Monday, September 28, 2015

This week's lesson (September 26 - October 2): the prophetic calling of Jeremiah

"You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you," declares the LORD. . . . "Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land -- against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you," declares the LORD. -- Jeremiah 1:7b-8, 17b-19, NIV, emphasis supplied.
What would you do if you weren't afraid to do it?
If the first chapter of his book is any guide, after all, Jeremiah is none too sure about being a prophet -- and with good reason.
  • He lacks experience (verses 6f).
  • He lacks support (verses 18f).
  • And his message isn't going to make anyone very happy (verses 14-16).
That's why Jeremiah's very first words in this book are an attempt to explain why he shouldn't be a prophet (verse 6) . . . 
And that's why God repeatedly tells Jeremiah not to be afraid -- a command, notice, that wouldn't be necessary unless Jeremiah was afraid!
All of which suggests another word for "faith" is "courage" . . .
  • Courage enough to follow God when you don't know how to do it.
  • Courage enough to follow God when nobody else wants to do it.
  • And courage enough to follow God when nobody else wants you to do it!
In short, there's always a good reason to say "no" to God -- and if there's not, then your fears will always help you find one.
But if God wants you to do something . . . 
Then what have you to fear?

Monday, September 21, 2015

This week's lesson (September 19-25): Must the whole world hear?

In that day, there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The LORD Almighty will bless them, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance." -- Isaiah 19:23-25, NIV.
So how does God save other people?

You know -- people other than me?

I know that I'm a sinner, after all -- and I suspect I'm not the only one.

(And that knocks on the head any idea that people can be saved "if they live up to the light they have." I mean, I don't live up to the light I have -- and if God can save me regardless, then why should they be any different?)

What's more, Christ's prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane suggests that his death was necessary for my salvation -- that if there was any other way to save me, then God would have done it that way.

(And if that's true of me, then why should it be different for anyone else?)

But if God can save me -- me with all my faults, all my sins, all my blindspots, all my patches of ignorance that all of eternity will not be able to erase . . .

Yes, if God can save me . . .

Then who am I to complain if He saves somebody else?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

This week's lesson (September 12-18): Paul - Mission & Message

There's more to evangelism than the Book of Acts.

Read the Book of Acts, after all, and it seems as though evangelism is nothing more than a a series of road trips -- road trips in which:
  • Paul arrives in a new town.
  • He preaches a series of sermons.
  • And having baptized the results of his preaching, Paul moves on.
But read Paul's letters, and you'll notice Paul never did move on -- not completely.
  • No, he keeps in touch -- through letters, messengers, and personal visits.
  • He counsels, rebukes, and advises church members on everything from their potlucks to their sex lives.
  • And he spends an extraordinary amount of time raising money for the poor in Jerusalem!
In short, Paul did more than more than just preach and baptize.
  • No, he also nurtures church members. 
  • He deals with their faults, their failures, and their fights with each other.
  • Yes, in today's language, he is their "pastor."
That's why it's important to look at everything Paul does -- not just his work as a traveling preacher.

Yes, take a look at everything Paul does, and you'll see there's more to evangelism . . .

Than just evangelism.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

This week's lesson (September 5-11): Paul - background and call

It's not easy to be a bridge.

Take Paul, for instance -- someone who reached both Jews and Gentiles . . .

But was often viewed with suspicion by both.
  • To the Gentiles of Ephesus, for instance, he was just too Jewish -- a man whose monotheism threatened their income from the Temple of Diana.
  • Then again, the Jews of Jerusalem thought he was just too friendly with Gentiles -- so much so, they thought he'd smuggled one into the Temple!
  •  And even the church's leaders weren't always sure what to make of Paul! Having accepted his offering from the Gentiles, for instance, they then told him to go through purification rituals at the Temple, so that "everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law" (Acts 21:24, NIV).
Likewise, the church needs people who can build a bridge between two cultures -- between faith and science, between East and West, between tradition post-modernism . . .
Yet it's not always comfortable with the people who can do this.
  • Like Paul, they don't seem to fit in either camp.
  • Like Paul, they don't seem entirely loyal to either camp.
  • And like Paul, they may face rejection by both camps -- rejection, or repeated tests of their allegiance.
We need people like Paul, in other words -- but we don't always make it easy for them to be like Paul.
No, there are times when being a bridge . . .
It's quite a stretch. 

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

This week's lesson (August 29 - September 4): Philip as missionary

If you want to make God laugh, then tell Him your plans.

Consider Philip -- a Greek-speaking Jew who was definitely not part of his church's "inner circle." No, that was reserved for the Twelve . . .
  • All of whom had been chosen by Jesus.
  • All of whom spoke Aramaic as their native-language.
  • And none of whom saw any need to share power with others.
But when a dispute over money broke down along ethnic lines, then Philip was made a "deacon." As such, he was meant to feed widows -- nothing more.
But when persecution broke out after the death of Stephen, Greek-speaking Christians had to leave the city . . . 
  • So Philip went to Samaria, where he preached the Word . . . 
  • Then he went to Gaza, where he preached the Word . . .
  •  Then he continued up the coast to Caesarea, where he preached the Word along the way.
And yes, I suspect the "Old Guard" was a bit non-plussed by all this; when they heard about the conversions in Samaria, remember, they sent Peter and John to see just what this "deacon" was doing!
Fortunately, they saw what the Spirit was doing through Philip.
They accepted what the Spirit was doing through Philip.
And even though the Spirit's plans for Philip didn't exactly coincide with their own . . . even then, they were willing to let the Spirit lead.
If you want to make God laugh, after all, then tell Him your plans.
But if you want to be amazed, then listen to His.