Adult Bible Study & Current News

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
A current connection to each week’s session

  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
Adult Bible Study Online

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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, 201
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

June 26, 2016
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Ignoring God’s Plain Truth

Romans 1:16-23, 28-32

Romans 1:16-23 and 28-32 talks about those who are living their lives contrary to God’s commandments, even though they know of God’s commandments and the consequences of disobedience. As believers we are called to live differently; we are to live out the gospel. Verse 16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” The later parts of the passage mention specific things that were done against the will of God. Verse 29 says, “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips.”

We are witnessing tensions surrounding the presidential campaigns in the United States.  The news media covered a story regarding supporters of different presidential candidates and how the supporter of one candidate was hit by the supporter of another. We live in a world that is full of differences, but will strife and violence resolve the differences between people? The answer is no.

As God’s children live in this world we have to take a firm stand and not be ashamed of the gospel. We are to show love to our enemies and forgive those who wrong us. To be unashamed of the gospel means that not only are we willing to share the gospel with nonbelievers, but we are to live our lives according to what the gospel teaches us, even though we risk being mocked and hated by others. We have to be sure that we keep ourselves in check as well, regarding the things we are called to avoid (see vv. 28-32).

Two questions we can ask ourselves:

  • How have I been living my life lately? Are there any signs of my straying away from God’s teachings?
  • Do any parts of my life need to be changed?

No one is perfect, but there is a difference between willingly and gladly living our lives against God’s commandments and doing our best to live our lives according to God’s commandments. The latter will not be a perfect life, but we have a clear sense of direction. We live under the guidance of God’s Word, and even when we fail, we get up again and continue to walk in the right path because our minds are focused on God.  Let us be on alert; let us not shift our focus from God’s teachings. Let us not be ashamed of the gospel and let us live as God wants us to. As we do so, we will not only live our lives to the fullest, but our lives will glorify God’s name.

—Bobby Wibowo, bobbywibowo@gmail.com

 

June 19, 2016
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Assurances and Joy for the Faithful

Zephaniah 3:9-17, 20

Zephaniah 3:9-20 reminds us that the Lord shows mercy to those who are faithful, even though they may not be perfect. God spoke words of restoration, mercy, and forgiveness for God’s people, showing that God’s wrath is not all that God wants to show to us. God disciplines us so that we can learn from our mistakes and do better in the future. Verse 11 says, “On that day you, Jerusalem, will not be put to shame for all the wrongs you have done to me, because I will remove from you your arrogant boasters. Never again will you be haughty on my holy hill.” This shows God’s sovereignty and kindness, and that the Lord wants the best for God’s people.

Whether you are a parent or not, you can see how other parents discipline their children, or remember how your parents disciplined you.

  • Have you ever had a privilege or something precious taken away from you? If so, how did you react?
  • Has a lost privilege or something precious ever been restored to you? If so, how did you feel?

Today, parents commonly give their children Apple iPads or Samsung tablets (gadgets) to play games, read books, or watch videos. When children misbehave, one form of discipline is to take away the gadgets. This is not done because the parents hate their children, but because they love them and want to teach them right from wrong. Discipline can be painful, but it is done to guide the children to the right path and to correct their behaviors. When children obey, change their behaviors, and do the right things, the gadgets are given back to them. I am sure all of us have experienced the loss of privileges or something precious that was later restored to us. We learned our lessons and became more appreciative of what we had.

We can see that God’s judgments and discipline were followed with mercy. It is clear that Jerusalem wronged God, but God gave an assurance of forgiveness for those who were not arrogant and haughty. Verse 12 says that God will leave meek and humble people among those who trust God. We are called to live faithfully to God, to be meek and humble as we live in this imperfect world. Our situation today may not be easy. Things may look as though they are not going right, and life may seem difficult. But as we faithfully live the way God wants us to, we can be sure that God will bring us through difficult situations and into the promises that God has in store for us.

—Bobby Wibowo
bobbywibowo@gmail.com

Bobby Wibowo, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is our ABS Online contributor for this summer’s study, Toward a New Creation. He currently serves two Franconia Mennonite Conference congregations as an interim pastoral associate with the Indonesian Light Church and a worship leader for his home congregation, Philadelphia Praise Center. He received his MA in Ministry from Biblical Theological Seminary June 2016. Bobby is multilingual and is currently learning Korean.

© 2016 MennoMedia

June 12, 2016
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. The Consequences of Disobedience

Zephaniah 3:6-8

Zephaniah 3:6-8 talks about judgments as a result of the people’s disobedience to God. Verse 6 says, “I have destroyed nations; their strongholds are demolished. I have left their streets deserted, with no one passing through. Their cities are laid waste; they are deserted and empty.” This shows the sovereignty of God’s power. However, we must not forget that our God is not an angry God who is just looking for people and nations to punish. Verse 7 talks about the fact that if Jerusalem will fear God and accept correction, then punishment and destruction will not befall her. Our God is a loving God, full of mercy. God is all powerful. God’s ways are much greater than our ways. God will make all things work together for good (Romans 8:28).

When we talk about natural disasters and other things that happen outside of human control, some people often refer to them as an act of God. We can look over the past two decades and remember the hurricanes and tsunamis in different parts of the world that took many lives. One might feel like saying that the natural happened because the people were reaping what they had sown—that the devastations were the punishments for the wrongs people had done.

Recently, two planes crashed in Hawaii. Five people died in one of the crashes. These incidents are tragic. They cause pain and sadness to the families who lost their loved ones. The families may be asking, “If God is a good God, why must this tragedy happen?” or “If there is a God, why did God not prevent this tragedy from happening?” Perhaps we are tempted to wonder, “What sin did those people commit that caused the tragedy to befall them?”

As God’s people who are called to live in this world as salt and light, we should live our lives by sharing more love than judgments. Instead of passing judgment on others and beating them down with our words, we should give encouragement and share God’s loving-kindness with them. When we have nothing good to say, it may be best not to say anything at all. Our presence with people who are going through tough times can make a big difference in their lives. We may not be able to change someone’s life overnight, but through our words and our presence we are surely called to do our part to make their lives better. We may not get an answer for every question as to why some things happen, but we must always believe that, as we live our lives according to God’s commands, we can be sure that God will make all things work together for good.

—Bobby Wibowo

bobbywibowo@gmail.com

Bobby Wibowo, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is our ABS Online contributor for this summer’s study, Toward a New Creation. He currently serves two Franconia Mennonite Conference congregations as an interim pastoral associate with the Indonesian Light Church and a worship leader for his home congregation, Philadelphia Praise Center. He received his MA in Ministry from Biblical Theological Seminary June 2016. Bobby is multilingual and is currently learning Korean.

© 2016 MennoMedia

 

June 5, 2016BobbyWibowoResized
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. The Day of the Lord

Zephaniah 1:4-6, 14-16; 2:3

Zephaniah 1:4-6, 14-16, talks about the coming judgment and punishment toward Judah and Jerusalem, due to the fact that they had worshiped other gods. However, Zephaniah 2:3 shows that God gives a way out of the judgment and punishment, as long as the people are willing to seek the Lord.

In particular, Zephaniah 1:4-5 talks about the fact that the Lord will destroy Baal worshipers and those swearing by Molek, while Zephaniah 1:6 talks about those who turn back from following the Lord and “neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him.”

  • What does it mean today for a person to turn back from following the Lord?
  • What does it mean for a person not to inquire of the Lord?

Today, we may not necessarily see people practicing idolatry by worshiping the gods Baal and Molek, but idolatry can take place in different forms. Through our phones, we are now able to access the Internet, get tremendous amounts of information, and access much of our work. Through our phones, we can access different social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. When the Internet and social media take so much of our time, have we ever stopped to ask ourselves, “Am I too attached to the social media? Is it taking away my time with God? Am I being controlled by the Internet, because I am checking my phone every few minutes to see how my stocks are doing?”

We live in a time when people are encouraged to have more—a bigger house, a better car, or a better gadget. While it is not wrong to improve our lives and strive to have better things in life, we have to be mindful not to let our desire to achieve those things control and dictate our lives.

  • When you wake up in the morning, do you first look for the Word of God, or do you look for the news and check your phone?
  • Have you put anything above God and unconsciously made it an idol?

We cannot let ourselves be controlled by what the world says we should do or have. Our lives are to be guided by God’s words. As Zephaniah 2:3 says, we are to “seek the Lord   . . .  do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility.” We are not to put anything above God in our lives. Above all else, God has to be the one who reigns in the number one position in our lives. Our trust in the Lord our God has to be a priority. We are called to be disciplined, to follow God’s commands, to live our lives differently than the status quo, and to love God above all else. When we do so, not only will we be sheltered, but God will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

—Bobby Wibowo
bobbywibowo@gmail.com

Bobby Wibowo, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is our ABS Online contributor for this summer’s study, Toward a New Creation. He currently serves two Franconia Mennonite Conference congregations as an interim pastoral associate with the Indonesian Light Church and a worship leader for his home congregation, Philadelphia Praise Center. He received his MA in Ministry from Biblical Theological Seminary June 2016. Bobby is multilingual and is currently learning Korean.

© 2016 MennoMedia

 

May 29, 2016
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Joyous Faith

Luke 19:1-10

This week’s passage and study invite us to think about seeing Jesus. It also invites us to reflect on Zacchaeus, someone who made an extra effort to see Jesus. Sometimes we experience Jesus directly, and sometimes we experience Jesus by looking at him through the eyes of someone else.

Often, we think of seeing Jesus in the eyes of the poor and the marginalized. Here, however, we see Jesus with Zacchaeus, a wealthy tax collector. The gospel of Luke never lets us oversimplify where Jesus will show up.

Where might we look for Jesus in unexpected people and places? As Mennonites, we have often defined ourselves against, rather than with, other Christian denominations. This often comes with stereotypes of those denominations, including a long-standing Mennonite tendency to equate Catholicism with power and decadence.

In a recent speech, however, Pope Francis continued to flip this stereotype on its head. While accepting a prestigious European award, Pope Francis used the opportunity not to shore up his power or to savor his achievement but to continue to demand that his audience attend to the needs of others.  He again called his audience to do a better job of attending to refugees, not simply with charity but through a commitment to a more equitable economy.

In many ways, we Mennonites have earned a reputation for responding to refugee crises. We often reflect Jesus well in such moments. If we allow ourselves to see Jesus reflected in Pope Francis too, we might receive a reminder that the hardest work sometimes comes after that first response. It comes when we also heed the call to make sure our communities can actually be shaped by and for its new members.

  • When have you seen Jesus where you weren’t expecting to see him?
  • Where might you look for Jesus where you haven’t before?
  • How might looking for Jesus outside of our denomination help us see him better?
  • What could you do to make sure your community isn’t just charitable but is actually shaped by and for its newest members?

—Peter J. H. Epp, p_epp@hotmail.com

Editor’s note: We are grateful to Shanda Hochstetler and Peter Epp for sharing their insights on the Scriptures and current events during this quarter. Next week, Bobby Wibowo of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, begins a series of ABS Online articles for Toward a New Creation, our summer study of Zephaniah and Romans. Join us!

Shanda Hochstetler Peter Epp

May 22, 2016
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Childlike Faith

Luke 18:15-17; Mark 10:16

As congregations and denominations, we continually talk about children, children’s ministry, youth programming, young adults, how to engage, how to make them stay, and on and on. And yet we still haven’t figured it out. We struggle with how to relate to our children, how to draw them in, and how to receive the kingdom like them.

The Atlantic once ran a cover story declaring that we in North America have overprotected our kids.[1] How has our current culture of parenting and child-connecting changed? Or has it changed at all? Perhaps it is the same culture we grew up in, just packaged with changed technology. Do we view our children and the children of our congregation and community as people of importance, as teachers as well as learners? Do we encourage our children and our adults to explore and learn?

On the TED Radio Hour podcast, a recent topic was “Press Play.”[2] In it, speakers explored the science behind play and what it does for development and wellness. A riveting collection of speakers on a seldom discussed topic urged listeners to ask the very question we face in our Scripture reading today: What great blessings might be found, what great healing might occur, what miracles might unfold if we were to allow ourselves to act like little children more often? Do we as congregations take time to play together? Might this be another way to view Luke 18:17—that we should receive the kingdom of God playfully?

  • In our work in our congregations, are we encouraging intergenerational connections? (See “All about Love: Women Walking Together in Faith.”)[3]
  • What new approaches, new adventures, and new attitudes could be woven into our congregations so we become more connected to the children?
  • What could make us more like the children?

May we find opportunities this week to open our arms wildly and welcome God’s kingdom around us. May we seek playful adventures. May we see the world with childlike optimism. May we feel the very arms of Jesus around us, blessing us and inviting us into the kingdom.

—Shanda Hochstetler, shandace@gmail.com
[1]. Hanna Rosin, “The Overprotected Kid,” April 2014.
[2]. April 29, 2016.
[3]. Amelia Pahl, Canadian Mennonite, May 4, 2016.

 

May 15, 2016
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Humble Faith

Luke 18:9-14

In the midst of the U.S. primaries, it’s easy to relate to Luke 18. Donald Trump, of course, has been a particularly easy target for accusations of a puffed up ego. The biography on his website might make even the Pharisee in Luke 18 blush. Still, every candidate does more than his or her fair share of self-promotion, be it Hillary Clinton listing what others have said about her, or Ted Cruz criticizing peers to further his personal reputation. Even Bernie Sanders and John Kasich, the “humble” candidates, aren’t immune. Consider, for instance, Kasich’s biography. Buried between statements about being a husband and “a boy . . . [who has always] ‘just wanted to make things a little better,’” even he is sure to mention that “time and again [he did] what others said couldn’t be done.” Or, consider Bernie Sanders’ criticisms of Hillary Clinton for taking too much money from big banks. Such criticisms seem to echo: “God, I thank you that I am not like this robber!”

Of course, we should expect nothing less from our politicians because we implicitly and explicitly demand it. As has been most documented with Donald Trump’s rising popularity, we reward candidates who convince us that they are the strongest and most likely to succeed.

The truly humble, however, are not fixated on succeeding. Their primary concern is faithfulness and integrity, recognizing that they must simply reflect godly means while trusting that God is in charge of achieving the ultimate outcome. More than just the tax collector in Luke 18, these people act with courage while simply doing “average” jobs”—people like Letisha Ghanbari, an “OnStar Voice” who has helped to deliver two babies! Letisha has now received an award for her work, but to listen to her tell it, recognition has never been what drives her:

As long as I’ve done my job and made everybody happy, then that’s what I’m here for. The feeling of helping somebody is an overwhelming joy in itself. I can’t win everybody over, there’s always going to be the one guy who yells at me and he’s usually my favorite customer. Somedays, you feel like “Maybe I could have done more.” [1]

  • Where do you see our society’s obsession with self-promotion and success?
  • Where do you see people around you acting like the humble tax collector?
  • What do you think helps to make us humble? Do you agree that we are more humble when we worry less about succeeding?

[1] Bourree Lam, “Life as the OnStar Voice: Arranging Tow Trucks and Delivering Babies,” The Atlantic, April 29, 2016.

 

May 8, 2016
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Grateful Faith

Luke 17:11-19

The story of the healing of the lepers brings many challenges for us as Christ-followers. And frankly, like all the best stories in the Bible, it leaves many questions uncomfortably unanswered.

When we examine the stories of Jesus, we see that outsiders are often involved. Very often, as in this week’s story, we are being taught by the example of those we would call outsiders—the disenfranchised, the sick, and the weak—which is topsy-turvy. We generally think of ourselves—the people of God, the churchgoers—as the ones who have the lesson to teach “the world.” Can we reimagine our world so that we can genuinely learn from the lepers?

Gerald Mast, in The Mennonite, argues that perhaps we ought to embrace our failures enthusiastically and, in fact, perhaps our failure is what should draw us together. We’ve been thinking it’s the doing it right that makes us Christians, but maybe it’s in the doing it wrong. Mast writes, “I’m now convinced that Christ’s healing and hope flow through the church to the world because it is weak and full of conflict and not merely despite such failure. Go to church because of its weakness. Go to church because of its conflict.”[1] If this is our calling, then we should eagerly gather in those who are different from ourselves to build a more robust and conflict-filled church!   

In a peace lecture at Bluffton College, Drew G. I. Hart spoke about shalom and white dominant culture. He discussed that white dominant culture stands in the way of true shalom. How do we honestly face the racism in our privilege and in our history in order to find the true peace Christ calls us to? The article explains, “Hart said we must join in the lives of those that suffer, not to save black or brown people but to save ourselves: ‘And in doing so, one just might see more peacefully, and, in some way, make visible the truth of the crucified Christ.’”[2] Is this kind of topsy-turvy approach to healing precisely what Jesus was urging us toward with this week’s story of healing? Is the truth of God’s reconciling love and healing emanating from the sick, the weak, and the disenfranchised? If so, how can we authentically join our lives with those who suffer? How can we join the leper in praising Jesus in a loud voice?

As we ponder the many questions that arise from this week’s story, may we see our failures, our weakness, and our lumpy skin diseases as opportunities for God’s hope and healing to flow through us to the world.

—Shanda Hochstetler
shandace@gmail.com

[1]. “Go to Church Because It Fails,” March 25, 2016.
[2]. “Bluffton Lecturer Challenges Racism in the Church,” Mennonite World Review, April 11, 2016.

 

April 17, 2016
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. A Sound Mind

Luke 8:26-36

As much as Jesus is the rightful star of the Gospels, it sure seems like the pigs sometimes steal the spotlight in this story (Luke 8:26-36). Their potential symbolism is too hard to pass up.

I find it fascinating to remember that the pigs were somebody’s property. More than that, they were somebody’s economic investment. Jesus may have been healing a social outcast, confronting religious exclusivity, and showing up Roman imperialism, but he was also flushing somebody’s savings. Not surprisingly, a number of commentators suggest that this played a big role in why Jesus was driven from the town. He was hurting the economy!

With this in mind, Luke 8 also becomes a story about the inevitable tension between economics and relationships. By sending the demons into the pigs, Jesus makes a dramatic statement about what is more important. Clearly, the person is more important than the money. In fact, even as the healed man begs to leave with Jesus, Jesus encourages him to return to his community, to go back and reestablish his relationships.

In June, Mennonite Church Canada will vote on a proposal that could significantly alter the way that we relate and worship in the future. One recurring concern has been that the new proposal will look to save money by replacing long-term MC Canada Witness terms with three-month stints. (See also www.canadianmennonite.org/stories/ten-years-later).

Regina Mondez, a Filipina who has worked for years with MC Canada Witness workers, has written a striking response to this. In particular, she observes that MC Canada’s financial investment in her community may not have helped in the ways we would have hoped for. Nevertheless, she argues strongly for Witness workers’ continued, long-term presence in her community. The relationships they’ve built, she argues, are invaluable.

  • Where do you see tensions between money and relationships in your church, community, society, and the world today?
  • What do you find difficult about prioritizing people over money?
  • What do you find inspiring about Jesus’ actions in this story?
  • Where might God be calling you to prioritize relationship over money?

—Peter J. H. Epp
p_epp@hotmail.com

 

April 10, 2016
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. A Reversal of Shame

Luke 7:36-50

Forgiveness cannot be examined without staring pain in the face. Whether it be emotional or physical, without the pain of brokenness, there is no need for forgiveness.

While I was studying this passage, stories about the terrorist attack in the airport in Brussels were filling social media. Perhaps it’s easier as Mennonites to think about forgiveness on such a big scale. We know the messages of peace. We are comfortable with suggestions that we need to bring love and forgiveness to our faraway enemies. But this week’s study from Luke doesn’t allow us to keep a safe distance from the act of receiving forgiveness. It’s intimate and uncomfortable.

Ryan Dueck in a reflection on eating soup during Lent writes, “As Christians, we are children not of crucifixion but of resurrection. We do not ignore the pain of the world, nor do we shrink from entering into and identifying with and owning it. We do not close our eyes and pretend that things are better than they are . . . but we cling to our conviction that the Christian narrative is always one . . . of life swallowing up death.”

This is exactly what Luke is inviting us into—the pain and the joy of forgiveness, the awkwardness, the vulnerability, the authentic welcome. How do we make safe spaces for others to fall at the feet of Jesus? Is our own unwillingness to fall apart standing in the way of true worship, true forgiveness? How do we live clinging to resurrection without forgetting crucifixion?

“Being human is hard work and . . . the hardness of it exposes parts of our faith that are weak, parts that have been covered by self-sufficiency, buried beneath a fear of being known, and eaten up by sin, left unconfessed and repented from. . . . [W]e need safe places to fail, to wrestle, to struggle, to seek forgiveness, to grow, to heal up, to be honest,” writes Rachel Ann Smolen in SheLoves Magazine.

  • What does making safe places to fail, to wrestle, to struggle, to seek forgiveness actually look like?

As Smolen writes, let’s not be “afraid to speak of our own shame and lament . . . to be undone in the presence of others because that is part of why we were given to one another in the first place.”

—Shanda Hochstetler
shandace@gmail.com
A dramatic reading of Luke 7:36-50 is available free for use with this session at www.MennoMedia.org/abs.

 

April 3, 2016
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Renewed Health

Luke 7:1-10

As so often happens with Scripture, I noticed something new in my most recent reading of Luke 7:1-10. The centurion’s request is first delivered by Jewish elders. Not only that, the Jewish elders are vouching for the centurion, essentially saying: “Jesus, this is a good guy. You should help him!”

Based on most historical reconstructions of Jesus’ time and place, this should surprise us. Aren’t Roman centurions the “bad guys”? Wasn’t their military occupation standing in the way of the Jewish people becoming the nation that God had called them to be?

So it makes sense that the Jewish elders would believe that a centurion “worth” helping might need an extra introduction. They assumed that Jesus might not be predisposed to helping this guy, and they wanted to explained that he was “one of the good ones.”

Knowing Jesus as we do now, of course, we likely recognize that Jesus does not separate the world into “us” and “them.” We also likely recognize that Jesus came to us because he deemed all of us worth helping. Still, in our broken human nature, we continue to struggle to achieve that kind of love and openness. To that end, even if Jesus might not need us to make the case that a seeming enemy is worthy of our love and understanding, we may still need to be that reminder for one another.

I’m reminded of a recent column in The Guardian in which someone does just that. The article is written by someone North Americans and Christians might all too often label as an “enemy”—Kaddie Abdul, a Muslim woman. In her article, however, she puts in a good word for some people we might least expect her to— the people she met at a Donald Trump rally. She reminds us that they are not caricatures. And she invites us to spend more time talking with political opponents and less time assuming we already know how they would respond to us. Like the Jewish elders, she vouches for “the other.” Like Jesus, she mirrors God’s reconciling love for us.

  • Who are the people you’ve vouched for recently?
  • When has someone vouched for you?
  • When has someone helped you to see another person in a better light?
  • Where do you see Christ reconciling us today?

—Peter J. H. Epp, p_epp@hotmail.com_____________________________________________________________________________________________

A dramatic reading of Luke 7:1-10 for use with this session is available at www.MennoMedia.org/abs.

 

March 27, 2016
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Resurrection Faith

Mark 16:1-8

We live in a world filled to bursting with messages—bad news, good news, and news that really isn’t news at all. We are bombarded with constant messages. People are always telling. I wonder if today a bolder command for the women in Mark’s gospel may have been to not tell anyone, not post on Instagram, not update their Facebook status, not tweet anything about this life-changing resurrection experience.

This week’s Scripture story invites us to reflect on our own telling—what we say, what we fail to say, and what we are as a result. The women in this story don’t share what they’ve been told to tell. Are they acting out of fear rather than faith?

Nicole T. Walters in her blog writes, “I felt a whisper in my soul, ‘Are you creating what God desires in the world?’ With your words, your life, your callings and your work, your family and your leisure? In all you do, are you creating what God desires in the world? Are you? . . . We are all creating the world we want to live in every day by the words we say and those we leave unsaid.”

As we look at our world today, should we be encouraged to tell or to practice quietness? Perhaps sometimes quiet might be the very loudest message.

(How timely to be examining such questions during this election season in the United States.) (Insert grimacing emoji.)*

  • What good news have you heard, and how have you failed to respond faithfully?
  • Is the reaction of the women at the tomb any different from our own failures to act faithfully on what we know God is speaking to us?
  • How can we recognize our failures, know that likely more failures are ahead of us, and still grab hold of the glorious truth of the resurrected Christ?

Acting out of fear rather than faithfulness, whether it be loud or quiet, whether it be action or inaction—perhaps this is the failure of the women at the tomb. And next to this failure is a loud, earth-shattering, system-tilting invitation to dive right back in, to be resurrected into life with our Creator. Praise be!

—Shanda Hochstetler
shandace@gmail.com

*You’re welcome for not writing more about the election and silence and telling. So much could be explored. With all the media frenzy over election news, writing more about it makes me a smidgeon nauseous.

A dramatic reading of Mark 16:1-8 for use with this session is available at www.MennoMedia.org/abs.

March 27, 2016

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

  1. Resurrection Faith

Mark 16:1-8

We live in a world filled to bursting with messages—bad news, good news, and news that really isn’t news at all. We are bombarded with constant messages. People are always telling. I wonder if today a bolder command for the women in Mark’s gospel may have been to not tell anyone, not post on Instagram, not update their Facebook status, not tweet anything about this life-changing resurrection experience.

This week’s Scripture story invites us to reflect on our own telling—what we say, what we fail to say, and what we are as a result. The women in this story don’t share what they’ve been told to tell. Are they acting out of fear rather than faith?

Nicole T. Walters in her blog writes, “I felt a whisper in my soul, ‘Are you creating what God desires in the world?’ With your words, your life, your callings and your work, your family and your leisure? In all you do, are you creating what God desires in the world? Are you? . . . We are all creating the world we want to live in every day by the words we say and those we leave unsaid.”

As we look at our world today, should we be encouraged to tell or to practice quietness? Perhaps sometimes quiet might be the very loudest message.

(How timely to be examining such questions during this election season in the United States.) (Insert grimacing emoji.)*

  • What good news have you heard, and how have you failed to respond faithfully?
  • Is the reaction of the women at the tomb any different from our own failures to act faithfully on what we know God is speaking to us?
  • How can we recognize our failures, know that likely more failures are ahead of us, and still grab hold of the glorious truth of the resurrected Christ?

Acting out of fear rather than faithfulness, whether it be loud or quiet, whether it be action or inaction—perhaps this is the failure of the women at the tomb. And next to this failure is a loud, earth-shattering, system-tilting invitation to dive right back in, to be resurrected into life with our Creator. Praise be!

—Shanda Hochstetler
shandace@gmail.com

*You’re welcome for not writing more about the election and silence and telling. So much could be explored. With all the media frenzy over election news, writing more about it makes me a smidgeon nauseous.

A dramatic reading of Mark 16:1-8 for use with this session is available at www.MennoMedia.org/abs.

 

March 20, 2016

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  1. Struggling Faith

Mark 14:26-31, 66-72

As Timothy J. Geddert notes in our study this week, Mark’s gospel frequently reminds us that disciples fail. Peter’s denial of Jesus may be the most famous and dramatic example of failure in the Gospels, but it is not the only one.

Why would our sacred texts emphasize the failure of our most iconic spiritual ancestors? One reason, I suspect, is that God uses Scripture to foster humility. As we immerse ourselves in Scripture again and again, we begin to absorb it. And as we absorb it, we begin to be shaped by it. Stories like Peter’s shape us to be humble.

I was reminded of Scripture’s humbling impact as I followed two of the stories that began to circulate after the deeply tragic shooting that took place in Hesston, Kansas—an event we all will, and should, continue to grieve for some time. Two local responses in particular seemed to exemplify the humbling effect of imbibing Scripture.

In an interview with the Wichita Eagle, Michele Hershberger, a Hesston College Bible and ministry professor, reflected:

Somehow the Christians of Newton and Hesston did not have enough of a relationship with Cedric Ford            that we were able to help him find an alternative to this tragedy. I’m not blaming anybody. But that’s how          we want community to work.

Hershberger, in short, demonstrated the workings of a mind that has been deeply humbled by Scripture. Where a mind that has imbibed the messages of our nations or our world might ask, “Who can we blame, or how can we find vindication?” Hershberger’s mind asked, “What could we have done to be more faithful?”

Lest we think that humility of scriptural proportions is limited to biblical scholars, another story struck me even more deeply. It was the story of Andrew Miller , a worker at the Excel factory who recalled trying to help the killer escape the building. Miller hadn’t yet figured out what was happening, nor did he realize that his workmate intended him harm. But Miller simply embodied the faithful response we all might hope for—he humbly and instinctively assumed the best of a fellow human being.

  • What other real-life dilemmas conflict with your immersion in Scripture?

—Peter J. H. Epp, p_epp@hotmail.com

A dramatic reading of Mark 13:33-37; 14:26-31, 66-72 for use with this session is available at www.MennoMedia.org/abs.

 

March 13, 2016Shanda Hochstetler Peter Epp
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  1. Simple Faith

Mark 10:17-31

There is nothing simple about the story we find ourselves studying in Mark 10. There is nothing simple about faith, the cost of faith, or examining our faith in the harsh light of our own need for control and our own financial choices. Jesus seems to demand that we, at every turn, lean into the awkward, the uncomfortable, the gray areas.

Our world today is bursting with reminders of our wealth (though we often don’t even see them). There’s this, and this, and this.

And it’s complicated. There are people declaring that faith in God leads to healing and great wealth. In “Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me” Kate Bowler lays bare the tension of believing in a God who provides and living in a world that holds pain, death, and grief.

In Mark 10, the man went away feeling as though his desire to grow closer to God had gone unanswered. But in fact, Jesus offered him just what he asked—an opportunity to grow closer to God’s heart. But he missed it. Maybe we do the same. Regularly. Cindy Brandt suggests in her blog that we miss this same chance when we fail to come alongside the vulnerable. Where else do we miss the call of Jesus to grow closer to God’s heart in uncomfortable and unconventional ways?

Courtney E. Martin refers to the “breaking and the blessing of motherhood.” She shares about her recent experience of new motherhood and how it changes you entirely. It is, all at once, life-shattering and lovely, disorienting and grounding. Perhaps growing closer to our God is a similar experience.

Christian Piatt writes about the tension in this Mark 10 story. We think this story is about God telling us to give up our wealth, yet “the fact is that most of us don’t really believe this, or else we would have already done it. Or perhaps we just don’t want to believe it. Maybe we want to believe it applies to “wealthy” people (translation: everyone who has more than I do), but not to ourselves. “How do we reconcile this direct command by Jesus with our sensibilities? Or is being sensible precisely what Jesus is commanding us not to do?

Maybe it’s a challenge to give up what we control. Maybe it’s a call to action, to wake up from our numbness. Maybe it’s a command to stare in the face that thing that makes us comfortable and give that thing to God.

This seems certain: When we are truly giving our all to follow our God of love, we will be uncomfortable, changed, and challenged. It most certainly will not be simple.

—Shanda Hochstetler
shandaceh@hotmail.com

A dramatic reading of Mark 10:17-31 is available as an ABS Reproducible for use with this session. See www.MennoMedia.org/abs.

 

Shanda Hochstetler Peter EppMarch 6, 2016
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  1. Powerful Faith

Mark 9:14-29

When you read Mark 9 maybe, like many Christians, you question what really happened. Maybe you ask: “If this boy lived today, wouldn’t we just diagnose him with something like epilepsy?” Or maybe, like other Christians, you ask: “What’s wrong with our faith that we no longer identify, let alone heal, people from demon possession?”

Such different responses can make us uncomfortable, sometimes even combative.

But what if our discomfort with such differences has distracted us from emphasizing a powerful truth—a truth that should provide comfort to all of us. Perhaps a recent article about another divisive issue could help us see it.

This past December, shortly after the tragic San Bernardino mass shooting, Emma Green published an article for The Atlantic titled “Prayer Shaming After a Mass Shooting in San Bernardino.” She pointed out the ways political and mass media had come to equate prayer with inaction. Since calls to prayer had so frequently been woven into public arguments against gun control, she observed, many had begun to scoff at what they perceived to be hypocrisy. These critics argued that those who were praying about gun violence were actually standing in the way of the legislation that should be the answer to their prayers.

And yet, Green provocatively ends the article on another note. In the face of the San Bernardino tragedy, it wasn’t just anti-gun-control folks who had asked for prayer. It was also the request of a woman who had been trapped by the shooters, as she texted her father.

Whether or not we can wrap our minds around the Gospels’ stories of demon possession, and whatever our positions on new gun legislation, there are simply times when the only thing we can do is pray. And maybe in those moments, no matter how uncertain or argumentative we can be about what the Gospels’ stories of demon possession say about demons, we might recognize some more important common ground. There will be times for all of us when we need more hope than anything this world can offer. And, as a result, we will always need the Gospels’ reminders that Jesus was and is more powerful than anything we can ever fully explain.

—Peter J. H. Epp
p_epp@hotmail.com

______________________________________________________________________________

Peter Epp and Shanda Hochstetler live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where Peter is completing an MA in theological studies at Canadian Mennonite University and Shanda is employed as social worker at Deer Lodge Centre. They are members of Charleswood Mennonite Church and maintain ongoing connections to MC USA through close personal ties to Portland Mennonite Church and North Central Conference.

A dramatic reading of Mark 9:14-29 is available as an ABS Reproducible at www.MennoMedia.org/abs.

 

February 28, 2016Iris

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  1. Heritage and Hope

Leviticus 23:33-43

“Live in temporary shelters for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 23:42-43). This yearly Festival of Tents (“Tabernacles” NIV)  involved family members. If today’s kids had to stay in tents for seven days without electronic devices, it would be a challenge for the parents to keep their children content. How would you approach such a situation?

I read about a Chinese American couple, Chris and Lydia, who left the United States to establish an orphanage in Guanxi, China, in 2005. They struggled to share their plans with their own children. They did not have a close bond with their children, who had been cared for by nannies, because of their parents’ very busy lifestyle and business ownership. Once in China, their children complained for a long time because they didn’t want to give up the comfortable life in the United States. One of the sons commented that his parents had ruined his life. Relatives and neighbors in the United States had offered to take care of the children. But when the children reflected on their lives in China a few years later, they thanked their parents for taking them there. Not that the orphans needed Chris and Lydia’s children, but their children needed the orphans as their family members. By working together, this family had rebonded.[1]

Our communication media have changed significantly. We now live in an electronic communication era that lacks human contact. Personal conversation is often replaced by impersonal conversation, such as texting and messaging. How do we communicate with one another other than electronic means?

  • As we pass on traditions to the next generation, are there any barriers we have to deal with first?
  • Are you closely bonding with your next generation?
  • When was the last quality time you had with your child? If it was not recently or frequently, what will you do to change this situation?

Interpersonal relationships are important for passing on the heritage and hope in our faith tradition. God invites us into a personal relationship with him—“I am the LORD your God” (Exodus 6:7). We need a close relationship with our next generation. As you plan for your next vacation, reserve some time to strengthen the relational bonds in your family. May God’s blessings flow from one generation to the next.

—Iris Leung, kwai_leung88@hotmail.com

Editor’s note: We are grateful for Iris Leung’s insights on the Scriptures during this quarter. Next week, Peter J. H. Epp and Shanda Hochstetler of Winnipeg, Manitoba, will join us for our study of The Gift of Faith.

[1].  hk.apple.nextmedia.com/supplement/family/art/20160103/19435461 This article is in Chinese.

 

February 21, 2016
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  1. A Clean Slate

Leviticus 16:11-19

The Chinese New Year was on February 8 this year. Many Chinese have a tradition of cleaning their houses and buying new things for the New Year. They remove bad or unlucky things and start fresh. As you may know, the Day of Atonement is close to the New Year of the Israelites. God commanded Aaron to perform a specific sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. The sins of the Israelites were coved by the blood of the sacrifice once a year—thus, a new beginning. Both cultures want to have a fresh start in their new year. Chinese people may be concerned with outward appearance; Jewish people focus on their hearts to acknowledge their sinful behaviors and turn to God for reconciliation.

Christians don’t observe the Day of Atonement. We believe that Jesus Christ died for us once and for all, so we may confess our sins in our daily prayers. As a community we may hurt one another unintentionally. We may even forgive before someone comes forward to seek reconciliation. The closer the relationship, the easier the conflict happens. It is not easy to reconcile within a marriage when one spouse betrays the other. A clean slate method is sometimes used to restore a broken relationship, especially in a marriage. Both spouses agree to “erase” the bad things in the past and start a clean slate together. If they don’t have forgiveness and love, the relationship will not last long.

God loves us. God provides this clean slate opportunity for us, regardless of how rebellious we are. God’s message is clear—I love you still. Our sins were passed on to the Lord Jesus, who became our ransom. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for what you have done. We can now be closer to God and fully alive. Isn’t it wonderful?

My church used to have a thanksgiving sharing before the New Year. This kind of corporate confession is rare in Chinese culture. We need our hearts cleansed as well. It may be a good idea to confess in a small group before the New Year comes, so we can receive God’s grace and start a new beginning.

  • How could you encourage your church or group to refresh themselves in the love of our atoning Lamb?

—Iris Leung

kwai_leung88@hotmail.com

 

February 14, 2016

Iris

Iris Leung, writer

February 21, 2016


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  1. A Bountiful Harvest

Leviticus 23:15-22

Many households in British Columbia experienced a bountiful harvest in the past summer. However, harvest didn’t last long. The cost of living in Canada went up 1.6% in December due to price increases for food, shelter, and transportation. “But food led the way, as Canadians paid 3.7 percent more for food last month than they did in the same month a year earlier.”[1] Recently the price of cauliflower rose to $8 a head in British Columbia. When average families feel tightness in their budgets, what does it mean for low-income families? How can they survive?

This reminds me of the dream of Pharaoh—seven years of harvest and then seven years of drought. By the end of the drought, many people gave up their land for food and became slaves of Pharaoh. Yet Joseph saved the lives of his family, the Israelites, and many Egyptians. God wants God’s people to make a difference in the situation now. But how?

Leviticus 23:22 says, “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.” God reminds us to care for the poor when we have a harvest. The story of Ruth shows us a great example of this. Farming was common in ancient times. But our society is different. Some Mennonites are farmers on the prairies, but gleaning the edges of a field may not be a feasible way to help the poor. Besides, we live in a technological world, a virtual world. A virtual world cannot fill our stomachs, our basic need for food. Farmland is decreasing due to the rapid growth of city developments, especially in third-world countries. Food scarcity is no longer a local problem—it is a global problem.

We are in a era of harvest in technology and creativity. More innovations are coming, such as growing produce indoors in Japan. Controlling the wavelength of LED lighting enables this.[2] Explore other creative ways of growing plants without a garden:

[1].  “Inflation in Canada Ticks Up to 1.6% in December on Higher Food Prices,” CBC News, January 22, 2016.

[2].  “Hi-Tech Vegetables Grown in Factories,” Kids Web Japan.

—Iris Leung

 

February 7, 2016
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  1. Free at Last

Exodus 12:1-14

“God’s Redemption Story Is Here”

Exodus 12: 24-27a says: “Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance [Passover] for you and your descendants. When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’”

Juliet Liu Waite wrote about her ancestors’ redemption story from Vietnam to the United States:

“Each time I heard my aunties recount this story, in my child’s mind I pictured my mother’s family coming across the sea, journeying through the waters. These were the waters of their Exodus, the waters of their own baptism, the waters that God would part in order to show himself as their Deliverer. This was their Passover story—the night they were rescued from certain death by a God who protected them when they had no home, and numbered them among his people.”[1]

God’s redemption story is here. Many churches welcomed their sponsored families from Syria in the past few months. The refugees are going to have a new life in North America and are free from fear now. God redeems people in different ways. When the second generations of those Syrian families learn about their ancestors’ experiences, they may feel the same as Juliet. God’s redemption stories will be retold continually from one generation to another.

  • What is your passover story or your ancestor’s passover story?
  • How have you communicated it to the next generation?

We may have different passover stories. We are commanded to pass on the message of redemption to our next generation. The psalmist wrote in Psalm 71:15-18:

My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds, of your saving acts all day long—
though I know not how to relate them all.
I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord;
I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone.
Since my youth, God, you have taught me,
and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God,
till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.

God has done great things for each one of us. We have countless stories to tell to the next generation. May the acts of God be glorified and God’s redemption be known forever!

—Iris Leung

[1]. “The Waters of Their Exodus,” Christianity Today, December 2015, vol. 59, no. 10, 80.

 

IrisJanuary 31, 2016

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  1. The Death of a Friend

John 11:38-44

“Seize the Moment to Love”

Constance and I met on a social network site two years ago while she was fighting cancer the third time. In her early 20s, she died last November. She was a strong, cheerful woman and very optimistic. She wrote a book in Chinese that was published last July in Hong Kong. A translation of the title is There Is a Gift Called Pain. This is her story of walking through pain since her first cancer in 2011. She had a life of hope in God. She was a very inspiring person who helped people learn to love life every moment.

Ecclesiastes 9:4-6 says, “Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion! For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun.” Verse 6 strikes me personally. After death we are no longer able to return and express emotions on earth. We will no longer be able to express love to people here on earth. I didn’t learn that from Constance, but from visiting persons who were dying in hospices or hospitals.

A homeless man whom I knew died in November as well. He used to attend my church. I heard that he was in the hospital, diagnosed with cancer in October. I went to visit him and heard his life story. I asked him if there was anything he wanted to do. He wanted to meet with his ex-wife. He could only provide me with the house address where they used to live. He told me that he had gone to this place several times before he was admitted to the hospital. I tried to pass on the message to her, but no one answered the door. I left a note for her. I really didn’t know if she visited him because he had moved to a hospice when I went to visit him again. I was able to find him a few weeks later. He was weak and barely spoke. I waited a bit until he awoke. I asked him if his ex-wife visited him. He said yes and grasped my hands. A few days later, he passed away.

I don’t know how you see death. Some people may be afraid of death. Some people may be able to use their lifetime to love and cherish those they love.

  • What would you want to do if you had a friend or a relative who was dying?
  • How might you seize the moment to love that person in a simple way?

 

—Iris Leung

kwai_leung88@hotmail.com

___________________________________________________________________________

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

January 24, 2016
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  1. A Wedding in Cana

John 2:1-12

“Be Hospitable”

I attended a friend’s wedding recently. The couple are in their mid-20s, and they organized their own wedding. They asked two young ladies to be the receptionists, but for some unknown reason the guests had to wait for more than 20 minutes to sign the guestbook at the reception. The groom and the groomsmen stood at the entrance of the sanctuary and took pictures. The groom’s parents were the only ones who greeted the guests from their church. Of all the weddings I have ever attended, this one had the least amount of hospitality.

Jesus’ gesture of hospitality made a huge difference for the couple who didn’t prepare enough wine for their guests. The joy and gladness the guests shared with the newlyweds could have turned into discontentment and shame. What if they had run out of food instead of wine? Some of the guests at my friend’s wedding left early with half-full stomachs.

A lesson for us to learn is to consider the needs of our guests. Be hospitable.

When a church serves a meal for persons who are homeless, what makes it a hospitable experience? Some may not be able to eat hard foods, such as apples or nuts, due to dental problems. What kinds of table settings are welcoming? What if table manners are different from your expectations? A well-prepared meal with meats can be a real treat. Tasty soup gives a sense of warmth, physically and emotionally. If you are serving children, you may need to be creative with food decorations and food making.

Our Lord Jesus understands our needs. He is preparing a great feast for his people in the time to come. Revelation 22:17 says, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” Life is what we need, regardless of age. He welcomes us to be in his kingdom and in his life.

  • What kind of hospitality you do you give and receive in your everyday life?
  • How does your church demonstrate hospitality to newcomers or to different age groups?

—Iris Leung

kwai_leung88@hotmail.com

 

January 17, 2016
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  1. An Unfaithful Bride

Hosea 1

“God’s Unfailing Love”

Being faithful in a marital relationship is no longer a sacred matter. A somewhat new lifestyle in our society is called “swinging” or “partner swapping.” This is not considered to be adultery because the spouses consent to certain behaviors during swinging. It’s not a violation of trust because they don’t need to lie about their thoughts and feelings. A majority of couples who join in swinging claim their relationships were strengthened after all.[1]

In Hosea’s time, the Israelites were swinging with the Canaanite gods (except that God didn’t agree to it). They worshiped such idols as Baal, Asherah poles, and golden calves. But God still brought them back into his arms after their rebellion. God loved the Israelites.

When I look back on my Christian life, I recognize I have been unfaithful to God many times. I have allowed money, work, and relationships to become higher priorities. But God still loves me and helps me deal with my idolatry. That’s why I love the book of Hosea. It reminds me of God’s unfailing love for God’s people. During the time of my repentance, I let go of those idols and affirm to be faithful to God alone. Hosea 3:3-4 says, “Then I told her, ‘You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.’ For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods.”

All of us grew up in different cultures and come from different backgrounds. We may have different idols in our lives.

  • What are your idols?
  • When or how have you been unfaithful to God?
  • Could you be living in unfaithfulness now? If so, please repent and ask God for forgiveness.

God wants to show unfailing love to you as you return from your sin. No one would want to marry a person who will betray him or her in real life; however, God appointed Hosea to demonstrate God’s love to God’s chosen nation and covenantal people. God loves us before we return from our sins. Know God well—our faithful God.

—Iris Leung, kwai_leung88@hotmail.com

[1]. “Swinging (sexual practice),” Wikipedia, retrieved December 29, 2015.

January 10, 2016
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  1. The Most Beautiful Bride

Song of Songs 6:4-12 

“Delight”

In 2014, an average wedding cost $31,213 in America.[1] Much attention is given to the wedding dress, the banquet, the decoration of the hall, the cake, party favors, and so much more.

The wedding is costly, but it doesn’t make the most beautiful bride. The most beautiful bride is the one who delights her groom—not because of what she wears but who she is.

I recall the story when Isaac met Rebekah (Genesis 24:62-67). No wedding was performed, but Isaac took Rebekah to his mother’s tent. The passage uses the word married with the idea of making love with her, of having sexual intercourse. Rebekah did not have a wedding dress or wear any makeup, but wore a veil to cover her face. She was delightful in the eyes of Isaac. Their loving relationship led to the comment, “Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death” (v. 67b).

The man in Song of Songs 6:4-12 delights in his beloved. He describes her beauty. His beloved one is unique, and is chosen from among the many. Their relationship as husband and wife is unique. They will be delightful to each other. People surrounding them will see the love between them. Their friends say, “Who is this that appears like the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, majestic as the stars in procession?” (v. 10). Their friends are delighted as well.

Revelation 21:1-2 says, “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” The church is the bride of the Lamb.

  • How do we prepare to meet the Lamb and make him delight in our readiness?
  • Do you have love songs like the ones in the book of Song of Songs?

One thing I am sure—the Lamb is my delight!

—Iris Leung

kwai_leung88@hotmail.com

  1. 1. Sabrina Toppa, “This Is How Much an Average Wedding Now Costs in America,” Time, March 13, 2015.

 

Iris

Iris Leung, writer

January 3, 2016
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5. Bait and Switch

Genesis 29:15-30

“Commit to a Lifelong Marriage”

My parents celebrated their 63rd anniversary this past summer. They didn’t have a marriage certificate when they got married. They had no wedding rings to exchange for their vows. Their lifelong marriage is held together by their commitment. They have committed their lives to support the family of nine children. My married siblings are committed to their families as well. There may be arguments once in a while, but they are happy, committed couples.

Leah was committed to her marriage with Jacob. Regardless of how Jacob loved her sister Rachel, Leah tried everything to gain honor from Jacob, including giving birth to their six sons (Genesis 30:20). God listened to Leah and blessed her (Genesis 30:17). Leah made many efforts to maintain relationships with Jacob, her sister, and the two maidservants. Yet, Leah was treated as the second wife after Rachel. Interestingly, Leah was buried by Jacob with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Rebekah (Genesis 49:31). Jacob was buried with Leah instead of Rachel, whom he loved the most. God seems to have honored Leah’s role in Jacob’s life, even though she was treated as the mistress of the household. As we know, Rachel died after giving birth to her second son, Benjamin. Her older son, Joseph, was a young boy. Who took the responsibility of caring for these two children? Probably Leah did that. She needed to take good care of her sister’s sons, although she and Rachel had competed with each other. The boys were Jacob’s sons too.

Think about the status of marriage around the world today. Who would commit to a lifelong marriage? Focus on the Family has been a long-time advocate for building a firm marital foundation for families in the United States and Canada. They teach four key elements to build a lifelong marriage: commitment, communication, patience, and strong beliefs.[1]

Some people avoid getting married and live in common-law relationships. Some decide to divorce whenever their marriage doesn’t work out. Some may stay single because of broken relationships in the past. Struggles within a marriage are common. A lifelong marriage needs commitment for both husband and wife to learn to love and grow together.

—Iris Leung, kwai_leung88@hotmail.com

  1. Louis McBurney, “Foundations of a Lifelong Marriage.”

 

Iris

Iris Leung

December 27, 2015
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4. A Generous Gift

Matthew 23:2-12; Mark 12: 38-44

“Receive and Give”

Many charities need donations to survive. Giving Tuesday, a new movement in Canada and the United States, promotes giving and volunteering after Black Friday and Cyber Monday each year. People spend a lot of money during those days (also on Boxing Day in Canada). I wondered how much people would actually give to charities on Giving Tuesday. Of course, giving seems to be the last priority of many people, including some Christians.

Many Christian organizations are facing financial crises, such as Mennonite Church Canada, which recently had to lay off staff. A Chinese Christian organization had to defer paying salaries to its staff during Christmas a few years ago. I once worked for a Christian camp where most of the staff was laid off and a volunteer was asked to do the bookkeeping. I felt sorry to face that reality.

Basically, we have Giving Sundays in our Christian culture. We normally don’t promote them; giving is just a part of our lives. When we think about giving as Christians, we may set aside one of the amounts of offering mentioned in Mark 12:44, “They all gave out of their wealth; but she [the widow], out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” We give out of our wealth in most cases. Could we identify our Lord Jesus Christ as the true generous giver who gave his life for humanity? The widow received the grace of God and was grateful. She offered all she had. Jesus saw her heart of gratitude. We have to realize that we are recipients first before we are willing to give.

The teachers of the law took away the property of the needy (Mark 12:38-40). The book of Malachi warned against the teachers of the law and the priests who despised God in their offerings. To give inappropriately is equal to stealing from God. The warning is for us as well.

  • What is your attitude when you give?

It is time for us to rethink our giving and to bring justice to the world.

  • Are we holding on to our wealth?
  • What would you do to make a difference in your church or in the world today?

—Iris Leung  kwai_leung88@hotmail.com

 

December 20, 2015
Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

3. Dedication of Firstborn

Exodus 13:13b-15; Luke 2:22-32

 “Dedication of Life”

I really enjoy my friend’s blog as she shares about her faith journey and parental journey. This Japanese friend was expecting her second daughter, Joyce, last September. Joyce had been diagnosed with anencephaly in February 2015. The doctor recommended that my friend should terminate the pregnancy. Both my friend and her husband asked God for direction and listened to the following Bible verse, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). God’s promise gave them faith and hope in the process of having Joyce in their family and their faith community. My friend was well prepared for the day when Joyce would come. Joyce was finally born on October 6 and lived for 15 hours. On November 7, they held a celebration of life for Joyce. Joyce wore the dress prepared by her mother months earlier. It was embossed with the verse from James 1:17. Joyce’s birth was not a source of sadness but a graceful witness of God’s promise.[1]

Luke 2:25-26 says: “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” Simeon had faith in God and had prepared himself to see the Messiah face-to-face one day, according to the word of God. As time went by, his body got weaker and weaker. One morning he was praying as usual, but the Spirit moved him to walk into the temple. He had waited so long for that day to come, and now he saw the Messiah. His heart must have been full of joy, like my friend holding little Joyce in her arms. This precious moment is indescribable. I am not sure if Simeon wrote a journal or not. But the verses from Luke 2:29-32 are his witness to God’s promises.

As we prepare our hearts to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, I encourage you to write down your faith journey with reference to God’s promises. Let us be the witness to the world and proclaim that “to us a child is born” (Isaiah 9:6).

—Iris Leung, kwai_leung88@hotmail.com

[1]. This video gives a glimpse of this family’s joy in their daughter’s life. You can also visit my friend’s blog. Although it is written in Japanese, some messages and video are translated to English.

 

Iris

Iris Leung, writer

December 13, 2015

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

2. Acceptable Offerings

Leviticus 22:17-25, 31-33

“Sacrifice the Best to Build Up Others”

God expects us to sacrifice the best from what we have in order to build up others. Leviticus 22:21 says: “When anyone brings from the herd or flock a fellowship offering to the Lord to fulfill a special vow or as a freewill offering, it must be without defect or blemish to be acceptable.” The fellowship offering will be shared with the community afterward. The beauty of the fellowship offering is to share and to build the community.

Mikhail Fernandes served as an intern with Mennonite Mission Network in South Africa.[1] He is following the footsteps of his parents in their commitment to serve others. At a young age, he traveled with his parents up to 10 hours to deliver medical aid to remote areas in southern India. He worked long hours teaching peace education and life skills in South Africa this past summer to bring peace and justice among the people.

In May this year, Chinese Christian Mission (CCM) had a photo exhibition on the 150th anniversary of missionary history to China. Many Chinese Christians, including me, do not know the contribution of the missionaries in China, Macau, Taiwan, and even in Malaysia. I was glad I had a chance to be a tour guide during the photo exhibition. However, I had to study about the history of those missionaries. I bought a book that covers more than 100 years of the bloodshed among the missionaries in China since 1900. Many who came from England and the United States were killed. They were educated and lived a good life in their first-world countries. They sacrificed the best of their lives for the people of different countries in order to build up others physically and spiritually.

Ephesians 5:1-2 says, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Yes, Jesus Christ is the blameless sacrifice on the cross. His death brings us eternal life. He sacrificed his best to build us up in the kingdom of God.

  • What can you offer to God now?
  • How could you build up the community at large?

—Iris Leung, kwai_leung88@hotmail.com

[1]. Lynda Hollinger-Janzen, “Young Leader ‘Gives Back’ on Three Continents,” Mennonite Mission Network News, October 22, 2015.

 

Iris

Iris Leung, writer

December 6, 2015

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

1. The Lord’s Day

Exodus 20:8-11, 31:12-16

What did you feel as you heard the news about the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13? My heart melted and ached. Terrorist attacks, disasters, wars, and famine are happening around the world every day. Even within our families and church communities, we are facing different challenges. How can our minds and hearts rest in God on the Sabbath?

Jeremiah 17:21 says, “This is what the Lord says: Be careful not to carry a load on the Sabbath day or bring it through the gates of Jerusalem.” His action reminds me that we need to lay down our burden or what we value or treasure most first, and then we can find rest in God. We tend to ask: What do we bring to God on Sunday? Could we consider: What burden do we need to lay down before we meet God on Sunday?

The load we carry hinders us from worshiping the Lord freely and finding rest in God. This year I have been walking with some brothers and sisters who live with emotional distress. As a new seminary graduate, I try to use all my skills to help them. I have to admit that I cannot solve their issues. Most of the time, I can only pray for them. However, I noticed that I was carrying the burden with me in worship. I was heavily loaded with their difficulties. I could find no joy or celebration in God’s presence. I really needed a day of worship and rest in God.

Recalling the first course in my seminary training, Spiritual Formation, I went through an exercise called “A Rule of Life.” I figured out what kind of activities could help me refresh my body and mind. Setting aside some time on a Sabbath in this technological world seems difficult. However, I decided to turn off my smartphone’s Wi-Fi during the Sabbath. It depends on our desire to set aside the time for God or not. God made the day holy for us to reenergize our body and mind. We cannot focus on God alone in our everyday life until we know how to set apart the Sabbath on a weekly basis.

  • Is there anything that distracts you from observing the Sabbath? How do you deal with it?
  • How will you find rest in order to reenergize your body and mind after a week of busyness? Which of these ideas resonate with you: reading books or the Bible, praying, listening to music, going outside in nature, making a dessert, bonding with your loved ones?

I encourage you to read Psalm 92, a psalm that proclaims the works of God and gives thanks for who God is and what he has done on earth. You can write your own psalm to praise God for what he has done in your life.

—Iris Leung, kwai_leung88@hotmail.com

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Iris Leung is the ABS Online writer for Sacred Gifts and Holy Gatherings, our Bible study for winter 2015–16. Iris is a member of Grace Chinese Mennonite Church in Burnaby, British Columbia. She is a 2015 graduate of ACTS Seminaries with a master of arts in Christian Studies and is awaiting a call to ministry. Previously, she worked in the accounting field for more than 10 years. Iris brings these talents to her service as a board member of MennoMedia. She writes, “I am excited to share my Anabaptist faith tradition as a Canadian Chinese with the ABS family.”