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 Connections 2-19-17

Loving One’s Enemies                Matthew 5: 38-48

Focal Outline:           Matthew 5: 38-42                              The new normal

                                    Matthew 5: 43-47                              The new love

                                    Matthew 5: 48                                   The new perfection

 

Summary Statements: (To help you get a handle on the lesson truths.)

  1. If we don’t find the Christian life demanding, we’re not taking the life/teachings of Jesus seriously enough.
  2. Human beings are encultured to put self before others. Jesus calls us to a different way of living.
  3. We look at Jesus’ example and instinctively say, “But I’m different. I’m not Jesus; I can’t do that.”
  4. Jesus told us to grow toward being the best version of ourselves that we can be.

 

Questions for Thought: (To help you think of some questions to challenge with a “So What?”)  

  1. How demanding do I find the Christian life? What of my faith might seem easier to me than it should?
  2. What of Jesus teachings challenge me most deeply? What should I do about those?
  3. What of His faith/values/convictions did Jesus really live by that seems impossible to me?
  4. For me, what would growing toward being the best version of myself actually look like?

 

Points to Ponder

[NOTE: These suggestions are to help your class be more interactive and discussion oriented. Using 3-5 different ideas will enhance your preferred teaching style and involve class participants. Build excitement and intimacy in your learners!]

The Christan life is the best life—but it’s a demanding life. If we don’t find it demanding, it’s probably because we’re not taking the life and teachings of Jesus seriously enough. (p61) Everything instinctive in me starts out wanting to agree with that assessment– until I don’t. Our lesson writer begins our study with these words. And, actually, I happen to agree with him all the way through. Cognitively, that is. Rationally—theologically—I know he’s right.

The trouble starts when the more instinctive and sympathetic voices within us chime in. “But, I’m not Jesus. Of course I can’t live up to His perfection.” That’s when I begin to let myself off the hook for some things that matter a whole lot in the Kingdom that our God is ushering in. So, loving one’s enemies is our challenging theme this week. Jesus’ teachings both inspire us and trip that reaction in us which usually begins with “….yeah, but…”

More and more, I am convinced that as students of the Bible we should listen for the voice inside us that speaks the “yeah, but…” reaction. That voice should be heard fairly. And, that voice should be met with our challenging thought and study. Rather than let ourselves off the hook more than we would let others for the same offense, we should ask ourselves some hard questions. Why am I exempt from this, but others aren’t? Or,  Just because I’m not Jesus, why can’t I live this way? And try this one—If I do this, what could be made better?

Introductory Thoughts (5-15 minutes – These are for discussion to introduce this week’s Lesson Ideas.)

  1. Human beings are programmed to put self before others. (p63) First of all, do you agree with that? Why? Why not? If you do, how have we become “programmed” this way?

 

  1. Is there someone you regard as an “enemy”? If you said, yes, then how did that come about? Was this an instant, one-time confrontation? Was this a slow relational evolution? How much of that feels within your control?

 

  1. Jesus means for us to take His teachings that we are about to study today seriously. Off the top of your mind, what are some of Jesus’ teachings that you catch yourself not taking so seriously? Which seem impossible?

 

  1. Take a look at “Beginning the Lesson” on p52 of your Connections Teaching Guide. List some words that you would use to describe the way that Jesus wants us to live.

 

Studying & Discussing the Passage (20-25 minutes – See Brian Harbour’s Commentary for added insights and explanations.)

  1. Share an overview of the Lesson from “Scripture Context” (Teaching Guide ) and then examine the focal passage using a variety of teaching methods…

 

Matthew 5: 38-42                              The new normal

In v38, where have they heard this said? What was the standard that original teaching was trying to establish? (fairness, control, proportion) Why, then, this teaching in v39? What teachings was He countering in v40 and 41? What seems to be Jesus’ overall point in v38-42? What is Jesus “not” saying to do?

 

Matthew 5: 43-47                              The new love

In v43, what had they originally heard? In v44-45, what standard is He instead teaching? Why? How do v46-7 reinforce this in ways that are helpful? What is the larger standard here? How do you react?

 

Matthew 5: 48                                   The new perfection

What does “perfect” in this context mean? What if you think you can’t be “perfect”? What then? How do the lesson-writer’s comments just after this help your understanding? What would being more “fully” you mean?

 

  1. On p63 (lrge. print) our lesson writer says, “We have decisions to make as we live out Jesus’ teachings. Does Jesus’ instruction that we ‘turn the other cheek’ mean that we should never resist violence?” What say you?

 

  1. How does Mt 7: 1-12 relate to our text? How about Acts 7: 60?

 

  1. On p65 our lesson writer says “Acknowledging the validity of a general principle is one thing. Applying it in a particular situation is another.” Read the rest of the paragraph for context. What moves you to apply Jesus’ words—even the ones that trouble you?

 

  1. In the Connections Commentary, Brian Harbour challenges us right away with a Hubert Humphrey story. In Mt5: 38-42, how does Jesus’ response differ from the “limited retaliation” from Ex21? (p41) On p42, what drives this new strategy of non-retaliation? On p42-3, how does Jesus’ “new” pattern or righteousness differ from the old? Later on p43, what are two motivations that should shape relationships?

 

Applying the Lesson (10-20 minutes – Choose one or two questions to encourage action plans for the coming week!)

Discuss any of the following questions…

  1. Jesus calls us to love, grace and generosity. To put needs of others above our own.
  2. How can you apply what Jesus teaches here to your everyday life? What one new way will you try?
  3. Is there someone you regard as your enemy? Why do you think of them that way? What is your responsibility in the situation? Pray for that person by name, and every day this week. Ask God to bless them, to show you how to love them, to lead both of you to work toward healing.

 

  1. See “Applying the Lesson” on p56 of the Uniform Teaching Guide. What kind of mindset do we need to develop if we are to take Jesus’ words about this seriously?

 

People go where they know they’ve been prepared for and are cared for!


Connections 2-26-17

Listen to Jesus                    Matthew 17: 1-9

Focal Outline:           Matthew 17: 1-3                    Transfigured

                                    Matthew 17: 4-5                    Listen to Him!

                                    Matthew 17: 6-9                    Tell no one until

 

Summary Statements: (To help you get a handle on the lesson truths.)

  1. We would never say that Jesus can’t tell us what to do. But, our living reveals how seriously we take Him.
  2. They were given a glimpse of the post-resurrection Jesus. We live on the other side of the resurrection.
  3. God’s voice told the disciples to listen to Jesus. For anything else they needed, He would be their source.
  4. Jesus instructed Peter, James and John not to tell anyone about the transfiguration until he had risen.

 

Questions for Thought: (To help you think of some questions to challenge with a “So What?”)  

  1. Why is it fair that our living tells the strongest story of what we believe?
  2. What difference does it make that our experience of Jesus is all on the other side of the resurrection?
  3. If I truly want to listen to the voice of Jesus, what are some things He’s probably saying to me?
  4. What was so important to Jesus about the timing of their testimony that I ought to learn from?

 

Points to Ponder

[NOTE: These suggestions are to help your class be more interactive and discussion oriented. Using 3-5 different ideas will enhance your preferred teaching style and involve class participants. Build excitement and intimacy in your learners!]

 

This story will seem a little mean to tell. I hope it won’t take you aback too much. In my part of town, there is a lot of affluence. These days, there are a lot of people (men and women) who get elective cosmetic work done. Some of the work is good. Once, I had family members of a deceased church member fly in to make arrangements. I met with them. Two days later, the funeral took place. In those intervening two days, one of the family members had gone and had her lips “plumped.” Still in the new Donald Duck phase, she walked into my office. In my surprise, it took all the restraint I had to not betray my shock. I barely recognized her.

Who do Christians listen to these days? Who do they regard as authoritative? That rather haunting question comes in our Teaching Guide (p59) this week. Like those who are influenced to have cosmetic work they might not need, Christians are often vulnerable to guiding voices. Cultural trends and appealing religious ways can sometimes change us or even our appearance. God’s influencing voice can become less authoritative than the other ones we choose to follow.

I love where this lesson begins. We would never say that Jesus can’t tell us what to do. But what do our lives reveal about how seriously we take him? (p69) I see a lot of ostensibly Christian content posted on social media these days. Yet, much of it is posted by people who have nothing to do with the Church that Jesus helped to establish. But those things “sound good,” so other people click and share them along. Soon, the church of the populace substitutes for much of what is truly of God. What is authoritative to Believers…and why?

Introductory Thoughts (5-15 minutes – These are for discussion to introduce this week’s Lesson Ideas.)

  1. When you read the Bible, do you read it in light of who Jesus is, what He did, and what he said? Why does this matter to our overall understanding of the Bible?

 

  1. What is the starkest transformation of a person’s appearance you have witnessed. (In sharing these stories, encourage proper sensitivity.) What effect did that change have on the way you experienced them? Why?

 

  1. Most of us might never vote that Jesus can’t tell us what to do. But what do our lives reveal about how seriously we take Him? In your own self-awareness, what would you say?

 

  1. Take a look at “Beginning the Lesson” on p59 of your Connections Teaching Guide. Who do Christians listen to these days? Who do they regard as authoritative?

Studying & Discussing the Passage (20-25 minutes – See Brian Harbour’s Commentary for added insights and explanations.)

  1. Share an overview of the Lesson from “Scripture Context” (Teaching Guide ) and then examine the focal passage using a variety of teaching methods…

 

           Matthew 17: 1-3                    Transfigured

In v1, why did Jesus choose these 3 to take with Him? What does the setting tell us? In v2, what does it mean that He was transfigured? In v2b-3, what do the details of His appearance and company tell us?

 

Matthew 17: 4-5                    Listen to Him!

In v4, why does Peter believe that it is “good” to be there? Why does he offer to build 3 dwellings? How would you describe the interruption that happens in v5? Why might God have spoken this message then?

 

Matthew 17: 6-9                    Tell no one until

In v6, what caused the physical reaction in the disciples? (tradition) Why might Jesus have done what He did in v7? In v9, why might He have sworn them to such secrecy? What do you make of this whole episode?

 

  1. On p69 (lrge. print) our lesson author says, “We would never say that Jesus can’t tell us what to do.” What are some ways in which you catch yourself telling Jesus exactly that sometimes? What are some ways in which your church communicates that to Jesus? What do we do about these very human tendencies?

 

  1. How does Ex 24: 15-18 relate to our text? How about Ex 40: 34-38?

 

  1. On p73 our lesson writer says “A fine line exists between properly and improperly evaluating our experiences with Jesus. We should appreciate them and learn from them. But, we should move on to serve…” What do you think about this observation? Why? How does this connect with our lesson text today?

 

  1. In the Connections Commentary, Brian Harbour helps immediately with a discussion of 2 Greek words for “time.” See p46 for which kind of time is at its most urgent here. On p47, place this week’s story in context with 3 events in which Jesus took only His inner circle. On p47-8, how does this lesson fit with our concept of “metamorphosis?” Why are Moses and Elijah significant to this story? (p48) On p49, what are 2 misunderstandings that Peter makes?

 

Applying the Lesson (10-20 minutes – Choose one or two questions to encourage action plans for the coming week!)

Discuss any of the following questions…

  1. We must choose when to speak up, and when to keep silent, about our faith in Jesus Christ.
  2. Ask God to help you to discern those moments when speaking up might be the right move!
  3. We would never say that Jesus can’t tell us what to do. Pray for a willing response to Christ’s call.

 

  1. See “Applying the Lesson” on p63 of the Connections Teaching Guide. How well do we listen to what Jesus tells us about how we should live?

 

People go where they know they’ve been prepared for and are cared for!