Adult Bible Study & Current News

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.

 

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

  1. God’s Love Restores

Joel 2:12-13, 18-19, 28-32

Any political party can make promises. Much depends on the outcome of the elections and the implementation of the promises made during the campaign.

In 2016, the U.S. Democratic Party platform was introduced as “our most progressive platform in our party’s history and a declaration of how we plan to move America forward. Democrats believe that cooperation is better than conflict, unity is better than division, empowerment is better than resentment, and bridges are better than walls. It’s a simple but powerful idea: We are stronger together.”[1] The U.S. Republican Party declared itself as “the path to making America great and united again.”[2]

What is the vision for God’s nation? Let’s quickly examine about 2,700 years of human history. Almighty God has rescued and restored his people from the time before Christ and even today. After God rescued his own people, they disobeyed by doing evil in God’s sight and served other gods. God sent a foreign nation to oppress them. Then his own people cried out to God for help. God heard their prayers. Then the oppressor was defeated and the people had rest.

A keen reader of the Holy Bible can identify the following cycle—disobedience to disaster, disaster to repentance, repentance to rescue, and again rescue to disobedience. This has been the common cycle of God’s community from century to century. God has rescued God’s people innumerable times. Always, God is faithful and God is good.

God is a merciful and compassionate God. God is also just. God expects us to fast, pray, and confess sin. These are not just visible expressions with the tearing of clothes. Now it’s time to break our hearts; in other words, repent from inside out. When we break our hearts from inside out, God restores with abundance. God gives us double the crops. God will do this not just for the people’s sake, but also in front of the unbelieving nations. God is jealous for God’s land and has pity on God’s community.

The prophet Joel’s words were fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. During the last days of Israel’s history, the Spirit of God has been working mightily in saving both ancient and modern people around the world.

  • When have we sought the Lord with fasting, weeping, and mourning like people of Joel’s day?

—Paulus Thalathoti, paulus.thalathoti@gmail.com

[1]. Democrats, “Our Platform,” https://www.democrats.org/party-platform.
[2]. “Republic Platform 2016,” https://prod-cdn-static.gop.com/static/home/data/platform.pdf.

 

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

  1. God’s Love Manifested

John 15:1-17

Recently we saw a TV advertisement for ancestry.com, a service that gives direction for connecting to one’s personal ancestry. This website makes it possible to learn of one’s heritage and the nationality of one’s foreparents. One man who thought he was of German background learned that he was Scottish. So, he traded his lederhosen for kilts.[1]

Christians have another important connection to maintain. In John 15, Jesus speaks of the need for a very tight and thick connection between a vine and its branches. When the branch abides in the vine it has life and bears fruit. The vine and branches are symbols of Jesus and his believing followers.

Branches must “abide” in the vine in order to be more useful and protective to the fruit. As long as branches are connected to the vine, branches are able to bear fruit. If a branch is not connected to the vine, it has no life and will be thrown into the fire. A vine and its branches need a vital relationship, like the human body and its members, the bride and the bridegroom, and sheep with a shepherd. One important thing in our life of discipleship is “abiding in Christ” so that living fruit can be produced for God’s glory.

The vinedresser is wholly in charge of the vine and vineyard. It is up to the vinedresser to prune or not to prune. As branches, we believers can admit that often the pruning process hurts and is difficult. On the other hand, we also rejoice that we are able to produce more and better fruit so we can be helpful to others in our local community and to extended communities.

As branches bearing fruit we are not to live to please ourselves; but as followers and disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to serve others. What a continual blessing to feed and help others by our words and our works!

At times, we do not know the value of real friendship in the western countries since it is full of consumerism and capitalism. However, what a blessing that Jesus calls us in unique ways as dear friends. Friendship with Jesus is permanent; he never leaves us or forsakes us. Unlike Judas Iscariot, no true friend was disappointed with Jesus. Rather the disciples lived their lives as testimonies on the earth. When we have friendship with Jesus the Lord, we will continue to have good, blessed, and joyful friendships with our community and beyond.

  • My brothers and sisters, as branches how are you staying connected to the vine, Jesus Christ? How do you abide in Jesus so you can love and serve others in the community?
  • How will you maintain a good friendship with Jesus, by the help of the Holy Spirit?
  • How shall we pray about social issues of today in a holistic way?

—Paulus Thalathoti paulus.thalathoti@gmail.com

[1]. AncestryDNA TV Commercial, ‘Lederhosen.’ iSpot.tv.

 

 

 

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

  1. God’s Overflowing Love

Ephesians 2:1-10

During my last mission field visit to India, I dedicated a hydro bore-well pump with a small rural congregation on February 10. After gathering with the resident community of believers, I prayed and gave thanks to our dear God through Jesus Christ our Savior. Then I started the water system. A jet of fresh water gushed up and onto the ground. After two to three minutes, some of the area was overflowing with water. Our hearts filled with joy.

My younger biological brother has been working for the federal government in India for nearly 30 years. He is a good man but struggles with a severe alcoholic addiction. The Lord called my mother into God’s glory on October 15, 2014, and during her life my brother was a thorn in her flesh. We still love him, although we may not love him completely at times due to our weaknesses and iniquities. We may not love something or somebody adequately, but God’s love is always like living water (John 4)—always overflowing.

In Ephesians 2, Paul focuses on our sinful nature. We live in a world that is polluted with sin, carelessness, disobedience, and depravity. Many times, ungodly or unsaved persons are controlled by the flesh and the devil, and we can see the fruits of this life. All these sins are causing the wages of death (Romans 6:23).

The biblical prophet Jonah testifies that salvation comes from the Lord (Jonah 2:9). God loves us so much and wants to save us from our sinful nature. It’s not because of our merit that God loves us from north to south and east to west. God’s love, like flowing waters, is immeasurable. God wants us to be more like Jesus, a part of God’s new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). God’s eternal purpose is to make you and me more like Jesus the Messiah (Romans 8:29)

Praise God that the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is bringing us day by day closer to Jesus, preparing us to unite with God in the Lord’s time. What an example of God’s overflowing love!

We are all created in Jesus Christ to do good works and to bring glory to God. We are not saved by good works, but saved to do good works (Ephesians 2:9-10). Brothers and sisters, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

  • My brother and sister, are you experiencing God’s overflowing love in your life today? If not, come back to Jesus and by his precious and holy blood, run with him.
  • My brother and sister, are you experiencing and owning the joy of your salvation while you donate your time, finances, cereal boxes, and food cans, etc.? If not, seek God in prayer.

—Paulus Thalathoti paulus.thalathoti@gmail.com

 

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

  1. The Source of All Love

1 John 4:7-19

Coming home from a short-term mission trip a few days ago, I noticed the compass in the pilot’s deck. I remembered that the compass has been an essential tool for any navigator, even before the time of Christ. I thought of its importance to navigators and pilots, as well as its limitations.

A compass is essential for determining one’s course. It gives the directions for where the ship or plane should go, and it helps lead safely to the point of destination. As long as the compass is doing its work and functioning the way it is supposed to, it is a direct or indirect help.

Sometimes the compass may work well, but other mechanical devices may malfunction. For example, Jet Airways flight number 9W-118 had a communications failure with the air traffic control tower as it flew in German skies.[1] Manmade devices at times malfunction. We need to restart these systems for connectivity purposes. But the communication of love never disconnects between God to us.

God is love. From generation to generation. God always has a crystal-clear love for creation and especially for us as God’s image. John expresses in his writings that God is Spirit (John 4:24), light (1 John 1:5), and love (1 John 4:8). Paul of Tarsus also pointed out to the church in Corinth that “these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). God’s love is precious and holy.

In order to fulfill God’s prophesies from ancient prophets, our eternal God sent God’s Son for you and me. True love is always shown in action and is dynamic. Two thousand years ago, God provided and sent Jesus the Savior for you and me. Yes, we are exhorted in 1 John 4:7 and 11 to “love one another.” Here we see the nature of God the Creator: God is love. Therefore, “we ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).

Not only was love shown in the teachings of the Bible, but it is also shown when Jesus died on the cross at Calvary, to the extent of committing his Spirit to save you and me. The image of the vine and its branches is the best example of us in Jesus and how we grow in Jesus if we are connected spiritually and not just with the social issues of the day. First, we must have a vertical relationship with Jesus. Then we can have a horizontal relationship with other believers and our extended communities.

Finally, if we believe Jesus, we must believe there will be a judgment day. In order to escape the day of judgment, we must be transformed into the likeness of Jesus to share God’s love with people of various ethnicities, nations, and languages (1 John 4:16-18).

  • Are you loving one another regardless of your heritage, ethnicity, race, relationships?
  • Do you have confidence to escape the judgment on that day?

—Paulus Thalathoti  paulus.thalathoti@gmail.com

Paulus Thalathoti is an ordained minister and the founding president of Peace Proclamation Ministries, an evangelistic and church planting ministry with those living in the interior rural areas of India. Dr. Thalathoti also serves as chairperson for Penn Bible Fellowship in Hatfield, Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Sumatha, are mission associates with Mennonite Mission Network and members of Plains Mennonite Church, Hatfield, Pennsylvania.

[1]. Soubhik MItra, “Mid-Air Scare: German Jets Escort Mumbai-London Flight after It Lost Contact with Air Traffic Control,” Hindustan Times, February 20, 2017.

 

February 26, 2017

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

  1. Christ Creates Holy Living

Galatians 5:18–6:10

I am intrigued in this week’s passage by the tension between the instruction to “carry each other’s burdens” (6:2) and the admonishment that “each one should carry their own load” (6:5). I wonder what that tension means on the ground as I strive for holy living. The Greek uses two different words with different connotations—we carry each other’s “heavy burdens” and each one is to carry their own “normal load.”

This contrast makes sense to me as I consider how being part of Mennonite World Conference has taught me that we all have both needs and gifts. No one is simply a needy person because my need, when met, is an opportunity for my gift to be released.[1]

Sometimes we must carry each other’s heavy burdens but each person also has a normal load to carry; that is, a meaningful gift to share, a significant contribution to make to the community. Sometimes that normal load gets weighed down by the heavy burdens of injustice that an individual is unable to lift.

I think of North America’s indigenous peoples and the heavy burdens that have been laid on them through centuries of colonization. Each indigenous community and individual has a “normal load” to carry, that is, a gift to share to strengthen us all, but those gifts can be drowned out by the heavy burdens of colonization and ongoing racism. It’s an uphill battle for the First Nations to carry their “normal load” when we’re not carrying any of the “heavy burden” with which we and our ancestors have ladened them.

On February 14, 2017, after an eight-year court battle, an Ontario Supreme Court judge ruled that the Canadian government breached its “duty of care” when it failed to protect the cultural identity of the indigenous children removed from their families and communities during what is known as the “Sixties Scoop.” In the 1960s, 16,000 indigenous children in Ontario were seized from their homes and put into the child welfare system.[2], [3]

This heavy burden needs to be carried by Canadians and our governments through confession, reconciliation, and restitution to all victims. In this, I believe, we “will fulfill the law of Christ” (6:2). We must carry such heavy burdens on behalf of those who have been crushed under them. Perhaps with needs like these met, gifts that have been crushed under the weight will gain the strength to be released into our communities, where we are so in need of learning from each other.

  • How is your church community seeking to carry each other’s burdens?
  • How does your church make space for each to carry her or his own load, that is, to make their unique contributions to the community

—Alissa Bender, pastorhmc@gmail.com

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

Editor’s note: We are grateful to Alissa Bender for “carrying her normal load” in sharing her keen insights into the Scriptures we studied this quarter and how they relate to our living as the church of Jesus Christ in the world.

Join us for the upcoming ABS Spring 2017 study, God Loves Us. Our ABS Online writer will be pastor and missionary Paulus Thalathoti, of Hatfield, Pennsylvania.

[1]. Pakisa K. Tshimika & Tim Lind, Sharing Gifts in the Global Family of Faith: One Church’s Experiment, Good Books 2003.

[2]. John Paul Tasker, “Judge Rules in Favour of Indigenous Survivors of Sixties Scoop,” CBC News, February 15, 2017.

[3]. “‘We Want to Fix This’: Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett on Sixties Scoop Ruling,” The Current with Anna Maria Tremonti, February 15, 2017.

 

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

  1. Freedom in Christ

Galatians 5:1-17

One could feel helpless and trapped when faced with the onslaught of today’s bad news. But “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (v. 1). This is such a tremendous promise. The freedom we receive in Christ has the power to break the bonds of everything that keeps us from walking paths of justice and righteousness. Are we bound by being afraid, apathetic, busy, or uninformed? Walking in the freedom of Christ will bring us to where God needs us to be, to where our neighbors need us to be—by their sides.

After all, “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (v. 6). Does this seem simplistic or, in fact, the hardest thing we could ever be called to act out? “Serve one another humbly in love” (v. 13), Paul writes and, riffing off Jesus, sums up the entire law in just one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 14).

The number of refugee claimants walking across the border from the United States to Canada has multiplied since xenophobic rhetoric has increased in the United States. Recently two Ghanaian men lost fingers and toes to frostbite in their desperate search for a home where it is safe to be gay. One showed no regret for taking this harrowing journey. “To go back, I lose my life,” he said.[1]

Even within Canadian and international humanitarian law, there is room for the freedom of serving one another humbly in love. Sneaking someone across the border for profit is considered smuggling and is illegal. But “the Supreme Court of Canada has decided that if helping someone get into the country is done on humanitarian grounds, that should not be considered smuggling.”[2]

If this is true at this level of law, how much more do we as Christians have a call to closely examine laws and customs that block others from the freedom to which they are entitled in Christ? What have we turned into a law that enslaves rather than that which frees and protects? Let’s not “bite and devour each other” (v. 15) over laws that enslave. Instead, let’s truly let our faith express itself through love.

  • What does faith expressing itself through love look like?
  • What disagreements get in the way of that expression?

—Alissa Bender, pastorhmc@gmail.com

[1]. Mark Gollom, “Desperate Journey,” February 9, 2017, http://newsinteractives.cbc.ca/longform/desperate-journey-refugee-crossing-canada-us.

[2]. Ibid.

 

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

  1. New Birth Brings Freedom

Galatians 4:8-20

Fear enslaves. It paralyzes. It imprisons. It separates us from each other. When we fear our neighbor, we are trapped outside of the possibility of relationship with them. When we fear something new, we are trapped in our limited understanding and don’t have the chance to learn. When we fear something different from us, wanting to keep it boxed up and away from us, we will never be free.

And Paul writes, in essence: “You know better than this. You have learned not to be afraid. You have learned to be free.” The Galatians weren’t afraid when they welcomed Paul “as if [he] were an angel of God, as if [he] were Christ Jesus himself” (4:14). They were courageous, and they were free to love, to lavish Paul with hospitality, and to learn what he taught. They weren’t loose with their love; they were free to share it abundantly because they knew God’s abundant love for them. So Paul’s message is, “Remember that!”

There is too much fear of the other that enslaves our communities. Fear of the other wreaks violence in houses of prayer, as it did at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec on January 29. Fear of the other could cause us to shake our heads in silence but keep our distance from this tragedy; unless, like Paul, we say, “Remember!” Remember the freedom we have from fear of each other, because of our new birth in Christ! We refuse the chains of fear and embrace the freedom of relationship and compassionate community. It is freedom that can draw us nearer to each other, lavishing love and hospitality across religious lines.

Remember, remember. You were once enslaved but now you are free. Fear enslaves, judging others enslaves, lack of listening enslaves. In our own houses of prayer, we have been enslaved by our fear of the other in our arguments, judgments, and lack of listening to each other about same-sex relationships. We have worked harder to convince each other than to understand each other. We have worked harder to correct each other than to respect each other.

In Mennonite Church Canada we agreed to “make space” for different interpretations of Scripture on this matter, and Mennonite Church USA has spoken of forbearance. Can we not experience this as freedom rather than the cause of further separation? Can we not be free to give each other love and hospitality, all the more when we are different from each other? Let us be zealous for good purposes (4:18): justice and the building up of God’s kingdom. Let’s live in freedom, not fear.

  • When does difference make you feel fear?
  • When does difference make you feel free?

—Alissa Bender, pastorhmc@gmail.com

 

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

  1. Recreated to Live in Harmony

Galatians 3:26–4:7

I spent last week at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, learning about “cultivating intercultural leadership for diversity-oriented churches.” Meanwhile, the new U.S. president signed page after page with the purpose of squelching diversity and being the ultimate leader of a monoculture.

While at AMBS, we had learning sessions on undoing racism in our institutions, practicing nonviolent communication, courageously pushing new edges in our communities, and celebrating multicultural and multivoiced worship. And day by day we heard of the racist, violent, cowardly, dictatorial decisions that would call children and adults illegal and would even outlaw the biblical call to care for the stranger.

In our worship at AMBS, we lifted our voices in song, stumbling along in Spanish, Korean, Hindi, French, and Zulu (and for some, English) in solidarity with our neighbors who must stumble along in a new language while trying to survive in a new land. Meanwhile, as we attempted to come closer to one another’s experiences, we cringed at the news of a physical wall, and many other walls, that will continue to divide people.

When have the words to the Galatians been more poignant? “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (3:28). Religious, cultural, ethnic, economic, and gender categories were not meant to divide and rank the children of God then, and how many more ways do we divide and rank God’s children today—even those who have been baptized in Christ?

No matter where we find ourselves, each congregation will contain some of the myriad forms of human diversity—cultural, racial, economic, generational, political, diversity of ability, sexuality, beliefs, traditions, and so forth. Do we merely accept it, or do we dive deep into what our different gifts can teach us? Do we make sure there’s a corner set aside for that expression of diversity, or do we learn to ask new questions of how this makes us who we are as a whole community of faith?

Because we have been clothed with Christ (3:27), we have been “recreated to live in harmony.” We cannot escape this call, and we must overcome the obstacles, even the obstacles that come from the heights of power. Let us reject these obstacles for the sake of Christ and those who are crushed by their weight, and live creatively in diversity and harmony.

  • What forms of diversity can you celebrate in your congregation?
  • How can you learn from the different gifts that are offered in that diversity?

—Alissa Bender, pastorhmc@gmail.co
An ABS Reproducible teaching aid is available for this session at www.MennoMedia.org/abs.

 

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

  1. All Creation Praises God

Psalm 148

Terence Fretheim, reflecting on Psalm 148’s insistent invitation to praise, writes, “Praise occurs when the creature fulfills the task for which it was created.”[1] A mountain was made to be a mountain; so, as it towers and protects, it is praising God. When the sun and moon give warming and guiding lights, they are praising God. When we answer God’s call to be who we have been made to be, our very being is a shout, a song, a declaration of praise to God.

How do we fulfill the task for which we have been created? We learn of our task as we read the Gospels, and find in Jesus a resounding call to live compassionately, give extravagantly, forgive graciously, heal holistically, and build community inclusively. We find Jesus loving God and loving neighbor in ways that make some people uncomfortable or angry. They cite laws of both Scripture and society to try to silence him.

Our praise occurs when we fulfill this great task for which we have been created. Each of us will offer praise to God in our own unique way. We can praise God in our work—caring, healing, mentoring, and building. We can praise God in relationships—nurturing and teaching, loving and trusting, peacemaking and problem-solving. We can praise God in each activity that brings meaning to our day—sharing, learning, laughing, wondering.

We can praise God in marching too. I write just before the women’s march on Washington, D.C., ripples around the world. There’s a march in my own downtown, many kilometers and an international border away from Washington. But women in all places resonate with the need to stand together in the face of the current reality as organizers describe it: “The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us—immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault—and our communities are hurting and scared” (www.womensmarch.com).

Praising God happens out loud (literally or metaphorically), so the task for which we have been created is to dive into the fray, to march, to listen, to speak, to advocate, to live out God’s justice and peace, and to praise our Creator.  Let’s join creation, the heights, the depths, the mountains, and cattle, the sun and snow, and all of the faithful. Let’s praise God.

  • When do you feel that you are fulfilling the task for which you have been created?
  • How do you praise God in that task?

—Alissa Bender, pastorhmc@gmail.com

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

[1]. God and World in the Old Testament, 158.

 

January 22, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Praise God the Creator

Psalm 104:1-4, 24-3

“All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time” (v. 27). Within this verse are both abundance and restraint. All creatures depend on God to receive the food we need . . . at the time we need it. It reminds us of the exodus story of manna in the desert, a story referred to a number of times in the Bible as evidence of God’s amazing provision for the people’s needs (Exodus 16). Everyone had exactly what they needed to eat each day—no more, no less. This seems to be a pretty clear picture of God’s economics—no one in want, no one worried about where tomorrow’s meal will come from, no one taking more than his or her share.

But in North America, we assume that we should have a constant supply of the foods we like, no matter the season. Rather than looking for our food “at the proper time,” we want everything, always.

The cost of cheap, unseasonal food includes unfair labor practices for some of the foods we love the most; long journeys to move the food to us, using our limited supply of fossil fuels, and polluting and harming our earth; the use of insecticides that harm the farmers that use them, the earth that absorbs them, and our bodies as we consume them; excessive packaging that ends up in landfills or disintegrating along our highways, or hurting the wildlife and farm animals that decide to take a bite.

Our society’s lack of desire to follow “the proper time” for food has broader implications too. Our grocery lists, along with many of our desires, have a connection to the headline that was voted Canada’s business news story of 2016—oil pipelines.

On January 11, 2017 the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion overcame a major governmental hurdle on the journey forward, despite the fact that environmentalists and indigenous groups are still asking questions about the impacts on vegetation, wildlife, parks and protected areas, greenhouse gas emissions, and terrestrial and marine spills.

“All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time.” In our interconnected web of a world, these issues are complicated, without simplistic answers, but we still have a call to be people of manna, people of God’s gracious provision. Some gathered more and some gathered less, but when it was shared, all had enough for each day. Let’s live in God’s economy.

  • How can we live as people of manna, celebrating the abundance of God’s provision and practicing restraint so that all have enough?

—Alissa Bender  pastorhmc@gmail.com

 

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

  1. Praise God the Provider

Psalm 65

January 3, 2017, 11:47 a.m. was an interesting point in time. At that moment, Canada’s top one hundred CEOs had each earned what the average Canadian will make in a whole year, based on 2016 average salaries. Just a few days before this, prosperity gospel preacher Paula White was announced as the person to give the invocation at the U.S. presidential inauguration later this month. Prosperity gospel is the theology that God will bless the truly faithful with material wealth in life. Not faithful enough? No wealth for you. Ironically, this theology mostly involves enriching the leaders who preach it.

What are we to do with the messages of material wealth that surround us? These two news stories might have us tie material wealth to our worth, as if a CEO does worthier work than a childcare provider who makes minimum wage, or as if Jesus, who depended on the hospitality and generosity of others and criticized unjust economic practices in the temple, could have anything to do with a “blessed are the rich (and only the rich)” mentality.

And yet, we come to Psalm 65, and with images of rich abundance we praise God the Provider. We praise God who answers prayer (v. 2), who fills us with good things (v. 4), who “care[s] for the land and water[s] it, . . . enrich[ing] it abundantly (v. 9). We praise God for the wealth of care heaped upon us.

The difference of the message in Psalm 65, though, is that this provision is not about our worth, except to say that all the earth and all its creatures are worthy of God’s love and care. Even when “we were overwhelmed by sins, [God] forgave our transgressions” (v. 3). God does not moodily wait for just the right prayers to be prayed by just the right people before nourishing the earth; God has ordained the seasons to do this work (v. 9).

As we praise God the Provider, then, our hearts are drawn to those who do not have their basic needs for each day, and part of our praise is to ask why this is so. If God has ordained that all creation would be provided and cared for, what stands in the way of this happening? Our acts of giving praise, showing gratitude, and expressing awe and amazement change us and bring us closer in relationship and closer in line with the one who receives our praise.

Praising God the Provider, we open our eyes to the powers that block God’s children from resting in abundant care—generational poverty, systemic racism, human destruction of creation, and ignorance about mental illness. Our praise is not only words and songs but also a way of living that echoes the “awesome and righteous deeds [of] God our Savior” (v. 5). We praise God and pray that everyone would have enough for each day.

  • Stephanie Paulsell writes that grace before a meal must include gratitude and solidarity; that is, gratitude for God’s provision and solidarity with those who don’t have enough.[1] How do you practice gratitude and solidarity?

—Alissa Bender pastorhmc@gmail.com

[1] Honoring the Body: Meditations on a Christian Practice, p. 89.

 

January 8, 2017
Adult Bible Study Online

A current connection to each week’s session

  1. All Creation Overflows with Praise

Psalm 96:1-6, 10-13

Psalm 96 rejoices in God’s saving acts, God’s saving nature. The whole earth knows it or must come to know it. The psalmist rejoices before all who will hear—the nations, all peoples— that God’s salvation is real day after day. This joyful declaration comes naturally sometimes, as we recount our stories of God’s saving/healing/transforming work in our lives. Surely there are other moments, though, when we don’t know how to sing confidently of God’s saving power, because we wish we could see a bigger dose of it.

Though each day tells a different story, as I write just now [written before Christmas], buses are leaving Aleppo, evacuating citizens from that destroyed and heartbroken city. Aleppo’s violence has come to us through images and voices amidst the bombs, showing us a stark picture of what now seems an uninhabitable place.

Yet, throughout the city, evacuees have left final messages graffitied onto walls, messages of determination and hope: One day we will return. We’ll come back home. God willing, we will return.

This last one is the most striking to me. In the midst of the most brutal of atrocities, that familiar refrain of God’s sovereignty, of submission to God’s will, is still formative to one’s perspective: God willing, God willing, God willing, we will return.

Even from the shattered streets of Aleppo, a word of faith arises that says, “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise” (v. 4). Even as Syrians cry out for the rest of us to take note of their suffering and to speak to our governments, to demand works of peace, still they “say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns’” (v. 10).

God “will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in [God’s] own faithfulness”

(v. 13). The devastation in Syria presents us with opportunities to act in righteousness, to practice right relationships. Whether you are writing to your governmental leaders, supporting Syrian refugees through their grief and trauma, donating to relief efforts, or praying with your community for peace, we have this call to righteous response. And as we respond, we also must trust in God’s faithfulness. As we weep, we trust that God is also weeping in Syria, and that God will not abandon God’s own children. God willing, they will return. God willing, we will play a part in God’s peace coming to earth.

  • How does your community respond to global tragedies such as the one in Syria?
  • What does praise of God sound like in the midst of your own challenges or the challenges of others?

—Alissa Bender, pastorhmc@gmail.com

 

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

  1. Praising God the Creator

Psalm 33:1-9

Many people have commented on it—2016 was a difficult year. The year was particularly characterized by three significant votes in three different countries that seemed to divide communities right down the middle. After Brexit in the UK, the initial peace accord vote in Colombia, and the emotional roller coaster of the U.S. election all ended with small, unpredicted majorities, it is not surprising that many of us feel exhausted and uncertain about how we once understood the world.

Is your country unfamiliar to you? Or is it your neighbour, your family member, or your understanding of peace and justice? Are you finding it difficult to know how to “sing joyfully” (v. 1) and “shout for joy” (v. 3)? After a year like this, perhaps Psalm 33 comes to us not as a Pollyanna anthem that ignores what is wrong, but rather as a protest song. Like the Standing Rock water protectors who have sung out “Water is life,” we too must proclaim our deepest words of faith to defy despair and bring about change.

To sing praise to God is a protest against our disillusionment or apathy. I think of the sentiment of the South African freedom song I learned as a child: “We shall not give up the fight; we have only started.” We sing a psalm of protest because we still have reason to act: “For the word of the Lord is right and true; [God] is faithful in all [God] does. The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of [God’s] unfailing love” (vv. 4-5).

To sing praise to God is a protest against our divisions. Verse 2 of the South African song says, “Together we’ll have victory, hand holding hand.” We sing a psalm of protest because we can still find common ground and learn how to trust one another: “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere him” (v. 8).

To sing praise to God is a protest against our fear or despair that nothing will change for the better. Verse 3 of the South African song says, “Never ever put to flight; we’re bound to win.” We sing a psalm of protest because we still have reason to hope: “For [the Lord] spoke, and it came to be; [the Lord] commanded, and it stood firm” (v. 9).

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous. And don’t give up the fight.

  • When has praise been like an act of protest for you?
  • Where do you find hope at the beginning of this new year?

—Alissa Bender  pastorhmc@gmail.com

 

December 25, 2016
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s sessio

  1. The Savior Has Been Born

Luke 2:8-20

The island of Iona in Scotland has been a place of Christian pilgrimage for many ages. The Iona Community hosts a place of worship and hospitality at the abbey on the island where many people visit briefly or stay for a time. The rebuilding of the abbey was the dream of George MacLeod, the founder of the Iona Community.

MacLeod had been a minister in Govan, Glasgow, in the 1930s when he realized that most of the impoverished residents of that neighborhood weren’t actually attending services at his church. His church was packed with middle-class folks who flocked to his charisma from other parts of the city, but he was ministering in Govan without ministering to Govan.

In that working-class area during the Depression, many men were out of shipbuilding work and many women toiled away in a factory to support their families. Church seemed irrelevant to the everyday lives and struggles of people within the parish. Perhaps the church was also a source of shame or prejudice for the less well-to-do, as strangers traipsed through the doors in their Sunday best. MacLeod soon began dreaming of a new kind of faith community that would build the literal walls of the Iona Abbey even as it broke down socioeconomic.

The shepherds in Luke’s gospel were on the outside of the community. Assumptions about them were like walls blocking them from the heart of the community. But God’s dramatic messengers came straight out to the shepherds’ place on the margins and gave them the good news in a way that connected with them and their lives. The angels gave them news that was good news for them.

The Savior has been born. This good news has come to give great joy to all the people—to you, to the people beside you in worship, the people afraid to come in, the people who couldn’t be bothered, the people who vehemently refuse. From the beginning, this good news was carried to the forgotten edges of the community and shared in the language that was needed for that time, place, and people.

Who could be considered on the margins in your community? A glance at today’s news causes me to think about various groups: veterans who become homeless because our government hasn’t cared for them; an indigenous family killed in an Ontario house fire because there’s no adequate housing on reserves; and families who can’t afford the clothing and heating needed for the deep winter freeze that has now begun.

Everyone needs good news. Our call is to listen to people to find out what would be good news to them and then to be bearers of that news beyond walls and into lives.

  • Who is on the margins of your faith community?
  • Have you ever asked them what good news they need to hear?

—Alissa Bender, pastorhmc@gmail.com

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

 

December 18, 2016
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. The Forerunner of the Savior

Luke 1:8-20

Upright and blameless, that’s what we know about Zechariah and Elizabeth. They are faithful people with a prayer hidden deep in their hearts, even as they continue “observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly” (v. 6). They know it is too late to have a child, but they still have the longing in their hearts and are praying for a miracle.

But when the angel says, “Your prayer has been heard” Zechariah seems to doubt that it has been heard properly. Zechariah was praying for God to do something, but suddenly God demands his participation in the answering of the prayer. This prayer will not be answered quietly or easily. The community will notice the nonconformity of this family. An unusual baby name, the vows of a Nazirite, and the powerful presence of Elijah will all make the neighbors wonder what kind of parents this upright and blameless couple are. If Zech and Liz want this prayer answered, they are going to stand out, and it might be uncomfortable.

We too pray for miracles. We pray for peace around the world, and in many ways, we act for peace too. Like Zechariah fulfilling his duty in his community, we fulfill our duty to the gospel of peace in which we have been formed. But what of the moments when we are called to participate in our own prayers? The discomfort of nonconformity can surprise us.

Both Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA have considered resolutions recently that relate to our prayers for peace in Palestine/Israel. MC USA is seeking feedback for their revised resolution (mennoniteusa.org/menno-snapshots/seeking-peace-israel-palestine/), and MC Canada passed ours in July (www.commonword.ca/ResourceView/43/18908). I was pleased when delegates passed the resolution, as if the positive vote embodied our ongoing prayers for peace.

But it didn’t hit me in a personal way until our congregation was preparing for our annual Ten Thousand Villages sale and we received an email from a stranger who intended to boycott our sale because of our action and statement as a denomination.

Like Zechariah, perhaps, we had been praying for a miracle of peace, and there we were, standing out in our community because of our participation in that prayer. It felt uncomfortable, but it also felt like discipleship. “When you learn to follow Jesus, you will act a little strange,” as Bryan Moyer Suderman has sung.

Be careful what you pray for; God will very likely get you noticeably involved in the path of peace on earth, in the journey of your own redemption.

  • How have you felt called to participate in the answering of your own prayers? Has that ever been uncomfortable or awkward?

—Alissa Bender  pastorhmc@gmail.com

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

 

December 11, 2016
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Expect Great Blessings!

Luke 1:39-56

In Mary’s Magnificat, she remembers what has been and has faith in what is yet to be. Mary sings of God’s ability and desire to turn the power-hungry ways of the world upside down, and to bring something new into being. Mary doesn’t only hope for, she expects great blessings, because she knows the God who made her and who has called her.

It seems that the longer we live, the more we witness “the way the world is” and can be tempted to stop expecting the kingdom of God to turn things upside down. Some structures beyond our control seem impossible to reverse. Some of the structures within our own church hold fast, not because of the Spirit’s leading but because it’s familiar and secure, and who knows where we’ll land if we let things go topsy-turvy.

As I sat in a high school classroom recently, awaiting a seminar at the Mennonite Central Committee Ontario fall conference, I inspected the bulletin boards. “Growth Mindset” statements were listed, which my teacher friends use daily. I read what one might say when faced with a problem, and what one could say. Instead of “I’m not good at this,” students learn to say “What am I missing?” Instead of “This is too hard,” it’s “This may take time.” Instead of “I can’t,” it’s “I’ll learn.”

Good teaching for kids, you might think, to grow up optimistic and entrepreneurial in a big world. Then my seminar began, and we discussed how to hold space for people experiencing poverty and homelessness. The conference continued and I heard MCC’s stories of Canadian First Nations communities rebuilding themselves, and Zambian Peace Clubs changing the narrative of an angry community. The kingdom of God was turning things upside down because someone, many someones, had said, “What are we missing? We’ll learn. This may take time.”

We need to grow into that mindset in our churches and to trust that God may be desiring to turn something upside down in order to bring great blessings. In Mennonite Church Canada, we are in a season of unknown “future directions,” restructuring our denomination once again as we seek to be the church in the world. The thought of known and trusted structures being tipped from their foundations can provoke anxiety, but also prayerful imagining. We may carry questions, concerns, and fears for the future, but what expectations of blessings also accompany us?

Mary expects God to bring great blessings in the great upheaval that she proclaims. What might change for us if, in the midst of our own changes, we expect that God is preparing us to be the church in the 21st century in ways that we have yet to discern? This may take time, but we’ll learn. And we, and the rest of God’s beloved world, will be blessed.

  • Do you find it difficult or inspiring to “expect great blessings” in a change that is happening in your life?
  • How might Mary’s outlook change your view of an upheaval that is happening (or ought to happen) in the world?

—Alissa Bender, pastorhmc@gmail.com

Adult Bible Study Online

A current connection to each week’s session

  1. God Promises a Savior

Luke 1:26-38
December 4, 2016

We know this story even as it baffles us. An angel shows up in Nazareth and—what? Comes in the window? Knocks at the door with address in hand? It’s a little beyond our imagining, just like the apparent bending of nature that Gabriel declares. So perhaps we set the whole story on the “miraculous and unrelated” shelf in our minds.

But other elements of the story are pretty ordinary in the cycle of life. A young woman will conceive and give birth. In the New Revised Standard Version, Gabriel says, “You will conceive in your womb,” translating that Greek anatomical word that doesn’t let us totally spiritualize this event. Mary’s womb is going to grow a baby. Mary’s body is part of God’s blessed creation and is going to be involved in a saving act of re-creation. Mary’s body is good and it is made for this, made for enfleshing the ongoing creative activity of God.

The 24-hour news cycle can bombard us and leave us feeling completely disempowered, as if there is nothing we can do to respond to the brokenness in the world. I often feel I can hardly keep up with flood of sometimes conflicting calls to action. For example, to proclaim myself as a safe person for those who are being marginalized, I should wear a safety pin. I shouldn’t wear a safety pin. I shouldn’t only wear a safety pin. And I’m left with the illusion that I can do nothing.

But in fact, there is always something within our power to do to respond to God’s call. God has the power to act in amazing and surprising ways, but, as in the story of Mary, God reaches into the creation that God has already proclaimed good to continue the act of healing and restoring that creation.

Like Mary who, with her very body, said “I am the Lord’s servant,” so the water protectors at Standing Rock are, with their very bodies, being servants for the healing and restoring of creation. Like Mary, so many allies around the world are, with their very bodies, drumming, dancing, and locking themselves in place to insist that corporations must act as servants for the healing and restoring of creation. Our bodies are good and they are made for this, made for enfleshing the ongoing creative activity of God. We are made to be a part of the healing and restoring of creation.

  • What opportunities do you have to use your body for God’s creative activity?

—Alissa Bender, pastorhmc@gmail.com

Alissa Bender lives in Hamilton, Ontario, where she is the pastor of Hamilton Mennonite Church. Alissa has lived in many places that have taught her to celebrate God’s ongoing creative activity—in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, on the shore of the St. Lawrence River, and now in a city full of waterfalls that is re-imagining itself

 

November 27, 2016

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

  1. From Beginning to End
    Revelation 22:12-21

“Jesus Is the Alpha and Omega: He Is the Sovereign King Who Has the Final Say about Our Destiny”

 John finishes the book of Revelation with two promises. He reports that Jesus promised to come soon and give every person a deserved reward based on what one has done. Jesus also promised that those who continue practicing evil (magic arts, sexual immorality, murder, idolatry, and falsehood) will have no part in the new life. Indeed, they will not have access to the tree of life and they will not enter the holy city. Finally, the visionary finishes his recording by warning that changing the content of the book will have destructive consequences (vv. 18-19).

I think that the seal of this text’s call to its readers is what Jesus says about himself, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. . . . I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star” (vv. 13, 16b). In other words, because of his absolute sovereignty, Jesus Christ gets to reward people who dare to live their lives according to his will and also to hand eternal separation from his kingdom to those who ignore the purpose of their existence—to do God’s will.

Mathew 25:31-46 is another text that gives us a glimpse of what will happen at the end. Jesus the King will have the final say about our destiny based on what we are doing now in this life. I have no doubt that the emphasis of these two texts is more to encourage the readers to continue following Jesus and put his teachings into practice despite the circumstances they are in than to give details about what will happen after this life ends.

Last week, I had a couple of conversations in which the end times were the topic of discussion. Some people are overwhelmed with what is happening on planet Earth. Powerful nations are struggling to settle the storms of political turmoil among their top political leaders. War and refugee crises make it to the top of the news almost every day. Steven Hawkins and other theoretical scientists have been voicing their concern about the fragility of our planet. Are we literally at the end of our existence?

I have concluded that we should not spend too much time trying to figure out when the end times will be and what will happen at the end. Instead, we need to focus on what we should do and be until the end times. The main message of Matthew 25 and Revelation 22 is that we are to do God’s will in this life and become more and more like Jesus, our Lord and Savior. The purpose of our existence is to live for the glory and praise of God, which will result in living eternally with our Creator.

  • Do you agree that Revelation 22:12-21 is a call to be more like Jesus in our daily lives and do what he taught us to do? If you do, how will you work at this?
  • What do you think is the purpose of the scriptural glimpses into what we will be and what will happen in the end times?

—Fanosie Legesse fanosielegesse@yahoo.ca

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Editor’s note: We are grateful to Pastor Legesse for sharing his insights on our Bible studies and how we can understand their meaning in light of current events around the world.

Alissa Bender, pastor of Hamilton Mennonite Church, in Hamilton, Ontario, will be our ABS Online writer for Creation: A Divine Cycle, the winter 2016–17 Adult Bible Study. Join us!

 

November 20, 2016
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Living Waters

Revelation 22:1-7

“Jesus Is the Alpha and Omega: He Enables and Empowers His People to Bring Healing, Hope, and Life to the Nations”

Last week as I paid attention to major happenings around the world I took some time to reflect on two themes—hope of peace and tranquility on one hand and the reality of turmoil and unsettledness on the other. Yes, Americans have elected Donald Trump to be the 45th president of the United States of America. I listened to the president-elect’s victory speech, Hillary Clinton’s concession speech, and President Barak Obama’s speech about his readiness to facilitate a successful transition for Trump and his team. My reflection on their speeches is one of hope and healing. However, the protests that are happening in different cities show that this healing and hope may not happen without significant challenges.

Revelations 22:1-7 is a continuation of the apostle’s other-worldly experience of touring the city of God (see Revelation 21). This time, he saw life-giving water flowing from the throne of God and watering the tree of life. This tree is not bound by seasons, for it gives its fruits once a month for a span of 12 months. The apostle also observes that there is no evil (curse) or darkness in the place he saw. The people there are given full access to serve and see God all the time. They have the status of eternal royalty. I can only imagine the indescribable peace and joy!

These few verses recapture the theological significance of life and light throughout the Scriptures. Genesis 1 starts by announcing that God spoke light into the deep darkness and created life out of the nothingness and void. God finished the work of creation by breathing God’s own life-giving breath into the nostrils of humankind, whom God created in God’s own image. Throughout his writings (the gospel of John, the three Epistles, and Revelation), John reminds his readers that this truth is important. For example, Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman states that those who believe in him receive living water (John 4). Jesus also said, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them” (John 7:38).

Revelation 22:1-7 is a description of an ultimate reality where God’s universal kingdom is fully realized. However, we need not forget that God is among us and within us today as we strive to represent God’s kingdom. I think that the community of faith has multiple life-giving gifts to offer to the rest of the world. The church is where God raises and forms people who willingly extend healing and reconciliation to the nations of the world.

Despite what is going on around us, our mission is to focus on everything that brings healing to the nations of the world, everything that is life-giving, and everything that glorifies God. In my view, we need to thrive in living a life here on earth that samples the heavenly reality of God’s kingdom as described in Revelation 22. God is with us to enable and empower us as we devote ourselves to putting Jesus’ teachings into practice daily.

  • What are some of the healing and life-giving resources your congregation could offer to those who are on the verge of despair and hopelessness?
  • Do you agree that the kingdom of God is at work in the church with the purpose of extending healing and reconciliation to all nations? If you do, what should we do about it?

—Fanosie Legesse
fanosielegesse@yahoo.ca

 

November 13, 201

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

  1. I See a New Jerusalem

Revelation 22:9-14, 22-27

“Jesus Is the Alpha and Omega: He Will Make Darkness and Evil Things of the Past”

Revelation 21:9-14, 22-27 narrates John’s supernatural tour of the heavenly Jerusalem. He found himself on top of a heavenly mountain from where he had an absolutely clear view of the city. The description creates a high-definition and three-dimensional movie of a breathtakingly pure and perfect city. Then the visionary shocks his readers, saying that this otherworldly city is the church—the bride of Jesus Christ. This bride is a squarely measured city that is built of the most precious stones—the most gorgeous bride of the most glorious groom. She is perfectly adorned—one who defies any blemish and imperfection once for all.

Anyone who reads through the book of Revelation can easily see that the bride of Christ, when John wrote this book, was under tremendous persecution. The church wasn’t that glorious from the human point of view. The reality on the ground seemed in sharp contrast to the vision communicated to its readers.

I am reminded of the story of Elisha and his servant. Once they were surrounded by the warriors of Syria, and the servant of Elisha was seized with fear and terror because he saw the scary military forces around him. However, “Elisha prayed, ‘Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.’ Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17). John’s vision would have served to open the inner eyes of the believers of his time to see beyond their daily reality of discrimination, torture, imprisonment, and inhumane death. Does this vision serve the same purpose in our context today? Absolutely!

Today’s bride of Christ is located in the middle of globally intensifying terror and violence. Even the highly coveted western democracy is being challenged from all directions because of its failure to speed up fairness, equality, and justice on a global scale, as it promised since the leaning of worldwide power to the west of the planet. The war in Mosul, the intense contest between the presidential candidates of the USA, and other national uprisings (i.e., South Koreans protesting against their president) have been the headlines of the news media. I think we could be easy victims of anxiety, clinical depression, hopelessness, and helplessness if we dwell long enough in the reality of what is going on in the wold.

However, John’s vision in this week’s study invites us to see things from the heavenly point of view. A kingdom is coming where everyone will partake in God’s glorious splendor. Fairness, harmony, equality, and permanent purity and perfection (as pure and indestructible as the most precious stones) are the only characteristics of this kingdom. God’s presence in this kingdom is described as the ever-shining of the sun without giving a turn to darkness and night. I think this is what the believing community is to see by faith and uphold before everyone so humankind can imagine hope and a bright future in a perfect kingdom.

  • What does your congregation think of the effect of this vision in light of the ever-increasing global hopelessness, anxiety, mistrust, and power struggles?
  • Are believers in your church willing to and intentional about seeing things from God’s point of view as seen in the Scriptures?

—Fanosie Legesse
fanosielegesse@yahoo.ca

 

November 6, 201
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Everything Is Brand New

Revelation 21:1-8

“Jesus Is the Alpha and the Omega: He Will Reveal a New Universe, a New City, a New Nation, and a New Kingdom”

John the Apostle (I am one who believes John, the disciple of Jesus, was the writer of the book of Revelation) certainly experienced a glimpse of the unseen and absolute perfect world of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. John tried his best to describe the vision in a very memorable and pictorial language. Every line of his assuring and visionary statements in these eight verses exhibit his passion and burning zeal. The writer knew his readers would draw strength from this vision to endure and ultimately overcome one of the most devastating persecutions against believers in the history of Christianity: “And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God” (Revelation 20:4b, my emphasis).

I read a prayer request written in Amharic (the national language of Ethiopia) on the Facebook page of a Christian from my hometown. The prayer request came directly from believers who are living in one of the cities controlled by the so-called Islamic State. “Please encourage every believer in Christ to pray for us fervently.” The most astonishing part of this prayer request is embedded in their two petitions, “Pray that the Lord may save us from the slaughtering hands of ISIS soldiers or He may give us the courage to die confessing His Lordship and proclaiming His salvation.” This is just one example of many prayer requests of similar content, coming from many sources. Do we see the literal application of Revelation 21:1-8 to those who are in this situation? I see it clearly.

John wrote his vision of an absolutely perfect universe (“heaven and earth” is a metaphorical expression for the whole creation) and the everlasting capital of God (heavenly Jerusalem) where God dwells among God’s people. He also saw tear-free, death-free, mourn-free, cry-free, and pain-free worshipers of all nations who are the people of God and the subjects of God’s eternal kingdom. What an encouragement for those who were experiencing intense suffering and persecution! It should not surprise us that they dare to give their lives knowing that death was not the end of their existence but the beginning of an indescribable eternal and joyful life.

Verse 8 outlines things that would ultimately strip one of the glorious privilege of being with God and remove him or her from enjoying the blessing of eternal jubilation. These things are real in our current global society. I dare to say that we need to humbly tell the truth to people who are under the bondages of the things that will separate them from the eternal and loving God. I am a strong believer that prayer is the duty of believers; God listens to the prayers of God’s people. We need to proclaim the truth of hope as John the apostle did in this text. However, we need also to pay attention to news of the suffering nations and bring their case to our loving and merciful Father in prayer.

  • Should Revelation 21:1-8 be applied literally in proclaiming eternal hope and salvation in our context? If yes, elaborate your ideas in light of those who are going through intense suffering. If no, explain why.

—Fanosie Legesse
fanosielegesse@yahoo.ca

 

October 30, 2016
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session
9. Pioneer and Perfecter of Our Faith

Hebrews 12:1-13

The Sovereignty of Jesus: He Is an Everlasting Exemplary Leader”

Hebrews 12:1-13 is one the most brutally honest biblical texts; it tells us what our Lord expects from us as believers. We are to follow Jesus in our daily lives, facing sin and multifaceted struggles head-on without losing heart or quitting. The writer of Hebrews uses sports—in this case running a marathon—as a metaphor to explain how we should endure every “curve ball” life throws at us. The writer encourages us to draw strength from Jesus Christ, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (v. 2), when we go through suffering, just as Jesus demonstrated courage when he endured his crucifixion, “for the joy set before him.”

I have crossed the ocean in my imagination to think about the believers who live in Mosul, Iraq (a city controlled by ISIS since June 2014). How would they apply the verse that says, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (v. 1)? How can they love the killers who cruelly execute many believers, showing no mercy?

The Iraqi military force, backed by highly trained and qualified fighters from the United States, Canada, and other powerful nations, are fighting against ISIS with the goal of freeing Mosul. This month has seen intense fighting in the city and its surroundings. Many are dead, and others are terrorized by the rumbling of fire exchanged between the two parties. Still others are rejoicing, experiencing freedom and protection of some sort.

I am very firm in my theological understanding of the peace of Christ. I think everyone deserves a chance to experience the peace of Christ through repentance and reconciliation with God by faith. Hence, I argue that killing those whom we consider enemies is robbing them of the privilege of knowing Christ and his gift of eternal life. However, I cannot help but imagine what I would do if I was a believer in Mosul. Would I pray for God to help those fighting to free the city, or would I pray for the ISIS militants’ safety and well-being? “Love your enemy.” Indeed, this is what Jesus did, even until he took his last breath, tortured in the hands of the people who hated him. He cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

The writer of Hebrews admonishes his readers, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (v. 4). In my view, he is saying we need to be like Jesus in our response to suffering and to clear punishment inflicted by God for our betterment. Jesus Christ endured his suffering until he shed his final drop of blood on the cross of Calvary. We can consider the war in Mosul as a starting point to think through our theology about being followers of Jesus. If we believe that every human being is the object of God’s love, we must continue sharing the good news of peace and reconciliation “to the point of shedding” our own blood.

  • In light of your understanding of this text, what do you think Jesus would say to the believers living in the city of Mosul?
  • What would your congregation do if it was located in the middle of Mosul while this deadly war is going on?

—Fanosie Legesse
fanosielegesse@yahoo.ca

 

October 23, 2016

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

  1. The High Priest Forever – Hebrews 7:1-3, 18-28

The Sovereignty of Jesus: He Is the Perfect and Permanent High Priest”

I automatically question anyone’s description of a mortal that uses one of the most admirable and desirable adjectives, perfect, and the word that defies any limitations of time or duration, forever. In fact, finding these two words in one phrase to describe anyone is uncommon. “I am not perfect,” “No one lives forever,” and “This too shall pass” are common phrases. I think that is why Hebrews 7:1-3 and 18-28 deserve careful attention. The passages describe Jesus, the Son of God, as the “perfect forever” high priest (v. 28).

The manmade destructions and natural disasters (hurricane, earthquake, diseases, etc.) we watch and read about from the news media are great examples of our imperfections and limitations. The recent intensified bickering between the two U.S. presidential candidates also shows that we expect and look in vain for perfection from our earthly leaders. What are we to do when perfection and fulfilling one’s promises are ideals, but flaws and failures are reality? Do we give up on the ideals and conform to the status quo? I pray and hope not.

We have a perfect and everlasting high priest. In other words, humankind always has the privilege of making everything right with God through Jesus Christ, his Son. Nothing can jeopardize this privilege because God made a final and lasting oath when God appointed Jesus as a perfect and everlasting high priest. Thus, verse 28 says, “For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.” What does this mean for us who are living in a different context from those who first received the book of Hebrews?

I am convinced that this text is calling believers to understand that lasting perfection in every aspect of life is found only in Jesus Christ. Therefore, believers are to come to him with all of our concerns because he is willing and able to save us. I think the current national and global issues we face are doors of opportunities for us to get on our knees and join with the unchanging and permanent intercessor, Jesus Christ. For me, verse 25 is the most applicable invitation of the writer of Hebrews for our context: “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”

I believe that the duty of believers in Christ is to pray that the perfect and everlasting Lord may use the imperfect and mortal leaders of the world to bring Christ’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Yes, we know that the flaws of both presidential candidates, Trump and Clinton, are the subject of debate and scrutiny by their critics. We also know that one of them will be the next president of the United States of America despite their imperfections. What are we to do? I would suggest that we are to turn to Jesus Christ and commit ourselves to unceasing intercession on behalf of the leaders and the nation one of them is about to lead.

  • What are some of the practical implications for your congregation of understanding that Jesus is the unchanging, perfect, and everlasting high priest?
  • How do you understand the ministry of intercession (especially from the view of the priesthood of all believers)?
  • What does it mean to partner with the eternal intercessor, Jesus Christ?

—Fanosie Legesse  fanosielegesse@yahoo.ca

 

October 16, 2016
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. The Great High Priest

Hebrews 4:14–5:10 The Sovereignty of Jesus: He Is the Eternal High Priest”

Last week Hurricane Matthew become a household phrase among many nations. It has claimed many lives (over 900 in Haiti alone, and the count is expected to rise). The hurricane also destroyed infrastructures and homes of several island nations. Florida and its neighboring coastal states in the United States have been greatly affected by this furious and stormy sea monster. The east coast provinces of Canada are wondering if they are next to be hit. As of October 8, the estimated insurance claims in the affected states could be up to $25 billion. Why is this happening, especially to those who believe and trust in Jesus Christ?

Hebrews 4:14–5:10 is encouraging believers to have confidence in their eternal high priest, Jesus Christ. He is the high priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses because he faced it all. However, he never sinned. The high priests before Jesus mediated between God and God’s people only until the priests died or entered the holy of holies with unforgiven sins. In contrast, Jesus Christ has become the eternal high priest and entered into the heavenly holy of holies after he overcame both sin and death.

Watching the news on TV from my warm and comfortable living room, unexplainable sadness overwhelmed my whole being. Tears started rolling down my cheeks. Indeed, I could not bear the reality of my sisters and brothers in Haiti, Cuba, Jamaica, Florida, and the neighboring states losing everything they had because of Hurricane Matthew. Then, I started reflecting on the word sympathy (NRSV), which I read in this week’s text. I know that I am sympathizing with the hurting nations that faced this furious hurricane. I can only imagine how much more Jesus Christ, who is the eternal high priest, empathizes (NIV) with these nations. The question, of course, is: How dare we preach that Jesus empathizes with these nations that lost many loved ones and all they had worked for? If he empathizes with them, then why did he let this happen?

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that our job is to continue interceding with unwavering confidence. He says, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (v. 16). Some of the answers to our prayers won’t be clear until we join eternity. Jesus’ prayer was heard, but he was not saved from the death on the cross. As the text says, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission” (5:7). Jesus’ resurrection displayed God’s supernatural power, which gives us the confidence to face everything life throws at us, knowing that we too will experience the same power to overcome suffering and death once and forever.

  • How do you understand Jesus’ sympathy in the context of suffering and challenging times?

As we pray for the people who are affected by Hurricane Matthew, reflect on the fact that Jesus sympathizes with their loss and suffering.

—Fanosie Legesse fanosielegesse@yahoo.ca

October 9, 2016
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Builder of the House

Hebrews 3:1-6; Matthew 7:24-29 The Sovereignty of Jesus: He Is Actively Building His Church”

Last week, the news of death was bombarding our planet. The word dead has been very popular on all the news stations. Ninety-six children are dead due to bombings by the Syrian military. Arnold Palmer, the king of golf, is dead. Shimon Perez, an Israeli peace advocate, is dead. Many others in different parts of the planet are dead. However, the death of Palmer on our side of the planet and Perez’s death on the eastern side of our globe got the international attention. Why did we pay more attention to these two dead leaders while we seem to quickly forget the rest of the dead?

Arnold Palmer is credited with both perfecting the game of golf and making professional golfers the beneficiaries of fame and wealth as a reward for their hard work. His philanthropic work has benefited numerous Americans and other peoples.

Shimon Perez unselfishly advocated for the peace and prosperity of the Jewish people and Palestinians alike. His advocacy for peace is known worldwide. Even at his funeral, the world witnessed the peaceful handshake of Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu (the two opposing leaders of Palestine and Israel). Palmer and Perez have more than enough influential narratives in their biographies to bring global leaders together across the planet in one accord.

The reason behind this worldwide reaction to the deaths of Palmer and Perez, I think, is that their leadership and hard work made us fix our eyes on them for a long time. In today’s passage, the firm message is “Fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest” (Hebrews 3:1). Jesus is worthy of undivided attention for he is the ultimate creator and sustainer of the church—the eternal house of God.

Many leaders before him did their best to build God’s house, but they had to stop their work when they died. Jesus continues to build his church, shepherding it to its lasting perfection. His faithfulness is also not like a steward’s faithfulness because he is the Son of God—he is God. The house Moses built was not his house; he was only a steward. However, the house Jesus is building (the church) is his own house. Hence, “Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory” (v. 6, my emphasis). What is our part in building the house of God?

The question world leaders have concerning Palmer and Perez is how to continue the good work these two started. Similarly, the focus of the church is on partnering with Jesus in his continuous work of perfecting the church. Palmer’s and Perez’s involvement in their good works has expired because of their deaths. In contrast, Jesus promised us, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b). In other words, Jesus is active in the work of building his church, which he started. Are we actively partnering with him?

I think the metaphor in Matthew 7:24-29 is a call to build the church, God’s house. However, we are not alone. Jesus, the master builder, is with us. I propose that we are his helping hands in the process of building God’s house. For this reason, we need to pay attention to where he needs us.

  • How does your church respond to the call of building the house of God?
  • Given the turmoil in our countries and in the rest of the world, how does your congregation discern where Jesus is actively working to build his house?
  • What actions should your congregation take to partner with him?

—Fanosie Legesse fanosielegesse@yahoo.ca

October 2, 2016
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. The Imprint of God

Hebrews 1:1-9

“Sovereignty of Jesus: He Has the Final Say about Our Destiny”

Last week was heavy with violence and global unrest as the United Nations was conducting its 71st assembly in New York City. President Barak Obama, the first black president of the United States of America, delivered his last 45-minute address to the assembly. He insisted that the world should strive for global governance that works to bring peace and equality to the world instead of holding on to the sovereignty of one powerful nation. How much impact will this speech of the most powerful man in the world have in bringing global change? We will have to wait and see.

On the national side, Keith Lamont Scott of Charlotte, North Carolina, and Terence Crutcher of Tulsa, Oklahoma, were killed in the same week. This adds two more to over 200 black Americans killed by police this year alone. President Obama spoke on this issue on the eve of the grand opening of the new National Museum of African American History and Culture. In his own words, “Last night, as I was reading through my letters, I’d say about half of them said, ‘Mr. President, why are you always against police and why aren’t you doing enough to deal with these rioters and the violence?’ . . . And then the other half . . . said, ‘Mr. President, why aren’t you doing something about the police, and when are we actually gonna get justice?’”[1]

Yes, the president of the United States addressed the UN for the last time as a president. Indeed, Mr. Obama has been speaking after every terrorist attack on American soil and after most of the killings of black Americans by the police force. However, fear of one another, conflict, the rhetoric of hate, and racism seem to be increasing. I think it is time to turn to the sovereign God, who has the final and absolute say about our destiny.

Hebrews 1:1-9 states that God has spoken what God has to say to the world through his Son Jesus Christ. God has spoken two major things through Jesus. First, Jesus Christ is the heir of being the ultimate authority over all matters of the universe. Jesus is the sovereign and eternal King over the whole creation—visible and invisible. He is also the eternal High Priest who keeps everlasting rightness between God and humanity (vv. 2, 8-9).

Second, God has spoken of a provision for purification of sins through Jesus Christ. Sin is the root of every evil and violence. In contrast, the purification of sins is the end of evil and violence. The writer of Hebrews gives a simple summary, saying, “After he provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (v. 3b). However, we know that purification of sins comes only after people hear and accept the good news of Jesus’ becoming flesh, proclaiming the message of his father, dying on the cross, and resurrecting into his sovereignty.

God’s final speech through Jesus is not like President Obama’s final speech to the UN as a president. No, God’s final word about bringing an end to evil and violence is not similar to the president’s furious call for tougher national gun control laws. God’s speech is the absolute and final word that will be a reality in the very near future. What is God speaking through Jesus Christ to the issues we are facing today? I believe the church is the primary audience of what God is saying through Jesus to the current national and global issues.

  • What is God saying through his Son Jesus Christ to your congregation today?
  • What actions are you prepared to take to obey God?

—Fanosie Legesse

fanosielegesse@yahoo.ca

[1]. John Parkinson & Melina Delkic, “Obama Addresses Racial Tension at Celebration of African-American History Museum,” ABC News, September 23, 2016.

September 25, 201
Adult Bible Study Online
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  1. Everlasting Covenant

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

“The Sovereignty of God: Justice to All Nations”

I turned the TV on to watch the news. They showed a minute’s worth of Hillary Clinton being escorted into a car as she almost collapsed. Then Donald Trump appeared on the screen arguing that he is the fit and healthy one to be the next president of the United States, one of the most powerful persons in the world. What is driving these two retirement-age candidates to put every ounce of energy into campaigning for a position of such power?

The world is in two camps as if everyone has something to contribute to the outcome of this election. I am not big on politics, but I cannot help asking, “What is the role of the sovereign God in this?” I know God both raises powers and dethrones them. Is it God who motivates these two people in their 60s and 70s to fight tooth and nail to assume power? Opinions vary according to who answers this question.

Isaiah 61 describes a person who authoritatively claimed that the anointing of Yahweh was on his head. Isaiah announced that the spirit of God has chosen and empowered this person to become a preacher of prosperity, freedom, well-being, comfort, and the rebuilding of the cities of the land (vv. 1-3). This unnamed person is to bring Yahweh’s justice upon the people of Israel first and then to all nations of the world (vv. 8-11).

One can only imagine what the people in captivity thought when they heard this prophetic proclamation. They were weary and thirsty for freedom from the oppression of their captivity. Their hearts were broken, for they had lost everything (the majestic temple where they worshiped Yahweh, their land, and their God-appointed leaders). This prophetic good news would have been like a rain shower on a dry land or olive oil poured on an open wound. They must have knelt down and praised Yahweh for this promise of healing, rescue, and revitalization.

We are privileged to know that Isaiah’s prophecy was about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Luke 4). Jesus is the sovereign God who is about to bring eternal justice to all nations of the earth. His final proclamation states, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). The difference between the person in Isaiah 61 and the two presidential candidates is not in the promises made, but the person’s ability to make the promises a reality. Jesus is the only one able to bring his promises to fruition. The question is: What should believers do until then? I argue that we should do everything in our power to bring God’s justice wherever we live.

  • How might Jesus be calling you and your congregation to participate in God’s justice in the face of local and global challenges?

—Fanosie Legesse, fanosielegesse@yahoo.ca

 

September 18, 2016
Adult Bible Study Online

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  1. Foundations of the Earth

Isaiah 40:21-31

“Sovereignty of God: An Assurance of Forgiveness, Freedom, and Renewal”

While visiting a congregation in which he had participated while studying in the United States, a Nepalese brother recently gave a testimony about God’s intervention in his country. In Nepal, a decade of civil war has ended, the nation is now a democracy with a new constitution, and women hold the top three leadership positions. Nepal is now a secular state, which potentially opens doors for the church to worship and minister there. Rebuilding from the 2015 earthquake continues. “This is the movement of God. We feel your prayers; please continue to pray for the nation of Nepal,” he shared.

Like the people of Nepal, Israel went through many unpleasant circumstances and situations in the land of their captivity. Isaiah 40 was an uplifting message for them. The clear implication of the chapter is the end of captivity and a reunion with Yahweh. Strangely, the people were not excited by the proclamation. They had yearned for God’s deliverance from their captors for a long time and were on the verge of giving up. Just when they were at the end of their collective rope, Yahweh proclaimed unfathomable forgiveness, freedom, and renewal for God’s people.

In verses 2 and 3, Yahweh has forgiven the people. Israel has paid for her sin more than enough. Consequently, it is time for comforting one another and celebrating that the debt and guilt of God’s people are taken away.

Freedom is another important message implied in this text. The only way a nation can claim freedom is when that nation has its own king/shepherd. Verses 9-11 assure the people of Israel that Yahweh is coming to be their King and gentle Shepherd.

The final extraordinary declaration of verses 29-31 describes the renewal Yahweh will bring to those who trust God as “the everlasting God” (v. 28). After this renewal, even the strong and the young will not be able to match the strength and power of Yahweh’s people.

The people, however, were still questioning the message and the messenger. In fact, verse 27 uses courtroom language to describe the state of mind of the people. They believed that their case was closed; their files were nowhere to be found. How can a people, living in the valley of death, dream of such awesome realities?

Isaiah had to answer the questions of the people if they were to believe what he had to say. The prophet reminds them of who God is. Isaiah uses vivid descriptions to magnify how great Yahweh is. The prophet reminds them that their God created the whole universe. He also declares that the nations that ruled over them were as small as grasshoppers (v. 22) and “a drop in a bucket” (v. 15) before Yahweh.

The church is the gathering of the current people of God. I am convinced that we too need to make an intentional effort to refresh our knowledge of our God. He is Almighty God who has come to dwell among us through Jesus Christ. The faith community needs to know that we are the objects of God’s forgiveness and love, the subjects of Jesus’ absolute and fair kingdom (true freedom), and the projects of the Holy Spirit’s continuous renewal. As a result, we are empowered to extend the mission of the sovereign God—forgiveness, freedom, and renewal.

  • Where do you see God’s mission of forgiveness, freedom, and renewal at work?

—Fanosie Legesse

fanosielegesse@yahoo.ca

 

September 11, 2016
Adult Bible Study Online
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  1. The Mountain of God

Isaiah 25:6-10a

The Sovereignty of God: A Call to Partner with God in the Work of  Restoration, Recreation, and Resurrection

The song of Isaiah 25 presents two major realities of the world at that time. On one hand, this prophetic poetry describes the ruthlessness of powerful nations—like powerful and devastating hurricanes that crush against anything that stands before them. The powerful nations were like a scorching sun in the desert that burns everything into dryness and agonizing thirst. On the other hand, the song describes the humble, the poor, the needy, and the God-fearing community as the ones for whom the Lord cares. In Yahweh, these people found shelter and refuge from the raging destruction of the proud, arrogant, and inhumane superpowers (vv. 4-5).

I am awestruck by the prophet’s submission to the spirit of God and his ability to see beyond his distressful situation. He was imaginatively transported into a distant future reality. He praised God for a future certainty of God’s victorious triumph and just judgment over the oppressive powers. He opened his imaginative eyes and saw people of all nations partying on the top of Yahweh’s mountain. He foresaw the multinational gathering eating and drinking from the bountiful foods and drinks prepared by the Lord of hosts.

In his vivid vision of the future, the inspired poet also came to terms with what the suffering nations will do under Yahweh’s absolute rule. He penned an imaginative song that depicted the faith community boasting in the Lord. He imagined them enthusiastically proclaiming, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation” (v. 9). I truly think that the first readers of this song could not help but do everything in their power to be part of the faith community that waits for Yahweh’s salvation.

Finally, I think the song’s announcement of the ultimate annihilation of death (the worst enemy of humankind) and the final humiliation of pride and arrogance of systems and powers (like Moab) would have kindled an unceasing fire of hope in the hearts of believers. This song would have been a source of an empowering energy for Isaiah and his people to mentally travel into the future and forget their present misery for a while.

The most frequent question I hear when it comes to current and global realities is, “Where is the good God while evil triumphs over good?” I think Isaiah 25 answers this question by calling us to partner with Yahweh in the work of restoration, re-creation, and resurrection. This song is extremely relevant to the current church now more than ever. After all, we have the privilege of reading this song in light of the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We also know that we are to experience the same resurrection in due time.

Isaiah 25 unwaveringly underlines the message that Yahweh is a sovereign God who is at work in restoring, recreating, and resurrecting people of all nations. The best way to apply this song in our daily lives with enthusiasm and passion is to imitate the life and ministry of Jesus and his faithful servants after him. Yes, this song empowers us to march through the dark tunnel of current depressive realities, arming us with the hope of the certainty of the light, restoration, and resurrection at the end of the tunnel.

—Fanosie Legesse

fanosielegesse@yahoo.ca

 

Fanosie Legesse pic

Fanosie Legesse

September 4, 2016
Adult Bible Study Online
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  1. The Peaceful Kingdom

Isaiah 11:1-9

“The Sovereignty of God: The Guarantee of Eternal Peace”

Isaiah 11:1-16 is a prophetic song of eternal peace in the context of global turmoil because of war and destruction. The empire of Assyria destroyed the very symbols of peace and security of many nations—temples of a god/gods, kingdom/kings, and national land. Thousands upon thousands of people were killed and many were sold into slavery and hard labor by the brutal and merciless masters of Assyria. I can only imagine the magnitude of trauma, despair, brokenness, sorrow, and agony of the nations that were enslaved under that greedy and extremely selfish kingdom.

Judea was also under immediate threat of losing it all—the temple of Yahweh, the divinely established kingdom of David, and their God-given land, including the holy city of Jerusalem. It was then the song of Isaiah 11:1-16 started to exist in the hearts of the people of Israel. The song gently acknowledges that all will be gone. Even the kingdom of David (which was like an everlasting tree) will be reduced into a stump (v. 1). It also implies that the wicked will have the upper hand (vv. 4-6).

Nevertheless, the only way to soar above the destructive global turmoil inflicted by those who were like furious predators to the powerless prey (wolfs to lambs, poisonous snakes to infants, lions to calves, and leopards to goats) is believing in the absolute, unchanging, and eternal God Yahweh and his universal plan—the sovereignty of God. Yahweh promises to raise a shoot out of the stump of the kingdom of David, one who will reverse global despair, hopelessness, oppression, sorrow, and depression into eternal and everlasting peace.

What does this all have to do with our global context today? As I am writing this article, the Middle East is swimming in the unceasing flow of blood shed by war and terrorist attacks. Italy has been hit by a 6.2 magnitude earthquake and the death toll is rising. In addition, incurable diseases (e.g., old ones—cancer, HIV AIDS, and new ones like Zika), natural disasters (global warming, floods, wildfires, etc.) and other destructive things are threating our very existence on the planet wherever we go.

I am convinced that the song of Isaiah 11 is a timely call for today’s community of God. In other words, I believe that the only way to soar above the current global turmoil and go through it all with relative sanity (as we grieve with those who grieve, cry with those who cry, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and be there for those who need us the most) is trusting in God’s sovereign ushering of history into its destination. Yes, God is unchangeably in control. God’s eternal and universal plan is to establish a cosmic and everlasting kingdom of peace and harmony among and over all nations, languages, and tribes of the world.

—Fanosie Legesse fanosielegesse@yahoo.ca

Fanosie Legesse pastors Zion Mennonite Fellowship in Elmira, Ontario. He is the husband of Dianne Legesse and the father of Zach and Lydia. Fanosie is originally from Ethiopia where he served as a pastor and Bible teacher in Sire Meserete Kristos Church and the Meserete Kristos College respectively. Fanosie and his family live in Fergus, Ontario.

 

August 14, 2016

Adult Bible Study Online

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  1. Living under God’s Mercy

Romans 9:6-18

In Romans 9, we learn that God’s children are the children of promise, regarded as Abraham’s offspring. As God’s children, we are heirs to God’s promises, and we also have the privilege of knowing God at a deep level. One of the ways we communicate with God is by reading the Bible. In Romans we learn that God will show mercy to those for whom God has compassion. We learn that God can use anyone to display God’s power and name, and this can happen even through the people whom God hardens.

Have you ever asked God, “Why did this happen to me?” Or has anyone ever asked you, “How can anyone do such a thing?” If so, whatever the answer may be, we are taught and challenged to understand that God is in control of all of our situations, as well as the people who are involved in those situations.

During the recent presidential conventions in the United States, the candidates from two political parties presented their positions on various matters. The candidates differed in their views as to what constitutes a “great America.” One reporter noted that the adage “There isn’t ‘a dime’s worth of difference’ between the Republicans and the Democrats” doesn’t fit these conventions.[1] People may feel that if a certain candidate is elected, America will be a different country from the one they live in now. People may be concerned and think that their future will depend on who becomes the next president. However, we have to keep in mind that ultimately God is the one who has supreme control of the world, along with everything and everyone in it.

The same God who can harden someone’s heart can also use anyone to display God’s power and to proclaim God’s name. We may not understand the actions of everyone we encounter or why certain things occur. But we are called to depend on God in every single moment of our lives. So, we should not be overly concerned about anything; instead, we are to do our best and surrender the rest to God.

Every day, let us deepen our understanding and knowledge of God. Our God can touch and change anyone’s heart and show mercy to anyone. Furthermore, God can use anyone, even the unlikeliest one, to glorify God’s name. Knowing that God is in control, we can rest assured that no matter what is going on in our life, family, country, and the world, nothing is ever out of control, because God is in control.

—Bobby Wibowo
bobbywibowo@gmail.com

[1]. Thomas Fitzgerald, “Contrast and Compare,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 31, 2016, 1.

 

August 7, 2016
Adult Bible Study Online

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  1. Safe in God’s Love

Romans 8:28-39

Recently, a major car accident occurred in Seattle, Washington, involving multiple vehicles. Things looked to be going from bad to worse when a truck and a car caught on fire. The car’s driver was stuck in the car. An off-duty police officer happened to be behind the accident. By his own admission, he mustered some “superhuman strength” and wrenched open the car door. A bystander helped him pull the woman from her car and carry her to safety just moments before the truck exploded. The accident was not good news, and the fire made the situation worse. But in the end, a life was saved just in time—a miraculous story.

Paul writes about this in Romans 8:28-39. We learn that in all things God works for the good of those who love God (v. 28), and we know that all things means “all things,” both the good and the bad. The key for us is to continually love God, because if God is on our side, no one can stand against us (v. 31). Because of Jesus’ love, we are more than conquerors (v. 37), and no one can separate us from God’s love (v. 35). In our lives, good and bad things can be used by God to bring an end that is good, for those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose. When we know this fact, we should always be encouraged no matter what we are going through, because one thing is certain—God is in full control of every area of our lives. Even if it feels as though the situations we are facing are out of control and life’s storms seem to be hitting us back-to-back, God will use it all to bring a good end. Paul wanted the Roman church and us to understand that God’s timing is perfect, and that nothing happens without God knowing about it and without God being in control.

Today, we may face difficult to impossible situations, and we may feel as though the world is against us. However, let us remember that we are not to live based on how we feel but on what we know to be true. God is on our side, and nothing in this world is greater than our God. Let us continue to love God in all circumstances, for we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love the Lord.

  • When have you experienced the truths of Romans 8 in your life?
  • How do these promises encourage you in the face of current or anticipated difficulties?

—Bobby Wibowo bobbywibowo@gmail.com

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

 

July 31, 2016
Adult Bible Study Online

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  1. Death Becomes Life

Romans 6:1-4, 12-14, 17-23

Good news! In Romans 6, we learn that we have been set free from sin and we can live righteously. Righteousness leads to holiness. Sinful actions result in death, but if we live according to God’s ways, the result is eternal life.

When we are angry about a situation, we are faced with some choices. We can follow our fleshly desires and act according to our feelings. Or we can stop to think about the consequences of the action we feel compelled to take. More often than not, a decision based on anger does not lead to a good end for us and the people around us.

For some time, we have been reeling from the violence perpetrated by individuals and groups on innocent people around the world: police shooting unarmed persons, stalkers and suicide bombers killing police and innocent people, and warring groups decimating civilians. People have died while attending Bible study, such as the nine members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015. Even our peaceful Anabaptist communities have not been spared, such as the October 2006 shooting of 10 schoolgirls in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, and the shooting at a local business in Hesston, Kansas, in February 2016.

We need to be keenly aware of how the anger and violence create more violence, and hatred feeds more hatred. It’s easy to have a forgiving spirit until violence and hatred touch us and our loved ones. The hot desire for retaliation flames from our pain. But in every situation listed above, and in many others, Christians have found ways to stop cycles of sin by extending forgiveness and love, even in the midst of great pain.[1],[2],[3] They continue to present themselves “to God as those who have been brought from death to life,” and present their bodies to God “as instrument[s] of righteousness” (v. 13).

  • How do you live obediently into God’s righteousness?
  • What sins get in the way of walking in newness of life (v. 4)?
  • How have you experienced freedom from sin that comes with righteous obedience to God?

As children of the God who owns the universe, we are called to live righteously. We represent the kingdom of God. Let it be that, by the way we conduct our lives, people will see the love of our Lord Jesus in us.

—Bobby Wibowo bobbywibowo@gmail.co

[1]. Dylan Stableford, “Families of Charleston Shooting Victims to Dylann Roof: We Forgive You,” Yahoo! News, June 19, 2015.
[2]. Donald B. Kraybill, “How Can Amish Forgive?The Mennonite, October 17, 2006, p. 5.
[3]. Michele Hershberger, “Shalom Justice: Reflections on Events in Hesston,” The Mennonite, February 28, 2016.

 

July 24, 2016
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  1. Got Peace, Got Grace, Got Love, Got Hope?

Romans 5:1-11

In Romans 5:1-11, Paul wrote that we have been justified through faith, and it is all due to what Jesus Christ did for us while we were still sinners. We are also taught to glory in our sufferings, knowing that sufferings produce perseverance, character, and finally hope. God’s love for us is unconditional, and no matter where we are in life, we know that as we faithfully follow God’s teachings, our lives will be made better, and we are being made better from the inside out.

Only days after the Independence Day holiday in the United States, Philando Castile was shot and killed by a policeman during a routine traffic violation stop near St. Paul, Minnesota. His girlfriend and daughter witnessed the shooting, while other members of the family found out about the incident through social media. The disbelief, anger, and sadness of this news were beyond description, especially for Castile’s family, but also for everyone else learning of this horrific event.

In life, unexpected things can happen anytime, just as this news was unexpected. The loss of life and the circumstances around the cause of death are very difficult for the family and the whole country. But as believers, we have to remember that the sufferings of this world are temporary, although it feels as though they last forever. For we know that as we remain faithful in the Lord, the promise is true that in the end there will be hope.

In difficult times, it may be hard to believe that God has a good plan for our lives. People can become bitter and try to move away from God. Those are the times, however, when we have to put our faith into action even more. We have to run to God instead of running from God.

Today, if we are going through tough times, we should not be discouraged. Instead, we should remind ourselves that we are going through a process that will make us better persons, and in the end there will be hope. On the other hand, if we are living in victory and are blessed beyond measure, we also have to remember that what we are able to achieve and what we have is not because of our own strength. Every blessing we have comes from God.

—Bobby Wibowo, bobbywibowo@gmail.com

A readers theater of Romans 5:1-11 is available as an ABS Reproducible for use with this session at www.MennoMedia.org/abs.

 

July 17, 2016BobbyWibowoResized
Adult Bible Study Online
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  1. God Set Things Right

Romans 3:21-31

Recently, the United Kingdom (UK) decided to leave the European Union (EU). This was due to the majority of the people voting to leave EU rather than to stay. As a result, Prime Minister David Cameron decided that he will leave office but do his best to prepare the nation for these changes beforehand. Due to the decision of the majority of the people, the country is steered in a direction based on their vote. As the leadership changes, other things will change as well. As time goes on, we will see what particular changes will take effect—changes that are related to policies, the economy, rules, and regulations or laws in the UK. In any case, when a decision is made and it comes from a place of authority, changes are made, whether for better or for worse.

We are quite accustomed to having the action or decision of the majority make the difference in our surroundings, but we learn in this study of Romans 3:21-31that it is not always the case when it comes to what God is doing. We learn that we are justified in our relationships with God because of Jesus’ sacrifice, and we receive righteousness by faith. We know that the sacrifice of one person—Jesus—became the point of difference. It is the one thing that forever changes our lives.

Because of Jesus, the majority of people are affected, not only for better, but for the best. This change takes effect for believers, those who place their faith in Christ. Sinners are forgiven, second chances are given, and new beginnings are offered for those who believe. Furthermore, there is assurance of eternal life. Those who are not yet believers are given the invitation to come on board, and those who are believers are called to live according to Jesus’ teachings. We are called to live out the gospel and to be transformed into new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).

  • What shifts in your relationship with Jesus when you remember that your salvation comes from his sacrifice and resultant grace?
  • What shifts in your relationship with nonbelievers when you remember that their salvation is also rooted in God’s grace and mercy?

—Bobby Wibowo

bobbywibowo@gmail.com

 

July 10, 2016
Adult Bible Study Online
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  1. Everyone “Blows It”

Romans 3:9-20

In Romans 3:9-20, we learn that we don’t become okay in God’s eyes by following the law; rather, the law teaches us right from wrong. We are all sinners, and no one on this earth is perfect. But God, with great mercy, decided to send “his one and only Son,” Jesus Christ, to be the sacrifice so “that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). We are forgiven not because we have kept every single law and commandment, but because of God’s mercy and grace.

Recently, a newspaper article reported a story about a person who operated a vehicle while intoxicated. The driver struck and killed several cyclists, and later faced 14 charges. In the same manner, because of our sins, we were supposed to be charged as well. As verse 20 teaches, “No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law, we become conscious of our sin.”

  • Have you ever done something wrong and known that you were supposed to be punished, but then the punishment was lifted?
  • If so, how did that make you feel?
  • If not, then imagine if you were supposed to be punished, but someone else willingly took the punishment for you. How would that make you feel?

Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection changed everything. We were supposed to be charged and condemned to go to hell because of our sins; however, Jesus came to earth and died on the cross to pay for our sins. We did not do anything to earn the gift of salvation or to earn God’s grace. By God’s grace we are saved, and salvation is given for free to us because we could never do anything to earn it. The price is paid in full.

Consequently, because we have received grace, mercy, and forgiveness through the perfect sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we can live in victory, knowing that we do not have to suffer under the bondage of sin. So, no matter what sins the law has made you are aware of in your life, declare that you can overcome and be free from them, not because of your own strength, but because of the strength that comes from the Lord.

Let peace, joy, and thanksgiving fill our hearts as we give thanks to the Lord every day for all that Jesus has done.

—Bobby Wibowo

bobbywibowo@gmail.com

July 3, 2016
Adult Bible Study Online
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  1. Ignoring God’s Truth within Us

Romans 2:13, 17-29

Romans 2:13 and 17-29 teaches us that in order to be declared righteous we are to live as Christians by obeying God’s law. Verse 27 says, “The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.” As God’s children, we glorify God’s name when we live how God wants us to live. If we call ourselves God’s children, but do not live the way God wants us to live, then we are a stumbling block.

Recently, the local news website reported a car crash in Philadelphia and showed the vehicles involved in the accident. If the driver of one of the vehicles came out of the car and said that nothing had happened, others around him or her would not say the same thing, because they saw that an accident occurred. Can a person claim to be a diligent employee in a company if he or she always comes to work late, leaves work early, and does not finish assignments on time? That person may say “I am a diligent employee,” but saying the words does not make it true. What makes it true is when the person’s actions match the words that are uttered.

  • How have you been obeying Jesus’ teachings and putting them into practice in your life every day?
  • If your actions throughout the week were to be recorded and put into a movie for others to watch, would any parts of the movie be embarrassing or make you wish they were not there?

If a person claims to be a Christian, but his or her words and actions do not reflect the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, then that person’s statement is to be questioned. If we desire to be truly transformed to be like Christ, then we must have a relationship with Christ. To be more like Christ, we have to spend more time with Christ. In addition to meeting together for worship and fellowship, we have to spend time in God’s Word as well.

We have to do our very best to live like Jesus. We believe that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Therefore, when we read the Bible every day, we come closer to God, and as we spend time in God’s presence we become spiritually stronger. Then we are able to overcome the fleshly desires of our bodies. We have the strength to change habits or lifestyles that do not conform with God’s commandments, and we become more like Jesus, one step at a time. As we focus on living like Jesus, we are transformed and become as “the one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law” (Romans 2:27).

—Bobby Wibowo, bobbywibowo@gmail.com

 

 

 

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