Thursday, November 16, 2017

This week's lesson (November 11-17): Overcoming Sin

You never would have made it out on your own -- in fact, they had to carry you most of the way . . .

But now you're free. You're safe. Yes, you've left it all behind: the work camps, the secret police, the  constant fear of just what the authorities might do next . . .

But then one day, there's a knock on your door.

And when you open it, a busy little man pushes past you into your living room, sits down in your favorite chair, and tells you it's not that easy.

Yes, he says you're still one of them.

Still subject to their laws.

Still obligated to follow their commands -- and for that reason, you will do what he tells you to do.

And yes, you're free.

But old habits die hard -- and when he says these things, then you're tempted to obey.

Yes, it would be easy for you to do what he says . . .

In fact, he could probably force you to do what he says . . .

And that's why you need to call for help.

Right now.

Friday, November 10, 2017

This week's lesson (November 4-10): Adam & Jesus

It all depends on the group you're in.

If your high school was like mine, for instance, each group had its own table in the lunchroom.
  • Yes, football players sat with other football players.
  • Members of the Chess Club sat with other members of the Chess Club.
  • And if someone sat at the wrong table -- if a new member of the Chess Club inadvertently sat next to a defensive lineman, for instance . . . then he would be told where to go, how to get there, and and what he should do while making trip.
Likewise, Jews and Gentiles did not mix if they could help it. Like football players and members of the Chess Club, they each inhabited their own worlds -- each with its own concerns, each with its own set of rules, and each with its own list of Who's In, and Who's Out.

So what happened when members from each group found themselves sharing a pew in church?

Pretty much the same thing that happened at my high school -- and that's where Romans 6 comes in.

In Romans 6, Paul points out that whatever had divided them in the past wasn't as important as what had united them in the past -- that they'd all attended the same high school, even if they'd all sat at different tables . . .

And as students at Old Adam High School (so to speak), they'd all faced the same, dismal future.

But now they're all in a new high school.

All seated at the same table.

All looking at the same, bright future together.

And if they're all members of that same, new group . . .

Then maybe . . .

Just maybe . . .

What unites us now . . .

Is more important than all the things that divided us in the past.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

This week's lesson (October 28 - November 3): the Faith of Abraham

Abraham was a man of faith.
What do you mean by "faith"?
Just look at the way he followed God to the Promised Land!
And look at the way he left Sarah in the lurch when they went to Egypt.
 He rescued Lot!
Then had a child by Hagar -- and left her in the lurch too!
He bargained with God about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah.
When did questioning God become a sign of "faith"?
Then he left Sarah in the lurch again with Abimelech . . . wait a minute -- now you've got me doing it!
And Hagar too -- again!
What about his willingness to sacrifice Isaac?
 I'll give you that one -- though that story's always seemed kind of "problematic" to me. 
Okay, so Abraham wasn't always quite as "faithful" as we might want.
No, he wasn't -- but he had one thing going for him.
What's that?
God was faithful, even when Abraham was not. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

This week's lesson (October 21-27): Justification by Faith

A thought experiment:

Read Romans 3:19-28, but . . .
  • instead of "law," read "lifestyle," 
  • and instead of "Jews" (whom we've picked on enough this quarter already), substitute whatever group of right-thinking, right-living people you fancy -- the kind of people, in other words, whom you wish attended your church. 
If you're the kind of person who makes your own granola, for instance, then imagine a church full of granola-making, sweater-knitting, organic-gardening, Prius-drivers who all voted for Bernie Sanders.

Got it?

Now imagine that a change in the real estate market suddenly brings in people who are their exact opposite -- that the granola-makers come to church, for instance, and discover they've been "invaded" by a bunch of BBQ-loving football fans who all drive pick-ups, and who all wear hats proclaiming it's time we "Make America Great Again."

Got it?

(And yes, if you like, then you can swap the two groups, i.e. have a church full of BBQ-lovers invaded by granola-makers; either way is fine.)

But with that in mind . . .
  • How do you think these two groups will get along?
  • And what would Romans 3:19-28 say to the members of both groups?

Two Books about Romans

Two books you might enjoy as you study this quarter's lessons:

John Brunt's Redemption in Romans. This was Brunt's companion-book to his Sabbath School lessons on Romans back in 2010; it's practical, scholarly, and an easy read.

N. T. Wright's Paul for Everyone (parts 1 & 2). Part of his commentary series on the New Testament, Wright is a little tougher reading than Brunt, but it's still practical (and a good survey of new approaches to Paul's writings).

Friday, October 20, 2017

This week's lesson (October 14-20): the Human Condition

I like Romans 1:18-32.

But Romans 2:1-29?

Not so much.

Mind you, I've nothing against them personally -- as I've said before, some of my best friends are Gentiles . . . but taken as a group, we all know what they are like:
  • Gossips.
  • Idolators.
  • Sexual predators.
Yes, they're everything Paul says they are in Romans 1:18-32 -- and while it may not be politically correct, somebody's got to say it!

Hearing those verses, as a matter of fact, reminds me of the time somebody was talking about The Wisdom of Solomon during the potluck  -- you know, the part where it talks about idolators and "their shameless uncleanness" . . .  and I'm not saying those Gentiles were glad to hear it.

But they needed to hear it!

That's why I don't have any problem with anything Paul says about them . . .

But why did he say all those bad things about us?

Sunday, October 08, 2017

This week's lesson (October 7-13): the Controversy

If you're reading this, then you're probably a Gentile.

Yes, one of those people.

When the Israelites left Egypt, in other words, we were the ones who came after them in chariots.

And when David fought the Philistines, we rooted for Goliath.

The destruction of Jerusalem?

That was us.

Ditto the "mixed multitude" who caused all that trouble during the Exodus.

In short, there's good reason why Jewish Christians thought people like us shouldn't join the church -- not so long as we remained Gentiles.

But if God opened the door to people like us . . .

Then maybe we should think twice before we shut the door behind us.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

This week's lesson (September 30 - October 6): the Apostle Paul in Rome

This is not my church.

Not any more.

Not since they took over.

And yes, I know I'm supposed to be grateful. If it wasn't for them, people tell me, our church would be in bad shape; that's because their numbers are growing (while ours are dwindling).

But they're so ignorant.

Their kids are so rowdy.

And you should see the food they bring to potlucks!

So you can understand why I'm skeptical about Paul's plan to visit our churches here in Rome. To be sure, he's one of us -- but if you want my honest opinion, he's just a little too close to them.

And no, it's not that I'm prejudiced; some of my best friends are Gentiles.

But I wish they knew their place -- knew it, and stayed in it.

Is that too much to ask?