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Connections Uniform 8-21-16

God Prunes and Grafts                Romans 11: 11-24

Focal Outline:           Romans 11: 11-14                 God’s grace for all

                                    Romans 11: 15-20                 Branches broken and grafted

                                    Romans 11: 21-24                 Kindness and severity

 

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

  1. God’s grace is wider and God’s purpose of salvation more astounding than we can possibly grasp.
  2. No one is beyond the reach of God’s salvation.
  3. No image can fully describe God. The New Testament uses “how much more” comparisons to help us.
  4. Christians have to take God into account in everything that we think, say or do about others. There is hope!

 

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

  1. What are some bounds you have traditionally put on what God can do—or is willing to do?
  2. What are the extremes to which we should consider what it means that “no one” is beyond God’s reach?
  3. Which images or words help you to comprehend what you believe God truly is?
  4. How does God factor in on our understandings of those we believe to be beyond hope?

 

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!]

Why do we tend to think in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’? Why do we want better for ‘us’ than we do for ‘them’? These are two convicting, challenging questions our lesson writer will ask right from the start. If we are taking a straight approach into the text, these questions make excellent beginning places. If we try to answer them with philosophical or “ought-to” types of responses, we probably need to re-think the questions and try again. Because I am convinced that all of us do think in these ways.

Other-ness or difference is so prevalent among us. How we react as we acknowledge the other reveals what we think and how we believe. To a great extent, even our trust in God is reflected in our outlooks and actions toward especially those who are far different from us. Jews and Gentiles were the primary groups Paul acknowledged in his writings. In some way, that encompasses pretty much all of us! Today, our language of differences might include notions of religion, ethnicity, sexuality, appearance, education or affluence. Another issue that separates today seems to be ageism. The generations really don’t play together as they should!

Paul speaks on behalf of a God who is hard at work redeeming all of Creation. God was working among Jews even while calling others to minister grace unto the Gentiles. God has at heart a kingdom deep enough, wide enough and diverse enough that everyone will be included. Even those whom you or I don’t believe possibly could be. Grady Nutt used to say, “One day, you’re going to be awfully surprised at who is already there when you get to Heaven. And, at who seems to be missing!” Our assumptions and reactions to difference are at the heart of this text. The starting place is in admitting that we don’t see everyone as God sees them!

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

  1. Why do we tend to think in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’? Why do we want better for ‘us’ than we do for ‘them’? These are hard questions that our lesson writer asks in the Introduction. (p129) So, what do you think?

 

  1. What limits do you occasionally catch yourself putting on God’s mercy and grace? Discuss this gently, but honestly, within your study group. Who is “in” and who is “out” if we aren’t careful?

 

  1. Has anyone ever given up on you? Have you had someone that you simply said, “There’s no hope for her”? Or, “I’ve done all I can do with him”? How should God fit into our view of others?

 

  1. Take a look at “Beginning the Lesson” on p115 of your Connections Uniform Teaching Guide. Where do you believe Jews, Muslims and others fit into God’s plan for eternity? Why so?

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…

 

           Romans 11: 11-14                 God’s grace for all

What has happened so far in Ro11 that causes Paul to begin with “So…” in v11? Who are the “they” in v11? (Jews) What does he mean that they have not “fallen”? What is Paul’s point about Gentiles in v11-12? In v13-14, what does Paul intend to offer to the Gentiles? What does he mean by that?

 

Romans 11: 15-20                 Branches broken and grafted

In v15, what theological question does he seem to be asking? In v16-18, what point is he making about the dough, the shoots and the branches? What is the caution to Christian Gentiles in v19-20?

 

Romans 11: 21-24                 Kindness and severity

How does v21 substantiate this caution? What should we notice in v22? In v23-24, what possibility is there for Israel?

 

  1. On p134 (lrge. print) our lesson author says, “On the one hand, we should be confident in our relationship with God. On the other hand, we should not be presumptuous about our standing with God.” How does confidence differ from presumption for the believing Christian? Why does this matter for you?

 

  1. How does Zc 8: 9-17 relate to our text? How about Lk 18: 1-8?

 

  1. On p135 our lesson writer says “Christians have to take God into account in everything that we think, say or do. Given what Paul tells us about the grace of God, can we ever regard anyone as beyond reach of God’s salvation?” Take this question for discussion within your group. Be sure to ask “why”? as members respond.

 

  1. In the Connections Uniform Commentary, Brian Harbour moves right into his work with the text! On p86, what are 4 questions the Jews’ rejection of God’s plan raises? Later on p86, see 2 ideas that counter the notion that God’s plan is sabotaged. On p87-88, how does Paul explain fulfillment from both Gentile/Jewish perspectives? On p88, why did Paul caution Gentiles? On p89, why is grafting Gentiles “contrary to nature?”

 

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. A) Re-read Zechariah 8: 9-17 (Thursday’s Bible reading).
  2. B) How do these words help us think about the purposes of God? What is our responsibility?
  3. No one is beyond the reach of God’s salvation. What limits do you try to place on God’s love, mercy and grace? Why do we do so? Pray on these things, asking God for a more open heart and mind.

 

  1. See “Applying the Lesson” on p119 of the Uniform Teaching Guide. Have someone read Ephesians 4: 1-6 to the group. How can that text help us apply the lessons of this week’s scripture?

 

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


Connections Uniform 8-28-16

Love Fulfills the Law          Romans 12: 1-2; 13: 8-10

Focal Outline:           Romans 12: 1                         Present yourselves

                                    Romans 12: 2                         Tranformed by renewal

                                    Romans 13: 8-10                   Love one another

 

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

  1. Christians want to do what we’re supposed to do. We want to be faithful followers of Christ.
  2. The love of God in Christ is a love that causes us to give ourselves away for God—and others.
  3. Paul says that we are not to be conformed to this age and that we are to be transformed by renewal!
  4. We think of love as an emotion, and emotions can ebb and flow. God’s love is action and commitment.

 

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

  1. What are some specific issues you have with following through and living as a faithful follower?
  2. How do I understand the concept of giving myself away?
  3. What is Paul trying to convey with the warner about being “conformed” and about being “transformed”?
  4. How does God’s kind of love differ from mere emotion, if I put that love to work?

 

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!]

Owe no one anything, except to love one another… At times, I wonder if we are in danger of being tone-deaf to these words? That is, we Christians hear that we are to love one another so often, I’m not sure we know what to do with that notion. We believe these words. We are convinced they are true. Yet, they are ubiquitous because they are so central to our faith. Their familiarity causes us to take them for granted.

Love Fulfills the Law. That is our lesson title this week. “Preacher….you’re just talking too much on ‘love’ lately. ‘Love’ is all we hear about. We don’t get enough on sin or God’s judgment.” So began the note written a few years ago by a congregation member to a colleague of mine. Yet, Christ prescribed precisely that—love! Paul takes up that notion and says that this grace must be embodied as we move and breathe and have life each day. He even takes us back to Christ’s encounter with the one who inquired about the greatest commandment. Even further back, these words were familiar to Old Testament Jews.

But, are they too familiar? I think this week we’ve got to ask ourselves if we have gone tone-deaf to love? For even if we believe, sooner or later we must know what to do with that word (love) in order for Christ’s teaching (and Paul’s) to matter. What does love look like? How does love speak? What does love cost? Why does love matter? What are the risks of love? These are just some of the questions we might want to work with devotionally in the days ahead. So that we put some substance to the notion of love, and not just our sentiment. And so that when we hear the word—love—we see a face or are prompted to act. What say?

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

  1. What does it mean to be a living sacrifice? This is a hard question that our lesson writer asks in the lesson. (p139) You might see the full paragraph for more. See if your group won’t enjoy discussing.

 

  1. We think of biblical love as an emotion, and emotions can ebb and flow. (p143) If not mere emotion, how would you describe love as God has intended?

 

  1. Today, we study in Romans 13. Paul will use the agape concept of love. That is the Greek word for God’s specific kind of love. How do you understand that love to differ from other loves? How does this fulfill the Law?

 

  1. Take a look at “Beginning the Lesson” on p122 of your Connections Uniform Teaching Guide. What principles or convictions guide you in making hard choices?

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…

 

           Romans 12: 1                         Present yourselves

How many elements can you count in Paul’s appeal here in v1? What are they? What do they mean?

 

Romans 12: 2                         Tranformed by renewal

In v2a, what is the wise counsel? How does v2b help you to understand what is being asked of you? How does the last phrase—what is good and acceptable and perfect—help you to define the notion of God’s will?

Romans 13: 8-10                   Love one another

In v8, what is the “command” Paul is issuing? How, in v8, has this fulfilled the law? Have someone read v9 aloud. How is this true? How does v10 explain this?

 

  1. On p139 (lrge. print) our lesson author says, “Some Christians trudge through life just trying to hang on until they can get to heaven. But the Christian approach to life is to serve God with our entire being for as long as we’re here.” Where do you find yourself landing within this broad spectrum of responses? How so?

 

  1. How does Ph 2: 3-11 relate to our text? How about Mt 10: 39?

 

  1. On p141 our lesson writer says “Paul says that we are not to be conformed to this age and that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. How can we lessen the influence of this age on our thoughts, our attitudes and our actions?” And, at what trade-offs? How can we find the healthy balance?

 

  1. In the Connections Uniform Commentary, Brian Harbour begins by comparing Paul’s text in Romans with the episode Jesus had with the Pharisee in Mt 22: 36. Note the reminder that there were 613 laws by Jesus’ day! How did that make this question so complex? See p92 for some help with key words in Paul’s text. On p93, what are 4 ways it is better to be mastered by God than by the world? On p92, why are we in “debt”?

 

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. A) Spend some time reflecting on worship. What does worship mean to you?
  2. B) What does Paul mean by “worship” in our text? How can you worship in/out of the church building?
  3. What kinds of attitudes and motivations would we have if we had the mind of Christ? Read Ph 2: 3-11. How do Paul’s words in Philippians help us to understand his words here in Romans?

 

  1. See “Applying the Lesson” on p126 of the Uniform Teaching Guide. How can you demonstrate love for your neighbors beyond doing no harm to them?

 

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