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Connections Uniform 1-22-17

We Have Seen a Great Light               Isaiah 9: 1-7

Focal Outline:           Isaiah 9: 1-2                           Light has shined

                                    Isaiah 9: 3-5                           Increased joy

                                    Isaiah 9: 6-7                           Prince of Peace

 

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

  1. Isaiah described a messiah more so than a future king. The differences between a human, and God, are big.
  2. Life has its share of dark times. The only thing that can penetrate darkness is light.
  3. Isaiah (like other prophets) also says that we can be blessed with deliverance because of God’s faithfulness.
  4. We should live in confidence that God will continue to act in our time and in times to come.

 

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

  1. What are some ways you would describe God that go beyond anything a human could ever be?
  2. In spiritual terms, what are the qualities of “light” that make it the only thing that can penetrate “dark”?
  3. Why should we anticipate the blessings of God?
  4. What does Isaiah have to offer us that suggests God should be trusted to deliver on our greatest needs?

 

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!]

We long for a time when oppression will cease and war will be no more. We yearn for an era when justice and peace will prevail. Isaiah said that the Lord would bring forth such a time. (p32) And, so this week as I write, people mourn. They mourn because 2016 has claimed the lives of their loved ones and favorite celebrities. Princess Leia has died this week in the real-life form of Carrie Fisher. But, more within us has died in 2016. Divided cultural and political landscapes surround us. People even differ on whether we differ or not!

Our lesson writer makes an important observation: that at times, we can feel as though everyone has become accustomed to the darkness. What do you think? What has been your experience? Are we numb to the pain we cause each other? Have we come to assume injustice? As even Jesus said, do we accept that we will always have the poor among us? We know that many times, even that which starts out as dysfunctional can eventually become our norm. Or, as some say, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”

Isaiah brings promise of a God who will act powerfully and decisively. Into a world of darkness, light will come in the form of a child. A human. But, a very specially empowered child who will grow to be our Savior. God does not intend for the norms of pain, oppression, loneliness, isolation and injustice to reign. A new kingdom is to be ushered in by this Messiah. A new way is to be introduced. What can we do while we wait? How should we use our time to reflect the light of God into darkness?

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

  1. Isaiah tells the people that better times will soon replace the current gloom and anguish. (p29) Then, the prophet goes on to describe One who will deliver on this. If Isaiah wrote today, what qualities might he use?

 

  1. One of Isaiah’s themes (along with John’s gospel) is that “light” as come to illuminate where darkness has been. The only thing that can penetrate the darkness is light. (p30) How much of life’s “darkness” would you say is put upon us by others vs. a self-inflicted condition by virtue of our own shortcomings? Why?

 

  1. We often talk in terms of light and dark. Spiritually, how would you describe a situation where we might be said to be living in “blindness”? Our lesson writer will frame some of Isaiah’s audience that way. What say?

 

  1. Take a look at “Beginning the Lesson” on p24 of your Connections Uniform Teaching Guide. Can a human leader ever provide the kind of light people need?

 

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…

 

Isaiah 9: 1-2                           Light has shined

For whom is this message, according to v1? (everyone!) In v1b-2, what do we learn about the prophet and his message? What does God intend to do?

 

Isaiah 9: 3-5                           Increased joy

About whom is Isaiah speaking now? (God) In v4-5, what “has” God done that prophesies what God will do? What imagery is he borrowing here in this section? (captivity in Egypt)

 

Isaiah 9: 6-7                           Prince of Peace

How will God come to act among us in v6? (as a human with divine power) Through whom will God enact this victory? (Israel)

 

  1. On p30 (lrge. print) our lesson writer says, “It may seem that many people around us have grown so accustomed to spiritual blindness that they can’t even imagine seeing the light.” Under God’s help, what can Christians do—according to our lesson writer—to impact this darkness? What do you think this means?

 

  1. How does Lk 5: 27-32 relate to our text? How about Gn 12: 1-3?

 

  1. On p34 our lesson writer says “When we look at the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, we must agreet that Isaiah’s words describe him very well.” If the prophet originally intended these descriptions to perhaps mean someone else, what meaning do you make of this now?

 

  1. In the Connections Uniform Commentary, Brian Harbour tells a beautiful story, to begin, about a carpenter’s “trouble tree.” Don’t miss that! On the bottom of p21, see notes about the historical setting Isaiah refers to here. What is the great light? (p22) Later on p22, why does Isaiah change from “he” to “you”? Late on p23, to whom is Isaiah speaking in v6-7? See p23-24 for help with the promises found in the titles from v6-7.

 

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. At times, it may be tempting to believe our world has gotten used to the darkness.
  2. Pray that you may reflect God’s light so that those in darkness may see it. All of us.
  3. We believe that Jesus Christ came to establish the kingdom of God, and will someday bring that kingdom to completion. Pray that we will honor Jesus with our thoughts, motives, words and actions.

 

  1. See “Applying the Lesson” on p29 of the Uniform Teaching Guide. How has God dispelled the darkness from your life?

 

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


Connections Uniform 1-29-17

Blessings in the Kingdom            Matthew 5: 1-12

Focal Outline:           Matthew 5: 1-2                                  He taught them

                                    Matthew 5: 3-6                                  Blessed are…

                                    Matthew 5: 7-12                                Rejoice and be glad

 

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

  1. We can be happy only by living in the ways that Jesus showed and taught us.
  2. Many voices clamor for our attention. Some are helpful; some are hurtful.
  3. Jesus calls us to have an eternal perspective as we experience our earthly lives.
  4. God’s grace should be at the center of our understanding of the Sermon on the Mount.

 

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

  1. Only is a strong word. What of the ways that Jesus showed/taught us do you believe lead to happiness?
  2. What are some of the helpful voices in your life? What are some voices in your life that are hurtful?
  3. How well do you manage your eternal perspective within the everyday? What could help you?
  4. How does God’s grace shed light on these teachings in Matthew 5 this week?

 

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!]

We need to keep God’s grace at the center of our understanding of the Sermon on the Mount. Otherwise our efforts to live as Jesus tells us to will frustrate and disillusion us.(p43) Okay. Sometimes, when I’m not sure where the “entry door” is with a particular text, I look for the problem. That’s right—I start with the problem within a text. Or, the biggest question I have with a text. This week, I’m taking that approach with our writer’s lesson. Instinctively, I trust the line I quoted above to be true. But, I need to unpack just why so.

Blessed are those…. You see, that’s where the trouble starts. For Jesus’ words in the Beatitudes should challenge us. His economy of blessing and justice was upside-down from the prevailing culture’s. Still is. So, with any given line from these teachings I may have to stare for a while and just ponder. And, while God’s grace might just be the key to decoding these truths, I need to ponder how that works, too. So, there’s my entry door for study this week. I need to journey with my biggest problem with all this.

Here’s another line from the lesson that challenges me in this new unit of study: We can be happy only by living in the ways that Jesus showed and taught us. Instinctively, I trust that to be true a little more quickly. But, then I begin to ponder the difference between living and all the other responses we have to Jesus’ teachings. Our lesson writer doesn’t say believe. Nor affirm. Nor admire. No, none of these responses to Jesus’ teachings can lead to happiness. Only when we live Jesus’ ways will we find out if He was right!

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

  1. We tend to think of the words poor, mournful, meek and hungry in negative terms…Jesus says that his disciples embrace these ways of experiencing life.(p41) Why so? Why would Jesus say this?

 

  1. In Luke 6: 46, Jesus asks, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” Let’s take up this question—directly from Jesus—and discuss among ourselves. Why is the disconnect often so wide?

 

  1. When you think of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” what comes to mind? What is a Beatitude? What might be one of Jesus’ most troubling teachings He delivered there—for you?

 

  1. Take a look at “Beginning the Lesson” on p31 of your Connections Teaching Guide. What are some of your greatest blessings? How might Jesus’ concept of blessing differ from your own?

 

 

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: 1-2                                  He taught them

Who are all the people who have gathered in ch5? What did Jesus’ sitting down signify? In v1-2, to whom does Jesus seem to be speaking primarily? (His disciples?)

 

Matthew 5: 3-6                                  Blessed are…

In v3, who are the “poor” who are blessed? Why? In v4, what is the promise to those who mourn? How are they “blessed”? In v5, what does “meek” really mean? In v6, what kind of “hunger/thirst” leads to blessing?

 

Matthew 5: 7-12                                Rejoice and be glad

In v8-9, what ways of living lead to blessing? How so? If v10-11 work as a unit, to whom is blessing given here? What does this mean for your own living? How does v12 add to the meaning in this section?

 

  1. On p38 (lrge. print) our lesson writer says, “We can be happy only by living in the ways that Jesus showed and taught us.” Our faith screams “yes!” But, our enculturation counters “Really?” Take up this statement and discuss in your group—what does the lesson writer mean? And, how might this be true?

 

  1. How does Lk 6:46 relate to our text? How about Php 2: 12-18?

 

  1. On p41 our lesson writer says “We tend to think of the words ‘poor,’ ‘mournful,’ ‘meek,’ and ‘hungry’ in negative terms…But Jesus says that his disciples embrace these ways of experiencing life.” What kind of “poor” will be blessed? What kind of “hungry”? What, really, was Jesus trying to teach in the Beatitudes?

 

  1. In the Connections Commentary, Brian Harbour shares a powerful story from the actor, Alan Alda. Don’t miss this at the beginning! How do Jesus’ words in Jn 10:10 shed light on this week’s text? (p26) On p27, how do the first 4 Beatitudes group together? See p27-8 for help with these key descriptors of poor in spirit, mourn, meek and hunger for righteousness. On p28-29, what theme binds the final 4 Beatitudes?

 

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. Ponder what makes living according to Jesus’ teachings in the Beatitudes so difficult.
  2. Ask God to give you grace and strength to take Jesus’ teachings seriously! Commit to pursue one new way of living this week.
  3. There are many ways we can listen to Jesus. We do so by reading the Gospels and by praying, for example. But, how determined are you to hear Him? Ask God’s help with focusing and paying attention.

 

  1. See “Applying the Lesson” on p36 of the Uniform Teaching Guide. Do you feel fortunate (or “blessed”) to be a follower of Jesus? Why so?

 

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