Category: Bible teaching

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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!

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.

 

 

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.
 

“He Descended to the Dead.”

By Sherree Funk | first published on December 20, 2011

Now we slow the boat.  This phrase of the Apostle’s Creed represents the activity of Christ on what we call Holy Saturday.  Jesus was crucified and buried on Friday, risen and seen by many on Sunday, and the day between is known as Holy Saturday.  It was the Sabbath, and all the disciples were laying low, in part because it was the Sabbath.

But Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, and he had work to do.  

This phrase in the creed has been omitted by some.  Yet Tennent makes clear, in his wonderful book, This We Believe!,  that no piece of this creed should be tampered with. Creeds are “historic statements affirmed by Christians all across time and they apply to all churches everywhere.”  Specific denominations may have Statements of Faith which include distinct views on subjects like baptism, tongues, church governance and other points.

Sheol is the Jewish name for the place of the dead.  I like to meditate on Psalm 139:7-8, which says, “Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.”  Jesus left no one out.  And he can find you anywhere.

This passage in 1Peter 3:18-20 describes what Jesus was doing on Holy Saturday.

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.  He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.

After his death, Jesus went and preached to all the dead who knew nothing of him.  By his presence in this place, Jesus displays his power over all the forces of evil and over all death.

And finally, “Jesus unites himself with the saints from all time in his glorious ascencion,” writes Tennent. Ephesians 4:8 declares,“When He ascended on high, He led captives in His train, and gave gifts to men.”  This reference is to those who had been captive in death, who were now ascending to heaven with Christ.

Wow.  These are not the kind of things we hear much about on Sunday mornings.  Tennent emphasizes again and again in his book that the words of the creed were all carefully chosen.  This phrase again emphasizes the cosmic importance of Jesus’ death.

The time dimension seems to be no challenge for our Lord.  What an awesome God we have!

 

“He Suffered Under Pontius Pilate, Was Crucified, Died, and Was Buried.”

By Sherree Funk | Originally published December 19, 2011

The Apostle’s Creed seems to leap quickly from Jesus’ birth to his death.  This is not to say that all his teachings and miracles were of no importance, but that his greatest work, his essential work, the thing that we believe above all other things is this:  Jesus – fully God, fully man – died a humiliating death by crucifixion at a particular point in history.  That he really died is a key point.  And this begs the question: Why did the eternal Son of God have to die?

Tennent, in his book, This We Believe!,  points us to three reasons taken from Hebrews 2.

  1. He died so that He might taste death for everyone.  Hebrews 2:9 says “He suffered death, so that by the grace of God, He might taste death for everyone.”
  2. He died to express solidarity with the human race, making us all one family. (Hebrews 2: 10-13)
  3. He died to destroy him who holds the power of death, i.e. the devil. (Hebrews 2:14)

In a sense, Christ’s death proved that he lived.

In death Jesus faced the one thing that Satan thought he had over us. And then he triumphed over it.

Jesus did not live avoiding the evil in the world. He faced it head on without ever succumbing to temptation, without being conquered by evil.  He was killed in a most evil way.  No one will ever die a more unjust, humiliating, painful death. He tasted human death for us all.

I guess I always wondered why old Pontius Pilate got his name in this creed.  It seems like he shouldn’t have gotten so much free press. But Tennent points out that this anchors the life and death of Jesus to a particular identifiable point in history. By mentioning Pilate’s name, a person who is well-known in history, whose name has been identified on a stone in Caesarea Maritima, the creed dispels any notions that this is just an abstract set of beliefs that may never have happened. While the crucifixion is not solely the fault of Pilate, he was a part of the evil plan to destroy Jesus. Satan was behind it all, but God had a bigger plan.

The previous phrase of the creed reminded us of Mary’s humble obedience while this one reminds us how we, like Pilate, often make wrong choices, and thus work into Satan’s evil plans.  It is worth pondering this human condition, humbly confessing our sins, and earnestly seeking to obey.

Luke 23:23-35;  John 19:18-20; Acts 4:10; 1Corinthians 15:3-4; Hebrews 2:5-18

A verse in Charles Wesley’s hymn, Amazing Love captures our gratitude:

He left His father’s throne above, so free, so infinite His grace; 

emptied Himself of all but love and bled for Adam’s helpless race; 

Tis  mercy all, immense and free,  for O my God it found out me – 

Amazing love! How can it be, that Thou my God shouldst die for me! 

Perhaps it makes Christmas even sweeter when we remember what love prompted His birth, knowing that it would lead to His suffering and death.

 

“He was Conceived by the Holy Spirit, Born of the Virgin Mary”

Originally published December 18, 2011.

When I was young, the sounds of Christmas came  from our hi-fi stereo as we played Firestone Christmas Albums non-stop. I can still hear the  clear voice of Julie Andrews singing my favorite Christmas hymns and carols.  Her lovely accent made Hark! The Herald Angels Sing unique.   I memorized all the verses to most of these hymns just from hearing Julie sing them over and over.

Today’s declaration of the Apostle’s Creed is the beloved Christmas event.  It is the incarnation of God in the flesh.  The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us.  Tennent points us first of all to Charles Wesley’s beautifully poetic and theologically rich hymn lyrics.

 

 

Christ by highest heaven adored, Christ the everlasting Lord!

Late in time behold Him come, offspring of the Virgin’s womb.

Veiled in flesh the God-head see! Hail the incarnate deity!

Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel!

 

The fact that God wanted to come to earth and be with us in the flesh is truly awesome. The way he chose to accomplish this is more stunning still.

When the apostle Paul thought about it, he wrote this:  “Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, But emptied Himself, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself…” Philippians 2:5-8.  

Tennent gives a wonderful illustration as he summarizes Mark Twain’s novel, The Prince and the Pauper.  The book is about the son of King Henry VIII who met a ragged beggar and noticed they were quite similar in appearance except for the clothes. They traded places and changed clothes.  The heir to the throne then walked the streets unrecognized, ill-treated, pushed aside, and ignored.  In the same way, Tennent says, “The eternal Son of God clothed himself in our humanity and walked among us and most did not recognize Him.”  John 1:10 says, He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him.

Mary is the only person of faith mentioned in this creed.  Her simple obedience to the will of God is exemplary.  That God would entrust himself to be born and raised by one of us in this way is a sign of his great love.  And it is more than that: He shows that he wants to accomplish his work of redemption in cooperation with us, His people, ordinary people.

Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. His conception was from God, by God, by the Holy Spirit, but within the human womb of Mary.  And he was born as we all are. In order to become the perfect sinless sacrifice God intended, he had to be fully divine, free of the inherited sin of Adam.  In order to be truly our Emmanuel, to sympathize with our weaknesses, he had to be fully human.  He was both.  It is a mystery.  A paradox.  The incarnation is a divine event worthy of our worship and praise.

Luke 1:26-38 describes the encounter between the angel Gabriel and Mary.  It is from this scripture that the apostles took the words of this affirmation. Nothing in the creed is carelessly tossed in.

It is never to early to prepare for Christmas.   Allow God in Christ to use you in His work.  Be His humble servant as Mary was.  Embrace the mystery.  Glory to the newborn King.

 

What’s in your toolbox?

When working with teens, you don’t have time to dig through a huge selection of tools that might fit the situation. But you need a few basics that have a great chance of working. A handyman would not be without a basic set of tools for tackling most home problems. His list of basic carpenter’s tools is a metaphor for the basic toolkit you need in Teen Bible Study.

Tape Measure: “Measure twice, cut once.” That is every carpenter’s first rule. Take a good listen to your group. Measure their interests and their abilities. Find out what problems they face, and see if some Bible characters have similar issues.

Carpenter’s Square: This tool measures a good 90 degree angle, like between the vertical and the horizontal in a structure. Remember that students need to look both ways in Bible study – upwards toward God and on a level with their neighbors. Teach them to love both God and others.

Plumb Line: The plumb line is used to measure a straight vertical. Amos the prophet used the plumb line in his teachings to show people how far they had strayed from the truth. Don’t give students a watered down version of the Bible. Keep God’s word straight.

Level: Stay on the level with your teens. They will know if you are looking down on them. They will know if you aren’t being honest with them. Keep it real.

Saw: Cut out the extra stuff. Some points are just fluff. You don’t have to share every theological thought you have ever had about a subject. And don’t let your discussions stray so far from the topic that you can’t find a way back. Stick to the main message.

Drill: Dig. Create holes. Allow the water of the Word to flow through them. Make a space with your questions that can only be filled with the truth of God’s Word.

Sandpaper: Every group has one or more people with rough edges. Let them ‘sand’ one another, by learning tolerance and kindness in the group.

Pliers: Hold tight to a lesson until it sticks. Use your teaching to bend minds and hearts to be pliable in the hands of the Father.

Screwdrivers: Use good questions to remove barriers and to tighten good insights.

Hammer: Use only in emergencies. But occasionally, hit the nail on the head.

What’s in your toolbox?

Too often Christians neglect the Old Testament, thinking it outdated, obsolete or replaced by the New Testament.

Not true. The entire Bible, all of scripture, “is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness,” according to 2 Timothy 3:16. And Jesus himself said, “I have come not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.” -Matthew 5:17.

Many themes are prevalent throughout the Bible, despite its multitude of authors and cross-generational composition. Things like grace, blessing, forgiveness, rebellion, idolatry, persecution, salvation, God’s presence. Threads of each of these can be identified in most books. Specific prophets, kings, and other characters are quoted or alluded to in the New Testament, and the historical context often sheds light on the usage. Old Testament prophecies are often fulfilled before Christ or in Jesus himself. Many New Testament events are foreshadowed in the Old and many echoes of the OT are found in the New.

Without years of study or seminary training, leaders may throw up their hands and plead ignorance. Feelings of inadequacy cause many to shy away from leading teen Bible studies. So how can the average Bible study leader integrate the old and the new? Here are four easy ways to begin.

  1. Use the cross-references in your Bible.

Most Bibles, even without the “Study Bible” label have marginal cross references to other books and verses in the Bible. Start using these. Some cross-references are just about word usage. Others will give you a link to a passage that will shed light on what you are reading.   Some teachers call it the “secret code” to unlocking the scripture. It is no secret, just rarely used, and the letters are exceedingly small. Get out your magnifier and start sleuthing.

  1. Use your concordance.

 

Key words are listed alphabetically in the concordance, a very useful appendix in most Bibles. The concordance lists most if not all the occurrences of a given word.   These can be useful for integrating Old and New Testaments.  I love a concordance to help me find a verse I recall, but can’t quote the chapter and verse. I also love being reminded of other verses with the same words.   Bible Gateway and other internet apps can help in this regard as well. If you remember just a portion of a verse, type it into your search engine, and you will probably find the rest of the verse.

 

  1. Use the notes in your Study Bible.

 

In the classic Zondervan NIV Study Bible, great introductions precede every book and extensive, helpful notes fill the bottom of every single page. Many of these notes give historical context. Some offer archaeological findings, and many give Hebrew and Greek word derivations and meanings. The notes often give references to related passages, and these can be very helpful as well. Study notes should not replace listening to the Holy Spirit speaking directly from the scripture, but they should enhance your understanding.

  1. If you have a topical index, use it.

Or use your favorite search engine. If your lesson is on God’s love, for example, you will be directed to Psalms, Gospels, Prophets, Paul’s letters and more.

 

The three books most quoted by Jesus are Genesis, Deuteronomy, and Psalms.   For New Testament books with lots of OT references, look at Matthew and Hebrews. Check out Hebrews 11 or Acts 7 for wonderful summaries of huge chunks of early history. The prophet Isaiah spoke many Messianic prophecies.

 

Old Testament characters are often talked about in the New Testament. Abraham, Moses, Joshua and David get a lot of press, but even Jonah, Rahab, and Enoch get nods in the New Testament. As such their stories and characters are given greater weight.
Have fun incorporating the old in the new. The WHOLE Bible is there for you.

Get a good look at the entire book.