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We can be the force that brings justice rolling down like a river when we come together in one accord. We are to rearrange society through love. This love distributes justice and finances to all. Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

1. You Will Be My Witnesses (July 7) Sabbath School 2018 Quarter 3 Lesson 1 "The Book of Acts"

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. If we want to see the goodness of God transform our society, we must commit to being bearers of justice, workers of peace, and faithful in sharing what we have to transform those around us who are in need.

The Holy Spirit is working in us. Will we see strong changes that uproot habits and overrun traditions? An ABS Reproducible page is available for use with this session at http: Will I become poor that others may be lifted out of poverty? How much giving is enough? Is it even helpful to give to those in poverty? I struggle with these questions as I contemplate giving. I want to excel in giving; I want to give as Jesus gave. Trouble is—I keep ruminating over these and other questions.

Poverty is inextricably tied to justice or the lack thereof. Systemic constructs create and sustain generational poverty stemming from educational levels, job opportunities, family make up, and more. We do not often think and talk about poverty from the perspective of faith. Yet the Bible speaks explicitly on how we, disciples of Jesus Christ, are to give to relieve the economic suffering of those around us. The dominant culture teaches us to acquire, consume, hoard, and bequeath. Even our efforts to live peacefully with creation can become enmeshed with name-brand bottled waters or specialty reusable containers.

We can break through these cultural strongholds of affluence by imagining and implementing a different reality. We can awaken and be committed to deconstructing systems of poverty. Imagine lifestyles that empower us to give to the needy and support those struggling to overcome barriers. As believers, we have myriad resources—through small groups, congregations, or conferences—that can uplift struggling but determined entrepreneurs. The Criterion Institute provides pathways to strengthen entrepreneurship through its Kiva platform.

Their Bible study resources are available online. I challenge you to join with a few friends in the experience of intentionally giving to and supporting those impacted by systemic poverty and structural injustice. After you give, testify of the experience by sharing the joys and the challenges of intentional economic justice advocacy.

Let us encourage one another to join together in becoming more excellent givers. God has been kind to you. He has been very patient, waiting for you to change. But you think nothing of his kindness. We invest so much time and many resources in proving we are right that we do not seek the righteousness of God. Somehow, after the initial joyfulness of accepting Christ as our Savior, we forget that Christ is Lord as well.

Instead of becoming disciple makers, we lord over people and their lives. This storm of criticisms, preferences, and attitudes swirls into our families, congregations, conferences, and beyond, obliterating the potential for us to exemplify Christ in our lives.

Sadly, we bruise and deform the body of Christ with our determination to have others live according to our beliefs. Hemmed into our personal interpretations of how to best live for and like Christ, we abandon the teachings of Christ. Moreover, it will keep us from having a prayerful, practical, and peaceful influence in the world. We must stop making our perspectives into precepts of godliness. A scarcity of justice exists, and a heap of work remains for us to focus on and get done. Injustices abound, and when we are so busy infighting we miss opportunities to insist on and protest for justice.

Today July 26, , hundreds of children remain separated from their parents despite a court order to reunify all refugee families separated at the U. This matter demands our attention. Yes, it is important that we learn how to live as examples and witnesses for Christ. It is also imperative that we identify tenets of conduct so that we can live in peace; however, the more we add on, the more like Pharisees we become.

Living our faith is to be joyously simple. Jesus gave us two principles on which to build our morality. But there is a second to set alongside it: Stay away from mindless, pointless quarreling over genealogies and fine print in the law code. That gets you nowhere. Interestingly, the Aramaic for Titus 3: Our schisms and chasms are steeped in our theological pedigrees, and we group ourselves into spiritual tribes using our perspectives to criticize, judge, and ostracize others.

In this parable of the great banquet, Jesus reveals the responsibility of invitees to arrive ready to partake in the banquet. If they do not, the celebration is not canceled but extended to include others. Those who offer excuses as to why they cannot participate in the fellowship of Christianity are much like the people who refused invitations to the banquet.

The busyness of making money and acquiring material things can distract us from the invitation to salvation. Sure, we all have obligations, but we set our priorities. Moreover, our excuses fall as flat as those of the people in this parable. God sees and knows all; God discerns our hearts. Just as one would not foolishly buy property without inspecting it, rejecting the discipline of salvation is inexcusable. Everyone has 24 hours in a day and hours in a week; we prioritize our schedules as we wish.

If we do not have time to assemble with other believers, we need to examine our priorities. The people in the parable knew ahead of time of the banquet plans and from whom the invitation came. Those declining the invitation simply thought any excuse would be acceptable. Likewise, God is calling us today to the fellowship that celebrates salvation offered through Jesus Christ.

Excuses offered will yield no exceptions; invitations will go to those willing to make time to join with others, making time to share in the discipline of salvation. Let us hold on firmly to the hope we profess, because we can trust God to keep his promise.

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Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good. Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer Hebrews That the invitation to join in the banquet is made on behalf of the host by the servants is significant. Sure, we will run into those with illogical excuses, but we must keep reaching out to others. We must invite those who are different, those experiencing difficulties in life, and those seemingly invisible to others.

Entering the life of Christian faith is an opportunity open to all. However, life as a disciple of Christ requires acceptance of and adherence to standards set by Christ. The narrative provides one significant example that will exclude people from the kingdom of God, because the owner of the house does not identify with the people or know from where they came v.

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These people summarily are refused entry and described as evildoers. Fellowshiping with Jesus and being aware of Christian teaching are insufficient experiences to gain access to the kingdom. While we may hope for and possibly receive a different outcome with financial transactions, it is not so with interactions of faith. That which is required to gain entry into the kingdom of God should not be ambiguous. It is crucial that we make it as plain as Jesus did in this parable, that there is one way to salvation and eternal life—faith in Christ Jesus, our Savior and Lord.

We come into relationship with God and all the blessings of salvation through Christ alone. This parable clarifies that hanging around those who believe in Jesus or hearing about Jesus is not enough to identify us with Jesus. Evildoers are synonymous with workers of injustice. Our presence in meetings for ministry does not allow us entry into the kingdom of God. Hearing or studying the gospel does not include us in salvation. Accepting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is the one way to salvation.

We can engage in fellowship with believers and even have an intellectual understanding of the gospel; however, that does not make us part of the body of Christ or open the kingdom of God to us. The weeping and gnashing of teeth demonstrates how utterly shocking it will be to those who are rejected. The realization that we have been so close to Jesus but chose not to connect with intention and integrity will be indescribable. As we get into the busyness of faith, it is essential that we do not forget that the first order of business is faith in Jesus Christ as redeemer. Faith compels us to engage in good works, but we must avoid the false narrative that good works equals faith.

It seems nearly impossible until we sit with the words of John 6: When we believe in Jesus, we live differently from those who are doing good works. Indeed, our faith in Jesus is what distinguishes us from the charitable organizations and service clubs. Because of Christ, we are the church.

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As Christians, we believe and share that Jesus is the door to salvation. Jesus is the narrow door that opens into the wide and abiding love of God. Martin Luther King Jr. But we can only bring the church back to the center of the human race when we bring Christ back to the center of the church. Jesus taught the disciples a parable about the importance of persistent prayer. The widow is without social agency, voice, or safety. She has lost the male counterpart who gave her identity, resources, and protection during this era.

The widow represents socially powerless and marginalized people. The judge represents those with power yet lacking compassion. The temperament of the judge represents those people too apathetic to concern themselves with the needs and treatment of the needy and vulnerable of our society. These people refuse to look around to identify the ways they can change the circumstances of the least of those in their midst. We can see the widow representing people in communities that lack nutrition and wellness resources or the under- and unemployed. Conceivably, the widow represents women who make less than their male counterparts.

The widow can represent any group we identify as needy or oppressed. The judge represents those in power or those refusing to use their power to relieve the struggle of others. The pattern of prayer this widow provides is praying eyes wide-open and ever voicing the need for relief from injustice and depraved indifference. Too often we think of prayer as peaceful meditation, a quick grace before a meal, or a bedtime ritual.

Jesus is teaching another prayer model in this parable; a prayer that is unrelenting, public, targeted, and full of urgency. As we pray for heavenly deliverance, we continue to resist, advocate, and mobilize to effect change.

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  • Indeed, we are to make a ruckus, create a scene, and disrupt the normalcy of the lives of people oppressing us and others. We are social disrupters agitating for change, and we want that change immediately. I believe we understand the necessity of this type of persistent prayer when we get pushed so far down that we cannot even remember there is a possibility of up.

    I believe Jesus is teaching us that every believer should have a point that, when reached, they will mobilize in relentless and persistent prayer. Jesus closes this parable with a question. When Jesus returns, will any faithful be found? The faithful are those mobilized in persistent, provocative prayer. The faithful understand that desperate times demand a different type of prayer positioning and claiming of our power. She knew the treatment of refugee families in detention centers demanded drastic action. Jesus is clear—there is much for us to do if we are his followers.

    Tithing and giving of our firstfruits is just the beginning. We must be active in showing justice, mercy, and faithfulness. This goes beyond the civil niceties we demonstrate while cloistered in our congregations. We must come out into the uncomfortable and unfamiliar territories of our society to ensure that the least among us are receiving justice and mercy, and that we are living out our faithfulness.

    It is not enough to say we support foreign missions when families in our midst struggle without the necessities to survive. Community projects at our biannual conventions are insufficient while the police are called to check on black people for doing routine things—more than a dozen reported incidents in the first six months of this year alone.

    Refugees are suffering within our borders. Families have been separated. There is no justice when toddlers and preschoolers are ordered to appear in hearings without legal representation to give an account of why they fled their native countries. Jesus expects us to be moved by compassion to give of our money, time, talents, and spirits to correct the grievous injustices suffered by those in our midst, our neighbors. To initiate changes that bring justice and mercy, we must speak up in our congregations and speak out in our communities.

    Thoughts and prayers are not enough. Roll up our sleeves and pull on our boots. We must be in the thick of the ugliness of insidious injustice. While we are giving canned goods and food, we must also assess how we can correct the systems that cripple people in poverty for generations. We must march, protest, and resist until our civic leaders legislate corrective action for racism, poverty, mass incarceration, denied refugee rights, denied human rights, health care inaccessibility—the list goes on. In the last few weeks we have received a court order stating there is no right to literacy in the United States.

    The federal government is demanding refugees return to their homelands with or without their children. More than 2, children are unaccounted for or cannot be located. I hear Jesus telling us that being part of the peace church tradition is not enough. We must become part of the mobilization and movement for all people to experience peace, justice, and mercy. Our faithfulness compels us into uncomfortable positions and requires us to engage in conflict so that we might do justice so all people might live in peace. Unless and until we see that we have a need for the divine forgiveness offered through Jesus Christ, we will not be effective in carrying out the gospel ministry.

    Our missionary efforts and outreach projects will be hollow, just as our lives are empty. In this parable, Jesus admonishes Peter, who thinks he has developed a reasonable formula on forgiveness.

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    I believe Jesus is teaching Peter and us that forgiveness is not to be in short supply; we do not need to ration it or control it. Forgiveness is to be available without restraint. The crux of Christian faith is that we are a forgiving people because we are a forgiven people! Our forgiveness fuels our faith; forgiveness relieves us of the burden and baggage of holding grudges.

    On June 18, , Antwon Rose of Pittsburgh died; the Allegheny County medical examiner declared his death a homicide. Antwon was fleeing a police officer. His hopes and dreams are dead, his family shattered. There are protests, yet many are growing weary of protests that bring insignificant change. Others are exhausted by the inconvenience of the protests that close highways and city intersections, or are apathetic about the reasons for protests. I am often asked why I and other clergy do not lead our community in racial reconciliation efforts.

    I am often asked why I and other clergy do not teach our youth to assimilate, to not live so publicly by cultural habits, fashion, and interactions. I cannot and will not. Racial reconciliation requires everyone to acknowledge that racial discrimination exists and impacts certain groups in systemic ways. It requires an intentional, consistent commitment from all sides. Can you or I make a difference individually? Yes, we can and we must.

    We must seek forgiveness for intentional and unintentional complicity in racial oppression. Those privileged to be born in a race that does not require them to be constantly aware of where they are, with whom they are, and where the exits are located must use that privilege as power to dismantle racist societal systems and structures as well as personal bias. When we recognize the endless forgiveness God has given us, we will willingly extend forgiveness. Moreover, we will discipline ourselves to share with others how to enter into this life-changing and everlasting forgiveness. Will our efforts change society?

    As for me, I was amazed and elated during the funeral for my beloved nephew killed in street violence to see members from a suburban, traditionally and predominantly white church make their way to the inner city and the urban church where services were held. No racial conflict occurred. These brave souls were received with hospitality. They left with changed minds and hearts about a community of people within their own community, whom they did not know.

    Suppose a brother or sister in Christ comes to you in need of clothes or something to eat. It is the same with faith. I have been blessed to both receive during my time of need and happy to share with others when possible. When I needed help, I dreaded the humiliation of the questions, suggestions, and criticisms that come as a result of asking for help.

    Why do I need help? Because while I may reside in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, the barriers and opposition to me just being able to acquire basic necessities are great. My education and skill sets cannot help me close the wealth gap of being born black and female in these United States.

    The wealth gap for me and many like me began when our ancestors were ripped from the continent of Africa and brought here as slaves. The refusal of this country to demand the formation of a reconciliation and reparations council to address the systemic, racial inequities of our nation resulted in perpetual debit and deficit budgets for most people of color. In this narrative of Lazarus and the rich man, Jesus gets right into personal economics and giving. I have been Lazarus and most likely I will be Lazarus again real soon. My lack and need does not come from poor stewardship.

    Nor am I lazy and unwilling to work. I am simply too often underemployed. My education and willingness to work has not afforded me opportunities, despite graduating at the top of my class in college and seminary. Nevertheless, I continue to serve as contributor and volunteer as opportunities arise. I work as often as possible through temporary placement agencies. I receive rejections for permanent positions because employers in corporate and nonprofit sectors fear that I will leave as soon as I am called for a ministry position.

    Temporary positions come without stability or benefits. In May, I received financial support from a local Mennonite congregation, for which I am grateful. However, the amount did not match the need, and I continue to decide which prescriptions I can fill and medical appointments with copays I can miss. My groceries come from local food banks.

    Anxiety denies the ability to rest or dwell in peace. I often wonder if those who are the exception to being black, brown, and poor are the focus of white Christians because it is painfully unpleasant to look right out your door and see people that need justice—economic and racial justice. There are many needs, but the structure that built and perpetuates those needs can be dismantled when the followers of Jesus engage in radical justice redistribution endeavors. Traditions, rituals, and customs are not essential to how I live out my faith and devotion to Christ Jesus.

    But when I came to share and dwell among the Mennonites, the energy was charged, and we were all changed. I believe something better came from each of us. The congregation was traditionally and predominantly white, and I was definitely and obviously black. Our cultures came to the precipice of our demonstration and expression of faith.

    I came as a seminarian to a congregation that intentionally opened itself to journey with those being trained to serve the kingdom of God. I bumbled and fumbled my way through the practices and procedures of collaborating and discerning. I shook and shocked the congregation with unscripted prayers and extemporaneous expressions of faith. I was welcomed and warned. I was not adhering to certain practices, and it discomforted some people. Others were energized and joined in the experiences I introduced. The thing I most remember and respect is Ryan telling me that my faith would not be restrained by the limitations of his experience or the traditions of congregation.

    The team that led and supported my journey at FMC deepened my faith in substantial ways. I engaged in Mennonite USA experiences and introduced FMC to the community I love in the same region of their church but just beyond their familiarity. My way of knowing and serving God is steeped in a culture that believes we serve the living God, so our living must bear witness to God in practical and purposeful ways.

    Our gifts were what the Damien Center needed most at the time: Remembering the marginalized of our community, we refused to opt out of outreach and mission because we had given to God at FMC. No corban for us Mark 7: We expanded our faith practices and engaged deeper in living the call of God. Our lips expressed the faith in our hearts. We experienced God in wild and wonderful unexpected ways as we developed relationships of love and grace.

    Parables provoke me to examine myself. Am I a weed or am I wheat? In these parables, Jesus is discussing how the kingdom of God thrives amid weeds or is enmeshed in the surrounding world but still fulfilling its purpose. Am I in the world, leavening the people and processes around me?

    Does my presence cause a rising that multiplies the reign of God? Personally, how am I making a difference right where I am in time and space? I am faithfully partnered in sacred relationship. My marriage is growing because my husband and I are seeking to serve God by serving each other, and together we serve God by serving the people of God. Our home continues to be a shelter for those who would otherwise become entangled by the weeds of poverty, crime, and addiction—or be discarded as weeds themselves.

    The tension is present, and we must discipline ourselves not to isolate ourselves from others. We must live in this garden until God alone declares us wheat or weed. Our purpose is to aspire to be wheat and help others transform from weed to wheat. It is a trying yet wonderful existence; we have the opportunity to grow and allow the seeds of our growth to cross-pollinate or work through the process to help others rise into their purpose. Consider the significant issues we are experiencing: I hear Jesus calling us through the parables to resist evil in all forms, to insist that equality and justice are more than platitudes.

    We are to lead and sustain change efforts, and yet it was entertainment conglomerates and social media protests that called Roseanne Barr to account for her vitriol. Cable news reporters leading ever-present town hall forums on racism that are far too normalized and powerless. We must live out the wisdom of our faith! Being complacent, doing nothing, avoiding the responsibility of making a decision, is also making a choice.

    You are responsible for both your action and your inaction. A parable is defined as a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson. If we do not respond more creatively and divinely after engaging with the parables of Jesus, then the lack of power is not due to the ineptness or emptiness of Jesus. We have failed to learn and live our faith if we do not rise with integrity and empathy to make life better for all.

    There is far more at stake here than religion. In Matthew 12, Jesus was accused of not keeping the Sabbath law. He was called out for the profane act of doing justice on, of all days, the Sabbath. He reminded the Pharisees that his disciples were doing what was allowable—picking heads of grain to feed themselves. But then Jesus had the holy audacity to heal a man on the Sabbath. What are some radical acts of justice that might be offensive to Christians, on the Sabbath or Sunday or any other day? Recent police actions, prompted by calls from white citizens, confirm the awful truth that racism is alive in the USA in Indeed, many believe that the recent incidents brought to light, usually through social media, are not creating an increase in racial violence but raising awareness of what has always been.

    Living while black foretells economic hardships that are passed on to future generations. Blacks report less than favorable views on policing agencies as well as the overall justice system. Communities of faith and denominational leadership are by and large segregated along racial lines. The integration present in the church is usually the result of interracial marriage, not intentional ministry.

    In these congregations, people of color typically are not in positions of leadership; when one person of color is a leader, organizations are quick to applaud their own diversity and inclusion. As we seek to follow Jesus and live our faith in everyday experience, consider what might happen if on the Sabbath and every day we challenged systems and traditions embedded in racist practices and perspectives. Could we remember the Sabbath and keep it holy if more men and women of color comprised congregational and conference leadership? What would white people, specifically white men, say or do if the structures and systems of faith shifted toward greater diversity?

    Can we look inward and around and challenge ourselves to live in ways that fulfill the vision of love and justice that is so central to the gospel message? Will we intentionally begin the healing work in our congregation, conference, and community? Can we put down our coffee long enough to make certain everyone is welcomed and served? She is joyfully married to Herman Oglesby. Kelly enjoys writing and teaching.

    She is discerning opportunities for pastoral ministry. The last one was a gruelling two-hour question period regarding how she would respond to a number of office scenarios. The next day, she was informed via a phone call that she did not get the position. The news left her feeling anxious and depressed.

    At times we may think that things are under control, only to be blindsided by some unexpected problem toothache, nosebleed, broken bone, sickness, unemployment, personal conflict, addiction, spiritual issue, etc. On such occasions, we can take comfort in the psalms, which model many of the everyday conflicts people face. In one such situation, the meek and humble psalmist finds himself attacked by enemies who are arrogant and haughty. Blindsided by this unprovoked enmity, he is initially thrown for a loop. After his instinctive response of confusion, anger, and self-pity, he brings his woes and suffering to God and achieves a measure of comfort and peace.

    In Psalm 34, the writer realizes that the Lord can deliver him from his difficulties: Sometimes we react before we bring our discontents to God, perhaps with a discourteous retort or with self-condemnation. But the psalms are useful, providing a larger perspective and indicating how to redirect anger or despair. Nearly all the psalms end with an attitude of worship and praise. In Hebrews, the author explains that Jesus understands our human frailty and sympathizes with our concerns.

    He not only is aware of our sinful nature but has already atoned for our sins. Therefore, we can approach him with confidence, knowing that he has both the power and the willingness to deliver us from our negative circumstances. We are grateful to Kevin McCabe for sharing his insights and encouragement to acknowledge and honor God in our worship and our lives. If local citizens had petitioned to use such environmentally significant land, they almost certainly would have been turned down.

    However, applications from mega-corporations and offshore consortiums are almost always approved. Huge amounts of investment money sometimes expedite such processes, whereas ordinary citizens might be told that regulations forbid such land use. The gap between rich and poor—as well as the politicized and nonpoliticized, special interests and average taxpayers—widens daily.

    There is a definite connection between the use of land and justice. We see it in the troubled history of Israel, which, similar to our modern era, was a story of empires and oppressors. Indeed, the prophetic writings continually challenge the Hebrews to repent and return to the biblical vision. Certain perceptions of Jewish identity went deep, including their understanding of themselves as a Sabbath-observing people. In Leviticus 25, the Sabbath concept is expanded to include agricultural, social, humanitarian, and economic measures.

    Every seventh year was a sabbatical year, during which Hebrew slaves were freed, debts were forgiven, and the earth itself was given 12 months of rest. Although this provision seems strange in an agricultural society, it became something that Israelites were proud to observe. In effect, all regular farming practices were forbidden, and farmers became gleaners on their own land. The sabbatical year helped to restore a measure of equality among Israelites, including those who had been enslaved for debt.

    This practice also emphasized that the land itself and the people themselves belonged to God. The jubilee year concept eventually proved to be unmanageable and is rarely mentioned as a historical reality. Nonetheless, many of its provisions were embodied in the sabbatical year, which was a reality during times when Israelites had some control of their national destiny and economy. An acquaintance was working with the Salvation Army kettle campaign last Christmas.

    Although it was almost Christmas day, people were ignoring the kettle. Worried about this, my friend was convicted that he had not yet donated anything. He emptied his wallet into the kettle, and soon people were lining up to give. At a recent meeting of a Christian society, an officer kindly told me that I did not need to contribute anything to the meeting costs. Later, when a call for donations was given, I gave half of my cash.

    The Holy Spirit immediately convicted me, and I quickly added the other half. But in Leviticus, not giving to the Lord is more than a sin of omission. This had to happen before they used anything made from the new grain. However, by making our donation, along with our other efforts, we come closer to the biblical understanding of firstfruits. Farmers and landowners are instructed not to clear the field completely of grain, but to deliberately leave some grain for gleaners, that is, for landless people who have no other access to the harvest Leviticus The subject of generosity has great potential for debate.

    While in some churches and denominations the subject of money can spark competitive activity, in others the subject of money is taboo. Church traditions and cultural assumptions often shape these attitudes. One area of debate continues to be the use of money for church buildings versus for humanitarian aid. So in Exodus This is somewhat similar to the cathedral builders of the Middle Ages. The early Christian church seldom constructed buildings for worship.

    Offerings were mostly taken to support poor members and others in need. One suspects that Paul especially targets the Corinthian church because of its conspicuous wealth. Given that the New Testament rarely refers to church buildings, the Reformation leaders tended to shy away from large, elaborate structures. In some cases, the murals from pre-Reformation churches were whitewashed, and statues and ornaments were removed. Some older churches were destroyed.

    Churches continued to be built, often as a way of bringing communities together. My home church, an impressive structure, was designed and largely constructed by members of the congregation. That is, they are a matter of practical humanitarian concern. Obviously, praise could go no further, or so it seems. This exaltation of the Lamb cf.

    After all, why was God Almighty himself not able to save people from sin? The equal worthiness of the Lamb has seemed to many as untidy. Revelation 5 asserts nonetheless that no one else but the Lamb was worthy to open the scroll with seven seals. Incidentally, Revelation 5 is one of the most powerful trinitarian passages in the New Testament. When we enter today into discussions with Unitarian, Islamic, Judaic, or sectarian faiths e. For them, Christ may have been a prophet, a good man, or a promoted angel, but he was not God.

    Perhaps Christians need to become more familiar with Scriptures that emphasize the divinity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. This is a feature of Christianity that clearly distinguishes it from the other Abrahamic religions. Although Yahweh had appeared in glory before this passage e. This series of visions begins with the exalted Jesus Revelation 1 and continues in chapter 4 with God the Father.

    This epiphany serves to emphasize the glory of God. Nonetheless, the songs of the four living creatures have been an influence on hymns and worship songs. In English, the words worship and worthiness have the same root. Similarly, in chapter 6, Jesus is proclaimed worthy to open the seven seals because he has ransomed us through his blood. In contemporary society, we have political leaders who demand to be exalted above all other people. Likewise, entertainment figures and celebrities are given special status.

    The four living creatures and the 24 elders praise God because God is holy, eternal, and our Creator. Chesterton said, we clearly perceive that our human idols did not make the heavens and the earth. Just as our powers of technology confer political and military might, so our advances in communications make it easier to attribute special qualities to those not possessed of them. It is also true that materialism has blunted enthusiasm for nonmaterial qualities.

    Thus, the connection is made between the scene in the heavenly courts and the churches on earth. These messages include the promise to the churches that whoever overcomes evil will also join with all the saints and heavenly beings in worshiping God forever and ever. Quite unusually, Jesus caps this second call with a personal prophecy—that when Peter is old, he will be led away to death.

    Jesus replies that the outcome is a matter between the disciple and his Master. Because of this and because the disciples were chosen to be witnesses to Jesus and his resurrection Acts 1: That is, witnessing to Jesus can be the prelude to martyrdom. As a graduate student, I wrote a letter implicating a prominent professor and the university hospital as promoting abortion on campus. This new role led to some interesting confrontations, including one with a fellow graduate student and another with one of my professors.

    Living Generously for Jesus' Sake: Study Guide: -

    One night after midnight I was telephoned by a lady who berated me for raising an issue that was causing her great personal anguish. She was soon weeping, remembering her early experiences. We were able to have a meaningful discussion and communicate across a wide chasm. It happens more than we want to admit. A church plant, a new mission, or a new ministry effort is launched with great potential and response, only to be undone by a lack of resources or a loss of leadership.

    Even if the leader survives, things will not be the same. Good things happened, but the risks outweighed the sacrifices. When things change and the future seems unclear, we gravitate to comfort food, comfort work, comfort places, or comfort people. These sources of comfort are not always easy or without complications, but nonetheless seem old and familiar.

    In these situations, the prospect of discomfort may be off-putting, even if we recognize it as part of a recommissioning. We have familiar subject matter disciples fishing, Jesus offering bread and fish, a miraculous catch , but somehow, a different outcome. The disciples know that Jesus is alive, but now what? Amid the familiar, they experience the unfamiliar: Jesus starts with the comfortable and draws his disciples into a closer fellowship.

    He prepares a breakfast of bread and fish for them, and invites them to contribute some of their newly found resources v. The disciples will be witnesses to the risen Lord in a largely hostile environment. The common meal v. Those who forsook their Lord needed to be brought into fellowship again by some tangible form of communal activity.

    This may also demonstrate a model of reconciliation for the church today. Many of us are so familiar with the resurrection accounts that we often overlook some obvious details. One focus is on the role of a group of women who were witnesses to the empty tomb. At least in conservative Jewish circles, the position of women was similar to that in Muslim states today.

    The fact that women followed Jesus has been especially noted by some commentators. One of them, Salome, was the mother of James and John Matthew Mary Magdalene would likely have belonged to this older generation. While nearly all these women came from Galilee Luke In ancient societies, women were not normally permitted to testify in court, so for women to be the first witnesses to the circumstances of the resurrection is significant.

    Not surprisingly, the 11 male disciples did not accept their testimony. Later, Peter set out the requirements for someone to replace Judas as a disciple Acts 1: Except for not being men, the women at the tomb had those qualifications.

    Outline of the Lesson

    It would follow that Jesus had several female disciples and apostles. Young girls and women, some the successors of these Jesus followers, are rising up today with messages of good news. They too have witnessed violence against children, youth, men, their communities, and themselves. They are addressing such issues as human trafficking, homelessness, and poverty, giving witness to the power of our resurrected Christ to change lives.

    Recognizing the women who came to the cross and the empty tomb as apostles is compatible with the heart of the gospel message; namely, that Jesus is the Savior of all people in a particularly personal way and that all of us are called to share that good news. This manner of thinking may not immediately touch a responsive chord today. It seems less familiar than police court justice: If we consider this more spiritually, we may conclude that pride is the greatest offense against God.

    But many biblical passages suggest that idolatry is at the root of evil. In Psalm 51, King David confesses to God: Applying the concept of idolatry to contemporary life may seem problematic at first. If we listen to pop cultural language of rock stars, cultural icons, American Idol , Madonna, and the Fab Four, we can pick up that vibe. Indeed, mass culture is largely in the business of setting up and selling idols. The role of advertising, promotions, and marketing tends to be overlooked.

    Actually, there is no shortage of other gods, including those who champion self-gratification, entitlement, empowerment, and self-actualization. Regarding the public arena then, we may ask whether anyone speaks as a counterpoise. Even the Lord sends fire from heaven on cue. The whole multitude of Israel worships and gives thanks together. All participants are united, including Yahweh.

    To bring these features into harmony is a challenge for churches today. One congregation with a tradition of faith healing brought 30 people with disabilities up to center stage where the pastors prayed over them, but no healing occurred. Disappointment and disillusion resulted. Solomon led a united Israel. Nowadays, the spirit of unity is often difficult to attain. One Canadian leader stated that Canadians have no unifying traditions except their belief in basic human rights. How then do we celebrate our faith, our heritage, and our church? By intentionally creating a mini-community where people interact together from the start, members can learn to celebrate their unity in worship and service.

    No wonder then that the church is up against a strong current of individualism. Like the chronicler, we may be tempted to take refuge in the glories of the past. His offering of twenty-two thousand cattle v. We recognize that royal weddings and state funerals need to be arranged with great care. Yet things will go wrong even in the best-planned celebrations. I think that the angel song had it right Luke 2: Let us 1 give glory to God, 2 strive for peace on earth, and 3 show good will to all. I confess that I am often tempted to skip the many scriptural passages that recount construction plans for the tabernacle or the temple, the rituals and sacrifices, and the roles of the priests, Levites, and singers.

    I notice that some contemporary translations render these passages in small print, or even as footnotes. To our chronicler, however, these are matters of supreme importance. For him, the religious life of Israel and Judah centers on the temple, as it was established first by the theocratic kings David and Solomon. Older people today remember when conventional wisdom dictated large church building projects. If you build it, they will come. If big-box church buildings are built these days, they need to be multipurpose, multiprogram facilities, established among growing and youthful populations.

    Have we perhaps come to regard holy places such as Jerusalem, Mecca, and the Ganges River as too messy too fraught with religious and political baggage? It is especially a house of prayer—prayers that God will hear in heaven, his dwelling place. The concept of local churches as houses of prayer may not be in the forefront nowadays.

    Most churches no longer have regular prayer meetings, and Sunday morning prayers may be quite limited in duration and content. In the New Testament, it is referred to as an example of faith being reckoned as righteousness Romans 4: The prophet Micah asked: The logic of the system suggests that birth control and abortion should be preferred to live births. I found myself conflicted when both my daughters attended the university where I was teaching. A considerable number of large introductory classes were deliberately designed to indoctrinate students into the dominant mind-set there.

    At this point, parents either demonstrate special trust in their children or give up on the entire education system. Abraham had been walking with God for many decades and had failed a number of tests. When we face a great challenge or decision, it may be in one sense a blind leap of faith; in another sense, it may be something we have been preparing for every day of our lives.

    Kevin McCabe is a writer, teacher, and poet. He was formerly an instructor in Classics at several universities, and has also been the author and editor of two books on Lucy Maud Montgomery and a number of works on the history and literature of the Niagara Peninsula. Kevin is a member ofGraceMennonite Church in St. Catharines where he lives with his wife and two daughters. First Timothy concludes with this exhortation: Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

    Yet what precisely are this deposit, this faith, these traditions? And how exactly do we hold fast to these traditions, or guard this deposit, or contend for this faith? For many Christians today, the deposit of faith is a fairly comprehensive set of beliefs and practices. Kathleen Kern is almost certainly correct in her suggestion, however, that the entrusted gift in view here is the gospel Adult Bible Study , p. How can we preserve this gospel for future generations?

    Our passage points to an answer. Michael Pahl is a biblical scholar with a heart for the church, a pastor with a passion for biblical theology. He blogs at michaelpahl. We are grateful to Michael Pahl for sharing his insights and timely application of the Scriptures for our Faith in Action study. Kevin is a writer, teacher, and poet, and a member of Grace Mennonite Church in St. If you only heard that description, you could be forgiven for assuming the biblical author was talking about a man. It is true, after all, that nearly all the New Testament descriptions of a disciple refer to a man—nearly all, but not quite all.

    Acts 9, in fact, has the only clear reference to an individual woman as a disciple, the disciple Tabitha, or Dorcas. The gospel is for all people; and the Spirit comes on all believers, regardless of their social status, their ethnic or religious background, their age, or their gender. For many of us today this might seem commonplace. In the first-century world, this was radical. Luke describes the women at the cross, at the empty tomb, and in the upper room. In Acts he mentions the four prophetess daughters of Philip I said above that for many of us today this egalitarianism might seem commonplace.

    But recent events in North American society have exposed how far we really are from seeing the full equality of women promised by Pentecost. Women are paid much less than men for the same work, even with the same expertise and experience. Women experience sexual harassment and violence at rates far higher than men. While there are encouraging steps forward in addressing these and other inequities, there are also discouraging steps backward. As Christians, proclaimers of the universal gospel, empowered by the democratizing Spirit, we should be leading the way in advocating for the full equality of women in every respect.


    With evocative and memorable imagery, James 3 highlights the power of our words, both positively and negatively. Our words can create or destroy. They can build up or tear down. They can help or harm. The things we say, and how we say them, matter. For me, the most remarkable statement in this passage comes toward the end of it: This statement is significant for at least three reasons.

    Sin has not altered this fact, nor is this a special status only for Christians who are intentionally being conformed to the image of God in Christ Romans 8: Second, this statement affirms the truth that our relationship with God is inseparable from our relationships with others. How we treat other people is the real litmus test of the authenticity and depth of our relationship with God. This is emphasized in various ways throughout the New Testament, most bluntly in 1 John 4: This truth goes back to Jesus, who linked love of God with love of neighbors, love of strangers, and even love of enemies Matthew Third, this statement affirms that this second truth extends not just to our actions but also to our speech, both how we talk to other people and how we talk about them: Safe behind our computers or smartphones, we say things to and about people that we would never say to their face, or never say off-line at all.

    However, the word for faith Greek, pistis can have a wide range of meanings. This is underscored by the many ways Paul speaks about genuine faith as that which works itself out in loving actions e. James gives two examples of these loving actions that result from genuine faith: His examples are significant for at least two reasons. First, these themes are prominent throughout the Scriptures. Concern for the poor, including the widow and orphan, and concern for the foreigner or stranger are deeply embedded in the Law of Moses and repeatedly voiced by the prophets e.

    This concern for the poor and the stranger, representing the most vulnerable in society, continues through the teaching of Jesus and the rest of the New Testament e. Second, these themes are significant because they continue to be prominent needs—and controversial flashpoints—today. Somehow, in certain conservative Christian circles, caring for the poor and welcoming the stranger, or calling on governments to attend to these needs, has become a sign of theological liberalism. But can we claim to have genuine, living, saving faith, yet refuse to stand with the poor and the foreigner, with all who are vulnerable and marginalized in society?

    Both James and Paul—following in the footsteps of Jesus, following the Law and the Prophets—are clear: In popular Christian parlance, the phrase suggests the final strands of earthly, human history. If this is our understanding, it might be disconcerting to learn that this kind of language is used in Scripture to describe happenings within human history, including what is, for us, past history. Sin made us enemies of God, and Christ's sacrifice can pay our death penalty for us if we repent and accept His sacrifice. Nothing we can do, no penance could ever earn us forgiveness.

    But our unselfish God is willing to give us forgiveness if we show we understand the seriousness of it and commit to changing. Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? These three passages demonstrate several aspects of repentance. Job realized his own need for repentance by seeing how awesome the Creator God is and how insignificant he was. Joel stresses that repentance is not just an outward show. It must be of the heart and bring a real change of attitude. And as Jesus explained, we must be willing to give up our lives in unconditional surrender.

    After all, Jesus' sacrifice paid for us. We belong to Him and our life is not our own. No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments. Since God's law is good and breaking God's law was the cause of Jesus Christ's death, God wants us to learn to hate sin and to strive to obey God's law with His help. This is part of the path that leads to eternal life. As Jesus said, "If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication!

    In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter. The sorrow of the world seems to be a temporary remorseful feeling without any change in how you live. But godly sorrow involves a real and lasting change. Carefully think about Paul's powerful description of these seven elements of godly repentance. They demonstrate a deep understanding of why God abhors sin and a fervent commitment to change. Self-examination is an important part of the process of repentance.

    One way to do this is to examine yourself in light of the principles encapsulated in the Ten Commandments. Our booklet The Ten Commandments is a helpful and practical study guide. Pick one chapter and examine yourself in the light of that commandment. Write down areas where you have fallen short and repent of them and make a plan to change. Later you may want to continue and go through all these commandments that help us understand God's thinking and way of love.

    Questions about this lesson? Feedback about this lesson? The Process of Conversion including these sections: What Must I Do? What's So Bad About Sin? Must We Obey God's Commandments? Repentance, Penance and Grace. What is the unpardonable sin? What sin won't God forgive?

    If you have questions or comments, please contact Free Bible Study Guides. Growing in God's Grace and Knowledge Lesson 7: He shares the story of his most famous repentance in Psalm Why do we need to repent? What is our natural human state? How does the Bible define sin?