Thursday, January 26, 2006

Jacob his family (part one)

Children are a blessing from the Lord . . .

Except, of course, when they’re not.

And right there, you have the “elephant in the living room” of this week’s lesson – the big, big problem that nobody wants to talk about.

Most of the people in your class, after all, are pretty much done with raising kids. That doesn’t mean they don’t worry about them – they do. But when it comes to making an actual difference in the choices their children make . . . well, that pretty much came to an end somewhere around adolescence.

Now the good news is that most children turn out fine – and if you can spend some time reassuring your class of that fact, then you’re halfway home.

But just about every child puts their parents through some anxious moments – and it can be years before some children finally “straighten up and fly right.” In fact, some parents will go to their graves never knowing if and when their children finally pulled it together . . .

Which brings us to the subject of this week’s lesson: Jacob and Esau.

Genesis 25:19-28
How would you describe Jacob and Esau? How did they get along with their parents . . . and what does this suggest about their parent’s relationship with each other? How should Isaac and Rebekah have dealt with this situation?

Genesis 25:29-24
As the eldest son, Esau had the “birthright,” i.e. he was to inherit twice as much as Jacob. But Isaac would not die for years . . . and Esau was hungry right now! What does his choice tell you about Esau? Whom do you blame most for this incident: Esau or Jacob? How should Isaac and Rebekah have dealt with this situation?

Genesis 26:34
Esau gets married – twice! – and his choice of wives is “a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekkah.” Why do you think they were grieved? What are some of the ways that a child’s marriage can help (or hurt) that child’s relationship with their parents?

Genesis 27:1-13
Isaac is willing to bless Esau (without his wife’s consent); Rebekah is willing to trick Isaac (and risk her husband’s curse). What has brought their marriage to this point?

Genesis 27:14-29
Notice what Rebekah does to trick her husband; how much is she to blame for what happens, and how much is the fault of Jacob? What does Isaac’s blessings tell you about his feelings toward Jacob? How much is he to blame for what happened?

Genesis 27:30-40
What is Esau’s response to Jacob’s trick? What is Isaac’s response? Does Isaac’s blessing promise peace between the two brothers, or continued strife?

Genesis 27:41-28:9
Notice how everybody tries to “patch up everything” in these verses. What does Esau plan for his brother – and what is Rebekah’s response? How honest is she with Isaac? What blessing does Isaac give Jacob – and how does his blessing differ from the blessing that had been tricked out of him? How does Esau respond to all this . . . and how successful do you think he was in making things right with his parents viz. his wives?

General reflection
How would you sum up the character of each individual in this story – of Esau, Jacob, Rebekah, and Isaac? Whom do you blame the most for what happened? NOTE: Rebekah never saw Jacob again; she died before he returned from the house of Laban. Why is that especially sad . . . and what does this suggest about the way we treat our families today?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Who gives what to whom?

Five times this past year, I've had to sort out when a donation by a church member is tax deductible, and when it is not. That's why I put together the following guide -- and if it helps, feel free to borrow it.

Sam Smith is a student at our school, and needs help with tuition. A friend gives $500 to the church and says, “This is for Sam.”

What a nice gift!
But it’s not tax-deductible.

Why not?
You can’t give money to a person — the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) won’t allow it.

But the church helps students pay their tuition.
Yes, we’ve a program that’s run by the church.

So Sam could apply to the church’s program . . .
And donations to that program are tax-deductible. Donations to Sam are not.

Can I give the money to the church, and tell it to give the money to Sam?
You may suggest it goes to Sam, but the IRS says the church needs to decide who benefits — not the donor. Likewise, you can give money to Community Services, but you can’t tell them who gets help.

What if Sam gets sick?
The church could set up a special fund to help Sam, or it could use donations to the Pastor’s Fund. But again, the church decides where the money goes.

What about gifts to Student Missionaries?
The same rule applies — let’s say Sam wants to go on a mission trip, and the church votes to give him $2000 from the Mission Fund “just as soon as we can afford it.”

So Sam asks for donations to the Mission Fund.
And if enough money came in, then Sam gets the money that was voted.

What if Sam’s friends donate $2500 — $500 more than was voted?
The IRS says that money went to a church program — the Mission Fund — so the church decides where that “extra” money goes.

Could Sam ask for it?
Yes, Sam could ask for another $500. But if the church decides somebody else needs the money even more, then it could give that money to them.

That’s not fair!
Fair or not, the IRS does not allow “directed donations” to specific people.

But churches allow it!
The law is clear: gifts to programs may be tax-deductible. But gifts to people are not.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Joseph and his brothers

By now, your Sabbath School class members have probably figured out the theme of this quarter’s lessons, i.e. that God Has Set a High Ideal for Our Families.

Now it’s time to get real – time to talk about the fact that we’ve all failed to reach that ideal . . . and that means we need to talk about forgiveness.

We’ve all made mistakes, after all. We’ve all done things we shouldn’t – things that make us look back and shudder. And we can all think of things we should have done with our families – but didn’t.

So let’s take a look at one of the most dysfunctional families in all of Scripture: the family of Jacob. And from it, let’s learn that God doesn’t just set a high idea for our families . . .

God also picks us up when we fall.

Genesis 37: Who is to blame for what happened here? Jacob? Joseph? His brothers? Why didn’t some of the brothers (such as Reuben and Judah) put a stop to what was happening?

Genesis 42: Now the tables have been turned – and how does Joseph treat his brothers? Why does he act this way? What would you have done in his place?

Genesis 43-44: Why does Joseph act the way he does? Do his brothers deserve this kind of treatment? How have his brothers changed since the events of chapter 37 – and how are they the same? How has Joseph changed since the events of chapter 37 – and how is he the same?

Genesis 45: Why did Joseph finally reveal his true identity? How did his brothers react – and why? What is Joseph’s response . . . and do you agree with it?

General reflection: With whom do you identify in this story and why: Joseph? Jacob? The ten brothers? Benjamin? What would it take for this kind of reconciliation to take place in your family?

Pastor Greg

And remember: “Important things are always simple, but simple things are always hard” – James F. Dunnigan.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Boaz & Ruth

There’s no question that the Bible has a lot to say about families.

Neither is there any question that a lot of families show up in the Bible.

But if you want to know what the Bible says about families in general, then you probably should pick one specific topic or family, study that, and draw whatever applications you can for life today.

Myself, I’d suggest you take a look at the Book of Ruth – it’s short. It’s fairly well-known. And unlike the Book of Proverbs or the Song of Solomon, you won’t be circling back anytime this quarter to take another look at it.

So read the Book of Ruth with your class, and ask these questions:

Chapter One: Why does Naomi think God has cursed her? What is the one bright spot in her life that might keep hope alive? Why is Ruth such an unlikely heroine – and what does this tell you about the way God helps us in rough times?

Chapter Two: Notice how often the word “bless” or “blessing” shows up in this chapter! What are some of the ways in which Ruth blesses Naomi? In which Boaz blesses Ruth? In which Naomi blesses Ruth? What does this tell you about the way God blesses us – and the ways in which we can bless others?

Chapter Three: Why does Naomi try to “push things along” – and what risks does Ruth take in going along with this plan? What does this tell you about Ruth? What does the response of Boaz tell you about him? Why was their experience at the threshing floor such a turning point – and when has God used this kind of “turning points” in your life?

NOTE: a “kinsman-redeemer” was the next-of-kin; as such, he was supposed to look after people such as Naomi and Ruth.

Chapter Four: Why does the “kinsman-redeemer” respond favorably the deal he’s first offered by Boaz – and why does he back out after he finds out more about this “deal”? What does that tell you about him? Notice that, unlike Naomi, Orpah, Ruth, or Boaz, we never learn the name of the “kinsman-redeemer” – why is that (and why is that especially ironic, given the concern he expresses in Ruth 4:6, and the statement Boaz makes in Ruth 4:10)? Compare the statement made to Naomi in Ruth 4:14-15 with the statement she made in Ruth 1:20-21; what has changed, and why? Finally, why is it ironic that Ruth turns out to be such a blessing, not just to Boaz and Naomi, but to the entire nation of Israel? (Hint: read Numbers 25.)

General reflection: Sum-up the character of each person in this story: Naomi, Orpah, Ruth, Boaz, and the anonymous “kinsman-redeemer.” Which of these characters is the most like you? Which is the least like you? What does this story say to your “character” – and what do you need to do about it?

Pastor Greg

And remember: “Simple people do not want to hear about simple things; they want to hear about great things, simply told” – Jane Addams.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Adam & Eve

This week’s lesson provides an overview of this quarter’s topic: the family. As such, it can be thought of as one, long, run-on sentence – something like this:

“The church is ‘a family of families’ . . . which is appropriate, since God created families . . . not that it’s necessarily wrong to be single – in fact, the Bible gives examples of all kinds of families (and not just the “traditional” or “nuclear” family) . . . and both Jesus and Paul said some things about families that might seem kind of harsh . . . but when all is said and done, a loving family is a good thing to have.”

True enough . . . but certainly not the kind of thing that’s easy to teach (much less discuss).

So don’t even try.

Instead, pick just one tiny piece of this week’s lesson – say, Sunday’s lesson on the origin of families (Genesis 2:18ff). Read through these verses with your class, and explore the following questions:

1. Why did God create Adam? What was his job before Eve came along? Why wasn’t his job enough to keep him going? When have you found that “it is not good for [people] to be alone”?

2. Why was Eve created – and why was it important that she was made of “the same flesh” as Adam? What does it mean that “they were naked and not ashamed?” What do these verses tell you about the purpose of marriage?

3. When Adam and Eve both sinned, how did this immediately affect their relationship with each other? How did this affect their relationship with God? What did God do to help this situation – and how does God do the same for you today?

4. What did God say would be the lasting results of sin on married life? How is this still true today? What (if anything) can be done about this?

Pastor Greg

And remember: “The great challenge of adulthood is holding on to your idealism after you lose your innocense” – Bruce Springsteen.