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.
Genesis 22:18–The Bible’s story opens with a grand vision of God’s intentions for humanity only to be quickly followed by a lengthy section tracing humanity’s persistent rebellion against God and His intentions. Humanity’s rebellion, however, did not negate God’s good intention. Beginning in Genesis chapter twelve, the Bible traces God’s promise to bless humanity by restoring His grand vision. This lesson will consider that promise and its fulfillment as part of our ongoing series considering humanity’s story in the Bible.
1 Peter 3:21-22–Why did John baptize Jesus? Why do we baptize today? Scripture leads us to the conclusion that you must repent and be baptized to obey the gospel. By reading what Scripture says and illustrates about baptism from Jesus through the New Testament, we also begin to grasp the core truths proclaimed by the Christian faith. As we’ve seen recently among our congregation, God is always working. People are searching and responding. The Christian faith, so beautifully summarized in Scripture’s teaching on baptism, shows us God is not far from us if we will reach out to him.
Genesis 3: 1-6 This lesson continues an exploration of humanity’s story in the Bible and its relationship to our 2021 theme of “bonding”. In particular, this lesson consider humanity’s response to the honored place God gave them within the creation as the ones to whom He entrusted rule over His creation – humanity chose to rebel against God and His plan for them. The Bible’s narrative emphasizes the disorder and evil created by humanity’s rebellion, giving special attention to the ways in which it impacted the relationships God created humans to enjoy.
The 1970 Academy-Award winning movie Love Story traces the relationship of wealthy heir Oliver Barrett and working-class Jennifer Calleveri. Oliver, against his father’s wishes, married Jennifer, a decision that motivated his father to disown him and withhold the family’s wealth and privilege from him. Happy but struggling, the movie follows the young couple as they begin their life together until a tragic illness takes Jennifer’s life early in their marriage. The movie ends with Jennifer’s death bringing reconciliation between Oliver and his father, marked by Oliver telling his sorrowful father, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” We respond to stories like the one told in Love Story not merely because they narrate universal human experiences of love and loss, but because we sense a certain nobility them. I suspect we respond to those stories because they reflect aspects of God who “is love” (1 John 4:8). God’s identity as love shapes the Bible’s narrative, which tells a great love story. We will therefore consider the Bible’s love story in this lesson and what it means for our lives.
Genesis 1: 26-28 Well-written stories introduce main characters in both memorable and prescient ways. Whether subtle or heavy-handed, those introductions set the boundaries within which we come to understand the characters and the stories they inhabit. That storytelling technique helps us appreciate the way God introduces humanity in the Bible’s carefully crafted narrative. We will, in this lesson, briefly consider humanity’s introduction in the Bible and how it both prepares us to understand the rest of the Bible’s story and how it helps us understand our place and purpose in the world.
A Battle of the Mind Matthew 15:21-28 Matthew 15 includes a story of Jesus honoring the faith of a Canaanite woman. The story is tense and contentious, as though there is a deeper struggle going on. It makes me think of passages like Ephesians 6:12 “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against spiritual wickedness in the heavenly places.” Jesus can be contentious! We learn from Jesus that we are in a spiritual battle for our heart and mind. He strengthens us to know what is worth standing up for and how to stand fast in a godly, biblical way.
Matthew 5:19-20–This lesson concludes a three-lesson series considering Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, a series encouraging us to look back to Jesus’ teaching to help us move forward into the new year. Our first lesson explored the reality and nature of the kingdom Jesus talked about in the Sermon on the Mount while the second lesson considered the rule Jesus assumed over that kingdom. We continue our focus on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in this lesson by considering the behavior his rule expected from those in his kingdom, which reveals an important focus – kingdom behavior focuses on the proper treatment of others.
Matthew 7:24-29 This lesson continues a three-lesson series considering Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, a series encouraging us to look back to Jesus’ teaching to help us move forward into the new year. We spent time last week exploring the reality of the kingdom that formed the heart of Jesus’ teachings. We continue our focus on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in this lesson by considering the rule over the kingdom he talked about in his sermon, which outlines an important message – God has given Jesus rule over the kingdom of heaven.
We tend to associate the beginning of a new year with the possibility of new and good things. That anticipation is tempered by our recognition that we have to work to realize many of the good things we hope to see. As we move into 2021, I want us to consider Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, to look back to his teaching to help us move forward into the new year. We will, over the next few weeks, consider three messages from the Sermon on the Mount that will hopefully compose a perspective that will guide us throughout this year and help us realize the good things God wants to be part of our lives. We begin in this lesson by considering the reality of the kingdom Jesus talked about in his sermon, which focuses us on an important message – we live in the present as representatives of Jesus’ kingdom’s future arrival.
John 17: 20-23 The 151st church family has the following mission: we exist to live, and help others live, a purposeful life by being more like Jesus. Our mission expresses itself in through: = Growing – developing our understanding of God’s Bible and developing ways of helping us faithfully live out those understandings. = Bonding – developing a deeper relationship with God that reveals itself through our deepening relationships with one another. = Sending – identifying ways to both serve and teach the people and communities around us with the goal of one day planting another church. Last year focused on “growing”, the first of the three expressions of our mission. This year we will focus on the second of the three purposes – “bonding” – and explore the Bible’s teachings about relationships and the place they hold within our effort to be more a Christlike church family. Bonding’s goal focuses on helping us cultivate united, Jesus-centered relationships with one another through which we evidence, and develop, our relationship with God. This lesson introduces our focus for 2021 by offering a brief overview of bonding’s place within the Bible.
Trusting God When… Genesis 50:19-21 It’s fairly amazing how quickly the word obey became a taboo in our culture. Think about it. People would rather hear something ugly than be told to obey. Which is why stories like Joseph in Genesis are significant. He is held up for his obedience as an illustration of trust, and even love, for God. Understanding Joseph helps us see the truth behind Jesus’ words “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.”
In Luke chapter two, an angel announced the “good news” of Jesus’ birth to shepherds in a field (Luke 2:10), a passage that has since become a standard Christmas tableau. Imagery of angels, shepherds, and sheep during the Christmas season intends to focus people on Jesus, but those familiar scenes often fail to capture the disconnect between the announcements of good news and the reality of Jesus’ birth and life. This lesson takes advantage of Christmas’ focus on Jesus’ birth to help us think about why it is “good news”, why some struggled to understand it in his day, and what it means for us today.