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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.

 

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.”

Five verses every teen should remember from the New Testament: Ephesians 2: 10, Matthew 28:20, Philippians 4:13, 1 Corinthians 13:8, and Romans 8:28

Teens need some absolutes to hold onto. So much around them seems to be colored in shades of gray. Relative morality, postmodern thought and situational truth often leave young people more than a little confused. And those teens who have some grounding in the faith need a few things that cannot be argued. Teenagers face a daily challenge to their self-worth. They see great problems in the world and in their communities and families, wondering where God fits in. They face temptations to believe that what they have been told is wrong is actually just fine. And they are looking for purpose for their own lives.

These five verses may not be comprehensive for a mature Christian faith, but they should be on the tip of every teenager’s tongue. These verses speak to the issues of self-esteem, loneliness, confidence, relationship, and patience.

“We are God’s handiwork.”

Ephesians 2:10 is a basic verse for teens, because it affirms our identity in the image of God. We are God’s handiwork. And as Rich Mullin’s once said, “God don’t make no junk.” Teens who wonder if they will ever measure up to other people’s expectations should always remember this. One of my middle school Bible study girls sang the Britt Nicole song for her talent show, “Gold.” She gets it. Created in God’s image, each one should never feel unworthy of love.

“I am with you always.”

The reality of the risen Jesus’ presence in our lives every single day is the good news of the gospel. Remembering that God himself, through the spirit of Jesus, is willing to accompany us through anything is reassuring. It can relieve our fears and ready us to take steps into the unknown. For teens, especially any who have felt abandoned by a parent or a friend, this promise is most important. Just reach out your hand and take his. He is there.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

An affirmation of the power of Christ to sustain us through trials, this verse gives believers extra confidence. The emphasis is not on our human ability, but on God’s. It can also be a powerful reminder of the strength Christ gives to resist temptation. Any teenager who feels weak when facing academic or social pressures can take heart with this verse. Any teen facing peer pressure to make bad moral choices will be strengthened if this verse expresses their confidence in Christ.

“Love never fails.”

Absolutes are rare in our world. Yet some, with Biblical authority, affirm God’s ways. This truth reminds us of the greatest two commandments, according to Jesus himself:   Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. And Love your neighbor as yourself. If we love God and love people, we cannot fail. And teens need to remember that such love always wins. God loves all of us in spite of every thoughtless word, every rebellious action, every sin. God is love, and God is eternal. Love never fails.

“God works all things together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose.”

Teens sometimes cave to the belief that evil people prosper. Sometimes the cheaters and exploiters appear to win. And teens tend to over-dramatize failures. This verse reminds them that God is working behind the scenes. God has ways to work surprising things – things that look really horrible on the surface – together for good. And he does it all the time. By deliberately looking for God’s perspective, teens can be optimistic. Things are never quite as bad as they may seem. God is working his purposes out. And he has plans to prosper us, to give us a future and a hope.

 

Teenagers wonder how the Bible can really help them in daily life. These five verses, with a simple faith in Jesus, serve as reminders of God’s amazing presence and power in our lives.

 

 

 

Worship can mean a couple of things. Foremost, worship is an attitude of reverence and adoration. Such reverence is in response to awesome greatness. God is worthy of our worship, but we must first recognize him this way.

Worship can also mean the practice of certain rituals or activities that are directed toward God, such as sacrifices, offerings, recitation of prayers or scripture, or singing praise songs. These actions, unfortunately, can be performed with or without the attitude of worship described above. Going through the motions may look like worship, but what is really going on? Motives of self-promotion, reward, favor among family or friends can crowd out thoughts of an awesome God.

Throughout the Bible people worshiped God.

  • Cain and Abel brought sacrifices, but God approved only one, possibly because the action of that one matched his attitude. “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering,  but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.” Genesis 4:4
  • Abraham worshiped at altars he built along the way to thank God for bringing him so far.  So Abram went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he pitched his tents. There he built an altar to the Lord.” Genesis 13:18
  • Moses begged Pharoah to let the people go, so that they might “worship God.” (Exodus 8:1) But when they got to the base of Mount Sinai, and Moses was out of earshot, they chose to worship a golden calf. (Exodus 32)
  • David danced on his way to the temple, wrote psalms of praise and played instruments to worship God.  “Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.” 2 Samuel 6:14-15
  • Elkanah and Peninah made annual pilgrimage to worship, but Hannah’s heartfelt prayer was answered.  “Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the Lord Almighty at Shiloh,” 1 Samuel 1:3
  • The magi who followed a star and found a poor infant in a manger worshipped that baby.  “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.” Matthew 2:10-11 
  • A Samaritan woman at a well wondered if worship had to be done in Jerusalem, and the Lord himself clarified that God must be worshipped in spirit and truth. “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” John 4:23
  • When people were healed by Jesus’ touch, they fell to their knees and worshiped him. “Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.” John 9:38
  • When the women first saw the risen Jesus, they fell and worshiped him.  “So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.  Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.” Matthew 28:8-9
  • Paul sang praise to God even when bleeding in prison shackles. “When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:24-25
  • Lydia was a ‘worshiper of God’ even before she heard about Jesus. “One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God.” Acts 16:14
  • Cornelius was a Gentile ‘God-fearer’ turned Christian when Peter shared the gospel with him. “He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.” Acts 10:2
  • In Revelation 4: 8-11, John writes of seeing heavenly hosts constantly worshipping God, saying “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.”

How do we open our hearts to worship? Focus. Recognize the great goodness of the one and only God. The one who created all things, who owns all things, who loves all things, and restores all things. The one who loved us so much that he sent his own son to bridge the divide that we had created. The one who chases us until we turn and see him smiling. The one who offers us grace after every single mistake. The one who throws a party to celebrate finding anyone who is lost.

This kind of worship, a genuine response to the greatness of God, is not limited to church. In fact, this kind of worship pervades our thinking, actions, and life.

Is your heart open to worship?

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” Romans 12:1

“The Third Day He Rose from the Dead.”

By Sherree Funk | originally published on December 21, 2011

Hallelujah! Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!  The central proclamation of the Christian church is this:  Jesus Christ rose from the dead and He lives!

Tim Tennent rejects any attempt by the church to shift its central proclamation to anything else.  The ethic of Jesus, His exemplary life, His teachings, while important, cannot be the central defining belief of the church without weakening it tremendously.

As the apostle Paul said, If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is in vain and so is your faith.

 Tennent says it best:

“Without the Resurrection, the Christian gospel is not really that different from Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism.  We would be just another human religion struggling with the transcendence of God, but the difference is that the Christian faith is not merely an human religion. … The great proclamation of the Gospel is about who God is and what He has done. Buddha is in the grave.  Mohammad is in the grave.  Confucius is in the grave. Jesus Christ is the Risen Lord.”

With this amazing powerful resurrection, Christ demonstrates complete victory over sin, death, and hell.  “To believe in Jesus is not simply to believe that he lived, or was a great teacher, or that he could perform miracles.  Most Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists would also believe those things.”  The Christian’s distinct belief is that Jesus is the Risen, Living Lord.

With His resurrection, Jesus was the “firstfruits” of the resurrection of all believers.  Tennent reminds us that God is not simply saving our souls, nor will we be simply resuscitated after we die. In the first notion, our souls are somehow separate from the rest of us – our minds, our bodies, our emotions. Not true, says Tennent.  “God redeems the whole person.”

Likewise we are not simply going to return to this body with its human frailties.  Jesus did indeed ‘raise’ individuals who had died.  Like Lazarus.  Like Jairus’s daughter. But those people eventually died. When Jesus rose from the dead, he took on a new resurrection body.  With this, we have the assurance that one day we will also be given a new resurrection body in which our ‘person’ will dwell.

I stand on Jesus’ promise to the thief on the cross:  “This day you will be with me in Paradise.”  Luke 23: 42-43.  The day I die, I’m going to be with Him.  My favorite Easter Hymn is also the most traditional, but my favorite verses are these two:

 

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!

Where O Death is now thy sting?  Alleluia!

Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!

Where’s thy victory, boasting grave? Allelulia!

 

Soar we now where Christ has led, Allelulia!

Following our exalted Head, Allelula!

Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!

Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

 

Thank you, Charles Wesley, for your marvelous lyrics of Christian affirmation.  And thank you, Lord, for the resurrection power that raised Jesus and conquered all evil for all time.  Hallelujah!!!!

 

 

 

This blog was originally posted December 17, 2011 by Sherree G. Funk  (The artwork is Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet, by Ford Madox Brown, 1852)

“I Believe in Jesus Christ, His Only Son, Our Lord.”

The second line in the Apostles’ Creed is simple yet profound.  It is a non-negotiable affirmation of the Christian faith.  You cannot claim to be a Christian without a basic understanding of who Jesus is.  So here it is laid out for us: Jesus Christ is God the Father’s only son, and he is Lord.

The relational language is very important.  Some churches want to change the language of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to “Creator”, “Redeemer”, “Sustainer” or “Sanctifier”.  However, it is this relational language that is the essence of who God is, and who we are.  Without it, God could be just a “clockmaker” or “commander” or “dictator of his will.”  The Trinity is above all else a relational entity.

Tennent says, “If we lose the relational language that lies at the heart of the Church’s language about the triune God, then we are left only with the abstract God of the philosophers, or Allah (the God of Islam), who has no interest in revealing himself, only declaring his will.”

Hebrews 1:1 says: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in many ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by his Son.”

 Our Lord:  This Jesus, this only Son of the Father, is NOT a created being.  He is not one of an infinite number of gods. And he is more than a mere human teacher with extraordinary goodness. He IS the full revelation of God in the flesh.  Read Colossians 1:16.  Also Colossians 2:9:For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity dwells in bodliy form.”

At Christmas we read the words of the angels in Luke 2:11: Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”  Then remember the words of Jesus himself while speaking to Nicodemus in John 3: 16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  And the words of Thomas, the doubting one, when seeing the risen Christ for the first time: My Lord and my God!”  

Jesus is Lord not only because Thomas said so.  His actions are the actions of God when he declares, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” He is showing his deity when he forgives the sins of the paralytic and the leaders ask,”Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  And when he is worshiped – Tennent lists the following scriptures: Matt. 2:11, 14, 33, 28, 9, 17; Luke 24:52, John 9:38, and Hebrews 1:6 – he is none other than the unique representation of God himself.

And take a minute to absorb again the words of Hebrews 1:3, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word.”

As Tennent emphasizes in his book, This We Believe!, the words of the Apostle’s Creed are taken from Holy Scripture, deriving power from God’s Word.

 

I BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST, HIS ONLY SON, OUR LORD!

A few years ago I blogged about the Apostles’ Creed as discussed in the wonderful little book, This We Believe!, by Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, president of Asbury Seminary.  The creed is a brilliant encapsulation of the Christian faith through the centuries.  I claim it as my faith statement along with a great cloud of witnesses.

When I read the book in 2011, I wrote twelve short blogs summarizing Tennent’s twelve commentaries on the twelve declarations of the creed.  Below is the first one, from December 16, 2011.

 

“I Believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth”

I just received a wonderful little book called This We Believe! by Tim Tennent, President of Asbury Seminary. It takes a close look at one of the church’s oldest creeds, the Apostles’ Creed. There are 12 phrases, and each one warrants a chapter. I recommend the book to anyone, but I plan to blog about each chapter for each of the next 12 days. Join me in this meditation on a comprehensive statement of faith.

 Genesis 1:1, John 1:1-3, Acts 14:15 and Hebrews 11:3.

Tennent highlights the inclusion of the word ‘father’ in this first statement of belief. He points out that without this word, the affirmation could be said by Muslims or Jews, but the inclusion of the word Father makes it distinctly Christian. God is a person, and in relationship, both with His son Jesus and with us.

The creed then affirms God’s power with the word ‘almighty.’ Isn’t it wonderful to contemplate that our God is not only all-powerful, but also personal and protective, like a father.

And this Father Almighty has created something: the heavens and the earth. It is fitting, Tennant explains, that this first phrase of the creed echoes the first verse in all scripture, Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
And the Psalms repeat again and again praise to this God, Creator of the Universe. Read Psalm 102:25-26, Psalm 8:3-4, and others.

And the writer of Hebrews puts it beautifully when he declares in Heb 11:3, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

Tennent makes these strong points for us as Christians:

“It is truly amazing that God has taken us, lumps of clay that we are, and has lifted us up as the stewards of His glorious creation and, ultimately, to rule and reign with Him through all eternity.”


“We are called to creation care, which is living our entire lives in the presence of God and humbly making choices that remember that He is the Creator of the heavens and the earth.”


“Set your faith on this God who is the Lord and King of the Universe. Make sure you are trusting in Him who spoke His Word, and the moon and stars and planets took their place in obedience to His Word. …Set your faith on the Lord, the King of the Universe who created man and woman in His own image, breathed into us the breath of life, and called us into relationship with Himself and with one another.”