Mini-Bible Lessons Section 3
These essays were written by Cindy Sears (member of Ebenezer Church) based upon her 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 starting in November 2022. Access other lessons below.
|#51 A Humble King
|#52 God Uses People
|#53 God's Testing
|#55 Don't Wait
|#56 Upper Room
|#57 Faith on trial
|#58 Othniel, the Best Judge
|#59 Daily Washing
|#60 Perfect Example
|#61 Love or Else?
|#62 A Prepared Place
|#63 Greater Works?
|#64 Ask Anything?
|#66 God's Home
|#67 True Peace
|#68 Hesitant Warrior
|Judges 6:(1-13), 14-24, 33-40
|#69 Leaving the UMC
|2 Peter 2:18-21; 2 Timothy 4:1-5
|#70 Too Many
|#71 Fruit of the Vine
|#72 The Genuine Vine
|#74 Ending Well?
|#75 Worthless Leaders
Mini-Bible Lesson #75: Worthless Leaders
References: Judges 9:1-15, 16-57; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 2, pp. 751-755
Abimelech ruled over Israel three years. But God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the lords of Shechem; and the lords of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech. –Judges 9:22-23 NRSV
Overly ambitious Abimelech, the illegitimate son of Gideon (aka Jerubbaal), schemes to be appointed king of the territory by the men of Shechem where many Canaanites of his mother’s lineage still dwell. He then proceeds to murder all but one of Gideon’s 70 sons to cement his rule. Jotham, the youngest son of Jerubbaal escapes, and later stands upon Mt. Gerizim and tells a fable as a prophetic warning to the people of Shechem who have agreed to let Abimelech reign over them.
The strange story of trees asking an olive tree, then a fig tree, and then a vine to reign over them and protect them; then finally settling for a bramble to be their king indirectly shows the people of Shechem their stupidity in appointing Abimelech as king. As the bramble is unfruitful and not tall enough to lord it over the trees, Abimelech himself is not worthy of being king or able to rule and protect those who have fallen under his spell.
“Oil, figs, and wine were the most valuable productions of the land of Canaan, whereas the briar was good for nothing but to burn…The briar, which has nothing but thorns upon it, and does not even cast sufficient shadow for anyone to lie down in its shadow and protect himself from the burning heat of the sun, is an admirable simile for a worthless man, who can do nothing but harm. The words of the briar, ‘Trust in my shadow,’ seek refuge there, contained a deep irony, the truth of which the Shechemites were very soon to discover.” (C. F. Keil and F. Delitzch, Biblical Commentary of the Old Testament IV, pp. 563-564)
Unfortunately, this story can also be a picture of how good men and women prefer to spend their efforts in business and on personal matters and refuse to take up the mantel of political or church leadership; so that the less able and less faithful or selfish end up being elected or appointed to “rule over us” in government or in the administrative offices and ministries of the church. We need good and righteous leaders in both government and the church.
The rest of Judges Chapter 9 tells how the lords of Shechem and Abimelech turn to violence against one another, leading to the death of many, including 1,000 men, women, and children burned alive in a tower, the total destruction of two cities, and Abimelech’s demise at the hands of a woman who pushes a millstone from the top of the second tower that lands on Abimelech’s head—a fatal wound. But Abimelech orders his armor-bearer to finish him off to avoid people saying, ‘A woman killed him.’
Power corrupts, and power obtained and used corruptly and for selfish reasons destroys.
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Mini-Bible Lesson #74: Ending Well?
References: Judges 8:22-35; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol 2, pp. 748-750.
Gideon said to them, "I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the LORD will rule over you." –Judges 8:23
Gideon began his judgeship with very little self-confidence or confidence in the LORD’s message that he could lead the Israelites to victory over their oppressors. In the end he had enough confidence in himself and in the LORD to turn down an offer of kingship and an hereditary monarchy for this sons. If this was the end of the it, his life story would have been one to be proud of, to be honored.
Unfortunately, though he turned down the power they offered to him and his family, he did ask for some of the spoils of war. With this gold, he made an ephod—some kind of image that he set up in his hometown of Oprah. And "Israel played the harlot after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family." So, though the land had rest from their enemies for forty years, and the Midianites were completely subdued by Israel, the stage was set for another crisis to come that would utterly wipe out Gideon’s family of 70 sons, minus one who managed to escape from the coming slaughter. (See Judges 9.)
How many Christians have lived righteously and spent years of faithful labor and giving to their Lord in the church to, in the end, turn away or fall away from that faithful service and giving? We must be diligent and wary of being pulled away from the Lord by the cares and distractions of the world all our lives—to the very end—or we, too, may falter at the last and cause great harm to the gospel message and our families.
As the Apostle Paul warns us in two passages "Do not grow weary in doing good (2 Thessalonians 3:13)." And in Galatians 6:9, he writes, "So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we do not give up."
As our church, Ebenezer, prepares to enter a new phase of service to our Lord Jesus Christ, I thank God for all the members of Ebenezer who have stood with us, firm in their faith, and faithful in their service and giving. God has blessed us and will continue to bless us when we stand with him, and he will strengthen us; so that, we will not grow weary when we abide in the true vine—Jesus Christ (see John 15). Praise be to God—Father, Son, and Spirit—our one and only King!
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Mini-Bible Lesson #73: Friends
References: John 15:12-17; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, pp. 723-725
You are my friends if you do what I command. –John 15:14 NIV
Our obedience to Christ is commanded, but "Mere obedience is less than what he asks. That is a slave’s part; and we are summoned to something warmer and more spontaneous, we are to be Christ’s friends (see vv. 14-15) (I.B. p. 723)."
True friendship involves a whole-hearted trust in one another. It involves the ability to open one’s heart to the other without fear of censure or abandonment, but also knowing that our friend will tell us the truth even if it seems hurtful to keep us from greater harm. A friend will give unhesitatingly and even eagerly, "without reckoning up the cost," or requiring "tit for tat" repayments. As Christ gave his all for us, we, as his friends, will give our all for him—not counting the cost or demanding repayment.
As Christians, we are commanded to love one another as Christ loved us. When we abide in Christ, this love will be a natural product of that relationship. Yet, being human, we fail to love others as he loves us within the church. It is often more difficult to love those we know well than strangers we know little about. Despite our flaws and short comings, Jesus loves us and calls us his friends. Despite our fellow believers’ flaws and shortcomings, should we not love them and call them friends as Jesus does for us?
Maybe we find true friendship and fellowship difficult in the church body because we do not give ourselves completely and freely to Christ.
Once our own interests are served, once our own ends are met, we will share some of the surplus with Christ, if there is a surplus; give something to him, and do something for him. But against the background of his friendship for us, ours toward him is a poor and stunted thing…Nor are we frank and open with him, as he is toward us. Our prayers are often stiff and formal, less than honest. Moreover, we soon grow bored in his presence and find nothing more to say. And this is because we do not seem to realize how intimate our prayers can be and ought to be… (pp. 724-725, I.B. vol. 8)
Talk to Jesus as a friend would have an intimate talk with another trustworthy friend. You can tell him anything, say anything—he already knows it all. He wants you to release your worries, your sins, your selfishness, your sorrows, your dreams, your failures and successes, your relationships, your anger or bitterness, your despair, your desperation, and even your happiness to him. He can and will carry them all for you.
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30 KJV).
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Mini-Bible Lesson #72: The Genuine Vine
References: John 15:1-15; Thru the Bible, J. Vernon McGee, Vol. IV, p. 465-467.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. –John 15:1 KJV
Jesus is telling his Jewish disciples here that he is the genuine vine. Though Israel is often described in the Old Testament as a vine, Jesus shows us here that they are not the genuine vine of God. God is the owner of the vine and the keeper of the vine—he takes care of the True Vine, Jesus, and through him, he tends the branches, the believers attached to Jesus, the True Vine.
And what does Jesus mean when he says in verse 2 that branches that do not bear fruit are taken away, and those that do bear fruit he purges or prunes? This is not a passage about losing salvation. This is about bearing fruit, and not bearing fruit. What is the fruit? It is all the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance (see Galatians 5:22-23). The saving of souls for the kingdom is a by-product of these fruits in the life of the believer rooted or attached to Jesus.
But if a branch is fruitless, Jesus says that God will remove it. Is that why some people who accept Jesus as Savior fall away from the church? Their salvation remains, but being useless and even harmful to God’s work, he removes them—gets them out of the way, so that the remaining branches can be even more fruitful (McGee, p. 466).
And the purging or pruning here is a word in Greek that means “cleansing.” God will cleanse us from bad fruit, including our sins, bad attitudes, selfishness, and so on; so that we can bear more fruit of the Spirit in our daily lives and in the church. And how does he cleanse us? Through his word. “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you (John 15:3, KJV).”
"Abiding in Christ will produce effectual prayer, perpetual fruit, and celestial joy:
‘If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you (v. 7).’
That prayer is effectual.
‘Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so, shall ye be my disciples (v. 8).’
This is fruit perpetual.
‘These things I have spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full (v.11).’If a person has such fruit in his life, he will be bringing men into the presence of God by his very life. That of course, makes soul-winning a by-product (McGee, p. 466).
That is joy celestial.
We cannot bear fruit by ourselves. We must abide in the vine, Jesus, to be able to bear fruit (v. 4). How do we abide in Jesus? We remain in constant communion with Jesus by—reading his word, praying constantly, confessing our sins daily, worshiping with fellow believers, service in his kingdom’s work, and giving to his church and those in need, and regular taking of communion.
And we must keep his commandments (vv. 10, 14).
“Are we doing what Jesus has commanded us to do? Obedience is essential to abiding (McGee, p. 467).”
When our works (fruit) are tested by God through fire what is gold and silver will remain, what is hay, wood and stubble will be burned up—and no reward will be given for such dross; yet the person’s salvation in Christ remains. “If his work is burned up, he will suffer the loss. However, he will be saved, though it will be like going through a fire (1 Corinthians 3:15 GNT).”
Don’t let your works be burned up. Abide in Christ. Bear fruit.
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Mini-Bible Lesson #71: Fruit of the Vine
References: John 15:1-8; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, pp. 715-717
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. –John 15:1-2 NIV
This is one of the great “I am” sayings of Jesus as he allegorically refers to himself as the true vine (genuine) and those who believe in him as the branches radiating out from that vine.
Yet, these branches don’t just sit on the vine, they are expected and required to bear fruit or they will be removed and discarded by the Vine Dresser (the Father). Even those branches that bear fruit will be “cleansed” or pruned in a way that will cause them to bear more fruit.
This bearing of fruit is not accomplished by the branches, for apart from “[Jesus] you can do nothing” (v. 5b). We become fruit bearers by abiding in Jesus—remaining connected to Jesus and, therefore, receiving nourishment and strength and power through him.
Today so many people, including some calling themselves Christians, have imagined that they have evolved to greater wisdom, and accumulated enough knowledge to resolve all the problems on earth through “a little social and political and economic pressure (I.B. p. 716).” But instead of creating a fairer, brighter future for all our efforts to do it in our own power and without Jesus (God) and following his guidance, we have created more disorder and chaos. Millions have died trying out socialism and communism and now, people have fallen for lies and deceptions that are completely insane—even to the point of believing that men can become women and vice versa, and that marriage can be a union of two men or two women, therefore destroying the basic unit of all civilizations—the family.
A culture that ignores God and his laws will fail once the number of unbelievers and those who ignore God reaches a critical point. Are we closing in on that point of no return?
In our own individual lives have we become so detached from Jesus that we are withering on the vine, not bearing fruit, dying along with our culture and society?
Life is rushed and bustled; and in the jostle of competing interests always twitching at our sleeve and attracting our attention, spiritual things can easily get overlooked and lost. Seasons of devotion are shortened or crowded out. God’s Word is not seriously or regularly studied…Get close to Jesus Christ! And he will do the rest for you. But the branch cannot bear fruit of itself (I.B., p. 717).
Christ wants us to bear fruit. Knowing our weakness and tendency to selfishness, self-centeredness, and sinfulness, he still wants us to bear fruit for his kingdom! We are the hands and feet of Christ. God calls people to do his work on earth even though he could do a much better and quicker job of it by himself. Yet, he has made us in his image, and he has given us dominion on this earth and in this time to “bear fruit” by leading people into his kingdom with the gospel message about Jesus his Son, and to bring more good into the world wherever we are and whatever we are doing, and to fight evil and shine the light of God’s love and grace into the world.
Every man is a priest, even involuntarily, his conduct is an unspoken sermon, which is forever preaching to others; but there are priests of Baal, of Moloch, and of all the false gods. Such is the high importance of example (Amiel’s Journal)…Every life is a profession of faith , and exercises an inevitable and silent propaganda (I. B. p. 717)...
What message does your life convey into the world? As believers, Christians, our lives should convey the message of hope, love, and joy found only in Christ Jesus; but to be able to do that well and consistently, we must abide in Jesus and bear fruit by his power, not our own, by his wisdom, not our own, in his truth, not our own version of truth. He has given us his written word, and filled us with his personal Spirit, but neither will save us if we refuse to read and to listen and to pray for his guidance and help.
(Originally published in the September 2023 Newsletter.)
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Mini-Bible Lesson #70: Too Many
References: Judges 7:1-8; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 2, pp. 737-739.
The Lord said to Gideon, "The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, 'My own hand has delivered me.'" –Judges 7:2
Gideon gathered an army of 32,000 to fight the Midianites who were wreaking havoc in Israel; yet, God said, "That’s too many!" The LORD then instructs Gideon to do some tests to winnow down the group of warriors to only 300 men!
Since 2016, it seems that God has been whittling down the congregation at Ebenezer Church. Many of us have been greatly concerned about the decline in our membership numbers and attendance numbers and contributions. Have we stopped to wonder why God may be cutting us down to move us into greater service and glory for him?
Gideon’s army went from a big force of 32,000 warriors down to 300. This remaining number of warriors were the bravest and most alert of the 32,000 men. God wanted them to understand that their coming victory over the enemies of Israel was because of the power and strategies that God provided them. Their victory would be in God’s hands, not in their hands or by their cleverness. When things are going well, when we have plenty of money coming in, when we have many hands to do the work that needs to be done, we humans can become "cocky" and assume that our successes are because of ourselves and our own efforts and cleverness, instead of because of God’s mercies and blessings.
Ebenezer Methodist Church is facing a mountain of difficulty in our desire and determination to stand true to God’s Word and long-standing Christian doctrine, and not give into the mandates of an evil culture. Yes, I said evil. Satan is the father of lies. He comes to kill and destroy. Look around: abortion = killing; easy divorce, easy "love", the welfare state, same-sex marriage = destruction of the family; transgenderism (transvestites) = deceitfulness; pretending to be something they are not and can never truly be.
We will stand. We will survive. Not because of our own efforts or power, but because of the power God gives our efforts to succeed. In his will, he provides to us all that we need to remain true to him for his glory.
By the way, Gideon and his 300 men win the battle with the "sword for the LORD and for Gideon!" (7:20b)
(Originally published in the August 2023 Newsletter.)
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Mini-Bible Lesson #69: Leaving the UMC
For they speak bombastic nonsense, and with licentious desires of the flesh they entice people who have just escaped from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for people are slaves to whatever masters them. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment that was passed on to them.
– 2 Peter 2:18-21 NRSVA
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
—2 Timothy 4:1-5 NRSVA
The following things have been/are happening more and more within the UMC:
- Increasing acceptance of and push for recognition of same sex marriages.
- Increasing acceptance of and push for allowing practicing homosexuals in church/pastoral offices.
- Bishops and other church leaders refusal to censure churches who support and pastors who perform same-sex marriages or churches who support practicing homosexuals as pastors/church officers and teachers; and, therefore refusing to enforce the Book of Discipline guidelines concerning these practices.
- Transgender events are now beginning to gain a foothold in some UMC churches with little or no pushback from the Bishops.
- The appointment of a pastor to Ebenezer who was unorthodox on these issues, that led to a harmful breakup/disruption in our church and its membership.
We see which way the wind is blowing, and, since we wish to remain true to God’s Word and his natural revelation in his design of our bodies, we have decided to leave the United Methodist Church organization before things get even worse. Even though our area’s Bishop has promised to only appoint "traditional" pastors to our church; he has also stated that if a "traditionalist" pastor is not available, a "progressive" pastor will be appointed, but instructed to keep his/her beliefs about these matters to him/herself. That is asking these pastors to be deceptive, and not possible anyway because people who follow these heterodox leanings cannot help but have them color their sermons and service in the church. Therefore, we wish to leave the UMC and move to an organization that will affirm and support orthodox Christian doctrine based on the Holy Bible and historical Christian doctrinal beliefs, especially as espoused by Methodism’s founder John Wesley. We will remain a Methodist church whatever organization we join after our disaffiliation from the UMC.
What are the obstacles/costs related to leaving the UMC?
Because UMC is a connectional organization, each church is considered an integral part of the larger organization and under the governing rule of that organization. Disaffiliation must be approved by the governing body’s local conference, and we must follow their guidelines for leaving the UMC. Also, we are being assessed monies they say are obligations to the connectional group and help support the pension funds for retired pastors. We must abide by their rules and regulations mainly because of what is called the Trust Clause.
What is The Trust Clause?
Paragraph 2501. Requirement of the Trust Clause for All Property-1. All properties of United Methodist local churches and other United Methodist agencies and institutions are held, in trust, for the benefit of the entire denomination, and ownership and usage of church property is subject to the Discipline. This trust requirement is an essential element of the historic polity of The United Methodist Church or its predecessor denominations or communions and has been a part of the Discipline since 1797. It reflects the connectional structure of the Church by ensuring that the property will be used solely for purposes consonant with the mission of the entire denomination as set forth in the Discipline.
John Wesley first established a Trust Clause that "essentially gave the local church trustees the rights over the building, property, and appointment of preachers." Wesley’s friend and fellow preacher, George Whitefield warned Wesley that this opened the door to a local church appointing their own pastors, and they could even stop John Wesley from preaching in the very church that he had established. The changes that Wesley made gave the denomination ownership of the "building, land, and pastoral appointments of all local United Methodist churches. However, Wesley made it clear that the chief reason for this very strict Trust Clause was to protect and preserve orthodoxy in the church. If a pastor failed in the exercise of their ministry or in the proclamation of the gospel then Wesley did not want his hands tied in removing that pastor from the pulpit of a Methodist church. The Trust Clause was very explicit that only authentic Methodist doctrine should be preached in Methodist pulpits…it is explicitly required that in order for a local congregation to retain control of the land and buildings, those appointed should preach no other doctrine than is contained in Mr. Wesley’s Notes upon the New Testament and four volumes of sermons (Works of John Wesley, vol. 9)."
The Trust Clause is meant to keep the local church orthodox in its practice and teaching. Now it is being used to pressure local churches to accept false doctrine on pain of losing their buildings and land.
How Does It Happen?
After paperwork related to the disaffiliation process is completed, we will hold a called charge conference. At this conference, the *full members of Ebenezer who are present will vote for disaffiliation or against disaffiliation. For disaffiliation to pass, 2/3rds of those present for the vote must vote yes. If the members vote to sever Ebenezer’s connection with the UMC, they will vote on which other organization to join, if any. (Not necessarily during this meeting.) In November, the Annual Conference of our district will meet (virtually online) and vote on the disaffiliation of the local churches that want to leave the UMC. At that point, Ebenezer would be officially severed from the UMC connection. Monies required for the process must be paid by December 31, 2023. We must also stop using the cross and flame logo of the UMC, incorporate under a new name, dropping the United part, and take care of other legal changes as required.
All of this will be expensive because of the financial obligations levied against Ebenezer from the UMC, and legal paperwork and physical changes to remove the United Methodist Church designation from everything (website, letterhead, church steeple, leases, bank accounts, contracts, etc.).
We ask for your prayers, support of our fundraising efforts, and any financial gifts you may wish to give to help us through this process as we stand with God’s Word and historical Christian doctrine. Thank you.
References: Marriage/sex: Genesis 1:27; 2:23-24; Mark 10:6-9; Leviticus 18:22-23; Romans 1:26-27. Trust Clause: The Methodist Book of Discipline; Rev. Walter Fenton blog article.
*Full Membership = A person who has been baptized and confirmed at Ebenezer UMC; or a person who has joined Ebenezer from full membership in another church or joined Ebenezer by profession of faith. Once the date for the vote is set, members who wish to vote, but cannot attend the meeting in person must contact the church office to set up a live virtual session on their phone or computer to be able to vote.
(Originally published in the July 2023 Newsletter.)
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Mini-Bible Lesson #68: Hesitant Warrior
Reference: Judges 6:(1-13), 14-24, 33-40
And he said to him, "Pray, Lord, how can I deliver Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family." –Judges 6:15
Israel has strayed from the LORD again and allowed in worship of other gods. So, the LORD lets itinerant tribes come into Israel’s land and harass them, and steal their crops, cattle, and sheep. It is so bad in one area that the Israelites have had to resort to living in caves in the mountains.
God calls Gideon to deliver Israel from this enemy. The angel of the LORD who first contacts him calls Gideon a "mighty man of valor," (verse 12) but Gideon hesitates to accept the accolade as true forgetting that the angel also proclaimed, "The LORD is with you." That is where Gideon will find the strength and courage to do what God is calling him to do.
In his hesitation, Gideon requests signs from the LORD. In 6:14-24, he prepares a sacrificial offering, which the angel caused to burn up by touching it with his staff. Most church people probably have more often heard the story of the other request for a sign: a fleece left on the ground first being the only item with dew on it; then the only item with no dew on it (verses 33-40).
In between those two instances, Gideon obeys God’s command to pull down the local altar to Baal and the Asherah pole (two pagan gods). Though Gideon obeys the order, he does it at night, because he fears the local people and his father, who put up the altar! Yet, Gideon’s father steps in and restrains the people from retribution against his son after they find out who the culprit is who tore down the pagan altars. (Which shows us that God can send aid to us from the most unlikely people, or in unimagined ways.)
Despite his hesitant attitude, Gideon soon realizes that what is to be done must be done in the power of the LORD, not his own power alone. When he leads the attack against the interlopers, Gideon cries out "'the sword of the LORD, and of Gideon" (7:20), and leads his warriors to victory.
As we strive to do the Lord’s will, we too must remember that we never enter any battle, however small or large, without God’s power standing with us and giving us all we need to be victorious in the LORD. Therefore, let us be confident warriors for God, not hesitant and fearful ones.
Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. –Ephesians 6:10-11 NIV
Used in June 2023 NL for "Something to Pray About."
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Mini-Bible Lesson #67: True Peace
References: John 14:27-31; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, pp. 713-714; NIV Application Commentary: John by Gary M. Burge, p. 399.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. –John 14:27 NIV
My peace, he says. "Trust God wholeheartedly, as I have trusted and do trust him; accept unquestioningly his ordering of your life; lay your whole being at his absolute disposal, hold back nothing, make no reservations: and you will have a peace that passes understanding, garrisoning your heart, and you will come through with honor and in quietness of spirit—calm, steady, unafraid." (I.B. p. 713)
"Too many have an insane idea that the road to contentedness and peace runs through self-indulgence and the satisfying of one’s passions and desires." (I. B. p. 714) Jesus promised us peace in our hearts when we put our trust wholly in him, not peace in our world here and now. He promised to answer our prayers when prayed in “his name” and what we asked for glorifies him and his Father; not to give us everything our petty little hearts’ desire for our own indulgences.
True peace cannot be found in satisfying all our desires, achieving all our earthly goals, or in never losing a loved one prematurely, or in never failing at anything. It only comes to us when we bow before God and truly say, “Let Thy will be done.” Trusting that God has ordered our lives in a certain way for our benefit—if only we can wake up to his calling and obey. Jesus had peace while going to the cross, because he knew the Father loved him and he trusted the Father to bring him through. We can have that same peace when we truly and unreservedly trust God no matter what is going on in our lives or in this world.
Re: Verse 28, "…if you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father…" Jesus tells his disciples that they should rejoice at his impending death, because it is the Father’s will, and for the salvation of the world, including them. In Jesus, we see how to use our sorrows and pains for his glory and to aid in bringing more people to Jesus to be saved. Are we willing to suffer and let go of our things, desires, and goals if it will further his kingdom’s work here on earth? Or do we think down deep inside that if we don’t grab for all we can here and now, we will never have anything better?
Christ laid himself down on the cross with a will: not struggling, clamoring, cursing, as other victims did, but making it a voluntary sacrifice for a lost world. And we must learn to face the sorrows, disappointments, losses that life brings us with something of his magnanimity of spirit; not having what is taken from us wrenched away, but since it has to go, making it a free gift. (I.B. p. 714)
The peace Jesus offers "refers to the aim of his work on earth to restore the equilibrium and richness of humanity’s relationship with God" (see Romans 5:1; Burge, p. 399) as we accept Jesus as our Savior and Lord, so that we can face God in confidence of acceptance because our sins have been covered by the blood of Christ. So, let us rest in the true peace of God every day as we accept Christ’s great gift, and put our whole trust in God.
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Mini-Bible Lesson #66: God’s Home
References: John 14:22-24; Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 8, pp.710-711
Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “Lord, how can it be that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and my Father and I will come to them and live with them.” –John 14:23 GNT “Our heart the home of God! The door into which Christ turns with the restful feeling that he is in his own place, where love will meet him and surround him, where he is at home.” (I.B. p. 710)
Can there be a greater gift of assurance that God loves those who love him? His indwelling of the believer is beyond imagining. God, as the Holy Spirit, dwells in us who accept Jesus as our Savior and Lord. He has come to call everyone to repentance, to his own, yet they receive him not—or ignore him, or delay turning their lives over to him. And one day it will be too late to do so. Fling the door to your heart wide open to Jesus now! Don’t worry about the mess on the couch, the dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, the dust bunnies under the bed, the dingy windows—Jesus wants to dwell with you. After you invite him in there will be plenty of time with his help to put your house in order. Open the door!
“Listen! I stand at the door and knock; if any hear my voice and open the door, I will come unto their house and eat with them, and they will eat with me.” –Revelation 3:20 GNT
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Mini-Bible Lesson #65: Love=Obedience
References: John 14:21-23; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, pp. 709-710
Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him. –John 14:21 NIV
How do we know that we truly love Jesus and what he has done for us? How does God know that we truly believe in Jesus? By our obedience.
“Really to love Christ is to try to be obedient to his mind, to reproduce his ways, to live our life after the pattern of his. And whoso attempts so to do will be loved by my Father, declares Christ.” (I.B. p. 710)
This is not a call for works-righteousness. No matter how obedient we are, we remain unworthy of being in God’s all holy presence without the covering of Christ Jesus and his blood. Still, a tree is known by its fruits (see Luke 6:43-45). If we have truly accepted Jesus as our Savior, there will be signs in our life that he is also now our Lord.
As the Apostle Paul wrote, we must diligently work out our own salvation:
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13 NIV)
And we are never alone in our working out of our salvation. Christ’s Spirit remains with us, whether we stand or fall. As long as we continue to try to get up, he will be there to give us the help we need to stand up again. This is a good reason to NOT neglect reading our Bibles and coming to church. Our culture is being used constantly by Satan to move us away from God and into sinfulness. Picking up God’s Word daily and attending church weekly keeps our hearts and minds upon Jesus, our Lord and Savior; so that our salvation will not be in vain but bear much fruit for God’s kingdom and for our individual lives, our families, our communities, and our nation here in this fallen world.
We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. (1 John 2:3-6 NIV)
Let us walk as Jesus did in obedience to the Father. Amen.
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Mini-Bible Lesson #64: Ask Anything?
References: John 14:13-14; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, p. 706
Prosperity preachers and others like to grab hold of this passage, and tell people that they will be granted anything they want if only their faith is strong enough (and their monetary gifts are large enough). But is that what Jesus is saying here?
This is a bold and awe-inspiring saying from Jesus, but we often tend to forget that it is a conditional promise. It isn’t what we want that Jesus says we will receive. The conditional phrase is “that the Father may be glorified in the Son” and “anything in my name.” Both phrases signify that the promise relates to the work of the Kingdom and the glory of the Son that comes from leading others to the cross and the grace found only in our Savior, Jesus the Christ.
“It is only what we ask for ‘in Christ’s name,’ what we can pray for ‘for his sake,’ as a gift from God to him; only what will advance his cause, and so enhance God’s glory, that in this passage is so certainly guaranteed to us. ‘I will do it,’ he says. And again, ‘I will do it. If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.’” (I.B., p. 706)
Yet, even when we keep that in mind, we may still pray and receive a "no" for answer. Because we are flawed humans, we are foolish and ignorant, and unable to know for certain what we should pray for. Our own desires and aspirations can get in the way of us seeing or discerning what will glorify the Father through the Son.
“But surely Christ’s words here must and do mean that nothing that can further his great ends is too big for him to do for us; that we have at our back all the resources of Jesus Christ and all the grace and power of the Lord God Almighty and All Merciful; and that unless these can fail and these run dry, we are well able, if we draw upon them, to do anything and everything that God may ask of us.” (I.B., p. 706)
Make your requests known to God but consider each request in the light of his glorification and the furtherance of the work of his Kingdom here on earth. Will my request help bring glory to God? Will my desire help bring more people into his Kingdom through faith in Jesus Christ? Will my request make me more Christ-like in my daily walk? Or is this a selfish or self-centered request that will only make my life easier or satisfy my personal desires or help me to “keep up with the Joneses”?
Ask God for discernment. I am sure he will answer that prayer with a "yes."
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Mini-Bible Lesson #63: Greater Works?
References: John 14:12; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, pp. 705-706
I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. --John 14:12 NIV
This promise is amazing! But do we believe it? Has it happened at all?
Consider that Jesus Christ made very little impact on the world in which he lived while on earth. He is mentioned in passing in some historical writings (not counting the New Testament writings), mostly related to that small Jewish sect called The Way. There were rumors that those who followed him believed that he had been raised from the dead! Utter nonsense. Or that while alive, he had done miraculous works. Illusions. Wishful thinking? Yet, for some reason his followers were willing to die for their belief. Poor, crazy souls.
So, to begin with, the Christians were a small sect with few members. They were persecuted unmercifully by the Jewish leaders and the pagan Roman rulers. Despite all, they continued to witness for Jesus, and the faith spread. And everywhere it spread great and wondrous things occurred; and life became better for those who chose to believe, and for those around them.
From a small group of ordinary men and women, Christianity has spread around the world, and the world is a better place because of this faith and its followers. Wherever the faith has been strong, slaves have been set free, great art has been produced, and useful scientific discoveries have abounded. Benevolent governments have been born, the sick and weak have been cared for—not perfectly, but way better than before Christ came, and education/literacy have increased.
And the work carries on. Some heroes of the faith are well-known, some are obscure. Some have impacted masses of people; some have only impacted their own family members or a few friends.
And isn’t perseverance in the faith as great a work as a crusade? When many of the people around you mock your faith or treat you badly because of your faith—and yet you stand firm—that is a great work. When tragedy or disease or disaster strikes and you remain a faithful believer, that is a great work, too. And every Christian knows that he does not stand or walk or run or do great or small things for the Kingdom of God by himself—but by the power of Christ that dwells within him.
Jesus was preparing his followers for his imminent death on the cross, so that they would not be discouraged, but carry on. And so should you and I carry on, believing his promise that we will do greater works than he did.
Things are not collapsing, so Christ told them boldly. But, together, you and I will see this through. And remember there are two of us; that you will never be sent out or left alone; that always it will be you—and I; and together what can we not accomplish—you and I? (I. B., p. 706)
No faithful work will be wasted, whether small or great. The faithful have done great and wondrous things throughout history and the world, and greater things than what Jesus did while on earth (not counting his death and resurrection). We have access to great power. Accept it and use it for his glory and the spreading of his great kingdom around the world, and in your little community and family.
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Mini-Bible Lesson #62: A Prepared Place
References: John 14:1-3, Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, pp. 698-699
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.” –John 14:1-2 NIV
According to Jesus there are many rooms or mansions waiting in heaven for those who accept him as Lord and Savior. There will be a multitude of peoples from all tribes and nations in the new Jerusalem; yet every room is being prepared for one, special person. That person is you—if you believe. What will be in that room? What you need and want. It will be designed by Jesus specifically for you.
When an honored and loved guest is coming, preparations are made which are designed to meet his tastes and likings. The books that will appeal to him are laid where he can find them; flowers which we remember as his favorites are set about the room. These preparations are not merely general, but are thought out for him. And yonder Jesus Christ is so lovingly making ready for our coming; arranging a place, our place; and that with such an exact remembrance that it cannot fit anybody else. It is your place. And it is waiting for you. We must not fail the Father; leaving him to all eternity with that room designed for us still empty. For God wants all his family to gather home, not one among them missing (I. B. p. 699).
Contemplating upon this, I realized that even I don’t know what will be in my room. But, I know that God knows exactly what will please me, comfort me, excite me, and make me feel right at home when I get there. Praise his holy name forever. And I will.
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Mini-Bible Lesson #61: Love or Else?
References John 13:34-35; NIV Application Commentary: John by Gary M. Barge
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. --John 13:34-35 NIV
Can a person be commanded to love?
The love command puts in abstract words what Jesus meant in 13:14 when he told his disciples to wash one another’s feet…Unless one has a profound experience of being loved, it is virtually impossible to express profound love for another. (Barge, p. 386)
It is our experience of being loved by Christ so much that he died on the cross for us—for me—that opens up the well of loving that can then be given to other love thirsty souls in the church and in the world.
This love command has often been used to "increase the work of the church in the world" by saying that it is a command to love everyone (p. 387). "But Jesus is talking specifically about how we love one another within his church (p. 387)."
This can be difficult when we are called to stand for truth, for doctrinal truth, and we see our fellow Christians and church members being led astray by the culture and even by our church leaders. Yet, we must love as Jesus loved. Part of our reason for pointing out error is love for God’s truth, as well as, his love. Even in our disagreements, we must strive to point out truth in a loving way, and never write someone off as hopeless or treat them as less than human.
In spite of our differences, when a stranger steps into our church, the first impression should be that we love one another with a genuine love. We do not just share an interest or goal, but love one another and, therefore, are willing to sacrifice time, effort, and money to help one another in this fallen world of sin, corruption, and pain.
…it is the mandate of the church to become a community of love, a circle of Christ’s followers who invest in one another because Christ has invested in them, who exhibit love not based on the mutuality and attractiveness of its members, but on the model of Christ, who washed the feet of everyone (including Judas) (p. 387).
Accent verse: Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. –1 John 2:9-10 NIV (NL March 2023)
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Mini-Bible Lesson #60: Perfect Example
References: John 13:12-15; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, pp. 684-686.
I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. John 13:15-16 NIV
The Hebrews looked up to God and reverenced him "as to One far above themselves; whereas the Greeks and Romans, in the mass, looked down upon their gods from a superior moral height which the gods themselves never attained." (I. B. pp. 684-685) They knew that if people in the world behaved like their gods there would be utter chaos. Deep down the Greeks and Romans knew and we know that we need a moral God. "[A]nd it was Jesus who gave that to man, who showed us that God is bound by his own moral laws, that as Whittier said: 'By all that He requires of me, I know what God Himself must be.'"
So, how do we know what God is like? Jesus says to look at Him. He is the way God is, and as we ought to be. As verse 14 says, "I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you…"
But, we must first be taught about Jesus and grow into a greater likeness of him day by day. This does not mean that we are bound to "obedience to an unalterable set of hide bound rules, but the growing up into his spirit, which acts sometimes in one way, and, in differing circumstances, it may be, in quite another. The Christ who tells us that we must forgive unendingly spoke about Herod with hot and open scorn, even with contempt. And if we are to imitate him with correctness, we shall have to act sometimes forgivingly and sometimes with a clean and resolute anger." (I. B. p. 686)
In Jesus we see the ideal realized, and we can have confidence that he can lead us to be what he wants us to be, to do what he calls us to do. Jesus is our guiding star and our goal—for he is who we struggle to become like in all things.
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Mini-Bible Lesson #59: Daily Washing
References: John 13:6-11; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, p. 682
"Then, Lord," Simon Peter replied, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!" Jesus answered, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you." --John 13:9-10, NIV
Jesus tells Peter that he cannot be a part of Jesus’ kingdom if he refuses to let Jesus wash his feet. We need daily washing by Jesus. When we accept him as Lord and Savior, we are cleansed all-over from sin. Yet, in our daily walk in this world, we will pick up the dirt of the world, which we should take to Jesus and request that he wash our feet (minds, hearts) clean again. Daily repentance is necessary as we walk with Jesus in this world. In verses six and seven, Jesus tells Peter that he will understand what Jesus is doing afterwards. As Christians we are often blindsided by events or circumstances and wonder why our Lord is allowing such bad or even horrible things to occur in our lives. We forget that God is trustworthy in that he wants what is best for us. The best thing for us is to be changed into the image of his Son, Jesus. The trials and tribulations we face are bringing us closer to that image and, if not, we are in rebellion against our Lord, or more concerned with the material world than our sanctification.
At first, however, and often for long enough we are apt to be slow to believe all that. For what has befallen us, or what is asked of us, seems to us monstrous, unreasonable, impossible…If the gospel, if our fellowship with Christ and our faith in him, if our glib professions of allegiance, our prayers and religious exercises, are not cleansing our characters from what soils them and healing our natures from what maims them: if we drift from day to day much what we have always been, and not markedly different with Christ from what we would have been without him: then for us the gospel has failed. We have missed the point and end of the whole business and are not really Christ’s at all. So Christ himself told his best friend. (I.B. p. 683)
Jesus says in verse 10, "He who has bathed does not need to wash…" Because of this we can rejoice in the fact that in Christ, we are clean. All our past, present, and future sins are washed clean, "except for the dust gathered in the day’s traveling and marketing and bustling to and fro. And that too Christ will cleanse away if with seemly humility we allow him to work out his generous purpose toward us." (I.B. pp. 683-4)
Humbly ask Jesus to wash your feet daily, and you will be clean all over again.
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Mini-Bible Lesson #58: Othniel, the Best Judge
References: Judges 3:7-11; The NIV Application Commentary: Judges/Ruth by K. Lawson Younger, Jr. pp. 100-110.
The anger of the LORD burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishthaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years. –Judges 3:8
There is a series of cycles of "judges" in the book of Judges with each judge moving from the best to the worst. Othniel, the best one, appears in only a few spare verses; while the worst, Samson, has a long story arc. Othniel was the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. When the faithless Israelites turned away from the LORD and began to worship the Baals and the Asherahs, God “sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim” whom they had to serve for eight years. Then “the Spirit of the LORD came upon him.” Othniel became a judge aka deliverer, and warred against Cushan-Rishathaim. The land then had peace for 40 years—until Othniel died.
In these spare verses, we see a man who was a believer who followed God’s will. In chapter one, verse 13, we are told that he married a godly woman (Acsah), not a Caananite as many of the Israelites ended up doing, who then led their husbands and families astray. As Christians, we should take this prohibition to heart, not only when choosing our marriage partner, but our business associates also (NIV Applcation, p. 108). "Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers."
We learn hear also that Othniel is a Kenizzite—not a true blood Israelite; yet, God found him to be the best choice for judge. It is not unusual for a person from outside the church who becomes a Christian to be more passionate and devoted to the Lord than people who have gone to church all their lives. Do too many church goers get bored and complacent about their salvation, because they spend so little time reading and studying God’s word or praying or serving or sacrificially giving to have this kind of passion and fervor? If the fire isn’t punched and raked once in a while, it will smolder and can go out completely. Othniel overcomes the worst of the oppressors, going by the opressor's name, which means “dark, doubly wicked” (ibid p. 104). Othniel does not act until God calls him, though he was a proven warrior (See Judges 1:11-13 where his prowess won him his wife). He walks with God. We are called to walk in the Light of Jesus, too (1 John 1:7), then we also will be able to overcome the world (1 John 5:4-5). Notice also that as long as Othniel was alive, the Israelites behaved themselves enough that the land had peace until Othniel’s death. A good witness for God can influence a whole family or community for the better. Be that good witness and influence; and pray that it will stick long after you are gone.
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Mini-Bible Lesson #57: Faith on Trial
References: Judges 2:18-23; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 2, pp. 704-705
So the Lord allowed these nations to remain in the land; he did not give Joshua victory over them, nor did he drive them out soon after Joshua’s death. —Judges 2:23 GNT
The Lord would help Israel by sending them leaders to help overcome oppression from the indigenous people in the promised land, but Israel would remain faithful only during the lifetime of that leader (vv. 18-19). So, the Lord decided that he would leave some of the peoples in the land as a constant thorn in the Israelites’ side, to test their faithfulness to God. He used these remaining peoples as a way to test and refine the Israelites’ faith in him.
With the pagan alternative always at hand, her (Israel) own faith stood out in its true beauty and value. This was a dangerous expedient. Yet how important it is for maturing, either of a nation or of an individual. The life from which all opposition has been kept, which has been carefully protected and defended, often becomes weak and ineffective. The life permitted to face experience in all its aspects, with its hurts as well as its healing, often grows in strength. There is no guarantee that this will be the case; it is a risk—but a calculated risk taken by wise parents as they rear their children and taken by a wise God as he nurtures his people (I.B. pp. 704-705).
Would it not also be wise of the church and its teachers to introduce challenges to the faith within the church setting, and provide answers to hard questions that will be asked by the people that our children encounter in the world? What are we doing to counteract the lies in our culture that eventually lead so many young people to leave the faith once they enter college or the job market? Do we only point to scripture to counteract the lies and deceptions, when logic and rationality and observation of how things work in the natural world can also be used to show that God is Truth, and that he is our Creator and deserves to be our Lord? Do we tell our children about the evidences for the truth of God’s Word, the truth of the Resurrection of Jesus, the truth of the Creation of the world by God? Do we assume that their faith is strong enough to keep them in Christ once they leave here for the wider world? Should we be sending our children or the young in faith of any age out into the world without weapons of logic, as well as, scripture to combat the insinuations of the devil in today’s culture?
If we want to make disciples for Jesus, and keep them, we need to spend more effort in speaking out against the devil’s lies and deceptions. Point out worldviews being presented on tv and in the movies and in books, etc. that are untrue and unchristian. Do not let emotionalism win over rationality. The insane actions and points of view being espoused in our world today are proof of God’s assertion in his Word: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.” (See Psalm 14:1 NIV)
There are now books and websites and organizations combatting the lies within our culture that help to turn people away from faith in God and in His Son, Jesus. Here is a short list to get you started on finding the evidence you need to combat Satan’s lies:
- I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norman L. Geisler, Frank Turek, et.al.
- Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace
- Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions by Gregory Koukl
- Believing Is Seeing: A Physicist Explains How Science Shattered His Atheism and Revealed the Necessity of Faith by Michael Guillen
- Another Gospel?: A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity by Alisa Childers (also has youtube videos)
- Answers In Genesis (answersingenesis.org): Website associated with Ken Ham and the Noah’s Ark reproduction (website: arkencounter.com) in Kentucky.
- The Becket Cook Show: youtube show by a man who formerly lived as a homosexual, now a Christian, who battles the lies related to homosexuality and lesbianism lifestyles.
- Dangerous Affirmation: The Threat of “Gay Christianity” by M. D. Perkins (I have a copy of this book available to current attendees of Ebenezer.)
- Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design by Stephen C. Meyer.
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Mini-Bible Lesson #56: Upper Room
References: Luke 2:1-7; The Becket Cook Show, Ep. 65: “Are We Misinterpreting the Bible? Interview with Alan Shlemon.”
…and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke2:7 NIV
I ran across an episode of The Becket Cook Show on youtube recently in which he was interviewing Alan Shlemon, who has written for and helps with training Christians to witness graciously about their faith at “Stand to Reason; Clear-Thinking Christianity” (www.str.org/alan-shlemon). During the interview, Shlemon brought up an interesting re-interpretation, or more correct interpretation of the story of Jesus’ birth and the “no room at the inn” passage.
We live in a world today in which inns and motels and bed and breakfast and hotels dot the landscape everywhere. It was not so in the ancient world. Most travelers had few if any choices for accommodations when away from home. The first option was to arrange to stay with relatives or friends. Another option was to campout in the town square (this is what the angels proposed to do in Sodom, but Lot talked them out of it), which could be dangerous. Or to camp outside the city somewhere, which could be even more dangerous. Even when there was an inn very few “respectable” people would want to stay in them. They usually only offered very meager and nasty places to sleep.
Bethlehem was not a major metropolis. Many people were coming there for the census. Since Joseph had family in the city (his home town), he would have chosen to stay with relatives. So, did the relatives tell Joseph and Mary that there was “no room at the inn”? That doesn’t make much sense, does it?
In First Century B. C. (and A. D.), Israelite homes could have two floors. The bottom floor was where cooking, and storage, and general living activities were carried on. The upper floor was for sleeping and where guests would stay. In the winter or at night, animals were brought into the lower floor for protection. In some homes, the floor where the animals stayed was four feet lower than the ground floor with stone feeding troughs separating the people’s area from the animals’ area or the animals’ area was blocked off by pillars and troughs.
Since so many people were arriving in Bethlehem for the census, it is possible that there was not enough room on the upper level for Joseph and Mary. Or, Joseph’s relatives may have believed that Mary’s pregnancy was shameful (since she became pregnant before being officially married to Joseph); so, delegated them both to the bottom floor.
How God arranges things is amazing. At his birth, Jesus was rejected by his own—the family of his supposed father, Joseph; he, and his family, were refused access to the “upper room.” After birth, he was wrapped in “swaddling clothes” just as he would be when buried (bodies were wrapped in strips of cloth with incense placed among the folds); and placed in a stone manger (at death placed on a stone in a cave).
Before he died, he had a meal with his disciples in an “upper room.” This time he was the host of the meal, yet he remained humble enough to wash the feet of his disciples. He was rejected again by Judas, the betrayer, and the Jews who called for and arranged his execution. The True Shepherd was born among the animals (sheep and cows), and shepherds were the first to hear the good news and pay him a visit. No house is mentioned in the story of the shepherds, but note that when the wise men arrived later, Joseph and Mary were in a house (Matthew 2:10-11). And did the gifts of the Magi, which included myrrh, an incense used for burials, fund their eventual flight to Egypt? (See Matthew 2:13-15).
We may not ever know for certain all the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth, but this one thing we do know: our Savior was born as a lowly, human (and God) baby in the little town of Bethlehem, destined to die for us so all our sins can be washed away in his blood. This is the greatest gift to mankind from God our Father other than creating us in the first place. All glory and honor be to God, and his Son!
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Mini-Bible Lesson #55: Don't Wait Too Long
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
References: John 12:35-41; Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. IV, pp. 449
Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you.” --John 12:35 NIV
Jesus is closing out his public ministry at this point, and John, the Apostle, quotes some scriptures form the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah. This comes immediately after Jesus himself has given a warning to his listeners and followers. “While you have the light, believe in the light; that you may be the children of light (v. 36a KJV).”
As Isaiah said, there comes a time when God will blind their eyes, and harden their hearts…and they will no longer be able to be converted. (see Isaiah 6:10 and John 12:40) It is this way with Jesus and the Good News. There will come a day when the door to salvation is no longer open. As McGee says, “Jesus had presented Himself to them as the Messiah and as their King. They have rejected Jesus personally. Now He rejects them! Listen to me carefully. Because they would not accept Him, there came a day when they could not accept Him. My friend, the most dangerous thing in the world is to hear the gospel and then turn your back on it. If you just go on listening and listening and do not accept it and act upon it, there comes a time when you cannot hear and you cannot see. God is God, and it is He who has the final word.”
Don’t wait. Respond before your eyes and ears are so dulled with the presentation of the gospel that you can no longer hear it or see it as truth and salvation, but only as a clanging of pointless noise. Then you will truly walk in darkness forever. Today is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2). Don’t wait too long.
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Mini-Bible Lesson #54: Selfishness
References: John 12:20-26; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, pp. 660-664
The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. --John 12:25-26 NIV
On the occasion of some Greeks asking to see Jesus, he says something that at first reading seems to be unrelated to the request. Yet, Jesus is telling these Greeks and us something very important to remember and to understand.
If you live your life only for yourself, you will be alone, useless to the world, which includes your family, your community, and your nation.
"The man who lives immersed only in his own interests and plays and pleasures and sorrows—for is not Cowper near the mark when he asserts, reading partly from his own experience and partly from that of others that the miserable are nearly always selfish?—such a one maroons himself upon a narrow spit of a life, a mere islet, far more cramped than the human inheritance that falls to kindlier folks…He who would have friends, says a shrewd scripture, must show himself friendly. Else he has no vital relationships, no living part in the community, drops out of it at last, and his absence is scarcely noticed; makes no difference to anybody; not missed." (I.B. p. 661)
We will all one day "face the judgment seat of God, to give account of what we have made of the life that he entrusted to [us]…" (I.B., p. 662)
Jesus is making sure that these curious Greeks (and all of us) understand that, for our relationship or belief in Jesus to bear fruit, we must give our all to him, and serve him only. "He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me…"
We believers are meant to bear fruit related to the Kingdom of God’s work here on earth. But first, we must die to ourselves, and be born again into a new existence in Christ Jesus and away from the self-satisfying, material and fame and power grasping person we so want to be. It is a constant battle; a constant working out of our own salvation, but well worth the effort for ourselves and for the Kingdom’s sake. This is the best way to help transform the world into a better place also—until the Lord comes and sets all thing right.
"Certainly, Christ expects those who claim to be his to follow in his steps, to adopt his standards of value, and to put their lives to the same uses he did. For the whole point of Christianity is a reaching out toward Christlikeness; and its end and goal is Christlikeness attained." (I. B., p. 662)
"But of the mass of us is it not too true that our Christianity is a theory to be accepted, rather than a life to be daily and actively lived out?" (ibid, p. 663)
Give your selfishness, your desires, your dreams, your goals, to Jesus, and let Jesus decide which ones to keep, and how best to fulfill your life here on earth. He wants the best for you; but you must decide if you want the best Christ has to offer you.
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Mini-Bible Lesson #53: God's Testing
References: Genesis 22:1-19; The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis by John H. Walton
Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” (Genesis 22:1-2 NIV)
Seeming stability has come to Abraham. The son promised by God, Isaac, has been born; the Ishmael situation created by Abraham’s attempt to fulfill the promise himself, has been resolved; and Abraham has settled down in Beersheba. He has a strong relationship with God, calling God the Enduring (or Eternal) God.
Suddenly, God instigates turmoil in Abraham’s life by commanding him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, whom he waited for years and years to be born.
"When God tests, he tests some value, quality, or attribute by stretching it to its limits. In most cases, he is testing the faith and faithfulness of individuals by expecting them to obey in difficult circumstances. Nowhere else, however, is this accomplished by giving a command that is rescinded before it is carried out." (p. 510, Walton)
Human sacrifice was not uncommon in the world in which Abraham lived. Was Abraham attempting to show God how devoted he was to him by being willing to go the limit and sacrifice his son? Has God set Abraham up for this to show him that this God does not require such extreme behavior as a form of worship?
Through the test, God shows himself to Abraham as a God of Love—not a blood-thirsty, demonic God. In his culture, Abraham would not have been surprised by the request from God to sacrifice Isaac. He would have been surprised and relieved to discover that this One, True God cared enough for him and Isaac to provide a sacrifice in place of Isaac.
True faith consists of being ready to give our most cherished possessions, desires, and dreams to God and his Kingdom’s work—not expecting anything in return. Why? Because God gave his most precious possession to us for our salvation—Jesus Christ, His Son. And because we know we can trust him to have our best interests at heart.
"…there is ample evidence throughout Scripture that God desires us to act out our faith and worship regardless of the fact that he knows our hearts." (p. 514, Walton)
Is the testing a way for God to show us what is in our hearts? We can delude ourselves very easily. Testing can show us the strength and depth of our faith.
"God asks us to express our faith and love. It is honoring to him for us to demonstrate those things that he knows exist because it pleases him." (p. 514, Walton)
Here God is asking Abraham to give up something dear with no promise of something better to come. All the other times that Abraham obeyed God he was promised some benefit. So, this may be God’s way of revealing whether or not "Abraham’s faith has been motivated by personal gain or simply by his love for God." (p. 515, Walton)
"This test allows the patriarch to demonstrate to himself, to Isaac, to the world, but most of all to God that his faith is not driven by what he will receive out of it, but by his commitment to God. God and God alone motivates his faith—he is willing to give up all he stands to gain, all he loves, all he hopes for." (ibid)
As Christians, we cannot expect ideal or normal circumstances throughout our lives just because we say we believe in Christ, in God. Righteousness can be its own reward, but it does not protect us completely in this fallen world. And God may use our circumstances as a way to tests our faith for our benefit, and the world’s benefit. Our reaction to evil times illuminates our faith and love for God to our families, neighbors, enemies, and the world.
"God does not promise a smooth ride; he only promises to hold us in his embrace." (p. 518, Walton)
A life of faith is not always calm or uneventful. It is our trust in God that can help us through the bad times. Even death ought not to be feared; we will be regretful of the tasks we leave undone, the loved ones we leave behind, and the goals we did not reach; yet, we should be joyful at the prospect of seeing our Lord face-to-face, and that the struggle is finally over.
The tests of God will help us to know if we love God and follow him because of Who he is, or because of what we think he can do for us. Our faith should focus on God above all else.
"God tests us not by trying to make us miserable but by disrupting our comfort zones, thereby forcing us to rely on him." (p.519, Walton)
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Mini-Bible Lesson #52: God Uses People
References: Judges 2:11-19; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 2, pp. 701-704
Then the LORD gave the Israelites leaders who saved them from the raiders (Judges 2:16 NIV).
Judges is a roller coaster ride for the Israelites, because of their own behavior. They turn away from the One True God and follow the culture of the nations around them instead. Disaster strikes when God removes his favor from them. Thankfully, God calls forth leaders to rescue his people, and to move them back towards righteousness and the worship of the True God.
“When men were in sore straits, at the end of the rope, their help came. It came not in direct and miraculous intervention, but through the medium of courageous and consecrated men…God leads through human leaders who have become such because they are his followers.” (I.B. p. 702)
And God continues to use people today. “Theresa speaks thus of the Christian task: ‘Christ has no body now on earth but yours. No hands but our hands. Yours are the eyes with which He has to look out with compassion upon the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good.’” (ibid) The Israelites chose to go “a whoring after other gods.” Because righteousness and worshiping that God no one could see, no stone or wood sculpture could depict was difficult to maintain amidst the culture in which they found themselves.
“Genuinely spiritual worship is always difficult” (I.B., p. 702). Attending church, praying, studying (reading) the Bible, giving money and time to God’s work on earth; all can be difficult and make life more difficult at times. “You will be persecuted” as Jesus warned us (see John 15:20). And we will be called upon to sacrifice—our money, our friends, our jobs, our things, our time, to take up our cross as Jesus did to follow him. The Christian faith is not meant to be easy; but it is meant to be life changing and culture altering. Life is better and fuller when we live in the will of God; yet, the world will fight against his will tooth and nail, and fight against you, too. As God told Joshua long ago, “be strong and of good courage” (see Joshua 1:6-9). Follow the will of God, and serve only him; because, no matter how difficult this may be, it is the better road.
Through Judges, we will see that God saves, yet he does not ignore the evil that we do. He is a God of Love, but also of righteousness. “Many people think that God…should keep them from the consequences of their evil. He does nothing of the kind. Indeed, he guarantees the consequences of their sins.” “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Judges and the whole Old Testament reveals to us that our righteous God has and will punish anyone and any nation that does evil (that’s why he gave the promised land to the Israelites in the first place; because of the evil practiced in the area before Israel came to be).
It can be worse for a person or a nation that once followed God, but has turned away. God’s favor will be withdrawn. Only repentance and a sharp turn away from evil will restore his favor. His love never ceases; but his favor can be withheld for a time as a way to wake us up. So, don’t sleep walk your faith. Be an active follower of Jesus or be pulled into disobedience by your emotions and physical desires and face his judgment here and now—and for those who never believe in Jesus—forever in eternity.
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Mini-Bible Lesson #51: A Humble King
References: John 12:12-19; Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, pp.657-660
Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written, “Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” (vv. 14-15 NIV)
Jesus rides into Jerusalem among a crowd of enthusiastic people who witnessed or were witnessed to about the raising of Lazarus from the dead. But, they really do not understand yet what kind of king Jesus is to be to them. He searches for and borrows an ass to ride into the city—an ass! Not a large and strong white horse ridden by the Roman conquerors when they returned in triumph from a war. A lowly ass. One Jesus did not need for what would have been a short walk into the city. Jesus is giving another sign here of who he is, and what his kingdom and rule will be like.
He is the King of kings, and Lord of lords. Yet, he has not come to fight a physical war, which would claim many lives. He has come to give his one life for the many for a prize more valuable and precious than lands and wealth and power. He is here to save souls for eternity. These people in the crowd and his disciples do not understand. If they did, they would not be so enthusiastic about his entry into their lives—as many who profess to believe think they are—until he calls on them to pick up their cross and follow him.
Jesus will die soon. He asks us each day to die also—to let him have more and more control over our lives; to give up that hidden sin; to give up that desire or plan for our lives; to give our all to him and his kingdom’s work. Are we ready for a King who completely owns us? Or do we want one that is simply nice to us, and lets us go about our own affairs with little or no sacrifice or change involved?
Jesus is a humble king, because he rules it all, and has no fear of being conquered—even by death. If we want the assurance belief in Christ can provide, we must humble ourselves completely into his will and let go of our own. Are you willing to do that? Are you willing to go to the cross with Jesus? Or do you only want the pomp and circumstance parade, but will turn away when the going gets tough or when Jesus ask you to give up something for him? Go to the cross with Jesus; let your old sinful self die there and be buried. Christ rose again, and he will raise you up into new life also—if you are willing. Be willing!
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