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”


Monday, November 28, 2016

God Promises a Savior Adult Sunday School Lesson

International Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday December 4, 2016

Purpose: To act on God’s call and promises in spite of our questions

Bible Lesson:  Luke 1:26-38

Key Verse: “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” (Luke 1:31)

Luke 1:26-38 (CEB)
(26) When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee,

(27) to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. (28) When the angel came to her, he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!”

(29) She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. (30) The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you.

(31) Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. (32) He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. (33) He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.”

(34) Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?” (35) The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son. (36) Look, even in her old age, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son. This woman who was labeled ‘unable to conceive’ is now six months pregnant. (37) Nothing is impossible for God.”

(38) Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

Some Thoughts by Burgess Walter

Our first lesson this quarter focuses on God’s calling of Mary to serve as the mother of Jesus, our Lord. This is a foundational event for our faith, but it is also an example for us about how God works in the world and how we can respond to God’s call today.

I would suggest you read each of the following passages before teaching or understanding our printed text:  Genesis 18:1-15; 2 Samuel 7:11-16; Isaiah 9:1-7. Also, be sure you read Luke 1:18-20.

These passages give you a background for all that Gabriel said to Mary. Mary was not a celebrity or distinct in any way except in her willingness to be a servant of God. She was not a “reality TV star.” and she had nothing, seen by the world, that would make her a likely candidate to become the one chosen by God to bear a child fathered by God’s spirit.  God was asking her to bear an “out-of-wedlock” child. Think of the stigma this would bring in that community. I do not think this was any small favor that God was asking. I am not sure we appreciate the sacrifice made by Mary.

Mary’s example is one we should all emulate; our prayer should be to be as willing and as obedient as this poor peasant girl.  She accepted God’s call on her life willingly and humbly.  Her response “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” 

Those words are a perfect response for anytime God calls us. My personal prayer is “Let it be with me just as you have said.” 

That all of this takes place in Galilee and as recorded in Isaiah 9 “Nonetheless, those who were in distress won’t be exhausted. At an earlier time, God cursed the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but later he glorified the way of the sea, the far side of the Jordan, and the Galilee of the nations.

In our modern world, we would never select Nazareth, away from the bright lights of Jerusalem. But when you highlight “Galilee of the nations” as Isaiah did you see God’s hand looking ahead to not just a Messiah for the Jews but a Messiah for the nations.

My hymn for this week is one that tells the story of our lesson, but may not be familiar to a lot of you “To a Maid Engaged to Joseph.”


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Alpha and Omega Adult Sunday School Lesson

International Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday November 27, 2016

Purpose: To exalt Christ as the alpha and omega of God’s creation

Bible Lesson: Revelation 22:12-21

Key Verse: I am the alpha and the omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. (Revelation 22:13)

Background Scripture: Revelation 22:8-21

Revelation 22:12-21 (CEB)
(12) “Look! I’m coming soon. My reward is with me, to repay all people as their actions deserve. (13) I am the alpha and the omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. (14) Favored are those who wash their robes so that they may have the right of access to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. (15) Outside are the dogs, the drug users and spell-casters, those who commit sexual immorality, the murderers, the idolaters, and all who love and practice deception. (16) “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to bear witness to all of you about these things for the churches. I’m the root and descendant of David, the bright morning star. (17) The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who is thirsty come! Let the one who wishes receive life-giving water as a gift.” (18) Now I bear witness to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy contained in this scroll: If anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues that are written in this scroll. (19) If anyone takes away from the words of this scroll of prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and the holy city, which are described in this scroll. (20) The one who bears witness to these things says, “Yes, I’m coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (21) The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.

Some Thoughts by Burgess Walter

This is our final lesson of this quarter, and we are looking at the final chapter and verses in the Bible.  Most commentators call this section the “Epilogue” and consider that it begins in Revelation 22:6. So in Lesson 12, we covered the first two verses of the Epilogue, verses 6-7. One of the features of this epilogue is the different speakers. At times the speaker is the guiding angel of 17:1. Also, Christ speaks a few times, as does the author himself. It would have been nice if John had identified the speakers as he did in verse 16 (“I, Jesus”). However, he seems to have assumed that the different speakers would be obvious to his readers.

In Revelation, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and omega, stand as symbols for what is first and last in creation. Creation had its beginning in God and Christ and will have its conclusion in this same divine reality. Yet the ending in Revelation is not a final end to everything. As we have seen, the end is a new stage in creation: a new heaven and new earth. While the first heaven and earth pass away, something new and amazing take their place. If this is an ending, it is an eternal one.

The ending in Revelation is one of completion and fulfillment. God’s Spirit was at the beginning, creating the universe. God’s Spirit will bring this creation to its fulfillment in a new creation.

The above introduces the concept of eternity. Eternity is one of those huge concepts nearly impossible to comprehend. Perhaps we should admit that there are things in this universe that are beyond our limited human comprehension. For example, what existed before God created the universe? How long will eternity last?

Eternity is one of those holy mysteries that we cannot comprehend or explain. Yet we can respond to a holy mystery with awe, wonder, and praise. In other words, we can respond by worshiping the One at the heart of the mysteries of the universe and by trusting in this One’s eternal love.

Through our faith in the One who is, who was, and who is to come, we can see that death is none other than God’s loving, eternal embrace. Our lives had their beginning in God and will have their completion in God. We are part of the new creation that God is bringing about. Therefore, we can live with the joyful reassurance that our lives continue in the eternal grace of God.

One of my favorite more modern hymns is one that I think helps us understand these verses. It is called a “Hymn of Promise.”

Monday, November 14, 2016

Life and Healing Adult Sunday School Lesson

International Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday November 20, 2016

Purpose: To recognize that God’s gift of abundant life is a present and a future gift

Bible Lesson: Revelation 22:1-7

Key Verse: Then the angel showed me the river of life-giving water, shining like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb. (Revelation 22:1)

Revelation 22:1-7 (CEB)
(1) Then the angel showed me the river of life-giving water, shining like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb (2) through the middle of the city’s main street. On each side of the river is the tree of life, which produces twelve crops of fruit, bearing its fruit each month. The tree’s leaves are for the healing of the nations. (3) There will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. (4) They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. (5) Night will be no more. They won’t need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will shine on them, and they will rule forever and always. (6) Then he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place. (7) “Look! I’m coming soon. Favored is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy contained in this scroll.”

Some Thoughts by Burgess Walter

The last two lessons for this study period are both from the final chapter of the Book of Revelation.

As you read today’s text you soon realize that it is very much like the beginning of the book.  In the beginning, in the Book of Genesis chapter two, we see a somewhat similar picture, with the tree of knowledge, the tree of life, and the stream flowing through the middle of the Garden of Eden.  So, as it begins it also ends.

It is unclear by verse seven, if John’s guide is still the angel, or if the Lamb is now doing the narrative.

John may have been influenced both by Genesis and Ezekiel 47 or it could be that this is just the way it is, whether it is John, Ezekiel or Moses. (who is credited with the Book of Genesis) that is recording their vision.

Some things are abundantly clear, what John is viewing is a place of peace, light, and worship. It is also a place of Holiness, without doubters or curses.

God the creator, the Lamb of God, and the Holy Spirit, or spirit of the prophets, will all be present in this new Jerusalem which has no temple. No temple is needed since God reigns in person.

Fortunately for us we do not need to wait until we get to heaven, to have God reign in our lives. We have access today to all of the Trinity. We may not enjoy the healing and peace that John saw, but we do have the Creator God, the Redeeming Lamb and the Holy Comforter with us now.

There is a great old hymn that goes along with this lesson, “Shall We Gather at the River.” Enjoy the words and enjoy what awaits us.

Monday, November 7, 2016

I See a New Jerusalem Adult Sunday School Lesson

 International Sunday School Lesson 
 For Sunday November 13, 2016

Purpose: To embrace the hope expressed in the vision of the New Jerusalem

Bible Lesson: Revelation 21:9-14, 22-27

Background Scripture: Revelation 21:9-27

Key Verses: I didn’t see a temple in the city, because its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. The city doesn’t need the sun or the moon to shine on it, because God’s glory is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. (Revelation 21:22-23)

Revelation 21:9-14 (CEB)
(9) Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues spoke with me. “Come,” he said, “I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” (10) He took me in a Spirit-inspired trance to a great, high mountain, and he showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. (11) The city had God’s glory. Its brilliance was like a priceless jewel, like jasper that was as clear as crystal. (12) It had a great high wall with twelve gates. By the gates were twelve angels, and on the gates, were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel’s sons. (13) There were three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west. (14) The city wall had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the Lamb’s twelve apostles.

Revelation 21: 22-27 (CEB)
(22) I didn’t see a temple in the city, because its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. (23) The city doesn’t need the sun or the moon to shine on it, because God’s glory is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. (24) The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. (25) Its gates will never be shut by day, and there will be no night there. (26) They will bring the glory and honor of the nations into it.
(27) Nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is vile and deceitful, but only those who are registered in the Lamb’s scroll of life.

Some Thoughts by Burgess Walter

The study of the Book of Revelation is one of those most misinterpreted and scary books in the New Testament. But as we try to understand the Book as written by John, I think there is a better way to understand it. It was written when those ruling in Rome such as Nero (A.D. 54–68) and Domitian (A.D 81–96) were vigorously persecuting Christians.

If we look at this passage from a message of “hope” standpoint, I think we can better understand John’s message. Since I am not smart enough to explain it I will use the words of German theologian J├╝rgen Moltmann who wrote his popular book “Theology of Hope” in 1964. It was translated into English in 1967 and immediately became a bestseller among those who read theology books.

Moltmann argued that there are two ways the future is related to us. The Latin word futurum (few-CHUR-um) is one way. This word refers to the future developing out of the past and the present. We draw conclusions about the future based on past and present experience. Since “this” happened, we conclude that “that” is likely to happen.

This extrapolative thinking captured by futurum is important when we are projecting what could happen in the future. We see clouds building on the horizon and expect rain. We see that interest rates are rising and predict an economic trend.

Optimism is based on extrapolative predictions. We feel positively about the future when we see good things happening in the present.

One of Moltmann’s great contributions in his book was to insist that hope, unlike optimism, is independent of our circumstances. Hope is not based on the correct extrapolation of the present into the future. Hope is adventus (ad-VENT-us), a Latin word referring to a future coming from the outside of past and present. This is the future that comes from God.

Moltmann saw that hope does not emerge. Hope comes. Hope does not develop; it breaks into our lives as a gift from God. That is why hope can spring up even in the darkest and direst of circumstances. Christian hope is based on the possibilities of God irrespective of how bleak things seem in the present.

In today’s lesson, we will encounter a hopeful vision of a New Jerusalem. This is not a rebuilding of a destroyed city (futurum) but an entirely new reality that comes from God (adventus).

As Christians, we live in “hope” of what will be, regardless of what we are facing at the moment.

There will be a new Jerusalem and a new creation and it will be a holy place because as It says in verse 27 “Nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is vile and deceitful, but only those who are registered in the Lamb’s scroll of life.”

For my hymn this week I think there is one that we should all sing, When the Toils of Life Are Over (In the New Jerusalem) - Martha Reed Garvin


Monday, October 24, 2016

Pioneer and Perfecter of Our Faith Adult Sunday School Lesson

International Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday October 30, 2016

Purpose: To affirm ways that God in Jesus Christ is with us in our journey of faith

Bible Lesson: Hebrews 12:1-13

Key Verses: Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Hebrews 12:1-13 (CEB)
(1) So then let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, (2) and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter. He endured the cross, ignoring the shame, for the sake of the joy that was laid out in front of him, and sat down at the right side of God’s throne. (3) Think about the one who endured such opposition from sinners so that you won’t be discouraged and you won’t give up. (4) In your struggle against sin, you haven’t resisted yet to the point of shedding blood, (5) and you have forgotten the encouragement that addresses you as sons and daughters: My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline or give up when you are corrected by him, (6) because the Lord disciplines whomever he loves, and he punishes every son or daughter whom he accepts. (7) Bear hardship for the sake of discipline. God is treating you like sons and daughters! What child isn’t disciplined by his or her father? (8) But if you don’t experience discipline, which happens to all children, then you are illegitimate and not real sons and daughters. (9) What’s more, we had human parents who disciplined us, and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live? (10) Our human parents disciplined us for a little while, as it seemed best to them, but God does it for our benefit so that we can share his holiness. (11) No discipline is fun while it lasts, but it seems painful at the time. Later, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness for those who have been trained by it.

(12) So strengthen your drooping hands and weak knees! (13) Make straight paths for your feet so that if any part is lame, it will be healed rather than injured more seriously.

Some Thoughts by Burgess Walter

This is our fifth and final lesson from Hebrews for this quarter. This week instead of looking at Jesus as our great high priest, we are looking at the example he lived for us.

As we stated last week, it is important that we understand the recipients of this letter had no New Testament to read, so this letter was an important letter to them in how they should live.  Most believe the letter was written to Jews that had accepted Christ as the Messiah and were living in Rome, where persecution was about to be amped up. Up to this point there had not been a lot of Christian martyrs, James, the brother of John, and Stephen were the most famous of early Christian martyrs. But Nero was just around the corner.

The writer of Hebrews wanted those that had chosen to follow the teachings of Jesus, to know what could be in store for them. The writer also painted a picture for them of how earthly parents discipline and trained their children. The writer also points out that God acts in much the same way. Today we say, “whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” the writer was a little subtler.

The author compares the “race” or “just living our life” with growing up in a family and many things that we think as children as cruel or harsh we later learn was our parent’s way of preparing us to live a life outside of their protection.  The writer also points out the importance of training, the training prepares us for the real thing.  Like our earthly parents, our heavenly Father not only disciplines us, but He also encourages us to do our best, and to live a life that allows us to be called a child of God. We were never promised that we would escape all the hazards of life, we were only promised that we would never go through it alone.

My hymn for this week is “Take your Burden to the Lord and Leave It There.”


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The High Priest Forever Adult Sunday School Lesson

International Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday October 23, 2016

Purpose: To understand how Jesus’ eternal priesthood helps us to live faithfully

Bible Lesson: Hebrews 7:1-3, 19b-28

Background Scripture: Hebrews 7

Key Verse: In contrast, [Jesus] holds the office of priest permanently because he continues to serve forever. (Hebrews 7:24)

Hebrews 7:1-3 (CEB)
(1) This Melchizedek, who was king of Salem and priest of the Most High God, met Abraham as he returned from the defeat of the kings, and Melchizedek blessed him. (2) Abraham gave a tenth of everything to him. His name means first “king of righteousness,” and then “king of Salem,” that is, “king of peace.” (3) He is without father or mother or any family. He has no beginning or end of life, but he’s like God’s Son and remains a priest for all time.

Hebrews 7:19b-28 (CEB)
(19b) On the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. (20) And this was not done without a solemn pledge! The others have become priests without a solemn pledge, (21) but this priest was affirmed with a solemn pledge by the one who said, The Lord has made a solemn pledge and will not change his mind: You are a priest forever. (22) As a result, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. (23) The others who became priests are numerous because death prevented them from continuing to serve. (24) In contrast, he holds the office of priest permanently because he continues to serve forever. (25) This is why he can completely save those who are approaching God through him, because he always lives to speak with God for them. (26) It’s appropriate for us to have this kind of high priest: holy, innocent, incorrupt, separate from sinners, and raised high above the heavens. (27) He doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day like the other high priests, first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people. He did this once for all when he offered himself. (28) The Law appoints people who are prone to weakness as high priests, but the content of the solemn pledge, which came after the Law, appointed a Son who has been made perfect forever.

Some Thoughts by Burgess Walter

I will begin this lesson by telling you at the time of the writing of Hebrews there was no bible as we know it. Teaching and learning was by in person teaching and some letters, primarily by Paul to some of the congregations. So while I believe this lesson is important and was important when written, we have the advantage of Jesus own words about his priesthood as found in John 17 (20) “I’m not praying only for them but also for those who believe in me because of their word. (21) I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. (22) I’ve given them the glory that you gave me so that they can be one just as we are one. (23) I’m in them and you are in me so that they will be made perfectly one. Then the world will know that you sent me and that you have loved them just as you loved me. (24) “Father, I want those you gave me to be with me where I am. Then they can see my glory, which you gave me because you loved me before the creation of the world. (25) “Righteous Father, even the world didn’t know you, but I’ve known you, and these believers know that you sent me. (26) I’ve made your name known to them and will continue to make it known so that your love for me will be in them, and I myself will be in them.”

I think the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus found in John 17 tells the story better of Jesus Priesthood.
We can easily see how Jesus intercedes for us and bridges between ourselves and the Creator God the Father.
If you want more about Melchizedek, see last week’s lesson. John’s gospel gives us a better picture of the Priestly Jesus and how he carries out that position for each of us.

When I think about Jesus and the High Priestly prayer, I think of one of the great old hymns of the church, “In The Garden".


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Great High Priest Adult Sunday School Lesson

International Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday October 16, 2016

Purpose: To unpack the meaning of the affirmation that Jesus Christ is our High Priest

Bible Lesson: Hebrews 4:14–5:10

Key Verse: Also, let’s hold on to the confession since we have a great high priest who passed through the heavens, who is Jesus, God’s Son. (Hebrews 4:14)

Hebrews 4:14-16 (CEB)
(14) Also, let’s hold on to the confession since we have a great high priest who passed through the heavens, who is Jesus, God’s Son; (15) because we don’t have a high priest who can’t sympathize with our weaknesses but instead one who was tempted in every way that we are, except without sin. (16) Finally, let’s draw near to the throne of favor with confidence so that we can receive mercy and find grace when we need help.

Hebrews 5:1-10 (CEB)
(1) Every high priest is taken from the people and put in charge of things that relate to God for their sake, in order to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. (2) The high priest is able to deal gently with the ignorant and those who are misled since he himself is prone to weakness. (3) Because of his weakness, he must offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as for the people. (4) No one takes this honor for themselves but takes it only when they are called by God, just like Aaron. (5) In the same way Christ also didn’t promote himself to become high priest. Instead, it was the one who said to him, You are my Son. Today I have become your Father, (6) as he also says in another place, You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek. (7) During his days on earth, Christ offered prayers and requests with loud cries and tears as his sacrifices to the one who was able to save him from death. He was heard because of his godly devotion. (8) Although he was a Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. (9) After he had been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for everyone who obeys him. (10) He was appointed by God to be a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Some Thoughts by Burgess Walter

This week’s lesson offers some interesting ideas, so I will share some thoughts that may be new thinking. The author of Hebrews is writing to a Jewish community of Christians, using language that would make sense to those that were originally trained in Jewish customs. The office of Priest was originally given by God to Moses for Aaron and his family. Every Priest after Aaron was a descendant of Aaron. Their mission was to be a bridge between God and man.

Because they were flawed men, they themselves had to offer sacrifices for themselves. The author of Hebrews makes the point that unlike Christ they themselves must be cleansed before they offer sacrifices for others.

The authority for Christ as our great high Priest came from God, Jesus was not a descendant of Aaron, yet was anointed by God to fill the office of High Priest. Jesus not only fills the office, but because He experienced pain and suffering unlike what any other priest had experienced it makes him better at interceding for mankind in their agony and grief.

As for that mysterious Priest of Salem (modern day Jerusalem) Melchizedek. In chapter 7 of Hebrews we read this. (1) This Melchizedek, who was king of Salem and priest of the Most High God, met Abraham as he returned from the defeat of the kings, and Melchizedek blessed him. (2) Abraham gave a tenth of everything to him. His name means first “king of righteousness,” and then “king of Salem,” that is, “king of peace.” (3) He is without father or mother or any family. He has no beginning or end of life, but he’s like God’s Son and remains a priest for all time.

Now for my way out theory.

If you read the genealogy of Genesis, you might be amazed to find that Noah died two years after the birth of Abraham. Shem, Noah's son, is considered the father of all Jews.  (it is why they are called Semitics) Shem and Abraham were on the earth together for all but 25 years of Abraham’s life. Even Isaac and Shem were on the earth for 50 years together. I doubt you will find this in any commentary, but I think there is a possibility that the mysterious Melchizedek might indeed be the survivor of the flood, Shem. And why Mount Zion (Salem/Jerusalem) was established as God’s dwelling place.

After continuing to research this idea, I found that according to some Jewish traditions (e.g., B. Talmud Nedarim 32b; Genesis Rabbah 46:7; Genesis Rabbah 56:10; Leviticus Rabbah 25:6; Numbers Rabbah 4:8.), Shem is believed to have been Melchizedek, King of Salem whom Abraham is recorded to have met after the battle of the four kings.

Just some way out thoughts for this week, and my hymn would be “Jesus the Great High Priest.”


Monday, October 3, 2016

Builder of the House Adult Sunday School Lesson

International Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday October 9, 2016

Purpose: To discover the ways we can be part of God’s house, built by Jesus Christ

Bible Lesson: Hebrews 3:1-6

Background Scripture: Matthew 7:19-29

Key Verse: But [Jesus] deserves greater glory than Moses in the same way that the builder of the house deserves more honor than the house itself. (Hebrews 3:3)

Hebrews 3:1-6 (CEB)
(1) Therefore, brothers and sisters who are partners in the heavenly calling, think about Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession. (2) Jesus was faithful to the one who appointed him just like Moses was faithful in God’s house. (3) But he deserves greater glory than Moses in the same way that the builder of the house deserves more honor than the house itself. (4) Every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. (5) Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant in order to affirm the things that would be spoken later. (6) But Jesus was faithful over God’s house as a Son. We are his house if we hold on to the confidence and the pride that our hope gives us.

Matthew 7:24-29 (CEB)
(24) “Everybody who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise builder who built a house on bedrock. (25) The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It didn’t fall because it was firmly set on bedrock. (26) But everybody who hears these words of mine and doesn’t put them into practice will be like a fool who built a house on sand. (27) The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It fell and was completely destroyed.” (28) When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were amazed at his teaching (29) because he was teaching them like someone with authority and not like their legal experts

Some Thoughts by Burgess Walter

As we continue to explore the “Sovereignty of Jesus,” this week we look at how Jesus compares to Moses. Remember last week it was how Jesus compared to the angels.

Our lesson uses two different text to show the comparison of Jesus and Moses. Our first text comes from the Book of Hebrews. Notice that it begins with “therefore.” The rule is first find out what the therefore is there for.  Chapter 2 concludes while making the argument, why Jesus is a better High Priest. Chapter 3 begins with therefore, and continues to make the case that Jesus is a better High Priest and also for the only time in the New Testament is referred to as an Apostle. While we normally do not use the word Apostle to identify Jesus, it is perfectly acceptable to do so, because both the positions of High Priest and Apostle work as those that communicate the message of God. Normally we only use Apostle to identify those original ones who were present during Jesus teachings, namely the Disciples and Paul.

Remember the reason for the writing of Hebrews, many of the Jews in Rome were under great persecution, as well as some Gentiles.  The letter was written as an encouragement. God has sent everyone, not just the Jews, a Priest, Apostle, and Redeemer, in the person of His Son Jesus, the Messiah, promised long ago.

The writer makes the case that Jesus, being the Son of God, has more authority and power than Moses. Moses was an obedient servant, but a Son outranks a servant. While Moses was a primary figure in building the nation of Israel and the Jews, Jesus will expand that to an entire world. It has become more than just a select tribe, God’s house now includes all of those that believe by faith that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Most High God.
Jesus is better than the “house” and “the builder.” Jesus is also part of the creating force, He was from the beginning.

In our passage from Matthew, Jesus concludes his “sermon on the mount” message with these words. Hearing the message of Jesus and doing the message of Jesus are two different things. Those that hear and do, are like those that build on a rock solid foundation. Those that hear and dismiss the teachings, are like those that take the easy way out. They have no hope of surviving the trials and tribulations which come into the lives of everyone, including followers of Jesus.

What kind of a house are you building?  And what kind of a home are you making? There are two hymns that come to mind, “How Firm a Foundation” and “Family of God.”

Both cover our lesson very well, but I will go with “Family of God.”


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

“The Imprint of God” Adult Sunday School Lesson

International Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday October 2, 2016

Purpose: To discern how God speaks to us through Jesus Christ

Bible Lesson:
Hebrews 1:1-9

Background Scripture: Hebrews 1

Key Verse: The Son is the light of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being. He maintains everything with his powerful message. (Hebrews 1:3)

Hebrews 1:1-9 (CEB)
(1) In the past, God spoke through the prophets to our ancestors in many times and many ways. (2) In these final days, though, he spoke to us through a Son. God made his Son the heir of everything and created the world through him. (3) The Son is the light of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being. He maintains everything with his powerful message. After he carried out the cleansing of people from their sins, he sat down at the right side of the highest majesty. (4) And the Son became so much greater than the other messengers, such as angels, that he received a more important title than theirs. (5) After all, when did God ever say to any of the angels: You are my Son. Today I have become your Father? Or, even, I will be his Father, and he will be my Son? (6) But then, when he brought his firstborn into the world, he said, All of God’s angels must worship him. (7) He talks about the angels: He’s the one who uses the spirits for his messengers and who uses flames of fire as ministers. (8) But he says to his Son, God, your throne is forever and your kingdom’s scepter is a rod of justice. (9) You loved righteousness and hated lawless behavior. That is why God, your God, has anointed you with oil instead of your companions.

Some Thoughts by Burgess Walter

This week we begin a new unit titled “The Sovereignty of Jesus,” based on passages from the Letter to the Hebrews. This book is one of the lesser-known books in the New Testament, although it contains well-known passages such as the definition of faith in 11:1 and the “roll call of the faithful” that follows in the rest of Chapter 11.

The Letter to the Hebrews is not a letter in the same sense as other New Testament letters. Rather, it is a sermon based primarily on Psalm 110, which lifts up the eternal priesthood of Melchizedek (mel-KIZ-a-deck). The reason it was originally called a letter is that Paul was thought to be its author by some early Christians. However, early church leaders such as Clement, Tertullian, and Origin noted the difference in style, vocabulary, and theology when compared to Paul’s letters. While there is scholarly speculation about the identity of the author, there is no consensus.

We can assume that it was in fact written as dictated by the Holy Spirit.  Most scholars think it was probably written to a church that was made up of both Jewish and Gentile Christians. David Jeremiah, famous bible scholar, thinks it was likely written to the Church in Rome that was considering giving up their Christian faith due to extensive persecution. The Book of Hebrews certainly makes Christ the cornerstone of God’s redemptive plan. The book offers the best examples of how to bridge the gap between the Jewish beliefs of the Old Testament and Christianity.

The first few verses are similar to the first few verses in John’s Gospel, in that it places Jesus at the forefront, both in the past and in this time we are in. Jesus, The Messiah, is the final word from God.

While in the past God had used angels and prophets, now He has sent His Son, who is an exact replica of God, he is the perfect imprint of God. Angels and prophets were messengers of God. Jesus was not a messenger, He was God. Angels and prophets were limited, Jesus was not limited, His power was without end and limit.

Jesus is both the climax and the final word. For four weeks we have talked about God’s sovereignty, now we are looking at the sovereignty of Jesus. Jesus is greater than any that preceded Him, whether Prophet, Priest or King.

My hymn for this week is an old traditional hymn, “Rejoice The Lord Is King.”


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

“Everlasting Covenant” Adult Sunday School Lesson

International Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday September 25, 2016

Purpose: To see how we can engage with God and one another to keep God’s everlasting covenant

Bible Lesson: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Background Scripture: Isaiah 61

Key Verse: I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and dishonesty. I will faithfully give them their wage, and make with them an enduring covenant. (Isaiah 61:8)

Isaiah 61:1-4 (CEB)
(1) The Lord God’s spirit is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners, (2) to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and a day of vindication for our God, to comfort all who mourn, (3) to provide for Zion’s mourners, to give them a crown in place of ashes, oil of joy in place of mourning, a mantle of praise in place of discouragement. They will be called Oaks of Righteousness, planted by the Lord to glorify himself. (4) They will rebuild the ancient ruins; they will restore formerly deserted places; they will renew ruined cities, places deserted in generations past.

Isaiah 61: 8-11 (CEB)
(8) I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and dishonesty. I will faithfully give them their wage, and make with them an enduring covenant. (9) Their offspring will be known among the nations, and their descendants among the peoples. All who see them will recognize that they are a people blessed by the Lord. (10) I surely rejoice in the Lord; my heart is joyful because of my God, because he has clothed me with clothes of victory, wrapped me in a robe of righteousness like a bridegroom in a priestly crown, and like a bride adorned in jewelry. (11) As the earth puts out its growth, and as a garden grows its seeds, so the Lord God will grow righteousness and praise before all the nations.

Some Thoughts by Burgess Walter

As I write this my wife and I along with our entire family are facing one of the most difficult moments anyone can face. Yesterday, we lost, but heaven gained, our 39-year-old grandson. Within a very short period of time, because of severe complications from a diabetic episode, Scotty was called home. It reminds us of how fragile life is, we consistently take life too lightly. In the twinkling of an eye everything changes.

We have great comfort from knowing, we did not lose Scott, we know exactly where he is.  I can assure you that in this deepest darkest hour God provides us with a comforter and His grace.

Today’s lesson is about being able to trust God and His covenants in our deepest darkest hours. I can assure you God is faithful and trustworthy.  I marvel at those that face these terrible times without hope and a peace that only He can provide. That would be hell for me, and I think it gives us an understanding that God’s goodness doesn’t wait till we get to heaven.  Glory for us is now as we walk and trust in a God that does not fail.

There is little more to say, I have experienced it. My hymn is simply “Jesus Never Fails”