time. (28) When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled completely full! (29) But when you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to dust. (30) When you let loose your breath, they are created and you make the surface of the ground brand new again.

Some Thoughts by Burgess Walter

Psalm 104 is a hymn of praise. It calls for the worship and adoration of the Lord because of God’s goodness as Creator and Lord of all.

The psalmist begins in verse 1a declaring, “Let my whole being bless the Lord!” In Psalm 96:2, we encounter the language of blessing the Lord. To bless the Lord is to give God praise. When we bless God, we tell others about the Lord. The goal is to increase the number of people who are praising and worshiping the Lord. Traditional English translations typically render this verse, “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” Our CEB translation captures the meaning of the Hebrew better by using “whole being” instead of the traditional “soul.”

What does it mean to praise/worship/bless the Lord with our souls? It is to offer God praise with all that we are. Too often we diminish our understanding of the word soul by limiting it to some spiritual part of ourselves. In fact, for the Hebrews, soul means all that we are as living, breathing people, including our bodies. In truth, our bodies, mind and spirit are all housed within our soul as defined by the Hebrews.

By increasing the number of people praising and worshiping God we continue to bless the LORD. In a book I am trying to read and understand “The Improbable Planet” by Hugh Ross (highly recommended) a chart showing the number of Non-Christians to Christians goes from 360 to 1  in AD 100 all the way down to 7 to 1 by 1990. This remarkably shows how the world has changed since that first century after Christ. Regardless of what you may think and what others may be telling you, God continues to redeem.

God planned His work of redemption before He created this unique place called earth. See what Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:9 God is the one who saved and called us with a holy calling. This wasn’t based on what we have done, but it was based on his own purpose and grace that he gave us in Christ Jesus before time began.

Also in Titus 1:1-2 (1) From Paul, a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. I’m sent to bring about the faith of God’s chosen people and a knowledge of the truth that agrees with godliness. (2) Their faith and this knowledge are based on the hope of eternal life that God, who doesn’t lie, promised before time began.

The psalmist is inviting each person in this psalm who sings or prays to address God as “my God” rather than “his” God, “her” God, “our” God, “your” God, or “their” God. In Psalm 104, praise and blessing flow from a worshiper’s personal and firsthand experience of the Lord.

Verses 27-30 are very special because they speak of how The God of Creation continues to rebuild and redeem His creation. It is a form of restocking the pond.

When we look at the Psalmist words and understand the magnificence of God’s creation and plan, we cannot help but praise and worship our Great God.

My hymn for this week is “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”

Monday, January 9, 2017

Praise God the Provider Adult Sunday School lesson

International Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday January 15, 2017

Purpose: To find our security in the God who provides for our needs

Bible Lesson: Psalm 65:1-2, 9-13

Background Scripture: Psalms 65; 67:6-7

Key Verse: “In righteousness you answer us, by your awesome deeds, God of our salvation—you, who are the security of all the far edges of the earth, even the distant seas.” (Psalm 65:5)

Psalm 65:1-13 (CEB)
(1) God of Zion, to you even silence is praise. Promises made to you are kept— (2) you listen to prayer— and all living things come to you (3) When wrongdoings become too much for me, you forgive our sins.  (4) How happy is the one you choose to bring close, the one who lives in your courtyards! We are filled full by the goodness of your house, by the holiness of your temple. 5 In righteousness you answer us, by your awesome deeds, God of our salvation—    you, who are the security of all the far edges of the earth, even the distant seas. (6) You establish the mountains by your strength; you are dressed in raw power. (7) You calm the roaring seas; calm the roaring waves, calm the noise of the nations. (8) Those who dwell on the far edges stand in awe of your acts.  You make the gateways of morning and evening sing for joy.  (9) You visit the earth and make it abundant, enriching it greatly by God’s stream, full of water. You provide people with grain because that is what you’ve decided. (10) Drenching the earth’s furrows, leveling its ridges, you soften it with rain showers; you bless its growth. (11) You crown the year with your goodness; your paths overflow with rich food. (12) Even the desert pastures drip with it, and the hills are dressed in pure joy. (13) The meadowlands are covered with flocks, the valleys decked out in grain— they shout for joy; they break out in song!

Some Thoughts by Burgess Walter

For the past three weeks and I have taken some time off. During that time, I have heard from many of you that you missed the weekly lessons and commentary. It has also given me the opportunity to reflect on my call, and responsibility.  It is probably no surprise to many of you that I get so much more than I give by doing the lessons each week.

In today’s printed text I have included the background text, because I think it adds to our lesson. Also, our Key Verse comes from that text in verse 5.

As I and my family begin a new year and end the old one, we have gone through a Christmas season without one of our grandsons. Our grandson was called home at the age of 39 through a common disease that seems harmless, diabetes. He was vibrant, hardworking and took care of his body. He worked out daily.

For those of you that have grandchildren you can appreciate what many say, “grandchildren are God’s gift for not killing your children when they were young”.  But as much as we miss him, his mother and father miss him more.  I only share this because our lesson deals with everyday disappointments and failures and with the awesomeness of God.

I am struck by the words of verse (1) “to you even silence is praise.  I think the closest we can get to God is in our own silence. It is in our silence that we realize the majesty and magnitude of God's holiness and power.  In our silence, we can forget our cares and concerns, our disappointments and sorrows. With confidence, we know God loves and cares for all His creation.

It has been said that, “worrying is like praying to yourself.”  As you think about that statement, realize there is more truth in that, than you may be willing to admit.  There is only one way to deal with our struggles, be they grief or hunger, that is to trust in the one that made everything and knows everything.  The One that knows how to give gifts and supply our every need.

There is a verse from John that has been of great comfort to me during this time, and I think it shows how God’s grace is more than sufficient for our needs. John 6:11 says, “Then Jesus took the bread. When he had given thanks, he distributed it to those who were sitting there. He did the same with the fish, each getting as much as they wanted.” The last phrase, “each getting as much as they wanted,” jumped off the page to me. It reminded me of God’s generosity.  Seeing that, I felt in my spirit a sense that God was saying, “There is enough for you, too.”  Even when I am in a distant sea, or far off place. Regardless of the need.

There is one hymn that comes to mind as I read and study this text, “Jesus is all the World to Me.”  “My life, my Joy, my all, He is my strength from day to day.”


Monday, December 12, 2016

The Forerunner of the Promise Adult Sunday School Lesson

International Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday December 18, 2016

Purpose: To radically trust God’s Word even when it challenges us

Bible Lesson: Luke 1:8-20

Background Scripture: Luke 1:1-23, 57-66.

Key Verses: “Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son and you must name him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many people will rejoice at his birth” (Luke 1:13b-14). 

Luke 1:8-20 (CEB)
(8) One day Zechariah was serving as a priest before God because his priestly division was on duty. (9) Following the customs of priestly service, he was chosen by lottery to go into the Lord’s sanctuary and burn incense. (10) All the people who gathered to worship were praying outside during this hour of incense offering. (11) An angel from the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. (12) When Zechariah saw the angel, he was startled and overcome with fear.

(13) The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son and you must name him John. (14) He will be a joy and delight to you, and many people will rejoice at his birth, (15) for he will be great in the Lord’s eyes. He must not drink wine and liquor. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. (16) He will bring many Israelites back to the Lord their God. (17) He will go forth before the Lord, equipped with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will turn the hearts of fathers back to their children, and he will turn the disobedient to righteous patterns of thinking. He will make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

(18) Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? My wife and I are very old.”

(19) The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in God’s presence. I was sent to speak to you and to bring this good news to you. (20) Know this: What I have spoken will come true at the proper time. But because you didn’t believe, you will remain silent, unable to speak until the day when these things happen.”

Some Thoughts by Burgess Walter

Normally our lessons progress forward, but this lesson goes back to the beginning of Luke’s writing.

Luke, who was a companion of Paul, seems to be writing in response to an inquiry about Jesus, by a Roman friend, named Theophilus (lover of God). Paul’s scroll is twofold, first (Luke) a scroll about the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The second (Acts) about this group that formed because of His teaching. Luke acknowledges that Matthew and Mark along with a lot of oral history was readily available. Theophilus seems to be looking for some assurances that the stories are all true. Because Luke address Theophilus as “Most excellent” he was a real person with some rank of office.

Because Theophilus was a Roman citizen Luke never blames the Romans for the crucifixion of Jesus. Nor does Luke spend a lot of time explaining Jewish traditions in his writings.

The story of Zechariah and Elizabeth is only told in Luke’s Gospel. It is the story of two very devout people from the Sons of Aaron. They were part of a twenty-four-family rotation of duty, for service in the Temple in Jerusalem. As the LORD does things Zechariah won the lottery for this time of service. The casting of lots was a very popular way of deciding issues throughout the Old and some of the New Testament.

By comparing Mary’s response and Zechariah’s we can draw some conclusions. While both were frightened and afraid, one's faith was rewarded, the other was met with a curse. One was actually doing the LORD’s work, the other simply waiting.

Even when Gabriel tells Zechariah, “I just came from God’s side” and this is what will happen. Zechariah doubted.  This was an answer to prayer, unlike Mary, who had not asked for anything.

It should also be noted that Luke points out that the service required of this son was so special he would need to refrain from certain things to maintain his purity, and a special relationship and mission with and for God. A practice that is now lost on most servants doing, so called, “God’s work.”

My hymn for today is simply one of my favorite songs of this era “Mary did you Know?”


Monday, December 5, 2016

The Affirmation of the Promise Adult Sunday School Lesson

International Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday December 11, 2016

Purpose: To embrace joyfully our place in God’s mission to bless the nations

Bible Lesson: Luke 1:39-56

Key Verses: Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.” (Luke 1:46-47)

Luke 1:39-56 (CEB)
(39) Mary got up and hurried to a city in the Judean highlands. (40) She entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. (41) When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. (42) With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry. (43) Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (44) As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. (45) Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.” (46) Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! (47) In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. (48) He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored (49) because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name. (50) He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God. (51) He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. (52) He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. (53) He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed. (54) He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, (55) just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.” (56) Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months, and then returned to her home.

Some Thoughts by Burgess Walter

Lesson 1 reflected the Lord’s calling of Mary through the angel Gabriel in Luke 1:26-38. In verse 38, Mary affirms her role as the Lord’s servant. This week, we continue the narrative with Luke 1:39-56 and will study Mary’s joyful and worshipful response to her calling. Our text includes three parts. First, Luke 1:39-45 narrates Mary’s visit to Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s enthusiastic greeting and blessing over Mary. Second, in verses 46-55 (called the Magnificat), Mary offers a rich and dynamic poetic celebration of the work of the Lord. Third, verse 56 concludes our Scripture lesson with a summary of Mary’s visit.

Mary and Elizabeth join with the great women of the Old Testament in teaching us about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Such as: Sarah, Hannah, Miriam, Ruth, Naomi, Esther and Deborah to name a few.

As Mary travels to the high country, (Jerusalem.) Remember, Elizabeth’s husband was on a rotation as a priest in the Temple in Jerusalem. Notice also that Elizabeth has a higher station in life, as the wife of a priest, than Mary. However, Elizabeth soon recognizes that Mary now holds a higher calling, and acknowledges that in verse 43 “Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  Protocol would usually require the lesser to go to the higher, but Elizabeth knew she was the lesser, in this case.

In Luke’s writing both in this book and his second book (Acts) the Holy Spirit is an important figure. The Holy Spirit is also portrayed in an early writing the explore the birth of Mary. I am including an excerpt from that book. (The birth and early life of the Virgin Mary is not recorded in the Gospels or other books of the New Testament; however, this information can be found in a work dating from the second century known as the Book of James or Protevangelion.

According to the story found in this book, Mary's parents, Joachim and Anna, were childless for many years. They remained faithful to God, but their prayers for a child were unanswered. One day, when Joachim came to the temple to make an offering, he was turned away by the High Priest who chastised him for his lack of children. To hide his shame, Joachim retreated to the hill country to live among the shepherds and their flocks.

As Joachim was praying, his wife Anna was praying at the same time at their house in Jerusalem. An angel appeared to both and announced that Anna would have a child whose name would be known throughout the world. Anna promised to offer her child as a gift to the Lord. Joachim returned home, and in due time Anna bore a daughter, Mary) This Information is from the following  Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

Their tradition has Mary raised in a monastery type environment, which could account for her great understanding, and that her cousin was married to a priest offers some credence to that thought.

Both Mary and Elizabeth offer us an example of being a servant for the Lord. While Mary is not deity, she certainly ranks at the top of any list where we look at obedience, to God’s call, is involved.

My hymn for this week is “My Soul Gives Glory to My God”