Monthly Archives: September 2012

9/16/12 Weekly Small Groups GPS Guide

(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)

The Bible and Truth

A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.

MONDAY
Philippians 4:4-7

This week the GPS will explore six ways to enhance your listening for God to speak to you through the Bible. One approach many Christians find helpful is to memorize key parts of the Bible. This takes the Bible’s message off the page and stores it in your mind and heart, where the Holy Spirit can call it to your attention at any moment of challenge or need. Consider memorizing all or part of these verses.

TUESDAY
Mark 4:35-41

Another way God can speak to you through the Bible is for you to use your imagination and place yourself “in” the scene or story the Bible told. This passage contains many vivid details, the kind an eyewitness like Peter would have included in a story. Let its vividness draw you in and spark your imagination.

WEDNESDAY
John 10:1-15

Hearing God through the Bible does not require turning off your brain. Careful study and analysis is often one of the ways God speaks as you read the Bible. For this passage, learn all you can about shepherds in Jesus’ day. Use a study Bible or a Bible dictionary, or search the Internet for terms like “good shepherd” or “Jesus AND shepherd.” (Then read carefully—just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s automatically accurate!)

THURSDAY
Matthew 11:27-30

Many Christians have found that re-writing a Bible passage helps them to hear what God may want to say to them through that passage. A simple form of this practice is just to insert your name where it fits in the verse: “Come unto me, Bob…” However, you can also reword the promises or challenges in ways that fit your current needs and circumstances.

FRIDAY
Matthew 5:1-12

Today we invite you to practice the elements of “spiritual reading” (what the Latin-speaking church called lectio divina). (To learn more about this time-honored spiritual practice, click on http://www.cor.org/fileadmin/users/communications/GPS_guide/lecto-divina.pdf.) Any child of God can read the Bible this way, though no one ever “masters” or “finishes” it. Jesus’ outline of the qualities that lead to true happiness is a great passage on which to practice this approach to hearing God in the Bible.

SATURDAY
1 John 2:28-3:3

There is no one “magic technique” for hearing God’s voice through the words of the Bible. But of all the approaches we’ve encouraged you to try this week, probably no other has enriched the lives of more of God’s people through the centuries than praying the Scriptures. Especially when we struggle for words, when our pain or our joy is nearly overwhelming, shaping the words of the Bible into a prayer keeps a channel open between us and God in spiritually invaluable ways. As we use the Bible’s words, we often find that God seems to speak back to us through them.

To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from www.cor.org/guide.

SUGGESTED PRAYER

Jesus, you are the Word, you are with God and you are God. We need the power of your holy Word. Open our minds to new ways to understand Scripture. Open our hearts to the truth of your message. Open our souls so that your word has a very real impact on the way we live our lives. Guide us until the day we are complete in you, for it is in your name we pray. Amen.

CONNECT

Are you confident that, in today’s society, the people can usually distinguish between truth and manipulations of the truth? Is it easier or harder today than it was for past generations? Why? Will it be easier or harder for our grandchildren?

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

  • Read Philippians 4:4-7. One of the suggestions made for enhancing the message of the Bible is memorizing key verses. Memorizing Bible verses or passages is one example of how to keep the truth of the Bible close to you at all times. Have you ever spent any time memorizing the Bible? What benefits do you think memorization might have? Have there ever been times in which recalling a passage has helped you? Would you be willing to try memorizing more verses?
  • Read Mark 4:35-41. These verses can easily provide us with a vision of a beach, high winds and large, breaking waves. Another suggestion for making the Bible more real is for you to imagine yourself right there in midst of the scene. Have you ever tried this? Others have also said that, to get the most out of your Bible, you can “identify” by seeing yourself in every character of the Bible. Have you ever tried that? Do you think that these techniques might help you get more out of your reading and study? How could such envisioning help us in our everyday lives?
  • Read John 10:1-15. As we read and study the Bible, we need to see beyond the words, find as much as we can about the meaning for the original readers, and then seek the meaning for our own lives. What do you know about shepherds in Bible times? In what ways is the work of shepherds the same today? As we study and analyze a passage, will each of us find the same meaning and understanding? Why might each of us see something a bit differently? What value is there for us to study and discuss the Bible in a group setting? Can we learn anything from the interpretation of others? Could others learn anything from us?
  • Read Matthew 11:27-30. In these verses, Jesus seems as if he is speaking directly to the reader. How can we more deeply personalize our Bible readings? Would inserting our name in the passage help? Some people avoid reading the Bible altogether, being afraid or even knowing the Bible will speak directly to them and say things they don’t want to hear. Are you ever reluctant to read the Bible for that reason? Do you read the Bible as much as you think you should? Have you ever tried to take certain Bible verses and rewrite them, using more everyday language, so that they will speak to you more clearly (called paraphrasing)? Would you be willing to try it? In memorizing verses, is it okay to shorten them (for instance, remembering Jesus’ words in these verses simply as Jesus said, “My yoke is light”)?
  • Read Matthew 5:1-12. When we say we should read the Bible every day, that doesn’t mean reading as fast as we can to cover as many verses or chapters as possible. A time-honored way of getting the most out of the Bible is practicing an approach called “spiritual reading” (Latin, lectio divina). Reading slowly and re-reading, pausing to really think about the passage, taking time to pray for inspiration about the passage, and then pondering how the passage might apply to your own life are the steps in “spiritual reading”. Do you think slowing down might help you get more out of the Bible? Do you think that reading the verse out loud might also be of benefit?
  • Read 1 John 2:28-3:3. A final suggestion for hearing God through the Bible is to shape the words of the scripture into a prayer. Have you ever tried this? Take the time here, in the security of your small group, to select a key phrase(s) (e.g. “we can have confidence,” “see what kind of love the Father has given to us in that we should be called God’s children,” “when he appears we will be like him because we’ll see him as he is,” “everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself [or herself] even as he is pure.”) and shape it into a prayer. Next time you have a group prayer to offer, do you think you might try this technique?

From last week: Did you examine any judgmental attitudes you might have about others? As you went through your week at home and at work, did you make an effort to discard those judgments and see those people as you might see yourself, giving them every bit of positive, uplifting and supportive attitude you could muster? How hard was this for you and did you learn anything?

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

 From Pastor Hamilton’s sermon, September 16, 2012:

Are the gospels reliable accounts of the life of Jesus? I hope you can see that the content of the gospels was being written down nearly from the beginning of the church, just after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The multitude of eyewitness sources makes it a very credible and reliable witness to Jesus. These four gospels are first-century accounts of the life of Jesus drawn from the recollections of those who walked with Jesus. They are as reliable and trustworthy a document as you could hope for regarding the life of Jesus.

Let’s not forget John. John does not seem to draw upon these other gospels, though he shares some affinities with Luke. John seems to have been written independently, and it is believed that John captures the reflections of the apostle John, writing before his death as a man in his 80’s who is not nearly as concerned with writing Jesus biography, as with making plain the meaning of Jesus’ life. You don’t read John expecting that Jesus said everything exactly as John has it–that was not John’s point. It was that you understand who Jesus is, and what his life means. The early church called it the “spiritual” gospel.

Clearly we see once again that the Bible didn’t fall out of heaven, nor was it dictated by an angel. Luke specifically wrote that he had sources he used, he carefully investigated everything, and then he wrote his gospel (Luke 1:1-4). It is generally believed that Matthew and Luke wrote some time between 70 and 85. Matthew quickly became the most popular and widely disseminated of the gospels, though Mark was written first. And when it comes to the earliest books of your New Testament, they were not the gospels at all, but the letters of Paul….

Before we end with the why of reading the New Testament, I want to simply share with you some suggestions for reading the New Testament:

First, SET A GOAL. Make a commitment to read for ten or fifteen minutes a day, or so many chapters a week. Here’s a goal I would like to challenge you to: Every Christian should read through at least one of the gospels every year. Next year we’re going to study the gospel of John together as a church. I’d suggest this year you might consider reading the first and most popular gospel in the early church, Matthew.

Second, have A GOOD STUDY BIBLE with notes at the bottom of the page to help you understand. For beginners I would recommend the Life Application Bible. For those looking at more in-depth study I would recommend the NIV Study Bible or for those more advanced, The New Interpreter’s Study Bible.

Third, TAKE NOTES. Have a small note pad or journal on which you write what you feel you learned and how you believe God spoke to you as you read. It’s okay if the insights are not dramatic. Having the notepad will make you dig as you read.

Fourth, as you prepare to read, pray, “Lord, speak to me, I’m listening.”

Fifth, ask these two simply questions:

1.  WHAT DOES THIS PASSAGE TEACH ME ABOUT GOD?

2.  WHAT DOES THIS TEACH ME ABOUT GOD’S WILL FOR MY LIFE

This week your GPS will give you different suggestions for how to read scripture. Try these out. These will include a practice called lectio divina and also praying the scriptures.

So I’d like to end by answering the question, Why should Christians read the scriptures? To answer that I’d like to return to our scripture passages for today. Both Luke and John tell us why they wrote their gospels, and in these words we find a pretty good picture of why we should read them.

Luke tells us that he wrote his gospel “So that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” (Luke 1:4) John tells us why he wrote his gospel: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)

John wrote these things so that you might believe and by believing you might have life in his name. This is what reading our New Testament offers us. It offers us instruction, inspiration, guidance, training in righteousness. It teaches us the way of Jesus, and as we read and study it we become shaped by his words, his story, his life and death and resurrection. Christians are Christ followers. We believe in him we find life, and in doing his will we give life. It is in reading, praying and living these words that we have life in his name. My hope and prayer is that you will be people shaped by the Spirit as you read and meditate upon this book.

Get the Most out of Your Bible Study  

Maybe it’s culture. Maybe it’s genetics. Nonetheless, we are often plagued by an inability to concentrate on Bible study reading for more than five minutes without thoughts of tomorrow’s clothing choice, what we’d like to be munching on, the grout in our bathtub, or just about any other topic (regardless of relevance) one could think of. Oh, and these are usually alternating, fleeting thoughts, resonating back and forth in our brain, peppered with an occasional thought of Bible study.

Yes, we are what they call “distractible.” And yes, it can be a challenge. However, here are some ways to combat these problems:

1.    Partner up. Use the tried and true method of having an accountability partner. Pick someone who will not only encourage you, but do it with you, and someone who will be willing to call you out if needed.

2.    Journal it. At first it can feel a little like school, so it’s important to find a journal that doesn’t remind you of an old notebook from junior high. Choose one you like. Barnes and Noble has a great selection, as does Target. You might bullet point your reading and that organization helps keep you focused.

3.    Connect it. Whether it’s a steaming cup of coffee, that cozy chair by the window, or your afghan from Grandma, associating Bible study time with another favorite activity can help an unfocused mind.

4.    Lose the media. It sounds obvious, but the ringing of a cell phone (and especially the curiosity of who might be calling), can lead to many minutes of distraction. Turn it off. The television can also be a distraction, even if it isn’t on. Some have found that if they’re trying to study right before the start of their favorite TV show, they don’t get as much out of it.

5.    Pick a time. Not everyone is a morning person, but you might find it the easiest time to be consistent because first, it is the same time every day, and second, when you start your day with God, it’s much easier to keep Him at the forefront throughout the day. But even if it’s not morning, pick a time.

6.    Have a plan. Although it sounds spontaneous and fun, the “open-the-Book-and-point” method doesn’t always yield the best results. Try reading through one book of the Bible at a time, or go through a topical study.

Source: http://www.cbn.com/spirituallife/biblestudyandtheology/discipleship/rozendal_getthemostbiblestudy.aspx

Final application:

This week memorize at least one passage of the Bible. One suggestion would be the reading on Monday, above. Next week, share your experience with the group and recite the passage to them, telling them why you selected it. (You can decide as a group whether you will accept “Jesus wept” (John 11:35) as an acceptable passage to memorize!)

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9/9/12 Weekly Small Groups GPS Guide

(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)

The Bible and Sexuality

A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.

MONDAY
Genesis 1:26-28, 2:18-23, Leviticus 12:1-5

Ancient Near Eastern cultures valued men more than women. Israelite women could not be left family lands; widows had no legal status (cf. the book of Ruth). It is no shock, then, that the laws in Leviticus 12 said women were “unclean” after giving birth—and unclean twice as long after a girl’s birth as after a boy’s! It’s far more surprising that in the Hebrew creation stories God made male AND female in God’s image, and the woman was man’s helper and partner, not his servant.

TUESDAY
Luke 10:38-42, Galatians 3:23-28

Jesus treated women as—well, people. Most other rabbis thought women couldn’t learn, and were not worth time or attention. But when Martha grumbled that her sister wasn’t filling the typical “woman’s” role, Jesus said it was good for Mary to learn from him. Paul followed Jesus. Though his rabbinic training may have peeked through at times, he boldly wrote that, in Christ, the old distinctions between the value of male and female no longer applied.

WEDNESDAY
Genesis 2:24-25, Song of Solomon 1:15–2:4, 8:5-7, Genesis 29:31-30:24

The Hebrew Bible was much more open about human sexuality (for good and ill) than many church people tend to be. Both the Genesis story of creation and the poetry of Song of Solomon celebrated physical intimacy as a good gift from God. But Jacob’s story (and many others) showed how sexuality separated from love and commitment made life tangled and painful, and fostered jealousy, rivalry and selfishness.

THURSDAY

Matthew 19:3-8, 1 Corinthians 6:12-7:2

Once again, Jesus’ enemies quoted “Bible” to him (this time Deuteronomy 24:1). Jesus said, in effect, “that was the best Moses could do,” but the Creation story showed God’s ideal more clearly. To people living in the wildly immoral Greek and Roman societies, the apostle Paul too upheld that ideal: one partner, one unchanging love commitment (except in the case of choices so bad they destroy the relationship beyond repair).

FRIDAY
Matthew 9:9-13, James 2:8-13

Through the ages, various groups have been outcasts unwelcome in “religious” inner circles (e.g. Deuteronomy 23:1-2 banned eunuchs and illegitimate children). To Pharisees amazed that he would eat with “tax collectors and sinners,” Jesus said his kingdom was different and all were welcome. In his short letter, Jesus’ brother James underscored the same idea. His words about breaking even one commandment were not meant to discourage. Instead, they put us all in the same boat. All of us must trust that, with God, “mercy overrules judgment.”

SATURDAY
John 8:2-11

The accusers in this sad scene weren’t satisfied with shaming the woman. They wanted to stone her to death, quoting verses like Deuteronomy 22:22. Jesus valued the Bible, but did not blindly follow every word in it. So once again, mercy overruled judgment as Jesus said, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.” The accusers left, and Jesus, who WAS sinless, didn’t want to throw stones. Over the centuries, Christians have wrestled with many tough issues that couldn’t be settled by just quoting a few Bible verses. We have to trust the Holy Spirit to continue guiding us in discerning and living into the spirit of Jesus.

To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from www.cor.org/guide.

SUGGESTED PRAYER

Lord, we have been given the gift your forgiveness and your life-changing grace, while others sit in darkness, mistakenly thinking that you have forgotten and abandoned them. Soften our hearts and use us as your disciples to sincerely extend a hand of love and mercy to those who so desperately need to hear the message of your grace and salvation. Amen.

CONNECT

In what ways has society changed since you were young? What changes bother you most? What changes seems to be for the better? In what positive ways can we influence society?

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

  • Read Genesis 1:26-28, 2:18-23, Leviticus 12:1-5. Ancient cultures valued men more than women. How did the creation stories seem to value women? How are our 21st century values regarding women different than ancient cultures? Are those values universally accepted in the world? In the United States? From an American legal viewpoint, how are women to be regarded? Do you believe this differs from a Christian viewpoint about women? Why or why not?
  • Read Luke 10:38-42, Galatians 3:23-28. How did Jesus treat women? Was this typical of the time? What would Jesus say about current attitudes and actions that treat women as second-class citizens? In what settings do these “second-class” attitudes seem to crop up today? Although, in addressing certain situations, Paul may have said some things that seem anti-female, what does he say in the verses in Galatians in regard to women? Do you, personally, accept this direction from Paul as the correct view about women and men? Many people still believe there are situations in which, as a general statement, women would seem to be better equipped to handle some things than men and vice versa. Does recognizing differences between men and women violate the principle of Galatians 3:28? Why or why not?
  • Read Genesis 2:24-25, Song of Solomon 1:15–2:4, 8:5-7, Genesis 29:31-30:24. Would you agree that these verses link love and human sexuality? In the story of Jacob’s family, what emotions did the women display? Was there a separation of love and sexuality? How would you describe the family dynamics that were probably going on? In what ways does our society separate love and sex? When that separation occurs, how can pain and dysfunction arise?
  • Read Matthew 19:3-8, 1 Corinthians 6:12-7:2. Sexual immorality was rampant in the Greco-Roman world of Jesus and Paul’s time. In today’s world, what justifies divorce? What might Jesus say about that? Does the marriage commitment carry the weight it should today? Paul stressed that faithfulness to God includes purity of the body. Are those attributes stressed today? Should they be? Paul said the marriage union was spiritual, not just physical. Is that still true? How does the concept of honoring God with your body run counter to much thinking today? How does one avoid sexual immorality?
  • Read Matthew 9:9-13, James 2:8-13. How would you describe Jesus’ intent when he said, “I desire mercy…”? Have Christian churches always been merciful in welcoming in those they judged as “sinners”? If we are perfectly honest, do you feel less in need of God’s forgiveness and mercy than anyone else who’s sins are different from your areas of struggle? If we are able to substitute mercy for judgment, how might that affect us and others? How might society be affected? Going beyond individual, one-on-one relationships, is some measure of “societal judgmentalism” required to maintain societal integrity? When Jesus and James spoke of mercy, do you believe that is the same as what we mean by “permissive”? Does mercy actually encourage sinful behaviors, or not?
  • Read John 8:2-11. What sins make you most upset with the people who commit them? In our modern, day-to-day lives, in what ways might we, in effect, “cast stones” at individuals who we consider to be outside our norms of righteousness? How would Jesus tell us to handle these situations?

From last week: Did you carefully consider questions the creation vs. evolution debate raises for you? Did you think about how these questions affect your relationship with God? Were you able to clarify what you believe? How was your week affected?

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

From Pastor Hamilton’s sermon, September 9, 2012:

(Note: because of space, we can’t include all of Pastor Hamilton’s Biblical study from this important sermon. If you did not hear the sermon, or wish to hear it again, you can do so at www.cor.org/sermon.)

In Acts 10 Peter has a vision of a sheet being lowered from heaven with animals the Bible forbids eating. He had followed this rule all his life. He hears the voice of the Lord say to him, “take and eat.” He says, “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” But the Lord replies, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This happens three times.

What a strange vision–God declaring clean an act the Bible, in multiple places in the Old Testament, says is unclean. About that time there comes a knock, and there are servants of a Roman soldier named Cornelius who has sent for Peter. Cornelius wants to hear the good news of Jesus. Peter goes to Cornelius’ home, enters, and eats with Cornelius and his friends, all uncircumcised Gentiles. This was scandalous—Jewish Law forbade eating with “unclean” people. Peter preached the gospel and, to his surprise, the Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius and his friends. Peter baptized those uncircumcised Gentiles into the Christian faith.

Clearly God was doing a new thing, shattering views of what was permissible and impermissible, clean and unclean, even countering the law itself. When Peter shared what had happened with other Jewish Christians they struggled with this. It was unnerving to think that what they thought was God’s will–refraining from eating with Gentiles—was not God’s will….At times we find things in the Bible that made sense at the time to the authors, but may not make sense or apply to us today. For Peter that was about what was clean and unclean. For us this will have something to do with slavery, and the role of women, and sexuality.

Let’s consider slavery. Today we see slavery as unjust and immoral. We believe God sees slavery as unjust and immoral. Yet there are 326 verses in the Bible that reference slaves and slavery. Here’s one of the laws Moses said God gave him to govern the treatment of slaves, in Exodus 21:20-21: “When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.” If we’re going to take the Bible seriously, we have to ask, “Does this represent God’s timeless will, or does it represent the culture in which the Bible was written?”

We would like to say this is just in the Old Testament. There’s more light in the New Testament–slave traders are identified as evil, and Paul notes that in the gospel there is neither slave nor free. But both Paul and Peter are clear that slaves were to submit to their masters, even those who were cruel. They were to obey their masters with “fear and trembling” (Titus 2:9, 1 Peter 2:18, Ephesians 6:5). There were slave owners in the church and they were not told to set their slaves free, but to treat them justly.
These passages were used to uphold the slave trade in America. Yet there came a time when Wilberforce, Wesley and others began to condemn the practice on the basis of a broader message of scripture–that all human beings were created in the image of God, and that the buying and selling and owning of human beings was incompatible with justice. They came to recognize, like Peter and Cornelius, that what was written in the law was not necessarily God’s timeless will for humanity….
We’ve seen in the case of slavery, the role of women, and sexuality that understandings change over time. Some of what is written in the Bible does not reflect God’s timeless will. In previous weeks we’ve seen the same with violence in the God’s name.

Realizing that scripture contains both God’s timeless will and the time-bound cultural presuppositions of its authors led me to ask, “Might the passages about homosexuality in the Bible fall in the same category as those related to these other subjects?”

First, let’s recognize this is an issue about which we as Christians, and we as a nation, are hugely divided. In the latest Gallup poll 50% of Americans favored the right of gay and lesbian people to marry, and 48% did not. 2% were not sure. In the church there is great division over this issue. Denominations are dividing, Christians leaving one church and heading to another over this issue. In the UnitedMethodistChurch we are divided. Here at Church of the Resurrection we do not all see this issue the same–our pastoral staff have different opinions, our leadership have differing opinions and you as lay people have differing opinions.

This issue is often said to be about biblical authority. I don’t think that is accurate. I think it is about biblical interpretation. Most Christians on either side of this issue believe in the Bible’s authority. I read my Bible every morning. I study it 10-15 hours a week. I strive, like Wesley, to be a man of one book. No book has a greater impact upon my life. Its words reflect my highest ambitions and my deepest desires for what I might be. I pray the scripture and pray that I might live the scripture. It is not a question of authority, but of interpretation—of understanding that some scriptures do not capture God’s heart and will for all eternity….

The question is, Do these five verses that seem to speak of same sex activity convey the timeless will of God, so that we must teach and preach that people with same sex attraction must seek therapy to try to change their attraction, or not act upon it; that they cannot marry and share their life with someone intimately? Or are these passages like the 326 that speak of slavery, or the hundred that see women as of less value than men, or the dozens that command violence in the name of God?…

I believe God created us male and female and that this was normative–our reproductive organs, the wiring of 95% of the population point in this direction. But for the 5% of population that don’t fit that norm, I think God sees them with compassion and love for his gay and lesbian children and that, like any of you if your children were gay, he welcomes them into his family.

We are a church divided. Here’s what we’ve committed to: we’ve committed as a church to welcome people on either side of this issue provided we disagree with love. We have agreed that the issue is biblical interpretation, not authority. We have agreed that our congregation will welcome and love gay and lesbian people regardless of how we read these scriptures. And we’ve committed to continue to seek to know God’s will.

“Be right or be married”          

You can be right, or you can be married; take your pick. I can’t remember who told me that, but I do remember that they were only half-joking. The other half, the serious half, is exceedingly important. This is why.

When it comes to winning and losing, I think there are three kinds of marriages. In the first kind of marriage, both spouses are competing to win, and it’s a duel to the death. Husbands and wives are armed with a vast arsenal, ranging from fists, to words, to silence. These are the marriages that destroy. Spouses destroy each other, and, in the process, they destroy the peace of their children. In fact, the destruction is so complete that research tells us it is better for children to have divorced parents than warring parents. These marriages account for most of the fifty percent of marriages that fail, and then some.
The second kind of marriage is ripe with winning and losing, but the roles are set, and the loser is always the same spouse. These are the truly abusive marriages, the ones in which one spouse dominates, the other submits, and in the process, both husband and wife are stripped of their dignity. These are the marriages of addicts and enablers, tyrants and slaves, and they may be the saddest marriages of all.

But there is a third kind of marriage. The third kind of marriage is not perfect, not even close. But a decision has been made, and two people have decided to love each other to the limit, and to sacrifice the most important thing of all—themselves. In these marriages, losing becomes a way of life, a competition to see who can listen to, care for, serve, forgive, and accept the other the most. The marriage becomes a competition to see who can change in ways that are most healing to the other, to see who can give of themselves in ways that most increase the dignity and strength of the other.  These marriages form people who can be small and humble and merciful and loving and peaceful.

And they are revolutionary, in the purest sense of the word.

Source: http://drkellyflanagan.com/2012/03/02/marriage-is-for-losers/

Final application:

This week examine any judgmental attitudes you might have about others. As you go through your week at home and at work, make every effort to discard those judgments and see those people as you might see yourself, giving them every bit of positive, uplifting and supportive attitude you can muster. Next week, share your experience with the group.

9/2/12 Weekly Small Groups GPS Guide

(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)

The Bible and Science

A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.

MONDAY
Genesis 1:1-13

Genesis included two stories about God’s creation of the world. “The inspired author(s) of the primeval prologue drew on the manner of speaking about origins that was part of their culture and literary traditions.” (LaSor, Hubbard and Bush, Old Testament Survey) In this first part of the first story, note the assumptions about the structure of the world (e.g. waters above and below the dome of the sky).

TUESDAY
Genesis 1:14-2:3

Notice the poetic symmetry of this creation story. On Day 4, it said, God put two great lights in the heavens, after already filling them with light on Day 1. On Day 5, God caused the sea and the dome of the sky, which came into being on Day 2, to “swarm with life.” Day 6 brought creatures to live on the dry land, whose plant life was the main part of Day 3’s creative work. And it was all crowned, in verses 26-27, by God creating human beings, “male and female.”

WEDNESDAY
Genesis 2:4-25

This second creation story was folksier and less structured by far than the one in Genesis 1:1-2:3. It said God created human beings first, before any plants or animals existed—so if read as literal history, as science, this account would contradict Genesis 1. But it carried a vital theological message about who we are in relation to God and to one another.

THURSDAY
John 1:1-18

“In the beginning,” light and darkness, life and God— when we read the prologue to his gospel, it’s clear that John wanted us to recall Genesis. It’s as though he said, “Remember the creation story? I’ve got an update— God, the creator, didn’t start things off and then forget us. He came into our darkness and lived with us, bringing light that can’t be put out.”

FRIDAY
Luke 17:20-21, 1 Timothy 6:13-16

Jesus told the Pharisees (powerful religious leaders in his day) that his Kingdom existed in another dimension, not subject to direct observation, although they could experience it. Similarly, Paul said God is “King of kings and Lord of lords,” “has immortality” and “lives in light that no one can come near.” He was less eager to “prove” God through observation or debate than he was to rejoice in the mystery and wonder of God’s goodness.

SATURDAY
Hebrews 11:1-6

Cosmologists and physicists today wrestle with concepts like “dark energy” and “dark matter” —unseen, largely unexplained forces that nevertheless leave signs of their existence. Faith too deals with unseen forces such as love, trust, and divine grace and steadfastness, forces that also leave signs of their existence in our lives. Faith and science are not enemies, but speak to different realms of experience.

To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from www.cor.org/guide.

SUGGESTED PRAYER

Almighty God, we believe that you created all that is. We don’t know exactly how you did all of that, but we’re grateful for the loving, caring and majesty of the gift of life you gave us. Be with us now and every day of our lives and help us to know you better and love you even more. We offer this prayer with grateful thanks for your son, Jesus, who gave his life for us. Amen.

CONNECT

What mysteries of creation or science do you most want to know more about? What answers to questions do you hope to receive when you meet God in the next life?

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

  • Read Genesis 1:1-13. These verses tell that God is the Creator, but not how God created. Does it make life more meaningful to you to know that it originated with God, rather than as some cosmic accident? Many ancient people worshipped the forces of nature as gods. But this Biblical story said that the one true God created nature itself. How would this story have affected those ancient people? When we desperately need rain, what do we do? When we are threatened by tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis, what do we do? How do you think about praying for God to bring rain on the one hand, and praying to God to protect you from the more violent forces of nature?
  • Read Genesis 1:14-2:3. In the poetry of Genesis 1, God next created the sun and the moon, the creatures of the earth and, finally, human beings in God’s image. Do you see this passage as more focused on what we would call the “science” of how this all happened, or on God as the source and power behind it all? Is it possible that all these things happened over billions of years, but at God’s direction? If this happened, does that create tensions between the view that God created everything and the view that science can tell us about the physical processes involved? Can you accept the idea that God was our creator and that science describes the tools that God used? Why or why not?
  • Read Genesis 2:4-25. In what ways does this story of creation differ from the one in Genesis 1:1 -2:3? In what ways does it carry the same message? Is humankind depicted as slaves to God or as companions? What does the garden that God prepared say about God’s feelings toward humans? What relationship do you think God intends today between himself and humankind? If the Bible had begun with a science lesson, describing billions of years, the speed of light and the enormity of the cosmos, would ancient people have been able to comprehend that? Doesn’t it make sense that it started with these creation stories, showing a loving and powerful God who simply had to say, “Let there be light”?
  • Read John 1:1-18. “The Word became flesh…” This goes way beyond science! God came and lived among us. Why did God do this? How much of a sacrifice must it have been for God to leave his divine kingdom and become fully human? How much sacrifice for him to suffer the pains and sorrows of this life? How much must God love us to do this for us? When have scientific facts alone moved you emotionally? When has the majesty of God’s creation left you awestruck?
  • Read Luke 17:20-21, 1 Timothy 6:13-16. God cannot be proved by scientific observation, but can be known by faith. Science can and does help us to describe and understand God’s creation, but does not describe God. The Bible with all its stories does, however describe and help us understand God. Do you feel that the Bible has helped you understand God? Do you think, if asked, you could help someone understand a little of what you have come to believe about God? If someone asked you, “Who is this man Jesus?” what would you say?
  • Read Hebrews 11:1-6. “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” What a great way to close our discussion of creation and God’s involvement! Science has yet to fully explain many unseen forces that leave signs of their existence. In what parts of life has faith yet to deal with many unseen and unexplained issues that you wrestle with? Do you think that faith and science are opposing forces? Are you comfortable with your own faith, regardless of those who deny the truth of your beliefs?

From last week: Did you list the people you don’t care much for and are likely to see this week? Every morning, did you pray for them by name? Did you, during the week, as you met these people, try to be kind and helpful? How was your week affected?

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

From Pastor Hamilton’s sermon, September 2, 2012:

We’ve learned in this series that the Bible is both a human and divine document. God is the inspiring subject of the biblical authors, and God also speaks through these writers. Yet the Bible is still written by people who saw God in the light of their history, culture and understandings. It is this human dimension that is refreshing and honest, but also where the great challenges come in.

Young earth creationists believe God dictated the story of creation, God was the only eyewitness, and God does not lie, so it must be true as written….I’ve suggested that we don’t see the Bible this way. God did not dictate the Bible. There are two different creation accounts, likely from two different times and meant to make two different points.

These creation stories sit at the very beginning of the Bible, not because God nor the Bible’s compilers thought the Bible should begin with a science lesson. They felt the Bible must begin with foundational claims about God as creator, the goodness of creation, the fact that human beings were created in God’s image, and that we were commanded by God to oversee his creation.

Genesis 1:1-2:4 is the first creation storiy–majestic and beautiful. It is not a science lecture, it’s poetry. It is not a cosmology lesson, it is a creed. It could have been set to music, or read responsively–it was certainly used in worship. Each day begins with, “And God said,” and he decrees another part of creation come into existence. Then we read, “And it was so, and God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day…the second day… the third day.”This story moves me deeply. It makes a claim not on scientific knowledge but on truth and theology. As a creed about the ultimate dependence of the universe upon God, of God’s hand in creating the universe, of God’s glory–YES! But as a scientific text, No!

Why can’t it also be a scientific text? Because, as with last week’s sermon on violence, it is rooted in ancient cosmologies that could not know what we know today. Imagine Moses or God trying to explain dark matter, or gravity, or black holes or DNA to people 3,000 years ago. When we treat this as a scientific text we not only tend to take our focus off of the point of the text, but we also create a false choice–we force people to choose between an ancient cosmology with faith, or modern science without faith.

Here are some things I see in it that point to the ancients’ limited knowledge of the universe. On day two of creation we read: “And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.” A dome in the midst of waters? Clearly the biblical author is speaking of the atmosphere, but waters above and below the dome? Why is our atmosphere described as a dome?

Here’s how ancients understood the universe. The earth was the center of the entire universe. Above the sky was the dome in which the sun, moon and stars circled the earth. Beyond them was water….We know today that the earth is not the center of the universe, that it is not flat, that it does not rest upon waters, that there is not a dome in the sky, that the sun, moon and stars are very different distances from the earth, and that the stuff of space is not water!

In the story God creates the plants on the third day, but does not create the sun until the fourth day! Scientifically, this doesn’t make sense. Our sun’s gravitational pull was essential to form our planet in a way that sustains life. Before the earth was formed, and certainly before we had an atmosphere that sustained plant life, there had to be a sun. But the author is capturing the best scientific thinking among the Hebrew people of their time. I’m sure the young earth creationists have some explanation for all of this, but it requires a huge leap and forces all other disciplines of science to do cartwheels just to preserve the ancient cosmology.

I look at these stories and treasure them. They speak to me deep in my soul about God and our place in the universe. But they are not where I go to learn about how the earth was created and the science behind it. Let them be poetry! Let them be a creed! Let them be the most profound truth you can know. But don’t force them to be a science lecture!…

I believe evolution explains a lot. I buy it–I think it is an amazing and beautiful explanation for how life emerges in its various forms. But it makes the most sense, to me, if there is One who is the artist, the programmer, the mind that is drawing it forward….

The second creation story, in Genesis 2:5—3:24, tells the story in a different order than Genesis 1. In the second creation story God forms man first, before trees, shrubs or any animals. From the dust of the earth he breathes into him the breath of life….

God looks at the man and sees that he is lonely–and so God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone, I will make for him a helper as his companion.”…God tells the man, “I have something in mind for you you would not believe.” God causes the man to fall asleep and takes from his side a rib and closes that place with flesh and from the rib he forms the new and improved model of the man–the woman! The man awakens and says, “This at last is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone!” “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and they will become one flesh. And they were naked and not ashamed.”

I tell that story at every wedding. Why? Not because I want to teach people human origins, but because I want to teach them about the meaning of marriage as a gift from God….

In Genesis 3 the story continues with Adam and Eve tempted to eat the forbidden fruit. They know God asked them not to. But they disobey, pain comes into the world, paradise is lost. I regularly tell this story to myself, and you. It is an archetypal story that teaches the truth about us as human beings, about the lure of temptation and the pain that comes when we stray from God’s path.

This is our story!

I love these creation stories. They are defining stories in my life. They resonate with me deeply and speak of profound truths. I don’t see them as lectures on the origins of life on our planet, but creeds and liturgies and defining stories meant to teach us about ourselves. Science and the bible are not contradictory truths, they are complementary truths. Science helps us understand the process–the how of Creation.  The Bible teaches us the meaning of life and leads us to our Creator who is forever praised.

 

Will we ever have all the answers? Just a few unsolved problems in science:           

There are many unexplained phenomena in science, or phenomena that there is no agreement on an explanation within scientific circles. Here is a list of a few of them from physics:

Accelerating universe: Why is the universe’s expansion accelerating, as we have observed? What is the nature of the dark energy driving this acceleration? If it is a cosmological constant, why is the constant so small, yet non-zero? Why isn’t it huge, as most quantum field theories predict, or zero for some yet unknown symmetry reason? What is the ultimate fate of the universe?

Dark matter: What is the nature of the material observed via only its gravitational effects (for example, in the Galaxy rotation problem)? Does such matter exist at all? (An alternate explanation could be that the equations of General Relativity are subtly wrong, for example in Modified Newtonian Dynamics).

String theory: Is string theory, or superstring theory, or M-theory, or some other variant, the “theory of everything,” or a blind alley?

Proton decay: Do protons decay? If so, then what is their half-life?

Fusion power: Is it possible to construct a practical nuclear reactor that is powered by nuclear fusion rather than nuclear fission?

Gamma ray bursts: What is the nature of these extraordinarily energetic astronomical objects?

Black holes: Do they exist? If not, what are the ultracompact supermassive objects we observe? What physics governs them?

Baryon asymmetry: Why is there far more matter than antimatter in the universe?

Gravitational waves: Is our universe filled with gravitational radiation from the big bang? From astrophysical sources, such as inspiralling neutron stars? What can this tell us about quantum gravity and general relativity?

More at source:                   http://www.rmcybernetics.com/science/physics/unexplained.htm

Final application:

This week don’t push the questions the creation vs. evolution debate raises to the back of your mind. Think about your relationship with God, and how these questions affect that. Clarify what you believe. Next week, share your experience with the group.

8/26/12 Weekly Small Groups GPS Guide

(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)

The Bible and the Violence of God

A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.

MONDAY
Exodus 34:5-10

There are disturbing stories in the Bible (e.g. Exodus 32:25-28, Joshua 6:15-21). But even in Israel’s earliest days, God’s love was the key to other stories (e.g. Genesis 22:1-13, where God taught Abraham that, unlike other Canaanite deities, he did not want children killed in sacrifice). Egyptians and Canaanites didn’t think their gods loved them. When God revealed his character to Moses, though, “compassionate and merciful” were the key characteristics.

TUESDAY
Isaiah 58:1-8, Micah 6:6-8

When Jesus said to love your neighbor, many in his day wanted to limit that to their Israelite neighbors—and even then, it was a hard ideal to live up to. The prophets Isaiah and Micah saw that. They said God didn’t want God’s people to practice violence (physical, social or economic) toward other people. Pious rituals were no substitute for simply treating people well.

WEDNESDAY
Isaiah 52:7-53:9

The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology said, “Isaiah articulates a new and powerful vision of redemption in which violence is absorbed and transformed. In Isaiah 52–53 the heralding of Israel’s divine warrior returning to bring Zion’s deliverance (52:7–12), suddenly gives way to a description of a suffering servant of Yahweh (52:13–53:12).” Isaiah saw that God does not win by increasing the level of violence. Instead, God takes it onto himself and changes it into a redemptive force.

THURSDAY
Matthew 5:38-48

Jesus said, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39) Jesus did not ignore or discard the Hebrew Scriptures. But he did identify the ones of its many different strands that gave the truest picture of God’s purposes for the human family.

FRIDAY

1 Peter 3:8-17

Many scholars see 1 Peter as a written version of the instruction the early church gave new converts before their baptism. If so, then clearly the principles in these verses were not just for “advanced” Christians—this was the way of life God called all of them to. Our social context is different from theirs—but the inner life God wants to grow in us is still the same.

SATURDAY
John 3:13-19

Jesus told his disciples, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). These verses tell us why Jesus came to live and die as a human being, so they tell us about the basic character of the God we serve. In some Bible stories, God seems angry, brutal or unloving to us. They may reflect human misunderstanding, shaped by ancient culture, or perhaps loving acts that seem violent to us because of our partial understanding. But when we trust Jesus as the ultimate Word of God, they will not lead us to fear or reject the God who came in person to be “lifted up” on the cross so we can have eternal life.

To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from www.cor.org/guide.

SUGGESTED PRAYER

Lord Jesus, by coming into this world, you brought light and clarity into our understanding of who you are and what you expect from us. We understand you and your love for us better, and we also understand that we are to live our lives in a way that shows caring for others. Strengthen our faith and our character; lead us forward to completeness as we live our lives in you. Amen.

CONNECT

What movie genres are your favorites? Despite our Christianity, why are some of us so drawn to and entertained by movies that contain violence? What is it about the triumph of good over evil that is so satisfying? Could that be what drew ancient people to believe in a warrior-like God?

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

  • Read Exodus 34:5-10. God told Moses that he would punish the guilty, but he also said that he was compassionate and gracious, abounding in love and forgiving. In what ways have you experienced God’s love and forgiveness? God also made a covenant (a promise) to the Hebrews. Have you experienced God as one who can be trusted when he promises to love you and forgive you? The people saw God as a warrior. Can God be both warrior and compassionate and loving? Do we, as humans, tend to have more than one side to our character?
  • Read Isaiah 58:1-8, Micah 6:6-8. As we read the Old Testament prophets, one dimension of their writings is the images they contained of the coming Christ. As you read these passages, where are you able to see such an image? What was the problem with the Hebrew sacrifices and rituals? What did God really want them to do? Instead of being just, merciful and humble, in what ways were the Hebrews offending God? In what ways might our own lifestyles be offensive to God?
  • Read Isaiah 52:7-53:9. Who is the suffering servant spoken of by Isaiah the prophet? We (with the benefit of hindsight) can see through the veil of words into the promise of God redeeming us from sin. Does realizing that the Old Testament book of Isaiah, written 600-700 years before Christ, held this powerful image about redemptive suffering make Jesus more real and credible to you? Did God defeat evil in the world by escalating violence? How did God do it? What does this tell you about the nature of God? How would God have us address evil when we meet it in ourselves or in others?
  • Read Matthew 5:38-48. When Jesus came, he raised the bar to a higher standard than what was in the Law of Moses. Instead of the proportional standard of retaliation (which was a hard enough for the ancient Hebrews to accept), Jesus challenged the people even more. Which of the “greatest” commandments were these new standards based upon? How do these standards apply to our everyday lives in our workplace and family setting? Think of some of the people you really don’t care for. How can you act more kindly toward them? Is Jesus calling us to extend “mushy love” or phoniness?
  • Read 1 Peter 3:8-17. Here in 1 Peter we read that, if we do as Jesus asks, if we return evil with good, if we earnestly seek peace, we will be “inherit a blessing.” How do you think we will be rewarded? We also hear that it is better “to suffer for doing good than for doing evil”. How might we suffer from doing evil to those who do evil to us? “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” To what are these verses referring? How should we conduct ourselves in religious discussions? If during these discussions, we are lack respect and humility, what effect might that have on how other people perceive our faith?
  • Read John 3:13-19. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Given this statement, how would you describe God’s true character? As the “Saturday” GPS above says, “In some Bible stories, God seems angry, brutal or unloving to us. They may reflect human misunderstanding, shaped by ancient culture, or perhaps loving acts that seem violent to us because of our partial understanding.” But with Jesus Christ, we gain clarity. “Light has come into the world” and with that light, clarity. Why do some people “love the darkness”? How has Jesus brought greater light into your life?

From last week: Did you sit down with a spouse or friend and list some Biblical passages that are hard for you to understand? Did you re-read these passages together? Did you ask yourself what these passages might show about how God has worked with people through the ages, and how that relates to Christ’s saving work? Did you come to understand these passages any better?

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

From Pastor Hamilton’s sermon, August 26, 2012:

“The biblical authors were people of their time, culture and historical contexts. They saw, heard and understood God’s will in the light of, and through the filter of, their times. The people in the ancient world, including the biblical authors, lived in a violent world, and they heard God in the light of the world they lived in. For instance, the ancient Near East always portrayed gods as warriors. War was a fact of life. Justice was swift and retributive. It would have taken remarkable insight and inspiration for people, even the followers of Yahweh, to have seen beyond this…We learned last week that Jesus Christ is the definitive Word of God, the most complete picture of who God is. So as we read the Old Testament, we ask, ‘Does this passage align with the nature and character of God revealed in Jesus Christ?’ In the light of this idea we conclude that the violent pictures of God in the Old Testament tell us more about the people who lived in the time these passages were written than they tell us about God.   .

   When I read these stories I see their humanity and their historical context coming through. There is a concept I find important in making sense of the Bible called ‘progressive revelation.’ The idea is that, progressively, over time in the scriptures, we find the people coming to understand more and more clearly what God desired of them until it reaches its apex in Jesus Christ. This is why I believe the Old Testament is incomplete without Jesus. He gives us the clearest picture of God–he is God’s word made flesh….

When I read these stories I attempt to separate out the biblical authors’ worldview from the story itself. I read them in the light of the larger biblical witness about God as he is seen in the rest of the Old Testament and the New Testament.

I still read these stories listening for God to speak through them. They are part of the Bible. I look to hear God in two ways in reading them:  A. What do they teach me about what I am not supposed to be and do as a God follower? and B. Are there biblical principles that line up with Jesus that I see when I read these stories?

So when I read in Exodus 32 the story of the Israelites worshiping the golden calf and the judgment that took place as a result, I ‘park’ the story of Moses having the Israelites slay their brothers, sisters and neighbors. I recognize it as a part of the story that is inconsistent with the picture of God in Jesus Christ–so I park it. But then I ask, setting this issue aside, how does this story reveal something about my life or about God? Where do I find myself in the story? The truth that I see when Moses finds the Israelites worshiping the golden calf and turning away from God is my story. How easy it is to worship my own golden calf. We find it hard to worship a God we can’t see, but easy to worship the things we can see and feel and touch. Like those Israelites, I have a tendency to stray from God and worship my own golden calves. And in God’s judgment I see God’s jealousy for my worship and love….

There are so many treasures in these stories. I don’t want to throw them out! I want you to read them. But I want to give you permission to wrestle with the violent, unchristian strands of these stories.

There’s one more lesson I take from these passages where the Bible seems to so contradict the good news of God seen and heard in Jesus Christ: It is possible for well meaning people of faith, including biblical heroes and authors, to ascribe to God our own values, biases and will. This still happens today.

It happens when we find strands like the violent passages and build our faith and actions around them, rather than hearing the dominant message of scripture. We create a faith that is thoroughly shaped by our culture, in which God looks like us. So in the realm of politics both major parties are certain God would vote with them. I think of the “prosperity gospel” which some preachers preach in which God wants us to be rich and prosperous–a ‘gospel’ perfectly attuned to materialistic American culture. God is preached as desiring wealth for his people….

All of which leads me to recall the admonition of the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:2: ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.’ Once more, we must judge our theology and even the rest of scripture in the light of the word of God revealed in Jesus Christ.  He alone is the inerrant, infallible Word of God.”

 

What is a Prophet? A Jewish Perspective     

Many people today think of a prophet as any person who sees the future. While the gift of prophecy certainly includes the ability to see the future, a prophet is far more than just a person with that ability.

A prophet is basically a spokesman for G-d, a person chosen by G-d to speak to people on G-d’s behalf and convey a message or teaching. Prophets were role models of holiness, scholarship and closeness to G-d. They set the standards for the entire community. (Note: observant Jews avoid writing any Name of God casually because of the risk that the written Name might later be defaced, obliterated or destroyed accidentally or by one who does not know better.)

The Talmud teaches that there were hundreds of thousands of prophets: twice as many as the number of people who left Egypt, which was 600,000. But most of the prophets conveyed messages that were intended solely for their own generation and were not reported in scripture. Scripture identifies only 55 prophets of Israel. (Note: The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism, considered second to the Torah. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions. The whole Talmud is over 6,200 pages long, written in Aramaic and quotes the Hebrew Bible at least once a page with the Hebrew version in use at the time. The Talmud contains the opinions of thousands of rabbis, many of whom are left unnamed, on a variety of subjects, including law, ethics, philosophy, customs, history, theology, lore and many other topics. The rabbis often argue with one another in a civilized manner on the pages. The Talmud has two components: the Mishnah (c. 200 CE), the first written compendium of Judaism’s Oral Law; and the Gemara (c. 500 CE), an elucidation of the Mishnah and related Tannaitic writings that often ventures onto other subjects and expounds broadly on the Hebrew Bible.)

A prophet is not necessarily a man. Scripture records the stories of seven female prophets, listed below, and the Talmud reports that Sarah’s prophetic ability was superior to Abraham’s.

A prophet is not necessarily a Jew. The Talmud reports that there were prophets among the gentiles (most notably Balaam, whose story is told in Numbers 22), although they were not as elevated as the prophets of Israel (as the story of Balaam demonstrates). And some of the prophets, such as Jonah, were sent on missions to speak to the gentiles.

According to some views, prophecy is not a gift that is arbitrarily conferred upon people; rather, it is the culmination of a person’s spiritual and ethical development. When a person reaches a sufficient level of spiritual and ethical achievement, the Shechinah (Divine Spirit) comes to rest upon him or her. Likewise, the gift of prophecy leaves the person if that person lapses from his or her spiritual and ethical perfection.

The greatest of the prophets was Moses. It is said that Moses saw all that all of the other prophets combined saw, and more. Moses saw the whole of the Torah, including the Prophets and the Writings that were written hundreds of years later. All subsequent prophecy was merely an expression of what Moses had already seen. Thus it is taught that nothing in the Prophets or the Writings can be in conflict with Moses’ writings, because Moses saw it all in advance.

The Talmud states that the writings of the prophets will not be necessary in the World to Come, because in that day, all people will be mentally, spiritually and ethically perfect, and all will have the gift of prophecy.

Source: http://www.jewfaq.org/prophet.htm

Final application:

This week, make a list of people who you don’t really care much for and who you are likely to see this week. Every morning, pray for each of these people by name. During the week, as you come across these people, make an effort to be kind, thoughtful and helpful. Next week, share with the group what you found in this exercise.

8/19/12 Weekly Small Groups GPS Guide

(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)

Making Sense of the Bible

A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.

MONDAY
Jeremiah 1:1-3, 2 Peter 1:16-21

Scholar Leslie Newbigin wrote, “Most of us treat the Bible as an anthology of helpful thoughts …from which we can obtain comfort, guidance and direction…. It is rather an interpretation of the whole of history from the creation to its end…and is told from the point of view of the people whom God chose to be the bearers of his purpose.” That’s what the Bible writers said themselves. Jeremiah had to use his words to share the message God gave him. Centuries later, Peter said that although the Holy Spirit led them, men and women did the speaking.

TUESDAY
2 Timothy 3:10-17

Paul knew that, when he died (cf. 2 Timothy 4:6), his friend Timothy would face hardship. But he would still have the Bible. It was useful, he said, “for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.” He did not say it would answer all of Timothy’s historical, scientific or financial questions. The Bible exists to tell the story of God’s dealings with humans, and to shape our interaction with God.

WEDNESDAY
Genesis 17:9-14, Acts 15:4-19, Galatians 5:1-6

Christians have wrestled with various parts of the Bible throughout the history of the faith. In the first century, some thought it was wrong to accept uncircumcised Gentiles into the faith. They could quote Genesis 17, which said any uncircumcised male had broken God’s covenant. They couldn’t discourage Peter and Paul, however. God, the apostles said, was leading differently in their day, pouring out the Holy Spirit on all who showed faith in Jesus.

THURSDAY
Exodus 21:15-25, Matthew 5:31-44

We saw yesterday that Peter and Paul boldly claimed that, in the light of Jesus, they could act differently than Genesis 17 said. They learned that approach from Jesus himself, who taught, “It was said…but I say to you…”. The law in Exodus 21 (also Leviticus 24 and Deuteronomy 19) limited revenge to “an eye for an eye,” to make retribution proportional and avoid massive retaliation. Jesus said he came to teach a more radical approach: “Love your enemies.”

FRIDAY
John 5:35-40

When Jesus challenged the Pharisees in Jerusalem, he was facing some of the world’s top experts on the Hebrew Scriptures. Often they could recite huge sections of the Bible from memory. Yet Jesus said they had missed the focal point of the Bible’s story—they didn’t recognize him as God among them. As long as they missed that focal point, Jesus said, their vast technical knowledge of the Bible could not bring them life.

SATURDAY
Hebrews 1:1-4

To a group of Hebrew Christians, who most likely knew and loved the Hebrew Scriptures, this writer said God had indeed spoken through the prophets “in many times and many ways.” But, he added, God’s greatest revelation, God’s final word, was not a book, but a person: the person of Jesus. “The Son is the light of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being,” and only through the Son can we rightly understand the rest of God’s story unfolded in the Bible.

To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from www.cor.org/guide.

SUGGESTED PRAYER

Almighty God, thank you for working with people through the ages, for giving us in the Bible a record of how you have worked with them. Thank you, too, that you did not leave us with only that record, but that you came in person, in Jesus, to show us in a real human being what you are like. Help us to read, study and understand the Bible in such a way as to lead us to Christ in our own lives. Help us to stay open to becoming more Christ-like, full of love for you and for others. Amen.

CONNECT

What is your favorite story from the Old Testament and why do you like it? Does this story seem to have anything to do with your own life and faith? Why do we read Old Testament stories to our children? What value do you think this has?

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

  • Read Jeremiah 1:1-3, 2 Peter 1:16-21. Some have said that the Bible is the word of God as heard after passing through a human filter. We may understand this better when we realize that each of us might read the same scripture and yet interpret it somewhat differently based on who we are and what we have experienced. When have you felt that the Bible was speaking directly to you? Do you think the Bible is as “current” to you as it was to those who first heard it? Why or why not? Do you ever feel as if, when you faced some difficulty, you were led to Bible verses that seemed to help you? Do you think the Old Testament prophets felt the same way when they first heard God speaking to them?
  • Read 2 Timothy 3:10-17. These verses say the Bible’s role in our lives is to teach, correct and equip us to live in the ways God calls us to. What parts of the Bible have been most instrumental in shaping your faith and character? What parts have not seemed to contribute or have challenged or stretched your faith? Have you seen situations in which someone has used the Bible to create dissention and even hatred? Why do you think this happens? How has the Bible made you a better person?
  • Read Genesis 17:9-14, Acts 15:4-19, Galatians 5:1-6. Peter and Paul saw that God himself had changed things long after Genesis was written. This transformation meant that Christians were not to be burdened by “the Law,” but were freed by Christ. Have you seen other ways in which, in more modern times, “rules” were thought essential for salvation? Why did Peter, Paul and James decide to deal with the Gentile converts in the way that they did, rather than following Genesis? What was their basis for their decision? Do some people try to apply old “rules” to new converts today?
  • Read Exodus 21:15-25, Matthew 5:31-44. The Law in Exodus limited punishment and retribution to proportional responses, rather than the more massive retaliation common to that time. Later, Jesus changed that approach to “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies.” How does it change your world to give up the idea of revenge in favor of the approaches taught by Jesus? Are there times when, in Christ’s name, you can turn you back on your anger and hurt? Do you at least try to deal with people as Jesus instructed? Could it be that the people of the Old Testament time were simply not yet ready (too primitive?) for the more radical nature of Christ’s teaching? Does this help explain why there are apparent differences in God’s commands in the Old and New Testaments?
  • Read John 5:35-40. Jesus said that scholarly knowledge of the Bible, by itself, would not lead to salvation unless it led us to Christ who is the source of salvation and life. Does this mean that there’s no real point to studying the Bible carefully, even intensely? How should we focus our Bible study so as to be consistent with Jesus’ message? Can we read the Old Testament, as well as the New, with Jesus as our focal point? Some have said Christianity would not be complete without the Old Testament as a foundation for our faith. Why might this be true? What makes studying the whole Bible important to us as Christians?
  • Read Hebrews 1:1-4. God’s final word is not a book; it is a person, Jesus Christ. Jesus is “the exact representation of” God himself. The central purpose of the Bible is to lead us to Christ. Have you ever felt Christ’s presence while reading the Bible? How? How important is the concept of love in Christ’s teaching? If we apply that concept to all of our Bible study, could it change our interpretation of some of the more difficult sections? How likely would we then be to use Biblical passages to condemn the actions of others?

From last week: Did you spend some time (with paper and pencil, your computer or tablet or smart phone, or even just thinking under a tree) describing for yourself what “victory” would look like in your life, and what defeats you might face (or have already faced) on your way to that goal? Compare notes with the group, and learn from each other about the goal, the finish line, that you are aiming for. Think about the places where you might need help, and how you as a group can help each other.

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

What is the Bible?

“What I began to see was that the Bible is not essentially, as I had always more or less supposed, a book of ethical principles, or moral exhortations, of cautionary tales about exemplary people, of uplifting thoughts–in fact, not really a religious book at all in the sense that most of the books you would be apt to find in a minister’s study or reviewed in a special religion issue of the New York Times book section are religious. I saw it instead as a great, tattered compendium of writings, the underlying and unifying purpose of all of which is to show how God works through the Jacobs and Jabboks of history to make himself known to the world and to draw the world back to himself.

For all its vast diversity and unevenness, it is a book with a plot and a plot that can be readily stated. God makes the world in love. For one reason or another the world chooses to reject God. God will not reject the world but continues his mysterious and relentless pursuit of it to the end of time. That is what he is doing by choosing Israel to be his special people. That is what he is doing through all the passion and poetry and invective of the prophets. That is why history plays such a crucial part in the Old Testament–all those kings and renegades and battles and invasions and apostasies–because it was precisely through people like that and events like those that God was at work, as, later, in the New Testament, he was supremely at work in the person and event of Jesus Christ. Only “is at work” would be the more accurate way of putting it because if there is a God who works at all, his work goes on still, of course, and at one and the same time the biblical past not only illumines the present but becomes itself part of that present, part of our own individual pasts. Until you can read the story of Adam and Eve, of Abraham and Sarah, of David and Bathsheba, as your own story…you have not really understood it.”
(Frederick Buechner, Now and Then. HarperSanFrancisco, 1983, pp. 20-21.)

How to Interpret the Bible

The Bible is God’s Word. But some of the interpretations derived from it are not. There are many cults and Christian groups that use the Bible, claiming their interpretations are correct. Too often, however, the interpretations not only differ dramatically but are clearly contradictory.
We need…the guidance of the Holy Spirit in interpreting God’s Word….

We need to approach God’s word with care, humility, and reason. Additionally, we need…the guidance of the Holy Spirit in interpreting God’s Word. After all, the Bible is inspired by God and is addressed to His people. The Holy Spirit helps us to understand what God’s word means and how to apply it.

On the human level, to lessen the errors that come in our interpretations, we need to look at some basic biblical interpretive methods.  I’ll list some of the principles in the form of questions.

I offer the following principles as guidelines for examining a passage.  They are not exhaustive, nor are they set in concrete.

1. Who wrote/spoke the passage and to whom was it addressed?

2. What does the passage say?

3. Are there any words or phrases in the passage that need to be examined?

4. What is the immediate context?

5. What is the broader context in the chapter and book?

6. What are the related verses to the passage’s subject and how do they affect the understanding of this passage?

7. What is the historical and cultural background?

8. What do I conclude about the passage?

9. Do my conclusions agree or disagree with related areas of Scripture and others who have studied the passage?

10. What have I learned and what must I apply to my life?

Source: by Matt Slick at http://carm.org/how-interpret-bible

When you are so “biblical” that you are unChristian

Here is the irony: too often the most ‘biblical’ folks are the most ‘unbiblical’. What do I mean by this? I mean that if the whole point of the Bible is the person and work of Jesus and you fail to make this your whole point in your life, preaching, writing, conferences, etc…then you have missed the point! And, in this case, your blind spot is glaring. You are undermining yourself!! These folks are so ‘biblical’ that they are unChristian!

I am not talking about semantics here. This is far bigger than this. Remember, it was the hard-core Biblicists that had missed the point of Scripture and ended up killing Jesus. If you are reading the Old Testament like a 1st Century Pharisee then you have a veil upon your eyes (2 Cor. 3). And if you are using Jesus just to be your vehicle towards morality, then you are just like the Galatians.

Our whole lives are to be calibrated by and anchored in the gospel. It is this that is of first importance (1 Cor. 15.1-3). To assume it, marginalize it, eclipse it, or ignore it is just as bad as editing it.

Source: http://www.ordinarypastor.com/?p=10189

Final application:

This week, sit down with a spouse or friend and list some Biblical passages that are difficult for you to understand. Find these passages and re-read them together. Ask yourself what these passages might show about how God has worked with people through the ages, and how that relates to Christ’s saving work. Discuss the passages and see if your understanding has improved. Do not be discouraged if you don’t discover easy answers to all your questions. Next week, share with the group what you found in this exercise.