restorying faith and values

Reviewing and renewing Biblical faith through story and study

Friday, May 27, 2016

Embracing God: Why I’m a Seventh-day Adventist

Exploring the "So What?" of being a Seventh-day Adventist in today's World.

What do I believe? Why does it matter?

Series Introduction:

The purpose of this series of six Bible studies is to explore the thematic reasons I find the Seventh-day Adventist understanding of Jesus and His mission for the church to be the most compelling option available to myself as a thinking and passionate Christian today. 

Before we get into this study, I think it imperative to declare here – at the beginning of all things – the primary reason I find an Adventist understanding of Scripture to be the most engaging and inspiring: The Great Controversy. This phrase "The Great Controversy”  is the Adventist phrase for “The Story of God” beginning long before the Bible was written and ending well after it’s conclusion.

The Bible is the story of God’s presence, plan and purpose for Earth. While there is so much more to God than what we could ever fathom, the Bible introduces us to a God who reveals himself to us through us – His people, penning His inspired Word. This was His strategy in ancient times and it continues to be His strategy today – using fallible people to do His Self-revealing work on Earth. God’s Kingdom on Earth is revealed and developed through His people.

The Great Controversy is the epic narrative constraining and compelling God’s will and work on on Earth. There is a problem called Sin. There is a solution called Salvation. There is a process called Reconciliation. All of these are demonstrated in and motivated by the story of God as revealed in the Bible. This is a story, entirely, about God’s love for His ultimate creation – Humanity.

God loves us. We Sinned. We fell out of love with Him but His first love for us has never wavered.
He is doing everything within His power to reconcile us back to Himself.

This is His story.

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Embracing God: Why I’m a Seventh-day Adventist

Discussion Guides: (I'm writing and discussing these weekly with the Ringwood Adventist Youth.)

Come back next Wednesday Night - I'm posting them after our discussion!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Embracing God: Study 2 – Covenant: Order from Chaos

Embracing God: Why I’m a Seventh-day Adventist

Study 2: Covenant – Order from Chaos

Introduction: Life without God is Chaotic. By entering into covenant with God, life is given order, purpose and relationship. By living to fulfill the covenants you have agreed to – in God – you are given identity, community and eternity.

Creation – A Covenant of Image Bearing

Genesis 1:1 – 2:3
What patterns do you see in the creation story? (Evening/morning, good/very good, Day 1-3 environment, Day 4-6 filling environs)
How is this a journey from chaos to order?
How is the ‘creation of man’ different in pacing and content? Why?
What does it mean to be ‘the image of something’? (Gen 1:27: Idol, Engraved coin)
What is the covenant (agreement) God gave mankind? (Gen 1:28) Why is this important?
How is Day 7 different? Is the 7th day ‘good’, ‘very good’ or what? (A unit of time ‘blessed’)
So, in this environment (day 1-3) of all the objects made (day 4-6) one is created in God’s image (humanity) and given a holy sanctuary in time (Sabbath) in which to worship the Creator. How does our ‘image bearing’ quality make us uniquely able to worship?

Matthew 22:15-22
What reason did Jesus give for the coins belonging to Caesar? (picture and title stamped on it)
If Caesar’s image means the coins are his, what does “Give to God what belongs to God” imply? Whose image was stamped onto humanity at Creation?
In the Roman times, every coin was loaded with idolatrous images of Roman rulers whom they worshipped and pagan gods. Before coins, every pagan God had a shrine – an Eikon (Image) entombed in stone – to worship. But our God has living breathing Eikons who stop time each week. Rather than a God set in stone, we worship a living God during a time set in stone – the 7th day of each week, for eternity! When we do this – stop time to worship – we declare our God is the Creator. We are created in His Image and we, like Him, are very much alive.
As His image bearers, how do we “Give to God what belongs to God?”
How does the Genesis 1 Creation Week story declare our Covenant of Image Bearing? What does it remind us to do? What is our Covenant – our agreement with God? (To care for Earth and Celebrate the Creator on Sabbath).

Marriage – A Covenant of Companionship

The Second Creation Story (Genesis 2:4-24)

It would be one thing if there were two creation stories in two separate books of the Bible, or even a few chapters away from each other. But, writing them right next to each other tells you one thing – these are meant to be compared and contrasted. So, let’s do it. We saw what the first Creation Story taught us – Image Bearing Humanity and Sabbath Celebrations of the Creator. But, what about this second story? Is it different? If so, why? What are we to learn from the similarities? What are we to learn from the differences? There’s only one way to find out … Let’s get into it!

Read Genesis 2:4-6
What would the world have looked like?
Why would there be two stories that seem so different? (Different teaching purpose)

Read Genesis 2:7-9
What does God make the man from?
What makes the come to life? What does he become? (Living person ‘soul’)
Where did God ‘place’ the man?
What was in the middle of the Garden?

JUMP! Read Genesis 2:15-17 – Skipping four verses, we find to the logical next point in the story.
Why has God put the man in the Garden?
What warning does God give the man?

BACK! Read Genesis 2:10-14 – Now let’s look at the interjected verses
What was there LOTS of in the Garden? (Water)
What does lots of water create? (Fertility, beauty)
The author is really slowing the story down – between the tree and the command – to show the reader something. Why put these four verses here? What is the purpose of the Garden of Eden?

Read Genesis 2:18-20
What problem does God decide to solve? (Adam is alone)
What does God do to solve the problem? (creates animals)
Does this seem strange? Why doesn’t it work?
What do you think God is creating within Adam before creating Eve? (desire)
How has the author been creating the same frustration/desire within us? (by stretching this second creation story out - almost painfully – between the creation of Adam and Eve)

Read Genesis 2:21-22
Why does God use one of Adam’s ribs? Isn’t it just dirt anyway? Why not just make a woman?
How do you think Adam felt when he finally saw Eve?

Read Genesis 2:23-24
“At Last!” – did you feel the same? Why?
How do you like Adam’s Song? What’s your favourite part?
What emotions could you feel in the song?
What is the punchline in Genesis 2:24?
What does this second creation story teach us about humanity? (marriage is worth the wait!)
What does it teach us about finding a spouse? (it is a time consuming and worthy pursuit)
What does it tell us about God’s involvement? (He takes pride [and time] in growing relationships)
What does this second creation story teach Covenant of Companionship?

Conclusion and Call: Chaos to Order

Think back to the first Creation Story: How does the Covenant of Image Bearing show chaos becoming order?
How does Sabbath celebrate this Covenant?

In the second Creation Story: How does the Covenant of Companionship show chaos becoming order?
How does Marriage celebrate this Covenant?

God created you in His image. Would you like to Covenant with Him by promising to bear His image in a world of Chaos – showing care for Creation and celebrating Him as Creator each Sabbath?

God created you with Companionship in mind. Would you like to Covenant with Him to – like Adam in the Second Creation Story - struggle through the Chaos of waiting – waiting for the person that completes you as a perfect Companion in marriage?


Saturday, May 21, 2016

SSS521 - Upon this Rock

In Matthew 16:16 Peter articulates the key article of Faith for the early Christian church. 

“You are the Messiah, 
                the Son of the living God!”

This declaration by Peter is not the first time this idea has shown up in the book of Matthew. Other characters seeking Jesus’ help, healing or wisdom have said as much. One key story – in which all the disciples worship Jesus and declare His divine nature is found in Matthew 14:33. Having seen Jesus walk on water and still a raging storm – they all fall at his feet, worship Him and say, “Truly you are the Son of God.” The unique thing happening in Matthew 16:16 is that Peter formulates it as a statement of faith: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." This is the core tenant of the Christian faith - and upon this Rock of Truth the church is built.

In His reply, Jesus makes it clear that in that moment Peter’s heart was right with God. They were in right relationship and God’s Word was able to flow through Peter. In telling this story about Peter, Matthew is giving the reader further understanding of ultimate verse of the Beatitudes (Matthew 7:21-23) in which Matthew shows that the most dangerous thing for a human to have is a knowledge of Jesus without a relationship with Jesus. Jesus explains there will be people who believe they should be welcomed into His Kingdom but are not. Why? Because He didn’t know them. They were doing miracles, driving out demons and prophesying – all in the name of Jesus! But Jesus says, “I never knew you!” To follow Jesus faithfully we need two Rocks: To know the "Rock Hard Truth" about Jesus and have a "Rock Solid Relationship" with Jesus. Truth without relationship becomes an anvil of pride tied around your neck, pulling you into the depths of the sea – where all sin ends up, in the long run!

Just moments later – in the hearing / reading of the Gospel of Matthew – Peter is chastised by Jesus for bringing up an old temptation that is very real for Jesus. Just as the Devil said in Matthew 4:9 – Jesus can have the entire world without dying. He just needs to bow the knee to someone other than the Father. This was Satan’s ultimate temptation. Dying isn’t easy for anyone – particularly the Son of God who is sinless and undeserving of Death. Peter telling Jesus to stop talking about Death and that “this will never happen to you!” caused Jesus to call Peter Satan.

Not because Peter was Satan. But, because he was speaking words Satan had spoken – and providing a temptation that Jesus knew all too well. This verse should clear up, for anyone wondering, whether Peter is the Rock on which the church is built. Not at all. One-minute Peter speaks from God, then he speaks for the Devil. Peter is just like you and me – human. The only thing worth building your faith on is the truth that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.

After rebuking Peter, Jesus turns to the rest of the disciples and says (Matthew 16:24) that anyone who wants to be a true follower of Jesus must put all selfish ambition aside, pickup your own cross and follow in His footsteps. Our cross is to pair ourselves with Him – being yoked with Jesus. In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus calls the disciples to take His yoke (understanding of Law) on themselves and to leave their own understanding behind. This is how we combine Truth and Relationship. If we choose to keep relying on ourselves and our own personal goals, we will be tied to our own list of achievements for our sense of self and personal value. If, on the other hand, we choose to put Jesus’ yoke around our neck we will be guided into His Kingdom through truth and humility – by letting Him lead us – like one ox yoked to another who knows where he is going and what he is doing.

Matthew isn’t done explaining the Rock to his readers just yet. In Matthew 17:1-9 we are, again, taken back to the final temptation. It says that Jesus takes Peter, James and John and led them up a “high mountain.” The last time the phrase “high mountain” was used in Matthew was when Satan took Jesus up a “high mountain” to show Him all that could be His if He would only bow down. Nobody would need to die. Jesus only needed to kneel before Satan and all power over Earth would be given to Him (said the Devil, of course!). But this time, on THIS “high mountain” Peter, James and John watch as Jesus is lit from within, Moses and Elijah appear and start talking to Jesus and then a bright cloud envelopes them and a voice from the cloud says, “This is my beloved Son, and I am fully pleased with him. Listen to him.” The disciples fall on their faces – like in the boat – worshiping. Then Jesus goes over, touches them and tells them to get up. All has returned to normal and Jesus stands alone with them.

It's fairly clear. Jesus is the way to the Kingdom. This is no homeless, wandering vagabond with a few good ideas. This is the Messiah, the Son of God – and those who follow Him are following the God of the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah) and living within the pleasure of God by worshiping His Son, Jesus Christ.

Matthew really leaves no room for any other interpretation of “upon this Rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it” (Matthew 16:18) than this: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God and He alone defeated death and the Devil! Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is the Rock.

Let us be about building a Rock Solid Relationship with Him so that all the Rock Hard Truth about Him, the Law and the Prophets lead us into the Kingdom instead of leaving us outside – wondering what we missed. Those left outside in Matthew 7:23 didn’t get the facts wrong. They knew everything there was to know about God, the Law and the Prophets. It’s not that they missed out on knowing something. They missed out on knowing someone. Jesus. The Messiah. The Son of God. Without Him there is nothing beyond death. No Jesus, no life.

Know Jesus, know life.

Build on this Rock!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Embracing God: Study 1 - Pride Before the Fall vs Humility Before the Cross

Embracing God: Why I’m a Seventh-day Adventist

Study 1: Pride Before the Fall  vs  Humility Before the Cross

Introduction: Two Kings – One Devil. In two different times and places, in the lives of two different kings, two Godly prophets show where prideful power comes from and where it leads.

The King of Tyre – and his guardian cherub

Ezekiel 28:1-10   
Who is this talking about?
What positive are revealed about the King of Tyre?
What does God have against the King of Tyre?
What character trait put this king into God’s bad books? (pride)
What will happen to this king, according to the prophet? (die)
How does this prove that the King of Tyre is not a god?

Ezekiel 28:11-19   
The prophet shifts focus from the King to the source of all prideful thinking. Who?
What positives are revealed about this ‘guardian cherub’ - Lucifer?
What does God have against Lucifer?
What character trait put Lucifer in God’s bad books?
What will happen to this ‘cherub’ according to the prophet? (death in ashes)
How does this prove that Lucifer is not like God?

The King of Babylon – and his shining star
Isaiah 14:3-21 records a song the prophet says the people of Israel will sing about the King of Babylon. Similar to Ezekiel’s prophecy about the King of Tyre, this King also has Lucifer embedded into his story – this time the beginning and end focus on the Earthly King, sandwiching the Devil in the middle. This passage reveals the true nature and agenda of Lucifer.

Isaiah 14:12-15
To what does the prophet compare Lucifer? (a falling star)
What prideful things did Lucifer say to himself?
What will be the ultimate result?
Why do you think prophets juxtaposed Lucifer with evil Kings?
What character traits did they share?
How does pride lead us into a downward spiral and ultimately a pit?

Two Humans – One God

Genesis 3:1-19
Do the words of the serpent sound familiar to the two “King” stories? How?
Who shows up in the middle of this story, just like the two “King” stories?
How did the serpent convince them to eat the fruit?
What does God have against the man? The woman? The serpent?
What results came from their actions?
Genesis 3:15 is called the “protoevangelion” – the first good news. How is this verse the first telling of the good news of what Jesus is going to do?

Pride vs… ?
Have you seen an example of “Pride before a fall” in your life or the lives around you?
What is the answer to pride? How can we defeat it?

James 4:10
How much of what happens in the universe is seen by God?
What does this text tell us about being exalted by God? What must we do?
How can we humble ourselves?

Philippians 2:5-11
How is this the opposite of what caused the Fall of both Lucifer, his angels and humanity?
When humans live God’s way who is revealed in their Character? Who shows up in their story?
What did Jesus do for us? Why?
What impact will our lives have when Jesus is in the middle of our story?

Conclusion and Call
The Protoevangelion – the first good news in Gen 3:15 – was that Satan’s head would be crushed. How did Jesus’ action crush Satan’s plan?
Pride à Fall à Humility à 
     No God à Death (Judas)
Know God à He lifts you up (Peter)

When pride shows up in this world – like in the stories of the two Kings – whose nature and plan is being revealed?
When humility shows up in this world – whose nature is being revealed?
Would you like the humility of Jesus to crush the pride of the Devil out of your life?
Let’s pray now and ask Jesus to fill us with His humility so that pride and selfishness has no place in our lives!


Friday, May 13, 2016

SSS513 - Kingdom Crumbs

In chapters 14 and 15 Matthew serves up three stories about crumbs with a few teachings thrown in, like salad and vegetables, to round out the meal and fill the plate. But make no mistake, the theme of these two chapters is the Kingdom of God being served up so the hungry might be filled, the hurting might be healed and the dead might have life.

These two chapters are focusing on the banquet feast of the Kingdom of God. There are two stories of mass feedings with meager supplies. Both times Jesus takes what’s available, gives thanks and then, without making a fuss, tells the disciples to “Feed the people.” Both times there are left overs.

But, I’m getting ahead of the story. Before each meal, there are healings. Jesus walks into one crowd and the other walks up to Him. The first crowd is on the shore, Jesus has compassion and he goes ashore and heals them. The second crowd discovers him sitting on a mountain and rushes to him –  with their lame, blind, deformed, deaf and dumb – and he healed them all. The difference between the two crowds was their heritage – and the size of the baskets they brought to the banquet.

The Israelites followed Jesus’ boat from the lakeshore hoping for an audience with Him. In compassion He went to them – although, as a people they failed to recognise Him time and time again. His compassion knew no bounds and when He saw the need – even of His fickle fellow Jews – He provided all He had to meet all they needed.

The Gentiles flocked to Him because of the testimony of those who had met him previously. Mark tells us this was the same place where Jesus healed two demoniacs. They went to their homes and towns. They told their Jesus story. And when Jesus returned the people rushed to Him and begged to touch the tassels of His robe, such was their faith. They fully expected to be prostrate before Him as He walked by – and then they could just reach up from their humble lowly place and touch the hem of the Master’s garment. Instead, Jesus sat down – at the level of a child – and healed all who were brought to Him.

After the two stories of healing we read about the feedings. In the first feeding, the quantity is precise – five loaves and two fish – and the result is a filled multitude and 12 baskets of left overs. In the second feeding, the quantity is unsure – seven loaves and a few small fish – again resulting in a filled multitude and 7 baskets of leftovers. The meat in Matthew’s Kingdom crumb sandwich is completely missed in the English word “basket” and yet it is the entire point of these two stories.

Before we explore these baskets – and the amount of crumbs they held – we need to visit a lady with a demon possessed daughter. She is a Gentile. Jesus is a Jew. She knows her place – lower than the Master’s tassels – but puts herself under the table instead. She asks Jesus to heal her daughter. At this point in Matthew’s Gospel he is hoping the reader is starting to get the point that whenever Jesus gets cryptic, He’s talking about the Kingdom of God – the new Kingdom of God. She begs from a distance. Jesus keeps moving. She gets closer – crying out in prayer for her daughter’s healing – She says, perhaps quoting Psalms, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David.” She knew Jesus for who He truly was. Jesus keeps moving. Finally, the disciples beg him, “Quiet her!”

Jesus stops and enters into dialogue with the woman. He talks about the first Kingdom saying, "I was sent to Israel." Finally able to catch up with Jesus, she crumples to the ground and reaches for his tassels, “Lord Help ME!” Then, reflecting on the common practice of keeping pet dogs in the house, Jesus says, “It’s wrong to take the children’s bread and feed it to their pet dogs!”

Quick on her knees, the woman replies with a truth of the ancient world, “Yes, Lord, but everyone feeds the crumbs of that same bread to the dogs once the children are done!” In a world without puppy chow, the pet dogs ate last at the masters table.

Jesus laughs. I’m not sure if you can hear it but I sure can! “Too right, woman! Your faith is great. As much as you have asked, you have received!" And from that moment her daughter was cured.

Jesus contrasts the woman’s faith with the few crumbs typically left for the dogs. It’s not just falling off the table like left over crumbs, it’s pouring onto the floor and bursting out the door of the house and into the streets of the Gentiles – much like the Kingdom of God.

Matthew is ready, now, for the next mass feeding. Again, healings come first. Three days later, Jesus suggests that the people might be getting hungry. The story follows the pattern set by the first one. The disciples are asked for what they have. Jesus thanks the Father for it. The disciples distribute it. This time seven baskets remain. This time its Gentiles being healed then fed. This time it’s the people who, like the woman of ‘great faith’ have been healed to a man, woman and child. And this time there are a lot more left overs.

To our ear, it’s less. 7 is less than 12. But look again. The first story – with the 12 baskets – says just that in Matthew 14:20. Twelve baskets full. The second story – with the 7 baskets – says …  (have a look at Matthew 15:37, it’s more fun if you see it yourself!)… Seven LARGE baskets full.

How large? Before we answer that – lets talk about the 12. The Greek word used for those baskets is a basket the size of a lunchbox. The 12 disciples, busy feeding the crowd, probably hadn’t eaten. Collecting the leftovers, they each had a basket of fish and chips to fill their hungry bellies. Israel was fed. Sufficiently.

Now to the 7 baskets. Remember how Paul escaped from the men who wanted to kill him .. In a large basket – lowered by a rope? That’s the word used here. 7 man-sized baskets of crumbs. The translation 'large baskets' is understated to say the least!

The Kingdom of God is no longer restricted to Israel – it’s being served to anyone who needs God’s grace – whether your need be for a slice of His Divine mercy or a basket full of Kingdom crumbs so big you can climb in, eat until you are full and then fall asleep in the basket of His love.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

SSS507 - Kingdom Shift - SS Bonus

Sabbath School Starter - May 2-7

 * - Teaching a great Sabbath School lesson - *

* - Teaching Plan - *

Kingdom Shift

Right after Matthew wraps up Jesus’ answer to John the Baptist – “Yes I am the Messiah, have a look at all I’ve said and done so far.” – he presents two short sections that make it abundantly clear that Jesus had every reason to shift the focus of His Kingdom from Isreal to the World.

In Matthew 11:20-24 – Matthew reveals Kingdom Lost
In Matthew 11:25-30 – Matthew reveals Kingdom Gained

It a huge shift. From the Kingdom of failed expectations to the Kingdom of God. It is a Kingdom Shift illustrated in the story of Jesus entering the world that parallels the story of what happens in our lives when Jesus enters.

The people expected the Messiah to punish the oppressor, eradicate the corrupt. But instead, Jesus empowers the oppressed and encourages the humble.

Kingdom Lost

Matthew reveals Jesus’ Kingdom Shift by first focusing on the ever present reality of God’s Judgment. The Kingdom of God is a careful juxtaposition of God’s Law and God’s Love. One Bible Commentary says, “God’s judgment is at the center of Jesus’ proclaimation of the Kingdom of God and keeps it from becoming a message of harmless love.”

Matthew tells story after story – packed tightly – of Jesus doing miracles in town after town and being received with apathy. Instead of falling over backward when the King of the Universe returned His created people to healthy body and mind (back into the ‘image of God’ in which they were created) the people of Karazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum shrugged their shoulders and said, “Yeah, that’s what healers do. Heal people. Blah blah blah.”

In Matthew 11:23 Jesus compares them to Satan falling from Heaven when he drops some references to Isaiah 14:13-15 by saying, “Will you be exalted to Heaven? No, you will be brought down to the place of the dead!” (NLT) This short section – Matthew 11:20-24 – demonstrates why God’s Kingdom was taken away from Isreal and given to those passing by the banquet feast.

Jesus shows that how we receive Him, His presence in our lives and the changes He brings to the world will result in our connection or disconnection from Him – judgment comes to those who ignore the Kingdom of God as it moves across the surface of the deep bringing order from chaos. Jesus’ Kingdom is recreating the world by healing the broken, blessing the poor, empowering the powerless. Behold, He is making all things new!

Kingdom Gained

And this newness is built on the humble. In Matthew 11:25-30 we join Jesus for prayer. There are only a precious few of these moments in the Gospels. When Jesus prays, we should be listening with a desperateness to understand.

In this section we see Jesus shifting his focus from those who deserve judgment to those who giddily go about the Kingdom’s business. Jesus starts His prayer by thanking His Father for hiding his Kingdom from the “wise” and revealing the Kingdom of God to the “childlike”. To demonstrate the foundation of the Kingdom of God that Jesus brought about, Jesus spins a reversal of Daniel 2:20-23 where Daniel thanks God for giving wisdom to the wise. The word Jesus uses for childlike is just as easily translated “simpleminded, uneducated or stupid.” Jesus is praising His Father that the Kingdom has been taken from those who believe themselves wise enough to grasp God’s ways and given to those who hug it tight like a teddy bear and squeeze for all they are world.

As Jesus was walking around in the first century there was a movement of ‘holy men’ called Essences who believed God came to people through understanding. By being wise you could grasp God. Jesus used one of their favourite verses as background for this prayer and then flipped it completely upside down saying it pleases God to give His Truth to the ones in kindergarten rather than those in the combined lesson pontificating knowledgeably on the wise things of God.

Once Jesus finished is tiny prayer, he moves onto a statement about His authority in the world. One commentator called Matthew 11:27 a revealing of “The entire mystery of Christ” while another said it was “the most precious pearl” of Matthew’s Gospel. Why? Because within it we see into the workings of the Trinity. Only God knows Jesus. Only Jesus knows God. Jesus reveals God to those who He chooses. He has authority to do this because His Father has given him authority over everything. It’s at once cryptic, creative and contemplative.

Finally in Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus presents a Rabbi’s call. In Jewish circles – particularly the circles of the religious – a leader’s “yoke” always referred to his way of approaching the Law of God. When a Rabbi invited others to “settle in next to me under my yoke” he was saying, “Come join me, think like me, act like me and become like me.”

In the previous verses (Matthew 11:20-28) which we have just explored, Jesus revealed his yoke. His interpretation of God’s Law calls down judgment on those who expect the Kingdom but do not embrace it when it arrives, it empowers the simpleminded with the wisdom of the Kingdom and it is built on Jesus’ deep connection to His Father and His teaching to those who are under his yoke – to whom he reveals God.

A Rabbi only called followers after a long training period. Once he knew these were the best of the best he would say to a select one or two – follow me and I will teach you my yoke. Jesus throws this completely on its head.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT)

Wow. I hope you see it. Jesus has opened the Kingdom of God to the highways and byways. The spiritually rich and famous have made their excuses and are not attending the Father’s Kingdom Party for His Son. The servants of God (like Matthew in writing this Gospel) are calling out to those struggling to take the next step – spiritually and physically – and promising them rest in Jesus. He will take the burden of feeling ‘less-than’ off your shoulders and give you rest. He will teach you gently and humbly. You will find rest for your very soul.

Jesus’ yoke is a perfect fit and the study load is light. Because He bears it all. You know all you need to know when you know Him. The rest – and you will want the rest – is just icing on the cake.

Come one, come all. Bring your brokenness, your unworthiness, your simpleness – and celebrate life under the yoke of one who has been broken, felt unworthy and lived the simple life.

Friday, April 29, 2016

SSS429 - Matthew - The Kingdom of God

Sabbath School Starter - May 2-7

 * - Teaching a great Sabbath School lesson - *

The Kingdom of God

As we explore books of the Bible it is important to remember that these are texts written for a purpose. They are from a time and place and, while they may be powerfully meaningful in our time, their original purpose was to speak to the world in which and to whom they were written.

Matthew is a narrative structured to lead to a point by presenting the life, teachings, miracles and death of Jesus. Recognising the fact that Matthew is told as story leads us to ask: Why is he telling this part of the Jesus story? What is he teaching at this point? Where is he heading? While the book of Matthew is an accurate record of the life of Jesus, it is also a reconstructed telling of that life – told for a purpose structured and in a purposeful way.

There are six basic sections in the book of Matthew and in defining those sections we will see the author’s intent and purpose for writing his narrative of the life of Jesus.

Part 1: Matthew 1:1-4:16 – The Character. We are introduced to Jesus as the leading character of the book and, indeed, of the entire plotline of the Bible.

Part 2: Matthew 4:17-11:1 – The Plot. Jesus introduces us the “Kingdom of Heaven” as a workable and in fact necessary replacement worldview for the people previously caught up in the Kingdom of this Earth.

Part 3: Matthew 11:2-16:20 – Personal Conflict. Responses to Jesus. Doubters scoff. Haters hate. Believers question. The “Kingdom of Heaven” as described and demonstrated by Jesus doesn’t meet the expectations of anyone – whether they were for or against Him.

Part 4: Matthew 16:21-20:34 – The Goal. Jesus introduces “The Cross” as the difference between the Kingdom of this Earth and the Kingdom of Heaven.

Part 5: Matthew 21-27 – Kingdom Conflict. Jesus’s Kingdom of Heaven is put to the test as a worldview and is pushed to the wall. Seemingly it fails. Jesus is crucified. The Kingdom is defunct.

Part 6: Matthew 28 – Death Concurred. The Cross is applied in a new way due to the Resurrection. No cross has ever been followed by life. An empty tomb demands a new look at the entire narrative. What does this Jesus and His Kingdom mean to you and me? How does it have Authority in our lives?

So, what is the point of the book of Matthew? To prove the Kingdom of Heaven – in which the cross and empty tomb feature – is the new reality of the people of God. The new Israel.

To help his readers take this leap, Matthew writes specific things. He chooses carefully which statements of Jesus he will include, which miracles of Jesus he will include and which stories about Jesus he will include.

Matthew 11:1-15 is a prime example. John the Baptist, who declared Jesus the Lamb of God and baptised Him, now languishes in prison and doubts his gift of prophecy. He sends his followers to ask Jesus if He really is the promised Messiah. Jesus response is: tell John what you see, tell him what you hear. Matthew the storyteller reminds the reader: Tell doubters what you saw in chapters 8 and 9! Tell them what you heard on the mountain in chapters 5 to 7. And tell them (chapter 10) the pep-talk Jesus gave His disciples before sending them out to apply all He said and all He showed them! It’s happening! Tell John, the Kingdom of Heaven is here! He was right!

Then Jesus goes into a little sermon about John. In effect, He says God’s people have been listening to prophets for eons and John is the ultimate prophet in that kingdom. But there is a new kingdom being inaugurated right now – the Kingdom of Heaven – and anyone who believes and joins up to this kingdom is more significant than any prophet in the previous kingdom. John the Baptist was the final preacher before the coming of the Kingdom of God. Not only was he right, he was on to something so big it was going to change the world. And change is hard – for everyone!

Jesus’ Kingdom seems like a great idea to many of us, today. But back then, they wanted freedom from Roman oppression. They looked back to their forefathers being liberated from Egypt and expected that kind of freedom again – only better, longer – the eternal Kingdom of God on Earth. But instead, they got beatitudes and healed beggars. The poor were blessed and the Roman oppressors were seemingly ignored. Jesus suggested that welcoming persecution made you a Kingdom citizen rather than destroying your enemies. His Kingdom was about hearts, not pocketbooks.

Jesus took the purpose of the Temple – reconciliation – and put it into the heart of each believer. Our bodies became the Temple of God and we – each and every one of us – became the priests overseeing that temple. A Kingdom of priests. The reconciled became reconcilers.  

No wonder it was hard to understand. No wonder John questioned Jesus. It wasn’t just a new idea – it was a return to an old idea. God was building His final Kingdom by reclaiming His first temple – the people created in His image. In Genesis, God put us at the heart of the Garden – Humanity: a garden temple crowning His work of Creation. Now, He reclaims us through the death and resurrection of His Son and places us at the nexus of Creation today – the highways and byways of this world – Humanity: a temple on every corner.

Even today, the pious balk at the core idea of the Kingdom of Heaven for which Jesus lived, died and lives again. This Kingdom – the new Kingdom of God that Jesus started and which grows like a rock flying in from outer space preparing to crush every Kingdom set up by mankind – is one based on the many rather than the few. A Kingdom of priests – living temples, each of us, revealing God’s image to the world.

The success of this Kingdom comes from the healing power of Jesus’ death and resurrection being applied by millions of believers on the ground all around the world. As we believe, we are changed. As we are reconciled with God, we begin reconciling with others. Such a Kingdom cannot be stopped. And it never will be!

Today’s leaders, religious and political alike, need the Kingdom of God to be about buildings, infrastructure, money and power. But, instead, the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. Go and tell John. And tell him: ‘God blesses those who are not offended by me.’

That is what the Kingdom of God really, truly, honestly looks like.

And that’s what Matthew’s story is about.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

DJD428 - The Mark

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2 Corinthians 5:19-20

Starting Question:

Have you ever done something that you believed was unforgivable? How did you feel about yourself?

The Mark

*** Continued from The Chase yesterday ***

Cain fell back on his haunches. The deed was done. The plan had worked perfectly. The gullible whelp fell for it! He actually gave chase, as if they were still children! Ha!

Cain looked down at the stone in his hands, which he had placed at this exact location in the field. It was, indeed, the right tool for the job. Abel was dead. He dropped the stone with a thud next to Abel’s crushed head.

Cain quickly buried the stone and his brother. He stood and ran to the river to wash himself. No one would go looking in the field. He was sure of it. The cool water felt good against his hot skin. The blood washed off easily.

“Cain, where is your brother?”

Cain spun around quickly—guiltily. He knew that voice. God stood on the edge of the river. Cain’s heart skipped a beat. He stammered.

“Where is Abel?” God asked again.

His composure regained, Cain taunted, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

“What have you done, Cain?” God knelt and took a handful of soil, offering it to Cain. “Listen! Abel’s blood cries out to me from the earth! Now you are cursed and banished from the ground, which has swallowed your brother’s blood. No longer will the earth yield good crops for you, no matter how hard you work! From now on you will be a homeless wanderer.”

Cain had thought his secret was safe in the ground. Now his deed hit him with full force. He was caught. And he was cursed! “It’s too much!” He cried to the Lord, “Surely I’ll be killed by anyone who finds me!”

Then God did something that Cain did not deserve. God put a mark across the forehead of the young murderer—a mark that labeled him, not as criminal but as claimed. It was God’s mark of protection.  “I will give a sevenfold punishment to anyone who kills you,” God promised.

Cain brushed his fingers across the new mark on his forehead. Then he turned and ran from the Lord’s presence—as far away as he could get.

Reflection Question:

How would you respond, if after planning an evil end for your hated enemy and carrying it out, God protected you? What impact would that have on your treatment of people who wronged you in the future? 

Prayer time:

Before you pray together, ask: What would you like to say to Jesus today?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

DJD427 - The Chase

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1 John 4:7-8

Starting Question:

Have you ever been so mad at someone that you wished them harm?

The Chase

The young man enjoyed the wind rushing past his cheeks as he ran through the densely packed scrub surrounding the clearing where his family lived. He laughed at the occasional whip-sting of branches that slapped his arms and chest as he dodged through the brush. He made sure his laugh carried well enough to be heard by his brother whom he was chasing, and who was releasing the well timed branches. It was one of their games from childhood.

It felt great to play again. It had been so long since his brother had treated him like a friend. As they matured into men they had become rivals and, at times, enemies. But, today was different. His brother had visited the sheep pens and thrown out the old challenge, “Bet you can’t catch me!”

And the chase was on.

They broke out of scrub-brush and entered one of his brother’s fields. Tall heads of grain waved over their heads as they sprinted through the crop. As they neared the middle of the vast field, everything went horribly wrong.

His brother crouched, spun on his heel and, instead of heading in a new direction, put the full momentum of his spin behind his clenched fist and drove it forward and upward into the face of his younger brother who plummeted toward him.

It was a well-timed attack. Abel had no way of stopping. Cain had the upper hand. Cain’s fist met Abel’s nose with such force that it lifted him high off the ground. Abel’s vision went crazy—stars, rings, pulsing lights. Every blood vessel in his nose burst and a river of blood sprayed in a crescent of red, up and back, following the trajectory of his head and body.

Abel hit the ground hard. The wind rushed from his lungs as his back slammed into the rocky soil. He gasped for air. He tried to see but the blood from his nose filled his eye sockets and flowed down his cheeks. Moments later he heard, more than felt, a resounding crack which seemed to come from inside his own head. Then he heard no more.

*** Continued in The Mark tomorrow ***

Reflection Question:

How do you think Cain felt as he watched his brother die? Do you think he was happy? Scared?  

Prayer time:

Before you pray together, ask: What would you like to say to Jesus today?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

DJD426 - Pillars of the Law

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John 17:17

Starting Question:

Take some time to think of a time when you found something you had lost long ago. Or perhaps you found something that was from before your time - something from your family history.
How did the discovery affect you? What did you do with the discovered item? Did it have any long lasting impact on your life?

The Pillars of the Law

The pillar stood, as it had for more than 300 years, supporting the marbled splendor of Solomon’s Temple. The people, from the least to the greatest, crowded as close as they could. They leaned in to hear the words that would be spoken by the regal man standing next to the pillar—their King. Only the most serious proclamations included both an open invitation to the Temple and a public declaration of the King.

Josiah, King of God’s people for the past 18 years, reverently unrolled the scroll that had radically changed his heart in the last few days—the scroll that would provide the defining direction of his reign as God’s King. Considering his words carefully, he peered over the top of the parchment and spoke to his gathered subjects: “Today, I bring to you, in this ancient and holy place, ancient and holy words; words found in this very temple just days ago, words lost in this temple many ages ago; words, we as a people, have failed to heed for generation upon generation. I hold in my hands, the Book of the Law.”

A collective gasp was followed by murmuring from person to person as the identity of the scroll was made clear. Josiah’s steady voice regained control of the pillared colonnade, “Our High Priest Hilkiah, while cleaning out the Temple of God, found this Word of the Lord, and thus has provided to us an ancient transcript of God’s Character. It is a most precious, most beautiful and most challenging Word. I have torn my robes. I have wept long and hard over this scroll. I have consulted Huldah, God’s Prophetess. I have been convicted by her words: this scroll must be heeded. God’s Word must be obeyed. It is now my intention to read it—every word of it—to you, so that you too might be challenged as I have been challenged.”

The King’s eyes, weary from much weeping, lowered to the top of the unfurled scroll. The courtyard of Solomon’s Temple was quieter than seemed possible for the number of people filling it’s bounds. Each man, woman and child leaned forward to hear the Book of the Law as spoken by their king.

An hour later the pinnacle of silent anticipation had tumbled chaotically into cries of sorrow and repentance. The eyes of Israel now mirrored those of their King. The Book of the Law had provided for God’s people a clear statement of who God wished for them to be. A picture had been painted of the people to whom God promised to fully reveal Himself and with whom He promised to make His eternal dwelling. And the picture was drastically different from who they were when they looked around themselves and within themselves. They were not God’s people. And yet they were. And how deeply they wished to be.

The ripples created when the Book of the Law first reached the eyes and ears of King Josiah now became a wave of action and reaction that took the cleaning of the Temple to the very borders of Israel. Idols were destroyed. False worship was eradicated. The Temple of the Lord was purified of anything relating to pagan deities. Priests of Pagan gods were put to death. Every high and holy place used in false worship was desecrated with human bones. Then, only when the land was free of all impurity of false worship, King Josiah ordered, “Celebrate the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.” And they did.

Reflection Question:

Imagine you are one of the people in the crowd listening to King Josiah as he reads the rediscovered Law of God. What would you be feeling?

Prayer time:

Before you pray together, ask: What would you like to say to Jesus today?

Monday, April 25, 2016

DJD425 - Ressurection

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Phillipians 2:1-4

Starting Question:

Seeing something from a completely new perspective is very difficult. Jesus was willing to go through numerous changes to accomplish His mission—our Salvation. How can we apply the changes Jesus accepted, endured, embraced and received?


** Continued from Death yesterday **

The two men looked at each other, shocked at this new teaching.

The man continued, “The prophets are full of proof that Jesus was the Messiah: Isaiah predicted His simple birth in a manger and that His mother would be a virgin. Micah said the birth place would be in Bethlehem. And concerning his death: Isaiah said He would be whipped. The psalms say His hands and feet would be pierced. Zechariah said His side would be pierced. Even the act of the soldiers who cast lots for His clothing was foretold!”

There was silence for a few steps, and then Cleopas said, “That’s amazing! It really is. Why have none of us seen this?”

The man smiled, “That’s not all! His burial in a wealthy man’s tomb was foretold by Isaiah. You say the women who saw the Christ this morning were mistaken? Didn’t the prophet Malachi say the Son of Righteousness would rise with healing in His wings? From His birth, to His death—nearly all of his life fulfills prophecy. Jesus Christ is the Messiah. A little knowledge of the prophets will convict the strongest skeptic of this!”

The two men stopped in front of a small house, “Thank you for your words. You have given us much to consider. Please stay and eat with us.”

A few minutes later the three men sat at a table with Cleopas’ family. The table was loaded with bread, water and hot food.

“Sir, would you do us the honor and bless the meal,” Cleopas asked.

“Certainly,” the man answered, taking one of the round loaves of flatbread in his hands. He lifted the bread high in front of him and prayed.

Everyone sat staring at him as he prayed. Their eyes darted from person to person and back to the praying man. As he said, “Amen” he broke the bread in half and handed the halves to Cleopas and Nathaniel on his right and left.

“I knew it!” both men shouted as one. They looked at the joy in the faces around the table. Tears streamed down every face. Then they turned to Jesus, but He was gone!

Reflection Question:

If you had been sitting at that table and recognised Jesus, what would you have done next? Who would you have told? What would you have said?

Prayer time:

Before you pray together, ask: What would you like to say to Jesus today?

Sunday, April 24, 2016

DJD424 - Death

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Jeremiah 35:15

Starting Question:

What's the worst trip you ever been on? Why?


The hours crept by as Nathaniel and Cleopas headed home. As they walked, they quietly discussed all that had happened over the past few days. In the late afternoon, a man resting on the side of the path and asked to walk with them. It was a common courtesy to provide safety in numbers to a stranger.

The new man fell in step with them and asked, “I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation. If you don’t mind my asking, what was it about?”

Cleopas answered, “Oh. We were just talking about the horrible weekend we had in Jerusalem.”

“Horrible? What happened?” the new man asked.

Nathaniel was irritated. “What do you mean, ‘what happened?’ You are headed the same way on the road as us. You, too, just left Jerusalem. Surely you saw all the things that took place during Passover week.”

“What things?” The man asked.

Nathaniel grunted, “What things? Where have you been, hiding under a rock?”

Cleopas interrupted, trying to quiet his friend, “The sun went dark for three hours. The temple veil ripped from top to bottom. Jesus of Nazareth was crucified. He was a prophet and very impressive in all he said and did. The chief priests handed him over to be killed. We had hoped he was the Messiah and would set Israel free from Roman oppression. We followed this man for the last three years and now we have no purpose. It is the third day since he died and we are still without direction. So, we are heading home.”

Nathaniel had regained his composure, “And this morning, some of the women shocked us by fabricating a ridiculous story about Him coming back from death! One of the ladies claims an angel met her at the empty tomb and told Her Jesus is alive. Somebody has obviously stolen his body. Poor women—they loved Him so much and now that he is dead they’ve gone mad.”

The new man spoke, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Didn’t the Christ have to suffer these things so that he could be glorified? Don’t you remember the story told of Moses when he lifted the serpent for all the bitten people to look upon. The Christ had to be lifted up on the cross so that all who wanted to be saved from that old Serpent the Devil could look at the perfect Son of God on the cross and be saved.”

The two men looked at each other, shocked at this new teaching.

** Continued in Ressurection tomorrow **

Reflection Question:

Have you ever listened carefully to someone who believes differently to you and been convinced? What kind of humility does this take?

Prayer time:

Before you pray together, ask: What would you like to say to Jesus today?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

DJD423 - Table Talk

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1 Corinthians 11:26

Starting Question:

Have you ever watched something happen and only understood it later when you reflected on it?

Table Talk

Jesus slowly scanned the faces of those in the room. He’d been speaking for quite awhile and His words had silenced the disciples. He finished, “I will do what the Father requires of me, so that the world will know that I love the Father.” Jesus stood up from the table, walked to the door and, with an air of finality, spoke over his shoulder, “Come, let’s get going.”

The disciples looked at each other in frustration. They could hear the footsteps of Jesus heading down the stairs but they struggled to follow.

“What just happened?” James asked.

“You were here, James,” Peter blurted. “First He washed our feet and then it was all downhill from there.”

“What do you mean, ‘downhill’?” John questioned. “He was talking about Love—His love for us. And His love for His Father.”

“And His Father’s love for us,” Peter finished. “Why did He wash our feet? And what did He mean, ‘Wash each others feet?’ Isn’t that why we have servants?”

“What just happened?” James asked again. “Where did Jesus go?”

“Maybe he’s going to find Judas,” Peter answered.

“But, where did Judas go?” James asked. “And why did he leave in the middle of the meal?”

Peter had an answer for that one, “I told John to ask about that, remember? He left because Jesus said Judas was going to betray him.”

“Yeah, but he said the same thing about you,” John retorted.

“Did not!” Peter snapped, “He said I would deny him.”

“Three times,” John said. “Isn’t that betrayal?”

Peter’s crossed his arms and let his face fall slowly to the table. He was fighting tears. “I said I would die for him,” Peter mumbled.

“That’s what I mean,” James repeated. “What just happened? This was supposed to be a Passover meal. Then he washed our feet.”

“And everything went downhill from there,” Peter repeated into the table. “I should have just let him wash my feet and not argued.” His shoulders shook involuntarily as he tried to mask his gentle sobs.

“And then,” James continued, “He said the bread was His flesh!”

“And the wine was His blood,” John added, shaking his head.

“What just happened?” James asked yet again.

“Jesus is going away,” Philip spoke for the first time. “And He said we can’t go with Him.”

“But He just said, ‘come’ as He went out the door,” James stated.

“He’s talking about something bigger.” John said, “Much bigger. He talked about His Father. I think he’s going to see his Father—I mean ‘God’.”

“That’s why I asked him to show us the Father,” Philip answered. “He said He had shown us the Father. I can’t remember meeting Him. Can you?”

“If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father,” John almost whispered. 

“That’s what he said. He and the Father are one and the same.”

“Is He really that close to God?” Peter lifted his head off the table and finished his thought, “Is he really so close to the Father in Heaven that their thoughts are one?”

“He said He would give us a gift,” John cut in, “peace of mind and heart.”

“I feel anything but peace!” Peter argued. “He said, if we really loved Him we would be happy he was going to the Father. Do you think he’s going to die?”

Everyone turned to look at Peter. He was staring out the open door.

They left the table as one and rushed into the night to find Jesus.

Reflection Question:

Why do you think Jesus used a meal as the memory event to remind people of the Cross?

Prayer time:

Before you pray together, ask: What would you like to say to Jesus today?