< What I Learned Teaching Sunday School: July 2007

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Jesus calls the Disciples

The night before Jesus called His disciples, He spent the entire night in prayer. When Jesus looks at a man or woman, He not only sees what they are and what they have been, but also what they will become when they yield themselves to be remade by Him.

There’s a Christian song that says, “Mercy looked past all my faults. The justice of God saw what I had done, but mercy saw me through the Son, not what I was, but what I could be, that’s how mercy saw me.”

Although all the disciples were ordinary men, each was different from the other. Peter was an extrovert, John a dreamer, Andrew was full of faith and brought his brother to Jesus. Thomas was racked with doubts.

They had different occupations: Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen, Matthew a tax collector, Simon a Zealot, (Zealots were ardent Jewish patriots who advocated revolutionary tactics to overthrow the power of Rome. They were willing to die any kind of death for their country and refused to give any earthly man the title of king.)

Normally Matthew who pretty much worked for Rome would not have gotten along with Simon! And certainly never sit at a dinner table with him! All humanity was represented in the different dispositions of that circle of men, so that it might be a demonstration of what Jesus could do with all classes and conditions of people as His fellow workers.

The disciples were commanded to preach to the Israelites. The Gentiles would come later, but in the providence of God, it was ordained that Israel, the nation originally chosen by God, should be His spokesman to the world. Therefore it was necessary the gospel should be first offered to the Jews.

Even though the Jews as a whole did reject Jesus as Messiah: remember Jesus was a Jew and it was through a believing Jewish minority, including the disciples, that God’s purposes in history was fulfilled and the world first heard the gospel.

Jesus called them. Then He trained them. When He calls us we just need to respond. The very most important thing we can ever do is tell another about Christ. Like the disciples who had three years of training with Him, we need to spend time with Him before we go out to be His disciples. It’s not always easy out there. Jesus told them in Matthew 10:16 “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves.”

We too live in a world increasingly hostile to our faith; consequently we have learned to huddle together in our church buildings. We want to stay with Jesus in the safety of our Christian assemblies. We are comfortable in our prayer and Bible study groups. We console one another in the comfort of our fellowship halls.

But, Jesus called up to permeate the culture. To be salt and light and leaven. Our mission is the same as the disciples. We are to share the good news and help usher in the kingdom of God.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

More About the Disciples

The disciples weren’t blamed when a listener rejected the message. Just as we are called to share the Gospel and plant the seed, it’s up to the receiver of the message what he does with it. We do have to present it faithfully and carefully though.

Their message when Jesus sent them out was pretty much: the kingdom of Heaven is at hand. The new era prophesized by the prophets and longed for by the saints had begun. Jesus, the king, had now come to earth to call His subjects to Himself.

The people back then needed a loving Shepherd. They had plenty of false shepherds in the scribes and Pharisees. But, the scribes and Pharisees couldn’t bring them into relationship with the living God or forgive their sins.

The people were a harvest ready to be reaped. And Jesus needed people to do this.

People who walk closely with Jesus begin to see things the way He does. They see the need too and feel the call. The Harvest is still to this day in need of laborers! There are so many people getting false messages and being led astray.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Choosing the disciples

The disciples are also called apostles, which means messenger or authorized representative. Jesus didn’t choose them for their faith, because of course that wasn’t very strong yet. He didn’t choose them for any talent, power or position. The one characteristic they all had in common was a willingness to obey Jesus.

God empowered them after that to do His work.

The lesson we can take from this is: God uses ordinary people so we can never say, “I could never do that!” All you need to be is willing.

We are told that Jesus called “those whom He wanted” and who “came to Him immediately.” An indication of radical discipleship where people respond without delay. And these men were called to follow Jesus not to be passive listeners, but to be active participants in the work of the Kingdom. That’s a believer's call too.

What did Jesus offer them? A life with Himself of poverty, opposition, loss of social standing and time consuming work. But, also fellowship on earth and an eternal reward. The purpose of their calling was that they might be with Him in fellowship and ministry.

My application Bible says Jesus chose 12 disciples to correspond with the 12 tribes of Israel to show continuity between the old religious system and the new one based on Jesus’ message.

Remember, He didn’t come to do away with the law, but to fulfill it.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Who wrote the Gospel of Mark

The author of the Gospel is John Mark, nephew of Barnabas. He accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey in Acts 13:13, but he left to go home at the second stop.

Paul wasn’t happy about this. In fact two years later when preparing for their second journey, Barnabas again suggested Mark as a traveling companion and Paul refused. So Barnabas and Paul split up: Barnabas taking Mark and Paul taking Silas.

This ended up working for the good because two groups could cover twice as much area. And also, remember, Barnabas is known as the encourager and during his time with Mark, Mark grew.

Eventually he and Paul re-united and became close. Mark and his mother’s house was one of the meeting places for the new Christians in Jerusalem and Mark got a lot of his eyewitness accounts from Peter.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

The Gospel of Mark

The book of Mark is the oldest of the 4 Gospels. It is also the shortest, so the fastest read. It also moves fast. Mark uses the words “at once” a lot.

Jesus is already choosing His disciples in the first chapter and by the end of the second chapter, the cross is foreshadowed and the book begins to move toward Jesus’ death. One third of this Gospel records the events of Jesus’ final week.

The book of Mark is believed to have been used by Matthew and Luke in their Gospels and to have also influenced John. The purpose of this Gospel was to strengthen and guide Greek-speaking Christians, possibly those in Rome. Non-Jews who probably didn’t know the Old Testament. So unlike Matthew who quoted the Old Testament a lot, Mark didn’t.

The chief questions he tried to answer were, “What was Jesus like?” And “Why did He die?”

Mark records more miracles than any other Gospel. Jesus’ miracles were meant to reveal the extraordinary nature of Christ and were signs of His power until the written word was completed. Nowadays we can read about what Christ did, but back then people had to see it or hear about it. The miracles were clear proofs or credentials of the supernatural authority of God.

We are called to tell others by words that the Lord and Savior is near to them, calling them to respond to Him and that His return to earth is also near and the time for Salvation may be shorter then they think. And we are called to prove, by works, by transformed lives, by deeds of kindness, by the power of answered prayer. We not only speak the words of Jesus, but as He promised, we also do His works by faith in Him.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Listening to the small voice of God

People who sit around waiting for God to audibly say something to them – or do some miraculous deed in their life to guide them in a direction - risk missing the “still small voice of God” offered to every one of us. Most of the time He speaks to us through His Word - the Bible.

There’s an old joke about a man who kept praying to win the lottery and never did so when he got to heaven he asked God why He didn’t answer that prayer. And God leaned forward from His throne and said, “You never bought a lottery ticket!”

We have to open the Bible to hear God speak to us in the 21st century. A pastor, John Piper, wrote in to Christianity Today about the Bible and said, “This is the very voice of God. By this voice, he speaks with absolute truth and personal force. By this voice, he reveals his all-surpassing beauty. By this voice, he reveals the deepest secrets of our hearts. No voice anywhere, anytime can reach as deep or lift as high or carry as far as the voice of God that we hear in the Bible.

It is a great wonder that God still speaks today through the Bible with greater force, greater glory, greater assurance, greater sweetness, greater hope, greater guidance, greater transforming power and greater Christ-exalting truth.

The critical need of our time is for people to experience the living reality of God by hearing his Word personally and transformingly in Scripture. Something is incredibly wrong when the words we hear outside Scripture are more powerful and more affecting to us than the inspired Word of God.”

In 1st King chapter 19 God’s voice was not in the wind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire. It was in the gentle persistent whisper.

We all want God to tell us in some dramatic way what He wants us to do, but we refuse to see He has been telling us and He continues to tell us: that we are to have a relationship with Him, that we are to take care of His people and share the Good News with them and that we are to have relationships with other people too. Elijah thought he was the last one of God’s worshipers left, but God told him there were more. God always has resources for us to do His work.

We all want to do spectacular things for God, but we need to focus on the little daily things in our walk with Him. We are to look for God in the small things – not just big events – because He is always there! Jill Briscoll, a Christian writer and speaker, said she is often asked by people how can they become a Christian speaker and travel around like she does. And she tells them, “Do what God has put right in front of you.”

Everything is a call – everything we do can be a ministry: take time when someone needs to talk, use your extra time for more Bible study, smile at people, send an encouraging card or note, visit the lonely, make that phone call, share God’s word, share your stuff, share yourself! Give money, say only nice things about people. You may never have 1 big call, but you do have hundreds of smaller ones. The calls are as numerous as the needs.

Why is it that we can go to Mexico and love the people there, but we don’t like being around them in our hometown? How can we be so concerned about helping people with Aids in Africa, but stay away from them in the United States? Why is it easier to love people from a distance?

When Mother Teresa was asked how to have peace in the world she said, “Go home and love your family.”

As Christians we have the opportunity to show God’s presence and His love every single day – we don’t have to wait for a catastrophe, or a mission trip or a big “Christian event”. We don’t even have to wait for Sunday!

To only look for God in the “big” may mean we miss Him often in the small and constant.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

More thoughts about Mary and Joseph

We all face changes in our lives all the time. We can look at Mary and Joseph for an example of how to cope with some of these changes.

We’ve heard their story so many times we don’t really think what it would have been like. To be so young, with marriage ahead of them within a year. Their plans in place; they expected to get married.

They did not expect to have a child right then. And they were certainly not expecting Mary to give birth to the Son of God!

Neither was expecting to be approached by an Angel. And they didn’t expect to play a major role in God’s plan of salvation.

But, God had greater plans for them then what they expected! He brought a radical change into their lives and they showed total trust in God, which led them to respond with courage. They knew God was in control.

The Lord’s Prayer doesn’t promise that faithful people will never experience the consequences of evil in the world and neither does the rest of scripture. Even Jesus, the perfect one, died on a cross as the result of evil. But, great good came of that.

And that’s God’s promise to us as well. We aren’t promised trouble free lives, but we are promised rewards in the age to come. And the expectations of those rewards can give us confidence in the midst of problems and tests we face.

Christian speaker and writer, Beth Moore, wrote, “No perfume has ever been sweeter to God then the faithfulness of believers who are suffering.” In other words, He sees what we are going through and He knows how hard it is and fully appreciates what it takes to stay faithful during those times.

We don’t always understand what God is doing in our lives, but sometimes our best plans are far inferior to God’s plans for us. Often our problems keep us close to Him. He’s usually the first place we turn to when we’re in need. He wants our trust and our love. In fact He loves us so much He wants to spend eternity with us!

He does have a plan and He is in control. He created us and knows exactly what it will take to have us finish the race and become like Christ. He is interested in using every situation to transform us into His likeness and to build a relationship with Him – not merely to make us comfortable.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Joseph, Jesus’ father

Matthew 1:18-25 “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" which means, "God with us.

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”

The book of Luke gives the story about the news of Jesus’ pending birth from Mary’s point of view, but Matthew tells us more about Joseph.

In those days engagements were often arranged by the families when the couple were children. Later, during the betrothed the groom offered gifts to the bride, and the father presented a dowry. At this point the relationship was binding. They were as good as married even though they weren’t living together for another year. But, if they broke up during the year they would actually have a written, legal divorce. And if one committed sex with someone else it would be considered adultery and they would be stoned.

Matthew tells us Joseph was a righteous man. He was just. Of good character. The Jewish community considered a righteous person to be one who lived by God’s laws. But, this righteous person, Joseph, did not exactly keep the law, did he? He didn’t publicly divorce Mary and allow her to be stoned. Instead he acted out of compassion. He planned to quietly divorce her.

The Gospel of Matthew presents Joseph as a religious Jew who understood that true righteousness demands more then strict adherence to the laws; it requires one to keep the spirit of the law. And years later, his adopted son Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.” Jesus healed on the Sabbath and He kept a crowd from stoning the woman caught in adultery. Joseph was ahead of his time!

And Jesus was raised by this man.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Jesus’ genealogy in the Book of Matthew

Matthew traced Jesus’ lineage back before he even mentions Jesus’ birth. The book of Matthew is a link between the Old and New Testament and Matthew’s goal was to convince his readers that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah. Genealogies were very important to the Jews and Matthew traces Jesus’ line through David and Abraham, a common criterion for being the Messiah.

When Titus destroyed the Temple in AD70 all the Jewish genealogies were destroyed. So only Jesus’ genealogical tables in Matthew and Luke remain to give the lineal descent from David.

Therefore no other living man could legally prove he’s of that line and the rightful heir to the throne! It’s almost like God saying, “OK, the Messiah came. We have no further use for genealogies.”

The only family line God recognizes now is whether we are related to Him through His Son!

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Becoming like Jesus is a process

I love to water-ski and I read an illustration once about God driving the boat for Christians who are learning to ski.

It said that first of all the Christian might have his life jacket on, he might have a great ski or skis, but if he is out in the water without a rope connected to the boat he’s not going to ski!

Then lets say the driver tosses him the rope. Now he has the connection and the power, but he still has to do something. He has to reach out and grab the rope.

Matthew 5:48 tells us, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Is there any way we can be perfect by ourselves? Yet that’s a command of God’s!

Like grabbing the rope we need to reach out and connect with God who will share His perfectness with us. So how does that work in our daily lives?

When we become Christians, God places us in the vine, abiding in Christ, connected to Him. With Christ’s death we are in position. But, the transformation of our attitudes and character are a process. A life long process.

We can know that we will get there because God promises us in Philippians 1:6 that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” When we stand before Jesus Christ all believers will be complete. We will be like Him. That’s a Biblical promise, so we can claim it because God doesn’t lie!

Frequently we blow the process. We think and act without including God. But, don’t let these set backs rob you of the joy of knowing Christ and knowing that through it all you are growing closer to Him.

Picture God as the driver of the boat again. He tosses you the rope and says, “I’ll teach you.” You grab it – and get up – and you fall. He tosses it again with a few more instructions, you grab it, get up again, maybe even ski a foot or two…and fall again.

This can be fun to watch because some water-skiing falls can be pretty spectacular! Just like some of our mistakes! But, like a good and patient water-skiing instructor God keeps circling the boat around and coming back. With a little more guidance and infinite patience.

Gradually with careful listening to the instructions it gets easier and you will fall less often. After a time it becomes a natural part of you and you don’t have to think about what you do – you just do it!

God knows we are going to fall, but He won’t give up on us. Neither should you!

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

If by Amy Carmichael

If I have not compassion on my fellowservant, even as my Lord had pity on me, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I can easily discuss the shortcomings and the sins of any; if I can speak in a casual way even of a child's misdoings, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I can enjoy a joke at the expense of another; if I can in any way slight another in conversation, or even in thought, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I can write an unkind letter, speak an unkind word, think an unkind thought without grief and shame, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I am afraid to speak the truth, lest I lose affection, or lest the one concerned should say, "You do not understand," or because I fear to lose my reputation for kindness; if I put my own good name before the other's highest good, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I myself dominate myself, if my thoughts revolve around myself, if I am so occupied with myself I rarely have "a heart at leisure from itself," then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I cannot in honest happiness take the second place (or twentieth); if I cannot take the first without making a fuss about my unworthiness, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I do not give a friend "the benefit of the doubt," but put the worst construction instead of the best on what is said or done, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I take offense easily; if I am content to continue in a cool unfriendliness, though friendship be possible, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If a sudden jar can cause me to speak an impatient, unloving word, then I know nothing of Calvary love. For a cup brimful of sweet water cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, however suddenly jolted.

If I say, "Yes, I forgive, but I cannot forget," as though the God, who twice a day washes all the sands on all the shores of all the world, could not wash such memories from my mind, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If souls can suffer alongside, and I hardly know it, because the spirit of discernment is not in me, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If the praise of man elates me and his blame depresses me; if I cannot rest under misunderstanding without defending myself; if I love to be loved more than to love, to be served more than to serve, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If in the fellowship of service I seek to attach a friend to myself, so that others are caused to feel unwanted; if my friendships do not draw others deeper in, but are ungenerous, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

That which I know not, teach Thou me, O Lord, my God.
From If by Amy Carmichael. Christian Literature Crusade © 1991
Amy was a missionary in Southern India

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