Wednesday, August 31, 2016

This week's lesson (August 27 - September 2): Jesus won their confidence

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened." But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. -- I Peter 3:13-16, NIV (emphasis supplied)
Nobody likes a know-it-all.

Even if you do know-it-all.

I mean, you may have done all the things we've talked about in this quarter's lessons: yes, you've mingled with your neighbors, listened to them, met their needs, won their trust . . .

And I know it's exciting when they finally begin to show an interest in spiritual things -- when they finally ask you that first, tentative question about your beliefs . . . 

But that doesn't mean they want to be treated like an idiot.

No, you may disagree with their beliefs -- but you still need to respect them.

You may be appalled by their ignorance -- but you still need to listen.

You may be eager to tell them everything you know about everything they need to know -- but this needs to be a conversation between friends.

Not a lecture by The World's Smartest Human.

The same kindness and humility that inspired their questions, in other words, must be shown when we answer their questions.

In short, our goal is to show them Christ -- to show Christ in what we say and how we say it.

Even if they don't know anything else.

Monday, August 22, 2016

This week's lesson (August 20-26): Jesus ministered to their needs

Look! Up in the sky!

It's a bird!

It's a plane!

No, it's the subject of this week's Sabbath School lesson!

To be sure, δικαιοσύνης ("righteousness") does not sound like the kind of word that belongs in a comic book. No, it's a "church" kind of word -- a word that summons images of people whose shirts are white, whose shoes are polished, and whose meals consist of tofu and tapwater.

Reason enough that Batman and Superman were never joined by "Righteousnessman."

But as the NIV Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words points out:
All the words in this group derive from dikê (justice, punishment). Dikê was the daughter of Zeus, who shared in his government of the world. . . . in order to make human life possible, he gave dikê, justice, whose implacable enemy is bia, violence.
The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology adds that:
[Dikê] was the enemy of all falsehood, and the protectress of a wise administration of justice. . . . [She] appears as a divinity who severely punishes all wrong, watches over the maintenance of justice, and pierces the hearts of the unjust with the sword made for her by Aesa.
Kind of like Wonder Woman, only without the Lasso of Truth.

Now obviously, the concept of  δικαιοσύνης is going to develop and change before it finds a home in our Bible -- but even there, it is more active, more public, and much more concerned with the state of our society than we usually give it credit for.

In short, the superheroes' "Justice League" was a league of δικαιοσύνης.

And this week's lesson tells us δικαιοσύνης is also something that God's people should encourage.

Even if we don't wear a cape.

This is a repeat of the lesson for March 10, 2010.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

This week's lesson (August 13-19): Jesus showed sympathy

Over the years, few things have tried the patience of the saints more than the patience of God.

Don't believe me?

Think of Revelation 6:9f.
When [Jesus] opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?"
Or Psalm 74:10f.
How long will the enemy mock you, O God?
       Will the foe revile your name forever?
Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?
       Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!
Then there's the complaint of Habakkuk 1:2-4.
How long, O LORD, must I call for help,
       but you do not listen?
       Or cry out to you, "Violence!"
       but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
       Why do you tolerate wrong?
       Destruction and violence are before me;
       there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
       and justice never prevails.
       The wicked hem in the righteous,
       so that justice is perverted.
And who can forget that final fit of pique in Jonah 3:10-4:3?
When God saw what [the people of Ninevah] did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.

But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the LORD, "O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live." 
No, if we were running things, then judgment would be swift, sure, and automatic . . .

For other people.

Instead, we see God treating their sins with the same forbearance and compassion that He treats our own.

Needless to say, this really annoys us -- yet as we're reminded in II Peter 3:9 --
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 
In short, God is patient with us.

That's why we need to be patient with God.

This first appeared on January 28, 2010.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

This week's lesson (August 6-12): Jesus desired their good

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. -- I Corinthians 13:12f, NIV
Some people just don't get it.

Take George Washington -- an admirable man in many ways. Brave. Loyal. Generous.

But when it came to African-Americans, he had a horrible blind-spot.

No, when he looked at African-Americans, all he saw were slaves.

Likewise, Mark 8:22-38 tells the story of two men who don't get it:
  • The first is a blind man at Bethsaida; the second is Peter.
  • The first is healed physically, while Peter is healed spiritually.
  • But the first sees men "as trees walking," while Peter "sees" that Jesus is the Christ . . . but has no idea what that means.
In short, they both "saw."
But neither understood what was right there in front of their eyes . . . 
Kind of like George Washington.
But in Washington's case, understanding came when he saw African-American troops from Rhode Island -- African-American troops who taught him to see them as men.
Likewise, Jesus kept working with the blind man of Bethsaida.
Jesus kept working with Peter.
And when I get discouraged by how slow my church is to "see" things that are perfectly obvious to me . . . 
Or when I get discouraged by how long it took me to "see" things that are perfectly obvious to those around me . . . 
Then I remember that Jesus keeps working with us.
Even when we don't get it.