We're so glad you've decided to join us today!
We are meeting in person again! While we meet, we share our joys and concerns from the past week with each other. If you have any prayer requests you would like to share, you can add them in the comments. Our Sunday School lessons for this quarter are all about celebrating God. Our prayer today is a prayer of praise thanksgiving. When you are ready, use the prayer below to get started.
Father, I thank You today for the gift of praise. Thank you for revealing Yourself to me through Your Word, by Your Spirit, and in Your creation, that I might stand in awe of You. You alone are worthy of praise and glory and honor, for You have created all things, that in all things You might be preeminent. For every request that I offer, every supplication that I raise, and every intercession I make, let me never neglect to render the praise You are due. In the name of my Savior, Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.
This week's lesson is on Acts 2:32-33, 37-47.
The Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts were both written by Luke, a Gentile disciple and physician (Colossians 4:14). The Gospel is like a Part 1, while Acts is Part 2. Both of Luke's books are written to a person called Theophilus. The contents of the book of Acts span about 30 years, beginning in AD 30. The time frame of our lesson is 50 days after Jesus' resurrection.
The apostle Peter is the speaker in today's text. Our book says there is a good chance that many or most of the audience listening to Peter speak had also been in Jerusalem during Jesus' trials, crucifixion and resurrection. Those making the annual pilgrimage for observances of Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread would stay for the Festival of Weeks.
For Jewish people, the Festival of Unleavened Bread is an eight day long holiday, the first day of which is Passover. The Festival of Weeks, Shavuot, takes places fifty days after the first day of the Passover festival. This is the same day that our story takes place, and the same day that we celebrate Pentecost.
At first glance, we may be surprised that Peter exhibited the boldness we see in today's text. He had denied Jesus three times before the crucifixion (Luke 22:54-62) and had cowered afterward in a locked room (John 20:19). But having been reinstated by Jesus himself after the resurrection (John 21:15-19), Peter became a different man.
The Jewish people were expecting their Messiah to be a king like David (Matthew 12:23), not this Jesus. They were expecting a political savior to rescue them from the Romans. Instead, they got Jesus, who was a humble servant with no palace.
While the people did not recognize Jesus, it was all in God's plan from the very beginning. This included God promising to strike the servant in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15), promising Abraham his progeny would be a blessing to all nations (Genesis 12:1-3), and raising Jesus from the dead (Acts 2:23-35).
Our book points out that verse 33 refers to two different scriptures. One is the beginning of Acts 2, with the wind, fire and speaking in tongues, what the people "see and hear now." The second is Joel 2. Part of the prophecy is quite familiar. Verses 28 and 29 read:
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days."
Peter sees the events of that day as fulfilling Joel's prophecy. In fact, part of Acts 2 is the first public announcement of the significance of Jesus' death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. The Scriptures had predicted that all this would happen to the Messiah (examples: Psalms 2, 16, 22; Isaiah 53; Luke 24:25-27).
Peter's words brought many people to the painful realization that God sent Jesus out of love for them, but they had rejected him. Even though they had not personally driven the nails into his hands and feet, they had either agreed with those who did, or they had approved of the crucifixion by their silence.
When the people ask what they should do, Peter tells them to repent and be baptized. This means they should turn away from sin and toward God in heart, mind and lifestyle. Their entire lives should change.
The scripture then says about 3,000 people were baptized. Modern estimates suggest that Jerusalem's population was about 60,000 - 80,000 people at that time. With the annual observance of the Festival of Weeks, the number would have been temporarily much higher. The 3,000 people were really just a small fraction of the people were there. But many of them may have been visitors to Jerusalem. This means that as they left, they could take their accounts of what had happened back to their hometowns.
The people who were baptized that day were also devoted. They really did change their lives. They spent time in fellowship, pooling their time, talent and treasure into the gospel task. This is more than just gathering together. They shared meals. They prayed.
The text also says the earliest Christians had everything in common. They shared their possessions. They sold property to be able to give to those in need. Christians are still called to give to those in need.
These people found strength in getting together every day. Larger groups could meet in the temple courts, while smaller gatherings could meet in their homes. Public meetings in the temple meant that the earliest Christians were not huddling together in secret. Instead, their public witness gained them favor of all the people. Having a good reputation with outsiders is important for attracting them to Jesus.
In our modern society, Christians can allow themselves to become too busy to engage in the kind of fellowship described in this passage. We may get home after work, shut the garage door, and "cocoon" for the rest of the evening. What a tragedy to miss out on opportunities that can bind the church together!
Question for Discussion
Verse 42 says the early Christians devoted themselves to four things:
The most powerful realization from today's text is that Christ is still good news for a dying world -- he has been since the day of Pentecost, and he will continue to be so until he returns. Until then, we must share Jesus with everyone we can.
Foundational to this effort is a sense of awe, which is often missing in the church today. Sometimes our worship services feel stale. Our prayer lives may dry up. We allow the urgent to distract us from the important. But in those times, we can ask for transformation as we cry for God to "restore to me the joy of your salvation," (Psalm 51:12).
God still works in and through his people. May we be aware of his movement in our lives, our churches, and our communities so that we too may see the church growing daily.
Lord, thank you for being the God of transformation! As you have been merciful, patient, and forgiving to us in that regard, may we be so to others who need to hear of your son. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
Next week's lesson is on Psalm 100.
We're so glad you're joining us today!
When we meet in person, we take time to share our joys and concerns together. Take some time to consider your last week. What good or worrying things do you have to pray for? If you would like, you can share them in the comments of this post. When you're ready, use this prayer, which is really a hymn, to get started.
Dear Lord and Father of humankind,
Forgive our foolish ways;
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.
Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.
Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.
This week's lesson is on Mark 10:46-52.
We define mercy as “ an act of compassion towards someone who is in need.” Mercy by definition is not earned; it is freely given, with our complain. True mercy is not compelled. It is granted.
Today’s lesson features a man whose life was wretched. But when he knew the Son of God was nearby, he immediately asked for mercy. He understood his need, his helplessness, and his possible healing through Jesus. Blindness was a familiar condition in the ancient world, there was no reliable cure for blindness in Jesus’ day and little understanding of its causes. In all cases, blindness was economically and socially debilitating. Jewish law forbade taking advantage of the blind. (Leviticus 19:14) blindness and sight in a spiritual sense are important themes in the book of Mark.
The restoration of a blindman’s sight was a great and merciful miracle. But in the larger context of the Gospels, Jesus encountered many who were spiritually blind, having unresponsive hearts that refused to recognize of honor him. Our journey with Jesus begins when we realize we are blind and on the side of the road, sidelined and desperate. It’s at that point when we allow Jesus to make us whole. then we join him, joyfully walking and learning as we go. This is a timeless picture of discipleship (Matthew 16:24; John 14:6)
When we consider the necessity of faith, we learn some things about Jesus honored faith. The faith of Bartimaeus was very simple: he believed that Jesus was willing and able to help. The man was not questioned about what he knew or believed about the coming Messiah. Neither was he queried regarding exactly he meant when he called Jesus “Son of David” (Mark 10:47-48) or “Rabbi”. Neither his doctrines nor motives were called into account. When we are in crisis and see no relief, we may say: “Lord, have mercy” without thinking about the import of these words. Yet this is a prayer, imploring God to notice our pitiful situation and provide relief. In that regard may we take a lesson from Bartimaeus, being willing to call on the Lord when the crowd has a different agenda. May the eyes of our hearts be opened to see Jesus clearly and obey him fully (see Ephesians 1:18).
Thought to Remember
Physical blindness is temporary;
spiritual blindness is eternal.
Father, reveal to us our own blindness so that we might be spiritually whole. As you extend that mercy to us, may we do likewise to others. Open our eyes, Lord, and let us see you clearly so that we may follow your Son as he would have us to. In Jesus’ name, the one who cures blindness, we pray. Amen.
Next week's lesson will be on Acts 2:32-33, 37-47.
We're so happy you're joining us today!
I would like to wish everyone a Happy Grandparents Day. I am blessed to be a grandparent. It is also a responsibility to help raise your grandchildren in a Christian environment. It does take a village to raise a child.
When we meet together in person, we share our joys and concerns with each other before we focus on our Sunday school lesson. Think about your needs and concerns right now, and if you like, you can share them in the comments. When you are ready, use this morning prayer.
Oh God, enlighten my mind with truth;
Inflame my heart with love;
inspire my will with courage
enrich my life with service.
Pardon what I have been;
Sanctify what I am;
order what I shall be
and thine shall be the glory
and mind the eternal salvation
through Jesus Christ my Lord.
This week's lesson is on 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 14-19.
Today’s lesson focuses on the relocation of the ark of the covenant to David’s new capital city Jerusalem. The ark contained the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s staff and manna from Israel’s wilderness wanderings. These were reminders of deliverance from Egypt and provision on the way to the promised land.
The ark was housed in the innermost part of the tabernacle, “the Most Holy Place”. Only the high priest was ever allowed to enter and only once a year. The ark was so holy that those responsible for its upkeep and transportation were not allowed to touch it, lest they die.
David gathered 30,000 able men to get the ark which was eight miles west of Jerusalem. They put the ark on a new cart. If David would have consulted with the Levites, who God appointed to care for the ark, he would have learned that the ark must be carried by two long wooden poles through rings affixed to the ark. This method both keep the ark a safe distance from human contact and kept the top heavy ark stable.
King David and the Israelites were celebrating in grand style with wood, string and percussion instruments when tragedy hit. The cart tipped, the ark slid and Uzzah lost his life trying to stabilize it. David left the ark in the house of Obed-Edom, where it remained until David tried again. When David sent for the ark a second time, he had greater respect for God’s holy presence. God must be honored and his instructions obeyed. Having learned his lesson, David picked up his celebration where it left off.
King David wore a linen ephod and was dancing before the Lord with all his might. All of Israel celebrated with David with shouts and the sound of trumpets. They bought the ark of the Lord and set it inside the tent that David had pitched for it and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord. Burnt offerings were prescribed for special occasions and fellowship offerings could express thanks or obligation to God.
Both sacrifices indicated the joy of the occasion and the felt need to praise God for bringing it about. David then blessed the people in the name of the Lord Almighty. He then gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowds of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes. A full meal for the assembled celebrants was a massive and extravagant undertaking.
We Christians get excited when we see God at work in our midst. We are tempted to respond in ways that come naturally to us; we are inclined to do what our culture has conditioned us to do when things are going our way.
Yet David learned that not any and all responses are appropriate to our holy God. In every believer’s life, the end and the means are all tangled together. How a thing is accomplished matters to the Lord.
We must consult God’s Word to learn the right means to the ends we seek as we honor the Lord. We must not rush to do what seems right in our own eyes, even when we trying to do right by God. Let us not assume we know God’s will until we have tested it against his Word.
Holy God, teach us to love you like David did when he was at his best. May our excitement take no heed to reactions around us as we seek only to glorify you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
This week's benediction is from the New International Version.
Next week's lesson is on Mark 10:46-52.
We're so glad you've joined us today.
When we meet together in person, we share our joys and concerns with each other before we focus on our Sunday school lesson. Think about your needs and concerns right now, and if you like, you can share them in the comments.
Today’s lesson is from the 15th chapter of the book of Exodus. It is the song of Moses and his sister Miriam, which the Israelites sang after God miraculously delivered them from the Egyptian army at the Red Sea. It serves as an example to us of how to offer praise to God for God’s intervention in our lives and in the life of our church.
Our Sunday school and church is now open so that we can join to worship God, to learn about God’s word and to encourage each other in person. We are grateful to be back together, but we continue to pray for those who are not yet able to participate in person or who do not yet feel comfortable participating in person. We are glad that those who cannot be with us physically are able to learn and worship with us here online.
The following prayer was written by the Rev. Thom Shuman and posted on his website, Lectionary Liturgies. More of his prayers and liturgies can be found at Rev. Shuman’s site, Lectionary Liturgies. Let’s pray together.
When we look over our shoulders at fear shadowing us today, you go before us into tomorrow, making a path through the sea of yesterday's doubts. When our legs tremble from the effort of standing up for what you hope for all creation, you are at our side, offering your heart's strength. Cloud of Grace, we offer our love to you.
When we turn our hearts into deserts of stony bitterness, you transform them into oases of joy. When we come up with all sorts of rules for those who come to us seeking to find you, you tear up the list, stretching wide your arms in welcoming grace. Servant of all, we offer our lives to you.
When we would clasp old worries to our hearts, you open our eyes to that hope which paves the path ahead of us. When we spend each day consumed with doubts and fears, you remind us that this day is the time to honor God, by serving God's children.
Mist of Mercy, we offer our hearts to you. God in Community, Holy in One, as you are all to us, so we would offer all we are to you. Amen
We're now in September, and starting a new quarter called Celebrating God. This week's lesson is on Exodus 15:11-21.
Today's lesson is the first in a series this quarter that focuses on worshipping God and and giving God praise. Praise is a central part of Christian worship, and for that matter, it was an important part of every ancient religion. However, unlike some religions, the Judeo-Christian faith does not praise God in order to get what we want by way of flattery. Instead, our praise is an acknowledgement of what God has done, what God is doing, and what God promises to do.
The Bible records praise in two ways. The first is direct praise and is found in many of the psalms. There the author ascribes praise to God for how God has acted in history and in nature. The second example of biblical praise is found in narrative accounts of people offering praise for God’s intervention on behalf of the people. Sometimes these stories also depict praise to God following events that do not necessarily show God’s direct intervention.
Our lesson for today is an ascription of praise that was offered after God unequivocally intervened on behalf of the Israelites. When the Israelites were freed from bondage in Egypt, Moses led them into a cliffhanger situation. Despite being free, they were now trapped between the pursuing Egyptian army and the Red Sea. They seemed doomed — except for the fact that God was with them.
Today’s lesson is the last half of a song about that event. It is sometimes called the Song of Moses or the Song of the Sea, although it is often called the Song of Miriam because that title avoids confusion with another passage that is also labeled “The Song of Moses.” Deuteronomy 32 ascribes another song to Moses, which he sang upon completion of the writing of the Torah.
However, this song was sung by Moses, Miriam and probably all of the Israelites. It actually begins in verse 1 and ends at verse 21. Even though we live some 35 centuries later, it still teaches us important lessons.
Long before the exodus, God had promised the land of Canaan to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The fulfillment of that promise seemed to be in jeopardy when Jacob and his family moved to Egypt because of a famine in Canaan. But God worked through Joseph, one of Jacob’s sons, so that the family could have all it needed during the years of famine.
While there, Joseph rose to power by helping to protect the nation from the ravages of seven years of severe famine. In gratitude, the pharaoh at that time welcomed the Israelites into the land.
Because of their favored status, the Israelites remained in Egypt for more than 400 years. Over the course of time, of course, many different men ruled in Egypt. Eventually, a pharaoh arose who cared nothing about Joseph or what he had done for the nation. Joseph’s descendants were seen as a threat and were subjected to servitude and oppression and cruel attempts to limit their population growth.
God was now ready to act, and Moses was born. As an infant, he was adopted by a princess of Egypt, but when he was 40 he had to flee Egypt after killing an Egyptian taskmaster. While tending sheep in the wilderness 40 years later, Moses encountered God at Sinai, and God called him to go back to Egypt and to lead his enslaved people out.
Moses obeyed God and, with his brother Aaron, he returned to Egypt and tried to get Pharaoh to let his people go. When Pharaoh refused, God sent 10 devastating plagues, the last of which took the lives of all the firstborn in the land except for the Israelites.
Finally, Pharaoh relented and the Israelites quickly exited Egypt for Canaan. Pharaoh, however, changed his mind and decided to get them back. He sent his army in pursuit of the people, who were blocked from escape by the Red Sea. It seemed that the Israelites would either die there or have to return to Egypt as slaves. But God had other plans.
Miraculously, God parted the sea in front of them, and the people crossed over on dry land. After they had crossed safely, the LORD re-established the water in its course, drowning the pursuing Egyptian army in the process. The crossing of the Red Sea became a pivotal moment in the history of ancient Israel. Not only did it mean they were free from slavery and beyond the reach of Pharaoh. It also proved that the God of Israel was superior to the so-called gods of Egypt.
Moses and the people responded by bursting forth with joyous singing. The lesson text for today is the words of their song, the first song in the history of this new nation, a song of joy for the victory the Lord obtained for the people.
I. God’s preeminence and power (verses 11-13)
This portion of the song begins with two rhetorical questions that point out the uniqueness and superiority of God. The Egyptians had hundreds of gods and goddesses. Although some of the plagues might have been directed mainly at a particular Egyptian god — such as the plague of darkness being directed at the Egyptian sun god Ra — overall the plagues were a judgment of all the gods of Egypt.
The second question is about God’s holiness, God’s glory and God’s power to work wonders. God is set apart from creation and the world system. God is worthy of our devotion and praise. God is able to marvelous things.
Those marvelous things include protecting God’s people from their enemies. By God’s power, when necessary the earth can even open up and swallow them, just as the sea swallowed the Egyptian army. Numbers 16:32 records how, not long after the deliverance at the Red Sea, Korah and 250 like-minded rebels died when “the earth opened its mouth.” (Exodus 16:1-31)
Next, the Song of Miriam speaks of God’s unfailing love and how, because of it, our redemption is sure and God’s guidance can be trusted to take us to the place God intends for us. Although we almost always speak of redemption as our spiritual redemption from sin, the story of God bringing God’s people back to the promised land shows that it holds true on a physical level as well. As we trust in God and God’s love, God guides us and makes are way clear to go where God wants us to go.
II. The Nation’s Fear (verses 14-16)
The song now turns from praise for God’s deliverance to thoughts about how the news of that deliverance will strike fear into the people of Canaan. The verses imagine how the people of Philistia — known elsewhere as the Philistines, who lived in what is modern-day Palestine — will be in anguish. The word translated “anguish” is actually used to describe the pain of childbirth, pointing to the acuteness and magnitude of the pain they will feel as the Israelites approach. Next the song describes the terror and fear that will seize the Edomites (the people who lived south and southeast of the Dead Sea) and the Moabites (who lived east of the Dead Sea).
The people of Canaan will melt away, the song says. And 40 years later, these words proved true when the walls of the fortified city of Jericho, located in Canaan, fell without the Israelites having to attack. Rahab, who protected Israelite spies before the fall of Jericho, reported how her people were terrified of Israel. One reason for their terror, she said, was that they had heard of Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea.
Other nations would resist the Israelites when they came into the land, but their efforts would as ineffective as if they had stood still and done nothing.
III. Promises for Israel (verses 17-19)
The song now turns from considering the nations that will hear of God’s power and fall before God’s people to a vision of how God will establish them in Jerusalem on Mt. Zion and one day build his temple there. And God’s reign will last forever.
In recounting the the disparate outcomes for the Egyptian army and the people of Israel as they passed through the Red Sea, the song makes it clear that their deliverance was only because of God’s power and the fact that was on their side. The powerful Egyptians lost about 600 chariots that day, while the Israelites, former slaves, passed through on dry ground.
Chariots were the vehicles of military power during the time, but God had wiped them out. The Israelites had gone through the depths of the sea, but for them it was only dry ground. For the Egyptians, it became their final resting place.
IV. Miriam’s example (verse 20)
Miriam was the older sister to both Moses and Aaron, with Moses being the youngest of the three. Miriam is probably best known as the sister who watched over Moses’ basket as it floated on the Nile and into the care of Pharaoh’s daughter. This verse says that Miriam was Aaron’s sister, but it does not mention Moses. That is probably because Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s household and had limited access to his birth family.
Miriam was also a prophetess because the Lord spoke through her. It may be that it was in that role that Miriam and all the women of Israel took timbrels (small drums) and began dancing to the song. In some more conservative Jewish traditions women only sing within earshot of other women. This is a rabbinic rule that was added to ensure that men were not distracted by unclean thoughts when listening to women’s voices. However, there is no indication in this passage that only women could hear Miriam and the other women sing and see them dance.
Question: What are some occasions that would be appropriate to label as “a time to dance”? (Ecclesiastes 3:4) Why did you, or why did you not, include a church worship service as one of your responses?
V. The exaltation of God (verse 21)
The refrain that Miriam and the women sang is similar to how the song begins in verse 1. This may imply that this is how Miriam led the women in an antiphonal response. The words are a final reminder about how the world’s most powerful nation at the time was no match for the God of Israel.
WHOLE WORSHIP: A college professor offered a course at a Christian college to help freshmen get “plugged into” a local church. One assignment was for students to visit three churches unlike their home churches. Then each student was to write a report about their experiences.
One student had attended only churches with contemporary worship services. The church services she reported on were more traditional. When she wrote her report, she found an interesting difference between the two. Traditional services, she wrote, primarily extolled who God is and what God has done; contemporary services, on the other hand, focused on expressions of adoration for God.
Miriam and those who sang with her exulted in both expressing their feelings about God and proclaiming what God had done for them. What blessings might you experience if your worship embraced both types?
Our songs always come with context. For instance, the story behind “Amazing Grace” adds depth to the lyrics of the song itself. Its long history in England and especially in North America has shaped how we hear or sing it today. The situations in which we have heard it played or sung change how we process the lyrics. Different arrangements let us hear the song afresh.
Like the song that Moses, Miriam and the people sang, our songs come from specific situations: situations of deliverance, of healing, of crossing from death into life. When we sing, with whom we sing — these things matter! Therefore, let us do as the psalmist challenged us and “sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.” (Psalm 98:1) What song will you sing as a result of God’s character and work in your life — in your family, church and community?
Almighty God, as we face trials this week, we commit ourselves to remember that in you we have victory. In Jesus’ victorious name we thank you. Amen.
Our benediction is from the New International Version.
Next week's lesson will be on 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 14-19.
We're glad you're joining us today.
We are meeting in person again, and we would love for you to join us when you're comfortable. We meet in the Sunday School room at 10:00 am.
Each Sunday, we share our joys and concerns together. Take some time to consider your past week, and what joys and concerns you have. If there are any you would like to share, you can create a comment on the lesson. When you are ready, use the prayer below (source) to get started:
O God of truth, prepare our minds
To hear and heed your holy word;
Fill every heart that longs for you
With your mysterious presence, Lord.
Almighty Father, with your Son
And blessed Spirit, hear our prayer:
Teach us to love eternal truth
And seek its freedom everywhere.
This week's lesson is on 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10.
The book of 2 Corinthians was a letter written by Paul to the church at Corinth. This letter was written in AD 57, shortly before his death somewhere between AD 62-64. Paul says at the beginning of the letter that he and Timothy had such troubles while in Asia that they, "despaired of life itself," (2 Corinthians 1:8). While he doesn't go into detail, the expectation of the potential end of his life is the background for almost everything Paul writes in the first few chapters of 2 Corinthians. But then he emerges from this contemplation with a triumphant note, proclaiming in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9: "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed."
Some of Paul's anguish in this letter may have been caused by false teachers who had come to Corinth to undermine his teachings and authority. Paul's opponents were not above resorting to intimidation, including death threats (Acts 18:12-17).
Paul did not fear dying because he knew that Jesus had defeated death. However, he knew about many theories of what happened to people after death. The Greeks generally believed in an underworld place, the realm of the dead ruled over by the god Hades. Some Jews and Greeks believed there was no existence after death. The part of the Sadducees was known for teaching there was no resurrection (Matthew 22:23), although most Jews believed in a future resurrection of the dead.
At the time of writing, Paul was facing the prospect of his own death. In the first verse of our lesson, he makes a point: whether in the short-term on the long-term, Paul knew his life was temporary -- and that earthly life was relatively less important than eternal life. Therefore, he had found great peace, even in dangerous and discouraging circumstances. Inwardly, his heart and spirit were growing stronger as a result of his relationship with the Lord.
No one is exempt from worries caused by our mortality and the eventual death of those we love. But when compared to the eternity that makes up your future, these tribulations are momentary. They result in, "eternal glory that far outweighs them all." Our book notes that this is actually a play on words. Paul speaks both Hebrew and Greek. In Hebrew, the word for heavy (as in "weight") is the same as the word for honor (as in "glory").
Verse 18 is a familiar verse, and is often paraphrased. "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." The things that we can see last for a short time. They are temporary. The things we cannot see have much greater importance because they are eternal. To see the unseen, the important and eternal, we must have eyes of faith, trusting the testimony God has provided.
Chapter 5 starts with a metaphor. He compares our bodily existence to a tent. Thinking of the Old Testament, the tabernacle, or tent of meeting, was a movable tent that was eventually replaced by the temple. The metaphor emphasizes the impermanent nature of our bodies.
Paul then switches for a moment to another metaphor, one about clothing. Essentially, once we have done things like:
Then, Paul goes back to the tent. While we are alive, we have all kinds of burdens. These burdens direct our attention to the "right now," and not what is "to be." Our book notes that Paul, as a Pharisee, would never expect a permanent, eternal existence as some sort of free-floating spirit. He expects bodily resurrection. He expects that the new body would be swallowed up by life.
Paul continues by saying that resurrection is a gift from God. Our book says that we were given the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts at baptism assures us that this will be the case.
The last portion of our passage talks about our walk of faith. Paul argues that as long as we are in our current physical bodies, we cannot experience the closest presence of God. This is the direct result of the sins of Adam and Eve in the garden (Genesis 3:23). God's holy nature does not tolerate sin in his presence (1 Peter 1:15-16). As the Lord told Moses, "You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live," (Exodus 33:20). Places where humans apparently see God directly are what are called theophanies -- visible manifestations of God, but not God in the fullness of his being. But when Jesus returns, "we shall be like him, for we shall se him as he is," (1 John 3:2).
As Paul talked about earlier, as Christians, we have to live by faith, not by what we can see. We must have faith that when we die, we will be in the full presence of God. Because of this, we strive to please Christ to express gratitude as we show that way to others. We are not working for salvation.
Our lives will be evaluated at the end. But we do not need to fear this judgement because we are already treated as not guilty in the eyes of God. The penalty for sin was already paid on the cross.
Questions to Consider
What change(s) would you have to make to your daily routine in order to make inner renewal a priority?
What concept in today's lesson is most difficult for you to see "faith walk" value in?
Paul's world was not a safe place. Cities, villages, and roadways harbored many dangers. In the case of assault or robbery, justice in court was often unavailable or corrupt. People needed to be every wary and alert for danger. The best choice seemed to be to live just day by day in a self-protecting manner.
Our world also seems scary. Between violence, poverty, deadly storms, and disease, it is easy to despair. For many, life lurches from one crisis to another. To look beyond one's present sufferings seems impossible. But that is what Paul calls us to do. We are not to fear death. We already enjoy the peace and comfort of the Holy Spirit. Rather than succumbing to despair, Paul challenges us to walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we must endure and manage life's crises as they come. But we do so knowing that God is in control and our future is sure. Take a minute to evaluate. Do you walk primarily by faith or by sight?
Father, it is tempting to respond to life's challenges using only our own resources. May we instead have faith to trust you, to live us you would have us live. We pray in the name of the one who conquered death, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today's benediction is from the Revised Standard Version.
Next week, we will be starting a new quarter called Celebrating God. The lesson will be on Exodus 15:11-21. If you like completing the daily readings, you can find them all listed in the file below.
We're so glad you're joining us today.
When we meet in person, we share our joys and concerns together. If you are reading this from home, take some time to consider the joys and concerns you have. You can share them with us by making a comment on this post as you feel comfortable. You may also want to share them with the prayer chain. When you are ready, use the prayer below (source) to get started:
Faithful Father, we begin today by giving you thanks. Your love endures forever, it never fails. Though there are many ways in which we have failed, we have not exceeded the supply of your mercy and grace. We thank you for revealing yourself to us through your word. As we open the Bible today we pray that we would hear your voice. We ask that your Holy Spirit would be at work, opening our ears to hear and our hearts to receive your word. May we be transformed into your likeness. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.
Today's scripture is divided into three sections: 1 John 4:2-3, 13-17; 5:4-5.
John was one of the original disciples and is thought to have written five books of the New Testament. Overcoming , or being victorious is a favorite theme of John’s; victory over Satan, and overcoming pressures of the world.
The Bible speaks of the world as planet Earth in its physical sense, as the world’s human inhabitants and as a system of values opposed to God’s A person of the world lives for the pleasures of the flesh, but a dedicated Christian lives for the joys of the Spirit.
John spoke about false teachings (gnosticism). Gnostics believed that Christ was a spirit who didn’t exist in bodily form. The spiritual was viewed as always good, and the physical was viewed as always evil.
We can have victory and overcome the world only through faith in Jesus Christ, the son of God. We can overcome as we allow the Holy Spirit, sent after Jesus’ ascension, to empower us to do so. God put this plan into action even though those created in his image rejected him time after time (John 1:10-11; 3:16).
Despite this rejection, God still seeks to save people from a fate of eternal death (2 Peter 3:9) God’s plan for this still centers on the life, death, resurrection and ascension of his beloved Son, Jesus. The plan remains the same today as in the first century; it has not changed. In his life, Jesus proved His identity; in his death, Jesus paid the penalty for sin; in his resurrection, Jesus defeated the power of death; in his ascension, he reigns forevermore.
At his second coming, Jesus will rid the world of sin and welcome his children home. Hallelujah! What a Savior we have! Those facts allow us to have confidence as we face the challenges of the world. And as we obey Jesus, we can assist others to do so as well.
Heavenly Father, thank you for your love expressed in sending your Son to die for the sins fo the world! Empower us to overcome the world and model your love to others. As we do, may we look for ever forward to the day of your son’s return when we will share in his glory. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The only way to overcome the world is through faith in Jesus.
This week's benediction is from the New English Translation.
Next week's lesson will be on 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10.
We're so glad you've decided to join our online class!
This week, we are at the Washington County Fair for worship.
When we meet in person, we share our joys and concerns together. If you have any prayer requests for us during Sunday School, please feel free to add a comment to this post. When you are ready, use the prayer below (source) to get started.
Your ways are beyond our comprehension and Your wisdom exceeds the utmost of our understanding. Allow us to fully surrender unto you, trusting in the path you have set us on. We may not fully understand our troubles, but we know that in Your immeasurable wisdom You have planned things perfectly and You have our best interests in mind. Allow us, I pray, to draw from Your wisdom that we may see things from Your perspective and be strengthened to continue pursuing Your will.
This week's lesson is on Hebrews 10:23-36.
I want to first give you the definition of apostasy. It is an act of refusing to continue to follow, obey or recognize a religious faith. An abandonment of a previous loyalty. This word is used throughout our lesson today.
It is not mentioned who wrote Hebrews but it is believed to be Apostle Paul.
Swerving from the faith, and therefore falling into apostasy, was exactly the danger that motivates Paul to deliver this message in the first place. But we should not understand him just pointing his finger at his audience. He understood their circumstances and how strong the temptation to waiver, to give up the fight for them. So he pointed them to Jesus , reminding them to their faithfulness could not be based on their own meager strength. Rather, it has to be rooted in the prior faithfulness of Jesus himself.
We as Christians should focus on helping one another. The Christian life cannot be solely an individual affair. We do not follow the path of discipleship on the basis of our individual determination alone. We have help, support and encouragement to each other and for ourselves along the way.
This is not simply a call for helpfulness. Believers are to spur one another on towards love and good deeds and the worship assembly. We cannot isolate one of the three and hold it as the sole focus of the Christian life.
After over a year of not being able to physically meet together at Church because of COVID I realize how true this is. I felt so isolated from my Church family even though I would watch the sermons online. Physically meeting together gives you a feeling of fellowship and sharing of our mutual faith. I pray that sometime in the near future all our members will feel comfortable in physically attending church again. I pray for the end of this virus. Praying that some of our members haven’t left the church all together. I pray about this often and would like you to pray for the strengthening of our church and all of our members.
Paul was speaking to Christian that were being pressured by family and society to turn away from their faith.
To sin deliberately after having come to Christ carries the grave consequences of being cut off from the positive benefits of Christ’s sacrifice for sins. We assume Paul is speaking to wavering believers who want to return to Judaism. Having been in Christ, they have come to know that animal sacrifices did not purify. So how could any sacrifice for sins remain for them?
Those who continue to turn their backs on Jesus can anticipate judgement and a raging fire on Judgement Day. Disobeying God should put people in fear because they have become his enemies in their own actions.
If the punishment for an Israelite in the Old Testament who was doing evil in the eyes of the Lord your God in violation of his covenant by committing idolatry. Such a person was to be put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses. If the consequences of apostasy were dire under the old covenant, consider how much worse those consequences are under the new covenant of Jesus Christ. Apostasy is a rejection of the Spirit of grace and is the same as having trampled the Son of God underfoot. Grace empowers us to take up our crosses and follow Christ, giving us the strength to undertake the path of discipleship and service to others in his name. Think of all that is given up when one rejects the Spirit of grace.
Paul goes on to tell the early Christians that they have gone through suffering before and that they can do it again. The ability to persevere will result in retaining the promise of resurrection and eternal life with Jesus. If we live by faith and die in faith , our souls will be safe forever.
Conclusion: The Challenge for Every Age
The story of the audience of the letter to the Hebrews is the story of God’s people throughout history. From the days after Pharaoh released the Hebrews from bondage onward, we see fickleness in God’s people in remaining faithful. In many ways, it was no different for the first century church.
And it is no different for us today. Cultural pressures may vary from place to place and across the centuries, but the challenge of faithfulness remains. By keeping our eyes trained on God’s promises in hope, we can remain faithful to the very end and receive everything God desires for us. “Let’s us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race mark out for us.”
Father, in the midst of strong pressures, grant us strength to remain faithful to your Son through the Spirit of grace. May we seek each day to live a life worthy of our calling in him. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen
This week's benediction is from the God's Word translation.
Next week's lesson will be on 1 John 4:2-3, 13-17; 5:4-5.
We're so glad you've chosen to join us today!
When we meet together in person, we share our joys and concerns with each other before we focus on our Sunday school lesson. Think about your needs and concerns right now, and if you like, you can share them in the comments.
Today’s lesson is from the 11th chapter of the book of Hebrews. It is about how faith has been the thing that set visionaries apart from others in every age. Many have sacrificed a great deal, even their very lives, for their belief in something better, even though they never saw it realized in their lifetimes. The lesson asks us if we would emulate that kind of faith in our generation.
Our Sunday school and church is now open so that we can join to worship God, to learn about God’s word and to encourage each other in person. We are grateful to be back together, but we continue to pray for those who not yet able to or who do not yet feel comfortable participating in person. We are glad that those who cannot be with us physically are able to learn and worship with us here online.
The following prayer was written by Dr. Richard Einerson and published in his book, “Prayers of the People.” Dr. Einerson also has a website that features prayers inspired by the Revised Common Lectionary at richardeinerson.com. In this prayer, we ask God to give us the gift of faith that reveals itself in the way we live our lives.
Let’s pray together.
O holy One, we thank you that we stand in a long line of believers who have been faithful through the ages. You have been leading your people through trial and difficulty and have always set before them hope for today and hope for a better tomorrow. We pray that you would bless us in our time as we seek to be as faithful as our forebears. May we too know the faith which is filled with hope in things not seen.
• Give to us a faith like the grain of mustard seed which had small beginnings but which yielded large results.
• Give to us the faith to move the mountains of difficulty which come to each of us.
• Give to us the faith that sees a distant goal and is willing to work to achieve it.
• Give to us a faith which has a vision of a new world where peace and love characterize the transactions of people and of nations and where war is no more.
• Give to us a faith such as Abraham’s to move forward not knowing our destination but trusting in your guiding providence.
• Give to us a faith which is able to endure those moments of personal disquiet and to trust that you are with us.
• Give to us a faith which sees the welfare of humankind as our business because it is the focus of your enduring love for your people.
• Give to us a faith which sees beyond the years to an eternal city.
God, give us faith to walk with you through the ebb and flow and the victories and the defeats of life and to achieve victory and mastery of life. Amen
This week's lesson is on Hebrews 11:1-8, 13-16.
Introduction and Lesson Context
The 11th chapter of Hebrews is often called “The Hall of Fame of Faith” because it lists an impressive number of characters from the Old Testament who demonstrated faith in their particular times.
However, the chapter is not simply a recitation of heroes from the past. It is the culmination of an argument the author has been building since the beginning of the book. The purpose of this chapter is to show that for generations before Christ people of faith stood apart from the principles that guided most other people of their time because they believed in a better future that God had for them and for the world.
The author wants us to see that the reality they were looking for arrived in Jesus Christ. He also intends for us to see that, even though we live on the other side of the cross, we still must emulate their faith as we wait for the culmination of Christ’s work on the cross.
There was a time, maybe 100 years ago, when most scholars believed the book of Hebrews was written by the Apostle Paul. Almost no modern scholars hold that position today.
Still we can tell that the letter was written by a person who, like Paul, was well educated and understood Greek culture and philosophy as well as the historical faith of the Jews.
Although we often remove the 11th chapter of Hebrews from its context in the book, the author began writing about the importance of faith and endurance in the previous chapter. We can even detect the beginnings of his idea of faith as a pilgrimage as far back as chapters 3 and 4. So faith, according to the author of Hebrews, is not something we simply have or do not have. It is something that we live into as we follow God’s leading from day to day.
The Meaning of Faith (verses 1-3)
Like Socrates, the author of Hebrews believes that there is an invisible reality beyond the visible world. Socrates also argues that the invisible world is more knowable even more real than the visible world. This has led some scholars to say that the author of Hebrews bases his argument on Platonic philosophy.
However, Hebrews only goes as far as to say that faith is based on the belief that there is, indeed, a reality beyond the one we see now. It is a deeper and more perfect reality. Those who have faith that such a reality exists and that we will experience it in the future, order their lives around that belief. They have an assurance and a confidence that what we do not see now truly exists.
That firm belief is what drove the people of the Old Testament to behave contrary to others who lived in their time. And God commended them or “gave a good report of them” because their lives of faith gave witness to a deeper reality.
Question: How might people behave differently today if they truly believed there was a deeper reality waiting for us at the end of this life? What lifestyle change might we make if we were sure of it?
None of us was around when the universe was formed. In fact, no human being was. And yet, by faith, we believe that God was somehow behind its formation. Yet we see the effects of creation around us every day.
On an invisible molecular level, our lives are effected in tremendous ways. We need only think of the hundreds of thousands of people who have died in our country or the millions who have died around the world from the coronavirus to understand that the invisible has a great impact on our reality.
The author of Hebrews argues that there is a deeper, invisible reality that affects our lives and that the Scriptures attest to. This reality is not seen even with electron microscopes but only with our “spiritual eyes.”
II. Examples of Faith (verses 4-8)
The passage now moves to some examples of how this invisible reality worked out in the lives of ancient people. Abel, for example, brought a better sacrifice than Cain. The author does not say what made it “better,” but it was probably because somehow Abel understood that a blood offering was superior to one of fruits and vegetables, looking forward to what would be the Hebrew sacrificial system.
Even though Cain killed Abel out of jealousy, God heard Abel’s blood calling out for justice. And somehow, the author of Hebrews says, Abel still speaks to us, as a witness to to the importance of righteousness.
Next we move to the brief story of Enoch, who lived a life that was so pleasing to God that God did not allow him to suffer death. Instead, God took him. In other words, I think, Enoch based his life on the belief that a better world existed beyond this one, and because of that faith, God allowed him to see it without even having to pass through death.
The faith exemplified by these two people (and many others) shows that faith is at the heart of every life that pleases God. There are two requirements for the kind of faith Hebrews describes. The first requirement is that we believe that God exists. People can live their lives as though everything around them is by random chance and natural phenomenon that we don’t yet understand. They can believe that there is no deeper reality and that death is simply the end of existence. In that case, they have faith only in the natural order but no place for God.
But the kind of faith Hebrews describes requires a belief that God exists. And not just any kind of God, not a god like the Greeks believed in, gods that were unpredictable and distant. The God we must believe in is one who is just and who rewards those trust God and seek God. This God must be both good and powerful.
With that in mind, the writer of Hebrews turns to the story of Noah. He trusted that God’s warning about a future flood were true, even though no one else heard the warning or believed it would happen. But eventually his actions showed that his belief in an invisible future reality were justified, and his act of faith in building the ark saved his family and condemned those who refused to believe. In fact, the writer says, they condemned the world.
The Sunday school lesson explains that the Bible uses the phrase “the world” in three ways:
* Referring to the physical planet (Acts 17:24 and Romans 10:18)
* Referring to the human inhabitants of the planet (Luke 2:1 and John 3:16)
* Referring to the world’s value system as opposed to God’s (John 14:17 and Colossians 2:20)
All three meanings could be intended here because the flood condemned the planet, at least in part, because it led to the literal death of people and because it acted as a condemnation of the world’s value system, which rejects God and God’s word.
As Noah’s decision to act in faith was in and of itself a condemnation of the darkness around him, so it is in our day. The truth of the gospel, faithfully and charitably lived out, is a testimony against sin. It is sufficient on its own to condemn the darkness that is all around us.
Question: What could you do or what do you already do (that might not even involve saying a word) that “preaches” the gospel and, in a sense, “condemns” the world?
The writer of Hebrews next mentions Abraham, the great father of faith. Abraham heard God calling him to go to an unknown land that God would show him. Contrary to all common sense and culture at that time, Abraham obeyed God and left the safety and security of his home.
By nature, human beings want certainty and security. Most of the time, however, we are driven by fear, insecurity, and uncertainty. The fears are so common to human experience that no examples are needed. Chief among them, though, is the fear of the unknown. So many people have been held back from achieving great things for God because of this kind of fear. In fact, probably almost everyone has.
When God calls us to a task — as when he called Abraham to a higher mission — he calls us to trust in him and to follow his directions. We may never be called to head out to an open desert as Abraham was, but we will be called to many things that we cannot anticipate or imagine. Are you ready to trust God even when you can’t see the finish line or aren’t (yet) equipped with the resources to get there?
III. The Goal of Faith (verses 13-16)
All of these people were still living by faith when they died, the scripture writer says. In other words, faith never ends and they remained faith to the end. All of these faithful people died without ever seeing the fruits of their labor — in other words, the verification of their faith. This is hard to imagine in our world, which expects instant gratification and quick results.
But these “foreigners and strangers on earth” still speak to us of the importance of faith, even though they are long deceased (except perhaps, for Enoch). This world was not their final home. They were on a pilgrimage to God.
There is a German word, “fernweh,” that literally means “farsickness.” It refers to being homesick for a place you have never been. Had the fathers of the faith been homesick for a place they had left, they could have gone back to their home country. Given the risks and challenges they faced, it would have been understandable for them to return home. But they yearned for something better.
Perhaps the Jewish Christians the author of Hebrews wrote to seriously considered doing just that, returning to the Judaism in which they grew up. But in following Christ, they had sought better place.
“Better” is a key word in Hebrews. Of the New Testament’s 19 occurrences of the word translated “better,” 13 are in Hebrews. All of this served as a model for the writer’s original audience. If they oriented their desires toward a heavenly country, they would find the true and living God there — the one who “is not ashamed to be called their God, who has prepared a city for them, a permanent place of rest. (See Hebrews 4.)
The apostle Paul wrote, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). We sometimes undervalue the role of imitation in spiritual maturity. Perhaps you don’t feel confident enough to invite others to use your life as a model for their own discipleship. Wouldn’t it be arrogant to do so?
Paul didn’t see it that way, and neither did the other apostles. All of us can think of others — ministers, Sunday school teachers, ordinary congregants — who were influential in teaching us and molding us in the life of faith. We too are called to live in such a way that we can add surnames to the list of “the righteous one[s] [who] will live by faith. (Hebrews 10:38)
Lord God, we come to you acknowledging our struggle to trust your promises as the distractions of life cause us to lose focus. Strengthen our faith so that we may follow you wherever you lead. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Today's benediction is from the New International Version.
Next week's lesson will be on Hebrews 10:23-36.
Remember, next week we will not be meeting in person, since worship will be at the fair.
We're so glad you're joining us today,
whether you are sitting with us in person,
or reading the lesson from somewhere else.
We are meeting in person now! If you are not yet back in person, please feel free to leave any joys or concerns you would like to share as a comment to this post. We hope you'll decide to meet in person in the Sunday School room soon. When you are ready, you can use this prayer from Xavier University to get started.
God of silence and God of all sound,
help me to listen.
Help me to do the deep listening to the sounds of my soul,
waiting to hear your soft voice calling me deeper into you.
Give me attentive ears
that begin to separate the noise from the sounds that are you;
you who have been speaking to me
and through me my whole life,
for so long that you can seem like background noise.
Today help me hear you anew.
This week's lesson is on Romans 10:5-17.
We're so happy you're joining us today,
whether you are with us in person, or are reading online.
When we meet in person, we share joys and concerns from our past week. Take some time to consider whether you have anything you would like to share. You can do this by making a comment on this post. Then, we can all pray for your request. When you are ready, you can use the prayer below (source) to get started.
God, thank You for caring for us. You know the things that have been weighing us down with worry, anxiety, or fear. Right now, please guard our hearts and minds with Your peace.
Help us fix our minds on You, and on Your Spirit. Thank You for promising to bring us life and peace. We can rest … because You make us safe.
This week's lesson is on Romans 5:1-11.
We are a small, rural Presbyterian church in southwestern Pennsylvania.