Saturday, December 10, 2005

Sunday School Lesson: Strength From God

Purpose: To help us endure the pain and weariness that can come form doing God’s work.

Scripture: Isaiah 49:5-6, 50:4-9

In last weeks lesson we learned of the mission of God’s servant. That mission is to "bring forth justice to the nations." We also learned that the justice brought by the servant may not fit the popular definitions of justice. In our culture justice is usually seen as judgement or "getting what you deserve." A more accurate definition of justice as used in these passages from Isaiah is: to restore order and wholeness to creation; order and wholeness as God originally intended. This could be described with a term that we are more familiar with in this context and that is: salvation. God’s plan of salvation is the justice that will be brought forth by the servant. We also learned in last weeks lesson that as the Body of Christ, we are God’s servant in our world. The servant has been interpreted in different ways by different people. Jews traditionally view the servant as Israel. Christians view the servant as Jesus or some other individual. I tend to believe that both views are true. Jesus did, in his lifetime, fulfill much of the servants mission. Israel as the chosen people of God did prior to Jesus fulfill much of the servants mission. Christians as the adopted children of God and as the Body of Christ in the world have and continue to fulfill the servants mission. We are the hands and feet of Christ. Our mission is justice; justice in the Biblical sense, not the justice or judgement so common in our world. The servant carries out the mission with humility and love and concern for those most in need of this justice. The servant will continue the mission until justice is established on earth.

This week we will learn more of the servant’s mission.

Before we get to this weeks scripture, let’s read another passage. This one from Psalm 1:1-3:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
(Psa 1:1-3 ESV)

Does this passage sound like it describes one who is faithful to the task of serving God?

In what sense will all servants of God "prosper"?

Are the faithful promised a carefree, blissful life?

We are not promised a life free from suffering. We are promised sustenance. We are promised success in that God’s will will be accomplished. But, sometimes suffering accompanies and is a necessary component for fulfilling the mission of God. In this weeks scripture we will read a description of the suffering of the servant. The servant was on God’s mission, working for justice and suffering became apart of the mission. In what way is suffering a part of our mission? Does our mission always include suffering?

When we face suffering, what is our best source of strength that we can call on to help us endure suffering and to sustain us through our suffering?

And now the LORD says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him-- for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD, and my God has become my strength-- he says: "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."
(Isa 49:5-6 ESV)

There is no doubt of the servant’s call. "Formed from the womb to be his servant" tells of a special relationship with God throughout every moment of the servants life, even prior to birth. There are only a handful of stories in Scripture that relate a consciousness of mission from infancy.

Can you name any of them?

The hand of God seemed to be there as infant Moses was rescued from the water and from Pharaoh’s decree. Jeremiah contained language very similar to this passage:

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations."
(Jer 1:5 ESV)

Samuel was dedicated by his mother to the service of God. Both Jesus and John the Baptist were born under circumstances that marked them as chosen by God.

Are all servants "called from the womb"?

What do we learn from these verses about the mission of the servant?

The first is that the servant is to bring Israel back to God, a rescue mission, and the second is to offer salvation to "the end of the earth". God wanted the nation of Israel to be the servant through whom salvation would be extended to the world. Instead, Israel fell to sinfullness. The servants call here is to restore Israel so that Israel could accomplish it’s mission.

How does this relate to us today?

We, as Christians, must work toward fulfilling Israel’s mission of bringing all people to God. Jesus did fulfill the servants call to offer salvation to all who believe. The mission is extended to evangelize those who are not already part of God’s family. This is a mission that we all are called to fulfill. We are many times shocked when we find that while working to spread the gospel and bring the world justice, suffering will join us on our mission.

The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. But the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord GOD helps me; who will declare me guilty? Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.
(Isa 50:4-9 ESV)

What does God do for His servant?

God teaches. Each day God provides the servant with the necessary knowledge to carry the mission to the "weary" of the world.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
(Mat 11:28-30 ESV)

Who are the weary of the world?

What can servant Jesus offer them?

What can we as servants of God offer them?

How does the servant respond to God’s knowledge?

God opens the servants ear. The servant makes full use of the knowledge given by God. "I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward." The servant progresses the mission. In this way the servant differs from Israel. Jesus did not turn away from His mission. We should never turn away from ours.

Jesus always submitted to the will of the Father. Do we share this quality? Is the mission always our first priority?

Verse 6 tells of the suffering of the servant.

Verse 6: "I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting."

Now compare:

Mat 26:67 Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him,

Jesus was also beaten and whipped. He allowed the punishment to happen. He did not resist. He literally gave his back to those who struck. Verse 6 is not a description of a helpless victim. Why did Jesus willingly allow himself to be abused in this way?

Because it was His mission and because of His tremendous love for us.

How can suffering actually help to define a person’s ability to lead?

How a person deals with rebuke or pressure speaks volumes about strength of character or personal commitment. Someone who falls apart under light stress is unlikely to be an effective leader when the pressure is really on.

What resources does God provide the servant in order to sustain him in the face of persecution and suffering?

Verses 7 and 9 tell us that God help us. We cannot be disgraced. We are innocent. The servant knows his mission and is secure in his calling and in his relationship with God. Because God is with the servant, the servant is willing to endure suffering. The servant has infinite confidence the God will sustain him.

Psa 46:1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

What lesson is learned from today’s verses?

1. Doing God’s work does not make us immune to suffering. (Many times it actually leads to suffering.)
2. Our refuge and strength is always present.
3. We are given knowledge from God. We must listen and learn.

We, as servants, must always remember this. We will face suffering. We will grow tired. Our strength and refuge is always there. When we encounter a dark place in our life, God will provide.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A quarter pound of salt...

Here is a great essay that fits in perfectly with what I've been studying and reading lately...

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

What's So Amazing About Grace - The Final Chapter

Tonight our group will conclude our discussion of Philip Yancey's What's So Amazing About Grace . I am just going to share a few select quotes from the last three chapters:

From Chapter 18 - "Serpent Wisdom"

"...a coziness between church and state is good for the state and bad for the church."

"President Eisenhower told the nation in 1954, 'Our government makes no sense unless it is founded on a deeply felt religious faith- and I don't care what it is.'"

"Religion defines evil and gives people the moral strength to resist. As 'the conscience of the state,' we help inform the world about justice and righteousness....In that civic sense, Eisenhower was right: society needs religion, and it matters little what kind."

"We dare not ... forget the last part of [the] aphorism: while a coziness between church and state may be good for the state, it is bad for the church. Herein lies the chief danger to grace: the state, which runs by the rules of ungrace, gradually drowns out the church's sublime message of grace."

"Insatiable for power, the state may well decide that the church could prove even more useful if the state controlled it."

"The cozier it gets with government, the more watered down its message becomes. The gospel itself changes as it devolves into civil religion."

"In sum, the state must always water down the absolute quality of Jesus' commands and turn them into a form of external morality - precisely the opposite of the gospel of grace."

"Read the Sermon on the Mount and try to imagine any government enacting that set of laws."
(I find it hard to imagine any church enacting that set of laws. -tony-)

"A state government can shut down stores and theaters on Sunday, but it cannot compel worship. It can arrest and punish KKK murderers, but cannot cure their hatred, much less teach them love. It can pass laws making divorce more difficult but cannot force husbands to love their wives and wives their husbands. It can give subsidies to the poor but cannot force the rich to show them compassion and justice. It can ban adultery but not lust, theft but not covetousness, cheating but not pride. It can encourage virture but not holiness."

Chapter 19 - "Patches of Green"

"Gallop polls say eighty-three percent of Americans believe the nation is in moral decline."

"Once a Christian consensus has faded, once religious faith has been snipped away from society, what happens then?"

"A renewal of spirituality in the United States will not descend from the top down; if it occurs at all, it will start at the grass roots and grow from the bottom up."

"Jesus' images portray the kingdom as a kind of secret force. Sheep among wolves, treasure hidden in a field, the tiniest seed in the garden, wheat growing among the weeds, a pinch of yeast worked into bread dough, a sprinkling of salt on meat - all these hint at a movement that workd within society, changing it from the inside out. you do not need a shovelful of salt to preserve a slab of ham; a dusting will suffice.
Jesus did not leave an organized host of followers, for he knew that a handful of salt would gradually work its way through the mightiest empire in the world. Against all odds, the great institutions of Rome - the law code, libraries, the Senate, Romand legions, roads, aqueducts, public monuments - gradually crumbles, but the little band to whom Jesus gave these images prevailed and continues on today.
Soren Kierkegaard described himself as a spy, and indeed Christians behave like spies, living in one world while our deepest allegiance belongs to another. We are resident aliens, or sojourners, to use a biblical phrase."

"All too often the church holds up a mirror reflecting back the society around it, rather than a window revealing a different way.
If the world despises a notorious sinner, the church will love her. If the world cuts off aid to the poor and the suffering, the church will offer food and healing. If the world oppresses, the church will raise up the oppressed. If the world shames a social outcast, the church will proclaim God's reconciling love. If the world seeks profit and self-fulfillment, the church seeks sacrifice and service. If the world demands retribution, the church dispenses grace. If the world splinters into factions, the church joins together in unity. If the world destroys its enemies, the church loves them."

I wonder if he sees the same church that I see. I think there should be a "should" entered after every entry for "church" in that paragraph, because while the church should do all those things, I don't believe that we can make an absolute statement that the church does in fact do those things. -tony-

"Some observers have called the United States the most religious nation on earth. If true...shouldn't a quarter pound of salt be having more effect on a pound of meat?
Surely a peculiar people should demonstrate a higher standard of personal ethics than the surrounding world."

"Far from being peculiar, modern Christians tend to look just like everyone else, only more so. Unless our personal ethics rise above the level around us, we can hardly hope to act as a moral preservative."

Chapter 20 - "Gravity and Grace"

"I escape the force of spiritual 'gravity' when I begin to see myself as a sinner who cannot please God by any method of self-improvement or self-enlargement. Only then can I turn to God for outside help - for grace - and to my amazement I learn that a holy God already loves me despite my defects. I escape the force of gravity again when I recognize my neighbors also as sinners, loved by God."

"We creatures, we jolly beggars, give glory to God by our dependence. Our wounds and defects are the very fissures through which grace might pass. It is our human destiny on earth to be imperfect, incomplete, weak, and mortal, and only by accepting that destiny can we escape the force of gravity and recieve grace. Only then can we grow close to God.
Strangely, God is closer to sinners than to 'saints'. (By saints I mean those people renowned for their piety - true saints never lose sight of their sinfulness.) As one lecturer in spirituality explains it, 'God in heaven holds each person by a string. When you sin, you cut the string. Then God ties it up again, making a knot - and thereby bringing you a little closer to him. Again and again your sins cut the string - and with each further knot God keeps drawing you closer and closer.'"

"Church should be a haven for people who feel terrible about themselves - theologically, that is our ticket for entry. God needs humble people (which usually means humbled people) to accomplish his work. Whatever makes us feel superior to other people, whatever tempts us to convey a sense of superiority, that is gravity, not grace."

" should exist for those who need its help, and not for those who by their own profession are so good already that it is they who help the church"

'nuff said...