Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Adult Sunday School Lesson for January 21, 2018

       “A Prayer for an Obedient Faith”

Adult Sunday School Lesson for January 21, 2018

To purify our faith by confessing our collective and individual sins to our loyal God

Bible Lesson
Background: Daniel 9:1-19

Daniel 9:4-8, 15-19 (CEB)
4 As I prayed to the Lord my God, I made this confession: Please, my Lord—you are the great and awesome God, the one who keeps the covenant, and truly faithful to all who love him and keep his commands:

5 We have sinned and done wrong. We have brought guilt on ourselves and rebelled, ignoring your commands and your laws. 6 We haven’t listened to your servants, the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our leaders, our parents, and to all the land’s people. 7 Righteousness belongs to you, my Lord! But we are ashamed this day—we, the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, all Israel whether near or far, in whatever country where you’ve driven them because of their unfaithfulness when they broke faith with you. 8 Lord, we are ashamed— we, our kings, our leaders, and our parents who sinned against you. . . .

15 “But now, my Lord, our God—you who brought your people out of Egypt with a strong hand, making a name for yourself even to this day: We have sinned and done the wrong thing.” 16 My Lord, please! In line with your many righteous acts, please turn your raging anger from Jerusalem, which is your city, your own holy mountain. Because of our sins and the wrongdoing of our parents, both Jerusalem and your people have become a disgrace to all our neighbors.

17 “But now, our God, listen to your servant’s prayer and pleas for help. Shine your face on your ruined sanctuary, for your own sake, my Lord. 18 Open your ears, my God, and listen! Open your eyes and look at our devastation. Look at the city called by your name! We pray our prayers for help to you, not because of any righteous acts of ours but because of your great compassion. 19 My Lord, listen! My Lord, forgive! My Lord, pay attention and act! Don't delay! My God, do all this for your own sake, because your city and your people are called by your name.
Key Verse
“ My Lord, listen! My Lord, forgive! My Lord, pay attention and act! Don't delay! My God, do all this for your own sake, because your city and your people are called by your name.” (Daniel 9:19)

Some Thoughts

Our lesson for this week includes one of the greatest prayers we find in scripture. As we will find next week, God was so moved by Daniel’s prayer that He sent His archangel Gabriel to Daniel while he was still praying.

As chapter 9 begins we note that Darius,  Ahasuerus’ son, was the king of the Medes and Persians. There were several Darius’s recorded as king of the Persians and Medes.

Daniel’s life span was from the beginning to the end of captivity. The captivity lasted for 70 years. According to Jeremiah the seventy years were in response to the Israelite disobeying the command of God to rest the land  every seventh year. Because from the beginning of the united kingdom in 1096 B.C. to the beginning of captivity in 606 B.C. there should have been 70 sabbatical years of rest for the land.  Because none of these were observed God took it upon Himself to see that the land had 70 years of rest while the Israelite were in captivity.  (490 years equal 70 sabbath years.)

In Daniel's prayer (lament) he agrees with God’s punishment, and acknowledges the mistakes, sins, and disobedience that have been made by not only the rulers, but everyone. No one is found faithful, and the sins are universal.  It is very hard to question God’s judgement, because He knows our deepest darkest thoughts.

Repentance and forgiveness are our only hope, because of His righteousness. It is sometimes hard for us to admit that God loves the sinner just as much as He loves us. Romans 5:8 tells us “But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”  Pleading for forgiveness to a Holy God is our only hope as stated in verse 18  “not because of any righteous acts of ours but because of your great compassion.”

Our key verse offers us a good pattern for approaching God and asking for His forgiveness. What God does and we ask should always glorify God, iit is all for His glory and not for our comfort.

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

Monday, January 8, 2018

Adult Sunday School Lesson for January 14, 2018

                            “A Bold Faith”

Adult Sunday School Lesson for January 14, 2018

To sustain a faith that is not eroded by pressure or crushed by opposition

Bible Lesson
Background: Daniel 3

Daniel 3:19-23, 26-28 (CEB)
19 Nebuchadnezzar was filled with rage, and his face twisted beyond recognition because of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. In response he commanded that the furnace be heated to seven times its normal heat. 20 He told some of the strongest men in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and throw them into the furnace of flaming fire. 21 So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were bound, still dressed in all their clothes, and thrown into the furnace of flaming fire. (22 Now the king's command had been rash, and the furnace was heated to such an extreme that the fire's flame killed the very men who carried Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to it.) 23 So these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell, bound, into the furnace of flaming fire. . . .

26 Nebuchadnezzar went near the opening of the furnace of flaming fire and said, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out of the fire. 27 The chief administrators, ministers, governors, and the king’s associates crowded around to look at them. The fire hadn’t done anything to them: their hair wasn't singed; their garments looked the same as before; they didn’t even smell like fire! 28 Nebuchadnezzar declared: “May the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be praised! He sent his messenger to rescue his servants who trusted him. They ignored the king’s order, sacrificing their bodies, because they wouldn’t serve or worship any god but their God.

Key Verse
“May the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be praised! He sent his messenger to rescue his servants who trusted him. They ignored the king’s order, sacrificing their bodies, because they wouldn’t serve or worship any god but their God.” (Daniel 3:28)

Some Comments
Last week we learned about  Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, the three Judean friends of Daniel. These three were appointed by Daniel to govern the state called Babylon. Because of their positions they were given Babylonian or Chaldean names hence they became Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

I am going to include the passage from chapter 2 that tells this story. 48 Then the king exalted Daniel and lavished gifts on him, making him ruler over all the province of Babylon and chief minister over all Babylon’s sages. 49 At Daniel’s urging, the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to administer the province of Babylon, but Daniel himself remained at the royal court.

Once again I will point out that Daniel was appointed ruler of all the sages in Babylon. Going back to the story of the Wise Men.
For whatever reason our lesson text has omitted the most important verses from Chapter 3 of Daniel. I think the response of the three to Nebuchadnezzar is a lesson we can all use.

For whatever reason Nebuchadnezzar has this gold statue made that isninety feet high and nine feet wide.” He then issues an order for everyone to kneel down when the music starts. The statue is not of Nebuchadnezzar, it seems more like a power play, to see if the king has as much power as he thinks.

The three heroes of our story respond to the king's orders in the following verses of chapter 3. “16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar: “We don’t need to answer your question. 17 If our God—the one we serve—is able to rescue us from the furnace of flaming fire and from your power, Your Majesty, then let him rescue us. 18 But if he doesn’t, know this for certain, Your Majesty: we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you’ve set up.”

The other portion left out of this text is the fourth person in the furnace with the three Hebrew children.  24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in shock and said to his associates, “Didn’t we throw three men, bound, into the fire?” They answered the king, “Certainly, Your Majesty.” 25 He replied, “Look! I see four men, unbound, walking around inside the fire, and they aren’t hurt! And the fourth one looks like one of the gods.”  Just reminding us that Jesus is with us, He is Emmanuel.

The bold faith of these three demonstrates what real faith looks like. It would have been easy to go along with the crowd, and justify in their own mind reasons for doing so. They did not bargain with God or Nebuchadnezzar. Their faith was not conditional, whether God saved them or not It had nothing to do with their decision.
This devotion is hard to find today, people are seeming always willing to compromise by justifying their actions through some explanation. God’s goodness and our faithfulness are not bargaining chips. We believe and trust or we don’t. We accept the consequences of our faith, or what we have is not real faith.

My hymn for this week is “I know Whom I Have Believed” and am persuaded that He is able.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Adult Sunday School Lesson for January 7, 2018

                         A Sincere Faith

Adult Sunday School Lesson for January 7, 2018
To demonstrate faith that lives out its conviction

Bible Lesson
Background: Daniel 1

Daniel 1:8-21 (CEB)
8 Daniel decided that he wouldn’t pollute himself with the king’s rations or the royal wine, and he appealed to the chief official in hopes that he wouldn’t have to do so. 9 Now God had established faithful loyalty between Daniel and the chief official; 10 but the chief official said to Daniel, “I’m afraid of my master, the king, who has mandated what you are to eat and drink. What will happen if he sees your faces looking thinner than the other young men in your group? The king will have my head because of you!”

11 So Daniel spoke to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: 12“Why not test your servants for ten days? You could give us a diet of vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance to the appearance of the young men who eat the king’s food. Then deal with your servants according to what you see.”

14 The guard decided to go along with their plan and tested them for ten days. 15At the end of ten days they looked better and healthier than all the young men who were eating the king’s food. 1 6So the guard kept taking away their rations and the wine they were supposed to drink and gave them vegetables instead. 17 And God gave knowledge, mastery of all literature, and wisdom to these four men. Daniel himself gained understanding of every type of vision and dream.

18 When the time came to review the young men as the king had ordered, the chief official brought them before Nebuchadnezzar. 19 When the king spoke with them, he found no one as good as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they took their place in the king's service. 20 Whenever the king consulted them about any aspect of wisdom and understanding, he found them head and shoulders above all the dream interpreters and enchanters in his entire kingdom. 21 And Daniel stayed in the king’s service until the first year of King Cyrus.  

Key Verse Daniel decided that he wouldn’t pollute himself with the king’s rations or the royal wine, and he appealed to the chief official in hopes that he wouldn’t have to do so. (Daniel 1:8)

Some Thoughts

Our text for this week sort of validates our lesson on the Wise Men. I think it is because of Daniels relationship to those dream interpreters and enchanters, that a seed was planted and the groundwork laid for the Wise Men that visited Jesus. That thread continued until the time of Jesus birth.

In the story of Daniel, we find that he is not only devout, but also wise. Very often the two do not go together. Unfortunately, the more devout some are, the less wise they are.

Daniel and his friends were captives, but unlike other countries, the Babylonians used the wisdom and gifts of their captives to enhance their own lifestyle.  While they were captives they were offered the protection of dining at the king’s table. In addition if you read the whole story as found in 2nd Kings 22-24, you will find that they were also educated in the history and gods of the Babylonians for three years.

Daniel and his three friends were not only educated in the Jewish traditions, but also the Babylonian traditions and religion. The challenge these four faced was similar to the challenge Christians face around the world. Not so much in America, but there is often a conflict of traditions when someone chooses to follow Jesus and His teachings.

Daniel and his friends knew what they were taught about unclean food, and chose to risk their life because of a diet. Not many of us would go that far today, we would find a way to justify our dietary intake, even knowing it was against all that we had been taught.
Unfortunately today too many of us just go along with the crowd.  It seems easier, and we can always justify it by using the world's wisdom.  God must be very disappointed in our excuses, it certainly shows our lack of faith in a God that has promised to protect us and and be with us in all of our trial and tribulations. When we fail to trust, we are calling God a liar. How sincere is your faith?  Would it keep you from the mouth of a lion, or  safe from a fiery furnace?

My hymn for this week is more of a children’s bible song than hymn, but very appropriate “Dare to be a Daniel.”

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Adult Sunday School Lesson for December 31, 2017

                            Faith to Unite

International Sunday School Lesson for December 31, 2017

To practice a faith that seeks unity marked by the guidance of the Holy Spirit

Bible Lesson
Background: Ephesians 4

Ephesians 4:1-16 (CEB)
1 Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. 2 Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, 3 and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. 4 You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.

7 God has given his grace to each one of us measured out by the gift that is given by Christ. 8 That’s why scripture says, When he climbed up to the heights, he captured prisoners, and he gave gifts to people.

9 What does the phrase “he climbed up” mean if it doesn’t mean that he had first gone down into the lower regions, the earth? 10The one who went down is the same one who climbed up above all the heavens so that he might fill everything.

11He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. 12 His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ 13 until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. 15 Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ, 16 who is the head. The whole body grows from him, as it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments. The body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does its part.

Key Verses
Live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. (Ephesians 4:1-

Some Thoughts

As I prepare to write my comments on this lesson’s text, I am challenged to make sure that my thoughts are in agreement with the will of the Holy Spirit.

This is our fourth lesson on faith. Because it is about unity within the body of Christ, it may be the most timely and the most important.

One of the major problems we face as a body of believers is who in the world speaks for God. Back in the 1950’s 60’s and 70’s most of us accepted Billy Graham as the most important religious leader.  From presidents and other world leaders his advice and council was sought by many. There was also a time when the Pope in Rome was thought to be the conscience of Christians world wide. Today there seems to be a void at the top of world wide Christianity.

Therefore, our faith in establishing any kind of unity is challenged. I use the word “therefore” to make a point. That is how our text begins, with the therefore that responds to the previous teachings and comments in Ephesians chapter 3.
At the end of chapter 3 Paul prays for the church,  “19 I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God.’  Today’s text is to help us achieve that fullness.

Today we are divided on many fronts, our nation seems divided, our churches are divided, and our families our divided.  Our churches are divided not only internationally, but locally, by an order of service, or emphasis seemingly placed on the wrong things.

Paul’s call for   “all humility, gentleness, and patience,”  has never been needed more. We are not only divided, but the rankor and vile forms that it takes it is sometimes hard to find the Christianity. We are in a time where Christianity is being threatened by Christianity. By that I mean the divide between the “Evangelical Christian” and the more progressive Christians has never been greater. Neither side see’s any redeemable qualities in the other side. We have lost sight of what Paul says in verses  4-6 “You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.”

Paul is quite bold in verses 13&14 “until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others.”

The call today is for Christians to treat other Christians with the same love and respect that we are called to treat the non Christian. Lets us be mature in our actions, and united in our faith. Always seeking our guidance from the Holy Spirit, not the outside forces that try and influence us for all the wrong reasons.

My hymn for this week is “My Jesus I Love Thee.”

Monday, December 18, 2017

Adult Sunday School Lesson for December 24, 2017

              Faithful Seekers of the King

International Sunday School Lesson for December 24, 2017

To express faith as adoration, generosity, and the seeking of divine presence

Bible Lesson
Matthew 2:1-12 (CEB)
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. 2 They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”

3 When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. 4 He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:

6 You, Bethlehem, land of Judah, by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah, because from you will come one who governs, who will shepherd my people Israel.”

7 Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” 9 When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.

Key Verse
They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11)

Some Thoughts

Today we are studying a Scripture we typically read around Christmas time, although it might be more suited for Epiphany than Advent. However, since Advent is not only a time to remember the birth of the Christ Child but also to look forward to the coming of Christ into the world in final victory, we will study this with an eye toward what we can learn about that second coming as well as remembering the first.

As we look at our text, I will give you a little different take on the Magi, who they were and how they knew about the birth of the Messiah.

We know from the Book of Daniel that Daniel and the wise men of Babylon worked together, and they may have heard about the Messiah from that. We also know that long before the exile of into Babylon, this same area produced a wise man or seerer in the time of the Journey from Egypt to Canaan. You can read the entire store in the Book of  Numbers chapters 22 - 25.   The story is about Balaam and his talking donkey. In 24:17 It says, I see him, but not now; I look at him, but not nearby. A star comes from Jacob;     a scepter arises from Israel, smashing Moab’s forehead, the head of all the Sethites.

In Daniel chapter 9:25-26, 25 “So you must know and gain wisdom about this: There will be seven weeks from the moment the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until a leader is anointed. And for sixty-two weeks the city will be rebuilt with a courtyard and a moat. But in difficult times, 26 after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one will be eliminated. No one will support him. The army of a future leader will destroy the city and the sanctuary. His end will come in a flood, but devastations will be decreed until the end of the war.”  The Lord God reveals to David the death of the Messiah, from that they may have calculated the approximate time of the birth.

I think between the teaching of Daniel and the legend of Balaam, the wise men of Babylon were looking for this star as a sign for many many years.

The common myth is that the the Wise Men are always pictured at the manger, when they got to Jerusalem, where they presumed to find the King, the family had relocated into a house.

From Babylon to Jerusalem, it took Ezra 4 months to travel that distance. The Wise Men could have made it faster in a smaller caravan.

It is not hard to understand the concern of Herod, he was an appointed Governor/King by Rome, any trouble would be blamed on him.

That the Wise Men knew about Balaam and Daniel but did not know about Micah, the prophet that prophesied about the Messiah being born in Bethlehem, sort of makes the story more believable.

My hymn for this week is “We Three Kings of Orient Are.”

Monday, December 11, 2017

Adult Sunday School Lesson from the International/Uniform Series for Dec. 17, 2017

                          Faith to Persevere

International Sunday School Lesson for December 17, 2017

To develop a faith that neither craves approval nor succumbs to opposition

Bible Lesson
Background: Acts 14; Colossians 2:6-7

Acts 14:8-11, 19-23 (CEB)
8 In Lystra there was a certain man who lacked strength in his legs. He had been crippled since birth and had never walked. Sitting there, he 9 heard Paul speaking. Paul stared at him and saw that he believed he could be healed.

10 Raising his voice, Paul said, “Stand up straight on your feet!” He jumped up and began to walk.

11 Seeing what Paul had done, the crowd shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have taken human form and come down to visit us!” . . .

19Jews from Antioch and Iconium arrived and won the crowds over. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing he was dead. 20 When the disciples surrounded him, he got up and entered the city again. The following day he left with Barnabas for Derbe.

21 Paul and Barnabas proclaimed the good news to the people in Derbe and made many disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, where 22 they strengthened the disciples and urged them to remain firm in the faith. They told them, “If we are to enter God’s kingdom, we must pass through many troubles.” 23 They appointed elders for each church. With prayer and fasting, they committed these elders to the Lord, in whom they had placed their trust

Key Verses
Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, where they strengthened the disciples and urged them to remain firm in the faith. They told them, “If we are to enter God’s kingdom, we must pass through many troubles.” (Acts 14:21-22)
Some Thoughts
This is our third lesson on faith.  Faith to persevere means faith that withstands both praise and criticism.

Our text is from Paul and Barnabas’s first missionary journey. In some ways it is very reminiscent of Peter and John’s encounter outside of the temple near the “beautiful gate.” which we studied a few weeks ago.

Maybe you can relate to the dilemma Paul and Barnabas face, while many see you as some sort of hero or God, others see you as a threat, or are disappointed you are not the deity that they thought you were.

There is an old saying among ministers,  “Don't go home with the person who meets you at the train.”  If you have been involved with pastoral changes you know what that means. If not it means sometimes the people that are the most welcoming are often your biggest problem down the road.

So it was with Paul and Barnabas, after healing the man, that could not walk, many thought they were gods, verse 12 says, “ They referred to Barnabas as Zeus and to Paul as Hermes, since Paul was the main speaker.”  

Imagine the disappointment when Paul stops the celebration and deprives them of sharing in the wealth and blessing that would come from a visiting god.  

Since satin never misses an opportunity to embarrass a Christian worker, the Jews from Antioch (the one in Pisidia) and Iconium come and persuade the people of Lystra to stone Paul and leave him for dead outside the city.
I think verse 20 may be the most important, it pictures the church (body of believers) surrounding Paul who had been left for dead. Paul was able to get up and go back into the city the next day. That is persevering faith.

If you look at a map of this journey you soon realize that they were only a day's journey from Paul’s home town of Tarsus and from there in another day they could have been back in Antioch in Syria.

The fact that Paul and Barnabas decided to return to the churches they had established and encourage them speaks volumes about “persevering faith.”

Sometimes it is not easy to ignore the praise or survive the critics, but our strength is not in ourselves. Our strength comes from God the Father, through Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.  It is what enables us to live by faith. It is what enables us to minister, regardless of our successes or failures.

My hymn for this third sunday of advent is “Joy to the World.”

Monday, December 4, 2017

Adult Sunday School Lesson for December 10, 2017

                             Faith to Discern

International Sunday School Lesson for December 10, 2017

To learn to discern between those who teach us to serve and those who teach us to seek power and indulgence

Bible Lesson
Acts 13:1-12 (CEB)
1The church at Antioch included prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon (nicknamed Niger), Lucius from Cyrene, Manaen (a childhood friend of Herod the ruler), and Saul. 2 As they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul to the work I have called them to undertake.” 3 After they fasted and prayed, they laid their hands on these two and sent them off. 4 After the Holy Spirit sent them on their way, they went down to Seleucia. From there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 In Salamis they proclaimed God’s word in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their assistant. 6 They traveled throughout the island until they arrived at Paphos. There they found a certain man named Bar-Jesus, a Jew who was a false prophet and practiced sorcery. 7 He kept company with the governor of that province, an intelligent man named Sergius Paulus. The governor sent for Barnabas and Saul since he wanted to hear God’s word. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for that’s what people understood his name meant) opposed them, trying to steer the governor away from the faith.

9 Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Saul, also known as Paul, glared at Bar-Jesus and 10 said, “You are a deceiver and trickster! You devil! You attack anything that is right! Will you never stop twisting the straight ways of the Lord into crooked paths? 11 Listen! The Lord’s power is set against you. You will be blind for a while, unable even to see the daylight.” At once, Bar-Jesus’ eyes were darkened, and he began to grope about for someone to lead him around by the hand. 12 When the governor saw what had taken place, he came to believe, for he was astonished by the teaching about the Lord.

Key Verse
When the governor saw what had taken place, he came to believe, for he was astonished by the teaching about the Lord. (Acts 13:12)

Some Thoughts
This is our second lesson on “faith” and there always seems to be some confusion between gifts of the spirit and fruits of the spirit. Today’s lesson involves two gifts of the spirit. The gift of faith, and the gift of discernment. Just a reminder the fruits of the spirit as listed in Galatians are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Note that love, joy and peace, along with hope are what we celebrate during advent.

After the martyrdom of Stephen, many early believers scattered from Jerusalem. One of the places where these early believers ended up was in Antioch in Syria.  Some of you may be told that the Antioch of our lesson is in Pisidia, now modern Turkey, but for me there is very clear evidence that the Antioch in today’s lesson is the one located in Syria.

When studying the Book of Acts, remember it is more about the acts of the Holy Spirit than it is the Acts of the Apostles.  The Antioch church was blessed with several good leaders, and these were not just peasants, and fishermen, but men of means. They were also dedicated to spreading the good news about Jesus to both Jew and Gentile.

As our lesson begins Barnabas was sent to witness what was going on in Antioch. After witnessing the enthusiasm, Barnabas went to Tarsus to get Saul, who had been in Arabia for about three years before returning to his home in Tarsus. Barnabas knew Saul as a great teacher and well trained, and the church in Antioch was growing so fast Barnabas needed help.

As our group sets out on this journey, they head toward the island of Cyprus. Cyprus was home of Barnabas and it made sense to begin there. After landing in Salamis, they journeyed by land to Paphos on the westward side of Cyprus.

As they encountered a sorcerer named Bar-Jesus that was trying to block them from seeing Sergius Paulus, the deputy of the Island, and whether by coincidence or plan, Saul has a name change to Paul.  

As Paul confronts this sorcerer and false prophet, we notice another change. Not only is Saul now Paul but the order  changes from Barnabas and Saul to Paul and Barnabas.

Most importantly Sergius Paulus becomes a believer, after witnessing what happened when Paul through the Holy Spirit caused the sorcerer to go blind, temporarily.

Today we are constantly faced with false teachers and mystics and we must rely on the Holy Spirit to help discern the real from the fake.   Remembering that the Holy Spirit will never go against scripture or the teachings of Jesus. It is by our faith and discernment that we can separate the real from the fake.

My hymn for this week, in honor of Advent is “Come thou Long Expected Jesus.

Monday, November 27, 2017

International Adult Sunday School Lesson for December 3, 2017

                               Faith in Jesus

International Sunday School Lesson for December 3, 2017

To interpret faith as claiming wholeness now that anticipates complete wholeness in the resurrection

Bible Lesson
Background: Acts 3

Acts 3:11-21 (CEB)
11 While the healed man clung to Peter and John, all the people rushed toward them at Solomon’s Porch, completely amazed. 12 Seeing this, Peter addressed the people: “You Israelites, why are you amazed at this? Why are you staring at us as if we made him walk by our own power or piety? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of our ancestors—has glorified his servant Jesus. This is the one you handed over and denied in Pilate's presence, even though he had already decided to release him. 14 You rejected the holy and righteous one, and asked that a murderer be released to you instead. 15 You killed the author of life, the very one whom God raised from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 His name itself has made this man strong. That is, because of faith in Jesus’ name, God has strengthened this man whom you see and know. The faith that comes through Jesus gave him complete health right before your eyes.
17 “Brothers and sisters, I know you acted in ignorance. So did your rulers. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he foretold through all the prophets: that his Christ would suffer. 19 Change your hearts and lives! Turn back to God so that your sins may be wiped away. 20 Then the Lord will provide a season of relief from the distress of this age and he will send Jesus, whom he handpicked to be your Christ. 21 Jesus must remain in heaven until the restoration of all things, about which God spoke long ago through his holy prophets.

Key Verse
His name itself has made this man strong. That is, because of faith in Jesus’ name, God has strengthened this man whom you see and know. The faith that comes through Jesus gave him complete health right before your eyes.
(Acts 3:16)

Some Thoughts

For the next 13 weeks our lessons will be about “Faith In Action.” This week we will look at faith in the early church.

The immediate context of this week’s passage is this: A congenitally disabled man placed at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple begged alms from Peter and John as they entered. Instead of money, he wound up with a new ability to walk! Not only did he walk, but he jumped up, danced around, and praised God in the Temple (3:1-8).

Our lesson begins with lots of action, as you read verse 11 It is a highly descriptive passage with lots of action verbs. The man “clung to Peter and John,” the crowd rushed over, and they were amazed. The word used here and translated “clung” can indicate simply “taking the hand of,” or it can mean “seizing,” as the soldiers seized Jesus. It also has a metaphorical meaning of “coming to understand,” such as when we say, “I grasp the concept.”

The people rushed over to see what had happened. They rushed together as a group that is moving as one or as various streams rushing together into a river. The rapid movement is associated with amazement

In verse 12 Peter addressed them specifically as “Israelites” (literally, “men of Israel”). In doing so, he reminded them of their identity as the people of God.

In verse 13  Peter called the people Israelites; then he explicitly linked the God of the Israelites to the power of Jesus. This is similar to the way that the God “I am who I am” is linked to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Exodus 3:6. But Jesus is the glorified Servant who would suffer on behalf of the people (Isaiah 52:13). Just as the people were amazed at the work of Peter and John, the kings and nations would be amazed at the servant because of his marred appearance and suffering. This talk of the servant being glorified by God and yet being handed over by the people points toward this paradox. The sense of paradox was heightened when Peter spoke of the people having denied Jesus in front of Pilate, for Peter, of course, was the one who denied Jesus in the courtyard of the priest’s house.

In verse 14, Just as the servant was rejected, the people despised and rejected Jesus. While Barabbas and Jesus were in some ways arrested for the same crime, rebellion against Rome, Barabbas was willing to kill for his beliefs. Jesus, of course, was willing to die for his. Peter pointed out that the crowd stood with the former and not the latter.

In verse 15,  Peter intensified the irony and the contrast between what God wanted for the people and what they chose. God intended to give life; Peter called Jesus the author, or founder, of life. The word can also be translated as “prince” of life (KJV), recalling that Jesus was the Lord and King who embodied the essence of life and offered to share it with all. Instead, the people chose death. They not only chose death for Jesus, but by extension, they chose death for themselves.

In verse 16  we get to the crux of the matter: the healing name of Jesus. Why the “name of Jesus”? To understand, we must go back to the Hebrew understanding of name. In Hebrew, the word that we translate as “name” means much more than “the term which indicates one person or another.” One’s name includes one’s reputation. If you know someone’s name, you know who he or she is and what he or she stands for. Having faith in the name of Jesus means knowing who and what Jesus is and trusting in that.

Peter healed in the name of Jesus to indicate that he was not healing in his own power or even through power given directly to him by God. He was healing through the power of belief in the risen Jesus. As do all healings, this healing pointed to the reality that the risen Jesus will, in time, heal all who trust in the life-giving power of God.

The faith involved in the healing was (at least initially) the faith of Peter and John. The man did not ask for healing and did not see the two disciples as anything other than a source of alms for begging.

In verses 17 and 18. Having chastised the people for killing Jesus, Peter now held out hope for them. He acknowledged that they acted in ignorance. Jesus said as much from the cross when he prayed to God, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34). The people were looking for a successful Messiah, not a Messiah who was also a suffering servant. The messianic passages in Isaiah (Isaiah 9:2-7; 11:1-9) tell of a royal figure with power and prestige among the nations. But Peter told them what Jesus had said to his disciples a number of times that the Messiah must suffer and die.

The link between Messiah and Servant was not at all clear until Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. It was not predicted in any obvious way. It was foretold in the sense that the prophets were pointing to a suffering Messiah, but it was Jesus himself who had to teach this lesson and make it clear. And now, Peter passed on the lesson that he had learned.

In verse 19. Peter issued a call to the people to repent (change their lives) and return (turn back). These are two words loaded with meaning from the Hebrew Scriptures. In the Prophets and the Psalms in particular, the people are encouraged to repent and return. Peter urged the people in the crowd to repent and to return, and he told them that their sins would be wiped away. Once again, this echoes the Prophets and the Psalms (Psalm 51:1; Isaiah 43:25; 44:22; Micah 7:8). Though they had rejected the life that God offered once, they were given another opportunity.

In verse 20,  Peter promised that by returning to God and having faith in Jesus the Christ, the people would begin to experience “a season of relief” or “times  of refreshing” (as other versions translate: KJV, NIV, NRSV) that God offers. The sense of this refreshment is like that of being in a hot, stuffy room where it is difficult to breathe and then going out into the cool breeze. Another way to understand it is that the people would receive relief from the feeling of exile that they had had under Roman rule, not because Rome had been overturned but because they had accepted Jesus Christ as their true Lord.

Verse 21 brings Peter to his conclusion  that Jesus will remain in the divine realm until God has completely restored God’s creation and brought heaven and earth, Jew and Gentile back together. This is the eternal promise made through the prophets in every age.

The question we must answer is where is our faith based? Is our faith based on our goodness? Or is it based in the Name of Jesus?  How important is our faith when we pray for others?

My hymn for this week is “It’s All In the Name of Jesus.”

Monday, November 20, 2017

International Sunday School Lesson for November 26, 2017

             God’s True Covenant People

International Sunday School Lesson for November 26, 2017

To celebrate in worship and our daily lives by remembering the redemptive life and death of Christ

Bible Lesson
Background: 1 Corinthians 11; Jude 3

1 Corinthians 11:23-34 (CEB)
23 I received a tradition from the Lord, which I also handed on to you: on the night on which he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread. 24 After giving thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this to remember me.” 25 He did the same thing with the cup, after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Every time you drink it, do this to remember me.” 26 Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you broadcast the death of the Lord until he comes.
27 This is why those who eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord inappropriately will be guilty of the Lord’s body and blood. 28 Each individual should test himself or herself, and eat from the bread and drink from the cup in that way. 29 Those who eat and drink without correctly understanding the body are eating and drinking their own judgment. 30 Because of this, many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few have died. 31 But if we had judged ourselves, we wouldn’t be judged.
32 However, we are disciplined by the Lord when we are judged so that we won’t be judged and condemned along with the whole world. 33 For these reasons, my brothers and sisters, when you get together to eat, wait for each other. 34 If some of you are hungry, they should eat at home so that getting together doesn’t lead to judgment. I will give directions about the other things when I come.

Key Verse
This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Every time you drink it, do this to remember me” (1 Corinthians 11:25)

Some Thoughts

As we conclude this quarter’s study of the covenant in the Bible, we hear the words of Paul, whose letters are the oldest documents in the New Testament. Paul, the converted Jew and dedicated apostle for Christ, was immersed in the Hebrew Scriptures, aware of the blessings and failures associated with God’s covenantal relationship with Israel, and passionate about God’s guarantee of that covenant with all those who have faith in Christ.

Paul knew the importance of “bread” as it related to the Old Testament.  “Showbread” also was called “bread of the presence” because it was to be always in the Lord’s presence. The table and the bread were a picture of God’s willingness to fellowship and communion (literally speaking, sharing something in common) with man. It was like an invitation to share a meal, an extension of friendship. Eating together often is an act of fellowship. God was willing for man to enter into His presence to fellowship with Him, and this invitation was always open.
The “bread of presence” in the Old Testament is a type of Christ. It was there for the priest to eat every day, and Jesus encourages us to also eat the “bread of presence” every day in the prayer that He taught to His disciples. “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Jesus used it on the night he was betrayed, telling each of the disciples to eat,  and in breaking the bread Jesus indicates His body will also be broken.

The wine was also a carryover from the O.T. Exodus 29:40 “With the first lamb, add one-tenth of a measure of the high-quality flour mixed with a quarter of a hin of oil from crushed olives and a quarter of a hin of wine for a drink offering. 41 With the second lamb offered at twilight, again include a grain offering and its drink offering as in the morning as a soothing smell, a gift offering for the Lord.” This was to be done also on a daily basis.

The new covenant between God and man, means we no longer have to sacrifice animals in order to gain access to God or to be forgiven. Jesus becomes not only the “bread of presence”  or the wine offering, He becomes the Pascal Lamb. Jesus becomes all we need.

No wonder we celebrate this as often as we can, and with a somber note that recognizes our unworthiness. When we participate without self examination, we are guilty of partaking unworthily. When we partake while still hold grudges, or prejudices, we partake unworthily.

Paul understood the importance and significance of celebrating the Lord’s Supper. It was much harder for those within a congregation that had no Jewish background or training.

You can sense Paul’s frustration as he writes to this congregation. Today we have no excuse for not understanding the importance of this New Covenant.

My hymn for this week is “One Bread, One body.”