< What I Learned Teaching Sunday School: December 2008

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Thoughts on Heaven

I was teaching a Sunday School lesson on Heaven and found this little piece below. The author isn’t known:

“As I get older, I find that I appreciate God and people and good and lovely and noble things more and more intensely; so it is pure delight to think that this enjoyment will continue and increase in some form literally forever. In fact Christians inherit the destiny which fairy tales end with: we (yes, you and I, the silly saved sinners) live and live happily, and by God’s endless mercy will live happily ever after.

We cannot visualize heaven’s life and the wise man will not try to do so. Instead he will dwell on the doctrine of heaven, where the redeemed will find all their heart’s desire: joy with their Lord, joy with His people, and joy in the ending of all frustration and distress and in the supply of all wants. What was said to the child—"If you want sweets and hamsters in heaven, they’ll be there”—was not an evasion, but a witness to the truth that in heaven no felt needs or longings go unsatisfied. What our wants will actually be, however, we hardly know, except the first and foremost: we shall want to be “always...with the Lord”.

What shall we do in heaven? Not lounge around, but worship, work, think, and communicate, enjoying activity, beauty, people, and God. First and foremost, however, we shall see and love Jesus, our Savior, our Master, and our Friend.”

Richard Baxter wrote:

My knowledge of that life is small,
The eye of faith is dim,
But it’s enough that Christ knows all,
And I shall be with him.

To those who have learned to love and trust Jesus, the prospect of meeting Him face to face and being with Him forever is the hope that keeps us going, no matter what life may throw at us.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas Prayer

Loving Father,

Help us remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and worship of the wise men. Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world. Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting. Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clear hearts. May the Christmas morning make us happy to be thy children, and Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus' sake.

Amen.

by Robert Louis Stevenson

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Studying the Psalms Part 6 – Psalm 139

In finishing up the article called Who Am I, Lord, by Ray C. Stedman, we come to the final paragraph. It seems to take a rather abrupt turn:

O that thou wouldst slay the wicked, O God, and that men of blood would depart from me. (Psalms 139:19 RSV)

Many have asked: Why did this psalmist seem all of a sudden to interject these bloody thoughts? Why this sudden word of passion, “Lord, kill the wicked!” This has troubled many because it seems so far from the New Testament standard, “Love your enemies.”

First, we need to recognize that everything that is declared in the Psalms is not necessarily a reflection of God’s will. In the Psalms we are listening to the experiences of believers and they do not always reflect God’s truth. They honestly mirror man’s viewpoint and we need to understand these passages in the light of their context. In this paragraph the psalmist, having been impressed by his close relationship to God, now, naturally, comes to the place where he asks God for something. That is also what we do.

When we are aware of being near to God, being dear to him, we tend to ask God for something. That is what this man does.

He asks for two things:

First, he asks God to take care of the problem of the wicked. His suggested manner of handling it is, “Lord, wipe them out,” as though such a simple remedy for human ills had never occurred to the Almighty. “Lord, wipe them out, that’s all. That will take care of them.” Have you ever felt that way?” Mel Trotter, the famous American evangelist, said, “There are a lot of people I know who are wonderful people. They’re going to go to heaven some day, and, oh, how I wish they’d hurry up.” One of the refreshing things about these psalms is the honesty they reflect.

There are several things we need to note about this: For one thing, this psalmist’s requests falls short even of the Old Testament standard. It is the Old Testament that first says, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” (Leviticus 19:18 KJV). The New Testament and the Old Testament are not opposed to one another in this matter of moral standards. But this man has not yet learned this. In his honesty, he says, “Lord, it seems to me the easiest way for you to handle this problem of evil would be to slay the wicked. Why don’t you do that?”

And notice he does not say, “Why don’t you let me do it?” He recognized that vengeance belongs to God and that if anybody is going to do it, and do it right, God alone must do it. So he is not saying, “Lord, let me handle this.” That is what many are saying today: “Lord, I’ll wipe out the wicked; just turn them over to me. I’ll take care of them.” But this man does not say that; he is saying, “Lord, it’s your problem; why don’t you do it?”

We can understand why he is so upset by this; because Verse 20 points out he is not concerned about what the wicked do to him but what they do to God. “They maliciously defy thee.” In the Hebrew it is even clearer. Literally he is saying, “They speak of thee for wickedness.” In other words, these are religious hypocrites. The sharpest words Jesus ever spoke were against the religious hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who were using Gods name for evil.

Here is the case of a man who has felt the hatred of God against sin, but not yet the love of God for the sinner. That is why, I think, he concludes with these words:

Search me, O God and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalms 139:23-24 RSV)

Isn’t he saying, “Lord, I don’t understand this problem of evil. It appears to me the easiest way is for you to eliminate the evil man. But Lord, I also know that I don’t think very clearly, and I don’t often have the right answer. I have often found, Lord, that my thoughts are not right. So, Lord, in case I don’t have the right remedy for this problem, let me add this prayer: "Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! See if there be any way of wickedness in me, and lead me in the truth, the way that leads to everlasting life!”

What a wonderful prayer. We should all pray like this! “Lord, I don’t understand what’s going on around me, and my solutions may be quite inferior, may even be wrong. But, Lord, I’ll trust you to lead me. Show me the wickedness that may lie undetected in my own heart, and guide me in the way that leads to fullness of life.”

Prayer: Father, we thank you for this revelation of the humanity of these men of old, and how it fits our own situation today. How desperately we need to be led through the complexities of our age. Help us not to settle for simple yet wrong solutions, but to be willing to let you work out your own purposes, knowing that you have taken all the factors into consideration for you know us so intimately. We thank you in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Studying the Psalms Part 5 – Psalm 139

In the next section the psalmist is telling us how he knows all this. Someone might say, “Well, this is certainly beautiful poetry, all this about God’s knowing me and being with me, but how do you know it is true?” All right,” says the psalmist, I’ll tell you.”

First, because of the design of the body.

For thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalms 139:13-14a)

Here he is examining himself and he is amazed at the vitality and complexity of the forces in his own body which are essential to life, but over which he obviously has no control. “That,” he says, “shows me there is something outside of man that is regulating and running me. I live within the limits of that force or Being, whatever or whoever it is.”

This is what has struck the psalmist. He says, “Thou didst knit me together in a most amazing way in my mother’s womb. I praise thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Then he is struck by the progress that is necessary in the forming of a human being.

Thou knowest me right well; my frame was not hidden from thee, (Psalms 139:14b-15a RSV)

The frame is the foundation of the body, the bone and muscle system. That is where the body begins to be put together, with the frame. Without a frame we would be blobs!

…my frame was not hidden from thee, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth. (Psalms 139:15 RSV)

That phrase, “intricately wrought” is one word in Hebrew. It is really the word for “embroidered.”

It describes the delicate embroidery of the body, the things that tie us together so that one organ supports another. The lungs need the heart and the heart needs the lungs; the liver needs the kidneys, and the stomach needs both; all the parts are amazingly embroidered together.

Then he uses this phrase, in Verse 16, Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance. (Psalms 139:16a RSV)

Literally the word in Hebrew is, “my rolled up substance.” It pictures the embryo, all rolled up. People are asking questions today about when life begins. When does an embryo become a human being? When does abortion become murder? The answer of the psalmist is, “Thy eyes beheld ME, not an impersonal collection of cells that wasn’t me yet, in my rolled up embryonic state.” The marvel of the human body, even at that stage of growth, has convinced him that God is with him and knows him immediately.

But that is not all. All of verse 16 says; Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance; in thy book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalms 139:16 RSV)

He is not only impressed by the argument from design, but by the evidence of determination. Evidently he had an experience similar to many of us – there came certain days in his life during which so many unrelated factors suddenly fell together to produce a circumstance or an experience that he could not help but be aware that something was causing it to happen, that it was all being brought about by a mind greater than his own. There was “evidence of determinism.”

We have all had something happen suddenly, something which we did not plan nor expect. It was made up of so many varied factors, which all of a sudden fit together, dovetailing beautifully, that we become aware that Someone else was planning our days and yet allowing us free will in the experience of them. That was what struck this Psalmist. It was the fact that, even before these days occurred, they were written in the book of God. They were planned by Him.

This of course is the basis for all biblical prophecy. How is it that an event can occur in the life of our Lord, which was predicted by the prophets 500, 600, sometimes 1000 years before? And not by one prophet, but several? After the passing of years and even centuries, there comes a moment when many factors suddenly fall together and our Lord fulfills an event that was foretold long before. All this impresses the psalmist, and he is made aware of God’s knowledge of him.

The third thing that convinces him follows. How precious to me are thy thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. When I awake, I am still with thee. (Psalms 139:17-18 RSV)

The psalmist is impressed by the abundance of revelation from God. We would never understand our lives if God did not tell us who we are.The Bible is deep and complex. How precious are God’s thoughts! How vast is the sum of them! How wide is the range of fact that God comments upon in His revelation. Even if you come to the end, says the psalmist, God is still more. No revelation can ever plum the depths of God. How great, how impossibly great, are His thoughts toward us.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Studying the Psalms Part 4 – Psalm 139

In the second section of Psalm 139 (continuing with the article called Who Am I, Lord, by Ray C. Stedman) the psalmist is exploring the question, “How near is God to me?”

Whither shall I go from thy Spirit, Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? (Psalms 139:7 RSV)

How many times we have asked that of ourselves, “Lord, how can I get away from you? Is there any way in my guilt that I can escape?” This is the psalmist’s answer:

If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there! (Psalms 139:8 RSV)

No destiny can separate me from the fact of God. If I go to heaven, God is there, of course. And even though I go to hell I still will not escape God. In heaven we shall experience in the full the love, compassion, glory and warmth of God: the positives of God. In hell it is the other way around. There men experience the absence of God’s love, the dark side of it, the wrath of God: His negatives. But it is still God, that is the point. God owns and runs His universe and there is no escaping His presence.

The presence of God is not a fearful thought. The writer goes on to say that no distance can separate him from God.

If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there thy hand shall lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. (Psalms 139:9-10)

What do you think he means by the “wings of the morning”? This is a beautifully poetic expression. If you have stood and watched the sun come up you will have noticed the rays.
One commentator said this is what he’s describing. “If I could travel with the wings of the morning.” If I could travel on these rays and reach to the farthest points of earth (the uttermost parts of the sea), even there, he says, I would find you Lord. You have gone before me, have preceded me, and I will find you there as much as here.”

Finally in this section the psalmist cries that not even darkness can separate him from God.

If I say, “Let only darkness cover me and the light about me be night”, even the darkness is not dark to thee, the night is bright as the day: for darkness is as light with thee. (Psalms 139:11-12 RSV)

People try to hide from God when they know they are doing something that doesn’t please Him. Adam and Eve tried to hide in the garden. We’re like the ostrich burying his head in the sand. We think that God can’t see us. We feel that if we don’t think about certain things then God won’t think about them either. But He does. No darkness, physical or mental, can hide us from God’s presence. He knows us and sees us no matter how dark it is.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Studying the Psalms Part 3 – Psalm 139

Over the next couple posts, lets take Psalm 139 apart.

Everywhere today one hears of those who are passing through an identity crisis. That is a fancy way of saying “Who am I?” We all ask this question occasionally but perhaps it is asked more frequently today because of the prevailing scientific view of the universe. That view tells us that our earth is but a tiny speck in a vast universe, and we are struggling mortals on an obscure planet located in a second rate galaxy among billions of other galaxies in a great universe. Such an outlook tends to make us feel most insignificant. It contrasts sharply with the biblical view of man and especially the view, which deals with man in relationship to God. This 139th Psalm describes a man who is thinking about himself and his relationship to God. If you are struggling with an identity crisis and you are not sure just who you are then this is a good Psalm to read.

In this Sunday School lesson I shared the following article called Who Am I, Lord, by Ray C. Stedman:

This Psalm is divided into four paragraphs of six verses each. In each paragraph the psalmist faces a question about himself in relationship to God.

In the first paragraph he asks, “How well does God know me?” The first sentence gives us his answer”

O Lord, thou has searched me and knows me! (Psalms 139:1 RSV)

The Hebrew word for “searched” is the word, “to dig”. Literally what this man is saying is, “O Lord, you dig me!” Now that is how up-to-date the Bible is! The word means, “You dig into me and therefore you know me.” It is not surprising that the word dig has come to mean in English, “to know or to understand.” This is the way the psalmist begins, “Lord, you dig me!” In what way does God understand?

Thou knowest when I sit down and when I rise up; thou discernest my thoughts from afar: (Psalms 139:2 RSV)

That is, “Lord, you understand and know me in my conscious life. You know when I sit down (my passive life) and when I rise up (my active life). When I am resting or when I am acting, you know me. And you know me also in my subconscious life – that level of life from which my thoughts arise. You understand my thoughts even before they get to the surface. You know how I think and what I think about. You even understand the thoughts which come unbidden, in a constant flow to my mind.”

Then there follows the awareness of God’s knowledge of habits and choices:

Thou searchest out my path and my lying down. And art acquainted with all my ways: (Psalms 139:3 RSV)

You know the way I choose to go, and you know the habits of my life. “You know me, Lord,” says the man, “intimately, inside and out.” Then in verse 4 he contemplates the fact that God is concerned about him.

Even before a word is on my tongue; lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. (Psalms 139:4 RSV)

That is, “You understand my language. Every word that I utter, you know and understand.”

Then God is active, the psalmist discovers, in his past, his future and his present.

Thou dust beset me behind (the past) and before (the future) and layest thy hand upon me (now, the present). Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it. (Psalms 139:5-6 RSV)

He is simply overwhelmed by the fact that God knows him better than he knows himself, better than anyone else knows him. That is amazing, isn't it? God knows me better than I know anyone else and better even than I know myself. For God knows me in the subconscious, the unexplorable part of my life, as well as in the conscious. What a wonderful revelation this is of God's understanding of each individual human being. How desperately we need, in this day of depersonalization, to remember that though science tells us how vast the universe is and thus how great the power of God, it takes God's self-revelation to tell us how important we are to Him and how well He knows us.


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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Study of the Psalms Part 2

Out of all the books of the Bible, Psalms is one of the most well known. In the book of Psalms you will find poems, songs, lamentations and prayers written by psalmists. King David was one of the main authors (he wrote 73 psalms); but we also find that Asaph wrote 12 psalms, the sons of Korah wrote 9 psalms, Solomon wrote 2 psalms, Heman with the sons of Korah wrote 1 psalm, Ethan wrote 1 psalm, Moses wrote 1 psalm and the remaining 51 were written by anonymous authors.

They were probably written over a period from 200 years before David’s reign to the latter part of the 5th century BC. Many more psalms then the 150 in this book were written. Some are in other books of the Bible, but, these 150 are probably a very good example of all of them.

The Book of Psalms is divided into 5 sections, which, interestingly, are parallel to the divisions of the writings of Moses in the Torah, which has 5 sections or books. The 5 sections in Psalms are labeled as books one through five. In the first book of Psalms we find Psalms 1- 41. These Psalms are mainly written by David. If you compare the theme of theses psalms to the book of Genesis’ theme you will be amazed at the similarities. In the second book we find Psalms 42 – 72. The theme of these psalms can be compared to the book of Exodus. The main authors of Book Two are David and the sons of Korah. In the third book we find Psalms 73 – 89. Asaph and Asaph’s descendants mainly wrote this collection. These psalms are similar to the book of Leviticus and its theme. In the fourth book we find Psalms 90 – 106 which were mainly written by unknown authors and likened to the book of Numbers in its theme. The fifth book is made up of Psalms 107 – 150, which are mainly by David and these psalms are comparable to the book of Deuteronomy.

The central theme of the whole book of Psalms is that the poets believed God to be vitally, even tangibly present in the world and purposefully and lovingly involved in men’s lives. The petitions of the psalms are raised in the certainty that God will hear. There is constant reference in the psalms to the action of God on behalf of His whole people and on behalf of a single individual.

In his book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren wrote, “To instruct us in candid honesty, God gave us the book of Psalms; a worship manual, full of ranting, raving, doubts, fears, resentments and deep passions combined with thanksgiving, praise and statements of faith. Every possible emotion is catalogued in the Psalms. When you read the emotional confessions of David and others, realize this is how God wants you to worship Him, holding back nothing of what you feel. You can pray like David, “I pour out my complaints before Him and tell Him my troubles. I am overwhelmed.”

Warren added, “God doesn’t mind us questioning Him and telling Him how we feel. He would much rather have our passion then our religious rituals that we just recite.”

In every experience of our own, no matter how deep the pain or great the frustration or how exhilarating the joy, we can find psalms that echo our innermost thoughts: psalms, that God used to bring comfort or to confirm to us that He understands.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Psalms Part 1

The church uses Psalms in worship all the time. A look at the church hymnal will confirm the fact the Psalms significantly contribute to our worship in song.

Worshippers, men and women who, like David, seek after God and yearn to know the heart of God follow the greatest calling of the church and of individual Christians. It is not to be evangelists or teachers or exhorters or comforters, but worshippers. The central focus of our lives should not be ourselves, or even others, but God. Jesus said that is the greatest commandment.

So my primary purpose in this study of the Psalms is to help each of us to gain a fuller appreciation for worship. In order to do this we must first come to appreciate the Psalms for the contribution they have made historically to the church and for what they can do in our lives. We must also approach the Psalms as a particular literary form, one we must become familiar with if we are to properly understand and apply the Psalms to our lives.

So, historically first:

There are several reasons why the Psalms have meant so much to the saints over the years. The following 4 points were written by Robert L. (Bob) Deffinbaugh Th.M.and can be found at http://www.bible.org/

1. The Psalms speak to us. We cannot read very far into the Psalms without drawing the conclusion that the psalmist seems to have been reading our minds. How is it that after centuries have passed we find a man who lived in a different time and culture expressing our innermost feelings, fears and hopes? The answer, of course, is that we are reading the Scriptures, divinely inspired, infallible and inerrant. A word of God to us.

Recognizing this, it was Martin Luther who long ago said, “The Psalter is the favorite book of all the saints. Everyone, whatever his circumstances may be, finds in the Psalms, words which are appropriate to the circumstances in which he finds himself and meet his needs as adequately as if they were composed exclusively for his sake, and in such a way that he himself could not improve on them nor find or desire any better words.”

2. The Psalms speak for us. It was Athanasius, an outstanding church leader in the fourth century, who reportedly declared “the Psalms have a unique place in the Bible because most of the Scripture speaks to us, while the Psalms speak for us.”

Jesus expressed His grief at being separated from His Father on the cross by repeating the words of Psalm 22:1. Jonah’s “psalm” (Jonah 2:2-9), composed when he was inside the great fish, was an original work and yet his words and phrases were borrowed from the Book of Psalms. Countless Christians, down through the ages, have found the Psalms to speak for them, and have prayed the words of a Psalm, finding them to be the best expression of their souls’ desires.

The early Christians, following Jewish tradition, prayed the psalms daily. St. Benedict, in the early 6th Century, explained in His Holy Rule how his monks were to daily pray the psalms. Benedictine monks have continued this practice to the present day. The monks at Blue Cloud Abbey daily pray the psalms at Laude (morning prayer at 6:45 a.m.); Day Prayer at the beginning of midday Mass; Vespers (evening prayer sung at 5:00 pm); and Vigils (prayer preparing for the following day at 7:30 pm.) The psalms and canticles (which are other songs from the Bible), and accompanying prayers change according to the season and the day.

3. The Psalms speak for us “out of the depths.” Bernhard Anderson wrote an excellent book on the Psalms: Out of the Depths: The Psalms Speak for Us Today. He said, “It is one thing to be able to praise God when we are having, “a nice day.” It is quite another to praise God when the bottom appears to have fallen out of life. If there is any time when men have turned to the book of Psalms, it is in their hour of deep despair and adversity.

No wonder the church fathers of the early centuries turned to the Psalms. And the Reformers did likewise. In the preface to his book, Bernhard Anderson reminds his readers that Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazi regime, was a man deeply influenced by the Psalms. His last publication before his death was The Prayer Book of the Bible: An Introduction to the Psalms. (1940) On May 15th, 1943, he wrote these words: “I am reading the Psalms daily, as I have done for years. I know them and love them more than any other book in the Bible.”

Since the Psalms speak for us “out of the depths” (this expression comes from the opening words of Psalm 130), we may find comfort, consolation, and the words to praise God in our darkest hours. This, incidentally, explains much of the reason why the Psalms are neglected in preaching and worship in some American congregations. The truth is that we have had it too easy. We, like the Laodicean church of the Book of Revelation, have found Christianity comfortable and we have become complacent. It is when we are suffering and God seems strangely absent that our attention turns to this book.

I might also add that it is noteworthy, that virtually every Psalm, which is attributed to David, is a Psalm of lament. Most if not all, of the Psalms of David were written in the days when he was fleeing from Saul, not when he was sitting on the throne of the nation.

4. The Psalms are not only a “Prayer Book” but also a pattern for worship.

The Psalms provide us not only with a passage to ponder and to pray, but also with a pattern for our prayer and worship. Martin Luther found the Psalms to be a school of prayer. He said, “The Christian can learn to pray in the Psalter, for here he can hear how the saints talk with God. The number of moods, which are expressed here, joy and suffering, hope and care, make it possible for every Christian to find himself in it, and to pray with psalms."

If the Psalms are a pattern for worship, our prayer and our praise, then studying them will make of us better worshippers, more skillful and faithful than we have ever been before in prayer and in praise.

The Psalms greatly influenced the thinking of the apostles and the worship of the early church. The Psalms have been found worth the study and devotion of the greatest men of the centuries, and have brought comfort to those who have suffered for their faith. Any book so revered and read for centuries is worthy of our study.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Kyle Matthews Concert

John and I went to hear Kyle Matthews tonight. I think it's the 4th Christmas in a row we've been lucky enough to have him in Hickory. The songs he writes are meaningful and great stories. When you listen to them you feel the way you're suppose to feel at Christmas!

He's very talented and just a really great guy. If you don't know him, here's his website: http://www.kylematthews.com/

And this is my favorite CD of his:What Shall We Say?

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Friday, December 12, 2008

An Advent Devotion

Our church put out an Advent Devotion book and different members wrote the devotions. Here’s the one I put in:

What Mary and Joseph can teach us about faith

Luke 2:1-20

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. It wouldn’t be easy, but they trusted that 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. He created us and knows exactly what it will take for us to finish the race.

And every year at Christmas we are reminded with the story of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus that He loves us so much He wants to spend eternity with us!

So if we stay faithful and keep trusting, we, like Mary in the stable, will one day look into the face of Jesus.

Prayer: Lord, we thank You for a love so great that You sent Your Son to die for us. We thank You for Your promise of an eternity spent with You. We thank You for Your constant presence that keeps us going and gets us through. We thank You for being who You are.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Youth Service on Peace

Start with everyone in a circle around a lit candle. We also had lots of other lit candles scattered around the room. Otherwise the room is dark. Say:

There are different kinds of peace. There’s spiritual peace – meaning we are at peace with God. We’re believers – we’re reconciled. There’s emotional peace, which is an internal sense of well being and order. And relational peace – peace with other people.

Right before Jesus went to the cross, He said in John 14:27 “I leave behind with you peace. I give you my own peace and my gift is nothing like the peace of this world.”

It’s a gift. And it’s different. God’s peace allows us to be tranquil in the midst of trouble. In order to have this kind of peace we must obey His principles, found in the Bible. When we’re cheating on something or not getting along with someone we are not at peace at all. But, when we’re doing what’s right and know it, we can feel peaceful even when everything else is coming unglued. We need to be in harmony with God. We need to do what He tells us to do. Our life will run more smoothly if we live it according to God’s design as presented in His Word. It’s that simple.

Guilt is a peace destroyer. We need to accept that He’s forgiven our past. Only God can give us a clean conscience. In the book of Micah it says God delights in showing mercy. He is willing and waiting and likes to forgive. What we can do immediately in any stressful situation is take a deep breath, let it out and focus on God’s presence surrounding us. God says be still and know.

And then trust His purpose.

All of our questions won’t be answered in our lifetime, but God never says, “oops!” because He never makes a mistake. All He expects from us is to trust Him and acknowledge that He’s in control. If we do this He’ll direct our life. He’ll make our paths straight. The safest, most serene place to be is in the center of God’s will.

Ask the kids to close their eyes. (My husband started to play the piano softly as back ground music.) Say:

Peace does not necessarily mean a world without problems, pain, or imbalance. Peace is a state of being. While it may sometimes seem impossible, inner peace is possible despite the emotional influences from world events, media, negative people, and our own judgments. We can access this state when we cultivate peace from the inside, rather than looking for it externally.

Ask yourself, what does peace mean to me? Is it long stretches of quiet time, or just feeling less stressed? Is it a hike in the woods, a day by the ocean or perhaps time alone to enjoy a book or a movie? What would your daily life look like if it was peaceful? Think about this a minute - what does peace mean to me?

Pause

How am I inviting and embracing the wholeness and peace God intends

Pause

Peace comes with gratitude. Think about everything good in your life. Think about things you are grateful for and thank God for them.

Pause

We are called to be peacemakers. Sharing your love and your kindness is not always an easy task, but it is one of the most powerful ways to create peace. There is a great reward each time we greet another human being, or a situation, with love instead of anger, resentment, and fear. Think of ways you can spread peace this week. This Christmas season.

Pause

Now that you’ve come up with some ideas, commit to God that you will do this.

Closing Prayer:

(Girls read lightface type; guys read bold.)

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console,
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Jesus Walks on Water - Part 3

John 6:20 But he said to them, "It is I; don't be afraid."

He said, “It’s I, don’t be afraid.” Sometimes people will tell you not to worry and you still do because there’s always the chance they don’t know what they’re talking about! Or they really have no control. And there are certainly a lot of things to fear in life! Whether someday some doctor will tell us we have a terminal illness, or someone we love and need does, that we’ll lose our job and have to sell our house, terrorism, death, lots of things, but Jesus is more powerful then anything on earth or in the universe. We have no reason to fear when we rely on Him. And He will come to us even when our faith is imperfect. When we have doubt. All we need is just enough faith to call out to God to save us. And He will.

In the Bible there are 2 stories about Jesus and storms. One time He calmed the storm and another He calmed His children. It’s the same with our trials.

Occasionally He might resolve our problem for us. More often then not though He’ll just be with us through it. Because our trials have a purpose.

From trials we can learn: patience, trust in God, to focus on God instead of worldly things and to be more compassionate. We learn how to help others through their trials, humbleness, priorities and how to be grateful. Sometimes trials just stop us from doing something we shouldn’t be doing!

This story is teaching us that the only thing that calms our fears is faith. Faith in the Lord who comes to us in the midst of the winds and waves of life. Who speaks to us and says, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” He said it to the disciples then and says it to us now.

Earthquakes, tornadoes, Aids, mindless senseless killings, drugs, fears that wake you up in the middle of the night and weigh you down during the day…it may not look like He’s in control, but He is. And you know how we know that? Because all of these things were prophesied in the Bible. He foretold them since before the beginning of time. So there is a purpose in them. And He can and will make good things come from bad. Faith overcomes fear. Faith that Jesus is the Son of God sent for our salvation. He has overcome death. When He says be not afraid, it is I – He’s saying “it is I, Jesus! The Son of God, able to do all these things.”

Whenever we have any kind of trial, particularly, those into which we know God directs us, we can remember 3 things promised in 1st Corinthians 10:13:

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

1.Trials are common to all people. We think no one has it as bad as we do. No one has suffered as much as we have. That no one understands what we’re going through. But, we have to face our trials with courage. Even as Christians, maybe especially as Christians, we can’t avoid trials. In this situation Jesus actually sent them into the storm.

2.God is faithful. He will never let us be tempted or tried beyond what we can bear. Jesus stands by God’s throne in constant intercessory prayer for us. Remember the story of the 3 men thrown into the furnace in the book of Daniel? And the king looked in and saw 4 men? And one was an angel? And no one ended up being hurt? That was Jesus. The worse times we are going through, the closer He is!

3.In every trial God will provide a way out. Just as Jesus didn’t let the disciples struggle on the sea indefinitely. He will come to us, but like this example of Him walking on water, it may not be as we would expect Him to. The “way out” may be a helpful friend God sends us. A promise we read in the Bible, an offer of a job, a good book to read that ends up inspiring us or giving us hope or even a solution. It could be a sense of His presence when we’re praying, or the knowledge that, hey, this thing I’ve been going through has actually helped me! It’s made me stronger or opened doors for me in ways I would never have thought of myself. Like kids going through cancer and deciding to become a doctor kind of thing.

We should never just wallow in self-pity. Or try to get others to pity us. We should never become bitter or resentful. We shouldn’t even choose to feel we’re alone because it’s not true. We always have Christ. When He sends His help, like the disciples, we need to reach out and pull Him into the boat with us. The saying, “Jesus never promised it would be a smooth ride, just that He would get you to your destination and that it would be worth it.” may have come from this story.

Jesus is greater then anything that happens to us. Whatever His purpose for us, whatever He’s told us to do, even if it takes us into a stormy sea, He is responsible for us. We are His love gifts from His father!

Look at verse 21: Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

Do you see? They had struggled for 8 hours to get half way. But, once Jesus was with them they got immediately to the other side!

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Monday, December 08, 2008

Jesus Walks on Water - Part 2

John 6:18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough.

The Sea of Galilee is 650 feet below sea level. It’s 150 feet deep and surrounded by hills. All of this together makes it subject to sudden windstorms that cause extremely high waves. These storms, even though they happen frequently, were always scary.

Nature can be very scary! Think of the tsunami and earthquakes. The disciples would have been very afraid. They had no control over the sea! Water would have been splashing over the edges of their boat. They were 3 and half miles out, which was about dead center, so there was no going back. They were all rowing with all their might.

The disciples straining against the oars can represent Christians today trying to do what is right. They were out there because Jesus had sent them. Yet, they still ran into trouble. A couple things to learn from this – Christians are not promised a life without trials. And we can almost always expect them after a mountain top experience.

The disciples had just witnessed a huge miracle. They were probably ecstatic! They had chosen the right guy to follow! They were doing exactly what Christ told them to: And then Boom! Big trial!

It will happen! Sometimes because Satan will go after you if he sees you victorious, sometimes it might be God humbling you, “Hey, don’t let all that go to your head!” “Let me bring you back down to earth where you belong!” sometimes you’re just on a spiritual high and you let your guard down. Maybe even sometimes God is doing a little test on your faith – not that He needs to know how much you have, but to show you how much you have!

Think about things in your life that represents the wind; the resistance to do what is right and good. Most likely they are things that seem out of our control: fatigue, fear of the unknown, non-Christians who resent us for being Christians, too full schedules…

John 6:19 When they had rowed three or three and a half miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were terrified.

They thought they had seen a ghost! It’s amazing that some people are more ready to believe in ghosts then the Creator! The disciples were in the dark, without Christ. First they were afraid of the winds and waves, and then they thought they had a ghost to deal with! At least the storm was natural! One thing you can take from this is: our real distresses are often increased by our imaginary ones.

So Jesus had been up on the mountain praying. For a long time – from sundown until between 3 and 6 a.m. Anyone reading this ever pray that long? He saw the disciples. One thing about being God – you can see in the dark – not sure if you knew that!

We can use this picture for today. In the story Jesus is praying on the mountain. Today He is in heaven praying. In the story He sees the disciples struggling and needing help. Today He sees us struggling and needing help. In the story did He come right away? No, they managed to get half way across the lake before He came. (after 8 hours) But, we know He came at exactly the right minute. He is the on time God. Many times when people have gone through bad times you’ll here them say, “You know, I just don’t think I would have lasted one second longer! God showed up in the nick of time!”

God watches us. When we’re alone, when we struggle, when we run out of support, when we don’t know what to do. When we row and row and row and just don’t seem to be getting anywhere. He has His eyes on us! We may not be paying attention to Him, but He’s paying attention to us! Later in this book you learn Jesus considers us His love gifts from God! Don’t you think He’s going to take care of those gifts? We are never out of His thoughts and He’s going to bring every one of His gifts home to His father.

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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Jesus Walks on Water - Part 1

Let’s take John 6:15 – 22 apart. Look at verse 15: Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

Why were they going to make Him a king at this point? Because He had just done the miracle of the feeding of the 5000.

There are a couple things we can say about this. One is they were caught up in the excitement, like crowds, especially big crowds often are. But, also, these people were ruled by Rome and they didn’t like that. They were Jews who only wanted God as their ruler. So there was kind of a resistance group at this time always looking for ways to overthrow the Roman’s hold over them. If they could have unlimited food, that would be a help. It would be one less thing they would have to depend on Rome for.

The crowd also would have remembered Moses writing in the Torah about the prophet coming, who they believed would be the Messiah. How He would feed them with manna.

Well, Jesus had just fed them with bread (manna). So maybe Jesus was the Messiah. But, their idea of the Messiah was a ruler king who would overthrow the Romans and sit on an earthly throne and rule them. And that was never God’s plan. Jesus will be king one day. And He is already king of every believer’s life. But, it wasn’t His mission back then and nothing would sway Him from God’s plan. Remember Satan tried to sway Him in the desert too. But, he couldn’t. Now it’s the people trying to tempt Him and He resists by going off in prayer. Jesus didn’t come to be popular or even to make people’s lives easier – He came to be Savior of the World!

One mistake people often still make is seeking Jesus for the wrong reasons. To get them out of a fix, or to give them something they think they need, instead of having a relationship with Him, believing He is who He says He is.

Praising and worshipping Him – yes – but also just talking to Him. Listening to Him. Trying to be more like Him. Doing what you know He wants you to do.

John 6: 16 – 17 When evening came, His disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them.

Ok, so Jesus sends His disciples away. He didn’t want them to get any ideas about making Him king too! We know from other places in the Bible they didn’t always understand His mission either and at least one time the mother of James and John came to Jesus asking if her sons would have prominent places when Jesus came into His kingdom. They could have easily gotten caught up in the crowd.

So he sends them in the boat back to where they came from and He goes up the mountain to pray. Jesus often went somewhere to be alone in prayer and because it’s written about in the Bible it’s an important lesson for us. We need to get away and be still with God at times. We need to pray – just God and us.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

John, the Disciple that Jesus Loved

What do we know about John? That he was a disciple, a fisherman, that he had an older brother James, a father Zebedee, a mother Salome. That his family must have been somewhat affluent because Zebedee had hired men. Later he had a house of his own because he took Mary to live with him after Jesus died. He wrote the book of John, 1 John, 2nd John, 3rd John and Revelation. He was exiled to the island of Patmos. And he pastured the church of Ephesus for a number of years.

Well, besides all of that, he called himself the disciple that Jesus loved. Although Jesus’ love was expressed clearly in all the Gospels, it was in the Gospel of John that it was a central theme. Because he felt Christ’s love so strongly, John was able to look at others with love.

John shows in his writing that we can’t know the depth of Jesus’ love for us until we realize He knows us fully…and He loves us unconditionally in spite of the things we think and do.

In spite of his sensitive nature, Jesus called John and his brother James, “sons of thunder” when they asked Jesus for permission in Luke 9:54 to call fire down from heaven on the village which refused to welcome Jesus and the disciples.

Before he was a disciple of Jesus, John was a disciple of John the Baptist. When he was with Jesus he was one of the “inner 3” along with Peter and James. He was the only disciple to live to old age. The others were all martyred. They died horrible deaths.

John walked and talked with Jesus. He watched Him heal, he watched Him teach, he watched Him die, he watched Him arisen and he saw Him ascend. He was an eyewitness.

The book of John is usually the first book recommended to new believers to read. John, more then any other book of the Bible shows Jesus’ innermost thoughts and emotions. John wrote his book last of the 4 Gospels – he had more time to really think about what happened. To reflect on all that it meant.

Today’s story (which in the Gospel of John is only 7 verses long) is about Jesus walking on water and calming the storm. And it’s in 3 of the Gospels, so it’s an important story. It comes right after the feeding of the 5000, which is in all 4 Gospels. These 2 miracles are nature miracles. People were given more miracles back then to show that Jesus was God’s Son. He only had 3 years for His mission. He had to grab people’s attention. Plus they didn’t have CNN or in-depth interviews like we do today. Nature miracles reveal the character of God. Nobody could do either of these, but God Himself. You might be able to explain away healing, but it’s impossible for anyone else to calm a storm or feed 5000 from the little He started with.

This story is a little different in each Gospel, because again, it’s an eyewitness account and people notice and remember different things.

Let’s read all 3:

John 6:15-22 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 19When they had rowed three or three and a half miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were terrified. But he said to them, "It is I; don't be afraid" Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone.


Mark 6:47-52 When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified.

Immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid" Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.


Matthew 14:24-33 but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."
"Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water."
"Come," He said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?"

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."


Matthew mentions Peter walking out to Christ. John doesn’t at all. There’s a whole lesson just in Peter’s part of the story - how he took his eyes off Jesus and started to sink, but he still had a flicker of faith and called out to the Lord to save him and He did. But, we are only going to talk about the John story.

We’ll do that in the next post.

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