Monday, November 06, 2006

Theological Essentials

A few summers ago I proposed this for Adult Sunday School but one of my other options got picked instead. Nonetheless, I'm posting it here for safekeeping.
01. Hebrew Bible Introduction

02. New Testament Introduction

03. The Bible is canonized

04. Early Creeds

05. Augustine, Aquinas, the Late Medieval Church and "pre-reformers"

06. The Reformation and Reformation Confessions

07. England and Scotland

08. Continental Anabaptists and the Radical Reformation

09. Puritans, Pilgrims, the New World and Zion

10. Enlightenment Thought and Influence

11. The 100 Years' War

12. Schleiermacher and his progeny

13. Fundamentalism, Dispensationalism, and Restoration Movements

14. 19th Century Reason

15. Great Awakenings, Revivals, and Frontier Religion!

16. Barth, Bultmann and Brunner: neo-orthodoxy

17. Barmen Declaration and denominational confessions

18. Process Theology

19. Neo-Evangelicalism

20. A flurry of factions!

21. The Jesus Seminar and its offspring

22. Ecumenism and Ecumenical Theology

23. Interfaith Dialogue

24. Wrapping it up!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Lent 2007 Study Outline

6-part Series for Lent 2007 – Bible Study Outline

Theology of the Cross | Leah Chang

1 Corinthians 1:20-25

20 Where is the smart stuff of this world? Where are the world's heavy thinkers?... 21 Since in God's wisdom the world did not know God through their worldly kinds of smarts, it pleased God through foolish proclamation to save anyone who trusts Him. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks crave wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ the crucified one, a scandal to the Jews and moronic nonsense to the gentiles: 24 But to those called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ--God's living dynamic power and God's kind of wisdom. 25 Because God's foolishness is wiser than humanity's intellectual cleverness, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength!

1 Corinthians 2:2

2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

God is here! As we God's people meet to offer praise and prayer...
Here are symbols to remind us of our lifelong need of grace;
Here are table, font and pulpit, here the cross has central place...
—Fred Pratt Green~ © 1979 Hope Publishing Co.

Theology of the Cross: what does this mean for the Church's and this congregation's (these congregations' in the case of OSLC) life and mission?

Week One

1. Theology of glory vs. theology of the cross
2. Hebrew Bible roots/wellsprings
3. Reading and interpreting scripture through a cruciform lens

Week Two

4. Paul, Mark and Jesus of Nazareth
5. Mark, Paul and Jesus the Christ

Week Three

6. Saul/Paul of Tarsus; Martin Luther
7. Some familiar theologians of the cross: Bonhoeffer; Dorothy Day; Gandhi; MLK; Desmond Tutu; Mother Teresa; us! Who else comes to mind?

Week Four

8. The cross and the sacraments:
          a. A theology of baptism and
          b. A theology of the eucharist

Week Five

9. What does the cross mean for each of us as individuals?
10. What does the cross mean for this church community?
11. What does all of this mean for our nearby neighbors?

Week Six

12. What does the cross mean for the world in which we live and serve?
13. The cross of Jesus Christ: Foolishness to the Greeks and foolishness to us?
14. Concluding questions, observations and loose ends

© 2006 Leah Chang

Friday, October 06, 2006

Lent 2007

Sundays in Lent 2007 Bible Study Proposal: Theology of the Cross | Leah Chang

1 Corinthians 1:20-25

20 Where is the smart stuff of this world? Where are the world's heavy thinkers?... 21 Since in God's wisdom the world did not know God through their worldly kinds of smarts, it pleased God through foolish proclamation to save anyone who trusts Him. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks crave wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ the crucified one, a scandal to the Jews and moronic nonsense to the gentiles: 24 But to those called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ--God's living dynamic power and God's kind of wisdom. 25 Because God's foolishness is wiser than humanity's intellectual cleverness, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength!

1 Corinthians 2:2

2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

God is here! As we God's people meet to offer praise and prayer...
Here are symbols to remind us of our lifelong need of grace;
Here are table, font and pulpit, here the cross has central place...
by Fred Pratt Green © 1979 Hope Publishing Co.

6 Sundays in Lent – adult Bible study

Theology of the Cross: what does this mean for this church's life and mission?

Preliminary Ideas:

1. Theology of glory vs. theology of the cross

2. Hebrew Bible roots/wellsprings

3. Paul, Mark and Jesus of Nazareth

4. Mark, Paul and Jesus the Christ

5. Saul/Paul of Tarsus; Martin Luther

6. Some familiar theologians of the cross: Bonhoeffer; Dorothy Day; Gandhi; MLK; Desmond Tutu; Mother Teresa; us! Who else comes to mind?

7. The cross and the sacraments:
a. A theology of baptism and

b. A theology of the eucharist
8. What does this mean for each of us as individuals?

9. What does this mean for the community here at this church?

10. What does this mean for our nearby neighbors?

11. What does this mean for the world in which we live and serve?

12. The cross: Foolishness to the Greeks and foolishness to us?

© 2006 Leah Chang

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

God's Most Important Law, Love

This may be the last of the saved(!) Release Time lessons I'd kept over these many years, so I'm wondering what'll be next on this blog?

Mark 12:28-31

28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?" 29 Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' 31 The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."

Luke 10:27

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.

Because God loves us and wants the very best for us, he has given us laws, rules and guidelines to help us live our lives I the best way. A long time ago, long before Jesus came to live among us, God gave commandments, or laws to his people. God also began showing them in special ways through some of his leaders how he wants people to live.

A lot of times we get confused about the right way to do something. The people in Jesus' day also got confused. Some very sincere people had the idea that God's way was too simple, so they added hundreds of rules of their own to God's rule. Following these human-made rules became so important and difficult that they forgot God's most basic commandment: to love God, your neighbor – or other people – and yourself.

So that everybody, everywhere, could live their lives together according to God's way, God came into the world in the person of Jesus Christ. God sent Jesus to teach and show all of us how to live. Because of Jesus' birth and life among us as one of us, his death on the cross of Good Friday and God's raising Christ to new life on Easter Sunday morn, we can be forgiven if we break God's law. When we are forgiven for doing something wrong, it means we can make a brand new beginning.

As we read the Gospels and learn about Jesus' life, we see and read about God's most important law or commandment of love, which is kindness in action and attitude. Jesus showed us that:
  1. Love has nothing to do with how we may feel at that moment;
  2. Love means we try our best to see the other person and his/her needs clearly;
  3. When we love, we sometimes have to forget about what we want;
  4. When we love, we help bring about God's reign or rule on earth. We also show other people what God's love is like, and help bring them closer to him.
Let's talk about:
  1. How does God want us to act toward each other?
  2. What one word tells us God's most important commandment?
  3. Why does God want us to treat each other this way?
  4. Who showed us how to do this commandment?
  5. Name some ways we can love each other.
Draw a picture that shows people helping, listening, being friends—showing each other God's love in some way.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Free in God's Kingdom

This may be the very last Release Time lesson, but at any rate, it's among the last. I love the Cosmic Christ of Colossians! In some texts indisputably by him, Paul of Tarsus is so into the Servant Jesus, while this deutero-Paul guy(?) presents us with the Pantocratur. Talk about phenomenally evocative imagery! In some ways this lesson is almost trivial, but again the longish scripture passage became an opportunity for words and Word to resonate.


• Strong

• Power

• Rescue

• darkness

• free

• Death

• redemption

• forgiven

• kingdom

• image

• created

• visible

• dwell

• reconcile

• peace

Colossians 1:11-20

11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers--all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

What does it mean to be free? Can you think of a time you couldn't do what you wanted? Couldn't go where you wanted? Couldn't dress the way you wanted to dress? In some ways you weren't free at those times.

God tells all of us in his Word, the Bible, that we need to know him in his Son, Jesus Christ, if we really want to be really free!!! The Bible tells us that as long as we do, say, or think unkind and unloving things we are not living like people who know Jesus and are followers of Jesus. The Bible tells us that when we act unloving and unkind we are unfree because we're not acting in the way that God says is best for us and for those around us. If we don't try our very best to treat each other with kindness and love, people will be afraid and unsure of what's going to happen to them. They'll want to protect and defend themselves, which will give them little time for caring about others. Can we live together and trust one another in that kind of world?
  • How do followers of Jesus act?
  • Are we following Jesus?
  • How do we act in different situations? Give some examples.
Jesus showed us how to live in this world so everyone is free because they've learned to live together in kindness and love. Jesus also gave us another very important kind of freedom; he gave us forgiveness of all our sin. Because we are forgiven, everything we've ever done wrong in the past is completely wiped out. It's as if we'd never done it, so we can live our lives right here and right now without even thinking about those parts of the past we'd just as soon forget.

Jesus gave us forgiveness by dying on the cross for us on Good Friday and by being raised from the dead to new life for us on Easter Sunday. In Jesus Christ's birth, life, death and resurrection God's plan for us to live close to him and to each other was fulfilled, or completed. Because of Jesus' death and resurrection we are free from the past mistakes and sins that separate us from one another.

When God forgives us and makes us free, we also become part of God's family, or Kingdom, the Reign or Rule of God here on earth.
  • What is a Kingdom?
  • Who is the Ruler or King in God's Kingdom?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

New Life in Jesus Christ

Another Release Time offering; I know it's a l-o-n-g passage from Romans, but I figured it was worth it so the kids could begin to become familiar with the text.
Romans 8:1-11

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 Since the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

  • Did you ever do something a teacher, parent or someone else in authority told you not to do? What was it? Why did you do it? Did that person find out about it? What happened? How did you feel?
  • Did you ever do something against one of God's commandments? Why? What happened? How did you feel?
Because God loves us and wants the best for us, he gave us Commandments or guidelines for living. The Bible reading from Paul's letter to the church at Rome calls the commandments the law. Sin, or separation from God and others, happens whenever we disobey God's law. Whenever we sin, for us to be made righteous, or right again in God's sight, we need to be forgiven. In addition, God's holiness demands punishment for any sin or wrongdoing.

Because God loves us, God did what we couldn't do for ourselves; God came into this world in the person of Jesus Christ, lived a perfect life, and took the punishment for our sin. Jesus died on the cross on the day we now call Good Friday to bear the punishment for everything that separates us from God and to forgive us, so we could live reunited with God, one another and all creation. On the first Easter Sunday, God raised Jesus from the dead to a brand new life. Jesus died on the cross so our sin and the cost of sin would be wiped out; he rose from the dead so that we could be right again in God's sight. Because God raised Jesus from death to new life, each one of us can have that new Easter life; no longer are separated from God and from one another, but we have been reunited or reconciled with God, our neighbors and all creation.
  • What does it mean to be forgiven? (Hint: think of the word "give.")
When we believe that God loves us and wants to give us new life in his son, Jesus Christ, we become members of God's own family, the church. In Romans, Paul says we begin living "in Christ." We begin living as God wants us to live.
  • How does God want us to live? Why?
When we believe God has forgiven us and given us new life in Jesus' birth, life, death and resurrection, God's Holy Spirit comes to live in us. The Holy Spirit helps us obey God's commandments. The Holy Spirit also helps us receive God's free gift of forgiveness and new life we need whenever we disobey and sin.
  • What does it mean to you to be forgiven?
  • Do you believe God loves you and forgives you?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Miscellaneous Romans notes

Despite having a handful more of Release Time lessons for this blog, today I'm posting these Romans notes from a couple years ago. Most probably I've already posted them in long form on Desert Spirit's Fire, but I figured storing the short version here would be I'm listening to Steve Winwood's "Higher Love" on the radio. Does that song not relate well to the message of extravagant grace we find in Romans—and in Paul, in general?
Miscellaneous Romans notes

Romans 2

Neither gospel nor law - innocence

Habits of the heart – 3 "heart" references in Romans 2:5, 15, 29

God's Word imprinted on the hearts of all, in "an echo of God's personality." As usual, I'll say that's love, creativity, community, passion, risk – somewhere else I've made a long Pauline-style list of our in-God-createdness. God's reputation? People I formed for myself...

Anders Nygren: Romans is about the "inward heart, not satisfied with works."

Heart: center or seat of emotions; also, an organic metaphor and a spatial one

Romans 2:12-16 Imperial particularism—along the lines of the taxonomy that came from, did I ever mention I consider myself a revelatory particularist?

Despite a lingering sense of Jew/Gentile, in Paul, as in Christ Jesus, chosen-ness has expanded way far.

2:29 "mercy, not sacrifice"

Romans 3:9-26

Righteous; justified; account-able; apart from the Law?!

Romans 3:18; Psalm 36:1 Upright in heart = God-seeking

1 – consumer/material – artifacts and antiquities

2 – extreme athlete – does all the sports and does all the sports well, defying human limitations

3 - scientist – knowledge: think of technologies out of crisis

4 – philosopher – post-modern, nihilistic existentialist: angry, cynical and sarcastic

5 – Paul, the Christian – also a legalist! Paul, the Jew, has lived the commandments as well as anyone every could. Blameless as to the Law!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Choose Life!

One more Release Time lesson from ages ago. For anyone who didn't scroll back to where I began this series, these are lessons I wrote during the last century for 4th and 5th grader inner-city youngsters. By the way, the kids in the program who attended church were from the African-American free church tradition and most of them were excellent theologians, meaning great discussions for me as one of their teachers!
  • Life! Life?! Life.
  • What is it?
  • Where is it?
  • How do we get life?
  • How do we know we have life?
  • How do we give life?
From the first moment of creation, God has acted to give us life. God made us to be completely alive. Whenever God does something it's always in ways that will give us the very best kind of life there is.

From the book of Genesis in the beginning of the Bible, through the last book of the Bible, Revelation, we read about God giving us, his people, everything we needed for life to be complete. One of the most important facets of life we read about in Genesis is the very close relationship people had with God and with one another. After those relationships were broken by sin, there was no way in the world people could come back together with each other and with God. Only God could mend his broken world.

Because of Jesus Christ's death on the cross of Good Friday and his rising from death to new life on Easter dawn, all creation can live in brand-new life. For comparison, here are three different translations of Deuteronomy 30:19-20:
Deuteronomy 30

19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. NRSV

19 "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, 20 by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them." NASB

19 I call Heaven and Earth to witness against you today: I place before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. Choose life so that you and your children will live. 20 And love GOD, your God, listening obediently to him, firmly embracing him. Oh yes, he is life itself, a long life settled on the soil that GOD, your God, promised to give your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. MSG
Choose life! In the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God already has given us life, but God doesn't force it on us. The Bible passage says that by loving and obeying God, we choose life. In God's Word, the Bible, and in God's Son Jesus Christ, we see and learn that loving and obeying God is something we do in our daily lives with one another. It means being kind, considerate, generous and thoughtful to other people. Loving God and obeying God also includes means being a caretaker of the earth and of all creation.

Since God gives us life, we are able to love God and obey him by loving other people. We give them life by being open to God's way and by walking the paths God shows us.

Friday, May 12, 2006

We Can Count on God's Love!

Release Time for today; This Time the narrative is so familiar. Nothing very imaginative, but the reality bears remembering. I usually wrote these lessons in less than an hour and tried to keep everything simple because I had about ten minutes to brief the other teachers and answer their questions before the actual classes met.

God sent Jesus Christ to live in our world so everyone could experience God's love and know how God wants us to be and act as the people of God. Besides acting in caring and careful ways toward people, Jesus told a lot of stories, or parables, about God and about life. One of the main reasons people listened to Jesus and followed him is that he not only told them about himself and about our Heavenly Father, but he also told them about themselves. We're all interested in hearing about ourselves!

We live in a big, modern, Western city. Jesus lived 2,000 years ago in a Middle-Eastern farming society. As we read Jesus' stories or parables, we notice the setting is different from ours, but the people are exactly like us!

Luke 15:11-19

11 Then Jesus said, "There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."'
Sometimes we call this story "The Prodigal Son," sometimes "The Waiting Father." It is about a father whose son left home and began to waste his life by living in harmful ways. Although the story is about a son, we know that in Jesus Christ sons and daughters, men and women, are equal. In place of "son" we can read "daughter."
  • What happened so far in the story?
  • How are we sometimes like the son in the story?
  • Why did the son decide to go back to his father
Luke 15:20-32

20 "So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22 But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe - the best one - and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate. 25 "Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.' 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!' 31 Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"
As you read, think of God in place of the father in the story. Think of yourself in place of the son. Leave your Bibles open when you finish.

All the time the son was gone the father missed him. Even though the son had run away, the father went on loving him. As much as he wanted the son, he didn't force him to come home. We need to know and trust that God's love and care for us has nothing to do with the way we act. God gives us life and everything we need as a free gift. We sometimes use the word grace for this gift.
  • If someone offers you a gift, what do you need to do to receive it?
  • How can we earn God's love?
The son and the father aren't the only people in the story. Let's look at the servants and the older son.
  • What does the father tell the servants to do? Why?
  • If someone has a birthday or graduation, how can you help him or her celebrate?
  • What did the older son do and say? Why?
  • How would you feel if you were the older son in this story?
  • How would you act?
  • What does the father mean when he says the son was dead, but now is alive?
  • If you imagine God as the father in the story, what have we learned about God from this passage?
  • From this story, what have we learned about the way God wants us to live with and acts towards each other?
  • How does it show that we really can count on God's love?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Reminders of God's Kingdom

Release time again; only a few more to go.

Luke 21:25-31

25 "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

29 Then Jesus told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near."

In this passage from Luke's Gospel, Jesus is speaking to us about God's Kingdom of love and justice here on earth. Sometimes we refer to God's rule as the Kingdom of Heaven or the Reign of God. All those phrases mean God is in charge.

Jesus talks about signs in the sky and on earth. But first, where do we find signs and what are signs for? Some examples include street signs telling us where we are, house numbers or the name on a store. Logos that identify and represent products are a kind of sign, too. Doctors and nurses read vital signs to learn about the health of their patients. Jesus' talks about signs to remind us that he is King of all creation and Lord of the whole universe. Jesus also mentions these signs to remind us that, because he loves us, God prepares us for and lets us know something about everything he does.

God shows signs to us in our world and in other people's lives. Sometimes people have needs we can help take care of. God wants us to be very careful and watchful as we live among others. Very often we can be an important part of making's God's Kingdom come alive in another person's life. What are some ways you've been able to see and help with other people's needs?

Jesus says sometimes people are afraid, especially when the weather seems out of control or the sun and stars are doing strange things. In Jesus' life and words we learn that because we are loved, we don't ever have to be afraid.

In verse 31 Jesus calls himself "Son of Man." Jesus often uses this name for himself. Son of Man reminds us that Jesus, God's Son, became a human person like us. Son of Man reminds us it is possible for us to live our lives the way Jesus lived his life because Jesus was human.

Jesus told a parable about a fig tree. A parable is a kind of lesson that uses images and signs. Around here we just don't see such trees. However, it was important for Jesus' followers to hear about the fig tree, because the fig tree was the sign or symbol of their country. The fig tree reminded them that God's plan for them included life on earth in a land that would take care of their needs for food, shelter, and clothing. This parable also reminds us that God takes care of our needs for housing, food, and clothing.

This parable is about Redemption or Salvation or Kingdom of God or Reign of God or Rule of God. These words are very close in meaning. God's Reign and Salvation are what we learn about as we read the Bible and as we live our lives according to God's rule of love. The Kingdom of Heaven is about everyone's life and all creation being complete, healthy and whole. Jesus shows us and tells us all of us can have salvation and God's Kingdom, or rule. Jesus tells us and shows us that Wholeness and Redemption belong not only to people, but to every part of God's creation.

Besides the types of signs we've already read about and talked about, the church is an important sign of the presence of God in the world. That means we, who are part of the church, are signs or symbols of God's presence to everyone we meet.

God came to us in Jesus as the Human One, or Son of Man, as a sign of the Kingdom of God. God calls us to be signs of the Reign of Heaven or Rule of God right where we are. In the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ helps us follow his way in showing Redemption and Salvation to the world.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

How Do We Know Jesus Is With Us?

Another really really old Release Time lesson, needless to say.
Matthew 11:2-11

2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" 4 Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."

7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written, 'See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.' 11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Sometimes we wonder if Jesus really is with us. Why do we wonder? Do we look for Jesus in the right places? Do we see the signs that tell us Jesus is there?
  • Could Jesus be in: the house next door? The Ashmont train? A traffic jam? Our church? A burger place? The grocery store? The local Taco Shop? At your school? In the church on the other side of town? At home with your family?
  • For each of these places, Why? Why not?
Back in Jesus' day, people had the same kinds of questions. God had already told his people about some of the signs that the Savior, Jesus, would be with them. These signs included a brand new way of being and acting. Like people being kind and thoughtful to each other, people feeling good about being themselves, people being able to see or hear again or for the first time, poor people being treated fairly. And especially the sign of resurrection—people being raised from death! That's something we celebrate especially every Sunday and in a most special way on the Easter Sunday.
  • If you were going to find God, where would you begin to look? Explain.
In Jesus' day, people sometimes looked for God where they wanted to find him, instead of where God said. How about us?

But God already had come to them right where they were, right where they lived. God came to them in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. So when people ask Jesus if he's the Savior or the "One Who Is To Come" he says, "Look around! What do you see?" He tells them to look at all the signs of new life around them.
  • Is there anything about your life you'd like to see changed or made new?
  • Can Jesus change those things?
  • Will you let Jesus change them?
God sends Jesus into our world and our lives right where and how we are. When we wonder about his promise to be with us he said, "Look around! What do you see?"

When we trust Jesus is here and see him in our everyday world, he comes into our lives and stays with us. Jesus Christ makes our lives new!
  • How do we know Jesus is with us?
  • What does it mean for something to be changed or made new?

The Name that is Greater than any Other Name

More Release Time...and I've got a bunch more to blog here after this one.

Philippians 2:5-11

5 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. 6 He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. 7 Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! 8 Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion.

9 Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, 10 so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, 11 and call out in praise that he is the Lord of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father. MSG / The Message

  • What does your name mean?
  • Why do you suppose your parents chose your name?
  • Do you think your name fits you?
God's Word, the Bible tells us a great many different names for God. By reading the Bible, we can discover special names for God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Today we're going to look at some of the names for Jesus Christ, God's Son. As you think about and talk about these names, remember that any name that God calls himself always tells about Go; God's name always tells us who God is and what God does.

Here are some of Jesus' names, with a place in the Bible we can find that name. Look up the Bible reference and try to figure out why we call Jesus by that name:
  • Son of God: John 1:34
  • Lamb of God: John 1:29
  • Messiah: John 1:41
  • I Am: John 8:58
  • Light of the World: John 8:12
  • The Way: John 14:6; also "Truth" and "Light" in this verse
  • Savior: 2 Peter 2:20; also "Lord" and "Christ" in this verse
  • Jesus: Matthew 1:21
  • King of Kings and Lord of Lords: Revelation 19:16
  • The Resurrection and the Life: John 11:25
Which of these is your favorite name for Jesus? Why?

Did you know that each one of these names tells us something about the way in which God acts in and through his Son, Jesus Christ, in relationship to our everyday lives? What do these names for Jesus mean for us, in each of our lives? They tell us how Jesus acts in our lives as individuals and in our lives as the community of God's people, the church. They tell us how God in Christ changes our lives so we can be faithful to the names he gives to us.

In a later lesson on we'll talk about some of God's names for us, the people of God. Because Jesus was faithful to God's plan for his life, we're able to be faithful to God's plans for our lives.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Lord Came Down in a Cloud

Release Time again.
Exodus 34

5 GOD came down in a cloud and stood there beside Moses and called out his holy name, GOD. 6 GOD passed in front of Moses and called out, "GOD, GOD, a Lord of mercy and grace, endlessly patient—so much love, so deeply true— 7 I keep my promise for thousands of generations, forgiving evil, rebellion, and sin. Still, I do not ignore sin. I hold sons and grandsons responsible for their parents' sins to the third and even fourth generation."

8 At once Moses fell to the ground and worshiped. 9 Moses said, "Please, O Lord, if you see anything good in me, please Lord, travel with us, hard-headed as these people are. Forgive our evil and sin. Own us, possess us as your own people."

Many years before Jesus was born in Nazareth, God's people, who later were called Israel, lived as slaves in Egypt, a country that was not their home. God heard their cries of pain and promised to take them out of slavery and bring them home to the land he had chosen for them. To help his people journey home, God chose a leader named Moses.

In between Egypt and their new home, the people had to trek through a wilderness desert. Moses followed God's leadership in leading the people out of slavery. But the people did not always obey. Just like us, many times they decided to do things their own way. Like us, they didn't trust that God's way is always best, even if it doesn't seem to make sense at the time.
  1. Before Jesus was born, what was the name of God's people?
  2. What was the name of the foreign country they lived in?
  3. Who led God's people through the wilderness? (2 answers)
  4. Does God ever make a mistake?
When his people disobeyed, God became angry. When this happened, Moses would talk with God and beg him to have mercy and forgive them. Time after time, God changed his mind and forgave. In the Bible passage we just read, Moses asks God for proof of his love and forgiveness. He asks God to go alongside them into the land of promise.
  1. When God became angry, what did Moses ask God to do?
  2. Do we get angry at God? If so, if that okay? Explain.
  3. Do you ever try making deals with God?
God had been with his people all the time, and he continued to be with them as they went through the wilderness into the Promised Land. But many years after Moses, God came to be with us in a way that was even more real. God came into this world in the human person, Jesus Christ.
  1. How did God come to this earth to be with us in a very real way?
  2. Why did God come to earth in that way?
  3. Is God still here on earth with us and in our lives?
  4. Explain.
In Jesus Christ we can know what it means to be loved no matter what we do or who we are. In Christ, we learn God's love comes to us as a gift without any cost to us. Moses asked God to be with his people and to accept them for his own. In Jesus Christ, God indeed is with us wherever we are, in whatever we do. In Christ, we become the People of God.
  1. If someone gives us a gift, what do we need to do for it to belong to us?
  2. God gives us his love as a gift. How do we make God's love our own?

Monday, May 08, 2006

God Chose Jeremiah; God Chooses Us

another Release Time consideration:

Jeremiah 1

4 Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." 6 Then I said, "Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." 7 But the Lord said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord."

Jeremiah 7

1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 5a if you truly act justly one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, 7 then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.

Jeremiah 29

7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

Jeremiah 31

31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

When God created the world, he planned for everyone to live in a free, complete relationship with him and with each other. Because God created enough of everything to go around, he planned for everyone to have plenty of food, good housing and loving relationships. God still plans for people like us to help make this world as he created it to be.

Around 4,000 years ago, after trekking through the desert wilderness for about 40 years, God's people, Israel, finally went into the place God had promised would become their home. Although their life could have been perfect in the Promised Land, the people got themselves into trouble by being selfish and not acting fairly. They especially gave little thought and very little care to those who had the least and needed them most. Most of them got taken out of the land God had promised and given them. They found themselves in a country where they were ruled by a king neither God nor they had chosen.

God had to do something about what they were doing to themselves and each other. God broke into the lives of his people with a man who knew them and lived among them, Jeremiah. About 629 years before Jesus was born, God sent Jeremiah right to the people with God's own words.

Because God was sad about the way they were acting, God broke into the lives of the people with a man who knew them and lived among them, Jeremiah. About 629 years before Jesus was born, God sent Jeremiah right to the people with God's own words.

Let's look at what God told Jeremiah. "I knew you even before you were born, and I chose you to be a prophet." (A prophet is someone who gives God's words to the people.) Jeremiah said something like we might say when we're told to do something hard: "Impossible! I can't do that!"

God answered, "Do what I tell you, don't be afraid, and I'll take care of you and make it possible for you to do the impossible."

It's important for us to remember the people had gotten themselves into a mess, and were getting themselves into it still deeper. It's important for us to see in God's promises that he is the one who pulls us out of disaster, even though we often get ourselves into it.

So, Jeremiah obeyed God. He went to the people with a message that had two parts. God's message through Jeremiah was:
  1. You're in this place of exile away from your own home I gave you because you've been selfish, greedy, thoughtless and unfair. You've been following your own feelings instead of my way of justice. BUT,
  2. because I love you, I'm going to do for you what you can't do for yourselves. I'll make a brand new beginning with you, so you won't be able to forget me, so you'll be able to treat each other with justice and love.
God sent Jeremiah with a message of hope for a new life, life in a world where people think about one another and try hard not to be selfish. That way there's enough of everything to go around, just as God planned from the beginning. God sent Jeremiah to the people with a message of hope for a world in which everyone lives in a free, complete relationship with him and with each other. In the same way God chose and sent Jeremiah, God chooses and sends each of us, followers of Jesus, into the world with a message of hope for a new life. God wants us to share this message with everyone!

  • When did Jeremiah live?
  • What kinds of problems were the people having?
  • Why were they having problems?
  • What did God tell Jeremiah to do?
  • What do we mean by "a message of hope?"
  • How can we be like Jeremiah?

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Ezekiel 37 blog the third

Okay, a couple things! First, currently we're in Lectionary Year B and this is a Year A lection; then, we're celebrating the season of Easter and this belongs with the Lent 5 pericopes, but what an outstanding opportunity to have an Ezekiel 37 blog the third on this site, so here it is.
Ezekiel 37:1-14 | two different versions of the text: in Ezekiel 37 blog the first and in Ezekiel 37 blog the second

Spirited Bones


From all the ends of the earth, come to us, Breath of God; Breathing Life of the Divine, descend upon your people and let us live again! In the Name of the One Spirit-sent to carry new life to the entire world, Christ Jesus, Amen!

Once again we've heard that wonderful "Dry Bones" passage from Ezekiel, one of the prophets of Israel's exile. How how long had these bones been in this valley? How had these people died? Had someone killed them, did they die of natural causes or did they die for lack of community or because of grief over other deaths and losses? And why hadn't they been buried? The text doesn't reply directly to those questions, but it does suggest an answer. This Ezekiel is one of the prophets of Babylonian exile; in order to communicate with Ezekiel the messenger of God, just as The Message version of the bible says, God's Spirit grabbed Ezekiel and carried him to the valley of dry bones. It looks as if this entire scenario was God's idea, but what was Ezekiel's role in the story? First, God initiates conversation with the human Ezekiel and addresses him with a generic name, son of man, or human—as opposed to the divine name. Exactly like Moses, the prototype prophet, that archetype human speaker of the Word of God, Ezekiel the prophet converses with God. How about us?

God commands Ezekiel, the human one - "Son of man" - to speak a word of life—actually to speak a Word from God and the Word of God! Later on, in the New Covenant Scriptures we meet another Son of Man, another Human One—Jesus of Nazareth, who lives a Word of Life in the world and to the world as well as in and to each of us. But now we, the Church, have become the body of the Risen Jesus Christ, so how does the human gathering of the church speak God's Word? How do we speak a divine Word of Life? Or, does the church speak the Word of God; do we actually and actively speak a Word from God? Or, if the answer is "yes," is that task reserved for the person in the pulpit?

Ezekiel reports he prophesied as commanded. Sometimes we casually refer to foretelling future happenings as prophecy, but Hebrew scripture differentiates between prophet and seer: they are two separate and different words. A seer foresees an event before it happens, while the classic prophet speaks truth to power, literally against the king! You can make the case a prophet stirs things up to let in air and light so the situation can breathe again and return to life. We've met Jesus Christ as Prophet, King and Priest; in his prophetic role he spoke tons of truth to political and ecclesiastical powers-that-were, shattering their life-denying, deathly assumptions and behaviors and letting in the Spirit's cleansing wind and purifying fire. Baptized into Christ Jesus, each of us assumes parallel roles to Jesus' calls as priest, sovereign and prophet. That being so, what is our prophetic job as Christians?

God gave Ezekiel instructions for "raising the dead." Obediently, Ezekiel followed God's orders and spoke a Word of Life with results humanly incredible to people and communities who themselves haven't experienced the Spirit of the Living God. How about us? Too often in the church we get to arguing about points of doctrine or theology, most of which are little more than human speculations and constructs. But unmistakably God calls us to obedience, the obedience which probably should be our larger, more constant concern. In obedience, Ezekiel spoke the word that made the dry bones return to life, to get re-fleshed and again to breathe. Remember, those bones had belonged to live people before and now again the bones lived! Obedience? God's prophetic call to us? How about our speaking words that restore life to each other, to our neighborhoods, families and to the world? Raising our dead? We have been baptized into covenantal community, with its frightening and assuring demands of mutual accountability and inter-responsibility; we live and we breathe in the image of the God who covenants. In this passage from Ezekiel of the Babylonian exile [verses 5, 6, 14] "Breathe life - or Spirit - into you," is covenantal language! God of the covenants—what other biblical covenants can you recall?

This celebrated section of scripture [Verses 11-14] grounds Ezekiel's prophetic activity in historical context, citing the house or people of Israel and the physical land of Israel. However, this text is renowned for applying to almost everyone everywhere in a multitude of circumstances. How about us? Dry bones? Are we currently alive in the right here and right now, or do we confess to passive existence as dead bodies that once were alive, or at least more alive than we are right now? Does this church, your neighborhood, or any of the groups any of us belong to require a revival?

Human ones cannot single-handedly create new political, spiritual, ethnic or ecclesiastical life, because resurrection is something only God can perform; people and institutions will rise up out of their deaths as the Spirit of God restores them and returns them to a space and place where they can thrive. However, in the scripture passage we heard we can see the role of Ezekiel, "the human one," in helping God's promise come true. How about us, we "human ones" obeying God's command to assist God's promise of new life out of death's dry bones come true—literally come back to life? God loves digging up graves and bringing forth new people and new life; God's primary passion is resurrection! By the Spirit of the living God and of the Christ, dry bones can live again. We're getting closer to Easter now; how does the story of Ezekiel in the valley of dead bones begin preparing us for the surprise of Easter?

The Word of Life,

Ezekiel 37 blog the second

Clearly for older students than Ezekiel 37 blog the first!

Ezekiel 37:1-14 | from The Message

1 GOD grabbed me. GOD's Spirit took me up and sat me down in the middle of an open plain strewn with bones. 2 He led me around and among them—a lot of bones! There were bones all over the plain—dry bones, bleached by the sun.
3 He said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?"
I said, "Master GOD, only you know that."
4 He said to me, "Prophesy over these bones: "Dry bones, listen to the Message of GOD!"
5 GOD, the Master, told the dry bones, "Watch this: I'm bringing the breath of life to you and you'll come to life. 6 I'll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin, and breathe life into you. You'll come alive and you'll realize I am GOD!"
7 I prophesied just as I'd been commanded. As I prophesied, there was a sound and, oh, rustling! The bones moved and came together, bone to bone. 8 I kept watching. Sinews formed, then muscles on the bones, then skin stretched over them. But they had no breath in them.
9 He said to me, "Prophesy to the breath. Prophesy, son of man. Tell the breath, "GOD, the Master, says, Come from the four winds. Come, breath. Breathe on these slain bodies. Breathe life!'"
10 So I prophesied, just as he commanded me. The breath entered them and they came alive! They stood up on their feet, a huge multitude.
11 Then God said to me, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Listen to what they're saying: 'Our bones are dried up, our hope is gone, there's nothing left of us.'
12 "Therefore, prophesy. Tell them, 'GOD, the Master, says: I'll dig up your graves and bring you out alive—O my people! Then I'll take you straight to the land of Israel. 13 When I dig up graves and bring you out as my people, you'll realize I am GOD. 14 I'll breathe my life into you and you'll live. Then I'll lead you straight back to your land and you'll realize I am GOD. I've said it and I'll do it. GOD's Decree.'"

Discussion Ideas
  1. How had these people died? How long had their bones been in this valley? Why hadn't they been buried?
  2. God's Spirit grabbed the prophet Ezekiel and carried him to the valley of dry bones. It looks as if this entire scenario was God's idea, but what was Ezekiel's role in the story?
  3. Ezekiel, the prophet and God have a conversation. How about us?
  4. God commands the human - "Son of man" - Ezekiel to speak a word of life—actually to speak a Word from God and the Word of God! How does the human gathering of the church speak God's Word? Or, does the church speak the Word of God?
  5. What is a prophet's job or work? Jesus as our Prophet, King and Priest? What is our prophetic, royal priesthood as individual Christians?
  6. God gave Ezekiel instructions for "raising the dead." In obedience, Ezekiel followed God's instructions and spoke the Word of Life with amazing, humanly incredible results! How about us? Obedience? Speaking a word of life to each other, to the community and to the world? Raising the dead?
  7. Verses 5, 6, 14: "Breathe life [Spirit] into you," is covenantal language! God of the covenants? What other biblical covenants can we remember?
  8. Verse 9: Come from the four winds…the number *four* typically refers to the universal reach of God's Holy Spirit. How extensive is universal?
  9. Verses 11-14 place this passage in historical context, citing the house [people] of Israel and the physical land of Israel. However, this text is renowned for applying to almost everyone everywhere in a multitude of circumstances. How about us?
  10. New political, spiritual, ethnic and historical human life is something humans cannot do, only God can perform! The people of God will come out of their deaths as God's Spirit restores them and returns them to a living-space and dwelling-place where they can thrive. However, throughout this text we see the role of Ezekiel, "the human one," in helping God's promise come true. How about us?
  11. God digging up graves and bringing for new people, new life: resurrection! We're getting closer to Easter now; how does this text begin preparing us for the surprise of Easter?
  12. Other thoughts or ideas about this text?

Ezekiel 37 blog the first

The Vision of Ezekiel

I felt the powerful presence of the LORD, and his Spirit took me and set me down in a valley where the ground was covered with bones. He led me all around the valley, and I could see that there were very many bones and that they were very dry. He said to me, "Mortal mean, can these bones come back to life?"

God said to me, "Mortal man, the people of Israel are like those bones. They say that they are dried up, without any hope and with no future. So prophesy to my people Israel and tell them that I, the LORD God, am going to open their graves. I am going to take them out and bring them back to the land of Israel. When I open the graves where my people are buried and bring them out, they will know that I am the LORD. I will put my breath in them, bring them back to life, and let them live in their own land. Then they will know that I am the LORD. I have promised that I would do this - and I will. I, the LORD, have spoken."

Ezekiel 37:1-3; 11-14

Ezekiel was a priest and prophet to God's people, about 600 years before Jesus was born in Nazareth. Among other reasons, because God's people had not made God more important than anything else in their lives, a foreign king sent many of them from their own country into exile. They ended up in the land of Babylon. There in Babylon, they were called Jews, because they were from Judah. In exile or captivity in Babylon, their captors treated the Jews kindly. Many of them trusted God would be faithful to his promises and give them new life.
  • Who was Ezekiel? When did he live?
  • Where were God's people living? Why?
  • How were they treated?
  • What did they believe God would do in their lives?
God's promises? That's where Ezekiel comes in!!! Very often God uses us, the People of God, the Church, to do his work. In Ezekiel's time, God's promise for the future was an end to everything that prevented them from living their lives the way God had created them to live. For their future, just as for our future, God's ultimate promise was new life.
  • How does God intend for us to live?
  • What are some things that prevent us from living God's way?
  • Why were God's people exiled to Babylon?
In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God made a brand new life possible for every one of us. In the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God showed us that new life: this new life includes living in community with each other and with God. God's Holy Spirit makes this new life possible for us and for all creation!
  • What does "New Life" mean?
In Ezekiel's day, the Holy Spirit of God made possible the new life God's people needed. The "Dry Bones" in this story are God's people.
  • Why do you think God's people are called "dry bones" in this story?
God chose Ezekiel as his helper. God chose Ezekiel to speak the Word of the Life to the people. Ezekiel was the person who helped open people's hearts to the gift of God's Holy Spirit. As they received the Holy Spirit and began living in community with God and with each other, God would be able to use them as his helpers. As we receive God's gift of the Holy Spirit, we begin living in community with God and with each other. We live in the New Life that God gave us in Jesus' death and resurrection. And God is able to use us as his helpers.
  • Why does God choose people to help him?
  • How does God's Holy Spirit help us?
  • What are some ways we can be God's helpers?

A Life Worthy

A Life Worthy | Ephesians 4:1-6
Although I have several more Release Time lessons I want to format for this blog, here’s some stuff I thought up for a discussion of Ephesians 4:1-6 two or three years ago. In the course of retrieving these notes and related, I'm imagining all the blog-fodder I'd have if in the past I'd prepared handouts for most of the Bible studies I led the way I almost always do these days!
Ephesians 4

1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called—5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

  • According to this epistle, all things have their unity in Christ, with the church as both symbol and agent of oneness. Just as in Colossians, here in Ephesians we find the "Cosmic Christ!" but unlike Colossians, in Ephesians the Church - the Body of the Risen Christ - is a sign of that cosmic unity.
  • At that particular time the church was highly concerned with unity, holiness and apostolicity. Needing to maintain the apostolic tradition and keep pure doctrine were among the reasons for the large number of pseudonymous letters we have from that era. In general, the convention of attributing authorship to a well-known person helped give the writing authority.
For discussion:

The author of this epistle claims, "There is one body and one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." In other words, the Church is an unbounded community, with the same Holy Spirit, same faith and baptism drawing in and uniting everyone from everywhere, despite seeming outward differences and distinctions. I'd add on to that a single eucharistic community, too—at least in intent and anticipation!

Luke 13:29

"People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in th kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last."

Matthew 8:11

"I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven."

How do we transcend cultural, national and denominational boundaries:
  • In worship?
  • In evangelism?
  • In teaching?
  • In service?
  • Is it important or possible for a local church to be truly inclusive?
  • Is their a limit to inclusiveness?
How can we recognize, learn, and become sensitive to the symbols of a culture other than our own and especially to the symbols of our own culture?

  • Prisoner
  • Calling, called
  • Humble, lowly
  • Patient, patience
  • Gentle, love
  • Unity of the Spirit
  • Bond, bound, peace
  • One: Body, Spirit, Lord, Faith, Baptism, God, Father of all
Further discussion:
  • What gifts does each of us in this group have?
  • What ministries has God called us to?
  • When? What about the future?
  • How about newer, historically less conventional and predictable forms of both volunteer and professional (denominationally authorized) ministry?
  • What do you think of the many current and evolving non-traditional models for ministry and for churches?

GRACE - In the Bible and in my Life: Session 1

Here's the first of the grace studies I did with one of my confirmation classes. Once again, I posted the 2nd before this one (infra) so they could be read logically and in order—decently and in order, maybe?


  • What grace is:
  • What grace is not:
Grace is one of the most important realities in God's relationship to us: a theological concept or idea—what does that mean? Sometimes grace is contrasted with law, sometimes with judgment. Sometimes it is set up over and against sin. Grace is about God's love and God's Reign. Because of this, when we talk about grace we always are talking both about God's relationship to us and about our relationship to each other. However, these important Bible passages about grace may emphasize God's relationship to us. From the Hebrew Bible, two "covenants of grace":
  • Genesis 8:8-17
  • 2 Samuel 7:8-16
Grace in Jesus' ministry:
  • Luke 4:16-19
By grace God calls us out; by grace God sends us out:
  • Mark 3:13-15
Paul of Tarsus is sometimes called "the apostle of grace." From the letter he wrote to the Church at Rome, we have some key verses for understanding of God's grace in our lives:
  • Romans 3:21-24
  • Romans 5:20-21

GRACE - In the Bible and in my Life: Session 2

Here's the second in a pair of studies about grace I did for my confirmation class. Hey, note I'm posting the 2nd before the 1st so they can get read logically in order.
Discuss some ideas about grace (what it is, what it is not, how we get it, how we give it).
Why is grace important?
Grace is about God's love and God's reign. Grace also is about God's freedom and our freedom.
What is freedom?

These passages from Matthew's Gospel are among those that perhaps emphasize our relationships to one another. But remember...there always are three parties involved in grace: God, myself, and another person or persons!
  • Matthew 5: 23-24
  • Matthew 5:44-45
  • Matthew 18:21-22
Can you write or talk about a real-life example involving your experience with grace?
More about grace:
  • Luke 15:11-24
  • John 13:34
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17–19
As you read in the Bible, stop to think and talk about how we can make grace alive and real to others.


We sometimes refer to the sacraments – Baptism and Holy Communion – as "means of grace." It is unlikely anyone ever will know everything there is to know about the sacraments! But we do know that in and through Baptism and Holy Communion we receive grace in a special way accompanied by the "means" or the manner of physical, earthly stuff.

Here are some of the most important New Testament passages about...

  • Matthew 28:18-20;
  • Romans 6:3-4
and about Holy Communion:
  • Matthew 8:11
  • 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Hope, Blessings, Promise and Power

Hope, Blessings, Promise and Power: Jesus Christ is Lord!

Scripture: Luke 24:46-53; Acts 1:6-11; Ephesians 1:16-22

Jesus Christ is Lord! What does it mean to you that Jesus is Lord? What difference does it make in your life that Jesus is Lord? What does it mean that Jesus is "supreme Lord over ALL things?"

Jesus Christ, the risen Savior, told his followers they would be his witnesses--people who had seen and could testify to his resurrection to new life. They would preach the message of forgiveness and new life and hope for a future to the whole world. To preach the Gospel or good news of new life in Jesus Christ they would need power! They would need God's power, the Holy Spirit, the very same Spirit that raised Jesus from death to new life.
  • What does it mean to be Jesus' witnesses?
  • What do we need in order to be Jesus' witness and preach the Good News?
Before God's Holy Spirit could fill the whole earth, Jesus had to return to the Right Hand of God. When we read that Jesus is seated at God's right side, this is a way of saying Jesus ascended, or became Lord of all creation. Next Sunday, the seventh Sunday after Easter Sunday, we'll celebrate Jesus' Lordship, or ascendancy, in a special way. [editorial note: clearly I wrote this lesson for a day later than tomorrow, which is Easter 4, like for Easter 7.] The Church calls today Ascension Day or Ascension Thursday. [editorializing again: Release Time met on Thursdays!]
  • What special name do we have for today?
  • What does it mean?
Because Jesus returned to his heavenly Father, the Holy Spirit of God and of the Christ came to fill creation and to live in, or indwell those of us who have come into a living relationship of trust in God through Jesus Christ.

What does having the Holy Spirit in our lives mean? According to God's Word, the Bible, it means "this power working in us is the same as the mighty strength God used when he raised Christ from death and exalted him at his right side in the heavenly world." (Ephesians 1:19-20) It means having Jesus as Lord of our lives so we can live as Jesus showed us! It means we have received "the power from above" Jesus said we would need in order to be his witnesses. It means the cloud that hid Jesus from sight is removed as the Holy Spirit opens our eyes of faith, so we are able to see Jesus. In short, it means we are Jesus' witnesses.

And what does it mean for us that Jesus is Lord? Jesus' Lordship, or ascendancy means we're able to live our lives in the fully human way Jesus showed us. Jesus' Lordship means we accept the forgiveness and new life God offers us in and through Christ. Jesus is Lord means our purpose in life is to let God work in and through us in the love we show for one another. Jesus Christ is Lord means hope for the future and abundant blessings as we live our lives as he shows us. Jesus Christ is Lord means he is the "Yes" to all of God's promises, that the power of the Holy Spirit is ours. Jesus Christ is Lord means hope, blessings, promise and power for each and every one of us and for the whole world redeemed by Jesus Christ. May we always let Jesus be the Lord of All of Our Lives!
  • What are some meanings of "Jesus is Lord?"
  • What does "Jesus is Lord" mean to you?

New Life

I'm trying sort of to post these in somewhat logical order. When I finish what I have of this series, I'll search for some other studies I've led or participated in and get those up on this blog.

In your own words, what do these words mean?
  • Old
  • Disappeared
  • Vanished
  • Grief
  • Heaven
  • Earth
  • Home
  • New
  • True
  • Trusted
Now find each of these words in the Bible passage.

Revelation 21

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth disappeared, and the sea vanished. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, dressed as a bride adorned for her husband.

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
"See, the home of God is with humankind!
God will dwell with them and they shall be his people.
God himself will be with them and he will be their God.

4 "God will wipe every tear from their eyes.
There will be no more death or grief or crying or pain,
for the old things have disappeared."

5 And the one who sits on the throne said, "Behold, now I make all things new." Also he said to me, "Write this, for these words are true and can be trusted."

On the remote island of Patmos, a man called John wrote Revelation, the last book of the Bible. God gave John a vision of the way life would be when people lived close to him and to one another in the way Jesus lived.

Many things in the book of Revelation are hard to understand. But there are also a lot of words and a lot of images, or pictures that can be clear to us.

Back to the beginning: God created us to live in an open, free relationship with him and with one another. God knew none of us ever could be truly happy any other way. But people kept acting in ways that broke this closeness. To bring us back together to him and to one another, God came to earth in Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus' death on the cross of Good Friday and God's raising Christ to new life on Easter, we can live free from past sin and failure.

  • How does God want us to live?
  • What does God's kind of life include?
  • What does God's kind of life exclude?
Unless we trust something is possible, we won't be able to do it. While John, the writer of Revelation lived in exile on a wilderness island, God showed him a vision of life, reunited with itself and with him. God gave John promises of a reunited world. John saw the vision and heard the promises. He believed God. He wrote Revelation to tell other people what he saw, heard and believed. We call this telling others a testimony.

There are two main themes in this part of John's testimony:

  • Newness of life
  • God's being at home with the People of God
After Jesus' resurrection and ascension to the Right Hand of God, the Holy Spirit of God filled the world on the day of Pentecost. Because God's Holy Spirit is here with us now, we can make real to each other the kind of world we read about in Revelation.

  • What does it mean to really fill something?
  • How does the Holy Spirit help us?
  • What does God making his home with us mean to you?
  • For something to become new, what has to happen to the old?
  • What does "all things new" mean to you?

Encouragement in Christ

Another old Release Time lesson!

Philippians 2:1-11

1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

After Jesus' death, resurrection and return to live at the right hand of God, the Holy Spirit of God filled the world on the day called Pentecost. On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit joined together followers of Jesus in a very powerful way, and they became the Church. God filled his particular people, the Church, with the Spirit so they could continue being his presence on earth in the same way as Jesus. As the present-day followers of Jesus, the Church, we also are filled with that same power of God's Holy Spirit.

Almost 2,000 years ago, when the Church of Jesus Christ still was brand new, people needed to learn how to follow Jesus. This meant they needed to learn the history of God's people and the story of Jesus' birth, life, death, and resurrection. It also meant they had to learn how to think and act as Christians.

In order to help the new Christians, God chose leaders. Some of these leaders traveled from one local church to another. When they were away from a particular church, the leaders sometimes wrote a letter, or epistle, to that church. Some of these letters are in the Bible. Today we read from the letter Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, or the Letter to the Philippians.

This section of Philippians talks about what our actions and attitudes should be as Christians. Attitude means the way we think of others and ourselves. Whatever our attitude is, it tends to show up in our actions. Here are some ways Paul says we should behave toward each other:

  • Be kind
  • Have compassion
  • Share love
  • Don't think you're better than others
  • Look out for each other's interests

  • Is it easy or difficult to act in those ways?
  • How do you feel when you treat someone else as if they were important?
  • How do you feel when someone else is kind and considerate to you?
  • How can all of us improve our attitudes and the way we act?
Paul tells us we can know how we should behave by looking at the way Jesus lived. While Jesus lived here on earth, he was always concerned about other people. He always did what was best for them. He was careful to learn how God would have him act. Jesus did this by knowing God's Word, by praying, by observing the needs in the world around him. Jesus is the example we look to in order to learn how to live.

Being kind, looking out for the other person, often is the last thing we want to do. Sometimes we even wonder how we'll survive that way. However, because in Jesus Christ God became human just like us and lived his life for others, we know loving kindness is God's way. God's promise to each one of us is that he is working in us through the Holy Spirit, making us able to live as Jesus showed and taught.

  • How can we know the way God wants us to live?
  • Think of a time when you felt like being mean or unkind to someone else. How did you end up treating them? How did you feel afterwards? How do you think they felt?

Friday, May 05, 2006

Fire - Visions - Dreams

Today I'm continuing the series of lectionary-based Release Time lessons from long ago. As you peruse these, please remember I wrote them for inner-city youngsters who were in 4th and 5th grades.
Acts 2:1-4; 14-21

1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 'In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'

Before Jesus Christ ascended to heaven, he promised the people the Holy Spirit of God would come and stay with them forever. Jesus said the Holy Spirit would come to us so we would be able to remember him and everything he taught us, so we would be able to share this with other people by speaking a word of life, and so we would be able to act in his name.
  • Why does Jesus want us to remember him?
  • Why does Jesus want us to tell other people about him?
We just read a Bible passage about the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came to the world in the way promised by Jesus. Pentecost means "fiftieth." Pentecost was the name of a Jewish festival day celebrating God giving Moses' the Ten Commandments, sometimes called the Sinai Covenant. That first Pentecost was the 50th day after God raised Jesus from the dead, and the Church stills calendars the Day of Pentecost by counting from Easter onward! Pentecost also is the name for this time we're living in now. On Pentecost God kept an important promise. When the Holy Spirit filled the people and the entire world, God made us his special people, the Church. Having the Holy Spirit in our lives and world helps us remember Jesus' life and words and helps us live together in the way Jesus showed us.
  • What happened on the Day of Pentecost?
  • What happened to us when the Holy Spirit of God came to earth?
God is important to us. Did you ever think about how important we are to God? God sent the Holy Spirit into this world and into our lives so God could do a lot of his work through us! God relied on people to write down the words in his book, the Bible, and several hundred years before Jesus was born, God inspired the prophet Joel, who listened, heard and wrote. We just read an account of Peter quoting Joel's words. Peter knew the scriptures so he could recognize when God was acting as he had promised!
  • Why did God send the Holy Spirit?
  • What does it mean to rely on someone?
  • Why is it important for us to learn and know what's in the Bible?
God also relies on us to help him work. Just as Joel heard and understood God's words to him, everyone at the Pentecost event understood everything, too. God speaks to all of us in ways we can understand. In addition, God promises that with his Spirit we will be able to act as Jesus taught us. Jesus called the Holy Spirit the Helper.

On Pentecost the Holy Spirit came into the whole world in a unique and visible way. A group of people meeting together heard the wind and saw the fire. This Pentecost event happened after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. Since that first day the Church still calls "Pentecost," the Holy Spirit of God and of the Christ still lives within and among us. Just like the wind and the fire in the story from Acts 2, the Holy Spirit continues acting today with the same range and reach of both wind and fire!
  • What does a sign do?
  • What does it mean to call on the name of the Lord?
  • Why did Jesus refer to the Holy Spirit as Helper?
  • What does having the Holy Spirit within us and among us mean to us?
  • What are some features of wind?
  • Describe some facets of fire.
Being a Christian always has to do with God, yourself, and other people. Being Christian means being the new and special people God makes us in Jesus Christ's death and resurrection and in God's gift to the world of the Holy Spirit. It means learning to live together without fighting or hurting each other or saying mean things. Being Christians, God's new people, means Jesus is our Lord. Being Christian means becoming part of a church community, reading God's word to us in the Bible and listening to what God is telling us through the Bible and through other people. Living as the people of God means remembering Jesus by living our lives the way he showed us. That's when we're really Pentecost people, claimed by the wind and the fire of the Holy Spirit!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

People's Hopes Began to Rise

Luke 3:15

As the people's hopes began to rise, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."

Luke 12:49

"I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!"
When we love someone, we want to be with them. From the beginning, God planned to be with his people and with all creation. In fact, God constantly was with the people, in many ways showing them evidence they could see, touch, hear and taste. But they kept forgetting, so they needed more proof God was with them and more ways to know God. Therefore, long before the birth of Jesus, God began promising he would come to earth in a perfect, unforgettable way. Messiah, meaning "Christ" or "Anointed," is one of the titles for God's Son who was born in Bethlehem and lived as one of us.

Because God had given them clues, the people in John's time knew about God's promise of Messiah. Because of these hints, or prophecies, they began to wonder if John was Messiah. Although God spoke and acted through John, the son of Zechariah, John says he is not the Promised One. John says Messiah is yet to come. When John says "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire," he talks about Jesus and about us.

John the Baptist tells his congregation although he baptizes with water, Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Then, later in Luke's gospel we hear Jesus saying, "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!" What does Jesus mean by calling himself a bringer of fire? We don't have stories in the Bible about God creating fire, but in the Bible we do find stories of fire that demonstrate God's presence on earth with creation. God appears to Moses in a fiery bush, and then transforms Moses into a leader of the Exodus from Egypt. During the trek from slavery into freedom, the long wanderings through the Exodus desert, God shows the people his presence with them, guiding them at night with a very noticeable column of fire.

Throughout scripture fire visibly and audibly points to the Divine presence with creation. When Jesus declares, "I have come to bring fire to the earth," part of what he means is that he brings the Holy Presence of God into the midst of creation.

In nature, especially in forest and in desert habitats, fire is essential to maintaining the cycle of life. In fact, there are plants that cannot reproduce without fire! In many ways fire gives life, though sometimes out of the ashes of death. The Reign of God Jesus brought to earth and charges us to help bring about is like a fire. We need to respond to this kingdom in the same way we need to learn how to live with fire, and also to trust fire's tremendous power to transform us!

Baptize means to immerse. The Bible says we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus into a brand new life. When we hear the word "baptism," we usually think about water baptism. Jesus brings to the world fire that transforms, that clears our lives of non-essentials, and makes new, healthy living possible. This is part of what John the Baptist means when he talks about Jesus baptizing with fire. Jesus' baptism invites us into the water of his birth and into the fire of his death, into the life-changing power of the cross. And we also know Pentecost is a story of fiery tongues of flame resting upon the gathered assembly, as that fire formed some of the evidence of the presence of God's Holy Spirit.

While Jesus lived here on earth, he was the kind of proof humans need of God's being with creation. Because Jesus, God's Son, lived as one of us, people could talk with him, see him and touch him. Jesus chose us and chooses us, his followers, to be evidence that God lives among the people, in exactly the same way Jesus lived. We know the Pentecost story is a story of fire. Baptism with the Holy Spirit means that Christians, Jesus' followers, are immersed in God's Holy Spirit. Living in the power of the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to follow the kind of life God shows us in Christ Jesus, the Messiah told about by John. God calls us, Pentecostal people baptized in water and immersed in the Holy Spirit's transforming fire, to live among creation as visible, tangible life-generating fire, to be unmistakable and unforgettable evidence of the Reign of God on earth!

  • What Bible accounts do you remember of God proving his presence with signs of fire?
  • Why did John the Baptist announce Jesus' forthcoming arrival?
  • What does it mean to be immersed in something?
  • What does baptism with the Holy Spirit mean to you?
  • What does baptism in water mean to you?
  • What does baptism into Jesus Christ's death and resurrection mean to you?
  • What are some aspects of fire?
  • How does fire generate life?
  • How can people know God?
  • How is it possible for us to follow Jesus?
  • How can others recognize us as God's presence in the world?

Land and Our World

Imagine a picture of the word LAND.

What does it look like? (City, mountains, beach, jungle, prairie, back yard...)
What do you especially notice about your picture of land?

Is there a territory or place that feels as if it belongs to you? (Your room, house, neighborhood, city...?)

How far does your territory extend?

How do you and your territory relate to each other?

From the past few weeks' lessons, what do you especially remember about God, the land, and God's people? To whom does the land belong? What about land as private property?

Throughout history there has been a close and special relationship between God, people, and land. Let's look again at some of what the Bible tells us about the relationship:

  • GENESIS 1:26-31
  • GENESIS 17:1-9
  • LEVITICUS 25:4-5 (1-7)
When we don't take care of the land, then the land is unable to take care of us. Can you think of some examples of this?

The people, the land, and we are interdependent; if we do not cooperate and care for the land together, everyone loses—not only us, but everyone on this entire planet.

But God promises to redeem land that has been abused, misused, or deserted. What's that about? The book of Isaiah mentions it a lot:
  • ISAIAH 35:1-7
  • ISAIAH 51:3
  • ISAIAH 60
How will the land be redeemed? Who will do it? Or has the land already been redeemed?

God has made us to be his helpers, and he does very little without our cooperation. The land is our to use, to care for, to enjoy, and to share with the rest of God's creatures.

Imagine you are a journalist for a national magazine with a lot of readers, or maybe a reporter for a local TV station. Write an article (a few paragraphs) about one or more of the topics we've been discussing. Or, write a full-page ad about caring for the land. Or, make a poster or an illustration about our stewardship of land.