Sunday, October 25, 2015

How do we know God keeps his promises?

This was the outline for the lesson on 2015-10-25, on Genesis 15.


Last week, we saw Abram was set apart by God, promised land and descendants and the blessing of all the families of the world; and he was called by God to leave his family, leave his hometown, leave everything and go. And he went.

After that, he went to Egypt and was kicked out with more than he went in with.

Then he and Lot had to separate because they had so many flocks & heards that they couldn’t stay in the same place. Lot chose the low country around the Jordan River, and Abram took the hill country on the west. When a bunch of kings where Lot was living rebelled against the kings they were paying tribute to, the other kings came and took Lot and all off as captives. When Abram rescued them, he gave a tithe to Melchizedek (remember him from when we studied Hebrews), but refused to accept anything from the king of Sodom.

That brings us to today’s chapter.

The promise of children

  • READ 15:1
  • READ 15:2–3
  • READ 15:4–5
  • ASK When God appears, why does he always say, “Fear not”? (Because he’s not a teddy bear — he’s the creator of everything — immense power — so it’s natural to be afraid.)
  • ASK What does Abram ask God about? (How he can have children: He was 75 when he started exploring Canaan, and Sarai was 65, and now it’s more years down the road.) ASK Why does he ask twice? (Because he was having a hard time believing God’s promise.)
  • SAY It is okay to go to God with your complaint. God doesn’t give Abram a hard time for asking repeatedly, and if something is weighing on your heart, you are free to take it to him over and over.
  • Could Abram count the stars? What if he had a good view of the Milky Way — about 100,000,000,000 stars that look like a ribbon across the sky. If he could count the Milky Way at 1 star per second, it would take him 3,100 years to count them all. That was God’s promise to Abram. And if you are trusting in Abram’s God, one of those stars stands for you.
  • READ 15:6
  • This is one of the most important verses in the whole Old Testament. It’s quoted 4 times in the New Testament. (2 times in Romans, 1 time in Galatians, 1 time in James)
  • “Counted,” “credited,” “reckoned.” These words all mean the same thing. It’s an accounting term: Abram believed God, and God put it on his books as righteousness.
    • ASK What did Abram do? (Believe God)
    • ASK What did God do? (count Abram’s belief as righteousness)
    • ASK What does righteousness mean? (Always doing the right thing)
    • ASK Did Abram do the right thing for the rest of his life? (No. In the very next chapter, he takes his wifes handmaid as a concubine, and they have a child who is not related to the promise. And in chapter 20, he tells another king that Sarai is not his wife. Abram’s track record for actual righteousness after this point isn’t very good.)
    • SAY But consider where he came from: He worshipped false gods before he was called, and now he believes the God who called him. He’s moving in the right direction.
      • You should always be confessing your sins and repenting of them.
      • But once in a while — not constantly — you should make an assessment of where you are spiritually.
      • As a friend used to say, “If you’re constantly taking your pulse, you’ve lost the use of one hand.”

The covenant

  • READ 15:7
  • READ 15:8
  • READ 15:9–11
  • God is getting ready to answer Abram’s question.
  • READ 15:12–14
  • READ 15:15–16
  • So here is God’s promise to Abram spelled out in some detail. This is what is going to happen through the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
  • ASK How long is it going to take for God to fulfill the promise to Abram? (400 years)
  • ASK Will everything that happens in that 400 years be good? (Of course not: slavery and mistreatment)
  • ASK When they leave the land they have been slaves in, will they just go off to die in the desert? (No, they will come out with “great possessions”)
  • ASK What is another reason for the delay? (So the sins of the Amorites will be complete)
    • Will God judge the Amorites unjustly? (No. They will deserve their punishment.)

The guarantee

  • READ 15:17
  • And I thought the visions Ezekiel had were weird.
  • What’s going on here?
    • Fire & smoke: The same things God led the people of Israel with when they exited Egypt.
    • But why the parade between the cut-up animals?
    • READ Jeremiah 34:18: “And the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will make them like the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts.”
    • This idea of passing through the animals to make a sign of the covenant was deeply ingrained in all the cultures around, i.e., not just the descendants of Abram.
      • Ruth said it to Naomi when she promised go with her — and Ruth wasn’t an Israelite. (Ruth 1:17)
      • Solomon said it when he had just been coronated and one of his brothers was positioning himself as a rival to the throne. (1 Kings 2:23)
      • Even Jezebel said it, swearing by her false gods when she swore to kill Elijah (1 Kings 19:2)
    • What God is saying when the torch and the smoking oven pass between the carcasses is, “This is so serious that if it does not come to pass, I will be cut up like these animals.
    • This is God committing himself to the path along which all the familiies of the whole world (12:3) will be blessed through a descendant of Abram. ASK Who is this descendant of Abram? (Jesus)
  • SAY This is how we know God keeps his promise to save us: He has staked his own life on it.
  • SAY And to love us, Jesus took the punishment for our sins on himself, so that, like Abraham, we can be counted righteous by grace, through faith.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Toward the goal

This is the lesson from 2014-12-28. Amazingly, it went pretty much according to the outline.


In most murder mysteries, the murder occurs at the beginning and the bulk of the story is the pursuit of the solution — discovering who the murderer is. In Toward Zero, however, Agatha Christie began with the buildup, telling the story of how the murder was to be committed, and then, when it happens, the detective, who has been observing the people, knows the solution immediately.

Today’s lesson in Ezra is like that: People are gathered, work is begun and then halted and then resumed, and it’s all heading toward something.


A few years ago, we were studying 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles, which run in parallel to each other. At the very end, the kingdom of Judah is conquered, and many of the people are carried off into Babylon. Then the Babylonians are conquered by the Persians. But then, just before the end of 2 Chronicles, the Persian emperor decrees that peoples conquered by the Babylonians back to their ancestral homes.

And the book of Ezra begins by repeating those words of Cyrus, the Persian emperor, from the end of 2 Chronicles.


  • READ 1:1
  • READ 1:2–3
  • READ 1:4
  • READ 1:5
  • SAY Don’t read too much into Cyrus’s words here: This doesn’t translate into his belief in the “God of heaven.” He used similar, culturally appropriate language for every group he was repatriating to its homeland.
  • SAY On the other hand, don’t read too little into it either. God made it so that this change in emperors (this was the “first year of Cyrus”) and change in policy would be in place. God had a plan. Remember what Proverbs 21:1 says: The king’s heart goes wherever God directs it.

The altar and the beginning of the temple

  • SAY So the people migrate, and they get settled in. And then …
  • READ 3:1–3
  • So the daily burnt offerings are in place.
  • We don’t live under their sacrificial system. ASK But do we have anything that should happen on a regular schedule like the daily burnt offerings?
    • Don’t neglect assembling togther (Hebrews)
    • The blessed man meditates on God’s law day and night (Psalm 1)
  • READ 3:4–6
  • ASK What’s missing? (the temple)
  • READ 3:10–11
  • SAY The work on the temple is begun — the foundation is laid and there is great rejoicing! However …
  • READ 3:12–13
  • ASK Why was there weeping? (the new was not a good as the old)


  • Let’s rewind a few decades: When the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom, and the Babylonians later conquered Jerusalem and carried people off, they also imported captives from other lands they conquered into Judea.
  • The superstition commonly held by almost everyone (except the Jews) was that gods were attached to places. When you went somewhere, you worshipped the local gods. So when the Assyrians imported people, they brought in a priest to teach the new poeple about the local gods. What did these people do when the temple was started?
  • READ 4:2
  • ASK Without reading ahead: Would we have accepted their help if we were there?
  • ASK How much help should we expect from the culture around us? How much of the culture’s help should we ask for?
    • What about, for instance, our tax deductions for our giving to the church?
  • The answer: READ 4:3
  • The result: READ 4:4–5
  • And a letter was sent to the new emperor, who replied that they had to stop building the temple.

The resumption

  • READ 5:1–2
  • This is many years later.
  • Notice that the rebuilding didn’t wait for the government’s permission.
  • There’s a new set of civil servants in place.
    • It has been several years. There haven’t been any major rebellions, so the Jews are known to be good citizens.
    • The civil servants aren’t opposed to the building of the temple. They just want to check the permits.
    • They send a letter to the new emperor, Darius. He has the records checked and finds that the Jews are just doing what was commanded 2 or 3 emperors back, and he makes provision for everything to be done.
  • Finally, the temple is finished.

The passover

  • READ 6:16
  • There was still something missing that they had waited to have the temple for.
  • READ 6:19
  • SAY This is what they’ve been driving toward. They couldn’t keep the passover without the temple. Why did they need the Passover? From their point of view, it was to commemorate the miracles God performed to get their ancestors out of Egypt a thousand years earlier. But from our point of view, it’s because it tells us of Jesus.
    • God’s firstborn — only-born — being sacrificed for our sins, in our place.
    • God passes over our sins because the penalty for them has been exacted.
    • Century after century, the Passover as a type (remember: a person, object, or event that prefigures Jesus) was performed and was now resumed. It was preparing the way so that Jesus would be recognized.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Good News: Great Joy!

This is the outline of the lesson from 2014-12-21.


  • ASK What is your favorite Christmas movie?
  • ASK What is your favorite Christmas song (hymn, secular, whatever)?
  • ASK What is your favorite family Christmas tradition?
  • SAY When I was growing up, whoever in our family was in town would gather on Christmas Eve, and we would read the Christmas story from Luke 2, around in a circle, one verse at a time. So that’s what we’re going to do now.
  • HAND OUT the handout, and read it in a circle.


  • We already read about the shepherds.
    • ASK What are some of the things we’ve heard about them? (Low-lifes, tended the sheep for the official sacrifices, etc)
    • ASK How much do we know from the text? (Not much)
    • SAY From external sources, we know
      • they were not allowed to testify in court;
      • Pig farmers were worse than shepherds.
  • When Michael & Andrew were little, they would say, “It’s dark at night,” and we thought it was cute. But darkness was something the shepherds understood. So when the glory of the Lord shone around them and there was an angel there, they were terrified. So the angel said “Don’t be afraid.”
  • ASK Why not be afraid? (Good news: great joy)
    • Good news = Gospel
    • I looked at a lot of translations, and there were 2 basic ways to phrase this:
      • Good news that brings or causes great joy
      • Good news of great joy
    • ASK (Thinking question) Can you see a difference between them?
      • The good news results in great joy, vs.
      • The good news is great joy.
    • ASK What is the source of the joy?
      • For unto you is born (Isaiah 9:6) Savior/Christ/Lord
        • “Savior” = “Joshua” = “Jesus”
        • “Christ” = “Messiah”
        • “Lord” = “God” (Psalm 110:1)
  • What does “multitude of the heavenly host” mean? (The army of heaven)
    • Why an army? (READ Joshua 5:13–14a) The angels were there because their commander was taking a new form — a baby.
    • What was the army doing? (Saying “Glory to God …”)
    • READ TOGETHER 2:14.
    • “Peace” — An army is there declaring peace. We aren’t talking about the old Yugoslavia, where they had peace at the pointy end of a gun. And we aren’t talking about warm fuzzies. Or the peace of God, i.e., the peace that God has within himself. (We can have that, too, but that’s not what it means here.) We’re talking about peace with God the way Romans 5 talks about it: No longer at war with God.

At the barn

  • They go and find Jesus, wrapped up and in the feed trough just the way the angel said. And they told people.
  • “All who heard it wondered,” as in finding it wondrous, wonderful.
  • God had Luke learn about this and write it down for us, so that we can wonder, too.
    • Wonder at the Savior — the one who came to pay for your sins.
    • Wonder at the Messiah — the one who came to free his people from their slavery to sin.
    • Wonder at the Lord — the one who “rules the world in truth and grace.”
  • And this is the message we have: A Savior (Jesus), Christ the Lord.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Filled with devils

And, though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God has willed his truth to triumph through us. The Prince of Darkness grim — we tremble not for him! His rage we can endure, for look! his doom is sure: One little word shall fell him! That word, above all earthly powers, (no thanks to them) abideth. The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him who with us sideth. Let goods and kindred go — this mortal life also. The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still. His kingdom is forever!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wisdom’s invitation

This is the lesson for March 9, 2014. I'm setting this to be on the blog some time during the week after, so I have no idea yet how it went or how much of it I got through.

“Wisdom is deep insight into how things work.” — Greg Koukl


Solomon, when he wrote the proverbs, was soaked in the scriptures he had available at the time. Remember the command in Deuteronomy 17: The king had to make a copy of (at least) Deuteronomy — perhaps the entire pentateuch — in his own hand.

First call of wisdom: 1:20–28

  • READ 1:20–22
  • Wisdom
    • is available
    • wants to be heard
  • Different kinds of people who don’t have wisdom
    • Simple: Directionless, easily swayed
    • Fool: Rejects wisdom
    • Scoffer: Makes fun of wisdom
  • READ 1:23
  • ASK What is the benefit of listening to wise warnings?
  • READ 1:24–28
  • ASK What is the cost of ignoring wise warnings? (It will be too late.)

Second call of wisdom: 2:1–8

  • READ 2:1–4
  • READ 2:5–8
  • ASK What is our part in obtaining wisdom?
    • Pay attention (v.1)
    • Remember (v.1)
    • Incline your heart (OT: heart is the equivalent of modern brain) (v.2)
    • Ask God for it (v.3)
    • Consider it a treasure (v.4)
  • ASK What is the immediate result of seeking wisdom?
    • “Fear of the Lord”
    • the knowledge of God
    • ASK Are these 2 different things?
    • SAY Dan Phillips says that the “fear of the Lord” in the OT is equivalent to “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ” in the NT
  • ASK What is God’s part in our obtaining wisdom?
    • He gives it.
    • His word is wisdom.
    • ASK Do we get it by deserving it? (No)
    • It’s like your salvation: It’s yours because God gave it to you.

Trust in the Lord

  • READ 3:1–4
  • Sounds just like Joshua 1:8. (Maybe by Solomon had to copy Joshua and Judges as well.)
  • Where else do we hear the phrase “in the sight of God and man”? (Luke 2:52, where Jesus, as a boy, had been demonstrating his wisdom to the teachers in the temple)

A command and a promise and a way to interpret (some) hardship

  • SAY Generally, Proverbs is a book of insight and principle, not promises. But here we have a command, and obeying this command brings something that looks like a promise.
  • READ 3:5–6
  • Our hearts warm with verses like 5 & 6. But remember about “heart”: it means “brain” or “mind”.
  • How easy would it be to just say “I’m trusting God for everything” and then turn around and be passive about knowing him, about acquiring wisdom? But that would be the exact opposite of what the whole book of Proverbs is about.
  • How much do we hear verse 7?
  • READ 3:7–10
  • These sound like promises of health and wealth. Are they?
  • READ 3:11–12
  • This is quoted in Hebrews 12. God’s promise there and in, e.g., Romans 8:28, is that our hardship is for our good.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Fish & forgiveness

This is the lesson from February 23. Amazingly, I think I remember getting through all of it.


  • SAY Peter decided to go fishing, and 6 other disciples went with him.
  • READ 21:4–5
  • READ 21:6–7
  • ASK Why didn’t they catch any fish all night, and then caught almost more than they could handle?
  • ASK How did John recognize Jesus? (He remembered the experience in Luke 5:1–11, when Peter fell at Jesus’s knees and said, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man!”)
  • SAY They pulled the fish up on the shore, and Jesus had breakfast ready for them.
  • READ 21:12b–13
  • What did this remind them of? (Feeding of the 5,000)


  • READ 21:15
  • ASK What did Jesus mean by “more than these”?
    • More than the other disciples?
    • More than the living he could make fishing?
  • READ 21:16
  • READ 21:17
  • READ 21:18
  • Some people think there’s something in the way the differentiation of the Greek words for “love,” others think there’s no essential difference in the way John uses these words when he writes.
    • We use love to mean different things as well:
      • “We say we love Coca-Cola, and we love mother’s hot apple pie. We say we love Captain Kangaroo — we say we do, but we lie!”
  • It’s also not much use to try to differentiate between Jesus saying “sheep” & “lambs” or “tend” and “feed”.
    • SAY The point is to match up forgiveness for Peter with Peter’s denial of Jesus: 3 times around a charcoal fire.
    • Also, Peter took this as Jesus giving him advice for pastoring. And he passed this along to the pastors who came after him. READ 1 Peter 5:1–4
  • SAY We sin. If you have sinned, and you think or feel you’re up against the limit of what God is willing to forgive, remember Peter. Jesus took forgiveness to Peter in a way he couldn’t mistake, and he has the same forgiveness for you and me when we sin.

Oh! to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be.
Let thy goodness like a fetter
bind my wand’ring heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it —
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart. Oh, take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The resurrected Jesus

This is the lesson from 2014-02-16. I am scheduling it in advance, so I can’t talk about what we did or did not get to, or even whether we got to the lesson. Sometimes prayer needs outweigh the need for me to talk. This is not “big church,” so the priorities are different, and that’s okay.

Peter & John at the tomb

  • READ 20:1–2
  • READ 20:3–5
  • READ 20:6–9

  • SAY Jesus had been teaching his disciples that he would be killed and resurrected. (e.g., Matt 16:21, Mark 8:31). Peter even rebuked the creator of the universe for talking like that. Even though Jesus had been telling them, they didn’t yet understand that it had been prophesied over and over in the Old Testament.

Mary Magdalene at the tomb

  • READ 20:10–11
    • ASK What was Mary Magdalene feeling? (open discussion)
    • ASK Have you ever felt that?
  • READ 20:12–15
  • READ 20:15–18
    • ASK What is Mary feeling now? (open discussion)

Jesus appears to most of the disciples

  • READ 20:19–23
    • SAY When Jesus breathed on them, he was using an object lesson about the Holy Spirit:
      • Breath and spirit are the same word in Greek.
      • Jesus had already told them the Holy Spirit was coming.

Jesus and Thomas

  • READ 20:24–25
  • READ 20:26–29
  • READ 20:30–31

SAY There has been a lot of malarky that followed from reading verse 29 by itself. It is used to support name-it, claim-it teaching; it has been used to support blind faith in various sorts of preachers. But look at what follows in verses 30–31: “[T]hese things are written so that you may believe …”

Back in 17:20, when Jesus was praying, he said, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word …” John’s gospel is the word of an eyewitness, and it is on this basis we believe.

John emphasizes this point in 1 John: READ 1 John 1:1–3. John is telling us that this is from those who have seen Jesus and can be believed.

One more thing

In 20:17, Jesus tells Mary, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father …”

But since then, he has asscended to the Father. Now is the time to cling to him.

When it seems he has abandoned you,

  • cancer
  • divorce
  • pregnant daughter
  • more cancer
  • bullied daughter

that is when you should cling to Jesus. But not to the fantasy Jesus of what you would make up, and not to the false Jesus of some of those people on TV. The real Jesus, the one revealed in the Bible.

  • Don’t put on a brave face and pretend to be okay.
  • Do get to know your Savior in his word, so that when you hit a hard time, you know what you are holding on to.
    • One way to do this: The Gospel of John has 21 chapters. Read 3 chapters each day — that’s one week. Do this every week for a month.
    • The next month, go do the same with Matthew: 28 chapters, 4 each day.
    • Then Mark: 16 chapters, 2 or 3 each day.
    • Then Luke: 24 chapters, 3 or 4 each day.
    • Then the rest of the New Testament in appropriate-sized chunks.
    • Then go to the Old Testament, and see how Jesus is revealed there.
  • This is how you learn who you are clinging to.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Jesus crucified

This is the lesson from 2014-02-09. Time was short because of a church function, so I only got 10 minutes to teach. We concentrated on fulfillment of prophecy and the finality of Jesus’s work on the cross.

Pilate’s poke at the Jews

  • READ 19:17–22
  • Opinion question: Why did Pilate write “The King Of The Jews”? (Because the leaders of the Jews had said “We have no king but C{}sar,” and he was taking them at their word.

Soldiers gamble for Jesus’s clothes

  • READ 19:23–24
  • All the way through the rest of this chapter, John wants to make sure to connect the crucifixion to prophecies.
  • READ Psalm 22:18

Jesus sees that his mother is cared for

  • READ 19:25–27
  • John was the one who cared for her.
  • Why not Jesus’s brothers? We don’t know.

Jesus dies

  • READ 19:28–29
  • Jesus is thirsty, dehydrated, so the thing they give him to drink fulfills prophecy.
  • READ Psalm 69:21
  • READ 19:30
  • It is finished. ASK What was finished? (All the wrath of God for sin.)
  • This is how we were saved. Remember the song we sing sometimes: “Till on the cross where Jesus died the wrath of God was satisfied.”
    • READ Romans 6:10
    • READ Hebrews 7:27
    • READ Hebrews 9:12
    • READ Hebrews 10:10

When Jesus said finished, he meant finished.

  • READ 19:31–37
  • Prophecy fulfillment keeps rolling in even after Jesus dies.
  • READ Exodus 12:46, Numbers 9:12 about the passover lamb.
    • We know it was about Jesus because of 1 Corinthians 5:7

Jesus is buried

  • READ 19:38–42
  • ASK Jesus was crucified between 2 thieves. Normally when a criminal was crucified, his body was thrown on the burning trash heap. But what happened to Jesus’s body? (Buried in a rich man’s tomb.)
  • This fulfilled even more prophecy. READ Isaiah 53:9.

Sunday, February 16, 2014


Crown him the Lord of love. Behold his hands and side! Those wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified. All hail, Redeemer, hail! For thou hast died for me. Thy praise and glory shall not fail throughout eternity.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Betrayal & arrest, trial, denial

This is the lesson from 2014-01-26. It has been so long that I don’t remember how closely I was able to follow this outline.

Betrayal & arrest

  • Read 18:1–3
  • Read 18:4–8
    • Weirdness — at least it seems weird to me — v. 4: “knowing all that would happen to him.”
      • READ John 10:18
  • Read 18:9–11
      1. 9: “to fulfill the word he had spoken” in 17:12.
      1. 11: “shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” — a reference to the “other” prayer as recorded in Matthew 26:39, Mark 14:36, Luke 22:42.
    • SAY The Gospels don’t give identical accounts. ASK Is this a weakness? (No! It’s a strength: It’s like eyewitness accounts of anything: Everyone’s perspective is different, and the different accounts combine into a complete picture.
  • Read 18:12-14
    • SAY Annas used to be the high priest, but the Romans wouldn’t allow him to continue in office, probably to prevent him from accumulating power.
    • One way or another, Annas’s son-in-law, Caiaphas, had become the high priest, but the real power among the Saducees remained with Annas, so Annas gets the first crack at Jesus.


  • Read 18:15–16
    • The “other disciple” may have been John, may have been someone else.
      • John usually refers to himself as “the disciple Jesus loved.”
      • A fisherman from Galilee might be known to the high priest.
      • Doesn’t matter.
  • Read 18:17–18
  • Read 18:25–27
    • Earlier the same night, Peter had said, “I will lay down my life for you” (13:37)
    • We read above that he whacked off the servant’s ear. (18:10)
    • Now he’s denying that he even knows Jesus.
      • SAY Don’t be too hard on Peter: It’s easy to be like him. Acknowledging Jesus and proclaiming yourself to be on his side when it’s safe. But it’s something altogether different when there’s real opposition.
      • ASK How can we be stronger so that when push comes eventually to shove, we don’t deny Jesus, but stand up and are counted for him?
        • Knowing the Bible
        • Prayer
        • Worship
        • Fellowship


  • Read 18:19–21
  • Read 18:22–24
  • People who study this stuff say that there was a certain order to the way the trial should have been handled, but Jesus knew they weren’t following the order, and when he said to call witnesses, he was trying to get them to follow their own procedures.