Thursday, November 30, 2006

Take God's perspective into account

In the Baptist Standard, Howard Anderson’s commentary on “Seizing New Opportunities” includes a pertinent question: Can an opportunity that looks good be contrary to God’s will? Why do I bring this up?

The LifeWay material for Step 4 is based only on Ezra 3:10-11, but another perspective is gained by also considering Ezra 3:12. Some of the older Israelites were saddened at the sight of the new foundation (see also Haggai 2:3). It was like nothing compared to the previous temple. The people who had never seen Solomon’s temple, however, were overjoyed.

Where in your Church do older people see opportunities differently that younger people? The key is to observe their response. We may not be able to pick our circumstances, but we can choose our response. Paul exhorted believers to “Be joyful always” (1 Thes 5:16) because God is in control.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Wow! That was fast!

Step 3 of “Seizing New Opportunities” is focused on Ezra 3:1-3. To help members understand just how rapidly the Hebrews seized the opportunity to worship God in their own homeland, I would also read verse Ezra 3:6. They deemed it more important to worship God than to lay the foundation of the temple. Their actions demonstrated their priorities. Look at how fast a gal can stack paper cups. Compare that to how fast you can stack up worship to God when given an opportunity!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Half-full attitude

To learn to respond to a God-given opportunity, which is Step 2 of “Seizing New Opportunities”, we have to first learn to recognize an opportunity when presented to us.

We are numbed by everyday activities and tend to miss what might be happening around us. Since God operates thru the local church, make a list of activities happening in your church. For example, in my church we are anticipating the arrival of a new pastor. That would be an opportunity on my list.

Present your list of ‘what’s happening’ to members and ask them to rate each one with the symbol “half-full”, or “half-empty”. The half-full rating indicates the opportunity is on the way up, whereas, the half-empty rating indicates the opportunity has past its peak and is on the way down. Summarize the ratings verbally, but point out how they indicate one’s attitude. Learning to react positively will help us be open to opportunities as God presents them to us.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Tracing God's Hand

I’m excited about studying Ezra since I’m not that familiar with the book. The idea of the first lesson “Seizing New Opportunities” from Ezra 1:1-3:13 is to see God’s hand in the opportunities that come our way in life. You might consider the following idea as you introduce the lesson. Post a regional map where everyone can see it and put your hand on the map and trace the outline of your hand with a marker. Emphasize to members that by studying Ezra we want to learn to recognize God hand in our lives thru the opportunities presented to us. Make the point that only by seizing them can we experience the blessings God intends for us. Done right, you can get everyone expecting to experience the blessings of God at work in their lives. How exciting is that?!

In addition to the study questions by Sonshine linked to above, she also posted a background guide to Ezra that might help you. Send a note to Sonshine and thank her!! The blessing of reading her material is a God given opportunity we should seize today!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Slides for Love One Another

Click here to download the PPT slides I created to use in teaching the lesson "Love One Another".

I pray that your lesson pleases God and that He blesses every member with complete understanding of His will to love one another.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Finishing Hebrews

As the kids piled into the car to leave after the holiday, we shouted last minute exhortations. “Remember to order the carpet. Remember to change your oil and get your tires rotated. Do not neglect your health, so schedule that physical exam.”

As the writer of Hebrews closed his letter, he crammed Hebrews 13 with final exhortations. Love one another. Live pure lives. Imitate and assist leaders. Remember Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever, so his purpose in the life of a believer has not changed.

Step 5 of the lesson “Love One Another” takes its point from Hebrews 13:17-19, which is an exhortation to obey and pray for responsible leaders. The writer of Hebrews closed the book with an inspirational prayer for his readers (Hebrews 13:20-21).

How do you plan to close your lesson? It’s the last lesson in our series on Hebrews. Are you going to summarize the main teaching points of the entire letter? Do you plan to ask people what they have learned by studying the book? How do you plan to end the sentence, “Let me finish by saying…”.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

More to the story

Sam Tullock points out in his commentary on “Love One Another” that the passage Hebrews 13:1-25 addresses a broader range of topics than love. He goes on to say, “Above all, this week’s lesson highlights the centrality of Christ to the life of believers.” Step 4 verses Hebrews 13:12-16 underscore his point. We identify with Christ, “bearing the disgrace he bore,” and through him, continually praise and thank God.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Follow the leader

This week I decided to use the LifeWay Adult Extra material to help with this week’s lesson, entitled “Love One Another.” Step 3 is titled ‘Imitate Leaders’, which brings to mind the kids game, “follow the leader”. The step references Hebrews 13:7-8, which says that leaders spoke “God’s word”.

For fun, play “follow the leader” this way. Ask, a member to say out loud any single verse they know from memory. Afterwards, ask if any member of the class can also say the same verse from memory, and then allow some person to quote the verse. Then ask that person to say a new (single) verse from memory. Again, ask if a member of the class can follow that leader and say the verse. Continue a bit before stopping the game. The game illustrates imitating leaders who speak the Word to us.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Simple to say, hard to do

Step 2, based on Hebrews 13:1-6, is titled Love People in the LifeWay Leader Guide for this week’s lesson “Love One Another.” This is easy to say, but hard to do. The Lord gave us a direct command to “love one another” (John 15:12) and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). We may not know what all that means, but we can allow Scripture to guide us to emulate Christ.

Jesus added, “as I have loved you”, so he set the example for us to follow. Hebrews 13:1-6 lists several ways to demonstrate love as does 1 Cor 13:4-7. You might consider using the Adult Extra suggestion for this step, which I like.

An alternative is to put the focus on verse 6.

Monday, November 20, 2006

What's love?

In his commentary on this week’s lesson from Hebrews 13:1-25, “Love One Another,” Mark Rathel points out rather pointedly the wrong teaching that phileo love is a lower level love than agape love. Agape love is “love by choice”, whereas phileo love involves the emotions. God demonstrated both types of love toward humanity.

The word love is so misunderstood, especially given its importance—it’s the royal law of Christ (John 13:34, James 2:8, 1 John 4:21). I recommend a healthy discussion to define love. Otherwise, listeners will have their own definition. Anyone care to take a stab at defining it?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Serve, not be served

Step 5, Hebrews 12:17-29: Unlike the ancient Jews who trembled with fear and dared not approach God, the Hebrew Christians could boldly come under a new covenant redeemed by the blood of Christ to worship the living God in the company of others. The writer warned them not to turn away from such an opportunity, but instead be thankful and not presume on an awesome God.

Read Psalm 19:13 and discuss with members what it means to presume on God.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Keep on keep'n on

Step 4 of “Persevere Amid Difficulty” comes from Hebrews 12:12-16, which highlights the obligations of a believer to help others in the race toward Christian maturity and possible dangers to avoid along the way.

We are to strengthen our resolve, remove obstacles for others and avoid getting sidetracked.

One measure of maturity is how quickly you offer help to another Christian that falls into difficulty. To apply verses 12 and 13 show a list of names of people from the Wednesday night prayer service and ask members to consider ways they can help and encourage others in difficulty.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Cut and run

Do you see a present, difficult circumstance as discipline from the Lord? If so, take comfort and be not disheartened. Step 3 in this week’s lesson “Persevere Amid Difficulty“ comprises verses Hebrews 12:4-8. We are called to endure hardship as discipline from the Lord, and not grow weary. It’s time to worry if you don’t have any problems!! A child never disciplined never learns self-discipline. Thank God for disciplining us.

Circumstances reveal our character. How do you react in tough times? Do you cut-and-run (quit), or persevere? Our goal is to learn to endure, but how do we teach that?

The writer of Hebrews used positive examples in chapter 11, and the supreme example of Christ going to the cross at the start of chapter 12. You could use ‘negative’ examples, i.e. discuss situations where people do cut-and-run as depicted in the cartoon example.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Be honest about unbelief

What discourages you to the point of “unbelief?” Step 2 of “Persevere Amid Difficulty” considers verses Hebrews 12:1-3, which mentions the “the sin that so easily ensnares”. Read these verses and ask members what tempts them not to believe in today’s world. Have an honest discussion and pray that the Holy Spirit demolishes strongholds, or arguments against the knowledge of God, which leads not to unbelief, but faith in Christ.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Persevere Amid Difficulty, Hebrews 12:1-29

This week’s lesson, “Persevere Amid Difficulty”, is taken from Hebrews 12:1-29. When I think of perseverance I’m reminded of the Biblical phrase “set my face like flint”, which appears in Isaiah 50:7. We are told in Luke 9:51 that Jesus “set his face” to go to Jerusalem.

Daniel also “purposed in his heart”. In your life, have you ever “set your face” to accomplish a goal? Describe what it felt like. What obstacles did you overcome?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

In case your interested...

Click here to download the PPT slides I created to use tomorrow for teaching the lesson "Exhibit Your Faith".

Let me know if PPT material like this is useful to you.

Remain steadfast, eh?

In the last step of “Exhibit Your Faith”, taken from Hebrews 11:17-19,24-26, the writer explained the details of how Abraham and Moses operated in faith. Abraham believed (faith) that God would raise Isaac from the dead, and Moses looked into the future (by faith) to his reward and then chose to suffer disgrace by abandoning Pharaoh’s house.

Each man took actions that demonstrated his faith in the Lord, but get this: neither received what was promised during his earthly life! That’s the point. Don’t miss it.

If nothing else, we should at least remain steadfast and put into action today the Lord’s command to love one another because we know (by faith) that Jesus Christ will return one day. Love's actions reveal our faith like windmill turns demonstrate the wind's presence.

What acts of love for one another can you do today? Take a walk together? Go out to dinner together? Write a note? Give a gift? Pray together? Read God’s Word together?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Pictures of faith

Step 4 of “Exhibit Your Faith” focuses on Hebrews 11:13-16. SonShine writes questions about these verses as though she were walking through a Portrait Gallery of Faith. On the walls hang pictures of persistent faith. Abel pictures a faith unto death, being killed by his brother. Enoch pictures a daily faith that walked with God. Noah pictures obedient faith, even in a time of judgment. Abraham pictures covenant faith, a faith grounded in knowing that God cannot lie and will keep His promises.

What picture of faith hangs above your name?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Who knows?

Suppose you declared your intent to walk a high wire strung from the roof of your house to your neighbor’s. Moreover, before you took your first step you declare, “I have faith in God.” How could someone know your action was a demonstration of your trust in God, or simply a foolish act?

Step 3 of “Exhibit Your Faith” is based on Hebrews 11:6-8, which highlights Noah’s faith to build an ark, not knowing what was to come and Abraham’s faith to “go to a place” when he was called, “not knowing where he was going.”

My question is how can other know when we are acting by faith in God? They can’t, but what's key is that God does know! And it pleases Him when we act in faith. Our challenge this week is not to think of ways to impress others with our faith, but to please God by trusting Him. In what ways are you trusting God at the moment?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Evidence of faith

Hebrews 11:1-3 is the focal passage of Step 2 in this week’s lesson “Exhibit Your Faith”. Although people might question the reality of the object of faith, they do not challenge the existence of faith. Faith is real and it gives proof to what is not seen. For example, faith tells us that what we can see is actually made of things we cannot see. We also understand by faith that God created the universe.

However, the question in the lesson is how do we exhibit our faith? What actions do we take that makes our faith apparent? To this end, I like Mark Rathel’s commentary on faith in this week’s issue of Florida Baptist Witness. His tight sentences give us good insight.

In these uncertain times, what is the reality of your faith? It takes action to make your faith visible. To illustrate this, take a small transistor radio to class. Say that radio waves are in the air around us. We know they are there, but they are unseen. It takes action to reveal their presence. Turn on the radio and tune it to a station. Ask members what new action can they take that makes their faith evident .

Monday, November 06, 2006

Who do you look up to?

This week’s LifeWay lesson is taken from Hebrews 11:1-40. It’s called “Exhibit Your Faith”. State that believers demonstrate their faith in God by the actions they take. They look to God and believe even though they don’t experience (can’t see) the full reality of God’s promise.

Bill Gates had a vision of a PC on every desktop. He put his ‘faith’ to work when he founded Microsoft. Richard Stallman had a vision of free software that’s unrestricted like free speech and founded the GNU Project and the Free Software Foundation. These two views of the software world were in opposition, but each has been wildly successful (in different ways).

Both of these men had faith in themselves and their ideas, but a Christian has faith in God, which leads to specific actions that are ultimately commendable by the Lord himself. Consider Jim Dobson for example. He had a vision for a ministry to families and founded Focus on the Family.

While Bill Gates and Richard Stallman inspire millions and their achievements are laudable, I admire Dr. Dobson more. The manner in which he lives out his faith makes him a hero to me. Others (non-believers) disparage Dr. Dobson regularly because of his faith. What ‘actions of faith’ does Jim Dobson demonstrate that I would like to see in my life? Good question.

Ask members to name a Christian they admire and have them consider that same question. The answers might surprise you!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

I can do all things thru Christ

This week I had some dental work done, which you might say, “I had to endure.” I had confidence in the dentist, so I “suffered patiently,” expecting good results. After an hour in the chair, I was rewarded with what’s soon could be a better looking smile.

I say all this to illustrate Step 4 of “Exercise Confidence,” which is based on Hebrews 10:32-36,39. The writer encouraged the Hebrew Christians to trust God, believe His promise of forgiveness and patiently endure their suffering as they waited for Christ’s return.

Commenting on this lesson Cyndi Grace asks, “What is it that you are fearing or uneasy about? Are you about to give up? Are you at the end of your rope? Where does your faith need strengthening?” Be encouraged by this passage to faithfully persevere knowing that God is with you.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The sin of unbelief

The LifeWay Leader Guide for Step 3 of “Exercise Confidence” from Hebrews 10:26-31 is a little confusing. It says the passage “likely” applied to believers, but then the commentary seems to focus on a non-believer who thinks he is saved.

To me, verse 29 indicates the passage is written to believers given the phrase “which he was sanctified.” That’s a saved person.

I’m wondering what sin the writer has in mind given the context? The Hebrew believers were turning back to Judaism, or abandoning the disciplines of their Christian faith. What sin in this context would deserve such a strong warning?

To clarify what sin the writer has in mind, I put the warnings given in Hebrews together in one statement as follows:

Do not drift away (Heb 2:1)
By unbelief that hardens your heart (Heb 3:12-14)
But God willing, go on to maturity, (Heb 6:1-3)
Because there is no more sacrifice for sin (Heb 10:26)
And there is no escape from judgment and loss of blessing (Heb 12:25)

So it seems that the sin of unbelief that hardens a heart is what the inspired writer is addressing. He has in mind a believer who is in danger of a hardened heart due to unbelief. The continual practice, or on-going sin of unbelief leads to harden heart and judgment.

Does this make sense? If so, how can we illustrate the heart-hardening nature of unbelief? I’m thinking of a “hardening catalyst”, or “hardening agent” mixed in a compound causes it to turn rock hard (as in some epoxies).

A more appropriate illustration might be to describe the way cholesterol (unbelief) leads to Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).