Wednesday, October 31, 2007

"no 'count"

Many people have unbiblical notions about angels. This might become an issue in the context of a lesson about caring where angels are mentioned. For Step 3 of “A Caring Community”, this week’s LifeWay lesson from Matthew 18:6-7, 10-22, work in a discussion of the error in this statement made at the funeral of a man named Sonny:

“There is another angel in heaven today watching over you and he's okay. Know that Sonny will always be with you. I will pray for comfort, joy and happiness to return in your life in the days ahead. Sonny was a wonderful testimony to how people should live. Love in Christ.” presents a summary of what the Bible teaches about angels that might be handy as you discuss vs 10.

Step 3 reminds believers not to ‘rank’ people. This called to mind the phrase “no ‘count”, which I’ve heard occassionally living in the south. Here are a couple of synonyms for “no ‘count”: "a sorry excuse" and "a lazy no-count, good-for-nothing goldbrick". How can you use these terms and others like them to help members understand the point Jesus was making?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Power of influence

While most of you teachers know this, it never hurts to emphasize that “becoming like a little child,” (Matt 18:3) pictures the new birth of a believer in Jesus, the Christ. Such a person is “born of the Spirit” and is totally dependent on the Lord for salvation. This is contrary to any religious system that promotes a way to heaven by “being good,” or performing works of righteousness. A wrong motive for caring (the topic of this week’s lesson “A Caring Community”) is to believe that acts of caring will merit salvation.

Never underestimate the power of influence you have on those around you. Consider using a quote about influence to help you introduce Step 2 of the lesson.

Monday, October 29, 2007


How do you plan to introduce this week’s lesson, “A Caring Community”, which is based on Matthew 18:1-35? How about putting together a self-test as exemplified on this page?

Starting yesterday’s lesson on the topic of nicknames was very useful. Some names mentioned were “Buddy”, “Handsome”, and “Lightning Bug”. The room was full of good will as we talked about various member nicknames. The exercise had all of us thinking about the topic of identity, which fit hand in glove with the lesson.

Perhaps you can do a similar thing this week by opening with a question asking members to relate a story they remember about participating in a church service project while growing up, or even as an adult.

Another approach might be to ask members to complete the sentence: “I feel cared about when…?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Matthew 16:13-28 PowerPoint Slides

Here are my PPT slides for teaching the LifeWay lesson, “Centered on Christ”. If you have time, it would be good to add a slide or two on Chapter 17 since it is part of the background passage.

Appreciate it, if you'd post your comments. Your feedback on the content is important!

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Roman crucifixion not only caused death, but also dishonored the person. For starters, a person was forced to carry his own cross as he was beaten to the site of the crucifixion. Afterwards, instead of receiving a proper burial, the body was allowed to remain on the cross until vultures consumed it. The cross would have symbolized both death and dishonor, so what would be the disciples understanding when Jesus referred to the cross in Matthew 16:24-28?

How can you help members understand the paradox of what Jesus said in verse 25? Try getting them to think about the idea of a paradox.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Do something undexpected

Lesson step 4 in “Centered on Christ” focuses on Jesus’ prophecy of His coming death and resurrection. This is not what the disciples bargained for, so they had difficulty accepting it. Reading Matthew 16:21-23, one can almost hear them shout, “say it aint so!” Jesus quickly cut short their disagreement with His purpose, and helped them focus on what else they didn’t bargain for—discipleship, too, would be costly.

Jesus announced “the unexpected” to His disciples. They wanted a different Messiah that fit their preconceived notions. Are people any different today? What can you do in your class to help members understand just how unexpected Jesus’ prophecy was to the disciples?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

False images

Step 2 of “Centered on Christ” focuses on Matthew 16:13-16. As background preparation for teaching this passage consider reading (or watching) Gates of Hell from the series, That the World May Know. Dr. Vander Laan likens the meeting as a “graduation speech” by Jesus to the disciples. A “commissioning” exercise is an interesting way to introduce this step in the lesson.

Another idea is suggested in the LifeWay Adult Quarterly. Ask, “What are the churches in our community known for?” This should lead to discussing various beliefs about Jesus.

I live in a large city with lots of churches. Some are known for their music, their Christmas programs, their pastor, their doctrines, etc. But which ones are known for exalting the Creator, the God-man, Jesus, the Anointed of God. Read 1 John 2:18-27 and ask members to identify the “false images” of Jesus Christ presented in the world today.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Questions of identity

This week we are studying the LifeWay Explore the Bible lesson, “Centered on Christ”, which is based on Matthew 16:13-17:27.

A few years ago, I was teaching a bible study on Monday nights. I passed out 3x5 cards and asked attendees to write two questions they’d like to ask God. I was humbled by the nature and depth of the questions as I later reviewed them for clues to help me better prepare and teach to the real needs of the class. The attendees were hungry to know about Jesus Christ, and what it meant to live as a Christian. That following Wednesday night, I showed my pastor the cards (they were anonymous), and he read the questions. Afterwards he said, “I only wish I could spend time answering questions like this. For example, I spent today dealing with the question on which side of the platform the piano should sit.”

Consider starting this lesson by having members silently read the focal passage, Matthew 16:13-28, and write one question they personally have for Jesus. Tell them not to sign their name, or otherwise indicate their identity on the card. You don’t have to collect the cards, but the exercise is designed to get members thinking about Jesus, and questions they have for Him.

Jeff Meyer’s comments stimulate another idea for starting the lesson. Ask members to tell their nickname when they were in school, or at work today. Ask them to say how they got it. This should get people talking and to start thinking about the idea of how a person is identified. The lesson will take up the issue of the identity of Jesus as perceived by those around Him.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The spread of false teaching about Jesus

For the lesson, “Practice Genuine Purity” how can you illustrate the spread of yeast if you choose to cover the background passage in Matthew 16? Jesus said false teaching by the Pharisees spreads like yeast used in bread (Matt 16:12). Illustrate the danger of false teaching (particularly what is said about Jesus) using the example of how a virus spreads from one person to another. Perhaps use the story of the flu pandemic of 1918 as a backdrop.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Target Fixation

In Matthew 15:14, Jesus explained that the Pharisees were “blind guides.” In Matthew 23:24, He told them directly they were “blind guides.” They majored on the minor, and missed the big picture.

Read about target fixation, which motorcycle riders’ experience, as well as others. Think of how to use this to illustrate the mistake made by the Pharisees.

Writing for the Baptist Standard, Travis Frampton’s comments on this week’s lesson, “Practice Genuine Purity”. He mentions how misinterpreting the Bible can lead to wrong conclusions and wrong behavior. Ask members if they can think of such a verse. Can you?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Playing by your own rules

To illustrate how the Pharisees placed their oral traditions above the Law, ask members to name a favorite game they play in their home. This should get people talking. Follow up by asking them what rules they use to play the game. Do they make them up, or do they use the “official” game rules?

We play Mexican Train since it is a fun game that anyone can play. However, we don’t play by the official rules having learned the game from a couple who used rules they made up. We are not unique. After playing the game in various homes over the last few years, I’ve noticed that everyone seems to “play by their own rules”.

The Pharisees used their own rules (oral traditions) and rejected God’s Law. Jesus described their traditions as “rules taught by men.” They were sinful because they rejected God’s best for them.

Now, think about the “game of life.” Ask members to privately consider what command of God they regularly reject in order to live life according to their own rules? This is sinful rebellion.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Unvarnished truth, or Self-portrait

Last Sunday’s lesson was interesting on a number of fronts—the parables, the “seed” object lesson, analogy of the “power of observation” for levity, and the idea of steganography to help make the point that understanding spiritual truth is not a matter of intellect. It was fun to study the lesson and teach it.

This week’s lesson, “Practice Genuine Purity” from Matthew 13:54-16:12 may present a greater personal challenge, however. It ask questions such as “Are You Dishonest?”, “Are You Blind?”, and “Are You Defiled?”.

Also, I’ve sometimes wondered if the Pharisees were just strong willed and ignorant, but passages like this help me see their intransigence as true hypocrisy. They knowingly practiced sinful behavior according to Mark Rathel, while outwardly maintaining an air of self-righteousness.

It may be interesting to start this lesson with ‘how people see themselves.” If you will, what is their “self-portrait?” For example, ask members how many are content with their driver’s license, or passport photo. Many will take exception to it. Why? I suppose it doesn’t present a picture that’s flattering? Assuming the picture is valid, however, it means that how they appear in their imagination doesn’t match how they really appear.

To practice genuine purity we must move from how we want to appear to how we actually appear to God. He knows the unvarnished truth.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

PPT Slides for Be Patient With Others

I’m excited about this lesson, and have updated my PPTslides for “Be Patient With Others.” I plan to sing Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee before the lesson. I also plan to pas out seeds (representing the Word of God), and have members consider the different types of soils described in the parable of the sower. I’d be interested to hear how your lesson goes tomorrow, so stop by and leave a comment if you have time. God bless!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Patience please!

I’m short on time today, but I uploaded a draft of my PPT slides for this week’s lesson, “Be Patient With Others”. Lord willing, I’ll post an improved version tomorrow. You’ll know this when I post on Saturday. Patience please! :-).

Thursday, October 11, 2007


To understand according to Thomas Edison requires one to “stand under”. Applied to understanding spiritual teaching, a receptive person must “stand under” Jesus. Unwilling to do so, the religious leaders and the majority of the people in Jesus day couldn't grasp the meaning of His parables. In a sense, Jesus was talking in code.

Believers understood the truth He was speaking, but hardhearted unbelievers couldn’t see it. Using intellect alone, they could not see the hidden messages of the parables. Like a steganographer, Jesus hid His teachings about the Kingdom of God in plain sight by making them part of simple “word picture”, that is, a parable.

Are you making progress preparing this week’s lesson, “Be patient with others”? Bible teachers need the Holy Spirit to enlighten us. Our own intellectual skills are insufficient. Abraham Lincoln said, “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day.”

Pray that your Bible lesson will be clear, interesting and relevant to your class members. Pray that they “get it”, and that it’s meaning is not lost on them. What does it mean to say that you understand the parables in Matthew 13?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Looking but not seeing

Consider taking a baggie full of safflower seed to class. Pass it around and have members take some seed and place it in their hand. As you teach about the Parable of the Sower have members consider (“pay attention to”) the seed they hold. What do they see? What do they understand? Can they perceive God’s sovereignty? Do they understand His grace? Have them look carefully at the seed for heavenly meaning.

If the seed they hold were scattered on the ground, four possibilities occur. By God’s grace, some of the seed will sprout and produce a hundred fold. Praise God! But by His sovereign will some of the seed will not so much as germinate. Other seed will germinate, but quickly die. Lastly, some seed will germinate and sprout, but become stunted in growth and not be productive. God is awesome!

Jesus preached that people should repent. Those that do will perceive and know God and they will repent even more. God gives grace. However, those that do not repent will have even their ability to do so taken from them. God is sovereign.

To illustrate “looking but not seeing”, you could select some of the questions from this Power of Observation Quiz (a little tedious to get, but there are some useful ones in there!), and have fun with them in the class.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Be patient with others, Matthew 13

Co-teacher Curt did a good job yesterday of stimulating interaction in the class by asking questions. Using Matthew 11 and 12, he reviewed the different reactions to Jesus exhibited by John, others who believed, the religious leaders, who hated Him, and the majority of people that rejected Him as messiah. The contrast in acceptance or rejection of Jesus was made clear. Great interaction happened when Curt asked the class to fast forward and describe how people likewise respond to Jesus today.

Mark Rathel’s commentary on this week’s lesson, “Be Patient With Others”, picks up on the contrast in reactions to Jesus to explain the meaning of the parables given in Matthew 13:1-53. The people expected Messiah to bring judgment and establish His kingdom in a way that would restore glory to Israel. That didn’t happen.

Given the wrong assumptions derived thru inaccurate teaching, Jesus taught a set of parables to explain the true nature of the kingdom of Heaven. But He also chose this manner of teaching to force the people to think about what He was saying, and dialogue about it (and not be simply spoon fed). People grow by facing up to challenges. Believers will grow in understanding as they seek to grasp the central teachings of these parables.

The parable of the weeds offers a clear teaching about future judgment and reward in the kingdom. But it also offers us insight about patience. How have your actions in the past been guided by your wrong assessment of the future? In other words, you faced a choice, made some assumptions about the future, and then made a wrong choice based on what turned out to be incorrect assumptions? Did you pull weeds when you shouldn’t have?

Likewise, what decisions are you making today based on assumptions about the future that may or may not be correct?

Are you happy pulling weeds? Ask members what favorite thing they’d rather be doing than pulling weeds?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Word power

A comment on Matthew 10:13 found on page 61 of the LifeWay Explore the Bible Adult Lesson Guide for last week’s lesson peaked my interest. The comment noted, “Your peace should come upon it relies on the Hebrew conception of the spoken word as, what we may call, a unit of energy. When spoken, a word makes something happen. Thus, when God created the world, He spoke. By hospitably receiving the missionaries, the household would benefit from this desire for their welfare. If not, the spoken word of greeting would have no effect and would return to the missionary.”

This article on Biblical Hebrew notes a similar idea. A spoken word contains “power to fulfill.” Have you ever thought about words as having energy, or power to cause action?

That God’s “word does not return to Him void” (Isaiah 55:11) makes even more sense when we understand that a spoken word has muscle to it.

This can be illustrated using a couple of flashlights, one with fresh batteries, and the other with weaker batteries. Shine each flashlight on a sheet of black construction paper. One flashlight might shine brighter than the other, illustrating their respective ‘power’. If each flashlight was a ‘word’, then its power is determined by how well it illuminates the paper (the result of the word if it was spoken). Facinating!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Spoken word

Watching Ken Burn’s, “The War” on PBS this week made me think about the power of the spoken word. Roosevelt made speeches that moved Americans. Churchill word’s encouraged and comforted millions of Britons.

On the other hand, Hilter’s rants incited the German people to go to war. He wrote about the spoken word, in Mein Kampf, chapter 6, “Our first meetings were distinguished by the fact that there were tables covered with leaflets, papers, and pamphlets of every kind. But we relied principally on the spoken word. And, in fact, this is the only means capable of producing really great revolutions, which can be explained on general psychological grounds.”

Read quotes about the spoken word to remind members of the importance of “Watching your words.”

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Talking back

In studying Matthew 12:22-27 for the lesson, “Watch your words”, the phrase, “who are you to say...” came to mind. The crowd around Jesus speculated out loud, whereas the Pharisees spoke in judgment.

We talk back to spouses, parents, managers, teachers, etc. out of pride, or ego, even when we are ignorant on some matter. Our selfish ambition has few limits except when we live in conscious fellowship with the Lord, reverencing Him. How do we “talk back” to God today? Do we tell Him what to do? Do we question His methods? Do we criticize His purposes?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Finding rest

Since his comments were so helpful last week, I point again to Jeff Myer’s comments on this week’s lesson, “Watch Your Words” from Matthew 12:22-37. The Israelites were to rest and recuperate on the Sabbath, but in observing it, they became legalistic. That is, they obeyed a set of do’s and don’ts, in which they elevated only themselves. Their legalistic thinking and behavior robbed them of God’s very purpose to find rest. How is our own wrong thinking and behavior today robbing us of fellowship with God? Study 1 John 2:3-6, and keep in mind that the apostle is writing to Christians, not unbelievers.

Start by asking members how or where they find rest in our hectic culture today? Here is one set of suggestions to help start your discussion. Try using this photo, too.

Regarding last week’s Skype conference-call poll, 15 of us indicated an interest in participating in a 30-minute call on the Saturdays that I post my slides (usually every other week with some exceptions). Eight of us are okay using the free PC-to-PC call service offered by Skype. For the seven preferring to use a regular phone, I’m open to suggestion on how to pull that off. It can be done thru Skype for a fee, or it can be accomplished using a traditional conference call service, which also costs money to arrange. Anybody want to sponsor such a conference call?

For those willing to use the Skype service, we should plan our first call on Saturday, October 13. For the 6 of you that don’t have Skype installed, you need to sign up at If you have Skype working, send me an email at: ronnieward [at], and give me a couple of options for call times on Saturday (10/13/07). We’ll dialogue off-line to get on each other’s Skype contact list, and to finalize a call time that Saturday that works best for the 8 of us.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Site update preparing "Watch Your Words"

I’ve taken down the Skype conference call poll, and I’ll post the results tomorrow.

Today, however, as we start preparing for “Watch Your Words”, taken from Matthew 11:1-12:50, I want to give an update on the usage of this site.

Cameron posted a comment suggesting that the increase in site usage could be attributed to studying O.T. versus N.T. lessons. That is, teachers need more help preparing O.T. lessons, so traffic increased last summer over last spring.

He may be right, but looking at the chart below from, I don’t think we can conclude that from the traffic on this site. The monthly visitors and returning users increased again in September (studying the N.T.) over August, when our lessons were from Malachi.

Moving on, I also want to compare traffic growth on this site year over year. Returning users in September 2006 numbered 511. That increased to 1,126 in September 2007 (more than 2x growth).

Unique visitors increased from 1,188 in September 2006 to 3,163 in September 2007 (just under 3x growth).

These stats are humbling. God continues to bless usage of this site even though I have very few clues as to why.