Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Concern for the advantaged

Why do we root for the underdog? The disadvantaged? The disfavored? The have-nots? This is especially true in the real-life movie Cinderella Man where Jim Braddock had to fight the powerful, champion boxer Max Baer. We sat in the theater with a lump in our throat pulling for Braddock. The same thing happened when we saw movies such as Rocky and Rudy. However, in Romans 9:1-5, we see just the opposite mind-set from Paul. He was deeply concerned about his fellow Jews who had every advantage. They were hardly “underdogs” when it came to opportunity with the Living God. There is something about us as humans that want to see an underdog win and a favored one to lose. I’ve heard it explained that if an underdog wins, our hope that we can also win rises. But this doesn’t cover the complete spectrum because in other instances someone’s failure could also hurt us (i.e. we get more than we wished for). For example, out of anger or jealously, we might want to see “the boss” cut down a notch or two, but in the process the whole department gets laid off including us.

I can’t completely explain our motivations, but is there any justification for a mind-set that wants to see one-person fail and another succeed? Truth is the advantaged are no different before God than the disadvantaged. Everyone needs mercy and grace. Right?

Do you know an advantaged person that’s an unbeliever? That person may be a topdog somewhere, but how does his daily need for God’s mercy, grace and patience compare to that of the rest of us? In a ways then, it is easier to pray for a disadvantaged underdog. Thank God for treating unbelievers fairly. Thank God for his mercy and grace. I’ll need it Sunday to make clear Step 2 of this week’s LifeWay lesson “Need for Mercy” based on Romans 9:1-29.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Don't care

To introduce this week’s LifeWay lesson “Need for Mercy” based on Romans 9:1-29, I’ll try to get at two ideas. The gratitude we have for God’s mercy in our lives, but the near double standard some of us have regarding God granting mercy and patience to unbelievers.

First, I’ll read about Dr Paul Olisa Ojeih’s gratitude as a forerunner to ask members about gratitude for God’s mercy in their lives. This sets up the last question about unbelievers on the pictured PPT slide.

Second, to further discuss member attitudes toward unbelievers, I’ll ask members to compare their mind-sets to those of the disciples. I’ll use the PPT slide that includes an animated “don’t care” sign, which I won’t explain until we have discussed the listed verses.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Unbelievable baptismal pool

In case you don’t have it handy, or would like a PDF version, LifeWay posted the Learner Guide and Leader Guide for this week’s lesson as samples of their material. The lesson is “Need for Mercy” based on Romans 9:1-29, and for sure this is a humbling passage. Pray for illumination from the Holy Spirit as we prepare to teach this week.

I noticed a copy of the Exciting Bible Study for Romans 9 written by David Williams. The study questions from Net Bible Institute are also useful if you want homework!

Co-teacher Curt presented the closing verses of Romans 8 as a “summit of sanctification.” I liken the sanctification process of a believer to that of a gardener shaping an unruly bush (or tree) over time by repeatedly pruning away its rough edges. Now with Chapter 9, we move to the topic of God’s sovereignty, the implication of which is completely humbling.

To set the stage for the lesson, I’ll start with the picture PPT slide and use it to outline what we’ve covered so far in Romans. Jonas Bendiksen took this “baptismal pool” photo in a former state of the Soviet Union. It’s a cut in the shape of a cross from ice frozen over a local river. Only a believer would want to be baptized in such a place!! Mercy!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Fear verses assurance

Dr. Sam Tullock ends this LifeWay lesson “Loved by God” based on Romans 8:28-39 by summarizing the five rhetorical questions asked by Paul in the focal passage. You could post up Sam’s questions and ask members to imagine the arguments being advanced by the Roman Christians that might have led Paul to ask each question. I suspect “fear” may be a key theme in the responses you get.

This would be a good lead into Trey Turner's set of ending discussion questions, which can be used to finalize the differences that trust in God makes in our lives. (1) What fears do Christians have today? (2) What fears keep believers from obedience? (3) What fears keep believers from ministry? (4) From these verses, how would you encourage people to overcome their fears and find courage to be faithful despite them?

Friday, November 25, 2005


Yesterday we learned the news that a well known Christian artist and his wife of many years were getting divorced. As inconceivable as it is, they are separating, and it proves once again that man is imperfect. However, in Romans 8:35-39 drives Paul drives home the certainty of God’s love for each person. See the Jack Hamm graphic—Inseparable Love, or this illustration by Katherine Lee.

Make a list of things Paul mentioned that cannot separate us from the love of God such as that pictured in the PPT slide. In a survey manner, ask members to identify what elements on the list they have personally experienced. With that sample in mind ask how the assurance of God’s love was helpful during the experiences. Allow members to share their experience of trusting God.

By the way, last week's illustration using the rollercoaster video worked very well. Recall, I asked, How is Christian life is like the thrill of the ride or a roller coaster ride? You could use that illustration again this week, but ask if riders worry about separating from their seats during the rollercoaster trip? I imagine they do, but thanks be to God, Christians do not have to worry about ever being separated from the love of God.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

What a relief it is

Trey Turner writes, “Since the Christian responds to God’s choosing, the Christian’s salvation means charges that the believer does not belong to God or is not faithful to God cannot be brought.”

I often wonder if something is wrong with me if I do not raise my hands in worship when others do, or if others suddenly stand during a praise song, yet I feel no such urge. There are times when I do feel an urge to raise my hands but hold back out of pride. Am I the only one this happens, too?

Also, this bus driver story came to mind as I thought of how to approach step 4 of this LifeWay lesson, “Loved by God” based on Romans 8:28-39. There was “no charge” in his case. You could play a video of an old Alka-Seltzer “What a relief it is” commercial (click the “stream 1” link).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Make the hurting go away

Step 3 of the LifeWay lesson “Loved by God” based on Romans 8:31-32 indicates that Christians are given confidence as a result of God’s love. The idea, however, that our troubles are inconsequential avoids the reality we experience in life. For example, false accusation causes real hurt. Losing a loved one brings on terrible suffering. Personal failure causes much pain. And so on.

From experience, we want the hurting to go away. More than that, we want what cannot be—life to return to its state prior to the hurtful experience. For this step, you might try using the story “Boys Learning How to Cope in Absent-Father Households” offered by the LikeWay Adult ETB EXTRA! and its suggested plan of attack for these verses. As an alternative, a story is painted in the lyrics of “I dreamed a dream” from the musical Le Miserable. You could contrast the thoughts in these lyrics with those expressed by Paul in the designated verses. This may help some member apply the truth of the verses and experience release from a past hurt. Remember--God loves you!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Confidence because we know God works

Reading Romans 8:28-30 highlights a one big difference in facing life’s challenges with or without God and that’s the confidence one can have that God is working in ALL situations. Trey Turner writes, “Paul says the thought should not linger which says, ‘God cannot use this incident.’ Instead, affirming, ‘God will see me through and I will be more than I am now.’” Troy Bush explains it this way, “God reveals to us that He is personally involved in our lives, keeping us in an intimate relationship with Himself.” Troy challenges us to explain what “good” in verse 28 really refers to?

The LifeWay Leader Guide for this week’s lesson “Loved by God” from Romans 8:28-39 sums up Step 2 as “No worries.” To discuss verses 28-30, try using a PPT slide with the image “Through Him With Him In Him” as a tool to draw out interaction with members. For example, post up the painting and ask the class to read the designated verses silently. Then ask how elements of the painting relate to the verses.

Monday, November 21, 2005

What's the difference?

Our Art Poster entitled “Encourager Praises” was a big hit in the class yesterday. We’ll leave it up and add to it this Sunday as well. Below is a picture our completed poster (4'x5' bulletin board covered and decorated).

This week’s lesson “Loved by God” from Romans 8:28-39 aims to help us realize the difference in trusting God and not trusting God in life’s circumstances. I’d start with the pictured PowerPoint slide and read an excerpt from the article Early Care Providers Struggle to ReOpen.

The proprietor said, “I don’t think I can take this.” There is no mention of God in the article and when asked “If you could have any one thing you needed right now, what would it be?” He said, “A building.”

Give a little more background to the story and then ask the class if they were suddenly thrust into that situation, what is the one thing they would ask for? Draw out where trust is placed—in God, in others, in themselves, in things, etc. Use this to introduce the lesson.

Just getting started, if I imagine the end goal of the lesson it would be a “T chart” (scroll down to see other organizers such as a “comparison matrix”) where the issue is “with or without God”. What's the difference?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Praise the Holy Spirit for…

I put up an Art Poster in the classroom yesterday with instructions for members to complete and initial the sentence “I praise God for…” using multi-colored markers. This will occur as they enter the room and before the lesson. During the lesson I’ll challenge them to complete and initial the sentence “I praise the Holy Spirit for….” I’ll end this LifeWay lesson “Adopted as God’s Children” based on Romans 8:15-27 using the pictured PowerPoint slide. I constructed this slide to correspond to the four "questions for consideration" asked at the end of Sam Tullock’s lesson commentary.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The groans of the Spirit’s help: Romans 8:26-27

As Christians, we are weak when it comes to knowing what to pray in a given circumstance, or even in an everyday life situation. But Paul says the Spirit helps us by praying what Trey Turner calls our “wordless expressions of frustration.” This PPT slide will help me draw out a discussion of these unique verses in Romans 8. Remember to lead the class to praise God for this privilege we have as His children.

I don’t need to buy a “frustration ball.” Life serves up a regular supply of situations that highlight my weakness of not knowing “what I’m trying to say.”

Do I effectively pray for someone, for example, if I simply recall their name before God, but I can’t think of what to say to God on their behalf? To me, the Holy Spirit acts like a translator saying to God what goes unexpressed because of my frustration.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Eagerly waiting patiently

My brain hurts. Lifeway Adult Leaders Guide (pg. 127) says, “we must embrace hope”. Reading between the lines, we must enthusiastically endure waiting for the reality of what’s undoubted and absolutely certain. What’s certain but yet to be is the transformation of our mortal bodies into the likeness of Christ’s glorious body (Philippians 3:21).
I’ll discuss our certain hope based on Romans 8:24-25 using the pictured PPT slide that uses a modified Stamp cartoon. Remember, we are like an incomplete painting that will be finished one day. Or, we are like a incomplete puzzle that will be completed when our bodies are transformed into the likeness of Christ’s body.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Fantasicatillion plus how much?

God has named Christians as joint heirs with Christ (see Romans 8:17). What will we inherit? Glorified with Christ in a redeemed body. Wow! I don’t know how to describe what that will be like. It’s incomparable. Like trying to describe the “Fantasicatillion plus” inheritance of Donald Duck’s nephews from their Uncle Scrooge, the glory of our redeemed bodies cannot be understood. We groan to escape this body of death, but the joy of living in a redeemed body just can’t be described.

I’ll use the pictured PPT slide in step 3 of this lesson “Adopted as God’s Children” based on Romans 8:15-27. We will be conformed to the likeness of Christ and share in His joy in His kingdom. The thrill of the ride begins now with the presence of the indwelling Spirit living in us. How is Christian life now like a roller coaster ride? It’s fun, but we can’t wait till it ends in our future glory!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Special status—Romans 8:15-17

The word special has various meanings, but I think the idea of particular or unique fits best when used to describe the relationship we have with God. When describing our status with God, other words come to mind such as exceptional, matchless and distinctive.

The shoes we wear, the car we drive, or the house in which we live, do not define our status with God. We are (1) regenerated by the Spirit, (2) related to God as Father, (3) united with other believers, (4) assured of salvation, (5) aided in prayer, (6) comforted and helped when suffering as a Christian, and (7) made confident about our future glory, joy, and guaranteed inheritance.

We can praise God for all this because as Troy Bush points out, God initiated our adoption and Christ fulfilled all legal requirements to make it effective and permanent. Our adoption status is not dependent on us, thank God!

Your class may have someone in it who has special knowledge of adoption that you can call on to make a short statement. Another idea is to sing a praise song to God and challenge the class to mediate on Him as they sing.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Clapping and praising

When you take a job someplace, you begin to enjoy certain benefits as soon as you join. For example, you normally tell others about your new affiliation, which is profitable to your reputation. Later you’ll realize other benefits such as health insurance, or retirement plan participation. God ordained work and we praise Him for it.

Likewise we praise God for benefits we receive from His gift of salvation. Immediately we have a new identity, which we tell others about. Paul tells us what privileges we have as joint heirs with Christ. Praise God by giving Him a hand.

In the Lifeway lesson “Adopted as God’s Children” based on Romans 8:15-27, the study questions from NetBible Institute says it this way: “Paul takes time to reveal to his listeners this powerful and magnanimous gift that God has bestowed upon us.”

To get started, use a discussion about the benefits we received from affiliations with various organizations such as places of employment, membership in professional organizations, or user groups/clubs. Or I like the idea of making an Art Poster in the class by having members add praises to it as they enter into the room. You get started by having the basic poster ready to go with plenty of markers nearby. Encourage others to add their praises. As the lesson progresses, we may add other praises to it on the fly!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

God thing

In concluding his comments on this lesson “Led by the Spirit” Dr. Sam Tullock, Pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church, Wylie, Texas says the Spirit leads by the following means: Illumination of the teachings of Scripture, counsels Spirit-filled believers, Providential events that order our steps, the development of wisdom. But Tullock also notes early in his comments that “Sunday School lesson passage ends in a peculiar place (after verse fourteen).” Why is this? Maybe it’s a “God thing”?

I like it because the verse reminds us of one of the great truths about believers that can be found in the Bible—we are led by the Spirit. Neil Anderson noted who we are in Christ as a child of God in his book Victory Over The Darkness.

Remember, too, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Following the Spirit

Step four of the lesson “Led By The Spirit” Romans 8:12-14 makes clear that we have no obligation to the sinful nature. To invest in it yields a return of death. To foster it makes no sense. Only guilty feelings result and serving it hinders the work of the Spirit. But how is it possible to subdue the sinful nature? By following the Spirit.

The key to life and peace with God is to allow the Spirit to direct our lives. This short movie file illustrates how two lines fall into step with one following the other. One line can be “kicked out” of synchrony, but it quickly falls back into step (movement) with the other. This illustrates a life that follows the Spirit, but occasionally is knocked out of step by sin. It’s just a graphic to help a visual learner grasp the idea of following the Spirit. Here is another video that shows a person following, then catching up to another person and afterwards, walking in step together.

Use these simple videos as a springboard to ask questions such as “In order to get in step, what must the follower do?” (notice in one video how the follower speeds up to catch the leader). What is the comparable move for a Christian who desires to get into step with the Spirit? Clearly, one must stop one behavior and began a new behavior. Ask, “What’s one weakness that’s keeping you from walking in step with the Holy Spirit?” The eyes in the painting in the pictured PPT slide illustrate the idea of following.

Thursday, November 10, 2005


From Omar Garcia, “The Holy Spirit lives in believers, showing them the pattern and direction for their lives and giving them daily guidance.”

In commenting on the lesson “Led By The Spirit” from Romans 8:1-14, Pastor James McCullen notes the license that’s produced by the Spirit. A license gives “official permission to do something” and for a Christian in relationship with Christ it’s the freedom “that causes righteousness in our daily life”, according to McCullen.

The word license is most often used in Christian circles in a negative sense—as in taking a liberty to a deviate extreme. But in the sense of “given legal permission”, we are free to practice living as a follower of Christ with permission from the Most High God. We can live bonafied Christian lives. Associated with the idea of license is the recipient’s qualification, typically established through training, or education. This makes me think of attempting to live in an unqualified manner.

To live in this way is to operate without a license, or attempt to do something you are not qualified to do on your own. Without the Spirit we are not qualified to live righteously. Discuss the licensed idea with the class using a hole in the head graphic. Paul said the battle is in the mind (Romans 7:23).

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Living with interrupts enabled

Step three in this lesson “Led by the Spirit” from LifeWay is based on Romans 8:9-11. The overall work of the Spirit is extensive and may confuse learners if you attempt to describe His ministry in any kind of detail. The key is to be clear and stay focused on the teachings in the focal passage. Previously, I mentioned the idea of an interrupt. Computer science includes the idea of running with interrupts enabled. In Christain terms, that's living in such a way that the Holy Spirit in us is not quinched or grieved and we follow His direction in life.

My reading of the focal passage makes clear that the Spirit lives in believers (vs. 9), provides life God considers righteous (vs. 10) and assures believers of a future bodily resurrection (vs. 11).

The first action of answering the Spirit’s call is to become a believer in Jesus Christ. After salvation the Spirit leads believers (Galatians 5:16-18) and guides them into truth (John 16:13) of the wisdom of Christ’s teachings. The extent of our sanctification then depends on our willingness to listen to the Spirit.

Ask the class to listen for how the Spirit worked in leading as Roy Becomes a Christian (see conclusion). The key quote I had in mind is: “By the time Roy and I had worked through all of this, including questions and reading through the passages, I knew it was his day of salvation. [How did he know?] At this critical juncture in the conversation, the Spirit seems to lead us at times to pray right then with the person if the person is ready to do so, or to recommend that the person takes some time that day to think about it further and pray to God in private. I sensed the Spirit leading me to encourage Roy to take what we had just spoken about, pray about it and think about it that afternoon, and then to seize the opportunity to invite the Spirit of God to come and live inside Him to make him a Christian. [Why did he pray?] Then I asked him to tell his Christian friend in the lab, and call me, as soon as he invited the Spirit of God to come within him. Roy promised me he would.” The questions in italics illustrate what I would ask the class as I read the quote.

Ask the class to share examples of when or where they have sensed the Spirit’s leadership personally (possibly in some of the following ways: share the gospel, encourage someone, know the truth of God’s Word, give to support a ministry, pray in a particular situation, discernment in a situation, etc.). Follow up by discussing tips from learners as to “How do we sense leadership of the Spirit?” I would post up the pictured PPT slide and work thru the points as we study the focal verses.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


A great lesson must be clear, relevant, interesting and Biblically sound. I assume you explain the Bible verses in context based on various commentaries, your own learning, or sharing from others in the class. That’s why I don’t comment on it too much in terms of lesson preparation. The “clear and relevant” part come from you and your class. The key open question then is how to make the lesson interesting. I sometimes wonder about the expectations of class members. Do they expect to learn, or are they there to merely socialize. But that’s another topic for another day.

Thought questions are interesting because they can sometimes jar a learner into actually thinking. Our TV trained culture is good at passive observation without filtering. To break into their conscience thought process as a teacher on some level is like that of the Holy Spirit getting their attention regarding a matter in daily living.

Being trained in computer science, the idea of using an interrupt occurs to me. While we cover the verses Romans 8:1-8 in step 2 of this LifeWay lesson “Led by the Spirit,” I’m thinking of asking a class member (in advance) to sit on the front row (visible to everyone else) and hold up their hand. As a teacher I plan to ignore their raised hand for quite some time. I may even call on other members as we discuss the verses in what will increasingly become an untenable situation. Tension will rise as I continue to ignore the person with the raised hand. Eventually, I will call on the person and a prearranged dialogue will take place regarding the idea of how the Holy Spirit wants to lead in our lives but that we ignore His presence. I’ll post up the pictured PPT slide with a painting from Bouguereau during the discussion and work thru the points one by one.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Led by the Spirit

Introduction. As noted before, living the Christian life is not just a matter of will power. Also, there is a difference in trying verses training. In the race of life, we are all world-class sprinters when it comes to running ahead of the Holy Spirit. The street sign seems like a good graphic to get started on this lesson "Led by the Spirit" from Romans 8:1-14 based on LifeWay's Explore the Bible material dated November 13, 2005. Ask, "what signs do you use in order to follow the Holy Spirit?" Follow up with, "How do you know it's not just own way that you are following?"

Friday, November 04, 2005

Agree to be rescued

LifeWay’s material Adult Extra by Becky Imhauser notes the idea of being rescued to use in step 5, Affirm the Deliverer (Romans 7:24-25) in this lesson “Freed Through Christ.” I based the pictured PPT slide on her ideas. Thanks Becky!

For a conclusion, I will emphasize the lesson aim—to be “Useful to God,” and summarize the four points noted on pg. 109 of the Adult Leader Guide as in the pictured PPT slide.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Tell others your struggle

Paul tells us what it’s like to be enslaved to sin. Kevin Shrum writes in the Tennessee Baptist & Reflector “Paul’s point is clear. Even though we have been made free from sin and death, we are not yet fully free from our sinful flesh. That is, while we are set free from the dominion of sin, we still live in our sinful flesh – we will not be completely free from the residual effects of sin. The law of sin is at war with the law of life and faith. Paul was so disgusted with himself at times that he would call himself ‘a wretched man.’”

I like what Troy Bush wrote in the Florida Baptist Witness: “This chapter champions the truth–that we cannot overcome sin by merely attending church and participating in Christian activities. Sin in this text is more than an act. It is our very nature, it is our character. By speaking of our sin, Paul emphasizes our inability to change our nature apart from Jesus Christ.”

In step 4 of this LifeWay lesson “Freed Through Christ,” read Romans 7:17-23 and ask, “What is it about telling others about our struggle with sin that helps us?” Follow up with "Since acknowledging our difficulty with sin is helpful, when should we do it?"

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Personal conviction

Continuing with LifeWay’s Explore the Bible lesson “Freed Through Christ” from Romans 7:1-25, step three calls for us to “admit the desires” (Romans 7:14-16). In terms of admission, the central idea in this passage to me is personal conviction. Without it, we blame others, and perhaps even the law itself.

To review, we now live by the Spirit and not legalism (vs. 6), so Paul asks, “Is the law sin?” (vs. 7). The answer is “no”. We can’t blame the law, it’s a teacher and it’s holy and spiritual and good (vs. 7, 12). Through it, death came because once a command of the law was learned, sin swooped in as a power within us to create every possible means of breaking the command (vs. 8). We then do what we know is wrong (vs. 15-16). Death is the result, but the law is good (vs. 14) because sin brought about our condemnation (vs. 13). Sin is our master (vs. 14). Because of our sinful nature, we yield to sin (vs. 17).

Are you convinced, or better said, convicted of what is right and wrong according to the law? Does your conscience convict you (Romans 2:15)? Or do you allow for shades of gray to justify your actions? Privately, make a list of your recent personal transgressions and then identify the ones you fully agree with God and accept as utterly sinful verses the ones you rationalize. We must truly agree with God and fully admit our sinfulness to live by the Spirit and bear fruit for God (vs. 4).

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

What comes next

Romans 7:4-6 highlights a Christian’s new relationship in Christ and a new purpose. I’ll use the pictured PPT slide to make the points called for in step two of the Adult Leader Guide, page 104.

Our purpose to “bear fruit for God” (vs. 4) follows from our manner of service. We succeed if we serve in the Spirit. We fail if we return to legalism. The 8 ball follows the que ball. Likewise, Christians are in relationship with Christ, and we can choose to respond to the “ques” of the Spirit.