< What I Learned Teaching Sunday School: October 2008

Friday, October 31, 2008

Ministry with Others - Part 3

So, Paul was a tentmaker. Rabbis were expected to have a trade, to support themselves and making tents allowed Paul to travel with his business and also talk to people while he worked. This is a good example for us to bring God into our daily lives. Into everything we do.

Think through one of your days. Think how in a chore, a job, a relationship, a conversation or a letter, you can glorify God by reflecting Him, by sharing Him, by serving or encouraging someone.

There’s a great story about Suzanne Wesley, mother of 17 children including John and Charles, who used to put her apron over head and the children knew when she did that she was having quiet time with God and they weren’t to disturb her. What an example she set for her children!

Paul used his tent making as an informal classroom for gospel instruction. But, formally, he taught in the synagogue. And the Bible says he would argue there to convince Jews and gentiles. This showed it wasn’t easy. This was a tough crowd. They were hard to convince. The message he was telling them was: Jesus was the Messiah, the Messiah had to suffer and Jesus, the Messiah, rose from the dead.

The Corinthians had mostly been pagans, so they wouldn’t have known the Old Testament, which meant they knew nothing about God’s personal character. His moral standards for humanity and for His people in particular.

So Silas and Timothy eventually joined Paul and when he left Corinth after about 18 months, they stayed on. Aquila and Pricilla accompanied Paul. He wanted to go to Jerusalem to attend some festivities. He hadn’t been there in a long time and he wanted to stop and visit old friends in Antioch. They stopped in Ephesus for a short while and Aquila and Pricilla ended up staying there to minister to the Ephesians. The Bible stays with them there to tell the story of Apollos.

Apollos arrived at Ephesus as a preacher. He was a Jewish convert from Alexandria, known for his eloquence and burning enthusiasm. Alexandria, Egypt was the 2nd most important city in the Roman Empire at this time and had 600,000 people, including 150,000 Jews. Its library housed 700,000 volumes and epitomized the learned culture that thrived in the city. Some scholars think Apollos wrote the book of Hebrews, while others thought it might have been Barnabas. Apollos had a “learned” style of preaching which appealed to a lot of people, especially the Greeks.

Sometime during Jesus’ life, Apollos had visited Judea and come under the influence of John the Baptist and was baptized. But, while he was very familiar with the Old Testament, he didn’t have a full understanding of the Gospel. He knew nothing of Pentecost or the Holy Spirit. Or the true meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus. So the Bible says in verse 25, his baptism was “only the baptism of John”. It wasn’t of the spirit.

A lot of people today, especially certain denominations argue about baptizing people as babies. Since they aren’t making any kind of a choice for themselves. Some churches look at infant baptism as a dedication and then confirmation is when the child commits.

When Aquila and Priscilla heard Apollos preach they realized his knowledge was incomplete, so they took him aside and told him the whole story. This in another good example for us. They didn’t hesitate to instruct him, but they also didn’t confront him in front of a lot of people, or talk about him to others behind his back.

Before this, Apollos had been brilliant, learned, eloquent and dedicated, but after Aquila and Priscilla talked to him, he was born again with the Holy Spirit and was empowered and eager to share his experience.

And that’s what Christianity is. Not knowledge, but an experience and a relationship.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ministry With Others - Part 2

As soon as Paul arrived in Corinth he met a Christian couple, formerly Jews from Rome, named Aquila and Priscilla. They had recently arrived from Italy, victims of a decree of Emporer Claudius who had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. They were also tent makers, like Paul and they welcomed Paul into their home and workshop to live and work together while he was in Corinth.

They may have met him at the synagogue because it was common practice for the members of specific trades to sit together at worship. Remember Judean synagogues provided a variety of services for the Jewish community. They were worship centers on the Sabbath and holy days, schools for education and the study of the Torah, courthouses for the resolution of Jewish legal conflicts, general meeting rooms, storage areas for archives and the collection and distribution of food for the poor and a place for newcomers to connect with the community.

My church has a lot going on, but not nearly that much! I saw an article in the paper about a church moving into our town and it said they would be opened to the public during the day and have a coffee house and wireless internet! Today, churches are trying different things to get people to come inside. Back then they were the center of activity, but remember too, back then they didn’t have as many places of recreation that we have today.

Each synagogue had a leader who supervised its religious activities and a council of elders who governed its daily affairs. Membership consisted of Jews by birth, proselytes (people who converted to Judaism) and “God fearers” who were Greek or Gentiles. This last group didn’t get a lot of the benefits of the Jews so they in particular responded positively to the Christian preachers.

Aquila and Priscilla were a ministry team. They are never mentioned separately. They complemented each other and capitalized on each other’s strengths. Their united efforts affected those around them. They made a huge difference in people’s lives by supporting Paul and later guiding Apollos, which I’ll get to in the next post.

They opened their home for Christian gatherings, which is a good example for us. I think of minister’s wives when I hear “working together in ministry.” My oldest sister married a Lutheran minister and they were missionaries in Africa for 20 years. My sister had gotten a master’s degree in English and while in Africa kept the church books, translated all kinds of things; even a medical book. She cooked for everyone who came by. Missionaries are often in teams.

Teamwork has always been a part of God’s plan. When He created the world, He didn’t want Adam to be alone. He created a woman, Eve, to be his companion and helper. God Himself is part of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The author says the world shows us many examples of necessary teamwork. Life would not exist without the sun and earth, land and water, oxygen and carbon dioxide, etc.

You can tell in this story Paul was lonely arriving in Corinth, but God hooked him up with a supportive Christian couple immediately. And what a difference Paul made in Corinth thanks to that added strength they gave him.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Ministry with Others - Part 1

This lesson covers Acts 18:1- 19:10

After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.

When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, "Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles."

Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.
One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city." So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.

While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court. "This man," they charged, "is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law."

Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, "If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law—settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things." So he had them ejected from the court. Then they all turned on Sosthenes the synagogue ruler and beat him in front of the court. But Gallio showed no concern whatever.

Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because of a vow he had taken. They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. But as he left, he promised, "I will come back if it is God's will." Then he set sail from Ephesus. When he landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch.

After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.

Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.

When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ

While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit."

So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?" "John's baptism," they replied.
Paul said, "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus." On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.

Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.

On Paul’s missionary journeys, he rarely stayed in one city for any length of time. This was mostly because his preaching the gospel often resulted in hostility and he was chased out of town!

In this story he heads to Corinth, about 50 miles west of Athens. I always thought Corinth must have been a wonderful church because it had 2 books of the Bible named after it and there are churches today named Corinth, but the city Corinth back then was known for 2 things; greed for material gain and sensual lust.

The Roman writer Horace said that Corinth was a town where “no one but the tough survives.” It was a center for the cult of the goddess of love, Aphrodite, and the Greek geographer, Strabo, reported there were love priestesses(prostitutes) attached to her temple. In fact, prostitutes of the time were known as “Corinthian girls”!

Corinth was a major transfer port for traffic and commerce moving between Asia Minor and the Aegean Sea in the east and the Western Mediterranean and Rome. It was an ancient city that fell victim to the Romans in 146 BC. The consul, Mummius, butchered its men, sold its women and children into slavery and burned it down.

For 100 years it lay abandoned. Then in 44 BC Juslius Caesar re-established the city as a Roman colony and named it Colonia Lous Julia Corinthiensis (or Corinth, the praise of Caesar.)

In 27 BC Augustus carved Achaia out of Macedonia and made Corinth its capital. And after that Corinth boomed.

By Paul’s time Corinth had surpassed Athens in culture, trade and interchange of ideas. It was a cosmopolitan city of about 500,000 inhabitants and its hustling, bustling urban streets attracted characters hawking their wares, negotiating the transportation of their goods across the isthmus or taking a break from their travels.

These “breaks” often turned into debauchery. Eventually the Greeks coined a new verb, “to Corinthianize” which meant to practice immorality.

We usually think of Paul as being strong, bold and brave in his preaching, but he had had limited success in Athens and he was alone as he set out for Corinth. These facts, along with the notoriety of Corinth itself led him to confess later to the Corinthians, “I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.”

But, he ended up staying there longer than any other city on his missionary tours except possibly Ephesus.

Through out his ministry he returned twice to the city and he wrote them at least 4 times, 2 or which became the books in the Bible.

If the gospel could succeed in Corinth it could succeed anywhere! But, Paul needed much patience, firm admonition, persistent correction, moral guidance, liturgical direction and clear teaching to minister to them.

But Paul came to Corinth, alone.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sharing God - Part 3

After that the Eunuch asked to be baptized as an outward symbol of his inward belief and Philip did so. And right after that Philip was “snatched away” by the spirit. And he found himself 18 miles away on the coastal plain. From there he continued to work through towns until he reached Caesarea and raised a family of 4 daughters who are mentioned in Acts 21:8-9.

The Ethiopian went back to Ethiopia a new person in Christ. And according to the 4th century church historian Eusebius, he became an evangelist in his native land. (Biblical Ethiopia is the present day Sudan.)

John Wesley loved to read and he read everything: history, poetry, natural science, philosophy, but he described himself as a “man of one book, the Bible.” He believed that the Bible was the essential text for the people of God and that all Christians in the power of the Holy Spirit could read it and understand it.

Wesley offered some advice on spiritual reading, which could easily be applied to reading the Bible. He said he was giving the advice to those who know “they have not yet attained” and “despise no assistance which is offered to them.”

In other words like the Ethiopian on the road to Gaza.

1.Read at a regularly determined time each day.

2.Prepare for reading with fervent prayer to God and aiming for pure intentions and the good of your soul.

3.Do not read hastily, but leisurely, seriously and with great attention. Pause at intervals to allow the inspiration of divine grace. Consider how you can put it into practice. Read orderly. Have a plan, don’t just skip around.

4.Let your feeling be involved. Treasure sayings that may protect you against later temptations or inspire you to act with virtue, humility, patience and the love of God.

5.Conclude your time of reading with a short prayer to God that what you have read may be sown in your heart and bring forth fruit to life eternal. In other words take your time, meditate on it, take it seriously. The Bible is not just a source of comfort. It is the living voice of God calling us to action.

The story of Philip and the Eunuch, besides telling us how important every individual is to God and telling us that the Gospel is for everyone, tells us that the Bible is a gift from God. And God’s people can offer hope to the world.

Our faith must be more than a collection of lightly held traditions. It must show us an example of how a person trusts God and is obedient. Philip didn’t argue or pretend. He didn’t miss God’s calling. He went. Immediately.

Philip allowed God to reshape him, an ordinary person, into an extraordinarily obedient disciple. This didn’t happen overnight. Philip was likely one who for years had followed God to the best of his ability, even before he heard of Jesus. When that happened and he believed, the spirit filled him and equipped him for service.

We may be somewhere in that preparation story and God will do for us what He did for Philip. He wants us to be continually moving deeper into our relationship with Him so we can be ready when He chooses us to be His witness.

It takes more then Sunday morning in church and Sunday School to be ready. Bible study, Christian literature, Christian radio, service projects help. Prayer, open and continual communication with God is a biggy. And then doing the things that please God. Putting into practice what you learn.

This might be a good time for you to take inventory of how much time you give God. You won’t be an effective witness if you don’t love God and love His Word.

I hate to sell anything! Ask my daughter if I ever sold a box a Girl Scout cookies for her! But, I can sell $100 tickets to fundraisers for causes I believe in and that I knew the person would have a great time attending. I was doing someone a favor by sharing it with them! Before I started 7 years of Bible Study Fellowship, or went on the Walk to Emmaus I used to get nervous doing a 2 minute devotion in front of a group. But, then I started studying the Bible, really studying it and reading other things and listening to Christian radio programs and I wanted everyone to love it all as much as I do: sharing Jesus with people, sharing God, sharing the Bible…and I stopped being nervous.

Ask God to lead you to someone who needs to know Him today.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Sharing God's Word - Part 2

This lesson covers Acts 8:26-40

“Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it."

Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked.

"How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: "He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth."

The eunuch asked Philip, "Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?" Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea."

Philip was on of the 7 deacons chosen in Acts 6:5. The 7 were Godly men. When he witnessed to Samaria he actually reaped a harvest previously sown by Jesus Himself. Remember Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well? How she ran to tell the other town people and they believed because her transformation was so amazing? From a disgraced woman to a radiant person with a powerful testimony? At that time Jesus told the disciples, that they would reap what others (including Himself) had sown and pointing to the Samaritan territory around them said, “open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for the harvest.” About 5 years later this happened.

This is a story about Philip leading a person to Christ. This story teaches how important a single person, a single soul, is to God.

Philip was preaching to multitudes in Samaria and many people were being saved. Yet God called him away to a desert road in order to meet one man who needed Him.

How many people think the ministry God has them in is too small? “All I do is teach Sunday School and some Sundays there are only 9 or 10 people there.” “Surely if I do well God will move me up, to bigger groups, expand my territory.”

This story tells us He might have us where we are for just one person, or 1 group. Maybe that person will be the one used to go to the multitudes!

The Ethiopian was a Eunuch. He was castrated. These men were then considered safe to work for a queen, but it was unlawful under the law of Moses to have membership in any Jewish synagogue if you were a Eunuch. But, here he was, seeking God the best he could with the Old Testament, all by himself.

In Jeremiah 29:13 God says, “If you seek me with all your heart, you will surely find me.”

And God sent Philip to the Eunuch.

Philip had learned from Peter, who learned from Christ that in the Old Testament was the meaning of the cross and of Christ’s mission to the world:

Luke 24:44-46Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day.”

So Philip was prepared. And we need to be prepared to explain to people too.

The Ethiopian was reading the scroll of Isaiah in his chariot. Normally men of his standing weren’t approached directly. But, the spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” And Philip ran right over. He asked the Ethiopian if he understood what he was reading and the Ethiopian said no.

He was teachable, approachable; if he had pulled rank and snubbed Philip he would have missed the opportunity for eternal life. He was reading from Isaiah 53:7-8. This chapter is about Christ’s coming.

Philip didn’t need to research the answer. The events of Christ’s suffering and dying were recent. He was able to explain to the Ethiopian that Jesus Christ was the promised one. If Philip had strictly observed Moses law in Deuteronomy about Eunuchs, he wouldn’t have taught him. But, there’s another verse in Isaiah.

Isaiah 56:3-5 “Do not let the son of the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD speak, saying, “ The LORD has utterly separated me from His people”; Nor let the eunuch say, “ Here I am, a dry tree.” For thus says the LORD: “ To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold fast My covenant, even to them I will give in My house and within My walls a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.”

The Good News is for all people!

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sharing God’s Word - Part 1

Before we begin this lesson, let me set the stage for you. Tell you a little about what it was like to live in the 1st Century, which is when the book of Acts took place.

The Roman Empire stretched from Britain in the northwest, through present day France and Spain to the west, across Europe to Turkey and Syria in the east and along North Africa to the south. Rome ruled an estimated 60 – 65 million people of diverse ethnicities and cultures.

For the very elite, about 2-3% of the population, life was very comfortable. For the rest it was most often miserable.

The Emperor, based in Rome, was top man. The power of the position was a strong draw and of the men who were Emperors during the Acts period a great percentage were murdered and a few committed suicide.

In this world religion and politics were not separate. They were partners in reinforcing the imperial status quo and civic order by seeking divine blessing on it.

Members of the elite served as priests for the soul purpose of displaying and augmenting their wealth, status and power. They provided temples, shrines, images, offerings, processions, street festivals and feasting to honor imperial birthdays, anniversaries of gaining power and military victories. The message was that the gods had chosen Rome to rule and cooperation was the only course of action.

The non-elites experienced considerable social unrest and distress in the cities. Estimates of population density during that time suggested overcrowding higher then in our modern cities. Many were displaced by loss of land through inability to pay taxes and rents. Ethnic tensions often ran high.

Most people lived in small, dark, damp and dirty cubicles in poorly constructed wooden, multi-storied tenements with narrow streets, minimal privacy, numerous animals, poor sanitation, little sewage and garbage disposal, limited fresh water, pervasive crime, unpleasant odors, risk of fire and constant social disputes.

I think we tend to picture white woolly lambs on rolling green hills and people walking around in nice clean robes, don’t we?

Well, it wasn’t like that.

Food shortages were common. And like oil is power in our world, food was power in Rome’s world. Shortages caused urban riots, attacks on city officials and merchants, stealing and problems paying taxes. The urban elites did not store surplus for times of shortage. They didn’t seem to care about the poor.

You know it was Christianity that developed most of the outreach programs we have today. Acts 11:28-29 shows one of the first examples when the Christians in Antioch responded to the prophecy of famine by sending relief “according to their ability” to believers in Judea.

Lack of food, lack of variety of food and poor quality food led to disease. From skeletal remains we see that the non-elites suffered extensive malnutrition. Painful bladder stones from deficiency of dairy products. Eye diseases from lack of vitamin A and vegetables. Ricketts from inadequate vitamins and minerals. Lots of contagious diseases: diarrhea, dysentery, cholera, typhus, skin rashes and swollen eyes.

Where as the elite might live to their 60s and 70s, the non-elites lived to about 40. 50% of their children didn’t make to age 10. Jesus, we remember, was kept busy healing and He always had a special place in His heart for the poor. Early Christianity was a work that transformed the damage caused by the Roman imperial world.

In Acts 1:8 Jesus told the disciples they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came on them and they would be His witness in Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Acts 17:6 tells us that this “turned the world upside down.”

God made His word spread fast and far beginning at Pentecost to the Jews gathered in Jerusalem who had come from all over the world. They took it home with them and it spread across vast geographical, economic, cultural, religious and ethnic boundaries. A church formed that included Greeks and Jews, men and women, Roman citizens and barbarians, slaves and freed. While it clearly was a mighty act of God, He used His people to witness. And we are still called to witness.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Our God is Compassionate

A humorist once observed: charity is more common than compassion because charity is tax deductible while compassion is merely time-consuming.

This is true for many people but not really good for us. It allows us to do something about needs, but at an arms length. And we’re doing it not quite so sacrificially because we’re getting something out of it.

The author says there’s a difference between cold charity and warmhearted compassion. He says charity is calculated, but compassion is a motivation of the heart that is pure, rich and vital so far as a spiritual experience is concerned.

There’s a new song on Christian radio about Give Me Your Eyes, God. And the words are something about the singer seeing all the people rushing around hurting and in need and why didn’t he see it before? Then asking God to give him God’s eyes. God’s way of looking at things.

That’s what growing as a Christian does for us. We start to see things the way God does and we begin to develop the compassion Jesus always felt for people.

Some of the English equivalents to the Greek and Hebrew words for Compassion in the Bible include: to love, to pity, to show mercy, to suffer along side of. Even a gut feeling.

The Greeks believed that the intestines, the internal organs were the seat of emotions. When they talked about compassion it was like their organs tied up in a knot. So in a sense God has a gut-wrenching concern for His people.

God sent Moses to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt because He said in Exodus 3: 7-10, “I have heard the cry of my people and have been moved with compassion for them. I am going to do something about it by sending you to be their deliverer. His motivation was His desire to show mercy. After they’d been out in the desert a while, the Israelites ceased being grateful and said they were homesick for Egypt and complained all the time and Moses preached them a sermon starting with “hear me, you rebels!”

But, God took Moses aside and told him what He, God, is like. He’s a God of mercy, a God who shows pity, a God of compassion. And Moses was suppose to be that way too because He was God’s spokesperson to the Israelites. Today all Christians are called to be that way because we are all His disciples.

Over and over again in their long history prophets reminded the people of how often God showed mercy on them. Jeremiah recalled that God’s compassions are new every morning, that His faithfulness never changes. (Lamentations 3:23) and it’s the passage where we got the hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”

Later, God sent Jesus to show us His compassion. Jesus reached out to the people. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, brought back the lost. Spoke to their broken society. He gave Himself to them. He was compassion in action. Then He taught the disciples how to be that way.

One of his lessons was the parable of the servant who owed his superior a great deal of money, which he didn’t have to repay. And the superior wiped the ledger clean. But, then the forgiven man went to his friend who owed him a much smaller amount of money and demanded it. Jesus basically taught that this was unacceptable behavior. That those who benefited from the compassion of God ought to begin to discover a compassionate spirit within themselves.

The compassion of God is the very basis of our existence, our redemption and our survival.

So what’s stopping us? Well, some people don’t want to be taken advantage of and they worry about the con artists out there. Others worry about becoming a doormat. Still others feel like people in need are just lazy and to give them a hand out is the worst thing you can do.

But, Jesus simply said, “If you have been shown compassion (and we have) then you need to show it too.”

One of the things that most moved Jesus to tears was when He looked at people and saw how lost they were in spite of their potential. People are created in the image of God and still just don’t get it. If they would ask, God would come and live inside of them and be a refuge and a help. But, they don’t ask.

Compassion starts with an emotional response, then by a commitment to activity. Some of our time, energy and resources will need to be consumed. We can’t just say, “Oh that’s too bad.”

The story of the Good Samaritan was Jesus’ example of how it should be. The Good Samaritan went out of his way for the other man. It’s a longing to meet other people at their point of need in Jesus’ name. It’s wanting to be the means by which God answers their prayers.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

God has a plan

More of what I gleaned from Stuart Briscol's book 9 Attitudes that keep a Christian Going and Growing:

God does have a plan. And it’s that one day Jesus will be acknowledged as Lord of all. Every knee will bow. Every tongue confess Him as Lord. When that happens God will be recognized on the cosmic scale to all in all. That’s where we’re headed. That’s the future that Scripture gives us.

But, God has a personal plan for our lives too. Like the line in the old hymn: There’s a work for Jesus that only you can do.” Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:17, “Do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”

In Colossians 1:9 he prays that believers will be filled “with the knowledge of His will.” Yet most Christians, if you ask them, say they don’t know God’s will for their life.” It’s possible that people like living this way because if it became clear they might have to do it!

The author of this book says God’s will is excruciatingly practical. Here’s how it works: 1. God has a plan for my life. 2. God made me 3. God’s not stupid.

Therefore! God must have made me fundamentally ideal for what He wants me to do. So instead of waiting for organ music and lights flashing from the sky and a big voice booming out your name, he suggests getting a piece of paper and making a list of how God made you. Write down your abilities, your likes and dislikes and your experiences. Have someone who knows you well look at it. Then start to look for things that need to be done, that fit the kind of person you are. Then do them!

You may not do it well in the beginning, but don’t let that stop you. Do it the best you can and you’ll get better. The author says if you continue to do it badly, eventually someone’s going to say, “For heaven’s sake, let me do it!” and either way, somebody discovers God’s plan!

We’re not meant to be spectators in church. We’re not meant to put the Pastor on a pedestal because he’s the only one who can do God’s work. The church needs people with a servant spirit channeled into a sense of God’s purpose.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Serving God

I’m teaching a lesson from 9 Attitudes that keep a Christian Going and Growing by Stuart Briscol and I wanted to share a few things he talks about over the next couple posts.

In Colossians 3:23-24 Paul says “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” This doesn’t mean we have to get a job in the church. Whatever someone’s occupation is, and that includes housewife and mother, so long as it is compatible with God’s holiness, there’s an opportunity, by the person’s demeanor, by their commitment, faithfulness, energy and the way they go about their task, to serve God in any situation.

Starting with getting up and thanking God for a new day. And at the end of the day, saying, “Lord, this is what I did today. I trust I brought you honor: I served You in my situation today.”

We not only serve God, we serve the Christian community. Paul tells us in Galatians 5:13 to serve one another in love. What would it be like to belong to a church where every member said, “Here I am, Lord, ready to serve You by serving my brothers and sisters in the community”?

When people stop sitting in the pew saying, “They’re not meeting my needs.” And start saying, “Whose needs can I meet?” Then the servant spirit flourishes in a congregation and you’ve got a church on fire!

Each of us needs to identify the way we are serving God. We need to identify the ways we are serving the church. This is our calling.

Many of us feels that society in general and the government in particular owe us something, when in actuality we owe our loving service to the world in the name of Christ. That’s the Christian attitude. It’s a free choice to make, but a necessary one to live out the Gospel. It’s a privilege to belong to God and also a responsibility to be called a Christian.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

One Lord One Faith

We went to hear the musical One Lord One Faith tonight at Lakeview Baptist Church in Hickory. Composed by Randy Vader and Jay Rouse, of Praise Gathering Music Group, it was an amazing time of worship.

Both gentlemen were at the performance and Randy told of a conversation with a Muslim taxi driver, which gave him the idea for the musical. The driver asked Randy what he did and when told that Randy was in Christian publishing, he asked, who do you say Jesus is?

And the entire musical goes about telling the answer to that. Wonderfully arranged with a beautiful video behind the choir, which was made up of 3 different choirs, it was a good ending to the tough week America just went through. Reminding us what (Who) is really important.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Part 3 from our Church Retreat

My final message Saturday afternoon:

We talked about absolute truths in the Bible and that in fact the Bible is the truth. Earlier I touched on doing God’s word, not just knowing it and I’d like to pursue this theme more.

It’s the application of scripture that makes the difference in our lives. The meat of the word is doing what God wants.

Skip Heitzig wrote, “Biblical knowledge can puff us up, leading us to try to impress others with our mastery of scripture.” (Don’t you think of the Pharisees when you hear that?) Unless we love other people and live according to what the Lord taught us, the Bible says we are nothing.

Some people become experts in the Scriptures, yet their lives are unchanged. The goal of studying the Bible is not simply observation or even interpretation. Rather it’s application. The point is not to uncover new tidbits of knowledge about prophecy or explain the precise definition of a Greek word. The joy comes in applying the truth to our lives. Only then can we see that the Bible works. The best way to approach the Bible is as an obedient servant waiting for the master to give instructions.

Remember all of Joshua 1:8 says, “The Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written it. For then you will make your way prosperous and then you will have good success.”

A lot of people quote the meditate on the word day and night part of Joshua 1:8, but you rarely hear that second part.

True fulfillment only comes through doing what God has planned for you.

I read somewhere that what God wants from us is to be believed and then for us to act upon that belief. Every time we read something in the Bible we should ask ourselves 5 things:

1.What example is there for me to follow?
2.What error is there for me to avoid?
3.What command is there for me to obey?
4.What prayer is there for me to echo?
5.What issue is there for me to study further?

There are lots of things God told people to do in the Bible, which didn’t make sense at the time, but when people obeyed they saw His mighty power.

God gave Joshua the strangest military strategy ever heard of in the battle of Jericho. Jericho was the enemy’s mightiest stronghold. And what did God tell Joshua to do? March his men silently around the outside walls of the city once a day for 6 days, then on the 7th day march around the city 7 times and on the last lap the priests in the army were to blow trumpets loudly and the people were to shout and the wall would collapse and Joshua’s army would successfully capture the city!

Joshua obeyed, exactly as told, and it happened!

Gideon’s another example. He was confronted by an invading army of Midinites that was so huge it looked like grasshoppers stretching out along the plain as far as they could see. He gathered up 32,000 men for his army, but God told him to get rid of all but 300! Then God told Gideon to take the 300 men and position them on the ridges surrounding the enemy’s camp. Each man was to hold a flaming torch inside a clay water jar with one hand and a trumpet in the other. When Gideon gave the signal, the men were to break the water jars, lift the torches and blow the trumpets.

They did this and the enemy ran, killing each other as they went. The victory in both these stories was clearly God’s, which is probably why He did it in such strange ways, so there was no question it was His doing and we would give Him the glory!

Here’s another strange one: There is a story in Numbers 21:4-9 about how the Israelites were grumbling about God and Moses. God sent deadly snakes among the people of Israel because of their sin. The people asked Moses to pray to God for relief and God told Moses to make an image of a poisonous serpent out of bronze and set it high on a pole so that "everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live."

In the book of John 3:14-15 Jesus uses this story to prepare Nicodemus for the revelation He was about to give Him concerning His redemptive work on a cross. He said, "as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life."

The Israelites would never have thought of the bronze snake as their salvation from the biting serpents. Looking at the very thing that was killing them to save them.

What the Israelites were told to do in the desert we are told to do with the cross. Sin is the serpents biting us. Jesus became sin on a cross. He told Nicodemus that He would be so identified with sin, death and punishment that He would be lifted up like a snake."

2 Corinthians 5:21 says "For our sakes He made Him who knew no sin - sin, that in Him we might become the rightousness of God."

Like the Israelites with the snake, it's something we would never have thought of ourselves.

Just like God telling the people in the Old Testament that a lamb or other animal sacrifice would cleanse them of their sin if they believed Him that it would. It wasn’t the sacrifice. It was their belief that what He said was true that caused Him to forgive them.

No one could have made that up! It had to be God! 1st Peter 2:4-10 refers to Jesus as the living stone, rejected by men and it quotes Psalm 118:22 as saying that He’s the stone causing men to stumble, the rock that will make them fall.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Part 2 from our Church Retreat

I mentioned in the last post that our theme for the weekend was rocks in the Bible. Here’s my talk from Saturday morning:

Remember the parable about the house that was built upon a rock? “And the rain descended and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house and it fell not for it was founded upon a rock?”

One’s spiritual house is the state of mind. Your beliefs and the way you live your life according to those beliefs. The storms that come are the trials or the false thoughts and ideas. A living conviction of the eternal truths of God’s Word, of God Himself and of His Kingdom, gives us a foundation, which cannot be shaken and actually can become stronger in times of trial when we keep on trusting God and doing what He commands. It’s in doing God’s will: being obedient to what He tells us, that we come into a relationship with Him.

The rock is the unchanging truth of God’s Word. I mentioned last night that Jesus quoted often from the Old Testament. There are some people who don’t enjoy the Old Testament. They think it’s ancient history, no longer important since Jesus came. But, you can’t really understand the New Testament without knowing the Old Testament.

Many of the images Jesus used to define Himself: Lamb of God, Shepherd, Sign of Jonah, the stone which the builders rejected, came straight from the pages of the Old Testament. In fact the entire Old Testament points to Jesus. It’s a foundation for the New Testament.

Proverbs 22:28 says, “Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your forefathers.”

God’s ancient boundary stones are the 10 Commandments. There was a survey done which showed that while 80% of Americans say they believe in the 10 commandments, very few could name more than 4.

We’ve all heard the funny stories where kids get the people in the Bible mixed up; like Joan of Arc is Noah’s wife. And they are funny, but also sad. We have to ask ourselves why our kids don’t know the Bible better. To me this says we shouldn’t depend on a weekly Sunday school class. Our home’s environment should be one where we do as we are told to in Deuteronomy 6:7-9: Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

There are no Loopholes in the Bible

I led the group gathering part of a church retreat a couple years ago and wanted to share the Friday night and Saturday talks here. The theme for the weekend was Rocks in the Bible. Below is Friday’s:

How many of you read the Bible looking for loopholes?

How many of you pray and pray and pray for guidance in some area and then when God gives it to you say, “No…that’s not it!” ?

One of the ways rocks are used in the Bible are as truths. When Jesus asked His disciples who they thought He was, Peter said, “You are Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church.”

The rock here is the truth. Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of the Living God. And it was at this time that Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter, which means rock. This was the first stone of confession and upon it Christ would erect all the other living stones that would build His church. This statement of Peter’s, this rock, is the truth and it will never change. We can count on it.

The world is looking for truth. The world is desperate for truth! Something we can believe in beyond a shadow of a doubt.

How many times have you started taking a particular vitamin because some study said it would keep you from getting some illness only to read another study a couple months later saying that that very same vitamin would cause the illness!? We’ve been told coffee is bad for you. Then we’ve been told it’s actually good for you.

We read parenting advice that contradicts itself all the time. Spank your kids. Don’t spank your kids. Give them educational games to play with. Give them the box the game came in to play with! Involve them in countless activities and classes so they have every opportunity in life. No, send them out to play and lock the door behind them!

And look at diets! Eat fat! Don’t eat fat! Eat carbs. Don’t eat carbs. Eat according to the food pyramid. No, wait, turn the food pyramid upside down!

How about the abundance of religions? A lot of them were created because someone, while searching for the truth, took a verse from the Bible out of context and just “tweaked” it a little or misunderstood it slightly. And now some of these religions have a million people blindly following them!

But, we can believe Jesus. Because one thing He cannot do is lie. And if we can believe Him when He says He is the Messiah, and the Son of the Living God, and all that involves, then we can believe that the Bible is the Word of God.

I have no problem believing that the God who created the earth and universe and everything in it has put exactly what He wants in the Bible. And I don’t, actually, understand why some people do question that!

Jesus quoted the Old Testament often. He used it to settle controversies with the Sadducees and Pharisees and even Satan. He said He came to fulfill the law. (The Old Testament) Matthew 5:18 says, “For truly, I say to you, til Heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whosoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of Heaven, but He who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of Heaven.”

There are no loopholes in the Bible. So quit looking for them! We can use it as our plumb line. It is full of God’s absolute truths. But, we have to open it. We have to read it. And we have to know it.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

More on The Traveler’s Gift

Continuing from yesterday’s post about The Traveler's Gift:

4. I have a decided heart

I am passionate about my view of the future. I will awake each day excited for the opportunity to grow. I will move forward 1 day at a time. At night I will be happily exhausted. All problems are smaller when confronted.

5. Today I will choose to be happy

People are drawn to people with laughter in their hearts. I will greet the day with enthusiasm. I will smile at everyone. I will have a good attitude. I have a grateful spirit. It is impossible for the seeds of depression to take root in a thankful heart. God has given me many gifts.

6. I will greet each day with a forgiving spirit

By forgiving I create in myself a new heart, a new beginning. I will forgive those who do not ask to be forgiven. I will give up my bitterness. I will forgive myself. My history will cease to control my destiny.

7. I will persist without exception

I know the outcome of my dream. I will stay the course. I will not quit. I don’t have to enjoy the process. Just continue it. God has plans for me! I will find out what they are and do them! I am a person of great faith.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Traveler’s Gift

After reading Andy Andrew’s Book, The Traveler's Gift twice, I wrote down the 7 decisions from it to carry around with me. I really recommend reading the book, but in the meantime here are the first 3 decisions. I think they are worth thinking about.

1. The Buck stops here

I accept responsibility for my past. Never again will I blame anyone. I will look forward. I am responsible for my success. My decisions are governed by my thinking. My thoughts will be constructive.

My mind will live on solutions for the future, not problems of the past. I will make a decision and then make it right. I control my thoughts and my emotions. Challenges are gifts, opportunities to learn.

2. I will seek Wisdom

I will make positive changes in my relations. I will be around positive people who I admire. I will be a servant to others. People are attracted to this.

3. I am a person of action

No longer will I be in the pit of despair, moaning over lost opportunities and squandering time. I can do nothing about the past. When faced with the choice of doing something or doing nothing, I will always choose to do something! I am a leader. I do not fear opinion or gossip or failure. Failure only exists if you quit and I do not quit. I seize the moment.

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