Mini-Bible Lessons Section 2
These essays were written by Cindy Sears (member of Ebenezer Church) based upon her daily Bible reading and study. Lessons are moved here one to two weeks after first being posted on our home page. This section holds essays that were posted April 2022 through October 2022, and contain lessons from the following books of the Bible: mostly from The Gospel of John, plus Matthew, Malachi, Joshua, Judges, and Romans. Access other lessons below.
|#26 Be Changed||John 4:15, 16-23|
|#27 Unlikely People||John 4:27-42|
|#28 God Provides||Matthew 6:25-34; Malachi 3:6-18|
|#29 Don't Heal Me!||John 5:1-18|
|#30 More Than Enough||John 6:1-15|
|#31 Jesus Is God||John 6:16-27|
|#32 Doing the Work||John 6:28-34|
|#33 The Choice||John 6:37-40|
|#34 God's Timing||John 7:1-13|
|#35 Risk and God||John 7:1-13|
|#36 Sin No More||John 7:53-8:11|
|#37 True Disciples||John 8:31-32|
|#38 The Great I Am||John 8:56-58|
|#39 Suffering||John 9:1-3|
|#40 Heavenly Minded||John 9:4-5|
|#41 Now I See!||John 9:13-34|
|#42 In the Fold||John 9:13-34|
|#43 Not One Fold||John 10:16|
|#44 Choose One||Joshua 24:14-15|
|#45 Witness Against Yourself||Joshua 24:16-24|
|#46 Whatever You Ask||John 11:17-27|
|#47 Exhuberant Gratitude||John 12:1-8|
|#48 Quiet Witness||John 12:9-11|
|#49 Justice and Mercy?||Romans 3:21-26; John 3:16|
|#50 A Lived Faith||Judges 2:6-10|
Mini-Bible Lesson #50: A Lived Faith
References: Judges 2:6-10; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 2, pp. 700-701
After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel (vs. 10, NIV).
Joshua dies, and all those who had witnessed, or had close relatives who had witnessed the miracles n the wilderness, and during the early conquests in the new land. The new generations, without that direct, personal experience began to drift away from God.
“The vital religious experience of one generation cannot be communicated to the next. Each generation must find God for itself. The ‘faith of our fathers’ is valuable not as it is revered for its own sake, but as it becomes the stimulus to achieving a like faith in ourselves. Many a man who becomes sentimental as he recalls the piety of his parents feels no necessity or obligation to display like devotion in his own life. God is a living God and touches each generation at the point of its special needs (emphasis added). Otherwise religion, however beautiful, becomes irrelevant, and contemporary issues are regarded as outside its sphere (I.B. pp. 700-001).”
Though each generation is responsible for holding on to the faith as given—the doctrines, the rituals that symbolize that doctrine—it does not need to be bound into the same forms of worship or ministry forms or tactics. Each generation must find that faith, experience that faith, and live that faith in their own way. Let’s face it. Even when we sing the old hymns, we sing them faster than the previous generation did. We now use screens instead of hymnals to sing the songs of praise, and use more types of musical instruments to accompany the singing. We don’t want to fall into the trap of following every little modern trend of worship and service, but we also need to avoid becoming stale and hidebound to the ‘way things used to be.’
If the younger generations do not develop their own experiences in the faith, they will be lost to God anyway. Give them the opportunity to try out new ways of doing things. God will be watching and guiding their efforts if they truly believe in him, and remain true to his righteousness, and do not turn to modern idols, such as, material wealth, false utopian schemes, accumulating earthly power, sexual immorality, etc. They will experience what happens when they turn away from God, and what happens when they obey God. (The book of Judges and the whole Bible are full of stories showing such happenings.) As with the prodigal son, those lived experiences will lead them back to God if they are not destroyed by them. That we must leave to God. We cannot coerce obedience or belief; we can only persuade by passing on our knowledge of the faith, and living our own faith boldly and consistently every day.
Mini-Bible Lesson #49: Justice and Mercy?
But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been revealed, attested by the Law and the Prophets. The righteousness of God is through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God presented him as the mercy seat by his blood, through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented him to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so that he would be just and justify the one who has faith in Jesus. --Romans 3:21-26 CSB
I was reading the comments section attached to an online article, and one of the commenters said that “God could not be a God of justice and of mercy and forgiveness, too.” Well, I beg to differ. Our God is so powerful and wonderful that he has figured out a way to stand for justice and to be forgiving and merciful. Praise be to God.
Sin, wrongdoing, rebellion against the one, true God must be punished for God to be a God of justice. So, how can he also be a God who can forgive and show mercy to us poor, sinful humans? In the Old Testament, he made a way by instituting sacrifices. A person or a nation’s sins could be “transferred” to a sacrificial animal (usually a lamb) and the just punishment was paid for by the animal when it was sacrificed (its life taken) to cover for the sin. The problem with this system was that it had to be done continuously, because we sin over and over, not just once.
Then God prepared a new approach for us to receive forgiveness while each sin was still nullified by being punished. God sent his Son into the world as the ultimate sacrificial lamb. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (see John 1:29)
Jesus took upon himself ALL the sin of the world—all of it. He is God himself; so, he could endure the guilt poured upon him from all the evil in the world, before, during, and after his incarnation. He hung upon that cross, and he took the punishment for all our sins, so that we don’t have to. He died there, so that we do not have to die for our sins.
God offers this gift to be free of guilt and punishment for any and all sins to each person in the world. But, it is a gift that must be accepted to be efficacious. If you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, your punishment for your sin is paid. You are free and clear; no longer awaiting judgment or punishment. It is as if you have never sinned a day in your life!
Yet, if you refuse to accept this gift, you remain in your sins, awaiting judgment and punishment from the God of justice. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (See John 3:18)
Hell is the place made especially for Satan, and the other fallen angels; but there will be humans there, also, because they did not accept the gift Christ gave to all who would receive it. God loves the world he made and the people in it, but he remains a God of justice. There is only one way to avoid the punishment we each deserve in our own way:
“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 (John 3:16 NIV).”
Mini-Bible Lesson #48: Quiet Witness
References: John 12:9-11; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, pp. 656-657.
A large number of people heard that Jesus was in Bethany, so they went there, not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from death. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus, too, because on his account many Jews were rejecting them and believing in Jesus. (GNT)
The crowds from Jerusalem came to Bethany to see Jesus and the man he raised back to life after he was in the grave for four days. No words of Lazarus have been recorded about his experience. There is only the bare minimum biographical information—he was the brother of Martha and Mary. In John 11:3, we are told that Jesus loved him. And here we learn that the Jewish chief priests have marked Lazarus for death, along with Jesus; since many of the Jews are beginning to believe in Jesus, because of what Jesus did for Lazarus.
And so it is today. When Jesus touches a soul and brings him out of his trespasses and sins, loosing him from slavery to sin, his life becomes a refutation of all those opposed to Jesus, to God. A changed life is the best, most irrefutable evidence that Jesus is the Son of God.
“So even though we possess not the faintest trace of genius, and have nothing we can bring to Christ, yet if we too lay long dead in trespasses and sins; if over us there has rang out that voice of power saying to us, ‘Come forth’; if we did wake out of the sleep of death and have risen into a newness of life; and if, though we were bound about hand and foot with grave cloths, so that we could only shuffle helplessly, to us also he has said, ‘Loose him and a let him go,’ and we are free—then we too are arguments for Christ that there is no refuting; and we too, poor things in ourselves though we be, are of real value to him.”
And as we see from the verses, a real danger to Satan and his earthly agenda. Stand firm in the faith, and be that irrefutable witness for Christ.
Mini-Bible Lesson#47: Exhuberant Gratitude
(This lesson originally ran in the October 2022 Newsletter in the "Something to Pray About" column.)
For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.
2 Corinthians 8:12 NIV
References: John 12:1-8; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, pp. 653-656.
Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. (v. 3 RSV)
This small scene reveals a great deal about Jesus. In the society of the day, what Mary did would have not only been shocking, but scandalous. Only a harlot would let down her hair in a public situation such as this. Yet, Mary threw away all her dignity to shower Jesus with her love and gratitude for all he meant to her and her family. And Jesus accepted it openly and freely—as he accepts our gratitude, love, and devotion no matter how awkwardly we express it. When we sing his praises, we do not need to sing like a nightingale—no matter how hoarse or off key or off tune, he will joyfully accept our praise. When we give our tiny amounts of money, he accepts it all with gratitude for helping even a little bit with his Kingdom’s work. When we give our sometimes-pitiful efforts to witness for him or to do any other work for the Kingdom here on earth, he never says “not good enough” or “you should have done something else”—he blesses us for the effort and the love in which it is given. Jesus is a gracious receiver.
People outside the church look upon it as a waste of time and valuable resources; but those of us inside the church see it as our wellspring of hope, encouragement, and wisdom that makes our lives better here, and promises an eternal future beyond imagining that will be even better. “It is so easy in time to forget the wonder of Christ’s gifts and benefits, to take them casually and for granted, to accept them without thought as his way, and leave it at that. Well for us if Mary’s gratitude infects us, and saves us from such callousness (p. 656).”
“What can I give Him, Poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb, If I were a wise man, I would do my part; Yet what I can I give Him, I give my heart.” (from, “A Christmas Carol” by Christina Rosetti.)
The fragrance of Mary’s loving act filled the whole house. May our acts of praise and gratitude fill our church and our community with the fragrance of God’s love.
Mini-Bible Lesson #46: Whatever You Ask
References: John 11:17-27; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, pp. 642-645
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that, even now God will give you whatever you ask.” …Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she told him…
“God will give you whatever you ask (v. 22b).” “What did she mean by that? Probably she herself hardly knew. And yet her attitude was very natural, is often reproduced in other troubled, confused souls, who yet in this are wise indeed. For those who know Christ at all well come to give him a blind trust. They do not know what he will feel it right to do, nor what they themselves ought to ask from him; but they are entirely sure of his interest in them, and his compassion toward them, and his power to carry through what no one else could do for them. And they leave it at that, with quiet contented minds (I. B. p. 642).”
This attitude involves a deep and mindful trust in the Lord. It comes from experience, from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and from a faith forged in the fires of a fallen world. It is a belief that abounds with hope, comfort, and strength in a world where sorrow, suffering, and death often appear to be inevitable, relentless, and unavoidable. Yet, we who believe in Jesus know that our lives are not “mere ephemerids, and the mere passing creatures of day, seen for a moment and then forgotten, utterly and forever; that we loved and love in our dear dead has not ceased to be, but is as real as ever; and that one day we shall find our lost again (I. B. p. 643) …” “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day (v. 24).”
“I am the resurrection and the life (v. 25).” “Even in this present life Christ has been for untold multitudes ‘the resurrection and the life.’ Through him and in him dead souls can and do rise up out of the sleep of death, become alive, grow sensitive, active, purposeful, endowed with powers that they did not have before (I. B., p. 644).”
Lately, I’ve been thinking that I am finally getting a better grasp on living and living rightly; yet, I have so far to go to reach that goal of being like Jesus. Death seems to put a stop to that growth; yet, Jesus tells us it doesn’t. And there remains in Jesus that hope that “we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive the things he has prepared farther out, and farther on, for them who love him.” (See 1 Corinthians 2:9) Thank God!
Jesus ask, “Do you believe this?” Is your answer the same as Martha’s: “Yes, Lord, I believe…?”
Mini-Bible Lesson #45: Witness Against Yourself
References: Joshua 24:16-24; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 2, pp. 670-672
Joshua said to the people, “But you may not be able to serve the LORD. He is a holy God and will not forgive your sins. He will tolerate no rivals…” The people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the LORD.” Joshua told them, “You are your own witnesses to the fact that you have chosen to serve the LORD.” “Yes,” they said, “we are witnesses.” Joshua 24:19, 21-22 GNT
After Joshua tells the people to choose whom they will serve, the people declare that they cannot desert (forsake) the One (God) “who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage…and preserved us in all the ways we went…” They base their decision upon their experiences of God’s presence. It is one’s personal experience with God that leads to the strongest faith. A handed-down religion makes for a wishy-washy faith that a person follows when it is convenient and doesn’t interfere with his own desires. A faith tested in fire creates a faith that leads to obedience and service in the Kingdom.
As Joshua explains to the people in verses 19-20, our God is a jealous God. He will accept no rivals for his affection or worship. A promise of loyalty is not good enough. “There must be loyalty not only of lip, but of the heart (I. B. p. 670).” And “God demands continued and steadfast obedience.” He sent his Son, Jesus to us, because he knows how weak and easily deceived by the Devil and his followers we can be; yet, though our salvation is secure in Jesus, we must still strive “to work out our own salvation” as the Apostle Paul says. We are justified when we accept Jesus as Savior, but accepting him as our Lord is a longer and more difficult and life changing work of the Holy Spirit and our own efforts (sanctification; in God’s power, not our own).
When the people reaffirm that they are choosing to worship and serve God, Joshua warns then (v. 22) “You are witness against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him.” Joshua tells them to “put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD the God of Israel.” The people’s reply was, “The LORD our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.” Can we offer any less to the One who died on the cross for us?
Mini-Bible Lesson #44: Choose One
References: Joshua 24:14-15; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 2, p. 669
“Now then,” Joshua continued, “honor the LORD and serve him sincerely and faithfully. Get rid of the gods which your ancestors used to worship in Mesopotamia and in Egypt, and serve only the LORD. If you are not willing to serve him, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your ancestors worshiped in Mesopotamia or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are now living. As for my family and me, we will serve the LORD.” –Joshua 24:14-15 GNT
Joshua stands before the people--this ragtag group of Israel’s descendants plus various hangers on, and even some of the now conquered peoples--and calls for them to make a choice. This choice is the most important choice they will make in their lives; because this choice will determine how they live from now on, and it will determine whether or not they will be blessed by the One True God or remain condemned, as those are that they have conquered.
“Life is always confronting us with alternatives and choices—God or mammon; the immediate present or the distant future; expediency or principle; the temporal or the eternal. All too often we live by half choices. We have no absolute standard against which all our choices are measured. So often right and wrong seem to have only relative value. There is a desperate need to see things in their proper perspective, to distinguish the temporal and passing from the permanent and eternal, to have our scales of values right, to recognize the clear-cut and ultimate choices with which life continually confronts us (Interpreter’s Bible, V. 2, p. 669).”
If we have no ultimate standard to follow, we can and will be blown about like chaff in the wind—first following one path and then another, which leads us into a chaotic life. Having no standards also makes us more vulnerable to deception and being used by others for their own purposes, which will most likely be detrimental to ourselves and others.
“’As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord’ is the hallmark of the God-centered life…will it be God or the world; Christianity or secularism; militant, atheistic paganism or the gospel of redemption (ibid)?”
We each must choose, and choose daily to follow the Lord or the world (culture). To keep in mind eternal values and activities, or choose to become mired in chasing after the temporal that will turn to ashes in the end. Nothing here on earth is permanent or trustworthy. Only God will never desert you. Only following God’s guidance will keep you unstained from the world, and keep you on the straight and narrow road to eternal life with current blessings even in suffering. You will suffer; but those who give themselves over to Jesus, accepting his gift of forgiveness and eternal life, can “rejoice always” and “give thanks to God in all circumstances” for we know he does love us enough to die for us, and he will “never leave us or forsake us.” Is there anyone else or anything else we can count on like we can count on Jesus? “Choose this day whom you will serve.”
Mini-Bible Lesson #43: Not One Fold
References: John 10:16; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, p. 627
And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. –John 10:16 KJV
Throughout the centuries since the beginning of the Church, there has been an effort to mold the Christian Church into a system that all those who worship the Lord and are his disciples must follow. I am not talking here of following God’s way as shown to us in his word, the Bible. I am speaking of types of services. We are a diverse people. There is great variety in the human race. There are different temperaments and characteristics (cultures). Why would God, who designed such amazing variety into us, insist that we all worship and serve him one way only?
Jesus spoke of sheep from another fold that would be brought into the one fold under him as the One, True Shepherd. He was referring to the Jewish believers and the Gentile believers; but we can also use this to refer to the various types of worship in the Christian Church throughout the centuries. There is a reason why the Church has never been ONE BODY on earth. We are a diverse and stubborn people, which causes divisions and differences in how we prefer to worship and serve; but that does not mean that we are not all in the same fold of God.
Many people complain about the divisions of the Church into so many denominations and factions. The Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches tend to believe that they are the one, true Church; so, they naturally want to gather everyone under their versions of the faith. Yet, even Christians of the Protestant churches keep trying to pull Christians together into one form of worship and service. They constantly bemoan the “divisions” in worship forms; they call it insipient “racism” when blacks, whites, or Hispanic peoples continue to worship separately in many churches. But is it? How many churches would turn away someone of a different “race” if they showed up for a worship service on Sunday?
People of different cultures often worship differently, in ways that might be uncomfortable or distracting to someone who grew up in a different culture. Even within a specific cultural set, such as “white” people, there are generational differences and preferences. Some folks brought up in the older forms of worship and music find it difficult to worship when the faster, more modern music is used in a service. Some people are uncomfortable with certain ritualistic forms, while others find them comforting or encouraging to their faith and sense of who God is; such as anointing with oil, washing of one another’s feet, the cross of ashes placed on one’s forehead, etc. Some people insist on dressing up for church; others prefer more casual attire. Some people like long, song-filled and exuberant sermon-filled services; some insist on being let out in time for a midday meal.
“Unity of belief does not always mean uniformity of practice.”
Ecumenicalism can be good if used to promote adherence to God’s Word as written and understood by the Church body since the Church began; but it is not good if it is used to dilute God’s Word and force all churches into one mold. It can help the Church in all it’s forms (folds) to be bolder and more active in its pursuit of “making more disciples” and, therefore, changing the cultures around the world into better cultures. It can help different forms of churches to increase their outreach to the lost, and help to better finance various ministries to the world. Cooperation among the “folds” of the Church is good. Watering down the gospel or Church doctrine is not. Instead of trying to be ecumenical, maybe we should concentrate on being more cooperative in what we agree on, and less demanding of our own way or style within the Church.
Mini-Bible Lesson #42: In the Fold
References: John 10:1-6; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, pp. 620-623
Most certainly, I tell you, one who doesn’t enter by the door into the sheep fold, but climbs up some other way, is a thief and a robber. But one who enters in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. –John 10:1-2 WEB
When strangers break into the fold (the church), the sheep (true disciples of Christ) will be frightened by them or ignore them. They will only respond to the voice of the True Shepherd (Jesus). The only right way into the fold is through the door, guarded by the gatekeeper who knows the True Shepherd and will only open the gate for him. This is the Pastor’s (Gatekeeper + the Word of God) responsibility to keep the gate closed to outsiders. It is the sheep (the people) who must stop their ears to the calls of anyone else but the True Shepherd. How do we know who is the True Shepherd? By knowing the Word of God, which speaks of him from Genesis 1 to the end of The Revelation. Anything pushed or presented by anyone that goes against what the Word of God says is a thief trying to steal the sheep (you) from the fold (the church), and turn you against the True Shepherd—Jesus.
“Those called of God to watch over his flock must be faithful and vigilant—lest some intruder break into the fold to work evil there—so that when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, the sheep that he committed to their care may be all there, none missing (I. B. V. 8, p. 621).”
But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice. – John 10:5 NIV
My faith may falter, but God’s faithfulness never fails. My love may ebb and flow, but his love (mercy) “is from everlasting to everlasting.” (See Psalm 103:17)
And Christ knows his people by name and individually. He calls us and keeps calling us, even when we stray or stop listening to him. Wake up and listen for his call and run to him. Let Christ go before you, and rest in the knowledge that he is always there, always faithful, always loving and merciful, always working to protect you, and lead you to maturity in the faith and in service to him and his kingdom. He will bring you safely home if you are one of his sheep (true disciple/believer).
Mini-Bible Lesson #41: Now I See!
References: John 9:13-34; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, pp. 616-618
A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God,” they said. “We know this man [Jesus] is a sinner.” He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” --John 9:24-25 NIV
This is the experience that every Christian can point to as proof of who Christ is. When we kneel at the cross, and ask him to cleanse us of our sins, he enters into our hearts, minds, and souls; and opens us up to truth, grace, and obedience to him and him only. Our absolute healing from our sinful nature can take years of work, but we know that we now see the real—that God is, that God loves, and that God is manifest in Christ Jesus—and the “truth sets us free (John 8:32).”
Those who refuse to believe can never know as we know (and are known by Christ). To witness to the still blind, we show them by how we live in Christ that Christ lives in us. For this reason, we who believe must continually “work out our own salvation (Philippians 2:12)” by regular Bible study, prayer, and corporate and personal worship. For Christ does not want to leave us as he found us, but strives with us daily to reveal more and greater understanding to us of who he is and how he wants us to live through the work and presence of his Holy Spirit within us.
Mini-Bible Lesson #40: Heavenly Minded
References: John 9:4-5, Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, pp. 612-613.
“As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when on one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” –John 9:4-5 NIV
Have you ever heard the saying, “He is so heavenly minded that he’s no earthly good?” This refers to a person that looks forward to the day he will be in heaven with the Lord, while he neglects doing anything to make this present world a better place to live in now. I have heard Christians say that they are just waiting on the Lord to return, because they have given up on the way the world (the culture) has turned so far away from God and his righteousness.
But Jesus expects more of us. The correct translation of verse 4 above is “We (not I) must work the works of him who sent me…” Jesus calls us to do the works of God—shining the light of righteousness and grace into the world for as long as we are here. Do not become caught up in the material and temporal world so much that you forget the new day and new world coming when Christ returns; but don’t get so caught up in waiting and hoping for Christ to return that you stop doing the works of God to shine his light—of justice, goodness, mercy, and love—in this dark world now. We must work for the night is coming—for me and for you—in death when we can work no more. And death is a Christian’s retirement time. We never take time off from doing good, witnessing to and preaching the Good News about Jesus, and working to make this life the best it can be for as many people as we can.
Matthew 5:14 says, “You are the light of the world.” Therefore, work to dispel the darkness wherever you find it, and as Winston Churchill said, “Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to conviction of honour (sic) and good sense. Never yield to force, never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” Onward Christian soldiers… Battles may be lost, but the war wages on. Serve God every day of your life until he calls you home.
Mini-Bible Lesson #39: Suffering
(Note: This mini-lesson was originally posted in the August 2022 newsletter.)
References: John 9:1-3, Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, pp. 610-612
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been born blind. His disciples asked him, “Teacher, whose sin caused him to be born blind? Was it his own or his parents’ sin.” Jesus answered, “His blindness has nothing to do with his sins or his parents’ sins. He is blind so that God’s power might be seen at work in him.” –John 9:1-3
The one profound question of mankind is “why do we suffer?” One philosophy’s answer to that question is that all suffering is the result of past sins in this life or in a previous existence. This is the concept of karma and transmigration of the soul. The belief that each person has lived multiple lives and will be reincarnated at the end of this life, and thus, pay for his sins or reap the rewards of his goodness in the next life he lives. Therefore, “we have no possible grievance against anyone or anything. It is all self-inflicted. Sin a sin and there is no possible evasion even thinkable of the inescapable results. (I.B. Vol. 8, p. 611)
Although this belief permits for justice eventually occurring in all circumstances—either in this life or one’s subsequent lives—it leaves no room for forgiveness or mercy. It also leads to a fatalistic view of life in which there is no mercy available; and it stops charity in its tracks because the poor, the sick, the downtrodden deserve their fate, and there is no way and no reason to attempt to alleviate bad karma.
In these verses, Christ points out another more hopeful view of suffering. Some people may assume that Jesus is saying here that the man’s blindness was a deliberate act of God, but I don’t see it that way. I believe Jesus is saying that God can take any person’s suffering, and bring goodness from it—especially to God’s glory. An individual’s suffering may be because of sin, but it may also be only the “luck of the draw” (because we live in a fallen world), or the result of someone else’s sin. Yet, no matter the cause, God can use it for his glory. Our work as the disciples of Christ is to show God’s mercy and love and forgiveness to all who suffer, whether they deserve it or not, which abounds to God’s glory, and can lead to the saving of a soul for eternity.
Mini-Bible Lesson #38: The Great I Am
References: John 8:56-58; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, pp. 609-610.
“Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” “You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” –John 8:56-58 NIV
“Whatever else is in Christ’s unfathomable answer…can there be anything greater even in it than this—that Christ’s coming made no change in God, or in his attitude and bearing toward us… God, as he really was, was always Christlike, was always what his self-revelation in our Lord has shown us that he is. It was not something that Christ did that made God loving and forgiving toward us. It was because God was loving and forgiving even to us that our Lord came at all. What we see God to be through him, God always was (I. B. p. 610).
Jesus is the Great I Am of Genesis, of Exodus and the burning bush, of the Cloud by day, and the Light by night that led the Israelites through the wilderness journeys, the smoke in the tabernacle and the temple at Jerusalem, the one who called to his people through all the prophets to turn and repent. Noah knew him, Abraham knew him, Moses and Joshua and King David knew him, Daniel, Elijah and Elisha knew him. And we know him through the revelation in the New Testament gospels and letters. God has never changed. Look at all the times he forgave the Israelites, and blessed and strengthened and rescued them over an over again, despite their continued rebellion against his laws and regulations. As he does for us today.
“It is not God but man that is changed by our Savior’s death; it is not necessary for our reparation that a change be wrought upon him, but upon us, seeing that it is not God but man that has lost his goodness. Christ came into the world, not to make God better, but to make us better; nor did he die to make him more disposed to do good, but to dispose us to receive it.” (Baxter quote, I.B. Vol.8, p. 610)
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” –John 3:16-17 NIV
Have you been changed by Jesus, the Great I Am?
Mini-Bible Lesson #37: True Disciples
References: John 8:31-32; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, pp. 600-601
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” –John 8:31-32 NIV
To be free in Christ, you must first yoke yourself to Christ and his Word—the Bible (all of it). Your freedom depends upon your obedience to God, and to abiding in his Word—this is how you grow up in the faith, and why you are able to endure in the faith—gaining ever new, stronger, better faith and, therefore, life—abundant life—because you are maturing in the faith. The more you obey, the more you read and study his word, the more faith you have; and the stronger your belief and the greater your obedience, the less your burdens of guilt; because God works in you to will and do good, to be righteous and useful for his kingdom’s work on earth. Like any physical muscle grows stronger through regular work outs, your spiritual faith and ability to do good becomes stronger by being used regularly.
So, workout your muscles of obedience, of service, of giving, of Bible reading and study, of prayer, of church attendance, of Christian fellowship, of hope in Christ Jesus, of communion with God, of worship (public and private)—and watch your faith grow, and your ability to serve your Lord and witness for him in all places and all circumstances. And watch your trust in the Lord grow stronger.
Be a true disciple, and live joyfully and free indeed in Christ Jesus.
Mini-Bible Lesson #36: Sin No More
References: John 7:53-8:11; NIV Application Commentary: John, pp. 237-251 by Gary M. Burge.
“Neither do I condemn,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” –John 8:11b
The story of the woman caught in adultery appears to be a late edition to the gospel of John, so most Bible scholars say that it should not be included in the Bible. Yet, this passage is filled with meaning, and emotion, spiritual truths, human hypocrisy and evil, manipulation, disregard for a person’s soul to accomplish a ‘political’ goal; and an awesome portrait of the forgiveness and mercy found in Christ Jesus—and the power of forgiveness to transform lives. No wonder this story is so loved within the Church.
Here we see venal men, who, to have legal evidence of the adultery of this woman, had to have set a trap for her. Their lack of concern for the woman is evident and disgusting. The fact that they did not also bring the man to Jesus shows that their main goal is not to remove sin from the community, but to trap Jesus; so that they can have him arrested or destroy his popularity and witness among the people. Their lack of concern for the woman also is made apparent by their bringing the woman to Jesus in the midst of a crowd; instead of approaching him more privately.
Notice that Jesus does not address the woman, but bends down to write in the dust of the street. Then, when he stands, he says “The person who is sinless should be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Now, Jesus knew that no one in that crowd was sinless, but the law said that the witnesses and accusers to the crime were to be the first to cast stones. It looks like Jesus is letting these men have the time they needed to see into their own hearts and motivations. Were they as guilty as the woman of letting their sexual desires get out of hand? Did any of them help in the seduction of the woman? Is that why the adulteress man is not present?
As for the woman, it is safe to assume that she was terrified, because the law was explicit about adultery and its punishment. And when Jesus gave the men leave to stone her, she must have felt doomed.
After each man, walked away, Jesus finally addresses the woman respectively. No one else condemned her, and neither did Jesus. Does this mean that Jesus does not condemn sexual sin? Does he “wink” at it? No. It means Jesus has the power to forgive all sins. His one admonition after his forgiveness is “Go, and sin no more. (KJV, v. 11c)” Stop that sin. He gives us the power to do that. That is what sanctification is all about. But take warning:
“Christ’s forgiveness in each of our lives diminishes as we lose touch with the depth of our sinfulness. When we no longer see ourselves in the drama of the woman, when we feel we are free from accusation and judgment, we lose sight of God’s grace. Jesus is not simply committed to the requirements of the law, but to the care and transformation of the woman before him—and every person who likewise brings a debt of sin into the circle where he sits. This drama of Jesus and the woman gains power when I become that woman and reflect on the seriousness of my own jeopardy. Through this new vision, I gain a new glimpse of Jesus’ love and mercy. (p. 247)”
Sin is serious. Grace is free. Sanctification is an ongoing process. We are given the power to resist sin, but we must choose to resist. Are you choosing to resist and sin no more?
Mini-Bible Lesson #35: Risk and God
References: Joshua 17:14-18; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 2, p. 638
“You are numerous and very powerful. You will have not only one allotment but the forested hill country as well. Clear it, and its farthest limits will be yours; though the Canaanites have iron chariots and though they are strong, you can drive them out.”
The tribe of Joseph complains to Joshua about their allotment of land in the Promised Land, because much of it is forested, and the valley part is filled with a people who own chariots of war. They desire much land, but do not want to work or take risks to “carve out their future.” Their trust in God helping them to do the work of clearing the land of trees and the current occupants is lacking. Yet, anything worth having must be fought for or worked at. “The things we struggle for we value and appreciate.”
The tribe of Joseph must learn to step out in faith, and do the work. We must also learn to step out in faith, and do the work. God opens the land to us, but we must participate in occupying it. God opens up opportunities to us every day, but we must do the work and take the risks to take advantage of those opportunities—in material things and in spiritual things. Anything we get for free means less to us than what we work for—and that is why the welfare state fails. It encourages people to be lazy and wasteful, instead of productive and vibrant parts of the community. It is true that too much pride leads to a fall by overreaching; yet, too little pride leads to lack of character and dissoluteness by not reaching out at all. We need to strive, to struggle to grow physically and to grow in non-material ways, such as, in character, in faith, in obedience to God, and in service to God.
Taking risks in faith builds self-confidence and trust in God’s provisioning and protection. Self-confidence is not pride, but facing the reality that we can do things and do them well. Trusting in God is not “pie in the sky” thinking, but remembering how God has worked in our lives in the past. Put your faith in God, build your character in striving to do and be better—take the risks for God’s glory and your edification.
“I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13, KJV)
Mini-Bible Lesson #34: God's Timing
References: John 7:1-13; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, pp. 577-579
Therefore Jesus told them, “The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right…You go to the Feast. I am not yet going up to this Feast, because for me the right time has not yet come” …However, after his brothers had left for the Feast, he went also, not publicly, but in secret. –John 7:6, 8, 10 NIV
Jesus tells his unbelieving brothers that he is not going up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. Then he does go up alone later. Did Jesus tell a lie? Or did he just not elaborate on why he would not agree to go openly (as if riding into the city in triumph) to the Feast?
As John has pointed out on several occasions, the people and disciples, too, misunderstood the mission of Jesus. They wanted a warrior to free them from the yoke of Roman domination. Jesus has a higher purpose: to free everyone who will accept him from the yoke of slavery to sin. So, Jesus refuses to go publicly to the feast, but goes in privately, or “incognito” with a crowd of others going to the festival. Once there, he again teaches publicly in the Temple.
I glean two things from this episode. We cannot push God into acting too soon or against his greater plan (that we are not privy to); and God works a great deal of the time in less showy ways than we might prefer. The Lord continues to speak in the “still, small voice.” Works by Christians that appear quiet, unassuming, individual, and uninfluential can prove to be a large, essential part of God’s overall plan of action to change the world. The mother who reads the Bible to her children daily; the father who works to support his children and goes to church with them; all those who show how living in Christ is better than ruling with evil actions in a fallen world. The widow who gives her small penny to God’s work is just as important as the millionaire who donates a large piece of land to a church. The faithful giver, who gives all the time, and sacrificially, keeps the church going once it is built on that piece of land. An empty church is no better than an empty barn. There must be “food” there to give to those who come seeking shelter from a cold and stormy world. Many a great preacher was raised by a faithful parent; many a great sinner was turned toward God by the witness of one quiet, but steady Christian.
Works for Christ do not have to be loud or showy. The best advertising for the Gospel comes from each Christian that lives his or her life devoted to the Lord, and lives with obvious joy and peace, and with unbounded love for Christ and hope in his promises. A torrent of running water can turn a wheel that turns a large, heavy millstone. But it takes many drops of water to make that stream of water to turn the wheel. Don’t be ashamed to be one of those small drops. Continue to help turn the wheel and keep the Gospel message moving into the world. That is the only way promote real, lasting change in the world. Unless individual people change, evil will flourish, and people will continue to die without knowing Jesus as their Savior—and that is the greatest tragedy of all.
Mini-Bible Lesson #33: The Choice
References: John 6:37-40; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, pp. 569-570.
All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. –John 6:37, NKJV
This verse has been used to justify a Calvinistic view of God—a God who chooses favorites, and ignores the unfavored (Doctrine of Election). A Calvinist says that some people are born with no hope of salvation, because God has pre-willed that it be so. So, some people are not savable. Yet, we are told that all who believe in Jesus will be saved; and that Christ died for the world—not only for a favored few (John 3:16).
The first part of this verse tells us that the Father gives the believers to Christ. We do not give ourselves. John Wesley and the Methodists believe that this shows that God, using prevenient grace, brings us into the faith in Jesus leading to our salvation. But this grace is open to everyone, not just a favored few. Each person can continue to resist the call of the Holy Spirit or surrender. God gives us that one choice—resist or surrender. If you are resisting his call, you are in open rebellion against the Father, and, therefore, condemned already (see John 3:18). If you stop resisting and surrender all to God, the Father then gives us to Jesus who will in no wise cast us out (KJV). He will not refuse us, nor surrender us back to the Devil—no matter how far from God we may believe we have strayed; we are never away from God’s presence or his power to keep us.
The Father brings us in; Jesus keeps us in. We are now the sheep of his pasture, and the Shepherd will protect us, guide us, lead us to green pastures and clear, calm water; or discipline us when we stray. We can go into situations where Satan can attack us (see the book of Job), but Satan cannot and will not win us back. We are sealed, branded, as a child of God.
“For we are definitely told that Christ’s own honor is bound up in getting us safe home. We may falter and forget and fail, prove disobedient and unruly: but Christ will not fail. With loyalty, and to the last jot and tittle, he will carry out the will that God has given him to do; and part of that will is that we must not slip through his guard (I.B. p. 570).”
This is the main way that I know I am truly saved. Though I was out of the Church for over 20 years, God never let me go; and he welcomed me back in when I returned. God is Good and Faithful. I can only hope and pray that he will give me the power and the desire to be a tenth as good and faithful to him as he is to me. Amen.
Mini-Bible Lesson #32: Doing the Work
References: John 6:28-34; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, p. 564
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” --vv. 28-29 NIV
The fundamental question of life is: what are we doing here? Why are we here? What is the meaning and purpose of life: without meaning or purpose life is a pointless game, and suffering, which everyone experiences in this life, is a cruelty beyond all cruelties. The results of not believing in God or paying attention to him is the base reason for all the problems of mankind. As the psychologist C. J. Jung explained:
“During the last thirty years, people from all the civilized countries of the earth have consulted me…Among all my patients in the second half of life—that is to say, over thirty-five—there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every one of them fell ill because he had lost that which the living religions of every age have given to their followers, and none of them has been really healed who did not regain his religious outlook (I.B. vo. 8, p. 564).”
The only religion that can heal completely is that based in the one, true, omnipotent God and his Son. As Jesus says in verse 29: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Belief colors and shapes the life of every person. One’s actions, thoughts, motives, and speech all flow from one’s basic beliefs. This is why “faith without works is dead (see James 2:17). If you believe, you will do the work of the kingdom, because you live your life according to your beliefs. If you believe, you will live your life in a way that glorifies God. If you believe, you will rest in his promises no matter your circumstances—you will “fear no evil” (Psalm 23:4) for you know that God is with you. Belief, faith is the foundation of all God’s blessings. Believe and you will be saved—and have an abundant life (see John 10:10)—no matter how long or short it is, or how rich or poor you are, or how healthy or sick, hungry or full. Believe. If your belief is weak, ask God to help “thou mine unbelief” (see Mark 9:24). God will provide and strengthen your faith as necessary—if you are willing to be changed.
Go and do the work of God—Believe!
Mini-Bible Lesson #31: Jesus Is God
References: John 6:16-27; Interpreter’s Bible, V. 8, pp. 561-563.
The disciples had rowed about three or four miles when they saw Jesus walking on the water, coming near the boat, and they were terrified. –verse 19 (GNT)
Have we emphasized the love of Jesus who died on the cross to cover our sins with his blood so much that we have forgotten to “fear” him, too? He is not only our Savior. He is our Lord. He not only washes away our sins. He is our judge and jury. He is not only fully human. He is fully God. He is the same God of the Old Testament as he is the God of the New Testament.
Jesus showed his humanity when he stopped at the well to rest and talked to the Samaritan woman. He shows his godly powers here as he walks upon liquid water that is also making furious waves. He is the master of the universe. He ought to be the master of your heart and life, also—if you truly believe.
As C. S. Lewis put it in the Chronicles of Narnia when the little girl meets the Lion, a symbol of Christ the King:
“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr. Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”
Someone with this much power ought to create some apprehension in us, even knowing that he loves us and only wants the best for us; because what Jesus considers to be the best for us is likely to be something we don’t think we want or need. Why? Because we are as dumb as sheep, chasing after greener grass and not paying attention to the cliff or boggy mire up ahead.
Jesus answered, “I am telling you the truth: you are looking for me to because you ate the bread and had all you wanted, not because you understood my miracles. Do not work for food that spoils; instead, work for the food that lasts for eternal life. This is the food which the Son of Man will give you, because God, the Father, has put his mark of approval on him.” –vv.26-27 (GNT)
What is worse than having too little reverence for the Lord is that we look to him more to provide us with material comforts, than to recreate us into the image of God we were meant to be.
“If he will be a judge and divider of material things, increasing our share in them; if he will give us loaves and fishes, better houses, shorter hours, bigger wages, gadgets to lessen work and add to our leisure—these are real things well worth the having, and we will follow him for them. But who wants his spiritual gifts? What would we do with them? What difference would they make? And so Christ’s supreme offers to us—the power to conquer selfishness and temper, and so be no longer the helpless plaything of temptation, to be masters of our own lives, putting them to high and worthy ends—are peevishly pushed aside as stupid irrelevancies and nothing to the point.” --I.B. V. 8, p. 562
We spend a great deal of time worrying about money: the lack of it, about those who have much too little, and those who seem to have way too much. We give away our used items to the less fortunate, which gives us an excuse to buy newer things for ourselves. We protest and march and vote and have fundraisers to help others with their physical needs; all the while never or rarely mentioning the Name of the ONE that they truly need in their lives.
“What vexes Christ the most in the economic situation is not that material things are so badly distributed, but rather that they are so grossly overvalued. In his standard of measurement, they rank very low indeed. As Jesus said in verse 27 (RSV): “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life...”
Be grateful for the grace offered to us by Christ; be thankful for the material things God provides for us; but stand in awe of the Maker of the Universe, who is our King and Judge. He not only saves us through the cross, he will sanctify us, even if it means making us carry our own cross while here on earth. Christ the Lord and Savior is Good, but he is not Safe! Praise be to God!
Mini-Bible Lesson #30: More Than Enough
References: John 6:1-15; Interpreter’s Bible v. 8, pp. 552-560
When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, "Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted." So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. –verses 12, 13 NIV
In this story of how Jesus fed 5,000 people with a few barley loaves and fishes, Jesus first saw the need, asked his disciples to feed the people, then took what little they had and fed the whole crowd until they were full. God ask us to feed the people with the gospel message; he will stretch our resources to meet the need, no matter how little we have to begin the work.
Jesus had the people sit down in groups first. This helped to avoid chaos, and made sure that each person received something to eat (no hogging the food by a few aggressive people). This is a common-sensible way to handle the charity he was providing. We are expected to do the same when we provide charity to others—be organized, and make sure that those who need it the most get what they need. Jesus gave thanks for what he had before him and blessed it. And even though, it seemed to be way too little for the purpose, the need before him; it became more than enough. Should we not start with thankfulness for what we have, go about the business of the Kingdom, and believe that God will see that our small store of provisions will be enough, and become more than enough to do the business God has called us to do? If we are doing the Lord’s will, he will provide. If he does not provide, maybe it would be wise of us to rethink what we are doing or trying to do.
After giving away all their store of food, 5 loaves and 2 small fish, the 5,000 were fed and there was enough left over for the disciples to eat also. As Jesus has said elsewhere, hoarding is bad (see Matthew 6:19-21; Luke 12:13-21). It causes you to lose life, because you are always worrying about what you have and may lose (see Luke 12:22-34). But giving generously opens you up to grand possibilities and removes the constant grasping and clawing to keep and to have more. It is not yours anyway. All we possess is a blessing from God. Our blessings are meant to be used for his Kingdom’s work. Our reward awaits us in heaven; it is not given to us here. What we enjoy here is paltry compared to what we will receive in heaven and on the new earth.
Are you denying God a chance to bless you beyond measure by keeping it all for yourself? God says that he will provide. Do you believe this? Act as if you do. Let God bless you more by giving more.
Mini-Bible Lesson #29:Don't Heal Me!
References: John 5:1-18; Interpeter’s Bible, V. 8, pp. 539-545.
When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’
Jesus waded through a mass of suffering people to one man who had been near the pool of healing for 38 years. The first thing Jesus does is ask the man, “Do you want to be healed?” Why would the man be there if he didn’t want to be healed? Why would he struggle to reach the moving, healing waters before all the others if he did not want to be healed? Yet, this is the perfect question, for we humans are a strange people. We often say we want to be made whole, but deep inside we aren’t so sure. We become comfortable in our current state of being—our physical state, our financial state, our relational state, and our spiritual state. We don’t really like to change—even for the better. All change brings disruption. We become uncomfortable—and none of us likes that.
So many people like the idea of Jesus and what he stands for—love, sacrifice, peace, hope—but cringe at the idea of giving Jesus full control over their lives. They want the love and forgiveness offered by Christ, but shrink from his lordship. They are comfortable in their sins, invested in their way of life. They do not really want to be healed—transformed.
But, we Christians should not look askance or feel superior to those who refuse the call to believe; because we turn away from God’s full healing, too. How many of us truly want to be transformed or completely made free from all our sins? How many of us are truly willing to give it all to Jesus? Aren’t we afraid sometimes that he will ask us to do something new and uncomfortable? Aren’t we afraid that if we let Jesus pour his whole Spirit upon us that we will be moved to do something that will force us out of our current style and form of living into something new that will change everything?
He may ask us to spend less money on ourselves and give more to His work in the world! He may move us to another location or field of mission. He may call us to teach, or preach, or to witness to a neighbor, or even a family member or friend that we have never spoken to about Jesus and their need of salvation. We say that we want God to pour his power out upon us—but only if we can have it on our terms, and for our purposes. Do you truly want to be healed? Do you really yearn to be transformed (thirsting after righteousness)? Or do you want to remain mostly as you are with only a little side salad of redemption, but little or no sanctification? Are we too bad to change, or too comfortable where we are to want to change?
Notice that the man, after being made whole by Jesus, immediately obeyed Jesus’s command to pick up his mat and carry it (though he knew it was the Sabbath and carrying a burden was prohibited) (vv. 8-9). Justification by Jesus leads to obedience, which leads to sanctification (transformation into the likeness of Christ), and abundant life in following Jesus.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform (be comfortable in) any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2, NIV)”
P. S.: Notice that Jesus waded through many other people who were suffering, but only chose one person to offer healing to. Jesus knows each of us better than we know ourselves. If you are not being changed into the image of Christ, and made whole, could it be because Jesus knows you are not yet willing to be healed?
Mini-Bible Lesson #28: God Provides
Reference: Matthew 6:25-34; Malachi 3:6-18.
“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:31-34 NIV
God did it again. Anytime I begin to worry about finances, God steps in and shows me that I have no need to worry; just place it all in his hands. HE WILL PROVIDE. God’s reminder of this came to me again this month.
We recently held another Art & Crafts Show at Ebenezer UMC. In the last one we had, I offered to give God 20% of any artwork that I sold. I sold one item. This year, I felt led to promise 100% to God to help our church pay off the roof-repair loan. The week before the show my heat pump stopped working on Tuesday. I considered only giving a portion of any sales to the church, but decided to remain firm in my offer to God. On Friday, I received an unexpected monetary gift. At the show, I sold 5 art pieces for the same amount of the gift. I did not think that I would be able to give to the Thank Bank or my usual tithe to the church on Sunday, because my checking account was so low, and I knew some automatic payments were due to be deducted; yet, I managed to give almost as much as usual in cash, and by cleaning out my change purse. My wallet was lighter; but so was my heart. God is indeed good, and rewards those who faithfully give to his kingdom’s work.
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” (Malachi 3:10 NIV)
I await your next blessings, Lord. I know there will be many more. Praise to God!
Mini-Bible Lesson #27: Unlikely People
References: John 4:27-42; Interpreter’s Bible, v. 8, pp. 529-535
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.” --John 4:39-41 NIV
Christ has confidence in unlikely people. Here is a lonely woman, oft married, now living with a man who is not her husband, and a Samaritan, too! Yet, Jesus plainly says to this sinful, poor, contentious woman that he is the Messiah (vv. 25-26) that she has been waiting for—something he did not do for many other people.
God often chooses people to serve him and do his greatest missions’ work that we good Christians would or do overlook as being hopeless or too broken to be saved. Witness the persecutor of Christians, Saul, whom God transformed into the Apostle Paul, author of a great deal of the New Testament; witness John Newton, “a brutal captain of a villainous slave ship (I.B. p. 529)” who wrote arguably the most beloved and most often used hymn of all time, even by unbelievers, “Amazing Grace.” Here is the unnamed woman at the well who hurried into the town to tell the whole village about this Jesus, the Messiah. It is a privilege and honor to be used by God as a witness and as his hands in the world—or it should be. Not a task or job we feel obligated to perform, but a reward given by God to those he knows that he can trust, because they are true believers who allow themselves to be transformed by him into his image.
This is what Jesus wants most of all--to change us into his image; yet, we must be willing. God does not coerce us. He coaxes us to let him do his work of transformation, of sanctification. We can help by studying his word and praying regularly and devotedly, by attending worship services, by giving gratefully of our material blessings from God back to the Lord, of making ourselves available to be used by God. Be willing, be changed, be an unlikely person who God can use to do the work of his kingdom in this world.
Mini-Bible Lesson #26: Be Changed
References: John 4:15, 16-23; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, pp. 524-527
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” –John 4:15 NIV
When told about the forever thirst-quenching water that Jesus could provide for her, the woman at the well thought he was referring to physical water (I.B. p. 524). Was she obtuse or evasive? Did she not really want to acknowledge what Jesus was telling her?
Don’t we respond the same way? We look at the physical and material things to assuage the thirst within us; but they never satisfy for long, and certainly not forever. So many of us are “hugely interested in the by-products of Christianity—and they are most important—but in Christianity scarcely at all (I.B. p. 525).” We want Christ to help us resolve the poverty and inequities and violence in the world; to help us make more money, and have nice things to enjoy; but we refuse to accept his greatest gift of, not only justification, but sanctification—being transformed into a righteous person, the very foundation that a truly good and prosperous and equitable civilization is built upon.
This attitude can lead to a religion choked by religiosity. In verses 19 and 20, the woman at the well uses religion as a shield against who Jesus is:
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
It is possible to use religiosity as a shield against a true relationship with Christ that we know deep down would involve changes in our lives and attitudes that we prefer not to make. Many people work busily in the church because of their love for Christ, his people, and his mission. Yet, there are those who use their religiosity to avoid true commitment, and complete submission to the Lord. They think they have or are earning their way to heaven without the need to change or be changed by God into the image of Christ, which could involve major changes in behavior, lifestyle choices, what to spend money on, and attitudes toward other people; plus call for sacrificial acts by them.
Jesus does not let her use her religiosity to keep her from the truth: God wants true worship from truly committed believers:
“Yet the time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and truth (vv. 23-24).”
“The central fact in a time of worship is not that we are seeking God, but that he is seeking us (I.B. p. 527).” When we are receptive to God’s call and willing to reach out and climb up to him with hearts filled with gratitude and adoration while he is reaching down and calling for us with love and graciousness to come, great and significant things can happen—to individuals and within whole congregations. We ought to come into any worship service with expectancy—expecting God to show up, expecting answers to our prayers, expecting empowerment, expecting change for the better, expecting action from God through us. Be changed by full submission to Christ, and help change the world.