I sat down at my desk for my first day as a minister twenty-one years ago this May. After busying myself arranging my little stack of books (I only had a Bible and four other books) and a few works items I realized something – I had no idea what to do. I have, fortunately, learned a few things about ministry over the years. In particular, I have developed some convictions that shape my practice of ministry, beliefs drawn from the Bible’s portrait of the church’s identity and of life in the church. This lesson will consequently consider three of those insights and how they can help us think about church.
We cherish the freedoms enjoyed in our nation and consider them central to our country’s identity. We also cherish the freedom Jesus extends to us and consider it central to our Christian identity. The freedom offered by our nation and the freedom offered by Jesus, however, differ from one another – our country guarantees freedoms to pursue our own interests while Jesus frees us to serve others’ interests. This lesson concludes a short series examining our dual identity as citizens of both our nation and of Jesus’ kingdom by considering the freedoms of both kingdoms and the place they should have within our lives.
Philippians 2:12-16 Paul’s command to do all things without complaining or arguing is one of the clearest ways children of God stand out in the world. Resisting the temptation to grumble is as important as our prayers for restoration and deliverance. We are inspired toward this goal out of gratitude for Jesus who left heaven, lived as a servant and endured the cross, all without grumbling, arguing or complaining.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. Those familiar words were included in the Declaration of Independence that the second continental congress adopted on July 4, 1776. Those same words have become the foundation of the hopes and understandings many people in our nation have about our country. The words adopted by the second continental congress stand in contrast to the words embraced by the preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes. At the end of the book, the preacher wrote that things like the ‘self-evident truths’ of the Declaration of Independence belong to the “vanity of vanities” he saw filling the world (Ecclesiastes 1:2; 12:8). Given our nation’s celebration of our nation’s independence, including the freedoms and rights attached to that independence, we will consider the perspective of Ecclesiastes and what insights it offers us on our relationship with our nation.
The 4th of July marks an annual highpoint in our nation – we celebrate the birth of our nation and the freedoms central to our understanding of its identity. We are right to celebrate such things; freedom is a blessing and, as James wrote, all blessings come from God (James 1:17). Our celebration should, however, also be paired with a recognition that the Bible offers a complicated picture of the relationship God’s people ought to have with the world’s nations. This lesson therefore begins a short series considering our identity as citizens of Jesus’ kingdom and its meaning for our lives in the kingdoms of this world.
Near the end of his first letter, Peter encouraged the elders in his audience to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1 Peter 5:1-3). He followed his encouragement with a promise – if the elders faithfully fulfilled their duty, Jesus, “the chief Shepherd”, would give them an “unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4; cf. Hebrews 13:20; John 10:7-18). The connection Peter makes between elders who “shepherd the flock of God” and Jesus “the chief Shepherd” offers an insight into being an elder – elders follow the example of Jesus. Our elders have announced the beginning of a process to appoint additional elders for our church family. This lesson, which concludes a series about elders, reminds us of elders’ responsibility to follow the example of Jesus, “the good shepherd” (John 10:7-18), whose teachings and behavior outline the expectations God has for those to whom He entrusts the care of His church.
Luke, in Acts 20, narrates Paul’s journey to Jerusalem. Despite “hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost” (Acts 20:16), Paul took time to stop in Miletus and meet with the elders of the church in Ephesus (Acts 20:17). Luke uses three different terms to refer to those elders in his record of Paul’s conversation – “elders” (Acts 20:17), “overseers” (Acts 20:28), and shepherds (Acts 20:28). Luke’s descriptions of elders map the role of the leaders to whom God entrusts the care of local congregations (cf. Acts 20:28) and offers insights into their place within our church family. We will therefore consider the terms “elders”, “overseers”, and “shepherds” in this lesson as we prepare to begin the process to appoint additional elders for our church family.
This lesson begins a series of three lessons on elders in preparation for the beginning of the process to appoint additional elders for our church family. This lesson will focus on the historical background of elders in the Bible and how that background emphasizes that elders are older men recognized by their community as individuals of proven character and wisdom to whom they entrust their care.
THE SMART GOD-1 Corinthians 1:18-24–We don’t often say that God is smart. We tend to prefer more spiritual-sounding words to describe his wisdom, knowledge or understanding. Even so, our God is amazingly smart, and we are better off when we acknowledge it. Ever since Eve looked at the forbidden fruit and saw that it looked good to eat, humans have struggled to accept the fact that God knows more about life on earth than we do. Most of our sins…
2 Samuel 24:17 One lost sheep endangers themselves; a lost shepherd influences and endangers an entire flock. Suffering the influence of a failed leader reminds us all to not lean on our own understanding & deceitful heart. God doesn’t throw vessels away when they break but can use the broken to demonstrate His redemptive power. God demonstrates his power as leaders choose to “repent, turn to God, and demonstrate your repentance by your deeds” (Acts 20:26).
Acts 17:11-12–God is not far from those who are eager to learn. It’s why we must be on the lookout for excusing our spiritual stubbornness. It’s easy to see in others, but easy to miss in ourselves. Christians who are learners avoid the trap of unrepentant stubbornness. They receive God’s Word with great eagerness. They examine the Scriptures every day to see what is true.
Proverbs 31:30-31–Why does Proverbs praise the woman who fears the Lord? Fear of the Lord doesn’t prevent hurt in this life. But it does free us from the control that fear exercises over our attitude and actions. The one who fears the Lord has an antidote to their fear of being hurt by people or circumstances. In Exodus, Moses owed his life to the mothers, daughters & sisters who chose to fear God rather than people.
Jesus’ Birth: Invitation or Invasion? 1 John 1:1-4 What is the significance of Jesus’ birth? Did Jesus come to serve? Or to confront? Does He appear on earth to invite or to invade? Perhaps both. The first coming of Christ points Christians back to the world while challenging ideas and priorities that end up being worldly. 1 John 1:1-10 & Revelation 12:1-6
Judges 2: 11-19 The books of Joshua and Judges cover a long and dark period in Israel’s history. The story begins in a promising way, narrating the faithfulness of Joshua and the leaders who worked with him, before quickly moving into a summary of Israel’s cancer-like unfaithfulness that spread throughout the nation and nearly destroyed it. The dark realities of the nation during that time resulted in truly disturbing stories in the books. Our discomfort with those stories can, however, cause us to miss the insights they offer into humanity through its depiction of the relationships the Israelites had with themselves, with the people around them, and with God. This lesson considers the books of Joshua and Judges and explores what lessons they offer us.
Movies occasionally produce characters whose identity becomes reduced to a memorable line. Consider, for example, the line, “I’ll be back” from the movie Terminator. Arnold Schwarzenegger voiced the line in his role as a robot from the future sent back in time to perform a mission and the now-iconic phrase captured his unfeeling commitment to accomplishing that task. God similarly reduces Israel’s identity in the story of their exodus from Egypt. Rather than using a phrase, however, God focuses on the nation’s responses to His activity in its life – they constantly grumbled against Him. This lesson considers Israel’s complaints recorded in the books of Exodus and Numbers, what insights it offers us into their relationship with God, and how their story offers us perspective on our own lives.
Proverbs 17:17 — A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. Christians aren’t expected to endure adversity alone. Christ is our example of our need to prioritize godly friendships. We must be willing to receive from friends both comfort and correction. Someone once said “Many might have failed beneath the bitterness of their trial had they not found a friend.”
President Biden’s recent inauguration elicited numerous comments. The absence of the crowds that usually attend a presidential inauguration and the debates swirling about the legitimacy of the election combined to make his inauguration the most unusual one in recent memory. People connected to Biden’s administration consequently tried to give context to the abnormal event, working to give the ceremony legitimacy and a sense of normalcy. We expect important events to follow specific, prescribed patterns and we feel the need to offer explanations when they fail to meet those expectations. Jesus, however, commonly turned those anticipations upside down and often challenged expectations rather than explaining his actions. Consider, for example, his inauguration – the gospels record Jesus’ inauguration taking place through his betrayal and death and the challenges his path to ‘power’ created for his followers. Even though people Jesus’ time struggled to understand and accept the means of his rise to power, Christendom today celebrates that event through its observance of Easter Sunday. We will take advantage of that focus in this lesson by giving attention to how Jesus’ death and resurrection became the unexpected means of his exaltation and what it means for our lives.
Genesis 18:16-19 –The Bible’s story opens with a compacted, yet masterfully narrated, account of God’s grand plan for humanity and of humanity’s rebellion against Him and His plan. God responded to humanity’s rebellion in a surprising way – He promised to bless the whole world through a man named Abraham. The introduction of Abraham results in the dramatic slowing of the Bible’s story as it traces the development of the promise through Abraham and his family. This lesson will consider Abraham’s family in the book of Genesis and their relationship to God and His promise as part of our ongoing series exploring the story of humanity in the Bible.
John 7: 37-38 The four gospels record many memorable things said by Jesus, words that have been providing hope, comfort, and encouragement to people for the past two-thousand years. Sometimes, however, the time separating us from Jesus’ sayings and our familiarity with them conspire to cause us to miss the import of his teachings. This lesson will consider Jesus’ promise in John 7:37-38, exploring how Genesis offers a backdrop for understanding his claim about God’s plan for those who believe in Jesus. In particular, the lesson will give attention to what it looks like to be a ‘river of life’ person.
Titus 2:1-8 The inspiration Paul receives from the Holy Spirit in Titus 2 emphasizes the intentional differences God gave to men and women. We are given different desires, tendencies, and proclivities. And though we are different, we were made for each other. We aren’t ourselves by ourselves. Christians best influence the surrounding culture when they live according to God’s design for the God-fearing home & Christ’s church.