Adult Bible Study & Current News

October 14, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. For All the World to See

Genesis 10:1; 11:10, 27, 31-32; 12:1-4

 How did we get from Noah in last week’s lesson to Abram and Sarai? Look at Genesis 10–11, and you’ll find a genealogy! This migrating couple descended from Noah’s son, Shem, although the genealogies of his brothers, Ham and Japheth, are also included. The lists of names are meant to encompass all the people who populated the earth after Noah’s flood. God’s promise to Abram that “all peoples on the earth will be blessed through you” (12:3), refers to the descendants of Noah’s three sons (and their wives!).

Knowing where and who we come from can help solidify our identity. A few weeks ago, I visited a longtime friend in Chicago. As we mused about our different religious roots, she told me about a younger friend of hers who is African-American-Vietnamese and had been adopted by a white family living in Vermont. She felt driven to search for her roots in Vietnam. Only after an extended visit could she claim her identity and be at peace.

To know one’s roots is a gift I did not fully appreciate until watching the 1977 TV miniseries based on Alex Haley’s book, Roots: The Saga of an American Family. Haley traced his roots back seven generations to Kunta Kinte, who was brought from Gambia in Africa to Maryland as an enslaved man. I am grateful for the Mennonites who traced my genealogy back to the early 1700s, when most of my maternal and paternal ancestors immigrated to the New World for religious freedom in William Penn’s colony.

I still have many questions about Noah’s descendants. Who kept these records? Were they first handed down orally? How were they preserved after the “confusion of languages” in the Tower of Babel story? (11:1-9). In what language or languages?

Further, where are the mothers in these genealogies? Matrilineal descent is implied in Genesis 2:24, where a man leaves his parents and joins his wife’s family. Is the omission of women the result of the fall in Genesis 3?

I’m grateful that my genealogy also includes mothers. On a wall in my living room hangs a framed fraktur created by my youngest sister, Jennifer. It includes the names of my maternal and paternal foremothers to the fifth generation of great-grandmothers—58 names! Unlike a patrilineal genealogy, I am glad mine contains mothers as well as fathers.

  • What does your genealogy mean to you?
  • As Yahweh worshipers, what is the value of honoring Abraham and Sarah as our spiritual ancestors?

—Reta Halteman Finger, laretafinger@gmail.com

 

An ABS Reproducible dramatic reading is available at www.MennoMedia.org/abs for use with this session.

October 7, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Faithful through Floods

Genesis 6:9b-22

The origin stories of Genesis are ancient, yet so evocative of current events. The wonder of creation in chapter 1, the temptation to wriggle out of responsibility for the messes we make in chapter 3, and now a flood! The flood! Days and days of no sunshine, and, as Duerksen aptly notes, piles of manure.

As I write, millions of people in the Carolinas and beyond are cursing the latest flood wreaked on them by Hurricane Florence. Even here in western Virginia, basements are sopping, crops are rotting in the saturated ground, and our rainfall accumulation is 14 inches above normal. At the same time, my sister lives in drought-stricken Arizona, a part of the western United States where huge wildfires have devastated the forests, and decreasing snowpack due to warm winters has contributed to major water shortages.

Additional evidence of a great flood in the ancient Near East comes from other cultures that wrote their own flood accounts. But the story of Noah’s family stands as both a memorial and a warning in our time. Yes, our text says that never again will God cause a flood to destroy the whole earth (Genesis 9:8-17). But today we are doing this to ourselves.

Already in the 1970s, corporations like Exxon and Shell knew that their oil was releasing enough carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere to warm the earth, thaw polar ice, and eventually raise ocean levels 10 to 20 feet. Yet they hid this research, kept pumping oil and gas, and publicly denied what they knew.[1] We do not know the exact corruption and violence that caused God to flood the earth (Genesis 6:11-13). But today even a child can understand the importance of creation care, and that denying climate change is indeed selfish, thoughtless, and cruel “corruption.”

The destruction of our one-and-only planet occurs in many ways, and we are all responsible. During the week of September 25–28, PBS News Hour did a series of reports on plastics, most of which are trashed and yet are virtually indestructible.[2] Plastics fill our oceans and the stomachs of birds and fish. Remember those creatures God lovingly formed on Day 5?

The hour is late. Without farsighted, righteous Noahs to help us slow global warming, most living creatures will suffer and die for the human sin of climate denial.

  • Would you consider climate denial and unconcern for God’s creation sins?
  • If it is sin, how can we repent and change our lifestyles and systems?

—Reta Halteman Finger, laretafinger@gmail.com

[1]. Neela Banerjee, “Exxon’s Oil Industry Peers Knew About Climate Dangers in the 1970s, Too,” Inside Climate News, December 22, 2015, https://insideclimatenews.org/news/22122015/exxon-mobil-oil-industry-peers-knew-about-climate-change-dangers-1970s-american-petroleum-institute-api-shell-chevron-texaco.

[2]. Amna Nawaz and Lorna Baldwin, “Plastic Lasts More Than a Lifetime, and That’s the Problem,” PBS News Hour, September 25, 2018, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/plastic-lasts-more-than-a-lifetime-and-thats-the-problem.

 

September 30, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Missing the Mark

Genesis 3:8-13, 20-24

“The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it. It’s all her fault, of course, and it’s your fault too, because you gave her to me!”

If the purpose of these reflections on the current Sunday school studies is to contemporize the text, we don’t have to look very far for current examples of this story in Genesis 3! From your favorite preschooler up to the occupant of the highest office in the land, we all know how to pass the buck—especially if we’ve been disobedient or want to cover up something we did that was wrong.

And it’s not just the man making excuses. The woman accuses the talking snake of deceiving her. Did she know about the prohibition that was given to the adám (earth-creature) in Genesis 2:17, before male and female human beings were differentiated? The story implies that she is guilty, thus providing evidence that the prohibition was passed on to both persons.

It is always easier to expose the sins of other people rather than of my own, so a couple public examples come to mind. The first is the recent announcement of the decades-long sexual abuse of children and young people by Catholic priests and the coverup by their superiors in Pennsylvania. These men obviously justified their actions, helped along by hierarchical structuring and perhaps by the requirement of celibacy. Related to that is the sin of male sexual domination that the #MeToo movement is exposing, actions that grow out of buck-passing attitudes such as “What’s wrong with that?” and “Women like the attention!”

Another example is the continuing “dance” between President Trump and the Mueller probe, which moves ever closer to Trump’s possible involvement in illegal actions related to the 2016 presidential campaign. The more these hints emerge, the louder Trump’s attacks on Robert Mueller, Jeff Sessions, and the FBI become. They’re corrupt; not me!

  • What evidence of passing the buck do you see in your life or in the lives of others around you?
  • Why is acknowledging and repenting of sin vital to maintaining a relationship with God?

—Reta Halteman Finger    laretafinger@gmail.com

An ABS Reproducible dramatic reading is available at www.MennoMedia.org/abs for use with this session.

 

September 23, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Home Sweet Home?

Genesis 2:18-24; 4:1-2

One of the highest values in many cultures today is the honor of the male. In some places, any perceived challenge to a man’s honor by his wife or daughter gives him the right to kill her. Khalida Brohi, a young woman activist, grew up in a rural area of Pakistan where women had few rights, including not even to go to school. In a recent interview, she broke down as she talked about how her cousin had married the man she loved rather than the man her parents had chosen for her. The couple tried to flee, but the men in her extended family captured Khalida’s cousin and murdered her.[1]

Though Khalida’s experience was extreme compared to western societies, patriarchy persists throughout the world. Sadly, many Jews, Christians, and Muslims have for centuries used the Genesis 2 story of human origins to insist on male headship because the man was created first.

But in 1978, a Hebrew scholar, Phyllis Trible, challenged this interpretation in her book, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality. The text of Genesis 2:7, where Yahweh kneels down to shape a living being out of the dirt, includes a wordplay: “Out of adamáh (earth) comes adám (earth-creature). An earth-creature from the earth—thus far without gender. Because every noun in Hebrew is gendered, adamáh is feminine, and adám is linguistically masculine. But adám does not become ish (male) and ishsháh (female) until Yahweh performs an operation on the earth-creature and creates two human genders, a man and a woman.

Then Genesis 2:24 asserts something quite astounding. The man leaves his mother and father—his ancestral home—to cling to his wife! In strict patriarchal cultures, this never happens. Instead, the woman leaves her family and joins her husband’s. Everything is about his home and his children, and if he ever decides to divorce her, she leaves with nothing.

In American culture today we still have vestiges of this patriarchy: a married woman takes her husband’s name; a father walks his daughter down the aisle to give her to her new husband. But Genesis 2:24 suggests matriarchy or, at the least, matrilineal descent.

  • To promote the equality God intended, should we change these marriage traditions?
  • Do religious people tend to be more patriarchal than secular people? What is your experience with male-female equality?
  • If male and female are created together in Genesis 1:27, how should we understand the Genesis 2 story?

—Reta Halteman Finger, laretafinger@gmail.com

An ABS Reproducible dramatic reading is available at www.MennoMedia.org/abs for use with this session.

[1]. “Her Father Gave Her the Courage to Speak Out Against ‘Honor Killings,’” Fresh Air, National Public Radio, September 4, 2018.

September 16, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Holding and Molding

Genesis 1:26-31; 2:4-7

When it comes to understanding the Bible, some well-meaning efforts can make it harder than necessary. Although Carol Duerksen does a fine job highlighting the complex creation of humankind in this study, those choosing the Uniform Series texts didn’t make it easy for her. They omitted the climax of the story—the seventh day of rest (2:1-3)—and tacked on the beginning of a different creation account in Genesis 2:4-7.

But the problem goes back in time much further. The Bible was first divided into chapters in the early 13th century. Chapter divisions normally help organize our reading. But in this case, those medieval scribes missed their mark by placing the seventh-day climax of Genesis 1 at the beginning of Genesis 2!

Verse divisions were added in the mid-16th century. We’d be lost today without them, but some later scribal copyist actually concluded the end of Genesis 1 with the beginning of Genesis 2 in the same verse! Fortunately for us, both the NIV and NRSV make this clear, but it seems awkward that the first account of creation in Genesis runs from 1:1 to 2:4a.

The second creation story—2:4 to 3:24—differs from the first in various ways: both the method and the order in which God creates, the writing style, the theological purpose, and even the differing names for God (“God” means El in Genesis 1 and “Lord God” means Yahweh in Genesis 2). The second account is called “etiological,” because it explains why things are the way they are: why we have gender, where sin came from, why women suffer in childbirth, and why growing crops is such hard work.

  • How is this text disrespected if the concept of inerrancy forces one to harmonize the two creation accounts?
  • Where do you see God’s creativity at work in the people around you? How does being created in God’s image shape your relationship with God and with people?

—Reta Halteman Finger  laretafinger@gmail.com

Two ABS Reproducible teaching aids are available at www.MennoMedia.org/abs for use with this session.

 

September 9, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

 

  1. It All Came Together

Genesis 1:14-25

The creators of the Uniform Series lessons probably divided Genesis 1 into three sections to help readers focus on each smaller section. After all, God was having a very busy week! But let’s not forget the rhythm and repetition of this carefully structured poem.

The second set of three days parallels and complements the first three days. Day 4 elaborates on Day 1—explaining the origins of light and darkness by way of the sun, moon, and stars. Ancient Hebrews could see our universe only from earth with the naked eye. They could not have imagined that many of the stars they saw were galaxies, each containing millions of stars and burning uncounted light-years away. The Creator God is greater than they could have imagined!

But they did have one huge advantage over us. On a cloudless, moonless night they saw a blazing panorama overhead that few of us will ever witness. With light pollution affecting 80 percent of the inhabited earth today, we’d have to climb high mountains to see what they saw most nights of the year. I, for one, am envious!

Day 5 of creation complements Day 2. The watery vault above the land produces birds, and the river and seas below teem with fish—and whales, octopuses, and dolphins! Then, on Day 6, the plant-covered land from Day 3 produces all the rest of the animals. The appearance of “livestock” in verse 24 (NIV) amuses me. The author clearly means “domesticated animals”—which taken literally implies humans had already been around to domesticate them!

  • The poet of Genesis 1 was keenly observant of the natural world. What sciences and what tools, such as telescopes or microscopes, help us today to penetrate even more deeply into our macro and micro universe?
  • How can James Weldon Johnson’s poem, “The Creation” (poets.org/poetsorg/poem/creation) help us better appreciate the Bible’s poetic power to convey truth and beauty

—Reta Halteman Finger
laretafinger@gmail.com

Two ABS Reproducible teaching aids are available at www.MennoMedia.org/abs for use with this session.

 

September 2, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s sessio

  1. God Created the Heavens and the Earth

Genesis 1:1-13

On the second day “God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it” (v. 7). On the third day “God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees’” (v. 11).

Here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, after a week of continuous rainstorms followed by previous weeks of rainstorms, I am overwhelmed with too much vegetation! High grass choked my lawnmower, and weeds overtook my garden. Many basements were flooded. If only we could send this rain to the fires burning in the arid western states! Where is the perfect world of Genesis 1?

Our Adult Bible Study sessions for this quarter are all from the book of Genesis, which means “origin.” After telling these stories orally for generations, the Hebrews eventually wrote them down so they would never forget their origins in the womb of their Creator.

Genesis 1 contrasts with other ancient creation accounts in two important ways. Instead of a cataclysmic war among a pantheon of gods and goddesses, as in the Babylonian creation account, Genesis features only one God who peacefully brings forth the universe by speaking, “Let there be . . .”

Ever since Charles Darwin, western people have debated creationism versus evolution. I believe we can avoid this dichotomy by understanding both the historical context of Genesis 1 (noted above) as well as its literary style. As stressed in our quarterly, this repetitive, rhythmical account is liturgy. It’s poetry! It’s not written like a science textbook but is more akin to Psalm 104, another joyous creation poem. Let us chant it in worship!

Nevertheless, many of us do have scientific questions about the origins of creation. I recommend The Language of God, by Francis Collins, a Christian geneticist who helped develop the human genome project.

  • How do you understand the debate between creationism (“intelligent design”) and evolution?
  • If God created plants and trees bearing fruit with seeds “according to their various kinds” (vv. 11-12), is it wrong for farmers to use genetically modified seeds?
  • Compare the peaceful, fruitful story of Genesis 1 with our current planetary warming and extreme weather. Are humans responsible?

—Reta Halteman Finger  laretafinger@gmail.com

An ABS Reproducible teaching aid is available at www.MennoMedia.org/abs for use with this session.

Reta Halteman Finger joins us for our study of God’s World, God’s People. Since retiring from teaching Bible at Messiah College, Reta teaches part-time at Eastern Mennonite University, writes a Bible study blog at eewc.com/retas-reflections, and is a contributing editor at Sojourners magazine.

 

August 26, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Practicing Justice

Colossians 3:5-17

Paul makes it plain; living for Christ requires serious surrender. We will never get to a level of discipleship in which we no longer need to engage in the discipline of spiritual transformation and examination.

As I consider the times in my brief half a century of living when I thought we surely had crossed transformational thresholds of race and gender equality, I realize that we still have much to do.

The very first record I recall my mom replaying was the song “Respect” (with the famous lyrics, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”) sung by Aretha Franklin. Through the years, that song has remained in my playlist, although my perspective has changed. Last week, the lady we proclaimed Queen of Soul died.

As I reviewed the news reports covering her concerts, achievements, awards, and life, I wondered if she ever felt respect. Life for her was transformed as she sang in her father’s church. Her God-given talented propelled her into celebrity.

Her unmistakable voice carried our great nation through the civil rights era. She comforted us as Martin Luther King Jr. was buried. She led us in national celebration as Barak Obama became the 44th president of the United States. She was a national treasure for Americans. Yet at her death, it’s uncertain if she had ever gained the respect she desired and deserved.

None of us will reach the divine respect we deserve as long as church remains an arena for sordid activities. White evangelicals support Trump, despite his record of deplorable racist and social behaviors. Acts of sexual abuse remain unaccounted for in many churches. In North America, churches are largely racially and economically separated.

The civil rights era took on compassion and understanding when four black girls died in a church bombed on a Sunday. Perhaps Aretha, who became a mother at age 12, and many other unnamed girls and boys suffering abuse may get respect when we identify and eradicate the profane from the sacred.

Jesus, the King of kings, taught that we know we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers and sisters. The Queen of Soul just wanted a little respect. May we challenge ourselves to live out the justice that only comes when we discipline ourselves to live out our faith daily.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:2 NLT)

—Kelly Bates Oglesby, kellyoglesby@gmail.com

We are grateful to Kelly Bates Oglesby for helping us connect biblical truth and insights with our lives and current events in the church and the world during our study of Justice in the New Testament.

Reta Halteman Finger of Rockingham, Virginia, will be our ABS Online writer for our fall study, God’s World and God’s People. Join us!

 

August 19, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. God-Shaped Transformation: Living in Love and Justice

Romans 12:9-21

The observation of how others speak on righting the wrongs in society is perplexing. Often, nearly always, it is in a benign way. Yet, when we read of God’s ideas and visions for justice, a complete inversion of society structures is called for.

In Amos 5:24, God speaks of justice rolling like a river. Moving water is a powerful force. Water consistently moving changes the direction of nature, forcing the development of new ecosystems.

Water often symbolizes the Holy Spirit. The power of many Holy Spirit-filled believers can bring about justice. We can be the force that brings justice rolling down like a river when we come together in one accord.

Contemplating Paul’s writing, it becomes clear that as disciples of Jesus Christ we have a mandate to care for each other in a radical way. 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. 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. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.—Romans 12:9-13

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? Look around.

  • How much will you give to those around you?
  • How will you practice hospitality, and to whom will you demonstrate it?
  • How radical is your commitment to living Christian faith?

Kelly Bates Oglesby
kellyoglesby@gmail.com

An ABS Reproducible page is available for use with this session at http://www.MennoMedia.org/abs.

 

August 12, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Material Redistribution and Global Equality: A God’s-Eye View

2 Corinthians 8:7-15

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 task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.” —Walter Brueggemann[1]

The dominant culture teaches us to acquire, consume, hoard, and bequeath. Cultural indicators of success or happiness revolve around living in the respectable ZIP codes, driving luxury vehicles, wearing clothing that is known/desired. 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. Moving from the perspective of “me, myself, and I” to the lens of intentional giving to others is an amazing experience.

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.

—Kelly Bates Oglesby kellyoglesby@gmail.com

[1]. The Prophetic Imagination.

August 5, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Jews, Greeks, and the Justice of God

Romans 2:1-16

 “Criticisms, Preferences, and Attitudes but No Justice”

God has been kind to you. He has been very patient, waiting for you to change. But you think nothing of his kindness. Maybe you don’t understand that God is kind to you so that you will decide to change your lives (Romans 2:4 ERV).

Paul’s address is appropriate in our day. 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. Focusing on people’s music choice, fashion style, or biblical translation will not make disciples for 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, 2018), hundreds of children remain separated from their parents despite a court order to reunify all refugee families separated at the U.S./Mexico border. This matter demands our attention. Reminiscent of the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign focused on the Boko Haram a few years ago, this time the United States government has traumatized families by forced separation.

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.

Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them” (Matthew 22:37-40 MSG).

Stay away from mindless, pointless quarreling over genealogies and fine print in the law code. That gets you nowhere. (Titus 3:9 MSG)

Interestingly, the Aramaic for Titus 3:9 can be interpreted to mean to avoid tribal traditions or spiritual genealogies. 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. Let’s put down our weapons, stop attacking one another, and begin to change the world with the love of Christ our Savior and Lord.

—Kelly Bates Oglesby

kellyoglesby@gmail.com

 

July 29, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. The Parable of the Great Banquet

Luke 14:15-24

“Intentionally Receiving God’s Invitation”

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. Another significant point is that the expansion of the banquet occurs because the servants go out and persuade/compel others that this banquet is open to them.

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.

Oh, the excuses—“I cannot come to worship because the game is on,” “I would help with outreach but my own family needs me,” or “I cannot join in fellowship because I have to prepare for another event.” We can make an unending list. Everyone has 24 hours in a day and 168 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. 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 10:23-25 GNT).

That the invitation to join in the banquet is made on behalf of the host by the servants is significant. Do not overlook the responsibility of servants/disciples of Christ to invite others into the joy we have in salvation through Jesus Christ. 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. Our mission is clear—we are to make certain everyone knows that God is preparing a banquet/feast and excuses for missing the celebration/salvation are not acceptable. Some people will need to be compelled/persuaded that they are indeed welcome/worthy of the invitation.

  • How might our worship services, fellowship meals, and celebrations be transformed if we understood them as an invitation to participate in Jesus’ celebration of salvation?
  • Who is awaiting an invitation to the banquet?

—Kelly Bates Oglesby

kellyoglesby@gmail.com

 

July 22, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Entering God’s Kingdom

Luke 13:22-30
“The Narrow Door to the Wide Love of God”

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. In this parable, Jesus makes it clear that disciples/believers in Christ are to live differently than others. 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. 25). 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.

Those denied entry, much like people whose credit/debit card is declined, insist that the decision be processed again. 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 6:28-29 (ERV), “The people asked Jesus, ‘What does God want us to do?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work God wants you to do is this: to believe in the one he sent.’”

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. 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. wrote this observation in a college paper: “It is our job as ministers to bring the church back to the center of the human race. 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.”[1]

 —Kelly Bates Oglesby

kellyoglesby@gmail.com

[1]. Martin Luther King Jr., “Is the Church the Hope of the World?” http://okra.stanford.edu/transcription/document_images/Vol06Scans/14Sept1948-15Feb1950IstheChurchtheHopeoftheWorld.pdf.

July 15, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. The Widow and the Unjust Judge

Luke 18:1-8

 Persistence in Prayer”

Jesus taught the disciples a parable about the importance of persistent prayer. Often in the dynamics of the story, we miss the important point, so we misunderstand the importance of the parable’s dynamics.

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. 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. During the Civil Rights era, Fannie Lou Hamer expressed it this way, “All my life I’ve been sick and tired. Now I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”[1]

I believe Jesus is teaching us that every believer should have a point that, when reached, they will mobilize in relentless and persistent prayer. With the widow’s example, Jesus is demonstrating that even those of us with the least political and social agency are a powerful force when engaged in 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.

I believe that is what propelled Patricia Okoumou up the Statute of Liberty on the 4th of July. She knew the treatment of refugee families in detention centers demanded drastic action.[2] Similarly, this point of persistence was reached in South African Apartheid resister Allan Boesak, who taught, “When we go before Him, God will ask, ‘Where are your wounds?’ And we will say, ‘I have no wounds.’ And God will ask, ‘Was there nothing worth fighting for?’”[3]

—Kelly Bates Oglesby

kellyoglesby@gmail.com

An ABS Reproducible handout for this session is available at www.MennoMedia.org/abs.

[1]. For background on Fannie Lou Hamer’s famous quote, see www.thisdayinquotes.com/2010/08/im-sick-and-tired-of-being-sick-and.html

[2]. Anne Branigin, “Patricia Okoumou Knows She Could Have Died During Her Statue of Liberty Protest; She Did It Anyway,” The Root, July 9, 2018, www.theroot.com/patricia-okoumou-knows-she-could-have-died-during-her-s-1827443582

[3]. See www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/256414.Allan_Aubrey_Boesak

 

July 8, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Hypocrisy and the Life of Faithful Discipleship

Matthew 23:1-8, 23-2

“Holy Hypocrisy”

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.

“There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.” Desmond Tutu

In the last few weeks we have received a court order stating there is no right to literacy in the United States.[1] Numerous reports of black people detained, questioned, or disrupted from simply living are all over the news. The federal government is demanding refugees return to their homelands with or without their children. More than 2,000 children are unaccounted for or cannot be located.

“We have to use our collective voices to yell whenever we see these injustices. It doesn’t matter how small because sometimes the cameras aren’t available.” —Bozoma Saint John[2]

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.

—Kelly Bates Oglesby kellyoglesby@gmail.com

[1].  Jacey Fortin, “‘Access to Literacy’ Is Not a Constitutional Right, Judge in Detroit Rules,” The New York Times,

July 4, 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/07/04/education/detroit-public-schools-education.html.

[2]. Felice León, “Can We Live While Black?” The Root, June 27, 2018, www.theroot.com/can-we-live-while-black-1827153850.

July 1, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Learning Forgiveness from A God’s-Eye Perspective

Matthew 18:21-35

 “We Are a Forgiving People Because We Are a Forgiven People”

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. When we perceive God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ personally, we will understand the essentiality of forgiving others. In this parable, Jesus admonishes Peter, who thinks he has developed a reasonable formula on forgiveness. “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?”  Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22 MSG).

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, 2018, Antwon Rose of Pittsburgh died; the Allegheny County medical examiner declared his death a homicide. Antwon was fleeing a police officer.[1] This incomprehensible death has exacerbated tensions in the black community as yet another teenager is buried. 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 do. 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? Yes! 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. Their presence was a living testimony to the power of God’s infinite forgiveness. 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.

Let’s reflect on the forgiveness we receive through Jesus Christ and become vessels of forgiveness in our families and communities.

—Kelly Bates Oglesby

kellyoglesby@gmail.com

[1]. Darran Simon & Hollie Silverman, “The Death of the Unarmed Teen Killed by an East Pittsburg Police Officer Is Ruled a Homicide,” CNN, June 22, 2018.

 

June 24, 2018

Adult Bible Study Online

A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Reaping God’s Justice

Luke 16:19-31

“Recognizing Justice”

Suppose a brother or sister in Christ comes to you in need of clothes or something to eat. And you say to them, “God be with you! I hope you stay warm and get plenty to eat,” but you don’t give them the things they need. If you don’t help them, your words are worthless. It is the same with faith. If it is just faith and nothing more—if it doesn’t do anything—it is dead. James 2:15-17 ERV

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 2016, the median wealth for black and Hispanic families was $17,600 and $20,700, respectively, compared with white families’ median wealth of $171,000.”[1]

In this narrative of Lazarus and the rich man, Jesus gets right into personal economics and giving. Just beyond the comfort of the rich man’s economic safety existed Lazarus, close in proximity but widely separated due to personal wealth. The sores on this poor man’s body represent the injuries and trauma one experiences when there is just not enough. The man’s sores were obvious, the needs were plain, and yet the rich man could or would not see the needs and the dignity of the poor.

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. I have applied and applied to several openings within Mennonite Church USA and not yet been hired. 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.

  • What is your response and reaction to your neighbors in need?
  • How does the peace church resolve to engage in justice initiatives, resistance, and solutions for the people just on the other side of their gates

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.

  • Can you see my needs?
  • Can you see those in need with compassion

—Kelly Bates Oglesby

kellyoglesby@gmail.com

[1]. Angela Hanks, Danyelle Solomon, & Christian E. Weller, “Systematic Inequality: How America’s Structural Racism Helped Create the Black-White Wealth Gap.” Center for American Progress, February 21, 2018.

June 17, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Jesus Teaches about Justice

Matthew 15:1-9

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.

I came to First Mennonite Church (FMC) of Indianapolis, Indiana, in 2012. 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. Ryan gave footing to my exploration of First Mennonite’s history, practice, and possibilities.

Erv Boschmann, a congregational leader, pulled me aside and told me I was a holy conduit “bringing people together in unexpected yet holy ways.” He encouraged me to fly into sharing myself and opening myself. As a congregation, we bumped and collided as we journeyed together but they embraced me even when they didn’t understand me. I learned to enjoy God in diverse ways that I doubt I would have experienced if not for the people of FMC: how to discern and plan worship services, collaborate in leadership, and listen to four-part harmony.

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. We celebrated Pentecost by bringing gifts for the Damien Center, Indiana’s oldest and largest HIV/AIDS service organization and leader in HIV prevention and care. Our gifts were what the Damien Center needed most at the time: toilet paper and powdered milk. 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 7:9-13).

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.

—Kelly Bates Oglesby, kellyoglesby@gmail.com

 

June 10, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Parables of God’s Just Kingdom

Matthew 13:24-33

“Finding Peace, Power, and Purpose in Parables”

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? How do I manage to fulfill purpose when weeds/obstacles are popping up and rooting down around me?

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.

In the kingdom of God, each of us exists in a plot of God’s vineyard/garden, but none of us has authority to expel or dismiss anyone. 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: rampant racism, nationalism on steroids, and increases in the cost of basic living. 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. —Akiroq Brost

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.

  • Are you a weed or wheat?
  • Are you in the world, leavening the people and processes around you?
  • Does your presence cause a rising that multiplies the reign of God?
  • How do you manage to fulfill purpose when weeds/obstacles are popping up and rooting down around you?

You can ask the same questions about your congregation.

—Kelly Bates Oglesby  kellyoglesby@gmail.com

 

June 3, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Justice and Sabbath Laws

Matthew 12:1-14

“Sabbath: A Radical Demonstration of Justice”

There is far more at stake here than religion. If you had any idea what this Scripture meant—“I prefer a flexible heart to an inflexible ritual”—you wouldn’t be nitpicking like this. The Son of Man is no lackey to the Sabbath; he’s in charge (Jesus, Matthew 12:6-8 MSG).

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 2018. 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. Being black is to live a traumatic experience that impacts individuals’ mental and physical health. 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.

Here’s the point. 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?

Would we find “policing practices” within the peace church that obstruct inclusive leadership? 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? Can we commit to finding ways to feed the spirit of diversity and inclusion in Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada? 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? Can we do it today so we don’t find ourselves turned into a meme or caricature?

—Kelly Bates Oglesby

kellyoglesby@gmail.com

Kelly Bates Oglesby of Indianapolis, Indiana, is our ABS Online writer for Justice in the New Testament, our Summer 2018 study. She is joyfully married to Herman Oglesby. Kelly enjoys writing and teaching. She is discerning opportunities for pastoral ministry.

 

May 27, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Rejoicing in Restoration

Psalm 34:1-10; Hebrews 2:17-18

When my friend’s contract job ended two months ago, she didn’t have enough hours for employment insurance. Since then, she’s had six job interviews. 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: “The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all” (v. 19).

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.

  • What strategies do the psalms commonly advise for dealing with our difficulties?
  • Why does the writer of Hebrews believe that we should be confident in taking our concerns to Jesus?

—Kevin McCabe

kmccabe57@hotmail.com

Editor’s note: We are grateful to Kevin McCabe for sharing his insights and encouragement to acknowledge and honor God in our worship and our lives.

Kelly Bates Oglesby of Indianapolis, Indiana, joins us this summer as our ABS Online writer for our study of Justice in the New Testament.

May 20, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Remembering with Joy

Leviticus 25:1-12

Last week, a city council approved a $1.5 trillion development project that will occupy one third of a biologically sensitive area of woodlands and wetlands. 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. The books of Moses, such as Leviticus, often appear as templates that didn’t always work out in reality. 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.

  • How did the sabbatical year embody certain ideas of social justice and respect for God’s creation?
  • Do you know of real instances where God’s biblical standards of justice (agricultural, social, humanitarian, or economic) were not served in regard to the use of land?
  • Jesus announced a “jubilee” in his mission statement (Luke 4:18-19) at the beginning of his ministry. How does the concept of jubilee fit with the mission of the church?

—Kevin McCabe, kmccabe57@hotmail.com

May 13, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s sessio

  1. Bringing Firstfruits

Leviticus 23:9-14, 22

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. So I didn’t. 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.

In today’s society, we have a tendency to see all offerings to God as freewill offerings. But in Leviticus, not giving to the Lord is more than a sin of omission. Old Testament prophets continually railed against those who dodged the “firstfruits principle.” For example, Malachi reported the Lord’s words: “You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse” (Malachi 3:9-10a).

In Leviticus 23:9-14, the Israelites were charged to symbolically offer a sheaf of the first grain they harvested, along with a lamb for sacrifice, flour, and wine. This had to happen before they used anything made from the new grain. Both God’s ownership of the land and God’s complete sovereignty over Israel are emphasized.

Today, we are likely to consider situational ethics, and hedge these matters with a number of “ifs.” We may presume that volunteering is itself an adequate offering. However, by making our donation, along with our other efforts, we come closer to the biblical understanding of firstfruits.

Just as we are called to “love God” (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37) and to “love our neighbor” (Leviticus 19:18: Matthew 22:39) so Leviticus instructs us to offer the blessings of the harvest both to God and to our neighbors. 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 23:22).

  • How to you understand the biblical commandments regarding firstfruits?
  • What are some contemporary versions of the gleaning principle?

—Kevin McCabe, kmccabe57@hotmail.com

 

May 6, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Giving from a Generous Heart

Exodus 35:20-29; 2 Corinthians 9:6-8

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.

The people in the book of Exodus lived in a closely knit community where God was the ruler and Moses was God’s representative. As a result, the people paid their taxes/tithes to God. So in Exodus 35:20-29, we see the Israelites coming together to build a tabernacle. 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. Paul’s appeal in 2 Corinthians may be related to a famine in Palestine, the needs of the Jerusalem congregation, and the desire to show gratitude to the mother church. 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.

In northern Europe, expressions of religious art inspired by historical, biblical events generally became a matter of private/special interest, or an occasional “frill” when times were good. 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.

Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians are somewhat like today’s pleas for foreign aid or disaster relief. That is, they are a matter of practical humanitarian concern. This may reflect a slight shift from the Old Testament focus on “fearing God” to the New Testament emphasis on “loving your neighbor.” But perhaps the two are not so opposed that beautiful buildings and humanitarian aid are always mutually exclusive.

  • Why might generosity and “cheerful giving” be “iffy” subjects in many churches?
  • Explain how there might be tensions between art/beauty in worship buildings and in appeals for humanitarian aid.

—Kevin McCabe, kmccabe57@hotmail.com

 

April 29, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Blessing, Glory, Honor Forever

Revelation 5:6-14

In Revelation 4:1-6, 8-11, we hear the heavenly equivalent of the “Hallelujah Chorus” addressing “the Lord God the Almighty” (cf. Revelation 19:1-6). Obviously, praise could go no further, or so it seems.

In Revelation 5, the focus of the praise shifts from the enthroned God Almighty to the Lamb (also described as the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” and the “Root of David”). Our Scripture passage concludes with “every creature in heaven and on earth” praising both “him who sits on the throne and … the Lamb” (v. 13).

This exaltation of the Lamb (cf. John 1:29, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”) has been a stumbling block throughout the ages. 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. Philosophically speaking, it appears to violate Ockham’s razor, the axiom that “entities should not to be multiplied beyond necessity”[1] (in other words, the best explanation is the simplest one). Revelation 5 asserts nonetheless that no one else but the Lamb was worthy to open the scroll with seven seals. Worthiness is ascribed to the Lamb “because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation”

(v. 9).

So, in summary, God Almighty’s worthiness is evident as Creator, whereas the Lamb is worthy as Savior. 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.g., Jehovah’s Witnesses), it is possible that their first remarks may be to question the divinity of Jesus. 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.

  • Do you find it natural that the heavenly hosts should praise God Almighty and the Lamb equally?
  • Have you been challenged, or challenged others, on the divinity of Jesus? What scriptural passages come to mind regarding this topic?

—Kevin McCabe, kmccabe57@hotmail.com

[1]. New World Encyclopedia contributors, “Ockham’s razor,” New World Encyclopedia, www.newworldencyclopedia.org/p/index.php?title=Ockham%27s_razor&oldid=986578.


April 22, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. The Lord God the Almighty

Revelation 4:1-6, 8-11

Although Yahweh had appeared in glory before this passage (e.g., to Isaiah and Ezekiel), Revelation is an unusually extended vision of the divine realm. 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. That today’s passage should provide a pattern for our human worship is not indicated. 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. Yahweh’s worthiness relates to God’s creation of all things and God’s power to accomplish this work. 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. In human terms, the phrase rock star is a superlative, which can even be used to praise God, as in “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Caught up in the hype, we may give our worship to those who are not worthy.

The four living creatures and the 24 elders praise God because God is holy, eternal, and our Creator. But as G. K. 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.

Our passage immediately follows Jesus’ messages to the seven churches, in which their good and bad works are highlighted. Thus, the connection is made between the scene in the heavenly courts and the churches on earth. This reinforces God’s intention that God’s “will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). 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.

—Kevin McCabe, kmccabe57@hotmail.com

 

April 15, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

Follow Me
John 21:15-25

The “ingredients” of this session can be found in Luke 5:1-11, when Jesus first calls Simon Peter. When Jesus called his disciples then, the salient words were “Follow me!” In John’s gospel, although there is a recommissioning, Jesus asks, “Do you love me?”

Quite unusually, Jesus caps this second call with a personal prophecy—that when Peter is old, he will be led away to death. This gives special point to the question, “Do you love me?”

Peter wonders aloud whether John will experience a similar fate; that is, whether John’s love for Jesus will be tested the same way. Jesus replies that the outcome is a matter between the disciple and his Master.

History and legend suggest that of the twelve disciples, only John did not die a martyr’s death. Because of this and because the disciples were chosen to be witnesses to Jesus and his resurrection (Acts 1:21-22), the word witness (Greek “marturia”) acquired its present meaning. 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 immediately politicized the community into factions—pro, con, and “keep the lid on.” I was soon asked by older and more experienced people to lead the pro-life group, and so received considerable publicity personally.

This new role led to some interesting confrontations, including one with a fellow graduate student and another with one of my professors. 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.

In much of today’s world, literal martyrdom remains a fact. In North America, it usually takes such forms as being socially ostracized, publicly criticized, losing one’s job, or simply being laughed at. In all such situations, we may hear Jesus’ question, “Do you love me?” and the further inquiry, “Really? How much?”

  • What sort of feelings might Peter have experienced after being told that he would die for his love?
  • In what ways might your Christian witness be rejected today?

—Kevin McCabe, kmccabe57@hotmail.com

 

April 8, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online

A current connection to each week’s session

The Risen Lord Appears

John 21:1-14

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. Things didn’t work out the way we hoped and prayed for. Good things happened, but the risks outweighed the sacrifices. Now what?

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.

Today’s story gets its special quality from the light of the resurrection. We have familiar subject matter (disciples fishing, Jesus offering bread and fish, a miraculous catch), but somehow, a different outcome. Jesus’ death cast a cloud over the whole movement. The disciples know that Jesus is alive, but now what? They return to Galilee, and following Peter’s lead, seven of them go fishing. Amid the familiar, they experience the unfamiliar: a miraculous draught of fishes, signaling the presence of the risen Lord.

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. 10). His acceptance is an invitation for the disciples to reengage in God’s activity. The disciples will be witnesses to the risen Lord in a largely hostile environment. This is emphasized by the Lord’s three appearances to them (v. 14).

The common meal (v. 13), which was a kind of communion, may represent the need for a new coming together between Jesus and the disciples. 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.

  • In what ways may “the comfortable” become a limitation or barrier to our participation in Jesus’ mission?
  • What are some advantages and disadvantages of having a very recognizable chain of leadership in the church?
  • Why might we view the common meal as an important part of church fellowship today?

—Kevin McCabe, kmccabe57@hotmail.com

April 1, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. He Has Risen

Luke 24:1-12, 30-35

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. According to Luke, “These women were helping to support [Jesus and the 12 disciples] out of their own means” (8:3b).

From the absence of any scandal attached to this, we can conclude that these women were “of discreet age”—that is, probably past childbearing. One of them, Salome, was the mother of James and John (Matthew 20:20) and probably the sister of Jesus’ mother, Mary (John 19:25). Mary Magdalene would likely have belonged to this older generation. While nearly all these women came from Galilee (Luke 23:55), Luke includes “Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household” (8:3a), who likely lived in Jerusalem. Present at the crucifixion were Mary Magdalene, Salome, Mary the mother of James the younger and Joseph, and others (Mark 15:40).

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 1:21-22). Except for not being men, the women at the tomb had those qualifications. 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. Some of these peacemakers are just getting started; others have been working tirelessly for decades to bring God’s new life and peace to all.

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. The involvement of a group of women in Christ’s resurrection sends a strong, positive message of affirmation.

  • Who are the women you know who stand with Jesus and tell others of his good news, even when they are not believed?
  • What qualities of these women disciples (in the Bible and today) do you admire and desire to emulate?

–Kevin McCabe   kmccabe57@hotmail.com

March 25, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
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  1. Keep My Statutes and Ordinances

2 Chronicles 7:11-22

Today’s passage comes very close to the heart of the matter—what the Lord clearly requires of King Solomon and Israel.

In pop culture, we commonly refer to karma—“the force created by a person’s actions that . . . causes good or bad things to happen.”[1] In the Hebrew scriptures, however, it is a person who rewards and/or punishes: “Because they have forsaken the Lord . . . that is why he brought all this disaster on them” (v. 22).

This manner of thinking may not immediately touch a responsive chord today. It seems less familiar than police court justice: “You do the crime, you do the time!”

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. Even “the love of money” (1 Timothy 6:10) could be called idolatry.

In Psalm 51, King David confesses to God: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight (v. 4a). “Wait a minute,” we might say. “What about Uriah and his companions, Bathsheba and her family, and David’s own family?” But David may have grasped a more essential principle, namely, that all sin is a turning away from God toward something else—something that appeals to us more strongly at that moment.

Applying the concept of idolatry to contemporary life may seem problematic at first. After all, we don’t actually set up idols in our living rooms. Or do we? 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. Hmmm . . . maybe the chronicler is not so outmoded after all.

  • How would you define idolatry?
  • What problems does idolatry create in contemporary society?
  • Why is it so difficult to turn toward God as directed in verse 14?

—Kevin McCabe, kmccabe57@hotmail.com   www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/karma

 

March 18, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

3. The People Gave Thanks to God

2 Chronicles 7:1-10

The chronicler’s account of the dedication of the temple presents an idealized picture of public worship. 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?

One attempt to bring diverse people together is the “messy church” movement,[1] which is concerned for those currently outside the 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.

Broadly observed, in Chronicles the emphasis is on Israel’s collective theocracy (a government in which God is acknowledged as the supreme civil ruler with laws interpreted by priests). In the Old Testament, normally Israel sins and needs to repent, whereas in the New Testament  individuals sins. 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. But Solomon’s example can also make us feel inadequate. His offering of twenty-two thousand cattle (v. 5) is way out of our price range.

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 2:14). Let us (1) give glory to God, (2) strive for peace on earth, and (3) show good will to all.

—Kevin McCabe, kmccabe57@hotmail.com

[1]. One description of Messy Church is Lori Basheda’s “Messy Church Brings Celebration, Food, Crafts and Service for Adults and Children,” Los Angeles Times, October 12, 2017, http://www.latimes.com/socal/daily-pilot/news/tn-wknd-et-messy-church-20171012-story.html.

 

March 11, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. There Is No God like You

2 Chronicles 6:12-21

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. Like the psalmist, the chronicler might emote, “Zeal for your house consumes me” (Psalm 69:9).

Older people today remember when conventional wisdom dictated large church building projects. (If you build it, they will come.) Today’s wisdom is to sell off the old churches and use the funds accrued for social and community programs, storefront outreach, and niche evangelism. 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)? We may instead talk about “sacred spaces,” often wilderness areas far away from obvious human impositions.

Mark records Jesus’ declaration: “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers’” (Mark: 11:17). In his prayer, Solomon emphasizes that the temple is not the particular home of God, but a place where God’s presence may be found. 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. But, especially given our interconnected world, perhaps viewing our home church as “a house of prayer for all nations” is not too extravagant an idea.

  • What makes a place sacred?
  • Is your congregation’s meeting place a house of prayer? What are you praying for?

—Kevin McCabe Kmccabe57@gmail.com

March 4, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
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  1. The Lord Will Provide

Genesis 22:1-3, 6-14

Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac has a special significance for all the Abrahamic religions. In the New Testament, it is referred to as an example of faith being reckoned as righteousness (Romans 4:1-3). Human sacrifice was acceptable among Israel’s neighbors, and at times was practiced by the Hebrews. To sacrifice one’s firstborn son was an especially powerful religious statement. Moreover, though God spared King David’s life, the firstborn son of David and Bathsheba was taken in expiation for David’s sins (2 Samuel 11–12).

The prophet Micah asked: “Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (Micah 6:7). Well, maybe. Since the Enlightenment, the goal of western culture has been to enhance the material well-being of the individual within the framework of the dominant economic/political system. The logic of the system suggests that birth control and abortion should be preferred to live births. Even inside the church context, it is rarely affirmed that “the Lord will provide.”

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.

How many ways might parents sacrifice their children while intending “what is best”? When we encourage our children to go to “good” schools, meet the “right” people, adopt the “correct” values, and so forth, are we playing the system or affirming that “the Lord will provide”?

Kierkegaard referred to Abraham’s test as “a leap of faith”—a dive into unknown waters. However, Watchman Nee’s study, Changed into His Likeness, follows Abraham through many tests of faith, culminating with the sacrifice on Mount Moriah. 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  Kmccabe57@hotmail.c

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.

An unabridged bibliography for this quarter’s study is available as an ABS Reproducible at www.MennoMedia.org/abs.

 

February 25, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online

A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Preserving Faith for Future Generations
    1 Timothy 6:11-21

First Timothy concludes with this exhortation: “Guard what has been entrusted to your care.” This is very similar to another exhortation in the Pastoral Epistles, 2 Timothy 1:13-14: “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” These echo Paul’s plea to “hold fast to the teachings” or “traditions” he had passed on (2 Thessalonians 2:15; cf. Romans 6:17; 1 Corinthians 11:2), and they are right in line with perhaps the best known of these New Testament appeals, Jude 3: “Contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (NRSV).

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. It might include everything from specific convictions about the nature of the Bible and how to read it to particular ideas about the timing of creation, what counts as sin, the meaning of Jesus’ death, the mode of baptism, worship style, and much, much more. It’s “the way we’ve always done things,” it’s the “faith of our fathers,” it’s that “old time religion”—even when, in reality, the generations before us went through significant adaptations to their way of faith and life.

Kathleen Kern is almost certainly correct in her suggestion, however, that the entrusted gift in view here is the gospel (Adult Bible Study, p. 78). The deposit we are to guard, the faith for which we are to contend, the traditions to which we are to hold fast—these are all describing some aspect of the good news story of Jesus, Israel’s Messiah and the world’s true Lord, who brings about God’s saving kingdom on earth through his life, death, and resurrection.

How can we preserve this gospel for future generations? Our passage points to an answer. “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness,” it says, and so “fight the good fight of the faith” (6:11-12). In other words, we preserve the gospel for future generations by living out the gospel in our own—in authentic faith and love, in genuine godliness and gracious gentleness, with patient perseverance, always seeking first God’s kingdom and justice.

  • What nonessential beliefs or practices have we added to the simple gospel of Jesus?
  • Which of these might we be wrongly expecting that the next generation keep?
  • Are we striving to live out the good news of Jesus with authenticity and integrity?
  • Are we willing to allow the next generation to live out the gospel in their way, for their time?

—Michael Pahl  michael.mmc@outlook.com

Michael Pahl is a biblical scholar with a heart for the church, a pastor with a passion for biblical theology. He is lead pastor at Morden Mennonite Church in Morden, Manitoba. He blogs at michaelpahl.com and mordenmennonitechurch.com.

Editor’s note: We are grateful to Michael Pahl for sharing his insights and timely application of the Scriptures for our Faith in Action study.

Kevin McCabe is our ABS Online writer for Acknowledging God, a study on worship as discipleship. Kevin is a writer, teacher, and poet, and a member of Grace Mennonite Church in St. Catharines, Ontario.

 

February 18, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Faithful Disciples

Acts 9:36-43

There was a disciple who was always doing good and helping the poor.

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.

This reflects Luke’s special emphasis on the universal effect of the gospel and the democratizing work of the Spirit. 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 narrates the birth story of Jesus from Mary’s perspective, not Joseph’s (Luke 1–2). He tells not just of Simeon but also the prophetess Anna at Jesus’ purification in the temple (2:36-38). Luke, alone of all the Gospel authors, mentions by name the women who supported Jesus’ ministry (8:1-3). He alone tells of Mary of Bethany’s instruction at the feet of Jesus—the word disciple is not used of Mary, but Luke depicts her in the classic posture of a devoted disciple (10:38-42). 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 (21:8-9), and he makes sure to highlight Priscilla’s role in instructing Apollos alongside her husband, Aquila (18:24-26).

All this is right in line with Luke’s conviction that the Spirit of God has indeed been “poured out on all flesh,” both “sons and daughters,” both “men and women” (Acts 2:17-18).

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. And we can start by recognizing, listening to, and learning from Jesus’ women disciples—both past and present.

—Michael Pahl
michael.mmc@outlook.com

Michael Pahl is a biblical scholar with a heart for the church, a pastor with a passion for biblical theology. He is lead pastor at Morden Mennonite Church in Morden, Manitoba. He blogs at michaelpahl.com and mordenmennonitechurch.com.

Kevin McCabe is our ABS Online writer for Acknowledging God, a study on worship as discipleship. Kevin is a writer, teacher, and poet, and a member of Grace Mennonite Church in St. Catharines, Ontario.

February 11, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Danger! Danger! Tongue Ahead

James 3:1-12

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. This is especially true for anyone in a position of influence—including but not limited to the “teachers” James mentions.

For me, the most remarkable statement in this passage comes toward the end of it: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness” (v. 9). This statement is significant for at least three reasons.

First, it affirms the truth that all humans are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27). 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 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 3:10). All humans, including those we consider “the least” or “our enemies,” have been made in God’s image.

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 4:20: “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars” (NRSV). This truth goes back to Jesus, who linked love of God with love of neighbors, love of strangers, and even love of enemies (Matthew 22:36-40; 25:34-40; 5:43-48).

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: gossiping about others, spreading unfounded rumors; slandering others, sowing known lies; harassing others, throwing cruel, demeaning words their way; bullying others, verbally intimidating them; anathematizing others, cursing them beyond the pale. How many times do we passive aggressively smile to people’s face but then cut them down behind their back?

James’s teaching here has particular relevance in our digital age, in the realm of social media. 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. Yet behind that icon on the screen is an actual eikōn of God, a human person created in God’s very “image.” If we wouldn’t speak of God in that tone, with those words of “cursing,” how can we speak of another person in that way?

—Michael Pahl,  michael.mmc@outlook.com

Michael Pahl is a biblical scholar with a heart for the church, a pastor with a passion for biblical theology. He is lead pastor at Morden Mennonite Church in Morden, Manitoba. He blogs at michaelpahl.com and mordenmennonitechurch.com.

 

February 4, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s sessio

  1. Faith and Works

James 2:14-26

As the Adult Bible Study student guide notes, it’s possible that James was responding to a misunderstanding of Paul’s teaching about being justified by faith and not by works of the Law. In fact, given the similarities in wording between specific statements in Paul’s letters (Romans 3:28; Galatians 2:16) and here (James 2:24), this is likely the case. Some had understood Paul to mean that our actions don’t matter with regard to salvation—we just need to believe certain things to be true. Sadly, many Christians today also understand Paul’s teaching this way—and they either accept this teaching as gospel or reject Paul as having distorted Jesus’ teaching.

It’s a common misunderstanding of Paul’s teaching that faith is simply belief, mentally assenting to certain truths—that Jesus died for our sins and rose again, for example. However, the word for faith (Greek, pistis) can have a wide range of meanings. It can include “belief,” but it can also mean “trust,” “faithfulness,” or “allegiance.” Paul in fact draws on this whole semantic range of the word pistis: yes, believing certain things to be true is important, but so is trusting in God in a personal way, as well as showing faithfulness and demonstrating allegiance to God. This is underscored by the many ways Paul speaks about genuine faith as that which works itself out in loving actions (e.g., Galatians 5:6).

James gives two examples of these loving actions that result from genuine faith: caring for the poor (2:1-9, 14-17), and protecting the foreigner (2:25-26). 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.g., Leviticus 19:10, 34; Deuteronomy 15:7-11; Isaiah 1:17; Jeremiah 22:3). 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.g., Matthew 25:34-40; Romans 12:13; Galatians 2:10; 1 John 3:17).

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: the answer is a resounding no.

—Michael Pahl  michael.mmc@outlook.com

Michael Pahl is a biblical scholar with a heart for the church, a pastor with a passion for biblical theology. He is lead pastor at Morden Mennonite Church in Morden, Manitoba. He blogs at michaelpahl.com and mordenmennonitechurch.com.

Michael PahJanuary 28, 2018

January 28, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. A Vision of the Last Days

Daniel 10:10-19

 “The last days.”

In popular Christian parlance, the phrase suggests the final strands of earthly, human history. The thread of history stretches back before us to the dawn of time; and ahead of us, at some future point, this thread ends with “the last days.” For many Christians this phrase also conjures up images of portents in the heavens and cataclysms on earth. “The last days” is the end of it all, before God wipes the slate clean and creates a new heaven and earth.

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.

This is the case in Daniel 10–12. Daniel’s vision describes “the last days,” even “days yet to come”—that’s more literally the wording of Daniel 10:14. This sort of language continues throughout the vision with the literal translation “appointed time” or “time of completion” (11:35; 12:4, 9). Yet scholars are agreed that the visions describe historical persons and events in the second century BCE, now more than two thousand years ago.

This is also the case throughout the New Testament. Peter’s Pentecost sermon applied Joel’s vision of “the last days,” with all its heavenly portents and earthly cataclysms, to Peter’s present day (Acts 2:16-21). Paul declared that Jesus’ birth occurred at “the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4 NRSV), and he described himself and his readers as those “on whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). The author of Hebrews declared that “in these last days” God has spoken to us through his Son, Jesus (Hebrews 1:2). And John the Seer stated that his apocalyptic visions described realities that were present in his own time, or were very soon to happen (Revelation 1:1, 19).

It’s enough to make you think that perhaps we’ve gotten the whole “last days” thing quite wrong. But then, what is the point of all this “end times” language in Scripture?

Its main purpose is reassurance. This language is intended to reassure God’s people that, regardless of how bad things might seem in the present, God is in fact working within human history to bring about God’s good purposes. And its main focus is on Jesus. Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection have inaugurated the time of fulfillment. We are in “the last days” right now: God’s good purposes have already been accomplished through Jesus, and now God is working out those good purposes throughout the earth.

In a world filled with the bad news of nuclear threat, civil wars, economic injustice, racism, divisive politics, sexual abuse, and more, this reassurance is the good news we all need.

—Michael Pahl, michael.mmc@outlook.com

Michael Pahl is a biblical scholar with a heart for the church, a pastor with a passion for biblical theology. He is lead pastor at Morden Mennonite Church in Morden, Manitoba. He blogs at michaelpahl.com and mordenmennonitechurch.com.

 

January 21, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. A Prayer of Confession, a Plea for Forgiveness

Daniel 9:4-8, 15-19

The Adult Bible Study student guide helpfully prompts us toward reflection on personal confession of individual sin. But there is another angle on this prayer of Daniel that has often struck me: this prayer is a personal confession of collective sin.

Daniel, according to all the stories in the book that bears his name, was a righteous man. It was not his fault his people were in exile. Yet he prays as if the guilt of his forebears is his own. He includes himself among previous, sinful generations in order to make a clean break with the sins of the past and allow God to move him and his people toward a better future.

Is it appropriate for children to bear the guilt of their parents, or even their grandparents? Most of us would cringe at the idea. The Bible itself gives mixed messages on this (Exodus 34:7; Ezekiel 18:20). Yet some helpful lessons can be derived from personal confessions of collective sin in the Bible.

One lesson is that sin is not merely an individual, private matter. Collective, even systemic, sin runs just as deep among us. If we think of “sin” as all the ways we harm one another and the rest of creation through our attitudes, words, and actions, then it’s not hard to see how sin has both individual and collective dimensions. Churches can develop settled attitudes that run counter to God’s life-bringing ways. Societies can nurture values that encourage abuse of power or the use of violence. Nations can enshrine injustice in the very laws that are supposed to ensure justice.

A second lesson is that sometimes what’s needed to break from the collective sins of the past is collective soul-searching and confession. This has nothing to do with whether we ourselves are personally guilty for the wrongdoing. Rather, it has everything to with naming the wrongs of our forebears, recognizing our inclination to continue in those wrongs if nothing is done, and committing ourselves to doing better, rectifying those wrongs if we are able, and avoiding those wrongs as much as we can. This is why initiatives such as the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada are so important.

There’s a third lesson. Daniel’s prayer confesses, “We have not listened to your servants the prophets” (v. 6). In every generation God sends prophets to speak truth, to call God’s people to faithfulness, to warn of the consequences of unfaithfulness, to promise the blessings of faithfulness—and yet, all too often, we crucify these prophets instead of heeding them (see Matthew 23:29-39).

  • Who are the prophets of our generation, calling us to renewed faithfulness to the way of Jesus?
  • What are they pointing us to, and how should we listen, repent, and obey?

—Michael Pahl, michael.mmc@outlook.com

Michael Pahl is a biblical scholar with a heart for the church, a pastor with a passion for biblical theology. He is lead pastor at Morden Mennonite Church in Morden, Manitoba. He blogs at michaelpahl.com and mordenmennonitechurch.com.

January 14, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Trial by Fire

Daniel 3:19-23, 26-28

 When I was a child this was one of my favorite Bible stories. There’s an evil king with a fiery furnace, a supreme act of heroic courage, and the good guys winning in the end. The heroes even have uber-cool names: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.” What 10-year-old wouldn’t like this story?

Even as adults, the story appeals to our natural desire for a clear “evil” and an obvious “good.” You don’t have to get far into the Ten Commandments to know that bowing down to a 90-foot idol is probably a bad idea.

If only the idols of our world were so easy to identify. If only avoiding idolatry in our day and age were as straightforward (if still as demanding) as this story suggests.

One way into this story for us is to reflect on two ideas: civil religion and civil disobedience. Civil religion, as the study material notes, occurs when the state or its leaders take on the role of a god—demanding allegiance expressed in acts of devotion, grounded in a founding narrative, and reinforced with meaningful symbols and rituals. It isn’t difficult to spot these elements of civil religion in American or Canadian society.

Civil disobedience, particularly of the peaceful protest sort noted in the leader’s guide, is an appropriate Christian response to the idolatry of civil religion, especially when there is a clash of allegiances between God’s kingdom and the earthly kingdom in which we live. As Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol, so we can thoughtfully and nonviolently, yet resolutely, refuse to participate in the civil religion of our day.

However, to be effective this refusal needs to be more than simply not saying some words about a flag. It requires us to examine the deeper, supporting structures of our nation’s particular brand of civil religion—the power imbalances in society, the ethnocentric nationalism, the coercive manipulation of truth, the belief in redemptive violence—and reflect on how we can challenge or even change these realities.

  • How specifically do you see civil religion in American or Canadian society?
  • How have we as Christians unthinkingly bought into this civil religion?
  • How does this lessen our allegiance to Jesus as Lord or weaken our witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ?
  • What specific steps can we take to challenge or even change the deeper structures that support American or Canadian civil religion?

 

—Michael Pahl

michael.mmc@outlook.com

Michael Pahl is a biblical scholar with a heart for the church, a pastor with a passion for biblical theology. He is lead pastor at Morden Mennonite Church in Morden, Manitoba. He blogs at michaelpahl.com and mordenmennonitechurch.com.

January 7, 2018
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Holding on to Identity as a Minority Faith

Daniel 1:8-21

Christianity is the largest religion in the world, with an estimated 2.3 billion adherents. As of 2015, three-quarters of Americans and two-thirds of Canadians identify as Christians. We are hardly a minority faith.

Still, it is true that Christianity’s public influence has declined. Christianity is no longer the touchstone of North American culture that it once was. Christianity no longer defines social values or public policy in quite the way it once did. The institutions of Christianity are not as prominent or as powerful as they once were, and the institutions of our western society are no longer exclusively or even predominantly Christian—if they ever were. Christendom is no more.

This means that although Christianity is not a minority faith in North America it can often feel like it is. For some, this presents a challenge, even a catastrophe. I think it presents an opportunity.

This changed situation is an opportunity for us to reflect on and sharpen our identity as Christians: What does it really mean to be “Christian”? What marks us off as “Christian”? What distinctive beliefs or rituals or symbols or sacred stories are at the heart of this thing called “Christianity”?

The story of Daniel and his three companions in Daniel 1 is about early Jewish identity. Ostensibly about Israelites exiled in ancient Babylonia, yet really about Maccabean Jews under pressure to Hellenize, the story remains for Jews a powerful symbol of maintaining their religious and cultural identity in the face of enormous pressure to assimilate. For us as Christians, it can stand as a biblical call to reflect on our identity as Christians, asking those same questions forced upon us by our own post-Christendom context.

So, what does mark us off as “Christian”? Contra Daniel 1, the New Testament insists it’s not our diet—“all foods are clean,” Mark concludes based on Jesus’ teaching (Mark 7:14-19), and Paul declares that “the kingdom of God is not food and drink” (Romans 14:14-17).  Likewise, it’s not the observance of holy days like the Sabbath (Romans 14:5-6; Colossians 2:16-17) or covenant rituals like circumcision (Galatians 5:6; 6:15).

For Christians, beliefs, rituals, symbols, and sacred stories have tremendous value in nurturing the things that matter most, but they are not themselves those essentials of Christianity. Rather, Jesus and the apostles consistently point us to a cluster of lived-out virtues: a trusting, obedient faith; a persevering, persistent hope; and, above all, a self-giving, other-delighting love—all in the way of Jesus, all nurtured by the Spirit.

  • Which of these three virtues does the Holy Spirit draw you to nurture in a deeper way in this new year?

—Michael Pahl   michael.mmc@outlook.com

Michael Pahl is a biblical scholar with a heart for the church, a pastor with a passion for biblical theology. He is lead pastor at Morden Mennonite Church in Morden, Manitoba. He blogs at michaelpahl.com and mordenmennonitechurch.com.

 

December 31, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Walking Together in Unity

Ephesians 4:1-16

We live in a divided world, and it seems increasingly to be so. Where once there might have been allowance for nuanced positions that do not fit neatly into an either/or—or even a third way—there now seems to be a “you’re either with us or against us” kind of mindset in western society.

Unity in this us-versus-them world means absolute solidarity, total agreement, or even complete uniformity of belief and practice, whether we are talking about religion or politics or social issues. This “unity” is achieved through acts of power: decisive leadership giving firm direction, backroom deals and deceitful manipulation if necessary, enforced agreement with established dogma, or harsh public shaming if someone steps out of line.

 You’re either with us in all things (blessed “unity”) or you’re against us (accursed “other,” beyond the pale).

Ephesians 4:1-16 gives us a very different picture of unity. It is a unity grounded in the simple one-ness of God yet with a diversity reflected in the complex three-ness of God’s redemptive work: one-and-only-one Spirit who works among us all, one-and-only-one Lord to whom we owe our allegiance, one-and-only-one God who is “over all and through all and in all” (v. 6). Therefore we must walk in this one-ness. Yet God the Father’s work is through the Lord Jesus and by the Holy Spirit, who gives manifold gifts to all. Therefore we must walk in this many-ness.

This one-yet-many unity is a gift given to us. It already is. We just need to walk in it, to live it out, to “keep” or maintain it. And we maintain this unity of the Spirit “through the bond of peace” (v. 3), not through power politics or strong-arm tactics, but through Christlike humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance in love.

Leaders among us are not to lord it over those whom they lead; they are not “the deciders” or “the doers,” or even visionaries with great personal charisma. They are God’s gifts to us, whose sole task is to equip us to do works of service so that we might fully realize our calling to be Christ’s body in the world, continuing Jesus’ mission in the world: the unity of all things (1:9-10), including the reconciliation of all “others” (2:13-18).

  • What might happen in our world if we fully embraced this radical vision of unity in our churches, instead of the superficial “unity” our world promotes?

—Michael Pahl  michael.mmc@outlook.com

December 24, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Seeking the True King: The True Story

Matthew 2:1-12

This is a tale of two kings, with two very different kingdoms.

The first is King Herod, known in history as Herod the Great. A ruthless tyrant, he murdered a wife and some children out of jealousy and suspicion. He is known as “the Great” because of his grand building programs—built intentionally to increase his fame, a vain attempt at immortality. Herod had been pronounced King of Judea by the Roman Senate. He seized on this title, and despite his impure lineage and dubious religious devotion he called himself “King of the Judeans”; that is, “King of the Jews.”

The second is a baby, called “king of the Jews” by others—he would never, at any time in his life, claim the title himself. This king was born in questionable circumstances himself, though his lineage from the great Israelite kings of old was secure (Matthew 1:1-25). He would become known as a prophet like Elijah, speaking truth to power while lifting up the lowly through merciful miracles. He would become known as a teacher like Moses, giving divine instruction from the mountain and further explanation along the way. He was the Messiah, the promised Jewish king who establishes God’s kingdom on earth.

Herod’s kingdom represents the way of the world: concerned with power and privilege and prestige for the few, to hell with the weak and the lowly. Jesus’ kingdom represents the way of God: concerned with compassion and equity and true life for all, to hell with the rich and mighty—should they continue their hellish, destructive ways.

It is precisely at the conjunction of these two kingdoms in history that the Magi arrive on the scene. They are seekers of secret wisdom, and they have seen the signs: a new kingdom is dawning and the old kingdoms of this world are fading into obscurity. And so, they do what any wise person would do: they pledge allegiance to the greater king and his divine kingdom, child though he be. They offer their kingly gifts to the only worthy king they have met on their journey.

The conflict between these two kingdoms occurs in every generation. The kingdoms of our world, the world’s ways of establishing human relationships, of organizing and governing societies, based around power and privilege and prestige—these kingdoms continue with ever-fading allure. We hear stories of sexual abuse, political deceit, oppressive legislation, and deadly foreign policy—these are the hallmarks of Herod’s kingdom, stumbling into self-destruction.

Yet God’s kingdom, with relationships characterized by humble compassion and geared toward mutual flourishing—this kingdom is evident among us with ever-increasing glory. Will we follow the Magi in bringing our gifts to Jesus, pledging our allegiance to this greater king and his divine kingdom of justice and peace and flourishing life for all?

—Michael Pahl
michael.mmc@outlook.com

December 17, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. The Difference between Gods and God

Acts 14:8-11, 19-23

The Bible has a complicated relationship with the “gods” of this world. Some biblical texts suggest that there are in fact other deities beyond the God of Israel. Other texts suggest these other “gods” aren’t true deity at all—there is only one true and living God. Some biblical passages describe other gods as “demons” and call on God’s people to avoid these demonic beings at all costs. Other biblical passages seem to view at least some other gods as reflections, albeit imperfect or incomplete reflections, of the one true and living God.

Ancient peoples tended to name as gods those realities they believed had power over them and so required their passive submission, their pious veneration, or even their total allegiance. We in the modern west might not use the language of “gods” to describe these powerful realities, but they are still with us. Political ideologies, economic systems, nationalism, materialism, racism, and more—all with their founding mythologies, sacred rituals, and mediating priesthoods—hold sway over us in various ways, calling for our submission, our veneration, and even our allegiance.

Within this matrix of many “gods” and “lords,” whether ancient or modern, stands this word from the apostle Paul, perhaps reflecting a common early Christian confession: “There is no God but one. Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Corinthians 8:4-6 NRSV).

  • What might it mean for us today to turn from the “gods” of our day to the one true God, to live as if God alone really is the one “from whom are all things and for whom we exist”?
  • What might it mean for us today to confess that “Jesus is Lord” and no one or nothing else is “lord,” to live as if Jesus alone truly is the one “through whom are all things and through whom we exist”?
  • And are we willing, like Paul in Lystra, to call the world to allegiance to the one true God and Lord even if it means suffering in the way of Jesus?

—Michael Pahl michael.mmc@outlook.com

An ABS Reproducible teaching aid is available at www.MennoMedia.org/abs for this session.

December 10, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Who or What Is in Control?

Acts 13:1-12

Acts 13:6-12 is a story of identity and power.

Names are important in the story. There’s Bar-Jesus (“son of Jesus”) also called Elymas (“the sorcerer”) and “Saul also called Paul,” as well as Sergius Paulus (that is, also “Paul”). It can be confusing, but all this narrative naming boils down to this question: which of these is a true “son of Jesus,” and which is actually a “son of the devil”? This is a story of identity.

It’s also a story of power. On the one hand, you’ve got Elymas cozying up to the powerful, seeking to use the powers that be (both human and supernatural) for his own ends. On the other hand, there’s Paul speaking truth to power, the truth of the gospel, the good news of One who died at the hands of the powers to free us from all evil powers (both natural and spiritual).

Even Paul participates in a display of supernatural power, speaking a temporary blindness upon Elymas. Yet notice what wins over the proconsul Paulus in the end: “When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord” (13:12, emphasis added). It was the persuasive gospel, not coercive sorcery, that brought about change. It was the strange story of a crucified king, not the sheer force of a supernatural power, that saved the day.

We have many temptations today to seek or maintain worldly power. This is especially so when our lofty plans for bringing about good in the world seem to be thwarted. We can then become frustrated and impatient, and start to look for alternative ways to accomplish those good ends. If only we had some real power on our side, imagine all the good we could do! If only we had political control, judicial authority, economic clout, cultural influence, spiritual dominance, or even just sheer physical force—imagine what we could accomplish for the kingdom!

But this is not the way of Jesus, who deliberately rejected worldly power at both the beginning and end of his career (Matthew 4:1-11; 26:36-56). It’s not the way of the gospel, the beautiful good news of a crucified and resurrected king bringing about an upside-down kingdom through patient, persistent, selfless love.

In the end, it is those who trust in and live out this “weak power” of God (1 Corinthians 1:21-25) who prove themselves to be the true “Bar-Jesus,” the sons and daughters of Jesus.

—Michael Pahl  michael.mmc@outlook.com

Note: Two ABS Reproducibles are available for this session at www.MennoMedia.org/abs.

 

December 3, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Healing, Proclamation, and Repentance

Acts 3:11-21

Healing, proclamation, and repentance. These three words are an apt summary of the story found in Acts 3—a miraculous healing leads to the proclamation of the gospel and a call for repentance.I am struck not so much by the healing, nor even by the proclamation, but by the repentance; specifically, who was called to repent: the people of Jerusalem, those whom Luke in his gospel often calls “the crowd.” These were the ordinary descendants of ancient Israel, common folk yet devoutly religious—and now, complicit in the murder of Jesus of Nazareth, God’s “Holy and Righteous One” (3:12-15).

This makes me wonder who are the parallel “crowds” today—devoutly religious with a strong heritage of faith, yet collectively complicit in grave injustice?

On November 20, more than a hundred American theologians and church leaders released “The Boston Declaration,” a statement in response to systemic racism, sexism, and other forms of injustice within the United States (thebostondeclaration.com). Hundreds more have signed the declaration since. It is a powerful statement: biblically sound, theologically robust, and unflinchingly prophetic.

Among many striking features of the statement is its clear note of repentance. “We acknowledge the manifold and complicated ways we participate in these [racist and patriarchal] systems,” the authors state, “even as we are often complicit in them. We confess that the Church, in a variety of forms, has too often failed to follow the way of Jesus and perform the good news.”

The world needs to see the healing, restorative, transformative power of the gospel among us. As this happens we must be prepared to proclaim that good news of Jesus for the world and to call the crowds to repent of their complicity with the death-dealing powers of this age. This is part of our apostolic, prophetic task as God’s people in the world.

However, for us to do this, we must ourselves repent, following the example of the signatories to “The Boston Declaration.” We, the devoutly religious with a strong heritage of faith, have been complicit, knowingly or otherwise, with systemic racism, sexism, nationalism, militarism, and more. May God give us—healed, gospel-proclaimers—the grace also to be among the repentant.

—Michael Pahl michael.mmc@outlook.com

Michael Pahl is a biblical scholar with a heart for the church, a pastor with a passion for biblical theology. He is lead pastor at Morden Mennonite Church in Morden, Manitoba. He blogs at michaelpahl.com and mordenmennonitechurch.com.

 

November 26, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Remembering the Covenant

1 Corinthians 11:23-34
“Bread and Circuses”

            When I was an elementary student, we went to the Kosair Shrine Circus every year. A number of animals, such as lions, tigers, horses, and elephants, from around the world were employed by charities and businesses to entertain us citizens. We would also witness such strange creatures as clowns, trapeze artists, and ring leaders who entered the stage to the cheers and laughter of the crowd. My family always stressed academics, and my brothers and I were not allowed to stay up too late. But on the occasion of the circus, it was well past our bedtime when we returned home to start doing our homework.

I don’t remember enjoying my multiple visits to the circus. I guess you could say I was never a big fan. The best memories I keep from the circus are the meals I shared with my mother, father, and brothers. We would sneak popcorn, Snickers bars, and Tootsie Roll Pops into the stadium so we could enjoy our snacks during the show. As an adult, I cannot bring myself to go to the circus, even though the convention center is located rather close to our residence. I can handle clowns. What makes me squeamish is the number of wild animals that are held in captivity for the sake of what we would consider “good causes.”

The sweet smell of popcorn always brings back good memories for me. I think of our trips to the circus, watching VHS movie tapes from Blockbuster on Friday nights, or the popcorn parties we host for our special education students at work. As human beings, food can take on a special meaning because as God’s image bearers we are able to name plants and animals and assign value to each as a part of God’s vocation for us as stewards of the earth. Candy, which is brought forth to us from the blessed sugar cane, plays an essential role in the holidays of Christmas and Valentine’s Day. For Thanksgiving, many choose to celebrate with the traditional meal of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.

These foods and memories, whether for the circus or holidays, are reserved implicitly for a privileged few. These events of breaking bread are occasions for exclusion, as they should be. Their value is based on the fact that members of particular families come together to share their joys and struggles.

Christians commemorate a meal during which we remember that God’s covenant is open to all people unconditionally. The apostle Paul wanted to remind the church of Corinth that celebrating the Lord’s Supper went hand in hand with proclaiming Christ’s death on the cross

(1 Corinthians 11:26). The Lord’s death was God’s ultimate act of opening up God’s covenant with the children of Jacob and with us Gentiles. The Mennonite and Baptist traditions rightfully practice the Eucharist as a feast in time memorial. Christ’s presence is with us and he is also present in his Word. We do well to remember this.

  • How often does your congregation celebrate holy communion? What is the primary emphasis of this observance?
  • Should communion be open to seekers or just to all believers in Christ Jesus?

—Rod Thomas
miteewarrior@gmail.com

Editor’s note: We thank Rod Thomas for walking with us through this Covenant with God study.

Michael Pahl, pastor of Morden Mennonite Church in Morden, Manitoba, will be the Adult Bible Study Online writer for Faith in Action, our winter study. Join us!

 

November 19, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Mediator of the New Covenant

Hebrews 12:14-15, 18-29

“Verified”

Recently, the powers that be behind the social media entity known as Twitter.com decided that there is going to be a hiatus of verifying Twitter users with its infamous Blue Check. A verified account on Twitter is a mark of stature in social media circles. Verified Twitter users have a special status, recognized as major social influencers and thought leaders. Usually verified accounts are made for government agencies, politicians, well-known authors, businesses, actors, and celebrities.

Twitter has a social hierarchy: the verified users and everyone else. The words of verified users are prioritized first on Twitter users’ timelines. Their words are the first ones that Twitter followers will usually see. Social media is viewed as the great equalizer to a limited extent. A person does not have to be an actual celebrity or official to obtain a verified account. Verified Twitter users are selected based on the fact that their words are of public interest. But who decides what is the public interest? In this case, it’s the moderators at Twitter.com.

Just this week, a few of my Christian friends were having a conversation about who Twitter decides to give the Blue Check and who it denies. Some of the reasons my fellow believers believed that their accounts should be verified included having multiple television appearances on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, as well as having over 20,000 followers. My friends were concerned that their voices are not being heard on Twitter, and that their words are being ignored even though they have significant weight on social media. Like the media appearances on cable news networks, the verification process for Twitter accounts provides opportunities for my friends to give a message of hope in a different medium.

With my friends, I do share a concern for the different voices that influence us as a society; however, gaining verification on Twitter is just another way of gaining approval of the world. Approval processes such as this are always conditional. As Christians who live in the new covenant, we are recipients of God’s unconditional love. The new covenant is a better covenant (Hebrews 12:24) because it is a better story than the story of Cain and Abel. The new covenant is an invitation for all of humanity to experience and enjoy the firstfruits of Christ’s labor demonstrated in his unconditional love for us on the cross.

  • What are some of the ways your local church excludes people from the new covenant?
  • Has there ever been a time when you had to meet a condition to gain the approval of others?

—Rod Thomas
miteewarrior@gmail.com

 

November 12, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. The Promise of a New Covenant

Jeremiah 31:27-34 

Survivors and Promise”

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month and Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. The other day, I happened to visit the neighboring city of Dallas, Texas. In the Pearl Arts District—in the midst of the homeless as well as lower working-class population, the public bus and subway transportation system, a number of wealthy financial institutions, restaurants, historical landmarks, and cathedrals—is a small park filled with copper-colored plaques and statues. This park is called the Richard and Annette Bloch’s Cancer Survivors’ Plaza.

I have lived in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex for almost 20 years, and I had even visited the plaza’s neighboring buildings several times, but I had never set foot in Cancer Survivors’ Plaza until that day. I spent the next 45 minutes or so in prayer as I walked around the plaza, quietly reading the plaques. I recalled memories of my paternal grandfather and maternal great-grandfather, both of whom our family lost to different forms of cancer. My mind traveled to news received as recently as last week of coworkers who learned of colleagues who were cancer survivors or who had relatives who were struggling with cancer.

The plaques greet the plaza’s visitors with positive messages—messages to inspire and encourage survivors and those who are struggling with the disease. The plaques and statues do not exist to give survivors and family members of victims a false sense of hope. Some plaques provide statistics about the survival rates of various forms of cancer and even a hotline telephone number for persons who are struggling with cancer. One of the more memorable monuments is a giant rolling ball that spins over a water fountain. The accompanying plaque suggests that cancer is like a rolling sphere of mass, constantly in motion. With proper steps and personal interventions, we can make cancer go in the other direction.

When the ancient Judeans were in exile, their lives were also going in the wrong direction. They were survivors who had once lived good, healthy lives in Jerusalem but now found themselves without their homes and places of worship. The exiled Judeans were servants to hostile, foreign rulers. Yet, the same prophets who had rained down judgment on the Jews also delivered words of hope. The prophet Jeremiah told the children of Israel, “‘So there is hope for your descendants,’ declares the Lord. ‘Your children will return to their own land’” (Jeremiah 31:17). Yes, the survivors of Judah and Israel’s exile could have hope because of God’s promise. Likewise, survivors and the families of persons with cancer can have hope and take comfort in God’s promises and presence.

  • How has your local congregation recognized the survivors and families impacted by cancer?
  • What are some of the ways you can bring hope to these families?

—Rod Thomas, miteewarrior@gmail.com

November 5, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Faithful God, Unfaithful People

Numbers 25:10-13; 1 Samuel 2:30-36

“Reform and Tradition”

I love traditions, and the fall is my favorite time of the year. The last week in October and the first week in November are sort of a sacred time of year for me. One of my favorite things about this month is setting our clocks back an hour and getting an extra hour of sleep. It’s payback for the time change hour we lose every spring, which falls on a well-known Spring Forward Sunday tradition of partaking in worship services at Bedside Baptist and Mattress Mennonite churches.

October and November also hold a special place in my heart because my favorite sport is baseball. The October/November tradition of World Series playoffs is unlike any other. When I was in high school (I can recall this as if it were yesterday) the upstart 1997 Florida Marlins defeated the Cleveland Indians. In 2003, they shook the baseball world again when they were victorious over two of the most popular franchises, the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees.

I am far from being a Marlins fan, but I am a baseball fan, and what made these specific Marlin teams with two completely different rosters was the very disruptive and nontraditional manner in which they earned their two World Series Championships. From the perspective of us traditional baseball fans who adhere to a type of baseball purity, the Marlins’ owner was not faithful to the traditional and correct way of doing baseball. Even worse, the owner and his relatively new franchise had embarrassed three of Major League Baseball’s oldest teams, which had some of the most loyal fanbases.

As human beings, we look to tradition as a source of stability. Some things in life are often beyond our control, and traditions are one way we try to manage our lives. We like to go with what works, and when something is tried that is not traditional we get offended and are suspicious of this new change. The story of Eli’s sons is a case in point. God is upset with Hophni and Phinehas because they have sinned greatly against Yahweh. They have reproached the Lord greatly, and in turn, God goes against tradition (1Samuel 2:30). Rather than the priesthood being carried out by the descendants in Eli’s family line, God chooses a priest based on that person’s faithfulness to God (1 Samuel 2:35).

The last week of October/first week in November also marks the time when God called a German monk, Martin Luther, to break tradition so that Christians all over the world could return to God and live lives of faithfulness. Every year, Christians remember the faithful saints of every stripe—Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox—on All Saints’ Eve. As a church that experiences God’s grace, let us remember that sometimes a break with tradition (and the persons God uses to accomplish it) can be just what’s needed for the kingdom of God to grow.

  • What traditions from the Anabaptist/Radical Reformation may need to be challenged today?
  • How is God challenging you and your local congregation to walk in God’s freedom?

—Rod Thomas
miteewarrior@gmail.com

 

October 29, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. God’s Covenant with the Returned Exiles

Nehemiah 9:32-38; 10:28-29

“Back in My Day”

I am a fan of professional and college sports most days. The funny thing about being a fan of such athletics as professional baseball and U.S. college football is that I find myself referencing and even googling past sporting events. Which quarterback completed passes for more than three hundred yards against my favorite team in 1997? I like to sit back and watch the National Football League Network on my television, reminiscing about the times my favorite teams won the Super Bowl. Ah, the golden days of my favorite sports teams are so fun to think about because they are the cherished moments of my youth.

The memories of the good and victorious are not without loss and tragedy. Sports fans are reminded from time to time about their teams’ failures on the field and what could have been. I also remember quite vividly the night one of my favorite NFL players had his life cut short, and I took comfort in prayer and Scripture to get me through that. Memories of past experiences color our perspectives, the way we understand current experiences, and the actions we choose.

When the Jewish people were in exile, they could have found some things about which to be joyful. Nehemiah was praying for the day he could return to Judah and restore the city that had been decimated by the Babylonian empire. Nehemiah prayed that the Lord would remember God’s servant Moses and the promise God gave him: if God’s people would turn away from sin, God would gather them and give them a place where God would be with them (Nehemiah 1:8-9). God’s people had traded in their freedom and relationship with Yahweh in exchange for false idols, money, and military security. In the sixth century BCE, Judeans had enjoyed the benefits of God’s benevolence, but they chose to forget God’s goodness displayed in the redemption of their forebears.

When the second temple was completed and the people were worshiping God in thanksgiving, some confusion arose as to whether it was an event to mourn the first temple’s splendor and glory or to be grateful for God’s mercy (Ezra 3:13). The older priests and family leaders pined for the glory days of the temple mount as they had known it—a beautiful building. But these leaders did not live during a time of righteous kings and prophets, so what they were longing for had to do only with outward appearance and not inner peace and righteousness. Nehemiah’s act of remembering God’s goodness correctly is a good example for us all. Let’s continue to remember God’s redeeming acts.

  • What are some ways your church keeps memories of people and events alive?
  • Is it foolish to wish for the good old days, as a king in exile once said (see Ecclesiastes 7:10)?

—Rod Thomas
miteewarrior@gmail.com

 

October 22, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online

A current connection to each week’s session

  1. God’s Covenant with David

2 Samuel 7:1-6; 8-10,12-16

 “Trends and Popularity”

U.S. society is very apt at determining what is trendy and popular. While social media give persons with less influence more power to determine what’s hot and what’s not, generally speaking we rely on novelists, academics, politicians, and community activists to get a feel for where the winds of change are headed. In our city, the mayor and city council recognized the needs of an at-risk neighborhood. Several initiatives have begun to improve the lives of that community’s citizens.

When we talk about famous figures from the Bible, we need look no further than King David. Why did King David become so trendy, and why is he so popular to talk about today? Israel did have King Saul before him and upright judges and prophets before Saul, such as Joshua and Deborah. The prophet Nathan told David that God was going to make David’s “name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth,” and establish Israel as a peaceful place where they would no long experience oppression from their enemies (2 Samuel 7: 9-10 NIV). King David became famous for his military victories and his work in making Israel a united, strong nation. David’s rise started a trend. We can see this when nations around the world celebrate their heroes.

Yahweh’s election of and covenant with David was drastically different from how we human beings choose what’s popular. David was the youngest son of eight, and he was assigned to attend the sheep (1 Samuel 16:10-11). Rather than relying on a system of primogenitors, critics and leaders today choose what’s popular—what or whose looks are going to be more profitable. When celebrities make a lot of money for a production company, for example, they are viewed as more valuable.

When King David sinned, God held him accountable, through the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 12:1-19). In today’s world, popular movies turn CEOs into multimillionaires and powerful political donors. When Miramax’s CEO Harvey Weinstein was exposed as having committed grave sins and sexual violence toward women, who was there to hold him accountable? Who will be the prophets today who will console the weak and bring truth to the powerful?

—Rod Thomas    miteewarrior@gmail.com

 

October 15, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Obeying God’s Law

Exodus 20:18-26

 “The Earth Is Filled with Your Love”

 We who live in the United States are mourning the loss of human life again as a nation. On Sunday, October 1, a domestic terrorist shot a hailstorm of bullets down from a glass building on a late Las Vegas night. The authorities are still in search of this mass murderer’s motives for such a heinous crime, but our questions should go beyond just why. With each mass shooting, we keep going through the motions, without much introspection or penance. Political groups point the finger and blame each other for the dastardly deed. It’s a continuous cycle of violence that seems to have no end. This is because we are asking the wrong questions. Along with asking why this keeps happening, we need to discern who we are. Who do we want to be as a faithful community in Christ? Who do we want to be in the midst of a country that forges its weapons way too often?

When we search for who we are, we attempt to make a return to our Maker, the source of life. The psalms remind us of God’s original intention for humanity. “Your decrees are the theme of my song wherever I lodge” (Psalm 119: 54 NIV). Humans were created for love, to worship God, and to enjoy God and a full life. We were not meant for committing random acts of lethal violence. The psalmist declares, “In the night, Lord, I remember your name” (Psalm 119:55 NIV). When it is dark outside, the stars are bright, and the moon is full, we remember the One who gave them to us. Whether it is cloudy or sunny outside during the day, we give credit to the God who is responsible for it all. Creation reminds us every day that we are not alone and that the commandments God has given us to love and obey are for our well-being (Deuteronomy 10:12-13).

Given the fact that God shows us God’s love all around, how should we as followers of Christ respond to these killings? I think that David had the right idea—we should be filled with righteous indignation (Psalms 119:53). This anger should lead us to act in a way in which we see God’s love in everyone. We should serve God by telling and showing the world who we as people are meant to be.

  • How can we tell our community that people were meant for peace and worship?
  • Is there such a thing as righteous indignation? Why or why not?

—Rod Thomas, miteewarrior@gmail.com

A dramatic reading of Exodus 19:24-25, 20:1-26 is available as an ABS Reproducible at www.MennoMedia.org/abs for use with this session.

 

October 8, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. God’s Covenant with Israel

Exodus 19:16-25

 “Great, Mighty, and Awesome”

Growing up, one of my favorite pastimes was watching the Worldwide Wrestling Federation, as it was known back then. I enjoyed watching one wrestler in particular, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Whenever he got on stage, he would whoop and holler, “You really wanna go one-on-one with the Great One?” I was in high school, and while I was succeeding in my honors and advanced placement courses, I still suffered from a lack of self-confidence. I wasn’t interested in the violence promoted by the WWF; it was the personas that appealed to me. I had a need to see what was it like for someone to show just how great he felt about himself.

Personas drive our celebrity-saturated culture. Greatness is always a topic for conversation, something we love to debate. Whenever a celebrity or infamous person passes away, our country seems to go through an internal debate about whether that person was great. When we talk about politics, we question what it means for the United States of America to be great. Was it ever? Movie critics and fans, through the power of the Internet, engage each other in a culture war as well. What makes a great film? Is a movie considered great because of the reviews of a few professionally paid writers, or is it great because movie fans kept paying money to see it, causing the film to have a large profit? We seem to have immense cultural confusion about what greatness actually is.

As believers, our understanding of what makes someone or something great should come from the Lord. We can have access to this greatness through God’s redeeming action in the world. Moses praised YHWH as the “God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe” (Deuteronomy 10:17 NRSV). Scripture reminds us time and again that we are not to be partial to those who are rich over those who are poor (Deuteronomy 16:19). Greatness is not measured by one’s accumulated wealth. Biblical greatness is about our worship in awe of God’s greatness as we fear God’s judgment and live just lives. “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20 NRSV).

  • What are some of the ways we get confused about our notions of greatness today?
  • How often do you stop and ask yourself, how great is our God?

—Rod Thomas

miteewarrior@gmail.com

 

October 1, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. God’s Covenant with Abram

Genesis 15:1-6, 17-21 

“This Land”

Land, water, storms, and earthquakes all play a part in God’s covenants with humanity. The first covenant God established with humanity started with God’s first chosen priests, Adam and Eve. Eve and Adam loved the Lord as they cared for and tended to the garden of Eden. But then the first couple broke their covenant and brought humankind under the subjugation of sin and death. God first took steps to redeem the human race with Noah by washing the land to make way for a new creation. God’s next step was to establish an eternal covenant with a landless Chaldean named Abram. God’s promise to Abram was the gift of land stretching from the Euphrates River to the valleys in Egypt, a land already inhabited by Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites (vv. 18-21). The tragedy of Adam and Eve’s introduction of the world to the oppressive rule of sin is that it cost people groups such as the Amorites their precious possession due to the Amorites’s wickedness (v. 16).

At that time, human unrighteousness co-reigned with death, and both operated as daily reminders of just how fragile human life is. The Bible has many poignant reminders that the land on which we stand is a costly gift from God. The price of being humans cursed to till the land and work it until our time arrives is not being in control of our own fates as we should be. Rather than possessing the freedom that Adam and Eve had, we are now confined to the whims of the weather and such natural occurrences as earthquakes. God tied land to God’s promise to Abram because we can never separate our original mission from God’s purpose in creating us. The covenant with Abram, as the narrative goes, speaks to human finitude (even though Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the countless stars) and God’s infinitude.

We cannot just spiritualize this promise. Abraham’s heir had to be of his own flesh and blood (v. 4). The material and spiritual are forever bound, as we Gentiles learn in the New Testament. Land was never meant for empire building or for being implanted with nuclear artillery. The devastation of recent earthquakes in Mexico, Japan, and New Zealand remind us of this truth—human existence is just as shaky as the soil from which we come. May we always remember this as we work to show each other tender love and care.

  • What do you think happened to the Kenites, Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, and other people groups who once inhabited the Promised Land?
  • What are some of the ways you and your local church can show love to people who may be considered landless in your community?

—Rod Thomas

miteewarrior@gmail.com

September 24, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Spirit-Filled Heart

Ezekiel 36:22-32

“On Reputation and Responsibility”

Recently, my friends on Twitter and Facebook have shared a viral meme, a picture of an unfaithful man walking with his significant other. He’s wearing a blue plaid shirt, and his significant other is wearing a sleeveless sky blue blouse. As a young lady wearing red walks past the man, he gazes at her while his partner looks at him in disgust for cheating with his eyes. One popular take on this meme is the image of the man with the caption, “me”; his significant other has the caption, “the unread, untouched books that I have sitting at home”; and the young woman in the red dress has the caption, “new books at the bookstore.”

This meme tells some truth. We sometimes want what we don’t have because it’s new and everyone else seems to want that new thing too. Trends come and go. Popularity is the name of the game. Even Christian authors work their hardest to gain publicity by sharing their opinion pieces as they pray that their books strike a chord with both Christian and general audiences. Whether it is a new book published by an up-and-coming author or the newly introduced iPhone X, our gratitude and faithfulness are tested daily.

The struggle for contentment is a spiritual battle that starts in our minds and hearts. The prophets understood the centrality of the human heart and the importance of dedicating it to Yahweh. Ezekiel knew that if the Israelites were to once again live in a right relationship with the Lord, they would have to receive new hearts. In Hebrew, the word leb can mean mind, inner person, heart, and/or will.

Our emotions are not arbitrarily separated from our rational faculties or our freedom to obey God. As believers, faithfulness is not something we can accomplish as either rugged individuals or noble communities; rather, a sanctified life is a free gift shared and given to us by the breath of God (Ezekiel 37:14). We can hope that God will gift the church with holiness and love so the meme shows the cheating guy gawking at our Christian witness rather than the turmoil of the world.

—Rod Thomas
miteewarrior@gmail.com

 

September 17, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Sabbath Observance

Exodus 31:12-18

 “Laying Idols to Rest”

The story of the exodus cannot be simplified as a case of the ancient Hebrews and the oppression they suffered at the hands of ancient Egyptians during the reign of Ramses II. What makes the grand narrative of YHWH’s deliverance of God’s people from an unjust system of enslavement is the demonstration of God’s love for the sake of living in covenant with Jacob’s descendants. YHWH’s intervention in Israel’s history changed the fate of God’s chosen people from one of living solely as unpaid laborers of the vile Pharaoh to an existence of resting before the Holy One. The observation of the Sabbath is grounded in the divine gift of freedom; that is, the fourth commandment harkens back to the opening chapters of Genesis. “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Genesis 2:3).

Two very important things stand out in the creation narrative: (1) Elohim (Hebrew for God) is responsible for creating all that is, and (2) the creation of heaven and earth had reached its completeness by the sixth day (Genesis 2:1-2). What makes Pharaoh a wicked ruler is that he tries to compete with the one true Creator God. In his quest to dethrone God, Pharaoh needs a subservient population to do his bidding as he tries to complete creation on his own—with monuments, military victories, and pyramids—all for the sake of his glory. Pharaonic dynasties weren’t in and of themselves evil; they in fact represent a common archetype in the human story—that some people view themselves as somehow far more transcendent than other human beings. The pyramids were supposed to be these wonders of the world, ancient towers built as testaments to the immortality of Pharaoh, his family, and friends. This is why when God commands God’s people to remember the Sabbath, we also are to remember the part in Genesis where the creation of the heavens and the earth was completed. If these majestic works do not need any further aid from human hands, then no one else can lay claim to the divine throne that was already finished.

Recently, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the removal of statues of wicked rulers who once reigned in the United States. If we look back to Genesis and the story of the exodus, we see that it is God’s will for us to lay these idols to rest. The call to observe the Sabbath in our personal and corporate relationships with God means that Christians should prioritize God’s salvation history over and sometimes against national history.

  • What are some of the ways you find it best to rest in the Lord?
  • Why do humans still have a hard time believing that creation was and is complete? Where is this prevalent?

—Rod Thomas   miteewarrior@gmail.com

September 10, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Circumcision

 “Circumcision and Risk”

As a public school teacher, I like to take a few moments, step back, and observe how my students are interacting with one another. I take note of who refuses to play with whom, who is talking with others, and who is always in the hallway laughing together. Relationships among peers are essential to students’ social development. I am given consistent reminders by my superiors that students with best social-emotional control are the ones who achieve academic success. In extreme cases, students who lack the ability to control their emotions face consequences such as being assigned to alternative instructional settings, and if their behaviors persist, eventually they are cut off from society in general.

As Christians, we worship the Creator God for whom relationships with human beings are also crucial. The manner in which this God relates with human beings is through the act of descending from heaven to Earth to initiate and live in covenants with people (Genesis 17:1-2). We read that El Shaddai (Hebrew for “God of many breasts”) eschews divine privilege in favor of a loving bond with an elderly Chaldean nomad named Abram. God, as the Nurturing Parent of the many, chooses to work with one family and one ancestral lineage for the sake of all nations (Genesis 17:4). Throughout many biblical narratives, God in all of God’s majesty practices self-giving for the sake of love. In this ancient Near Eastern context, God worked with a people group in which men were viewed as the loci of society. The practice of circumcision as a way of Abraham’s descendants keeping their end of the deal gave precedence to men. Even in what was a form of exclusion, God still makes room for those on the margins; not only do Abraham and his progeny have to be circumcised, but the mark of the covenant is also applied to the enslaved persons from foreign lands who live among them. God’s covenant from the very beginning was always meant to be open to outsiders.

Brave women like Zipporah (Exodus 4:24-26) remembered God’s promise to Abraham about the uncircumcised being cut off from God’s covenant; otherwise, the biblical story of Exodus could have had a different ending. The status of being an uncircumcised male was once a barrier to having a proper relationship with God. Jesus’ resurrection yielded a new, better covenant (Hebrews 8:6); better only because God has included more people in God’s promise of abundant life. Yet, many believers view the good news more like the exclusive sign of circumcision, choosing to make statements about which neighbors they wish not to fellowship with while cities here in Texas are drowning. Like Zipporah, we all must remember that we worship a God who confronts us face-to-face and that our “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34 KJV), whether it is the midwife or a one-time prince of Egypt, such as her husband Moses.

Questions for reflection

  • What are the barriers that keep believers from fellowshiping with one another?
  • Why is exclusion still a problem for the church?—Rod Thomas   miteewarrior@gmail.com

 

September 3, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. The Rainbow and “Never Again”

 The 24-hour news cycle has been filled with discouraging news in the past several months. Tragically, there has been a rise of sympathizers with Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich in the form of neo-Nazism in the United States. These groups represent the worst of racial bigotry and ungodly political violence. For Black American citizens, other people of color, our Muslim neighbors, immigrants, and our Jewish friends, the phenomena of white supremacist groups unhooding themselves and marching in the streets with veiled threats is a frightening reality. Racist groups behave as antichrists, proclaiming themselves as gods and rejecting their actual status of being included as part of “every living creature” (Genesis 9:10). In these hopeless times, the One who gives us hope is the author of Noah’s rainbow, the God of promise.

The rainbow is a sign of God’s covenant with all of the creation to never again destroy the earth by flood (Genesis 9:15) and to never again punish all of the creation for humanity’s sinfulness (Genesis 8:21). We need to be reminded over and over of God’s covenantal love. The Bible itself is filled with such reminders. Why? Because like the ancient Hebrews, God’s followers today tend to forget the mighty works that God has accomplished. In Genesis 8 and 9, God informs Noah four times that “never again” would God unleash wrath upon the world as with the flood. It is important to note that God is the protagonist in this story and that only the Creator could initiate and maintain a covenant with God’s creation. As Christ followers, we are more like Noah and his sons—bystanders listening for and struggling to remember the promises of God (Genesis 9:8, 17).

Scripture reassures believers that we can trust God because God remembers God’s own promises (Genesis 9:15). We can have faith in this God who is trustworthy because God remembers. As Christ followers, participating in lives of holiness means to partake daily in the memory of God’s acts of redemption. Our faith declares that humanity is made in the image of God, and when God makes the promise of “never again,” God also has a requirement for those who love God to not shed human blood (Genesis 9:5-6). “For in the image of God has God made [hu]mankind” (v. 6). The rainbow—the sign for God’s “never again”—is a mandate for humanity’s “never again” among ourselves. We must never again give in to ideologies and idolatries that would cause us to murder one another. With Noah, his sons, and Jewish survivors of the Holocaust we Christians must say to hatemongers, “Never again.”

—Rod Thomas   miteewarrior@gmail.com

Rod Thomas is a child-centered, fair-minded academic; a Christian who sometimes writes; and an aspiring preacher and layperson at University Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. He is actively involved in his congregation’s homeless and children’s ministries and is a syndicated blogger for MennoNerds.

August 27, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. An Inclusive Community

Acts 10:19-33

After the tragedies that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 11 and 12, 2017, the meaning of true, inclusive community once again becomes a question among many Christian communities. The events of that weekend and the aftermath is a wake-up call to Christians who have to examine ourselves at a personal as well as a congregational level.

Many responses have come from within our Anabaptist communities. Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary has published a prayer for personal or congregational use.[1] Hillary Watson, pastor of Lombard Mennonite Church (Lombard, Illinois) shared the approach MJ Sharp used toward violent rebels as a model for responding to white supremacy. Watson is urging Anabaptists to ally themselves with antiracists: “We must do the work of building exit-ramps from white supremacy. We have to develop the template for re-integration.”[2] In his blog, Tobin Miller Shearer articulated “seven roadblocks that get in the way of dismantling racism in the church and society”: individualizing, separation, spiritualizing, two false equivalencies, misdirection, and charitizing.[3] Miller Shearer suggests some strategies for tackling these roadblocks. I encourage you to read and share these articles with your brothers and sisters. We must brainstorm and find new ways toward becoming inclusive communities. We have to strive toward becoming the inclusive community God has commanded us to be.

Peter’s acceptance of Cornelius was not enough; he had to bring God’s inclusive vision to the rest of the faith community in Jerusalem (Acts 11:1-18). Church leaders are responsible to share this inclusive vision with their congregations. An inclusive community is more than accepting people of different races. It includes people of divergent social status, jobs, mental status, sexual orientations, etc. Faithful church leaders will also challenge inappropriate behaviors among members, such as hatred and bigotry, and they will encourage members to offer extravagant welcome to others. Not every member will manage the same pace toward being an inclusive community. We have to understand that we all come from different experiences, backgrounds, and cultures as well as spiritual levels. Thus, we strive together toward this ultimate goal, trusting God to enable us to achieve it.

—Iris Leung  kwai_leung88@hotmail.com

Editor’s note: We are grateful to Iris Leung for sharing her rich insights and experiences as related to our study of God’s Urgent Call.

Rodney Thomas of Forth Worth, Texas, joins us as our ABS Online writer for Covenant with God, the Fall 2017 study. Rod is a member of University Baptist Church in Fort Worth and is a syndicated blogger for MennoNerds.

[1]. Roy & Maren Hange, Prayer for the Peace of Charlottesville,” Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, August 15, 2017.

[2]. “Before You Punch a Nazi: A New Anabaptist Response to White Supremacy, Gathering the Stones: Making over and Making Up with Anabaptist Theology, August 14, 2017.

[3]. “Seven Roadblocks that Get in the Way of Dismantling Racism in the Church and Society (and Strategies to Overcome Them),” The Mennonite, August 14, 2017.

 

August 20, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Preaching the Good News

Acts 9:10-20

Colossians 1:4-6 says:

We have heard of . . . the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.

The core of the good news is God’s grace. When preaching the good news, we may need to understand the culture nowadays.

In order to reach out our teens—iGens—we have to use their styles of communication. “A 2017 survey of more than 5,000 American teens found that three out of four owned an iPhone.”[1] An iPhone or smartphone has become a required tool to connect with iGens. Dr. Jean Twenge comments in her study on the effects of the smartphones, “It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. . . . Recent research suggests that screen time, in particular social-media use, does indeed cause unhappiness.”[2] iGens need the good news.

But what is the good news to them? We need to know how they think and what they care about before answering this question. Scot McKnight points out some insightful thoughts in “The Gospel for iGens.” McKnight uses a phrase, “self in a castle,” to describe the emerging generation, that one’s own self is to be protected from others’ attacks. Individualism comes first for this generation and feeling good about themselves is a primary virtue. He remarks on Twenge’s book Generation Me that the self-esteem culture has raised the prospects of personal achievement, as well as anxiety and depression in some cases. McKnight also concurs with Alan Mann’s book, Atonement for a Sinless Society, that iGens are pre-moral—neither moral nor amoral—and they feel shame for not being able to accomplish what they have designed.[3]

McKnight concludes with a possible starting point for connecting iGens with the gospel—to make Jesus real in our community. “This is not Jesus as revealed by institutional religion or churches, but Jesus seen in the lives of genuine compassion and commitment to something that transcends the superficiality of modern and postmodern culture.”[4]

The gospel is no longer the telling of a story, but rather the gospel in action that people can see. Our faith needs to be active in our communities, neighborhoods, and workplaces. Sometimes we may need to travel afar to reach out to people of different cultures, in remote places, or who speak different languages. Or learn to use a smartphone. We should not stay in our comfort zone and wait for another person to ask us about the good news. We have to go, walk in faith, and preach the good news to the world.

—Iris Leung kwai_leung88@hotmail.com

A dramatic reading of Acts 9:10-20 is available as an ABS Reproducible, available at www.MennoMedia.org/abs.

[1]. Jean M. Twenge, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?The Atlantic, September 2017.

[2]. Ibid.

[3]. Scot McKnight, “The Gospel for iGens,” Christianity Today, Summer 2009.

[4]. Ibid.

August 13, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Barrier Breakers

Acts 8:26-39

I have just returned from a mission trip in Asia. I asked the students with whom I ministered about their biggest challenge of living out their faith in their everyday lives. Most of them responded that it is sharing the gospel with their peers. They barely tell their friends or classmates that they are Christians.

Fear is a common factor that stops us from sharing the good news with others. We fear being rejected, being burdened from expectations, and being shown to be imperfect Christians. First of all, people reject receiving the grace of God. We should not take it personally. Second, people have certain expectations about how Christians should live. But we have to live as God tells us to, obeying God’s commands only. Sometimes we give more weight to others’ expectations than God’s because we forget who is greater and mightier. Matthew 10:28 says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Third, we can’t accept our imperfections and our sinful nature. But Paul reminds us that we have not yet been perfected but are in progress toward sanctification (Philippians 3:12-14[1]). We don’t need to be perfect when we are called the children of God.

After conquering our fear, we can learn to love others in God’s way, who loves us just as we are. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18, emphasis added).

For two days, I mentored a student in how to walk with her nonbeliever friend who has cancer and wants to give up on the treatments. I reminded her to bring hope to her friend, for death is not our final destiny. The good news is that God loves her friend. Sharing the gospel with others is not a formula. It involves understanding the needs and circumstances of others. We will be guided by the Holy Spirit as we obey God’s commands.

  • What fears get in your way when you recognize an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus with others?
  • How would you like to overcome those fears? What would it take?

—Iris Leung kwai_leung88@hotmail.com

A dramatic reading of Acts 8:26-39 is available as an ABS Reproducible, available at www.MennoMedia.org/abs.

[1]. “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

 

August 6, 2017

Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. A Cloud of Witnesses

Acts 6:1-8

The core of the good news is always the same. However, our culture has changed drastically from Christendom to post-Christendom. Churches are no longer in the center of our culture but on the margins. Stuart Murray correctly points out,

[The churches] will require a change of perspective, a very different mindset. It will mean re-thinking many issues, discovering the ways in which the Christendom legacy continues to influence us. It will require creativity and courage as we engage with our changing culture and wrestle in fresh ways with what the gospel means in this culture.[1]

No one single model will fit all situations. It is not easy to find out what the gospel means in our culture, but it is worth doing because we will see the joy when people find truth, love, and freedom in our Lord Jesus Christ. We are the transformed ones who witness about him, and we will see people’s lives transformed. Our lives are a witness to the power of the gospel.

What does the gospel mean in our culture? We may need to ask: Do we really know our culture? If not, please go and look around. What is the culture trying to tell us? We need to ask God for wisdom to interpret our cultures that tell us to buy more, to look perfect like the celebrities, to be rich, to follow the trends, to be in control, to feel great, to be equal, to be listened to, and so forth. Why? We intuitively know that true satisfaction is not found in money, fame, or power. But that lie is so persuasive. True satisfaction is found in knowing and living for Jesus Christ. We can use different tools such as film, music, or art to communicate with the world and deliver the message of the gospel. We can find ways to help people move from self-centered lives as they come to understand the sacrificial love of Jesus on the cross. We can find common ground with nonbelievers that allows us to initiate further conversations about life and faith. We can build authentic relationships with nonbelievers and witness to the work of God in our lives. These examples are not subsequent steps but possible ways to engage in evangelism.

You may find these 12 steps of evangelism, advised by Pastor Mark Dever, to be helpful: pray, plan, accept, understand, be faithful, risk, prepare, look, love, fear, stop, and consider. Short explanations about each step are available in his study.[2] Take time to read the article and work with the steps that apply to you. We have to take evangelism seriously and strategically, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. God is working in people’s hearts. Never give up!

—Iris Leung  kwai_leung88@hotmail.com

[1]. “Christendom and Post-Christendom,” Missional Church Network, 5.

[2]. “5 Common Evangelism Excuses,” Crossway, July 4, 2017.

 

July 30, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. The Justice Defender

Amos 7

If there’s one thing God hates, it’s injustice. God’s message, given through Amos for Judah and Israel, calls us to be justice defenders too.

Many Mennonite churches in North America are actively involved as justice defenders locally and overseas. For example, homelessness is a major justice issue in Portland. So the Portland Mennonite Church has taken many initiatives to aid the homeless population within the city. Mennonite Church Canada is actively involved in building relationships that promote justice and reconciliation between indigenous people and settler Christians. Overseas involvement includes the PeaceBuilders Community, a peace and justice ministry in the Philippines that addresses unjust globalism, land conflicts, and violence. Coffee for Peace is one of its ministries, which offers a fair-trade price to local farmers for their coffee beans. Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S. has advocates present in Washington, DC, for justice issues as well as service workers who support peace and justice education overseas.

Churches and individuals can get involved in different justice ministries led by various Anabaptist organizations. The staff of MCC Washington Office is available to speak in churches on various local and international topics. Brothers and sisters in Canada can visit the website of Mennonite Central Committee Canada to learn about restoration justice resources and ministries.

Everyone can work on an issue of justice about which they are passionate. Gaining an understanding of the work of justice is important groundwork for building and participating in a ministry of justice. It takes time to build a ministry and gather resources. It’s important to involve others and build coalitions for the long haul. We have to learn how to think biblically and critically when injustices are identified and validated, because it’s easy to commit new injustices if we don’t understand the complexity of the issue. We should always be ready to testify how God transforms lives in ministry and the community.

  • How are you participating in God’s justice defense?

—Iris Leung  kwai_leung88@hotmail.com

 

July 23, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. The Prophetic Watchman

Ezekiel 3:1-11

If we only care about ourselves, we will never know what is happening in our society and our world. We should care about others’ interests. Prophetic watch people are expected to do more than that. Philippians 2:3-4 gives us a good place to start. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Prophetic watch people are called to proclaim God’s message of hope. Prophetic watch people must have many eyes (as the rims of the living creatures in Ezekiel 1:18). Watch people must be observant with many eyes and listening ears, and willing to bring the truth and hope to others. They survey their surroundings and identify the needs of society from multiple facets. Observant watch people pay attention to things from the outside to the inside with their listening ears. They listen to the depth of the hearts of others. They are able to identify others’ pains, worries, sorrows, and burdens so they can bring the Lord Jesus’ truth and hope to others.

To whom should we bring the truth and hope? We may easily identify people with addictions, prisoners, the sick, the poor, broken families, and so forth. How about the youth or young adults who have dropped out of church? How about a close friend who is attending the Church of Scientology? How about your boss who will evaluate your job performance next week? How about your coworker who got the supervisory position you had applied for? How about a neighbor who owns a four-thousand-square-foot house and five luxury cars? How about a neighbor who doesn’t speak your language? How about a neighbor who always holds parties until midnight, disrupting your sleep? How about a man holding a knife while you are on duty as a cop?

Watch this YouTube video that shows a Thai cop convincing a man with a knife to disarm. The cop proceeded to embrace the man.[1] People were surprised by the cop’s words and actions. We too may be able to reach out to people who need hope in their lives on any ordinary day. Some people’s situations need simultaneous responses. However, the message of hope is not limited to a verbal expression but can include action as well.

  • How will you prepare yourself to be prophetic watch person for God?

Start with your close ones and listen to their hearts. Pray to God and ask for understanding, so that the message of hope can be delivered accordingly.

—Iris Leung  kwai_leung88@hotmail.com

[1]. “Thai Cop Calms Desperate Knife-Wielding Man with Hug,” YouTube, July 2, 2017.

 

July 16, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Hesitant Messenger

Jeremiah 1:4-10

When we listen to God’s call, we will either say yes or say no to God. For those who say yes, I hope that you will continue your call. Like Jeremiah, he had minimal support from his people. The messages he proclaimed were unfavorable to the Israelites, who did not listen and repent for their sins. Jeremiah felt the pains of God as he grieved for the ruins of Jerusalem and the desperate hearts of the captives. Jeremiah had the heart of God, full of compassion, love, and grief as reflected in the book of Lamentations. He had to proclaim God’s judgment to his brothers and sisters for their rebellion against God.

When we say no to God’s call, we are actually rebellious against God. When we rebel against God, as the Israelites did, we make excuses. Jeremiah and Moses made excuses, saying no to God in the beginning. But they finally obeyed God’s calling. They were aware that God is the only God and is to be revered. Honoring God means obeying God’s commands and loving others as God loves.

In September 1917, God sent two North American families, Tobias and Mae Hershey and Joseph and Emma Shank, with four children, to Argentina.[1] Joseph Shank received the call from God, confirmed by the words of Revelation 3:8, and was sent by Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities. He recalled his thoughts when leaving his homeland:

We were apparently stepping out into the great unknown. Yet we did so with the assurance that we were undertaking for God and that He would through our efforts bring many things to pass for the honor of His name in that land across the sea.[2]

The Hershey and Shank families responded to their callings out of their love for God and the people of Argentina. God’s name has been glorified. Today, the Argentina Mennonite Church has 50 congregations with more than three thousand members, plus children and other participants. Thirty additional churches are being planted. The Argentina Mennonite Church will celebrate one hundred years of mission and ministry in Argentina this September.

Do you want God’s name to be glorified? Do accept God’s call and say yes to God. When God calls you, God will assure you when you are uncertain. Someone might say, “I am too old now.” God will help us overcome the challenges when we obey God’s command. Be bold and strong, for God is with us!

—Iris Leung, kwai_leung88@hotmail.com

An ABS Reproducible handout is available for this session at www.MennoMedia.org/abs.

[1]. Dani Klotz, “Argentina Church Celebrates 100 Years of Ministry,” Mennonite Mission Network, June 30, 2017.

[2]. Ibid.

 

July 9, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online

A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Repentant Hero Worshiper

Isaiah 6:1-8
Jesus is sending his disciples to the world to proclaim his good news. This is more than a commandment; it’s also about knowing Jesus’ heart. As I mentioned last week, we need a compassionate heart, for starters. Mark Galli comments, “Evangelical Christians believe Jesus died for them while they were lawbreakers. . . . It turns out, however, that white evangelical Christians, more than any other religious group, say illegal immigrants should be identified and summarily deported.”[1] What is happening in our Christian community? Do we just stop at the believer stage and never become Christ followers? When Isaiah saw God’s holiness, he then noticed his own sins and the sins among his community. He was cleansed by God. By knowing the holiness of God, Isaiah humbly responded to the call of God, called God’s people to repent, and made them holy. Knowing the heart of God helps us respond to God’s call with full obedience.

How can we know the heart of God? Look again at Matthew 9:36-38. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’” We can always ask why God wants us to do this or that. When we pray without knowing Jesus’ heart, we just do things as an obligation without love and care. Jesus had compassion on the people because they were harassed and helpless. God cares for all of creation, the earth and humans. The world was good in the beginning, but sins have destroyed the world. Humanity is flawed, finite, isolated, and pretty good at hurting one another. There are the wounded to be healed, those in isolation to be touched, mourners to be comforted, and sinners to be set free. God wants us to be healed, touched, comforted, and forgiven. “Whom shall I send?” (Isaiah 6:8).

We can humbly respond to the call like Isaiah when we know the heart of our Lord. The love of God sends me out in response to the love that I receive from God. You may have different salvation stories. Do you respond to God, “Send me” (v. 8)? We cannot do well perfectly on our own, but because of Jesus’ grace, love, and mercy. Thank you, Lord!

—Iris Leung kwai_leung88@hotmail.com

An ABS Reproducible handout is available for this session at www.MennoMedia.org/abs.

[1]. “The Church’s Biggest Challenge in 2017,” Christianity Today, June 7, 2017.

 

July 2, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. The Vision of a Call

Exodus 3:1-12

“A Call for Compassion”

Matthew 9:35-36 says: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus was compassionate when he saw people oppressed by sicknesses and others’ sins. God calls us to be compassionate as he is.

We live in an isolated society. A survey done by the Vancouver Foundation in 2012 showed that Vancouverites are experiencing a crisis of social isolation. So about 150 churches in Vancouver agreed to have one message preached on a designated date each year, called One City, One Message. It was held on June 11, 2017, for the first time.[1] My church joined this initiative, and the message was “Welcome the Stranger”—a call for compassion to set free the oppressed.

People take different paths to set the oppressed free. A District Council member in Hong Kong used Facebook to draw public attention to a senior who was being sued by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) for selling some cardboard scraps for a single Hong Kong dollar (less than CAD $0.20) without a license.[2] Many Hong Kong citizens were angry toward the bureaucratic system, and the FEHD finally decided to dismiss the court case due to the social pressure. Although the senior is now set free, she still has to support herself without her merger income from recycling.

Moses dealt with an Egyptian oppressing an Israelite (Exodus 2:11-15). He was angry at what the Egyptian did, but did not understand the needs of the Israelites. He thought that killing the Egyptian was the optimal solution. But killing did not solve the problem.

We need compassionate hearts, which includes learning to understand the needs of the oppressed and prioritizing what we do next.

Jesus knew the priority was to set the oppressed free because he understood their needs. Jesus healed the lame and the blind before they ever heard about the coming kingdom of God. Sometimes Jesus dealt with the sins first, such as healing the paralyzed man carried by his friends (Luke 5:17-26). In his parable about loving our neighbors, a Samaritan took care of the wounds of the needy traveler and carried him to an inn for recovery. The Samaritan realized the immediate and long-term needs of the traveler.

The most difficult task is caring for people with long-term needs, which could be a rehabilitation program or education program. How much time will a person with a drug addict need to be completely free from the drug? It could be a long journey. Would we commit to pray for healing and accompany someone on the journey toward recovery? May we live out our calling from God with compassion until the end of our days!

—Iris Leung  kwai_leung88@hotmail.com

A dramatic reading of Moses’ encounter with God in Exodus 3 is available as an ABS Reproducible at www.MennoMedia.org/abs

[1] Flynn Ritchie, “Around Town: One City, One Message; Spirit of Reconciliation: C. S. Lewis & Love,” Church for Vancouver, June 8, 2017.

[2]FEHD Slammed for Charging Old Woman Who Sold Cardboard Scraps,” June 16, 2017.

 

June 25, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. A Deliverer Gone Wrong

Judges 13:1-7, 24-25

“Being a Model of Forgiveness”

Many people think that a good Christian model won’t go wrong. This is simply not true, because humanity is flawed. However, Christians do have higher expectations for church leaders and their family members. Kay Warren, wife of Rick Warren, is a pastor’s child. She shares about her life experience in Christianity Today.

I recall the heavy pressure to be a model for other people and especially the pressure not to embarrass or cause shame to my parents by exposing our family flaws. Many of my experiences are probably common to others who grew up in a pastor’s home.[1]

After learning to ask for forgiveness, Kay now can boldly share about her marital relationship in the past and her struggle with pornography and sex.

Samson, a leader chosen by God to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines, had a messy sex life. Many leaders in this world fail under uncontrollable sexual desires. Many relationships have been broken due to sex. But God amends our relationships with him and with others and grants grace and forgiveness to all who turn to God for repentance. Samson repented to God and received forgiveness. Kay asked for forgiveness from God as well as from her husband.

Forgiveness is essential within the church community. We do wrong to others, and others may hurt us, intentionally or unintentionally. We need to reconcile with others. Jesus commands us in the Lord’s Prayer to forgive others as God forgives our sins and debts. “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15). We can be a model of the forgiveness Jesus teaches.

You may remember the shooting at the West Nickel Mines School in Pennsylvania in 2006. Five girls were killed, five others were wounded, and the gunman killed himself at the site. The Amish community visited and comforted the gunman’s wife, his parents, and his in-laws very shortly after the shooting. A day after the shooting, the victims’ families declared forgiveness for the murders. Their responses drew the attention of the national media. Our Amish brothers and sisters were models of the forgiveness taught by Jesus.

  • Can you think of anyone you need to grant forgiveness to or whom you need to ask for forgiveness? Go and reconcile with that person now.

—Iris Leung  kwai_leung88@hotmail.com

Correction: In ABS Teacher, p. 23, Samuel is erroneously mentioned twice. It should read Samson.

A dramatic reading of Judges 13 is available as an ABS Reproducible at www.MennoMedia.org/abs for use with this session.

[1]. “Kay Warren: ‘We Were in Marital Hell,’” Christianity Today, June 12, 2017.

 

June 18, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session\ 

  1. The Bargainer
    Judges 11:4-11, 29-31

While reading the news on Christianity Today’s website, I found an interesting article, “The Invisible Heroes of the Persecuted Church.”[1] The lawyers mentioned in this article are the complete opposite of Jephthah, a self-important and self-promoting person. These lawyers are defending persecuted Christians, pastors, and churches around the world but are almost invisible in our faith community. In some countries, the lawyers are actually risking arrest, torture, death threats, and even their lives when they defend human rights. Yet they may prevail in a way that makes a real difference to the world through prayers, support, and perseverance.

We need passion, prayer, and unity to make a difference in the world. We need a passion for our Lord that strives to keep Jesus at the center of our attitudes and actions. Jephthah wanted to promote himself as a commander in Judges 11, but he forgot who the true leader of the Israelites was. A passion for Christ leads us to the right path to endure difficulties as we raise our voices against injustice. “He [God] holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones” (Proverbs 2:7-8). God is our shield. Those invisible Christian lawyers surely have certainty that God will back them up and protect them as they work on the long road toward justice.

 

Prayer is an essential element while we fight for justice in the world. Brothers and sisters on the front lines understand the challenges they are facing and need prayer support. Prayer requests in different ministries are sent to churches or individuals regularly. We can pray individually, with others, or as churches. God definitely listens to our prayers, although we don’t always know when changes take place. We don’t need to bargain with God by taking an oath as Jephthah did. We should do our part—pray as a faith community and let God do as God pleases.

What if we don’t have unity on certain issues within our faith community? We all have different views on different issues. Unity is a remarkable God-like characteristic within the Christian community when Christians embrace differences among them. “When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel” (Nehemiah 7:73b–8:1, emphasis added). When we humble ourselves before God and act as one, we will see God at work. This reminds me of the Voices Together event I attended last year on Canada Day at the Pacific Coliseum. We worshiped and prayed together without regard for our church backgrounds. I saw oneness. As we come as one with passion, prayer, and unity, we will see the great things happen!

  • What is the focus of your passion and prayers at this time? Are they self-serving or God-honoring?
  • How can we find and exhibit unity in Christ in the midst of disagreements?

—Iris Leung

kwai_leung88@hotmail.com

A dramatic reading of Judges 11 is available as an ABS Reproducible at www.MennoMedia.org/abs.

[1]. Timothy C. Morgan, “The Invisible Heroes of the Persecuted Church, Christianity Today, May 26, 2017.

 

June 11, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. The Reluctant Leader

Judges 6:11-18

The Grand Prix Formula 1 takes place this weekend in Montreal. The reality of the sex trade that happens during this kind of event is beginning to be exposed.[1] Many women and girls are being exploited and victimized. Humans are made in the image of God and are precious in the eyes of God. We should speak out against injustice such as sex and human trafficking and help restore the victims in our countries.

Sex trafficking exists in many countries, including developed countries. The Canadian government has funded the Canadian Women’s Foundation to end sex trafficking within Canada.[2] I pray that the foundation can successfully implement its plan and save women in the future. I read a book called Passport through Darkness by Kimberly Smith. The book is about human trafficking in Darfur, Sudan, where many children were sold in sex trade. She herself was raped while trying to help a young lady who was in the wilderness. She hid this darkest moment from her husband because she was afraid and felt ashamed. She doubted herself in the ministry of rescuing children from human trafficking. Sometimes the victims don’t want to talk about their past wounds, especially after being raped. I have a friend who feels shameful and self-condemned. She is a victim of sexual exploitation and needs to be affirmed and restored by love.

Like Gideon, the farmer who was called by God to be Israel’s deliverer, most of us hesitate when we recognize a need that is beyond our expertise. God, are you really calling me?

Vulnerable sex trafficked victims need a safe place where they can share their pains and wounds of their past. They need the love of God to heal them. Could your church provide a safe place for them to share their traumatic experience? Understanding, empathizing, and caring women are needed for this ministry. When a woman has been raped, she normally would refuse to have a close relationship with the opposite sex. Sometimes she is afraid of getting hurt again, so she is not ready to share her wound with her new boyfriend. Understanding and caring women are suitable to respond to the victims. Courses can be taken to learn the skillsets required for this ministry. We can do many things: walk alongside victims on the path of recovery, pray for them, and listen to them. May the love of God restore them, heal them, and bring them hope to move on with their lives!

  • Who do you know that has answered God’s call to step into a ministry of healing and justice?
  • If you are hearing such a call, how are you negotiating with God?

—Iris Leung, kwai_leung88@hotmail.com

[1]. Rachel Lau, “Montreal to Target Human Trafficking during Grand Prix Weekend,” Global News, May 23, 2017.

[2]. End Sex Trafficking, Canadian Women’s Foundation.

 

June 4, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Standing in the Gap

Judges 4:1-10

I followed the posts of the Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights through Facebook. It was organized by Mennonite Church Canada and Christian Peacemaker Teams. The pilgrimage was a way to advocate foror the adoption and implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The Declaration provides the foundation for healing relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Implementing it is one of the 94 Calls to Action issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in their final report.[1]

You may be surprised that pilgrimage included a nine-month-old baby girl, Junia. Junia’s mom, Kandace Boos, a Mennonite artist, made the decision to participate in this pilgrimage and tell its story through her art. Kandace is well aware of injustices toward minorities and women in our society. She wants to tell the world that we can do difficult things, such as she and her daughter did, walking 600 km from Kitchener-Waterloo to Ottawa from April 23 to May 14. Their voices and presence in Ottawa are important. If Junia and Kandace can make it, why can’t we? We should not be bystanders when we see and know of injustice.

We may have different roles when we encounter injustice. I use the Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights as an example. A group of people noticed that not much has been done after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). What should they do? They took different actions. Some promoted the pilgrimage to the public and churches. Some, like Kandace, participated in the walk or the conference held on May 14 in Ottawa. Others supported the effort financially. We can support efforts of seeking justice in different ways, based on our calling or talents. While traveling to Kitchener or Ottawa to participate in the pilgrimage was not feasible for many of us, there are many ways to participate and to support the effort going forward.

Education is another core element for eliminating injustice; however, it is a long journey to change people’s behavior. A workshop called “For Goodness’ Sake” took place at Regent College on May 26–27. The workshop drew a bridge between Christian identity and the character of business leadership.[2] A Christian leader or business owner may not always act ethically under pressure within an organization. We need the courage and faith from God to stand firm and persevere as we face challenges and stand in the gap.

—Iris Leung, kwai_leung88@hotmail.com

Iris Leung is the ABS Online writer for God’s Urgent Call, our Bible study for summer 2017. Iris is a member of Grace Chinese Mennonite Church in Burnaby, British Columbia, where she serves as the Christian education coordinator. She is a board member of MennoMedia. She writes, “I am excited to share my Anabaptist faith tradition as a Canadian Chinese with the ABS family.”

Deborah Froese, “Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights,” April 26, 2017.

[2]. “For Goodness’ Sake: Christian Identity and Business Leadership,” Regent College.

 

May 28, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. God’s Pervasive Love

Jonah 4 

A lifelong scholar, [Alan F. Kreider, died May 8, 2017] was professor emeritus of church history and mission at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elk­hart, Ind., where he taught from 2004 to 2009. . . . Friends and colleagues remember his joy and enthusiasm, hope-filled faith, warmth, gentleness, generosity, thoughtfulness, patience, humility and humor. To many, he embodied hospitality and welcome, attentiveness and concern for others as he shared his love for Jesus.[1]

We praise God for Alan’s readiness to show this kind of humility and joy as a follower of Jesus Christ. As Jesus’ followers, we too can grow in our faith in Jesus Christ by doing works of faith from the heart. His testimony is a sharp contrast to Jonah’s experience. But Jonah 4, is a vivid reminder of how God can change our unwilling hearts to do God’s work for the glory of God’s kingdom.

Jonah had God’s call on his life (Jonah 1:2; 2:3) but Jonah responded halfheartedly (Jonah 2–3). He had all the credentials to be a missionary, but it is evident that he moved with grudging heart (Jonah 4) toward the people of Nineveh. Richard Showalter writes that the growth of the global church is undergirded by a consistent, prioritized prayer ministry. The key to making new disciples is prayer (“Showalter: Want Renewal? Pray[2]). God is love!

Jonah’s reluctance permeated every part of his calling to ministry to the people of Nineveh. The sailors complained that Jonah was troublemaker (Jonah 1), but he could pray a good foxhole (fish belly) prayer (Jonah 2). With a second chance, he obediently followed God’s call (Jonah 3) but was very angry about the outcome and pouted like an immature child (Jonah 4). But God taught Jonah lovingly and gently in each of his phases. Sometimes people around us may not give us a second chance, but God is the forgiving and loving God of second chances.

Jonah experienced God’s providence, even as he tried to run away. He knew God’s pardon because he cried out to God. He experienced God’s power even though he obeyed God with an unwilling heart. He saw God’s pity and love for a disobedient people living in evil ways.

The apostle Paul reminds us “[to do] the will of God from your heart” (Ephesians 6:6). Jonah did not serve God with all of his heart. But God always is faithful to us. God also has a big heart for people who are caught up in evil ways as evidenced at Jonah 4:11: “And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

  • Are you serving God like Jonah with halfheartedness?
  • Are you crying out to the Lord with faith like Jonah “in the belly of a fish”—your workplace, home, congregation, and in public places?
  • What second chance is God giving you to tell others of Christ’s love by the help of the Holy Spirit?
  • Are you obeying God and God’s gentle voice? What is God calling you to do?

—Paulus Thalathoti
paulus.thalathoti@gmail.com

Editor’s note: We are grateful to Paulus Thalathoti for sharing perspectives and examples of God’s love for us and how this love moves us into relationships and ministry with others.

Join us for the upcoming ABS Summer 2017 study, God’s Urgent Call. Our ABS Online writer will be Iris Leung of Burnaby, British Columbia.

[1]. Kelsey Hochstetler et. al., “Kreider Lit Anabaptist Fire in U.K.,” Mennonite World Review, May 12, 2017.

[2]. Mennonite World Review, April 10, 2017.

 

May 21, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. God’s Love for Nineveh

Jonah 3

The act of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in John 13:1-5 is followed by a dialogue between Jesus and Peter (13:6-11) and indicates a first reality. Washing evokes our continual need for cleansing as we walk in this world, the necessity of constant conversion. In this concrete sign of cleansing water, grace becomes touchable, tangible and mediated to us through another. [1]

Foot washing was a new concept for me when I first visited Plains Mennonite Church. But the Lord has been talking to me, and with all of my heart I have participated in the foot washing numerous times. Foot washing taught me to humble myself with my neighbor and other brothers and sisters in order to show the love of Christ. It helped me in my spiritual journey, my ministry with our Penn Bible Fellowship (PBF) community, and in India when we work with rural pastors, evangelists, and Christian workers. God used foot washing to help me grow in leading and serving with joy and peace in the midst of unexpected situations. God honored it.

In the same way, Jonah prayed from the belly of the fish, after his near-death experience (2:3), and God honored his change of heart. The great fish listened to God and vomited Jonah onto the dry ground (2:10). Jonah’s mission was in the great city of Nineveh (3:2) even as Saint Paul’s mission was in the great cities of Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece, and Achaia. Jonah’s ministry was focused not only on people (men, women, young, and old) but also the animal kingdom. God loves all creation! Even the animals participated in the acts of repentance, fasting, and sackcloth. Of course, the people repented as well, “everyone, great and small” (3:5 NRSV). The king down to the servant put on sackcloth.

The people were the violent and disobedient ones, but the word of God penetrates the soul and spirit like a double-edged sword. The holy word of God transforms and convicts sinners and brings them from darkness to the “Living Light.” God saw Nineveh’s sincerity, obedience, and fear and heard their prayer with an “everlasting love.”

Today, you are important in God’s kingdom and vineyard. God sends and replicates his love through you wherever you go. Through one man’s (Jonah) proclamation and service (3:4) the people of Nineveh and Jonah himself responded with repentance. When people repent, God enters the door and lives in the sinner’s heart. Governed by love, God relented and did not send the promised destruction. God is love.

  • When have you felt shy in sharing and proclaiming God’s Word and Jesus?
  • How are you responding to Jesus’ great commission?
  • Are we listening to God’s gentle voice in the midst of the loud voices in our world today? What might God’s voice be saying to us as Jesus’ believers and community?
  • —Paulus Thalathoti

paulus.thalathoti@gmail.com

[1]. Linda Oyer, “Washing Real Feet,” Mennonite Mission Network, April 12, 2017.

 

May 14, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Paulus Thalathoti

    God’s Love Preserved Jonah

Jonah 2

Miss Annie Clemmer Funk realized her calling in November 1906 when she was sent to India as the first single female Mennonite missionary to be sent overseas. She started a school for girls. A teacher, Annie had served among the African American community in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and as a YWCA staff person working with immigrants and young women in Patterson, New Jersey, prior to her call to minister in India. In 1912, she was summoned to return to Pennsylvania because her mother was very ill.

Miss Funk boarded the Titanic in Southampton, England. She enjoyed the first days by celebrating her 38th birthday. On the night of the sinking, she was asleep in her cabin and was woken by the stewards. She quickly dressed and went up on the deck. She was about to enter a lifeboat, when a woman came from behind, pushing her aside by calling: “My children, My children.” The last seat was gone, Annie had to step back. She died in the sinking. Her body, if recovered, was never identified.[1]

We do not know why the sea swallowed Annie and why God did not send a fish to save her. Unlike Jonah, Annie was running with God, not away from her life’s mission.

Jonah prayed to God when he was in the fish’s belly but not before he deliberately neglected God’s call. Jonah was supposed to go to Nineveh (1:2), but he tried to forget the Lord and ran in the opposite direction. Then Jonah remembered God (2:7). God’s hand was on Jonah and preserved Jonah’s life with a fish.

God is concerned about God’s work and ministry in the world, and, in the same way, God is also concerned about God’s workers and servants. In God’s provision, Jonah was not digested in the belly of the fish. Jonah needed Nineveh as much as Nineveh needed Jonah. Jonah needed saving as much as the people of Nineveh. At this juncture, Jonah is coming back to God through prayer.

God continues to love us and wants to teach us through all situations and circumstances. God taught Jonah while going through a situation that felt like death and hell (note Jonah’s pain, darkness, and despair). In a spiritual sense, Jonah was going through the same situation as the people of Nineveh—living in darkness and outside of God’s forgiveness, mercy, and love. God’s call in Jonah’s life was also preserved during this cycle of running away and experiencing God’s persistent love and grace.

Jonah’s eventual reply was “I will” with thanksgiving and sacrifices (2:9). As a Jew, Jonah was very familiar with the practices at the temple. Now see the difference between the first call to Jonah (1:2) and God’s re-call (3:2). Notice what all takes place in between them: violent storms, wind, an angry sea, and darkness. The problem was Jonah’s will. But God’s faithfulness and forgiving love melted Jonah’s strong will. At times, communities do not give us second chances, but God always does. As disciples, we are always given the opportunity to make a new beginning despite our weaknesses. God preserved Jonah, and Christ preserves us too (1 John 1:9).

God can change the length of our tribulations, as God likes. God spoke to the fish and the fish spit Jonah out on dry ground; Jonah’s life was preserved. God changed Jonah’s circumstances when Jonah’s character changed. Jonah was raised after three days of death in the belly of a fish (1:17–2:2. Brothers and sisters, Jonah learned the hard way, but you and I can say “Yes, Lord” to God’s call in our lives. May the Lord be with us during our journey.   

  • Are we dying, unwillingly to obey God like Jonah? (1:3)
  • Have you ever experienced “the lot” like Jonah or been “singled out” by God?
  • When have you needed to learn about God from a stranger or an outsider?
  • When have you ever felt like Jonah inside the belly of a fish?

—Paulus Thalathoti  paulus.thalathoti@gmail.com

[1] Pat Cook, Robert W. Gerhart, & Hermann Söldner, “Miss Annie Clemmer Funk,” Encyclopedia Titanica.

May 7, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

God’s Sustaining Love

Jonah 1:7-17

We do not know the reasons why, despite their work for the kingdom of God, some of our brothers and sisters leave this world so suddenly. The untimely deaths of Mennonites John Dave Troyer (1981)[1] and Michael J. Sharp[2] leave us with unanswered questions. Clearly, they were not running away from God’s call.

Jonah’s story, however, is quite different. When we knowingly disobey the Lord’s call we can sometimes encounter the Lord’s anger. In those circumstances, we can feel God’s hand on us; this is exemplified in the life of Jonah. Throughout history, God’s mighty call has come to God’s chosen people, saying, “Go and do my will, and serve others” either in the same community or to an unknown people, place, or language. Jonah was not ready to go and share the peace of God and God’s gospel with the people of Nineveh (Jonah 1), despite God’s compassionate love for them (4:2).

A cancer cell is a small but selfish cell; it will not cooperate with the rest of the body. At times, we are like a cancer cell or parasite when we resist God’s call. In the story of Jonah various parts of creation (wind, vegetables, and animals) are cooperating with God, but Jonah is taking his own route. Jonah has no compassion toward the people of Nineveh, and when he boards the ship to run away from God, he is found sleeping down below the deck and not caring what others are doing or what is going on around him. And yet, he still knows who he is: a Hebrew and a believer in the God who made heaven, sea, and dry land.

At times, we all need to learn from non-disciples. In Jonah’s story, some “outsiders” were trying to help Jonah (1:11-13). They even cried out to the Lord for their lives and begged the Lord to not hold them accountable for taking Jonah’s life. The calming of the storm when they finally threw Jonah overboard caused the sailors to fear the Lord and offer sacrifices and vows to God (vv. 14-16).

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we ought to evaluate ourselves for how well we are responding to the call of the great commission of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19-20). Jonah’s story can give us an opportunity to open our hearts to Jesus’ command to go and serve, share, and preach the peace and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Our Lord is a loving God, a caring God, and a protecting God who takes care of us in times of need and pain. God meets us along the way in our highs and lows, in times of good or ill health, in the valley of darkness as well as in our times of happiness and joy.

  • Have you ever run away from God or God’s call?
  • Have you ever experienced “the lot” like Jonah, or been “singled out” by God?
  • When have you needed to learn about God from a stranger?
  • When have you ever felt like Jonah inside the belly of a fish?

—Paulus Thalathoti, paulus.thalathoti@gmail.com
[1]. “Presumed Leftist Guerrillas Shot to Death One American Mennonite,” UPI, September 16, 1981.
[2]. See Paulus Thalathoti, “God’s Love as Victory over Death,” ABS Online, April 16, 2017.

 

April 30, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. God’s Preserving Love

John 10:1-15

Mennonite Church Canada is on a quest to see if it “can grow stronger by putting its regions first. . . . Changes seek to streamline MC Canada at the national level in order to assist congregations at the local level, where most people claim their primary church identity.”[1] Practical economic realities are bringing changes and new ways to shepherd and empower congregations.

In ancient Jewish culture, a shepherd of people was either a spiritual or political leader. The Israelites primarily looked for kings or prophets. A shepherd of sheep guarded the flock during the night by standing or lying as a gate for the pen. When shepherds called the sheep at dawn, their flock assembled because the sheep always recognize the voice of their shepherd.

The true shepherd always comes through the door. Thieves and robbers climb over the walls of the pen and the sheep do not recognize their voices. Sheep never follow a false shepherd. God called Moses to deliver the Hebrews from Egypt to the land of Canaan. Moses led the Hebrews to the Jordan, and Joshua led the Hebrews into the Promised Land. The Holy Spirit is convicting and delivering sinners from the bondage of sin to freedom through the living door, Jesus Christ. As the good Shepherd, he is guarding and protecting us from all evil and danger. When we go through the living door, we receive life and are saved. As we step in and step out, we enjoy the abundant life of “green pastures” (Psalm 23:2) in Christ and the power of resurrection. Glory be to God!

Humans are prone to wander like sheep. Like the Hebrews, we also wander knowingly or unknowingly. Just as he died for the Israelites, Jesus loves all of us enough to give his life for us (John 11:50-52). He took all our sins and offered himself as the final sacrifice, once for all, on the cross. While the blood of Christ is sufficient for the salvation of the world, it is efficient only for those who will believe and follow his voice.

Passwords are needed to gain access to the information and programs contained on computers, tablets, smartphones, and notebooks. This is a human type of government. How good it is to intimately know and experience that Jesus knows your password, calls your name, just as he did with Mary, Zacchaeus, and his disciples. He also knows our natures and needs. Sometimes, parents don’t notice every need of their children in this hectic, consumeristic, and technological world, but the Lord provides all (Psalm 23) in his own time.

  • How are you hearing the voice from your trustful friend and Good Shepherd?
  • How have you experienced your Shepherd’s care and protection?

—Paulus Thalathoti

paulus.thalathoti@gmail.com

[1]. Tim Huber, “Shifting to Regions, Mennonite Church Canada Breaks New Ground,” Mennonite World Review, April 17, 2017.

April 23, 2017

Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. God’s Reconciling Love

Romans 5:6-11; 8:31-39

Persecution of Christians can be traced historically, based on biblical testimonies from the Christian era to the present day. From the Bible, we learn of the apostles’ lives and deaths, but we also have thousands of documented stories of global Christian martyrs, such as the Swiss Brethren preacher Hans Landis (1614) and Michael Sharp, whom we noted last week. Recently, “as many as 5,000 Congolese Mennonites have gone into hiding to escape violence.”[1] Our hearts are heavy, knowing that our brothers and sisters in Christ are in trouble and agony. At least 45 Christian worshipers have died and more than one hundred were injured due to church bombings on Palm Sunday in Egypt.[2] We struggle to understand why Christians who are living in Christ’s love are persecuted to the point of death.

Love, joy, and peace (the first three fruits of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22) have significant importance. God’s love was manifested by sending Jesus to die for us on the cross. Now that we are God’s children, it is hard to imagine how God could love us more abundantly. The inner experience of this love through the Holy Spirit sustains us as we go through different kinds of tribulations. As believers in Christ, our major responsibilities are to love others and to pray for those who are persecuted as well as for the persecutors.

Believers are justified by the blood of Jesus. The resurrected Jesus rose from the tomb and returned to heaven. He sits at the right hand of the Father. Jesus has made it possible for us to enjoy our inheritance as children of God. Thus, we are saved by the life of Jesus.

Reconciliation has its own significance in every Christian’s life. We have rebellious natures seen in our human characteristics, circumstances, situations, and marital and family relationships. We annoy people, as well as our dear God. God does not show vengeance, but sent Jesus as the Peacemaker (Matthew 5:9; James 3:18) so we might be reconciled with God and with our enemies.

Periodically we regret saying, “Everything is against me!” (Genesis 42:36). The prophet Jeremiah reminds us that God always gives a good future and hope, not calamity (Jeremiah 29:11). Jesus died for us. God has declared us righteous in Christ by Christ’s blood. As believers, we are weak and may change from day to day, but God never changes. God always shows God’s justice through Christ. Praise God for Jesus, our faithful Advocate who along with the Holy Spirit intercedes for us before our Almighty God.

Satan deceived Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden and brought the death to humans.  However, God sent Jesus into the world, and Jesus conquered death through resurrection.  What trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword can separate us from the love of Christ? Persecution and pain come in various forms; but “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

  • How do you experience reconciliation with God through Christ?
  • How have you experienced real Christian freedom from the inside out?
  • How and when do you pray for your brothers and sisters with the love of Christ?

—Paulus Thalathoti

paulus.thalathoti@gmail.com

[1]. Lynda Hollinger-Janzen, “5,000 Congolese Mennonites in Hiding to Escape Violence,” Mennonite World Review, April 7, 2017.

[2]. “Egypt: Horrific Palm Sunday Bombings,” Human Rights Watch, April 12, 2017.

 

April 16, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. God’s Love as Victory over Death

John 20:1-10; 1 Peter 1:3-5, 8-9

Recently, the Mennonite church received word of the death of one of our own young adults, Michael Sharp. His body and that of his United Nations colleagues were found in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They were investigating violence and alleged human rights violations by the Congolese army and local militia groups in the Central Kasai province. Sharp, Zaida [Catalan], their Congolese interpreter Bete Tshintela, and their three local drivers all went missing March 12 while working in the region. . . .

“Michael was working on the front lines of what we try to do at the United Nations every day: find problems and fix them,” [U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki] Haley said in a statement.” He selflessly put himself in harm’s way to try to make a difference in the lives of the Congolese people.”[1]

Basketball coach John Wooden was a dedicated Christian whose faith was far more important to him than sports. “I have always tried to make it clear that basketball is not the ultimate. It is of small importance in comparison to the total life we live. There is only one kind of life that truly wins, and that is the one that places faith in the hands of the Savior. . . . If I were ever prosecuted for my religion, I truly hope there would be enough evidence to convict me.”[2]

Michael’s and Coach Wooden’s examples and testimonies remind us that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the essence of the gospel! It proves that God conquered death by raising Jesus from the dead and came to bring us new life! “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).

Mary Magdalene and several other women decided to go to the tomb early on the Lord’s day, but Mary Magdalene went ahead of the others and got to the tomb first. She did not believe that Jesus would return from the dead. The disciple many assume to be John arrived, but he cautiously remained outside and looked in. Peter arrived and rashly went in to the tomb. Then the other disciple entered, looked, and “he saw and believed” (John 10:8). They had faith based on what they saw. But you and I do not have any physical evidence. We are called to believe on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ and depend on the eternal word of God and Jesus Christ, our Lord.

In computer sciences, an important concept in object-oriented programming is inheritance. It provides a way for objects to define relationships with each other. In more concrete terms, an object is able to pass on its state and behaviors to its children.

Mary, Peter, the disciples, and many saints down through church history had personal experiences of “a living hope” as Peter describes it in 1 Peter 1:3. We have been given an inheritance that can never spoil; our relationships as God’s children brings glory to God through Christ our Redeemer. This inheritance is called salvation (1 Peter 1:9). Praise God for Jesus our Savior.

If we burn wood, we will get ashes. As followers of Jesus, when our faith is burned and tested, we will get a stronger faith that is like a refined quality of metal; with the help of the Holy Spirit we are made new from the inside out. As disciples of Jesus, we enjoy the glory now by loving Christ, trusting Christ, and rejoicing in Christ as we live our faith and share our faith with others.

Charles Spurgeon, a 19th-century British preacher, once said, “Little faith will take your soul to heaven, but great faith will bring heaven to your soul.” What an encouragement and a reminder of our living hope we can enjoy now by faith in Jesus Christ!

  • What is blocking us from seeing the risen Christ in our world today?
  • How do you experience a “living hope” and the power of the resurrection in your life today?
  • What circumstances prevent you from surrendering all to God?

—Paulus Thalathoti
paulus.thalathoti@gmail.com

[1]. Rima Abdelkader, “Body of American UN Worker Michael Sharp Found in Congo,” NBC News, March 29, 2017.

[2]. “John Wooden,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.

 

April 9, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. God’s Saving Love in Christ

John 3:1-16

In 1525, Menno Simons began a 12-year journey of seeking God’s truth in the Bible, a book he had not read even though he was a Catholic priest. He began to understand that certain practices of the church were not aligned with the teachings of the New Testament. He was amazed by the witness of Christians who chose to reject their infant baptisms and engaged in a second baptism as believers, even though this was punishable by death. On January 30, 1536, he publicly announced his choice to live by the authority of the Scriptures rather than that of the church. Menno was rebaptized shortly thereafter to affirm his faith and rebirth in Jesus. A year later, he reluctantly accepted the call as “an elder in the Anabaptist movement” because he knew the need for leadership was great.[1]

Menno had some things in common with Nicodemus (John 3). Nicodemus was initially attracted to Jesus because of the great miracles Jesus performed. But Nicodemus also sensed that Jesus was doing something different from the religious status quo Nicodemus had been taught and the very strict rules and regulations he practiced. Perhaps he came to Jesus in the night because he wanted a quiet and uninterrupted time for a good conversation. Nicodemus was a man of integrity; he likely was filled with a deep religious hunger. Yet his conversation with Jesus revealed a spiritual blindness or that something was missing in his understanding.

Family connections to church life, a godly heritage, church membership, and participation in religious ceremonies are very good things to have and do, but Jesus is emphasizing a new birth experience. In our physical birth, we are born of the flesh through our parents; in our second birth, we are born of the Spirit. The second birth makes us all new from the inside out. This leads to eternal life.

To some extent, we can understand the human physiology, anatomy, and growth process of human cells in physical birth. But we will never completely understand the miracle of life. Life in the Spirit is the same way; it surprises us and goes beyond our understanding.

Nicodemus’s story in John 3 reminds us to look for Jesus in ordinary and surprising places in our lives. Where might we go to have a pleasant and peaceful talk with Jesus? Or to share Jesus across the table with a friend? Might we also encounter Jesus and be filled with the Spirit from above as we share with our neighbors, friends, family, and even enemies in the community, around our tables, and also in our backyards (Matthew 28:18-20)? God will provide good opportunities to meet and share Jesus Christ with people in our lives.

Today, persons “from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9) are seeking truth about God and God’s kingdom. This is evidenced by the growth of the church worldwide and in our own Mennonite World Conference. Some are religious leaders, like Nicodemus and Menno Simons, who are spurred by their curiosity to really know Jesus. Others witness an unplanned encounter with Jesus—through a miracle, a testimony, a sermon, a prayer, a movement of the Holy Spirit, or reading the Bible—that compels them to embrace a new birth through the Holy Spirit. Still others make their commitment of a reborn, authentic faith in Jesus that was first demonstrated for them in family and congregational relationships. The Messiah gives eternal life to anyone who trusts and believes in him. He has salvation for the whole world.

  • Have you experienced the wind of God’s Spirit in your life, like Nicodemus or Menno Simons, or in another way?
  • How can you share your experiences with your neighbors in the backyard or around the table?
  • How will you watch for these opportunities in the coming days and weeks

—Paulus Thalathoti
paulus.thalathoti@gmail.com

[1]. Machiel van Zanten, “Menno’s Life,” Menno Simons.net.

 

April 2, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. God as Our Shepherd

Psalm 23

Five weeks ago, I was in India on a mission trip with some colleagues. After five baptisms and dedicating a new church building, we were returning from a rural village to a city. We noticed three or four hundred sheep and their shepherds about to cross a public highway—the lead shepherd, the sheep, and another shepherd at the end of the line. For about 10 minutes, traffic on both sides of the road stopped. I watched carefully until all the sheep and shepherds had crossed the road. I thought about the entire operation—sheep, staff, rod, and shepherds. I have never seen hundreds of water buffalo herded this way. Maybe it’s unmanageable for their caretakers, but with sheep it’s possible. It’s natural for sheep to listen and follow. Sheep have a nature of unity, to be in the group rather than being alone.

Some 2,644 years ago, a normal man from the kingdom of Judah prayed, “People’s lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). We are quickly like lost sheep, not able to manage or guide our own lives. How a guide dog is much appreciated by a blind person! We all need a good shepherd.

As followers and disciples of Jesus, we must listen for his voice. The Good Shepherd never drives his sheep from behind. Rather, he calls to us from the front of the flock every day and in all spheres of our lives. And then he leads us forward.

Changes are inevitable in our lives. As God’s people/sheep, we must accept these changes when our faith is anchored in Messiah Jesus. You may have just passed through green pastures and still waters, the valley of the shadow of death, or been seated at a table in the presence of insiders, outsiders, or even enemies. Finally, you will live in the house of the Lord eternally in heaven. Sheep and people experience changes in life. Anticipate the changes but do not be afraid of them, for you and I do not add a day to or decrease a day from our lives on the earth.

“Dr. Harry Ironside used to say that goodness and mercy are the two sheepdogs that help keep the sheep where they belong.”[1] What a concept of sweet fellowship as God’s community! Our Shepherd’s rod takes care of the enemies, and his staff takes care of his sheep. Yes, we can stay close to the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, and his precious and Holy Word. One day we will realize that everything is under God’s goodness and mercy. Thank you, Lord, for being the Good Shepherd to us, our families, and our communities.

  • How do you experience Jesus as your Good Shepherd?
  • How do you participate in your flock?

—Paulus Thalathoti, paulus.thalathoti@gmail.com

  1. Johnny Hunt, “The Satisfaction of Our Shepherd’s Sheep,” PastorLife.

 

 

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