October 2003

Formations Lesson for November 2: The Table Set : Friday, Oct. 31, 2003

October 30 2003 by John Norman Jr.

Formations Lesson for November 2: The Table Set : Friday, Oct. 31, 2003
Friday, Oct. 31, 2003

Formations Lesson for November 2: The Table Set

By John Norman Jr.
Focal Passage: Matthew 26:7-30
Preparing for Passover

Matthew 26:17-19

The observance of Passover has always been important for those belonging to the Jewish tradition. It provides a time to remember the death angel's "passing over" the Hebrews when they readied themselves for liberation from Egypt.

Through the preparation and sharing of the Passover meal, God's act of deliverance is remembered and passed from one generation to the next. The elements of the meal symbolize the hardship experienced by the Hebrews at the hands of the Egyptians, as well as the freedom they were given by the hand of God. The significance of Passover was equally important to Jesus.

However, the life, death and resurrection of Christ gave new meaning to Passover, as he transformed a meal already laden with spiritual significance into a symbol of communion for His followers.

Self-examination is Part of the Supper

Matthew 26:20-25

The implementation of the Lord's Supper recorded in Matthew brings to mind that we should examine ourselves before we partake of the meal. Truly, none of us are worthy to eat at the table of the Lord. Many of us take for granted that we should receive the elements when they are passed.

We may rationalize that we are just as good as anyone else participating in the meal or maybe even better than some of the people participating in the meal. No one wants to be Judas, but the same spirits that infiltrated him are often alive in us -greed, manipulation, jealousy. Being given the chance for self-examination allows us to search our souls for those things that separate us from God and others. It is a time to reflect and seek forgiveness.

Christ's Death and the Forgiveness of Sin

Matthew 26:26-30

"Take, eat; this is my body. Drink ... this is my blood." These words of Jesus should run cold chills down the arms of Christians to this day. When we hear these words we envision the lifeless body and spilled blood associated with the cross of Christ.

The Romans accused the early church of cannibalism because of stories connected with the Lord's meal, but the first century Christians understood these words to refer to the forgiveness of sin found in the sacrifice of Jesus. They confessed that through the life, death and resurrection of Christ, God had taken responsibility for the sin of the world and made a way possible for the world's redemption. The Lord's Supper is a symbol of God's gracious gift of reunification between us and God.

In the film Babette's Feast, a wayward stranger named Babette arrives in the midst of a small Christian community on the coast of Denmark. Fleeing war torn France after the loss of her husband and son, she enters the service of unmarried sisters who work diligently to keep the memory and mission of their deceased father alive. Babette learns the ways of the close community, cooking meals of fish and bread stew and worshipping with them on Sundays. When news comes that Babette has won the French lottery, she determines to prepare a meal for her friends to honor the life of the community's founder.

As the meal takes shape, the pious community members decide to eat the meal out of courtesy to Babette, but determine not to enjoy it. When the meal is served to 12 guests sitting around a table, the feast is so delicious the gathered cannot help but enjoy themselves.

Unbeknownst to the community, Babette served as head chef in one of France's most prestigious restaurants, and has now spent her entire winnings to serve the people she loves. In the midst of the meal, broken relationships between the community members are restored and hope returns. Through the gift of the meal and fellowship around the table, a sense of transformation springs forth anew among the group.

When we observe the Lord's Supper, we once again enact a drama that plays itself out in the world - people starve for spiritual nourishment as well as physical sustenance. Communion should remind us that God cares for us body and soul. Christ fed the multitude with loaves and fish but also offered the crowd the bread of life. As followers of Jesus, we should minister to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness as well as those who hunger for food.

10/30/2003 11:00:00 PM by John Norman Jr. | with 0 comments



Family Bible Study Lesson for November 16: Taking the Good News to Others : Friday, Oct. 31, 2003

October 30 2003 by Mary Fillinger

Family Bible Study Lesson for November 16: Taking the Good News to Others : Friday, Oct. 31, 2003
Friday, Oct. 31, 2003

Family Bible Study Lesson for November 16: Taking the Good News to Others

By Mary Fillinger
Focal passages: Acts 13:1-3, 28-32, 38-39, 45-48
The growth of worldwide missions was one of the most important developments in the history of the church. Jesus promised and commanded in Acts 1:8 that His spirit-filled disciples were to be His witnesses to the end of the earth. In that day, as in our own time, we need to hear good news. And the best news in the world is that Jesus died on the cross for us to save us from our sins. He has paid the penalty, and by believing in Him, we can go free.

Sending a Light Out

Acts 13:1-3

Acts 13:1 lists five men in the church at Antioch who were identified as prophets and teachers. The word for "prophets," as used in the New Testament, often refers to those who proclaim the gospel, rather than those who foretell the future.

Antioch was the logical city to become the launching pad for a world missionary enterprise. It was the third largest city in the Roman Empire, smaller only than Rome and Alexandria. Facing the Gentile world of Asia Minor and Europe, it was still within striking distance of Jerusalem.

Church leaders in Antioch were engaged in a special time of prayer and fasting to seek the will of God as to the direction they should go. In such a setting, it was possible for the Holy Spirit to speak to them clearly. God had a plan and that plan included sending out Barnabas and Saul to be the first missionaries.

It was altogether appropriate that the great missionary enterprise began with a prayer meeting. The participants in the prayer meeting recognized the importance of the new undertaking. So, they fasted and prayed. Then they laid their hands on the two missionary candidates, ordaining them to the new mission outreach. When the church cooperates with the Holy Spirit, the work of the Lord prospers.

Weaving the Past into the Present

Acts 13:28-32

Paul had been given an invitation to address those that were in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Paul wanted to proclaim the same truths that Stephen had announced to the hearers in Jerusalem. Paul began to weave past events of the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus into a meaningful whole. Paul wanted to make a clear statement as to the events that had taken place and their significance to these people.

The First Opportunity

Acts 13:38-39

Paul wanted to be sure his audience understood that Jesus is the only true way to have their sins forgiven and their souls cleansed. Through Jesus they had the opportunity to become completely acceptable in the sight of God the Father. Paul wanted them to realize that only through faith in Jesus and not by the law of Moses could they be saved.

Consistency

Acts 13:45-48

A vast number of people were assembled together to hear Paul. There were also many unbelieving Jews who wanted to cause trouble. They didn't want the people converted and they didn't like the popularity that was accompanying the apostles. Despite their efforts, they could not keep Paul from preaching about Jesus and the good news of the gospel. In contradicting Paul's message, they blasphemed.

Paul and Barnabas were not deterred, but grew more courageous and bold in their speech and message. They expressed strongly that no person is worthy of eternal life because of anything he or she might do. Salvation comes as a free gift of God. Those who persisted in rejecting the gospel were passing sentence upon themselves.

Since the Jews rejected the preaching of the gospel, Paul told them the gospel would be carried to the Gentiles, as predicted in Isaiah 49:6. Many Gentiles in the crowd rejoiced to hear that they could be saved, and believed. As a result, the word of the Lord began to spread throughout the region.

10/30/2003 11:00:00 PM by Mary Fillinger | with 0 comments



Family Bible Study Lesson for November 23: Confronting Other World Views : Friday, Oct. 31, 2003

October 30 2003 by Mary Fillinger

Family Bible Study Lesson for November 23: Confronting Other World Views : Friday, Oct. 31, 2003
Friday, Oct. 31, 2003

Family Bible Study Lesson for November 23: Confronting Other World Views

By Mary Fillinger
Focal passages: Acts 17:16-20, 22-28, 29-31
Success and persecution marked Paul's ministry almost everywhere he went. Often persecution came because of success.

Many times during his first missionary journey, dissenting Jews became jealous of Paul's popularity and stirred up persecution against him. Now, the same thing was happening as he traveled into Europe. Success and persecution seemed to comprise the rhythm of the apostle's life.

A Purposeful Ministry

Acts 17:16-20

While Paul was in Athens waiting for Silas and Timothy, he became distressed at the city being full of idols. Paul had a twofold ministry in Athens: first to the Jews and God-fearing Greeks in the synagogue on the Sabbath, and second to the Gentiles in the marketplace on weekdays. He evidently kept this up every week.

A favorite method of teaching in Athens was to hold open discussions in the Agora, or marketplace. Paul adapted himself to this opportunity, in order to reach as many people as possible with the gospel of Jesus.

Some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with Paul in the marketplace. The Epicureans and Stoics took Paul and brought him to speak before their supreme council, the Aeropagus.

This council, being responsible for supervising the religious life of the city, questioned Paul. They wanted to know what this new teaching was that Paul was presenting to them and the people. They felt that these were some strange ideas to their ears and they wanted to know exactly what was meant. They didn't want some religious renegade running wild in their city. Athens was the greatest intellectual center in the world at that time and they wanted to keep it that way.

Bringing Light to Darkness

Acts 17:22-28

Paul gladly joined the city's leading philosophers in their meeting place on Mars Hill, and said "I see that in every way you are very religious."

Paul commented on an image he had seen with the inscription: "To the Unknown God." Then, taking this inscription as his text, he preached to them about the true God. The true God is the creator of the universe, and so cannot be confined to a temple.

Verse 26 says, "And He made from one blood all nations of men to settle on the face of the earth, having definitely determined (their) allotted periods of time and the fixed boundaries of their habitation." This is the divine answer for all racial prejudice: basically, we all belong to the same race, the human race.

In verse 28 Paul quoted from the Greek poet Epimenides: "For in Him we live and move and have our being; as even some of your (own) poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring.'"

Simple Explanations

Acts 17:29-31

Paul declared that God permitted humans to walk in their own way, but lost in ignorance, they were not able to discover God. Through the resurrection of Christ, God gave a new revelation. Calling all to repent and be saved before the judgment.

Paul's sermon ended abruptly, due to the adverse reaction of some of the listeners. Some of the people mocked Paul when he mentioned the resurrection.

They understood fully that he was speaking of life after death. The Epicureans for the most part rejected any form of an afterlife. To the Stoics, who believed in immortality of the soul, resurrection was inconceivable. Despite the negative reaction of some, others were interested in knowing more.

It is still true that success often brings persecution. The man who does nothing creates no disturbance. But when people begin to witness powerfully for Jesus, Satan will stir up opposition.

10/30/2003 11:00:00 PM by Mary Fillinger | with 0 comments



Formations lesson for November 16: The Table is Bare : Friday, Oct. 31, 2003

October 30 2003 by John Norman Jr.

Formations lesson for November 16: The Table is Bare : Friday, Oct. 31, 2003
Friday, Oct. 31, 2003

Formations lesson for November 16: The Table is Bare

By John Norman Jr.
Focal passages: Amos 2:6-8, 5:18-27, 6:4-7
Profaning God's Name

Amos 2:6-8

There are two things I remember about the book of Amos from studying it during my seminary days - the delivery of its message and the message's content. The delivery of the message is a bit of preaching perfection. Amos began his sermon with pronouncements against Israel's neighbors and ended by bringing the most stinging indictment against Israel itself. With each pronouncement of "Thus says the Lord ...," Amos preached against the surrounding peoples and told of God's judgment for their indiscretions.

You can almost imagine that as each nation was mentioned one by one; those in Israel gave Amos a resounding "amen" for his setting the nations straight. But, just as Nathan wove a web in which David found himself ensnared and had his own sin brought before his eyes, Amos also caught the people of Israel in a trap which brought to light their sin and how God was going to deal with that sin.

The content of Amos' proclamation, on the whole, has to do with social justice, or the ways in which members of a group treat one another. According to Amos, Israel's social injustice had to do with the mistreatment of the poor. There was inequality in the treatment of those who were less fortunate by those who were better off. But notice something interesting about those who were treating the poor improperly - they engaged in religious acts. Perhaps they thought they were religious, but God was not represented correctly in their words or actions.

Unacceptable Offerings

Amos 5:18-27

No one wants to have an offering rejected, whether it is Cain, Israel or us. However, that is exactly what happened to the people as God attempted to get their attention through the preaching of Amos. Indeed, God was not impressed with their misguided religious activities. God was not interested in gatherings, offerings or music. Yet, it was not necessarily what the Israelites offered as much as the way it was offered - without consideration for the poor.

In Amos 5:24, it seems we find the theme for the entire book and the heartfelt desire of God for the people. "But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." God wants religion to transform people's lives so they look after each other just like they look after themselves. God desires a community where people are treated justly. And, according to Amos, the way to achieve this is to have a close relationship with God, just as Israel did in the wilderness.

The Pride of Jacob

Amos 6:4-7

However, the luxury of Israel had skewed its vision. The wealth of Israel had become its master. Thus, Israel had to face the consequences of its decisions and enter exile. It would be most difficult on those who had lived in comfort. The less fortunate would experience little difference. The intention of the exile was for Israel to return to its relationship with God and realize its dependence on God.

For me, the book of Amos is one of the most challenging books of the Bible to read. Although it is set in 8th century B.C. and records the prophetic ministry of the man from Tekoa in Judah to the people of Israel, it also speaks to us today. The church in the United States must hear the words of God spoken through Amos because we too are tempted to focus on our wealth and forget the less fortunate.

As we think about the problem of hunger around the world, Christians in America need to be mindful of the text in Amos. Being mindful of our brothers and sisters who are in need is a means of being faithful to God. Too often we outright neglect the hungry - this is unacceptable.

You may have heard the saying, "Give a person a fish and you feed him/her for a day; teach a person to fish and you feed him/her for a lifetime." Sometimes we are called to meet the needs of the day. Other times, we are called to meet the needs of a lifetime. Regardless, as Amos reminds us, our faith demands that we act.

10/30/2003 11:00:00 PM by John Norman Jr. | with 0 comments



Formations lesson for November 23: A Table for All : Friday, Oct. 31, 2003

October 30 2003 by John Norman Jr.

Formations lesson for November 23: A Table for All : Friday, Oct. 31, 2003
Friday, Oct. 31, 2003

Formations lesson for November 23: A Table for All

By John Norman Jr.
Focal passage: Luke 14:7-14
Surely, we all remember the life lessons taught to us as children concerning manners at the table. Instructions which included; "Do not chew with your mouth open," and "Do not put your elbows on the table." These etiquette tips were intended to show respect to others while eating. In today's study, we find Jesus giving instructions for table fellowship in the kingdom of God.

Rules for Kingdom Guests

Luke 14:7-11

Let's face it - we all want the best seat when we attend an event. Whether it is a basketball game, movie or restaurant, we desire to sit in "the" spot. In addition, once we get the prime seat, we feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. So, isn't that the way things work in the kingdom? Not quite. In these verses, we find Jesus once again dining with others and simultaneously teaching about kingdom table etiquette.

The common thought of Jesus' day was much like our own, obtaining the best place at the table was of utmost importance. But, Jesus taught the exact opposite of this. He encouraged his followers to humble themselves and to take "any" seat rather than worrying that they have the "best" one. Jesus said a place in the kingdom is not something to be expected but received as a gift.

Rules for Kingdom Hosts

Luke 14:12-14

Jesus also used this opportunity to teach kingdom etiquette to those who host meals. Like the guests in the story who wanted only the best seats in the house, he talked about hosts who have a similar mindset with the guest list. Jesus encouraged hosts to be mindful of whom they consider to be the "best." Jesus said the ones who should be invited to share the meal are "the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind."

In Luke's Gospel, those who lived on the margin had a way of making it into the storyline. Take the birth of Christ for instance. Instead of including the wise men in the birth narrative, as in Matthew, Luke chose to include the shepherds. Some have said that in Matthew's account the "Who's Who" show up to welcome Jesus, but in Luke it is the "Who's that?" who greet him. In our scripture today, Jesus tells the hosts to send their invitations to those whom everyone else would overlook. For in so doing, they will be blessed in the resurrection.

Conclusion

As Jesus participated in this meal he taught lessons about kingdom etiquette. This included instructions for guests as well as hosts. According to Jesus, kingdom etiquette has an influence on this life as well as the life to come. The above guidelines given by Christ show us a way of living and behaving with others that honors God's desire that all would be fed physically and spiritually. But how does this translate into our daily lives? How do we apply these kingdom etiquette lessons today?

In his book, How Much is Enough? Arthur Simon (founder of Bread for the World) suggests some practical lessons for living in the kingdom in the face of poverty and hunger. Consider ten of his suggestions:

1. Begin and continue with prayer.

2. Decide on some steps, small ones at first, that allow your faith to become more active in love.

3. Deepen your devotional life.

4. Give special thought to your role in the church and its mission.

5. Give special consideration to the most vulnerable.

6. Give wisely.

7. Begin to see the world through the eyes of God.

8. Help your children from the youngest age on up to learn the joy of giving.

9. Take care of God's creation.

10. Consider Jesus your most trusted advisor. (pages 183-185)

Etiquette is important no matter at whose table we are dining. The guidelines for eating with Christ include humility in attending and hosting a meal.

In following the kingdom etiquette of Jesus, we show respect for the hungry of the world. We also become mindful of those who are not normally invited to the banquet, and humbly begin to meet their needs.

10/30/2003 11:00:00 PM by John Norman Jr. | with 0 comments



Biblical Recorder:Family Bible Study Lesson for November 16: Taking the Good News to Others

October 30 2003 by Mary Fillinger , Focal passages: Acts 13:1-3, 28-32, 38-39, 45-48

Biblical Recorder:Family Bible Study Lesson for November 16: Taking the Good News to Others

| Home | NewsOpinion | Baptist Life | Sunday SchoolFriday, Oct. 31, 2003

By Mary Fillinger

Focal passages: Acts 13:1-3, 28-32, 38-39, 45-48

The growth of worldwide missions was one of the most important developments in the history of the church. Jesus promised and commanded in Acts 1:8 that His spirit-filled disciples were to be His witnesses to the end of the earth. In that day, as in our own time, we need to hear good news. And the best news in the world is that Jesus died on the cross for us to save us from our sins. He has paid the penalty, and by believing in Him, we can go free. Sending a Light OutActs 13:1-3Acts 13:1 lists five men in the church at Antioch who were identified as prophets and teachers. The word for "prophets," as used in the New Testament, often refers to those who proclaim the gospel, rather than those who foretell the future. Antioch was the logical city to become the launching pad for a world missionary enterprise. It was the third largest city in the Roman Empire, smaller only than Rome and Alexandria. Facing the Gentile world of Asia Minor and Europe, it was still within striking distance of Jerusalem.Church leaders in Antioch were engaged in a special time of prayer and fasting to seek the will of God as to the direction they should go. In such a setting, it was possible for the Holy Spirit to speak to them clearly. God had a plan and that plan included sending out Barnabas and Saul to be the first missionaries. It was altogether appropriate that the great missionary enterprise began with a prayer meeting. The participants in the prayer meeting recognized the importance of the new undertaking. So, they fasted and prayed. Then they laid their hands on the two missionary candidates, ordaining them to the new mission outreach. When the church cooperates with the Holy Spirit, the work of the Lord prospers. Weaving the Past into the PresentActs 13:28-32 Paul had been given an invitation to address those that were in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Paul wanted to proclaim the same truths that Stephen had announced to the hearers in Jerusalem. Paul began to weave past events of the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus into a meaningful whole. Paul wanted to make a clear statement as to the events that had taken place and their significance to these people.The First OpportunityActs 13:38-39Paul wanted to be sure his audience understood that Jesus is the only true way to have their sins forgiven and their souls cleansed. Through Jesus they had the opportunity to become completely acceptable in the sight of God the Father. Paul wanted them to realize that only through faith in Jesus and not by the law of Moses could they be saved. ConsistencyActs 13:45-48A vast number of people were assembled together to hear Paul. There were also many unbelieving Jews who wanted to cause trouble. They didn't want the people converted and they didn't like the popularity that was accompanying the apostles. Despite their efforts, they could not keep Paul from preaching about Jesus and the good news of the gospel. In contradicting Paul's message, they blasphemed.Paul and Barnabas were not deterred, but grew more courageous and bold in their speech and message. They expressed strongly that no person is worthy of eternal life because of anything he or she might do. Salvation comes as a free gift of God. Those who persisted in rejecting the gospel were passing sentence upon themselves. Since the Jews rejected the preaching of the gospel, Paul told them the gospel would be carried to the Gentiles, as predicted in Isaiah 49:6. Many Gentiles in the crowd rejoiced to hear that they could be saved, and believed. As a result, the word of the Lord began to spread throughout the region.| Home | NewsOpinion | Baptist Life |

10/30/2003 11:00:00 PM by Mary Fillinger , Focal passages: Acts 13:1-3, 28-32, 38-39, 45-48 | with 0 comments



Biblical Recorder:Family Bible Study Lesson for November 23: Confronting Other World Views

October 30 2003 by Mary Fillinger , Focal passages: Acts 17:16-20, 22-28, 29-31

Biblical Recorder:Family Bible Study Lesson for November 23: Confronting Other World Views

| Home | NewsOpinion | Baptist Life | Sunday SchoolFriday, Oct. 31, 2003

By Mary Fillinger

Focal passages: Acts 17:16-20, 22-28, 29-31

Success and persecution marked Paul's ministry almost everywhere he went. Often persecution came because of success. Many times during his first missionary journey, dissenting Jews became jealous of Paul's popularity and stirred up persecution against him. Now, the same thing was happening as he traveled into Europe. Success and persecution seemed to comprise the rhythm of the apostle's life.A Purposeful MinistryActs 17:16-20While Paul was in Athens waiting for Silas and Timothy, he became distressed at the city being full of idols. Paul had a twofold ministry in Athens: first to the Jews and God-fearing Greeks in the synagogue on the Sabbath, and second to the Gentiles in the marketplace on weekdays. He evidently kept this up every week. A favorite method of teaching in Athens was to hold open discussions in the Agora, or marketplace. Paul adapted himself to this opportunity, in order to reach as many people as possible with the gospel of Jesus.Some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with Paul in the marketplace. The Epicureans and Stoics took Paul and brought him to speak before their supreme council, the Aeropagus. This council, being responsible for supervising the religious life of the city, questioned Paul. They wanted to know what this new teaching was that Paul was presenting to them and the people. They felt that these were some strange ideas to their ears and they wanted to know exactly what was meant. They didn't want some religious renegade running wild in their city. Athens was the greatest intellectual center in the world at that time and they wanted to keep it that way. Bringing Light to DarknessActs 17:22-28Paul gladly joined the city's leading philosophers in their meeting place on Mars Hill, and said "I see that in every way you are very religious." Paul commented on an image he had seen with the inscription: "To the Unknown God." Then, taking this inscription as his text, he preached to them about the true God. The true God is the creator of the universe, and so cannot be confined to a temple. Verse 26 says, "And He made from one blood all nations of men to settle on the face of the earth, having definitely determined (their) allotted periods of time and the fixed boundaries of their habitation." This is the divine answer for all racial prejudice: basically, we all belong to the same race, the human race. In verse 28 Paul quoted from the Greek poet Epimenides: "For in Him we live and move and have our being; as even some of your (own) poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring.'" Simple Explanations Acts 17:29-31 Paul declared that God permitted humans to walk in their own way, but lost in ignorance, they were not able to discover God. Through the resurrection of Christ, God gave a new revelation. Calling all to repent and be saved before the judgment. Paul's sermon ended abruptly, due to the adverse reaction of some of the listeners. Some of the people mocked Paul when he mentioned the resurrection. They understood fully that he was speaking of life after death. The Epicureans for the most part rejected any form of an afterlife. To the Stoics, who believed in immortality of the soul, resurrection was inconceivable. Despite the negative reaction of some, others were interested in knowing more.It is still true that success often brings persecution. The man who does nothing creates no disturbance. But when people begin to witness powerfully for Jesus, Satan will stir up opposition.| Home | NewsOpinion | Baptist Life |

10/30/2003 11:00:00 PM by Mary Fillinger , Focal passages: Acts 17:16-20, 22-28, 29-31 | with 0 comments



Biblical Recorder:Formations lesson for November 16: The Table is Bare

October 30 2003 by John Norman Jr. , Focal passages: Amos 2:6-8, 5:18-27, 6:4-7

Biblical Recorder:Formations lesson for November 16: The Table is Bare

| Home | NewsOpinion | Baptist Life | Sunday SchoolFriday, Oct. 31, 2003

By John Norman Jr.

Focal passages: Amos 2:6-8, 5:18-27, 6:4-7

Profaning God's NameAmos 2:6-8There are two things I remember about the book of Amos from studying it during my seminary days - the delivery of its message and the message's content. The delivery of the message is a bit of preaching perfection. Amos began his sermon with pronouncements against Israel's neighbors and ended by bringing the most stinging indictment against Israel itself. With each pronouncement of "Thus says the Lord ...," Amos preached against the surrounding peoples and told of God's judgment for their indiscretions. You can almost imagine that as each nation was mentioned one by one; those in Israel gave Amos a resounding "amen" for his setting the nations straight. But, just as Nathan wove a web in which David found himself ensnared and had his own sin brought before his eyes, Amos also caught the people of Israel in a trap which brought to light their sin and how God was going to deal with that sin.The content of Amos' proclamation, on the whole, has to do with social justice, or the ways in which members of a group treat one another. According to Amos, Israel's social injustice had to do with the mistreatment of the poor. There was inequality in the treatment of those who were less fortunate by those who were better off. But notice something interesting about those who were treating the poor improperly - they engaged in religious acts. Perhaps they thought they were religious, but God was not represented correctly in their words or actions.Unacceptable OfferingsAmos 5:18-27No one wants to have an offering rejected, whether it is Cain, Israel or us. However, that is exactly what happened to the people as God attempted to get their attention through the preaching of Amos. Indeed, God was not impressed with their misguided religious activities. God was not interested in gatherings, offerings or music. Yet, it was not necessarily what the Israelites offered as much as the way it was offered - without consideration for the poor.In Amos 5:24, it seems we find the theme for the entire book and the heartfelt desire of God for the people. "But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." God wants religion to transform people's lives so they look after each other just like they look after themselves. God desires a community where people are treated justly. And, according to Amos, the way to achieve this is to have a close relationship with God, just as Israel did in the wilderness. The Pride of JacobAmos 6:4-7However, the luxury of Israel had skewed its vision. The wealth of Israel had become its master. Thus, Israel had to face the consequences of its decisions and enter exile. It would be most difficult on those who had lived in comfort. The less fortunate would experience little difference. The intention of the exile was for Israel to return to its relationship with God and realize its dependence on God.For me, the book of Amos is one of the most challenging books of the Bible to read. Although it is set in 8th century B.C. and records the prophetic ministry of the man from Tekoa in Judah to the people of Israel, it also speaks to us today. The church in the United States must hear the words of God spoken through Amos because we too are tempted to focus on our wealth and forget the less fortunate. As we think about the problem of hunger around the world, Christians in America need to be mindful of the text in Amos. Being mindful of our brothers and sisters who are in need is a means of being faithful to God. Too often we outright neglect the hungry - this is unacceptable. You may have heard the saying, "Give a person a fish and you feed him/her for a day; teach a person to fish and you feed him/her for a lifetime." Sometimes we are called to meet the needs of the day. Other times, we are called to meet the needs of a lifetime. Regardless, as Amos reminds us, our faith demands that we act.| Home | NewsOpinion | Baptist Life |

10/30/2003 11:00:00 PM by John Norman Jr. , Focal passages: Amos 2:6-8, 5:18-27, 6:4-7 | with 0 comments



Biblical Recorder:Formations lesson for November 23: A Table for All

October 30 2003 by John Norman Jr. , Focal passage: Luke 14:7-14

Biblical Recorder:Formations lesson for November 23: A Table for All

| Home | NewsOpinion | Baptist Life | Sunday SchoolFriday, Oct. 31, 2003

By John Norman Jr.

Focal passage: Luke 14:7-14

Surely, we all remember the life lessons taught to us as children concerning manners at the table. Instructions which included; "Do not chew with your mouth open," and "Do not put your elbows on the table." These etiquette tips were intended to show respect to others while eating. In today's study, we find Jesus giving instructions for table fellowship in the kingdom of God.Rules for Kingdom GuestsLuke 14:7-11Let's face it - we all want the best seat when we attend an event. Whether it is a basketball game, movie or restaurant, we desire to sit in "the" spot. In addition, once we get the prime seat, we feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. So, isn't that the way things work in the kingdom? Not quite. In these verses, we find Jesus once again dining with others and simultaneously teaching about kingdom table etiquette. The common thought of Jesus' day was much like our own, obtaining the best place at the table was of utmost importance. But, Jesus taught the exact opposite of this. He encouraged his followers to humble themselves and to take "any" seat rather than worrying that they have the "best" one. Jesus said a place in the kingdom is not something to be expected but received as a gift.Rules for Kingdom HostsLuke 14:12-14Jesus also used this opportunity to teach kingdom etiquette to those who host meals. Like the guests in the story who wanted only the best seats in the house, he talked about hosts who have a similar mindset with the guest list. Jesus encouraged hosts to be mindful of whom they consider to be the "best." Jesus said the ones who should be invited to share the meal are "the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind."In Luke's Gospel, those who lived on the margin had a way of making it into the storyline. Take the birth of Christ for instance. Instead of including the wise men in the birth narrative, as in Matthew, Luke chose to include the shepherds. Some have said that in Matthew's account the "Who's Who" show up to welcome Jesus, but in Luke it is the "Who's that?" who greet him. In our scripture today, Jesus tells the hosts to send their invitations to those whom everyone else would overlook. For in so doing, they will be blessed in the resurrection.ConclusionAs Jesus participated in this meal he taught lessons about kingdom etiquette. This included instructions for guests as well as hosts. According to Jesus, kingdom etiquette has an influence on this life as well as the life to come. The above guidelines given by Christ show us a way of living and behaving with others that honors God's desire that all would be fed physically and spiritually. But how does this translate into our daily lives? How do we apply these kingdom etiquette lessons today?In his book, How Much is Enough? Arthur Simon (founder of Bread for the World) suggests some practical lessons for living in the kingdom in the face of poverty and hunger. Consider ten of his suggestions: 1. Begin and continue with prayer.2. Decide on some steps, small ones at first, that allow your faith to become more active in love.3. Deepen your devotional life.4. Give special thought to your role in the church and its mission.5. Give special consideration to the most vulnerable.6. Give wisely.7. Begin to see the world through the eyes of God.8. Help your children from the youngest age on up to learn the joy of giving.9. Take care of God's creation.10. Consider Jesus your most trusted advisor. (pages 183-185)Etiquette is important no matter at whose table we are dining. The guidelines for eating with Christ include humility in attending and hosting a meal. In following the kingdom etiquette of Jesus, we show respect for the hungry of the world. We also become mindful of those who are not normally invited to the banquet, and humbly begin to meet their needs. | Home | NewsOpinion | Baptist Life |

10/30/2003 11:00:00 PM by John Norman Jr. , Focal passage: Luke 14:7-14 | with 0 comments



Seven styles of teen faith formation : Friday, Oct. 31, 2003

October 30 2003 by Mark Wingfield

Seven styles of teen faith formation : Friday, Oct. 31, 2003
Friday, Oct. 31, 2003

Seven styles of teen faith formation

By Mark Wingfield
(Texas) Baptist Standard
HOUSTON-American teenagers hold religious beliefs in at least seven distinctive ways, ranging from the conventional to those completely lost to the church, according to a social researcher.

These seven categories of youth religion were outlined during the annual meeting of the Religious Research Association by Carol Lytch, a researcher with the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Louisville, Ky. Her report was based on in-depth research among high school seniors related to three Louisville congregations - one Catholic, one Methodist and one evangelical. The study was funded by the Lilly Endowment.

Lytch classified the teenagers' views on their own faith development in seven categories: the conventionals, the classics, the reclaimed, the marginalized, the customizers, the rejecters and those lost to the church.

Though the data paints starkly different pictures of how teens approach faith, it may provide validation for what youth leaders see in the teens with whom they work, Lytch said in an interview.

"One of the jobs of the church is to help teens through this formative time when they get a sense of themselves," she explained. Given the variety of approaches teens take to faith, a primary goal of the church should be "helping teens see themselves as in Christ and what that means," she added.

Lytch acknowledged she "didn't know what I was going to come up with" when she began the research, but she soon started to see patterns emerge.

Here is a summary of the differences she found:

Conventionals

These teens adhere strongly to the authority of their religious traditions. Their primary circle of influence is their immediate family, with Christian friends forming what Lytch calls "a second ring of intimacy."

Conventionals are modest in appearance, Lytch said, although they generally "blend in with their peers by wearing a less-extreme version of what is considered stylish in their reference group."

"These teens want to stand out because of their testimony to God, not because they look like nerds," she said.

Conventionals structure their belief system around their confidence of spending eternity in heaven. "Among conventionals, heaven comes up as a topic of conversation at least as frequently as God," Lytch noted.

The ultimate rite of passage for conventionals is professing faith in Jesus Christ as Savior, although that cannot be considered a passage from youth into adulthood because it generally occurs at an earlier age, Lytch said. "Instead, for conventionals the rite of passage to adulthood is marriage, the formation of the adult family unit. Of all the teens in my sample, conventionals were the ones who exhibited the most interest in finding not just a girlfriend or a boyfriend but a future spouse."

Because of this, conventionals face an "extra incentive" to get married, she said. "Unmarried adults, especially the never-marrieds, and most especially the female never-marrieds, occupy an ambigious status" and "are not held in the same high regard as role models to the teens."

Sexual purity is the "crucible" of personal ethics for conventionals, Lytch reported. Other major issues for testing right and wrong in the mind of conventionals include opposition to abortion, evolution and homosexuality, as well as living a drug-free and alcohol-free life.

Classics

These teenagers show respect for their parents but have begun to focus on peer relationships as sources of intimacy, Lytch said. "While these teens respect their parents, they choose to spend time with their friends more often than with their parents."

Classics have both Christian and non-Christian friends and struggle to maintain a consistent lifestyle among the two groups. They are likely to belong to groups such as Fellowship of Christian Athletes and to participate in "See You at the Pole" but are less likely than conventionals to "target" others for evangelism.

In appearance, classics are "not as uniformly neat as the conventionals" but still avoid extreme displays, Lytch said.

In fact, classics may be put-off by Christians who make appearance too much of a focus, she said, citing the story of Jeff as an example. Jeff's mother pulled him out of a Christian school because teachers were criticizing his shoulder-length hair. "Classics distinguish what is custom, like hair style, from what is the classic event, the theology at the heart of the Christian tradition - the focus upon Jesus as the Christ."

In theology, classics are open to inter-racial dating, to reconsidering traditional understandings of homosexuality as sin and to finding truth in other religions.

Yet classics are "serious about God," Lytch said. "They tend to be disciplined in their study of the Bible. They look at the world, their goals, their relationships and moral issues through the lens of the Christian tradition."

The rite of passage for classics is their acceptance of adult-like responsibility for themselves, Lytch said.

In moral decision-making, classics are much like conventionals, saying they are guided by the Ten Commandments, the Bible and the values of their parents. The places where classics encounter moral dilemmas are less predictable than with conventionals, however. Lytch cites these examples of classics confronting moral choices: The temptation to drink and use drugs at a party, racism among peers, taking a stand against hypocrisy in the church.

While conventionals are more inclined to accept religious traditions the way they are, classics do not see religion dictating uncontested standards, Lytch said. "The tradition attracts them because they believe it is true and because it is open to reformation."

Reclaimers

These are teens Lytch said she first thought should be classified as conventionals or classics but who didn't look the same as conventionals or classics. "They dressed sloppily or showed some evidence of rebelliousness." For example, one girl showed up for an interview wearing a skirt held together only by a safety pin.

"A closer look at these teens revealed they were more than a hybrid type of the conventionals and classics; they shared a common experience that set them apart - they had broken with the tradition in a significant way before reclaiming it."

Reclaimers do not consider their parents in their inner-circle of intimacy. Rather, they selectively choose family members to whom they desire to be close.

Reclaimers are not close to many of their peers either, Lytch said. Those they are the closest to tend to be those in their non-Christian peer group to whom they actively witness about faith in Christ.

"Reclaimers have an intense experience of being saved by God, and this grounds their sense" of theological self-awareness, Lytch said. "Reclaimers have first-hand experience of the world as a dangerous place. They have walked to the edge of the precipice, faced the abyss and seen some of their friends destroyed. Their way of being religious has an experiential certainty that comes from being rescued from self-destruction."

In a sense, reclaimers already have experienced their rite of passage, Lytch added, and do not look forward to another stage of advancement.

In moral and ethical decision-making, reclaimers believe much the same as the conventionals and classics. They tend to see staying alcohol-free, drug-free and sexually pure as "clear moral tests" and opportunities for Satan to "tempt" them.

More than conventionals and classics, reclaimers know that "the structures of their religious identity could come crashing down as they have before. Not trusting themselves, they rely on God to shore up these structures," Lytch said.

Reclaimers tend to be evangelicals and Catholics but not mainline Protestants, she added. "When a mainline Protestant teen becomes a reclaimer, he or she might switch to the evangelical megachurch because it offers more support for the notion of a distinct 'new life in Christ.'"

Marginalizers

The attitude of these teens is summed up by the comment of Megan, who comes from a large Catholic family, has attended Catholic school all her life, has marked all the passages of Catholic life by the sacraments up through confirmation and is considered a youth leader in her church.

"You know, religion is just not a big part of my life," Megan told Lytch in an interview.

"Marginalizers are believers, but belief in God does not dominate their thoughts, nor does it self-consciously shape their lifestyle or life plan," Lytch explained. "They are pursuing careers defined by the market, not vocations discerned through prayer."

Marginalizers accept the church's definitions of belief and practice, even if they don't pay attention to them, she added.

Likewise, these teens acknowledge respect for the adult figures in their lives but reserve intimacy for their peers. Most of these friends tend to be a mixture of peers from church and school, sometimes overlapping groups due to a high percentage of marginalizers attending parochial schools.

A majority of marginalizers are Catholic, but others are mainline Protestants as well, Lytch reported.

Marginalizers are high-achievers, success-oriented, neat dressers, usually athletic in some way. But none of this is based on any religious underpinings.

Any sense of security these teens feel comes from their own achievements and physical assets rather than from a well-defined belief in God or heaven, Lytch said.

Marginalizers are involved in community service projects as an outgrowth of their concern for moral and ethical issues, but this service has no religious underpinnings, she explained. They perform service hours but cannot say why their work is satisfying.

Customizers

"If marginalizers are the ones who take the religious institution without the belief, then customizers are the ones who take the belief without the religious institution," Lytch said to introduce this group of teens.

Customizers are seekers who are aware of their need for connection to God but are not interested in institutional religion. They may attend a particular church because they have a needed talent, because they like a particular minister or because of opportunities to work with children, but they will fall away if pressured for too much commitment.

Lytch quoted one customizer: "Whenever I go to church, it's kind of like I stumble into it more than getting up and going."

Like conventionals, these teens talk a lot about heaven. But unlike conventionals, they are just as likely to find theological meaning in "The Velveteen Rabbit" or "Chicken Soup for the Soul" as in the Bible.

Lytch told the story of Michelle, who writes poetry about God and has created her own "cleansing ritual" involving candles, music and meditation on glow-in-the-dark stars stuck to the ceiling of her bedroom.

Customizers tend to relate to parents as peers and tend to be among the most sexually active teens, Lytch said.

Overall, customizers see few boundaries. They dress in more flamboyant ways, are more likely to use drugs and alcohol.

Moral action for customizers is "not behavior based in separating right from wrong as much as it is going the 'second mile' by helping others when it is not required," Lytch said. Customizers volunteer many hours in community service and don't care whether they get credit for it.

Rejecters

These are teens who have been in church but for a variety of reasons have rejected the teaching of the church. Some would classify themselves as agnostics.

A commonality among rejecters, Lytch found, is how they conceive of intimacy. "Rejecters consider their intimates those who support them in the values they have chosen as critical to their self-identity."

But rejecters limit their circle of intimates by establishing high standards for friendship, she added.

These teens are most likely to be non-smokers, non-drinkers, drug-free and vegetarians. They may buy their clothes at thrift shops as a protest of materialism. They may not wear leather because it comes from animals. But they might dye their hair or alter their school uniforms as a means of standing out from others.

Rejecters usually substitute something else for Christian symbols and narratives of the faith they have left, Lytch said. "In place of extrinsic sources of meaning, they look to the self as the arbiter of truth."

Rejecters also are concerned about global issues but work on them in smaller, local contexts. They are "committed to ideals like equality, respect for all and honesty."

The Lost

To illustrate this group of teens, Lytch tells the story of Trey, who has been baptized as an infant in the Presbyterian church, rebaptized as a youth in the Catholic church and then immersed in an evangelical church but cannot repeat "The Lord's Prayer." He cannot name a religious song or hymn with which he is familiar, and he has no memories of church at all.

Though he shows no evidence of understanding anything about the Christian faith, he considers himself a Christian.

Trey and others like him often come from families where they are "underexposed to their religious tradition," Lytch said. "They never had a chance to be formed in the religious identity and practices of their faith because their religious socialization was inadequate. Some of these teens come from families that switch from one tradition to another, sometimes switching more than once. ... They never settle into one pattern of belief and practice that is sustained for a period of time."

A common characteristic of the lost teens is the absence of good relationships with their parents, even if both parents remain in the home, Lytch said. "These teens do not reject their parents because they are overly strict or demanding; rather, it is the opposite."

Teenagers lost to the church also do not have many strong peer relationships, she noted. "Lost teens tend to report that they have difficulty with friendships."

They also have trouble making friends in the church when they do attend, Lytch said, noting specific instances she observed when visiting church youth functions.

These teens tend to dress in extreme versions of what is worn by their reference group, she said. "Danielle dresses like a cheerleader, even though she is not one. Trey, the football player, wears athletic clothes all the time, except when he has to wear his school uniform."

Security for these teens is not found in religious beliefs or service to society but in future career paths. Yet even these career paths may be unrealistic, Lytch said, because the teens fail to connect risky behaviors of their youth with their future success in life. For example, Alan aspires to be a Marine and then a state trooper, yet he currently is a gang member.

The lost have no signposts as rites of passage into adulthood and demonstrate no pattern of moral decision-making.

10/30/2003 11:00:00 PM by Mark Wingfield | with 0 comments



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