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03-15-20 Formations

Form 3-15-2020

Purity and Defilement     Matthew 15:1-20

Focal Outline: Matthew 15: 1-2 Why break tradition?

Matthew 15: 3-14 You hypocrites!

Matthew 15: 15-20 Tell us more

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

1. Jesus says we shouldn’t follow tradition at the expense of serving God with sincere hearts.

2. Christians hold on to traditions today, even though some may have nothing to do with the Bible.    

3. Like the Pharisees, we are sometimes hypocrites without meaning to be.    

4. God’s priority is on purity of heart and regard for people first.  All our practices will be graded on these.

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

1. How do I evaluate my traditions and practices?  What can God do to help me keep a fresh heart?

2. What are some of the standards with which God views and evaluates our faith traditions or practices?

3. What are the unintended consequences of some of our deepest traditions?   What is some merit they bring?

4. How should God’s concern for the purity of heart guide us to evaluate and transform our own practices?

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!]

     Unintended consequences.  There are simply some things in life that started off with the best of intentions, only to lose their way.  Laws, traditions, labels—they can seem to originate from helpful roots.  Trouble is, sometimes our use of these can bring along some results we never thought might happen. A church recently passed a major change to its by-laws to bring greater transparency and participation in the use of its resources.  However, those who opposed warned of the unintended consequences.  Still, the change passed by a wide margin.  Sure enough, not six months went by before a time-sensitive job went unfunded because the new process had been legislated and now had to be followed!  

     Was Jesus out to be a rebel just for rebellion’s sake?  Did Jesus really dislike the church so much that He sought to cause any trouble He could?  No, Jesus just wanted us to think!  Jesus’ love for the church fueled His disappointment when He saw practices that were distorted beyond intent.  Jesus thought that people could do better, too.  When a tradition gets in the way of God’s greater hopes, the tradition needs to be revisited.

     Happily, in this week’s text Peter was willing to ask Jesus to clarify.  In that brief explanation, we gain further insight into God’s value system.  God seems more interested in what is at the heart of our practice than in how well we keep things in order.  God is far more concerned that our deeds do not add pain or injustice to the world than with the detail of how we do something.  What do you hear Jesus saying?  

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

1.  What do you remember being some of Jesus’ biggest run-ins with the authorities?  Talk within your group, summarizing some of Jesus’ showdowns with scribes or Pharisees.  How would Jesus evaluate your traditions?

2.  What traditions does your church uphold as important?  See how many your group can work together to name.  Have someone keep a list.  Looking individually, what purpose does each serve?  

3.  Are there aspects of your faith practice where you find yourself going through the motions, but your heart really is not invested?  What are some of those?  What might be some helpful responses you can give?  

4. How “biblical” should the Church’s traditions be?  Why?

5. What is a hypocrite?  Who is a hypocrite?  Why do you say so?  How are YOU a hypocrite?

Examination: (10-20 minutes – These help learners interact with the text, to see, feel, and hear God’s message.  There is NO way you’ll cover all the material.  Choose wisely; let the needs of your class and your prayerful discernment lead you!  Consult the Learner’s Study Guide and the Teacher’s Commentary for further insights.)

1. Matthew 15: 1-2 Why break tradition?

Why is the “who” of v1 important to understanding Jesus’ audience here?  Essentially, what accusation is being made with the question of v2?  Why did this tradition exist in Hebrew life?  

Matthew 15: 3-14 You hypocrites!

How do you understand the reply Jesus gave in v3-6?  What accusation did He make in this?  In v7-9, He follows up by making an application rooted in Hebrew prophecy.  How would you summarize His point here?  In v10-11, what lesson did Jesus make sure His followers took away from this experience?  

Matthew 15: 15-20 Tell us more

In v12-14, what happens?  How can this help us to get meaning from this episode?  In v15-16, why is Jesus as indignant to Peter as He is?  In v17-20, discuss the revelation Jesus gives by applying as He does.  

2.  Is Jesus saying that we shouldn’t follow traditions at the expense of serving God with sincere hearts.  Do you agree or disagree?  Why?  What might be some of the costs of us taking this seriously?  

3.  How does Ex 30: 17-20 relate to this passage?   How about Is 29: 13-19?

4.  Peter speaks up on behalf of all the disciples and admits that he does not understand what Jesus has said to the Pharisees.  Jesus is frustrated that His followers do not grasp His mean.  Why is this simple act by Peter so pivotal in today’s text?  What makes this a good spiritual quality to have?

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

Discuss any of the following questions… 

1.  a. Would Jesus find similar flaws in your faith that He found in the Pharisees beliefs?

    b. Ask God to show you how you are guilty of judging others based on your own traditions and ideas.

2.  How can we make sure that our actions and our hearts are pure and focused on God?  How can we help other people avoid becoming hypocrites?  These are sensitive matters.  Pray for God’s guidance as you serve.

3.  Close the class with prayers for truth telling, sincere hearts, openness to God.  Pray for those times when we are hypocrites and less interested in God’s truth.

People go, where they know, they have been prepared for and are cared for!

 

03-15-20 Connections

Connections 3-15-2020

The Lord Makes Us Psalm 95

Focal Outline: Psalm 95: 1-5 O come, let us sing

Psalm 95: 6-7a O come, let us worship

Psalm 95: 7b-11 ...listen to his voice

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

1.  The multiple calls in this psalm move us closer to God.               

2.  The beginning verses of this psalm invite us to celebrate God with vibrant worship.                       

3.  The middle verses call us to bow reverently before God because God is our Maker and our Shepherd.            

4.  Participation in worship reminds us of God’s great saving actions.            

 

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

1.  How have I heard or seen God calling me closer?     

2.  What can I do to bring my own sense of vibrancy to worship in my church?                    

3.  In what ways is God’s great work of Creation still ongoing?             

4.  What are some of God’s great saving actions in the Bible? In mylife?                           

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!]

How would you describe worship to someone who was unfamiliar with worship?  (#4 below) That is a quandary that some of you have no doubt lived. Yes?  Haven’t you tried before to describe your church’s worship experience to someone who was unfamiliar? Suddenly, something we ourselves might be quite familiar with can defy words. Especially if we are being careful about lazy use of “church” lingo they might not understand. Why do we gather for worship anyway? Beyond what we are to give to God in worship, what does God wish to give us as we gather regularly?  

Psalm 95 beckons us closer to God in worship. Using God’s creation acts, the case is made that we should come into God’s presence. We should make a joyful noise and offer our thanksgiving. God is our Maker and our Shepherd. I can never say to myself often enough: “God is God, and that means I don’t have to be.”  Isn’t that good news to you? Isn’t that worth occasionally celebrating and letting yourself proclaim?

The psalmist has one last bit of business here. A call for the people to not “harden” their hearts. A specific set of incidents is referenced in our psalm. This happened in Exodus 17, and was memorialized at Massah and Meribah. The people rebelled. We all can harden our hearts or rebel.  Sometimes it may simply be us forgetting God and the things of our God. Where are you most prone to this in your relationship with God?   

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

1.  How does our experience with Jesus remind us of God’s greatness?  Talk this over with your group. What else points us toward God’s greatness?                                                     

2.  Why do you worship God? How do you worship God? When  you say, ‘God is great,’ what do you mean? Discuss in your group.                                      

3.  Ancient Israel existed in a world where there were multiple gods. They were late in their formation coming to the idea that God was the only God. What other “gods” compete for your attention and worship today?    

         

4. Take a look at “Beginning the Lesson” on p78 in your Connections Teaching Guide.  How would you describe worship to someone who was unfamiliar with worship?  

 

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.

Psalm 95: 1-5 O come, let us sing

How would you describe the psalmist’s mood in v1-2? (joy, gratefulness) In v3-5, what seem to be some causes for that?  List all the attributes we hear in v3-5. 

 

Psalm 95: 6-7a O come, let us worship

What is the psalmist’s intended posture in v6-7a? (worshipful) How does the psalmist describe his position? (sheep)                                                                           

Psalm 95: 7b-11 ...listen to his voice                             

In v7b-8, what are the recommendations?  (listen, remain open) What is the back-story of the incident cited here in v8-11?  How does this connect with what this psalm has been proclaiming? Why would God reference that?                        

2. On p85 our lesson writer says  “How does our experience with Jesus expand our knowledge of God’s greatness?” How does this psalm intersect with your Christian faith?                                                                             

3. How does Ex 16: 1-35 relate to our lesson?  How about Jn 10: 1-18?     

4. On p89 our lesson writer says, “Worship is both celebratory and serious. God is both a loving caretaker and a mighty king and creator. We worship and serve a God who is simultaneously tender and awe-inspiring.” How well does this summary speak for you?  Why so?      

                                                                         

5. In the Connections Commentary, Brian Harbour declares “praise” to be the obvious flavor of this psalm. But for what 2 reasons? (p54) Who embodies this flavor of psalm from the Bible? (p55) Why are some reasons we should praise God? (see p55-6) What are some results of our experiences of worship in the presence of God? (p56) On p57, the psalmist issues a warning. What is that, and why?                

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. 1. A. Re-read Psalm 95. As you reflect on these verses, let your mind be drawn to your life in God’s Creation.                               

       B. Thank God for creating such wonders. Sit quietly. Sing. Reflect in silent reverence. Tune in.                                  

 

  1. 2. Reflect on God’s faithfulness to you and to your faith community. List times when you were sure that God was taking care of you or your church. Give thanks to God for all God has done for you. Ask forgiveness for the times you and your church have failed to remember God’s goodness.                               
  1. 3. See “Applying the Lesson” on p82 in the Uniform Teaching Guide. How does God use our worship experiences to form us as God’s people?                                               

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

03-22-19 Formations

Form 3-22-2020

Poverty and Power     Matthew 19:16-26

Focal Outline: Matthew 19:16-19 Questions and Answers

Matthew 19:20-22 Arrogance and Humility

Matthew 19:23-26 More Questions and Answers

Summary Statements: (to share an overview of the lesson…)

1. Adults today are challenged to share their faith and grow as disciples as they share.  Encourage them to share!

2. Sometimes sharing faith can cause us to change.  Sharing takes courage.   Encourage them to share!

3. Many of us try to control Christ so that they can live as we please!  Encourage your class to surrender!

4. God always leads us to people, places, and events that are bigger than we could ever imagine on our own!

Life Questions: (to help you focus your thoughts...)

1. How is God asking you to change and grow?  How does sharing your faith help you grow?

2. What are the risks of becoming a stronger Christian?  What do you want to happen in your faith?

3. Who are you as a child of Christ?  How can you “become who you already are”?  What does this mean?

4. When is a time when you have risked your faith and what were the outcomes?

Points to Ponder

NOTE:  The following outline is designed for about 40 minutes of teaching.  Use 3 to 5 different teaching techniques, making sure that you choose at least one idea from each of the three sections below.

     Today’s lesson continues to confront us in putting our faith into practice!  Trust God and live on bravely!  What does trust have to do with putting faith into practice?  EVERYTHING!!

     Many of our us are timid and reluctant to share our faith.  Sharing one’s faith does not make one a religious fanatic or a religious geek!  We need strong examples of those who share faith in a positive way.  We need to see that sharing our faith with respect gains us respect not loss of respect.  We also need to see that we have control over our own decisions; but, we have NO control over God or Jesus.  We decide to follow God; we cannot CONTROL God!  Following builds humility; a desire to control is arrogant!  Help your students understand these concepts this week.

     This is a powerful story; it was powerful then; and it is equally powerful NOW!  Imagine Bill Gates or Lebron James being forced to choose between keeping their billions of dollars and their mansions of stuff or following Christ!  Be sure to share a testimony from your own life this Sunday about how you have chosen to follow Christ.  Challenge your class to share openly and with courage!  Trust God and live on bravely!

     

Jump In! (5-15 minutes -These are designed to spark the learner’s interest in the lesson.)

1. Ask, “What are your five most prized possessions?”  Have them make a list.  Then ask them what each would cost were they to have to replace them.  Talk about how precious these items are.  Ask, “Does Jesus ask us to love HIM more than we love our possessions?”  (YES!)  How many of us are willing to really love Him at the level that HE asks?  Ask, “What are you willing to give up to serve God more?”

2. Ask, “When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?  What do you want to become now?”  Then continue the discussion, “What changed between your childhood days and now?  How do these shifts in thought mirror what has happened in your Christian witness?”  

3. Ask, “If you could change two things about yourself, what changes would you make?  Why?  If you could change two things about your Christian faith, what changes would you make?  Why?”  Can you change?  Will you?  How do we change things about our faith?  What are you willing to change?

4.  How does one “become what they already are”?  What are you already that YOU are becoming?

How does Christ help you grow?

Examination (10-20 minutes – These give learners opportunities to interact with the text, to see, feel, and hear God’s message.  Also, consult with the “Hearing, Understanding and Teaching the Scripture” section.)

1. Matthew 19:16-19 Questions and Answers

What is happening in this passage?  Who is asking the questions?  Why?  Who is supplying the answers?  Why?  What is the most puzzling question in this section?  What is the most intriguing answer?  What commandments does Jesus choose to list?  Why these?  What question does Jesus pose?  Why?  Why is following Jesus so difficult?  What about following Jesus is easy?  How are YOU doing with the EASY parts?  How are YOU doing with the HARD parts?  

Matthew 19:20-22 Arrogance and Humility

In what ways is this young person arrogant?  Are any of us truly blameless in trying to follow Christ?  What did this youth say in response to Jesus in verse 20?  How would verse 21 bring humility to the young man?  How are YOU like this young person?  Where did Jesus say the young man could find his treasure?  What did this really mean?  Ask, “What is keeping you from following Christ more closely?  What treasures are in your way of humble service?  What is risky about sharing your faith?”  How did the young man respond?  How have we responded in similar ways?

Matthew 19:23-26 More Questions and Answers

How does Jesus respond to the young man’s refusal?  What questions are raised by His response?  What questions do the disciples then have?  Why were they concerned?  To whom does Jesus give power and glory?  

What does this story have to do with risking our faith?  What do you think would have happened if the young man had done as Jesus had suggested?  What do you need to give up?  

2. What are some other biblical examples of persons who have risked their faith?  How did God bless them?  Do you think that as we give up what we have God takes us to even greater accomplishments than we ever thought possible?  Why or why not?

3. What does Exodus 20:12-16 have to do with this passage?  Do you think Jesus obeyed the 

10 Commandments?  Why or why not?  How do our material possessions eat away at our faith?  

Application: (5-15 minutes - This section is to give learners an opportunity to apply lesson truths to their lives!)

1. Have class members discuss the Difficult Choices they are facing.  Be as general as possible but talk about the culture and the challenges.  Keep folks comfortable as they are challenged to think, risk, and respond.

Why did Jesus ask SO much from the young man?  What do you think the young man expected?  What does Jesus expect from you?  What do you expect from Him?    

2. How does risking your faith help you grow?  What do you want to become as a disciple of serving Christ?  How are you already at that level?  What needs to happen to keep you humbly serving God?  Is this risky?

Ask, “Who are some people in our church who have risked following Christ?”  Allow a time of sharing and then close in a prayer of courage for each teen to follow the models of those they have mentioned.

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

03-22-19 Connections

Connections 3-22-2020

The Lord Shepherds Us Psalm 23

Focal Outline: Psalm 23: 1-3 He leads me

Psalm 23: 4 Even though

Psalm 23: 5-6 Surely goodness and mercy

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

1.  Yesterday’s experiences of God’s goodness provide the foundation for today’s trust and tomorrow’s peace.               

2.  We aren’t meant to be-- and aren’t capable of being-- completely in charge of every aspect of our lives.                       

3.  The journey to higher ground leads through the valleys.            

4.  We were created to belong to one another and to God.            

 

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

1.  What memories do I carry that testify to God’s fitness to lead my life?     

2.  For what do I need God’s movement and presence in my life?                    

3.  What should I be learning from the valleys life has taken me through?             

4.  How can my awareness of the communal nature of our faith add power to my trust in God and church?                             

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!]

Dark valleys are part of life’s terrain as much as they are of the earth’s geography. (p93)  But, I don’t like dark valleys. One of them seems to be one too many. When someone else is walking through the dark shadows, philosophizing about the value of the dark, shadowy land is much easier. As our turn comes, though, most of us could do without the pain. Why does God set life up such that we learn so powerfully from them? Where is the justice, as some seem to suffer more often than do others? 

One other important thing happens on p93. Our lesson writer reminds us as Christians of something important. God’s guidance on the ‘right paths’ is not a reprieve from life’s challenges. Our Shepherd cannot protect or shield us from every contingency that life may offer. The psalmist believes in something strong and powerful for his life. But that strength or power will guide him through the hurts, injustices and dangers that life can deliver. The assumption is that hurt or danger will come, and could do their damage. Still the Shepherd will deliver the sheep through the valley, rather than leaving them to stay there.        

We all long for higher, greener and more nourishing ground. The path to get there will inevitably lead us through the low valleys. Does this mean that God does not love us? Do life’s hardships and losses indicate the Creator’s absence? The same God of the mountain’s peaks is also the God of the valley’s lows, our lesson writer says. Scientifically, we cannot see shadows without a source of light. Even in life’s darkest moments, the light that makes shadows most visible is a gift from the presence of our God.  

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

1.  What are the protective “rods” and guiding “staffs” God has placed in your life? Lead the group in sharing instances of God’s guidance and shelter in life’s challenging times.                                                     

2.  How much space do worry and fear take up in your life? What are some of the sources of these anxieties? Discuss within your group.                                      

3.  When you consider the 23rd Psalm, who has been a “shepherd” figure in your life? Be specific, celebrating family, friends, co-workers or fellow church members who have protected and guided your journey.    

         

4. Take a look at “Beginning the Lesson” on p85 in your Connections Teaching Guide.  What are some words you would use to describe God as Shepherd in your life? 

 

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.

Psalm 23: 1-3 He leads me

In calling his Lord a “shepherd,” what are some qualities the psalmist seems to be affirming? Why, then, shall he not “want”? In v2-3, what do these pastoral images add to demonstrate the Lord’s keeping?  

 

Psalm 23: 4 Even though

 What does v4 assume to be a part of life? (dark valleys = pain, suffering, grief, etc.)  In v4, what does God’s keeping make possible for the psalmist? (diminished fear, comfort)                                                                        

Psalm 23: 5-6 Surely goodness and mercy                               

How does the tone shift in v5-6? What does this prepared “table” symbolize?  Why are “enemies” mentioned as possible guests? In v5, how does “anointing” fit in? How does v6 add to what we understand as blessings?                          

2. On p91 our lesson writer says, “Talking about trusting God wholeheartedly is easier than living in such trust. We all experience fear and anxiety.” How does this match with your experience of faith? Discuss with the group.                                                                             

3. How does Lk 10: 25-28 relate to our lesson?  How about Mt 22: 35-40?     

4. On p97 our lesson writer says, “God’s table is so generous that our cups overflow. God’s table welcomes everyone who will come.” Similar to the psalmist, discuss what God’s “table” looks like. What from a generous God can make our cups overflow in life?     

                                                                         

5. In the Connections Commentary, Brian Harbour begins by talking about how the psalmist believes God is a source of “renewal.” (v2-3a) How often do we need to be renewed? Read the background info on p59-60 about this. On p60-1, God’s “guidance” is explored in v3b.  In v4, how does a shepherd give “security”? On p62-3, what are God’s sources of “abundance” and “hope,” as shown in Psalm 23?              

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. 1. A. Read Psalm 23: 1-3 slowly.  What is it like to claim God as your Shepherd, with peace rest and guidance?                             

       B. Rest. Rest in the peace of knowing that God is your Shepherd.                                  

 

  1. 2. To whom or to what do you turn when you are in the valley? Consider reaching out to people who have helped or accompanied you, letting them know how much their care meant to you in the valley.                                
  1. 3. See “Applying the Lesson” on p89 in the Uniform Teaching Guide. How can we develop the same kind of trust in God as the psalmist displays?                                               

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