Author: sherree-funk

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Imagine keeping your Bible in a gold chest the size of a foot-locker.  The lid of the chest is solid gold and there is an elaborate golden angel at each end, with a space big enough to sit between them.  Every time you open the lid and get your Bible out to read it, God himself joins you and takes a seat on the chest between the golden angels.  Whatever you read, He is there to explain it.

That’s how God set things up for Moses.  He promised to meet Moses there, over the written word engraved by His own fingers.  In Exodus 25:22 God says, “There, above the cover between the two cherubs that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you…”

So whenever Moses wanted to speak with God, he entered the tabernacle or the tent of meeting and “he heard the Voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the Testimony.”

Was it a coincidence that God met Moses over his written word?

I think not.

God speaks to us over, under, around, and through His Word, our Bible.  When we read He gives us special insight that we probably wouldn’t get just walking in the park. I believe His Holy Spirit hovers closely when we open and read the Bible expectantly.

Early in the morning, I like to sit and read my well-worn Bible in my favorite purple chair. I look out my window at a beautiful God-created landscape, and sense his leading, his teaching me how to obey and follow Jesus.  And in worship, I love to listen to the Word sung in praise songs and proclaimed in powerful preaching.  But God wants His Word in my life all the time, 24/7.

So these days, I keep the Bible on my phone, at my fingertips all day.  I use the YouVersion app, with its numerous translations in countless languages.  And God meets me there, too.  I might be waiting in line at the store, the doctor’s office, or the post office, and an encounter with God’s living Word is only a click away. The Upper Room and Jesus Calling devotional apps quench my daily thirst for life-giving water.

God meets us in the Bible.  Don’t keep it on the shelf or in a golden box.  Take it out and meet Him there.

 

At last, a new study for teens.

Bullies are everywhere.  Nobody gets through school, especially middle school, without seeing or feeling the effects of a bully.  So many things can set us up for a rough time with the class bully.  A speech impediment, a different set of abilities, severe allergies or any other medical condition that is more than a passing illness.

Is there a story about that in the Bible?  Yes.

Hannah couldn’t have children.  She loved her husband and he loved her, but because there were no children, he took another wife.  In those days it was important for the family line to continue and the men did whatever it took.  In this case, the second wife, Penninah, had children AND a nasty attitude toward Hannah.

Hannah, Unhinged is the latest in Serving One Lord’s Character Series Bible Studies by Sherree G. Funk.  Hannah was bullied. She had a condition, childlessness, that she could not change. So what did she do?  Her story is found in the first two chapters of 1 Samuel.

First, what did she not do?  She did not retaliate.  She showed patience, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  It was really hard.  She accompanied her dysfunctional family on annual pilgrimages to the temple/tabernacle.  She tried to be happy when Elkanah gave her extra food.  She knew that other women of faith had faced the same issue.  She knew how they had handled childlessness.

One day, while at the temple, Hannah came unglued and poured out her heart to the Lord. As a result of that heart-wrenching prayer, the boy Samuel was born.  And with Hannah’s teaching and promise-keeping, Samuel grew up in the house of the Lord.

In spite of the unethical conduct of Eli’s sons, somehow Samuel learned to discern the voice of God and became the prophet God needed to advise Israel and anoint the first two kings.

How different would Israel’s history have been if Hannah had not offered her desperate prayer?

Tomorrow we begin this new study with a great group of girls in Pittsburgh, PA. The book will be available soon.  Keep watching this site!

No question – our nation is becoming a polarized place.  Civil discourse is out; loud, sometimes violent assertion of opinion is in.  Sensational news reporting is what sells.  No one wants to really understand.  How can we turn this around?

Teenagers see the opinionated world of adults on news channels, in school, and even perhaps in church.  How do they choose their own path? How can we soften the discourse in our nation?

Teens often choose to follow their parents’ beliefs.  Parents like this.  But are parents offering a good example of citizenship?  Can dinner table talks (does anyone have these anymore?)  include civil debate on social issues?  How about presenting the other side’s arguments in an objective way and asking questions that help everyone understand?

Teens sometimes choose to walk in direct opposition to their parents.  Parents don’t usually like this.  Again, do adults offer a good example?  How can adults learn to discuss issues of disagreement with teens if those teens seem closed to any discussion?  When have you tried to discuss a controversial topic with another adult you know thinks differently?

First of all, let’s learn to express opinions without absolute certainty.  Let’s encourage questions. Let’s frame unbiased intelligent questions that, if answered honestly, will further discernment.

Social media, as well as on-line interaction in general, is geared toward getting attention.  Just as sensational reporting sells TV news, shocking or biting comments get attention on social media sites.  Posts are “rated” by the number of “likes.”  Everyone wants their photo or video to “go viral.”  Fame:  everyone wants their fifteen minutes.   I do not think the answer is for everyone to get off Facebook and Twitter.  Personally, I believe these to be excellent tools for sharing ideas that by their nature are not covered by news outlets, or part of the viral video archive.  Perhaps we ought to encourage raising more questions instead of sharing shocking photos or stories.

Here’s an idea.  Ask your teens what they feel is an important issue in the world today.  Have them do some online research.  Maybe encourage them to find opposing articles on the subject.  Share links to these sites or articles.  Let them ask questions, not poke holes in arguments.  Share the questions. Encourage discussion.

Some think the Bible speaks in only one voice.  Not true.  Many disagreements fill the pages. Some stories indicate very little discussion behind the scenes.  Other stories show how thoughtful prayer and loving relationships encourage community.   We are created for community. Relationships are everything.  Bible study that doesn’t encourage community is sterile and isolating.

Final thought:  when leading teens in Bible study, let’s look for some disagreements. Let’s encourage questioning of Bible characters motives.  Jonah is a great example of a guy who didn’t want to forgive his enemies and was actually afraid that God would do just that.  So he ran away.  Let’s not be like Jonah.  Our world needs understanding and forgiveness to move forward.  It is a relatively small globe, this earth.  All humans share the image of God.  Can we make real progress in seeking to understand one another?

Let’s encourage one another to be part of the solution.

 

 

 

I met three wonderful young girls in Ethiopia.  They are students at the Adadi Primary School.  Officers in the school’s WASH club, they are strong leaders in bringing their community up out of poverty.

The Angolela Area Development Project of World Vision has been hard at work helping the community with education, health, clean water, and livelihood. World Vision sponsors 5000 children in the area and has a budget of $1.3 million (US DOLLARS)  About 3/4 of that comes from Child Sponsorship.  (You can choose to help by sponsoring one of these lovely children.)

What exactly is a WASH club?  One of the hardest parts of providing clean water to communities is educating the people about the need for sanitation and hygiene.  Drilling the wells is relatively easy.  Changing a culture can be more of a challenge.

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From left to right: Aster Reta, clerk; Bizuneh Bizu, Vice Pres; and Yeshi Derbie, President of Adadi WASH club.

That is where the schools can really help. The Adadi Primary School has dedicated teachers for 942 students in grades K-8.  Many of these children have seen the new water wells drilled and have been taught the importance of hygiene.  In Adadi, three young girls lead 45 students in the “WASH Club.”  They gave a confident, articulate presentation to our group of visitors last month. President Yeshie described the five committees: Outreach, Beautification, Fundraising, Cleaning Latrines, and Facilities.  For outreach, they prepare skits and presentations for the community on the importance of using latrines and washing hands before eating, preparing food and after using the bathroom.  The Beautification committee plants flowers on campus and helps create artwork for the schoolyard.  Fundraising includes a raffle-type event!

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Boys and Girls get educated at Adadi.

These girls understand the positive impact that clean water has had on their lives.  They realize they had to miss a lot of school in the past when they were sick, and this kept them from excelling academically.  Now they see opportunities for further education and for careers that would take them IMG_5398beyond just marrying young and having household jobs.

 

Bizuneh Bizu, 15, vice president of the WASH club, says:  “We draw water from a nearby stream to bring back to grow flowers and vegetables on the school yard. We teach the other children to keep the environment clean. Every Friday we clean the latrines. We provide soap or ash in a plastic bag.”

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Water bottle flower creations on the playground.

“WASH is all about health. Since we got familiar with basic knowledge, we are transforming and transmitting knowledge to our families.  WASH is beyond hygiene. It empowers girls and woman. It puts us on equal footing. We understand our rights, that women aren’t meant just to serve men. We can do what men do,” says Yeshie Derbie, 14, club President.

The girls are passionate about water and all that cleanliness will do for them.  They strive to influence other students to join them as they pass the new habits on to their families.

The club encourages families to build a home latrine and use it.  “We go home to home to figure out who has a latrine,” says  Aster Reta, 16. “They are marked red, for none, yellow, for in process, and green for done.”

This is how the world will be changed.

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WASH club members sang and read poetry for our school visit.

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Each headband read, “WASH is LIFE”

When we met them at school, on a Saturday I might add, the WASH club appeared singing and wearing headbands proclaiming, “WASH   is Life.”  It was overwhelming.

 

I have seldom met students of this age so fully engaged in something so important.  These girls will do great things.  Perhaps they will hold office one day in the beautiful country of Ethiopia. They may be doctors or teachers or engineers.  I look forward to watching them grow and become what God has planned for them.

I have a new friend and sister in Christ.  Her name is Meseret and she lives in Ethiopia. We met just two weeks ago when I was there visiting her World Vision area of Wonchi, west of Addis Ababa.

Meseret has both an MBA and BA in Economics from the University of Gondar, Ethiopia. After seven years working for different international and local NGOs like Mercy Corps, Food for the Hungry, and Compassion, Ethiopia she felt led by God to come to World Vision. Meseret just started with World Vision in December and she told me that she is so happy to work there. Her spiritual side will be nurtured, she says, because each day the staff meets for devotions, and this makes her feel connected to God’s leading.

Meseret is Program Supervisor for the Wonchi area, which means she helps determine how this area will best help the people living there.  The area is in the third phase, (years 10-15) of World Vision’s Area Development Plan.  You can see how the people of Wonchi live and many of the ways World Vision has helped them here. Many water projects are coming to completion in the coming year and Meseret hopes to offer some special activities for the teenagers.

It was a huge surprise to meet this energetic young woman.  I had received a contact form from her days before leaving for Africa.  I had no idea who she was, but a message from an Ethiopian when I would soon be visiting that country intrigued me.

When we met, she impressed me right away.  She wants to lead some teenagers in Bible study and requested some of my materials. Oh how I wish I had packed those books just in case someone might want them.

In any case, the internet is a wonderful thing and Bible Studies for Teens will help Meseret in any way we can.  God is so good to connect us in ways we could never imagine for ourselves.

 

In a world filled with unspeakable violence and unreasonable prejudice, forgiveness may be the most important thing we can teach our young people.  We are so easily offended and so quick to seek revenge.  Words escalate into bitter hatred and mob mentality, and then acts of brutal cruelty follow.

I have just finished reading two books about the Rwandan genocide that ravaged the people of that country just twenty years ago.  And in two short weeks, I will visit that country and meet some of its people.  Survivors now reconciling with those who murdered their friends and families.  When reading about these things, two ideas push themselves forward.  First: How inhumanly cruel people can be.  Second: How only God helps people forgive and find new life.

We all know that forgiveness is the reason Jesus came willingly to die for us.  Jesus, God incarnate, showed us what forgiveness looks like.  He forgave Zaccheas.  He forgave the sins of the paralytic.  He forgave Peter for denying him.  He forgave even his torturing killers.  Peter asked, “How many times must I forgive my brother?” and Jesus answered “Seventy times seven.” (Matthew 12: 21-22)

And it is still very hard to do on an individual basis.  Especially when injustice seems so powerful and forgiveness seems so weak.

“There is power in forgiveness.”   I heard this man Andrew describing the new friendship he has built with his childhood friend, Callixte, after the friend had turned against his family during the Rwandan genocide.

“Forgiveness is all I have to give.”  This is what Immaculee Ilibagiza said to the man who led the gang murder of  her brother and mother and who had taunted her while she hid in a tiny bathroom.

If these individuals can forgive such atrocities, looking into the eyes that looked on them with murderous intent, and still offer forgiveness, what can possibly stand in the way of peace?

Teens who do not learn the power of forgiveness will grow up afraid and vengeful.  How can we help them?

Adults should model forgiveness whenever we have a chance.

This should be a challenge for every parent and leader.  Especially when it is hard, let us show teens how with God’s help, we can simply forgive, thereby releasing both ourselves and the offender. This is not easy for me.  I have a weakness for judgment and have a hard time forgetting.  But when I focus on others who have forgiven the unforgivable, I am inspired to do the same.

We can let Biblical characters show what forgiveness and mercy look like.

We talked about some of Jesus’ memorable forgiveness stories.   Paul, too, forgave his tormentors, like the Philippian jailer, and the ones who persecuted him in every city. And what about Joseph, who famously forgave his brothers after they sold him to a passing Midianite caravan and told Jacob that Joseph was dead.

We can encourage teens to pray that God will fill their hearts with love and forgiveness.

God is able to do exceedingly more than we ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20) By simply asking God to help them forgive, teens will begin to unleash the amazing power of God to fill our hearts with love.  Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that their action was right, or good, or just. It just means that you don’t hold on to the hurt and judgment  that you placed between you and the other person.  If we always wait for the other person to apologize, we may sink into bitterness, and become even more offended.

In this new year, let’s all strive to forgive more and show others how to forgive as well.  God wants to fill us with love and mercy every day.  This is the way that leads to peace.

Mourning in lonely exile.  Such was the description of the Israelites, for a time exiled in Babylon, who awaited the day the Messiah would come.

The advent carol “O, Come, O Come Emmanuel” features minor chords and a contemplative tempo.  It describes the human condition well.

These same adjectives described Naomi and perhaps also Ruth in the opening chapters of the book of Ruth. These women had both lost their husbands, and Naomi her two sons.  They were lonely. They were mourning. And Naomi, at any rate, was in a foreign country, far from home and extended family.

Realizing how our own lives often parallel that of Naomi and Ruth, we sing this mournful song in hopes that Christmas will somehow dispel the gloom.  The confident refrain: Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel, reminds us that when God chooses to come to us, there will be rejoicing.  Even in our loneliest, most sorrowful moments, the idea of God With Us, or Emmanuel, is more than comforting.

When we have God with us, we have the creator and redeemer of the world living right with us.  Thank you, Lord for the gift of your presence with us.  There is no greater gift.

And as Christmas Day 2014 fades into memory, we look ahead to how we might model emmanuel for others.  How can our presence be the personal touch that someone else needs?  And who can we share time with?  When we give our time, our presence to hurting people, we share God’s love and presence as well.

 

 

Music is poetry for the soul.

Lyrics express the poet’s message. Music is the vehicle for taking the message into the heart and soul.

Emotions like love, mourning, despair, joy, sadness, and melancholy find expression in music that reflects them. Upbeat, major keys strike a chord of happiness. Minor keys and slower tempos speak of sorrow or loneliness, even without lyrics. Loud, heavy metal speaks of anger. Rap often resonates with a grinding monotony that may speak to boredom or hopelessness. Peace accompanies certain melodies, and soft refrains. Creativity and exploration come with musical surprises, often in the form of jazz.

Steve Martin once sang a funny song about the music of atheism: “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs.”   People of faith have always used music. The Psalms were mostly written 3000 years ago by a shepherd king named David. Some songs are even found in Exodus. And new songs are written every day about the same God who delivered the Hebrew slaves.

Christian hymns have long been a means to greater, deeper understanding of our faith. It has been said that the Bible is God’s Word to us, and the Hymnal is our response to God. Great hymn writers like Charles Wesley gave us poetry to fit our faith in words like these: ‘Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see! Hail the incarnate deity, pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel!” Or like the song of invitation, “Just as I am, without one plea, …” Or the evangelical testimony of “I love to tell the story of Jesus and his love.” “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine!”

Contemporary songs often cut to the core of relationship. “Here I am to worship, Here I am to bow down, Here I am to say that you’re my God.”   “I could sing of your love forever.” “He’ll break open the skies to save the one who cries out his name. The one the wind and waves obey is strong enough to save you.”

Whether we need to be reassured of God’s love for us, or convinced of his power to heal and help, songs and hymns can open a space in our hearts for these deep convictions.   Whether we are thankful for blessings or perplexed over tragedy, songs can connect us to God. Whether we are tired of striving and persecution and pain or suddenly freed from the weight of sin, there are psalms and songs to sing through the tears.

Music is spiritual. No matter the state of our hearts when we come to worship, music can have a positive effect. A heart open to the message will get one.

Using music in Bible study has great potential, especially with teens. Peter Rock Star from Galilee uses contemporary songs and a few hymns in playlists at the start of each chapter. The themes in the selections match the study and discussion topics of the week.

Music reaches deeper into our hearts than words alone. Music is a vehicle for praise and thanksgiving.   I hope there is a song in your heart today.

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Teens like new stuff. The newest phone, the newest games, the newest music. They consider anything ‘old’ to be less than exciting, less than fun, slow, and not for them.

So how do you teach from the “Old” Testament?

Here are some ideas.

  • Call it the Hebrew Scriptures. Actually when written, they were the only scriptures for the people of God. They were current once, so the name Old testament is just the new name for the old book. Someone decided to give it the name Old Testament only because they wanted to call the new stuff the New Testament. Get it? And really, even the New Testament is pretty old. The Hebrew Scriptures take on new meaning in light of Jesus and the events of the New Testament, which makes them pretty interesting. For example notice how Jesus quotes Isaiah in his first sermon.
  • It’s all about people. It’s all about people and how they understood and related to God. It is significant that when these stories were collected, the bad, the embarrassing, the violent, the stupid were all included right alongside the miraculous, the courageous, the noble, the adventurous, and the faithful. That’s what makes a great story. The good, the bad, and the ugly. The Bible does not whitewash the story, especially in the OT.
  • Sample the Psalms. Right in the middle of most Bibles, the psalms are like a favorite poem tucked between the pages of a journal. Right there in the middle of a long, painful, violent history of becoming a nation, the poetry of the Psalms expresses the gamut of human emotion. You can read psalms of despair and suffering, psalms of praise and thanksgiving, psalms of jealousy and vengeful thoughts. What new book has all that?
  • Every old guy in the Old Testament was a teenager once. Some of them even became king when they were teenagers, or just children. Get your students to imagine what they might bring to a kingdom if suddenly given the throne.
  • People are still people. The stories in the OT are all driven by basic human needs and desires. It’s not that hard to see why people did what they did back then, because we can see ourselves doing the same things. Try to show your teens elements of their own personalities in the people with the strange names.  Moses was afraid of public speaking. David was short and worked with sheep.  Naomi nearly succombed to depression.  Boaz and Ruth were looking for love. 
  •  God is still God. God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So if you want to understand God, and relate to him, the OT is as good a book as any. The hard part is grasping some of the historical context that was the modern culture of the time. But God showed grace to the faithful long before Jesus walked the earth.
  • Creation is the beginning of everything. Kids who are creative want to know where creativity comes from. Show them Genesis 1. God created and he made us creative.

Wow. Thank God someone didn’t throw out the Old Testament long ago.
 

The first few lines of Paul’s letter to the Philippians include this:  “I thank my God every time I remember you.” Phil 1:3

Paul loved the people in the church of Philippi. That included Lydia and her household, a prison guard and his family, a former fortune-teller, and others.  His time there, detailed in Acts 16, had been exciting.  With the help of God, Paul planted a small group of believers there, who became big supporters of Paul’s mission to spread the gospel.

“I thank my God every time I remember you.”

In prison when he wrote these words, Paul’s situation was tenuous.  Yet he was thankful.  The rest of the letter to the Philippians includes more gratitude for their monetary gifts and numerous references to joy and rejoicing. Thankfulness is a really good habit. Counting your blessings is a way of shifting focus to the things that are good and excellent.  I can remember my parents saying after any minor disaster, like a car accident or breaking dish or weather incident or job situation:  “It could have been worse.” They always found a perspective that made them thankful.

‘I thank my God every time I remember you.”

Paul ties his thankfulness to remembrance.  Every time he remembered them, he thanked God. Every time.  Every time the Holy Spirit brings someone to mind, what do you do?  I know personally what happens when we put off contacting someone when the spirit reminds us. An elderly friend lost her husband last spring.  I spoke to her by phone shortly after and promised I would come see her soon.  I was in her area all summer.  She kept coming to my mind.  I wanted to stop in for a visit.  I meant to call her.  Weeks went by and life was full of many good things – trips, parties, Bible studies. Towards the end of the summer, I heard she was in the hospital, on the prayer list.  So I called, only to get her message machine.  I sent emails.  In one response, she mentioned she had fallen.  I didn’t know if she was at home or in the hospital.  I meant to find out.  I didn’t ask the right people.  I just didn’t follow through.  And then I heard she died on All Saints Day.  Regret made my sorrow deeper.

Every time we remember, let’s thank God.  Thankfulness encompasses joy and peace.  It completes the circle of blessing.  God gives every good and perfect gift, and when we thank him, the gift is acknowledged and more valued.  Even when circumstances are heartbreaking, there is something or someone for which thankfulness is appropriate.

“I thank my God every time I remember you.”

I am thankful for young people.  For old people.  For my adult children and their lives.  For my father, who is 91 and for my mother who is in heaven.  I am thankful to have known that elderly friend who passed away a few weeks ago. I am thankful for my church families, for World Vision, for Asbury Seminary, for my wonderful husband, wonderful friends, for technology, for electricity, for clean water.

Lord, help me remember people and to thank you for them.  Just as you never forget us, let us not forget those you have put in our lives.  Help me call and visit the sick, the forgotten, the unloved.  As Thanksgiving approaches, help me to remember and thank you, every time.

“I thank my God every time I remember you.”