< What I Learned Teaching Sunday School: May 2009

Monday, May 25, 2009

Thoughts for Memorial Day

I read a wonderful story over at Christianity Today that is appropriate to share on this Memorial Day. I hope it brings inspiration to our soldiers, comfort to their families and insight to the rest of us. May God bless our service men and women mightily for His purposes.

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Mother’s Day Thoughts

I’ve been editing some books filled with stories written by people born mostly in the 1920’s and 30’s. After talking about how poor they were growing up and listing all the chores they did each day; the outhouses, walking a mile or two to school, no shoes in the summers, etc. etc. almost everyone of them would say, “But, we didn’t know we were poor. Our parents taught us values, love for our country and respect for our elders. They made me what I am today and I thank them for it.

One lady wrote about her mother, “she was a fun loving, positive person who left me with multiplied happy memories.”

This tells me that what a lot of parents are “doing for their kids” isn’t really the best for the child. They need to know right from wrong, good from bad, truth from lies. If we can give them that solid foundation we will really have something to celebrate on Mother’s Day.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Making Great Sacrifices Conclusion

Later, God sent Jesus to show us His compassion. Jesus reached out to the people. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, and 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 simple 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 and longing.

Jesus told us the story of the Good Samaritan to remind us of all the people around us who are hurting. The number 1 enemy of kindness is busyness. The Samaritan wasn’t too busy. He didn’t stop and consider if he had time to help or what he would get out of it. He just did it. It’s a fact of history that the Romans confused the Greek word Christos (Christ) with the word chrestos, which means kind.

When Abraham left his home to obey God he didn’t know all the joy and riches God would increasingly give him. He didn’t know where he would end up. He just knew the direction of his next step. And that there was no going back.

God has blessings, joy, love and fulfillment in store for those who fully respond to Him, which far exceed our expectation when we first set forth deliberately to commit ourselves to receive His promise by faith and to follow where He leads in complete obedience at any cost. But, we can’t experience it until we take the first step in faith.

Abraham was promised a blessing, but was also called to be a blessing to others. We are called to be a blessing to our family, our church, our workplace and our neighborhood too. Abraham’s blessings were not only to himself and his ever-increasing family, but also to generations. Our lives can be a blessing to future generations also.

When we start to live life on purpose. When we stay focused on God. We too can live lives that reach into eternity.

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Making Great Sacrifices Part 7

The 3rd thing we need to know if we are living a sacrificial life is just do it.

1 Cor. 9:1-22: 1Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? 2Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
3This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. 4Don't we have the right to food and drink? 5Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas[a]? 6Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?

7Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? 8Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn't the Law say the same thing? 9For it is written in the Law of Moses: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain."[b] Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10Surely he says this for us, doesn't he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more?

But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. 13Don't you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

15But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. 16Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.

19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.

Sometimes we’re just not motivated. That’s when we need to realize that as Christians we have a responsibility. A duty. We don’t teach duty in America the way it used to be taught. Most people only feel a duty to themselves or maybe their families. Their comfort, pleasure and well-being. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 12:13, “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

This says that even above a duty to our state or country we have a duty to God. Paul doesn’t say in this passage that rights are unimportant. In fact he points out that he’s an Apostle and has rights. He also lists some of the rights of human beings: to have food and drink. To take a believing wife. Paul and Scripture teach that rights are secondary to responsibilities. If you examine the 10 commandments you will see very little about human rights and much about human responsibilities. Look at Thou shall not kill. God could have said, “You have the inalienable right to life.” But, He didn’t focus on the right. He focused on the responsibility. But, if people fulfill their responsibility, another person’s rights are met.

Three times in this Corinthian passage Paul said he had rights, but didn’t use them. Part of our responsibility is accountability. Do you know how many people sign up for something and then just don’t show up? I guess they just didn’t feel like it that day. But, Jesus didn’t ask us to do things only when we feel like it.

You can always tell people who put responsibilities ahead of rights and who put the responsibility of serving the Lord ahead of other responsibilities. You can identify them because they do what they’ve committed themselves to do as though they were doing it just for God. That’s Christian motivation. That’s what sets Christians apart. They are willing to serve Jesus anyway, anywhere and anytime!

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.”

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Saturday, May 02, 2009

Making Great Sacrifices Part 6

The 2nd thing we should have if we are living a sacrificial life is a Servant’s Spirit:

In Matthew 20: 28 Jesus says, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” And He wanted that attitude to develop in His disciples.

The key word is develop. The attitude of desiring to be served as opposed to wanting to serve doesn’t come naturally. Jesus had to tell us its better to give than to receive because we are born receiving.

Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church and complimented them on being a model church. Then he described their secret. “You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven.” Turn to God. When we become a Christian, that’s what we do. We demonstrate a desire to have a relationship with God, and then we begin to draw from Him what He offers and move constantly closer to Him. When we turn to God, certain things happen. First, we turn from idols. We can’t serve both. We must also serve Him well. Lots of people turn to God as a last resort. Their lives are a mess and they’ve tried to fix it themselves, but can’t. So they finally come to Him to fix what’s wrong. Which is ok, but then they have to do their part and quit treating God like a Genie in the sky and realize we exist to serve Him.

When we share the gospel with people in need we can’t leave that part out. To do this we have to concentrate on who God is, in all His majesty and wonder. Then we can show needy people how to come to Him, in glad submission with an overwhelming desire to honor Him.

The verse I mentioned earlier is Colossians 3:23-24. And the whole thing is “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.

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 feel 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.

Paul said in Acts 27:23, “God whose I am and who I serve.” He said this while his ship was sinking in the Mediterranean. Things weren’t going well right then, but he kept his eyes on God.

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 will confess Him as Lord. When that happens God will be recognized on the cosmic scale to 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! J

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. 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! J

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.

And not just the local church’s need, but also the world’s need. Jesus is going to ask us what we did on earth some day.

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Friday, May 01, 2009

Making Great Sacrifices Part 5

More from my lesson from Chip Ingram's Book: Good to Great in God's Eyes: 10 Practices Great Christians Have in Common

One thing we should have if we are living a sacrificial life is an attitude of gratitude.

1 Cor.15:1-10: Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

9For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

The apostle Paul gives us insight into Christian motivation in verse 10 when he speaks about the grace of God. First he says “by the grace of God, I am what I am” and then he adds that God’s grace is not without effect. He says, “I worked harder than all of them.” And finally “not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”

If you remember, Paul actually killed Christians before he met Christ. God changed him and he had a lot to be thankful for – that God could use someone like him. So he’s grateful for God’s grace and then he’s motivated to work hard for God’s kingdom.

God is the creator and can deal with people as He chooses. He could punish us for our sins, but He’s given us a way out. Personally I don’t want God to be “just” with me. I want His mercy and grace! Justice means we get what we deserve. Mercy means we don’t get all we deserve and grace gives us what we don’t deserve.

God has figured out how to deal with us on the basis of all 3 at the same time. Paul says in Romans “the wages of sin is death”. If we were to get all we deserved, and admit our sin, we would get death. Thankfully God devised a way where He could give us what we deserve, but mercifully give it to us in a way that wouldn’t destroy us. He put us “in Christ” and when Christ was crucified, according to Paul, we were crucified with Him. But then God raised us up into newness of life with Christ and made us His children and gave us eternal life. A home in heaven. The Holy Spirit. He committed all of us to ministry and gave us the privilege of living now for His glory.

So Paul gets this. And in effect he says I can’t believe it! Me of all people! Invited by God to live this kind of an experience! Not because of who I am, not because of what I’ve done, but solely because of who God is and who I am in Christ.

Paul didn’t want this grace to be wasted on him. He worked harder than all of them because he understood what he’d been given.

The word for grace in Latin is gratia, from which gratitude also has its roots. That’s the key here. Grace is the root from which gratitude grows. When we really get this, it will keep us motivated. When we do God’s work we will often be overlooked, misunderstood, discouraged and maybe even tempted to quit, but we have an inner motivating power in us that has nothing to do with the reaction of people around us. We work “as if unto the Lord”. We do everything for His sake. We express our gratitude to God by doing wholeheartedly what He has told us to do in the Bible.

And Paul does this. You know God had Peter be the apostle to the Jews. He had Paul become the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul, Mr. True Blue Jew who had never associated with Gentiles before was told by God that they were to be his mission field. Must have been hard to swallow!

But, Paul did a great job. Even when they beat him up over and over. And threw him in jail. He just continued to give and give and give. Why? Because the Gentiles were so great? Or so worthy? No, because he was doing it as if unto Jesus Christ.

God’s power keeps us going. He gives us the Holy Spirit who gives us His own gifts, the fruits of the spirit. Those 2 things, the Holy Spirit and His gifts, enable us to do what God wants us to do.

God doesn’t tell Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles without first giving him Holy Spirit. He doesn’t tell Paul to be a great writer of theology without giving him a mind that could grapple with theology. There is no such thing as an ungifted Christian. And we’re all different from each other. It’s like electricity. Plug in a microphone and it amplifies your voice. Plug in an air conditioner and it cools off the building. Plug in an organ and you get music. Same power. Different results. Every believer has the Holy Spirit and He’s the electricity of God. But, with our individual gifts, different things are going to happen when we plug in.

We’re given these gifts so we can do what He’s called us to do: enthusiastically and thoroughly: express our gratitude. If our church isn’t dynamic we might be trying to motivate people the wrong way. The only way truly successful Christians can be consistently motivated is to be constantly in touch with what it means to be a recipient of the grace of God.

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